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May 23, 2008 

Official: Suicide bomb kills 5 Afghans
Fri May 23, 3:57 AM ET
KABUL, Afghanistan - A suicide bomber blew himself up as an Afghan army convoy slowed to pass a pothole-riddled section of road Friday in eastern Afghanistan, killing four soldiers and a child, a defense official said.

Afghanistan encounters not all work of Taliban
Militants often claim carnage that's caused by family feuds, thieves
The Toronto Star May 23, 2008 Rosie DiManno
JALALABAD, Afghanistan–A crackling voice on the police radio is transmitting real-time play-by-play of a dangerous operation underway in an isolated, mountainous corner of the province.

EU to raise Afghan police training - diplomats
Fri May 23, 2008 9:27pm IST
BRUSSELS (Reuters) - European Union ministers will agree on Monday to increase the size of the bloc's police training mission in Afghanistan, diplomats said.

US: Dutch, British to extend Afghanistan commands
By LOLITA C. BALDOR, Associated Press Writer Thu May 22, 5:22 AM ET
WASHINGTON - The Defense Department said Wednesday it has shelved a plan to take greater control in parts of Afghanistan where NATO is in charge after the Dutch and British agreed to extend their commands.

UN envoy urges donors to back $50bn plea
Written by www.quqnoos.com Thursday, 22 May 2008
Kai Eide says government must clamp down on corruption
THE international community should back a $50 billion Afghan development strategy at a donor conference in Paris next month, but Kabul must crack down on rampant corruption, the United Nation's special envoy has said.

A fighter and a financier
By Syed Saleem Shahzad Asia Times Online / May 23, 2008
KUNAR VALLEY, Afghanistan - Afghanistan's troubled recent history, which spans the Soviet occupation in the 1980s, the vicious post-Soviet civil war and then Taliban rule, has thrown up a number of men who have obtained "legendary" status

Manley says public still in dark on Afghan mission
The Canadian Press May 23, 2008
Toronto -- The head of a panel that delivered a report recommending a conditional extension of Canada's military mission in Afghanistan says key changes still haven't been made four months later.

Ducking and diving under B-52s
By Syed Saleem Shahzad Asia Times Online / May 22, 2008
KUNAR VALLEY, Afghanistan - When a United States Predator drone launched missiles at a militant hideout in the town of Damadolah in Pakistan's Bajaur Agency last week, it underscored the area's emergence as a crucial battlefield

Eastern Afghanistan now a hotter zone for U.S. troops
Officials worry increased attacks are the fallout of peace deals with militants in Pakistan
By Kim Barker | Chicago Tribune correspondent- May 22 3:42 PM
KABUL, Afghanistan — The number of attacks on U.S. troops in eastern Afghanistan has increased significantly in April and May, causing many here to worry that local peace deals with militants in neighboring Pakistan

Functional Afghan airforce five years away: US general
Thu May 22, 1:18 PM ET
BRUSSELS (AFP) - Afghanistan's army will need international air support in combat operations for another five years, the US general leading efforts to build and train the Afghan security forces said Thursday.

NATO wary of Iranian arms sneaking into Afghanistan
Mike Blanchfield ,  Canwest News Service Thursday, May 22
OTTAWA - Weapons from Iran have turned up in Afghanistan in "significant quantities" over the last two years, which NATO says is causing it great concern.

Reporter shot dead in troubled Pakistani tribal area
KHAR, Pakistan, May 23, 2008 (AFP) - Unidentified gunmen shot dead a journalist after he interviewed a spokesman for Taliban militants in a Pakistani tribal area bordering Afghanistan, officials said Friday.

Pakistani militant chief pledges to keep fighting foreign forces in Afghanistan
The Associated Press Friday, May 23, 2008
KHAR, Pakistan: A Pakistani militant leader said Friday his group will maintain a cease-fire with Pakistan's new government, but would keep fighting foreign forces in neighboring Afghanistan.

Australian defence sorry to actress over Afghanistan sex claim
Fri May 23, 1:42 AM ET
SYDNEY (AFP) - The Australian defence force has apologised to a Bollywood actress for airing rumours she had sex with troops while touring a military base in Afghanistan.

Japan earmarks $54 million in food grants
Associated Press Fri May 23, 4:19 AM ET
TOKYO - Japan allocated $54 million in emergency grants on Friday to the United Nations to help Afghanistan, Africa and Palestinian refugees cope with the ongoing food crisis.

66% of UK helicopters in Afghanistan and Iraq ‘unfit for combat missions’
IAN BRUCE, The Herald, UK Defence Correspondent May 23 2008
Almost two-thirds of Britain's £2.1bn Apache attack helicopter fleet and more than half of its vital Chinook transport aircraft are "unfit for purpose" and not ready for combat operations, according to Ministry of Defence figures seen by The Herald.

Swedish forces expand in Afghanistan
www.chinaview.cn  2008-05-23 01:36:47
STOCKHOLM, May 22 (Xinhua) -- Sweden is to strengthen its force stationed in Afghanistan, The Swedish public service broadcaster -Sveriges Television (SVT) reported on Thursday.

Italy pledges $300,000 to fight Afghan disease
KABUL, May 22 (Reuters) - Italy's government has pledged $300,000 to help combat a disease outbreak in western Afghanistan that has killed 17 people since February, the Afghan Health Ministry said in a statement on Thursday.

US hits back at Russian ambassador's warning
Written by www.quqnoos.com Thursday, 22 May 2008
US denies it is making the same mistakes as the Soviets
AN AMERICAN diplomat in Kabul has hit back at remarks made by the Russian ambassador to Afghanistan, who said the United States was making the same mistakes the Soviets made more than two decades ago.

Four ancient historical sites unearthed in Ghor
Written by www.quqnoos.com Thursday, 22 May 2008
Province hides monuments some of which date back to 5000 BC
THE MINISTRY of Information and Culture has announced the discovery of four archeological sites in the province of Ghor, some dating back to 5000 BC.

A war of money as well as bullets
Economist, UK May 22nd 2008 JALALABAD AND LASHKAR GAH
The Americans are learning the tricks of the Great Game quicker than the British, who invented it. But a weak and corrupt Afghan government is hobbling them
THE Taliban came at dawn, catching the policemen by surprise while they were at prayer. Fifty of them attacked from three sides, using AK-47s, rocket-propelled grenades and mortars. Closing in for the final assault to cries of “Allahu Akbar!”

Silent Survivors of Afghanistan’s 4,000 Tumultuous Years
By ROBERTA SMITH May 23, 2008 The New York Times Art Review
WASHINGTON — Art objects inspire many reactions, perhaps most crucially acts of preservation or destruction. From 1979 to late 2001, destruction had the upper hand in Afghanistan. The Soviet-Afghan war

Crimes in Khyber Pass threaten US supplies to Afghanistan
Daily Times, Pakistan - May 21, 2008
* Raids on Afghanistan-bound trucks also disrupting regular trade
* NATO negotiating with Russia to let it truck ‘non-lethal’ supplies to Afghanistan
KHYBER AGENCY: Thieves, feuding tribesmen and Taliban militants are creating instability along the main Pakistan-Afghanistan highway, threatening a vital supply line for United States and NATO forces based in Afghanistan.

Pakistan: Reports Hint At Possible Prisoner Swap With Militants
By Ron Synovitz Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty
The Pakistani government has denied local reports claiming that the release of Islamabad's kidnapped ambassador to Afghanistan was part of an exchange for Taliban prisoners. A number of Pakistan observers, however

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Official: Suicide bomb kills 5 Afghans
Fri May 23, 3:57 AM ET
KABUL, Afghanistan - A suicide bomber blew himself up as an Afghan army convoy slowed to pass a pothole-riddled section of road Friday in eastern Afghanistan, killing four soldiers and a child, a defense official said.

Four other soldiers were wounded in the attack, about eight miles west of Khost city, said Defense Ministry spokesman Zahir Azimi.

Suicide bombers frequently target military convoys, but civilian passers-by are often killed in such attacks.

Insurgency related violence has killed more than 1,200 people — mostly militants — so far this year, according to an Associated Press tally of figures from Western and Afghan officials.

In eastern Kunar province, meanwhile, deputy police chief Abdul Sabor Allayer said a rocket hit a schoolyard on Wednesday in Asmor district, killing one student and wounding four others. The victims were between eight and 14 years old.

Afghanistan's Education Minister said earlier this year that the number of students and teachers killed in Taliban attacks spiked in the past year in a campaign to close schools and force teenage boys to join the Islamic militia. UNICEF says 236 school-related attacks occurred last year.
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Afghanistan encounters not all work of Taliban
Militants often claim carnage that's caused by family feuds, thieves
The Toronto Star May 23, 2008 Rosie DiManno
JALALABAD, Afghanistan–A crackling voice on the police radio is transmitting real-time play-by-play of a dangerous operation underway in an isolated, mountainous corner of the province.

The first report claims Afghan National Police have their target surrounded and everyone in the room quietly cheers, including the acting district commander, a U.S. army captain, a deliberately un-introduced American in civilian clothes with a pistol strapped to his thigh (maybe special forces), two interpreters and a reporter.

But then something goes drastically wrong. Deputy chief Haji Amir Khan Liwal politely asks the reporter to leave.

Throughout the rest of the day, information released is confusing and contradictory: Four policemen wounded, say officials; several police officers killed, according to the regional Taliban commander.

"We have suspended operations for now," Liwal tersely comments by evening.

The Taliban may have tried to get in on the act by alleging involvement – because they're always making largely absurd declarations of combat successes, these being the same fellows who put suicide vests on 10-year-old boys. But this was no Taliban vs. ANP encounter.

And that's the thing not often mentioned about violence in Afghanistan: It is generic and chronic, not limited to the Taliban insurgency, with countless feuds and revenge attacks mounted, regularly erupting in bloodshed.

The seeds of this particular incident were apparently planted years ago, during the mujahideen era, one family purportedly aggrieved over the power wielded by another, former jihadist Hazrat Ali, now a member of parliament. He owns a huge Mediterranean-style villa not far from the police station.

A week ago, unknown armed men – except apparently known to everyone locally – raided the house, assassinated Ali's father, and kidnapped several women and children.

What do they want? Who knows? Money or the release from jail of detained relatives, most likely, or perhaps just to remind Ali that, while he may be off in Kabul, under round-the-clock guard, he is still vulnerable to the primitive codes of personal vengeance by which many Afghans live.

Those who perpetrated the killing and kidnapping had been apparently run to ground in their mountain bolt-hole; hence the Afghan operation that now seems in tatters.

It is difficult to separate the personal vendettas from the Taliban-based militancy in this country. As well, there are numerous groups of brigands, professional cutthroats who raid and thieve and kill at will.

To the outside world, it's all lumped in as insurgency. It isn't. At a briefing by the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan last week, officials said 450 illegal armed groups are still active countrywide.

This recent event has been particularly embarrassing for Liwal. The previous day, he'd been boasting to a visiting journalist about the safety and calm of Nangarhar province, claiming this eastern region – which shares a border with Pakistan – is the fourth most secure province in the country, according to independent assessments.

"One of the reasons for this is we have good security co-ordination between the police, the armed forces and the populace. People here want security, above everything else. Of course, we sometimes have little problems with the Taliban. But the citizens tell us when Taliban fighters are moving through this area. In one place, last year, the villagers themselves actually threw the fighters out."

Pashtun Nangarhar province, while severely conservative – even mannequins in the store windows have their faces veiled – does feel relatively safe and palpably prosperous. The capital is abuzz with reconstruction, many new factories opened, the university full of male and female (separated) students, and girls skipping off to school in their white headscarves and black uniforms. Youngsters frolic in the river that winds through the city.

Much of this security can be attributed to the vast U.S. military base here. American muscle has pacified huge swaths of Regional Command East. Yet the key to Nangarhar stability is Governor Gul Agha Sherzai, a famous anti-Soviet warlord who helped drive out the Taliban in 2001 and a close political ally of President Hamid Karzai.

Recently, Sherzai was actually named "Person of the Year" by Radio Free Afghanistan.

The flipside to Sherzai: when formerly governor of Kandahar (and widely loathed), he extorted untold cash from civilians at police checkpoints, embezzled reconstruction money, ran protection rackets for opium traffickers, was generally treacherous with American allies, and basically used his time in office to benefit self and Barakzai tribe.

But, that too is Afghanistan.

Liwal, extolling Sherzai's virtues, asserts that, among other achievements, Nangarhar is now opium-free, with the governor eradicating all poppy fields. This might even be true – the Star saw no poppy fields while travelling in the province.

But Nangarhar had primarily been known for its heroin cultivation labs, where top alchemists processed the yield, transported here, into a pure drug, then shipped out over the Pakistan border. It is almost with something approaching pride that Liwal describes these opium experts. "The most expert specialists were living in this area. But we have cleared them out. We smashed all the drug-producing factories."

However, down the road from the capital, on the Jalalabad to Torkham highway, close to the border, is a place called Shaddle Bazaar, Afghanistan's biggest opium market. Thousands of kilos are openly bought and sold there every day.

Liwal would not give the Star permission to visit Shaddle Bazaar. An attempt to go it alone was turned back at the edge of that district by highway police. Told that Liwal claimed the bazaar had been dismantled, a police captain sneers: "Propaganda."

The Afghan army won't venture into bazaar although, over the past year, Afghanistan's elite anti-drug force has raided the market repeatedly with help from foreign forces.

It keeps springing back to life. Just like the Taliban insurgency that mainlines off the drug trade.

Columnist Rosie DiManno is on assignment in Afghanistan, where she covered the Taliban's fall in 2001.
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EU to raise Afghan police training - diplomats
Fri May 23, 2008 9:27pm IST
BRUSSELS (Reuters) - European Union ministers will agree on Monday to increase the size of the bloc's police training mission in Afghanistan, diplomats said.

Under the agreement, the bloc will set itself a long-term objective of doubling the size of its current mission to around 400 trainers, they said.

The long-flagged move is part of EU efforts to do more in the country where government officials accept that corruption among security forces is hampering efforts to tackle the huge opium sector, spread the rule of law and reconstruct.

"They will signal the political will to increase the size of the mission," said one EU diplomat of a preliminary agreement that will be endorsed at the meeting of EU foreign, defence and development ministers in Brussels on Monday.

He said ministers were likely to issue a statement after the meeting stating that their objective was to double the number of trainers on the ground, without giving a fixed timeframe.

"This is not necessarily for the short-term," he said. "There is a recognition that conditions are difficult," he said of a Taliban-led insurgency, particularly in southern provinces.

Germany took over the training task almost from scratch, starting in August 2002 with three-year courses for officers at the newly reopened Kabul Police Academy.

But its approach has been criticised -- particularly in the United States -- as being too slow in bringing law and order to a country faced with endemic corruption and Taliban insurgency.

German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier and German Interior Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble have called publicly for a doubling of the mission.

While the EU mission targets high-end training and mentoring for mostly senior law enforcement officials, the United States is leading a separate, 1,000-strong training effort covering both the national Afghan police and army.

Major General Robert Cone, the U.S. general in charge of the U.S. training effort, told Reuters this month more than twice as many instructors were needed to retrain the force.

The police force is often the only arm of the Afghan state in many isolated outposts across the rugged mountainous country, but is renowned for fleeing in the face of Taliban attacks and milking the populace for bribes.
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US: Dutch, British to extend Afghanistan commands
By LOLITA C. BALDOR, Associated Press Writer Thu May 22, 5:22 AM ET
WASHINGTON - The Defense Department said Wednesday it has shelved a plan to take greater control in parts of Afghanistan where NATO is in charge after the Dutch and British agreed to extend their commands.

Pentagon spokesman Geoff Morrell said the Netherlands and Britain will stay in control in southern Afghanistan for a full year, rather than nine months, as the military alliance fights a stubborn Taliban insurgency.

The European allies agreed to the new arrangement in recent conversations with Defense Secretary Robert Gates, Morrell said.

"I think we're trying to create a situation in which ... by the command serving longer, there'll be greater stability and continuity to our operations" in southern Afghanistan, Morrell said. The U.S. raised the idea and allies signed on, he said.

The U.S. has complained that changing commands every nine months and rotating troops even more frequently do not provide the necessary continuity for an effective fight against the insurgency, particularly in Afghanistan's volatile south.

In recent months, the Pentagon suggested giving the U.S. military more authority in those areas now under NATO command. U.S. control is now limited to eastern Afghanistan.

Gates said the idea, which reflected internal discussion, was worth considering. U.S. military leaders had expressed concern about a lack of continuity among NATO forces. Also, there was a sense that in the long run, it might be better for NATO to focus mainly on areas with less fighting but a great need for noncombat aid — Afghanistan's north and west, for example.

Taliban resistance has stiffened in the south since NATO took command there in mid-2006. Some officials in the Pentagon believe the fight against the Taliban could gain strength if the U.S. also took charge in part or all the south.

Asked if the new agreement ends discussion that one country — likely the U.S. — take charge of operations in the south, Morrell said it addresses the issue there for at least the next two and a half years.

A NATO official said Wednesday that while the U.S. floated the idea of controlling the south, the Pentagon did not press hard for the plan. The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not involved in the Pentagon's announcement, said there were no real disputes over the plan.

Last week, however, the German general who commands the NATO headquarters in the southern Netherlands argued against the Americans' taking over southern Afghanistan too early. Gen. Egon Ramms, whose office oversees the NATO international security force in Afghanistan, said there had been a lot of effort spent training staff in Kandahar, Afghanistan, and they should be left in place for at least an additional year.

Morrell dismissed the suggestion that the new agreement for longer European commands was a compromise. But, he added, "We work with allies in (southern Afghanistan) and throughout the country, and we take their considerations into account."

One unresolved issue, Morrell said, is that two U.S. commanders will continue to control troops in Afghanistan. U.S. Central Command is responsible for operations in Afghanistan, but Gen. John Craddock is the head of U.S. European Command and is NATO's top military commander.

The agreement also does not extend the tours of allied troops serving in Afghanistan. Morrell said the allies will likely still serve three- to six-month tours — a practice that U.S. commanders have suggested can be disruptive.

Under the new agreement, the Canadians, who now control the south, will leave in November and the Dutch will assume command. In November 2009 the British would take over, and the U.S. is on tap to take command of the region in November 2010.

In early stages of the war, the U.S. military commanded forces across Afghanistan. NATO's security role initially was limited to heading an International Security Assistance Force, or ISAF, in Kabul, the capital; but it spread, starting in 2004 — first to the north, then west and, in 2006, to the south and the east.
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Associated Press writer Paul Ames contributed to this report from Brussels, Belgium.
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UN envoy urges donors to back $50bn plea
Written by www.quqnoos.com Thursday, 22 May 2008 
Kai Eide says government must clamp down on corruption
THE international community should back a $50 billion Afghan development strategy at a donor conference in Paris next month, but Kabul must crack down on rampant corruption, the United Nation's special envoy has said.

Afghanistan is dependent on aid: 90% of government spending is funded by it.

But international donors have fallen behind in paying what they have already pledged and much of the money goes straight back to donor countries in salaries and profits.

Official corruption eats into the remainder.

More than six years after US-led forces toppled the Taliban, Kabul and its Western backers are faced with a revived insurgency and a public frustrated by the lack of security and disappointed with the slow pace of development.

"It's obvious the international community does not spend its resources as well as it should and it's obvious that corruption is a much too widespread phenomenon in Afghanistan," the UN Special Envoy Kai Eide told a news conference in the Afghan capital, Kabul, today (Thursday).

"I would like to see a partnership coming out of Paris where the international community says 'yes, we will spend our resources better' and the government says 'yes, we will fight corruption more vigorously'," he said.

International donors have pledged some $24 billion at three donor conferences since 2002, but the level of aid to Afghanistan is still many times lower per head than other countries struggling to emerge from conflict such as Kosovo or East Timor.

Aid to Afghanistan is uncoordinated and donor mistrust of the Afghan government often means the money is used without the government’s approval. Eide said more aid should be funnelled through the government.

He said he regretted the international community’s failure to spend money on agriculture, which the majority of Afghan people rely on for their survival.

“We have to get this right and therefore expand significantly the resources we use on agriculture. I think the food crisis we have been experiencing here and in many other countries illustrate clearly the need to devote more attention to that sector,” he said.

Food prices in Afghanistan have risen dramatically in the past year, with the cost of bread tripling in some parts of the country.

Eide also condemned attacks on UN trucks carrying wheat into Afghanistan and urged religious leaders and the Taliban to come out against the attacks.

“I believe it would be very helpful if religious leaders and elders also came out clearly to say that such actions that harm the most vulnerable, the poorest, are not acceptable,” he said.
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A fighter and a financier
By Syed Saleem Shahzad Asia Times Online / May 23, 2008
KUNAR VALLEY, Afghanistan - Afghanistan's troubled recent history, which spans the Soviet occupation in the 1980s, the vicious post-Soviet civil war and then Taliban rule, has thrown up a number of men who have obtained "legendary" status - whether through their tribal followings or from connections with Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) .

These mujahideen resistance figures include Jalaluddin Haqqani, Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, Ismail Khan and the late Ahmad Shah Massoud.

The new leaders of the anti-American resistance in Afghanistan, however, are cut from a different cloth. They are despised and victimized by the ISI and often condemned by tribal elders. They are the sons of a global ideology which is orphan all over the world except in the merciless border terrain of Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Take Qari Ziaur Rahman, commander of the Taliban in Nooristan and Kunar provinces, which border Pakistan. He is not the son of a legendary mujahideen commander, but of a cleric named Maulana Dilbar. His ties do not lie with the ISI, but with Osama bin Laden, having instructed bin Laden in the lessons of the Prophet Mohammad's life.

Ziaur, in his early thirties, was raised in the camps of Arab militants, who instilled in him the passion to fight against the Americans - not only in Afghanistan, but across the globe. Ziaur did not get his command as any hereditary right. First he had to prove himself on the battlefield, which he did by taking on US troops in Kunar and Nooristan. He was the first to mount operations against the US in the Karghal district of Kunar and he engineered the second-biggest encounter ever in Nooristan.

His exploits drew the attention of the coalition forces, which placed him on a wanted list and distributed flyers from the air offering a reward of US$350,000 for his arrest or killing.

With the heat on, Ziaur tried to take refuge in Pakistan, but in a coordinated move by the US Central Intelligence Agency and the ISI, he was arrested. Fortune smiled on him though and under a scheme brokered by Pakistani tribal warlord Baitullah Mehsud he was released in a prisoner exchange for Pakistani military officials. Otherwise, he would certainly have ended up at the US's Bagram air base near Kabul, or even at the Guantanamo Bay detention facility in Cuba.

After his release, Ziaur was elevated from a military operations commander to the overall in-charge of the Taliban's affairs in Kunar and Nooristan. His duties include devising regional battle policies and arranging budgets. He also represents Kunar and Nooristan in Taliban leader Mullah Omar's shura (council).

Ziaur is widely tipped to become one of the most important Taliban commanders in the whole region. Asia Times Online spoke to him, and somewhat unusually - even brazenly - he allowed his picture to be taken.

ATol: Which Afghan province do you come from?

Ziaur: I come from the province of Kunar.

ATol: What madrassa (seminary) education do you have?

Ziaur: I memorized the Koran. Before that I studied in a primary school. Then I acquired education in the Arabic language. I did a diploma.

ATol: From which institution?

Ziaur: It belonged to some Arab fellows. The institution was supported by an Arab country.

ATol: At present you are the in-charge and commander of the Taliban in Kunar and Nooristan provinces?

Ziaur: I administer the Taliban's affairs, mainly finance.

ATol: So you mainly look after the Taliban's financial matters, not their military affairs?

Ziaur: I do look after military matters, but the main emphasis is on finance.

ATol: This means you are the in-charge of both financial and military operations in Nooristan and Kunar provinces.

Ziaur: Indeed.

ATol: NATO [North Atlantic Treaty Organization] has made Kunar and Nooristan a hub of its operations. How do you assess NATO's plans and what is your counter-strategy?

Ziaur: From the Soviet days in Afghanistan, Kunar's importance has been clear. This is a border province [with Pakistan] and trouble here can break the central government [in Kabul]. Whoever has been defeated in Afghanistan, his defeat began from Kunar. Hence, everybody is terrified of this region. The Soviets were defeated in this province and NATO knows that if it is defeated here it will be defeated all over Afghanistan.

ATol: How many NATO troops are there in Kunar?

Ziaur: Thousands ...

ATol: How many bases do they have?

Ziaur: I tell you ... They have a central base which is called Topchi. Then in Pechdara they have a big presence in Maragai ... then they have many other bases like Koranghal ... then in Tarla ... on another side of Kunar there is a pass called Zarokas ... they have a big base over there as well, also in the Souqe region ... then in Sarkano ... in Nooristan they have a base in Kamdesh ... Rawat ... then in western Nooristan in the Doab district.

ATol: Can you compare the Taliban's strength with that of NATO, as they have so many bases. I witnessed Taliban rule in many districts in Helmand [province]. Do the Taliban rule any districts in Kunar?

Ziaur: Thank God that this is a mountainous region. NATO has a presence in the bases only, other than that they do not control anything. The mujahideen patrol everywhere and they carry out attacks freely.

ATol: How many mujahideen attacks are there each day?

Ziaur: Many small-scale attacks are carried out every day.

ATol: What are the main areas of attack?

Ziaur: Koranghal is our main operation theater in Kunar. It is a slaughterhouse for the Americans. Many Americans have been killed there. Kamdesh in Nooristan is our main operation front. We killed many Americans there as well. Similarly, we are very active in Sarkano, beside many other areas.

ATol: What is the Taliban's strength in these areas of Nooristan and Kunar?

Ziaur: I cannot disclose the numbers. The main thing is that the masses are with the Taliban and the Taliban are in huge numbers.

ATol: Nooristan has a very strategic position. It goes up to Kapisa province, from where a route goes to Kabul from north. Do you have any plans to mobilize a Taliban attack on Kabul from this route?

Ziaur: The Taliban will apply all sorts of strategies.

ATol: Kunar and Nooristan were the strongholds of the Hezb-e-Islami Afghanistan led by Hekmatyar. Do they still have a presence in the region? Do the Taliban have some sort of joint venture with them?

Ziaur: They just have the name. They are only a little bit active, and not to the extent that is mentioned in the press.

ATol: There were reports in the Western press that on April 19, Hekmatyar, commanders Abdul Ghaffur and Kashmir Khan were spotted by NATO in Nooristan and there was a fierce encounter in which NATO forces sustained losses. What is your take?

Ziaur: This is a lie. NATO attacks here and there. It claims it attacked in Nooristan because of Osama bin Laden, as if Osama is omnipotent in Nooristan. They claim [al-Qaeda deputy] Dr [Ayman] Zawahiri is in Bajaur [Agency in Pakistan] and then attack that area. This is all gossip.

ATol: It is said that the Taliban's real strength lies in Arab and Punjabi fighters. What is the proportion of Arab and Punjabi fighters in your total strength?

Ziaur: We are all one, all faithfuls are brothers. Whether they come from the East or from the West, Arab or Pakistani, we are one and for each other.

ATol: You look after the Taliban's finances, so where do they raise resources?

Ziaur:Through contributions by the people.

ATol: I witnessed poppy cultivation in Kunar. I was told by the local population that clerics have now issued a decree that the mujahideen can buy weapons from the sale of poppy. Can you shed any light on that?

Ziaur: This is not true. Indeed, it is a controversial issue whether poppy cultivation is prohibited in Islam or not. But the Taliban are not dependent on poppy cultivation at all.

ATol: NATO has offered reward money for the arrest or killing of Taliban commanders. What amount is on your head?

Ziaur: There is some. I do not know how much.

ATol: Yesterday in Kunar I observed constant flights of [US Predator] drones and B-52 aircraft. Why are they so active?

Ziaur: Because of the daily attacks [by the Taliban] in Kunar province. They are aware that this year there will be a decisive battle and they know they cannot fight in the mountains.

ATol: NATO bombs the Nawa Pass [leading to Pakistan] and in the process a few shells also hit Pakistan's Bajaur area. What is happening here?

Ziaur: This is because recently the mujahideen carried out a huge operation in the Nawa Pass, which was successful. Therefore, NATO is terrified and is trying to pre-empt any more attacks by bombing the area.

NEXT: A revolution of guns and culture

Syed Saleem Shahzad is Asia Times Online's Pakistan Bureau Chief.
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Manley says public still in dark on Afghan mission
The Canadian Press May 23, 2008
Toronto -- The head of a panel that delivered a report recommending a conditional extension of Canada's military mission in Afghanistan says key changes still haven't been made four months later.

In an interview yesterday with the CBC, John Manley, a former Liberal deputy prime minister, said he's concerned information about the mission still isn't getting out to Canadians.

Mr. Manley feels a part of the problem is the tight information control by the Prime Minister's Office.
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Ducking and diving under B-52s
By Syed Saleem Shahzad Asia Times Online / May 22, 2008
KUNAR VALLEY, Afghanistan - When a United States Predator drone launched missiles at a militant hideout in the town of Damadolah in Pakistan's Bajaur Agency last week, it underscored the area's emergence as a crucial battlefield in the Taliban-led insurgency in Afghanistan, and even in the "war on terror".

The tribal area that borders the Afghan provinces of Kunar and Nooristan is said to be the hiding ground of al-Qaeda kingpins Osama bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri and their confidants, and it serves as a vital corridor for the Taliban.

Last week's drone attack was the third of its kind, indicating that US intelligence is closely monitoring the area, acutely aware of its importance. The strike had some success, taking out two senior al-Qaeda leaders - Sheikh Osman, know for his amputated hand, and Sheikh Soliman. However, a famous Taliban commander, Dost Muhammad, escaped unhurt.

The heavyweight al-Qaeda members had traveled to Damadolah to instruct a select group of Taliban leaders in the safe use of satellite telephones.

Sheikh Osman in particular was a big loss. He was wanted by the US for his role in al-Qaeda's global operations as the right-hand man of Dr Junaid al-Jazeri, pin-pointed by Washington as the main engine behind al-Qaeda's strategies in North Africa and Europe. (Two years ago, in another drone attack on Damadolah, Zawahiri apparently narrowly escaped death after leaving a dinner party early.)

There is fierce debate over how the drone was able to target Damadolah. Pakistani opposition parties allege that Islamabad played a key role in providing intelligence. But the issue is not as simple as that, as will emerge.

Unlike in Helmand province, in Kunar the Taliban do not independently run districts. However, among the craggy outcrops and lush green forests, they have established safe havens and also have the support of large sections of the population. This allows the Taliban to maintain an edge against the American forces in the area by launching daily attacks on their bases, as well as those of the Afghan National Army and intelligence centers.

Kunar and Nooristan provinces also serve as the start of a natural route up to the northeastern province of Kapisa, from where, ultimately, the Taliban hope to enter into Kabul.

All regional intelligence agencies are certain that bin Laden and Zawahiri are still in this area. The US considers it pivotal for the success of the "war on terror". The Taliban on the other hand have built all their resources all around this region.

And neither side wants to give up ground.

Deep in the corridor

An arduous overnight trek on foot from Bajaur Agency took us to the Sarkano district of Kunar province. The route followed the Nawa Pass - a tough climb - which has become a daily flashpoint between the Taliban and US forces.

While I was heaving with the effort, my slim Taliban guide glided along effortlessly, despite lugging an AK-47 rifle and ammunition, and much of my baggage.

"To me, this is a journey of a few hours, for you it is an eight-hour journey," said Ibrahim, a resident of Kunar province. He confided later that he had thought that after the first stiff climb my passion to cover Taliban country would have been extinguished. There were indeed moments, on some of the treacherous stony paths where one slip in the moonlight would have sent me tumbling hundreds of meters into a vast valley, that I considered the wisdom of the journey.

"Wake up, a mujahideen center is only 20 minutes away. You can take a rest when we get there," Ibrahim cried as I tried to take a five-minute snooze on some hard rocks. I knew that his 20 minutes was at least one hour for me, and that is how it turned out.

But after hours of walking I was dehydrated, and simply had to stop and refresh myself from a stream running down the side of a mountain.

"Where is this center?" I asked Ibrahim after a while, as all I could see were the outlines of mountains and dense clumps of trees.

"It is five minutes away. Very near," Ibrahim responded. And then I realized the magic of this terrain. Either in daylight or at night, one can suddenly discover a mud house, safely concealed in the shadows of the mountains and the jungle.

We had arrived at a Taliban safe house. A bed of dried grass in a small room with mud walls was more comfortable than any five-star hotel and I slept for three hours until I was awakened by Ibrahim for morning prayers.

As we started a breakfast of dried bread and tea, two Taliban joined us. "Our camp will be joined by several groups and we will carry out an attack tonight," one of them said, without giving details.

"We will place you at a height in a secure place from where you will be able to cover the event," the other man said. Neither gave their names, only saying that they belonged to "Shah Khalid's" camp.

As dawn broke, we resumed our journey.

"Saleem, we have to hurry and pass through this terrain before the sun rises. Once the sun is up, people will spot you as a stranger, and a few houses here have informers for the Americans," Ibrahim chided as I stopped to eat some fruit from a mulberry tree.

"A few days ago, we killed an informer. But there are still many because of poverty. The Americans can easily pay US$1,000 for ordinary information. This is a huge amount of money for them, they can do anything with it," Ibrahim said.

Ibrahim explained that, except for a few villages that are completely in the hands of the Taliban, the Americans try to "buy each and every stone" in Kunar province to inform on the Taliban. This is to be expected, given that Washington believes the sector is home to bin Laden and Zawahiri.

Finally we arrived at our destination, a village in the Sarkano district, and we made our way to the house of Zubair Mujahid, a Taliban spokesman in Kunar.

The first thing I noticed was a big portrait of a black-bearded man, although it was partly covered by curtain.

"He is my elder son, Abdul Rahman," Zubair's elderly father, Enayat, told me.

"He was the pride of the village. He was a Talib. After the US invaded Afghanistan [in 2001], we were approached by the governor of the province through tribal elders that Abdul Rahman should surrender. We were promised that he would not only be pardoned, but that he would be made a commander of the local police setup.

"After a lot of guarantees, we sent him to surrender. He was welcomed by the governor, but American forces then came and he was arrested. Four days later, his dead body was sent to our village. He had been killed through the worst kind of torture. From that day on, this whole village vowed to take up arms to fight against the Americans," Enayat said.

"Every other month we are offered a truce and friendship, but because of Abdul Rahman's death, nobody is ready to believe them [Americans]. Once or twice in a month American special forces come to arrest the youths of the village, but they are clever enough to dodge them each time," Enayat said.

By evening it was clear that the village only comprised elderly women and men, and some children. A few farm workers were the only youths in the area. They were working the main crop of the area - poppy. The village was also full of mulberry trees.

A while later, my contact Zubair arrived and he immediately instructed the farm workers to leave the fields and take up arms in positions in and around the village.

Zubair then turned to me: "I sense some danger, so we will spend the night somewhere else." So we set off again on a short hike over some rough terrain and ended up in another mud house, this one built on a mountain ridge.

Under a sky full of stars and bright moonlight we could hear the occasional noise of B-52 aircraft and drones. We settled down for a short sleep, the most noise now provided by some fidgety donkeys tied near my bed.

We awoke before dawn and found a note left by Zubair, in which he explained that the Taliban had been unable to make an attack during the night, but that they would do so that evening.

General information on attacks is given to the different Taliban groups operating in the region at the eleventh hour. But specifics, such as where and when an attack will occur, are only known by the groups that will take part in the action.

This is what happened on the evening of May 15. Our group of four - now on our way back to Pakistan - had left after saying evening prayers at dusk. As we started the climb up into the mountains, we heard low-flying B-52s nearby. According to the Taliban, such low flights mean bombing operations. Soon there was a constant noise all around us, including that of drones. We took shelter among some trees and large rocks.

"Generally, after such a noise, the helicopters arrive. And if they spot any movement, they launch special forces who have already cordoned off the area," Zubair explained, adding that we had better get moving - and fast.

Zubair's father had given me a walking stick, which proved invaluable in stopping me from sliding around on the rocks. By now the noise of the aircraft and drones was very close. Dogs in the valley were barking incessantly.

Soon the cover of the trees came to an end and we had to stay as high up the mountains as possible. It was tough going. My throat was dry and my muscles ached, but there was no question of stopping. There was a palpable tension created by the noisy monsters in the sky, which now included helicopters.

The tension heightened several notches when gunfire broke out to our north, so close we could see the muzzle flashes as the guns fired.

"This must be an attack in the Karghal area," Zubair surmised. "We will have to make a brief stop at a mujahideen center nearby so I can get information on exactly what is going on. Then we can proceed through the jungles. The jungle is safe. Even if special forces have cordoned off the area, we will have lots of caves to hide in," Zubair said.

Once in the safe house we were fed with water and fresh white butter bread and tea. Zubair used his wireless to get the low-down. The Taliban had attacked from several directions in the Karghal area, as well as in the Nawa Pass near the Pakistan border - the route we had used to enter Afghanistan. We would have to take the long route home.

Zubair quickly realized I was tiring so he hired a donkey for me. But after just a few minutes on the back of the awkward animal, I knew I was likely to fall off the wretched thing and break a bone. It was back to my feet, although the donkey stayed with us just in case I reached a point of exhaustion.

We were now in deep jungle which provided good cover, but the going was rough, especially the thorny bushes that ripped at the clothes and skin.

A climb up a steep cliff towards the top of a mountain marked our return to Pakistani soil, but my relief was short-lived: another firefight had broken out ahead of us, this time between Taliban insurgents and the Afghan army. The drones were also back in force. The poor donkey was frightened out of its wits and began a pitiful bray - a noise as alarming as the guns and drones.

We changed direction and headed for Bajaur Agency, where the drone attack on Damadolah had taken place two days ago. Soon the cool morning breeze welcomed us and the noise of the drones and the guns was left behind.

But while the world had gone silent for me, I could only think of the clamor that will envelop this area in the months ahead as the Taliban and US-led coalition forces fight it out.

Syed Saleem Shahzad is Asia Times Online's Pakistan Bureau Chief.
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Eastern Afghanistan now a hotter zone for U.S. troops
Officials worry increased attacks are the fallout of peace deals with militants in Pakistan
By Kim Barker | Chicago Tribune correspondent- May 22 3:42 PM
KABUL, Afghanistan — The number of attacks on U.S. troops in eastern Afghanistan has increased significantly in April and May, causing many here to worry that local peace deals with militants in neighboring Pakistan are allowing them to regroup and focus on fighting across the border in Afghanistan.

Officials with the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force, or ISAF, speaking on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issue, said that attacks in eastern Afghanistan in the past three or four weeks have jumped to about 100 a week from 60 a week in March.

This was "a very significant increase" in attacks, which include everything from minor indirect fire to suicide attacks, one ISAF official said last week.

ISAF has about 51,000 troops in Afghanistan, but the U.S. military commands the troops in the eastern region, which borders Pakistan's tribal areas, the remote and mostly lawless border region where Taliban and Al-Qaeda militants have found shelter for years. Any increase in attacks in eastern Afghanistan would therefore be against U.S. forces.

The region is of particular concern to the West, as several major attacks and planned attacks by Islamic militants in Europe and the U.S. trace their roots to training camps in the tribal areas or along the porous border of Pakistan and Afghanistan. Al Qaeda leaders such as Osama bin Laden are also thought to be hiding there.

"Any negotiations with terrorists there is very bad for the security of the world, not just the region," said Abdul Manan Farahi, the chief of counter-terrorism in Afghanistan's Interior Ministry.

The ISAF official said the lack of Pakistani pressure on the militants in recent weeks — particularly by the military — has taken the heat off of them in the tribal areas as the truce talks are pursued.

At a congressional hearing in Washington this week, U.S. Deputy Secretary of State John Negroponte brought the U.S. doubts into the open when he told lawmakers that the Bush administration is concerned about the possible deals between the tribal militants and the Pakistani government that took office after parliamentary elections in February.

Earlier attempts to reach cease-fires with militants under U.S.-backed President Pervez Musharraf also were seen to have failed, allowing militants to regroup and eventually forcing the Pakistani military to return to a more confrontational approach.

"Are we concerned about the possibility of negotiations between the government or elements of the government and these extremist groups up there? ... Yes," Negroponte said at the hearing.

The next day, provincial Pakistani officials announced that they had struck their first official deal with militants in the Swat Valley, after weeks of negotiations. The government agreed to pull back the army, set up Islamic courts in Swat and not actively pursue the militants' leader in return for the militants stopping the public display of weapons and ending campaigns against allegedly un-Islamic activities.Mark Laity, NATO's civilian spokesman in Afghanistan, said the de-facto cease fires that the new Pakistani government has pursued "seem to be allowing insurgents on that side to home into Afghanistan. That's obviously a cause for concern."

NATO spokesman James Appathurai told reporters in Brussels last week that attacks in Afghanistan were up 50 percent in April from last year. That number is not considered to be as significant as the jump between March and April. That is because attacks are up 25 percent nationwide over past year, probably because there are more international troops in Afghanistan.

The alliance planned to talk to Pakistani authorities about militant safe havens, Appathurai said. NATO Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer is expected to travel to Islamabad before the end of the month for talks.

Maj. Gen. Athar Abbas, the Pakistan army's spokesman, said he had received no formal complaint about an increase in attacks in Afghanistan and so could not comment.

He said Pakistani troops are still very active in the tribal areas, particularly South Waziristan, home to Baitullah Mehsud, the leader of the Pakistani Taliban. He said the military would soon shift its troop positions there to allow refugees to return home but soldiers could move back to their old positions if necessary.

. "I don't think there is a potential of the militants regrouping," Abbas said.

Pakistani authorities have struggled with how to control militants along the border since the war in the 1980s against the Soviet occupation in Afghanistan, which attracted Muslim fighters from around the world. Since early 2002, the Pakistan army has deployed as many as 100,000 troops in the tribal areas — an unprecedented move that sparked major resentment and led to an erosion in the government's tenuous political authority there.

Musharraf, who seized power in a bloodless military coup in 1999 and ran the army until stepping down in November, also tried to reach peace deals with militants. Truces with militants in Waziristan in 2005 and 2006 also were blamed for causing more attacks in Afghanistan. The truces fell apart, and many security analysts said the militants used the truces only to get weapons and plan more attacks.

The rise in attacks in Afghanistan could mean that Pakistan will face more outside pressure to step up its war against terrorists at the same time it faces major domestic pressure to somehow reach peace with the militants, who started a major terrorism campaign in Pakistan last July. Many Pakistanis believe the war on terror is a largely U.S. effort pushed by Musharraf that has only created more terrorists.

Officials from the three major political parties in the fragile ruling coalition, elected in February by voters disenchanted with Musharraf, have all said they want to pursue negotiations. The party leaders insist that the Musharraf's military-based approach has not worked either.

The political party of slain former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, which won the most seats, advocates the negotiations even though Mehsud himself is accused of arranging Bhutto's assassination in December. Another goal of some militants is to set up Islamic law.

In Afghanistan, President Hamid Karzai welcomed the new government's efforts to reach peace with militants, as long as any deals did not hurt Afghanistan. But many Afghan officials are extremely upset about the truces and blame Pakistan for trading peace there at Afghanistan's expense.

"The Pakistani government is negotiating to prevent militants from attacking in Pakistan," said Noorulhaq Olomi, a parliament member who runs the committee on defense and territorial affairs. "But who is asking them to stop attacking here?"
kbarker@tribune.com
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Functional Afghan airforce five years away: US general
Thu May 22, 1:18 PM ET
BRUSSELS (AFP) - Afghanistan's army will need international air support in combat operations for another five years, the US general leading efforts to build and train the Afghan security forces said Thursday.

US Major General Robert Cone, speaking to reporters at NATO headquarters in Brussels, said the support would have to continue until the fledgling Afghan airforce is fully operational, probably in 2013.

"We believe that the Afghan air corps, on its current glide path, will have a capability in 2013," he said, adding that the army "will be dependent on additional firepower from allies until that time."

Cone said the air force would take a long time to build because of the special maintenance, logistics and fuelling skills and equipment required.

"I will tell you that development of an air corps is particularly difficult and will require some significant lead time," he said.

He underlined: "The hardest part is the dropping of bombs from the air. It will require significant training and we're thinking 2013 is when the Afghans will be capable of doing that."

Afghan and international forces are fighting a tenacious Taliban-led insurgency and the ability to call in jets and attack helicopters to back combat troops has proved a life-saving tool.

In March, Afghan Defence Minister Abdul Rahim Wardak called on NATO to help build the airforce, so that the military can take more responsibility in combat -- the key to allowing international forces to finally leave Afghanistan.

"We need some ground attack capabilities. The issue is still under consideration and we will welcome any help in restructuring and recreating our air force," he said.

Cone also said that the Afghan army now numbered around 57,000 troops, with 9,000 others in training, and that it remained on target to meet a requirement for 80,000 personnel early next year.

NATO leads a 47,000 strong force drawn from 40 countries which is trying to spread the influence of the weak central government throughout the country.
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NATO wary of Iranian arms sneaking into Afghanistan
Mike Blanchfield ,  Canwest News Service Thursday, May 22
OTTAWA - Weapons from Iran have turned up in Afghanistan in "significant quantities" over the last two years, which NATO says is causing it great concern.

That means Afghanistan, and the western troops including Canada's 2,500-strong contingent in Kandahar charged with protecting the country, are feeling the squeeze on two frontiers.

Last week, NATO sounded the alarm over Afghanistan's southern neighbour Pakistan for providing "safe havens" for the Taliban through deals struck with the Pakistani government.

Pakistan remains the biggest external security headache for NATO, which leads the 40-country International Security Assistance Force for Afghanistan, because Taliban and al-Qaida militants are able to regroup, rearm, rest and train in its lawless tribal belt across what is a porous and unmanageable border.

But threats from inside Iran are also undermining the rebuilding efforts in Afghanistan, said NATO spokesman James Appathurai in a wide-ranging interview with Canwest News on the regional security threats to Afghanistan.

"What we know is that weapons of Iranian origin have turned up in significant quantities inside Afghanistan and that is of significant concern to us," said Appathurai, who was in Ottawa this week to meet with Canadian officials about Afghanistan. "I cannot speak to the origin or the design behind that. But I can say we would like it to stop. There is no doubt about that."

Appathurai said signs of Iranian weapons emerged "in the last two years" and that the military is watching this "relatively recent phenomenon" very closely.

Over that time, there have been periodic reports of shipments of arms, with apparent links to Iran, being seized by coalition forces inside Afghanistan.

During a visit to Canadian troops in Kandahar this past Christmas, Defence Minister Peter MacKay said weapons from Iran are a threat in Afghanistan.

MacKay and others have been careful not to point fingers at the Iranian government, suggesting that elements within the Shiite country are seeking to maintain good relations with Iran, while attempting to make mischief for the western troops, particular American forces, inside Afghanistan.

Iran opposed Afghanistan's former Taliban rulers and did not recognize their government.

MacKay did not offer specifics on the Iranian involvement, nor did U.S. assistant secretary of state Richard Boucher earlier this month, when he repeated the allegation against Iran at a press conference in Paris.

"Iran is interfering in a variety of ways," Boucher said, but "not as violently as in Iraq."

Iran is a signatory to the international efforts to rebuild Afghanistan. President Hamid Karzai, in fact, has praised Tehran for helping refugees and fighting drug smuggling.

Boucher suggested that although Tehran is supporting the Karzai government, it may also be "hedging its bets" by supporting its enemies in the Taliban insurgency.

Appathurai said the key to maintaining long-term security in Afghanistan is strengthening its government, and giving its army and police the ability to protect its interests in Central Asia.

"No matter what happens outside the borders, when the Afghan government is strong enough to be legitimate in the eyes of its people, to have effective security structures, to have an economy that gives people alternatives, then what happens outside will be more of a nuisance than a strategic menace," he said.

Appathurai reiterated NATO's concern for the safe havens being afforded to militants inside Pakistan, which he said have led to a 50 per cent spike in violent incidents along the eastern border region last month, equalling the most violent period of the previous year in August 2007.

While there has been no spillover to the southern region that includes Canada's area of responsibility in Kandahar province, "you can never predict what will happen; if you squeeze the toothpaste tube, things squirt," he said.

NATO is anxious for Pakistan to sort out its internal political turmoil, following the election earlier this year that drove the party of President Pervez Musharraf from power and brought a fractured, ill-defined coalition to power. Musharraf continues to hold the post of president.

NATO Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer is planning to visit Islamabad once "the dust settles" from Pakistan's recent election, Appathurai said.
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Reporter shot dead in troubled Pakistani tribal area
KHAR, Pakistan, May 23, 2008 (AFP) - Unidentified gunmen shot dead a journalist after he interviewed a spokesman for Taliban militants in a Pakistani tribal area bordering Afghanistan, officials said Friday.

Muhammad Ibrahim, 44, a reporter for Urdu-language Express newspaper, was killed Thursday evening as he was returning to Khar after interviewing Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (Pakistan Taliban Movement) spokesman Maulvi Omar.

Khar is the main town of restive Bajaur tribal district, where pro-Taliban militants are active.

Tribal administration official Muwaz Khan confirmed the killing, saying no one had claimed responsibility.

Witnesses said Ibrahim was travelling on his motorcycle when he was intercepted by unidentified men in a black car who snatched his cell phone, camera and notes and then shot him.

The gunmen also stole Ibrahim's motorcycle, residents said.

Bajaur chief of Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan, Maulvi Faqir Muhammad -- also a deputy of Al-Qaeda-linked militant commander Baitullah Mehsud -- condemned the killing in an address to around 5,000 mourners at the journalist's funeral.

"We are investigating it and if the killers are found they will be punished severly," Muhammad said, adding that the shooting was an "injustice".

Muhammad and spokesman Omar visited Ibrahim's home late Thursday to express their grief over the killing, residents said.

More than 100 Pakistani journalists Friday took to the streets in Islamabad to protest against the killing.
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Pakistani militant chief pledges to keep fighting foreign forces in Afghanistan
The Associated Press Friday, May 23, 2008
KHAR, Pakistan: A Pakistani militant leader said Friday his group will maintain a cease-fire with Pakistan's new government, but would keep fighting foreign forces in neighboring Afghanistan.

Faqir Mohammed made the declaration during an address to 5,000 tribesmen who had gathered for the funeral of a local journalist in Bajur tribal region.

Mohammed is a senior leader of Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan, an umbrella organization of militants holding peace talks with the government through tribal intermediaries.

His comments would likely be an embarrassment to the government which has said it would only engage militants who first renounce violence and do not use Pakistan as a base for attacks elsewhere.

Western officials fear a peace deal would let militants regroup and launch more cross-border attacks on NATO and U.S. forces in Afghanistan and even major terror strikes further afield.

Tehrik-e-Taliban announced a cease-fire in Pakistan's tribal regions last month. Mohammed said Friday the group would hold its fire as long as peace talks continue with the Pakistani government.

"We will not attack government positions and whoever indulges in such an attack will be treated as an enemy," he said.

But Mohammed said the Western troops in Afghanistan remained a legitimate target.

"We are Muslims and the enemy of infidels," Mohammed told the gathering. "We will continue our jihad (holy war) in Afghanistan as long as the foreign allied forces are there."

Pakistan's new civilian administration came to power two months ago, aiming to quell violence by tribal militants and an explosion in suicide attacks that had shocked Pakistanis.

The strategy of negotiation marks a shift from the policy of former army chief President Pervez Musharraf, a longtime U.S. ally in the war on terror, who relied more on military force.

Musharraf claimed successes in fighting al-Qaida, but critics claimed heavy-handed deployments by the army ignited a militant backlash that destabilized Pakistan.

Amid U.S. apprehensions over where peace talks will lead, Pakistan's government reiterated Friday it would only negotiate with those who renounce militancy and violence.

"Political engagement" was only possible with those who "don't allow the use of our territory against any other country and do not help foreign terrorist elements to find hideouts in our territory," Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi said in a statement.

Earlier this week in Washington, U.S. Deputy Secretary of State John Negroponte said the United States had "real reservations about negotiated agreements" with extremists.

Last week, a suspected U.S. missile strike in Bajur killed 14 people. It is unclear who the victims were.

The attack hit a border village where a CIA Predator drone unsuccessfully targeted al-Qaida No.2 Ayman al-Zawahri two years ago.
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Australian defence sorry to actress over Afghanistan sex claim
Fri May 23, 1:42 AM ET
SYDNEY (AFP) - The Australian defence force has apologised to a Bollywood actress for airing rumours she had sex with troops while touring a military base in Afghanistan.

London-based Australian star Tania Zaetta is considering suing the defence department over the scandal, which centres on a morale-boosting tour she made to Australian military bases in Afghanistan last month.

The defence department apologised to Zaetta late Thursday, expressing regret that a ministerial briefing note, known as a "hot issues paper", detailing the rumours had named her and become public.

However, on the substance of the allegation that Zaetta had sex with special forces soldiers on the trip, the department said only: "We are unable to comment as the investigation is ongoing."

Zaetta has strenuously denied the claims, labelling them "ridiculous" and "hurtful".

She has said she is briefing lawyers and is concerned the scandal could damage her career in Bollywood.

Prime Minister Kevin Rudd said Zaetta was entitled to pursue legal action based on the advice she received from her lawyers.

Rudd said the defence department was conducting two inquiries, one trying to find out what, if anything, happened in Afghanistan and the other looking at how the document containing the allegations was handled.

"There's an investigation under way, I've been in this business for a long time, let's wait till all the facts are on the table," he told Channel Nine television Friday.

Zaetta, 37, rose to prominence in Australia as a host of the game show "Who Dares Wins", which is also the motto of the elite SAS special forces troops serving in Afghanistan.

In recent years, she has featured in a number of Bollywood productions, including a recent Charlie's Angels-style release, "Mr. Black, Mr. White."

She also has a kickboxing exercise video called "Tania Zaetta's Box".

Australia has around 1,000 troops in Afghanistan, including 310 special forces soldiers serving in Uruzgan in the south.
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Japan earmarks $54 million in food grants
Associated Press Fri May 23, 4:19 AM ET
TOKYO - Japan allocated $54 million in emergency grants on Friday to the United Nations to help Afghanistan, Africa and Palestinian refugees cope with the ongoing food crisis.

The money will be given to the U.N.'s World Food Program and Relief and Works Agency to buy and distribute food in the impoverished areas, the Foreign Ministry said.

Sudan, Kenya and eight other countries in Africa are included, it said.

"Chronic food shortages are spreading in these countries and regions due to poverty, natural disasters, bad weather, as well as conflicts," the ministry said in a statement. "The recent rises in global food prices has made the food shortage all the more serious."

The funds represent the first allocation of Japan's $100 million pledge of emergency food aid over three months, the Foreign Ministry said. With the announcement, Japan's global food aid this year totals $140 million.

High oil prices, growing demand, panic buying and speculation have sent food prices soaring worldwide, triggering protests from Africa to Asia and raising fears that millions more would suffer malnutrition.

Internationally, rice prices skyrocketed by about 76 percent from December to April while overall food prices have risen 83 percent in three years, according to the World Bank.

The Japanese government announced Thursday it would release some of its huge stockpile of rice to help ease the crisis, sending some 20,000 tons to five African nations in coming weeks.
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66% of UK helicopters in Afghanistan and Iraq ‘unfit for combat missions’
IAN BRUCE, The Herald, UK Defence Correspondent May 23 2008
Almost two-thirds of Britain's £2.1bn Apache attack helicopter fleet and more than half of its vital Chinook transport aircraft are "unfit for purpose" and not ready for combat operations, according to Ministry of Defence figures seen by The Herald.

While the frontline availability of both helicopter types is 66% and 47% respectively, this is only being achieved by cannibalising other machines used for training in the UK and diverting the spare parts to Afghanistan and Iraq. Some of the £30m-apiece Apaches are understood to have been stripped for components before they were even declared operational and are now described by attack squadron members as "Christmas trees" because they exist only as a source of parts in short supply.

Army Air Corps sources also claim that only 40% of the trained crews for the Apaches are available and that manpower levels are unlikely to reach more than 60% of that needed in the near future.

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The MoD insists that there is no shortage or spares issues for the aircraft flying in close support of troops in Helmand but admits that cannibalisation of the home-based gunships has trebled since 2003 because of the punishing tempo of operations.

Of the 67 Apaches bought by the UK, an average of only 24 - 36% of the total - are in working order at any given time. Only 19 of the 40 Chinooks are in the same category.

Figures released by the MoD show that 251 parts were stripped out of other Apaches in the 12 months up to January 31 this year to keep the eight machines in Helmand available for missions. This compares with 80 incidences in 2003 and 72 in 2004. The MoD said: "All UK helicopters deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan are considered fit for purpose but not all will be available for operational flying each day due to routine maintenance requirements however sufficient helicopters are provided to meet current operational requirements."

The MoD's own target for serviceability is 62% for Apaches and 70% for Chinooks. Both helicopters are seeing intensive service in Afghanistan, where the gunships act as flying artillery for British troops and the transports are vital for moving soldiers over long distances.
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Swedish forces expand in Afghanistan
www.chinaview.cn  2008-05-23 01:36:47
STOCKHOLM, May 22 (Xinhua) -- Sweden is to strengthen its force stationed in Afghanistan, The Swedish public service broadcaster -Sveriges Television (SVT) reported on Thursday.

A 27-strong platoon will join Sweden's existing force of 348 troops in the northern provinces of Afghanistan, serving as part of the 16,000-strong NATO-led International Security Assistance Force.

Sweden can deploy 600 troops in Afghanistan according to a decision of the Swedish parliament.

Sweden's contribution to the NATO-led force in Afghanistan has attracted criticism, as Sweden is not a member of the alliance, local media said.
Editor: Yan Liang 
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Italy pledges $300,000 to fight Afghan disease
KABUL, May 22 (Reuters) - Italy's government has pledged $300,000 to help combat a disease outbreak in western Afghanistan that has killed 17 people since February, the Afghan Health Ministry said in a statement on Thursday.

The pledge follows an appeal made by the Ministry of Public Health to the Italian embassy in Kabul in March.

The disease, which broke out in the district of Gulran in February, is a veno-occlusive disease caused by a toxic alkaloid contained in the seeds of heliotropium, an invasive plant that spreads among wheat cultivations, the Healthy Ministry said.

The disease has killed 17 people since February and has affected 191 people with 38 more suspected cases, it said.

The Italians head a Provincial Reconstruction Team (PRT) in Herat.

The $300,000 will be used by the PRT to upgrade medical facilities in the province and to analyse the transmission mechanisms and effects of the disease. Critical patients will also be transferred to Italy for treatment, the ministry said.

Italy has around 2400 troops in Afghanistan who serve under the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF).
(Writing by Jonathon Burch; Editing by Elizabeth Piper)
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US hits back at Russian ambassador's warning
Written by www.quqnoos.com Thursday, 22 May 2008
US denies it is making the same mistakes as the Soviets
AN AMERICAN diplomat in Kabul has hit back at remarks made by the Russian ambassador to Afghanistan, who said the United States was making the same mistakes the Soviets made more than two decades ago.

In Kabul, the US deputy ambassador, Christopher William, told a press conference yesterday (Wednesday) that America and the Soviet Union dealt with Afghanistan in completely different ways.

He said: “There is a huge difference between the policies of the United States and Russia towards Afghanistan. The Russians had come to occupy Afghanistan while we are here to help and rebuild the country.”

The Russian ambassador had criticised US policy towards Afghanistan, alleging that Washington was repeating the same mistakes the Soviets made.

The USSR invaded Afghanistan in late 1979 and fought a losing war until 1988.

Mr Williams said the economy and investment in Afghanistan had developed, especially in the communication sector, but said administrative corruption was the only obstacle for the development of the private sector and the free market.
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Four ancient historical sites unearthed in Ghor
Written by www.quqnoos.com Thursday, 22 May 2008 
Province hides monuments some of which date back to 5000 BC
THE MINISTRY of Information and Culture has announced the discovery of four archeological sites in the province of Ghor, some dating back to 5000 BC.

The ministry has sent an Afghan and Lithuanian delegation to the province Ghor to carry out surveys on the sites, which led to the discovery of 17 historical areas and ancient monuments.

Kashaki Bahar, Akbar Minaret, Zahak’s Shrine, Allah Yar Minaret and Malik Antar Minaret are among the discoveries, some of which date back to 5000 BC.

The delegation said that most of these sites were destroyed in the 13th century during the invasion of Ghengis Khan.

About 4,000 historical sites and more than 4,000 historical monuments exist in Afghanistan of which 400 historical sites and 3,000 historical monuments have been discovered and registered, according to the Ministry of Information and Culture.

Nadir Shah Ahmadi, one of the delegation’s members in Ghor, said: “These sites belong to different times, such as the bronze period, the mud (Ahak) period, the beginnings of Islam and the Ghaznawi kings periods."

UNESCO asked the culture ministry to register all historical sites by the end of 2007, but the ministry said it could only register some of the sites. The ministry promised to register all sites by 2010.
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A war of money as well as bullets
Economist, UK May 22nd 2008 JALALABAD AND LASHKAR GAH
The Americans are learning the tricks of the Great Game quicker than the British, who invented it. But a weak and corrupt Afghan government is hobbling them
THE Taliban came at dawn, catching the policemen by surprise while they were at prayer. Fifty of them attacked from three sides, using AK-47s, rocket-propelled grenades and mortars. Closing in for the final assault to cries of “Allahu Akbar!”, they called on the policemen to surrender.

That, until recently, is just what the Afghan police would have done. But this time the young police chief, Daryakhan, decided to hold out behind his new American-built fortifications, shouting back: “This is my country. You are the agents of Pakistan.” In the subsequent fighting the police lost an observation tower, but Daryakhan had a better asset up his sleeve. He called for help with a satellite telephone, and in minutes American Apache helicopters clattered overhead to break the Taliban attack. Several insurgents were later tracked by drones and killed.

This action on April 25th at Charbaran in Paktika province, at the crossroads of infiltration routes from Pakistan, is a footnote in the seventh year of the war in Afghanistan. It was not mentioned in NATO or American reports. Even if it had been, it would quickly have been eclipsed by the uproar in Kabul two days later, when insurgents opened fire on a military parade attended by President Hamid Karzai, as well as by Afghan and foreign dignitaries. At least three people were killed.

But events at Charbaran were important in one respect: in a counter-insurgency strategy that is summed up by the catchphrase “clear-hold-build”, Afghan security forces, backed up by American power, are showing that they can hold areas cleared by the Americans. In a war that has often gone from bad to worse, this is good news for NATO.

A record number of Western soldiers—232—died in Afghanistan last year, and 2008 is unlikely to be better. Some 8,000 Afghans were killed in 2007, more than 1,500 of them civilians, according to United Nations estimates. Much of the Pushtun belt in the south and east, where the insurgency is most intense, is deemed too dangerous for humanitarian workers. NATO says the Taliban's increasing resort to suicide-bombs is a sign that they are weakening. Equally, it could be a sign that the insurgents are getting cleverer.

General Dan McNeill, the American commander of the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF), notes that his mission is seriously “under-resourced”. Yet he suggests that the Afghan army and police will become strong enough by 2011 to take the lead in most areas, allowing NATO to start reducing its forces and to take more of an advisory and support role—providing, for example, embedded advisers who can organise air support and medical evacuations.

The Afghan army is the most respected institution in the country. Western trainers say that, in contrast with Iraqi forces, Afghan soldiers have little fear of closing with the enemy; if anything, the problem is holding them back so that Western aircraft can have a clear shot at insurgents. Thanks to a beefed-up training programme, paid for largely by America, the Afghan army has grown to more than 50,000 troops; it has started conducting large-scale operations alone and is building up an air force. By 2010 it is due to expand to 80,000 men. The often corrupt Afghan police are being retrained en masse.

Nobody thinks these forces, even at full strength, will be anywhere near large enough. Afghanistan, though bigger than Iraq geographically and with a roughly comparable population, has less than a third as many security forces employed, whether Western or indigenous. Still, Afghan forces are due to take charge of the capital, Kabul, in the coming months. In Nangarhar province, the gateway to Pakistan, where al-Qaeda had several camps in Taliban times, the Afghan army and police are doing most of the security work in Jalalabad and other main towns, while American forces try to secure the borders.

The Afghans will have their work cut out. A suicide-bomb killed 18 people in the district of Khogiani, near Jalalabad, on April 30th. Ten days later, villagers in the district of Shinwar blocked the road and threw stones at police in protest at the alleged killing of three civilians by American forces. Afghan police opened fire, reportedly killing one man and injuring others.

That said, American commanders feel Nangarhar is ripe for investment in roads, airports and electricity generation. Their confidence contrasts sharply with the pleas for help from the embattled Canadians in Kandahar and the defensiveness of the British in Helmand. Perhaps the most striking evidence of the pacification of Jalalabad is the sight of American Humvees waiting patiently at traffic lights.

Green fields, and purple Detailed data on security are hard to come by in Afghanistan. Even the UN declines formally to release its “accessibility map”, which these days depicts a country in two halves: a relatively quiet north and west and a restive south and east where, with few exceptions, the risk to humanitarian workers is deemed to be either “high” or “extreme”.

Few dispute that the American-controlled east of the country is faring better than the south, where other NATO allies are in charge. Although America accounts for more than half the foreign forces in Afghanistan (divided roughly evenly between ISAF and its own counter-terrorist mission, Operation Enduring Freedom), it has suffered fewer deaths than its allies this year.

The differences between the east and the south are most apparent from the military helicopters that skim the treetops at breakneck speed. This year the fields in Nangarhar and Kunar are green with wheat. Helmand and Kandahar, though, show the pink and purple patchwork of illegal opium poppies. Insecure areas provide the most fertile ground for poppies, and southern Afghanistan is the most insecure. The opium and heroin trade, in turn, finances the insurgency and corrupts the government.

Since Europeans cannot or will not commit more troops against the Taliban, the war effort in the south shows signs of being re-Americanised. Last year saw a mini-surge, with an extra American brigade deployed to Afghanistan when five more were sent to Iraq. This year an additional marine expeditionary unit—a 2,400-strong force with more air power than the whole 7,500-strong British task-force—has been deployed to the south for seven months to disrupt arms- and drugs-smuggling routes in Taliban strongholds.

There is talk of sending two more American brigades, about 7,000 soldiers, and of placing the southern region under permanent American command. This might improve things. At present, each national command has different priorities and allied units are rotated every six months, compared with 15 for the Americans (to be reduced to 12 months later this year). General McNeill, who took over as ISAF commander in February last year, says he is “on my fourth commander in the north, the second in the east, the third in the capital, the third in the south and the third in the west.” The military effort, he says, needs more consistency.

All this is wounding to allies, particularly to the British army with its proud military heritage. It has deployed by far the largest contingent after America and has lost 96 soldiers. It was the British who first played the Great Game in the Hindu Kush to keep Russian influence at bay; Winston Churchill fought on the frontiers of British India against Afghan tribesmen. “To the ferocity of the Zulu”, Churchill wrote of the Pushtuns in 1898, “are added the craft of the Redskin and the marksmanship of the Boer.” Little has changed.

There are underlying reasons why the south is more troublesome than the east: its tribal structures are weaker, making it harder for elders to make deals stick; it is more remote from Kabul and the main trade routes; the population is less educated and more xenophobic; and it is the ideological heartland of the Taliban. That said, a growing number of British officers grudgingly recognise that America is learning the lessons of irregular warfare, drawn mainly from British colonial experience, better than the modern British army.

After much trial and error, the allies more or less agree on the tenets of counter-insurgency. The objective is not so much to kill the enemy as to protect the population and extend the authority of the Afghan government; development, dialogue, amnesties and reconciliation are important tools for weakening the insurgents. Such ideas are as old as the Afghan hills. One senior British officer quotes the ninth-century Muslim scholar, Ibn Qutayba:

There can be no government without an army No army without money No money without prosperity And no prosperity without justice and good administration. How to turn such theories into practice? The Americans, say the British, have the advantage of time and resources: they have been in the east ever since the fall of the Taliban in 2001, whereas the British only got to Helmand in 2006. More important, the Americans have more forces at their disposal. They have been able to deploy right up to the border with Pakistan, whereas the British and Canadians are more thinly spread and have surrendered the southern frontier, and much of the countryside as well, to the insurgents.

America's slush fund Probably the most striking difference between the Americans and the British is in their use of money. Britain channels most of its economic aid through the government in Kabul in the hope of building up the bureaucracy there, whereas America finances private contractors to carry out big projects, such as road construction and power stations.

For American commanders, “money is bullets.” They have at their disposal a slush fund, worth hundreds of millions of dollars, known as the Commander's Emergency Response Programme (CERP). This can be used for any number of schemes—from roads to clinics and schools—that help win local support. CERP is used to build “cultural centres” (ie, mosques) and distribute Korans to show that the foreigners respect Islam; it finances radio stations that counter insurgent propaganda; it pays for food aid, blankets and visits by doctors and vets. In short, it brings a government presence and some economic development to parts of Afghanistan where aid workers fear to venture.

In Kunar province, one of the most turbulent in the American sector, valleys that last year proved deadly to American forces are being pacified. Troops will clear an area of insurgents and seek to stabilise it by bringing in a new road in consultation with village elders, who are expected to do their bit to keep bad elements out. Sometimes a new school will be set up in a hostile village as the precursor to the arrival of American and Afghan government forces.

Roads are especially favoured, because they allow remote villages to sell their produce and enable Afghan forces to move quickly to trouble spots. The recent opening of a new road linking the Pech valley to the provincial capital, Asadabad, resulted in a quadrupling of live births in the town's hospital as villagers were able to get medical help. The Americans unashamedly outbid the insurgents: if the rebels pay $5 a day for a fighter, the Americans will offer $5.50 a day for road labourers. “Where the road ends the insurgents begin,” says one American officer.

“CERP is a nuclear weapon; it is the asymmetrical weapon of choice,” says Colonel Mark Johnstone, deputy commander of the 173rd Airborne Brigade Combat Team, based in Jalalabad. “I really pity other nations that don't have it.” Indeed, British military commanders watch the Americans with envy. Their civilian bosses, however, believe that soldiers cannot be trusted with money; instant projects are not sustainable, they say, and the aim must be to create long-term development and build up the capacity of Afghans to run their own affairs.

At best CERP provides “artificial resuscitation” rather than real treatment; at worst, as when schools are built without teachers to staff them, the Americans end up constructing what one British official called “the world's most expensive camel sheds”. The Americans reply that CERP projects are increasingly directed by provincial and district governors, in line with plans drawn up by ministries in Kabul. Colonel Johnstone argues that “for every bad CERP project there are ten good ones.”

American commanders now consider the “human terrain” of tribal allegiances to be just as important as valleys and mountains. The Taliban and their allies have learnt to superimpose their insurgency on tribal rivalries and grievances. In Helmand last year a newly arrived British marine major, Tony Chattin, said he felt like “a man in a dark room feeling my way”. He thought British soldiers “will never understand the hidden agendas and history of every tribe, sub-tribe and compound.”

At least some American officers seem determined to prove it can be done. The briefing room of one brigade headquarters has a poster summarising the tribal code of honour known as pushtunwali which, in Churchill's view, “is so strange and inconsistent, that it is incomprehensible to a logical mind.” In Naray, at the eastern end of Kunar, Lieutenant-Colonel Christopher Kolenda, commander of 1st Squadron, 91st Cavalry Regiment, can list who fought whom, in his particular corner, from Victorian times to the Soviet invasion. The underlying problem, he says, is the atomisation of society: tribal elders have lost control of their young men. America's aim is not just physical reconstruction but a social transformation to restore the elders' authority.

Another human factor is at play, too. The Americans are more deeply committed to winning in Afghanistan—militarily, economically and in terms of mental effort—than any of their allies. They have rewritten their counter-insurgency doctrine, and incorporated all manner of civilian functions—anthropologists, political scientists and agricultural experts—into their ranks. By serving the longest tours, Americans learn faster. Their soldiers may yet end up paying the cost in terms of mental health. But for the moment America sees itself at war, while Britain is still engaged in an optional operation.

The enemy within The most serious problem in Afghanistan, however, will not be solved by new military tactics or command structures. It is the weakness of the Afghan government. Corruption is rampant, from the lowly airport security guard demanding bribes from foreign travellers to government officials who occupy gaudy houses known as “narcotechture”. Afghanistan produces more than 90% of the world's opium and a growing share of its cannabis. If Mr Karzai were not a client of the West, his country might well be classified as a narco-state.

The political mood in Kabul is darkening, and Mr Karzai's popularity is declining even among some of his own officials. A year ago many Afghans regarded Mr Karzai as likeable but weak; these days, he is seen in a more sinister light. Many want him to step down, although it is hard to see a credible alternative. Some complain about his reluctance to confront warlords. Others express disgruntlement over the president's half-brother, Ahmed Wali, the chief power-broker in Kandahar province and, according to widespread rumours denied by the government, a big name in the drugs trade. Much of the former Northern Alliance, the coalition of Tajiks, Uzbeks and Hazaras that helped install Mr Karzai in power, is now openly in opposition. With elections looming next year Mr Karzai is less likely than ever to challenge powerful vested interests.

Instead, he seems to be courting religious support. Some members of parliament are pushing for laws banning women from going outdoors without a male relative. The government has ordered private television stations to remove popular Indian soap operas on the ground that they are immoral. But Jahed Mohseni, the entrepreneurial Australian-educated director of the Moby group, which owns successful stations such as Tolo TV, says the serials are very “conservative”. He sees a process of “re-Talibanisation”, and growing curbs on freedom of speech. Sandbags have recently been placed on the roof of his station. The outside world, Mr Mohseni says, has to interfere more forcefully. Others in Afghanistan, even senior figures such as the education minister, Haneef Atmar, want foreign countries to name and shame corrupt officials.

That is easier said than done. Western diplomats worry that intervening in Afghan politics would make Mr Karzai look like a puppet, or provoke a nationalist backlash. Some Afghans retort that Mr Karzai is already seen as a stooge, and that Western silence over his misdeeds risks looking like acquiescence. Despite his utter dependence on the West economically and militarily, Mr Karzai is jealous of his “sovereignty”. He blocked the appointment of a British politician, Paddy Ashdown, as the new UN envoy for fear that he would be too meddlesome. And a call last month by the Canadian foreign minister for the removal of the governor of Kandahar, Asadullah Khalid, only strengthened the governor's position.

Allied soldiers will continue to fight, build roads and host meetings with tribal elders in the hope of isolating the insurgents. But in the longer term, unless the Kabul government can be made to work more effectively, their efforts and sacrifices may be in vain. As Ibn Qutayba put it a millennium ago, there can be no lasting government without “justice and good administration”. Even American money and power will struggle to achieve that.
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Silent Survivors of Afghanistan’s 4,000 Tumultuous Years
By ROBERTA SMITH May 23, 2008 The New York Times Art Review
WASHINGTON — Art objects inspire many reactions, perhaps most crucially acts of preservation or destruction. From 1979 to late 2001, destruction had the upper hand in Afghanistan. The Soviet-Afghan war, the ensuing civil war and finally the pernicious rule of the Taliban inflicted incalculable losses on active archaeological sites and ancient monuments and artworks.

In March 2001 the world watched helplessly as the Taliban blew up the two giant Buddhas carved from existing rock that had faced each other across the Bamiyan Valley for 1,500 years. The progressive destruction of the National Museum of Afghanistan in Kabul was less blatant but equally tragic. Its collection of 100,000 artworks and artifacts — one of the finest in Asia — spanned several millenniums of Afghanistan’s rich, multicultural history.

The museum suffered looting, bombing, fire; the Taliban ordered destruction of all depictions of the human figure. By the time they were driven from power in November 2001, the Kabul museum had lost two-thirds of its collection. (Since then the museum has been safe, although looting continues outside Kabul.)

But isolated acts of preservation and some lucky circumstances also prevailed. In 1988 a small group of the Kabul museum’s staff hid crates packed with about 600 of its most precious artworks in the vault of the presidential palace. No one was sure how these crates had fared until 2004, when they were retrieved with their contents intact.

Around 200 of these works are in “Afghanistan: Hidden Treasures From the National Museum, Kabul,” at the National Gallery of Art here. At once revelatory and heart-rending, this show, making a four-city American tour, has much to tell about Afghanistan, past and present.

The objects in the exhibition date from 2200 B.C. to around the second century A.D., that is, from the Bronze Age to the height of the Kushan Empire, which reached nearly across Asia and deep into the Indian subcontinent. Included are Indian ivories, Roman-Egyptian glass vessels, Greek and Greco-Bactrian bronzes and carved stone, as well as a trove known as the golden hoard of Bactria, an ancient empire in northern Afghanistan.

The combination offers a picture of Afghan cosmopolitanism, which was fed by the trade routes of the Silk Road, and the ethnic diversity resulting from invasions and peaceful migrations alike. Structured to focus on four important excavation sites, this show is the latest phase in a close working relationship between the National Geographic Society and the Kabul museum. It has been organized by the society in collaboration with the National Gallery and overseen by Fredrik Hiebert, a National Geographic Society fellow.

It begins and ends with gold objects separated by more than two millenniums. The first group consists of three rare Bronze Age gold bowls, one intact and fragments of two others. They were found in 1972 at a single site, Tepe Fullol, in northeastern Afghanistan, but their very different styles reflect influences from across Asia. The designs on the intact bowl are abstract, a square divided by an X; each quadrant contains a stepped square found on artifacts from Afghanistan, Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan. One bowl fragment is strictly local, with motifs of a wild boar, trees and mountains. The other fragment features a majestic bearded bull, an image common to Mesopotamia, 1,200 miles to the west.

Subsequent displays contain objects from the Greco-Bactrian city of Ai Khanum, founded in 300 B.C. by a follower of Alexander the Great and excavated by French archaeologists from 1964 to 1978. (Destined for Kabul’s Institute of Archaeology, which was completely destroyed, these finds survived, unnoticed, in crates that never got farther than the Ministry of Information and Culture in Kabul.) This gallery contains two leafy Corinthian capitals; lidded, partitioned bowls (for unguents and perfumes); and a full-length statue of a man named Stratos who grasps the folds of his robe in one hand, a gesture that might have influenced centuries of statues of Buddhist sculptures.

The showstopper in this section is a large ceremonial plaque in silver and gold from the third century B.C. that might have been part of Alexander’s entourage. It represents Cybele, the Greek goddess of nature, riding in a chariot driven by the winged goddess Nike, seen in profile. Their high, lion-drawn chariot seems Syrian, but the naturalism of the figures is largely Greek. This naturalism is at its best in the priest who walks behind the chariot, carrying a large parasol. He leans back with his head tilted up — making sure the deities are properly shaded — in a pose that has the alert springiness of a circus juggler. Also marvelous: the gold rocks and incised flowers underfoot.

This show is, in a sense, a bundle of good news that only gets better. The largest and most diverse gallery contains objects found in two sealed rooms in the ancient ruins of Begram in the late 1930s. Whether they represent a king’s treasure or a merchant’s stock has not been determined, but the loveliness of many of the Greco-Roman bronzes (a small, youthful head of Silenus that could be from the Renaissance); the Egyptian-Roman glass (clear, opaque, painted, elaborately fretted); and the turned porphyry vessels is beyond dispute.

Best of all, these displays attest to the survival of nearly all the Kabul museum’s revered Begram ivories. Whether made in India or locally, these small reliefs, used to decorate furniture, are exquisite. Deeply carved, they resemble gods and goddesses of Hindu temple sculpture. But the scenes here are miniature and worldly, dominated by curvaceous women unaccompanied by men (or gods); they enjoy one another’s company — sharing gossip, jokes or maybe wine — among elaborately carved archways and grills, and surrounded by opulent plants in gardens whose gates are left tantalizingly ajar.

If gold is your thing, the show’s final galleries will be your idea of heaven. These contain the extraordinary jewelry, weapons, coins and clothing ornaments found in six royal graves (of five princesses and one prince) dating from the first century A.D. They were discovered in 1978 by an Afghan-Soviet archaeological team led by Viktor Sarianidi at Tillya Tepe in Bactria and hurriedly excavated in the months before the Soviet invasion.

All the objects here are thought to have been made in a single Bactrian workshop and bespeak a culture that, like the Mongols’, wore its wealth, mostly sewn onto clothing in appliqués small and large, single or lavishly repeated, abstract and figurative. The most elaborate bow to mobility is an ingenious crown with five points — each a cut-out tree motif dangling scores of tiny gold, leaflike discs — that can be taken apart quickly and packed flat.

Some of the pieces show a blending of cultural influences like nothing else in the exhibition. A small solid-gold Aphrodite that was once decorated with little pine-nut pieces of turquoise has a Greek “Winged Victory” drape, sickle-shaped wings and an Indian beauty mark, as well as a soft, rounded face; slightly saucy pose; and squat body that abandons the Greek ideal of female beauty for something more subcontinental. She might almost have danced straight out of a Bollywood movie poster.

Often, in the cosseted quarters of a museum, we forget that every work of ancient art is a survivor, a representative of untold numbers of similar artworks that perished. This triumphant exhibition makes us remember, while demonstrating that every survivor saves much more than just itself: long strands of culture, identity and history waiting to be woven back together.

“Afghanistan: Hidden Treasures from the National Museum, Kabul” continues through Sept. 7 at the National Gallery of Art on the National Mall, Constitution Avenue between Third and Ninth Streets, NW, Washington; (202) 737-4215, nga.gov.
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Crimes in Khyber Pass threaten US supplies to Afghanistan
Daily Times, Pakistan - May 21, 2008
* Raids on Afghanistan-bound trucks also disrupting regular trade
* NATO negotiating with Russia to let it truck ‘non-lethal’ supplies to Afghanistan
KHYBER AGENCY: Thieves, feuding tribesmen and Taliban militants are creating instability along the main Pakistan-Afghanistan highway, threatening a vital supply line for United States and NATO forces based in Afghanistan.

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

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

The most high-profile victim of the lawlessness has been Pakistan’s Ambassador to Afghanistan Tariq Azizuddin.

“The security is absolutely becoming precarious and this poses a threat for US and NATO supplies, but it is also a source of concern for Pakistan,” said Mehmood Shah, former security chief for the region.

Regular trade: The raids on trucks travelling what is a vital lifeline for impoverished Afghanistan are also disrupting regular trade.

Custom Agent Ziaul Haq Sarhadi at the Torkham border claimed the average number of trucks had dropped to 250 a day from 500 early this year, before violence escalated.

Fuel tankers have especially become a target for militants seeking to disrupt supplies to the coalition. In March, a bomb attack destroyed some 40 tankers in a parking lot.

Most material for foreign troops in Afghanistan arrives by ship at Karachi in unmarked shipping containers, then hauled by colourfully decorated jingle trucks to places like Bagram Airbase, north of Kabul.

NATO and US officials won’t comment on the content of containers.

Alternate routes: Yet NATO is trying to reduce its dependence on the route by negotiating with Russia and other nations to let it truck “non-lethal” supplies to Afghanistan through Central Asia states.

“It’s always good to have [other options],” spokesman James Appathurai said at NATO headquarters in Brussels.

In Khyber, US weapons and other supplies - boots, camouflage uniforms and rucksacks - are openly for sale. Saifur Rahman Zalmay hawks US-made assault rifles and pistols.

For a new Beretta, he demands $ 10,000. New and used M-16s rifles cost 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. Shah, the former regional security chief, said the government paid a stipend to secure the route for regular trade and military supplies. ap
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Pakistan: Reports Hint At Possible Prisoner Swap With Militants
By Ron Synovitz Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty
The Pakistani government has denied local reports claiming that the release of Islamabad's kidnapped ambassador to Afghanistan was part of an exchange for Taliban prisoners. A number of Pakistan observers, however, tell RFE/RL they suspect that some kind of prisoner swap did occur.

Local media suggest that scores of militants were released and hundreds of thousands of dollars in ransom was paid to secure the release of Ambassador Tariq Azizuddin and dozens of captured government troops.

The development further fuels a policy debate over the negotiating with Taliban and other extremists, particularly as U.S. officials have warned Islamabad about making deals with fighters in Pakistan.

Azizuddin was kept captive by Taliban fighters for more than three months before he was released to government officials on May 16. The 56-year-old ambassador was abducted in February by a criminal group in Pakistan's tribal region as his limousine approached the border crossing into Afghanistan near the infamous Khyber Pass. The abductors then reportedly passed Azizuddin on to Taliban fighters in South Waziristan who held him until his release.

The day after he was freed, Azizuddin said a Pakistani security operation led to his release. Azizuddin said details about that operation would be revealed in the future.

He credited his release to "the efforts of the government of Pakistan, on the orders of the prime minister, on the order of the adviser for the interior, and on the chain of actions set about on the orders of the adviser for the interior and the Ministry of Interior."

The prime minister's adviser on interior affairs, Rahman Malik, is currently the senior ranking civilian official in charge of security in Pakistan. He claims that "there was no deal involved."

"There was no exchange for terrorists and there was no exchange of any individuals [for the release of Azizuddin]," Malik says.

Despite the government denials, a growing number of reports in Pakistan refute the official version of the story. Media reports have alleged that Islamabad freed up to 55 Taliban militants and also paid out some $287,000 in exchange for the release of Azizuddin and dozens of captured government troops.

Rustan Shah Mohmand, a former Pakistani ambassador to Afghanistan known for his hard-line pro-Taliban stances, tells RFE/RL's Radio Free Afghanistan that he has no doubt that Azizuddin's release was the result of weeks of negotiations between Islamabad and militants.

"I think that [insurgents] were definitely released [by Pakistan's government] and that the release of the ambassador was secured through negotiations," Mohmand says. He insists that "in those talks it was decided that the Pakistani Taliban would release the ambassador in exchange for the release of Taliban prisoners."

Ijaz Khan, a professor of international relations at Peshawar University, tells RFE/RL's Radio Free Afghanistan that "the new reports we have been getting are now similar in almost all newspaper and media outlets."

Khan describes those reports as claiming that the former Afghan Taliban regime's onetime defense minister, Mullah Obaidullah Akhund, and "other high-profile Taliban" were freed by the government. In exchange, he says, reports point to Taliban fighters' release of the Pakistani ambassador and "about 50 Pakistani soldiers and other abductees."

"The Taliban have confirmed this [prisoner exchange] in their statements, but the government has kept silent about it," Khan says. "I think that this release could not have happened without some kind of deal, so these reports about a prisoner exchange appear to be correct."

More recent media reports refute the claim that Islamabad has freed Mullah Obaidullah, saying militants demanded his release but that he had already been handed over to U.S.-led coalition forces in Afghanistan.

Neither the U.S. military nor Pakistan's government would comment to RFE/RL about Mullah Obaidullah's current whereabouts.

Media reports in Pakistan identify freed militants as including Mufti Yousuf -- a top Taliban commander in eastern Afghanistan who had been arrested in Peshawar by Pakistani intelligence officials.

Abdul Rahim Muslim Dost, a former Guantanamo Bay detainee who had been transferred to Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence, was also reportedly handed over to militants in Razmak, North Waziristan, on May 17.

The reports say Baitullah Mehsud, a pro-Al-Qaeda Pakistani Taliban leader, was an astute negotiator and insisted that Taliban-held captives would be released only in exchange for prisoners of similar value.

Speculation is likely to continue in the absence of compelling evidence one way or the other.

What is clear about the current situation is that the Pakistani government, sworn in at the end of March, has begun a policy of engagement with the Taliban by negotiating through tribal leaders to persuade Mehsud to end militant operations in Pakistan's tribal areas.

U.S. General Dan McNeill, commander of NATO's 47,000-strong International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) in Afghanistan, says such negotiations have raised concerns within the alliance.

McNeill confirms that NATO has reinforced its troops along the border in case the peace deal enables the Taliban to launch more cross-border attacks into Afghanistan.

McNeill says NATO's analysis of previous peace deals between the Taliban and Islamabad shows that whenever dialogue is being conducted with the Taliban -- or when talks lead to peace deals in Pakistan -- there is a spike in militant attacks on the Afghan side of the border.

U.S. Deputy Secretary of State John Negroponte told a Congressional committee in Washington on May 20 that the United States is "concerned about the possibility of negotiations between the government or elements of the government and these extremist groups."

contributors to this report include RFE/RL's Radio Free Afghanistan correspondents Abubakar Siddique in Prague and Najib Aamir in Peshawar
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