Sunday, October 17, 2004

Of 905,887 votes tallied by Sunday evening, Karzai, Afghanistan's interim president since the fall of the Taliban in 2001, had captured 60.2 percent.
That was about 10 percentage points down from the day before but enough to keep him on course for the simple majority needed to avoid a run-off. About 12 percent of the ballots have been counted.
Qanooni, who served as Karzai's interior and education minister, had 18.6 percent of the vote. Ethnic Uzbek warlord Abdul Rashid Dostum was third with 10.1 percent.
Almost all of Karzai's 15 opponents have complained of cheating to the panel of foreign experts set up to head off their threat to boycott the results. Establishing the panel delayed the start of counting, and Qanooni said in an interview that the figures would turn in his favor as more votes are tallied. Still, few independent observers believe that Qanooni, a member of the ethnic Tajik minority, could command a country deeply fractured by years of tribal and ethnic warfare.
Karzai enjoys strong support among Afghanistan's traditional rulers, the Pashtuns, and is seen as a bridge to its international backers and a leader untainted by its bloody past.
When he arrived at the interrogation facility at Bagram air base in Afghanistan, Steve Hillebrand discovered one obvious fact of life. Secrets were hard to keep.
"We will accept Karzai as our president if he helps us," said Mohammad Hassan, 78, a respected elder surveying the well drilling, dressed in a turban, dishdasha robe, and plaid vest. "But he's only talking in theory, not in practice," Hassan said. "Poppies are the only way we can make a living."
While the Bush campaign talks about Afghanistan as a country transformed, the reality is more complex. Reconstruction has only barely begun to touch the rural villages where most Afghans live. Most international aid has been focused on large cities. And as Afghanistan's fledgling central government struggles to win its people's allegiance against a growing drug trade, recalcitrant warlords, and Taliban militants, many in rural areas, are beginning to express disappointment that they haven't seen more change.
Forces at Firebase Asadabad launched several operations Friday aimed at extending their dominance to an area where intelligence reports indicate there are high concentrations of Taliban fighters and other insurgents.
The United States is trying to fast-track Afghanistan’s objective of having a 70,000-strong army within five years, the American envoy to Kabul said on Friday. “We are looking at how ... to get to the 70,000 (target) as soon as possible,” Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad said. “The current plan is to get there in five additional years. We could do that at a faster rate. We are looking at that.” The Afghan army is more than 15,000 strong today while the police force has more than 30,000 trained personnel, according to the envoy.
Three rockets landed in Afghan capital Saturday night, injuring two civilians one day after the Muslim holy fasting month Ramadan began. The first rocket hit into an apartment building near the Kabul airport, east of the city. "The first rocket slammed into the building, but caused no injuries," Haji Ekram, the district policechief said. The second rocket hit the back of a mud-made house, northeast of Kabul, injuring one woman and his son when they passed by the site. The woman was in critical condition, according to a witness. The third one landed in a mosque, but did not go off. The police had rushed to the scene and cordoned off the area while the city power was gone few minutes after the attack. Rocket attacks are often seen during night in Kabul, which were commonly blamed on Taliban militias who failed to launch significant attacks on the first-ever Afghan direct presidential poll day last Saturday.

Reports of violence resumed a week after the vote with the death of at least three children and a policeman in a bomb explosion on Friday in southeastern Afghanistan. The children had gathered round a truck set ablaze by suspected militants in the province of Kunar when the militants detonated the bomb by remote control soon after a local police chief arrived to investigate. "One of the police chief's bodyguards was killed on the spot along with three children who had gathered in the area to see the fire," said one resident in the Asmar area of Kunar.
A bomb attack in southern Afghanistan killed two American soldiers and wounded three others, the U.S. military said Saturday. The attack happened Thursday in Uruzgan province, northwest of Deh Rawood, where a U.S. military base is located. "Two coalition soldiers were killed and three wounded when their patrol was struck by an improvised explosive device," Maj. Mark McCann, a U.S. military spokesman in Kabul, said in a brief statement.

Thirty men strong, this cell has the "mission impossible" of cracking down on the drug traffic in Nangarhar (a province which had become the top producer in 2003, with an estimated 964 tons of opium) as well as in four other neighboring provinces. His black beard trimmed, an official cap on his head, he confesses to having seized a pitiful haul of only 59kg of heroin, 300 kg of opium, and 1,800 kg of hashish since March. The unit does not have any vehicles. For some operations targeting heroin production laboratories, sometimes 50-80 men from other services are mobilized. But it's too few. Often informed ahead of time, well-armed traffickers easily repulse their assaults.
It could take 10 years for Afghanistan to become a successful democratic state following this month's ground-breaking presidential election, the U.S. ambassador to Kabul said on Friday. And the Pentagon stressed that the United States had set no time limit for maintaining American and coalition military forces in Afghanistan. There are currently about 18,000 U.S. troops there along with soldiers from NATO and other countries.
The Bush administration is planning to consult Congress on Pakistan's nearly 15-year quest for advanced F-16 fighter aircraft, a U.S. defense official said on Thursday, in a prelude to what may be a delicate balancing act with rival India.
Zaher Miran was so afraid to visit his native Afghanistan this summer, he almost didn't go. A naturalized American after 24 years, he'd watched his homeland suffer through a communist invasion. Civil war. A brutal Taliban. Then his brother made a tentative foray into Kabul from his adopted home in Pakistan. Next, his father flew over from Hampton Roads. What would they find? Murder? Mayhem? A salted earth? Zaher anxiously called his father in Kabul to scope out the lay of the land. The man shrugged. "Eh. It's not bad. Comeon over."
"Ten SAM missiles were found from eastern provinces of Afghanistan today," Majmar Ahmadi, press officer of the Anti-Terror Department of the Interior Ministry, told journalists here. This is the first time that SAM missiles have been recovered inthe war-shattered militancy-hit Afghanistan.
Two of my Afghan friends and colleagues arrived in Washington, DC yesterday. Their satisfaction and enthusiasm with the elections in Afghanistan can hardly be overstated. Both showed off the fading indelible ink on their thumbs (one of them had initially gone to a polling place where the pens proved delible, but the mistake was caught early and the voters sent to a different polling station). One said, eyes twinkling: “It was a miracle. There were hundreds of us, and everyone was standing in one straight line. Afghans never stand in line, they always crush in together. But that day, we all stood in line and waited to vote.” The other pulled out his mobile phone and proudly showed the digital photo he’d taken in the privacy of the polling booth: a ballot with a big black checkmark next to Hamid Karzai’s picture.
It’s unsurprising that two young, married Kabulis who work for a Western NGO and who backed Karzai would find the election satisfying. They have everything to gain from a continuation of the policies of the last three years. But after the initial shock of the washable ink and the soon-retracted opposition boycott, the reports out of Afghanistan have suggested that most Afghans throughout the country shared my friends’ enthusiasm.
(Scroll to Oct.16)
International forces should expect to stay in Afghanistan for "10 to 20 years," according to a Canadian commander who helped lead foreign troops in Kabul until February. "We ignore Afghanistan at our peril," said Maj. Gen. Andrew Leslie. He pronounced the election in Afghanistan "a tremendous success," although he acknowledged that the fledgling government would be fragile and require international backing for many years.
Abdullah Mahsud, the commander of the Islamic militants who ordered the kidnapping of two Chinese engineers in South Waziristan tribal agency three days ago, spent 25 months in custody at the US naval base in Guantanamo Bay before his release in March this year.
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