Saturday, June 05, 2004

U.S. troops backed by warplanes have battled guerilla fighters in southwestern Afghanistan. There are no confirmed reports of casualties. A U.S. military spokesman in Kabul says U.S. forces engaged a "fairly substantial number" of rebel fighters 330 kilometers southwest of the capital city.
Lieutenant Colonel Tucker Mansager said there has been an increase recently in violent encounters between coalition forces and rebel fighters. He said the increase is partly because coalition forces have stepped-up offensive operations against insurgents in the southwest of the country.
In the same region earlier this week, U.S. forces killed 17 suspected Taleban fighters in the deadliest clashes in almost a year.

Afghan President Hamid Karzai, facing autumn elections, plans to cut the size of his fractious cabinet to 20 from 29 as part of his first major reform drive since taking office late in 2001, an official said on Saturday. But the plan needs the approval of the cabinet, some of whose members are drawn from armed factions that have defied Karzai's orders in the past.
Mr. Wilder said the commanders have become bolder in recent months. "In the first six months after November, 2001, the warlords wouldn't have thumbed their noses," he said. "But now they know the United States has problems in Iraq and feel they don't have to listen." The program has also had trouble finding jobs for soldiers who know little other than warfare and are illiterate or too ill-disciplined to join the Afghan National Army.
In what officials have described as the bloodiest fighting in Afghanistan since last fall, elements of the 22nd Marine Expeditionary Unit (Special Operations Capable) participated in two days of pitched firefights with anti-coalition militia (ACM) forces in south-central Afghanistan June 2-3.
The two days of fighting began when Marine attack helicopters were fired upon with rocket-propelled grenades and machineguns as they scouted ahead of a heavily-armed convoy from Battalion Landing Team 1st Bn., 6th Marines, the MEU's ground combat element.
Several soldiers, serving in Afghanistan, got up close and personal with country superstar Toby Keith and rocker Ted Nugent.
Keith and Nugent spent the night in Kabul entertaining soldiers from the 45th Infantry Brigade, which is based in Oklahoma City. The pair greeted the men and women, signed autographs and of course sang. The 45th Infantry is part of the Coalition Task Force Phoenix, responsible for training the Afghan National Army.
(KOTV - Tulsa)
U.S. and Afghan government forces killed 17 Taliban guerrillas in clashes in a restive southern region, U.S. and Afghan officials said Friday. Three U.S. soldiers and some Afghan government fighters were wounded in the clashes, part of a joint U.S. and Afghan operation backed by U.S. air strikes in the Miya Neshin district of Kandahar province Thursday, they said.
"Coalition forces are reporting that three U.S. soldiers received minor wounds in this contact and returned to duty. We have also confirmed 17 enemy KIAs (killed in actions)," the U.S. military said in an e-mail response to Reuters questions.
Taliban officials could not immediately be reached for comment.

Pakistani authorities have warned western aid groups and the United Nations refugee agency to strengthen security against threats of Taliban attacks, officials said Saturday. The warning was directed to offices in southwestern Baluchistan province.
In a rare news conference in his heavily guarded palace, Karzai appeared impatient with critics and stung by recent reports in the American news media suggesting that he was corrupt. He said he was "really pained, really hurt" by the reports and vowed, "My honesty will be proven once I leave office."

Thursday, June 03, 2004

Two rockets were heard whooshing over Camp Tillman near Lwara in the Afghan province of Paktika before dawn. They landed on a hillside causing loud explosions and shaking the ground, but caused no casualties, U.S. military officials said.
Afghan soldiers immediately returned fire with mortars and heavy machineguns but apparently inflicted no casualties on the attackers, they said. U.S. and Afghan forces then pursued a red pickup truck thought to have fired the rockets until it crossed the border into Pakistan, when they were forced to abandon the chase.
A suspected al Qaeda militant was killed in an explosion which also wounded three paramilitary troops at a checkpost in Pakistan's tribal west Thursday, local officials said.
One of the injured militiamen told reporters in hospital that suspected militants traveling in a vehicle were stopped at a paramilitary checkpost in the North Waziristan tribal agency.
Two men came out of the vehicle and one threw a grenade at the militiamen, warning them not to approach, he said. When one of the soldiers tried to move forward, there was another explosion that immediately killed one of the suspects and seriously wounded the three militiamen.
Up to half of Afghanistan is now off limits to international assistance missions, aid workers say. The United States, leading 20,000 troops in the fight against the insurgents, says it is winning the war on terror, but the reality on the ground suggests it is not.
"The situation is getting dangerous," warned General Khan Mohammad, a top Afghan military officer who oversees four of the worst-affected provinces in the troubled south. "The Taliban are becoming more confident," he told Reuters at his headquarters in the city of Kandahar.
Khan should know. He oversees not only Kandahar province, where the Taliban movement first appeared, but also Helmand, Uruzgan and Zabul, all zones off limits to most international organisations and racked by bloody insurgency.
Khost is a province in mid-storm -- an isolated, deeply traditional area that has undergone a rapid but superficial transformation. Until 2001, it was a stronghold of the Taliban and home to several of the movement's senior commanders. Even today residents regularly visit a cemetery for Arabs and other foreign allies of the Taliban who were killed by U.S. bombs. Hundreds of scarves have been strung over the tombs by Muslims seeking blessings from these people, who are viewed as Islamic martyrs.
Yet Khost city, the provincial capital, is also home to a year-old university full of progressive students and professors who have brought new ideas from Kabul or from their lives as exiles abroad. Provincial officials, named by the U.S.-backed government of President Hamid Karzai, are more in tune with its reformist agenda than cities in other border regions where regional militia leaders defy central authority.
Pamela Constable reports.
U.S. special forces skirmished with "anti-coalition militia" Monday near Shinkay, in Zabul province, some 330 kilometers (200 miles) southwest of the capital, Kabul, military spokesman Lt. Col. Tucker Mansager said.
He told reporters there were "a number of casualties" on the militant side, but the U.S. forces suffered none.
He provided no further details of the skirmish, but an Afghan official told The Associated Press on Monday that U.S. troops killed six Taliban fighters in the area after cornering them in an orchard.
Zabul, a lawless and impoverished province on the Pakistani border, is emerging as a key test of the American military's ability to defeat insurgents with a combination of force and reconstruction aid.
Shinkay district borders that of Sorie, where a mine exploded under an American Humvee on Saturday, killing four U.S. special forces operatives. Mansager said there were no indications that the militants killed Monday were linked to the blast.
(Pakistan Tribune)

Russian border guards have been protecting the Tajik-Afghan border since 1993, the peak year of the civil war in Tajikistan when the southern borders of the CIS were crossed by criminals of all stripe, from terrorists to drug couriers. In May 2003, the agreement on the deployment of the Russian border troops in Tajikistan expired. Dushanbe officials repeatedly said that the national border should be protected by Tajik troops. Two years ago, the Tajik border Protection Committee started protecting the Murgab part of the border - 500km, with the overall length of the border being 1,344km. Since the bulk of drugs come to Russia via Tajikistan and the creation of temporary checkpoints and reinforcement of control on the long Russia-Kazakhstan border calls for colossal spending, it would be in Moscow's interests to keep Russian border guards in Tajikistan, the first filter along the northern route of Afghan drugs, for as long as possible.
NATO will miss the June 28-29 summit deadline it set for an expansion of its peacekeeping force in Afghanistan because allies have not offered sufficient specialist forces and equipment, diplomats said today. The failure would be a blow to the US-led alliance's credibility and leave little time to widen the net of security in Afghanistan before September's elections.
An Afghan reporter held incommunicado for more than a month after entering Pakistan’s border tribal belt was freed yesterday, officials said. Sami Yousafzai, a regular contributor to the US magazine Newsweek, was arrested in the semi-autonomous tribal region on April 21 along with American journalist Eliza Griswold.
"Another allegation of detainee abuse was brought to the notice of coalition leaders on Thursday," said Maj. Rick Peat, a spokesman for the Combined Forces Command in Afghanistan.
"Upon notification, coalition forces launched an immediate investigation into this matter," he said, adding coalition forces are committed to ensuring that all detainees are treated humanely and consistent with international law.
Poor coordination among U.S. aid agencies and continued violence have slowed down efforts to rebuild war-ravaged Afghanistan, a federal study concludes.
Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai insisted Thursday that security is not a problem in Afghanistan despite the killing a day before of three foreign aid workers, the deadliest such assault since the Taliban was ousted in late 2001.
Despite almost daily attacks by militants, Karzai claimed that Afghanistan was the safest country in the region and that poverty — not security — was higher in ordinary Afghans’ minds ahead of September elections that the insurgency is widely seen as trying to derail.
"This is a very, very sad incident. We’re very sorry about this and we hope to find the culprits," Karzai told reporters ahead of his departure for the United States and talks with President Bush. ‘‘I think we are quite all right with security,’’ Karzai said. "We have incidents, sure, we must reduce them. But this is not an alarming thing>"
The sight of acres of blossoming red and white poppies attests to the scope of the problem. Farmers in Nangarhar say that a fixed fee of $100 per acre can convince local officials to overlook their poppy fields. While some fields are destroyed, officials often allow others to remain untouched for eight days -- time enough for the resin used in opium processing to be squeezed from serrated, ripe poppy buds.
"We only have to pay the right price and we can go on with our business," said Abdullah, a teenaged field worker. "All of [the officials] are taking bribes. They know we’d do anything to save the crop. It’s the whole village’s livelihood which is at stake."
Troops stationed at the main Canadian army camp in Afghanistan went on hard rations for three days Thursday, with the emphasis on "hard." Soldiers from Canada, the United States and several other countries staying at Camp Julien were treated to grilled steak and oven-roasted potatoes Wednesday night: the last fresh food they'll see for more than 72 hours. Camp kitchens were closed for cleaning and boxes of the Individual Meal Packages, or IMPs, whose expiry date is fast-approaching, were stacked alongside portable kitchens where chefs did little more than throw them in boiling water and serve them up.
U.S. and Afghan troops backed by American warplanes fought Taliban militants in the mountains of southern Afghanistan, killing 13 insurgents and arresting eight, an Afghan official said Thursday. Two U.S. troops and one Afghan soldier were wounded in the fighting in Miana Shien district of Kandahar province, 150 miles southwest of Kabul, said Khalid Pashtun, spokesman for the provincial government.
U.S. military officials in Kabul could not immediately be reached for comment.
A bomb disguised as a gift for an Afghan police chief exploded at his headquarters in the eastern province of Nangharhar on Thursday, injuring at least seven members of his staff.
From now on, all Army units tapped to serve in Iraq or Afghanistan will be placed under stop-loss and stop-move restrictions that prevent soldiers from switching assignments or voluntarily leaving the service, according to an order signed June 1.
Members of Congress have told Bush administration officials more resources should be devoted to U.S. military forces fighting terrorists in Afghanistan. The comments came during a hearing of the House of Representatives International Relations Committee looking at progress in helping Afghanistan make the transition to democracy....
Wednesday's hearing took place against the backdrop of recent media reports saying morale among U.S. troops in Afghanistan is low because of a perception U.S. efforts there and resources committed, are taking a back seat to those in Iraq.
The Senate and a House committee voted Wednesday to give President Bush the $25 billion he wants for U.S. military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan later this year, but denied him the free hand he sought to control the money.
The government has fired the police chief of Pakistan's largest city, Karachi, and promised more personnel changes after three days of unrest that left at least 26 people dead. But confusion deepened over who was behind the violence.
Consummated soon after September 11, 2001, the marriage of convenience between the United States and Pakistan in the "war on terror" helped turn Pakistani President General Pervez Musharraf from a local commando into an international statesman. But being "a trusted US ally" has become synonymous with "playing with fire", and Musharraf now faces a stark choice: risk setting the country's tribal belt aflame, or watch the key commercial port city of Karachi burn.
U.S.-led forces in Afghanistan had Osama bin Laden "within reach" on at least two occasions, but were unable to prevent him slipping away, France's top general said Wednesday.
Unidentified gunmen killed three Afghan refugees thought to be supporters of the Taliban in the southwestern Pakistani city of Quetta on Wednesday, police said. The Afghans were attacked while they were driving in a car over a bridge in the city. One Afghan was wounded. The motive for the attack was not immediately known.
Bulgaria expects NATO to cover part of the financing for the additional troops that it will contribute to the operation in Afghanistan. The country needs between BGN 50-60 M for the preparation and equipment of the soldiers in Afghanistan. Bulgaria is preparing to send 200 more soldiers on a mission in Afghanistan. A 55-strong Bulgarian unit is currently deployed in the Asian country.
(Sofia News Agency)

Pakistan's forgotten al-Qaeda nuclear link.
Afghan photo essays.
It troubles O'Neill that his son's sacrifice, and those of other soldiers in the treacherous mountain terrain of Afghanistan, might have escaped the notice of much of a public transfixed on the raging conflict in Iraq.
"Not to downgrade Iraq," he said. Indeed, O'Neill, a decorated Vietnam War veteran, said he agreed with the decision to invade the country and topple Saddam Hussein. "But I want people in this country to realize that the initial get-go, prior to Iraq, was Afghanistan. And it had to do with the people that attacked our country: al Qaeda, the Taliban. . . . The ongoing conflict is being overshadowed by Iraq. It shouldn't be that way."
Kansas elections officials hope a new program will make it easier for National Guardsmen serving overseas to vote this year. Dubbed "Operation Vote," the program is aimed at getting ballots into the hands of members of the Guard who are deployed worldwide and returning them to Kansas in time to be counted in the August and November elections.
Thirteen Taliban fighters were killed in a two-day anti-Taliban operation involving U.S. troops in Kandahar Province in southwestern Afghanistan, Afghan Islamic Press reported Thursday.
The Pakistan-based news agency quoted Khalid Pushtoon, a spokesman for the Kandahar governor, as saying that Afghan and U.S. troops faced resistance from Taliban fighters at Parviz and Karbeghu in the New Mesh district of Kandahar.
(Kyodo News - Japan)

One Utah soldier stationed in Afghanistan had the chance to watch his daughter graduate from high school today! Seargent first class Steve Mckinnon watched the entire ceremony via internet.
Nobel Peace Prize-winning relief agency Medecins Sans Frontieres halted its Afghan operations after five of its staff perished in the deadliest attack on foreign aid workers since the fall of the Taliban. The assault in northwestern Badghis province raised fears that insurgents already choking development work in the south and east of the impoverished country are now trying to stop the flow in the north.

Wednesday, June 02, 2004

FORWARD OPERATING BASE RIPLEY -- In a land where water is nearly as valuable as gold, Marines from the 22d Marine Expeditionary Unit (Special Operations Capable) are making themselves rich.
Hygiene equipment operators with MEU Service Support Group 22, operate two reverse osmosis water purification units (ROWPU) to replenish the thousands of gallons used daily by the MEU as it conducts combat and civil-military operations in central Afghanistan.
Afghanistan's general and presidential elections scheduled for September will prompt increased attacks by Taliban and al-Qaeda fighters, Reuters reported, citing U.S. military commander Lieutenant General David Barno.
It was an Afghan police raid, Canadian-style, beginning with a polite knock on the door and ending with an invitation for tea at 3 a.m. It was part of a massive sweep by more than 300 Canadian troops and dozens of Kabul City Police overnight Tuesday night aimed at disrupting criminal activity in the Afghan capital.
Congressman Bob Ney led a delegation of two Republican and two Democratic members of Congress that included Joe Wilson, R-S.C., Sheila Jackson Lee, D-Texas, and Paul Kanjorski, D-Pa to Afghanistan. The Congressional mission was not announced ahead of time for security reasons, Ney said. He noted that insurgent fighters in Afghanistan would be highly motivated to take a Congressional delegation hostage, so no advance public word of the trip was given.

Tuesday, June 01, 2004

Nato formally took command of Kabul's military airport yesterday when Germany ended more than two years in charge by handing over control to Icelandic troops. A lifeline for the Nato-led International Security Assistance Force, the military component of Kabul international airport will now be managed by soldiers from some 24 nations under the command of the Icelandic personnel. Nato commands more than 6,400 peacekeepers stationed mainly in Kabul but also in the northern city of Kunduz and is under pressure to extend the force around the country ahead of elections slated for September.

Bulgaria is preparing to send 200 more soldiers on a mission in Afghanistan. A 55-strong Bulgarian unit is currently deployed in the Asian country. Training the additional force starts after NATO Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer called on Bulgaria to join the reconstruction teams in Afghanistan as NATO expands its participation in the country and regions and provinces outside Kabul and Kunduz. But it would take up to half a year to prepare for the new deployment, Bulgaria's Army Chief Gen. Nikola Kolev said.
(Sofia Morning News)

But while continuing to carry out raids, the Taliban appear unable to carry out large-scale attacks in Afghanistan, and an expected Talib spring offensive has so far not proved overwhelming. Their biggest successes have been against poorly armed police officers and unarmed aid workers, a tactic that has slowed reconstruction in the country's south and east.
These caches have ranged from a few land mines to large stockpiles of explosives and rocket-propelled grenades. Destroying such deadly instruments requires a great deal more finesse than simply stacking up the arms and ammunition, throwing on some explosives, and lighting a fuse.
"We normally look for a wadi, draw or ravine," explained one Marine EOD technician who stood watching his partner carefully arrange hand grenades and rifle and machine gun ammunition for eventual disposal. "This way we can channel, or direct, the explosion and limit frag and blast."
The job of rebuilding and safeguarding Afghanistan may be off the front pages, but men and women from New Zealand's Defence Force are playing an important role in a difficult, war-battered country. Hank Schouten reports.
The deaths of an Afghan man and two of his children have marked the first official fatalities from the AIDS virus in deeply conservative Afghanistan, a health ministry officials said.
Afghan officials say the Jalalabad police chief was killed today when a bomb planted under his office chair exploded. Officials in Afghanistan's eastern Nangarhar Province said the bomb exploded as soon as Haji Ajab Shah sat in his chair. The explosion also wounded two government officials who were in the police headquarters. Officials launched an investigation, but have made no arrests. The Nangarhar provincial capital of Jalalabad, located 130 kilometers east of Kabul, has been hit by a series of blasts targeting government offices and Western aid agencies.

U.S.-led troops killed six members of Afghanistan's ousted Taliban regime in a raid on Tuesday in the southern province of Zabul, a provincial military official said. The six Taliban were killed in a surprise attack by U.S.-led soldiers in the Sori district of Zabul province, division commander Nimatullah Tokhi told Reuters from Qalat, the provincial capital.
It's a tourist guide that's not just for tourists. Sure, the Essential Field Guide to Afghanistan can point you to the best pizza in Kabul. It also describes the blue glassware sold in the bazaars of Herat and tells you where to find a bed in Kandahar or nonstop Hindi movies in Mazar-e-Sharif. But the bulk of Edward Girardet and Jonathan Walter's guide relates to more life-and-death matters, and it is an essential traveling companion for humanitarian-aid workers, diplomats, peacekeeping troops, journalists and others bound for Afghanistan. Although populated by plenty of hospitable folk, Afghanistan is also lawless and dangerous. One of the most heavily mined countries in the world, it is not a place in which to wander alone, especially at night. If you are traveling there, Girardet and Walter and their contributors are the people to guide you. And if you're not, an armchair journey yields an intriguing look at a mosaic of cultures and a harsh history that is still being shaped today.
(Time Magazine 5/31)
The world could soon catch a glimpse of Afghanistan's fabled Bactrian gold, as preparations get under way to exhibit some of the 20,000 or so pieces that make up the country's most important ancient treasure trove.
Congressman Henry Hyde Schedules Wednesday Hearing on U.S. Policy in Afghanistan; Focus on Security, Human Rights, Narcotics Trade and Elections.
Canada has been cool to a U.S. suggestion that Canadian troops due to leave Afghanistan in August stay on an extra month to help with election security.
The handful of valiant American warriors fighting the ''other'' war in Afghanistan is not a happy band of brothers. They are undermanned and feel neglected, lack confidence in their generals and are disgusted by Afghan political leadership. Most important, they are appalled by the immense but fruitless effort to find Osama bin Laden for purposes of U.S. politics. This bleak picture goes unreported because journalists are rarely seen there.
Robert Novak column.
FORT RILEY, Kan. — Colonel McClure, now an Army chaplain, is here to warn the hundreds of soldiers before him who had returned five days earlier from Iraq, their uniforms still mildewed from the months away, that whatever they think right now, coming home may not be as easy as it seems. After the first embraces with cameras clicking, the homecoming parties, life may get complicated in unimagined ways.
Over the past few weeks, President Hamid Karzai - lauded by the US government as a defender of democracy - has held a series of meetings with top military commanders famous for their defeat of Soviet forces and for running a murderous four-year government after that. Presidential spokesmen call the talks an effort at ensuring a stable election process, free of intimidation. Critics - and even the commanders themselves - say the talks were about something else, a deal to promise key cabinet posts to warlords in exchange for their support of President Karzai's candidacy.

Sunday, May 30, 2004

The killers then fled into the darkness, leaving two CHA workers and a policeman dead. Over the following week, furious local authorities mounted an operation to track down the Taliban fighters in the region about 60km southwest of Kandahar. What they found revealed the connection between Afghanistan's billion-dollar drug trade and the Taliban fighters and terrorists.
The Afghan Government is in secret talks with senior Taliban figures to let them back into office only 2½ years after the US-led military campaign to remove them from power. Mullah Wakil Ahmed Muttawakil, the former Taliban foreign minister, and his predecessor Mullah Ghous are among several top Taliban officials staying in government "safe houses" in Kabul during the negotiations. "We want everyone to come back and learn from their mistakes," said Arif Noorzai, Minister for Frontier and Tribal Affairs.
The US troops in an operation conducted Saturday in southeast Afghanistan killed a young boy and detained another one, a Kabul-based newspaper reported Sunday.
"US troops in a house-to-house search conducted around the Khost airstrip Saturday night killed a youth and took into custodyanother one," daily newspaper Erada reported.
Erada is a popular independent daily newspaper that was launched in 2002 in the wake of the collapse of the fundamentalistTaliban regime. The detainee was a seminarian, or a religious student, the daily said. (Xinhua China)

Troops blocked roads to Wana, the district headquarters of the South Waziristan tribal area, where U.S. and Pakistani officials believe scores of terror suspects are hiding....
Sharpshooters were deployed on rooftops, the local bazaar was closed and shops were sealed. Heavily armed soldiers in armored cars patrolled the area.
Taliban guerrillas riding a fleet of vehicles shot at a government office in southern Afghanistan killing four Afghan soldiers and losing one of their own, an official said today...
The suspected Taliban swept into Musa Qala, a market town 150 miles southwest of the capital, Kabul, late on Saturday, opening fire on the government office with assault rifles and heavy machine-guns, said mayor Mullah Amir Aghunzada.
Four of the 30 soldiers defending the compound were killed and eight others wounded, Aghunzada said. One Taliban fighter was also killed and four captured, three of them wounded.
The official said about 100 Afghan troops rushed from the provincial capital Lashkargah and began combing the area for the attackers today. “There is some support for them in this area,” Aghunzada said. “They live up in the mountains and come down at night.” (The Scotsman UK)

Gunmen killed a senior pro-Taliban cleric on Sunday, sparking riots across this southern Pakistani city (Karachi) by thousands of his Sunni Muslim supporters who ransacked shops, banks and a police station.
The 14-year-old boy knelt on the rocky ground in these arid mountains near the Pakistan border, arms folded on his chest.
Spread out before him was a small arsenal: a rocket-propelled grenade launcher, a mortar, two assault rifles, a Soviet-era rocket, three sacks containing more than 50 pounds of explosives, a machine gun with more than 1,000 rounds of ammunition.
The boy's name was Manan. Standing over him, forcing him to remain on his knees, was U.S. Army 1st Lt. Ed Arntson, who had watched through his binoculars as Manan and several younger boys ran between a mud-brick house and the surrounding hills, hiding the weapons.
IF AMERICA loses sight of Afghanistan because of the mess in Iraq, it would be one of the most unfortunate casualties of that unfortunate war. Afghanistan -- starved of attention and of funds because of President Bush's determination to unseat Saddam Hussein -- teeters today on the brink.
Baltimore Sun editorial.
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