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March 17, 2008 

Four NATO soldiers, three Afghans killed in new unrest
by Nasrat Shoaib
KANDAHAR, Afghanistan (AFP) - Four NATO soldiers were killed in new attacks in Afghanistan, including a Taliban suicide bomb Monday that also took the lives of three Afghan civilians, security forces said.

Canadian soldier killed in Afghanistan
Mon Mar 17, 12:26 PM ET
KABUL (AFP) - A Canadian soldier was killed in southern Afghanistan after being struck by an explosion during a foot patrol in a Taliban hotspot, the Canadian military said Monday.

German-Turk did Afghan suicide attack
BERLIN, March 17 (UPI) -- Authorities are investigating whether a recent suicide attack in Afghanistan was staged by a German-born Turk, reports at the weekend said.

RIR soldiers begin Afghanistan tour
By Lisa Costello BBC News Monday, 17 March 2008, 09:21 GMT
More than 500 soldiers from the Royal Irish Regiment have begun to deploy for a six-month tour of duty in Afghanistan.

Analyst: Taliban will exploit Dutch film
WASHINGTON, March 17 (UPI) -- The Taliban are exploiting popular anger in Afghanistan about a forthcoming Dutch film attacking the Koran, leading to security fears for Dutch troops there.

AFGHANISTAN: Drought not floods more likely in 2008 – UNAMA
KABUL, 17 March 2008 (IRIN) - Despite widespread concern that millions could be vulnerable to seasonal flooding as a result of rapid thawing of unusually heavy winter snow, the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA)

Making a mark in the fight against polio
Chalk notations help roaming Unicef volunteers track efforts to immunize every child under 5 in Afghanistan
OLIVER MOORE Globe and Mail (Canada) March 17, 2008
KANDAHAR, AFGHANISTAN — Like Egyptologists deciphering inscriptions inside a tomb, the men peered closely at markings covering the door and traded opinions in bursts of Pashto.

Japan to provide $29 mln dollars to Afghanistan
KABUL, March 17 (Xinhua) -- Under an agreement inked Monday in Afghanistan's capital Kabul, the government of Japan agreed to provide a fresh grant of 3 billion Japanese Yen (approximately 29 million U.S. dollars) to the war-torn nation.

Afghan girl braves Taliban, jeers in Olympic quest
KABUL, Mar 17 (Reuters) As a young girl living under hardline Islamist Taliban rule, Mahboba Ahdyar could only run around the small courtyard of her house in the Afghan capital. Now she is getting set to race in the Olympic Games.

Afghan mission extension right choice: troops
Matthew Fisher, National Post  Monday, March 17, 2008
The decision to extend Canada's Afghan mission until sometime in 2011 was met with neither joy nor sorrow by the men and women that Parliament expects to fulfill this new mandate.

French pressed to decide on Afghan deployment
MURRAY BREWSTER - Canadian Press, March 16, 2008
OTTAWA — Canada and its NATO allies, including the United States, have stepped up the pressure on the French government to make up its mind about exactly where it will deploy extra troops headed for Afghanistan.

Trans-Afghan gas pipeline project steering committee to meet in Islamabad
Turkmenistan.ru, Turkmenistan
A regular meeting of the Tran-Afghan gas pipeline project steering committee will be held in Islamabad coming April, Baymurad Khojamukhamedov, minister of oil and gas industry and mineral resources of Turkmenistan

Despite New Highways, Afghans Drive at Own Risk
NPR - World News by Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson
All Things Considered, March 16, 2008 • From the air, Afghanistan's "Ring Road" — a vast beltway that links the country's provinces — looks like a U.S. freeway.

Four NATO soldiers, three Afghans killed in new unrest
by Nasrat Shoaib
KANDAHAR, Afghanistan (AFP) - Four NATO soldiers were killed in new attacks in Afghanistan, including a Taliban suicide bomb Monday that also took the lives of three Afghan civilians, security forces said.

Two Danes, a Canadian and a Czech with the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) were killed in the violence in the south of the country, which sees the worst of a Taliban-led insurgency.

A suicide car bomb ripped into an ISAF convoy as it was travelling on the main road linking the southern city of Kandahar with Herat in the west, a witness said.

Three ISAF soldiers were killed and four wounded in the attack in Helmand province, the alliance force media office in Kabul said, revising an earlier death toll of four.

ISAF does not release the nationalities of its casualties but the Danish military said two of its troops were killed and one injured. The soldiers were from a Danish unit that works on reconstruction projects, it said.

The Czech military said separately one of its soldiers was also killed.

Helmand police chief Mohammad Hussain Andiwal said three Afghan men were killed in the blast, near a bazaar in the town of Girishk, and seven were wounded.

"It was a busy hour of the day when everyone was going to their work," Andiwal said.

One of the Taliban's main spokesmen, Yousuf Ahmadi, confirmed the attack was carried out by a fighter from the extremist militia, which was in government between 1996 and 2001.

Helmand is perhaps the most volatile province in Afghanistan and the prime producer of the country's growing opium and heroin output, which in part funds the extremist insurgency.

In another incident announced Monday, a Canadian soldier died in an explosion Sunday while on foot patrol in Kandahar province, which neighbours Helmand, the Canadian military said.

The incident took place in Panjwayi, about 35 kilometres (20 miles) west of Kandahar, which has seen intense clashes between security forces and Taliban although it has been fairly quiet in recent months.

The Taliban was ousted from power in late 2001 in a US-led offensive because it did not hand over its Al-Qaeda allies after the September 11 attacks on the United States.

They are waging a bloody insurgency which saw more than 160 suicide attacks in 2007, the deadliest year of their campaign with more than 8,000 people killed, according to the United Nations.

Most were rebels but the figure includes about 1,500 civilians, a report to the UN Security Council this month said.

Already this year more than 200 civilians have been killed in insurgency-related violence, including more than 20 suicide attacks. About 30 foreign soldiers have also lost their lives, most of them in hostile action.

Canadian Defence Minister Peter MacKay said Sunday that NATO must send more troops to the south to quell the insurgency and stem the flow of recruits from Pakistan.

The 1,000 extra troops that Canada has requested from its NATO allies to stay in the province was the minimum needed to confront the challenge faced by ISAF.

"Other countries over the ensuing time period are also going to have to recognise... that Kandahar province is the valve that the Taliban are using to bring in their insurgents," he told reporters in Brussels.

"Because of the recruitment proximity to some of the refugee camps in Pakistan, this is the source, this is the primary epicentre," he said.
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Canadian soldier killed in Afghanistan
Mon Mar 17, 12:26 PM ET
KABUL (AFP) - A Canadian soldier was killed in southern Afghanistan after being struck by an explosion during a foot patrol in a Taliban hotspot, the Canadian military said Monday.

The soldier died of his wounds at Kandahar airfield, the biggest NATO base in southern Afghanistan, after being hit late Sunday while on patrol in the Panjwayi area west of Kandahar city, it said in a statement.

Canada has 2,500 troops in the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF), most of them in Kandahar province, one of the worst areas hit by unrest linked to an insurgency led by the extremist Taliban movement.

Panjwayi, about 35 kilometres (20 miles) west of Kandahar, has seen intense clashes between security forces and Taliban although it has been fairly quiet in recent months.

By carrying out the dismounted patrol, the Afghan and NATO-led troops aimed to "show their presence, monitor the security situation and interact with the local population," the Canadian statement said.

The announcement of the latest Canadian casualty came as ISAF said separately that four of its soldiers, whose nationalities were not released, were killed in a blast in neighbouring Helmand province Monday.

The blast, reportedly caused by a suicide car bomb, also killed three civilians.
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German-Turk did Afghan suicide attack
BERLIN, March 17 (UPI) -- Authorities are investigating whether a recent suicide attack in Afghanistan was staged by a German-born Turk, reports at the weekend said.

Der Spiegel reported that Berlin's Joint Counter-Terrorism Center, known as GTAZ, was taking seriously an Internet claim by an al-Qaida-linked group with roots in Central Asia.

The Islamic Jihad Union said in the claim that the suicide attack -- which killed two U.S. soldiers and wounded a dozen others on March 3 -- was carried out by Cuneyt Ciftci, also known as Saad Abu Fourkan.

The claim's credibility was undermined because it said 60 U.S. troops had been killed.

Spiegel reported that Ciftci, a Turkish citizen from Bavaria, had links to the IJU-linked group of extremists apprehended last year planning an attack on U.S. bases in Germany.

He was "regarded as a dangerous Islamist," Spiegel reported, adding if the claim were true "it would be a nightmare for the investigators -- the first suicide bomber from Germany."

Known as "Ismail from Ansbach" by his alleged associates in the IJU-linked cell, Ciftci had left Germany in April last year, long before the cell was arrested, Spiegel said.
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RIR soldiers begin Afghanistan tour
By Lisa Costello BBC News Monday, 17 March 2008, 09:21 GMT
More than 500 soldiers from the Royal Irish Regiment have begun to deploy for a six-month tour of duty in Afghanistan.

The first left from Tern Hill Barracks in Shropshire where the regular soldiers are based, over the weekend.

They marked St Patrick's day in desert fatigues leaving for Helmand province.

Anyone who doubts that military life could ever be a substitute for a family should have stood in the parade ground of Tern Hill Barracks in Shropshire this weekend.

The lads of the Royal Irish Regiment, both regular and reserve, are facing six hard and dangerous months in Afghanistan, but first they had to get through the Shamrock Stakes unscathed.

This St Patrick's Day regimental tradition involves eight-man teams racing chariots they've built themselves - anything from a bathtub on quadbike wheels, to an ambitious replica of a Harland and Wolf Crane - while being pelted with eggs.

Oh, and did I mention that they gird their loins for this adventure by being woken at dawn with 'gunfire'. Gunfire in this particular context being a noxious brew of tea and Jamesons whiskey.

No-one is under any illusions about what lies ahead in Afghanistan. Many of the regular soldiers of 1 Royal Irish are on second tours of duty in Afghanistan.

Corporal Trevor 'Speedy' Coult from Belfast is a Military Cross winner with tours of duty in Iraq and Helmand province under his belt.

"In terms of context and fighting it will probably have quietened down slightly but it's going to be just as rough. It's the same place we're going to - but we're ready for it.

"It puts pressure on your parents. My mother's hair's falling out at the minute. The death toll used to prey on my mind - but I'm looking forward to it to be honest with you."

Captain Peter Drennan from Ballymena is a Reservist with 2 Royal Irish.

His appetite for the theatre of war isn't as strong but he says that he made a commitment as a part-time soldier which he has to honour.

"I've been away before so I've an idea of what I'm up against but its my first time in Afghanistan.

"I volunteered to join the TA but not to go to Afghanistan and I think that's the same for all the guys - we're here because we swore an oath. I think my mum's a bit upset about me going but I just hope and pray nothing happens anyway."

Many of the mothers have come to Shropshire to say goodbye in person as have wives and children.

The parade ground, with its rows of pushchairs and cheerfully bantering guests, looks for all the world like the scene of a particularly large and unruly wedding reception.

That's until the St Patrick's Day Parade starts and the four companies of the Royal Irish fall out for inspection led by the regimental mascot Irish wolfhound Brian Boru and already dressed for deployment in their desert fatigues.

Suddenly everyone remembers they've come to say goodbye.

Gail Meeley from Belfast was there to see both of her sons off in the deployment. She's spent years as an army wife and mother but even she still finds goodbyes hard.

"You do worry, because it's twice the worry isn't it. They are a close regiment - but it's never easy when they're going away."

Hugh Benson who's quartermaster of 1 Royal Irish has been in the regiment for 36 years, but even he scores a first with this tour as it will be the only time he and his three sons - also Royal Irish - have been deployed together.

Asked whether he'd ever wished his sons had done something else, he said: "Always. Doctors, lawyers, anything, but this is what they've chosen."

His wife Jenny said it was very different being an Army mum to an Army wife.

"It's different when it's your children. When you marry a soldier you expect - you know what you're going into. Children are a completely different experience.

"But hopefully with three of them all in the one spot they'll all look after each other - and God willing they'll all come home again."

Everyone involved with the regiment seems to derive a real sense of family from their colleagues whether soldiers themselves, or wives, parents and children.

It's to be hoped that will be some comfort to them in the six months ahead.

In their last tour of Afghanistan the Royal Irish lost three men and 12 were wounded.
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Analyst: Taliban will exploit Dutch film
WASHINGTON, March 17 (UPI) -- The Taliban are exploiting popular anger in Afghanistan about a forthcoming Dutch film attacking the Koran, leading to security fears for Dutch troops there.

In an analysis from a new Afghan think tank, the Kabul Center for Strategic Studies, Executive Director Waliullah Rahmani also says the insurgents will use the issue to leverage their way into the political dialogue.

"The Taliban seem eager to exploit the religious sentiments of the Afghan people," he writes, noting "mass protests in the major cities of Afghanistan" earlier this month against the forthcoming film, "Fitna" -- "Ordeal" in Arabic. The director, controversial Dutch politician Geert Wilder, has compared the Koran to Hitler's Mein Kampf.

The protestors called for the severing of relations with the Dutch and Danish governments and the withdrawal of peacekeeping troops from both those countries.

The demonstrations were also directed against the republication of the so-called Mohammed cartoons by Danish papers. Criticizing the Koran and depicting the Prophet Mohammed are both regarded as blasphemous by Muslims.

"It is the first time since the fall of the Taliban that popular demands have been issued for the withdrawal of foreign troops," writes Rahmani, noting, "These demands are also the only precondition of the Taliban for peace talks."

"There appears to be an increased danger for Danish and Dutch troops stationed in southern Afghanistan, an unstable region controlled partly by the Taliban and its followers," he concludes.
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AFGHANISTAN: Drought not floods more likely in 2008 – UNAMA
KABUL, 17 March 2008 (IRIN) - Despite widespread concern that millions could be vulnerable to seasonal flooding as a result of rapid thawing of unusually heavy winter snow, the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) has said it does not believe "severe floods" – as witnessed in 2007 – will occur in 2008.

"The technical evidence obtained from remote-sensing - satellite photography - and other sources shows that flooding on the scale of spring 2007 is very unlikely," Charlie Higgins, head of UNAMA's humanitarian affairs unit, told the media in Kabul on 17 March.

Parts of Afghanistan suffered the harshest winter in decades. Heavy snowfall and exceptionally low temperatures killed over 1,000 people and hundreds of thousands of livestock, according to Afghanistan National Disasters Management Authority (ANDMA) figures.

In February a national emergency commission – made up of several government and non-governmental bodies – warned that 21 out of the country's 34 provinces were "vulnerable" to spring floods. The warning had prompted aid agencies to plan for a possible humanitarian emergency.

However, UNAMA's latest findings show that warm weather since mid-February has already melted up to 70 percent of the snow in areas which experienced exceptionally heavy snowfall in the past several months.

Possible drought?

The current "snow-water equivalent" is 25 percent less than average – and 90 percent less than in 2007 - which indicates that the amount of water stored in the snowpack is low for this time of year, UNAMA said.

"This does not bode well for the main 'Aram' [wheat] crop, which is planted in different areas from August to October and will be harvested in 2009," said Higgins, adding that 80 percent of water used for irrigation comes from surface sources.

According to UNAMA, farmers in the northern provinces of Faryab, Badakhshan and Balkh will probably face shortages of irrigation water even in the first cultivation season, which will negatively affect the staple crop harvest in 2008.

"Farmers are right to be concerned about drought," Higgins said.

Parts of Afghanistan, particularly southern, western and southwestern provinces, have already faced years of drought, which has devastated the livelihoods of many agriculture-and-livestock-dependent communities.

Humanitarian agencies are concerned that drought will worsen the plight of the eight million or so food-insecure people in the country.
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Making a mark in the fight against polio
Chalk notations help roaming Unicef volunteers track efforts to immunize every child under 5 in Afghanistan
OLIVER MOORE Globe and Mail (Canada) March 17, 2008
KANDAHAR, AFGHANISTAN — Like Egyptologists deciphering inscriptions inside a tomb, the men peered closely at markings covering the door and traded opinions in bursts of Pashto.

These were not scholars discussing hieroglyphics unearthed in a pyramid, but volunteer health workers in a residential area of downtown Kandahar.

Mud-brick walls loomed close on either side and a trickle of sludgy liquid ran along a trench down the centre of the alley. In front of the men, set into the featureless wall, was a firmly locked metal door covered with chalk notations. Similar markings can be found on doors across the south and each is a message to volunteers who fanned out this week on their latest blitz against polio.

Polio is a viral infectious disease that can lead to paralysis. It has been eradicated in much of the world; Afghanistan, Pakistan, India and Nigeria are the only countries in which it is still considered endemic. In Afghanistan, in the rural areas especially, care for victims is rudimentary or non-existent.

But now, in spite of rising security concerns and the worrying early emergence of new cases this year, Unicef is well on the way to immunizing every Afghan child under the age of 5. It's a mammoth task made possible, in part, by simple chalk notations that act as a sort of evolving medical chart for the roaming volunteers.

One glance at the door and the volunteers should be able to tell whether the house has been visited, how many children were there on the last visit and whether they were immunized. At least in theory. When the crew rapped on this particular door this week, they found children whose ink-marked forefinger and forehead indicated they'd already been immunized.

The family retreated into their home and the medical crew fell into discussion as they pondered the markings on the door. Eventually one used his chalk to add yet another notation. With a shrug, they walked on.

It's an imperfect system, but it may be the only way to be reasonably confident of eventually reaching all Afghan children. There is no census from which to tick off names and the constant movement of people has been increased by security concerns.

"This is a very problematic region and the major problem is poor security," said Dr. Shahwali Popal, who heads the immunization program for southern Afghanistan out of Kandahar's Unicef office.

In the face of that, helped by a three-year commitment from CIDA for approximately $15-million, volunteers working have managed to immunize about one million young children in the past year, Dr. Popal said.

This week they made a three-day sweep known as an NID: national immunization days. It was their third one this year and will be followed later in the month by a "mopping up" operation. Volunteers fanned out and fixed operations were set up at medical facilities and border crossings.

Fourteen-year-old student volunteers named Nasibulla and Atiqulla were manning a table at the gate to Mirwais Hospital in downtown Kandahar. They sprang into action at the sight of any small child, rushing to flag down entering vehicles. For the most part, parents were easily persuaded and the volunteers administered drops of vaccine into the mouths of children who seemed both curious and nervous.

Over the past year, efforts such as these have allowed volunteers to immunize about 90 per cent of children under five, Dr. Popal said, and they are now keen to cut the remaining number in half.

But although the volunteers have officially been given safe passage by the Taliban, the insurgency is not a cohesive hierarchy and this agreement is not necessarily followed by all fighters. As well, smugglers, bandits and other armed men pose a constant risk in southern Afghanistan.

There have also been occasional problems in the conservative areas with religious leaders counselling against the immunization. But the real concern is the security situation, which can change in an instant.

"In the morning you can go in [to a village] but in the afternoon you can't," explained Dr. Rahmatullah Kamwak, who heads up local World Health Organization efforts.

Another concern this year is the earlier and more rapid emergence of polio cases. In 2007 there were 15 cases, but this year there has been three cases already, two in Helmand and one in Kandahar province. That rate could indicate an overall increase and, more worryingly, the first appeared in January, three months before the first case last year.

Health officials are putting an optimistic face on the result, saying that the earlier cases may be the result of more rigorous testing. They also note that the case in Kandahar was in a part of the province that could not before be reached but has since been visited by immunization teams.
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Japan to provide $29 mln dollars to Afghanistan
KABUL, March 17 (Xinhua) -- Under an agreement inked Monday in Afghanistan's capital Kabul, the government of Japan agreed to provide a fresh grant of 3 billion Japanese Yen (approximately 29 million U.S. dollars) to the war-torn nation.

Hideo Sato, the ambassador of Japan to Afghanistan, and Mohammad Kabir Farahi, the deputy to Afghan Foreign Ministry, signed the agreement on behalf of their respective governments.

The grant, according to a statement of Afghan Foreign Ministry,will be used in improving economic structure and poverty alleviation projects in the war-battered country.

Japan, with contributing more than 1 billion U.S. dollars in the reconstruction of the post-Taliban Afghanistan over the past six years, is the second largest contributor after the Untied States to the war-torn nation.
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Afghan girl braves Taliban, jeers in Olympic quest
KABUL, Mar 17 (Reuters) As a young girl living under hardline Islamist Taliban rule, Mahboba Ahdyar could only run around the small courtyard of her house in the Afghan capital. Now she is getting set to race in the Olympic Games.

Ahdyar is the only woman among four Afghans due to represent the war-torn country at August's Beijing Olympics and the slightly built 19-year-old 1,500 metre runner stands little chance of a medal.

Competing, however, is more about pride and showing the world what Afghan women can do.

''When I was small I used to run in my house and watch my brother who was doing body building. I kept my exercising secret even from my neighbours because of the Taliban,'' she told Reuters at the Kabul sports stadium where the Taliban held public executions until they were ousted from power by US-led and Afghan forces in 2001.

The Taliban banned women from working or leaving the home without a male relative. Girls could not play outdoors and sport was out of the question.

But while some things have improved for women since 2001 and Afghanistan now has female athletes, a women's soccer team, even boxers, many in this deeply conservative society remain hostile.

''Some people in our society are against sport for women,'' said Ahdyar. ''They want us only to stay at home, but I disagree with them; God gave the same rights to men and women, that is why I don't care what they say.'' Ahdyar said she was lucky to have the support of her family. ''I'm so proud of my daughter representing Afghanistan at the Beijing Olympics,'' said mother Majan Ahdyar. ''She is so fond of her sport, she even exercises at night outside in the street because our house is not big enough.'' NO FEAR But some neighbours jeer at the athlete as she travels to and from her small mudbrick home in a poor area of Kabul for training.

''My father, mother and brother all support and encourage me that is why I am here now,'' said Mahboba. ''The problem is with my neighbours; they are trying to humiliate me, that is the main problem I have.'' The Taliban have now come back to fight an insurgency against the pro-Western government and foreign troops in Afghanistan and many ordinary Afghans have fallen victim to suicide bombs, assassination and kidnapping. But Ahdyar is undaunted.

''I'm not scared of anything because God created me one day and I believe that one day I will die,'' she said. ''Whatever is my destiny will happen. I am choosing the right way which is for my benefit and the benefit of all young people.'' Ahdyar trains in a loose tracksuit and headscarf, something she says she will not change to compete in the Olympics.

''I am an Afghan and a Muslim girl and wearing a headscarf is an obligation for Muslim girls,'' she said. ''I will not take off my scarf in China when I race because it is symbol of Muslim women.'' Apart from a spell as a refugee in Pakistan, Ahdyar has never travelled abroad, but she and Afghan male sprinter Masood Azizi are soon due to travel to Malaysia for a five-month training camp before going to China.

Facilities there will be a world away from those in Afghanistan.

There is not a single proper running track in the whole country and the pair of Olympians train on a concrete track circling the dusty soccer pitch inside the main stadium. The more basic problem of lack of a good diet also dogs Afghan athletes.

Ahdyar is reluctant to predict how she will perform in Beijing.

''I don't want to forecast what will happen to me, but I believe in God and I want God almighty to help me.''
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Afghan mission extension right choice: troops
Matthew Fisher, National Post  Monday, March 17, 2008
The decision to extend Canada's Afghan mission until sometime in 2011 was met with neither joy nor sorrow by the men and women that Parliament expects to fulfill this new mandate.

There was almost universal agreement among those Canadians serving here that the decision was the right one. The news was received quietly, perhaps because victory or defeat still seems very far off.

The political act of extending the mission was the easy part. Sustaining the current high tempo represents a monumental challenge.

Parliament's new chosen end date was as artificial as the one that had Canada leaving Afghanistan next year. Mindful of what needs to be done and the hugely expensive semipermanent infrastructure that Canada is still building in Kandahar, few on the ground here believe that Canada will leave Afghanistan in 2011.

It is impossible to divine the compisiton of the force in 2011 at this point. And not only because three years is a long time to plan ahead in a war against an elusive quarry that appears unbowed by horrendous casualties and regards it as a great victory to simply be able to hang on.

Far from enjoying the "peace dividend" occasioned by the fall of the Soviet Union, Canada's army was badly stretched by 15 years of back-to-back assignments in the Balkans and Africa even before it got to Afghanistan. This has been especially true of those in specialist trades such as doctors, nurses, pharmacists, weapons techs and logisticians.

With at least six more six-month rotations to fulfill by 2011, the infantry regiments around which Canada's forges its battle groups are already in a state approaching chaos. Almost every one of the army's nine infantry battalions has had at least one of its three companies poached by other battle group rotations to provide force protection for provincial reconstruction teams or to provide trainers for the burgeoning mentoring teams that are now training the Afghan army and police. In exactly the same way, squadrons have been poached from the three armoured regiments.

Furthermore, because so many of the deaths in this war have been caused by buried homemade bombs and because there has been a fairly constant demand for new forward operating bases, there has been a relentless demand for combat and construction engineers.

To keep providing battle groups for Afghanistan the swapping of more infantry companies and reconnaissance squadrons between regiments is highly likely. There will also inevitably be more of what are called "waivers," allowing soldiers due at least a year at home with their families to be called back to Afghanistan before their planned periods of rest and training are up.

As began to happen with the U.S. armed forces in Iraq and Afghanistan two or three years ago, a small but increasing number of Canadian air force and navy personnel have been seconded to the army in Kandahar, a trend that will surely now accelerate.

The pressure of constantly providing 2,200 fresh troops at a time for this mission, after several years of doing almost the same thing for slightly smaller battle groups based in Kabul, at a time when the Canadian economy has been white hot, has created significant stresses. As Lieutenant-General Andrew Leslie confirmed in an interview in Kandahar last fall, because so many soldiers can get better paying jobs outside the military, the army he commands has been having serious problems retaining the experienced personnel who are the backbone of any combat formation as well as the boot camp instructors that the badly army needs in order to meet a government-mandated order for a few thousand more combat soldiers.

If the Afghan army and police can shoulder more of the security burden in the next couple of years -- and this is a big if -- Canada may be able to fulfill future Afghan commitments by shifting most of their resources to the kind of mentoring and reconstruction units that the Liberals have spoken about.

An obvious way for Canada to continue in Afghanistan after 2011 without ripping the army further apart might be to dispatch a squadron of CF-18 Hornet fighter jets. This would be an immensely expensive undertaking, but smaller air forces from the Netherlands, Norway and even Belgium have already done this.

Something for Canadians to consider is that even if the mission does not extend beyond 2011 their country will not reach the halfway mark of its new Afghan combat commitment until sometime this August.
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French pressed to decide on Afghan deployment
MURRAY BREWSTER - Canadian Press, March 16, 2008
OTTAWA — Canada and its NATO allies, including the United States, have stepped up the pressure on the French government to make up its mind about exactly where it will deploy extra troops headed for Afghanistan.

In an interview Sunday with The Canadian Press, Defence Minister Peter MacKay confirmed weeks of speculation, saying the Americans have “signalled that they will backstop” Canada with reinforcements in Kandahar after February 2009 if necessary.

But the focus of high-level diplomacy and military contingency planning is now squarely on French President Nicolas Sarkozy, who had been widely expected to keep mum about his intentions until a summit of NATO leaders in Bucharest, Romania next month.

It's believed that, if the French do not want to serve alongside Canadians in Kandahar, their battle group of paratroopers could deploy in the eastern part of the country, thereby freeing up U.S. forces for the south.

Canadian soldiers with the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force sit on their armored vehicle as they patrol in the streets of Kandahar on March 12 after a suicide attack. A Taliban suicide car bomb struck a Canadian NATO military convoy in Afghanistan's southern city of Kandahar, killing at least one civilian and wounding a soldier. Witnesses said several wounded and bleeding civilians were rushed from the site of the powerful blast, which set a house ablaze and left several vehicles damaged.

Thousands of demonstrators took to the streets across Canada Saturday to protest this country's combat role in Afghanistan. The current arm-twisting comes days after Parliament gave conditional approval to extending the Canadian commitment to Kandahar until 2011.

The Conservative government now faces an impatient Liberal opposition that wants to know how soon 1,000 reinforcements — the key condition to continuing the Canadian mission — will be on the way.
Mr. MacKay acknowledged, in the interview from Brussels, that the Tories have put a time limit on how long they will wait for answers from NATO partners. But he didn't indicate what the deadline might be.
“As you know the French have not proclaimed themselves as of yet, (but) I suspect they may be getting pressure from other countries as well to make a public statement,” he said.

“I think there's pressure for them to simply announce what their decision will be. It's probably coming from within their own country.

“Nobody wants that kind of uncertainty and I think, you know, we can expect they will make a decision — if they haven't already — prior to Bucharest. They may want to make their decision known at the conference and that, of course, is their prerogative, but for planning purposes we need to get on with meeting that contingency of 1,000 (troops).”

In addition to the extra troops, Canada is looking for equipment including helicopters and unmanned surveillance aircraft.

Mr. MacKay met with allies over the weekend at a conference of the German Marshall Fund of the United States, where transatlantic security issues were debated.

NATO Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer and other alliance representatives were happy the Canadian extension was granted, the minister said.

Troops from Canada, Britain, the Netherlands and the United States have borne the brunt of the resurgent Taliban, with support from Denmark, Romania, Estonia and non-NATO Australia.

Speaking to reporters in Brussels, Mr. MacKay cautioned against talk of a NATO exit strategy, citing an influx of Taliban insurgents from Pakistan.

“This type of insurgency is a long and abiding challenge. This is going to take a consistent, long-term effort,” Mr. MacKay said.

He also described the Canadian demand for an additional 1,000 troops in the Kandahar region as “really a minimum.”

Some independent military analysts have suggested that thousands more are needed for effective operations, and Arif Lalani, the Canadian ambassador to Afghanistan, agreed Sunday that “more troops would be better.”

But Mr. Lalani told CTV's Question Period that finding a “credible military partner” to put up the 1,000 reinforcements will at least improve the situation while the Afghan National Army is trained to take a greater role in the fighting.

“There's very good news in terms of their progress,” he said of the Afghan training effort. “That, essentially, will amount to more troops.”

Canada has lost 80 soldiers and a diplomat in Afghanistan since the mission began in 2002.

The death toll had put Prime Minister Stephen Harper's government under pressure to withdraw Canadian troops in February 2009, when their mandate was to expire.

But with the help of the Liberals, Mr. Harper was able to push the 2011 mission extension through Parliament.

Canada's pleas for more support from its NATO partners have long gone unheeded, creating tensions in the alliance. Meanwhile, militants stepped up attacks to make 2007 the deadliest year in Afghanistan since the 2001 U.S.-led invasion that toppled the Taliban regime.

At the security conference Sunday, Mr. de Hoop Scheffer used NATO's plight in Afghanistan to call for a fresh look at the alliance's current strategic thinking to take account of energy security and climate change.

“We need to anticipate these dangers and do more preventatively to mitigate their effects,” he said. Mr. de Hoop Scheffer suggested the allies develop a new “Atlantic Charter” as soon as the next U.S. administration has taken office in 2009.
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Trans-Afghan gas pipeline project steering committee to meet in Islamabad
Turkmenistan.ru, Turkmenistan
A regular meeting of the Tran-Afghan gas pipeline project steering committee will be held in Islamabad coming April, Baymurad Khojamukhamedov, minister of oil and gas industry and mineral resources of Turkmenistan, said last week at a government meeting discussing the development of the fuel and energy sector of Turkmenistan.

According to the minister, the Asian Development Bank has been picked as a leading partner that has prepared the feasibility study of the project jointly with British company Penspen. The gas pipeline will have the capacity of 33 billion cubic meters. Baymurad Khojamukhamedov noted the relevance and economic expediency of this project. He also emphasized that "Afghanistan, Pakistan, India and many other countries were extremely interested in the project."
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Despite New Highways, Afghans Drive at Own Risk
NPR - World News by Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson
All Things Considered, March 16, 2008 • From the air, Afghanistan's "Ring Road" — a vast beltway that links the country's provinces — looks like a U.S. freeway.

But on the ground, Afghan drivers say the road, and other highways like it, are more like the Wild West.

Foreign and Afghan companies have built or paved more than 1,500 miles of roads in the past five years, but a growing number of Afghans say traveling these roads is hazardous. Motorists are threatened by the Taliban and roadside bombs. They're also prey for police officers collecting illegal tolls and for bandits seeking hostages.

Speed Versus Safety
At the central taxi and bus station in the southern city of Kandahar, young drivers compete for passengers, but there are few takers. Taxi driver Abdul Wari says he'll ferry passengers to Kabul from Kandahar only during daylight hours and only if he has a full car since he feels there is safety in numbers. Wari and other Afghans say the quality of the Afghan road network has improved — especially in the south, east and west, where newly paved roads abound. But motorists use the roads at their own risk.

Mohammad Ehsan, deputy chairman of Kandahar's provincial council, says he could drive from Kandahar to Kabul in less than five hours — about a quarter of the time it used to take. But he doesn't take the chance.

"I don't dare to drive because the security is so bad. As a politician, I'm a target. So I only fly," Ehsan says.

For Afghans whose livelihoods depend on transportation, the perilous roads can present tough choices. Trucking company manager Abdul Ghader says he has no choice but to send his drivers out on the roads despite the sometimes weekly hijackings of his convoys.

On a recent morning, the somber-looking manager in a flashy beige and silver turban tried to secure the release of two of his drivers and three trucks filled with construction supplies. They were hijacked a couple of hours after they left the western city of Herat.

Ghader says the kidnappers demanded the equivalent of $36,000, money he says the owner will likely pay since it would cost more to replace the trucks.

Stopping Shakedowns
Ghader says the police who staff checkpoints along the roads refuse to help the lost convoys. He and other Afghans have asked Afghan and western soldiers to maintain law and order on the roads. U.S. Gen. Dan McNeill says every truck driver may want a coalition escort, but it can't be done.

"That's not my job. I'll do my best and I have escorted some convoys, but I don't have the force to spend everyday on that Ring Road," McNeill says. "If somebody thinks that's the answer, then give us more force."

Rather than escort every convoy, U.S. and NATO forces have been stepping up efforts to revamp the Afghan police. They've started intensive training to improve their policing skills and teach them ethics.
At a local level, Kandahar Gov. Asadullah Khalid has taken more drastic measures to stop the shakedowns. Last month, he fired some 200 police officers in a volatile district at the eastern edge of his province after complaints from drivers about the unauthorized "tax" police were forcing them to pay.

But progress is slow and the illegal tolls continue in many other areas. Some truckers have learned to drive with one of their back doors open to allow Taliban fighters to see that they're are not carrying goods for the Western coalition or government. Otherwise, they run the risk of being shot with rocket propelled-grenades or blown up by remote-controlled bombs.

In front of the customs house at the edge of Kandahar, one truck driver says he and his colleagues count on paying $120 to crooked cops each time they make a run between Kandahar and Kabul — twice as much as he earns per run. But to many Afghan employers, it's simply the cost of doing business.
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