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May 12, 2008 

Senior Afghan generals suspended for Karzai attack
By Sayed Salahuddin
KABUL (Reuters) - Many senior generals from Afghanistan's armed forces have been suspended from duty and are being questioned over last month's botched attack on President Hamid Karzai, an official said on Monday.

Taliban deliver silent death threats after midnight
By Luke Baker Mon May 12, 2:25 AM ET
KHOST, Afghanistan (Reuters) - Afghans call them 'night letters' -- notes scattered or pushed under doorways by Taliban militants in the dead of night, threatening villagers' lives if they cooperate with foreign forces and the government.

Afghan envoy lauds Iran's role in establishment of regional peace
Tehran, May 12, IRNA
Afghan Ambassador to Tehran, Mohammad Yahya Maroufi, here on Monday lauded Iran's key role in establishment of peace and security in his country.

2 Humvees missing from US base in Afghanistan
Mon May 12, 7:12 AM ET
KABUL, Afghanistan - Two armored Humvees were missing from a U.S. military base in Afghanistan, a military spokesman said Monday.

Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan to set up joint border centers
Kabul, May 12, IRNA
Afghan Anti-Narcotics Minister Khodaidad said on Sunday that Iran, Afghanistan and Pakistan are to set up three joint border centers to fight drug trafficking.

Afghan baby died in digger combat
Monday May 12, 06:52 PM AAP (Australian Associated Press)
Australian soldiers were not to blame for the death of a baby possibly killed by grenade concussion during a battle with Taliban insurgents in Afghanistan, a defence inquiry says.

Taleban dead returned to Pakistan
By M Ilyas Khan BBC News, Karachi Monday, 12 May 2008
Pro-Taleban fighters in Pakistan have brought back the bodies of at least nine comrades killed in Afghanistan, officials and witnesses say.

Canadian engineers hope to rebuild Afghan army barracks, family apartments
Sun May 11, 2:09 PM By The Canadian Press
KANDAHAR, Afghanistan - Canadian military engineers have taken the first step in plans to rebuild dilapidated apartments that serve as barracks for Afghan National Army soldiers and their families in the Kandahar area.

Australian military clears soldiers over Afghan civilian deaths
Mon May 12, 2:08 AM ET
SYDNEY (AFP) - The Australian military on Monday cleared its soldiers over the deaths of two women and a baby during a battle in Afghanistan but said all civilian casualties were "highly regrettable".

More than 200 jailed Taliban suspects end hunger strike in southern Afghanistan
The Associated Press Monday, May 12, 2008
KANDAHAR, Afghanistan: More than 200 Taliban suspects ended a weeklong hunger strike at a prison in the southern Afghan city of Kandahar after a parliamentary delegation promised their cases would be reviewed, a lawmaker said Monday.

MPs to investigate claims of prisoner abuse
Written by www.quqnoos.com Sunday, 11 May 2008
Commission will look into reasons behind last week's hunger strike
THE LOWER House will appoint a commission to look into allegations that prisoners in Kandahar Jail have been left to languish in the prison for up to two years without facing trial.

UN closes Afghan refugee centre
By Martin Patience BBC News, Kabul Monday, 12 May 2008 09:51 UK
The UN has closed its repatriation centre in eastern Afghanistan because of unrest in the city of Jalalabad.

Afghanistan: More provinces poppy-free, but opium production still high
KABUL, 12 May 2008 (IRIN) - The government's ongoing battle to eliminate opium production has had partial success in 2008 in that there are now about 20 provinces in the north, east and northeast of the country which are poppy-free

Another D-Day for Pakistan over militants
By Syed Saleem Shahzad Asia Times Online, Hong Kong May 13, 2008
KARACHI - With the Taliban believed to have launched all of their fighters into Afghanistan and with tribal militants led by Pakistani Taliban leader Baitullah Mehsud faced off against the Pakistani armed forces, the issue becomes just how

New tactics in Taliban killing season
Fighters follow al-Qaeda’s example and plot campaign of bombings and suicide attacks
Sunday Herald (Scotland, UK) May 11, 2008 From Nick Meo in Kandahar
HAJI MOHAMMED Karim, a towering Pashtun in a black turban who carried his crippled son in his arms, had come in search of a magical cure to the graveside of Kandahar's al-Qaeda martyrs.

Germany to Build 600-Bed Hospital in Afghan North
Monday, 12 May 2008, 06:00 CDT RedOrbit, TX
Text of report by privately-owned Afghan Arzu TV on 11 May
[Presenter] The agreement of constructing a hospital in Balkh Province has been signed between the Afghan and German governments. The new hospital will be one of the modern hospitals that will serve patients from nine northern provinces.

Afghanistan hero criticises poor care for troops
By Thomas Harding, Defence Correspondent 12/05/2008 Telegraph.co.uk, United Kingdom
A decorated paratrooper who was wounded as he led a bayonet charge against the Taliban has criticised the hospital treatment he received in Britain.
Despite assurances from ministers and hospital managers that the care for servicemen at Selly Oak Hospital, Birmingham, was now excellent, Capt Martin Hewitt said the "truth" about the continued poor care for troops had to be exposed

Bank Alfalah to expand its branches in Afghanistan CEO Sirajuddin presides MTO graduation ceremony
Hussain Kashif Pakistan Observer May 11, 2008
Lahore—Chief Executive Officer (CEO) Bank Alfalah Limited, Sirajuddin Aziz has declared that the growth oriented bank will open its four branches in neighboring Afghanistan till end of this year to save and secure their peoples money

Ex-Gitmo Suicide Bomber Fuels Pentagon Propaganda
by Andy Worthington antiwar.com / May 12, 2008
Rather horribly, it seems, a former Guantánamo prisoner, Abdullah al-Ajmi, a Kuwaiti who was repatriated in November 2005 and who later married and had a child, blew himself up as a suicide bomber in Mosul, Iraq, last month. According to the U.S. military

A Counterinsurgency Grows in Khost
An unheralded U.S. success in Afghanistan.
The Weekly Standard By Ann Marlowe 05/19/2008
While news reports like to speak of a "resurgent Taliban" in Afghanistan, in the 14 provinces that make up Regional Command East in Afghanistan they are a defeated military force. Not only do the Taliban refuse to engage American forces

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Senior Afghan generals suspended for Karzai attack
By Sayed Salahuddin
KABUL (Reuters) - Many senior generals from Afghanistan's armed forces have been suspended from duty and are being questioned over last month's botched attack on President Hamid Karzai, an official said on Monday.

Karzai survived the assassination attempt at a military parade near the presidential palace on April 27 when Taliban insurgents used small arms fire and rockets.

But three people, including one parliamentarian, were shot dead before three of the assailants were killed.

The government had arrested a defence ministry officer and an interior ministry doctor for helping the Taliban to carry out the raid on the same day it happened, but said more officials might have been involved in facilitating it.

Attorney General Abdul Jabar Sabit, tasked to take over the investigation from a previous commission, on Monday suspended eight officials from the ministries of defence and interior, and the intelligence department, an official said.

The eight included several generals - Kabul's police chief, Salem Ehsas, Abdul Khaliq who is head of defence ministry's intelligence and detection, Abdul Manan Farahi, chief for counter-terrorism of the interior ministry, and Nazar Shah who heads the intelligence department for Kabul.

"Sabit gave the order for the suspensions of the eight people so they can be investigated because they had the responsibility for security at the parade," Hayatullah Hayat, an official in the attorney general's office, told Reuters.

Asked if the eight were suspended as suspects, Hayat said:

"Investigations would show."

The attack that sent Karzai, his cabinet and military top brass as well as foreign diplomats diving for cover, was sponsored by al Qaeda, according to Afghanistan's spy chief, Amrullah Saleh.

It was the fourth assassination attempt against Karzai who has been leading Afghanistan since Taliban's removal from power in 2001.

While the Taliban have carried out sporadic suicide bombings in Kabul before, April's attack, together with a guerrilla-style assault on a five-star hotel near the palace in January, indicate a more sophisticated mode of strike, amid fear of infiltration of militants in government's security ranks.

The Taliban have vowed to target Kabul this year in a bid to overthrow Karzai's government and drive out the more than 55,000 foreign troops stationed in the country.
(Editing by Richard Balmforth)
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Taliban deliver silent death threats after midnight
By Luke Baker Mon May 12, 2:25 AM ET
KHOST, Afghanistan (Reuters) - Afghans call them 'night letters' -- notes scattered or pushed under doorways by Taliban militants in the dead of night, threatening villagers' lives if they cooperate with foreign forces and the government.

The threats have picked up in recent weeks in areas across southeastern Afghanistan, U.S. officers and Afghans say, as the Taliban intensify their activities along the Pakistan border and in mountainous communities inland towards Kabul.

The notes are often poorly written but the message is clear -- have nothing to do with the foreign troops or serve in the government they back, otherwise, your business will be destroyed, your livestock snatched or your throat cut.

At least six people have had either throats slit or were beheaded by the militants for allegedly acting as spies for the foreign forces only in recent weeks in various parts of southeastern Afghanistan, according to officials and the Taliban.

Scores have lost their lives for failing to take notice of the Taliban's verbal threats, or in the form of the 'night letters', since 2006 when the al Qaeda-backed Taliban made a return.

"It's usually the merchants or those with something to lose," says Lieutenant Augie Gonzalez, a platoon commander based at a camp outside Khost, a city in the southeast of the country, 20 km (13 miles) from the Pakistan border.

"The threats are for real and it gets to them, you sense it," he says, explaining how he'll often visit a village to talk to local leaders and deliver food and other aid, only to return three days later and learn the Taliban have been there.

"The villagers don't want the Taliban there, there's no sympathy and they'll tell you that straight, but they can't take them on their own and we can't be there every day."

The night letters form part of a campaign of intimidation and violence that appears to be steadily escalating, although the commander of U.S. forces in the area, Colonel Pete Johnson, dismisses suggestions of a renewed Taliban offensive.

Four U.S. troops and a U.S. civilian were killed in ambushes or roadside bomb attacks last week alone, while Afghan security forces, particularly the less well organized police, have also repeatedly been targeted, with around a dozen killed.

"Yes, there's more fighting right now than there was last month, but that's just the way the context is in eastern Afghanistan," Johnson told Reuters last week, describing the idea of a Taliban offensive as a "myth."

SCHOOLS BURNT
Lieutenant Gonzalez and his men don't see their day-to-day work as countering a Taliban offensive. Instead it's more about trying to get into villages and win the population over before the militants have a chance to do so and impose their will.

"It's a slow process of pushing forwards, providing security so that others can come in and rebuild," says Gonzalez.

Yet, the Taliban threat is very real -- a roadside bomb that killed two U.S. soldiers last week also left two severely wounded: both had their legs amputated and both may lose an arm.

A soldier in the same platoon, traveling three vehicles behind the one that was hit, has survived six roadside bomb attacks already and he's only been in Afghanistan six weeks.

"It's been pretty intense," said the soldier, Private Mullan, clearly shaken and not wanting to give his full name. "Sometimes we've had a series of events that have gradually built up, other times it's been quieter."

For Afghans, the Taliban threat is very real and there is no doubt in their minds it has risen in the past month as the season has shifted and it's become easier for militants to move across the border from Pakistan into Afghanistan.

Saif, a translator working with the Americans who lives in a remote district outside Khost, says night letters are commonplace and threats have been carried out. Schools have been burnt down and district centers, the focal point for local rebuilding and development, attacked and destroyed.

He is quick to emphasize, though, how "little" sympathy there is for the Taliban in his area, where most regard them as "poorly educated thugs with little proper religious grounding."

He recounts how some members of the Taliban were recently captured following a botched attack. One was a simple young man who was asked by his captors to show them how to pray. "He didn't know how," the translator said. "He couldn't even start."

Ousted from power in 2001 for sheltering al Qaeda leaders, the Taliban have vowed to drive out the foreign troops from Afghanistan and topple the central government.

In their campaign, the Taliban also target any one working or helping the government or the foreign forces.
(Editing by Sanjeev Miglani)
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Afghan envoy lauds Iran's role in establishment of regional peace
Tehran, May 12, IRNA
Afghan Ambassador to Tehran, Mohammad Yahya Maroufi, here on Monday lauded Iran's key role in establishment of peace and security in his country.

Talking to IRNA, he appreciated the Islamic Republic of Iran's participation in the Afghanistan's reconstruction operation.

Referring to Tehran-Kabul amicable ties, he called for further expansion of all-out relations between the two neighboring states.

He added that Kabul attaches great importance to expansion of ties with Tehran.

Both Iran and Afghanistan are victims of traffic of narcotic drugs and terrorism, he said underscoring the need for closer cooperation between the two states in order to solve the existing problems.

He further outlined great efforts made by the Afghan government to combat smuggle of illicit drugs.

As to the latest developments in the region, the Afghan envoy urged all regional states to help settle the existing crises.
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2 Humvees missing from US base in Afghanistan
Mon May 12, 7:12 AM ET
KABUL, Afghanistan - Two armored Humvees were missing from a U.S. military base in Afghanistan, a military spokesman said Monday.

The military was investigating whether the vehicles were stolen, although officials believed they were likely still in the possession of U.S. personnel but simply unaccounted for, said Lt. Col. Paul Fanning.

The two vehicles were reported missing on May 6 from U.S. Camp Phoenix in the capital, Kabul, Fanning said.

"We have a witness from our own teams here that says he saw them last being operated by U.S. personnel," Fanning said. "We are tying to locate where they are precisely."

The Humvees have electronic equipment designed to thwart homemade bombs.
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Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan to set up joint border centers
Kabul, May 12, IRNA
Afghan Anti-Narcotics Minister Khodaidad said on Sunday that Iran, Afghanistan and Pakistan are to set up three joint border centers to fight drug trafficking.

Speaking to reporters, he said the decision to set up such joint border centers was made in Tehran.

Iran, Pakistan and Afghanistan are determined to stop shipment of narcotic drugs as well as chemical substances used to produce heroin, he said.

Tehran has been chosen as the headquarter of the joint border centers, he said, adding that the forces of the three countries are not allowed to cross into one another's territory.

The United Nations will cooperate in running the joint centers and the three countries are to exchange information and experiences in the campaign against narcotic drugs, he pointed out.

Afghanistan is the fifth poorest country and the main producer of narcotic drugs in the world.
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Afghan baby died in digger combat
Monday May 12, 06:52 PM AAP (Australian Associated Press)
Australian soldiers were not to blame for the death of a baby possibly killed by grenade concussion during a battle with Taliban insurgents in Afghanistan, a defence inquiry says.

Taliban fighters would have known of the risk to the baby when they engaged the Australians in the November 23, 2007, battle in which Australian soldier Luke Worsley and a teenage girl were also killed, the investigation found.

The inquiry report was one of three released by the acting chief of defence Lieutenant General Ken Gillespie on Monday.

The baby appeared to have been in a room of a mud hut from which a male and a female combatant, firing AK-47s, engaged Australian troops.

Lt Gen Gillespie said Australian soldiers found the baby crying, but with no obvious wound, when they cleared a room where combat had taken place and moved the child out of harm's way.

"But when they came back to do the final clearance of the building before they left it was clear the baby had died."

The baby's cause of death could not be confirmed because the body was buried quickly in accordance with Afghan custom.

"Having regard to the lack of apparent external injuries one could speculate that concussion from grenades may have caused internal injuries that led to death," inquiry head Colonel Peter Short wrote.

"While obviously extremely regrettable that a baby should die in combat, I find that the actions of those people engaging the Australian forces ... were deliberate with the almost certain knowledge that the baby was in that area."

Col Short said the use of grenades by Australians was "justified".

He did not suggest the possible concussion-related death of the baby was caused by Australian grenades.

A second civilian killed was a teenage girl who was in a room from which a machine gun had fired on Australian troops.

The inquiry into the civilian deaths also addressed complaints made by captured Taliban insurgents.

Taliban prisoners made a later disproved allegation that Australians had set dogs on them.

The complaint was made to Dutch soldiers in the International Security Assistance Force.

"The trend would be rather to complain to the Dutch that Australians had mistreated detainees before they were handed over or complain to the Australians that the Dutch had mistreated (them)," Lt Gen Gillespie said.

"That happens throughout the country."

Lt Gen Gillespie admitted the tactic used valuable time and staff, but he was adamant all allegations of prisoner-of-war mistreatment would be thoroughly investigated.

The possibility of posthumous recognition of Private Worsley's actions in the November battle is still open to commanders involved in the battle.

A commando with the 4th battalion of the Royal Australian Regiment, Pte Worsley was killed by a single shot to the left temple from a machine gun just 18 metres away.

He managed to alert his comrades to the machine gunner and then shot three to four rounds before being killed.

A separate inquiry dealing specifically with Pte Worsley's death concluded his "death occurred in straightforward circumstances of combat".

A third inquiry released by Lt Gen Gillespie dealt with the death of Sergeant Matthew Locke - a member of the Special Air Service - on October 25.

It said Sgt Locke was not wearing body armour when he was killed by Taliban insurgents because the operation he was involved in required stealth.

But the inquiry found body armour would not have saved him.

"The wearing of a ballistic armour plate would not have accorded any protection to Sgt Locke from the fatal projectile since the entry wound was located above the area accorded protection by the chest plate."
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Taleban dead returned to Pakistan
By M Ilyas Khan BBC News, Karachi Monday, 12 May 2008
Pro-Taleban fighters in Pakistan have brought back the bodies of at least nine comrades killed in Afghanistan, officials and witnesses say.

Officials in South Waziristan tribal district quote militants as saying that a total of 12 tribal fighters were killed in an air attack.

The fighters are loyal to a group of Taleban fighters led by a commander called Mullah Nazir.

Officials say a deputy of Mullah Nazir is among the dead.

Infiltrated

It is not clear when the fighters were killed.

Sources in South Waziristan told the BBC Urdu service that the dead men were from a group of about 30 fighters that crossed over into Afghanistan over three weeks ago.

They say the group attacked a convoy of coalition troops in the Orgun area of Paktika province and were then hit by a coalition aircraft.

Some fighters from among the group are reported to have been captured.

The surviving Taleban managed to bring nine of the 12 bodies to Wana, the main town in South Waziristan.

Mullah Nazir controls the Ahmadzai Wazir tribal territory in South Waziristan.

He was in the limelight in the spring of 2007 when he launched an armed campaign to evict Central Asian fighters linked to al-Qaeda from his area.

According to some reports, the campaign was given artillery support by Pakistani troops based in a garrison in Wana.

Another pro-Taleban commander in South Waziristan, Baitullah Mehsud, controls the Mehsud tribal territory of the district.

Unlike the Wazir tribe, the Mehsud land does not share border with Afghanistan.

While Baitullah Mehsud is often accused of sending militants to fight the coalition forces in Afghanistan, this is the first reported instance in a year in which fighters loyal to Mullah Nazir are reported to have infiltrated Afghanistan.
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Canadian engineers hope to rebuild Afghan army barracks, family apartments
Sun May 11, 2:09 PM By The Canadian Press
KANDAHAR, Afghanistan - Canadian military engineers have taken the first step in plans to rebuild dilapidated apartments that serve as barracks for Afghan National Army soldiers and their families in the Kandahar area.

On Sunday, the engineers inspected the barracks, mostly bombed out shells of 1960s-style apartments originally built by American involved in airport construction.

Despite that, more than 1,000 people live in the apartments, officially known as Camp Shirzai but which the Americans have tried to rename Camp Hero.

Canadian troops started making supply drops at the camp's school soon after they arrived in February 2006 and planned to do renovations.

But instead an entirely new school was built nearby. Now, the Canadians want to do more for the soldiers and their families.

Warrant Officer Steven Beaudet, who is stationed in Moncton, N.B. with the First Engineer Support Unit, says he figures about 60 per cent of the six apartment buildings can be safely rebuilt.

Many of the buildings had holes blown in them - or their roofs shot away - by artillery fire in 2001 as the Taliban tried to organize a last stand at nearby Kandahar airfield.

Beaudet's unit, located at the provincial reconstruction base in Kandahar, did a tour of the buildings Sunday, taking photographs and measurements that will be used to determine the safety of each structure.

Their arrival caused a bit of a stir among Afghan soldiers, who didn't want the Canadians taking pictures of the interiors of the buildings with their wives and children inside. Like many Muslims, the soldiers are extremely sensitive about the privacy of women.

A representative of the Canadian International Development Agency accompanied the soldiers.

It was unclear whether CIDA would consider funding the renovations because. The CIDA official refused to speak to reporters at the scene and military officers were uncertain what the arrangements might be.
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Australian military clears soldiers over Afghan civilian deaths
Mon May 12, 2:08 AM ET
SYDNEY (AFP) - The Australian military on Monday cleared its soldiers over the deaths of two women and a baby during a battle in Afghanistan but said all civilian casualties were "highly regrettable".

An internal inquiry had found no wrongdoing on the part of the Australian soldiers involved in the fighting in southern Uruzgan province last November, Lieutenant General Ken Gillespie told a news conference.

The operation cost the life of an Australian soldier who died from a single gunshot to the head in what the inquiry determined was straightforward combat.

"Three civilians, two females and an infant child, were killed during the operation," Gillespie said.

"It has since been revealed that one of the deceased females was positively identified firing an AK-47 assault rifle at our forces during the engagement and was therefore re-categorised as an enemy combatant."

Gillespie said the baby was in one of the rooms from which the woman and two men were firing on Australian troops.

"That said, the death of civilians and non-combatants during any conflict is highly regrettable," he said.

The inquiry said the cause of death of the baby, which was under six months old, could not be determined because it had been buried quickly in keeping with Afghan custom.

The infant had no external injuries and could have died from internal injuries resulting from the concussion of exploding grenades, it said.

The inquiry found the deaths occurred after militants engaged Australian special operations troops from within a compound known to be occupied by civilians.

"It is clear that during this engagement the enemy chose to ignore commands to lie down, including commands in their own language," Gillespie said.

"And that the death of civilians during this action is therefore an unfortunate consequence of the enemies' choice to engage ISAF (International Security Assistance Force) troops from locations occupied by non-combatants."

The inquiry also cleared Australian troops of any mistreatment of Afghan detainees following the battle.

"What the investigations ... indicate is that our procedures and the conduct of our people is as we would hope as a nation it might be," Gillespie said.
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More than 200 jailed Taliban suspects end hunger strike in southern Afghanistan
The Associated Press Monday, May 12, 2008
KANDAHAR, Afghanistan: More than 200 Taliban suspects ended a weeklong hunger strike at a prison in the southern Afghan city of Kandahar after a parliamentary delegation promised their cases would be reviewed, a lawmaker said Monday.

Lawmaker Habibullah Jan said the three-member delegation received written demands from the prisoners and would pass them on to President Hamid Karzai's government in Kabul.

"New judges will review their cases," Jan said after coming out of the prison. "Those who are innocent will be released."

Abdul Malik Kamawi, a spokesman for the Supreme Court, confirmed that a delegation from the court will go to Kandahar in coming days to review their cases.

Jan said the prisoners started eating food again Monday and the lawmakers brought them some fruit juice.

He said some of those on the hunger strike had been held without trial for over two years. Others were given lengthy prison sentences after short trials. Jan said 47 of the prisoners had stitched their mouths shut during the strike.

The inmates had been captured by Afghan, NATO and U.S.-led forces, who are battling a fierce Taliban-led insurgency in the south, Jan said.

The Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission said Sunday that the prisoners had complained that foreign troops searched their homes on the basis of faulty intelligence and that they were tortured and humiliated during investigations.

Prisoners are asking for fair and independent trials as well as the presence of defense lawyers during the investigations and hearings, the commission said.

Justice Minister Mohammad Sarwar Danesh acknowledged Sunday that the justice system was working too slowly.

The Kandahar prison is under the jurisdiction of Afghan authorities.

NATO and the U.S. coalition officials were not immediately available for comment.

Rights groups have also complained that Afghan detainees have been held for extended periods without trial in the prison at the main U.S. military base in Afghanistan at Bagram.
___
Associated Press reporter Amir Shah in Kabul contributed to this report.
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MPs to investigate claims of prisoner abuse
Written by www.quqnoos.com Sunday, 11 May 2008
Commission will look into reasons behind last week's hunger strike
THE LOWER House will appoint a commission to look into allegations that prisoners in Kandahar Jail have been left to languish in the prison for up to two years without facing trial.

Thirty prisoners stitched their lips together and about 400 more went on hunger strike last week in protest at the authorities’ failure to release prisoners who they say were pardoned by a delegation from Kabul.

The speaker of the lower house, Muhammad Yunus Qanuni, expressed his concern at the condition of the jail and assigned the internal security commission to send another delegation to Kandahar to look into the reasons behind the hunger strike.

Some prisoners also claim the governor of Kandahar, Asadullah Khalid, interfered in some of the prisoners’ cases and changed their sentences.

Kandahar Member of Parliament Khalid Pashtoon said in the Lower House that the condition in Kandahar is so bad that any incident could happen there at any time.
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UN closes Afghan refugee centre
By Martin Patience BBC News, Kabul Monday, 12 May 2008 09:51 UK
The UN has closed its repatriation centre in eastern Afghanistan because of unrest in the city of Jalalabad.

The temporary closure comes as aid agencies say it is becoming more difficult to operate in parts of the country as security worsens.

More than 60,000 Afghan refugees from neighbouring Pakistan have passed through the UN centre this year.

The UN says it decided to close the centre after protests closed the main road from Kabul to the Pakistan border.

In one demonstration, locals claimed that US forces had killed three civilians in a military operation.

The other protest, Jalalabad, was connected to the killing of a local MP's father and the kidnapping of seven members of his family.

Local disputes

The UN High Commission for Refugees is keen to stress that the closure is only a temporary measure.

Deteriorating security is partly because of the Taleban insurgency.

But as the incident in Jalalabad demonstrates, the violence is often rooted in local disputes.

Many Afghans believe that the government in Kabul is weak and has failed to impose law and order in much of the country.
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Afghanistan: More provinces poppy-free, but opium production still high
KABUL, 12 May 2008 (IRIN) - The government's ongoing battle to eliminate opium production has had partial success in 2008 in that there are now about 20 provinces in the north, east and northeast of the country which are poppy-free, up from 16 in 2007, according to the Afghan Ministry of Counter-Narcotics (MCN).

'Poppy cultivation has reached nearly zero percent in more than 20 provinces,' General Khodaidad, the minister of counter-narcotics, told reporters in Kabul on 11 May. He added that many farmers in those areas had switched to growing legal crops, mostly wheat.

However, the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) warned in a February report [http://www.unodc.org/documents/crop-monitoring/Afghan-winter-survey-Feb08-short.pdf] that Afghanistan's opium production levels in 2008 could remain similar to last year's record harvest of 8,200 metric tones because of increased output in the main opium producing provinces in the south and southwest of the country.

These provinces accounted for 78 percent of total opium cultivation in Afghanistan last year and have continued to grow opium at an alarming rate, UNODC said in its report.

'This is because in those areas there is the problem of insecurity, lack of coordination among government bodies and presence of terrorists and anti-government elements who profit from narcotics,' Khodaidad said. 'Anti-government elements exchange heroin and opium with arms,' he added.

Armed farmers or gunmen have killed at least 60 counter-narcotics officers - mostly involved in the eradication of poppy fields - in the past two months alone, the counter-narcotics ministry said.

The wheat price factor

The government of Afghan President Hamid Karzai, backed by donors, is trying to eliminate opium production in Afghanistan through forced eradication, interdiction and an under-resourced alternative livelihood policy.

Paradoxically, one encouraging sign in the war against opium has been country-wide increased food prices. The price of bread, a staple of the Afghan diet, has doubled in some regions, reportedly leading some farmers in Baghlan, Badakhshan, Balkh and several other northern provinces to turn from growing poppies to wheat.

But government officials said it was too early to say whether or not there were 'direct links' between high wheat prices and reduced poppy cultivation in some areas.

In May, Afghanistan's Ministry of Agriculture, Irrigation and Livestock told IRIN [http://www.irinnews.org/Report.aspx?ReportId=78083] that if farmers in Helmand, Kandahar and other major opium-producing provinces grew wheat instead of poppies, the currently food-insecure nation would become self-sufficient in terms of domestic cereal production.

Afghan farmers cultivated poppies on 193,000 hectares of land in 2007, which produced about 93 percent of the world's heroin last year, according to UNODC.

The illicit drug money earned through poppy cultivation, opium production and the smuggling of narcotics - estimated to total up to US$4 billion - is equal to almost half of the poor nation's overall gross domestic production and employs millions of Afghans, experts say.
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Another D-Day for Pakistan over militants
By Syed Saleem Shahzad Asia Times Online, Hong Kong May 13, 2008 
KARACHI - With the Taliban believed to have launched all of their fighters into Afghanistan and with tribal militants led by Pakistani Taliban leader Baitullah Mehsud faced off against the Pakistani armed forces, the issue becomes just how far Washington and its allies will be prepared to expand the war theater.

In a significant move, the Pakistani security forces last week blocked the main artery into the South Waziristan tribal area on the border with Afghanistan. This followed fighters loyal to Mehsud, an al-Qaeda ally who leads Taliban militants in Pakistan, setting up checkposts along the road to exert control over the region.

The Taliban need unhindered movement in this area so they can keep supply lines to Afghanistan open, as well as move men across the border. It is expected that longer-serving Taliban will be replaced by fresh blood in the first week of July and from August onwards there will only be sporadic inflows of new men ahead of the winter lull in fighting.

The militants' aim has been to keep Pakistan and its Western allies fully engaged, and in doing so they have forced them to abandon their original plan. This centered on efforts to make inroads through local political parties into the Taliban's rank and file, in the process isolating hardline elements such as foreigners belonging to al-Qaeda, Uzbeks and local militants like Mehsud.

These isolated elements were then to be "chopped off" through special operations by US-trained Pakistani units and regional jirgas (councils) would then be convened for moderate elements to attempt to find a political solution to the Afghan conflict.

The jirgas were first scheduled for last November, but due to the military operations in Swat Valley in North-West Frontier Province and their cascading effects in the tribal areas, they were postponed to January, then February, before being shelved indefinitely.

Much of the unrest was fueled by al-Qaeda's "chaos strategy", which went into full swing after the Lal Masjid (Red Mosque) operation last July when security forces stormed the hardline pro-Taliban mosque in Islamabad. By some reports, since then, Pakistan has had more suicide attacks than any other country in the world, including Iraq and Afghanistan.

This year, the al-Qaeda attacks reached the eastern city of Lahore, which until now has been largely left alone since conflict began in the region after the September 11, 2001, attacks on the United States.

The poor security situation and uncertainty leading up to the parliamentary elections in February have caused a capital flight from Pakistan, and its rupee currency has fallen 13% against the US dollar since January.

"The capital flight ... continues from Pakistan as investors have parked $500 to $600 million in the UAE [United Arab Emirates] and other Middle East countries through exchange companies during last few months," Pakistan's The News International reported.

The trend is expected to continue, and last week the governor of the central bank warned exchange companies of stern action if they are caught transferring large amounts of money out of the country.

This situation is exacerbated by an impending political crisis. The two main parties in the ruling coalition, the Pakistan People's Party and the Pakistan Muslim League of Nawaz Sharif (PML-N) have failed to reach an agreement on the reinstatement of judges sacked last year by President Pervez Musharraf. The PML-N was due to decide on Monday whether or not to order its nine cabinet members to resign.

Against this backdrop, Islamabad has to consider how far it can go against people such as Mehsud in the context of the "war on terror".

Operations against militants have faced many snags since the start of the year. The first two months were spent in preparation for the general elections, for which a peaceful atmosphere was required. The formation of the new government took another few months, and then the militants played a smart card by offering ceasefire agreements with the new administration.

The government jumped at the opportunity, seeing it as a chance to promote moderates and isolate hardliners. However, the move simply boiled down to a chance for both sides to gain time. As soon as the militants had completed the launch of troops into Afghanistan, they broke the deals. And Mehsud's latest move to put his men in forward positions is a bid to deepen Pakistan's overall political and economic dilemma and break its will for any military operations in the tribal areas.

Sitting in Kabul, the international coalition believes that without the backup of the mountains between Pakistan and Afghanistan's tribal areas, the Taliban insurgency would be nothing more than a tribal rebellion which could easily be quelled through "give-and-take" deals.

It is crucial therefore that the Taliban's and al-Qaeda's grip in the Pakistani tribal areas is broken. All efforts to date have failed. The US and its allies might now have to expand the war to make this happen.

Syed Saleem Shahzad is Asia Times Online's Pakistan Bureau Chief. He can be reached at saleem_shahzad2002@yahoo.com

(Copyright 2008 Asia Times Online Ltd. All rights reserved. Please contact us about sales, syndication and republishing.)
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New tactics in Taliban killing season
Fighters follow al-Qaeda’s example and plot campaign of bombings and suicide attacks
Sunday Herald (Scotland, UK) May 11, 2008 From Nick Meo in Kandahar
HAJI MOHAMMED Karim, a towering Pashtun in a black turban who carried his crippled son in his arms, had come in search of a magical cure to the graveside of Kandahar's al-Qaeda martyrs.

The Arab cemetery where 70 jihadis and their families were buried after they were killed in an air strike in 2001 has become a shrine for desperate Afghans. The graveside was crowded with childless women seeking sons and the fathers of mentally disabled boys. "They were foreigners but they left their homes and families to fight for Islam," said Karim. "They are an example for us like our Taliban fighters today."

The Arab cemetery, full of the green flags of martyrdom, is in the heart of Loya Wyala, a north Kandahar slum and Taliban stronghold. Its jumble of mud-brick homes is notorious for its thieves, gunmen for hire, and the longing of its jobless young men to fight foreign soldiers.

In recent weeks Nato troops have swept through looking for crude bomb factories and arms caches prepared for the annual spring fighting season, which started last month as the snows melted in Afghanistan's mountain passes.

For two summers now, Taliban fighters have been slaughtered in unequal battles against heavily armed Nato forces in the pomegranate orchards and opium poppy fields of southern Afghanistan. But this year they seem to have learned from their mistakes, and instead of fighting a tribal war of ambush and attack they are looking to their old al-Qaeda allies for inspiration.

Zabiullah Mujahid, a commander close to Taliban leader Mullah Omar, promised new tactics in this spring's Hibrat ("teaching a lesson") offensive. He said: "We are making attacks against Nato forces by IEDs (improvised explosive devices) and the results are very good. The enemy are suffering. There will be suicide bombs as well."

The new strategy has already had a deadly effect. Four servicemen have been killed in recent weeks in and around Kandahar, including two US marines from the 3500-strong force sent last month to boost Nato troops.

Nato insists it is winning the slow battle against the insurgents, killing numerous mid-level enemy commanders over the winter. But there is no shortage of new recruits. Kandahar's slums are full of bored young men drawn to the glamour of jihad, while disgruntled tribes, poppy farmers whose crops have been eradicated and villagers who have lost relatives to Nato bombs all provide a pool of manpower. The Taliban say there is a one-year waiting list to become a suicide bomber.

There are also fears that a more ruthless generation of Afghans from the religious schools across the Pakistan border is filling leadership gaps as the Taliban old guard is killed off. In 2006 suicide bombing was so new and controversial some Taliban traditionalists took out newspaper adverts distancing themselves from it and blaming foreign jihadis. Now there is little debate.

In the past fortnight, Kandahar has been hit by two suicide bombers, just days after one in Pakistan, the usual pattern as a new class of "graduates" leaves a madrassa over the border.

Analysts say Taliban attacks are up by about a third this year on last year, with many of them aimed at soft targets, like Afghan police and officials. Inside Kandahar, fewer Afghans now dare speak out against the Taliban after a murder campaign last year against clerics who condemned suicide bombing.

Mullah Brother, the new military commander-in-chief, has promised to target Afghan government officials in a bid to paralyse the already weak administration in southern Afghanistan.

Haji Mohammed Iesah Khan, the anti-Taliban leader of the Achakzai tribe, said Kandahar's poor and uneducated turn to the Taliban because they have lost hope. He said only about one in 10 Pashtuns in the south support the Taliban - about the same as support Nato and the Kabul government, with the majority unhappy with both sides.

The Taliban's ruthless new tactics may backfire, he said. "If they kill more civilians and more Afghans, they will lose the support of the people for sure. The poor go to the Taliban because they have lost hope, not because they believe in the Taliban."
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Germany to Build 600-Bed Hospital in Afghan North
Monday, 12 May 2008, 06:00 CDT RedOrbit, TX
Text of report by privately-owned Afghan Arzu TV on 11 May
[Presenter] The agreement of constructing a hospital in Balkh Province has been signed between the Afghan and German governments. The new hospital will be one of the modern hospitals that will serve patients from nine northern provinces. My colleague has more details.

[Reporter] Germany is to provide the Afghan health Ministry with 14m dollars for the construction of a 600-bed hospital in Balkh Province. The agreement was signed between the Afghan government and the German government. According to the Public Health Ministry, the new building will be one of the modern hospitals that will include surgery and diagnostic services as well. The Afghan Public Health Ministry has called it a milestone for the development of the health sector in the country. According to the ministry, patients from nine northern provinces will be served at this hospital. Meanwhile, the German ambassador to Afghanistan, Dr. Hans-Ulrich has reiterates his government's commitments to Afghanistan.

The Balkh regional hospital was destroyed during a fire two years ago. Later, the German forces set up a container hospital. According to the relevant officials, their problems will be solved by the construction of the new hospital.

[Video shows footage of the public health minister speaking]

Originally published by Arzu TV, Mazar-e Sharif, in Dari 1230 11 May 08.

(c) 2008 BBC Monitoring South Asia. Provided by ProQuest Information and Learning. All rights Reserved.
Source: BBC Monitoring South Asia
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Afghanistan hero criticises poor care for troops
By Thomas Harding, Defence Correspondent 12/05/2008 Telegraph.co.uk, United Kingdom
A decorated paratrooper who was wounded as he led a bayonet charge against the Taliban has criticised the hospital treatment he received in Britain.
Despite assurances from ministers and hospital managers that the care for servicemen at Selly Oak Hospital, Birmingham, was now excellent, Capt Martin Hewitt said the "truth" about the continued poor care for troops had to be exposed as it was "unacceptable".

The officer, who was decorated twice for bravery in Afghanistan, said soldiers traumatised by battlefield injuries had to share "understaffed and overstretched" wards with elderly civilian patients.

Selly Oak was criticised two years ago after troops complained of dirty, mixed wards and of abusive treatment from staff.

The Ministry of Defence held an investigation and diverted extra resources to the hospital. It said all the problems had been resolved.

But Capt Hewitt's experience suggests otherwise. "Young lads suffered because they had experienced a traumatic incident and then they were waking up in a hospital with an old woman screaming all night for her husband," he said. The officer's experience also discredits a Commons defence committee report this year, which praised the hospital. "That ward situation is simply unacceptable," said Capt Hewitt, 27, of 3rd Bn, The Parachute Regiment. "Severely injured soldiers are coming back and not having the level of care required."

The nurses were "unsung heroes trying to do their best" and management did not have enough resources. "They were obviously undermanned," he said.

Capt Hewitt, who was mentioned in dispatches for bravery in Afghanistan in 2006, was wounded last July during a daylight attack on a Taliban base in Helmand. He had destroyed an enemy bunker with his SA80 rifle and bayonet when another hidden Taliban position opened fire with a PKM machine gun. A 7.62mm round pierced his shoulder, severing an artery and shattering the scapula bone. He instantly thought the arm was lost. "I reached to pick it up thinking the surgeons might be able to sew it back on but it was still attached," he said. Fellow Paras braved heavy fire to drag him to cover.

Capt Hewitt described his efforts to stem the flow of blood from the gaping wound. "I could not get the first field dressing on it so I just took a deep breath and punched the entrance wound to put pressure on it," he said. The wound was so large, "it sucked my fist in".

The officer refused morphine because it would "slow down my thinking pattern" and he had to organise his evacuation and a fighting withdrawal.

His life was again saved by a RAF Chinook pilot who landed under fire inside a compound with only 2ft clearance. Capt Hewitt underwent surgery in Camp Bastion and within 17 hours was back in Britain and had five more operations during a six-week stay at Selly Oak.

He has some movement to his shoulder but the rest of the arm remains lifeless. He received a Joint Commander's Commendation.

Liam Fox, the shadow defence secretary, said soldiers recovering from war injuries need "exclusive military" wards. "Anything less is an insult to the Armed Forces." Gen Sir Richard Dannatt, the head of the Army, said: "We constantly monitor the care injured soldiers receive and if there is any cause for concern, we address the issue promptly."

Derek Twigg, the veterans' minister, said: "Selly Oak continues to deliver first-class treatment to our personnel, saving lives and helping troops recover."

With all three Para battalions deployed on operations last month, a charity event has been organised to raise funds for casualties and their families. Capt Hewitt has already received £1,600 to adapt his car.

Support Our Paras will be launched at Old Sarum, Wilts, on May 25 during a day of ground and air displays.

?Cheques, made payable to Sopara, can be sent to: Sopara, Browning Barracks, Aldershot, Hants, GU11 2BU; or use sort code 309009, account number 0311855.
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Bank Alfalah to expand its branches in Afghanistan CEO Sirajuddin presides MTO graduation ceremony
Hussain Kashif Pakistan Observer May 11, 2008
Lahore—Chief Executive Officer (CEO) Bank Alfalah Limited, Sirajuddin Aziz has declared that the growth oriented bank will open its four branches in neighboring Afghanistan till end of this year to save and secure their peoples money and foreign investments at local level. Sirajuddin Aziz was addressing the MTO’s (Management Training Officers) graduation ceremony held here at a local hotel on Saturday.

Bakhtiar Khawaja, GH-HR Development and Shahid Hafeez also spoke on the occasion. All the participants of the Bank Alfalah graduation batch XI and XI-B including five from Afghanistan and one from Kazakhstan were also present in a colorful ceremony. In a thought provoking address, Sirajuddin Aziz said that we are passing through a difficult time to compete the global challenges especially for the banks because there were so many competitors in this field around the world so there is a need to be honest and work harder. He said that because the globe had become a single village for all of us especially after the ultramodern technology and communication development so now one economy system would prevail in the world in days to come.

It was for the reason that socialist China was gradually transforming its economy steering it towards capitalism. Highlighting the role of the Bank Alfalah and its management in the national development and upgrading the living standard of the people of Pakistan, Sirajuddin said in future, Western states were going to face acute problems of skilled labour. “Indian think tanks had already started working on preparing a strategy to take advantage of this developing situation. However, it is sad to say no one in Pakistan is even bothered to contemplate on such critical matters of future planning,” he added.

Later, CEO Bank Alfalah Sirajuddin Aziz along with Bakhtiar Khawaja greeted the passing out MTOs, and distributed cash prizes, certificates and shields among them. The trainees who got top five positions include Abbas Salam (first), Arsalan Ahmad (second), Naveed Khalid (third), Umar Zareef Malik (forth) and Seemab Khalid (fifth). A special cash prize for the foreign MTO was also announced for Ahmad Feroz.
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Ex-Gitmo Suicide Bomber Fuels Pentagon Propaganda
by Andy Worthington antiwar.com / May 12, 2008
Rather horribly, it seems, a former Guantánamo prisoner, Abdullah al-Ajmi, a Kuwaiti who was repatriated in November 2005 and who later married and had a child, blew himself up as a suicide bomber in Mosul, Iraq, last month. According to the U.S. military, Ajmi was one of three suicide bombers responsible for killing seven members of the Iraqi security forces on April 26.

An article in the Washington Post explained how Ajmi had recorded a martyrdom tape before his mission, which was translated by the U.S.-based SITE Intelligence Group, which monitors jihadist Web sites. On the audiotape, Ajmi apparently condemned conditions at Guantánamo as "deplorable" and stated, "Whoever can join them and execute a suicide operation, let him do so. By God, it will be a mortal blow. The Americans complain much about it. By God, in Guantánamo, all their talk was about explosives and whether you make explosives. It is as if explosives were hell to them."

This is disturbing news, of course, although it does not follow that Ajmi's release, and his subsequent actions, demonstrate that the administration's post-9/11 anti-terror policies – abrogating from the Geneva Conventions and holding men without charge or trial in an offshore prison and interrogation center – are justified.

If Ajmi was a threat to the United States, he should either have been held as a prisoner of war, protected by the Geneva Conventions, or prosecuted in a recognized court of law as a criminal. Instead, his imprisonment at Guantánamo involved "evidence" compiled by unnamed interrogators and other military personnel that was so far from the standards demanded by any acceptable judicial process that, on his return to Kuwait, he was acquitted of the charges against him – primarily, that he fought with the Taliban against U.S. forces in Afghanistan – and set free.

At his trial, his lawyer, Ayedh al-Azemi, told the court that transcripts of interrogations conducted in Guantánamo by U.S. officers should not be admissible as evidence, because they "do not bear signatures of the U.S. officers nor the defendants and thus should not be admissible as legal evidence by the court." He added that the transcripts were "not a proper investigation" but "simple reports that included neither questions nor answers."

In Guantánamo, Ajmi, a lance corporal in the Kuwaiti army, had specifically denied fighting with the Taliban, saying that he had taken a leave of absence from the army in order to study in Pakistan with Jamaat-al-Tablighi, a conservative but apolitical proselytizing organization that has millions of members worldwide. He insisted that he had only confessed to fighting with the Taliban because of the circumstances in which he was held and interrogated.

"These statements were all said under pressure and threats," he said. "I couldn't take it. I couldn't bear the threats and the suffering so I started saying things. When every detainee is captured they tell him that he is either Taliban or al-Qaeda and that is it. I couldn't bear the suffering and the threatening and the pressure so I had to say I was from [the] Taliban."

The question remains, therefore, whether Ajmi was lying in Guantánamo – which is, of course, a possibility – or whether the abuse he suffered for four years in U.S. custody radicalized him and led to his final manifestation as a suicide bomber. The clues provide mixed messages. In Guantánamo, the authorities certainly regarded him as a threat, noting that his behavior had been so "aggressive and non-compliant" that he had "resided in the disciplinary blocks throughout his detention," but there appears to be no way of knowing if he was "aggressive and non-compliant" because he was a sworn militant or because he was profoundly angered by his experiences in U.S. custody.

Speaking to the Washington Post, U.S. lawyer Thomas Wilner, who represented Ajmi and several other former Kuwaiti prisoners, recalled Ajmi's anger and despair. He explained that his client was "young and not well educated, and that he appeared deeply affected by his incarceration" at Guantánamo. He said that during five meetings in 2005 Ajmi had told him that he had been "badly abused after his capture in Afghanistan and later at Guantánamo, at one point coming to a meeting with a broken arm [he] said he sustained in a scuffle with guards."

Wilner added that over the course of his visits, Ajmi became "more and more distraught … about the way he was treated and the fact that he couldn't do anything about it."

While he too was unable to know for certain what had provoked Ajmi to become a suicide bomber, he maintained that this "horrible tragedy" could have been avoided if the administration had not turned its back on the due process of the law. "All we sought for him was a fair hearing, a process, and he was released by the U.S. government without that process," he said, adding pertinently, "The lack of a process leads to problems. It leads to innocent people being held unfairly and not-so-innocent people going home without any hearing."

Disturbingly, the news of Ajmi's homicidal suicide has prompted Robert Gates, the U.S. defense secretary, to wheel out some long-discredited statistics relating to the number of prisoners released from Guantánamo who have allegedly "returned to the battlefield." As reported by Reuters, Gates declared, "I was told today that the recidivism rate … those who return to the battlefield, is probably somewhere between 5 and 10 percent – maybe 6, 7 percent, something like that," adding, "We don't have a lot of specific cases. We're talking about one, two, three dozen that we have data on."

The Washington Post, however, hinted at how vague this analysis was by describing how the Defense Intelligence Agency has "estimated that as many as three dozen former Guantánamo detainees are confirmed or suspected of having returned to terrorist activities" (emphasis added). The Post also took note of legitimate concerns by international human rights groups and lawyers for the Guantánamo prisoners, who have "disputed that estimate, saying only a handful of former detainees have left U.S. custody and gone on to fight U.S. forces."

As I have explained before, and will, no doubt, continue to explain until I'm blue in the face, those who have studied the stories in any detail (myself included) not only dispute the Pentagon's figures, but also, crucially, point out that the U.S. administration has refused to acknowledge the shocking truth about its own responsibility for releasing the half-dozen men whom all parties agree were released by mistake.

When Abdullah Mehsud, a Taliban commander released from Guantánamo in March 2004, killed himself with a hand grenade after being cornered by security forces in Pakistan last July, I pointed out that, had the U.S. administration not behaved with arrogant unilateralism, neither Mehsud nor the handful of other released Afghan and Pakistani prisoners who returned to the battlefield would have been freed from Guantánamo in the first place.

Mehsud came to prominence in October 2004 after two Chinese engineers working on a dam project in Waziristan were kidnapped, when he spoke to reporters on a satellite phone and said that his followers were responsible for the abductions. He went on to explain that he had spent two years in Guantánamo after being captured in Kunduz in November 2001 while fighting with the Taliban. At the time of his capture he was carrying a false Afghan ID card, and throughout his detention he maintained that he was an innocent Afghan tribesman. He added that U.S. officials never realized that he was a Pakistani with deep ties to militants in both countries, and also told Gulf News, "I managed to keep my Pakistani identity hidden all these years."

Another Taliban commander, Mullah Shahzada, who was released from Guantánamo in May 2003, gave the Americans a false name and claimed that he was an innocent rug merchant. "He stuck to his story and was fairly calm about the whole thing," a military intelligence official told the New York Times. "He maintained over a period time that he was nothing but an innocent rug merchant who just got snatched up." After his release, Shahzada seized control of Taliban operations in southern Afghanistan, recruiting fighters by "telling harrowing tales of his supposed ill-treatment in the cages of Guantánamo," and masterminded a jailbreak in Kandahar in October 2003, in which he bribed the guards to allow 41 Taliban fighters to escape through a tunnel. His post-Guantánamo notoriety came to an end in May 2004, when he was killed in an ambush by U.S. Special Forces.

Another Afghan Taliban commander, Maulvi Abdul Ghaffar, who was released in March 2004, was killed six months later in Uruzgan by Afghan soldiers, who believed that he was leading the Taliban forces in the province.

However, while right-wing commentators seized on the release of Mehsud, Shahzada, and Ghaffar as evidence that no one should ever be released from Guantánamo, a rather different interpretation was offered by Gul Agha Sherzai, the post-Taliban governor of Kandahar, who pointed out that Shahzada would never have been freed if Afghan officials had been allowed to vet the Afghans in Guantánamo. "We know all these Taliban faces," he said, adding that repeated requests for access to the Afghan prisoners had been turned down. Sherzai's opinion was reinforced by security officials in Hamid Karzai's government, who blamed the U.S. for the return of Taliban commanders to the battlefield, explaining that "neither the American military officials, nor the Kabul police, who briefly process the detainees when they are sent home, consult them about the detainees they free."

So there you have it. Abdullah Mehsud, Mullah Shahzada, Maulvi Abdul Ghaffar, and at least three other Taliban commanders – Mullah Shakur and two men known only as Sabitullah and Rahmatullah – were released, and returned to the battlefield, because the U.S. authorities refused to allow their allies in Afghanistan to have any involvement in screening the prisoners to ascertain who was actually dangerous.

In conclusion, then, while the story of Abdullah al-Ajmi's post-Guantánamo militancy is horrific in and of itself, it should not give the Pentagon free rein to indulge in dubious propaganda that whitewashes its own culpability for the release of Taliban fighters from Guantánamo, nor should it deflect from the failures of the Guantánamo regime to provide an adequate method of screening, assessing, and prosecuting those who are a genuine threat to the United States. The rules laid down by the Geneva Conventions – and the U.S. courts – remain fit for this purpose.

The alternative, as the right-wing bloggers are currently explaining, is to continue to allow the president to capture anyone he regards as a terrorist anywhere in the world and hold them forever without charge or trial. By this rationale, none of the 501 prisoners released from Guantánamo would ever have been released, not even the 92 or 93 percent of them – that's around 460 men – who, according to the Pentagon's own estimates, are not alleged to have returned to the battlefield.
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A Counterinsurgency Grows in Khost
An unheralded U.S. success in Afghanistan.
The Weekly Standard By Ann Marlowe 05/19/2008
While news reports like to speak of a "resurgent Taliban" in Afghanistan, in the 14 provinces that make up Regional Command East in Afghanistan they are a defeated military force. Not only do the Taliban refuse to engage American forces directly, they have not won an engagement with the Afghan National Army in a year. Even the unimpressive Afghan National Police have lately been winning battles with the insurgents.

RC-East is one of five regional commands in the NATO-led military and development mission in Afghanistan, and the only one under U.S. command. Colonel Marty Schweitzer of the 82nd Airborne Division has just finished a 15-month deployment commanding coalition forces in six provinces in eastern Afghanistan. Here on the eastern border and in the north of the country, the insurgency is largely a matter of IEDs and VBIEDs (Vehicle Born Improvised Explosion Devices), with the occasional suicide bomber. The counterinsurgency is what's resurgent. The rugged terrain Schweitzer was responsible for shares a long border with Pakistan and is inhabited by 4.9 million Afghans, mostly poor and illiterate Pashtuns. But U.S. forces have made great progress in these six provinces. While only 22 of the 86 districts supported the government in early 2007 when Schweitzer took command and 58 at the end of 2007, 72 support it today. In the six eastern provinces, there were 3,400 Afghan National Security Forces in the beginning of 2007; there are now 12,450. And all of this has been at the cost of only 11 civilian casualties in Schweitzer's six provinces.

The crown jewel in the American counterinsurgency is Khost province. Here Lieutenant Colonel Scottie D. Custer pioneered an innovative strategy that Schweitzer quickly copied in other provinces. Custer was Khost's maneuver commander. Each province under American protection has a maneuver commander and a Provincial Reconstruction Team (PRT) commander. Maneuver commanders are in charge of making war, while PRT commanders do development work--though the maneuver commanders have special funds for their own development projects.

Khost province is about the size of the Bay Area and has a similar population, around one million. The province was created when the Communist Afghan government tried to rationalize its territory. In 1979 Paktika was carved out of what had been parts of Ghazni and Paktia; six years later the easternmost section of Paktika became Khost. The new province's borders followed the tribal boundaries, and there's no sense that it's an artificial entity.

Khost was in most ways unpromising terrain for developing a successful counterinsurgency. The province had never seen the benefits of what few government services Afghanistan offered before the civil war, and as many as 200,000 Khostis have voted with their feet, emigrating to Saudi Arabia, Dubai, and other emirates. They send $6 to $12 million a year back to their families. This is the major source of income for the province, along with agriculture and the logging of the once- plentiful mountain forests. (Opium isn't grown here.)

Khost has a backwoods, archaic flavor. There is no municipal power supply in the province. This isn't unusual in Afghanistan, but while people in more prosperous areas have diesel generators, few Khostis do. Televisions are rare, and American soldiers have distributed thousands of hand-cranked radios in the province. Education was limited to the rote memorization of prayers in rural villages until the last year or so. A five-year plan that aims for 60 percent literacy in the province is very ambitious.

It's hard to overestimate the isolation of the rural people here. Some Khostis living in remote upland villages are only now encountering Americans for the first time. I saw kids who had never learned to play catch, and heard of families of midgets, some of whom are police officers. So it is doubly impressive that Khost has made great civil and economic strides in the last couple of years.

"I am convinced that the cause of instability in Afghanistan is poor governance," says Colonel Schweitzer. "Everything else is a symptom. A year ago, Khost was the most unstable of my six provinces. Today it is the most stable. Why? The governor, Arsala Jamal, and the 10 of the 12 subgovernors who get it." But it also wouldn't have been possible without Scottie Custer.

TANGIBLE BENEFITS
In early 2007, Custer, 43, developed a plan to meet the insurgency at the most local level. He decided to disperse his 187 paratroopers throughout the province, stationing 20 to 30 men in Force Protection Facilities (FPFs) in each of Khost's district centers. Living next door to a subgovernor's offices, they could protect him and his officials. (Subgovernors are like county executives in the United States. Appointed by the provincial governors, they are typically responsible for districts of 60,000-100,000 people.) U.S. soldiers could also play on-the-spot mentor to the Afghan National Police, who continue to be a byword for inefficiency and corruption. Khost's Provincial Reconstruction Team--87 men and women from both the Army and State Department--would build schools and clinics near the FPFs, bringing the tangible benefits of government to Afghan citizens.

Custer looks Old Army, with a buzz cut that must require daily maintenance. He played hockey at West Point--"I was the first person in my family to go there since George Armstrong Custer"--and entered the artillery. He is obsessively attentive to detail, and young artillerymen gush about his expertise. Yet Custer is all New Army in his approach. He learned the first names of all 619 of his paratroopers prior to deployment (last names are written on uniforms) and, when a disciplinary case is referred up to his level, will often spend an hour or two counseling the paratrooper.

In July 2007, I attended the opening of the first FPF, in Tani District, and have carefully followed Custer's counterinsurgency strategy since. I spent Thanksgiving with the paratroopers in Bak and visited the Sabari FPF as it approached completion. In March I stayed at the FPFs in Gurbuz, Mandozai, Sabari, Shamal, and Tani district centers, witnessing the gradual transition of command from Custer to his friend Lieutenant Colonel Dave Ell of the 101st Airborne. Ell's paratroopers will be spending the next 12 to 15 months in Khost, continuing to realize Custer's vision. "There's no reason to change a plan that's so successful," says Ell. (Colonel Schweitzer has just been replaced by Colonel Pete Johnson of the 101st.)

Custer's plan in all its messy, granular detail is an excellent example of how the Army is getting a handle on counterinsurgency. It is an archetype of how the United States is likely to find itself fighting in the decades to come. Not everything has worked as it's supposed to--the Army, typically, is more than willing to admit its mistakes--but it's amazing how so simple a plan has had so many synergistic effects. The progress in Khost is obvious.

Today, eight sturdy stone FPFs dot Khost--designed and built by Lieutenant Colonel Timothy Kohn, a brilliant reservist from Northern California. When I visited in March, only about 20 of Custer's 619 paratroopers were still living on Forward Operating Base Salerno; the rest were dispersed at the FPFs, which are all built to the same plan. They have 18-inch thick stone walls and sleeping quarters for officers and enlisted personnel. There's a rec room with a flat-panel television, sometimes a gym the residents built themselves, a kitchen, and spartan bathing facilities. (Each has its ups and downs: Sometimes the water pressure isn't good, or the toilets weren't installed correctly.) But FPFs are homier than the Salerno quarters, and six of the eight offer wi-fi, so paratroopers can more easily keep in touch with family. Morale is high, with the paratroopers referring to their FPF as "the house."

From the FPFs, Afghans have received a sense of security that has fostered commerce and civil society. A thriving bazaar/truck stop has sprung up around the Shamal FPF as long-distance truckers plying the Kabul-Khost highway quickly made it a practice to spend the night near the safety of the U.S. troops. There's a new gas station near the Tani FPF. The Mandozai FPF has a popular clinic attached. Hundreds of Afghans come each day to the district center to visit the offices of a subgovernor for help and to settle disputes: things that would once have been handled through tribal channels and bribes. All of this is helping to connect Afghans to their government--an important step in the fiercely independent, isolationist Pashtun belt.

The new roads also help. Just 15 miles of blacktop were laid here by U.S. troops between 2002 and 2007. In the last year, that number has reached 75 miles of road either completed or in the final stages of paving. For 2008, 85 miles of new asphalt are in the works--35 miles of local roads and 50 miles of a highway linking the province to Kabul. Discretionary funds in the hands of commanders like Custer have been committed to a 10-mile road that will link two towns, Zanbar and Yaqubi, in Khost's most volatile district, Sabari. Another 18-mile road connecting the remote district of Spera with Shamal has been approved. The goal is to connect every district in Khost (and indeed in all six of the provinces in Schweitzer's area) with the provincial capital, Khost City, by a main road.

USAID is also in the roadbuilding business in Khost. But while the Army's projects are a success story, USAID's constant delays and its insistence on gravel rather than asphalt have been a catastrophe. Custer says that he will write to the General Accounting Office about USAID and its contractors when he returns to the States. Governor Jamal, who is a huge proponent of asphalt roads, points out that Washington, D.C.-based Louis Berger Group, which has the USAID contract to build the Khost-Gardez Pass road in his territory, will use the same Afghan subcontractors the Army uses but at double the cost.

Fifty new schools were built in 2007; 25 are planned for 2008. While previous governors had focused on schools in the provincial capital, Khost City--a very common Afghan pattern--Governor Jamal, 43, has worked to put schools where there were none before. In 2002, there were 38,000 children in school in Khost; 210,000 attend today-- including 44,000 girls. Female schooling is still a big issue in this deeply conservative province. There's a chicken-and-egg problem: Many families won't send girls to be taught by male teachers, but there are so few educated women in Khost that it is hard to find female teachers. This October the first 18 girls will graduate from high school in Khost; right now no women attend the local university, rated one of the five best in Afghanistan.

The biggest economic news is that a new commercial airport is being built--Khost's former airport having been taken over by the U.S. military. With the 200,000 Khostis living just a couple of hours away by air in the Gulf States, an airport is a natural for attracting investment. An industrial park is in the works as well, though this, like the airport, depends on an electrical grid being put up. This is also on the development schedule for 2008, along with a water system for Khost City.

According to Jamal, 12,000 new jobs were created in 2007 as a result of improved roads and security. Some business infrastructure has already sprung up thanks to Afghans' entrepreneurial instincts. The Kabul and Azizi banks opened Khost branches in the summer of 2006. Today the Azizi branch has $1.8 million in local deposits in 7,000 accounts, while Kabul has $4.2 million among 3,600 accounts. Local mullahs once condemned banking, even the sharia-compliant accounts both banks offer, but they have quieted down. "We bought clocks for the mosques," Kabul's manager Allah Nawaz Karwandgar explained, "and I am going to buy them some carpets." The silver lining to the hidebound traditionalism of places like Khost is the way money trumps ideology.

EXIT PLAN
The Army is also planning to turn two of the FPFs over to the Afghan National Army, who will in turn mentor the Afghan National Police until they can stand up on their own. As districts become firmly committed to the Afghan government, Afghan troops will replace Americans there, too. Custer refers to this as the "National Guard Plan," in which the Afghan army will be responsible for the province's security on an interim basis. Eventually, when the insurgent threat is sufficiently small, Afghan police will have full responsibility just as local police do in the United States. The big and growing base at Salerno will be turned over to the Afghan army, and, presumably, U.S. troops will go home. The Afghans have a ways to go, but that time is imaginable here.

It's a goal that U.S. officers are working towards with remarkable skill. As Colonel Schweitzer says, "My 47 company commanders have more experience than battalion commanders did before 2001." Lieutenants and sergeants leading platoons often negotiate directly with Afghan officials and get to know shopkeepers and policemen in their patrol routes. They reel off statistics on public works projects and know which village elders are cooperative. They take an active role in mentoring subgovernors, and American officers have requested and received the replacement of subgovernors and police chiefs who proved incompetent or openly corrupt. (The police chief of Khost province is on the way out as a result of U.S. complaints.)

I met outstanding officers in Khost--smart, patient, imaginative problem solvers who worked 17 hours a day. "You should be able to run for mayor of your district and win," says Captain Derrick Hernandez, 31, a thoughtful Ohioan who just turned over command of five Khost districts to officers from the 101st Airborne. It helps to be a people person, with a great memory for faces and the ability to make small talk even through an interpreter. And you have to know when to use force, when to use persuasion, and when to be plain tricky.

SOFT POWER
"Here is the mullah. He will be joining us for lunch," Mandozai subgovernor Haji Doulat said in booming, accented English to the American officers who had come to see him. Doulat, 63, wearing a shalwar kameez, a beige vest, and a turban in a locally popular pattern--gray with black stripes--explained, "Governor Jamal invited him." The mullah, a small man of around 40, briefly looked up from running his fingers through his black prayer beads. Compared with the tall, charismatic Doulat and the powerfully built soldiers, he seemed insignificant in his dingy white shalwar kameez.

Lieutenant Colonel Custer widened his slate blue eyes. He and Jamal have a very close relationship. It was unusual for Jamal to spring a surprise on Custer. Why would he invite a stray mullah to a lunch meant to introduce Haji Doulat to the soldiers replacing Custer's men as they end their 15-month Afghan deployment? Custer asked Doulat the mullah's name. "Liwan Gul," he replied. Custer exchanged glances with Ell.

Major Dave Pierce, Custer's operations officer, quietly left Doulat's office. Liwan Gul continued caressing his prayer beads, having no idea that Pierce was putting in a call to what American troops refer to as Other Coalition Forces (OCF)--generally Rangers or Special Forces--to tell them that the man they were looking for had walked right into the trap set for him by the governor. (Custer could have taken Gul in with his own men, but U.S. troops are allowed to hold a suspect only 96 hours without formally charging him; OCF aren't bound by these restrictions.) Gul was wanted as an IED facilitator. In his public role as a mullah, Gul has also been a vocal opponent of girls' schools.

The Americans, Haji Doulat, and Liwan Gul sat down for a traditional lunch of rice, lamb, bread, salad, and fruit, augmented by takeout fried chicken and french fries from a fast food restaurant just five miles away in Khost City. Since the American presence in Khost has increased security and brought blacktop roads to the province, the provincial capital has experienced an economic boom, with six-story glass office buildings and more sophisticated stores opening--many financed with money from Khostis working overseas.

Midway through the meal, the mullah told Doulat that he wanted to leave to spend the rest of the day with his family. (Friday is the Afghan weekend.) Custer asked if he and Ell might have a word with the mullah outside. Everyone else adjourned to Doulat's office, furnished with chairs and sofas upholstered in strident earth tones, potentially hazardous low glass coffee tables, and a substantial wooden desk. Just before lunch, Custer had said that he and Governor Jamal considered Doulat the strongest of the 12 subgovernors of Khost, and the one most likely to take Jamal's place when, as expected, he moves on to a higher office in Kabul.

Mandozai had been prone to IEDs when Haji Doulat arrived in spring 2007, but has since improved greatly thanks to his forceful leadership and reputation for incorruptibility. His government salary is about $680 a month. This is quite a lot locally, four times a patrolman's salary and eight times a teacher's. But, as he points out, it doesn't cover the expenses that come with his position, like traveling around the district on roads that destroy his cars. But because his brother and sons run a successful contracting business, he doesn't need to take bribes.

The incoming American officers had already been briefed on the subgovernor; one point of the lunch was to massage Doulat's not inconsiderable ego and reward him for his competence and honesty. (Doulat would in turn later present Custer with a cobra-headed sword and a turban in a bright pink box.)

Outside, Custer and Ell had stalled Liwan Gul until the OCF arrived. The mullah was calm even after he was asked to get into a Humvee. He would not have struck Custer as a dangerous man if he hadn't known what he'd done. For Custer, though, the detention of Liwan Gul was an excellent example of the "soft power" that is the focus of American efforts in Khost.

Governor Jamal is five for five. He's brought in five bad guys like this--not a shot fired. That's why my men don't do hard knocks in Khost. They are counter to the counterinsurgency strategy we use. My men have been here 15 months and we haven't fired a shot in an organized firefight.

By working with Jamal, the subgovernors, and the police chiefs, Custer has secured Khost with fewer than 200 paratroopers. (He commands a total of 619 men, but these include his headquarters staff and 320 artillerymen and radar specialists dispersed throughout the six provinces.) The districts vary in their security. One good indicator, the tally of slain police officers, shows that 17 were murdered in Sabari during the 15 months of Custer's team's deployment. Eight were killed in neighboring Matun, which is on the Pakistani border, while one fell victim to insurgents in both Terezai and Gurbuz. IEDs and VBIEDs claimed all but three of these lives. But Schweitzer points out that you can't really generalize: "You really have to assess security village by village," he says.

Tani, chosen for the first FPF, is deemed the most secure district; the dominant local tribe is unified and, with a history of support for the Khalq Communist party in the 1980s, are progressive in the Afghan context. Communism in Afghanistan was often more a play for tribal or personal power than a matter of ideology, but in general former communists are more apt to support education.

Yet Tani was the site of a March 4 VBIED attack that took the life of an alert Afghan policeman who challenged the driver at the district center gate. The explosion was well planned, using a driver who had previously made legitimate supply deliveries to coalition forces. It also pointed to weaknesses in the American defenses, which depend on the Afghan police. The Americans failed to man the one guard tower that overlooked the main gate. Custer had pointed this out a couple of months before when he inspected the FPF, but blames himself for not following up with the NCO in charge. Just five Americans were at Tani at the time of the blast, and the highest rank was specialist.

'THE DREAD SABARI'
The day before the Tani attack, two U.S. paratroopers were killed and seven wounded in a VBIED attack in Sabari. The two Afghan National Policemen guarding the district center gate had mysteriously walked away to get food in the bazaar. A local contractor working on the almost-finished district center was, perhaps coincidentally, called away to his office in the bazaar. And a Turkish-born German jihadi driving a large truck detonated 1,000 pounds of explosives in the district center. The explosion was so powerful it was heard eight miles away. Al Jazeera released a Taliban tape of the explosion that shows a huge cloud rising from the shattered buildings. Again the correct guard tower wasn't manned--the penalty for stretching forces thin.

Custer was determined to learn from the tragedy and not bow to it. Less than a day after the explosion, Custer got approval from the theater commander, General David Rodriguez, to release $200,000 so that rebuilding could begin immediately. The new district center was slated to open within two months and the FPF a little later. The distance between the FPF and the gate is being increased in the reconstruction.

Captain Hernandez, soft-spoken but iron-willed, pooh poohs the mythology of what he calls "the dread Sabari." "If you give me a platoon of [Afghan National Police], I could pacify it." He notes that during Operation Matun--a joint U.S.-Afghan army mission that ran from Christmas Day to mid-January--they searched every house in Matun and Sabari on two separate occasions, and the people gradually warmed to the coalition forces. After the operation, 180 men from Matun volunteered to join the police. "They want security in their district too, they want to better their lives," Hernandez says. "The problem is, they didn't have any government there."

The Mandozai subgovernor, Haji Doulat, is a native of Sabari. He criticizes Sabari's subgovernor, Lotfullah Babaker Khel, and its police chief for failing to project authority in the district. The explosion was the last straw for the Americans. Subgovernor Lotfullah had been requesting a transfer when I met him in November. But on March 21, when I heard him complain to Custer that he was unable to be effective because he was a native of Sabari, Custer replied acidly, "People have to have the courage to come to the subgovernor with their problems--and the subgovernor has to have the courage to lead." Lotfullah is not only not getting a new district, he will be replaced by a stout, blustery former mujahedeen commander, Gul Qasim Jihadyar, now the subgovernor of Nadir Shah Kot. "In 2008, 80 percent of our effort will be focused on Sabari," says Custer. He's optimistic, and Ell is aware of the need for patience. As Schweitzer says, "If you offer them the benefits of government, they will take it every time. But on their timetable, not ours."

CHALLENGING TERRAIN
Army commanders fear that the remote district of Spera is used as an infiltration point from Pakistan, but Hernandez and Lieutenant Marc Laighton, 32, who patrols it weekly, view it as basically secure. There aren't IED attacks there, though there also aren't any roads to speak of in the mountain fastness. Hernandez hopes the incoming commander will be able to get to Spera twice a week, but the bone- jarring two-hour ride through the wadi each way is not a trip anyone relishes. The 18-mile road that Custer has received approval to build should help.

Spera is rough terrain even by Afghan standards. Mud brick villages cling to the sides of a wadi that has too little water for the crops. A few pomegranate trees, pink blossomed, grow near the water. Some money trickles in from cutting the few trees remaining in the once thickly forested mountains. (Parts of Khost and neighboring Paktia are an ecological disaster in the making, with deforestation leading to erosion and a falling water table.)

Every child I see in Spera seems to be wearing his or her only set of clothes, and the garments of everyone but the elders are filthy. Yet the people are friendly with the troops here, friendlier than in some more prosperous districts. The Provincial Reconstruction Team just built Spera's first girls' school, which only runs up to grade three. (This seems to be the age--8 or 9--when most Khosti families get skittish about having their girls taught by male teachers.) There are seven schools for boys. They, and the 30 policemen stationed around the district center, are the visible accomplishments of the government here.

Spera is secure because its terrain is so challenging. While most of Khost lies in a bowl of river-watered flatlands with a moderate climate rare in Afghanistan, the edges of the province are rugged. Districts like Spera, Qalandar, and Musa Khel are so difficult to get to the enemy doesn't want them. Captain Hernandez, who is directly responsible for them, as well as four more accessible districts, says, "We go up there occasionally. You drag yourself in there, break three Humvees, and get airlifted out."As Kael Weston, the State Department's representative in Khost, notes, in Afghanistan, "the landscape has always won."

THE WAY AHEAD
Lieutenant Colonel Ell's focus will be on coaching the Afghan National Police (ANP) and getting the Afghan army on board with "the National Guard concept." The Afghan soldiers will shortly move into their first FPFs, in Tani and Bak.

The ANP remain a sore point. Stories of its incompetence are rife among U.S. soldiers in Afghanistan. While the Afghan army has made enormous progress in the last few years, the police are still a mixed bag. Some are courageous and professional, while others are thieves, extortionists, or rapists in uniform. An Afghan policeman was just shot dead by a woman in central Khost after he'd broken into her home and attempted to rape her.

Custer is milder than many of his subordinates when he describes the typical policeman: "You lie on a cot all day, and you lie on a cot all night, and when there's a boom you go out and see what it is. The concept of active patrolling is new to them." Many policemen won't patrol their assigned areas and certainly won't take on night missions without U.S. troops accompanying them.

If the rank and file are lazy and ill-trained, their superiors in the eastern region are far worse. "General Ayub, the Khost provincial chief of police, doesn't leave his office unless I get him a helicopter," notes Custer. "He has no idea what's going on out there. He has police uniforms stockpiled in his headquarters, but he's got men who are lucky not to be getting shot [by coalition forces] because they're not in uniform. When I got here, the ANP were getting fuel from the coalition. We put a stop to that--the Ministry of the Interior has a budget for them. They've got to get off the American teat."

In theory, the private military contractor Dyncorp is in charge of training the Afghan police in Khost and has a half-dozen highly paid police trainers based at Salerno, but, as Custer says, "they can't do any training if they won't leave the base." He likes to point to a line of armored SUVs sitting on a parking lot in Salerno--there to protect the Dyncorp trainers, should they ever muster the courage to leave the FOB. "They are zero value-added in my 15 months here. They report to the Department of State, they are not under the maneuver commander's command, so what are they doing in my battlespace? We are going to take over training of the ANP. We need to get fingerprint and retinal systems in their hands."

PARKS, NOT MOSQUES
In the Gurbuz district, whose 66,000 people are served by two newly built clinics but no doctor, it's like the Middle Ages. The village of Bowri Khel is home to an enormous madrassa with two 30-foot high towers, yet only a few men, and no women, know how to read. The madrassa teaches its students to memorize verses from a Koran they cannot read. None of the village's families own a generator, and, until three years ago, when an aid organization piped water to a storage tank outside the village, the women had to walk long distances carrying water. Left to their own devices, people here would be living almost wholly as their ancestors did 2,000 years ago. Not surprisingly, this was termed the "most unfriendly" village in Gurbuz by U.S. troops.

When I asked to meet a woman, the elders protested, "But the women here are uneducated. They cannot answer questions"--an odd answer, given that the men are uneducated, too. The only woman the elders of Bowri Khel presented for an interview was a 60-year old with shrewd eyes. A middle-aged male relative interrupted her whenever she attempted to speak. Still, she answered clearly that when the U.S.- built school opens, she expects no girls to attend. Her male relative responded to the follow-up question, "Because we are Pashtun people. We do not let our girls go to school. If a male teacher saw them, it would not be good for them."

In northern and western Afghanistan, half of the school population in the early grades is female; lines of little girls in uniforms making their way to or from school are a common sight. In poor, mountainous Ghazni, two provinces away, the Shiite Hazara people have almost universal school attendance. But Pashtuns have failed to embrace the new opportunities. This will doubtless have profound effects on political power in Afghanistan in the next generation. The Pashtuns will still constitute the largest ethnic group--40 percent is the usual estimate--but they will likely have far fewer prosperous, educated, influential leaders than their numbers warrant.

Though nearly every U.S. soldier here has come to develop warm feelings for the Afghans he's worked with, it's hard for most of the U.S. troops in Khost to see much good in Pashtun village culture. These young men, many of whom are already married with children, make a particular point of giving extra aid to the girls. Noting the one barefoot girl in a crowd of boys in cheap plastic sandals, Captain Hernandez, the father of two little girls, quietly says, "Every boy in this village will have shoes before she does."

The Army has avoided clashing with this prejudice. They do not convene shuras of female elders as they do with males, even though women have the most direct connection with many of the areas of life the Army is trying to improve, like water supply, health care, and poultry raising. (By law there is a quota for women on the elected Provincial Councils, and they have proved effective members as I noted in an article in THE WEEKLY STANDARD of August 20, 2007.) In my view, this is the wrong message to send. If we are seen to set the value of women's work and opinions at zero just as most Pashtun men here do, how can we expect the culture to change? Afghans may resist change, but our values have prestige for them. American taxpayers are funding much of Afghanistan's development, and we have a right to tweak Afghan society in directions we consider beneficial.

Many educated Pashtuns agree. Daoud Sultanzoy, an Afghan-American member of parliament--and chairman of the powerful economic and rural development committee--is from Ghazni. (His great-grandfather was the feudal lord of much of central and eastern Afghanistan, including what is now Khost.) He has a sense of urgency about reforming his people's culture.

At a gathering for the Persian New Year in the home of the outgoing subgovernor of Sabari, an old retainer sang a beautiful traditional song. Sultanzoy frowned.

Another song about how we Pashtuns are brave swordsmen! What about brave scientists? Brave doctors? Brave government officials? That is what this country needs. We can take a few years off from being brave swordsmen. When I drive around this area, I see places that could be beautiful parks, where people could relax and realize that life is a wonderful gift, and not think that they should blow themselves up to go to Paradise. Instead, I see mosques next to mosques next to other mosques.

Good governance is part of the picture, good ideas like the dispersal of troops in the districts is another. But culture is perhaps the largest factor, and the hardest to change.

Ann Marlowe is a New York-based writer who just finished her third embed with U.S. forces in Afghanistan.

C Copyright 2008, News Corporation, Weekly Standard, All Rights Reserved.
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