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May 2, 2008 

Food crisis leaves many Afghans desperate
By MATTHEW PENNINGTON Associated Press Fri May 2, 6:21 AM ET
KABUL, Afghanistan - Hungry Afghans looking for their next meal eye bread scraps piled up like heaps of trash at a Kabul market as a vendor weighs out fistfuls of the stale crusts on a scale. A Pashtun woman waits with an empty plastic sack.

On the Afghan border, U.S. troops await the rockets
By Luke Baker Fri May 2, 7:51 AM ET
KHOST, Afghanistan (Reuters) - In the beginning, Specialist Jose Ortiz and his partner Private Pedro Velez were not even told which way Pakistan was.

Pakistan Needs 3 Years to Gain Control of Border, Pentagon Says
By Tony Capaccio
May 2 (Bloomberg) -- Pakistan won't be capable of rooting out terrorists based along its rugged border with Afghanistan for at least three years, according to the U.S. military.

Taliban Threatens to Attack Korean Police If Deployed to Afghanistan
The Korea Times / May 2, 2008
Afghanistan's rebel group Taliban will attack South Korean facilities in the war-torn country if Seoul dispatches its police force there, Yonhap news agency quoted a purported spokesman for the militia group as saying in Dubai Friday.

3 militants detained from E Afghanistan
KABUL, May 2 (Xinhua) -- The U.S.-led Coalition forces have detained three militants during two operations in eastern Afghan province of Khost, the Coalition said Friday.

Analysis: German suspects in Afghanistan
by Stefan Nicola Berlin (UPI) May 1, 2008
More and more extremists from Germany are traveling to Pakistan and Afghanistan to plot terror attacks; a new video shows a German convert to Islam who calls on Islamists back home to follow his example.

Afghans relieved talks with Taliban may happen; Canada avoids direct role
The Canadian Press / May 1, 2008
KANDAHAR, Afghanistan A strategy of talking to the Taliban - once ridiculed as "naive" by the Conservative government in Canada - is being test driven in the Kandahar countryside, much to the relief of some Afghans including one of the area's biggest power brokers.

Afghanistan moves against TV channels showing soaps
Thu May 1, 1:20 PM ET
KABUL (AFP) - Afghanistan's culture ministry said Thursday it had referred two television stations for prosecution after they ignored deadlines to drop Indian soap operas it says violate Islamic morals.

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Food crisis leaves many Afghans desperate
By MATTHEW PENNINGTON Associated Press Fri May 2, 6:21 AM ET
KABUL, Afghanistan - Hungry Afghans looking for their next meal eye bread scraps piled up like heaps of trash at a Kabul market as a vendor weighs out fistfuls of the stale crusts on a scale. A Pashtun woman waits with an empty plastic sack.

She isn't scavenging she's paying for leftovers that in better times were sold for feeding to sheep and cows. The woman said her household of 14 people had to give up fresh bread a month ago as the price spiraled out of reach.

Rising global food prices have hit few places as hard as Afghanistan, where the cost of wheat flour has shot up 75 percent in three months, fueling anger against the U.S.-backed government of President Hamid Karzai. In the volatile south, officials fear it could boost recruitment for the Taliban insurgency.

"Karzai is the king and this is my life," wailed the Pashtun woman, who declined to give her name because of her conservative social code. "Since the Americans came here, nothing is cheap."

The U.N. World Food Program, or WFP, warns that the situation for the poorest in Afghanistan is dire and deaths from malnutrition are likely to increase. Protests have broken out in at least one city.

Even middle-income professionals are struggling.

"People are not dying of starvation, per se, but that's very rare these days. Usually people die from diseases they never should have died from but their bodies are weakened by hunger," he said.

Even before the food crisis, U.N. data showed 54 percent of children under five in Afghanistan are stunted. An estimated 10,400 people die of nutritional deficiencies each year.

In two of the poorest provinces, Ghor and Badghis, communities are buckling under the double impact of the global food crisis and a drought that wiped out 70 percent of last year's crop, said Mary Kate MacIsaac of the aid group World Vision.

"If they did have assets, they have been forced to sell them off," she said. "People are desperate and living in greater fear of what's to come if this year's crop fails."

Reliable statistics are hard to come by, but Commerce Minister Amin Farhang estimated that in 2007 Afghanistan produced 1.3 million tons less grain than the 6.6 million tons it requires each year.

Deputy Agriculture Minister Pir Mohammad Azizi said initial signs show the 2008 harvest will be worse because of insufficient rains in the early spring.

Because of its reliance on aid and imports to help fill its food deficit, Afghanistan is particularly vulnerable to rising international prices driven by growing demand from China and India and the use of grain to make bio-fuel.

The main source of Afghan food imports, Pakistan, is suffering its own wheat shortages and has imposed stiff controls on exports to Afghanistan, forcing prices higher.

Traders at Mandawi market, the main center for flour sellers in Kabul, blame ruthless businessmen for capitalizing on the shortages. They look back with some nostalgia on the Soviet-backed communist regime of the 1980s.

"In the past we had shortages but there were silos. The government had several months supply to cope with a food crisis. Now the government can't even cope for a day," said flour seller Sayed Hassan Agha, 64. "We are at the mercy of businessmen."

With elections due next year and its popularity at rock bottom, the food crisis has political and security repercussions for Karzai's government.

"There are lots of young men who are jobless, they have no income in their families and this economic situation makes them join the Taliban," said Niaz Mohammad Sarhadi, chief of Zhari district, near the main southern city of Kandahar.

For the first time since the fall of the Islamist regime six years ago, the WFP has begun food distributions in Afghan cities, rather than just to rural areas.

That, and a government plan to use $50 million to buy flour for government employees and the poor, has helped reduce the price of a 110-pound sack of flour imported from Pakistan from $50 to $40 this week, Kabul traders say. Farhang predicted that after the May harvest prices would drop further.

But even if those hopes are realized, the economic realities in post-Taliban Afghanistan will remain harsh, a source of growing bitterness across the social spectrum.

Teachers have been staging strikes at the top high state schools in Kabul, demanding a hike in their $50 monthly salary, while desperate villagers migrate to the city seeking elusive work as laborers that pays $3 a day.

"Look at all these people here," said Fateh Mohammed, 35, gesturing to a crowd of jobless, hollow-cheeked men in grimy prayer caps, outside a Kabul bakery. "They are here because their children are hungry."

______
Associated Press writers Amir Shah in Kabul and Noor Khan in Kandahar contributed to this report.
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On the Afghan border, U.S. troops await the rockets
By Luke Baker Fri May 2, 7:51 AM ET
KHOST, Afghanistan (Reuters) - In the beginning, Specialist Jose Ortiz and his partner Private Pedro Velez were not even told which way Pakistan was.

"They didn't tell us a thing," says Ortiz, a 22-year-old American soldier based at a small camp on the eastern edge of Afghanistan, around 20 km (13 miles) from the Pakistan border.

"We figured it out from the rockets," he says, putting down a pair of binoculars in his observation post and pointing to the jagged Hindu Kush mountains in the middle distance, shimmering in the heat haze. He knows just where Pakistan is now.

"They basically rocket us from over there," he says. "From the other side of those mountains. We never see them. They're basically the invisible enemy."

The camp where Ortiz and Velez have spent the past 4- months on watch has been dubbed Rocket City for the number of missiles that rain down on it from the border region.

Although numbers have tapered off in recent weeks to just one or two a week, 'Rocket City' t-shirts are still in demand at the military shop on the base, a dusty collection of tents and low-rise buildings on the edge of a gravel air strip.

"One landed right there," says Ortiz, pointing to the camp's perimeter about 25 meters from the observation post, up a steep hill on the edge of the camp. "That made a pretty big noise, but most of the time they're way off target."

Velez, 21, drags on a cigarette and concurs.

"They're not really aiming. It's just fire and hope for these guys. They don't strike me as the smartest people."

That may or may not be the case, but the Taliban are still very much a threat. A much-vaunted winter offensive may not have occurred, but now spring has arrived and the passes through the mountains are more accessible, a renewed push is expected.

And with the possibility of a peace deal between Pakistan's new government and the Taliban-allied militants of Baitullah Mehsud on the northwest frontier of Pakistan, the U.S. military is braced for a fresh onslaught from over the border.

UPSURGE IN ATTACKS
"When I look at the map...my area of interest, the area that I'm concerned about, is on the other side of the border as well as on the Regional Command East (of Afghanistan)," U.S. Major General Jeffrey Schloesser told reporters on April 24.

"I would predict that we will see some level of increasing incidences of violence," he said.

In recent days there has been a minor upsurge in attacks in eastern Afghanistan, with a suicide bomber killing more than a dozen people south of the city of Jalalabad and a roadside bomb killing a U.S. soldier northeast of the capital, Kabul.

U.S. forces have also launched a major offensive in the south, where British troops are based, with Marines retaking the Taliban-controlled town of Garmsir, in the restive province of Helmand.

Khost and the surrounding province of the same name were once labeled "red" in as much as they were considered widely unsafe, with frequent attacks by the Taliban or militants allied to them.

Stepped-up U.S. activity in the area, along with the improving ability of the Afghan National Army and better local governance, have helped lift Khost onto President Hamid Karzai's 'green' list, but the risk of backsliding remains.

U.S. forces are hoping the arrival of around 700 French troops by August will help them maintain order along the long, jagged and unpredictable frontier.

In the meantime, Velez and Ortiz are keeping their eyes peeled.
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Pakistan Needs 3 Years to Gain Control of Border, Pentagon Says
By Tony Capaccio
May 2 (Bloomberg) -- Pakistan won't be capable of rooting out terrorists based along its rugged border with Afghanistan for at least three years, according to the U.S. military.

``Safe havens'' in this area for al-Qaeda and Taliban militants ``have grown in recent years,'' according to a report to the House and Senate defense panels.

``Deficiencies in the Pakistan Army's ability to conduct counter-insurgency operations are being addressed; however, it will take three to five years before they are realized on the battlefield,'' the report said.

The mountainous, semi-autonomous region in northwest Pakistan is a sanctuary and recruiting ground for al-Qaeda and the Taliban, the ousted Islamist Afghan regime whose guerrilla attacks against foreign troops and the government of Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai have increased.

The Pakistan army has been trained and equipped to fight India, and its Frontier Corps that is responsible for the tribal areas is under-trained, ill-equipped and ``in many cases are outgunned by their militant opponents,'' the report said.

The armed forces have ``deficiencies in structure, tactics, doctrine and flexibility,'' the Pentagon report said.

The 16-page Pentagon report, delivered last week, is consistent with the findings of an April 17 assessment by the U.S. Government Accountability Office. GAO said the U.S. lacks a comprehensive strategy for dealing with this problem. The Pentagon report was silent on that question.

$5.8 Billion From U.S.

The U.S. provided about $5.8 billion from 2002 to 2007 in military assistance to Pakistan for frontier operations.

Congress in this year's defense policy law required the Pentagon to assess whether Pakistan ``is making substantial efforts'' to eliminate Taliban and al-Qaeda safe havens and prevent cross-border movement and how successful these efforts have been.

Pakistan since 2001, the Pentagon said, has launched at least 91 major and ``countless'' smaller operations in support of U.S. counter-terror efforts, lost over 1,400 soldiers, and unveiled a comprehensive ``Frontier Strategy'' to stem the flow of terrorists and insurgents.

The nine-year, $2 billion counter-insurgency effort envisions improving existing social and economic conditions, upgrading infrastructure and bolstering commerce, the report said.

Military `Ill-Suited'

``Although there have been pauses for both tactical and political reasons, Pakistani security operations in the tribal areas continue to disrupt terrorist activities,'' but the military is ``ill-suited'' to engage in a counter-insurgency fight, the report said.

``Mounting casualties and kidnappings'' have demoralized security forces operating in the tribal areas. ``As a result, the Army has instituted new policies to improve morale,'' it said.

Pakistan joined the U.S.-led war on terrorism in 2001 when President Pervez Musharraf ended his nation's support for Afghanistan's Taliban regime that sheltered al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden.

The Taliban sought refuge in Pakistan's so-called Federally Administered Tribal Area where normal Pakistani laws, courts and police have no jurisdiction.

Musharraf's military government repeatedly signed peace deals with leaders of the Pashtun ethnic group that dominates the border area, yet it also periodically conducted army offensives there and permitted U.S. missile strikes on suspected al-Qaeda targets.

New Government

Pakistan's opposition parties won national parliamentary elections in February. The country's new coalition government has emphasized political, rather than military, steps to combat a spreading insurgency by the Taliban, which effectively controls thousands of square miles of rugged, mountainous terrain.

The U.S. government is concerned a softened approach to the extremists may let them expand their base in Pakistan and step up attacks on U.S. forces in Afghanistan.

``The most newsworthy aspect'' of the Pentagon report ``is what it does not say,'' Robert Martinage, a military analyst with the nonpartisan Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments in Washington, who wrote an assessment on the U.S. terrorism war.

``There's absolutely no discussion about the implications of recent political developments in Pakistan,'' he said.

``The new government may not be willing -- at least, publicly -- to support many of the elements'' in Musharraf's plan to expand the Frontier Corps for border operations, Martinage said. ``That's the 800-lb gorilla in the room -- and the report is silent on it.''
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Taliban Threatens to Attack Korean Police If Deployed to Afghanistan
The Korea Times / May 2, 2008
Afghanistan's rebel group Taliban will attack South Korean facilities in the war-torn country if Seoul dispatches its police force there, Yonhap news agency quoted a purported spokesman for the militia group as saying in Dubai Friday.

Qari Yousuf Ahmadi, the purported spokesman for the Taliban, told a source for Yonhap News Agency in Kabul, Afghanistan, over the phone that his group will not allow South Korean military or police to set foot on their land, the agency said.
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3 militants detained from E Afghanistan
KABUL, May 2 (Xinhua) -- The U.S.-led Coalition forces have detained three militants during two operations in eastern Afghan province of Khost, the Coalition said Friday.

During a joint search operation targeting a Haqqani network militant, known to finance and facilitate attacks, on Thursday, Afghan and Coalition forces detained the targeted person and an associated suspect, the U.S.-led military said in a statement.

Furthermore, the Coalition Thursday identified and detained a targeted militant who came from Nadar Shah Kot district.

"The militant is suspected of being a Haqqani network extremist who has conducted IED (improvised explosive device), weapons facilitation operations and attacks against Coalition forces," the military said in another statement issued on Friday.

An around 20,000 multi-national forces under the flag of the U.S.-led Coalition forces are deployed in Afghanistan, mostly in threstive eastern regions, fighting militants.
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Analysis: German suspects in Afghanistan
by Stefan Nicola Berlin (UPI) May 1, 2008
More and more extremists from Germany are traveling to Pakistan and Afghanistan to plot terror attacks; a new video shows a German convert to Islam who calls on Islamists back home to follow his example.

The video that appeared Tuesday on a Turkish-language Web site threw German security experts into a frenzy: It showed a German Islamist from Neuenkirchen in the Saarland, whose "wanted" posters hang all over Afghanistan's capital, Kabul. German news magazine Focus identified him as Eric Breininger, a 20-year-old German who converted to Islam a few years ago. Together with his accomplice, identified by German news magazine Focus as Houssain al-Malla, Breininger is hiding somewhere in Afghanistan or Pakistan, experts say.

The video shows Breininger sporting a camouflage suit and a machine gun, according to the online version of German news magazine Der Spiegel. Breininger is lauding Cueneyt Ciftci, a 28-year-old Turkish national from Germany, who on March 3 drove a pickup truck full of explosives into a U.S. outpost in the province of Khost, killing two U.S. soldiers from the 82nd Airborne Division and two Afghan civilians.

The suicide bombing, Breininger said, was a "good deed" as it "sent to Hell" several nonbelievers. The man then continues to ask his "brothers in Germany" to follow his and Ciftci's example and join the Jihad in Afghanistan and Pakistan -- be it by traveling there, or by providing monetary or spiritual support.

German security experts have long feared Breininger and al-Malla are planning terror attacks like the one Ciftci carried out in March.

Both men in September 2007 traveled to the region via Egypt and Iran, Der Spiegel said, adding they were trained in a remote camp in Pakistan by the Islamic Jihad Union, a terrorist group that started in Uzbekistan and now has ties to al-Qaida and the Taliban.

The IJU has kept German security officials busy in the past. In the summer of 2007, police in western Germany raided a house where a terror cell instructed by the IJU plotted attacks targeting U.S. institutions in Germany. The cell had stacked massive explosives that would have produced bombings more deadly than the ones that hit London and Madrid. Police in the raid arrested the cell's three main ringleaders, Fritz Gelowicz, Daniel Schneider and Adem Yilmaz.

Ciftci and the pair that is still on the run also promoted their ties to the IJU -- which seems to have evolved into a major recruiter for Islamists from Germany. Schneider is believed to have recruited Breininger. The two lived together before the arrests of 2007.

While Breininger in the video does not say he is planning a terrorist attack, officials believe he is doing so; at the least, they suppose the IJU wants to turn him into yet another role model for potential extremists living in Germany, who may then be prompted to travel to Pakistan as well.

Germany has had trouble integrating its Muslim minority, and observers say the IJU may hope to recruit new extremists from the pool of frustrated young men alienated from Germany's mainstream society.

Security experts' second nightmare scenario has potential IJU followers plan attacks in Germany, just as the terror cell squashed in the summer of 2007 did.

Der Spiegel said security officials at all European Union entry points and at all German airports have received Breininger's and al-Malla's pictures. German officials are also trying to revoke his passport, the magazine said.
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Afghans relieved talks with Taliban may happen; Canada avoids direct role
The Canadian Press / May 1, 2008
KANDAHAR, Afghanistan A strategy of talking to the Taliban - once ridiculed as "naive" by the Conservative government in Canada - is being test driven in the Kandahar countryside, much to the relief of some Afghans including one of the area's biggest power brokers.

Ahmed Wali Karzai, the half brother of Afghanistan's president, said something needs to be done to stop "the madness" of the deadly insurgency.

Canadian troops in Afghanistan are reported reaching out to low-and mid-level insurgents, encouraging them through local villagers to sit down with Afghan authorities and perhaps even NATO forces.

"I absolutely support the Canadian decision," Ahmed Wali Karzai, head of the Kandahar provincial council, told The Canadian Press in an interview Thursday.

"It's a very wise and proper decision. There are people (with whom) we can talk and reason."

"There would be so many Taliban willing to come home. Nobody supports this madness; this killing of innocent people; the killing of women and children. They are not happy with it, we know this."

Troops in the field are reported being encouraged to gently promote the idea of local negotiations among villages in the far-flung desert and mountain creases.

Kai Eide, the UN special envoy to Afghanistan visiting Ottawa Thursday, said he's not aware of any formal talks with the Taliban. "There's no process of that nature under way."

Eide said it's important to reach out, but any discussions must be led by the Afghan government, directed by politicians - not soldiers - and must be based on the Afghan constitution.

Canadian cabinet ministers were careful to point out Canada is not in any direct talks with the Taliban.

"We're going to work with the Afghans in a democratic way, but we are not involved in any direct discussions with Taliban terrorists," Defence Minister Peter MacKay told reporters in Ottawa.

"We don't do that, we will not do that. We will work on national reconciliation, reconstruction development, all of those things with sovereign decisions made by the Afghanistan government," MacKay said.

Foreign Affairs Minister Maxime Bernier and International Co-operation Minister Bev Oda were also asked about it. Both said Ottawa supports the Afghan government's position, which is that Kabul is willing to talk to people who respect the Afghan constitution and renounce violence.

The New Democrats, staunch opponents of the war, had suggested almost two years ago that peace talks be initiated with the Taliban. The call prompted MacKay - who was at Foreign Affairs at the time - to call the idea "naive." Conservative commentators christened NDP Leader Jack Layton as "Taliban Jack."

President Hamid Karzai has since called for peace talks with Taliban leader Mullah Mohammed Omar, but militants have insisted foreign forces must leave first and that the country adhere more strictly to Islamic law.

One insurgent commander, Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, suggested rewriting the country's constitution - a notion the president's younger brother dismissed as a non-starter.

But Ahmed Wali Karzai said it's imperative that NATO allies get behind the peace bid in order to preserve the Afghan government's credibility.

The United States and Canada have been alone among NATO allies in southern Afghanistan in their refusal to talk with the militants.

The British brokered a ceasefire with the Taliban in the hotly contested Musa Quala region of Helmand Province, a deal that ultimately fell apart.

Negotiation through the local governor is a cornerstone of the Dutch strategy in Urzugan province.

As recently as last fall, Canadian military commanders saw no sense in trying to reason with militants and preferred to use the cash incentives of local make-work programs to entice low-level Taliban to refrain from participating in the insurgency.

"I don't talk to the Taliban," said Brig.-Gen. Guy Laroche, Canada's top commander in Afghanistan.

The Kabul government has tried to convince militants to put down their arms through its so-called Peace Through Strength program, but many Afghans have complained that it has suffered because of a lack of funding and international support. As long as they promise to renounce violence, hard-liners are welcomed back into society.

The younger Karzai warned that time is running out and pointed to last weekend's assassination attempt on his brother. Afghan authorities said that the attack by gunman, which killed three people including a legislator, was hatched in Pakistan.

Ahmed Wali Karzai watched the event live on television and said his heart sank when there was gunfire, explosions and suddenly the coverage ended.

He rushed to the telephone, but it took several attempts to get through. When his brother finally came on the line, the calmness in Hamid Karzai's voice reassured him.

"He was very upset, especially about the loss of life, but ... he was in complete control," said the younger Karzai, who spoke in English - he once lived in Chicago.

Hamid Karzai plans to run for another term as president, but his brother said he often worries about another assassination attempt.

Their father, Abdul Ahad Karzai, was murdered by Taliban gunmen on a motorcycle in Quetta, Pakistan, in July 1999.

"After my father was assassinated, we always knew that (Hamid) was next and we would receive lots of news daily that people were coming to kill him. But my big problem was I could never stop him or make him listen to me when I sometimes said: 'It's not worth it'."
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Afghanistan moves against TV channels showing soaps
Thu May 1, 1:20 PM ET
KABUL (AFP) - Afghanistan's culture ministry said Thursday it had referred two television stations for prosecution after they ignored deadlines to drop Indian soap operas it says violate Islamic morals.

Tolo and Afghan TV had ignored a government demand to pull the soaps -- among the most popular shows in Afghanistan -- by April 29, the ministry said in a statement, announcing the matter had been referred to the attorney general.

Two other TV stations have already bowed to the ministry's ultimatum, which it extended twice and says was issued after complaints from Muslim clerics and the public that the shows contradict Islamic values.

"Tolo has not stopped the broadcast of the said series by the set date and Afghan TV, despite repeated telephone contacts, has not officially assured they would stop its series," the ministry said in a statement.

The attorney general's office is expected to refer the cases to court.

The modern Tolo channel has steadfastly refused to pull its hit soaps "Tulsi," an enormously popular drama nicknamed after its central character, and "Kasauti Zindagi Kay" (Tests of Life).

It has threatened to take legal action of its own, alleging the government order is a violation of constitutionally guaranteed rights to media freedom.

Afghan TV is under pressure over an Indian drama of Aladdin-like tales called "Thief of Baghdad."

The tussle over Indian serials and other government complaints about the media have raised alarm among some of Afghanistan's mostly Western donors which are pushing the country towards democracy.

The media boom is seen as one of the successes of the country since the 2001 fall of the extremist Taliban regime, which banned television.
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