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March 30, 2008 

Summit's big question: Whither NATO?
By WILLIAM J. KOLE, Associated Press Writer
In Afghanistan, it is battling al-Qaida and Taliban. In newly independent Kosovo, it's up against Serbian protesters armed with firebombs and grenades. And behind the scenes, it is helping to quell the violence in Iraq and to track down

Bush off to Europe to rally Afghanistan support, farewell Putin
by Laurent Lozano
WASHINGTON (AFP) - George W. Bush heads to Europe Monday to push NATO allies for more support in Afghanistan and to meet with Russia's Vladimir Putin, probably for the last time 'president to president.'

Blast wounds 3 Dutch NATO-soldiers in Afghanistan
AMSTERDAM (Reuters) - Three Dutch soldiers from NATO-led forces in Afghanistan were hospitalized on Sunday after their vehicle hit an improvised explosive device near the town of Tarin Kowt, the Defence Ministry said.

Seven Taliban killed, five arrested in separate Afghan incidents
EARTHtimes.org - Mar 30 3:29 AM
Kabul - Afghan police and international forces killed five Taliban insurgents and arrested five others in southern Afghanistan, while two other militants were killed when the rocket they were firing, exploded in eastern region, officials said on Sunday.

Afghanistan's Hazaras protest over pastures
Sun Mar 30, 8:07 AM ET
KABUL (AFP) - More than 2,000 mainly ethnic Hazaras, many of them livestock farmers, marched through the Afghan capital Kabul Sunday to demand authorities stop nomads from using their grazing lands.

Ministry slams Afghan men, women TV dancing
Sat Mar 29, 2:06 PM ET
KABUL (AFP) - The Kabul government "strongly condemned" Saturday a television programme that showed Afghan men and women dancing together, saying it threatened to erode the moral standards of youngsters.

CIA chief warns of Afghan-Pakistan border danger
WASHINGTON (AP) — The situation in the border region between Afghanistan and Pakistan where al-Qaeda has established a safe haven presents a "clear and present danger" to the West, the CIA director said Sunday.

British Troops, Taliban In a Tug of War Over Afghan Province
In One Town, a Small Force Battles for Yards of Ground
By Ann Scott Tyson Washington Post Staff Writer Sunday, March 30, 2008
GARMSIR, Afghanistan -Perched on the banks of the Helmand River, this desolate town occupied by British forces marks Afghanistan's de facto border: Beyond here, the Afghan government is powerless and Taliban insurgents hold sway

AFGHANISTAN: Tackling rising drug addiction in Parwan Province
30 Mar 2008 10:30:21 GMT
CHARIKAR, 30 March 2008 (IRIN) - Sitting on his bed in a room with four others at a drug rehabilitation centre in Charikar, capital of Parwan Province, northern Afghanistan, 18-year-old Kharun tells how he got addicted to drugs:

The Opium Brides of Afghanistan
In the country's poppy-growing provinces, farmers are being forced to sell their daughters to pay loans.
Sami Yousafzai and Ron Moreau NEWSWEEK April 7, 2008 Issue
Khalida's father says she's 9—or maybe 10. As much as Sayed Shah loves his 10 children, the functionally illiterate Afghan farmer can't keep track of all their birth dates. Khalida huddles at his side, trying to hide beneath her chador and headscarf

Hijacked Friendship bus freed
By Ibrahim Shinwari Dawn (Pakistan)
LANDI KOTAL, March 29: A group of Sultankhel tribesmen on Saturday hijacked a Jalalabad-bound bus with 47 passengers on board for a second time in three days to press the Afghan government to release their seven fellow tribesmen.

Bush will not demand Germany send troops to Afghan south: report
BERLIN (AFP) — US President George W. Bush will not demand Germany boost its NATO troop numbers in Afghanistan with deployments in the south, he said in a German newspaper interview partly released Saturday.

Pakistan militants welcome talks with new government
Reuters via International Herald Tribune, France Sunday, March 30, 2008
INAYAT KALLAY, Pakistan: The Pakistani Taliban welcomed the new government's readiness to negotiate an end to a spreading conflict in Pakistan on Sunday, but they vowed to carry on fighting U.S. forces in neighboring Afghanistan.

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Summit's big question: Whither NATO?
By WILLIAM J. KOLE, Associated Press Writer
In Afghanistan, it is battling al-Qaida and Taliban. In newly independent Kosovo, it's up against Serbian protesters armed with firebombs and grenades. And behind the scenes, it is helping to quell the violence in Iraq and to track down suspected war criminals in Bosnia.

NATO, its chief insists, has no ambitions to become a "global policeman." But the military alliance born of the Cold War continues to grow and face new challenges.

At a summit Wednesday through Friday in Romania, President Bush and the leaders of NATO's other 25 countries will discuss how to mobilize more troops to turn the tide in Afghanistan, and whether to get bigger and tougher at the risk of alienating Russia.

The North Atlantic Treaty Organization, which turns 60 next year, faces a mid-life crisis as it debates whether a new vision and direction are needed in a world transformed since the Cold War that was the alliance's original raison d'etre.

Its membership has nearly doubled since the Berlin Wall came down, and the venue of the summit — the cavernous "People's House" in Bucharest built by Nicolae Ceausescu, Romania's last communist dictator — is a powerful symbol of a world upended.

Yet echoes of the Cold War persist in NATO's confrontation with Russia.

Already, with nine former Soviet bloc countries in its ranks, NATO abuts some of Russia's borders and could soon reach others as Bush and other NATO members seek to bring Georgia and Ukraine aboard, much to the Kremlin's dismay.

But some NATO members — notably France and Germany — are uneasy about provoking Russia, which fiercely opposes the eastward expansion of an alliance it denounces as a Cold War relic.

U.S.-Russia relations already have chilled over Washington's recognition of Kosovo's independence and U.S. plans to base a missile defense system in the Czech Republic and Poland, two ex-Soviet satellites.

In a conciliatory gesture, NATO invited outgoing Russian President Vladimir Putin and his hand-picked successor, Dmitry Medvedev, to meet with leaders on the final day of the summit. It will be Medvedev's first international outing as president-elect.

But the gathering could be a platform for controversy and widen the Europe-North America divide, says Marek Swierczynski, a commentator for the Atlantic Community, a Berlin-based forum on security and defense issues.

"That will be very dangerous," he said.

The advent of global terrorism may prove to be NATO's undoing, said Stanley Kober, a research fellow at the Cato Institute, a libertarian think tank.

"During the Cold War, when we stood up against the Russians, they would back down. Our enemies today are not afraid of us — they keep coming," he said. "And history shows us that alliances don't survive. They all end in divorce."

NATO Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer told a recent conference in Brussels that the 26-nation alliance is stretched thin.

"The burdens on NATO are greater today than ever before, and this makes it ever more urgent that we have a clear strategic vision," he said. "We need to answer the question: What kind of NATO do we want for the years to come?"

For starters, apparently a larger one — if only to ensure the organization remains what de Hoop Scheffer calls "a military insurance policy."

At the summit, NATO leaders are expected to formally invite Croatia, Albania and perhaps Macedonia to join, expanding the alliance's boot print in the Balkans.

Afghanistan is expected to overshadow the summit, which will also draw Afghan President Hamid Karzai and U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon.

NATO's force is about 43,000-strong, but commanders are pleading for more troops in the south, where Taliban insurgents are wreaking the most havoc.

"The problem with Afghanistan is that it's eclipsing the summit just as it did in Riga in 2006," when NATO held its last big meeting, said Julianne Smith, Europe program director for the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a Washington think tank.

"It kind of sucks the oxygen out of the room right now."

Most of the fighting is done by troops from the U.S., which contributes about a third of the Afghanistan force, and from Canada, Britain and the Netherlands. France, Spain, Germany, Italy and Turkey keep forces in more peaceful parts of the country.

Non-NATO Australia, which has sent 1,000 troops, has set an ultimatum — that NATO offer a new battle plan with clear benchmarks for victory.

Canada is also pressing the alliance for reinforcements for its 2,500 troops in dangerous Kandahar province, and made that a condition for extending its commitment in Afghanistan to 2011.

Yet many Europeans "don't think of Afghanistan as their fight," said Stephen Larrabee, a senior security expert for the RAND Corp. think tank.

"During the Cold War, you had a consensus on who the enemy was," he said. "In the post-Cold War era, you don't have a common enemy — you have very diverse threats and challenges."

And some of NATO's newcomers are struggling just to move troops and helicopters around.

"We've got a severe capabilities problem. It seems as though we're limping along a bit," said Smith. "This isn't the military alliance that many of us had in mind as we celebrated the end of the Cold War."

Kosovo also will resurface at the summit.

About three dozen nations led by the U.S. and key European powers have recognized its independence from Serbia, triggering fury from Belgrade and Moscow. That, in turn, has led to questions about the long-term role — and safety — of the 16,000 NATO-led troops keeping the peace in Kosovo.

As it has for decades, speculation about the alliance's future still centers on the United States.

"There is no such thing as NATO global capability," said Swierczynski. "There is the U.S. global capability ... NATO is still fully relying on the USA."

Washington has made clear it will ask other NATO countries to boost their commitments to the alliance.

Experts say that approach won't change regardless of who succeeds Bush in the White House.

"No matter who wins, even if it's a Democrat, that new president is going to ask nations to do more to share the burden," Smith said.
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EDITOR'S NOTE — William J. Kole is the AP bureau chief in Vienna, Austria, and has covered NATO operations in the Balkans.
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Bush off to Europe to rally Afghanistan support, farewell Putin
by Laurent Lozano
WASHINGTON (AFP) - George W. Bush heads to Europe Monday to push NATO allies for more support in Afghanistan and to meet with Russia's Vladimir Putin, probably for the last time 'president to president.'

Demanding more troop contributions from alliance members for the second front in the "war on terror," where failure would be seen as a personal blow, has emerged as a priority for Bush when he attends his final North Atlantic Treaty Organization summit April 2-4 in Bucharest.

Amid a delicate patch in relations between Washington and Moscow, Russia's presence will also be felt in the Romanian capital, even before Bush heads to the Black Sea port of Sochi for weekend talks at Putin's invitation.

Among the subjects to be discussed by NATO leaders are the military alliance's eastward expansion and US plans for a missile defense system in central Europe -- both of which have strained US-Russia ties.

Facing accusations of neglecting the mission in Afghanistan to focus on the war in Iraq, Bush affirmed Wednesday that "there is no better opportunity to deal with the threats of terror than in Afghanistan" and that he heads to Bucharest "to encourage people to take our obligations seriously."

His decision to commit an additional 3,500 Marines should "set an example and encourage others to participate," he told reporters. Less than a year before he leaves office, Bush knows his reputation rests in large measure on success in Afghanistan.

French President Nicolas Sarkozy's announcement that he would strengthen France's presence there should "ensure" a successful NATO summit, Bush added.

But while the discord throughout Europe over the war in Iraq seems remote, Afghanistan continues to be divisive among the NATO allies.

Some countries such as Germany "are being beaten up" by the Bush administration because they aren't doing well enough in Afghanistan, said Elizabeth Sherwood-Randall, an expert at the Council on Foreign Relations.

The German government has also underlined its opposition to NATO opening the door to membership to former Soviet republics Ukraine and Georgia, and about half of the 25 other NATO members have cast doubt on the bids too.

Russia, meanwhile, is particularly concerned -- incoming president Dmitri Medvedev said the prospect of NATO edging nearer its borders was "extremely troublesome."

Bush, fresh from a White House meeting with Georgia President Mikheil Saakashvili, is a vocal supporter and is due to visit the Ukrainian capital Kiev on Monday and Tuesday en route to Bucharest.

But experts say Bush's partners know his ability to force decisions has been considerably diminished as he nears the end of his presidency.

His national security advisor, Stephen Hadley, let it be known that Bush would not force the expansion issue and would continue to pursue "quiet consultations" with NATO members.

Further annoying Russia is the US intention to place a missile defence shield in central Europe, right on Moscow's doorstep.

The plan would see 10 missile launchers stationed in Poland and a radar system in the Czech Republic by 2012 -- actions Russia has said pose a direct threat to its security.

Tensions eased somewhat with March's mission to Moscow by top US diplomats Condoleezza Rice and Robert Gates in a bid to address Russia's concerns about the project, and Bush has guaranteed the system would not be aimed at Russia.

The missile defense system will be among a raft of key issues to be addressed between Bush and Putin when they meet in Sochi.

"I'm optimistic we can reach accord on very important matters," Bush said.

Sherwood-Randall noted however that the US president should "expect the unexpected from Putin."

It will most likely be the last series of discussions between the two men as presidents, coming one month before Putin hands over the reins to Medvedev and takes the job of Russian prime minister.

On the trip, Bush will have his first face-to-face encounter with Medvedev since his election, and according to national security advisor Hadley, will also be massaging US-Russia ties for whoever succeeds him in the White House.
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Blast wounds 3 Dutch NATO-soldiers in Afghanistan
AMSTERDAM (Reuters) - Three Dutch soldiers from NATO-led forces in Afghanistan were hospitalized on Sunday after their vehicle hit an improvised explosive device near the town of Tarin Kowt, the Defence Ministry said.

One soldier lost both his legs in the explosion and his condition was critical, the ministry said in a statement posted on its Web site.

"It is sad to conclude that terrorists, who intend to block a peaceful and energetic Afghanistan, use this kind of cowardly method," said Dutch Finance Minister Eimert van Middelkoop.

"However our soldiers are determined to continue their hard job in Afghanistan," he said in the statement.

Violence has surged in Afghanistan in the last two years, with some 6,000 people killed in 2007, the deadliest year since U.S.-led and Afghan forces toppled the Taliban in 2001.

More than 200 foreign troops were killed there in 2007.

On Thursday Dutch lawmaker Geert Wilders, leader of the anti-immigration Freedom Party, launched an anti-Koran film and before its launch NATO had expressed concern it could worsen security for foreign forces in Afghanistan, including 1,650 Dutch troops.

The film, which urges Muslims to tear out "hate-filled" verses from the Koran, and starts and ends with a cartoon of the Prophet Mohammad with a bomb under his turban, accompanied by the sound of ticking, was condemned by Muslim nations on Friday, while Dutch Muslim leaders urged restraint.

Before the release of the film demonstrators in Kabul protested against it and chanted "death to the Netherlands, while burning Dutch flags.
(Reporting by Harro ten Wolde)
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Seven Taliban killed, five arrested in separate Afghan incidents 
EARTHtimes.org - Mar 30 3:29 AM
Kabul - Afghan police and international forces killed five Taliban insurgents and arrested five others in southern Afghanistan, while two other militants were killed when the rocket they were firing, exploded in eastern region, officials said on Sunday. Afghan and US-led coalition forces clashed with a group of Taliban insurgents in Jaldak district of southern Zabul province on Saturday afternoon after the militants attacked a convoy of trucks hauling supplies for foreign forces in the province, office for interior ministry spokesman said.

The militants attacked the convoy on the Kabul-Kandahar highway and took along a vehicle, the press officer said, adding that the combined forces chased the militants and attacked their hideout.

The gun-battle left four militants dead, while four other armed rebels were arrested during the engagement, he added.

Police killed one more insurgents and arrested another in Shah Joy district of the same Zabul province on Saturday, the press officer said, adding that there were no casualties among the combined forces.

In eastern province of Nangahar, two militants were killed when the rocket they were trying to fire at a government building, was exploded, said Abdul Ghafoor Khan, spokesman for provincial police chief.

The incident took place in Surkh Road district of province on Saturday night, Khan said, adding that police battled with another group of militants in the same district on Saturday killing and wounding several militants.

He said that militants took away the bodies of their comrades as they fled the area, but the blood pools in several spots on the battlefield suggested that they militants had sustained heavy casualties.

Afghanistan's southern and eastern province provinces are a hotbed of Taliban insurgents, whose government was toppled in a US-led military invasion six years ago. Continued fighting and bombings killed more than 8,000 people - mostly rebels but also civilians - last year. Back to Top

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Afghanistan's Hazaras protest over pastures
Sun Mar 30, 8:07 AM ET
KABUL (AFP) - More than 2,000 mainly ethnic Hazaras, many of them livestock farmers, marched through the Afghan capital Kabul Sunday to demand authorities stop nomads from using their grazing lands.
The demonstrators, some of whom travelled to the city from poverty-hit central Afghanistan, alleged that ethnic Pashtun nomads, called Kuchi, are using their pastures for animals to graze on.

"We're demonstrating to demand our rights. We want the government to stop Kuchis grabbing our pastures," a protester named Ahmad Kamal Natiqi told AFP as others shouted "Down with Kuchi."

The Kuchi, estimated to number 2.4 million, move around Afghanistan in search of pastures for the animals on which they depend.

The nomads -- leading caravans of camels, sheep and donkeys -- are due to arrive in central Afghanistan in coming weeks, moving up from the warmer south in a centuries-old migration.

They are mainly from Pashtun tribes that dominate southern and eastern Afghanistan and sometimes clash with other ethnic groups as they travel.

Armed clashes between the Kuchis and settled Hazaras reportedly left several people dead in central Wardak province last year.

There are fears that low levels of rain and snow over winter will mean drought this year, which would put extra pressure on Afghanistan's farmers.
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Ministry slams Afghan men, women TV dancing
Sat Mar 29, 2:06 PM ET
KABUL (AFP) - The Kabul government "strongly condemned" Saturday a television programme that showed Afghan men and women dancing together, saying it threatened to erode the moral standards of youngsters.

Tolo, the most popular television channel in conservative Afghanistan, aired Friday scenes of men and women dancing during an Afghan movie award ceremony in Kabul.

The show also triggered an angry reaction within the parliament, with several conservative MPs denouncing the station.

"The Ministry of Information and Culture strongly condemns the broadcasting of the dance scenes on Tolo television during the movie award-giving ceremony," a ministry statement said.

It "deems the show which contained scenes of dance performed jointly by men and women against beliefs and traditions of the Islamic society of Afghanistan," it said.

Tolo, which hosts the nation's most popular shows such as Afghan Star -- a version of American Idol, has often been criticised by conservative Islamic clerics for its modern and relatively liberal content.

Abdul Rab-Rasoul Sayyaf, a legislator and former commander in the 1980s war that drove out the Soviet occupiers, demanded in parliament that Tolo be banned.

"Tolo TV is not just a broadcaster. It's a (entry point) for foreign conspiracies," he said.

The information ministry -- itself controversial for its conservative attitudes -- said the dancing at the awards show "was undermining the morals of young Afghans."

The show would be referred to a government media-monitoring committee to determine if it had violated the country's media law, it said.

The committee has in the past fined private broadcasters -- which have to tread a fine line between conservative religious circles and young, trendy Afghans -- for showing female dancers and singers.

In January the Council of Islamic Clerics, a powerful and influential body called on President Hamid Karzai, to rein in Tolo and other TV stations it accused of spreading "un-Islamic" culture.

More than a dozen privately run television stations have sprung up following the fall of the Taliban, who banned TV as un-Islamic during their strict 1996-2001 rule. They were toppled in a US-led invasion for harbouring Al-Qaeda.
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CIA chief warns of Afghan-Pakistan border danger
WASHINGTON (AP) — The situation in the border region between Afghanistan and Pakistan where al-Qaeda has established a safe haven presents a "clear and present danger" to the West, the CIA director said Sunday.

Michael Hayden cited the belief by intelligence agencies that Osama bin Laden is hiding there in arguing that the U.S. has an interest in targeting the border region. If there were another terrorist attack against Americans, Hayden said, it would most certainly originate from that region.

"It's very clear to us that al-Qaeda has been able for the past 18 months or so to establish a safe haven along the Afghan-Pakistan border area that they have not enjoyed before, and that they're bringing in operatives into the region for training," he said.

Hayden added that that those operatives "wouldn't attract your attention if they were going through the customs line at Dulles (airport, outside Washington) with you when you're coming back to the United States — who look Western."

Washington has sought reassurance that Pakistan's new coalition government will keep the pressure on extremist groups using the country's lawless northwest frontier as a springboard for attacks in Afghanistan and beyond.

Over the weekend, Pakistan's new prime minister, Maulvi Faqir Mohammed, pledged to make the fight against terrorism his top priority. But he said peace talks and aid programs could be more effective than weapons in fighting militancy in tribal areas along the Afghan border. It was the new government's latest rebuke of President Pervez Musharraf's military tactics, which many Pakistanis believe have led to a spike in domestic attacks.

On Sunday, Hayden declined to comment on reports that the U.S. might be escalating unilateral strikes against al-Qaeda members and fighters operating in Pakistan's tribal areas out of concern that the pro-Western Musharraf's influence might be waning. Hayden only would say that Pakistan's cooperation in the past has been crucial to U.S. efforts to stem terrorism there.

"The situation on the Afghanistan-Pakistan border presents clear and present danger to Afghanistan, Pakistan, the West in general and United States in particular," he said. "Operationally, we are turning every effort to capture or kill that leadership from the top to the bottom."

On Iraq, Hayden said it could be "years" before the central government might be able to function on its own without the aid of U.S. combat forces. Hayden said he would defer to the specific assessments of Gen. David Petraeus, the top U.S. commander in Iraq, and Ryan Crocker, top U.S. diplomat in Baghdad, who return to Washington next month to report to Congress.

Hayden spoke on NBC's Meet the Press.
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British Troops, Taliban In a Tug of War Over Afghan Province
In One Town, a Small Force Battles for Yards of Ground
By Ann Scott Tyson Washington Post Staff Writer Sunday, March 30, 2008
GARMSIR, Afghanistan -Perched on the banks of the Helmand River, this desolate town occupied by British forces marks Afghanistan's de facto border: Beyond here, the Afghan government is powerless and Taliban insurgents hold sway, their ranks replenished by recruits who enter unchallenged from Pakistan.

"Everything you see to your south that's all enemy territory," said Lt. Nicholas Moran, a platoon leader from Bravo Company, 1st Battalion, Royal Gurkha Rifles, using binoculars to survey Taliban fighters from the roof of a mud-brick compound east of Garmsir. Seconds later, he ducked as a rocket-propelled grenade whistled overhead.

A small contingent of British troops here is manning a cluster of dusty hill forts, several of them built by the British more than a century ago during the Anglo-Afghan wars. On this stark front line, they wage war against hundreds of insurgents dug into bunkers and ditches running between minefields in the canal system below.

Since 2006, Garmsir and other parts of Helmand province have changed hands between the British and Taliban forces at least three times, largely because there have been too few British ground troops to hold captured territory. Despite Defense Minister John Reid's early hope that 3,000 British forces could pacify Helmand without "firing a shot," the British have lost 89 troops to fighting in the province, where violence surged 60 percent last year, testing NATO's ability to stabilize Afghanistan's ethnic Pashtun heartland.

President Bush will attend a NATO summit this week where he hopes allies will pledge additional combat troops for Afghanistan. In Helmand, even an expanded British-led force of about 7,000 must now concentrate its efforts on the north, while the company in Garmsir controls a small segment of the southern front.

"You can't hold it against them for wanting to repel the invaders," said Warrant Officer 2 Jason Mortimer, 37, manning a sandbag-lined bunker in the ruins of an old British fort here that comes under daily attack. Afghan fighters, he noted, sent the British "packing with a bloody nose" in three wars, starting in 1839.

Today, many British forces here sleep in dirt-floored and mice-infested outposts where they eat boiled rations as well as eggs, chicken and livestock they butcher. The troops are fighting hard but are hindered by insufficient helicopters, intelligence and surveillance equipment, and armored vehicles, officers say.

"Most British soldiers would say we're absolutely knackered out after this and Iraq," said Maj. Mark Milford, commander of Bravo Company, the main British force in Garmsir, which is far outnumbered by the Taliban.

Reinforcements are on the way. Beginning next month, Helmand will be a main destination for thousands of U.S. Marines dispatched to bolster the NATO effort in southern Afghanistan. But the Pentagon has stressed that the seven-month Marine deployment is an "extraordinary one-time" commitment, and British troops say it will not suffice to end the fighting in Helmand, where the population remains wary, local security is fledgling and the Taliban replaces its losses with recruits who pass freely over the Pakistani border about 75 miles to the south.

The shortage of ground troops has led to reliance on airstrikes and artillery barrages, complicating the goal of winning over civilians. Mortimer, who has been deployed to Iraq and Kosovo twice since 2000, sees political dialogue with the Taliban as the only way forward.

"This campaign will drag on and on until we sit down at a table with the Taliban," he said. Otherwise, "we'll drop 1,000-pound bombs and make martyrs of a generation of men in a part of the world that needs its healthy young men."

'If They Go, I Will Go'

During an operation this month to seize two hills -- both old British forts -- near Garmsir, Moran's platoon infiltrated the area in darkness, bridged a canal and, backed by a handful of armored vehicles, captured one hill. Across the Helmand River, another platoon established a foothold on the second hill. Engineers hastily built bunkers of sandbags and dirt-filled barriers atop both positions. "We've pushed out to the east to take on the Taliban in some of their forward positions," Moran said.

Taliban insurgents counterattacked with grenades, mortars, machine guns and a mine that disabled one British armored vehicle. But they were pushed back by an onslaught of British artillery, missile strikes by Predator drones, aerial strafing by A-10 fighters, and several 500- and 1,000-pound bombs dropped by U.S. jets.

After months of defending static positions, the three-day operation killed at least 42 Taliban insurgents, extended the British reach several hundred yards into Taliban terrain and succeeded in abating attacks, at least temporarily. Yet in Garmsir, some Afghan elders opposed the British effort to occupy the hill fort near their village, fearing it would draw fire upon their fields and homes.

"All you've done is bring fighting to the area," one village elder scolded, turning his back in a gesture of rudeness, recalled Capt. Andy Richards of Royal Regiment Scotland, who advises local police. "I told them we have to fight the Taliban somewhere, and unfortunately it is in their village," Richards said.

British troops had used culverts to fill in irrigation ditches crossing a dirt road leading past the village to the fort, so their armored vehicles could cross it. But farmers quickly dug the culverts out. "I don't know whether it's out of spite or they may have pinched the pipes," said Lt. Tom Perrott, 26, a troop commander for the King's Royal Hussars.

The continual fighting around Garmsir has impeded efforts to resettle and rebuild the area -- considered too dangerous for civilian aid workers -- and has badly damaged the local bazaar, hospital and other buildings, forcing residents to flee and leaving the district center a virtual ghost town.

In recent months, the sustained British presence has encouraged about 140 Afghans to move back into a relatively protected zone north of the main base. Unable to travel safely, the villagers survive by subsistence farming and selling chickens, goats and produce to the Nepalese Gurkha soldiers based here. But some villagers say they will stay only as long as the British troops remain. "If they go, I will go," said shop owner Abdul Rashid, 25.

Villagers said they fear the Taliban, but doubt that Afghan government forces are strong enough to secure the area. Their views mirrored a December BBC poll of residents of southern Afghanistan that showed perceptions of Taliban strength rising and confidence in the government falling.

Under the Taliban, the town's former agricultural college was used as a madrassa. Allah Dad, a village elder, fled when the Taliban moved in because they demanded that his five sons become fighters. Now back, he is afraid to speak to a reporter lest the Taliban notice and "punish" him, he said.

Local forces are in their infancy, British officers said. Afghan police here consist of a local militia that received two weeks of training, said Richards, the police adviser. Their chief, a charismatic landowner who bought them uniforms and supplies, was killed by a car bomb late last month. They lack body armor, a steady ammunition supply and heavy weapons, and so they are outgunned by the Taliban. Corruption is a temptation because they are paid only $70 to $100 a month. The coalition has moved too slowly to fund and train the police, and it will take "years before we see significant improvement," Richards said.

Afghan Border Police recently arrived in Garmsir, but only 60 men in the 330-strong force have had any training. The force suffers from illiteracy, drug abuse and a shortage of junior leaders. Helmand is a center of Afghanistan's burgeoning opium poppy production -- which helps fund the insurgency -- and poppy farms surround Garmsir. "We frequently believe they are high," said Capt. Spencer Giles, who mentors the sometimes giggly police and has found drug paraphernalia in their living areas and at checkpoints. The Taliban threat is so great that it is inconceivable to move the border police south of Garmsir. Sending them to the real border "would essentially be sending them to their death," Giles said.

'You Need More Troops'
Beyond Garmsir, Taliban fighters have established a stronghold that stretches for miles along the banks of the Helmand River. There, they live with their families and farm poppies and other crops in the broad strip of cultivated land known as the "green zone."

Farther south where the river bends to the west is in an area known as the "fishhook," a possible destination for Marines deploying to the province. The Marines will be headquartered in Kandahar but will operate as needed across the south and possibly in one western province, U.S. officials said.

"To have an effect further south, you need more troops," Milford said. By keeping his force occupied, he said, the Taliban "have free rein up east to Lash [Helmand's capital, Lashkar Gar] and the rest of Afghanistan, and similarly on the west, and there is absolutely nothing we can do about it."

But Gen. Dan K. McNeill, commander of the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force, is adamant that the Marines are not "the cavalry" coming to the rescue of British, Dutch, Canadian and other allied forces in southern Afghanistan. The British force in Helmand is expected to grow by the equivalent of another battalion this summer and has gained ground in parts of northern Helmand.

British soldiers said that the Marines will help block the flow of fighters from Pakistan and shrink the Taliban sanctuary, but that more resources are needed to defeat the insurgency. "It's not going to end the war in Helmand, but it will go a long ways towards it, hopefully," Moran said.
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AFGHANISTAN: Tackling rising drug addiction in Parwan Province
30 Mar 2008 10:30:21 GMT
CHARIKAR, 30 March 2008 (IRIN) - Sitting on his bed in a room with four others at a drug rehabilitation centre in Charikar, capital of Parwan Province, northern Afghanistan, 18-year-old Kharun tells how he got addicted to drugs:

"I started three years ago. One of my neighbours introduced me to opium; he smoked it and so did I. At that time I did not know that that was opium. I was a daily labourer and every evening I felt very tired… my back and arms were aching. The guy said it would help to relieve the pain and tiredness, that's how I got addicted," Kharun said.

He has been receiving treatment at the centre run by the Afghan Red Crescent Society (ARCS) in a bid to quit his addiction and had been off the drugs for 10 days.

Another addict in his forties, Mohammad Musa, told a similar story. "When I was living in Iran…I used to feel exhausted after a hard day's work, so that's how it started," he said, adding that his first encounter with the drug was 12 years ago in Isfahan (Iran) where he fled to escape the conflict in Afghanistan.

Mohammed returned to his native town of Charikar in 2004, but could not get rid of his habit.

Growing problem

Mohammad Yusuf, a doctor at the rehabilitation centre, said drug addiction was increasing in Parwan Province by the day.

"There are about 600 registered drug addicts in the province, but the real figure could be up to 5,000. Over the past year, 300 patients alone have been treated at our centre," Yusuf said.

Zahidullah Mojadedi, head of publications for ARCS in Parwan, agreed: "It [drug addiction] is a big problem here in Parwan. The number is growing every year," he said.

Yusuf said most addicts they treated had picked up the habit in Iran or Pakistan where they were refugees.

"One of the major factors contributing to increasing drug addiction is unemployment. Also, heroin is easily available in the bazaar and it is cheap - one dose costs 25 Afghanis [about 50 US cents]," he said.

Both Yusuf and Mojadedi cited lack of awareness of the risks of using opium or heroin. "We do awareness raising and local campaigns, but it is not enough. We need more awareness raising efforts, particularly at the national level involving all mass media," they said.

An average drug addict spends about 100 Afghanis (about US$2) per day, which works out at more than an average monthly salary in the province, ARCS officials said, noting that it had a serious economic impact on the families of addicts, draining them of resources. "Instead of buying food, clothes and other basic necessities for their families, addicts spend money on opium or heroin," they said.

Huge production

Experts say that increasing opium production is leading to increasing drug addiction. Afghanistan is the top producer of illicit opiates, including heroin, in the world, according to the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC).

In 2007 Afghanistan produced 8,200 tonnes of opium (34 percent more than in 2006), becoming by far the biggest supplier of the world's deadliest drug (93 percent of the global opiates' market), according to UNODC's Afghanistan Opium Survey 2007 [http://www.unodc.org/pdf/research/AFG07_ExSum_web.pdf].

UNODC said in its annual report [http://www.unodc.org/documents/about-unodc/AR08_WEB.pdf] in March 2008 that drug abuse had risen rapidly in Afghanistan among both adults and children.

According to the Afghanistan Drug Use Survey [http://www.unodc.org/pdf/afg/publications/afghanistan_drug_use_survey_2005.pdf] conducted by UNODC in 2005, the estimated number of drug users was about 920,000, including about 60,000 children
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The Opium Brides of Afghanistan
In the country's poppy-growing provinces, farmers are being forced to sell their daughters to pay loans.
Sami Yousafzai and Ron Moreau NEWSWEEK April 7, 2008 Issue
Khalida's father says she's 9—or maybe 10. As much as Sayed Shah loves his 10 children, the functionally illiterate Afghan farmer can't keep track of all their birth dates. Khalida huddles at his side, trying to hide beneath her chador and headscarf. They both know the family can't keep her much longer. Khalida's father has spent much of his life raising opium, as men like him have been doing for decades in the stony hillsides of eastern Afghanistan and on the dusty southern plains. It's the only reliable cash crop most of those farmers ever had. Even so, Shah and his family barely got by: traffickers may prosper, but poor farmers like him only subsist. Now he's losing far more than money. "I never imagined I'd have to pay for growing opium by giving up my daughter," says Shah.

The family's heartbreak began when Shah borrowed $2,000 from a local trafficker, promising to repay the loan with 24 kilos of opium at harvest time. Late last spring, just before harvest, a government crop-eradication team appeared at the family's little plot of land in Laghman province and destroyed Shah's entire two and a half acres of poppies. Unable to meet his debt, Shah fled with his family to Jalalabad, the capital of neighboring Nangarhar province. The trafficker found them anyway and demanded his opium. So Shah took his case before a tribal council in Laghman and begged for leniency. Instead, the elders unanimously ruled that Shah would have to reimburse the trafficker by giving Khalida to him in marriage. Now the family can only wait for the 45-year-old drugrunner to come back for his prize. Khalida wanted to be a teacher someday, but that has become impossible. "It's my fate," the child says.

Afghans disparagingly call them "loan brides"—daughters given in marriage by fathers who have no other way out of debt. The practice began with the dowry a bridegroom's family traditionally pays to the bride's father in tribal Pashtun society. These days the amount ranges from $3,000 or so in poorer places like Laghman and Nangarhar to $8,000 or more in Helmand, Afghanistan's No. 1 opium-growing province. For a desperate farmer, that bride price can be salvation—but at a cruel cost. Among the Pashtun, debt marriage puts a lasting stain on the honor of the bride and her family. It brings shame on the country, too. President Hamid Karzai recently told the nation: "I call on the people [not to] give their daughters for money; they shouldn't give them to old men, and they shouldn't give them in forced marriages."

All the same, local farmers say a man can get killed for failing to repay a loan. No one knows how many debt weddings take place in Afghanistan, where 93 percent of the world's heroin and other opiates originate. But Afghans say the number of loan brides keeps rising as poppy-eradication efforts push more farmers into default. "This will be our darkest year since 2000," says Baz Mohammad, 65, a white-bearded former opium farmer in Nangarhar. "Even more daughters will be sold this year." The old man lives with the anguish of selling his own 13-year-old daughter in 2000, after Taliban leader Mullah Mohammed Omar banned poppy growing. "Lenders never show any mercy," the old man says. Local farmers say more than one debtor has been bound hand and foot, then locked into a small windowless room with a smoldering fire, slowly choking to death.

While law enforcers predict yet another record opium harvest in Afghanistan this spring, most farmers are struggling to survive. An estimated 500,000 Afghan families support themselves by raising poppies, according to the U.N. Office on Drugs and Crime. Last year those growers received an estimated $1 billion for their crops—about $2,000 per household. With at least six members in the average family, opium growers' per capita income is roughly $300. The real profits go to the traffickers, their Taliban allies and the crooked officials who help them operate. The country's well-oiled narcotics machine generates in excess of $4 billion a year from exports of processed opium and heroin—more than half of Afghanistan's $7.5 billion GDP, according to the UNODC.

Efforts to promote other crops have failed. Wheat or corn brings $250 an acre at best, while poppy growers can expect 10 times that much. Besides, poppies are more dependable: hardier than either wheat or corn and more tolerant of drought and extreme heat and cold. And in a country with practically no government-funded credit for small farmers, opium growers can easily get advances on their crops. The borrower merely agrees to repay the cash with so many kilos of opium, at a price stipulated by the lender—often 40 percent or more below market value. Islam forbids charging interest on a loan, but moneylenders in poppy country elude the ban by packaging the deal as a crop-futures transaction—and never mind that the rate of return is tantamount to usury.

Opium is thriving in the south, particularly the provinces of Helmand and Nimruz, where Taliban fighters keep government eradication teams at bay. But times are perilously hard for farmers in other places like Nangarhar, a longtime poppy-growing province on the mountainous Pakistani border. Mohammad Zahir Khan, a Nangarhar sharecropper in his late 40s, borrowed $850 against last spring's harvest, promising 10 kilos of opium to the lender—about $1,250 on the local market. The cash bought food and other necessities for his family and allowed him to get seed, fertilizer and help tending his three sharecropped acres. In the spring he collected 45 kilos of raw opium paste, half of which went immediately to the landowner.

But before Khan could repay the loan, his wife fell seriously ill with a kidney ailment. She needed better medical care than Nangarhar could offer, so he rushed her across the Pakistani border to a private hospital in Peshawar. It cost almost every cent they had, and Khan knew his opium debt would only grow. Worse, the provincial governor, a former warlord named Gul Agha Sherzai, chose that moment to declare his own war on drugs, jailing hundreds of local farmers who were caught planting opium. Nangarhar had 45,000 acres in poppies a year ago; today drug experts say the province is totally clean.

Late last year Khan reluctantly gave his 16-year-old daughter, Gul Ghoti, in marriage to the lender's 15-year-old son. Besides forgiving Khan's debt, the creditor gave him a $1,500 cash dowry. Khan calls him an honorable man. "Until the end of my life I will feel shame because of what I did to my daughter," Khan says. "I still can't look her in the eye." But at least she was old enough to marry, he adds. He claims one local farmer recently had to promise the hand of his 2-month-old daughter to free his family from an opium debt. Khan is raising wheat this year. He doubts it will support his family, and he worries that eventually one of his two younger daughters will become a loan bride. Neither of them is yet in her teens.

Eradication efforts aren't the only thing pushing opium marriages. Poppy acreage is expanding in Helmand province, but loan brides are common there, too, says Bashir Ahmad Nadim, a local journalist. He says moneylenders in Helmand are always looking for "opium flowers"— marriageable daughters ready for plucking if crop failure or family emergency forces a borrower into default. In the south's drug-fueled economy, fathers of opium brides often get hefty cash bonuses on top of having their debts forgiven.

But in Nangarhar, even former lenders are feeling the pinch. Enaghul, 40, used to be a relatively prosperous poppy farmer. Today he has little to show for his past wealth aside from his 17-year-old daughter-in-law, Shaukina, and a 2-month-old grandson. "She is pretty and works hard in the fields," Enaghul says, still happy to have won her for his son. Four years ago he gave Shaukina's father a loan in return for a promise of 30 kilos of opium, never imagining that both their fields would be eradicated before harvest. That's how Enaghul's son married Shaukina. But with the opium ban, Enaghul says his family is barely surviving. They make less than $2 a day growing tomatoes and potatoes. Enaghul casts an appraising eye on his youngest daughter, Sharifa, 5, as she runs after a goat in the courtyard of their mud-and-brick home. "I think she would fetch between $500 and $600," he says. With luck, he says, he might be able to postpone the wedding five or six years.

Some Western officials promise the hard times won't last much longer. Loren Stoddard, Afghanistan director for the U.S. Agency for International Development, says crop-substitution programs are already yielding results. As many as 40,000 farming families in Nangarhar are receiving some kind of compensation for the loss of opium revenues, he says, and USAID has financed the planting of 1.3 million fruit, nut and other trees in the province since 2006, with plans for an additional 300,000 this year. There's even a new mill producing 30 tons of chicken feed a day. "Good things are happening here," Stoddard says. "I think Nangarhar will take off in the next two years."

Many farmers doubt they can hold out that long. Kachkol Khan looks around his single acre of wheat in Pa Khel village and asks how he will feed his family of seven. "What we earn from this wheat won't feed us for one month," he says. Six months ago he gave the hand of his 13-year-old daughter, Bibi Gula, to settle an opium debt of $700, with roughly $1,500 cash thrown in. That's what they're living on now. At least his creditor agreed to let Gula stay home until she turns 15. "I'm not happy with what I did," Khan says. "Every daughter has ambitions to marry with dignity. I fear she'll be treated as a second-class wife and as a maid." Even worse is his worry that the same future may await his two younger daughters, 11 and 10.

Angiza Afridi, 28, has spent much of the past year interviewing more than 100 families about opium weddings in two of Nangarhar's 22 districts. The schoolteacher and local TV reporter already had firsthand knowledge of the tragedy. Five years ago one of her younger aunts, then 16, was forced to marry a 55-year-old man to pay off an older uncle's opium debt, and three years ago an 8-year-old cousin was also given in marriage to make good on a drug loan. "This practice of marrying daughters to cover debts is becoming a bad habit," says Afridi.

Even so, the results of her survey shocked her. In the two districts she studied, approximately half the new brides had been given in marriage to repay opium debts. The new brides included children as young as 5 years old; until they're old enough to consummate their marriages, they mostly work as household servants for their in-laws. "These poor girls have no future," she says. The worst of it may be the suicides. Afridi learned of one 15-year-old opium bride who poisoned herself on her wedding day late last year and an 11-year-old who took a fatal dose of opium around the same time. Her new in-laws were refusing to let her visit her parents.

Gul Ghoti is on her first visit home since her wedding six months ago. She says it's a relief to be back with her father and mother in their two-room mud-and-brick house, if only temporarily. "My heart is still with my parents, brothers and sisters," she says. "Only my body is with my husband's family." She says she personally knows of two opium brides who killed themselves. "One of the girls had been badly beaten by her husband's brother, the other by her husband," she says. Ghoti says she's considered suicide, too, but Islam stopped her. "I pray that God doesn't give me a daughter if she ends up like me."
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Hijacked Friendship bus freed
By Ibrahim Shinwari Dawn (Pakistan)
LANDI KOTAL, March 29: A group of Sultankhel tribesmen on Saturday hijacked a Jalalabad-bound bus with 47 passengers on board for a second time in three days to press the Afghan government to release their seven fellow tribesmen.

The Pakistan-Afghan Friendship bus was later released by the hijackers after intervention by officials of the political administration and Zakhakhel elders.

Forty-seven passengers, including 12 women and children, were held captive for nearly three hours. Afghan officials in the Nangarhar province had arrested seven Sultankhel tribesmen a month and a half ago.

The tribesmen were recruited by a private transporting firm for providing security to containers transporting aid and relief goods to the Afghan government and Allied forces.

The issue of the arrested tribesmen surfaced on Wednesday when another bus was hijacked.

The local administration had then directed the Fauji Transport company to secure the release of arrested tribesmen as they were recruited by them.

However, the firm failed to secure the release in the stipulated three days’ time and the tribesmen hijacked another bus.

The Ittehad Transport Company, which operates the friendship bus, accused the local political administration of failure to provide security to the service.

ITC manager Mohammad Nasir said the local administration had also failed to take action against the tribesmen involved in two incidents of taking innocent passengers as hostage. He said that such incidents would jeopardize the already fragile relationship between Pakistan and Afghanistan.

Meanwhile, it was learnt from official quarters that the local administration is contemplating a crackdown against the Sultankhel tribesmen. “We are awaiting a go-ahead order from high-ups,” said an official of the political administration. The official said that they were also in touch with Afghan Consulate officials in Peshawar regarding the release of Sultankhel tribesmen.
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Bush will not demand Germany send troops to Afghan south: report
BERLIN (AFP) — US President George W. Bush will not demand Germany boost its NATO troop numbers in Afghanistan with deployments in the south, he said in a German newspaper interview partly released Saturday.

The interview with Die Welt comes ahead of a NATO summit in Bucharest next week where Germany is expected to come under pressure from other NATO allies to increase its commitments in Afghanistan.

In it Bush is asked if Washington expects Berlin to boost its presence in Afghanistan by deploying troops to the south, which has seen more fighting than the more peaceful north.

"No, I want our partners to decide how much they can take on. I want Chancellor Merkel to be able to be satisfied with the outcome," the president replied.

"In other words, I don't want other states to do anything they don't feel able to do politically," he told the paper, in an interview which will be published in full on Monday.

And pressed on whether there would be a possible ultimatum from Washington to Berlin on the issue, he said: "No, there won't be one."

Public opinion in Germany is strongly against deployments in the battle-torn south. Twenty-five German soldiers have already died in Afghanistan since 2001.

The government has so far rejected pressure from other NATO countries, notably Canada, to send more troops.

The German media reported in January that the country's defence minister, Franz Josef Jung, had received an "unusually harsh" letter from his US opposite number, Robert Gates, pushing Germany to send troops to southern Afghanistan.

Around 3,200 German troops are currently stationed in Afghanistan, around Kabul and in the north, as part of NATO's International Security and Assistance Force.
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Pakistan militants welcome talks with new government
Reuters via International Herald Tribune, France Sunday, March 30, 2008
INAYAT KALLAY, Pakistan: The Pakistani Taliban welcomed the new government's readiness to negotiate an end to a spreading conflict in Pakistan on Sunday, but they vowed to carry on fighting U.S. forces in neighboring Afghanistan.

"We're ready for talks and to extend all kinds of cooperation to the government in order to bring peace in the tribal areas," Maulvi Omar, a spokesman for the Tehrik-e-Taliban, said.

"But our fight against American and other foreign forces in Afghanistan would continue," said Omar, who was attending a gathering a several thousand tribesmen in Inayat Kallay.

Muslim clerics and militant leaders, guarded by several hundred armed fighters, delivered speeches in a field near the main bazaar while chants of "Long Live Osama" and "Long Live Omar" rang out.

Al Qaeda's leader, Osama bin Laden, and the Afghan Taliban chief, Mullah Mohammad Omar, are lionized as champions of Islam in many parts of the Pashtun tribal belt, a border region covering Pakistan and Afghanistan that the United States regards as a crucible for Islamist militancy.

After winning a vote of confidence in the National Assembly on Saturday, Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani said his government would talk to anyone ready to lay down arms to resolve problems afflicting the tribal areas. Gilani was sworn in last Monday, and there is speculation that President Pervez Musharraf, a U.S. ally who came to power as a general in a 1999 coup, could be forced to quit within months.

A wave of violence, including scores of suicide attacks unleashed over the past nine months, has been largely blamed on Qaeda-inspired militant groups operating from areas including Waziristan and Bajaur, where Inayat Kallay is situated. Nearly 600 people have been killed in the past three months alone, as the militants intensified a campaign to destabilize the Musharraf government.

Maulvi Omar, whose Tehrik-e-Taliban is an umbrella organization for militant groups based in Pakistani tribal areas, said talks could be possible if Musharraf's policies were ditched.

In his first major policy speech since his swearing-in, Gilani said Saturday that increasing government services in the border region could lure tribesmen away from extremism.

"Our tribal areas have long suffered from backwardness," said Gilani, a loyalist of Benazir Bhutto, the assassinated former prime minister. "There is a dire need for comprehensive economic, social and political reforms, because poverty and illiteracy is promoting terrorism."

He promised to abolish criminal codes that date back to British colonial rule and tighten regulation over religious schools, some of which are considered breeding grounds for militants.

"Controlling these social ills will be a key pillar in our strategy in the war against terrorism," Gilani said. "The war against terrorism is our own war.
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