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March 12, 2008 

Bomb hits Canadian troops in Afghanistan
By NOOR KHAN, Associated Press Writer Wed Mar 12, 5:41 AM ET
KANDAHAR, Afghanistan - A suicide car bomber attacked a convoy of Canadian troops in southern Afghanistan Wednesday, killing a passing civilian and wounding one soldier.
 
Afghan unrest kills five civilians, NATO soldiers wounded
KANDAHAR, Afghanistan (AFP) - Bomb blasts struck two NATO convoys in Afghanistan Wednesday, wounding four foreign soldiers, while five Afghan civilians were killed in separate extremist-linked unrest, officials said.

NATO reluctance in Afghanistan risking lives: US chief
Wed Mar 12, 2:31 AM ET
WASHINGTON (AFP) - Foot-dragging by European members of NATO in the struggle against Afghanistan's resurgent Taliban is risking the lives of alliance troops, NATO supremo General John Craddock said Tuesday.

Telecom tower burned in west Afghanistan
By AMIR SHAH, Associated Press Writer Wed Mar 12, 6:23 AM ET
KABUL, Afghanistan - A telecommunications tower was set ablaze in western Afghanistan, a police official said Wednesday, the latest such attack since insurgents warned phone companies to shut down the towers at night.

Taleban threat hits Afghan phones
By Sanjoy Majumder BBC News, Kabul  Wednesday, 12 March 2008, 12:23 GMT
Afghan mobile phone companies have begun switching off their signals at night in parts of the restive south after several attacks by the Taleban.

Afghan doctors' strike called off
Wednesday, 12 March 2008, 13:35 GMT BBC News
Doctors in the Afghan province of Herat have called off a strike in which they were demanding better security.

Afghan president to address major Islamic summit
Wed Mar 12, 4:58 AM ET
KABUL (AFP) - Afghan President Hamid Karzai travelled Wednesday to Senegal, where he is due to address a summit of the Organisation of the Islamic Conference and meet heads of state, his office said.

Afghanistan: Al-Qaeda Bloggers' Sparring With Taliban Could Signal Key Differences
By Ron Synovitz Radio Free Europe: Radio Library
An Internet-fueled squabble between Taliban leaders and influential Al-Qaeda sympathizers over nonviolent tactics and foreign influence in Afghanistan hints at deep disagreements that could alter counterinsurgency efforts in that country.

South Asia: Pakistani Appointee Vows To Do Good By Afghanistan
By Abubakar Siddique Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty March 12, 2008
The Pakistani government's selection to serve as chief minister for restive western tribal areas has stressed the need to "restore peace and security" in the Pashtun-dominated area and foster good relations with neighboring Afghanistan.

AFGHANISTAN: UN Secretary-General warns of threats to "still fragile" country
KABUL, 12 March 2008 (IRIN) - More than six years after the ousting of the Taliban, violence and insurgency have intensified, and the scale of international support has also grown in Afghanistan, the UN Secretary-General, Ban Ki-moon, said in a report to the Security Council.

Manley defends call for 1,000 more soldiers
Number is a bare minimum, panel leader explains, as separate report says mission will run $1-billion over budget this year
STEVEN CHASE With a report from The Canadian Press March 12, 2008
OTTAWA -- One thousand more combat troops in Kandahar is just the minimum soldiering help that Canada needs from NATO allies in order to remain in deadly southern Afghanistan, John Manley told MPs yesterday.

Afghan war trend worse than Iraq: U.S. trainer
By Mark Trevelyan, Security Correspondent Wednesday, March 12, 2008; 11:25 AM
STOCKHOLM (Reuters) - The tide of the war in Afghanistan is running against the United States and its allies, in contrast to an improving trend in Iraq, a U.S. military official and counter-insurgency expert said on Wednesday.

Afghanistan's soaring drug trade hits home
It faces one of the world's fastest rising rates of drug use.
By ANAND GOPAL | Contributor to The Christian Science Monitor
KABUL, AFghANISTAN-Muhammad Nasir lives with 70 drug users on the outskirts of town. His home is an abandoned building sitting amid a mass of toppled concrete. This field of rubble is one of the most dangerous

Afghan detainee to appear in Gitmo court
By MICHAEL MELIA, Associated Press Writer Wed Mar 12, 5:37 AM ET
GUANTANAMO BAY NAVAL BASE, Cuba - Former Army Sgt. 1st Class Christopher Martin says an Afghan who allegedly wounded him, another soldier and an interpreter in a grenade attack in Kabul should never be let out of U.S. military custody.

Canadian soldier found dead at Afghanistan's Kandahar base
Tue Mar 11, 8:46 PM ET
OTTAWA (AFP) - A 22-year-old Canadian soldier was found dead Tuesday at Kandahar military base in southern Afghanistan, the Defence Ministry, adding that "enemy action" was was not the cause of death.

Mixed US rights reviews for Afghanistan and Pakistan
Tue Mar 11, 7:10 PM ET
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Pakistan and Afghanistan, important but struggling U.S. allies in fighting Islamist militants, received mixed reviews in a U.S. State Department review of worldwide human rights conditions last year.

Fans embrace, clerics condemn TV's "Afghan Star"
By Hamid Shalizi Tue Mar 11, 9:24 PM ET
KABUL, Afghanistan (Reuters) - Hundreds of fans clamored on Tuesday to catch a glimpse of their favorite finalists from the TV show "Afghan Star," Afghanistan's version of "American Idol," which is watched by millions but condemned by Islamic clerics as immoral.

U.S. admiral leading wars in Iraq, Afghanistan resigns amid talk of war in Iran
PAUL KORING From Wednesday's Globe and Mail March 12, 2008 at 6:36 AM EDT
WASHINGTON The top U.S. military commander running the wars in both Afghanistan and Iraq quit abruptly yesterday after a published report claimed he was fighting off a push by the White House to launch a third war against Iran.

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Bomb hits Canadian troops in Afghanistan
By NOOR KHAN, Associated Press Writer Wed Mar 12, 5:41 AM ET
KANDAHAR, Afghanistan - A suicide car bomber attacked a convoy of Canadian troops in southern Afghanistan Wednesday, killing a passing civilian and wounding one soldier.
 
An Associated Press reporter at the scene in Kandahar said a Humvee vehicle of the convoy was burned and destroyed. NATO troops cordoned off the area, preventing journalists and police getting near the vehicles.

A passing truck driver was killed in the attack, and two civilian passers-by were wounded, said police officer Nematullah Khan.

Capt. Mark Gough, a spokesman for NATO's International Security Assistance Force in the south, said one ISAF soldier was lightly wounded in the attack.

Most NATO troops based in Kandahar are Canadian.

Khan had said earlier that two Canadian troops were wounded. The discrepancy in the numbers could not immediately be reconciled because of lack of access to the scene.

Afghanistan is in the midst of a bloody insurgency led by its former Taliban rulers.

Last year, more than 8,000 people were killed, including 1,500 civilians, according to a recent U.N. report.

In other violence, Taliban militants attacked a district administrative compound Tuesday in southern Zabul province, and the ensuing one-hour gunbattle left one Taliban dead and three wounded, said Mizan district chief Mohammad Younus Akhunzada.

On Monda, two women and two children were caught in the line of fire and killed during a clash between NATO troops and insurgents in southern Afghanistan, the alliance said in a statement Wednesday. NATO was investigating the causes of their deaths, but did not provide any other details including the exact location.
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Afghan unrest kills five civilians, NATO soldiers wounded
KANDAHAR, Afghanistan (AFP) - Bomb blasts struck two NATO convoys in Afghanistan Wednesday, wounding four foreign soldiers, while five Afghan civilians were killed in separate extremist-linked unrest, officials said.

In an attack claimed by Taliban insurgents, a suicide car bomb struck a Canadian armoured vehicle driving through the southern city of Kandahar, the Canadian military said.

An Afghan man was killed, his body badly burned by the blast which also set a house alight, and at least one civilian was wounded, witnesses and officials said.

A Canadian soldier with NATO's International Security Assistance Force was also injured, said ISAF spokesman Captain Mark Gough.

"It was a suicide car bomb attack against a Canadian convoy... one military vehicle was damaged," said another ISAF spokesman, Captain Fraser Clark.

The Taliban, an Islamic militant group that was in government in Afghanistan between 1996 and 2001, confirmed it was behind the blast -- similar to scores of others carried out by the insurgents.

A roadside bomb, another favoured Taliban weapon, meanwhile struck a vehicle of Romanian troops also serving with ISAF, wounding three of them, the Romanian defence ministry said in Bucharest.

The soldiers were hit on a road linking Kandahar to neighbouring Zabul province, it said, adding the wounded were in a stable condition.

ISAF reported meanwhile that two Afghan women and two children were killed Tuesday when troops returned fire at insurgents who had attacked them in southern Afghanistan.

"Tragically, a group of civilians received fire causing the death of two women and two children," a statement said, without saying where the attack occurred.

Civilian casualties by international soldiers helping the Afghan government defeat a Taliban-led uprising is deeply sensitive and President Hamid Karzai has regularly called on the troops to take more care.

Also linked to Taliban insurgency, the rebels destroyed overnight a mobile phone mast in the western province of Herat late Tuesday, police said.

The attack was the fifth targeting mobile phone antennas since the Taliban warned they would target communication technology unless it was switched off at night because it was being used to pinpoint rebel hideouts.

In the western province of Farah meanwhile, police were searching for five officers missing following a clash with the rebels on Monday, provincial police commander Jalilullah Rahman said.

A policeman seized in the same incident was believed to have been killed by his Taliban captors, Rahman said.

The Taliban, who were removed from government in late 2001, are waging an insurgency that was at its deadliest last year with more than 6,000 people killed -- most of them rebel fighters.
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NATO reluctance in Afghanistan risking lives: US chief
Wed Mar 12, 2:31 AM ET
WASHINGTON (AFP) - Foot-dragging by European members of NATO in the struggle against Afghanistan's resurgent Taliban is risking the lives of alliance troops, NATO supremo General John Craddock said Tuesday.

Afghanistan and the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) are at a "critical juncture," he said at a hearing of the Senate's foreign relations committee.

Ahead of a NATO summit next month in Romania, Craddock bemoaned restrictions placed by some governments on their forces' operations in Afghanistan.

"These caveats, like shortfalls, increase the risk to every soldier, sailor, airman and marine deployed in theater," the US general said.

"NATO's level of ambition has exceeded its political will to support," he said, citing weak coalition governments in Europe as one drag on ISAF deployments.

The US government, which is deploying 3,200 more Marines to Afghanistan, has criticized nations including Germany, Italy, France and Spain for not doing more to pursue the Taliban and Al-Qaeda diehards on the Pakistan border.

ISAF commanders in Afghanistan want around 7,500 extra troops to be deployed in the battle-ravaged south, along with transport helicopters and intelligence resources.

Berlin last month agreed to a NATO request to deploy a rapid reaction force in northern Afghanistan, but again ruled out a fixed combat role in the south, where US, Canadian and British forces have borne the brunt of Taliban attacks.

Canada has warned that it could withdraw its 2,500 troops from Afghanistan if NATO fails to send reinforcements to the south.

Last week, US officials welcomed a "long-term commitment" to Afghanistan made by French President Nicolas Sarkozy ahead of the April 2-4 summit in Bucharest.

"It is clear that the French are thinking through their contributions in Afghanistan," Daniel Fried, the assistant secretary of state for European affairs, told the Senate hearing.

"President Sarkozy is looking at his options and we're working with the French," he said.

The Senate committee's Democratic chairman, Joseph Biden, was blunt in demanding that US allies step up to the plate.

"It's my belief that the future of NATO is at stake in Afghanistan as well as the future of Afghanistan," he said, while also attacking the US administration for diverting resources from Afghanistan to Iraq.

The NATO-led ISAF comprises more than 47,000 troops from 40 nations, including 19,000 from the United States, according to updated figures given by Craddock.

The US general said the Afghan government's national army was taking a much stronger role in ISAF operations, but bemoaned corruption and ineffectual leadership in the Afghan police.

"Having said that... NATO's efforts in Afghanistan are making a difference," he said, citing the enrollment of six million children in schools, a third of them girls, since the Taliban regime was ousted in late 2001.
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Telecom tower burned in west Afghanistan
By AMIR SHAH, Associated Press Writer Wed Mar 12, 6:23 AM ET
KABUL, Afghanistan - A telecommunications tower was set ablaze in western Afghanistan, a police official said Wednesday, the latest such attack since insurgents warned phone companies to shut down the towers at night.

Five militants set fire to the generator, fuel tank and antenna of the tower Tuesday night in the Obe district of Herat province, said Raouf Ahmadi, a regional police spokesman. The tower belonged to the Areeba company.

The Taliban believe U.S. and other foreign troops are using mobile phone signals to track insurgents and launch attacks against them. A Taliban spokesman issued a threat last month saying militants would blow up towers across Afghanistan if telecom companies did not switch off their signals at night.

At least two other Areeba towers have been hit, as well as three more owned by the Roshan company. Most attacks have been in the insurgency-plagued southern provinces.

It was not clear if the arsonists in the Herat attack were linked to Taliban fighters.

Communications experts say the U.S. military can use satellites and other means to pick up mobile phone signals. The Taliban rely on mobile phones to communicate and coordinate their operations.

Mobile phones were introduced in Afghanistan after the fall of the Taliban in 2001. They have become the principal means of communication and one of the fastest-growing and most profitable sectors in the country's economy.
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Taleban threat hits Afghan phones 
By Sanjoy Majumder BBC News, Kabul  Wednesday, 12 March 2008, 12:23 GMT 
Afghan mobile phone companies have begun switching off their signals at night in parts of the restive south after several attacks by the Taleban.

Ten mobile phone masts were attacked in recent weeks, the latest on Tuesday night, the Afghan government says.

Last month the Taleban threatened the companies, alleging that the networks were being used by Afghan and Nato troops to target them.

Mobile phones are the only form of communication for many Afghans.

They were introduced to the country in 2001, after the fall of the Taleban.

The latest attack took place on Tuesday night, when a mobile phone tower was set on fire in the western province of Herat.

Since a threat by the Taleban last month to target the towers unless the phone companies switched off their signals at night, 10 such facilities have been attacked, six of them completely destroyed.

Government 'concern'

Afghanistan has four mobile phone companies, all privately owned, and they now appear to have begun complying.

In two southern provinces, Zabul and Ghazni, the phone networks have stopped working between five in the evening and seven in the morning.

The deputy police chief in Ghazni, Mohammad Zaman, said this was the result of the Taleban's warning.

"We will persuade the companies to turn the signals back on again," he said.

Similar reports have come in from several districts in four other southern provinces, including Kandahar and Helmand, which are both Taleban strongholds.

The phone companies have refused to speak on the issue but a spokesman for the telecommunications ministry, Abdul Hadi Hadi, told the BBC that the government had asked them to resist the Taleban pressure.

"We are concerned because the mobile phone companies had promised us that they would not bow before the Taleban demand," Mr Hadi said.

Mobile phones are the only way most Afghans are able to communicate, especially in remote areas where they are used to summon medical help or contact relatives.

Many Afghans living in the affected areas are now complaining that they are being inconvenienced and are also feeling insecure.
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Afghan doctors' strike called off
Wednesday, 12 March 2008, 13:35 GMT BBC News
Doctors in the Afghan province of Herat have called off a strike in which they were demanding better security.

They made their decision after negotiations with a team sent by President Karzai to Herat to resolve the dispute.

The strike was started by medical staff in protest against a recent rise in attacks on staff and their families.

The central hospital in Herat came to a standstill and pharmacies and private clinics were also closed.

On Tuesday, shops and factories in Herat joined the protest.

Inconvenience

Correspondents say that public pressure was mounting on the doctors because many patients were not being treated at hospitals or clinics.

Community and tribal elders, parliamentarians and clerics urged them to call it off because of the inconvenience caused.

On Monday, the government threatened the striking doctors with legal action if they did not return to work.

Several hundred doctors and medical workers went on strike on Saturday in protest at a recent rise in the number of attacks on medical staff and their families. They were also demanding improvements in the overall security situation.

Last week the son of a local doctor in Herat was kidnapped.

He was the latest in a number of doctors or doctors' relatives to have been abducted over the past year.

Kidnappers are reported to have demanded $300,000 (£149,000) for his release.

The strike hit medical services in the area hard, paralysing Herat's main hospital and leading to the closure of local pharmacies and private clinics.

Herat city is an important regional centre and people travel there from surrounding districts and neighbouring provinces.

It is not clear who is behind the wave of kidnappings aimed at doctors and their families.
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Afghan president to address major Islamic summit
Wed Mar 12, 4:58 AM ET
KABUL (AFP) - Afghan President Hamid Karzai travelled Wednesday to Senegal, where he is due to address a summit of the Organisation of the Islamic Conference and meet heads of state, his office said.

Karzai was accompanied by his foreign minister, Rangeen Dadfar Spanta, and other officials, the president's office said in a statement.

He would address the summit, which begins Friday, on Afghanistan's progress and challenges and explain the country's position on "issues of major importance to Muslims around the world."

His trip comes after days of protests in major Afghan towns against Danish cartoons said to insult the Prophet Mohammed and a Dutch film due to be released this month that is described as "anti-Koran."

In Dakar, Karzai would also meet some heads of state for talks on expanding bilateral relations, his office said.

His government is reliant on international aid as it battles an insurgency led by the extremist Islamic Taliban movement, which held power between 1996 and 2001.

A 40-nation military force led by NATO is helping the government fight the insurgents and assert its authority in far-flung areas where rule of law is tenuous.

Three of the countries in the ISAF force -- Albania, Jordan and Turkey -- are members of the 57-nation OIC, the world's largest pan-Islamic group.
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Afghanistan: Al-Qaeda Bloggers' Sparring With Taliban Could Signal Key Differences
By Ron Synovitz Radio Free Europe: Radio Library
An Internet-fueled squabble between Taliban leaders and influential Al-Qaeda sympathizers over nonviolent tactics and foreign influence in Afghanistan hints at deep disagreements that could alter counterinsurgency efforts in that country.

Islamic extremists who regularly post messages to a pro-Al-Qaeda website in Egypt are accusing Afghanistan's Taliban of straying from the path of global jihad. Prominent Taliban have responded by lashing back with criticism of their own.

The development suggests a rift is emerging between the Taliban leadership and religious extremists in the Arab world -- including the Al-Qaeda network that the Taliban had hosted in Afghanistan while it planned the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks in the United States.

Such a break could affect Afghan government efforts to convince Taliban fighters to lay down their weapons and peacefully resolve their differences with officials, which could in turn influence whether non-Afghan Al-Qaeda fighters continue to be welcomed among the Taliban.

Internet criticisms of the Taliban follow a February statement from Taliban leader Mullah Mohammad Omar announcing that his movement wants to maintain positive and "legitimate" relations with countries neighboring Afghanistan.

Mullah Omar, who heads a Taliban leadership council that was purportedly formed in 2003, also has said that the Taliban is exploring the possibility of holding peace negotiations with Afghan President Hamid Karzai's government.

"We want to have legitimate relations with all countries of the world," Mullah Omar's statement said. "We are not a threat to anyone. America believes that the Taliban is a threat to the whole world. And with this propaganda, America wants to use all other countries to advance their own interests."

Pro-Al-Qaeda bloggers who were angered by Mullah Omar's statement were further outraged in early March when the Taliban expressed solidarity with Iran by condemning the latest round of sanctions imposed on Tehran by the UN Security Council over its nuclear activities.

'Nationalist Trend'

Anyone with a password can post messages to the Al-Qaeda linked website. But some of the harshest remarks about the Taliban leadership have come from writers who are labeled as among the most influential on the website.

One of those bloggers -- who calls himself "Miskeen" or "The Wretched" -- responded to the Taliban declaration on Iran by writing: "This is the worst statement I have ever read.... [T]he disaster of defending the [Iranian] regime is on par with the Crusaders in Afghanistan and Iraq."

"Miskeen" also wrote that a "nationalist trend" appears to be penetrating the Taliban. Other pro Al-Qaeda bloggers have called for Al-Qaeda leaders Osama bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahri to censure the Taliban over their recent statements.

But the Taliban's former ambassador to Pakistan -- Mullah Salam Zaief -- tells RFE/RL's Radio Free Afghanistan that the bloggers have no understanding of the topic.

"Somebody who is speaking from Egypt really doesn't have knowledge of the exact situation on the ground in Afghanistan," Zaief says. "He doesn't even convey the policies of the whole organization [of Al-Qaeda]."

"The conflict in Afghanistan doesn't mean [the Taliban] has to confront the world," Zaief continues. "Afghans are very tired of war. They want their homeland. They want peace in their country. They want independence. Whether they are Taliban or other Afghans, I don't think either wants to confront the entire international community. The Taliban doesn't want to rule the world."

A Path To Talks?

Independent analysts link the Taliban's quest for international legitimacy to the possibility of future negotiations with Karzai's government.

Karzai said in September that he was ready to negotiate with the Taliban, including Mullah Omar himself, in order to put an end to the Afghan insurgency. In December, U.S. Ambassador to Afghanistan William Wood said he would support reconciliation talks -- with some conditions.

One of the main sticking points for negotiations between Kabul and the Taliban appears to be the fate of Al-Qaeda. Formal negotiations could lead to the expulsion of Al-Qaeda fighters from Afghanistan if they did not commit themselves to supporting Karzai's government.

When asked what the Taliban thinks about Al-Qaeda extremists trying to dictate Taliban policies in Afghanistan, Zaief said foreign extremists are more interested in their own benefit than what is good for Afghans.

"I think every Afghan now has the experience that with intolerance toward each other -- if people do not live in peace and harmony with each other -- the bloodshed and devastation will continue for a long time," Zaief said. "Nobody has the right to ignore the importance of stability in Afghanistan. They should at least not be making such irresponsible comments. [The Al-Qaeda bloggers] were raising the question of the foreign-troop presence in Afghanistan. But now, I think Afghans have to tolerate the presence of foreign troops in the country because they have no other option."

Although Zaief lives in Kabul and his location is known by Karzai's government, he is still considered a prominent member of the Taliban whose views reflect those of the Taliban leadership. But his remarks about the need for Afghans to tolerate the presence of foreign troops were not supported by a Taliban statement on the issue released on March 11.

That statement says the Taliban's fight is aimed only at driving U.S.-led coalition forces from Afghanistan. It calls on U.S. allies to withdraw their troops from Afghanistan. It also calls on Afghanistan's former mujahedin factions to help the Taliban drive U.S. troops from the country.

Leaders of some of those mujahedin factions helped U.S. forces drive the Taliban regime from Kabul in late 2001 and now hold positions within Karzai's cabinet or are prominent members of the Afghan parliament.

RFE/RL's Radio Free Afghanistan contributed to this report from Kabul and Prague
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South Asia: Pakistani Appointee Vows To Do Good By Afghanistan
By Abubakar Siddique Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty March 12, 2008
The Pakistani government's selection to serve as chief minister for restive western tribal areas has stressed the need to "restore peace and security" in the Pashtun-dominated area and foster good relations with neighboring Afghanistan.

Amir Haider Khan Hoti, who heads Pakistan's secular Pashtun nationalist Awami National Party (ANP), also warned in an exclusive interview with RFE/RL's Radio Free Afghanistan of a growing Taliban and Al-Qaeda insurgency.

"We need stable, friendly, and cordial relations with Afghanistan," Hoti said. "Pakistan needs peace and stability in Afghanistan, and Afghanistan needs a stable and friendly Pakistan."

The U.S. intelligence community and Afghan central government have repeatedly asserted that Islamist radicals are exporting terror from hiding places in lawless regions of western Pakistan, particularly the Northwest Frontier Province (NWFP) where Hoti's responsibilities will lie.

Embattled Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf has acknowledged that Islamic extremists pose a threat and has led sporadic efforts to root out militants and firebrand clerics who foment violence.

"Our priorities are clear. We first want to move toward peace through negotiations, jirgas (tribal councils), and dialogues," Hoti said. "God willing, we will learn from [failed talks and jirgas in the past] and will try not to repeat the same mistakes. We will try to take into confidence our people, our tribal elders, and our [clerics] -- and, together with them, we will try to move toward peace through negotiations."

He said such consultations had already begun in the district of Swat, a hotbed of tension and violence near the Afghan border where reports have stoked fears of increased Taliban influence.

Hoti outlined a need for reforms amid long-standing disappointment among NWFP residents, who have historically kept central authorities at arm's length and suffered economically.

"We definitely need change in that region, because these regions have been run under a [draconian] legal regime since the British [colonial rule in the 19th century]," Hoti said. "That system has alienated and disappointed our brothers living in those regions. We will try our best to bring economic and political reforms to those regions so that the lives of people can improve. Reforms there are a must."
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AFGHANISTAN: UN Secretary-General warns of threats to "still fragile" country
KABUL, 12 March 2008 (IRIN) - More than six years after the ousting of the Taliban, violence and insurgency have intensified, and the scale of international support has also grown in Afghanistan, the UN Secretary-General, Ban Ki-moon, said in a report to the Security Council.

"To meet the security challenge and stabilise Afghanistan, a common approach is needed that integrates security, governance, rule of law, human rights and social and economic development," said the report entitled The situation in Afghanistan and its implications for international peace and security [http://www.reliefweb.int/rw/rwb.nsf/db900sid/ASAZ-7CLHWP/$File/full_report.pdf], released on 10 March.

Ban praised progress made in the past few years in the war-torn country but warned that Taliban insurgents, narcotics and poor governance represent serious threats to "still fragile" Afghan institutions.

The Afghan government has denied assertions by Mike McConnell, USA's director of National Intelligence, that Taliban insurgents control about 10 percent of Afghanistan's territory. McConnell told a Senate Armed Services Committee on 28 February [http://edition.cnn.com/2008/POLITICS/02/27/afghan.assessment/] the Afghan government effectively controls only 30 percent of the country.

In his report the UN Secretary-General said that out of Afghanistan's 376 districts at least 36 - in the east, southeast and south - are inaccessible to Afghan officials.

"Owing to insecure conditions, United Nations agencies are unable to operate in 78 districts in the south of the country," the report said. "United Nations road missions to almost all districts in the south have been suspended for several months," it said.

Aleem Siddique, a spokesman for the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) in Kabul, told IRIN the UN would work closely with the Afghan government to get access to all areas of the country in 2008.

Attacks on aid workers

Ban Ki-moon voiced particular concern about increasing attacks on local and international humanitarian workers.

In over 130 separate attacks on humanitarian workers 40 were killed and 89 abducted in 2007, of whom seven were later killed by their captors, Ban told the Security Council.

Over 8,000 killed in 2007

Armed conflicts between the Taliban and Afghan and international forces left over 8,000 people dead in 2007, of whom at least 1,500 were civilians, according to the UN.

Insurgency-related violence reached unprecedented levels in 2007 with an average of 566 incidents recorded per month, and 160 "actual suicide attacks" throughout the year, according to the report. However, the deadliest security breach in the past six years happened on 17 February 2008 in Kandahar Province when more than 67 people were killed in a single blast.

While Taliban insurgents are widely blamed for their disregard of civilian safety and systematic violations of the Geneva Conventions and international humanitarian law, many non-combatant Afghans also died in aerial bombardments and military operations conducted by US and NATO forces.

The UN and other aid organisations have repeatedly called on all warring parties in Afghanistan to avoid attacks on civilians and aid workers and ensure humanitarian access to all parts of the country.
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Manley defends call for 1,000 more soldiers
Number is a bare minimum, panel leader explains, as separate report says mission will run $1-billion over budget this year
STEVEN CHASE With a report from The Canadian Press March 12, 2008
OTTAWA -- One thousand more combat troops in Kandahar is just the minimum soldiering help that Canada needs from NATO allies in order to remain in deadly southern Afghanistan, John Manley told MPs yesterday.

The Tory government also scrambled yesterday to explain a report that the Afghanistan mission will run $1-billion over budget this fiscal year.

The government did not deny the budget blowout for 2007-08 reported in Montreal's La Presse newspaper. It simply warned that the $1-billion was based on preliminary estimates that cannot be confirmed until after the end of the fiscal year later this month.

Documents obtained under the Access to Information Act indicate the mission has cost Canadian taxpayers at least $7.5-billion since 2001 - double what was budgeted. The documents say the mission cost $538-million more than expected over the first six months of the current fiscal year, and is projected to overshoot its budget by another $539-million by March 31.

Mr. Manley, a former Liberal deputy prime minister, had been recalled by MPs to answer more questions about the influential February report tabled by his panel, including how it came up with a recommendation that 1,000 more NATO troops are needed to help the Canadians in Kandahar.

Mr. Manley said the recommendation that Canada ask NATO for a battle group of at least 1,000 was based on advice from General Rick Hillier, Chief of the Defence Staff, and Brigadier-General Guy Laroche, the ground commander of Canadian troops last fall.

"In our report we recommended that should be the minimum," Mr. Manley, the head of the independent panel that examined Canada's future mission in Afghanistan, told the Commons foreign-affairs committee yesterday.

"Obviously if there were more, that would make it that much more likely that the mission could succeed," Mr. Manley told reporters later.The figure has come under heavy scrutiny because other military leaders and agencies such as the Senlis Council have said far more soldiers are needed. The Senlis Council called for a doubling of North Atlantic Treaty Organization troop strength in Afghanistan, and one Canadian commander last month said Canada needs as many as 5,000 professional soldiers, double its current force, to hold Kandahar's key districts.

As Parliament prepares to vote on a Conservative motion to extend Canada's combat mission in Afghanistan tomorrow, Mr. Manley acknowledged extra soldiering work alone won't cut it. He said the fight for the hearts and minds of Afghans will take stronger development work and diplomacy too, but stressed that these efforts need to be buttressed by a sizable military commitment.

"We can't win it militarily. [But] we could lose it militarily, however," he told MPs.

"So we can't send the Salvation Army in. We've got to send the Canadian army in and they've got to be equipped and capable and able to do the job, but if that's all we do ... this will not end happily."

The Harper government has adopted the Manley panel's recommendation and signalled that it will not renew its deployment past 2009 unless other NATO allies come up with 1,000 troops.

Yesterday when asked about the cost overrun of the Afghan mission, Defence Minister Peter MacKay said the 2007-08 projection wasn't "necessarily accurate."

"That's based on a number of assessments that really are speculating right now on what the final costs are going to be over a full year," he said.
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Afghan war trend worse than Iraq: U.S. trainer
By Mark Trevelyan, Security Correspondent Wednesday, March 12, 2008; 11:25 AM
STOCKHOLM (Reuters) - The tide of the war in Afghanistan is running against the United States and its allies, in contrast to an improving trend in Iraq, a U.S. military official and counter-insurgency expert said on Wednesday.

"Afghanistan (is) in my eyes an under-resourced war, a war that needs a whole lot more advisers, a whole lot more economic aid," Lieutenant Colonel John Nagl told a security conference in Stockholm.

"This war is the war I'm concerned about, a war in which the United States very much needs the help of our friends."

Nagl commands the 1st battalion of the 34th armored regiment at Fort Riley, Kansas, training U.S. transition teams that embed with Iraqi and Afghan security forces.

He was part of the writing team that produced the U.S. military's manual on counter-insurgency, which is credited with transforming its approach to both conflicts with a new emphasis on winning over local populations and marginalizing insurgents.

Speaking to reporters, he drew a sharp contrast between developments in the two countries.

"My analysis is that al Qaeda in Iraq has essentially been defeated. That doesn't mean they can't come back but they really played their cards enormously poorly, I think," Nagl said.

He said the turning of Sunni tribal leaders against al Qaeda, and the merging of their militia into government security forces, were important signs of progress.

MOMENTUM MATTERS

"The trends are moving in our direction, and momentum matters in a counter-insurgency campaign because it's ultimately a struggle for the support of the people and the people can sense which way the tide is going," Nagl said.

In Afghanistan, he said, "the trends are not in the right direction. The number of suicide attacks was up dramatically in 2007, 2007 was a record year for opium production (which) obviously funds the larger Pashto-based insurgency."

Afghanistan has faced rising violence in the past two years, the bloodiest period since U.S.-led and Afghan forces overthrew the Taliban government in late 2001.

Washington is pressing reluctant European allies to do more to help combat 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. More than 50,000 foreign troops are stationed in Afghanistan, but the United States alone has more than three times that number in Iraq.

Nagl listed a catalogue of challenges in Afghanistan, including its harsh climate and terrain, its lack of centralized government in the past 30 years, the destruction of roads and other basic infrastructure, and the state of its army.

"I've worked with the Afghan security forces a little bit. I find them to be diligent and dedicated and trainable (but) not particularly well educated ... The Iraqi security forces are far more advanced than are the Afghans," he said.

"The Taliban did extraordinarily harmful things to the intelligentsia of the country. The people you need to run a country no longer exist."
(Editing by Myra MacDonald)
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Afghanistan's soaring drug trade hits home
It faces one of the world's fastest rising rates of drug use.
By ANAND GOPAL | Contributor to The Christian Science Monitor
KABUL, AFghANISTAN-Muhammad Nasir lives with 70 drug users on the outskirts of town. His home is an abandoned building sitting amid a mass of toppled concrete. This field of rubble is one of the most dangerous, least visited parts of Kabul police say two people were killed here just weeks ago. Inside what used to be a Russian cinema house, Mr. Nasir and others sleep in flour sacks and smoke.

"I use a gram of opium a day. I don't have the money to get new clothes so that I can get a job," says Nasir, pointing to his filthy tunic and torn sandals.

Afghanistan's notorious, soaring drug trade is hitting home. The country now has one of the world's sharpest rising rates of drug use, especially in the cities. With few antidrug programs and many of those poorly funded aid agencies say drug abuse is now the fastest-growing social problem in the country.

There are twice as many heroin users on the streets of Kabul than just four years ago, says Mohammed Zafar, an official at the Ministry of Counter Narcotics.

The opium capital of the world, Afghanistan is responsible for 92 percent of global output. Each year, the country produces about $4 billion worth, or 53 percent of gross domestic product, making drug production easily Afghanistan's most lucrative industry, according to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC).

About 1 million of Afghanistan's 34 million people are drug users, and the majority of these live in the country's principal cities, UNODC estimates.

"When people cultivate poppies, they don't wash their hands, and they feed their children with these hands," says Zalmai Afzari, spokesperson for the Afghan Ministry of Counter Narcotics.

The majority of the addicts are men who have returned after spending years as refugees in Iran, which has one of the world's highest addiction rates.

"The returned refugees, who started using in Iran, have come back to a difficult situation," says Jehanzeb Khan, head of the UNODC's Afghan Drug Demand Reduction Program. "They return home to face uncertainty, post-traumatic stress, joblessness, and growing availability because of increased drug production."

Many addicts turn to begging and petty crime to support their habit. "Most of us here steal to get by," Nasir says. Areas frequented by addicts are now largely avoided, and experts worry that the large population of drug users is vulnerable and dangerous. "When someone is drug dependent and has no money, anyone can buy him," says Mr. Khan. "They are vulnerable to insurgents, petty criminals."

For Nasir and his friends, the lack of state funds Kabul has only one state-funded treatment clinic and an unstable economy offer little hope. "I want to stop using," says Nasir. "But we need help from the government. We need a place to sleep, and we need a hospital."

Just down the road, hidden in a muddy alley off the highway, the Nejat Center is trying to provide just that. In a tiny room on the center's second floor sit about a dozen men, bone-thin from years of heroin use and with heads cleanly shaven as a mark of their patient status.

Rachman Farouk started using when he was in Iran. "By the time I came back to Kabul, I was addicted," he says. "After seeing my children suffer, I knew that I had to get better, so I came here."

"We take people in from the streets, give them a hot shower, new clothes, and cup of tea," says Tariq Suliman, the center's director.

The staff gives a three-week course to all patients on drug awareness, teaching patients the root causes of addiction and coaxing them to confront their problem. In the subsequent two weeks, doctors administer treatments, and the staff assigns a social worker to follow up with every successful case for up to one year.

Dr. Suliman founded the Nejat Center in Pakistan in 1991, after witnessing the effects of drug addiction on Afghan refugees there. He helped establish the center in Kabul following the fall of the Taliban.

While the Nejat Center is a boon to those who come, a dearth of funds and clinics means very few of Kabul's addicts get help. "We only have twenty beds," says Suliman. "Most people who come here for treatment have to sleep in the street or at the mosque. Only about 100 of Kabul's 50,000 addiction cases are receiving treatment."

Like many other clinics in the country, Nejat relies on foreign donors. Although some funds come through US-government related programs, Washington's supply-side reduction policy pressing the Afghan government to spray opium fields and coaxing farmers to plant alternative crops means that nonprofits and the UN bear the brunt of funding Kabul's clinics.

But without more government support, extensive treatment programs are difficult.

With few job prospects in this war-torn nation, experts worry that the underlying causes of addiction are going untreated.

This is a top concern of Ibrahim Mankhel, a graduate of Nejat's program after 12 years of drug abuse. "I now have a family. I have three children so I need a job to support them," he says. "I just hope there are jobs available."
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Afghan detainee to appear in Gitmo court
By MICHAEL MELIA, Associated Press Writer Wed Mar 12, 5:37 AM ET
GUANTANAMO BAY NAVAL BASE, Cuba - Former Army Sgt. 1st Class Christopher Martin says an Afghan who allegedly wounded him, another soldier and an interpreter in a grenade attack in Kabul should never be let out of U.S. military custody.

More than five years after the attack on a crowded street in the Afghan capital, suspected assailant Mohammed Jawad faces an arraignment before a war-crimes tribunal on Wednesday, marking one of the first tests for America's first war-crimes tribunals since the World War II era.

Even if Jawad goes to trial and is found innocent, Martin may still get his wish. The U.S. military retains the right to hold indefinitely those considered to pose a threat to the United States even those who have been cleared of charges at Guantanamo's "military commissions."

In past appearances before military panels, Jawad has acknowledged being at the scene of the attack but denied throwing the grenade. Defense attorneys could not be reached for comment.

Martin, a National Guard soldier, arrived in Afghanistan in October 2002 with a Special Forces unit assigned to train a new national army. As the sun dipped toward the mountains west of Kabul on Dec. 17, he and Army Sgt. 1st Class Michael Lyons were moving slowly in a jeep amid a stream of cars, trucks and ox carts, with Lyons driving and Martin in the front passenger seat. Their interpreter was in the back seat.

A grenade suddenly came in through the rear window, which was missing its glass, and landed at the soldiers' feet.

It exploded, engulfing the jeep in flames and sending shrapnel into the two Americans. The translator, who was in the back seat, was only slightly wounded.

In a telephone interview, Martin said the grenade was homemade, and that a regular grenade would likely have killed him.

Martin commandeered a taxi and he and bystanders moved Lyons from the jeep. Before leaving to seek first aid, Martin saw two Afghan policemen in the crowd grab a teenager in a robe. He was carrying two other grenades.

"It is believed that he was going to finish us off with the other two," Martin said.

Martin has no doubt that Jawad needs to be locked up, even though the detainee has insisted he is innocent.

"He's not going to stop. This is his way of life," Martin said from Long Beach, Calif., where he works as a police officer. "He's in our custody and that's where I think he should stay."

The attack left Martin with broken bones in both feet, a punctured ear drum and an eye injury that has required a half dozen surgeries. He resumed working for the Long Beach police after more than 18 months of rehabilitation, but still has a limp from nerve damage in a leg.

Lyons returned to active-duty service after recovering from injuries to the lower half of his body, Martin said.

Jawad, who was 16 or 17 his age is uncertain when he was arrested, faces a maximum sentence of life in prison if convicted on charges of attempted murder and intentionally causing serious bodily injury.

U.S. officials contend the alleged attack is a war crime because Jawad was an "enemy combatant" who was not part of a regular fighting force.

The U.S. military plans to prosecute about 80 of the roughly 275 prisoners held at this U.S. base in southeast Cuba on suspicion of links to al-Qaida or the Taliban. So far, roughly a dozen have been charged and none of the cases has gone to trial.
____
Associated Press writer Ben Fox contributed to this report from San Juan, Puerto Rico.
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Canadian soldier found dead at Afghanistan's Kandahar base
Tue Mar 11, 8:46 PM ET
OTTAWA (AFP) - A 22-year-old Canadian soldier was found dead Tuesday at Kandahar military base in southern Afghanistan, the Defence Ministry, adding that "enemy action" was was not the cause of death.

It was the 80th fatality suffered by the 2,500-strong Canadian contingent since it joined the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) in Afghanistan in 2002. A Canadian diplomat also lost his life.

Jeremie Ouellet was found inside his room at the base Tuesday afternoon, the ministry said, adding that an investigation was "ongoing to establish the circumstances surrounding this tragedy."

"No further details are available at this time, although enemy action has been ruled out," the statement added.

The tragedy comes two days ahead of parliament's expected vote Thursday on whether to extend Canada's mission in Afghanistan to 2011.

Canada plans to end the mandate of its troops in 2011 but has threatened to leave in a year if helicopters, drones and reinforcements do not arrive soon.
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Mixed US rights reviews for Afghanistan and Pakistan
Tue Mar 11, 7:10 PM ET
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Pakistan and Afghanistan, important but struggling U.S. allies in fighting Islamist militants, received mixed reviews in a U.S. State Department review of worldwide human rights conditions last year.

Pakistan and Afghanistan share a long and often lawless border that has provided al Qaeda and affiliated Taliban fighters refuge from which they stage suicide bombings and other attacks on the two Muslim South Asian countries.

Pakistan was engulfed in political turmoil late last year as President Pervez Musharraf sacked judges, suspended courts and detained lawyers and opposition leaders during some six weeks of emergency rule.

"Despite President Musharraf's stated commitment to democratic transition, Pakistan's human rights situation deteriorated during much of 2007," said the annual report released on Tuesday.

"At the end of the year, there still were 11 suspended judges and three lawyers under house arrest, and media outlets were required to sign a code of conduct that prohibited criticism of the government in order to operate," it said.

The report did not cover Pakistan developments since the end of last year, including February elections which were won by opponents of Musharraf, a former army chief. The opposition parties have agreed to form a government and have vowed to reverse Musharraf's dismissal of the top judges.

The State Department said Afghanistan had made "important progress" since the draconian Taliban were deposed after a U.S. military invasion in 2001.

The Taliban, which hosted Osama bin Laden and al Qaeda when they launched the September 11 attacks, have regrouped in parts of the country and continue to confront a fledgling Afghan army that is backed by some 50,000 NATO and U.S. troops.

"Afghanistan's human rights record remained poor due to a deadly insurgency, weak governmental and traditional institutions, corruption and drug trafficking, and the country's two-and-a-half decades of conflict," said the report.

The insurgency caused more than 6,500 deaths from suicide attacks, roadside bombs, and combat-related violence last year, in a dramatic increase from 2006, it said.

"Abuses by national security forces continued, including extrajudicial killings, arbitrary arrest and detention, official impunity, and torture," said the report.

However, the report said the Afghan government was working to extend its rule to more of the country and to professionalize its army and police. To curb abuses, rights training had been introduced for soldiers and police, it said.
(Reporting by Paul Eckert; editing by Mohammad Zargham)
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Fans embrace, clerics condemn TV's "Afghan Star"
By Hamid Shalizi Tue Mar 11, 9:24 PM ET
KABUL, Afghanistan (Reuters) - Hundreds of fans clamored on Tuesday to catch a glimpse of their favorite finalists from the TV show "Afghan Star," Afghanistan's version of "American Idol," which is watched by millions but condemned by Islamic clerics as immoral.

The finalists, two men and for the first time a woman, will appear in Friday's competition, where one will be eliminated before the last show to decide the winner a week later.

Kabul's Islamic council of clerics has branded the show un-Islamic and demanded it be taken off the air.

"'Afghan Star' encourages immorality among the people and is against Sharia law," the council said earlier this year.

But the few hundred young Afghan men and women seemed to care little as they banged on the gates of an office in Kabul where the three finalists gave a short news conference before signing autographs.

"I am dying to see and get the signature of my favorite star," said Natasha, a young girl waiting to get in. "It is a golden chance for fans, especially girls to meet their beloved stars."

Groups of fans competed with one another to chant the names of their favorites.

Such scenes would have been impossible a few years ago in the conservative and devoutly Islamic country. The Taliban, ousted in 2001 for failing to hand over al Qaeda leaders behind the September 11 attacks, banned both music and television.

ETHNIC SPLIT
Most controversial is the appearance of a woman in the final three of "Afghan Star," now in its third season.

Contestant Lima Sahar is a Pashtun, the ethnic group which forms the backbone of Taliban support, and she is also from the southern city of Kandahar, the movement's main former stronghold.

Most women in the south of Afghanistan seldom venture outdoors, and when they dare, they do so dressed only in the all-enveloping blue burqa.

The raunchy dance routines of would-be Western stars are absent in her act. Instead, Sahar sways only imperceptibly as she sings Pashtun oldies, her face under heavy make-up and headscarf loosely hung over a bundle of glittered hair.

But even appearing on the show can cause problems.

"Singing brought changes and recognition to my life," Sahar told the news conference. Asked if she feared returning to Kandahar, she said: "I represent national unity and don't see any problem."

Many have questioned how Sahar could have gotten so far given her less-than-perfect singing voice. Viewers vote by text message and have eliminated hundreds of hopefuls from around the war-torn country to get to the final three.

Voting appears to have followed ethnic lines with the finalists representing Afghanistan's three biggest ethnic groups; Sahar the majority Pashtuns, Rafi Nabzada the Tajiks of the north and Hamed Sakhizada, the Shi'ite Hazara minority.

Opinion is divided on whether Sahar is picking up votes from fellow Pahstuns, women or young men.

"There were many other eliminated stars who sing much better than Lima Sahar," said a young man outside the news conference.
Reuters/Nielsen
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U.S. admiral leading wars in Iraq, Afghanistan resigns amid talk of war in Iran
PAUL KORING From Wednesday's Globe and Mail March 12, 2008 at 6:36 AM EDT
WASHINGTON The top U.S. military commander running the wars in both Afghanistan and Iraq quit abruptly yesterday after a published report claimed he was fighting off a push by the White House to launch a third war against Iran.

Admiral William Fallon, who headed Central Command, which stretches from the restive Middle East across Iraq and Iran to Afghanistan and Central Asia and is the focus of U.S. President George W. Bush's multifronted war on Islamic extremism, ended a glittering military career in what seemed to be a rift with the President.

"Recent press reports suggesting a disconnect between my views and the President's policy objectives have become a distraction at a critical time and hamper efforts in the Centcom region," said the admiral, who was travelling yesterday in Iraq. His staff issued the statement.

Last week, Esquire published an article that suggested the admiral was making a lonely last stand trying to stave off plans to wipe out Iran's nuclear program with pre-emptive air strikes.

The Esquire article said: "So while Admiral Fallon's boss, President George W. Bush, regularly trash-talks his way to World War III and his administration casually casts Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad as this century's Hitler (a crown it has awarded once before, to deadly effect), it's left to Fallon - and apparently Fallon alone - to argue that, as he told Al Jazeera last fall: 'This constant drumbeat of conflict ... is not helpful and not useful. I expect that there will be no war, and that is what we ought to be working for.' "

It was only the latest in a long series of simmering disputes between the admiral and the administration.

For months, Mr. Bush's hand-picked commander in Iraq, General David Petraeus, has reportedly been at loggerheads with his boss, Adm. Fallon.

Gen. Petraeus wants to keep troops in Iraq, Adm. Fallon wants a rapid drawdown of forces so they can be shifted to Afghanistan, which he reportedly regards as the bigger, longer-term, threat to Western security.

Last month in Ottawa, Adm. Fallon made it clear that he thought those who wanted to pull Canadian troops out of combat and focus instead on aid and reconstructions were misguided and ill-informed.

"You can't say, 'We're going to do this and not this.' You need a comprehensive and co-ordinated approach to this problem," Adm. Fallon said.

But by yesterday, with the cumulative effect of increasingly being seen at odds with the Bush administration, a breaking point was reached. The admiral wanted to quit and neither the White House nor Defence Secretary Robert Gates sought to dissuade him.

"Adm. Fallon reached this difficult decision entirely on his own," Mr. Gates said. "I believe it was the right thing to do, even though I do not believe there are, in fact, significant differences between his views and administration policy."

By quitting, Adm. Fallon might have avoided a battle next month, when Gen. Petraeus is expected to deliver to Congress the long-awaited report on the success, or lack thereof, of the controversial "surge" strategy that sent an additional 30,000 U.S. troops to Iraq to smother spreading sectarian violence.

Gen. Petraeus is expected to argue that the surge is working but that no significant drawdown of troops should occur until next year. That may allow Mr. Bush to claim the war is being won in Iraq but it will also delay any substantial shift of troops to Afghanistan.

Mr. Bush issued a bland statement acknowledging Adm. Fallon's decades of service. As Centcom commander, a job he held for less than a year, "he deserves considerable credit for progress that has been made there, especially in Iraq and Afghanistan," the President said.

Adm. Fallon, 63, a Vietnam veteran and a former vice-chief of naval operations, had a 41-year career in the U.S. Navy.
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