Saturday, September 18, 2004

These have been fat years for Afghanistan's drug lords. Since the Taliban collapsed in November 2001, traffickers, some militia commanders, and provincial officials have reaped rich rewards from the opium and heroin industry, according to government and Western officials. But in the coming months, Afghan leaders hope to crack down on the illicit industry by deploying a team of judges, prosecutors, and police to target what they fear is a growing community of drug barons. The ''judicial task force" seeks to rise above the chaos of Afghanistan's corrupt, ineffectual judiciary. While it will initially take on only a small number of cases, the government says it will signal that the days when traffickers can buy or threaten their way out of jail are ending.
Omar is perhaps the only one in the world who has not watched the events of Sept. 11 attacks and their aftermath. Judging from his words and deeds I can confidently say that he was the most ignorant world leader in modern history. He entered Kabul victoriously riding a white horse and fled the devastated capital on a motorbike to escape the wrath of his Northern foes.
As for Bin Laden, Omar’s political mentor, guide and reference, his goals are completely different from those of the Mullah. Bin Laden is more intelligent and knowledgeable and knew exactly what he was doing and where to direct his fire. In the ignorant Mullah Omar he found the best companion.
I thus find very interesting the recent disclosure of contacts being made between an American official and Mullah Omar just before the start of the war. In that contact the Pushtun leader was reported to have denied his friend Bin Laden was plotting against America. I assume Omar was sincere and was talking in good faith.
To understand the man better, one has to remember that he never watched television all his life, never read a book on politics or subscribed to a newspaper. He thought that the Pakistani border represented the end of the world and that anything beyond that was unreachable. With this kind of thinking, or in fact ignorance, it is no wonder Omar quickly lost the kingdom he had built in the most unbalanced war in the history of armed conflicts — a fight between obsolete and rusty tanks and war planes that flew undetected by radar.
The story of the Herati shelter girls.
The US military today apologised for the death of a young Afghan civilian. The youth was killed close to where American-led troops were battling militants in a Taliban stronghold of southern Afghanistan. Another youth was wounded in the incident on Friday in Uruzgan province, according to spokesman Major Scott Nelson. He said the coalition regretted and apologised for the casualties. Nelson said the pair were hurt during an incident between militants and US-led troops, and that they "failed to halt after repeated warnings."
A battalion of 82nd Airborne Division paratroopers is preparing to deploy next week to Afghanistan to support the Oct. 9 national elections, division officials said Friday. Between 700 and 1,100 paratroopers from the 1st Battalion of the 505th Parachute Infantry Regiment will leave next week for a "short" deployment to Afghanistan. "We expect this to be a short deployment, however, the length of the deployment will depend on the mission," Col. Mike Ferriter, the assistant division commander for operations, said during a news conference. Division officials wouldn't pinpoint a timeframe for the deployment, but reports of the Secretary of Defense order say it could last between 30 and 45 days. Ferriter said the mission will include identifying, locating and "holding accountable" terrorists who would interfere with the elections. "Those opposed to these elections have proven that they will stop at nothing to disrupt the election process," he said. "Our paratroopers will play a vital role in the measures to protect the election process." About 75 percent of the paratroopers in the battalion have deployed before. The 505th deployed to Afghanistan from August 2002 to February 2003 and to Iraq from August 2003 to April 2004.
Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad said Al-Qaida, the Taliban and allied forces are poised to try to derail the Oct. 9 presidential elections and have been cooperating with each other. "I expect that as we go toward the election and on election day, they will try to disrupt," he said. "The area where they are going to be most active is along the border with Pakistan." Khalilzad, who is here for consultations, said they also may carry out "spectacular attacks" similar to the offensive launched by North Vietnam in early 1968 against American forces. That offensive started a process that eventually led to negotiations for the American withdrawal from Vietnam.
The treatment of leishmaniasis, a skin disease which is contracted through insect bites, carried out by a team of Italian doctors in Kabul, has become a point of reference for the local population: women, childrena and elder people come from villages far away to undergo this new cure. The experimentation of the new therapy began in May and ended in September, and allowed to speed up the healing process considerably. It consists of injections, to be made directly on the lesion, to reduce its radial expansion. Before May, the product's compounds were slightly different, and the first positive results were obtained after 4/5 weeks. With the new therapy, these results were to be seen after only 2 weeks, and this allowed to cure more people, since only two sessions were needed. The doctors of the Italian contingent have healed about 1200 people in 2 and a half years, according to the NGO "Hope World Wide", which runs the clinic bearing the same name on the Jalalabad road, and Italian ISAF soldiers have saved about 8000 afghans from the disease's consequences.
A mine exploded under a vehicle carrying U.S. troops on patrol in southern Afghanistan, injuring three soldiers, an Afghan official said Friday. The blast occurred Wednesday near Deh Rawood, a town in the southern Uruzgan province about 400 kilometers (250 miles) southwest of the capital, Kabul, said Jan Mohammed Khan, governor of Uruzgan. The injured soldiers were moved to a U.S. military base in Deh Rawood. Their injuries were not life-threatening, Khan said. The mine was detonated by remote control and the explosion disabled their Humvee vehicle, he said. Khan blamed remnants of the Taliban militia for the attack.
Wrapped in white plastic and stacked on skids, it doesn't look like much. But more than $2.1 million worth of drugs and medical supplies being readied in a Mississauga warehouse is expected to help more than 100,000 people in war-torn Afghanistan. The huge shipment will be airlifted in a few days to fill a growing need for health care in the mountainous country.
A Taliban spokesman said Thursday all 18 candidates in Afghanistan’s presidential elections were “targets”, and claimed responsibility after a rocket landed near a school to be visited by President Hamid Karzai. "All presidential candidates are our top targets now because they are running for the polls of a US-made election - an election which will create a government in the interest of the Americans," Taliban spokesman Abdul Latif Hakimi told AFP. Meanwhile, Afghan President Hamid Karzai’s main rivals in an Oct. 9 presidential election called on Thursday for the vote to be delayed at least a month, saying security worries meant they were unable to campaign properly.
Georgian lawmakers have authorized the government to contribute 50 U.S.-trained mountain troops to the International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan. The resolution was adopted today without debate. The Georgian soldiers will leave within days for a three-month mission to Afghanistan. Georgia already has peacekeepers in Kosovo and is a member of the U.S.-led stabilization force in Iraq.
(Civil Georgia/Caucasus Press)

Taliban officials have denied beheading five Afghans in the rugged Zabul province bordering Pakistan. Jilani Khan, deputy police chief of Zabul, told Reuters today that Taliban fighters had beheaded five local officials on Monday. "They left a message beside the corpses saying 'unfortunately, we don't have prison and that's why we have tried these people in this manner'," Khan said. But Taliban spokesman Abdul Latif Hakimi denied responsibility, telling Reuters in a satellite telephone call today that it was not their style. "We do kill criminals, but we don't do beheadings," he said.

Suspected Taliban rebels executed two pro-election tribal elders and laid a deadly ambush for an Afghan military commander, officials said today. The executions came as the US military apologised for the death of a young Afghan civilian during its operations to protect the landmark October elections....The bodies of the kidnapped elders from the Maruf district of southern Kandahar were found by Afghan security forces yesterday, said district mayor Sayed Ali. Two were dead while a third was rushed to the US military base in Kandahar city for treatment to throat and stomach injuries, he added. Ali said the men, who were abducted a week ago, were targeted because "they had been telling people to get registered for the election and to go and vote for whoever they choose."
Afghanistan's President Hamid Karzai had to abort a rare campaign rally when a rocket was fired over his helicopter as it came in to land. The helicopter, an American Chinook, swerved violently and soared back to Kabul, swirling dust over hundreds of schoolchildren, tribal elders and Government dignitaries lined up to greet the President on Thursday in Gardez, south-east of Kabul.
The rocket, or rocket-propelled grenade, whistled over their heads and landed 300 metres away. The Afghans barely blinked, so accustomed are they to explosives, and many believed the Governor when he announced over the public address system that the explosion was celebratory. But American coalition and Afghan troops on the ground were taking no risks. Gunfire had been directed at an American vehicle simultaneously, and the President's visit was abandoned.
Three men were arrested officials said.
Chaplain Avrohom Horovitz flew halfway around the world to celebrate the Jewish New Year with soldiers in Afghanistan. Horovitz, 43, was in the middle of jumpmaster school when he was told that he would deploy to Afghanistan for the Jewish High Holy Days. The Fort Bragg chaplain is one of seven rabbis in the Army. With the Jewish holy days starting, they were all needed to hold services for deployed troops.
Some students in Afghanistan will receive school supplies this week thanks to parishioners and students at St. Mary's Catholic Church in Derby and military personnel at McConnell Air Force Base. Twenty-three boxes of supplies were shipped from Derby on Sept. 4 to students at Khoshal Khan High School in a village near Kabul. The boys' boarding school has students ages 10 through 20 in grades four through 12. The school supply drive was sparked by an e-mail to the Rev. Wayne Schmid of the Derby church from parishioner Senior Master Sgt. Ralph Tormey, who is stationed in Afghanistan with the 22nd Air Refueling wing.
A New Zealand army officer was today fined $1700 for an unauthorised discharge of a weapon while on tour in Afghanistan. Lieutenant Colonel David Pirie, 40, of the Royal New Zealand Engineers, pleaded guilty at a court martial held at Trentham Military Camp of firing a round at a practice range on July 23 this year. He was charged with doing an act likely to prejudice service discipline. Lt Col Pirie, who is leaving the New Zealand Defence Force to move to Australia after 22 years' service, was chief of staff and press officer of his Provincial Reconstruction Team at Bamiyan in Afghanistan.
Idema, a former special forces soldier who helped the US-backed Northern Alliance defeat the Taliban in 2001, reacted furiously to the judge's verdict. "I f****** apologise for helping to save them," he told a packed courtroom. "We should have let the Taliban murder every goddamn one of them."
The remarks were typical of a farcical trial with a court translator advising the judge, the American defence lawyers explaining the concept of presumption of innocence, and the prosecution presenting press cuttings as evidence.
When Idema took an oath on the Koran to tell the truth, the packed court erupted with cries of "God is Great" in the mistaken belief that he had converted to Islam.
Fierce fighting continued near Maula Khan Sarai on Jandola-Wana Road. Witnesses said around 150 military vehicles from Jandola and 100 from Wana were moving toward the Maula Khan Sarai area. The militants have consolidated their positions on the mountains while the army was in control of flat land. Sporadic gunfire could be heard throughout the day. A correspondent who visited the area reported that bodies of two civilians lay by the roadside. The wreckage of destroyed military vehicles, helmets and strewn body parts bore testimony to the losses security forces had suffered in the fight.
The Pakistani army said on Saturday it had tightened the noose around hundreds of al Qaeda-linked foreign militants hiding in a rugged mountainous region near the Afghan border. "Around 600 to 700 foreign militants are still in the tribal area," said Major General Niaz Khattak, the operational commander in Wana, the main town of South Waziristan, 400 km (250 miles) southwest of Islamabad.
After a series of bloody clashes in its border regions, Pakistan on Thursday again offered amnesty to foreign militants, but vowed to defeat them by force if they didn't lay down their weapons. Information Minister Sheikh Rashid Ahmed said the militants - hiding in Pakistan's rugged tribal regions, bordering Afghanistan - would not be extradited to other countries if they accepted the long-standing offer. "We will not hand them over to any country if they surrender," he told The Associated Press. If they did not, he said: "We will flush them out."
Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf will stay on as chief of the army staff beyond the date he promised to give up the post, the information minister has said. Musharraf, a key ally in U.S. President George W. Bush's "war on terror", had previously promised to stand down as army chief by December 31, 2004 in a deal with hardline Islamic opponents in which they allowed legislation through parliament that boosted Musharraf's presidential powers.
"The president has decided to keep both offices of the president and the army chief beyond December 31," Sheikh Rashid Ahmed told Reuters on Wednesday. The minister did not offer specific details as to why the president had decided to hold onto the position. "He has to take many important decisions ... war on terror is of course an important issue."
Musharraf took power in a bloodless 1999 coup and was long treated as a pariah by the West. His standing improved when he emerged as a staunch U.S. ally after the September 11, 2001 attacks in the United States, which killed nearly 3,000 people. The military has ruled Pakistan for more than half of the 57 years since the partition of India.

A Taliban claim that anti-coalition militia in Afghanistan had killed five U.S. soldiers and captured three others in an attack in Tarin Kot is "absolutely false," a spokesman for Combined Forces Command Afghanistan said today at news conference in the Afghan capital of Kabul. "In fact, the (Afghan National Army), assisted by coalition forces, remain committed to building a secure, stable environment in the Oruzgan province and throughout Afghanistan," said Army Maj. Scott Nelson. "These continued Taliban attempts to mislead the public and disrupt the democratic process in Afghanistan will not succed."
The U.S. military is planning to send hundreds of new troops to Afghanistan to increase security before the Oct. 9 election, officials said.
The UN World Food Programme (WFP) says more than 50 million dollars is needed to tackle the severe drought now facing the country. According to the WFP, some 1.4 million Afghans have been affected by continued drought and crop failures....Although the WFP had sufficient food stocks available to respond to the most immediate needs, shortfalls were expected to occur from November 2004 if the additional food requirements were not resourced immediately.
India has donated indelible ink to Afghanistan for use during the forthcoming presidential elections in the country. A consignment of 50,000 indelible ink marker pens was handed over by Vivek Katju, ambassador of India to Afghanistan.
Afghan President Hamid Karzai on Tuesday ordered the release of former Taliban minister Maulvi Qalamuddin. A spokesman for the Afghan Supreme Court said that a large number of people had petitioned for Qalamuddin’s release. His ministry, Prevention of Vice and Promotion of Virtue, was known for directing the authorities to break television sets and musical instruments.
(Daily Times-Pakistan)

Upcoming presidential elections are giving Afghan rebels a new focus, drawing disparate groups and Taliban factions back into communication and cooperation. The strategy is to peel off Pashtun support for the Oct. 9 ballot in order to divide them from the central government. As the campaigning officially kicked off last week, insurgent commanders and militants have been holding secret meetings in Afghanistan's Pashtun-dominated south and east. Included in the talks are the Taliban, Gulbuddin Hekmatyar's Hizb-i-Islami, warlord Yunus Khalis, and a new group emerging on the scene - Jaish-e-Muslamin.
"We are busy forming the alliance to [disrupt] the farcical elections," says Syed Akbar Agha, chief of Jaish-e-Muslamin, from an undisclosed location in Afghanistan. "[We] are meeting to delegate responsibilities and form a joint platform for activities against infidel forces and their slave Afghan government."
Thirty-five Pakistani prisoners released from U.S. military prison at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba returned home Saturday, a senior interior ministry official said.

Sunday, September 12, 2004

The U.S. military says that insurgents linked to Afghanistan's ousted Taleban regime and its allies are no longer a significant security threat to Afghanistan. The announcement comes weeks before the country's historic elections. U.S. military officials say that increasing cooperation between the Afghan population and the U.S. led anti-terrorism coalition indicates Taleban militants linked to the al Qaida terror network are losing support across Afghanistan. Military spokesman, Major Scott Nelson, told reporters in Kabul Saturday, that recent independent surveys also show an overwhelming number of Afghans support internationally-backed efforts by the government of Afghanistan to rebuild the war-ravaged country.
When Latif Pedram, a left-leaning writer who wears casual Western clothes under a silk Afghan cape, recently returned home from France to run for president, he introduced a volatile topic to the country's new experiment with campaigning: marital politics. Is it fair that Afghan men may divorce their wives on the spot, while Afghan women must obtain their husband's permission for a divorce and risk losing their children if they leave? Is it right for a man to marry four women at once? And can he possibly make all of them happy?
Last week, Pedram suggested at a women's forum that the issue of divorce "ought to be debated" and said that it was "impossible" for a husband to treat four wives equitably. Pedram's comments, taped and then aired on state television, touched on issues that are culturally taboo in traditional Muslim society and politically explosive in a country just emerging from a decade of violent rule by Islamic militias. Accordingly, they raised a furor among some conservative Islamic scholars in the capital.
The chief justice of the Supreme Court, an elderly religious cleric, sent a letter to the government election commission, as well as to the U.N. political mission here, demanding that Pedram, 41, be expelled from the race.
Osama bin Laden's deputy, Ayman al-Zawahri, said mujahedeen, or holy fighters, have taken control of much of Afghanistan and driven US forces into the "trenches," according to a tape aired on Al-Jazeera television yesterday. The bespectacled Egyptian surgeon said "southern and eastern Afghanistan have completely become an open field for the mujahedeen. The Americans are huddled in their trenches, refusing to confront the holy warriors despite the holy warriors shelling, shooting and cutting the routes around them," Zawahiri said in excerpts of the tape aired by the Qatar-based station.
The self-styled "emir" of Afghanistan's western province of Herat, who liked to patrol his domain in robes and turban astride a white Arab stallion, has been unseated just weeks before his country's presidential vote. But Ismail Khan, a combative former mujahideen (holy warrior) commander, is not the type to be brushed aside easily and is known for comebacks from seemingly hopeless positions...Accused of running Afghanistan's wealthiest province as a personal fiefdom and building up vast campaign chest from control of the bulk of the country's customs revenues, Khan was replaced as Herat governor by President Hamid Karzai on Saturday.
Up to seven supporters of an ousted Afghan governor have been killed and 20 wounded in clashes with police and U.S. troops in the western city of Herat, which has been placed under night curfew. The curfew order on Sunday from the city's army commander came after hundreds of supporters of Ismail Khan, sacked by President Hamid Karzai on Saturday as part of his election pledge to rein in warlords, burned and looted U.N. offices and set fire to the Pakistani consulate. Doctors said up to seven of Khan's supporters were killed and 50 wounded in clashes with police, soldiers and U.S. troops trying to restore order, less than a month before Afghanistan's first presidential elections on Oct 9. The U.S. military said 15 of its soldiers were injured in the clashes, two of whom were evacuated for treatment, along with two Afghan national army servicemen. The U.N. said its staff were evacuated to the American base in the city and none was hurt. Several protesters told Reuters that they were wounded by American soldiers, but U.S. military spokesman Major Mark McCann said he had no reports of U.S. troops engaging the crowd. Small-arms fire and explosions could still be heard round the city in the evening but the protesters appeared to have dispersed and calm returned as the curfew came into force at nine p.m.
More than 360 Pakistanis who fought with the Taleban in Afghanistan have been freed from jail there and are heading for home.
Frustrated by his dealings with regional rivals, Afghan President Hamid Karzai reiterated on Saturday that he would not form a coalition government if he won the country’s first direct presidential election on Oct 9. Karzai, unveiling a sparse manifesto four days after the official start of campaigning, said he would crackdown on factional fighting between warlords and commanders and make national security a priority if elected.
On the third anniversary of the September 11 terror attacks, the US military said on Saturday support for the ousted Taliban regime was waning and many of its leaders were seeking to call a truce with the Afghan authorities. Taliban leaders and militants from the Hezb-e-Islami guerrilla organisation had been in contact with the US military and Afghan authorities saying: “We want to come in from the cold and we want to stop fighting,” Major Scott Nelson told a news briefing in Kabul.
By Sgt. 1st Class Darren D. Heusel, USA
105th MPAD
Special to American Forces Press Service
KABUL, Afghanistan, Sept. 11, 2004 — On a bright, sunny day three years ago today, the world changed forever when terrorists hijacked commercial airliners and transformed them into weapons of mass destruction. Today, troops serving on the frontline in the global war on terror in Afghanistan – where the evil plot originated – shared their first-hand experiences from the Combined Forces Command Afghanistan Headquarters here.
U.S. forces and their allies held a somber ceremony Saturday, in Afghanistan to remember those killed three years ago in the September 11 attacks on the United States. Soldiers at the main U.S. base at Bagram watched video footage of the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. A U.S. military spokesman, Major Scott Nelson, told reporters in the Afghan capital, Kabul, that Taleban militants linked to the al-Qaida terrorist network are losing support across Afghanistan.

The Pakistan government's claim that its war on terror is not being carried out under pressure from Washington, has been contradicted by one of its own ministers.
If Information and Broadcasting Minister Sheikh Rashid Ahmed is to be believed, the United States really does not need Pakistan's help to flush out suspect Al Qaeda and Taliban extremists from the tribal areas bordering Afghanistan.
Rashid even went to the extent of saying that if it wanted to, Washington could order American troops to enter Pakistan at will and strike at suspect terrorist targets. The News quoted Ahmed as saying that if Pakistan had not launched the operation in WANA, the US would have carried it out.
"Pakistan is making all-out efforts to deal with terrorism and if we had not started the WANA operation, America would have taken an initiative on it, which would definitely be an embarrassing situation for all of us," Rashid said.
He was addressing members of the Karachi Press Club.

Authorities say they are turning up worrying signs that a home-grown network of extremist groups is spawning new cells and forming ties with Al Qaeda, three years after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks thrust Pakistan into the US-led war on terrorism. Police in Karachi said this week they believe there are at least six new militant groups operating in the teeming port city, which has long been a haven for terrorists and the setting for bloody sectarian attacks...."They have an anti-American, anti-Western outlook, and they see the government as a tool of the US," said a senior police official in Karachi, who spoke on condition of anonymity....''It's no longer a situation where one is dealing with a well-defined enemy. You don't know whether you're fighting Kashmiri elements, criminal underworld, or international terrorists," said Ameer Ahmed Khan, editor of a leading newsmagazine, The Herald, based in Karachi.
The trail has gone cold in the hunt for mastermind Osama bin Laden three years after the Sept. 11 attacks, a top American commander said yesterday, but the al-Qaida chief and his No. 2 are still orchestrating strikes such as the recent suicide car bombing of a U.S. security firm in Kabul. Maj. Gen. Eric Olson told The Associated Press that the military had not intercepted any radio traffic or instructions from bin Laden or his deputy, Ayman al-Zawahri, but the involvement of well-trained foreign fighters in attacks near the Pakistani border convinced him the fugitive leaders were pulling the strings.
During a recent NATO patrol through the dusty streets of Kabul, it was clear that many Afghans view foreign troops as the good guys. When a squad of British soldiers set up a vehicle checkpoint to search for weapons and explosives, shop owners waved, and children rushed forward to shake the troops' hands. Later, a gas-station attendant poured the soldiers steaming cups of green tea. "We are happy you are here," taxi driver Ghulam Zwhan said as the soldiers inspected the back of his yellow and white station wagon. "If you leave, there will be chaos."
Taliban leader Mullah Mohammad Omar told a State Department official in August 1998 that Congress should force President Clinton to resign "to rebuild U.S. popularity in the Islamic world," according to documents released yesterday. The suggestion came two days after U.S. missiles struck Osama bin Laden's training camps in Afghanistan in retaliation for al-Qaida's bombings of U.S. embassies in East Africa. Omar's comments are reported in a newly declassified State Department cable recounting the first and only direct communication between him and the US government.
Car bombs, chaotic airports and the prospect of evening tea with a warlord might make most tourists a little queasy. Not, however, 84-year-old Gertrude Lysinger.
"It's been interesting", said the grandmother from Philadelphia as her tour bus whizzed through western Afghanistan, passing murals of mujahideen martyrs and an abandoned fighter jet. While thousands of American soldiers are scouring Afghanistan for Osama bin Laden, for the past fortnight a dozen US tourists with an average age of 74 have been touring the country, after spurning warnings from their friends, family and the State Department.
Suspected Taliban attacked a U.S. patrol vehicle with rocket-propelled grenades, machine guns and small arms fire, wounding one American soldier before fleeing, the U.S. military said Friday. The militants used an assortment of weapons in the Thursday night assault in Uruzgan province, but fled when the American patrols returned fire, the military said. The soldier, whose name was not released, was taken to a coalition hospital at a base in the southern city of Kandahar, where he was in stable condition.
(Associated Press)

Most people would consider it insane to make a weeklong road journey into southern Afghanistan, but when camera woman Sophie Barry and I heard about the opportunity, we jumped at it. Traveling to places like southern Paktika, nestled along Afghanistan's southeastern border with Pakistan, is like traveling back in time. There are no paved roads — only lumbar-crushing desert tracks. There's no electricity or running water, and the buildings are mere mud huts. We didn't see women once over the course of the entire journey.
It was a pre-election scene that has been played out in every country where politicians slap backs and kiss babies. There were the beginnings of new road, a groundbreaking and a bunch of officials promoting the candidate they said deserved full credit. But in this unusual case, the road, still uneven and made of dirt, cuts through a deserted rocky landscape plagued by robbers and Taliban rebels, and the photo opportunity on Thursday was intended for the benefit of President Hamid Karzai as he enters the final month of his country's first presidential campaign.
American military engineers are building the $20 million road from this southern city, deep in Taliban territory, to the capital of mountainous Uruzgan Province. It will carve through the central highlands and eventually link with main arteries heading into Central Asia, ending the isolation of a region where the rebel insurgency has continued for more than two years. All this is important, but perhaps less so than the election for officials as they shoveled away a pile of gravel for the cameras at the construction base, Camp Tiger.
Mr. Karzai did not appear; he lives under such tight security that he rarely leaves the presidential palace. So ministers and provincial governors are doing the campaigning for him as he opposes 17 rivals.
Pakistani jet fighters and helicopter gunships pounded a suspected terrorist training camp near the Afghan border on Thursday, killing at least 50 mostly foreign militants. Witnesses and a security official said troops clashed with tribesmen loyal to the militants into the evening following the morning attack near Dila Khula, 25 km (15 miles) northeast of Wana, the main town of the South Waziristan tribal region.
Up to ten people were killed in fierce fighting between Pakistani security forces and al Qaeda-linked fighters Sunday, taking the death toll to over 70 in one of the deadliest actions against the militants. Military spokesman Major-General Shaukat Sultan said "six to eight" people were killed in clashes with the security forces in the rugged South Waziristan tribal region near Afghan border where more than 60 militants died last week. He said the security forces also suffered a "few" causalities but declined to provide details. An unnamed government official said two soldiers were killed and two others were wounded in the latest fighting. Witnesses said the security forces backed by helicopter gunships and artillery attacked suspected hideouts of the militants in the mountains surrounding Laddha and nearby areas in South Waziristan.
Pakistan's main Islamist alliance on Saturday criticised the army's operation against Al Qaeda militants in Waziristan tribal agency as the "worst kind of state terrorism". "This operation was being carried out to please the American forces in the region. Unfortunately, Pakistani troops are directly involved in this state terrorism," MMA President Qazi Hussain Ahmed told reporters in Abotabad.
Pakistan's military, long notorious for its stranglehold over politics, has as pervasive a presence in the country's business and commercial enterprises. While the military's political and administrative influence is well known, public knowledge of its vast corporate interests is still limited, especially outside the country.
The military is the single largest player in the Pakistani economy today, active in a wide variety of commercial enterprises engaged in production of items ranging from breakfast cereal, sugar and cakes to cement, pharmaceuticals and fertilizers. The military's commercial empire, worth billions of dollars, includes a number of transport, construction, real estate, insurance and communication enterprises, steel and power plants, banks, an airline, an FM radio station, a pay-TV channel and hundreds of educational institutions.
Up to five rockets landed in a residential area of Kabul near the city's airport on Thursday, wounding at least three people, residents and peacekeepers said.
The rockets landed near the Charqali Wazirabad residential area between the city center and the airport. A Swedish officer from the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force peacekeepers said four or five rockets had landed. One struck a house, slightly wounding a man, and a second one landed near another house, injuring a child and woman.
"This is my country," she said. "Death is coming one day and it can't be prevented. I'm an educated woman I have to work for other women. I am also a citizen of this country. I have suffered because of this country." That sense of duty to the country was also the sentiments expressed in Zabul, the heartland of the Taliban. In the capital, Qalat, Noor Bibi, another election worker, admitted that most women would not receive permission from their husbands or brothers, to vote on Oct 9. For that, she and her four colleagues had a plan. "We will go to their houses, and tell the men that we need to take their wives to the medical clinic. Then we will sneak them here and they can cast their ballots," she said, triumphantly.
U.S. helicopter gunships killed up to 21 Taliban guerrillas trying to flee a joint U.S.-Afghan assault in the southern province of Kandahar at the weekend, Afghan police said on Sunday. A local Taliban commander said that the guerrillas suffered up to 10 killed in the attack in the Maruf district of Kandahar on Saturday. "The Taliban were holed up in the village of Mooli with U.S. and Afghan forces beseiging them," Salim Khan, the deputy police chief of Kandahar, told Reuters. "When they tried to flee, the U.S. gunships opened fire on them and 21 were killed." A spokeswoman for the U.S. military said more than 15 guerrillas were killed in the attack involving U.S. Apache helicopters early on Saturday.
One hundred Czech soldiers serving in Afghanistan under the US military command are to be repatriated this month. A Czech Defense Department spokesman said the soldiers on a six-month mission in Afghanistan will return between September 15 and 20, reported China Radio International. He said Czech will not seek a replacement despite a U.S. attempt to request continuing military assistance.
The legacy of slain mujahedin commander Ahmad Shah Mas'ud has become an election campaign theme in Afghanistan. Several leading candidates in the 9 October ballot are invoking the name of the ethnic Tajik leader of the former Northern Alliance. Interim leader Hamid Karzai has named one of Mas'ud's brothers -- Ahmad Zia Mas'ud -- as a vice-presidential running mate. Karzai's chief opponent is Yunos Qanuni. He is campaigning as the candidate of Nahzat-e Melli-ye, a mostly ethnic Tajik political group founded on Mas'ud's legacy by another of his brothers. A third candidate -- Islamic hard-liner Abdul Hafiz Mansur -- claims he is the only true representative of Mas'ud's legacy. RFE/RL looks at how the "Lion of Panjsher" is being remembered and revered on the third anniversary of his death on 9 September.
Afghans are famous for their hospitable nature, as this correspondent can verify after being a guest of many Pashtun and Afghan tribal leaders. But the treatment at Manan's residence was exceptional. A full meal was served, including lamb kebabs and curry, foreign soft drinks and buckets full of lasi (a drink made of curd and water), followed by a selection of desserts, and of course endless rounds of green tea, rounded off with Iranian dried fruit.
After all this sweetness, the bitter moment. "Mullah Manan has gone to Quetta."
Sadly the visit was over, and there was nothing for it but to head back to Chaman. "How can a Talib, who is supposed to be underground in a bad condition, especially after just coming out of six months in jail, manage to provide such a lavish feast for his guests?" Asia Times Online asked a local Jamiat-i-Ulema-i-Islam (Fazalur Rehman wing - JUI-F) leader in Chaman.
"He is no longer one of Mullah Omar's [Taliban leader] Talib. His loyalties were thoroughly sorted out in the six months in prison. Now he is an ISI [Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence] man. Poverty is no more his future. He is and shall be playing in greenbacks and he can provide even more lavish food for his visitors," said the leader with a sarcastic smile.
(Interesting photos included.)
Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf asked Muslim scholars to help curb extremism by isolating religious schools which harbour terrorists as Pakistani security forces arrested a suspected Al-Qaeda linked Arab militant in a raid. A vast majority of the schools teach Islamic values of moderation and tolerance "but unfortunately a very small minority of them gives refuge to extremists," he told members of the federation of Islamic seminaries.

Bombs continue to fall, villages continue to be raided, homes continue to be broken into by U.S. troops, innocents continue to be abducted (and some tortured in the Afghan gulag), prisoners continue to languish in Afghan jails under conditions for some which "violate every standard of human rights," even according to the U.N., Afghans continue to die, the Taliban continue to attack government personnel and buildings, opium continues to expand as the crop of choice accounting for almost one-half of Afghanistanís gross domestic product, corruption is rampant at every level money talks in Afghanistan's scramble for reconstruction, and the margaritas flow in the bloated expatriate, aid, contractor, security, NGO, returnee community in Karzai's mayoralty.
(A contrarian view of Afghanistan)
The idea of "moderate Taliban" was also devised by Pakistan. Initially it was unpopular in Washington, but as the Afghan resistance continued the US agreed and has given the green light for them to provide Karzai with a strong base in the Pashtun population. Former foreign minister Mullah Abdul Waqil Mutawakil, Mullah Khaksar and Mullah Ghous are three prominent people now on Karzai's side, having changed loyalties from Taliban leader Mullah Omar. Pakistan has recently conducted countrywide raids to sort out "bad" Taliban, resulting in a team of "good" Taliban being assembled to help Karzai. Organizations such as the Jaishul Muslim have been set up to accomodate them.
Afghan security forces clashed with dozens of Taliban militiamen who raided a government office in a southern province, leaving one soldier and four of the rebel fighters dead, officials said today. Two other Taliban fighters were killed and two captured in a separate clash with US troops and Afghan government forces in another part of southern Zabul province.
General Abdul Rashid Dostum may not be considered a serious candidate for the Afghan presidency but the Uzbek commander with a reputation for brutality could have a big influence on the outcome....He is the self-declared leader of Afghanistan's Uzbeks and Turkmens and some of his tribesmen call him "Dostum Padsha", or King Dostum.
A U.S. helicopter carrying coalition soldiers was damaged in a "hard landing" in southern Afghanistan, the military said Tuesday. No one was hurt when the Blackhawk chopper came down Monday morning near Deh Rawood, 250 miles southwest of Kabul, said spokeswoman Lt. Col. Susan Meisner. Taliban spokesman Mullah Hakim Latifi claimed the ousted Islamic militia shot the helicopter down with a rocket. But Meisner said it was a "non-hostile incident." "The helicopter sustained moderate damage" in the "hard landing," she said. "There were no injuries." Deh Rawood lies in a part of southern and eastern Afghanistan where Taliban-led militants have sustained a stubborn insurgency since their ouster in 2001. Hundreds of people have died this year, and officials are forecasting a rise in violence with the approach of presidential elections set for Oct. 9.
"First of all we don't call them warlords. Some of these people are respected leaders of the Afghan resistance," Karzai said in June. "It's my job to keep stability and peace in Afghanistan. And I will talk to anybody that comes to talk to me about stability and peace and about movement toward democracy."
Pakistani officials say a land mine explosion in a semi-autonomous tribal region bordering Afghanistan has killed three people, including two soldiers, and seriously wounded at least two others. Security officials in South Waziristan say the explosion late Sunday was triggered accidentally by soldiers trying to defuse the device. The officials say the land mine was planted by al-Qaida-linked Islamic militants who are believed to be hiding in the area.

According to the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), the years of war and social disintegration have left the population "extremely vulnerable to a range of mental health problems, particularly chronic depression, anxiety, insomnia and post-traumatic stress disorder. In such a context the availability of cheap opium, heroin and other pharmaceuticals is causing a rapid rise in drug dependency in Afghanistan as well as neighboring countries". In its Community Drug Profile report of July 2003, the UNODC goes on to say: "Kabul has a serious drug problem with tens of thousands of drug users requiring assistance with the social, financial and health-related problems resulting from their drug use that effects not only themselves, but their families and the community they live in."
Saher Gul was chalking a long division lesson on the blackboard of his two-room village school. Twenty-five boys, ages 9 to 19, were sitting cross-legged on the dirt floor. Suddenly the earthen walls and ceiling exploded and collapsed, smothering the class in a mountain of rubble. Sher Mahmad was chatting with friends in the dusty village square when he heard the explosion. He sprinted toward the school, he said, where his son and four other young relatives were studying. Everyone dug frantically at the dirt, trying to reach the students before they suffocated. "Who would do such a thing? This is against Islam, against our religious law, against all humanity," said Mahmad, a farmer in this drought-baked hamlet in Paktia province.
As raw Afghan recruits goose-stepped across the parade grounds of an army base last week, one of the newcomers disappeared into an open manhole. Texas state Rep. Rick Noriega, an Army National Guard major who is helping train Afghanistan's fledgling military, rushed to the man's aid. The errant soldier emerged from the shaft with his health — if not his pride — intact, but Noriega frowned. One of his greatest challenges, he said, is to persuade Afghan troops to take the initiative.
A report by the UN, and Afghanistan's foremost rights group, says insecurity and voter intimidation are plaguing the Afghanistan presidential election campaign. It found both voters and candidates for the October 9 polls are likely to face threats and intimidation.
At least four Taliban were killed and eight injured in a clash with the government troops in Garmkhel district of Helmand Province. According to VOA, Taliban attacked Friday on government troops' check posts in the Garkhel district of Helmand Province. Governor Helmand Muhammad Wali Khan telephonically told that four Taliban were killed and eight injured in the encounter. Five government troops were also injured in the clash. He further said that forty Taliban participated in the assault in which four of them were killed and eight injured. He added that search operations is going on against the remaining Taliban who fled after the incident, however, he said that no one has been arrested so far in this connection.

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