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May 11, 2008 

Taliban suspects on hunger strike in Afghan jail
KABUL (AFP) - About 300 Taliban suspects have been on a hunger strike in Afghanistan's southern Kandahar prison for a week demanding fair trials, rights groups and local lawmakers said Sunday.

NW Afghanistan hit by plague of locusts
KABUL, May 10 (Reuters) - Afghan authorities are examining the extent of an unprecedented locust infestation that has prompted local officials in some areas to offer wheat as a reward to residents for killing the insects.

Key al Qaeda member killed in Afghanistan: web
Sun May 11, 7:57 AM ET
KABUL (Reuters) - A prominent member of al Qaeda was killed in fighting with U.S.-led forces in Afghanistan, the group said in a statement posted on an Islamist website on Sunday.

Afghan, foreign security forces kill several militants in Afghanistan
Associated Press
KABUL, Afghanistan - Officials say Afghan and international forces have killed several militants in eastern and southern Afghanistan.

Who Are the Afghans Just Released from Guantánamo?
by Andy Worthington antiwar.com / May 10, 2008
For the five Afghans who returned home on the same flight as al-Jazeera journalist Sami al-Haj and the other three prisoners described in my previous article, the future is disturbingly uncertain. As I reported last December

Big powers have increased insecurity in Iraq, Afghanistan: FM
TEHRAN (IRNA) -- Foreign Minister Manuchehr Mottaki said on Saturday that the failed policies of big powers have increased insecurity, instability in neighboring Iraq and Afghanistan.

Afghan police seize car stuffed with explosives
Ryan Cormier ,  Canwest News Service Saturday, May 10, 2008
KANDAHAR AIRFIELD, Afghanistan - Police seized a vehicle filled with a variety of explosive materials in the province of Kandahar Saturday afternoon.

Afghan national army strength rises to 76,000
www.chinaview.cn  2008-05-11 18:43:05
KABUL, May 11 (Xinhua) -- The strength of Afghan new armed forces has risen to more than 76,000, spokesman of Afghan defense ministry said Sunday.

"Women Helping Women: Stitch by Stitch" - Afghan Women's Collaboration
Rubia Logo, embroidered by Darrai Noor. Art Daily
WILMINGTON, DE.-The WCA-Philadelphia has partnered with Rubia to organize the collaborative project, entitled: “Women Helping Women: Stitch by Stitch.” The project involved the creation of a quilt, which showcases the work

‘No peace if Afghanistan seeks military solutions’
* Former Interior minister sceptical that $4bn package can reduce militancy
Daily Times, Pakistan Staff Report  Sunday, May 11, 2008
PESHAWAR-Peace overtures in the NWFP will not sustain if Afghanistan continues to look for military solutions to militancy, former Interior minister Aftab Ahmed Khan Sherpao said on Saturday.

NPJ launched for ending the insurgency
Zubair Babakarkhel - May 8, 2008 - 19:14
KABUL, (PAN): A reconciliatory body with the name of National Peace Jirga (NPJ) was formed Thursday here to bring the armed opponents of the government on the negotiations table for ending the ongoing insurgency.

Four reconstruction projects executed in Nangarhar
Abdul Moeed Hashmi & Fared Tanha - May 8, 2008 - 16:46
JALALABAD (PAN): Four reconstruction projects have been executed under the National Solidarity Program (NSP) with the total cost of five million afghanis in the eastern Nangarhar province, an official said on Thursday.

Second Former KBR Employee Sentenced for Scheme to Defraud the U.S. Department of Defense
FOXBusiness Friday, May 09, 2008
ALEXANDRIA, Va.,
James N. Sellman, 26, of Arnold, Md., a former Kellogg, Brown & Root (KBR: 32.05, -0.66, -2.01%) employee who worked in Afghanistan, was sentenced today in U.S. District Court to 26 months in prison for conspiring to receive bribes

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Taliban suspects on hunger strike in Afghan jail
KABUL (AFP) - About 300 Taliban suspects have been on a hunger strike in Afghanistan's southern Kandahar prison for a week demanding fair trials, rights groups and local lawmakers said Sunday.

The prisoners, most of them captured in connection with a Taliban-led insurgency, stopped eating last Sunday in protest at the handling of their trials by local authorities, one lawmaker said.

"About 300 prisoners have been on a hunger strike (for) the past one week. About 20 of them have sewn their lips," said Ahmad Wali Karzai, head of the Kandahar provincial council.

It was not independently confirmed they had sewn their lips.

Of the group some had already been found guilty of various offences but claimed their trials were not fair. Others are awaiting trial but say they are being forced into admitting their guilt.

"They are complaining that their trials have been unjust and are demanding their cases be reviewed by an independent committee," Karzai, the younger brother of President Hamid Karzai, told AFP.

The politician said that some prisoners had told him authorities were using torture to force them to confess.

The Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission in Kandahar confirmed the strike and called on authorities to deal with the issue.

"We visited the jail. About 300 political prisoners are on hunger strike. This is a matter of concern for us... we call on the government to address the issue immediately," the rights group's regional office said in a statement.

Provincial police Sayed Agha Saqeb said "the situation is under control."

An AFP reporter saw hundreds of anti-riot police around the fortified jail, where about 200 mainly women relatives of the prisoners had gathered for a Sunday visit. Police, however, did not allow any visitors.
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NW Afghanistan hit by plague of locusts
KABUL, May 10 (Reuters) - Afghan authorities are examining the extent of an unprecedented locust infestation that has prompted local officials in some areas to offer wheat as a reward to residents for killing the insects.

Some 300 tonnes of locusts have been killed by people in the northwestern province of Badghis alone in recent weeks, Abdul Ghafar Ahmadi, a senior official from the agriculture ministry, said on Saturday, citing provincial officials.

Local officials in Badghis and neighbouring Herat have promised residents 7 kgs (15 lbs) of wheat in return for killing 1 kg of locusts, amid a global surge in food prices that has hit Afghanistan hard, Ahmadi said.

"The infestation of locusts has been unprecedented in Afghanistan. It is pretty bad here in Badghis which is also suffering from drought," he told Reuters from Badghis.

"I have heard from local officials that residents have killed 300 metric tonnes of locusts."

He could not say how many hectares of cultivated land had been destroyed by the infestation, but said a mechanical campaign to kill the insects has been going in several parts of the region, which border Turkmenistan.

"This is a regional problem and is not limited only to Afghanistan," he said.
(Reporting by Sayed Salahuddin; Editing by Alex Richardson)
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Key al Qaeda member killed in Afghanistan: web
Sun May 11, 7:57 AM ET
KABUL (Reuters) - A prominent member of al Qaeda was killed in fighting with U.S.-led forces in Afghanistan, the group said in a statement posted on an Islamist website on Sunday.

Abu Suleiman al-Otaibi, formerly one of the group's leaders in Iraq, was killed in a "fierce battle with the worshipers of the cross" in Paktia, it said without giving the date of the battle.

Another al Qaeda member, identified as Abu Dejana al-Qahtani, also died in the fighting, it added.

Afghan officials said they had no information on the report. But the government earlier said in a statement that "five opposition" fighters were killed on Saturday in Paktia during an operation involving Afghan and U.S.-led troops.

The leader of al Qaeda in Afghanistan Mustafa Abu al-Yazid said Qahtani left Iraq about six months ago without giving further details.

Otaibi was the head of the judiciary at the self-styled Islamic State in Iraq, a group started by al Qaeda and fellow Sunni militant groups.

Violence has been at its worst level in Afghanistan since 2006, the bloodiest period since the removal of the al Qaeda-backed Taliban in 2001.

U.S.-led forces toppled the Taliban government in 2001 after its leaders refused to hand over Osama bin Laden and his top aides to the United States for trial for the September 11, 2001 attacks on U.S. cities.
(Reporting by Inal Ersan in Dubai and Sayed Salahuddin in Kabul; editing by Sami Aboudi)
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Afghan, foreign security forces kill several militants in Afghanistan
Associated Press
KABUL, Afghanistan - Officials say Afghan and international forces have killed several militants in eastern and southern Afghanistan.

The U.S.-led coalition says its forces killed "several militants" during two separate operations Saturday in eastern Khost province and southern Helmand province.

The coalition said in a statement Sunday the troops were working with Afghan forces to target insurgents involved in roadside bomb attacks in Khost.

In Helmand, the forces were targeting a Taliban militant involved in trafficking weapons and assisting foreign fighters.

The Interior Ministry says Afghan and foreign forces killed four insurgents on Friday and Saturday in Helmand and five militants Saturday in eastern Paktia province.
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Who Are the Afghans Just Released from Guantánamo?
by Andy Worthington antiwar.com / May 10, 2008
For the five Afghans who returned home on the same flight as al-Jazeera journalist Sami al-Haj and the other three prisoners described in my previous article, the future is disturbingly uncertain. As I reported last December, when 13 of their compatriots were released from Guantánamo, they, like the other 19 Afghans released in August, September and November, were not freed outright, as was the case with the 152 other Afghans previously released, but were instead transferred to Block D, a wing of Pol-i-Charki, Kabul's main prison, which was recently refurbished by the U.S. authorities.

While some of these 32 men have subsequently been released from Pol-i-Charki, the whole story of U.S. involvement in the prison is deeply disturbing, as are reports that the "trials" of the men returned from Guantánamo are "closed-door" affairs, in which, as the Washington Post explained last month, "they are often denied access to defense attorneys," and are, essentially, tried on the basis of "evidence" provided by the United States, which they are not allowed to see; in other words, exactly the same situation that they faced in the Combatant Status Review Tribunals at Guantánamo (the military reviews convened to assess the prisoners' status as "enemy combatants," in which military officers took the place of lawyers, and secret evidence was withheld from the prisoners).

As Mohammed Afzal Mullahkeil, a lawyer for the returned Afghan prisoners explained, "When they were sent from Guantánamo, they were told, ‘You are innocent and you will be free once you're in your country.' When they got to Bagram, they just brought them to Block D and said they should have a second trial."

In common with previous Afghan releases, the identities of the five men have been difficult to establish. The Pentagon never discloses the names of those it frees, and although lawyers representing the prisoners are informed of their clients' departure, the identities of those who did not have legal representation – either because they refused to do so, or had not found any way of establishing contact with the legal community – remain unknown unless the media are present on their arrival (which has not happened in Afghanistan for many years), or until further investigation by lawyers or journalists turn up details of their identities.

Shortly after the men were released, the identities of only two of the five Afghans had been established, but over the weekend Sami al-Haj gave the names of the other three men, all of whom have now been positively identified. As with those described above, their stories reveal, yet again, the wholesale mockery of justice that defines the regime at Guantánamo: outright failures of intelligence, the presumption of guilt, the refusal to seek out witnesses to back up the prisoners' stories, and a willingness to accept confessions from other prisoners as the truth, regardless of how it was obtained, and with no attempt made to investigate the veracity of the claims.

Haji Rohullah Wakil, a celebrated anti-Taliban commander

Of the two Afghans identified, by far the most significant is 46-year-old Haji Rohullah Wakil (also identified as Haji Roohullah), a tribal leader in Afghanistan's Kunar province, whose opposition to the Taliban was such that he fired the first salvo against the Taliban in Kunar after the U.S.-led invasion in October 2001. As a result of his anti-Taliban credentials and his support for Hamid Karzai, Wakil was rewarded with an important position in the province's post-Taliban administration, and was also made a member of the Loya Jirga, the prestigious gathering of tribal leaders that elected Karzai as President in June 2002. His influence was such that Ghulam Ullah, the head of education in Kunar, described him as "a national religious leader."

Seized by U.S. forces in August 2002, with his military commander Sabar Lal and eleven others, Wakil was taken to the U.S. prison in Bagram airbase for questioning. Although the others were subsequently released, the Americans decided that both Wakil and Lal had sufficient intelligence value to be transferred to Guantánamo in August 2003. According to an Associated Press report, they believed that Wakil "had strong links with Middle Eastern fighters in Afghanistan, particularly Saudi Arabians like Osama bin Laden," and thought it significant that he was a follower of the Wahhabi sect of Islam, even though both Wakil and Lal had had numerous meetings with senior American officials and had offered support for the campaign to oust al-Qaeda and the Taliban from the Tora Bora mountains in November and December 2001.

The outline of Wakil's story has been reported before – both in my book The Guantánamo Files: The Stories of the 774 Detainees in America's Illegal Prison, and in an article I wrote last October, when his military commander, Sabar Lal, was released from Guantánamo – but it still appears to be a disturbing example of the incompetence of American military intelligence in Afghanistan, as the primary charge against Wakil – that he provided sanctuary to a number of significant al-Qaeda operatives who had fled from the city of Jalalabad after it fell to the Northern Alliance on November 12, 2001 – was so utterly at odds with his proven track record as an anti-Taliban tribal leader who was part of the Northern Alliance and supported Hamid Karzai.

While the full story of Haji Rohullah Wakil deserves more in-depth treatment than I can supply at present, there appear to be only two possible explanations for his capture: either that he did in fact aid the al-Qaeda members because he was working as a double agent, or that he was betrayed by a rival. Personally, I find the second explanation rather less far-fetched, particularly as so many other Afghan prisoners in Guantánamo – at least two dozen, including Abdul Razzaq Hekmati, who died in Guantánamo in December without being given the opportunity to clear his name – were actively opposed to the Taliban, but were betrayed by rivals who had gained the trust of the Americans.

According to this second version of events, Wakil was probably betrayed by Malik Zarin, the head of the rival Mushwani tribe, who had ingratiated himself with the Americans and was using them for his own ends. Although Wakil himself did not name names in Guantánamo, Sabar Lal, who was finally freed from Pol-i-Charki in February, to return to his wife and five children, had no doubt that he had been betrayed. Speaking to the Washington Post last month, he made it clear that he "was turned over to US forces by Afghans seeking revenge for his arrest of Taliban fighters near the Pakistani border."

At Guantánamo, Lal had been even more forthright, explaining to his tribunal the injustice of imprisoning him with members of the Taliban: "The only thing I want to tell you that is so ironic here is that I see a Talib and then I see myself here too, I am in the same spot as a Talib. I see those people on an everyday basis, they are cursing at me ... They say, ‘See, you got what you deserved, you are here, too.'"

Abdullah Mohammed Khan and his dubious friendship

The story of the second Afghan, Abdullah Mohammed Khan, a 36-year old ethnic Uzbek, shifts the focus from Afghanistan to Pakistan, and appears to be another example of dubious intelligence on the part of the Pakistani and American authorities. A former mujahid against the Russians, Khan, mentioned briefly in my book, but otherwise unknown, was arrested in Peshawar, in 2001, at the house of a Syrian acquaintance called Musa, who, according to the U.S. authorities, was an al-Qaeda suspect identified as Abd al-Hamid al-Suri.

Khan denied knowing anything about any connection that Musa might have had with al-Qaeda, saying that all he knew was that he came to Pakistan from Turkey with his family for medical treatment on his feet, which were "in very bad condition." He also denied knowing anything about a CD containing explosives-making manuals that was apparently discovered in Musa's house. Released after being questioned by a Pakistani and an American, he was arrested a second time in January 2002, when traces of explosives were allegedly found on his fingers. Again, he denied the allegation, saying, "I never touched any kind of explosives after the Russians [left]," but this time he was seized and sent to Guantánamo, on what, it appears, was little more than a whim.

At his Administrative Review Board in Guantánamo (the successors to the tribunals, convened to assess whether the prisoners were still a threat to the US, or had ongoing intelligence value), Khan ran up against a litany of allegations made by other prisoners, which are shockingly prevalent in the transcripts of the hearings, even though there is no indication of the circumstances under which the "confessions" were elicited, and, moreover, no attempt was made to verify whether or not they were true.

When faced with these allegations, Khan duly denied a claim that "an al-Qaeda detainee" had identified him in a photo as Abdul Latif al-Turki, explaining that this was the name of the person who had provided him with a false Turkish passport to enter Pakistan, and adding that he was always known by his real name, and that "if you really showed somebody my picture and they told you my name is Abdul ... he was lying." He also denied a similar allegation from "A Libyan Islamic Fighting Group member," who identified him as "al-Turki" and said that he saw him several times at the al-Ansar guest house in Pakistan, and an allegation from an Iraqi detainee who had apparently identified him in a photo and said that he had seen him at a guest house on the Taliban front lines in Kabul in 1999 or 2000.

On this point, his response was particularly revealing, as any detailed research into Guantánamo reveals that several prisoners – an Iraqi and a Yemeni are regularly cited – have spread false allegations against other prisoners. Most startlingly, this came to light in 2006, when, in an article for the National Journal, Corine Hegland told the story of an unnamed but principled Personal Representative for a young Yemeni prisoner, Farouq Saif (known to the Pentagon as Farouq Ali Ahmed), at his tribunal. This officer – assigned to Saif in place of a lawyer, and under no obligation to make a stand on his behalf – was so shocked at the vehemence with which Saif denied an allegation that he had been seen at Osama bin Laden's personal airport that he went back to his file and discovered that the allegation had been made by another prisoner, who had been specifically identified by the FBI as a liar.

In another case reported by Hegland, another Personal Representative – or perhaps the same man; the details are unclear – followed a trail established in the case of a young Syrian, Mohammed al-Tumani, who denied even being in Afghanistan when he was alleged to have been at a training camp. On investigating the file of the prisoner who made the allegation, the officer discovered that he had actually made groundless accusations against 60 prisoners in total. Despite this, both Farouq Saif and Mohammed al-Tumani remain in Guantánamo, and no one has ever established the identities of the other 58 or 59 men who were falsely accused.

Khan's version was as follows. "About two years ago," he said, "I was prepared to be released from here. At that point I lived with some Iraqi people and because they disliked me they were lying, they were throwing some allegations on me and that's why my process has stopped and that's why I have not been released."

Shorn of these additional allegations, the case against Khan was summarized by his Designated Military Officer (the officer assigned to the prisoners instead of a lawyer in the ARBs), who stated, "Detainee argues that he is innocent of all the charges brought before him other than that he was associated with Musa," to which Khan added, "That's correct. Again, I had some association with Musa and also I had a bad passport, that's the only things that occurred."

Tricked by the Taliban

The other three Afghans – identified by Sami al-Haj – were captured in what appears to have been a sly act of revenge by a former member of the Taliban against one of his former colleagues who had turned against the regime. The story began when soldiers working for Jan Mohammed, the governor of Uruzgan province, north of Kandahar, stopped a car containing two men, Ismatullah, a 25-year-old embroiderer, and Nasrullah, his 23-year-old cousin, identified by Sami as Nasrullah al-Rosgani (from Uruzgan), and Esmatullah, his cousin. Ismatullah apparently admitted that he had just delivered a letter to a third man, Mohammed Sangaryar, which was from Abdul Razaq, the former Taliban Minister of Commerce. Sami identified the third man as Mohalim al-Rosgani, which was initially rather confusing, but on Tuesday his lawyer confirmed that Mohalim al-Rosgani was indeed Sangaryar, and that he too had been released.

Ismatullah explained that he had been going to Uruzgan to sell his car, and added that Razaq had said that he would pay his petrol if he delivered the letter. Unable to read, he said that he asked his 23-year old cousin, Nasrullah, to read it, to check that there "wasn't any danger in it." Nasrullah said that the letter asked Sangaryar to go to Quetta, but did not mention fighting, even though the U.S. authorities alleged that Razaq had asked Sangaryar to report to Quetta "to fight and avoid capture by the Americans."

According to Sangaryar, the letter was actually a trap, designed to punish him for turning his back on the Taliban and to discredit him by making it appear that he was still involved with them. He explained that he was a former deputy commander of the Taliban, who had fought with them for many years in an attempt to bring peace to his country. He added, however, that he and his tribe had turned against the Taliban before the U.S.-led invasion, because they had become too enamored of fighting for its own sake, and, specifically, because they had dug up the corpse of Asmat Khan, a prominent tribal leader, and had deposited it in the street as an affront to his tribe. When the American-backed warlord Gul Agha Sherzai took over Kandahar, Sangaryar said that he and his men handed in all their weapons, and he then returned to his village to refurbish his home.

What's particularly bizarre about this story is the fact that Abdul Razaq (aka Abdul Razak Iktiar Mohammed), the former Taliban Minister of Commerce, was himself seized and sent to Guantánamo, but was transferred to Pol-i-Charki last August, and fairly swiftly released. Throughout these men's imprisonment, there was no indication that any effort was made to cross-reference their stories, and this is, I believe, an appropriate note on which to end these two surveys of the latest prisoners released from Guantánamo, in which you'll have no doubt observed that not a single one of these prisoners was actually accused of raising arms against U.S. forces, let alone of having any involvement in the terrible events of September 11, 2001.
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Big powers have increased insecurity in Iraq, Afghanistan: FM
TEHRAN (IRNA) -- Foreign Minister Manuchehr Mottaki said on Saturday that the failed policies of big powers have increased insecurity, instability in neighboring Iraq and Afghanistan.

Mottaki made the remarks while receiving the credentials of the new Representative of UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) to Tehran Carlos Zaccagnini de Ory on Saturday.

“Unfortunately the policies of international organizations coupled with interference of big powers did not help resolve the ongoing crisis in Iraq and Afghanistan,” Mottaki said.

Current developments have led to continued asylum-seeking of a large number of people in those countries, he said.

Iran is to fulfill its commitments to refugees who have registered, he said adding that those refugees who have entered the country through illegal channels will be dealt with.

“Unfortunately some countries have considered the issue of refugees as a political means to exert pressure on other countries,” Mottaki said.

He called on these countries to change their attitude on the issue.

The new UNHCR envoy to Tehran, while submitting his credentials to Mottaki, said he is determined to help broaden cooperation between UNHCR and Iran during his tenure.

He also called for Iran’s assistance in conducting the humanitarian duties of UNHCR.

Iran ready to upgrade health standards in region

Mottaki said that Tehran is ready to exchange its experiences with the World Health Organization (WHO) to help upgrade health standards in the region and even turn into a health hub in the Middle East.

Mottaki made the remark in a meeting with the new WHO representative to Iran Ambrogio Manenti.

At the meeting, Mottaki highlighted significant role of WHO in improving the status of health in the world and briefed the WHO envoy on Iran’s capabilities to this end.

Both the Middle East and Central Asia need more attention and better health care due to their political issues and existing shortcomings, Mottaki said.

Iran proposes WHO to make use of religious beliefs in its campaign against drug addiction and diseases, Mottaki said.

Such a policy can help ease WHO’s responsibilities and increase its efficiency in dealing with the issue, he said.

The WHO envoy, for his part, called Iran as a big country with ancient civilization and advanced health care system and said Iran is now regarded as the most developed country in the region in terms of health care. Iran’s offer can be put on WHO’s agenda, he said.
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Afghan police seize car stuffed with explosives
Ryan Cormier ,  Canwest News Service Saturday, May 10, 2008
KANDAHAR AIRFIELD, Afghanistan - Police seized a vehicle filled with a variety of explosive materials in the province of Kandahar Saturday afternoon.

Provincial Police Chief Sayed Aka Sakib told a news conference that two vehicles were seized and searched - a Toyota Corolla full of the deadly cargo and a taxi being used a guide vehicle.

Three men inside the vehicles were arrested.

Two were apparently Pakistani while the third was an Afghan from the Panjwaii district, where many Canadian soldiers are stationed.

As the investigation progressed, it led Afghan National Security Forces to two bombs, one near a Kandahar-area school that Canadian soldiers defused, Sakib said. The second was in the Spin Boldak region, the most common route for materials and Taliban insurgents moving from Pakistan to Afghanistan. That one also was defused.

A fourth man connected to the plot reportedly was also arrested.

The variety of explosives inside the vehicle was a sample of weapons favoured by the insurgency - mines, IEDs and gunpowder, a common tool of suicide bombers.

The driver of the Corolla told local media that he was paid the equivalent of $150 Canadian to move the explosives from Pakistan to Kandahar City.

Police don't yet know if the man was only a transporter or if he was intended to be a suicide bomber.

Sakib showed off the seized explosives at a news conference in Kandahar City.

Acting on apparent tips, Kandahar police began following the vehicles as they travelled northwest from the Pakistani border and arrested the men late Saturday afternoon.

The investigation is ongoing.

The victory for Afghan security forces comes as the end of the illegal opium poppy harvest looms, a time when many expect to see the Taliban become more aggressive and violent. Opium funds insurgent activity in Afghanistan.

There are roughly 2,500 Canadian soldiers in Afghanistan, most of them in the province of Kandahar.
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Afghan national army strength rises to 76,000
www.chinaview.cn  2008-05-11 18:43:05
KABUL, May 11 (Xinhua) -- The strength of Afghan new armed forces has risen to more than 76,000, spokesman of Afghan defense ministry said Sunday.

"Today the strength of Afghanistan National Army (ANA) is 76,665 soldiers and officers," Zahir Azimi told a press conference.

Under the historic Bonn agreement signed in Germany following the collapse of Taliban regime in late 2001, Afghanistan was designed to have 70,000-strong armed forces.

However, Afghan defense ministry stressed last year that 70,000troops is not enough to protect the country's security.

In the wake of insistence by Kabul, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) and America's western allies agreed at a summit last month in Bucharest to help Afghanistan to have 86,000-strong armed forces.

Afghanistan would have 86,000 army by the middle of 2009, according to Azimi.

However, Afghan government emphasizes that the war-torn country needs 150,000 to 200,000 armed forces to ensure security and defend its geographical boundaries.

The new Afghan Army which has been gradually equipped with the U.S. and its western allies made weapons, Azimi added, had killed 141 insurgents in different operations since March 21 this year in the restive provinces, mostly in the southern region.
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"Women Helping Women: Stitch by Stitch" - Afghan Women's Collaboration
Rubia Logo, embroidered by Darrai Noor. Art Daily
WILMINGTON, DE.-The WCA-Philadelphia has partnered with Rubia to organize the collaborative project, entitled: “Women Helping Women: Stitch by Stitch.” The project involved the creation of a quilt, which showcases the work of women from Darrai Noor, Afghanistan and over 25 American women artists from the Women’s Caucus for Art and Rubia. The majority of the participating U.S. artists are from the Philadelphia Chapter; yet, artists from New Hampshire, Florida, Oregon, Tennessee, Missouri, Montana, California, Louisiana, and Washington, DC have also joined in this collaborative effort. Joining the Wilmington Exhibit will be several large suzani, displayed by Afghan women’s fund. These large embroidered tapestries are fine examples of the culture of embroidery in Central Asia and its association with women, in particular.

The United States artists observed the embroidered motifs found in Rubia’s handwork, which include the poppy, the peacock, and the swirling sun as found on the Rubia Website (http://www.rubiahandwork.org). Each square piece is an interpretation of a Rubia embroidery. The Women’s Caucus for Art Philadelphia chapter assembled the larger tapestry combining embroidery from Afghan women and each artist’s 10 x 10 inch piece to create an impressive and intricate tapestry.

“I am amazed by the diversity of work and techniques each artist used in this challenge. Some artists moved far away from their traditional mediums to express this interpretation with textile and embroidery techniques. The tapestry is dynamic and inviting to the audience, it is truly hard to describe in words” states Molly Crowley, of Rubia Inc.

“The outreach to the other chapters of the WCA was a new undertaking for our chapter. It had been a long time since we conducted a national show, and we were thrilled at the response. These Afghan women are extremely isolated, and it is so exciting to work with them and to raise money for Rubia to continue its programming to pay Afghan women a living wage for their art forms,” Bonnie MacAllister commented.

“I wrote a poem for the project, and I wrote of the women’s strengths. ‘With one hand she bastes, binding the tatters set forth for her. She can round off, truncate, confines, trim knotty spots others might skirt, seize Gordian tangles, effect brim or hem in her authority,’” MacAllister continued.

The show will debut at the Redding Gallery in the City County Building in Wilmington, DE. The show will then travel to the Grace Episcopal Church in Merchantville, NJ. Shows across the nation are pending approval as many artists wish to see the quilt exhibited their home towns. The quilted piece will be showcased at the DC Chapter’s Networking Day at the Arts Club of Washington, DC on April 5.

“I am excited to see Rubia’s work in Afghanistan welcomed by so many artists in America. The response has been fantastic. In this exhibit, we get to showcase a very different view of Afghanistan, the creation of beautiful crafts, the tradition of embroidery, and some glimpses at home life in Afghanistan. I think this is new to a lot of our audience, and yet there seems to be a very deep understanding, visible through the interpretations by American women.” Molly Crowley continued.

Rubia is a project of Social & Environmental Entrepeneurs (SEE), a registered 501(c) [3], which provides non-profit status. Rubia serves women in Afghanistan, offering education, skills training and income opportunities through the promotion of their traditional handwork. Rubia is committed to building sustainable business in a fragile environment, empowering women while respecting traditional ways, reviving and preserving traditional crafts.

As an official chapter of the National Women’s Caucus for Art, the Philadelphia Chapter supports and upholds their mission statement and by laws. In addition, the chapter is committed to creating a support network for women in the visual arts in Philadelphia and surrounding communities. The Women’s Caucus for Art Philadelphia Chapter strives to increase awareness and recognition of women in the visual arts through our exhibitions, lectures, publications and other educational programming. 
Editor: Jiang Yuxia 
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‘No peace if Afghanistan seeks military solutions’
* Former Interior minister sceptical that $4bn package can reduce militancy
Daily Times, Pakistan Staff Report  Sunday, May 11, 2008
PESHAWAR-Peace overtures in the NWFP will not sustain if Afghanistan continues to look for military solutions to militancy, former Interior minister Aftab Ahmed Khan Sherpao said on Saturday.

“Any peaceful solution in the Frontier will not sustain until Afghanistan does not find a peaceful solution,” he told reporters at his house.

Sherpao, who heads his own faction of the Pakistan People’s Party, was doubtful that the new coalition government would generate $4 billion to reduce militancy by 30 percent in the next three years.

“We know what happened to the pledges of billions of dollars for Afghanistan. We see a rise in extremism in Afghanistan because the world did not honour their pledges.”

The ex-Interior minister added: “I don’t see the $4 billion package will resolve militancy. The US has pledged billions for Afghanistan but nothing has happened.”

The Pakistan People’s Party-Sherpao (PPP-S) would support the provincial government for the sake of peace however, said Sherpao, who lost ground in February 18 elections and survived close calls when suspected militants attempted two separate unsuccessful suicide attacks on him.

Sherpao appeared sceptical that the provincial government’s ceasefire with Mullah Fazlullah would sustain. “There is a difference between Fazlullah and Sufi Muhammad. Will the government accept the militants’ demand for the army withdrawal?”

He said the government did not explain its peace plan and that any deal with one group in one district would not bring peace to the whole province.

He said the May 12 deadline for the restoration of the judges sacked on November 3, 3007 would pass without any significant development, adding that the differences between Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) chief Nawaz Sharif and Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) Co-chairman Asif Ali Zardari had damaged people’s confidence.

“The credibility of political parties is at stake because the two parties have serious difference of opinion despite the fact they publicly signed the Murree Declaration,” Sherpao said. He said the two parties should not have made a commitment they could not honour.

“They need to tackle growing price hike and other issues affecting the public.”
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NPJ launched for ending the insurgency
Zubair Babakarkhel - May 8, 2008 - 19:14
KABUL, (PAN): A reconciliatory body with the name of National Peace Jirga (NPJ) was formed Thursday here to bring the armed opponents of the government on the negotiations table for ending the ongoing insurgency.

The NPJ was formed in a conference attended by up to 200 people and state representatives from various parts of the country in the Loya Jirga Tent.

The interim chairman of the National Peace Jirga Senator Bakhtar Aminzai told the opening gathering that the current conflict could not be resolved by military means and tat only talks could bring a solution.

He called on the government to step up its negotiations with the Taliban and Hizb-i-Islami groups.

He said the increasing confrontation between the government its armed opponents in the recent years diverted the peace and stability milestone put in the Bonn Agreement six and a half years ago.

Aminzai said thhe National Peace Jigra had its representatives from across Afghanistan and among all civil institutions, like universities, provincial councils, parliament, tribal and religious leaders.

Two other representatives of the National Peace Jirga, a disabled and a woman, told the gathering that both the people and the government were fed up with the continuing fighting in different parts of Afghanistan.

The new group comes into existence as rumors are ripe about contacts between the government and leader of Hizb-i-Islami of Gulbuddin Hekmatyar.
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Four reconstruction projects executed in Nangarhar
Abdul Moeed Hashmi & Fared Tanha - May 8, 2008 - 16:46
JALALABAD (PAN): Four reconstruction projects have been executed under the National Solidarity Program (NSP) with the total cost of five million afghanis in the eastern Nangarhar province, an official said on Thursday.

Eng. Ahmad Wali Hakimi director of provincial Rural Rehabilitation and Development department (RRD) told Pajhwok Afghan News the projects including, water heads, supportive walls, piped water and digging of wells were completed in Nazian, and Behsood districts.

He added the projects that will benefit around 10,000 families of the two districts were completed with the total worth of five million afghanis within three months.

Meanwhile, a supplementary building of a girls' school was also inaugurated after its completion in the central Parwan province with the total cost of about 100,000 US dollars by support of Word Bank (WB), an official said on Thursday.

Parwan education director Abdul Hakim Zahoor told this news agency the supplementary building having 12 classrooms will accommodate around 800 students. The school had around 1300 students 500 of them were studying in the old building of the school, he added.
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Second Former KBR Employee Sentenced for Scheme to Defraud the U.S. Department of Defense
FOXBusiness Friday, May 09, 2008
ALEXANDRIA, Va.,
James N. Sellman, 26, of Arnold, Md., a former Kellogg, Brown & Root (KBR: 32.05, -0.66, -2.01%) employee who worked in Afghanistan, was sentenced today in U.S. District Court to 26 months in prison for conspiring to receive bribes, making false statements and filing false claims, announced Assistant Attorney General Alice S. Fisher of the Criminal Division and U.S. Attorney Chuck Rosenberg for the Eastern District of Virginia.

In addition to the 26 month prison sentence, Judge T.S. Ellis III, sentenced the defendant to three years of supervised release and ordered him to pay $675,000 in restitution to the Defense Energy Support Center headquartered at Fort Belvoir, Va. Sellman pleaded guilty on Feb. 7, 2008. Wallace A. Ward, 25, of Spring Lake, N.C., also a former KBR employee who worked in Afghanistan, was sentenced on April 11, 2008, to 26 months in prison and ordered to pay $216,000 restitution to the Defense Energy Support Center.

According to court documents, KBR had a contract to provide support services to the U.S. Army at Bagram Airfield in Afghanistan, including unloading truckloads of jet fuel delivered by drivers hired by Red Star Enterprises Limited. Between May and September 2006, certain KBR employees conspired to accept payments from drivers, who in fact were selling their fuel to parties outside the airfield, in return for providing the drivers with false documents showing that the truckloads of fuel had been delivered to the airfield. The defendant admitted to joining the conspiracy in July 2006 and receiving bribes from several drivers in return for falsifying the paperwork. According to the indictment, more than 80 truckloads of fuel were diverted for sale outside the airfield between May and September 2006, involving more than 784,000 gallons of fuel valued at more than $2.1 million.

In October 2006, the National Procurement Fraud Task Force was formed to promote the early detection, identification, prevention and prosecution of procurement fraud associated with the increase in government contracting activity for national security and other government programs. The National Procurement Fraud Task Force, chaired by Assistant Attorney General Fisher, includes the U.S. Attorneys' Offices, the FBI, the U.S. Inspectors General community and a number of other federal law enforcement agencies. This case, as well as other cases brought by members of the Task Force, demonstrates the Department of Justice's commitment to helping ensure the integrity of the government procurement process.

The case was prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney Jack Hanly and Trial Attorney James J. Graham of the Criminal Division's Fraud Section. Special Agents of the U.S. Army Criminal Investigative Division in Virginia and Afghanistan and the Defense Criminal Investigative Service in Virginia investigated the case.
SOURCE U.S. Department of Justice
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