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May 21, 2008 

Taliban claim death of 'female US spy'
Karachi, 21 May (AKI) - (by Syed Saleem Shahzad) - Taliban fighters in Afghanistan claim to have killed a woman by slitting her throat after accusing her of spying for US forces in Afghanistan.

NATO Afghan chief wants talks on command in south
By Andrew Gray May 21, 2008
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The top NATO commander in Afghanistan said on Wednesday he favored talks to end the rotating command among allied forces in the violent south of the country, where the United States has added more troops.

Pakistan signs peace deal with pro-Taliban militants
May 21, 2008
PESHAWAR, Pakistan (AFP) — Pakistan's new government signed a peace deal with pro-Taliban militants in a northwestern valley Wednesday, despite fresh calls from the United States to clamp down on Islamist rebels.

Two NATO soldiers, 'Arab fighters' killed in Afghanistan
Wed May 21, 9:27 AM ET
KABUL (AFP) - Two NATO soldiers were killed in a blast in Afghanistan, the alliance force said Wednesday, as an Afghan official reported that six Arabs were among more than a dozen rebels killed in battle.

Afghanistan a land of disabled and discarded Country's 'most vulnerable' need help
The Toronto Star / May 21, 2008 Rosie DiManno
KABUL–Their broken bodies break the heart.
A legless man trundled down the middle of the street in a wheelbarrow. A little boy with deformed and useless limbs scuttling across a bridge like a crab, wrapping his thin arms around a passerby's ankle, unwilling to let go

Pakistan frees Taliban's former defence minister
Written by www.quqnoos.com Tuesday, 20 May 2008
Maulvi Obaidullah released in prisoner swap with kidnapped envoy
PAKISTAN has freed the Taliban's former defence minister in exchange for the release of the country’s kidnapped ambassador to Afghanistan, a militant spokesman has said.

Reaping war's harvest
The Australian, Australia Mark Dodd May 21, 2008
IN the weeks leading up to Anzac Day, intelligence reports arriving on the desk of Australia's Middle East commander Mike Hindmarsh pointed to a lull in Taliban activity in southern Afghanistan.

The Macleans.ca Interview: Fatima Gailani
The head of Afghanistan's Red Crescent Society says Canadian soldiers should stay in Afghanistan—and stick to soldiering
Macleans.ca, Canada Paul Wells May 20, 2008
Fatima Gailani has been the president of the Afghan Red Crescent Society since 2004. Her father Pir Sayed Ahmed Gailani led the National Islamic Front of Afghanistan, one of the main mujahedeen organizations that resisted the Soviet

Call to reinstate Afghan woman MP
By Martin Patience BBC News, Kabul Wednesday, 21 May 2008
The US-based group Human Rights Watch has called for a female Afghan MP to be reinstated a year after she was suspended from the parliament.

British minister says promoting democracy best way to fight terrorism in Pakistan, Afghanistan
The Associated Press Wednesday, May 21, 2008
WASHINGTON: British Foreign Secretary David Miliband says promoting democracy in Afghanistan and Pakistan is the best way to eliminate terrorist groups there.

Afghanistan a land of disabled and discarded
Country's 'most vulnerable' need help
The Toronto Star / May 21, 2008 Rosie DiManno COLUMNIST
KABUL–Their broken bodies break the heart.
A legless man trundled down the middle of the street in a wheelbarrow. A little boy with deformed and useless limbs scuttling across a bridge like a crab, wrapping his thin arms around a passerby's ankle, unwilling to let go

Call to reinstate Afghan woman MP
By Martin Patience BBC News, Kabul Wednesday, 21 May 2008
The US-based group Human Rights Watch has called for a female Afghan MP to be reinstated a year after she was suspended from the parliament.

Afghanistan seeks to clean up soaps on TV
Critics say ban on highly popular Indian shows evokes harsh rules of Taliban era, threatens freedoms
Chicago Tribune By Kim Barker Tribune correspondent May 20, 2008
KABUL, Afghanistan -Almost every night, Mojtaban Ahmadi rebels against his government by merely turning on his TV.

Iconic hotel survives Afghanistan's bitter history
By Luke Baker Tue May 20, 8:14 PM ET
KABUL (Reuters) - On the western edge of Kabul, in the saddle between two hills, stands a flaking monument to what the city once aspired to be -- a cosmopolitan destination drawing chic travelers from the world over.

Attacks on Khyber trucking threaten US supply line
By KATHY GANNON May 20, 2008
KHYBER AGENCY, Pakistan (AP) — Thieves, feuding tribesmen and Taliban militants are creating chaos along the main Pakistan-Afghanistan highway, threatening a vital supply line for U.S. and NATO forces.

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Taliban claim death of 'female US spy'
Karachi, 21 May (AKI) - (by Syed Saleem Shahzad) - Taliban fighters in Afghanistan claim to have killed a woman by slitting her throat after accusing her of spying for US forces in Afghanistan.

They said they killed the alleged female American informer in the Afghan valley of Kunar on Monday.

"Bachagai, 32, was part of an American proxy network in the Sarkano district's village Barogai," a Taliban spokesperson Zubair Mujahid told Adnkronos International (AKI) from the Kunar valley.

"Her information caused a lot of American attacks on the position of the mujahadeen, their killings and arrests," said Mujahid.

"We throughly investigated the matter and confirmed her links with Afghan intelligence and American troops. She also received cash rewards on the information she provided against the Taliban," he said.

Mujahid told AKI that once all the evidence against the alleged spy was gathered, they slit her throat with a knife and killed her.

The Taliban have killed many suspected informers in past especially in the eastern Afghan province of Kunar but killing a woman is a rare occurence among the former ruling student militia.
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NATO Afghan chief wants talks on command in south
By Andrew Gray May 21, 2008
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The top NATO commander in Afghanistan said on Wednesday he favored talks to end the rotating command among allied forces in the violent south of the country, where the United States has added more troops.

U.S. Army Gen. Dan McNeill also said he still needed more troops and aircraft for his 50,000-strong force, declaring he was a "fairly frugal dude" and only asked for what he needed.

"I am in favor of a dialogue by the policymakers and the politicians about the consideration of one country leading a multinational headquarters in the south," McNeill told reporters in Washington by videolink from Kabul.

Command of Afghanistan's southern sector, scene of the heaviest fighting with Taliban insurgents, currently rotates between Britain, the Netherlands and Canada, which all have substantial contingents of troops there.

But the United States has deployed more than 2,000 Marines to the south this year and some diplomats see the debate about the command as a U.S. effort to take charge of the region.

U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates said earlier this month it was "certainly worth taking a look at" whether the United States should take command of the south but Washington would consult closely with its NATO allies.

McNeill said Afghan security forces had trouble adapting to different commands with different ways of operating.

"It is sometimes a little difficult for them to change from one culture to the next," he said.

Losing a command role would be a blow to the prestige of any nation, but could be particularly hard for nations like Canada and the Netherlands, where the Afghan mission -- and its toll in casualties -- is politically controversial.

McNeill did not say if he had a view on which nation should take command in the south. He indicated he supported an end to rotation but stopped short of saying so explicitly.

"Dialogue typically results in some outcome, and you've just defined what would be a reasonable outcome," he said when asked about the idea of having one country in overall charge.

McNeill said his International Security Assistance Force remained "under-resourced" despite having increased from under 36,000 troops when he took command in February 2007.

"I'm a child of children of the American Great Depression and I'm a fairly frugal dude and I ask usually only for the things that I need," he said.

McNeill did not give figures for the additional resources he wanted, but Pentagon officials have said he has a "wish list" amounting to three extra brigades. That could mean anything between 9,000 to 15,000 extra soldiers.

(Additional reporting by Mark John in Brussels)
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Pakistan signs peace deal with pro-Taliban militants
May 21, 2008
PESHAWAR, Pakistan (AFP) — Pakistan's new government signed a peace deal with pro-Taliban militants in a northwestern valley Wednesday, despite fresh calls from the United States to clamp down on Islamist rebels.

The agreement will see the gradual withdrawal of troops from the devastated former tourist region of Swat and the imposition of Islamic Sharia law in line with the rebels' demands, provincial ministers said.

In return the militants will close training camps, hand over foreign fighters and halt suicide attacks on government installations and security forces under the 15-point pact, they said.

The army launched a major offensive in October to clear Swat of militants loyal to Maulana Fazlullah, a radical pro-Taliban cleric who led an uprising to enforce Sharia law in the valley.

US, NATO and Afghan officials have criticised previous peace deals in Pakistan, saying that they have led to an increase in suicide attacks on international and Afghan forces across the border in Afghanistan.

"The agreement was signed today between the government committee and representatives of local Taliban. We are very positive that this agreement will end violence and ensure lasting peace in the region," committee member and North West Frontier Province minister Wajid Ali Khan told AFP.

Dozens of people have been killed in suicide bombings in Swat, which began in July last year after troops raided the hardline Red Mosque in the capital Islamabad, leaving scores dead.

"We have agreed on a gradual withdrawal of the troops as the situation improves. The Taliban will close down all training centres for suicide bombers and militant activities. They will not attack security forces," Khan said.

The militants had also agreed not to target girls' schools, music shops and barbers, all targets of the hardline militants who follow an interpretation of Islam echoing the 1996-2001 Taliban regime in Afghanistan, he said.

"We have agreed to enforce the Sharia laws in the area," Khan added.

Officials said there was no agreement on the fate of Fazlullah, for whom the militants were demanding a general amnesty. The army has been hunting for him in the region's forests and mountains for months.

Afghanistan foreign ministry spokesman Sultan Ahmad Baheen criticised the the Swat agreement.

"We believe any exclusive deal with the Taliban would result in worsening of the situation," Baheen told AFP. "We believe any sort of agreement with the terrorists would harm both countries."

US Deputy Secretary of State John Negroponte urged Pakistan on Tuesday to arrest a leading Taliban commander based in the tribal area of South Waziristan, with whom Islamabad is also negotiating.

South Waziristan is around 350 kilometres (220 miles) south of Swat.

The commander, Baitullah Mehsud, has been accused by the CIA and the previous Pakistani government of masterminding the assassination in December of ex-premier Benazir Bhutto.

The new government, led by Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani, has pledged to completely overhaul Islamabad's counter-terrorism pursuit after defeating US-backed President Pervez Musharraf's political allies in February elections.

Negroponte said he would be encouraged to see Pakistan "operating effectively against some of these militant extremists, like for example bringing Baitullah Mehsud... capturing him and bringing him to justice, which is what should happen to him."
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Two NATO soldiers, 'Arab fighters' killed in Afghanistan
Wed May 21, 9:27 AM ET
KABUL (AFP) - Two NATO soldiers were killed in a blast in Afghanistan, the alliance force said Wednesday, as an Afghan official reported that six Arabs were among more than a dozen rebels killed in battle.

The International Security Assistance Force announced late Tuesday that the explosion in the central province of Ghazni had killed one soldier and an interpreter. It said Wednesday a second soldier had died from wounds.

The 40-nation force did not say what had caused the explosion, or give the nationalities of the soldiers involved.

An ambush in the eastern province of Paktika meanwhile wounded two other ISAF soldiers, a spokesman told AFP, without giving details.

Nearly 60 international soldiers have lost their lives in Afghanistan this year, most of them in hostile action.

Scores of extremist insurgents have also been killed but international forces do not issue death tolls from military action.

A deputy provincial governor said about 14 were killed in a new battle overnight in Zabul province, on the southern border of Ghazni.

The militants had left eight bodies on the battlefield and documents and other items indicated that six were Arab nationals, said Zabul deputy governor Gulab Shah Alikhail.

One Afghan soldier had also died, he said, adding international forces had supported Afghan soldiers on the ground in the remote Khak-e-Afghan district.

The US- or the NATO-led forces said however that they had no information about the operation and the Afghan army could not immediately confirm what had happened.

About 70,000 international soldiers are working alongside thousands of Afghan troops to fight Taliban and other extremists including, authorities say, fighters from a range of Central Asian and Middle East nations.

Battles often take usually in remote areas, making it difficult to verify facts independently.
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Afghanistan a land of disabled and discarded Country's 'most vulnerable' need help
The Toronto Star / May 21, 2008 Rosie DiManno
COLUMNIST
KABUL–Their broken bodies break the heart.

A legless man trundled down the middle of the street in a wheelbarrow. A little boy with deformed and useless limbs scuttling across a bridge like a crab, wrapping his thin arms around a passerby's ankle, unwilling to let go, begging for change. A keening woman with empty eye sockets, her palms upturned, squatting at the edge of traffic.

Afghanistan is a country of the lame and the maimed.

It is doubtful whether any place on Earth has a larger proportion of disabled and often discarded citizens, eking out an existence on the margins of charity.

Three decades of war, millions of mines and unexploded ordinance (UXO) for children to trip over, suicide bombers, birth defects due to clannish intermarriage, congenital disabilities never corrected for lack of health care, ordinary ailments left untreated and the vast afflicted detritus accrued from preventable diseases such as polio, to say nothing of inestimable psychological trauma: Afghanistan is a wasteland of the mutilated and crippled.

"Yes, go ahead and take my picture," agrees Ahmad Hamid, one-legged and blind, pleading for alms on a blanket spread near the bazaar, surrounded by several of his young children. "Show them to the president. Show him how his people, his brave mujahideen, have to beg in the streets for food."

Nearly all amputees – arm missing here, leg missing there – claim to have been mujahideen, Afghanistan's patriots, although often their age belies this. Doesn't mean, though, that they aren't victims of war and its radiating miseries, or even a current insurgency that claims more victims among the citizenry than those in uniform.

"It was a fragment of a bomb," explains Zalmai, 23, lifting the stump of an arm. "It happened near Bagram five years ago, a Taliban explosion. Doctors could do nothing but cut off what was left.''

Hayatolla, 30, says he was a teenage labourer in the north when he stepped on a land mine and lost his leg. "It totally changed my life. I can't work any more. I came to Kabul because I didn't want to be a burden on my family. But 15 years I've been begging on these streets. I live by the kindness of people who feel sorry for me.''

Disabled Afghans receive 400 Afghanis a month in benefits from the government – about $8 Canadian. But they have to go to an office to get the money and a great many are totally immobile, isolated.

A 2005 disability survey conducted by Handicap International found that upwards of 2.7 per cent of the population – or one out of every five households – suffers from a "severe'' disability and a further 4.8 per cent from a "minor" disability. The survey put the tally of severely disabled Afghans at up to 867,000.

War-related disabilities, primarily loss of limbs, account for an overwhelming proportion of non-birth-defect cases. Land mines, bullets, grenades and booby traps are among the causes. Out of a population of 25 million, 123,000 Afghans have been directly incapacitated by war and its consequences.

Many can't dress themselves, can't wash themselves, can't go to the toilet unaided, can't do simple household chores, can't work and can't budge without assistance.

There are so many urgent problems facing Afghanistan. Addressing the needs of the disabled has not been a priority for the government.

The Swedish Committee for Afghanistan now has responsibility for a joint UN-NGO project started in 1995 to help integrated the handicapped into the community. Rehabilitation of Afghans with Disabilities functions in 13 provinces with 500 staff and 600 volunteers.

"We go where nobody else will go," RAD program co-ordinator Zemarai Saqeb told the Star.

"In Afghanistan, all people have economic problems compared to five years ago. But for the most vulnerable people, it has been getting worse. There are simply insufficient services and funds for people with disabilities."

The RAD program has five components: community mobilization, awareness and advocacy; employment support; special/inclusive education; physiotherapy; and orthopedic workshops.

It's tough to identify the needs of a non-visible disabled community, especially in rural areas, Saqeb said.

Disabled people have received training in such trades as carpentry, tailoring and computer technology; many become breadwinners for themselves and their families.

RAD has directly helped 170,000 Afghans, including diagnosis of physical problems, getting medical help and ensuring rehabilitation and physiotherapy.

More orthopedic technicians are being trained. The disabled themselves staff four workshops that manufacture prosthetic devices – 7,000 a year distributed at no cost – and crutches.

"A lot of those beggars on the street have artificial limbs," Saqeb points out, "but they don't use them when they're asking for money."

It's not a con. It's just that standing on your own two feet in Afghanistan is sometimes better done by teetering on one.
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Pakistan frees Taliban's former defence minister
Written by www.quqnoos.com Tuesday, 20 May 2008 
Maulvi Obaidullah released in prisoner swap with kidnapped envoy
PAKISTAN has freed the Taliban's former defence minister in exchange for the release of the country’s kidnapped ambassador to Afghanistan, a militant spokesman has said.

Under the terms of the deal, Maulvi Obaidullah was set free a week before the insurgents ended ambassador Tariq Azizuddin's three-month kidnap ordeal, the spokesman said.

Azizuddin, kidnapped by the militants in the country’s Khyber Agency on February 11, was freed along with his driver and guard on Saturday.

Maulvi Omar, spokesman for the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan, said Islamabad had accepted the rebel’s demand to swap their former defence minister for the envoy.

An intelligence official confirmed the prisoner swap to the Pajhwok news agency.

The unnamed official said Obaidullah was among 55 detainees released by the government in exchange for its abducted ambassador.

Arrested in South Waziristan Agency in 2003, Obaidullah is reportedly one of Mullah Muhammad Omar's closest confidants.
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Reaping war's harvest
The Australian, Australia Mark Dodd May 21, 2008
IN the weeks leading up to Anzac Day, intelligence reports arriving on the desk of Australia's Middle East commander Mike Hindmarsh pointed to a lull in Taliban activity in southern Afghanistan.

The major general, one of Australia's ablest military minds, is a renowned counter-insurgency warfare expert. As commanding officer of the Special Air Service Regiment, he led the Anzac special operations taskforce during Operation Pollard in Kuwait in 1998. He also commanded Australian special operations during the Iraq war.

Hindmarsh told The Australian the April thaw coinciding with a sudden calm in Afghanistan meant only one possibility: young fighters were busy harvesting Afghanistan's bountiful opium crop. But he warned the lull would not last long and Australian troops were ready for the fighting season that would soon follow.

Now that the snow has thawed and the opium is harvested, the fighting season has started. The Taliban relies on opium sales to fund what is an increasingly brutal and persistent insurgency.

Opium profits last year were estimated at $4 billion and constituted more than 43 per cent of Afghanistan's total income. The UN estimates one-quarter goes to the country's impoverished farmers and the rest is split among corrupt government officials, warlords and insurgents.

The irrefutable link between the opium trade and the Taliban insurgency creates substantial challenges for coalition forces: how to break the cycle of endemic narco-fuelled corruption of Afghanistan's state institutions while tackling a burgeoning opium-fed insurgency.

Last year was the bloodiest on record for coalition forces: 232 soldiers were killed, most in the restive south. Roadside bombs funded from the profits of opium sales continue to reap a grim toll that includes Australian trooper David "Poppy" Pearce, killed on October 8 last year. Since 2002, five Australians have been killed in action in Afghanistan.

Coalition forces continued the fight during winter, not main force operations but targeted strikes on suspected Taliban hideouts. Commanders said special forces operated in a gruelling environment and in the worst conditions experienced. Several of these operations focused on the Baluchi Pass region northeast of Tarin Kowt.

The Baluchi is Taliban heartland. It was here Private Luke Worsley of the Commando Regiment was shot and killed during house-to-house fighting in December. The first of his assault team to gain entry into an insurgent-held mud brick compound, Worsley received a single shot through his helmet fired from an insurgent's RPK machinegun 18m away.

A close-quarters battle ensued, "involving high volumes of small arms fire and the use of fragmentation weapons", an official Australian after-action report said.

Details of an extensive new coalition push into the Baluchi have been confirmed by defence. Australian and coalition troops went on the offensive this week, launching one of the biggest operations since the thaw against the insurgents in the Baluchi Pass.

The Australian element is spearheaded by engineers, infantry, cavalry and support troops of the 4th Reconstruction Task Force, drawn largely from Sydney and Brisbane.

"This is an area of huge tactical and strategic significance for the Taliban extremists," says 4th RTF commander Lieutenant Colonel Stuart Yeaman.

"This is the Taliban's back yard and we are right on their main supply route between Helmand Province and their supply bases to the north.

"The aim of this series of operations is to clear out the Taliban and then build the physical infrastructure, patrol bases, particularly those (that) will allow the Afghan National Army and police, with support from the (NATO-led) International Security Assistance Force to dominate these areas."

Yeaman says a delicate balance is required between overcoming the Taliban and making them irrelevant through capacity building and winning the hearts and minds of the local population. But Taliban communication routes reach deep into south-central Oruzgan, birthplace of the Taliban's spiritual leader, Mullah Omar, and home to some of the staunchest Taliban supporters.

Much of that support is scattered through the Baluchi Pass northeast of the main Dutch-Australian base at Tarin Kowt.

The pass was the scene of bloody fighting last year as part of a coalition push dubbed Operation Spin Ghar (White Mountain) against the insurgents.

The Australian Strategic Policy Institute's Raspal Khosa says control of the Baluchi region is critical if Dutch and Australian forces are to maintain their grip on hard-won turf in the Chora Valley, which it straddles.

"Oruzgan, like Helmand and Kandahar, is Taliban heartland," Khosa says.

"It's Mullah Omar's native province. A lot of his hardcore supporters simply went back there after the Taliban was routed. You would have a lot of villagers who, if not Taliban sympathisers, would be tier two, locals who are sympathetic to the Taliban and fight out of financial necessity. They can be hired on a part-time basis and quite often they provide their own weapons. The fact is a lot of them are either unemployed or under-employed."

The challenge for Yeaman's men is to win the people over. In ISAF parlance it is called "ink spot" strategy: secure enough parts of Oruzgan and they eventually start to join up. At least, that is the theory.
Despite early positive indications from happy villagers, the history of the region is a different story.

The Taliban, while preferring to employ hit and run tactics, are not shy about massed attacks. After encircling villages in the Chora Valley last June, about 1000 well-armed insurgents lay siege to a vulnerable Dutch outpost. That sort of operation requires grassroots support.

In reply, Dutch forces launched a heavy counter-attack calling up close air support and self-propelled artillery based at Tarin Kowt. The fighting lasted for three days and more than 100 Taliban were killed.
It was followed in August by Operation Spin Ghar, a coalition operation involving Dutch, Afghan, Australian and British troops focusing on the Baluchi Pass and the Chora in a sweep designed to clear out remaining insurgents and their weapons caches.

The operation was heralded a success and in December I was among a small group of Australian reporters taken to Chora, the first and so far only group taken in. We left at night in a heavily armed convoy of Bushmasters and ASLAV armoured vehicles, showing no lights, with drivers relying on night-vision goggles.

A remotely operated Scan Eagle unmanned aerial vehicle flew overhead monitoring our path north and on the lookout for roadside bombs and insurgents.

Lying 35km northeast of Tarin Kowt, Australian combat engineers were hard at work laying razor-wire entanglements and building rammed-earth fortifications straddling the valley to protect against future Taliban encroachment.

The forts were strong, but the same could not be said of all the Afghan security forces ordered to garrison the redoubts.

In one hilltop Australian-made fortification overlooking the Chora, a sole Afghan policeman emerged from his bunk wrapped in a blanket and armed with an AK-47 assault rifle and one magazine. He complained he had not been paid for more than two months by the Kabul Government: hardly the sort of treatment that creates a motivated soldier or much loyalty for the Karzai Government. He was not the only sentry who complained about not being paid.

A follow-up media visit to Tarin Kowt in March did not include Chora. Security problems prevented a patrol going there, defence minders said.

By the end of December, coalition troop numbers in Afghanistan had risen to more than 50,000, 40,000 serving under NATO-led ISAF command including 15,000 US troops. There are another 11,000 US troops under national command, about 10,000 short of what NATO commanders require as a minimum. There is a shortage of troops in the violence-prone south, where Britain, Canada, Denmark, the US and The Netherlands bear the brunt of combat operations. And this is reflected in casualties.

Australia's involvement is reconstruction, but even that commitment looks set to diminish. With a tight ceiling set on Australian troop numbers and calls for a new program to be launched in August to help train the Afghan National Army, the number of key reconstruction tasks Australian troops will perform will be cut from two to one.

Defence Minister Joel Fitzgibbon has ruled out sending additional troops to Afghanistan unless there is a substantial increase by NATO countries. The main brunt of Australia's combat operations in Oruzgan will continue to be borne by the 300-strong Special Forces Task Group.

Since 2001, defence has spent $1.7 billion on Operation Slipper, the name for Australia's involvement in Afghanistan. There is no talk of pulling out any time soon.

Mark Dodd is The Australian's defence and foreign affairs writer.
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The Macleans.ca Interview: Fatima Gailani
The head of Afghanistan's Red Crescent Society says Canadian soldiers should stay in Afghanistan—and stick to soldiering
Macleans.ca, Canada Paul Wells May 20, 2008
Fatima Gailani has been the president of the Afghan Red Crescent Society since 2004. Her father Pir Sayed Ahmed Gailani led the National Islamic Front of Afghanistan, one of the main mujahedeen organizations that resisted the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan in the 1980s. After her return to Afghanistan from exile in London, she was a delegate to the Afghan Loya Jirga, which helped write a new constitution for the country. Ms. Gailani spoke to Maclean's senior columnist Paul Wells last week in Ottawa.

Q: I was in Afghanistan for a week in October and many people there talked of the difficulty of coordinating military and NGO efforts, the fact that many of the NGOs don't talk to soldiers for reasons of neutrality, and that coordination is a huge problem. Do you share that perception? Is it getting better or worse?

A: Well, whether it is easy or difficult for NGOs to cooperate or coordinate with the soldiers is one thing. But the job of a national society (like the Red Cross or Red Crescent) in a country, especially a country with conflicts, is a unique role. It has to be 100 per cent neutral. It has to be 100 per cent trusted by the insurgency to allow our more than 40,000 volunteers to operate in different areas. The access the Afghan Red Crescent Society has is unique. They play a role that no one else could take over because they come from the community; they know the problems of the community, they are known and trusted by the community—both sides. So it is easier to work through them, and also we must not jeopardize their lives and their safety by doing and acting in a way which is not the job of a national society.
Q: What sort of projects are those volunteers working on?

A: Usually it is natural disasters, not-so-natural disasters—armed conflicts—first aid, disaster preparedness, mine awareness, and often there is an important role if there are epidemics. They are playing lots of roles so it's important to train them better and give them more facilities.

Q: What's the public health situation in Afghanistan these days?

A: In a country after 24 years of war and still in armed conflict, you cannot expect that all of a sudden the health system will revive. It's a poor country; it's always been a poor country. Most of the health system is a free health system. So it needs lots of money, lots of resources to revive it. It's much better than it used to be, but it's a long way to go to call it adequate.

Q: And the main challenges, are they epidemic, viral, nutrition?

A: Mother and child. [Death in childbirth is] definitely the No. 1 problem we have in Afghanistan. Because there are no maternity wards, because the mothers are young, and because of complications, which are nothing in a country like yours, but in a country like Afghanistan could kill the child and especially the mother. I mean, a breech child, you see it with ultrasound and you take measures to prepare for it. But in Afghanistan often only after both are dead do you know what the cause of death was. And even if they miraculously survive, you have hemorrhages and many, many other problems. Although the situation for mother and child has improved dramatically in the last two, three years, it is one of the worst in the world.

Q: Do you have any general observations about Canadian-delivered development assistance in Afghanistan? Does Canada have a reputation, for good or ill?

A: Canada has a very good reputation. Afghanistan is a country which is hurt so badly during 24 years of war. We had an invasion by a superpower. We had civil wars. We became a tool in a regional battle. Every kind of war was fought at the expense of the people of Afghanistan. So they are very sensitive about everything. They know that when the Canadian government does something, it is with the money that people have paid. Taxpayer money. It makes them happy, it gives them hope. And then to see the practical help which comes, whether it is to a hospital, clinics, whether it is training, scholarships or education in general, they feel it and it gives them hope.

Q: There's also a substantial military component to Canadian involvement. Does it help or hinder your work?

A: Look, I have to answer this question as an Afghan and I have to answer it as president of Afghan Red Crescent Society. As an Afghan, we all know that without the presence of these soldiers, the civil war would be continuing. Or if these soldiers get out of Afghanistan, civil war will erupt again. We deeply feel for the loss of these young lives, whether it's Canadian or from another country. It's hard for us to see all that. But we also believe it's impossible to maintain the work we've started, now that we're out of civil war, that we cannot do it alone. As the president of the Afghan Red Crescent Society the number one task is not to put the lives of my more than 40,000 volunteers in jeopardy. So whatever it takes, I have to keep neutrality. And sometimes this neutrality is misunderstood—not specifically by Canadian soldiers but all soldiers, our own soldiers, foreign soldiers—they don't understand our situation all the time. Sometimes we do have problems. Do we know of any specific problems with Canadian soldiers? No. Q: Do you expect to not need a Canadian presence anytime soon?

A: I don't think so. When you start something, when so many young lives are lost, if we stopped in the middle, what would we answer to the soul of those people? 'Oh, sorry, you died but we changed our mind and we are leaving things halfway?' I think it's important the people of Canada give every kind of support to the people of Afghanistan. The humanitarian work should be left to the people who have always been doing the humanitarian job. You must not mix up things and change roles. That confuses people.

Q: Some people have said that our soldiers should move to more of a peacekeeping and development-assistance role.

A: If the soldiers are doing the humanitarian job, then what is the role of the national society? What is the role of the NGOs? We should take arms and fight? We all have a role to play and we should stick to the roles we were created to do. It's not fair to the soldiers. They are trained to do something; we are trained to do something else.                
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Call to reinstate Afghan woman MP
By Martin Patience BBC News, Kabul Wednesday, 21 May 2008
The US-based group Human Rights Watch has called for a female Afghan MP to be reinstated a year after she was suspended from the parliament.

Malalai Joya was accused of insulting the house and was suspended until the end of its parliamentary term in 2009.

The MP, who has a reputation for being fiery and outspoken, had compared the parliament to an animal stable.

But Ms Joya says that the remarks, made during a television interview, were taken out of context.

Safe house

The female MP is a fierce critic of former Afghan warlords, many of whom are now in parliament and many of whom have been accused of war crimes.

On one occasion, she was physically attacked during a session in the lower house.

She says she fears for her life, moving from location to location every day and living at secret addresses.

Ms Joya also says that the Afghan government is refusing to allow her to travel.

Human Rights Watch said that her case presented a real test for Afghan President Hamid Karzai.

They said that Ms Joya should be reinstated, adding that even outspoken women should have a role in re-building Afghanistan.
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British minister says promoting democracy best way to fight terrorism in Pakistan, Afghanistan
The Associated Press Wednesday, May 21, 2008
WASHINGTON: British Foreign Secretary David Miliband says promoting democracy in Afghanistan and Pakistan is the best way to eliminate terrorist groups there.

Miliband is also expressing support for talks between Pakistan's new government and leaders in the country's tribal areas.

Miliband is in Washington Wednesday meeting with Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. In a speech, he said that military operations alone will not eliminate terrorist groups in the two countries.

Miliband says, "security measures can deal with symptoms, but politics is required to address underlying causes."

Miliband will be in California with Rice Thursday and Friday to meet with U.S. business leaders. The trip will include a visit to Internet search giant Google's headquarters.
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Afghanistan a land of disabled and discarded
Country's 'most vulnerable' need help
The Toronto Star / May 21, 2008 Rosie DiManno COLUMNIST
KABUL–Their broken bodies break the heart.
A legless man trundled down the middle of the street in a wheelbarrow. A little boy with deformed and useless limbs scuttling across a bridge like a crab, wrapping his thin arms around a passerby's ankle, unwilling to let go, begging for change. A keening woman with empty eye sockets, her palms upturned, squatting at the edge of traffic.

Afghanistan is a country of the lame and the maimed.

It is doubtful whether any place on Earth has a larger proportion of disabled and often discarded citizens, eking out an existence on the margins of charity.

Three decades of war, millions of mines and unexploded ordinance (UXO) for children to trip over, suicide bombers, birth defects due to clannish intermarriage, congenital disabilities never corrected for lack of health care, ordinary ailments left untreated and the vast afflicted detritus accrued from preventable diseases such as polio, to say nothing of inestimable psychological trauma: Afghanistan is a wasteland of the mutilated and crippled.

"Yes, go ahead and take my picture," agrees Ahmad Hamid, one-legged and blind, pleading for alms on a blanket spread near the bazaar, surrounded by several of his young children. "Show them to the president. Show him how his people, his brave mujahideen, have to beg in the streets for food."

Nearly all amputees – arm missing here, leg missing there – claim to have been mujahideen, Afghanistan's patriots, although often their age belies this. Doesn't mean, though, that they aren't victims of war and its radiating miseries, or even a current insurgency that claims more victims among the citizenry than those in uniform.

"It was a fragment of a bomb," explains Zalmai, 23, lifting the stump of an arm. "It happened near Bagram five years ago, a Taliban explosion. Doctors could do nothing but cut off what was left.''

Hayatolla, 30, says he was a teenage labourer in the north when he stepped on a land mine and lost his leg. "It totally changed my life. I can't work any more. I came to Kabul because I didn't want to be a burden on my family. But 15 years I've been begging on these streets. I live by the kindness of people who feel sorry for me.''

Disabled Afghans receive 400 Afghanis a month in benefits from the government – about $8 Canadian. But they have to go to an office to get the money and a great many are totally immobile, isolated.
A 2005 disability survey conducted by Handicap International found that upwards of 2.7 per cent of the population – or one out of every five households – suffers from a "severe'' disability and a further 4.8 per cent from a "minor" disability. The survey put the tally of severely disabled Afghans at up to 867,000.

War-related disabilities, primarily loss of limbs, account for an overwhelming proportion of non-birth-defect cases. Land mines, bullets, grenades and booby traps are among the causes. Out of a population of 25 million, 123,000 Afghans have been directly incapacitated by war and its consequences.

Many can't dress themselves, can't wash themselves, can't go to the toilet unaided, can't do simple household chores, can't work and can't budge without assistance.

There are so many urgent problems facing Afghanistan. Addressing the needs of the disabled has not been a priority for the government.

The Swedish Committee for Afghanistan now has responsibility for a joint UN-NGO project started in 1995 to help integrated the handicapped into the community. Rehabilitation of Afghans with Disabilities functions in 13 provinces with 500 staff and 600 volunteers.

"We go where nobody else will go," RAD program co-ordinator Zemarai Saqeb told the Star.

"In Afghanistan, all people have economic problems compared to five years ago. But for the most vulnerable people, it has been getting worse. There are simply insufficient services and funds for people with disabilities."

The RAD program has five components: community mobilization, awareness and advocacy; employment support; special/inclusive education; physiotherapy; and orthopedic workshops.

It's tough to identify the needs of a non-visible disabled community, especially in rural areas, Saqeb said.

Disabled people have received training in such trades as carpentry, tailoring and computer technology; many become breadwinners for themselves and their families.

RAD has directly helped 170,000 Afghans, including diagnosis of physical problems, getting medical help and ensuring rehabilitation and physiotherapy.

More orthopedic technicians are being trained. The disabled themselves staff four workshops that manufacture prosthetic devices – 7,000 a year distributed at no cost – and crutches.

"A lot of those beggars on the street have artificial limbs," Saqeb points out, "but they don't use them when they're asking for money."

It's not a con. It's just that standing on your own two feet in Afghanistan is sometimes better done by teetering on one.
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Call to reinstate Afghan woman MP
By Martin Patience BBC News, Kabul Wednesday, 21 May 2008
The US-based group Human Rights Watch has called for a female Afghan MP to be reinstated a year after she was suspended from the parliament.

Malalai Joya was accused of insulting the house and was suspended until the end of its parliamentary term in 2009.

The MP, who has a reputation for being fiery and outspoken, had compared the parliament to an animal stable.

But Ms Joya says that the remarks, made during a television interview, were taken out of context.

Safe house
The female MP is a fierce critic of former Afghan warlords, many of whom are now in parliament and many of whom have been accused of war crimes.

On one occasion, she was physically attacked during a session in the lower house.

She says she fears for her life, moving from location to location every day and living at secret addresses.

Ms Joya also says that the Afghan government is refusing to allow her to travel.

Human Rights Watch said that her case presented a real test for Afghan President Hamid Karzai.

They said that Ms Joya should be reinstated, adding that even outspoken women should have a role in re-building Afghanistan.
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Afghanistan seeks to clean up soaps on TV
Critics say ban on highly popular Indian shows evokes harsh rules of Taliban era, threatens freedoms
Chicago Tribune By Kim Barker Tribune correspondent May 20, 2008
KABUL, Afghanistan -Almost every night, Mojtaban Ahmadi rebels against his government by merely turning on his TV.

He watches a soap opera from India about the long-suffering Tulsi, a poor girl who married into a rich family and is the central character in the most popular of five Indian soap operas the Afghan government is trying to ban as un-Islamic. Critics say the move is one of several recent government actions that evoke the harsh restrictions of the Taliban, driven from power in late 2001.

"I don't think anyone's not watching Tulsi, except a few clerics," said Ahmadi, 18, a store clerk. "I'm a Muslim. I pray. I watch this for entertainment. Some people might sit around and have nothing to do and think, 'Let's go rob something.' But not if they watch Tulsi."

On April 22, the Ministry of Information and Culture banned the shows, saying they showed too much skin, too much immorality, and, in one case, too much magic. Two stations stopped broadcasting the serials. The other two private TV stations, Tolo and Afghan TV, have continued to run the soaps, and the country's attorney general has summoned the station owners to court.

Media freedom Since the fall of the Taliban, which outlawed TV sets and photography, media have flourished in Afghanistan, and media freedom is seen as one of the government's crowning achievements. Most Afghans in Kabul can see the city's 13 private stations, which run the gamut from those broadcasting American TV shows to channels featuring clerics proclaiming "Death to America."

The dilemma over the Indian soaps highlights the contradiction in Afghanistan's fledgling constitution, which enshrines freedom of speech but also says that nothing un-Islamic is allowed.

It also puts U.S.-backed President Hamid Karzai in a bind as he continues to lose popularity before next year's election. If he rejects the ban, he risks alienating Afghanistan's largely conservative public and giving Taliban-led insurgents fodder for anti-government propaganda. If he supports the ban, he risks alienating his Western supporters.

So far, Karzai has indicated he supports the ban and the influential conservative clerics who pushed it. In his one public comment, he said media freedom would be maintained but added that "unsuitable material should not be broadcast." He also complained that there were too many foreign shows on TV.

Preserving culture? Other government officials have defended the ban on soap operas as an attempt to preserve Afghan culture. Abdul Karim Khurram, the minister of culture and information who pushed the ban, also blamed the TV channels for giving ammunition to extremists.

"I think allowing these things will give the Taliban an excuse," Khurram said, adding that the Taliban in northwestern Baghdis province has already used the Indian soaps in anti-government propaganda.

Two weeks ago, dozens of masked, armed militants stormed into several mosques in Logar province, just outside Kabul, and warned residents against watching television because TV channels were showing un-Islamic programs.

Tulsi, the main character in the most popular soap, officially called "Because the Mother-in-Law was once the Daughter-in-Law," and aired on Tolo, has certainly met with her share of un-Islamic adversity. Her husband fathered a child with another woman while he had amnesia. Tulsi herself nearly got married to another man twice — once when she was out of her mind and once when she thought her husband was dead.

Another Indian soap opera features a woman with more than one husband. But considering what else is on TV in Afghanistan, the ban seems arbitrary. American shows such as "Lost" and "24" are broadcast, along with movies such as "Mission: Impossible III" and "The Matrix Reloaded."

Ahmad Shah Afghanzai, the founder of Afghan TV, conceded that 90 percent of the shows on his station would be interpreted by conservative clerics as un-Islamic. He said he was giving Afghans what they want.

"This is just the first step by the government," Afghanzai said. "If we do not resist, if we do not shout to the world against this ban, the next day they will say another program is illegal, and the day after that they will say another show is bad. And then they will ban channels, until all that is left are those channels that shout 'Death to America.' "

More bans predicted Conservative lawmakers said banning soap operas is the first step in their plan to clean up Kabul. Earlier this year, a group of Islamist parliamentarians drafted a bill that would outlaw such activities as women walking outside without a male relative, and men growing long hair and playing with pigeons. Last month, Kabul police raided several billiard halls, confiscating their snooker cues and balls and arresting the players because of allegations of drinking, fighting and gambling. The city's billiards clubs were shuttered for 10 days.

Conservative parliament members and government officials such as Khurram also said they want TV channels to stop showing women and men singing and dancing together. They also wanted to prevent provocative movies from being aired.

"This is no different from the Taliban," said Mojib Rahman, 19, who sat beside a road with two friends recently and complained that there was nothing else to do in Kabul. Journalists say the ban on soap operas is aimed at softening media criticism in the run-up to the presidential election next year.

"If they manage to ban all the Indian soap operas, what will they do if there's something else they don't like on TV?" asked Ahmad Behzad, a journalist and parliament member who fought the soap-opera ban. "Or if the news is critical of them? They can make a religious excuse or anything to ban it."

Khurram, the information minister, dismissed fears that the ministry would go after news programs or push a political agenda.

But Khurram, known for his bluntness and for once telling a parliament member that he was worth less than a chickpea, also complained about Tolo TV's news coverage, including a clip repeatedly aired of him in which he says freedom of speech is useless. He said his words were twisted.

On May 7, after a news announcer for state-run TV was shown defending press freedom in a round-table discussion on Tolo, government security agents escorted him from the station.

Announcer Faizi Zadran said the guards told him the minister had ordered that he no longer announce the 8 p.m. news. He still has a job, but he's not sure for how long.

"I don't know why they did it," Zadran said. "I have not said anything against the law. I have not defamed anyone. I have just defended freedom of speech."
kbarker@tribune.com
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Iconic hotel survives Afghanistan's bitter history
By Luke Baker Tue May 20, 8:14 PM ET
KABUL (Reuters) - On the western edge of Kabul, in the saddle between two hills, stands a flaking monument to what the city once aspired to be -- a cosmopolitan destination drawing chic travelers from the world over.

For nearly 40 years the InterContinental Hotel Kabul, with commanding views over the bustling city and north towards the snow-capped Hindu Kush, has survived as a landmark of the Afghanistan that might have been. And for all that time Shir Ahmad Stanikzai has been there, watching history come and go.

From champagne-fuelled parties and bikini-clad women by the pool in the 1970s, to the Soviet invasion, the chaos of the civil war, the rise and fall of the Taliban and the arrival of U.S. troops, Stanikzai has seen it all.

"It was so beautiful once," he said with a smile, sitting in the almost-empty lobby, the furnishings little changed since the day the hotel opened in 1969, the clocks behind reception giving the time in London, Paris, New York, Tokyo and Moscow.

"There were jewelry shops with diamonds and gold, a travel agency, the Pamir restaurant on the top floor. The nightclub was always full," he said wistfully, recalling better, earlier days. "We used to have big New Year celebrations in the ballroom."

Stanikzai began working at the hotel as a waiter in 1969, when he was just 16, shortly after finishing school. He steadily worked his way up to head waiter, then restaurant manager, food and beverage manager and now assistant general manager.

The heyday, he says, was the 1970s, when wealthy Europeans would come to Afghanistan and make the InterContinental their base, taking trips to visit the Buddhas of Bamiyan, the mountains of the north or ancient cities like Jalalabad.

The pool was always crowded with men and women swimming together, shouts of "mine" could be heard from the tennis courts and most evenings brought well-dressed couples down to the Nuristan cocktail lounge for pre-dinner drinks. Indian royalty, ousted presidents and foreign ambassadors were two a penny.

It was a gilded era that barely outlasted the decade.

GROW YOUR BEARD
Dramatic change came with the Soviet invasion of late 1979, when tens of thousands of foreign troops poured into the country after a series of failed coups, plots and bloody revolts.

Following the invasion, the InterContinental Group dropped Kabul from its chain, although the hotel proudly retains the name.

The Soviet military ended up using the hotel as an officers' quarters and the flow of international travelers quickly dried up. The resort remained busy, Stanikzai recalls, but with swaggering Soviet commanders, not frolicking guests.

"They drank a lot of vodka," Stanikzai said, laughing. "But the hotel still made money. They paid their bills."

Ten years later the Russians left and a new era began, with bearded Afghan warlords battling furiously for supremacy after overthrowing Mohammad Najibullah's communist regime.

"That time was very, very bad," says Stanikzai, recalling how one set of mujahideen fighters once held an area of Kabul to the west of the hotel and another faction, led by Ahmad Shah Masood, held the hotel and much of the rest of the city.

"There were bullets flying, rockets flying, and we were in the middle. Our front office manager was killed right there," he said, pointing towards the reception desk. "I think 15 or 16 of our staff were killed in that time."

The rise of the warlords brought an end to alcohol-fuelled parties and cocktail hours, and the hotel steadily fell on harder and harder times. With the Taliban's conquest of Kabul in 1996, an already dire situation took a turn for the worse.

Stanikzai, a dapper man in a smart suit with a trimmed moustache and neat grey hair, had to grow a long beard and wear traditional Afghan dress of flowing trousers and shirt.

"I had a beard down to here," he said, gesturing to the middle of his chest. "I had to wear a turban."

Taliban rule was a rigid, parsimonious time. A few foreign journalists came, but mostly the hotel was empty. One memorable episode was when some of Osama bin Laden's acolytes ordered the pool sealed off so they could swim alone for a day.

When U.S. and Afghan forces came and drove the Taliban out in late 2001, the first thing Stanikzai did was shave his beard. Trade picked up as more journalists, diplomats and adventurers came. A Dubai company invested and the hotel was done up.

Recently the government took ownership and more improvements are promised. Another five-star hotel has opened in central Kabul, offering stiff competition as the InterConinental's once-bright star fades. But Stanikzai is not going anywhere.

"I love my hotel and I love my job," he says simply. "I will keep working here as long as the management will have me."

(Editing by Megan Goldin)
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Attacks on Khyber trucking threaten US supply line
By KATHY GANNON May 20, 2008
KHYBER AGENCY, Pakistan (AP) — Thieves, feuding tribesmen and Taliban militants are creating chaos along the main Pakistan-Afghanistan highway, threatening a vital supply line for U.S. and NATO forces.

Abductions and arson attacks on the hundreds of cargo trucks plying the switchback road through the Khyber Pass have become commonplace this year. Many of the trucks carry fuel and other material for foreign troops based in Afghanistan.

U.S. and NATO officials play down their losses in these arid mountains of northwestern Pakistan — even though the local arms bazaar offers U.S.-made assault rifles and Beretta pistols, and the alliance is negotiating to open routes through other countries.

The most high-profile victim of the lawlessness has been Tariq Azizuddin, Pakistan's ambassador to Afghanistan. The 56-year-old was snatched from his Mercedes limousine three months ago while driving toward the border. He wasn't freed until Saturday. Pakistan's government denied it was part of a prisoner swap last week with militants.

A senior government official said Azizuddin's kidnapping was carried out by one of dozens of criminal gangs operating in the region, who then sold the ambassador to the Taliban. The official agreed to discuss the case only if not identified, citing the sensitivity of the efforts that led to the envoy's release.

"The security is absolutely becoming precarious and this poses a threat for U.S. and NATO supplies, but it is also a source of concern for Pakistan," said Mehmood Shah, former security chief for the region. "It's a complex mix (of factors), but it is getting more dangerous."

Regular trade is also being disrupted by the raids on trucks traveling what is a vital lifeline for impoverished Afghanistan, but there is disagreement about how serious the problem is.

Ziaul Haq Sarhadi, who heads an association of Pakistani customs agents helping traders move goods through the customs post at Torkham, claimed the average number of trucks has dropped to 250 a day from 500 early this year, before violence escalated.

However, Abdul Ghani, a commander of Afghan border guards, said there had been only a "small drop" in the number of trucks crossing. He had no numbers.

Fuel tankers, in particular, have become a target for militants seeking to disrupt supplies to NATO and the U.S.-led coalition in Afghanistan.

In April, a bomb strapped to a truck carrying 11,440 gallons of fuel exploded as the vehicle sat near the Torkham customs post waiting to cross from Khyber. In March, a bomb attack destroyed some 40 tankers in a parking lot. Dozens of people were injured by the raging fires.

Most material for foreign troops in Afghanistan arrives by ship at the Pakistani port of Karachi in unmarked shipping containers and is loaded on South Asia's colorfully decorated "jingle" trucks to be driven to destinations like Bagram Air Base, north of the Afghan capital, Kabul.

NATO and U.S. officials won't say whether the trucks carry weapons and ammunition in addition to food, fuel and other supplies. They suggest that theft — not a disruption campaign by militant groups — is the main problem behind the raids on trucking.

The coalition has "no indication of a pattern by the enemy to attack our supplies," said a coalition spokeswoman, Lt. Col. Rumi Nielson-Green.

Yet NATO is seeking to reduce its dependence on the Khyber route by negotiating with Russia and other nations to allow it to truck in "non-lethal" supplies to Afghanistan through Central Asia.

"It's always good to have alternatives," spokesman James Appathurai said at NATO headquarters in Brussels. "One route for supplies is not necessarily the best way forward."

In Khyber, a mountainous enclave that abuts the main northwestern Pakistan city of Peshawar, U.S. weapons and other supplies — boots, camouflage uniforms and rucksacks — are offered openly for sale.

Saifur Rahman Zalmay, a weapons dealer of 30 years, hawks U.S.-made assault rifles and pistols. For a new Beretta, he demands $10,000. New and used M-16s rifles are a few thousand dollars less — far more than Western armies pay.

Zalmay claimed some of the second-hand rifles were sold to arms dealers by Mullah Ismail, a Taliban commander killed in April in Pakistan. Ismail led a June 2005 ambush of U.S. commandos in eastern Afghanistan and shot down a Chinook helicopter sent to rescue them. Sixteen American special forces soldiers died on the chopper.

Shah, the former regional security chief, said local tribes are paid a government stipend to secure the route for regular trade as well as military supplies. But the authority of tribal elders in Khyber has been weakening, as it is all along the frontier.

Ikramullah Khan Afridi, a tribal leader, blamed that trend on the proliferation of radical clerics who are sympathetic to the Taliban and have established parallel administrations and their own militias.

"The traditional mechanism of controlling the area through the jirga (council of elders) of the tribal area has been weakened while the mullahs are taking the law into their own hands," Afridi said. "Now they are out of control."

Rivalry between extremists has also spawned violence, such as a May 1 suicide bombing that wounded dozens of people near Bara, one of Khyber's main towns. It targeted the headquarters of an Islamic fundamentalist group calling itself Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice. The group accused Taliban militants from nearby Waziristan of sending the bomber.

Khyber was once regarded as one of the safest of Pakistan's seven semiautonomous tribal regions on the rugged frontier. It was one of the few that foreigners, including diplomats and aid workers, were allowed to venture into, although only to travel to Afghanistan.

The deteriorating security comes despite a relative lull in violence in other parts of Pakistan's frontier regions in recent months. The Pakistani government that came to power in February elections is using tribal intermediaries to try to forge peace with militants, most notably in South and North Waziristan, where the Taliban and al-Qaida are strongest.

Maulvi Abdul Rahman, a Taliban leader, claimed the militants have strong enough ties with influential clerics in Khyber to scuttle any peace talks.

Washington is skeptical that the government's strategy will work anyway. Taking a longer view, it is planning to spend millions of dollars upgrading Pakistan's Frontier Corps, a paramilitary force of tribesmen that is struggling to provide security in the region, including along the crossborder highway.

"They would be the force that should protect U.S. and NATO supplies to Afghanistan," said Pakistan's military spokesman, Maj. Gen. Athar Abbas. The U.S. training program will start in the last half of this year, he said.

But Zalmay, the gun dealer, is skeptical the Frontier Corps can stop either thieves or the Taliban.

"The Frontier Corps does zero," he said.

Associated Press writers Riaz Khan in Peshawar, Fisnik Abrashi in Kabul and Paul Ames in Brussels contributed to this report.
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