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March 27, 2008 

Afghan committee plans to remove foreign army bases from Kabul
Wed Mar 26, 6:55 PM ET
KABUL (AFP) - An Afghan parliamentary committee is working on a draft proposal to demand foreign forces move their bases out of central Kabul to ease congestion in the overcrowded capital, an official said.

NATO seeks new Afghan push from summit
By Mark John
BRUSSELS (Reuters) - NATO's leaders want next week's summit in Romania to resolve internal tensions over its mission in Afghanistan and commit more troops, signaling its willingness to stay the course there and defeat the Taliban.

Danish soldier killed, three Germans hurt in Afghanistan
March 27, 2008
KABUL (AFP) - A Danish soldier was killed and another wounded and three German troops were also hurt in attacks in Afghanistan blamed on insurgents linked to the Taliban movement, military officials said.

French left takes aim at Sarkozy on Afghan troops
Thu Mar 27, 7:09 AM ET
PARIS (Reuters) - Leaders of France's opposition Socialist party criticized President Nicolas Sarkozy on Thursday for offering to send more troops to Afghanistan and for making the controversial announcement in the British parliament.

WHouse praises French plans for reinforcements in Afghanistan
Wed Mar 26, 4:54 PM ET
WASHINGTON (AFP) - The White House on Wednesday praised an announcement by French President Nicolas Sarkozy that Paris will propose bolstering its military presence in Afghanistan at a NATO summit next week.

Cell phone shutdown angers Afghans
By JASON STRAZIUSO, Associated Press Writer Wed Mar 26, 4:32 PM ET
KABUL, Afghanistan - Taliban attacks on telecom towers have prompted cell phone companies to shut down service across southern Afghanistan at night, angering a quarter million customers who have no other telephones.

Afghan ambassador predicts safer Afghanistan in next three years
The Canadian Press
MONTREAL — Afghanistan's ambassador to Canada is hopeful the Canadian deployment to his country will have accomplished its mission in about three years time.

US congress members meet Afghan president, top NATO general
Thursday, March 27, 2008 09:07 AM
KABUL (AP) - The war in Afghanistan is not a top issue in the US presidential race because of a lack of interest among the American public and the media, a US congressman said during a visit to the Afghan capital Wednesday.

Supplier Under Scrutiny on Aging Arms for Afghans
By C. J. CHIVERS March 27, 2008 The New York Times
This article was reported by C. J. Chivers, Eric Schmitt and Nicholas Wood and written by Mr. Chivers.

2,300 police trainers needed for Afghanistan
www.chinaview.cn  2008-03-27 06:29:46
BRUSSELS, March 26 (Xinhua) -- Some 2,300 police trainers are needed for Afghanistan, said Maj. Gen. Robert W. Cone, who is heading international efforts to train Afghan police.

Extremists Killing Afghans They Suspect Are Spying
By Imtiaz Ali Special to The Washington Post Thursday, March 27, 2008; A14
PESHAWAR, Pakistan, March 26 -- Extremists in Pakistan's western tribal areas have killed dozens of people suspected of providing intelligence to the United States and its allies in recent months, according to local officials and tribal elders.

Afghan minister calls on intl support for its national forces
www.chinaview.cn  2008-03-27 21:29:21
KABUL, March 27 (Xinhua) -- Afghan Defense Minister Abdul Rahim Wardak on Thursday called on the international community to help strengthen Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF) and enable it to completely take security charge of the country.

Millions of Afghan refugees are returning to an uncertain future
OLIVER MOORE From Thursday's Globe and Mail March 27, 2008 at 3:48 AM EDT
KANDAHAR, Afghanistan — It looks like a place for people who are fleeing. But the rows of tents in this humble transition centre are instead one of the last stops for former refugees as they return from Pakistan in search of a normal life.

Afghan traders worried about worsening law and order in NWFP
* Says deportation of refugees, relations with local traders affecting business
By Jehanzeb Khan Daily Times, Pakistan
PESHAWAR: Afghan businessmen at the Karkhano Market on Wednesday expressed concern over the deteriorating law and order situation in NWFP and deportation of Afghan refugees and said that they were becoming conscious

Helmand: Derided police turn over new leaf
Despite their tarnished reputation, the province's police have recently scored major successes.
By Mohammad Ilyas Dayee and Zaimullah Stanekzai (ARR No. 286, 26-Mar-08) Source: Institute for War and Peace Reporting
Helmand residents are saying that the province's much-criticised policemen are becoming more effective, breaking up several major criminal gangs and helping the people of this beleaguered corner of Afghanistan to feel more secure.

Taliban foot soldiers deeply ignorant of the world
Survey reveals Kandahar fighters know next to nothing about Canada or U.S., contradicting view Taliban are sophisticated terrorists
GRAEME SMITH gsmith@globeandmail.com March 27, 2008 The Globe and Mail
KANDAHAR, AFGHANISTAN -- The typical Taliban foot soldier battling Canadian troops and their allies in Kandahar is not a global jihadist who dreams of some day waging war on Canadian soil. In fact, he would have trouble finding Canada on a map.

My life in al-Qa'eda, by bin Laden's bodyguard
Telegraph.co.uk, United Kingdom By Tim Butcher in Sana’a  27/03/2008
He served loyally at the terrorist leader's side in the build up to the attacks on America and is wanted by the FBI and CIA. Nasser al Bahri speaks to Tim Butcher

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Afghan committee plans to remove foreign army bases from Kabul
Wed Mar 26, 6:55 PM ET
KABUL (AFP) - An Afghan parliamentary committee is working on a draft proposal to demand foreign forces move their bases out of central Kabul to ease congestion in the overcrowded capital, an official said.

Traffic in the densely-populated city is often gridlocked because of the presence of barriers that block roads in.

The situation compounds further by concrete anti-blast blocks positioned around foreign military basses, some of them in the heart of the capital.

"International forces should remove their military bases from the city centre to the suburbs," Kabir Ranjbar, head of the lower house's inspection and oversight on law implementation committee, said Wednesday.

"Their presence in the centre of the city has caused lots of problems for the people," he said, adding that his committee has begun work on a draft proposal to address the problem.

"We're working on a draft proposal for the government to persuade the international force move out their bases from the city centre," Ranjbar told AFP.

About 70,000 International troops operating under NATO and the separate US-led force are based in Afghanistan fighting a Taliban insurgency which has been in its deadliest phase since early 2007.

Ranjbar said the proposal will also include a suggestion that the troops stop patrolling the city which was hampering the traffic.

"I think there's no need for foreign soldiers to patrol the city. Now we have our own security forces to do the job," he said.

Ranjbar's committee in a similar demand said Tuesday it wanted other security barriers, including one around a five-star hotel attacked by the Taliban in January, to be removed.

The Taliban's attack on the luxury Kabul Serena hotel in January has seen even more barricades coming up, mostly around embassies, international agencies and even private business.

The Serena, where three foreign nationals were among eight people killed, has itself undergone a security overhaul, with sandbags placed at its gates.

The Taliban threatened after the attack to target more places popular with foreign nationals.
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NATO seeks new Afghan push from summit
By Mark John
BRUSSELS (Reuters) - NATO's leaders want next week's summit in Romania to resolve internal tensions over its mission in Afghanistan and commit more troops, signaling its willingness to stay the course there and defeat the Taliban.

Months of noisy infighting about troop levels, tactics and the refusal of some European allies to send soldiers into the fiercest fighting have overshadowed what alliance officials say is modest but real progress in security and reconstruction.

French President Nicolas Sarkozy said on Wednesday he could come to the April 2-4 Bucharest meeting armed with an offer of more troops, as part of a wider move to bolster operations in the heartlands of a stubborn Taliban-led insurgency.

The scheduled presence of Afghan President Hamid Karzai and U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon is designed to show Afghan authorities are serious about tackling corruption and that the world body is ready to address deficits in its aid effort.

NATO allies are putting the final touches to a four-page "vision statement" aimed at bracing skeptical publics for the prospect of a continued Afghan presence -- with all the ensuing casualties and costs to national purses -- for years to come.

"This is going to take a consistent long-term international effort," Canadian Defense Minister Peter Mackay, whose country has threatened to pull its troops out next year unless allies provide more support, told a conference in Brussels this month.

NATO's move in 2003 to assume the U.N. mandate to provide security in Afghanistan, two years after the U.S.-led ousting of the Taliban, has thrust the 26-nation alliance into its toughest ground war in a Muslim land far from its Euro-Atlantic patch.

NATO officials now put the presence of the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) at 47,000 -- nine times more than the 5,000-strong force of four years ago.

END TO THE FINGER-POINTING?
Yet the alliance remains entrenched in a bitter dispute between nations doing the bulk of the fighting and those in safer zones, with U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates raising the prospect of a "two-tiered" alliance.

Sarkozy left open where he would commit any new troops. NATO sources said they understood the choice was between sending them to the Afghan south to support the Canadians or -- more likely -- to east Afghanistan by the Pakistan border.

That, combined with Poland's announcement this month that it could add further troops, could allow some 1,000 U.S. Marines in that sector to be redeployed to the south and so avert the possibility of a damaging Canadian withdrawal.

But with countries such as Germany, Italy and Spain still reluctant to make major commitments to join the battle in the south, some analysts question whether NATO will be able to end the row over burden-sharing.

"You're going to see some efforts to try and get around some of that finger-pointing in Bucharest," said Julianne Smith, Europe program director at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington.

"(But) we still have a number of members inside the alliance that have failed to transform their military to cope with expeditionary operations," she said.

RUSSIAN PACT
Last year saw record violence in Afghanistan, with nearly 6,000 killed -- a third of them civilians. Alliance officials say insurgents are relying more on suicide bombers and roadside bombs because efforts to take on ISAF directly have failed.

NATO Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer hopes to seal a pact with President Vladimir Putin -- a summit guest -- for NATO troop and equipment transit routes via Russia to Afghanistan, plus more cooperation on tackling the Afghan narcotics trade.

With NATO keen to stress its long-term commitment to the country, there is no public talk of any date by which the alliance could start winding down its force and handing over operations to Afghanistan's fledgling security forces.

A U.S. document obtained by Reuters, with ideas for a "strategic vision statement" on Afghanistan to be unveiled at the summit, proposed a five-year plan with benchmarks such as completing the training of a 70,000-strong Afghan army and an 82,000-strong police force.

"The time of the (NATO) commitment will directly depend on the amount of support we get to grow our national security forces," Afghan Defense Minister Abdul Rahim Wardak told reporters in a videoconference from Kabul on Thursday.

(Additional reporting by Andrew Gray in Washington, editing by Mark Trevelyan)
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Danish soldier killed, three Germans hurt in Afghanistan
March 27, 2008
KABUL (AFP) - A Danish soldier was killed and another wounded and three German troops were also hurt in attacks in Afghanistan blamed on insurgents linked to the Taliban movement, military officials said.

Danish forces were on patrol Wednesday in the southern province of Helmand province, a hotbed of Taliban activity, when they came under fire, said a spokesman with the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF).

"Regrettably as a result of the firefight one Danish soldier was killed and another was wounded," British Lieutenant Colonel Simon Miller told AFP.

In the far north two German soldiers were seriously injured and a third slightly wounded when a blast struck their vehicle near the city of Kunduz overnight, Afghan officials and the German military said.

The two seriously wounded would be evacuated to Germany soon, a spokesman for the military command centre in the eastern German city of Potsdam said.

Kunduz governor Mohammad Omar told AFP the blast was caused by a remotely detonated roadside bomb but this was not immediately confirmed by the German military.

"It was the enemies of peace in Afghanistan," Omar said. The term is most often used to refer to Taliban-linked militants. ISAF in Afghanistan did not immediately have information.

The Taliban were in government between 1996 and 2001 when they were removed for harbouring Al-Qaeda.

Their attacks largely focus on the southern and eastern areas bordering Pakistan, where rebels' command and control structures are said to be based.

But there has also been violence in the north, sometimes blamed on other radical factions, ethnic groups or criminals.

Germany has around 3,200 soldiers mostly deployed in a relatively peaceful northern Afghanistan. Three were killed in a suicide blast in Kunduz in May.

The country has been under pressure by NATO allies to send combat troops to southern Afghanistan, where the insurgency has been most deadly, but Berlin has said it plans to continue its focus on reconstruction in the north.

Denmark is one of the countries in the volatile south with around 550 troops in Helmand, where Taliban attacks are regular and the rebels are tied into a booming opium trade.

ISAF draws its 47,000 troops from 39 countries. It is helping the Afghan government restore security in the face of an insurgency by the Taliban, who were in government between 1996 and 2001, and push development.

More than 30 international soldiers have been killed this year, most of them in hostile action.
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French left takes aim at Sarkozy on Afghan troops
Thu Mar 27, 7:09 AM ET
PARIS (Reuters) - Leaders of France's opposition Socialist party criticized President Nicolas Sarkozy on Thursday for offering to send more troops to Afghanistan and for making the controversial announcement in the British parliament.

Sarkozy made a rare address by a foreign head of state to Britain's parliament on Wednesday and promised to dispatch additional soldiers to fight the Taliban if NATO backed its proposal for a broader, coordinated Afghan strategy.

France already has some 1,500 troops in Afghanistan and the Socialists have demanded a parliamentary debate in Paris before any more soldiers are deployed.

"What surprised me, perhaps shocked me, is that Nicolas Sarkozy talked about France's commitments in Afghanistan before British parliamentarians when there hasn't been the slightest debate before French parliamentarians," said Segolene Royal, the defeated Socialist candidate in the 2007 elections.

"I am not in favor of any strengthening of France's forces in Afghanistan in the current context when one doesn't know the risks they will face or what guarantees have been taken to protect our soldiers," she told RTL radio.

The national secretary of the Socialist party, Francois Hollande, also came out forcibly against the move.

"I consider that any additional deployment of French forces to Afghanistan is an error," Hollande told LCI television.

Sarkozy is expected to give full details of the French initiative at a NATO summit in Romania next month.

French officials speaking off the record have indicated that Paris is ready to send several hundred combat troops to eastern Afghanistan to battle al Qaeda and Taliban forces, but say Sarkozy wants allies to define a clear policy for the country.

In particular, he wants guarantees that allies will exit Afghanistan together rather than unilaterally and will do more to bolster civilian aide programs.

Under the French constitution, a president can send troops into combat zones without the approval of parliament, but ministers have promised the Socialists a debate on Afghanistan.

(Reporting by Gerard Bon, writing by Crispian Balmer, editing by Francois Murphy and Mary Gabriel)
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WHouse praises French plans for reinforcements in Afghanistan
Wed Mar 26, 4:54 PM ET
WASHINGTON (AFP) - The White House on Wednesday praised an announcement by French President Nicolas Sarkozy that Paris will propose bolstering its military presence in Afghanistan at a NATO summit next week.

Sarkozy said in London on a state visit to Britain that he would send more troops for NATO-led efforts to fight Taliban insurgents.

"Obviously that would be a very positive thing," said US national security adviser Stephen Hadley, commenting on Sarkozy's remarks.

While Sarkozy gave no figure, sources in Paris have said more than 1,000 troops would be deployed.

France currently has about 1,600 soldiers in Afghanistan. It is unclear if the new French troops would deploy to the volatile south of the country, or areas where combat is less likely.

The United States and Britain have long pressed NATO allies to send more forces to Afghanistan to face down the threat of a Taliban resurgence in the violence-scarred country.

The April 2-4 NATO meeting is expected to see pledges of more troops from other countries in answer to calls for more international assistance in battling a resurgent Taliban.

The extreme Islamist regime was ousted six years ago by a US-led invasion for failing to give up Osama bin Laden, chief suspect for the September 11, 2001 attacks in the United States.
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Cell phone shutdown angers Afghans
By JASON STRAZIUSO, Associated Press Writer Wed Mar 26, 4:32 PM ET
KABUL, Afghanistan - Taliban attacks on telecom towers have prompted cell phone companies to shut down service across southern Afghanistan at night, angering a quarter million customers who have no other telephones.

Even some Taliban fighters now regret the disruptions and are demanding that service be restored by the companies.

The communication blackout follows a campaign by the Taliban, which said the U.S. and NATO were using the fighters' cell phone signals to track them at night and launch pinpoint attacks.

About 10 towers have been attacked since the warning late last month — seven of them seriously — causing almost $2 million in damage, the telecom ministry said. Afghanistan's four major mobile phone companies began cutting nighttime service across the south soon after.

The speed with which the companies acted shows how little influence the government has in remote areas and how just a few attacks can cripple a basic service and a booming, profitable industry. The shutdown could also stifle international investment in the country during a time of rising violence.

But the cutoff is proving extremely unpopular among Afghan citizens. Even some Taliban fighters are asking that the towers be switched back on, said Afghanistan's telecommunications minister, A. Sangin.

That dissenting view shows how decisions made by the top-ranking Taliban leadership can have negative consequences for lower-ranking fighters in the field, the minister said.

Taliban spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid hinted in a telephone interview that the group could change its tactics.

"We see that some people are having problems, so we might change the times that the networks are shut down in the coming days," Mujahid said.

That the Taliban could dictate when the country's mobile phone networks operate shows the weakness of the central government and the international forces that operate here, said Mohammad Qassim Akhgar, a political analyst in Kabul.

"After the Taliban announcement, they were aware of the situation, and still they couldn't provide security for the towers," Akhgar said. "Maybe destroying a few towers will not have any effect on the government, but the news or the message that comes out of this is very big, and all to the benefit of the Taliban."

All four of the major phone companies — Roshan, AWCC, Areeba and Etisalat — declined to comment.

Sangin said the government is not overly worried about the Taliban threat because Afghans are becoming increasingly angered by the shutdown. He said seven destroyed towers, and three others with minor damage, out of the 2,000 now in the country was "not a big thing," though he added that the towers cost from $150,000 to $300,000 each.

"Our view of the people targeting the telecom infrastructure is that it's not a fight against the foreign troops, it's not a fight against the government, it's actually targeting the people, because the result of such activities is that the people will suffer," Sangin said. "We believe the people will stand up and provide protection for the telecom towers."

Haji Jan Ahmed Aqa, a 45-year-old farmer from the remote and dangerous Zhari district of Kandahar province, said the loss of cell phone communication at night is a big problem.

"What do we do if someone is sick?" he asked. "How can you agree to this Taliban demand? Maybe next the Taliban will say they have a problem in the daytime, and they'll shut down the network at daytime as well."

Afghanistan's cell phone industry has seen explosive growth since towers first appeared in late 2002, Sangin said. The country now has 5.4 million cell phone users and the industry has invested more than $1 billion. Sangin said he expects another $500 million in investments over the next two years.

Attacks on towers have taken place across the south, where the Taliban is most active. Companies have shut down service primarily in Helmand, Kandahar and Zabul provinces.

An official with knowledge of the situation said about 10 percent of the country's towers were being turned off at night, affecting up to 300,000 people. He spoke on condition he not be identified because he wasn't authorized to release that information.

The shutdown, Sangin noted, is causing problems both for civilians and for militants.

"In these provinces I've actually received reports where the Taliban has gone to some towers and told the companies not to shut them down, and keep them running," said Sangin. "I get the feeling that they are already regretting their decision to shut down the services."

Simon Baker, a Moscow-based analyst with the telecommunication firm IDC, said that despite the attacks, the outlook for the telecom industry in Afghanistan is still "pretty good," given the country's large untapped user base.

"There are substantial amounts of capital behind it. I think people will try to find a solution to this," Baker said. "Major international players will take the longer term view."

Sangin said the Taliban's stated reason for wanting the networks shut down — because the U.S. and NATO can track militants' movements — doesn't make sense, because the fighters could simply turn their phones off or remove the batteries. He said the military has other ways to track the militants.

U.S. Ambassador William Wood told reporters last month that the threat could cause investors to hesitate.

"I don't think that it's a serious threat because the Taliban relies on cell phones, too," Wood said. "But you can see how that would be a problem for a private investor."

Sangin, the telecommunications minister, said the Taliban closed down a cell tower in Ghazni province about four months ago, but that villagers demanded it reopen.

"The people said please ... repair the infrastructure and we will guarantee the security of the tower," Sangin said. "We believe that if the Taliban continue with these kinds of activities the hatred will increase against them, and as a result we are awaiting a change in their policy."
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Associated Press reporters Rahim Faiez in Kabul and Noor Khan in Kandahar contributed to this report.
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Afghan ambassador predicts safer Afghanistan in next three years
The Canadian Press
MONTREAL — Afghanistan's ambassador to Canada is hopeful the Canadian deployment to his country will have accomplished its mission in about three years time.

And Canadian troops remaining at their posts in southern Afghanistan until 2011 will buy that country the time it needs to bring about a significant change in security.

"We feel more confident that our army and police and other institutions are developing according to plan," Omar Samad told The Canadian Press on Wednesday.

"They will shoulder a large portion of the security burden over time as they already are," he said following a speech to the Montreal chapter of the Canadian International Council.

Samad says that with security will come an increased effort to address the questions of governance, corruption and development.

"In the next year or two, you're going to see some significant changes in all of those areas," Samad said. "I remain optimistic in the next two to three years, we're going to have a more secure Afghanistan."

Samad says the more stability that can be brought to Afghanistan, the less need there will be for NATO troops on the ground.

But there is still hard work ahead, Samad warned.

Troop deployment to Afghanistan is among the topics to be discussed next week at a NATO summit in Bucharest, Romania.

The House of Commons voted this month to extend Canada's mission in Kandahar province until 2011.

That is conditional on NATO sending 1,000 more troops and additional equipment to back them up.

The U.S. and several European countries have indicated they will step up.

"Everyone feels confident that the right decisions will be made and the mission will be strengthened to help us accomplish our objectives," Samad said.

Canada has been at the forefront of fighting against the Taliban in southern Afghanistan.

Since the mission began in 2002, 81 soldiers and one diplomat have died.

Meantime, Canada's defence minister, Peter MacKay, said Wednesday that Samad's three-year estimate should be encouraging to Canadians.

"I think he's right and I think he has an important perspective and vantage point that is instructive and should be confidence-building," MacKay said following a speech in Halifax.

"Clearly, the security situation is key - that's the centrepiece for the necessity to do more development, to do more humanitarian aid work."

Samad says what happens after 2011 is dependent upon how much is accomplished now.

"What happens beyond that will depend on the circumstances then, and I cannot predict what those circumstances will be," Samad said.

Samad said Canada and other foreign partners cannot give up on Afghanistan now. History has already shown what can happen when Afghanistan is forgotten.

"When you have attained a goal through military means, then you have to step in and you have to rebuild," he said. "Otherwise, you're creating a worse mess and a worse situation.

"You're creating a power vacuum and who knows who will fill that void."
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US congress members meet Afghan president, top NATO general
Thursday, March 27, 2008 09:07 AM
KABUL (AP) - The war in Afghanistan is not a top issue in the US presidential race because of a lack of interest among the American public and the media, a US congressman said during a visit to the Afghan capital Wednesday.

Keith Ellison, a Democrat from the US state of Minnesota, said he believes America's three leading presidential candidates are paying attention to the conflict in Afghanistan but the issue is not garnering wider interest.

"Either because of the public interest or the press, it's not a hot debate item, but I think it should be," Ellison said. "It's clear the focus in the presidential debate is on Iraq policy, but I wish the press would ask more questions about Afghanistan, what could or should be done to make sure Afghanistan's future is secure."
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Supplier Under Scrutiny on Aging Arms for Afghans
By C. J. CHIVERS March 27, 2008 The New York Times
This article was reported by C. J. Chivers, Eric Schmitt and Nicholas Wood and written by Mr. Chivers.

Since 2006, when the insurgency in Afghanistan sharply intensified, the Afghan government has been dependent on American logistics and military support in the war against Al Qaeda and the Taliban.

But to arm the Afghan forces that it hopes will lead this fight, the American military has relied since early last year on a fledgling company led by a 22-year-old man whose vice president was a licensed masseur.

With the award last January of a federal contract worth as much as nearly $300 million, the company, AEY Inc., which operates out of an unmarked office in Miami Beach, became the main supplier of munitions to Afghanistan’s army and police forces.

Since then, the company has provided ammunition that is more than 40 years old and in decomposing packaging, according to an examination of the munitions by The New York Times and interviews with American and Afghan officials. Much of the ammunition comes from the aging stockpiles of the old Communist bloc, including stockpiles that the State Department and NATO have determined to be unreliable and obsolete, and have spent millions of dollars to have destroyed.

In purchasing munitions, the contractor has also worked with middlemen and a shell company on a federal list of entities suspected of illegal arms trafficking.

Moreover, tens of millions of the rifle and machine-gun cartridges were manufactured in China, making their procurement a possible violation of American law. The company’s president, Efraim E. Diveroli, was also secretly recorded in a conversation that suggested corruption in his company’s purchase of more than 100 million aging rounds in Albania, according to audio files of the conversation.

This week, after repeated inquiries about AEY’s performance by The Times, the Army suspended the company from any future federal contracting, citing shipments of Chinese ammunition and claiming that Mr. Diveroli misled the Army by saying the munitions were Hungarian.

Mr. Diveroli, reached by telephone, said he was unaware of the action. The Army planned to notify his company by certified mail on Thursday, according to internal correspondence provided by a military official.

But problems with the ammunition were evident last fall in places like Nawa, Afghanistan, an outpost near the Pakistani border, where an Afghan lieutenant colonel surveyed the rifle cartridges on his police station’s dirty floor. Soon after arriving there, the cardboard boxes had split open and their contents spilled out, revealing ammunition manufactured in China in 1966.

“This is what they give us for the fighting,” said the colonel, Amanuddin, who like many Afghans has only one name. “It makes us worried, because too much of it is junk.” Ammunition as it ages over decades often becomes less powerful, reliable and accurate.

AEY is one of many previously unknown defense companies to have thrived since 2003, when the Pentagon began dispensing billions of dollars to train and equip indigenous forces in Afghanistan and Iraq. Its rise from obscurity once seemed to make it a successful example of the Bush administration’s promotion of private contractors as integral elements of war-fighting strategy.

But an examination of AEY’s background, through interviews in several countries, reviews of confidential government documents and the examination of some of the ammunition, suggests that Army contracting officials, under pressure to arm Afghan troops, allowed an immature company to enter the murky world of international arms dealing on the Pentagon’s behalf — and did so with minimal vetting and through a vaguely written contract with few restrictions.

In addition to this week’s suspension, AEY is under investigation by the Department of Defense’s inspector general and by Immigration and Customs Enforcement, prompted by complaints about the quality and origins of ammunition it provided, and allegations of corruption.

Mr. Diveroli, in a brief telephone interview late last year, denied any wrongdoing. “I know that my company does everything 100 percent on the up and up, and that’s all I’m concerned about,” he said.

He also suggested that his activities should be shielded from public view. “AEY is working on a moderately classified Department of Defense project,” he said. “I really don’t want to talk about the details.”

He referred questions to a lawyer, Hy Shapiro, who offered a single statement by e-mail. “While AEY continues to work very hard to fulfill its obligations under its contract with the U.S. Army, its representatives are not prepared at this time to sit and discuss the details,” he wrote.

As part of the suspension, neither Mr. Diveroli nor his company can bid on any further federal work until the Army’s allegations are resolved. But he will be allowed to provide ammunition already on order under the Afghan contract, according to internal military correspondence.

In January, American officers in Kabul, concerned about munitions from AEY, had contacted the Army’s Rock Island Arsenal, in Illinois, and raised the possibility of terminating the contract. And officials at the Army Sustainment Command, the contracting authority at the arsenal, after meeting with AEY in late February, said they were tightening the packaging standards for munitions shipped to the war.

And yet after that meeting, AEY sent another shipment of nearly one million cartridges to Afghanistan that the Combined Security Transition Command-Afghanistan regarded as substandard. Lt. Col. David G. Johnson, the command spokesman, said that while there were no reports of ammunition misfiring, some of it was in such poor condition that the military had decided not to issue it. “Our honest answer is that the ammunition is of a quality that is less than desirable; the munitions do not appear to meet the standards that many of us are used to,” Colonel Johnson said. “We are not pleased with the way it was delivered.”

Several officials said the problems would have been avoided if the Army had written contracts and examined bidders more carefully.

Public records show that AEY’s contracts since 2004 have potentially been worth more than a third of a billion dollars. Mr. Diveroli set the value higher: he claimed to do $200 million in business each year.

Several military officers and government officials, speaking on condition of anonymity because of the investigations, questioned how Mr. Diveroli, and a small group of men principally in their 20s and without extensive military or procurement experiences, landed so much vital government work.

“A lot of us are asking the question,” said a senior State Department official. “How did this guy get all this business?”

An Ambitious Company

The intensity of the Afghan insurgency alarmed the Pentagon in 2006, and the American unit that trains and equips Afghan forces placed a huge munitions order through an Army logistics command.

The order sought 52 types of ammunition: rifle, pistol and machine-gun cartridges, hand grenades, rockets, shotgun slugs, mortar rounds, tank ammunition and more. In all, it covered hundreds of millions of rounds. Afghan forces primarily use weapons developed in the Soviet Union. This meant that most munitions on the list could be bought only overseas.

AEY was one of 10 companies to bid by the September 2006 deadline.

Michael Diveroli, Efraim’s father, had incorporated the company in 1999, when Efraim was 13. For several years, a period when the company appeared to have limited activity, Michael Diveroli, who now operates a police supply company down the street from AEY’s office, was listed as the company’s sole executive.

In 2004, AEY listed Efraim Diveroli, then 18, as an officer with a 1 percent ownership stake.

The younger Diveroli’s munitions experience appeared to be limited to a short-lived job in Los Angeles for Botach Tactical, a military and police supply company owned by his uncle, Bar-Kochba Botach.

Mr. Diveroli cut off an interview when asked about Botach Tactical. Mr. Botach, reached by telephone, said that both Michael and Efraim Diveroli had briefly worked for him, but that after seeing the rush of federal contracts available after the wars began, they had struck out on their own.

“They just left me and took my customer base with them,” he said. “They basically said: ‘Why should we work for Botach? Let’s do it on our own.’ ”

As Efraim Diveroli arrived in Miami Beach, AEY was transforming itself by aggressively seeking security-related contracts.

It won a $126,000 award for ammunition for the Special Forces; AEY also provided ammunition or equipment in 2004 to the Department of Energy, the Environmental Protection Agency, the Transportation Security Administration and the State Department.

By 2005, when Mr. Diveroli became AEY’s president at age 19, the company was bidding across a spectrum of government agencies and providing paramilitary equipment — weapons, helmets, ballistic vests, bomb suits, batteries and chargers for X-ray machines — for American aid to Pakistan, Bolivia and elsewhere.

It was also providing supplies to the American military in Iraq, where its business included a $5.7 million contract for rifles for Iraqi forces.

Two federal officials involved in contracting in Baghdad said AEY quickly developed a bad reputation. “They weren’t reliable, or if they did come through, they did after many excuses,” said one of them, who asked that his name be withheld because he was not authorized to speak with reporters.

By this time, pressures were emerging in Efraim Diveroli’s life. In November 2005, a young woman sought an order of protection from him in the domestic violence division of Dade County Circuit Court.

The woman eventually did not appear in court, and her allegations were never ruled on. But in court papers, the woman said that after her relationship with Mr. Diveroli ended, he stalked her and left threatening messages.

Once, according to the file, his behavior included “shoving her to the ground and refusing to allow her to leave during a verbal dispute.” Other times, she reported, Mr. Diveroli arrived at her home unannounced and intoxicated “going about the exterior, banging on windows and doors.”

The woman worried that she could not ignore him, court records said, because his behavior frightened her.

Mr. Diveroli sought court delays on national security grounds. “I am the President and only official employee of my business,” he wrote to the judge on Dec. 8, 2005. “My business is currently of great importance to the country as I am licensed Defense Contractor to the United States Government in the fight against terrorism in Iraq and I am doing my very best to provide our troops with all their equipment needs on pending critical contracts.”

As AEY’s bid for its largest government contract was being considered, Mr. Diveroli’s personal difficulties continued. On Nov. 26, 2006, the Miami Beach police were called to his condominium during an argument between him and another girlfriend. According to the police report, he had thrown her “clothes out in the hallway and told her to get out.”

A witness told the police Mr. Diveroli had dragged her back into the apartment. The police found the woman crying; she said she had not been dragged. Mr. Diveroli was not charged.

On Dec. 21, 2006, the police were called back to the condominium. Mr. Diveroli and AEY’s vice president, David M. Packouz, had just been in a fight with the valet parking attendant.

The fight began, the police said, after the attendant refused to give Mr. Diveroli his keys and Mr. Diveroli entered the garage to get them himself. A witness said Mr. Diveroli and Mr. Packouz both beat the man; police photographs showed bruises and scrapes on his face and back.

When the police searched Mr. Diveroli, they found he had a forged driver’s license that added four years to his age and made him appear old enough to buy alcohol as a minor. His birthday had been the day before.

“I don’t even need that any more,” he told the police, the report said. “I’m 21 years old.”

Mr. Diveroli was charged with simple battery, a misdemeanor, and felony possession of a stolen or forged document.

The second charge placed his business in jeopardy. Mr. Diveroli had a federal firearms license, which was required for his work. With a felony conviction, the license would be nullified.

(Mr. Packouz was charged with battery and the charge was later dropped; he declined to be interviewed. To avoid a conviction on his record, Mr. Diveroli entered a six-month diversion program for first offenders in May 2007 that spared him from standing trial.)

A relative paid Mr. Diveroli’s $1,000 bail as his bid for the Afghan contract was in its final review.

To be accepted, the company had to be, in Army parlance, “a responsible contractor,” which required an examination of its financial soundness, transport capabilities, past performance and compliance with the law and government contracting regulations.

The week after a relative paid his bail, the Banc of America Investment Services in Miami provided Mr. Diveroli a letter certifying that his company had cash on hand to begin buying munitions on a large scale. It said AEY had $5,469,668.95 in an account.

AEY was awarded the contract in January 2007. Asked why it chose AEY, the Army Sustainment Command answered in writing: “AEY’s proposal represented the best value to the government.”

Eastern Bloc Arsenals

Both the Army and AEY have treated the sources of the ammunition the company purchases as confidential matters, declining to say how and where the company obtained it, the prices paid or the quantities delivered.

But records provided by an official concerned about the company’s performance, a whistle-blower in the Balkans and an arms-trafficking researcher in Europe, as well as interviews with several people who work in state arsenals in Europe, show that AEY shopped from stocks in the old Eastern bloc, including Albania, Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Kazakhstan, Montenegro, Romania and Slovakia.

These stockpiles range from temperature-controlled bunkers to unheated warehouses packed with exposed, decaying ammunition. Some arsenals contain ammunition regarded in munitions circles as high quality. Others are scrap heaps of abandoned Soviet arms.

The Army’s contract did little to distinguish between the two.

When the United States or NATO buys munitions for themselves, the process is regulated by quality-assurance standards that cover manufacturing, packaging, storage, testing and transport.

The standards exist in part because munitions are perishable. As they age, propellants and explosives degrade, and casings are susceptible to weathering. Environmental conditions — humidity, vibration, temperature shifts — accelerate decay, making munitions less reliable.

NATO rules require ammunition to be tested methodically over its life; samples are fired through braced weapons, and muzzle velocities and accuracy are recorded.

For rifle cartridges, testing begins at age 10 years, according to Peter Courtney-Green, chief of the Ammunition Support Office of NATO’s Maintenance and Supply Agency.

The Soviet Union, which designed the ammunition that AEY bought, developed similar tests, which are still in use. But when the Army wrote its Afghan contract, it did not enforce either NATO or Russian standards. It told bidders only that the munitions must be “serviceable and issuable to all units without qualification.”

What this meant was not defined. An official at the Army Sustainment Command said that because the ammunition was for foreign weapons, and considered “nonstandard,” it only had to fit in weapons it was intended for.

“There is no specific testing request, and there is no age limit,” said Michael Hutchison, the command’s deputy director for acquisition. “As the ammunition is not standard to the U.S. inventory, the Army doesn’t possess packaging or quality standards for that ammo.”

When purchasing such munitions, Mr. Hutchison said, the Army Sustainment Command relies on standards from the “customer” — meaning the Army units in Afghanistan. And the customer, he said, did not set age or testing requirements.

With the vague standards in hand, AEY canvassed the field. One stop was Albania, a fortress state during Soviet times now trying to join NATO. Albania has huge stocks of armaments, much if it provided by China in the 1960s and 1970s.

The quality of these stockpiles vary widely, said William D. G. Hunt, a retired British ammunition technical officer who assessed the entire stock for Albania’s Ministry of Defense from 1998 to 2002. He said a military planning to use the munitions had reason to worry: at least 90 percent of the stockpile was more than 40 years old.

“If there was any procurement made for combat purposes from that stockpile, I would be very dubious about it,” he said. “I am not suggesting that all the ammunition would fail. But its performance would tail off rather dramatically. It is substandard, for sure.”

Problems with Albania’s decaying munitions were apparent earlier this month, when a depot outside Tirana, Albania’s capital, erupted in a chain of explosions, killing at least 22 people, injuring at least 300 others and destroying hundreds of homes.

Before the Army’s contractors began shopping from such depots, the West’s assessment of Albanian munitions was evident in programs it sponsored to destroy them. Through 2007, the United States had contributed $2 million to destroy excess small-caliber weapons and 2,000 tons of ammunition in Albania, according to the State Department.

A NATO program that ended last year involved 16 Western nations contributing about $10 million to destroy 8,700 tons of obsolete ammunition. The United States contributed $500,000. Among the items destroyed were 104 million 7.62 millimeter cartridges — exactly the ammunition AEY sought from the Albanian state arms export agency.

Albania offered to sell tens of millions of cartridges manufactured as long ago as 1950. For tests, a 25-year-old AEY representative was given 1,000 cartridges to fire, according to Ylli Pinari, the director of the arms export agency at the time of the sale.

No ballistic performance was recorded, he said. The rounds were fired by hand.

On that basis, AEY bought more than 100 million cartridges for the Pentagon’s order. The cartridges, according to packing lists, dated to the 1960s.

The company also hired a local businessman, Kosta Trebicka, to remove the ammunition from its wooden crates and hermetically sealed metal boxes — the standard military packaging that protects munitions from moisture and dirt, and helps ensure its reliability and ease of transport in the field.

Mr. Trebicka, in interviews, said Mr. Diveroli wanted to discard the crates and metal boxes to reduce the weight and cost of air shipments and maximize profits. Several American officials said they suspected that the packaging was removed because it bore Chinese markings and the ammunition’s age.

The Czech Connection

As the cartridges in Albania were being prepared for shipment to Afghanistan, Mr. Diveroli began seeking ammunition from the Czech Republic to fill an order for Iraq’s Interior Ministry.

In May 2007, according to two American officials, the Czech government contacted the American Embassy in Prague with a concern: AEY was buying nine million cartridges through Petr Bernatik, a Czech citizen who had been accused by Czech officials of illegal arms trafficking.

The accusations included shipments of rocket-propelled grenades in violation of an international embargo to Congo, and illegal shipments of firearms to Slovakia.

Mr. Bernatik had publicly denied both accusations. But they were deemed credible enough in Washington that he was listed on the Defense Trade Controls watch list, according to one of the American officials.

This list, maintained by the State Department, is used to prevent American dealers from engaging suspicious traders in their business, in part to prevent legal arms companies from enriching or legitimizing black-market networks.

AEY has never been implicated in black-market sales. But the Czech government, which had discretion over the sale, asked the American Embassy if it wanted Mr. Bernatik involved in AEY’s deals, according to the two American officials, who requested anonymity because they were not authorized to share the contents of diplomatic discussions.

The United States did not try to block the transaction, one of the American officials said, in part because equipping Iraq was in the United States’ interest, and also because Mr. Bernatik had been accused, not convicted.

On May 7, 2007, the Czech government issued an export license. Mr. Bernatik, in a telephone interview, said he arranged seven flights to Iraq for AEY last year. “We have a normal business collaboration,” he said.

A Mysterious Middleman

The international arms business operates partly in the light and partly in shadows, and is littered with short-lived shell companies, middlemen and official corruption. Governments have tried to regulate it more closely for years, with limited success.

As Mr. Diveroli began to fill the Army’s huge orders, he was entering a shadowy world, and in his brief interview he suggested that he was aware that corruption could intrude on his dealings in Albania. “What goes on in the Albanian Ministry of Defense?” he said. “Who’s clean? Who’s dirty? Don’t want to know about it.”

The way AEY’s business was structured, Mr. Diveroli, at least officially, did not deal directly with Albanian officials. Instead, a middleman company registered in Cyprus, Evdin Ltd., bought the ammunition and sold it to his company.

The local packager involved in the deal, Mr. Trebicka, said that he suspected that Evdin’s purpose was to divert money to Albanian officials.

The purchases, Mr. Trebicka said, were a flip: Albania sold ammunition to Evdin for $22 per 1,000 rounds, he said, and Evdin sold it to AEY for much more. The difference, he said he suspected, was shared with Albanian officials, including Mr. Pinari, then the head of the arms export agency, and the defense minister at the time, Fatmir Mediu.

(Mr. Mediu resigned last week after the ammunition depot explosions; Mr. Pinari was arrested.) The Albanian government has been infuriated by Mr. Trebicka’s allegations. Sali Berisha, the prime minister, Mr. Mediu and Mr. Pinari all denied involvement in kickbacks. But Mr. Trebicka said that after he raised his concerns about Evdin with the Defense Ministry, his company was forced from the repackaging contract.

On June 11, 2007, Mr. Trebicka and Mr. Diveroli commiserated by phone about problems with doing business in Albania. Mr. Trebicka surreptitiously recorded the conversation, and later gave the audio files to American investigators.

The conversation, he said, showed that the American company was aware of corruption in its dealings in Albania and that Heinrich Thomet, a Swiss arms dealer, was behind Evdin.

In the recordings, which Mr. Trebicka shared with The Times, Mr. Diveroli suggests that Mr. Thomet, called “Henri,” was acting as the middleman.

“Pinari needs a guy like Henri in the middle to take care of him and his buddies, which is none of my business,” Mr. Diveroli said. “I don’t want to know about that business. I want to know about legitimate businesses.”

Mr. Diveroli recommended that Mr. Trebicka try to reclaim his contract by sending “one of his girls” to have sex with Mr. Pinari. He suggested that money might help, too.

“Let’s get him happy; maybe he gives you one more chance,” he said. “If he gets $20,000 from you ... ”

At the end, Mr. Diveroli appeared to lament his business with Albania. “It went up higher to the prime minister and his son,” he said. “I can’t fight this mafia. It got too big. The animals just got too out of control.”

In e-mail exchanges, Mr. Thomet denied an official role in Evdin. His involvement in the Albania deal, he said, had been in introducing Mr. Diveroli to potential partners and officials. Bogdan Choopryna, Evdin’s general manager, also said Mr. Diveroli’s allegations were not true. “We listen to the words of Mr. Diveroli, and then I am responsible for what he is saying?” he said. In addition to being an official with Evdin, Mr. Choopryna, 27, markets products for a Swiss company run by Mr. Thomet.

The dispute about Evdin’s role and who owns it remains publicly unresolved. Evdin had incorporated on Sept. 26, 2006 — the week after Mr. Diveroli bid on the Afghan contract, according to Cyprus’s registrar. The company listed its office in Larnaca, Cyprus, and its general director as Pambos Fellas.

A visit by a reporter to the address found an accounting business above a nightclub. Evdin had no office or staff there. And Mr. Fellas, who was inside, said that he was not Evdin’s general director, but “a nominee director” whose sole role was to register the company.

He had registered hundreds of such companies for a fee, he said, and knew nothing of Evdin’s business.

Some signs point back to Switzerland. Mr. Pinari initially told two reporters that he worked with Evdin via Mr. Thomet. (After a reporter told Mr. Thomet this, Mr. Pinari changed his story, referring the reporter to Mr. Fellas and Evdin’s office in Cyprus.) Mr. Diveroli also said the Cyprus company was run by a “Swiss individual.”

Mr. Thomet has been accused in the past by private groups, including Amnesty International, of arranging illegal arms transfers under a shifting portfolio of corporate names. His activities have also caused concern in Washington, where, like Mr. Bernatik, he and Evdin are on the Defense Trade Controls watch list, an American official said.

Mr. Thomet said past claims that he had engaged in illegal arms trading were caused by “false statements by former competitors.”

Hugh Griffiths, operations manager of the Arms Transfer Profile Initiative, a private organization that researches illicit arms transfers, described Mr. Thomet as a broker with contacts in former Eastern bloc countries with stockpiles and arms factories. His proximity to AEY’s purchases, Mr. Griffiths said, raised questions about whether the Pentagon was adequately vetting the business done in its name.

“Put very simply, many of the people involved in smuggling arms to Africa are also exactly the same as those involved in Pentagon-supported deals, like AEY’s shipments to Afghanistan and Iraq,” he said.

Under the suspension ordered Wednesday, the Army planned to continue accepting ammunition it had already ordered from AEY. As of March 21, it had ordered $155 million of munitions, according to the Army Sustainment Command.

In Afghanistan, American munitions officers are examining all of the small-arms ammunition AEY has shipped. The final shipment, which arrived in wooden crates, included loose and corroded cartridges, according to three officers. At Rock Island Arsenal, the contracting authority said it was cooperating with investigators, who have also visited Albania and Afghanistan.

And in Miami Beach, even before the suspension, AEY had lost staff members. Michael Diveroli, the company’s founder, told a reporter that he no longer had any relationship with the company. Mr. Packouz, who was AEY’s vice president, and Levi Meyer, 25, who was briefly listed as general manager, had left the company, too.

Mr. Meyer offered a statement: “I’m not involved in that mess anymore.”

C. J Chivers reported from Nawa, Afghanistan, Russia and Ukraine; Eric Schmitt from Washington and Miami Beach; and Nicholas Wood from Tirana, Albania. Reporting was contributed by Alain Delaquérière and Margot Williams from New York, James Glanz from Baghdad, and Stefanos Evripidou from Cyprus.
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2,300 police trainers needed for Afghanistan
www.chinaview.cn  2008-03-27 06:29:46
BRUSSELS, March 26 (Xinhua) -- Some 2,300 police trainers are needed for Afghanistan, said Maj. Gen. Robert W. Cone, who is heading international efforts to train Afghan police.

He asked for help from the international community to fill the shortfall.

The police trainers are needed for a new initiative to further reform the Afghan police, the U.S. officer told Brussels-based reporters through video link from Afghanistan.

The initiative, called Focused District Development, aims to both reform the police and improve local governance, public works, and elements of the rule of law.

"We need additional police trainers to assist us to broaden this program," said Cone.

The program is planned in 52 out of 364 districts for this year, he said. At present, seven districts have accomplished the program while training is under way in eight other districts.

He said currently 1,300 police trainers are working in Afghanistan.

Cone said training the Afghan police is a much more complicated issue than training the Afghan National Army as police are more corruption-prone.

Afghan police officers also have competence problems as many of them were members of former militia and did not receive professional education.

Cone, commander of Combined Security Transition Command-Afghanistan, said the Afghan National Army can reach full strength of 80,000 by March 2009.

Currently, the army is 51,000-strong and another 10,000 soldiers are receiving training.

However, the army is not expected to be fully independent until2016 as capabilities, such as air support, are still lacking, he said.
Editor: Yan Liang 
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Extremists Killing Afghans They Suspect Are Spying
By Imtiaz Ali Special to The Washington Post Thursday, March 27, 2008; A14
PESHAWAR, Pakistan, March 26 -- Extremists in Pakistan's western tribal areas have killed dozens of people suspected of providing intelligence to the United States and its allies in recent months, according to local officials and tribal elders. The killings, some of them carried out in brutal fashion and videotaped as warnings to would-be spies, come as the U.S. government has escalated airstrikes in the region.

Officials and tribal elders say most of the victims have been Afghan refugees who can easily cross the porous border with Pakistan. Extremists have killed accused spies since the start of military operations against al-Qaeda fighters and their tribal supporters in 2001, but the recent deaths represent a marked increase in such cases.

"I don't know how much truth lies in these accusations against particular individuals. But looking at the increasing frequency of such incidents, we have also started thinking that the United States may be using Afghan refugees in this area as their informants for information about local as well as foreign militants," one official said on condition of anonymity.

The official added that the Afghans may be working for the Afghan government, outside U.S. command. But "that is considered to be like spying for the United States in this region," he said.

On Tuesday, local officials near Miram Shah, the main town in North Waziristan, found the body of an Afghan refugee, Abdullah Jan. Attached to the body was a note that warned, "Anyone working as an American spy will meet the same fate."

Extremists recently released a DVD, "The Fate of a Hypocrite," which shows the beheading of an unidentified man. The DVD shows the man confessing that he had received about $1,000 for spying for the United States. Several masked men standing behind him laugh and say the punishment of spying is death. Then a teenager steps forward and beheads the man with a knife.

Sources close to the extremists said the man had provided information to "enemy forces" about the position of Taliban fighters, who were later killed in an airstrike.

Extremists in the area rely on "a strong network of informants in every village and town" to find suspected spies, said Malik Mumtaz, a tribal elder in Miram Shah, adding that the Taliban usually releases a DVD of the person being killed.

"In a few days," Mumtaz said, "you will see a new DVD showing the assassination of Abdullah Jan."
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Afghan minister calls on intl support for its national forces
www.chinaview.cn  2008-03-27 21:29:21
KABUL, March 27 (Xinhua) -- Afghan Defense Minister Abdul Rahim Wardak on Thursday called on the international community to help strengthen Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF) and enable it to completely take security charge of the country.

"We are asking the international community and everybody to accelerate the growth of ANSF both in quality and quantity," Wardak told newsmen at a video conference arranged by Brussels ahead of NATO summit.

He also stressed that it is the responsibility of Afghans to ensure the security of their country.

"Generally we Afghans believe here the only sustained way in long term to secure Afghanistan is to enable the Afghans themselves," Wardak emphasized.

He also added that the Afghan National Security Forces still do not have all the necessary equipment to lead the military operations against militants in the country.

"We still need to rely on NATO and the Coalition for air support, fire support and some logistic," the minister noted.

He made these remarks one week ahead of NATO summit in Bucharest where Afghanistan issue would be discussed and the alliance would issue a statement in support of the military pact in Afghanistan.

Commenting on Taliban outfit's threat and launching the so-called spring offensive, he downplayed the threat but adding that the militants would be heavily relying on IEDs (Improvised Explosive Devices) and suicide bombing.

Replying a question on the present strength of Afghan National Army, the Defense Minister said that "some 80,000 is too low. We want to have more troops."
Editor: Bi Mingxin 
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Millions of Afghan refugees are returning to an uncertain future
OLIVER MOORE From Thursday's Globe and Mail March 27, 2008 at 3:48 AM EDT
KANDAHAR, Afghanistan — It looks like a place for people who are fleeing. But the rows of tents in this humble transition centre are instead one of the last stops for former refugees as they return from Pakistan in search of a normal life.

The return of millions of refugees is seen as one of the great success stories of post-Taliban Afghanistan. More accurate than any poll, aid workers like to say, this flow of people is tangible evidence that Afghans themselves think their country is improving.

The reality is more complicated, with long-time hosts Iran and Pakistan both putting pressure on refugees to go home. But whatever the reason, an estimated five million people have been repatriated in barely six years.

It's a staggering figure and it takes a visit to a transition centre such as the one in Kandahar province - which has handled 10 per cent of all returning refugees - to recast that flood of people into individual terms.

They come by bus and shared taxi and can take a full day to cover the few hundred kilometres between the Pakistani city of Quetta and Kandahar.

Tired and hungry, they show up at any time of the day or night to knock at the gate in the turquoise-painted wall of the compound. The facility, which is funded by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, is open on a 24-hour basis and there are two shifts of staff to receive them.

One of the recent returnees is Mohammed Ibrahim. A genial 60-year-old with an earring and only patches of brown left in his snowy beard, he said yesterday that he fled his homeland 25 years ago, during the Soviet invasion. This week he came back with his wife and two daughters. "The problem was inflation and joblessness in Pakistan, nothing to do," he said. "I have two skills: I'm a good cook. I can cook lunch for 100 or 200 people in an hour; and I'm a carpenter. I'm looking for any help I can get."

New arrivals such as Mr. Ibrahim are checked by medical staff and given the necessary vaccinations. His family will also receive a small amount of money to set them on their way, anywhere from $93 to $112, depending on how far they must travel. And, in classes segregated by gender, they learn about the dangers of drug use and land mines.

"Some of them do have information before on mine awareness," said Akhtar Mohammed Shahab, 60, a grandfatherly man with twinkling eyes who uses gory drawings and video to teach the men about munitions. "Some don't have any information at all. But everyone can use more."

The transition centre for this province had been located in Daman, a district that wraps around the south and east of Kandahar, and was relocated to the edge of the city barely three weeks ago. It is run by Afghans operating under the umbrella of the UNHCR, whose Global Appeal last year received $5-million in funding from the Canadian International Development Agency. Staff have set up 160 olive-green tents, each less than nine square metres and each intended to house an entire family.

People are moved quickly through the centre, only in rare cases staying more than 24 hours, and staff are gearing up now for the usual summer rush. Based on past experience, former refugees will start to pour in as early as next week and the spike will continue until October. Others have not waited and a steady stream has been turning up since the new centre opened. There were about 30 families there yesterday. One of them was headed by Mohammed Essa, 35, who arrived on Tuesday with his wife and three children after fleeing to Pakistan 15 years ago.

"We can see that Afghanistan is now progressing. It's getting better and better," the black-bearded man said, his fierce face softening when asked about his family. "I don't have any specific job to do here. I will just do daily labour."

A tide of humanity

After fleeing the Russian invasion, infighting between Afghan warlords, and the U.S.-led invasion in 2001, thousands of Afghans are now returning to their homes, attracted by increased stability and forced out of refugee camps in Iran and Pakistan.

To Britain: 22,532

Canada: 15,535

U.S.: 8,831

India: 9,700

Iran: 920,248 joined existing refugees (2003 to 2006)

As of Nov., 2007, about 1.5 million Afghans had returned from Iran. An estimated 600,000 to 700,000 Afghans remain in Iran.

Pakistan: 1,084,248 joined existing refugees (2003 to 2006)

Between 15,000 and 20,ooo of these people crossed the border between Sept. 11 and Oct. 1, 2001.

As of Nov., 2007, Almost 3 million of the refugees returned from Pakistan. 2.6 million Afghans remain in Pakistan, including one million in 74 long-term camps.

TONIA COWAN/THE GLOBE AND MAIL; SOURCE: AFGHAN CONFLICT MONITOR, UNHCR, CENTER FOR EXCELLENCE IN DISASTER MANAGEMENT
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Afghan traders worried about worsening law and order in NWFP
* Says deportation of refugees, relations with local traders affecting business
By Jehanzeb Khan Daily Times, Pakistan
PESHAWAR: Afghan businessmen at the Karkhano Market on Wednesday expressed concern over the deteriorating law and order situation in NWFP and deportation of Afghan refugees and said that they were becoming conscious of their relations with the local businessmen.

These businessmen migrated here when the situation deteriorated in their own country, but what’s bothering them now is where would they shift their businesses due to the deteriorating law and order in NWFP, they told Daily Times.

A majority of the shopkeepers in the multi-storey huge markets are Afghans, whom the local traders accuse of affecting their businesses. “We have more then 95 percent of the business here and still we are called refugees,” said an Afghan businessman.

He said they had faced problems here, but established business because they had no infrastructure left in their country.

“We have established our head offices here and set up factories inside Afghanistan, but a sense of insecurity has always struck our people that the Pakistan government might expel us from the country,” said Zarwali, an Afghan businessman.

Another businessman said, “We established around 500 shops and offices in the Karkhano Market, but neither are we registered with the government nor do we have any work permit.”

The Afghan businessmen are also worried about their existing stock inside Afghanistan and expect loot and plunder due to the law and order situation in their own country.

“We can neither shift our material to safer places nor have an alternative arrangement to save our items from destruction,” they added.

The main problem facing the Afghan businessmen is that they have established factories in Kabul with offices in Pakistan.

A majority of the relatives of Afghan traders are living in different countries. One trader said, “One of my daughters is in Canada, one in England and two brothers are in France. I have my business here, but my mother is in Afghanistan”.

The Afghan businessmen said it was their dream to see restoration of peace in their country so that they could continue their business in their own country. They agreed that they earn a lot in Pakistan, but still their business was considered illegal because they possess no permit and are not registered.

“We believe the government of Pakistan can seal our offices and stop our business whenever it wants, so a sense of insecurity always prevails among us,” the traders added.
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Helmand: Derided police turn over new leaf
Despite their tarnished reputation, the province's police have recently scored major successes.
By Mohammad Ilyas Dayee and Zaimullah Stanekzai (ARR No. 286, 26-Mar-08) Source: Institute for War and Peace Reporting
Helmand residents are saying that the province's much-criticised policemen are becoming more effective, breaking up several major criminal gangs and helping the people of this beleaguered corner of Afghanistan to feel more secure.

Helmand, the centre of the Taleban insurgency and the world capital of opium poppy, has more than enough problems without common criminals. But kidnapping gangs have been on the rise, with dozens of people abducted and held for ransom.

Doctors, small-time businessmen, boys on motor scooters - anyone who looks to have a bit of cash and no protection is fair game.

Over the past year, at least 30 persons have been abducted in Helmand province. Some were released after their relatives paid the ransom, but others were killed. The authorities here would not give exact figures on these deaths. It is also quite likely that the number of abductions is underreported, given the population's traditional mistrust of the police.

But in February, Helmand police rounded up a gang of 17 alleged kidnappers in the village of Adam Khan in Greshk district. A week or so earlier, they arrested six in Lashkar Gah, and before that, a gang in Nawa.

The message has gone out to the local population: the police are doing their best to shed the image of rag-tag thieves and drug addicts that they have enjoyed up until now.

"May God grant the police a long life," said Haji Talib, a businessman from Musa Qala district. He was freed by police when they raided the gang in Adam Khan.

"I was abducted along with my car," he recounted shortly after his release, handcuffs still dangling from his wrists. "They stole my money, about six million Pakistani rupees (approximately 100,000 US dollars) and made me call my family and demand another 50 million afghani (1 million dollars). Otherwise, they said, they would kill me and sell my lungs and liver."

Relieved that his ordeal was over, Hajji Talib was effusive in his praise for his liberators.

"Police can do anything if they are given the right orders and instructed properly," he said. "I am very proud of (Police Chief) Mohammad Hussain Andiwal."

Andiwal came to Helmand province less than a year ago, with a mandate to reform the police.

He told a large gathering soon after his arrival that a new era was dawning for Helmand's law enforcement organisations.

"Let us forget about the past. I want the police to work well in the future. Do not forget our slogan: police are the servants of society.

I have spoken to the ministry of the interior, and told them that I will work in Helmand if you raise the salaries of the police. God willing, you will get higher salaries, but you need to work for the people and your communities," he said.

Andiwal and his new policies have already made a significant difference in the province's security, say residents.

"I was so happy when I heard about the arrests in Adam Khan," said Bashar, a resident of Greshk. "Before this, we could only hope that the army would protect us. But now we see the police also can do such things. I am very proud of them, and I think that the police will get the support of the community if they catch thieves and other criminals."

Helmand's police force, like in much of Afghanistan, has been plagued by corruption, drug addiction, and inadequate training, which have hampered efforts at reform. One British officer, who was tasked with mentoring Helmand's police force, remarked privately that the problems had seemed all but insurmountable.

"We concentrated on training the traffic cops," he said.

The poppy industry, which is by far the major economic activity in Helmand, had also fueled corruption. Farmers pay the police a negotiated rate to keep them from destroying their fields.

"The police have not come to my farm since I gave them 50 afghani per acre," said Taza Gul, a farmer in Nad Ali district.

In addition to large-scale corruption, the police often shake down residents for small sums.

Bismillah, a resident of Babaji village in Nad Ali, said that police checkpoints set up to ensure security have instead become yet another headache.

"One day we were out and had our women along with us. The police kept us waiting for over an hour, asking us for 100 afghani," he complained.

The police have also earned a reputation as substance abusers; the drug treatment centre in Lashkar Gah has several officers who are trying to kick the habit. Many more are still using drugs, and still wearing their uniforms.

Police Chief Andiwal admits that there are problems.

"We recently made a decision to discharge those who are using drugs," he said.

Some of the problems are attributed to a lack of training, despite the high profile and generously funded programmes set up by the international community.

A training centre has been set up in neighbouring Kandahar, where recruits are taught the basics of law enforcement by Western officers and the US contractor DynCorp.

But, in Helmand at least, many would-be cops are not eager to spend time in the police academy, preferring to make a short-term killing and then get out.

Nadir, an officer from Nad Ali, said he is not interested in a career with the police.

"This region is sometimes controlled by the Taleban and sometimes by the government," he said. "What is the point in my studying in the academy?"

Ghafur, a police commander in Marja district, said that the force is so short of staff that they try to recruit directly, without sending the new officers to the academy.

"We do not have enough personnel to maintain security while some are off studying in the academy," he said. "We need to use raw recruits."

But Sawar, an 18-year-old graduate of the academy, recommended the training to all officers. He said recruits learn everything from how to properly use their weapons to how to conduct themselves professionally.

"Better training would do much to improve the image of Helmand's police," he added.

Andiwal, too, insists that the recent run of success among the police was due to the training.

"We have not done much to better the lot of the police," he told IWPR. "Their salaries are very low. But we have been successful in our training. It is the education of the police that has made the difference."

Whatever the reason, Helmand's police force has scored some major breakthroughs, both in actual arrests and in gaining the trust of the population. And support among the locals is key to combating crime, say officials.

"I can assure the people that we can get rid of these monsters if the community helps us," said Andiwal. "All of our achievements were made possible by people, and if the people cooperate, we will have further successes."

Sher Zaman, an officer in the police headquarters in Lashkar Gah, agreed.

"We arrested that gang of (alleged) kidnappers in Adam Khan village because civilians cooperated with us," he told IWPR. "People informed us of where they were, and we were able to take them. We can serve the community all the time, if they cooperate."

But old habits die hard.

"We would be much happier and work a lot harder if the government would raise our salaries to 10,000 afghani, " said one officer in the Chan Jir area. "The new provincial police chief is very strict, and he wants to help people. But we have not been given new weapons or higher salaries. We do not have what we need."

Nadir, who worked as a policeman for two years before he quit, also thinks that more pay would translate into better security for the people of Helmand.

"The major difficulty is salary," he said. "When I was a policeman, salaries were very low, and I quit. Now salaries are about 5,000 afghani. Maybe if they boosted the pay even more, the police would work harder. And I would come back."

Agha Noor Aka, a resident of Chan Jir, is happy with the modest pay hike, since his son is a police officer.

"My son has been in police force for ten months now," he told IWPR. "At first, he brought nothing home at all. But now, once a month, he buys us sugar and candy. May God guide him!"

Adam Khan was not the only successful operation in recent weeks. Helmand police also rounded up a gang of six criminals in Lashkar Gah, in the Taleban-dominated Safian neighbourhood. Here, too, the cooperation of residents played a role.

"We had been after these people for a long time," said one police commander, who spoke on condition of anonymity. "We found them because people who lived near them told us about their whereabouts, and we were able to arrest them."

A similar operation in Nawa district also yielded a six-man gang of alleged kidnappers.

In early February, police were able to arrest two highwaymen who were using women's clothing to disarm potential victims. They had already stolen one motorcycle, and were on their way to taking another one, when residents informed the police.

"We chased these men until nightfall," said Andiwal. "Villagers helped us, and we found them in a local house, still dressed in women's clothing."

The arrest brought an added bonus: the police found a remote control bomb when they searched the house. The suspects told police that their older brothers were in the bomb-making business.

Even Helmand's most sceptical residents are starting to believe in the police.

"I used to consider all government officials irresponsible, and had no faith that anyone could save me if I were abducted," said Akram Kharoti, a resident of Nad Ali. "I never believed that police would bring thieves to justice. But now I am very happy. God willing, this country will be rebuilt if the police are active and work properly."

Mohammad Ilyas Dayee and Zaimuklkah Stanekzai are IWPR reporter trainees in Helmand.
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Taliban foot soldiers deeply ignorant of the world
Survey reveals Kandahar fighters know next to nothing about Canada or U.S., contradicting view Taliban are sophisticated terrorists
GRAEME SMITH gsmith@globeandmail.com March 27, 2008 The Globe and Mail
KANDAHAR, AFGHANISTAN -- The typical Taliban foot soldier battling Canadian troops and their allies in Kandahar is not a global jihadist who dreams of some day waging war on Canadian soil. In fact, he would have trouble finding Canada on a map.

A survey of 42 insurgents in Kandahar province posed a series of questions about the fighters' view of the world, and the results contradicted the oft-repeated perception of the Taliban as sophisticated terrorists who pose a direct threat to Western countries.

Faced with a multiple-choice question about Canada's location, only one of 42 fighters correctly guessed that Canada is located to the north of the United States, meaning the insurgents performed worse than randomly.

None of them could identify Stephen Harper as the Prime Minister of Canada, and they often repeated the syllables of his name - "Stepheh Napper," "Sehn Hahn," "Steng Peng Beng," "Gra Pla Pla" - that reflected their puzzlement over a name they had never heard.

Nor did they seem to associate the word "Canada" with anything except, in some cases, the soldiers now serving in Afghanistan. Most could not distinguish between the French- and English-speaking rotations of troops.

One of The Globe and Mail's questions offered the Taliban a chance to volunteer any information about Canada: "Do you know about this country? What kind of people are there? Is it a big country or a small country? Poor country, rich country? Cold or warm? Do Muslims live there?" None offered any meaningful responses, and most of them simply declined to answer. One of the few who guessed, a 21-year-old farmer, seemed to think the word "Canada" indicated a faraway city.

"It might be an old and destroyed city," he said.

The results show the depth of ignorance among front-line insurgents in Kandahar. In a previous visit to the tribal areas of Pakistan, a reporter for The Globe and Mail personally met with more sophisticated Taliban who demonstrated a keen grasp of politics and appeared to know the latest news of the war. But those politically astute Taliban were hundreds of kilometres away from the battlefields, and it remains unclear how much control such organizers exert over the day-to-day operations of the insurgency.

The Taliban became synonymous with ignorance during their years in government, banning media such as television that might bring foreign ideas into the country. As insurgents, however, they've shown a newfound flair for technology, distributing video propaganda and sending press statements via text message to reporters' mobile phones.

"The Taliban also have a sophisticated media strategy and full grasp of modern technology," said a report by the European Council on Foreign Relations in January.

Canadian politicians and military officials often make public statements that suggest the Taliban monitor political trends in Ottawa and choose to attack at politically sensitive moments: General Rick Hillier, Canada's Chief of the Defence Staff, raised the possibility that a suicide bombing that killed more than 100 people in Kandahar province in February may have been connected with debates in the House of Commons about the future of the mission.

But a Western expert who reviewed The Globe's video footage said the kind of worldliness described by Gen. Hillier isn't the most likely explanation.

"Those [insurgents] making decisions are more sophisticated than those you are interviewing, so there is some chance of this being plausible," the expert said. "But I think they're working to their own calendar, not ours." Three fighters in the survey didn't recognize the name of U.S. President George W. Bush, and another mispronounced his name as "Bukh," suggesting he wasn't familiar with the word.

Those who had heard of the U.S. President often gave responses that revealed more of their parochialism. He was called a "Jew," and "King of America." Sometimes, amid the errors, the Taliban showed their simplistic view of world politics. "He is the son of George W, [and] he is the son of Clinton W, and he is American, and is a serious enemy of Islam," said one fighter in his description of Mr. Bush.

"Why is he an enemy of Islam?" he was asked.

"The Koran says: 'Jews and Christians will be unhappy until you obey them. When you obey them, they will be satisfied,' " the insurgent replied. "This means if you obey them they are happy, but if you don't accept their commands, they will fight you."

Some of the comments about Mr. Bush showed the Taliban's enthusiasm for crude violence: "If I were to capture him, I would cut a piece of his flesh even as he was still alive." They were equally vitriolic in their descriptions of Afghan President Hamid Karzai, calling him a "slave" of the Americans. "There is no difference between the red-faced and green-eyed infidel, and him," one said.

When the Taliban demonstrated any understanding beyond their immediate surroundings, it was often references to their own version of Islamic history. They invoked stories of ancient Egypt and compared the U.S. President to one of the pharaohs, also drawing a parallel between the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan and the medieval Christians who launched Crusades.

Another described the war in Afghanistan as part of a conflict that stretches back to the founding of Islam as a religion.

"Non-Muslims have been against Muslims for a long time," he said. "Just as they attacked the Prophet Mohammed and broke his teeth, so they are against us since that era."
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My life in al-Qa'eda, by bin Laden's bodyguard
Telegraph.co.uk, United Kingdom By Tim Butcher in Sana’a  27/03/2008
He served loyally at the terrorist leader's side in the build up to the attacks on America and is wanted by the FBI and CIA. Nasser al Bahri speaks to Tim Butcher

Osama bin Laden is a workaholic who will always be one step ahead of Western intelligence, his former bodyguard has told The Daily Telegraph.

Many have claimed intimate knowledge of bin Laden over the years. But in the case of Nasser al Bahri, a bearded and slightly portly 35-year-old taxi driver who lives in Yemen, the claim is not tainted by exaggeration.

For four years Bahri fought in Afghanistan with al-Qa’eda and served as bodyguard to a man he remembers affectionately as "the Sheikh".

His experience makes Bahri of intense interest to the FBI and CIA, but they have so far failed to persuade the Yemeni authorities to deport him for questioning.

"The thing I remember most about the Sheikh is that he was very, very active," said Bahri.

"From the start of the day before dawn when he began his prayers to late at night he was always doing something, never resting. We were not living in a comfortable environment but that did not stop him from all the time working, thinking and planning.

"After prayers came administration and after administration came meetings with distinguished visitors, sometimes secret visitors, but all day he never stopped."

Sitting in a quiet corner of a hotel restaurant in Sana’a, the capital of Yemen, Bahri shook his head at the colourful claims about his role protecting bin Laden in the late 1990s.

He did not screen bin Laden’s food for poison. He was not under orders to shoot bin Laden dead if he was about to fall into enemy hands.

Instead, he acted as an armed personal assistant, carrying his baggage, making sure his satellite communications were working and chivvying the various other members of the entourage from cooks to drivers.
"To be honest I have never killed a man," said Bahri. "The worst moment came when a Sudanese man came for a visit and he became very rude and disrespectful to The Sheikh. I had to grab his hands and handcuff him and take him away.

"But even then the Sheikh told me to let him go."

Like his sponsor, Bahri was born in Saudi Arabia to Yemeni immigrants. He was educated to the equivalent of A Level and left school at 18.

He drifted through various jobs in his early 20s, falling in with a group of young jihadists disenchanted with pro-Western Saudi rulers.

In 1996 at the age of 23 he joined a group of militants who travelled to Quetta, the Pakistani city close to the Afghan border.

"From there we took jeeps and crossed the border but I could not say where," he said. "When we arrived at the al-Qa’eda training area the Sheikh heard there were a group of Arabs who had arrived so he hosted a meeting and spoke to us.

"It was very special to meet our new leader and hear his views."

He sent for his Yemeni wife, Taysir al Qala, to join him in southern Afghanistan and their first child, Habib, was born in Kandahar.

Bahri’s time as bodyguard to bin Laden between 1996 and 2000 is perhaps of most interest to Western intelligence because it was when the al-Qa’eda leader changed strategy.

"From the moment I knew him he was thinking all the time about extending the war everywhere," said Bahri.

"He would always say we must hit America on a front that it never expects. He kept saying he wanted to fight America on a battlefield it cannot control."

Bahri said he had no idea at the time about the September 11 attacks but that when they happened he believed they fell into the pattern bin Laden had been formulating during their time together.

Bahri left Afghanistan in 2000 because his father in law was ill with a kidney condition back in Yemen.

He flew home shortly before al-Qa’eda attacked the USS Cole in the Yemeni port of Aden in late 2000.

Arrested in a round up of militants, he convinced tthe Yemeni authorities that he had no role in the attack but still spent two years in jail, meaning he was under detention when the September 11 attacks took place.

So desperate was US intelligence for leads after the attacks that FBI investigators flew to Yemen to interview him in jail more than once.

He was released in 2002 and has since earned a living as a taxi driver and junior college lecturer in human resources.

While expressing no regret at his relationship with bin Laden and saying he would gladly do it again, he declined to discuss his beliefs about jihadism, terrorism and any distinction between the two.

"That would take too long," he said politely, before picking up his spectacles and disappearing out on to the street.
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