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March 10, 2008 

Afghan clashes up in 2008 but in fewer places: NATO
By Jon Hemming
KABUL (Reuters) - NATO forces in Afghanistan have clashed more times with Taliban insurgents in the first two months of 2008 compared to last year, though fighting has occurred in fewer places, the alliance-led force said on Monday.

Coalition detains 10 suspected Taliban
Mon Mar 10, 7:00 AM ET Associated Press
KABUL, Afghanistan - The U.S.-led coalition says it has detained 10 suspected Taliban insurgents in southern Afghanistan.

UN: Will Accelerate Work In Afghanistan Under New Envoy
KABUL (AFP)--The United Nations said Monday it would accelerate its work in support of the people of war-torn Afghanistan under the world body's new special envoy, a Norwegian diplomat.

AFGHANISTAN: New envoy to boost coordination and reinforce UNAMA
10 Mar 2008 15:12:17 GMT
 KABUL, 10 March 2008 (IRIN) - The UN says its "central" and "impartial" role in peace-building, development and humanitarian aid to Afghanistan will be reinforced by the appointment of the UN Secretary-General's new

Australian magazine apologizes to Prince Harry
Mon Mar 10, 8:34 AM ET
SYDNEY (Reuters) - An Australian women's magazine apologized on Monday for breaking a global media blackout on Prince Harry's deployment in Afghanistan, forcing the third in line to the British throne to be withdrawn from frontline duty.

Netherlands calls to boost Afghan development
Mon Mar 10, 1:48 AM ET
SYDNEY (AFP) - Greater commitment to development in Afghanistan is essential to ensure progress towards peace, the Dutch defence minister said Monday.

AFGHANISTAN: Food shortages cause grass eating, displacement
10 Mar 2008 13:31:00 GMT
GHAZNI, 10 March 2008 (IRIN) - Food shortages in Ajristan District of Ghazni Province, central Afghanistan, have forced some families to eat dried grass in order to survive, local people and the district administrator told IRIN.

Smuggling of wheat, flour to Afghanistan foiled
Dawn (Pakistan) March 10, 2008 issue
TAXILA, March 9: Food department with the assistance of the Rangers foiled a bid to smuggle huge quantity of flour and wheat from Punjab to Afghanistan via NWFP and seized 2,520 bags of flour and 80 bags of wheat in an operation

Afghan villages struggle in Taliban's orbit
The Earth Times Mon, 10 Mar 2008
Khakrez, Afghanistan
"Why are you giving them bread and raisins, if the Taliban find out they'll kill us?" an old man snaps as his son serves refreshments to British Gurkha troops patrolling their village in Afghanistan's southern Kandahar province.

Afghan peace efforts disconnected, lack int'l support: study
By THE CANADIAN PRESS
OTTAWA - A new study says peace efforts in Afghanistan exist but they are disconnected and lack support from the international community.

Iraq and Afghan costs 'to double'
Monday, 10 March 2008, 13:04 GMT BBC News
The costs of military operations in Afghanistan and Iraq this year are likely to almost double to £3.297bn, a committee of MPs has warned.

'Canadian car' a sign of prestige in Kabul
The Canadian Press / March 10, 2008
KABUL -- Canada likes to say it is the engine that drives Afghanistan's reconstruction, but it's the Afghan people who are in the driver's seat.

Talks on TAP gas pipeline project on April 22, 23
* Turkmenistan to present gas reserves certification
By Zafar Bhutta Daily Times (Pakistan) March 10, 2008
ISLAMABAD: Negotiations on the Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan (TAP) gas pipeline project will be held in Islamabad on April 22 and 23, sources in the Petroleum Ministry told Daily Times on Sunday.

Taliban in Pakistan: bin Laden 'not an enemy'
March 9, 2008
KHAR, Pakistan (AFP) — A pro-Taliban leader in Pakistan's tribal area on Sunday said that Al-Qaeda chief Osama bin Laden and fugitive Taliban militant leader Mullah Omar were "not enemies of Pakistan."

MPs under the gun
NATO allies wait with bated breath as parliamentarians get setto decide the future of Canada's mission in Afghanistan
London Free Press, Canada By KATHLEEN HARRIS, NATIONAL BUREAU Sun, March 9, 2008
The eyes of the world will be fixed on Canada this week when MPs decide the fate of the nation's biggest military effort in a generation.

Report: Al Qaeda Spies Believed to Have Infiltrated British Police Force
FOXNews Sunday, March 09, 2008
Four British police officers are under surveillance after being identified as possible Al Qaeda spies, it is being reported.

‘Gay is OK’ in Afghanistan
Birds fly above Kandahar using only one wing because they are using the other to cover their behinds, the locals say.
Javno.hr, Croatia www.javno.com Lajla Mlinaric Nikolina tanfel March 09, 2008
When American and British marines started returning from the war in Afghanistan in early 2002, they brought along with them curious stories about Afghanistan’s peasants who put on make-up and consistently followed them around

Pakistan among 10 most unpopular countries in US: poll
Pakistan Dawn, Pakistan By Anwar Iqbal March 9
Pakistan and Afghanistan are among the 10 most unpopular countries in the United States despite their close ties to the US administration, says a recent survey by Gallup, USA.

RAF buys US robot planes to strike at the Taliban
Guardian, UK Richard Norton-Taylor Monday March 10 2008
British pilots are poised to strike the Taliban from computer keyboards thousands of miles away in the American desert. They are about to start targeting hostile forces in southern Afghanistan with weapons attached to unmanned aerial vehicles

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Afghan clashes up in 2008 but in fewer places: NATO
By Jon Hemming
KABUL (Reuters) - NATO forces in Afghanistan have clashed more times with Taliban insurgents in the first two months of 2008 compared to last year, though fighting has occurred in fewer places, the alliance-led force said on Monday.

NATO says it is making progress against the Taliban, but analysts say there is stalemate on the ground that is eating into Western support for keeping troops in Afghanistan and pulling out foreign forces would hand the Taliban strategic victory.

In the first two months of 2008, there have been 595 armed clashes in 101 districts in Afghanistan, compared to 550 clashes in 88 districts in the same period last year, the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) said.

The increase in clashes was due to greater activity by troops going after Taliban rebels, an ISAF spokesman said.

"It is indicative of the increasing activity on behalf of ISAF," said Captain Mike Finney. "We have been more active than we were last year and, in fact, insurgent activities have gone down because we are going out to get them ... rather than them coming to us."

Meanwhile, the United Nations said there had been fewer security incidents this year, compared to the same period in 2007.

"We have quite simply not seen that kind of decline ever in Afghanistan," the UN deputy special envoy to Afghanistan Christopher Alexander told a news conference. "It does not mean that Afghanistan is heading towards peace immediately, but it does mean that with hard work security can improve.

ISAF and NATO measure incidents in different ways, another ISAF spokesman said, and pointed to the figures which showed fighting had taken place in fewer districts as evidence of improving security.

NO FORESEEABLE END TO CONFLICT
But an organization which monitors security for the dozens of non-governmental organizations said there had been a marked increase in Taliban attacks so far this year.

Data collected by the Afghanistan NGO Security Office (ANSO) said there had been a 39 percent increase in Taliban attacks until March this year compared to the same period in 2007.

The biggest increase had been in armed attacks rather than in suicide and roadside bombs, ANSO said, contradicting ISAF which has repeatedly said the Taliban are relying more on so-called asymmetric suicide and roadside bomb tactics due their inability to take on NATO and Afghan troops head on.

While there was a divergence in the figures, the perception among many Afghans and of Western public opinion is of a conflict still dragging on more than six years after U.S.-led and Afghan forces toppled the Taliban with no foreseeable end.

The United States is pressuring reluctant European allies to take a larger role in combating a resurgent Taliban in the more volatile south and east of the country, an issue expected to loom large at NATO's April 2-4 summit in Bucharest.

Canada has already threatened to pull its 2,500 troops from the southern province of Kandahar next year unless allies come up with 1,000 extra troops to support it.

Other NATO nations will also be looking for definite signs of progress by the end of this year before re-evaluating their role in Afghanistan, analysts and diplomats said.

(Editing by Sanjeev Miglani)
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Coalition detains 10 suspected Taliban
Mon Mar 10, 7:00 AM ET Associated Press
KABUL, Afghanistan - The U.S.-led coalition says it has detained 10 suspected Taliban insurgents in southern Afghanistan.

Coalition troops were targeting a Taliban commander in Uruzgan province, coalitioni officials said. Those detained Saturday are going to be questioned about their role in the militant movement.

Southern Afghanistan is at the center of the Taliban-led insurgency.
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UN: Will Accelerate Work In Afghanistan Under New Envoy
KABUL (AFP)--The United Nations said Monday it would accelerate its work in support of the people of war-torn Afghanistan under the world body's new special envoy, a Norwegian diplomat.

U.N. chief Ban Ki-moon has nominated Kai Eide, 59, as his special representative to Afghanistan after President Hamid Karzai rejected his first choice, U.K. politician Paddy Ashdown.

"Under his renewed leadership, UNAMA (UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan) will reinforce its mission of assistance to the Afghan people and support the government institutions under the leadership of President Karzai," said Christopher Alexander, the U.N. deputy special representative for Afghanistan.

"We need to accelerate our work, we need to coordinate an effort that is larger than ever and more complex than ever before, and we need to focus on implementations," Alexander told reporters in Kabul.

Karzai's chief spokesman, Homayan Hamidzada, said Saturday that Eide was a distinguished figure capable of coordinating the massive international aid effort here, which has been criticized by some Afghans as wasteful.

Eide's formal appointment would hopefully be approved by the U.N. Security Council "in the coming weeks," Alexander said.

Eide will have to coordinate with NATO, which has a military force of about 50,000 soldiers in Afghanistan fighting insurgents led by the extremist Taliban, who were ousted by U.S.-led forces in late 2001.

Karzai's last-minute rejection of Ashdown came as a surprise and the reasons haven't been made clear. Ashdown has said he believes it had to do with internal Afghan politics.
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AFGHANISTAN: New envoy to boost coordination and reinforce UNAMA
10 Mar 2008 15:12:17 GMT
 KABUL, 10 March 2008 (IRIN) - The UN says its "central" and "impartial" role in peace-building, development and humanitarian aid to Afghanistan will be reinforced by the appointment of the UN Secretary-General's new special representative (SRSG) to the war-torn country.

"Under the new leadership, UNAMA [the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan] will work with the Afghan government to accelerate the process of implementing the goals and objectives of the Afghanistan Compact and the Afghanistan National Development Strategy [ANDS]," Christopher Alexander, the deputy SRSG, told reporters in Kabul on 10 March.

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon has nominated Kai Eide, from Norway, as his new representative for Afghanistan, who will also lead UNAMA.

Eide's terms of reference will be determined by the UN Security Council in agreement with the Afghan government, Alexander said. He will be the fourth UN representative in Afghanistan since 2002, succeeding Tom Koenigs whose term ended in December 2007.

The 59-year-old Norwegian diplomat has extensive work experience and held several positions in the UN, NATO and the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe, Reuters reported.

Coordinating international aid

UNAMA is mandated to assist and support the government of Afghanistan in its state-building and development efforts, and coordinate and harmonise international assistance to the country, Alexander said.

Some aid agencies such as Oxfam International have repeatedly voiced concerns about very weak coordination and confusion among various national and international actors in Afghanistan. Some donors have also highlighted the need for improved coordination.

"There are a lot of cooks in the kitchen here; we have a lot of countries that want to help Afghanistan," Condoleeza Rice, the US Secretary of State, told reporters in Kabul during a visit on 7 February, adding that the international community needed a coherent engagement in Afghanistan.

However, UNAMA said donors' coordination was best reflected in their unwavering support and commitment to the ANDS - an Afghan blueprint for long-term development - which is yet to be meaningfully implemented.

"Coordination is not perfect, but it is wrong to say that there is no coordination at all," conceded Alexander.

"It is easy to dismiss the work of 25 ministries and hundreds of development experts just with a single comment… But it's unfair and it diminishes what is an important reality for 25 million people in this country," he said.
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Australian magazine apologizes to Prince Harry
Mon Mar 10, 8:34 AM ET
SYDNEY (Reuters) - An Australian women's magazine apologized on Monday for breaking a global media blackout on Prince Harry's deployment in Afghanistan, forcing the third in line to the British throne to be withdrawn from frontline duty.

"We did not knowingly breach any embargo and were not party to any agreement for a media blackout on the story," said New Idea in a short apology in its latest edition.

"However, and more importantly, we do acknowledge that our actions in publishing the story can be reasonably viewed as insensitive and irresponsible," said the magazine.

Harry, 23, was hastily pulled out of Afghanistan last month, after just 10 weeks on the frontline, because of British fears that news of his presence my could increase the danger to him and his fellow soldiers.

New Idea, which often runs cover stories of the British royal family, said it was not "alert to the possible ramifications" of publishing the story of Harry in Afghanistan.

"We regret this serious lapse of judgment," it said. "We sincerely apologize to all our readers, to the servicemen whose lives are at constant risk while serving at home and abroad and to their families and loved ones."

(Reporting by Michael Perry; Editing by Alex Richardson)
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Netherlands calls to boost Afghan development
Mon Mar 10, 1:48 AM ET
SYDNEY (AFP) - Greater commitment to development in Afghanistan is essential to ensure progress towards peace, the Dutch defence minister said Monday.

Military efforts against Taliban rebels need to be matched by major social programmes, Eimert van Middelkoop said in an open letter published here ahead of his visit to Australia that begins Tuesday.

"A greater commitment of the United Nations and other international organisations and NGOs (non-governmental organisations) is necessary to ensure that progress does not evaporate," he said.

"Development is essential in encouraging Afghans to support their government and the international community and in isolating the Taliban.

"Projects such as schools, health clinics, roads and power plants will not only help the economy, but also help the government to assert its authority throughout Afghanistan."

Australian and Dutch troops have been working together for 18 months in a NATO-led mission in the southern Afghan province of Uruzgan, a former Taliban stronghold.

"We both believe that military means alone do not suffice to achieve our aims," Van Middelkoop said.

"We both believe that, parallel to the necessary active engagement of the Taliban, it is vital that we invest just as much energy in development and governance."

The NATO summit in Bucharest in April, which will be attended by Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd, needed to clearly state goals for the future and how they would be achieved.

"I am therefore pleased that NATO Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer has ensured that Australia will be closely involved in the drafting of this NATO political-military strategy for Afghanistan," he said.
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AFGHANISTAN: Food shortages cause grass eating, displacement
10 Mar 2008 13:31:00 GMT
GHAZNI, 10 March 2008 (IRIN) - Food shortages in Ajristan District of Ghazni Province, central Afghanistan, have forced some families to eat dried grass in order to survive, local people and the district administrator told IRIN.

"Many families in Ajristan are eating different kinds of dried grass and vegetables like alfalfa, which are normally given to cattle, due to food shortages and extreme poverty," said Raz Mohammad Hemat, the district administrator.

Alfalfa (Medicago sativa) is a flowering plant cultivated for forage. In the UK it is known as lucerne. The plant grows to a height of up to one metre, and has a deep root system sometimes spanning 4.5 metres. This makes it very resilient, especially to drought.

Ajristan District - with an estimated population of 100,000, predominately Pashtuns, and lying about 200km south of Ghazni city - saw heavy snowfall in the past three months, which blocked roads, affected staple food prices on local markets, and killed hundreds of animals.

Plea for help

"Our children will die if we do not receive urgent assistance," said a local elder, Atiqullah, on the phone.

A spokesman for the governor of Ghazni Province, Abdullah Nashir, confirmed widespread food shortages in Ajristan and Nawa districts but gave assurances that relief items would be delivered to the affected communities as soon as the roads re-open.

The consumption of dried alfalfa and grass has raised concern about diarrhoea and sight disorders among the local population.

Continued consumption of dried grass and alfalfa - as the only diet - can worsen a person's, particularly children's, susceptibility to diarrhoea and in the long-run can lead to malnourishment, according to Abdullah Fahim, a spokesman for the Ministry of Public Health.

"Patients do not receive adequate treatment in the only health clinic in the district and there is also a lack of medication in local drug stores," said one resident.

However, officials in Ghazni's public health department said adequate medical supplies sufficient for six months were dispatched to Ajristan District before winter and more will be delivered quickly if needed.

"We have not received any reports about any [disease] outbreaks in Ajristan," said Ziagul Asfandi, the provincial director of public health. He acknowledged that acute food-insecurity could increase children's vulnerability to communicable diseases.

Displaced people in Badakhshan

In the northeastern province of Badakhshan hundreds of families have reportedly been displaced due to food-insecurity in several areas, provincial officials reported.

Preliminary assessments conducted by the Afghan Red Crescent Society (ARCS) indicated that up to 1,000 families had left their homes in Argo and Kishm districts, some of whom had moved to neighbouring Takhaar and Kunduz provinces in search of food.

"There are risks that more families will abandon their houses," warned Saeed Nasir, the provincial head of ARCS.

Roads to several districts in Badakhshan Province - which has a rugged terrain and poor road infrastructure - have remained blocked due to heavy snow and avalanches.

WFP aid programme

According to the World Food Programme (WFP), increases of up to 70 percent in staple food prices, road blockages and other winter-related problems have pushed millions of Afghans into "high risk food-insecurity".

In response, the Afghan government and the UN launched a joint appeal for about US$80 million on 24 January to provide an emergency "safety net" for 2.55 million vulnerable Afghans across the country.

WFP said donors had responded generously to the appeal and an emergency food assistance programme had begun in Kabul, which would soon be extended to other provinces, including Ghazni and Badakhshan.

"Food aid is ready for up to 85,000 people in Ghazni Province and delivery will begin as soon as we receive the lists of beneficiaries from the Ministry of Martyrs and Disabled," Ebadullah Ebadi, a spokesman for WFP, told IRIN in Kabul.

Relief items are also available in WFP stocks in Faizabad, the provincial capital of Badakhshan, which will be distributed to beneficiaries when roads re-open, Ebadi said.

WFP plans to distribute 89,000 tonnes of emergency food aid between now and mid-year, in addition to the 180,000 tonnes that it intends to distribute in 2008 for nearly 3.7 million Afghans affected by conflict, natural disasters and food-insecurity.
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Smuggling of wheat, flour to Afghanistan foiled
Dawn (Pakistan) March 10, 2008 issue
TAXILA, March 9: Food department with the assistance of the Rangers foiled a bid to smuggle huge quantity of flour and wheat from Punjab to Afghanistan via NWFP and seized 2,520 bags of flour and 80 bags of wheat in an operation near the Burhan Interchange in the Hassanabdal police station area.

Sources in the food department told Dawn on Sunday that the flour and wheat were being taken in two trucks. They said the commodities were purchased from a flour mill situated at Kala Shah Kakoo near Lahore.

The police have registered a case against the truck drivers identified as Muneer Ahemd and Ajmeer Shah.

It is worth mentioning that in various operations undertaken so far, food department and the Rangers have seized twenty vehicles including 10 trucks and one trailer and recovered 3,020 bags of flour, each of 20kg, and 1,050 bags of wheat, which were being smuggled to Afghanistan.
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Afghan villages struggle in Taliban's orbit
The Earth Times Mon, 10 Mar 2008
Khakrez, Afghanistan
"Why are you giving them bread and raisins, if the Taliban find out they'll kill us?" an old man snaps as his son serves refreshments to British Gurkha troops patrolling their village in Afghanistan's southern Kandahar province. Cautious residents of Hajikal say this is the first time foreign soldiers have visited the dusty spread of mud compounds, parched fields and orchards that yield meagre harvests of wheat, grapes and pomegranates.

Usually it's Taliban fighters who stop here and across the region for sustenance, demanding food and dishing out beatings to reluctant hosts, according to the locals.

"They live in the mountains at night and they come to the villages during the day," says another man.

Elsewhere, people claim they have to provide shelter and let the Taliban offer prayers in the mosque before they head west to fight the British in Helmand province, north to harass the Dutch in Uruzgan or east through the US and Romanian zone in Zabul to reputed safe havens in Pakistan.

The war in Afghanistan shows no signs of abating, and more than seven years after the Taliban regime was toppled by US-led forces it's unclear how much of the hospitality the insurgents receive today is given willingly or under duress.

"The Taliban have been here for a long time, we are here today and will be gone in a week," says Gurkha intelligence officer Lalit Gurung. "The locals know that and know they have to support the Taliban."
The brows of the Pashtun tribesmen furrow anxiously as they are urged to throw their lot in with the Afghan security forces and the government located 400 kilometres away in Kabul. It's a place that most people here will never see and an authority that is largely abstract to those who live in the orbit of the insurgents.

According to the US Central Intelligence Agency, only 30 per of Afghanistan is under the government's control, while 60 per cent is run by local power holders and tribal elders and 10 per cent by the Taliban.
The power of the radical Islamic militia is strong in northern Kandahar. But 150 village elders still attended a recent "shura" meeting in the district centre of Khakrez, located 70 kilometres north-west of Kandahar city, to hear what representatives of Afghan President Hamid Karzai and the international community had to say.

Under tight security, they assemble at the headquarters of the Kabul-appointed District Commissioner, a heavily fortified compound that withstood two major Taliban assaults in the previous eight months. Its walls are dashed with bullet marks and holes punched by rocket-propelled grenades, a reflection of the tenuous hold that the central government has over this and many other remote settlements.

Just coming to the shura places the elders in great danger: "We cannot tell people that we were at the district centre today - many of those gathered here will get a visit from the Taliban this very night," a turbaned, cloaked man says as he takes to the rostrum.

Brief appearances by the foreign forces often only aggravate matters, he believes: "As soon as they leave the situation gets worse," the elder tells guests including Colonel Christian Juneau, deputy commander of the Canadian forces in the province.

At the same time, he is wistful about the benefits permanent security could bring, like construction of schools, clinics, wells, power lines and roads.

A quarter of the province's population of one million still lives outside the zone of protection, according to Juneau, but creation of a new military base 40 kilometres north of Kandahar is expected to help loosen the Taliban's hold on the area.

"We are expanding the security and development circle and we are now right on the edge of Khakrez," the officer stresses, urging the tribesmen to overcome their fear and get behind the authorities.

After the largely inconclusive event, an elder sums up the dilemma with survivalist logic born of decades of war and oppression: "If we don't support the government, then the Taliban won't hurt us," he tells a reporter.

If Kabul's writ is seen to grow in strength and emanate from Khakrez, a key town of around 2,000 inhabitants, some of the village leaders may stop sitting on the fence. For now, though, they can see that its 80-man police force is reluctant to go further than five kilometres in any direction.

An attempt to broaden the zone of influence three months earlier ended badly when a roadside bomb wrecked a police jeep near the village of Naser, located 15 kilometres away, injuring five officers.

Last summer, 40 police officers were ambushed and slaughtered as they brought supplies of arms to the town from Kandahar city.

"I don't have enough men to defend this whole area, I feel we are surrounded," admits Khakrez District Commissioner Haji Abdul Wahab.    
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Afghan peace efforts disconnected, lack int'l support: study
By THE CANADIAN PRESS
OTTAWA - A new study says peace efforts in Afghanistan exist but they are disconnected and lack support from the international community.

The report by the Canadian Council for International Co-operation is based on findings from 58 interviews carried out in Afghanistan in January and February. It calls on the Canadian government to encourage the international community and Afghan government to bolster the peace process and co-ordinate current efforts for peace.

It says Canada's approach to Afghanistan must be "re-balanced" to better support diplomatic efforts and development priorities.

The report says immediate support for some current peace initiatives can help to establish pre-requisites for a more systematic peace process.

In the longer term, it says peace requires a sustained commitment by the international community, including Canada, to work with the government of Afghanistan, civil society, women's groups and opposition and anti-government groups.

The council interviewed diplomats, non-governmental organizations, Afghan government officials and community leaders in preparing the report.
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Iraq and Afghan costs 'to double'
Monday, 10 March 2008, 13:04 GMT BBC News
The costs of military operations in Afghanistan and Iraq this year are likely to almost double to £3.297bn, a committee of MPs has warned.

The Commons defence committee said operational costs for this financial year were now forecast to reach £3.297bn - a 94% increase on last year.

This included a 72% rise in spending on Iraq to £1.648bn, despite ongoing falls in troop numbers.

Last year's total spending on the two conflicts was £1.698bn.

The cost of the Afghan conflict would rise 122% to £1.649bn this year, the MPs said.

'Better information'

While the committee recommended that the House of Commons should accept the estimates, it said the Ministry of Defence needed to provide more information on how the additional cash was being spent.

Chairman James Arbuthnot said: "Few people will object to the investment being made in better facilities and equipment for our troops in Iraq and Afghanistan.

"However, this estimate represents a lot of public money. The MoD needs to provide better information about what it is all being spent on."

Overall, the MoD has said it needs an additional £2.192 billion for the current financial year compared with its previous estimate made at the end of 2007.

The committee said it was concerned that the forecasts were "insufficiently robust".

"While we accept the difficulty of predicting costs when operations are ongoing, the difference between the forecasts at the time of the winter and spring supplementary estimates appears unreasonably large," it said.

But Armed Forces Minister Bob Ainsworth told the BBC: "The numbers of personnel [in Iraq] have declined but they are still doing a vital and dangerous job and we have continued to invest in force protection...

"The threat changes... We have to stay ahead of the enemy as much as we can and that's not cheap."

Liberal Democrat defence spokesman Nick Harvey said: "This clearly shows how the Iraq war is continuing to bleed our finances dry, leaving soldiers in Afghanistan overstretched and under-equipped."
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'Canadian car' a sign of prestige in Kabul
The Canadian Press / March 10, 2008
KABUL -- Canada likes to say it is the engine that drives Afghanistan's reconstruction, but it's the Afghan people who are in the driver's seat.

In Kabul, folks take that literally.

Driving a so-called "Canadian car'' has become a symbol of prestige among residents of the Afghan capital.

While Canadians may associate Toyota with the Japanese, Volkswagen with the Germans and Ford with the Americans, all three are considered Canadian cars in Kabul.

All three do contain either parts made in Canada or are assembled in Canada.

Auto dealers in Kabul do a brisk business importing cars from Canada that have been damaged in accidents or are used cars dealers were unable to sell.

Dealers say the cars weren't stolen but legitimately exported to Dubai.

Dubai has long been considered a major destination for cars stolen in Canada and around the world.
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Talks on TAP gas pipeline project on April 22, 23
* Turkmenistan to present gas reserves certification
By Zafar Bhutta Daily Times (Pakistan) March 10, 2008
ISLAMABAD: Negotiations on the Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan (TAP) gas pipeline project will be held in Islamabad on April 22 and 23, sources in the Petroleum Ministry told Daily Times on Sunday.

Turkmenistan would present a third-party certification of its gas reserves during the talks, they said.

Turkmenistan claims to have gas reserves of 159 trillion cubic feet (TCF) at its Daulatabad fields, but Pakistan wants a third-party certification. Issues of project structure, security problems in Afghanistan, transit fee and gas pricing would be also discussed, sources said.

The Asian Development Bank (ADB) had earlier scheduled the talks for November 27 and then for February 23 and 24, they added, but other stakeholders were reluctant to join in, apparently due to emergency rule and then a caretaker setup in Pakistan.

They said the estimated cost of the proposed project was $6 billion to $7 billion. The ADB is the main sponsor, they added, but tenders would also be invited from other investors.

“Oil companies like Shell and British Petroleum Company will also be invited to participate in the project,” a source said.

Although India seems to be distancing itself from the proposed Iran-Pakistan-India gas pipeline project, it could join the TAP project as the fourth stakeholder, the sources said.

India has earlier been participating as an observer in talks between Turkmenistan, Afghanistan and Pakistan.

The sources said Pakistan would import 3.2 billion cubic feet of gas from Turkmenistan and would share some of it with India.

A 1,680-kilometre pipeline will run from the Daulatabad gas fields through Afghanistan and Quetta to Multan, according to the proposed project.
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Taliban in Pakistan: bin Laden 'not an enemy'
March 9, 2008
KHAR, Pakistan (AFP) — A pro-Taliban leader in Pakistan's tribal area on Sunday said that Al-Qaeda chief Osama bin Laden and fugitive Taliban militant leader Mullah Omar were "not enemies of Pakistan."

Addressing a rally near Khar, the main town of Bajaur tribal district bordering Afghanistan, Maulana Faqir Mohammad said that US President George W. Bush was the "biggest enemy" of Pakistan.

"America is the biggest terrorist in the world and the current war in Pakistan had been imposed as a consequence of American policy," Mohammad, who is also a Muslim cleric, said.

"As compared to Pakistani rulers, Osama bin Laden and Mullah Omar are the biggest well-wishers of Pakistan. They are not enemies of Pakistan," the cleric said.

"US president Bush is the biggest enemy of Pakistan as Pakistani rulers' backing of Bush had caused grave harm to the country," Mohammad said, referring to the close alliance between Washington and Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf in the US-led "war on terror."

Mohammad said that the "Mujahedeen (holy warriors) had the right to wage jihad (holy war) against the rulers in the nook and corners of the country as a result of continued operations against them.

"We do not want to capture the government, but we want imposition of Islamic system in the country."

Addressing a press conference in December Mohammad had said that bin Laden could be in "some safe area inside Afghanistan," adding: "If he comes to Bajaur, we will give him a warm welcome."

Mohammad's relatively new umbrella group, United Taliban Movement of Pakistan, is said to have been established to unite Taliban activities in the semi-autonomous tribal belt and other parts of northwestern Pakistan.

Pakistani forces have fought increasingly fierce battles against Al-Qaeda and Taliban militants in the tribal belt since 2003.

The Taliban were ousted from power in Afghanistan by a US-led invasion in November 2001, shortly after the September 11, 2001 attacks blamed on bin Laden.

Musharraf has been seen in Washington as a bulwark against Al-Qaeda and the Taliban, but northwestern Pakistan has seen the worst of a wave of violence blamed on Al-Qaeda and Taliban rebels that has swept the country in recent months.
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MPs under the gun
NATO allies wait with bated breath as parliamentarians get setto decide the future of Canada's mission in Afghanistan
London Free Press, Canada By KATHLEEN HARRIS, NATIONAL BUREAU Sun, March 9, 2008
The eyes of the world will be fixed on Canada this week when MPs decide the fate of the nation's biggest military effort in a generation.

As overlapping scandals continue to rage over NAFTA-gate and an alleged million-dollar bribe to dying Independent MP Chuck Cadman, MPs will stand to be counted Thursday on a critical vote with life-and-death consequences to sign Canadian troops on for another three years in Afghanistan.

So far, 79 soldiers and one Canadian diplomat have died in the war zone from friendly fire, suicide, accidents, roadside bombs and improvised explosive devices. The Conservative government's motion extends deployment to 2011, shifting the mission in focus but not in geographic location from the dangerous Kandahar region.

Some Canadians have complained of a lack of public input in the decision-making process. But Government House Leader Peter Van Loan insists the Tories have made it an exercise in supreme democracy by putting the military engagement to a vote in the House of Commons.

He said the Afghanistan mission is key for Canada and its increasingly strong global reputation.

"In the past, there was a sense that Canada had retreated from its traditional leadership role on the world stage," he said. "But our NATO allies and others are quite aware of the significant work Canada has taken on, and that gives us the ability to speak with considerable authority. Not just on the Afghanistan question, but on all questions of international affairs."

Canada's extended stay rests on a condition that NATO supplies more equipment and 1,000 additional troops. The vote comes this week so Canada is armed with a firm position before a NATO summit in Bucharest next month.

Van Loan calls the motion "the product of an effort to build bi-partisan consensus," borrowing recommendations from the John Manley panel report and making concessions based on Liberal party demands.
Liberal defence critic Denis Coderre agrees, describing it as a "cut and paste" that reflects 95% of his party's position, especially the key issue of a fixed exit date. There will be demands for answers to outstanding questions this week, but he expects the motion will find overwhelming support from Liberal MPs.

Dismissing suggestions the Liberal party caved on its demand to end combat in 2009, Coderre insists they secured a balanced approach that focuses more on diplomacy and development than fighting and defence.

"Combat is a component of security, but security doesn't necessarily mean combat," he said. "At the same time, it's important for our troops to defend and protect ourselves, and we need the flexibility and capacity to protect civilians. But we don't believe in the continued offensive, counter-insurgency combat."

But NDP Leader Jack Layton, whose party will vote against the Conservative motion along with Bloc Quebecois MPs, points to a rise in civilian deaths, poppy production and corruption as signs the Afghanistan mission is failing on many fronts.

"The current trajectory shows that by virtually every measure things are getting worse now," he said.

No military victory is possible because of the permanent capacity of rebels and insurgents to cross the borders from neighbouring countries, Layton said. Instead, allies should shift from the military-minded NATO to a "blue beret" focus under the UN to de-escalate warfare, reduce violence and create a more secure environment.

Rideau Institute director Steve Staples agrees the mission is failing and criticized the Liberals for leaping "from the lifeboat to the deck of the Titanic" when it comes to charting its course.

"All the indicators on the ground is that the war is not going well and the situation is deteriorating," he said. "The word that is being spoken now is defeat, that we may not be able to win militarily and we've waited so long on the diplomatic and development front that we may not be able to succeed. We're going to spend a lot more money and likely suffer many more casualties as we go on for another three years."

Alain Pellerin, executive director the Conference of Defence Associations, is pleased all signs are pointing to a continued Canadian presence in Afghanistan. But he disagrees with the fixed troop-withdrawal date, arguing it says Canada is committed to the mission, but not for the long haul.

"It sends the wrong message to the Taliban," he said. "What it says to the other side is, just wait it out for another two years, we'll be gone by 2011. I can see the political reality in Canada that the government couldn't sell to the Opposition a mission without an end date, but it sends a negative signal, especially in an operation against insurgents where the primary function is to provide security in the region."

He suggests Canada determine its end date based on benchmarks for building Afghan security forces.

"If we leave or if NATO leaves before there's a credible security force on the ground to counter the Taliban, the country will fall apart again," Pellerin said. "Kandahar is vital ground. If you lose that province you can pretty well say the mission has failed."

NATO's chief spokesman James Appathurai said there are many signs of tangible. results in Afghanistan. The military alliance is watching Canada's debate very closely and hopes it ends with a decision to prolong the mission.

"To put it bluntly, we hope Canada will find a way to extend its mission in Afghanistan, and NATO is working hard to help make it possible," Appathurai said from NATO headquarters in Brussels.

"Kandahar is a strategically important province in the defence of the country; it's also the spiritual heartland of the Taliban. Canada's success there has sent a powerful signal of the international community's staying power and effectiveness. This is, of course, for Canadians to decide, but NATO would welcome a vote to extend Canada's participation, to reinforce the success this mission is clearly having -- sadly, at a high price for Canada and many other nations."
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Report: Al Qaeda Spies Believed to Have Infiltrated British Police Force
FOXNews Sunday, March 09, 2008
Four British police officers are under surveillance after being identified as possible Al Qaeda spies, it is being reported.

MI5 — Britain's equivalent to the CIA — discovered that the so-called "sleepers" — or agents under deep cover — were planted to keep Al Qaeda abreast of anti-terror raids planned by London's Metropolitan Police, According to the U.K.'s Daily Mail newspaper.

Investigators are said to be closing in on the agents — believed to be of Asian descent and living in London — only in recent weeks. The suspects are said to have links to Islamic extremists in Britain and Al Qaeda training camps in Pakistan and Afghanistan, the Mail reported.

The police officers — still on active duty — were identified during an investigation into police force infiltration which has been going on since the July 2005 London bombings, the Mail reported.

MI5 agents are watching the four suspects — who work at different police stations around London — and gathering evidence needed to make arrests.
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‘Gay is OK’ in Afghanistan
Birds fly above Kandahar using only one wing because they are using the other to cover their behinds, the locals say.
Javno.hr, Croatia www.javno.com Lajla Mlinaric Nikolina tanfel March 09, 2008
When American and British marines started returning from the war in Afghanistan in early 2002, they brought along with them curious stories about Afghanistan’s peasants who put on make-up and consistently followed them around or even sexually abused them. This was a very shocking experience for the soldiers.

They were more terrifying than the al-Qaeda. One bloke who had painted toenails was offering to paint ours. They go about hand in hand, mincing around the village – a terrified marine, James Fletcher, told the Scotsman upon returning from Afghanistan.

- We were pretty shocked. We discovered from the Afghan soldiers we had with us that a lot of men in this country have the same philosophy as ancient Greeks: ‘a woman for babies, a man for pleasure’ – Fletcher continued recounting his experience.

For every Pashtun there is an Ashna
After the fall of the repressive Taliban regime in which homosexuality, sodomy and generally any kind of relations outside of marriage between a man and a woman were punishable by death, Afghans have finally become free to enjoy homosexual relationships that have been an integral part of their culture for several centuries.

In the city of Kandahar, which is considered the gay capital of Southern Asia, there is an ancient custom among the ethnic Pashtun people. An adult man picks a young boy, a teenager, called an “ashna” and gives him money and presents in turn for sexual favours. This Pashtun tradition is even represented in their poetry, in odes written about the beauty of young “ashnas”. This is a tradition that is present in all facets of society, practiced by the rich and poor alike. The parents of young boys who are sex slaves are usually aware of their sons’ relations with their “sugar daddies”. And although their parents keep this a secret from others, they do not contest the custom. Especially if the Pashtun is rich.

Traditional dancing in women’s clothing
Such a form of prostitution has been quite widespread in recent years due to poverty among teenagers and the strict rules that forbid any contact among singles of the opposite sex. American Fox writes that in 1994 two Afghanistan officers got into a fight over a boy they both took a liking to. The government even had to pass a law forbidding Afghan soldiers from living with their “ashnas”. After the Taliban regime, the Afghanistan Supreme Court ruled homosexuality illegal and sodomy punishable by death. But in reality, nobody will lose their life because of homosexual relations. Rather, they will be given long-term prison sentences or just get away with a fine, which is a very lenient punishment in this Islamic country.

The British wrote about gay love in Kabul as far as a century and a half back, which is proof that homosexuality was pretty widespread even back then. Some gay tourist guides claim that there used to be stores in Kandahar which held pets that were considered gay symbols, quails, for example. There are even customs in which, during wedding ceremonies, entertainers dress up in women’s clothing and dance traditional dances. The local population says that birds fly above the city using only one wing. They use other wing to cover their derrieres. Taliban leader Mullah Omar curried favour with Taliban officers by offering them young boys.

Contact with a woman is taboo; contact with a man is not
There are no organised gay associations in Afghanistan, but contrary to many Western countries, men can freely walk the streets holding hands. This was especially shocking for foreign troops who became fascinating for the Afghan men. Armed and ready to engage in conflicts with Al-Qaeda, the only conflicts the foreign troops had were with local men who only wanted to stroke their hair.

- It was hell. Every village we went into we got a group of men wearing make-up coming up, stroking our hair and cheeks and making kissing noises – 20-year-old Corporal Paul Richard uttered.

One can only speculate about the roots of sodomy and homosexuality in Afghanistan because the fact is that a long-standing tradition is always the result of various factors. Some claim that the main reason for this is the ban of any contact between men and women who are not married, while men constantly spend time together.

Most indigent boys do not even know what a woman’s body looks like until they are married. And marriage is a very expensive endeavour in Afghanistan – the dowry usually consists of several average Afghanistan salaries, which only a few can afford.

Taking into consideration the reports of Western marines, much is forbidden in Afghanistan. But it would not be surprising if in a few years’ time Kandahar throws its first gay parade.
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Pakistan among 10 most unpopular countries in US: poll
Pakistan Dawn, Pakistan By Anwar Iqbal March 9
Pakistan and Afghanistan are among the 10 most unpopular countries in the United States despite their close ties to the US administration, says a recent survey by Gallup, USA.

Iran tops the list of nations that are viewed unfavourably in America. An overwhelming majority – 88 per cent – of respondents to this survey said they view Iran unfavourably while only 8 per cent said they viewed it favourably.

Of 22 countries rated in Gallup’s 2008 World Affairs survey, Canada, Britain, Germany, and Japan were viewed favourably by at least 80 per cent of Americans.

In some cases – Iran, Venezuela and North Korea – the popular perception endorsed the official policy as all these countries are also denigrated by the US administration. Besides Afghanistan and Pakistan, others on the unfavourable list are Saudi Arabia and Iraq. These countries are counted among America’s closest allies by the administration but do not enjoy a favourable image in the American public.

Pakistan is 6th on the list with 72 per cent respondents saying they see it unfavourably while 22 per cent viewed it favourably.

Afghanistan comes right after Pakistan with 73 per cent Americans saying they view it unfavourably while 21 per cent see it favourably.

Second on the negative list is North Korea with 82 per cent viewing it unfavourably and 12 per cent favourably.

The Palestinian Authority is third: 75 per cent view it unfavourably and 14 per cent favourably.

Iraq, where the United States is engaged in an apparently unwinnable war, is the 4th most unpopular nation in the United States: 77 per cent view it unfavourably and 20 per cent favourably.

Cuba did slightly better than both Pakistan and Afghanistan: 67 percent view it unfavourably and 27 per cent favourably.

Saudi Arabia is 8th on this list, with 61 per cent Americans viewing it unfavourably and 31 per cent favourably.

Venezuela is 9th, with 50 per cent viewing it unfavourably and 37 per cent favourably.

China is 10th, with 55 per cent viewing it unfavourably and 42 per cent favourably.

A total of 1,007 Americans – aged 18 and older – were interviewed for this survey, which has a margin of error of plus minus 3 per cent.

Not all respondents viewed the countries as favourably or unfavourably. A small minority remained neutral, saying that it had no views.

Canada came out as the most favoured nation with 92 per cent saying they view it favourably while 89 per cent favoured Britain, 82 per cent liked Germany and 80 per cent backed Japan.

Canada and Britain have topped Gallup’s country rankings each of the 12 times since 1989, although in most cases Canada has led Britain by a few percentage points.

The only other country to approach 90 per cent favourability over the years has been Australia. On each of the three occasions it was included in Gallup’s country list, including last year, it ranked just as high as Britain.

Following the top four, Israel receives a 71 per cent favourable rating, similar to the 69 per cent for both India and France. About 6 in 10 Americans have a favourable view of Egypt, South Korea, and Mexico.

Americans are about equally divided in their views of Russia and Kenya, with a fairly large percentage (21) having no opinion of Kenya.

Iran, North Korea, the Palestinian Authority, Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Cuba are viewed more negatively than positively by a greater than 2-to-1 margin. Saudi Arabia, Venezuela, and China have somewhat more moderately negative images.

Gallup finds some significant generational and partisan gaps in favourability toward some countries.

Israel, Saudi Arabia, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Iraq are all viewed more favourably by Republicans than by Democrats.

France, Mexico, China, Venezuela, and Cuba are all viewed more favourably by Democrats than by Republicans.

Two of the starkest demographic distinctions in survey ratings are age differences in perceptions of Russia and China.

About 6 in 10 young adults (those aged 18 to 34) have a favourable view of these countries, compared with no more than half of middle-aged adults and only about a third of those 55 and older.

Younger adults are also more likely than those 55 and older to have favourable views of France, Egypt, Mexico, Kenya, Venezuela, Cuba, the Palestinian Authority, North Korea, and Iran.
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RAF buys US robot planes to strike at the Taliban
Guardian, UK Richard Norton-Taylor Monday March 10 2008
British pilots are poised to strike the Taliban from computer keyboards thousands of miles away in the American desert. They are about to start targeting hostile forces in southern Afghanistan with weapons attached to unmanned aerial vehicles, UAVs, the latest weapon in Britain's armoury, senior RAF sources say.

The RAF is buying a fleet of American Predator Bs, or Reapers as the US military has named them, armed with bombs and Hellfire missiles. The unmanned aircraft will be operated by RAF pilots based at the American Combined Predator Task Force in Nevada. The deployment of British-owned Predators marks a significant new chapter in the history of UK warfare. They will allow military commanders to follow the movements of suspected Taliban fighters or other hostile groups and attack them.

The growing use of armed UAVs by the Americans has raised potential ethical and legal issues. Some analysts believe that it is difficult to identify legitimate targets through a UAV operating thousands of miles away, however sophisticated its imagery and communications systems.

RAF sources say the risk of civilian casualties is reduced because the unmanned Predators will be operated by pilots. "We need [people who are] air-minded and who know about dropping weapons," said a senior RAF source. The Predators will be commanded by RAF personnel at Creech air force base, America's UAV command centre. Officials hope British Predators, operated from Nevada, will start "dropping weapons" within a month.

UAVs were originally designed as reconnaissance aircraft but are now a "hunter-killer" weapons system. The Predators can carry 3,000lbs of bombs and fly for 24 hours. They are operated by line-of-sight observation and satellites.

The RAF has bought three Predators from the US at a cost of about £10m each. Defence officials say 12 would be needed to cover the whole of Afghanistan.

In January, an American Predator missile strike was reported to have killed an al-Qaida commander, Abu Laith al-Libi, at a house in Pakistan's Waziristan region. Last October, a CIA-guided Predator fired missiles at houses in the village of Damadola in the Bajaur tribal area in Pakistan. The strike was aimed at the deputy leader of al-Qaida, Ayman al-Zawahiri. He was not in the village, where up to 18 people were reported to have been killed. The Los Angeles Times reported last year that Predator strikes had killed at least four al-Qaida leaders, but also many civilians.
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