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Saturday, February 28, 2004

As the weather begins to improve along the rugged, remote border between Afghanistan and Pakistan, U.S. and Pakistani forces are stepping up their hunt for Osama bin Laden, his top lieutenant and Afghanistan's former Taliban ruler, U.S. officials said this week.
The officials said the Central Intelligence Agency has moved at least two unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), both armed with Hellfire missiles, from Iraq to Afghanistan, and that the military's Central Command is sending an unspecified number of special forces soldiers who've been stationed in Iraq to Afghanistan, as well.

and from the Times
The National Guard, whose citizen soldiers have been dispatched for lengthy tours in Iraq and Afghanistan, is drawing up plans to balance the number of troops from each state during future deployments so no state is left short-handed in an emergency at home.
Under proposed plans, at least half of each state’s Guard troops would be kept from active duty at any one time and major deployments would happen on a more predictable schedule.
Cofer Black, the U.S. Coordinator for Counterterrorism, was in the capital, Islamabad, for talks with Pakistani officials.
Afghan Planning Minister Haji Mohammad Mohaqeq told the "Kabul Weekly" that he is running for president as an
independent candidate.
"Next week we will resume assisting refugees who want to return from Pakistan to Afghanistan, restarting the distribution of repatriation assistance that was interrupted after the murder of a staff member in November."
The intimidation tactics are simple, if horribly brutal.
A convoy of about 20 Honda motorcycles surrounds a house, looking for people who support the United States or President Hamid Karzai. If they find one, they kill him. If not, the householders are beaten to serve as a warning to others.
In the village of Shah Joy, about 300 kilometres southwest of Kabul, the return of the Taliban has been swift and harsh, as it is in about one-third of Afghanistan's southern regions where the ousted regime has regrouped and is widely thought to be preparing for a spring offensive against the Karzai government and
its US allies.
Two rockets were fired toward a U.S. military base at Khost in eastern Afghanistan but missed the target and caused no injuries, an Afghan official said.
The United States and Pakistan on Saturday denied reports by Iran's official IRNA news agency that Al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden has been been captured....
A senior U.S. defense official denied the report, telling Reuters it was "another piece of stray voltage that's passing around out there."

Friday, February 27, 2004

When Pakistan's President Pervez Musharraf announced plans to reform the madrassahs in his country almost two years ago, he said the move was necessary because some of the private Islamic schools had become breeding grounds for "intolerance and hatred."
Reports now suggest, however, that there have been few changes at the country's most radical madrassahs, the religious schools that spawned Afghanistan's
Taliban movement.
NEO-TALIBAN IDENTIFY THEIR SPOKESMAN
In a statement faxed to a Tehran-based radio station, the neo-Taliban have written that Saif al-Adel does not speak on behalf of the movement, Voice of the Islamic Republic of Iran reported on 26 February. The statement names Hamed Agha as the movement's only authorized spokesman. In some instances, various individuals have spoken in the name of the Taliban or the Islamic Movement, and sometimes in contradictory terms.
(from Radio Free Europe)
NATO military planners have proposed setting up a security zone in northern Afghanistan to make a modest start on expanding the alliance’s peacekeeping mission beyond the capital, Kabul, sources said on Friday.....
One NATO source who asked not to be named said the plan considers the ultimate objective of taking command of some two dozen Provincial Reconstruction Teams (PRTs) across the country, including in the violence-torn south and east.
Raid thought to have nabbed a key player in a terrorist organization snatched his nephew instead, Afghan police say.
The NATO-led ISAF and Kabul police thought they had arrested Karim Qarabagh, a top lieutenant in the militant group Hezb-e-Islami Gulbuddin, or HIG, during a Feb. 14 raid.
While the raid was not directly related to attacks on Canadian or ISAF soldiers, Kabul police say they believe Qarabagh might have been planning future operations. A large quantity of explosives — described by ISAF as "terrorism-related material" — was taken from the home where Qarabagh lived.
HIG is the organization believed responsible for the Oct. 2 mine blast that killed two Canadian soldiers.
An Army Reservist from Uniontown, Kan., died in Afghanistan on Wednesday after an accident, the Defense Department said. Specialist David E. Hall, 21, was serving in Kabul as a member of the 805th Military Police Company. He was based at Fort Bragg in North Carolina. The Defense Department said in a news release that it is still investigating the accident. It did not provide details about the accident, and a call to the department was not immediately returned Friday.
The U.S. military will launch its own news service in Iraq and Afghanistan to send military video, text and photos directly to the Internet or news outlets....

Army camera teams will be able to use their access to battle zones or military bases to film the aftermath of rebel attacks on U.S. troops _ or U.S. raids on insurgent targets _ and then offer free pictures to news outlets within two hours....

The Army is in the midst of contracting to outfit five Mobile Public Affairs Detachments with a suitcase-sized reporting kit containing digital video and still cameras, a laptop computer and a Norsat NewsLink 3200 satellite broadcast terminal. Four teams will be based in Iraq and one
in Afghanistan.
Rumsfeld, on his sixth visit to the Afghan capital since the U.S.-backed government of President Hamid Karzai took power in late 2001, bantered cordially with Karzai at a news conference about whether Kabul or Washington was a safer city and reiterated the Bush administration's commitment to helping Afghanistan until the battered nation was "firmly on its feet."
Afghanistan signed an agreement to rebuild the war-damaged and outdated Kabul International Airport Friday with the assistance of NATO and the international community.
Army photos from Afghanistan.
here
here
here
Kneading mud through her tiny hands, nine-year-old Ruzina now shapes it into a small mould for making bricks. Trimming off the extra mud from the raw bricks, she leaves them to dry in the sun. Ruzina is one of thousands of Afghan refugee children who work with their parents in brick kilns on the outskirts of the northern Pakistani city of Peshawar. Her family fled Afghanistan's factional war in the early 1990s. In need of money quickly, they accepted advance wages from a local kiln owner and now the whole family works to pay
off their debt.
Pakistani authorities seized more than 200 kg of opium after a shootout with smugglers near the Afghan border in the southwestern province of Baluchistan, officials said on Friday.
Osama bin Laden's days may well be numbered, as increasingly confident statements by the U.S. military in Kabul are matched by heightened activity along the Afghan-Pakistan
frontier.
Although Hamid Karzai is Pashtun, Northern Alliance members dominate his cabinet, and they have stationed about 20,000 of their armed supporters in Kabul, where they have been given permanent residences. Among the bureaucracy, Pashtu-speaking officials have been replaced by Dari-speaking Tajiks, and Dari has become the language of business, breaking many years of tradition.
Enthusiasm for the elections is widespread, and even in conservative rural areas, most men do not appear to object to the idea of women voting. The problem is how to arrange for them to participate without violating rural customs, which hold it improper for women to travel far from home or to have their photographs taken.
"We recovered ten Kalashinkovs from the possession of a Taliban fighter who was trying to escape in a head-to-toe scarf."
Lieutenant-General Rick Hillier has no illusions about how long Nato will have to stay in Afghanistan. "A long time," he says.

Thursday, February 26, 2004

Cheering families and military leaders Wednesday afternoon at Forbes Field welcomed home from Kosovo nine members of the Kansas Army National Guard's 24th Medical Detachment.
Poverty and a shattered healthcare system forces many in Kabul to take their chances with roadside medicine sellers, underqualified pharmacists and quack doctors to treat their ailments.
A plan to restore electric bus service in Kabul may go a long way towards easing congestion and pollution.
A quarter of the recruits to the fledgling Afghan National Army, ANA, have left the force, many of them citing low pay as the top reason.
Pakistan Interior Minister Faisal Saleh Hayat on Wednesday said that Al-Qaeda and Taliban network has been completely wiped out in Pakistan and their remnants are
seeking shelter.
Afghanistan announced plans to destroy opium poppy fields nationwide before elections are held this year.
Suspected Islamic militants shoot dead five Afghan aid workers near Kabul.
UNICEF launched yesterday a USD 238 000 program to supply and train staff
in maternal health facilities in 13 sites across Afghanistan. The UN agency
is providing office equipment and maternal health training materials to
midwifery schools and obstetric care centers in Herat, Jalalabad, Kabul,
Kandahar, and Mazar-e Sharif. The project is funded by contributions from
Belgium and Japan. (Source is Pro-Med Mail.)
SecDef Rumsfeld in country.
Afghan President Hamid Karzai on Thursday declared the Taliban defeated, suggesting much of the violence in his country is caused by criminals rather than guerilla holdouts.

Wednesday, February 25, 2004

More than 300 children have died of a mysterious disease in Afghanistan's northern province of Badakhshan in less than a month.

update from ProMed Mail:

The description of the disease is not sufficient to suggest a probable
diagnosis. Measles and any the other common viral respiratory infections of
childhood cannot be excluded on the basis of the information provided.
Further information from any informed source in the area would be welcomed
to enable an appropriate response to be organized.
Pakistani forces are trying to identify around 25 people held in an operation on the border.
Reports that Dr Khalid al-Zawahiri, the son of Osama bin Laden's deputy, Dr Ayman al-Zawahiri may have been apprehended.
Joyce Rumsfeld attended the fourth gathering of the U.S.-Afghan Women's Council.

Tuesday, February 24, 2004

Hizb-i-Islami chief Gulbuddin Hekmatyar has declared 2004 to be the Year of War and has urged Islamic fighters associated with his group to step up attacks against U.S. and coalition forces.
Alone in his lookout tower back at Shkin firebase, Pvt. Gary Holt watches the sun rise over a ridge of mountains marking the Pakistani border two miles away. As the mist thins over fields below, villagers stir from their mud huts, and donkey carts take to the dirt roads. The smoke of cooking fires hangs in the air.
"It seems this place hasn't changed much since Kipling," says Private Holt, mature beyond his 20-odd years. "This place is like the last frontier."
Pakistani military and paramilitary troops arrested at least 20 people, including foreigners, in an operation conducted Tuesday against suspected Al Qaeda members and their tribal hosts in the hilly terrain near the border.
President Hamid Karzai is considering meeting a senior former member of the Taliban for the first time since its fall over two years ago, in a bid to reach out to moderate elements of the hard-line Islamic militia.
A jeep on patrol hit a land mine in central Afghanistan, wounding one US soldier.
The United States said on Wednesday it will rebuild 1,300 kilometers (810 miles) of roads in Afghanistan - part of a push to bolster President Hamid Karzai’s government and spur the country’s desolate economy. The US government hopes repairing the rough roads will help the feeble Afghan government regain control of remote districts where it now
has little say.
Until now, the powers of Pashtun tribal leaders in the southeastern province of Khost have held Islamic fundamentalist Taliban forces at bay, but growing tensions within the tribes could upset this balance.
In the past week, various unconfirmed press reports have said that a house recently used by Osama bin Laden, the fugitive Saudi leader of the al Qaeda terrorist network, had been discovered near the Pakistani city of Quetta, and that one of bin Laden's top lieutenants had been sighted in a border area that was now surrounded by Pakistani forces. The top U.S. military spokesman here said Monday he could not confirm either report.
It is estimated that over 10,000 expatriate aid workers from various nationalities are currently involved in the reconstruction and development process in Afghanistan, most of them stationed in Kabul and neighboring provinces.

Monday, February 23, 2004

Hilferty urged tribal elders and other locals to hand over the assailant. He said he thought the attack was carried out by ``one bad person'' and was not coordinated.
He dismissed the recurrent claims of responsibility by a number of purported Taliban spokesmen for shootings and bombings in Afghanistan - including Sunday's attack -
as "gibberish."
For sale: One Canadian army camp on a prime piece of Afghan real estate, complete with clean water supply, sewage system, hot showers and bunker space for 2400.
Flying into Kabul from the north in winter is eerily like flying into Las Vegas – the high desert, rimmed by mountains, is gray and ragged, the far-off city veiled in brown haze. Among journalists and NGOs, the folklore about what to look for on the approach is well known: Descending through 2,000 feet, over the rubble of the western suburbs, you can pick out along the side of the runway the blown up carcasses of airliners.
WASHINGTON -- The nation's governors are worried about increasing demands on National Guard units -- and are seeking answers from the White House.
Deadly ambush prompts dispatch of extra police to northern Afghanistan.
"They are as professional, if not more professional, as active-duty forces," he said. They bring with them a variety of skills from their civilian lives that become assets in the kind of civil support and reconstruction work they are also called on to do in Afghanistan.

"I was very impressed with every soldier's skill development and their dedication to the job," McInerney said. "We broke the back of the Taliban in that area and freed up a large portion of southern Afghanistan for the legitimate government to come in and take control."
Hundreds of police swarmed through a southern Afghan village on Monday, searching house-to-house for the assailant who sprayed a US company's helicopter with gunfire, killing the Australian pilot and wounding two passengers.
The Pentagon is moving elements of a supersecret commando unit, Taskforce 121, from Iraq to the Afghanistan theater to step up the hunt for Bin Laden.
KABUL (CP) - Every day, seven-year-old Habib Ullah runs 40-litre jugs of water up a hill in a wheelbarrow. The water weighs as much as he does and the wheelbarrow is twice his size. The good-humoured boy is the local water supply for his family and neighbours, pushing the water back from the community pipe that supplies about 250 households.
In Pakistan's rugged tribal areas bordering Afghanistan, bearded men in turbans toting automatic rifles shuffle by shops and mud-brick houses daubed with defiant graffiti: Osama bin Laden Zindabad.

Translation: Long live Osama.
Hilferty distanced himself from recent remarks he made that he was "sure" bin Laden and Taliban supreme leader Mullah Mohammad Omar would be caught this year, reverting to past U.S. statements that the "war on terror" was not only about catching individuals.

"Obviously the global war on terrorism is about much more than a person or two people, it is about terrorism against people in general," he said.
Tribal elders hand over some Al Qaeda sympathizers.
Detailed account from the Asia Times of the major operation underway.
Under heavy pressure from the United States, Pakistani army and paramilitary troops are preparing for a major new assault against al Qaeda and Taliban remnants in the rugged border region of Pakistan's North-West Frontier Province, two senior Pakistani officials said.

Sunday, February 22, 2004

New Zealand Defence Force will continue to lead a Provincial Reconstruction Team in Bamiyan, Afghanistan, for a further twelve months, through to September 2005.
US AID launches literacy and hygiene project.
Afghan kids killed for their organs? The UN investigates.
Warlord's men killed by rival faction in north.
Two Afghan women are hailed for heroics.
Pilot killed as Taliban shoot at helicopter south of Kandahar.

An update.
Drifting towards becoming a narco-state.
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