Serving you since 1998
May 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

May 1, 2008 

Afghan officials: Al-Qaida link in assassination plot
By FISNIK ABRASHI, Associated Press Writer Thu May 1, 6:06 AM ET
KABUL, Afghanistan - The weekend plot to kill Afghan President Hamid Karzai was masterminded by militants with links to al-Qaida members who reside in Pakistan's lawless tribal areas, an Afghan intelligence official said Thursday.

Double road bombing kills eight in Afghanistan
Thu May 1, 3:45 AM ET
KANDAHAR, Afghanistan (AFP) - Eight people including two children were killed in a double roadside bombing in troubled southern Afghanistan, police said on Thursday.

Thousands flee as US military operation gets under way
KABUL, 1 May 2008 (IRIN) - Thousands of people have been forced to leave their homes and seek refuge in different parts of Helmand Province, southern Afghanistan, as a US military operation in and around Garmsir District against Taliban insurgents gets under way, provincial officials said.

S Korea to send police to Afghanistan
SEOUL, May 1 (Xinhua) -- South Korea plans to send dozens of police officers to Afghanistan later this year to help train local police, South Korea's Yonhap News Agency reported on Thursday.

Canada reaches out to Taliban
After years of refusing to negotiate with insurgents, soldiers in Kandahar put word out they want to talk
GRAEME SMITH The Globe and Mail (Canada) May 1, 2008
KHENJAKAK, AFGHANISTAN -- Canadian troops are reaching out to the Taliban for the first time, military and diplomatic officials say, as Canada softens its ban on speaking with the insurgents.

US in a bind over Pakistan militants
By Brajesh Upadhyay BBC News, Washington Thursday, 1 May 2008
The US has given its clearest support yet for the new Pakistani government's efforts to strike a deal with militants.

Blast 'targets' pro-Taleban group
Thursday, 1 May 2008 BBC News
At least one person has been killed and 30 wounded in a blast at the offices of a pro-Taleban group in north-west Pakistan, local officials say.

Americans build elite Afghan commando force
The commando battalions, just a year old, are being trained and deployed nationally as a mobile, quick-reaction force.
By Gordon Lubold | Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor from the May 1, 2008 edition
Rish Khvor, Afghanistan - Pvt. Said Reza says he's ready to be a soldier in his country's fight against extremists, and as he stands in uniform in the middle of a training camp here with his semiautomatic rifle, kneepads, and American-style dark glasses, he looks the part.

Azerbaijan’s Cellular Operator Signs First Roaming Agreement with Afghanistan
Trend News Agency (Azerbaijan) May 1, 2008
Azerbaijan, Baku, 1 May /Trend Capital/ Azercell Telecom LLC, Azerbaijan’s cellular network operator, has put into operation international roaming service with Afghanistan - Etisalat (GSM 900/1800) operator.

U.S. army targets $400 mln for Afghan emergency funds
By Luke Baker
BAGRAM, Afghanistan, May 1 (Reuters) - The U.S. military hopes to double its emergency funds for aid and reconstruction in Afghanistan this year, turning a once small-scale programme into a core part of its strategy to defeat Taliban insurgents.

Afghan gov't at odds with private TV channels over airing Indian soap operas
by Abdul Haleem, Lin Jing
KABUL, May 1 (Xinhua) -- Afghan Ministry for Information and Culture has been at odds with private TV channels over their continuously broadcasting Indian soap operas whose contents allegedly contradict with local cultural and religious values.

Back to Top
Afghan officials: Al-Qaida link in assassination plot
By FISNIK ABRASHI, Associated Press Writer Thu May 1, 6:06 AM ET
KABUL, Afghanistan - The weekend plot to kill Afghan President Hamid Karzai was masterminded by militants with links to al-Qaida members who reside in Pakistan's lawless tribal areas, an Afghan intelligence official said Thursday.

Saeed Ansari, a spokesman for the Afghan intelligence service, said that one of those killed during a raid on a militant hideout in Kabul on Wednesday was also linked to a deadly suicide attack on the city's luxurious Serena Hotel in January. Ansart identified him as Humayun.

After the Serena attack, in which eight people died, intelligence officials said Humayun had links to a network led by a militant leader Siraj Haqqani.

Haqqani's network is believed to have links with al-Qaida members who operate from Pakistan's tribal areas, where Afghan officials say Haqqani is also based. The U.S. military has a $200,000 bounty out on him.

Intelligence chief Amrullah Saleh has said those killed in the raid Wednesday and three other gunmen who tried to assassinate Karzai on Sunday, were in contact with militants inside Pakistan's tribal regions.

Pakistan army spokesman Maj. Gen. Athar Abbas called the allegation "baseless."

Although Saleh said there was no evidence that the attack had the go-ahead from the Pakistani government, his comments will likely irk Islamabad. They could put a damper on recently improved relations between the two countries — relations often strained over allegations that Pakistan helps the Taliban and other militants.

The Taliban has claimed responsibility for the attempt on Karzai's life during a military parade on Sunday. Karzai survived unharmed, but three people, including a lawmaker, were killed. Three assailants also died.

Afghan lawmakers on Tuesday passed a vote of no-confidence against the country's three top security officials — including Saleh — after they revealed they had been aware of the assassination plot against Karzai hatched last month but failed to stop it. The officials, however, retained their jobs.

Sunday's assault was at least the fourth attempt to assassinate Karzai since he came to power six years ago. That attack exposed how despite the presence of more than 40,000 U.S. and NATO-led troops and rapidly expanding Afghan security forces, Karzai is struggling to contain the insurgency.
Back to Top

Back to Top
Double road bombing kills eight in Afghanistan
Thu May 1, 3:45 AM ET
KANDAHAR, Afghanistan (AFP) - Eight people including two children were killed in a double roadside bombing in troubled southern Afghanistan, police said on Thursday.

The first of the roadside bombs late Wednesday struck a civilian car at the town of Spin Boldak near the border with Pakistan, Kandahar province police chief Sayed Aqa Saqib told AFP.

A second bomb struck a minivan that had stopped to help.

"In both blasts, eight people were killed, including two children, and six were wounded," he said.

The children were aged between 10 and 14. The other casualties were all male.

There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the deadly attack.

Kandahar, and in particular Spin Boldak, has been hit by a wave of attacks by the extremist Taliban movement.

The Taliban, in government between 1996 and 2001, usually attacks the Afghan police and military, or the thousands of international troops here to help them battle the rebels.

However, civilians are most often caught up in the violence.

The insurgency was its deadliest last year, with about 8,000 people killed, most of them rebel fighters but including 1,500 civilians.
Back to Top

Back to Top
Thousands flee as US military operation gets under way
KABUL, 1 May 2008 (IRIN) - Thousands of people have been forced to leave their homes and seek refuge in different parts of Helmand Province, southern Afghanistan, as a US military operation in and around Garmsir District against Taliban insurgents gets under way, provincial officials said.

"Our preliminary reports indicate that more than 1,000 families [5,000-7,000 people] have left the area and more people are moving out," Assadullah Mayar, president of the provincial department of the Afghan Red Crescent Society (ARCS), told IRIN from the provincial capital, Lashkargah, on 1 May.

Capt Kelly Frushour, a US military spokeswoman in Kabul, said "groups of women and children" were moving out of the conflict area.

"We've not seen an exodus or a large migration, but we've seen groups of women and children moving to the south," Frushour said, adding that civilians had not been displaced in areas where US forces had established a presence.

"It's also unclear whether these people are moving because of our military operation," she said.

"Civilians might have left the conflict area because Taliban insurgents always use them as human shields," said Carlos Branco, a spokesman for the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) in Kabul.

Provincial officials said civilians had been notified before the military operation started on 28 April and were advised to temporarily leave the area. However, several local people denied receiving any information before the planned operation.

"In urgent need"

Some displaced families have sought refuge in neighbouring Nawa, Righestan and Khan Nishin districts, while others have headed towards Lashkargah, the ARCS said.

"They are in urgent need of assistance," said Mayar, adding that the ARCS was trying to ascertain how to help needy families. Food, drinking water and tents are the critical needs most displaced people have, he added.

The US military said humanitarian relief was not part of the military operation, but a few wounded civilians had received treatment at their medical facility.

Reports of civilian casualties could not be immediately verified due to access restrictions and conflicting figures given by local people and provincial officials.

ISAF said 7,700 UK soldiers were currently operating in Helmand Province, and Capt Frushour said about 2,400 US marines had recently been sent to the volatile province - widely described as a hotbed of the Taliban insurgency - to defeat the insurgents and improve security.

Thousands of people have reportedly died and tens of thousands been forced out of their homes due to fighting in Helmand Province over the past few years. The conflict has also impeded humanitarian and development activities which have worsened poverty in province, said aid agencies.
Back to Top

Back to Top
S Korea to send police to Afghanistan
SEOUL, May 1 (Xinhua) -- South Korea plans to send dozens of police officers to Afghanistan later this year to help train local police, South Korea's Yonhap News Agency reported on Thursday.

The U.S. government demanded South Korea to send police to Afghanistan early last month.

"Internal consultations on the request are under way," Yonhap quoted an unnamed Foreign Ministry official as saying.

The official said that related details, including the dispatch timing and scale, will be decided within the first half of this year.

The official also said South Korean police, if dispatched, will work with American police operating in Afghanistan. South Korean soldiers will not need to accompany the police officers to guard them, he said.

South Korea withdraw about 200 military medics and engineers from Afghanistan at the end of last year after Taliban militants agreed to release dozens of kidnapped South Koreans last Summer in Afghanistan, ending its six-year military role there.
Back to Top

Back to Top
Canada reaches out to Taliban
After years of refusing to negotiate with insurgents, soldiers in Kandahar put word out they want to talk
GRAEME SMITH The Globe and Mail (Canada) May 1, 2008
KHENJAKAK, AFGHANISTAN -- Canadian troops are reaching out to the Taliban for the first time, military and diplomatic officials say, as Canada softens its ban on speaking with the insurgents.

After years of rejecting any contact with the insurgents, Canadian officials say those involved with the mission are now rethinking the policy in hopes of helping peace efforts led by the Afghan government.

The Canadian work on political solutions follows two separate tracks: tactical discussions at a local level in Kandahar, and strategic talks through the Kabul government and its allies. Neither type of negotiation appears to have made progress so far, though efforts are still in the early stages.

In Kabul, the topic is under discussion within the Afghan government and among members of the Policy Action Group, a high-level committee that includes Canada, as major international players try to find agreement among themselves about so-called "red lines," or parameters for talks with top Taliban commanders.

President Hamid Karzai has called for peace talks with Taliban leader Mullah Mohammed Omar, but there is heated debate about how such dialogue might affect Afghanistan's constitution, laws and state structure. The Taliban have called for strict Islamic laws, for instance, and insurgent leader Gulbuddin Hekmatyar has suggested a rewriting of the constitution. Some participants in the discussions are even suggesting Taliban leaders should be given political posts, or control over districts or provinces, though this is fiercely contested.

The United States is said to want to maintain an ability to continue military operations in Afghanistan, which it views as crucial to the fight against al-Qaeda and other extremists.

In Kandahar, the Canadian military seems to be moving cautiously toward smaller, more localized talks with insurgents.

Stakeholders' positions

There's little agreement among those with a stake in Afghanistan about whether to negotiate with the Taliban, and if so how to go about it. These are some of the positions.

Afghanistan

The government, which has had a series of secret talks with the "moderate Taliban" since 2003, insists that the Taliban must first surrender completely, disavow armed insurrection and accept the foreign presence before entering formal negotiations.

Taliban

Last year, a spokesman for the Taliban said leader Mullah Mohammed Omar has approved demands for negotiations, including control of 10 southern provinces, a timetable for withdrawal of all foreign troops, and the release of all Taliban prisoners in six months. Not all the fighters are on board, however, with some saying they'll never negotiate.

Pakistan

The newly elected government quickly began negotiations with Taliban groups in that country, and could act as a trusted host for any negotiations among the Kabul government, NATO and the Afghan Taliban.

United States

Officially, the United States is strongly against any negotiations with the Taliban. But Kurt Volker the deputy head of the European and Eurasian Affairs office at the U.S. State Department, said Washington welcomed Afghan President Hamid Karzai's bid to sit down with radical Afghan groups, as long as they rejected violence.

Britain

Although Prime Minister Gordon Brown told Parliament, "We will not enter into negotiations with these people," his Defence Secretary, Des Browne, said in March that Britain and other democratic states should negotiate with elements of the Taliban, among other extremist groups, to prevent the long-term spread of terrorism. It's been reported that MI-6, Britain's external security service, has already held secret talks with the Taliban. At the local level, the British cut a deal, appointing a former Taliban leader as district chief of Musa Qala in Helmand province in exchange for security guarantees.

Netherlands

Although the Dutch are reluctant to go into details, negotiating with the Taliban is an explicit part of Dutch military policy in Afghanistan. Talks are usually held through the provincial governor.

Germany

The government is officially against negotiations, but some members of the governing coalition have suggested Berlin host talks with the Taliban.
Back to Top

Back to Top
US in a bind over Pakistan militants
By Brajesh Upadhyay BBC News, Washington Thursday, 1 May 2008
The US has given its clearest support yet for the new Pakistani government's efforts to strike a deal with militants.

Backing comes even though the state department blames al-Qaeda's resurgence on President Musharraf's botched peace agreements in the tribal areas the rebels operate from.

Many believe this shift in US strategy may be more through compulsion than choice.

In its annual terrorism report, the US state department said al-Qaeda had reconstituted some of its pre-9/11 operational capabilities and the primary reason for this resurgence was instability coupled with Islamabad-brokered ceasefire agreements along the Pakistan-Afghanistan frontier.

"This [ceasefire] appears to have provided the al-Qaeda leadership greater mobility and ability to conduct training and operational planning," said state department counter-terrorism co-ordinator Dell Dailey.

'New US focus'

So, why does the US believe a new agreement will work where others have failed in the past?

Firstly, says Mr Daley, there's an "awful lot of attention" from the United States and, secondly, hardliners in the Federally-Administered Tribal Areas lost most of their seats in general elections in February.

This has given Pakistan's former opposition parties who are now in coalition a chance to really move forward, US officials argue.

They also point to the economic and social development plan and military support that the United States is funding to the tune of $150m a year for the next five years and a large amount of money from the Pakistani government.

"We think that all the tools are in place for this treaty to have a successful outcome," said Mr Daley.

It's the first time the Bush administration has come out so openly in support of a possible peace deal between Pakistan and tribal militants.

Last week White House spokesperson Dana Perino expressed concern over such a deal, saying "we have been concerned about these types of approaches because we don't think they work".

But a shift was noticed when Assistant Secretary of State Richard Boucher said the United States is with the new Pakistani government and supports talks if the results are positive.

'Nightmare scenario'

Former CIA official and Pakistan expert Bruce Riedel says the fact is that the United States is "deeply troubled" over this development.


But he says there's also a realisation that the new government has a mandate from the Pakistani people to try a different approach from one that has failed so far.

"What we are going to see is an administration that's very critical and sceptical in private but which has very little capability to influence the outcome and is going to be largely a bystander," says Mr Riedel, who has been senior adviser to three US presidents on Middle East and South Asian issues.

An unnamed Bush administration official quoted by The New York Times conceded this, saying: "We have only a marginal ability to influence actions right now."

The worst nightmare for Washington is the possibility of an attack on American soil planned from Pakistan's tribal belt.

Several intelligence officials have voiced this fear and they hope their efforts to cripple al-Qaeda's safe havens in the tribal areas are not jeopardised by these negotiations.

"It's also a nightmare scenario for Pakistan and the Pakistani government should be thinking about it," says Mr Riedel.

Should there be any evidence of a plot against the United States centred in Pakistan - or worse a successful attack that is linked back to Pakistan - there's going to be a crisis and a wise policy on the Pakistan government's part would be to do what it can now to prevent this, he says.
Back to Top

Back to Top
Blast 'targets' pro-Taleban group
Thursday, 1 May 2008 BBC News
At least one person has been killed and 30 wounded in a blast at the offices of a pro-Taleban group in north-west Pakistan, local officials say.

The explosion appeared to target a religious organisation called the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice in the Khyber tribal region.

A group spokesman said the blast was the work of a suicide attacker.

Some observers say the group has a history of militancy and explosives may have detonated by accident.

'Blew himself up'

A spokesman for the group, Munsif Ali Khan, told the BBC it was a suicide attack, carried out by a teenage man, just after the daily teachings from the Koran when the group's head, Haji Namdar asked for donations.

"The boy was about 18 or 19," Munsif Khan said. "He got up and walked towards [Haji Namdar] with a pistol in his hand which he wanted to donate. He blew himself up just when he was handing the gun to the amir."

The spokesman said the attacker and Haji Namdar were holding hands at the time. He said the young man died, but that Haji Namdar was not harmed at all.

"This is the third time God has saved [Haji Namdar]. Twice before he was targeted by bomb attacks, but every time he remained unharmed."

Some of the injured are said to be in a critical condition.

An official of the Khyber administration told the BBC that the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice group was suspected of involvement in the kidnapping of World Food Programme officials as well as the kidnapping of more than 10 Pakistani paramilitary personnel in the Khyber region earlier this year.

The hostages were subsequently released.

The organisation denies the charges and says it intervened to get the hostages freed.

The Khyber official also said the organisation was suspected of carrying out suicide attacks in Afghanistan's eastern Nangarhar province.

Khyber is one of seven semi-autonomous tribal regions along the Afghan border.

Last month, a suicide bomber in a car attacked a Pakistani army base near the Afghan border, killing five troops and injuring nine.
Back to Top

Back to Top
Americans build elite Afghan commando force
The commando battalions, just a year old, are being trained and deployed nationally as a mobile, quick-reaction force.
By Gordon Lubold | Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor from the May 1, 2008 edition
Rish Khvor, Afghanistan - Pvt. Said Reza says he's ready to be a soldier in his country's fight against extremists, and as he stands in uniform in the middle of a training camp here with his semiautomatic rifle, kneepads, and American-style dark glasses, he looks the part.

Private Reza has already graduated from basic soldier training. He volunteered to become a member of an elite unit of the Army that is being groomed to become a model force of Afghan warriors.

"The only thing I know is that these [extremists] are a bunch of people who sell their country for a very small amount of money," says Reza of the extremists he expects to fight. When asked if he's ready to take them on, his answer is simple: "Bali ho" – of course.

Trained to be "the best of the best," who fight in riskier, more complex political and military environments – say, taking on a popular tribal leader aligned with the Taliban – the Commandos are distinct from the regular Army but are expected to help define the image and capabilities of Afghan security forces as a whole. The goal is an elite, quick-reaction force that can act independently. It's a crucial addition for an uneven US-NATO mission that many military and civilian leaders agree has evolved in a way that has let the Taliban resurface.

But here at this former Soviet training base in the town of Rish Khvor, near Kabul, the company of US Army Special Forces Command in Afghanistan, 3rd Special Forces Group that is training this band of men is in no danger of putting itself out of a job. With training that gives them a leg up from the common Afghan soldier, these Afghans have helped US forces to nab 40 of the most wanted extremist leaders since last year.

But commandos still require oversight, especially when it comes to advanced planning for missions, says the American commander here, who cannot be identified by virtue of his job in Special Forces. They also need help on the missions themselves, as the commandos have no aircraft to speak of and must rely on their US partners in a myriad of ways.

Yet the advent of the 3,500-strong force, now just a year old, is a natural fit in a country that has seen decades of war and where an inherent warrior ethos helps the drive toward a professional military. In Iraq, US forces training Iraqi security forces gripe that many soldiers don't have the necessary will or discipline. But trainers here say they see plenty of will – they just need to be shown the way.

A permanent home?

The base here in eastern Afghanistan is nestled amid low mountains in a relatively safe, remote area that stands in contrast to the violence of southern Afghanistan.

The base is likely to become the permanent home of the commandos. American officers here hope they can build up the program as much as possible, but unlike coalition forces training the regular Army, the Special Forces expect a long-term relationship with this base as they seek to build and then nurture the program. "We are sure these guys won't leave us," says Col. Abdul Jaber, the commander of the battalion currently undergoing training.

Indeed, the base generates a sense of permanence with its neat rows of tin-roofed buildings, clean streets, and the bustle of construction on its far side. Surrounded by a tall chain-link fence, there is an American side and an Afghan side, each with its own living and working areas. On the commandos' side is a black billboard featuring a steely-eyed soldier and reminds commandos that they are "the best among bests"; a well-equipped, well-trained, and brave force "to do dangerous and difficult tasks."

The difficulty of the work the commandos do means that they have been given a unique, 18-week operations cycle. The commandos receive extra pay as well as double amounts of food each day, an uncommon perk. Each battalion trains for six weeks, conducts missions for six more, and then essentially "refits and recovers" for an additional six weeks, during which time they may go on leave and see their families.

Snaking into the tire house

On a recent day, after their Afghan trainer gave them the high sign, a group of commandos moves into a practice building fabricated cheaply out of stacks of tires. As the trainer yells commands in Farsi or Pashto, the "stacks" – lines – of men snake into the rooms, weapons pointed, and yell "dum, dum dum dum," as they mock the sound of gunfire.

But something strikes the trainer as amiss. He pointedly shoves a soldier's weapon down to the ground, jolting the soldier to attention and loudly scolding him, perhaps a bit more loudly for a visitor's benefit. His message: Aim the weapon at a potential target – not absentmindedly at the ceiling above.

It's a question of showing them "what right looks like," as another American officer here says.

The training has produced four battalions, or kandaks, of about 650 commandos each, now assigned permanently around the country and two more are on the way. The commandos have begun to plan some pieces of their own counterterrorism missions, including a violent one recently in the northeastern province of Nuristan that netted key insurgents.

"What we really want to do is empower the Afghans," says the American commanding officer of the Special Forces details. Success is measured in small steps, like the commandos' budding ability to plan their own missions. Now they think at least two weeks ahead, instead of just one day ahead, trainers here say.

"For us, it's a huge step," the American officer says. But even as the commandos progress toward more independence, American Special Forces units, who count as a core mission their ability to train foreign militaries, hope to imbue their charges with the expert training that can help shape a stronger conventional Afghan Army.

The US trainers also face some education of their own. Last year, during Ramadan, in which Muslims fast during the day, the Special Forces tried to continue training. But they quickly realized that stamina was an issue. "It's always a learning process," says one officer.

But the training has translated to some tactical victories on the battlefield. One commando battalion helped American Special Forces on a recent operation in Nuristan that reportedly netted several members of the terrorist group Hizb-e-Islami Gulbuddin (HIG), who, along with the Taliban, also operate here.

The April 6 mission led to a coalition airstrike that, along with the ground fight- ing, left as many as 20 dead.

American Special Forces officials said the fight had significantly reduced the ability of the HIG to operate in the area and that the operation resulted in no civilian casualties. Officials at the Afghan Ministry of Defense called the mission a success.

At the same time, Agence France-Presse quoted a local lawmaker, Rahmatullah Rashidi, as saying that the US-Afghan attack had killed several civilians. Independent sources say local leaders have made similar claims before that were unfounded.

Better supplies needed

But US and Afghan officials acknowledge the challenges in building such a force. Illiteracy is a big issue for all the Afghan security forces, and one that is all the more apparent within the commandos, whose high-intensity work requires higher skills.

"We want these guys to have strong reading and writing skills," says Colonel Jaber, whose battalion is training now. But Jaber laments the lack of trucks, weapons, and other equipment for the program.

Supplies for the force also continue to be a problem. Red tape, onerous Department of State regulations, and manufacturing delays have all contributed to equipment shortages that have handicapped the kandaks' effectiveness, American officials say.

Each kandak, for example, is mandated to have 51 Ford Ranger pickup trucks. But each battalion has only 30 or so, American officials here say.

"Resourcing is a big issue," says another American officer. While shortages often plague any foreign force, the success of the commando program – and its potentially broader influence with the Afghan Army – shouldn't be undermined by such problems, American trainers say.

The commando mission must also compete against gear needs for the Afghan police and Army – not to mention units in Iraq. Manufacturers also sometimes can't keep up with demand, officials at Combined Security Transition Command say.

The officials acknowledge that some equipment is backordered, but point to the speed at which they have supported the building of the commandos. Indeed, the US has significantly expanded its financial to the training and equipping effort here. The budget for the training command has grown nearly seven times in the past two years, from around $1 billion in fiscal 2005 to about $7 billion in fiscal 2007.

Unity amid diversity

Ultimately, commanders here say, one area where the commandos can make a difference is in fostering a constructive sense of nationalism.

Ensuring that men from a variety of ethnic backgrounds get along is critical, American trainers say, and commandos rely on a creed under which they are brothers in arms, whether they are Pashto, Tajik, Hazaras, Uzbeks, or Turkmen.

Rigid rules govern what's acceptable and what's not: talk of politics falls in the second category. Even so, ethnic differences can be acceptable fodder for good-natured ribbing.

As 1st Sgt. Mohammed Akbar supervises the squad navigating the training at the shoot house, one of his trainers jokes that Akbar, a Hazara whose Asian background is apparent in his facial features, has a "flat nose."

But that's fine with Sergeant Akbar, a serious soldier-trainer who says the commandos' diversity is their strength. "This is all Afghan," says Akbar, as he stands atop tires in the training building and gestures to the men below him.
Back to Top

Back to Top
Azerbaijan’s Cellular Operator Signs First Roaming Agreement with Afghanistan
Trend News Agency (Azerbaijan) May 1, 2008
Azerbaijan, Baku, 1 May /Trend Capital/ Azercell Telecom LLC, Azerbaijan’s cellular network operator, has put into operation international roaming service with Afghanistan - Etisalat (GSM 900/1800) operator. This is the first roaming agreement with the Afghanistan mobile companies.

Azercell Telecom LLC has signed up 347 roaming agreements with mobile communication operators from 141 countries of the world.

Currently Azercell Telecom with over 3mln subscribers is the largest mobile network operator in the country.
Back to Top

Back to Top
U.S. army targets $400 mln for Afghan emergency funds
By Luke Baker
BAGRAM, Afghanistan, May 1 (Reuters) - The U.S. military hopes to double its emergency funds for aid and reconstruction in Afghanistan this year, turning a once small-scale programme into a core part of its strategy to defeat Taliban insurgents.

If the U.S. Congress approves, commanders on the ground say they could soon have as much as $410 million to finance new schools, roads, bridges and small hydro-electric power projects in rural areas, up from $206 million in 2007.

The programme, known as the Commanders' Emergency Response Programme, or CERP, gives mid-level officers the authority and financial freedom to launch local reconstruction projects without the usual lengthy approval process from above.

It has become a central to the military's counter-insurgency strategy as it seeks to quell the still-potent threat from the Taliban more than six years after U.S.-led and Afghan forces removed the hardline Islamists from power after they refused to surrender al Qaeda leaders behind the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks.

The theory is that the sooner roads can be improved, clinics built, bridges repaired and power restored -- especially in areas along the Pakistan border -- the less likely the Taliban are to be let back in to vulnerable communities.

British commanders in southern Afghanistan, where the Taliban is strong, have expressed envy in the past that they do not have the same funding or authority as their American counterparts to implement a similar strategy.

In the two years they have been based in Helmand province, British forces have often taken towns and villages after a lengthy battle only to see them fall back into the hands of the Taliban shortly after they have withdrawn.

"This has got to be a two-fold process -- kinetic combat operations to drive out the insurgents followed right afterwards by the rebuilding work," U.S. Navy Lieutenant Ashwin Corattiyil, the CERP manager for eastern Afghanistan, said on Thursday.

"The prime reason CERP has the impact it does is its quick delivery. It's small scale but quick impact."

Corattiyil said $210 million had been set aside for Afghanistan's CERP spending in 2008, and an extra $200 million was pending approval from Congress. The programme has expanded steadily in Afghanistan since it was founded in Iraq in 2003 with money seized by U.S. forces from Saddam Hussein's regime.

NGO CRITICISM

While sabotage, including the Taliban burning down schools and clinics and attacking Afghans employed to build new roads, has set back some projects, many more are pushing ahead.

U.S. army engineers have designed and helped build almost 90 micro-hydro-electric plants in the past three years, a process which involves diverting a portion of a river's flow so the water can power a generator that in turn provides basic power.

Road-building, which costs anywhere from $100,000 per kilometre for a gravel road to $250,000/km for an asphalt one, has also become a major focus of engineering work.

"Roads can be a real moneymaker," said Lieutenant-Colonel Craft Smith, the head of engineering for the U.S. military's CJTF-101 task force, based in eastern Afghanistan.

"If you get a road opened up, you sometimes see the local souks (markets) quickly doubling in size -- it helps the local economy to pick up, and it makes it easier to get Afghan security forces to some of these places which helps."

Under CERP rules, battalion commanders -- usually lieutenant-colonels or majors -- can spend up to $25,000 at their own discretion. Task force commanders -- usually colonels -- can spend up to $200,000 on their own, and above that figure approval has to be sought from a commanding general.

Big projects require oversight by separate legal, financial and contracting teams, but that once lengthy process has been streamlined so that it now takes as little as two to three weeks.

Some NGOs and aid agencies have raised concerns the programme gives reconstruction projects too much military emphasis, but Corattiyil says there is consultation with third parties -- NGOs and ministries in the Afghan government -- to make sure there is agreement and as little overlap as possible. (Editing by David Fox)
Back to Top

Back to Top
Afghan gov't at odds with private TV channels over airing Indian soap operas
by Abdul Haleem, Lin Jing
KABUL, May 1 (Xinhua) -- Afghan Ministry for Information and Culture has been at odds with private TV channels over their continuously broadcasting Indian soap operas whose contents allegedly contradict with local cultural and religious values.

"Contents of these serials are in contrast with our cultural and religious values," Afghan Minister for Informational and Culture Abdul Karim Khuram emphasized last week.

The minister also termed a handful of serials as un-Islamic and called on television stations to halt their airing.

He has taken the decision in the wake of criticism by religious circles in the conservative society where clerics have enough influence.

However, television runners and journalist community have described the move as political motivated and slammed it.

"It is a politically motivated agenda to suppress press freedom in the country," Ahmad Shah Ahmadzai, the General Director of private television channel Afghan TV, told the media last Thursday.

He also termed it as a step towards re-Talibanization of Afghanistan, a reference to Taliban reign during which the fundamentalist outfit outlawed television, cinema, music and all kinds of entertainments in the war-ravaged central Asian state.

The Taliban regime which was ousted by the U.S.-led military invasion in late 2001 had banned all kinds of entertainments and confined women and girls to their houses during its six years rule in 95 percent of the country.

In addition, Abdul Hamid Mubariz, the president of National Union of Afghanistan Journalists, also termed the decision to ban Indian serials as "one-sided and a biased step" against the freedom of press.

Prominent among the controversial soap operas broadcast by private TV stations in Afghanistan includes "Sas Kabi Baho Tahi" or "Mother-in-law once was daughter-in-law", "Kasauti Zindagi ki" or "Test of life" and "Kashish" or "Waiting."

Almost all the contents of the trio controversial dramas are similar pivoting on love affairs, family problems and worshipping idols.

"Not only Indian films but all vices and evils must be swept from society and this is our demand and the demand of the people," a renowned religious leader and member of Religious Council Anayatullah Baligh observed.

Baligh who is the prayer leader of a popular mosque in Kabul and spokesman of the Religious Council also stressed that all the television serials and films must be guided on right direction to benefit families, and not to promote vulgarity.

Attired in the Indian style of sleeveless dress and bare heads, the actresses in the soaps, according to clerics, could affect the culture of people in the conservative Afghanistan.

Unabated airing of the soap operas has even prompted Afghan parliament to debate the issue last month during which the religiously inspired lawmakers called on Information and Culture Ministry to stop them while the liberal legislators were opposing the demand.

Moreover, President Hamid Karzai in talks with journalists last month repeated his support to freedom of press but stressed, "The serials must be acceptable to our people and should not go in contrast to our morale and cultural values."

Media, particularly the electronic one, is very young in Afghanistan. Though around a dozen private television channels have been established since the collapse of Taliban regime, they are insufficient to feed their entertainment programs from their own products.

In the post-Taliban central Asian nation where entertainment places such as theaters, cinema, bars and clubs are rare, television is the only mean accessible almost to all.

Afghan President Hamid Karzai also emphasized that "Afghanistan should promote its own its own culture by producing and airing its serials."
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).