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June 26, 2008 

Afghanistan sacks police chief over jail break
June 26, 2008
KANDAHAR, Afghanistan (Reuters) - The Afghan government sacked the police chief of Kandahar on Thursday for negligence after some 400 Taliban prisoners and 700 criminals escaped this month in one of the biggest jail breaks in history.

Pakistan denies link to Karzai attack
by Nasir Jaffry Thu Jun 26, 10:54 AM ET
ISLAMABAD (AFP) - Pakistan on Thursday rejected Afghan claims that its main spy service masterminded an attempt to kill President Hamid Karzai, heightening tensions between the two allies in the "war on terror."

Gates voices worry over Afghanistan
By LOLITA C. BALDOR, Associated Press Writer
WASHINGTON - Defense Secretary Robert Gates said Thursday he has "real concern" about a sharp rise in attacks by insurgent forces in eastern Afghanistan and says it reflects infiltration of fighters from Pakistan.

Rich nations tell Afghanistan, Pakistan to talk
By Rodney Joyce
KYOTO, Japan, June 26 (Reuters) - Rich nations urged Afghanistan's neighbours to promote stability in the war-ruined nation on Thursday, singling out the need for dialogue between the sparring governments in Kabul and Islamabad.

Afghanistan, Border States to Get $4 Billion in Aid From G-8
By Keiichi Yamamura and Toko Sekiguchi
June 26 (Bloomberg) -- The Group of Eight industrialized nations agreed to give $4 billion in assistance to Afghanistan and its border states.

NATO chief in Italy for Afghan talks
BRUSSELS (AFP) — NATO Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer travels to Rome Thursday to sound out Italy on exactly how it plans to use its troops in future in Afghanistan, his spokesman said.
Scheffer will hold talks with Italian Prime Minister

Afghan attack kills 3 US coalition members
By STEPHEN GRAHAM, Associated Press Writer
KABUL, Afghanistan - Militants attacked troops from the U.S.-led coalition patrolling south of the Afghan capital on Thursday, killing three of them and an Afghan interpreter.

Russia says Taliban influence in Afghanistan steadily growing
BRUSSELS, June 26 (RIA Novosti) - The Taliban is steadily expanding its zone of influence in Afghanistan, the Russian ambassador to Kabul said on Thursday.

Calm returns to scene of huge anti-Taliban battle
by Thibauld Malterre Thu Jun 26, 8:23 AM ET
ARGHANDAB, Afghanistan (AFP) - Life is slowly returning to normal in the vineyards of this southern Afghan district, where a week ago NATO warplanes were bombing a force of hundreds of Taliban militants.

Cellphone call from prison led to Afghan breakout, escapee says
Jun 26, 2008 04:30 AM Toronto Star,  Canada
The spectacular Afghan prison break in Kandahar this month was triggered by a phone call from a jailed inmate complaining about conditions to a Taliban leader, Newsweek magazine reports in its June 30 edition.

NATO installing scanners in Afghanistan
June 25, 2008 – UPI
NATO has begun deploying advanced scanning technology at airports in Afghanistan to increase threat detection capabilities. Officials say the vehicle scanning initiative from the NATO Consultation, Command and Control Agency

US-led helicopter crashes in Afghanistan, two wounded: coalition
Thu Jun 26, 3:20 AM ET
KABUL (AFP) - A US-led coalition forces helicopter crashed in eastern Afghanistan, causing "minor injuries" to two soldiers on board, the force said Thursday.

Canada hopes investment brings order to anarchic Kandahar
Doug Schmidt , Canwest News Service Wednesday, June 25, 2008
KANDAHAR CITY, Afghanistan - Left unmentioned in Ottawa's recent unveiling of a host of grand Canadian signature and priority projects for Afghanistan was a $22-million program about to be launched that is aimed at turning anarchic

US to probe alleged Chinese-made ammunition cover-up
June 25, 2008
WASHINGTON (AFP) — US and Albanian authorities announced probes Tuesday into allegations that the US ambassador to Albania concealed the Chinese origins of ammunition sent to supply Afghan security forces.

Pakistani Taliban torch ski resort, kill three: officials
June 26, 2008
ISLAMABAD (AFP) — Pakistani Taliban militants torched the country's only ski resort and separately killed three people in a northwestern tourist valley, despite a recent truce with security forces, officials said.

Arghandab’s Two-Day War
As Taleban flee and residents return, opposing sides both claim victory.
Institute for War & Peace Reporting By IWPR contributors in Kandahar and Abaceen Nasimi in Kabul (ARR No. 294, 24-Jun-08)
Life is returning to normal in Arghandab, a verdant corner of the generally arid Kandahar province. Most of the Taleban fighters are gone, and specialists have moved in to clear the mines they left behind.

Dealing with Afghan insurgents like pulling weeds: soldiers
Doug Schmidt ,  Canwest News Service Thursday, June 26, 2008
BAZAR-I-PANJWAII, Afghanistan - Canadians brought a simple message Thursday to the Afghan village elders assembled for their weekly shura, or district assembly in Panjwaii - start pulling weeds.

AFGHANISTAN: Aid promise prompts IDPs to return
26 Jun 2008 15:20:34 GMT
MAZAR-I SHARIF, 26 June 2008 (IRIN) - An estimated 9,000 people who abandoned their homes in the Alburz District of Balkh Province, northern Afghanistan, over a month ago and camped near Mazar-i Sharif have now

UK buying 86 armoured patrol vehicles for Afghanistan
London, June 26, IRNA
A new fleet of 86 armoured patrol vehicles is being bought for British troops deployed in Afghanistan, the Ministry of Defence announced Thursday.

U.N.: Opium Trade Soars in Afghanistan
By Colum Lynch Washington Post Staff Writer Thursday, June 26, 2008; 1:03 PM
UNITED NATIONS, June, 26 -- Afghan opium cultivation grew 17 percent last year, continuing a six-year expansion of the country's drug trade and increasing its share of global opium production to more than 92 percent, according to

Firing blanks in Afghanistan
By David Isenberg Asia Times Online, Hong Kong
WASHINGTON - The saga of United States military contractor AEY and its supply of substandard ammunition to Afghanistan keeps getting curiouser and curiouser, as Alice in Wonderland phrased it, after descending the rabbit hole.

Canada hopes investment brings order to anarchic Kandahar
Wednesday, June 25, 2008 – Canwest News Service
KANDAHAR CITY, Afghanistan - Left unmentioned in Ottawa's recent unveiling of a host of grand Canadian signature and priority projects for Afghanistan was a $22-million program about to be launched that is aimed at turning anarchic

Advice on Afghanistan
Interview Ahmed Rashid
CBC.ca, Canada  Wednesday, June 25, 2008 CBC News
CBC's Around the World host Harry Forestell had an opportunity recently to sit down with Ahmed Rashid, a Pakistani journalist based in Lahore who writes for several newspapers including the Daily Telegraph and The Washington Post.

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Afghanistan sacks police chief over jail break
June 26, 2008
KANDAHAR, Afghanistan (Reuters) - The Afghan government sacked the police chief of Kandahar on Thursday for negligence after some 400 Taliban prisoners and 700 criminals escaped this month in one of the biggest jail breaks in history.

The Taliban scored an important tactical and propaganda win when a suicide bomber in a fuel truck smashed into the gates of Kandahar prison on June 13 and militants stormed the building, setting their comrades free.

The prison break was a major embarrassment for the Afghan government as it showed Taliban insurgents were able to mount a large operation in the heart of the country's second city. Afghan authorities ordered an immediate investigation.

"The investigation shows some officials neglected their duties, therefore the government of Afghanistan has decided to sack General Sayed Aqa Saqeb, the provincial police chief of Kandahar," the Interior Ministry said in a statement.

The head of the intelligence agency and the head of police criminal investigations were also removed from their posts and the cases of all three were forwarded to the attorney general's office for further investigation, the ministry said.

Several other officials will also lose their jobs.

"The government of Afghanistan will never allow anyone to play with the security of the Afghan people," the ministry said.

Three days after the jailbreak, more than 200 Taliban insurgents seized some seven villages close to Kandahar, forcing the Afghan army to fly in hundreds of reinforcements and mount a major operation to drive them out.

Afghan security forces backed by around 64,000 foreign troops are struggling to contain the Taliban insurgency centered in the mainly ethnic Pashtun south and east of the country.

While the Taliban are routinely routed in any direct fight with Afghan and international forces, the insurgent campaign of hit-and-run attacks, backed by suicide and roadside bombs is aimed at wearing down Afghan support for the Kabul government and forcing Western public opinion to demand troops be brought home.

(Writing by Jon Hemming; Editing by Sanjeev Miglani)
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Pakistan denies link to Karzai attack
by Nasir Jaffry Thu Jun 26, 10:54 AM ET
ISLAMABAD (AFP) - Pakistan on Thursday rejected Afghan claims that its main spy service masterminded an attempt to kill President Hamid Karzai, heightening tensions between the two allies in the "war on terror."

The angry reaction came a day after Afghanistan's intelligence agency said Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) was the "real schemer and organiser" behind the failed April 27 attack on Karzai at a military parade.

It was the first time Kabul had openly accused fellow US ally Islamabad of links to the attack, marking an escalation in a war of words that began earlier this month when Karzai threatened to strike Taliban rebels on Pakistani soil.

"This is all baseless, this is not true. ISI is a professional organisation which is not interfering in the affairs of any country," Pakistani Defence Minister Chaudhry Ahmad Mukhtar told AFP.

"President Hamid Karzai is making excuses to prolong his rule. He is facing problems with NATO countries (with troops in Afghanistan) for not delivering on the promises that he made," Mukhtar added.

The minister said the Pakistani government "wants peace and stability in Afghanistan and seeks to promote friendly and meaningful cooperation with Kabul," he added.

Pakistan's foreign office also slammed the Afghan claims.

"Pakistan rejects these baseless and irresponsible allegations and the attitude and proclivity behind them," foreign office spokesman Muhammad Sadiq told a weekly briefing.

Tempers flared between the two countries nearly two weeks ago, when Karzai said Kabul would be justified in attacking Taliban militants using bases in Pakistan to launch cross-border raids on Afghan and Western security forces.

On Wednesday, Afghan national intelligence agency spokesman Sayed Ansari said that investigations, documents and confessions by suspects showed Pakistan was behind the brazen attack on Karzai.

Karzai survived but three Afghans, including a parliamentarian, were killed.

The Taliban claimed responsibility for the attack at the time.

Kabul has repeatedly in the past accused the shadowy ISI, run by Pakistan's military, of covertly backing the rebels.

The ISI heavily backed the Taliban during its rise to power and in its period in government from 1996-2001, but Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf cut the militia loose under US pressure in the wake of the 9/11 attacks.

Sadiq, the Pakistani foreign office spokesman, said Afghanistan had not made any official complaint to Pakistan and that as a "brotherly country" it was glad Karzai was not hurt in the attack.

Reports suggested the attack "had something to do with a massive intelligence and security failure, or some kind of problem between the Afghan intelligence apparatus and the government," he said.

He also noted that most of the Afghans arrested after the attack were Afghan government employees.

Sadiq also condemned Afghan authorities for publicly parading earlier this week two Pakistanis who were captured in southern Kandahar province for allegedly planning suicide attacks.

"Parading captives in chains, and in public ... is a medieval practice, not different from what Taliban occasionally indulged in, in the past," he said.

The spokesman called on Kabul to maintain good relations in order to fight extremism.

The spat comes a day after Pakistani Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani met with army and intelligence chiefs and agreed to continue controversial talks with militants, but pledged to curb cross-border attacks.
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Gates voices worry over Afghanistan
By LOLITA C. BALDOR, Associated Press Writer
WASHINGTON - Defense Secretary Robert Gates said Thursday he has "real concern" about a sharp rise in attacks by insurgent forces in eastern Afghanistan and says it reflects infiltration of fighters from Pakistan.

Gates was asked at a Pentagon news conference what he thought of a report by a senior U.S. general in Afghanistan on Tuesday that insurgent attacks in the east have increased by 40 percent this year.

"It is a matter of concern — real concern," Gates replied.

"It's an issue that clearly we have to pursue with the Pakistani government," he added.

The defense secretary said one reason for the jump in insurgent attacks in that part of Afghanistan is that fighters have been able to cross the border without facing sufficient pressure by Pakistani troops.

"It actually was not bad until a few months ago," he said, when the Pakistani government began negotiating peace or ceasefire deals with a variety of militant groups in areas bordering Afghanistan.

"The pressure was taken off these people," as a result of such deals, he added. And that has meant fighters are "now more free to cross the border and create problems for us," Gates said.
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Rich nations tell Afghanistan, Pakistan to talk
By Rodney Joyce
KYOTO, Japan, June 26 (Reuters) - Rich nations urged Afghanistan's neighbours to promote stability in the war-ruined nation on Thursday, singling out the need for dialogue between the sparring governments in Kabul and Islamabad.

The call by Group of Eight (G8) foreign ministers came amid a sharpening of rhetoric between two countries whose relations have long been strained by Afghan accusations that Taliban insurgents operate from sanctuaries on the Pakistani side of their border.

The opening talks in Japan between the foreign ministers from Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Russia and the United States were overshadowed by news of a breakthrough in efforts to end North Korea's nuclear ambitions.

But they pressed on with an agenda meant to pave the way for a G8 summit next month, which will address spiralling food and fuel prices, climate change as well as Zimbabwe's election crisis, the Middle East peace process and the West's nuclear face-off with Iran.

Around 100 people staged a peaceful demonstration as the ministers in the ancient Japanese capital of Kyoto, a city better known for its temples and cuisine than street protests.

The crowd of mostly older Japanese and a few foreigners, many escaping the June sun under parasols and sunhats, carried banners proclaiming "No G8 summit", "No to free trade and militarism", "No more poverty" and "Stop the Iraq invasion".

"America is eating the world," said Osamu Matsumoto, a 55-year-old protester wearing a mask showing U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice munching on a cake shaped like the earth.

"I hear they are talking about the Middle East and North Korea, but I think that just means that they are organising the next war," said Carlos Abril, a 31-year-old anti-globalisation activist from Madrid.

TENSION BETWEEN NEIGHBOURS
In their statement on Afghanistan, the ministers voiced concern about the terrorism, insecurity, poverty, illicit drug production and weak institutions bedevilling the country.

Two weeks ago Afghanistan won aid pledges from international donors worth some $20 billion.

Now, the G8 is looking to Kabul to strengthen its governance to establish the rule of law, protect human rights and prevent corruption, and it wants Kabul's neighbours to play their part.

"We call on Afghanistan's neighbours to play a constructive role for the stability of Afghanistan," the ministers said. "We particularly encourage Afghanistan and Pakistan to continue their cooperation in a constructive and mutually beneficial manner through dialogue."

The call came amid rising tension between Kabul and Islamabad. On Thursday Pakistan rejected as lies an Afghan accusation that Pakistan's main security agency was behind an attempt to kill Afghan President Hamid Karzai in April.

It is six-and-a-half years since U.S.-led forces toppled the Islamist government of Afghanistan, but Britain's top military officer this week described the country as "medieval" and said it could take decades before it shows steady development.

One of the biggest problems is the running sore of violence despite the deployment of about 64,000 foreign troops in the country. About 6,000 people were killed there in 2007, the deadliest year since the 2001 U.S.-led invasion.

The ministers pledged to lift the tattered economies of areas on the border with Pakistan, where Taliban militants thrive.

Italian Foreign Minister Franco Frattini told reporters that Rome wanted to hold a ministerial meeting between Afghanistan, Pakistan and the G8 when it is president of the group next year.

"There is a common desire to give more of an impulse to the cooperation between Pakistan and Afghanistan in the border areas," he told reporters in Kyoto. (Additional reporting by Sophie Hardach and Isabel Reynolds) (Writing by John Chalmers)
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Afghanistan, Border States to Get $4 Billion in Aid From G-8
By Keiichi Yamamura and Toko Sekiguchi
June 26 (Bloomberg) -- The Group of Eight industrialized nations agreed to give $4 billion in assistance to Afghanistan and its border states.

The aid plan was announced today by Japanese Foreign Minister Masahiko Komura in Kyoto, where he is hosting the G-8 foreign ministers meeting today and tomorrow.

``Afghanistan is still halfway to long-term security, and must overcome serious problems such as terrorism, crime, poverty, corruption, illegal narcotic production, lack of legal economic opportunities, and fragile institutions,'' according to a draft of the G-8's agreement on aid to the region that was released by Japan's Foreign Ministry.

The aid will be given through 150 projects, and includes building infrastructure, improving border control and providing economic opportunities. A schedule for delivering the assistance hasn't been announced.

The Afghan-Pakistani border area has been the focus of efforts to rid the area of Islamic militants who have carried out attacks in Afghanistan. Afghanistan also is bordered by China, Iran, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan and Tajikistan.

To contact the reporters on this story: Keiichi Yamamura in Tokyo at kyamamura@bloomberg.net; Toko Sekiguchi in Tokyo at Tsekiguchi3@bloomberg.net
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NATO chief in Italy for Afghan talks
BRUSSELS (AFP) — NATO Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer travels to Rome Thursday to sound out Italy on exactly how it plans to use its troops in future in Afghanistan, his spokesman said.
Scheffer will hold talks with Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, President Giorgio Napolitano, Defence Minister Ignazio La Russa and other senior officials.

The visit comes after Italy announced it would free up the use of its troops in Afghanistan by cutting caveats, or conditions on their use, including slashing their response time from about three days to five or six hours.

"The general intent of relaxing caveats, reducing restrictions, is clearly welcome," spokesman James Appathurai told reporters at NATO headquarters in Brussels.

"It will be up to the Italians to define what it is that they want to do and when they want to do it," he said.

The NATO-led International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan comprises almost 53,000 troops from 40 nations. Its aim is to spread the rule of the central government and foster reconstruction.

But it is struggling to deal with a tenacious Taliban-led insurgency, despite the efforts of tens of thousands of Afghan and international soldiers, notably in the east and south of the strife-torn country.

ISAF commanders frequently call for more troops in those regions. Italy has some 2,500 soldiers based in the capital Kabul and the relatively quiet Herat region in the west of Afghanistan.
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Afghan attack kills 3 US coalition members
By STEPHEN GRAHAM, Associated Press Writer
KABUL, Afghanistan - Militants attacked troops from the U.S.-led coalition patrolling south of the Afghan capital on Thursday, killing three of them and an Afghan interpreter.

The nationality of the troops was not released, though the coalition is dominated by American forces. International and Afghan forces were searching for the attackers, a coalition statement said.

The convoy was attacked as it passed through Saydabad, a district of Wardak province, which borders the capital of Kabul.

A freelance television cameraman filmed what he said was the aftermath of the Thursday attack, about 40 miles from Kabul. The footage showed the burning wreckage of a vehicle on a bend in a mountain road. Militants held up what looked like an M-16 rifle and dragged away a belt of ammunition.

It was not possible to independently verify whether the footage was from the same incident reported by the coalition. The cameraman's name was withheld for his own security.

Fighting between Taliban-led insurgents and security forces continues unabated, despite a nearly seven-year international effort to stabilize the Western-backed government of President Hamid Karzai.

More than 2,000 people have died in insurgency-related violence this year, according to an Associated Press tally, including at least 114 foreign soldiers. The comparable total for Iraq stands at 211.

In response to an increase in militant activity, foreign troops have established a base and reinforced their patrols in Wardak, an area that could provide a launch pad for strikes against the capital.

Still, much of the fighting has taken place in the eastern and southern provinces bordering Pakistan.

Afghan leaders accuse Pakistan of secretly supporting the insurgents and harboring their leaders — a charge Pakistan civilian and military leaders deny.

In the latest and most serious allegation, an Afghan official on Wednesday blamed Pakistan's Inter Services Intelligence agency for an attempt to assassinate Karzai during a military parade in April.

Saeed Ansari, spokesman for the Afghan intelligence service, said the confessions and cell phone records of detained suspects and other unspecified evidence proved the ISI was the "main organizer" of the assassination attempt.

Pakistan's Foreign Ministry on Thursday rejected the allegation as "baseless and irresponsible."

Ministry spokesman Muhammad Sadiq suggested Kabul was trying to divert attention from a "massive intelligence and security failure" of its own.

Confidence in Afghan security forces was further shaken by a June 13 Taliban attack on the prison in the southern city of Kandahar, which freed 400 Taliban fighters.

The Interior Ministry said Thursday it had fired three senior police officials including Kandahar provincial police chief Sayed Agha Saqib and referred his case to the prosecutor's office.

A ministry statement said Saqib was "negligent in his duties," but it did not mention the jail break or what charges he might face.

The Canadian government said Thursday that it will help rebuild and upgrade the prison, whose gates, walls and towers were badly damaged during the breakout.

In other violence, the coalition said warplanes attacked insurgents who fired on Afghan and U.S.-led forces on patrol in the Maywand district of Kandahar province on Wednesday.

The insurgents were killed with "several precision airstrikes," it said.

No government or coalition troops were reported injured.

The coalition also said that a helicopter made a "precautionary landing" in the rocky eastern Afghan province of Kunar on Wednesday.

None of the troops on board suffered serious injury and all returned to their base, it said.

There were no reports of enemy fire forcing the helicopter down.
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Associated Press writers Rahim Faiez and Jason Straziuso in Kabul and Asif Shahzad in Islamabad contributed to this report.
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Russia says Taliban influence in Afghanistan steadily growing
BRUSSELS, June 26 (RIA Novosti) - The Taliban is steadily expanding its zone of influence in Afghanistan, the Russian ambassador to Kabul said on Thursday.

The Taliban, ousted from power after a U.S.-led military operation in 2001, have been stepping up their activities in recent months. The radical Islamic movement has vowed to increase attacks in order to undermine the authority of the current Afghan administration.

"Despite the annual increase in the numbers of foreign troops in Afghanistan, the Taliban's area of influence in the country is constantly growing," Zamir Kabulov told reporters after a Russia-NATO Council meeting in Brussels.

"I believe that the Taliban have an influence in more than half of Afghanistan's territory and control up to 20% of that area," he said, adding that there are many places that "are off limits to foreign troops".

The ambassador said that despite the six-year-long international peacekeeping operation in Afghanistan, in which NATO plays a key role, "The situation in Afghanistan in general continues to deteriorate."

Responding to a question from a RIA Novosti reporter, he said that the NATO-led coalition force had 53,000 personnel, plus, "on paper," 62,000 in the National Afghan Army and 70,000 in the Afghan police.

He said that this force was fighting against some 2,500 "professionally trained militants."

Kabulov said it was critical for NATO to change its tactics and strategy in Afghanistan.

"Any further increase in NATO's military presence (in Afghanistan) will not solve the problem," he said, adding that the only way out for NATO was "the creation of a battle-worthy Afghan army and police force."
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Calm returns to scene of huge anti-Taliban battle
by Thibauld Malterre Thu Jun 26, 8:23 AM ET
ARGHANDAB, Afghanistan (AFP) - Life is slowly returning to normal in the vineyards of this southern Afghan district, where a week ago NATO warplanes were bombing a force of hundreds of Taliban militants.

Afghan and Canadian forces launched a massive "clean-up" operation in lush Arghandab after insurgents massed there in an apparent bid to take on the nearby city of Kandahar, the birthplace of the hardline regime.

"Everything is very quiet now, but after the prison break the insurgents' morale was very high and they believed they could take over the city. It cost them," said provincial police chief General Sayed Agha Saqeb, referring to the escape of hundreds of rebels from Kandahar's main jail on June 13.

Behind him, the scenery belies the reputation of Kandahar as an inhospitable desert region. The landscape is green, with vineyards fed by several streams and surrounded by walls of dried earth.

Saqeb said that 200 militants, many of them foreigners, were killed during the operation by NATO and Afghan forces. The Afghan defence ministry last week put the toll at only 94 rebels, with two soldiers also killed.

"They lost a lot of men, a lot of them being Pakistani. They ran away from Arghandab and we are following them in other areas," he told reporters taken to the region by Afghan authorities this week.

Around 1,000 Afghan troops, backed by NATO's International Security Assistance Force, carried out the operation on June 18 and 19. The only activity since has been rockets landing near a French military camp, without causing any casualties.

NATO air power was decisive in the engagement because of the terrain -- fields of head-high grapevines under which dozens of insurgents were able to move without being spotted from anywhere else but the sky.

"The Taliban were routed. Right near here we counted 20 dead in an airstrike," said a British legionary, part of a team of French instructors training the Afghan army.

An Afghan policeman, a Kalashnikov on his shoulder, watches his colleague stuffing himself with grapes. The intense midday heat has driven people into the shade of their homes.

The policemen apparently have no fear of the insurgent roadside bombs which have claimed hundreds of lives in Afghanistan, and they cruise around the district at high speed in pick-up trucks.

"The Taliban are more then 20 kilometres away now," says the policeman. "Men (from the villages) are coming back to attend the crops but most of the families are still in Kandahar," he said.

According to the UN refugee agency, 7,000 families from the district have asked for assistance.

Qudratullah, a 10-year-old Afghan boy, said he had returned to help with the harvests which were interrupted by the violence.

"People came with loudspeakers, asked us to leave. We found refuge in the city," he said. "Now, we are back for the crops. School is still closed but the teachers are coming back so it should open soon."

The district was a key target for the Taliban, who were aided by foreign militants, said Afghan army general Gul Agha Naebi.

"Arghandab is a strategic place. First, with all the orchards and vineyards, it's easy to hide there, then, it's a gate to Kandahar. And it's important for the economy, with the farmers and the food produced here," he said.

"Pakistanis, Chechens, Arabs were fighting here with the Taliban. We found their bodies. They believe Islam is in danger here so they come to rescue Islam, that's Jihad (holy war)."

None was captured, however. He estimated that around 600 rebels were involved.

Canadian Major Jay Janzen, a member of the NATO force, said there were around 150 to 200 Taliban present.

"A lot of them were killed, some were captured. The rest of them got rid of their weapons, and blended in with the population, and slowly escaped to other regions," Jazsen said.

He said there was no doubt that the Taliban would cause trouble in future but that NATO and Afghan forces supporting the government in Kabul were winning the trust of the population.

"This is a smart enemy. But all they can do at this point is disrupt. They can't hold ground," he said.
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Cellphone call from prison led to Afghan breakout, escapee says
Jun 26, 2008 04:30 AM Toronto Star,  Canada
The spectacular Afghan prison break in Kandahar this month was triggered by a phone call from a jailed inmate complaining about conditions to a Taliban leader, Newsweek magazine reports in its June 30 edition.

More than 700 of about 1,000 inmates of Sarposa prison each paid $100 a month to be allowed to carry their own cellphones, one of the escapees told the magazine.

This privilege was in contrast to the harsh conditions at the jail, where up to 20 men were jammed into a tiny cell, Taliban subcommander Mullah Khan Muhammad Akhund, 36, told Newsweek.

About two months ago, Akhund said, a Taliban inmate called his No. 2 commander, complaining about how tough life was in the prison. The commander said he'd talk to his advisers, and a week later called back to say the inmates would soon go free, according to Newsweek.

Nothing came of this promise for weeks, but on the evening of June 13, a suicide truck bomber blew a hole in one of the prison's wall and militants armed with rockets and AK-47s stormed in to free the prisoners.

The escape heightened tensions between Afghanistan and Pakistan. Afghan President Hamid Karzai has accused Pakistan of not doing enough to stop militants from crossing the border and killing coalition troops.

Yesterday, an Afghan official charged that Pakistan's premier spy agency organized a recent assassination attempt on Karzai – the most serious in a string of allegations against Pakistan.

The charge bodes ill for U.S. efforts to get Pakistan's new government to work with Karzai's embattled administration to counter Islamic militants on their common border.

Pakistani officials complain they're unfairly blamed for Afghanistan's security failings.
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NATO installing scanners in Afghanistan
June 25, 2008 – UPI
NATO has begun deploying advanced scanning technology at airports in Afghanistan to increase threat detection capabilities. Officials say the vehicle scanning initiative from the NATO Consultation, Command and Control Agency will allow security personnel to scan for explosive threats from a safe distance of more than 200 yards, NATO reported. NATO says it is installing the non-invasive scanning equipment at the Kabul airport, Kandahar air field and at the International Security Assistance Force headquarters in Kabul. "These systems will provide the NATO-ISAF with an operational capability able to screen every single vehicle entering the base," Franco Fiore, NATO Consultation, Command and Control Agency project manager, said in a statement. "The ability to remotely operate the system from an operational control room … goes a long way to protect security personnel."

Threats shut many Afghan schools
BBC - About 80% of schools in the south-eastern Afghan province of Zabul are closed due to a lack of security, the government says.

It estimated that some 35,000 boys and girls were missing lessons because of the closures.

Pupils and teachers in Zabul said they had been warned not to attend school by insurgents and other armed groups.

The education minister, Hanif Atmar, urged people to work with the government to help improve security. He said the ministry was offering places in boarding schools.

Hundreds of schools have been attacked by insurgents in the south and east of Afghanistan.
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US-led helicopter crashes in Afghanistan, two wounded: coalition
Thu Jun 26, 3:20 AM ET
KABUL (AFP) - A US-led coalition forces helicopter crashed in eastern Afghanistan, causing "minor injuries" to two soldiers on board, the force said Thursday.

The chopper crashed Wednesday in Kunar province which shares a border with neighbouring Pakistan. The cause of the crash was not immediately known.

"A coalition forces helicopter crashed Wednesday in Kunar province. No coalition forces Soldiers were seriously injured and all have been returned safely from the incident," a coalition statement said.

A spokesman for the troops said there were only two soldiers on board and they had "minor injuries".

On June 5 two coalition soldiers were killed when a helicopter on a routine maintenance mission crashed near the southern city of Kandahar. The cause of the crash was not known.
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Canada hopes investment brings order to anarchic Kandahar
Doug Schmidt , Canwest News Service Wednesday, June 25, 2008
KANDAHAR CITY, Afghanistan - Left unmentioned in Ottawa's recent unveiling of a host of grand Canadian signature and priority projects for Afghanistan was a $22-million program about to be launched that is aimed at turning anarchic Kandahar City into a properly functioning "citizen friendly" model municipality.

The population of Afghanistan's second-largest city has grown fourfold in the past five years, to an estimated 800,000 residents, but the sprawling metropolis boasts fewer municipal employees - about 70 total - than your average Canadian small town. There's no city planner, at least two-thirds of property owners don't pay any taxes (the population figure is a best-guess), and a mere handful of municipal dump trucks pulls double duty as the garbage truck fleet.

"The biggest thing I need is to clean up this city," says Kandahar City's respected, and by all accounts corruption-proof, Mayor Ghulam Haider Hamidi. "When I came here 16 months ago, the city's trash had built up (in the streets) over the last 25 or 30 years."

Hamidi, who was asked by President Hamid Karzai to return to help rebuild his homeland after 18 years in exile, says he frequently urges local citizens to register their homes and pay taxes so the city can afford to provide basic services.

"Everyday I'm on the radio, I'm in the newspapers, saying: 'Help your government,'" says Hamidi, who has had tax evaders thrown in jail until their families coughed up what he felt was owed.

An ambitious three-year plan to change all that is expected to be formally announced sometime in July. The CIDA-funded Governance and Development Support Project to Kandahar will be implemented by UN Habitat.

"People don't want to pay taxes because there are no services, but the city won't provide services because nobody pays taxes," says Abdul Baqi Popal, a UN Habitat senior program co-ordinator in Afghanistan. "The problem is a lack of trust between people and government - this will bridge that gap."

It starts with registering the unknown number of properties in the city and issuing land titles to the owners. Popal says when residents see their security of tenure, and the expected increase in property values, they will begin investing in their homes, resulting in job growth, and they will start taking greater interest in the governance of their community. That should pay political dividends in a city the remains a centre of conflict and insecurity due to an active insurgency.

"We want to deepen the process of governance," says Popal.

Neighbourhoods that have never seen government - up to 70 per cent of Kandahar City consists of "informal settlements" - will be able to tap into 90 community development councils that will give city residents a direct say in what priorities to tackle, whether water, roads, electricity or sanitation. These councils will be served by three municipal district offices which report to a "city development forum," a quasi-city council headed by the mayor.

With almost a third of the $22 million being invested in city water supply improvements, newly registered property owners will see tangible benefits coming from their municipality, which will help ease the sting of having to start paying property taxes.

"The conflict has meant you can't really have a normally functioning city," says Andrew Scyner, a CIDA development officer based in Kandahar who is working on the project. Kandahar gets almost all its current spending money from the central government and international donors, he says.

Hamidi, who spent his exile years as an accountant in Virginia, relishes the story of one well-connected shopkeeper he had jailed for refusing to pay property taxes and who then tried to have his friend the provincial governor intervene to get him out. Hamidi stood fast, and the governor sided with the mayor. The incredulous shopkeeper later asked around about the mayor.

"People were telling him, this mayor, he's crazy, he doesn't take bribes," Hamidi laughs in the recounting.

It's perhaps an indication of how strange things are in this corruption-rife country that common citizens who like Hamidi refer to him as "the Talib."

"For some things, yes, the people miss the Taliban. The Taliban got things done," says Hamidi, referring to the main insurgents Canadian soldiers are helping Afghan national security forces fight.

Coinciding with the pending start of the new program, Hamidi says he's busy organizing a lunch party for a hundred of the city's affluent residents who currently avoid paying any property taxes.

"He's pretty fearless," Scyner says of Hamidi: "Kandaharis look up to him as a decent, honest leader."
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US to probe alleged Chinese-made ammunition cover-up
June 25, 2008
WASHINGTON (AFP) — US and Albanian authorities announced probes Tuesday into allegations that the US ambassador to Albania concealed the Chinese origins of ammunition sent to supply Afghan security forces.

The US State Department said its inspector general would conduct a "thorough, fair and transparent" internal investigation of the matter.

Department spokesman Tom Casey said the ambassador, John Withers, "fully expects that the facts will exonerate him and his staff of any and all the allegations that are out there."

"I have absolutely no reason to believe that anything different than that will happen," Casey said.

Albanian authorities have questioned dozens of people over the affair.

"I am determined to uncover the truth," Albanian Attorney General Ina Rama said. "The investigations will continue and we are determined to follow every lead."

The allegations were made by House of Representatives Oversight and Government Reform Committee chairman Henry Waxman in a letter sent Monday to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice that was published in several newspapers.

The letter said Withers endorsed a plan by Albania's defense minister to disguise the illegal Chinese origins of several boxes of ammunition shipped from Albania to Afghanistan.

It also said a Miami-based company working under an army contract bought the ammunition to supply Afghan security forces, despite the fact that US law prohibits trading in Chinese arms.

In the Albanian capital, Withers denied any involvement in the trafficking of Chinese weapons.

The US embassy said in a statement that Withers was "aware of the claims."

It added that Withers was studying Waxman's letter "and will prepare a full refutation of any allegations against the US embassy or himself once he has done so."

"The ambassador is a steadfast believer that a fair examination of the evidence will lead, in the end, to the truth," the statement said. "The evidence in this matter, fully presented, will dissolve any and every assertion made against him, his staff, or his government."

Waxman said Withers "held a late-night meeting with the Albanian defense minister at which the ambassador approved removing evidence of the illegal Chinese origins of ammunition being shipped from Albania to Afghanistan by a US contractor."

The meeting took place on November 19, 2007 at the behest of the Albanian minister, who wanted to know how to respond to a New York Times reporter's request to visit the American contractor's operations in Tirana, where several boxes of Chinese ammunition were stored.

The ammunition was being repackaged to disguise its origins and shipped from Albania to Afghanistan by AEY, a Miami Beach arms-dealing company, Waxman said.

At the time, AEY was under a contract with the US army as "the main munitions supplier for Afghan security forces" despite US law prohibiting trading in Chinese arms, the lawmaker said.

AEY head Efraim Diveroli, 22, and three other people were charged on Friday for selling prohibited Chinese ammunition, presented as being of Albanian origin, to the Pentagon, he added.

The arms smuggling case may be linked to seven arrests in Tirana after a blast in a military depot in March killed 26 people and injured 302.

The incident gave rise to suspicions of possible arms trafficking in the country and led to the resignation of defense minister Fatmir Mediu, with whom Withers had met.
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Pakistani Taliban torch ski resort, kill three: officials
June 26, 2008
ISLAMABAD (AFP) — Pakistani Taliban militants torched the country's only ski resort and separately killed three people in a northwestern tourist valley, despite a recent truce with security forces, officials said.

The attack on the government-run hotel happened at Malam Jabba, part of the troubled Swat Valley where followers of an Islamist cleric signed a peace deal with Pakistani authorities in May after months of clashes.

It came shortly after Pakistan's new government, under US pressure to crack down on insurgents based near the northwestern border with Afghanistan, unveiled a strategy for countering Islamic militancy.

"Miscreants set the resort on fire last night. The extent of damage is still not known and information is coming in," said Usman Shafi, general manager of the Pakistan Tourism Development Corporation (PTDC), which runs the hotel.

Residents said a large portion of the resort had been reduced to ashes and the militants also damaged chairlifts and a tower belonging to the meteorological department.

The hotel, located some 150 kilometres north of Islamabad at an altitude of 2,636 metres (9,200 feet), had been closed for several months since unrest in the area had kept all tourists away.

Swat police chief Waqif Khan told AFP the ski facility at Malam Jabba had been torched and the police had registered a case against "unknown miscreants," a term officials use to describe local Taliban militants.

"The PTDC hotel has been set on fire by unknown miscreants. We don't know the details since there is no government control in that area," Khan said, adding that nearby buildings were also damaged.

Militants also torched three houses and shot dead two relatives of a local politician in the Matta district of Swat Valley, Khan said. A woman was killed in the fire at one of the houses, he said.

Witnesses said the houses belonged to local politician Muhammad Sher, a member of a party loyal to US-backed President Pervez Musharraf.

The government signed a peace deal with the militants of Swat in May and agreed to gradually pull out troops and introduce an Islamic justice system. In exchange, the rebels said they would halt attacks and surrender their arms.

The Pakistan army launched a major offensive in October to clear Swat of militants loyal to Maulana Fazlullah, a radical pro-Taliban cleric who led an uprising to enforce Sharia law in the valley.

Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani met with army and intelligence chiefs on Wednesday and agreed to continue negotiations with militants, but he stressed that should be done through tribal leaders.

The meeting also empowered army chief General Ashfaq Kayani to take on-the-spot decisions about when to strike militants, especially to stop cross-border attacks on NATO and US-led forces in Afghanistan.

Pakistan's Western allies in the "war on terror" have expressed concerns about its peace talks with militants, especially with top Taliban commander Baitullah Mehsud, who is based in the tribal belt bordering Afghanistan.

US lawmakers said Wednesday that Washington was considering a new aid strategy for Pakistan that will triple unconditional non-security aid to 1.5 billion dollars a year, but tie security funding to counterrorism performance.
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Arghandab’s Two-Day War
As Taleban flee and residents return, opposing sides both claim victory.
Institute for War & Peace Reporting By IWPR contributors in Kandahar and Abaceen Nasimi in Kabul (ARR No. 294, 24-Jun-08)
Life is returning to normal in Arghandab, a verdant corner of the generally arid Kandahar province. Most of the Taleban fighters are gone, and specialists have moved in to clear the mines they left behind.

Even before the government gave the all-clear, residents risked life and limb to get back to their gardens, their grape arbours, and their livestock.

“I abandoned my cows and my goats,” said one woman, who did not want to give her name. Together with her four children, she was walking in the hot sunshine along the main road from the city of Kandahar to Arghandab.

She looked very tired, but was determined to get home.

“I don’t know whether my animals are alive or dead,” she said, without stopping. “It is those animals that provide food for my children.”

Mohammad Seddiq, a resident of the village of Munare, was also on the road, with his wife, mother and two sisters.

“We left the house with everything in it, and went to stay with relatives in the city,” he said. “I have a small plot of land, and I have worked hard all year. Then the Taleban came and took control of the area.”

Just one week ago, the Taleban were engaged in a standoff against the Afghan National Army, ANA, and NATO in Arghandab. The insurgents had mined roads and blown up bridges, and many civilians had left in anticipation of violence.

“When the Taleban came, they told us either to fight alongside them or leave,” said Hajji Hayatullah Aloko, a tribal elder from the village of Loy Tabin in Arghandab. “But we did not want to die in a senseless battle.”

The insurgent presence in Arghandab increased dramatically following a daring prison break on June 13, in which at least 350 Taleban were freed, along with several hundred other inmates.

Within days, there were close to 600 fighters gathered in Arghandab, according to residents.

Many of them, according to Hajji Aloko, were from nearby Pakistan. “They had long hair, and were wearing pakuls,” he told IWPR.

He was referring to the soft woollen cap that was the trademark of the mujaheddin during the 1980s war with the Soviets. While the pakul is quite common in some parts of Afghanistan, the Taleban in the south normally wear turbans. The headgear thus marked the men out as foreigners.

“People were saying the ‘pakulis’ had come,” said Hajji Aloko. “They were from Waziristan and Peshawar – you could tell by their clothing and the way they spoke.”

Kandahar lies close to the border, an almost non-existent dividing line. Afghan officials have long claimed that many of the guerrillas are Pakistan nationals, which Islamabad disputes.

General Gul Agha Naibi, commander of the ANA’s Kandahar Atal Corps, confirmed that there were around 600 Taleban and that most were of Pakistani origin.

Taleban spokesman Qari Yusuf Ahmadi told IWPR, however, that the bulk of the combatants were Afghan.

“There might be some individuals, but there isn’t a massive presence [of foreigners],” he said. “The government just wants to cover up its own failures by saying that.”

For three days, the tension mounted as the Taleban predicted that they would shortly take Kandahar city, and NATO and the government downplayed the threat.

On June 18, NATO moved into Arghandab, and by the following day it was all but over as the Taleban withdrew and the fighting stopped.

Some ANA forces remained in the area to clean up.

“We have not had any problems,” said General Aminullah Patianai who was leading the operation with the Atal Corps.

“For the past two nights, we have faced no resistance from the opposition,” he said, speaking on June 22. “The only difficulty is the mines that were laid, but some teams from Kabul are working on that. We will stay here for a few more days.”

The Taleban deny that their hasty exit from Arghandab was a sign of weakness. Spokesman Qari Yusuf insisted that it was instead a deliberate ploy.

“Our appearing in Arghandab was a tactic,” he said. “So was our departure. First, we showed the world that we can go wherever we want, that we can have a presence wherever we want. Second, we distracted the attention of the authorities from the escapees. We got them out of prison, but we needed to get them safe passage out of the area, and the foreigners were patrolling with their planes. They had the city surrounded, and we just wanted to focus their attention on Arghandab.”

According to Brigadier-General Denis Thompson, Commander of Canada’s Joint Task Force Afghanistan, the ANA bore the brunt of the attack while NATO provided support.

That the ensuing victory was swift and relatively easy seemed to increase the prestige of the Afghan forces, especially among civilians returning to their homes.

“I am so grateful to the Afghan National Army,” said Mohammad Seddiq from the village of Munare. “They cleared the way for us to live again.”

Noor Mohammad, an elderly man from the village of Naga Khan, told IWPR that farmers had been more than willing to cooperate with Afghan government forces.

“I don’t think there were any casualties,” he said. “For one thing, most people had left their homes, and for another, everyone was eager to get back. It is almost harvest season, so everyone helped the ANA.”
Arghandab is famed for its fruit, especially grapes and pomegranates.

According to Afghan government and NATO sources, the Taleban suffered high casualties in the fighting. Estimates run from less than a dozen to several hundred, depending on who is giving the figures. NATO indicated that 50 to 60 Taleban were killed.

“We killed more than 100 Taleban in Munare village alone,” said ANA commander General Abdul Samad, as he gestured at dead bodies lying next to canals and gardens.

In fact, according to General Naibi, much of the Taleban’s “shadow government” for Kandahar was wiped out in the operation.

“It was a serious blow to the opposition,” he told reporters at Kandahar air base on June 23. “Many important Taleban were killed. There was Mullah Abdul Shukur, the Taleban governor of Kandahar; Mullah Kamran, the chief of police; Mullah Baaz Mohammad, chief of intelligence; Mullah Sayed Wali, head of the bank, Mullah Qader, commander of the air force, and Mullah Mohib, commander from Spin Boldak.”

Mullah Shukur’s son buried him along with 14 others in Khakrez on June 22, Naibi added.

Kandahar governor Assadullah Khaled told reporters that government forces achieved a resounding victory across the the district.

“There were more than 100 Taleban killed in each village,” he. “We captured 12 villages, so the number of fighters killed is in the hundreds.”

The governor said that the bodies of the Taleban would be handed over to Hajji Agha Lalai of the Peace and Stabilisation Programme, so that they could be given to their relatives for burial.

“They will be buried according to Islamic and humanitarian principles,” said the governor.

Hajji Agha Lalai told IWPR that he had already received phone calls from people in Khakrez, Shah Wali Kot, Maiwand, Panjwai and Zherai – all districts of Kandahar province – asking for the return of local men killed in the battle while fighting for the Taleban.

“They wouldn’t exactly say that those killed were members of their families,” he told IWPR. “They just said the dead were residents of their villages.”

This suggests that not all – perhaps not even most – of the armed men who appeared in Arghandab were of Pakistani origin, as local residents had claimed.

A subsequent statement by General Naibi that the insurgents who fled after the battle for Arghandab would be hard to spot as they looked like locals also indicated that many of the Taleban group were Afghans.

“They went to Khakrez, Shah Wali Kot, Panjwai, Spin Boldak, Arghastan, and Maruf districts,” he said. All these areas are in Kandahar province.

“It is very hard to identify the fighters who have fled, since they’re the same as the local people.”

The Taleban spokesman dismissed the government’s casualty figures as “absolutely untrue” and told IWPR that “ten to 15 of our friends were martyred”.

According to Naibi, three ANA soldiers were injured and none were killed in the fighting. He also said no civilians had been hurt, nor had homes and gardens been damaged.

But he indicated that Arghandab remained unsettled.

“There are still ANA forces in Arghandab,” he said. “They will stay there as long as they are needed.”

Abaceen Nasimi is an IWPR journalist in Kabul. IWPR freelancers in Kandahar also contributed to this report.
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Dealing with Afghan insurgents like pulling weeds: soldiers
Doug Schmidt ,  Canwest News Service Thursday, June 26, 2008
BAZAR-I-PANJWAII, Afghanistan - Canadians brought a simple message Thursday to the Afghan village elders assembled for their weekly shura, or district assembly in Panjwaii - start pulling weeds.

"Panjwaii is like a beautiful garden, and everybody who lives here are gardeners," said Sgt. Tim Seeley, sounding a note he felt was sure to resonate here, at the centre of the country's former bread basket.

"But there are problems in the garden. There are two weeds, insurgents and corruption," said Seeley, a Panjwaii-based CIMIC (Civil-Military Cooperation) officer.

The Afghan national security forces, backed by Canadian and other NATO-led soldiers, are "like chemicals that keep the weeds down, but they can't get rid of the weeds," said Seeley. "What has to happen is the gardeners have to pull the weeds and throw them out of the garden."

The kicker to the story, of course, is the promise of what comes to the local weed killers.

"It's no secret that development is coming to Bazar-i-Panjwaii because of the security here. So, if you want development elsewhere, pull the weeds and throw them out of the garden," said Seeley, a reservist from Winnipeg who works closely with those trying to bring development and reconstruction to this former Taliban hotbed.

That same message is repeated by other guests to this shura west of Kandahar City, which attracts almost 50 elders from across the district.

District police chief Major Mohammad Esa tells the leaders he's not fooled. The insurgents planting roadside bombs or firing mortars at police and army posts are not outsiders, as is claimed by villagers, but locals whom these leaders know.

"It's also your responsibility to help with security," said Esa. He and the other guests list off recent casualties of the insurgency, all of them local civilians, including a girl who was seriously injured two days earlier after stumbling upon an anti-personnel mine.

"That's what you can thank the insurgents for," said Seeley.

Just the day before, on one of many stepped-up policing and military foot patrols in the area, Seeley was passing a local man and asked him whether he had seen any "bad guys" around. The man nodded nervously and gestured to a secluded spot where he then spilled his guts.

Speaking in an excited whisper, the man said he had been working on a nearby road project being paid for by Canadians until a Taliban letter was posted on his door warning him that he and his sons risked death if he didn't quit. He quit, but now it was payback time, and he pointed out a neighbourhood mosque whose mullah supports the Taliban and whose son and his friends openly carry rocket-propelled grenades and AK-47s at night.

"Great stuff. This is why we do these patrols," said patrol leader Capt. Sheldon Maerz, of the Police Operational Mentoring and Liaison Team, which sees Canadian military police and other soldiers paired up with Afghan police officers.

Cooperation can be deadly. Last week, three road workers on their way home were lined up and shot in the legs as a warning to others. An elderly cook employed by the Canadians at the Panjwaii CIMIC House ignored warnings to quit and was killed earlier this month outside his mosque.

Also at the shura is Maj. Mike Lane, officer in command of one of the Canadian battle group's infantry companies. He tells the elders he wants to begin seeing development and reconstruction flow into some of the more outlying areas they represent but that "we need security in the villages for that to happen." To help in the effort, Lane said there will be "a lot more patrols" in that area in the coming weeks.

"If you want peace and you have insurgents, you must tell us . . . and we can finish them," Capt. Azizullah of the Afghan National Army tells the shura.

"Pass on to your villagers, the more they can help us, the more we can help them," said Lane. Spreading that message will likely have to be by phone - those members of the district shura living in unsecured areas have relocated to the city and they risk their lives just being at this meeting. Lane and Seeley later said they're convinced Taliban were among the shura attendees.
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AFGHANISTAN: Aid promise prompts IDPs to return
26 Jun 2008 15:20:34 GMT
MAZAR-I SHARIF, 26 June 2008 (IRIN) - An estimated 9,000 people who abandoned their homes in the Alburz District of Balkh Province, northern Afghanistan, over a month ago and camped near Mazar-i Sharif have now agreed to go back to their homes, UN agencies and provincial officials said.

Agreement was achieved after aid agencies and provincial government bodies assured the internally displaced persons (IDPs) that aid and support would be delivered to them when they returned to home.

"The Ministry of Rural Rehabilitation and Development will deliver drinking water to Alburz residents by water tankers and food aid will be distributed to the neediest families," Asif Khairkhwah, president of the Afghan Red Crescent Society (ARCS) in Balkh, told IRIN on 26 June.

The UN World Food Programme (WFP) said it would deliver 50 tonnes of mixed food aid to 1,000 families in Alburz District.

"We are currently doing a registration of IDPs who are willing to return," said Khairkhwah, adding that free transport would be provided for returning families.

Up to 1,800 families - an estimated 9,000 individuals - have been displaced from Alburz and surrounding areas due to drought and food insecurity, the provincial authorities said.

However, WFP said its assessments indicated that "the reason behind their displacement is more related to land ownership issues than to distress caused by the drought".

Preventing "culture of displacement"

IDP representatives said the displaced families had not received any humanitarian assistance in the more than one month since they set up tents in the Cheshme Shifa area, in the outskirts of Mazar City.

The wretched living conditions of the IDPs did, however, attract communal sympathy and local donations, including cooked food portions from merchants and private foundations.

Balkh Province officials said government and ARCS humanitarian aid had not been offered to the Alburz IDPs because it could have prompted other vulnerable communities across the drought-affected province to seek assistance through displacement.

"We want to prevent a culture of displacement where people abandon their homes and livelihoods in search of free aid in urban areas," the ARCS's Khairkhwah said.

The UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) estimates that there are over 130,000 IDPs in Afghanistan, mainly living in camp-like situations and in need of assistance and protection.

About one million people were displaced across the country immediately after the fall of the Taliban in late 2001 - mainly Pashtuns from northern areas.

Since 2002 the UNHCR has assisted over 489,000 IDPs to return to their home areas and some 450,000 others have gone back to their homes without external assistance.

Insecurity, land disputes, tribal rivalries, natural disasters and food-insecurity are the main factors which have led to the displacement of vulnerable communities, according to government officials and aid workers.
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UK buying 86 armoured patrol vehicles for Afghanistan
London, June 26, IRNA
A new fleet of 86 armoured patrol vehicles is being bought for British troops deployed in Afghanistan, the Ministry of Defence announced Thursday.

Minister for Defence Equipment and Support, Baroness Taylor said the UK had ordered a further 72 Jackal combat and 14 more Viking amphibious vehicles to support operations and maintain the strength of the country's Armed Forces.

Taylor also unveiled the new Ridgback urban patrol truck, 157 of which are already on order to give more protection from mines and bombs at a cost of some Pnds 150 million (Dlrs 300m). She also presented the new command and liaison vehicle, PANTHER.

The display of new armoured vehicles comes after British troops have faced the increasing peril of improvised explosion device, which have caused the majority of the 21 British soldiers so far killed in Afghanistan this year.

"Getting the right equipment to the Armed Forces is my priority.

I am always looking for the newest technology to address the ever- changing threats, and offer the greatest protection, mobility and firepower," Taylor said.

The Ridgbacks, the UK variant of US Force Protection Inc's Cougar 4x4 vehicles, are being fitted with extra protection, weapons and communications systems, and once modified, they will be taken to Afghanistan for pre-deployment training.

The MoD said the total number of new protected vehicles being delivered to support operations in Afghanistan and Iraq now stands at almost 600.
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U.N.: Opium Trade Soars in Afghanistan
By Colum Lynch Washington Post Staff Writer Thursday, June 26, 2008; 1:03 PM
UNITED NATIONS, June, 26 -- Afghan opium cultivation grew 17 percent last year, continuing a six-year expansion of the country's drug trade and increasing its share of global opium production to more than 92 percent, according to the 2008 World Drug Report, released Thursday by the United Nations.

Afghanistan's emergence as the world's largest supplier of opium and heroin represents a serious setback to the U.S. policy in the region. The opium trade has soared since the U.S.-led 2001 overthrow of the Taliban, which had eradicated almost all of the country's opium poppies in 2001. The proceeds from the illicit trade -- which is concentrated in Taliban strongholds -- are now helping finance a resurgent Taliban that is battling American troops and their allies.

The Taliban earned $200 million to $400 million dollars in revenues last year through a 10 percent tax on poppy growers and drug traffickers in areas under its control, Antonio Maria Costa, executive director of the U.N. Office of Drugs and Crime, said in an interview. He estimated that farmers and drug traffickers last year earned about $4 billion, half of the country's national income. Afghanistan's high-yielding variety of opium poppies has helped double world opium production since 2005. With production far outpacing world demand last year, U.N. anti-drug officials and government intelligence agencies worry about massive stockpiling of the drug.

"There will be 2 or 3 thousand tons of extra supply this year," Costa said. "We are talking all together about 6or 7 thousand tons of opium, somewhere."

The Bush administration also cited U.N. data suggesting that overall opium production will fall slightly this year in Afghanistan -- the result of drought, crop substitution funds, and the consolidation of the drug trade in five southern provinces -- but acknowledged the struggles of dealing with spiraling opium production.

"The drug threat in Afghanistan remains unacceptably high and requires a long term commitment by both the Afghan government and international donors," said Susan Pittman, spokeswoman for the State Department's Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs. "We remain determined to reduce cultivation."

However, the administration said the U.N. report confirms its view that the broader international effort to contain the use of illicit drugs is succeeding, including in the United States, where drug consumption has dropped over the past decade.

The 303-page report -- produced by the Vienna-based U.N. Office on Drugs and Crime -- finds that opium cultivation in southeast Asia increased by 22 percent in 2007, ending a six-year decline in a region that once produced most of the world's heroin. The majority of last year's growth was driven by a 29 percent spike in cultivation in Burma.

The report also tracks a surge in marijuana production in Afghanistan, which surpassed Morocco as one of the world's major producers. It also noted that growers in the United States and Canada have shifted their production to indoor laboratories, which can produce more potent strains.

The report details the emergence of new hubs for transshipment and drug use -- including countries such as Guinea-Bissau as well as Saudi Arabia, which in 2006 led the world in seizures of amphetamines.

Some 26 million people, about 0.6 percent of the world's adult population, are addicted to drugs, the report said. About one in 20 people have used some form of illicit drug in the past 12 months.

Cocaine production in Bolivia, Peru and Colombia increased last year, though the overall yields increased by only about 1 percent. Illicit drugs are responsible for about 200,000 deaths each year, a fraction of the nearly 5 million who die each year from tobacco.

Drug consumption in the United States, meanwhile, continued a "very significant" reduction, Costa said, including a 19 percent decline over the past decade in the number of U.S. workers who tested positive for cocaine use. Costa said the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency has been warning him of an explosion of amphetamine use in the United States, but that studies on workplace drug testing in the United States show a decline. " I just don't see it," he said.

"The U.S. has always been characterized by very high levels of drug addiction," he said. But in the past five years, "we have noted a perceptible decrease, especially among the younger population, aged 16 to 22," he said. "The country is doing something right."
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Firing blanks in Afghanistan
By David Isenberg Asia Times Online, Hong Kong
WASHINGTON - The saga of United States military contractor AEY and its supply of substandard ammunition to Afghanistan keeps getting curiouser and curiouser, as Alice in Wonderland phrased it, after descending the rabbit hole. Or put another way, it is the news story that keeps on giving.

Since the New York Times first reported March 27 on the contract awarded on January 26, 2007, to Miami Beach, Florida-based AEY Inc, headed by then 21-year old president Efraim E Diveroli, with the US Army to provide US$298 million in various types of ammunition to the Afghan army and police forces, and the rabbit hole just keep getting deeper.

The contract required AEY to certify that it was providing "serviceable and safe ammunition". The army contract also banned supplying ammunition acquired "directly or indirectly from a communist Chinese military company".

But according to the Times the company provided ammunition that is more than 40 years old and in decomposing packaging. Much of the ammunition came from old communist bloc aging stockpiles, including those that the US State Department and North Atlantic Treaty Organization had determined to be unreliable and obsolete, and had spent millions of dollars to have destroyed.
The ammunition had not been tested for reliability under well-established military standards. The obsolete and defective cartridges were shipped in poorly packed cardboard boxes that split open on arrival in war zones. Other ammunition was in crates that suffered from extensive termite damage and "were no longer safe for transportation".

Documents uncovered by the Times revealed that AEY bought more than 100 million Chinese cartridges that had been stored for decades. Different lots or types of ammunition were mixed. In some cases, the ammunition was dirty, corroded or covered with a film. The repackaging operation was carried out by an AEY subcontractor at the Rinas Airport in Tirana, Albania.

AEY also worked with a shell company in Cyprus and middlemen on a federal watch list of entities suspected of illegal arms trafficking.

Under US law, American dealers must disclose every entity involved in an arms shipment overseas, including brokering, transportation and repackaging companies. The State Department checks subcontractors and partners against a watch list of entities suspected of involvement in illegal arms deals.

But there is a loophole. The law exempts federal agencies and contractors working for them. Arms-trade researchers complain that contractors like AEY have worked with suspicious companies abroad, and that the Pentagon has not screened their activities.

Even such a conservative as Caspar Weinberger, secretary of defense in the Ronald Reagan administration, wrote, "While a $300 million contract in a multi-trillion dollar war is not all that much, the case is illustrative of not only of an encrusted bureaucracy, bloated, redundant, and often blind, but of the problems a capitalistic society in general must surely have in buying goods and services for the defense of the nation."

In Albania, Attorney General Ina Rama opened an investigation into claims that senior politicians, including Prime Minister Sali Berisha and Defense Minister Fatmir Mediu, were involved in arms trafficking with AEY.

The New York Times published transcripts of a phone conversation between a subcontractor and Diveroli, in which he appears to say that Albanian politicians took bribes to facilitate arms trades.

But by then, complaints about the ammunition had already surfaced. According to the New York Times, an Afghan lieutenant colonel said that the Chinese ammunition he received from AEY last autumn dated to 1966 and arrived in decomposing packaging. And AEY reportedly continued to make shipments even after American officers in Kabul told the army about the company's failings earlier this year.

On May 23, the army suspended AEY from receiving federal contracts, after paying it $66 million, contending that it sent a different shipment of Chinese cartridges to Afghanistan after certifying that they were made in Hungary. And then the State Department suspended AEY's international export activities, meaning any applications for licenses would be refused.

But the army already had issued five task orders and paid AEY $155.3 million on the contract, which was subject to full and open competition, but had failed to deliver on $88 million of the ammunition it had committed to procure. While AEY was allowed to provide ammunition already ordered, the remaining $143 million on the contract was put on hold while the army completes its investigation.

Subsequently, AEY was singled out as an example of fraud and mismanagement in how the federal government awards contracts to small and minority-owned businesses.

Senator John Kerry, chairman of the committee on Small Business and Entrepreneurship, said AEY won as many as 50 contracts worth $298 million, in part because of its designation as a small disadvantaged business (SDB) - a status reserved for people belonging to certain minority groups who can prove their net worth is under $750,000.

SDBs are usually owned by blacks, Hispanics, Asians or Native Americans. Other ethnicities can qualify only if they show a "preponderance of evidence" that they are disadvantaged.

At one point, Diveroli identified AEY as a disadvantaged small business in an online form submitted to the army for other contracts. But he also wrote that his company had not been certified as such by the federal Small Business Administration, and that AEY had received no preferential treatment.

But there was no evidence that AEY would have been eligible for this status. Diveroli's grandfather is Italian - not one of the minorities singled out under the program. Diveroli himself is Jewish. Orthodox Hassidic Jews qualify but Diveroli is not Hassidic.

Even if could have met the minority status it's highly unlikely Diveroli would have met the stringent economic criteria.

His family owns two military and police supply companies, both of which receive government contracts. Worldwide Tactical, which sells riot gear, chest protectors and flight suits, operates at the same Miami address as AEY and is owned by Michael Diveroli, Efraim's father.

There is also Botach Tactical, a military and police supply company in South Central Los Angeles that has received more than $13 million in contracts and is owned by Efraim's uncle, Bar-Kochba Botach.

Incidentally, Diveroli started AEY after both he and his father learned the business from Bar-Kochba Botach.

And Efraim's grandfather, Yoav Botach, is one of Los Angeles' wealthiest property owners. According to the Los Angeles Daily News, he owns 144 commercial or other properties in the city and has an ownership stake in Botach Tactical.

Companies classified as small and socially or economically disadvantaged under section 8(a) of the 1953 Small Business Act are eligible for business development assistance in addition to access to contracts. The SDB program focuses on helping such companies gain access to the federal marketplace.

The Small Business Administration in Washington says it has no record that AEY ever applied for SDB status.

A review of the Federal Procurement Data System, which provides information on government contracting, found AEY was first identified as an SDB in June 2006 by the State Department and army. It ultimately received the SDB designation 33 times on contracts worth $224 million. The company received another 19 awards during the same period without being labeled an SDB. Before receiving the designation AEY had done just $8.14 million in business with the federal government.

AEY was incorporated in 1999 by Michael Diveroli, Efraim's father. The company did little business until 2005, when Efraim, then 19, was named AEY's president.

Now, consider the events of the past few days. Last Friday, a federal grand jury in Miami indicted Diveroli as well as two former employees and a business associate, on 71 counts of fraud and conspiring to misrepresent the types of ammunition they sold to the Defense Department as part of a $298 million army contract.

According to the indictment, Diveroli, and vice president David Packouz (a 25-year-old licensed masseur), Alexander Podrizki and Ralph Merrill were indicted on wide-ranging fraud charges in connection with their provision of ammunition to Afghanistan. They sought "to unjustly enrich themselves" by shipping aged Chinese rifle cartridges to Afghanistan after claiming they were made in Albania.

It is obvious that the US government has decided to make a big deal of this, as the indictment was announced not only by R Alexander Acosta, US attorney for the Southern District of Florida; but also by Sharon Woods, director, US Department of Defense (DoD), Defense Criminal Investigative Service; Anthony V Mangione, special agent-in-charge, US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), Office of Investigations in Miami; Brigadier General Rodney Johnson, commanding general, US Army Criminal Investigation Command; and Paul Phillips, regional director, Defense Contract Audit Agency.

Count one of the indictment charged all defendants with conspiracy to defraud the US by making false representations to the government and by conspiring to commit procurement fraud. Counts 2 through 36 charge AEY and Diveroli with making false statements to the US Army regarding the country of origin of the ammunition. Lastly, all defendants are charged with procurement fraud.

Diveroli manages and directs the business operations of the company. David Packouz was a director and vice president of AEY; Alexander Podrizki was an agent of AEY stationed in Tirana, Albania; and Ralph Merrill was a business associate of Diveroli who provided financial and managerial assistance to AEY.
According to the indictment, on July 28, 2006, the US Army issued a solicitation requesting bids on a contract to provide various types of ammunition to the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan. AEY submitted a bid and represented that it could fulfill the requirements of the contract and procure the ammunition for $298,000,000. Based on that bid, the army awarded the contract to AEY on January 26, 2007. Under the terms of the contract, AEY was required to certify that it provided serviceable and safe ammunition. The contract also prohibited delivery of ammunition acquired, directly or indirectly, from a communist Chinese military company.

The indictment alleges that the defendants submitted documents to the army falsely attesting that the ammunition they provided was manufactured in Albania, when, in fact, the ammunition came from China. To implement the scheme, Diveroli, Packouz and Podrizki directed others to assist in the packaging of ammunition to be delivered to Afghanistan and provided instructions to remove Chinese markings from containers to conceal that the ammunition was manufactured in China.

With each shipment, Diveroli falsely certified that the furnished ammunition conformed with the contract requirements and that the manufacturer and point of origin of the ammunition was the Military Export and Import Company (MEICO) in Tirana.

Based on these false submissions, the army paid AEY approximately $10,331,736 for 35 shipments of Chinese ammunition.

If convicted of the charges in counts 1 through 36, each defendant faces a maximum term of imprisonment of up to five years per count. If convicted of the charges in counts 37 through 71, each defendant named faces a maximum term of imprisonment of up to 10 years per count.

Interestingly, Anthony V Mangione, Special Agent of ICE, said, "The indictment and arrest of these four individuals is a result of a three-year joint law enforcement agency investigation conducted by US Immigration and Customs Enforcement's (ICE) Counter Proliferation Investigations (CPI) Unit, DCIS and army CID." But as the initial request for proposals wasn't issued until July 2006, about two years ago, that would mean an investigation was going on even before the contract was awarded.

That would be because both AEY and Diveroli had been placed on the watch list in April 2006 because they were under investigation by US Immigration and Customs Enforcement for "numerous violations of the Arms Export Control Act and contract fraud".

The investigation actually began in July 2005 and involved "numerous violations of the Arms Export Control Act and contract fraud". ICE had described this investigation as involving "illegal firearms or firearm related transactions" by Efraim Diveroli and had instructed US officials encountering Efraim Diveroli to "[p]lease search luggage and photocopy any suspect documents".

On December 12, 2006, the State Department made the following entry to the watch list regarding both Diveroli and AEY:
There appear to be several suspicious characteristics of this company, including the fact that Diveroli is only 21 years old and has brokered or completed several multi-million dollar deals involving fully and semi-automatic assault rifles. Future license applications involving Diveroli and/or his company should be very carefully scrutinized.
The watch list warned that "future license applications involving Diveroli and/or his company should be very carefully scrutinized". The watch list also had entries for Heinrich Thomet, the president of Evdin, Ltd, a company based in Cyprus that acted as AEY's middleman; and Ylli Pinari, the head of the state-run Military Export Import Company (MEICO), which supplied the ammunition from Albania. The reasons both Thomet and Pinari were placed on the list are classified.

But wait, there's more. This past Monday, the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, headed by Representative Henry Waxman (Democrat-California) sent out a press release stating it had received evidence that the US Embassy in Albania approved an effort to conceal the illegal Chinese origins of ammunition shipped to Afghanistan by AEY.

US Army military attache Major Larry D Harrison II, who is chief of the embassy's office of defense cooperation, told investigators that John L Withers II, the US ambassador to Albania, endorsed a plan by the Albanian defense minister, Fatmir Mediu, to hide several boxes of Chinese ammunition from a visiting reporter.

According to Harrison, he was one of the aides attending a late-night meeting, on November 19, 2007, where Mediu asked Withers for help, saying he was concerned that the reporter would reveal that he had been accused of profiting from selling arms. The minister said that because he had gone out of his way to help the United States, a close ally, "the US owed him something", according to Harrison.

Mediu ordered the commanding general of Albania's armed forces to remove all boxes of Chinese ammunition from a site the reporter was to visit, and "the ambassador agreed that this would alleviate the suspicion of wrongdoing", according to Harrison's testimony.

It is clear from the records that at that time the embassy knew the ammunition was illegal, as this excerpt from the transcribed question and answer with Harrison confirms:

Question: So at the time of this meeting between the defense minister, the ambassador, and several other State Department officials, it was clear that you were discussing Chinese ammunition; is that correct?

Answer: That is correct. That is correct.

Q: And it was clear that AEY was the company that was buying it under a US contract?

A: That is correct. ...

Q: And you said, by this time, you had been informed that it was illegal under US law for a US contractor to buy Chinese ammunition. Is that correct?

A: That is correct, yes, sir ...

Q: And you said also at this time it was clear that there was an investigation ongoing ... Is that right?

A: That is correct, yes, sir.

Not only did the embassy help Mediu conceal the ammunition, but it also did not tell the truth about what happened when the House Oversight and Government reform committee inquired of the State Department what it knew of the case. As committee chairman Waxman wrote in a letter to US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice:
The information obtained by the committee raises serious issues. If the information is accurate, it appears that senior US Embassy officials in Albania approved of the efforts of the Albanian defense minister to conceal evidence of illegal shipments of Chinese ammunition that are now the subject of a criminal indictment. It also appears that information about the incident was withheld from the committee. It is hard to understand what rationale would justify these actions.
On Tuesday, the committee held a hearing on AEY's Afghan contract. According to Waxman's prepared statement, "The AEY contract shows that the procurement process at the Department of Defense is dysfunctional. There was no apparent need for the contract, no effective vetting of the company's qualifications, and no adequate oversight."

To add insult to injury Waxman noted:
AEY acquired its ammunition from stockpiles in Albania and other former Warsaw Pact countries. These countries have surplus ammunition they are trying to give away or destroy. We learned during the investigation that the president of Albania flew to Iraq in 2007 and offered to donate Albanian stockpiles to General [David] Petraeus. It appears that the army agreed to pay $300 million for ammunition it could have gotten for free. The procurement failure that is the hardest to understand is the selection of AEY. The State Department maintains a "watch list" of potential illegal arms traffickers. Both AEY and Mr Diveroli are on the watch list. So are AEY's subcontractor and the subcontractor's subcontractor. The State Department official in charge of the watch list called this "a perfect trifecta".

But the Defense Department never bothered to check the watch list before awarding the $300 million arms contract. In the source selection decision, the contracting officer wrote: "There essentially is no doubt that AEY would perform in accordance with the delivery schedules and has no history of quality rated problems. Based on this, AEY's initial rating was 'Excellent'.' This was pure fiction.
According to Waxman, if army officials had just examined AEY's performance under previous Defense and State Department contracts, they would have easily discovered a dismal record of failure. Documents produced to the committee show that federal agencies terminated, withdrew, or canceled at least seven previous contracts with AEY for poor quality or late deliveries, as well as four additional delivery orders under an eighth contract. That included a botched $5.6 million order for 10,000 Beretta pistols for Iraq's security forces.

One Pentagon interviewed by the committee recalled that when AEY failed to deliver Beretta pistols for the Iraq security forces, Diveroli offered excuses that were false, such as blaming AEY's failure to perform on a hurricane in Florida that never occurred. A contracting official stated: "It's not like we didn't have the Internet in the Green Zone and couldn't check on this."

Under these contracts, AEY provided potentially unsafe helmets to US forces in Iraq, failed to deliver thousands of weapons, and shipped poor quality ammunition to US special forces.

A US inspector in Iraq wrote to AEY about the helmets:
Some people at MNSTC-I [Multi-National Security Transition Command - Iraq] got a little wound up when they saw the daily receiving report. They remembered the 10,000 helmets you sold them earlier this year and the junk AKs we still have in the warehouse. The concern was that, if they break and crack, are they ballistically correct? In other words, will they stop a bullet and what do we do if they don't? Several scenarios were being planned for you, none of them pleasant.
How was it that AEY survived the initial evaluation for the Afghanistan contract when it performed so poorly on past contracts, the results of which had been amply documented?

According to the Oversight and Government Reform committee staff analysis, the Pentagon's "source selection team" for the ammunition contract evaluated AEY's past performance based only on three contracts identified by AEY. In other words, the Pentagon did not do anything more than check the paperwork that AEY provided.

A review of a database available to the source selection team would have identified the other Defense and State Department contracts awarded to AEY. Apparently, however, AEY's performance under other contracts with the Departments of Defense and State was not considered.

But, even given that limited data, there were warning signs.

The selection team considered AEY's record of on-time delivery, quality, international movement of ammunition and success as a "system integrator", which included experience in "the identification of ammunition appropriate for foreign weapon systems", "the ability to establish quality control, safety and transportation plans", and "adhering to the regulations and policies of both foreign and US governments".

The team gave AEY a mixed rating. It rated AEY's past history of on-time delivery and quality as "Excellent". But with respect to AEY's history of "international movement" and experience as a "systems integrator", the team concluded that AEY's past performance was "Unsatisfactory". It also found that the contracts submitted by AEY for consideration failed to demonstrate "past performance experience with contracts for large number of varied items and the ability to identify appropriate ammunition to stated foreign weapon systems". The team concluded: "Lacking this experience, there is substantial doubt that AEY could perform in accordance with the solicitation requirements."

On January 22, 2007, the contracting official who ultimately awarded the contract overruled the source selection team and raised AEY's score from "Unsatisfactory" to "Good". She acknowledged that her change made "a difference", and she stated that AEY "would not [have] gotten the award" without this adjustment. But in changing the rating she gathered no additional information about these contracts beyond what was available to the source selection team.

Another major problem was that the contract with AEY contained a huge loophole, which it took full advantage of.

In the contract the Defense Department provided little or no guidance on the quality or condition of the ammunition required. The contract called for ammunition that was "serviceable", but it gave no further details.

The contract also specifically permitted the use of "surplus" ammunition. The contract failed to set an age limit for the ammunition purchased by AEY. A section of the contract in which the contracting officer answered questions raised by bidders addressed this issue specifically: Question 2: Is there an age limitation on the items to be delivered under this contract?

Answer: No, but material must be serviceable and issuable to all units without qualifications.

Documents show that AEY paid close attention to age restrictions in contracts, and sought to take advantage of the lack of such restrictions in order to obtain older, cheaper ammunition. In a request for price quotes under the Afghanistan contract, AEY wrote to potential suppliers, "We remind you that although target prices seem low, we already have the contract with the US government signed ... and ANY age ammunition is acceptable."

And despite the hazardous nature of the cargo, the contract also had no specific restrictions on the type of packaging to be used in transporting ammunition. The contract had the following instruction, without any elaboration: "Package in cartons in accordance with the best commercial practice for international shipment."

There is no adequate explanation why the Defense Department failed to include proper quality, age and packaging requirements in the contract. Other military contracts for similar ammunition included such restrictions.

AEY also took advantage of the Defense Department's failure to conduct rigorous inspections. The Defense Contract Management Agency did not conduct consistent inspections of AEY's ammunition before it was shipped, citing "a plethora of reasons", including an inability to send inspectors to the various Eastern European countries from which AEY procured ammunition.

David Isenberg is an analyst in national and international security affairs, sento@earthlink.net. He is also a member of the Coalition for a Realistic Foreign Policy, an adjunct scholar with the Cato Institute, contributor to the Straus Military Reform Project, a research fellow at the Independent Institute, and a US Navy veteran. The views expressed are his own.
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Canada hopes investment brings order to anarchic Kandahar
Wednesday, June 25, 2008 – Canwest News Service
KANDAHAR CITY, Afghanistan - Left unmentioned in Ottawa's recent unveiling of a host of grand Canadian signature and priority projects for Afghanistan was a $22-million program about to be launched that is aimed at turning anarchic Kandahar City into a properly functioning "citizen friendly" model municipality.

The population of Afghanistan's second-largest city has grown fourfold in the past five years, to an estimated 800,000 residents, but the sprawling metropolis boasts fewer municipal employees - about 70 total - than your average Canadian small town. There's no city planner, at least two-thirds of property owners don't pay any taxes (the population figure is a best-guess), and a mere handful of municipal dump trucks pulls double duty as the garbage truck fleet.

"The biggest thing I need is to clean up this city," says Kandahar City's respected, and by all accounts corruption-proof, Mayor Ghulam Haider Hamidi. "When I came here 16 months ago, the city's trash had built up (in the streets) over the last 25 or 30 years."

Hamidi, who was asked by President Hamid Karzai to return to help rebuild his homeland after 18 years in exile, says he frequently urges local citizens to register their homes and pay taxes so the city can afford to provide basic services.

"Everyday I'm on the radio, I'm in the newspapers, saying: 'Help your government,'" says Hamidi, who has had tax evaders thrown in jail until their families coughed up what he felt was owed.

An ambitious three-year plan to change all that is expected to be formally announced sometime in July. The CIDA-funded Governance and Development Support Project to Kandahar will be implemented by UN Habitat.

"People don't want to pay taxes because there are no services, but the city won't provide services because nobody pays taxes," says Abdul Baqi Popal, a UN Habitat senior program co-ordinator in Afghanistan. "The problem is a lack of trust between people and government - this will bridge that gap."

It starts with registering the unknown number of properties in the city and issuing land titles to the owners. Popal says when residents see their security of tenure, and the expected increase in property values, they will begin investing in their homes, resulting in job growth, and they will start taking greater interest in the governance of their community. That should pay political dividends in a city the remains a centre of conflict and insecurity due to an active insurgency. "We want to deepen the process of governance," says Popal.

Neighbourhoods that have never seen government - up to 70 per cent of Kandahar City consists of "informal settlements" - will be able to tap into 90 community development councils that will give city residents a direct say in what priorities to tackle, whether water, roads, electricity or sanitation. These councils will be served by three municipal district offices which report to a "city development forum," a quasi-city council headed by the mayor.

With almost a third of the $22 million being invested in city water supply improvements, newly registered property owners will see tangible benefits coming from their municipality, which will help ease the sting of having to start paying property taxes.

"The conflict has meant you can't really have a normally functioning city," says Andrew Scyner, a CIDA development officer based in Kandahar who is working on the project. Kandahar gets almost all its current spending money from the central government and international donors, he says.

Hamidi, who spent his exile years as an accountant in Virginia, relishes the story of one well-connected shopkeeper he had jailed for refusing to pay property taxes and who then tried to have his friend the provincial governor intervene to get him out. Hamidi stood fast, and the governor sided with the mayor. The incredulous shopkeeper later asked around about the mayor.

"People were telling him, this mayor, he's crazy, he doesn't take bribes," Hamidi laughs in the recounting.

It's perhaps an indication of how strange things are in this corruption-rife country that common citizens who like Hamidi refer to him as "the Talib."

"For some things, yes, the people miss the Taliban. The Taliban got things done," says Hamidi, referring to the main insurgents Canadian soldiers are helping Afghan national security forces fight.

Coinciding with the pending start of the new program, Hamidi says he's busy organizing a lunch party for a hundred of the city's affluent residents who currently avoid paying any property taxes.

"He's pretty fearless," Scyner says of Hamidi: "Kandaharis look up to him as a decent, honest leader."
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Advice on Afghanistan
Interview Ahmed Rashid 
CBC.ca, Canada  Wednesday, June 25, 2008 CBC News
CBC's Around the World host Harry Forestell had an opportunity recently to sit down with Ahmed Rashid, a Pakistani journalist based in Lahore who writes for several newspapers including the Daily Telegraph and The Washington Post.

Rashid has written extensively on Islamic extremism in the region and is on tour promoting his newly released book, Descent into Chaos: The United States and the Failure of Nation Building in Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Central Asia.

Forestell interviewed him in Toronto.

Forestell: Canadian troops are risking their lives every day in Afghanistan, fighting militants, in an effort to bring stability to that country. And yet time and time again, we hear about Pakistan's failure to control those same insurgents within its own borders. Why isn't Pakistan helping more?

Rashid: I think the military in Pakistan has had a strategic policy since 2001, to give sanctuary to the Afghan Taliban leadership. Much of that is taking place in Quetta, the town in Baluchistan, exactly opposite Kandahar, where the Canadians are based.

I think one of the mistakes the Canadians made when they deployed in Afghanistan was to take at American face value the assurance that Kandahar would be absolutely peaceful and that these militants wouldn't come across the border.

In fact, the Americans, under Canadian insistence, went to President [Pervez] Musharraf and said, 'Make sure that the Canadians are not upset and nothing happens.' The Pakistanis didn't listen.

What we've had since 2005: the big offensive in Arghandab in 2006 when up to 1,500 Taliban were killed and layers upon layers of Taliban coming in from across the border fighting Canadian troops.

Forestell: The U.S. and others have warned that if Pakistan cannot control the territory within its own borders, that the U.S. or NATO would do it for them. What kind of reaction would there be from Pakistan if that were to happen?

Rashid: I think Pakistan can control its own borders if it had the will. At the moment what we're seeing is a lack of will as far as the military regime is concerned. I think part of that failure is related to the Bush administration because it has given the Musharraf regime far too much leeway.

Right after 9/11, the Americans told Musharraf that you help us catch al-Qaeda, we don't care what happens to the Taliban. Now that was exactly what Musharraf wanted to hear. He wanted to support the Taliban but he was very helpful in getting al-Qaeda. For several years, he caught top al-Qaeda people.

Now that policy, all those chickens have come home to roost, because the real threat in the region is not necessarily al-Qaeda, it is the Taliban and (Afghan) President Hamid Karzai's outburst the other day was to demonstrate the fact that the real threat in the region was the Taliban. What is your policy regarding the Taliban?

Forestell: But the Taliban and al-Qaeda, you have said yourself, are inextricably linked, especially in the most recent attacks in Arghandab.

Rashid: They are linked in the sense that al-Qaeda is a very small outfit along the Pakistani-Afghan border. But they have enormous strategic influence.

They give the right training. I am sure the jailbreak in Kandahar was organized by al-Qaeda. It was a typical al-Qaeda operation, they probably planned it, but it wasn't implemented by them. It was implemented by the Taliban.

What al-Qaeda's role really is, it provides this gateway to Iraq. There are a lot of Taliban fighters going to Iraq and learning new tactics. It's giving expertise. Its helping in the drugs trade, earn money for the Taliban. Al-Qaeda has been playing a kind of supervisory role.

Forestell: But ultimately it's the Taliban in the Pakistani territories that are coming across the border. Now you called the (Pakistani) elections in February hopeful. What certainty is there that a truly democratic government in Pakistan is going to be any more reliable an ally in the short term in terms of helping Canadians in Afghanistan than Gen. Musharraf has been?

Rashid: Well, in the 60 years since Pakistan's birth, we've had this conflict between civil power and military power. The civilians have never controlled the army.

The army today continues to make foreign policy. It is making policy on Afghanistan and India. It doesn't share that with the civilian prime minister or the Parliament or with anyone else. These peace deals that have been conducted over the last couple of months have been conducted solely by the army and the intelligence services.

Why I say hopeful is because I hope. For the first time the Pakistani people voted for secular parties, voted out Musharraf's party, voted out the Islamic fundamentalist parties, and brought in the secular government which wants to fight terrorism on a broad front.

It wants military clout but it also wants development and reconstruction to take place side by side. I think that they have a good vision but the military and the civilians have to talk on one page, they have to be working together. The Americans are not helping this by solely supporting Musharraf and the military. The Americans have shown little inclination to support the civilian government.

Forestell: Until then, are we wasting our time in Afghanistan? Is Canada wasting its time?

Rashid: No, on the contrary. I think Canada has to be there, the international forces have to be there. But first of all, you have to deal with this insurgency in a much more strident way.

In other words, you have to have a policy toward Pakistan. Canada does not have a policy toward Pakistan. If it does, it is a very private policy. You have to have a public policy towards Pakistan.

You are one of the largest aid donors to Pakistan and Afghanistan. You have a lot of clout, you have the third-largest contingent of troops in Afghanistan, you have the highest casualty rate in Afghanistan, compared to your population.

Now all that gives you clout in NATO, in the G8, in all international forums and of course, it gives you clout in the region.

What I would like to see is Canada, perhaps not working alone, perhaps with other like-minded countries, perhaps the Brits, who are next door in Helmand or the Dutch in Uruzgan, working together to really build a proper Pakistan policy and to be public about it. 
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