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March 14, 2008 

Canadian troops to stay in Afghanistan
by Michel Comte Fri Mar 14, 2:27 AM ET
OTTAWA (AFP) - Canada's parliament voted on Thursday to extend its 2,500-strong troop deployment in volatile southern Afghanistan to 2011, as long as NATO allies back them up.

Peace group plans protests in 20 cities over extended mission in Afghanistan
By The Canadian Press
TORONTO - A group opposed to a decision to extend Canada's military mission in Afghanistan plans to stage protests in 20 Canadian cities on Saturday.

3 Taliban killed in Afghanistan clash
By NOOR KHAN, Associated Press Writer Fri Mar 14, 6:04 AM ET
KANDAHAR, Afghanistan - Afghan and foreign troops clashed with Taliban insurgents in southern Afghanistan on Friday, leaving three suspected militants dead and two wounded, an official said.

Militants kill 'US spy' in Pakistan: officials
Fri Mar 14, 4:02 AM ET
MIRANSHAH, Pakistan (AFP) - Islamist militants killed a tribesman after accusing him of working as a US spy in a lawless stronghold of Al-Qaeda and Taliban insurgents bordering Afghanistan, officials said Friday.

Bush says if younger, he would work in Afghanistan
By Tabassum Zakaria Thu Mar 13, 5:43 PM ET
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. President George W. Bush got an earful on Thursday about problems and progress in Afghanistan where a war has dragged on for more than six years but been largely eclipsed by Iraq.

Afghan conflict support 'rises'
Friday, 14 March 2008, 15:42 GMT BBC News
Public support for UK military operations in Afghanistan has increased slightly since 2006, a survey suggests.

Gitmo: Afghan Wants to Boycott Trial
Thursday, Mar. 13, 2008 By AP/MICHAEL MELIA Time Magazine
(GUANTANAMO BAY NAVAL BASE, Cuba) An Afghan detainee who was forcibly carried out of his cell after refusing to attend a court hearing Wednesday said that he wants to boycott his trial at Guantanamo Bay and railed against the proceedings as unfair and illegal.

Canada's top UN envoy in Afghanistan to stay on
Canada.com, Canada Matthew Fisher Canwest News Service Thursday, March 13, 2008
KABUL, Afghanistan -The top Canadian with the United Nations in Afghanistan confirmed Thursday he intends to stay on as Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon's special political adviser, working with Kai Eide, the Norwegian

Netherlands, Slovakia call for flexible troops deployment in Afghanistan
www.chinaview.cn  2008-03-14 21:52:34
BRUSSELS, March 14 (Xinhua) -- NATO's deployment in Afghanistan should be more flexible, the Dutch and Slovakian foreign ministers said Thursday.

Ambulance to be donated to Afghanistan
By David Riley/Daily News staff The MetroWest Daily News Mar 14, 2008
It started when a truck hit a little boy on a bicycle and no ambulance came to help.
More than 300,000 people live in Farah, a western province of Afghanistan, but war and Taliban raids have left little or no emergency medical services there.

Afghan children fly back home after operations at Czech clinics
Ceské noviny - Mar 14 12:45 AM
Prague- Three Afghan children who recently underwent an operation of congenital heart defects in the Czech Republic within the Medevac humanitarian programme flew back home aboard a military aircraft today

Ireland pledges aid to clear Afghan, African mines
DUBLIN, March 14, 2008 (AFP) - Ireland pledged 1.8 million euros (3.1 million dollars) on Friday to help with mine clearance in Afghanistan, Angola and Somalia.

Russia throws a wrench in NATO's works
By M K Bhadrakumar Mar 15, 2008  Asia Times Online
For the first time in the 60-year history of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), Russia will attend the alliance's summit meeting on April 2-4 in Bucharest, Romania.

We must put the Afghans first
There's more to Canada's commitment than deploying troops until 2011
LAURYN OATES
Vice-president of Canadian Women for Women in Afgh
March 14, 2008 at 7:28 AM EDT
We are missing the boat on Afghanistan. By focusing debate disproportionately on deploying troops and extending Canada's mission, we have created space for the real spoilers in that country to wreak havoc unimpeded.

Afghanistan clerics upset as woman makes final of 'Pop Idol'
Scotsman, United Kingdom By Jason Straziuso in Kabul, Afghanistan  14 March 2008
IN A first for post-Taleban Afghanistan, a woman has made it to the final three in the country's version of Pop Idol. Lima Sahar, from the conservative Pashtun belt, is up against two male contestants tonight for a place in the final sing-off

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Canadian troops to stay in Afghanistan
by Michel Comte Fri Mar 14, 2:27 AM ET
OTTAWA (AFP) - Canada's parliament voted on Thursday to extend its 2,500-strong troop deployment in volatile southern Afghanistan to 2011, as long as NATO allies back them up.

Lawmakers voted 198 to 77 to keep Canadian battalions in Kandahar for another three years, provided NATO sends 1,000 reinforcements, drones and helicopters to bolster Canada's force now on the ground, as requested.

Otherwise, Canada will withdraw next year at the end of its current mandate.

The outcome of the vote was closely watched by NATO countries, concerned that if Canada rejected an extension of its military mission, an allied exodus of Afghanistan could follow.

And failure in Afghanistan could jeopardize the alliance itself, officials have warned.

"We need one partner ... that will be able to work with us in the south ... without any caveats," Foreign Affairs Minister Maxime Bernier said late Wednesday, describing the next challenge for Canada.

"Who is going to give us troops, who is going to be our partner, I don't know that, but I'm optimistic because it's important for the credibility of the (NATO) organization," he told reporters.

The North Atlantic Treaty Organization meets next in Bucharest, Romania in April.

"I hope that in the coming days or weeks we'll find this partner because at the end (of the day), it's not Canada's need, it's NATO's need," said Bernier. "If we don't succeed in the south we won't be able to succeed in Afghanistan."

Canadian media also reported that the lead Canadian with UN operations in Afghanistan, Christopher Alexander, would stay on as the UN chief's special adviser there.

Canada is battling Taliban and Al-Qaeda fighters in Afghanistan's volatile south as part of the 50,000-strong NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF).

Like a dozen countries represented in the Kandahar and neighboring Helmand provinces, where opium cultivation is flourishing, Canada is taking heavy casualties that are feeding public dissatisfaction at home.

Since 2002, 80 Canadian soldiers and a senior diplomat have died in roadside bombings and in melees with the insurgents.

The main contributors to post-Taliban Afghanistan -- notably Britain and the United States -- have called for more "burden-sharing" in the grueling fight against the rebels.

The United States has already pledged an additional 2,200 soldiers and aircraft to this effort and 1,000 military trainers to help build up the Afghan army to eventually take over security duties, for deployment next month.

NATO chief Jaap de Hoop Scheffer has said that ISAF has swollen by 8,700 soldiers over the past year and he was confident of more support in the coming year.

But, so far, only France and Poland have hinted to Ottawa they may send more help.

Former Liberal deputy prime minister John Manley, who headed a panel of experts who recommended in January that Canada prolong its Afghanistan mission, said Tuesday the 1,000 additional troops called for in the panel's report are only the "minimum" needed.

"Obviously if there were more, that would make it that much more likely that the mission could succeed," he said.

The mission extension itself was opposed by the New Democrat and Bloc Quebecois, egged on by peace activists chanting from the parliamentary public gallery as the vote unfolded: "End it, don't extend it."

Had they succeeded in defeating the motion, Prime Minister Stephen Harper's minority Conservative government would have collapsed and Canada would be plunged into an election as early as April, with uncertain consequences for the mission.

But the main opposition Liberals sided with the government, once its demands to emphasize development and diplomacy over hunting insurgents were met.

"I think it's a bipartisan consensus ... which is a very important signal to come from the parliament of Canada," Defense Minister Peter MacKay declared after the vote. "I know it will be well-received by our NATO allies."

Bernier at his side echoed: "We now have a mission that's not a Conservative or a Liberal mission, but a Canadian mission."

New Democrats leader Jack Layton lamented that MPs had "rejected a road to peace."
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Peace group plans protests in 20 cities over extended mission in Afghanistan
By The Canadian Press
TORONTO - A group opposed to a decision to extend Canada's military mission in Afghanistan plans to stage protests in 20 Canadian cities on Saturday.

Members of Parliament voted 198-77 Thursday to keep Canada's fight in Afghanistan going until 2011.

Sid Lacombe, of the Canadian Peace Alliance, says the "Tory-Liberal alliance will result in 1,388 more days of war in Afghanistan."

Lacombe and other members of the alliance will hold a news conference in Toronto today to call on Canadians to join the protests.

The motion was passed by the Conservative government, with backing from the Liberals while the NDP and Bloc Quebecois were opposed.

To remain in Kandahar, Ottawa has demanded NATO provide a minimum of 1,000 reinforcements, something the United States and other allies have quietly suggested will happen.
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3 Taliban killed in Afghanistan clash
By NOOR KHAN, Associated Press Writer Fri Mar 14, 6:04 AM ET
KANDAHAR, Afghanistan - Afghan and foreign troops clashed with Taliban insurgents in southern Afghanistan on Friday, leaving three suspected militants dead and two wounded, an official said.

Militants ambushed the security forces in Zabul province before troops returned fire, said district chief Mohammad Younus Akhunzada. No troops were hurt but a police vehicle was damaged.

There has been little let up in fighting by supporters of the former Taliban regime. In the first three months of 2007, some 769 people have been killed in insurgency-related violence, including 502 militants, according to figures from Afghan and Western officials tallied by The Associated Press.

Last year was the bloodiest since the 2001 U.S.-led invasion, with more than 8,000 people reported killed in insurgency-related violence, according to the U.N.

In the east, meanwhile, the U.S.-led coalition forces detained 11 suspected insurgents, the coalition said in a statement Friday.

The troops nabbed the militants during a raid and searches of compounds in Tanai district of the eastern Khost province on Wednesday, the coalition said.

The suspects will be questioned for their links to foreign fighters, roadside bomb making and other extremists activities, it said.
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Militants kill 'US spy' in Pakistan: officials
Fri Mar 14, 4:02 AM ET
MIRANSHAH, Pakistan (AFP) - Islamist militants killed a tribesman after accusing him of working as a US spy in a lawless stronghold of Al-Qaeda and Taliban insurgents bordering Afghanistan, officials said Friday.

Rebels shot and then slit the throat of the 30-year-old man in the latest in a series of executions in Pakistan's troubled tribal areas targeting people allegedly working for US and NATO forces across the border.

His body was dumped on a road in Sham, a town between the North and South Waziristan tribal regions, a security official told AFP on condition of anonymity.

"They left a note claiming that he was a US spy and warning that anyone working for the US will suffer the same fate," one official said.

Pakistan has been combating hundreds of Taliban and Al-Qaeda militants who fled over the border from Afghanistan after the US-led invasion in late 2001 that followed the September 11 attacks on the United States.
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Bush says if younger, he would work in Afghanistan
By Tabassum Zakaria Thu Mar 13, 5:43 PM ET
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. President George W. Bush got an earful on Thursday about problems and progress in Afghanistan where a war has dragged on for more than six years but been largely eclipsed by Iraq.

In a videoconference, Bush heard from U.S. military and civilian personnel about the challenges ranging from fighting local government and police corruption to persuading farmers to abandon a lucrative poppy drug trade for other crops.

Bush heard tales of all-night tea drinking sessions to coax local residents into cooperating, and of tribesmen crossing mountains to attend government meetings seen as building blocks for the country's democracy-in-the-making.

"I must say, I'm a little envious," Bush said. "If I were slightly younger and not employed here, I think it would be a fantastic experience to be on the front lines of helping this young democracy succeed."

"It must be exciting for you ... in some ways romantic, in some ways, you know, confronting danger. You're really making history, and thanks," Bush said.

He was told of efforts to reduce support for the Taliban in tribal areas as well as hopeful signs that schools were being built, more health care was reaching remote areas and local government officials were being trained in management.

Critics accuse Bush of focusing on Iraq to the detriment of Afghanistan where the Taliban has persisted in fighting after being ousted from power by the U.S.-led war in 2001 following the September 11 attacks.

NATO SUMMIT
Bush will try to persuade allies at a NATO summit in early April to do more for Afghanistan. He wants international support to reduce violence, boost the economy and provide social services.

"We're obviously analyzing ways to help our NATO allies to be able to step up, and step up more," he said.

Canada has demanded 1,000 more troops from other countries as a condition for remaining in Afghanistan to work near Kandahar where its 2,500-strong force is fighting the Taliban.

"We're mindful of their request, and we want to help them meet that request," Bush said.

NATO has a total of 43,000 troops in Afghanistan. The United States has 29,000 troops in the country, about half of which are part of NATO, and is sending another 3,200 Marines.

The Afghan mission is the toughest ground war faced by the 59-year-old alliance and has led to open differences among allies over tactics and troop levels.

Bush sat at the head of a conference table at the White House with Vice President Dick Cheney, Defense Secretary Robert Gates, Deputy Secretary of State John Negroponte and others.

A Reuters correspondent was permitted to observe the White House exchange that took place with U.S. Ambassador to Afghanistan William Wood and U.S. military and civilian personnel in Kabul.

The videoconference was stopped several times when the sound crackled, diagnosed by technicians as a bad microphone at Kabul's end, which was immediately swapped out for a new one.

"You're looking beautiful but you're not sounding too good," said Bush, who was in charge of the remote control, increasing and lowering the volume at will.

Bush was told that if local governments can provide for their people, they will respond by breaking away from tribal law and the Taliban.

One of the American participants in Kabul said there was a saying in Ghazni: "Taliban begins where the paved road ends."

(Editing by Matt Spetalnick and Howard Goller)
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Afghan conflict support 'rises'
Friday, 14 March 2008, 15:42 GMT BBC News
Public support for UK military operations in Afghanistan has increased slightly since 2006, a survey suggests.

Some 40% questioned in a poll expressed their support, up from 31% in a poll in September 2006. Some 48% opposed UK involvement - down from 53%.

ICM Research surveyed 1,002 adults by phone on 12 and 13 March for the BBC.

Nick Sparrow, of ICM, said rising support was a "surprising movement", but said Prince Harry's deployment to Afghanistan may have boosted support.

He said footage of Prince Harry on the front line in Afghanistan had "brought the war to life".

"That was difficult for the Army to do on its own," he said.

However, he added he could not be absolutely sure about the reasons for rising support.

The survey, conducted for BBC Radio 4's World At One, pointed to increasing support among respondents aged 18 to 34, whereas the views of those aged 65 and above were relatively unchanged.

Reasons for conflict

Respondents were also asked to choose, from a range of options, what they considered to be the main reasons for British troops being in Afghanistan.

Some 63% thought it was to help the Afghans fight the Taleban and 71% saw UK operations as part of the international fight against al-Qaeda.

Some 44% of those surveyed believed troops were sent to the country to stop the flow of drugs.

Joanna Nathan, a Kabul-based analyst for the International Crisis Group think tank, said she believed most Afghans had a positive outlook towards the continued military presence.

She told the BBC people: "The vast majority of Afghans are far more fearful of what would happen if foreign troops left than if they stay."

Those questioned were selected at random from around the country.
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Gitmo: Afghan Wants to Boycott Trial
Thursday, Mar. 13, 2008 By AP/MICHAEL MELIA Time Magazine
(GUANTANAMO BAY NAVAL BASE, Cuba) An Afghan detainee who was forcibly carried out of his cell after refusing to attend a court hearing Wednesday said that he wants to boycott his trial at Guantanamo Bay and railed against the proceedings as unfair and illegal.

Mohammed Jawad, who is accused of throwing a grenade that wounded two U.S. soldiers, remained shackled around the ankles during his first pretrial hearing. The judge, Marine Col. Ralph Kohlmann, warned Jawad that if he does not attend future sessions he could still be tried, convicted and sentenced in absentia.

In combative exchanges with the judge, Jawad said he has been mistreated at Guantanamo Bay where the U.S. military holds about 275 men suspected of links to al-Qaeda and the Taliban and denounced the tribunal system as unjust.

"I am innocent, I want justice and fairness," said Jawad, who spoke through a Pashto translator and asked the judge whether journalists could hear his statements. "Since I was arrested I've been treated unfairly. I have been tortured. I am a human being."

The only specifics he offered were that he's had a "bleeding lip" for more than a year and he said he suffers constant headaches from the bright lights in his prison cell.

Jawad, who wore the orange uniform reserved for the least compliant detainees, later slammed down his translation headphones and put his head down on the table.

He did not enter a plea to charges of attempted murder and intentionally causing serious bodily injury, which carry a maximum sentence of life in prison.

The hearing inside the hilltop courthouse overlooking the Caribbean was delayed more than two and a half hours by Jawad's refusal to attend.

The judge also excused Jawad's Pentagon-appointed defense attorney, Army Col. James Sawyers, who asked to be removed from the case because he is leaving active-duty service. He said the effort to find a replacement could delay bringing the case to trial.

Jawad said he was 16 when he was arrested and did not understand some of the rules the judge explained to him. His attorney said Jawad's outbursts reflected anger that has resulted from five years of confinement with hardly any outside contact.

"I found his conduct today to be appropriate under the circumstances," Sawyers told reporters after the hearing. "Western concepts of justice and court are completely foreign to him."

Jawad is accused of throwing a homemade hand grenade into a jeep carrying two U.S. soldiers and their interpreter in Kabul, the Afghan capital, in 2002. The three were wounded.

In a phone interview, one of those wounded in the attack, former Army Sgt. 1st Class Christopher Martin, said he should never be let out of U.S. military custody.

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."

Martin, a U.S. National Guard soldier, arrived in Afghanistan in October 2002 with a Special Forces unit assigned to train a new national army. Near sunset 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.

Martin said he 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.

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.

The military plans to prosecute about 80 prisoners at this U.S. base in southeast Cuba. So far, 14 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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Canada's top UN envoy in Afghanistan to stay on
Canada.com, Canada Matthew Fisher Canwest News Service Thursday, March 13, 2008
KABUL, Afghanistan -The top Canadian with the United Nations in Afghanistan confirmed Thursday he intends to stay on as Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon's special political adviser, working with Kai Eide, the Norwegian diplomat who last week was named the international community's new super envoy to the war-ravaged country.

"I continue in the job," said Christopher Alexander, who was Canada's first ambassador to Afghanistan from 2003 until 2005 before moving over to the UN as one of its two second-ranking officers here. "I look forward to doing so under Kai Eide."

There has been intense media and political speculation over whether NATO would meet a formal demand Parliament was expected to make Thursday for an additional 1,000 NATO troops to fight alongside a Canadian battle group in Kandahar but Alexander predicted this was not going to be a problem.

"I don't have privileged knowledge, but more troops are pouring into ISAF this year from a number of directions and they are mainly going to the south, where Canada is," the 39-year old diplomat said. "They will meet and exceed the criteria that has been set by Canada. But the exact nature and nationality of these commitments has yet to be decided."

Eide, who has served as his country's ambassador to NATO and as the UN's special envoy to Bosnia-Herzegovina and to Kosovo, comes to Afghanistan to try to bring order to sometimes chaotic international efforts here, amid fears the Taliban has been making gains against the government of President Hamid Karzai.

"I know Kai very well," Alexander said. "He has been travelling here for a long time as what has, in effect been Norway's Afghan envoy. "He is a respected practitioner of the art of integrating diplomatic, development and military missions."

Alexander, who advises Ki-moon on issues such as political affairs, peace and stability, the rule of law and human rights in Afghanistan, said the UN saw an urgent need to sharpen the international focus here.
Among the most important of six priorities for Afghanistan set out by the UN in New York on Wednesday, was "tightening the relationship" between the UN and the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force, Alexander said.

Among the others was a clearly defined agenda of political outreach that was unambiguously endorsed by the Afghan government - delivering governance programs and additional international resources to a civilian campaign plan to complement the military campaign developed by ISAF and Afghan security forces.

Asked about annual claims that success this spring, when the war normally escalates, was crucial if the Taliban was to be defeated, Alexander said: "It's been true every spring. This is not a place where there has ever been room for complacency.

"My sense is that the challenge is less stark militarily, but the political and development challenges are still very substantial. The Afghan government wants and needs to deliver."

One of many serious shortcomings in Afghanistan has been developing a credible anti-narcotics action plan. The production of illicit drugs increased dramatically last year, especially in Helmand and in Kandahar provinces, the UN declared in a recent report.

"As the Canadians know from being in Kandahar, this has been extremely hard to implement," Alexander said, but progress towards a coordinated international and Afghan position on this had finally been made at a recent meeting in Japan.
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Netherlands, Slovakia call for flexible troops deployment in Afghanistan 
www.chinaview.cn  2008-03-14 21:52:34
BRUSSELS, March 14 (Xinhua) -- NATO's deployment in Afghanistan should be more flexible, the Dutch and Slovakian foreign ministers said Thursday.

The two officials called for an end to the current deployment arrangement which confines member states to one operation region.

Dutch Foreign Minister Maxime Verhagen and his Slovakian counterpart Jan Kubis said this would help change the current situation where only a handful of countries operate in the most dangerous regions of Afghanistan, according to the NRC Handelsblad newspaper published Thursday in the Netherlands.

The two ministers believe that the present method, where the country is divided into five regional commands, should be abandoned, and that commanders on the ground should be able to deploy troops anywhere in the country "on their own authority."

At present, the 42 countries taking part in the 43,000-strong NATO-led force in Afghanistan are stationed in five distinct regions.

The Netherlands, Britain, Australia and Canada are deployed in the more volatile south of the country, while other countries such as Germany refuse to station their troops in such dangerous areas because they see their mission as mainly a reconstruction one.

The two ministers said, "In the next two to three years, while Afghanistan's own security forces gain in strength, we will have to let go of our own 'adopted' provinces and focus on the country as a whole."

Leaders of NATO member states will meet in Bucharest in April to discuss military strategy. Verhagen said he will put this matter on the agenda.

A couple of weeks ago, U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates criticized the NATO countries that have refused to provide troops in the south where the fighting against the Taliban is at its heaviest.  
Editor: Song Shutao 
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Ambulance to be donated to Afghanistan
By David Riley/Daily News staff The MetroWest Daily News Mar 14, 2008
It started when a truck hit a little boy on a bicycle and no ambulance came to help.
More than 300,000 people live in Farah, a western province of Afghanistan, but war and Taliban raids have left little or no emergency medical services there.

So when that little boy was hurt, a U.S. Special Forces medic who treated him had nowhere to treat him but the back of a pickup truck.

But that soon will change. That medic, Kevin Paicos, happened to be the town administrator for Ashburnham, a town near the Bay State's New Hampshire border. He appealed for help from home, and MetroWest and Milford-area firefighters are answering that call.

The 23 fire departments that make up Fire District 14, which stretches from Shrewsbury to Wayland and from Acton to Hopedale, agreed to donate a backup ambulance shared among their communities to the people of Afghanistan.

"If it can be used to just save one life, it's going to be well worth the investment," said Southborough Fire Chief John Mauro, chairman of Fire District 14.

Hopkinton Fire Chief Gary Daugherty plans to drive the ambulance to Ashburnham today. Once there, the town's firefighters will give the vehicle a thorough once-over before arranging for it to be flown by military carrier to Afghanistan for civilian rescue service.

"Somebody will benefit from it," said Daugherty, whose son, Staff Sgt. Gary Daugherty Jr., served a year in Afghanistan with the Air Force. "I know how bad it is over there ... (My son) said they're not even telling you the half of it."

Ashburnham Fire Chief Paul Zbikowski said Paicos has been serving in Afghanistan with the Army National Guard since last fall. Town officials have exchanged e-mails with Paicos and asked what he needed, and they previously mailed him candy and Beanie Babies for Afghan children, the chief said.

But after Paicos encountered the boy on the bike, he asked for an ambulance, Zbikowski said. "According to him, the Taliban went through there a couple years ago and just wiped everything out," the chief said.

The chief sent an appeal for a used or surplus vehicle through the Fire Chiefs Association of Massachusetts around November. An early private donation fell through, but District 14 stepped up this winter.

The group shares an ambulance for mutual aid, and each town in the district can use it if its own vehicles are busy or under repair, Mauro said. It was in the process of replacing a nearly 20-year-old vehicle garaged at the district's Northborough headquarters when Paicos' appeal arrived, said Debbie Bent, district coordinator.

Despite its age, the vehicle has been used sparingly, is well-maintained and has low mileage, she said.

"We just thought it would be a nice gesture ... to maybe resurrect it out of the ashes, so to speak, and send it some place where it could get some use," Daugherty said.

The effort was especially appealing because 17 fire department staff from District 14 have served in the military in Iraq and Afghanistan, Bent said.

"I think (the fire chiefs) felt very strongly that they wanted to support the American personnel over there, as well as help the people of Afghanistan," Bent said. "Everything fell into place."

Zbikowski said he worked with state Sen. Stephen Brewer, D-Barre, and Congressman John Olver to contact the Department of Defense, which coordinates a program to send equipment overseas. The details of how and when the ambulance will be sent are still in the works, but it's not as simple as just sending the vehicle overseas - Zbikowski needs to start a program to maintain it.

That may be possible, thanks to two more private donations offered from the MetroWest area, he said.

The Ashburnham Firefighters Association also has asked for donations of medical supplies in hopes of stocking the ambulance with a stretcher, back boards and other necessities before it heads overseas, Zbikowski said.

"My hope is this will be a perpetual type of project we can do to help other people out," Zbikowski said. "It's a nice thing all these folks are doing."
(David Riley can be reached at 508-626-3919 or driley@cnc.com.)
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Afghan children fly back home after operations at Czech clinics
Ceské noviny - Mar 14 12:45 AM
Prague- Three Afghan children who recently underwent an operation of congenital heart defects in the Czech Republic within the Medevac humanitarian programme flew back home aboard a military aircraft today, Barbora Janakova from the Interior Ministry that participates in Medevac told.

Doctors from Prague hospitals chose two boys Dawood, 9, and Shabir, 3, and a girl Azar, 6. After the operations the children were recovering at a clinic in Ricany near Prague.

Czech physicians help Afghan children within the Medevac health programme that is destined for seriously ill people from war-afflicted areas.

Over 100 patients from crisis regions have been treated in the Czech Republic within Medevac since 1993. Besides Afghanistan, they came also from Bosnia and Herzegovina, Chechnya, Iraq, Kosovo and Pakistan.

The Czech government earmarked five million crowns for the continuation of the programme last year.
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Ireland pledges aid to clear Afghan, African mines
DUBLIN, March 14, 2008 (AFP) - Ireland pledged 1.8 million euros (3.1 million dollars) on Friday to help with mine clearance in Afghanistan, Angola and Somalia.

The funding will support the operations of non-governmental organisation the HALO Trust, which has been removing mines and leftover explosive in conflict-affected countries around the world for the last 20 years.

"The extensive presence of mines and explosive remnants of war in Afghanistan, Angola and Somalia is a serious obstacle to rehabilitation and recovery," said Overseas Development Minister Michael Kitt.

"The horrific injuries and deaths caused by mines provoke untold suffering and impede the consolidation of peace," Kitt said. Ireland has supported the work of the HALO Trust since 2000.

It is estimated that landmines and leftover explosives maim or kill up to 20,000 people each year.
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Russia throws a wrench in NATO's works
By M K Bhadrakumar Mar 15, 2008  Asia Times Online
For the first time in the 60-year history of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), Russia will attend the alliance's summit meeting on April 2-4 in Bucharest, Romania.

It is clear that NATO will defer to a future date any decision to put Ukraine and Georgia on its Membership Action Plan. This means effectively that the two former Soviet republics cannot draw closer to NATO for another year at the very least, which in turn implies that the earliest the two countries can realize their membership claim would be in a four-year timeframe.

That is a huge gesture by NATO to Moscow's sensitivities. Conceivably, it clears the decks for what could prove to be a turning point in Russia-NATO relations. Russia may be about to join hands with NATO in Afghanistan. A clearer picture will emerge out of the intensive consultations of the foreign and defense ministers of Russia and the United States within the so-called "2+2" format due to take place in Moscow from Monday through Tuesday next week. From the guarded comments by both sides and the flurry of US diplomatic activity, it appears highly probable that Russia is being brought into the solution of the Afghanistan problem, along with NATO.

According to the Russian newspaper Kommersant and the Financial Times of London, the initiative came from Russia when its new ambassador to NATO, Dmitry Rogozin - erstwhile Russian politician with a controversial record as a staunch Russian nationalist who routinely berated the West - signaled a strong interest in this area at a recent meeting of the NATO-Russia Council at Brussels. The plan involves Russia providing a land corridor for NATO to transport its goods - "non-military materials" - destined for the mission in Afghanistan. Intensive talks have been going on since then over a framework agreement.

From the feverish pace of diplomatic activity, the expectation of the two sides seems to be that an agreement could be formalized at NATO's Bucharest summit. In an interview with German publication Der Spiegel on Monday, Rogozin confirmed this expectation, saying, "We [Russia] support the anti-terror campaign against the Taliban and al-Qaeda. I hope we can manage to reach a series of very important agreements with our Western partners at the Bucharest summit. We will demonstrate that we are ready to contribute to the reconstruction of Afghanistan."

Russian diplomats have been quoted as saying that Moscow is engaged in consultations with the governments of Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan as regards the proposed land corridor to be made available to NATO.

Given the complicated history of Russia-NATO relations, the issue is loaded with geopolitics. Russian President Vladimir Putin hinted as much at a joint press conference with visiting German Chancellor Angela Merkel in Moscow last Saturday. He said, "NATO is already overstepping its limits today. We have no problem to helping Afghanistan, but it is another matter when it is NATO that is providing the assistance. This is a matter beyond the bounds of the North Atlantic, as you are well aware."

Putin also took the opportunity to harshly criticize NATO's expansion plans: "At a time when we no longer have confrontation between two rival systems, the endless expansion of a military and political bloc seems to us not only unnecessary but also harmful and counter-productive. The impression is that attempts are being made to create an organization that would replace the United Nations, but the international community in its entirety is hardly likely to agree to such a structure for our future international relations. I think the potential for conflict would be only set to grow. These are arguments of a philosophical nature. You can agree or disagree."

The implications are obvious. Russia would be willing to cooperate with NATO, but on an equal and comprehensive basis, and, secondly, the sort of selective engagement of Russia by NATO that the US has been advocating will be unacceptable to Moscow. Significantly, Putin frontally questioned the standing of NATO's monopoly of conflict resolution in Afghanistan.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov has also separately signaled Russia's readiness to provide military transit to Afghanistan for NATO provided "an agreement is concluded on all aspects of the Afghan problem between NATO and the Collective Security Treaty Organization [CSTO]". Significantly, Lavrov was speaking immediately after the 7th session of the Russian-French Cooperation Council on Security Issues in Paris on Tuesday. He asserted that "most NATO members, including France", favor Moscow's idea of a NATO-CSTO cooperative framework over Afghanistan. Lavrov all but suggested that Washington was blocking such cooperation between NATO and the Russian-led CSTO.

On the face of it, Washington should jump at the Russian offer of support to the NATO mission in Afghanistan. Pakistan has proved to be an unreliable partner in the "war on terror". The growing political uncertainties in Pakistan put question marks on the wisdom of the US continuing to depend so heavily on Pakistan for ferrying supplies for its troops in Afghanistan.

US military spokesmen are on record as saying that about three fourths of all supplies are currently dispatched to Afghanistan via Pakistan. There are fundamental issues as well, such as the US's continued ability to influence Pakistani politics and, indeed, the evolution of Pakistan's political economy as such in the coming critical period.

The coming to power of the Awami National Party (ANP), an avowedly Pashtun nationalist leftist party, in the sensitive North-West Frontier Province of Pakistan, further complicates political alignments.

ANP leader Amir Haider Khan Hoti bluntly told Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty in an exclusive interview this week, "Our priorities are clear. We first want to move toward peace through negotiations [with the Taliban], jirgas [tribal councils], and dialogue. 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 leaders, and our [clerics] - and together with them, we will try to move toward peace through negotiations."

Hoti didn't speak a word about the "war on terror" or the George W Bush administration's expectations of Pakistani military operations in the tribal areas. It remains a riddle why the Bush administration should have so far kept out of conflict resolution in Afghanistan countries such as Russia and China, whose interests are vitally affected, perhaps even more immediately than the US or European countries. As US statesman Henry Kissinger wrote in an article in the International Herald Tribune on Monday, "A strategic consensus remains imperative ... Pakistan's stability should not be viewed as an exclusively American challenge."

The million-dollar question is whether there is political will on the part of the Bush administration to reach a "strategic consensus" over Afghanistan with Russia at the forthcoming NATO summit. Clearly, Moscow is willing. NATO old-timers such as France and Germany, too, are conscious that the alliance may suffer a defeat in Afghanistan, which would be a catastrophic blow to its standing, and that NATO and Russia after all share the same goals in Afghanistan.

The Kremlin has badly cornered the Bush administration. Taking Russia's help at this critical juncture makes eminent sense for NATO. The alliance is struggling to cope with the war in Afghanistan. By the analogy of Iraq, some observers estimate that a force level close to half a million troops will be required to stabilize Afghanistan, given its size and difficult terrain.

But cooperation with Russia involves NATO embarking on cooperation with CSTO and possibly with the Shanghai Cooperation Organization as well. (Russian ambassador to the United Nations, Vitaly Churkin, addressing the Security Council in New York on Wednesday, proposed that for effectively combating drug trafficking originating from Afghanistan, a system of security rings promoted by Russia in the Central Asian region in recent years would be useful and that the potential of CSTO and SCO should be utilized.)

What worries the US is that any such link up between NATO and CSTO and SCO would undermine its "containment" policy toward Russia (and China), apart from jeopardizing the US global strategy of projecting NATO as a political organization on the world arena.

The most damaging part is that Russia-NATO cooperation will inevitably strengthen Russia's ties with European countries and that, in turn, would weaken the US's trans-Atlantic leadership role in the 21st century.

At the meeting of the foreign ministers of the alliance at Brussels on March 6, French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner urged the NATO Council to "take into account Russia's sensitivity and the important role it plays". Moreover, he argued, relations with Russia are already strained over Kosovo and the US's planned missile defense shield based in Europe, and should not be subjected to further strain. The French newspaper Le Monde quoted him as saying, "We [France] think that EU-Russia relations are absolutely important. And France is not the only country wanting to maintain a relationship with Russia as a great nation." (France is assuming the rotating EU presidency in July.)

Indeed, France is not alone in this respect. Germany also has lately shifted to equidistance between the US and Russia on global security issues and is reaching out once again - reminiscent of the Gerhard Schroeder era - as a strategic partner to Russia in European Union-Russia relations.

Two days after her recent visit to Moscow, Merkel addressed the prestigious forum of the German armed forces' top brass (Kommandeurtagung) in Berlin on Monday, where in the presence of NATO Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer, she brusquely proceeded to bury the proposals on NATO membership of Ukraine and Georgia even ahead of the Bucharest summit.

"Countries that are involved in regional or internal conflicts cannot become members," she said. Merkel added that aspiring countries must ensure that "qualitatively significant" domestic political support would be available for their accession to NATO. Germany has virtually blocked NATO's further expansion into the territories of the former Soviet Union - a declared goal of Russia.

By putting forth a bold blueprint of cooperation with NATO over Afghanistan, Russia has effectively challenged the US to make a choice. It is by no means an easy choice for Washington. How do you deal in the world of tomorrow with a country whose energy exports are close to reaching a milestone of US$1 billion per day? Russia's benchmark Urals crude topped a record of $100 per barrel this week and once it trades at $107.5 per barrel, the daily value of crude, refined products and gas exports will hit $1 billion. And, Russia's 2008 budget is based on an average Urals price of $65 per barrel.

Besides, post-Soviet Russia's influence in Central Asia has peaked even as the first real possibility of the emergence of a "gas OPEC" involving Russia and the Central Asian countries has appeared. This may well outshine all other foreign policy legacies of Russia in the Putin era. Russia has been for long seeking an association of former Soviet gas producers and exporters on the pattern of the oil cartel. Russia and the Central Asian suppliers - Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan - have now agreed that starting in 2009, they will switch to the European price formula.

The move, which bears all the hallmarks of the Kremlin, elevates energy cooperation between Russia and the Central Asian producers to an altogether higher level of coordination and common strategy in foreign markets. The implications are far-reaching for European countries and the US. Russia has checkmated US-sponsored trans-Caspian energy pipeline projects.

Surely, the great shortfall in the Putin legacy has been the failure of his presidency to make Russia a full-fledged partner of Europe. He has now made an offer to NATO that is irresistible - making Russia a participant in the alliance's Afghan mission. The Russian offer comes at a time when the war in Afghanistan is going badly and NATO can afford to take help from whichever quarter help is available.

Washington faces an acute predicament insofar as Moscow won't settle for selective engagement by NATO as a mere transit route but will incrementally broaden and deepen the engagement, and major European allies might welcome it. Moscow insists on the involvement of the CSTO and even SCO. On the other hand, Russia's involvement could invigorate the NATO mission in Afghanistan and ensure that the mission is not predicated on the highly unpredictable factor of Pakistan's partnership.

Will Washington bite? Putin, with his trademark fighting spirit of a black belt in karate, could well be counting that his presidency still has five or six weeks to go and that is a lot of time for making Russia NATO's number one partner globally and ensuring a durable place for Russia within the common European home.

At the very least, history comes full circle when Putin arrives in Bucharest in the next 18 days for the gala 60th anniversary summit of the alliance. That would be 54 years since the Soviet Union suggested it should join NATO to preserve peace in Europe.

M K Bhadrakumar served as a career diplomat in the Indian Foreign Service for over 29 years, with postings including India's ambassador to Uzbekistan (1995-1998) and to Turkey (1998-2001).
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We must put the Afghans first
There's more to Canada's commitment than deploying troops until 2011
LAURYN OATES
Vice-president of Canadian Women for Women in Afgh
March 14, 2008 at 7:28 AM EDT
We are missing the boat on Afghanistan. By focusing debate disproportionately on deploying troops and extending Canada's mission, we have created space for the real spoilers in that country to wreak havoc unimpeded.

Those spoilers include wretched poverty, deforestation, corruption in government and in NGOs, a lack of support to the agricultural sector, aid that lacks monitoring and regular assessment, little access to quality higher education, growing unemployment, and a failure to build Afghanistan's human resources and professional capacity. Failure to change our approach and to raise our level of investment in these issues is what will ultimately make a permanent peace in Afghanistan impossible.

We are also approaching Afghanistan in a vacuum, as our government completely ignores the powerful role of Pakistan in perpetrating violent conflict and instability in southern and eastern Afghanistan. Most informed commentators, such as Afghanistan expert Barnett Rubin and former NPR journalist and current Kandahar resident Sarah Chayes, point to action and diplomacy with Pakistan as the missing piece in efforts to end the war in Afghanistan. This is also a point repeatedly brought up by ordinary Afghans whom I encounter in my travels. Yet, little heed has been paid them. The costs will be significant.

The role of Pakistan is one key issue that no major political player has even begun to address, and it is off the agenda entirely of those who posit a "troops out" position in Canada. Another challenge it seems anyone trying to influence policy finds convenient to ignore is that the Afghan government is not the only corrupt institution in the country. International organizations working in Afghanistan and local Afghan non-governmental organizations are corrupt, too, a fact well-known among the seasoned expat community in Kabul and the disillusioned Afghans who have witnessed one failed development project after another on their doorsteps.

Perhaps this is a less popular truth than the tendency to fall back on claiming that the Afghan government is illegitimate (though elected), as the NDP would have it, in place of actually proposing viable options to stabilize and support Afghanistan. We must address weaknesses in the delivery of aid through the Afghan government, as well as other channels, including the World Bank (which wastes funds on bloated staff salaries and benefits), the United Nations (whose excessive bureaucracy eats away donor money), and international NGOs (which frequently impose template projects not appropriate or functional in the Afghan context), and Afghan implementing NGOs (which all too frequently function as family businesses).

Canada is pouring millions of badly needed dollars into Afghanistan but is not effectively monitoring this aid. And the public is allowing this to happen by failing to demand accountability. We are too preoccupied holding demonstrations against military intervention that reduce perception of the Afghan conflict to a simplistic matter of the presence of soldiers rather than a holistic human-security approach that addresses the multiple dimensions of instability in that country. Oxfam, a lead development agency funding programs in Afghanistan, has called for an independent UN body to assess aid effectiveness; Canada would be well-advised to take this into consideration, and the Canadian public must demand that it do so.

Perhaps the most critical issue we have failed to address is an honest assessment of what a Taliban government would actually look like, and an understanding of how our actions in Canada may determine whether such a government is allowed to come to power again. There have been few other extremist groups in recent history with such a profound commitment to misogyny or a human-rights record as appalling as the Taliban's. Where there is "local support" for the Taliban, it is usually because the Taliban are terrorizing the locals and leaving them no other choice. In the Taliban stronghold of Ghazni, which I visited two weeks ago, I learned that people are starving to death because insurgents have threatened death if they venture into town to collect World Food Program rations.

Those who push for negotiations with the Taliban must come to terms with the fact that the Taliban simply do not represent Afghans. As much as 40 per cent of the Taliban are Pakistanis, and more yet are Chechens, Uzbeks, Arabs and North Africans. There are also no Taliban women - so how can they claim to represent more than half of the Afghan population? The Taliban are being financed and supported in Pakistan; we must stop viewing them as a purely Afghan phenomenon and consider that the vast majority of Afghans want nothing to do with them. They are seen as radical fascists who have deviated from, and distorted, the true Islam.

If we do not urgently refocus our debate and put the needs and interests of Afghans at the heart of our discussions, we will leave a bleak smear in the Canadian history of international interventionism, a smear that will bring us shame in the history books our children will read. We must ensure that we are finding constructive solutions to the underlying problems plaguing Afghanistan and to the issues that Afghans point to as priorities, and not merely to our own insular interests. We have limited time to start making a genuine effort to understand Afghanistan, its history and its people, and to recapture what we have lost of our identity as humanitarians and peace-builders.

Lauryn Oates, who lives in Vancouver, recently returned from her seventh trip to Afghanistan.
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Afghanistan clerics upset as woman makes final of 'Pop Idol'
Scotsman, United Kingdom By Jason Straziuso in Kabul, Afghanistan  14 March 2008
IN A first for post-Taleban Afghanistan, a woman has made it to the final three in the country's version of Pop Idol. Lima Sahar, from the conservative Pashtun belt, is up against two male contestants tonight for a place in the final sing-off on Afghan Star, which has become one of the nation's most popular television shows.

Conservatives decry the fact that a woman has found success singing on TV, while others younger Afghans say the show is helping women progress.

Under the Taleban regime that was overthrown in 2001, women were not even allowed out of their homes unaccompanied, while music and television were banned.

With her hair tucked under a headscarf, Lima brushes off her critics, saying there can be no progress for women without upsetting the status quo. "No pain, no gain," she told reporters.

Lima saw off 2,000 other hopefuls who auditioned for the third series of Afghan Star, in which viewers vote by text message. The format is similar to Pop Idol the singers perform in front of a studio audience and three judges, and past winners have been given recording deals.

Afghanistan's clerics' council has protested to the president, Hamid Karzai, over the show. "In the situation that we have in Afghanistan right now, we don't need a woman singer. We don't need Afghan Star. We are in need of a good economy, good education," said Ali Ahmad Jebra-ali, a member of the council. "If Lima Sahar wins Afghan Star, how can she help the poor? This is not the way to help the Afghan people."

Haji Baran Khan, a farmer from Kandahar the Taleban's spiritual birthplace and the city Lima now calls home said a Pashtun girl singing on TV went against the country's culture.

"She is also affecting the minds of other good girls. She should stop singing," said Khan, whose three sons and two daughters told him about Lima's success.

She says she's just the latest in a long tradition of Afghan artists albeit in a more modern form. "Artists are historical and cultural in our country. Artists have been around a long time," she told a news conference. "I came by the vote of the people of Afghanistan."

Several hundred supporters lined up to get the three finalists' autographs at an event in Kabul.

The three finalists represent each of Afghanistan's three main ethnic groups: Pashtuns, Hazaras and Tajiks. Shohabidin Mohammad, an ethnic Hazara who was at the event in Kabul, said he didn't believe ethnicity should play a part in the vote. But he acknowledged, somewhat sheepishly, he will vote for the Hazara finalist Hameed Sakhizada.

Standing beside him was Abass Nariwal, a fan of Lima's and, like her, an ethnic Pashtun. Another of her fans, Nematullah Khan, is a 25-year-old student at Kandahar University.

"She took a bold step. She has a lot of courage," he said. "Whether she wins or not, she's a good example for our youth."

THREE TRIBES, THREE SINGERS WHICH WILL WIN?
THE winner of this year's Afghan Star will take home the equivalent of about £2,500 a king's ransom in Afghanistan.

The odds-on favourite to win is Rafi Naabzada, 19, an ethnic Tajik, who calls the show "a symbol of unity".

He said: "Afghan Star belongs to all Afghans. My idea is not to get votes from just my tribe. I think that attitude is now finished he's a Tajik or he's a Pushtun.

"(But] of course, we still have special support from those ethnic groups."

That is what bothers Mohammad Qasim Akhger, an independent political analyst. He says the most talented singers aren't necessarily the ones who get voted through.

"Now there is one Pushtun, one Hazara and one Tajik, so what will happen is that nobody will care about their talents; they will just vote for their tribe," he said.
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