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March 2, 2008 

Militants destroy more Afghan mobile phone towers
KABUL (AFP) - Two mobile phone antennas were destroyed in southern Afghanistan, officials said Sunday, after Taliban militants threatened to bring down such masts, alleging they are used to locate hideouts.

Afghans protest at Danish cartoons
By Tahir Qadiry
MAZAR-I-SHARIF, Afghanistan (Reuters) - About 1,000 Afghans, incensed by the republication of a cartoon of the Prophet Mohammad in Danish newspapers, marched on Sunday demanding withdrawal of Danish and Dutch troops.

US Military Kills al-Qaida Leader
By PATRICK QUINN The Associated Press Sunday, March 2, 2008; 10:50 AM
BAGHDAD -- A U.S. military helicopter fired a guided missile to kill a wanted al-Qaida in Iraq leader from Saudi Arabia who was responsible for the bombing deaths of five American soldiers, a spokesman said Sunday.

Bush warns Iran, calls for more NATO troops in Afghanistan
Sat Mar 1, 8:01 PM ET
CRAWFORD, Texas (AFP) - US President George W. Bush on Saturday warned his Iranian counterpart Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to "stop exporting terror" ahead of the Iranian leader's historic visit to Iraq.

Afghanistan parliament approves new drugs minister
Sat Mar 1, 4:07 PM ET
KABUL (AFP) - Afghanistan's parliament approved Saturday a new minister to lead the fight against an opium and heroin industry that is at historic highs and funding a growing Taliban insurgency.

Afghan president replaces governor of Helmand
Reuters - Sunday, March 2 09:37 am
KABUL (Reuters) - Afghan President Hamid Karzai has replaced the governor of the southern province of Helmand, a state newspaper said on Sunday, the official whose complaint led to the expulsion of two senior European diplomats late last year.

AFGHANISTAN: Afghan mothers give children opium
02 Mar 2008 13:35:07 GMT
BADAKHSHAN, 2 March 2008 (IRIN) - Afghanistan is the world's leading producer of opium. Villagers in remote areas of Badakhshan Province, north-eastern Afghanistan, have been using opium as a substitute for medicine for years.

Iran repatriates 1,800 Afghan refugees
Japan Today - Mar 01 10:10 PM
ISLAMABAD Iran on Saturday repatriated 1,800 Afghan refugees detained in camps for several months to Nimroz in southern Afghanistan, Afghan Islamic Press reported.

The dictatorship myth
Mussolini never actually did make the trains run on time. Nor did the Taliban provide Afghanistan with anything approaching stability or security
Robert Fulford , National Post (Canada) Saturday, March 01, 2008
In 1994, when the Taliban set out to become the government of Afghanistan, their plan was to replace the anarchy of tribal warfare with Islamic order. The strange thing is that there are still people who think they accomplished what they promised.

Pakistan, US raise militant tempo
By Syed Saleem Shahzad Asia Times Online / March 1, 2008
KARACHI - With the United States missile attack on an important Taliban compound in Azam Warsak village in the South Waziristan tribal area in the early hours of Thursday, a new phase in the regional "war on terror"

Afghanistan looking for foreign investment in energy sector
February 29, 2008
Berlin (dpa) - Afghanistan is hoping to find foreign investors to help it expand its energy sector, Afghan Energy Minister Mohammed Ismael Chan said on Friday.

Taliban can't stop Korean missionary zeal
By Sunny Lee Asia Times Online / March 1, 2008
BUNDANG, South Korea - This is the Saemmul Church, just south of Seoul. It is this Presbyterian congregation that sent 23 Christian volunteers to Afghanistan last July on short-term aid and evangelical missions.

Prince Harry wants another combat tour
By DAVID STRINGER, Associated Press Writer
LONDON - Prince Harry, home from his abandoned military mission to Afghanistan, said he hopes to return to combat zones as soon as possible.

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Militants destroy more Afghan mobile phone towers
KABUL (AFP) - Two mobile phone antennas were destroyed in southern Afghanistan, officials said Sunday, after Taliban militants threatened to bring down such masts, alleging they are used to locate hideouts.

A first mast was destroyed in the southern province of Kandahar on Friday, four days after the Taliban warned they would attack the technology because it was being used at night to pinpoint rebel bases.

In the new attacks, armed rebels scaled a mast just outside Kandahar city overnight and destroyed equipment, local police officer Ghulam Hazrat said.

"I'm sure it was the work of the Taliban," he told AFP, adding that guards at the facility had escaped unhurt.

Another antenna was destroyed in the neighbouring Helmand province's Sangin district, a local official told AFP under condition of anonymity because he was not authorised to speak to media.

The police chief for Helmand, Mohammad Hussein Andiwal, confirmed a cell phone tower was destroyed in the area but could not say how.

"We know that a telephone antenna has been destroyed there (Sangin) but we don't yet know how it was destroyed," Andiwal told AFP from the provincial capital, Lashkar Gah.

The police chief said that he could not reach his men in the area by cell phone, the normal means of communication, and they had had to use radios.

Both masts belonged to Roshan, Afghanistan's leading mobile phone provider, the officials said.

Militants used petrol bombs on Friday to attack an antenna in Zhari district, west of the city.

Issuing their warning on Monday, the Taliban also demanded mobile services be halted at night.

Some residents in the area where the first attack was staged said their mobile networks had been down for several hours after the incident.

Five mobile companies operate in Afghanistan and the sector is one of the most successful of the post-Taliban government.

The Taliban were removed in late 2001 for not handing over their Al-Qaeda allies after the September 11 attacks on the United States.

They are waging an insurgency that was at its deadliest last year with more than 6,000 people killed -- most of them rebel fighters.
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Afghans protest at Danish cartoons
By Tahir Qadiry
MAZAR-I-SHARIF, Afghanistan (Reuters) - About 1,000 Afghans, incensed by the republication of a cartoon of the Prophet Mohammad in Danish newspapers, marched on Sunday demanding withdrawal of Danish and Dutch troops.

The protesters, mostly religious clerics in the northern city of Mazar-i-Sharif, also condemned plans by a right-wing Dutch politician to broadcast a film on the Koran.

Afghanistan's Religious Affairs Ministry has called the reprinting of the cartoon as an attack against Islam. Several other Islamic countries have demanded that the film by the Dutch lawmaker Geert Wilders must not be released.

The cartoons were first printed in a Danish paper in 2005. They gained little initial attention but were later reprinted outside Denmark, sparking protests across the Muslim world in which dozens of people, some in Afghanistan, were killed.

Danish newspapers reprinted one of the images again last month in protest at what they said was a plot to murder the cartoonist who drew it. At least two Dutch papers published pictures of the Danish newspapers, with the cartoon visible.

"We demand the ... withdrawal of Danish and Dutch soldiers from Afghanistan," said Mawlavi Shoaib, a religious figure and one of the organizers.

"Down with Denmark and Netherlands. We will not let anyone insult the Prophet and the Koran. We urge the Muslim community to voice their concerns," the protesters chanted.

Dutch and Danish troops serve under NATO's command in Afghanistan.

NATO Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer told Dutch television on Sunday he was concerned about the repercussions Wilders' plans may have for troops serving in Afghanistan and for Dutch people and businesses elsewhere in the world.

"I feel responsible for the troops in Afghanistan. If they should come in the firing line because of the film, then I worry about that and also express my worries," De Hoop Scheffer said.

The protesters warned they would launch bigger demonstrations, unless their demands over the expulsion of Dutch and Danish forces were met by the Afghan government.

(Additional reporting by Catherine Hornby in Amsterdam; Editing by Alison Williams)
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US Military Kills al-Qaida Leader
By PATRICK QUINN The Associated Press Sunday, March 2, 2008; 10:50 AM
BAGHDAD -- A U.S. military helicopter fired a guided missile to kill a wanted al-Qaida in Iraq leader from Saudi Arabia who was responsible for the bombing deaths of five American soldiers, a spokesman said Sunday.

U.S. Navy Rear Adm. Gregory Smith said Jar Allah, also known as Abu Yasir al-Saudi, and another Saudi known only as Hamdan, were both killed Wednesday in Mosul.

According to the military, al-Saudi conducted numerous attacks against Iraqi and U.S. forces, including a Jan. 28 bomb attack that killed the five U.S. soldiers.

In that attack, insurgents blasted a U.S. patrol with a roadside bomb and showered survivors with gunfire from a mosque. The soldiers died in the explosion, the deadliest on American forces since six soldiers perished Jan. 9 in a booby-trapped house north of Baghdad.

Intelligence gathered in the Mosul area led the U.S. military to al-Saudi, who was in a car with Hamdan. A precision helicopter strike killed both and destroyed their vehicle. U.S. forces then confirmed the men's identities.

Smith said their deaths brought to 142 the number of al-Qaida insurgents killed or captured in Mosul since the beginning of the year.

Al-Saudi was the man who headed up the al-Qaida network in southeast Mosul, an insurgent hotbed where U.S. forces wage daily battles against the group.

"Mosul is the center of al-Qaida's terrorist activities today. Mosul is a critical crossroads for al-Qaida in Iraq. Baghdad has always been al-Qaida's operational center of gravity, but Mosul remains their strategic center of gravity as it provides access to the flow of foreign fighters," Smith said.

Mosul is located at the locus of roads that connect Iraq with Syria to the west, Turkey to the north and Iran to the east. Many fighters smuggled in from Syria make their way through Mosul, where they can easily blend in with city's ethnically and religiously diverse population.

"It is their strategic center of gravity. One-half to two-thirds of attacks in Iraq today are in and around Mosul," Smith said.

A successful program to recruit and fund Sunni tribesmen has also slashed al-Qaida's influence in Baghdad and western Anbar province, pushing the group into Diyala province and up toward Mosul _ fighting as they retreat north.

In one incident Sunday, 13 gunmen were killed and eight were injured in clashes with American and Iraqi forces in the town of Tal Afar _ on the road from Syria to Mosul. Tal Afar Mayor Maj. Gen. Najim Abdullah said that two police officers were also killed and four were injured.

In two other separate attacks in Diyala, police reported that five people were killed when a roadside bomb hit a bus, while another assault killed a patrolling police officer.

It remains unclear if al-Qaida was responsible for Friday's kidnapping of Chaldean Catholic Archbishop Paulos Faraj Rahho and the killing of three people who were with him. Smith said that Iraqi and U.S. forces were searching for those who abducted the cleric as he left Mass in the northern city of Mosul. The European Union also appealed for his release and condemned the kidnapping in an announcement.

Smith said there was no way to predict when Mosul would be rid of al-Qaida, adding that "there is no timetable per se to turn over security in any particular area of Iraq, including Baghdad" to Iraqi forces.

According to the military, al-Saudi planned and conducted numerous attacks against Iraqi and U.S. forces, including a reported attempt with a 5,000-lb vehicle bomb that would have killed hundreds of people if it had exploded.

Al-Saudi was a close associate of al-Qaida in Iraq leader Abu Ayyub al-Masri and arrived in Mosul with a group of foreign fighters last August after spending time fighting in Afghanistan.

"After fighting and training in Afghanistan, he was brought to Iraq by Abu Ayyub al-Masri in November 2007, one of four Saudi Arabians appointed to supervise al-Qaida activities in Mosul. He was quickly moved up to run all of the terror network's operations in southeast Mosul, becoming the most visible and active al-Qaida operative in the area," Smith said.

In another incident, the military expressed regret over the killing of a teenager Friday by a helicopter gunship that thought it was firing on suspected roadside bombers planting a device, the military said.

It added that residents later told troops that a group of boys had been digging up roots for firewood.
_____
Associated Press writer Bradley Brooks contributed to this story from Baghdad.
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Bush warns Iran, calls for more NATO troops in Afghanistan
Sat Mar 1, 8:01 PM ET
CRAWFORD, Texas (AFP) - US President George W. Bush on Saturday warned his Iranian counterpart Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to "stop exporting terror" ahead of the Iranian leader's historic visit to Iraq.

Bush, at a press conference at his Texas ranch with visiting Danish Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen, said while Iraq needed to hold talks with its neighbor it should make clear to Tehran it must stop arming Iraqi militias.

He said that "the message needs to be 'quit sending in sophisticated equipment that's killing our citizens.'"

Bush said his message for Ahmadinejad was "stop exporting terror."

The United States has accused Iran of supplying Iraq insurgents with bombs used to attack US soldiers and is increasingly concerned over Tehran's influence in the Shiite-majority country.

Ahmadinejad hopes his groundbreaking visit to Iraq on Sunday will mark a major step in bolstering ties between Iran and its conflict-torn western neighbor, marking a new chapter after a devastating eight-year war in the 1980s.

Bush spoke after a two day summit with the Danish prime minister focusing on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, telling reporters he would lobby NATO members to offer more troops to the mission in Afghanistan.

"My administration has made it abundantly clear we expect people to carry a heavy burden if they are going to be in Afghanistan," Bush said.

The US president said he understood "there are certain political constraints on certain countries" but said he planned to press for more NATO troop contributions at a major summit in Bucharest in April.

"And so I am going to go to Bucharest with the notion that we are thankful for the contributions being made, and encourage people to contribute more," said Bush.

Rasmussen backed military action in Iraq and Afghanistan with Danish troops despite opposition to the conflicts in his country and other parts of Europe.

Some 550 Danes are serving in Afghanistan where most are deployed under British command in the volatile southern Helmand province.

The US administration has been pressing its allies to commit more troops to Afghanistan, but many countries face fierce opposition at home and will only allow their forces to be deployed for training missions -- not for combat in the south.

Bush on Friday held talks in Washington with NATO chief Jaap de Hoop Scheffer about Afghanistan, which is facing a fierce resurgency by the Islamic Taliban militia and their Al-Qaeda allies.

Bush meanwhile vowed to maintain international pressure on Iran to halt its disputed nuclear program, which, he charges, hides a bid to build an atomic bomb. Tehran insists its nuclear work is solely aimed at generating electricity.

The US leader said "the international community is serious about continuing to isolate Iran until they come clean about their nuclear weapons ambitions. That's why there will be action in the United Nations here early next week."

The UN Security Council is expected to adopt on Monday a third set of sanctions against Iran over its refusal to freeze uranium enrichment work.

Iran and the United States held three rounds of talks over the security of Iraq last year despite mounting tensions over the Iranian nuclear program. The two foes have had no diplomatic relations since 1980.

Bush also refused to speculate as to whether more US troops would be pulled out of Iraq after July saying the decision would be made by his top military leaders.

The Washington Post speculated Saturday that the Bush administration would withdraw more US forces from the country before he leaves office in January 2009.

But Bush said his decision "is going to be based on the recommendations" of Defense Secretary Robert Gates and US military commander in Iraq, General David Petraeus, as well as the joint chiefs-of-staff.

"We're not going to let politics drive my decision, again," Bush said,

A senior administration official, who asked not to be named, said the administration was "not ruling anything in or out" on US troop levels.
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Afghanistan parliament approves new drugs minister
Sat Mar 1, 4:07 PM ET
KABUL (AFP) - Afghanistan's parliament approved Saturday a new minister to lead the fight against an opium and heroin industry that is at historic highs and funding a growing Taliban insurgency.

The appointment, part of a reshuffle which also saw the replacement of the transport minister and three provincial governors, comes as the US State Department said in a report Friday more Afghans than ever are growing opium.

The post of counternarcotics minister has been vacant for seven months. Parliament voted in as minister an army general named only as Khodaidad who had been serving as acting minister, a government spokesman said.

There has been a surge in Afghanistan's opium output, which accounts for more than 90 percent of the world supply of the drug used to make heroin.

A US State Department report released Friday said more than 14 percent of Afghans were involved in poppy production in 2007, up from 12.6 percent the previous year.

"Narcotics production in Afghanistan hit historic highs in 2007 for the second straight year," it said.

Parliament also approved the replacement of the governor of the heart of the country's opium and heroin production, Helmand province, where Taliban hold a handful of districts.

President Hamid Karzai on Saturday awarded the outgoing governor Assadullah Wafa one of the country's highest medals for "outstanding" service in efforts to promote peace and security, his office said.

The national assembly parliament also voted in Karzai's nomination of businessman Hamidullah Qaderi to replace Nehmatullah Ehsan Jawid as transport minister.

Jawid was dismissed in part because of problems with the corruption-plagued national carrier, Ariana Airlines, one official said on condition of anonymity.

The governors of the central provinces of Laghman and Ghazni, where 23 South Korean hostages were held by Taliban for weeks and two killed, were also replaced.
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Afghan president replaces governor of Helmand
Reuters - Sunday, March 2 09:37 am
KABUL (Reuters) - Afghan President Hamid Karzai has replaced the governor of the southern province of Helmand, a state newspaper said on Sunday, the official whose complaint led to the expulsion of two senior European diplomats late last year.

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Afghanistan's expulsion of the acting head of the EU mission Michael Semple and U.N. political officer Mervyn Patterson in December led to a diplomatic row with international community, particularly Britain which has some 7,000 troops in Helmand.

Asadullah Wafa, then governor of Helmand, had complained to President Hamid Karzai that Irishman Semple and Briton Patterson had been negotiating with the Taliban in his province without his knowledge and had plans to pay off militant leaders.

Karzai then expelled the pair. The president later further heightened tensions with Britain, by complaining he had been wrong to listen to British advice to remove a previous governor of Helmand accused by London of cruelty and involvement in the flourishing drugs trade, which is centred in Helmand.

British actions in Helmand, one of Afghanistan's most dangerous regions, had made matters worse, Karzai said.

Karzai later insisted he had been misquoted, but the expulsion of the two diplomats and the president's criticism of Britain's role in Helmand marked a low point in relations between London and Kabul.

The president awarded Wafa a medal for his services at a ceremony on Saturday and appointed him head of the complaints department at the presidential palace, the Anis newspaper said.

In his place, Karzai appointed Gulab Mangal as governor of Helmand, a man seen as a capable administrator, but one without local ties to the volatile and tribally divided province, which diplomats said might limit his influence there.

Sometimes tense relations between Karzai who is slowly gearing up for elections next year and Western governments with troops in Afghanistan may harm efforts to combat the resurgent Taliban who have vowed to renew a campaign of suicide attacks this year to oust the Afghan government and foreign troops.

(Writing by Jon Hemming; Editing by Sanjeev Miglani)
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AFGHANISTAN: Afghan mothers give children opium
02 Mar 2008 13:35:07 GMT
BADAKHSHAN, 2 March 2008 (IRIN) - Afghanistan is the world's leading producer of opium. Villagers in remote areas of Badakhshan Province, north-eastern Afghanistan, have been using opium as a substitute for medicine for years. They are oblivious to the harm it can do to their health.

There is no official data about the number of drug addicts in Badakhshan. However, the United Nations Office for Drugs and Crimes (UNODC) says one million people are addicted to drugs there, 45,000 of whom are women.

This video short shows a women's opium smoking session in the village of Jukhan, tucked away in mountainous Badakhshan. While efforts are being made to rehabilitate drug addicts in the village, Bibi Mulla, her relatives and friends smoke opium at home and give it to their children up to three times a day.
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Iran repatriates 1,800 Afghan refugees
Japan Today - Mar 01 10:10 PM
ISLAMABAD Iran on Saturday repatriated 1,800 Afghan refugees detained in camps for several months to Nimroz in southern Afghanistan, Afghan Islamic Press reported.

The Pakistan-based news agency quoted Nimroz Gov. Ghulam Dastgir Azad as saying that the refugees were repatriated Saturday afternoon to the Nimoroz border, about 750 kilometers southwest of Kabul.
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The dictatorship myth
Mussolini never actually did make the trains run on time. Nor did the Taliban provide Afghanistan with anything approaching stability or security
Robert Fulford , National Post (Canada) Saturday, March 01, 2008
In 1994, when the Taliban set out to become the government of Afghanistan, their plan was to replace the anarchy of tribal warfare with Islamic order. The strange thing is that there are still people who think they accomplished what they promised.

It would have been a miracle if that had happened, since the Taliban had no experience in anything but fighting, and no policies beyond a virulent level of religious belief and a pretentious name meaning "students of Islamic knowledge." In achieving power, they demonstrated the weakness of the tribal leaders and the strength of their own murderous passions. But they used power carelessly. The people of Afghanistan, glad to see the warlords vanish, soon discovered that the Taliban's "orderly" regime was worse.

In an argument against Canada's Afghanistan mission, Rick Salutin in The Globe and Mail recently suggested that invading Afghanistan to depose the Taliban was a mistake--after all, the Taliban "at least provided security." The words "at least" made me sit up. They often introduce a political fairy tale. Long ago, people said of Benito Mussolini that he may have been a brutal tyrant but "at least he made the trains run on time."

That's a common mistake in thinking about dictatorships. Tyrants heavily influence information, letting foreigners know as little as possible. A myth of efficiency grows around them. The story about Italian trains, a favourite for many years, has often been debunked. Under Mussolini, they sometimes ran on time, sometimes not. More or less as before.

And the Taliban? No, they didn't provide security. All to the contrary, as we can learn by reading The Taliban and the Crisis of Afghanistan (Harvard University Press), a new collection of articles edited by Robert D. Crews and Amin Tarzi. Neither editors nor contributors support U.S. policy. They think the invasion intensified the struggle between militant Islam and the West by drawing Afghans into world politics. It made many Afghans feel part of a global Muslim community; now they demonstrate against Israel or Danish cartoons or whatever else appears on the agenda.

But Crews, Tarzi and the rest leave us with a sense that the Taliban provided nothing you could call security. Their regime was not only harsh but also arbitrary. They exhibited a willful eccentricity that must have left the population baffled. Laws went far beyond a rigid dress code for women and strict supervision of male-female meetings. The Taliban made it illegal to train pigeons, play drums or fly a kite.

Crimes, particularly sexual crimes, drew spontaneously created punishments. On one occasion, the 36-year-old Mullah Omar, Commander of the Faithful and head of government, dreamt up a particularly bizarre and labour-intensive form of public execution. Three men, having been convicted of sodomy, were partly buried in the ground. Then a bulldozer pushed the wall of a house onto them.

Lutz Rzehak, a professor from Humboldt University in Berlin, contributes a piece called Remembering the Taliban, drawn from data he gathered in Nimroz Province, a southwestern region, much of it desert, that borders both Iran and Pakistan. Instead of security, the Taliban brought Nimroz a grotesque parody of government.

First they sent in a governor who had family roots in Nimroz but couldn't speak the local language. Like many Taliban, he had been brought up speaking Urdu in Pakistan. For his own convenience, he made Urdu the language of administration. Those who couldn't speak Urdu, which meant most of the residents, were turned away when they applied for government help. There were three more governors between the years 1995-2001. Two of them, both the products of Afghan enclaves in Pakistan, are remembered as barbarous and, when it came to local customs, woefully ignorant.

One carried a stick and struck people with it. He also burned down the library, with its 15,000 books. Next came a mullah who concentrated on amassing a personal fortune by running drugs across the border and confiscating property. He fled when the American bombs began falling in November, 2001.

In 2008, sad to say, the revived Taliban are again active in Nimroz. They encourage opium growers and then seize part of their profits. They also deploy human bombs. In one recent week, two Taliban suicide bombers attacked in Nimroz. One killed an Afghan soldier and a baby; the other wounded a Canadian soldier. If Nimroz is to have a secure life it remains far in the future. It's hard to imagine that it will be provided by the Taliban.
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Pakistan, US raise militant tempo
By Syed Saleem Shahzad Asia Times Online / March 1, 2008 
KARACHI - With the United States missile attack on an important Taliban compound in Azam Warsak village in the South Waziristan tribal area in the early hours of Thursday, a new phase in the regional "war on terror" - joint Pakistan-North Atlantic Treaty Organization strikes - has begun.

The attack is also a stark reminder to the newly elected Pakistani politicians who recently put their weight firmly in favor of dialogue rather than military operations against militants. This underscores their limited role in the coming months in concentrating on domestic issues while the bigger battles are dealt with by NATO and the Pakistani military command.

The pre-dawn strike by an unmanned US Predator drone demolished a building, killing up to 12 suspected militants. Asia Times Online contacts in the area claim that the drone took off from Peshawar airfield, making it the first Pakistan-NATO military strike.

The attack came as a big surprise to militants as it was a most secret and highly important militant compound: it was disguised as a madrassa (seminary).

Pakistan sifts through election aftermath that NATO and Pakistan have agreed on joint offensives.

Two days after the ATol report, the New York Times ran a similar story, saying that US officials had reached an understanding last month with Pakistan's leaders, including President Pervez Musharraf, of the need to intensify strikes against suspected militants using pilotless aircraft launched in Pakistan. Previously, such raids originated across the border in Afghanistan. Officially, Pakistan says it does not allow the US to operate on its territory.

Learning to fight

Madrassas like the one struck in Azam Warsak are spread all over the border area and nothing is really taught - they are used as a cover by militants.

The tradition of such madrassas is as old as the Afghan resistance against the Soviets in the 1980s. They are portrayed as local centers of basic Islamic learning, and, indeed, youngsters attend them to recite the Koran in the mornings, and people gather five times a day to prayer in adjacent mosques.

But in reality they are used by militants for the transfer of weapons and for high-level meetings.

The madrassa hit on Thursday was, according to ATol contacts, used several weeks ago by Baitullah Mehsud - accused of masterminding the assassination of Benazir Bhutto last December - and Sirajuddin Haqqani, a senior Taliban commander. It is also said to have been used by Tahir Yuldashev, head of the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, and al-Qaeda number two Ayman al-Zawahiri.

Such madrassas rarely feature on the radars of US intelligence as they are only used for short meetings, stays or transfers. They are never used for training purposes or for prolonged stays or as hideouts.

The Azam Warsak madrassa was also used for launching guerrilla operations in Paktika province across the border, hence it was stocked with missiles and rockets. It is believed that a fresh group of militants had gathered at the madrassa on Wednesday for such an attack.

The regional theater

There has been widespread speculation that since Pakistan's newly elected politicians have resolved to seek Musharraf's dismissal for his role in the "war on terror" and because of their call for dialogue with militants, operations to preempt the Taliban's spring offensive might be put on hold.

But this does not appear to be the case and preparations are in full swing for coordinated offensives in the region.

On Tuesday, General Sir Richard Dannatt, chief of the General Staff of the British army, called on the Corps Commander Peshawar, Lieutenant General Muhammad Masood Aslam, at his headquarters.

According to a Pakistani military press release, Aslam apprised Dannatt of the Pakistani army's role in fighting against militancy and terrorism. He was also briefed on development activities undertaken by the army in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas. Dannatt also visited Peshawar airfield, which will play a central role in the coming months.

Thursday's strike therefore serves as a reminder to militants that, despite what politicians might say, they can expect no breathing space and that a ceasefire is not an option. That is, the changing of the government in Islamabad has nothing to do with the "war on terror".

A top al-Qaeda member of Pakistani origin summed it up in commenting to ATol on condition of anonymity, "We were eyeing developments in Islamabad after the elections [last week] but it seems that nothing is going to change and our new strategy will surface like broad daylight in the coming few days."

Syed Saleem Shahzad is Asia Times Online's Pakistan Bureau Chief.
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Afghanistan looking for foreign investment in energy sector
February 29, 2008
Berlin (dpa) - Afghanistan is hoping to find foreign investors to help it expand its energy sector, Afghan Energy Minister Mohammed Ismael Chan said on Friday.

Only one in five Afghans has access to electricity, but the government hopes to extend supplies to 50 per cent of the population within two years, the minister told a press conference on Friday.

The precarious security situation and uncertainty about the legal situation has scared off many potential investors from the west.

Economics Minister Mohammed Jalil Shams said the government had completed just over half of the 6,000 kilometres of new roads that it planned after the collapse of the Taliban more than six years ago.

Progress was also being made in extending the telecommunications network, he said.

"These are advances that the man in the street does not see directly, which is also a reason for dissatisfaction in the population," Shams said.

Another problem was that drug barons and terrorists were hindering the rapid reconstruction of the war-ravaged nation.

Earlier this week, the coordinator of the US intelligence services, Mike McConnell, told a Senate committee that the government of President Hamid Karzai controls only 30 per cent of Afghanistan. The Taliban controls 10 per cent and tribal leaders the rest, he said.

Opium cultivation remained widespread, said Shams, adding that his government and western nations differed on what the best strategy was to get to grips with the problem.

"We have to try to agree on a common approach that would offer opium growers an alternative," he said.

Shams did not rule out talks with the Taliban, saying that in principle no conflict can be resolved without political discussions.

But there were no moderates in the ranks of the Taliban, he said.
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Taliban can't stop Korean missionary zeal
By Sunny Lee Asia Times Online / March 1, 2008
BUNDANG, South Korea - This is the Saemmul Church, just south of Seoul. It is this Presbyterian congregation that sent 23 Christian volunteers to Afghanistan last July on short-term aid and evangelical missions. All the volunteers eventually returned home, two of them in coffins.

A 43-day abduction ordeal the group endured dragged the whole country into a state of anxiety and shock, prompting thousands to join candlelight vigils. The Saemmul Church was criticized for having a naive evangelical worldview and knowingly sending a group of mostly young, overzealous Christian believers in their 20s and 30s to an obvious danger zone.

During the hostage crisis in Afghanistan, Park Eun-jo, the founder and senior pastor of the church, was very apologetic and repeatedly said his church would no longer engage in missionary work in that country. Six months have since passed. "Things have returned to normal," a deacon at the church said. Park is also now saying something slightly different, displaying renewed mission enthusiasm for Afghanistan. And this warrants due attentiveness.

On this last Sunday morning in February, Park isn't here to deliver his sermon. "He is away for three weeks in the US to hold 'Prayer Meetings for Afghanistan'," says the deacon, who himself had planned to join the mission team to Afghanistan last year but eventually did not, due to family obligations.

The church newsletter confirms that Park is in the US, visiting churches in Los Angeles, New York, Atlanta, Houston and San Francisco, to name a few, to seek their support and also prayers for the Afghanistan mission in which two of his church members, including the associate pastor Bae Hyung-kyu, were slain by the Taliban, the hardline Islamic militants.

In his letter to the parishioners, shown in the church newsletter, Park says: "I apologize for not being present at the church for three weeks. I am making this trip because the Lord gave me a challenge on Afghanistan." Park continues: "When I think about the heart of God who let the two people's blood be shed in Afghanistan, I am also inclined to think that it's the same heart of God facing me and Saemmul Church as well as all the churches in this age. I regard serving Afghanistan as the mission task for all Christians today."

The letter exudes an air of calmness. It is, however, more alarming than comforting because, although put in measured weasel words, the embedded determination for Afghan mission unmistakably is felt by readers.

Observers believe that although Park made apologetic gestures and toned down his evangelic tone during the hostage crisis to secure the release of the hostages, his principled stance on overseas mission hasn't abated at all. Rather, some believe the crisis led him to be firmly convinced that there is a "meaning" behind the tragedy. After all, the tragedy wasn't a chance event. It was God's divine providence, the logic goes.

"Among the many [foreign] people in Afghanistan at that time, the reason that Saemmul church people became the hostages is a work of divine providence. Afghanistan is the place where our church members' blood was shed. It's a mission place God has designated for us. I will serve more for Afghanistan from now on," Park said in a sermon.

The Saemmul church team wasn't the only missionary group in Afghanistan at the time of the abduction. Five other South Korean mission groups were there in the week the abduction occurred, numbering to some 180.

Park's sermon reached its climax when he said: "We need 3,000 more Bae Hyung-kyus in the future," referring to one of the slain hostages, adding "our missionary zeal shouldn't be dampened because of this incident. Rather, we should devote ourselves more passionately to the mission".

This provocative sermon generated such repercussions and upset so many people in Korea that the government stepped in to delete the contents from the Internet completely, following a request from family members of the group that had been kidnapped. Park also said his church "plans to send more missionaries to Afghanistan once the [South Korean] government's travel ban is lifted".

South Korea's audacious Christian zeal

Following the Afghan incident, much discussion was devoted to South Korea's Christianity and its very active overseas mission. The country, which accepted Protestant Christianity in the late 19th century and Catholicism a century prior to that, is the world's second-largest source of Christian missionaries, after the US. Although traditionally a Buddhist country, in its recent history it has had three presidents who were elders of Christian churches, including recently elected President Lee Myung-bak.

The Saemmul Church, with a weekly congregation attendance of 3,500 people, has 50 missionaries abroad, including in the Middle East, Indonesia, India and China. Yoido Full Gospel Church in Seoul, the world's largest congregation with registered attendants of more than half a million people, has 634 missionaries overseas.

Some obvservers point out that the reason the killing of the two missionaries in Afghanistan has not dented this enthusiasm for overseas work isn't necessarily a uniquely Korean feature. Rather, they point out, the answer should be found within Christian teaching. For example, it has been part of a long Christian tradition to believe that Christians will be regarded as "foolish" in the eyes of non-believers and will be "persecuted", as the Bible mentions in 1 Corinthians 1:23: "We preach Christ crucified, to Jews a stumbling block, and to Gentiles foolishness, but to those who are the called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ is the power of God and the wisdom of God."

By doctrine, Christians also feel that they are "called to preach" their beliefs to all people, including Muslims, even if they know that doing so will offend some of those they preach to. But then, they are vindicated by the Bible, which "assures" them that "it is good to please God than to please men".

The Christians' feeling of indebtedness for redemption, their moral obligation to spread the gospel, and the expectation of being misunderstood by people, which even leads to death, all work as a powerful psychological tool to keep them "brave". Thus, Park of Saemmul Church could say, "If you see the slew of criticism upon the church and think it as a crisis, you are mistaken. Even 2,000 years ago, wherever the Good News went, criticism and death also followed."

The statement was disapproved of by non-Christians in South Korea, who criticized Park as not repentant about the fatal hostages incident and "lacking common sense". For Park, all these "misunderstandings" were to be expected.

After being released from the Taliban and upon arrival in South Korea, Yoo Kyung-shik, 55, the oldest of the hostages, said: "Now we resolve to live a life that meets public expectations." That remains to be seen. After returning from the US, Park plans to carry out prayer meetings for Afghanistan in South Korea. "I plan to hold as many meetings for Afghanistan as possible when I return to South Korea. I expect your prayer and participation," he said in the letter to the church members. "It's time to be creative to anticipate what the outcome of such meetings will be. South Korea definitely doesn't want to see a "second Afghan crisis".

The Saemmul Church newsletter lists eight major prayer topics in the order of importance. The first reads: "Please pray for those missionaries and their families who work abroad and bless their mission."

Sunny Lee is a writer. A native of South Korea, Lee is a graduate of Harvard University and Beijing Foreign Studies University.
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Prince Harry wants another combat tour
By DAVID STRINGER, Associated Press Writer
LONDON - Prince Harry, home from his abandoned military mission to Afghanistan, said he hopes to return to combat zones as soon as possible.

Harry returned to England on Saturday after serving for 10 weeks as a soldier in Afghanistan's volatile Helmand province. His secret tour of duty due to last until April was abruptly aborted after a magazine and Web sites disclosed details of his whereabouts.

The prince's mission had previously gone unreported as part of an agreement, designed to protect the 23-year-old prince and his fellow soldiers, between the Ministry of Defense and major news organizations.

"'Angry' would be the wrong word to use but I am slightly disappointed. I thought I could see it through to the end and come back with our guys," Harry said after landing at an air force base where he was met by his father, Prince Charles, and brother, Prince William.

Harry a cornet, or second lieutenant said he hoped to return to Afghanistan soon and has already asked his commanding officer to approve a new mission.

"I would love to go back out, and I've already mentioned it to him that I want to go out very, very soon," he said.

Air Chief Marshal Sir Jock Stirrup, head of Britain's armed forces, said Sunday that any future deployment would depend on whether Harry poses a risk to his colleagues.

"I would have to be clear that the risks to the operation, in the widest sense of the people deployed on that operation, would be no higher than they would normally be," Stirrup told Britain's Sky News television.

Gen. Sir Richard Dannatt, head of Britain's army, said there is no immediate prospect of the prince returning to the front line for 12 to 18 months.

"Actually, the immediate prospect of Prince Harry going anywhere else is some way off in the future," he said, explaining that the prince has a usual rest period and then a number of training and regimental commitments.

But Harry's elder brother second in line to the British throne is likely to serve overseas with the military, probably on board a Royal Navy warship, the defense ministry said.

William could be deployed later this year on a tour to areas such as the South Atlantic, the Persian Gulf, the Pacific Ocean or the West Indies, officials said.

"It's our intention to give Prince William as full a taste of life in the Royal Navy as possible," a Navy spokesman said on customary condition of anonymity.

William the presumptive future king of Britain has trained as a fighter pilot and is eager to serve overseas, Harry said.

"I know he'd love to, whether it's on the ground or whether it's 15,000 feet up, bombs strapped to the wings," he said during an interview last week in Afghanistan.

Harry's work in southern Afghanistan involved calling in airstrikes on Taliban positions, as well as foot and tank patrols. He said he was realistic about the consequences of fighting against the Taliban.

"You do what you have to do, what's necessary to save your own guys," he said. "If you need to drop a bomb, worst case scenario then you will, but then that's just the way it is."

Harry said a number of wounded troops were transported home on his flight back to Britain.

"The bravery of the guys out there was humbling," he said.

Prince Charles said Britain's royal family was disappointed the prince had been forced to abandon his tour.

"I feel particular frustration that he was removed unexpectedly early because, apart from anything else, he had been looking forward to coming back with the rest of his regiment," Charles said.

But "you can imagine, it's obviously a great relief, as far as I'm concerned, to see him home in one piece," he said.

Security officials acknowledged that Harry's role in Afghanistan could make him a target for extremists in Britain.

But one government official, who demanded anonymity to discuss sensitive counterterrorism work, said threats already posted on al-Qaida-affiliated Web forums are likely to be aspirational, rather than an indication of actual plots.

One post called for the prince to be killed and a video of his death sent to his family.

Other royals have also seen combat most recently the princes' uncle, Prince Andrew, who flew Royal Navy helicopters during the 1982 Falklands War. Their grandfather, Prince Philip, served on Royal Navy battleships during World War II.
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