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March 28, 2008 

New U.N. envoy arrives in Afghanistan
By Jonathan Burch
KABUL (Reuters) - The new U.N. envoy to Afghanistan, Kai Eide, arrived in Kabul on Friday with a pledge to improve coordination with President Hamid Karzai's government.

Russia links help in Afghanistan to NATO expansion: report
Fri Mar 28, 5:57 AM ET
MOSCOW (AFP) - Russia is ready to help NATO on Afghanistan, provided that Moscow's security interests, including a halt to eastward expansion of NATO, are respected, Russia's deputy foreign minister said Friday, Interfax news agency reported.

Several militants slain in Afghanistan
Fri Mar 28, 3:32 AM ET Associated Press
KABUL, Afghanistan - U.S.-led coalition forces killed several Taliban militants after coming under attack in volatile southern Afghanistan, a coalition statement said Friday.

Marines ready for their Afghan mission -- whatever it is
by Beatrice Khadige Fri Mar 28, 2:28 AM ET
KANDAHAR AIR FIELD, Afghanistan (AFP) - At the well-tended perimeter of Kandahar Air Field, just-arrived US Marines are exercising under a strong sun far from the other deployments.

Taliban declares spring offensive in Afghanistan
Fri Mar 28, 1:23 AM ET
DUBAI (AFP) - The Taliban declared the beginning of a spring offensive against coalition forces in Afghanistan in a statement posted on Islamist Internet forums, the SITE monitoring group said.

Canada to press for more troops in Afghanistan at NATO talks
Fri Mar 28, 12:19 AM ET
OTTAWA (AFP) - Canada welcomes promises from allies to deploy more troops to Afghanistan but will press for further reinforcements at upcoming NATO talks, the prime minister's spokeswoman said.

France, Britain vow new 'entente amicale'
by Phil Hazlewood Thu Mar 27, 6:51 PM ET
LONDON (AFP) - France and Britain vowed Thursday to turn their "entente cordiale" into an "entente amicale", working together on issues from tackling the global credit crunch to fighting the Taliban in Afghanistan.

12 Dead As Taliban Attacks Afghanistan Anti-Drug Police
HERAT, Afghanistan (AFP)--Taliban rebels attacked a counter-narcotics police force in western Afghanistan Friday, triggering a fierce clash that left 10 militants and two police dead, a governor said.

Afghanistan adrift in misplaced aid
By Aunohita Mojumdar Asia Times - Mar 28 3:41 AM
KABUL - A map of Afghanistan dotted with colorful pins adorned the wall in the office of the aid agency official. Looking with relish at the embellished map, the official stuck in a handful more, noting with a sigh of satisfaction the increase

NZ soldiers face court martial over alleged hashish use
2:35PM Friday March 28, 2008 New Zealand Herald, New Zealand
Six soldiers have been shipped out of Afghanistan back to New Zealand to face drug charges at a court martial.

Why the Taliban now embrace the concept of suicide bombing
GRAEME SMITH gsmith@globeandmail.com March 28, 2008 The Globe and Mail
KANDAHAR, AFGHANISTAN -- Suicide bombing used to be a subject of debate among the Taliban, as they struggled to decide whether the tactic was too extreme, but the frightening new reality in Afghanistan is that the radicals

More NATO Security Aid Needed, Afghan Official Says
By CARLOTTA GALL March 28, 2008 The New York Times
KABUL, Afghanistan — Afghanistan’s defense minister, Abdul Rahim Wardak, called on NATO countries on Thursday to use their summit meeting next month in Romania to reaffirm their commitment to his nation’s security, and especially to help

US wants Pakistan government to cancel talks with Taliban
Malaysia Sun Friday 28th March, 2008
A senior US official has opposed the new Pakistani government's intended talks with pro-Taliban militants who have launched a series of suicide attacks on security forces in recent months.

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New U.N. envoy arrives in Afghanistan
By Jonathan Burch
KABUL (Reuters) - The new U.N. envoy to Afghanistan, Kai Eide, arrived in Kabul on Friday with a pledge to improve coordination with President Hamid Karzai's government.

"The Afghan government has asked for that for a very long time and we have to respond in a better way than we have managed so far," said Eide, a former Norwegian ambassador to NATO.

Eide, who is replacing Tom Koenigs of Germany, is taking over at a crucial time.

Karzai is under pressure with a presidential election due next year. He is faced with people's frustration over a lack of security, slow pace of development and corruption within the Afghan authorities.

The enduring hardship faced by ordinary Afghans more than six years after U.S.-backed forces vanquished the Taliban has also fuelled some resentment towards U.N. agencies and some 43,000 NATO-led foreign troops still present in their country.

The Taliban insurgency in southern and eastern Afghanistan shows little sign of fading. The U.N. Security Council voted last week to extend for another year the mandate for the U.N. mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA), and called for what U.N. officials describe as a "sharpened" role for Eide.

Western diplomats on the council said Eide would have to assume more responsibility than Koenigs did in coordinating international civilian and military activities and will have to cooperate more effectively with the Afghan government.

Addressing a news conference at Kabul's airport, Eide said the U.N. mission needed to find "the right balance in dialogue with the Afghan authorities."

He also aimed to give greater attention to "the political dimension" of the mission, as more emphasis had been given to security issues in the past.

Eide, who at one time worked as a U.N. envoy in the Balkans, is known as an effective diplomat with experience in nation-building and dealing with NATO, but until now did not have a high public profile, even in Norway. Known as a behind-the-scenes deal maker without a high public profile, Eide was chosen for the post after Afghan President Hamid Karzai vetoed British Paddy Ashdown's appointment following media speculation about the extent of his powers and possible influence over the Afghan government.

(Editing by Simon Cameron-Moore)
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Russia links help in Afghanistan to NATO expansion: report
Fri Mar 28, 5:57 AM ET
MOSCOW (AFP) - Russia is ready to help NATO on Afghanistan, provided that Moscow's security interests, including a halt to eastward expansion of NATO, are respected, Russia's deputy foreign minister said Friday, Interfax news agency reported.

Russia is "considering the possibility of deepening" cooperation with NATO over Afghanistan, but this will not happen "if each other's lawful security interests are not taken into account," the official, Alexander Grushko, told Interfax.

He highlighted NATO expansion plans -- with ex-Soviet Georgia and Ukraine high on the waiting list -- as a key security concern of Moscow.

"Further steps toward realising NATO's 'open doors' policy does not strengthen the security of NATO itself, nor the security of countries declaring their intention to join the alliance, nor, moreover, the security of Russia," Grushko said.

"This project is from the political past, and does not concern the real security demands of our day," he said.

Grushko spoke just days before the April 2-4 NATO summit in Bucharest, where President Vladimir Putin will be attending.

Topping the NATO agenda will be the war against the Taliban in Afghanistan and discussions on possible expansion of the 26-nation alliance to include former Soviet republics Georgia and Ukraine -- a possibility that has enfuriated Moscow.

NATO has been negotiating with Russia over the possible use of Russian and Central Asian territory to send supplies for the war against the Taliban in Afghanistan.

But Grushko denied press reports that Moscow was bargaining with NATO to offer help in Afghanistan in return for NATO denying Georgia and Ukraine Membership Action Plan status, which clears the way to membership.

"There is no trade-off and there cannot be one," he told Interfax.
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Several militants slain in Afghanistan
Fri Mar 28, 3:32 AM ET Associated Press
KABUL, Afghanistan - U.S.-led coalition forces killed several Taliban militants after coming under attack in volatile southern Afghanistan, a coalition statement said Friday.

The troops were searching for a Taliban insurgent involved in weapons trafficking in Helmand province when militants opened fire Wednesday with machine guns, hand grenades and rocket-propelled grenades, the coalition said.

The troops responded, killing several insurgents and wounding a woman who was not involved in the hostilities.

"A coalition forces medical specialist immediately tended to the wound, ensuring she was stabilized before transporting her ... to a medical facility for further treatment," said coalition spokesman Army Maj. Chris Belcher.

Helmand, the biggest opium poppy-producing region in the world, has been the front line of the bloodiest fighting between international security forces and Afghan insurgents in the recent years. The attack Wednesday occurred in Kajaki district.

More than 8,000 people were killed in the insurgency in 2007, the deadliest year since the 2001 U.S.-led invasion.
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Marines ready for their Afghan mission -- whatever it is
by Beatrice Khadige Fri Mar 28, 2:28 AM ET
KANDAHAR AIR FIELD, Afghanistan (AFP) - At the well-tended perimeter of Kandahar Air Field, just-arrived US Marines are exercising under a strong sun far from the other deployments.

They are some of a new force of 2,500 soldiers with the 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit from Camp Lejeune, North Carolina, who started arriving this month to back up other soldiers in this hotbed of the Taliban insurgency.

They are still setting up and have not yet received mission orders.

"We are just ready to respond to whatever our commanders are going to ask us to do," said Colonel Peter Petronzio, head of the unit.

"We should be involved in everything from door-kicking to well-digging," he said, referring to military searches and reconstruction work.

Petronzio, 47, has served in the infantry and the Special Forces -- including in Afghanistan during 2001 and 2002, when the Taliban were being driven from power, as well as in Kosovo and Iraq.

But most of his Marines are new to Afghanistan. "Very few have been here before, a very small number," Petronzio said.

They have arrived with a lot of baggage: 20 CH-46 assault helicopters and various heavy transport choppers among a range of weapons and other equipment.

It is a time of preparation before what military officials refer to as the "fighting season."

That prep work includes getting to know the 17 different military deployments at Kandahar Air Field, the biggest base in southern Afghanistan.

"I am focused on my people and making sure we are ready," Petronzio said.

Last year was the deadliest of the Taliban-led insurgency, with roughly 160 suicide bombings and 8,000 people killed, most of them rebels but also nearly 220 international soldiers.

The Taliban this week announced their new offensive, Operation Ebrat (Lesson), to see "a new type of operation to expand operations countrywide."

Nations with soldiers in the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force will meanwhile meet in early April, when some are expected to announce extra soldiers and resources for ISAF, which is now about 50,000 strong.

Petronzio and his soldiers will work with ISAF; about 1,000 more Marines are due in the coming weeks to work with the separate US-led coalition, which has about 20,000 soldiers.

As part of their preparations, some Marines are taking classes in Afghan history and language. Outside their new tents, others sweat as they lift weights or disassemble and clean mortars.

"The heat is going to be the most difficult to overcome," said Lance Corporal John Feathers, 22, who is on his first mission.

It is already about 30 degrees Celsius (86 Fahrenheit) in the sun, and temperatures can reach the 50s in summer.

Feathers' fellow soldier, 22-year-old Corporal Steven Gattis, is on his third mission -- having already been through two in Iraq.

He said he has "quite a few friends dead -- it makes you angry."

"But you have to keep in mind that not everybody is bad, not everyone is directly involved in the fighting," said the soldier, who comes from a military family.

He is a little nervous: he has a new position of authority and "am more worried about making mistakes and losing one of them rather than me."

"Mom was worried," he added. "She said, 'You're leaving for the third time'. I said, 'I came back every time.'"

Feathers marked his departure on his first mission with a party, "one last good time before I left. One never knows."

Of the nearly 220 international soldiers to lose their lives in Afghanistan last year, about 117 were Americans.

Since Operation Enduring Freedom was launched at the end of 2001 to remove the Taliban, 490 US soldiers have died here.
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Taliban declares spring offensive in Afghanistan
Fri Mar 28, 1:23 AM ET
DUBAI (AFP) - The Taliban declared the beginning of a spring offensive against coalition forces in Afghanistan in a statement posted on Islamist Internet forums, the SITE monitoring group said.

"The winter season is about to end, and here spring looms on the horison, and in order for the continuity of doing the holy jihad (war), the Islamic Emirate begins a new series of operations," said the statement attributed to Taliban's deputy leader, Mullah Bradar Muhammad.

"Our aim in these operations is to give the enemy an admonishing lesson through conclusive and painful strikes he does not anticipate" said the English translation of the statement provided by the SITE Thurdsday.

Vowing to bring down the government of President Hamid Karzai, the statement urged civilian and military government employees to quit and "join the battle beside the mujahedeen (holy warriors) to liberate the country."

"All the mujahedeen should continue forward in their effectiveness in jihad with intensified military operations in accordance with the detailed plans and programmes approved and given to them," it added.

A car bomb which killed eight Afghan civilians on Wednesday near a crowded bazaar in southern Afghanistan was claimed by Taliban.

The hardline movement was forced from government in late 2001 in a US-led invasion of Afghanistan. But in recent years the resurgent Taliban have waged a bloody insurgency which has claimed thousands of lives.
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Canada to press for more troops in Afghanistan at NATO talks
Fri Mar 28, 12:19 AM ET
OTTAWA (AFP) - Canada welcomes promises from allies to deploy more troops to Afghanistan but will press for further reinforcements at upcoming NATO talks, the prime minister's spokeswoman said.

"We recognize the recent increased commitment by NATO in Afghanistan and we're going to take this opportunity to encourage more involvement," Sandra Buckler, spokeswoman for Prime Minister Stephen Harper, told a press briefing Thursday.

Harper and his senior ministers have been lobbying their European counterparts of late to send at least 1,000 troops, drones and helicopters to bolster Canadian forces fighting insurgents in volatile Kandahar province as a condition of Canada's extended deployment to 2011.

Harper is expected to meet with them face-to-face when he travels to Bucharest, Romania for the April 2-4 NATO talks.

"Regarding our discussions with our allies, they are proceeding well and we expect to meet our goals," said Buckler.

"We're on track with the procurement of the equipment ... And we're very confident that we're on track to meet all of our commitments," she said.

"But I don't feel comfortable today speculating when our allies are going to make their intentions known. Something may happen at NATO. It may not," she added.

The NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) has some 43,000 troops from 39 nations in conflict-torn Afghanistan trying to spread the rule of the weak central government and foster reconstruction.

But Canadian, British and US troops have suffered significant casualties in the south, and fighting is likely to grow more intense as the weather warms in coming weeks, allowing insurgents to cross the mountainous border with Pakistan more easily.

Canada's parliament voted earlier this month to extend its military mission in volatile southern Afghanistan to 2011, but only if its allies send reinforcements.

Otherwise, Canada would exit at the end of its current mandate in February 2009.

The United States, France and Poland announced they would send extra troops, but with few details of those deployments, it remains unclear if the reinforcements meet Canada's hopes.

A senior government official noted allied participation in Kandahar and neighboring Helmand provinces has grown from 11 countries and some 9,000 troops in mid-2006, to 17 nations with 17,500 troops on the ground.

But, he added, it was important for NATO to also "standardize its approach" to the counter-insurgency, reconstruction and in dealings with the Hamid Karzai government.

Other discussions at the NATO summit are likely to include Kosovo's independence and the enlargement of NATO, officials said.

Croatia, Macedonia and Albania have applied for NATO membership. Ukraine and Georgia have also asked to be considered for possible future NATO membership.

Following the summit, Prime Minister Harper is scheduled to stop in Poland to meet with Prime Minister Donald Tusk on April 4-5.
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France, Britain vow new 'entente amicale'
by Phil Hazlewood Thu Mar 27, 6:51 PM ET
LONDON (AFP) - France and Britain vowed Thursday to turn their "entente cordiale" into an "entente amicale", working together on issues from tackling the global credit crunch to fighting the Taliban in Afghanistan.

Britain's Prime Minister Gordon Brown and French President Nicolas Sarkozy, speaking at a Franco-British summit in London, agreed to hold more regular meetings to coordinate policy.

"We will turn the 'entente cordiale' into the 'entente amicale'," said Brown, referring to the 104-year-old "cordial relationship" that has been strained in recent years, notably over Britain's participation in the 2003 Iraq war.

"We believe that working together France and Britain can be an even greater force for good," he added as Sarkozy looked on, saying it could even become an "entente formidable" -- a wonderful relationship.

As the pair toured English Premier League side Arsenal's north London stadium -- jokingly referred to as the unofficial French embassy because of the high number of French players -- there were further signs of warmer relations.

Britain's defence ministry announced it had awarded a 13-billion-pound (16.6-billion-euro, 26-billion-dollar) deal to replace the country's air refuelling tankers to a European consortium led by the aerospace group EADS.

In a joint statement, Brown and Sarkozy, who is on a state visit, agreed to boost cooperation on tackling climate change, securing peace in Darfur, Myanmar and the Middle East, as well as calling for "restraint and dialogue" in China over Tibet.

On Afghanistan, where France has 1,500 soldiers and Britain 7,800, Sarkozy restated his intention to propose boosting French troop levels at a NATO summit next week.

On Tibet, the French leader said he reserved the right to boycott the opening ceremony of the Olympic Games in Beijing this August, saying he would consult with other European Union leaders before making any decision.

Brown, whose country hosts the 2012 games in London, said he would be attending the opening ceremony and ruled out a boycott.

On economic issues, the pair -- both former finance ministers -- called for greater transparency on the financial markets, urging banks to make "full and prompt disclosure" about write-downs in the wake of the credit crunch.

Further talks were needed with the United States and other countries to promote greater financial stability, they added, calling for the International Monetary Fund to be reformed to help identify and head off potential problems.

IMF reform was part of a wider call for international institutions such as the G8 and UN Security Council to be updated to reflect new global realities, particularly the rise of emerging economic powers like China and India.

There were renewed commitments on overseas development, including a tie-up between London, Paris and football federations to get 16 million African children into school by the time of the 2010 World Cup in South Africa.

And the two countries vowed to tighten up immigration controls at Channel ports -- a major bone of contention on both sides of the water with illegal immigrants using France as a final stopping-off points for Britain.

But there was no specific detail on French support for a new generation of nuclear power stations in Britain, which London argues is necessary to secure future supplies amid uncertainty about oil and gas provision.

Later on Thursday, Sarkozy gave a speech to business and finance leaders at London's Guildhall in the financial district, reiterating his praise of Britain's economic success and calling for investment into France.

He also said the euro was "too strong" in light of the euro zone's lacklustre rate of economic growth, and reiterated his calls for greater transparency in the international financial markets.

The euro was quoted at 1.5778 dollars in New York late on Wednesday.
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12 Dead As Taliban Attacks Afghanistan Anti-Drug Police
HERAT, Afghanistan (AFP)--Taliban rebels attacked a counter-narcotics police force in western Afghanistan Friday, triggering a fierce clash that left 10 militants and two police dead, a governor said.

The police were traveling back to their headquarters in Nimroz province when they came under attack, provincial governor Ghulam Dastageer Azad told AFP.

"Ten Taliban and two police were killed in two hours of fighting and two Taliban were arrested," he said.

Two policemen and several Taliban were also wounded, he added.

The police had been on a mission to destroy opium poppy crops.

Afghanistan is the world's top producer of illegal opium, which is used to make heroin, accounting for more than 90% of the global supply.
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Afghanistan adrift in misplaced aid
By Aunohita Mojumdar Asia Times - Mar 28 3:41 AM
KABUL - A map of Afghanistan dotted with colorful pins adorned the wall in the office of the aid agency official. Looking with relish at the embellished map, the official stuck in a handful more, noting with a sigh of satisfaction the increase in the number of "projects completed".

For several years, reconstruction in Afghanistan has been a "drawing board and drawing pin" approach, with aid delivery overwhelmingly focused on numbers, quick delivery, high visibility, meeting benchmarks, a production line approach to the rebuilding of a nation.

However, the short-term, low-cost approach of the donor community is coming under increasing criticism from development experts, reputed international non-governmental organization (NGOs) and civil society.

In a report released this week by ACBAR, (an umbrella organization for NGOs working in Afghanistan), Oxfam, a member of ACBAR, called for a change of approach saying "too much of aid has been prescriptive and driven by donor priorities - rather than responsive to evident Afghan needs and preferences".

While Afghanistan has received nearly US$15 billion in the period from 2002-2008, Oxfam points out that in the first two years after the ouster of the Taliban the per capita expenditure on rebuilding the shattered country was $57 per capita compared to $679 per capita in Bosnia. Even this money does not come without strings attached. Half of it is "tied aid" which refers to the aid that has to be spent in the purchase of goods and services from the donor country.

"Preferenced aid" delineates the select areas - both in terms of sector and geography that the donor selects. An estimated 40% has returned to the donor country in the form of corporate profits and consultant salaries.

A Corpwatch report in 2006 stated "many development experts find the process by which aid contracts and loans are awarded to be counterproductive. International and national aid agencies - including the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund and USAID - that distribute aid money to developing countries have, in effect, designed a system that is efficient in funneling money back to the wealthy donor countries, without providing sustainable development in poor states." Oxfam states that vast sums of the aid money are lost in corporate profits of contractors and sub-contractors, which can be as high as 50% on a single contract.

Only approximately 25-30% of all aid coming into the country is routed through the government, eroding its legitimacy, planning capacity and authority. Donor funding is also usually premised on an annual cycle making it impossible for the government and the NGOs to undertake multi-year planning, a necessary concomitant for sustainable development.

"The nature of our funding in Afghanistan is such that we survive on a cycle of a few months. Once the funding comes in, it takes time for the project to be started up and then it's time to do the donor reporting and raise money for the next year," said the head of an established NGO in Afghanistan.

Criticism of donors has seen a shift in recent months. Whereas most of the earlier censure was limited to scrutiny of the efficiency of donor organizations, recent criticism has questioned the underpinnings of the aid paradigm. Noting the links between development and security Oxfam notes "thus far aid has been insufficient and in many cases wasteful or ineffective" pointing out that "most Afghans still endure conditions of hardship and millions live in extreme poverty".

The perception of the sporadic and patchy nature of economic development is also captured in a 2007 public opinion survey conducted by the Asia Foundation. While 49% of people thought they were more prosperous than under the Taliban, the number was down from the 54% who thought so in 2006. Those who thought they were less prosperous had increased by 2%. According to the National Risk and Vulnerability Assessment, 30% of the population was below the minimum level of dietary energy consumption.

The Oxfam report points out that despite an overwhelming dependence of the country's population on agriculture (70% directly or indirectly), the sector has received only $400-500 million since 2001. International spending in Afghanistan is focussed overwhelmingly on military operations. The US military alone spends nearly $100 million a day on Afghanistan while the combined donor funding on aid is only $7 million of which a bulk goes to those provinces and areas where donors have their troops.

Disbursement is often very slow, making the projects ineffective. A study of the National Solidarity Program by ELBAG (an Action Aid initiative in evolving accountability through civil society participation in budgetary analysis) found that the program, considered one of the most effective aid delivery projects in Afghanistan was facing not just a shortfall of funds but also huge delays in disbursement, leading to problems in implementation.

The ELBAG report called for "greater emphasis in looking at Afghan priorities rather than donor priorities" and "reducing the amount of preferenced aid, reducing the gap between donor commitment and disbursement and routing more of the external budget trough the Afghan government".

It is not just the delivery mechanisms of aid that are faulty. Coordination among donors is almost non-existent leading to overlapping projects and waste. "Donors are failing to coordinate between themselves and with the government," Oxfam states. A recent report by the Brussels-based International Crisis Group stated "disunity in Afghanistan is about not just structural issues or coordination but also priorities and preferences, goals, means and increasingly endgames, exit strategies and perhaps more importantly the reasons for being in the country".

Donors and donor countries have so far avoided any scrutiny of their effectiveness and aid delivery strategies. Oxfam points out that while there are 77 indicators for the government's performance in the London Compact, a joint Afghan international partnership, there are no benchmarks for the international community. "A national independent commission for aid effectiveness should be established to monitor aid practices, identify deficiencies and make recommendations."

While aid has made a significant difference to Afghan lives, Oxfam believes "major weaknesses have severely constrained its capacity to reduce poverty". Donors, the NGO argues, must take urgent steps to increase and improve their assistance to Afghanistan.

Aunohita Mojumdar is an Indian journalist who is currently based in Kabul. She has reported on the South Asian region for 16 years and has covered the Kashmir conflict and post-conflict situation in Punjab extensively.
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NZ soldiers face court martial over alleged hashish use
2:35PM Friday March 28, 2008 New Zealand Herald, New Zealand
Six soldiers have been shipped out of Afghanistan back to New Zealand to face drug charges at a court martial.

The New Zealand Defence Force said the six members from the Provincial Reconstruction Team contingent in Afghanistan had returned to New Zealand on remand for trial by court martial for alleged drug use.

In an in depth Listener investigation, due out tomorrow, Qantas award winning journalist David Fisher reveals the six junior personnel are alleged to have used the Class B drug hashish, at the PRT base in Bamyan Province.

The Bamyan Province lies on a main route for drugs being trafficked through the Hindu Kush mountain range and out of Afghanistan.

He also describes how Kiwi troops seized drug shipments and burnt them outside their NZ army barracks, despite an unofficial policy to leave the drug shipments alone.

NZ Army Land Component Commander Brigadier Dave Gawn said a thorough investigation into the allegations resulted in the charges being laid.

"There is no tolerance for the use of drugs by service personnel whether under instruction, training or on operations. Such behaviour undermines the security, stability and reconstruction achievements of the more than 1200 NZDF personnel who have served in Bamyan since 2003," Brig Gawn said.

The six accused were flown back earlier this month under the guard of five military police, who had been sent to Bamyan to investigate the drug allegations.

The six will be disciplined if they are found to have used drugs.

Disciplinary action might result in a fine, jail sentence or dismissal.

The army said as the matter was sub judice it would make no further comment.

The 107-strong reconstruction team is tasked with assisting in security and reconstruction in Bamyan Province.

The NZDF has a low level of drug abuse. Only one percent test positive in random drug tests.
- NZPA, NZ HERALD STAFF
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Why the Taliban now embrace the concept of suicide bombing
GRAEME SMITH gsmith@globeandmail.com March 28, 2008 The Globe and Mail
KANDAHAR, AFGHANISTAN -- Suicide bombing used to be a subject of debate among the Taliban, as they struggled to decide whether the tactic was too extreme, but the frightening new reality in Afghanistan is that the radicals appear to be winning that argument within the Taliban ranks.

None of the 42 insurgents surveyed by The Globe and Mail were willing to express any reservations about suicide bombings when confronted by a researcher with a video recorder, and many of them boasted that they were ready to volunteer for such missions themselves.

Some Taliban have previously argued that it's cowardly to wear an explosive vest, because it prevents an insurgent from fighting his enemy face-to-face. Others suggested that the carnage among civilian bystanders that often results from a suicide blast alienates ordinary Afghans from the insurgency. A Taliban faction even took out an advertisement in one of Kandahar's weekly newspapers in 2006, blaming recent suicide bombings on foreign fighters and promising to stop the attacks: "We will punish them," the advertisement said.

A year later, in the same province, all insurgents surveyed said they disagree. Suicide attacks are endorsed by religious authorities, they said, and they represent the Taliban's equivalent of air power, a devastating weapon capable of carefully aimed strikes. Few of them blamed foreign jihadists for the attacks.

The researcher asked them if the suicide bombers "are only Afghans or are they foreigners?"

"They are sons of Afghanistan, and they are Afghans through and through," a fighter said. "They sacrifice their lives for their country."

A few of the Taliban seemed to acknowledge that it's a controversial means of fighting, but they claimed that such tactics are necessary against the overwhelming technological superiority of the foreign troops.

"Some people say that it is not good," an insurgent said. "But they don't know that against non-Muslims, it is very good, because they can stop any kind of attack but not these kinds of attacks." Another gave a similar explanation: "It is good to be used against the non-Muslims, because they are not afraid of fighting for five days against us but they are afraid of one bomber," he said. "I pray to God to make me able to do this."

The result of this shift in Taliban thinking has already become obvious in the number of suicide blasts. Afghanistan had never seen a suicide bombing before 2001, and the first such attack in the country - on Sept. 9, 2001, targeting Ahmad Shah Massoud, the famed rebel leader who was fighting the Taliban - was blamed on Arab extremists, not Afghans.

It does not seem likely that the sudden Taliban enthusiasm for blowing themselves up was driven exclusively by the insurgency's desire to kill more troops, analysts say, because so far the Taliban have proven themselves relatively incompetent at suicide bombing. A report for the United Nations in September found that, on average, more than three suicide bombers are required to inflict a single casualty on the international forces. "From a military point of view, this could be considered extreme failure," the report said.

But the act of sacrificing oneself has a symbolic value; suicide bombers are publicly demonstrating the ultimate level of personal commitment to an ideology. The Globe survey suggested that those who craft the Taliban's ideology, their religious leaders, have made an organized effort to prove suicide bombing is acceptable in Islam.

Several of the insurgents said they couldn't remember the specific reference to Islamic holy texts used by their teachers to justify the idea, but some made reference to a story about a Muslim army that existed in the seventh century, during the lifetime of the Prophet Mohammed.

"There is a story from the time of the Prophet," one insurgent said.

"There were two companions of the Prophet, and ... they were attacking a place [where] the walls were high, so they could not jump over the wall." He continued: "One lifted the other over the wall and he died in the attack. He knew he would be killed, but it was his duty."

Turialai Wafa, former chief of staff to Kandahar's governor, said he has heard this justification before and it represents an incorrect view of Islamic teaching. A warrior who shows bravery in battle has nothing in common, he said, with somebody who breaks two major Islamic rules: committing suicide and attacking without first declaring intent.

"When one wants to justify an act of war to people - in Afghanistan's case, illiterate angry masses who cannot read but only hear what the mullahs and radicals are telling them - you can almost justify anything," Mr. Wafa said.

"The increase of suicide bombers recently has different causes, and one major one would be the lack of an alternative to express political opposition," Mr. Wafa added. "It takes either a strong resolve or absolute despair. My personal opinion is it's never, ever the strong resolve, but the absolute despair."

SUICIDE BOMBS

The Taliban once opposed the tactic, but recently front-line fighters have embraced it as the most effective tool against foreign forces.

ATTACKS:

Throughout 2007 such attacks occurred at a frequency of three to four per week with no discernible breaks.

2002 0
2003 2
2004 3
2005 17
2006 123
2007 228*

*The worst seven-day period on record was March 13 to 19, 2007, during which there were 10 suicide attacks.

ORCHESTRATING THE ATTACKS

There is increasing evidence that, whether strapped to a person, or vehicle-borne, suicide bombings require a team.

MASTERMIND: Person ordering the attack (not necessarily at the scene).

Bomb maker: Logistics personnel.

Reconnaissance: Scouting out security forces and predictable routines in advance.

Second bomb: Not always detonated. Used as backup, to create confusion or greater damage.

Spotters: Used to detect targets and guide the attacker.

Bomber: Has explosives strapped to body. May be voluntary or coerced through threats to family.

Remote detonator: When not activated by the bomber, itis used either as a backup or in a case in which the bomber is unaware, or unwilling.

Vehicle-borne bombs: may be detonated, remotely on contact (ramming). An alternative is detonating a stationary bomb as

a vehicle passes.

VICTIMS PER ATTACKER FOR SUCCESSFUL ATTACKS

BY TARGET

Against NATO forces: 1:3

Against Afghan forces: 1:3

Against government and civilian targets: 1:.2

BY TYPE OF ATTACK

Individual bomber: 1:6

Vehicle-borne: 1:4

SOURCES: VIGILANT STRATEGIC SERVICES AFGHANISTAN, UNITED NATIONS ASSISTANCE MISSION TO AFGHANISTAN
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More NATO Security Aid Needed, Afghan Official Says
By CARLOTTA GALL March 28, 2008 The New York Times
KABUL, Afghanistan — Afghanistan’s defense minister, Abdul Rahim Wardak, called on NATO countries on Thursday to use their summit meeting next month in Romania to reaffirm their commitment to his nation’s security, and especially to help Afghanistan build up its own security forces faster and more effectively.

In comments to journalists in Kabul, Mr. Wardak warned that the Taliban-led insurgency might prove as bloody this year as it was in 2007 and said that international and Afghan forces were still not deployed in sufficient numbers to deal comprehensively with the threat.

“We should be ready for the worst possible scenario,” he said. More than 200 foreign soldiers and even more Afghan soldiers and police officers were killed last year. The year’s combat was the heaviest since 2001, when American-led forces ousted the country’s Taliban rulers.

A Danish soldier was killed Thursday in southern Afghanistan, and three German soldiers were wounded in the north in separate attacks.

With the arrival of spring’s warmer weather, the Taliban have already announced that they are preparing a new offensive. Mark Laity, a NATO spokesman in Kabul, dismissed that as Taliban propaganda. “It’s the same old story, same old nonsense,” he said. “They’re saying they will do more destruction, more unhappiness and more misery.”

But Mr. Wardak said he was preparing for the worst “so we do not go wrong.”

“We had a very intense 2007, and as usual during winter the level of activity declined, and now we are expecting an increase in activities,” he said. He also said that the insurgents had changed tactics since fielding large numbers of fighters in conventional battles in 2006, and that they were now fighting in smaller groups over a larger area.

While the center of gravity of the insurgency remained in the south and east of the country, where a majority of NATO forces are deployed, he said he expected the Taliban to try more attacks in the western and northern parts of Afghanistan.

Several recent reports by international bodies have warned that the insurgency is expanding at a time when NATO countries are reluctant to provide more troops to the combat zones in the south and east.

Mr. Wardak said he was also looking for a strong commitment from Afghanistan’s allies to counter the Taliban’s efforts to undermine the will of NATO countries to stay the course.

There are currently 43,000 NATO troops in Afghanistan, the largest contingent of which consists of American troops, and 16,000 American-led coalition forces. That is far more than the 11,500 American soldiers deployed in the first years after the intervention in 2001.

The force is being bolstered by 3,200 United States marines now arriving in Afghanistan. Extra troops from France are also expected, though opposition politicians said Thursday that they opposed the plan announced Wednesday by President Nicolas Sarkozy to strengthen its NATO force there. Yet even with these, and the doubling of trained Afghan forces in the last year, Mr. Wardak said it was not enough to defeat the insurgency and secure all of Afghanistan.

He pressed for more resources and training for the Afghan National Army, a multiethnic force that has been built from scratch since 2002 and has nearly 70,000 troops after an acceleration in recruitment and training in the past year. Having more Afghan Army troops, able to operate independently, is the long-term answer to combating the insurgency, he said. “It is cheaper, politically less complex and will also save lives,” he said.

Afghan soldiers successfully led an operation last fall to retake the southern town of Musa Qala in Helmand Province, and were seen as a more legitimate force by the population than foreign troops, he said.

Yet NATO still has overall command of operations, and the Afghan security forces lack the mobility and air power to mount operations independently, Mr. Wardak said.

He did not give a timeline for when Afghan forces would be able to operate independently but said the length of NATO’s commitment would depend on the level of assistance to the Afghan forces and how quickly they grow.

Early mistakes in the poor structuring of the Afghan National Army and the provision of “30-year-old weapons” had made it seem a weak force, which only encouraged the Taliban to regroup and attempt a resurgence, he said.

He said that the Afghan Army had gotten old and inferior equipment in the past, but that the United States was now providing more up-to-date American weapons, like M-16 and M-4 rifles.

Abdul Waheed Wafa contributed reporting.
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US wants Pakistan government to cancel talks with Taliban
Malaysia Sun Friday 28th March, 2008 
A senior US official has opposed the new Pakistani government's intended talks with pro-Taliban militants who have launched a series of suicide attacks on security forces in recent months.

Pakistan's new coalition government, headed by slain Benazir Bhutto's Pakistan People's Party, has vowed to hold talks with the militants while emphasising a comprehensive strategy in dealing with growing militancy in tribal areas along Afghanistan border.

US Deputy Secretary of State John Negroponte told reporters at the end of his four-day visit to Pakistan that the extremist threat in the country was a cause of great concern.

He said: “It occurs not only in federally administered tribal areas but it has spread to the settled areas”.

Pakistan's tribal areas are believed to be safe havens for al-Qaeda and Taliban militants, who fled to the area after the US invaded Afghanistan in 2001.

More than 1,000 people, including hundreds of Pakistani security personnel, have died in the suicide bombings by pro-Taliban militants over the last 12 months.

It is believed Mr Negroponte visited Pakistan purely to try to counter the departure in policy by the new government.

The US had previously dealt with the hard-handed policies of President Pervez Musharraf, a key US ally in the war against terrorism.

The two officials reportedly tried to convince the new government and the coalition partners, including Musharraf's bitter rival and ex-premier Nawaz Sharif, to continue Islamabad's current policies on war against terrorism.
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