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May 22, 2008 

Afghan troops ready for bulk of fight: U.S. general
May 22, 2008
BRUSSELS (Reuters) - The Afghan army could by early next year be leading the vast majority of military operations against enemy insurgents in the country, the U.S. soldier in charge of training them said on Thursday.

Three kidnapped Afghan guards found shot dead
Thu May 22, 8:28 AM ET
GHAZNI, Afghanistan (AFP) - Police found Thursday the bullet-riddled bodies of three Afghan security guards kidnapped a week ago by insurgents, an officer said, as the Taliban claimed responsibility.

Two Afghans, ISAF soldier killed in Koran protest
May 22, 2008
HERAT, Afghanistan (Reuters) - A protest over the shooting of the Koran by a U.S. soldier in Iraq turned violent in Afghanistan on Thursday, killing a Lithuanian soldier and two Afghan civilians.

Miliband warns Pakistan, Afghanistan democracies at risk
Thu May 22, 1:12 AM ET
WASHINGTON (AFP) - Foreign Minister David Miliband has warned Pakistan and Afghanistan that their democracies would be at risk if they did not forge a united front against terrorism.

Afghan ex-president says Taliban favour peace talks
Thu 22 May 2008, 14:52 GMT By Sayed Salahuddin
KABUL (Reuters) - The Taliban have shown a desire for a political dialogue and serious efforts should be made to establish talks and end the insurgency, a former Afghan president said on Thursday.

Pakistan peace deal depends on Sharia enforcement: Taliban
May 22, 2008
PESHAWAR, Pakistan (AFP) Pakistani Taliban militants said Thursday that the success of a peace deal with the government in a northwestern area depends on the complete enforcement of Islamic law in the region.

Pakistani army fights militants
By Barbara Plett BBC News, Waziristan
They called it Operation Earthquake. That's just how it looks when soldiers drive us through the heart of this remote village.

Canada listening in on Taliban exchanges
National Post Canada 22 May 2008
Canada's ultra-secret electronic spy agency revealed yesterday it has been heavily involved in Afghanistan and has deployed a team to the country.

UN officials call for more aid, better coordinated
KABUL, 22 May 2008 (IRIN) - The international community has neither disbursed enough aid to alleviate poverty, nor coordinated closely enough with the Afghan government to ensure its effectiveness over the past six years

Pakistan allows wheat exports to Afghanistan
ISLAMABAD, May 22 (KUNA) Amid wheat shortage crisis at home and after days of raids on trucks smuggling wheat to the neighboring war-ravaged country, Pakistan Thursday allowed wheat exports to Afghanistan.

Afghan schools closed by threats
By Pam O'Toole BBC News / Thursday, 22 May 2008
More than 50 schools have been shut in the southern Afghan province of Ghazni after threats by suspected Taleban militants, a local politician says.

UN officials call for more aid, better coordinated
KABUL, 22 May 2008 (IRIN) - The international community has neither disbursed enough aid to alleviate poverty, nor coordinated closely enough with the Afghan government to ensure its effectiveness over the past six years

Afghan mine victims proudly work as bicycle couriers
KABUL (Reuters) 22 May 2008- Abdul Saboor rides his bicycle as far as 18 miles a day through the dusty streets of Kabul delivering packages. Most people might be daunted by such distances but not Saboor who peddles through the hilly streets using his only leg.

Afghanistan's hidden treasures go on display in US
Wed May 21, 4:55 PM ET
WASHINGTON (AFP) - More than 200 ancient artifacts from Afghanistan, many of which were believed lost to posterity as the country was rocked by decades of war, this week begin a tour of US museums with an exhibition at Washington's National Gallery.

Australia probes Afghanistan troop 'Bollywood sex' claim
Thu May 22, 2:47 AM ET
SYDNEY, May 22, 2008 (AFP) - Claims that a Bollywood actress had sex with troops while touring an Australian military base in Afghanistan were under investigation, Prime Minister Kevin Rudd said Thursday.

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Afghan troops ready for bulk of fight: U.S. general
May 22, 2008
BRUSSELS (Reuters) - The Afghan army could by early next year be leading the vast majority of military operations against enemy insurgents in the country, the U.S. soldier in charge of training them said on Thursday.

Major General Robert W. Cone said Afghan authorities aimed to have 80,000 trained personnel ready by early 2009, compared to just over 57,000 now, as part of an effort to share more of the burden of fighting with NATO countries.

Asked what that meant for Afghan forces' ability to lead operations against Taliban and other insurgents, Cone told a news conference at NATO headquarters:

"I would say leadership certainly of most operations and probably, depending on their readiness, tending towards virtually all operations.

"That will lift a significant amount of the burden from ISAF forces," he said of NATO's International Security Assistance Force, which commanders currently say numbers around 50,000.

Cone, who leads the Combined Security Transition Command-Afghanistan (CSTC-A) training effort, said Afghan troops had led around half of 180 joint operations with international forces in the early months of this year.

However, Afghan forces remain short of aircraft, and Cone acknowledged it could be another five years before they could conduct all their own air operations.

"The hardest part is the dropping of bombs from the air. That will require significant training and we are thinking 2013 is when the Afghans will be capable of doing that," he said.

NATO leaders pledged a long-term commitment to Afghanistan at a summit in April while agreeing to give Afghan authorities more control of the peace and reconstruction effort.

Public support for the Afghan mission remains patchy in many of NATO's 26 nations and countries which have borne the brunt of the fighting, including the Netherlands and Canada, have faced tough opposition to their decision to deploy troops.

(Reporting by Mark John; editing by Philippa Fletcher)
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Three kidnapped Afghan guards found shot dead
Thu May 22, 8:28 AM ET
GHAZNI, Afghanistan (AFP) - Police found Thursday the bullet-riddled bodies of three Afghan security guards kidnapped a week ago by insurgents, an officer said, as the Taliban claimed responsibility.

The guards had been working for a private Afghan security company that escorts supply convoys on risky routes to bases of the US and NATO forces helping Afghanistan fight the Taliban and other extremists, police said.

"They were kidnapped by the armed opposition," Ghazni province deputy police chief Mohammad Zaman said. "We found their bodies today."

Each had several bullet wounds, he said.

A spokesman for the Taliban, Zabihullah Mujahed, said men from his group had captured and killed the men.

Taliban militants have kidnapped several people, many of them Afghans working for the government or foreign forces but also 23 South Koreans travelling through the central province of Ghazni in July last year.

Two of the South Koreans were shot dead before the remainder were freed.

Elsewhere in Ghazni, a Taliban fighter was killed and two others wounded in a gunfight with security forces, Zaman said.

In neighbouring Paktika province meanwhile, four NATO soldiers were wounded in an apparent suicide car bombing on Wednesday, the alliance's International Security Assistance Force said.

The blast from a parked car struck ISAF soldiers on patrol near the small town of Barmal on the border with Pakistan, spokesman General Carlos Branco told AFP.

"The car was detonated. Four ISAF soldiers were wounded," he said.

He did not give the nationalities of the soldiers. Most troops in eastern Afghanistan are US nationals.

An Afghan army spokesman for the area, Mohammad Gul, said it was a suicide bombing.

The Taliban, in government between 1996 and 2001, have been behind most of the scores of suicide blasts that have rocked the country in the past two years.

The roughly 70,000 international troops helping Afghan forces fight insurgents are among the main targets of the militants. Nearly 60 have been killed in Afghanistan this year, most of them in explosions.

Barmal borders Pakistan's Federally Administered Tribal Areas where Washington claims the Al-Qaeda terror network is rebuilding.

Islamabad is in peace negotiations with militants in the tribal zone and other areas, which Afghan officials worry may see an increase in attacks on their side of the border.
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Two Afghans, ISAF soldier killed in Koran protest
May 22, 2008
HERAT, Afghanistan (Reuters) - A protest over the shooting of the Koran by a U.S. soldier in Iraq turned violent in Afghanistan on Thursday, killing a Lithuanian soldier and two Afghan civilians.

The NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) said Afghan police killed the two civilians and wounded seven others after a rock-throwing crowd tried to storm the airfield in the town of Chaghcharan.

Three civilians were killed in the incident, said police spokesman Abdul Mutalib.

The soldier was killed by gunfire, but it was not clear if the shots came from the crowd or from Taliban insurgents, an ISAF spokesman said. There were no indications that it was the result of so-called friendly fire.

The dead soldier was a Lithuanian from the Provincial Reconstruction Team (PRT) in Chaghcharan, the Lithuanian Defense Ministry said. One other soldier was wounded, ISAF said.

"Protesters set on fire a fuel station opposite the PRT base before trying to storm it," General Ikramuddin Yawar, chief of police in western Afghanistan told reporters.

Twelve protesters and 11 police were wounded by gunfire. Soldiers from the PRT fired into the crowd after some of the protesters fired at police and the base, he said.

The protest was organized by students from a religious school, and the situation was now under control, Yawar said.

U.S. President George W. Bush apologized to Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki this week and promised to prosecute the U.S. soldier accused of using a copy of the Koran for target practice, Iraq said.

A U.S. soldier was disciplined and sent home after a bullet-riddled copy of the Muslim holy book was found at a shooting range near Baghdad on May 11. No violent backlash has taken place in Iraq.

Protests over perceived insults to Islam have often turned violent in Afghanistan, where a deeply conservative faith is mingled with resentment at the presence of foreign troops.

More than 50,000 international forces are stationed in Afghanistan fighting a Taliban insurgency aimed at toppling the pro-Western Afghan government.

(Writing by Jon Hemming; Editing by Bill Tarrant)
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Miliband warns Pakistan, Afghanistan democracies at risk
Thu May 22, 1:12 AM ET
WASHINGTON (AFP) - Foreign Minister David Miliband has warned Pakistan and Afghanistan that their democracies would be at risk if they did not forge a united front against terrorism.

The neighboring nations should stop blaming each other for terrorist attacks along their border and recognize their shared interests and work together, said the top British diplomat on a visit to the US capital.

"If the terrorist threat continues to be shunted back and forth across the Afghan-Pakistan border, democracy will have little chance of success," he warned at a forum of the Washington-based Center for Strategic and International Studies on Wednesday.

"There needs to be a common strategy to tackle the insurgency," said Miliband, whose speech was based on building democracy in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf, who grabbed power in a military coup in 1999, gave up his military role and allowed free elections in February while Afghanistan held its first elections in almost 30 years in 2005.

But the two countries have been bickering over counter terrorism efforts, largely over Kabul claims that Islamabad is not forceful enough in containing rising Taliban insurgency from the unpoliced border areas in Pakistan.

Milliband said countries needed "democratic and effective states not just democratic and credible elections."

He also appeared to back moves by the leaders of Afghanistan and Pakistan to reach out to militants or suspected terrorists, saying political reconciliation was critical to strengthening the two nations.

Last month, Afghanistan's President Hamid Karzai urged US forces to stop arresting suspected Taliban and their sympathizers, arguing that such arrests and past mistreatment were discouraging Taliban from laying down their arms.

The newly elected government of Pakistan Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani on Wednesday signed a peace deal with pro-Taliban militants in the country's northwestern valley despite fresh calls from the United States to clamp down on Islamist rebels.

"In both Afghanistan and the FATA we need to accept that government reconciliation efforts will reach out to people that we are uncomfortable with," Milliband said.

Washington claims that the Al-Qaeda terror network was rebuilding itself in Pakistan's Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) and North West Frontier Province, both on the border with Afghanistan.

"We have a right and a duty to say clearly when we think the governments of Afghanistan or Pakistan are putting our forces in the region or our citizens at home at greater risk, making deals which leave extremists free to attack us," Miliband said.

"But the process of reconciliation will be infinitely more legitimate and effective if it is locally owned," he said.

The governments of Afghanistan and Pakistan however must, with the support from allies, be able to defend their own people, "by force if they have to" against those who resisted democratic principles and the rule of law and remained committed to violence, he said.

Americans and British are among 70,000 international soldiers working alongside Afghan troops to fight Taliban and other extremists in Afghanistan.
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Afghan ex-president says Taliban favour peace talks
Thu 22 May 2008, 14:52 GMT By Sayed Salahuddin
KABUL (Reuters) - The Taliban have shown a desire for a political dialogue and serious efforts should be made to establish talks and end the insurgency, a former Afghan president said on Thursday.

Burhanuddin Rabbani, a bearded 65-year-old who now leads the opposition in parliament, said he had established contact with the Taliban several months ago and had received a letter in recent days containing "some encouraging messages" from the Taliban addressed to the alliance of parties he leads.

 Rabbani said the militants expressed a desire for a political solution to the conflict in which more than 12,000 people have been killed since 2006 alone.

He did not say who in the Taliban had sent the messages.

U.S. and Afghan forces toppled the Taliban in 2001 after the hard-line Islamist movement refused to hand over al Qaeda leaders behind the September 11 attacks on the United States.

Since then, the Taliban have repeatedly rejected olive branches offered by President Hamid Karzai, who has led the country since the removal of the hard-line Islamist movement.

In their messages, the Taliban said they would accept all international conventions, would not oppose education for girls and would oppose Afghanistan being used as a base to threaten any other country, Rabbani said.

The Taliban also wanted friendly ties and cooperation with Muslim and non-Muslim countries, he added.

"We see some very good points (in the messages). To put an end to the crisis in the country, talks with armed opposition should be sought. We should pay a price for restoring security. Serious talks should take place and deliberate measures should be taken," Rabbani said.

Apart from the Taliban, Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, another guerrilla leader wanted by the United States, commands a separate but allied force against the government and the 60,000 foreign troops led by NATO and the U.S. military in Afghanistan.

None of the armed opposition groups could be immediately contacted for comment.

Rabbani was the leader of a mujahideen faction that fought the Soviet occupation in the 1980s. He became president in the 1990s when mujahideen groups fought each other for control of government in a war which triggered the Taliban's rise to power.

The Taliban ousted Rabbani's government in 1996. Rabbani later led the opposition alliance against the Taliban and his supporters helped U.S.-led forces overthrow the Taliban in 2001.

The insurgency has seriously hampered reconstruction in Afghanistan after three decades of war, a conflict which Western officials have said cannot now be won militarily.

Last month, Taliban gunmen with the help of some in the security forces tried to assassinate Karzai at a parade in Kabul.
(Editing by Giles Elgood)
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Pakistan peace deal depends on Sharia enforcement: Taliban
May 22, 2008
PESHAWAR, Pakistan (AFP) Pakistani Taliban militants said Thursday that the success of a peace deal with the government in a northwestern area depends on the complete enforcement of Islamic law in the region.

The agreement in the scenic Swat Valley ends months of fighting between troops and rebels loyal to a pro-Taliban commander, Maulana Fazlullah, who was campaigning for the introduction of harsh Sharia law.

Under the terms of the deal signed on Wednesday the government agreed to gradually pull out troops and introduce an Islamic justice system, while the rebels said they would halt attacks and surrender arms.

"We have accepted to give up the armed struggle because the government has agreed to the complete enforcement of the Sharia laws," Taliban spokesman Muslim Khan told AFP.

"We are happy about the agreement but the success of it depends on the conduct of the government, especially in enforcing the Sharia laws," Khan said by telephone from an unknown location.

Pakistan's new government launched negotiations with militants in Swat and separately in the lawless tribal areas bordering Afghanistan after routing President Pervez Musharraf's allies in elections in February.

The army launched a major offensive in October to clear Swat of militants loyal to Fazlullah after they drove police and paramilitary forces from their posts and effectively established their own law.

Dozens of people have died in suicide bombings in Swat over the past year.

Residents said they were happy about the prospect of peace finally returning to the picturesque valley.

"Thank God, we will be able to live peacefully and resume our normal lives," a shopkeeper in Mingora, the main town in Swat, told AFP.

A senior government official in North West Frontier Province said secular courts would be assisted by an Islamic scholar to decide disputes according to Islamic laws, but a parallel mainstream judicial system would still function.

"It will be the choice of the complainant whether to go for settlement according to Sharia or the Pakistan penal code," the official said.

The United States said Wednesday it would "reserve judgment" on the peace deal and would monitor how effective it was in stopping attacks. Pakistan is a key partner in the US-led "war on terror" launched after the 9/11 attacks.

"We'll see. We'll reserve judgment on these things," State Department spokesman Sean McCormack told reporters.

UN peacekeeping chief Jean-Marie Guehenno meanwhile said during a visit to Afghanistan that the world body would "watch closely" the peace deal.

"Certainly any cross-border movement is bad, is dangerous," he told reporters. "We will watch closely the situation in the area concerned and make sure that the situation does not deteriorate on the other side of the border."

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.

Taliban spokesman Khan said the United States and Britain should "mind their own business and stop interfering in Pakistan's internal affairs."

The 15-point peace deal in Swat also says that the militants had agreed to shut down training camps, but Khan denied there were any training centres to prepare suicide bombers in the district.

Khan said a committee would decide about the release of some 100 men who were arrested by security forces.

"About an amnesty for Maulana Fazlullah's followers, any decision will be taken later. He has thousands of followers," Khan said.
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Pakistani army fights militants
By Barbara Plett BBC News, Waziristan
They called it Operation Earthquake. That's just how it looks when soldiers drive us through the heart of this remote village.

They've brought journalists to the tribal area of South Waziristan, along the Afghan border, to back up their claims that they've beaten back pro-Taleban militants.

Mounds of bricks and twisted metal line the road - the mangled remains of a hospital complex, a small oil refinery, and a market place.

Brigadier Ali Abbas takes us through the ruins, an area he describes as a hub of rebel activity and a "bomb factory."

"There were certain buildings inside the hospital compound being used for making improvised explosive devices," he says.

"We found suicide jackets, detonating chords, wires and fuses. If we found anything used by the miscreants we destroyed it."

All these buildings have been demolished to punish locals for collaborating with the militants, according to the terms of harsh colonial laws inherited from the British.

Deeply entrenched
The army launched its campaign after daring attacks on paramilitary forts in the area by Baitullah Mehsud, the head of Pakistan's Taleban movement.

In the village, soldiers found the Taleban deeply entrenched.

"There was a kind of semi-autonomous state," says the divisional commander, General Tariq Khan, painting a picture of the Taleban's rule, "and if it was not contained last year, it would have spread to the Indus Highway."

The army claims to have dismantled part of the infrastructure feeding a campaign of suicide attacks in the country.

General Khan shows videos of training centres for child bombers discovered in the area, some as young as nine. Fifty-two were recovered, he says.

He downplays Western concerns that Arabs and Central Asians linked to al-Qaeda are regrouping under the protection of these tribal militants, saying that only two Uzbeks were killed in the fighting.

He accepts that many of the rebels escaped, but insists that at least in this part of South Waziristan, their military threat has been neutralised.

"What we're saying is that we've dismantled the capacity," he says, "the kind of preparations they've made, the kind of trenches, the kind of defences we've blown up, the kind of weapons systems - they will take time to re-establish it.

"That is where the government comes in - are they going to let this happen again?"

Human cost
The army says the government can now negotiate peace from a position of strength, pursuing a new and controversial policy of dialogue with Islamist militants.

The human cost, though, has been enormous.

The view from the army helicopter is eerie - clusters of mud-brick homes, nestled in pockets of forest at the foot of stark, jagged mountains, with not a soul in sight.

General Tariq says some 200,000 people fled the area before the fighting.

A walk through one of the ghost towns shows evidence that they departed in haste - unmade beds, a hand-painted trunk left in the pathway. Crops and animals have been untended for months.

Some of the houses have also been demolished because they were used by the militants, again part of the colonial-era punishment designed to "get the tribes to take collective responsibility for what happens on their territory," says Brigadier Abbas.

He acknowledges, though, that this might also trigger resentment and a desire for revenge, especially as some - if not most - of the locals were forced to support the Taleban, or face beheading.
Peace talks

The brigadier's men have occupied the towns since the fighting ended in January.

They're preparing to pull back to give space to returning civilians. But they won't withdraw.

The siege on the area will be maintained by controlling the roads around it and all the entry and exit points, he says.

They're waiting for the outcome of the peace talks, and so is Nato, across the border in Afghanistan.

It fears that peace deals here will strengthen the region as a base for the Afghan Taleban and its Pakistani supporters, and increase attacks against coalition forces.

The Americans have publicly opposed the policy of negotiation. And last week they fired missiles at suspected militants in the tribal areas, killing at least 13 people.

Many here saw this as an attempt to sabotage the peace process, and it wasn't only tribesmen who were angry.

"This helps none of the sides," says army spokesman Major General Athar Abbas.

"It is completely counterproductive. It creates pressure on the Pakistan government and army, and makes it very difficult to explain to the locals as to what the government's effort or its orientation is in this regard."

In the tribal areas, bringing peace is painstaking, he says - it has to be won area by area.

But with soldiers threatened in Afghanistan, America and Nato want speed and action - differing approaches that are difficult to bridge.
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Canada listening in on Taliban exchanges
National Post Canada 22 May 2008
Canada's ultra-secret electronic spy agency revealed yesterday it has been heavily involved in Afghanistan and has deployed a team to the country.

The Communications Security Establishment acknowledged its role in Afghanistan for the first time in testimony to the Standing Committee on National Security and Defence.

CSE chief John Adams gave few details but the agency is believed to have sent officers to Afghanistan to eavesdrop on the Taliban and other militant groups.

Meanwhile, in other testimony, the director of the Canadian Security Intelligence Service named China as the country's top counter-intelligence concern.

An intelligence expert said the CSE officers in Afghanistan had likely set up secret listening posts to pick up the Taliban's walkie-talkie and satellite telephone communications.

The information gleaned from the intercepted calls would be used to alert Canadian troops of Taliban attack plans, or passed to the Department of Foreign Affairs and Canadian International Development Agency.

In a measure of the CSE's involvement in Afghanistan, Mr. Adams said more than a quarter of the intelligence reports produced by the agency in the past year were related to the mission.

"While I cannot discuss details, I can say that CSE information has, for example, helped to advance the interests of Canada and its closest allies and has been directly responsible for protecting Canadian troops in combat."

The CSE is the most secretive branch of Canada's intelligence community. It operates a vast electronic eavesdropping system that gathers "signals intelligence," or SIGINT.

From its headquarters in south Ottawa, the CSE intercepts, decodes, translates and analyzes the phone calls, e-mails and other electronic communications of Canada's adversaries.

Professor Martin Rudner, who has written extensively on the CSE, said he was not surprised by the agency's disclosure that it had been busy in Afghanistan.

Of particular interest would be conversations between Taliban commanders and their forces in the field, he said. The CSE would also be monitoring calls between Taliban headquarters in Pakistan, field commanders in Afghanistan and outside actors in such places as Iraq.

"The only way you can communicate with Taliban headquarters in Pakistan, given where they are, is by telecommunication. They're in extremely remote country," said Prof. Rudner, Director of the Canadian Centre of Intelligence and Security Studies at Carleton University.

"We would want to intercept those communications. So we could be literally privy to their strategic plans and intentions, sources of supply, manpower recruitment, logistics, operational experience, for example, roadside bombs in Iraq.

"All this has to be communicated electronically by the adversary. We want to be privy to that information so we can take appropriate corrective action."

CSIS Director Jim Judd told the Senate committee earlier in the day that his agency was investigating as many as 15 foreign governments believed to be spying in Canada.

He said China was at the top of the list and that about half of the CSIS counter-intelligence program was focused on Chinese espionage and foreign influence.

"It ebbs and flows but up to a dozen, 15 foreign governments would be of interest to us at any given time," he said, adding another six to 10 were of "active interest" because of their attempts to develop weapons of mass destruction, notably Iran and North Korea.

He also revealed that recent CSIS recruiting efforts had resulted in 14,500 applications and that 100 intelligence officers had been hired. Another 100 were expected to start work this year.

He said described the recruits as "smarter than ever before."
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UN officials call for more aid, better coordinated
KABUL, 22 May 2008 (IRIN) - The international community has neither disbursed enough aid to alleviate poverty, nor coordinated closely enough with the Afghan government to ensure its effectiveness over the past six years, two senior UN officials told a news conference in Kabul on 22 May.

"It's obvious that the international community does not spend its resources [in Afghanistan] as well as it should," Kai Eide, special representative of the UN Secretary-General for Afghanistan, told reporters.
Eide called on donors to allocate more resources for Afghanistan's development and spend "much more" on certain sectors of the economy. He called for an "enhanced partnership" with the international community to overcome what he called "mounting challenges". Aid agencies have said that although over US$15 billion worth of aid has been spent in Afghanistan since 2001, this was insufficient, given the years of war and turmoil.

The UN is working hard to achieve a "higher quality" and "enhanced" partnership with Afghanistan and the international community, he said, adding that more work was needed to achieve and maintain a robust partnership for success.

Eide, who heads the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA), also said the Afghan government must fight corruption and improve governance. "It's obvious that corruption is a much too widespread phenomenon in Afghanistan."

The UN under-secretary-general for peacekeeping operations, Jean-Marie Guehenno, said Afghan expectations of the post-Taliban reconstruction and development drive had not been met.

"All Afghan people have heard of those billions of dollars that were coming to Afghanistan. Many billions have actually been spent but you haven't always seen the concrete translation of that on the ground," Guehenno said.

Weak coordination among multiple actors and poor accountability in aid management are among the reasons for aid ineffectiveness, according to Guehenno.

The two UN officials hoped the existing challenges would be solved through a high-level international conference in Paris in June. "We need to bring coherence... and we need more discipline in the international community," Guehenno said.
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Pakistan allows wheat exports to Afghanistan
ISLAMABAD, May 22 (KUNA) Amid wheat shortage crisis at home and after days of raids on trucks smuggling wheat to the neighboring war-ravaged country, Pakistan Thursday allowed wheat exports to Afghanistan.

Prime Minister Syed Yousuf Raza Gilani in a telephone conversation with Afghan President Hamid Karzai agreed to allow the export of 50,000 metric tons of wheat to Afghanistan.

The Prime Minister approved export of wheat to Afghanistan as a special gesture to the country which is facing problems of wheat supply, said a press statement. Prime Minister Gilani, who recently met Karzai on the sidelines of World Economic Forum in Egypt, expressed the confidence that relations between the two countries would continue to grow stronger, said the statement. The government had launched a crackdown on trucks smuggling wheat to Afghanistan in an effort to overcome an artificial shortage created by hoarders and mills earning double profits through smuggling to neighboring countries.
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Afghan schools closed by threats
By Pam O'Toole BBC News / Thursday, 22 May 2008
More than 50 schools have been shut in the southern Afghan province of Ghazni after threats by suspected Taleban militants, a local politician says.

Provincial assembly member Habib Ruhman said teachers and pupils were staying away from most schools in five of Ghazni's 19 districts.

He said more than 10,000 students were affected. Ghazni education authorities put the number of schools shut at 16.

The Taleban control swathes of Ghazni and attack schools and kidnap teachers.

Threats to kill

Education has been one of the success stories in Afghanistan since the fall of the Taleban.

Almost seven million children enrolled in school at the beginning of this academic year - up from less than a million during the days of the Taleban administration, which banned girls from going to school and women from teaching.

But over the past two years, schools have increasingly been in the front line of a war between the Afghan government and Taleban insurgents and their allies, with violence-ridden provinces in the south and east worst affected.

Militants have attacked or burned many schools - hundreds have been closed and teachers and students have been killed.

One young student called Najibullah said in his area of Ghazni, the problem dates back to almost the beginning of the Afghan year, which started in late March.

"Since nearly the beginning of this year, our schools have been shut," he told the BBC. "And teachers get threats from those opposing the government saying 'don't go to school otherwise you will be beheaded'.

"That's why they can't come to school and the school remains closed And our future is unclear. We ask the government to reinstate our schooling."

There is a tremendous thirst for knowledge in Afghanistan - some students are prepared to travel long distances to be educated.

But threats from the Taleban or other insurgent groups and general insecurity in some areas means that fear is taking its toll.

A few months ago President Karzai said the number of Afghan children missing school because of the Taleban insurgency had reached 300,000.
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UN officials call for more aid, better coordinated
KABUL, 22 May 2008 (IRIN) - The international community has neither disbursed enough aid to alleviate poverty, nor coordinated closely enough with the Afghan government to ensure its effectiveness over the past six years, two senior UN officials told a news conference in Kabul on 22 May.

"It's obvious that the international community does not spend its resources [in Afghanistan] as well as it should," Kai Eide, special representative of the UN Secretary-General for Afghanistan, told reporters.

Eide called on donors to allocate more resources for Afghanistan's development and spend "much more" on certain sectors of the economy. He called for an "enhanced partnership" with the international community to overcome what he called "mounting challenges". Aid agencies have said that although over US$15 billion worth of aid has been spent in Afghanistan since 2001, this was insufficient, given the years of war and turmoil.

The UN is working hard to achieve a "higher quality" and "enhanced" partnership with Afghanistan and the international community, he said, adding that more work was needed to achieve and maintain a robust partnership for success.

Eide, who heads the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA), also said the Afghan government must fight corruption and improve governance. "It's obvious that corruption is a much too widespread phenomenon in Afghanistan."

The UN under-secretary-general for peacekeeping operations, Jean-Marie Guehenno, said Afghan expectations of the post-Taliban reconstruction and development drive had not been met.

"All Afghan people have heard of those billions of dollars that were coming to Afghanistan. Many billions have actually been spent but you haven't always seen the concrete translation of that on the ground," Guehenno said.

Weak coordination among multiple actors and poor accountability in aid management are among the reasons for aid ineffectiveness, according to Guehenno.

The two UN officials hoped the existing challenges would be solved through a high-level international conference in Paris in June. "We need to bring coherence... and we need more discipline in the international community," Guehenno said.
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Afghan mine victims proudly work as bicycle couriers
KABUL (Reuters) 22 May 2008- Abdul Saboor rides his bicycle as far as 18 miles a day through the dusty streets of Kabul delivering packages. Most people might be daunted by such distances but not Saboor who peddles through the hilly streets using his only leg.

Thirteen years ago Saboor had to have his right leg amputated after stepping on a landmine near his house in western Kabul. It happened during the civil war when the city was subjected to regular rocket attacks, shortly before the Taliban took control in 1996. Many of the roads were riddled with landmines.

Saboor, now aged 35, had already moved his family to the relatively safer northern part of the city but from time to time he would check on his old home, and it was on one such trip that he lost his leg.
According to the United Nations an average of 60 people every month are killed or wounded by landmines or explosives left over from war in Afghanistan and an estimated 270 square miles are still contaminated with explosive devices.

But that has not stopped Saboor from earning a living, albeit a hard one. He and his fourteen colleagues work for Afghanistan's first and only bicycle messenger service, the Disabled Cycle Messenger Services (DCMS). They deliver letters and packages between offices in the city.

"Of course it's hard work, even for an able bodied person," says Saboor, leaning on his crutches.

"But the fact that I can work and I don't have to sit on the side of the road and beg for money and can provide food for my family gives me a big sense of pride."

The concept is simple and has been employed in large cities such as London and New York for many years, as cycle couriers can often guarantee a faster delivery time than other vehicles as they are not held up by traffic.

Kabul's roads often come to a standstill due to the sheer amount of cars but also because of the numerous security barriers that have sprung up in the city which restrict the flow of traffic and are a great cause of complaint from residents.

DETERMINED
Saboor is different from the rest of his colleagues in that he chooses not to use a prosthetic leg, opting for crutches instead. His leg was amputated high above the knee making it more difficult to use a prosthesis, he says.

"I used to use a prosthetic limb but it caused me a lot of discomfort," he says, as one of his colleagues massages his own stump.

Asked if he uses an artificial limb when he cycles, Saboor quickly rejects any doubt over his abilities.

"No, I use my one leg! If you want, I can carry you all the way to north Kabul. I'll show you!" he says strapping his crutches to the bicycle frame and using his only leg to pedal effortlessly around the mud courtyard of the DCMS office.

He and his colleagues use heavy Chinese manufactured bicycles costing around $50 used by Afghans all over the country.

DCMS was set up by an Afghan NGO in 2002 but two years ago disagreements over pay caused them to break away and go it alone. With the move went the donor funding and much of their client base. They have been struggling ever since.

"We're taking our last breath," says Mohammad Amin Zaki, the director of DCMS who is also a mine victim and messenger.

"We have 20 days until the rent is due and after that we don't know what will happen."

The company's struggle reflects the wider economic instability of a country ravaged by almost three decades of war. Unemployment is at least 40 percent.

"The financial situation is bad throughout the country so people usually prefer to deliver things themselves," says Zaki referring to the lack of business.

Each of the messengers earns a meager $10-16 a month depending on the amount of work; well below the national average. On top of this they receive around $10 from the government in the form of disability allowance. All the men work other jobs.

Zaki works in the evenings as a laborer, mixing concrete while Saboor helps his son sell rubbish bags by the side of the road. Another makes bricks.

"We don't have breakfast or lunch. Usually we wait and have dinner together with the family because we don't have enough money for food," says Saboor.

Afghanistan is one of the poorest countries in the world with half of its 25 million people living below the poverty line. The country has also been hit hard by the rising global food prices.

But despite the odds, Saboor remains pragmatic about his future. Asked what he will do if the business shuts down, he says: "I will definitely get another job. I don't like not working. If I lose this job I will find another one somewhere else."
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Afghanistan's hidden treasures go on display in US
Wed May 21, 4:55 PM ET
WASHINGTON (AFP) - More than 200 ancient artifacts from Afghanistan, many of which were believed lost to posterity as the country was rocked by decades of war, this week begin a tour of US museums with an exhibition at Washington's National Gallery.

"The artifacts that we have gathered for this exhibition bear witness to the thousands of years of history of Afghanistan," Afghan culture minister, Abdul Kaim Khuram, said at the launch of the Washington exhibition.

The 228 artifacts on display in the exhibition -- entitled "Afghanistan: Hidden Treasures from the National Museum Kabul" -- date from 2200 BC to the second century AD.

Indian ivories, Hellenistic bronzes and Greco-Roman glass found at Bagram, about 60 kilometres (37 miles) north of Kabul, show Afghanistan's position at the crossroads of the Silk Road, where ancient Indian, Chinese and Greek civilisations intersected.

But the highlight is perhaps the famed 2000-year-old Bactrian gold, consisting of exquisite jewellery and burial decorations discovered in 1st century tombs in 1978 near the northern Afghan border at Tillia-Tepe.

The pieces, ranging from a gold crown worn by a high-ranking nomadic woman in around the first century before the birth of Christ, to the fragment of a gold bowl, dating from around 2200 BC, were recovered from four sites, where archaeological digs were conducted in the 1930s, 1960s and late '70s.

The treasures were thought to have been lost during the 1978-1989 war between Afghanistan and the then Soviet Union, the civil war that followed and the rule of the hardline Taliban in the late 1990s.

"In Afghanistan, the imposed wars could have easily destroyed these artefacts," Khuram said.

But the treasure trove had been preserved by the bravery of a handful of museum staff, who squirreled away parts of the historical collection in the vaults of the central bank, where the artefacts resurfaced in 2003.

Situated at the heart of the Silk Road, Afghanistan evolved over the centuries as a mosaic of cultures and civilizations, all reflected in its artistic heritage.

"Although this mosaic was shattered by war and terror, both the spirit of the Afghan people and our cultural heritage survived," Said Tayeb Jawad, Afghanistan's ambassador to the United States, said at the launch of the exhibition.

From Washington, the exhibit will travel on to the Asian Art Museum in San Francisco, Houston's Museum of Fine Arts and the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York over the course of the next 16 months.

"This exhibition is a celebration of Afghanistan", Jawad said.

Around 40 percent of the proceeds of the exhibition, which held pride of place last year at Paris's Guimet Museum, will go towards restoring Afghanistan's National Museum, Jawad told AFP.

The National Museum of Afghanistan was bombed in 1988 at the tail-end of the decade-long Soviet occupation.

When Afghanistan plunged into civil war in the 1990s, around two-thirds of the museum's priceless collection vanished, and many feared it had been plundered and melted down.

From 1996 until 2001, the museum was systematically pillaged by the hardline Taliban regime, which regarded any non-Islamic art as idolatry.
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Australia probes Afghanistan troop 'Bollywood sex' claim
Thu May 22, 2:47 AM ET
SYDNEY, May 22, 2008 (AFP) - Claims that a Bollywood actress had sex with troops while touring an Australian military base in Afghanistan were under investigation, Prime Minister Kevin Rudd said Thursday.

Rudd was reluctant to comment on the sex scandal claims surrounding London-based Australian actress Tania Zaetta -- who has denied the allegations -- saying it was best left to Australia's defence department.

"As I understand it, these matters are under investigation within the defence department and I will leave it for that investigation to reach its own conclusions," Rudd told reporters.

The allegations surround a tour to Australian military bases in Afghanistan last month undertaken by Zaetta and a number of other entertainers.

Sydney's Daily Telegraph newspaper reported that unsubstantiated claims Zaetta had sex with troops at one of the bases were detailed in a departmental briefing note prepared for Defence Minister Joel Fitzgibbon.

Zaetta has strenuously denied the allegations.

"This is the most ridiculous story I've heard about my life, and I've heard plenty over the years in this industry," she told the Telegraph.

Zaetta, 37, rose to prominence in Australia as a game show host and went on to feature in a number of Bollywood productions, including a recent Charlie's Angels-style hit, "Mr. Black, Mr. White."

Fitzgibbon said he had ordered an inquiry into how his briefing note -- officially referred to as a "hot issue brief" -- became public.

He said the inquiry would also examine how the briefing notes were distributed and whether people who were the subject of allegations had to be named.
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