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May 9, 2008 

Two foreign soldiers, dozen rebels killed in Afghanistan
KABUL (AFP) - Two foreign soldiers were killed in action in Afghanistan on Friday, military forces said, while more than a dozen Taliban-linked rebels were killed in a separate battle involving air strikes.

Afghanistan: One Of The World's Most Difficult Places To Become A Mother
Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty May 9, 2008
In Afghanistan's northeastern Badakhshan Province, Sharifa feeds rice and bread to her nieces and nephews. The six children are orphans who were left in Sharifa's care when her sister died.

India finds no takers to build new Afghan parliament: official
Fri May 9, 4:19 AM ET
NEW DELHI (AFP) - Security fears have stopped even a single company from bidding to build a new parliament for Afghanistan after the Indian government floated tenders, an official said Friday.

INTERVIEW-Afghan "spring offensive" a myth - U.S. commander
By Luke Baker
KHOST, Afghanistan, May 9 (Reuters) - The commander of U.S. forces in southeast Afghanistan on Friday dismissed suggestions of any renewed Taliban offensive, saying fighting might pick up in some areas but a full-on offensive was a myth.

Cease-fire in Pakistan's Swat Valley
By RIAZ KHAN, Associated Press Writer
PESHAWAR, Pakistan - Pakistani authorities and pro-Taliban militants declared a cease-fire Friday in the volatile Swat Valley in the latest bid to curtail an explosion of violence along the Afghan border, officials said.

Helmand Gripped by Opium Harvest
Schoolchildren down pencils and migrant workers arrive to help gather opium paste from the poppy fields.
Institute for War & Peace Reporting By Matiullah Minapal and Aziz Ahmad Tassal in Helmand (ARR No. 288, 09-Apr-08)
The distinctive red, white, and pink poppy flowers have all but gone from the fields in Helmand province, leaving in their place the bare pods containing valuable opium paste.

Australia probes Afghan detainees mistreatment allegations
Fri May 9, 5:08 AM ET
SYDNEY (AFP) - The Australian military Friday said it was investigating allegations that its troops mistreated suspected insurgents in Afghanistan, shortly after a special forces soldier was killed there.

Food becoming larger concern than security in Afghanistan
Ryan Cormier ,  Canwest News Service Friday, May 09, 2008
KANDAHAR AIRFIELD, Afghanistan - Export restrictions and higher taxes in neighbouring countries are worsening an already dire food crisis in Afghanistan.

Settlement in Afghanistan: Back to 1997?
By PYOTR GONCHAROV Middle East Times - May 09 4:33 AM
Lessons from Taliban-Northern Alliance Agreement
MOSCOW -- Pakistan has started talks with the Taliban in the northwestern province of the country bordering on Afghanistan. Kabul authorities fear that Islamabad will stop military operations, thus giving the Taliban a chance to become more active in Afghanistan.

Netherlands provides more funds for Afghan police, prisons
www.chinaview.cn  2008-05-09 23:38:01
BRUSSELS, May 9 (Xinhua) -- The Netherlands will invest extra money to renovate prisons and police stations in Afghanistan, Dutch media reported Friday.

Job creation should top of Canada's Afghan strategy: Kandahar leaders
The Canadian Press,  Afghanistan
KANDAHAR, Afghanistan — The adage that 'idle are the devil's workshop' may date to the 12th century, but it has a particularly poignant ring today in southern Afghanistan as the annual poppy harvest winds down and NATO forces brace for a possible spike in violence.

Afghan government to award gold mining rights to private company
May 9, 2008, 10:17 GMT  Monsters and Critics.com
Kabul - The Afghan ministry of mines will hand over the rights to mine for gold in the northern province of Takhar to a private Afghan company, an official said Friday.

Pentagon Is Open to Moving More Marines to Afghanistan
By Ann Scott Tyson Washington Post Staff Writer Friday, May 9, 2008; A13
The Marine Corps may begin shifting its major combat forces out of Iraq to focus on Afghanistan in 2009 if greater security in Iraq allows a reduction of Marines there, top Pentagon officials said yesterday.

Afghan ambassador to Canada hopeful change in Pakistan will improve safety
The Canadian Press May 8, 2008
CALGARY — Afghanistan's ambassador to Canada is hopeful that a change in power in Pakistan will improve security along the border between the two Middle Eastern countries.

Book reveals Karzai fled Pakistan on motorcycle
The News - International, Pakistan By Umar Cheema 5/9/2008
NEW YORK-Afghan President Hamid Karzai had left Pakistan in 2001 on the directives of the ISI that set deadline of September 30 for him, plainly telling him that his visa would not be renewed.

NATO appoints new civilian representative in Afghanistan
Xinhua May 8, 2008
NATO Secretary General Jaap de HoopScheffer on Wednesday appointed Fernando Gentilini of Italy as NATO 's senior civilian representative in Afghanistan.

Bomber’s Final Messages Exhort Fighters Against U.S.
New York Times, United States By ALISSA J. RUBIN May 9, 2008
BAGHDAD -The last words of a suicide bomber in Mosul were a rallying cry for Muslims to join the fight against Americans.

Bin Laden's 'right hand' to be freed
The Australian, Australia Sean O'Neill and Richard Ford May 09, 2008
AN extremist Muslim cleric regarded as "Osama bin Laden's spiritual ambassador in Europe" must be released on bail, a British judge ruled today.

Afghan army far from fighting fit
By Antonio Giustozzi May 9, 2008 Asia Times Online, Hong Kong
Over the past few years, the Afghan National Army (ANA) has often been presented as a success story. This certainly holds some truth, at least in comparison with Afghanistan's national police, which is widely seen as a complete failure.

US trains Pakistani killing machine
By Syed Saleem Shahzad Asia Times Online / May 8, 2008
KARACHI - A longstanding disconnect between the Pakistan and United States militaries is largely responsible for the inability of the "war on terror" to nail key targets such as al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden, as well as military failures

Afghanistan, Iran and Pakistan agree an anti-drugs plan brokered by UN
Payvand Iran News - May 09 8:13 AM
UN News Ceneter, 8 May 2008 – Afghanistan, Iran and Pakistan have agreed to step up cross-border controls to stop the flow of illegal drugs, the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) announced today in Vienna.

Netherlands pledges five million euros for Afghan human rights
by Michael Blass 08-05-2008 Radio Netherlands, Netherlands
Dutch Foreign Minister Maxime Verhagen began a short visit to Afghanistan on Thursday. The trip will include meetings with President Hamid Karzai and Dr Sima Samar of the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission (AIHRC).

A Secret Afghanistan Mission Prepares for War with Iran
Washington Post, United States By William M. Arkin May 8, 2008
Those predicting war with Iran or some Bush-Cheney October surprise attack on Tehran are constantly looking for signs of military preparations: a B-52 bomber that mistakenly takes off from North Dakota with nuclear-armed cruise missiles

Hekmatyar peace-talks 'baseless propaganda'
www.quqnoos.com Written by Editor Wednesday, 07 May 2008
HIA 'spokesman' denies one of US's most wanted 'terrorists' will talk to Kabul
A SELF-titled spokesman for rebel group Hezb-e-Islami Afghanistan (HIA) has denied claims that the government is close to holding peace-talks with its leader, Gulbuddin Hekmatyar.

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Two foreign soldiers, dozen rebels killed in Afghanistan
KABUL (AFP) - Two foreign soldiers were killed in action in Afghanistan on Friday, military forces said, while more than a dozen Taliban-linked rebels were killed in a separate battle involving air strikes.

A soldier with the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force was killed in the eastern province of Paktia, which borders Pakistan, the force said, giving no details of the incident.

A trooper with the separate US-led coalition was killed meanwhile in Kapisa, adjoining Kabul, when a bomb struck a military vehicle, the US military said.

The nationality of neither soldiers was released, with such announcements left to the more than 40 countries with nearly 70,000 soldiers in Afghanistan helping the government to fight an extremist insurgency led by the Taliban.

The latest deaths take to 53 the number of international soldiers to die in Afghanistan this year, most of them in combat.

The coalition said separately its troops had killed more than a dozen insurgents in the southernmost district of Garmser, said to be a key route for Taliban reinforcements and resupplies from bordering Pakistan.

The soldiers had come under attack Thursday while on a mission to "disrupt Taliban support" in Garmser, where US Marines and British forces are also operating.

"Coalition forces responded with small arms and air strikes, killing several of their attackers," it said.

They were operating separately from the Marines and British soldiers on a similar ISAF mission in Garmser for nearly two weeks in which they say they have captured some Taliban positions.

Taliban fighters meanwhile attacked security forces on Friday about 150 kilometres (90 miles) from Kabul, on the main road linking the capital with the key southern city of Kandahar, police said.

Two private security guards were killed, Ghazni province police chief Khan Mohammad Mujahed told AFP.

A Taliban spokesman, Zabihullah Mujahed, said one of his group's men also died.

Meanwhile, in the eastern city of Jalalabad, police and a government official said on condition of anonymity that gunmen had stormed the house of prominent parliamentarian Hazrat Ali late Thursday and killed his father.

They took away with them three women and four children, they said.

US-backed Ali, one of the strongest power brokers in eastern Afghanistan, was involved the 2001 US-led assault that drove the Taliban from power.

He also played a role in the Tora Bora operation that failed to stop Al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden from escaping.

No one has claimed responsibility for the incident and the motivation was unclear.

The daily unrest in Afghanistan, most of it rooted in Islamic fundamentalist resistance to the new Western-backed government or in the booming opium trade, is hampering the destitute country's efforts to rebuild after decades of war.
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Afghanistan: One Of The World's Most Difficult Places To Become A Mother
Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty May 9, 2008
In Afghanistan's northeastern Badakhshan Province, Sharifa feeds rice and bread to her nieces and nephews. The six children are orphans who were left in Sharifa's care when her sister died.

Due to poor conditions, the children's mother bled to death while giving birth in her home. Sharifa says her pregnant sister was not able to travel over the rough roads to a medical center in the city of Faizabad -- just three kilometers from her village -- in time to give birth.

"My sister died while giving birth," Sharifa told the Reuters news agency. "Her orphaned children do not have anyone to take care of them. I am their aunt, so I have to come to take care of them. Sometimes I can't help them. There is no one to care for them. There is no clinic nearby, no cars, and no proper roads. When my sister was about to deliver a baby, we could not take her to the hospital. She stayed at home for one day and one night. Then she died."

Death during childbirth is a scourge in Afghanistan. On average, a woman dies there every 27 minutes from complications during pregnancy, according to the nongovernmental group Save The Children. It is a chilling statistic that contributes to making Afghanistan one of the most difficult places in the world to be a mother.

In fact, Save The Children's latest index on living conditions for mothers does not include Afghanistan among its ranking of 146 countries. That is because economic data was not available for one key category of the index -- a comparison of the incomes of Afghan men and women.

But the statistics that are available from Afghanistan -- data on women's health, education, nutrition, and personal safety -- confirm that life is very difficult for Afghan mothers. The data shows that one out of every eight women in Afghanistan dies during pregnancy or while giving birth. The only country where that situation is worse is Niger, where one out of every seven women dies during pregnancy or childbirth.

Ministry's Top Priority

Afghan Deputy Health Minister Faizullah Kakar says that is why maternal mortality is now the top priority of his ministry.

"Maternal mortality [in Afghanistan] is the second highest in the world. There is an African country that I think has more [deaths] than us. But our maternal mortality is 1,600 for every 100,000 live births," Kakar says. "So that is a very important area of health that we are paying attention to. That is actually our first priority in health. So we are doing quite a few things to reduce maternal mortality."

A clinic near the border with Tajikistan, in the Ishkashem District of Badakhshan Province, is one example. When Mahenow became pregnant recently, her husband escorted her to the clinic on a donkey for an examination. Mahenow says the clinic has helped her learn more about the health risks she faces.

"In the past there was no hospital, no doctor, and no medicine here," Mahenow told Reuters. "That is why we were doing the deliveries at home. Now we have clinics and good doctors. So I decided to come to the clinic in order to become more aware of health issues."

Education Seen As Key

Dozens of NGOs are also actively helping women who have little access to proper medical care. And it is not only pregnant women who are attending the NGOs' special programs.

Rona Azamyan is the coordinator of a midwife-education program in Faizabad that is offered at a series of schools. Azamyan says the goal is to educate women from isolated areas about how to help other women deliver a baby.

"These schools were established in order to bring down the rate of maternal mortality," Azamyan says. "We train local midwives who will be able to provide health services for mothers within the in communities remote areas where they are living. There are no proper hospitals in those areas. So they can save lives and help to rescue mothers from death during childbirth."

Indeed, Afghan men prefer their women to consult only women health workers. But that is easier said than done in a society where there are few female doctors or nurses and where little emphasis has been placed on educating girls.

The problem was worse during the Taliban regime, when girls were banned from schools and severe restrictions were placed on women leaving their homes. During those years, from 1996 to 2001, there were only about 1,000 female health-care workers in the entire country. They staffed female-only hospitals -- leaving women in remote rural areas without any health services. Still the situation remains far from ideal today.

Training As Midwives

One student in the Faizabad program, Momina Hinafy, says the death of her own mother convinced her that Afghanistan needs more women to be trained as midwives.

"The maternal mortality rate in Badakhshan was too high -- especially in the remote and mountainous districts," Hinafy told Reuters. "My mother died while giving birth. That is why I took the detour to become a midwife and help mothers. I want to help save the lives of other mothers."

Meanwhile, the government's plans call for more midwifery schools to be set up and for more female students to be assigned to medical and nursing schools. Authorities hope that will improve dire statistics like those compiled by Save The Children, which show that only 14 percent of all births in Afghanistan were attended by skilled health personnel during 2006 -- a figure comparable to Chad. In fact, only Ethiopia had a poorer score on that issue -- with trained health personnel attending to just 6 percent of the births there.

By comparison, qualified health personnel attended 90 percent or more of the births in countries like Iran, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, Kazakhstan, China, and Azerbaijan.

At the end of the day, Save The Children stresses that statistics tell only a portion of the story about the harm caused to the well-being of Afghan mothers and their children by years of war, violence, and lawlessness. But it hopes that focusing attention on the problem will mean that more Afghan mothers will be alive to celebrate the next Mothers' Day.

Additional reporting by Ron Synovitz in Prague
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India finds no takers to build new Afghan parliament: official
Fri May 9, 4:19 AM ET
NEW DELHI (AFP) - Security fears have stopped even a single company from bidding to build a new parliament for Afghanistan after the Indian government floated tenders, an official said Friday.

New Delhi's Central Public Works Department had invited tenders last year for the multi-million-dollar project in Kabul, but did not receive any response by the February deadline which has now been extended.

"The agencies (companies) have not responded so far. But the tender process is still on and we have extended the deadline till June," an engineering official involved in the project said on condition of anonymity.

The official told AFP about 10 construction firms had shown interest, but then raised security issues after several Indian engineers were killed in Afghanistan.

An Indian worker was reported missing from the country last month, while two engineers were killed in the southwestern province of Nimroz on April 12 in a double suicide attack claimed by Taliban militants. Another Indian engineer was killed in a suicide attack in January.

"There were some apprehensions about security and insurance issues. We have called them and tried to assure them," the Indian official said.

The Press Trust of India said the parliament project had a budget of about 54 million dollars.

New Delhi has taken a major role in reconstruction and infrastructure development in Afghanistan and is a staunch supporter of President Hamid Karzai's administration.

It has given 750 million dollars' worth of assistance to Afghanistan since 2001.
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INTERVIEW-Afghan "spring offensive" a myth - U.S. commander
By Luke Baker
KHOST, Afghanistan, May 9 (Reuters) - The commander of U.S. forces in southeast Afghanistan on Friday dismissed suggestions of any renewed Taliban offensive, saying fighting might pick up in some areas but a full-on offensive was a myth.

"There is no such thing as a spring offensive," Colonel Pete Johnson, the commander of a taskforce from the 101st Airborne Division that is responsible for security in six Afghan provinces along the border with Pakistan, told Reuters.

"I think this year this myth is finally going to be debunked. Last year was the same thing -- it never materialised. This year it has not materialised and it won't materialise."

"Will there be increases in fighting and insurgent activity. Absolutely. But it's a weather-based construct, a seasonal construct, not a deliberate execution of an offensive. Increased activity is not a coordinated offensive."

The Taliban and militants allied to the group have traditionally increased attacks in past springs, when high mountain terrain becomes more passable and routes over the frontier between Pakistan and Afghanistan are more accessible.

The change in weather also tends to make it easier for militants to plant bombs under or alongside roads since the ground is softer and melted winter ice leaves potholes that are natural places to conceal mines or explosives.

In recent days there has been a small but measurable increase in such attacks. Two U.S. soldiers and a U.S. civilian were killed in a roadside bomb blast outside Khost on Wednesday, and an Afghan police chief and his bodyguard were killed in a separate IED (improvised explosive device) attack the same day.

Johnson said such up-ticks were to be expected but didn't change the overall security picture in his area.

"Quite frankly there has not been a significant shift in the historical context," he said. "Yes, there's more fighting right now than there was last month, but that's just the way the context works in east Afghanistan. The better weather allows the anti-Afghan fighters some more movement."

Comparing the first three months of this year with the same period in 2007, he said "direct fire" attacks -- when militants launch ambushes or engage U.S. or Afghan troops directly -- were down 50 percent and IED attacks were "virtually the same."

TRIBAL RELATIONS
Regional security experts have raised concerns that a tentative peace deal between Pakistan's new government, which is taking a frostier approach to relations with Washington, and Taliban-allied militants in the northwest of the country could fuel increased violence across the border in Afghanistan.

Johnson said any such deal could cause problems if it allowed militants more space to manoeuvre, but he said relations with Pakistan's security forces across the border remained good, with monthly meetings to coordinate strategy.

"The fact is, it is a challenging area that is for the most part dominated by a population that doesn't recognise the border," he said.

"Historically and traditionally, there is infiltration of the enemy across the border both ways. This has traditionally been a backyard for fighting."

He said his officers, all of whom have spent months immersing themselves in Pashtunwalli -- the tribal code that governs much of the interaction between Afghans -- were building relations with key tribes on his side of the border in the hope of bringing influence to bear across the frontier.

"Some tribes are essentially astride the border ... We're hopeful there is some influence that crosses over," he said.

The amount of cultural anthropology U.S. officers now employ, more than six years into their operations in Afghanistan, is notable. All are quick to refer to tribal codes when discussing what is required to bring about improvements in Afghanistan.

"The decisive part of our operation, and the enduring part of our operation, is non-lethal," Johnson said, emphasising the importance he puts on dealing face-to-face with Afghan leaders.

"If we want to achieve a lasting effect in Afghanistan, we're going to do it through non-lethal means, and the most powerful means is going to be through dialogue." (Editing by Alex Richardson)
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Cease-fire in Pakistan's Swat Valley
By RIAZ KHAN, Associated Press Writer
PESHAWAR, Pakistan - Pakistani authorities and pro-Taliban militants declared a cease-fire Friday in the volatile Swat Valley in the latest bid to curtail an explosion of violence along the Afghan border, officials said.

The cease-fire followed talks between representatives of the North West Frontier Province government and militant leader Maulana Fazlullah, whose armed followers grabbed control of much of the valley last year.

Pakistan's army responded with a military operation that drove militants to the mountains and left scores dead. It was a sign of the instability in Pakistan's northwestern frontier regions, where Islamic militants have challenged the government's authority.

Pakistan's civilian administration, elected in February, is seeking dialogue with Taliban sympathizers in a break from the more aggressive policy of U.S.-backed President Pervez Musharraf, who has mostly sought to tame extremists through military force.

"After hours of talks we have reached a cease-fire in entire Swat valley," provincial minister Wajid Ali Khan said after the talks in the northwestern town of Chakdara.

He said that more negotiations would follow to bring "peace and stability" in the province.

Muslim Abdur Rasheed, an aide of Fazlullah, confirmed the cease-fire would take effect on Saturday. He described Friday's first round of talks as a "confidence-building initiative."

He said the two sides have yet to discuss the militants' demands, which include the imposition of Islamic law in the valley, the withdrawal of the army, release of detainees and compensation for damage suffered by local people in the military operation.

Neither Rasheed nor Khan would say when the next round of talks would be held.

The cease-fire is the latest sign that Pakistan's new national government, led by the party of assassinated Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, wants to use dialogue and development to curb militancy across the border region. The North West Frontier Province's government, which is led by a Pashtun nationalist party, has joined the effort.

Musharraf also tried striking truces with some groups — deals that U.S. officials complained gave Pakistani militants as well as Taliban and al-Qaida fighters a chance to build up strength.

Last month, Pakistan freed Fazlullah's father-in-law, Sufi Muhammad, from six years in custody in return for an agreement from his group to renounce violence.

Muhammad had sent thousands to battle the U.S.-led invasion of Afghanistan in 2001. His group — Tehrik Nifaz-e-Sharia Mohammed, or the Movement for the Enforcement of Islamic Law — resurfaced under Fazlullah's leadership after his arrest in 2002, but Fazlullah has previously made clear he is not bound by the deal struck by Muhammad.

Fazlullah won a large following with firebrand preaching over an illegal FM radio station but alienated others by turning to violence, including suicide bombings in a once-tranquil region.

He had tapped into popular frustration over official corruption and failings in the justice system. His group wants a Taliban-like system, including compulsory beards for men, mandatory veils for women and the outlawing of music and television.

Since Pakistan's new civilian government took power from Musharraf's military regime, militant attacks have subsided somewhat, although there have been isolated bouts of violence.

On Thursday, suspected Islamic insurgents killed a soldier and wounded another near a checkpoint in Kabbal, a town in the Swat Valley. Also this week, militants set fire to two girls' schools in the valley.

The Swat Valley was once a leading tourist destination in Pakistan because of its mountain and riverine scenery.
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Helmand Gripped by Opium Harvest
Schoolchildren down pencils and migrant workers arrive to help gather opium paste from the poppy fields.
Institute for War & Peace Reporting By Matiullah Minapal and Aziz Ahmad Tassal in Helmand (ARR No. 288, 09-Apr-08)
The distinctive red, white, and pink poppy flowers have all but gone from the fields in Helmand province, leaving in their place the bare pods containing valuable opium paste.

With harvest season, or “nish”, in full swing, the schools are empty, the fields are buzzing, and even the police are getting in on the action.

Gul Wali has come to Helmand from his native Nangarhar province in the east. Unlike Helmand, the undisputed centre of the opium industry, Nangarhar has made some progress in combating the illegal trade. That has prompted harvesters like Gul Wali to come in search of work.

“I am here for nish,” he told a reporter in Grishk, a district approximately 40 kilometres from the provincial capital Lashkar Gah. “But when the police stopped me, I told them I’d come to work as a stonemason. I thought Helmandis cultivated poppy secretly, like we used to do in Nangarhar.

“The policeman said, ‘Forget masonry. Come with me and help harvest my poppy – you’ll make a lot more money.’ That’s when I realised that everyone in Helmand, from simple illiterate farmers up to government officials, is involved in the poppy business.”

In 2007, Helmand accounted for an estimated 53 per cent of Afghanistan’s 8,200 metric tonnes of opium, making it the world centre of production. Almost half of the world’s heroin originates in this one dry and dusty southern province.

The Taleban hold sway over large swathes of territory, and reap political as well as economic benefits from allowing farmers to grow the crop without hindrance.

This year, experts expect the harvest yield to remain roughly at last year’s level instead of recording another annual jump. But in large part this stabilisation has come because there is little more arable land left in Helmand to cultivate.

With over 100,000 hectares needing to be harvested, seasonal labour is in short supply. “Nishgar” or harvesters like Gul Wali can command hefty wages, and even schoolchildren are being pressed into service.

“Our lessons have been cancelled,” said Zia ul-Haq, 14, who was working in a poppy field in the Nawa district.

His school in Lashkar Gah was almost empty, he said, explaining, “All my teachers and classmates have gone to nish. I want to buy a bicycle out of the money I make here, because I walk hours to get to school.”

Mohammadullah, a ninth-grade student in Lashkar Gah, is also playing truant.

“There were 60 pupils in my class, but now there are only five left,” he told IWPR. “I need money for my school costs, and you can earn a lot at this time of year.”

Hamidullah, 19, is in ninth grade at the Kart-e-Lagan school, in Lashkar Gah, but he has come back to Nawa for the harvest.

“I have to rent a room in Lashkar Gah to go to school,” he said. “I can’t ask my father or brothers for that money. I need to work to make money.”

His classmate Yar Mohammad has chosen to stay in school through the harvest, but he says it is lonely.

“There were 45 in our class before the harvest season, but now there are fewer than 20,” he said. “The rest have gone to work as harvesters. I think they’ll have a lot of problems when they come back, because they’ll have missed a lot of lessons.”

Another pupil at the Kart-e-Lagan school, who did not want to be named, said the spiralling cost of food had made poppy harvesting a necessity for many.

“Our teachers have also gone to work as harvesters, because they need the money,” he said. “A sack of flour now costs 5,000 Pakistani rupees [about 80 US dollars]. They can’t afford to buy even flour with the salary the government pays them. I wanted to go and work as a harvester, as well, but I didn’t go because I love my lessons.”

Mohammad Wali, head teacher at the Kart-e-Lagan school, insisted his staff and students were still in class. But he confirmed that teachers were hard pressed to earn enough money to live on.

"Our school is the only one whose students and teachers have not gone to the poppy harvest,” he told IWPR. “But our teachers have resolved to give up teaching unless the government issues them with land for housing. We cannot live on a salary of 3,000 afghani [60 dollars] a month. One sack of flour costs more than that.”

The recently-appointed provincial governor, Mohammad Gulab Mangal, rejected allegations that absenteeism was rife in the schools.

“It is not true that all the schools have gone off for the harvest,” he told IWPR. “It’s only those pupils whose families grow poppy. But Helmand does have a very bad education situation.”

The harvest is back-breaking work, in daytime temperatures that soar high into the thirties.

“I work ten hours every day in the hot sun,” said Hamidullah. “When I get up in the morning, I have a severe pain in my feet.”

The job involves making cuts on the poppy pod, causing it to ooze a whitish paste. When the paste has turned brown, usually the next morning, it is ready to be scraped off. That done, the pod is then scored again over a number of days, in a constant cycle of cut, wait, and scrape.

The nishgar use a distinctive tool to make the cuts, and a special sharp-sided spoon to collect off the paste. These utensils are sold openly in markets in Lashkar Gah.

One local farmer complained that he was stopped by police on his way back to his home in the countryside after buying the tools of the trade.

“I bought some tools for 40 afghani at the bazaar in Lashkar Gah,” said Khan Mohammad, from Marja district. “The police confiscated them at a checkpoint, saying they were illegal. It isn’t illegal in the city, where they sell these implements to everybody. But all of a sudden they are banned at the checkpoint. What’s that all about?”

Poppy eradication teams, led by Afghan and foreign troops, have made an effort to destroy a significant percentage of the fields.

Compared with 2007’s dismal showing, they have had some successes this year. Final figures have yet to be released, both for the eradication campaign and the harvest itself, but several thousand hectares are believed to have been destroyed.

The campaign has come at a high cost, both in economic terms and in the anger caused by the destruction of farmers’ future income.

“I had 24 jeribs of land [48,000 square metres] planted with poppy, but these thugs came and destroyed it all,” said Sher Ali, a resident of Nawa district. “Now I am bankrupt, and I owe 700,000 afghani [14,000 dollars]. If the government wants to eradicate poppy, fine. But they should then think about giving me a job. What am I supposed to live on? The price of food is sky-high, there are no jobs, nothing.”

Governor Mangal insists that the poppy has to go.

“Helmand will never have a good name and reputation as long as there is poppy cultivation in this province,” he said. “All the misfortune and problems that beset the province have been caused by poppy.”

But many of his constituents feel differently.

“I am very happy these days,” said Bismillah, 45, a resident of Nawa district. “I have six sons, who are usually just hanging around. But these days they are very busy. Lots of people come to me and ask me to send my sons for nish.

“Each of them can make about 10,000 rupees, and all told they will bring in 60,000 [900 dollars], which is enough for us to live on for awhile. God protect this poppy!”

Matiullah Minapal and Aziz Ahmad Tassal are IWPR-trained journalists in Helmand.
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Australia probes Afghan detainees mistreatment allegations
Fri May 9, 5:08 AM ET
SYDNEY (AFP) - The Australian military Friday said it was investigating allegations that its troops mistreated suspected insurgents in Afghanistan, shortly after a special forces soldier was killed there.

A senior Afghan National Army commander raised concerns about the treatment of four alleged Taliban fighters at a meeting of international forces and local commanders last weekend, the Australian Defence Force said in a statement.

Australian public radio reported that the claims centred on four alleged insurgents taken into custody after Australian soldier Jason Marks was killed during a battle in southern Uruzgan province on April 27.

The Australian Defence Force (ADF) would not confirm the details or outline the nature of the alleged mistreatment.

"We take all of these claims very seriously and have consistently shown our willingness to be part of investigations into these matters," Australian national commander for the Middle East, Major General Michael Hindmarsh said in a statement.

"Our troops are well-versed in their procedures regarding the safe and humane treatment of detainees and we take our legal obligations in this regard extremely seriously."

Australia has around 1,000 troops in Afghanistan, the largest deployment of any non-NATO country, mostly assisting a Dutch-led reconstruction operation in Uruzgan, a former Taliban stronghold.

Lance Corporal Marks, 27, was killed in a firefight with Taliban fighters that the ADF said was characterised by a heavy exchange of small arms fire and rocket propelled grenades.

Four other Australian troops received non life threatening injuries in the exchange.

Marks, a special forces soldier, was the fifth Australian to die in combat in Afghanistan since 2002 and the fourth in the past seven months.
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Food becoming larger concern than security in Afghanistan
Ryan Cormier ,  Canwest News Service Friday, May 09, 2008
KANDAHAR AIRFIELD, Afghanistan - Export restrictions and higher taxes in neighbouring countries are worsening an already dire food crisis in Afghanistan.

Rick Corsino, the World Food Program's director in Afghanistan, said international response to a recent appeal for aid was impressive, but in a global food emergency, donations don't go as far as they usually do.

The branch of the program strives to buy food at reasonable prices in the region, but other nations in south-central Asia have their own food issues to deal with.

Pakistan is expected to see its own wheat production drop this year.

"In a way, it's understandable. They are reluctant to export when they already expect to have their own shortfall," Corsino said from Kabul. "This means it's taking more time to get the food here, which is a worry."

On May 1, Canada announced it would donate an extra $50 million in food aid in response to a global plea from the United Nations for $755 million to assist in what has been called the worst food crisis in decades. An estimated 100 million are going hungry in the midst of it.

Of that $50 million, a fifth was earmarked for Haiti, but none specifically for Afghanistan. Still, the program applauds Canada as one of its top donors.

However, the money won't last.

Aid from recent appeals will help feed Afghans until July, Corsino estimated. However, the crisis is likely to last much longer.

"At that point, we need to look at two unknowns - how the harvest year turns out and which way the food prices go," he said. "Quite likely, we'll need another appeal."

The price of wheat has doubled in Afghanistan in recent months.

At the beginning of 2007, the average rural family in Afghanistan spent 60 per cent of its income on food. Now, the same family spends more than 75 per cent of its income to feed themselves.

Afghans in the province of Kandahar have brought up the crisis to Canadian troops repeatedly in the last few weeks. Some farmers have labelled it a larger concern than their own security.

"The price of flour is rising day-by-day," a representative from central Panjwaii recently said at a shura meeting, through a translator. "Flour and wheat are low in the district. This is very significant and important for the Panjwaii. This is becoming an emergency."

The situation is made worse in Kandahar, where the majority of Canadian troops are stationed, because years of conflict in the area have left large numbers of widows and orphans.

On a diet that is almost exclusively tea, bread and rice, one in five Afghans - and more than 40 per cent of children under the age of five - are undernourished.

In February, Canada donated $10 million in response to an Afghanistan-specific appeal made by the Afghan government and the UN. That donation translated to about 12,000 tonnes of wheat.

Canada's food contributions this year total $231 million.

Edmonton Journal rcormierthejournal.canwest.com
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Settlement in Afghanistan: Back to 1997?
By PYOTR GONCHAROV Middle East Times - May 09 4:33 AM
Lessons from Taliban-Northern Alliance Agreement
MOSCOW -- Pakistan has started talks with the Taliban in the northwestern province of the country bordering on Afghanistan. Kabul authorities fear that Islamabad will stop military operations, thus giving the Taliban a chance to become more active in Afghanistan.

The two proposals on stabilizing Afghanistan, which Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf made during his visit to China in mid-April, do not look surprising in this light.

He has called on China and Russia to increase their contribution to solving the Afghan problem, and also mentioned the possibility of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) becoming involved.

"If the SCO can come along, then we would need to ensure that there is no confrontation with NATO," he said.

The SCO is a regional organization of China, Russia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan.

Other Pakistani politicians have been talking about the potential role of regional states, apparently referring to Russia and China, in Afghanistan.

Musharraf's proposal has evoked considerable response. Indian expert and diplomat M.K. Bhadrakumar interprets it as support for the initiative on reviving the 6+2 group on Afghanistan, advanced by Uzbek President Islam Karimov at the NATO summit in Bucharest in early April.

The group, made up of Afghanistan's neighbors - Iran, China, Pakistan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan - as well as Russia and the United States as the guarantor countries, was set up in 1997 on Karimov's initiative. Its goal was to negotiate a settlement to the Afghan conflict between the Northern Alliance, which represented Afghan authorities, and the Taliban, which by that time controlled the bulk of the country.

In 1996 and 1997, when the conflict was becoming uncontrollable, several international conferences were held and documents approved on the problem, but to no avail. Sensing the need for a negotiating mechanism, Karimov proposed setting up the 6+2 group.

In July 1999, the group met in Tashkent and adopted a declaration on the guidelines for a peaceful settlement in Afghanistan. A significant fact is that it was signed in the presence of delegates from the Northern Alliance and the Taliban, and the latter announced its intention to continue dialogue within the framework of the 6+2 group.

The world welcomed the warring sides' agreement to talk as palpable progress. Unfortunately, this was as far as the group got.

Can this mechanism be used again, especially now that many express doubts about NATO's involvement in the U.N. peacekeeping mission? Karimov has proposed adding NATO to the group as one of the guarantors.

Russian expert Vitaly Naumkin, president of the International Center for Strategic and Political Studies in Moscow, said all aspects of the Uzbek president's initiative were good. They are acceptable to all sides, including regional countries, Russia and the West, he said. Importantly, the 6+3 format could also allay NATO and Washington's suspicions regarding Russia's intentions in Afghanistan.

Moscow has hinted more than once that it is not satisfied with limited aspects of its cooperation with NATO. In particular, it is not happy to provide only transportation corridors across its territory, and demands that it is accepted as an equal partner in cooperation with NATO.

However, NATO and the United States are wary of Moscow's proposals to involve the SCO and the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) in Afghanistan. Therefore, the 6+3 format looks like a reasonable compromise instead of the SCO involvement.

The new format has a number of advantages. First, it stipulates the participation of Turkmenistan, with which Afghanistan has always had good relations.

Second, a contact group, such as 6+2 or 6+3, is not a formal organization such as the SCO or CSTO. (The CSTO is a regional security bloc in Central Asia that includes Russia, Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan.) Kabul is not willing to join such organizations in order to solve its economic problems or stabilize the domestic situation.

Nevertheless, Brussels and Washington pretended not to hear Karimov's proposal or Musharraf's idea, but why?

According to Bhadrakumar, Washington fears that Moscow and Tashkent have coordinated their actions, and that the United States, if it accepts Karimov's proposal, which amounts to NATO's cooperation with Russia in Afghanistan, will have to abandon its plans for the bloc's eastward expansion and the admission of Georgia and Ukraine, as a sign of gratitude.

There are other arguments as well. If NATO agrees to join the group, it and the U.N. Security Council, which had given the peacekeeping mandate to NATO, will have to decide on the status, mandate and powers of the new group. This is a very delicate issue, especially in the light of the group's relations with NATO, which is overseeing the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) in Afghanistan, and with the United States, which controls the counterterrorist coalition.

Will the new contact group be effective as a mechanism of negotiations with the Taliban, and what will Kabul officials make of it?

There are other possibilities. One way or another, Washington and NATO will have to determine their attitude toward Russia and China's possible involvement in Afghanistan. These two countries have as many interests and possibilities in the region as the United States and Europe.

The decision to set up the group or bury the idea should be made before the international conference on Afghanistan, to be held in Paris in June.
--
Pyotr Goncharov is a political commentator with RIA Novosti. The opinions expressed in this article are the author's and do not necessarily represent those of RIA Novosti.
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Netherlands provides more funds for Afghan police, prisons 
www.chinaview.cn  2008-05-09 23:38:01
BRUSSELS, May 9 (Xinhua) -- The Netherlands will invest extra money to renovate prisons and police stations in Afghanistan, Dutch media reported Friday.

Dutch Foreign Minister Maxime Verhagen told Afghan officials about the extra funding during a lightning visit to Afghanistan Thursday, said the reports.

Meeting with Afghan President Hamid Karzai in Kabul, Verhagen criticized the human rights situation in Afghanistan, especially the situation in Afghan prisons.

The Netherlands will set aside 1.3 million euros (2 million U.S. dollars) to jointly renovate and expand a prison in Kabul with Britain and Canada, the reports said.

Verhagen discussed the treatment of the prisoners handed over to the Afghan authorities with Karzai, who said Afghanistan will maintain the moratorium on the death penalty.

The Netherlands will also invest 2.2 million euros (3.38 million dollars) in the construction of police stations and checkpoints in the southern Afghan province of Uruzgan, where some1,700 Dutch troops are stationed.

The money will go to the construction of 11 police stations and six checkpoints in Tarin Kowt, daces Rawod and Chora.

The Netherlands has spent tens of millions of euros on the training and salaries of police personnel in Afghanistan.

Verhagen told Karzai that it is important to improve the quality and maintain the quantity of the police force in Uruzgan.
Editor: Yan Liang 
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Job creation should top of Canada's Afghan strategy: Kandahar leaders
The Canadian Press,  Afghanistan
KANDAHAR, Afghanistan — The adage that 'idle are the devil's workshop' may date to the 12th century, but it has a particularly poignant ring today in southern Afghanistan as the annual poppy harvest winds down and NATO forces brace for a possible spike in violence.

Village leaders and power brokers throughout Kandahar province are pleading with the Canadian military and development officials to focus more money and attention on massive make-work projects.

Such jobs, usually back-breaking construction work, would serve to keep chronically under-employed, or jobless Afghan males of fighting age - between 18 and 25 - from falling into the clutches of Taliban recruiters.

"I would like to see the Canadians to mostly focus on the projects (where) they can create jobs," said Ahmed Wali Karzai, head of the provincial council in Kandahar and half brother to Afghan President Hamid Karzai.

Canada's Conservative government, through a special cabinet committee chaired by Trade Minister David Emerson, is in the process of setting benchmarks - objectives to be achieved in Kandahar before the military mission ends in 2011.

Karzai said building infrastructure, that either didn't exist or has been pulverized by three decades of war, should be near the top of the list.

"Job creation is the key thing that the Canadian policy should be from now," he said in an interview with The Canadian Press.

A key leader in the volatile Panjwaii district, where Canadian troops have had to time and again retake villages from the insurgents, also agreed with that assessment.

Haji Agha Lalai said a promise of steady cash isn't the only reason young men join the Taliban, but is a very important factor.

"If they have more jobs here, if they are provided jobs they will not join Taliban," said Lalai, the shura or council leader in a farming community west of Kandahar City.

Tens of thousands of Afghans have been toiling in bone dry, 40C heat for the last few weeks to bring in the poppy harvest, expected to be the largest in southern Afghanistan in living memory. The picking, all done by hand, is expected to go on for another two or three weeks.

What comes after that is what worries NATO commanders in Kandahar and Helmand provinces, the two biggest poppy producing regions in the country.

Once unemployed, those thousands of mostly illiterate field hands become a deep recruiting pool for the Taliban. Often they are bought off with money made in large part from the spoils of refining poppies into opium and heroin for the illicit drug trade.

"The people here have a lot of capacity to work in different building projects. When the people (are) busy, their minds are not diverted towards negative activities," said Lalai.

The Canadian army has recognized the urgent need to get people working as the poppy harvest draws to a close.

There is one large road-building project underway west of Kandahar city, employing about 450 people and another paving project is planned for the near future. Local Afghans are also hired for the construction work when police checkpoints and stations are constructed, but only a few dozen at time.

Lt.-Col. Jacques O'Keefe, who's in charge of engineering projects, says he's tried to maximize the amount of local labour on the army's projects, but the roads and causeways currently being built serve a military purpose first and foremost.

Turning the same kind of effort into civilian infrastructure is possible and it has been suggested for a while, he says.

"There is a lot of money being injected into Afghanistan," O'Keefe said in an interview. "People ask nothing more than to earn an honest living, feed their family and go to work and have some hope. There is value in that suggestion."

The bulk of Canada's estimated $1.2 billion aid package goes into programs that are shared with the international community. The recent Manley commission report on the future of the Afghan mission recommended that Canada embark on a signature project to raise the country's profile.

Karzai said if the Harper government wants to raise Canada's profile in Kandahar the solution is simple: Build more roads, bridges and power stations and force civilian construction companies, especially foreign-owned ones, to hire local labour. Lots of local labour.

"Instead of using more machinery, let's use human power to create jobs in the community," he said, motioning out the window to a construction project up the street from his office.

"When you create jobs, people will be able to buy wheat - or fruit and stuff. You create a market for them. When Canadians approve projects, it should be very, very limited (in the use of) machinery."

By allowing people to earn $5-$6 a day, he said, you bring them "closer to the government."

In Iraq, the U.S. army is coming to the same conclusion as Karzai and Lalai, where in the city of Narhwan it has restarted an idle brick-making factory. The facility in the mostly Shiite-dominated community was reopened last year under the supervision of elements of the 3rd Infantry Division and now employs 15,000 local labourers, who would have otherwise been working for the insurgency.

Trying to come up with gainful employment for idle Afghans has been going on since the Canadians returned to Kandahar in February 2006. Cash-for-work programs, sponsored by the Canadian International Development Agency, have seen irrigation canals cleared and ditches dug.
But Karzai argued that the projects devised by Community Development Councils can provide only sporadic and short-term employment.
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Afghan government to award gold mining rights to private company
May 9, 2008, 10:17 GMT  Monsters and Critics.com
Kabul - The Afghan ministry of mines will hand over the rights to mine for gold in the northern province of Takhar to a private Afghan company, an official said Friday.

Local media quoted Ibrahim Adil, Afghan minister for mines, as saying, 'An Afghan private company won the bidding last year and it would invest around 40 million dollars for extraction of gold located in the northern Takhar province.'

According to the minister for mines, the project by the unnamed mining company will create job opportunities for more than 4,000 people in the region.

'Scale and level of gold is not specified so far but according to the contract, 50 per cent of the income from the gold extraction will be given to the Afghan government,' Ibrahim Adil told local media.

The Afghan government signed a contract for extraction of copper with a Chinese company called Metallurgical Group Corp (MGC) in November last year.

MGC will invest 2.8 billion dollars to extract copper from the Ainak mine.

The Ainak copper mine, located 30 kilometres south-east of Kabul in Logar province, has over 12 million tons of copper, making it one of the biggest copper mines in the world.

According to the Afghan ministry of mines, the Ainak copper mine has been leased for 30 years to the Chinese company, which will pay 400 million dollars annually in tax to the Afghan government.
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Pentagon Is Open to Moving More Marines to Afghanistan
By Ann Scott Tyson Washington Post Staff Writer Friday, May 9, 2008; A13
The Marine Corps may begin shifting its major combat forces out of Iraq to focus on Afghanistan in 2009 if greater security in Iraq allows a reduction of Marines there, top Pentagon officials said yesterday.

Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates and Adm. Michael G. Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said that the proposal by the Marine Corps commandant, Gen. James Conway, to focus his force on Afghanistan -- which they rejected late last year -- could be reconsidered.

"Should we be in a position to move forces into Afghanistan, I think that certainly would come back into consideration," Mullen said at a Pentagon briefing. He said that he understands it is challenging for the Marines to have "a foot in both countries" and that Conway seeks to "optimize the forces that he has," but stressed that any shift is likely to occur "down the road."

Gates said he agrees that the Marine Corps shift is "a possibility" for next year. He explained that when he earlier said the change "wouldn't happen on my watch," that was not an unchangeable policy decision -- he meant it would not unfold until 2009, when he plans to step down.

Gates said that the Pentagon is still looking at options to increase U.S. troop levels in Afghanistan in 2009, but that there is no plan to extend the seven-month deployment of about 3,200 Marines dispatched there this spring. "I'd be loath to" extend the Marines beyond November, when they are scheduled to leave Afghanistan, he said.

A senior military official said this week that after a "vigorous debate," Mullen, Conway and other members of the Joint Chiefs recently hammered out their priorities for employing stretched U.S. ground forces: first, Iraq; next, Afghanistan; and finally, bringing troops home to increase the amount of time they have in the United States to train and recuperate.

Long, 15-month deployments and troop increases in Iraq and Afghanistan have severely stretched the Army and Marine Corps. That has led to more soldiers under "stop-loss," which means they are required to stay in service beyond their contractual departure date. As of the end of March, the number of active-duty, National Guard and reserve soldiers on stop-loss had risen to 12,100, Army officials said.

Gates asked the Army last year to minimize the number of soldiers on stop-loss, and said yesterday he is "troubled" by the trend, detailed for him in a briefing yesterday by Army leaders. "It is an issue. It troubles me. And I think it is a strain," he said.

Still, he said the practice is important to maintain "unit cohesion," noting that about half of soldiers under stop-loss are sergeants. "If they left a unit, it would leave a pretty gaping hole, while still deployed," he said.

Gates said Army leaders told him they expect the number of soldiers prevented from leaving because of stop-loss will begin to decline in September, after five Army combat brigades return from Iraq by July.

Turning to another key troop morale issue -- proposals in Congress to increase benefits under the GI Bill -- Gates said he supports more generous benefits but wants to link them to a longer mandatory term of service, six years compared with three under the leading Senate legislation.
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Afghan ambassador to Canada hopeful change in Pakistan will improve safety
The Canadian Press May 8, 2008
CALGARY — Afghanistan's ambassador to Canada is hopeful that a change in power in Pakistan will improve security along the border between the two Middle Eastern countries.

The region just inside the Pakistan border is home to between two and four million displaced Afghan refugees living in camps. It's estimated between 30,000 and 40,000 cross the border between the two countries each day.

The area is a prime recruiting and training area for the Taliban, which then send new recruits into Afghanistan to fight against the government and NATO troops, including those from Canada.

"We hope that the new elected government in Pakistan is going to work in a very transparent and meaningful way with us and with NATO in order to address some of the issues that exist across the tribal belt," Ambassador Omar Samad said Thursday in an interview with The Canadian Press.

The Taliban and its al-Qaida allies have roamed freely through the region for years - largely under the watch of the government of former Pakistan president Pervez Musharraf. But his opponents swept general elections in February and formed a coalition. The new leaders have made restoring the country's fired judges and revising Pakistan's role in the U.S.-led war on terror top priorities.

Samad said it would benefit both Afghanistan and Pakistan to bolster security there as soon as possible.

"That decision has to involve both countries as well as our friends and allies," he said. "It has to address the core problem of where these people are finding refuge, where they're finding funds, arms, training and recruitment.

"Anything short of that is going to perpetuate the problem for both countries."

Although there are Taliban "safe houses," said Samad, it is not believed there are any actual training camps within Afghanistan's borders. The Taliban have managed to regroup to a minor extent in some southern provinces but are limited in numbers and have taken heavy casualties.

"There are some elements who appear to be gaining strength in certain parts of the country for various reasons that are very local in nature," Samad said. "There are others who have lost the ability to mount frontal assaults and are resorting to classical hit-and-run attacks as well as sending suicide bombers."

Cpl. Michael Starker, 36, of Calgary, a member of the 15 Field Ambulance Regiment, died in just such an attack Tuesday when his patrol was ambushed in the Pashmul region of Zhari district, about 25 kilometres west of Kandahar city.

He was the 83rd Canadian soldier to have died in the war-torn nation since the overthrow of the Taliban in 2001.
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Book reveals Karzai fled Pakistan on motorcycle
The News - International, Pakistan By Umar Cheema 5/9/2008
NEW YORK-Afghan President Hamid Karzai had left Pakistan in 2001 on the directives of the ISI that set deadline of September 30 for him, plainly telling him that his visa would not be renewed.

Two years after the assassination of his father in Quetta allegedly by Taliban in which Karzai also implicated the ISI, he went back to Afghanistan riding a motorbike, with an old satellite phone. He gave the number of this phone only to the American and British diplomats posted in Islamabad, a new book has revealed.

Shortly before his departure from Quetta, a plan that he kept secret, two ISI officers came to his residence to guess his intentions. He asked them to leave his residence. He held a flurry of meetings with different diplomats in Islamabad, before leaving Pakistan, strongly hinting that he was going back to his country. Karzai was offered a little help by one embassy but not more than a satellite phone that he refused to accept. The time he left, he was in severe shortage of money that his brother arranged for him.

Descent into Chaos -- a new book with telling details about the ISI links with Taliban, al-Qaeda's role in Afghanistan and the apathetic attitude of the world powers towards this war-torn country ó- reveals horrific details when it would hit bookstalls, next month.

Ahmad Rashid, a Pakistani journalist who earlier authored books including Jihad, Taliban, and The Resurgence of Central Asia, has written this volume to be made available on bookshops by June 2.

"A Man with a Mission" the first chapter of the book contains firsthand accounts of President Karzai that he shared with the author whom he met in Lahore in 2001 to consult on ISI directives, nine weeks before the expiry of 'deadline': September 30.

This chapter also unfolds Karzai's chequered history of relations with Taliban whom he gave fifty thousand dollars plus a cache of weapons by the time they captured Kandahar and that Taliban later wanted to appoint him as their ambassador in the United Nations.

Pakistan's Foreign Office that was interviewing Taliban's diplomat corps, called Karzai for interview but he refused doing this, so he could not be appointed ambassador. And when his relations with Taliban deteriorated later, they wanted to assassinate him after killing his father in Quetta. Karzai defied Pakistani and Taliban authorities when he drove his father's body for burial in Kandahar, his hometown, accompanying a three-hundred-vehicle convoy of family members, mourners and tribal chiefs-in-exile.

But Karzai told the author that Taliban turned against him well before killing his father, by the time when "they were taken over by ISI and became proxy". Karzai had been living in Pakistan since 1983 (except for sometimes when he served with Mujaddedi) until his 'deportation' in 2001. By the time Russians invaded Afghanistan in 1979, he went to Himachal Pradesh University in northern India to study political science.

Born in 1958 in Kandahar, he was the fourth of eight children of his father. Except for him and his brother Ahmad Wali, all have immigrated to the United States, a typically tragic Afghan diaspora of Soviet invasion.

After completing studies in India, Karzai, who has command over six languages, came to Pakistan and affiliated with the National Liberation Front of Afghan leader, Sibghatullah Mujaddedi. First he served as his foreign policy adviser and later as his deputy foreign minister when Mujaddedi became Afghan President, years before Taliban took over. Karzai's family settled in Quetta in 1994 and he later started living with them. When he was directed to leave Pakistan, a couple of years after his father's killing, he got worried, took the warning seriously and shared with journalist friend, Ahmad Rashid.

"The ISI told Karzai that he could no longer stay in Pakistan, his visa would not be renewed, and he must leave the country with his family by September 30," the book disclosed. The author claimed himself to be Karzai's close friend.

"We both (Hamid Karzai and Ahmad Rashid) knew that the expulsion order was as much a death threat as it was a warning and it could not be taken lightly," the author writes. We both knew who had really ordered his expulsion: Mullah Muhammad Omer, the leader of the Taliban in Kandahar," the author further narrates, recalling his conversation with Karzai when he spent a night at his residence in Lahore. "Karzai's father, Abdul Ahad Karzai, had been murdered by the Taliban in 1999 ó- an assassination that Karzai believes also implicated the ISI".

The author writes that a number of weeks after his meeting with Karzai, the incident of 9/11 took place. Karzai was in Islamabad walking on the Margalla Hills on the evening of September 11, when the first plane crashed into the World Trade Centre. His younger brother Ahmad Wali Karzai called him from Quetta and told him about this tragic incident.

Over the next few days Karzai met with diplomats from all major Western embassies, hinting strongly that he was preparing to go into Afghanistan. He was offered little immediate help, except from the British, in the form of a satellite phone which he declined to accept. When he returned to Quetta, his house was crowded with tribal elders wanting to know his plans. The ISI sent around two officers also to try to discover his intentions. The latter (ISI) were politely asked to leave without being offered a cup of tea ó- a sure insult.

Karzai told only a handful of people knew of his plans, his wife, his brother among them. A few days later he asked Ahmad Wali (brother) to get hold of some money because he had no funds. Then, packing an old satellite phone, whose number he gave to the Americans and British, he got onto a motorbike and, with a few friends, headed into Afghanistan.
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NATO appoints new civilian representative in Afghanistan
Xinhua May 8, 2008
NATO Secretary General Jaap de HoopScheffer on Wednesday appointed Fernando Gentilini of Italy as NATO 's senior civilian representative in Afghanistan.

Gentilini replaces Daan Everts of the Netherlands who served as NATO's second senior civilian representative in Afghanistan from August 2006 to December 2007. Following Everts' departure, MauritsR. Jochems of the Netherlands served as acting senior civilian representative.

Gentilini, 46, has a long career in the Italian Foreign Ministry. He served as European Union High Representative's personal representative to Kosovo in 2004 and most recently as deputy diplomatic advisor to the Italian prime minister since August 2006.

The senior civilian representative officially represents the political leadership of NATO in Kabul. He provides a direct channel of communication between the theater, the NATO headquarters in Brussels, and decision-making North Atlantic Council.

He also works closely with the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force, the United Nations and other coordinating bodies established by the international community and the Afghan government.
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Bomber’s Final Messages Exhort Fighters Against U.S.
New York Times, United States By ALISSA J. RUBIN May 9, 2008
BAGHDAD -The last words of a suicide bomber in Mosul were a rallying cry for Muslims to join the fight against Americans.

His taking-off point was his experience at the military prison at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba.

In two accounts — a transcript of his conversation in a jihadist chat room and a suicide message on tape — both posted on Web sites devoted to Al Qaeda after his death, the bomber, Abdallah Salih al-Ajmi, 29, described his detention as “torture” carried out by infidels. He was in Guantánamo from 2002 to 2005.

The American military confirmed that Mr. Ajmi, a Kuwaiti, carried out a suicide bombing in Iraq last month. His relatives were the first to make public his death, and Kuwaiti newspapers reported on Thursday that he was one of three Kuwaiti suicide bombers involved in an attack in Mosul that killed several Iraqi soldiers.

As many as 36 former Guantánamo detainees have taken part in violent acts against Western targets after their release, a Defense Intelligence Agency report said. Their violent acts raise the question of whether the men should have been released, but also whether their detention radicalized them.

At the Pentagon on Thursday, Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates was asked about the risk of former Guantánamo detainees returning to kill Americans or their allies. He said the recidivism rate was 5 to 10 percent, based on one dozen to three dozen known instances.

“So I would say that I think we do as careful a vetting job as we possibly can before releasing these people,” he said at a news conference.

The American military’s account of the reasons for Mr. Ajmi’s detention and his behavior at Guantánamo depict a defiant, often silent prisoner, but there is no suggestion in available documents that he was involved with Al Qaeda at that time.

Mr. Ajmi’s own account of his time at Guantánamo describes a man emboldened by religious devotion, who found solace in prayer and who hoped others would see his death as a righteous act.
 
The military’s summary of evidence in the case states that he ran away from the Kuwaiti military to fight for the Taliban in Afghanistan. The Taliban gave him weapons, and he fought initially near the Bagram airport and then near the front lines during the early days of the current war in Afghanistan.

During his detention, he appeared to be angry and uncommunicative. In transcripts of his exchanges with military lawyers, he often gave one-word answers.

“Upon arrival at GTMO, Al Ajmi has been constantly in trouble,” said the summary of the evidence in his administrative review board hearing. “Al Ajmi’s overall behavior has been aggressive and non-compliant and he has resided in GTMO’s disciplinary blocks throughout his detention.”

The board recommended against his release. In a section titled “The following primary factors favor release or transfer,” the only comment is “No information available.”
Mr. Ajmi’s own account is similar in many respects. He describes himself as resisting his captors. But his farewell messages also suggest that he saw himself as a loyal fighter for Islam and never more so than while in detention.

“Twelve thousand kilometers away from Mecca, I realized the reality of the Americans and what those infidels want,” he said. He urged his fellow Muslims to join the Islamic State of Iraq, the organization synonymous with Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia, a homegrown extremist group with foreign leadership.

“Whoever can go the Islamic State of Iraq should go,” he said, according to the chat room transcript, and he exhorted fighters who were not imprisoned to undertake suicide missions.

In the tape made before his suicide attack he said he was detained in the Pakistani tribal areas. He said he was then held in Kandahar, Afghanistan, and flown to Guantánamo, where, he said, he was held naked.

In both his suicide tape and the chat room transcript, Mr. Ajmi describes the Americans’ desecration of the Koran and maltreatment of detainees, in what appears to have been an attempt to prod fellow Muslims to action. He said that detainees were beaten, given drugs and used “for experiments.”

“The Americans delighted in insulting our prayer and Islam and they insulted the Koran and threw it in dirty places,” he said.

In November 2005, Mr. Ajmi was one of five Kuwaitis released to the Kuwaiti government. He was later tried and acquitted.

In late March or early April he came to Iraq by way of Syria, according to Kuwaiti newspaper reports. He died with two other Kuwaitis in the same attack, according to the newspaper Al Seyassara.
His last thoughts were to encourage militants to avenge those who are in detention.

“I urge you, my brothers, support them with suicide operations,” he said. “Your captive brothers wish they could fight for the cause of God. You are free. It is your duty to free your Muslim brothers from the hands of the polytheists and infidels.”

Thom Shanker contributed reporting from Washington, and William Glaberson and Margot Williams from New York.
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Bin Laden's 'right hand' to be freed
The Australian, Australia Sean O'Neill and Richard Ford May 09, 2008
AN extremist Muslim cleric regarded as "Osama bin Laden's spiritual ambassador in Europe" must be released on bail, a British judge ruled today.

Abu Qatada, 48, who won his legal fight against deportation to Jordan last month, will be freed from prison under strict bail conditions amounting to 22-hour house arrest despite the fact that he is still deemed to be a threat to national security.

The cleric applied to the Special Immigration Appeals Commission (SIAC) for bail on the grounds that it was inhumane to detain him indefinitely if there was no prospect of his being deported.

The order to release him is the latest in a series of judicial decisions which undermine the British Government's stance on terrorism.

In the past year, the courts have effectively rewritten sections of terrorism legislation and ruled that financial sanctions on terror suspects were absurd and unlawful.

The earlier judgment on Abu Qatada's deportation wrecked the policy of drawing up "memoranda of understanding" for the return of suspects to Middle East countries with poor human rights records.

Further embarrassments are likely to follow. The Times understands that the head of an Algerian terrorist network which plotted bomb attacks in Europe and north America is also seeking to be released because the courts have thwarted attempts to deport him.

British Home Secretary Jacqui Smith said she was "extremely disappointed".

He will not, however, leave the high-security wing at Long Lartin jail until a detailed agreement has been reached about where he will live, what access to the internet and telephone he will have and who can visit him.

The cleric was born Omar Othman in Bethlehem in 1960 and his family went to live in exile in Jordan. He became a disciple of bin Laden when he lived in Peshawar on the Pakistan-Afghanistan border in the late 1980s.

He arrived in Britain in 1993, travelling with a forged United Arab Emirates passport, and claimed asylum on the grounds that he would be tortured if he returned to Jordan. British immigration authorities granted him temporary leave to remain as a refugee in 1994.

The Jordanian courts sentenced him to life imprisonment in his absence in connection with a series of bombings in Amman in 1998.

By then, Abu Qatada was living with his wife and children in Acton, west London, preaching at local mosques, raising funds for jihadi groups in Chechnya and offering theological justifications for terrorist actions including the slaughter of women and children in Algeria.

His presence along with that of other radicals like Omar Bakri Mohammed and Abu Hamza al-Masri led French counter-terrorism agencies to nickname the city Londonistan.

In February 2001 an anti-terrorist branch raid on his home led to the seizure of £180,000 in various currencies. In October 2001, Abu Qatada told his followers he had received a "special message" from Afghanistan and the time had come to declare holy war. Police in Germany found cassette recordings of his sermons in a flat used by Mohammed Atta, leader of the September 11 attacks.

Although he was under MI5 surveillance Abu Qatada disappeared in December 2001, shortly before he was due to be arrested. He was discovered in October the following year and taken into custody under emergency anti-terrorist powers.

While in hiding he had continued to communicate with his followers on the internet and he heavily influenced Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the murderous leader of al-Qaeda in Iraq.

Abu Qatada was released on a control order in 2004 but re-arrested under deportation warrant the following year since when he has been fighting a legal battle against attempts to return him to Jordan.

A Government statement to a previous SIAC hearing said: "The presence of Abu Qatada in the UK poses a continuing threat to national security and a significant terrorism-related risk to the public. He has engaged in conduct which facilitates and gives encouragement to the commission, preparation and instigation of acts of terrorism.

"He provides advice which gives religious legitimacy to those who wish to further the aims of extreme Islamism and to engage in terrorist attacks, including suicide bombings. A number of individuals arrested or detained in connection with terrorism have acknowledged his influence upon them.”

Ms Smith said she would take all necessary steps to minimise the danger to the public when he was released.

He will have to live at a designated address, likely to be outside London, and will only be allowed to leave the property for two hours each day.

She said: "I am not prepared to comment on details of individuals' contingency plans, but the Government's priority is to protect public safety and national security. We will ensure that necessary steps are taken to ensure the safety of the public.

"I am already seeking to appeal the Court of Appeal's decision that it is not safe to deport Abu Qatada and we will continue with deportation action with this and the other Jordanian cases."

Shadow home secretary David Davis said: “This whole situation undermines the Government’s assurances that memorandums of understanding are the solution to deporting terror suspects.

“The Government should at last answer our calls to focus on prevention and prosecution – for example by allowing the use of intercept evidence in court - rather than just trying to deport these individuals once they are here."
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Afghan army far from fighting fit
By Antonio Giustozzi May 9, 2008 Asia Times Online, Hong Kong
Over the past few years, the Afghan National Army (ANA) has often been presented as a success story. This certainly holds some truth, at least in comparison with Afghanistan's national police, which is widely seen as a complete failure.

The ANA is reasonably well behaved and quite popular throughout most of Afghanistan. Its initial difficulties in retaining troops within the ranks seem to have been addressed to some extent and both the desertion and absence-without-leave (AWOL) rates are down from the high levels of 2002-2006. AWOL rates in particular have declined dramatically over the past 18 months, to a relatively low 8%, from about 33% in 2006 [1].

This appears to be the combined result of a presidential decree turning AWOL into a crime, a widespread media campaign, rising unemployment and rising food prices, which force even less than enthusiastic recruits to stick to the ANA. The number of infantry battalions now stands at 36, while the army as a whole numbers 37,000 men; still substantially short of its personnel projections, but way above the 22,000 which it numbered at the end of summer 2007 [2].

These relative successes have turned the ANA into one of the pillars of the much touted "Afghanization" strategy. The term "Afghanization" itself is used with some ambiguity within the North Atlantic Treaty Organization-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF), sometimes implying a gradual withdrawal of foreign troops; at other times it implies the gradual shift of the weight of the fighting from the international contingents to the Afghans. A number of European countries seem to lean toward the first interpretation, while Washington clearly opts for the second [3].

Difficulties in operating independently
To the extent that Afghanization is meant to allow a withdrawal of foreign troops, the ANA still has several weaknesses. The main one is its extreme dependence on embedded trainers. Five years on, not a single battalion has graduated from the embedded training program, even though the original plan was for two years. A number of battalions, perhaps as many as 12, are considered to be led by sufficiently skilled officers capable of operating without advisers [4].

However, as the insurgency grew into a relatively large conflict through 2005-2007, the ANA has grown dependent on close air support, administered through the embedded training teams. The ANA does not have any personnel trained to handle close air support, nor does it seem bound to develop such skills in the foreseeable future [5].

The fighting tactics that ANA officers have been learning from their trainers are largely based on American tactics; the infantry's main task is to force the enemy to reveal itself, allowing the air force to wipe it out with air strikes. There is little evidence that ANA units would be able to control the battlefield without such air support, or that they are learning the necessary skills.

The ability of the ANA and the Afghan Ministry of Defense (MoD) to plan and conduct complex operations on their own has not yet been tested; the few autonomous operations carried out by ANA units are simple ones, usually with backup from foreign units and always with the embedded trainers present [6].

Tight international sponsoring of the ANA also means it is usually not operating in very small units, which would be most effective in engaging and pursuing the insurgents in the absence of overwhelming air support. Usually the task of engaging the insurgents in close combat is left to the special forces of various foreign contingents. Several ANA officers complain about the fact that the training received by the infantry battalions is too "conventional" [7]. By not practicing effective counter-guerrilla tactics, the necessary skills are not being developed, and it will not be possible to rapidly produce such skills in the event of a substantial change in the involvement of foreign troops in the war.

Another dubious aspect of Afghanization is the limited logistical capabilities of the ANA. Although its logistical units are now being developed, the ANA's difficulties in recruiting skilled staff casts some doubts about the future efficiency of its logistics once the foreign contingents hand over these responsibilities to the ANA.

Ethnic fault lines
With regard to its long-term viability, another problematic aspect of the ANA is represented by its internal ethnic fault lines. Since 2005, both the MoD and the Americans have securely guarded any data about the ethnic composition of the ANA, but there is evidence that a genuine ethnic balance has not yet been achieved; even more worryingly, although a point was initially made that units would be ethnically mixed, it is now obvious that they are not.

Tajiks are still overrepresented, particularly in the officer corps. According to one estimate, 70% of the battalion commanders are Tajiks [8]. This figure is in stark contrast with the Afghan army of the pre-war period, where the overwhelming majority of field officers were Pashtuns and ethnic minorities were mainly relegated to logistics and administration.

Recruitment to the army is not going well in a number of Pashtun regions affected by the insurgency, mainly because of a campaign of intimidation carried out by insurgents against the families of soldiers, which discourages potential recruits from joining and has forced a number of soldiers not to re-enlist. The situation is compounded by the habit of the MoD to deploy only predominantly Tajik units to the war zones of the south and southeast, presumably to avoid the risk of "fraternization" and to enhance the cohesion of the units. As a result, very few Pashtuns are fighting against the insurgency within the ranks of the ANA.

Although friction between ANA units and the local population or even between ANA and locally recruited police is reported, there is no evidence that this is a driving factor in the insurgency. However, such friction and the fact that many soldiers and officers do not speak Pashto must certainly limit the cooperation that these units are able to enlist locally, particularly in remote rural areas. Even the few Pashtuns who serve in these units are usually not from the region where they are deployed, but from other Pashtun-populated regions. Therefore, they lack local knowledge, even if they can understand the language spoken by the villagers.

These characteristics of the ANA units deployed in the south, southeast and east are compounded by the unreliability and ineffectiveness of the police, which in principle should contribute local knowledge to the counter-insurgency effort. Locally recruited police forces are more often than not militias in disguise, which fight for their own agenda and are locked in local rivalries. These forces do not effectively cooperate with the ANA and are not reliable sources of information [9].

Perhaps more relevant in the long term is the risk of ethnic tension compromising the unity of the ANA, once foreign troops have been withdrawn or their presence substantially reduced. Given battalions which are largely ethnically homogeneous and with many within the officer corps having a background in ethnically-based political factions, the stage seems set for serious trouble in the event of a foreign withdrawal. Moreover, the army, whose size is now planned at 80,000 but may grow further, is already unaffordable for the revenue-stripped Afghan state and will one day have to be downsized, raising the prospect of serious disgruntlement among officers.

Conclusion
At some point ISAF will have to allow the ANA to be tested on the battlefield in conditions resembling those which it will meet in the event of a withdrawal of foreign forces. Apart from being a test of Afghanization, such a trial - if successfully passed - would also enhance the credibility of the ANA and the legitimacy of the government, as well as increase the leverage of Kabul in any negotiations with the Taliban.

The test could, for example, consist of leaving the ANA alone to manage a province or region without external support. The fact that such a test has not been attempted yet in more than six years of international tutoring might reflect a relative lack of confidence in the capabilities of the ANA, or the fear of the political consequences of a failure.

Notes
1. Stars and Stripes, Mideast edition, May 8, 2007; Video Teleconference with Major General Robert W. Cone - Commander of CSTC-A (Combined Security Transition Command – Afghanistan), March 26, 2008.
2. American Forces Press Service, April 7.
3. Author's personal communications with diplomats in Kabul, April 2008.
4. A. Giustozzi, "Reconstructing the Defense Sector," Chapter in Deconstructing the Afghan Security Sector, LIT Verlag Security, 2008; A. Giustozzi, "Auxiliary force or national army? Afghanistan's ANA and the counter-insurgency effort, 2002-2006," Small Wars and Insurgencies, 18(1), March 2007, pp 45-67.
5. Author's personal communication with a senior American officer and a NATO diplomat, Kabul, April 2008.
6. Author's personal communication with British army officers and journalists, London, November 2007; personal communication with military attache, Kabul, October 2007.
7. Author's personal communication with military attache, Kabul, April 2008.
8. Author's personal communication with UN official, Kabul, April 2008.
9. Author's personal communication with British, Dutch and American officers and diplomats, 2007-2008; personal communication with senior Ministry of the Interior official, Kabul, October 2007.

(This article first appeared in The Jamestown Foundation . Used with permission.)

(Copyright 2008 The Jamestown Foundation.)
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US trains Pakistani killing machine
By Syed Saleem Shahzad Asia Times Online / May 8, 2008
KARACHI - A longstanding disconnect between the Pakistan and United States militaries is largely responsible for the inability of the "war on terror" to nail key targets such as al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden, as well as military failures against the Taliban-led insurgency in Afghanistan.

Former US ambassador to Honduras, Mexico and the Philippines and presently Deputy Secretary of State, John Negroponte, aims to change this by creating special Pakistani units, trained by the US, to go after key figures.

"These programs have already started and will continue at length. Already, many teams of US military officials have arrived in Pakistan and have started basic training courses," a senior Pakistani security official told Asia Times Online on the condition of anonymity.

"Under these programs, US Army officers will come to Pakistan and maintain a close liaison with middle-ranking army officers, including majors, colonels and brigadiers. Some officers will then be selected to go to the US, where they will be trained in special operations," the official said.

According to other security contacts who spoke to Asia Times Online, the conventional fight against insurgents - that is, large deployments of the Pakistani army in the tribal areas - will be set aside and the newly trained special operations teams will go after irreconcilable hardline militants. The newly elected government in Islamabad at the same time will negotiate with reconcilable elements.

Pakistan is also to be given a new US aid package in the context of this counter-terrorism approach. The US Congress is soon to decide whether to triple non-military aid to Pakistan to US$7 billion.

The training by the US of Pakistani special forces is based on Negroponte's initiatives in Nicaragua and the Philippines, where indigenous armies were cultivated to further the US's battles. In the case of the Philippines, it is against the Abu Sayyaf terrorist group and separatists on the island of Mindanao. In Nicaragua, special forces were trained as a bulwark against the revolutionary Sandinista government in the 1980s.

The reasons for the new tactic in Pakistan are twofold. Firstly, the Pakistani army does not have extensive training in counter-insurgency, especially on its western borders, that is, Afghanistan. And for years, its strategic orientation has been India-obsessed, in particular fueling the insurgency in Indian-administered Kashmir.

Secondly, the US considers it vital to bring its military closer to Pakistan's. At a senior level, many Pakistani officers have a personal rapport with senior US officials. The chief of army staff, General Ashfaq Pervez Kiani, has attended three extensive courses in the US, where he has cultivated high-level contacts. The idea is to achieve the same contacts for middle-ranking officials as a tool for sharing intelligence and conducting joint military operations.

Despite the US giving Pakistan about $10 billion in military aid over the past seven years, the Taliban insurgency in Afghanistan is stronger than ever and the Taliban have found safe heavens in Pakistan. Some officials in Washington suspect most of the US money has been used to build up Pakistan's conventional forces for use in possible future conflicts with India, rather than spent on counter-insurgency.

Under the new plan, any reward money for taking out high-value targets will go directly into the pockets of middle- and junior-level officers, who will be at the heart of the special operations teams. Previously, reward money has invariably ended up in the hands of the exchequer, rather than in those of informers or the security officials involved. This has acted as a disincentive for cooperation in the "war on terror", especially for a military that traditionally has had a soft spot for the Taliban.

Sensing the new moves, Pakistani militants have unilaterally broken various ceasefire agreements with the authorities and carried out two deadly attacks against Pakistani security forces in the past few days.

Some Taliban leaders have made unprecedented calls for the urgent and strict enforcement of Islamic laws, for instance, Maulana Faqir Muhammad of Bajaur Agency has ordered all men in the tribal area to grow a beard. The aim is to spread the insurgency at the grassroots level and close the gap between irreconcilable and reconcilable Taliban, thereby making the task of the new special operations units all the more difficult.

Syed Saleem Shahzad is Asia Times Online's Pakistan Bureau Chief.
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Afghanistan, Iran and Pakistan agree an anti-drugs plan brokered by UN
Payvand Iran News - May 09 8:13 AM
UN News Ceneter, 8 May 2008 – Afghanistan, Iran and Pakistan have agreed to step up cross-border controls to stop the flow of illegal drugs, the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) announced today in Vienna. The three countries, meeting in the Iranian capital Tehran, agreed to establish Border Liaison Offices, on each of their three borders, to plan joint operations against traffickers attempting to smuggle heroin out of Afghanistan. The countries also announced that they would step up the campaign to block the transport of precursor chemicals for heroin production in and around Afghanistan.

Another key focus was on how to prevent trade links and road transport from being used for the smuggling of narcotics. "We need to ensure that ways to facilitate trade are not exploited by smugglers of guns, chemicals and weapons," said Antonio Maria Costa, the Executive Director of UNODC.

Today's meeting in Tehran was part of the Triangular Initiative brokered by UNODC. Speakers at the meeting stressed the devastating impact of opium and heroin on their countries, and urged the international community, particularly European countries, to reduce demand for drugs and support the new plan.

With UNODC's assistance, Iran will establish a permanent secretariat for the Triangular Initiative and a regional centre for intelligence exchange.
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Netherlands pledges five million euros for Afghan human rights
by Michael Blass 08-05-2008 Radio Netherlands, Netherlands
Dutch Foreign Minister Maxime Verhagen began a short visit to Afghanistan on Thursday. The trip will include meetings with President Hamid Karzai and Dr Sima Samar of the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission (AIHRC). Mr Verhagen is to continue discussions with Mr Karzai on the death penalty, media legislation, and the shortage of police in the province of Uruzgan. With Dr Samar he will discuss human rights issues and the treatment of prisoners.

Mr Verhagen admits that conditions in Afghan prisons are appalling. However, he maintains that no serious abuses are now taking place, thanks to an agreement with Afghanistan about the treatment of prisoners captured by Dutch troops and handed over to the Afghan authorities. His remarks come in response to recent Dutch media reports of complaints by prisoners, which have led to questions in parliament. The Foreign Minister wants to ask AIHRC to extend its prison visits from the capital Kabul to Uruzgan, and is prepared to offer the organisation logistical help to do so.

"Because we want to prevent any semblance of abuse, independent monitoring is important."

Women's rights and justice
During his trip Mr Verhagen will be accompanied by his Slovakian counterpart Jan Kubis and the Slovakian minister of defence Jaroslav Baska. Slovakia is a new partner of the Netherlands in Uruzgan and recently agreed to send 250 troops.

At the start of his visit Mr Verhagen announced that the Netherlands would be providing 2.5 million euros for the improvement of women's rights in Afghanistan. The United Nations Development Fund for Women, UNIFEM, is to receive one million euros for projects to combat violence against women. The rest of the money will go to the Asia Foundation, which is active throughout the country in improving women's access to justice. The Netherlands is also to grant 1.5 million euros to the International Center for Transitional Justice, which promotes the national reconciliation programme in Afghanistan.
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A Secret Afghanistan Mission Prepares for War with Iran
Washington Post, United States By William M. Arkin May 8, 2008
Those predicting war with Iran or some Bush-Cheney October surprise attack on Tehran are constantly looking for signs of military preparations: a B-52 bomber that mistakenly takes off from North Dakota with nuclear-armed cruise missiles; a second or third aircraft carrier entering the Persian Gulf; a B-1 crashing in Qatar.

Since the most likely path to war with Iran is not Marines storming the beach but a strike on nuclear facilities and "regime" targets, signs such as these can often just be mirages. The true strike is not necessarily going to come with any warning, and the U.S. military has developed an entire system called "global strike" to implement such a preemptive strike.

A secret mission conducted last August over Afghanistan caught my eye because it tells us everything we need to know about the ability of the U.S. military to conduct a bolt-out-of-the-blue attack in Iran. It also tells us how useless such a strike might be.

On Aug. 12, 2007, four F-16CJ fighters took off on an 11-hour mission from Iraq to Eastern Afghanistan, crossing the airspace of six different nations, before dropping more than a dozen precision-guided bombs on Taliban targets. The crews of the record-breaking flight received the coveted Clarence MacKay Trophy for 2007, an award given annually for "the most meritorious flight" of the year.

The secret mission had never before been attempted, according to the Air Force, and the pilots were allotted a two-minute window of attack at the end of their 2,100-mile flight. The entire non-stop mission, which took 13 aerial refuelings, was the equivalent of flying from New York to Los Angeles and back.

The mission was a success, according to the Air Force: It resulted in "direct hits" that allowed coalition ground forces to "conduct raids on Taliban positions."

However, a check of the news out of Afghanistan for the week of Aug. 12 reveals no real air strike of significance. On Aug. 12, the wire services reported fighting near the Pakistani border and the death of three U.S. soldiers and their Afghan interpreter from a roadside bomb. Further fighting was reported on Aug. 13 and Aug. 14, but no significant bombing missions in support of U.S. or Afghan forces. On Aug. 15, the Afghan government announced a large scale three-day operation in the area of Tora Bora, an operation launched in response to the killing of three U.S. soldiers by IED earlier that week. Officials said nearly 50 suspected Pakistani and Taliban militants were killed in air and ground operations. Coalition aircraft carried out two sorties to target the Taliban positions in that area, an Afghan official said.

I don't doubt that the F-16CJ night mission was complicated and historic, as well as physically and mentally demanding. The crews, according to the Air Force, worked with new operating instructions and went into the unknown. The squadron commander had only 18 hours to plan and prepare for the attack. The mission was so secret, furthermore, it was not listed on the daily Air Tasking Order, the daily schedule distributed throughout the U.S. military, further complicating aerial refuelings and overflights.

If on Aug. 12, 2007, the United States had killed Osama bin Laden or scored some major victory in Afghanistan, one might fully appreciate the mission and the award of the MacKay Trophy. But I suspect that what was important here is that the mission went like clockwork, not that something important in Afghanistan was destroyed.

None of this is to besmirch the effort or the achievement. But if this was really a rehearsal to attack Iran, it was a mission where getting the airplanes over the target was more consequential than what was actually bombed.
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Hekmatyar peace-talks 'baseless propaganda'
www.quqnoos.com Written by Editor Wednesday, 07 May 2008 
HIA 'spokesman' denies one of US's most wanted 'terrorists' will talk to Kabul
A SELF-titled spokesman for rebel group Hezb-e-Islami Afghanistan (HIA) has denied claims that the government is close to holding peace-talks with its leader, Gulbuddin Hekmatyar.

Engineer Haroun Zarghoon, who claimed to be speaking on behalf of HIA, said today (Wednesday) that Hekmatyar refused to negotiate with Kabul as long as foreign troops remained in Afghanistan.

President Hamid Karzai’s spokesman, Humayoon Hamidzada, said yesterday that the government was “optimistic” about opening talks in the “near or far future” with Hekmatyar, who is on the US government’s list of most wanted “terrorists.

However, Haroon Zarghoon, who has frequently contacted the media in the past as HIA’s spokesman, denied Hekmatyar had changed his policy towards holding talks with the government and labelled Hamidzada’s comments “baseless propaganda”.

"Hekmatyar will never sit around a table for talks with the government as long as there is no clear date for the pullout of foreign troops even if he is offered the presidency," said Zarghoon.

HIA, which Hekmatyar founded the mid-1970s, was long-considered one of the most radical Islamist groups before the emergence of the Taliban.

In April 2002, the US Central Intelligence Agency tried and failed to kill Hekmatyar with an unmanned predator drone.

Four years later, he was wrongly reported as captured before he allegedly took credit for Al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden’s escape from Tora Bora during the US-led invasion of 2001.

In 2003, the US government blacklisted HIA a “terrorist” organisation and the UN put its leader’s name on a list of people accused of supporting the Taliban.
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