Saturday, September 04, 2004

When the big moment came, 2-year-old Campton hid behind his mother's legs. His father, dressed in desert fatigues as he entered the Portland International Jetport lobby, was finally home after a year's absence, including a 10-month stint in Afghanistan. Within a few minutes, though, the boy overcame his shyness and climbed into his father's arms.
Only tumbleweed is missing from Shindand, an abandoned Soviet-era military base far inside the deserts of western Afghanistan. Rusting tanks and pillaged jet fighters are scattered across the vast compound, bleaching under the baking sun. Inside one of the deserted offices, an Afghan general and his American counterpart sat eating grapes. They exuded an air of quiet triumph. "The situation around here is improving day by day," said General Aminullah Ptyani, reaching for the fruit bowl. "The time for war is over." Beside him, Lieutenant Colonel Mike Dunn, a US "mentor", nodded in agreement.
A group of four Pakistani timber merchants, belonging to Mamund area of the Bajaur Agency, went to Asadabad, the capital of Kunar province, for a deal with Afghan traders a few days ago. They completed the deal with Afghans and were returning from Asadabad on Friday. But when they reached near Pakistan-Afghan border in Chenar Shagai area inside Afghanistan, some unidentified Afghans ambushed their vehicle...
It is pertinent to mention here that some 40 days ago, Salarzai tribesmen of Bajaur Agency exchanged gunfire with Afghan troops of Kunar province over the issue of timber tax collection from Pakistani timber merchants, in which eight persons were killed. The Salarzai tribesmen had also kidnapped eight Afghan soldiers and released them after an assurance from the Kunar provincial authorities that they would not raise the tax issue again.
Afghan law enforcing agencies with the support of the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) impounded two vehicles packed with ammunitions and foiled terror activities in the war-torn capital, ISAF's spokesman said Saturday. "The National Directorate for Security (NDS) on Tuesday afternoon discovered a busload of weapons near the Olympic Stadium and the owner-occupant of the bus was arrested," Ken Mackillop told journalists here.
"In another operation, ISAF EDO teams were also alerted to a truckload of rockets and other munitions entering the city and subsequently seized them. In total, 67 RPGs, 50 rocket mortars, 42hand grenades, 29 mortar rounds and an RPG were taken under ISAF control," he further noted.

The 82nd Airborne Division will start preparing this fall for a yearlong mission in which up to 2,800 soldiers could serve in Afghanistan, the division commander says. An official order has not been received for a brigade combat team to deploy overseas, but preparations will begin anyway November 1.
A leading human rights group in Afghanistan said on Saturday it suspected a renegade commander was behind the beheading and skinning of fighters loyal to Ismail Khan, governor of the western province of Herat.
The Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission (AIHRC) also said that it had found that forces loyal to commander Amanullah Khan had intimidated some women and committed robbery during an attack on the governor's forces in August. Amanullah's forces submitted to a U.S.-brokered cease-fire after sweeping into several governmental areas including the Shindand airbase south of Herat city. "More than four people, supporters of Ismail Khan, were beheaded and one person was skinned," Aman Nader Nadery, an AIHRC spokesman, told Reuters. "Among them was the garrison commander of Shindand. There is a strong possibility that Amanullah Khan was behind this," he said, adding that some bodies had been dumped into a well.
Amanullah, who has agreed to obey a summons to Kabul by President Hamid Karzai, was not immediately available for comment.
The US army has charged a military police sergeant with assault and dereliction of duty in connection with the deaths of two Afghan prisoners. Sergeant James Boland was a guard at the Bagram air base north of Kabul where the two Afghans died.
The U.S. military said its forces killed more than 20 Islamic fighters on Tuesday in eastern Afghanistan but denied reports it had killed up to eight villagers in the same operation.
Local police and aid workers said that between six and eight villagers were killed and nine wounded by U.S. bombing in Weradesh, in Konar province's Manogi district. They said several houses were also destroyed. But Maj. Scott Nelson, a U.S. military spokesman in the capital, Kabul, said: "We didn't fire on these people."
He said the U.S.-led forces saw a "precision-guided bomb" strike its target, which he described as a vehicle with a weapons system, probably a mortar, mounted on it. The bomb killed more than 20 combatants, Nelson added. Forces belonging to the Taliban and their ally, renegade commander Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, are active in the area some 125 miles east of Kabul in a mountainous region close to the border with Pakistan. Local police and aid workers gave a grim account of casualties among the villagers.
"As a result of the bombing by American planes, six civilians have lost their lives, nine more have been injured and eight houses have been demolished," said Mohammad Arif Nizami, Konar's deputy police chief, speaking from Asadabad, the provincial capital. Nizami said the bombing occurred at about 2 a.m. An Afghan who worked in the village for a foreign relief agency was also reported wounded.
"According to the information from our local staff, eight villagers were killed in the bombing. One of our Afghan staff was wounded, too, but I was told he is in a stable condition," said Gorm Pederson, of the Danish Committee for Aid to Afghan Refugees. Nelson said casualties among the villagers were more likely caused by inaccurate rocket and mortar fire from Islamic fighters. U.S.-led forces along with Afghan troops engaged the militants after one of their installations came under attack. Nelson said ground forces moved through the village after the bombing and cornered one fighter who blew himself up with a grenade, wounding seven children. A U.S. military statement said one child was badly hurt but the rest were in stable condition.
(Washington Post)

Meanwhile, Kabul braced itself for possible further strikes with two security alerts in the Wazir Akbar Khan embassy district Tuesday morning. The street, which passes by the US-led Coalition’s Kabul Compound and many major European embassies, was blocked for a car-bomb alert around 11:00 am (0630 GMT) but a NATO-led ordnance team established that it was just a stalled vehicle.
“It’s all over. It was just a vehicle that was broken down,” said US military spokesman Major Rick Peat. Just over an hour later, a truck was stopped on the same road outside the German embassy suspected of carrying explosives. Four dogs reacted to the vehicle at the gates of the embassy, peacekeeping soldiers said police at the site. NATO-led explosives teams were still investigating the truck to see whether it contained a bomb, he said.
Taffie Hicks twiddled a tiny plastic American flag, glanced at her silver-and-gold watch every few minutes and looked fervently out the front windows of Southern Hills Baptist Church. After 10 months in Afghanistan -- 10 months of constant worrying -- Maj. Joe Bob Hicks was returning to his family in Shawnee. "I think about him all the time,'' Taffie Hicks said. ''I worry about him all the time. "Hicks and about 150 other members of the 45th Infantry Brigade of the Oklahoma National Guard arrived at Fort Carson, Colo., on Sunday night but had to wait until Thursday afternoon to come back to Oklahoma.
Four rockets landed near a US base in an eastern Afghan city, killing one civilian and wounding three others, the American military said today. The rockets hit outside the base in Jalalabad, 125km east of the capital, Kabul, yesterday morning, US spokesman Major Scott Nelson said.
At least one man was killed and four wounded on Friday when a bomb exploded in the southern Afghan city of Kandahar, in the latest attack by Taliban fighters intent on derailing a landmark election next month. U.S. forces hunting Taliban and al Qaeda have a large base at Kandahar's airport, but the explosion happened in a crowded central part of the city, which was once a Taliban stronghold. "We will carry out more such attacks to disrupt the election," said Taliban spokesman Abdul Lateef Hakimi.
Former Taliban commander shot dead in Peshawar?
A suspected Al Qaeda operative who was captured along with another man during raids on Sunday is an “explosives expert” who had arrived from Iran, said a security official on Thursday. The suspects, an Egyptian named Sharif al Misri and a man of Middle Eastern origin identified as Abdul Hakeem, were caught by Pakistani intelligence acting on a tip. An intelligence official, who did not want to be identified, said al Misri had arrived in Pakistan from Iran. He had originally lived in Afghanistan and had fled to Iran after the US-led coalition ousted the Taliban in late 2001.
Taliban has announced to close roads for oil and food supply to US forces in Afghanistan and warned that people extending any help in transportation of food and oil, would be assassinated. Geo TV channel on Thursday got a videotape of Taliban Jamiat Jaishul Muslimin, which showed film different Taliban activities in Afghanistan areas. The tape further showed setting six trucks on fire, which were used for oil and food transportation for US troops by blocking Kandhar-Span Boldak Road. The message added anyone found helping US troops or working for US troops would be killed.
(Geo TV)
A probe into a bomb blast that killed nine children and an adult at an Afghan school has focused on a mullah who taught in the same building, a local official and sources close to the investigation said on Thursday. The Taliban, Afghanistan's ousted hardline Islamist rulers, are active in the district of Zormat in the southeast province of Paktia, where the school was located, but a Taliban spokesman has denied any involvement in last Saturday's attack.
CBS News Correspondent Lara Logan has been traveling with U.S. Special Operations soldiers fighting in Afghanistan. Below is her eyewitness account of the death of a top Taliban commander...
Roze Khan. His name means nothing to most Americans who have never heard it mentioned. But thousands of miles away from the United States, in the dry south of Afghanistan, it is a name that resonated across dirty brown mountains and remote, dusty villages, sometimes in fear, sometimes in awe.
And when he was killed by U.S. Special Operations forces last week, it was news that spread like wildfire, across the mountains and arid plains and over the Afghan border into Pakistan where it was surely greeted with dismay among the communities of Taliban members and supporters who continue to base themselves in that country’s semi-autonomous tribal areas.
“He was like 'Billy the Kid' in these parts,” one American soldier told me, “We’ve been after him for more than two years and he’s escaped twice before so this feels really good.”
(Interesting details in story)
Taliban-ally Gulbuddin Hekmatyar urged Afghans to boycott next month's presidential elections, saying the candidates were representatives of the United States and its ally Britain. "Boycott the Afghan elections because the candidates are representatives of (U.S. President George W.) Bush and (British Prime Ministe Tony) Blair," the renegade warlord said in an audio tape aired by Arabic Al Jazeera television on Wednesday. His comments were translated into Arabic from Dari.
"Your country is again under foreign occupation... Do not accept anything but expelling the occupier and establishing God's law in your country and ending the reign of this agent government in Afghanistan," he added. Hekmatyar, a former prime minister, is allied to the Taliban militia which has vowed to rid Afghanistan of forces allied to the United States and topple the Western-backed government of President Hamid Karzai.
As Afghans head to the polls next month for the first direct presidential election in their history, the guessing game has already begun across the region: How long before the impatient Americans declare democracy in Afghanistan and go home? And how can neighbors with age-old security, economic, ethnic and religious interests in Afghanistan prepare for when that time comes? In this sense, the current campaign for president is as much a regional as a national contest. In Afghanistan, all politics are ethnic, and political candidates, like provincial warlords (often one and the same), are proxies for neighbors and foreign powers waging historic competitions for influence.
Afghanistan's war-scarred capital was declared free of heavy weapons Wednesday, a key step in efforts to bolster security before critical national elections. U.S., NATO and Afghan officials feted the commanders of the last unit to pull its big guns out of the city - and urged them and other militiamen to throw themselves into reconstructing the country.
An American adviser to the Afghan government has been arrested in the capital for allegedly having homosexual relations with an Afghan man, officials said Tuesday. The man was arrested late last week after an Afghan detained by police told investigators the American had paid him for sexual relations at a Kabul hotel, the officials said. Afghan officials say homosexuality remains a crime, even though it no longer brings the brutal punishment handed out under the Taliban before its ouster in 2001. Under its harsh interpretation of Shariah, or Islamic law, homosexuals were crushed to death by having walls toppled on them, although Afghans say closet gay relationships remained widespread. “Islam doesn’t allow homosexuality,” said Abdul Halim Samadi, a prosecutor dealing with the current case in Kabul.
(Daily Times-Pakistan)
Workers in a northwestern tribal region of Pakistan are striking to protest the killing of four local people during a military offensive. During Tuesday's strike in the town of Miran Shah of North Waziristan, a local cleric, Abdul Rahman, said the military is killing innocent people in the name of fighting terrorism. In recent days hundreds of local people have demonstrated, condemning the killing of the four tribesmen during last week's assault on a suspected terrorist hideout. Pakistan's military initially said the dead were foreign fighters. But after a series of protests, the military Monday returned three bodies to their families. Thousands of Pakistani paramilitary troops are in the region, looking for hundreds of suspected al-Qaida fighters and foreign militants
(Voice of America)

Ten sailors from this northern Japan base returned in late August from a four-month deployment in landlocked Afghanistan, where they slept in tents and battled sandstorms and dry heat with soldiers, Marines, airmen and coalition forces. Though welcomed by the other services, the sailors couldn’t avoid the obvious question: “There’s no water here. What are you guys doing here?"
Debbie Rodriguez, an American hairdresser sporting spiked marigold hair and an even brighter palette of cosmetics, is standing in front of a group of women in Afghanistan, some wearing black headscarves. "All those who have makeup on, stand up," she demands, hands on hips. Only a handful budge. "You know what? You're stuck in a rut, guys. You're stuck in a hole of the past that you can't get out of and, my God, before I leave here, you're getting out of the hole."
Last week's atrocity was not the work of 'al-Qaeda'. It is a result however of the spread of 'al-Qaeda-ism' and, in particular, the ability of the radical new discourse to 'plug into' existing insurgencies, many of which were nationalist or ethnic to start with but have become Islamicised. By misrepresenting the problem, we make the solution harder to find. The greatest hope is the horrified reaction of the world's moderate Muslims - the vast majority. The increasing brutality of the militants will undercut their support and eventually isolate them. But this is a long process and the West is doing precious little to expedite it.
Osama Bin Laden is more likely to be hiding either in a Pakistani city or somewhere in the mountains of Azad Kashmir, according to an investigation done by Peter Bergen, a leading expert on terrorism.

Friday, September 03, 2004

Computer problems return.

Tuesday, August 31, 2004

Maulvi Muhammad Ishaq Manzoor, a rebel Afghan leader, claims a "scandal bigger than the Abu Ghraib" jail scandal in Iraq will be exposed soon. Ishaq is the self-styled 'supreme military commander' of the Jamiat Jaishal Muslemeen, a newly formed outfit operating mainly in southern and eastern Afghanistan. Accusing American troops of killing innocent civilians in Afghanistan, he alleged that two lady teachers and five girl students at the Mariam school in Kabul were kidnapped, raped and killed by American troops recently. Parents of the teachers and girls are trying to escape from Afghanistan and will contact the international media to expose the scandal, he told this correspondent in the mountains close to the Afghanistan-Pakistan border.
An Afghan presidential candidate said the US ambassador asked him to drop out of the race in favor of Transitional Administration Chairman Hamid Karzai.
Former Planning Minister Mohammad Mohaqeq is one of 17 candidates challenging Karzai in the U.N. supervised October election. He was quoted yesterday by the official Bakhtar News Agency as saying U.S. Ambassador to Afghanistan Zalmay Khalilzad asked me to withdraw my candidacy in favor of Karzai. Mohaqeq, speaking during a news conference in Kabul, said he would not withdraw. Mohaqeq, a former warlord and a member of Afghanistan's Shiite minority, served in Karzai's administration until March.
The development is a disquieting one, foreign diplomats said, because it suggests that Pakistan's security services may be losing control over home-grown militants they once embraced as allies, first in the struggle against the Soviets in Afghanistan and more recently against Indian forces in Kashmir.
Afghanistan and Uzbekistan agreed on Sunday to push ahead with a mammoth road-building project intended to make their countries a lucrative trade link between Asia and the Persian Gulf.
There was mayhem on the streets of Kabul yesterday after an explosion killed at least nine people near the offices of the private U.S. security firm DynCorp.
Investigators probing a deadly car bombing in the Afghan capital questioned a man detained at Kabul airport with traces of explosives on his hands, officials said.
A rocket attack in northwestern Pakistan near the Afghan border has wounded at least five people and damaged several houses. Security officials in Bannu in the North West Frontier Province say two rockets hit a transmission tower and the grounds of a military compound, while three other rockets hit civilian homes. The town is on the edge of a semi-autonomous tribal region where Pakistani troops have been hunting members of the al-Qaida terrorist network and remnants of the Taleban.

The Taliban vowed to intensify their attacks on American and coalition forces in Afghanistan, a day after a car bomb ripped through the offices of a US security company in Kabul, killing 10 people. The atrocity sparked a chain of security alerts in the capital, where the Taliban promised fresh violence in the run-up to a landmark presidential election scheduled for October 9. The US embassy emailed its citizens warning them to keep a low profile, the UN advised its staff to stay off the streets, and aid workers were ordered to avoid establishments selling alcohol.
Cinemas are barred from hoisting movie billboards and shopkeepers are afraid to display posters featuring women in Peshawar.
The city’s only state-run theatre long ago closed its doors to singers, dancers and musicians, who are banned from holding public concerts because the ruling religious alliance in the North West Frontier Province (NWFP) considers it against Islam.
Undeterred by allegations it is following in the footsteps of the ousted Afghan Taliban militia, the Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal (MMA) coalition government is bolstering efforts to enforce Islam in every sphere of public life.
Government employees are being “encouraged” to go to mosques to pray, and shopkeepers have been persuaded to keep businesses closed during prayer time, the latest edicts say. “It’s our goal to mould the society according to Islam,” said Asif Iqbal Daudzai, the provincial information minister. “But we do not use force. We only persuade and motivate the people.”
The province has also made it mandatory for new public and private buildings to allocate space for a mosque. But human rights activists and political opponents complain that the religious alliance is trying to “Talibanise” the province.
“This is the Pakistani edition of Talibanisation,” said Afrasiab Khattak, a prominent human rights activist. Malik Zafar Azam, a senior MMA minister, said promoting virtue and curbing vice was the government’s responsibility. The MMA’s agenda includes the segregation of women and curbing what it calls vices of dance and music, as well as obscenity and vulgarity. Gulzar Alam, a Pashto-language singer, said he was beaten and thrown in prison for singing in a public programme. “I can’t hold concerts now. Music and poetry is part of our culture, but they are too narrow-minded to appreciate it. Hundreds of artists and their families have been hit,” he added.
(Daily Times-Pakistan)
One airman was slightly hurt when a Dutch Apache helicopter crashed in Afghanistan on Sunday, but the crash was not due to enemy fire, the defence ministry said. A second airman aboard was unhurt, the ministry said in a statement, adding the aircraft was on a patrol flight near Kabul. The cause of the crash was under investigation. Six Dutch Apache helicopters, along with about 135 troops, have been stationed in Afghanistan since the end of March to boost the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF).

At best, elections are one step toward democracy. If Afghans can cast ballots without fear of intimidation or retribution, if candidates and voters accept the results, and if war does not break out after polling day, they will probably believe their voices count. In this sense, the election, as imperfect as it will be, will offer Afghans a lens through which to imagine a political future. But if voting is only symbolic, the day after the election, no matter who wins, will be a difficult one.
Media coverage of Canadian Forces returning from Afghanistan are a reminder that while the vast majority of us live in comfort, a small group of Canadians have been constantly deployed to war-torn regions, facing hardship, danger, casualties and death.
The camp of Shawal Rifles in Razmak, North Waziristan Agency, came under rocket fire on the night between Friday and Saturday. Five rockets landed around the fort and one hit a shop in Razmak Bazaar. No loss of life was reported. Razmak borders the troubled South Waziristan Agency where a military operation against suspected al-Qaeda and Taliban fighters has been launched since March this year. Miscreants also fired rockets at the Wana Scouts Camp. Three houses were destroyed in retaliatory firing by the security forces in Village Doog. However, no loss of life was reported. Reports said the miscreants fired two rockets at Wana Scouts Camp on the night between Friday and Saturday but missed the target. Security forces fired shells and mortars in retaliation, which destroyed three houses in Doog village. Residents of the area are under constant panic due to the regular spate of firings and shillings between the security forces and militants. The people of Doog village have decided to abolish the committees set up for patrolling. Local people are of the view that they formed the committees to keep a vigilant on miscreants and for the protection of government installations but still the security forces targeted civilian population in the area. On the other hand 40 armed vehicles left for Shakai to launch an offensive against foreign militants. The political administration has started the process of giving out personal guarantees, but even such measures have not helped improve the situation.
About a month after the Army sent 21-year-old Kristin Barr to Afghanistan, she treated her first patients in a refugee camp, and it humbled her. "I wish you could have seen what I saw that day - an image that will be forever etched in my mind," she wrote to her family and friends in an e-mail. Families lived in cars turned on their side. Children walked around without shoes, wearing clothes that looked as though they had been worn for years. Dried mud was caked over their faces, arms and feet. Restrooms consisted of a few sheets in a sandy area. Six to eight children huddled around each woman while they waited for treatment. About 90 to 95 percent of the residents have parasites, lice or both, Barr said.
President Hamid Karzai has asked Pakistani religious leaders to use their influence over the Taliban to ensure elections in Afghanistan on October 9 are peaceful, sources told Daily Times on Saturday. "The Afghan president had requested Pakistan to send religious leaders to Afghanistan to convince the Taliban not to disturb the elections and the government’s response was positive," the sources said.
The Afghan government and Western officials are seeking to capitalize on a recent attack against the entrenched governor of the western province of Herat by removing him before presidential elections scheduled for October, interviews with Western and Afghan officials made clear on Saturday. The push to remove the governor, Ismail Khan, is part of a broader plan to reorder politically the western part of the country, which has been plagued by clashes since June.

Monday, August 30, 2004

Afghan security forces have arrested two men distributing Taliban leaflets calling for a holy war against US-led coalition forces and the government, an official said on Monday. The pair, a Pakistani and an Afghan national, were taken into custody near Afghanistan-Pakistani border, Abdul Wakil Atak, spokesman for the governor of eastern Nangahar province said. "Border police arrested two people that were carrying 2,000 leaflets to distribute in Nangahar," he said. The arrests of Pakistani Shahzada Gul and Afghan Hesmatullah were made over the weekend as the pair was en route to distribute the leaflets in Jalalabad, Ibrarullah, deputy commander of the Border Police Contingent, said. -AFP
(Pakistan Dawn)

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