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May 8, 2008 

Suicide bomber in car blows himself up and wouneds 3 in Kabul
By AMIR SHAH, Associated Press Writer Thu May 8, 11:07 AM ET
KABUL, Afghanistan - A suicide bomber in a car blew himself up close to a convoy of foreign troops in Kabul on Thursday, but instead wounded three civilians, officials said.

NATO could end rotating command in S. Afghanistan
WASHINGTON (AFP) - NATO could change its rotating command of southern Afghanistan and give the role to a single country, amid concern that the current system is boosting the Taliban insurgency, NATO's top US general said Thursday.

Afghan intellectuals criticise US, NATO operations
Thu May 8, 1:34 PM ET
KABUL (AFP) - About 3,000 Afghan politicians and intellectuals criticised Thursday the international military campaign against Islamic militants in Afghanistan and called for dialogue to ending the fighting.

Taliban governor killed in raid: Afghan ministry
Thu May 8, 10:01 AM ET
KABUL (Reuters) - Afghan police killed the self-styled governor and provincial police chief of Taliban insurgents in the western province of Ghor on Thursday, the interior ministry said.

Medics brace as raids pick up in Afghan southeast
By Luke Baker Thu May 8, 6:36 AM ET
KHOST, Afghanistan (Reuters) - The announcement over the military address system echoed ominously across the U.S. base in southeastern Afghanistan, freezing soldiers in their tracks.

Bush to meet Karzai, Iraqi leaders on Mideast tour
Wed May 7, 5:08 PM ET
WASHINGTON (AFP) - President George W. Bush will hold separate, bilateral meetings with Afghan President Hamid Karzai and Iraqi leaders during his May 13-18 trip to the Middle East, a top White House aide said Wednesday.

Afghans escape poverty via cheap U.S. labor
By Luke Baker Wed May 7, 5:58 AM ET
KHOST, Afghanistan (Reuters) - Said Mohammed spends eight hours a day six days a week cementing walls with his bare hands, earning just $3 a day. He could barely be happier.

NATO, Afghanistan sign munitions deal
May 7, 2008 at 6:19 PM
BRUSSELS, May 7 (UPI) -- Officials from NATO and Afghanistan signed an agreement Wednesday to establish greater security at munitions depots in Afghanistan.

Afghan ambassador urges action to stop attacks on schools
Wed May 7, 7:35 PM By Sue Bailey, The Canadian Press
OTTAWA - The Afghan ambassador to Canada says a rash of attacks on schools in his country is an alarming situation that demands a serious response.

Majority of Afghan refugees ‘escape’ repatriation
Thursday, 8 May, 2008, 05:07 AM Doha Time
PESHAWAR: Most Afghan families living in Jalozai refugee camp in Pakistan in this historic northwest border city have moved to different villages in nearby Nowshera and Peshawar districts instead of repatriating to their homeland, official sources here say.

RAF Nimrods 'had fuel problems'
Thursday, 8 May 2008 18:16 UK BBC News
An RAF engineer has told an inquest he "should have been told" about signs of fuel leaks in a Nimrod plane which exploded mid-air killing 14 servicemen.

The battle of denial and deniability
Wooing Taliban okay, says Karzai official, but only if it's done by Afghan government
Toronto Star, Canada Rosie DiManno Columnist May 07, 2008
KABUL-Canadian soldiers, and their civilian associates, have no business pursuing parallel peace chats with the Taliban, no matter how low-level the probing for mediation.

Pakistan agrees to send wheat to Afghanistan
Written by www.quqnoos.com Wednesday, 07 May 2008
Government threatens to step up fight against cross-border flour smugglers
PAKISTAN has approved the export of 50,000 tonnes of wheat to Afghanistan to avert an impending food disaster and said exports to its landlocked neighbour would continue on a government-to-government basis.

Lanslide kills five from same family
Written by www.quqnoos.com Wednesday, 07 May 2008
Boulders crash into house, leaving only teenage survivor
A LANDSLIDE that crashed into a village house has killed five members of the same family.

Afghanistan - Long years of struggle
By Debbie Menon Alarab online, UK
The Afghan people have a great strength; a dignity in their lives, and a pride in their culture. Long years of war and struggle have put the Afghan people in a position of hopelessness. They are now weary of war. They are determined to make

Afghans kidnapped for working with foreigners released
Written by www.quqnoos.com Wednesday, 07 May 2008
Adbucted Afghan driver and doctor resume work with German company
THE TWO Afghans kidnapped while working for a foreign company in the province of Parwan last month have been released.

Corrupt officials not receiving Canadian money: ambassador
Canada.com, Canada Juliet O'Neill Canwest News Service Wednesday, May 07, 2008
OTTAWA-Afghanistan's ambassador to Canada assured MPs Wednesday that Canadian aid funds are not winding up in the "pockets or bank accounts" of corrupt government officials.

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Suicide bomber in car blows himself up and wouneds 3 in Kabul
By AMIR SHAH, Associated Press Writer Thu May 8, 11:07 AM ET
KABUL, Afghanistan - A suicide bomber in a car blew himself up close to a convoy of foreign troops in Kabul on Thursday, but instead wounded three civilians, officials said.

The bomber in a white Toyota Corolla vehicle died in the blast, which happened in the capital's western outskirts shortly after a convoy carrying foreign troops passed by, said a regional police chief Zulmay Khan.

Three civilians, including a woman and two men, were wounded in the blast, he said. There were no reports of casualties among those in the convoy.

Militants trying to weaken the grip of U.S.-backed Afghan President Hamid Karzai have turned to roadside and suicide bomb attacks against heavily armed foreign troops. Last year, militants launched over 140 suicide missions. Most victims in these attacks have been civilians.

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

Separately, police clashed with a group of insurgents in the western Ghor province, leaving six Taliban fighters dead, said provincial police chief Shah Jahan Noori.

Among militants killed during the Thursday clash was the Taliban appointed governor for the western province of Ghor, Noor said.

About 10 militants had crossed into Ghor from the neighboring Helmand province before the clash, he said.

Two police and one civilian were wounded during the firefight.

In the areas of the country where the insurgency is active, Taliban militants try to run a parallel administration — collecting taxes and resolving disputes in impromptu created courts.
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NATO could end rotating command in S. Afghanistan
WASHINGTON (AFP) - NATO could change its rotating command of southern Afghanistan and give the role to a single country, amid concern that the current system is boosting the Taliban insurgency, NATO's top US general said Thursday.

"Everything is open," General Bantz Craddock told AFP when asked how command of the Taliban hotbed area, which currently alternates between Canada, Britain and the Netherlands, was likely to change.

Craddock said he received a letter from the commander of the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force, saying "it would be better if we had one country take lead as opposed to rotate."

ISAF includes 47,000 soldiers from 40 countries who work alongside a separate US-led coalition numbering about 20,000 and the Afghan security forces to defeat extremist violence.

Regional governors from Afghanistan warned earlier this week that failure by Western powers to coordinate their military deployment could ultimately play into the hands of the Taliban, because some countries had gained a reputation as softer targets while others were more aggressive.

Craddock said he would make a recommendation but the decision would be made in the political arena.

He added that "from a military perspective, unity of command does make a lot of sense ... on the other hand you want a full participation."

US Defense Secretary Robert Gates said last month that he expects a significant addition of US forces in Afghanistan next year, though the Pentagon has stressed that such a move would depend on deep troop cuts in Iraq.

Nearly 70 percent of the foreign forces are based in southern and eastern Afghanistan where the violence is most deadly.

The Taliban was ousted for harboring Al-Qaeda leaders in late 2001 after the September 11 attacks on the United States.

Currently, there are 158,000 US troops in Iraq. The United States has 34,000 troops in Afghanistan, 16,000 of whom are under ISAF.
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Afghan intellectuals criticise US, NATO operations
Thu May 8, 1:34 PM ET
KABUL (AFP) - About 3,000 Afghan politicians and intellectuals criticised Thursday the international military campaign against Islamic militants in Afghanistan and called for dialogue to ending the fighting.

The meeting of mainly Pashtuns, the country's largest ethnic group, launched a new body that it said would work on "saving people captured in fighting" and assist "those involved in conflict to stop fighting."

Afghanistan is in the grips of an insurgency by the extremist Taliban, a majority Pashtun group that was in government between 1996 and 2001. The country depends on about 70,000 mainly US troops for security.

"Today our elders, children and women are captured and jailed," civil society activist Daud Mirakai, one of the founders of the new National Peace Jirga of Afghanistan, told the crowd.

He was referring to arrests of suspects during US- and NATO-led operations mainly in Pashtun-dominated southern and eastern Afghanistan where Taliban militants are most active and are said to have local support.

The forces regularly round up suspects but no women are known to be among them.

"Today, they (foreign forces) break through our doors while our women are sleeping," he continued, raising a highly emotive issue among Pashtuns that prompted shouts of "Allahu akbar" (God is greater).

International troops looking for Taliban, Al-Qaeda and other rebels have been accused of not respecting local culture; they in turn say militants deliberately position themselves among women and children.

Mirakai said international forces claimed to have brought peace and democracy to Afghanistan but this was not true.

Instead "people are forced to abandon their villages under the shells and mortars of US forces and their allies who are killing people first and asking questions later," he said.

Pashtuns were main victims of the unrest, he said, claiming the ethnic group which has ruled for the past two centuries had been pushed aside by the government of President Hamid Karzai, himself a Pashtun.

"Peace in Afghanistan is impossible when Pashtuns are targeted from the air and ground on a daily basis," he added, referring to military operations.

Another key organiser, parliamentarian Bakhtar Aminzai, said the new jirga, the Pashtu word for council, wanted to bring peace through talks with the rebels.

"Fighting is not the solution," he said. "Dialogue and reconciliation is the solution for the conflict," he said.
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Taliban governor killed in raid: Afghan ministry
Thu May 8, 10:01 AM ET
KABUL (Reuters) - Afghan police killed the self-styled governor and provincial police chief of Taliban insurgents in the western province of Ghor on Thursday, the interior ministry said.

The police raid killed Mullah Sarajuddin identified as Taliban's governor for Ghor and the police chief named only as Mawlavi, along with five other militants while planning to carry out a "sabotage" plan, the ministry said.

There were no casualties among the police, it said in a statement, terming the reported Taliban deaths as a major achievement.

The Taliban who lead an insurgency against the government and foreign troops, could not be contacted for comment immediately

Separately on Thursday, a suicide car bomber targeted a convoy carrying foreign soldiers on the western outskirts of Kabul, but missed, and instead three civilians were wounded in the attack, a police official said.

Violence has been at its worst level in Afghanistan since 2006, the bloodiest period since the removal of the al Qaeda-backed Taliban in 2001.

The militants largely rely on roadside bombs and suicide attacks as part of their insurgency and are mostly active in the southern and eastern areas where they run a parallel administration.

Violence has been at worst since 2006, the bloodiest period since Taliban's ouster. More than 12,000 people have been killed during the past two years.

(Reporting by Sayed Salahuddin, editing by Sanjeev Miglani)
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Medics brace as raids pick up in Afghan southeast
By Luke Baker Thu May 8, 6:36 AM ET
KHOST, Afghanistan (Reuters) - The announcement over the military address system echoed ominously across the U.S. base in southeastern Afghanistan, freezing soldiers in their tracks.

"Attention on the FOB! Attention on the FOB!" the voice boomed in the darkness, addressing Forward Operating Base Salerno, a camp 20 km (13 miles) from the Pakistan border.

"Emergency blood drive, O positive. Emergency blood drive, O positive," the voice bellowed, steady yet urgent.

From various corners of the camp, soldiers slung assault rifles over their shoulders and began to run towards the combat support hospital, near the air strip. Casualties were in.

It may be barely perceptible at this stage, but slowly and surely attacks by the Taliban and militants allied to them appear to be picking up along Afghanistan's southeastern border.

U.S. commanders have been braced for a "spring offensive," a pick-up in violence tied to the season, when warmer weather allows the Taliban to work their way over the mountains from hideouts in northwestern Pakistan and into Afghanistan.

In the first few weeks of this spring, there was little change in the level of violence compared with last year, officers say. But in recent days, at least in one key region along the border, that picture has shifted, even if it may be still too early to say that a renewed Taliban offensive has started.

"A lot of things are starting to happen in the area," Lieutenant-Colonel Kathy Ponder, the chief nurse at the combat support hospital, which put out the call for more blood to treat the wounded from a roadside bomb, told Reuters on Thursday.

"The Taliban seem to be picking up on the IED (improvised explosive device) blasts and we're getting a lot of gunshot wounds. The intel we're getting is that they are targeting our area, so we're ready. We're making sure we're overstocked on what we need."

Wednesday afternoon's attack, just north of the city of Khost, near the Pakistan border, targeted a U.S. military patrol. Two U.S. soldiers and one U.S. civilian were killed, and two U.S. soldiers were wounded. The wounded pair lost both of their legs, hence the call for large amounts of blood.

"They were in a really bad way," Ponder said, praising the team of surgeons, nurses and medical technicians who operated into the early hours of Thursday to stabilize the casualties and get them evacuated to an airbase north of the capital Kabul.

"There was blood everywhere. It really did look like a warzone," she said of the two-bed operating theatre.

BORDER INFILTRATION
As well as the attack on the U.S. patrol, which raised the number of U.S. soldiers and Marines killed in Afghanistan to 498, there was a second roadside bomb blast near Khost and a failed suicide bombing in the town.

The roadside bomb killed an Afghan police commander and his bodyguard, while the suicide bomber detonated his explosive vest prematurely, killing himself and a child standing nearby, an Afghan spokesman working with the U.S. military said.

"I think it is definitely getting worse -- all this in one day," the spokesman said, pointing out that President Hamid Karzai recently put Khost and the province surrounding it on his "green" list, meaning it was supposed to be more secure.

As well as along the border region, U.S. officers say there has been a small but steady increase in violence in towns and villages deeper inside the country, particularly in remote mountainous areas directly south of Kabul.

"There's been a steady increase, although it's not yet at a seriously high intensity," said Captain David Spencer, a company commander at a base about 100 km (60 miles) south of Kabul. "Some of them (the militants) are probably filtering in over the border, but most of them are local guys."

For Lieutenant-Colonel Ponder, the combat hospital nurse, it all means being prepared for any eventuality.

"We're ready for things to keep picking up," she said. "We can't get complacent."
(Editing by Alex Richardson)
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Bush to meet Karzai, Iraqi leaders on Mideast tour
Wed May 7, 5:08 PM ET
WASHINGTON (AFP) - President George W. Bush will hold separate, bilateral meetings with Afghan President Hamid Karzai and Iraqi leaders during his May 13-18 trip to the Middle East, a top White House aide said Wednesday.
 
The meeting with Karzai will take place May 17, when Bush is in Egypt to attend the World Economic Forum on the Middle East at the Red Sea resort of Sharm el-Sheikh, said US national security advisor Stephen Hadley.

Bush will also have lunch with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak and will meet with Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas.

The following day, Bush will meet with Iraq's Vice President Adel Abdel Mahdi and Deputy Prime Minister Barham Ahmed Saleh.

Also on May 18, Bush will hold separate meetings with Jordan's King Abdullah II, Palestinian prime minister Salam Fayyad and Lebanese Prime Minister Fuad Siniora, Hadley said.
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Afghans escape poverty via cheap U.S. labor
By Luke Baker Wed May 7, 5:58 AM ET
KHOST, Afghanistan (Reuters) - Said Mohammed spends eight hours a day six days a week cementing walls with his bare hands, earning just $3 a day. He could barely be happier.

"This is a very good job, very good," he says, beaming and eager to explain everything about it in his garbled, rapid-fire English apparently learnt from American TV shows.

"I come here from just nearby, spend eight hours, break for prayer, home at four. On Fridays I have day off. It's very good. I support myself, seven brothers and two sisters," he rattles off, slapping down dollops of cement as he talks.

Mohammed, 20, is one of several hundred Afghans employed at a U.S. military base in eastern Afghanistan, doing everything from digging holes to carrying furniture, building new barracks, cleaning toilets and filling sandbags.

While content, he is also a little jealous of some of the others working nearby who earn $8-10 a day doing similar jobs. They are employed by KBR, a U.S. firm with vast reconstruction and supply contracts in both Afghanistan and Iraq.

According to Mohammed, to get hired by KBR you have to know the man who finds the workers for the U.S. company. If you do not know him -- a local from Khost -- you get stuck on $3 an hour.

"Maybe soon I'll get a new job with the Americans," he says, looking over at the nearby work site, where 10-15 Afghans in traditional clothes with turbans on their heads -- wearing dark sunglasses supplied by the Americans -- are laboring in the heat under the watchful eye of a Western KBR contractor.

While the working conditions are grim -- the hours are long, they are under constant watch sometimes by armed U.S. soldiers, and they have to march everywhere in single file with a "guard" behind -- Mohammed and the others are in the lucky minority.

KEEP QUIET

In Khost, unemployment is estimated by local officials to be running at somewhere between 80 and 90 percent -- it's hard to tell exactly because no one registers as jobless and many people manage to find informal work from time to time.

In the past, the lack of jobs and the frustrations that brings for young men eager to earn a wage and eventually marry, has been exploited by the Taliban to win recruits. Now, when they see men working and suspect it is for the Americans, the Taliban are quick to threaten, intimidate or kill.

"I can't tell anyone what I do," says Saif, a translator on the base who asked that only part of his name be used.

"Just recently, one man who worked here had his head cut off by the Taliban," he says, estimating that in the three years he has worked for the Americans, around four dozen Afghans working on U.S. bases near the city of Khost have been killed.

The laborers though are more than happy to take the risk for the sake of a small but regular wage. Most have extended families to support and are struggling because of rising food and energy costs.

In the past six months, the price of a 50 kg (110 lb) bag of rice in the Khost market has risen from 1,100 Afghanis (around $22) to 2,000 Afghanis, locals say. Wheat has risen from 1,500 for a 100 kg bag to 3,500-4,000. Diesel prices have doubled.

"It's hard for people to survive," says Saif, who supports 18 members of his family on earnings of around $1,200 a month.

"The high prices and the lack of work, they are both things that force people to join the Taliban," he argues, believing that many people ally themselves with the militants not for any political reason but for criminal gain.

Those that do not have work and do not side with the Taliban tend to blame their problems on the government, which they see as corrupt and inefficient. Perhaps as a consequence, local governors are keen for the Americans to launch more reconstruction projects -- like new roads -- to provide jobs.

"The expectations from the people are very high," says Abdul Jabbar Naeemi, the governor of Maidan Wardak, a province near Kabul. "What I want are more development projects so that we can give the people some jobs. That's what they want."
(Editing by Alex Richardson)
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NATO, Afghanistan sign munitions deal
May 7, 2008 at 6:19 PM
BRUSSELS, May 7 (UPI) -- Officials from NATO and Afghanistan signed an agreement Wednesday to establish greater security at munitions depots in Afghanistan.

NATO Maintenance and Supply Agency officials and top officials from Afghanistan signed a memorandum of cooperation at NATO headquarters in Brussels. The agreement establishes a trust fund that will go to pay for greater safety and security at Afghanistan's two main national munitions depots, NATO reported.

Official say the agreement, implemented under the umbrella of NATO's Afghan Cooperation Program, also will increase capacity at the Afghan national munitions depots along with increases in overall effectiveness. The project will also provide "assistance to the Afghan Ministry of Defense in carrying out an assessment which will form the basis of a national action plan for ammunition stockpile management, including the disposal of surplus and unserviceable stocks," the release said.

Co-leading the munitions security project are Belgium, Canada and Luxembourg. Officials say the project will cost more than $9.68 million and will be implemented over two years.
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Afghan ambassador urges action to stop attacks on schools
Wed May 7, 7:35 PM By Sue Bailey, The Canadian Press
OTTAWA - The Afghan ambassador to Canada says a rash of attacks on schools in his country is an alarming situation that demands a serious response.

Omar Samad says Afghans and Pakistanis must consider reaching out to insurgents who can be swayed against such violence - and stop those who cannot. A report published Wednesday from Kandahar province says there have been 36 sabotage attacks on schools in less than two months.

It says the security situation is so bad that nearly half the schools in Kandahar are closed some or all of the time.

Samad says the report sounds credible and that similar attacks are taking place along the Afghan border with Pakistan.

He says arson, kidnappings and attacks on teachers and students are the work of 'ignorant' forces bent on derailing progress and dragging Afghanistan back to the days before 9-11 when the Taliban ruled with an iron fist.

"We need to figure out who supports such drastic attacks and who doesn't," Samad said in an interview. "And a decision has to be made as to who you reach out to and who you cannot reach out to. This is a test.

"We need to realize the gravity of this escalation. Some hard decisions have to be made as to whether we're going to allow our children and our teachers to be targets of terrorism."

Samad says there have been several attacks on schools over the last two years and it's too soon to say whether this year will be much worse.

"This is part of a pattern of targeted attacks on institutions and certain groups of people in society to instill fear.

"It is also politically motivated by those groups that do not want to see Afghanistan progress and its people live in peace and prosperity."
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Majority of Afghan refugees ‘escape’ repatriation
Thursday, 8 May, 2008, 05:07 AM Doha Time
PESHAWAR: Most Afghan families living in Jalozai refugee camp in Pakistan in this historic northwest border city have moved to different villages in nearby Nowshera and Peshawar districts instead of repatriating to their homeland, official sources here say.

According to government statistics more than 5,000 families have so far left for Afghanistan from the camp. But the authorities concerned have no record of those Afghans who have slipped from the camp and mingled in the local population to evade eviction.

Police sources said that most of Afghan refugees had moved to the nearby villages in Nowshera district and some of them had gone to various localities in Peshawar.

The government, sources said, was bound to keep watch on movement of the refugees prior to dislocating them from the camps.

They said that such Afghans could be easily found in Tarkha, Akbarpura, Khush Muqam, Taro, Tarnab, Lala Qila, Chamkani, Pabi, Cherat and other adjacent areas.

"In Peshawar such refugees are living in every locality and they are ready to welcome and accommodate every newcomer of their community even if there are three families in a small size house," a police official said.

Referring to Kacha Garhi camp, the official said majority of the inhabitants preferred to shift to the city instead of going to their homeland.

According to rules the refugees were not allowed to reside in the settled area, buy and hire property or establish their business, he said.

During a visit to various property dealers in the city it was learnt that majority of those seeking the houses on rent were Afghans.

Hameed Khan, a dealer, said that owners did not want to rent out their houses to Afghan refugees as they were not reliable and could leave anytime after committing some 'wrongdoings'.

"However, there the government did not issue directives to us about not providing houses on rent to refugees," he said. He added that it depended on the property dealers and land owners to accommodate Afghans or refuse to rent out their houses to them.

A UNHCR spokesperson, when contacted, said that 27,000 individuals had so far been repatriated while the process was continuing. She said that people living in the largest refugee camp were gradually leaving for their homeland as per schedule of UN High Commissioner for Refugees.

The presence of Afghans is a major issue here who has badly affected the social life of the people.

The government had launched a drive last year and had fixed April 15 as deadline for expelling Afghans from the city. Afghan commissionerate, City Development and Municipal Department and police were asked to jointly carry out the drive, but the process was suspended because of reasons best known to the officials concerned. - Internews
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RAF Nimrods 'had fuel problems'
Thursday, 8 May 2008 18:16 UK BBC News
An RAF engineer has told an inquest he "should have been told" about signs of fuel leaks in a Nimrod plane which exploded mid-air killing 14 servicemen.

The 37-year-old reconnaissance plane exploded just minutes after undergoing air-to-air refuelling in Afghanistan on 2 September 2006, killing all on board.

Oxford Coroner's Court heard that a series of fuel leaks had been reported throughout the Nimrod fleet.

The Nimrod and most of the crew had been based at RAF Kinloss, in Moray.

'Quite shocking'

The inquest heard that a number of crews had noted fuel leaking into the fuselage after air-to-air refuelling (AAR) before the crash near Kandahar in 2006.

Some of the aircraft had been "blowing off" fuel and air through a special safety valve as the tanks were being filled.

Sergeant Mark Wallington, the ground engineer who oversaw repair and maintenance work on the Nimrods in Afghanistan, said he had not been told about these incidents.

He added that he did not know that the Nimrod XV230 had "blown off" fuel on two recorded occasions before the fatal accident.

"I think I should have been made aware. You like to know everything that is going on," he said.

"The blow off is a safety feature of the aircraft so it is not an actual fault so it might not be considered a fault (to be reported)."

But he added: "I should have been told when fuel was found having escaped from the system."

Another Nimrod engineer told the court he discovered a number of corroded couplings, used to join the fuel pipes in the aircraft, both before and after the incident.

Sergeant Andrew Whitmore said he first noticed the corrosion while investigating the cause of a fuel leak on a Nimrod in the same fleet as the XV230, before the tragedy.

He described it as "quite shocking" and said the "salty air" was the most likely cause of the corrosion on the aircraft, which is heavily used for air-sea rescues.

But the court heard that a check of all the couplings across the entire fleet was only ordered after the incident.

At that point the fleet was grounded and engineers found further corroded couplings.

"We didn't find any leaks but it was only a matter of time," said Sgt Whitmore.

"We found dinted fuel pipes and broken bonding leads."

The RAF continued air-to-air refuelling after the tragedy but a further two incidents involving fuel leaks led to the practice being suspended, the court heard.

RAF inquiry

Yesterday, the families of the servicemen killed heard a recording of the plane's last moments.

The deaths of the servicemen marked the heaviest loss of life to be suffered by British forces in a single incident since the Falklands War.

It was the fourth Nimrod crash in 36 years of operations.

An RAF Board of Inquiry (BoI) report into the incident concluded that ageing components and a lack of modern fire suppressants were among the "contributory factors" leading to the accident.

The BoI report said fuel probably escaped during air-to-air refuelling into a bay on the starboard side of the aircraft either because of a leaking fuel coupling or an overflowing fuel tank.

The fuel probably caught fire when it made contact with hot air pipes - through a gap in insulation - which can reach temperatures of 400C.

The Ministry of Defence has defended the Nimrod fleet's safety record.

The 14 men killed were:

Flight Lieutenant Steven Johnson, 38, from Collingham, Nottinghamshire, Flt Lt Leigh Anthony Mitchelmore, 28, from Bournemouth, Dorset, Flt Lt Gareth Rodney Nicholas, 40, from Redruth, Cornwall, Flt Lt Allan James Squires, 39, from Clatterbridge, Merseyside and Flt Lt Steven Swarbrick, 28, from Liverpool.

Also Flight Sergeant Gary Wayne Andrews, 48, from Tankerton, Kent, Flt Sgt Stephen Beattie, 42, from Dundee, Flt Sgt Gerard Martin Bell, 48, from Newport, Shropshire, and Flt Sgt Adrian Davies, 49, from Amersham, Buckinghamshire, Sergeant Benjamin James Knight, 25, from Bridgwater, Sgt John Joseph Langton, 29,from Liverpool and Sgt Gary Paul Quilliam, 42, from Manchester.

Lance Corporal Oliver Simon Dicketts, of the Parachute Regiment, from Wadhurst and Royal Marine Joseph David Windall, 22, from Hazlemere also died.

The inquest into their deaths is being held by Oxfordshire assistant deputy coroner Andrew Walker.

The inquest continues.
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The battle of denial and deniability
Wooing Taliban okay, says Karzai official, but only if it's done by Afghan government
Toronto Star, Canada Rosie DiManno Columnist May 07, 2008
KABUL-Canadian soldiers, and their civilian associates, have no business pursuing parallel peace chats with the Taliban, no matter how low-level the probing for mediation.

That was the sharp rebuke yesterday from President Hamid Karzai's chief spokesperson, in an interview with the Toronto Star.

"There is an important principle here,'' said Hamayon Hamidzada. "All efforts to negotiate with the Taliban on this should come through the Afghan government, and we have been saying this for a long time. We are willing to negotiate. The president has made this clear. But it can only happen if the Taliban are prepared to lay down their arms and respect the constitution of Afghanistan. Without this, there can be no progress. So, no, we do not encourage separate negotiations by Canada or any other NATO country.''

Defence Minister Peter MacKay last week denied published reports that Canadian troops in Kandahar have been reaching out to Taliban elements, purportedly softening Ottawa's official line against speaking with insurgents.

Hamidzada pointed to MacKay's comments as evidence no such back channels have opened. "This is a hypothetical discussion, as far as I'm concerned, and I don't like answering hypothetical questions.''
But there's denial and there's deniability.

Talking to the Taliban is a thorny political issue, in Ottawa and other NATO capitals, most especially those that have absorbed military casualties trying to extend the Karzai government's authority beyond derided "Mayor of Kabul'' status.

Many believe a political resolution is the only endgame possible to halt increasingly emboldened rebels.

In fact, Karzai aggressively has promoted negotiations with the Taliban for three years, so there's hardly anything new there. What has changed is that Karzai, who survived yet another assassination bid last week in Kabul, is also fighting for his political life, with presidential elections set for next year.

Disappointed Afghans don't like him so much any more, even in Kabul. So an alliance of opposition parties, recruited, largely, from warlords of yore, are salivating at the chance to seize the presidency through the ballot box.

Karzai won 55 per cent of the general vote last time but did not attract majority support from any non-Pashtun group. Most Pashtun are not Taliban-lovers, but even in the insurgency heartland of Kandahar, Helmand and Zabul, all Taliban are definitely Pashtun.

In Afghanistan, where sworn enemies become allies of convenience, it was almost predictable that Karzai would, one day, need the Taliban, or a modified and reconciled version of that constituency, to prop him up in power.

Hence, in recent days, there have been reports of a renewed overture toward Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, leader of the Hezb-e Islami faction, former warlord, affiliate of Mullah Mohammed Omar and Al Qaeda, and top of the charts on Washington's "black list'' for Afghanistan.

With his pathological hatred of the West unabated, Hekmatyar, an anti-Soviet mujahideen member the U.S. once favoured, has been in (sometimes open) hiding since the Taliban was overthrown in 2001. His rumoured presence in a remote northern village led to a major U.S. air strike in early April, in which 16 people were reported killed.

So, on the one hand Americans are trying to annihilate Hekmatyar; on the other, Karzai is allegedly seeking to woo him as a confederate who wields immense influence with the Taliban.

But Hekmatyar arguably is the most despised person in Kabul, held responsible for the worst of the interfactional fighting that destroyed the capital. For five years of civil war, his militia shelled the city, during which more than 25,000 civilians died. Kabul residents want him tried for war crimes, not taking a seat in government, which, rumour says Karzai is willing to offer.

"We will never let Hekmatyar back into Kabul,'' says Framerz Farhad, whose late father was a classmate of Hekmatyar at military school here. "Kabul would turn on President Karzai.''

Many here worry that, in a serpentine way, Karzai is offering the Taliban leadership political legitimacy – even as Omar demands control of 10 southern provinces, withdrawal of all foreign troops and release of every Taliban prisoner.

If anything approaching that scenario were to unfold, it's fair to ask what was the point, then, of ousting the militant Islamists in the first place? What was the point of the West sacrificing treasure and blood to stiffen the spine of a nascent central government with modest democratic values?

The non-Pashtun warlords won't have it anyway, a quasi-Taliban II in Kabul.

That way lies civil war, the sequel.

Columnist Rosie DiManno is on assignment in Afghanistan. 
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Pakistan agrees to send wheat to Afghanistan
Written by www.quqnoos.com Wednesday, 07 May 2008 
Government threatens to step up fight against cross-border flour smugglers
PAKISTAN has approved the export of 50,000 tonnes of wheat to Afghanistan to avert an impending food disaster and said exports to its landlocked neighbour would continue on a government-to-government basis.

Pakistan launched a crackdown on wheat and flour smuggling across the Afghan border after it banned exports of the basic food to protect its own reserves

The US government warned last month of “serious food shortages” in Afghanistan unless immediate action was taken to combat the rising cost of food by increasing exports to the country.

The Pakistani 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 said the export of wheat to Afghanistan should only be done on a government-to-government level while measures to check smuggling would be strengthened.

Last week, police accused Pakistani militiamen of killing a seven-year-old girl by throwing her under the wheels of a truck for smuggling a 3kg bag of flour across the border.

Rising food prices have forced hundreds of children and adults to smuggle 3kg or 4 kg flour bags from Pakistan to Afghanistan.

To add to food insecurity, a lack of rain in the early part of the year has led the US government’s development agency, USAID, to predict a below average wheat harvest in the country.

The cost of flour has more than doubled this year on last year in many parts of Afghanistan, and the cost of a piece of bread in parts of Kabul has risen from Afg6 to Afg20 in recent months.

Pakistan expects its own wheat output to be about 21.8 million tonnes this year, below a target of 24 million tonnes, and 1 million tonnes below domestic requirements.

Last month, the Pakistani 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.

The ECC said it expects rice output of up to 5.5 million tonnes this financial year, ending on June 30, and that domestic consumption would be a little over 2.2 million tones.
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Lanslide kills five from same family
Written by www.quqnoos.com Wednesday, 07 May 2008
Boulders crash into house, leaving only teenage survivor
A LANDSLIDE that crashed into a village house has killed five members of the same family.

An elder in the village of Qalae Girdab said he saw boulders slide down the mountainside and crash into the family’s home in the district of Rustag, Takhar, killing a husband, his two wives and their two daughters aged 12 and 15.

The couple’s 12-year-old daughter was the only member of the family to survive.

The head or the Afghan Red Crescent Society, Muhammad Zahir, said 150 sheep and 30 cows disappeared because of the landslide, which is thought to have been triggered by two days of heavy rain.
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Afghanistan - Long years of struggle
By Debbie Menon Alarab online, UK
The Afghan people have a great strength; a dignity in their lives, and a pride in their culture. Long years of war and struggle have put the Afghan people in a position of hopelessness. They are now weary of war. They are determined to make the best of the situations they live in. Much depends on the not much talked about $15 billion international aid shortfall in Afghanistan.

We know that the purpose of this US Aid is, and has always been, wherever in the world it is given, is to provide them with sufficient US Public funds to buy goods and services from American Corporate interests, to the vulgar and obscene profit of such said Corporations. This aid is used to achieve military and political objectives, not to reduce poverty.

The Corporations, of which I speak, see no short term profits of sufficient levels in Peace. Coordinating, and sharing for more meaningful development, flies directly in the face of their limited policies of "dominate or destroy. " for after they have destroyed, they can go in and dominate the restoration. Yes, I am pessimistic!

Set up a separate, independent body to monitor aid delivery and identify where they can do things better?. No, American Corporations will never give up any sort of body, government, and advisory, investigatory or inquisitional which they do not control.

The way aid is spent is crucial. There are a number of ways aid is failing to maximize its potential. It needs to be approached differently in Afghanistan or anywhere for that matter. It's essential that local people are the owners and leaders of the aid projects that affect their lives. Let's face it... nobody wants to feel that anything is imposed on them. Local control, involvement and consent are essential. There are scores of young jobless Afghan boys and girls, fresh out of Kabul University, Technical Institutes and Medical

college. Hire them, guide them, and involve them. If such steps are taken, you could build on the strength of the Afghan people and help bring peace to some of the people if not all of the people after years of conflict and struggle. There are no short cuts, no quick deals. Aid and assistance usually comes with too many strings attached which ignore the needs of the people.

We do not need to build dams and power stations for a people who basically barely have electric lights, and who need a well or a large clay pot in the yard in which to purify river water!

Unfortunately, the ones who make the money decisions see more profit in building dams than providing wells or clay urns for settling water. They would prefer to build four lane highways for a people who do not have automobiles, instead of providing a man with a donkey and a cart, with which he can run a farm and haul his crops to market!

And, no one has ever asked that man what he really needs!

The local council concept, empowered with real powers of decision, is the way. This is what the Viet Cong offered and, although much like the Taliban, did not always deliver... but it was a more appealing offer than government by an absentee governor in some Palace high on a hill or a foreign Capital in a far-off land.

Remember when John McCain went to Iraq, for three days I believe, he strolled through a marketplace clad in armor, surrounded by armed guards, and came away knowing all there was to know about Iraq?

This is symptomatic of the problem. Experts who know nothing!

John McCain is not unique! He is representative!

My other crucial exception is, as I have said before, that I believe we cannot win in a fire-fight with the Taliban, and as long as the small group of extremists among them, have the guns and the keys to the Palace, they must be dealt with in an amicable manner. They are, after all, men, not too unlike most others. Show them the benefits, political, personal and financial of co-operation, they can be bought or won over. Following that, they will self-destruct as a fanatic and ignorant gun-slinging mob and start showing up in Business Schools all over the world looking for MBA's.

Remember... when the Taliban reigned, they destroyed the only cash crop and profitable Industry in Afghanistan... and they are going to have to fill that vacuum with some other profitable and productive industry.

Anyone who expects to survive in Afghanistan, Pakistan or that area, must eventually come to terms with the Taliban, like them or not. It is the people of this spirit and dogged determination who have repelled every invader since Alexander.

The invaders know this. The Americans are blind, and their "dominate or destroy" foreign policy stands in the way of any dialogue or accommodation.

It is always wiser to hold dialogue with an armed fanatic than it is to try to fight him. Especially when he is on his own turf and has the persuasive power of "...we're being invaded, again!" on his side. Sneak in his back door, convert him or corrupt him, and he will self destruct! When will they realize the futility of armed confrontation, and what has to be done?

"Winning The Hearts And Minds Of The People" was an 'Official Program' in Vietnam, but it soon became a joke when the policy shifted to "Kill As Many As Necessary To Protect Them From Themselves."

"Winning hearts and minds" is more than a slogan... it is the solution! It must begin with and include the people, at the base local level. Self-determination, self-involvement and development, starting at grass roots, not in some Palace or far-off foreign Congress!

All of this American Military adventurism is doomed to fail. There are more and better ways, less violent, less costly in lives and money, and which would achieve the same ends, leaving everyone involved living in peace, but that does not seem to be the policy or the American Way, which seems to have become, "If you can't defeat and dominate them, destroy all!" Obliterate or Flatten!

No one has ever defeated or subdued the Afghans! It is folly!

Debbie Menon is an independent writer based in Dubai. She can be reached at: debbie.menon@yahoo.com
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Afghans kidnapped for working with foreigners released
Written by www.quqnoos.com Wednesday, 07 May 2008
Adbucted Afghan driver and doctor resume work with German company
THE TWO Afghans kidnapped while working for a foreign company in the province of Parwan last month have been released.

The company, Kinder Berg International, said the two men, a driver and a doctor, were back at work in the province of Kunduz and were in good health when they were released.

On April 10, Kinder Berg said Dr Abullrab and his driver Abudll Hafiz were kidnapped by unknown men in the town of Chaharikar while travelling to Kunduz.

The company, which stopped its work in Afghanistan after the kidnapping, has now resumed its humanitarian aid.
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Corrupt officials not receiving Canadian money: ambassador
Canada.com, Canada Juliet O'Neill Canwest News Service Wednesday, May 07, 2008
OTTAWA-Afghanistan's ambassador to Canada assured MPs Wednesday that Canadian aid funds are not winding up in the "pockets or bank accounts" of corrupt government officials.

Ambassador Omar Samad made the comment at a Commons committee as he urged Canada to support a request by Afghanistan to ensure a greater portion of international aid arriving in the country is channelled through the government, rather than non-government organizations and private corporations.

Afghanistan will be making that case at an international donors' conference next month in Paris where authorities will discuss the fate of billions of dollars in assistance while the security situation in the country has worsened.

Canada's aid pledge to Afghanistan will total about $1.2 billion by the end of 2011.

The ambassador said between 70 and 80 per cent of the foreign aid invested in Afghanistan does not flow through the government and that it is the government that is subject to "strict" controls and supervision by such international organizations as the World Bank. the International Monetary Fund and the Asian Development Bank. He said non-government recipients should be held accountable as well.

"The notion that your money ends up in Afghanistan government officials' pockets doesn't really translate into reality in Afghanistan," he told the Commons special committee on the Canadian mission in Afghanistan.

"There are other types of resources that may end up in people's pockets but I can assure you there is no evidence so far that shows that your taxpayer's money ends up in somebody's pocket or somebody's bank account somewhere."

He was responding to a question from Toronto Liberal MP Bryon Wilfert who said corruption must be dealt with head on as countries contribute to Afghanistan's reconstruction. New Democratic Party MP Alexa McDonough quoted from a report which said two thirds of the international aid bypasses the Afghanistan government, including 100 per cent of aid from the United States.

She expressed concern that without more Afghanistan government control of aid funds, the poorest people of the country would be neglected. It is the poor, she said, "who become ripe for recruitment to insurgencies."

The committee was established to find ways to increase parliamentary and public knowledge of the conduct and progress of the Canadian military mission and is to review laws and procedures under which the government has claimed secrecy on grounds of operational and national security.

The committee was struck as a result of a motion passed in the Commons extending the Canadian military mission in Afghanistan by two years to 2011 on condition Canada's 2,500 troops are bolstered by personnel from allied NATO countries. France is prepared to move troops into Eastern Afghanistan to free American troops to work with Canadians in the south.

The committee plans to travel to Europe, Washington, New York and Afghanistan.
Ottawa Citizen
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