Friday, January 07, 2005

Hiatus continues.

Sunday, November 07, 2004

A former Taliban sports minister is among the leaders of the group holding three United Nations workers, including Annetta Flanigan from Northern Ireland, as hostages in Afghanistan. The extremist faction known as the Jaish-e-Muslimeen has threatened to kill the hostages if its demands for Taliban prisoners to be freed from Guantanamo Bay in Cuba are not met. "I cannot tell you who would be the first victim but it is now only a matter of a few days," said Maulvi Mansour Ahmad, a spokesman for the group and the Afghan sports minister until shortly before the Taliban were ousted. On Friday the group extended a deadline for Afghanistan and UN to open negotiations over the hostages, apparently after a UN request, but Ahmad said: "Nobody should expect us to extend the deadline time and again."
When it comes to looking out for the welfare of Canada's soldiers, what better place to go than the city where they risk life and limb every day? Andre Marin, Canada's military ombudsman, will travel to Afghanistan next week to spend two sleepless days and nights meeting with individuals and groups of soldiers, investigating troop complaints.
Afghanistan's transitional leader Hamid Karzai has won the war-shattered country's first-ever presidential election. the announcement came after a special panel endorsed the election results as free and fair. The United Nations-Afghan joint electoral commission has announced that interim leader Hamid Karzai is the winner of the October 9 presidential election in Afghanistan. It says Mr. Karzai has won more than 55 percent of the vote and no run-off vote will be needed.
(Voice of America)

Militants attacked U.S. troops patrolling in southeastern Afghanistan on Monday, killing one U.S. soldier and wounding two with gunfire and rockets, the military said....The U.S. patrol came under fire near Orgun, a town in Paktika Province where U.S. troops man a base close to the Pakistani border, spokesman Maj. Mark McCann said.
Osama Bin Laden is alive and well and has been living in Pakistan for the last three years, it has been claimed here. Veteran journalist Arnaud de Borchgrave, who in the past has declared Bin Laden to be living in Peshawar, has once again expressed his certainty that the Al Qaeda fugitive has found refuge in Pakistan. In an article published on Monday by Washington Times, de Borchgrave claims that Bin Laden “evidently enjoys high-ranking protection” in Pakistan.
American military and Afghan officials in this dust-blown town, capital of the remote border province of Paktika, say they are proud that the presidential election on Oct. 9 was peaceful here, with one of the highest voter turnouts in the country. Not bad, they say, for a province larger than Vermont that has been the most dangerous and inaccessible for American troops and even Afghan government officials for the past three years. Insurgents supporting the country's former Taliban rulers and Al Qaeda have carried out repeated attacks here, from their haven across the border in Pakistan's tribal areas.
"No Taliban here," the police chief said. "No, never," the sub-governor added. "This is the safest place in all Afghanistan."
Marine 1st Lt. Jeremy Wilkinson, the snuff-dipping commander of Whiskey Company, was skeptical. Every week, U.S. troops are ambushed by gunmen in these hooded passes along the border with Pakistan.
"Well, everyone says there aren't any bad guys around," the lieutenant told the two ostensible allies as they squatted on their haunches, stolid and implacable. "But how come we keep getting attacked?"
Zelizer, whose latest co-edited book, Reporting War: Journalism in Wartime, is being released this month, says interpreters present as many problems for journalists as they do benefits. In some instances, she says, reporters rely so heavily on interpreters that the latter "undermine the news organization's authority to be independent, to be autonomous, to be professional." She also says, "It's not in journalism's best interest for the public to realize how dependent the story is on an interpreter.
"The problem, she says, is not so much with the practice of hiring people to navigate and explain unfamiliar territory; it's more with readers' expectations as consumers of the news. Many Americans have the unrealistic idea that every foreign story they read, hear, or see is a complete, accurate, and unbiased presentation. But news organizations have come to rely more than ever on locals for functions as basic as translation, landing interviews, finding electricity for laptops and satellite phones, and tracking down food in a desolate outpost.
Many correspondents acknowledge that their interpreters sometimes come to the job with personal agendas, political axes to grind, and worldviews foreign to American sensibilities. But with images and words from around the world filling our news pages and airwaves, guarding against those pitfalls is increasingly difficult.
The Americans say Pacha Khan took them for a ride - taking a reputed $US500,000-plus ($670,000) from them while he sold weapons to al-Qaeda and the Taliban and fed false information that led the US to kill 25 tribal elders as they travelled to the inauguration of Hamid Karzai as interim president in Kabul in 2002.
When Pacha Khan was sacked as a provincial governor, his men took to the streets, guns blazing, as he tried to bomb his way back into office. And though he spoke sweetness and light ahead of this month's first presidential poll, US marines arrested him after discovering rockets and grenade launchers in his mountain home.
Since they fell out, the Americans have gone after Pacha Khan and his fighters with F-16 and A-10 aircraft and Apache helicopters. But when they had him in jail, the US was obliged to release him after one of the mysterious deals within the Kabul political establishment that so often wrongfoot Western efforts to understand Afghanistan.

Sunday, October 24, 2004

Hamid Karzai clinched a majority of the votes cast in Afghanistan's first presidential election, near-complete results showed Sunday, leaving him all but certain of becoming his war-ravaged country's first democratically elected leader.
His chief rival, former education minister Yunus Qanooni, announced he was willing to accept the election result, but only if irregularities in the vote were acknowledged by a panel of foreign investigators.
"For the national interest and so the country does not go into crisis, we will respect the result of the election," said Syed Hamid Noori, spokesman for Qanooni. "But we also want the fraud to be made clear."
By Sunday evening, Karzai had received 4,240,041 votes, more than half of the estimated 8,129,935 valid ballots cast in the Oct. 9 election, the joint UN-Afghan electoral board said. Because only a relative handful of uncounted ballots remained, Karzai was guaranteed to have more than the 50 per cent necessary to avoid a runoff election.
Afghan Sikhs, slowly trickling back to their homeland after the ouster of the fundamentalist Taliban regime, have appealed to the Indian government to allow them travel between the two countries overland via Pakistan....Ravinder Singh said Sikhs and Hindus, who once constituted a population of over 500,000 in Afghanistan, now account for only a hundred families that had come back after the ouster of the Taliban regime, still faced hardships in getting back their homes, shops and other assets.
Boxes from Iowa arrived. Afghanistan boys peered inside packages of shoes Jenni Birker of Garrison sent to Staff Sgt. Mark Matteson. Sgt. 1st Class Alan Kakac, Birker's father, said the excitement on children's faces reminded him of Christmas morning.
My conjecture was formed last February, during an interview with a top Afghan security official in Kabul.
The official told me the Americans could catch bin Laden at any time.
To emphasis his point, he leaned over his big wooden desk, glanced at his wristwatch and said that if the Americans wanted, they could have their man in custody by 3:30 p.m.
It was 3:15 when he spoke.
I asked him why the Americans didn't do just that, to which he replied: "That would mean they would have to leave."
A translator from Minnesota was killed in a suicide attack in Kabul, Afghanistan, her family said Saturday. Jamie Michalsky, 23, was working in Uzbekistan, but was in Afghanistan to see a doctor about a hand injury, according to her step-father, Dan Everson. Everson said the family learned of Michalsky's death Saturday morning from the company she worked for, Worldwide Language Resources, a Maine-based company that provides translators. A NATO spokesman said only that a foreign woman was injured, and police had no word on any foreign woman being among the injured.
Pakistani troops have started house-to-house searches for local and foreign Islamic militants in South Waziristan, near the border with Afghanistan. One of those they are seeking is Abdullah Mehsud, accused of being behind the kidnap of two Chinese men. Local tribesmen are helping in the hunt for Mr Mehsud, a former inmate of the US military camp at Guantanamo Bay.
A US soldier was slightly injured in a bomb attack in eastern Afghanistan on Saturday, a US military official said. The soldier was injured when the vehicle he was driving hit a home-made bomb that suspected militants planted in the eastern province of Nangarhar, US military spokeswoman Master Sargeant Wendy Frable told AFP.
Arab televisions have dropped a controversial drama on Afghanistan after Islamic militants threatened attacks over the programme they deemed insulting to the ousted Taliban, Gulf media sources say.
All Things Considered, October 22, 2004 · NPR's Ivan Watson reports from the Afghan capital of Kabul on the influence of the U.S. Ambassador to Afghanistan, Zalmay Khalilzad -- known to some in city as the "Viceroy of Afghanistan." Since he took up his post late last year, there has been a sharp rise in U.S. development aid.
A new study has found that it is not likely that Al Qaeda has explicit and dedicated infrastructure to recruit Pakistanis for its operations, rather it relies upon a web of informal relations with groups based in Pakistan to gain access to operational collaborators and individuals to execute attacks within Pakistan. The study was made by Dr Christine Fair of the US Institute of Peace and is due to appear in an academic journal. The research for the study was carried out while she was with the Rand Corporation.
(Very interesting article)
Six Pakistani troops have been wounded by a landmine in the tribal region of South Waziristan, officials say. The blast occurred in Makeen, north of Wana, near the Afghan border. Local tribesman also said a woman and two children were killed in firing between Pakistani troops and suspected militants with alleged al-Qaeda links.
Two French peacekeepers were killed and a third was injured in a road accident near Afghanistan's capital Kabul, a spokesperson for the French army contingent here said on Friday. "Two French soldiers died from injuries after a traffic accident on Thursday around 07:30," Lieutenant Jean Bolling told AFP. The accident occurred eight kilometres north-east of the Afghan capital on the Shomali plain.
The identities of the two soldiers, aged 22 and 29 and both unmarried, were withheld. The third soldier was only lightly injured. They were returning from a patrol when their armoured car left the road and rolled several times, Bolling said.
France currently contributes 900 troops to the Nato-led International Security Assistance Force, which has been deployed to help maintain order in Kabul since December 2001.
Washington Post
Barton Gellman
Friday, October 22, 2004; Page A15
Soon after arriving as chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff on Oct. 1, 2001, Air Force Gen. Richard B. Myers raised doubts about the war plan -- days from execution -- to topple the Taliban government in Afghanistan. Gen. Tommy R. Franks, then chief of U.S. Central Command, planned a single thrust toward the Afghan capital from the north.
Franks anticipated, correctly, that resistance from Taliban and al Qaeda fighters would collapse. He did not, however, position a blocking force to meet them as they fled. Some Bush administration officials now acknowledge privately they consider that a costly mistake.
In the presidential campaign, Democrat John F. Kerry has revived a debate on whether U.S. forces missed a chance to catch Osama bin Laden and his top aides at the battle of Tora Bora. Kerry accuses President Bush of "outsourcing" the job to Afghan tribal leaders. Recent interviews with military participants shed new light on the period beginning two months earlier, before bin Laden left Kabul for Tora Bora.
Myers urged Franks, in a series of discussions that have not been reported before, "to look at opening a southern front . . . to cut off the withdrawal of the Taliban and al Qaeda," according to a senior flag officer who participated in the debate. A brigade of the Army's 10th Mountain Division in Uzbekistan and two Marine Expeditionary Forces in the Arabian Sea "were prepared to go in there -- they'd done the planning, the load preps," said the flag officer, whose account was confirmed by a second participant. Neither agreed to be identified because of political sensitivity.
Franks did not accept the advice. Kabul fell on Nov. 13. Bin Laden and Mohammad Omar, the Taliban leader, took their best fighters southeast, largely unscathed. Three weeks later, most escaped a second time from a warren of manmade tunnels at Tora Bora. "It was the difference between defeating the enemy and destroying the enemy," said a subordinate describing Myers's views.
Franks said later, without referring to Myers, that he sought to avoid estranging Afghanistan's Pushtun majority by allowing its militias to take the lead in the south. He also said, more recently, that he would have needed months to dispatch enough U.S. forces to make a decisive difference.
Al Qaeda's consecutive escapes from Kabul and Tora Bora marked the last time the Bush administration had so large a concentration of jihadists in its sights. The subsequent global manhunt has often sought men believed to have been at one of those battles, or both.
A high-ranking war planner likened the result to throwing a rock at a nest of bees, then trying to chase them down, one by one, with a net.

Sunday New York Times
To the Editor:
Re "War of Words," by Tommy Franks (Op-Ed, Oct. 19):
John Kerry is correct that resources were diverted from Afghanistan to Iraq before we accomplished our mission there. How can I be so sure? General Franks told me.
In my new book, "Intelligence Matters," I describe the moment that made me doubt the president's commitment to winning the war on terror.
On Feb. 19, 2002, I visited Central Command headquarters for a briefing on our mission in Afghanistan. After an upbeat assessment with maps, photographs and video, however, General Franks asked for an additional private word in his office. "Senator,'' he said, "we are not engaged in a war in Afghanistan. ...Military and intelligence personnel are being redeployed to prepare for an action in Iraq. ... The Predators are being relocated. What we are doing is a manhunt."
General Franks was telling me this 13 months before the beginning of combat operations in Iraq, and only four months after the beginning of combat in Afghanistan.
President Bush, when asked in his first debate with Senator Kerry whether he had made removing Saddam Hussein a higher priority than capturing Osama bin Laden, said, "We've got the capability of doing both."
If we had truly been able to do both, military and intelligence resources would not have been diverted from Afghanistan, and Osama bin Laden wouldn't be continuing to exhort his followers to greater acts of terror; he, like Saddam Hussein, would be in American hands.
Bob Graham
Washington, Oct. 22, 2004
The writer, a Florida Democrat, is a former chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence.

In the second half of March 2002, as the Bush administration mapped its next steps against al Qaeda, Deputy CIA Director John E. McLaughlin brought an unexpected message to the White House Situation Room. According to two people with firsthand knowledge, he told senior members of the president's national security team that the CIA was scaling back operations in Afghanistan.
That announcement marked a year-long drawdown of specialized military and intelligence resources from the geographic center of combat with Osama bin Laden. As jihadist enemies reorganized, slipping back and forth from Pakistan and Iran, the CIA closed forward bases in the cities of Herat, Mazar-e Sharif and Kandahar. The agency put off an $80 million plan to train and equip a friendly intelligence service for the new U.S.-installed Afghan government. Replacements did not keep pace with departures as case officers finished six-week tours. And Task Force 5 -- a covert commando team that led the hunt for bin Laden and his lieutenants in the border region -- lost more than two-thirds of its fighting strength.
The commandos, their high-tech surveillance equipment and other assets would instead surge toward Iraq through 2002 and early 2003, as President Bush prepared for the March invasion that would extend the field of battle in the nation's response to the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.
(Washington Post page 1)
Clashes erupted in a remote region of Afghanistan Thursday after the death of a local military commander, an International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) officer said. ISAF officer David Bennett said fighting broke out in Badakshan province in the extreme northeast. “There is fighting in Jurm 160 kilometres southwest of Faizabad,” Bennett said. It was not clear if the dead man was part of Afghanistan’s regular army or of a militia. Bennett said German soldiers working as a provincial reconstruction team (PRT) in neighbouring Kunduz would investigate the circumstances of the fighting. “The PRT in Kunduz is looking into what it could do but it is five hours away,” Bennett said. No further details were available, he added.
The mountainous province of Badakshan bordering Pakistan, China and Tajikistan is one of the most inaccessible regions in Afghanistan, particularly in winter.
(Daily Times-Pakistan)
Using donations of money and equipment, a Marine unit deployed in Afghanistan is building its own wireless network to let troops communicate with friends and family at home.
A homemade bomb destroyed two American Humvee vehicles in southeastern Paktika province near the Pakistan border, wounding three US soldiers, one critically, and their Afghan interpreter, a US military statement said. Paktika Governor Gulab Mungal said Afghan forces later arrested a suspect in the attack, whom he did not name, but identified as a deputy of Jalaluddin Haqqani, a front-line Taliban commander who served briefly as tribal affairs minister before the hardline Islamic regime fell in late 2001. He remains at large.
An American airman has died of his injuries after a helicopter carrying a wounded Afghan election worker crashed in western Afghanistan, the U.S. military said Thursday. Technical problems -- not hostile fire -- brought down the HH-60 helicopter in Herat province late Wednesday, spokeswoman Lt. Col. Pam Keeton said. Two other airmen were injured, one critically, she said/
Turkey is to take command of the NATO-led peacekeeping force in Afghanistan next February, to be followed by Italy, Britain and Spain in six-to-eight-month stints, NATO officials said Wednesday.
Pakistani helicopter gunships have attacked a suspected hideout of Abdullah Mehsud, a former Guantanamo Bay inmate who masterminded the kidnapping of two Chinese engineers this month, witnesses say....Pakistan has vowed to hunt down Abdullah, who masterminded the abduction of the engineers working on a dam in South Waziristan on October 9, testing ties with Beijing, one of Islamabad's closest allies. One of the hostages and all of the kidnappers, whom Abdullah had directed from a secret location, were killed after army commandos launched a rescue operation last week. Hussain said Abdullah was thought to be in Spinkay Raghzai, but added: "He is constantly on the move; the guy is on the run. If he is brave enough, we challenge him to confront us."
Commanders to receive cash to surrender military units Former Afghan militia commanders will receive regular financial support after they surrender military units to the UN-backed disarmament, demobilisation and reintegration (DDR) programme, according to a top official of the Ministry of Defence (MoD)....
Around 20 of the 550 initial targeted militia commanders have already accepted the initiative and received their redundancy packages on Wednesday. According to the ANBP, commanders and senior officers of the AMF will receive a monthly payment of US $350-500 depending on their financial circumstances.
The US-trained Afghan National Army (ANA) has arrested another two senior leaders of the ousted Taliban regime in southern Afghanistan, said a Defense Ministry spokesman Wednesday. "Personnel of the third battalion of the ANA nabbed two senior leaders of the Taliban, Mawlawi Shahabudin and Mullah Abdul Qahar Akhundzada from Deh Chopan of Zabul province Tuesday,"Zahir Azimisaid at a press conference here. He declined to give more details but added law enforcement agencies are vigilant to meet any threat posed by the radical group and its allies.

The Taliban's one-eyed leader Mullah Omar has lost the confidence of some of his commanders after the failure of the insurgents to disrupt Afghanistan's first presidential election, the U.S. military said on Wednesday. But a Taliban spokesman denied any rift in the movement. U.S. military spokesman Major Scott Nelson told reporters the Taliban leadership was in disarray after a campaign built around rocket attacks and roadside bombs failed to dissuade millions of Afghans from voting in the Oct. 9 poll.
Standing before the rows of graves, Afghan men open their hands to the sky. Their lips move in silent prayer to honor the dead. These dead are fighters of the Taliban and al-Qaida, killed in 2001 when an American bomb crushed the mosque nearby where they had mustered outside the eastern Afghan city of Khost. Since then, U.S. officials have paid for the mosque to be rebuilt - and it stands freshly painted but empty, a few hundred yards down the road.
There has been building, too, at the militants' gravesite. Donations by visitors have paid for brick walls and decorative iron grates around the graves, and there are plans for a roof over the enclosure. Unlike the American-funded mosque, the shrine draws a steady stream of visitors from eastern Afghanistan and from neighboring Pakistan...
Two local men, one of them mentally disabled, keep the shrine swept clean. They provide salt for worshipers to sprinkle on the graves and rice that can be bought to feed doves that live on the site. But the splendor of the shrine comes from the cloths of every color that are strung, knotted, tangled and stretched in a web that nearly covers the gravesite like a roof. Each cloth represents a prayer, brought in hopes that barakat - spiritual power such as that of martyred souls - might help a request to be better heard and answered by God.
The appeal to God through miracle-working saints and martyrs is a tradition in much of the Muslim world - but the men buried here would almost certainly be horrified at having been made part of it. The puritanical interpretation of Islam for which they fought rejects such customs as a corruption of the faith. But Afghanistan's deep Islamic traditions have outlived them. "I saw a kuchi [nomad] whose legs could not work and who came with his family to pray for the martyrs' souls," said Khan, the peasant. "After some time, he got up and walked. ... He said, 'These men truly are martyrs in paradise that they have healed me."
A Taliban suicide fighter killed himself and wounded at least seven others, including three members of a NATO-led peacekeeping force, in a grenade attack on a busy shopping street in central Kabul yesterday....
The Kabul police chief, General Baba Jan, said the attacker had six hand grenades strapped to his body, but three did not detonate....
Witnesses saw the attacker's bloody corpse lying on the sidewalk, near a damaged vehicle belonging to the group. The troops had been patrolling Chicken Street, a well-known haunt for foreigners shopping for carpets, jewelry, and antiques.
"The Taliban takes responsibility for the suicide attack in Kabul. This was an Afghan Taliban Mujahadid [holy warrior], and we plan more attacks," a Taliban spokesman, Mullah Latifullah Hakimi, said by satellite telephone.
He remembers me from last spring.
“You bought a pistol?”
“Flintlock rifle. 1852.”
“Yes,” he says.
“I was stopped in airports in Pakistan, Dubai, London and Washington.”
“They thought you were terrorist?”
“No one stopped me in the airport here.”
“Why not, my friend? After 23 years of war, why would we care about an old gun?”
He points to a rug and we sit on the floor of his shop. Rifles and pistols, decorated with designs cut from ivory and tin, hang from the walls beside circular metal shields brown from rust and age. Below us on Chicken Street, Kabul's tourist drag, westerners with aid organizations roam the busy sidewalks.
US military commanders have sharpened their focus on the opium poppy trade -- which produces 75 percent of the world's opium and its derivative, heroin -- and plan to target militia commanders who profit from trafficking.
For instance, Hazrat Ali, a former Afghan commander paid by American forces to help fight Al Qaeda, is now widely cited by US and Afghan officials as a key opium trafficker. He is also the police chief of Jalalabad.
"One day, he will wake up and find out he's out of business," Colonel David Lamm, chief of staff for US forces in Afghanistan, said of Ali in a recent interview in Kabul, the capital. "We know where the drug traffic moves, we know who profits, and we are beginning to deal with it."
STAFF: Ladies and gentlemen, thank you for joining us this afternoon. A man who really doesn't need any introduction, but we rarely see his face in this room, but often his voice as he joins us from Afghanistan, Lieutenant General Barno is here in Washington and he's graciously given us some of his time to discuss the current operations in Afghanistan. I did promise him that I would have him out of here at 3:30, so we will get started right away. Thank you, sir.
Karzai, who is expected to be elected to the post he has held since June 2002 when ballot results are announced this month, is hoping to neutralize a significant part of the insurgency by persuading the group's leaders to become lawmakers. Sources said that after persuading leaders of the group to run for the parliament, Karzai would be freer to crush the core of the insurgency.
The sources said the breakaway group was based in Quetta, Pakistan, where many Taliban fighters and supporters fled after the U.S.-led invasion of Afghanistan in 2001. Indian intelligence believes that the group has the blessing of Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf, who is trying to regain influence in Afghanistan that was lost when he supported the U.S.-led war against the Taliban. Pakistan previously had been a key supporter of the Taliban government.
The negotiations are so sensitive that Karzai put his trusted brother-in-law Mohammed Ibrahim Spinzada — known as "Engineer Ibrahim" in intelligence circles — in charge of the talks, according to an Afghan intelligence agent who said he had read confidential memos outlining contacts with the Taliban.
At home she is a dutiful housewife and devoted mother of six. But on the dangerous streets of Kandahar she is the city's only female detective, never venturing out without a pistol under her burqa. Malalai Kakar has been a legend in southern Afghanistan's biggest city, the capital of the deeply conservative Pashtun people, ever since she killed three would-be assassins in a shoot-out.
Osama bin Laden is unlikely to be hiding in Pakistan's tribal region near the Afghan border, the top military commander in the area said on Tuesday. Lt. Gen. Safdar Hussain, military commander for northwestern Pakistan, said the strong presence of security forces in the rugged tribal region and on the border had made it hard for Washington's most wanted man to sneak into Pakistan. "The way the army is deployed, there is nothing beyond my eyes and ears," he told reporters in the main northwestern city of Peshawar. "I have a very good surveillance system ... I can say he (bin Laden) is not here."
The United States wants Afghanistan to coax lower-level Taliban members away from the organization to help end an insurgency after the group failed to disrupt last Saturday's historic presidential election. U.S. Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad said Tuesday Taliban leaders should still be brought to justice and the military should press its fight to "finish off" the hard-line Islamic group, which has been battling U.S.-led forces since the United States ousted it from power in 2001. But he said voters' overwhelming rejection of violence in the country's first presidential vote created an opportunity to lure lower-ranking Taliban members who renounce violence back from the battlefields into civil life. Such sentiment has often resolved conflicts in Afghanistan but contrasts with President Bush's vow not to strike deals with "terrorists." Washington labeled the Taliban a terrorist group after the Sept. 11 attacks for harboring al Qaeda chief Osama bin Laden. "All wars must come to an end at some point," said Khalilzad, who has been influential in shaping Afghanistan's government policy.
Interview with Mr Mirwais Yasini, head of the Counter Narcotics Directorate.
Militants fired half a dozen rockets over US-led military outposts in southeastern Afghanistan in the latest in a string of post-election attacks, an official said. Four rockets were fired onto the US-led military base in the eastern city of Jalalabad but the attack did not cause any casualties, US coalition military spokesman, Major Mark McCann told AFP.
Most people in Kareza, a dusty village two hours north of Kabul, keep animals tethered outside their mud-walled houses. Commander Mafouz keeps two Soviet tanks. The 21-year-old fighter has grown fond of the two green hulks, which still have live shells in their barrels; so fond that he recently threatened to kill the UN team that tried to tow them away.
At 6 a.m. on Sept. 27, Lou Henry II was at Fort Wayne International Airport standing in front of his 25-year-old sister, Angela, who was crying. It was time for Henry to go back to Kandahar, Afghanistan, and back to duty with the 221st Ordnance Company. He had been on leave and at home in Fort Wayne two weeks. On Sept. 29, Henry walked back into base in Kandahar. He caught up with his roommates and joked with Spc. Matt Beck, another Fort Wayne native who was home during the same stretch. They never saw each other back home, but they were together again on the other side of the world. Contemplating his return to Kandahar after a leave, Henry smiled. He is not one to consider himself unfortunate, and isn’t upset he is
The new Afghan army is winning the support of the population and is capable of tackling a lingering insurgency by remnants of the ousted Taliban regime, the U.S. general in charge of its training said Monday. Major General Craig Weston, commander of the U.S. Office of Military Co-operation - Afghanistan (OMC-A), told a news conference in the capital that the 17,000-strong force was winning hearts and minds and the fight against the Taliban.
A blast killed five people travelling in an election commission vehicle in southern Afghanistan on Monday, a U.N. spokesman said. The blast occurred southwest of Sharan, the provincial capital of Paktika province along Afghanistan's southern border with Pakistan where remnants of the Taliban militia are active.
The Jamaate Islami (JI) of Pakistan, a key component of the Muttahida Majlis eAmal coalition, could be in serious trouble with the military regime initiating action against some of its functionaries for alleged links with al-Qaeda and Taliban and the US agencies probing these connections, a media report said. Quoting unnamed security officials, monthly The Herald magazine said, ‘‘The US intelligence officers have already been mandated by Bush administration to gather enough evidence of the party’s suspected Al-Qaeda connections to enable the US state department to place the organisation on its terror watch list.’’ It quoted these sources as saying the US office of counter terrorism was ‘‘busy making detailed inquiries into recent reports of JI office bearers and cadres providing refuge to fugitive al-Qaeda elements in various parts of the country."
Despite gaining their freedom by signing pledges to renounce violence, at least seven former prisoners of the United States at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, have returned to terrorism, at times with deadly consequences. At least two are thought to have died in fighting in Afghanistan, and a third was recaptured during a raid of a suspected training camp in Afghanistan, Lieutenant Commander Flex Plexico, a Pentagon spokesman, said last week. Others are at large.

Sunday, October 17, 2004

Of 905,887 votes tallied by Sunday evening, Karzai, Afghanistan's interim president since the fall of the Taliban in 2001, had captured 60.2 percent.
That was about 10 percentage points down from the day before but enough to keep him on course for the simple majority needed to avoid a run-off. About 12 percent of the ballots have been counted.
Qanooni, who served as Karzai's interior and education minister, had 18.6 percent of the vote. Ethnic Uzbek warlord Abdul Rashid Dostum was third with 10.1 percent.
Almost all of Karzai's 15 opponents have complained of cheating to the panel of foreign experts set up to head off their threat to boycott the results. Establishing the panel delayed the start of counting, and Qanooni said in an interview that the figures would turn in his favor as more votes are tallied. Still, few independent observers believe that Qanooni, a member of the ethnic Tajik minority, could command a country deeply fractured by years of tribal and ethnic warfare.
Karzai enjoys strong support among Afghanistan's traditional rulers, the Pashtuns, and is seen as a bridge to its international backers and a leader untainted by its bloody past.
When he arrived at the interrogation facility at Bagram air base in Afghanistan, Steve Hillebrand discovered one obvious fact of life. Secrets were hard to keep.
"We will accept Karzai as our president if he helps us," said Mohammad Hassan, 78, a respected elder surveying the well drilling, dressed in a turban, dishdasha robe, and plaid vest. "But he's only talking in theory, not in practice," Hassan said. "Poppies are the only way we can make a living."
While the Bush campaign talks about Afghanistan as a country transformed, the reality is more complex. Reconstruction has only barely begun to touch the rural villages where most Afghans live. Most international aid has been focused on large cities. And as Afghanistan's fledgling central government struggles to win its people's allegiance against a growing drug trade, recalcitrant warlords, and Taliban militants, many in rural areas, are beginning to express disappointment that they haven't seen more change.
Forces at Firebase Asadabad launched several operations Friday aimed at extending their dominance to an area where intelligence reports indicate there are high concentrations of Taliban fighters and other insurgents.
The United States is trying to fast-track Afghanistan’s objective of having a 70,000-strong army within five years, the American envoy to Kabul said on Friday. “We are looking at how ... to get to the 70,000 (target) as soon as possible,” Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad said. “The current plan is to get there in five additional years. We could do that at a faster rate. We are looking at that.” The Afghan army is more than 15,000 strong today while the police force has more than 30,000 trained personnel, according to the envoy.
Three rockets landed in Afghan capital Saturday night, injuring two civilians one day after the Muslim holy fasting month Ramadan began. The first rocket hit into an apartment building near the Kabul airport, east of the city. "The first rocket slammed into the building, but caused no injuries," Haji Ekram, the district policechief said. The second rocket hit the back of a mud-made house, northeast of Kabul, injuring one woman and his son when they passed by the site. The woman was in critical condition, according to a witness. The third one landed in a mosque, but did not go off. The police had rushed to the scene and cordoned off the area while the city power was gone few minutes after the attack. Rocket attacks are often seen during night in Kabul, which were commonly blamed on Taliban militias who failed to launch significant attacks on the first-ever Afghan direct presidential poll day last Saturday.

Reports of violence resumed a week after the vote with the death of at least three children and a policeman in a bomb explosion on Friday in southeastern Afghanistan. The children had gathered round a truck set ablaze by suspected militants in the province of Kunar when the militants detonated the bomb by remote control soon after a local police chief arrived to investigate. "One of the police chief's bodyguards was killed on the spot along with three children who had gathered in the area to see the fire," said one resident in the Asmar area of Kunar.
A bomb attack in southern Afghanistan killed two American soldiers and wounded three others, the U.S. military said Saturday. The attack happened Thursday in Uruzgan province, northwest of Deh Rawood, where a U.S. military base is located. "Two coalition soldiers were killed and three wounded when their patrol was struck by an improvised explosive device," Maj. Mark McCann, a U.S. military spokesman in Kabul, said in a brief statement.

Thirty men strong, this cell has the "mission impossible" of cracking down on the drug traffic in Nangarhar (a province which had become the top producer in 2003, with an estimated 964 tons of opium) as well as in four other neighboring provinces. His black beard trimmed, an official cap on his head, he confesses to having seized a pitiful haul of only 59kg of heroin, 300 kg of opium, and 1,800 kg of hashish since March. The unit does not have any vehicles. For some operations targeting heroin production laboratories, sometimes 50-80 men from other services are mobilized. But it's too few. Often informed ahead of time, well-armed traffickers easily repulse their assaults.
It could take 10 years for Afghanistan to become a successful democratic state following this month's ground-breaking presidential election, the U.S. ambassador to Kabul said on Friday. And the Pentagon stressed that the United States had set no time limit for maintaining American and coalition military forces in Afghanistan. There are currently about 18,000 U.S. troops there along with soldiers from NATO and other countries.
The Bush administration is planning to consult Congress on Pakistan's nearly 15-year quest for advanced F-16 fighter aircraft, a U.S. defense official said on Thursday, in a prelude to what may be a delicate balancing act with rival India.
Zaher Miran was so afraid to visit his native Afghanistan this summer, he almost didn't go. A naturalized American after 24 years, he'd watched his homeland suffer through a communist invasion. Civil war. A brutal Taliban. Then his brother made a tentative foray into Kabul from his adopted home in Pakistan. Next, his father flew over from Hampton Roads. What would they find? Murder? Mayhem? A salted earth? Zaher anxiously called his father in Kabul to scope out the lay of the land. The man shrugged. "Eh. It's not bad. Comeon over."
"Ten SAM missiles were found from eastern provinces of Afghanistan today," Majmar Ahmadi, press officer of the Anti-Terror Department of the Interior Ministry, told journalists here. This is the first time that SAM missiles have been recovered inthe war-shattered militancy-hit Afghanistan.
Two of my Afghan friends and colleagues arrived in Washington, DC yesterday. Their satisfaction and enthusiasm with the elections in Afghanistan can hardly be overstated. Both showed off the fading indelible ink on their thumbs (one of them had initially gone to a polling place where the pens proved delible, but the mistake was caught early and the voters sent to a different polling station). One said, eyes twinkling: “It was a miracle. There were hundreds of us, and everyone was standing in one straight line. Afghans never stand in line, they always crush in together. But that day, we all stood in line and waited to vote.” The other pulled out his mobile phone and proudly showed the digital photo he’d taken in the privacy of the polling booth: a ballot with a big black checkmark next to Hamid Karzai’s picture.
It’s unsurprising that two young, married Kabulis who work for a Western NGO and who backed Karzai would find the election satisfying. They have everything to gain from a continuation of the policies of the last three years. But after the initial shock of the washable ink and the soon-retracted opposition boycott, the reports out of Afghanistan have suggested that most Afghans throughout the country shared my friends’ enthusiasm.
(Scroll to Oct.16)
International forces should expect to stay in Afghanistan for "10 to 20 years," according to a Canadian commander who helped lead foreign troops in Kabul until February. "We ignore Afghanistan at our peril," said Maj. Gen. Andrew Leslie. He pronounced the election in Afghanistan "a tremendous success," although he acknowledged that the fledgling government would be fragile and require international backing for many years.
Abdullah Mahsud, the commander of the Islamic militants who ordered the kidnapping of two Chinese engineers in South Waziristan tribal agency three days ago, spent 25 months in custody at the US naval base in Guantanamo Bay before his release in March this year.

Wednesday, October 13, 2004

KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- The local band, Pomeroy, is back from several weks of performing for troops overseas. KMBC's Emily Aylward reported that the band's departure to Afghanistan was demanding, from boxes of equipment to gaining clearance at the counter.
"I felt like I knew I was going to change," band member Chris Davis said.
But no matter the preparations, they all admit the trip surpassed anything they imagined.
"It's been the best month in a long time," band member David Fairbanks said.
The band put on 10 shows in 16 days. The Armed Forces Committee sponsored their trip, picking Pomeroy from thousands of other bands.
"It's hard to play because there's this lump in your throat and you're actually nervous because you want to put on the best possible show, you know?" band member Matt Marron said.
"After each show, it was overwhelming how much appreciation was given back to us," band member Dean Hopkins said.
Pomeroy will have a homecoming concert on Oct. 29 at the Beaumont Club in Westport.
Germany and France have rejected an appeal by the United States to have NATO take over the American-led combat mission in Afghanistan.
Afghan archaeology on road to recovery. International teams help troubled nation restore cultural heritage after decades of strife.
The post-voting capital of Afghanistan came under attack of four rockets late Monday and one resident was killed, eyewitnesses told Xinhua.... All the blasts occurred several hundred meters away from the USembassy, which often came under rocket attack launched by the Taliban and its al Qaeda allies in the lead up to the first presidential election.
Nearly 80 percent of Afghan refugees in Pakistan who registered to vote in their country's first presidential election turned out to do so, the head of the electoral operation said on Sunday. The projected total of refugee voters in Pakistan was 583,000 out of the 740,000 who registered, Peter Erben, head of the International Organisation for Migration's (IOM) refugee voting operation in Pakistan, told Reuters.
Los Angeles Times
BAGRAM AIR BASE, AFGHANISTAN - Early Saturday morning, after U.S. military officers had settled behind their laptops in the cavernous American operations center here, the computer maps and charts on the walls told a generally hopeful story for Afghanistan's first presidential election.
The maps showed scattered rocket and grenade explosions across the country, and a smattering of attacks on election sites. But what they did not show was what Maj. Gen. Eric Olson feared most — a spectacular attack that would undermine an election critical not only to Afghanistan but to the United States.
Olson, the operations commander for U.S. and coalition forces in Afghanistan, sat at the center of the auditorium, studying the wall maps. He was convinced that a massive security operation mounted by Afghan police and the U.S.-trained Afghan army, backed by American and NATO troops, was pre-empting any devastating attack by Taliban or al-Qaida.
Olson nodded as an officer reported, "No apparent coordinated efforts to disrupt the election." He seemed relieved as the officer added, "It was pretty much futile for them last night."
A lot was riding Saturday on the shoulders of Olson, 54, a tall, rangy commander from Amityville, N.Y. The Bush administration has pointed to a successful Afghan election as proof of progress in its global war against terrorism.
It was Olson's job to carry out a sophisticated, nationwide security strategy that called for Afghan forces to take up positions at polling centers, with U.S. and NATO troops backing them up. American aircraft and ground forces were poised and on call to respond if the Afghans needed help.
Although the American military remains by far the strongest guarantor of security in Afghanistan, it is U.S. policy to turn more security duties over to the newly created Afghan police and army. The election has been a major test of that strategy.
Throughout the day Saturday, Olson monitored the security station, still braced for possible attacks on polling centers, voters or election workers.
By Saturday afternoon, Olson was declaring the election a success, despite the bad weather, a dispute over the ink used to mark the thumbs of those who had voted, and sporadic attacks on voting stations.
"They've missed their opportunity to stop the election," he said of the Taliban and al-Qaida.

A leading pro-Taliban Sunni Muslim cleric and an associate were shot dead in southern Pakistan on Saturday, the latest attack in religious violence that has already killed more than 70 people this month.
At least 24 suspected Taliban militants were killed on Saturday in a bombing raid by aircraft from the U.S.-led coalition in the central province of Uruzgan, the provincial governor said. Jan Mohammad Khan told Reuters Taliban guerrillas who have vowed to disrupt the poll attacked a convoy of Afghan and U.S.-led troops in Char Cheno district, several hours before polling began in Afghanistan's landmark election.
Afghan troops killed three suspected Taliban rebels in the southern province of Kandahar, and a fuel truck with explosives hidden in its tyres was stopped on the edge of Kandahar city, officials said on Friday.

Friday, October 08, 2004

Bamiyan, a predominantly Shi'ite Hazara town, reached after an excruciating eight-hour, 180-kilometer ride west from Kabul through dramatic mountain passes, is a success story in Afghanistan. Probably the safest place for internationals to work in the country, it slumbers under the shadows of mountain ranges pocketed with caves, some still inhabited. A French humanitarian organization tried to resettle the cave dwellers into homes, but the project failed when they refused to abandon their way of life. At night, hundreds of lights from their caves glow like stars in a black sky.
The military laments that its successes in Iraq and Afghanistan have gone unnoticed, while any bad news is immediately set on by a national media intent on painting every U.S. commitment as a quagmire. This might be true, but the military is not without responsibility for this state of affairs.
Military-media relations have improved since General William Sherman announced, "I hate newspapermen. They come into camp and pick up their camp rumors and print them as facts. I regard them as spies, which, in truth, they are. If I killed them all there would be news from Hell before breakfast."
Afghan security forces killed seven suspected Taliban militants and seven Afghan policemen were killed when their vehicle drover over a landmine in the latest violence ahead of the landmark polls on Tuesday. The suspected Taliban fighters were killed in two-hour clash on Monday after they ambushed a battalion of government troops some 40 kilometres east of Tirin Kot, an official said.
Kabul sure looks a lot different when you're not riding in an armoured vehicle. The chaotic Kabul traffic doesn't get out of your way when you're just travelling in a civilian 4X4. Around the vehicle, yellow and white taxis edge and jostle for position while pedestrians, nearly all the women in pale blue burkas, wander amongst the barely moving traffic. The soldiers don't like to sit in traffic too long because it makes them an easy target. The military drivers like to punch and blast their way through and the Afghans seem to understand. And it's hard to blame the soldiers.
During a delay in getting a media pass, blamed on a computer software problem, I visit the "British Cemetery" in Kabul.
Senior officers in Kabul ascribe the relative calm to aggressive operations by U.S.-led troops and the Pakistan army to sandwich the Taliban and its allies, who are bent on disrupting the vote, along Afghanistan's southern border. "The strategy is to take the fight to the enemy ... not wait for the enemy to come to us," said a senior official with U.S.-led coalition forces in Afghanistan. "That's very much the posture now -- to be aggressive and out and disrupt anything that might be planned in Kabul and around," he said.
Still, in the wake of two decades of war and continuing social and political tensions, self-censorship is not uncommon in the Afghan press. Journalists are under tremendous pressure and regularly face threats, harassment, and violence from a variety of sources, including warlords, politicians, and government officials.
Mounting evidence shows that in developing countries around the world, independent media are under increasing threat, especially when national elections approach. In the case of Afghanistan, vague legal provisions governing free expression not only fail to protect journalists; they sometimes place them in greater jeopardy.
This summer, I worked at Internews, a media development NGO, which has built a network of stations across Afghanistan and is now supporting a new national radio program.
The NATO allies are girding for a surge of attacks by Talib fighters and others in the last days before Afghanistan's presidential elections on Saturday, according to General James Jones, NATO's commander. "We assume that there will be some attempts to disrupt the elections," Jones, a U.S. Marine Corps general, said in an interview here. "We're doing everything we can to find out what that is." He declined to discuss intelligence about specific possible attacks.
An Afghan commander who rose to prominence before the emergence of the Taliban regime goes on trial in London this week in what is believed to be Britain's first ever case involving allegations of torture. Faryadi Sarwar Zardad, 41, is accused of conspiracy to torture and take hostages in Afghanistan between 1991 and 1996 when he was a commander in the Sarobi district of Kabul province. Zardad moved to Britain in 1998 and was running a pizza parlour in south London when he was arrested for the alleged crimes.
Three young men are escorted out of a metal cage at the intelligence headquarters in Afghanistan's southern city of Kandahar and ordered to hold up their voter registration cards. Officials believe from their fake, laminated IDs and suspicious behaviour that they are Taliban recruits intent on carrying out attacks during Saturday's landmark election. Aged from 18 to 26, they wear the turbans and traditional baggy shawal kameez outfits that are ubiquitous in Kandahar's teeming bazaars. And they would have no difficulty in gaining access to polling centres with the fake IDs.
DUBAI, UNITED EMIRATES — Joe stands by the airline ticket counter in the dim fluorescent lighting and tells me to wait, but I'm too caught up in the moment. I stuff my ticket into a pocket and get trapped in an undertow of rushing bodies pulled toward the metal detectors. Five in the morning Sunday, Oct. 3, and every journalist in the world, it seems, has converged on Dubai to catch a connecting flight to Kabul for the upcoming presidential election.
But things are now taking a more positive turn with Mr Karzai, who is a clear favourite to win Saturday's poll, making his first real campaign appearance yesterday when he flew to Ghazni south of Kabul to speak to a crowd of about 10,000 people. This coincided with other rallies by prominent rivals, like Yunus Qanuni and General Abdul Rashid Dostum in Kabul and in Mazar-e-Sharif in Afghanistan's north. Hamid Karzai's nephew Jamil Karzai was also in Mazar, to help with his uncle's campaign.
Our South Asia Correspondent Geoff Thompson spoke to Jamil Karzai and began by asking him whether he thought his uncle's inability to make many personal appearances in this campaign would hurt his prospects.
Britain has honoured a Nepalese soldier serving with the British Army for exemplary bravery in Afghanistan. Sergeant Kajiman Limbu of the Second Battalion of the Royal Gurkha Rifles based in Brunei has been awarded the Military Cross for exemplary gallantry during last year's operations in Afghanistan, the British Embassy in Kathmandu said.
Limbu, who was part of a British Army Training Team assisting the Afghan National Army, saved the life of an officer while assisting a coalition convoy ambushed by Afghan insurgents near Kabul. Limbu went to rescue the injured officer exposing himself to enemy fire from close quarters. Even after the rescue, he engaged the enemy for an hour till reinforcements arrived, an embassy statement said.
Limbu's valour has reinforced the faith the British Army has in its Gurkha soldiers, said Keith George Bloomfield, Britain's ambassador to Nepal. "Limbu displayed the very best qualities of the Gurkha soldier and I am delighted that his gallantry has been recognised with this most prestigious decoration," the envoy said.
Currently, the British Army employs about 3,400 soldiers from Nepal, known for their bravery and prowess with the khukuri, a native dagger.
(Hindustan Times-India)

Zurmat is a district in Paktia province south of Kabul. In the parched village of Naik Nam the earth and walls are a blinding white, the mud baked by an unforgiving sun. Drought and poverty have led to neglect of the mud structures, which look like half-destroyed sand castles after the first wave has hit them. A maze of barely perceptible paths winding through the desert leads to the dunes and homes that hide behind them. Described by United Nations workers as a hotbed, the Taliban are said to be very active in Zurmat, a former Taliban stronghold, after six or seven in the evening.
My guides are two doctors from Zurmat, Dr Omar and Dr Mohammed Qasim. Both men were very nervous as we made our way from Gardez, the provincial capital, to their hometown. At first they took a taxi and then opted for a private car. They dressed me in a salwar kamis, a long shirt draped over matching baggy pants, and gave me a cap to complete the disguise. They would be telling locals I was a Saudi, they said, because people there liked Saudis. With an American base nearby, I doubted the wisdom in spreading rumors of a six-foot Saudi visiting a pro-Taliban village, but kept my skepticism to myself.
Pakistan's interior minister said he would tell provincial governments to ban all religious gatherings, except at mosques, after a car bomb blast at a militant rally killed at least 40 people on Thursday. Speaking at a news conference hours after the attack in the central city of Multan, Aftab Ahmed Khan Sherpao also said no banned militant organisations would be allowed to continue with their activities. "We will advise the provincial government to impose bans on (religious) gatherings, processions and congregations until further orders," he said. "Prayers in mosques are exempted from this."
After voting ends the 47 boxes will be locked and the number of votes cast in them recorded and they will then each make their way to the Chamkani voting center, spending the night there before being taken over the rocks and rivers to the provincial capital of Gardez the following day. Here they will be opened and the number of ballots compared to the number on the box. Thus in Chamkani alone 47 boxes will be moving and lightly defended targets heading to the district office, and then one bonanza collection heading to Gardez, should anybody be inclined to derail the elections. And some people have already acted on these inclinations.
French Defence Minister Michele Alliot-Marie called Thursday for creation of a separate international force for Afghanistan that would deal with the growing problem of illegal drug cultivation in the country.
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