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January 7, 2011 

17 killed in suicide blast in southern Afghanistan
By Elena Becatoros And Tarek El-tablawy, Associated Press – Fri Jan 7, 3:43 pm ET
KABUL, Afghanistan – A Taliban suicide bomber blew himself up among men washing in a bathhouse ahead of Friday prayers, killing 17, in an attack that showed militants can still largely strike at will in southern Afghanistan despite a NATO offensive.

Afghans, U.S. to Boost Local Security
Alongside New Allied Surge, Coalition and Kabul Officials Seek to Raise Army, Police Ranks by 30%
Wall Street Journal By ALISTAIR MACDONALD And MARIA ABI-HABIB JANUARY 7, 2011
KABUL - Afghan and coalition officials are considering a plan to boost the manpower target for Afghanistan's security forces to around 400,000 soldiers and police, roughly a 30% increase over the current goal for the allied training mission.

Taliban explosive device leader captured in S. Afghanistan by NATO
KABUL, Jan. 7 (Xinhua) -- Afghan and coalition forces detained a Taliban leader during a security operation in Zabul province in southern Afghanistan on Thursday, according to a NATO news release here on Friday.

Gun men shot dead chief of police detention center in southern Afghan province
KANDAHAR, Afghanistan, Jan. 6 (Xinhua) -- Unknown armed men gunned down the chief of police detention center in Taliban former stronghold Kandahar province, 450 km south of capital Kabul, provincial police chief Khan Mohammad Mujahid said Thursday.

Traditional Afghan Farming Gets Modern Twist
January 6, 2011 VOA News
Visiting students learn updated agriculture skills and techniques
In Afghanistan, the vast majority of the population relies on agriculture for its livelihood. Three decades of war have not changed the central importance of farming in this country, only its difficulty.

Afghan interpreters working with Canadian military now living in Canada
The Canadian Press Stephanie Levitz 07/01/2011
OTTAWA - When he headed home after work in Kandahar, Ghulam Wali Noori would never take the same route twice.

Time for Straight Talk On Afghanistan and the War on Terror
Fox News
In deciding to send another 1,400 Marine combat forces to Afghanistan to consolidate gains made during the troop buildup and put extra “pressure” on the insurgents, as Defense Department spokesman Col. Dave Lapan put it Thursday, President Obama is doubling down on his “surge” strategy.

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17 killed in suicide blast in southern Afghanistan
By Elena Becatoros And Tarek El-tablawy, Associated Press – Fri Jan 7, 3:43 pm ET
KABUL, Afghanistan – A Taliban suicide bomber blew himself up among men washing in a bathhouse ahead of Friday prayers, killing 17, in an attack that showed militants can still largely strike at will in southern Afghanistan despite a NATO offensive.

Roadside bombs also killed three NATO service members in the south and east, while gunmen shot dead a police inspector in Kandahar's provincial capital, bringing the day's death toll to 21. Authorities said they suspect the Taliban assassinated the police inspector.

The day's violence underscored the dangers in southern Afghanistan — and in particular Kandahar province, the birthplace of the Taliban. Some of the fiercest fighting in the nearly 10-year war has taken place in the south, where international forces, bolstered by the addition of 30,000 U.S. troops over the summer, are battling to to disrupt the insurgents' network.

The bathhouse bombing in the Kandahar province town of Spin Boldak, just across the border from Pakistan, was the deadliest single attack in Afghanistan in more than a month. Zalmay Ayubi, the Kandahar governor's spokesman, said 16 civilians and a police inspector were killed in the attack, and 23 were wounded.

The Taliban — in an unusual step given that 16 of the dead were civilians — quickly claimed responsibility. A Taliban spokesman in the south, Qari Yousaf Ahmadi, said the blast targeted the deputy of an influential border police chief.

The bomber struck around noon, as men gathered in the bathhouse on the main road heading out of Spin Boldak to the Pakistani border, witnesses and officials said. Located in the town's main market, the bathhouse is near a mosque popular with travelers going back and forth from Pakistan.

Twelve-year-old Mohammed Kamran, one of three Pakistanis wounded in the attack, was working at a barbershop near the bathhouse when the blast knocked him to the ground.

"I don't know who carried out this attack, but when I opened my eyes, I found myself in a vehicle," the boy said through swollen lips from his hospital bed in Chaman, the nearby Pakistani town where he was brought after initial treatment in Afghanistan. Bandages covered the wounds on his face and head.

President Hamid Karzai, whose government has been battling the Taliban while trying to bring them to the negotiating table, denounced the bombing as an un-Islamic act.

While U.S. President Barack Obama's administration has claimed some success in the south, it has acknowledged that the gains are reversible. The Taliban continue to carry out suicide bombings and plant roadside bombs that kill Afghan and coalition forces, as well as civilians.

As NATO has poured troops into the south, the insurgents have expanded their operations to other parts of Afghanistan once considered relatively safe, such as the north.

The intensified effort is critical for the coalition. The U.S. plans to begin withdrawing troops from Afghanistan in July, and NATO combat troops are scheduled to pull out of the country by 2014, handing over responsibility for the country's security to Afghan forces.

Afghan officials are pushing to ready their forces ahead of the deadline, but face numerous problems, including high attrition rates, widespread illiteracy that hampers their ability to operate and training the force essentially from the ground-up.

An additional challenge for the Afghan and coalition effort is posed by the Taliban's ability to cross back and forth across the porous Afghan-Pakistan border, finding safe haven in Pakistan despite pressure from Kabul and NATO on Islamabad to crack down on the insurgents.

The Taliban leadership is believed to be based in the Pakistani city of Quetta, 60 miles (100 kilometers) east of the Afghan-Pakistan border. Afghan officials have said repeatedly that allowing the insurgents to operate from within Pakistan is a threat to both countries.

The latest NATO deaths raised to nine the number of coalition forces killed this year and marked a grim start to 2011 for the forces. Last year, 702 NATO service members were killed, the deadliest year for the international force in Afghanistan.

Coalition officials estimate Taliban's numbers at 25,000 — roughly unchanged despite the international force's stepped-up offensive against insurgent leaders and rank-and-file fighters. The U.S. said this week it would send an additional 1,400 combat Marines to Afghanistan.

___

Associated Press writers Mirwais Khan in Kandahar and Matiullah Achakzai in Chaman, Pakistan, contributed.
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Afghans, U.S. to Boost Local Security
Alongside New Allied Surge, Coalition and Kabul Officials Seek to Raise Army, Police Ranks by 30%
Wall Street Journal By ALISTAIR MACDONALD And MARIA ABI-HABIB JANUARY 7, 2011
KABUL - Afghan and coalition officials are considering a plan to boost the manpower target for Afghanistan's security forces to around 400,000 soldiers and police, roughly a 30% increase over the current goal for the allied training mission.

The plan's details are still being hashed out by Kabul and the U.S.-led coalition, whose eventual withdrawal depends on the ability of Afghan forces to take over security operations. Both Afghan and Western officials say they are in broad agreement on the need to bolster the Afghan security forces beyond the current target number.

"The war in Afghanistan needs more troops. We are facing a lack of security forces," said Gen. Mohammad Zahir Azimi, an Afghan defense ministry spokesman. He added that there is an "informal agreement" between Afghan forces and the international community on the 400,000 number.

The current goal, of 171,000 soldiers and 134,000 police, was announced about a year ago and was supposed to be reached later this year. As of October 2010, levels stood at 145,000 troops and 116,000 police.

Word of the plan to bolster the number of Afghan security forces came after Defense Secretary Robert Gates on Wednesday approved sending 1,400 additional Marine combat forces to Afghanistan ahead of the spring fighting season. The new Marines could start arriving later this month, officials said.

The timeline for the proposed increase in Afghan forces isn't yet clear. Under the plan being considered, the Afghan army would end up with between 200,000 to 240,000 soldiers with police and other forces making up the rest of the 400,000 total, Afghan officials said.

"If that's what [the Afghans] are aiming for, we should encourage that," Liam Fox, the U.K.'s Defense Secretary, told journalists Wednesday in Kabul. "The earlier the Afghan government is able to get control, the quicker it will be possible for us to transition from a combat role."

Concerns over the quality of Afghan soldiers and police, and the cost of training more, had previously led coalition members to resist Afghan demands for the goal to be increased to 400,000, a numberthat some U.S. military commanders had earlier advocated.

The Afghan police, in particular, has been beset by problems including drug use and corruption. The army has had its own troubles, including retention issues: In September 2009, for instance, 1,200 soldiers deserted, compared with 800 recruited.

Some coalition commanders are reporting a turnaround in the Afghan army, with new recruits outnumbering deserters in recent months. These commanders also report improvement in the abilities of Afghan soldiers, which some officials say are being trained faster and at lower cost than previously envisioned.

Additional international funding to support extra troops will depend on quality targets being met, such as lowering the attrition rate and increasing the number of qualified mid-level commanders. Afghan and Western officials plan to discuss such issue this month, said U.S. Col. John Ferrari, a senior officer at the coalition training mission.

The Afghan government's international backers spent just over $20 billion on training and equipping Afghan forces between 2003 and 2009. A further $20 billion is being spent between last year and this; it isn't clear how much more it would cost to reach the newly proposed manpower targets.

Separately, suspected Taliban fighters attacked an Afghan tribal leader who days ago agreed to help coalition forces crack down on insurgents in a volatile southern district, tribal elders said. The attack left Haji Sayed Badaar Agha, a leader of the Alikozai tribe in the Sangin district of Helmand province, in critical condition, the elders said. The coalition said it was monitoring the situation but couldn't confirm reports of the attack.

Mr. Agha's tribe agreed Saturday to try to halt insurgent attacks and expel foreign militants from Sangin in exchange for foreign aid money. — Adam Entous in Washington and Habib Khan Totakhil in Kabul contributed to this article.

Write to Alistair MacDonald at alistair.macdonald@wsj.com
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Taliban explosive device leader captured in S. Afghanistan by NATO
KABUL, Jan. 7 (Xinhua) -- Afghan and coalition forces detained a Taliban leader during a security operation in Zabul province in southern Afghanistan on Thursday, according to a NATO news release here on Friday.

The Taliban leader is an improvised explosive device employer operating in Qalat district. He is responsible for employing explosive devices specifically targeting coalition-force vehicles in the district, NATO says.

Recent reporting indicates he wanted a video tape of suicide bombings in order to plan future suicide attacks against coalition forces.

Security forces followed leads to a targeted location in the district, where Afghan forces called for all occupants to exit out of the buildings peacefully before a search was conducted. The security team detained the targeted Taliban leader based on initial questioning at the scene.

With the capture of the Taliban leader, Afghan and coalition forces have detained more than 10 Taliban senior leaders and facilitators along with more than 40 suspected Taliban insurgents since the beginning of the year.

No civilians were injured or detained during this operation and the security forces conducted the operation without firing their weapons.
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Gun men shot dead chief of police detention center in southern Afghan province
KANDAHAR, Afghanistan, Jan. 6 (Xinhua) -- Unknown armed men gunned down the chief of police detention center in Taliban former stronghold Kandahar province, 450 km south of capital Kabul, provincial police chief Khan Mohammad Mujahid said Thursday.

"Two unidentified armed men riding a motorbike, opened fire on the commandant of police detention center in Kandahar Wednesday evening killing him on the spot," Mujahid told Xinhua.

The incident happened in 10th precinct of provincial capital Kandahar city and the attackers made their good escape, he added.

He blamed the attack on the enemies of peace, a term used by Afghan officials against Taliban militants, but the outfit fighting Afghan and NATO-led troops have yet to make comment.

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Traditional Afghan Farming Gets Modern Twist
January 6, 2011 VOA News
Visiting students learn updated agriculture skills and techniques

In Afghanistan, the vast majority of the population relies on agriculture for its livelihood. Three decades of war have not changed the central importance of farming in this country, only its difficulty.

Afghanistan's U.S.-educated Minister of Agriculture is considered one of his country's most innovative and effective administrators. He is working with the United States and international organizations to improve Afghan farming. That effort includes one cooperative program that teaches Afghan students modern agricultural skills.

In classrooms at Purdue University in Indiana, 12 graduate students in agriculture present their research to Afghanistan's Minister of Agriculture, Asif Rahimi, a graduate of the University of Nebraska at Omaha.

The students are part of Purdue's Advancing Afghan Agriculture Alliance, funded by the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID). One tells the minister his project on breeding fungus-resistant wheat is already making a difference in Afghanistan.

The Alliance program began in 2007 and now includes nearly 90 students at Purdue and a few other U.S. and Indian universities with strong agricultural programs. Purdue's assistant director of International Programs, Kevin McNamara, says everyone involved is focused on enhancing Afghanistan's agrarian society.

"Agriculture is very, very important. Agriculture there is very different from the U.S. In the U.S., agricultural production is about one percent of the economy," he says. "In Afghanistan, it's about one-third. In the U.S., agricultural production employs about two percent of the population. In Afghanistan, it's about 80 percent."

According to McNamara, students in the Alliance program will graduate with skills of great value to Afghanistan's agriculture sector.

"Right now we now have twelve students at Purdue. Four of them are finishing their masters degree programs, and the rest will finish by next May. But these young Afghan faculty members came to Purdue to get Masters degrees so they can go back and teach in the universities they come from. The primary one is Kabul University, but we're also working with faculty at Herat, Nangahar, Balkh and Kandahar. What we're trying to do is get these bright young people out to international schools so they can develop expertise in their disciplinary area."

Thirty years of war have had a terrible effect on Afghanistan's agricultural infrastructure. Rahimi - who was named Minister of Agriculture in 2008 - says improving that base is essential to bringing peace to his country.

"The Afghan government has put significant focus on rebuilding Afghanistan's agriculture, which has during the war been totally destroyed. From 1978 until 2001, every year 3 percent of agricultural production has gone down," says Rahimi. "And because of the drought, half of livestock has perished. So now we are rebuilding. We have some success in both rebuilding Afghanistan's agriculture and rebuilding livestock back."

To continue that success, Rahimi has a long-range modernization plan for his department.

He is relying on a team of young Afghan agricultural officials he has hired. As efforts to redevelop the country continue, many of Afghanistan's best and brightest are recruited by high-paying international organizations. But Rahimi says he manages to hold on to his people with more than good salaries.

"Also providing them incentives, training. Capacity, building all these people, providing them opportunities. Also job satisfaction," he says. "So I'm using not only the salary as one factor, but also at the same time creating an environment where people feel they are part of a transformation, the overall ownership of the ministry. That is where all of us work as a very strong team."

Transforming Afghanistan's agriculture is also complicated work, which Rahimi acknowledges will require the help of the international community. The U.S. Department of Agriculture recently announced a $38 million grant to assist his ministry with organization and training. But Rahimi says his team will take the lead in this cooperative venture.

"Follow our footsteps, because we know Afghanistan best," he says. "And provide us technical assistance that you are good at."
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Afghan interpreters working with Canadian military now living in Canada
The Canadian Press Stephanie Levitz 07/01/2011
OTTAWA - When he headed home after work in Kandahar, Ghulam Wali Noori would never take the same route twice.

As an interpreter working with the Canadian military, he was a prime target of insurgents looking to punish Afghans involved with coalition forces.

When he made it to his family home, he and his three brothers would take turns guarding the door, working in shifts of three hours each to ward off any attempts at intimidation.

Now, his front door is protected only by a buzzer coder and his route home is almost always the same — Ottawa public transit.

Noori is one of about 28 interpreters now settled in Canada, more than a year after the federal government launched a program to help Afghans working with the Canadian mission in Kandahar immigrate to Canada.

Before moving to Ottawa, Noori had been living and working in Kabul as an adviser in the Karzai government. But from 2006 to 2009, he worked alongside Canadian soldiers training the Afghan National Army.

“We were Canadian,” Noori, 28, says of the hundreds of Afghan interpreters who have worked with the Canadian mission since 2002.

“Ethically, it is the (government’s) responsibility, humanitarily this is their responsibility: to rescue, to save those people who worked with them in dangerous situations.”

The special immigration measures for Afghans working with the Canadian mission in Kandahar were announced in October 2009 by Immigration Minister Jason Kenney.

They were to acknowledge, he said, that Afghans face “extraordinary personal risk as a result of their work in support of Canada’s mission in Kandahar.”

The risk is real.

In December 2009, an interpreter working for the Canadian Forces was gunned down in Kandahar City. Local police blamed the Taliban.

At least six interpreters have died alongside Canadian soldiers and an unknown number have been wounded by bomb strikes.

Others have seen their family members kidnapped or assassinated, a direct result of their ties to coalition troops.

They earn between $600 and $900 a month, but they rarely tell their family or friends where the money is coming from.

In the field, they keep their faces covered at all times and only use nicknames. They refuse to be photographed.

Noori was known as Mike.

“We were the language of the mission,” Noori said. “We were the voice of these people, the war. If you did away with the interpreters, the mission would fail.”

Of those interpreters who have now made the move to Canada, around a dozen have settled in Ottawa, with others choosing Toronto or Vancouver as their permanent home.

Several of those who have now settled in Canada declined to do interviews, still fearful of disclosing their real names or whereabouts.

To come to Canada, the interpreters have to apply in person with the International Organization for Migration, an intergovernmental agency.

Their file then gets reviewed by a committee made up of officials from the departments of National Defence, Foreign Affairs, International Development and Immigration and Citizenship.

To qualify, the interpreters must have 12 months of continuous service in support of the mission, rendering many of them ineligible to immigrate, as contracts can often be piecemeal.

One estimate places the number of interpreters who have worked with Canadians since 2006 to be as high as 6,000.

To date, about 250 interpreters have applied to leave Afghanistan, but only 50 applicants have so far been accepted.

One they arrive, the government provides income and housing assistance, plus the same array of settlement services provided to all new permanent residents.

The adjustment to Canada mirrors that of many new immigrants.

Prices are higher than at home; a pair of jeans that costs maybe $20 in a Kandahar market costs over $100 here.

An easy stroll over to the local mosque for prayer has become a confusing puzzle of public transit, the whipping winds of winter making it easier to just stay home and pray alone.

Technology does help keep families connected.

Several of the interpreters were turned onto Facebook by Canadian soldiers and now use the social media site to keep in touch.

But many of the men were the sole sources of income for their families in Afghanistan, and now have the pressure of trying to quickly find jobs in Canada so they can start sending money home.

Some have little education past high school, having joined up with the coalition military when they were as young as 16.

The soldiers haven’t forgotten them.

Col. Wayne Eyre, currently commander of 2nd Canadian Mechanized Brigade Group at Canadian Forces Base Petawawa, northwest of Ottawa, stopped by to see Noori before Christmas.

The two worked together when Eyre was in charge of the program to mentor ANA soldiers in Kandahar in 2007.

He said he feels the government has done the right thing in helping Afghans come to Canada, but there needs to be a balance.

“Some of the best-educated people in that country are drawn to the interpreter role,” he said in an interview. “We have to be careful not to encourage a real brain drain on the country’s future leadership.”

Initially, the program was to end in July 2011, with the conclusion of Canada’s mission in Afghanistan. But the start of a new training program in Kabul is likely to still require interpreters and Kenney has mused about keeping the program going.

The current cost of the program is $3 million annually.

Not all of the ‘terps, as they are known, worked for the army.

Some have also worked with the Foreign Affairs Department or the Canadian International Development Agency.

Now they are looking for work wherever they can find it.

Some say they’d one day like to move back to Afghanistan, which Eyre says could be a positive thing.

“They get exposed to Canada, and all the good and different ways of doing business, and they get to see a different future,” he said.

“And they can bring back some of the ideas that we have here back to their own country as well.”

The 50 interpreters who have applications currently moving through the system will bring with them to Canada a total of 75 eligible family members, according to Citizenship and Immigration Canada.

Noori came with his three young sons and his wife.

In a sparsely furnished apartment in Ottawa’s east end, Hasina serves chai tea and nuts to a visitor, her green velvet shalwar khameez bright against the clean white walls.

She speaks no English and plans to enrol in classes while the children attend a nearby public school.

But she gives a bright thumbs up when asked in halting Pashto whether she thinks the move to Canada was a good idea.

The two of them, Noori says, were “born in war, grew up in war,” and it is important to finally live in peace.

But it also comes at a cost, he says.

“This kind of situation is the ... worst situation in (Afghanistan’s) history,” he says.

“If everyone is leaving Afghanistan, so who will be there for peace?”
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Time for Straight Talk On Afghanistan and the War on Terror
Fox News
In deciding to send another 1,400 Marine combat forces to Afghanistan to consolidate gains made during the troop buildup and put extra “pressure” on the insurgents, as Defense Department spokesman Col. Dave Lapan put it Thursday, President Obama is doubling down on his “surge” strategy. He is betting that more American fighters will inflict sufficient pain on the Taliban to prompt them to come to the negotiating table to make a deal, since clearly, America and its allies can’t kill or quell them all before Obama starts withdrawing his surge forces from the country.

But this is a risky bet which a growing number of even hawkish critics say is unlikely to work. The most recent among is Robert Blackwill, a tough-minded national security veteran of several Republican administrations. He warns in the new issue of Foreign Affairs that the United States and its allies are “not on course to defeating the Taliban militarily” and urges instead not more troops but what he calls “a shift to Plan B.”

The United States, he points out, now has 150,000 American-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) troops in Afghanistan. This, he notes, “is 30,000 more troops than the Soviet Union deployed in the 1980s, but less than half the number required to have some chance of pacifying the country, according to standard counterinsurgency doctrine.”

Adding 1,400 more Marines is not likely to change the calculus. Nor will “an occupying army largely ignorant of local history, tribal structures, languages, customs, politics, and values” be able to “win over large numbers of the Afghan Pashtuns, as counterinsurgency doctrine demands.” And it won’t make the Kabul government of Hamid Karzai less corrupt, more effective, or more credible, another indispensable ingredient of a successful counterinsurgency. "You are only as good as the government you are supporting," as David Kilcullen has observed.

What is Blackwill”s Plan B? Essentially, it’s a de facto partition of Afghanistan in which the United States would “stop talking about exit strategies and instead commit the United States to a long-term combat role in Afghanistan of 35,000-50,000 troops” to protect the non-Pashtun parts of the country. It acknowledges that the Taliban will “inevitably control most of the Pashtun south and east” and that “the price of forestalling that outcome is far too high for the United States to continue paying.” In short, he argues President Obama should announce that the “United States and its Afghan and foreign partners will pursue a comprehensive counterterrorism strategy in Pashtun Afghanistan and a nation-building strategy in the rest of the country, committing to both policies for at least the next seven to ten years.” That is not likely to please foreign policy analysts who want the U.S. to withdraw from Afghanistan now. But such a de facto partition, he says, is the best we can hope for.

I haven’t visited Afghanistan for many years. I’m not sure whether analysts like Blackwill or Max Boot, who says the surge is working and urges us to stay the course, are right.

But I do have a sense that Americans are not being told what we need to know about this engagement and its underlying assumptions, length, and real goals. And speaking of counter-terrorism strategies, isn’t it time that the Obama administration acknowledge that we are engaged in a “war” on Islamic militants if not on their favorite tactic, terrorism, and put a price tag on that war so that Americans understand what we are being asked to pay for it?

The time for straight talk and more straightforward financial accountability about the cost of keeping Americans safe from another catastrophic terrorist attack is long overdue.
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