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Saturday, March 20, 2004

After according saturation-type coverage to the al-Zawahiri story most of the day Thursday, CNN, realising it had raised worldwide expectations of the imminent capture or death of Osama bin Laden’s deputy, suddenly dropped the story Friday.
Famed as a haven for smugglers, kidnappers and conservative tribes living in a world that time has passed by, Pakistan's tribal areas appear far more developed than towns just over the border in Afghanistan. Here in Wana, with its army base, roads are paved, electrical power lines run through town and a handful of factories can be seen.
Local officials describe it as a thriving market town, with a resident population of 50,000, and 70,000 more people coming in to do business daily. Wana is also the administrative center for the South Waziristan tribal area, the largest and poorest of seven such areas in Pakistan.
Besides ridding the area of al Qaeda and Taliban fighters, the immediate goal of Friday's operation was to free about a dozen Pakistani paramilitary soldiers and two civilian officials who had been taken hostage by the foreign fighters on Tuesday, when the army launched its sweep in South Waziristan, according to the two military officers in Peshawar.
"The Chechens basically want free passage and an immediate end of the military operation in exchange for the release of the hostages," the intelligence officer said. Although he said there would be "no bargaining," he noted that Gen. Pervez Musharraf, Pakistan's president, has already pledged that any foreign fighters who surrender to Pakistani security forces will not be handed over to US custody.
Four Afghans were killed and 24 injured in a stampede during new year celebrations at a shrine in the north of the country, witnesses said on Saturday.
The accident happened on Friday as tens of thousands of people rushed to witness the hoisting of the standard of the shrine of Hazrate Ali, the cousin of Islam's Prophet Mohammad, in the northern city Mazar-i-Sharif, they said.
A remote-controlled Canadian aircraft came in for a hard emergency landing in a farmer's field today, making it the fourth plane in four months to be knocked out of Canada's troubled spy plane fleet. The Canadian Forces Sperwer unmanned aerial vehicle, or UAV, made the emergency landing near Kabul about 15 minutes after taking off from Camp Julien. No one on the ground was hurt.
Taliban rebels threated on Saturday to kill a kidnapped Turkish engineer and his Afghan guard if the government did not release two guerrillas sentenced to death for killing a French U.N. worker.
Agence France-Presse
Kabul, March 20

Fighting between two nomadic tribes in southeastern Afghanistan has left at least four people dead, an official said on Saturday. The fighting has been going on since Thursday and was sparked by a land dispute between the Slizamanzai and Niazai tribes, both ethnic Kochi peoples, police chief of Paktia province Hai Gul said.
"I can confirm that two from one tribe and two from another have been killed so far," he said.
However, he said the number of dead from the fighting in the Zormat district of Paktia province was probably higher. The Government was attempting to install a ceasefire between the tribes who have fought before, he added. Zormat, about 100 kilometres (62 miles) directly south of Kabul is also an area in which remnants of the ousted Taliban regime are believed to be active.


Maj. Watt, who helped set up a provisional government in the Khost province, said it will take generations to implement democratic reforms in a country with a long history of autocratic and theocratic rule.
"We're arrogant. We think everyone knows what democracy is and wants it," said Watt. "But you can't change something in six months that took 6,000 years to create. If we don't help the transitional government get the warlords out of power and give democracy time to sprout, the country will revert back to anarchy."
As a new report by Human Rights Watch on Afghanistan has documented, the Bush administration's practice of refusing to follow the Geneva Conventions or any other rule of law has led to abuses that are an affront to fundamental American values.
(Washington Post editorial.)
The US House of Representatives has voted unanimously to double the reward for Osama bin Laden's capture to US $50 million.
U.S. helicopter gunship mistakenly strayed into Pakistani territory from Afghanistan while chasing militants and wounded three civilians in an attack, a Pakistani security official said on Saturday. Villagers in Pakistan's North Waziristan tribal region on the Afghan border said one person was also killed in the Friday night raid but the region's security chief said no one was killed.
US and Afghan forces have repelled a major attack on a base on the Afghan-Pakistan border, leaving at least three suspected Taliban or Al-Qaeda fighters dead, an Afghan military commander says.....
Meanwhile a Taliban spokesman claimed that a US military convoy was ambushed near Lwara at about the same time as the attack took place on the base, near to the town of Urgun. The convoy was first hit by a landmine and was then attacked at about 9:00 pm on Friday in the region of Gyan, about 20 kilometres (12 miles) east of Urgun, the Taliban spokesman said.
Pakistan's army has arrested over 100 suspected militants after five days of intense battles near the Afghan border, but said it was unlikely al Qaeda number two Ayman al-Zawahri was among those still surrounded.
Instead a senior commander said the "high-value target" whom the militants were thought to be protecting was probably an Uzbek or Chechen militant leader.
At least six Afghan civilians were killed and seven wounded in a U.S. airstrike in Afghanistan's central province of Uruzgan, officials said on Saturday.
Many of the casualties in the Friday night raid on a village were women and children, said a provincial government official who did not want to be identified.
Six people had been killed and seven wounded, said a police officer, who also declined to be identified. A Pakistan-based Afghan news agency said seven people had been killed -- three women and four men.
U.S. military spokesman Lieutenant-Colonel Bryan Hilferty said he was unaware of any civilian casualties.
More Afghan children than ever before are enrolling in the country's schools, with up to 5.5 million expected to return next week when classes resume after the holiday break, the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) has announced.
Just over two years since the fall of the Taliban regime, which severely restricted women's education rights, girls comprise 30 per cent of all students and the number of girls attending class has leapt by more than 30 per cent.
But more than 1 million Afghan girls aged between seven and 13 still do not go to school, according to UNICEF and more than 85 per cent of teachers do not have professional qualifications.
A group of special forces from the Jordanian Army arrived in Afghanistan this week and will be deployed along the border with Pakistan, a military official told AFP on Friday. The 100 Jordanian soldiers will be under the command of the US military.

Jordan denies.

Friday, March 19, 2004

South Waziristan, the battleground for Pakistan's offensive against al-Qaeda, has a history of under-development, religious conservatism and a pool of tribesmen battle-hardened from Afghanistan's long years of war. The ferocity of the latest fighting suggests the Pakistani armed forces have clearly under-estimated the military challenge arising from these complex tribal areas.
Hardline Islamic clerics in Pakistan denounced on Friday a military operation against al Qaeda militants and said it could breed more terror strikes.
Of every 100,000 women who go into labor in Afghanistan, about 1,900 die, according to Dr. Tessa Wardlaw, a senior program officer for UNICEF, the United Nations Children's Fund. In the US and Japan, by comparison, the number is 8 in every 100,000 women.....
Afghan midwives teach expectant mothers to replace superstition with sanitation.
Still flushed with their success in capturing Saddam Hussein, a joint CIA-military commando unit called Task Force 121 has been dispatched to Afghanistan with a new mission to get Osama bin Laden.... Interviews with top Afghan and US intelligence officials reveal a number of reasons the US has failed so far to catch Mr. bin Laden and his coterie of fighters. The difficulties, which cannot be easily overcome, are numerous...
Traditional Now Roz, or New Year, celebrations, once banned by the Taleban, are enjoying a strong resurgence in Afghanistan.

Thousands are expected to attend an afternoon game of buzkashi in the southern part of the city. One of the most popular games in Afghanistan, buzkashi is played on horseback with contestants vying to drag a calf’s carcass to a goal.
"He may have slipped the net," said the official, who asked not to be named.
The frenzied speculation was triggered by the sighting of a foreigner being whisked away at high speed in a bullet-proof vehicle Tuesday when paramilitary units were searching for tribesmen wanted for sheltering Al Qaeda fugitives.
The vehicle burst out of a tribal compound, two others emerged to protect it, and scores of fighters appeared from several directions, hurling grenades and firing at the Pakistani troops.
The entire unit of 50 troops was "virtually wiped out," the official said. Fifteen were killed, 22 were injured and another 13 are still missing.
U.S. representatives at NATO say they remain optimistic that the alliance will deliver on its promise to set up five new Provincial Reconstruction Teams (PRTs) in Afghanistan before summer. However, a certain sense of urgency is becoming evident in U.S. statements, suggesting that finding soldiers and resources for the PRTs is not yet a foregone conclusion.
U.S military officials and members of the Afghan central government met today with leaders of an Afghan militia force in Kandahar to discuss where to permanently garrison troops from the fledgling Afghan National Army. Plans call for new Afghan National Army bases to be built in four locations across the country in an attempt to extend the authority of the central government beyond Kabul.

update from Stars and Stripes.
Pakistani troops are engaged in fierce fighting with suspected Al-Qaeda militants and local tribesmen in the remote South Waziristan region. They are believed to be protecting a senior Al-Qaeda leader there, whom some military officials are reported as identifying as Ayman al-Zawahri, the organization's number-two authority. Though al-Zawahri is lesser known than Al-Qaeda's reputed leader, Osama bin Laden, some observers say the deputy is just as powerful as the chief.
International peacekeepers in the Afghan capital have been warned of the risk of "magnetic bombs" being placed on their vehicles, an Afghan intelligence official said Friday. About 60 of these bombs have been made in Pakistan and smuggled into Afghanistan by Islamic militants belonging to the Hezb-i Islami movement.
In an exclusive meeting with Asia Times Online, a prominent planner of the Afghan resistance spelled out their strategy....
The battle is the biggest so far between Pakistani forces and al-Qaida. But Peter Bergen, the author of a book on al-Qaida, Holy War Inc, said the scale of the fighting did not necessarily signify that one of the group's leaders was involved in the battle.
"This is the first time the Pakistanis have really taken the battle to al-Qaida. It's not surprising that they're fighting," Mr Bergen said. "These guys have nowhere to go and they're prepared to martyr themselves."
British SAS rushed to Afghanistan.
U.S. forces called in air strikes against suspected Taliban positions on Friday after two U.S. soldiers and at least five militants were killed in a clash in
central Afghanistan.
Triple Deuce officers don’t know exactly who works for whom in the militia chain of command. Intelligence indicates several factions may share the castle, Cunningham said. If militia members are not quite bad guys, they’re not entirely trustworthy, either, he said.
Overall, the militia “is better than the bad guys,” Cunningham said. “I think that’s a true statement.”
Purgatory soldiers stay at the castle to monitor the Afghans around the clock.
Shortly after Coalition Joint Task Force 180 set up Purgatory two months ago, soldiers pulled two suspected Taliban fighters out of the castle.

“In the past, they either [collaborated] not knowing, or they did know and they’re crooked,” said Capt. Phil Bergeron, Purgatory’s fire control commander. “That’s no judgment. That’s just common sense.”

“Alex,” a Special Forces soldier, said SF teams occasionally work with the Afghan Militia Force members, buying their loyalty, “but they’re shady as [can be].”

Terry Boyd reports from Firebase Purgatory.
Al-Qaeda leaders Osama bin Laden and Ayman Al-Zawahiri are safe and in Afghanistan, not neighbouring Pakistan where an intense manhunt is under way, a Taliban spokesman said today.
Speaking by satellite phone from southern Afghanistan, Abdul Samad dismissed speculation by Pakistani officials that Al-Zawahiri could be surrounded in the Pakistan border district of South Waziristan, saying he was "100 per cent" sure the Al-Qaeda number two was safe.
(From HiPakistan)
KABUL (Reuters) - Two U.S. soldiers were killed and two were wounded in a clash with Muslim militants in central Afghanistan on Thursday, the U.S. military said in a statement.
The clash in Uruzgan province, south of the capital Kabul, occurred as U.S. forces in Afghanistan stepped up their hunt for Taliban and al Qaeda militants, including Osama bin Laden.

A few details
here.
Unidentified gunmen, suspected to be Al-Qaida militants, attacked the Dabarmiami check-post in North Waziristan tribal agency last night killing two.
Gunmen fired rocket-propelled grenades at a United Nations team planning registration sites for Afghanistan's elections in a volatile southeastern province at the weekend, the first such attack on U.N. poll workers. No casualties were reported in Sunday's incident in Paktia province.
Colin Powell has announced that the US will designate Pakistan a "major non-NATO ally," in a move that will boost military cooperation between the two countries.
The designation non-NATO ally makes it easier for governments to acquire US military hardware.
Pakistan will join a handful of other countries such as Japan, Thailand, Kuwait, Egypt, Israel and Jordan in receiving preferential treatment from the United States on the military front.
Leaders of Afghanistan's Northern Alliance factions have been meeting to find a candidate to challenge President Hamid Karzai in coming elections, but have yet to find common ground. The alliance, made up largely of ex-mujahideen groups, helped U.S.-led forces topple the radical Taliban regime in 2001, and forms the backbone of Karzai's government.
But alliance members have been angered by Karzai's efforts to limit their power in the past year and many have opposed the liberalisation of strict Islamic law since he took office.
Thanks to the efforts of students, professors, and librarians at the University of Alberta and across the country, medical students in Kabul will soon have almost 1,000 new textbooks in their library.
On Thursday, with 7,000 troops in the area of Azam Warsak, a collection of farming villages, fighting erupted in four areas, involving as many as 500 to 600 militants, military officials said.
But the fiercest battles were in Shin Warsak, a village surrounded by apple orchards and hillocks. That led officials to suspect that Dr. Zawahiri might be holed up in one of the mud hut compounds in the area, defended by up to 200 heavily armed men.
American officials said the effort was a Pakistani operation with behind-the-scenes support from the United States, including remotely piloted Predator surveillance aircraft, while Pakistani officials said Thursday that the operation involved Pakistani troops only.

Wednesday, March 17, 2004

Villagers in Pakistan's South Waziristan agency have left their homes, fearing the United States will soon begin dropping bombs, while aircraft from the Afghan side of the border fly overhead. On the ground, burnt-out military vehicles litter the landscape. The fighting has stopped and an eerie silence prevails over the area, said Zafar, a resident of Wana who gave an eyewitness account to Asia Times Online from Watchadana, which borders Afghanistan.
Well-placed sources have told Asia Times Online that the Taliban is regrouping in preparation for attacks on Afghan cities, and this is hot news among Pakistan's jihadis. The jihadis have been looking for new battles since the Kashmir front was totally shut down - they were informed in a recent meeting presided over by a senior army officer that the Kashmir "game is over" and that they should shut up shop. Many of those jihadis have now made their way to Afghanistan. And according to reliable sources in Karachi, which is a hub for dedicated jihadis, several groups of fighters made the journey to South and North Waziristan to take part in the decisive battle between the Afghan resistance and US and Pakistani troops. Similar groups from Lahore, Quetta and the countryside of Punjab are also
joining the struggle.
THE Taliban has appointed former commander Mullah Dadullah to lead operations against US and Afghan forces in the country's south, a spokesman for the ousted militia said today.
President Hamid Karzai said today that national elections in Afghanistan planned for June could be held in July or as late as August as the country deals with delays in registering voters.
Secretary of State Colin Powell arrived in Pakistan from Afghanistan Wednesday, a day after Pakistani troops fought with suspected al Qaeda fighters in the bloodiest clash of a crackdown on miltants.
An airman from Minot Air Force Base has been wounded in a land mine explosion in Afghanistan.

Tuesday, March 16, 2004

Many Al Qaeda and Taliban guerrillas in Waziristan are fleeing their village hideouts and heading up into the mountains along the Afghan border, according to tribal sources in the area. Shunning their conspicuous Land Cruisers, the militants are camouflaging their movements by journeying with local woodcutters and shepherds, who head into the mountains to earn their livelihood.
In the village of Shikha, just outside of Urgun, brick masons are busy building a schoolhouse, paid for by the US military. In 50 days, the project will provide a total of eight school rooms, four for boys, four for girls, to replace a two-room schoolhouse that once served 200 students.
Third grader Rahmatullah (like many Afghans, he uses only one name) says he is grateful to the American soldiers who will be providing him with a larger school to learn in. "In the Taliban times, we lived in Pakistan, near Wana, but we moved here last year," says the son of a doctor. Asked what he wants to be when he grows up, he looks at his headmaster, Zarbadshah, and says, "I want to be a teacher."
A group of Afghans who have arrived in Kabul after being freed from American custody in Cuba have strongly complained about their treatment.
Pakistani journalist Ahmed Rashid ponders whether the capture of Osama Bin Laden could heap further problems on Pakistan's President Musharraf.
Pakistani paramilitary forces have been battling suspected terrorists along the rugged, lawless border with Afghanistan, killing 24 and capturing 18 while losing eight troops in battle, a military spokesman said.
The battle at a compound near the town of Wana ended with eight members of the paramilitary Frontier Constabulary dead and more than two dozen
wounded.
Osama bin Laden, the world's most wanted man, is definitely not in Pakistan and is more likely to be in Afghanistan, Pakistan's Interior Ministry has told the BBC.

Monday, March 15, 2004

The debate about the possible introduction of Sharia law in Pakistan's North-West Frontier Province has raised concerns about the role and political direction of the region. The dominance of hardline Islamic parties there and the support they've previously expressed for the Taleban has added to fears that the province is a new breeding ground for Taleban-style ideology.
President General Pervez Musharraf Monday said there were above 500 foreign terrorists taking sanctuary in South Waziristan Agency.
When Ang Nima Sherpa is not baking cookies for Canadian soldiers in Kabul, he climbs Mount Everest or leads other dangerous treks up Nepal's Himalayan mountains.
A full work day in front of a warm oven at Camp Julien is close enough to a winter vacation for him, Nima says.
"The workload is OK. The food is good. There's no danger. It's really quite excellent," he said over coffee this weekend at the end of his final shift at Camp Julien. Nima, 34, is returning to Nepal to lead his fourth Everest expedition.
Among the 2,000 people who live at the camp are about 350 civilian workers like Nima. They came from Nepal, Canada and a dozen other countries to quietly keep Camp Julien operating smoothly.
On Saturday night, two rockets hit Kabul. Only one exploded, and no casualties were reported. A spokesman for the NATO-led international peacekeeping force in Afghanistan, Commander Chris Henderson, says that determining the intended targets in such attacks is extremely difficult.
"The way these things are launched is somebody lights the fuse, plugs their ears, and hopes for the best,"
he said.
KABUL - Cpl. Erica Oliver pauses a second as she stands at the back of the super-sized truck, studying the dinner-plate-sized brown metal canister in her hands.
"This is the one that blew up our guys in October," Oliver comments, as she hands it down to her co-worker. He takes it, walks carefully down the steep, gritty slope of the deep pit behind him, and places it gently on the ground.
Having withstood earthquakes, British and Soviet bombardment, looting and the harsh winds of Herat for more than 500 years, five delicate minarets are being threatened by a building project in their midst. With the destruction of Afghanistan's massive Buddhas in Bamiyan by the ousted Taliban regime and the assault on Kabul Museum during the civil war which lashed the city, the minarets in the western province of Herat are among the most important heritage sites remaining in the country.
The welcome and hospitality of the Bamyan people was overwhelming, Reilly said.
"They commented on a number of occasions how much they appreciated we had come from so far away and left our families – because family is such a big thing in their lives.
"We might visit a village ... and you knew if you accepted a meal that someone might go hungry for a day or two. In their culture, it is important to offer hospitality. They will stop doing anything to meet and greet guests."
A huge car bomb was defused by Pakistani police outside the U.S. consulate in Karachi on Monday, just two days before Secretary of State Colin Powell visits the country.
Courtemanche and Warren are doing vital jobs at two of the tiny U.S. bases springing up across Afghanistan. They may work as many as 20 hours per day, with no one else to pick up the slack. But they enjoy a great deal of freedom, far away from the sometime stifling command environment of the main US bases.
Osama bin Laden has narrowly escaped capture by French troops working with American forces in Afghanistan, perhaps several times, the head of France's armed forces said Monday. French soldiers are determined to capture the fugitive head of the al-Qaida network by the end of the year, Gen. Henri Bentegeat said Monday. "Our men were not very far," Bentegeat told France's Europe-1 radio station. "On several occasions, I even think that he slipped out of a net that was well closed."
U.S. forces swooped down on a cave hide-out of Islamic militants in southern Afghanistan, killing three and detaining 13 as part of a new offensive against the Taliban and al Qaeda, the U.S. military said Monday....
LTC Bryan Hilferty told reporters in Kabul that dozens of U.S. troops, including special forces, took part in Saturday's helicopter-assisted raid on a cave complex southwest of Qalat, capital of Zabul province.
The U.S.-led coalition's spring offensive in Afghanistan, codenamed Operation Mountain Storm, is using unconventional warfare to target Taliban and Al-Qaeda guerrilla fighters. RFE/RL correspondent Ron Synovitz reports from Kandahar on how one commando team is contributing to the overall strategy.
Different sub-tribes of the Ahmadzai Wazir tribe inhabiting the Wana area have already delivered more than 60 wanted men to the political administration. The wanted list had a total of 123 men but the government is keen to lay hands on the more dangerous lot that includes Nek Mohammad....
"I and the other wanted tribesmen cannot surrender because we don’t expect justice from the authorities. Besides the government has already condemned and punished us by demolishing our homes," declared Nek Mohammad in a phone call from an undisclosed location.

Sunday, March 14, 2004

"The Pakistanis hate us now. They hate our government, and they call us killers for cooperating with the Americans," said Nawab Khan, 23, a jobless man who was a war refugee in Pakistan for 20 years but is now reluctant to travel there. "I'd like to get a job with the American forces," he said with a rueful laugh, "but if they don't hire me, maybe I'll have to join al Qaeda."
Pamela Constable reports from
Paktika province.
Mullah Mohammad Omar, the Taliban leader, is in safe place despite the current operation of Allied troops in two Eastern Provinces of Afghanistan, says a spokesman of the Taliban.
"I spoke to the Americans about my problems, but they said, 'Our job is to catch Al Qaeda; your job is security,' " Mr. Ghaus adds. He laughs grimly. Later that night, Ghaus patrolled Urgun on foot, prodding his sleepy soldiers awake, armed with just a Kalashnikov.
"We attacked a UN team on Sunday in Chamkani district," a man claiming to be a Taliban spokesman told AFP. "We don’t know if there were any casualties, but several vehicles were destroyed," the man who calls himself Abdul Samad told AFP via telephone from southeastern Afghanistan. United Nations spokesman Manoel de Almeida e Silva confirmed the incident and said that no one had been hurt.
Tribal Justice.
A tribal Jirga on Sunday executed eight persons after awarding them death penalty on charges of kidnappings and involvement in other heinous crimes. The execution was witnessed by thousands of people at Mamuzai area of Orakzai Agency.
TALIBAN fighters armed with rockets and heavy machine guns attacked a government office near the Afghan-Pakistan border, sparking a firefight that killed one Afghan soldier and three Taliban, police said today. The attack came at about 9pm yesterday in the Shorovak district of Kandahar province, 180km south east of the southern city of Kandahar, deputy police chief General Salim Khan said. About 60 Taliban fighters attacked the office of the Shorovak district chief, Khan said.
Tracks of the vehicles carrying the Taliban showed they came from across the border in Pakistan, and retreated there after the fight, Khan claimed.
Tribal elders in the regional headquarters in Wana said they had sent a team of 10 Zalikhel tribesmen to make one more last ditch effort and persuade the suspects to surrender before the jirga. But a tribal source late in the evening told Dawn, the team had returned empty-handed apparently failing to find the five suspects.
"They were not there. They have left their places and have disappeared."
SPIN BOLDAK, Afghanistan
Three Taliban commanders have been arrested in a U.S.-led sweep of southeastern Afghanistan aimed at crushing members of the former regime and their al Qaeda allies, an Afghan army officer said on Sunday. At least 12 Taliban fighters have been killed in the week-old offensive which U.S. officials hope will snare al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden.
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