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Saturday, March 06, 2004

A son of Osama bin Laden's deputy has given crucial information on the whereabouts of al-Qa'eda leaders after being captured by Pakistani forces in a lawless frontier area close to Afghanistan, intelligence officials in Islamabad have revealed.
More than 400 Romanian troops are working together with U.S. forces at the Kandahar airfield in Afghanistan. RFE/RL spoke with the Romanian commander about how the mission is preparing his country for NATO membership, and visited Romanian troops on a test-firing range that previously served as an Al-Qaeda training camp.
Despite the collapse of the Taliban regime more than two years ago, Afghan men continue to prevent women from receiving care at hospitals with male staff -- even when the lives of the women are in danger. Afghan militiamen serving with the U.S.-led antiterrorism coalition even prevent mothers from visiting children hospitalized at the most sophisticated emergency medical center in the country -- the U.S.-run Combat Support Hospital at the coalition's Bagram Air Base.
A civil affairs program led by the U.S. military has become a mechanism for expanding the presence of international troops across Afghanistan. While much has been written about the humanitarian projects of the Provincial Reconstruction Teams (PRTs), little has been reported about the security elements linked to the program. RFE/RL correspondent Ron Synovitz is in Afghanistan with U.S. troops. In this report, he sheds new light on both the security elements and intelligence-gathering aspects of the PRTs.
Since November 2002, Kabul has been transformed. Construction cranes are everywhere. A huge new US Embassy is being built – with construction going on around the clock. High-rise office towers and hotels financed by Iranian, Turkish, Chinese and Afghan investors have drastically altered the once low-rise Kabul skyline.
(Includes 9 photos)
US military forces in Afghanistan have mistreated detainees, arbitrarily detained civilians and used excessive force in arrests of non-combatants, Human Rights Watch said in a new report.
The new U.S. strategy is being put into action at Forward Operating Base Salerno, a camp near Khost, where the First Battalion of the 501st Infantry Regiment is stationed, along with dozens of special forces troops.
The day before setting out on a three-day mission, Captain Anthony Gibbs gathered 10 of his top men around him on wooden crates in a tent.
He told his men they would be revisiting villages off the Khost-Gardez highway where they had been two weeks earlier. Alpha Company's main objective: capture Jalaluddin Haqqani, a former senior Taliban commander and ally of bin Laden.
American and Afghan troops killed nine suspected Islamic militants during a gun battle in the eastern province of Paktika, the U.S. military said on Saturday, in one of the heaviest clashes reported in recent months.
In separate operations, 14 suspected rebels were detained in a U.S. air assault in the east on Thursday and two senior Taliban commanders were captured by Afghan forces on Friday after an attack on a post near the Pakistan border killed seven government soldiers.
British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw reaffirmed London’s commitment to rebuilding Afghanistan during a lightning visit to Kabul on Friday.

“When I first visited ... exactly two years ago I said that the United Kingdom has committed to Afghanistan for the long term,” Straw said after talks with President Hamid Karzai. “We have to stay through that commitment and it’s showed in the presence of British troops, in the opening a new British embassy building,” he said. His Afghan counterpart Abdullah Abdullah described Straw’s talks with Karzai as “very fruitful.”

Friday, March 05, 2004

Afghanistan's foreign minister sought Friday to play down reports of a heightened campaign to capture Osama bin Laden and said there had been no intelligence breakthroughs about the al-Qaida leader's location.
Joe Galloway: Army relying more than ever on Guard and Reserves.
US and Afghan troops have blocked all roads leading to the eastern border region of Tora Bora, where Osama bin Laden was last spotted, aid agency officials said on Thursday....US military spokesman, Lt Col Bryan Hilferty, said he was unaware of any specific military operation involving US-led troops in Tora Bora. "I don't know of any large scale US-led operation down there," he told reporters.
NATO-led peacekeepers and Afghan police have launched their largest ever joint operation in a bid to prevent terrorists entering Kabul, a spokesman for the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF)
said Thursday.
Eighteen new Mercedes-Benz G Wagons were delivered to the Kabul airport, the first of 60 to arrive over the next week. Happy Canadian soldiers got to test out the four-wheel drive armoured jeep on the 20-kilometre drive through downtown Kabul back to Camp Julien.
A Turkish engineer working on a U.S.-funded road project was killed and another was kidnapped in southern Afghanistan Friday in an ambush officials blamed on Islamic militants.
British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw toured an Islamic religious school in northwestern Pakistan today in an unusual trip to review government reforms at institutions long seen as breeding grounds for terrorists. Dozens of police lined the streets and sharpshooters took up positions on rooftops during Straw’s morning visit to Peshawar, 180 miles from the capital, Islamabad.
There is growing world attention on the remote Pakistani tribal region of South Waziristan as efforts continue to locate Osama Bin Laden and other key al-Qaeda and Taliban suspects.
US-led forces stationed a civilian-military team in the southern Afghan city of Ghazni on Thursday, taking to 12 the number of missions designed to bolster reconstruction and squash an Islamic insurgency.
A documentary about a Canadian family closely linked to Osama bin Laden portrays the Al Qaeda chief as a well-meaning family man who banned ice in drinks, loves volleyball and has trouble controlling his children.
A local official in eastern Afghanistan says he has received credible reports that Osama Bin Laden escaped the recent Pakistani operation to catch him.
"Our FY 2005 foreign operations resource request totals $1.9 billion," Christina Rocca, assistant secretary of State for South Asian affairs, told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. "Of that, over $1.6 billion supports our No. 1 policy goal, combating terror and conditions that breed terror in the front-line states of Afghanistan and Pakistan."
After India on March 16, Mr Powell may head for Pakistan and Afghanistan but no official announcement has been made so far in Washington.
U.S. forces searching for al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden along the mountainous border between Pakistan and Afghanistan will soon implement high-tech surveillance tactics in the region, enabling them to monitor the area 24 hours a day, seven days a week, CNN has learned.

Thursday, March 04, 2004

In this strictly segregated country, where even the issue of women singing on television has sparked furor, the women-only garden and market provides a rare place outside the home where girls and women can feel comfortable.
The mayor of Afghanistan's capital has been sacked by Prime Minister Hamid Karzai amid complaints of rampant bribery and land grabbing by senior government members.
Suspected Taliban militants killed seven Afghan soldiers in a raid near the border with Pakistan, a senior military commander said in Kabul. Guerillas attacked the border post in Maruf district, some 230 miles southwest of Kabul, in Kandahar province, said Khan Mohammed, the provincial military commander.

Wednesday, March 03, 2004

Troops from Quebec who took up Canada's mission in Afghanistan have finally found a handful of local translators who can speak French.
Despite last year's abundant harvest, a lack of food-storage and processing facilities has created a crisis for Afghanistan's struggling farmers. With nowhere to store their harvested crops, many farmers have been forced to sell their produce at losses or, in some cases, feed the spoiling crops to animals.
After an eight year absence, Afghanistan will be sending both male and female competitors to the Olympics in Athens.
Unidentified assailants launched a rocket attack on Pakistani troops engaged in a hunt for Al-Qaeda members in the tribal South Waziristan region bordering Afghanistan.
Pakistani authorities detained at least 15 tribal leaders Wednesday in a remote border region near Afghanistan for failing to turn over suspected al-Qaida fugitives, an official said....
Wednesday's arrests came three days after authorities imposed a fine of $95,000 on the Ahmadzai Wazir tribe for failing to stop rocket attacks from their land against troops deployed to hunt down suspected terrorists. The sum is enormous in this impoverished region, where most people live on less than a dollar a day.
Authorities can punish the tribe under a custom known as collective responsibility. Under these rules, an entire tribe is responsible for any crime committed by one of its members.
China will help Afghanistan to rebuild a major irrigation project near Kabul.

Tuesday, March 02, 2004

Robert VanHyning is waving his flag and warming up his van, just in case, you know, the Kansas National Guard needs a cheerleader.
"Contact, we have contact," a voice shouted over the radio as thick black smoke billowed over the lead vehicle. It had been ambushed, and all three soldiers on board were killed.
About 15 minutes after the attack, the three dead guardsmen sat up, and the convoy continued on. Their unit, Columbus-based 196th Mobile Public Affairs Detachment made up of soldiers from Ohio and West Virginia, was training for its upcoming mission in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom II.
The deployment of U.S. National Guard troops is about to surpass the level reached in World War II.
The European Commission announced Tuesday a further eight million euros (9.9 million dollars) in aid for Afghan elections, but warned that the June polls could be postponed because of problems with voter registration.
Until now, only a few hardy U.S. entrepreneurs have been willing to dodge bullets and car bombs in pursuit of profits in Afghanistan.
"When our infantry go out they spend a longer time on patrols, generally," U.S. military spokesman Lt. Col. Bryan Hilferty told reporters in Kabul. "It's also in rural areas. The patrols last for up to a week.
We are having less of infantry battalions moving around the country and more putting them in one location."
He said an infantry company had been stationed in Qalat, the capital of the southern province of Zabul, and part of a battalion was now based in Ghazni, a town 75 miles southwest of Kabul. Islamic militants are active in both areas.
The Pakistani government has strongly denied allegations that it has struck a deal which would allow US troops to hunt for Osama Bin Laden on its soil.
At least 42 people have been killed and over 100 wounded in an attack on Shia Muslims in the Pakistani city of Quetta, hospital officials say.
The Army is spending approximately $900 million a month in Afghanistan.
Fruitcake becomes a big hit in Afghanistan.
The Afghan government is expressing concern over the growing number of women in Herat Province who have killed themselves through self-immolation. Suraya Sobah Rang, Afghanistan's deputy women's affairs minister, says forced marriages and a continued lack of access to education is contributing to the growing despair among Herat's women.
Visiting patients in an overcrowded and muddy room in Mushkhail district, southeastern Paktika province, Parwin Jabarkhail, a 38 year-old doctor, noted the bleak prospects for tens of patiently waiting women, who after long journeys had reached the only woman doctor in this conservative province of more than two million.

Monday, March 01, 2004

From Stratfor:
"In short, Washington told Musharraf that, unless he was prepared to break Islamist control over his security services (ISI), the United States would have to take extreme measures against Pakistan. To emphasize the point -- and U.S. options -- U.S. and Indian troops conducted military exercises together. The point was not lost on Musharraf: He was facing a regime-threatening crisis unless he was prepared to do something fundamental about the ISI.....We are entering the key period of the war."

At least six people, including three Algerians and three Afghans with alleged links with Qaeda, were arrested in a joint operation by secret agencies at the Kacha Ghari refugee camp.
Afghan military recruits today clashed with a religious procession of Shia Muslims observing Ashura ceremonies in Kabul, causing casualties.
Scattered with landmines, blighted by the wreckage of planes and helicopters and lacking even the necessary equipment for aircraft to land in bad weather, Kabul International Airport is in need of a major re-fit.
“We’ve got to get Osama bin Laden, and we know where he is,” the former senior intelligence official said. Osama bin Laden is “communicating through sigint”—talking on satellite telephones and the like—“and his wings have been clipped. He’s in his own Alamo in northern Pakistan. It’s a natural progress—whittling down alternative locations and then targeting him. This is not, in theory, a ‘Let’s go and hope’ kind of thing. They’ve seen what they think is him."

...........The operation, American officials said, is scheduled to involve the redeployment to South Asia of thousands of American soldiers, including members of Task Force 121. The logistical buildup began in mid-February, as more than a dozen American C-17 cargo planes began daily flights, hauling helicopters, vehicles, and other equipment to military bases in Pakistan. Small teams of American Special Forces units have been stationed at the Shahbaz airbase, in northwestern Pakistan, since the beginning of the Afghanistan war, in the fall of 2001.


In sight of Osama bin Laden's last known redoubt, and spitting distance from one of the least-tamed borders in the world, a group of young Afghan soldiers erected a lonely tent Monday -- a humble outpost meant to discourage al-Qaida and Taliban fighters from slipping back and forth from Pakistan.
"Pakistan is beset by a whole bunch of chickens that are coming home to roost," said Robert Oakley, a former ambassador to Pakistan and now a visiting fellow at the National Defence University.
Afghans turn to the distraction of Top 40 radio after two decades of war.
"The Pakistan army still appears to be helping Taliban in Afghanistan as they prepare for a major confrontation in coming spring, a media report said.
American intelligence officials possess satellite photos that "purportedly" show Pakistani army trucks picking up Taliban troops fleeing back across the border after a failed attack.
After the US confronted Pakistani officials with the photographs, signs of visible Pakistani aid to the rebels ceased, Time magazine said.
It quoted US and Afghan officials as saying that the US has also provided Islamabad with specific locations of two dozen suspected Taliban hideouts in the tribal badlands.
Afghan security officials, Time said, complain that their Pakistani counterparts continue to tolerate - and even encourage - militancy by the Taliban.
At the highest levels, Pakistan's establishment remains "nostalgic" for the Taliban, says a Western diplomat.
Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf has cooperated in the hunt for al-Qaeda's top officials but has shown less enthusiasm for rooting out the Taliban.
Until Pakistan's security services stop sheltering Taliban leaders, US officials say, Afghanistan will never be free from the threat of their return."

Afghanistan's heroin, which sells on the retail market for one hundred times the farm gate price, is the source of a growing reservoir of illegal money that funds international crime across the region, sustains the destabilizing activities of warlords, and fosters local coercion and terrorism.
To the outside world, the Taliban was a forbidding, mysterious clique of Islamic militiamen who shut women away, enforced puritanical rules with whips and crushed all military rivals until U.S. bombers drove them from power in 2001.

But as seen from the inside, the Taliban's five-year reign over most of Afghanistan was also one of bumbling comedy, fatal military mistakes, disabling preoccupation with minor religious matters, deep internal splits and awkward relations with the Arab fighters who flocked to the movement's aid.
German troops already stationed in Kunduz, about 180 kilometres east of Mazar, were conducting an exercise on Sunday with Afghan police in an area where aid workers recently came under attack.
Three photos from Time magazine:
Kabul traffic
US soldiers talking with elders
10th Mountain Division on patrol
The cover of this week's Time magazine is "Afghanistan: The Other War."
Time no longer makes available its full contents online, but below is the beginning of its cover article.

Posted Sunday, Feb. 29, 2004
Hamid Karzai is lonely. He is huddled, as always, deep inside his presidential palace in Kabul, protected by towering stone walls, growling dogs and U.S. bodyguards. Visitors to the palace must undergo three separate body searches before passing through the arched gates, all under the gaze of trained marksmen standing sentry in a watchtower.

On this day in February, a driving blizzard has made Karzai's lair seem even more forbidding. Only one person gets through unchallenged: Zalmay Khalilzad, the U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan. Inside Karzai's office, the two men converse in English and Dari, one of Afghanistan's two official languages. Karzai, who out of fear of assassination rarely leaves the palace, asks Khalilzad how things look in the country he governs but almost never sees. Khalilzad unfurls a large map and points out various reconstruction projects marked in red and green ink—a network of roads and schools and irrigation canals that will be built, he says, as soon as the U.S. and NATO bring order to Afghanistan. Karzai nods impatiently but brightens when he locates the one major rebuilding achievement of his tenure: a 300-mile road linking Kabul to Kandahar. "Do you know how long it took to reach Kandahar before?" he asks. "Twelve hours, sometimes 18. Now I had a delegation that made it there in 3 hours and 45 minutes." He laughs. "Of course," he says, "we have no speed limits."

For Karzai and for the Bush Administration, there is no time to waste. Two years have passed since several hundred U.S. ground troops and 15,000 Northern Alliance fighters ousted the Taliban in retaliation for the Sept. 11 attacks, ending the mullahs' oppressive rule and destroying the sanctuary from which Osama bin Laden directed his murderous minions. Having scored a blockbuster opening victory in its war on terrorism, the Bush Administration committed itself to winning the peace—pledging billions of dollars in aid, deploying 11,000 troops to hunt for remnants of the Taliban and al-Qaeda, and pinning its credibility on Karzai, the regal President who the U.S. hoped could manage the country's combustible ethnic mix and rein in its notorious warlords. Making Afghanistan a stable democracy friendly to the West would not just deal a blow to bin Laden and the brutes who once ruled the country but also help win over hearts and minds across the Islamic world. Says Khalilzad, the Afghan-American who took charge of the U.S. embassy in Kabul last November: "The reputation of the Bush Administration is associated with Afghanistan."

The White House says Afghanistan is on the right track. "The men and women of Afghanistan are building a nation that is free and proud and fighting terror," President George W. Bush said in January's State of the Union address. But that optimistic picture obscures the depths of the country's woes. In interviews with Afghans, diplomats and military commanders across the country, TIME has found that while Afghans have been freed from the Taliban's depraved strictures, their daily lives remain blighted by violence and fear. Because of the paltry number of foreign peacekeepers—about 20,000, in contrast to 130,000 troops in Iraq—and Karzai's inability to extend his grip outside Kabul, most of Afghanistan is under the sway of truculent warlords who in many cases finance armed militias through a resurgent opium trade. The Taliban show signs of a comeback, with forces loyal to Taliban leader Mullah Mohammed Omar—believed to be hiding in Afghanistan or Pakistan—now controlling nearly one-third of the country's territory.


Imran Khan (Pakistan opposition party chairman) has demanded a judicial probe into the killing of innocent civilians by the military in the tribal areas. While condemning the incident, he also demanded immediate end to all military actions inside the tribal areas as it is destroying national unity.
In a statement on Sunday, the PTI Chief said that Pakistan has become the front line mercenary state of the US. The use of Army against its own citizens is destroying the very foundations of the country.

Sunday, February 29, 2004

An update of the Associated Press story about the Army's new DVIDS news service including some criticism.
As an Army doctor in a war zone, Tucson's Dr. Peter Chase has witnessed many epic moments.....
From the heroic to the horrific, Chase's life has been packed with unforgettable moments since he arrived in June in the world's most heavily land-mined nation, a country he describes as "an 18th-century society."
The United States has struck a deal with Pakistan to allow U.S. troops to hunt for al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden this spring in an area of Pakistan where he is believed to be operating, the New Yorker magazine reported on Sunday.

Pakistan denies the report.
A new federal report offers a statistical snapshot of the health of U.S. veterans of the Afghanistan and Iraq wars.
Pakistani troops fired on a minibus that failed to stop Saturday at a roadblock in tribal South Waziristan. The shooting outraged residents of the semiautonomous region.
President Gen. Pervez Musharraf said the government would pay $1,750 in compensation to the families of those killed and half that for the injured, an indication the government acknowledged the victims were innocent civilians.
At least one suspected militant has been killed in a gunfight with US-led forces near the rugged Pakistan border in southeastern Afghanistan, a US military official said on Saturday.
The deceased was one of "several anti-coalition forces" who attacked a patrolling convoy near Urgun on Wednesday, Lt-Col Bryan Hilferty told a news conference.
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