Saturday, October 02, 2004

The UN has 115,000 election officials and has hired 5,000 satellite phones, 1,150 jeeps, four helicopters and a cargo jet. But the final vote will not be tallied until the last ballot-box returns from the farthest reaches of the Hindu Kush mountains by donkey, up to two weeks after polling day. Yet Afghans are displaying an infectious enthusiasm.
Twenty-five suspected terrorists have been arrested and a cache of explosives found in Kabul just a week ahead of Afghanistan's historic presidential elections, officials and intelligence sources said on Saturday. An Afghan intelligence source told AFP the men were detained after a shipping container holding explosives, rockets and a waistcoat of the type used in suicide bombings, was discovered. Lieutenant Commander Ken Mackillop of the NATO-led peacekeeping force in Afghanistan told a news conference the men were arrested in eastern Kabul.
In Afghanistan, the U.S. military's No. 2 commander, Maj. Gen. Eric Olson, told The Associated Press on Friday the worst fears of widespread militant attacks had not come to pass, and there were no signs the Taliban were capable of launching major violence on polling day. Olson said he had been worried Taliban and al-Qaida fighters would sabotage the distribution of ballot papers and boxes around the country in recent weeks, but that the operation was now largely completed and had gone off successfully. "What we've predicted as worst-case scenarios haven't played out," Olson said in an interview. "We've moved a lot of ballots and that was an area we were very concerned about. There was real vulnerability there."
Just about everyone in Kabul knows when Hamid Karzai is on the move. Soldiers and intelligence officers stream onto the clogged streets and road blocks appear as whole areas are shut down. Road rage spreads as quickly as the news that it is the president who is once again holding up the traffic. In time a convoy of Humvees - the armoured jeeps mainly used by the American military - sweeps past. They are packed with Western security contractors brandishing machine guns.
Troops have been deployed to put down a riot in the Pakistani city of Sialkot which broke out after an attack on a mosque which killed at least 30 people. Shias set fire to public buildings, as a funeral took place for those killed in the suspected suicide bombing.
"Drink as much as you can," says a tubby man in lederhosen as you push your way through the narrow entrance. It's not the sort of thing you expect to hear in Afghanistan. Inside the doorway, there is a small beer garden crammed with people who have taken his advice to heart. Foam is flying as drinkers try to dance to the music and cradle their giant beer mugs at the same time.
A 49-year-old National Guardsman from Kearns has died of non-combat related injuries in Afghanistan, according to the Department of Defense. Staff Sgt. Alan L. Rogers, of the Army National Guard's 1st Battalion, 211th Aviation Regiment, based out of West Jordan, died Sept. 29 in Bagram. The department said the death was under investigation and would not comment on specifics, including how the death was discovered and whether Rogers had any preexisting medical conditions.
(KSL News-US)

A roadside bomb killed four school children aged between 15 and 18 and wounded a fifth on Friday in Pakistan's troubled tribal region of South Waziristan, officials said....The children picked up the crude home-made explosive device, triggering the blast in the village of Bangashwala, 400 km (250 miles) southwest of Islamabad.
Hundreds of Uzbek militants now form the bulwark of Al Qaeda's defenses in South Waziristan. The Central Asians are filling the ranks left by Arab fighters who left the region for the Middle East on the orders of Mr. bin Laden months ago, say tribal sources. "The Arab militants hardly participate in the [South Waziristan] fight as they have handed over control of the battlefield to these Uzbeks. This saves their ranks from losses," says tribesman Mohammad Noor. "They are using the Uzbeks cleverly here. Many locals are now unhappy with the Uzbeks" for drawing attacks from Pakistani forces.
The entrance to Khailmohmad Safi's garage is blocked by about 200 sandbags, and a few feet away, behind 8-foot-high concrete barriers, several heavily armed men talk into their radios and peer out into the street. The setting looks like the gateway to a military base. Instead, it is a street in the middle of one of the capital's most affluent neighborhoods. The road contains the residential compound of the DynCorp security firm. The Virginia-based contractor, which provides security guards for interim President Hamid Karzai and U.S. Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad, has good reason to maintain strong security — its nearby office was bombed Aug. 29 and about 10 people were killed, including three Americans. But some residents of the Shar-i-Naw neighborhood have become fed up with the barriers erected by DynCorp to restrict access to their street. The residents complain that they and their guests are unfairly searched before being allowed to get to their homes and businesses. They worry about becoming the victims of a terrorist attack on DynCorp facilities. As a result, they want the firm to move.
I'm still trying to help out President Bush by tracking down Osama bin Laden. After poking through remote parts of Pakistan, asking for a tall Arab with a beard, I can't say I've earned that $25 million reward. But I did come across someone even more extraordinary than Osama.
Haji Muhammad Ayoub, the deputy police chief in now-perilous Helmand Province, acknowledged that crime had gotten much worse across Afghanistan, and he blames corruption. He said that he had captured 120 robbers and murderers in the last two years, but that most of them had bought their freedom with bribes. In one case, he said, two murderers paid $8,000 to a prison official to be freed, then resumed their rampages.
A government official from Uruzgan put it bluntly: "The Taliban is much stronger than before. The American and Afghan governments were saying that things would get better, and they didn't. So people turned to the Taliban."
I'm still optimistic about the north of Afghanistan, and I give Mr. Bush credit for liberating the Afghan people from the Taliban in 2001. But the image he presents of Afghanistan is unrecognizable on the ground, and his failure to win the peace has given Osama even more places to hide.
The battle-hardened Afghans need little encouragement to fight, said Maj Robert Doshi, the US officer assigned to train the unit. "They react to enemy fire very fast, and can put down rounds faster than any American forces," he said. The problem is that after years of living a freewheeling, semi-chaotic militia life, they have problems adopting to garrison life. Soldiers lost their equipment, didn't bother to prepare before going on patrol, or could disappear on leave for two months after pay-day.
A week ago, 135-pound Marine Lance Corporal John Blinn was "humping" his matching 135 pounds of field gear across barren central Afghanistan with Bravo Company, First Battalion, Sixth Marines. Monday, he was sitting in the dining room of his family's early American house on idyllic, tree-shaded Old Littleton Road across the table from his mother, Angela, and talking about the last 15 months of his life. A large welcome home sign decorated the family barn across the street.
Ismail Khan, whose replacement as governor of Herat by Afghan President Hamid Karzai sparked bloody protests in the western city this month, said mujahideen leaders who fought Moscow’s decade-long occupation in the 1980s still had a role to play. "Some of the commanders have spent their lives fighting,” Khan told Reuters. “They have skills that can still be used by the government. They should be included more in governing.
In the past few weeks, Pakistani intelligence officials have been offering a full, and rare, account of the breadth of the activities of Islamic extremists across the country. They say most of the Arab militants who had settled in Pakistan before or after the 11 September attacks in the United States have moved to Iraq. There, American and other westerners can be easily targeted and militants can melt into the local population. But officials say their departure does not mean they have abandoned Pakistan.
The Bundestag, or lower chamber ofthe Germany's parliament, Thursday extended for one more year the mandate of German soldiers serving in Afghanistan's International Security Assistance Force(ISAF). The extension was approved by an overwhelming vote of 509 in favor and 48 against, with support from the both ruling coalition of Social Democrats and Greens as well as from the opposition Christian Democrats.
The photocopied notices appeared on the blue mosque door in Uruzgan, a small town below a line of jagged mountains in central Afghanistan, a few hours before Friday prayers. Pinned up by an unknown hand under cover of darkness, their colloquial name -- "night letters" -- had a quaint ring. Their message did not.
"A holy war has been declared against the infidel," announced the first. Christian invaders, led by the United States, wanted to conquer Afghanistan's Muslims, said the second letter. Any Afghan working with them would be "punished," warned the third. At the bottom of each was a common signature: "The Taliban."
Guerrillas from the ousted Taliban regime killed at least 12 soldiers in Afghanistan's south on Thursday in a sharp escalation of violence ahead of next month's landmark presidential election. At least seven more soldiers were killed in other clashes in the southern province of Zabul on Tuesday and Wednesday, provincial officials said.
With the clock ticking on crucial presidential polls in Afghanistan next month, the US Congress has blasted European nations for not sending enough troops to bolster security in the volatile country.
Most Afghans are optimistic about next week's presidential elections and hope they will end the rule of the gun in the war-racked country, a survey showed.
US-led troops in Afghanistan captured 15 Taliban militants when they were trapped on the border with Pakistan after attacking a coalition patrol, a US military spokesman said.
Four foreign peacekeepers were wounded in Afghanistan late on Wednesday after a rocket attack in the northern city of Kunduz, the NATO-led force said....The troops were part of a civilian-military Provincial Reconstruction Team (PRT), which have been deployed across the country to improve security and protect reconstruction projects. "Two rockets were launched on the PRT at around 9 p.m. in Kunduz," a spokesman for the International Security Assistance Force said in Kabul. Four soldiers were wounded, one seriously, but the spokesman declined to detail their nationality. A patrol was dispatched and the rocket launch site was found around 750 metres (yards) away from the base.
The government of Afghanistan has asked the Pentagon to build five base camps for the Afghan National Army, a project that could cost as much as $1 billion, according to the Defense Security Cooperation Agency.
The U.S. military in Afghanistan says Pakistani troops recently helped U.S.-led troops trap and capture suspected Afghan insurgents as they fled towards the border.
The U.S.-led troops were in hot pursuit of a group of men they thought were militants, after a coalition patrol was attacked Monday near the Afghan town of Shkin. The U.S. military command notified the Pakistani military that the suspects were approaching the Pakistani-Afghan border, and Pakistani troops moved to block the path of the men being pursued. Fifteen men were arrested in the operation, although the Associated Press reports they were later released.
But coalition spokesman Major Scott Nelson noted the joint operation would never have occurred just one year ago. He said the operation was evidence of the improvement in U.S.-Pakistan relations.

One Pakistani soldier has been killed and four others wounded when their truck hit a landmine in Pakistan's South Waziristan. The men were traveling in a convoy Wednesday near the Afghan border when they ran over the mine. The Pakistani military says the land mine blast was the second in two days. Two soldiers were killed in the region Tuesday in a similar attack. The region has been the site of fierce fighting between security forces and al-Qaida-linked militants.

In Zabul's Shen Gharo district, the driver of a former provincial governor was beheaded and his corpse left by the side of the road late on Monday, Khan said.
Militants ambushed an Afghan military patrol in a Taliban stronghold on Tuesday, sparking a three-hour gun battle that left four troops and two rebels dead, an Afghan official said. The ambush was laid by 20 gunmen on 30 militia soldiers riding pickup trucks through Nawbahar, a mountainous district of Zabul province, deputy police chief Jailani Khan said. “It was a Taliban ambush,” Khan said. “The soldiers fought out for three hours with AK-47s and machine-guns until the enemy retreated into the hills.” Two militants were killed and two more were captured, he said. Four of the Afghan militia soldiers died. Taliban commander Borjan Niazi however said seven policemen were killed in the fighting and denied any Taliban casualties.
Prominent authors such as Tom Clancy are holding workshops at military bases, in an effort to encourage military personnel -- especially those who've served in Iraq and Afghanistan -- to record their thoughts about war and peace. NPR's Adam Hochberg reports.
American arms are "flowing" into Pakistan to enable it to fight terror while the issue of supplying F-16 fighter planes to Islamabad is "still on the table," US Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage said.
In a book that is likely to be released later this month, its author has startlingly revealed that the Bush administration has firmed up plans to carry out an invasion of Pakistan's North West Frontier Province, which is seen as the command centre of the al-Qaeda terrorist network. George Friedman, the founder and chairman of the well regarded news and analysis service, Stratfor, reveals in his book titled America's Secret War , the ongoing, but hidden struggle between the United States and its enemies. "The United States will threaten Iran with war if it aids al-Qaeda. The United States will have to invade northwest Pakistan. There are plans for this already. In addition, if Pakistan collapses due to an invasion, the United States and India will have to jointly occupy Pakistan. The end game is Pakistan," the Daily Times quotes Friedman as saying. Friedman further goes on to say that his agency predicted the plan to invade the NWFP in December 2003. He recalls that in February 2004, a Pentagon spokesman categorically said that US forces were "going into Pakistan."
"Since then, we have been carrying out small-scale incursions for months. The war can't end until the command cell of the al-Qaeda is destroyed and that is located in northwest Pakistan. The invasion has been delayed by manpower shortages," Friedman is quoted as saying in his book.
(Times of India)
Each man in this poor village just outside the capital, Kabul, says he will vote for Karzai, the interim president and a fellow Pashtun, Afghanistan's largest ethnic group. They say their elders have told them Karzai is the best choice, and they see no reason to question that. "In Kuchi society, we listen to our elders. They have said the choice is ours, but that Karzai is the man for the job," said Mohammed Saeed, a 41-year-old father of seven. "We all know what to do. We will all be voting for Karzai."
Taliban have said that they would not create disturbance in Afghan refugees camps in Pakistan during forthcoming Afghan presidential elections. A Taliban spokesman Hamid Agha told Radio Tehran that Pakistan was sovereign state and they have no intention to disrupt the elections process there. He further said that Taliban wanted the Afghan refugees not to participate in the elections, which is being held by the US.
Fairuzah's dark eyes gaze out from her black veil as she sits in a mud-brick hut with the other women in her tribe. As the only woman who can read in this remote Pashtun village, the 18-year-old patiently pores over the brightly colored United Nations pamphlet that explains, step by step, what to do on voting day. The women all understand the significance of voting, she says, but they may choose not to vote because the polling station is too far away for women to travel. "The election is important because it makes a difference to our future," she acknowledges, "but our traditions are more important."
As many as 2,000 terrorists may try to disrupt next weekend's historic presidential election in Afghanistan, according to the commander of US forces in the country, General David Barno. Intelligence reports have suggested large numbers of foreign militants may be heading for Kabul from neighbouring Pakistan, giving rise to fears of "spectacular" attacks in Afghanistan's cities and massacres at poorly guarded rural polling stations. There are also reports from the south of Arab and Chechen fighters joining the sputtering Taliban insurgency.
The discreet white villa down a potholed Kabul sidestreet is the unlikely headquarters of Afghanistan's first political spin-doctoring operation. From here, a small team of western political advisers, brought in by the United Nations to teach 18 presidential hopefuls how to get "on message" for next weekend's historic election, has grappled with a string of daunting electioneering challenges....
General Dostum, a whisky-drinking mujahideen leader whose Northern Alliance forces helped defeat the Taliban, had to be dissuaded from posing for a campaign poster among the graves of "martyrs" who died fighting the Taliban. Tactfully, they pointed out that he might look for a more positive image. "Pictures of cemeteries are not representative of the new Afghanistan," Mr Marie said. The general eventually agreed to pose at a building site instead.
Tens of thousands of people gathered in a northern Afghan town on Tuesday to hear General Abdul Rashid Dostum launch his bid for the presidency, as a slow election campaign began to gather pace. Crammed into a sports stadium in Shiberghan, Dostum's bastion, the crowd was largely from the minority ethnic Uzbek clan to which the former Communist commander belongs.
"Afghanistan is going through one of its difficult stages," the burly, moustachioed candidate told the crowd, 12 days ahead of Afghanistan's first direct presidential vote. "You need to know who you want to vote for," he added, as thousands of supporters clapped in bright morning sunshine.

Monday, September 27, 2004

A bomb exploded in the Afghan capital late today (Monday), just days ahead of the country's landmark presidential elections, but caused no injuries, officials said.
"There was a small bomb explosion in the 11th police district by the main road but luckily (we) had no casualties," Kabul police chief General Baba Jan said. The explosion hit some two metres from a local police post and the blast broke the windows of surrounding shops.
"It was just next to the police post," Gen. Baba Jan said, adding that six people had been detained for questioning over the incident. Officials said it too early to say who was responsible for the blast but militants with the ousted fundamentalist Taliban regime have claimed similar attacks in the past.
(The Age-Australia)

U.S. troops and helicopter gunships have killed five suspected Taliban rebels, hours after militants attacked Afghan army troops in southern Afghanistan. A provincial governor said the Taliban fighters attacked a checkpoint of Afghanistan's fledging national army at midnight Friday, 105 miles north of Kandahar. Jan Mohammed Khan said army forces fought back, and that the attackers fled after wounding four soldiers, he said. He said the Afghans requested U.S. assistance and helicopter gunships attacked about 20 Taliban who had fired on the checkpoint.
(Associated Press)

MP and his dog recount Afghan experience.
Back from Afghanistan, Capt. Dunn said the family he left behind had the 'hard job'....
After Capt. John Dunn left for Afghanistan with the Oklahoma National Guard 45th Infantry Brigade last November, his wife, Amy, took time to teach her girls about their father's call to duty.
Female election commission educators in the southern Afghan city of Kandahar are persistent and brave, ignoring threats each day they criss-cross the city to convince women to vote.
Afghanistan's first democratic election next month will be held in an atmosphere of fear and intimidation, according to a report which blames America for continuing to pay warlords to hunt the Taliban. Human Rights Watch found genuine democrats too scared to take part in politics and warned that intimidation of voters has happened on a massive scale. Polling day is just two weeks away and many fear it could be an extremely corrupt process.
Harris said Operation Phoenix does have several people "that work close to where the car bomb went off, but none were in imminent danger. I routinely travel right past where the attack was and went by the next day.
"The car bomb was of fairly good size and caused significant damage to the compound. Unfortunately there were 22 locals and international people injured, and two U.S. citizens and about a dozen local nationals killed.
"We prepared a quick reaction force to assist but (we) were not needed so our involvement was limited," Harris said. "It was interesting that the same evening and the next day there were 30 or 40 news articles on what had happened. Only one was even remotely close to what really happened. So, for the folks back home, don't rely on the first reports. It usually takes a day or two to get it right."
The death in a gun battle of one of Pakistan's top Islamic extremists and suspected al-Qaeda linchpin, Amjad Farooqi, has come as a great relief to the country's security and intelligence agencies. He was described as the master planner of the assassination attempts on President Pervez Musharraf in December last year.
But the fact that such a high-profile militant was found hiding in the country's southern Sindh province, far from the supposed militant stronghold of South Waziristan, has raised fresh questions about the strength of the militants' foothold in Pakistan.
Indeed, almost all the leading al-Qaeda suspects and their local associates killed or arrested in the past two years were found in major Pakistani cities rather than in the tribal region that borders Afghanistan.
A senior commander of the Taliban who had been released from the American detention center in Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, was killed Saturday in Uruzgan Province, Afghan officials said Sunday. The commander, Maulavi Ghaffar, had spent eight months in the Guantánamo prison, said the interior minister, Ali Ahmed Jalali. He had been captured after fighting for the Taliban in northern Afghanistan, Jalali said. After his release more than a year ago he was appointed the Taliban's regional commander in Uruzgan and Helmand provinces.
Al Qaeda-linked fighters battling Pakistani troops along the border with Afghanistan are sophisticated and brutal combatants who carry satellite phones and mutilate their enemies’ corpses, said a profile by army commander Maj Gen Niaz Khattak.
The Barak family reflects the divides in Afghanistan’s largest southern city Kandahar, which is both the spiritual home of the Taliban and a stronghold of President Hamid Karzai. Three years after the ousting of the hard line Islamic militia, the parents and nine children, aged between 13 and 30, are torn between nostalgia for the stability of the Taliban years, and fervour for a democratic future. "It was better under the Taliban, the security was good... people don’t have good character now, they’ll kill for a bicycle. Now there is robbery, child kidnapping," said 50-year-old Khadija, mother of nine children.
Bagram is a fortress-like base, surrounded by walls, sandbags and razor wire. Outside the gates children beg passing troops for pens. But inside is a cornucopia of modern conveniences: a music, food and electronics store; internet and video halls; esoteric gift outlets; a beauty spa; and, since July, Afghanistan's first Burger King. "We know we're going to be here for a while," says Major Stacy Bathrick, a public affairs officer. "If the soldiers have a good quality of life [on base], it means their morale is high when out on mission."
We get out.
A suggestion in one of my recent columns that we begin the withdrawal by establishing American enclaves on the Iraq borders has gained some traction and is being discussed by Army planners, we are told.
An American withdrawal short of victory would leave the Iraqis to sort things out on their own, and that likely means a civil war between the Sunnis and Shiites while the semi-autonomous Kurds in the north try to stay out of it.
Withdrawal would end the Republican neo-conservative dreams of establishing democracy, and an American foothold, in the Middle East. An end to their dreams of frightening Syria and Iran into behaving much better.
It would be a bitter pill for the Bush administration to swallow and one they are unwilling to discuss until the November election is out of the way. But if they win another four years, swallow it they must or see the war and the American casualties drag on endlessly without resolution.
A withdrawal from Iraq would allow us to reinforce and re-energize the effort in Afghanistan and bolster our ally, Gen. Pervez Musharraf in Pakistan, as he and his army pursue a bloody campaign to clean out pockets of foreign terrorists in Waziristan on the Afghan border.
The United States needs to bolster security and reconstruction in Afghanistan and prevent the overthrow of Musharraf and the rise to power of Islamic fundamentalists in Pakistan, which is a nuclear power. Think of Osama bin Laden with his hands on a nuclear bomb. Now that would be a very real threat to the United States and its people.
Joe Galloway.
A deluge of international aid workers are evacuating war-weary Afghanistan in anticipation of increased violence by unruly factions bent on derailing the country's first presidential election. Amid a flurry of killings and threats by the former Taliban regime and their fundamentalist allies ahead of the Oct. 9 vote, many foreign aid organizations are trying to minimize the risk to their foreign and Afghani workers....The violence and threats have prompted the Afghanistan NGO Security Organization — the most widely used security source for aid agencies in Kabul — to advise its clients to leave during the elections. "Only essential staff should stay," said ANSO co-ordinator Nick Downie. "Otherwise, evacuate, relocate and take holidays."
Three U.S. soldiers were wounded, one of them critically, when Afghan insurgents attacked their vehicle with rockets and guns, the American military said Monday.... The American soldiers were hurt when militants attacked the vehicle Saturday morning near Qalat, the capital of the troubled southeastern profince of Zabul, a military statement said. It said the three wounded soldiers were evacuated to a military hospital in Landstuhl, Germany for treatment. One soldier was in critical condition and the other two were in stable condition.

Osama bin Laden and other senior al Qaeda leaders are most likely hiding in Pakistan, the U.S. commander of 18,000 foreign troops hunting militants in Afghanistan says. Lieutenant-General David Barno also told Reuters in an interview that al Qaeda operatives were helping remnants of Afghanistan's ousted Taliban to disrupt preparations for the country's first direct presidential vote on October 9.
"We see relatively little evidence of senior al Qaeda personality figures being here (in Afghanistan) because they can feel more protected by their foreign fighters in remote areas inside Pakistan," he said in a heavily fortified U.S. military compound in Kabul on Monday.
The U.S. Army is considering shortening yearlong combat tours in Iraq and Afghanistan amid concerns the long and perilous duty is making it hard to attract new soldiers and keep current ones, officials said on Monday. U.S. Army leaders are looking at a length of service closer to the seven-month combat tours of Marines in those war zones, a senior Army official said on condition of anonymity. But the official said there was concern among some in the Army that this step could undermine units on the battlefield and that any change might be at least two years away.
Afghan law enforcement personnel discovered 1,000 kilograms of explosive materials in a vehicle in the war-weary Afghan capital Sunday, said the country's top security official.
Is Herat a prelude to the end of Afghan Warlordism.
The United States funds Karzai's around-the-clock security, and on Sunday his U.S.-led Afghan guards outnumbered local dignitaries who came to welcome him on arrival in Shiberghan. Flanked by presidential candidate and regional commander General Abdul Rashid Dostum, Karzai displayed his personable style by hinting jokingly that his rival should drop out of the election race.
With two weeks remaining before national elections and 18 candidates running for president, Afghanistan's capital should be a frenzy of competing campaign rallies, patriotic stump speeches and sloganeering.
Instead, Kabul is holding its breath and waiting for word to emanate from a glittering green mansion in a dusty corner of the city, where an enormous poster of one candidate adorns the entryway, old fighters in fading fatigues embrace on the lawn, and aides with cell phones pace the balconies in intense conversation.
The candidate is Yonus Qanooni, 43, the crisp, bespectacled former education and interior minister and onetime anti-Soviet and anti-Taliban resistance fighter who is viewed as the only serious challenger to President Hamid Karzai in the elections scheduled for Oct. 9.
Pamela Constable reports.
For the past several weeks, the institute, the international arm of the US Democratic Party, has been holding two-day election workshops throughout the country to prepare aspiring Afghan politicians for their landmark presidential elections on October 9....Patrick Basham, of a Washington-based think tank, the Cato Institute, warned that after political parties are trained, they confront an uneducated electorate that has no experience and little to no understanding of democracy.
"You can't just drop a democratic system into a country and expect it to thrive," he said.
The U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan denied on Monday that he was interfering in the country's first direct presidential election next month, saying Afghans alone must decide their future. Asked about complaints from some candidates in the Oct. 9 poll that he was pressuring them to withdraw, Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad told a news conference that Washington had no vested interest in the result, just the process.
Suspected Taliban militants launched a string of attacks on security posts in southern Afghanistan on Saturday, killing nine soldiers, an official said....Haji Muhammad Wali, spokes-man for the governor of Helmand province, said that an unspecified number of gunmen launched raids on three security posts along a road between Girishk in the southern Helmand province and Delawar in the western province of Farah.
“I have a house, other farmers have a car, and since we began to grow opium everything has changed. I can send my children to school,” said Basir, a turbaned farmer in his 40s standing in the middle of his fields of illicit poppy plants, which bear the raw ingredient for heroin.
The newly-established German Provincial Reconstruction Team (PRT) in Faizabad has been at the center of a controversy over its inability to rescue stranded foreign aid workers who were attacked by an angry mob on September 8. Workers from the Swiss-based charity Medair were eventually rescued not by German troops or local police but by enterprising and unarmed staff from the United Nations and security firm Global Risk who were stationed in the town working on the elections. The inaction of the German contingent has caused resentment.
"They came and told us what the situation was on the streets the day after the riot but when we needed their help they were hiding under their beds," said one aid worker who helped rescue others from the rioters.
Ahead of the next general elections in Afghanistan, Germany's army intends to build a military camp south of Kabul to boost security at the start of the next year, a defense ministry spokesman said Saturday. Prior to the 2005 general elections, Germany's Bundeswehr will have set up a temporary garrison south of the Afghanistan capital. A spokesman for the defense ministry said an army patrol would travel to the town of Surobi, 60 (36 miles) kilometers outside of Kabul to discuss the parameters of the new camp with local authorities.
The Taliban and their al Qaeda allies are stepping up plans to disrupt Afghanistan's first direct presidential election on Oct. 9, the head of the U.S.-led coalition said on Saturday. "We have seen indications that they have no other option," Lieutenant-General David Barno told a news conference in Kabul.
Pakistan has lifted economic sanctions against the tribal area of South Waziristan in a bid to win support for its hunt for militants residing there. The penalties imposed in May resulted in the impounding of cars and the closure of shops in the area.
The American Black Hawk helicopter swoops overhead before landing at the presidential palace. Traffic in the city comes to a halt as roads within a one-mile radius are closed in case of ground-to-air missiles. American security guards wearing ill-fitting suits and brandishing assault rifles direct hundreds of turbaned Afghan men and a handful of women through five security checkpoints inside the palace gardens. President Hamid Karzai has arrived. He takes a seat at a long table under a canopy of chinar trees where a crowd of about 200 potential supporters are waiting to hear him explain why they should vote for him on October 9.
If the dirt of the day and the din of the traffic become too much, just look up -- soaring above the city on any given day, anywhere, you can see the kites of Kabul. Kite flying is big business again in Kabul. Banned by the Taliban, it was against the law for several years. The younger kite flyers are making up for lost time. Farhad Whaedy is a veteran, spending nearly half his 10-year-old life on the kite-cutting circuit. "When you compete with the other kites, you should cut the other kite," said Whaedy. "Everybody good will cut the other kite." Kite cutting is when your kite's string severs the string of your competitor, launching the loser's aloft. And on this battleground, there is a fate worse than losing. If your opponent should find your kite, well, the humiliation is doubled. But until then, a champion is like a rock star.
(CBS News)

Pakistan's military has, however, taken a group of foreign and local journalists on an escorted trip to the scene of what it says was one of the most important confrontations with militants. They flew us into the Shakai Valley, north of Wana, the main commercial centre of South Waziristan. The valley is some 30 kilometres from the border with Afghanistan. It is a place where, according to army spokesman Major General Shaukat Sultan, al-Qaeda-linked militants and their tribal protectors were flushed out in an air and ground assault in June. The military showed us a huge arms and equipment cache it said it had found in a cellar two months later. Among the supplies were anti-aircraft machine guns, sophisticated communications systems, laptop computers and notes for making explosives.
In Shakai the military introduced us to several tribal leaders who, in the presence of army officers, welcomed their efforts to rid South Waziristan of militants. But when one accompanying officer was out of earshot, a tribesman gave us a very different interpretation of what was happening there.
"This is an oppressor army," said Noor Murad Aidi. "They've killed innocent people."
British combat jets have been deployed to Afghanistan for the first time ahead of October's presidential elections. Six RAF Harrier GR7 aircraft along with 315 troops set off for Kandahar early on Friday morning from RAF Cottesmore in Rutland.
Republican Congressman Henry Hyde, chairman of the House International Relations Committee, expressed his frustration.
"For now the drug lords are getting stronger faster than the Afghan authorities are being built up," he noted. "In other words, we're falling further behind. If we wait, we will have to return to Afghanistan in great force once again, because we will be unable to prevent the country from descending into the sort of absolute chaos upon which terrorists thrive."
Ten members of a shadowy Islamic militant group linked to al Qaeda were formally charged on Thursday with trying to assassinate the military commander of the southern Pakistani city of Karachi earlier this year. Lieutenant-General Ahsan Saleem Hayat survived the June 10 gun and bomb attack on his motorcade on Karachi's busy Clifton bridge, but 10 other people -- six soldiers, three policemen and a civilian -- were killed. The militants, who officials say belong to the previously unknown Jundullah (Army of Allah) group, were arrested in a series of raids in the days after the attack.
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