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March 9, 2008 

Afghans threaten attacks on troops over cartoon
Sun Mar 9, 3:10 AM ET
JALALABAD, Afghanistan (Reuters) - Thousands of Afghan students blocked a highway and threatened attacks on foreign troops on Sunday in the latest protest against the reprinting of a cartoon of the Prophet Mohammad in Danish papers.

US official: More military contracts should be awarded to Afghan companies
By FISNIK ABRASHI,Associated Press Writer AP - Sunday, March 9
KHOST, Afghanistan - The U.S. military should let more Afghan companies bid on projects in Afghanistan in order to save U.S. taxpayers money, a senior U.S. Army official said Saturday.

UK pledges £3m Afghan food aid
Sunday, 9 March 2008, 14:21 GMT BBC News
The government has promised an extra £3m in new funding to help meet growing food shortages in Afghanistan.

Bombs kill NATO soldier, three Afghans
Sat Mar 8, 3:38 PM ET
KABUL (AFP) - A soldier with the NATO-led force in Afghanistan and three civilians were killed in two roadside bombings on Saturday, officials said.

Dutch urge more Afghan training
AAP via Yahoo!Xtra News - Mar 08 3:01 PM
The Netherlands has urged a doubling of efforts to rebuild the Afghan army and police, plus far greater aid organisation and United Nations involvement in reconstruction.

Woman earns Silver Star in Afghan war
By FISNIK ABRASHI, Associated Press Writer
CAMP SALERNO, Afghanistan - A 19-year-old medic from Texas will become the first woman in Afghanistan and only the second woman since World War II to receive the Silver Star, the nation's third-highest medal for valor.

Sarah Sands: The brave wear a uniform, the coward wears a suit
Troops come under attack on an unexpected frontline, home soil, while their paymasters shrink from their duty of care
Sunday, 9 March 2008 Independent, UK
Sir Richard Dannatt, Chief of the General Staff, once spoke of the difference between the war in Iraq and the mission in Afghanistan. He described the first as an unpopular war and the second as misunderstood.

Afghan soldier gets death penalty
AFP / March 8, 2008 From correspondents in Herat, Afghanistan
A MILITARY court in Afghanistan has sentenced an Afghan soldier to death for killing a US-led coalition troop and four Afghan colleagues last year.

Khorshied Samad: Upholding a promise to Afghanistan's women
March 08, 2008, 2:50 PM by Marni Soupcoff  National Post, Canada
International Women’s Day, which we celebrate today, comes at a time when many Western countries, including Canada, are debating their future role in Afghanistan. These nations either have decided, or soon will decide

Talks on Czech elite unit's Afghan mission to be closed in month
Czech Happenings, Czech Republic
Prague- Prague's negotiations with the USA on sending a Czech military elite unit to Afghanistan are likely to be completed by the Bucharest summit of NATO in April, Czech Defence Minister Vlasta Parkanova said in a discussion

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Afghans threaten attacks on troops over cartoon
Sun Mar 9, 3:10 AM ET
JALALABAD, Afghanistan (Reuters) - Thousands of Afghan students blocked a highway and threatened attacks on foreign troops on Sunday in the latest protest against the reprinting of a cartoon of the Prophet Mohammad in Danish papers.

Sunday's protest near the city of Jalalabad on the highway leading to Pakistan followed violent demonstrations a day earlier in the western city of Herat against the cartoon and a film on the Koran by a right wing Dutch politician.

Chanting anti-Western slogans, the marchers in Jalalabad burnt Danish and Dutch flags demanding the cartoonist and the politician, who plans to release his film this month, be put on trial.

"If our demands are not fulfilled, we will stage more protests and resort to suicide attacks against the foreigners," said Ibrahim, a university student.

The demonstrators also demanded Kabul freeze its ties with the Dutch and Danish governments and expel troops from the two countries who operate under NATO's command in Afghanistan.

The Afghan government has called the reprinting of the cartoon an attack against Islam and one official has warned it would swell the ranks of al Qaeda and its Taliban allies.

Dutch right-wing politician Geert Wilders is expected to release his film, thought to be critical of the Koran, later this month. Wilders has given few details, but in the past he has called the Koran a "fascist" book that "incites violence."

The cartoon -- one of 12 that prompted bloody riots in many Muslim countries in 2006 -- was republished by a number of Danish papers last month to show solidarity with the cartoonist after three men were arrested on suspicion of plotting to kill him.

Muslims consider any depiction of the Prophet offensive.

Ousted from power in 2001, the Taliban Islamic movement has branded the planned film and reprinting of the cartoon as part of a "Crusader war" against Muslims.
(Writing by Sayed Salahuddin; Editing by Sanjeev Miglani)
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US official: More military contracts should be awarded to Afghan companies
By FISNIK ABRASHI,Associated Press Writer AP - Sunday, March 9
KHOST, Afghanistan - The U.S. military should let more Afghan companies bid on projects in Afghanistan in order to save U.S. taxpayers money, a senior U.S. Army official said Saturday.

Nelson Ford, the acting U.S. Undersecretary of the Army, said local businessmen "can give you more for less money."

"But you must have good contracting officers here, otherwise people in the states will say, 'We know how to do it right and the local people don't,'" Ford said at the end of a three-day visit to Afghanistan.

Ford visited the eastern provinces of Khost and Paktia _ both bordering the lawless tribal areas of Pakistan _ and was briefed by senior military officials on the situation there.

Last year Afghanistan experienced its deadliest violence since the 2001 U.S.-led invasion. More than 6,500 people _ mostly militants _ were killed in insurgency-related violence, according to an Associated Press count.

Despite the spike in violence, Ford said that "everything I saw is very positive."

"I come away from this visit with a very positive feeling about the progress we are making here in Afghanistan," Ford said.

Elsewhere in Afghanistan, one NATO soldier was killed and two others wounded when a roadside bomb hit their vehicle Saturday, military officials said.

The soldiers were on a routine patrol in the eastern province of Paktia, which borders Pakistan, when the blast hit the vehicle, NATO's International Security Assistance Force said.

ISAF did not release the nationalities of the soldiers, thought most of the troops in Paktia province are American.

At least 10 U.S. troops have been killed in Afghanistan this year. Five Canadian and three British soldiers have also been killed.
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UK pledges £3m Afghan food aid
Sunday, 9 March 2008, 14:21 GMT BBC News
The government has promised an extra £3m in new funding to help meet growing food shortages in Afghanistan.

The money will be given to a joint United Nations and Afghan government appeal for £40m in food aid.

It will be used to alleviate malnutrition, particularly among pregnant and breastfeeding women.

The International Development Secretary Douglas Alexander said the cash would provide a "safety net" that would will help avoid a humanitarian crisis.

UN research suggests that poor Afghans are struggling to buy food because of rising wheat prices. In Kabul it is estimated that people spend up to 60% of their income on bread alone.

Rising global prices

The UK government says the shortages have been caused by rising global prices made worse by severe cold weather.

Mr Alexander said: "Afghanistan is one of the poorest countries in the world, and least able to cope with spiralling food prices combined with severe winter weather.

"Providing an immediate safety net will help avoid a humanitarian crisis and end the immediate suffering."

He said that the food shortage is evidence of the impact of rising global food prices hitting the poor hardest.

The £3m pledged by Mr Alexander brings the total amount of UK humanitarian aid to Afghanistan to £124m since 2001.

Since 2001 the UK has also spent £490 million on reconstruction and development in the country.

Last December, Prime Minister Gordon Brown announced a further commitment of £450 million to Afghanistan between 2009 and 2012.
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Bombs kill NATO soldier, three Afghans
Sat Mar 8, 3:38 PM ET
KABUL (AFP) - A soldier with the NATO-led force in Afghanistan and three civilians were killed in two roadside bombings on Saturday, officials said.

One soldier was also wounded when one of the bombs -- similar to those used by Taliban militants -- struck an ISAF convoy on a routine patrol in the eastern province of Paktia, the alliance force said.

The names and nationalities of the soldiers with the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) were not provided, but most troopers deployed in the restive region near the Pakistan border are Americans.

"Two ISAF soldiers were wounded and evacuated to an ISAF hospital for medical treatment. After arrival, one of the two soldiers died of wounds sustained from the explosion," ISAF said in a statement.

The last casualty brought to 24 the number of western troops killed in Afghanistan this year. Most have been slain in Taliban-led violence.

More than 60,000 troops serving with the UN-mandated ISAF and a separate US-led coalition force are based in Afghanistan to fight back the extremist rebels, who were ousted from government in a US-led invasion in late 2001.

Another bomb killed a man and his two children in the southern province of Helmand, among the worst hit by the Taliban insurgency, the interior ministry said.

The three were travelling in a van when they struck the device, believed to have been planted to target Afghan and foreign security forces, it said in a statement.
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Dutch urge more Afghan training
AAP via Yahoo!Xtra News - Mar 08 3:01 PM
The Netherlands has urged a doubling of efforts to rebuild the Afghan army and police, plus far greater aid organisation and United Nations involvement in reconstruction.

Dutch Defence Minister Eimert Van Middelkoop praised Australia's role alongside Dutch troops in south-central Afghanistan.

He also backed Australian involvement in the drafting of NATO's political military strategy for Afghanistan.

In an open letter released ahead of his visit to Australia this week, Mr Van Middelkoop said there was general agreement on the overall International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) strategy for Afghanistan.

What was missing was a clear statement on how to implement that strategy, he said.

"We must also clearly define what ISAF can and will do, but also what the Afghan government and other players in the international community must do," he said.

"We must redouble our efforts towards rebuilding the Afghan army and police. This is the most important area where ISAF can make a difference.

"Investing in the Afghan army and police is the smartest thing we can do."

Mr Van Middelkoop said the Afghan army had become a credible fighting force with more than 1,700 troops in Oruzgan Province, up from around 300 last October.

Australia currently has 1,000 troops in the province, operating as part of the 1,650-strong Dutch reconstruction task group.

The Netherlands has lost 14 soldiers in Afghanistan, while Australia has lost four.

Australia has been highly critical of long-term NATO strategy for Afghanistan with Defence Minister Joel Fitzgibbon demanding greater Australian involvement in planning.

Mr Fitzgibbon announced last month Australia would play a stronger role in training Afghan soldiers.

In Australia, Mr Van Middelkoop will discuss the situation in Afghanistan with Mr Fitzgibbon ahead of the crucial NATO meeting in Budapest next month.

Mr Van Middelkoop said much had been achieved in fighting the Taliban, but the ISAF contribution needed to be matched by an equivalent commitment of civilian resources.

He said development was essential to encourage Afghans to support their government and the international community, and to isolate insurgents.

"Projects such as schools, health clinics, roads and power plants will not only help the economy, but also help the government to assert its authority throughout Afghanistan," he said.

"A greater commitment of the United Nations and other international organisations and NGOs is necessary to ensure that progress does not evaporate."

Mr Van Middelkoop said the future of Afghanistan lay with the Afghan government.

"If the government does not improve its effectiveness and integrity, all efforts of the international community will prove to be futile," he said.

"This point can not be over-stated. ISAF cannot make the Taliban irrelevant, only the Afghans can. We should put more emphasis on the fact that ours is an assistance mission and that success is in the hands of the Afghan people."
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Woman earns Silver Star in Afghan war
By FISNIK ABRASHI, Associated Press Writer
CAMP SALERNO, Afghanistan - A 19-year-old medic from Texas will become the first woman in Afghanistan and only the second woman since World War II to receive the Silver Star, the nation's third-highest medal for valor.

Army Spc. Monica Lin Brown saved the lives of fellow soldiers after a roadside bomb tore through a convoy of Humvees in the eastern Paktia province in April 2007, the military said.

After the explosion, which wounded five soldiers in her unit, Brown ran through insurgent gunfire and used her body to shield wounded comrades as mortars fell less than 100 yards away, the military said.

"I did not really think about anything except for getting the guys to a safer location and getting them taken care of and getting them out of there," Brown told The Associated Press on Saturday at a U.S. base in the eastern province of Khost.

Brown, of Lake Jackson, Texas, is scheduled to receive the Silver Star later this month. She was part of a four-vehicle convoy patrolling near Jani Kheil in the eastern province of Paktia on April 25, 2007, when a bomb struck one of the Humvees.

"We stopped the convoy. I opened up my door and grabbed my aid bag," Brown said.

She started running toward the burning vehicle as insurgents opened fire. All five wounded soldiers had scrambled out.

"I assessed the patients to see how bad they were. We tried to move them to a safer location because we were still receiving incoming fire," Brown said.

Pentagon policy prohibits women from serving in frontline combat roles — in the infantry, armor or artillery, for example. But the nature of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, with no real front lines, has seen women soldiers take part in close-quarters combat more than previous conflicts.

Four Army nurses in World War II were the first women to receive the Silver Star, though three nurses serving in World War I were awarded the medal posthumously last year, according to the Army's Web site.

Brown, of the 4th Squadron, 73rd Cavalry Regiment, 4th Brigade Combat Team, said ammunition going off inside the burning Humvee was sending shrapnel in all directions. She said they were sitting in a dangerous spot.

"So we dragged them for 100 or 200 meters, got them away from the Humvee a little bit," she said. "I was in a kind of a robot-mode, did not think about much but getting the guys taken care of."

For Brown, who knew all five wounded soldiers, it became a race to get them all to a safer location. Eventually, they moved the wounded some 500 yards away, treated them on site before putting them on a helicopter for evacuation.

"I did not really have time to be scared," Brown said. "Running back to the vehicle, I was nervous (since) I did not know how badly the guys were injured. That was scary."

The military said Brown's "bravery, unselfish actions and medical aid rendered under fire saved the lives of her comrades and represents the finest traditions of heroism in combat."

Sgt. Leigh Ann Hester, of Nashville, Tenn., received the Silver Star in 2005 for gallantry during an insurgent ambush on a convoy in Iraq. Two men from her unit, the 617th Military Police Company of Richmond, Ky., also received the Silver Star for their roles in the same action.
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Sarah Sands: The brave wear a uniform, the coward wears a suit
Troops come under attack on an unexpected frontline, home soil, while their paymasters shrink from their duty of care
Sunday, 9 March 2008 Independent, UK
Sir Richard Dannatt, Chief of the General Staff, once spoke of the difference between the war in Iraq and the mission in Afghanistan. He described the first as an unpopular war and the second as misunderstood. We "kicked the door in" in Iraq but came by invitation to Afghanistan. The fight against the Taliban is direct retribution for 11 September; the cause is just and vital.

I wonder if the public's disillusionment over Iraq has spread into a generalised cynical pacifism. All wars are bad and those who fight them do so from their own bloodlust rather than on behalf of the country. Thus University College London has banned the armed forces from its campus. The message from those students to our soldiers in Afghanistan, serving in harsh and dangerous conditions on low pay, is that their peers regard them as moral lepers. The advice by RAF Wittering to servicemen and -women to disguise themselves in public to avoid abuse is a new low in the relationship between civilians and the armed forces. The spectre of Vietnam, where returning soldiers were jeered in the street, has become real. It is almost worse that it might be an overreaction by Wittering.

The RAF is making a presumption about public opinion, that it regards it as shameful to fight for your country. Iraq has turned this warrior nation into Switzerland. The largely sneering reaction of the commentariat to Prince Harry's short service in Helmand province was revealing. The prince was accused of glamorising conflict, of glossing over the hopelessness of the Afghan situation, and of demonstrating our superior firepower and thus distressing British Muslims. George Galloway lasciviously gloated that Harry would pay for his actions. Interestingly, it was British Muslims who were most generous about Prince Harry's motivation. They said it was a good thing for a young prince to want to serve his country and compared Harry with spoilt and cowardly princes in the Middle East.

Prince Harry certainly provided a little blip of optimism in a slow and bloody war of attrition. I have spoken to soldiers leaving for and returning from Afghanistan. I have not seen one treat the tour of duty as an adventure holiday. Ross Kemp's series on the armed forces in Afghanistan, which was greeted by our sophisticated columnists as another piece of artful propaganda, caught the tone exactly. Afghanistan is a call to arms that makes soldiers nervous and proud. They know they will be tested and they may not return. Spouses and parents are fearful and uncomplaining. There was no glossing over the reality of war and its consequences. The series ended with the agonised gaze of a bereaved mother. She blamed herself for a lapse in the parental contract. A mother should be with her son when he needs help.

In war, this cannot be so. Sons and husbands, daughters and wives, are sent by this Government to the frontline, but they are hardly ever ours. So there has been little public anger about the poor treatment of troops and their families.

I was talking the other day to a senior army officer who was considering leaving the services. He did not believe that improvements would come. The kit, the accommodation, the aftercare for the wounded, the support for the families would not get better because Gordon Brown knows "there are no votes in defence". The Prime Minister may pay tribute to the heroism of our troops but he has no intention of paying for them. As chancellor he was merciless towards the Ministry of Defence.

Schools, hospitals, transport affect us all. We want to see more police on the streets. But it does not mean much if British troops are sent to foreign hellholes and return shot to pieces.

A wounded soldier's young girlfriend described to me her first visit to Headley Court Rehabilitation Centre: "The first time you see it you feel sick with shock seeing all these wheelchairs and amputees and bandaged-up heads, all these terrible injuries hidden from the public." The young woman, alone, nursed her boyfriend who was partially paralysed and in permanent pain. When he was jostled on the Tube, she wanted to shout: "Don't you know what this man did for his country?" Instead she learned to shrug: "These people go to fight, to risk their lives and then when they return nobody wants to know."

There are no votes in defence, but there may be votes in honour. John McCain has fought a persuasive campaign in America, despite his backing for the Iraq war. He is seen as champion of the troops rather than a warmonger. It helps that he, very unusually among the ruling class, has a son who has served in Iraq. It is a paradox that Americans have no trouble separating their military from politicians even though their President is also commander-in-chief.

David Cameron may be rethinking the electoral advantage of supporting the troops in the light of John McCain. In the past he has shown little interest in the armed forces. But he has talked a great deal about a decent society, and it is hard to square this with our indifference towards the treatment of our troops. Cameron spoke last week about honouring the Military Covenant. This is a simple unwritten contract between Britain and its armed forces. The 184 battle honours awarded on Friday give a sense of the soldiers' part of the bargain. The army captain who returned three times under Taliban fire to rescue wounded comrades. The private who returned to the front line five days after being seriously wounded because his platoon was undermanned. The female helicopter pilot who made a hazardous landing in Basra to rescue a casualty. The sergeant who was awarded a posthumous Military Cross after leading his men through heavy fire to bring back a comrade's body. Captain David Hicks, who refused morphine although mortally wounded so he could lead his men out of an attack.

These people put military honour before their own lives. Are we saying that those who survived and their comrades should not wear their uniforms with pride? The implications of RAF Wittering are too horrible to contemplate.

If we abuse those who would lay down their lives for us, we are not a society at all. I prefer to think that we have been thoughtless rather than cruel. We must visibly honour our armed forces and – anathema to Gordon Brown and David Cameron – we must pay for them and their families. Their blood, our treasure, according to the Covenant.
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Afghan soldier gets death penalty
AFP / March 8, 2008 From correspondents in Herat, Afghanistan
A MILITARY court in Afghanistan has sentenced an Afghan soldier to death for killing a US-led coalition troop and four Afghan colleagues last year.

The court handed down the punishment yesterday to Shukrullah, who goes by one name, in the western city of Herat, where the multiple murders took place in July last year.

The court found him guilty of the fatal shootings, which took place after an argument in Guzara town of Herat, a top army commander General Jalandar Shah said today.

“He was sentenced to death on charges of shooting and killing four Afghan soldiers and a coalition soldier last year. Three other soldiers were wounded,” the commander said.

The foreign soldier was wounded in the attack but died a day later.

So far this year at least 21 foreign soldiers, mainly under NATO command, have been killed in Afghanistan fighting a resurgent Taliban.

A total of 218 foreign soldiers died last year, mostly in Taliban militant-led violence.

The ultra-Islamic fighters have waged an increasing insurgency since their ouster from power in late 2001 by a US-led invasion of Afghanistan.
via news.com.au/
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Khorshied Samad: Upholding a promise to Afghanistan's women
March 08, 2008, 2:50 PM by Marni Soupcoff  National Post, Canada
International Women’s Day, which we celebrate today, comes at a time when many Western countries, including Canada, are debating their future role in Afghanistan. These nations either have decided, or soon will decide, the direction and focus of that role for some years to come. Many issues have been raised, and arguments presented both pro and con with regard to NATO’s mission.
 
However, if we are still striving to help the Afghan people — and, especially, to support women and children in their quest for human security and socio-economic opportunities — we must remember that progress is impossible without a relatively secure and peaceful environment. If this is to be achieved, Canada and its allies have a key role to play in the troubled areas of my war-torn nation.
 
We must remember that it has been only six years since the Taliban regime was driven from power in Kabul. Since that time, many positive developments have occurred, especially in regard to improving Afghan women’s rights and participation in society. Under the Taliban, women were not allowed to work, attend school or pursue an education, receive medical care from male doctors, or travel without a male relative. They were regarded as non-citizens without rights or representation. 
 
Over the last six years, millions of women and girls have had the chance to attend school, return to work, open businesses, gain access to health care, and generally attempt to seize some of the opportunities that were stolen from them during the oppressive Taliban years. Afghan women have a presence in government, and strong voices in the media. They have no intention to give up these progressive strides ever again.
 
Already touting 23,000 members, the first political party for women was recently formed to develop a stronger platform for women’s rights throughout the country. However, their organization, and Afghan women in general, remain reliant on the sustained help of the international community. 
 
Nearly 6 million children have returned to school since 2002, with at least 1.5 million Afghan girls among them. (Boys still attend in greater numbers due to security concerns and other restrictions.) But the ongoing insurgency mounted by Taliban and terrorist forces in the south and east of the country threatens this progress. Last year saw nearly 150 schools burned to the ground, 305 schools closed, and 105 students and teachers killed, all accompanied by warnings to locals not to send their daughters to school. The Islamists prefer the darkness created by illiteracy and separation from society to the freedom and opportunity gained through education and economic progress.
 
The Afghan people, and especially Afghan women, continue to be hopeful and grateful for all that Canadians and the international community are doing to help their struggling nation onto a path of progress and peace. The stakes for Afghan society are indeed high. On International Women’s Day, let us strengthen our collective resolve: Canada’s ongoing mission in Afghanistan is worth it.

—  Khorshied Samad is the former Kabul bureau chief and television correspondent for Fox News, and the wife of Afghanistan’s Ambassador to Canada.
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Talks on Czech elite unit's Afghan mission to be closed in month
Czech Happenings, Czech Republic
Prague- Prague's negotiations with the USA on sending a Czech military elite unit to Afghanistan are likely to be completed by the Bucharest summit of NATO in April, Czech Defence Minister Vlasta Parkanova said in a discussion on public Czech Television today.

"I think this would be logical," Parkanova (Christian Democrats, KDU-CSL) said in the Vaclav Moravec's Questions discussion programme.

The mission in question is mainly to involve members of the special forces unit from Prostejov, south Moravia, that has operated in Afghanistan twice already.

About 100 troops could take part in the mission.

Parkanova said the best opportunity for the unit to help would be within the Enduring Freedom operation, led by the Americans, but it could join the NATO-led international forces ISAF as well.

Parkanova said she will present the special unit's mission in a document to be submitted to parliament for approval, as it would be an extra mission, added to those the parliament approved last autumn, which reckon with the operation of 415 Czech soldiers in Afghanistan.

Czech Prime Minister Mirek Topolanek (Civic Democrats, ODS) negotiated about an increase in the Czech military participation in Afghanistan during his recent visit to the USA and Canada.

Canada wants to terminate its military operation in Afghanistan unless other NATO countries send more soldiers to the dangerous southern provinces.

Ondrej Liska, Czech education minister and deputy head of the junior ruling Green Party (SZ) who participated in the debate today, voiced doubts about the planned mission's sense.

He said Afghanistan needs prospects different from a mere endless reinforcing of military units.

Afghanistan, surviving on foreign support and owing to the production of opium, needs a multilateral reconstruction plan, Liska said.

Michal Hasek, head of the senior opposition Social Democrat (CSSD) group of deputies, did not rule out the CSSD's support for the planned additional Czech mission.

The Czech reconstruction team (PRT) that has started work in the Logar province these days alone involves some 200 soldiers.

Besides, a 100-member Czech military field hospital operates in Kabul.

In the Hilmand province, a Czech military police's special unit operates.

The Czech military also wants to send 62 soldiers, members of the radiation, chemical and biological protection unit, to the south Afghan province of Uruzgan in support of the Dutch PRT.
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