Friday, June 11, 2004

Two suspects were detained in connection to the slaying of 11 Chinese workers in Afghanistan.
"Suddenly they were attacked with rocket-propelled grenades fired from a long distance," provincial police chief General Muhammad Rahim Alikhil told The Associated Press. Some of the dozens of Afghan and American troops guarding the convoy returned fire, and the assailants fled, Alikhil said. The vehicles were taking Paktika Governor Ghulab Mangal, UN officials, and American military officers on a mission to prepare for government administrators to return to the province, which is considered a stronghold of the ousted Taliban government. Several journalists, including a contingent from ABC News, were accompanying the convoy.
Under Afghanistan's electoral process, 120 days have to elapse between the certification of the constituencies and polling day. That work was only completed last week, which rules out the September date still being promoted by the authorities. According to Reg Austin, the chief technical adviser to the UN's joint electoral management body, the earliest possible date is early October. "We are not in September any more," he said. "The law is quite clear and that takes us inexorably into October." Even this date is by no means certain.
Military officials in Pakistan say thousands of troops are engaged in heavy fighting with suspected foreign militants for a third day in a tribal region bordering Afghanistan. Some 50 people have been killed in the fighting so far.
The clashes are taking place in the semi-autonomous tribal region, known as South Waziristan.
The Taliban has denied involvement in the slaying of 11 Chinese workers in northeast Afghanistan. The denial came as the bodies of the 11 reconstruction workers killed were transferred to Kabul ahead of repatriation to China and at least one man was arrested in relation to the savage attack. Afghanistan's Foreign Minister Abdullah Abdullah said the cold-blooded murders were carried out by terrorist elements. Four injured workers have been taken to the International Security Assistance Force hospital in Kabul. They were among 100 Chinese construction workers sprayed with machinegun fire as they slept in tents near a road in Kunduz province, about 250 kilometres north of Kabul on Thursday.
OxBlog's Afghanistan correspondent is back afield, and sends in a series of despatches:
We drove for the next several hours through the fertile provinces of Kunduz and Baghlan, following the main river valleys through a succession of bustling market towns. The steep row of hills separating the provinces was speckled with hundreds of wild pistachio trees. Mohibi explained that the hilltop trees were common property, and right now dozens of Afghan soldiers were up there protecting the unripe pistachios. In a few weeks, when the nuts ripened, the hills would be opened to all comers, to pick as many as they could carry away. One California consultant shook his head and commented on this highly unprofitable use of agricultural resources. Mohibi didn't hear him; he was explaining with enthusiasm that once, long ago, he had served in the Afghan army as a pistachio guard himself. Back then, before the Soviet invasion, that sort of thing was one of the army's primary functions....
The gorge is unbelievable -- a natural gap in the rock, barely wide enough for the road and a narrow river, with sheer cliffs shooting up hundreds of feet on either side. This natural gateway was hotly contested during the decades of war, and here for the first time I saw on the shoulder of the road the red-and-white-painted stones that indicate uncleared minefields (you're safe on the white side of the rocks, likely to lose a limb on the red side). Not thirty feet from the landmines, entrepreneurial Afghans have set up a half-dozen fruit stands catering to the travelers who stop to gawp at the gorge. We stopped, and gawped, and bought a lot of really tasty apricots.
(From "OxBlog"
scroll to entries at:
May31, 1:48 p.m.
June7, 5:42 a.m.
June9, 6:08 a.m.

Thursday, June 10, 2004

Amidst the accumulating trouble in Afghanistan, it may provide cold comfort to President Bush that his initial reluctance to engage in nation-building ventures abroad may have had some merit. Nation-building is shaping up to be an open-ended commitment not liable to be fitted into an election calendar.
Ahmed Rashid reports.
A US army officer has disclosed in Kabul that his forces arrested five fighters after an armed clashes with the fighters in Spin Boldak area. The spokesman of Kandahar governor, Khalid Pustoon has also disclosed about the start of extensive search and hunt operations of Taliban in Southern Afghanistan. He added that the security forces have started the operations against the Taliban in the three provinces Zabul, Kandahar and Uruzgan.
In a visit to the Chicago Board of Trade, Afghanistan's president talked up his country's business potential while conceding it will need foreign economic and military assistance for "many years from now."
A US convoy survived a roadside bomb blast in southeastern Afghanistan Thursday with no injuries, officials said. The explosion shattered the windows of a US-led coalition vehicle as the convoy patrolled in Bak district of Khost province, some 140 kilometers (87 miles) southeast of Kabul, provincial military commander Khial Baz Khan told AFP. 'There were three bombs, one went off but the two others were defused by the soldiers,' Khan said. The US military confirmed that one vehicle had been damaged by a mine in Khost.
'They were on patrol, there were no injuries,' spokesman Major Rick Peat told AFP.
A man claiming to be a spokesman for the ousted Taliban regime in the southeastern region has claimed responsibility for the attack. 'The blast destroyed the vehicle but we have no information on the casualties,' the spokesman, who calls himself Mullah Samad, said via satellite phone from the southeast.
Khost, a key province and city in southeastern Afghanistan and bordering Pakistan, has frequently been subject to attacks by suspected militants believed to be regrouping in the rugged border regions. The south and southeast of Afghanistan is the former stronghold of the Taliban and remnants of the regime and their Al-Qaeda allies are active in the region.
The Canada-based Institute for Media, Policy and Civil Society (IMPACS) has sent several trainers to Afghanistan to continue its media training efforts in the run-up to the September elections.
Denmark said Thursday it opened an investigation into claims by a translator for Danish and U.S. troops in Afghanistan that he witnessed incidents of torture and killing of prisoners in American custody two years ago. Denmark's military prosecutors will determine whether the claims can be substantiated, said Cmdr. Torben Martinsen, a spokesman for the Defense Command, the country's top military authority.
It is early morning and a man in his early thirties is beating a beautifully decorated drum in an open field in Wana, main town of Pakistan's South Waziristan tribal region.
He is playing the drum as loud as possible. The intention is to let people know proceedings have begun.
Soon men of all ages with guns hanging from their shoulders start gathering around him.
A few of the young lose control and start dancing to the drums.
The occasion looks festive, but it definitely is not.
This is the gathering of the traditional militia called the Lashkar, made up of volunteers in the rugged, semi-autonomous South Waziristan region.
The disbelief is all the greater given that Thursday's killings - of workers for a Chinese company rebuilding a road - and those of the medical aid workers happened in northern Afghanistan, previously considered much safer than the south and east, where an insurgency blamed on Taleban and al-Qaeda guerrillas is growing. The most immediate effect has been a stunned withdrawal of NGO activity.
Prodded by an impatient United States, Pakistani paramilitary troops have gone on the offensive in the hunt for foreign fighters in the tribal areas on the border with Afghanistan.
In fierce clashes in the Ghat Ghar area, about 20 miles west of Wana, the main town in the South Waziristan tribal area, Asia Times Online contacts report that 18 Pakistani security troops and eight insurgents were killed on Wednesday. Pakistani officials have acknowledged the death of 20 insurgents and one paramilitary soldier, according to Brigadier Mahmood Shah, chief of security for Pakistan's tribal regions.

More details.
AV-8B Harrier II attack jets from the 22nd Marine Expeditionary Unit (Special Operations Capable) recently conducted ground attack missions against anti-coalition militia in Afghanistan's Oruzgan province in support of the MEU's ground forces. Based out of Kandahar Air Field, the Harriers have seen extensive use flying escort and reconnaissance missions, but the missions beginning on June 2 marked their first true combat sorties since the MEU's arrival in Afghanistan in mid-April.
Nancy Hatch Dupree, who donated her Afghan historical photographic archive to Williams and who received an honorary degree at Sunday’s commencement exercises, is an internationally recognized expert on the history, art and archaeology of Afghanistan who has worked for more than 40 years to protect the country’s cultural heritage.
Dupree said the new military provincial reconstruction teams, which aim to “win the hearts and minds of the people by building schools, roads and wells,” are undercutting the efforts of non-governmental organizations (NGOs), which provide relief and humanitarian aid.
“The NGOs are working hard to get communities to take responsibility. They have to win peoples’ trust, get them to take responsibility for, say, labor for a well, then to designate someone to maintain it. The reconstruction teams will build the best damn well you can imagine,” she said, but these projects don’t enlist the involvement of local residents.
"I don’t think it’s going to work,” she said. “Just putting a school or clinic in the landscape is not the answer."
At least seven soldiers and three policemen were killed today when a Pakistani military convoy carrying a top general was ambushed in the southern city of Karachi, Agence France-Presse cited officials as saying.
Gunmen stormed a camp of sleeping Chinese road workers Thursday in northern Afghanistan, killing at least 11 workers and an Afghan guard in the deadliest attack on foreign civilians since the fall of the Taliban. The contractors were attacked at about 1 a.m. at their desert camp near Jalaw Gir in Kunduz province, 120 miles north of the capital, Kabul.
Taliban militants ambushed a convoy of U.S. Marines in the mountains of southern Afghanistan Tuesday, sparking a fierce battle that an Afghan official said left 21 rebels dead. The U.S. military said five Marines and two Afghans were wounded in the clash, which an Afghan governor placed in Daychopan district of Zabul province, some 190 miles southwest of Kabul.
Taliban have claimed to kill 14 American soldiers in a landmine explosion laid by them in Paktika province.
Talking to Radio Tehran Taliban Spokesman Latifullah Hakimi said that 14 US soldiers were killed when their vehicle hit a landmine in the province. The Afghan government and US officials have yet not commented in this regard.
Free Web-based phone calls, e-mail and video conferencing are coming to about 40,000 troops in Iraq and Afghanistan in the next two to three months.
Facing pressure to open its secretive jails to outside scrutiny, the U.S. military said Wednesday it will allow the International Committee of the Red Cross to visit a second holding facility in Afghanistan. The U.S.-led coalition has about 20 jails across the country, holding nearly 400 prisoners, but the Red Cross is currently only allowed to monitor conditions at the main one at coalition headquarters at Bagram Air Base, north of the capital Kabul.
Sometime during the fight, Viggiani was struck in the lower left leg by an enemy bullet fired by ACM fighters further up the valley that painfully sliced through his leg. Seemingly unmindful of the wound, Viggiani continued to engage the enemy with rifle fire until the area was cleared and a total of four dead and one wounded enemy fighters were found.
Mere minutes after the fighter, with typical Marine élan, Viggiani dismissed the wound that stained the front of his trouser leg a deep crimson.
"It stings a bit, but it's nothing," he said as he paused for a photograph in front of the cave he helped clear mere minutes after the fight.
Taliban have contradicted Pakistan government’s warning that they were plotting to blow up Western aid workers using suicide bombers in Balochistan.
Afghan Islamic Press reported the Taliban spokesman Mufti Latifullah Hakimi contacted via satellite phone from an undisclosed location in Afghanistan on Tuesday. It quoted Ishaqzai as saying, "The Taliban have no plan about any operation in Pakistan. If we want to launch suicide attacks, we will do it in Afghanistan, on American forces."
The government-run Afghan Refugees’ Organisation had identified a militant Maulvi Hashim Ishaqzai, suspecting him of links to al-Qaeda and warned that a group of Taliban he headed planned to target the UN refugee office and NGOs employing US or British nationals through suicide bomb attacks. The Taliban spokesman disowned Ishaqzai.

Washington Post
Letters to the Editor
Robert D. Novak's May 31 op-ed column, "Lost in Afghanistan," was wrong on several counts.
First, we applaud U.S. soldiers as they conduct operations against remnants of the terrorist groups in Afghanistan to make my country and our world safer. The coalition forces led by the United States are helping to provide a secure environment in which democracy can solidify in Afghanistan. To refer to an unnamed "discouraged and now discharged Special Forces officer" to suggest that these soldiers lack confidence in their generals and in the integrity and leadership of President Hamid Karzai is not only insulting to the committed U.S. forces but is also unfounded.
Second, Afghanistan has made significant progress in building democratic institutions and strengthening the rule of law. President Karzai was elected by the representatives of the Afghan people in the loya jirga last June. On Jan. 4 he signed into law our new constitution -- the most progressive charter in the region -- adopted by the representatives of the Afghan people.
Third, Afghans and our international partners are proud of the values and standards of honesty, commitment, dignity and modesty set by Mr. Karzai. He is the most visionary and honest leader ever to emerge in our part of the world.
Never before have Afghans been as hopeful about their future as now. About 2.5 million Afghan refugees have returned home. Thousands of internally displaced persons have gone back to their villages and begun normal life.
We experienced 30 percent economic growth last year, continuing at 20 percent this year.


Embassy of Afghanistan

Ronald Reagan's support for mujaheddin fighters helped oust the Soviet Union from Afghanistan in 1989, a defeat that ultimately contributed to the communist superpower's own collapse.
But should Reagan, who died last Saturday at 93, carry some of the blame for the rise of extremists headed by Osama bin Laden and the current instability in Afghanistan? Like so much about America's 40th president, that is a matter of debate.
Between 500 and 800 suspected Taliban fighters under the command of a notorious one-legged commander are engaged in bloody clashes with Afghan and US-led forces, officials said, as US marines fought and killed militants in the south. Intelligence and military officials told AFP that the insurgents are loyal to one of the ousted Taliban's leaders, Mullah Dadullah, a close lieutenant of the movement's fugitive founder, Mullah Mohammed Omar.
The U.S. military says troops have killed more than 20 militants in the past day of fighting in southern Afghanistan.
Army Master Sergeant Cindy Beam said another eight insurgents were captured in the U.S.-led operations yesterday.
An Afghan military commander in Kandahar Province, Khan Mohammad, said that around 70 militants have been killed since U.S.-led forces started their operations in Uruzgan Province and neighboring Zabul Province last week.
The fighting comes as Pakistani paramilitary troops are continuing to clash with fighters hiding near the Afghan border. Pakistani officials said some 20 suspected foreign militants were killed in the tribal region yesterday. Some militants taking refuge there are believed to have links to the Al-Qaeda terrorist network.
(Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty)

At least four fighters loyal to rival Afghan factions have been killed in a clash in northern Afghanistan, an Interior Ministry spokesperson said on Tuesday....
A British civilian military Provincial Reconstruction Team based in Mazar had helped stop the fighting, a resident of the city said.
They feel they cannot talk about it in public, but Afghans eager to set their country on an irreversible course to stability and democracy lament that neoconservative members of the Bush administration are insisting on the September date because they want President Bush to be able to cite a success in Afghanistan before Election Day in the United States.
Boston Globe editorial.
The Atlantic Monthly | June 2004
Al-Qaeda’s Understudy

Suicide terrorism has come to Pakistan, waged by one of the most vicious Islamist groups ever known.
by Nasra Hassan
The CH47D Chinook helicopter is a big, ugly, beautiful tandem-rotor aircraft that is undoubtedly the workhorse here in Afghanistan. Almost daily we get more mission requests than we have aircraft and crews available. With the rugged terrain of this place the way it is, a Chinook is sometimes the only way to get where you want to go. We don't complain because we came here to fly, and that is precisely what we're doing.
Not too long ago we had a mission to fly supplies out to some of the forward operating bases (FOB), a somewhat routine mission for us.
The jihadi leaders said they had decided to endorse Mr Karzai's candidacy in the interests of stability and national unity.
"Afghanistan is at a very sensitive, historic moment,'' Mr. Rabbani said. "We need security and trust in each other and national unity. If we do not think of these things, reconstruction will not go forward, and this attention of the international community is our only opportunity."
"We are not able to do our jobs. We are not even monitoring what is happening." The words of Riak Gok, a UN civil education officer in the southern Afghan city of Kandahar, are echoed around Afghanistan by aid workers grounded at headquarters in large cities as concerns grow about security for September elections.

Monday, June 07, 2004

Police defused a gift-wrapped book bomb sent to officials in eastern Afghanistan, a government spokesman said, days after a similar device fatally wounded a policeman and another bomb killed a city police chief. The latest device was delivered to the mayor's office in Chaparhar district of Nangarhar province, 120 kilometers (75 miles) east of the capital.
Seven strangers pulled into town a few weeks ago with a keen interest in a nearby Buddhist temple. They asked the local villagers why they wanted to work for pennies when they could make hundreds of dollars stealing Buddhas instead.
The villagers' response? On May 16, they called the cops and had the outsiders arrested. But by then it was too late. Heads and torsos, hands and feet were removed, leaving behind only the delicately formed draped clothing of a once-exquisite, now-defaced, Gandhara-style clay Buddha.
And this is where the mystery begins. The arrested men were carrying official permission letters from the Ministry of Culture. And through pressure from the Culture Minister himself, the men were released, never to be seen again.
International aid group Doctors Without Borders has said the activities of the U.S.-led coalition in Afghanistan are putting aid workers at risk. The director of the group's Dutch branch, Kenny Gluck, criticized the U.S. military today for distributing leaflets linking humanitarian aid with cooperation with coalition soldiers.
The governor of southern Uruzgan province escaped unhurt but his bodyguards were injured as his vehicle came under attack by suspected Taliban, Afghan Interior Ministry spokesman said Monday. "In a clean up operation launched by government troops in Uruzgan and surrounding areas Sunday three guards of the governor got wounded but the governor is safe and sound," Lutfullah Mashal told Xinhua. Earlier in the day Taliban's spokesman Mullah Abdul Hakim Latifi claimed that Uruzgan's governor Jan Mohammad Khan Tokhi along with his three bodyguards were killed in action in Dai Chopan district of Zabul province at 5 p.m. Sunday.
(Xinhua - China)

U.S. warplanes pounded dozens of insurgents hiding in caves in southern Afghanistan, the military said Monday, after a gunbattle between the militants and U.S. troops. An American soldier was killed when a bomb hit his patrol in a separate incident.
Meanwhile, Taliban militants killed two policemen south of the capital and threw a grenade at a relief group in the northwest, officials said, fresh signs that violence is spreading ahead of crucial national elections.
The soldier was killed and two others wounded by a bomb during a patrol in the violent southern province of Urzugan, the U.S. military said.
Last week, Karzai was badly stung by American columnist Robert Novak who described him as "hopelessly corrupt." In the interview he defended his personal honesty and said he had been frustrated in attempts to attack corruption, especially because Afghan public institutions are weak and the reach of the central government is extremely limited.
"I know there is serious corruption, but somehow I cannot grab it; it is a mirage," Karzai said. He said he intends to create a special corruption court, and he vowed to publicly denounce and prosecute any official found to be corrupt, no matter how highly placed.
As for himself, the president quoted a proverb in the Pashto language: "A person who is naked is not afraid of water." Even if senior officials were to be drenched by scandal, he added, "I would not get wet."
Pamela Constable reports.
People surf the Web at some two dozen Internet cafés. Pizza parlors and burger joints line Kabul's main drags. There's even a Thai restaurant, a big hit among the international community. "You need a reservation," said Lalita Thongngamkam, a Bangkok businesswoman who opened the Lai Thai restaurant last year and plans to inaugurate another next week. "We are full every night." There's also good news for thirsty foreigners: Kabul is no longer a dry city. Though the Muslim faith frowns upon alcohol, many Kabul restaurants discreetly serve beer.
British aid workers have taken shelter in a hotel in the Pakistani city of Quetta after authorities warned them that Taliban rebels were planning suicide attacks on their offices.
The men came at midnight, throwing stones and pounding on the front gate of Sahera Sharif's home. Then they left a warning: If Ms. Sharif didn't stop working as an election registrar for the United Nations, she would be killed. If intimidation was the goal, these men succeeded - temporarily. The next day, Sharif resigned her post. But instead of accepting the resignation, the UN and the state government offered Sharif and her family armed guards. Today, she and her husband and three children live under constant military protection.
Pakistani security forces arrested a Russian national suspected of links to al Qaeda in a tribal region bordering Afghanistan on Sunday, an intelligence official said. The 23-year-old Caucasian man, who told interrogators he came from a village near Moscow, was arrested at a military checkpoint outside the town of Miranshah, capital of North Waziristan tribal agnecy.
Ismail is only 10, but the horrors of his kidnapping ordeal will probably be with him to his grave. Rescued by Afghan authorities on Friday after three months in captivity along with his six-year-old brother Ibrahim, he quietly recounted seeing the bodies of four boys of about his age that had been cut open.
"They took us to a mountain where I saw the bodies of four dead boys," he told Reuters on Sunday at the intelligence headquarters of Kandahar, the main city in southern Afghanistan.
"They had taken out the organs from the bodies. They were on the ground at the bottom of this mountain, then the men took them away to bury them. They were boys of about our age. I thought I would not live long when I saw them. I was scared."
At Bagram Air Base, a Hawai'i state flag is on one wall of a "B-hut," a plywood living quarters. A poster of an O'ahu sunset is fixed to another wall. Twenty-four cans of Spam are neatly arranged in a cupboard, along with 18 cartons of Vienna sausages. They're happy to make rice for visitors.
A convoy carrying members of a U.N.-sponsored body working on Afghan presidential elections was attacked in southeastern Afghanistan Sunday but escaped unhurt. U.N. spokesman Manoel de Almeida e Silva said a U.N. convoy was attacked but none of the 15 international and local members of the commission traveling between the provinces of Khost and Paktia was hurt.
Afghanistan's ousted Islamic Taliban have threatened to kill an Afghan they accuse of spying for the United States, the group's spokesman said on Sunday. Taliban spokesman Mullah Abdul Latif Hakimi told Reuters by satellite telephone from an undisclosed location that the group has arrested an Afghan, Dost Mohammad, and seized communications equipment and other documents showing he was a spy.
Here's some good news: In Afghanistan, after two years of inadequate funding for reconstruction and a short-sighted military plan, there's finally a good plan and money for it.
Masror convinced me I would blend in better if I wore a traditional salwar kameez, the long shirt and baggy pants worn by most Pakistani men. He said I could pass for one of the light-skinned Pashtuns, or failing that, an Uzbek or Chechen tourist of some sort. I wear it, but my mannerisms and incomprehension of Urdu, Pashto, Dari, or anything else useful are a dead giveaway. Masror's Pashtun friend tells us the South Waziristan town of Wana stands for Women Are Not Allowed. He adds that Peshawar should be called Fana: Foreigners Are Not Allowed.
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