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June 30, 2008 

Afghanistan deadlier than Iraq again for troops
Associated Press / June 30, 2008
KABUL, Afghanistan - More U.S. and NATO troops have been killed in Afghanistan than in Iraq for the second straight month.

45 killed in fresh Afghan violence
Mon Jun 30, 9:02 AM ET
HERAT, Afghanistan (AFP) - US-led air strikes and Afghan ground troops killed 33 Taliban rebels in western Afghanistan, while four civilians were killed in bomb blasts elsewhere, officials said Monday.

28 militants said killed in Afghanistan fight
By AMIR SHAH Associated Press June 30, 2008
KABUL, Afghanistan - U.S.-led forces backed by warplanes battled militants in southwestern Afghanistan, killing 28 rebels including several Taliban commanders, an Afghan official said Monday.

AFGHANISTAN: Humanitarian situation "deteriorating" – Holmes
KABUL, 30 June 2008 (IRIN) - Conflict and natural disasters have caused a "serious" and "deteriorating" humanitarian situation in Afghanistan and the aid community must scale up its efforts to meet the needs of vulnerable people

No Afghan peace while Taliban have sanctuary - NATO
Sun Jun 29, 2008 - By Hamid Shalizi
KABUL, June 29 (Reuters) - Afghanistan will not be secure as long as insurgents are allowed to operate freely in sanctuaries on the Pakistan side of the border, a NATO spokesman said on Sunday.

Afghan government workers tied to attempt to kill Karzai
Terrorist infiltration is called 'constant treat' By Kim Barker | Chicago Tribune June 30, 2008
KABUL, Afghanistan — In late April, President Hamid Karzai, the smooth-talking and suave-dressing Western-backed president of this key nation in the war on terror, survived yet another assassination attempt as he sat on a podium

Secret US military plan for Pakistan on hold-report
WASHINGTON, June 29 (Reuters) - Top Bush administration officials drafted a secret plan late last year to make it easier for U.S. Special Operations forces to operate inside Pakistan's tribal areas, but Washington turf battles and the diversion

US opposes refugee repatriation
By Anwar Iqbal Dawn (Pakistan)
WASHINGTON, June 29: The United States has urged Pakistan not to repatriate Afghan refugees as it would have a destabilising effect on the Afghan government.

Korea opens hospital in Afghanistan
Source: Korean Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade June 30, 2008
The Foreign Ministry said Monday (June 30) that Korea opened a hospital in Afghanistan to care for local residents as part of its civilian-led efforts to continue contributions to the war-ravaged country.

Trouble in Tajik Mountain Province
Remote region seething with discontent, which some fear could translate into political instability if the underlying causes are left unaddressed.
Institute for War & Peace Reporting By Lola Olimova in Dushanbe (RCA No. 547, 27-Jun-08)
A standoff between locals in the remote province of Badakhshan and the Tajik government has been resolved for now at least, but it highlights growing levels of social discontent in this underdeveloped part of the country. Analysts say local

Jiangxi Copper says Afghan project worth $4.4 bln
Sun Jun 29, 2008 9:30pm EDT
HONG KONG, June 30 (Reuters) - Jiangxi Copper Co (0358.HK: Quote, Profile, Research, Stock Buzz), China's top integrated copper producer, said its copper mining project with China Metallurgical Group Corp in Afghanistan

Prison break makes for an uncertain future in Afghanistan
Life will be harder for Canadian and NATO forces in the area
Monday, June 30, 2008 - STEPHEN M. SAIDEMAN, The Gazette
More questions have been raised about the continuing effort by Canada and NATO in Afghanistan. The prison break in Kandahar City, the confrontation looming in the Arghandab district, and President Hamid Karzai's threats toward Pakistan

Spud farmer returns to roots to help Afghans
By JOHN MILLER – BOISE, Idaho (AP) — To help poor Afghani villagers make money on potatoes instead of opium poppies, Idaho farmer Pat Rowe used a little old technology: root cellars.

Explosion at militant compound in Pakistan
By RIAZ KHAN
PESHAWAR, Pakistan (AP) — A powerful explosion destroyed a militant compound and killed up to eight people Monday in a volatile tribal region where Pakistan security forces are waging an offensive against pro-Taliban militants, residents said.

Six dead as Pakistani forces destroy militant house
PAR QAMBARKHEL, Pakistan (AFP) — Pakistani forces blew up the house of a leading Islamic militant early Monday, killing six people, as troops extended an anti-insurgent offensive in the Khyber tribal district.

Smoke and mirrors in the Khyber Valley
By Syed Saleem Shahzad – Asia Times
KARACHI - After a 10-hour operation at the weekend, Pakistan said that paramilitary forces had reclaimed the strategic Khyber Agency from Taliban militants, at the same time implying to Washington that the country is serious about going after the Taliban.

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Afghanistan deadlier than Iraq again for troops
Associated Press / June 30, 2008
KABUL, Afghanistan - More U.S. and NATO troops have been killed in Afghanistan than in Iraq for the second straight month.

An Associated Press count finds that attacks in Afghanistan killed at least 44 international troops in June.

About 30 international troops have died in Iraq this month.

A record number of U.S. and NATO troops now patrol Afghanistan's dangerous countryside, exposing more soldiers than ever to danger. But Taliban attacks are becoming increasingly complex, and in June, increasingly deadly.

Four attacks in June killed four soldiers. No single attack had killed more than three international troops since last August.
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45 killed in fresh Afghan violence
Mon Jun 30, 9:02 AM ET
HERAT, Afghanistan (AFP) - US-led air strikes and Afghan ground troops killed 33 Taliban rebels in western Afghanistan, while four civilians were killed in bomb blasts elsewhere, officials said Monday.

The coalition said "numerous" militants were killed on Sunday during an operation in Nimroz province targeting a Taliban leader involved in bomb attacks but did not give further details.

Insurgents attacked a police post in Khash Rod district of Nimroz late Sunday, leaving five Taliban dead in the clash that broke out immediately afterwards, provincial police chief Mohammad Ayob Badakhshi told AFP.

After the incident the militants massed with other insurgents in the same district, where they were bombed by US-led coalition aircraft, provincial governor Ghulam Dastageer Azad told AFP.

"In the aerial bombing by the US troops 28 Taliban were killed and many others were wounded. The dead include three Taliban commanders," Azad said.

The Afghan interior ministry however put the death toll at 15.

The governor said locals had told him that eight civilians were also killed near the bombing area but he could not confirm the information.

A coalition statement said it killed "numerous" armed militants using small-arms fire and air strikes in an operation on Sunday targeting a Taliban leader known to facilitate bomb attacks, but did not give figures.

A Taliban spokesman, Yousuf Ahmadi, said that none of its fighters were killed in the bombing and that all those who died were civilians. Many of his previous claims have proved to be exaggerated.

"They killed 22 people and they were all civilians who had gathered in open due to hot weather for a ceremony. None of them were Taliban," Ahmadi said in a telephone call.

Meanwhile a mother and three of her sons died when a bomb the men were allegedly constructing exploded in their home in Wardak province, just south of the capital Kabul, district chief Enaytullah Mangal told AFP.

A teenage girl, apparently the sister of the suspected insurgents, was wounded.

"Our investigation showed that they were constructing a bomb to be later used in terrorist attacks. The bomb exploded and killed three brothers and their mother," Mangal said.

The district chief said that one of the brothers, an engineer, was recently freed from a jail where he was held for several months over suspected links with Taliban militants.

Hundreds of Afghan security forces backed by NATO-led troops launched an operation in several districts in Wardak at the weekend to root out Taliban insurgents who have increased attacks in recent weeks.

Three US-led soldiers were killed in a bomb explosion there on Friday.

Separately four civilians were killed and two police were wounded in three roadside bomb blasts Monday in Zurmat district of eastern Paktia province, spokesman for provincial governor Rohullah Samoon said.

In a similar incident an army vehicle was struck by a roadside bomb on Sunday in the same district killing two Afghan soldiers, the defense ministry said.

Another two militants were killed Sunday in a firefight in the Marja district of troubled Helmand province, the ministry said.

The Taliban was ousted from power in late 2001 by a US-led invasion and has since launched a bloody insurgency which has claimed thousands of lives.
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28 militants said killed in Afghanistan fight
By AMIR SHAH Associated Press June 30, 2008
KABUL, Afghanistan - U.S.-led forces backed by warplanes battled militants in southwestern Afghanistan, killing 28 rebels including several Taliban commanders, an Afghan official said Monday.

Meanwhile, three troops from the U.S.-led coalition died when their vehicle rolled into a river bed.

The accident occurred Sunday when the troops were patrolling in Arghandab, a valley in Kandahar province that foreign and government forces recently retook from Taliban militants, the coalition said. It released no other details.

Fighting between insurgents and security forces is escalating, damping the prospect of the Western-backed effort to stabilize the country succeeding any time soon. The violence has killed more than 2,000 people so far this year, according to an Associated Press tally.

In the bloodiest of the latest incidents, the U.S.-led coalition said its troops came under fire Sunday in the Khash Rod district of Nimroz province as they searched compounds for a Taliban leader suspected of involvement in suicide attacks.

The troops killed "multiple militant groups" with small-arms fire, and airstrikes killed two more groups of attackers, the coalition said. There were no coalition casualties, it said.

While the coalition said only that "several" militants died and another was detained, Nimroz Gov. Ghulam Dastagir Azad said 28 rebels were killed. He said some of the victims were torn apart in the late-night bombing, making the body count difficult.

Azad said local officials had told him that four civilians also died. His account could not be independently verified.

The governor said the slain militants included three Taliban commanders, each of whom controlled a group of some 40 to 50 fighters. He said they were suspected of targeting road construction crews with bombs and planning attacks on food relief convoys.

The U.N. reported Sunday that one of its relief convoys was attacked on its way to Nimroz and neighboring Helmand provinces, and that several trucks were burned. Other convoys have been looted.

Other violence on Monday claimed the lives of two Afghan soldiers, two militants and a government worker.

The Afghan Defense Ministry said it lost two soldiers to a roadside bomb in Zurmat district of Paktia province on Monday. Three more soldiers were wounded. Two militants were killed in a clash with Afghan soldiers in Helmand province, it said.

In Logar province, just south of the capital, officials said militants attacked the government office in the town of Azra on Monday morning, killing one civilian employee and wounding three police.

In Washington, the Department of Defense announced that a special forces soldier was fatally wounded by a bomb during a patrol on June 27. The coalition said the incident occurred in Ghorak, a district of Kandahar.
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AFGHANISTAN: Humanitarian situation "deteriorating" – Holmes
KABUL, 30 June 2008 (IRIN) - Conflict and natural disasters have caused a "serious" and "deteriorating" humanitarian situation in Afghanistan and the aid community must scale up its efforts to meet the needs of vulnerable people, John Holmes, the UN Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator, told IRIN in Kabul.

Holmes arrived in Afghanistan on 26 June for a four-day visit to get first-hand knowledge of the humanitarian problems there and assess the response capacity.

"It [the humanitarian situation] is serious and I think it is deteriorating. We need to give it more attention and that's why I am here," Holmes said.

Afghanistan – the fifth least developed country in the world – is facing multiple humanitarian challenges largely resulting from an intensifying conflict, drought and large-scale refugee repatriation from neighbouring countries.

Humanitarian strategy needed

While the Afghan government and donors are allocating more funding to development and institution-building in the country, Holmes said more resources are needed to respond to the emergency needs of millions of vulnerable people.

"We need to have more of a humanitarian strategy, an action plan, than we had before. That's very much on the agenda for us and I think that will need to go with more resource mobilisation. We need more resources," said Holmes, adding that donors "will respond generously" to a "right kind of strategy and a right kind of scaling up of our activities".

International donors have spent over US$15 billion on rebuilding and humanitarian initiatives in Afghanistan over the past six years. But aid agencies such as Oxfam International have repeatedly said that aid money has not been used effectively and appropriately and as a result the needs of most Afghans had largely remained unmet.

Holmes, who also heads the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), said that aid agencies are "waking up" to the realities in Afghanistan and some of the humanitarian issues that had been "neglected" for a while after 2001 have regained importance.

"No magic solution"

However, Holmes acknowledged the hazardous conditions in which aid agencies were trying to operate. Insecurity and attacks on humanitarian actors have been impeding aid agencies' access to large swathes of the country, denying urgent assistance to thousands of people.

The UN World Food Programme (WFP) said it has suffered 40 attacks on its food aid trucks over the past 18 months in which 1,000 metric tonnes of food, worth $800,000, have been lost.

Consequent delays in aid delivery to vulnerable people across Afghanistan have caused frustration among some communities and aid agencies have been criticised for their inability to respond timely and effectively.

"There is not a magic solution and while the conflict is going on we have to work around the conflict. We cannot solve the conflict as humanitarians. What we can try to do is to help the victims of it," Holmes said, adding that attacks on WFP aid convoys were a "violation of international humanitarian law".

But he also stressed the need to engage with opposition groups purely for the purpose of facilitating the delivery of aid to volatile areas. Holmes said the humanitarian community does this in other countries and that it may become necessary in Afghanistan too.

"It's important that where, for example, there are vaccination campaigns which need to be conducted - particularly against polio, but also against other diseases - we are able to negotiate days of peace or days of tranquillity or humanitarian corridors so that those operations can proceed peacefully and without incident," he said.
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No Afghan peace while Taliban have sanctuary - NATO
Sun Jun 29, 2008 - By Hamid Shalizi
KABUL, June 29 (Reuters) - Afghanistan will not be secure as long as insurgents are allowed to operate freely in sanctuaries on the Pakistan side of the border, a NATO spokesman said on Sunday.

With international forces in Afghanistan struggling against what the U.S. Pentagon describes as a "resilient insurgency", Pakistan is coming under increasing pressure to stop militants operating out of remote enclaves in ethnic Pashtun border lands.

"We know that as long as the insurgents operate safely on the Pakistan side of the border, then there can not be security in Afghanistan," NATO spokesman Mark Laity told a regular news conference in Kabul.

Pakistani forces launched an offensive in the Khyber region on Saturday to clear militants from the approaches to the city of Peshawar.

But the militants being attacked are from a faction that does not have a reputation for crossing into Afghanistan to fight Western troops backing the government of President Hamid Karzai.

Laity made no mention of the Pakistani offensive but referring to Pakistani government efforts to end surging militant violence through negotiations, said militants could not be given a free hand.

"There will be no settlements on peace on either side of the boundary while insurgents are able to operate freely," he said.

According to a U.S. general in Afghanistan, attacks by insurgents have jumped by 40 percent in eastern areas bordering Pakistan in the first five months of this year compared with the same period last year.

In a report to the U.S. Congress on Friday, the Pentagon singled out the havens for insurgents in Pakistan as the biggest threat to security in Afghanistan.

The 72-page report offered some of the starkest U.S. comments yet on Pakistan's border areas.

"The greatest challenge to long-term security within Afghanistan is the insurgent sanctuary within ... Pakistan," it said.

Pakistan says it is doing all it can to stop militants crossing into Afghanistan and hundreds of Pakistani soldiers have been killed battling militants in border areas in recent years.

Pakistan backed the Taliban when they emerged in the chaotic early 1990s and after they imposed their brand of hardline rule over most of Afghanistan in 1996.

But Pakistan dropped support for the Taliban and joined the U.S.-led campaign against terrorism after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on the United States which were organised by Osama bin Laden, a guest of the Taliban. But Afghanistan says elements in Pakistan still support the militants.
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Afghan government workers tied to attempt to kill Karzai
Terrorist infiltration is called 'constant treat' By Kim Barker | Chicago Tribune June 30, 2008
KABUL, Afghanistan — In late April, President Hamid Karzai, the smooth-talking and suave-dressing Western-backed president of this key nation in the war on terror, survived yet another assassination attempt as he sat on a podium with foreign dignitaries, waiting for the country's most important annual military parade.

Although Karzai was not harmed, the bold and well-planned attack has come to be seen as evidence of a new level of sophistication for Al Qaeda in Afghanistan, a possible militant infiltration of the Afghan government and failures of intelligence in the war-torn country.

Last week, the assassination attempt even turned into a regional flash point, when Afghan officials accused Pakistani intelligence operatives of conspiring in the plot, deepening tensions between two neighbors crucial to U.S. policy in the region. Pakistan denied the accusations.

The attack, which killed three Afghans, was one of the most brazen launched by Al Qaeda-linked militants since the extremist Taliban government's ouster in late 2001 after the Sept. 11 attacks.

Despite a tight security cordon by the army, militants were able to sneak guns and mortars into a ramshackle hotel about 400 yards from the podium, probably because one militant padlocked the door to the room from the outside, leading the hotel owner to believe the long-term occupants were away. Instead, three men were inside, waiting quietly.

But despite Afghan officials' accusations against Pakistani intelligence, the suspects arrested in the case were mostly employees of the Afghan government.

In interviews with Afghan officials, government critics and a detained member of the militant cell, the Tribune learned that at least six Afghans blamed for the attack on Karzai had worked for the Afghan government, including an army general who had been in charge of maintaining most army vehicles and weapons in Afghanistan and who allegedly provided the weapons to militants. Afghan intelligence officials hinted that Pakistani intelligence was involved but did not provide any evidence.

The cell leader, an Afghan named Humayoon, who like many Afghans has one name, was a former Afghan police nurse and fire department lieutenant who left that job in December, weeks before allegedly spearheading an attack in January on the five-star Serena Hotel in Kabul.

General implicated

After the assassination attempt, Humayoon was killed in a battle with security forces. Afghan officials announced that the army official, Talib Shah, and one police nurse, a former colleague of Humayoon's named Zalmay, had been arrested. But they did not disclose that Shah was a one-star general or the extent of involvement of other former and current government employees, including Humayoon, who had worked for the Afghan government for more than 16 years, officials at the fire department and police hospital said.

Shah had even been involved in arranging security for Karzai and had shaken his hand two days before the parade, said a senior Afghan official, speaking on condition of anonymity.

Some Afghan officials acknowledged that many of the militants involved in the plot against Karzai worked for the Afghan government.

"It is a constant threat, coming from our enemies," said Humayun Hamidzada, the Afghan presidential spokesman. "They are trying to infiltrate the Afghan army. They are trying to infiltrate the Afghan police."

On Wednesday, the Afghan government accused Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence, or ISI, of organizing the plan to kill Karzai on April 27.

On Thursday, Pakistan officials strongly denied that ISI was involved in the plot.

The Serena attack, which killed six people in January, and the related attack on Karzai show just how militants are stepping up their strikes in Afghanistan. They are plotting spectacular blows instead of just launching suicide bombs against foreign troops, NATO officials said.

And these militants often use remote areas of Pakistan to plan attacks in Afghanistan. Several cell members were trained last year in the tribal areas of Pakistan. At least one, killed along with Humayoon after the attack on Karzai, was from Pakistan, officials said.

Ramazan, 23, who has been sentenced to death for his role in the Serena attack in January, was attending an Islamic boarding school in Peshawar when he was recruited and trained in the tribal areas.

Wore police uniforms

"I was told to trim my beard so I wouldn't attract attention," said Ramazan, speaking to the Tribune while in the custody of Afghan intelligence. Ramazan described how he was driven across the border near the eastern city of Khost and then to Kabul, where he met Humayoon. Humayoon, the former police nurse, helped outfit Ramazan and another insurgent in police uniforms, Ramazan said.

By most accounts, Afghan and Pakistani authorities failed to properly investigate the Serena attack; if they had, they might have stumbled on the plot to kill Karzai.

Humayoon was publicly named as the organizer of the Serena attack in January, but despite complaints by Afghan authorities, he was able to cross into Pakistan and hide out in the bustling city of Lahore, officials said.

Meanwhile, Afghan authorities failed to follow up on possible leads from the Serena attack, some Afghan government critics said.

"The Taliban is nothing, but we are too weak," said Noorulhaq Olomi, chairman of the parliamentary defense committee.
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Secret US military plan for Pakistan on hold-report
WASHINGTON, June 29 (Reuters) - Top Bush administration officials drafted a secret plan late last year to make it easier for U.S. Special Operations forces to operate inside Pakistan's tribal areas, but Washington turf battles and the diversion of resources to Iraq have held up the effort, the New York Times reported on Monday.

The Times quoted a senior Defense Department official as saying there was "mounting frustration" in the Pentagon at the continued delay in deployment of special operations teams into Pakistan's mountainous and lawless western tribal regions, where senior al Qaeda operatives are thought to be hiding.

The Times report, based on more than four dozen interviews in Washington and Pakistan, said al Qaeda's new safe haven in Pakistan was in part due to the administration's accommodation to Pakistan's President Pervez Musharraf, whose advisers have long played down the terrorist threat.

It was also a story, the report concluded, of infighting between U.S. intelligence agencies and a shifting in White House priorities from counter-terrorism efforts in Afghanistan and Pakistan to the war in Iraq.

The Times quoted a retired CIA officer as estimating that al Qaeda training compounds in Pakistan now host as many as 2,000 local and foreign militants, up from several hundred three years ago.

Infighting within the CIA included battles between field officers in Kabul and Islamabad and the counter-terrorism center at CIA headquarters in Virginia whose preference for carrying out raids remotely, via Predator missiles strikes, was derided by field officers as the work of "boys with toys," the Times reported.

GROWING THREAT
Turf battles between CIA officials in Afghanistan and others in Pakistan have also impeded progress, the Times reported, with officers in Kabul expressing alarm at what they see as a growing threat from the tribal areas and those in Islamabad, who are more prone to accept the Pakistani government's argument that the tribal areas are beyond anyone's control.

The level of expertise among CIA officers in the region was also a drag on operations, the report said. "We had to put people out in the field who had less than ideal levels of experience," it quoted a former senior CIA official as saying.

One reason for that, two former intelligence officials told the Times, was that the Iraq war had drained away most of the CIA officers with field experience in the Islamic world.

The Times said the Pentagon's top commander in Afghanistan, Lt. Gen. Karl Eikenberry, ordered military officers, Special Operations and CIA operatives to assemble a dossier in late 2006 showing Pakistan's role in allowing militants to establish a safe haven in the tribal territories.

The general's order reflected a "broader feeling of outrage" within the Pentagon that the war on terror "had been outsourced to an unreliable ally, and at the grim fact that America's most deadly enemy had become stronger."

In response to Eikenberry's dossier, the White House sent Vice President Dick Cheney and Deputy CIA Director Stephen Kappes to Islamabad in March 2007 to register U.S. concern.

That visit, the Times said, was the beginning of a more aggressive effort by the administration to pressure Pakistan into stepping up the fight. Last year's decision to draw up the Pentagon order authorizing a Special Operations campaign in the tribal areas was part of that effort, it said.
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US opposes refugee repatriation
By Anwar Iqbal Dawn (Pakistan)
WASHINGTON, June 29: The United States has urged Pakistan not to repatriate Afghan refugees as it would have a destabilising effect on the Afghan government.

The Pentagon’s first assessment of the Afghan situation since the US invasion of 2001 deals with the refugees’ issue from the Afghan perspective, completely ignoring Pakistan’s concern that the Taliban militants use the camps to hide and recuperate.

The Pentagon also ignores the US government and media reports saying that areas near Pakistan’s border with Kandahar, which has a high concentration of Afghan refugees, has become a major hideout of Afghan militants.

Instead, the report depicts Pakistan’s demand for the repatriation of these refugees as ‘a major regional issue’ which creates tension between Pakistan and Afghanistan.

The report notes that Pakistan has placed three major camps —Jalozai, Girdi Jungle and Jungle Pir Alizai — on its closure list every year since 2006 but has not closed them. The estimated combined population of these camps ranges from 130,000 to 145,000 and they are in an area which, according to US media and official reports, is a major staging ground for cross-border attacks in and around Kandahar.

It is the same area where Afghan President Hamid Karzai says Mullah Omar and other key Taliban leaders are hiding. US media reports support Mr Karzai’s claim.

The Pentagon notes that last year Pakistan identified four refugee camps — including the aforementioned ones — for closure. However, only the fourth camp, Katcha Garhi, was closed.

‘A worst-case scenario based on Pakistan unexpectedly and precipitously closing and clearing multiple camps and expelling Afghans could result in up to 400,000 refugees trying to return to Afghanistan,’ the Pentagon warns.

Under international pressure, Pakistan has committed itself to voluntary, not forced, repatriation and has stated that it will allow refugees from closed camps to relocate to other camps.

The Pentagon’s main concern, according to this report, is that ‘mass repatriations … would severely tax the existing Afghan infrastructure, particularly in urban areas’. But neither the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees nor Pakistan believes that a mass repatriation will materialise, the report adds.
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Korea opens hospital in Afghanistan
Source: Korean Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade June 30, 2008
The Foreign Ministry said Monday (June 30) that Korea opened a hospital in Afghanistan to care for local residents as part of its civilian-led efforts to continue contributions to the war-ravaged country.

Korea withdrew about 50 medics of the Dongui unit and 150 engineers of the Dasan unit from Afghanistan late last year, but has taken part in the Provincial Reconstruction Team to continue efforts to help stabilize the central Asian nation.

Currently, more than 20 medical staff and administrative workers, mostly civilians, have been dispatched to Afghanistan, according to the ministry spokesman Moon Tae-young.

They took over the facilities used by the Dongui unit at a U.S. military base in Bagram, 80km north of Kabul, and prepared for the reopening of the hospital.

The newly opened Korean hospital plans to provide medical services to about 40,000 people a year--150-200 people per day--as well as help train local medical staff, according to the ministry spokesman.
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Trouble in Tajik Mountain Province
Remote region seething with discontent, which some fear could translate into political instability if the underlying causes are left unaddressed.
Institute for War & Peace Reporting By Lola Olimova in Dushanbe (RCA No. 547, 27-Jun-08)
A standoff between locals in the remote province of Badakhshan and the Tajik government has been resolved for now at least, but it highlights growing levels of social discontent in this underdeveloped part of the country. Analysts say local concerns need to be urgently addressed by central government to prevent them growing into a political confrontation.

Three days of demonstrations began when around 300 people gathered on June 18 in the regional centre Khorog. The numbers swelled as the rally continued over the next two days.

The immediate cause of the protests was the arrival of a contingent of 1,200 troops sent into the region by the government in Dushanbe. Officials said soldiers and armoured personnel carriers had been deployed to beef up the porous border with Afghanistan and curb the trafficking of drugs brought in from that country.

“We need to strengthen the border, which remains effectively out of control,” Defence Minister Sherali Khairulloyev told the Asia-Plus news agency in an interview published on June 20. “The rising crime rate in Badakhshan is forcing the government to take radical measures to stabilise the situation. In the first three months of this year, drug trafficking in the country [Tajikistan as a whole] showed a 40 per cent increase on the same period last year.”

However, speakers at the rally raised concerns that central government had sent in the forces to eliminate powerful local figures and crush public expressions of dissent in Badakhshan.

Alim Sherzamonov, the head of the local branch of Tajikistan’s Social Democratic Party, and a prominent figure at the rally, said people were alarmed at the move.

“The [stated] objective of these troops looks very suspicious,” he said. In a reference to two cases earlier this year where armed units were brought in to eliminate local powerbrokers in other parts of Tajikistan, he said, “After Garm and Kulob, we’re afraid of our own [country’s] armed forces… We don’t have any issue with them, but if they aren’t withdrawn, we’ll block their way without using weapons, as they did in Czechoslovakia in 1968. Let them crush us!”

Other, longer-standing concerns voiced at the meeting included the feeling that the regional administration was ineffective, and that Badakhshan should be granted a greater degree of autonomy.

Despite some tough talk on both sides, the mounting tension in Khorog was dispelled in a deal between the government and influential local figures.

Some of these were former guerrilla commanders with the opposition during the 1992-97 civil war, and still retain a lot of influence locally. The official statements about lawlessness in Badakhshan may have been allusion to their presence, and some suspected the extra military force was really a threat to these individuals and their followers.

Last month, security forces deployed in force in the southern town of Kulob where they besieged and eventually captured a group with paramilitary links – in this case to a pro-government militia – and now alleged to be heavily involved in drug-running. In February, a police unit from Dushanbe tried unsuccessfully to capture a former guerrilla-turned-policeman. A police officer was killed in a firefight between local police and the incomers. (See Cops and Robbers in Tajikistan, RCA No. 546, 06-Jun-08 on the Kulob siege; and Murder Invokes Ghosts of Tajikistan’s Past, RCA No. 533, 20-Feb-08 on the clash in Garm.)

Also in February, a former opposition commander in Badakhshan, Mamadbokir Mamadbokirov, was involved in an incident in which Khorog’s police station came under fire. No one was hurt, and Mamadbokirov and his men turned in their weapons after police delivered an ultimatum.

Suspicions that the Badakhshan troop deployment was another attempt to assert central authority by force were only strengthened when Defence Minister Sherali Khayrulloev told the Asia-Plus news agency that one of the organisers of the Khorog rally, Imomnazar Imomnazarov, was a suspected drug trafficker who would be “neutralised” by the military if he and his supporters did not hand over their weapons.

Some of these figures were prominent in the protests, and it is mark of their importance that leading ex-guerrilla commanders were invited to a meeting with a mission from Dushanbe headed by Interior Minister Mahmadnazar Salihov. After two days of negotiations, the commanders agreed to hand over about 300 weapons – 60 were surrendered immediately – in exchange for immunity from prosecution.

Under the deal, the extra troops will remain in the region, but an immediate aid package will be made available for 5,000 low income families, consisting of rice, flour, sugar and cooking oil. The authorities also promised to send a consignment of wheelchairs and computers, both in short supply in Badakhshan.

ECONOMIC ROOTS OF DISCONTENT
Badakhshan is enormous, covering 45 per cent of Tajikistan’s territory, but the harsh environment of mountains, ravines and high-altitude plateau means that only 200,000 people live here, occupying only three per cent of the land.

The Pamiris – really a group of related ethnic groups – differ from the Tajiks in language and in their faith, as Ismaili Muslims who follow the Aga Khan, rather than the Sunni Islam practiced in the rest of the country.

Given the climate and lack of usable land, the Pamiris have always been worse-off than the rest of this generally poor nation, and many of them are forced to move to lowland towns or further afield to Russia to earn a living.

Consumer goods have to be transported up the one road from Dushanbe, which is vulnerable to closure by avalanches in winter. Recent years have seen a new door to the east open up with the construction of a road leading to China, and there has been an upsurge in trade with that country.

The past year has been a bad one for Tajikistan, with an exceptionally harsh winter and rising prices of fuel and food prices driven by the situation on world markets.

As Sherzamonov pointed out, the recent rally had in fact been scheduled to take place prior to the military deployment. In April, the Social Democrats wanted to stage a demonstration over issues like corruption among regional officials and a decision to cede some border territories to China, but were refused permission to do so by the authorities.

SEPARATIST TALK NOT SERIOUS
One theme that was carried over to the June rally was the degree of autonomy granted to Badakhshan. Sherzamonov said the local government currently has its hands tied because it cannot make decisions without Dushanbe’s say-so.

Technically an “autonomous region”, a Soviet-era distinction granted in recognition of the separate identity of the Pamiri people, Badakhshan effectively treated like just another province of Tajikistan – and is arguably worse off, because of its tenuous connections with the rest of the country.

“We had demands about Badakhshan’s autonomy, which exists as a concept but not in practice,” said Sherzamonov. “We don’t want to separate from the republic, although that would be one of the ways of developing democracy in the republic as a whole. If we manage to achieve even a modest amount of autonomy for our local authorities, that could serve as an example for other regions.”

Most observers do not think secession is seriously on the agenda.

“At the moment there is no political separatism in Badakhshan,” said political analyst Parviz Mullojanov. “But if the scenario begins to involve the use of force, that might create the grounds for separatist sentiment to emerge.”

Another analyst, Rashid Abdullo, noted that distant echoes were beign held from Kosovo’s declaration of independence in February, given that the Pamiris could claim a separate ethnic and religious identity from the Tajik majority.

“All across the former Soviet Union, the Kosovo effect is making itself felt anywhere there’s an autonomous territory,” he said. “The precedent set by Kosovo has become ingrained in the consciousness in various ways both in central authority and in autonomous areas, and it’s unlikely to dissipate rapidly.”

At a more practical level, analysts say another element in this complex political mix is that many Pamiris dislike the current Badakhshan regional government, partly because provincial governor Qodir Qosim, appointed in late 2006, is viewed as an outsider, a Sunni Tajik.

“One gets the impression that whatever the new regional chief does, his good deeds will only underline that fact the he’s a Tajik from Vanch,” said one political commentator, who did not want to be named.

CIVIL WAR LEGACY LIVES ON IN LOCAL POLITICS
Perhaps the most delicate issue of all is the presence of prominent former paramilitaries who constitute a potential alternative power base – and specifically, what Dushanbe plans to do about them.

“As the problems mount up, particularly social and economic ones, and are not addressed in timely fashion, the capital needs to pay more attention to them from a political point of view. These problems may be politicised by those who see themselves as opponents of the current government,” said Abdullo.

While the Islamic Rebirth Party, IRP, guerrillas who made up the core of the opposition in the civil war put up a tough and determined fight, their Pamiri allies were less active and instead worked out an unspoken truce with Dushanbe. When the war ended in 1997, opposition leaders were granted a share of power while the rank-and-file combatants went through a disarmament and reintegration process.

In remote mountain areas, the reach of central government remained tenuous and some armed groups simply returned to civilian life without surrendering their weapons.

Mullojanov believes that some of the former “field commanders” are growing restive. In recent years, the Tajik leadership has quietly sacked opposition figures granted official positions under the power-sharing peace deal. And the recent operations in Garm and Kulob make the commanders suspect the government is now hunting them down in their lairs.

In Mullojanov’s view, these suspicions might in fact be accurate – the deployment of forces in Badakhshan could be the precursor to a bigger plan to take out all the remaining ex-opposition guerrillas in the Garm region, stronghold of the IRP. Holding the Pamiris down with a heavy troop presence would stop them coming to the aid of their IRP allies in the event of such an operation.

For Mullojanov, the combination of disgruntled ex-guerrillas and genuine economic distress in rural areas makes for a heady and dangerous mix, and he argues that the authorities should not go lightly into a confrontation.

“That’s the real complexity of the situation – were a military operation to be launched [by the government], the field commanders could easily use the discontent felt by the population to their advantage,” he said.

“A military solution shouldn’t be undertaken without due consideration of the political and social and economic realities that now pertain in this country. A failure to do this might only make the situation worse.”

Lola Olimova is IWPR editor in Tajikistan.
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Jiangxi Copper says Afghan project worth $4.4 bln
Sun Jun 29, 2008 9:30pm EDT
HONG KONG, June 30 (Reuters) - Jiangxi Copper Co (0358.HK: Quote, Profile, Research, Stock Buzz), China's top integrated copper producer, said its copper mining project with China Metallurgical Group Corp in Afghanistan will have a total investment of $4.4 billion.

Jiangxi Copper (600362.SS: Quote, Profile, Research, Stock Buzz) will pay HK$2.57 billion ($329 million) for a 25 percent stake in the project with China Metallurgical owning 75 percent, it said in a statement late on Sunday.

About 30 percent of the total investment will be contributed initially by the two partners as capital injection and 70 percent will be funded by project finance, it added.

The two companies have also agreed to introduce independent investors to the project.

Jiangxi Copper said in May that the two Chinese firms would pay $808 million for the right to explore and exploit minerals in a copper mine field in Afghanistan.

The two companies won the contract through a tender last year to develop the vast Aynak Copper Mine, as Chinese companies accelerate a search for minerals abroad to feed the world's fastest-growing major economy.
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Prison break makes for an uncertain future in Afghanistan
Life will be harder for Canadian and NATO forces in the area
Monday, June 30, 2008 - STEPHEN M. SAIDEMAN, The Gazette
More questions have been raised about the continuing effort by Canada and NATO in Afghanistan. The prison break in Kandahar City, the confrontation looming in the Arghandab district, and President Hamid Karzai's threats toward Pakistan create much confusion. Are we winning? Are we losing? What do these events mean?

First, we need to be clear about why the situation in Afghanistan is so hard to read and predict.

The fog of war is dense enough in conventional warfare, where relatively clear lines of control often foster greater confidence than warranted, as in the Korean War before China's entry. In counter-insurgency campaigns, as senior NATO military officials admit, progress is very hard to measure, for two reasons: Insurgency is a dynamic process and perceptions are very significant.

First, violence - its absence, its presence, its distribution - is a poor indicator of progress by itself. The Taliban might be engaged in greater violence because they are more confident of their abilities. However, there might be more violence because the NATO effort has expanded, with more troops in the South and with the inkspots of control getting larger, resulting in the Taliban (which are far less cohesive than this shorthand for the insurgents suggests) pushing back.

We should not be surprised that the Arghandab district is the likely next battlefield, as Canada has made it clear this is where our effort will be focused, including rebuilding a dam. The Taliban will not stand by while the international community tries to extend the control and competence of the Afghan government.

This reaction is similar to the events of 2006, when the insurgency became more aggressive once Canadians moved into Kandahar with a long-term plan for developing the area.

Second, the key battles are not those fought on the ground but in the minds of those in and outside Afghanistan. The old truism is about hearts and minds, but since the goal in any counter-insurgency is to get the people to support the government, the questions really are what do the people of Afghanistan think and how willing are outsiders to pay the costs of the effort?

The prison break is important less because of the number of escapees, even though the release of so many potentially dangerous individuals is significant, but more because the event suggests two things: The government is less competent than people might have expected and the Taliban are more effective than we thought. The most important part of a counter-insurgency campaign is the quality of the government, and the prison break makes it abundantly clear that little progress has been made in that area. If the government cannot defend its prisons, how do we expect it to provide more complicated and costly services?

As important, the prison break alters perceptions of the Taliban as a defeated group that can afford only to rent soldiers with their drug money - certainly one of the consistent messages I heard when travelling through Kabul and Kandahar last December. Instead, the insurgents developed a plan that required co-ordination and significant numbers of soldiers to act in concert. This suggests the Taliban have better leadership than we thought.

Ultimately, the best way to measure whether Afghanistan and NATO are progressing or regressing in this effort is how the people are placing their bets. If they are giving good intelligence tips to NATO so that the Canadian Forces and its allies can detect roadside bombs and can find many of the escapees, then the war is moving in the right direction. If, on the other hand, the recent incidents cause the local population to act more warily and give refuge to those who escaped, then we are facing a much longer, much harder fight with fewer chances of success.

In my conversations with the commander of Canada's forces in Afghanistan, Brig.-Gen. Denis Thompson, in the months before he deployed, it was clear he understood this is the core issue. His statements after last month's escape reflect this key insight.

To be clear, NATO has been in the south of Afghanistan for only two years, and a counter-insurgency campaign will have its ups and downs, as each side responds to the moves of the other. As the prison break and other recent movements suggest, the future continues to be uncertain in Afghanistan - perhaps more so now than only a few months ago.

Stephen M. Saideman holds the Canada Research Chair in International Security and Ethnic Conflict at McGill University.
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Spud farmer returns to roots to help Afghans
By JOHN MILLER – BOISE, Idaho (AP) — To help poor Afghani villagers make money on potatoes instead of opium poppies, Idaho farmer Pat Rowe used a little old technology: root cellars.

The 68-year-old Rowe, whose family raises tubers and wheat on 2,000 acres near American Falls, went to the Central Asian country with a root cellar design common across his home state's famous potato country in the 1930s and 1940s.

As part of his work in Bamiyan, located about 100 miles west of Kabul, Rowe said it was important that his potato sheds not be too sophisticated. They had to be built with materials readily available in the impoverished valley between the Hindu Kush and the Koh-i-Baba mountains with only dirt roads, a gravel runway, scant trees and almost no electricity.

Before leaving, he took notes from neighbors on Idaho's Snake River plain who had an old root cellar on their property.

"You look at what people are using and see what they are doing," Rowe said Monday, of his trip. "You don't want to be a crazy foreigner with all these ideas. You've got to be practical with the application."

Rowe went to Afghanistan as part of a $6.4 million U.S. Department of Agriculture program meant to fill gaps in Afghanistan's food supply chain and develop agriculture to compete with the forbidden poppies that fuel the country's heroin trade.

Rowe's work in January 2006 won mention earlier this month by first lady Laura Bush. She brought up Rowe's root cellars in a speech in France on June 12.

"Afghan potato farmers in Bamiyan have learned storage methods from an Idaho potato farmer that are making their crops more profitable," said Bush, who had made an unannounced trip to Bamiyan four days earlier.

Paul Sippola, a program officer for the Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit development outfit CNFA, which ran the Department of Agriculture aid program, said Rowe's retro cellar design was used in about 50 potato storage sheds in Afghanistan.

It's now being replicated with a few modifications to suit local needs in Pakistan's Kashmir region, where seed potato farmers' livelihoods were devastated by the 2005 earthquake, Sippola said.

"It's essentially the same one that Pat developed," he said in a phone interview. "Pat's work, which started in Afghanistan, has really grown. It's fed over into some of our other programs because the success of it has been really pronounced."

Rowe is a veteran of nearly 30 U.S. government-sponsored trips to developing countries including Egypt, China and Zimbabwe to help promote new agricultural techniques.

Farmers in Bamiyan, an ancient village on the Silk Road that spent 1,500 years in the shadow of two huge Buddha statues before they were dynamited by the Taliban in 2001, had no efficient way to store potatoes following their harvest, leading to drastic food-price increases and shortages.

"When the harvest is on, there's a glut," Rowe said. "If you had enough of those sheds built, it would make more food available to people at a reasonable price."

Afghanistan has seen a spiraling heroin trade and resurgent violence, even as the U.S. and NATO have poured more thousands of new troops into the country. Last year, more than 8,000 people were killed in insurgency-related attacks and violence has claimed more than 1,500 lives this year.

Winning a mention from Laura Bush is a sign that his root cellars accomplished what he'd intended.

"Just the fact that somebody in Bamiyan remembered," he said. "Something went on good there. The people are good people. The folks I worked with, I'd swim the Snake River for them."
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Explosion at militant compound in Pakistan
By RIAZ KHAN
PESHAWAR, Pakistan (AP) — A powerful explosion destroyed a militant compound and killed up to eight people Monday in a volatile tribal region where Pakistan security forces are waging an offensive against pro-Taliban militants, residents said.

A militant spokesman claimed it was a missile strike launched from neighboring Afghanistan where U.S. and NATO forces are based, but there was no official confirmation of such an attack.

Residents said the blast in Khyber tribal agency hit a compound owned by a supporter of Haji Namdar, a local militant leader whose Vice and Virtue Movement is suspected of cross-border assaults. Villager Nawaz Khan Afridi said he saw eight bodies.

The political administration of the Khyber tribal area said at least five people were killed and three were injured during an explosion, but that its security forces had not fired on the damaged building.

Pakistani paramilitary forces launched an offensive in the region three days ago against militants threatening the main northwestern city of Peshawar and a key supply line for the U.S. military effort in Afghanistan.

The Pakistani show of force comes amid U.S. concern that the newly elected government's efforts to negotiate peace deals with militants have given Taliban and al-Qaida-linked extremists more space to operate along the lawless border.

Afridi said he was awakened by a loud explosion before dawn, rushed out of his house in Bar Qambarkhel village and joined dozens of other residents in helping rescue survivors from rubble.

Two rooms at the compound had been shattered by the explosion, he said, adding that he did not know what caused it.

Munsif Khan, a spokesman for Namdar's group, claimed it was a missile strike that killed at least six supporters of the Vice and Virtue Movement and wounded 20. He said the village, in the Bara area, lies at least 25 miles from the Afghan border.

"Maybe this was done by NATO forces in Afghanistan," Khan said. "Our friends saw a flash of light coming from the direction of Afghanistan" before the explosion, he said. U.S. military officials in Afghanistan could not immediately be reached for comment.

Dozens of people attended the funeral for four men who died in the explosion, according to television reports. Footage showed mourners shoveling soil on graves as several armed men sporting beards and long hair stood or sat nearby.

The offensive in Khyber tribal area appears to be a shift for Pakistan's government, which has sought to reduce violence through the peace deals since it took power after February elections. It coincides with a three-day visit to Islamabad by senior U.S. State Department official Richard Boucher that began Monday. A five-member congressional delegation also is visiting the country.

The operation was launched to secure Peshawar from threats by "law breakers and militant groups," the Ministry of Interior said in a statement late Sunday. It would continue until "all the objectives are achieved," it said.

Three groups operating in Khyber — Lashkar-e-Islam, Ansarul Islam and Haji Namdar's group — have been outlawed and the "government is determined to end their nefarious activities," the ministry said. Officials accused the militants of setting up a parallel administration and of crimes including kidnapping.

Officials said Sunday that paramilitary forces destroyed four militant centers, including a radio station, and unearthed alleged torture rooms. But troops have encountered little resistance and have reporting killing just one militant.

In response to the operation, Baitullah Mehsud, Pakistan's top militant leader, said he was suspending talks between his allies and the government — although the offensive has not been widened to include his strongholds in the Waziristan region to the south. His spokesman, Maulvi Umar, on Sunday demanded that the operation be halted.

"The government should not ruin the country just to please the Western world and should immediately halt the operation in Khyber agency," Umar told The Associated Press. "If it is not stopped, it will bear very grave results."

Two large explosions heard in the Pakistani capital and nearby garrison city of Rawalpindi on Monday added to jitters that militants could take revenge for the operation in Khyber.

But police said they could trace no blast in either city, and officials said it was likely caused by a sonic boom from an aircraft, although Pakistan's air force said none of its jets were flying in the area at the time.
Associated Press writer Sadaqat Jan in Islamabad contributed to this report.
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Six dead as Pakistani forces destroy militant house
PAR QAMBARKHEL, Pakistan (AFP) — Pakistani forces blew up the house of a leading Islamic militant early Monday, killing six people, as troops extended an anti-insurgent offensive in the Khyber tribal district.

The deaths came a day after the government said the three-day-old operation had saved the northwestern city of Peshawar from rebel advances and protected the main supply route for international forces in Afghanistan.

The offensive is the first by the new government since it launched controversial peace talks with militants along the border in March, a subject expected to be taken up by a top US diplomat visiting Islamabad on Monday.

An AFP photographer saw six coffins lined up outside the rubble of the house of Haji Namdar, the chief of a hardline organisation campaigning for Taliban-style Islamic law in troubled Khyber.

Namdar said the explosion appeared to be a missile strike and said he suspected the involvement of NATO troops across the border in Afghanistan, but did not provide any evidence to back the claim.

"It looked like a guided missile strike. It could have been the work of both Pakistani and NATO forces. We will take revenge," Namdar told AFP at the scene in the Par Qambarkhel area, near Bara, the main town in Khyber.

A Pakistani senior security official confirmed that the house was destroyed but said Pakistani forces were responsible.

"It was part of the ongoing operation. Our ground forces were involved," the official told AFP without giving further details.

Pakistani troops destroyed the house of an Mangal Bagh, the leader of the non-Taliban linked Lashkar-e-Islam group, on Saturday in Bara. They also demolished the headquarters of a separate hardline group early Sunday.

Interior ministry chief Rehman Malik said on Sunday that the operation had been a success in tackling Islamist groups responsible for terrorising residents in Peshawar with a vigilante-style campaign.
But residents said most of the militants active in the region had moved to a region nearer the border with Afghanistan.

The operation has raised fears of further unrest, with Taliban rebels saying on Sunday that they had halted all peace deals with the government and an unexplained loud blasting sound causing panic in Islamabad on Monday.

Police and the military said after the noise was heard that there was no evidence of any attack in Islamabad or neighbouring Rawalpindi, the home of the Pakistani army.

Previous false alarms in the capital have been caused by sonic booms from military aircraft and quarry blasting in Rawalpindi.

Meanwhile a top US diplomat arrived in Islamabad for talks with the new government, following concerns in Washington over Pakistan's negotiations with militant groups.

Richard Boucher, Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asia, met Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani and other senior officials, television channels showed. Details of the talks were not available.
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Smoke and mirrors in the Khyber Valley
By Syed Saleem Shahzad – Asia Times
KARACHI - After a 10-hour operation at the weekend, Pakistan said that paramilitary forces had reclaimed the strategic Khyber Agency from Taliban militants, at the same time implying to Washington that the country is serious about going after the Taliban.

The Khyber Agency borders Afghanistan and is a vital transit point for North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) supplies going into Nangarhar province of that country.

But while pockets of Taliban were chased from some of their hideouts, the operation was directed against the wrong area and
the wrong people, underscoring the government's reluctance for direct confrontation with the Pakistani Taliban.

Intrigue and deception
Riding with the paramilitary convoys was Haji Namdar, the chief of the self-proclaimed pro-Taliban organization Amal Bil Maroof Nahi Anil Munkir that is based in Khyber Agency. His presence was meant to be a secret as his organization was supposed to be one of the targets of the operation.

He was taken along to ensure that encounters with militants were kept to a minimum, as was the case - only four people were arrested and none killed.

Haji Namdar is a highly controversial character. As a believer in the Salafi strain of Islam he was tapped up by the Taliban and al-Qaeda to be their point man to help them establish a foothold in the Khyber Agency so that they could attack NATO supply lines. Haji Namdar agreed, then in April he betrayed the Taliban to US intelligence for a reward of US$150,000.

Within weeks, Haji Namdar was targeted in a suicide attack, but escaped unhurt. And on Monday, he once again avoided injury when one of his offices on the outskirts of Peshawar in North-West Frontier Province (NWFP) bordering Khyber Agency was fired on by missiles. Seven other people were killed.

The weekend's military operations were directed primarily against two organizations - Lashkar-i-Islam led by a bus cleaner turned commander, Mangal Bagh, and a Sufi organization, Ansar ul-Islam, besides Haji Namdar's group.

The rationale for the operation was said to be that these organizations were Taliban franchises and were trying to Talibanize Khyber Agency and the adjacent city of Peshawar.

More pertinent were US concerns over NATO's supply lines. The decision to go ahead with the operation was a pledge by US President George W Bush to President Pervez Musharraf to ensure the delivery of four F-16 aircraft to Pakistan. The issue was also on top of the agenda when the head of the NATO force in Afghanistan, General David McKiernan, met former Pakistani ambassador to Washington and present advisor to the government in Islamabad on national security, retired Major General Mehmood Ali Durrani, last Friday.

The groups targeted, though, are mainly sectarian with no affiliation to the Taliban - they are sympathetic at most. This has led to speculation that the military is simply trying to buy time from Washington while avoiding direct confrontation with the "real Taliban".

The fact is, after the Taliban were betrayed by Haji Namdar in April their central power now lies in the South Waziristan tribal area, the Swat Valley and Darra Adam Khail in NWFP.

Nevertheless, the military excursion into Khyber Agency did provide the Pakistani Taliban with a golden opportunity. One of its key leaders, Baitullah Mehsud, who is said to be behind the first attack against Haji Namdar, used the occasion to appeal to non-Taliban militants in Khyber Agency for their support.

Mehsud also said he would break all peace agreements with the government and that he would send attackers into other provinces as a response to any real moves by the government to target the Taliban.

Islamabad is under intense pressure from Washington to destroy the Taliban bases inside Pakistan that supply the insurgency in Afghanistan and to stem the easy flow of Taliban fighters across the border.

The coalition government, only in office for a matter of months, is already on the brink of collapse and the last thing it wants now is the added problem of full-out operations against militants - these have in the past proved highly unpopular and seldom achieved their goals.

Similarly, the Taliban are heavily engaged in Afghanistan and they do not want the distraction of having to fight battles in Pakistan.

The result is charades such as the weekend's Khyber Agency incident in which all sides, including Washington, appear to be satisfied.

Syed Saleem Shahzad is Asia Times Online's Pakistan Bureau Chief. He can be reached at saleem_shahzad2002@yahoo.com
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