Serving you since 1998
March 2008 :   2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 29 30 31

March 11, 2008 

Afghan city on strike over crime
by Mohammad Reza Tue Mar 11, 9:24 AM ET
HERAT, Afghanistan (AFP) - Scores of shopkeepers shut their businesses in Afghanistan's western city of Herat Tuesday to join hundreds of health and factory workers in a strike to demand better protection from crime.

UN: Tenth of Afghanistan unsafe for aid
By JASON STRAZIUSO, Associated Press Writer
KABUL, Afghanistan - A tenth of Afghanistan is off limits to aid workers because attacks by Taliban insurgents make it too dangerous, hindering the delivery of humanitarian assistance to vulnerable Afghans, a United Nations report says.

Taliban urge factions to fight foreign forces
By Sayed Salahuddin Tue Mar 11, 6:31 AM ET
KABUL (Reuters) - Afghanistan's Taliban Islamic movement has urged the war-torn nation's former mujahideen factions to join it in their campaign to drive out foreign forces from the country.

States can't pick and choose Afghan tasks: NATO boss
Mon Mar 10, 3:41 PM ET
BERLIN (Reuters) - NATO countries cannot pick and choose what tasks they carry out in Afghanistan, the alliance's chief said in Germany on Monday, in a veiled criticism of Berlin's reluctance to send its troops to Afghan hotspots.

EU offers to bolster Afghan police mission
Mon Mar 10, 1:47 PM ET
BRUSSELS (AFP) - The European Union offered Monday to boost its police training mission to Afghanistan, amid US-led calls for thousands of instructors to be sent to the conflict-torn country.

Police kill 4 suspects in Afghanistan
By AMIR SHAH, Associated Press Writer Tue Mar 11, 7:54 AM ET
KABUL, Afghanistan - Police backed by NATO-led troops killed four suspected criminals on Tuesday in western Afghanistan after a spate of kidnappings and robberies, regional police said.

'Civilians will rebuild Afghanistan'
Patrick Walters  The Australian - Mar 11 6:00 AM
DUTCH Defence Minister Eimert van Middelkoop has suggested that civilians - not troops - will soon lead reconstruction efforts in war-torn Afghanistan.

Afghan death toll soars to 8,000 last year
Matthew Weaver and agencies guardian.co.uk, Tuesday March 11 2008
The United Nations has delivered a grim assessment of the conflict in Afghanistan, reporting that violence increased sharply last year and resulted in the deaths of more than 8,000 people, at least 1,500 of them civilians.

Holland hopes Canada will be able to stay in Afghanistan
Mike Blanchfield, Canwest News Service Tuesday, March 11, 2008
OTTAWA — The chief of the Dutch military said Tuesday he is confident that Canada will receive the extra troops and equipment it needs to remain in southern Afghanistan.

Taliban hampering Afghan polio vaccination: health officials
KABUL, March 11, 2008 (AFP) - Taliban-linked unrest has hampered a polio vaccination drive in Afghanistan where four more cases of the crippling disease were recorded this year, health officials said Tuesday.

UN reports "serious challenges" in Afghanistan's political transition
www.chinaview.cn  2008-03-11 04:49:39
UNITED NATIONS, March 10 (Xinhua) -- UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said Monday that the political transition in Afghanistan continues to face "serious challenges" two years after the adoption of the Afghanistan Compact,

Iran's rise owes much to Bush's Iraq and Afghan wars
Tue Mar 11, 2008 8:54am EDT By Alistair Lyon, Special Correspondent - Analysis
TEHRAN (Reuters) - Five years on, Iran can thank the United States for unwittingly aiding its drive for regional power by ousting Saddam Hussein, one of Tehran's deadliest foes.

Taliban's new target: mobile phone towers
Cellphone firms refuse protection from Kabul
OLIVER MOORE From Tuesday's Globe and Mail March 11, 2008 at 3:48 AM EDT
KANDAHAR, Afghanistan — Insurgents worried about informers have attacked at least nine mobile-phone towers in southern Afghanistan during the past month, but the phone companies rejected official protection yesterday because

Afghanistan: Beating Children Considered Normal, But Attitudes Changing
By Ron Synovitz Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty March 11, 2008
Ten-year-old Farhad is one of seven children in a family from Kabul. His mother and father have a hard time earning enough money to feed the entire family, so Farhad shares some of their burden by washing cars to earn money for the family.

Canada and Afghanistan, analysis and context
Canada.com, Canada
I have already written about Kevin Newman's news program Revealed: Path to War for the various newspapers, as have other people — Maria Kubacki, for example, in today's National Post.

West Needs Coordinated Afghan Policy, Merkel Says
Deutsche Welle, Germany
Chancellor Angela Merkel called on NATO members to improve coordination of military and civil elements in crisis areas such as Afghanistan. She stressed that Germany would not lift restrictions on troops in the country.

Warlord under siege after 'kidnap and torture' of former ally
Independent, UK By Kim Sengupta in Mazar-i-Sharif, Afghanistan Tuesday, 11 March 2008
There is no one as colourful and controversial among the warlords of Afghanistan as General Abdul Rashid Dostum, a man of immense power and huge wealth whose name became synonymous with bloodshed and betrayal during the long years of conflict.

Afghans open bureau of complaints
BBC News  By Elettra Neysmith Monday, 10 March 2008
Afghanistan has opened a new government office dedicated to complaints. The department will collect all manner of complaints from the Afghan public and pass them on to the office of President Hamid Karzai.

Marines see re-run in Afghan theatre
National Post, Canada Matthew Fisher Monday, March 10, 2008
KANDAHAR AIRFIELD, Afghanistan
A forward party of 3,200 U.S. Marines is already on the ground preparing to begin combat operations next month. It is not the first time that there have been jarheads at the Kandahar Airfield.

US 'not returning to Uzbek base'
BBC News, UK By Natalia Antelava BBC Central Asia correspondent Monday, 10 March 2008
A senior western diplomat in Uzbekistan has told the BBC that the United States is not trying to re-open a military base in the country.

Hillary Clinton Wants to Win Afghanistan, But Lose Iraq
North Star Writers Group March 10, 2008 By Paul Ibrahim American Chronicle, CA -
Following her March 4 primary triumphs, when for the first time in weeks it appeared somewhat likely that she would win the Democratic nomination, Hillary Clinton proclaimed in her victory speech: "We're ready to end the war in Iraq and win the war in Afghanistan."

Jolyon Leslie - saving Afghanistan's cultural heritage
by Dheera Sujan 11-03-2008 Radio Netherlands, Netherlands
Afghanistan's geographic position has meant that it has been coveted by conquerors since time immemorial. It has been a curse but also a blessing, the wealth of different civilisations that have converged on this mountainous and fiercely independent

Iranian police kill drug smugglers at Afghan border
Tue Mar 11, 2008 4:08am
powered by  SphereTEHRAN (Reuters) - Iranian police ambushed and killed 10 armed drug smugglers near the border with Afghanistan on Monday, the official news agency IRNA said.

Afghan immigrants disappear after police release them
11 March 2008 Ely Standard, UK
NINE illegal immigrants discovered hiding in a fruit lorry in Fordham may have disappeared into the countryside without trace after being released by the police.

Man convicted of Afghan mother's 2006 murder
Woman's 3-year-old daughter identified suspect as the shooter
By Ben Aguirre Jr. Contra Costa Times - Mar 11 3:26 AM
HAYWARD -- Manuel Urango was found guilty Monday of first-degree murder in the October 2006 slaying of Alia Ansari, an Afghan mother of six who was shot in the face as she and her 3-year-old daughter walked through a quiet Fremont neighborhood.

Afghan city on strike over crime
by Mohammad Reza Tue Mar 11, 9:24 AM ET
HERAT, Afghanistan (AFP) - Scores of shopkeepers shut their businesses in Afghanistan's western city of Herat Tuesday to join hundreds of health and factory workers in a strike to demand better protection from crime.

A team appointed by President Hamid Karzai meanwhile arrived in the busy commercial centre near the border with Iran to investigate criminal incidents, including kidnappings for ransom and murder, that have aroused public anger.

Most shops, except those selling food, were closed in the city centre with a local traders' union calling in a statement for them to also remain shut on Wednesday, residents said.

Bahram Sarway, who owns a car spare-parts dealership, said he did not open for business after receiving the statement, which said all shops should close for two days "in protest of the government's weak actions against insecurity."

"The government has failed to provide security for the people of Herat. We cannot remain silent," Sarway's copy of the statement said.

On Monday, around 250 small factories at the city's main industrial park downed tools.

More than 2,000 health workers -- including doctors, nurses and pharmacy owners -- were also on strike, said Mohammad Hassan Farid, spokesman for the city's doctors' union.

Most stopped working on Saturday, except in cases of emergency.

Interior Minister Zarar Ahmad Moqbel meanwhile arrived in the city at the head of a team appointed by Karzai to investigate the concerns.

"This delegation has been tasked to conduct a broad-based investigation into the recent criminal incidents which have raised public concerns in Herat," Karzai's office said in a statement.

The city of about three million people has been relatively free from unrest linked to an insurgency by the extremist Taliban movement removed from government in a US-led invasion in late 2001.

But locals report a spike in crime, which has also worsened in the capital Kabul.

Herat police said they killed Tuesday criminal kingpin Hafiz Blandab, who was involved in a series incidents including the kidnapping and killing of a doctor's son -- one of the events which reportedly led to the strike.

Blandab, a one-time fighter in the resistance to the Soviet occupation of the 1980s, was killed with two men in a shootout in Ghoryan district on the border with Iran, said regional police spokesman Abdul Rauf Ahmadi.

Fifteen other men were arrested, he said. "After the killing of Hafiz, we can assure the people that the security will improve because Hafiz was the one behind most crimes," he said.

Ahmadi said there had been 40 abductions in the city last year and 20 murders but crime had dropped dramatically this year.

Among those kidnapped in 2007 was a 42-year-old German carpenter who had married an Afghan woman.

Police said at the time of the abduction in December they believed he was kidnapped by his wife's family. They have not announced his release.

Ahmadi said the lawlessness in the province had been in part due to the lack of police and corruption within the force. More than 100 policemen were fired last year for corruption, he said.

Afghanistan has help from its international allies to build up its police force, which was in tatters by the time the Taliban were forced from power.

But the force is said to be among the most corrupt of the fragile country's institutions, with some policemen said to be involved in drug running and abductions.
Back to Top

Back to Top
UN: Tenth of Afghanistan unsafe for aid
By JASON STRAZIUSO, Associated Press Writer
KABUL, Afghanistan - A tenth of Afghanistan is off limits to aid workers because attacks by Taliban insurgents make it too dangerous, hindering the delivery of humanitarian assistance to vulnerable Afghans, a United Nations report says.

The assessment echoes a finding by the director of U.S. national intelligence, who told a Senate committee last month that Taliban insurgents control about 10 percent of the country.

That judgment by Michael McConnell was hotly disputed by Afghan officials. Afghanistan's intelligence chief, Amrullah Saleh, said in response earlier this month that only eight of Afghanistan's 364 districts were not in government control.

But the U.N. report, released in New York on Monday, said 36 districts — including most of those in the east, southeast and south — are largely inaccessible to Afghan officials and aid workers.

"Despite tactical successes by national and international military forces, the anti-government elements are far from defeated," the report said.

The report said violence last year was at the highest level since a U.S.-led offensive toppled the hard-line Taliban regime in late 2001. There were 160 suicide attacks and 68 thwarted attempts in 2007, compared to 123 suicide attacks and 17 failed attempts in 2006, it said.

Afghanistan had more than 8,000 conflict-related deaths last year, including 1,500 civilian deaths, the U.N. said.

In the latest violence, police clashed with Taliban fighters in the Dihrawud district of southern Uruzgan province Monday, leaving 10 militants dead and two officers wounded, the provincial police chief, Gen. Juma Gul Himat, said.

In western Afghanistan, Afghan police backed by NATO-led troops killed four suspected criminals following a spate of kidnappings and robberies, said Rauf Ahmadi, a regional police spokesman in Herat.

The operation in the Guzara area of Herat also captured 15 other people suspected of involvement in criminal activities, he said.

The police raid came after the kidnapping last week of a doctor's son. All medical workers in Herat city have been on strike the last four days, demanding that the government do more to provide security in the province, officials said.

Occasional kidnappings of foreigners in Afghanistan receive wide publicity, but Afghans are kidnapped for ransom much more often.
Back to Top

Back to Top
Taliban urge factions to fight foreign forces
By Sayed Salahuddin Tue Mar 11, 6:31 AM ET
KABUL (Reuters) - Afghanistan's Taliban Islamic movement has urged the war-torn nation's former mujahideen factions to join it in their campaign to drive out foreign forces from the country.

The Taliban appeal follows complaints by some mujahideen leaders about being sidelined from President Hamid Karzai's government they brought to power by helping U.S.-led forces with the overthrew of the Taliban in 2001.

But the factional forces, many of whom fought against the former Soviet invasion of the country, still have military and political positions in Karzai's government.

"There is no doubt that the former leaders and commanders of Jihad have given a lot of sacrifices for Islam and for the path of freeing the country," the Taliban said in a statement on their Web site.

"Now, it is necessary that they stand beside their people and the nation and show their sacrifice once again against this invasion...the Islamic Emirate will adopt a understanding path with them and keep its bosom open for them," the statement said.

The Taliban appeal comes as violence has intensified in Afghanistan in the past two years in which more than 12,000 people have been killed, according to the U.N. and aid groups.

The Taliban said they wanted good ties with the world, adding their fight was only to liberate their country from U.S.-led forces.

"If countries allied to America end the occupation of Afghanistan and pull out their troops, then Afghans will not view them as enemies like America,."

The factions fought against the occupation of Afghanistan in the 1980s before seizing power in 1992 after the collapse of the communist regime.

However, they fought among each other for control of the country that led to a civil war and eventually the rise of the Taliban.
(Editing by Sanjeev Miglani)
Back to Top

Back to Top
States can't pick and choose Afghan tasks: NATO boss
Mon Mar 10, 3:41 PM ET
BERLIN (Reuters) - NATO countries cannot pick and choose what tasks they carry out in Afghanistan, the alliance's chief said in Germany on Monday, in a veiled criticism of Berlin's reluctance to send its troops to Afghan hotspots.

Germany has resisted pressure from its NATO allies to deploy forces in the more treacherous south of Afghanistan to help battle Taliban insurgents.

Germany has roughly 3,300 troops in Afghanistan, based in the more stable north.

"In an alliance in which everyone stands for each other there can not be a division of labor in which one side takes care of the fighting and the other specializes in the aftermath of the conflict," NATO Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer said in a speech in Berlin.

But Chancellor Angela Merkel, speaking at the same conference, once again dismissed calls for deploying German forces in the south.

And German Defence Minister Franz Josef Jung said he did not feel Scheffer was referring to Germany.

Germany's main mandate from parliament, which is due to expire in October, allows Germany to send a maximum of 3,500 soldiers to Afghanistan, where NATO has a 43,000-strong mission.

The mandate must be renewed annually.

A strong majority of Germans oppose any deployment of German troops to the south.

Scheffer also said NATO members were responsible for educating their respective domestic audiences on the need for public support for the Alliance operation in Afghanistan.

"It is and will remain the duty of national governments and parliaments to communicate security policy," he said.

(Reporting by Sabine Siebold; Writing by Erik Kirschbaum; Editing by Jon Boyle)
Back to Top

Back to Top
EU offers to bolster Afghan police mission
Mon Mar 10, 1:47 PM ET
BRUSSELS (AFP) - The European Union offered Monday to boost its police training mission to Afghanistan, amid US-led calls for thousands of instructors to be sent to the conflict-torn country.

The EU "expresses its readiness to consider further enhancement of EU engagement, particularly in the field of police and wider rule of law," the bloc's foreign ministers said in written conclusions from talks in Brussels.

They also welcomed "the progress of the EU police mission in Afghanistan towards full deployment at central, regional and provincial level by the end of March."

When fully operational, the EU's EUPOL Afghanistan mission will consist of almost 200 police, law enforcement and justice experts. It will help build the Afghan police force, as well as mentor and advise interior ministry officials.

In September, NATO's civilian representative to Afghanistan, Dan Everts, criticised the lack of EU efforts compared to the United States stressing that Afghan police remained widely corrupt and inefficient, aiding drug-trafficking.

Later that month, the US ambassador to NATO, Victoria Nuland told a German newspaper that some 5,000 instructors would be needed to help train Afghan police, a far higher number than the EU had planned for.

According to another newspaper, Germany, which is leading the police efforts, is prepared to double the number of its officers in Afghanistan if other European nations do the same.

The proposal appeared last month in an article co-signed by German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier and Interior Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble in a Sunday edition of the Frankfurter Allgemeinen Zeitung newspaper.

The number of German police officers would grow from 60 to 120, it said, but only if the total mission increases from 200 to 400 officers.
Back to Top

Back to Top
Police kill 4 suspects in Afghanistan
By AMIR SHAH, Associated Press Writer Tue Mar 11, 7:54 AM ET
KABUL, Afghanistan - Police backed by NATO-led troops killed four suspected criminals on Tuesday in western Afghanistan after a spate of kidnappings and robberies, regional police said.

Separately, 10 militants and two officers were killed when police clashed with Taliban fighters in the southern Uruzgan province on Monday, police said.

Police spokesman Rauf Ahmadi said forces clashed with the suspected criminals in the Guzara district of western Herat province. He said the operation netted 15 other people suspected of involvement in criminal activities.

The police attacked the group following the kidnapping last week of a doctor's son. All medical workers in Herat city have been on strike for the last four days, demanding the government do more to provide security in the province that borders Iran, officials said.

The occasional kidnappings of foreigners in the country receive wide publicity. Afghans are kidnapped for ransom almost daily, but the problem goes largely unreported.

On Monday, police clashed with Taliban fighters in Dihrawud district of the southern Uruzgan province, leaving 10 militants dead and two officers wounded, provincial police chief Gen. Juma Gul Himat said.

On Sunday, four militants were killed in clashes with Afghan and foreign troops in the Korengal Valley in the eastern province of Kunar, a statement from the Defense Ministry said.

An Afghan soldier was killed in Kapisa province, just north of Kabul, the ministry said Tuesday.

Last year was the most violent year since the ouster of the Taliban from power in the U.S.-led invasion in 2001. More than 8,000 people died as a result of hostilities, according to a United Nations tally. An Associated Press count put the total of insurgency-related deaths at more than 6,500 — most of whom were militants.
Back to Top

Back to Top
'Civilians will rebuild Afghanistan'
Patrick Walters  The Australian - Mar 11 6:00 AM
DUTCH Defence Minister Eimert van Middelkoop has suggested that civilians - not troops - will soon lead reconstruction efforts in war-torn Afghanistan.

He made the prediction yesterday after meeting Defence Minister Joel Fitzgibbon and Foreign Minister Stephen Smith in Canberra.

"It's our conviction that within the next two to 2 1/2 years it must be possible that the nucleus of the provincial reconstruction team we have now will go from all military, most of the people will be civil people," Mr Middelkoop said.

Such a shift would have serious ramifications for Australia, which has 1000 troops in the Oruzgan province in southern Afghanistan, operating as part of the 1650-strong Dutch reconstruction task group.

Mr Middelkoop said building up the capacity of the Afghan police and army in Oruzgan province was a key focus for both governments.

Mr Fitzgibbon said the meeting had been an important opportunity to reflect on a broader, more integrated approach to security and development in the country.

Mr Middelkoop also played down any threat to coalition military forces in Afghanistan as a result of an anti-Islamic film soon to be released by a Dutch MP.

The documentary, Fitna, by right-wing MP Geert Wilders, describes the Koran as an inspiration for murder.

Mr Middelkoop said the Dutch Government had embarked on a round of diplomacy in the Islamic world to denounce the film.
Back to Top

Back to Top
Afghan death toll soars to 8,000 last year
Matthew Weaver and agencies guardian.co.uk, Tuesday March 11 2008
The United Nations has delivered a grim assessment of the conflict in Afghanistan, reporting that violence increased sharply last year and resulted in the deaths of more than 8,000 people, at least 1,500 of them civilians.

In a report to the security council, the UN secretary general, Ban Ki-moon, said the number of violent incidents rose from an average of 425 a month in 2006 to 566 each month last year.

The number of suicide attacks rose to 160 in 2007 from 123 in 2006 — with 68 attempts thwarted in 2007 compared with 17 in 2006, he said.

Ban claimed that while the insurgency drew strength from local people, much of the violence was led from abroad. "The support of foreign-based networks in providing leadership, planning, training, funding and equipment clearly remains crucial to its viability," he said.

Current violence in Afghanistan is at its highest level since a US-led invasion in 2001 to oust Taliban rulers.

The focus of the conflict has been in Afghanistan's southern and eastern provinces, but the insurgents are increasingly using Iraq-style tactics - such as roadside bombs, suicide attacks and kidnappings - against foreign and Afghan targets around the country.

"Afghanistan remains roughly divided between the generally more stable west and north, where security problems are linked to factionalism and criminality, and the south and east, characterised by an increasingly coordinated insurgency," the secretary general said.

He cited a number of worrying trends, including the gradual emergence of insurgent activity in the previously calm north-west, and the encroachment of insurgents into the two provinces of Logar and Wardak, which border the capital, Kabul.

Ban said the tactics of anti-government elements changed noticeably in 2007 in response to the superiority of Afghan and international security forces in conventional battles.

The opposition groups were forced "to adopt small-scale, asymmetric tactics aimed largely at the Afghan national security forces and, in some cases, civilians: improvised explosive devices, suicide attacks, assassinations and abductions", Ban said.

Ban also expressed concern at the increase in attacks on Afghan and international humanitarian workers. In more than 130 attacks, 40 aid workers were killed and 89 abducted, of whom seven were later killed by their captors, he said.

A committee of MPs found yesterday that the costs of operations by British forces in Afghanistan rose by 122% to £1.6bn.
Back to Top

Back to Top
Holland hopes Canada will be able to stay in Afghanistan
Mike Blanchfield, Canwest News Service Tuesday, March 11, 2008
OTTAWA — The chief of the Dutch military said Tuesday he is confident that Canada will receive the extra troops and equipment it needs to remain in southern Afghanistan.

Gen. D.L. (Dick) Berlijn said he is also hopeful that Canada’s Parliament will, as expected, vote later this week to extend to 2011 the Canadian Forces’ participation in the Afghan war.

Berlijn said it would be “a very bad turn of events if Canada would leave” Kandahar when the current commitment expires next February.

“It would be extremely detrimental to the coalition if any country at this stage of the game would decide to leave. Canada has been very effective in the south and has been a very effective partner,” said Berlijn, who was visiting Ottawa.

“I am rather confident, though, that the Canadian government and Parliament will find a way to stay on.”

It appears that a key vote later this week on extending Canada’s military participation will receive a majority of support in the House of Commons. The Conservative government and Liberal Opposition have found a consensus on approving an extension of the mission, and avoiding an election on the issue.

Canada has told NATO that it would not remain in Afghanistan beyond next February unless the alliance can find an additional 1,000 combat troops in the south. Canada has also committed itself to finding transport helicopters to minimize the risks to soldiers from roadside bombs.

The Dutch military already operates Chinook twin-rotor transports in the southern Afghan province of Uruzgan that it bought from Canada more than a decade ago, and Berlijn joked that it has no intention of giving any back to Canada.

He said the Dutch are already ordering more of the helicopters, which he said are crucial to his country’s mission in the province that borders Kandahar, where Canada’s 2,500 troops are based.

While Berlijn said the Dutch military was not in a position to act on Canada’s ultimatum for more troops, he signalled confidence that Canada would find what it is looking for when NATO leaders meet next month at their crucial summit in Bucharest, Romania. Canada’s position was first spelled out in a report of an independent advisory panel headed by former Liberal cabinet minister John Manley.

“All of the players in the international community that are committed now in Afghanistan understand the importance of meeting those conditions, so I am very hopeful and confident we will succeed,” he said.
Back to Top

Back to Top
Taliban hampering Afghan polio vaccination: health officials
KABUL, March 11, 2008 (AFP) - Taliban-linked unrest has hampered a polio vaccination drive in Afghanistan where four more cases of the crippling disease were recorded this year, health officials said Tuesday.

A three-day campaign ended Tuesday to administer vaccines against the disease -- wiped out from all but four countries -- to about 6.9 million children in most parts of the country.

It was disrupted in several districts of the southern province of Helmand, including hotspots Musa Qala and Kajaki, by fighting between the Taliban and Afghan security forces, health ministry spokesman Abdullah Fahim told AFP.

In other districts vaccinators were not able to secure permission from local elders to work, he said. These included districts under Taliban influence.

"Taliban have prevented our vaccinators from carrying out the campaign in three districts," said the public health director for Helmand, Anayatullah Ghafari.

"Our locals vaccinators with the help of tribal elders are trying to talk with Taliban to let them carry out the vaccination campaign," he said.

Helmand sees some of the worst of an insurgency launched by the extremist Taliban movement soon after it was driven out of government in a US-led campaign in late 2001.

The government admits the rebels control a handful of districts in the province.

Two of the four new cases of polio in Afghanistan this year were Helmand, with the others in Kandahar and in Farah -- also in the south, Fahim said. There were 17 new cases in 2007 and 31 in 2006.

A spokesman for the Taliban, Zahihullah Mujahid, dismissed allegations that his group was preventing inoculation, saying vaccinators who were not local were "scared."

"We have told them they can come to our areas and run the vaccination campaign. The fact is they are scared ... we tell them to hire locals to carry out the campaign," he told AFP by telephone.

Polio remains endemic only in Afghanistan, Pakistan, India and Nigeria.
Back to Top

Back to Top
UN reports "serious challenges" in Afghanistan's political transition
www.chinaview.cn  2008-03-11 04:49:39
UNITED NATIONS, March 10 (Xinhua) -- UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said Monday that the political transition in Afghanistan continues to face "serious challenges" two years after the adoption of the Afghanistan Compact, which was launched in 2006 at the London Conference on Afghanistan and aimed at garnering international support for the Central Asian country.

"The Taliban and related armed groups and the drug economy represent fundamental threats to still-fragile political, economic and social institutions," Ban said in his latest report to the General Assembly and Security Council on Afghanistan.

Despite tactical successes by national and international military forces, the anti-government elements are far from defeated, he noted.

"Thirty-six out of 376 districts, including most districts in the east, south-east and south, remain largely inaccessible to Afghan officials and aid workers," he said. "This hinders the delivery of humanitarian assistance to vulnerable people, a situation exacerbated by the harsh weather conditions of the past few months."

"Meanwhile, poor governance and limited development efforts, particularly at the provincial and district levels, continue to result in political alienation that both directly and indirectly sustains anti-government elements," he added.

Noting that "the international community remains strongly engaged in Afghanistan," Ban called for more efforts to "improve the impact and coordination of aid and to ensure that international assistance is driven by demand rather than by supply and is prioritized according to Afghan needs."

He pledged the UN readiness to "respond to recent calls to assume a more central role in the coordination of international assistance to Afghanistan."

Following last September's high-level meeting on Afghanistan, Ban said that agreement has emerged on the need for the UN Mission in Afghanistan's coordination capacity to be strengthened.
Editor: Yan Liang 
Back to Top

Back to Top
Iran's rise owes much to Bush's Iraq and Afghan wars
Tue Mar 11, 2008 8:54am EDT By Alistair Lyon, Special Correspondent - Analysis
TEHRAN (Reuters) - Five years on, Iran can thank the United States for unwittingly aiding its drive for regional power by ousting Saddam Hussein, one of Tehran's deadliest foes.

The U.S. military had already defeated Afghanistan's Taliban after the September 11 attacks on U.S. cities in 2001 -- with the unintended consequence of wiping out another of Iran's enemies and tilting the local balance of forces in Tehran's favor.

"The removal of these two regimes without powerful successor states benefited Iran greatly...and opened elbow room for Iran to spread its influence," said Vali Nasr, senior fellow at the Washington-based Council on Foreign Relations.

Iran cannot entirely rule out U.S. military action to destroy its nuclear sites, and its oil-reliant economy may prove vulnerable a few years hence, but for now it is riding high.

The Iraqi army's swift collapse in 2003 left Shi'ite-ruled Iran with no indigenous military rival nearby, weakening the Arab world and its mostly Sunni Muslim governments.

Windfall oil revenues have further fuelled the Islamic Republic's heady sense of power under its combative president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who has defied Western-led efforts to contain Tehran's nuclear aspirations through U.N. sanctions.

"Every 24 hours we are earning $270 million ... in hard currency -- a magic amount," said Iranian economist Saeed Leylaz. "Iran can transfer its petrodollars to buy loyalty internally and strategic partnerships externally."

In the last five years, non-Arab Iran has become a weighty player in Iraq, nurturing ties to Shi'ite and other factions. It has gained clout elsewhere in the Arab world via its alliances with Syria, Lebanon's Hezbollah and the Palestinian Hamas group.

U.S. Arab allies such as Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Jordan are alarmed at Tehran's rising power, but after the Iraq war's chaotic outcome, they fear any American assault on Iran would produce another destabilizing debacle that would cost them dear.

ON A ROLL
Psychologically Iran appears to hold the upper hand.

"It doesn't matter what politically correct things we say, the Arab world has shown plenty of fear, wariness and anxiety over Iran, whereas Iran is not reciprocating," Nasr said.

Prospects for American strikes on Iran receded sharply when a U.S. National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) released in December surprisingly asserted that Tehran had halted a drive to make nuclear weapons in 2003 and had probably not restarted it.

This conclusion has drawn some attention away from Iran's energetic pursuit of uranium enrichment and ballistic weapons development, seen by some Western analysts as more significant than any immediate attempt to make an atomic bomb.

"We didn't change our assessment of the threat, but the NIE whipped the carpet from under us," said one European diplomat, who argued that the U.S. document had made it harder to rally world powers behind tougher U.N. sanctions against Iran.

In the last few months, several Arab leaders have visited Tehran, while Ahmadinejad has made groundbreaking trips to Iraq, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Qatar, partly in a bid to allay Arab concerns about Iran's new regional sway.

"It shows that whatever the Arabs think of Iran's leaders, they must take into account that after Saddam's fall, Iran is emerging as a major power in the area," the diplomat said.

This is anathema to the United States, whose relations with Iran have been marked by mutual venom since the 1979 Islamic revolution overturned its main Gulf ally, the Shah.

President George W. Bush, who in 2002 labeled Iran part of an "axis of evil", accuses it of meddling in Iraq, Lebanon and the Palestinian areas -- charges Tehran hurls straight back.

Iran, while bent on thwarting U.S.-Israeli aims in the region, wants Iraq to remain a single state that would secure the interests of its Shi'ite community, but would not be strong enough to threaten its neighbors, analysts in Tehran said.

Washington, which shares Iran's commitment to Iraq's territorial unity, has let its diplomats in Baghdad hold three meetings with their Iranian counterparts in the past year.

But the formal discussions have not blossomed into any broader dialogue aimed at resolving U.S.-Iranian disputes.

Nasr said the United States, with a strong military presence in Iraq, Afghanistan and the Gulf, still blocks Iran's way.

"Iran ultimately cannot confirm its current status and the new balance that has emerged in the region without getting the United States to stop resisting it," he argued.

"Ahmadinejad believes Iran can get its way by bullying and harassing. I'm not sure all of Iran's leaders are convinced that it's a prudent strategy," Nasr added.
(Editing by Dominic Evans)
Back to Top

Back to Top
Taliban's new target: mobile phone towers
Cellphone firms refuse protection from Kabul
OLIVER MOORE From Tuesday's Globe and Mail March 11, 2008 at 3:48 AM EDT
KANDAHAR, Afghanistan — Insurgents worried about informers have attacked at least nine mobile-phone towers in southern Afghanistan during the past month, but the phone companies rejected official protection yesterday because it would identify them with the government, the provincial police chief said.

"There were spies among the Taliban. We arrested them and they said [they] were calling the Americans at night," explained a man who identified himself as an insurgent commander in the Maywand district, west of Kandahar city.

The group's response was to demand that phone companies turn off their signal at night, an order they backed up with repeat attacks on transmission towers.

The threat - and their ability to carry it out - exposed a weakness in a fast-growing sector of the economy. Mobile phones have become increasingly common across southern Afghanistan in the past few years and the handful of businesses offering cell service employ numerous people and generate substantial taxes.

The government is also beginning to use the network to get out its message, including a text message to reporters Saturday to mark International Women's Day.

Locals say mobile phones have become a "necessity of life." In rural districts, they are used to summon a driver when medical help is needed. They are also used regularly to transfer money, to make contact with far-flung relatives and to help manage local businesses.

"If we need something from the city, we call our relatives," explained Jan Mohammed, 42, who said he grows grapes and wheat in Sangisar, a collection of villages southwest of Kandahar city. "By one call, we can get whatever we need."

That lifeline has become frayed. Late last month, the Taliban warned major mobile-phone companies to shut down their nighttime signals or face the destruction of their towers.

The threat came on the heels of a series of attacks dating back to the middle of February and were followed by more attacks. Western security officials say that in the past month there have been at least nine tower attacks, about half of which were not widely reported.

Towers carrying the signal for mobile-phone companies Roshan, Areeba and AWCC have all been targeted.

It is unclear how badly the towers were damaged in the attacks, which sources said included arson, explosives and rocket-propelled grenades. But at least some of the companies appear to have heeded the warning.

"At nighttime, the phones don't work," said Mr. Mohammed, who estimated that two-thirds of the people in his area use mobile phones. The connection had been clearest at night, but he said about 10 days ago, the signal starting cutting out between 5 p.m. and 7 a.m.

"It's an attack on the common people."

The man who identified himself as a Taliban leader, saying he commanded a loose group of about 10 fighters, said that coalition attacks brought on by informers left the insurgent group no choice but to get the towers shut down.

"This was not dangerous only for [the] Taliban, many villagers were also killed in the attacks," he said, describing himself as a 26-year-old farmer who did not want his real name publicized.

The man said he knew of six destroyed towers, half of them Roshan and the rest Areeba. "If they don't accept our demands, we'll continue our attacks on the towers," he added.

Phone company representatives were unavailable yesterday to comment on the allegation that they had voluntarily shut down their signal in the face of threats. They did meet with provincial Police Chief Syed Agha Saqib at his office in Kandahar city and rejected the offer of official protection for the towers.

"We offered security but they said they don't want the protection of police because it will make it seem like a government or military place," Chief Saqib said after yesterday's meeting.

More meetings are planned, but for now the only protection for the towers is the private security guards employed by the phone companies.
Back to Top

Back to Top
Afghanistan: Beating Children Considered Normal, But Attitudes Changing
By Ron Synovitz Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty March 11, 2008
Ten-year-old Farhad is one of seven children in a family from Kabul. His mother and father have a hard time earning enough money to feed the entire family, so Farhad shares some of their burden by washing cars to earn money for the family.

With so many mouths to feed and so little income for the family, Farhad is not allowed to play with other children in the neighborhood or go outside to play in his free time. And if he disobeys the rules, Farhad says, his father disciplines him with beatings.

"Sometimes, when I come home late, my father doesn't let me have dinner. Once, he beat me so hard that he gave me a bloody nose and a cut on my head," Farhad said. "I wash cars to make money, and if I come home without much money, he beats me and asks for more money" to help feed the rest of the family.

Farhad's mother says she thinks that beating her children is not the best form of discipline -- but she does consider it to be necessary and justified in some cases.

Still, Farhad's mother says her husband sometimes goes too far. "I don't beat my children often. I love them. But sometimes they behave badly -- for example, fighting with the neighbor's children. Then I will beat them," she said. "But when their father comes home, just seeing his children behaving badly, he starts beating them. There have been times when he has beaten them until they fell unconscious. And I ask him to please stop. They are just growing up. But he still does it."

Common Parenting Tool

The family's acceptance of corporal punishment as a necessary tool of parenting is not unusual in Afghanistan. New research published in Kabul says it is common for adults in Afghanistan to discipline their children by beating them.

But the study by the Kabul-based Afghanistan Research and Evaluation Unit (AREU) also found that attitudes among Afghans are changing. Many Afghan parents recognize that violence causes physical and psychological harm to children.

Deborah Smith, a coauthor of the study and a senior researcher on gender and health issues at AREU, said the smallest group of those surveyed saw corporal punishment as "a good way of bringing up children." Others saw it as a last resort if milder discipline has not worked.

But another group, "a significant number of people, felt that all violence toward children was wrong," Smith said. "There was quite a high level within the communities that felt violence toward children was not acceptable -- that it is not a good way to treat children. However, alongside that, violence toward children in the community within their families was seen as accepted, widely used, and recognized."

AREU interviewed Afghan parents across the country about their views, and found that they were open to new ways of thinking.

"People were extremely willing to discuss these things with the research team...both within the private forum of an interview but also in the public space of a focus-group discussion," Smith said. "People's ideas about violence toward children in the family were not fixed. They were flexible. People changed their ideas over the course of one focus group, and people changed their ideas over the time of the research. We think that is very important for change."

Smith says the remarks by Farhad's mother reflect a widespread view among Afghan parents about disciplining their children.

"People talked a lot about how violence is wrong. But they would say, 'What else can I do?' They would say, 'It makes me sad when I'm violent to my children.' Or they would say, 'I regret hitting my children. But what else can we do to make them behave or to stop them from being naughty?'" Smith said.

'To Teach Them A Lesson'

When RFE/RL's Radio Free Afghanistan asked Farhad's father about beating his children unconscious, he denied he had done anything wrong.

"When a father or a mother becomes angry and beats their child, they do it because they don't want their child to become a bad person," he said. "When they beat the children, it is not because of faults within the father or mother. It is because of something the child has done."

Farhad's father also said that beating his children is the only way he knows to teach them to be polite to others. "When I go home and I see my children playing without manners, I slap them to discipline them and to teach them to be polite. Especially when the boys are naughty. This is normal. You must slap them at least two or three times to teach them a lesson," he said.

But one six-year-old boy in Kabul -- with scars on his face from being beaten by his father -- told Radio Free Afghanistan that his father gets out of control when he becomes angry. The boy, who asked not to be named, says he has learned only fear and guilt from being beaten so severely.

"My father beats me with a belt. Several times he's beaten me so hard that he's broken my teeth. He's even whipped me with a cable," the boy said. "When he beats me, I'm frightened, so I try to hide until my mother comes and protects me. Sometimes, he also beats my mother because of me. You can see that I have scars near my eyes and on my head. That's from my father beating me with his belt."

Smith says the AREU research focused only on attitudes about violence, rather than addressing the long-term psychological impact that violence can have upon children. But Smith says additional research is under way about domestic violence in Afghanistan to try to answer those questions. She noted that Afghans share a general understanding that beatings lead to a cycle of violence in which children who are beaten growing up often treat their children the same way.

However, she said, "we certainly found evidence that it also works the other way. Some people experienced violence [when they were young and] therefore are very keen that their own children don't experience the same levels of violence. Also, a much wider study on violence in the family will be coming out over the next few months, and the same was said. Some men who'd witnessed their fathers beating their mothers didn't want to do the same to their own wives."

Smith concludes that one reason for the changing attitudes has been the return of millions of refugees to Afghanistan from abroad. She says Afghans who have lived for years in other countries have seen that there are effective, nonviolent ways to discipline children -- and they have brought those ideas back to Afghanistan with them.

RFE/RL Radio Free Afghanistan correspondent Sharifa Safi contributed to this report from Kabul
Back to Top

Back to Top
Canada and Afghanistan, analysis and context
Canada.com, Canada
I have already written about Kevin Newman's news program Revealed: Path to War for the various newspapers, as have other people — Maria Kubacki, for example, in today's National Post.

The program airs on Global TV Tuesday at 10 p.m. ET/PT. And while it is not a terrific documentary — overbearing music, a little heavy-handed at times, etc.  — it is worth seeing, because it does what too few news programs have the time or inclination to do these days: provide context and analysis, without too much editorializing or comment.

That said, I had a strong, visceral reaction to some of the things said in the program, remarks by Janice Gross Stein, co-author of the book on which Path to War is based (The Unexpected War: Canada in Kandahar), and by former defence minister John McCallum.

That's what a contextual news program should do, if it is doing its job properly — fulfilling its mandate, if you will.

One doesn't necessarily have to agree with everything that's said on the screen, or disagree. It's only enough that one absorb what is being said, and decide for themselves who they believe.

There is one underlying thread in the program, for example, that irritated me immensely — and that other viewers will have a different reaction to. That's the nature of debate.

That thread — voiced by McCallum, in not so many words, and repeated by others — is that the Canadian military in general and acting Chief of Defence Staff Gen. Rick Hillier in particular, are keen for a continuing combat role in Afghanistan just so that they can impress their U.S. military brethren.

McCallum hints at what he perceives to be an unhealthy historical relationship between the Canadian military and the U.S. military — and that irritates me. It irritates me, not so much because it may or may not be true, but because of who's saying it. Had McCallum actually served in combat in Afghanistan, I might have given his word equal or more weight than Hillier, but that's not the way it is. I know enough about war zones to know that the men and women with boots on on the ground are often in a better position to form moral judgments than politicians sitting in comfortable isolation on Parliament Hill.

That's a personal opinion, and it may just be me. Another viewer, on seeing Path to War, may reach a very different conclusion. The point is that Path to War is worth seeing, because it raises tough questions and invites all of us to decide for ourselves what the country's future role in Afghanistan should be.

I remember seeing a news story, not so long ago, about Taliban "freedom fighters" who stopped a group of young girls, aged nine to 12, on their way home from school, in a remote province somewhere in Afghanistan. The freedom fighters lined some of girls up over a ditch and shot them in the backs of their heads — for the crime of being a girl and going to school.

I remember thinking, at the time, if there was even one Canadian man or woman in uniform serving in Afghanistan who didn't wish, deep down, that they had been on that road that day, and in a position to intervene.

Whenever the debate about what we are doing in Afghanistan comes up, and the Janice Steins and John McCallums of the world talk about "easy to get in, not so easy to get out," and, "they're there to win the Americans' approval," I think about those small girls and whether the incident would have played out any differently if Canadian combat forces had been there.

Of course, many viewers will argue that if coalition forces hadn't invaded Afghanistan and overthrown the Taliban in the first place, the roadside incident would never have happened. It's a clever argument, and there's some truth to it — but it's also a little misleading. If coalition forces hand't invaded Afghanistan and the Taliban had remained in power, there wouldn't have been a school for the girls to go to in the first place.

There's a powerful, near unforgettable episode of the landmark HBO miniseries Band of Brothers, called 'Why We Fight,' about the liberation of a concentration camp in Western Europe during the waning days of the Second World War. It's worth looking for, and seeing, and seeing again.

No doubt, there were politicians back home at the time, or op-ed writers and self-proclaimed policy analysts writing for left-leaning, socialist newspapers, who talked about "easy to get in but not so easy to get out," and, "why should Canada be involved anyway; it's got nothing to do with us."

Please do take the time to watch Revealed: Path to War, if you can. You may disagree with much of what's being said on the screen, as I did, or you may agree, as many others will. Either way, you'll be better informed by the end.

And while you're at it, you might want to set aside some time for Wednesday's fifth estate, and a quite different program called Life and Death in Kandahar.

Life and Death in Kandahar is an extended news segment, reported and narrated by the fifth estate's Gillian Findlay, profiles the trauma surgeons and medical teams who work to save lives at the Canadian forces' military hospital in Kandahar. It provides a different perspective from Path to War, but in it's own way it's just as illuminating and informative. Context is everything.
Back to Top

Back to Top
West Needs Coordinated Afghan Policy, Merkel Says
Deutsche Welle, Germany
Chancellor Angela Merkel called on NATO members to improve coordination of military and civil elements in crisis areas such as Afghanistan. She stressed that Germany would not lift restrictions on troops in the country.

The trans-Atlantic alliance is a pillar of Germany's foreign and security policy, but it has to move away from purely military thinking, she told a meeting of German armed forces commanders in Berlin on Monday, March 10.

The chancellor also affirmed Germany's opposition to extending its military role in Afghanistan to the volatile south, a move requested by the United States and other NATO members.

She said her country's NATO-led troops were needed in the relatively peaceful north, where they were engaged mainly in civilian reconstruction projects.

NATO Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer told the gathering that Afghanistan should not be divided into spheres of responsibility for peacekeeping, combat operations and reconstruction.

The country would be won or lost in its entirety, he said.

Everyone's a target in Afghanistan
Those building schools in the north are just as much a target of the Taliban as those fighting the country's former fundamentalist rulers in the south, he said.

Germany has around 3,500 troops serving with the 40,000-strong NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) in Afghanistan as well as a squad of military-surveillance aircraft. Berlin is scheduled to increase the number of troops stationed in Afghanistan this summer.

Merkel said that while NATO spoke of a comprehensive approach combining demands to focus on fighting the Taliban and the desire for reconstruction there was little to be seen of this strategy in practice.

Calling for structured and effective coordination, the chancellor said there could be civil reconstruction without security but no security without civil reconstruction.

Alliance's internal differences
Non-governmental organizations should also be included in this comprehensive approach, she added.

Her remarks highlighted differences within NATO on the issue, with the United States believing that fighting insurgency in Afghanistan should have priority over reconstruction.

US, British, Dutch and Canadian soldiers have borne the brunt of the fight against the Taliban in the south amid reluctance from allies like Germany, France and Italy to send their troops there.

NATO expansion questions
Merkel also voiced skepticism about NATO expansion plans, saying states involved in regional conflicts should not become members of the alliance, an apparent reference to Ukraine and Georgia.

"A country should become a NATO member not only when its temporary political leadership is in favor but when a significant percentage of the population supports membership," Merkel said.

Ukraine and Georgia participate in NATO's Intensified Dialogue program and aspire to become full members one day. Kyiv and Tbilisi are expected to use the NATO military alliance's April 2-4 summit in Romania to confirm that they are candidates to join the alliance, but their chances of securing a formal invitation seem remote.

Ukraine's leaders have asked to join NATO's Membership Action Plan, but lack public support for the move. In Georgia, the public is largely in favor of NATO membership, but the alliance was made uneasy by the state of emergency the government imposed in December to end opposition protests.

Outgoing Russian President Vladimir Putin has criticized NATO's expansion plans, accusing the alliance of trying to replace the United Nations.

Georgia has unresolved disputes with Abkhazia and South Ossetia, while Ukraine has been locked in a clinch with Moscow over payments for fuel supplies.
Back to Top

Back to Top
Warlord under siege after 'kidnap and torture' of former ally
Independent, UK By Kim Sengupta in Mazar-i-Sharif, Afghanistan Tuesday, 11 March 2008
There is no one as colourful and controversial among the warlords of Afghanistan as General Abdul Rashid Dostum, a man of immense power and huge wealth whose name became synonymous with bloodshed and betrayal during the long years of conflict.

General Dostum, who once ruled a northern swath of the country with an iron fist is now under siege, with an arrest warrant against him and stripped of his post as chief of staff to the army commander.

A police attempt to arrest the warlord at his home in Kabul's diplomatic enclave of Wazir Akbar Khan ended in a stand-off with his bodyguards, armed with rocket-propelled grenades. But police freed four men being held hostage, among them Akbar Bai, a close ally of General Dostum before they fell out, and his son. They are in hospital with "serious injuries" including "internal damage".

Mr Bai, a leader of the country's Turkmen community, had accused General Dostum of a range of crimes, including plotting to lead an insurrection and the murder of opponents in the Turkmen community. The general and 70 of his men had seized him from his house in the same part of Kabul and, it is alleged, subjected him and his son to hours of torture.

After widespread public consternation over the incident, General Dostum said he would be willing to settle the matter through community elders, and he would ask President Hamid Karzai to intervene if legal proceedings are started against him. "What they are saying against me is wrong and designed to create instability in Afghanistan," he said. "The people who are saying this have hidden motives and they should be warned that this will have bad consequences."

But Mr Bai has made a formal complaint, saying the general "has committed a crime and must be punished if there is law and democracy in this country. This is on top of many other crimes he has committed".
The Attorney General, Abdul Jabar Sabat, who is said to have presidential ambitions and likes to portray himself standing up to strongmen, declared: "The case is that someone enters someone else's house in the middle of Kabul city 500 metres from the presidential palace, beats the people in that house, kidnaps them and abuses them. If the law is not implemented against such a person, it means there is no law at all. If General Dostum knew there was the certainty of the law being implemented, he would not dare to have done it."

President Karzai said: "This culture of impunity has to stop. I can live with undue influence, because it is part of this arrangement we have. But we cannot tolerate and protect criminals, or the whole arrangement will lose its moral existence. We are running out of options."

General Dostum is now in his base at Shibirghan in the north, where his private army is being rearmed, and supporters hold daily demonstrations threatening an uprising unless the arrest warrant against him is revoked and his official powers are restored. The Uzbek, physically a big, bear-like man, is said to be feeling isolated. Increasingly, to the worry of his staff, he is drinking vodka heavily.

But his remarkable ability to survive and bounce back from reverses cannot be underestimated. The man who started as a farm labourer and styled himself the "new Tamerlane", had in his time managed to switch sides repeatedly between the Russians, Afghan- istan's communist government, the Mujahedin, the Taliban, the Northern Alliance of Ahmed Shah Masud and the Americans, successfully playing off one against the other.

Abdul Rashid Dostum, Afghan strongman
* General Dostum is accused of responsibility for the worst atrocity in the 2001 war on the Taliban, when an estimated 400 Taliban prisoners suffocated in containers on their way to Shibirgan prison run by the warlord in northern Afghanistan.

* The journalist Ahmed Rashid noticed pieces of flesh on the ground during a visit to General Dostum's headquarters near Mazar-i-Sharif. Rashid asked a guard whether a goat had just been slaughtered for a meal, and was told that the remains were, in fact, those of a soldier who had been caught stealing. General Dostum had ordered him to be tied to the tracks of a tank which then drove around the courtyard shredding the body.

* General Dostum also reportedly said: "I am dying of these accusations from the international community. 'What is happening in Mazar with these mass killing? Why are you so cruel?'  If any one of my commanders commits these kinds of acts, I will kill him tomorrow."
Back to Top

Back to Top
Afghans open bureau of complaints
BBC News  By Elettra Neysmith Monday, 10 March 2008
Afghanistan has opened a new government office dedicated to complaints. The department will collect all manner of complaints from the Afghan public and pass them on to the office of President Hamid Karzai.

The new presidential complaints office has a staff of 23 and is headed by Asadullah Wafa.

He says that although it is currently based in the capital, Kabul, the intention is to also set up agencies in various Afghan provinces.

'Tough job'
The government is clearly taking the matter of complaints seriously.

Mr Wafa was previously governor of Afghanistan's southern volatile Helmand province - the heart of the Taleban insurgency.

But this new job will be no easy ride either.

Afghanistan has many problems and on top of those, corruption is rife across all levels of Afghan society.

Disillusionment with the government therefore is widespread.

Mr Wafa says the complaints office will take the necessary measures to address people's problems - but with no executive powers, critics say it is unclear how effective the complaints procedure can really be.
Back to Top

Back to Top
Marines see re-run in Afghan theatre
National Post, Canada Matthew Fisher Monday, March 10, 2008
KANDAHAR AIRFIELD, Afghanistan
A forward party of 3,200 U.S. Marines is already on the ground preparing to begin combat operations next month. It is not the first time that there have been jarheads at the Kandahar Airfield.

As the Marines are fond of saying, they were the tip of the spear when the province of Kandahar became the last Taliban and al-Qaeda redoubt to fall to U.S. forces, 11 weeks after the 9/11 terrorist attacks on New York and Washington.

Choppering 650 kilometres from assault ships in the Arabian Sea to Kandahar, the Marines routed forces loyal to Mullah Omar and Osama bin Laden.

After holding the area for about one month, the jarheads handed over what was then thought to have been the last gasps of the Afghan war to elements of the U.S. army's 101st Airborne Division and 10th Mountain Division and a 845-man strong battle group built from the Princess Patricia's Canadian Light Infantry led by then-Lieut. Col. Pat Stogran.

Canadian and U.S. forces fought the Taliban and al-Qaeda in operations in mountains to the northeast of Kandahar at Tora Bora and also a place that became known to those who were there as the Whale.
After that, in what will likely go down as one of the greatest military/ political blunders in history, Washington declared the war in Afghanistan over and switched its attention and almost all of its manpower and firepower to Iraq, where U.S. President George W. Bush quickly claimed a non-existent victory with tragic consequences for both Iraq and Afghanistan.

Now, six years after the Taliban and al-Qaeda were thought to have been crushed, Marines and the Patricias, who have just arrived for another tour, are once again taking up arms against exactly the same enemy in roughly the same place. An infantry battalion out of southern California is on its ways to Kandahar to devote itself to mentor Afghan police.

More interesting, from a Canadian point of view, is the deployment to Kandahar from North Carolina of the 24th MEU, or Marine Expeditionary Unit, which has at its centre a reinforced infantry battalion.
Officially, everyone here remains tight-lipped about how many of the Marines will be deployed alongside the Canadians here.

However, that has not stopped rampant speculation about this or about how robust the storied Marines' rules of engagement will be.

Given the Marines fierce fighting doctrine and the fact that the first of nearly 30 Marine aircraft -- Harrier attack jets, Cobra attack helicopters and troop helicopters -- have begun to arrive, as well as recent hawkish comments from political and military leaders in the U.S. about what their mission was expected to achieve, wherever the Marines end up, it is clear that they will add a more aggressive dimension to the war against the Taliban.

This is the make or break year for NATO in Afghanistan.

Or so everyone keeps saying every spring.

Aside from the fact that the Marines will be here, there are several new twists which suggest this year may be different than any other since the spring of 2002.

The UN has concluded that opium production in the provinces of Kandahar and Helmand -- which feeds many poor Afghan farmers as well as the Taliban insurgency and a Mafia that is sometimes indistinguishable from the Taliban -- has reached record levels.

Another grim development is that while the Taliban almost never attempt to engage the coalition in direct combat any more because they have learned that they will always suffer catastrophic losses, the number of IED attacks and suicide attacks carried out by the insurgency has continued to rise. While tactically ineffective instruments of war, they have partially succeeded in undermining Western political will.

The Marines streaming into Afghanistan today are coming for only seven months.

However, encouraged by comments by Marine Corps commandant General James Conway, who has publicly lobbied to move most or all of the more than 20,000 Marines in Iraq to Afghanistan, the buzz around Marine bases in the United States these days has shifted from Iraq's Anbar province to Kandahar.

Some stateside Marine units have already been told to develop counter-insurgency training cycles designed to put them in the Afghan theatre next year.

Whether other NATO countries chose to answer Canada's plea for more boots on the ground in Kandahar, the Manley Panel's intentionally low demand that 1,000 combat troops be sent to the province will undoubtedly be met by the Marines.
Back to Top

Back to Top
US 'not returning to Uzbek base'
BBC News, UK By Natalia Antelava BBC Central Asia correspondent Monday, 10 March 2008
A senior western diplomat in Uzbekistan has told the BBC that the United States is not trying to re-open a military base in the country.

The diplomat said that a return by the armed forces to the Central Asian state was not on the agenda.

The US withdrew from Uzbekistan following a dispute over human rights in 2005.

But recent media reports had suggested that Washington was negotiating a possible return.

Warming ties?

The diplomat categorically denied reports that the US was in negotiations to open a new airbase in Uzbekistan.

The reports were triggered by an agreement between Washington and Tashkent which will give the Americans limited access to the German airbase in Termez near the border with Afghanistan.

Under the arrangement, a handful of mainly civilian advisers to Nato generals will be granted permission, on a case by case basis, to fly to Afghanistan via the Termez airbase.

It is a very small gesture which will have little impact on the Nato campaign in Afghanistan.

But it does show that the relationship between Uzbekistan and the West is beginning to change.

Tashkent cut nearly all ties with the West after the European Union imposed sanctions on Uzbekistan in response to the events in Andijan, where government troops killed hundreds of civilian protestors in 2005.

The US was forced to shut its airbase, and hundreds of Western organisations and companies left Uzbekistan.

Three years on, observers say that Uzbekistan's human rights record has deteriorated even further, but the West has clearly had a change of heart.

There is now a strong lobby within the EU which wants to lift the sanctions.

While most people in the West resent the idea of a dialogue with President Karimov, increasingly many policy-makers say that alienating Uzbekistan has only pushed this strategic, energy-rich country closer to China and Russia.

They also argue that engagement is the only thing that could ease the dire human rights situation.
Back to Top

Back to Top
Hillary Clinton Wants to Win Afghanistan, But Lose Iraq
North Star Writers Group March 10, 2008 By Paul Ibrahim American Chronicle, CA -
Following her March 4 primary triumphs, when for the first time in weeks it appeared somewhat likely that she would win the Democratic nomination, Hillary Clinton proclaimed in her victory speech: "We're ready to end the war in Iraq and win the war in Afghanistan."

She didn´t say she wanted to "win" in Iraq and in Afghanistan, nor did she insist that we "end" the war in Iraq and in Afghanistan. She explicitly said she wanted to "win the war in Afghanistan" and "end the war in Iraq." In other words, Hillary Clinton wants to lose the war in Iraq.

Now it would make more sense if Clinton wanted to pull the troops out of both countries. It would certainly be an awful and dangerous idea, but it would just as certainly be a lot more logical and consistent. So why does she only want to withdraw from Iraq and not Afghanistan?

It cannot be policy reasons. After all, anyone with an IQ higher than Miss Teen South Carolina can tell you that today´s Iraq is far more strategically critical than Afghanistan has been and will be anytime soon.

The eyes of the world, including those of radicals, are on Iraq more than anywhere else – and on politicians´ words about its war. Iraq is one of the most diverse countries in the Arab and Muslim worlds, and as home to significant Sunni, Shiite and Kurdish populations, is in many ways a microcosm of the region. Its central location gives it borders with the major players in the Middle East, including Iran, Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Syria. Notably, it has one of the largest oil reserves in the world.

Perhaps most importantly, Iraq is closer than any other large Arab country to demonstrating Arabs´ ability to adopt true democratic and federalist principles.

Even Hillary Clinton cannot possibly believe that it would be preferable for America to give Iraq up to radicals than it would be to surrender Afghanistan. Even Hillary Clinton can understand the superior value of maintaining U.S. troops in the heart of the Middle East, compared with fighting to hold the desolate hills of Afghanistan.

So if it is not about strategic interests, what could possibly make Afghanistan inherently more important than Iraq in Clinton´s eyes? Let us explore the possibilities.

First, maybe Clinton would rather stay in Afghanistan for the simple reason that it is an easier and cheaper war to fight than the one in Iraq. This viewpoint is akin to Woodrow Wilson deciding he only wanted to fight the Ottomans, because the Germans are harder and more expensive to beat.

And it would be, of course, ludicrous. Iraq and Afghanistan are both just as much a part of the war on terror as the Ottoman Empire and Germany were a part of World War I. And even if they weren´t, it would be quite novel for America to turn a blind eye to its strategic interests by surrendering a difficult war in order to win an easier one.


The other reason Clinton might be willing to lose Iraq despite winning Afghanistan is just as disturbing: She does not believe we should have been there in the first place.

Now, let us for argument´s sake pretend that Clinton did not support the invasion of Iraq, despite voting for it. Regardless, her position at the time would still be irrelevant, because America is already in Iraq, and has been for five years. Along with the Iraqi people, we have sacrificed thousands of lives and limbs, in addition to hundreds of billions of dollars.

There is absolutely no question that withdrawing today would leave us with a situation in Iraq that is far worse than the Baath Party rule we took down. A national civil war would break out that would almost certainly turn into a regional war, and radical organizations would rule parts of Iraq and use them as launch pads for terrorist operations.

Hillary Clinton is fully aware of the consequences of a withdrawal. Through her willingness to surrender Iraq, however, she is in truth saying that because the war was wrongly started, she does not think she has to win it. She is, for the lack of a better word, so bitter about President Bush launching the invasion of Iraq that she will withdraw to demonstrate her opposition to the invasion in the first place.

Hillary Clinton will certainly not put it in those terms. But anyone who scratches the surface will find that little other than these two reasons justify plans to win Afghanistan and simultaneously surrender Iraq. Despite her wishes, Clinton does not have the option to serve as commander-in-chief in 2003. She can only do so in 2009, and has to absorb America´s actions up until that point whether she had agreed with them or not. She cannot decide whether or not to invade Iraq. She can only decide whether or not to surrender it.

Political reasons for ending the war in Iraq continue to be the elephant in the room. What else can a candidate say when trying to win a Democratic primary? Those voters opposed to our presence in Iraq are opposed, by and large, because it is a painful war to fight – and because they disagreed with the invasion in the first place. Hillary Clinton (and too many of her colleagues) continue to cater to these beliefs, despite her full understanding of the consequences of surrendering Iraq. She represents politics at their worst.
Back to Top

Back to Top
Jolyon Leslie - saving Afghanistan's cultural heritage
by Dheera Sujan 11-03-2008 Radio Netherlands, Netherlands
Afghanistan's geographic position has meant that it has been coveted by conquerors since time immemorial. It has been a curse but also a blessing, the wealth of different civilisations that have converged on this mountainous and fiercely independent country. Its landscape is dotted with ancient and beautiful buildings and monuments, and its earth still contains buried treasure - precious objects dating back to ancient Greek times: ceramics, sculpture, and jewellery.

A wealth of antiquity has survived the weathering of time and a brutal climate, as well as the blows of the country's recent history: the intense conflict generated by the Soviets, the civil war, the Taliban and then the western bombing.

Afghanistan's treasures - most of them - survived all that, but it's the peace that's really brought destruction in its wake.

Preservation struggle
This is just the first of many surprising facts to be learnt from Jolyon Leslie. A South African by birth, and an architect by training, Jolyon Leslie has lived in Afghanistan for nearly 20 years, and is a passionate advocate for Afghan culture.

He now heads the Aga Khan Foundation in the country, struggling to try to preserve some of the country's most precious buildings and monuments. He's dismayed by the unfettered looting and pillaging that he sees around him.

"For example, Balkh, one of the most important pre-Islamic cities - its completely devastated. We would never have dared to think that the peace would bring this extraordinary ravage of the country, both urban and rural, both archaeology and monuments."

He doesn't blame the illegal diggers, most of whom are desperately poor and just trying to supply a hungry market. Leslie, in his mild and persuasive manner, makes it clear that the blame for the pillage must lie squarely on the shoulders of the western art market.

Smuggling has always been a part of life in Afghanistan, where corruption and the lack of security have always helped precious treasures extracted from Afghan dirt to find their way to living rooms and museums around the western world.

Unprecedented
But these days, the illegal digging and smuggling are happening on "an unprecedented scale". As he points out, there is a large aid and military community in the country "Who need things to take away [...] they want something to take home for mum."

Leslie mentions an acquaintance of his, a local militia leader, one of the biggest suppliers of food to the Bagram air base, who also has an illegal sideline in the artefact smuggling racket - a typical example of how openly this is going on.

Leslie talks about Herat, and out comes another jaw dropping statement: "What saved this city is war".

"But surely bombing must have damaged it?" I ask naively. Jolyon Leslie replies:
"War causes damage, but it saved the fabric of the city - people don't invest because they're scared."

The real looting
He qualifies it by acknowledging that, of course, war does facilitate some looting - but mostly it drives people away.
"The real looting - as we're seeing today in Afghanistan - happens when the security situation has improved a bit."

And it's not just illegal digging and looting. Detrimental change comes from "the forces of the market." He's quick to add that he's not against change or progress, but it should be of a sustainable kind. Here in Afghanistan, there are examples of "too much money, too fast." The old parts of Kabul and Herat are being torn down to make way for wider roads and gaudy new villas.

Crystal clear
It wouldn't seem such a crime to those who've never been to Afghanistan, but a glimpse of Leslie's photographs and slides make his point crystal clear. He flicks on a slide of a dusty Kabul street, a mud wall with a low door, closed to the street. But the next slide takes you into the courtyard and it's surprisingly big, with enclosed rooms for two stories on all four sides.

The next slide takes you further still - a beautiful carved wooden room, strewn with hand-woven carpets and cushions - its exudes warmth and a beauty that could never be suspected by the unprepossessing wall and door of its exterior façade.

Traditional Afghan architecture - from the humblest mud hut - is sustainable and perfectly adapted to the extreme climate requirements of the country. But now beautiful traditional buildings are being demolished for the gaudy villas of the military commandants, replete with life-sized plaster leopards and bathrooms enveloped in mirror mosaic.

Ignorance-fuelled
This is typical of Afghanistan says Leslie. It is a culture that's impenetrable to the superficial visitor. And I would say that the slide show example is also typical of Jolyon Leslie - whose mission in life seems to be to bring depth and nuance to the ignorance-fuelled western view of Afghanistan.
Sometimes Leslie's critics call him an apologist for the Taliban. But his rebuttal is unbeatable: "I was there. I saw it all happening." He feels that westerners and even some Afghans, knowing what's expected of them, tend to blame the Taliban for all of Afghanistan's problems. But a lot of the cultural destruction and stealing went on long before the Taliban came to power.

Extra pair of hands
Jolyon Leslie could capture a dinner table or a lecture hall simply by re-telling what he saw in the early 1990s - he was one of a small handful of people who rushed to the National Museum in Kabul when it was first destroyed in 1992. Working for the UN at the time, he says in his typical modest fashion that he was just an extra pair of hands and a driver for the real experts - Afghan friends who were responsible for the museum.

They saw a building still steaming in the snow, its walls and ceilings caved in, twisted cables hanging evilly and piles and piles of rubble. This was Afghanistan's heritage - the remains of objects centuries old lay smashed, sometimes powdered or melted, in the snow and rubble.

Every day they went to sort through that rubble, their bare hands frozen in the snow. They loaded his pickup truck and he took the finds to his house to be catalogued, pieced together, boxed and hidden. And before they left, they would brick up the windows. When they came back the next day, the bricks were gone and more treasures had been looted. "They knew what they were looking for" - he's referring to the looters who were spiriting away their country's heritage.

Not Taliban
He knows who they were - he has photographs. They were the soldiers of the warlords controlling the area. They weren't Taliban. This was years before the Taliban came to power, years before their devastating bombing of the priceless Bamiyan Buddhas labelled them as cultural barbarians in the eyes of the world.

It would be easy to have one image of the villain in mind - the black turbaned Talibs, as evil of heart as any black hated cowboy in the movies. But Jolyon Leslie has spent a good part of his professional life trying to convey one message: "It ain't that simple."
Back to Top

Back to Top
Iranian police kill drug smugglers at Afghan border
Tue Mar 11, 2008 4:08am
powered by  SphereTEHRAN (Reuters) - Iranian police ambushed and killed 10 armed drug smugglers near the border with Afghanistan on Monday, the official news agency IRNA said.

Acting on a tip, police forces laid a trap for the traffickers and arrested their leader and seized 350 kg (770 lb) of opium, local commander Colonel Mohammad Gol Mirsadeqi told the agency.

Iran is a main drug smuggling route to the West from Afghanistan, the world's number one producer of opium, the key ingredient for heroin.

More than 3,300 Iranian security personnel have died fighting drug smugglers since the 1979 Islamic revolution.

(Writing by Firouz Sedarat; Editing by Janet Lawrence)
Back to Top

Back to Top
Afghan immigrants disappear after police release them
11 March 2008 Ely Standard, UK
NINE illegal immigrants discovered hiding in a fruit lorry in Fordham may have disappeared into the countryside without trace after being released by the police.

The eight men and a teenage boy from Afghanistan were found by workers at haulage company, Turners who immediately alerted officers.

But when the police arrived they refused to arrest them and the immigrants were released and told to make their own way to a detention centre in Croydon.

The men disappeared but five returned later telling depot staff they wanted to go to the Central Mosque in Birmingham and a worker drove them to Ely railway station.

Now MP Jim Paice, who expressed his total disbelief of the incident, is raising the issue with Immigration Minister, Liam Byrne.

"It is naïve in the extreme to expect nine illegal immigrants to voluntarily report to a facility in Croydon," said Mr Paice, who represents South East Cambridgeshire.

"Surely when they are apprehended, as in this case, they ought not to be released into the community without any trace of where they may go.

"This is a ludicrous policy and bound to lead to increased numbers of illegal immigrants."

The immigrants, well-dressed and with new trainers, were discovered hiding in two pallet boxes underneath the trailer of a Spanish lorry when it arrived at Turners' depot. They had a large sum of money, including sterling and Euros.

It is believed the men may have boarded the lorry on the French side of the Channel Tunnel after travelling across Europe.

Turners' staff freed them from the pallet boxes after being alerted by the lorry driver.

"It was quite cramped for nine of them and they would have almost certainly needed some assistance to get in there," said Turners' company secretary, David Munns.

"Our security officer searched them to make sure they were not armed and then they were given something to eat and drink."

Staff called the police but officers refused to arrest the men and instead handed out copies of the address of the Croydon detention centre with instructions to pass them on to the immigrants.

Mr Munns added: "We were amazed that we had been left virtually holding the baby. The attitude from the police was 'it's not our problem'. It would be interesting to know whether this is happening across the country or whether any other provision is made for them."

Ely Sector Inspector Alan Savill said: "As I am sure you are aware, we are led by the immigration service in relation to the actions taken in cases such as these. With regard to this particular incident, immigration was consulted at St Ives and due to their staffing levels and our own, and also taking into account the availability of custody facilities, no other option was available other than to direct these persons to the immigration facility at Croydon which is an accepted practice."

But a Border and Immigration Agency spokesman: said: "It is not true that the Border and Immigration Agency advised the police to tell illegal immigrants in Cambridgeshire to make their own way to Croydon.

"We respond as a matter of priority whenever notified by the police that they have arrested illegal immigrants found in lorries. In the East Midlands and East of England a new fast-track procedure was recently introduced where all adult males arrested by the police at 'lorry drops' are taken into immigration detention where they are fingerprinted and then dealt with according to BIA procedures and guidelines.
Back to Top

Back to Top
Man convicted of Afghan mother's 2006 murder
Woman's 3-year-old daughter identified suspect as the shooter
By Ben Aguirre Jr. Contra Costa Times - Mar 11 3:26 AM
HAYWARD -- Manuel Urango was found guilty Monday of first-degree murder in the October 2006 slaying of Alia Ansari, an Afghan mother of six who was shot in the face as she and her 3-year-old daughter walked through a quiet Fremont neighborhood.

Urango, 30, appeared shocked as the court clerk read the guilty verdicts to four felony charges, including two that stemmed from a noninjury shooting that happened a day before the killing. At times, Urango spoke softly to his attorney and then rocked in his chair as the judge delivered his final instructions to the jury.

In all, Urango was found guilty of murder, unlawful discharge of a firearm and two counts of being a felon in possession of a firearm. He now faces 35 years to life in prison and is expected to be sentenced April 4. However, his attorney has said he intends to file an appeal.

A five-man, seven-woman panel rendered its verdicts Monday morning at the Hayward Hall of Justice just a day and a half after it began deliberating Urango's fate.

Two jurors interviewed Monday said the panel felt strongly that Urango was guilty of the Oct. 19, 2006, shooting, basing their judgment primarily on gunshot residue that was found on the defendant's clothing.

According to testimony, residue was found on Urango's gloves, T-shirt and pants. Jurors said the fact that residue was found on the shirt was in line with the prosecutor's theory that Urango used both hands to shoot Ansari. They did not believe the defense's claim that the residue was from a shooting that happened a day earlier.

"That was the clincher for some of us," said juror Maria Flores-Wilson, 60, of Newark.

The panel also discussed the testimony of Ansari's daughter, who has been a sympathetic yet controversial figure in the trial.

A pair of hearings was held in conjunction with the trial, but outside the presence of jurors, to determine if she was competent to testify, and to determine if the prosecutor could tell the jury that she identified Urango as the killer.

During those hearings, she told the court through a Dari interpreter that she'd never seen Urango before, and that he was not the killer. At one point, she and the interpreter were escorted to the defense table to get a better look. Standing just 2 feet away, she said Urango was not the killer.

However, when she testified in front of the jury, she gave different answers. At first, she was adamant that he was not the gunman, again telling the court that the killer wore all-black clothing. But toward the end of her testimony, she changed her mind and said that the gunman wore a white shirt, the same color Urango was wearing in a picture that the prosecutor had been showing her throughout the trial.

Under questioning by defense attorney Philip Caruthers, the girl said her father told her what to say.

A day later, Ahmad Ansari, the girl's father, told the court that he did not coach his daughter. He only aided her in distinguishing colors, he said.

On Monday, Caruthers said he was disappointed with the verdict.

"I thought that the case the prosecution had was not the strongest," Caruthers said, adding that he thought he did a sufficient job of introducing reasonable doubt.

He also said he planned to appeal on several issues, including the fact that the girl's testimony may have been tainted.

"We will be appealing the case," he said. "The focus will be on the child witness ... and witness tampering."

Staff writer Matt Artz contributed to this report. Ben Aguirre Jr. covers police and the courts. Reach him at 510-353-7011 or baguirre@bayareanewsgroup.com.
Back to Top


 Back to News Archirves of 2008
 
Disclaimer: This news site is mostly a compilation of publicly accessible articles on the Web in the form of a link or saved news item. The news articles and commentaries/editorials are protected under international copyright laws. All credit goes to the original respective source(s).