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Tuesday, August 03, 2004

Bush spoke in the Rose Garden on a day when U.S. and allied troops backed by warplanes and helicopters fought dozens of militants in Afghanistan, the biggest border clash along the mountainous Pakistani border in months. "The Taliban still roams in parts of the country, and we're working with the Afghan government to bring them to justice," Bush said. "These are similar to the killers in Iraq. They'll lurk in shadows and come out and kill indiscriminately."
Each major candidate named a multiethnic ticket, but the result is nonetheless an election with one major presidential candidate from each major ethnic group: Karzai, a Pashtun; Qanooni, a Tajik; General Abdul Rashid Dostum, an ethnic Uzbek and former communist militia leader; and Mohammad Mohaqiq, a Shiite religious leader and commander from the Hazara ethnic group.
It was a typical mission, but a dangerous one. As commander of special operations in Afghanistan, U.S. Army Col. Walter Herd this spring directed a small group of elite Special Forces and Afghan soldiers into a Hindu Kush mountain valley, where they were to root out a nest of al-Qaida terrorists.
Afghan troops backed by American warplanes killed as many as 70 militants in a daylong battle near the Pakistani border, in one of the bloodiest clashes since the fall of the Taliban, military officials said today.
Only two Afghan soldiers were reported dead in the fighting, indicating the militants vulnerability to American air power while raising fresh suspicions that they are using Pakistan as a base for operations.
An Afghan commander claimed government forces heard militant radio messages in Arabic and the Chechen language, suggesting Al Qaeda fighters were involved. “We could hear the enemy,” said Gen. Nawab, an Afghan commander who uses just one name. “I’m sure there were foreigners involved.”
The battle began at about 2 a.m. Monday, when dozens of militants armed with rockets, mortars and machine-guns hit a border post in Khost province, a former Al Qaeda stronghold about 190 kilometres south of the capital, Kabul.
The U.S. military said it sent a B-1 bomber, A-10 ground-attack aircraft and helicopter gunships and flew in Afghan reinforcements, eventually forcing the assailants to flee “in panic.”
American spokesperson Maj. Rick Peat said pilots flying over the area after dawn reported seeing 40 to 50 bodies on the battlefield near the mountainous Pakistani border. Several wrecked vehicles were also spotted.
Nawab put the rebel toll as high as 70, saying the militants had dragged away many dead and injured as they retreated into Pakistan. Afghan forces had recovered only ten dead bodies from the scene of the fighting, he said. The U.S. military said one of more than 100 Afghan soldiers involved in the fighting was killed and three others injured. However, another Afghan commander, Khial Baz, said two of his men were fatally wounded.
Peat said no U.S. ground troops were involved.
The death toll appeared among the heaviest since the aerial poundings of Taliban troops by U.S. planes before the hardline regime folded in late 2001, and confirms a surge in violence in the run-up to October presidential elections. Assaults led by U.S. marines in a Taliban stronghold in southern Afghanistan in May and June killed more than 100 militants, commanders have said, but it was unclear how many had fallen in a single engagement.
“The coalition and Afghan security forces continue to reap outstanding results” against militants, a U.S. statement said, ``refusing to allow them to gather enough strength to affect progress toward a democratic government in Afghanistan.”
Khost borders Pakistan’s Waziristan tribal area, where officials in Islamabad say hundreds of foreign fighters have found refuge among sympathetic Pashtun tribesmen, the same ethnic group from which the Taliban draws its main strength.
Pakistani troops have mounted a string of operations in an attempt to crush the militants, sparking battles that have left scores of dead this year. American officials said recently they had no firm fix on the whereabouts of Al Qaeda leaders Osama bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahri, who could also have found refuge in the area.
Peat said it was unclear if the attack in Khost was a response to that increased pressure, which has won praise from American commanders, or to a spate of high-profile arrests of suspected Al Qaeda members in Pakistan.
(Associated Press)


The Canadian army is storing some unused equipment in Afghanistan rather than move it home in case the federal government decides to extend or alter its peacemaking mission in the war-ravaged country.
The United States Tuesday urged its citizens to evaluate security risks before traveling to the Central Asian republic of Uzbekistan. The State Department warning also advises Americans to take similar precautions while traveling to other areas in the Central Asian region. On July 30, three suicide bombs rocked the Uzbek capital, Tashkent, one hitting the U.S. Embassy.
Two soldiers were driving near the Helmand provincial capital of Lashkar Gah late on Sunday in a car being used to register voters in the area, said Haji Mohammad Wali, spokesman for the Helmand governor. "Two Taliban armed with AK-47s and riding a motorcycle attacked them and one Afghan soldier was killed," he said. The gunmen escaped.
Two people were wounded on Monday when unidentified attackers fired rockets into a paramilitary fort in Pakistan's tribal homelands, where government forces are hunting al Qaeda-linked militants. One trooper was seriously wounded and a student slightly hurt, hospital sources said, when one of four rockets exploded near an office building inside the fort at Razak, on the border between North and South Waziristan.
The Taliban on Thursday claimed to have shot down a US military helicopter in Zabul province. Quoting Taliban commander in Zabul, Mulla Abdul Qahhar, spokesman Mufti Latifullah Hakimi said that the helicopter was downed in the Khak-e-Afghan district while it was flying over Khak-e-Afghan and Dai Chopan districts. He claimed an unspecified number of people on board were killed. The US military in Bagram denied the Taliban claims.
About 90 percent of the Afghan electorate has registered to vote in October's landmark presidential election, the United Nations said Sunday, as it began winding down a registration effort marred by bloody attacks on election staff and voters. According to the latest U.N. figures, 8.7 million of an estimated 9.8 million eligible voters have collected ID cards that will allow them to cast a ballot when polling begins Oct. 9 in Afghanistan's first-ever direct national vote.
The Commander of US Central Command, General John P. Abizaid visited Pakistan-Afghanistan border at Torkham checkpoint on Saturday amid tight security arrangements. Army soldiers were deployed on the whole route of the Centcom chief. An ISPR official said that the Centcom chief, who arrived in Islamabad on Friday, visited Michni checkpoint and Khyber Rifles Mess at Torkham. Officials said that the visiting US army official held talks with Inspector-General of the Frontier Corps, Maj-Gen Hamid Khan, and other senior officials. "It was a routine visit," an ISPR spokesman said and declined to give further details of the visit.
(Dawn-Pakistan)
A Taliban campaign to derail a voter registration drive for the Afghan presidential election in October has largely failed, with roughly 8 million of 10 million eligible voters defying Taliban death threats and registering. Taliban attacks appear to have virtually no effect on Afghanistan's main cities, where foreign reconstruction money, remittances from Afghans living abroad and the opium trade are fueling a construction boom. But the Taliban appear to be hampering the flow of aid in rural areas, particularly in remote regions in the south.
Two child kidnappers suspected of removing captives' body parts for sale had been arrested in southern Afghanistan and could face the death penalty, a local official said yesterday. The men were arrested in Spin Boldak, which is on the border with Pakistan, and a child was recovered, said the town's security chief General Fateh Khan.
A local Afghan official and one of his guards were killed on Saturday when suspected Taliban gunmen opened fire in the southern province of Helmand, the provincial governor said. Two other guards were wounded in an attack by around 10 suspected militants in the remote district of Khanneshin, which lies 110 km (70 miles) north of the Pakistani border.
The United States has warned its citizens against travelling to Afghanistan, citing threats to kidnap and assassinate them in the insurgency-ridden nation. The warning also affects American non-governmental organization workers, and comes two days after prominent aid agency Doctors Without Borders announced its pullout from Afghanistan.
According to a report of Radio Mashed on Friday a Taliban commander Maulvi Abdul Sammad revealed that seven Pakistanis and one Afghan truck driver had been captured while travelling on Spin Boldak-Kandahar highway. Taliban commander threatened that they will kill these hostages if Pakistan and Afghan government will not stop cooperation with US led coalition in Afghanistan.
One-hundred-and-fifty Belgian paratroopers are set to head to Afghanistan to join NATO’s International Security Assistance Force (ISAF)...A military spokesman said they would form part of a Norwegian-led battle group, along with Hungarian soldiers. The unit will be sent to the western district of the Afghan capital – a more dangerous posting than that of the existing Belgian force, which is stationed at Kabul airport. Another 30-strong platoon is being sent to the airport to guard ISAF’s fuel depot. That will make Belgium the fifth biggest contributor to the ISAF force, which totals 6,500 soldiers.
Three US soldiers and two soldiers from the fledgling Afghan army were injured in a skirmish with local militia in central Afghanistan in the latest bout of pre-election violence, the US military said. "Rogue elements of the 41st Afghan militia force division attacked an Afghan National Army convoy at approximately 2:30pm (2000 AEST) yesterday," US spokesman Major Rick Peat told AFP in a written statement.
In November 2001, near the northern Afghan city of Kunduz, a major battle was raging between the Northern Alliance forces of Rashid Dostum and the suddenly vulnerable Taliban. Following the battle, thousands of the latter surrendered, "under assurances that they would not be harmed." However, due to a complex series of events, this was not to be. Now, up to 3,000 murdered Taliban prisoners lie in an unmarked mass grave in a lonely stretch of Afghan desert, according to Afghan Massacre: The Convoy of Death, a compelling new documentary from veteran BBC journalist and filmmaker Jamie Doran.
A British parliamentary committee has warned that Afghanistan is likely to "implode, with terrible consequences" unless more troops and resources are sent to calm the country.
Combining a soldier's focus with a diplomat's finesse, Barno has, over the last nine months, molded a new, holistic approach to Afghanistan aimed at strengthening the central government against challenges from warlords and insurgents alike. In essence, he's turned a faltering, combat-centric US military strategy on its head - and taken on a role beyond the usual scope of a US military commander.
As Afghanistan's post-war politics begin to take shape, various foreign powers are vying to place their own interests at the top of Kabul's agenda. Among these is Iran, Afghanistan's neighbor to the west and host to at least 1.5 million Afghan refugees. When it comes to making its voice heard in Afghan political circles, Iran has long had some advantages.
An ammunition depot blew up near the Afghan capital after it was hit by a rocket.
After the Indian government slapped a ban on recruitments to Iraq in the wake of the recent kidnapping of three Indians, hundreds of Mumbaikars have been flocking city-based recruitment agencies every day to find jobs in Afghanistan, which has been struggling to rebuild itself after US-led forces ousted Taliban rulers two years ago... The recruitment process is for support staff for the US armed forces — cooks, captains, assistant cooks, waiters and pastry chefs.
Unidentified militants threw two bombs at a radio station near the Afghan border, forcing it to go off the air, reports said Tuesday. Pakistani newspapers reported the station was established in the South Waziristan tribal territory with U.S. assistance. It started broadcasting six-hour long daily transmissions last week, urging local tribesmen not to support the Taliban and al-Qaida terrorists.
A breathtaking sweep against al-Qaida's vast web of operatives widened Tuesday, with Pakistan announcing the arrests of two "high-level" al-Qaida terrorists, including one with a multimillion dollar U.S. bounty on his head.
The campaign headquarters of Afghanistan's only female candidate for president are a borrowed flat pocked with bullet holes in a run-down suburb of Kabul built by the Russians. She has no money for campaigning and almost no coverage on television stations and in newspapers owned by rivals. Islamic fundamentalists hate her, and instead of a political party to support her she has a rag-tag bunch of enthusiastic students from Kabul University. But none of this dismays Massouda Jalal. "I can win on 9 October because I am a woman, and in Afghanistan it is only women who have no blood on their hands," she said.
Decades of conflict and years of drought have taken an uncommon toll on the mental health of Afghans, even by comparison with other communities traumatised by war and violence, according to two studies released Tuesday. Researchers said that the problem is worse than in war-wracked regions such as Kosovo, with one of the studies suggesting that two-thirds of Afghans suffer from depression, anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder.
A Western law-enforcement official in Kabul who is tracking Khan says agents in Pakistan and Afghanistan, after a tip-off in May, turned up evidence that Khan is employing a fleet of cargo ships to move Afghan heroin out of the Pakistani port of Karachi. The official says at least three vessels on return trips from the Middle East took arms like plastic explosives and antitank mines, which were secretly unloaded in Karachi and shipped overland to al-Qaeda and Taliban fighters. Khan is now a marked man. "He's obviously very tightly tied to the Taliban," says Robert Charles, U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for International Narcotics and Law Enforcement. Mirwais Yasini, head of the Afghan government's Counter-Narcotics Directorate, says, "There are central linkages among Khan, Mullah Omar and bin Laden."
Pakistan's Prime Minister-designate, Shaukat Aziz, has survived a suicide car bomb attack which killed seven people including his driver and the attacker. Thirty more people were injured in the attack.
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