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May 30, 2008 

Afghan town recaptured by security forces
By Shir Ahmad
GHAZNI, Afghanistan (Reuters) - Afghan security forces along with U.S.-led coalition forces regained control of a district centre in the province of Ghazni after the Taliban had captured it overnight, provincial governor, Shir Khosti told Reuters.

US-led soldier, several rebels killed in Afghanistan: military
Fri May 30, 2:08 AM ET
KABUL (AFP) - A soldier with a US-led military coalition fighting extremist rebels in Afghanistan and several militants were killed in separate clashes, the coalition said Friday.

General calls on Pakistan to help with insurgents
By JASON STRAZIUSO, Associated Press Writer  Fri May 30, 8:41 AM ET
KABUL, Afghanistan - The American commander of NATO forces in Afghanistan said Islamic insurgents will pose a challenge to the country for years to come if safe havens continue to exist across the border in Pakistan.

NATO Chief in Afghanistan Says Pakistan’s Tack on Militants Is Not as Expected
The New York Times By CARLOTTA GALL May 30, 2008
KABUL, Afghanistan - The departing American commander of NATO forces in Afghanistan, Gen. Dan K. McNeill, raised concerns on Thursday that Pakistan had not followed through on promises to tackle militancy on its side of the border

Afghan lawmaker: Son-in-law of anti-US Afghan warlord freed from Kabul jail
AP - Friday, May 30
KABUL, Afghanistan - A lawmaker says authorities have freed the son-in-law of an anti-U.S. Afghan warlord from a prison in Kabul.

Afghanistan seeks to revive farming sector
By FISNIK ABRASHI, Associated Press Writer Fri May 30, 3:42 AM ET
KABUL, Afghanistan - Afghanistan will ask international donors next month for $4 billion to revive its agricultural sector, but it could be a hard sell with another massive crop of opium expected this year.

Retired general picked as IG for Afghan rebuilding
By ANNE FLAHERTY, Associated Press Writer Thu May 29, 6:17 PM ET
WASHINGTON - Retired Marine Corps Maj. Gen. Arnold Fields is the White House's choice to lead a new office that will investigate U.S. reconstruction spending in Afghanistan.

Afghanistan violence rises, weakening Karzai government
Taliban attacks are up, making this the worst season since the insurgency began and spurring greater Western troop deployments.
Christian Science Monitor, MA By Anand Gopal May 29, 2008
Violence in Afghanistan is increasing, according to recent announcements by senior US and NATO officials. Analysts estimate that this has been the bloodiest spring since the start of the insurgency and that the increasing instability is fueling

Ban to attend international conference on Afghan reconstruction
Source: United Nations News Service 29 May 2008
Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon will attend the International Conference on Afghanistan being staged in Paris on 12 June as part of international efforts to help with reconstruction and development in the Asian country.

FACTBOX-Security developments in Afghanistan, May 30
30 May 2008 16:23:44 GMT
May 30 (Reuters) - Following are security developments in Afghanistan at 1600 GMT on Friday:
GHAZNI - Afghan and foreign troops regained control of a remote town briefly occupied by Taliban insurgents in Ghazni province, south of Kabul, the provincial governor said.

Norwegian troops pulled from Afghan front
May 29, 2008 at 1:26 PM
KABUL, Afghanistan, May 29 (UPI) -- Norwegian troops in Afghanistan are being removed from front-line fighting against Taliban insurgents with a new assignment of training Afghan forces.

Azerbaijan to send more troops to Afghanistan
(RTTNews) - For the second time this year, Azerbaijan will increase the strength of its peacekeeping force in Afghanistan.

CIA chief claims big gains against al-Qaeda
Friday, May 30, 2008 CBC News Canada
Al-Qaeda is essentially defeated in Iraq and Saudi Arabia, and is on the defensive in its heartland along the Afghanistan-Pakistan border, the head of the CIA is quoted as saying by the Washington Post on Friday.

Hands-on donors help ease refugee problems in Iran
TEHRAN, Iran, May 29 (UNHCR) – When it comes to refugees, diplomats from donor nations in Iran like to roll up their sleeves and get out into the field to assess needs. And then many of them raise funds themselves.

Afghanistan to get 12 new airports
Written by www.quqnoos.com Thursday, 29 May 2008
Minister promises to build provincial airports with extra cash
AFGHANISTAN will build 12 airports over the next five years in provinces throughout the country, the Transport and Aviation Minister Hamidullah Qaderi has said.

Time to focus on Pakistan
US intelligence officials agree al-Qaida has found a safe haven in Pakistan, yet US politicians remain preoccupied with Iraq and Iran Colin Cookman
The Observer, UK Colin Cookman May 29, 2008
The next president of the United States will face real and serious national security challenges on a multitude of fronts, with al-Qaida at the top of the list. Nearly seven years after 9/11, its media outreach programme broadcasts messages

Sharp rise in Logar's drug addicts
Written by www.quqnoos.com Thursday, 29 May 2008
Health officials say dramatic addict increase may swamp aid work
UNEMPLOYMENT and poverty has triggered an increase in the number of young people addicted to drugs in the province of Logar, local health officials have said.

'War-torn Afghans hit hardest by price hikes'
Written by www.quqnoos.com Thursday, 29 May 2008
Red Cross says hike in food prices hits people in war zones the worst
THE INTERNATIONAL Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) has warned that soaring food prices have made life even harder for people already suffering the effects of war.

Opposition says Paris cash boost will fail
Written by www.quqnoos.com Thursday, 29 May 2008
National Front accuse government of wasting billions in foreign aid
THE MAIN opposition party has called on donors at next month’s Afghanistan conference in Paris to discuss law enforcement, the reasons behind “people’s hatred” of the current government and increasing instability.

Singer in hiding after threats over Afghan TV appearance
Friday, May 30, 2008 CBC News Canada
A 19-year-old contestant who placed third in the popular Afghan Star talent contest says her family is now living in secret because of death threats.

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Afghan town recaptured by security forces
By Shir Ahmad
GHAZNI, Afghanistan (Reuters) - Afghan security forces along with U.S.-led coalition forces regained control of a district centre in the province of Ghazni after the Taliban had captured it overnight, provincial governor, Shir Khosti told Reuters.

"The word I have got a few minutes ago is that they (Taliban) have been pushed back," he said.

Asked if Afghan and coalition forces were now in charge of the district centre, Khosti replied: "Yes."

Taliban insurgents had seized the remote Afghan town overnight, patrolling the streets for some hours before withdrawing ahead of a government operation to retake it on Friday, residents and officials said.

Ghazni province where the attack took place is only a two-hour drive south from the capital, Kabul, and while not as unstable as provinces such as Kandahar or Helmand, the villages around the historic city of Ghazni have seen an upsurge of Taliban activity in the past two years.

Ghulam Shah, district governor of the captured district of Rashidan, had links with the Taliban and had handed over the district buildings to the militants, provincial Police Chief Khan Mohammad Mujahid told Reuters. The district police chief, meanwhile, had been taken prisoner, he said.

A spokesman for the Taliban, Zabihullah Mujahid, said the insurgents had taken the district by force and had killed nine policemen.

Governor Khosti denied the Taliban claim saying they had "no reports" of any casualties. He also said he could not yet confirm whether there were any casualties following the joint operation to regain control of the district centre.

The Taliban from time to time take over remote towns in a show of strength, then pull out before government forces are able to reach the area and drive them out.

Khosti played down any significance of the latest incident.

"I don't think they are getting stronger," he said. "These are just a bunch of criminals, a bunch of thugs."

Some 6,000 people were killed last year in the worst violence since U.S.-led and Afghan troops toppled the Taliban in late 2001 for refusing to hand over al Qaeda leaders behind the September 11 attacks on the United States.

The Taliban have vowed to step up their campaign this year to oust the pro-Western Afghan government and drive out more than 60,000 foreign troops from the country, but so far neither side appears to have gained a clear upper hand.

In another incident, eight Afghan construction workers were killed when their vehicle hit an improvised explosive device on Friday in the eastern province of Laghman, Abdul Wakil Atak, spokesman for the provincial governor said.
(Additional reporting by Mohammad Rafiq in Jalalabad; Writing by Jonathon Burch; Editing by David Fox)
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US-led soldier, several rebels killed in Afghanistan: military
Fri May 30, 2:08 AM ET
KABUL (AFP) - A soldier with a US-led military coalition fighting extremist rebels in Afghanistan and several militants were killed in separate clashes, the coalition said Friday.

The soldier was killed "in action" Thursday near the western town of Farah, the force said in a statement. It gave no details of what happened or the nationality of the soldier.

Most of the around 20,000 troops in the coalition are US nationals.

Sixty-five foreign soldiers have been killed in Afghanistan this year, according to an AFP count. Many of them were struck by improvised bombs.

The coalition reported separately that it had killed "several militants" and detained 16 on Thursday during a mission "to disrupt anti-government operations" in the central province of Ghazni.

Troops had gone to the Andar district to look for a militant who allegedly helped foreign fighters operate in Afghanistan and was involved in planting bombs aimed at troops, the statement said.

"During their search, Coalition forces were threatened by several militants and responded with small-arms fire, killing the militants," it said.

There has been a spike in recent weeks in violence linked to an insurgency led by the Taliban, who were in government between 1996 and 2001 and are now fighting to take back control.

Thousands of troops attached to NATO's International Security Assistance Force are also fighting against Taliban militants in an attempt to restore stability to the war-ravaged nation.
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General calls on Pakistan to help with insurgents
By JASON STRAZIUSO, Associated Press Writer  Fri May 30, 8:41 AM ET
KABUL, Afghanistan - The American commander of NATO forces in Afghanistan said Islamic insurgents will pose a challenge to the country for years to come if safe havens continue to exist across the border in Pakistan.

Gen. Dan McNeill, who leaves his post next week after 15 months, also said peace deals on the other side of the border — a reference to Pakistan — were behind a recent spike in violence in Afghanistan.

"If there are going to be sanctuaries where these terrorists, these extremists, these insurgents can train, can recruit, can regenerate, there's still going to be a challenge there," McNeill said in an interview with The Associated Press.

McNeill, 61, said a double-digit percentage increase in violent incidents in eastern Afghanistan versus spring 2007 was because of a lack of pressure on insurgents in Pakistan, where a new government is seeking peace deals with militants.

NATO has said there was a 50 percent spike in violence in eastern Afghanistan in April when compared with 2007.

"We've also monitored and reported in the past what happens when there are so-called peace negotiations with these terrorists and extremists inside those sanctuaries," McNeill said. "And when there have been (negotiations), there has been a spike in the untoward events on our side of the border."

When McNeill took command of NATO's International Security Assistance Force in February 2007, the force had 36,000 troops; today it has 51,000. McNeill said in the interview on Wednesday the increase was proof that the international community is committed to success in Afghanistan.

But violence has also spiked on McNeill's watch. Insurgents last year set off a record number of suicide bombs — more than 140 — and more than 8,000 people died in insurgency-related violence, according to the United Nations. Most of those killed were militants.

McNeill said the effort to strengthen the Afghan army and police forces has put them on a course that would allow NATO to reduce the size of its force in 2011.
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NATO Chief in Afghanistan Says Pakistan’s Tack on Militants Is Not as Expected
The New York Times By CARLOTTA GALL May 30, 2008
KABUL, Afghanistan - The departing American commander of NATO forces in Afghanistan, Gen. Dan K. McNeill, raised concerns on Thursday that Pakistan had not followed through on promises to tackle militancy on its side of the border, and in recent months had even stopped its cooperation with NATO and Afghan counterparts on border issues.

General McNeill said Pakistan’s failure to act against militants in its tribal areas and its decision to hold talks with the militants without putting pressure on them had led to an increase in insurgent attacks against United States and NATO forces in eastern Afghanistan.

“We have not seen the actions that we had expected late last year; we have seen a different approach,” he said before a news briefing in Kabul. “That is different from what most of us thought last year we were going to get.”

Militancy rose last year in Pakistan, where officials indicated that tougher measures against the militants were planned. Instead, the government has sued for peace, a policy tried in 2005 and 2006 that led directly to a rise in attacks across the border, as is happening now.

“Over time, when there has been dialogue, or peace deals, the incidents have gone up,” General McNeill told journalists in Kabul and others in Brussels listening via videoconferencing. “What you see right now is the effects of no pressure on the extremists and insurgents on the other side of the border.”

As if to underscore his point, a suicide car bomb exploded Thursday near a convoy of international forces on the eastern side of Kabul, killing four civilian bystanders and wounding 14 others, police officials said.

The attack was the first in the capital in weeks, but came amid a new rash of attacks around Afghanistan. On Tuesday, 24 people, including 13 policemen, were killed in suicide attacks and roadside bombings. Two suicide attacks on Wednesday in Khost and Kandahar killed one person and wounded several others.

General McNeill said that Pakistan had stopped the high-level meetings among Pakistani, Afghan and NATO counterparts that were the main conduit for resolving border issues and coordinating operations to combat cross-border infiltration.

The meetings are usually attended by the top generals on all sides, but Pakistan has postponed the last three, he said.

“We have had some difficulty here,” he said, adding that he did not expect to hold another meeting before handing over command in early June. But General McNeill expressed hope that his successor, Gen. David D. McKiernan of the United States, would be able to resume the meetings.

General McNeill called the problem a “dysfunction” that he attributed to political changes in Pakistan since the election of a new government in February.

General McNeill said last year was “a very difficult year” for Pakistan and cited episodes of militancy including “a huge spike in suicide bombers, the Red Mosque events, some 250 Pakistani soldiers captured by about 20 militants, some forts laid siege to.” His reference to the Red Mosque was to a raid last summer by Pakistani forces after militants holed up inside.

“My connection is military to military,” the general said, “and I think they know in the Pakistani military this is an issue they have to take on, and they have to do it in a way that is consistent with counterinsurgency doctrine.

“But they have also just gone through some rather huge changes within their government and, I think, are still trying to find their way to get something coalesced, to get it congealed to where there is a forward movement in the business of governance,” he said.

Pakistan’s government has made clear it wants to break with the tactics Mr. Musharraf has used against militants and instead try dialogue, political engagement and economic development of the tribal regions.
Yet there has been increasingly urgent criticism from Afghan and NATO officials here since attacks rose 50 percent in April over last year in eastern Afghanistan, where American forces were claiming success against insurgents.

The Defense Ministry claimed that Afghan forces had killed dozens of insurgents in an operation in the southwestern province of Farah on Wednesday. The United States military, which was also involved in the fighting, confirmed only that several insurgents were killed after several hours of fighting and airstrikes.

The suicide attack in Kabul on Thursday occurred on the main road leading east toward Jalalabad Province, where there are several military bases. The bomber targeted two sport utility vehicles carrying soldiers from the American-led coalition. None were seriously hurt, a United States military spokesman said.

Allah Mohammad, police chief of the district, said four civilians were killed and 14 others wounded. Most of the victims were schoolchildren, he said.

Abdul Waheed Wafa contributed reporting.
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Afghan lawmaker: Son-in-law of anti-US Afghan warlord freed from Kabul jail
AP - Friday, May 30
KABUL, Afghanistan - A lawmaker says authorities have freed the son-in-law of an anti-U.S. Afghan warlord from a prison in Kabul.

Khalid Farooqi said Ghairat Baheer was released from Pul-e Charkhi jail on Thursday.

Baheer was arrested in Pakistan in 2002 while he was a spokesman for the Hezb-e-Islami militant group led by Gulbuddin Hekmatyar.

Farooqi said Friday tribal elders and President Hamid Karzai were instrumental in securing Baheer's release.

Hekmatyar fought the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan in the 1980s, and since the ouster of the Taliban regime in 2001, Hekmatyar has battled U.S.-led forces here.

Some of Hekmatyar supporters have reconciled with Karzai, but Hekmatyar has resisted an offer of peace talks.
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Afghanistan seeks to revive farming sector
By FISNIK ABRASHI, Associated Press Writer Fri May 30, 3:42 AM ET
KABUL, Afghanistan - Afghanistan will ask international donors next month for $4 billion to revive its agricultural sector, but it could be a hard sell with another massive crop of opium expected this year.

Despite the sharply rising price of grain, foreign-funded efforts to promote legal alternatives to the narcotic have largely failed.

Farmers still make much more from growing poppy, the raw material for heroin, which flourishes amid Afghanistan's Taliban insurgency and rampant lawlessness. Half of the country's production comes from Helmand province, a stronghold of insurgents.

Roughly one out of every seven farmers in this predominantly rural nation of 32 million people grow opium. Giving them alternatives is part of Afghanistan's plan to invest $4 billion over the next five years in its outdated agricultural sector.

It will present the plan at a conference of international donors in Paris on June 12 — a key plank of its $50 billion appeal to fund development in the war-ravaged country.

"I think the food crisis we have been experiencing here and in many other countries illustrates clearly the need to devote more attention to that sector," said Kai Eide, the top U.N. envoy in the country.

The rising cost of food worldwide would appear to be an attractive incentive for farmers to abandon drug production. Wheat prices rose by some 75 percent in Afghanistan between January and April because of shortages, after another spike in 2007.

Abdul Qadus, an opium farmer from Kandahar, said he would consider switching to wheat after about half of his poppy fields failed this year because of a harsh winter and lack of rain.

Also, the price of the best quality opium paste has dropped to $85 per kilogram compared to $110 last year.

"As the price of (opium) goes down day by day and that of flour goes up, we are thinking that maybe in the future we will decide to sow wheat," said Qadus, who completed his harvest earlier this month. "At least we might be able to feed our children that way."

But there is still a huge price difference. In 2007, the gross income from a hectare of opium was nearly 10 times what it was for wheat.

The challenges of weaning farmers off poppy and growing legal crops are most acute in Helmand, which remains too dangerous for most foreign aid groups to operate.

Matt Waldman, a policy adviser for the aid group Oxfam, said efforts so far have been "fragmented and seriously underfunded."

Barnett Rubin, an expert on Afghanistan at New York University, said too much focus has been put on military action and not enough on investing in job creation and rural development after the U.S.-led ouster of the Taliban nearly seven years ago.

"If (the Bush administration) had started in 2001, we would have gotten somewhere by now, but they started only in 2004 and with poorly designed and implemented programs that are still inadequate, despite some improvement," he said.

The United States has spent $878 million in alternative livelihood and agriculture programs since 2001, and trained 1.5 million farmers in modern farming practices, the U.S. embassy says. Other Western nations, particularly Britain, have also contributed millions.

Loren Owen Stoddard, the director of USAID's Alternative Development and Agriculture office, said it wants to establish supply chains to encourage Afghan farmers to grow fruit for export and to rear livestock and produce vegetable oil for the domestic market.

But many remain skeptical that the infusion of aid money will translate into benefits for farmers — overcoming chronic problems of poor infrastructure, insecurity and official corruption.

"If they (farmers) grow pomegranates, who will finance the cost of irrigation and labor before the harvest? Who will prevent them from getting robbed on the way to market? Who will export the pomegranates in proper packaging to a market where they can make money?" said Rubin. "The opium industry solves all these problems for the farmers. Giving them a bunch of seeds does not solve these problems."

Authorities have fought the opium harvest by sending police eradication teams and even paying farmers to destroy their own poppy crops. Clerics have been urged to tell villagers that growing the narcotic is un-Islamic.

But even as anti-drug aid has soared, so has opium production.

In 2003, 197,680 acres of land was used to cultivate poppy. By 2007, that number had jumped to 476,900 acres. Opium production topped 9,000 tons, enough to make over 880 tons of heroin. The country now accounts for 93 percent of world production, the U.N. says.

Figures for 2008 are not yet available, but counter-narcotics officials expect only a slight drop in land being cultivated for opium compared with 2007. Poor weather, however, will mean a lower yield per hectare so the total quantity of opium produced should fall.

The Ministry of Counter Narcotics says that 20 of Afghanistan's 34 provinces will be poppy-free this year — compared with 13 provinces in 2007. But in the south where most of the opium is grown, cultivation remains rampant — particularly in Helmand.

There, opium traffickers and traders appear to be doing a better job of supporting farmers than development agencies. They provide the farmers with credit, seeds and fertilizer ahead of planting season, said Sarah Chayes, who runs a small private company in Kandahar that buys ingredients from farmers to make natural skin-care products.

After the harvest, the drug traders collect the opium paste directly so the farmer does not have to find a market for it, she said.

Aid groups need to "mimic what traffickers offer to farmers," Chayes said.
___
Associated Press writer Noor Khan in Kandahar contributed to this report.
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Retired general picked as IG for Afghan rebuilding
By ANNE FLAHERTY, Associated Press Writer Thu May 29, 6:17 PM ET
WASHINGTON - Retired Marine Corps Maj. Gen. Arnold Fields is the White House's choice to lead a new office that will investigate U.S. reconstruction spending in Afghanistan.

Congress mandated the office as a way to oversee the billions of dollars being spent to rebuild Afghanistan. A separate office that focuses on Iraq spending has uncovered numerous accounts of waste, fraud and abuse by contractors.

According to a White House announcement Thursday, Fields served 34 years in the Marines, retiring with the rank of major general as deputy commander of Marine Forces Europe. More recently, he served as chief of staff of the Iraq reconstruction and management office at the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad and is now deputy director of the Africa Center for Strategic Studies at National Defense University.

Fields once was inspector general for U.S. Central Command, which oversees troop deployments in Iraq and Afghanistan. He received his bachelor's degree from South Carolina State University and his master's from Pepperdine University in California.

The post does not require Senate confirmation.

Sen. Frank Lautenberg, who pushed for the spending watchdog, said the inspector general would help Americans get "the accountability they deserve." The New Jersey Democrat said there is "too little oversight of the money we spend there and whether there is any waste, fraud, or abuse."
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Afghanistan violence rises, weakening Karzai government
Taliban attacks are up, making this the worst season since the insurgency began and spurring greater Western troop deployments.
Christian Science Monitor, MA By Anand Gopal May 29, 2008
Violence in Afghanistan is increasing, according to recent announcements by senior US and NATO officials. Analysts estimate that this has been the bloodiest spring since the start of the insurgency and that the increasing instability is fueling the call to deploy more troops to the region.

Across the country this week, violence flared. Suicide bombers attacked international soldiers in Kabul today, reports the Associated Press.

The attack targeted two armored SUVs, causing minor damage to the vehicles. None of the soldiers inside the vehicles was wounded or killed, said Lt. Col. David Johnson, a spokesman for the U.S.-led coalition. He did not immediately know the nationalities of the troops.

U.S. troops from a base on the outskirts of Kabul cordoned off the area shortly after the attack.

The blast killed three Afghans and wounded four, said Mohammad Aslam, a police officer at the scene. Small shops line the road, and pedestrians frequently walk alongside the busy route.

On Tuesday at least 24 people were killed in different attacks across the country. The global financial news agency RTT reports that a bomb blast killed eight civilians traveling on a bus in western Afghanistan and a bomb killed three children in Kandahar Province.

US-led forces in the southern province of Helmand claimed to have killed several militants during an operation in Garmser district on Tuesday.

The U.S.-led coalition also said that "several militants were killed and nine were detained" on Tuesday in an operation targeting "anti-government operations" in the eastern province of Paktia.

More than 1,200 people have been killed this year, the Associated Press estimates. NATO officials claim that the surge in violence is related in part to the recent peace deals between the Pakistani government and the rebels in that country, which allow for a haven for Taliban fighters who cross the border to launch attacks in Afghanistan.

NATO spokesman Mark Laity said militant violence in Afghanistan seems to be getting worse as Pakistan pursues peace with militants in an effort to end a wave of bombings that have killed hundreds of Pakistanis in recent years.

"We understand their desire to come to peace agreements with militants, but there is no real solution if trouble on one side of the (border) is merely transferred to the other side," he said.

Even before the recent settlements, The Christian Science Monitor reported in April that violence had spiked across the country, suggesting that additional factors are contributing to the increase.

In some northern provinces, the Taliban issue "night letters," documents posted to villagers' doors at night threatening them if they support the government or Coalition forces, locals report. The tactic has been highly successful in intimidating residents in the south and quelling support for the international presence.

But analysts say the insurgency is spread not by fear alone: A weak central government and the country's declining socioeconomic situation also bolster militants' efforts. "The population of Afghanistan is becoming disillusioned with the government," Halim Kousary, an analyst with Center for Conflict and Peace Studies, a Kabul-based think tank. "People in the north believe there hasn't been enough reconstruction."

The Long War Journal, an Internet journal covering the "Global War on Terror," suggests:

[The] attacks by the Taliban and "Anti-Government Elements" have increased over the past several weeks as the poppy harvest season has ended. The Taliban now has a pool of unemployed harvesters to serve as recruits.

US Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Adm. Michael Mullen, who echoed NATO's assessment of rising violence levels in a testimony to Congress on Tuesday, says that the US will respond by increasing troop strength, the Associated Press reported.

Mullen said the U.S. is deploying more troops to Afghanistan and encouraging local forces to do the same to contend with a growing insurgency, increased attacks and a burgeoning drug trade.

"In short, a stable Iraq and Afghanistan that are long-term partners and share our commitment to peace will be critical to achieving regional stability and security," he said.

The increased coalition presence might have to deal with an insurgency that is evolving tactically, writes The Daily Telegraph. The British paper reports that the Taliban is turning toward "Iraq-style tactics" – attacking soft targets and acting as a de facto authority in areas of weak central governance – to take the districts surrounding Kabul.

Taliban tactics have shifted sharply away from frontal attacks on Nato forces in the first four months of the year. However, the overall level of violence has risen and roadside bombings are up by 34 per cent overall. At the same time, there have been reports of Taliban fighters moving into several rural districts north and east of Kabul, the capital.

The strategy seeks to exploit local grievances and disillusionment with the Afghan government in rural areas.

The paper reports that the Taliban is seen by many in the districts surrounding the capital as a "credible alternative to the weak US-backed government."

according to [a] local MP, who stays mostly in Kabul these days, the population has lost faith in the government.

"President [Hamid] Karzai got 40,000 votes from Kapisa Province, but now he wouldn't get five," said Abdul Hadi Safi.
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Ban to attend international conference on Afghan reconstruction
Source: United Nations News Service 29 May 2008
Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon will attend the International Conference on Afghanistan being staged in Paris on 12 June as part of international efforts to help with reconstruction and development in the Asian country.

The United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) is tasked with promoting peace and stability in Afghanistan by leading efforts of the international community, in conjunction with the Afghan Government, to rebuild the country and strengthen the foundations of peace and constitutional democracy. The Security Council recently renewed the mission’s mandate until March 2009.

After attending the conference in France Mr. Ban will then pay an official visit to the United Kingdom and Saudi Arabia from 13 to 16 June.

Earlier today, the Secretary-General arrived in Stockholm and addressed the annual review conference of the International Compact with Iraq.

While in Stockholm, Mr. Ban met with the European Union’s High Representative for the Common Foreign and Security Policy, Javier Solana; Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri Al-Maliki; US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice; the United Kingdom’s Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, David Miliband; and the Secretary-General of the League of Arab States, Amr Moussa.

He also held meetings with the Foreign Ministers of Sweden (Carl Bildt), Slovenia (Dimitrij Rupel), Italy (Franco Frattini), Turkey (Ali Babacan) and Iran (Manouchehr Mottaki).
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FACTBOX-Security developments in Afghanistan, May 30
30 May 2008 16:23:44 GMT
May 30 (Reuters) - Following are security developments in Afghanistan at 1600 GMT on Friday:

GHAZNI - Afghan and foreign troops regained control of a remote town briefly occupied by Taliban insurgents in Ghazni province, south of Kabul, the provincial governor said.

KHOST - A suicide car bomber blew himself up alongside a convoy of military engineers in the eastern province of Khost on Friday, the U.S. military said. No soldiers were wounded and no equipment was damaged in the incident, it said.

LOGAR - A Taliban leader was killed in eastern Afghanistan in an operation targeting bomb-making cells earlier in the week, NATO said on Friday.

FARAH - A soldier from U.S.-led coalition forces was killed in the western province of Farah on Thursday, the U.S. military said in a statement on Friday.

FARAH - U.S.-led coalition forces killed several militants with small arms fire and air strikes after coming under fire from a house in the western province of Farah on Wednesday, the U.S. military said on Friday.

GHAZNI - U.S.-led coalition forces killed several militants and detained 16 during search operations in Ghazni province, south of Kabul on Thursday, the U.S. military said on Friday.

HELMAND - Afghan security forces and U.S.-led coalition troops killed several militants near Sangin in the southern province of Helmand on Thursday after coming under fire, the U.S. military said on Friday. (Compiled by Jonathon Burch; Editing by Valerie Lee)
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Norwegian troops pulled from Afghan front
May 29, 2008 at 1:26 PM
KABUL, Afghanistan, May 29 (UPI) -- Norwegian troops in Afghanistan are being removed from front-line fighting against Taliban insurgents with a new assignment of training Afghan forces.

After a monthlong operation against the Taliban in northwestern Afghanistan this month, the Norwegians will now be short of specialist troops necessary to continue their part of any offensive, the Aftenposten Web site reported Thursday. Replacement troops aren't considered capable of operating long-range weapons that have been a large part of Norwegian and NATO success in Afghanistan.

"I'm responsible for the troops," said Lt. Col. Rune Solberg, the new Norwegian commander of the Telemark Batallion told Aftenposten. "They can't be used for missions that they're not equipped to handle."

Norwegian troops have taken part in the Quick Reaction Force under international control during the last two years. It isn't expected that they will see direct action against Taliban militants for some time, Aftenposten said.
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Azerbaijan to send more troops to Afghanistan
(RTTNews) - For the second time this year, Azerbaijan will increase the strength of its peacekeeping force in Afghanistan.

The former Soviet republic, which enlarged its contingent in Afghanistan from 22 to 45 in January, will add 55 more troops, deputy foreign minister Araz Azimov said Thursday.

The troops surge was made possible after the withdrawal of its peacekeepers from Kosovo, AP reported.

Azerbaijan also maintains troops in Iraq.

For comments and feedback: contact editorial@rttnews.com
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CIA chief claims big gains against al-Qaeda
Friday, May 30, 2008 CBC News Canada
Al-Qaeda is essentially defeated in Iraq and Saudi Arabia, and is on the defensive in its heartland along the Afghanistan-Pakistan border, the head of the CIA is quoted as saying by the Washington Post on Friday.

In an interview to mark the beginning of his third year as director of U.S. central intelligence, Michael Hayden said Osama bin Laden and his lieutenants are losing the battle for hearts and minds in the Muslim world, while U.S. and other military strikes have significantly weakened the militant Islamist organization.

"On balance, we are doing pretty well," Hayden told the Post. "Near strategic defeat of al-Qaeda in Iraq, near strategic defeat for al-Qaeda in Saudi Arabia, significant setbacks for al-Qaeda globally — and here I'm going to use the word 'ideologically' — as a lot of the Islamic world pushes back on their form of Islam."

Just two years ago, the CIA released a study saying the U.S.-led campaign against militant Islamism had become a propaganda victory for al-Qaeda that helped the group raise money and attract volunteers for attacks.

In another report last year, the intelligence agency said the rugged, inaccessible frontier between Afghanistan and northwest Pakistan had become a haven for al-Qaeda where leaders were organizing militant campaigns.

In his Washington Post interview, Hayden takes a much more upbeat line.

"The ability to kill and capture key members of al-Qaeda continues, and keeps them off balance — even in their best safe haven along the Afghanistan-Pakistan border," he says.

Hayden gave no details but media reports have spoken of several attacks in the region by remote-control Predator aircraft on al-Qaeda and Taliban targets.

More strikes possible
Since the start of the year, the CIA director said, al-Qaeda has lost three senior officers, including two who succumbed "to violence." The Washington Post says this is a reference to Predator strikes.

Hayden acknowledged the failure so far to find or attack bin Laden or his deputy, Ayman al-Zawahiri, who are both believed to be in mountains along the southeastern Afghan border.

Despite the claims of success against al-Qaeda, Hayden said the CIA is still fighting to prevent another strike against a U.S. target, even the United States itself.

"We remain worried, and frankly I wonder why some other people aren't worried, too," he said, "The fact that we have kept [Americans] safe for pushing seven years now has got them back into the state of mind where 'safe' is normal."

Hayden said he was encouraged by U.S. and Iraqi military successes in Iraq and what he described as growing antipathy toward the al-Qaeda philosophy among ordinary Iraqis.

"Fundamentally, no one really liked al-Qaeda's vision of the future," Hayden said.

But he said Iran was undermining U.S. progress in Iraq by providing weapons, training and money to insurgents.

"It is the policy of the Iranian government, approved at the highest levels," he said, "to facilitate the killing of American and other coalition forces in Iraq. Period."
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Hands-on donors help ease refugee problems in Iran
TEHRAN, Iran, May 29 (UNHCR) – When it comes to refugees, diplomats from donor nations in Iran like to roll up their sleeves and get out into the field to assess needs. And then many of them raise funds themselves.

Envoys from countries like Austria, Belgium, Denmark, Finland, Italy, Mexico, the Netherlands, Sweden, Switzerland and the United Kingdom don't just assess projects and recommend funding; they also organize concerts, bazaars and other activities to raise awareness about Afghan and Iraqi refugees in Iran as well as to raise money for refugee projects.

These efforts go some way to supporting the significant contribution by the Iranian government, which currently hosts some 900,000 registered Afghan refugees and 54,000 Iraqi refugees.

"It is very important for donors to go to the field and see the challenges faced by refugees and [look at] areas where we can help," said Swiss Consul Sabine Ulmann, who met Afghan refugees in north-east Iran earlier this year while visiting Khorasan Razavi province with a party of European diplomats.

In the city of Mashad, they visited a small library funded by the UN refugee agency, and listened as Afghan refugee students spoke about their needs and their concerns. The refugees explained some of the challenges they faced in getting into university.

Education is a major concern for the Afghan refugees – access to it, and the cost. Most Afghan refugees now pay some registration fees if they want their children to attend Iranian public schools.

Until 2004, they enjoyed education support from UNHCR, but the refugee agency has decided to concentrate more resources on aiding the reintegration of Afghan returnees in their homeland.

"The longer the refugees stay in Iran, the more difficult they will find it to repatriate," Ali Jafarinejad, the director general of the Bureau for Aliens and Foreign Immigrant Affairs in Khorasan Razavi, told the diplomats, while calling for support and assistance both in Iran and Afghanistan.

Travelling to places like Khorasan Razavi and meeting people like Jafarinejad are immensely helpful for donor nation diplomats, who hear of the problems first hand and are able to assess the best ways that their governments can help.

And many embassies in Tehran are doing their bit for the refugees. The Belgium mission, for example, donated three computers to the Golshahr library following the visit to Khorasan Razavi.

Last year, the Mexican embassy organized a charity bazaar, which managed to raise US$12,000 to build classrooms for female Afghan refugees in Kerman province. A group of donors had earlier visited the province and heard about the needs.

The Italian and Norwegian embassies, meanwhile, joined forces with the UN refugee agency to hold a charity concert that raised money for a UNHCR project for disabled refugee children in Sistan-Baluchistan province in the south-east.

The South African Ambassador, a former refugee, has donated clothes, toys and educational materials to newly arrived Iraqi refugees, while the embassy of Finland has set aside funds for independent aid agencies working to improve the situation of children, including refugees.

Material assistance aside, some embassies are seeking to build the institutional capacity to help refugees. The Dutch embassy is supporting the establishment of an Afghan refugee secretariat at the Afghan embassy in Tehran. Other embassies, including those of Greece and Norway, have offered to finance specific projects involving refugees.
By Dina Faramarzi in Tehran, Iran
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Afghanistan to get 12 new airports
Written by www.quqnoos.com Thursday, 29 May 2008
Minister promises to build provincial airports with extra cash
AFGHANISTAN will build 12 airports over the next five years in provinces throughout the country, the Transport and Aviation Minister Hamidullah Qaderi has said.

Qaderi, appointed to the ministerial role two months ago, said today (Thursday) at a press conference that the airports will be built with financial assistance from the World Bank and the Asian Development Bank.

The airports will be constructed in Maidan Wardak, Nimroz, Ghor, Farah, Bamyan, Badakhshan, Nangarhar, Khost and other provinces, explained Qaderi, who said the ministry had benefited from a larger budget in recent months.

"Our income from the Kabul aviation and transportation service has risen two fold in the last two months," he said, putting last year’s income at $49 million.

The amount is expected to reach $60 million this year.

The ministry will need a budget of $500 million over the coming five years and most of it will be spent on building new airports.

Afghanistan's aviation sector has been badly shattered by decades of war.
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Time to focus on Pakistan
US intelligence officials agree al-Qaida has found a safe haven in Pakistan, yet US politicians remain preoccupied with Iraq and Iran Colin Cookman
The Observer, UK Colin Cookman May 29, 2008
The next president of the United States will face real and serious national security challenges on a multitude of fronts, with al-Qaida at the top of the list. Nearly seven years after 9/11, its media outreach programme broadcasts messages on the airwaves and the internet, attempting to radicalise unaffiliated sympathisers into violent action. Regional groups in Iraq, Algeria and elsewhere place themselves under its brand in an effort to magnify their importance and gain funding as terrorist franchises. The threat from al-Qaida is diffuse, but US and foreign intelligence agencies have reached a strikingly unanimous conclusion that the core organisational leadership has re-formed itself.

Its location? Pakistan.
Al-Qaida has, in the words of the US director for national intelligence's February 2008 Annual Threat Assessment, "retained or regenerated key elements of its capability, including top leadership, operational mid-level lieutenants and de facto safe haven in Pakistan's border area with Afghanistan". Top officials at the CIA, state department and Joint Chiefs of Staff have all echoed this assessment in recent months. And under questioning from the Senate armed services committee at his confirmation hearing for the position of Centcom commander, which carries responsibility for Afghanistan and Pakistan as well as Iraq, General David Petraeus finally added his voice to this warning chorus as well.

Unfortunately, the current political debate has yet to fully catch up to this reality. In part this derives from the administration's own history of neglect of this strategically central region. President Bush decided to leave the mission unaccomplished in Afghanistan, throw US support behind Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf despite his anti-democratic tendencies, and take our country into an unnecessary war of choice in Iraq, which continues to dominate policymakers' attention. Conservatives in Congress have never seriously questioned any of this. From 2005 to 2006, the 109th Congress managed to hold just one single hearing on Pakistan in all the armed services, foreign affairs, intelligence and oversight committees of both the House and Senate combined. Under Democratic leadership, the 110th Congress has to date held at least 16 congressional hearings on Pakistan alone.

This is an important start, but arguments over negotiations with the regime of Iran and plans to withdraw or maintain US forces in Iraq have so far overshadowed the leading presidential candidates' plans for dealing with the situation in Pakistan, which have still not been articulated in full.

Conservatives' lack of any new plans to close the safe havens that exist there now suggests that they will remain wedded to the status quo policies that have allowed al-Qaida to rebuild itself since 2002. The administration and its allies have previously used fears of Pakistan's "Talibanisation" to justify their over-reliance on the Pakistani army, which is happy to encourage the notion in order to assure a continued influx of American military aid.

In fact, militancy in Pakistan is largely concentrated along the border between Pakistan and Afghanistan. Popular opposition to the use of suicide bombings and other terror tactics has increased as Pakistanis have suffered attacks at the hands of domestic terrorists targeting the institutions of the state. Islamist political parties lost in large numbers in the most recent parliamentary elections, and both US and Pakistani military officials have dismissed any possibility that the country's nuclear arsenal could fall into the hands of terrorists. Prior to those elections, conservatives credited President Musharraf with saving Pakistan from itself, underplaying the role of the Pakistani military in suppressing democratic forces, and its historic support for militant groups operating under an Islamist banner as a means of checking domestic opposition and destabilising its neighbours.

Conservatives are always ready to display their toughness and experience on national security, but a look beneath the surface finds they actually have no clear plan to make us more secure from the al-Qaida movement that killed 3,000 Americans on 9/11. Progressive candidates for office should not shy away from a national security debate they can win by offering serious strategies for the real threats facing America centred in Pakistan and Afghanistan. So long as conservatives cling to President Bush's policies of inertia in Iraq and passivity in Pakistan, their posturing on national security will continue to ring hollow.
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Sharp rise in Logar's drug addicts
Written by www.quqnoos.com Thursday, 29 May 2008
Health officials say dramatic addict increase may swamp aid work
UNEMPLOYMENT and poverty has triggered an increase in the number of young people addicted to drugs in the province of Logar, local health officials have said.

The number of addicts in the province, which does not produce opium, has now reached 11,000 and is increasing every day, the province’s health department said.

The department blamed unemployment for the steady rise in addicts and said that many had become hooked on narcotics after emigrating to neighbouring countries such as Iran. And it is not only opium addicts that are the problem, the department said.

Twenty-six-year-old Gul Zaman has been addicted to hashish for 6 years, ever since moving to Iran as a refugee. He has tried to stop but says he can’t.

Many families in the province say they have high hopes for their children, but that widespread unemployment is turning many of them to drugs.

Logar’s health department is satisfied with the aid delivered by many organisations, but it fears the dramatic increase in the number of addicts will soon swamp the aid effort.
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'War-torn Afghans hit hardest by price hikes'
Written by www.quqnoos.com Thursday, 29 May 2008
Red Cross says hike in food prices hits people in war zones the worst
THE INTERNATIONAL Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) has warned that soaring food prices have made life even harder for people already suffering the effects of war.

"This is especially the case in countries such as Chad, Somalia, Yemen, Afghanistan and Haiti," the ICRC president Jakob Kellenberger said.

Kellenberger warned that the global food crisis may degenerate into violence and further armed conflict.

Afghans are struggling to make ends meet in the wake of unprecedented hikes in rates of food items including wheat flour, rice, cooking oil, sugar and pulses.

The price of flour has recorded a 100 percent increase while rice has shot up more than 50 percent in value.

Similarly, fuel rates have also soared by 2%.

The organisation, which releases its annual report on Tuesday, said it was preparing to provide additional food and other relief for the people worst affected by the combined impact of rising food prices and armed conflict, including those forced to flee their homes, the wounded and the sick, and detainees.

Kellenberger expressed concern that in many armed conflicts, civilians were being specifically targeted, with effects that devastated the lives of millions of men, women and children.

"This report draws attention to the countless violations of international humanitarian law that we witnessed throughout the world last year and it documents the ICRC's efforts to put a stop to those violations," he said.

The report said the ICRC visited 2,400 places of detention in 77 countries, where more than 500,000 detainees were being held.

The prisoners include suspects held at the infamous Guantanamo Bay and US prisons in Afghanistan and Iraq.

"The aim of such visits, based on a confidential dialogue with detainees and the detaining authorities, is to prevent detainees from disappearing or being ill-treated.”
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Opposition says Paris cash boost will fail
Written by www.quqnoos.com Thursday, 29 May 2008
National Front accuse government of wasting billions in foreign aid
THE MAIN opposition party has called on donors at next month’s Afghanistan conference in Paris to discuss law enforcement, the reasons behind “people’s hatred” of the current government and increasing instability.

The National Front (NF) said pumping cash into Afghanistan would not solve Afghanistan’s current problems.

The government will ask foreign donors for $20 billion at next month’s Paris conference.

The NF said the Afghan government had so far failed to live up to the promises it made to donors at previous conferences and accused it of wasting billions of dollars.
 
The opposition party said the government must handover a transparent report detailing how it has spent foreign money donated by the international community over the last few years.

A spokesman for the NF, Said Fazil Sangcharaki, said during a press conference yesterday (Wednesday) that the exclusion of Afghanistan’s opposition party from the conference would have a negative impact on its success.

The government refused to comment on the NF's accusations.
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Singer in hiding after threats over Afghan TV appearance
Friday, May 30, 2008 CBC News Canada
A 19-year-old contestant who placed third in the popular Afghan Star talent contest says her family is now living in secret because of death threats.

Lima Sahar loves to sing and her passion took her to third place in Afghan Star, an Afghani version of American Idol.

She was the first young woman to achieve such a high standing in the talent show, a popular TV series now in its third year.

She performed Pashtun oldies in the contest, with her head covered and her mother at her side, but wore makeup for the cameras.

And while she received unprecedented attention during the competition, she has faced unwelcome attention in its aftermath.

"We have received some night letters, phone calls and now it's getting even worse than when I was in the process, and I'm sure in the future it will get even worse than it is right now," Sahar told CBC News, speaking through a translator.

Members of the Taliban are believed to be sending death threats to the family. Some conservative Muslims believe it is inappropriate for women to sing or appear in public.

Sahar's family members have moved out of their home in Kandahar and are living at a secret location. Some relatives won't contact them, for fear of being threatened.

Now if she wants to sing, she sings only for the family, in a place the neighbours cannot hear.

"I didn't know I would face this problem," Sahar said. "Had I known, I wouldn't have taken part in this competition. Before it was said, by the government and the people, that there is democracy, rights are equal, men and women can do everything. That's why I took part."

Sahar says she feels she has no choice but to leave Afghanistan for a few years.

Perhaps, by the time she returns, the Taliban will have forgotten she ever entered the contest in the first place, she says.
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