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June 4, 2008 

Dozen insurgents killed in Afghanistan
By AMIR SHAH, Associated Press Writer Wed Jun 4, 7:34 AM ET
KABUL, Afghanistan - U.S.-led coalition forces killed more than a dozen insurgents in southern Afghanistan, and a suicide car bomber targeting Canadian troops killed one Afghan child, officials said Wednesday.

Afghan child, rebels killed in attacks on foreign troops
Wed Jun 4, 5:23 AM ET
KABUL (AFP) - A suicide car bomb exploded near NATO troops in Afghanistan Wednesday, killing a child, as the US military said a dozen rebels were killed in an air strike after they attacked a humanitarian convoy.

Hunger, water scarcity displaces thousands of Afghans
Wed Jun 4, 5:47 AM ET
KABUL (Reuters) - Thousands of people have been forced to leave their homes due to food and water shortages in northern Afghanistan, the government said on Wednesday.

New NATO commander in Afghanistan says he plans to revive Pakistan meetings
By JASON STRAZIUSO,Associated Press Writer AP
KABUL, Afghanistan - The new U.S. commander of NATO forces in Afghanistan said Wednesday that he plans to visit Islamabad to revive a stalled cross-border security dialogue with Afghan and Pakistani military leaders.

Poland to deploy more troops in Afghanistan
www.chinaview.cn  2008-06-04 20:23:41
KABUL, June 4 (Xinhua) -- Visiting Polish foreign minister Radoslaw Sikorski announced Wednesday that his government will deploy troops in Afghanistan's central-eastern Ghazni province.

Afghan war to drag on for 10 years: Australian military chief
Wed Jun 4, 2:31 AM ET
SYDNEY (AFP) - The war in Afghanistan is likely to last at least another decade and 10,000 more foreign troops are needed there now, Australian military and political leaders said Wednesday.

Promoting Perfume, Not Poppies, in Afghanistan
by Ivan Watson NPR Morning Edition, June 4, 2008
Since the fall of the Taliban in Afghanistan, poppy production has skyrocketed in the country. The Afghan heroin industry is by far the largest in the world.

UN envoy to raise Afghan, Iraqi killings with US
(Reuters) 4 June 2008 via Khaleej Times
GENEVA - A U.N. human rights investigator making an official visit to the United States later this month said on Wednesday that he would raise allegations of American troops killing Afghan and Iraqi civilians.

World Bank in Afghan aid warning
By Mike Wooldridge BBC world affairs correspondent Wednesday, 4 June 2008
The World Bank has said it is concerned about the way aid money is being used in Afghanistan.

World Bank Official Calls on Afghanistan to Fight Corruption, Provide Services
By VOA News 03 June 2008
A top World Bank official says the institution is committed to building a prosperous and stable Afghanistan but the people must do their part by fighting corruption and improving services.

Afghan Civilians Driven From Garmsir by Fighting
Helmand governor says major international operation is causing humanitarian crisis.
Institute for War & Peace Reporting
By Aziz Ahmad Tassal and Mohammad Ilyas Dayee in Helmand, Sefatullah Zahidi in Garmsir, and Abaceen Nasimi in Kabul (ARR No. 291, 03-Jun-08)

Militants assassinate local intelligence chief in E Afghanistan
KABUL, June 3 (Xinhua) -- Militants fighting Afghan government gunned down a local intelligence chief in the country's eastern Khost province on Tuesday, provincial administration's spokesman Khyber Pashtun said.

Afghanistan: Export restrictions, insecurity delay food aid delivery
KABUL, 3 June 2008 (IRIN) - Five months after a joint appeal by the UN and the Afghan government for US$77 million to provide emergency food assistance to 2.55 million Afghans affected by soaring food prices, relief has reached only about 38 percent

MoD blamed for Chinook "cock-up"
Wed Jun 4, 2008 9:41am BST By Avril Ormsby
LONDON (Reuters) - The Ministry of Defence was criticised on Wednesday for a "gold-standard cock-up" over eight Chinook helicopters that have cost 422 million pounds but have never flown because they can't operate in cloudy weather.

Polio fight an uplifting Afghan story
In 1988, 350,000 Afghans had polio. This year, there are 6 reported cases, thanks to vaccinations
Jun 03, 2008 04:30 AM Rosie DiManno Columnist Toronto Star,  Canada
KUNDUZ, AFGHANISTAN – In every niche of Afghanistan, there are horror stories.

Afghan postpones first full census
June 04 2008 at 03:46PM  Independent Online, South Africa
Kabul - Afghanistan has postponed by two years its first full census amid security concerns and fears it could become politicised by a simultaneous voter registration, the statistics authority said on Wednesday.

Afghanistan: Propping up an already failed state
By Ben Tanosborn Online Journal Contributing Writer Jun 4, 2008, 00:20
Europeans live in a fantasy world if they think that this fall's election in the US will change anything with respect to America’s military demands on NATO.

Hopes Dashed for Afghan Journalist’s Release
Confusion and anger as judge orders indefinite postponement in blasphemy trial of Sayed Parwez Kambakhsh.
Institute for War & Peace Reporting By Jean MacKenzie in Kabul (ARR No. 291, 02-Jun-08)
The mood was almost festive at the start of the latest appeal hearing in the case of Sayed Parwez Kambakhsh, who has spent over seven months in prison facing execution on a charge of defaming Islam and the Prophet Muhammed.

Pakistani Taliban likely behind Danish embassy blast: officials
(AFP) 3 June 2008 - Pakistani Taliban militants likely carried out a suicide attack on the Danish embassy in Islamabad in revenge for controversial cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed, officials said Tuesday.
But the car bombing on Monday

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Dozen insurgents killed in Afghanistan
By AMIR SHAH, Associated Press Writer Wed Jun 4, 7:34 AM ET
KABUL, Afghanistan - U.S.-led coalition forces killed more than a dozen insurgents in southern Afghanistan, and a suicide car bomber targeting Canadian troops killed one Afghan child, officials said Wednesday.

Another suicide car bomb that blew up a district government center in the east wounded 23 people.

The coalition troops were on a humanitarian mission near Putay in Helmand province on Tuesday when one of their vehicles struck a roadside bomb and insurgents ambushed the convoy, a coalition statement said Wednesday.

The troops saw the insurgents entering a home, forcing residents to flee. Coalition forces then responded with air strikes against the insurgents, killing more than a dozen, the statement said. The statement said no women or children were in the area.

The suicide car bomb attack against the Canadians happened in southern Kandahar province. Gen. Abdul Raziq, a border police commander in Spin Boldak, said one Afghan child was killed.

In the eastern province of Khost, meanwhile, a suicide car bomb destroyed a district government building in Jaji Maydan. No one was killed but 23 people were wounded, said Gen. Mohammad Ayub, the provincial police chief. Sixteen civilians, four police and three government employees were among the wounded.

Coalition forces detained six militants in Helmand province while searching compounds in the Nahri Sarraj district. Troops discovered weapons, ammunition and caches of narcotics, including one estimated at more than 400 pounds.

Violence in Afghanistan has spiked in the last two years, with militants setting off an increasing number of car and suicide bombs. More than 8,000 people, mostly militants, were killed in violence last year.
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Afghan child, rebels killed in attacks on foreign troops
Wed Jun 4, 5:23 AM ET
KABUL (AFP) - A suicide car bomb exploded near NATO troops in Afghanistan Wednesday, killing a child, as the US military said a dozen rebels were killed in an air strike after they attacked a humanitarian convoy.

The car bomb blew up close to a NATO military convoy around the town of Spin Boldak near the border with Pakistan, border police commander Abdul Raziq told AFP.

"The troops did not suffer any casualties but a child nearby was killed," he said. The boy was aged between eight and 10.

Raziq said the troops were from the Canadian military but the force, based at the nearby city of Kandahar, did not immediately have information about the attack.

It came a day after three NATO soldiers, including a Canadian, died in other attacks in Afghanistan.

The Canadian soldier was shot Tuesday when a foot patrol came under attack from insurgents in Kandahar's volatile Panjwayi district, the military said.

Two other International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) soldiers were killed in a roadside bombing claimed by the Taliban in the eastern province of Paktia.

Their nationalities were not released but most troops in that area are American.

International soldiers were also wounded in an attack Tuesday in the volatile southern province of Helmand, announced the US-led coalition which works alongside ISAF and Afghan security forces.

The troops were on a humanitarian mission near the key centre of Sangin when one of their vehicles struck a mine, the coalition said in a statement. The convoy was then ambushed and another vehicle struck a mine.

"Insurgents were seen entering homes in an attempt to use them as fighting positions, causing residents to flee," the statement said.

"Coalition forces then ensured that there were no women or children in the area before using precision air strikes against the insurgents," it said, adding more than a dozen insurgents were killed.

A spokesman said some troops were injured but they were not US nationals. He could not give details.

British troops have in particular fought hard over the past years for Sangin, in the heart of Afghanistan's opium and heroin production centre.

The international forces are trying to bring in development and aid to win locals over as a means to defeat a Taliban insurgency.

The Taliban were in government in Kabul between 1996 and 2001 when they imposed their harsh version of Islamic Sharia law on a population beaten down by years of war.

They were ousted in an invasion led by the United States in late 2001 for not handing over their Al-Qaeda allies.

More than 70,000 international forces, the bulk of them under NATO command, are helping the government tackle the insurgency.
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Hunger, water scarcity displaces thousands of Afghans
Wed Jun 4, 5:47 AM ET
KABUL (Reuters) - Thousands of people have been forced to leave their homes due to food and water shortages in northern Afghanistan, the government said on Wednesday.

Many parts of Afghanistan did not receive enough rain and snow this year, increasing concern the country may face drought again, amid global soaring food prices that have already hit the mountainous and war-torn country.

The exodus of nearly 2,000 families this week from Chemtal district of Balkh province comes despite the government sending 37 tons of food and some water for distribution for the people under a food for work project days earlier, the government said.

"The reasons for the displacement of these families are lack of drinking water and food commodities," it said in a statement.

An average Afghan family usually has at least four members.

The families have ended up in Sholgara district which also lies in Balkh, regarded as part of Afghanistan's food basket. The government was looking into how to help them there, the statement added.

Water and food shortages have forced several families to eat grass, resulting in some deaths in recent weeks in different parts of northern Afghanistan, according to press reports.

In some areas water-fed crops have died due to lack of rain and in some others an unprecedented infestation of locusts has destroyed cultivated fields in recent weeks, according to officials.

Faced by violence in the past two years, the bloodiest since the Taliban's ouster in 2001, and frustration from many Afghans about perceived lack of development, the government has been seeking ways to import flour or wheat to curb rising food prices.
(Editing by Jerry Norton)
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New NATO commander in Afghanistan says he plans to revive Pakistan meetings
By JASON STRAZIUSO,Associated Press Writer AP
KABUL, Afghanistan - The new U.S. commander of NATO forces in Afghanistan said Wednesday that he plans to visit Islamabad to revive a stalled cross-border security dialogue with Afghan and Pakistani military leaders.

Army Gen. David D. McKiernan also said that ungoverned areas in Pakistan potentially create a sanctuary for militants with bad intentions for Afghanistan and Pakistan.

The last two border security meetings involving top-ranking generals from NATO, Afghanistan and Pakistan have been canceled, McKiernan said.

"I want to re-energize that process," McKiernan said at his first news conference since replacing Gen. Dan McNeill as NATO commander in Afghanistan on Tuesday. "One of my early trips I intend to make is to Islamabad and meet Gen. (Ashfaq Pervez) Kayani, the Pakistani army chief of staff, and discuss again how do we get energy back into the tripartite process."

McNeill said before stepping down that recent tripartite meetings had been canceled in part because of political changes in Pakistan. The country elected a new government in February.

In his final days of command, McNeill also repeatedly told journalists that the peace agreements negotiated between Pakistan and some militants gives the insurgents a safe haven and training grounds from which they can attack Afghanistan. Attacks have spiked in recent weeks in areas where U.S. forces operate along the border.

"I share Gen. McNeill's concern that the ungoverned areas in the FATA (Pakistan's Federally Administered Tribal Areas) potentially creates a sanctuary for people with bad intentions," McKiernan said. "I can tell you that I personally intend on developing a close relationship with Pakistani counterparts so we can work issues of security along the border."

McKiernan said he would ask the Pakistan government what can be done to assist with security issues in the border area. He would also ask: "How do we exert more control over the border area? How do we make sure there are not the wrong people and items moving across the border?"

Pakistan army spokesman Maj. Gen. Athar Abbas did not return calls requesting comment.

McKiernan labeled suicide bombers as a "very, very difficult challenge" for Afghanistan. The country saw a record 140 suicide bombings in 2007 and has experienced more than 50 already this year. The four-star general said NATO troops need to get to the "root motivation" of suicide bombers _ poverty, ideology or fear.

He said he thought Iran could be a positive cultural and economic influence in Afghanistan, but that he was concerned the Middle Eastern giant could provide military supplies or training to insurgents.

"That is one of the things I will look at very closely in my initial assessment," McKiernan said.

He said NATO and the United Nations should work more closely to promote development, good governance and security in Afghanistan.

McKiernan has taken charge of some 51,000 troops in the 40-nation International Security Assistance Force. It is the largest ISAF force since its creation in 2001, shortly after the U.S.-led invasion of Afghanistan to oust the Taliban for hosting al-Qaida chief Osama bin Laden.

He takes command during a period of heightened violence and a spiraling opium poppy heroin trade in Afghanistan. More than 8,000 people were killed in insurgency-related attacks in the country last year, the most since the 2001 invasion.

As a three-star general in 2003, McKiernan commanded the U.S. land forces during the invasion of Iraq.
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Poland to deploy more troops in Afghanistan
www.chinaview.cn  2008-06-04 20:23:41
KABUL, June 4 (Xinhua) -- Visiting Polish foreign minister Radoslaw Sikorski announced Wednesday that his government will deploy troops in Afghanistan's central-eastern Ghazni province.

"Poland will increase its commitment in troops and will take responsibility and security in the Ghazni province," Sikorski told newsmen at a joint press conference with his Afghan counterpart Rangin Dadfar Spanta.

Currently a contingent of U.S. troops has been stationed in Ghazni province, 100 km south of the capital Kabul.

Poland would also contribute eight helicopters besides giving training to Afghan diplomats, journalists and government staff, he added.

Presently 1,140 Polish troops are serving in Afghanistan within the framework of NATO-led ISAF forces and Afghan foreign minister said that Poland would contribute additional 400 troops.

The two foreign ministers ahead of the press conference exchanged views on matters pertaining mutual interests including war on terror, situation in Afghanistan and enhancing bilateral relations between the two countries. 
Editor: An Lu 
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Afghan war to drag on for 10 years: Australian military chief
Wed Jun 4, 2:31 AM ET
SYDNEY (AFP) - The war in Afghanistan is likely to last at least another decade and 10,000 more foreign troops are needed there now, Australian military and political leaders said Wednesday.

"I would say it's an endeavour that will last at least 10 years," the head of the defence force, Air Chief Marshal Angus Houston told a parliamentary committee.

Taliban rebels still control large parts of the southern Uruzgan province where most of Australia's 1,000 troops are deployed, Houston said, despite some successes by special forces units.

Defence Minister Joel Fitzgibbon, meanwhile, said at least 10,000 more troops were needed to fight the rebellion but they were unlikely to be provided by European nations.

About 70,000 troops provided by the United States and NATO countries are helping Afghan forces against the Taliban, who were ousted in a US-led invasion in 2001.

"I am of the view that we need at the very least an additional 10,000 troops in Afghanistan and to be frank I don't see any Europeans who look likely to put up substantial numbers any time soon," Fitzgibbon told the national AAP news agency in an interview.

"I fear it will fall to the US to do a lot on the military front and I sense a willingness on their part to do so. But, of course, they have enormous concurrency issues. They are overstretched."

Fitzgibbon ruled out Australia committing more troops to Afghanistan.

"We are the largest non-NATO contributor. We are the 10th largest contributor overall and we are just not prepared to do more while ever we are of the view that there are others that could be doing more," he said.

"Just as importantly, we simply don't have the capacity."

The Taliban were ousted in an invasion led by the United States in late 2001 after the Islamic rebels refused to hand over Al-Qaeda chief Osama bin Laden following the September 11 attacks on the United States.

Their insurgency left 8,000 people dead last year, most of them rebels. This year, 70 foreign soldiers have lost their lives in Afghanistan, according to an AFP count.
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Promoting Perfume, Not Poppies, in Afghanistan
by Ivan Watson NPR Morning Edition, June 4, 2008
Since the fall of the Taliban in Afghanistan, poppy production has skyrocketed in the country. The Afghan heroin industry is by far the largest in the world.

For the past several years, a group of Afghan and foreign businessmen has been trying to offer an alternative, by urging farmers to grow flowers for perfume instead of for drugs. But it has been a frustrating and costly project.

Shafiq Azizi is a perfume distiller. When he isn't picking flowers in Nimla garden, a green oasis in the dry hills of eastern Afghanistan, he works in a hot, dusty parking lot in the city of Jalalabad. He darts between a network of steel pipes and drums, dumping fragrant ingredients such as cedar wood into a giant metal vat.

By boiling the ingredients, Azizi extracts valuable oils, which can be sold on the international market for thousands of dollars per gallon.

Barnett Rubin, an Afghanistan expert at New York University, says the process is similar in a way to the production of heroin.

"You grow flowers, then you refine it using relatively simple technology into something that has very high value per volume and then export it to the market — only it's completely legal," says Rubin, who is also one of the founders of the Gulestan Company, which employed Azizi for the last three years.

Rubin says he and his partners hoped to offer Afghan farmers an alternative to growing poppies. Instead, they have encountered daunting obstacles.

"After my experience trying to start a legal taxpaying company in Afghanistan, I understand very well why people prefer to go into illegal businesses," he says.

Two years ago, Azizi used $29,000 in U.S. aid money to plant thousands of roses and build a perfume-distilling machine for the villagers living near Nimla garden.

But when Azizi visited last week, he found the distillery untouched and the rose patch abandoned.

Many Afghan farmers are reluctant to switch to a new cash crop because they are accustomed to being paid upfront to grow poppies for opium traders.

Rubin says corrupt and inefficient Afghan government bureaucracy also created big problems for Gulestan.

For instance, he says the company owed a $400 tax.

"We kept trying to pay this tax, and every time we did, the officials in the local treasury department would ask us for bribes," he says.

The company faced a litany of other obstacles. At one point government officials refused to allow Gulestan employees to operate their distillery for weeks, forcing them to miss a crucial flower harvest.

Gulestan's owners now say they plan to liquidate the company. But there is still hope for Afghan perfume. A local entrepreneur named Abdullah Arsallah is determined to resurrect Gulestan as a new company that makes fragrances.

"It's very easy to get into the drug business, but ... that will not get us anywhere," Arsallah says. "It's a cycle that one has to break."

Arsallah says he will move Azizi and his distillery to a nearby village, where a farmer named Haji Ibrahim says he is enthusiastic about the new venture.

Instead of supplying people around the world with poison from poppy and other drugs, Ibrahim says it is his hope that Afghanistan can give them sweet fruits, vegetables and nice smells.
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UN envoy to raise Afghan, Iraqi killings with US
(Reuters) 4 June 2008 via Khaleej Times
GENEVA - A U.N. human rights investigator making an official visit to the United States later this month said on Wednesday that he would raise allegations of American troops killing Afghan and Iraqi civilians.

Philip Alston, United Nations special rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, said he would also investigate whether the U.S. justice system held private military contractors accountable for any murders committed abroad.

"The big issue is the extent to which the United States is prepared to talk about anything happening overseas," Alston told Reuters in a interview in Geneva ahead of his June 16-26 trip.

"I would like to understand more about the extent to which the American system of justice has adequately dealt with allegations of civilian killings in Iraq," he said.

Alston provoked NATO's anger last month when he said 200 Afghan civilians had been killed by foreign and Afghan troops so far this year, in addition to around 300 by Taliban insurgents.

His report was based on a May visit to Afghanistan, where more than 55,000 foreign troops led by NATO and the U.S. military are deployed. A NATO spokesman later conceded that civilians were mistakenly killed by foreign forces while hunting Taliban militants, but put the number in "low double figures".

"The issue of private military contractors has come up, not just (U.S. private security firm) Blackwater, which are accused of activities that might have killed people. I'll be looking at the question of impunity -- is there a legal system effectively holding them to account?" Alston said in the interview.

 US invitation

The Australian law professor at New York University is making his visit at U.S. government invitation. He will meet federal officials in Washington before visiting Alabama and Texas where prisons have large numbers of death row inmates.

He plans to examine the death penalty issue, including allegations of racial bias in U.S. courts. Human rights activists say proportionately more African-Americans and other minorities are sentenced to death than white criminals.

"There have also been allegations of deaths in immigration detention," Alston said.

Alston, in a speech presenting his annual report to the U.N. Human Rights Council earlier this week, voiced outrage at prison conditions worldwide. He called for appointment of a new U.N. envoy on the rights of detainees.

Prisoners are often "kept in conditions in which no representative in this Council would knowingly permit his or her dog to be kept", he told the 47-member state forum.

Alston said on Wednesday that the U.N. investigator on torture, Austrian law professor Manfred Nowak, was doing an "absolutely super job" probing allegations of mistreatment of detainees, but that a broader mandate was needed.

"Torture can't capture everything wrong in prisons. Detainees have fallen off the radar screen in their own right. We no longer give a damn about the conditions in which they are kept," he told Reuters.

 Appalling conditions

"In most countries I've been to, prisoners are kept in utterly appalling conditions," Alston said. Food was paltry and hygienic conditions often dismal in damp overcrowded cells.

Alston denounced "prisons run by prisoners" which he has seen in places including Brazil and Guatemala.

"It is a common phenomenon in Latin America. Gangs (of prisoners) offer cheap labour to handle discipline and food distribution," he said. "It is a completely arbitrary regime that puts prisoners at the mercy of other prisoners".

Western countries had also accepted lower standards for treating their prisoners, he said, adding: "How countries treat their prisoners gives you insight into their basic humanity."
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World Bank in Afghan aid warning
By Mike Wooldridge BBC world affairs correspondent Wednesday, 4 June 2008
The World Bank has said it is concerned about the way aid money is being used in Afghanistan.

It says President Hamid Karzai's government needs to have clearer priorities for reducing poverty.

And it says more progress is needed in tackling corruption, raising taxes and improving public administration.

The government is preparing to ask the international community for some $50bn to finance its reconstruction programme over the next five years.

Crucial

The request for $50bn will be discussed next week at a conference on Afghanistan in Paris that is vital for the country's future.

Mr Karzai's government is, for example, looking for significant new funding to develop agriculture which is crucial to efforts to improve food security.

The World Bank accepts that this is just the kind of spending for which Afghanistan needs more support.

But after a meeting of the bank's board, its director for fragile and conflict-affected countries, Alastair McKechnie, said there was a "huge issue" of the effectiveness of aid in Afghanistan.

The bank says "little headway" has been made in the fight against corruption. It accepts that this is not easy when government authority is challenged by powerful figures.

It says progress in the reform of public administration has been modest and there needs to be clear priorities for achieving results in delivering services on the ground.

And it says collecting more taxes is essential.

This is blunt language. But the World Bank is issuing a reminder that everyone's credibility is at stake in Afghanistan.

It also calls for better co-ordination among the donors.
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World Bank Official Calls on Afghanistan to Fight Corruption, Provide Services
By VOA News 03 June 2008
A top World Bank official says the institution is committed to building a prosperous and stable Afghanistan but the people must do their part by fighting corruption and improving services.

World Bank Managing Director Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala just concluded a three-day visit to Afghanistan in which she met with President Hamid Karzai, Cabinet ministers and members of the donor community.

In a statement issued Tuesday Okonjo-Iweala says much has been accomplished in Afghanistan in a short amount of time and she called on the international community to support the nation and its development.

But she said that only Afghans can develop Afghanistan and it is up to them to tackle the difficult issues of building institutions, fighting corruption and delivering services to ordinary citizens.

Okonjo-Iweala made the visit to Afghanistan a head of an international donor conference for Afghanistan to be held June 12 in Paris.

At the conference, Afghanistan's government plans to ask international donors for $50 billion in aid, to fund security and development in the war-torn country.

Afghan officials say they will present a 5,000-page national development strategy, designed to resolve many of the current inefficiencies in the aid process.

Some information for this report was provided by AP and Reuters.
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Afghan Civilians Driven From Garmsir by Fighting
Helmand governor says major international operation is causing humanitarian crisis.
Institute for War & Peace Reporting
By Aziz Ahmad Tassal and Mohammad Ilyas Dayee in Helmand, Sefatullah Zahidi in Garmsir, and Abaceen Nasimi in Kabul (ARR No. 291, 03-Jun-08)

Much of the formerly bustling district of Garmsir in southern Helmand province now resembles a ghost town, with villages largely emptied of their populations.

An IWPR reporter visited one village, Loy Kalai, from which almost 4,000 families had fled. More than half the houses were destroyed, and abandoned farm animals were beginning to die.

The smell of decay hung over the area. In one house, a man who had died from shrapnel wounds lay unburied.

“I could not believe what I was seeing,” a resident who witnessed the scene told IWPR. “It was a tragedy.”

Garmsir district is the focus of a large-scale NATO operation codenamed “Azada Wosa” (“Be Free” in Pashto), launched on April 28 and led by a 2,400-strong United States Marine Expeditionary Unit which arrived in Afghanistan earlier this spring.

Supported by troops from NATO’s International Security Assistance Force, ISAF, the Marines have spent the last month engaged in a fierce battle with the Taleban in southern Helmand province, attempting to drive the insurgents out of territory they have held these past two years.

Garmsir is strategically located 70 kilometres south of Helmand’s capital, Lashkar Gah, and is an important transit route for insurgents coming in from Pakistan heading into the rest of the province. The district also serves as a major hub for smuggling opium paste and heroin out of poppy-rich Helmand.

"This was a very successful operation,” ISAF spokesman Brigadier-General Carlos Branco told IWPR by telephone on May 29. “Only one US Marine was killed and four injured – two non-battle-related."

He reiterated ISAF’s policy on not releasing figures for of Taleban, but added, “The Taleban are suffering huge losses. They are reinforcing the area in a very disorganised way.”

As for civilian casualties, the ISAF spokesman said, "I am not saying there were none, only that we have no reports."

Brig-Gen Branco told IWPR that reports in the Afghan media that large numbers of people had been displaced by the fighting were “highly exaggerated”.

“Our figures show 4,000 displaced persons, most of them from before the operation started," he said.

This assessment does not tally with statements from local officials and residents, however.

According to Helmand Governor Gulab Mangal, the fighting has displaced 8,000 families, and there is a significant aid shortfall.

“The aid being given by UNAMA [United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan] and UNICEF [UN Children’s Fund] cannot meet the needs of the people,” he said. “They require more assistance, urgently.”

Sonja Wintersberger, public information officer for UNAMA, told IWPR her organisation did not have exact figures for displaced families.

“It is very difficult to get confirmed information,” she said in a telephone interview in Kabul. “We do not actually have anybody on the ground there.”

The absence of civilian casualties is also disputed.

Abdul Karim, who had come to Lashkar Gah from the village of Ameiraga in Garmsir, told IWPR that a bomb hit his neighbour’s house, killing four people.

“We left our home and are camping out in the desert,” he told IWPR by mobile phone. “Almost everyone in Garmsir is leaving, either for Pakistan or Lashkar Gah. Those who don’t have money are just stuck in the desert.”

A poppy harvester, who did not want to be named, told IWPR that he had just come to Lashkar Gah from Garmsir.

“I saw two Town Ace [Toyota minivan] vehicles full of women and children who were trying to get away,” he said. “The cars were bombed and completely destroyed. I cannot say how many were killed because we ran and hid, but we could see the fire and smoke coming out of them.”

In Helmand’s deserts, where temperatures often reach 50 degrees Celsius, thousands of people are reported to be without shelter, food, or adequate drinking water. The resources of the local administration are strained to breaking point, as is the patience of the refugees.

“We have had nothing to eat since yesterday,” said an old woman in a black chador – one of more than 100 people from Garmseer gathered in front of the regional department for refugees in Lashkar Gah.

“When we come here for help, they send soldiers to chase us away. There is no one to hear our voice. We go to the bakeries in the bazaar, hoping someone will give us bread so that we can take it to our families.”

Abdul Satar Muzahari, head of the provincial refugee department, told IWPR, “We have not been able to do anything for the displaced families. Our first job is to figure out where they are and what they need.”

According to Muzahari, an emergency commission had determined that there were more than 4,500 displaced families, of which 1,500 had received some assistance from UNAMA and UNICEF.

But major needs were not being met, he complained.

“The displaced people are not all poor,” he said. “But nobody has attended to their basic needs, such as food and tents. We have told the Red Crescent Society, but they did not help.”

Asadullah Mayar, head of the Red Crescent Society of Helmand, said they were doing their best in difficult conditions.

“The displaced people are in a very bad state,” he told IWPR. “They are not being helped. Last week we helped 280 families with tea, flour, oil and blankets. We have prepared assistance for an additional 700 families. But there are many more.”

Like the provincial governor, Mayar estimated that 8,000 families had fled to other districts or were out in the desert.

“We will try and help them as soon as we can determine where they have gone,” he said.

Garmsir has been hotly contested since the resurgence of the Taleban and their non-Afghan allies who are reportedly now streaming in from Pakistan to fight NATO.

“Before the beginning of this operation, there were 500 foreign fighters in Garmsir,” said Mangal, the provincial governor. “Now the number has increased to 1,100, and more are coming every day.”

“In just one night, 25 opposition fighters were killed, and 20 of them were Arabs.”

But while NATO is trying to uproot the Taleban and their allies with heavy aerial bombardment, local residents are bearing the brunt of the conflict.

“We were all running and it was dark and I lost my mother, and I cried,” said Aslam, a small boy of about three. “This man found me,” he pointed to Akhtar Mohammad, in whose house he was now staying. “But I am afraid. There are bombs and airplanes during the night, and I want my mother.”

Sher Agha, a resident of Garmsir, described scenes of chaos during the attacks.

“I saw old men, women, children, just running, trying to save themselves,” he told IWPR. “No one looked out for their children, their parents. It was everyone for himself.”

But speaking at a press conference in Kabul on May 25, Brig-Gen Branco maintained that careful planning and the restraint exercised by NATO forces meant there were no reports of civilian casualties, “despite the intensity of the operations”.

The same could not be said for the Taleban and their allies, he said. “Because we are taking the fight to the insurgents in their key areas, their reaction in Garmsir has been intense and resulted in heavy losses on their part,” he asserted.

Other US spokesman say people in Garmsir support their efforts.

“The Afghan citizens hold the insurgents responsible for the hardship they impose,” said Colonel Peter Petronzio, commanding officer of the 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit. “The only criticism the Marines have received is that they are moving too slowly.”

And ISAF promises there will be better days ahead.

“Naturally, we regret any families who have left their homes, but once we have re-established Afghan government control they will return and will enjoy a better quality of life, free from the oppressive regime of the Taleban,” Brig-Gen Branco said at the press conference.

ISAF first reported that Garmsir had been cleared of insurgents in September 2006, when a combined force of Afghan National Army, ANA, and ISAF troops drove the Taleban out of the district centre in an operation lasting eight hours.

Operation Glacier, in February 2007, again drove the Taleban from Garmsir, and an ISAF press release from April that year claimed that reconstruction was already getting under way.

“In districts such as Lashkar Gah, Naw Zad and Garmsir, local Afghans have started seeing the benefit of a safer environment,” read the statement.

One year on, Garmsir is again at the centre of operations.

“This is the twentieth time I’ve heard there are military operations in Helmand,” said Faruq Dawer, deputy director of the Civil Rights Organisation for Afghanistan, an Afghan non-governmental organisation.

“When the Taleban go to a village, they don’t usually stay for a long time. Then the Americans come in and launch a military operation, counting civilian casualties as their military achievement. When they leave the area, the Taleban come back in. This doesn’t make any sense – you cannot stabilise the area this way.”

In fact, argued Dawer, military offensives of this kind only aggravate the situation.

“Civilian casualties are the reason security is getting worse,” he said. “The relatives of those killed join the ranks of the enemy to exact revenge.”

Another problem, according to Dawer, is the lack of cultural understanding, including on the part of ANA troops, many of whom come from northern Afghanistan and are unfamiliar with the overwhelmingly Pashtun south.

“For a non-Pashtun, even a police or ANA commander, all these turbaned people look like Taleban,” said Dawer. “But almost everyone wears a turban down there.”

“This is the fourth week of the operation,” he said. “But even if it goes on for four years, it will not have any result. The Americans and NATO should revise their policy.”

For their part, the allies state their presence in southern Helmand is open-ended.

“There is no set end-date for the operation in Garmsir. Marines will stay until the mission has been accomplished,” said Captain Kelly Frushour, public affairs officer of the 24th Expeditionary Force, in a statement given to IWPR. “And even though the Marines are not in Garmsir permanently, NATO and its forces remain committed to the mission there.”

Aziz Ahmad Tassal, Mohammad Ilyas Dayee and Sefatullah Zahidi are IWPR-trained journalists based in Lashkar Gar, southern Afghanistan. Abaceen Nasimi is an IWPR journalist in Kabul.
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Militants assassinate local intelligence chief in E Afghanistan
KABUL, June 3 (Xinhua) -- Militants fighting Afghan government gunned down a local intelligence chief in the country's eastern Khost province on Tuesday, provincial administration's spokesman Khyber Pashtun said.

"The chief of intelligence department of Alishir district was on way to office at around 8:30 a.m. local time when the armed Taliban insurgents opened fire on his car killing him on the spot," Pashtun told Xinhua.

Militants by targeting officials want to terrify government employees to leave their jobs and destabilize security in the country, he further said.

Taliban militants that in the past attacked government interests and servicemen including teachers and pro-government religious leaders have not made comments so far.
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Afghanistan: Export restrictions, insecurity delay food aid delivery
KABUL, 3 June 2008 (IRIN) - Five months after a joint appeal by the UN and the Afghan government for US$77 million to provide emergency food assistance to 2.55 million Afghans affected by soaring food prices, relief has reached only about 38 percent of the targeted population, the UN World Food Programme (WFP) told IRIN.

The Joint Appeal for the Humanitarian Consequences of the Rise in Food Prices [http://www.irinnews.org/Report.aspx?ReportId=76400] was launched on 24 January. WFP requested the funds to purchase and distribute 88,000 metric tonnes (MT) of food aid from February to mid-2008.

Donors have contributed more than 90 percent of the requested funds to date, according to WFP Afghanistan [http://www.irinnews.org/Report.aspx?ReportId=77739].

"The plan was for 88,000MT and so far 28,000MT have been dispatched, with 20,000MT distributed to beneficiaries," said Rick Corsino, WFP country representative. Of the 2.55 million targeted beneficiaries, 970,000 have been assisted thus far, he added.

A steep rise in food prices has pushed millions of already vulnerable Afghans into "high-risk" food-insecurity, aid agencies have reported.

In an effort to avert a humanitarian tragedy resulting from increasing problems in accessing food, the UN and Afghan government had planned in January to provide an emergency "safety net" for more than 2.5 million most vulnerable people until the harvest season in August. However, the plan has not gone as expected. Impediments

One of the main reasons why food aid has not yet reached even half the targeted communities is procurement and logistical hurdles.

Initially it was decided that wheat and other food items would be procured from markets in neighbouring countries, especially Pakistan, which traditionally supplies Afghan food markets.

However, rising prices have prompted Pakistani authorities to impose a strict ban on food exports, hitting WFP's operation in Afghanistan.

"Because we have been unable to obtain much of the food in the region owing to export restrictions imposed by neighbouring countries, we have had to procure from other parts of the world. Delivery times are therefore much greater than we would have wanted," Corsino said.

The Pakistan government has not yet responded to WFP's requests to purchase 100,000MT of wheat from Pakistani markets, Corsino said.

Worsening insecurity in south and southeastern parts of Afghanistan is another obstacle. WFP has lost about 1,000MT of food, valued at $800,000, in almost 40 separate attacks on food aid convoys in the past 18 months [http://www.irinnews.org/Report.aspx?ReportId=78440].

The UN has repeatedly condemned armed attacks on food aid convoys and has called on all warring parties to allow their safe passage throughout the country.

"Food is stolen from those people who need it most," Kai Eide, special representative of the UN Secretary-General for Afghanistan, told the media in Kabul on 22 May.

"It has been condemned by the international community, but I want to see this condemned by others also. I would like to see the Taliban, the insurgency, condemn such attacks," Eide said.

Programme extended

WFP says its emergency food aid programme has helped many poor families across Afghanistan and has also contributed to easing food prices in many locations.

Despite delays in getting all the required food, WFP says it is committed to distributing the planned food aid.

"The food [aid] needs continue in many areas, so we are confident that even though the food will only reach beneficiaries in July/August, it will still be very much needed," said Corsino.
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MoD blamed for Chinook "cock-up"
Wed Jun 4, 2008 9:41am BST By Avril Ormsby
LONDON (Reuters) - The Ministry of Defence was criticised on Wednesday for a "gold-standard cock-up" over eight Chinook helicopters that have cost 422 million pounds but have never flown because they can't operate in cloudy weather.

The National Audit Office (NAO) blamed the MoD for failing to act promptly after it discovered in 2001 that the Chinook Mk3 helicopters could not be flown because of software problems, resulting in a shortfall of support for operations in Afghanistan.

"The Chinook Mk3 story re-emphasises the importance of timely decision making, clearly understanding requirements and proceeding purposefully to the solution," NAO head Tim Burr said in a report to parliament.

Eight Chinooks were ordered from Boeing in 1995 at a cost of 259 million pounds for special operations and were delivered to the MoD in 2001, but have remained grounded because they could only be flown in cloudless skies, despite Boeing having fulfilled its contractual obligations.

The MoD's initial solution was to adopt a programme of "fix to field", to make the Mk3 helicopters operational, but the need for air support in Afghanistan meant it switched to a quicker "reversion" project in 2007, which converted the helicopters to a standard similar to those in the Mk2 Chinook fleet.

"The MoD's progress in fielding the Chinook Mk3 helicopters has been protracted," the NAO said in a statement. "As a result, the shortage of helicopters to support operations has been exacerbated.

"Had the MoD been quicker to progress the 'fix to field' project ... the subsequent reversion project ... would have been unnecessary."

A simultaneous attempt to upgrade the more basic Mk2 Chinook already in service has backfired because the night vision equipment installed at a cost of 32 million pounds does not work properly.

Edward Leigh, chairman of the Public Accounts Committee to which the NAO reports, said: "The Ministry of Defence's programme to make airworthy the eight Chinook Mk3 helicopters which it acquired in 2001 for special operations work has been a gold-standard cock-up.

"I have described the purchase of these helicopters as 'one of the most incompetent procurements of all time'.

"Today, nearly seven years since they were delivered, the Chinook Mk3s are still languishing in climate-controlled hangers -- despite the fact that they are desperately needed on operations in Afghanistan."

The MoD said it acted quickly to revert the helicopters, which will be available two years quicker than under the "fix to field" programme.

Defence Minister Baroness Ann Taylor said: "The project remains on track in terms of time and budget.

"The Chinook is the most capable support helicopter in Afghanistan. Based on operational need, the reversion project will allow delivery of more Chinooks to theatre in the shortest time-frame."

The helicopter is expected to be delivered by 2009/10.
(Editing by Steve Addison)
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Polio fight an uplifting Afghan story
In 1988, 350,000 Afghans had polio. This year, there are 6 reported cases, thanks to vaccinations
Jun 03, 2008 04:30 AM Rosie DiManno Columnist Toronto Star,  Canada
KUNDUZ, AFGHANISTAN – In every niche of Afghanistan, there are horror stories.

Even in relatively tranquil regions, such as this one in the north, occasional flashes of violence – unspeakably ruthless, without any semblance of tactical purpose – remind that the insurgency remains vigorous and scattered, probing far beyond its throbbing core in the southern provinces.

A top Taliban commander was arrested by Afghan National Police here last month, a rare triumph for that benighted organization. But in the previous month, a teacher who had just finished condemning suicide bombings as un-Islamic, speaking at a public gathering, was ambushed and killed on his way home. Shortly afterwards, unknown gunmen attacked an open-air school for 700 students, setting tents alight and slicing off the ears of a watchman.

Of course, in Kunduz brutality is no stranger, although the bad memories have been diminishing.

This is where the repressive and loathed and foreign Taliban movement died, at least in northern Afghanistan, in a plateau town surrounded by plump brown hills pocketed with craters.

In late 2001, the last of the Taliban fighting forces was besieged in Kunduz by National Alliance troops. A ceasefire was negotiated and thousands were taken captive, sent mostly to prisons run by the notorious Uzbek warlord, Gen. Rashid Dostum. Hundreds died of suffocation while being transported in sealed freight containers.

Many more, mainly non-Afghan Taliban – from Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Chechnya – were incarcerated in a Dostum prison in Shibarghan, two provinces distant. When they rose up against their guards, the U.S. launched an air strike that killed at least 300, some dying with their hands still tied behind their backs. It was a singularly damning event for the coalition campaign, sickening to the world.

But there's little sympathy for those victims here, even among the minority population of ethnic Pashtuns.

"They were murderers and they occupied us, just as the Soviets did before them," says Abdul Zaman, a Tajik, chopping off a lamb's head and securing the carcass to a hook in his meat stall. "Why should we pity them? They had no pity for us. Their ways were not our ways."

Kunduz city has bounced back as a farming and marketing hub, bright and lively with high-stepping horses – the area is famous for its quality of horse breeding – bedecked in jangles and scarlet pompons. Unemployment is distressingly high, however, with young men sitting idly outside the job centre.

It was here that the Germans opened NATO's first Provincial Reconstruction Team in 2004. UNICEF and the World Health Organization have offices in town and non-governmental agencies operate a myriad of services. Last week, a three-day workshop was held on "Human Rights and Support of Disabled Persons." There's a legal aid office, too.

The Star, unable to find a habitable guest house, threw itself on the mercy of UNICEF and was kindly provided with the entire fourth floor staff dorm of their building.

Downstairs, Dr. Abdul Nazar Ahmadi is proud to talk about the success of one particular project – polio eradication.

It was actually the mujahideen, back in the late 1980s, who first began advocating and enabling polio vaccination for children in the regions they held. In 1988, there were 350,000 documented cases of polio in Afghanistan; by 2006, under programs established by the central government through the auspices of the UN and the WHO, that number had been slashed to 1,956.

But Afghanistan remains one of four countries where crippling polio is still endemic. There was a huge outbreak in 1997 and again in 2006. Six cases have been found so far this year, though none in the north, where eradication has been declared complete.

"For every single case, that means up to a thousand have been exposed to the virus and have it in their system," says Ahmadi, who is in charge of the regional polio office. "It's like the iceberg phenomenon. We only see the tip of it."

Of the six cases this year, two are in Helmand, the rest in Herat, Kandahar and Farah.

"With the security situation in the south, accessibility for vaccination is very difficult," says Ahmadi.

"We need to vaccinate them at least three times over three years to completely control the disease. But in some conflict areas, the Taliban have shot at our volunteers or they have intimidated tribal elders so we can't go into villages."

A Taliban spokesperson has denied this, insisting volunteers have been guaranteed secure access to immunize children. They lie.

Still, some 7.3 million Afghan children under the age of 5 have been vaccinated this year.

That's an uplifting story, for a change.
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Afghan postpones first full census
June 04 2008 at 03:46PM  Independent Online, South Africa
Kabul - Afghanistan has postponed by two years its first full census amid security concerns and fears it could become politicised by a simultaneous voter registration, the statistics authority said on Wednesday.

President Hamid Karzai and his cabinet agreed on Monday to postpone the count, slotted for August, until 2010, Central Statistics Office chief Abdul Rahman Ghafoori told reporters.

The census could become "politicised" if it is held at the same time people are being registered for the parliamentary and presidential elections due in late 2009, he said.

"If we do the census at the same time, people may get confused that the census is also part of the politics and due to that they may give wrong answers to our questions.

"To avoid that, we have to wait till that finishes up and then we'll start, after the parliamentary and presidential elections," he said.

A statement from the Central Statistics Office said another factor that could threaten the accuracy and impartiality of the census was the deterioration of security in many areas of the country.

There were also not enough qualified enumerators available, it said.

Afghanistan's only previous census started in 1979 but was not completed after the Soviet invasion that year plunged the country into decades of war.

The upcoming census is the Afghan government's single largest project and is being assisted by the United Nations and funded by Italy, Germany, Norway, Sweden, Finland, Luxembourg and Japan.

An unofficial household count in 2002 had suggested there were then roughly 24,5 million people in the country, officials have said. The US Central Intelligence Agency "world factbook" puts the population at 33 million. 
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Afghanistan: Propping up an already failed state
By Ben Tanosborn Online Journal Contributing Writer Jun 4, 2008, 00:20
Europeans live in a fantasy world if they think that this fall's election in the US will change anything with respect to America’s military demands on NATO.

Joseph Lieberman, the pro-war US senator, and chief advocate in Congress for Israel’s hawkish government, said as much a couple of months ago as he stressed the cross-party American position on Afghanistan. Europe, said the 2000 Democratic vice presidential candidate, can be assured that either of the two Democratic presidential candidates, Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton, have the same exact policy on Afghanistan. Of course, there is nothing we need to say about Bush-Twin and presumptive Republican presidential candidate -- short on brains and long on warmongering -- John McCain.

American and NATO troops trying to keep Karzai’s regime alive in Afghanistan probably number four or five times the number of fighting Taliban, although foreign fighters from Chechnya, Pakistan, Uzbekistan and several other Arab-Muslim countries, add to the professional insurgency. And pro-Taliban part-timers, outraged by the helter-skelter attitude on Afghan lives by foreigners -- such as the Shinwar Massacre committed by Americans in the Nangrahar province -- are starting to make a measurable difference in the overall effectiveness of the insurgency.

Three weeks ago, Mingo, my European journalist friend, who had returned to Afghan lands in March after an absence of over two years, gave me a debriefing on how things measure up after this period. “Ben,” he said, “America’s puppet, Karzai, continues to be for all practical purposes the mayor of Kabul, and not the president of Afghanistan, exercising influence on his countrymen solely on the distribution of foreign aid to the provinces. The perception by Afghans, whether they live in Herat, Kabul or Kandahar, is that all these billions in purported aid have not improved their lives a bit, and most of them -- other than those benefiting from the poppy trade -- have a clear and nostalgic view of the Taliban regime.”

Mingo was in Kabul last month, and happened to be an eyewitness to the attempt on Karzai’s life. His local host made what appeared to be a prophetic statement: Afghans will likely be celebrating within four or five years, perhaps sooner, the liberation of the country from the US and its misnamed “coalition.” The celebration will replace, according to his host, the current April 27 military parade, where the attempt on Karzai’s life occurred; now the most important national holiday, it commemorates the nation’s liberation from Soviet occupation.

Last February, during the 44th Munich Security Conference, Defense Secretary Robert Gates, America’s mild-mannered, but just as hawkish as his predecessor Pentagon warlords, gave to the NATO members, in spades, the unmasked and bitter-tasting truth, demanding a “fair distribution of the burden” when it came to the propping up of military defenses in Afghanistan, referring to the resistance by some NATO members, Germany for one, to bear a proportionate share of the fighting and dying. America (or rather its ruling elite) just won’t tolerate a “two-tiered alliance.” Poor Jung, Germany’s Gates’ counterpart; he quickly learned that it was of little value that Germany had warned the US six years before of military adventurism. Yep, we all remember how the “criminal wit” of then US Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld was utilized to denigrate “old Europe.”

Since surrendering to American demands is not such a popular thing in Germany, but since such surrendering is a must, confidential discussions and negotiations must be done sub Rosa . . . and according to Der Spiegel Germany has agreed to increase its troop presence from 3,500 to 4,500. Not that it will make a scintilla of difference according to Mingo; nor will the additional British help.

A junior British officer summed up to my friend the ideological consensus of the NATO troops serving in Afghanistan: “The Yanks indiscriminately start all these wars, and then the bloody bastards expect us to help, always calling on that card without expiration that calls for a pay-back on the help they offered in WW’s I and II. One would think that that kind of rationalization would be stale by now. As it is the idiocy spouted by Washington that the American ‘war against terror’ is helping to keep Europe safe, as evidenced by the 2004 and 2005 bombings of Madrid and London . . . in both cases retribution for US war policies in Afghanistan and Iraq.”

And here we were on Memorial Day with the biggest Hun of them all, George W. Bush, telling the country that “America’s freedoms come at great cost.” But propping up Afghanistan, or Iraq, has nothing to do with our freedoms . . . or with theirs.
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Hopes Dashed for Afghan Journalist’s Release
Confusion and anger as judge orders indefinite postponement in blasphemy trial of Sayed Parwez Kambakhsh.
Institute for War & Peace Reporting By Jean MacKenzie in Kabul (ARR No. 291, 02-Jun-08)
The mood was almost festive at the start of the latest appeal hearing in the case of Sayed Parwez Kambakhsh, who has spent over seven months in prison facing execution on a charge of defaming Islam and the Prophet Muhammed.

A large sign in English proclaimed “This Way” with arrows pointing to the courtroom, and the large group of observers had simultaneous translation into English laid on, complete with special interpreting equipment.

The Afghan and international press corps, representatives of foreign embassies and human rights groups, civil society activists including a long row of brightly dressed and very intense Afghan women had turned out in force at the Kabul Appeals Court for what everyone expected would be the last chapter in a long and dismal saga.

Two previous sessions had ended in adjournment – the first, on May 18, because there was no defence lawyer present, and the second, on May 25, because Kambakhsh complained of ill health.

Everyone was sure this would be the last time the court needed to gather.

The rumour mill had been working overtime, confidently predicting that Kambakhsh would be released at the June 1 session.

The speculation had turned from the case to Kambakhsh’s future - would he be able to stay in Afghanistan, or was the risk of reprisals by religious fundamentalists too great? Was there a country prepared to receive him? Were plans already in train?

But it soon became clear the defendant was not going anywhere.

A thin, pale Kambakhsh was led into the courtroom in handcuffs. He smiled for the dozens of cameras, and politely extended his hands to have his shackles removed. He wore a leather jacket over his prison-issue, black-on-white Afghan clothes, a long tunic over baggy pants.

The secretary of the court conducted a 30-minute recitation of the text that Kambakhsh was accused of having downloaded.

When it came time for the defence to present its case, Kambakhsh stood and recited verses from the Koran to indicate that he was and remains an observant Muslim. He then replied to the court’s questions about his health, saying that he was prepared to continue his case.

His lawyer, Mohammad Afzal Nooristani, then introduced a motion asking for a medical examination to support Kambakhsh’s claim that he had been tortured.

After a short adjournment, the presiding judge, Abdul Salam Qazizada, ruled that Kambakhsh should be handed over to forensic doctors, who would then inform the court as to the validity of his allegations. In contrast to previous sessions, no date was set for continuing the appeal.

While the delay seemed to be at the behest of the defence, those close to Kambakhsh maintain that it was in fact a ploy by the court – and by extension the government – to keep him under wraps for the next few weeks.

“The lawyer introduced the motion to have Parwez examined one week ago, but the judge would not consider it,” said Sayed Yaqub Ibrahimi, Kambakhsh’s brother, who has worked as a journalist with IWPR for the past five years. “He said the motion had to be read in open court.”

Ibrahimi appeared stunned by the turn of events. Along with his father, Sayed Ahmad, who was present but not inside the courtroom, he had expected to be able to take his brother home.

“We expected that he would be released, but now I don’t know what will happen,” said Ibrahimi. “I think the court just wants to kill time.”

Kambakhsh’s ordeal began on October 27, 2007, when he was arrested in the northern city of Mazar-e-Sharif, for allegedly downloading and circulating a text that harshly criticised Islam.

The incriminating document, authored by an Iranian exile who writes under the penname Arrash Bekhoda (“Arrash the Godless”), casts doubt upon the character and behaviour of the Prophet Muhammad, particularly as regards his multiple wives.

Bekhoda also criticises, at times quite harshly, the Koran’s strictures on women. For example, in courts of law the testimony of two women is equal to that of one man; a woman is entitled to only half the inheritance that males get. Men are allowed multiple wives, but women cannot have more than one husband. Bekhoda repeatedly states that these restrictions violate the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Kambakhsh has denied the charges against him, despite a signed confession that he says was coerced.

At the time of his arrest, Kambakhsh told relatives that he had been psychologically pressured into admitting that he had been behind the dissemination of the downloaded text.

Only recently have allegations of physical mistreatment surfaced. Kambakhsh told the court on May 18 that he had been tortured, and has since explained that his nose and left hand were broken as officers from the National Security Directorate attempted to obtain his signature on the confession.

The case has been plagued with procedural difficulties from the start. At the initial trial in Mazar-e-Sharif, the capital of Balkh province, Kambakhsh had no legal representation and was given no opportunity to defend himself. The trial was also closed to observers. Kambakhsh was simply summoned into a room and handed a death sentence.

Relatives and supporters spent two months trying to get the case moved from Balkh to the Afghan capital Kabul, where they felt Kambakhsh would have a better chance of a fair trial.

During that time, the family tried without success to find a lawyer willing to take the case on. Some agreed, only to quit after a few days.

“We’ve gone through at least ten lawyers,” said Ibrahimi.

That accounted for Kambakhsh’s lack of representation on May 18. At that session, he made a stab at representing himself, but his speech was emotional and unfocused, leading family and friends to fear for his psychological welfare.

“He was not okay,” said Ibrahimi. “He is under pressure.”

In the past seven months, this young student from an educated family has been in no fewer than six jails, has mixed with criminals of every stripe, and has become the centre of world attention. It would not be surprising if he were showing the strain.

At the May 18 session, Judge Qazizada told Kambakhsh that he needed legal representation, and adjourned the hearing. A week later, once Nooristani was aboard, the trial resumed. But the lawyer had not been given sufficient time to prepare the case.

Kambakhsh complained that he was too ill to continue, and this second session was adjourned within minutes, with the date set for the following Sunday, June 1.

Observers who were present at the third session were divided in their assessment of proceedings.

“The judge is trying hard to ensure due process,” said one foreign diplomat. “And the torture allegations are the defence’s best chance.”

But another member of the foreign diplomatic community was indignant that the defence had not been given a chance to deny the charges.

“Anyone leaving the court today would assume that the charges were correct,” said the diplomat, speaking on condition of anonymity. “They should have been given the chance to read their defence statement.”

According to the defence team, the court required Nooristani to present his motion for a medical examination before being allowed to read the statement. Once the motion was introduced, the court quickly ruled on an adjournment.

“This trial has had a lot of legal problems,” said Lal Gul, head of the Afghan Human Rights Organisation, which has assisted Kambakhsh’s family in preparing for the trial. “There have been many violations of the law. According to Sharia [Islamic law], even if someone converts [to another faith], he has three days to repent. If he apologises, he is set free.”

According to the Afghan constitution, Sharia is the highest authority in the land.

The case may hit further snags along the way. Lawyer Nooristani has told friends and acquaintances that he has received threatening phone calls.

With all the confusion surrounding the case, Kambakhsh supporters are getting discouraged.

“It certainly seems that this case is politically motivated,” said the foreign diplomat quoted above. “The whole mood around the case is changing.”

Jean MacKenzie is IWPR Afghanistan programme director.
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Pakistani Taliban likely behind Danish embassy blast: officials
(AFP) 3 June 2008 - Pakistani Taliban militants likely carried out a suicide attack on the Danish embassy in Islamabad in revenge for controversial cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed, officials said Tuesday.
But the car bombing on Monday, which killed at least six people, was believed to be a one-off and would not scupper peace talks between the Islamist rebels and Pakistan's new government, a senior government official said.

Security officials said a stolen car with fake diplomatic plates was used in the bombing and that the explosives were of a type used in previous attacks attributed to Taliban militants in a tribal region bordering Afghanistan.

"It appears to be a one-off attack which has little relevance to the ongoing negotiations between Taliban and the authorities," the government official told AFP.

"This attack was not born out of the events in the country or the region, rather it was part of global outrage in the Islamic world against publishing blasphemous cartoons," the official said.

One Danish citizen of Pakistani origin and two Pakistani employees were among the dead in the blast that badly damaged the embassy and the offices of UN-backed aid agency, officials in Copenhagen said.
Danish newspapers first published the cartoons in 2005, sparking violent protests in Pakistan and some other Muslim countries. Several dailies reprinted the sketches in February this year.

The Danish embassy, located outside Islamabad's secure diplomatic enclave, was recently downgraded and embassy staff were relocated.

A joint team of investigators has been set up, including of police, the special investigation unit of the Federal Intelligence Agency and Pakistani intelligence services, to probe the blast, the government official said.

A senior security official said the bomb contained at least 25 kilograms of the same type of explosive used in a massive suicide bombing at FIA's offices in the eastern city of Lahore in March.

That attack was blamed on Pakistani Taliban militants, who agreed to talks with the government after parties allied to US-backed anti-terror ally President Pervez Musharraf were trounced in elections in February.

The top Taliban commander, Baitullah Mehsud, has denied accusations by the former government that he orchestrated the assassination of former premier Benazir Bhutto in December and had links to Al-Qaeda.

Osama bin Laden's extremist network has made recent calls for attacks on Danish targets because of the cartoons.

The preparations for the Danish blast were "meticulous, similar to previous attacks by Taliban linked to Al-Qaeda" and involved a car stolen from the northwestern city of Peshawar, the security official said.
However the attack itself was "poorly executed" and the bomb went off several metres (yards) from the gate of the embassy, they said.

Security officials warned however that the attack showed the Taliban network remained intact and exposed the problems that lie ahead "in case of reopening of hostilities between the government and the militants."

Danish Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen slammed the bombing as a "horrible, cowardly crime," telling reporters that his government would not give in to terrorists and would maintain its foreign and security policies.

US President George W. Bush condemned the bombing and offered his condolences to the victims, White House spokeswoman Dana Perino said. Pakistan has been a key ally in Washington's "war on terror" since 2001.

UN chief Ban Ki-moon denounced the attack and "reiterates his total rejection of such acts of terrorism," his press office said in a statement.

The UN Security Council unanimously condemned the bombing in a non-binding statement.
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