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March 29, 2008 

Taliban attack Afghan power plant
Sat Mar 29, 7:58 AM ET
KABUL (Reuters) - Taliban insurgents blew up a power station in the southern Afghan province of Helmand on Saturday, killing two people and wounding eight, police said.

Afghanistan progress a slow affair
Mike Blanchfield, Canwest News Service Saturday, March 29, 2008
QALAT, Afghanistan -- They had no idea they had a traitor in their midst until the bullets started flying.

'Reach out to the Taliban': British defence secretary
Sat Mar 29, 4:42 AM ET
LONDON (AFP) - Britain should reach out to elements of the Taliban militia in Afghanistan who can be won over to the side of democracy, Defence Secretary Des Browne said in a newspaper interview published Saturday.

US-Afghan-Pakistan military center opens on volatile border
By JASON STRAZIUSO,Associated Press Writer AP
TORKHAM, Afghanistan - U.S., Afghan and Pakistani officers opened the first of six joint military intelligence centers along the rocky Afghan-Pakistan border Saturday, an effort to cut down on militants' movement in a region of rising terrorist activity.

Canada foresees new NATO assistance in Afghanistan
Fri Mar 28, 4:06 PM ET
OTTAWA (Reuters) - Canada expects to win new military assistance from its NATO allies, which will allow it to extend its combat mission in southern Afghanistan, Prime Minister Stephen Harper said on Friday.

Afghan 'trust' in Arab troops
11:56 GMT, Saturday, 29 March 2008 BBC News
This week the BBC's Frank Gardner revealed that a contingent of Arab troops from the United Arab Emirates (UAE) has been secretly operating alongside the Americans in Afghanistan. But getting access to them took months and was fraught

Afghan radio station attacked
By AMIR SHAH, Associated Press Writer Fri Mar 28, 2:27 PM ET
KABUL, Afghanistan - Arsonists set fire Friday to a radio station near Kabul accused of being un-Islamic, and two poppy eradication policemen were killed in Afghanistan's southwest, officials said.

Six weeks worth of mail greets Canadian gunners in Afghanistan
The Canadian Press
KANDAHAR PROVINCE, Afghanistan — It's a time-honoured tradition that's been around for as long as parents have been watching their children go off to war, and if this week's haul is any indication, it's alive and well.

U.S. picks new commander for Iraq, Afghanistan wars
March 29, 2008
Martin Dempsey assumed the role of top U.S. commander overseeing both the Iraq and Afghanistan wars Friday, replacing William J. Fallon as the head of the U.S. Central Command (Centcom).

Hopes for Afghan security take root in shadow of Tora Bora
Mike Blanchfield ,  Canwest News Service Saturday, March 29, 2008
JALALABAD, Afghanistan -- The foreboding snowcapped peaks of Tora Bora - Osama bin Laden's last known hiding place - loom ominously over the 320 young Afghans being put through their paces at this state-of-the-art police boot camp.

Czech Republic to send more soldiers to Afghanistan
New Kerala - Mar 29 2:13 AM
Prague, March 29 : The Czech Republic will agree to a US request to send an elite military unit to Afghanistan, Czech Defence Minister Vlasta Parkanova has said.

Canadian doughnuts a hit in Afghanistan
March 28, 2008 at 11:48 AM
KANDAHAR, Afghanistan, March 28 (UPI) -- Coffee and doughnuts from a national chain in Canada are gaining converts among NATO troops in Afghanistan, company officials said.

Afghanistan expresses concern over blasphemous film produced in Netherlands
www.chinaview.cn  2008-03-29 16:49:28
KABUL, March 29 (Xinhua) -- Afghanistan Foreign Ministry on Saturday expressed concern over the blasphemous film produced in the Netherlands and hoped it would not be put on show, a statement released here said.

Her son killed for a gold ring, an Afghan mother wants justice
by Sardar Ahmad Fri Mar 28, 12:40 AM ET
KABUL (AFP) - Even Mother Nature was cruel on the day 15 years ago when rampaging thugs chopped off Marzia's fingers for a gold ring and shot dead her nine-year-old son when he cried out to object.

Ex-Afghanistan Detainee Alleges Torture by U.S.
By Carol D. Leonnig Washington Post Staff Writer  Saturday, March 29, 2008; Page A03
A resident of Germany who was imprisoned for two months at a U.S. military base in Afghanistan has told an interviewer that his interrogators hung him from a ceiling for five days and that several doctors periodically checked

Australian military says Pakistan must control Afghan border
The Canadian Press
SYDNEY, Australia — Diplomatic pressure must be applied on Pakistan's new government to keep militants from moving across its border into Afghanistan, the head of Australia's defence forces said Saturday.

AFGHANISTAN: Disappointed With Karzai, NATO
By Anand Gopal - IPS
KABUL, Mar 28 (IPS) - The Shahr-e-now park in the centre of Kabul has seen better days. "It used to be really beautiful," Kabul resident Torialay says, "back during the early-90s. But after the Mujahiddin war (a civil war between

Afghan girl defies death threats over Olympics
By Tom Coghlan in Kabul Telegraph.co.uk, United Kingdom 29/03/2008
A teenage athlete has overcome a campaign of intimidation including death threats to become the only female member of the team to represent Afghanistan at the Beijing Olympics.

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Taliban attack Afghan power plant
Sat Mar 29, 7:58 AM ET
KABUL (Reuters) - Taliban insurgents blew up a power station in the southern Afghan province of Helmand on Saturday, killing two people and wounding eight, police said.

The power station, in the district of Girishk, is the main source of electricity for the area.

"Two employees of the station were killed and eight other people including two passers-by were wounded in the explosion," said provincial police chief, Hussain Andiwal.

"The building was damaged but the power supply machinery is safe," he said.

Taliban militants planted hundreds of roadside bombs and conducted scores of suicide bomb attacks in 2007 in Afghanistan, contributing to a record year of violence that killed 6,000 people, nearly 2,000 of them civilians.

The militants, fighting to expel foreign forces and bring down the Western-backed government, have also attacked infrastructure projects.

The Afghan government and its Western backers hope they can undermine any support for the Taliban by providing basic services such as power, roads and water for irrigation, as well as security.

Separately, Afghan and foreign forces killed and wounded a number of Taliban insurgents in a joint operation in the southern province of Uruzgan on Friday, the Ministry of Defense said.

Elsewhere, Afghan police killed three Taliban insurgents, wounded four and detained six in a clash in the southwestern province of Nimroz on Friday, a senior police official said.

The Taliban have vowed to intensify attacks on Afghan and foreign troops countrywide and launch a wave of suicide bombings in their campaign this year.

(Writing by Hamid Shalizi; Editing by Robert Birsel)
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Afghanistan progress a slow affair
Mike Blanchfield, Canwest News Service Saturday, March 29, 2008
QALAT, Afghanistan -- They had no idea they had a traitor in their midst until the bullets started flying.

The Taliban spy was one of the 11 Afghans wearing a police uniform. They were charged with guarding the most modern facility here, a 13-month-old, American-built electricity plant that - until this explosive November night -pumped out power to tens of thousands in a dusty corner of the impoverished and war-torn southern province of Zabul. 

With the help of an insurgent who infiltrated the local police force, the Taliban attacked the plant, taking dead aim at the generators. Eight remaining police officers repelled their attackers, as their infiltrator fled into the night with his Taliban comrades.

But the cost was high. Two police officers lay dead, while one bullet-riddled generator was knocked out. It has not worked since.

"That guy worked here for seven or eight months," said Mohammad Salim, the plant director. "He killed two of his own guys. If he gets caught, he has to be executed."

Harrowing tales like this are not hard to come by in Zabul, a southern Afghanistan province where the Taliban insurgency remains as potent as it does across the rest of the Kandahar, Helmand and Uruzgan provinces - Regional Command South as the NATO-led force calls the area, and which Canada now commands.

But Zabul has another distinction that makes it particularly explosive: Nestled next to Pakistan, it has become a key crossing point of Taliban and al-Qaida fighters into southern Afghanistan, where they target Canadian Forces and their British, Dutch and American allies.

The United States is responsible for Zabul, and has invested $140 million into the province, including the power plant. That's slightly more than Canada's annual development spending to all of Afghanistan.

This desolate, desperately poor, preyed upon province is a case study in U.S. counterinsurgency doctrine.

In the coming months, this will entail two ongoing simultaneous efforts: smashing the insurgency through military might while doing as many good deeds on the development side as can be practically done on the Zabul-Pakistan frontier, where there is a steady flow of terrorists across the remote badlands.

"We have had a little pressure on them in the last year by using small patrols," explains Gen. Dan McNeill, the American four-star who commands all 47,000 international troops in Afghanistan. "But it's going to take a big push this year, and the increase of U.S. troops in the south give us the opportunity to do that. Before the summer, we are going to push hard into there."

The extra troops are the 2,000 U.S. Marines that have just arrived in the region. They will be joined by 400 Romanian troops, and various other Americans outside of NATO control under the banner of Operation Enduring Freedom.

NATO leaders convene in Bucharest next week for a summit that hopes to show new resolve towards ending Afghanistan's woes. Six years after the arrival of Western forces, coalition countries such as Canada are restless as NATO tries to wrestle more soldiers and development dollars from its 26 member countries, its 13 coalition partners in the International Security Assistance Force, as well as the world at large.

Zabul Gov. Delbar Jan Arman has no illusions about the hardship faced by his province's 450,000 inhabitants, but he is definitely an optimist, even though he acknowledges development funding has been slow to arrive in Afghanistan, which operates under President Hamid Karzai.

"Our troops on the borderline are not trained yet. There are some people that are not yet strong to control the border," he says.

"We have a problem there. They are coming from Pakistan to the Afghanistan side, and if they need to go back, they go back. They can feed themselves from there, the people who are injured are going there, are taking rest there."

The November 2007 attack on the Qalat power station is particularly illustrative of the underlying threat that Canada and its international allies must defeat: the weakened Taliban, unable to mount a conventional fight against the best modern militaries in the world, is determined to undermine the West's reconstruction efforts.

Life is Zabul is medieval by any Western standard. But the arrival of electricity was a milestone, a sign of progress that the local people welcomed and it built goodwill with the Americans.

What's clear to everyone - from local leaders as well as their American protectors - is that progress has indeed been slow.

"The international community, they've been asleep in Afghanistan for two years. They did nothing in the past," says Gulab Sha, the outspoken deputy governor of Zabul.

Sha accuses the U.S.-backed Afghanistan government as being ineffective and slow to respond to the threat that still lingers after the defeat of the former Taliban government in 2001.

"Here everyone was busy working on politics. In Pakistan, the leaders of the Taliban were working on the Taliban to send them back to Afghanistan," says Sha.

Despite his outspoken attitude, or perhaps because of it, the U.S. authorities that operate the only Provincial Reconstruction Team in Zabul province view Sha as a "go-to" guy who can be trusted to give them insight into the region.

Arman says the government needs to show it is strong and relevant to the people.

"Most of the people want to be with the government," Arman says. "They understand that these are bad people. The government needs to show them they are strong, working for them."

Arman says most people here don't support the Taliban. "But they say we have problems and the government should solve that. Give us security, give us roads. Make us strong to go against the Taliban."

Arman knows American help is needed to do this.

A big part of that job falls to Lt.-Col. Bryce Brakman, a strapping C-130 Hercules pilot by training, whose new job has him firmly rooted in Zabul as the head of the U.S. Provincial Reconstruction Team (PRT) in Qalat.

The made-up of the Qalat PRT follows the same model as Canada's in Kandahar city that boasts its own cross-departmental mix of development, diplomacy and defence.

"Ideally we're setting the conditions for NGOs to come here. Ideally we want to work ourselves out of a job" so the military can move to "less permissive areas" and open them up to further development, says Brakman, an Air Force reservist who was employed as USAir pilot during the 9/11 attacks.

Since then, he's had tours of duty flying Hercules into Kandahar and Bagram, north of Kabul, and has survived two stints in Iraq - flying missions that helped open two U.S. air strips there.

"That's our end state," Brakman says, "to create pockets of security so development can take place."

If Brakman appears optimistic, it might be because that unlike the Canadian PRT further south, he has some impressive aid spending, not the mention the might of the world's largest military to back him up.

The U.S. government has funded projects to build bridges and repair roads, but its most ambitious initiative is sprawled out on the northern edge of Qalat at the base of a grand hill where the area's past and future sit in stark juxtaposition.

A majestic sand covered castle built by Alexander the Great more than two centuries ago rises out of the sandy hillside and looks down upon a series of modern buildings.

This is New Qalat City, a yet to be completed business park that includes a governor's office, hospital, courthouse, women's centre, bank and fire station. They are empty modern edifices, only some of which are barely functioning. They sit disconnected in sand, yet to be linked by modern infrastructure. USAID hopes some other international donor can be prodded into investing in the completion of the project, that someone will come along and build roads, install a sewer system and connect it to the electricity grid.

Brakeman hopes that one day this could serve as the home of aid agencies that can pick up the ball from the military.

New Qalat City embodies the conundrum that bedevils all reconstruction efforts in Afghanistan: there can be no development here without security. Notwithstanding the initial level of U.S. investment, and the fact that the United Arab Emirates financed the hospital, no aid agency will likely come here until it is safe, and finding an international donor to pay for sewers and roads might also be ambitious.

"We've been sitting in a stalled vehicle for the last few years," said Franz Seitz, the ranking State Department official in the PRT. "So we're trying to jump start it and get it going."

Zabul's next generation is at stake if that doesn't happen.

Abdul Anbi Wadon, the provincial education director, offers a litany of statistical and narrative woe: Only 50 of the province's 180 schools are open and only 2,200 girls make up the 22,000 students who actually attend class.

Life for the 525 teachers here is hell.

"The Taliban are always trying to kill the teachers," Wadon explains.

"Since Karzai came here, the Taliban is destroying everything that belongs to the government."

Part two: the challenge in training a viable Afghan police force to bring law and order to this troubled land.
Ottawa Citizen
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'Reach out to the Taliban': British defence secretary
Sat Mar 29, 4:42 AM ET
LONDON (AFP) - Britain should reach out to elements of the Taliban militia in Afghanistan who can be won over to the side of democracy, Defence Secretary Des Browne said in a newspaper interview published Saturday.

Speaking to the Daily Telegraph, Browne said conflict resolution was about persuading people who believe that violence is the way to achieve their aims to try to fulfil their ambitions through politics instead.

And that meant engaging with individuals or groups, even if their views were disagreeable. He applied the argument to Taliban insurgents -- whom British troops are fighting in southern Afghanistan -- as well as Lebanon's Hezbollah.

Browne said there was currently "no basis of negotiation" with Al-Qaeda, but added: "The Taliban is a collective noun. There are some people who are driven by their own self interest rather than ideology.

"There's no question that we should try to reach them. People have been switched. We have to get people who have previously been on the side of the Taliban to come onto the side of the (Afghan) government."

His comments come after Jonathan Powell, who was former prime minister Tony Blair's top adviser, said in a March 15 interview with The Guardian that Western nations should talk to the likes of the Taliban, Hamas and Al-Qaeda.

Powell argued that opening up channels of communication had proved to be successful in ending three decades of bloody sectarian violence between Protestants and Catholics in the British province of Northern Ireland.

But efforts to engage elements of the Taliban saw Kabul expel two senior United Nations and European Union diplomats -- one from Britain and the other from Ireland -- for contacting insurgents in southern Helmand province.

According to a Financial Times report from the Afghan capital on February 4, President Hamid Karzai was furious at the proposal to set up a military training camp for 2,000 Taliban militants who wanted to switch sides.
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US-Afghan-Pakistan military center opens on volatile border
By JASON STRAZIUSO,Associated Press Writer AP
TORKHAM, Afghanistan - U.S., Afghan and Pakistani officers opened the first of six joint military intelligence centers along the rocky Afghan-Pakistan border Saturday, an effort to cut down on militants' movement in a region of rising terrorist activity.

The centers represent the latest step in American efforts to get Afghanistan and Pakistan to coordinate in the fight against the Taliban and al-Qaida. The countries have a history of rocky relations, though ties have recently grown warmer.

The military centers _ to be staffed by about 20 personnel from the three countries _ are meant to let Afghan and Pakistani officials use U.S. intelligence-gathering resources. The officers can watch live video feeds from U.S. spy planes in the centers _ real-time information that can be relayed back to ground forces on both sides.

Maj. Gen. David Rodriguez, the commander of U.S. troops in Afghanistan, told about 100 military personnel from the three countries gathered at a ribbon-cutting ceremony Saturday on a small border outpost they were taking "a giant step forward in cooperation, communication and coordination."

"This facility represents our best opportunity to move forward in our common mission to rid this region of the scourge of terrorism," Rodriguez said. "The border coordination center is the cornerstone upon which future cooperative efforts will grow."

Afghan officials have long accused Pakistan of harboring Taliban militants, a charge Islamabad has denied. Pakistani officials have conceded, however, that fighters do cross into Afghanistan.

Insurgents have also increased their attacks in Pakistan over the past year. Eastern Afghanistan, where the U.S. military primarily operates, has seen a drop in violence in recent months.

Three of the coordination centers, which cost about US$3 million (?1.9 million) each, were to be built in Afghanistan and three in Pakistan, said U.S. Brig. Gen. Joe Votel.

"The macro view is to disrupt insurgents from going back and forth, going into Afghanistan and back into Pakistan, too," Votel said. "This is not going to instantly stop the infiltration problem, but it's a good step forward."

Pakistani Lt. Gen. Mohammed Masood Alam, the top army commander in the country's volatile northwest, said the war on terror is of common interest of the world, but more so to Afghanistan and Pakistan.

"Terrorism can't be fought alone. It has no borders, no laws," Masood said. "It's going to be a long effort. It can't be done overnight."

Lt. Gen. Sher Mohammad Karimi, the chief of operations for the Afghan Defense Ministry, said the opening of the coordination center was a milestone.

"Pakistan and Afghanistan are two brothers. No one can separate them," he said. "This center will give the opportunity to our young officers on both sides ... to share information and coordinate intelligence in proper time."
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Canada foresees new NATO assistance in Afghanistan
Fri Mar 28, 4:06 PM ET
OTTAWA (Reuters) - Canada expects to win new military assistance from its NATO allies, which will allow it to extend its combat mission in southern Afghanistan, Prime Minister Stephen Harper said on Friday.

Harper made the comments to reporters ahead of next week's NATO summit in Bucharest, where Canada's demand for reinforcements and new equipment will be a central topic of discussion.

"I anticipate in the weeks to come there will be additional commitments made in Afghanistan by some of our allies," the prime minister said.

"I also fully anticipate that that will result in Canada having a partner in Kandahar, in Canada receiving both the troops we're looking for in Kandahar and the equipment. I have a very high level of certainty of that."

Canada has agreed to extend its Afghan mission to July 2011 from February 2009, but only if its allies provide about 1,000 more soldiers to the Kandahar region where Canada's 2,500 troops are stationed. Canada also says it must have helicopters and drones for its mission there.

"I don't think we will necessarily finish that process at Bucharest but we will finish it in the very near future. It's all moving along very well," Harper said.

"But what I think is encouraging in the process is not just that we will receive a partner in Kandahar but this will be reflective of, frankly, a greater engagement of NATO allies in Afghanistan generally."

Harper was speaking in the northern Quebec town of Kuujjuaq and his remarks were relayed in a media pool report.

The three-day summit of the NATO alliance begins next Tuesday.

(Reporting by Randall Palmer; editing by Rob Wilson)
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Afghan 'trust' in Arab troops
11:56 GMT, Saturday, 29 March 2008 BBC News
This week the BBC's Frank Gardner revealed that a contingent of Arab troops from the United Arab Emirates (UAE) has been secretly operating alongside the Americans in Afghanistan. But getting access to them took months and was fraught with hurdles, especially as our correspondent is in a wheelchair.

Out on the tarmac at an Abu Dhabi airbase, in the slowly-building heat of the Gulf, my heart sank.

The UAE Airforce Hercules transport plane that was supposed to fly us up to Bagram baase had its engines running, the pilot was in his cockpit, but I could not see how I was supposed to wheel myself up into it.

"No ramp!" shouted a crewman above the roar of the engines, "all full with cargo!"

So the crew had to lift me bodily out of my wheelchair and carry me through a tiny hatchway like a baby.

Four hours after take-off the first snow appeared, dusting the mountaintops and filling the north-facing ravines of Waziristan, home to those elusive pockets of Taleban and al-Qaeda insurgents.

"Thirty minutes to landing," shouted the airforce crew.

Hospitable reception

We flew low over the foothills of the Hindu Kush, then the green crops and dusty villages gave way to what looked like a purpose-built new town, a clean and tidy place where the buildings were all in neat lines.
  
It was Bagram airbase, home to 11,000 coalition troops.

A reception committee of beaming Emirati officers had driven out to greet us, led by the Taskforce Commander, a slight man from Sharjah with a quiet intelligence and a twinkle in his eye.

"Welcome back to Afghanistan, Mr Frank," he said, extending his hand.

To my embarrassment, the ever-hospitable Emiratis had insisted on allocating me the VIP hut, a sort of miniature villa with faux columns amid rows of sandbags.

They had even got their Afghan carpenters to construct a wooden ramp so I could wheel up to the raised doorway and I could see it had been freshly painted.

That evening the Emiratis gave us a presentation on the humanitarian projects they were undertaking: a mosque here, a school there, wells dug in this village, a clinic set up in that one.

It did not seem vastly different from what other countries were doing but we were soon to see for ourselves that as Muslims, the UAE soldiers were welcomed and trusted in places where the rest of the US-led coalition frankly was not.

Knowing how important Islam was to most Afghan villagers, the Emiratis would address their religious needs first, either by building them a small mosque or just by distributing freshly-printed Korans.

Only then, said the Emiratis, could they discuss other secular projects like building a school or a hospital.

Frustration
Of course in an ideal world I would get out and see all this with my own eyes but safety concerns meant I had to stay behind on-base - "in the rear, with the gear, where there is no fear" - while our crew went off to film.

To say this was frustrating was an understatement.

In the village of Qalat Baland, my companions watched as boxes of sweet, sticky dates were handed out to grey-bearded elders, and children were given school notebooks while a tall, charismatic Emirati army officer sat cross-legged in a courtyard, listening as a young boy chanted verses from the Koran by memory.

From the pictures they brought back it all looked a vision of harmony, but then I could see it began to go wrong - word spread that there was not enough to go round

Suddenly the crowd surged, pushing and elbowing their way past the uniformed troops to get at the plastic-wrapped goodies.

The Afghan police, who had now turned up, weighed in with unrestrained brutality and it took all the Emiratis' diplomacy to restore calm before the scene descended into a riot.

Back in the Emiratis' camp I had not been completely idle.

Part of the plan was that they brought in a succession of prominent Afghans for me to interview, all people who had worked with these fellow Muslims from the Gulf on humanitarian projects.

In their smart grey business suits the Afghan officials looked quite out of place here in this dusty, sandbagged camp.

There was the chancellor of Khost University and a junior minister for orphans, widows and the disabled. There was also an elderly but energetic member of President Karzai's government who had some outspoken views about his fellow governors.

No respect
"They are drug runners," declared Meraj Uddin Patan flatly, as he reeled off a list of provincial governors he said were all up to their necks in the opium poppy trade.

"How can people respect our government when you have people like these in charge of them?" he said, swatting away a fly that had emerged into the early spring sunshine.

"When I took over as governor of Khost in 2004," he continued, "I started a campaign against the sort of thugs who intimidated the population and do you know how?"

"No I didn't," I said. By now he was in full flow and a small group of Emirati soldiers had gathered to listen.

"When we caught a Taleban insurgent," said governor Meraj, "we would shave his head and put him on a donkey facing backwards and parade him round the city. But now," he paused, a look of genuine sadness on his face, "now it has gone back to being a very bad situation".

I asked him why the Taleban had been so successful in making a comeback since they were defeated here in 2001.

"There are three reasons" replied Meraj "weak government, no unity among the police, national army and the coalition allies, and, the Taleban has unrestricted freedom of movement in their rear area in Waziristan. Solve these problems," he said "and Afghanistan has a bright future."

From Our Own Correspondent was broadcast on Saturday 29 March, 2008 at 1130 GMT on BBC Radio 4. Please check the programme schedules for World Service transmission times.
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Afghan radio station attacked
By AMIR SHAH, Associated Press Writer Fri Mar 28, 2:27 PM ET
KABUL, Afghanistan - Arsonists set fire Friday to a radio station near Kabul accused of being un-Islamic, and two poppy eradication policemen were killed in Afghanistan's southwest, officials said.

Four gunmen broke into the offices of Radio Zafar before dawn, tied up two security guards and then set the station's equipment ablaze, said Paghman district police chief Abdul Razaq.

The station's director, Najibullah Nassir, said militants have accused Radio Zafar of being morally corrupt and un-Islamic. Its programming includes shows on Islam, sports, news and music.

The station has 16 employees, including two female journalists.

The Afghan media have flourished since the fall of the Taliban in 2001, but journalists often face threats from militants and warlords for airing critical stories, playing music or employing women.

Also Friday, a three-hour clash broke out in southwestern Nimroz province after militants attacked poppy eradication forces in the Khash Rod district, provincial police chief Gen. Mohammad Ayub Badakhshi said.

Two policemen were killed and three wounded, he said. Six suspects were arrested.

Poppy eradication teams work in remote and dangerous areas of Afghanistan, and are often attacked by insurgents or farmers angry that their profitable crops are being destroyed.

According to the Afghan Interior Ministry, around 100 poppy eradication police officers were killed in the line of duty in the past year.

The United Nations says Afghanistan supplies more than 90 percent of the world's illicit opium, which is made from poppies and serves as the main ingredient in heroin. Tens of millions of dollars from the drug trade are believed to flow to Taliban fighters, who tax farmers and demand payment for safe passage through dangerous territory.

Also Friday in Kandahar province, two gunmen assassinated a tribal leader who led efforts for peace and reconciliation in the area, said Panjwayi district chief Haji Shah Baran Khan.

And in volatile Helmand province, U.S.-led coalition forces killed several Taliban militants after coming under attack, the coalition said in a statement Friday.

The troops were searching for a Taliban insurgent involved in weapons trafficking in Helmand's Kajaki district when militants opened fire on them Wednesday.

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

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.

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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Six weeks worth of mail greets Canadian gunners in Afghanistan
The Canadian Press
KANDAHAR PROVINCE, Afghanistan — It's a time-honoured tradition that's been around for as long as parents have been watching their children go off to war, and if this week's haul is any indication, it's alive and well.

Six weeks' worth of mail - letters, parcels, care packages and even telephone and utility bills - landed Thursday in the midst of the dusty outpost that's currently home to the gunners of C Troop, B Battery from the 1st Royal Canadian Horse Artillery, based in Shilo, Man.

Within days of their arrival in Afghanistan last month, C Troop's first rotation saw them spirited away to Maywand district, on the edge of the border with Helmand province, to support the Royal Gurkha Rifles, an elite British light infantry regiment.

Before the mail had a chance to catch them up, however, they were moved again, back to the slightly more hospitable confines of a patrol base familiar to Canadian troops, in a part of the province where the Canadians have done the bulk of their work.

On Thursday, their mail finally showed up, piled on the back of a Gator utility vehicle driven by Warrant Officer Shane Clouthier, the troop's sergeant-major.

"After a month and a half of not seeing mail, they start getting a little edgy," Clouthier laughed about the soldiers under his command.

"'My mother told me she sent it before I even left Canada. Where's my mail? Where's my mail?"'

When it finally arrived, Clouthier's vehicle disgorged a massive pile of boxes and envelopes, all of it quickly snatched up by hungry hands clamouring for a taste of home.

Bombardier Clinton Staples, 33, from Portage la Prairie, Man., seemed to score the biggest haul: four separate packages from his parents, his grandmother and his girlfriend.

"It's almost like Christmas," Staples beamed as he sorted through a motherlode of snacks and treats, wartime essentials, family photos and even a short-wave radio so he can listen to the BBC.

"It's been some time since the mail come through, with everybody waiting around and waiting around," he said.

"Everybody was having a pretty good day, I'd say. Quite a good feeling for a change."

Mail always provides a boost to troop morale when it arrives, but when it shows up after the first six weeks of being away from home, the impact is "huge," Clouthier said.

What's more, eventually all of the goodies are shared among all the soldiers, regardless of whom they were originally destined for, he added.

"It's funny, when they first come and they get the mail, it's: 'This is my mail, it's personal,' so they'll all squirrel it away into their own little bunk space," Clouthier said.

"As soon as they've had a look at it, it all comes out - the candies, the cookies, the nuts. It's not just one person's mail, it's the troop's mail."
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U.S. picks new commander for Iraq, Afghanistan wars 
March 29, 2008
Martin Dempsey assumed the role of top U.S. commander overseeing both the Iraq and Afghanistan wars Friday, replacing William J. Fallon as the head of the U.S. Central Command (Centcom).

Although it is unclear whether the new assignment is temporary or permanent, Dempsey will be in the position for some time, according to wire and TV reports.

Fallon resigned Tuesday amid media reports that he was at odds with the White House over Iran. Dempsey used to be his deputy.

U.S. President George W. Bush is not expected to nominate a permanent successor to Fallon until David Petraeus, top U.S. commander in Iraq, submits reports on Iraq to Congress on April 8-9.

It looks very likely that Dempsey could stay in the new post, but other candidates are also in Bush's mind, including Petraeus.

Born in 1952, Dempsey's military career spans over three decades.

He was the commander of the 1st armored division in the early stages of the Iraq war and was promoted to Centcom deputy commander last year.
Source: Xinhua
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Hopes for Afghan security take root in shadow of Tora Bora
Mike Blanchfield ,  Canwest News Service Saturday, March 29, 2008
JALALABAD, Afghanistan -- The foreboding snowcapped peaks of Tora Bora - Osama bin Laden's last known hiding place - loom ominously over the 320 young Afghans being put through their paces at this state-of-the-art police boot camp.

The U.S. military, with considerable help from its private contractor, Dyncorp, is leading the training of the young men in preparation for the most dangerous job in Afghanistan - the enforcement of law and order in a land torn by a deadly insurgency.

In Kandahar last year, 27 local police were killed for every one Afghan army soldier. Earlier this year, 16 police officers were hanged in public in Kandahar. Last fall, 10 more were beheaded and left on a highway in the western province of Farah as a warning.

The students at this training centre say they are ready to face great risks.

"I have to protect my county like a wall," says Taj Mohammed, 24. "I know it's dangerous, but we've got training."

More than standing up a competent national army, training a professional Afghan police service is the key to defeating the insurgency and allowing foreign troops to eventually leave. But that training has been a slow, dysfunctional enterprise, beset by corruption and a weak international commitment.

When NATO leaders meet Wednesday in Romania, they will likely address the pressing need to train more Afghan police. The United States will use the summit to pressure European countries to do more because it believes it is shouldering the burden of police training.

However, an intense new level of police training is underway in Jalalabad in an attempt to elevate the standard of cops already serving, while bringing new recruits up to the same level.

Canwest News Service was granted exclusive access to the Jalalabad regional training centre, 50 kilometres from the Pakistan border on the Khyber Pass.

Dyncorp, the Virginia-based private security company that has also secured similar contracts in Iraq, as well as a cadre of military police officers is conducting the training.

Although it has operated for four years, the Jalalabad centre refocused its efforts last summer in a push to train an 82,000-strong national police force. In all, the U.S. has supplied about 500 police training staff to the country.

Under blazing 30-degree sunshine, dozens of recruits gathered on the gravel field at the centre of the camp to practise basic handcuffing and search techniques. Some were armed with blue plastic replicas of AK-47 assault rifles.

Inside one of the prefab metal classrooms that resemble state-of-the-art school portables, classes of more than 50 students each were learning basic law and human rights, as well as practical concerns such as how to read passports and travel documents.

That's a particularly important task in this region of eastern Afghanistan next to the Pakistan border. Many of this current class of trainees are from this historically volatile province of Nangarhar, as well as neighbouring Paktika - areas that remain vulnerable to infiltration of terrorists based in Pakistan.

The danger that remains in the area was underscored by an attack last weekend in which three dozen tanker trucks were blown up just after crossing into Afghanistan. The trucks were part of a regular convoy bearing fuel for American forces.

"The people of Nangarhar don't want the Taliban or al-Qaida to come back in, attack or occupy the area," said Lt.-Col. Sham Suraham, the No. 2 Afghan police commander attached to the centre.

"That's why the people of that area, they send their sons here and we train them to be police. They will help the armed forces to defeat the Taliban. The people in this district, they want to join the police and be part of the government."

So far, the effort to stand up a viable police force across Afghanistan has been plagued by corruption.

Anecdotal evidence abounds of police shaking down the people they are meant to protect, mainly because they are poorly paid, if at all. Some corrupt senior police officers have pocketed the salaries of men under their command or invented fake officers to collect their wages.

U.S. Gen. Dan McNeill, the commander of the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force for Afghanistan, said a renewed effort in police training began in earnest last year.

"It was a very confusing picture of what we had," McNeill told Canwest News in an exclusive interview.

"The belief was there were a lot of so-called ghost policemen, payrolls going out and policemen not performing their duties."

The renewed training effort required anyone calling themselves a police officer to report to their local headquarters so a national head count could be done.

A new plan was developed that now sees Afghan police pulled out of their regional commands and brought in for eight weeks of intense training, under the Focus District Development (FDD) program.

Under FDD, entire contingents of district police forces are brought to Jalalabad to train  while other cops, who already have better training, temporarily replace them.

The groups train as units to foster camaraderie and team building. They are instructed on the proper use of an arsenal of potent weaponry that includes AK-47 machine-guns and rocket-propelled grenade launchers.

Not everybody graduates. Students are subjected to a vetting process to weed out drug addicts or criminals.

At the same time, Afghanistan instituted a sweeping rank and wage reform program. Officers were given proper ranks, colonels topping the list. Salaries were raised to the same level of Afghan National Army, which is higher paid, to about $100 a month.

The first electronic transfers were instituted, allowing rank-and-file officers to collect they cash salaries directly.

McNeill was not able to say how many Afghan police have been trained so far, but some older estimates have pegged the number at less than half of the 82,000 target. McNeill estimates the police are about 18 months behind the training pace of the Afghan National Army, but he is hopeful they will catch up, allowing Afghanistan to have a fully trained national security force within four years.

The European Union hopes to deploy its 200-member police training team next month. Germany has called for a doubling of trainers for a mission that has had a hard time finding people.

Canada has almost two dozen police officers, mostly RCMP, attached to training efforts across Afghanistan and is opening an international training centre for senior officers next to its provincial reconstruction team in Kandahar City.

William Wood, the U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan, is optimistic that the EU and American-led efforts can co-ordinate their programs.

"Germany is also doing a spectacular job training police," said Wood, "but they are training police to operate in a court system that may be more developed than currently exists in Afghanistan."

McNeill agreed that in the long term, Afghanistan's courts and prisons must be brought up to speed. Canada also contributes money for the training of judges and lawyers.

For now, McNeill said Afghanistan needs police, "who can come in and settle a land dispute before it goes to shooting because in the Afghan culture, it'll eventually get to shooting if you don't get somebody to settle it out."

McNeill said a the best way to fight a counterinsurgency is with local forces, instead of foreign soldiers.

"The best force to use is an indigenous security force," he said.

That will ultimately fall to people like 18-year-old Akhtar Mohammad, one of the youngest recruits in Jalalabad.

He is adamant he is up for what awaits him back in the border district of Kunar, which remains a hotbed of the insurgency. He has eight family members currently in the police service, and he said his family gave its blessing to his dangerous career choice.

"I talked to them. I got permission from them to come here."
Ottawa Citizen
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Czech Republic to send more soldiers to Afghanistan
New Kerala - Mar 29 2:13 AM
Prague, March 29 : The Czech Republic will agree to a US request to send an elite military unit to Afghanistan, Czech Defence Minister Vlasta Parkanova has said.

The 100-member-strong unit will be additional to the 415 troops approved by the parliament last autumn to be deployed in Afghanistan, Parkanova said Friday.

It mainly involves members of the special forces unit from Prostejov, which had operated twice in Afghanistan, and is under the direct command of the defence minister, the Czech news agency CTK reported.

Earlier in 2004, the unit worked under the Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan.

In both the missions, it performed reconnaissance and information transfer tasks. The Czech soldiers also fought in combat operations.

It is reported that the Czech army would have more than 500 troops in Afghanistan by the end of 2008.

--- IANS
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Canadian doughnuts a hit in Afghanistan
March 28, 2008 at 11:48 AM
KANDAHAR, Afghanistan, March 28 (UPI) -- Coffee and doughnuts from a national chain in Canada are gaining converts among NATO troops in Afghanistan, company officials said.

Tim Horton's, founded by and named for a former Toronto Maple Leafs hockey player in the 1960s, has 2,750 stores across Canada, and some 350 locations in the United States. Soon after Canadian troops joined the NATO mission to fight the Taliban and al-Qaida in Afghanistan, the company learned they missed their "Horton's," so the most remote store was opened at the Kandahar military base.

One of the Canadian workers who serve six-months stints at the shop, Amy Barbarie, told the Canwest News Service British, U.S. and the renowned Nepalese Royal Gurkhas are all being won over.

"The Gurkhas are real fighting machines, so I don't know if they want people to know they like frou-frou drinks that aren't so manly, but they really love their French vanilla cappuccinos and their honey-dipped doughnuts," she said.

Manager James Vergie said while Canadians are known for liking coffee "double-double," referring to sugar and cream, he recalled one U.S. soldier ordering an "eight and one."

"I called that a medium sugar with a bit of coffee," he said.
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Afghanistan expresses concern over blasphemous film produced in Netherlands
www.chinaview.cn  2008-03-29 16:49:28
KABUL, March 29 (Xinhua) -- Afghanistan Foreign Ministry on Saturday expressed concern over the blasphemous film produced in the Netherlands and hoped it would not be put on show, a statement released here said.

"The Islamic Republic of Afghanistan once again expresses its concern over the release of the insulting film "Fitna" and believes attack on religious values of millions of Muslims cannot be justified as freedom of expression," the statement stressed.

The film, produced by a legislator in the Netherlands, according to media reports, pretends Islam as a religion spearheading terror and violence.

Moreover, the statement added that the government of Afghanistan had welcomed the stance of government of the Netherlands, its Prime Minister and its people on the blasphemous film and is sure that such motivation would never represent the official stance of a country which respects the international norms.

Afghans since last month have staged series of peaceful demonstrations in several cities.
Editor: Lin Li 
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Her son killed for a gold ring, an Afghan mother wants justice
by Sardar Ahmad Fri Mar 28, 12:40 AM ET
KABUL (AFP) - Even Mother Nature was cruel on the day 15 years ago when rampaging thugs chopped off Marzia's fingers for a gold ring and shot dead her nine-year-old son when he cried out to object.

It was a bone-chillingly cold morning, she recalls, when militia loyal to Pashtun warlord Abdul Rab-Rasoul Sayyaf -- now a parliamentarian -- captured her village, west of Kabul and dominated by ethnic Hazaras.

Poverty-stricken Afshar, a complex of mudbrick houses at the foot of a barren and rocky mountain, was crushed in the orgy of murder, rape and looting.

In a post-assault attack on the village, gunmen smashed into her simple house, says the illiterate housewife in her 40s. They demanded a gold ring she was wearing.

"I couldn't take it off. One of them stepped forward with a bayonet and said 'I will take it off,' and chopped my fingers," she says, holding up a hand missing the thumb, fore and middle fingers.

Her son Samad cried out. "When he chopped my fingers, my son jumped towards me and wailed 'Oh, nanai (mother)'. Another man turned his gun and fired at him," she says, her lips quivering.

"My son died in my arms," she says, wiping away tears with the palm of her butchered hand.

The number of dead in what has become known as the Afshar Massacre is not clear: a United Nations report says 300 civilians, almost all ethnic Hazara Shiites, were killed but villagers say even more were slaughtered, some decapitated.

Hundreds of Hazara men were rounded up and corralled into forced labour -- or just disappeared. Villagers claim 1,200 men were taken away.

One was Marzia's husband, Sayed Mohammad.

Sitting near his wife in their one-room home, he says he was accused of being a combatant, beaten, and forced to dig trenches and wash dishes for his captors for six months before he was freed, half-paralysed and mentally ill.

The February 1993 Afshar campaign was one of the worst episodes of the 1992-1996 civil war that erupted when internationally supported militias that had driven out the Soviet occupiers turned on each other.

The ethnic-based factional fighting -- in which all sides are accused of atrocities, including the Hazara -- killed around 80,000 civilians in Kabul alone, according to rights groups.

An almost daily barrage of rocket and artillery fire reduced large parts of the attractive capital to rubble.

The conflict was ended when the Taliban Islamic militia took power in 1996, initially welcomed for restoring calm after the chaos. But they too brought terror before being ousted in a US-led invasion late in 2001.

"The Afshar Massacre is one of the worst brutalities of the civil war," says Horia Musadeq from the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission.

"It is just one example of hundreds of incidents Afghans suffered. Hundreds of civilians were killed, women were raped and many men were captured, held and tortured," he said.

A 2005 Human Rights Watch report implicates Sayyaf -- now an ally of President Hamid Karzai -- and other figures such as Burhanduddin Rabbani, president at the time and now also in parliament.

"The Afshar campaign was marked by widespread and serious violations of international humanitarian law," it says, and calls for "justice-seeking mechanisms to sideline past abusers from political power".

Karzai in late 2006 signed a Peace, Reconciliation and Justice Action Plan that seeks to "establish accountability" -- which some fear could see a backlash from strongmen worried about having to face a judicial process.

Just weeks later the parliament voted in a bill that would give groups and factions amnesty against prosecution. Its position on individuals is vague.

Karzai admitted at a meeting in December, at which Marzia was among several victims who pleaded for justice, that this was a concern.

"There are tyrants in our land," he said. "We must move with lots of caution so as not to cause lots of noise and more human rights violations."

The United Nations has meanwhile expressed disappointment at the delays in implementing the action plan, which also provides for investigations of atrocities and memorials for those killed.

Marzia says she wants justice, even if only from "great God".

Responding to such calls is vital for Afghanistan to recover from its three decades of war and to revive the national spirit, Musadeq says.

"We can't survive as a nation unless we give justice to war victims. Can you imagine that those who have killed her or others' children sit in the parliament, live in palaces and drive Landcruisers?" she asks.

"When Sayyaf speeds past a victim in his Landcruiser, kicking up dust, think how it feels. It feels really bad."
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Ex-Afghanistan Detainee Alleges Torture by U.S.
By Carol D. Leonnig Washington Post Staff Writer  Saturday, March 29, 2008; Page A03
A resident of Germany who was imprisoned for two months at a U.S. military base in Afghanistan has told an interviewer that his interrogators hung him from a ceiling for five days and that several doctors periodically checked him before authorizing the torture to continue.

Murat Kurnaz said that shortly after his capture in Pakistan in fall 2001, the American interrogators insisted he admit to being an al-Qaeda operative and associate of 9/11 plotter Mohamed Atta. Kurnaz said when he said he did not know Atta or refused to talk, the interrogators punished him by hanging him by his arms to the rafters of a freezing aircraft hangar.

Kurnaz's allegations about his abusive treatment in a prison at the U.S. military base in Kandahar are to be publicly aired for the first time tomorrow on CBS's "60 Minutes." He was released by the U.S. military in August 2006 after spending nearly five years at the U.S. military base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

Kurnaz made similar allegations of systematic torture in 2005 when he was still a U.S. prisoner, according to newly declassified notes his attorney took during a conversation at Guantanamo. Kurnaz said then that interrogators in Kandahar dunked his head in water, administered electric shocks to the soles of his feet and hung him by his hands -- when he denied being a terrorist.

Kurnaz, who the U.S. military eventually freed without giving a reason, is publishing a book in April that describes his experiences in custody. An ethnic Turk raised in Germany, Kurnaz traveled to Pakistan to study Islam in 2001. He was seized by Pakistani police after the Sept. 11 attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon and was turned over to U.S. troops as a terrorism suspect for a cash bounty, military records show.

When the 19-year-old student was transferred to Guantanamo in January 2002, U.S. and German intelligence officials quickly confirmed that Kurnaz had no links to terrorist groups and had probably been seized by mistake, according to military records produced years later in court proceedings.

"Interrogators persisted in questioning him about connections to Mohamed Atta, who Murat only had a vague memory of from television reports after 9/11," according to his lawyer's notes. "Interrogators insisted that he was from the same mosque as Atta; when Murat insisted he had never met him, he was beaten."

"When Murat refused to talk, he was hung with cuffs and rope, arms above the head to a rack, feet shackled in some kind of hangar, which was freezing cold," the notes read. "He was forced to stay in this position for days as punishment for his refusal to admit his connections to Al Qaeda and Taliban."

Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman said Kurnaz's allegations are erroneous. "There is no evidence to support the allegations in Mr. Kurnaz's book," Whitman said in a written statement. "The abuses Mr. Kurnaz alleges are not only unsubstantiated, they are implausible and outlandish."

The lawyer's notes obtained by The Washington Post do not depict Kurnaz alleging in 2005 that doctors worked alongside the interrogators while he was tortured. Torture is barred by international treaties, and doctors are prohibited from participating in abuse.

"Every five or six hours they came and pulled me back down and the doctor came," he told CBS News, according to a transcript of the interview. "He looked into my eyes. He checked my heart and when he said 'okay,' then they pulled me back up."

A 2005 article in the New England Journal of Medicine asserted that other U.S. Army doctors had violated the Geneva Conventions by helping intelligence officers carry out abusive interrogations at military detention centers.

Kurnaz's attorney, Baher Azmy, said that his client's experience is consistent with allegations by other detainees viewed by U.S. military as potential ringleaders. "When he was transferred to Afghanistan and because he was a Muslim from Germany, at least initially, they imagined he was a big fish," Azmy said. "It's entirely plausible they would have reserved their worst treatment for him in their early days."

In his book, "Five Years of My Life," Kurnaz says he watched as U.S. military personnel beat a man, and carried him away the next afternoon, his arms lifeless.

Staff researcher Julie Tate contributed to this report.
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Australian military says Pakistan must control Afghan border
The Canadian Press
SYDNEY, Australia — Diplomatic pressure must be applied on Pakistan's new government to keep militants from moving across its border into Afghanistan, the head of Australia's defence forces said Saturday.

Taliban insurgents are using bases in Pakistan to attack civilians and western forces in Afghanistan, said Air Chief Marshal Angus Houston, whose government is pushing for a bigger troop commitment in the war-torn country.

"What is important is all the western countries work together ... to apply the necessary diplomatic endeavours" on Pakistan, he told Fairfax Media newspapers. Militants must be denied "freedom to move across the border."

Houston made the comments before attending a NATO summit on Afghanistan in Bucharest, Romania, next week.

Australia, a non-NATO country, has 1,000 troops serving in south-central Afghanistan as part of the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force.

Pakistan has deployed approximately 90,000 troops to hunt down militants in its border regions.
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AFGHANISTAN: Disappointed With Karzai, NATO
By Anand Gopal - IPS
KABUL, Mar 28 (IPS) - The Shahr-e-now park in the centre of Kabul has seen better days. "It used to be really beautiful," Kabul resident Torialay says, "back during the early-90s. But after the Mujahiddin war (a civil war between warlords and commanders in the mid-90s that destroyed much of the city) it has never been restored."

"Look at this place," he says, waving his hand over a dusty lot filled with begging children and unemployed men. "The government and the Americans haven't done anything for us. And they haven't built roads or provided jobs. They've had six years to do it, but they haven't."

A growing number of Afghans are expressing dissatisfaction with the Karzai government and foreign presence in their country. With widespread corruption in government circles and a slow pace of reconstruction, support for ruling and foreign institutions are at an all-time low, experts say.

A recent report by the Senlis Council, an international think tank, says that "Kabul and the international community’s consistent promises of aid are simply not materialising in vast swathes of the country: in an already uncertain and tense environment, this sort of breach of trust breeds anger and resentment. Many Afghans are seeing no improvements in living conditions, and often they are seeing things grow worse."

An ABC news poll reports that the U.S.' approval rating in the country has dipped to 42 percent in 2007, down from 68 percent just two years ago.

"The foreigners do not help us," Kabul resident Zafar Nafisi, sitting on a curb in the park next to a shoe-shine boy, says. "They have spent billions of dollars in this country, but where has all the money gone? Why am I still sitting here in the park without a job?"

A new report by an umbrella group for non-governmental agencies operating in Afghanistan confirms this assessment. Of the 25 billion US dollars pledged for reconstruction, "just 15 billion dollars in aid has so far been spent," the Agency Coordinating Body for Afghan Relief (ACBAR) says, "of which it is estimated a staggering 40 percent has returned to donor countries in corporate profits and salaries."

"The reconstruction of Afghanistan requires a sustained and substantial commitment of aid -- but donors have failed to meet their aid pledges to Afghanistan. Too much aid from rich countries is wasted, ineffective or uncoordinated," the report goes on to say.

The United States has appropriated 127 billion dollars for military efforts in Afghanistan since 2001 and is currently spending nearly 100 million dollars a day and close to 36 billion dollars a year, according to aid agency reports. Yet the volume of all non-military international aid amounts to only 7 million dollars a day, ACBAR says. The agency reports that "in the two years following international intervention, Afghanistan received 57 dollars per capita, whilst Bosnia and East Timor received 679 dollars and 233 dollars per capita respectively."

Analysts also maintain that burgeoning insecurity adds to the general dissatisfaction with foreign forces. UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon reported recently that violence in the country went "up sharply" in 2007. Ban said there were over 8,000 conflict-related deaths and an average of 586 incidents per month, close to a 40 percent jump from 2006.

Large sections of the southern and eastern parts of the country are now inaccessible to aid workers, and criminal gangs are flourishing in the security-poor environment.

In the southern and eastern regions -- where fighting between coalition forces and the Taliban is particularly intense -- observers say the coalition troops' heavy-handed techniques are alienating many and fueling a Taliban resurgence. "The indiscriminate air strikes and the searching of innocent civilians' homes - if this continues it will make many people unhappy," government official Sadeq Mudaber says. A Senlis Council poll conducted last year found that 27 percent of villagers in rural southern Afghanistan openly professed support for the Taliban, up from just 2 percent in 2005.

For many Afghans, the dissatisfaction extends to the government. "I used to work for the government," Torialay says. "But I was laid off. Now I can't get a job -- if you want to get a government job you have to bribe someone, or you have to know someone."

Haroun Mir, deputy director of the Afghanistan Centre for Research and Policy Studies, says that corruption is endemic to all levels of government. At the top, he says, exist powerful figures who act as if they are above the law and feed a culture of impunity. At the bottom, poorly trained, compensated and motivated government employees incorporate bribery and other forms of corruption into their daily routine.

"Our judiciary system is so corrupt that there hasn't been a single person indicted for corruption," Mir says.

"I have to admit that the degree of administrative corruption in Afghanistan is high. I believe that the ongoing and widespread administrative corruption in the corridors of government is giving the Taliban a new lease on life," Afghan Vice President Abdul Karim Khalili recently told reporters.
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Afghan girl defies death threats over Olympics
By Tom Coghlan in Kabul Telegraph.co.uk, United Kingdom 29/03/2008
A teenage athlete has overcome a campaign of intimidation including death threats to become the only female member of the team to represent Afghanistan at the Beijing Olympics.
 
Mehboba Ahdyar, a shy 19-year-old from Kabul, will face the worlds best 1,500-metre runners in August wearing a veil and a baggy tracksuit.

While she is unlikely to mount the winner's podium, few of her opponents will have endured such a perilous training regime to get them to the Games.

Training for Mehboba begins after nightfall. At 8.30pm, when Kabul residents are transfixed by the daily episode of the country's most popular soap opera, a racy Indian drama named Because a Mother-in-Law was Once a Daughter-in-Law Too, Mehboba slips out of her house in a poor suburb and starts running.

She runs up and down the streets for the duration of the programme. It is the only time when, as a woman, she can supplement her official training sessions without threats or harassment.

She recently had to destroy the Sim card on her mobile phone because the number had become known to fundamentalists who bombarded her with death threats.

"They say that they will not leave me alive," she said, with a shrug.

Mehboba, whose father scrapes a living as a carpenter, is a devout Muslim and insists that if she is forced to wear the sort of figure-hugging kit favoured by other international athletes she will not take part.

But such dedication to her faith has not prevented further intimidation. After a Western journalist visited her house this week a rumour spread that she was entertaining foreign men as a prostitute.

Mehboba received a visit from the police, while her family were warned that they might have to leave their house.

In spite of the taunts and death threats, she insists she will run for national pride.

"I will compete against heroes," she said, although she could not name any of the world's leading middle-distance runners. "We have trained for three years. I hope for a medal or at least to break Afghanistan's record."

Her personal best is a full minute outside the 1,500-metre world record, but she has beaten all comers in national competitions.

Three times a week she and her fellow Olympian, Masood Azizi, a 20-year-old sprinter, train for three hours at the national stadium, a concrete track around the field where the Taliban used to perform public executions.

Mehboba and Azizi, along with a wrestler and a Taekwondo competitor will today fly to Malaysia for five months of intensive training to give the four-athlete team their best shot at Olympic glory.

Mehboba was excited and nervous. "I have never left the country," she said, "except for a refugee camp in Pakistan."
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