Serving you since 1998
March 2008 :   2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 29 30 31

March 4, 2008 

Kabul hotel attack mastermind in Pakistan: intelligence chief
KABUL (AFP) — Investigations into a January attack that killed eight people at Kabul's top luxury hotel are deadlocked with the mastermind traced to Pakistan, Afghanistan's intelligence chief said Monday.

Suicide car bomb kills Afghan policeman
Tue Mar 4, 9:25 AM ET
KHOST, Afghanistan (Reuters) - A suicide car bomber killed an Afghan policeman and wounded four others in an attack on a government building in the southeastern province of Khost on Tuesday, the district governor said.

Police foil two roadside bombing attacks in E Afghanistan
People's Daily - Mar 03 11:59 PM
Police on Monday discovered and destroyed some mines separately planted in two districts of eastern Afghan province of Paktia, said a statement of Interior Ministry of Afghanistan released here on Tuesday.

Afghan lawmakers protest Danish prophet cartoon, Dutch film criticizing Quran
By RAHIM FAIEZ,Associated Press Writer AP - Wednesday, March 5
KABUL, Afghanistan - More than 200 lawmakers shouted "Death to the enemies of Islam" during an angry demonstration outside the Afghan parliament protesting the reprinting of cartoons of Prophet Muhammad in Denmark

A Surge To Help Afghanistan
By Joe Lieberman Tuesday, March 4, 2008; Washington Post, United States A19
In the run-up to the NATO summit in Bucharest next month, the Bush administration has launched an intensive diplomatic campaign to persuade our European allies to send additional combat troops to southern Afghanistan

Vote on Afghanistan motion set for March 13
Mon. Mar. 3 2008 6:51 PM ET CTV.ca News Staff
The Conservative government wants to see a vote on extending the Afghanistan mission happen one week from Thursday.

Canada learning hard lessons in aid to Afghanistan: senior aid official
The Canadian Press
KANDAHAR, Afghanistan — Reconstructing Afghanistan is not going exactly as everyone had hoped, a senior Canadian aid official admits.

Dutch minister flies in for Afghan talks
Patrick Walters, National security editor | March 05, 2008
THE Dutch Defence Minister will fly to Canberra next week to discuss the future of military operations in Afghanistan with his Australian counterpart, Joel Fitzgibbon.

Comment: Afghan effort gets much-needed help
Matthew Fisher, Canwest News Service Monday, March 03, 2008
AT KANDAHAR AIRFIELD -- Whether Canada, the United States, Britain and the Netherlands are getting the combat help they require from their NATO cousins to confront the Taliban in southern Afghanistan is a delicate

Iran says it will deport over one million Afghans
KABUL , 4 March 2008 (IRIN) - All Afghan citizens in Iran without valid refugee documents will be deported, Seyyed Taghi Ghaemi, director of the Iranian bureau for aliens and foreign immigrants, told reporters at the end

AFGHANISTAN: Unable To Cope With Returning Refugees
By Anand Gopal
KABUL, Mar 4 (IPS) - The rate of return of refugees to Afghanistan from neighbouring countries is causing tremendous stress to the Afghan government and society, government officials here say.

Rome-based group says it's mindful of finances in training Afghan jurists
The Canadian Press
ROME — An international organization helping to revamp Afghanistan's justice system says a news story citing one of its representatives in Kabul does not accurately reflect the work of the group.

Mobile phone mast attacks could jeopardise aid deliveries
KABUL, 3 March 2008 (IRIN) - A blackout of mobile phone services, particularly during the night, in parts of southern Afghanistan has created serious problems for local people and raised concerns about humanitarian and development activities.

Japan gives UNESCO $13 million for Afghan literacy initiative
Online - International News Network, Pakistan
KABUL: UNESCOs Literacy Initiative for Empowerment (LIFE) in Afghanistan would receive a grant of $13 million from the government of Japan, the UN agency announced.

Trial of B.C. man in Afghan singer's death begins Monday
Tuesday, March 4, 2008 | 12:04 AM ET CBC News
A Burnaby, B.C., man's trial for manslaughter in connection with the death of an internationally acclaimed Afghan singer three years ago started on Monday.

Back to Top
Kabul hotel attack mastermind in Pakistan: intelligence chief
KABUL (AFP) — Investigations into a January attack that killed eight people at Kabul's top luxury hotel are deadlocked with the mastermind traced to Pakistan, Afghanistan's intelligence chief said Monday.

The Afghan National Directorate of Security has appealed for help from Pakistan to find the militant, who is from the extremist Taliban movement, NDS chief Amrullah Saleh told reporters.

The attack -- one of the most sophisticated of an insurgency by the Taliban movement, which was in government between 1996 and 2001 -- left three foreign nationals and five Afghans dead, and several more people wounded.

Saleh said that all members of the "terrorist group" involved in the attack who were inside Afghanistan had been arrested.

"Our further investigations have come to a deadlock now since the man who planned the attack is in Pakistan," he said.

"We have given his (telephone) number and latest calls to Pakistani authorities and we hope they act on them. So far we have not heard from them," Saleh said.

The intelligence chief announced soon after the strike that four men were picked up for links to the blast, including one who was meant to carry out a suicide bombing inside the grounds of the five-star Kabul Serena but did not.

The attackers were disguised as policemen and stormed the compound, throwing out hand grenades and spraying bullets. There were also two suicide blasts.

Taliban militants claimed responsibility for the attack, one of the most brazen assaults on foreign civilians in the capital since a US-led invasion ousted the Taliban regime in 2001.

The rebel group warned it would also strike restaurants popular with Westerners. Most have redoubled security and many are now no-go areas for foreign nationals.

Saleh said the man who funded the attack was in a third country, which he did not identify.

Afghanistan officials have repeatedly accused Islamabad of not cooperating in efforts to round up Taliban on Pakistan soil. Pakistan says it is doing what it can and has picked up some top militants.

Saleh said a man involved in a November suicide attack that killed nearly 80 people in the northern province of Baghlan was also believed to be in Pakistan.

The deadliest militant attack in post-Taliban Afghanistan killed more than 100 people at a dog-fighting match near the southern city of Kandahar mid-February.

Saleh said investigations showed some of the dead were shot by guards and not killed by the bomb. He could not give a breakdown.
Back to Top

Back to Top
Suicide car bomb kills Afghan policeman
Tue Mar 4, 9:25 AM ET
KHOST, Afghanistan (Reuters) - A suicide car bomber killed an Afghan policeman and wounded four others in an attack on a government building in the southeastern province of Khost on Tuesday, the district governor said.

The attack in the Tani district of Khost, close to the Pakistan border, came a day after Taliban insurgents opened fire on guards on a joint NATO and Afghan military compound in another part of the same province then rammed a truck bomb into the base.

The NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) said on Tuesday two of its soldiers were killed and 15 people were wounded in Monday's attack in the district of Sabri.

The vast majority of ISAF troops in Khost are American.

The Taliban carried out more suicide and roadside bomb attacks in Afghanistan last year after suffering heavy casualties whenever they engage Afghan and foreign troops in direct combat.

As snows melt across the mountainous country, both sides in the conflict are gearing up for the traditional Spring start of the fighting season.

(Reporting by Elyas Wahdat; Writing by Jon Hemming; Editing by David Fogarty)
Back to Top

Back to Top
Police foil two roadside bombing attacks in E Afghanistan
People's Daily - Mar 03 11:59 PM
Police on Monday discovered and destroyed some mines separately planted in two districts of eastern Afghan province of Paktia, said a statement of Interior Ministry of Afghanistan released here on Tuesday.
The statement said those mines were supposed to be set up by the "enemy of peace and stability," which usually hints to Talibanin surgents, for launching terrorist attacks on Afghan and foreign troops.

Conflicts and Taliban-related insurgency left more than 6,000 people dead in 2007.
Source: Xinhua
Back to Top

Back to Top
Afghan lawmakers protest Danish prophet cartoon, Dutch film criticizing Quran
By RAHIM FAIEZ,Associated Press Writer AP - Wednesday, March 5
KABUL, Afghanistan - More than 200 lawmakers shouted "Death to the enemies of Islam" during an angry demonstration outside the Afghan parliament protesting the reprinting of cartoons of Prophet Muhammad in Denmark and an upcoming Dutch film criticizing the Quran.

The lawmakers from the upper and lower houses of parliament chanted and pounded their fists in the air, urging the Danish and Dutch governments to prevent blasphemy against Islam.

"We want the world community, the U.N. and the Organization of the Islamic Conference to react against these kinds of activities, and not allow any countries to cause such confrontations and dangerous challenges among Muslim communities," lawmaker Mohammad Saleh Suljoqi read from a statement.

Last month in a gesture of solidarity, Denmark's leading newspapers reproduced cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad after Danish police said they had uncovered a plot to kill the artist whose drawings sparked deadly riots across the Muslim world in 2006.

The reprinting triggered another wave of protests in Islamic countries in recent weeks.

The Afghan lawmakers were also angered by an upcoming short film by a Dutch lawmaker that reportedly portrays the Quran as a "fascist book."

They demanded that the Afghan Foreign Ministry summon envoys from Denmark and the Netherlands to discuss the matter. They also urged the Danish and Dutch governments to prevent such acts in their countries.

On Monday, Afghan Foreign Minister Rangin Dadfar Spanta told reporters during a visit to Denmark that he respected differences in cultures, but suggested Danish newspapers abused freedom of expression when they reprinted the cartoons three weeks ago.

Spanta said freedom of speech should be used to promote "equality and peace between nations" and to exchange information.

"Freedom of speech must not be used to make a billion Muslims cry," he said.

Afghanistan is a Muslim nation where criticism of Muhammad and the Quran is a serious crime that carries the death sentence.

Tuesday's protest followed a large demonstration Sunday in the northern city of Mazar-i-Sharif in which clerics and Islamic students burned the Danish and Dutch flags and demanded that the government shut the two countries' embassies in Kabul.
Back to Top

Back to Top
A Surge To Help Afghanistan
By Joe Lieberman Tuesday, March 4, 2008; Washington Post, United States A19
In the run-up to the NATO summit in Bucharest next month, the Bush administration has launched an intensive diplomatic campaign to persuade our European allies to send additional combat troops to southern Afghanistan, where the Atlantic alliance has been struggling against a resurgent Taliban.

Persuading our reluctant partners to increase their commitments in Afghanistan is important -- both for the sake of the war effort and for the viability of NATO itself.

Yet the April summit also provides an opportunity for the administration to bolster another critical ally that can provide the troops needed to prevail against the Taliban: the armed forces of Afghanistan.

The Afghan National Army is one of the great success stories of the war on terrorism: a genuinely multiethnic, increasingly capable professional military force, built from scratch under American tutelage since 2002. According to nationwide surveys, it is the most trusted of Afghanistan's fledgling national institutions, commanding the confidence of upwards of 90 percent of Afghans.

The biggest problem with the Afghan army is that it is too small, with a targeted end strength of only 80,000 troops. By contrast, the projected end strength of the Iraqi army is over 200,000 -- even though Afghanistan is nearly 50 percent bigger in territory than Iraq and has a larger population.

Privately, many U.S. officials concede that the Afghan army has nowhere near the necessary numbers to secure its country against an increasingly sophisticated insurgency. The NATO summit is an opportune moment for the United States to commit to expanding its ranks, and in a big way.

I hope that President Bush will pledge to support an expansion in the end strength of the Afghan army, ideally as high as 200,000 soldiers -- a bold, new American commitment to Afghanistan to reverse its slide toward insecurity and to reinforce our allies there.

The leading argument against a bigger army is cost. Some insist that Afghanistan, one of the world's poorest countries, cannot afford such a large army on its own and that the army must be kept small for "sustainability." This argument is badly flawed.

The fact is, the United States spends billions of dollars subsidizing the militaries of allies around the world, including many far less strategically important than Afghanistan. Afghan troops are fighting on the front lines against America's mortal enemies. Whatever the cost of ensuring that our Afghan allies have the numbers and means to prevail, the cost of their defeat by the Taliban would be infinitely greater.

The costs of a bigger Afghan army should not be borne by American taxpayers alone. Rather, our government should take the lead in establishing an international trust fund to provide long-term financing for the Afghan army. It should also offer our allies -- some of whose domestic politics constrain their ability to match America soldier-for-soldier in Afghanistan -- the option to make up the gap by funding an equivalent share of the army instead.

Securing Afghanistan with indigenous forces is ultimately less expensive than doing so with foreign troops. For the cost of a single coalition soldier in Afghanistan, we can support 60 to 70 Afghans in uniform.

The other, more challenging obstacle to expansion is the shortage of coalition forces to train and mentor Afghan troops.

But this is not an insuperable problem. The coalition could begin to experiment with thinning its presence inside more battle-hardened Afghan units, which in turn could be partnered with American combat units, as is already done in Iraq. NATO members could also aid this effort by dropping the national caveats that limit the effectiveness of their own embedded trainers inside the Afghan force.

Defeating the Taliban -- much less building a successful Afghanistan -- will of course require more than a bigger Afghan army. First and foremost, we need to apply the same basic counterinsurgency principles in southern Afghanistan that have brought so much success in Iraq over the past year -- beginning with an integrated, civil-military campaign plan that prioritizes the basic security of the Afghan people.

As Iraq has also demonstrated, however, this is an inherently manpower-intensive mission. In the short term, increasing the number of coalition troops in Afghanistan can help, but long-term success depends on the emergence of a large number of well-equipped, effective Afghan troops.

The United States has already laid the foundation of the indigenous force that can shoulder this fight. What the Afghan army needs now is a surge in support from Washington -- a cause that both Democrats and Republicans, united in their desire for victory in Afghanistan, should back.

The Bush administration has an opportunity in Bucharest to provide our allies in Kabul with the military means to prevail in our shared struggle against the forces of extremism and terrorism. It should seize it -- and members of both parties in Congress should support it.

The writer is an independent Democratic senator from Connecticut.
Back to Top

Back to Top
Vote on Afghanistan motion set for March 13
Mon. Mar. 3 2008 6:51 PM ET CTV.ca News Staff
The Conservative government wants to see a vote on extending the Afghanistan mission happen one week from Thursday.

CTV's Graham Richardson told Canada AM that a government source told him the debate will end by March 13, with a vote happening that day.

The motion calls for Canada's mission in Afghanistan to continue until July 2011, contingent on NATO supplying another 1,000 troops plus some equipment like helicopters to help Canada in Kandahar province.

Richardson said one unresolved issue for the Liberals is whether the 1,000 troops will replace the Canadian battle group, freeing those troops up to do other work.

There are a total of 2,500 Canadian troops in Kandahar province. A Canadian soldier died in a roadside bomb blast on Sunday, the 79th to die in Afghanistan since 2002.

Richardson noted the differences between the Conservatives and Liberals on extending the mission have largely been smoothed over. The motion, for example, provides for a firm end date.

The Liberals have suggested they will support the motion if the government answers a few questions.

However, the NDP and Bloc Quebecois are likely to oppose the motion.

The Liberals want Canadian soldiers to focus more on reconstruction and training the Afghan army rather than engage the Taliban in combat.

Last week, Defence Minister Peter MacKay said there will be times after February 2009 -- the current scheduled end date to the mission -- that Canadian troops will have to be involved in combat.

Finding the additional 1,000 troops -- a key recommendation of the Manley panel on the mission's future -- has been problematic. Very few NATO countries have expressing willingness to send troops to Kandahar, possibly the most violent province in Afghanistan.

U.S. President George Bush signalled last week that he might provide the extra troops.

The U.S. will be also sending 3,200 Marines to southern Afghanistan for a seven-month tour starting this April.

At a weekend news conference at his ranch in Crawford, Texas, Bush said he would be pushing NATO countries to contribute more when a key meeting is held in Bucharest, Romania next month.

"As you know, my administration has made it abundantly clear, we expect people to ... carry a heavy burden if they're going to be in Afghanistan. In other words, (Defense) Secretary (Robert) Gates said, 'look, if we're going to fight as an alliance, let's fight as an alliance'," Bush said.

"Having said that, I understand there's certain political constraints on certain countries. ... I am going to go to Bucharest with the notion that we're thankful for the contributions being made, and encourage people to contribute more. ... We are trying to help Canada realize her goal of 1,000 additional fighters in the southern part of the country, as is Anders working toward that."

Bush was referring to Denmark's Prime Minister Anders Rasmussen, who was visiting the ranch. Denmark has 550 troops serving in Afghanistan.
Back to Top

Back to Top
Canada learning hard lessons in aid to Afghanistan: senior aid official
The Canadian Press
KANDAHAR, Afghanistan — Reconstructing Afghanistan is not going exactly as everyone had hoped, a senior Canadian aid official admits.

It's not just the lack of security that poses a problem but the challenge of figuring out what actually works on the ground, said Stephen Wallace, vice-president of the Afghanistan Task Force of the Canadian International Development Agency.

In an exclusive interview Monday with The Canadian Press, Wallace said Canada is learning hard lessons about how to allocate aid funding to rebuild the war-torn country.

"When you do 50 different programs in the country as Canada does, some work really well and some don't work so well," Wallace said in a telephone interview from his Gatineau headquarters.

"What do you do about it? From our standpoint, we will stop and have stopped the stuff that hasn't worked very well and we take the money into the stuff that can scale up and do more."

Canada is spending more than $100 million a year through 2011 on development in Afghanistan.

About 65 per cent of the amount is funnelled through trust funds administered by international agencies that finance the work of the Afghan government in reconstruction.

The rest is spent through non-governmental organizations on projects like basic humanitarian relief or skills training.

Over the last few years, Wallace said, CIDA has learned that it's impossible to do any aid work in the country without the implicit support of the community.

"Unless you are prepared to use the Afghan system to respond to the needs of the Afghan people, you will often fail," he said.

"And you certainly will not be able to sustain what is succeeding."

What Wallace said has been working for development in Afghanistan is the National Solidarity Program, which creates community councils in districts across Afghanistan who then determine what their own development needs.

The CDCs, as they are called, apply for funding to finance the projects but must also contribute either money or labour.

More than 600 projects, mostly infrastructure items like bridges and wells, have been completed in Kandahar this year alone, few coming under any attack from insurgent forces.

Another major success for CIDA has been a micro-finance program which gives small loans to individuals to start businesses.

Many of the participants have been women and the loan repayment rate is 95 per cent.

But what CIDA has learned from that program is that giving micro-loans can only go so far.

"If you just thought you could do it and it would work always and everywhere you would be completely wrong and unrealistic about it," he said.

"You have to go from this notion of providing microfinance to providing small business services. What is a business plan, what is a market, how do you develop."

So CIDA is now funding the Canadian NGO Mennonite Economic Development Associates to help train loan recipients on business development skills.

Wallace said where CIDA is hitting walls in getting the Afghan government up to speed in being able to help sustain the projects being built with international aid money.

An example is the cost of salaries for teachers and doctors.

Most communities want health clinics or schools, Wallace said, but the government isn't yet able to handle the demands those place on the system.

"We would have liked to have seen faster progress on that," he said.

"In particular, security costs were much greater than we thought three or four years ago."

The international community's approach to aid in Afghanistan is centred around the Afghanistan Compact, a series of development benchmarks agreed upon in 2006 to be reached by 2011.

But Afghanistan remains trapped in a cycle created by the theory that security is required for development but development is what provides security.

Theoretically, the success of development programs at the local level like CDCs should foster greater security as citizens come to trust and depend on their governments and refuse to support or join the insurgency.

But a slew of statistics from private security firms, NATO and the UN all suggest that the security situation in Afghanistan, and in Kandahar, is the worst it has been in a long time.

In recent weeks, suicide attacks have killed more than 100 Afghans in Kandahar, a Canadian soldier was killed Sunday by a roadside bomb and the insurgents have blown up or attempted to destroy at least four cellphone towers in the province.

Confidence in government is waning - a high-profile gathering of community elders in Kandahar City recently resulted in a letter being drafted demanding the ouster of Kandahar Gov. Assadullah Khalid for being an ineffective leader.

Meanwhile, the Canadian military insists things in at least four of Kandahar's 17 districts are improving.

Members of the military often snicker at CIDA behind their backs, deriding them for remaining within the confines of the military base while soldiers are out building bridges and roads.

Wallace acknowledged there has been a disconnect between the two arms of Canada's approach to Afghanistan but insists they are nearing the ability to shake hands.

The appointment of a senior civilian officer, Elissa Golberg, to co-ordinate development efforts with military action is one sign that the two sides may be coming closer together.

"I actually think that we probably have a legacy of not having had the same kind of approach, not being able to work together as close as we might have but I also think we have an optimistic environment that we're working in right now," he said.

"In the end, we're both really operational, we're both really hands-on people; we just want to get stuff done."

Wallace's comments come at a time where the international community is taking a hard look at the progress in Afghanistan. Several high-profile think-tanks have suggested the counter-insurgency war is failing and mechanisms for aid delivery are faltering.

CIDA was criticized in the recent Manley report for not paying enough attention to the immediate needs of Afghans, specifically in Kandahar.

Politicians and academics have also derided the agency for being too close-lipped about where it spends its money.
Back to Top

Back to Top
Dutch minister flies in for Afghan talks
Patrick Walters, National security editor | March 05, 2008
THE Dutch Defence Minister will fly to Canberra next week to discuss the future of military operations in Afghanistan with his Australian counterpart, Joel Fitzgibbon.

The talks will help both countries prepare a roadmap for next month's NATO summit in Bucharest, which is expected to be attended by Mr Fitzgibbon and Kevin Rudd.

The Prime Minister discussed developments in Afghanistan, and his plan to travel to Bucharest, in an early morning phone call to US President George W. Bush yesterday.

NATO leaders in Bucharest will debate a revamped political/military strategy for Afghanistan to defeat Taliban insurgents and establish better co-ordination of civil reconstruction and military operations with the Karzai Government.

Mr Fitzgibbon and his Dutch counterpart, Eimert van Middelkoop, will discuss options for lifting the rate of training of Afghan military and police as well as improving the flow of civil aid to Oruzgan province, where Dutch troops work closely with the Australians.

The Dutch military commitment to Oruzgan has been extended until August 2010, raising the prospect of a larger defence contribution from Australia after that time should The Netherlands Government withdraw the bulk of its force.

With NATO forces under pressure in southern Afghanistan, the US and other close allies, including Australia and Britain, have urged other NATO member countries, notably France and Germany, to commit extra forces.
Back to Top

Back to Top
Comment: Afghan effort gets much-needed help
Matthew Fisher, Canwest News Service Monday, March 03, 2008
AT KANDAHAR AIRFIELD -- Whether Canada, the United States, Britain and the Netherlands are getting the combat help they require from their NATO cousins to confront the Taliban in southern Afghanistan is a delicate matter that will preoccupy the alliance when its foreign ministers meet in Romania early next month.

Viewed from the Kandahar Airfield, NATO's manpower situation does not look nearly as gloomy as it does in Western capitals.

A building boom that started in the fall of 2005 in anticipation of the arrival of the Canadian task force, has never really stopped. In recent months it has clearly been gaining pace.

Over the past few months the U.S. Army has added armed surveillance helicopters to its Afghan arsenal. The Canadians are building new offices and have plans to move some of their troops from tents to much comfier trailers. The French are laying the foundations for what looks like a permanent camp for their airmen, who arrived last fall with Mirage attack aircraft and have since upgraded to new generation Rafale jets. According to the Belgian media, they are sending F-16 jets to Kandahar this summer.

As well as the Belgians, there have been Danish and Polish add-ons, too. They are joining Romanians, a smaller number of Bulgarians and Slovaks and a burgeoning community of Australians in their clown-like yellow and brown camouflage.

Space will get tighter with the pending arrival in southern Afghanistan of 3,200 Marines from bases in North Carolina and California. Not all of them will end up based at Kandahar, but enough men sporting the Corps' distinctive "high and tight" hair cuts are already here to have made a noticeable impact on the airfield's increasingly crowded and dusty roads, in the PX and the growing number of chow halls as well as at the Tim Hortons, which has already proven so popular with other U.S. troops as well as with the British and the Dutch that Canadians must sometimes wait half an hour for their "double" fix.

Although nothing has been confirmed, the chatter in Washington has been that some of the Marines, who are bringing badly needed helicopters as well as a large number of infantry, are likely to conduct joint operations with Canadian and British forces in Kandahar and neighbouring Helmand.

Additionally, as Britain's war in Iraq has wound down, the number of British troops in the south is set to increase from about 4,500 to 8,700 by the end of the year, according to media reports from London.

While NATO has been slowly cobbling together a bigger and better fighting force in the south, political leaders from London, Washington and Ottawa have continued to plead for more help from bigger NATO countries. Of the big four sitting out the war, or rather putting their troops on the war's margins in the west and north of Afghanistan, only France, which has had commandos in the south before, is likely to contribute a meaningful number of troops in the south.

Having attracted relatively little criticism, the Italians and the Spaniards seem content to remain below the parapet. The Germans have received by far the most heat because of NATO's non-combatants in Afghanistan they have such a large number of fresh combat troops, attack aircraft and transport helicopters back at home.

While most German soldiers have said they are keen to do their part, it remains highly unlikely that Berlin will change its stance, no matter how much its allies complain. Given the country's particular military history, the German media and public still adamantly resist the idea that their boys should be allowed to go anywhere with guns.

Notwithstanding the Germans, the Italians and the Spanish, a significant number of combat troops and combat aircraft are joining the fight at a time when senior commanders and military experts have declared that they are urgently needed. And more Marines may become available next year if the calmer trend in Iraq continues.

Whether the Marines, the additional Brits and the other NATO forces now converging on southern Afghanistan will be enough to help those already on the ground to turn the tide against a Taliban insurgency that got its second wind when the White House shifted its focus to Iraq in 2003, may not be known for two or three years. That would be just about the same time that Ottawa intends to bring its troops home after nine years on the far side of the globe.
Back to Top

Back to Top
Iran says it will deport over one million Afghans
KABUL , 4 March 2008 (IRIN) - All Afghan citizens in Iran without valid refugee documents will be deported, Seyyed Taghi Ghaemi, director of the Iranian bureau for aliens and foreign immigrants, told reporters at the end of a two-day meeting with Afghan and UN officials in Kabul on 3 March.

The Iranian authorities had announced a temporary suspension of the deportation process in early January due to extremely cold weather in Afghanistan. Now, Iranian officials say the deportation will resume in the near future.

The UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) says it does not know exactly how many unregistered Afghans are living in Iran, but Iranian officials estimate there are over one million.

There are over 900,000 registered Afghan refugees in Iran, the UNHCR says, and they are legally entitled to stay.

Ghaemi did not specify whether all unregistered Afghans would be expelled from Iran in 2008, but said there would be consultations with the Afghan authorities, adding: "We will deport them from Iran as we encounter them."

The UN and the Afghan government acknowledge Iran's right to deport aliens who enter its territory or stay illegally. However, aid agencies and Afghan officials have repeatedly called on Iran to deport Afghans in a humane and gradual way.

Lack of capacity to absorb deportees

Afghanistan, the fifth least developed country in the world, does not have the capacity to integrate large numbers of returning refugees and deportees, UN and Afghan officials said.

Insecurity, lack of economic opportunities and poor services in Afghanistan are factors which have contributed to a significant decline in voluntary repatriation rates from Iran and Pakistan where over three million Afghan refugees still live.

"Afghanistan's problems are well-known to everyone," said Abdul Qadir Ahadi, Afghan deputy minister of refugees and returnees, adding that his country could not absorb a large number of deportees from Iran.

Afghan officials have warned that mass deportations would cause a humanitarian crisis. Iran deported tens of thousands of Afghans in 2007, which sparked a humanitarian emergency and a political crisis in Afghanistan.

Remittances

Many Afghans - most of them single males - illegally cross the border into Iran in search of work, according to the Afghanistan Research and Evaluation Unit (AREU), an independent Kabul-based research organisation.

Remittances from Afghans working in Iran provide a lifeline to many vulnerable families in Afghanistan, AREU says. Cheap Afghan labour is also considered to be beneficial to Iran and Pakistan, where Afghans are widely employed in the construction industry.

"To cut off this source of income for many poor Afghans could have disastrous consequences - not only in the humanitarian, but in the security sphere," said a report of the US Congressional Research Service on the status of Afghan refugees in Iran and Pakistan released in January 2007.

A recent IRIN report highlighted the possibility that poverty could be driving some Afghans into the arms of the Taliban.

Criminals?

The movement of labourers between Afghanistan and Iran has a long tradition, but the Iranian authorities have recently started adopting a tougher stance. Tehran blames unregistered Afghans in Iran for breaking the law on a number of counts: "Those who illegally enter Iran commit several crimes: illegal entry, illegal residence, illegal work and paying human trafficking networks," said Ghaemi.

"What would the USA and Afghanistan do to people who illegally entered their territory?" asked Ghaemi. "They would put them in jail for six months," he said.
Back to Top

Back to Top
AFGHANISTAN: Unable To Cope With Returning Refugees
By Anand Gopal
KABUL, Mar 4 (IPS) - The rate of return of refugees to Afghanistan from neighbouring countries is causing tremendous stress to the Afghan government and society, government officials here say.

According to the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR), in 2007 alone the Iranian government deported over 360,000 Afghans, most of whom struggled to find adequate housing and social services. In addition, thousands more have returned to their home country voluntarily, assisted by UNHCR and government programmes.

Shir Mohammed Etibari, head of the Afghan Ministry of Refugees and Returnees, recently told reporters that the Afghan government does not have the capacity to absorb the large numbers returning from Iran and elsewhere. Officials here worry that the influx of refugees has sparked food, housing and job shortages and fuels resentment against the government.

"We are trying to come to an agreement with Iran, because we are not able to provide for all of these refugees," says Abdul Qader Zazai, chief advisor to Etibari.

Millions of Afghans fled their homes because of the decade-long Soviet occupation, subsequent civil war and the rise of the Taliban. According to UNHCR spokesman Ahmed Nadir Farhad, for decades Afghans constituted the world's largest refugee population -- at the height of the exodus, up to eight million Afghans were living outside their country, mainly in Iran and Pakistan.

While aid agencies say that the rate of voluntary return has slowed due to the worsening economic and security situation, Iran is deporting large numbers and Pakistan is beginning to do so.

The former refugees say that they are returning to a bleak situation, where a lack of social services, job and food insecurity have sparked disillusionment with the Karzai administration. "It is very difficult to find a job," Daoud, 35, a returned refugee from Pakistan, tells IPS. "Without a job, we have many problems. Since the government has not given us help, we can't afford most things. My daughter is sick but I don't have money to go to the doctor."

The U.S. reports that Afghanistan's unemployment rate is at least 40 percent, and rising every year. Kabul's population has swelled from an estimated 500,000 in 2001 to over three million, according to the Afghan Central Statistics Office, and returning refugees comprise the bulk of this increase. But employment opportunities under the Karzai administration and international presence are at numbers nowhere near the number of job seekers, fuelling widespread discontent.

In addition, skyrocketing food prices threaten to push thousands into hunger. While the problem affects all Afghans, it hits the refugee communities the hardest. "We have nine people in my family," says Mohammed Tazib, 35. "During this winter, we can't support our family. Middlemen hoard the food and only sell it when the prices increase. We don't have enough money to get all of the goods we need. The government doesn't pass any laws to control the price of goods. The dignitaries in power -- especially Hamid Karzai -- have not even paid attention."

The returning refugees also bring an additional problem to Afghanistan's streets - drug addiction. Iran has one of the highest drug addiction rates in the world, and thousands of Afghan refugees pick up the habit and spread it to their friends and family back home.

Afghanistan now has close to one million addicts, transforming a country known to be relatively addiction free into one of the fastest growing drug populations in the world.

Zakih, 33, returned from Iran six months ago. "When I was working in Iran," he recalls, "we worked very hard all day. At the end of the day, my boss, who was Iranian, gave me some drugs and said 'take them -- you will feel better'".

Hundreds of addicts like Zakih live in abandoned parks and bombed-out buildings around Kabul. Most are jobless and are forced to beg and steal to earn their drug money.

"When someone is drug dependent and has no money, anyone can buy him," says Jehenzeb Khan, director of the United Nations Office of Drugs and Crime Demand Reduction Programme. "They are vulnerable to insurgents, petty criminals, and others."

"This is directly affecting the health of the society," he adds. "When so much of the youth are addicted, it is difficult to rebuild our society."

While the government cites a lack of resources, many insist that supporting the refugees is possible if the Karzai administration and foreign forces focused on developing social services and not just on waging counterinsurgency.

"The Americans are more interested in killing their enemies than rebuilding the country," says one Afghan media worker, who requested anonymity. Washington currently spends close to ten US dollars on the war effort for every dollar spent on reconstruction.

According to a recent report by the aid watchdog Action Aid, international "donors have failed to deliver money pledged for aid, distributing five billion dollars less than promised between 2002 and 2006."

Experts say that the trends augur ill for the future of the Afghan government. A U.N. news agency recently reported that the lack of economic prospects is driving poor youths into the hands of the Taliban and fuelling the insurgency.

In the ghettos and makeshift refugee camps that dot Kabul, things have not yet reached this point. But the residents here agree that something must be done. "Government vehicles drive by our camp every day, without stopping." Daoud says. "We have too many problems -- we just can’t continue like this."
Back to Top

Back to Top
Rome-based group says it's mindful of finances in training Afghan jurists
The Canadian Press
ROME — An international organization helping to revamp Afghanistan's justice system says a news story citing one of its representatives in Kabul does not accurately reflect the work of the group.

The Rome-based International Development Law Organization received $6 million from Canada, via the Canadian International Development Agency, to train lawyers and judges in Afghanistan.

Asked where the money has been spent, the organization's Kabul chief Ele Pawelski had told The Canadian Press: "I can't say where all the money is going." The story from Kandahar, Afghanistan, was published Sunday.

IDLO spokeswoman Sophie Turner said Monday the remark was "out of context" and it would be inaccurate to imply from it that the group lacks tight control on spending.

"Ms. Pawelski was speaking generally about international funding of judicial sector reform and was simply referring to her lack of first-hand knowledge of exactly how such assistance was being allocated by the international community," Turner said a statement issued in Rome.

"IDLO is proud of its outstanding record of accountability under this project, as it is with regard to all its financial accounting and reporting," the statement said. "It is totally wrong to state that CIDA was dissatisfied in any way with its accounting under the project."

Turner referred to an audit of its project in Afghanistan from March 15, 2005 to June 2006, and said CIDA has not raised any issue with its reporting.

A review carried out by the Performance and Knowledge Management Branch of CIDA said the financial reporting showed insufficient details. It covers the period from April 2004 to the end of January 2007.

Turner said the story mentioned Pawelski had not visited a courtroom in her seven months in Kabul but this was a moot point as it is not in her job description to attend court proceedings.

Part of the funding from CIDA went toward a book designed to help judges manage their courtrooms and learn about judicial ethics.

Though Pawelski indicated its distribution had been held up by translation, Turner said the project was on schedule. The "bench guide," as it is known, was launched by IDLO in December.

The group does do not produce law books for magistrates.

IDLO's efforts in Afghanistan have resulted in the training of hundreds of judges, defence lawyers and prosecutors.
Back to Top

Back to Top
Mobile phone mast attacks could jeopardise aid deliveries
KABUL, 3 March 2008 (IRIN) - A blackout of mobile phone services, particularly during the night, in parts of southern Afghanistan has created serious problems for local people and raised concerns about humanitarian and development activities.

"I cannot call the police or a hospital in an emergency because the phones do not work at night," said Abdul Gafar, a resident of Kandahar in southern Afghanistan.

"We feel cut-off and isolated from the rest of the country," said a resident of Lashkargah, the provincial capital of Helmand Province.

Taliban insurgents have burned down three mobile telephone antennas belonging to private companies in Kandahar and Helmand provinces in the past five days, provincial police and local people said.

The attacks happened after a purported Taliban spokesman reportedly warned telephone companies to shut down their networks from 5pm to 7am for security and intelligence reasons.

The spokesman said Afghan and international forces had tracked insurgents via their mobile phones and that government supporters had often disseminated information about Taliban activities by mobile phone.

Afghanistan's Ministry of Communication and Technology has condemned attacks on the telephone infrastructure and said the right to communication should be respected by all warring parties.

Aleem Siddique, a spokesman for the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA), called the attacks on telephone masts a "sinister ploy", which would not limit the ability of Afghan and international forces to launch military and/or intelligence actions against Taliban insurgents.

Disaster responses could be affected

Officials at Afghanistan's National Disasters Management Authority (ANDMA) said mobile phones were one of its major communication tools all over the war-torn country and a shutdown of the network would have grave consequences for operations.

"Without mobile phones we will not be able to quickly receive, verify and send information about the occurrence, response to, and management of, natural and man-made disasters everywhere in the country," said Mohammad Siddique Hassani, ANDMA's director of policy and coordination.

With the flooding season coming up, ANDMA is concerned that in the absence of proper communications the agency and its partners will find it difficult to effectively coordinate evacuation, needs assessments and aid delivery operations in vulnerable rural areas.

A shutdown of mobile telephone networks would not prevent UN agencies from doing their work in southern provinces, Siddique told IRIN in Kabul on 3 March: "We have radios which we use for communications," he said.

Currently four private mobile telephone companies operate in Afghanistan. They not only provide employment opportunities for hundreds of Afghans but also pay considerable amounts in taxes to the government.
Back to Top

Back to Top
Japan gives UNESCO $13 million for Afghan literacy initiative
Online - International News Network, Pakistan
KABUL: UNESCOs Literacy Initiative for Empowerment (LIFE) in Afghanistan would receive a grant of $13 million from the government of Japan, the UN agency announced.

This grant, to be administered by UNESCO, will benefit almost 600,000 individuals - notably women who are unable to read or write - in 18 Afghan provinces, according to a statement from the organisation.

The official signing ceremony was held in Kabul the other day, with the Director of UNESCOs Kabul office Shigeru Aoyagi and Japans Ambassador to Afghanistan Hideo Sato in the presence of Education Minister Mohammad Hanif Atmar.

On the occasion, UNESCO Director-General Kochiro Matsuura said he was extremely pleased that the government of Japan had decided to support the efforts of Afghanistan in this way. He added literacy was by no means a panacea for all development challenges, but it did remain an essential and indispensable tool for development, and had shown what it could achieve the world over.

It was crucial to help Afghanistan rise to the challenge, he observed. Afghanistans Education Ministry worked with UNESCO and other international partners in 2007 to draft a national strategic plan, where literacy was identified as one of eight priority programmes.

The Afghan government designated the LIFE initiative as the national framework for action to improve literacy. In a press release emailed to Pajhwok Afghan News from Paris, UNESCO said illiteracy rates in Afghanistan remained among the highest in the world despite concerted efforts since the fall of the Taliban government in 2001.

There are glaring discrepancies between urban and rural areas, on the one hand, and between men and women, on the other. According to a 2005 report on the Millennium Development Goals for Afghanistan, the literacy rate was estimated at 34% in 2004 for those aged 15 years and over (50% for men and 18% for women). In rural areas where some 74% of the population lived, UNESCO estimated, almost 90% of women and 63% of men were unable to read or write.

The figures rank Afghanistan alongside countries such as Niger, Burkina Faso and Mali. UNESCOs Literacy Initiative for Empowerment (LIFE) was launched in 2005 as a framework for global action aimed at helping developing countries to improve literacy and to achieve Education for All goals. LIFE targets countries where the rate of literacy is below 50%, or where more than 10 million people are illiterate.
Back to Top

Back to Top
Trial of B.C. man in Afghan singer's death begins Monday
Tuesday, March 4, 2008 | 12:04 AM ET CBC News
A Burnaby, B.C., man's trial for manslaughter in connection with the death of an internationally acclaimed Afghan singer three years ago started on Monday.

In its opening statements, the Crown said that Ahmad Froogh, then 19, punched Nasrat Parsa during an altercation in May 2005, causing the 39-year-old to fall backwards on cement steps. He suffered head injuries and died in hospital less than 24 hours later.

Police said at the time that three men approached the singer outside the Days Inn on Kingsway after he performed a concert at the Vancouver Playhouse.

The first witness to testify Monday was one of the first police officers to arrive on the scene, who told the court he thought he was responding to an assault only to find out later it was a death.

The trial is expected to last two weeks and the Crown will call Parsa's two brothers to the stand Tuesday, who were present at the alleged altercation.

Parsa, who had 10 albums under his belt, was hugely popular among young Afghans around the world. He began his career at a young age, singing for radio shows and performing in plays and musicals.

Born into a musical household in Kabul, Parsa and his family left shortly after the Soviets began rolling into Afghanistan. They moved to Pakistan, India and eventually settled in Germany.
Back to Top


 Back to News Archirves of 2008
 
Disclaimer: This news site is mostly a compilation of publicly accessible articles on the Web in the form of a link or saved news item. The news articles and commentaries/editorials are protected under international copyright laws. All credit goes to the original respective source(s).