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The Sandbox and Areas Reports Thread (February 2008)

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Articles found February 17,2008

More than 55 killed in Kandahar blast
  Brian Hutchinson Canwest News Service Sunday, February 17, 2008
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KANDAHAR, Afghanistan -- A suicide bombing in the Arghandab district north of Kandahar city Sunday morning killed at least 55 Afghan civilians and left another 80 wounded, many critically, according to official sources here.

It is by far the worst single day of bloodshed for civilians in Kandahar province since Canadian forces deployed here early in 2006, and appears to be the worst in all of Afghanistan since the Taliban were removed from power in 2001.

The blast occurred at 10 a.m. local time, at a traditional dog fighting festival in the village of Baghi Polmanda. Some 5,000 people had formed a large circle outdoors to watch the dog fights.

Abdul Hakim Jan, a senior Afghan National Auxiliary Police commander, was participating in the festival and had just released one of his fighting dogs into the ring when a suicide bomber approached and detonated his explosives, witnesses say.

Jan was long despised by the Taliban. He opposed their authoritarian rule in the late 1990s, even as he served as a provincial police chief.
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Wounded warriors
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Since the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq began, this expansive U.S. military hospital has become a crossroad between lifeand death for soldiers frommany nations

LANDSTUHL, GERMANY -- Every day, they arrive by the busload -- broken, bandaged and bloodied from war.

They are American, Canadian and from many other nations -- "wounded warriors" delivered from Iraq and Afghanistan with blown-off limbs, severe burns and battle fatigue.

Some arrive fresh from conflict with blood still on their boots. Some come with less visible injuries, such as post-traumatic stress disorder, chronic back pain or severe headaches. Others need medical treatment or tests they can't get in the field.

When Canadian soldiers are injured in combat, they are evacuated here to Landstuhl Regional Medical Center, a sprawling, fast-paced American military hospital that is the biggest medical facility outside the U.S. For Canadian troops, it is the gateway between Kandahar and Canada, and a crossroads between the brink of death and life.

Shell-shocked troops confront the grim reality of a future as an amputee, or grapple with the guilt of survival as their comrades return to Canada in flag-draped caskets.

Since the war on terror spawned two major conflict zones, Landstuhl's story has become one of the brutality of war, of survival, and of resilience.
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Australia now in on Afghan plans
The Age, Feb. 18

NATO has assured Australia it will be given access to top-level intelligence and a copy of a document setting out a new strategy for fighting the war in Afghanistan.

The organisation's secretary-general, Jaap de Hoop Scheffer, rang Joel Fitzgibbon on Friday in response to the new Defence Minister's strong criticism of the running of the war, in Parliament and in the media, over the past fortnight.

Mr Fitzgibbon told The Age last week he was astounded to find that while Australia had the biggest contingent of any non-NATO country in Afghanistan and its forces were in the most dangerous area, it had not been given access to the most sensitive intelligence and had little input into planning. That included a key draft document explaining how NATO would change its strategy to overcome a resurgent Taliban.

Mr Fitzgibbon warned then that he was not prepared to see Australians dying to make gains in Afghanistan while those gains were lost through the incompetence of politicians.

Last night Mr Fitzgibbon said he was delighted when Mr De Hoop Scheffer reinforced his commitment to do all he could to give Australia more access to information and enhance its participation in forums where Afghanistan was being discussed.

"He pledged to make sure that I've got the current draft of the NATO strategic document for Afghanistan prior to going to Bucharest," Mr Fitzgibbon said. (NATO defence ministers next meet on Afghanistan in the Romanian capital in early April.)

"We'll be able to read and digest that document, analyse it so that we're better informed ahead of the debate," he said.

"I'm hopeful that those underperforming NATO countries will see the light and both do more and remove some of the caveats they have attached to their deployments [emphasis added].

"I'm also confident that the Bucharest conference will produce a strategy document which both identifies the current shortcomings and poses solutions.

"Beyond that it is, of course, all in the implementations. We can identify the problems and put forward strategies and solutions but unless people are prepared to make the commitment then our capacity to make better progress remains questionable."

Mr Fitzgibbon said the Government was due to review the deployment to Afghanistan and wanted to ensure it had the most suitable mix of forces there — but remained committed.

"We're not looking at either increasing or decreasing our commitment but just ensuring that the configuration we have is one that makes the greatest contribution," [emphasis added] he said...

Germans plead Second World War hangover
Sunday Telegraph, Feb. 16

Germany's role in the Second World War has made it difficult to win public support for military action in Afghanistan, the German ambassador to Britain has admitted.

Wolfgang Ischinger said Germans had so often been told that their military had done "many awful things" it was hard to persuade them they should get involved in another conflict.

Germany is under pressure from the US, Britain and Canada to send more troops to reinforce the Nato mission in the south of Afghanistan, where the fighting against the Taliban is at its fiercest. Canada is demanding that other Nato members provide another 1,000 troops in the south if it is to remain in Afghanistan next year.

But describing criticism as "quite irresponsible", Mr Ischinger said that Germany had done more to help Afghanistan than any other European nation, including Britain. "In terms of financial assistance, civilian aid, military commitments, we would probably be the number one country [emphasis added]," he told The Sunday Telegraph.

"The UK has been the number one European military contributor for the last period but… as recently as 2004 the German contingent was bigger."

Germany is considering boosting troop numbers by 1,000 to about 4,500, but Mr Ischinger ruled out moving them from the more peaceful north [emphasis added].

He said politicians had to win over a post-war generation. "You have never been in the situation, certainly not in the last century, where you thought that the military had no role at all abroad, but that was the consensus in Germany as recently as 12 or 13 years ago.

"It is only very recently that we participated in more direct peacekeeping, and more recently still in actual combat operations. We have come a long way."..

Articles found February 18, 2008

Relief in Kandahar is key
Reducing Canadian casualties means another NATO country taking a turn on southern 'front'
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Attending an international military gathering in Munich this past week, U.S. Defence Secretary Robert Gates publicly put the boots to European NATO allies he accused of being the layabouts of the Afghanistan war.

"We must not -- we cannot -- become a two-tiered alliance of those who are willing to fight and those who are not," he said.

Evidently, Gates had been not briefed on Stephane Dion's innovative third tier - those who pretend not to be willing to fight.

Until this week, the Liberal leader's position on Afghanistan was clear: Canada absolutely must withdraw from any combat role within a year.

Canadian forces would remain in Kandahar, but their efforts would be limited to training the Afghan army and police, helping on reconstruction and development projects, and providing security for those endeavours.

The basic flaw in this strategy is what it has always been: The Kandahar region is one of the most dangerous war zones in Afghanistan.

As a friend in the aid biz once said, you can't build a school with someone shooting at you.

Fact is, Canadian troops stationed there are already devoted to training, reconstruction and security.

The problem is the minute they venture out to do anything in the Kandahar region -- whether to pave a road, train Afghan soldiers, or engage the enemy in combat -- our troops have a good chance of being killed by Taliban roadmines and suicide bombers.

If the point of changing our role in Afghanistan is to reduce the casualty rate of Canadian soldiers, the Liberal proposal to "end the combat mission" isn't likely to achieve much.


A review of Canadian casualties shows that of the 34 soldiers who died in the past year, almost all of them were killed by roadside bombs.

Not one was involved in the Liberal definition of a "combat mission" -- that is, seeking out and engaging the enemy in firefight.

Taken to its illogical conclusion, the Liberal plan would have our troops sitting safely inside the Kandahar military compound, letting other NATO soldiers get blown up until the Taliban are defeated and Canada could safely begin building schools without "combat."

Good luck with that.
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Merkel says no plan to change German missions in Afghanistan 
www.chinaview.cn  2008-02-18 00:02:42   
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    BERLIN, Feb. 18 (Xinhua) -- German Chancellor Angela Merkel said Monday that Germany is not planning to change or expand its mission in Afghanistan despite mounting pressures from NATO allies.

    "I see with a certain measure of concern some debates within NATO," she told reporters.

    Merkel rejected accusations that Germany has failed to share military burdens in Afghanistan by deploying its troops only in the relatively peaceful north region.

    Germany was taking on much the same role as its partners in the country, she said.

    There could be no reconstruction without security, but there could also be no security without reconstruction, she said.

    Germany has bluntly rejected a NATO request to send extra troops to the more volatile southern Afghanistan as an increasing number of Germans have become skeptical about the military missions.

    U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates said earlier this month in a key security meeting in Munich that some nations are "forcing other allies to bear disproportionate share of fighting and dying," alluding to Germany.
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British NATO soldier killed in Afghanistan
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LONDON (AFP) — A British soldier has been killed and another injured while serving with NATO-led forces in southern Afghanistan, the Ministry of Defence said Monday.

The soldier from the 2nd Battalion The Yorkshire Regiment died on Sunday, it said in a statement, adding that the injuries of the other casualty were "not life-threatening."

"Just before 9 pm local time soldiers ...were taking part in a foot patrol with 40 Commando Royal Marines near Kajaki, Helmand Province when they were caught in an explosion," it said.

"Medical treatment was administered at the scene and both soldiers were evacuated to Camp Bastion by emergency response helicopter. Sadly one of the soldiers was pronounced dead on arrival.

Next of kin have been informed, it added.

The new casualty took to 88 the number of British troops killed in Afghanistan since the US-led invasion of the country in October 2001, following the September 11 terror attacks.

It also took to 16 the number of international soldiers killed in Afghanistan this year. Most of them have been US nationals but the toll includes Canadian, British, Dutch and Italian troops.
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NATO's two-tiered mission
National Post, Feb. 18, by Fred Kaplan

...it's worth recalling how NATO got involved in this war to begin with. What's happening now should be no surprise whatsoever.

In early 2006, NATO made plans to relieve the United States of command over operations in Afghanistan. The mission was seen as vital, above all, to NATO. It was a test of whether, in the post-Cold War era, the alliance had any role to play as a unified expeditionary force. To get all the nations involved, "caveats" were negotiated. Some nations would send troops, but only if they didn't have to fight; others would fight, but not at night; and so forth. Troops under NATO command, in general, could engage in "proactive self-defence," a deliberately vague term that permitted commanders to fire when fired upon and go after insurgents if they were spotted nearby. But they could not initiate offensive operations. (For that reason, the United States would keep 13,000 troops, mainly airmen, under its own command -- in addition to the 7,000 it was placing under NATO's -- so that somebody could continue to go after Taliban forces on the Pakistan border.)

The assumption, on the part of the NATO nations, was that the mission would be shifting away from "counterterrorism" to "counterinsurgency" -- that is, from "going after bad guys for the sake of going after bad guys" (as one British officer snidely put it to me when I visited Afghanistan that summer) to securing areas for the sake of promoting economic development.

In other words, most of the NATO nations agreed to send troops on the premise that they'd be engaged in peacekeeping, not warfighting.

Then, in the spring of 2006, the Taliban threw a wrench in the works by staging offensives throughout southern Afghanistan -- a huge area, about the size of Germany -- after four years of relative calm. (Actually, they'd been infiltrating the region all this time; they resumed their offensives only to resist the returning Western troops.)

The alliance isn't "evolving into a two-tiered alliance," as Gates said. When it comes to Afghanistan, it's been that kind of alliance from the start. As the fighting has grown fiercer, the inadequacies of this crazy quilt have become clearer...

On patrol in Afghanistan's suicide-bombing capital
The Independent, Feb. 18

The raid came in the half-light of dawn. British, Nato and Afghan soldiers descended on a suspected Taliban stronghold in Gereshk, the suicide bombing capital of Afghanistan.

This is the town in Helmand province where the Taliban started its Iraq-style campaign of suicide bombing and even as Western forces attempt to establish control over this important strategic juncture, the unprecedented level of suicide attacks has continued.

Just as the weekend suicide bombing in Kandahar was aimed at an anti-Taliban militia leader, the insurgents in Gereshk have also been picking off the local leaders opposing them. The latest victim, a village chief, was killed last week. But the threat of suicide and roadside bombs is ever present for those conducting the security searches as well and Sergeant-Major Richard Wright was at pains to prepare the party, which also included Danish and Czech troops, for the danger.

"Whereas in other areas around here the Taliban engage in more frontal attacks, we have always had more bombings in Gereshk," said Sgt-Major Wright. "We hear that the Taliban use other areas to 'blood' their young fighters. But Gereshk is definitely the place for their more experienced men and at the same time men who are prepared to kill themselves."

Yesterday's swoop on the five walled compounds on the fringes of the town came on the back of intelligence suggesting the buildings were being used as a planning headquarters.

"We cannot frankly justify going into peoples' homes in a situation like this, kicking down doors, all guns blazing. That would be simply counter-productive," said Major Crispin d'Apice, of 1st Battalion, the Coldstream Guards. "We will be here for a long time and we have to work among the villagers around here in the future and we have to think ahead."

So the troops embarked on a "soft knock" raid. And as is common practice now, Afghan troops led the way – an attempt to show that the fledgling Afghan army is increasingly playing an active role [emphasis added]...

Articles found February 19, 2008

Norwegian troops in Afghanistan for seven more years
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Defence Minister Anne-Grete Stroem Erichsen does not believe that Norwegian troops can be pulled out of Afghanistan for another seven years, at the earliest.

This is the first time the Defence Minister gives a concrete estimate of when the Norwegian military engagement in Afghanistan may be terminated.
Speaking to the newspaper Dagsavisen, she said that NATO can't pull out until the Afghan army is functioning well.

The Afghan army today numbers around 40,000 men, and Stroem-Erichsen estimates that at least double that number is needed.

Norway has currently 500 special forces in Afghanistan.
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Angela Merkel rules out Afghan combat role
Last Updated: 2:04am GMT 19/02/2008
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Chancellor Angela Merkel has defied Germany's Nato allies by refusing to commit troops to combat zones in Afghanistan.

Despite intense pressure from the United States and warnings that the dispute could lead to an irreparable split in the trans-Atlantic alliance, Mrs Merkel said that her government would not reconsider the terms of the mandate under which German soldiers are stationed in the country.

Her comments came as three Canadian soldiers were reported to be among up to 40 people killed in the second suicide bombing in two days in the perilous south of the country, where German soldiers do not operate.

Germany's Afghan mission is governed by a parliamentary mandate that is due for renewal in the autumn.

It caps the number of troops at 3,500 and limits them to peacekeeping and reconstruction efforts in the relatively calm north.
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Troops don't deserve rebuke
Toronto Star, Feb. 19 by Rosie DiManno

In the gush of blood spilled over 24 hours in Kandahar province, Canadian troops were barely smeared.

Four lightly wounded, two treated in hospital and released, one kept overnight.

But they'll get blamed, on the ground, for not preventing the unpreventable, because Kandahar is primarily a Canadian custodianship. And their "failure" to protect citizens – upwards of 200 casualties in a brace of suicide bombings – will be cited as further proof of the mission's irrelevancy; indeed, as provocation for merciless attacks on the innocent.

Governor Asadullah Khalid wasted little time in chastising Canadian Forces for all but – he implied – inciting the suicide attack yesterday that claimed at least 38 Afghan lives at a marketplace in Spin Boldak, a deranged district capital, Taliban stronghold and bristling armaments clearing house a stone's throw from the suicide-bombers-enter-here Pakistan border...

Operationally, the Spin Boldak suicide bomber had a less than negligible impact on the situation in Kandahar. But when the governor starts yipping about Canadian patrols conducting normal business – and perhaps Khalid is still miffed at being implicated by Canadian diplomats in the alleged torture of an Afghan detainee – the Taliban has achieved their purpose. And this unwise apportioning of blame will only encourage bitterness among Afghans, who don't know who to distrust more these days – their oppressors or their liberators.

"It's the local population that defeats the insurgency," Maj.-Gen. Lewis MacKenzie, veteran of UN peacekeeping command in the Balkans, reminded yesterday. "You have to show them that you're going to stick around and you're going to give them better security than they'll get from the other side.

"Unfortunately, when we secure one area, the (Taliban) move in somewhere else. It's like trying to connect the spots on a Dalmatian."

If the Afghan government doesn't want Canadians there in a military role that includes standard patrols, it should ask us to leave. They've never done so, quite the opposite.

But Canadian forces don't deserve this kind of admonition from the top provincial administrator.

"We regularly receive warnings," countered Lt.-Cdr. Pierre Babinsky, Task Force spokesperson in Kandahar. "We assess them and we decide what to do about them. But the bottom line is that we want to go wherever we want, whenever we want, in our area of responsibility. Our job is to be out there ..."

There were no Canadians in the area when a man in a suicide vest all but promenaded into the security perimeter around an Afghan police commander – the apparent target – and his men as they attended a dogfight in Kandahar city Sunday.

Some Canadians will not get past even that wincing detail, wondering anew just what kind of an uncivilized and cruel people we are there to help. Which only shows how little we understand Afghans. While moral relativism is embraced as justification for asymmetrical warfare – the right of the weaker side to employ any tactic necessary against the overwhelming firepower of the enemy – cultural relativism has no traction.

Lacerated and masticated dogs we can understand, feel pity for them. Shredded Afghans, their flesh flung into the trees, strike a lesser chord of pity. Who is the primitive here?

The Taliban, in their era of formal power, outlawed dog fights. And the proscription was largely observed because the punishment was death. Perhaps we should be in Afghanistan to defend the sovereignty of canines? That might at least get the animal rights constituency onside.

According to wire reports, Afghan police responded to calamity at the dogfight corral with chaos, firing indiscriminately into the crowd. It was unclear how many bystanders were killed by police bullets and how many succumbed to shrapnel.

This underscores a sad truth about Afghan security forces: No matter the spin put on it, the formation and training of a reliable constabulary will be a laborious and protracted challenge.

To a considerable extent, the blame for this can be placed on NATO training programs that aren't properly integrated, as MacKenzie points out. The French are training junior NCOs, the British junior officers, and the Canadians doing "collective" training.

There is no cohesion. This is contributing to disjunction and breakdown under the gun. But everybody wants to train and few want to fight. Or venture, by convoy, into the belly of the Taliban beast.

Pakistan's ruling party concedes defeat
AP, Feb. 19

Pakistan's ruling party conceded defeat Tuesday after opposition parties routed allies of President Pervez Musharraf in parliamentary elections that could threaten the rule of America's close ally in the war on terror.

Former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, who was ousted in Musharraf's 1999 coup, suggested that the Pakistani president should listen to the "verdict" of the people in the Monday balloting and step down.

Chaudhry Shujaat Hussain, head of the Pakistan Muslim League-Q, told AP Television News that "we accept the results with an open heart" and "will sit on opposition benches" in the new parliament."

"All the King's men, gone!" proclaimed a banner headline in the Daily Times. "Heavyweights knocked out," read the Dawn newspaper.

The results cast doubt on the political future of Musharraf, who was re-elected to a five-year term last October in a controversial parliamentary ballot.

The private Geo TV network said the party of slain former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto and another group led by ex-premier Nawaz Sharif had so far won 153 seats, more than half of the 272-seat National Assembly.

The Pakistan Muslim League-Q party was a distant third with 38 seats. A ream of party stalwarts and former Cabinet ministers lost in their constituencies...

Unilateral Strike Called a Model For U.S. Operations in Pakistan

Washington Post, Feb. 19

In the predawn hours of Jan. 29, a CIA Predator aircraft flew in a slow arc above the Pakistani town of Mir Ali. The drone's operator, relying on information secretly passed to the CIA by local informants, clicked a computer mouse and sent the first of two Hellfire missiles hurtling toward a cluster of mud-brick buildings a few miles from the town center.

The missiles killed Abu Laith al-Libi, a senior al-Qaeda commander and a man who had repeatedly eluded the CIA's dragnet. It was the first successful strike against al-Qaeda's core leadership in two years, and it involved, U.S. officials say, an unusual degree of autonomy by the CIA inside Pakistan.

Having requested the Pakistani government's official permission for such strikes on previous occasions, only to be put off or turned down, this time the U.S. spy agency did not seek approval. The government of Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf was notified only as the operation was underway, according to the officials, who insisted on anonymity because of diplomatic sensitivities.

Officials say the incident was a model of how Washington often scores its rare victories these days in the fight against al-Qaeda inside Pakistan's national borders: It acts with assistance from well-paid sympathizers inside the country, but without getting the government's formal permission beforehand.

It is an approach that some U.S. officials say could be used more frequently this year, particularly if a power vacuum results from yesterday's election and associated political tumult. The administration also feels an increased sense of urgency about undermining al-Qaeda before President Bush leaves office, making it less hesitant, said one official familiar with the incident...

Articles found February 20, 2008

Prime Minister Stephen Harper confers with Karzai over Afghanistan mission
Tuesday, February 19, 2008
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OTTAWA, Feb 19, 2008 (AFP) — Canada's Prime Minister Stephen Harper conferred with Afghan President Hamid Karzai Tuesday about the future of NATO's Afghanistan mission, his spokeswoman said.
Speaking by telephone, Harper told Karzai that Canada wishes to extend its deployment of 2,500 troops in battle-scarred Kandahar province to 2011, but only if NATO allies send reinforcements.
To that end, Harper has in recent weeks urged the heads of France, Germany and Australia to boost their troop deployments in southern Afghanistan.
Defense Minister Peter MacKay told NATO defense ministers Ottawa's demand for an extra 1,000 troops in Kandahar to fight alongside Canadian soldiers against insurgents was "not a negotiable item."
Otherwise, Canada would withdraw from Afghanistan at the end of its current mandate in February 2009, said Harper.
Canada's parliament is expected to vote next month on whether to extend its combat mission in the volatile south.
In his discussion with Karzai, Harper "confirmed that he is in contact with NATO allies regarding additional troops and expressed his hope that Parliament will support a motion that would see an extension of Canada's mission to Afghanistan," his spokeswoman Sandra Buckler said in an email.
"President Karzai reconfirmed his support for the Canadian mission, a message he will carry to NATO in the coming weeks," she added.
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Militants abduct 2 staff of education department in W Afghanistan   
www.chinaview.cn  2008-02-20 15:11:41      Print
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    KABUL, Feb. 20 (Xinhua) -- Militants have abducted two staff of education department in Afghanistan's western Farah province, said a press release of Afghan Interior Ministry received here Wednesday.

    Two supervisors of the Education Department of Farah province, busy in visiting schools in Bakwa district, was kidnapped by armed men of militant leader Mullah Ibrahim, on Feb. 18, the ministry said.

    Targeting schools and murdering students and teachers are the acts of the enemies of Afghanistan and must be checked, it further said.

    The ministry said Afghan police would do its best to ensure the safe release of the two abductees.

    Over 140 pupils and teachers have been killed by Taliban insurgents over the past 10 months, according to latest education ministry statistics.
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CTV freelancer detained at U.S. base in Afghanistan
GRAEME SMITH From Wednesday's Globe and Mail February 20, 2008 at 5:06 AM EST
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KANDAHAR, AFGHANISTAN — A journalist who brought news to Canadian television has been detained without charge at a U.S. base in Afghanistan for almost four months, his employer says, calling for his immediate release.

Javed Yazamy, 22, earned the nickname Jojo while serving as a translator for the U.S. forces but spent the past two years working primarily for CTV News in Kandahar. He went missing in October when an unknown caller summoned him to Kandahar Air Field and foreign soldiers captured him in the dusty parking lot just outside the main gate.

Quiet diplomacy has failed to produce any official confirmation of his whereabouts or any explanation for his detention, said Robert Hurst, president of CTV News.

"As the weeks pass, our concern has grown," Mr. Hurst said.
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Kandahar governor says he warned troops
Published: Feb. 19, 2008 at 11:58 PM
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KANDAHAR, Afghanistan, Feb. 19 (UPI) -- The governor of Kandahar blamed Canadian soldiers for a deadly suicide bombing in Afghanistan, saying they ignored his warning of a bomber.

Gov. Asadullah Khalid told reporters he forwarded information that a suicide bomber was in the area on the Afghan-Pakistani border to Canadian and NATO officers, Canwest News Service reported.

The bombing in the Spin Boldak area killed at least 30 Afghanis, many of them shoppers or fruit and vegetable sellers at a street market, and wounded four Canadian soldiers. It was aimed at an armored convoy making a routine patrol 65 miles southeast of Kandahar.

Lt. Commander Pierre Babinsky, a spokesman for the Canadian military in Kandahar, said the military must operate freely, especially when warnings are so common.
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Czech prime minister to visit Ottawa for talks on Afghanistan
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OTTAWA - The prime minister of the Czech Republic will be in Ottawa next week to talk about the war in Afghanistan with Prime Minister Stephen Harper.

Mirek Topolanek will be bringing along his defence minister for the Feb. 28-29 visit, which will also include a stop in Toronto.

In a statement, Harper said Canada and the Czech Republic enjoy a strong bilateral relationship, including co-operation in the NATO-led mission in Afghanistan.

"I look forward to continuing to strengthen the friendship between our two countries," said the prime minister.

The Czech Republic has made a modest contribution to the mission in Afghanistan since 2002, deploying 200 personnel to operate a military field hospital and special forces soldiers operating in Kandahar.

Harper has been canvassing NATO allies looking for an extra 1,000 combat troops to bolster the Canadian army in Kandahar - and warning that Canada will withdraw unless reinforcements are forthcoming.

A Harper spokeswoman said Topolanek's visit was planned before an independent panel on the future of Canada's involvement in Afghanistan delivered its report last month.
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Troops don't deserve rebuke
TheStar.com February 19, 2008 Rosie DiManno Columnist
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In the gush of blood spilled over 24 hours in Kandahar province, Canadian troops were barely smeared.

Four lightly wounded, two treated in hospital and released, one kept overnight.

But they'll get blamed, on the ground, for not preventing the unpreventable, because Kandahar is primarily a Canadian custodianship. And their "failure" to protect citizens – upwards of 200 casualties in a brace of suicide bombings – will be cited as further proof of the mission's irrelevancy; indeed, as provocation for merciless attacks on the innocent.

Governor Asadullah Khalid wasted little time in chastising Canadian Forces for all but – he implied – inciting the suicide attack yesterday that claimed at least 38 Afghan lives at a marketplace in Spin Boldak, a deranged district capital, Taliban stronghold and bristling armaments clearing house a stone's throw from the suicide-bombers-enter-here Pakistan border.

Canadians maintain a forward operating base there, established because the need clearly existed to buckle down in that region and throw at least some obstacles in the way of insurgents headed for Kandahar city, which is the prize most coveted by the neo-Taliban and their foreign recruits.

A Canadian convoy was in the crosshairs of the blast although, as usual, ordinary Afghans paid the colossal price.

"We informed the Canadian Forces to avoid patrolling the border areas because our intelligence units had information that suicide attackers were in the area and wanted to target Canadian or government forces," Khalid complained. "Despite informing the Canadians, they went to those areas anyway."
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Charge or release Afghan journalist, CTV tells U.S.
TheStar.com - February 20, 2008 Allan Woods Ottawa Bureau
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Network worried about man detained for months near Kabul

OTTAWA–The United States should either charge or release an Afghan journalist employed by CTV News who has been in military detention since October, says the president of the network.

Robert Hurst said the news organization has been speaking with government officials in Canada and the U.S., as well as military officials at NATO, since last fall in an attempt to obtain the release of Jawed Ahmad.

The 22-year-old was arrested in Kandahar last fall after allegations that he had improper contact with the Taliban, his brother told the Associated Press. Siddique Ahmad said his brother was found to have telephone numbers for Taliban officials and video of insurgent materials. The journalist is being held at Bagram Airbase, the U.S. facility 50 kilometres north of Kabul, and has been visited by the Red Cross.

"We're extraordinarily concerned about it," Hurst said in an interview.

He said CTV lawyers and officials have been working daily on Ahmad's case, trying to quietly work back-channel sources rather than cause a major fuss. But the inability to further the case of their Kandahar-based journalist four months after his arrest prompted the decision to go public yesterday in conjunction with the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists.

"Anything we can do to now get attention to this (is welcome) because all of the channels that we have been pursuing have been absolutely dry," Hurst said.
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Canada to buy old German tanks as spare parts for Afghan mission.
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OTTAWA - Canada plans to buy a handful of older, surplus German tanks to cannibalize for spare parts to keep its combat forces on the move in Afghanistan.

The undisclosed purchase is apparently part of the $1.3-billion tank modernization program announced last year by former defence minister Gordon O'Connor.

The current minister, Peter MacKay, says the purchase was necessary.

"Our loaned Leopard 2 tanks are an invaluable asset to commanders in Afghanistan," MacKay said in a statement late Tuesday.

"The procurement of surplus German vehicles will provide the Canadian Forces with valuable platforms for training, testing and, where applicable, spare parts."

This acquisition fills the short term needs of the military, he said while on a trade mission in India.

Defence industry sources said the plan involves 15 Leopard 2A4s, which have already been taken out of service by the Bundeswehr.

A request for proposals is expected to go out to contractors next week, asking for detailed plans to disassemble the 60-tonne iron monsters and catalogue their parts
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Mood swings hurt Dion's credibility
The Liberal leader's threats to defeat the government are wearing thin
L. IAN MACDONALD, Freelance Published: 14 hours ago
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This just in: Stéphane Dion threatens not to bring down the government over the budget.

First he brandished the possibility of defeating the government on next week's budget, even though he hadn't seen it yet.

Then, on Monday in Quebec City, Dion climbed down, saying the Liberals would allow the budget to pass in the March 4 vote provided it's "not too harmful" for the economy.

"It won't be a Liberal budget," Dion allowed. "Unfortunately the ideas I have put forward won't be in the budget. But we also have to respect the decision of the voters in 2006.

"Therefore, if it's a budget that appears to us as being acceptable or at least not too harmful for the Canadian economy, we could let it pass and avoid $350 million in expenses for an election."
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Manley denies Canada proposing him as UN envoy in Afghanistan
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OTTAWA (AFP) — Former Canadian deputy prime minister John Manley denied Wednesday media reports suggesting the government is proposing him as the new UN envoy to coordinate aid and reconstruction in Afghanistan.

Earlier, the daily Globe and Mail, citing unnamed sources, said the Conservative government is floating the name of Manley, of the opposition Liberal Party, as a replacement for British diplomat Paddy Ashdown, whose nomination to the UN post was rejected by Afghan President Hamid Karzai.

However, Manley told AFP through his law offices: "I am not a candidate and I have not consented to my government advocating for me to take on this responsibility."

Manley recently headed a panel of experts who recommended that Canada prolong its 2,500-strong military mission in Afghanistan beyond February 2009 only if NATO deploys 1,000 troop reinforcements, helicopters and drones.

The Globe and Mail said Manley's nomination would make it more difficult for Canada to withdraw its troops, saying it would be "a humiliation for a country that has one of its own as the special representative."

The Liberal Party would also be hard pressed to oppose the mission if one of their members held the UN post, the Canadian newspaper said.
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Afghanistan: New Party To Focus On Women's Rights
By Farangis Najibullah
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For nearly three decades, Afghans have endured war and foreign occupation, extreme poverty, and the Taliban. Yet some suffer more than others. Not all Afghans are created equal. Fatima Nazari wants to change that.

Nazari, an Afghan parliamentarian, is the driving force behind the country's first political party dedicated to women's rights and issues. She launched National Need on February 19 at a ceremony in Kabul, saying the party hopes to put women's rights at the forefront of the national political debate. It intends to run in the next parliamentary elections, likely in three years' time.

"I believe women understand their own problems better than men would," she says, adding that National Need will seek to increase women's participation in politics and business. "We want to campaign for democracy, not only talk about democracy. In this way, we want to work with our brothers and the rest of Afghan society."

Some of Nazari's fellow deputies and officials in Kabul welcomed the creation of the country's first-ever women's political party. Some called it a step forward toward greater democracy and recognition of women's rights. Interestingly, the Afghan parliament already boasts fairly high representation by women: Twenty-three of 100 members in the upper house and 68 of 249 deputies in the lower house are women
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Afghanistan's 'Hidden' Art Treasures on Exhibit in Amsterdam
By Lauren Comiteau Amsterdam 19 February 2008
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The Taliban's destruction of the giant Buddhas of Bamiyan in March 2001 was the most dramatic expression of their mission to obliterate all "idolatrous" images from Afghanistan's pre-Islamic past. Along with the Buddhas, the Taliban destroyed 2,500 other cultural gems from Kabul's National Museum of Afghanistan. But thanks to the heroic efforts of the museum's curators, not all was destroyed. A traveling exhibit that recently opened in Amsterdam has brought some of what has survived under one roof. Lauren Comiteau visited the exhibit at Amsterdam's Nieuwe Kerk - or New Church - and files this report.

As one enters the Hidden Afghanistan exhibit, a banner headline reads: "A Nation Stays Alive When Its Culture Stays Alive." A glimpse of that culture - and how it survived invasion, civil war, and even the Taliban - is what this exhibit is all about.

"I believe this exhibit is going to go and show the world that Afghanistan is not what they hear in the West, that it's Taliban and war and this and that," says Omar Sultan, Afghanistan's Deputy Minister of Information and Culture. "But that we have a cultural heritage that is not only belong to Afghanistan but it belongs to the world."
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Articles found February 21, 2008

Afghans say their government as much to blame for bombings as Canadians
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KANDAHAR, Afghanistan - The little girl looked up at the helicopter buzzing over the refugee camp she's called home for the last six months.

She pointed at it and said: "I don't understand those birds. Did you bring them with you? What are they for? They scare me." After three days of bombings that left more than 100 people dead in Kandahar province, the little girl's query reflects a question Afghans ask often after major security incidents.

What are Canadian soldiers doing in their country if they can't keep them safe?

While it may be easy to blame Canadians, Afghans are growing increasingly disillusioned with their own government as well for the continuing instability in the province.

"The people who are responsible for insecurity and destruction in Kandahar province are the provincial authority of Kandahar," reads one article that circulated on an Afghan news website recently.

"They are the ones who are responsible for facing people of Kandahar with no choice but death and destruction."

Kandahar Gov. Asadullah Khalid suggested after Monday's bombing in Spin Boldak that the 38 civilian deaths there could have been avoided if Canadian troops heeded warnings to stay away, because suicide bombers were known to be present.

Yes, say some Afghans, but whose job is it to arrest the suicide attackers?

"It is the responsibility of our government to stop it," said Hafiz Afgha, 42.
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Harper to unveil new compromise motion to extend Afghan mission
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OTTAWA - The Harper government will unveil a new motion Thursday aimed at bridging the remaining gap between the Conservatives and Liberals over the fate of Canada's military mission in Afghanistan.

Among other things, the motion is expected to spell out more clearly that the mission will end in 2011, a government source said.

If the Liberals are sufficiently mollified by the new wording to support the motion, that will remove at least one of several possible triggers for a spring election.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper has said the vote on extending the Afghan mission, to be held next month, will be a matter of confidence. Both the Bloc Quebecois and NDP are adamantly opposed to any extension of the mission, currently scheduled to end next February, leaving the fate of the mission - and the minority Tory government - in the hands of Stephane Dion's Liberals.

The government's original motion called for the combat mission in the volatile Kandahar region to be extended to the end of 2011, provided that Canadian soldiers are reinforced by an additional 1,000 NATO troops as well as some heavy-lift helicopters and unmanned aerial drones for surveillance. The motion did not rule out a further extension of the mission, specifying only that there would be a parliamentary review in 2011.
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Canadian TV Network Seeks Release of Afghan
By IAN AUSTEN February 21, 2008
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OTTAWA — Canada’s largest commercial television network is asking for the immediate release of an Afghan employee who it has been told is being detained by the United States military.

Robert Hurst, the president of CTV News, said Javed Yazamy, who performed a variety of reporting and support duties for the network in Afghanistan beginning about two years ago, disappeared in the city of Kandahar last October. Mr. Hurst said the International Committee of the Red Cross subsequently confirmed that Mr. Yazamy, 22, was in the Bagram Detention Center at an American air base near Kabul.

“Our issue here is that we’ve been told nothing by governments or NATO,” Mr. Hurst said. NATO forces are responsible for security in much of Afghanistan. “It’s been four months now that we’ve been working quietly through back channels with absolutely no results. Now we’re making an appeal: Release him or else explain why he’s being detained and proceed with due process.”

From family members, Mr. Hurst said, the network learned that Mr. Yazamy had traveled to a military base in Kandahar, where Canadian troops are the main combat force, just before his disappearance. Mr. Hurst added that the trip was not made at the broadcaster’s request.

Several weeks ago CTV formally asked the Canadian Embassy in Kabul to investigate Mr. Yazamy’s case, but Mr. Hurst said the broadcaster had not received a reply. Neil Hrab, spokesman for the foreign affairs minister, Maxime Bernier, said in an e-mail message that the government was “aware of the situation and the Canadian Embassy in Kabul is working closely with CTV to get further information.”
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Ottawa seeking helicopters, drones to extend Afghan mission
Last Updated: Thursday, February 21, 2008 | 7:49 AM ET CBC News
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The federal government is currently in negotiations to acquire large helicopters and unmanned surveillance drones in an attempt to satisfy two conditions set out in the Manley report for extending the Afghanistan mission, CBC News has learned.

The government is trying to secure a deal with at least two American helicopter manufacturers to either lease or buy helicopters that would provide transport for Canadian troops in Kandahar, CBC News has learned.

Earlier this week, the government released a tender for the surveillance drones.

The Manley report recommended that the government extend its mission in Afghanistan past the February 2009 deadline, but only if NATO was able to provide an additional 1,000 troops to bolster Canadian forces fighting in the south.

The Manley panel also demanded the government find access to unmanned surveillance drones and large helicopters to ferry Canadian troops around the region.

CBC News has learned the government intends to meet both of these requirements on its own, which would take pressure off its NATO allies, allowing them to focus on finding the additional troops the Manley panel recommended.
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Marine killed in Afghanistan
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A Royal Marine has been killed in an explosion in Afghanistan.

The soldier, who has not been named, was taking part in a patrol to disrupt Taliban activity in the southern province of Helmand when the blast took place.

Another marine injured in the attack was taken to the British base at Camp Bastion for treatment for minor injuries, the Ministry of Defence said.

The next of kin have been informed.

The marines were patrolling in Viking armoured all-terrain vehicles north of the town of Sangin when the explosion happened.

The death brings the number of British military fatalities in Afghanistan since the start of operations in November 2001 to 89.

Earlier this week, members of the same regiment helped save the lives of two Afghan children injured in a random rocket attack.

The children were badly hurt in the attack by enemy insurgents in Sangin, and commandos from Bravo Company 40 Commando RM had them airlifted to Camp Bastion for treatment.

The marines of 40 Commando are halfway through their six-month deployment to Afghanistan.
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IMF Gives Afghanistan Mixed Economic Review
By Barry Wood Washington 20 February 2008
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The International Monetary Fund Wednesday gave Afghanistan a mixed economic report card, saying the country's overall reforms are on track but corruption and a dramatic rise in opium production pose significant problems. VOA's Barry Wood has more.

The IMF says opium production has risen by 4,000 percent since 2001 and earns Afghan farmers about $1 billion a year. An estimated 93 percent of the world's heroin, made from opium, comes from Afghanistan. Analysts say the Taliban insurgency derives much of its revenue from the illegal opium trade.

The IMF says a mounting anti-government insurgency, instability in neighboring Pakistan and rampant corruption have slowed the inflow of foreign direct investment.

Economic growth, the IMF reports, slowed to six percent in 2007, mainly due to drought, but is expected to more than double to over 13 percent this year. The political environment is described as increasingly complex with the government confronted by multiple and competing demands. Jobs remain scarce and living standards have been slow to rise.

The IMF says foreign aid accounts for a whopping two-thirds of Afghanistan's gross domestic product.
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Afghanistan sitting on a gold mine: minister
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KABUL (AFP) — Afghanistan is sitting on a wealth of mineral reserves -- perhaps the richest in the region -- that offer hope for a country mired in poverty after decades of war, the mining minister says.

Significant deposits of copper, iron, gold, oil and gas, and coal -- as well as precious gems such as emeralds and rubies -- are largely untapped and still being mapped, Mohammad Ibrahim Adel told AFP.

And they promise prosperity for one of the world's poorest countries, the minister said, dismissing concerns that a Taliban-led insurgency may thwart efforts to unearth this treasure.

Already in the pipeline is the exploitation of a massive copper deposit -- one of the biggest in the world -- about 30 kilometres (20 miles) east of Kabul.

"There has not been such a big project in the history of Afghanistan," Adel said.

A 30-year lease for the Aynak copper mine was in November offered to the China Metallurgical Group Corporation and the contract is being finalised.

"It is estimated that the Aynak deposit has more than 11 million tonnes (of copper)," he said, citing 1960s surveys by the Soviet Union and a new study by the United States Geological Survey (USGS).

"With today's prices, it contains an 88-billion-dollar deposit," he said.

The mine is expected to bring the government 400 million dollars annually in fees and taxes, Adel said.
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7 militants arrested in Afghanistan's Kandahar  
www.chinaview.cn  2008-02-21 15:18:07 
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    KABUL, Feb. 21 (Xinhua) -- Afghan security men during overnight raids arrested seven "terrorists" and suicide attackers from southern Afghanistan's Kandahar city, which has seen two consecutive bombing attacks during past five days, provincial governor said Thursday.

    Kandahar Governor Asadullah Khalid told Xinhua via phone that these militants, with their leader involved, were suspectedly behind the recent two explosions which rocked Kandahar city, the provincial capital.

    Explosives, four machine guns and some "documents" were also found from the belongings of the militants, the governor added.

    Taliban militants in a remote-controlled car bomb blast killed one person and injured four others, all of them civilians, in Kandahar city on Tuesday.

    On Sunday, a suicide blast rocked a dog-fighting contest in the city, leaving over 100 people dead and dozens wounded, for which there has been no responsibility claim but officials blamed the Taliban.
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Tories' motion to offer Liberals a compromise on Afghanistan
Troops would withdraw in 2011, sources say
CAMPBELL CLARK With a report from Brian Laghi February 21, 2008
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OTTAWA -- The Conservative minority government will move today to unveil a new motion on extending the mission in Afghanistan in a bid to close a compromise deal with the opposition Liberals that would allow Canadian soldiers to stay another two years, sources say.

The new motion is expected to spell out more clearly that the government intends to end the mission in Kandahar in 2011, and include some efforts to bridge Liberal demands - but the details may be key to a deal.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper is expected to outline the new proposal in a speech today to the Conference of Defence Associations in Ottawa. The government has set two days for debate on Afghanistan starting Monday, and the motion must be issued by today.

A vote on Afghanistan is not expected until next month - although it would be delayed if the government is defeated on the budget to be tabled next week.
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Articles found February 22, 2008

Australia pledges to keep troops in Afghanistan for long-term 
www.chinaview.cn  2008-02-22 16:38:07 
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    CANBERRA, Feb. 22 (Xinhua) -- Australia on Friday stated that it will keep its troops in Afghanistan for a long term, despite its decision to withdraw forces from Iraq, according to Defense Minister Joel Fitzgibbon.

    "We've made it very, very clear that our commitment in Afghanistan is a long-standing one," the defense minister told reporters.

    "I said in the parliament just this week what a tragedy it would be if all that we'd done in Afghanistan so far was in the end all for naught. So our commitment is a long-term one."

    Australia has deployed about 1,000 troops in Afghanistan, mostly in the southern Afghan province of Uruzgan, a former Taliban stronghold.

    Australia's previous government had sent 2,000 troops to support U.S. and British forces in the Iraq invasion. But the new Australian government, elected in November last year, promised to pull out the country's combat troops from Iraq by mid-2008.

    On Wednesday, Australia Air Chief Marshal Angus Houston
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Canada's combat training role could take years, military insists
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KANDAHAR, AFGHANISTAN -- Canadian troops will have no choice but to remain in combat even if their focus in Afghanistan after 2009 is solely on training the Afghan National Army, two Canadian military officers said.

The Afghan army isn't ready to conduct combat operations on its own and won't be for some time, say both the incoming and outgoing commanders of the Operational Mentoring and Liaison Team, OMLT, the group of Canadian soldiers working alongside the Afghan security force.

Canadians will need to be with them every step of the way.

"We are in combat with them, let there be no mistake," said Col. Francois Riffou, who assumed command of the team at a ceremony in Kandahar yesterday.

"We're just not going to be out front, we're not going to take the lead on Afghan army operations. We are there to support them."

Debate rages in Ottawa over what role the Canadians in Afghanistan should have once the current combat mission expires in 2009.

Yesterday, Prime Minister Stephen Harper unveiled a new motion saying the mission will focus on training and reconstruction. It also says all Canadian troops will be out of the volatile Kandahar region by December 2011.

The opposition Liberals insisted on both those points in return for their support of the motion, which Harper has declared a confidence matter.

But as wind from a storm whipped dust around him in Kandahar, Col. Stephane Lafaut, the outgoing head of the OMLT, said it's impossible to put a timeline on when the Afghan army will be able to stand on its own.
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Helicopter with 3 senators aboard makes emergency landing in Afghanistan
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A helicopter with three U.S. senators aboard -- including former Democratic presidential nominee John Kerry of Massachusetts -- has made an emergency landing in Afghanistan, the Associated Press is reporting.

Also on board: two-time Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden of Delaware and Sen. Chuck Hagel, R-Neb. We'll provide more details as they become available.

Update at 3:33 p.m. ET: CNN says a Kerry spokesman has told the network that the helicopter landed because of impending bad weather, that none of the three are hurt -- and that all three now are out of Afghanistan.
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NATO soldier killed in Afghanistan: ISAF
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KABUL: A soldier with the NATO-led force in Afghanistan was killed and another wounded when an explosion struck their patrol, the alliance force said Thursday.

"An ISAF soldier was killed and one was injured in an explosion during their patrol in southern Afghanistan," the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) in Afghanistan said.

The incident took place on Wednesday, ISAF said, after initially announcing it had happened on Thursday.

The British defence ministry issued a separate statement, saying the soldiers were Royal Marines on an "outreach patrol" in troubled Helmand province.

It said the marines’ next of kin had been informed.

The latest death took to 17 the number of international soldiers killed in Afghanistan this year. Most of them have been US nationals but the toll includes British, Canadian, Dutch and Italian troops.

There are around 43,000 soldiers in the 40-nation force which is deployed to Afghanistan under a United Nations mandate. Besides assisting Afghan troops and fighting the Taliban, ISAF also runs 25 reconstruction teams around the country
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Expelled EU diplomat defends Taleban dialogue
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LONDON: An Irish diplomat who was expelled from Afghanistan for talking to Taleban-linked insurgents defended his actions on Saturday, insisting that dialogue could persuade militants to abandon violence.

"There is a critical difference between what is discreet and what is covert," Michael Semple, who was the second most senior European Union official in Afghanistan, told British newspaper The Guardian in an interview.

"What we were doing was simply discreet because that was what was required. But it was totally in line with official policy to bring people in from the cold."

Semple was expelled late last year with Briton Mervyn Patterson, a UN political adviser, for threatening national security by contacting the Taleban in the volatile southern province of Helmand.

A February 4 Financial Times report from Kabul said discovery of the contact - and a secret British plan to train former Taleban fighters who wanted to switch sides - had worsened relations between Kabul and London.

Britain has denied being "engaged" with the Taleban and Semple told The Guardian that they had not opened any such channel with Al Qaeda-linked Taleban.

"We were victims of local politics initially and being seen to take on the foreigners - in this case us - is seen as very popular in many places in Afghanistan," he added.

A local political leader feared for his power base if ex-Taleban and former insurgents were brought into the peace process led by Afghan President Hamid Karzai, said Semple.
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Afghan health sector on the mend, says US surgeon
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NEW YORK: Impressed by improvement in the health care sector, a top US army health care official said Afghanistan had moved a step closer to being an independent, self-sufficient nation. I’m impressed by the dedication and the heroics of many of the Afghans, who are willing to put their lives at stake in order to be able to improve their health care system, said a commander surgeon with the Combined Joint Task Force-82.

Colonel Jeffery Johnson told Pentagon reporters through teleconference: As the Afghans take the lead and we purposefully put ourselves into a supporting role, we continue to see incredible progress that is, importantly, culturally appropriate, fiscally responsible and really long-term-focused.

Responsible for the health services provided to the US contingent in Afghanistan. Johnson acknowledged there was a long way to go, because there was much work that still had to be done in Afghanistan.

Focus on the human intellectual development, capacity building and the empowerment of the Afghan health sector was critical to the overall progress of the country, the colonel pointed out.

Also critical is the collaborative work with all of the other partners that remain essential to leveraging their synergistic skills and resources, as well as ensuring that the expertise that is there allows the Afghans to lead their international approach to their future, he added. Responding to a question, he said Taliban would obviously seek to intimidate doctors and women who providing health care to the people.

The provision of health was something directly tied back into the government. But I think what I’ve also seen is some very heroic Afghans who are willing to stand up and say "Enough is enough. It’s now time for us to take our country back. It’s now time for us to be able to understand what our local people want, what they need. And we’re willing to take some risks" -- this is the Afghan health care providers -- "We’re willing to take some risks in order to make sure that we can reestablish the basic needs for our people."
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Pentagon responds to claims made by Obama during debate.  Link to video of the debate being referred to :  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZjZmA4YXFNo&eurl

Today’s response (Feb 22, 2008) from Reuters
Link to news article: http://www.alertnet.org/thenews/newsdesk/N22583581.htm

Pentagon doubts Obama account of equipment problem

22 Feb 2008 18:26:06 GMT
Source: Reuters
WASHINGTON, Feb 22 (Reuters) - The Pentagon on Friday cast doubt on an account of military equipment shortages mentioned by Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama during a debate with rival Hillary Clinton.

During the face-to-face encounter on Thursday evening, Obama said he had heard from an Army captain whose unit had served in Afghanistan without enough ammunition or vehicles.

Obama said it was easier for the troops to capture weapons from Taliban militants than it was "to get properly equipped by our current commander in chief," President George W. Bush.

"I find that account pretty hard to imagine," Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman told reporters.

"Despite the stress that we readily acknowledge on the force, one of the things that we do is make sure that all of our units and service members that are going into harm's way are properly trained, equipped and with the leadership to be successful," he said.

Whitman's remarks were unusual as the Pentagon often declines to talk about comments from political campaigns.

Obama said the captain was the head of a rifle platoon, which should have had 39 members -- but 15 were sent to Iraq so the unit deployed to Afghanistan had 24 soldiers.

Several Army officers said a platoon is normally commanded by a 2nd lieutenant -- two ranks below a captain -- but the size of a platoon would indeed be around 40 soldiers.

Military equipment shortages have been a big U.S. political issue, particularly in the early years of the Iraq war.

A U.S. soldier confronted then-Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld over the topic in Kuwait in 2004, complaining that troops were forced to dig up scrap metal to protect their vehicles because the military did not have enough armor.

Rumsfeld famously replied that "you go to war with the Army you have, not the Army you might want or wish to have at a later time" -- a remark that drew widespread criticism. (Reporting by Andrew Gray; Editing by Eric Walsh)

Thrust into action
Canadian soldiers fine-tune tactics critical in fight against Taliban insurgents

Ottawa Sun, Feb. 24

The moonlight cuts silhouettes of soldiers and army tanks as the Canadian battle group prepares for a surprise assault.

Hours after the day dawns, the convoy makes its sluggish launch, picking up speed as the rolling sandy
dunes flatten to tougher desert terrain. In single file, the army of LAVs, tanks and roughly 150 combat troops, including an Afghan contingent, make a 12-km trek to the "objective" of the attack.

This massive mock exercise, staged to train Canadian soldiers bound for Kandahar, uses a recreated "typical" Afghan village and live fire, jets, tanks and vehicles transported from Canada. The location, a sprawling U.S. army base that straddles Texas and New Mexico, closely resembles the mountains and desert terrain of Afghanistan.

After the main platoons arrive at the operational battle line, reinforcements move in from the west. Rocket-propelled grenades are hurled from the village and improvised explosive devices are detected -- both confirming intelligence reports that the area is held by enemy Taliban insurgents.

Then comes the thunder of fire from the Canadians; a combination of artillery fire air power from CF-18s to "soften" the target before the assault force moves in. By foot, the soldiers who are supported by Afghan allies eventually move in to clear: Room by room, building by building, from mosque to school to barracks...

Sharpe shooters to bolster war on Taliban
Sunday Times, Feb. 24

THE elite infantry unit made famous by the television series Sharpe, which starred Sean Bean, is to be deployed to fight the Taliban on the front line in Afghanistan.

Military commanders say that the battalion, 1 Rifles, consisting of 450 crack troops and support, will be deployed alongside 3 Commando Brigade of the Royal Marines in September.

The move, to be announced by Des Browne, the defence secretary, this summer, will mean that there will be more than 8,000 troops in Afghanistan [emphasis added] - a significant upgrading of Britain’s fighting capability.

It heralds a tacit recognition by ministers and military chiefs that the situation in the province of Helmand is precarious and may deteriorate further if Britain’s presence is not reinforced.

Senior officers say the Rifles will fight alongside two other battalions of Royal Marines, which will take on the Taliban in Helmand this autumn.

The command of the Rifles is set to be transferred from the army to the navy in five weeks’ time. The move has led some in the military to suggest that the Ministry of Defence (MoD) is trying to beef up the marines on the cheap.

However, supporters of the Rifles believe the decision to deploy them will signal to the Taliban that British forces will not flinch in their determination to press them back high into the mountains.

Troop numbers increased last year by 1,400 to 7,000. In a recent statement to parliament Browne said that overall force levels in Afghanistan would remain “broadly unchanged” for the next few months.

However, the number of frontline fighting units is expected to increase substantially when Browne formally confirms the deployment of the Rifles and other fighting units in July.

The Rifles are a historic regiment which fought in the Napoleonic wars and at the battle of Balaclava. They became part of the Royal Green Jackets in 1966 but were reformed last year. Their exploits were dramatised in the ITV series Sharpe, in which Bean played the role of Richard Sharpe, a fictional British soldier in the Napoleonic wars...

Battle Company Is Out There (A major and gloomy article that should be read; one just wonders how typical this one unit's experiences are.)
NY Times Magazine, Feb. 24

WE TUMBLED OUT of two Black Hawks onto a shrub-dusted mountainside. It was a windy, cold October evening. A half-moon illuminated the tall pines and peaks. Through night-vision goggles the soldiers and landscape glowed in a blurry green-and-white static. Just across the valley, lights flickered from a few homes nestled in the terraced farmlands of Yaka China, a notorious village in the Korengal River valley in Afghanistan’s northeastern province of Kunar. Yaka China was just a few villages south and around a bend in the river from the Americans’ small mountain outposts, but the area’s reputation among the soldiers was mythic. It was a known safe haven for insurgents. American troops have tended to avoid the place since a nasty fight a year or so earlier. And as Halloween approached, the soldiers I was with, under the command of 26-year-old Capt. Dan Kearney, were predicting their own Yaka China doom.

Company Man Capt. Dan Kearney (left foreground) with members of his unit at the Korengal Outpost command center in northeastern Afghanistan. More Photos »

The Korengal Valley is a lonely outpost of regress: most of the valley’s people practice Wahhabism, a more rigid variety of Islam than that followed by most Afghans, and about half of the fighters confronting the U.S. there are homegrown. The rest are Arabs, Pakistanis, Chechens, Uzbeks; the area is close to Pakistan’s frontier regions where Osama bin Laden, Ayman al-Zawahiri and other Al Qaeda figures are often said to be hiding out. The Korengal fighters are fierce, know the terrain and watch the Americans’ every move. On their hand-held radios, the old jihadis call the Americans “monkeys,” “infidels,” ‘’bastards” and “the kids.” It’s psychological warfare; they know the Americans monitor their radio chatter.

As far as “the kids” are concerned, the insurgents are ghosts — so the soldiers’ tactics often come down to using themselves as bait. The insurgents specialize in ambushes, harassing fire and hit-and-run attacks. NATO’s military advantage in such a war is air power. The soldiers don’t hesitate to call in Big Daddy (who, in today’s military, often flies in with the voice of a female pilot). But while these flying war machines are saviors to the soldiers, they cannot distinguish between insurgents and civilians.

I went to Afghanistan last fall with a question: Why, with all our technology, were we killing so many civilians in air strikes? As of September of last year, according to Human Rights Watch, NATO was causing alarmingly high numbers of civilian deaths — 350 by the coalition, compared with 438 by the insurgents. The sheer tonnage of metal raining down on Afghanistan was mind-boggling: a million pounds between January and September of 2007, compared with half a million in all of 2006.

After a few days, the first question sparked more: Was there a deeper problem in the counterinsurgency campaign? More than 100 American soldiers were killed last year, the highest rate since the invasion. Why were so many more American troops being killed? To find out, I spent much of the fall in the Korengal Valley and elsewhere in Kunar province alongside soldiers who were making life-and-death decisions almost every day — decisions that led to the deaths of soldiers and of civilians...

The Candidates
Choosing Which War to Fight

NY Times, Feb. 24

TWO weeks ago, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice made a surprise trip to Afghanistan that was so cloaked in extra security and secrecy that reporters traveling with her weren’t told where they were going until her plane had taken off from London.

Arriving in Kabul, Ms. Rice’s entourage was immediately hustled across the runway to a gray C-17 military transport plane for a one-hour trip to Kandahar, where she stayed for less than three hours, never venturing off the airfield where NATO forces have their headquarters. Then it was back to Kabul for lunch with the Afghan president, Hamid Karzai, in his barricaded palace. A mere eight hours after landing in Afghanistan, Ms. Rice was gone. She had spent, all told, only six hours on the ground; her plane, with its distinct blue and white United States of America logo, made a swift, steep ascent, disappearing from rocket range within minutes.

The secrecy and security that surrounded Ms. Rice’s visit highlight a central question that has now thrust its way into this year’s presidential campaign: Six years after the United States invaded Afghanistan with the goal of rooting out Al Qaeda, the Taliban and the terrorist threat, Afghanistan remains a security danger zone for Americans, far more so than in 2002, the year in between the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq.

So, has Afghanistan now become a bigger security threat to the United States than Iraq?..

Senator McCain, the likely Republican nominee, makes a de facto argument that Iraq and Afghanistan are two sides of the same coin. “Senator Clinton and Senator Obama will withdraw our forces from Iraq based on an arbitrary timetable designed for the sake of political expediency and which recklessly ignores the profound human calamity and dire threats to our security that would ensue,” Mr. McCain said in a Feb. 7 speech to the Conservative Political Action Conference.

Distilled to its simplest form, Mr. McCain’s argument is that withdrawing from Iraq would make Americans less safe in the long run, because a withdrawal would embolden Al Qaeda, put American interests at risk in the Middle East, and make an already volatile region less safe.

Senators Obama and Clinton have tacked in the opposite direction. Iraq, they argue, makes Afghanistan more dangerous. The Iraq war, Mr. Obama told an audience of supporters in Houston last Tuesday, “distracted us from the fight that needed to be fought in Afghanistan against Al Qaeda. They’re the ones who killed 3,000 Americans.” He has said that if elected, he would deploy at least two additional brigades in Afghanistan.

Senator Clinton, who has been to Afghanistan three times, holds a similar position, her aides say, except they say that she hasn’t specified how many additional brigades she would send to Afghanistan because she wants to further explore the security situation there first. Mrs. Clinton has proposed appointing a special envoy to deal with the Afghanistan/Pakistan border
[emphasis added]...

Articles found February 25, 2008

U.S. military urges Canada to maintain combat role
Training, reconstruction, fighting are linked, leader of U.S. Central Command says
OMAR EL AKKAD February 25, 2008
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OTTAWA -- A top U.S. military official cautioned yesterday, on the eve of a parliamentary debate on Canada's military mission to Afghanistan, that soldiers cannot separate the jobs of fighting Taliban insurgents, training Afghan soldiers and reconstructing the country.

Admiral William Fallon, head of U.S. Central Command and the officer responsible for U.S. troops in Iraq and Afghanistan, would not say whether Canada's target of withdrawing from Afghanistan by 2011 was realistic. He did caution that the Taliban "pays close attention" to what happens in countries that supply troops to Afghanistan and gain confidence "if they perceive there's little commitment - or it's words and not a lot of action to back it up."
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Taliban Threaten Phone Companies
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KANDAHAR, Afghanistan (AP) — Taliban militants threatened Monday to blow up telecom towers across Afghanistan if mobile phone companies do not switch off their signals for 10 hours starting at dusk.

Taliban spokesman Zabiullah Mujaheed said the U.S. and other foreign troops in the country are using mobile phone signals to track down the insurgents and launch attacks against them.

The Taliban have "decided to give a three-day deadline to all mobile phone companies to stop their signals from 5 p.m. to 3 a.m. in order to stop the enemies from getting intelligence through mobile phones and to stop Taliban and civilian casualties," Mujaheed told The Associated Press by telephone from an undisclosed location.

"If those companies do not stop their signal within three days, the Taliban will target their towers and their offices," he said.

There are four mobile phone operators in Afghanistan, but employees at the companies would not immediately comment.

Mobile phones were introduced to Afghanistan after the fall of the Taliban in 2001. They have become the principal means of communication and one of the fastest-growing and most profitable sectors in the country's economy.
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New Zealand likely to extend troops' stay in Afghanistan
Published: Monday, February 25, 2008 | 1:46 AM ET Canadian Press: THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
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WELLINGTON, N.Z. - There is "a strong likelihood" New Zealand will extend its commitment of troops in Afghanistan until September 2010, the defence minister said Monday.

Defence Minister Phil Goff said he told Habiba Sarabi, the governor of Afghanistan's central Bamiyan province, New Zealand has no immediate plans to pull out of the region.

"We are currently committed through to September 2009 with a strong likelihood that later this year that commitment will again be rolled over" for an additional year, Goff said after talks with Sarabi.
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Bridging the gap on Afghan role
TheStar.com - comment - February 23, 2008
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Canadian troops patrolled dusty Kandahar yesterday, buying time for President Hamid Karzai's elected government to rebuild the nation after Soviet occupation, civil war, Taliban misrule and terror.

Canadian public opinion, however, is deeply split on that mission. A recent Angus Reid poll found 51 per cent support for maintaining our combat role in Kandahar past 2009, but that still left 41 per cent opposed. Many doubt "success" is possible; some would draw the line at peacekeeping, not fighting; many feel let down by our allies.

Given this split, the 2,500 Canadian troops in Afghanistan deserve clear direction from Ottawa on the nature of their task, how long it will last and how much help we can get from allies. Now, thanks to a bipartisan show of leadership from Prime Minister Stephen Harper and Liberal Leader Stéphane Dion, building on proposals by John Manley's panel, a healthy consensus is emerging in Parliament on all this. Harper and Dion both deserve credit for finding common ground.

Dion showed the greater political courage, by agreeing to extend our combat-plus-training-plus-aid role in Kandahar though 2011 after initially demanding a pullout by 2009. Compared to Harper, Dion went the further distance. And he had a divided caucus to drag along.
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Questions on the Unarmed Captain and His Platoon
by Major Garrett
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Continuing FOX News’ investigaton of the anecdote Sen. Barack Obama told about an Army captain who served in Afghanistan but suffered from an under-mannered platoon and inadequate equipment and was forced to cannibalize a confiscated Taliban weapon to carry out their mission, I put a series of questions to Obama’s campaign — many of them prompted by conversations I had via e-mail with Ollie North.

North suggested FOX News inquire when Obama first learned of the anecdote and if, as would be typical, if his Senate office filed a congressional inquiry with the Army liaison office on Capitol Hill and, if so, what the dispositionof that inquiry was.

The Obama campaign, through a spokesman and a senior adviser, informed FOX News of the following facts:

First, the Army captain met with Obama in the summer of 2007. It was a one-on-one meeting but the captain did not discuss the anecdote about his experience in Afghanistan and the shortage of men, equipment and parts in his mission against the Taliban.
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U.S. admiral echoes Gen. Hillier's concerns
Updated Sun. Feb. 24 2008 3:54 PM ET CTV.ca News Staff
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The Canadian debate over the Afghanistan mission can boost confidence among the Taliban, says a top US military leader.

Admiral William Fallon, chief of the U.S. Central Command, told CTV's Question Period that he sees political debate as a normal part of the process.

But he seemed to agree with Gen. Rick Hillier that the insurgents can use any perceived lack of commitment to gain strength.

"They're very clever, and they take advantage of information technology, both in gathering information and trying to use that for their purposes," Fallon said. "If they perceive that there's little commitment, or it's words and not a lot of action to back it up, they're going to gain confidence."

On Friday, Hillier said that the Taliban are watching the political debate in Canada about the mission for signs of weakness.
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US Marines prepare for 'different kind of fight' in Afghanistan
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CAMP LEJEUNE, North Carolina (AFP) — For the 2,200 US Marines being deployed to southern Afghanistan next month, training for a mission fighting Taliban insurgents has meant adapting to a different type of enemy.

Having tried but failed to convince its allies to commit more troops to Afghanistan, the Pentagon last month ordered the 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit based at Camp Lejeune in North Carolina to deploy in March.

They are due to arrive ahead of an expected spring offensive by the Taliban, who make use of very different tactics and terrain to the insurgents in Iraq.

"We are expecting a different kind of fight" than the type of attacks combat troops are used to dealing with in Iraq, said Captain David Lee, part of a reconnaissance unit attached to the Marines.

"In Iraq, the enemy was engaging us through IEDs (improvised explosive devices), they would run and hide," said Lee. "In Afghanistan, the Taliban will come and shoot at us, get into a gunfight. We didn't get a lot of that last time I was in Iraq."

He said that basic training for patrolling and shooting was the same for both theaters but that the Afghan deployment had required some fine-tuning.
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Canadian soldiers hold memorial for blast victims
Updated Sun. Feb. 24 2008 12:14 PM ET The Canadian Press
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KANDAHAR, Afghanistan -- A mullah's sombre voice echoed through a sunlit room in Kandahar Sunday as Canadians and Afghans closed their eyes together in prayer.

One week after a deadly bombing in the Arghandab claimed more than 100 Afghan lives, the Canadian military wanted to pay tribute to their families and invited them to a condolence ceremony and to lunch outside the PRT.

"Just like back home in Canada, when something of this magnitude happens, of such tragedy, it's normal that when we have a connection with people we want to share their tragedy,'' said Maj. James Allen, the officer commanding the Civil Military Co-operation Team in Kandahar.

"We want to show them that we feel their pain and we understand.''
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Thrust into action
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CAMP DONA ANA, FORT BLISS, New Mexico -- The moonlight cuts silhouettes of soldiers and army tanks as the Canadian battle group prepares for a surprise assault.

Hours after the day dawns, the convoy makes its sluggish launch, picking up speed as the rolling sandy dunes flatten to tougher desert terrain. In single file, the army of LAVs, tanks and roughly 150 combat troops, including an Afghan contingent, make a 12-km trek to the "objective" of the attack.

This massive mock exercise, staged to train Canadian soldiers bound for Kandahar, uses a recreated "typical" Afghan village and live fire, jets, tanks and vehicles transported from Canada. The location, a sprawling U.S. army base that straddles Texas and New Mexico, closely resembles the mountains and desert terrain of Afghanistan.

After the main platoons arrive at the operational battle line, reinforcements move in from the west. Rocket-propelled grenades are hurled from the village and improvised explosive devices are detected -- both confirming intelligence reports that the area is held by enemy Taliban insurgents
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More Articles found February 25, 2008

US warns of more terror in Afghanistan
February 24, 2008 - 5:41PM
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US Defence Secretary Robert Gates on Sunday tipped more terrorist attacks and bombings and fewer all-out battles as Afghanistan moves into its annual summer campaign season.

Mr Gates said on every occasion the Taliban stood and fought, they lost.

But the problem remained there were too few coalition and Afghan government forces to hold territory and maintain security against insurgents to allow economic development.

He said the key to long-term success was clearly building up Afghanistan's army and police
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Deadly Roadside Bomb Attack in Afghanistan
By VOA News 23 February 2008
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Afghan officials say seven people were killed in eastern Afghanistan Saturday when the vehicle they were driving hit a roadside bomb

The blast occurred in the eastern province of Kunar near the Pakistani border. The victims were security guards working for a road construction company.

Authorities do not know who was behind the attacks. Taliban militants waging an insurgent campaign against the government in Kabul have been blamed for similar incidents in the past.

Also today, a suicide bomber blew himself up in an attempted attack in the western Farah province. Officials say there were no other casualties.
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Assignment Kandahar: Are we mentoring thugs?
Posted: February 23, 2008, 11:46 AM by Brian Hutchinson
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An exceptionally grim story coming out of Kandahar city on Saturday.

Here’s the lede on a story I filed earlier:

“Three Afghan National Police officers were sent to prison Saturday after being found guilty of gang raping a 12-year-old boy and his father.”

The rest of the story can be found here.

I’ve been writing a lot about the ANP, most of it negative, unfortunately. I didn’t think anything could top a piece I filed last week, about child abductions in Kandahar city and alleged police involvement. But the latest news is just appalling.

One further anecdote about the ANP, whom Canadian troops are busy “mentoring” in Kandahar province.

I was visiting a police substation on the western fringe of Panjwaii district recently, and watched as a Canadian supply truck pulled up with a load of cooking oil, flour, and other goods for the ANP living there.
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Switzerland ends military mission in Afghanistan
February 23, 2008 - 11:37 AM 
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The last Swiss staff officers serving in Afghanistan have returned to Switzerland, ending the country's four years of cooperation with the Nato-led international force.
The Swiss defence ministry said on Saturday that the last two officers had come home from the northeastern Kunduz province two weeks ago, in accordance with the plan announced by Defence Minister Samuel Schmid in November.

"The two Swiss officers could no longer carry out their mission effectively because of the measures taken by the troops for their own protection," the ministry said in a press release.

"In areas where the Taliban have stepped up their presence, it has become practically impossible to carry out reconstruction work," it explained.

The officers had been working with a German team. The mission was part of the International Security Assistance Force which operates under a UN mandate to help the Afghan government extend its influence in order to create the necessary conditions for stabilisation and reconstruction.

The Swiss military mission in Afghanistan started in 2003. Since then a total of 31 officers, including three doctors, have worked in the Hindu Kush.
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Granny get your gun
Legal beagle among Canadians training for Afghan mission
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CAMP DONA ANA, FORT BLISS, New Mexico -- She is a mother of six, a top military lawyer and a grandmother who packs a gun.

Cmdr. Bonita Thornton, an assistant judge advocate based in Toronto, dispenses legal advice to senior commanders on everything from disciplinary charges, military contracts, Crown claims and internal grievances.

On her first deployment to Afghanistan in a few months, she will also advise the Canadian commander on international laws of armed conflict, operations and mentoring.

Thornton expects the mission will be the professional highlight of her life, but admits to a few personal butterflies.


"On days like this, you think, hmmm ..." she said, after a day of training to detect deadly improvised explosive devices. "It's not a walk in the park. It's not like going to Cyprus for six months and doing peacekeeping."

One of Thornton's daughters, 26-year-old Sonya Haskell of Ottawa, is serving in Afghanistan, and their tours will overlap for three months. Thornton's husband, a civilian lawyer, will be doubly worried but will have only one period to deal with the distance.
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Afghanistan debate makes soldiers targets: Hillier
General's comments inappropriate, says NDP MP
Jack Aubry and Meagan Fitzpatrick, Canwest News Service  Published: Friday, February 22, 2008
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OTTAWA -- Canadian parliamentarians shouldn't drag out the debate on the country's military mission in Afghanistan since troops are currently vulnerable to attacks from the Taliban who wish to influence the decision, Canada's top soldier said Friday in a speech to the Conference of Defence Associations.

Gen. Rick Hillier, the outspoken chief of the defence staff, also raised the possibility Friday that this week's deadly suicide bombing in Afghanistan, which targeted a Canadian convoy, was meant to sway opinions in the Canadian debate.
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Iran Raises the Heat in Afghanistan
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"We haven't chosen these neighbors," joked Afghanistan's ambassador to the U.S., Said Tayeb Jawad, as he shined the red dot of a laser around the edges of a map of his homeland. He was addressing a roomful of government analysts, scholars and journalists Wednesday, and when asked about Iran's current influence in Afghanistan, the joking stopped. "Iran has become a more and more hostile power," he said.
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France ponders grand engagement in Afghanistan, experts say
Peter O'Neil ,  Canwest News Service Published: Friday, February 22, 2008
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PARIS -- Canada's search here for a military partner in Afghanistan will have to contend with France's historic quest to display grandeur, or greatness, on the world stage.

President Nicolas Sarkozy, who spoke of his "taste" for French greatness Friday in a speech to launch a museum devoted to famed grandeur adherent Charles de Gaulle, is expected to announce France's plans in April to assume a more muscular role in Afghanistan.

But some observers wonder if the idea of French troops playing second fiddle to a middle power like Canada would be enough to feed his objective of making a major international splash as France tries to re-establishes itself in the North Atlantic Treaty Organization.
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Powerful blast rocks Afghanistan's Kandahar
Mon Feb 25, 2008 5:46am EST
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KANDAHAR, Afghanistan, Feb 25 (Reuters) - A strong explosion shook Afghanistan's southern province of Kandahar on Monday, but it was not immediately clear what caused it and if there were any casualties, residents and the interior ministry said.

The blast occurred to the west of the city of Kandahar, where more than 100 people, most of them civilians, were killed in a suspected suicide attack last week.

An official at the interior ministry in Kabul confirmed the blast, but said there were no further details on its cause or casualties. (Writing by Sayed Salahuddin; Editing by Alex Richardson)
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France to send troops into Afghan combat: Le Monde
Reuters, Feb. 26

France may send hundreds of ground troops to eastern Afghanistan [emphasis added] where NATO-led forces are fighting al-Qaeda-backed insurgents, Le Monde newspaper reported on Tuesday.

It said the move would be part of a new Afghan policy being worked out by President Nicolas Sarkozy and his advisers.

France has about 1,900 soldiers under NATO's Afghan command, most of them based in relatively calm Kabul, and Le Monde said the fresh troops would be deployed outside the capital.

"Their destination would be zones of potentially fierce fighting, preferably the eastern region of Afghanistan close to the tribal areas of Pakistan," it said.

Early last year, France withdrew 200 special forces soldiers who had been operating under U.S. command in Afghanistan, but Le Monde said Paris was now expected to sanction the return of the special forces. About 50 remained to train Afghan commandos.

A presidential spokesman declined to confirm or deny the newspaper report. "The president has not made a decision. We are in discussion with our partners, inside NATO but not exclusively," he said.

Washington is heading a campaign for what it calls a fairer sharing of the burden in the fight against Taliban insurgents. Britain, Canada, Poland and others have backed the U.S. demand...

Earlier this month, senior Canadian officials had talks in Paris on a possible offer of French support for 2,500 Canadian troops in southern Afghanistan.

Le Monde said Mr. Sarkozy would announce France's extended military commitment at a NATO summit in Bucharest in April.

Since his election in May, he has sent more combat aircraft to Kandahar in southern Afghanistan and beefed up French efforts to train the Afghan army.

Military 'musical chairs' could aid Harper's Afghan plan
France expected to deploy 700 soldiers to volatile Pakistan border region

CBC, Feb. 26

A possible plan to send French troops to eastern Afghanistan could provide Ottawa with the extra NATO support it's demanding as a condition to extend the Canadian mission in the region.

Canadian officials had been hoping that France would deploy a large number of soldiers to southern Afghanistan's Kandahar region, where 2,500 Canadian troops are already stationed...

That move could indirectly help the Canadian forces, NATO sources told CBC News.

A scenario the alliance has worked on envisions French soldiers replacing American soldiers in the east with the Americans shifting to support the Canadians in the south [emphasis added--in addition to the Marine MEU, arrriving in March? - MC],
the CBC's David Common reported.

"It's a game of military musical chairs," Commons said.

Sarkozy is said to still be mulling over the final decision, which will be announced when NATO heads of state meet in early April in Bucharest, Romania. France already has about 1,100 troops in Kabul.

In a NATO meeting earlier this month, French officials indicated that France could be prepared to send up to 700 soldiers to the volatile region of southern Afghanistan to help in the fight against the Taliban. Defence Minister Peter MacKay said he had received positive signals from France...

From the Le Monde story:

...L'option d'un déploiement français dans l'Est de l'Afghanistan aurait, selon Paris, l'avantage de faciliter la cohésion du dispositif militaire français, puisque c'est dans ces régions que sont déjà déployées quatre équipes françaises d'instructeurs militaires (Operational Mentoring Liaison Teams, OMLT), chacune comportant 50 soldats insérés dans des unités de l'armée afghane...

NATO Confronts Surprisingly Fierce Taliban
Militia Undermines Rebuilding Efforts in Southern Province of Uruzgan
[major article]
Washington Post, Feb. 26

TARIN KOT, Afghanistan -- Lt. Col. Wilfred Rietdijk, a 6-foot-7 blond Dutchman, took command of his military's reconstruction team in the southern Afghan district of Deh Rawood in September. Tranquil and welcoming, it seemed like the perfect place for the Netherlands' mission to help rebuild this country.

Intelligence reports indicated that the district was free of the Taliban, allowing the soldiers greater freedom of movement than elsewhere in Uruzgan province.

"We could go out on foot," Rietdijk said.

Reconstruction teams, escorted by a platoon of soldiers, fanned across the fertile countryside, building bridges over streams and canals, repairing irrigation systems, and distributing books and pens to local schools.

But the day after Rietdijk arrived in Afghanistan, his field officers reported hundreds of villagers suddenly fleeing parts of Deh Rawood. "Within a few weeks, everybody was gone," Rietdijk said. "We didn't understand why."

Now the Dutch say they realize what happened. Even as the soldiers believed they had won the support of the local population, the Taliban had secretly returned to reclaim Deh Rawood, home district of the group's revered leader, Mohammad Omar. It took only a few months for the Taliban to undermine nearly six years of intelligence work by U.S. forces and almost two years of goodwill efforts by Dutch soldiers.

In the year and a half since NATO took over southern Afghanistan from U.S. forces, its mission has changed dramatically. Dispatched to the region to maintain newly restored order and help local Afghans reconstruct their shattered communities, Dutch and other troops from the alliance now find themselves on the front lines of a renewed fight with a more cunning and aggressive Taliban.

More foreign soldiers and Afghan civilians died in Taliban-related fighting last year than in any year since U.S. and coalition forces ousted the extremist Islamic militia, which ruled most of the country, in 2001 [emphasis added]. Military officials here expect the coming year to be just as deadly, if not more so, as the Taliban becomes more adept militarily and more formidable in its deployment of suicide bombers and roadside explosives.

The Taliban's growing strength, which surprised Dutch forces here, helps explain why NATO members are reluctant to send more troops to an increasingly dangerous battlefield and have instead adopted a strategy based less on military force...

...on the advice of U.S. and Dutch intelligence officers, Hogeveen prepared a battle plan for routing the Taliban: "The intelligence guys said, 'If you go in with large forces, they will leave,' " Hogeveen recalled in an interview.

He sent larger contingents of heavily armored troops into the heart of the Taliban stronghold in northern Deh Rawood, a jumble of mud houses connected by mazes of narrow lanes.

"Everyone thought the Taliban would not fight," Hogeveen said. "The intelligence was wrong."

Taking up defensive positions in the warrens of mud compounds, the Taliban fighters didn't need large numbers to put up a strong fight against Hogeveen's men. In the darkness and chaos of the unexpectedly strong Taliban defenses, Hogeveen lost two soldiers. Two Afghan army troops also died in the fighting. The Dutch military is now investigating whether all four may have been killed by "friendly fire."

Today, after 2 1/2 months of often intense combat [emphasis added], Dutch troops have reclaimed some of the villages of Deh Rawood and are helping villagers repair the damage caused by weeks of fighting between NATO forces and the Taliban. They have also started many new projects and are working more closely with tribal leaders, the Afghan army and local police to provide better security for the residents...

Taliban Jack: How the NDP lost its way on the Afghan war
Vancouver Sun, Feb. 26, by Terry Glavin

Sidelined again, his party stuck in the same mid-teens doldrums it's been in since the last election, Jack Layton cannot be a very happy man these days.

For a while there, it looked like we'd be going to the polls over Afghanistan, so everyone was suddenly paying attention. But nothing Layton had to say made any sense. The Liberals and Conservatives hammered out a kind of combat-role rapprochement, and then the world moved on.

The last time Layton missed a big break was with global warming. But then Kyoto accord "hero" Stephane Dion got elected Liberal leader, and Elizabeth May brought the Green party up in the polls from nowhere to the low teens. Life's just cruel sometimes.

But what explains Layton's loss on the Afghan front?

Canadians are as confused about Afghanistan now as they were at the beginning, and the issue isn't going away. At times we've been split right down the middle about it. Yet the NDP still can't manage to articulate a left-wing position on the subject that can stand the slightest scrutiny.

It's all George W. Bush's war, a counterinsurgency combat mission, and it's just not right for Canada. But none of it adds up, so the more people learn about Afghanistan, the worse Layton looks.

It's been that way ever since he pinned that "peace talks now" poppy on his "troops out now" lapel. All he got for his trouble was that mean nickname, Taliban Jack.

But it's wrong to just blame Layton. There are reasons.

It starts with a kind of counterculture narcissism that has steadily eroded "left-wing" politics in Canada. It has exchanged solidarity for identity politics, and replaced internationalism with cultural relativism. When you replace critical analysis with a crude anti-Americanism, all that's left is the fashionable radicalism of the liberal elites and the pseudo-leftism of the radical chic...

Just last November, at the annual convention of the British Columbia NDP, Layton was obliged to be quiet and smile for the cameras with the convention's opening-night speaker, the young celebrity "anti-war" activist Alison Bodine, chief spokesperson for MAWO -- the Vancouver-based Mobilization Against War and Occupation.

MAWO is by far the busiest "anti-war" group on the West Coast. Its position on Afghanistan goes like this: "Wherever Islam is fighting against imperialism, 'The Left' must join with Muslims in this fight . . . the Muslims of Iraq, Afghanistan and Palestine who are fighting on the front lines against imperialism."..

Meanwhile, back in Toronto-Danforth and its environs, the Toronto Stop The War Coalition, the Canadian Peace Alliance and several affiliated groups are busy making good on their oath, which 20 of their delegates pledged to Hamas and Hezbollah in Cairo a few months ago, to redouble their efforts against Zionism and imperialism, here in Canada.

So Layton's got to wade through all this, and at the same time heed the counsel of a small but important NDP-friendly constituency of a more academic, policy-wonk sort, which gives him the highbrow basis for the Afghan "peace talks" gambit that got him called Taliban Jack.

The guidance he gets from these people is a bit of a rigmarole: Bring in the UN, facilitate discussions among the warring parties, directly engage the Taliban leadership, develop a comprehensive peace plan, build consensus around a political settlement. That kind of thing.

But people soon notice that there's a familiar ring to all this. That's because it's the same mandate as the one the UN Special Mission to Afghanistan (UNSMA) got from the UN Security Council in January 1994.

It accomplished less than nothing. It came to an end on Sept. 11, 2001, and the world moved on.

So spare a thought for Jack. He just can't get a break.

Terry Glavin's most recent book is Waiting for the Macaws and other stories from the Age of Extinctions.
He is a founding member of the Canada-Afghanistan Solidarity Committee.

A related post by Mr Glavin at his blog:

Into the Abyss: Afghanistan, Jack Layton, and the Fall of the New Democratic Party

Articles found February 27, 2008

NATO may follow if Canada exits Afghanistan
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OTTAWA (AFP) — Canada's defense minister urged parliament to keep its 2,500 troops in Afghanistan until 2011, warning that an earlier withdrawal could lead its NATO allies to abandon the shaky nation too.

"This is perhaps the most important debate facing our parliament and our nation today," Defense Minister Peter MacKay said at the start of a parliamentary debate on whether to extend the military mission or exit.

"The consequences of pulling Canada's military out of Afghanistan could have a far-reaching effect or a domino effect on others," he said. "If we were to pack up and leave Afghanistan, why wouldn't other nations follow suit?"

"How would history judge us if Canada walked away from Afghanistan?"

Previously, the main opposition Liberals agreed with the ruling Conservatives on the need to maintain troops in Afghanistan to 2011 only if NATO allies send reinforcements soon.

But they differed on whether Canadian soldiers should continue hunting insurgents beyond their current mandate of February 2009, or stick to a non-combat role in Kandahar province.
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4 police, 1 child killed in roadside bomb in Afghanistan 
www.chinaview.cn  2008-02-26 15:09:02   
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    KABUL, Feb. 26 (Xinhua) -- Four police and a child were killed as a roadside bomb struck their vehicle in Afghanistan's eastern khost province Tuesday, an official at the Interior Ministry said.

    "It was at around 08:30 a.m. local time when a mine planted byenemies hit the vehicle of police killing all its five occupants in Yaqubi district,"the official told Xinhua but refused to be identified, adding a press release would soon be released.

    However, he added that the victims include four policemen and one child accompanied his father at the van.
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Norway to send troops to southern Afghanistan  
www.chinaview.cn  2008-02-26 18:26:29     
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    STOCKHOLM, Feb. 26 (Xinhua) -- Norway's Defense Minister Anne-Grete Stroem-Erichsen said her country will send more troops to the troubled southern Afghanistan to fight the Taliban, according to reports reaching here Tuesday.

    The fresh troops, including 50 Norwegian officers and soldiers, will be sent to Afghanistan in October to help training the Afghan troops, the minister told the Norwegian public broadcaster NRK.

    "They will go with the Afghan force, wherever they are sent. This may mean that they will be engaged in fighting in all parts of Afghanistan, also in the south," the minister said.

    The missions will last for up to three months, she added.

    Last October, Stroem-Erichsen rejected NATO demand for deployment of Norwegian soldiers in southern Afghanistan, saying that her country should concentrate its troops in north of the war-torn country.
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Berlin Willing to Expand Police Mission in Afghanistan
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Germany said it would double the number of police instructors in Afghanistan, but only if other EU countries were prepared to follow suit. If participating nations take part, the mission would increase to 400 officers.

Berlin's offer comes against a background of ongoing criticism that Germany had reneged on its earlier promises to the trouble-torn country, and international calls upon Germany to increase its commitments in Afghanistan.

Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier and Interior Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble expressed Germany's willingness to increase the number of trainers from 60 to 120 in a joint commentary published Sunday, Feb. 24, in the newspaper Frankfurter Allgemeine Sonntagszeitung
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Taliban threaten cellphone firms in Afghanistan
By Taimoor Shah Monday, February 25, 2008
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KANDAHAR, Afghanistan: The Taliban have demanded that all four cellphone companies in Afghanistan cease operating during night hours or face attacks on their offices and communication towers, according to a statement issued Monday to journalists.

The statement, issued by a Taliban spokesman, Zabiullah Mujahid, complained that NATO and American forces in Afghanistan, which it called "occupying forces," were tracking the whereabouts of militants through their mobile phones and also conducting espionage through cellphones.

"It has caused heavy casualties to Taliban and sometimes to civilians," the statement said.

U.S. counterterrorism forces have tracked insurgents and Taliban commanders in Afghanistan using satellite and cellphone signals, and have conducted airstrikes and raids based on such information. In addition, the Taliban have often accused villagers of alerting counterterrorism forces of their movements.

The Taliban said they had already contacted the companies but without result. Some companies had said they were not able to stop foreign forces tracing their signal, the statement said.
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Roadside bomb kills 2 Polish soldiers in eastern Afghanistan
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KABUL, Afghanistan - A roadside bomb blast has killed two Polish soldiers in eastern Afghanistan.

The explosion hit the Polish troops Tuesday in the Sharan district of Paktika province. They were returning from a humanitarian aid meeting in a village when their Humvee drove over a roadside mine.

One soldier was also wounded. Poland has about 1,200 troops in Afghanistan.

Paktika borders Pakistan's lawless tribal region, which is used by militants as a base to plan and launch attacks inside Afghanistan.

NATO also announced the seizure of 1.5 tonnes of opium worth $400 million in the Sangin district of southern Helmand province.
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Diggers clash with Taliban in Afghanistan
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Australian troops responded aggressively with armoured vehicles, mortar fire and follow up patrols. (Australian Defence Force)
The Defence Department says Australian soldiers have fought off a number of Taliban attacks over the past few days in southern Afghanistan.

The Department says extremists used rocket propelled grenades and small arms fire to attack the troops while they were working on a construction site near Tarin Kowt.

In audio supplied by the Defence Force, Lieutenant Colonel Wayne Right describes the attack.

"It's obvious the Taliban do not want us here, they attacked one of our security positions just on dusk with RPGs and small arms fire," he says.
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Aussies turn big guns on Taliban
By Peter Veness February 27, 2008 06:45pm
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AUSTRALIAN troops have been forced to use some of their heaviest firepower to fight Taliban insurgents in Afghanistan during a series of recent skirmishes, the Department of Defence says.

The soldiers have been using 81mm mortars, which can hit targets kilometres away but which have not been widely used by Australia since the Vietnam war.

No Australian soldiers were killed or injured in the fighting and it was not clear if any Taliban had been hit.

The Taliban have launched multiple simultaneous attacks during the past fortnight.

The raids have been aimed at a security post that soldiers from the Reconstruction Task Force (RTF) have been building about 15km from Tarin Kowt, in the Afghan province of Oruzgan
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Canada is a lucky nation to have men like this
By Ezra Levant on February 26, 2008 12:23 PM
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I sometimes get e-mails from Canadian Forces troops in Afghanistan, who are always thoughtful about the larger purpose of their mission. It's clear to me that they think and talk a lot about the moral importance of their mission. I believe they are true idealists. Of course they are: in a time of war, with a near-certainty of deployment to the front lines, it takes a very special and selfless person to volunteer to join the army.

If my correspondents are any indication, our troops truly believe in spreading our Canadian ideals of liberty, rule of law, democracy and peace. I don't think the media tells us about that heartening phenomenon enough, other than a few exceptional reporters like Christie Blatchford. (Here is one of her all-time best from Afghanistan.)

I received an e-mail yesterday from a soldier in Afghanistan. After I wrote back to thank him, he wrote to me again encouraging me to post it on my blog.

How does one repay such generosity? I'm not just talking about his financial generosity -- I'm talking about his generosity of spirit, his deeply-held belief in freedom and the personal sacrifices needed to sustain it.

He is far too kind to suggest that what I'm doing, from the warmth and safety of Canada, is in any way comparable to what he's doing, in real danger and discomfort, daily. I was stunned when I received his note. Here it is. Good God we're a lucky nation to have men and women like this. I don't deserve such praise. I hope as a nation we can live up to his standards.
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Latest Afstan roundup from the Conference of Defence Associations (links given for full CPAC video coverage of the CDA's Feb. 21-22 meeting):

Afghanistan: continuing the effort

It includes this letter from Jack Granatstein to the Globe and Mail, on CDS General Hillier's speech to last week's CDA meeting, published today but only available to subscribers:

There's nothing improper about educating Canadians on defence
From Wednesday's Globe and Mail
February 27, 2008 at 3:27 AM EST

Defence – the very word seems to get under the skin of many Canadians. The Canadian Forces is expensive, its actions abroad sometimes involve casualties, and its military operations sometimes interfere with the Canadian perception that we are peacekeepers first and foremost. Defence is so, well, so American.

You could feel all these undertones in the article by University of Ottawa law professor Amir Attaran on this page last week, in which he attacked the Conference of Defence Associations and the Department of National Defence's Security and Defence Forum.

The Conference is an amalgam of defence organizations, most related to the reserve forces. The CDA has an advocacy and educational pro-defence role, and it now receives $100,000 a year from the Defence Department. The Security and Defence Forum is a Department of National Defence program that offers financial support to university centres that work on defence-related topics. Neither is secret, both operate publicly, and in Prof. Attaran's eyes, both do nothing but generate pro-defence propaganda. [More on Prof. Attaran at the link below.]

If it was only one complaint, it might pass unnoticed, but David ********, the Ottawa Citizen's defence correspondent, has published similar criticisms about the CDA, and so has Maclean's. Predictably, Steven Staples of the anti-defence Rideau Institute has also complained that the SDF program constitutes a federally funded defence lobby in the universities. So what's going on here? [More on the Institute at the link below.]

First, it needs to be said that the federal government funds many different kinds of activities. It finances scholarly research through a host of agencies (including the Social Science and Humanities Research Council that drops lavish annual funding into Prof. Attaran's pocket). It has funded the Court Challenges Program that gave funds to organizations to oppose the government in court. The Department of Foreign Affairs gives grants to non-governmental organizations, and a host of other departments fund associations and groups that lobby the government and educate the public. With the exception of the now defunct Court Challenges program, no one says a word about this. Nor should they: This is a proper use of public funds to create an educated, informed public on the issues that matter to Canadians.

Second, it also must be noted that the Conference of Defence Associations is not a tame mouthpiece for the government or the military. CDA publications have vigorously attacked government policy on many occasions, and in its educational efforts CDA has tried to push and prod policy-makers to act in ways that serve the national interest and enhance Canadian security. This is education, and there's nothing remotely improper with this.

Finally, the Security and Defence Forum is even more bulletproof. In the universities across the country where it operates, a host of professors and students have been granted funds to do research in the areas they choose. These range from climate change and conflict to international law and world religions. No one in Ottawa twists academics' arms and demands they study this topic or that one. No one orders them to spout a party line (as if academics could be made to do so). An independent peer-review process run by scholars decides which centres get – or lose – funding, and the decisions are properly based on their track record in publication and research.

DND's only reward for all this has been the creation of more experts out there who can praise – or damn –the department's work. The Defence Department's view, quite properly, has been that it is better to get informed criticism than none at all.

Why all the criticism of funding defence research or defence education then?  The Canadian self-image is that we are a nation of peacekeepers, different from our more warlike American neighbours; that we have no national interests, such as other nations do, only universal values that we should propagate around the globe. It is, therefore, good for government to support NGOs with public funds since they uplift the downtrodden. But it is, by definition, wrong to fund any organization that might believe that defence is necessary to protect and advance the nation's interests at home and abroad or even that defence ought to be studied.

This is naive in the extreme. Canada has national interests to protect and advance. It has the Canadian Forces that can and should do peacekeeping when that is possible or necessary, but also must be prepared to do vigorous peacemaking when that is required – and when it serves our national interests. Learning how to define our interests and calculating how best to serve them is a proper role for scholars. So, too, is reminding Canadians that their Canadian Forces are a necessary adjunct to our government and, indeed, to all our lives.

J.L. Granatstein writes for the Canadian Defence and Foreign Affairs Institute, which gets no program funding from the Department of National Defence.

Europeans ponder the 'how' of dealing with Afghanistan
Draft documents circulating among NATO allies ahead of April summit call for revamped strategy

Toronto Star, Feb. 27

PARIS–A bleak recurring theme is emerging in the answers of European government insiders when pressed on the question of how far they might be willing to go to help Canada in the battle for volatile southern Afghanistan.

No matter whether you ask in French, German, Spanish or Italian, the pat response is to turn aside the question itself. And to ask a series of more difficult questions instead. Such was the case yesterday, when a senior French government source told the Star:

"The question is not `how far,' but simply `how?' – how are we going to rebuild and pacify Afghanistan? How are we going to cope with the present strategy? How are we going to win? And what do we mean by `win'?"

Though they are presented with the freedom of anonymity, the doubtful misgivings of European officials polled by the Star in recent days point to a hidden debate on whether the time has come for NATO to reconcile the international community's ambitious goals in Afghanistan with the drifting, uncertain reality of the mission on the ground.

One way or another, the issue will come to a head in early April at the NATO summit in Bucharest, where several European alliance members are hoping to persuade their counterparts on a revamped Strategic Plan for Afghanistan.

Two draft documents to that end are already circulating among NATO allies, but sources close to NATO headquarters in Brussels say it remains unclear whether the versions that reach Bucharest will entail a significant reassessment of the mission or mere window-dressing...

Some Western diplomats suggest the "Bye George Factor" stands as a deterrent to any dramatic commitments to Afghanistan by European allies. The thought process here is that European NATO partners may prefer to wait until U.S. President George W. Bush vacates the White House next January before substantially increasing their efforts.

"At a certain level that makes sense. The departure of Bush will remove some baggage from the Afghan equation," said Jean-François Daguzan, senior fellow at the Paris-based Foundation for Strategic Research. "But it doesn't remove the essential discrepancy in Afghanistan, where you have only the military foot and not the redevelopment and reconstruction foot that was supposed to be standing beside it all along.

"We understand the Canadian dilemma. But there is a strategy question here that needs to be answered."

Articles found February 28, 2008

Canadian Forces: Exercise Southern Bear Ends Successfully
CAMP DONA ANA, FORT BLISS, TEXAS--(Marketwire - Feb. 28, 2008)
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Today, after almost a month in desert-like training at Fort Bliss, Texas, Exercise Southern Bear has officially ended. The approximately 3,000 soldiers who took part in the exercise will soon be heading back to Canada.

During this month long exercise soldiers conducted Combat Team attacks, convoy training, IED training and specific training pertaining to their tasks in Afghanistan.

"I am very pleased with everything that we accomplished during our short time here," said Colonel Dean Milner, Commander of 2 Canadian Mechanized Brigade Group (2 CMBG). "The exceptional facilities at Fort Bliss allowed us to train in an environment that is similar to Afghanistan."

The completion of the exercise marks another major milestone on the road to Afghanistan that began last August for many of the soldiers from Petawawa's 2 CMBG. Aside from the Joint Task Force Afghanistan Headquarters that is scheduled to depart at the end of April, most of the soldiers training for the deployment will leave for Afghanistan during September.

"This exercise allowed us to bring together all of the Task Force elements that will deploy to Afghanistan. It helped us prepare them for the next major training event in Wainwright, Alberta during May called Exercise Maple Guardian." added Colonel Milner. "We have done everything to make sure that the soldiers are prepared for success at Wainwright and later on in Afghanistan."

The training at Fort Bliss was necessary to replicate the terrain in and around Kandahar Province, where these soldiers will be operating once they deploy to Afghanistan.
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Prince Harry serving in Afghanistan, British officials confirm
Last Updated: Thursday, February 28, 2008 | 3:00 PM ET  CBC News
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Prince Harry has been serving on the front lines in Afghanistan since December, calling in air strikes and going on foot patrols, Britain's Defence Ministry confirmed Thursday.

The confirmation came shortly after the news was leaked by an Australian magazine and a German newspaper, as well as the U.S. news site Drudge Report.

Prince Harry patrols the Afghan town of Garmisir on Jan. 2. His presence in Afghanistan was supposed to be kept a secret by the media.
(John Stillwell/Associated Press) The prince, who is third in line to the British throne, has been in Afghanistan's southern Helmand province for 10 weeks and was to have remained until mid-April.
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Afghan CTV journalist declared enemy combatant
Feb 27, 2008 05:21 PM Alisa Tang THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
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KABUL–The U.S. military said today a journalist working for Canada's CTV television network, who has been held for four months without being charged, has been designated an unlawful enemy combatant.

Jawed Ahmad, an Afghan who is also known as Jojo Yazemi, was allowed to make a statement before an enemy combatant review board, which determined there was credible information to detain him because he was dangerous to foreign troops and the Afghan government, said Maj. Chris Belcher, a spokesman for the U.S.-led coalition.
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Toronto gun deaths outnumber troop losses in Afghanistan
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With this week's agreement to keep Canadian troops in Afghanistan until 2011, Jack Layton can no longer threaten their forced return to perhaps clean snow from the streets of Toronto. Our troops are safer in Afghanistan. For the past six years more people have been killed annually in Toronto (mostly from gangs with handguns) than have died in the engagement with terrorists in that war-torn country. This is supposed to change when Premier Dalton McGuinty and his federal Liberal cousins complete their ban on handguns.

Had Jean Chretien not spent $500 million taxpayer dollars getting out of the purchase of helicopters back in 1993 many of the 78 casualties not from gunfire but roadside bombs would probably have been averted.

Removal of troops replaced with well-intentioned civilians will only allow the terrorists to intercept our relief supplies, sell them on the open market and buy more guns and material for roadside bombs.

Perhaps our politicians should leave the running of the war to the generals. Our politicians are much more entertaining as they play Perry Mason wannabes figuring out whether Schreiber is a better liar than Mulroney. Like the Liberal sponsorship scandal the airbus affair was conducted by individuals all paid in cash only under the table with no legs. There are no prisoners and no paper trails from these transactions.
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Combat will sometimes be part of mission: MacKay
Wednesday, February 27, 2008
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OTTAWA -- There will be times after 2009 when Canadian troops will have to be engaged in combat in Afghanistan and the timing of such decisions are best left to commanders on the ground, Defence Minister Peter MacKay said Wednesday.

The possibility of Canadian troops continuing to carry the fight to the Taliban is at the heart of a debate over whether the federal Liberals will support the Conservative government's motion to extend deployment in Kandahar up to July 2011.

In opening debate on the motion Monday, Liberal Leader Stephane Dion made it clear his party wants other NATO troops to take over the lead combat role, leaving Canadian soldiers to focus on reconstruction, security and training Afghan forces.

But MacKay says he believes the Liberals are realistic and have come to the conclusion that there are times when fighting will be necessary.
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A look at recent kidnappings of foreigners in Afghanistan
The Associated PressPublished: February 27, 2008
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Recent kidnappings of foreigners in Afghanistan:

AMERICAN AID WORKER: Gunmen kidnapped American aid worker Cyd Mizell and her driver, Abdul Hadi, in a residential neighborhood of Kandahar on Jan. 26, 2008. Mizell, who was wearing the all-encompassing burqa that many Afghan women wear when she was taken, worked on aid projects for the Asian Rural Life Development Foundation. After a month in captivity ARLDF said they were both feared dead.

RED CROSS WORKERS: Four ICRC employees — a national from Myanmar, one from Macedonia and two from Afghanistan — were seized Sept. 26, 2007, in the central province of Ghazni while trying to secure the release of a German captive abducted in July
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American Missing in Afghanistan Is Feared Dead
By THE NEW YORK TIMES February 28, 2008
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KANDAHAR, Afghanistan — An American woman and her Afghan driver who were abducted at gunpoint on Jan. 26 are feared dead, the administrator of her aid organization said Wednesday.

The woman, Cyd Mizell, 50, a native of Eureka, Calif., worked for the Asian Rural Life Development Foundation starting in 2005. She taught English and ran educational and agricultural assistance programs in this southern city. Her driver was Muhammad Hadi, a father of five.

“We have received information through two police sources that they had been killed,” said Micah Berry, the financial administrator for the foundation. “We don’t know whether it is true or not.”

The provincial governor, Asadullah Khalid, said he could not confirm the report. The foundation said it was working with the International Committee of the Red Cross to find the two, Mr. Berry said.
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29 Militants Killed in South Afghanistan
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KANDAHAR, Afghanistan (AP) — A militant ambush of an opium poppy eradication force sparked clashes that left 25 Taliban fighters and a policeman dead, a provincial police chief said Thursday. Four other militants died when a bomb went off.

Insurgents ambushed the drug eradication force Wednesday in Marja district of Helmand province — the world's largest opium producing region — killing one police officer and wounding two, said Gen. Mohammad Hussein Andiwal, the provincial police chief.

Police attacked the militants afterward, killing 25 Taliban fighters, Andiwal said.

Separately, four militants died and another was wounded Thursday when the roadside bomb they were planting on a main road in Helmand exploded prematurely, Andiwal said.
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Missile strike on Pakistan militant hideout kills 13: officials
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PESHAWAR, Pakistan (AFP) — A suspected US missile strike destroyed an Al-Qaeda and Taliban hideout in a Pakistani region, killing 13 alleged militants including several Arabs, security officials said Thursday.

Residents of Azam Warsak village in South Waziristan told AFP that a house was blown up by a missile fired from a pilotless drone and the loud blast was heard miles (kilometres) away in the rugged valley.

US drones have launched several strikes on the Pakistan-Afghanistan border targeting members of Osama bin Laden's network, although Islamabad never confirms such attacks due to issues of national sovereignty.

The attack comes a month after Bin Laden's operational number three, Abu Laith al-Libi, was killed in a missile strike on January 29 in the neighbouring Pakistani tribal area of North Waziristan.

"A house used as a den by Al-Qaeda and Afghan Taliban militants was hit by a missile. Thirteen people were killed and around 10 were wounded," a senior Pakistani security official told AFP.
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Karzai only controls 1/3 of Afghanistan
AP, Feb. 28

More than six years after the U.S. invaded to establish a stable central regime in Afghanistan, the Kabul government under President Hamid Karzai controls just 30 percent of the country, the top U.S. intelligence official said Wednesday.

National Intelligence Director Michael McConnell told the Senate Armed Services Committee that the resurgent Taliban controls 10 percent to 11 percent of the country and Karzai's government controls 30 percent to 31 percent. The majority of Afghanistan's population and territory remains under local tribal control, he said.

Underscoring the problems facing the Kabul government, a roadside bomb in Paktika province killed two Polish soldiers who are part of the NATO force in the country and opium worth $400 million was seized in the southern part of Afghanistan. That brought the number of foreign troops killed in Afghanistan to 21 this year, according to an Associated Press tally.

In 2007, insurgency-related violence killed more than 6,500 people, including 222 foreign troops. Last year was the deadliest yet since the U.S.-led invasion in 2001.

Officials estimate that up to 40 percent of proceeds from Afghanistan's drug trade — an amount worth tens of millions of dollars — is used to fund the insurgency.

Lt. Gen. Michael Maples, the Defense Intelligence Agency director, told the committee at the same hearing that the Pakistan government is trying to crack down on the lawless tribal area along the Afghan border area where Taliban and al-Qaida are believed to be training, and from which they launch attacks in Afghanistan. But neither the Pakistani military nor the tribal Frontier Corps is trained or equipped to fight, he said.

Maples said it would take three to five years to address those deficiencies and see a difference in their ability to fight effectively in the tribal areas.

"Pakistani military operations in the (region) have not fundamentally damaged al-Qaida's position. ... The tribal areas remain largely ungovernable and, as such, they will continue to provide vital sanctuary to al-Qaida, the Taliban and regional extremism more broadly," Maples said...

Articles found February 29, 2008 - (it's a leap year!!)

Prince Harry in Afghanistan bravery saluted
By Colonel Richard Kemp CBE, former Commander of British Forces in Afghanistan
Last Updated: 8:30am GMT 29/02/2008
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Everybody who joins a military combat arm - such as the Household Cavalry Regiment - does so in order to fight. Prince Harry is no exception and he was bitterly disappointed when he was not allowed to go to Iraq with his regiment last May.

His deployment in December - as for every soldier on his first active operation - would have been a time of great excitement, tempered with a degree of apprehension.

Of course he is no ordinary Army officer - as third in line to the throne he couldn't be. But Prince Harry has built up a formidable reputation as a fine and competent officer since joining his regiment, and that has been further strengthened in Afghanistan.

Based in a forward operating base near the Pakistan border on the main Taliban transit route up into Helmand, the Prince has had no special treatment.

There isn't room for anything like that in the confined and rudimentary living quarters of a wind-swept combat outpost. He has been 'mucking-in' with every other soldier, cooking his own rations, taking his turn making brews for himself and his mates, cleaning his rifle and equipment.

He has been receiving the respect due to any commissioned officer - though for junior lieutenants such as the Prince, that is usually dispensed sparingly! He will have ribbed his fellow-soldiers, and been ripped into himself in the often vicious but always vital humour that the Army survives on both in and out of barracks
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Our troops deserve better
TheStar.com - comment - February 29, 2008
Re:Canada's military-industrial complex
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Column, Feb. 26

After years of neglect, Canada's armed forces are finally getting equipment of current vintage. When Canadian troops entered Afghanistan, they did not have enough armoured helmets to provide for troops rotating in and out of the theatre. These had to be exchanged between those troops leaving and those troops entering Afghanistan.

Need I mention that Canadian troops first arrived there with forest-green uniforms and had to wait close to a year before having suitable desert camouflage uniforms? Similar circumstances repeated themselves in regard to air transport, ground support armour and artillery, and Canada is still wanting in basic helicopter transport and air support.

The present federal government is the only one in decades that has recognized the strategic vulnerability of Canada's North. Yet Linda McQuaig gainsays relatively minimal military spending – a 0.5 per cent spending increase – when Greece, for instance, has recently been spending in the area of 4 per cent of its gross domestic product annually.

Australia, with a population of 20.4 million people, spends more than Canada, with a population of 31 million.

Canada comes 60th in members of the armed forces, after such countries as Chile, Sri Lanka and Ethiopia. We make do with diesel submarines, while Brazil is prepared to build a nuclear submarine.

Isn't it about time Canada had some means and a slight hope of sustaining her own sovereignty?
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Missile strike on militant hideout in SWA kills 10
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Residents say dead include Punjabi, Afghan militants
* Army says blast due to explosive material stored in house

PESHAWAR: At least 10 suspected militants were killed in a missile strike on a house in South Waziristan early on Thursday, residents and officials said.

The dead were believed to be of Pakistani and foreign origins, they said.

The attack happened at about 2am in Kaloosha Village, 10 kilometres west of Wana, headquarters of South Waziristan Agency.

“Nine militants were killed instantly while a wounded Punjabi militant passed away hours later in a local hospital,” the residents said. Security officials also put the toll at 10. However, local news agencies reported that 13 people were killed in the attack and several others injured.

It is the second such attack in the area after militant commander Nek Muhammad was killed in a missile attack in June 2004.

Resident Sharifullah said three missiles hit the house of Afghan national Sheroo.

Sheroo hailed from Zalikhel tribe, which was notorious for harbouring foreign and local militants, the residents added.

Afghans, Punjabis: They said the dead included Afghans and Punjabis whereas security officials pointed out the presence of Arab militants in the house.

“There was no immediate information about the presence of any high-value target,” an official told AFP.
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Taliban Blow Up Afghan Phone Tower
By NOOR KHAN – 2 hours ago
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KANDAHAR, Afghanistan (AP) — Taliban militants blew up a telecommunications tower Friday in southern Afghanistan following a warning to phone companies to shut down the towers at night or face attack.

The militants fear U.S. and other foreign troops are using mobile phone signals to track insurgents and launch attacks against them. A Taliban spokesman on Monday said militants would blow up towers across Afghanistan if the companies did not switch off their signals overnight.

Insurgents made good on that threat Friday, destroying a tower along the main highway in the Zhari district of Kandahar province, said Niaz Mohammad Serhadi, the top district official.

The tower was owned by Areeba, one of four cellular companies in Afghanistan. Company officials could not immediately be reached for comment.

Phone companies moved into remote areas of Afghanistan after talks with tribal elders, who asked for the towers to be built, said Abdul Hadi Hadi, spokesman for the Telecommunications Ministry.

"When they destroy any tower, it shows direct enmity to the people of that area. I don't think the destruction of the towers has any direct effect on the government. It is the people who suffer," he said.
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Parents respond to word that kidnapped US aid worker feared dead
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KABUL, Afghanistan -- An American aid worker's parents, who live in Washington state, say they are heartbroken to receive "credible reports" that their daughter and her Afghan driver, kidnapped in southern Afghanistan a month ago, are feared dead.

"While these reports remain unconfirmed, we are beginning to accept that the hoped-for outcome may no longer be possible," George and Peggy Mizell of DuPont, Wash., said Thursday in a statement.

Cyd Mizell, 50, and driver Abdul Hadi were kidnapped in a residential neighborhood of Kandahar on Jan. 26. Mizell worked on aid projects for the Asian Rural Life Development Foundation, or ARLDF.

"Although we have no confirmation of their deaths, we have received information over the past few days indicating that our two aid workers have been killed," said a statement posted on the group's Web site Tuesday.

Afghan and U.S. officials said Wednesday they could not confirm the report.
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Canada resumes Afghan detainee transfers
GRAEME SMITH Globe and Mail Update February 29, 2008 at 8:44 AM EST
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KABUL — Canada has resumed transfers of detainees to Afghan custody, officials announced today, saying they're satisfied with local authorities' new safeguards against torture.

Many details of the handovers were kept secret as Canadian officials spoke with reporters via teleconference.

They declined to say when the transfers resumed, how many have been transferred, or whether Canada has now emptied the makeshift prison facility at Kandahar Air Field that held a growing number of detainees for almost four months.

The transfers halted on Nov. 6, one day after Canadian officials discovered first-hand evidence of torture inside a detention facility operated by the National Directorate of Security, Afghanistan's feared intelligence service.
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