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March 19, 2008 

U.S.-led force kills Afghan civilians in raid
By Elyas Wahdat Wed Mar 19, 7:52 AM ET
MUQIBEL, Afghanistan (Reuters) - U.S.-led coalition troops killed three men, two children and a woman, in a raid in southeastern Afghanistan, provincial officials and village residents said on Wednesday.

US aims high in Afghanistan
By Philip Smucker Asia Times - Mar 19 3:11 AM
KORENGAL OUTPOST, Kunar province, northeastern Afghanistan - As the battle rages, Sergeant Wayne Amos screams for Apache helicopters to bring down the house on his attackers. "We just got hit," he cries

Czech PRT starts operating in Afghan province Logar
Ceské noviny
Prague/Logar (Afghanistan)- The Czech Republic today officially started the activities of its own reconstruction team (PRT) in the Afghan province of Logar, Czech Chief of Staff Vlastimil Picek told today.
The ceremony was attended

Afghan police carry out campaign to close down billiard halls
19/ 03/ 2008
KABUL, March 19 (RIA Novosti) - Afghan police are carrying out a large-scale campaign to close down unlicensed billiard halls allegedly being used as brothels and by criminals.

Militants destroy another mobile phone tower in S Afghanistan
People's Daily - Mar 19 3:42 AM
Taliban militants destroyed another antenna of mobile phone companies in their former stronghold Kandahar in south Afghanistan, a local official Mohammad Ahsan said Wednesday.

Barrasso finds morale high in Afghanistan
Wyoming senator visits state's soldiers, tours
By NOELLE STRAUB The Billings Gazette Washington Bureau
WASHINGTON - Visiting Afghanistan, Sen. John Barrasso said he found strong troop morale, excellent medical care for soldiers and progress in the U.S. anti-terrorism mission despite a difficult physical and political environment.

Canada rejects interim helicopter fix for Afghanistan
David Pugliese , Canwest News Service Tuesday, March 18, 2008
The Defence Department has turned down an offer of six U.S. Blackhawk helicopters for its operations in Kandahar in the hope it can still acquire larger choppers for the Afghanistan mission.

Afghanistan ultimatum
Patrick Walters | March 20, 2008 The Australian
AUSTRALIA is committed to Afghanistan for the long haul, but Kevin Rudd says it is up to NATO to produce a strategy for success against the Taliban.

Afghan police capture 3 suspected terrorists
www.chinaview.cn  2008-03-19
KABUL, March 19 (Xinhua) -- Police in Afghanistan's western Herat province have arrested three suspected terrorists, a statement of the Interior Ministry said Wednesday.

NATO seeks Afghan support on anti-Koran film
Tue Mar 18, 2008 1:52pm EDT By David Brunnstrom
KABUL, March 18 (Reuters) - NATO is concerned about a possible backlash over a Dutch video criticising the Koran and has appealed to Afghan leaders for support, its top operational commander said on Wednesday.

City-based tanks roll over Afghan insurgents
Military heavyweights have made a difference against Taliban, returning soldiers say
Ryan Cormier, The Edmonton Journal
EDMONTON - Leaders of one of Canada's tank squadrons in Afghanistan say the vehicles have helped soldiers immensely in the past year, but make local Afghans jittery.

Afghan FM Spanta Due In Turkey
3/19/2008 Turkish Press, MI
ANKARA - Foreign Minister Dr.Rengin Dadfar Spanta of Afghanistan will pay a formal visit to Turkey between March 19th and 20th, 2008.
According to a MFA statement, bilateral relations as well as regional matters would be discussed during a meeting between Turkish FM Ali Babacan and the guest minister and talks between the delegations of the two countries.

Robert Fisk: The only lesson we ever learn is that we never learn
The Independent (UK) Wednesday, 19 March 2008
Five years on, and still we have not learnt. With each anniversary, the steps crumble beneath our feet, the stones ever more cracked, the sand ever finer. Five years of catastrophe in Iraq and I think of Churchill, who in the end called Palestine a "hell-disaster".

U.S.-led force kills Afghan civilians in raid
By Elyas Wahdat Wed Mar 19, 7:52 AM ET
MUQIBEL, Afghanistan (Reuters) - U.S.-led coalition troops killed three men, two children and a woman, in a raid in southeastern Afghanistan, provincial officials and village residents said on Wednesday.

They said the victims, from the families of two brothers, were all civilians, but the U.S. military said the two brothers were involved in conducting bombing operations using improvised explosive devices.

The issue of civilian casualties is a sensitive one as it undermines public support for the presence of foreign troops and the pro-Western government of President Hamid Karzai.

"We will join the jihad" and "Death to Bush," chanted residents of the village of Muqibel in the province of Khost where the incident happened overnight.

Foreign troops raided two adjacent houses belonging to two brothers and killed three men, two children and a woman from the two families, district governor Gul Qasim told Reuters.

The children, both boys no older than 10, had bullet wounds to the head and chest, a Reuters witness said.

A large angry crowd of men gathered as villagers helped the local imam wash the bodies before burial. Women could be heard screaming and wailing from inside the houses.

"I condemn this strongly," Khost province Governor Arsala Jamal told reporters. "Afghan (forces) were not involved. It was a breach of the promise by coalition troops that they would coordinate operations with us. It is a challenge for us and it alienates people."

"MILITANTS TARGETED"
Troops were searching the compounds for one of the brothers when they came under fire, the U.S. military said.

"Several armed militants, two of whom were barricaded in a building, opened fire on coalition forces after they entered the compound," coalition spokesman Major Chris Belcher said in a statement. "Coalition forces returned fire killing Bismullah, his brother Rahim Jan, as well as several other armed militants."

Troops discovered the bodies of a woman and a child in the buildings after the fighting, the statement said, blaming the militants for putting the woman and child in harm's way.

A son of one of the brothers said he was a member of the border police and had returned from duty for the funerals.

"I heard about it this morning and came here," said the son, Alefuddin. "I lost three members of my family and three members of my uncle's family ... they were ordinary people."

Two men were also detained during the raid, the U.S. military and residents said.

The U.S.-led coalition has about 7,000 troops in Afghanistan, separate from the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF), involved in anti-terror operations.

The killings came a day after two members of parliament said ISAF planes had killed more than 30 people, including civilians, in the southern province of Helmand.

ISAF denied any civilians were killed in the airstrike which it said killed around 12 Taliban insurgents traveling in three vehicles on an isolated road some distance from any houses. It was impossible to independently verify the conflicting accounts.

(Writing by Jon Hemming; Editing by Bill Tarrant)
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US aims high in Afghanistan
By Philip Smucker Asia Times - Mar 19 3:11 AM
KORENGAL OUTPOST, Kunar province, northeastern Afghanistan - As the battle rages, Sergeant Wayne Amos screams for Apache helicopters to bring down the house on his attackers. "We just got hit," he cries, narrating the battle as it unfolds. "It is crazy now, we took one RPG [rocket-propelled grenade], a lot of small arms. They are kickin' up now."

"Ten seconds, on the enemy," he shouts as an order to his forces as the "tat, tat, tat" of a 50-caliber machine guns lays down a round of cover and a soldier dashes into the road to fire a TOW missile launcher into the rocky cliffs above.

Amos yells for a pause - "cease fire" - as a pair of Apaches rolls over the grid coordinates he has called in. The hills light up once more in the videotape of the fight taken by Amos himself.

Just one of the recent "ticks" that Amos, an Apache Indian and National Guardsman from New Mexico, has been in against faceless al-Qaeda-backed insurgents along Afghanistan's border with Pakistan, the fight underscores the intensity of the conflict with a nearly invisible enemy.

It is rare - almost never - when US forces get to count the dead enemy and take toll of who precisely has been attacking them. "I interact on a daily basis with an enemy that has both local and foreign elements," says Captain Loius Frketic, who commands a battalion known as the "Able Main Warlords" in Kunar province's Pech Valley. He is sure they are foreigners because he can hear Arab voices on the radio communications he intercepts. "But just what the foreign element is bringing to the fight, I don't exactly know."

Al-Qaeda's senior leadership was last targeted - two years ago - only 32 kilometers from his base in the neighboring Bajaur district of Pakistan. A few hours before that attack, Ayman al-Zawahiri, Osama bin Laden's top lieutenant, is believed to have slipped away. Until four years ago, US intelligence experts believed that bin Laden himself was traveling in Pakistan's North-West Frontier Province in the company of Zawahiri. Though the formerly inseparable pair is believed to have split up - likely out of security concerns - their paths may well still cross - at least for secret meetings.

In such meetings, senior al-Qaeda figures in Pakistan often review videotapes of the fighting in Afghanistan taken by surrogates and plan funding for future operations.

For fighters in the 173rd Combat Team fighting in eastern Afghanistan north of the Khyber Pass, just knowing that they fight in proximity to the masterminds of the September 11, 2001, attacks highlights their own sense of a great divide: a split between what the US forces can and must do in Afghanistan, and what al-Qaeda is planning across the border in Pakistan.

Platoon leaders in regular clashes with insurgents here say that their foe is under the direct sway of al-Qaeda. "When we are in a village, we always know that al-Qaeda and the Taliban will soon be back to try to undercut us and try to one-up us," said Sergeant Mark Patterson, whose platoon in the Korengal Valley has been in some of the heaviest fighting anywhere in Afghanistan. US forces based out of the "KOP", or Korengal Outpost, face a higher concentration of al-Qaeda-backed insurgents than most regions of Afghanistan, not least because an Egyptian lieutenant of al-Qaeda operates among them, say US officers.

While US forces rarely see their enemy, their mission is to fight for the hearts and minds of the same people al-Qaeda and its affiliates try to win over. While the insurgents try to operate with the cover of the what Chinese leader Mao Zedong once called the "sea of the people", US forces are trying to pry away that popular backing.

"We are constantly pushing into areas where the enemy operates freely - encroaching upon them and taking away their population base," says Commander Larry LeGree, who is charged with building roads into insurgent strongholds in the foothills of the Hindu Kush.

The point of building so many roads into remote areas along the Afghan border, say US officers, is also to "create a firewall" against al-Qaeda efforts to infiltrate with men and guns. At the same time, the Afghan forces that are meant to patrol these roads are being "mentored" by their US colleagues.

Yet the firewall can quickly turn into an ambush for US and Afghan fighters in the low ground. There are so many infiltration points available on the Pakistani border - particularly as the snow melts - that real issue is "who controls the high ground", according to a senior Afghan security official.

Insurgents rarely attack US fighters unless and until they have managed to position themselves at a higher altitude than their foe. "I would say that 95% of the time they hit us from the high ground - when our backs are turned," says Tanner Stichter, a soldier serving in the Korengal Outpost. "We have a very difficult time finding these foreign fighters - as they remain hidden."

The first response of US infantry when they are hit from insurgent positions in the hills above them is to call in air power and heavy artillery. This is not always effective as insurgents operate out of well-hidden redoubts - often the same positions used by guerrilla fighters in the war against the Soviets in the 1980s.

American forces, whose air power is far superior to any in the world, often end up pummeling the rocks in frustration. "I've watched on - you know - Predator feeds from the drones firing 155 shell after 155 shell and slamming into a house," says Lieutenant Brandon Kennedy, a recent graduate of West Point military academy. "They watch fighters come running out of these same structures. It is fairly difficult to accurately engage these guys."

Both US fighters and their Afghan proteges agree that they could do with controlling more of the high ground along the border with Pakistan.

"The US forces, along with the Afghan army and police, need to go on the offensive now - before the weather breaks," insists police chief, Haji Mohammed Jusef. "This time of year is the best time for us to take the high ground and deny it to the enemy."

These same peaks, however, straddle the Durand Line, some of them positioned in Afghanistan and others in Pakistan. It is an international border that the US and Afghan forces are obliged to recognize, but one which al-Qaeda merely hides behind.

Philip Smucker is a commentator and journalist based in South Asia and the Middle East. He is the author of Al-Qaeda's Great Escape: The Military and the Media on Terror's Trail (2004).
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Czech PRT starts operating in Afghan province Logar
Ceské noviny
Prague/Logar (Afghanistan)- The Czech Republic today officially started the activities of its own reconstruction team (PRT) in the Afghan province of Logar, Czech Chief of Staff Vlastimil Picek told today.
The ceremony was attended by Picek and Deputy Defence Minister Martin Bartak.

Overall, about 200 Czech soldiers plus civilian farming, construction and hydrology experts will operate in Logar.

The opening ceremony was also attended by local political representatives, including the governor of Logar.

Picek told CTK the PRT would first have to be fully acquainted with the local environment.

According to previous information, Czechs want to follow up the projects started by Americans in Afghanistan. They are supposed to complete some schools and hospitals.

Picek said the security situation in the province was stable.

"Here, the security situation is generally calm. There are no attacks against the coalition forces. However, we must be on alert," he added.

Commander Ivo Strecha said earlier the security situation in individual districts of the province differed.

"There are the districts with a good security situation and those with a bad security situation," Strecha said.

The coalition units still do not have some parts of the province under control, Strecha said.

"Taliban still has some space to pursue its activities," Strecha added.

Logar is inhabited by about 350,000 people.

The Czech team is to stay there for at least three years. After Lithuania and Hungary, the Czech Republic is the third new NATO country to have its own PRT.

The Foreign Ministry that has selected the civilian experts says the mission is to contribute to Afghanistan's heading for the law-governed state and not succumbing to chaos again.

The diplomats also say the reconstruction projects may be hampered by bad infrastructure and shortage of electricity.

This year, the Czech Republic will increase the number of its troops in Afghanistan. Along with Logar, Czechs are in a field hospital in Kabul.

The Czech military also operates in the southern province of Helmand in which one Czech soldier died and another two were wounded in a suicide attack on Monday.
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Afghan police carry out campaign to close down billiard halls
19/ 03/ 2008
KABUL, March 19 (RIA Novosti) - Afghan police are carrying out a large-scale campaign to close down unlicensed billiard halls allegedly being used as brothels and by criminals.

The campaign has been launched prior to the Nowrooz national holiday, which marks the beginning of the New Year in Afghanistan, Iran, Azerbaijan, Central Asia, Pakistan, parts of India and among ethnic Kurds.

A total of 54 out of Afghanistan's 172 pool halls have been closed down in the last three weeks, said Ali Shah Paktiawal, the head of the criminal branch at the Kabul police department.

Over 420 men and women have been arrested, Paktiawal said, adding that 10 people were accused of robbery and 23 females were suspected of prostitution. More than 100 pornographic films have been seized in five districts of the Afghan capital, the official added.
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Militants destroy another mobile phone tower in S Afghanistan
People's Daily - Mar 19 3:42 AM
Taliban militants destroyed another antenna of mobile phone companies in their former stronghold Kandahar in south Afghanistan, a local official Mohammad Ahsan said Wednesday.

"The enemies in their subversive activities attacked an antenna of a mobile company in Loya Wala area, five km north of Kandahar city Tuesday night and destroyed it," Ahsan told Xinhua.

However, he added none of the guards of the antenna were injured.

Nearly a dozen towers of mobile phone companies have been attacked and destroyed by Taliban insurgents since warning the companies owners last month to shut down their operations from dusk to dawn in the areas Taliban militants are active.
Source:Xinhua
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Barrasso finds morale high in Afghanistan
Wyoming senator visits state's soldiers, tours
By NOELLE STRAUB The Billings Gazette Washington Bureau
WASHINGTON - Visiting Afghanistan, Sen. John Barrasso said he found strong troop morale, excellent medical care for soldiers and progress in the U.S. anti-terrorism mission despite a difficult physical and political environment.

The Wyoming Republican said he wanted to thank U.S. soldiers serving in Afghanistan and see what conditions will be like for Army National Guard soldiers in Wyoming who have been notified of training for possible deployment in 2009.

"I want to make sure that I know what it's like here on the ground, what the issues are and make sure, kind of like a pre-op visit, I know what they'll be in and experiencing if they get deployed next year," the orthopedic surgeon said in a conference call with reporters.

Barrasso traveled with another senator and Defense Deputy Assistant Secretary Robert Hood. They visited military bases in Kabul, Bagram and Sharana and met with U.S. and NATO military officers and senior members of the Afghan government. Barrasso made a similar visit to Iraq over Thanksgiving. Barrasso left Casper on Sunday morning and will return today. The group stopped in Kuwait City overnight before flying to Kabul for military briefings. The group then traveled by helicopter to Bagram, a major base north of Kabul, and toured the main trauma hospital for U.S. soldiers.

The group also visited Sharana, south of Kabul, where Barrasso had construction briefings and lunch with troops, including Army Pfc. Justin Nation of Riverton, Wyo. Nation has been in the country for 13 months and re-enlisted, so he will be returning, Barrasso said.

"Many of them have been there 13 months, they are enthusiastic with what they're doing, they're very happy with the work they're doing, they feel they are making significant progress," he said.

Barrasso said there are 17 members of the Wyoming Army National Guard in Afghanistan now, embedded in teams throughout the country training Afghani police and military forces. He hoped to meet with more Wyoming soldiers just before leaving the country.

He said none of the U.S. soldiers had complaints about the equipment they had or other things they might need. "I ate a couple meals with the troops and they feel that they're well cared for," he said. "They say it's a lot harder on the folks at home than it is for them here."

In Kabul, Barrasso visited with the U.S. ambassador and four-star Gen. Daniel McNeil, talking about how the on-the-ground mission is going.

He also spoke with other generals about specific challenges in the different regions of the country and the 2009 presidential election. They also had lengthy discussions about training Afghanis for the military and the police, since policy hinges on having Afghanis take over the mission, Barrasso said.

"When you talk to the generals, they will tell you that Afghanistan is a very complicated situation, their efforts are to stabilize the country," he said. "They have a counter-terror mission, and they feel they are making significant progress. It is clearly about preventing the next terrorist attack. Americans want the peace of mind to know that there's a commitment to a safer America and a commitment to preventing another attack like we had on 9/11."

Barrasso said a general with 40 years in the military told him that "this is the best Army we have ever had and he has ever seen."

"They are doing hard work in a country that has difficult geography and difficult political issues," Barrasso said.

Barrasso said he had freedom to talk to any soldiers and Afghani workers within the confines of the bases he visited, chatting with troops in the gym and at meals. "I can talk to anybody I want to talk to, but you're on a military base," he said. "We're not just free to roam the streets."

The main trauma hospital for Afghanistan is in Bagram, he said. Injured soldiers are brought there for lifesaving procedures before being airlifted to Germany. Barrasso said he found top-notch medical facilities at the hospital and met with the trauma surgeon "who runs the show" and two orthopedic surgeons. He accompanied them into the operating room to observe an ankle reconstruction surgery on an Afghani man injured by an explosive device.

"I also want to make sure that all of our soldiers, any that would be injured, have absolutely outstanding and excellent medical care," Barrasso said.

The transport system for wounded soldiers is "down to a science," the senator said, with a helicopter immediately picking up and flying an injured soldier toward Bagram.

"At the same time they will send out a medical helicopter from the hospital in Bagram, out in the direction where they're coming in from, and then they will land and make a switch, so that soldier spends the least amount of time in transit and the most amount of time in a medical helicopter," he said.

As with Iraq, "you know you're in a war zone," Barrasso said. But noting that Afghanistan has been at war for 30 years, Barrasso said the median age there is 171/2, the average life span is 45, and only 3 percent of the population or less make it to the age of 65.

"The interesting thing as you go around is how young people look," he said.
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Canada rejects interim helicopter fix for Afghanistan
David Pugliese , Canwest News Service Tuesday, March 18, 2008
The Defence Department has turned down an offer of six U.S. Blackhawk helicopters for its operations in Kandahar in the hope it can still acquire larger choppers for the Afghanistan mission.

U.S. helicopter manufacturer Sikorsky offered the six Blackhawks, noting that it would be able to deliver the choppers to Kandahar this year.

The Blackhawk, one of the U.S. army's main frontline aircraft, can carry 11 combat troops or haul a 105-mm howitzer plus ammunition. It is currently being used in Afghanistan.

But the Defence Department says that is not enough to justify the purchase of the Blackhawks as a stop-gap until it can get its larger Chinook choppers sometime in or after 2011. It wants any helicopters for the Afghan operation to be able to transport up to 30 soldiers and be able to carry the Canadian Forces new 155-mm howitzer.

In an e-mail, the Defence Department stated that no formal offer was received regarding the Blackhawk helicopters.

"The Blackhawk helicopter does not meet the medium/heavy-lift capability required by the Canadian Forces in Afghanistan," the e-mail stated.

There were also concerns that Sikorsky could not deliver all the Blackhawks by 2009, defence officials privately say.

The Conservative government announced the purchase of new Chinook helicopters in the summer of 2006, but a contract has yet to be signed with the manufacturer Boeing. The Chinooks aren't expected to be delivered for at least another three years.

Helicopters are critical to the Afghanistan mission since they allow for the quick transport of troops and supplies. Military officers say the use of such aircraft would reduce the number of ground convoys needed and because of that the number of attacks and casualties would go down. It is easier for insurgents to strike at ground convoys.

The Manley panel on Afghanistan also recommended that medium-lift helicopters for the Canadian mission be in place by February 2009. Some defence analysts have noted that the panel did not stipulate those be Chinooks, raising the potential for other choppers to be used in the interim since it is so critical to get such aircraft to Afghanistan.

Earlier this month, Defence Minister Peter MacKay said discussions to acquire six U.S. choppers for Afghanistan were almost complete and an announcement would be made soon. Those six are expected to be Chinooks.

The Defence Department is trying to acquire the older model Chinooks to bridge the gap until the first of the newer versions of the same helicopter can arrive. There is also a possibility that other helicopters could be leased from an allied nation.

The Harper government approached Germany late last year to see if it could lend Canada four of its CH-53 transports. Germany, however, could not provide those helicopters since they were needed for its own forces in Afghanistan.

A less capable variant was offered instead that would have required installation of additional features for protection of the chopper from insurgent ground fire.

Some other nations use a variety of helicopters for the Afghanistan mission. The U.S. has Chinooks and Blackhawks, as well as attack helicopters. Britain uses Chinooks, Sea Kings and attack helicopters. It also uses Lynx helicopters, but those are limited in flying times during the heat of the summer, according to British reports.
Ottawa Citizen
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Afghanistan ultimatum
Patrick Walters | March 20, 2008 The Australian
AUSTRALIA is committed to Afghanistan for the long haul, but Kevin Rudd says it is up to NATO to produce a strategy for success against the Taliban.

Mr Rudd will become the first Australian prime minister to attend a NATO summit when he goes to Romania next month when the 26-member body will try to agree on how to align military operations and civil reconstruction in Afghanistan. "The reason I am going to Bucharest to attend the summit is very clear-cut: I want to be confident that NATO collectively and the European contributors to it have embarked on a long-term strategy to secure success in Afghanistan and against fixed benchmarks," the Prime Minister said yesterday.
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Afghan police capture 3 suspected terrorists
www.chinaview.cn  2008-03-19
KABUL, March 19 (Xinhua) -- Police in Afghanistan's western Herat province have arrested three suspected terrorists, a statement of the Interior Ministry said Wednesday.

"These rebels who were involved in disrupting peace and stability were captured from Gazara district and a number of arms and ammunition including four assault rifles have been seized from their possession," the statement added.

It did not give more details.

Police in the same province on Monday killed two militants and captured five others.

Over 220 people have been killed mostly in militant-related violence this year across the war-torn country, where the anti-government militants have vowed to intensify their guerrilla-style attacks.
Editor: Gao Ying 
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NATO seeks Afghan support on anti-Koran film
Tue Mar 18, 2008 1:52pm EDT By David Brunnstrom
KABUL, March 18 (Reuters) - NATO is concerned about a possible backlash over a Dutch video criticising the Koran and has appealed to Afghan leaders for support, its top operational commander said on Wednesday.

Right-wing parliamentarian Geert Wilders says the Koran is a "fascist" book that incites violence and plans to show the 15-minute film this month despite appeals from the Dutch government and mounting unrest in the Muslim world.

Supreme Allied Commander Europe John Craddock said insurgents and their backers could use the video to whip up anger against NATO troops in Afghanistan, notably the 1,650-string Dutch contingent in the south.

"Yes, I think it is a concern ... that they will take out their ire on all of those people such as the Dutch in Uruzgan (province)," Craddock said.

"The problem is the extremists. They want to use this as a rallying point to their advantage," he told a news briefing at the headquarters of the 43,000-strong NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) in Kabul.

"We have appealed to the (Afghan) leadership: Don't hold the soldiers accountable, it's not fair ... I think the leaders have understood that."

About 15,000 people protested in Afghanistan against the film earlier this month, burning Dutch and Danish flags.

The Netherlands raised its national risk level to "substantial" this month and Prime Minister Jan Peter Balkenende warned European leaders at a summit last week that consequences of showing the film could extend outside the Netherlands.

Mindful of the European attachment to freedom of speech, his government has not yet sought an outright ban on the film.

However, it is anxious to avoid a repeat of riots and attacks on Danish embassies sparked by Danish newspaper cartoons of the Prophet Mohammad in 2006. It has urged Wilders not to broadcast the film and distanced itself from his views.

Wilders -- the target of death threats on Islamic militant Web sites -- has given few details about the film. He said last week he was disappointed no Dutch broadcaster wanted to show it.

Several Muslim countries have criticised the film and warned against broadcasting it. Indonesia, the world's most populous Muslim nation, said on Friday the movie could derail inter-faith dialogue and threaten peace.

At least 50 people were killed in riots throughout the Muslim world after cartoons of the Prophet Mohammad, one showing him with a turban resembling a bomb, were published in Denmark two years ago. (Writing by Mark John, editing by Paul Taylor and Robert Woodward)
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City-based tanks roll over Afghan insurgents
Military heavyweights have made a difference against Taliban, returning soldiers say
Ryan Cormier, The Edmonton Journal
EDMONTON - Leaders of one of Canada's tank squadrons in Afghanistan say the vehicles have helped soldiers immensely in the past year, but make local Afghans jittery.

"People are a little bit nervous, especially with tanks, that you're going

to level their village," said Maj. Trevor Gosselin, who just returned from an Afghanistan tour with a tank squadron.

"Combat and security operations have a price to pay sometimes in that we have to knock things down in order to achieve missions. For every door we break, we're going back to fix that door."

Three tank squadrons from the Edmonton Garrison are rotated into Afghanistan.

Gosselin and Sgt.-Maj. Geof Bamford returned a few days ago as part of C-squadron and provided a rare public glimpse Tuesday into their units' experiences. A-squadron is currently training and B-squadron has taken over in Afghanistan.

While Canadian soldiers enjoy the sight of a tank rolling to their position, Bamford said locals remember the Soviet armoured vehicles of the 1980s, and the Canadian equivalent is often met with awe and timidity. The destructive power is obvious.

"The reaction is not that much different than a Canadian civilian -- big eyes and standing back until they realize you're not there to hurt them. Then they swarm around you," Bamford said.

"They know that when a tank is around that things will be OK, things will be sorted out."

The addition of tanks in 2007 has helped to help clear out insurgents, which can be "fairly messy and fairly nasty" Gosselin said.

"By bringing tanks into theatre, you can basically go wherever you want in that country. You can knock down walls, breach rivers, go through streams, cross gaps and go over bridges," he said.

"(Tanks say) we're here, we're here for a while and we're going to sort this problem out. It says you can go home or you can stand and fight, and if you stand and fight, you will lose."

A Leopard tank can shoot a target up to four kilometres away, while infantry vehicles have a range of roughly 2,200 metres.

There are between 10 and 20 Canadian-driven tanks in Afghanistan; officers decline to be more specific, citing security reasons.

Gosselin and Bamford, back in Canada for a few days, have met with the family of a member of their squadron who died in Afghanistan. Trooper Michael Hayakaze was killed March 2 by an explosive device, and the two officers explained to his family exactly what type of mission he was on when it happened.

"They took some comfort in the fact their son had died in a noble cause," Gosselin said.

"For a soldier, you want to die in the service of your country, if you have to die. You want to die for a noble and just cause. Trooper Hayakaze's death met both of those things."

Although back in Canada, the possibility of an increase in Taliban activity with warmer spring weather is on Gosselin's mind. He hopes there isn't a spring offensive, and doesn't believe there would be any point to the Taliban launching one.

"I think the Taliban are extremely weak at this point. Would they be able to mount something? Probably. A smart enemy would give up and this point and go about a diplomatic or political way to achieve their end."
rcormier@thejournal.canwest.com
ON DUTY
To learn more about life in a tank squadron in Afghanistan, look for a slide show under Photo Galleries at edmontonjournal.com.
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Afghan FM Spanta Due In Turkey
3/19/2008 Turkish Press, MI
ANKARA - Foreign Minister Dr.Rengin Dadfar Spanta of Afghanistan will pay a formal visit to Turkey between March 19th and 20th, 2008.
According to a MFA statement, bilateral relations as well as regional matters would be discussed during a meeting between Turkish FM Ali Babacan and the guest minister and talks between the delegations of the two countries.

Turkish President Abdullah Gul will receive Spanta the same day.

Spanta will proceed to Istanbul to give a conference at Bogazici University on March 20th.
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Robert Fisk: The only lesson we ever learn is that we never learn
The Independent (UK) Wednesday, 19 March 2008
Five years on, and still we have not learnt. With each anniversary, the steps crumble beneath our feet, the stones ever more cracked, the sand ever finer. Five years of catastrophe in Iraq and I think of Churchill, who in the end called Palestine a "hell-disaster".

But we have used these parallels before and they have drifted away in the Tigris breeze. Iraq is swamped in blood. Yet what is the state of our remorse? Why, we will have a public inquiry but not yet! If only inadequacy was our only sin.

Today, we are engaged in a fruitless debate. What went wrong? How did the people the senatus populusque Romanus of our modern world not rise up in rebellion when told the lies about weapons of mass destruction, about Saddam's links with Osama bin Laden and 11 September? How did we let it happen? And how come we didn't plan for the aftermath of war?

Oh, the British tried to get the Americans to listen, Downing Street now tells us. We really, honestly did try, before we absolutely and completely knew it was right to embark on this illegal war. There is now a vast literature on the Iraq debacle and there are precedents for post-war planning of which more later but this is not the point. Our predicament in Iraq is on an infinitely more terrible scale.

As the Americans came storming up Iraq in 2003, their cruise missiles hissing through the sandstorm towards a hundred Iraqi towns and cities, I would sit in my filthy room in the Baghdad Palestine Hotel, unable to sleep for the thunder of explosions, and root through the books I'd brought to fill the dark, dangerous hours. Tolstoy's War and Peace reminded me how conflict can be described with sensitivity and grace and horror I recommend the Battle of Borodino along with a file of newspaper clippings. In this little folder, there was a long rant by Pat Buchanan, written five months earlier; and still, today I feel its power and its prescience and its absolute historical honesty: "With our MacArthur Regency in Baghdad, Pax Americana will reach apogee. But then the tide recedes, for the one endeavour at which Islamic people excel is expelling imperial powers by terror or guerrilla war.

"They drove the Brits out of Palestine and Aden, the French out of Algeria, the Russians out of Afghanistan, the Americans out of Somalia and Beirut, the Israelis out of Lebanon. We have started up the road to empire and over the next hill we will meet those who went before. The only lesson we learn from history is that we do not learn from history."

How easily the little men took us into the inferno, with no knowledge or, at least, interest in history. None of them read of the 1920 Iraqi insurgency against British occupation, nor of Churchill's brusque and brutal settlement of Iraq the following year.

On our historical radars, not even Crassus appeared, the wealthiest Roman general of all, who demanded an emperorship after conquering Macedonia "Mission Accomplished" and vengefully set forth to destroy Mesopotamia. At a spot in the desert near the Euphrates river, the Parthians ancestors of present day Iraqi insurgents annihilated the legions, chopped off Crassus's head and sent it back to Rome filled with gold. Today, they would have videotaped his beheading.

To their monumental hubris, these little men who took us to war five years ago now prove that they have learnt nothing. Anthony Blair as we should always have called this small town lawyer should be facing trial for his mendacity. Instead, he now presumes to bring peace to an Arab-Israeli conflict which he has done so much to exacerbate. And now we have the man who changed his mind on the legality of war and did so on a single sheet of A4 paper daring to suggest that we should test immigrants for British citizenship. Question 1, I contend, should be: Which blood-soaked British attorney general helped to send 176 British soldiers to their deaths for a lie? Question 2: How did he get away with it?

But in a sense, the facile, dumbo nature of Lord Goldsmith's proposal is a clue to the whole transitory, cardboard structure of our decision-making. The great issues that face us be they Iraq or Afghanistan, the US economy or global warming, planned invasions or "terrorism" are discussed not according to serious political timetables but around television schedules and press conferences.

Will the first air raids on Iraq hit prime-time television in the States? Mercifully, yes. Will the first US troops in Baghdad appear on the breakfast shows? Of course. Will Saddam's capture be announced by Bush and Blair simultaneously?.

But this is all part of the problem. True, Churchill and Roosevelt argued about the timing of the announcement that war in Europe had ended. And it was the Russians who pipped them to the post. But we told the truth. When the British were retreating to Dunkirk, Churchill announced that the Germans had "penetrated deeply and spread alarm and confusion in their tracks".

Why didn't Bush or Blair tell us this when the Iraqi insurgents began to assault the Western occupation forces? Well, they were too busy telling us that things were getting better, that the rebels were mere "dead-enders".

On 17 June 1940, Churchill told the people of Britain: "The news from France is very bad and I grieve for the gallant French people who have fallen into this terrible misfortune." Why didn't Blair or Bush tell us that the news from Iraq was very bad and that they grieved even just a few tears for a minute or so for the Iraqis?

For these were the men who had the temerity, the sheer, unadulterated gall, to dress themselves up as Churchill, heroes who would stage a rerun of the Second World War, the BBC dutifully calling the invaders "the Allies" they did, by the way and painting Saddam's regime as the Third Reich.

Of course, when I was at school, our leaders Attlee, Churchill, Eden, Macmillan, or Truman, Eisenhower and Kennedy in the United States had real experience of real war. Not a single Western leader today has any first-hand experience of conflict. When the Anglo-American invasion of Iraq began, the most prominent European opponent of the war was Jacques Chirac, who fought in the Algerian conflict. But he has now gone. So has Colin Powell, a Vietnam veteran but himself duped by Rumsfeld and the CIA.

Yet one of the terrible ironies of our times is that the most bloodthirsty of American statesmen Bush and Cheney, Rumsfeld and Wolfovitz have either never heard a shot fired in anger or have ensured they did not have to fight for their country when they had the chance to do so. No wonder Hollywood titles like "Shock and Awe" appeal to the White House. Movies are their only experience of human conflict; the same goes for Blair and Brown.

Churchill had to account for the loss of Singapore before a packed House. Brown won't even account for Iraq until the war is over.

It is a grotesque truism that today after all the posturing of our political midgets five years ago we might at last be permitted a valid seance with the ghosts of the Second World War. Statistics are the medium, and the room would have to be dark. But it is a fact that the total of US dead in Iraq (3,978) is well over the number of American casualties suffered in the initial D-Day landings at Normandy (3,384 killed and missing) on 6 June, 1944, or more than three times the total British casualties at Arnhem the same year (1,200).

They count for just over a third of the total fatalities (11,014) of the entire British Expeditionary Force from the German invasion of Belgium to the final evacuation at Dunkirk in June 1940. The number of British dead in Iraq 176 is almost equal to the total of UK forces lost at the Battle of the Bulge in 1944-45 (just over 200). The number of US wounded in Iraq 29,395 is more than nine times the number of Americans injured on 6 June (3,184) and more than a quarter of the tally for US wounded in the entire 1950-53 Korean war (103,284).

Iraqi casualties allow an even closer comparison to the Second World War. Even if we accept the lowest of fatality statistics for civilian dead they range from 350,000 up to a million these long ago dwarfed the number of British civilian dead in the flying-bomb blitz on London in 1944-45 (6,000) and now far outnumber the total figure for civilians killed in bombing raids across the United Kingdom 60,595 dead, 86,182 seriously wounded from 1940 to 1945.

Indeed, the Iraqi civilian death toll since our invasion is now greater than the total number of British military fatalities in the Second World War, which came to an astounding 265,000 dead (some histories give this figure as 300,000) and 277,000 wounded. Minimum estimates for Iraqi dead mean that the civilians of Mesopotamia have suffered six or seven Dresdens or more terrible still two Hiroshimas.

Yet in a sense, all this is a distraction from the awful truth in Buchanan's warning. We have dispatched our armies into the land of Islam. We have done so with the sole encouragement of Israel, whose own false intelligence over Iraq has been discreetly forgotten by our masters, while weeping crocodile tears for the hundreds of thousands of Iraqis who have died.

America's massive military prestige has been irreparably diminished. And if there are, as I now calculate, 22 times as many Western troops in the Muslim world as there were at the time of the 11th and 12th century Crusades, we must ask what we are doing. Are we there for oil? For democracy? For Israel? For fear of weapons of mass destruction? Or for fear of Islam?

We blithely connect Afghanistan to Iraq. If only Washington had not become distracted by Iraq, so the narrative now goes, the Taliban could not have re-established themselves. But al-Qa'ida and the nebulous Osama bin Laden were not distracted. Which is why they expanded their operations into Iraq and then used this experience to assault the West in Afghanistan with the hitherto in Afghanistan unheard of suicide bomber.

And I will hazard a terrible guess: that we have lost Afghanistan as surely as we have lost Iraq and as surely as we are going to "lose" Pakistan. It is our presence, our power, our arrogance, our refusal to learn from history and our terror yes, our terror of Islam that is leading us into the abyss. And until we learn to leave these Muslim peoples alone, our catastrophe in the Middle East will only become graver. There is no connection between Islam and "terror". But there is a connection between our occupation of Muslim lands and "terror". It's not too complicated an equation. And we don't need a public inquiry to get it right.
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