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May 24, 2008 

US coalition: Insurgents killed in Afghanistan
Sat May 24, 6:19 AM ET
KABUL, Afghanistan - The U.S.-led coalition says several insurgents have been killed and six others detained during an operation in southern Afghanistan.

Pakistani Taliban leader says jihad in Afghanistan to continue
Sat May 24, 8:32 AM ET
PESHAWAR, Pakistan (AFP) - Top Pakistani Taliban warlord Baitullah Mehsud on Saturday said jihad, or holy war, would continue in Afghanistan, despite peace negotiations between the militants and Islamabad.

Many Afghans outraged at US decision on Marines
By RAHIM FAIEZ, Associated Press Writer Sat May 24, 6:40 AM ET
KABUL, Afghanistan - Afghan officials expressed outrage Saturday at a decision by the U.S. military not to charge U.S. Marines involved in a shooting spree that left 19 Afghan civilians dead in 2007.

Marines 'acted appropriately' in deadly Afghanistan ambush
Fri May 23, 4:04 PM ET
MIAMI (AFP) - US Marines "acted appropriately" during a firefight in Afghanistan last year which left up to 10 civilians dead and triggered angry protests, the military said in a statement Friday.

Militants kill 'US spy' in Pakistan tribal area: official
Sat May 24, 4:08 AM ET
MIRANSHAH, Pakistan (AFP) - Pro-Taliban militants in a lawless Pakistani tribal district killed an Afghan after accusing him of spying for the US forces in neighbouring Afghanistan, an official said Saturday.

French foreign minister wants new approach to Afghan aid
by Carole Landry Sat May 24, 6:58 AM ET
PARIS (AFP) - French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner on Saturday said international aid efforts were failing in Afghanistan and called for a new approach to help the country rebuild.

Three Afghan children killed in blas
Sat, May 24 02:06 PM
Kabul, May 24 (DPA) Three children were killed in an explosion in northern Afghanistan, while four NATO soldiers and their Afghan interpreters were wounded in a separate blast, officials said Saturday.

Kidnapped Iranian released in Afghanistan
Press TV (Iran) Sat, 24 May 2008 14:35:30
An Iranian national who was kidnapped and taken to Afghanistan last week by unknown armed individuals has been released in Herat.

Afghans' Passion for Indian Soaps Faces Unhappy Ending After Ban
Bowing to Clerical Pressure, Ministry Deems Shows Un-Islamic
The Washington Post - Metro By Pamela Constable Washington Post Foreign Service Saturday, May 24, 2008
KABUL-Five nights a week, millions of Afghans put aside their dinner dishes, shush their children and turn on the TV to gape at Indian soap operas acted out in impossibly lavish settings by stars in sequined gowns and wedding jewelry.

The Silk Road, Paved in Gold
With Afghan Artifacts, D.C. Keeps Up With 'Jones'
Washington Post, United States By Neely Tucker Washington Post Staff Writer Sunday, May 25, 2008
You can go see Indiana Jones and the temple of whatever if you like, but it's probably not going to be as good as the Bactrian Gold and the Secret of Tillya Tepe.

'As if the world vanished'
The Age, Australia Stephen Dupont May 24, 2008
Last month, two days after a failed assassination attempt against Afghanistan's President, Hamid Karzai, Dupont and writer Paul Raffaele, both Australian, set out to investigate opium eradication in Afghanistan's eastern province of Nangarhar. Minutes later they became victims of the escalating violence threatening the Karzai Government when a suicide bomber attacked their convoy. The Taliban claimed responsibility for the attack

Taliban attacks interrupt Canadian entertainers
Canada.com, Canada Doug Schmidt Canwest News Service 23/05/2008
KANDAHAR AIRFIELD, Afghanistan
A rocket attack Friday night interrupted Canadian country singer Diane Chase as she was under the spotlight, performing a song about the sacrifices of military life during a show for the troops at this sprawling base.

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US coalition: Insurgents killed in Afghanistan
Sat May 24, 6:19 AM ET
KABUL, Afghanistan - The U.S.-led coalition says several insurgents have been killed and six others detained during an operation in southern Afghanistan.

A coalition statement says its troops clashed and called in airstrikes on insurgents during an operation in Garmser district of Helmand province on Friday.

It says troops were targeting weapons traffickers and those assisting foreign fighters in the area.

The U.S. Marines pushed into Garmser late last month aiming to open a route to move troops to the southern reaches of Helmand, a center of the Taliban-led insurgency.

According to an Associated Press tally, insurgency related violence has killed more than 1,200 people mostly militants so far this year.
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Pakistani Taliban leader says jihad in Afghanistan to continue
Sat May 24, 8:32 AM ET
PESHAWAR, Pakistan (AFP) - Top Pakistani Taliban warlord Baitullah Mehsud on Saturday said jihad, or holy war, would continue in Afghanistan, despite peace negotiations between the militants and Islamabad.

"Islam does not recognise boundaries and jihad in Afghanistan will continue," he told a group of reporters invited to his stronghold of South Waziristan tribal district near the Afghan border.

The Taliban, driven from power in Afghanistan by a US-led invasion in 2001, are active on the border tribal zone, where the Pakistani army has fought the Islamists since 2003.

The new government in Islamabad launched talks with local Taliban soon after winning elections in February, amid concerns that Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf's military approach was spawning more violence.

Washington has been concerned by the change in policy since the coalition government was formed six weeks ago and began talks with the Taliban, whom US and NATO troops suspect are sending men to fight in Afghanistan.

"In the fight between Pakistani forces and Taliban, both sides are suffering, it should come to an end," Mehsud told reporters during the rare visit, while ruling out a similar move in neighbouring Afghanistan.

Pakistan has suffered an unprecedented wave of militant violence since last year and the current talks with extremists are aimed at transforming the recent lull in violence into a permanent peace with the Taliban.

More than 1,000 people have been killed in suicide bombings since the start of last year, including former premier Benazir Bhutto, who was assassinated at an election rally in December.

The government blamed her killing on Mehsud but he denied his involvement.
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Many Afghans outraged at US decision on Marines
By RAHIM FAIEZ, Associated Press Writer Sat May 24, 6:40 AM ET
KABUL, Afghanistan - Afghan officials expressed outrage Saturday at a decision by the U.S. military not to charge U.S. Marines involved in a shooting spree that left 19 Afghan civilians dead in 2007.

Lt. Gen. Samuel Helland, the commander of U.S. Marine Corps Forces, Central Command, made the decision Friday not to bring charges after reviewing the findings of a special tribunal that heard more than three weeks of testimony in January at Camp Lejuene.

"I am very angry," said Kubra Aman, a senator from Nangarhar. "This is too much. They are killing people. First, they say it is a mistake, and after that they let them go without charges."

Afghan witnesses and a report by Afghanistan's Independent Human Rights Commission concluded that a unit of Marine special operations troops opened fire along a 10-mile stretch of road, killing up to 19 civilians and wounding 50 other people.

Helland, commander of U.S. Marine Corps Forces, Central Command, decided not to bring charges against Maj. Fred C. Galvin, commander of the 120-person special operations company, and Capt. Vincent J. Noble, a platoon leader, the Marines said.

Helland determined the Marines in the convoy "acted appropriately and in accordance with the rules of engagement and tactics, techniques and procedures in place at the time in response to a complex attack," the Marines said.

The United Nations mission in Afghanistan condemned the decision.

"It is disappointing that no one has been held accountable for these deaths," said Aleem Siddique, a spokesman for the mission. The U.N. "has always made clear that there must be increased transparency and accountability of all parties to this conflict if we are to retain the trust and confidence of the Afghan people."

The ruling was made after reviewing the findings of a special tribunal that heard more than three weeks of testimony in January.

Haji Lawania, who was wounded in the shooting that killed his father and cousin, called the decision a "grave injustice."

"It is true that there was a suicide attack against their convoy," Lawania said. "But I disagree that there was an ambush after the suicide attack."

Marine spokesman Lt. Col. Sean Gibson said Friday that the finding of the Court of Inquiry some 12,000 pages will not be released to the public.
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Associated Press writer Estes Thompson in Raleigh, N.C., contributed to this report.
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Marines 'acted appropriately' in deadly Afghanistan ambush
Fri May 23, 4:04 PM ET
MIAMI (AFP) - US Marines "acted appropriately" during a firefight in Afghanistan last year which left up to 10 civilians dead and triggered angry protests, the military said in a statement Friday.

A statement from the US Marine Corps Central Command in Florida said after reviewing evidence from a court of inquiry, the marines had followed established procedures after coming under attack in eastern Afghanistan on March 4, 2007.

Lieutenant General Samuel Helland said a Marines convoy had acted in "accordance with the rules of engagement" during the incident, which was later condemned by Afghan President Hamid Karzai.

Helland said troops in a five-vehicle convoy had responded to a "complex attack", after being rocked by a car bomb and small arms fire.

A Marine spokesman said the court of inquiry's findings of facts, recommendations and opinions would not be released.

As the convening authority, Helland can ignore the court's findings. So it was unknown what the basis was for the general's decision.

An investigation into the incident and a separate skirmish in Afghanistan on March 9 which left two Afghan civilians injured took place over three and a half weeks earlier this year.

The Marines said two colonels and a lieutenant colonel had examined more than 12,000 pages of documents and heard testimony from more than 45 witnesses.

The statement said three Marines -- Major Fred Galvin, Captain Robert Olsen and Captain Vincent Noble -- would face "appropriate administrative action" as a result of manning and training issues brought to light during the inquiry.

The US Marine Corps has faced scrutiny for a string of cases involving civilian deaths during deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan.

The most high-profile case has seen several Marines charged following the killings of 24 Iraqi civilians in the town of Haditha in November 2005.
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Militants kill 'US spy' in Pakistan tribal area: official
Sat May 24, 4:08 AM ET
MIRANSHAH, Pakistan (AFP) - Pro-Taliban militants in a lawless Pakistani tribal district killed an Afghan after accusing him of spying for the US forces in neighbouring Afghanistan, an official said Saturday.

The body of Akhtar Nawaz, 40, was dumped in the main bazaar of a border town in North Waziristan district, a known hub of Al-Qaeda and Taliban militants, the official said.

A note left on the body said the man was spying for US forces, he added. "This is the fate of a slave of America," it read.

Militants have killed several tribesmen in recent months in the tribal region, accusing them of spying for the US-led coalition forces across the border.

Militants beheaded a soldier on May 14 in North Waziristan, accusing him of spying for US forces across the border in Afghanistan.

The United States and Afghan officials have repeatedly claimed the rugged tribal region is used by militants to launch cross-border attacks on international coalition troops deployed in Afghanistan.
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French foreign minister wants new approach to Afghan aid
by Carole Landry Sat May 24, 6:58 AM ET
PARIS (AFP) - French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner on Saturday said international aid efforts were failing in Afghanistan and called for a new approach to help the country rebuild.

Kouchner told a conference of some 40 humanitarian organisations that Afghans themselves must play a larger role in the development of the country which has been struggling to make a fresh start since the fall of the Taliban in 2001.

"International aid has not fully yielded fruit since 2001," Kouchner said. "We must review our tools and our approach."

The one-day conference in Paris was to set the stage for an international donors' meeting that France is hosting on June 12 to raise funds for Afghan reconstruction.

"The main objective is what I call the Afghanization of international aid to involve all Afghans and ensure it benefits every one of them," said Kouchner.

Seven years after the Taliban were driven out of Kabul by US forces and their allies, much of Afghanistan's population remains poor and aid groups complain of too much focus being placed on the military effort.

NATO has deployed a 47,000-strong force drawn from 40 countries which is fighting remnants of the Taliban and supporting the weak central government of President Hamid Karzai.

"We know well that a sustainable solution cannot be solely military," Kouchner said.

But he warned against pitting the international peacekeeping effort in Afghanistan against reconstruction plans.

"Let's not play up security against development, development against security. Afghans need both," he said.

Delegates at the conference including ACBAR, the Agency Coordinating Body for Afghan Relief made up of some 94 relief organisations, will set priorities for development projects and make proposals to be presented to donors next month.

An ACBAR report released in March charged that Western countries had delivered only 15 billion dollars (10 billion euros) out of the 25 billion dollars they had promised, undermining prospects for peace and development in the country.

About 40 percent of aid returns to donor nations as corporate profits and high consultant costs, according to the report.

"For every 100 dollars spent on the military operation in Afghanistan, seven dollars goes to civilian reconstruction," said Pierre Lafrance, of the Madera non-governmental organisation, which works mainly in agricultural development.

Afghan Education Minister Mohammed Hanif Atmar earlier this year accused donor nations of failing to provide enough aid to prevent a resurgence of the Taliban, saying "the West wants a victory at a discount price."

The conclusions of the conference will be presented to the June 12 donors' meeting, hosted by President Nicolas Sarkozy.

Afghan Finance Minister Anwar-ul haq Ahadi said Monday the government is hoping to secure 50 billion dollars in aid at the June conference to finance a five-year development plan.

One of the biggest projects is for the production of electricity, which reaches only about 10 percent of Afghans.

There were also plans to build thousands of kilometres (miles) of roads as well as more dams and irrigation systems, the minister said.
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Three Afghan children killed in blas
Sat, May 24 02:06 PM
Kabul, May 24 (DPA) Three children were killed in an explosion in northern Afghanistan, while four NATO soldiers and their Afghan interpreters were wounded in a separate blast, officials said Saturday.

The children were killed in the Pashtunkot district of Faryab district Friday, when unexploded ordnance, which was lying on the ground, exploded, the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) said in a statement.

However, residents in the district said that the children were killed when ISAF soldiers opened fire at them. They asked the government to arrest and punish the foreign soldiers.

Abdul Satar Barez, deputy provincial governor, said that Afghan and ISAF authorities in the province have started an investigation to find out that what caused the death of the children.

In another incident, four ISAF soldiers and their Afghan interpreter were wounded in a roadside attack in the Sawakai district of eastern Kanur province, Major Martin O'Donnell, an ISAF spokesman in Kabul, said.

He said that the wounded soldiers and the Afghan national were evacuated to a military hospital for treatment, where they were reported to be in a stable condition.

As part of their campaign to topple the Western-led Afghan government, Taliban militants, who lost power in a US-led invasion in late 2001, have recently relied heavily on suicide and roadside attacks.

Both tactics are widely believed to have been copied from Iraqi insurgents.
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Kidnapped Iranian released in Afghanistan
Press TV (Iran) Sat, 24 May 2008 14:35:30
An Iranian national who was kidnapped and taken to Afghanistan last week by unknown armed individuals has been released in Herat.

"The released Iranian was kidnapped by drug gangs from a village near Torbate Jam (northeastern Iran) and taken to Herat's Golran region," commander of Herat police, Mohammad-Jom'eh Adil told reporters Saturday.

Naming the Iranian only by first name Sohrab, he added that the man was probably kidnapped in connection with drug trafficking.

"The kidnappers escaped before Afghan the police could arrest them," the Afghan official said.

Sohrab, the 25-year-old released Iranian, said, "Six days ago, four armed men kidnapped me from my village near Afghanistan."

He added that the Afghan kidnappers had kept him in a house in that country.
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Afghans' Passion for Indian Soaps Faces Unhappy Ending After Ban
Bowing to Clerical Pressure, Ministry Deems Shows Un-Islamic
The Washington Post - Metro By Pamela Constable Washington Post Foreign Service Saturday, May 24, 2008
KABUL-Five nights a week, millions of Afghans put aside their dinner dishes, shush their children and turn on the TV to gape at Indian soap operas acted out in impossibly lavish settings by stars in sequined gowns and wedding jewelry.

To their defenders among Afghan journalists and social analysts, the dramas are a harmless distraction from the hardships and tensions of life in a poor, war-torn country where dust invades every crevice and suicide bombings are common.

To their critics in the government and among Muslim clergy, the shows represent an invasion of foreign behavior and beliefs -- from glimpses of cleavage and Hindu shrines to story lines touching on such taboo topics as divorce, infidelity and illegitimacy.

This spring, the off-screen plot has taken a contentious turn. The Ministry of Information and Culture banned the evening dramas last month, and government prosecutors have now charged one resisting TV station with offending public morals and endangering national security.

"These are serious charges that carry prison terms," said Saad Mohseni, co-owner of Tolo TV, which still airs the two most popular Indian soaps. "They are trying to go after us from every possible direction. The things they object to in the serials are happening every day in our own society, but we bury our heads in the sand."

The government of President Hamid Karzai, although propped up by Western aid and defended against Islamist insurgents by Western troops, is also highly sensitive to religious emotions in this conservative Muslim society and reluctant to defy Muslim elders.

Members of the senior religious council had complained that the serials were offensive to Muslims and should be banned. They have expressed similar concerns about other TV shows, such as a version of "American Idol," saying they encourage immorality.

"Our people are not against modern development or entertainment, but they should not turn our children away from the path of Islam," said Enayatullah Balegh, a member of the council. "I can control my daughter to not have illegal relations with boys, but TV is like Satan -- it is something you cannot control."

The substance of Balegh's fears is plastered all over this chaotic capital of dusty bazaars and glittering new office facades. Posters of Indian pop stars adorn shop windows, and everyone seems to know the latest scandalous revelation on "Tulsi," the nickname of the most popular Indian show.

Yet many Afghans who admit to enjoying the shows also say they disapprove of them. In conversations on campuses and in Internet cafes, young people's comments reflected the contradictions of a society undergoing a confused transition from strict, insular tradition to constant electronic exposure.

"These shows have a bad impact on our traditions," said Babrak Yusufzai, 19, a political science student wearing jeans and a Yankees baseball cap. "Children are learning about Indian ceremonies instead of Muslim ones." Yusufzai said he liked the idol-search show called "Afghan Star" but added, "Why don't they have idols of learning or law, not just singing songs?"

Alim Jamali, 27, a psychology student, said the Indian serials are "just like opium -- they make everyone addicted and distract them from the work of rebuilding our country." All Afghans want education and rights, he added, "but they must be within the frame of Islam."

The cult of celebrity is also a booming business, whose proprietors say they are only offering what their customers crave and what their country's new freedom allows. At a busy shop in Kabul's Titanic Market, the walls are covered with mini-posters of Indian TV and film stars in sensual poses.

"The older people don't like them, but the younger people love them," said the owner, Jamshid. "In the Taliban time, we only sold posters of Koranic verses, but we have democracy now, and people can buy whatever they want."

The conflict over TV entertainment is just one front in a broader battle over the role of television here. The medium, which was state-controlled until the 1990s and banned under extremist Taliban rule from 1996 to 2001, is already the major source of information in a country where most adults are illiterate.

To violent fundamentalist groups such as the Taliban, television is both a religious offense and a political threat. Last month, armed men wearing masks entered a mosque in Logar province and warned people not to watch it, and masked attackers used razors to slash a female TV newscaster in Herat.

But conservative political factions headed by former Islamic militia leaders are trying to compete with private channels such as Tolo by establishing their own. With elections due next year, media observers say, TV is likely to become a vicious battleground, with propaganda masquerading as news and free speech.

"These former warlords are putting out their viruses on the airwaves now. They are anti-democratic, but they want to use the media for their own purposes," said Shukria Barakzai, a journalist and lawmaker from Kabul. "We need to build an independent, professional media, but I'm afraid it will die before it has a chance to flower."

The same contradictions are apparent in parliament, where liberals like Barakzai have far less influence than conservative Muslim politicians. This spring, the latter group introduced legislation that was almost identical to the old Taliban laws banning women's cosmetics, mixed-sex dancing at weddings, and animal fighting.

The proposal, unlikely to become law but indicative of the conservatives' growing clout, also included a broader ban on TV shows deemed un-Islamic and punishment for anyone who imports, distributes or buys "semi-naked" images in any form.

To Afghanistan's Western backers, the emergence of free media was a hallmark of the Karzai government, installed after the U.S.-led ouster of the Taliban regime in late 2001, and the reemergence of rigid Islamic policies puzzles and disturbs them.

This month, Tolo's Mohseni visited Washington and made the rounds of think tanks and government offices, warning that Afghan press freedom is under heavy assault. Privately, U.S. officials and scholars have urged Karzai to put more force behind his rhetorical championing of press freedom.

But the president's hopes for reelection have made it difficult for him to defy the Muslim clerics, and his tactic of apportioning senior posts as a form of political peace-keeping has further weakened his hand. The current information minister, for example, is a conservative who was once allied with a militia boss.

In one form or another, Afghan observers here say, the media and culture wars are likely to continue until the older generation of leaders -- veterans of male-dominated, tribal politics and the fight against Soviet communism -- are replaced by a younger generation that is better educated and includes women in leadership positions.

"Change has to come, because 62 percent of Afghans are under 30," said Abdul Hamid Mobarez, head of the national journalists' union. "People need entertainment. There is no security, and no place to breathe," he said. "Our government is weak, but we need to resist the forces of Talibanization and defend our new democracy."

But some analysts here say it would be a mistake to assume that the popularity of foreign shows means the rules of Afghan society -- such as arranged marriages and absolute obedience to elders -- are likely to change. And many young people say that what they like about the Indian soaps is not their exotic, risque aspects but their familiar, mundane ones, such as family feuds that feature dominating mothers-in-law, scheming relatives and timid brides.

"I like the serials because the issues are just the same as ours," said Khatia, 19, a literature student at Kabul University, who wore the modest black tunic and colorful head scarf that is the unofficial uniform of female students in the capital. "We do not want foreign culture to take over Afghanistan. We want to become a developed and modern Muslim country."
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The Silk Road, Paved in Gold
With Afghan Artifacts, D.C. Keeps Up With 'Jones'
Washington Post, United States By Neely Tucker Washington Post Staff Writer Sunday, May 25, 2008
You can go see Indiana Jones and the temple of whatever if you like, but it's probably not going to be as good as the Bactrian Gold and the Secret of Tillya Tepe.

The former is at any multiplex. The latter is only at the National Gallery of Art.

It's one of those ripping good yarns of yesteryear, the kind you used to see on cliffhanger serials before the main feature. This one is set in a dusty corner of Afghanistan. It's about ancient art, sealed rooms, looters, gravediggers, the Russians, the French, the Taliban, an invasion or three, civil war, the Silk Road, the Dragon Master and 22,607 pieces of gold and ivory and lapis and turquoise. There's a princess in Tomb I, a surprising role played by pink Chinese toilet paper and six mysterious safes in a sealed underground vault at the presidential compound.

Okay, so the plot gets a little crowded. That tends to happen when your story is true and covers more than 2,000 years.

The show is "Afghanistan: Hidden Treasures From the National Museum, Kabul,'' and it is a remarkable display from a remote outpost in the world of antiquity: a dusty land of foreign traders, violent nomads, dangerous women and the unmistakable glint of gold. It has a great subplot of archaeologists winning one against the black market. It opens today and plays until Sept. 7. Like any good archaeological thriller, this one features valuable antiquities and modern twists, set into world-shaping international politics. After being covered by dirt and mud for nearly 2,000 years, most of the artifacts in this show were discovered in digs made during the 1930s or the 1970s. Then, once found, they were lost again, as the Soviet invasion in 1979 and the rise of the Taliban in 1996 raised successive clouds of dust over their whereabouts. Most archaeologists feared they had been lost forever to the black market or destroyed by the Taliban.

Then, three years after the Sept. 11 attacks and the subsequent defeat of the Taliban, the sealed cases and footlockers were opened in vaults in the Arg, the Afghan presidential compound in Kabul.

Nobody was sure what was in them -- the keys had been lost -- until they were broken open with a hammer, crowbar and finally a power saw.

"This power saw starts going -- bbbrrrzzzzttt!!!-- and the sparks are flying, and at first I thought we were going to open them to find a couple of potatoes in a sack with a note saying, 'We got here first! Your friends, the Taliban,' " says Frederik T. Hiebert, the show's curator, who was representing the National Geographic Society when the safes were hacked open. "Or I thought the sparks would set something on fire, and it would burn up all these great artifacts inside."

Hiebert's worries were well founded. It turned out much of the ivory and gold and glasswares had been packed in pink Chinese toilet paper. Which did not catch fire, and instead had preserved tens of thousands of items the wider world has not seen since the time of Christ.

Here was the fabled Bactrian gold, named for the region in Afghanistan where it was found, in the graves discovered at a place called Tillya Tepe ("hill of gold"): Bracelets. Necklaces. A golden belt. A woman's crown, thin hammered orbs of gold, designed to be pulled apart into five pieces and stored flat. Pendants depicting the Dragon Master of lore, a nomadic man holding a dragon's foreleg in each hand. Here, in another case, ivory carvings from the ancient warehouses found in archaeological digs in the city of Begram. A woman astride a mythical leogryph. A fish-shaped flask, made of glass, stunningly blue. A bronze statue of the Greco-Egyptian god Serapis-Heracles. More than 23,000 objects in all. Goods that had been passing through here from China, Egypt, India, Greece, or made in workshops in Bactria itself. Historians were dazzled at the testament to the mix of cultures that artisans there worked with: Here, a golden Aphrodite, Greek in concept, but with an Indian forehead mark denoting marital status and the wings of a Bactrian deity. Northern Afghanistan had gone multi-culti 2,000 years ago.

"This is probably our best picture of how the Silk Road actually worked," Hiebert is saying, giving a walk-through of the exhibit. He gets enthusiastic, pointing to a series of decorative plaques. They are flat and rectangular and carved of ivory. They depict women in various poses, sitting, standing, reclining. All these were part of an elaborate chair or throne, the rest of which is missing. On the adjacent wall, a flat-screen monitor shows a rotating three-dimensional re-creation of how all the pieces would have been placed together on the throne. "This is the first time in 2,000 years anyone has seen that throne," Hiebert says.

The Silk Road of which you'll hear much in this exhibit was not actually a single thoroughfare, but a series of trails, pathways and trading routes that ran from Rome, Greece and Egypt, and stretched all the way to China, with connections to Siberia, India and Persia. Those roads pretty much all ran through northern Afghanistan. Alexander the Great came and founded Greek cities. The exhibit showcases a snapshot of what some of life would have been like in that remote era.

"Nowhere in antiquity have so many different objects from so many different cultures -- Chinese mirrors, Roman coins, daggers from Serbia -- been found together in situ," Viktor Ivanovich Sarianidi, the Russian archaeologist who made the historic find at Tillya Tepe in 1979, wrote in National Geographic in 1990.

This Story The Silk Road, Paved in Gold Afghanistan's Lost Treasures As recounted in that article, he was the leader of a joint Soviet-Afghan project that had been digging among ancient ruins in the region, off and on, for nine years. In 1978 he spotted a bit of painted potsherd on a nearby hillock.

They dug beneath it. They uncovered a confusing site, as layers of villages from about 300 B.C. were lying atop the ruins of a massive edifice of walls and turrets more than 1,000 years older. That edifice had been built and collapsed and rebuilt, and apparently sat unused for more than 600 years. And amid these ancient ruins, they made a remarkable discovery: Tombs, from perhaps the 1st century A.D.

"Soon a grave emerged from beneath our picks and scoops. Staring at us were the hollow eye sockets of a skull, a young woman between 25 and 30, perhaps a princess," he wrote.

Layers of gold and jewelry lay about her collapsed skeleton. Nearby, five more graves were unearthed, the remains of a well-to-do nomadic family, apparently all of whom died at the same time.

It was a historic find, but civil war and the Soviet invasion were closing in. Sarianidi got the artifacts from the first six graves to Kabul before war broke out. He left in February 1979. Two more graves had been discovered, but were "apparently looted" by the guards hired to guard them, he wrote. "Artifacts similar to the ones we discovered have turned up for sale."

He photographed the items he had found in 1982 in Kabul, but they were not seen again.

In the intervening years, the national museum was bombed. Tons of Afghan artifacts turned up in Europe, traded on the black market. The Taliban, which did not allow graven images, destroyed more than 2,500 pieces of artwork in the museum. Archaeologists figured Sarianidi's historic find had been sold off, melted down or destroyed.

Also missing were artifacts from Begram that had been unearthed by a French and Afghan team in the 1930s. Digging north to south along the site of an ancient city, archaeologists discovered a series of rooms. Two of them were bricked off in ancient times. No one knows why. There is a sepia-toned photograph from 1937, taken at the entrance of chamber known as Room 10, the mud wall twice as tall as a man in the doorway. Inside was a warehouse of ancient trading goods: ivory carvings, statues, figurines, jewelry, glassware, from all over the ancient world. At first thought to be a treasure hoard of a royal family, it is now believed to be simply the warehouse of a trader, storing goods between expeditions.

The find was thrilling in its day, but again, war intervened: World War II ended the dig. The artifacts were shipped to the national museum in Kabul and duly lost.

It turns out they were in the footlockers in that vault in the Afghan presidential compound, the same place the goods from Tillya Tepe were taken. A small society of "tahilwidars," or keyholders, had kept them safe, never saying a word about the treasure. Omara Khan Masoudi, the director of the national museum, was one. After the country was stabilized, they informed Karzai, and the world found them again.
"To me, this exhibit isn't just about archaeology, it's about keeping culture alive, about real heroism in hiding and saving these artifacts," Hiebert says.

Well, of course. Every story, even a 2,000-year epic, has to have a lean-jawed hero. Those guys never say much.

Afghanistan: Hidden Treasures From the National Museum, Kabul, featuring 228 artifacts from four sites, is at the National Gallery's East Building on the Mall through Sept. 7. Open Monday-Saturday 10 a.m.-5 p.m.; Sunday 11 a.m.-6 p.m. Free. Call 202-737-4215 or visit http://www.nga.gov. 
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'As if the world vanished'
The Age, Australia Stephen Dupont May 24, 2008
Last month, two days after a failed assassination attempt against Afghanistan's President, Hamid Karzai, Dupont and writer Paul Raffaele, both Australian, set out to investigate opium eradication in Afghanistan's eastern province of Nangarhar. Minutes later they became victims of the escalating violence threatening the Karzai Government when a suicide bomber attacked their convoy. The Taliban claimed responsibility for the attack, which killed at least 15 and wounded 14. Dupont recorded the experience in his diary.

TUESDAY APRIL 29, 2008.
At approximately 10.30am, my colleague and good friend Paul Raffaele and I were almost blown up by a 12-year-old suicide bomber. We were five metres away.

About an hour before, we had set off from Jalalabad on a heavily armed convoy of Afghan police and anti-narcotics men to a mystery destination. We were being taken on a poppy eradication mission. Along with us was a truckload of Afghan civilians, labourers who would do the poppy destruction. There must have been around 50 of them, all crammed into the back of a truck like a flock of sheep on their way to a slaughterhouse.

In our convoy were around eight or nine Ford Ranger vehicles, loaded with police and soldiers. We were second in the convoy as we pulled out of Jalalabad city. We drove around 30 or 40 minutes across the flat desert landscape towards the snow-peaked mountains and natural border between Afghanistan and Pakistan. We passed farmers and nomads, crumbling ancient compounds, some destroyed. We were both feeling good about everything and just happy to be out on the road.

We pulled up at a police barracks. It was heavily fortified sandbags and bunkers around the entrance and perimeter and the town itself was raised above a valley of lush green fields and typical Afghan mud-walled homes. The cops and soldiers who were disembarking from the Rangers all seemed in good spirits. Nothing out of the ordinary, nothing to create suspicions.

It was already getting hot and the light was poor, so I was not inspired to walk around and shoot pictures. The police and Afghan civilians were meeting and greeting directly in front of us, just outside the barracks entrance. A crowd was building but I thought nothing of it. One of the soldiers the only one who spoke some English told us we were in Khogyani town and that the poppy fields were only a few kilometres away.

We had been sitting around for 20 or 30 minutes when I heard a loud bang, then felt this huge pressure come through the car we were in. It was like a suffocating blanket of heat and pressure inside the cabin, and the car lifted. Then everything went black and silent. It felt as if the world had just vanished. I don't know if I saw black smoke or dust or whether I was unconscious. My head was throbbing, my ears were ringing. I had no idea what was happening. But even as I write days later my memory of the blast is so vivid I can almost feel it all over again. The force of the explosion, the loud bang and the darkness come to me regularly. It was as though the world stopped, as if time somehow stood still.

After blackness and silence I heard repeated shots fired and then people running away screaming, which awoke me from the darkness and triggered my actions. I had no recollection of my friend Paul next to me. I jumped out of the car with my cameras and ran towards a mound of dirt.

There were some policemen taking cover and a cameraman from Nangarhar TV filming. I was in complete shock. I remember blood spurting from my head and down my face. My hands and cameras were covered in blood.

I began to take pictures of the chaos and of the police under fire taking cover. I remember asking the Afghan cameraman if I was OK. I could feel blood in my hair and I had no idea if I was badly injured or not. I looked back for the first time to the car in which I'd been sitting at the time of the explosion. I saw bodies strewn around the car. There was one large pile of them about five metres away from where I'd been sitting.

I heard people crying out for help, the wounded stumbling away from the blast area. No one had gone in yet to help, only the dead and wounded were there. Everyone was in a kind of slow motion and in total shock. I'm sure that all of this took place in less than a minute following the bomb blast, but then how sure can I be? It felt as if so much had happened, but it felt like seconds rather than minutes. This is when Paul flashed through my mind for the first time and I knew that a suicide bomber had struck.

But where was Paul? I wanted to find him but was hesitant what if there was a second bomb? I saw people now going in to help and I decided to go in as well. I walked towards our car and saw Paul. He was sitting up just as I'd last seen him except he was covered in blood and not making any sounds. He had taken the full impact of the blast, as he was on the side the bomb went off, about five metres away. I looked down from him and saw the bodies of two policemen lying just to the right of my feet and in front. Beyond the bumper bar of the car next to me I saw more bodies in a line and I realised that this may have been where the bomber struck, and just how bloody close it was to us. I looked back at Paul and told him he'd be OK and that I'd get him out of here. I took pictures of the bodies close to me and then talked with Paul again to console him. He didn't respond, but I sensed he knew I was there. He looked dazed and in shock, staring into a void.

I told him to stay and I'd be back soon to help. I moved inside the death zone and saw many more bodies. Among the corpses was one man alive, calling out for help. It seemed so unreal that this living person was there at all logic said he should have been killed.

I took pictures frantically. It helped me distance myself from the bloodbath seeing the destruction through my lens was like a shield that lessened the impact. Everywhere I pointed my camera I saw mangled bodies, people shredded like mincemeat, their clothes ripped away from their flesh, body parts all around me. I saw one leg severed at the knee and another leg by the police boom gate. It was carnage. Wherever I looked there was horror.

People were grabbing the wounded and throwing them into the backs of cars and driving them away. The dead were being thrown on the backs of Ford Ranger pick-ups, body bits and slabs of burnt flesh thrown in as well. I felt that I was on auto-pilot, shooting madly and talking into my video camera about what was happening, questioning things and trying to make some sense of it all.

Then I lost Paul. So many things were going through my mind, was Paul stumbling around somewhere, was he lying down in some ditch that he'd crawled into, dying? I started asking people if they had seen him, and one man said he'd been taken to hospital. Which hospital? Was he with the Americans we had passed coming in? I walked away from the blast area towards the compound where I'd seen those Americans. I must have looked worse that I was with all the blood over my face and clothes, a mixture of my own and Paul's I think. They were all incredibly friendly and helpful and when I'd told them about Paul, they immediately prepared to go out there and search for him. A medic treated me on the spot, cleaning up my head wounds. I kept asking about Paul and they said they would find him.

I called my friend Sophie Barry in Kabul to get Paul's mobile phone number and tell her what had happened. I called the number and heard the phone ringing from Paul's computer bag, but he wasn't there. I then called my partner, Lizzie, in Sydney, to tell her what had happened and that I was OK and that Paul was wounded but missing.

When the soldiers returned, they said they had made contact with him and that he was in the main civilian hospital in Jalalabad. They said he was alive, but that they did not know his condition. I got myself on one of the Medivac choppers to the Jalalabad US military base that they call "J-bad". I walked down to the hospital and met four Australian Federal Police officers. They looked shocked and happy to see me. They had initially been told that two Aussie journalists had been killed in the bombing. This had also gone out on the DFAT wire. I told them to immediately change this story and make sure our families and friends didn't get a whiff of this.

Paul was conscious but groggy and in some pain. He told me he couldn't see anything. He was happy to hear me and I stood with him as the medics stabilised him. I went back outside to let the AFP guys know that Paul was doing well and that I'd be flying along with him to Bagram US Air Force Base.

I told them what I remembered about the suicide bombing. They were all really good guys and told me that many worried people back home had already heard about it. That was quick. It had only been a few hours at most since the bomb blast. The Australian ambassador in Kabul was personally wanting to help in any way.

It was about 2pm when we landed at Bagram US air base. For the first time I saw Paul's injuries properly as the medics and doctors removed the bandages and began treatment. He had shrapnel wounds all the way up his right arm and both shoulders and he had at least five holes in the back of the head, two the size of golf balls. I remember praying and praying that he'd be OK. It was Paul's jovial mood and larrikinism with the US nurses that reassured me he was doing well. He'd not lost his spirit. He kept asking for Cokes and Cherry Ripes.

MY WHOLE time at Bagram felt pretty weird, and at times I'd feel like a ghost wandering around base caught up in my head space, trying to deal with everything that had just happened and getting through things hour by hour.

I still can't quite believe I walked out of the carnage unhurt. It was a f---ing miracle. Surreal, miracle, blessed. I'm alive, Paul's alive.

Sadly though, many police and Afghan civilians died that morning: 25 is what I heard at last count, and many more were wounded. This is now an all too common situation in Afghanistan. Suicide bombings have become all too popular with the Taliban and their allies. I read that the bomber was a 12-year-old boy selling papers. A 12-year-old boy. Is this what the war in Afghanistan has come down to? Sending innocent children in to do the dirty work. It's looking so much like Iraq. Whatever the Taliban think of their insanely cruel methods of fighting the US and their allies, they do know suicide bombing is deadly and effective. A walking human time bomb, what could possibly be worse!

Paul took an emergency Medivac flight to Dubai and on to Sydney. He's now back in Sydney recovering from his wounds and is doing extremely well. I stayed on in Kabul for a few more days, collected my thoughts and looked at my pictures and video footage for the first time.

How am I now? I'm great. Nothing like holding my beautiful daughter, Ava, to bring life back into perspective.      
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Taliban attacks interrupt Canadian entertainers
Canada.com, Canada Doug Schmidt Canwest News Service 23/05/2008
KANDAHAR AIRFIELD, Afghanistan
A rocket attack Friday night interrupted Canadian country singer Diane Chase as she was under the spotlight, performing a song about the sacrifices of military life during a show for the troops at this sprawling base.

The Sudbury, Ont., native, a group of fellow entertainers and hundreds of fans in uniform were ordered to take cover.

"I thought at first it was our guitar player getting wonky on us," Chase, referring to the initial wail of the sirens, said later as she stood in a nearby bunker stuffed with musicians, comedians and soldiers.

It was the second night in a row the 10 Canadian visitors, guests of the morale and welfare arm of the Canadian Forces, had a close encounter with the Afghan conflict.

As with three similar rocket attacks over a four-day stretch last week, however, the erratically aimed missiles caused no injury or serious damage at the multinational military base. After half an hour waiting in the bunkers for the all-clear, the show went on.

Two earlier shows originally slated for frontline troops "outside the wire" were cancelled. That sparked one of the performers to speak out for Canada's soldiers earlier in the day and call for more air support for troops he described as the best soldiers among the approximately 40 foreign national contingents of the International Security Assistance Force fighting against a Taliban insurgency.

"I think the Canadian army needs good helicopters . . . so get on with it," East Coast country and blues folk rocker Matt Minglewood told reporters at this huge airfield camp, home to thousands of troops, including most of Canada's 2,500 soldiers in Afghanistan.

The majority of the 83 Canadian soldier deaths in Afghanistan since 2002 were due to roadside IED or suicide bomber attacks on military vehicles, used extensively to transport or resupply Canadian troops in the field. Other nations rely extensively on a much safer aerial resupply and the Manley commission recommended the government acquire medium-lift helicopters as one condition of an extension of the Canadian mission in Afghanistan past 2009.

The visiting entertainers include Toronto rock band Suckerfactory, country singer/songwriters Ginette Genereux and Duane Steele, Cape Breton fiddler Kimberley Fraser and comedians Kenny Shaw and Pete Zedlacher. After two shows here, they perform Sunday for Canadian and other foreign troops in Kabul.

On Thursday night, some in the group brought their instruments to the base's popular Canada House for an impromptu outdoor jam with the troops, while a similar spur-of-the-moment performance was organized Friday afternoon for Canadians who couldn't make it that night.

The guests all described in varying ways how overwhelming it was to experience the heat and the dust and the sheer size of this military enterprise.

"There is a 'Holy Cow!' moment," said Chase, adding they met with an Afghan "spiritual leader" who explained to them the concept of jihad, or holy war, and "how the Taliban twist it."

"I don't think a lot of people over there (in Canada) get it," Minglewood said of the work being carried out by Canadian soldiers deployed in Afghanistan, primarily in Kandahar Province. He described as "chilling" an earlier visit by the entertainers to the military base's "bone yard," where the remains of light armoured vehicles and other targeted and damaged ground transportation vehicles are stored.

"People at home would never understand until they looked inside a LAV that soldiers were killed in," said Minglewood.
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