Saturday, May 08, 2004

GI Joe dolls, heavy-metal music, and jokes help soldiers at a remote US Army base in Afghanistan cope with the strange bedfellows of war - danger and boredom.
Homa Naderi worries that Afghanistan's 15 minutes in the spotlight are up.
"We were forgotten as soon as the first bombs were dropped on Iraq," said the young Afghan American.
Mrs. Dupree's two passions have been Mr. Dupree and Afghanistan, for whose people and cultural treasures she has fought for 40 years. She has devoted so much of her life to this country that many Afghans see her as one of them. Her mission has been to protect Afghanistan's past, sounding the alarm about damage to its architecture and the looting of its archaeological sites, but also to show the past's relevance to the present.
Many of Afghanistan's most precious artefacts are being looted and sold to the highest bidder.
The elaborate spread included boulanee (mince meat and potato turnovers) as an appetiser, delicacies like the Kandhari Murg Chalao (Rice and Chicken curry with a predominant flavour of roasted cumin and cardamom powder); Kofta Nakhod (Meatballs and chick peas); Tamarind Potatoes and Bouranee Baumjam (pan fried brinjals in yoghurt gravy).
Afghani food draws from eclectic influences such as China, Greece and India, retaining its roots in the Kushans, the Huns, the Arabs, the Turks. The ingredients are fresh and sans preservatives. Spices such as garam masala from India, mint, yoghurt, sabzi/spinach from old Persia, and the noodles/pasta from China/Mongolia are heavily incorporated into Afghan cuisine.
Sayed Mohammed runs a hand over a poppy bulb oozing with raw opium, his eyes light up and his toothless smile broadens when asked why he grows the heroin-producing crop on his farm in central Afghanistan. "Growing poppies pays 10 times more than cultivating other crops," the affable 60-year-old says. "We grow these poppies because we have no choice. Most people here do not have jobs."
In a dusty vegetable stall in one of Afghanistan's poorest cities, Shamsul Ahmad points to baskets of oranges and onions and says he earns about $1 a day, barely enough to feed his wife and five children. "It's just surviving. Nothing more. It's not what I expected this year," he said bitterly, frowning under a dark green turban.
Two British election workers killed in eastern Afghanistan in an attack claimed by the Taliban had refused an armed escort, a local police chief said Thursday. Ghulam Ullah Nuristani said the Britons were gunned down Wednesday on their way back from a remote clinic with their Afghan translator. Security forces found their bodies in a deep, forested valley of Nuristan province, some 100 miles east of the capital.
Afghan officers looking for tips to create a military academy for their war-scarred country are walking in the footsteps of Grant and Patton.
A delegation trying to launch the National Military Academy of Afghanistan has been getting a cadet’s-eye view of West Point this week — observing classes, lunching in the mess hall and watching drills. The visit amounts to a cram session at a storied academy that has produced a long gray line of American military heavyweights.
Six Afghan soldiers were wounded overnight in an attack by Taliban guerrillas in the south of the country, a local commander said on Friday. A Taliban spokesman said two Afghan soldiers were killed in the assault on a district building in Shah Wali Kot, just north of the city of Kandahar, but there was no independent confirmation of fatalities.
Soon he came back with entry stamped on my passport. The profuse expression of gratitude in English, Darri, Pushtu and Urdu were responded with a polite grin and dropping of the word, "Shirini (sweats)". Discreet passing of a Rs 500 (Pakistani) note acknowledged the hint. The same amount accelerated the luggage check and passing through "nothing to declare", green channel.
The top United Nations official in Afghanistan today warned that a plan to disarm the country's warring factions ahead of elections later this year is in "serious jeopardy" because of obstruction by powerful militiamen.
India's military Thursday unveiled the blueprint of a new road it will build in Afghanistan as part of reconstruction efforts in the war-torn country.
Pakistan's paramilitary and security services were on high alert on Friday night after a suicide bomber attacked a Shia mosque in Karachi, the southern port city, leaving at least 15 dead and more than 125 injured.
Centcom news release.
The adults are pleasant, Addington said. The kids swarm like they do in many Third World countries.
"The Afghan people don't see us as occupiers," said Addington. "We represent their best employer. They want opportunity. We sometimes see doctors and computer operators working with military personnel, because it's one of the only ways they can earn a living for themselves and their families."
Some 2,700 US marines hunting Taliban and Al Qaeda militants have set up a new base in central Afghanistan, opening up a different front in the fight against remnants of the ousted militia.
Forward Operating Base Ripley, established a few kilometers outside Tirin Kot, the provincial capital of troubled Uruzgan province, is the base for 2,200 marines from the 22nd Marine Expeditionary Unit fully deployed to Afghanistan from earlier this month, officials told AFP Thursday. Working under Taskforce Linebacker, in reference to defensive players in American football, the marines will conduct patrols and cordon and searches from the base to improve security in the restive province where US-led coalition forces have come under regular attack.
Journalist's career on hold during stint aiding Afghanistan.
Part of the problem, though, is it would take two days of driving to get to the southwest of the province from the battalion's fire base at Orgun-E, an old Soviet airfield about 25 miles from the Pakistan border.
"Difficult, but not impossible," is how Piatt put it.
Air is faster, but not always available. "Helicopters in Afghanistan I would say are probably the No. 1 limiting factor," Piatt said. "There's just not enough to go around."
One U.S. Marine was killed and another wounded in an overnight attack on American forces in southern Afghanistan, the military said Saturday. The Marines came under fire during a mission in Uruzgan province, said military spokesman Lt. Col. Tucker Mansager.
LTC Mansager said the U.S. Army's inspector general performed an "in-depth" inspection of the military's main holding facility at Bagram, north of Kabul, in March. He said he didn't know if that review was prompted by the investigation of abuse of prisoners in Iraq, which began in January. The inspector's findings have not been released. But Mansager insisted prisoners were being treated properly in Afghanistan.
Some, however, saw the agreement as something more portentous: a tactical retreat from an anti-terrorist policy that government critics say could lead to further military intervention in Pakistani politics.
"The Americans are using Pakistan, and what their officials in Kabul are asking of us is the road to suicide," said Sen. Khursheed Ahmad, an Islamic scholar and member of the country's largest Islamic party. "We do not condone terrorism, but the Americans are trying to persuade us to kill our own people. If the war on terror leads the army to carve out an institutional role in politics, it will be bad for Pakistan and bad for America too."

Wednesday, May 05, 2004

Battlefield Reporting: What's In Your Gadget Bag, Peter Maass?
I was walking across the camp this evening under a brilliant full moon when all of a sudden a huge cloud of dust erupted seemingly from nowhere. I stood in amazement as the monster of dust moved in my direction, growing as it did. In an instant everything vanished and the moonlight was replaced with darkness. Squinting, I found my way to a bunker and got out of the passing cloud. In just a few minutes, the moon re-emerged and the dust cloud was gone. I can still taste the dirt. Sgt. Hook out.
The government agreed on Monday to move some, possibly all, of the roughly 850 suspected Taliban fighters to a jail north of Kabul as a hunger strike by Shiberghan inmates entered its fourth day. Abdul Khalil, the prison's director, said some protesters were secretly eating, but a medical official who inspected them said many were too weak to stand. "We decided we wanted to be released from this place or die," said Naqeebullah, a slight man with bright green eyes from the southern province of Zabul, who waited on Tuesday with a group of inmates wearing the mirrored caps typical of southern Afghanistan.
Prisoners straggled out of their cell block clasping belongings and gathered in a stinking yard lined with low cells used to house tuberculosis patients. A frantic international medical official called for stretchers to move those too old or sick to walk....
Faizullah, the intelligence chief for Jowzjan province, of which Shiberghan is the capital, said he believed about 80 inmates were "real" Taliban and the rest farmers who took up arms. Mr Ludin said yesterday that the government was continually reviewing the prisoners' status and those not "considered a threat" would be released. A group of prisoners, chatting easily with visitors on Tuesday, said they had all joined the Taliban force under pressure.
Recent events have further clarified why the international effort in Afghanistan has at least a fighting chance to achieve its goals, while the U.S. effort in Iraq cannot do so without major changes.
The US-led coalition in Afghanistan has distributed leaflets calling on people to provide information on al-Qaida and the Taliban or face losing humanitarian aid. The move has outraged aid organisations who said their work is independent of the military and it was despicable to pretend otherwise....
Last night the Pentagon said it would instruct forces in the field and those on future training courses not to repeat the mistake. Joseph Collins, deputy assistant secretary at the Pentagon, said: "I have seen the leaflets in question. While they were no doubt well-intentioned, they do not reflect US policy. The United States does not condition humanitarian assistance on the provision of intelligence.
"We will instruct forces in the field to be careful not to portray assistance as a reward for the provision of intelligence."
True to form, the warlords resorted to their old tricks, building up their spheres of influence in pockets across the country, and at the expense of the central government's writ in the countryside, and in many cases at the expense of the US occupation: some openly now support the resistance. The US has thus been forced to rethink its strategy, and came up with the idea of creating a force it could use to counter the recalcitrant warlords. This it is doing by rebuilding the shattered network of old royalists.
The prison now hosts a school for Afghan prison guards. It has a new kitchen facility, thanks largely to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime. Italy - working to re-establish the country's justice system - has helped reconstruct part of the prison. But prisoners still live 10 to a three-by-five-metre cell and Zahir, a farmer's son from Panshir, says another $8 million US is needed to finish the job.
Pakistan now tops the list of countries contributing troops to U.N. peacekeeping missions, the country's U.N. envoy said.
We zip along Charahe Searad Street downtown, stunned by the sight of a flashing red stoplight ahead of us. On a good day, Kabul has only limited electricity. At night, generators hum like cicadas. Yet somehow, in this sprawling, bombed-out city of 2 million people desperate for roads, schools, hospitals and housing, the local authorities found power for one stoplight.
Farooqi said his faction had cut all ties with Hizb-e Islami founder Hekmatyar, a former prime minister identified as a "terrorist" by Washington. He said the faction has had no contact with Hekmatyar for the last three years....
But given Hekmatyar's central role in Hizb-e Islami, analysts question the extent to which the faction's peace gesture represents the whole group -- or could influence its remaining members.
Pakistani Foreign Office spokesman Masood Khan on Wednesday rejected contentions by US Commander in Afghanistan Lt Gen David Barno to kill or capture foreign militants holed up near the Afghan border, saying Pakistan makes its own decisions....
“We cannot fire on our citizens and that is why an innovative mechanism has been used to resolve the issue,” Mr Khan said, adding that the ultimate objective was to flush out terrorists. “We are making progress in that direction."
Pakistan has protested to the United States against an incursion by US troops into Pakistani territory to hunt suspected Al Qaeda and Taliban militants.
Two thousand Marines have deployed to the area around Tirin Kot, 400 kilometres southwest of the capital, Kabul, in Uruzgan province, Mansager said. Uruzgan, the home province of fugitive Taliban supreme leader Mullah Omar and several of his key lieutenants, remains a stronghold of the ousted militia. Some observers believe the one-eyed Omar might still be in Uruzgan. Mansager said the marines were a "surge force," available to flood an area anywhere in the country at short notice.
The U-S military in Afghanistan says one American soldier was killed and 16 others injured in a truck accident. The military says their truck veered off the road and rolled over near Kabul -- the capital. A spokeswoman says there was no evidence that the truck had come under attack or had been sabotaged.
(Associated Press)
The Bush administration is to seek an extra $25bn from Congress to cover the escalating cost of keeping troops in Iraq and Afghanistan, breaking the White House's commitment not to ask for more funds this year.
Two British men, both employees of British security firm Global Risk Strategies, were killed on the job as they were assessing security in Nuristan in Afghanistan's north-east. The bodies of three men - the two Britons and their Afghan interpreter - were found by Afghan troops in the village of Mandol. With few details of the circumstances their death yet available, Afghanistan's interior ministry has blamed either the Taliban or the Hezb-e-islami Gulbuddin group, led by renegade militia leader Gulbiddn Hekmatyr.
Thousands of Afghani POWs brutally executed, CBC alleges US military complicity.
This CBC documentary on war-crimes committed against Afghani prisoners with the complicity of the US military is shocking. It alleges that thousands of Taliban POWs were murdered -- most by being locked in baking shipping containers in the middle of the desert, with the survivors brought to a remote place and executed with 30-50 US soldiers in attendance. The source -- the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation -- is hardly known for alarmism or irresponsible journalism. The UN has offered to investigate, but only if the safety of the investigators can be guaranteed, something that the US-allied Afghani warlord has refused to consider -- and since the making of the documentary, many of the sources have been tortured or disappeared. 52MB Quicktime Link

Tuesday, May 04, 2004

In an effort to keep the dust down, the engineers have brought in tons and tons of rock to cover the dry ground. It seems to work, but there is still a good amount of dust. The rocks, however, range in sizes from a marble to softballs which makes for difficulties in walking on them to say the least. To date we've had 4 casualties attributed to the rocks. A couple of badly sprained ankles, a broken thumb and a shattered elbow. Nevermind the threat the Taliban poses, the rocks have become my enemy.(from the weblog "Sgt. Hook")
Camp Salerno's dark quiet was punctured by a whoosh and a boom, followed by a siren's shrill wail. Soldiers grabbed helmets, donned night-vision goggles, and scrambled for the bunkered command center. As the first of three explosions rent the night, the base's Super Cobra helicopter gunships lifted off in search of the attackers.
The Special Forces team was inserted into the Pesch Valley in northeastern Afghanistan in December with only the vaguest of orders to carry out a complex mission: Develop an intelligence network, earn the trust of the locals, track down terrorists, and build an army of Afghan men who for decades have known nothing but war. The team's area of operations is a laboratory of the type of counterinsurgency that hasn't been tried since Vietnam, and U.S. News was granted rare access to its work. If the larger U.S. counterinsurgency strategy in Afghanistan is to bear fruit, it will depend in no small part on the quiet accumulation of victories in places like the hardscrabble Pesch Valley.
More than 1,000 internally displaced Afghans have returned to their home areas from south-eastern Khost province in a series of convoys organised by the UN refugee agency and its partners in a nationwide effort to boost stability in Afghanistan. Two separate convoys organised by UNHCR and the International Organization for Migration (IOM) in recent weeks have helped many homeless Afghan families to go back to seven central and northern Afghan provinces.
Darlene DuFour has been collecting soap to send to Afghan soldiers.
Though hampered by shortages of teaching materials, equipment, and even school buildings, Afghan elementary school teachers say they are dedicated to improving the education system in their homeland and sharing what they have learned in a five-week teacher training program in the United States.
Central Council of the National Union of Afghanistan Workers (CCNUAW) president Ehsas stressed in a speech delivered at a gathering that workers are the "spirit of the society".
He criticised transitional government policy for reliance on funds donated by the international community and said: "Non-government organisations receive 80 percent of the assistance and they have established their own government within the Afghan government. "Over 50,000 foreign specialists work here with high salary but Afghan workers look for a job on the streets," he added.
The Japanese government is considering dispatching Ground Self-Defense Force personnel as early as this summer to Afghanistan, where a U.S.-led force continues an antiterrorism campaign and works to preserve security in the nation, government sources said.
An inquiry into the deaths in 2002 of two Afghan prisoners at the main American base in Afghanistan has been going slowly, but already has prompted changes at the lockup, the U.S. military said Tuesday.
Heroin producers in Afghanistan, some of the principal financiers of al-Qaida and other terrorists, have never before been so brazen or so wealthy.
The Jihad leaders, Burhanuddin Rabbani, Abdul Rasool Sayyaf and Governor Heart, Ismali Khan have sharply reacted to the observations of a renowned Taliban commander, Mullah Dadullah that these leaders are the new allies of the Taliban against the foreigners based in Afghanistan. They said that Taliban are their enemies and that they have not taken any step to get closer to them.
Nek Mohammad, has since indicated that he will continue to wage a jihad, or holy war, against U.S. forces in Afghanistan. He also renewed his pledges of loyalty to Taliban supreme commander Mullah Mohammed Omar and scoffed at government efforts to rein in the militants.
"I told the army I would not fire on Afghanistan from Waziristan soil, but jihad is binding on every Muslim, and we will continue to help Afghanistan, " Mohammad told local journalists. "In the tribal tradition, surrender means you approach the rival group and meet them on their turf. In my case, I did not go to them, they came to me, so that makes it clear who surrendered to whom."
U.S. troops hunting Al Qaeda and Taliban militants crossed over from Afghanistan into Pakistan to search a Pashtun tribal village in a rare violation of the border, Pakistan's military spokesman said Tuesday.
The authorities in Afghanistan have started to move hundreds of suspected Taleban prisoners from a notorious jail in the north of the country to Kabul.
Lengthy conversations - both off and on the record - with big Taliban names give the feeling that the movement is on the rise.
The bullet-riddled bodies of 10 government soldiers were found in southern Afghanistan Tuesday, hours after they were abducted in two raids by suspected Taliban, Afghan officials said.
Karshi-Khanabad air base, known as K2, is 90 miles from the border and two hours' flying time from anywhere in Afghanistan. It's also the main hub for civilian contractors from Halliburton Co. subsidiary KBR to catch military flights into Afghanistan. Although the base is generally off-limits to journalists, the military recently allowed The Associated Press to visit.

Monday, May 03, 2004

People often tell Syed Abdul Rahim that he should stop working as a journalist in Afghanistan. With his language skills and education, he could easily find another job in which he would earn more money without confronting the dangers of working for the media. But the radio correspondent for Voice of America, who estimates his age at about 26, passionately wants to be a reporter and cites a series of stories he prepared on the registration of women voters for the country’s landmark democratic polls as an example of what news can do for war-torn Afghanistan.
Haji Ulfat Shah, 90, is the elder in one such house. He takes off his glasses and puts aside his Koran as he discusses the attitudes prevalent in the village with regard to women.
“There are girls in this village who are 28 and have never gone out of their houses,” he said...
For women such as these, life in Kabul is practicably unrecognizable.
Last week a workshop on combating child trafficking in Afghanistan was held in Kabul. A national antitrafficking action plan was discussed during the two-day workshop, which includes proposed antitrafficking legislation and raising citizen awareness about the problem.
In a move seen as a sign of the growing Taliban confidence, their top military commander Mulla Dadullah for the first time appeared on the Qatar-based Al Jazeera television channel on Wednesday and provided details about the Taliban-led anti-US resistance. Dadullah has given radio interviews in the past but it was the first time after the fall of the Taliban regime that one of their leading guerilla commanders agreed to be interviewed on camera.
Pentagon officials say they are not aware of an increase in the number of U.S. soldiers using illegal drugs, despite recent reports suggesting a growing problem, particularly among troops in Afghanistan.
Men captured in the final days of Afghanistan’s Taliban regime for fighting for the Islamic militia are on a hunger strike to protest their continued detention, officials said Sunday. The fighters, many of them young men taken from villages and forced to fight for the fundamentalist militia, are in prison in Sheberghan, 130 kilometres (80 miles) west of the main northern city of Mazar-I-Sharif.
Guided by U.S. Special Forces, Canadian engineers and infantrymen ventured far outside their operations area Sunday, exploring caves filled with ordnance and destroying more than 300 lethal projectiles. The Americans discovered the cache a month ago distributed among 30 caves deep in mountains west of Kabul, 27 kilometres beyond the zone traditionally patrolled by the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force.
Spain backed away Monday from public assertions that it would double its troop contingent in Afghanistan. "There is nothing decided," Foreign Minister Miguel Angel Moratinos said in a broadcast interview.
Four Afghan soldiers and two civilians were killed in two mine blasts in a troubled southern province where government soldiers were battling Taliban insurgents, officials said Monday....
Also on Sunday, Afghan security forces battled dozens of suspected Taliban fighters who had attacked a government office in Zabul's Mizan district, said Naimat Khan, a military official in Qalat.
Afghanistan has agreed to form a new national military force, separate to the war-shattered country’s fledgling army being trained by US soldiers, an official said on Moday.
Senior members of a mujahedeen party allied with Afghanistan's former Taliban rulers and opposed to the presence of American forces denounced violence at a news briefing here on Sunday and said they wanted to join the political process.
A 10-man delegation from the Islamic Party, or Hezb-i-Islami, once the largest of Afghanistan's seven mujahedeen parties but declared a terrorist organization by the United States, made the announcement after months of negotiations with President Hamid Karzai. The announcement is a major victory for Mr. Karzai, who has been trying to wean moderate members of the Taliban and the Islamic Party away from party leaders who advocate armed opposition to the government.
The Islamic Party's leader is Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, one of most wanted men by the United States-led forces here for terrorist attacks against troops.
The 10 men said that they represented the party's executive council but that they had no contact with Mr. Hekmatyar. They were led by Khaled Farooqi, head of the party in Paktika Province.
"Hezb-i-Islami wants to play an effective role in bringing about peace," Mr. Farooqi said in a prepared statement. The party's council denounced terrorism, violence and factionalism, and said it supported the creation of a national army and police force, and the holding of national elections. It also backed education for all Afghans and opposed the cultivation and trafficking of narcotics and weapons.
(New York Times)

The death toll from the accidental explosion of two fuel tankers in a bazaar in western Afghanistan rose to 50 Monday, after more victims succumbed to their injuries, an official said.
New Zealand SAS troops newly arrived in Afghanistan will take part in combat missions under the control of US forces, say documents leaked from Wellington defence headquarters. Their activities will include short-duration strikes and other small-scale offensive operations to seize, destroy, capture, recover or inflict damage on designated personnel or material. They will also engage in raids, ambushes, direct assaults, attacks from the air, ground or sea, guide "precision weaponry", and conduct independent sabotage and "anti-ship" operations. They will help US forces assess the capabilities, intentions and activities of enemies, secure data on particular areas and engage in post-strike reconnaissance.
A top U.S. commander expressed concern Monday about Pakistan’s counter-terrorism strategy near the Afghan border and said a “significant” number of foreign militants holed up there must be eliminated. “There are foreign fighters in those tribal areas who will have to be killed or captured,” said Lt. Gen. David Barno, the commander of American forces in Afghanistan.
General Barno, it seems, has taken a page from the playbook of Robert Thompson, who led Britain's successful counterinsurgency in Malaysia in the 1950s, then went on to advise American forces in Vietnam a decade later. Reduced to its simplest terms, the Thompson strategy is to deny insurgents, to the extent possible, the support of the population and the use of the territory. With the recent arrival of 2,000 marines from the 22nd Marine Expeditionary Unit, the number of U.S. forces in Afghanistan is now at a temporary high of 20,000, more than at any time since the post-9/11 invasion. An additional 2,000 troops from friendly countries and the increasing deployments of Afghan National Army and special forces units brings the number higher still, meaning not just more boots on the ground but more schmoozing with locals and, the expectation is, more actionable intelligence.
Many of those people who are not farmers have found quick money to be made in activities like kidnapping for ransom, carjacking and heroin trafficking, so much so that these businesses are the trademark of the Datakhail area of Shawal. To the authorities, the area is like a big black hole where things simply disappear without a trace. Children are also kidnapped, both male and female, and they are used for labor as well as sex. Recently, a new business has emerged - kidnapping government officials for ransom.
British officials and Afghan governors have agreed to the enforced destruction of 25,000 hectares (100 square miles) of opium poppy production in Afghanistan in the next few weeks to prevent a potentially record harvest.
Suspected Taliban killed eight Afghan soldiers, including a local commander, in two attacks in the country's lawless south, authorities said.
A Pakistani arrested in southern Afghanistan was part of a larger group of militants who have infiltrated the country to carry out suicide bombings, officials said on Sunday.
According to the US military, it launched the attack when one of its convoys was attacked south of Kabul. A US spokesman, Lieutenant Colonel Michael DeWerth, said two American soldiers had been injured in the attack.
"Four unidentified anti-coalition militia troops were killed, two [militants] were injured and were taken for medical care, and two [militants] were detained," Lt Col DeWerth said. He said the US had used air support to attack the militants, but provided no other details.
But Afghan officials disputed this version of events and said those killed had been Afghan police. The provincial police chief, General Haygul Salemankhel, told Associated Press the shooting had taken place because of a mix-up as the convoy approached a police checkpoint under cover of darkness.
Cofer Black, who now heads the State Department's counterterrorism efforts, says that Ayman Zawahiri is Al Qaeda's real leader. Osama Bin Laden, he says, is just a figurehead. While Zawahiri is operational, Bin Laden is defensive and in hiding.
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