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May 6, 2008 

US troops kill several militants in eastern Afghanistan
By FISNIK ABRASHI, Associated Press Writer Tue May 6, 2:17 AM ET
KABUL, Afghanistan - U.S.-led coalition troops killed several militants during a raid in eastern Afghanistan, while a roadside bomb in the south wounded five people, including three policemen, officials said Tuesday.

Can condoms fulfill multiple expectations?
KABUL, 6 May 2008 (IRIN) - Millions of condoms will be distributed across Afghanistan in 2008 in a new drive to prevent sexually transmitted diseases, reduce maternal mortality and improve family planning, aid agencies and the Ministry of Public Health (MoPH) said.

Marines ignore Taliban cash crop to not upset Afghan locals
By JASON STRAZIUSO, Associated Press Writer
GARMSER, Afghanistan - The Marines of Bravo Company's 1st Platoon sleep beside a grove of poppies. Troops in the 2nd Platoon playfully swat at the heavy opium bulbs while walking through the fields. Afghan laborers scraping the plant's

In ghost town where Afghan war begins, UK fights losing battle
Declan Walsh, The Guardian, May 5, 2008
There is only silence in Garmser, a ghost town on the edge of the desert in southern Afghanistan. The bazaar is a lonely line of abandoned shops and debris-strewn streets. There is just one trader - a baker - whose sole customers are British soldiers and Afghan police.

Australia to help Afghan farmers on wheat planting
CANBERRA (Xinhua): Australian government pledged on Tuesday to fund wheat trials in Afghanistan in order to wean struggling farmers off illegal opium crops.

Afghan governors try to be forthright with US officers
KHOST, Afghanistan, May 6 (Reuters) - Under a large white tent next to the gym in the middle of a U.S. military base, the leaders of six Afghan provinces gathered on Tuesday to unburden themselves of their problems.

Afghan Governors Criticize NATO Fight Against Taliban Militants
May 6 (Bloomberg) -- NATO isn't battling Taliban militants in Afghanistan as aggressively as U.S. forces did after the 2001 invasion and toppling of the Islamist regime, according to two provincial governors from the country's mountainous east.

Afghan police destroy 4 heroin labs
KABUL, May 6 (Xinhua) -- Afghan police in eastern Nangarhar province destroyed four heroin labs and over 200 kg of contraband used in manufacturing heroin, an Interior Ministry statement issued here Tuesday said. No arrests was

FEATURE-Afghan medical college struggles to rise from the ashes
Tan Ee Lyn
KABUL, May 6 (Reuters) - The gutted, hollow shell of the Ali Abad training hospital in Kabul is a symbol of the state of Afghanistan's medical system, battered by decades of war.

Iran seeking to keep Afghanistan unstable: US official
PARIS (AFP) - Iran is seeking to keep Afghanistan weak and unstable, delivering arms to the Taliban whilst ostensibly supporting Kabul's government, a senior US state department official said in Paris Tuesday.

Bomb injures Afghan police trainers, militants killed
Tue May 6, 1:50 PM ET
KANDAHAR, Afghanistan (AFP) - A bomb struck a minivan taking Afghan police trainers to work in Afghanistan Tuesday wounding five people, police said, as the US military announced it had killed several militants.

India not to take up new road projects in Afghanistan
New Delhi, May 6 (IANS) After the latest killings of its personnel by Taliban militants in Afghanistan, India's Border Roads Organisation (BRO) Tuesday said it is unlikely to take up any more projects in the insurgency-plagued country.

Afghan Governors Criticize NATO Fight Against Taliban Militants
By Patrick Donahue
May 6 (Bloomberg) -- NATO isn't battling Taliban militants in Afghanistan as aggressively as U.S. forces did after the 2001 invasion and toppling of the Islamist regime, according to two provincial governors from the country's mountainous east.

Inmates protest at Kandahar jail
Tuesday, 6 May 2008 BBC News
Inmates at Kandahar jail in southern Afghanistan have gone on hunger strike to demand the chance of a fair trial.

Afghanistan - build more infrastructure say MEPs back from Kabul
European Parliament (press release), EU May 6, 2008
The international community needs to concentrate on improving security and building more infrastructure, according to a group of MEPs just back from Afghanistan. During the visit they met Afghan President Karzai and members of parliament.

Pakistan sends wheat to Afghans to avert crisis
By Kamran Haider
ISLAMABAD, May 6 (Reuters) - Pakistan approved on Tuesday the export of 50,000 tonnes of wheat to Afghanistan to avert a food crisis there and said exports to its landlocked neighbour would continue on a government-to-government basis.

Islamic Militants Ban Mobile Phone Ringtones
cellular-news.com / May 6, 2008
Islamic militants in Pakistan's tribal areas, which border Afghanistan have issued a decree banning music from mobile phone ringtones and vehicles in tribal areas of the country. A spokesman for the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan

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US troops kill several militants in eastern Afghanistan
By FISNIK ABRASHI, Associated Press Writer Tue May 6, 2:17 AM ET
KABUL, Afghanistan - U.S.-led coalition troops killed several militants during a raid in eastern Afghanistan, while a roadside bomb in the south wounded five people, including three policemen, officials said Tuesday.

The coalition troops killed the militants during a raid Monday on several compounds in the Achin district of Nangarhar province, a coalition statement said.

During the raid troops also detained a militant suspected of involvement in helping foreign fighters and conducting bomb attacks in the region, the statement said.

The coalition did not provide the exact numbers of militants killed.

Over 1,200 people mostly militants have died in insurgency-related violence so far this year, according to a count by The Associated Press.

In southern Afghanistan, which is the center of the Taliban-led insurgency, a bomb placed on a bicycle just outside the city of Kandahar hit a car carrying policemen Tuesday, wounding three officers and two women, said provincial police official Mohammad Shoaib.

The officers worked at a police training academy, Shoaib said.

Insurgents often target police, who are more vulnerable and exposed than the better-trained and equipped Afghan national army. Over 920 police officers were killed by militants in 2007.
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Associated Press reporter Noor Khan in Kandahar contributed to this report.
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Can condoms fulfill multiple expectations?
KABUL, 6 May 2008 (IRIN) - Millions of condoms will be distributed across Afghanistan in 2008 in a new drive to prevent sexually transmitted diseases, reduce maternal mortality and improve family planning, aid agencies and the Ministry of Public Health (MoPH) said.

Millions of condoms have been purchased and imported into Afghanistan by international aid organisations and will be offered either free or at an affordable price (around 2 US cents) to Afghan couples through thousands of health facilities, private pharmacies and general stores.

The MoPH said it had received about three million condoms from donor organisations, including the UN Population Fund (UNFPA), all of which will be distributed for free in 2008.

Marie Stopes International (MSI), a UK-based organisation dealing with family planning, said it would offer 2.5 million condoms at subsidised prices in local markets.

"The attitude of many Afghans is changing," Farhad Javid, the MSI programme director in Kabul, told IRIN. "And condom usage has been increasing," he said, adding that there was still a need to boost public awareness in order to increase condom demand.

"We are promoting condom usage to achieve a number of public health targets," said Abdullah Fahim, a spokesman of the MoPH.

Several positive points

The condom has found its way into conservative Afghanistan over the past six years. The number of users has risen sharply in urban areas, say officials. During Taliban rule, and indeed before that, the subject of condoms and sex was widely considered taboo and rarely discussed in public.

"There are several positive points about a condom; it controls sexually transmitted diseases such as HIV/AIDS, it can be used as a contraceptive, and it is safe," said Fahim.

The exact number of Afghans living with HIV/AIDS is unknown, but MoPH estimates at least 3,000 people might have been infected by the virus. Most are undiagnosed and lack adequate awareness about the risks of HIV/AIDS.

Health specialists said Afghanistan could have an effective HIV/AIDS control policy if it effectively promoted the use of condoms.

Reducing maternal mortality

According to the UN Children's Fund (UNICEF), at least two women die every hour in Afghanistan due to obstetric-and-pregnancy-related complications 1,600 deaths per 100,000 live births which places the war-torn country second to Sierra Leone in terms of its maternal mortality rate.

Lack of access to health services, malnourishment, early marriages and multiple pregnancies are the main reasons for Afghanistan's high maternal mortality rate, according to MoPH.

"If we ensure at least a two-year gap between pregnancies we will definitely reduce maternal mortality," Hamida Ebadi, director of the Safe Motherhood Department in the MoPH, told IRIN, adding that condoms could be an "effective" and "reliable" contraceptive.

"It's also in line with Islamic principles that a mother should have a gap between pregnancies," she said.

In addition to condoms, the MoPH and aid agencies provide other contraceptives, including pills, injections and intrauterine devices, in order to prevent unplanned pregnancies and mitigate health risks.

Condoms are also considered a very important tool for family planning and population growth control, Javid of MSI said. The average Afghan woman has 7-8 pregnancies (a fertility rate of 7.11) and most females marry before the age of 18, aid agencies estimate.

"Should the current 3.5 percent annual population growth rate continue Afghanistan will have over 65 million people by 2050," Javid said.
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Marines ignore Taliban cash crop to not upset Afghan locals
By JASON STRAZIUSO, Associated Press Writer
GARMSER, Afghanistan - The Marines of Bravo Company's 1st Platoon sleep beside a grove of poppies. Troops in the 2nd Platoon playfully swat at the heavy opium bulbs while walking through the fields. Afghan laborers scraping the plant's gooey resin smile and wave.

Last week, the 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit moved into southern Helmand province, the world's largest opium poppy-growing region, and now find themselves surrounded by green fields of the illegal plants that produce the main ingredient of heroin.

The Taliban, whose fighters are exchanging daily fire with the Marines in Garmser, derives up to $100 million a year from the poppy harvest by taxing farmers and charging safe passage fees money that will buy weapons for use against U.S., NATO and Afghan troops.

Yet the Marines are not destroying the plants. In fact, they are reassuring villagers the poppies won't be touched. American commanders say the Marines would only alienate people and drive them to take up arms if they eliminated the impoverished Afghans' only source of income.

Many Marines in the field are scratching their heads over the situation.

"It's kind of weird. We're coming over here to fight the Taliban. We see this. We know it's bad. But at the same time we know it's the only way locals can make money," said 1st Lt. Adam Lynch, 27, of Barnstable, Mass.

The Marines' battalion commander, Lt. Col. Anthony Henderson, said in an interview Tuesday that the poppy crop "will come and go" and that his troops can't focus on it when Taliban fighters around Garmser are "terrorizing the people."

"I think by focusing on the Taliban, the poppies will go away," said Henderson, a 41-year-old from Washington, D.C. He said once the militant fighters are forced out, the Afghan government can move in and offer alternatives.

An expert on Afghanistan's drug trade, Barnett Rubin, complained that the Marines are being put in such a situation by a "one-dimensional" military policy that fails to integrate political and economic considerations into long-range planning.

"All we hear is, not enough troops, send more troops," said Rubin, a professor at New York University. "Then you send in troops with no capacity for assistance, no capacity for development, no capacity for aid, no capacity for governance."

Most of the 33,000 U.S. troops in Afghanistan operate in the east, where the poppy problem is not as great. But the 2,400-strong 24th Marines, have taken the field in this southern growing region during harvest season.

In the poppy fields 100 feet from the 2nd Platoon's headquarters, three Afghan brothers scraped opium resin over the weekend. The youngest, 23-year-old Sardar, said his family would earn little money from the harvest.

"We receive money from the shopkeepers, then they will sell it," said Sardar, who was afraid to give his last name. "We don't have enough money to buy flour for our families. The smugglers make the money," added Sardar, who worked alongside his 11-year-old son just 20 yards from a Marine guard post, its guns pointed across the field.

Afghanistan supplies some 93 percent of the world's opium used to make heroin, and the Taliban militants earn up to $100 million from the drug trade, the United Nations estimates. The export value of this harvest was $4 billion more than a third of the country's combined gross domestic product.

Though they aren't eradicating poppies, the Marines presence could still have a positive effect. Henderson said the drug supply lines have been disrupted at a crucial point in the harvest. And Marine commanders are debating staying in Garmser longer than originally planned.

Second Lt. Mark Greenlief, 24, a Monmouth, Ill., native who commands the 2nd Platoon, said he originally wanted to make a helicopter landing zone in Sardar's field. "But as you can see that would ruin their poppy field, and we didn't want to ruin their livelihood."

Sardar "basically said, 'This is my livelihood, I have to do what I can to protect that,'" said Greenlief. "I told him we're not here to eradicate."

The Taliban told Garmser residents that the Marines were moving in to eradicate, hoping to encourage the villagers to rise up against the Americans, said 2nd Lt. Brandon Barrett, 25, of Marion, Ind., commander of the 1st Platoon.

In the next field over from Sardar's, Khan Mohammad, an Afghan born in Helmand province who lives in Pakistan and came to work the fields, said he makes only $2 a day. He said the work is dangerous now that Taliban militants are shooting at the U.S. positions.

"We're stuck in the middle," he said. "If we go over there those guys will fire at us. If we come here, we're in danger, too, but we have to work," said the 54-year-old Mohammad, who supports a family of 10.

An even older laborer, his back bent by years of work, came over and told the small gathering of Afghans, Marines and journalists that the laborers had to get back to work "or the boss will get mad at us."

Staff Sgt. Jeremy Stover, whose platoon is sleeping beside a poppy crop planted in the interior courtyard of a mud-walled compound, said the Marines' mission is to get rid of the "bad guys," and "the locals aren't the bad guys."

"Poppy fields in Afghanistan are the cornfields of Ohio," said Stover, 28, of Marion, Ohio. "When we got here they were asking us if it's OK to harvest poppy and we said, 'Yeah, just don't use an AK-47.'"
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In ghost town where Afghan war begins, UK fights losing battle
Declan Walsh, The Guardian, May 5, 2008
There is only silence in Garmser, a ghost town on the edge of the desert in southern Afghanistan. The bazaar is a lonely line of abandoned shops and debris-strewn streets. There is just one trader - a baker - whose sole customers are British soldiers and Afghan police.

Further out, giant bomb craters dot the broken gardens and shredded fruit orchards of empty houses. Now they are inhabited by the British.

Squatting on a rickety rooftop, Corporal Lachlan MacNeil pointed to a cluster of long, low buildings. "That's the madrasa [Islamic school]. It's a training camp for the Taliban," he said, his face glistening from the morning heat. "Mostly foreigners inside, we hear - central Asians and Arabs, but especially Pakistanis."

For many Taliban fighters, this deserted, dog-eared town is where the war starts. Garmser is the gateway to Afghanistan for insurgents who stream across the border from Pakistan, 120 miles to the south. The British base here is their first encounter with the "infidels".

"They blood themselves against UK forces here, then graduate into the upper valleys," said Major Neil Den-McKay, officer commanding of a Scottish infantry company stationed at Garmser's agricultural college.

The fighters that pass before the British doorstep are as diverse as the Taliban has become. There are hard-bitten ideologues from the original Taliban movement of the 1990s, hired local fighters known as "$10 Taliban", Baluch drug smugglers and al-Qaida- linked Arabs.

But most, Afghan and British officials say, are Pakistani - ideologically driven young men who consider the war as a religious obligation of struggle, or jihad.

"Our understanding is that the madrasas of northern Pakistan are a major breeding ground that provide the bulk of brainwashed Taliban fighters," said Lieutenant Colonel Nick Borton, commanding officer of Battlegroup South.

Up to 60% of the fighters in Garmser are Pakistani, the Afghan intelligence chief in Garmser, Mir Hamza, said. They come from militant hotspots such as Waziristan and Swat, but also from Punjab, a rich agricultural province with a history of producing radical Islamists.

"Sometimes the Pakistanis have trouble communicating with local [Pashto-speaking] fighters, because they only speak Urdu or Punjabi," he said.

The insurgents cross from Baluchistan, a sprawling province in western Pakistan whose capital, Quetta, is considered to be the Taliban headquarters by Nato commanders. They muster in remote refugee camps west of Quetta - Girdi Jungle is most frequently mentioned - before slipping across the border in four-wheel drive convoys that split up to avoid detection, said Den-McKay. Sometimes sympathetic border guards help them on their way, he said.

Inside Afghanistan the fighters thunder across the Dasht-i-Margo - a harsh expanse of ancient smuggling trails which means "desert of death" - before reaching the river Helmand. Here, the sand turns to lush fields of poppy and wheat, and they reach Garmser, home to the most southerly British base in Helmand.

A wall-sized map in the British base shows the balance of forces. The British control the town centre; the Taliban a sprawl of mud-walled farmhouses that spills south and east. With its irrigation canals, world war one-style trenches and thick vegetation, the area makes for fine guerrilla ground. "This is one of the few places in Afghanistan where there is a visible frontline," said Captain Ross Boyd, sitting in an outpost surrounded by barbed wire.

Last week US marines joined the battle, sending more than 1,000 troops to punch through the Taliban lines around Garmser. Their mission is to disrupt the two-way traffic of fighters scooting north and opium shipments headed south. The Americans met with sporadic, but dogged resistance. Black-clad fighters ambushed them with small arms and rocket propelled grenades, drawing deadly ripostes from helicopter gunships and fighter jets.

The combat continued yesterday as American heavy guns pounded Taliban positions near Garmser.

At the British base, the UK's ambassador to Afghanistan, Sherard Cowper-Coles, had a taste of the action. As he was being briefed on the fighting, Taliban machine gun fire erupted close to the camp. The exchange ended when British attack helicopters and mortars opened fire on the suspected Taliban positions.

British officers say they have ample evidence that many of the enemies are Pakistani. While remaining coy about their sources of intelligence, they speak of hearing Punjab accents and of finding Pakistani papers and telephone contacts on dead fighters.

Four months ago, Den-McKay said, British Gurkhas shot dead a Taliban militant near a small outpost known as Hamburger Hill. Searching the fighter's body, they discovered a Pakistani identity card and handwritten notes in Punjabi.

The issue of cross-border infiltration has vexed relations between Pakistan and Afghanistan. Afghan officials say that Islamabad at best turns a blind eye to the flow, at worst encourages it.

Last Wednesday, Afghanistan's intelligence chief, Amrullah Saleh, alleged that an assassination attempt against President Hamid Karzai the previous weekend had been hatched in Pakistan's tribal areas. He said the attackers had been "receiving orders from the other side of the border until the last moments".

The debate has a very different tone in Pakistan. A spate of Islamist bombs has rocked major cities in the past year. But Pakistanis blame the American and Nato aggression in Afghanistan for inflaming Islamist passions, and see the Taliban as an expression of Pashtun nationalism. Pakistanis are also suspicious of the proliferation of Indian consulates in southern Afghanistan.

In Garmser, the Scottish infantrymen hope to push the Taliban back and fill the town with people again. The continuing marine operation may help that objective.

But the main British effort is concentrated in northern Helmand, and local governance is weak in Garmser, where most of the town elders and administrators have fled to the provincial capital, Lashkar Gah.

And as the poppy harvest draws to a close, commanders expect a fresh spurt of fighting in the coming weeks. Combined with the stream of Taliban from Pakistan, British officers recognise they are only holding the line.

"I'm under no illusions. We are not stopping the movement north," said Den-McKay. "We're just giving them something to talk about."
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Australia to help Afghan farmers on wheat planting
CANBERRA (Xinhua): Australian government pledged on Tuesday to fund wheat trials in Afghanistan in order to wean struggling farmers off illegal opium crops.

Paul Fox, research program manager for crop improvement with the Australian Center for International Agricultural Research, hoped the 1.5 million dollars (1.39 million US dollars) project will find viable alternatives for farmers who grew opium poppies. The 1.5 million dollars will be spent over four years.

"We're trying to find a stable basis to grow legal crops, alternatives to poppies are always part of the agenda really," Fox said in a statement.

"We want to get the newest, the very best varieties (of wheat) in farmers' hands" which could also improve Afghanistan's food security," he said.

The Australian project will fund field trials of different types of wheat and maize to find locally-adapted, disease- resistant strains.

NATO and allied forces, including Australian troops, are trying to stamp out Afghanistan's lucrative trade in opium, which is largely controlled by extremist groups.
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Afghan governors try to be forthright with US officers
KHOST, Afghanistan, May 6 (Reuters) - Under a large white tent next to the gym in the middle of a U.S. military base, the leaders of six Afghan provinces gathered on Tuesday to unburden themselves of their problems.

American officers, dressed in crisp fatigues and wearing concerned expressions, listened intently as soldiers served bagels with cream cheese, diet Coke and chocolate chip cookies.

"Colonel, would you please do something about the checkpoints for the Afghan police?" an Afghan official said in sternly delivered English, translating on behalf of a local police chief dressed in a smart blue uniform.

The American lieutenant-colonel lifted his reading glasses onto his head and nodded quickly and earnestly. "Absolutely, I'm working that," he said, almost contrite.

"Thank you," the Afghan official snapped, then nodded in the direction of the police chief, who smiled and sat down.

The exchange was among the opening salvoes in a monthly meeting the Americans convene to hear what's going on in the vast area of southeastern Afghanistan that they oversee.

The translation isn't great and some of the local officials have a tendency to go off at tangents, but it's one way the Americans have found to gather opinion, and the Afghans have learnt to be forthright with the straight-talking Americans.

"Let me make this suggestion," announced Abdul Jabbar Naeemi, the governor of Maidan Wardak, a province west of Kabul, when it was his turn to address the gathering.

"My people are jobless. They used to go to Iran and the Middle East to work, but now they can't do that so they have nothing. We need more reconstruction projects so that good things happen in my province and the people have jobs."

The commander of U.S. forces in the region, Colonel Pete Johnson, kept his head down as he scribbled on a notepad.

To his left and right, the other governors and their deputies, some with long white beards and wearing traditional Afghan dress, others in Western suits, nodded vigorously, as if that was one of the top concerns too.

After two more governors had laid out their problems, and explained the changing security risks in their provinces, it was time for a 10-minute break for coffee and blueberry muffins. "NOT NEW YORK"
"This is where we can really make a difference," a U.S. captain, the rank that generally spends most time out on the ground with Afghan forces and local officials, explained during the break, which quickly became 25 minutes.

"If we're out there shooting bad guys, for every dead one there are going to be 20 or 30 more who want to get us back. But if we listen and respond to their concerns, then we can do some good. It takes time, but it works."

Tucked under his arm was a copy of the U.S. military's handbook on Afghanistan, a volume that explains everything from tribal customs to the country's 32 languages or dialects. It has become an indispensable tome for all serious-minded officers.

What was notable about the meeting was the relative ease and straight-forwardness both the Americans and the Afghans had with one another. After working with them for more than six years, the Afghans appear to have grown accustomed to their 'visitors'.

Shir Khosti, the recently appointed governor of Ghazni, a restive central province, spent 30 years in the United States before returning to Afghanistan after the fall of the Taliban.

"Believe me, these meetings are very productive," he said as they broke for lunch, speaking with a strong New York accent.

"We have a good exchange of views, get to find out what's going on in other provinces and what the commanders are saying. It's not perfect, but it works."

Asked if it wasn't all a little slow for someone used to the make-it-happen pace of New York life, he shrugged.

"In New York, if you go to a coffee shop and ask for a cup of coffee, you get it right away. Here, you might wait for 30 minutes and end up with a cup of tea. But it's Afghanistan, you have to get used to it."
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Afghan Governors Criticize NATO Fight Against Taliban Militants
May 6 (Bloomberg) -- NATO isn't battling Taliban militants in Afghanistan as aggressively as U.S. forces did after the 2001 invasion and toppling of the Islamist regime, according to two provincial governors from the country's mountainous east.

Hampered by self-imposed restrictions, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization has been slower to coordinate a response to the Taliban, Lutfallah Mashal, governor of Laghman province, told reporters today in Berlin.

``The U.S. forces who took over after the Taliban started to be very aggressive against the Taliban, and were very close to the communities,'' Mashal said. ``But NATO is not doing as aggressive a job as the Americans used to do.''

NATO has struggled to turn back a guerrilla war by Taliban- led insurgents targeting foreign troops and the government of President Hamid Karzai. Crossing the mountains from Pakistan, militants have stepped up attacks on civilians and police in the south and eastern regions along the border.

NATO leaders should coordinate their strategy better, said Gul Aghan Sherzai, governor of Nangarhar on the Pakistani border, where a suicide bomber killed seven civilians and 11 police officers on April 29. Alliance troops should be in every province, he said.

With a third governor, Abdul Jabar Haqbeen of Baghlan, the Afghan regional leaders demanded more troops and development aid. They laid blame on Pakistan for allowing Taliban militants to cross the border and carry out attacks.

The three had delivered a proposal to the German government on expanding police training beyond the capital, Kabul, which Berlin is coordinating. Police academies should be located in regional centers such as Kandahar, Jalalabad and Herat instead of only northern Mazar-e-Sharif and Kabul, Mashal said.

NATO members must loosen their restrictions, or so-called caveats, and move troops out of confined areas, Mashal said. Without explicitly asking Germany to send troops south from positions in the relatively peaceful north, Mashal pointed to its confinement of soldiers to Kunduz province.

``If they go to Kandahar, that would send a strong blow to the Taliban -- the enemies are also thinking that `some countries are friendly toward us and some countries are very aggressive toward us','' Mashal said.

Earlier this year, U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates warned that NATO was evolving into a ``two-tiered alliance'' of those willing to fight the Taliban and those who were not.

The U.S. agreed in January to send an additional 2,200 Marines on a seven-month stopgap tour in the south, while French President Nicolas Sarkozy last month announced the deployment of 700 French troops to eastern Afghanistan, allowing American troops to move south.
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Afghan police destroy 4 heroin labs
KABUL, May 6 (Xinhua) -- Afghan police in eastern Nangarhar province destroyed four heroin labs and over 200 kg of contraband used in manufacturing heroin, an Interior Ministry statement issued here Tuesday said. No arrests was made in the operation launched Monday in Achin district, it added.

Afghanistan, with an output of 8,200 tons of opium poppy in 2007, has topped all poppy growing nations in producing the raw material used in manufacturing heroin in the world. The Afghan government said it was trying hard to make 20 provinces free of poppy this year out of the country's 34 provinces.
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FEATURE-Afghan medical college struggles to rise from the ashes
Tan Ee Lyn
KABUL, May 6 (Reuters) - The gutted, hollow shell of the Ali Abad training hospital in Kabul is a symbol of the state of Afghanistan's medical system, battered by decades of war.

Ali Abad, Afghanistan's oldest hospital, was reduced to rubble when civil war tore Kabul apart in the 1990s.

Though classes stayed open, many doctors who taught at the teaching hospital fled, medical equipment and drugs were scarce and female students were forced to stay at home due to Taliban restrictions against women.

"We lost many senior professors and qualified teachers, they emigrated to other countries, like the United States and they are not coming back," said Professor Obaidullah, chancellor of the Kabul Medical University. "It's a disaster for us."

Reconstruction of the teaching hospital, built 70 years ago, began in 2005 and a motley collection of squat buildings now stand in place of the rubble.

"Ali Abad was completely destroyed. We built two buildings recently but they are empty, we don't have the equipment for the new Ali Abad hospital," said Obaidullah.

He hopes to open a 600 bed facility in the new hospital within the next five months but there is still a shortfall of $1.5 million to pay for equipment. The medical school also badly needs doctors to teach.

"We need specialists in oncology, modern anaesthesiology, biochemistry and histopathology. We have some, but not enough. The key is to get good teachers, increase their knowledge, allow them to go overseas and learn. We accept young teachers, those who want to learn more. We welcome foreigners," he said.

AMBITIOUS PLANS
Afghanistan's healthcare system is widely believed to be one of the country's success stories since reconstruction began after the Taliban were ousted by U.S.-led and Afghan forces in 2001. The Islamist movement came to power in 1996 after a civil war.

While many daunting problems linger, such as not enough doctors, nurses, midwives and equipment, the provision of primary healthcare has improved in some parts of Afghanistan due to help from donor nations and NGOs.

Female patients were excluded from healthcare for many years because they were banned from consulting male doctors, but they are now getting improved access to treatment.

Afghanistan's maternal mortality rate is among the highest in the world, although the government has ambitious plans to cut the rate to 400 from 1,600 for every 100,000 live births by 2020. It also plans to train more female doctors and nurses.

Even today, Afghanistan is suffering the after-effects of Taliban rule as it does not have enough women doctors, nurses and midwives for its female population.

"Female students have come back ... Now they make up 40 percent of our 2,100 students," Obaidullah said. "During the Taliban era, there were zero girls."

Apart from Ali Abad, Kabul Medical University has three other teaching hospitals, among them the French Medical Institute for Children, considered one of the country's better equipped hospitals.

Unlike many doctors, Obaidullah and a handful of colleagues never left Afghanistan, not even during its most difficult times, such as during the 1992 to 1996 civil war.

"One day in 1994, I had just finished a surgery and was going home. That day a lot of rockets fell on Kabul city. I didn't have a car and I ran 10 kilometres all the way home," said A H Shafaq, an ear, nose and throat specialist who teaches at the university.

"That day, it was as if the rockets were chasing me, they were falling around me," he said.

The university rebuilt almost its entire grounds over the past three years. But it left standing an external wall covered with the scars of rocket fire and bullets.

"These are all the memories of war," said Shafaq, pointing to the wall.
(Editing by Megan Goldin)
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Iran seeking to keep Afghanistan unstable: US official
PARIS (AFP) - Iran is seeking to keep Afghanistan weak and unstable, delivering arms to the Taliban whilst ostensibly supporting Kabul's government, a senior US state department official said in Paris Tuesday.

"They (Iran) interfere in a variety of different ways, perhaps not as violently as they do sometimes in Iraq," Richard Boucher, assistant secretary of state for south and central Asia, told reporters at a press conference.

"But what we see is Iranian interference politically, Iranian interference in terms of the money that they channel into the political process, Iranian interference in terms of playing off local officials against central government, trying to undermine the state in that way."

Boucher was speaking in Paris as part of preparations for a major international donors' conference for Afghanistan, due to take place in the French capital on June 12.

"In many ways they (Tehran) do support the work of the government, but they also work with the political opposition, they work with the local opposition," Boucher added.

"They have funnelled some weapons to the Taliban, they seem kind of working with everybody to be hedging their bets, or just looking... like they want weakness or instability in Afghanistan more than anything else."

Boucher told reporters that "several shipments" of weapons from Iran to the Taliban had been intercepted.

"I'm not sure they (Tehran) want to see the Taliban win, but I don't think they want the government to establish good control either. I think they are just trying to hedge their bets and keep everything fluid."

Boucher said that June's conference was a chance for countries to show their will to "create an Afghan government that can deliver to the people what the people want, which is safety, justice, economic opportunity, schools, health care."

France used last month's NATO summit in Bucharest to announce it would send a battalion of around 700 troops to Afghanistan, which Boucher said was a "significant contribution" to the military effort.

"The French are filling a very important gap, they are coming down in areas that are difficult," he said.

US-led forces removed the Taliban from power in Kabul in the aftermath of the September 11 attacks in 2001, but both US and NATO forces are still battling to contain an insurgency there seven years later.
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Bomb injures Afghan police trainers, militants killed
Tue May 6, 1:50 PM ET
KANDAHAR, Afghanistan (AFP) - A bomb struck a minivan taking Afghan police trainers to work in Afghanistan Tuesday wounding five people, police said, as the US military announced it had killed several militants.

Authorities said meanwhile they had discovered a cache of new and mostly Chinese weapons on the Iranian border. Military officials have alleged that Taliban fighters are being rearmed through channels in Iran.

The bomb, fixed to a bicycle, was apparently remotely detonated to blow up as the van passed in the southern city of Kandahar, police Colonel Noor Khan told AFP at the site of the blast.

The three police officers in the vehicle were wounded but the driver was unhurt, Khan said. Two passers-by were also injured, including a woman.

The side of the vehicle was peppered with holes and its windows were blown out.

There was no immediate claim of responsibility but similar explosions have been blamed on Taliban loyalists who have been waging a bloody insurgency since being ousted from government in a US-led invasion in 2001.

The extremist group has carried out several suicide bombings on buses transporting police and defence personnel to work in the capital Kabul, the deadliest killing around 35 people in June 2007.

The US-led coalition that helped to drive the extremists from power has remained to round up hardcore Taliban fighters and their allies in Al-Qaeda.

In a new operation Monday to "degrade militant anti-government operations", coalition troops killed several militants and detained one near the border with Pakistan in the eastern province of Nangarhar, the force said.

The soldiers had gone to the area to look for a Taliban fighter suspected of helping foreign militants in Afghanistan, it said.

"During the course of the operation, several armed militants were killed when they fired on coalition forces," it said. The targeted Taliban was arrested.

The roughly three-tonne weapons cache, consisting mostly of landmines, was discovered Monday in the western province of Herat, border police commander Rahmatullah Safi told AFP.

The "brand-new" weapons found in a district on the Iranian border were mostly labelled as coming from China but also from Iran, he said.
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India not to take up new road projects in Afghanistan
New Delhi, May 6 (IANS) After the latest killings of its personnel by Taliban militants in Afghanistan, India's Border Roads Organisation (BRO) Tuesday said it is unlikely to take up any more projects in the insurgency-plagued country.

'In Afghanistan, we unfortunately had casualties. We have 300 men working in the country, and about 400 personnel of ITBP (Indo-Tibetan Border Police) are there for the inner security cordon,' BRO Director General Lt. Gen. A.K. Nanda told reporters here.

'For the outer cordon of security, we have recruited around 1,400 Afghan gunmen. But one is not very sure of their loyalty,' Nanda said on the eve of the 48th raising day of the BRO.

On April 12, two personnel of the BRO were killed and five injured in a suicide attack in southwest Afghanistan's Nimroz province. Two other BRO personnel were killed earlier in the year.

BRO sources told IANS that the organisation has been paying around 4,000-5,000 Afghanis (Afghanistan currency) to the local gunmen, but their loyalties are a major cause of concern for the Indian authorities.

'The threat is there and we have to live with that. Because of the threat, we would like to finish the work as early as possible,' Nanda added.

The BRO has completed about 80 percent of the work on the 219-km road from Zaranj to Delaram on the Iran-Afghanistan border and construction of the last 30 km is going on. The road will link the highways of the land-locked country to Iranian ports and open the Afghan market to Indian goods as currently there are no transit facilities through Pakistan.

'By July this year we are likely to pull out from Afghanistan after finishing the project,' Nanda said.

Over 4,000 Indians are engaged in construction activities at various infrastructure projects in Afghanistan. India has pledged $850 million for the reconstruction of the war-ravaged country, making New Delhi the fifth largest donor there.

However, BRO is not likely to undertake other projects in the country.

'No further request has come yet, and we have got enough workload over here (in India),' Nanda said.

Besides Afghanistan, the BRO has undertaken strategic projects in neighbouring countries like Bhutan and Myanmar.
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Afghan Governors Criticize NATO Fight Against Taliban Militants
By Patrick Donahue
May 6 (Bloomberg) -- NATO isn't battling Taliban militants in Afghanistan as aggressively as U.S. forces did after the 2001 invasion and toppling of the Islamist regime, according to two provincial governors from the country's mountainous east.

Hampered by self-imposed restrictions, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization has been slower to coordinate a response to the Taliban, Lutfallah Mashal, governor of Laghman province, told reporters today in Berlin.

``The U.S. forces who took over after the Taliban started to be very aggressive against the Taliban, and were very close to the communities,'' Mashal said. ``But NATO is not doing as aggressive a job as the Americans used to do.''

NATO has struggled to turn back a guerrilla war by Taliban- led insurgents targeting foreign troops and the government of President Hamid Karzai. Crossing the mountains from Pakistan, militants have stepped up attacks on civilians and police in the south and eastern regions along the border.

NATO leaders should coordinate their strategy better, said Gul Aghan Sherzai, governor of Nangarhar on the Pakistani border, where a suicide bomber killed seven civilians and 11 police officers on April 29. Alliance troops should be in every province, he said.

With a third governor, Abdul Jabar Haqbeen of Baghlan, the Afghan regional leaders demanded more troops and development aid. They laid blame on Pakistan for allowing Taliban militants to cross the border and carry out attacks.

Police Training

The three had delivered a proposal to the German government on expanding police training beyond the capital, Kabul, which Berlin is coordinating. Police academies should be located in regional centers such as Kandahar, Jalalabad and Herat instead of only northern Mazar-e-Sharif and Kabul, Mashal said.

NATO members must loosen their restrictions, or so-called caveats, and move troops out of confined areas, Mashal said. Without explicitly asking Germany to send troops south from positions in the relatively peaceful north, Mashal pointed to its confinement of soldiers to Kunduz province.

``If they go to Kandahar, that would send a strong blow to the Taliban -- the enemies are also thinking that `some countries are friendly toward us and some countries are very aggressive toward us','' Mashal said.

Earlier this year, U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates warned that NATO was evolving into a ``two-tiered alliance'' of those willing to fight the Taliban and those who were not.

The U.S. agreed in January to send an additional 2,200 Marines on a seven-month stopgap tour in the south, while French President Nicolas Sarkozy last month announced the deployment of 700 French troops to eastern Afghanistan, allowing American troops to move south.
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Inmates protest at Kandahar jail
Tuesday, 6 May 2008 BBC News
Inmates at Kandahar jail in southern Afghanistan have gone on hunger strike to demand the chance of a fair trial.

About 400 of the 1,000 inmates are involved in the protest, which correspondents say is restricted to one block of the prison.

The men, some of them on remand, say they have been held for years due to long delays in the judicial process.

The authorities have rejected claims by prisoners that there has been official interference in individual cases.

Prisoners say they have been denied the right to appeal as well as legal advice.
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Afghanistan - build more infrastructure say MEPs back from Kabul
European Parliament (press release), EU May 6, 2008
The international community needs to concentrate on improving security and building more infrastructure, according to a group of MEPs just back from Afghanistan. During the visit they met Afghan President Karzai and members of parliament. They also saw for themselves how some European funded projects are progressing. Despite the progress the country has made, the attempted assassination of president Karzai during their stay underlined that the Taliban are not a spent force.

According to French Liberal Philippe Morillon who headed the delegation of 9 MEPs, the purpose was to show the "profound solidarity" the European Union has with the Afghan people. Describing what he thought was needed he said that more infrastructure projects were required to help the overall economy but especially to allow the regions to trade with Kabul.

"More shops" - and "daily shootings" in Kabul

For Bulgarian MEP Nickolay Mladenov (EPP-ED) what is clear is that despite the difficulties the situation for people is getting better. He told us that since a visit in 2006 "there are more shops, the streets are cleaner, but there is less of a feeling of optimism, which was present two years ago". He said "strong political leadership is needed to reignite the process of reconciliation and reconstruction."

However, despite some progress French MEP Véronique Mathieu (EPP-ED) said "gun fire in Kabul is almost daily."

On the need for non-military actors to be involved in Afghanistan, Estonian Socialist Katrin Saks said that "the unstable situation cannot be solved only by military means. More attention has to be paid to civilian aid and projects which help satisfy peoples' basic needs and projects which help in institution-building".

What next for Afghanistan and the international community?

A donors' conference in Paris on the future of Afghanistan will take place on 12 June. Participants will talk about strategies to help Afghanistan. MEPs are due to vote on a report on the Stabilisation of Afghanistan before the summer recess.

Since 2007 an EU police force has been in Afghanistan to advise and train the Afghani police and interior ministry.
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Pakistan sends wheat to Afghans to avert crisis
By Kamran Haider
ISLAMABAD, May 6 (Reuters) - Pakistan approved on Tuesday the export of 50,000 tonnes of wheat to Afghanistan to avert a food crisis there and said exports to its landlocked neighbour would continue on a government-to-government basis.

The Pakistani government also approved the immediate import of 250,000 tonnes of wheat, part of a targeted 1.5 million tonnes of imports this year, and said a surplus of rice would be exported but only after domestic needs were met.

Pakistan launched a crackdown on the smuggling of wheat flour to Afghanistan late last year as prices of the staple surged.

The government's highest economic decision-making body, the Economic Coordination Committee (ECC), approved the export to Afghanistan at a meeting chaired by Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani.

"The ECC approved the export of 50,000 tonnes of wheat to Afghanistan to avert food crisis in additional to their annual requirement," the prime minister's office said in a statement.

Gilani also directed that the export of wheat to Afghanistan should only be done on a government-to-government level while measures to check smuggling would be strengthened, it said.

Pakistan expects wheat output of 21.8 million tonnes this year, below a target of 24 million tonnes, and 1 million tonnes less than domestic requirements.

Last month, the government approved the import of 1.5 million tonnes of wheat and Gilani approved the immediate import of 250,000 tonnes of that to control prices and address shortages.

RICE EXPORTS
Pakistan expected rice output of up to 5.5 million tonnes this financial year, ending on June 30, and domestic consumption would be a little over 2.2 million tonnes, the office said.

The surplus would be exported after domestic needs were met and domestic prices were stabilised, it said.

"While observing that the rice production is surplus in Pakistan, the ECC decided that the export of rice must be undertaken after meeting the domestic consumption and ensuring the stability of prices," the prime minister's office said.

Last month, the government raised the prospect of imposing curbs on rice exports if prices rose in the domestic market.

Rice, a high-value cash crop, accounts for about 8 percent of Pakistani exports and 1.2 percent of gross domestic product.

High food prices lifted Pakistan's consumer price inflation to 14.12 percent year-on-year in March, the highest in 13 years.

The U.N. World Food Programme has said nearly half of Pakistan's 160 million people are at risk of going short of food because of a surge in prices.

Pakistan produced 5.4 million tonnes of rice last year and exported 3.12 million, equal to about a 10th of world rice trade, and it exported 1.6 million tonnes of rice in the first eight months of this fiscal year, according to official data.

Rice prices in Pakistan have doubled in the past few months.

Some main rice-growing countries, such as Vietnam and India, have clamped down on shipments to cool domestic prices, but that has in turn fanned worries about shortages and has helped push global prices higher.

(Additional reporting by Zeeshan Haider; editing by Robert Birsel)
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Islamic Militants Ban Mobile Phone Ringtones
cellular-news.com / May 6, 2008
Islamic militants in Pakistan's tribal areas, which border Afghanistan have issued a decree banning music from mobile phone ringtones and vehicles in tribal areas of the country. A spokesman for the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan, Maulana Faqir Mohammed said, the they would not allow commuters to play music in their cars or use musical ringtones on mobile phones.

He warned that offenders would be punished according to Shariah laws.

Maulana Faqir Mohammed has been an outlaw in the region due to his reported close contact with Taliban and al-Qaeda elements. He has however been disowned by the tribal elders, who in 2006 - following local traditions - burnt down his house as a signal of disapproval of his activities and warned him to surrender to the authorities.

This is not the first time that Taliban leaders have tried to clamp down on music in their areas - and a wave of attacks on mobile phone stores in North Waziristan was carried out last October to stop them selling music capable phones.

The shop-owners said at the time that they had received several letters, asking them not to sell mobile phones pre-loaded with 'musical' ring tones. Many retailers had started offering phones pre-loaded with 'jihadi' ringtones, but this did not seem enough to appease the militants.
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