Thursday, July 29, 2004

Posting will resume on Tuesday.
Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) - International
Website: http://www.msf.org
Kabul, July 28 - With a deep feeling of sadness and anger Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) announces today the closure of all medical programs in Afghanistan. MSF is taking this decision in the aftermath of the killing of five MSF aid workers in a deliberate attack on June 2nd, when a clearly marked MSF vehicle was ambushed in the northerwestern province of Badghis. Five of our colleagues were mercilessly shot in the attack. This targeted killing of five of its aid workers is unprecedented in the history of MSF, which has been delivering medical humanitarian assistance in some of the most violent conflicts around the world over the last 30 years.
Although government officials have presented MSF with credible evidence that local commanders conducted the attack., they have neither detained nor publicly called for their arrest. The lack of government response to the killings represents a failure of responsibility and an inadequate commitment to the safety of aid workers on its soil.
In addition, following the assassinations, a Taliban spokesperson claimed responsibility for the murders and stated later that organisations like MSF work for American interests, are therefore targets and would be at risk of further attacks. This false accusation is particularly unjustified as MSF honours the separation of aid from political motives as a founding principle. The sole aim of the organisation is to provide assistance to populations in distress in the name of medical ethics and solely based on their needs. This threat undeniably constitutes a refusal by the Taliban to accept independent and impartial humanitarian action.
Over the last 24 years, MSF has continued to provide health care throughout difficult periods of Afghanistan’s history, regardless of the political party or military group in power. “After having worked nearly without interruption alongside the most vulnerable Afghan people since 1980, it is with outrage and bitterness that we take the decision to abandon them. But we simply cannot sacrifice the security of our volunteers while warring parties seek to target and kill humanitarian workers. Ultimately it is the sick and destitute that suffer.” said Marine Buissonnière, Secretary General of Médecins Sans Frontières.
The violence directed against humanitarian aid workers has come in a context in which the US backed coalition has consistently sought to use humanitarian aid to build support for its military and political ambitions. MSF denounces the coalition’s attempts to co-opt humanitarian aid and use it to “win hearts and minds”. By doing so, providing aid is no longer seen as an impartial and neutral act, endangering the lives of humanitarian volunteers and jeopardizing the aid to people in need. Only recently, on May 12th 2004, MSF publicly condemned the distribution of leaflets by the coalition forces in southern Afghanistan in which the population was informed that providing information about the Taliban and al Qaeda was necessary if they wanted the delivery of aid to continue.
Humanitarian assistance is only possible when armed actors respect the safety of humanitarian workers, more than 30 of whom have been killed in Afghanistan since the beginning of 2003. The killing of our colleagues, the government’s failure to arrest the culprits and the false allegations by the Taliban has regrettably made it impossible for MSF to continue providing assistance to the Afghan people.
Until the assassinations, MSF provided health care in 13 provinces with 80 international volunteers and 1,400 Afghan staff. Our projects included the provision of basic and hospital level health care as well as tuberculosis treatment and programs to reduce maternal mortality. In the coming weeks, MSF will complete the hand over of its programmes to the Ministry of Health and other organizations. As MSF leaves Afghanistan, we mourn the loss of our five colleagues. At the same time MSF takes this decision with great sadness for the people we will fail to assist.

Thursday July 29, 2004
The coalition regrets Doctors Without Borders' (Médecins Sans Frontières) decision to stop helping the people of Afghanistan and we hope they will reconsider. We strongly reject any allegation that our actions have made it more dangerous for humanitarian workers to assist the people of Afghanistan.
Doctors without Borders is an outstanding organisation. It worked in Afghanistan throughout the Russian occupation and civil war between mujahedeen commanders which followed and continued to deliver healthcare under the hard-line Taliban regime. We find it unfortunate they now feel it is "impossible" to continue their work here.
The attack on the Doctors Without Borders, and other terrorist and criminal attacks on innocent Afghans and aid workers is deplorable and we condemn the perpetrators of these acts. The coalition is in Afghanistan to assist the government of Afghanistan in rebuilding its security sector. You cannot provide security in a vacuum. Security in Afghanistan is a partnership amongst the Coalition, ISAF, the Afghan National Army, the Afghan National Police, and local and tribal elders. Partnering with other organizations and local leaders, and just being a good neighbour to the Afghan people, is essential in successfully executing the security mission. We are glad to help our 'neighbours' in any way we can. Further, some NGOs won't work in parts of Afghanistan. The coalition and ISAF are sometimes the only organisations that can feasibly provide assistance in areas the NGOs don't or can't serve.
Major Rick Peat
Deputy Public Affairs Officer
Combined Forces Command - Afghanistan
Commander, 105th Mobile Public Affairs Detachment
Kansas Army National Guard

(The Guardian-UK)

Tuesday, July 27, 2004

The US ambassador to Kabul warned on Tuesday of tension between Afghan President Hamid Karzai and ethnic minority factions in his government who say they will challenge the frontrunner in October elections. He referred to “hurt feelings”, “injured pride” and a “decrease in trust” among members of the Northern Alliance movement, possibly caused by Karzai’s decision to exclude key alliance figures from his list of running mates. Any tensions would underline the on-again off-again rivalry between Karzai, his US backers and reformers from his largest Pashtun ethnic group on the one hand and minority Tajik, Uzbek and Hazara leaders who oppose many of his policies on the other.
Canadian troops were dispatched to investigate two explosions less than five kilometres southeast of their main army base in Afghanistan (news - web sites)'s capital late Tuesday. The explosions occurred inside an Afghan Military Force compound, said a spokesman for the 3rd Battalion, Royal 22nd Regiment Battle Group. It was not immediately known whether anyone was hurt in the blasts, the second of which sent a shower of sparks high into the sky and rumbled across the sprawling Canadian base, which now also houses U.S. and European troops.
A rocket hit the road in front of the Chinese Embassy at around midnight on Tuesday in Kabul amid political tensions and tightened security in the Afghan capital since transitional president Hamid Karzai Monday dropped a major warlord as his running mate for the Oct. 9 election. "It happened at about 11:50 when a huge explosion shook the windows of the embassy building," Guo Hui, the secretary of Chinese ambassador said. No one was injured in the blast.
An earthquake in eastern Afghanistan killed two people, injured 40 and destroyed hundreds of homes, the United Nations said Sunday. Earthquakes are frequent in Afghanistan, particularly in remote mountainous areas, and news from affected regions can take days to reach the capital. The quake hit Paktia province on July 18, U.N. spokesman Manoel de Almeida e Silva said. Three villages were particularly hard hit. Relief agencies were supplying tents to homeless families and coordinated other aid with the United Nations, local officials and U.S. troops based in the area, Almeida e Silva said.
"Sometimes I pray that someone does shoot at me so that I feel I am doing a job here," said Sgt. Steven Prease, 25, of Buchanan. "I don't just want to sit here. I could be at home with my wife instead of sitting here." Yesterday, when the alarm sounded, the soldiers scrambled out of their tents, weapons in their hands. They sprinted for the concrete bunkers and burrowed themselves inside. It was 90 degrees out and sunny. A few minutes in the bunker felt like hours. "OK, this ain't no fun anymore," said Army Sgt. Mike Walker, 27, of Madison Heights.
Militants linked to Al Qaeda killed two Pakistani paramilitary soldiers in a remote tribal region close to the Afghan border, officials said on Monday. An official in the Orakzai tribal agency, around 90 km (50 miles) south of the border city of Peshawar, said one of the suspected attackers had been caught, but his foreign accomplice was still hiding.
The Hazaras have a great stake in seeing that the Taliban does not return to power. When the extremist Islamic movement controlled Afghanistan in the 1990s, its fighters killed hundreds — by some estimates thousands — of Hazaras in an effort to break the back of resistance to Taliban rule. Now, the Hazaras' efforts to maintain the peace before the election have helped make Bamian one of the safest areas of the country. On a recent day, university students played volleyball against the backdrop of the ruins of the Bamian Buddhas, destroyed by the Taliban in 2001. Forty miles to the south, U.S.-led troops were hunting for Taliban and Al Qaeda supporters hiding in a network of caves. The Hazaras, descendants of the Mongols who invaded Afghanistan with Genghis Khan, have refused to allow the violence that is rampant in other parts of the country to ruin their chance to participate in the landmark election.
Four al Qaeda militants, who surrendered along with their family members at Pakistan's Gujarat town, were suspected to be close associates of Taliban Chief Mullah Omar. Police yesterday raided a house in Gujarat town after a tip off that some foreigners resided there. The four men of Kenyan, Sudan, South African and Pakistani origin surrendered along with three women and six children. One of the surrendered woman was an Afghan. The arrested were suspected key Al Qaeda activists and some of the close associates of Mullah Omar, media reports here said today.
Taliban commanders are awash with cash and spending millions of dollars every month on attacks aimed at disrupting preparations for October's presidential elections in Afghanistan. Commanders of the ousted regime are said to have millions of dollars, donated by al-Qaeda and other Islamic militants, to pay for raids by gunmen based in Pakistan. Documents seized from one Taliban leader arrested this month indicated that he had distributed $A2.6 million to his fighters and arms suppliers in June alone. Mullah Sakhi Dad Mujahid led Taliban militiamen in southern and western Afghanistan, with up to 2000 men on his payroll. "It shows the large sums of money the Taliban receive from their sponsors, which include al-Qaeda," said General Bismillah Khan, the Afghan army's chief of staff. The money comes not only from Osama bin Laden's network, but Islamist groups in Pakistan that have long backed the Taliban, and from the opium trade.
A wing of a four-story hospital being rebuilt in the Afghan capital collapsed today, injuring at least 14 people, and rescue workers hurried to reach others feared trapped in the rubble. Witnesses and police said a 120-foot section of the concrete structure, which had been stripped bare and enclosed with scaffolding, crumbled without warning. There was no sign of any explosion.
The soldiers were traveling in an armored Humvee some 35 miles east of Qalat, the capital of troubled Zabul province, when it was damaged by a homemade bomb, said U.S. spokesman Maj. Rick Peat. Peat said the three and their Afghan interpreter suffered burns and their injuries were not critical. “They should be fine,” he said.
"We were notified yesterday (Monday) that our son had been injured," Cindy Mapson said, a catch in her voice. "There are conflicting stories about the extent of his injuries. We know that the burns are just on his hands and face, because everything else was covered." According to the AP story, Maj. Rick Peat said the three soldiers and their interpreter all suffered burns, but their injuries were not critical. "They should be fine," he is quoted as saying. The American Red Cross is working to keep the Mapsons informed of their son's condition and whereabouts, but where he will be sent for treatment of his burns is unknown.
Timber smugglers fought a gun battle with Afghan troops in the mountains of eastern Afghanistan, leaving five people dead, a senior official said Saturday. The clash occurred Friday as the troops moved into remote valley of Kunar province near to the Pakistani border to combat smuggling, said Gov. Sayed Fazel Akbar. "They spotted the smugglers and wanted to stop them," Akbar said. "Suddenly they opened fire on the soldiers." Akbar said four soldiers were killed and others injured and captured, though he wasn't sure how many. One smuggler also was killed and another arrested, he said while talking to AP. Local tribal elders were mediating in negotiations for the captured troops' release, he said. It was unclear how many smugglers battled the troops, which included a unit of 150 set up by the government to counter the smugglers as well as local militiamen. The governor said witnesses suggested that Pakistani border troops had also joined in, firing heavy weapons at his men. "We think they are working together."
(Pakistan Tribune)

Top military leaders in Afghanistan are hailing a Marine offensive deep inside southern Afghanistan’s Uruzgan Province as the most successful operation here since the 2001 invasion...“You’re the best this place has ever seen,” Army Maj. Gen. Eric Olson, the top field commander in Afghanistan, told a gathering Marines at Kandahar Airfield this weekend. The Marines' offensive, he said, put the Taliban on the run in their own back yard. “Never again can they use that place as a sanctuary,” said Olson. “You proved to the world the United States of America is going to take this fight to the most dangerous part of Afghanistan unafraid and absolutely determined."
KEESLER AIR FORCE BASE, Miss. -- Thanks to Airmen here, cargo earmarked for needy families is on its way to Afghanistan aboard an Air Force Reserve C-130 Hercules.
The United States military has launched an investigation into a wayward aerial attack last week that wounded eight Afghan soldiers in central Afghanistan, a spokesman said. "We are currently investigating to determine how the event occurred," Jon Siepmann, spokesman for the US military in Afghanistan, told a regular news briefing.
A remote-controlled bomb exploded near a vehicle carrying the newly appointed chief of police for Afghanistan’s southern Kandahar province, damaging his car but nobody was injured, a senior police official said. Khan Mohammed, a former provincial army commander who was appointed on Sunday as the police chief in Kandahar, was going to his office when the bomb went off on a road.
Insurgents mounted two attacks on coalition vehicles Tuesday in southeastern Afghanistan, leaving four militants dead and wounding two soldiers from American-led forces, the military said. Suspected Taliban also killed two Afghans because they had registered to vote in upcoming elections, police said. In one incident, up to 20 gunmen attacked two vehicles with machine-guns and rocket-propelled grenades 35 miles northwest of Qalat, capital of Zabul province. Four militants were reported killed, and another four were detained, an American military statement said. The vehicles were damaged but none of the soldiers were hurt, it said. The two injured soldiers were hit by their own vehicle after their convoy was attacked by small-arms fire and rocket-propelled grenades 50 miles north of Qalat. It wasn't clear exactly what caused the vehicle to strike the soldiers. The two were flown to the U.S. base in Kandahar for treatment. They were listed in stable condition.
Officially announcing his candidacy in the country's first democratic election, President Hamid Karzai dropped one of his vice presidents from his ticket, raising fears in the capital that the spurned faction leader might react violently. NATO's international peacekeeping force in Kabul was on heightened alert and conducting additional patrols through the city after First Vice President Mohammed Fahim, who is defense minister and commands a factional militia from northern Afghanistan's Panjshir Valley, was left off Karzai's slate. "This is a sensitive time in the Afghan political process," said Cmdr. Chris Henderson of Canada, spokesman for the International Security Assistance Force. Henderson and the spokesman for U.S. forces in Kabul said they had not noticed any unusual Afghan military or militia activity but would remain vigilant.
Militants in Pakistan's troubled tribal belt sabotaged a radio transmission tower, forcing a pro-government radio station off the airwaves, officials said on Tuesday. The state-run Pashto language radio station began broadcasting just a week ago as part of a government campaign to win over disaffected Pashtun tribals in the South Waziristan tribal agency.
Afghanistan will have 23 candidates contesting its presidential election in October, including the incumbent President Hamid Karzai.
But the fate of the Buddhas may lie with a veteran Bavarian art restorer with a walrus moustache who has spent a lifetime in German castles and cathedrals. Edmund Melzl has been sent out by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (Unesco) for the summer to sort through the rubble piles to evaluate whether they contain the raw material to rebuild. Mr Melzl knows what a minefield he is in - literally. Clearance experts check for landmines in the rubble.
The opium harvest in Afghanistan this year will be one of the biggest on record, the Foreign Office said yesterday, and it has triggered a flood of heroin on Britain's streets.
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