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Friday, April 30, 2004

Pakistan's tribal deal - who wins? Analysis from the BBC.
It was the middle of the night, and together with BBC cameraman Phil Goodwin and a small team of US soldiers, I had been dropped onto a desert plateau miles from anywhere in south eastern Afghanistan. All we knew about the area was that the border with Pakistan was a few miles to the east, and that suspected Taleban militants are still active here.
For a nation where kite flying was once outlawed, the prospect of having a park with a Ferris wheel and swings is greeted with excitement, and apprehension.
The squeaking Soviet-era tanks were freshly painted in US-style military colours. Thousands of goose-stepping Afghan soldiers in crisp new uniforms saluted in time. A force of female police made a historic debut.
A National Day parade in front of Kabul's yellow and white Eid Gar mosque yesterday reflected a small but historic milestone in a year when US-backed President Hamid Karzai has struggled to tame mounting unrest across much of the country.
Inspecting thousands of soldiers under tight security, Karzai and Defence Minister Mohammed Qasim Fahim stood in a convoy of new Russian-built vehicles, an ironic twist on a day Afghanistan celebrated the overthrow 12 years ago of the Soviet-installed Communist government.
The Afghan National Army, which has doubled to nearly 10,000 soldiers from 2003 but remains woefully short of a US-set target of 70,000, sported new uniforms with bright white belts, replacing Russian-style fatigues.
Transcript of the weekly UN press briefing in Kabul.
It's a universal love story - she fell for the boy next door. But their romance has had an otherworldly outcome: the 18-year-old woman who ran off to marry the man of her dreams is now locked up at Kabul women's prison, being held for the crime of defying her family's wishes.
Establishing the Rule of Law in Afghanistan. (A very long journal article from the US Institute of Peace.)
A star shines crystal-clear in the pitch black sky over the mud fort of the chief of the Shawal tribes. But the people in this remote region in the Federally Administered Tribal Region of North Waziristan in Pakistan, 9,000 feet above sea level, are not impressed: they are convinced that the star is in fact a US satellite, and that it's keeping a beady eye on them in preparation for the next battle.
This correspondent reached the residence of Chief Zarma Jan at dusk, and was treated to a lavish dinner in the annex of his mud fort.
The National Endowment for the Arts has announced a program to encourage troops returning from Iraq (and Afghanistan as well) to write about their experiences in wartime.
"Operation Homecoming" will make some of this country's most prominent authors available to servicemen and -women, for workshops and lectures intended to help them express and record what they've seen and felt in combat.
The program is part oral history project, part literary talent search, and part a writing-as-therapy program for troops, particularly those in Iraq, who have been under extraordinary stress in America's first protracted war since Vietnam.
Taliban forces have taken control of the governor's residence and security headquarters in central Afghanistan. Aljazeera's correspondent in Kandahar, Hashmat Allah Muslih, reported exclusively on Thursday that the Taliban have taken control of the second largest district in Uruzgan province. No spokesman at Kabul's interior or defence ministries were prepared to comment when contacted.
Afghan authorities have arrested 18 members of the ousted Taliban regime suspected of killing two local aid workers in the restive southern province of Kandahar, a senior official said on Thursday. Shocked by killing, the United Nations has called for urgent measures to boost security in the province, where it has been forced to reduce its activities, a U.N. spokesman said.
Contrary to popular belief, al Qaeda and the Taliban are not the only problems blighting Afghanistan. Tangentially, a narco-undercurrent led by drug lords undermines and corrupts efforts to democratize and capitalize that country. This alternate element of power and money has grown concurrently with Afghanistan's cultivation of three-fourths of the world's illicit opium supplies.
The Afghan interior minister, Ali Ahmad Jalali, made an unusual appeal to the public on Thursday to watch out for child kidnappers and traffickers, after the police uncovered widespread cases of child kidnapping across the country.
Two schools, including one which had recently been rebuilt with international aid, were burned down by suspected Taliban in southern Afghanistan near Kandahar, officials said Thursday.
Three Afghan schoolgirls are in critical condition after being poisoned in the southeastern town of Khost in what officials said was a Taliban attempt to discourage female education in the region. A Taliban spokesman denied the allegation.
An Afghan official said today that a military commander and five of his bodyguards were killed as they traveled to southern Afghanistan.
Provincial military official Khan Mohammad told AFP news agency that commander Abdul Razaq was ambushed and killed late yesterday in the southern Kandahar Province. Mohammad claimed that the killing was "the work of Taliban and Al Qaeda."
Separately, a U.S. military spokeswoman, Colonel Michele DeWerth, said a U.S.-led coalition convoy came under attack by two militants today near Khost, in the province of the same name. She said one U.S. soldier received superficial wounds and one militant was shot dead, while the other escaped.
(AFP)

The famous puppets of "Sesame Street" will help Afghanistan's children overcome their country's traumatic past, starring in videos to be shown in schools recovering from Taliban rule and decades of war.
Abizaid summed up the coalition's goals in Afghanistan as: to conduct "robust combat operations" around the country's border with Pakistan to defeat al Qaeda, to destroy Taliban remnants and increase the presence of the Afghan National Army throughout the country, to increase reconstruction efforts through provincial reconstruction teams and further internationalize PRTs, and to increase the capacity of the Afghan national government to control the country's security.
With temperatures surpassing the low 100s and winds reaching 60 knots blowing dust and other debris into engines, the maintainers of Marine Medium Helicopter Squadron 266 (Reinforced), the 22d MEU (SOC)'s aviation combat element, have been extra careful to ensure their aircraft are able to fly.
And what's the intrepid Canadian soldier wearing this spring fashion season?
In Asadabad, about 120 miles east of Kabul, U.S. soldiers say they have won friends among locals in a region where Taliban and al Qaeda militants, possibly even bin Laden, are believed to be hiding, by providing free modern medicine. Custer said the level of insurgency in the past six months has dwindled in Kunar and Nuristan, once bastions of militants linked to Islamic radical and former prime minister Gulbuddin Hekmatyar.
"When we got here there were big groups of 100 guys...those kind of forces don't exist now," he said.
About 20 hardcore militants remain but attacks were less organized, usually involving sporadic rocket fire, he said.
One attacker was killed in the firefight outside a US air base near Khost city. As a U.S. jet roared overhead, U.S. and Afghan ground troops hunted the attackers around sprawling mud-built forts, residents added.
According to security officials and analysts in Kabul, the Taliban doesn't have the strength to take on the Americans in the countryside and has switched to planning an "urban insurgency" in the capital.
Another US spokesman said it was to be expected Taliban insurgents and allies linked to al-Qa'ida and wanted warlord Gulbuddin Hekmatyar instead would be mobilising to strike in Kabul ahead of the presidential polls due in two months. Registration for voting begins today.
In April alone, 58 people were detained on suspicion of planning attacks in Kabul. According to the Interior Ministry, most of these were not Taliban but suspected of having links with Hekmatyar.
Winning the hearts and minds of the Iraqi and Afghan people is much more than just a slogan for the 96th Civil Affairs Battalion (Airborne). The Army's only active-duty civil affairs battalion, based at Fort Bragg, N.C., focuses 24/7 on bridging the gap between U.S. and coalition forces and the local populations. It's a mission that continues in peacetime as well as war.
The United States called Pakistan one of its most important partners in the war on terrorism in a report that praised recent efforts to crack down on Islamic militants near the Afghan frontier. In its annual "Patterns of Global Terrorism" report released late on Thursday, the State Department also referred to close cooperation between Pakistan's military and intelligence and the United States to track down suspects at home and abroad.
Pakistan's decision to grant amnesty to a group of tribal outlaws has shaken Afghan and western officials' confidence in General Pervez Musharraf's resolve to purge the lawless tribal region ahead of a new deadline to hand over hardline militants today.
Officials in Pakistan say no foreign militants believed to be hiding near the Afghan border have surrendered ahead of Friday's deadline.
In the midst of the largest deployment of state National Guard troops since the Korean War, governors are scrambling to ensure adequate resources are available to combat crises at home and to provide support for soldiers and their families.
According to the most recent statistics, almost 42 percent – or 144,000 -- of the states’ 345,000 Army National Guard troops currently are deployed or are preparing for deployment, compared with 32 percent just two months ago. Large numbers are being sent to the hot spots of Iraq and Afghanistan.

Thursday, April 29, 2004

Over the last several days, Coalition forces constructed a C-130 capable airstrip in Paktika Province.
International peacekeepers and Afghan security forces arrested 16 men suspected for plotting to smuggle rockets and other weapons into Kabul. A spokesman for the NATO-led force says two rockets were found in a compound and the men were arrested in a raid on two homes at a second compound nearby. The arrests were the latest in a series of operations in the capital in recent weeks by Afghan security forces backed by the 6,500-strong peacekeeping unit.
(CFRA-Canada)

Tuesday, April 27, 2004

A leading Afghan religious scholar is urging Afghans to wage a holy war against the U.S. forces in their country.
Maulvi Younis Khalis leads his own faction of the Hizb-e-Islami party of Afghanistan and played a key role in the war against the Russians.
Although his popularity has since declined, Khalis still has some support in the turbulent ethnic Pashtun belt. The U.S. and official Afghan forces are still facing a low-key but continued resistance by the supporters of the former Taliban regime in the Pashtun areas. Observers say that calls for jihad from scholars like Khalis will not lead to a popular uprising the against U.S. forces but can add to their problems by gradually increasing the support base for the Taliban.
(Big News Network)
"Nek Mohammad is projecting himself to become a Fakir of Ippi," Khan told AFP....
He believed the rebel tribesman was inspired by renegade Islamic preacher the Fakir of Ippi, also from the Waziri tribe, who led devastating rebellions against British troops in the 1930s killing around 1,000, and evaded hunts by up to 40,000 troops in one year.
Reporters Without Borders (Reporters sans frontières) has called on the Pakistani government to provide early information about Afghan journalist Sami Yousafzai, held secretly by Pakistani security forces since 21 April. He was arrested in the tribal areas where he was working with American reporter Eliza Griswold of The New Yorker, who was later expelled from the country. Their driver was also reported missing.
Afghan human rights activists rallied outside the U.N. offices in neighboring Pakistan Tuesday, expressing concerns about the current government and the coming elections. The protesters want Islamic fundamentalist leaders out of any powerful office. The Revolutionary Association of Women of Afghanistan, or RAWA, organized the demonstration outside the United Nations office in the Pakistani capital.
The U.S. military is demanding the return of five howitzers that two Sierra Nevada ski resorts use to prevent avalanches - saying it needs the guns for the fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan.
It is only a matter of time therefore before a new offensive begins. Already, Pakistan troops, under the watchful eye of US Federal Bureau of Investigation members holed up in a vocational training center in the tribal headquarters of Miranshah, are gathering in North Waziristan for the final showdown expected to take place in Shawal, a rugged no-man's land that straddles the Durand Line that divides Pakistan and Afghanistan.
Aid agencies in the Afghan capital Kabul have expressed concern at a government minister who called NGOs ineffective and accused them of squandering Afghan reconstruction money. Ramazan Bashardoost, Afghan minister of planning, made the controversial comments at the Afghanistan Development Forum's two-day meeting in the capital last Tuesday. The government is unhappy that the majority of aid money coming into the country is channelled through NGOs rather than through official channels at a time when it wants to be seen to delivering on reconstruction pledges.
Rejecting the offer and claims made by Afghan President Hamid Karzai about his contacts with leaders of the dismembered movement of the students’ militia, a Taliban spokesman said that only the expulsion of US troops could guarantee peace and stability in Afghanistan.
Over 114 tons of humanitarian cargoes were transported on Monday across the Pamir section of the Tajik-Afghan border with the help of Russian frontier guards. The international nongovernmental organisation Focus transported over 67 tons of wheat, almost ten tons of peas and lentil, as well as other foodstuffs and diesel fuel for the population of the Badakhshan Province of Afghanistan through the checkpoints, situated on the border sections of the Kalay-Khumb and Khorgor frontier guard detachments.
(TASS-Russia)

U.S. Gen. James Jones is used to giving orders, not making sales pitches. But the supreme allied commander of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization brought 26 NATO ambassadors to Afghanistan on Monday to sell them on sending more troops, helicopters and medical assistance.
NATO's Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer says Norway ought to take on greater responsibilities in Afghanistan.
Since the attacks of 11 September 2001, U.S. President George W. Bush has said he would tolerate no engagement with Al-Qaeda and others he considers enemies of the West. And yet the United States is now inviting lower-level members of Saddam Hussein's Ba'ath Party to take significant roles in rebuilding Iraq. Meanwhile, two key Asian allies -- Afghanistan and Pakistan -- also are making similar conciliatory gestures to groups they only recently classified as enemies.
"Mujahedin heroes..., I congratulate you on the 12th anniversary of your victory," Hamid Karzai said. In a letter presented at the celebration, former Afghan monarch Mohammad Zahir Shah said Afghans who united to fight the Soviet invasion must again unite to participate in Afghanistan's reconstruction.
In the past few days there has been a lot of news coverage about the Arizona Cardinals football player, Pat Tillman, who was killed in a fire fight in Afghanistan. But other people were also injured -- or killed -- in the same ambush. One of the soldiers in Tillman's group who was injured was Dodge City native Jade Lane, who is a TAB specialist with the Army Airborne Rangers.
Suspected Taliban have shot dead two Afghan aid workers and one soldier and injured several others during raids in a district near the southern city of Kandahar, officials said. The attacks on an aid agency compound, government office and local security headquarters occurred in the Panjwayi area, about 50 kilometres west of Kandahar.
Turkey has no plans to deploy extra forces in Afghanistan and has not received any request from the US or NATO to do so, sources in Ankara said Tuesday.
Afghan President Hamid Karzai "reluctantly" signed an order Monday for the first execution of the post-Taliban era, his spokesman said....
Abdullah Shah, also known as "The Sarobi Dog," was second in command at a deadly checkpoint outside the town of Sarobi on the Kabul-Jalalabad road. He earned his nickname during the Mujahadeen era, from 1992 to 1996, for barking like a dog at travelers who refused to pay illegal roadside tolls. He reputedly killed thousands who failed to hand over cash and goods.

Monday, April 26, 2004

"It is not regarded as bad to be a woman gardener in our village. Moreover, there is a good income if you do it more professionally," said Begum, who had returned from neighbouring Pakistan after two decades of life in exile....
Having a traditional skill was more important than education for her fellow women villagers, Khumari explained. "A girl with good embroidery or tailoring skills finds a husband sooner than those without skills," she said, smiling with her shy eyes fixed to the ground.
Nek Muhammad was commandant of a guerrilla training camp in Afghanistan before he decided to take his trainees, most of them from Chechnya and Uzbekistan, to South Waziristan, to use as a launching pad for attacks inside Afghanistan. Talking to a newspaper reporter after the ‘pardon’, Nek Muhammad still swore allegiance to ‘Amirul Momineen’ Mullah Umar rather than Pakistan — because the Taliban leader was ‘the caliph of all Muslims.'
Afghan police have arrested a man who was allegedly preparing to throw a bomb at the passing convoy of President Hamid Karzai in Kandahar, security officials said on Sunday.
Asked why the army had suffered higher casualties than his group during the March 18 operation, he (Nek Muhammad) said the army was unfamiliar with the territory while his fighters knew each and every street in the area. “Tribesmen have irregular military training. Fighting is like a hobby for them,” he added.
US Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad urged Afghans to embrace a US-backed programme to make the capital greener during a ceremony on Sunday in which he watered a sapling he planted earlier this year on a hillside overlooking the capital.
The United States named Spain and Turkey on Monday as nations that could do more to strengthen NATO's peacekeeping operation in Afghanistan because, unlike other allies, their military forces are not tied up in Iraq.
Suspected insurgents ambushed an American military convoy on a road in southern Afghanistan, setting off an explosion that wounded three Marines, one of them seriously, the U.S. military said Monday. The attack occurred Saturday near the village of Dailanor, in restive Kandahar province, said Lt. Col. Tucker Mansager, a military spokesman. The wounded men were taken to a military hospital at the U.S. base in Kandahar, the main coalition headquarters in southern Afghanistan.
A top-ranking delegation from the NATO military alliance is visiting Afghanistan this week, as more troops may be on their way to the unstable country.
The United Nations has suspended its activities in the restive Kandahar province and surrounding areas in the wake of Taliban-linked increasing militancy in the region, a UN spokesman said here Sunday.
The Kabul police Chief General Babajan have accused non-government organisations of creating security problem in the city. According to Radio Mashed, NGOs by hiring armed men as their guards created a sense of insecurity in Kabul City. He added that some of the NGOs had given illegal arms to their guards, which is a sign of terror and fear in the city. (Pak Tribune)

Sunday, April 25, 2004

Tribal sources say most of the foreigners have left the towns and villages and are in hiding in the mountains of Shawwal, Khamrang, and Shikai, which have unlimited escape routes. The tribal sources say Shawwal, the highest mountain peak in Waziristan, is likely to be the concentration of the future military action. "Shawaal is a difficult mountainous terrain from which to launch an operation," says a tribal elder. "[These foreigners] are well equipped and can fight for weeks."
In Cuba, Crawley wrote stories and took pictures for the base newsletter, The Wire. She contributed to 40 weekly issues, writing profiles of high-ranking guests and soldiers stationed on the island. She also interviewed some of the military intelligence officers interrogating the hundreds of suspected al Qaeda members being held at Guantanamo.
As part of the 20-person 362nd Mobile Public Affairs Detachment, Sgt. Crawley worked six days a week in Cuba, putting in long hours as both a writer and a soldier.
Canadian commandos in Afghanistan had numerous health complaints because of pollution, the country's harsh climate and limited access to clean water for personal hygiene.
Pakistan on Sunday released 50 tribesmen arrested last month during a major counterterrorism operation near the Afghan border, saying investigations had proved them innocent, officials said.
The truce, however, could be a severe setback for the Bush Administration, which has been leaning on Pakistan to carry out a clean sweep of al-Qaeda and the Taliban from the tribal territories.
Afghan President Hamid Karzai made a surprise overture to the ousted Taliban on Sunday, inviting them to vote in September elections, and said his government was trying to negotiate peace with the insurgents.
NATO operations in Afghanistan's capital city have taken a significant shift away from routine patrols, do-good projects and social visits to more-offensive measures against terrorist elements. Canada and other countries are cashing in on 2 1/2 years of nurturing trust among locals with relentless presence patrols, whose main weapons have been simple smiles, friendly waves and a cup of tea.
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