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The Sandbox and Areas Reports Thread (December 2006)

Articles found 18 December 2006

Blast hits NATO convoy in Afghanistan
Reuters Monday, December 18, 2006; 7:56 AM
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KANDAHAR, Afghanistan (Reuters) - An explosion struck a NATO convoy in southern Afghanistan on Monday, wounding two soldiers, witnesses and a NATO official said.

The blast occurred in a district of Kandahar province, a bastion of support for the Taliban when the group emerged in the 1990s and the focus of militant attacks since they were driven from power in 2001.

Initial reports indicated two NATO soldiers were wounded and one vehicle was damaged in the blast, an alliance spokesman said.

Police at the scene said the attack was carried out by a suicide car bomber. A Taliban commander, Mulla Hayat Khan, said the insurgents carried out the attack
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Senators meet with Canadian troops in Afghanistan 
Meagan Fitzpatrick Canadian Press Monday, December 18, 2006
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OTTAWA - A group of senators are in Afghanistan this week checking up on Canadian troops and hoping to spread some Christmas cheer.

“Meeting the troops at this time of year is one of the things we wanted to concentrate on and every Canadian should be terribly proud of what they’re doing,” Senator Michael Meighen told CTV’s Canada AM on Monday morning.

The senators arrived on Saturday and have so far spent their time meeting with troops on the base in Kandahar. They have also travelled outside the perimeter of the base to visit soldiers who work on the Provincial Reconstruction Team (PRT).

The security situation has prevented them from visiting any of the actual reconstruction projects, the Conservative senator said.

“Without a moment’s hesitation I can tell all Canadians that their morale is absolutely first class, they are doing a superb job by everybody’s account including people we’ve talked to from other nations,” Meighen said. “They’re happy, they’re busy and they are convinced, and I think they have reason to be convinced, that they are making progress in bringing an improved quality of life to this very troubled part of Afghanistan.”

Meighen sits on the Senate committee on national security and defence. In September, he and other members of the committee tried to visit Afghanistan while they were on a trip to England, the Netherlands and Dubai but they ended up stuck in Dubai for six days racking up a $30,000 hotel bill.

That angered Senate Leader Marjory LeBreton, who blasted the senators for not cancelling the trip after being told by defence officials, including Gen. Rick Hillier, chief of the defence staff, that they couldn’t enter Afghanistan because of military operations. The entire trip cost $150,000.

The current visit comes at the start of a major new offensive aimed at defeating the Taliban in the Panjwaii and Zhari district in the south of Afghanistan.

Four suspected insurgents killed, 3 coalition troops wounded in Afghanistan
Canadian Press Monday, December 18, 2006
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KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) - The U.S.-led coalition troops clashed with suspected militants in southern Afghanistan, leaving four insurgents dead and three soldiers wounded, a statement said Monday.

The troops, operating alongside the Afghan army, called in airstrikes during Sunday's clash in Kandahar province's Sperwan Ghar district. They also seized weapons caches containing mines and explosives, the statement said.

The confrontation occurred as Canadian troops and NATO forces prepared for a major offensive against the Taliban in the Panjwaii district, also in southern Afghanistan. The forward operating base in Panjwaii was a beehive of activity Sunday with troops stocking up on ammunition and mechanics doing last minute tuneups before the light armoured vehicles and tanks began rolling.

In the east of the country, U.S.-led and Afghan troops early Monday detained 10 suspected insurgents, including "a known transporter of weapons and explosives" with links to movements of foreign fighters in the region, a coalition statement said. It did not identify any of the suspects.
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Active Apaches in Afghanistan
December 18, 2006
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U.S. Army Chief Warrant Officer Philip Learn, and his co-pilot, Captain Brian Hummel, were recently awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross for heroics a year ago in Afghanistan. But there's a lot more to it than that. 

The two were flying an AH-64 Apache gunship at the time, escorting two CH-47 transport helicopters near Kandahar, in southern Afghanistan. One of the CH-47's took some ground fire, was damaged, but managed to land. Then the 34 troops on the CH-47 found themselves under fire from a large group of Taliban gunmen in the area. So Learn and Hummel took their AH-64 in low and basically shot it out with the Taliban, killing and wounding many, and forcing the rest to leave the area. At times, the AH-64 was exchanging fire with over a dozen Taliban, who were armed with assault rifles, machine-guns and PRGs.
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US and allies are losing the war in Afghanistan
By Patrick Seale, Special to Gulf News
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A few days ago, President Hamid Karzai of Afghanistan wept openly on national television. His tears were for Afghan children killed in America's war against the Taliban and for his inability to protect them. The mounting civilian death toll is rapidly eroding his popular support.

Karzai puts the blame squarely on neighbouring Pakistan, which he accuses of supporting the Taliban. "Pakistan wants to make slaves of us," he declared, "but we will not surrender!"

Clearly, the reconciliation between Karzai and Pakistan's President General Pervez Musharraf, which President George W. Bush tried to bring about at a White House dinner last September, is now a thing of the past.

Western intelligence agencies confirm that Pakistan continues to provide sanctuary for Taliban fighters in the tribal agencies flanking the Afghan border. Pakistan's military intelligence service, the ISI, is said to funnel money to the Taliban and to the tribal agencies to keep them under a semblance of control. Pakistan has also not been particularly active against Al Qaida.
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Rural soldiers more likely to die in Iraq, Afghanistan
Associated Press WICHITA, Kan.
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Christopher Wasser was like a lot of soldiers from rural areas.

The Ottawa native saw the military as a way to pay for college, said his mother, Candy Wasser.

Wasser joined the Marine Corps in 2001 and was among the first to invade Iraq two years later.

On a second deployment there in April 2004, he gained another common characteristic for rural soldiers. He was killed, dying from shrapnel wounds in Anbar Province.

According to a study released last month by the Carsey Institute at the University of New Hampshire, the death rate per million population aged 18 to 54 was 60 percent higher for soldiers from rural areas compared with those from urban areas or the suburbs.

In Kansas, 29 of the 42 soldiers who have died in Iraq or Afghanistan hailed from rural communities.

Researchers said the higher death rate is linked to higher enlistment because of smaller job opportunities in rural areas. That means combat deaths are felt more keenly in rural parts of the country.

"For a lot of small towns and rural communities, the war's not abstract," said Dee Davis, president of the Kentucky-based Center for Rural Strategies. "In rural America, people know who's actually fighting."

Davis said his group did a survey before the election that showed three-fourths of rural respondents said they knew someone fighting overseas
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Newfoundland comic Mary Walsh takes her dark comedy to Afghanistan
December 18, 2006 - 16:58
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TORONTO (CP) - Newfoundland comic Mary Walsh is heading to Kandahar to entertain the troops.

The sharp-tongued comedienne is taking her film "Young Triffie" to Afghanistan for a special holiday screening with the Canadian Forces. The dark comedy is set in 1947 Newfoundland and stars Fred Ewanuick, Andrea Martin, Colin Mochrie and Remy Girard. Walsh and fellow Newfoundland comics Andy Jones and Cathy Jones also star

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Dutch troops involved in NATO operation in Kandahar
Radio Netherlands, Dec. 18

The Socialist Party and the Green Left party want Defence Minister Henk Kamp to clarify the Dutch involvement in a large-scale NATO operation in southern Afghanistan. Since Friday, hundreds of NATO soldiers in the province of Kandahar have been engaged in a major operation to push back the Taliban. The Dutch troops, who are stationed in the neighbouring province of Uruzgan, have been providing both air and ground support.

The two left-wing parties say this points to a further change to the original mission of the Dutch contingent, which was to focus fully on reconstruction work. The governing coalition parties, the Christian Democrats and the conservative VVD, say it is only natural that Dutch troops should come to the assistance of their allies in Afghanistan."

Operation Baaz Tsuka moves into next phase 
Brian Hutchinson, CanWest News Service, 18 Dec 06
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Canadian battle-group commander Lt.-Col. Omer Lavoie declared on Monday it’s time to "get back to business" and again confront the Taliban.  With 150 soldiers from Charles Company, Royal Canadian Regiment gathered in a tight circle around him, Lavoie spelled out terms of their involvement in Operation Baaz Tsuka — the NATO mission underway in this traditional Taliban stronghold, 30-kilometres west of Kandahar city.  The new campaign follows Operation Medusa, a brutal, two-week offensive that unfolded here in September.  Operation Baaz Tsuka is intended to chase away the most committed insurgents, the so-called "Tier-One" Taliban, and to persuade local "Tier-Two" mercenaries to join the Afghan National Auxiliary Police (ANAP), a new regional security force, or to put down their weapons and pick up shovels ....

Battle group commander rallies troops about to join offensive against Taliban
Bill Graveland, Canadian Press, 18 Dec 06
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Canadian troops poised to join a new offensive against the Taliban in southern Afghanistan were told by their commander Monday that they've had success in the past and will again in the current operation.  In a speech to troops at Forward Operating Base Zettlemeyer, Battle Group commander Lt.-Col. Omer Lavoie told members of Charles Company that the current offensive in Kandahar province would attempt what he called a soft approach.  But Lavoie said the combined NATO and Afghan National Army forces mounting Operation Baaz Tsuka (Falcon Summit in the Afghan language) will do what is necessary to succeed.  "As we move into this next operation, again, we're hoping to do it less kinetic than we did in Medusa," Lavoie said of last September's offensive in the Panjwaii area.  ". . . We're going to go in as soft as possible but hard as necessary if they want to make it hard on us," Lavoie told about 170 soldiers gathered for a promotion ceremony.  "Keep it up and I look forward to seeing you out there," Lavoie said.  Four members of Charles Company were promoted in the short ceremony held a site Lavoie called appropriate.  "On ground 4 1/2 months ago the Taliban thought they owned . . . Charles Company proved they maybe were renting it for a little while and they got evicted the hard way," Lavoie said ....

More News on CAN in AFG here

‘Mulla Omar in Kandahar’
Khalid Hasan, Daily Times (PAK), 19 Dec 06
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A Pakistan embassy spokesman has refuted the claim that the Taliban have a “command and control structure operating on Pakistan territory, in and around the city of Quetta”.  In a letter to Baltimore Sun, embassy press minister M Akram Shaheedi writes: “This is not true because Mulla Muhammed Omar and his Taliban commanders are in Kandahar, their home district and the base of the Taliban. They command considerable support from the local population there. They could not hide in Quetta because Pakistan’s intelligence and security network is very effective. The presence of the Taliban leadership could not go unnoticed there. It should also be mentioned here that a UN Security Council report released in August clearly states that the centre of gravity of the Taliban movement is in Afghanistan. According to the United Nations: ‘The insurgency is being conducted mostly by Afghans operating inside Afghanistan’s borders.’”

Senators meet with Canadian troops in Afghanistan
Meagan Fitzpatrick, CanWest News Service, 18 Dec 06
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A group of senators are in Afghanistan this week checking up on Canadian troops and hoping to spread some Christmas cheer.  “Meeting the troops at this time of year is one of the things we wanted to concentrate on and every Canadian should be terribly proud of what they’re doing,” Senator Michael Meighen told CTV’s Canada AM on Monday morning.  The senators arrived on Saturday and have so far spent their time meeting with troops on the base in Kandahar. They have also travelled outside the perimeter of the base to visit soldiers who work on the Provincial Reconstruction Team (PRT).  The security situation has prevented them from visiting any of the actual reconstruction projects, the Conservative senator said.  “Without a moment’s hesitation I can tell all Canadians that their morale is absolutely first class, they are doing a superb job by everybody’s account including people we’ve talked to from other nations,” Meighen said. “They’re happy, they’re busy and they are convinced, and I think they have reason to be convinced, that they are making progress in bringing an improved quality of life to this very troubled part of Afghanistan.” ....

Taliban Plans 'Takeover' by 2010
The Media Line, 18 Dec 06
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The Taliban organization has set the year 2010 as its deadline for the complete takeover of Afghanistan, an intelligence source revealed, according to the Pakistani daily The Nation.  The organization is launching an average of 600 attacks against NATO and Afghani troops every month, the paper estimated.  Over 50,000 Taliban and Al-Qa'ida fighters are spread around the southern regions of Afghanistan, intelligence officers told The Nation. Thousands of Taliban fighters, who went underground following the fall of the Taliban regime in 2001, have now resurfaced, the sources said.  "They now have 2010 in their minds as the deadline to reoccupy the Afghan lands that they lost after the United States attacked Afghanistan in pursuit of Al-Qa'ida," the sources explained.  The Taliban are successful in recruiting more people to their ranks, who see President Hamid Karazai's regime as corrupt and too slow in bringing security to the remote areas of the country, the sources added ....

Kabul arrests army general for spying
Agence France Presse, via The Penninsula, 19 Dec 06
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Afghan intelligence agents have arrested an army general on charges of spying for Pakistan, officials said yesterday, fuelling a row over Islamabad’s alleged attempts to destabilise its western neighbour.  General Khair Mohammad was detained within the past week after he was found to be selling information to Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), the press office of the Afghan national intelligence agency said.  “We’ve arrested Khair Mohammad over an act of treason against his country and working for Pakistan’s ISI,” an intelligence agency spokesman said on condition of anonymity.  “Mohammad has confessed to working for ISI and has met ISI officers in Peshawar three times,” the official added, referring to Pakistan’s main northwestern city near the Afghan border ....

Taliban execute 26 male Afghans
Brian Hutchinson, CanWest News Service, 19 Dec 06
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Coalition sources tell CanWest News Service 26 male Afghans were executed by Taliban in Panjwaii District on Monday, and their headless bodies hanged for public display in an effort dissuade local people from cooperating with NATO soldiers.  The executions occurred in and around the village of Talukan, south of the Arghandab River. Four bodies were hanged beside a religious shrine. Another 22 corpses were scattered around the area.  Warning notes were pinned to the headless corpses, advising any Afghan who assists coalition forces now mounting a major military campaign in Panjwaii District will meet the same fate ....

Senators visiting troops in Afghanistan
CBC.ca, 18 Dec 06
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Members of a Canadian Senate committee who came under heavy criticism following an aborted trip to Afghanistan last September have arrived in the country on a fact-finding mission.  Members of the Senate defence committee said the trip is the only way to appreciate the challenges and difficulties of the mission and to hear from villagers about what's actually going on.  The committee's attempted trip last September sparked controversy and accusations of misspending.  Five senators from the committee were set to travel to Afghanistan on a fact-finding mission after stops in London, Rotterdam and Dubai. However, they were stranded in a Dubai hotel after military commanders told them it was too dangerous to continue ....

Medicine Woman
'What matters is how you deal with the fear,' medic says of life in war zone

Doug Beazley, Sun Media, 19 Dec 06
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After weeks of working the medical station at Kandahar Airfield, screening flu cases and sore throats, what Cpl. Veronica Jobin wanted most was to be in the field, "in the action."  She got her wish. Her superiors threw her in the deep end of the ocean when, during the last two weeks of September, she was transferred to Canadian Patrol Base Wilson, 4 km north of the Arghandab River -- smack in the middle of Operation Medusa, the largest military operation in NATO history.  "I remember one soldier, he had an open leg fracture. That means the bones were shattered and sticking through the skin," said Jobin, her face blanching slightly at the memory.  "He was conscious, which is always good. Unconscious means he might swallow his tongue and stop breathing. This guy was breathing, all right -- he wouldn't stop screaming.  "But he was really, really brave. Everyone is scared, you know. What matters is how you deal with the fear, how you push through." ....

More News on CAN in AFG here

Taliban suicide attack and UK ISAF firing upon Afghan civilians, 03 December 2006, Kandahar
UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) news release, 18 Dec 06
Article Link (.pdf)

.... UNAMA verification of the suicide attack and subsequent shooting of Afghan civilians in Kandahar city has found significant grounds for concern. UNAMA welcomes the UK ISAF investigation and sharing of their findings. However the impact of the suicide attack and ISAF’s reaction on 03 December raises some key issues, namely:
- Violation of the principles of international humanitarian law committed by the suicide attacker(s);
- Community perception of a lack of restraint and care demonstrated by ISAF through this incident; and deterioration of NATO/ISAF’s ‘popularity’ following the killing of civilians in this and other incidents and the possible fuelling of anti-international community sentiment by agitators;
- Discrepancy between the NATO/ISAF explanation and other information received by UNAMA regarding the number of fatalities and wounded caused by UK ISAF;
- The slow pace of investigation by the Afghan government into this and previous suicide attacks;
- Increased risk to civilians due to frequent insurgent attacks with disregard for the civilian population.
- Increasing number of incidents in which NATO/ISAF has fired at civilians who have strayed too close to traveling convoys ....

Peace Jirga may bring calm to region: Afghan experts
Pajhwok News (AFG), 17 Dec 06
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Experts Sunday believed the peace Jirga between Afghanistan and Pakistan would be beneficial to peace and stability in the region.  A number of observers discussed in a meeting here different dimensions, benefits and effects of the peace Jirga. Some of the experts said the Pakistan readiness for holding talks with Afghanistan showed Islamabad had its realised wrong policy towards Afghanistan.  Sediqullah Chakari, a participant of the meeting, said: "If the Jirga is succeeded or failed, Afghans will be victorious in both cases, because Pakistan's readiness for talks shows it has admitted its meddling in Afghanistan internal issues."  Esmat Elahi, a teacher of Journalism Department at Kabul University, said holding such a meeting would be important for defusing the current Pak-Afghan tension.  "In the past, Afghanistan was ignored in everything, but now the world community pays great attention to Afghan problems, and the Jirga could be a key solution to the crisis," Esmat added ....

High-level meeting discusses poppy eradication
Pajhwok News (AFG), 17 Dec 06
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Governors from 11 poppy growing provinces gathered here on Sunday to discuss plans for eradication of poppies in their respective provinces with officials of the ministries of Interior and Counter-Narcotics.  They included governors from Balkh, Nangarhar, Kunduz, Farah, Ghor, Uruzgan, Zabul, Badakhshan, Baghlan, Samangan, Sar-i-Pul, and Helmand provinces.  The governors informed the Interior Minister Zarar Ahmad Moqbil and Minister for Counter-Narcotics Habibullah Qadiri about the fresh situation in their respective areas and presented strategies to eradicate the banned crop.  Speaking on the occasion, the Interior Minister said the government was expanding its efforts to eradicate poppies and destroy the opium industry which is harming the country.  During the meeting, the governors were informed that eradication of opium poppies was mainly their responsibility while the central government would provide them support and guidance.  They were told that any official found involved in corruption or taking bribery, would be dismissed from service and would be liable to legal action, said a press release issued here.  The meeting was told that no compensation would be paid to farmers for eradication. Poppy cultivation is illegal under the law and farmers whose farms had been destroyed by the law-enforcement officials would get no compensation, said the ministers ....

Bollywood black comedy muses on role of Taliban
Krittivas Mukherjee, Reuters, 19 Dec 06
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From the blood-thirsty to the philosophical, the militant Taliban movement is cast in many roles in a new Bollywood film about war-ravaged Afghanistan.  The makers of "Kabul Express," which charts a 48-hour journey of three journalists, stress the film does not preach politics, but its satirical narrative often takes the United States and the Taliban to task for the miseries of ordinary Afghans.  The film opened to mixed reviews last week, with some calling it a muddled political documentary while others welcomed its insights into post-Taliban Afghan society.  "Kabul Express is not a documentary at all. It's a proper film -- a thriller to be precise -- that dares to tackle a difficult and different theme," leading Bollywood critic Taran Adarsh told Reuters ....

Articles found 19 December 2006

Construction more Deadly than Combat
19 December 2006
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It sometimes takes time to expose falacious arguements. In the combat versus reconstruction (construction) debate, it has taken a bit of time to expose the truth, but we finally have some very compelling evidence that the Jack Layton/progressive mantra of "construct don't destruct" has a sinister side.

In a John Turley-ewart op-ed for the National Post, it becomes clear that "construction" is more deadly than combat. I've argued long and hard that the touchie-feely approach puts our troops at greatest risk because they are forced into a passive possition ... sitting ducks as it were. Turley-ewart has put statistics to my premise:

Of our 44 fallen soldiers, five died in friendly fire incidents, five in accidents, 12 in combat and, 22 were felled by terrorists when on patrols providing security in support of reconstruction efforts. Put another way, only 27% of Canadian fatalities in Afghanistan are the result of combat with enemy insurgents.
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Afghanistan 'holds Pakistani spy' 
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Afghanistan blames Pakistan for Taleban attacks
Afghanistan says it has arrested a Pakistani intelligence agent who acted as a key link with al-Qaeda leaders.
Presidential spokesman Karim Rahimi said the agent had been detained in eastern Kunar province carrying documents which proved his guilt.

The news came a day after intelligence officials said an Afghan general had been arrested for spying for Pakistan.

Afghanistan has long blamed Pakistan for cross-border attacks by the Taleban. Islamabad denies the charges.

'Bin Laden escort'

Mr Karimi named the man arrested as Sayed Akbar, who he said worked for Pakistan's controversial Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) agency.
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Laughter, outrage and a call to battle
Canadians find their way amid the noise of what may be the craziest little battleground on the planet,
CHRISTIE BLATCHFORD  From Tuesday's Globe and Mail
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PANJWAI, AFGHANISTAN — It is perhaps the craziest little battleground on the planet.

In one corner of it yesterday, Canadian Sergeant Nathan Ronaldson sat cross-legged on a carpet for almost three hours with about 15 grape-growers engaged in the insane negotiations that are the norm in this country -- all theatre, with the actors variously feigning outrage and storming out of the joint, then making jokes and roaring with laughter.

At one point in the series of such meetings, which have stretched over at least a month and show no sign of coming to a halt, Sgt. Ronaldson, a dimpled reservist with the 48th Highlanders in Toronto, actually had his Afghan interpreter carefully translate "greedy prick" into Pashto.

Yesterday, Sgt. Ronaldson was content merely to tell the farmers, who are seeking (and getting, though not as much as they want) compensation from the Canadians for grape vines that were destroyed during the building of a security road, "You let your wallets control your heads." Haji Agha Lalai, a local leader, acidly replied with a brief harangue on the importance of land to Afghans such that there is an ironic saying here that the man who sells his property "has sold his father's bones."

"If you asked me if that was a success," Sgt. Ronaldson, an emergency room nurse by training, said with a wry grin afterward, "I'd say yes. If you asked me what happened, I'd say absolutely nothing."

In another corner, just one small hill and less than a dusty kilometre away, the soldiers of 1st Battalion, the Royal Canadian Regiment Battle Group, were "getting ready to launch back on operations and back to do the business," as Lieutenant-Colonel Omer Lavoie put it at a promotion ceremony, and join other NATO forces in Operation Baaz Tsuka -- in English, Falcon's Summit.

That operation, still somewhat cloaked in secrecy, started last weekend with a leaflet drop aimed at persuading part-time Taliban to lay down their bombs and arms and is optimistically intended to be what the military calls a "less kinetic" mission -- that is, with less fighting.

Thus far, to judge both by the minimal information released yesterday by NATO and by unconfirmed reports from a local source considered reliable, the operation appears to be heading in the right direction.

The source said that NATO and Afghan National Army forces moved almost 10 kilometres southwest yesterday, as far as Kosh Tak, and that women and children were seen leaving the tiny villages in cars and on motorcycles -- the usual indicator of the Taliban preparing to do battle, and that although there was some fighting, the bulk of the insurgents instead made a tactical retreat to a nearby stronghold.

In addition, the source said, nine Taliban commanders meeting two nights ago in a keshmeshkhanu, or grape-drying hut, were killed in a NATO air strike. The report, which couldn't be confirmed, said that four of the Taliban leaders were senior commanders.

Thus, in one corner of the battleground, reports of actual warfare; in another, meetings alternately jovial and tense but with all the principals knowing their roles and playing them as diligently as actors; in yet another, the soldiers of the infantry purring in the warm winter sun and waiting, with that mix of dread and anticipation which only the combat-hardened know, the call to battle -- or as Private Daniel Rosati, a 27-year-old Light Armoured Vehicle gunner from Woodbridge, Ont., who has seen plenty of action, put it, "Part of you wants it, part of you doesn't."

And over this one small slice of the volatile south that is Canada's area of operations, up and down the gorgeous Arghandab River valley and in the small mud-walled villages dotted throughout it, were the clashing noises that make up the soundtrack of modern Afghanistan -- choppers circling in the air over forward operating bases as the muezzin attempts to call the faithful to prayer, the groans of construction vehicles involved in the building of the new road vying with the occasional boom of test fires or flares that briefly light up the black night skies, the roar of planes over the omnipresent crunch of boots on the gravel that covers the ground of the makeshift bases.

Playing what could be a vital role in Operation Baaz Tsuka is the newest, smallest and least well known of Afghan security forces, the fledgling Afghan National Auxiliary Police, or ANAP.

The brainchild of Afghan President Hamid Karzai, and thus grounded in hard-nosed local pragmatism, the ANAP is the honey in what NATO hopes is its trap -- a practical way of legitimizing and taking advantage of the violent Afghan culture, recently honed to a sharp edge in more than three decades of war, insurgency and occupation but centuries old for all that, of being armed to the teeth and protecting what's yours.

The ANAP, as Canadian Brigadier-General Tim Grant told reporters yesterday, is part of NATO's effort to persuade local elders to "take responsibility for their own security." Ideally, what these young men, armed as they likely would be in any case but trained to a veneer of professionalism by Canadian Military Police for two weeks, will do is help villagers give hard-line Taliban the boot and keep them at bay.

"Canada is very intimately involved in training them," Brig.-Gen. Grant said. "We're trying to encourage village elders to have their sons enroll in the ANAP." The hope is that the young auxiliary policemen could be involved in protecting their villages, and would be less susceptible to recruitment from the Taliban.

Mr. Karzai spoke to 100 Panjwai elders last week, Brig.-Gen. Grant said, encouraging them to encourage their young men to join the ANAP. The elders were receptive, he said, if for no other reason than the people of the area are weary of fighting and tired of bunking in with friends and relatives or at the displaced persons camps that have recently sprung up during the fighting that has gone on here since July. The first ANAP classes graduated just last month.

But if all is relatively calm thus far, as Brig.-Gen. Grant reminded his listeners yesterday, "Only time will tell. The enemy has a vote in all of this."

And the enemy is smart and vicious: The Globe and Mail's local source reported that the Taliban yesterday hanged an alleged spy from a tree. As Master Corporal Max Smith, the RCR's own unofficial soldier poet, wrote in Fallen Comrades, "In the face of an enemy that is more like a ghost. But in this place, they are the host."

Articles found 20 December 2006

Harper says it would be “completely irresponsible” to reduce Afghan mission
Prime Minister Stephen Harper speaks to members of regional chambers of commerce in Saguenay, Que., Monday.
Mark Kennedy, CanWest News Service Published: Tuesday, December 19, 2006
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OTTAWA - Prime Minister Stephen Harper says he could not live with himself if he reduced Canada’s military mission in Afghanistan to further his own political self-interest and that he’s even prepared to lose the next election if it means standing by the military.

Harper made the comments Tuesday in a candid year-end interview, conducted with CanWest News Service in his Parliament Hill office.

His remarks stand out as his strongest defence for his government’s military policy since he came to office nearly a year ago.

Since then, dozens of soldiers have died in combat in Afghanistan, and the opposition parties have insisted the government put less emphasis on the military’s combat mission in that country - with even the Bloc Quebecois hinting it might try to topple the government over the issue in Parliament this winter.

But Harper told CanWest News Service this political pressure will have no influence on his decisions.

“I don’t feel pressure by threats from the Liberals or NDP or Bloc to bring me down,” he said.

“If ultimately I were brought down on that, and even defeated on that, I can live with myself. I could not live with myself making a decision on Canada’s role in the world and our strategic and defence interests if I knew I had done that for political reasons that were the wrong reasons. That I could not live with.”
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How a bad day turned so much worse
The weary members of Charles Company won't soon forget the events of Oct. 14 near Kandahar. CHRISTIE BLATCHFORD explains why
CHRISTIE BLATCHFORD From Wednesday's Globe and Mail
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PANJWAI, AFGHANISTAN — To the harrowing book the soldiers of Charles Company, 1st Battalion, the Royal Canadian Regiment Battle Group, are writing in southern Afghanistan comes another chapter, as terrible and as stirring as the others, but not yet told.

It is Charles Company that saw death and injury cut its numbers by a third in the battles that have raged off and on in the volatile district of Panjwai.

The company lost four men Sept. 3 and, with soldiers still reeling, was accidentally strafed the next day at Masum Ghar in a friendly-fire incident that saw Private Mark Graham killed and 38 others injured, including Major Matthew Sprague, the officer commanding, and much of the senior leadership.

No sooner had Charles arrived in Afghanistan in August, in other words, than they were in tatters.
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Gung-ho soldiers heading for Afghanistan Chris Morris, Canadian Press
Published: Wednesday, December 20, 2006  CFB GAGETOWN
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Some of Canada's politicians may be having second thoughts, but soldiers preparing for the next deployment to Afghanistan say they're not only ready to go, they're gung-ho.

Intensive training of about 2,200 fresh troops, many of them from Atlantic Canada, is virtually complete and the soldiers will be spending a lengthy Christmas break with their families before heading to Afghanistan early in the new year.

They will be replacing soldiers who have endured a gruelling and grim tour of duty as the Taliban-led insurgency has intensified its attacks against the NATO mission to restore peace and order in the central Asian country.

Nearly 4,000 people were killed in Afghan violence in 2006, including 37 Canadians. It was the bloodiest period since the Taliban was overthrown in 2001.

Despite the bloodshed, soldiers at Canadian Forces Base Gagetown in southern New Brunswick say they are prepared and confident about facing the danger.

"In my opinion, I think we are the best prepared battle group that Canada has sent into Afghanistan thus far," says Lt.-Col. Robert Walker, who will assume command of the 1,100-strong Second Battalion Royal Canadian Regiment battle group in Kandahar province.

"A lot of it is because of the hard work that has been done by the battle groups that have gone before us."

Walker says that each battle group builds on the experiences of those who have gone before, and the knowledge gained from the most recent rotation has been considerable.

"We have a lessons-learned process," he says. "Anytime there is an incident we look at what was done and we make refinements as to how we train and respond to certain situations."

Training at Gagetown and at CFB Wainwright, Alta., included live-fire exercises, role-playing involving actors pretending to be insurgents and Afghan-Canadians who spoke only in their native languages.

As well, attention was paid to dealing with the threat of booby traps, or improvised explosive devices, which play havoc with vehicles and soldiers on foot.

"It's going to be a challenge," admits Master Cpl. Marcel Hebert, 43, of Bathurst, N.B.
"But we're prepared for it. We've got the equipment, we've got the people."

Commanders at CFB Gagetown say the troops feel they have broad support from Canadians for their efforts in Afghanistan.

Col. Ryan Jestin, the base commander, says the political debate over Canadian involvement in Afghanistan does not distract or discourage the soldiers.

"We're soldiers and everyone of us has a job to do and we do what we're asked to do," Jestin says.

"The government has told us we have a mission to do over there. We have taken that mission, we have taken the equipment we need and the training we need to get the guys ready. The soldiers feel very comfortable that they are making a significant difference."

The federal Conservatives are feeling political heat about staying the course in Afghanistan.

Bloc Quebecois Leader Gilles Duceppe has threatened to topple the minority Conservative government unless the Afghan mission is redefined.

The NDP has called for a flat withdrawal of Canadian troops from Afghanistan, while the Liberals, who originally dispatched the troops there, have been divided about the mission.

Despite the uncertainties in Ottawa, soldiers in the field say they are ready and willing to carry on.

"Our goal is to go help the legally recognized government," says Cpl. Mackenzie Landry, who is based at Gagetown.

"It's a just cause to be able to go out and stabilize the country. We're really looking forward to it."

About 2,500 Canadian troops are currently serving in southern Kandahar province, the site of a massive new anti-Taliban offensive called Operation Baaz Tsuka.

Forty-four Canadian soldiers have been killed in Afghanistan since 2002.

Task Force Afghanistan III, built around the Royal Canadian Regiment battle group from Gagetown, consists of approximately 2,200 soldiers from units across Atlantic Canada, CFB Petawawa in Ontario, and CFB Edmonton.

The deployment will begin in late January.

Canada's bloody year in Afghanistan reshapes military and the country's image
Murray Brewster, Canadian Press Wednesday, December 20, 2006 OTTAWA (CP)
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Time was not so very long ago that Canada's military contribution to the international community was uncharitably compared to a restaurant dine and dash.

The country's malaise was neatly captured a few years ago by John Manley, former Liberal foreign affairs minister: "You can't sit at the G8 table, and go to the washroom when the cheque comes."

Rightly or wrongly, there was a perception that the country did not pull its weight, either in defence dollars spent - or lives laid on the line.

If anything, 2006 will be remembered both at home and overseas as a year when Canada picked up the tab, paying its bill with the blood and sweat of its soldiers, and often with the tears of their families.

Since deploying in February to southern Afghanistan, 2,500 Canadian troops have for the first time since the Korean War been engaged in almost continuous combat operations.

The often desperate desert battles and the country's willingness to sustain casualties has had a cleansing effect on the psyche of the Canadian military and the country as a whole after nearly two decades of neglect, said a noted historian.

Standing firm in Kandahar, the last redoubt of the brutal, former Taliban regime, has "re-established that this is a country that has teeth," said Jack Granatstein.

"We really were freeloaders for a long time. The rest of the world was more than a little fed up with us."
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NATO forces kill 50 militants in Afghanistan
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KABUL: NATO-led and Afghan forces have killed around 50 Taliban insurgents in a fresh anti-militant sweep in southern Afghanistan, the alliance said Wednesday.

Operation "Baaz Tsuka" (Falcon's Summit) was launched last Friday by hundreds of International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) and Afghan troops in the Panjwayi and Zhare districts of Kandahar province.

"We have cleared one large and two small villages of Taliban. We have killed about 50 Taliban," NATO spokesman Brigadier Richard Nugee told a press conference in Kabul.

The spokesman said there had been no Afghan army or NATO casualties during the operation

Afghanistan frees 10 Pakistanis arrested for illegal entry
The Associated PressPublished: December 20, 2006
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QUETTA, Pakistan: Afghan authorities released 10 Pakistanis on Wednesday, a day after detaining them for crossing into Afghanistan by mistake, officials said.

Pakistani tribal elders and government officials received the 10 men from Afghan officials at Badini, a border crossing along the Afghan-Pakistan border, said Ahsanullah Baluch, a government official.

The 10 men were arrested late Tuesday in a mountainous region where the two countries' border is not demarcated, about 200 kilometers (125 miles) north of Quetta, said Abdul Raziq Bugti, spokesman for the government of Baluchistan province of which Quetta is the capital.

Five of the Pakistanis were off-duty border guards while the other five were civilians from Pakistan's Tarkha area. The men crossed into Afghanistan while cutting fire wood in a mountain forest, Bugti said.

Baluchistan, Pakistan's southwestern province, has a long porous border with Afghanistan that straddles rugged mountains and desert regions.
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The Afghanistan Study Group
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We still need you, James Baker III!

NEW YORK--It took a blue-ribbon commission of boldfaced white people with zero expertise to convince us that our war against Iraq was unwinnable. "When we act, we create our own reality," a Bush aide said in '04. Thank God the truth is out: reality creates itself.

OK, so we're half a million lives and half a trillion dollars short, and pointing to the midterm elections as proof that the system works would go way too far, but let's take a collective national bow. We get it.

Finally, the U.S. is of one mind about Iraq. In the new reality-based reality, the difference between anti-war radicals and rabid neocon warmongers is that the latter would rather wait 18 months--as opposed to, say, an hour from now--before getting the hell out. Only 9 percent of the public still thinks we can pound the resistance into submission, but who cares? Anyone that dumb is likely to die in some Darwin Award-nominated accident before he gets a chance to express another opinion. Now that we know what works, let's stop deluding ourselves about the other unwinnable war. That's right--it's time to create an Afghanistan Study Group.

"Popular support for the central government is faltering, and Western military allies are deeply divided over how best to combat the [Afghan] insurgency," reports The Los Angeles Times. As in Iraq, the brutal and incompetent American occupation has unleashed and fed a violent and increasingly popular Islamist insurgency in Afghanistan. "On the other side of the fight, the Taliban has regained the strength to dominate large swaths of Afghanistan; government control is tenuous at best in at least 20 percent of the country."
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Small positive change dawns in Afghanistan
Posted by admin on 2006/12/20 0:40:27 
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Zerok (Afghanistan), Dec 20 (DPA) While the Afghan town of Naka is still heavily influenced by its former Taliban masters, neighbouring Zerok is cited as an example of positive change as international forces strive toward reconstruction as well as military success.

Last year, US soldiers built a school in the eastern province of Paktika, and funds donated by the US government, USAID and NGOs enabled the resurrection of its hospital, installation of streetlights and reinforcement of an Afghan police compound.

By 2012, a new $100 million paved road is due to pass nearby, linking Afghanistan's main north-south highway with the Pakistani seaport of Karachi and boosting trade and the quality of life for a region that until recently was virtually trapped in the Middle Ages.

All of this unfolds under the protection of the NATO-led International Security Assistance Forces (ISAF) stationed in Paktika to prevent the resurgence of the ousted Taliban. No one expects it to be an easy process.

"The region has been locked in war for decades. It's relatively secluded from other parts of the country and has very little or no infrastructure, so we are basically starting from square one," said Captain Scott Sinclair of the US 10th Mountain Division, which currently patrols the area.
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Chief of Afghanistan`s top opium province fired
Wednesday December 20, 2006 (0246 PST)
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KABUL: The Afghan government has fired the governor of its biggest drug-producing province, a center of Taliban resistance that has seen some of the country`s heaviest fighting this year, officials said.

Gov. Mohammad Daud of Helmand, the province that grows more than a third of the world`s opium, was replaced over the weekend. His successor is Asadullah Wafa, who previously served as the governor of Paktia and Kunar provinces, Interior Ministry spokesman Zemeri Bashary said.

Opium production in Afghanistan rose 49 percent to 6,700 tons this year, enough to make about 670 tons of heroin. Helmand accounts for 42 percent of Afghanistan`s poppy crop, according to U.N. figures.

Bashary said the appointment of Wafa would help increase security in Helmand, but Bashary insisted the increase in poppy cultivation had nothing to do with the change.

A Western official in Kabul said Daud, who had been governor for about a year, was a "high-integrity guy" and said media reports claiming the United States wanted him replaced were false. The official asked not to be named because of the sensitivity of the subject.

NATO falls short in Afghanistan: Nelson
Email Print Normal font Large font December 20, 2006
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More NATO countries need to get their hands dirty in southern Afghanistan if the mission is to succeed, Australia and its allies say.

The eight coalition countries fighting in the south - Australia, United States, United Kingdom, Canada, Netherlands, Romania, Denmark and Estonia - have met in London, setting up a joint group that will pressure more reticent nations to do more.

Australian Defence Minister Brendan Nelson said too many NATO countries had fallen short in their military commitment to Afghanistan.

Too many conditions were put on fighting the Taliban in the restive south and they were preferring to work in the north of the country where conditions are calmer.

The meeting in London was called by UK Defence Minister Des Browne for the purpose of making sure the eight countries combined in their lobbying efforts.
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Outside View: Afghanistan needs help
By Obaid Younossi Dec 19, 2006,
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WASHINGTON, DC, United States (UPI) -- The people of Afghanistan received good news recently when the leaders of the 26 nations in NATO issued a joint statement at their summit meeting that said: 'Contributing to peace and stability in Afghanistan is NATO`s key priority.' Unfortunately, those words alone won`t solve the myriad problems of Afghanistan. They must be followed by action.

In Afghanistan today, security is deteriorating as the Taliban step up attacks, the opium harvest is at all-time high, corruption permeates national and local governments, and reconstruction progress is slow in some places and non-existent in the others. Afghans are on the edge and sense of hope is beginning to fade.

The Taliban, flush with heroin money and foreign and local support, are using their radical ideology and cash to recruit disillusioned young men for suicide attacks and the murder of civilians. The Taliban promise the terrorists paradise and a wad of money for the families they leave behind.

The majority of Afghans live in grinding poverty. Makeshift tent cities of recently returned refugees are erected around major cities. Only a few hours of electricity per week are available for the average Kabul resident.
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Kamp denies 'dirty war' in Afghanistan
19 December 2006
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AMSTERDAM — Defence Minister Henk Kamp angrily rounded on Tuesday on Socialist SP MP Harry Bommel who accused the Liberal VVD minister of involving the Netherlands in the "dirty war" in Afghanistan.

"This is impolite to the armed forces and the Cabinet. You should be ashamed. Who is dirty here if roadside bombs are laid that hit the population?" Kamp said.
Kamp was questioned by the SP and green-left GroenLinks over the military operation against the Taliban in the southern Afghan province of Kandahar, in which Dutch troops are involved.

Van Bommel said the Dutch mission in Afghanistan was sold as reconstruction, but claimed that war was now being waged.

Kamp said the operation involved incidental support from Dutch troops and that this was part of the agreement.
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Canadians open fire, join NATO offensive against Taliban in Afghanistan
Bill Graveland, Canadian Press  Wednesday, December 20, 2006
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PANJWAII, Afghanistan (CP) - A half-hour barrage from Canadian artillery and armoured vehicles signalled Canada's entry Tuesday into the latest offensive against Taliban rebels in southern Afghanistan.

A platoon of Light Armoured Vehicles and a troop of tanks rumbled out of one forward operating base in the Panjwaii district west of Kandahar city early in the afternoon. Fifteen minutes later, the sound of exploding artillery and tanks shells resounded through the air, mixed with the rat-a-tat of 50-calibre machine-gun fire.

In the distance, plumes of smoke and clouds of dust reached into the sky against a backdrop of rugged mountains along a fertile river valley.

NATO launched Operation Baaz Tsuka - Falcon Summit in the locally spoken Pashto language - late last week with the aim of driving Taliban fighters away from the Panjwaii and Zhari districts. The Canadians, who have been battling the Taliban in Panjwaii for months, were joining British, U.S. and Dutch troops in the new offensive.

Morale among the Canadians was high.

"It's a little sobering because they (the troops) understand what they can get into," Brig.-Gen. Tim Grant said after chatting with some soldiers.

"But at the same time there's a steely determination in all of their eyes. If they have to go and become involved in close combat with the Taliban, they're more than willing to do that."

While troops ready for battle in a number of Canadian forward operating bases in Panjwaii, members of the Civilian Military Co-operation group delivered medical supplies to people in the village of Bazar-e-Panjwaii
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Painting lauds Air Guard heroics in Afghanistan
December 19, 2006 The Associated Press
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FRANKFORT, Ky. — The heroics of a Kentucky Air National Guardsman who helped save seven lives during a 17-hour firefight in Afghanistan won’t soon be forgotten.

A painting that features the bloody fight — including a depiction of Kentucky Air National Guard Master Sgt. Keary J. Miller helping a wounded comrade in battle — was unveiled Tuesday at the State Capitol.

Seven American soldiers lost their lives during the 2002 battle on a ridge on Afghanistan’s Takur Ghar mountain. “The Battle of Takur Ghar” painting that honors Miller will be displayed in Kentucky before heading to its permanent home at the Pentagon.
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Articles found 21 December 2006

Army's 'soft knock' greeted by eerie calm
By CHRISTIE BLATCHFORD  Thursday, December 21, 2006
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CHRISTIE BLATCHFORD recounts a strange day for Canadian and Afghan troops

HOWZ-E-MADAD, AFGHANISTAN -- It is early days yet, but Omer Lavoie may just get his wish.

The commanding officer of the Canadian battle group here wanted a "soft knock" out of NATO's Operation Baaz Tsuka (Falcon's Summit) and that's just the way it began here yesterday.

A massive convoy of hundreds of Canadian, Afghan National Army soldiers and Afghan National Police in armoured vehicles and tanks rolled into the village of Howz-e-Madad early yesterday without a shot being fired, and reports from other countries involved in the operation paint a broad picture of the Taliban offering very little resistance anywhere, although there are some unconfirmed reports that a group has holed up in the nearby village of Sangasar, just four kilometres to the southeast.

It may have been the weirdest "soft knock" ever.

Throughout the day, there were jarring moments -- virtually surrounded by tanks, Light Armoured Vehicles and heavily armed soldiers, two camels carrying dried marijuana plants crossed the valley; a man arrived with a corpse in his car looking for the village graveyard; some Howz-e-Madad residents turned up with fresh bread for the soldiers but adamantly refused to accept any money for it. Others posed for pictures and then giggled when photographers showed them the images, while still others glared at the foreigners, their anger evident.

For the Canadian combat team here, who have been fighting insurgents in southern Afghanistan since arriving last August, the calm that greeted them was almost unprecedented and even spooky.

Taking up secure positions on the wide Arghandab River plain, the Canadians swiftly walked up to meet the local ANP chief, whose men set up a bypass to divert regular traffic away from the area, and began preparing the ground to build a new vehicle checkpoint for the ANP.

Another contingent of Canucks, the CIMIC (for Civilian-Military Co-operation) from the Kandahar Provincial Reconstruction Team office and headed by Chief Warrant Officer Frank Grattan, went in search of village elders for the ritualistic shura (consultation) that is a fixture of all Afghan governance.

A third group, combat engineers, soon moved into place waiting for the signal to start tearing down a small motorcycle repair shop and build a ramp for the checkpoint.

They were joined, as the sun was setting, by a British convoy of engineers, who worked through the night building the vehicle checkpoint and new dormitories for the ANP.

All of this calm, however short-lived, was days if not weeks in the co-ordination, with CIMIC officers and Major Matthew Sprague, the officer commanding for Charles Company, 1st Battalion, The Royal Canadian Regiment, spending hours beforehand making the necessary local contacts and sitting in endless shuras, without which almost nothing happens in Afghanistan.

At first, it seemed there might be no local elders to be found, but the village was not deserted, as Canadians have found so many other times and have learned to read as a signal that women and children have fled and the battle is on.

CWO Grattan beat the bushes a little, as did the local police, and soon enough a leader -- or a man identifying himself as one -- showed up, and promised to round up representatives of 60 families.

Astonishingly, although that fellow never reappeared, about 20 others, some wrapped in blankets against the chill, arrived at the appointed hour and CWO Grattan had his shura. Later, to a growing crowd, the CIMIC team delivered two shipping containers of what's called "material aid" to the elders -- shovels, picks, seeds, blankets, generators, fuel and other essentials. CWO Grattan gave the elders the keys to the containers, and his team left.

Major Sprague was delighted, but leery. "Forgive my cynicism," he said at one point. "But I've figured out, if it doesn't kill you, and something makes sense, it's probably from another country."

Wounded in the Sept. 4 friendly fire strafing that reduced much of his company to ruins, he has learned the hard way that in Afghanistan, what appears to be benign is often not, and that at the least, nothing is as it seems.

Telling friend from foe is the greatest challenge for the Canadians and their NATO partners: There simply are no guarantees, and as Major Sprague said, the common refrain that greeted the first Canadians to arrive here was that "there are no Taliban."

Even those who were displaced, such as Nama Tullah, the 25-year-old mechanic whose small mud, thatched-roof motorcycle repair store -- located right where the ANP district chief decided he wanted the checkpoint -- was eventually reduced to rubble by the engineers, seemed content. CWO Grattan led the negotiations with Mr. Tullah, promising Canadians would compensate him for the loss of his store -- about $1,000 was the figure Mr. Tullah was hoping for -- and he was given time to remove his simple tools and stock. He said through an interpreter that he hopes to open another store, perhaps in Kandahar, about 40 kilometres away.

As dusk fell, with the shocking speed that it does here, the Canadians were dug in to protected positions for the night.

This morning, they are planning to raise a glass -- a careful mix of dark rum, sugar and water -- in the traditional "Ortona" toast, named after one of the RCR's bloodiest battles of the Second World War, to celebrate their storied regiment's 123rd birthday.

So quiet was it yesterday that when Lt.-Col. Lavoie and Colonel John Vance, Commander of the 1st Canadian Brigade, arrived for a quick visit, and Lt.-Col. Lavoie asked whether the rum ration had been pushed forward yet, and was told it had not, he was able to grin and reply, "The . . . rum ration is the main effort now."


Small positive change dawns in Afghanistan
Thursday December 21, 2006 (0401 PST)
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Zerok: While the Afghan town of Naka is still heavily influenced by its former Taliban masters, neighbouring Zerok is cited as an example of positive change as international forces strive toward reconstruction as well as military success.
Last year, US soldiers built a school in the eastern province of Paktika, and funds donated by the US government, USAID and NGOs enabled the resurrection of its hospital, installation of streetlights and reinforcement of an Afghan police compound.

By 2012, a new $100 million paved road is due to pass nearby, linking Afghanistan's main north-south highway with the Pakistani seaport of Karachi and boosting trade and the quality of life for a region that until recently was virtually trapped in the Middle Ages.

All of this unfolds under the protection of the NATO-led International Security Assistance Forces (ISAF) stationed in Paktika to prevent the resurgence of the ousted Taliban. No one expects it to be an easy process.

"The region has been locked in war for decades. It's relatively secluded from other parts of the country and has very little or no infrastructure, so we are basically starting from square one," said Captain Scott Sinclair of the US 10th Mountain Division, which currently patrols the area.

Unit commanders also monitor civilian projects and relay needs of communities up the chain of command so that funds get raised. This year around $25 million from US and NGO sources were invested in Paktika.

This is just one region in a country that is still recovering from immense suffering and turmoil. Reconstruction and development in many areas has been slow and corrupt and has fed disillusionment of Afghans in their government
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From Baghdad to Kabul
Tuesday December 19, 2006 (1026 PST) a.stag@shaw.ca
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There is now talk of de-escalation and slowly wrapping up US military operations in Baghdad as more and more of body bags keep on coming from Baghdad. The situation in Iraq has reached no win and no loss impasse with enough strain to call for guarded yet slow way out of non-conclusive war.

There has been talk of moving the US troops from Iraq to Afghanistan with the assumption that it may be easier and safer for America to stay in Afghanistan and the US casualties may not be as big in Afghanistan as they are in Iraq. An other reason may be that Nato may be bolstered and there will be about a quarter million troops next door to Pakistan in Afghanistan..

For America, the presence in the region becomes more imperative as the main politico-military developments and energy related tug of wars are going to take place around Pakistan. America may want to keep eye on Shanghai accord as Russia and China appear to be pressing challenge to US super power status first time since the end of cold war. They have successfully taken out Iran related bites and are signing mega energy related contracts with Iran and between Russia and China.

Iran is going to be pivotal to China for its reason to be future super power and its strategic functioning for preventing further tearing apart of whatever is left of Soviet Union. But Russia has bounced back somewhat and its vast gas and oil reserves and income from its energy sales has brought much revenues to prompt America say that Russia is a transitional power before China becomes super power.
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Separate roadside Afghan bomb attacks leave 7 dead, including 3 police
The Associated PressPublished: December 21, 2006
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KABUL, Afghanistan: Two roadside bombs exploded almost simultaneously Thursday in two separate parts of Afghanistan, killing three police officers and four civilians, officials said.

One of the bombs went off near a convoy of NATO troops and Afghan police in southern Khost province, killing three police officers and wounding two others, said Qasem Khan, a spokesman for the Khost provincial governor.

Khan said no NATO forces were wounded in the attack. NATO officials could not immediately be reached for comment.

Another remote-controlled bomb in western Herat province killed four civilians — all men who were riding bicycles or walking in the area — and wounded six people, including border police commander Mohammad Ayub and his bodyguard, Herat police spokesman Noor Khan Nikzad said.

The bomb exploded near Herat airport just as Ayub's convoy was passing by, Nikzad said.
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Pentagon seeks $99.7B for Iraq, Afghanistan
December 21, 2006 By Andrew Taylor Associated Press
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WASHINGTON -- The Pentagon wants the White House to seek an additional $99.7 billion to fund the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, according to information provided to The Associated Press.
The military's request, if embraced by President Bush and approved by Congress, would boost this year's budget for those wars to about $170 billion.
Overall, the war in Iraq has cost about $350 billion. Combined with the conflict in Afghanistan and anti-terrorism efforts elsewhere, the cost has topped $500 billion, according to the nonpartisan Congressional Research Service.
The additional funds, if approved, would push this year's cost of the war in Iraq to about $50 billion over last year's record. In September, Congress approved an initial $70 billion for the current budget year, which began Oct. 1.
A description of the Pentagon request was provided by a person familiar with the proposal who asked for anonymity because the person was not authorized to release the information.
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Ottawa to give $8.5 million in humanitarian support to Afghanistan
December 20, 2006
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QUEBEC (CP) - Ottawa will give $8.5 million in humanitarian support to the poorest families in the Kandahar province of Afghanistan.

International Co-operation Minister Josee Verner says the federal money will go to about 30,000 families. A total of $4.5 million will be given to UNICEF and $4 million to the United Nations' World Food Program.

The UNICEF money will be used for tents, blankets and warm clothing, along with medical supplies and food for pregnant women and children.

The food money will augment offerings to 31,000 families touched by the conflict and drought.

The federal money is part of $1 billion over 10 years included in the Conservative budget for the reconstruction of Afghanistan.

SDSU awarded contract to teaching English in Afghanistan
By: North County Times wire services
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SAN DIEGO - San Diego State University has been awarded a $2 million World Bank-funded contract to establish an English instruction and technology program in Afghanistan, officials announced today.

The contract, awarded through Afghanistan's Ministry of Higher Education, will be used to fund a three-year project at Nangarhar University in Jalalabad, according to SDSU.

SDSU will help train faculty in English language instruction, develop a four-year English language program, create an International Learning Center and expand information technology resources.

SDSU and Nangarhar University established a partnership in 2004 through the help of the La Jolla Golden Triangle Rotary Club.

Private donations generated through the affiliation have helped build a computer lab, guest house and fund the creation of the International Learning Center at the Afghan university.

Afghanistan Experiences Worst Year Since Taliban Ouster
December 21st 2006 by Editorial Staff
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As NATO took over the security of the whole of Afghanistan, the year 2006 was the bloodiest for the war-shattered country, with the greatest death toll since the ouster of the Taliban regime in late 2001.

Over 3,900 people, including over 1,000 civilians, were killed in the militancy in 2006, four times the death toll of 2005.

The US-led coalition forces invaded Afghanistan after Osama bin Laden was accused of masterminding the attacks on US cities on September 11, 2001.

After a month of air operations, the Taliban government was toppled and the US stationed about 20,000 soldiers in the country to track down the remnants of the Taliban and their allies in the al- Qaeda network.

Al-Qaeda's leaders Mullah Mohammad Omar and bin Laden are widely believed to be hiding in the tribal areas that lie between Afghanistan and Pakistan.

March saw the first visit of US President George W Bush who said in Kabul that, five years down the line, he was still confident that bin Laden "will be brought to justice."
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Afghanistan frees 10 Pakistanis
By Our Correspondent
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QUETTA, Dec 20: Afghan authorities released 10 Pakistanis, including five levies men, on Wednesday, a day after detaining them for crossing into Afghanistan by mistake. Qila Saifullah district administration sources said Afghan officials in Badini border area had responded positively to Pakistani officials’ request for the men’s release as they had mistakenly crossed the border.

AP adds: Tribal elders and government officials received the men from Afghan officials at Badini border crossing, said an official.

The men were arrested late on Tuesday in a mountainous region where the border was not demarcated, said Abdul Raziq Bugti, spokesman for the Balochistan government.

No quick fix for Afghanistan amid stubborn insurgency, complex social rift
Bill Graveland Canadian Press Wednesday, December 20, 2006
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KANDAHAR, Afghanistan (CP) - Afghanistan is surprisingly fragile for a country that seems so harsh and unforgiving.

It is home to tough warriors who have fought against invading empires and among themselves for decades, if not centuries. From conflicts past and present, the nation has become a reservoir of battlefield smarts and deadly weapons both modern and archaic - leftovers from previous wars that are still quite capable of killing and maiming.

Afghanistan is a country of extremes.

The terrain ranges from rugged snow-covered mountains to deserts seared by blistering heat. Temperatures range from 60 degrees Celsius in the summer to minus 7 in the winter.

The country was once a cultural mecca astride the Middle East and Asia; a place of learning, a centre of art.

But now it faces decades of rebuilding
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Pakistan wants end to criticism from Afghanistan
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ISLAMABAD: Foreign Minister Khurshid M Kasuri on Wednesday called for an end to criticism of the country from Afghanistan, and urged greater cooperation, coordination and intelligence sharing between Pakistan and Afghanistan to end illegal cross-border movement.

In an interview with Al-Arabiya news channel, Kasuri said, “We admit that the situation is difficult in Afghanistan and on the Pak-Afghan border, but this calls for greater cooperation, coordination and trust, not public insults and accusations,” he said.

“It is essential that we maintain a level of trust and do not trade allegations publicly because that is a very important ingredient in trust building ... it is very simple if somebody attacks verbally – a response is very easy – all we have to do is wag our tongues, but it causes damage. Pakistan attaches too much importance to its relations with Afghanistan to indulge in verbal vitriol,” he added. Kasuri said Pakistan had maintained its cool, and “I don’t think any purpose will be served by our retaliating in a similar manner. The Pakistani government has shown a lot of patience.”

The foreign minister also reiterated his government’s proposal to fence, mine and monitor the Pak-Afghan border. “Ironically, we face resistance to our suggestion of strengthening checks on cross-border movement,” he said.

He said Pakistan had 97 check posts along the Pak-Afghan border, while there were only 23 or 24 posts on the other side. The foreign minister called for an increase in the number of posts on the other side.
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Pakistanis 'held in Afghanistan' 
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Afghan security forces briefly detained 10 Pakistanis who strayed across the border on Tuesday, Pakistan says.
The 10 men, five of them soldiers, were gathering firewood, officials said. They returned to Balochistan province on Wednesday, the authorities said.

There has been a sharp deterioration in relations between Afghanistan and Pakistan, with Kabul accusing Islamabad of supporting the Taleban.

On Tuesday, Afghanistan said it had arrested a Pakistani "spy".

Afghanistan challenge
Harper ready to stake job on Afghan commitment; As new operation against Taliban starts, Canada asked to stay the course
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OTTAWA (Dec 20, 2006)

Prime Minister Stephen Harper says he won't be pressured into changing Canada's Afghanistan mission -- criticized as unbalanced -- even if it means the defeat of his government.

Faced with opposition parties demanding changes to the mission and a divided public, Harper was steadfast yesterday as he talked about Canadian troops who are making headway but still face "difficult" days and months ahead.

And he says it's the families of the slain troops -- 36 soldiers have been killed since he took office in February -- who have urged him to stay the course.

"I talk to virtually every family that's lost loved ones," Harper said yesterday.
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Satire:  ;D Bin Laden takes credit for Crocodile Hunter's death
POSTED: 0312 GMT (1112 HKT), December 20, 2006
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Millions worldwide were stunned by the September death of Steve Irwin, TV's Crocodile Hunter, and were further shocked by the release of a videotaped message from Osama bin Laden, in which the al-Qaeda leader took responsibility for the Australian wildlife enthusiast's death.

"We have no compassion for those who exploit Allah's creation for their own gain and glory, and we will continue to strike with righteous barbs into the oppressors' hearts," bin Laden said. The videotape was released to the Australian Animal Planet channel on September 9, five days after Irwin's death. "Praise be to Allah, who permitted the wronged to retaliate against the oppressor in kind!"

While Irwin's family has not commented on the statement, Australian Prime Minister John Howard denounced the act shortly after Irwin's funeral.

"Our nation has lost a wonderful man and a colorful native son," Howard told a grieving crowd of thousands in Sydney. "I urge President Bush to resume the hunt for this deranged madman bin Laden."

To prevent possible additional terrorist attacks on other daytime cable TV personalities, heavy security details have been placed around What Not To Wear's Stacy London, the Food Network's Paula Deen, the American Chopper guys, and Dog the Bounty Hunter.
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Germany to deploy reconnaissance aircraft in Afghanistan
December 21, 2006         
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Germany plans to deploy reconnaissance aircraft in Afghanistan in response to NATO's request to expand its operation in the country, German media reported on Thursday.

German Defense Minister Franz Josef Jung would order the deployment of five or six Tornado reconnaissance aircraft to Afghanistan as part of Germany's peace-keeping force in the war-torn country, the German news agency DPA reported.

The report quoted a local newspaper, the Passauer Neuen Presse, as saying that the aircraft would be deployed in the "whole of Afghanistan" including the embattled south.

Germany currently has about 3,000 troops in Afghanistan as part of the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF).

The German government has repeatedly said the German troops would be on duty only in the north-east of Afghanistan and refused to send them to the south to join the battle against remnants of the deposed Taliban.

The Passauer Neuen Presse reported that Germany would send 250 military personnel on the reconnaissance operation, but still keep the troop level at 3,000.

On Wednesday, a defense ministry spokesman said that the German authorities were studying a request from NATO to send reconnaissance airplanes to Afghanistan.

Source: Xinhua

Articles found 22 December 2007

Troops raise Ortona Toast for first time since 1942
CHRISTIE BLATCHFORD From Friday's Globe and Mail
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Canadians in Afghanistan celebrate their regiment while honouring their brothers lost in battle, CHRISTIE BLATCHFORD reports

HOWZ-E-MADAD, AFGHANISTAN — With the sun rising rosy on the shortest day of the year, the soldiers of The Royal Canadian Regiment Battle Group raised their glasses yesterday in their unit's official "Ortona Toast."

It was a rare quiet and proud moment in a four-month-long campaign in southern Afghanistan that has seen 19 Canadian soldiers killed and more than 100 injured, some grievously, in a succession of battles as hard, if not as bloody, as the one in 1942, in Ortona, Italy, that gave the drink its name.

The concoction -- composed of equal parts dark rum, warm water and brown sugar -- is supposed to be served in white china cups, just as it was to the officers who drank it on the RCR's birthday that long-ago day during the Second World War.

The unit quartermaster even managed to secure a handful of the appropriate white cups -- and get them pushed forward for the officers and senior non-commissioned officers to the middle of the Arghandab River valley, where the soldiers are stationed for a few days now. The ranks drank theirs from plastic coffee cups.

"I can't tell you how proud and excited and honoured I am to be with you," Commanding Officer Lieutenant-Colonel Omer Lavoie told hundreds of soldiers gathered around their Light Armoured Vehicles.

Lt.-Col. Lavoie said the peaceful "soft knock" kickoff to the NATO Operation Baaz Tsuka envisioned by multinational commander Dutch Major-General Ton van Loon has gone "flawlessly," and reminded the soldiers that their months of hard fighting in the Panjwai valley, where vineyards and mud compounds dominate the landscape, were not so different from the environment their predecessors faced in Italy 64 years before.

"It's safe to say that this group of soldiers is history-making," Lt.-Col. Lavoie said, "the first to celebrate the Ortona Toast in the field, conducting combat operations" since 1942.

Colonel John Vance, commander of the First Canadian Brigade, made the official toast, saying, "Friends, in honour of all present and all those who have passed, and 123 years of service to country, charge your glasses." The RCR's motto is the simple Latin Pro patria, meaning "For country."

Afterward, as soldiers stood talking quietly, a few smoking cigars, Col. Vance reflected on the nature of the losses the unit has suffered here.

Canada's is a small army, he said, and after 25 years in, as he and Lt.-Col. Lavoie have had, you know everyone, and subordinates are more like brothers in a tightly knit family. "It makes the losses that much more difficult," Col. Vance said, his eyes glistening, "but serving with them is a very comforting thing."

Joining in the toast was the RCR's new Regimental Sergeant-Major, Chief Warrant Officer Mark Miller, who flew into Kandahar on Monday and was on the ground, at Lt.-Col. Lavoie's side, two days later.

CWO Miller replaces RSM Robert (Bobby) Girouard, who with Corporal Albert (Stormy) Storm was killed in action last month when their Bison armoured personnel carrier was hit by a suicide bomber just outside Kandahar.

For the 46-year-old from Minto, N.B., the appointment -- RSM is a title, not a rank -- was particularly poignant, as he and RSM Girouard were great friends, and he knows the Girouard family. Two Girouard sons are in the military -- Michael is an officer cadet at the Royal Canadian Military College, while Robert is a private with the regiment.

"It's an honour to be here as this organization's RSM," he said. The 1st Battalion RCR is his home unit, where he first served after finishing basic training, and, he said, "I know them well."

Given the close relationship that is common between a CO and his RSM, with the officer relying on the RSM to care for the troops and also provide him a sympathetic ear, CWO Miller's arrival here was particular good news for Lt.-Col. Lavoie, who has been working alone since CWO Girouard was killed.

For soldiers who have been involved in hard combat so frequently, the current assignment, to make secure Howz-e-Madad while other soldiers engage in relationship building and the delivery of aid, comes as a reprieve.

Yesterday, the battle group handed over a brand-new vehicle checkpoint to the Afghan National Police at Howz-e-Madad. Constructed overnight by engineers from the British 28th Engineer Regiment, the checkpoint now allows the ANP to actually divert suspicious cars or trucks to a secure area for a search. It was welcomed by ANP District Police Chief Aka Abullamrasol, who immediately asked for another such checkpoint at Zhari, a few kilometres away.

The checkpoint should make the village safer and villagers less vulnerable to the intimidation tactics of the Taliban, Charles Company Commanding Officer Major Matthew Sprague said yesterday, but the real question is whether the ANP, a force rife with corruption, will use it and use it properly.

"At least we can say we tried," Major Sprague said with a shrug. Interpreters had already told him that the reason the police like the checkpoint is that it will make it easier for them to extort bribes from passing motorists.

Thus far in Operation Baaz Tsuka (Falcon's Summit), North Atlantic Treaty Organization troops have encountered little resistance from the Taliban, who are rumoured to have made a strategic retreat to a village about four kilometres south, where, unconfirmed reports say, fighters have been told to "get ready to die."

Duceppe has humiliated himself on Afghanistan
The Gazette Published: Friday, December 22, 2006
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For the second time this fall, Gilles Duceppe has been too clever for his own good. Now on the Afghanistan issue, as earlier on the question of Quebec as a nation, the Bloc Quebecois leader has stumbled over his own little tripwires. In the process, he has appeared to be a man interested in polls rather than principles.

In Quebec City 10 days ago, Duceppe abruptly flipped his party's longtime position, announcing he might try to topple the minority Conservative government in January unless it changed the mission from one of combat to a reconstruction effort.

But Pierre Paquette, the Bloc's finance critic, quickly backtracked, denying that Duceppe had ever issued the threat "for the short term." He added next spring's federal "budget will come first."

Then, Bloc MP Claude Bachand reiterated Duceppe's original version to La Presse, repeating that the non-confidence motion could come first. Duceppe's face-saving parting shot this week was that he would not force an early vote unless "provoked."

Sovereignist leaders love to discover cases in which Quebec is "humiliated" by Ottawa. But in this case Duceppe has humiliated himself, in the process lending credibility to Prime Minister Stephen Harper's contention that Duceppe and the Bloc are "playing political games on the backs of our soldiers."

It's meaningless to rebuild a school or hospital when terrorists are just around the corner waiting for you to finish so they can bomb it - again. For that reason, the military campaign in Afghanistan is inseparable from the reconstruction drive. Duceppe also knows Harper's government set aside $1 billion over 10 years in its last budget to help rebuild Afghanistan, not a negligible sum.

In any event, Duceppe's threat proved to be empty. Not only has he backed away from it, but Liberal leader Stephane Dion rebuffed the idea of toppling the Conservatives over the issue. The Liberals want no part of this touchy issue, if only because on Afghanistan their caucus is the most divided in the House.

Dion argues the mission is failing to accomplish its objective of improving Afghans' lot. But he can hardly rattle a sabre about it, considering it was his party that boosted the Canadian contingent from 850 peacekeepers in Kabul to 2,500 combat troops in Taliban-riddled Kandahar last year. Dion also complains that Harper ramrodded an extension of the mission through Parliament, a complaint that is true enough but that lacks sting, since the Liberals never gave MPs a vote on the combat role in the first place.
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Canada to send more high-tech guns to Afghanistan in new year
at 22:05 on December 21, 2006, EST.
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OTTAWA (CP) - Canada is buying more high-tech artillery pieces to use in southern Afghanistan in the new year, The Canadian Press has learned.

The Defence Department has agreed to buy six more 155-mm howitzers from British-based BAE Systems Inc. Most of the new guns will shipped overseas and are expected to join a battery from the 2nd battalion, Royal Canadian Horse Artillery from Petawawa, Ont., now deployed in the Kandahar region.

"After a few months in operation, the task force in Afghanistan identified an additional requirement for M-777s to allow a better flexibility and to support adequately the current operations," said Elizabeth Hodges, a Defence Department spokeswoman.

Defence industry sources said the agreement also gives Canada the option of purchasing another 12 guns in the future.

The Canadian army currently has four of the highly accurate, digitally sighted M-777 howitzers deployed in Afghanistan.

A year ago, the Canadian army turned to the U.S. Marine Corps to buy six of the lightweight, powerful artillery pieces after its existing stock of 105mm howitzers was found to lack the range and accuracy needed for fighting in Afghanistan.

At the time, the biggest fear of military planners was that the old weapons were so outdated they might cause unacceptable civilian casualties.

The new pieces have the ability to hit targets up to 20 kilometres away using conventional shells.

The purchase price for the latest batch of guns was not disclosed, but the initial order of six howitzers and ammunition cost roughly $42 million
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Canada's reservists to be eligible for pension
Updated Thu. Dec. 21 2006 11:06 PM ET CTV.ca News Staff
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Defence Minister Gordon O'Connor announced today that Canada's reservists will be able to contribute to and receive pension plan benefits starting in the new year.

As many as 8,500 reservists may now qualify to be included in the Canada Pension Plan and establishing reservist pensions has been an issue many of them have been fighting for.

"This is the CPP (Canada Pension Plan) that every worker in Canada pays into and, as a result, is able to collect upon retirement," CTV's David Akin, who was first to report the news, told Newsnet from Ottawa.

In a news release, O'Connor is quoted as saying that the government made this change "because we believe that all Reservists should be able to collect a pension that will allow them to build for retirement and provide their families with basic financial protection."

"Canada's New Government is proud of the brave men and women who serve our country daily and this amendment is another example of our commitment to support them."
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Germany Split Over Plane Deployment to Afghanistan
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Germany's government is split over whether the decision to send spy planes to Afghanistan, which could see German troops deployed in the volatile south, needs parliamentary approval.

The foreign policy spokesperson for the ruling Christian Democratic Party's parliamentary group, Eckart von Klaeden, said the deployment of the Tornado reconnaissance planes in Afghanistan was covered by the current mandate, and no new approval was necessary.

"It is not a political decision; it should be decided at the military level," von Klaeden told the Friday edition of the daily Neue Presse in Hanover.

But the junior state secretary for defense, Thomas Kossendy -- who is also a conservative member -- was quoted by Friday's Nordwest-Zeitung as saying that "such decisions shouldn't be made without parliament."

NATO wants reinforcements in the south

NATO has asked Germany to send five or six Tornado reconnaissance planes for use across the whole of Afghanistan. This means the additional 250 German troops which would be sent with the planes could find themselves deployed in the south of the country where fighting against the Taliban is fiercest.

Bildunterschrift: Großansicht des Bildes mit der Bildunterschrift:  German troops could be deployed in other areas of Afghanistan
Under the existing mandate, which parliament renewed for one year in September, Germany's 2,700 soldiers are based in the relatively stable north of Afghanistan.  
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Afghanistan a continuing concern: US  
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Washington, Dec 22: Stressing that it is a difficult subject along the Afghanistan-Pakistan border, the Bush administration has said that Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf is keenly aware of the issue and that the operations in that part of the world is a "tough" problem.

"It's a continuing concern, clearly. We saw the Taliban go after the progress that had been made in southern Afghanistan and we saw some pretty tough military engagements in which NATO forces, including those from Canada, engaged," State Department spokesman, Sean McCormack said.

"But NATO is not going to shrink from that fight and we have been working with Musharraf as well as Afghan President Hameed Karzai to try to get at that issue that you referred to of not allowing safe havens along that Afghan-Pakistan border.

"It's a tough problem. Some of those tribal areas haven't really formally been governed by Pakistan or any government for quite some time. So it's a tough issue to get at," he added.
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Suicide Bomber Injures 8 in Afghanistan
Associated Press 12.22.06, 2:53 AM ET Associated Press
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A suicide bomber exploded himself outside a lawmaker's home Friday, missing the parliamentarian but injuring eight others, police said.

The bomber apparently thought lawmaker Bacha Khan Zadran was in a car pulling out of his compound, said district police chief Mohammad Khan Katawzi. The blast near the vehicle injured three people inside and five people on the street.

The attack appeared to be the first suicide bomb in Kabul since mid-October. Taliban militants have exploded more than 115 suicide bombs in Afghanistan this year in the country's bloodiest year of violence since the ouster of the Taliban regime in 2001.

For US soldiers, Afghanistan is forgotten war
Posted by admin on 2006/12/22 0:07:21  
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Bermel (Afghanistan), Dec 22 (DPA) As winter grips Afghanistan's mountainous border with Pakistan, US troops and Taliban and other insurgents are winding down after a year of fierce but inconclusive fighting in a barren swathe of Central Asia where everything has still to be won.

The first December snow brought a lull in the constant skirmishes, roadside bomb and suicide attacks and rocket strikes against the Bermel base by the border with Pakistan, where soldiers of the 10th Mountain Division will ship out next month after a gruelling 12-month tour.

"It's been tough," said Sergeant Chris Cowan, whose company fought numerous engagements since deploying last February as part of a 1,000-troop contingent at five bases in the eastern province of Paktika. "We try to do our job, do the right thing and get all the guys out alive."

More than two dozen soldiers suffered wounds and they are uniformly amazed that they lost only one man, Corporal Jeremiah Cole, who died in a landmine blast in August.

"In my platoon of 36 men we have five men who were shot in the head and they all survived, it's crazy," said Lt Sean Parnell.
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War on two fronts in Afghanistan
By Con Coughlin Last Updated: 12:01am GMT 22/12/2006
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Just when it seemed matters could not get any worse in Afghanistan, along comes an altogether more alarming threat to Nato's attempts to restore order to that strife-torn region — in the form of Iran's Revolutionary Guards.

Ever since the US-led coalition overthrew the Taliban and their al-Qa'eda allies in late 2001, it has been assumed that the biggest threat to the successful restoration of Afghanistan as a functioning state was posed by the surviving remnants of the former regime and their sponsors in Pakistan.

Indeed, the main thrust of last summer's Nato offensive was concentrated along the Pakistani border, where a hard core of about 1,000 Taliban fighters have been attempting to re-establish a power base that could be used for an attempt to seize Kabul
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Canada doesn't see safer Afghanistan in next year
21 Dec 2006 17:38:55 GMT Source: Reuters  By Randall Palmer
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OTTAWA, Dec 21 (Reuters) - Afghanistan is unlikely to get safer in 2007, but if the world abandons the fight against the Taliban it will only find itself sucked back in to combat terrorism later, Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper said in an interview released on Thursday.

Parliament backed a motion from Harper in May to keep Canadian troops in the country at least until February 2009 but he is under pressure now from the opposition either to pull out or to put less emphasis on war and more on aid.

Harper told Global television his goal was to make progress over the next couple years in securing southern Afghanistan, the dangerous part of the country where 2,500 Canadian troops are fighting a Taliban insurgency.

"Obviously we'd like the security situation to improve," he said, adding he expected progress. "Frankly, I don't think it will improve in the next 12 months."

But he said the alternative of an early withdrawal -- demanded by the New Democratic Party, the smallest of three opposition parties in Parliament -- is unthinkable.

"If we pull out today, if Canada, and those that are carrying the freight -- and there's seven or eight countries in the south that are doing most of the heavy lifting -- if we all leave, my prediction is we'll be back there in less than a decade," he said.

"The Taliban represents not just a tyrannical force in Afghanistan but one that has made it clear it intends to spread violence and hatred throughout the world and has shown a capacity to do so in the past. I think if we leave, it will only come back to haunt us."

Canada's other two opposition parties, the Liberals and the Bloc Quebecois, are asking Harper to change the Afghan mission to one involving more reconstruction.

"Do you think if the government could put more of our emphasis on reconstruction and aid that that's not what we would be doing?" Harper asked
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Operation Baaz Tsuka provides continued security
ISAF news release # 2006-383, 21 Dec 06
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Nearly a week into Operation Baaz Tsuka, commanders from Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF) and ISAF are reporting progress on securing areas in Regional Command-South.  Today’s efforts focused on meeting with the local population, conducting security and clearance patrols, and removing improvised explosive devices discovered along several traffic routes.  Engineers have also started constructing ANSF security check points as part of the long term goal of providing sustained security within the Panjwai and Zahre districts.  “The security required in order to sustain long term stability within Panjwai and Zahre districts is progressing,” said Squadron Leader Dave Marsh, spokesperson for Regional Command-South. “The key to success is the collective consultation between the Government of Afghanistan, the ANSF, ISAF and most importantly, the tribal elders.”

Reconstruction proceeds in Afghan district amid show of force by Canadians
Bill Graveland, Canadian Press, 23 Dec 06
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There are troops and firepower at the ready but so far it's the soft approach that appears to be doing the trick in Operation Baaz Tsuka.  The Canadian Forces joined the NATO offensive against the Taliban on Wednesday with an impressive array of troops, tanks, armoured vehicles and artillery. They rolled into the town of Howz-e Madad without firing a shot and since then most of the work has been on providing humanitarian aid and meeting village elders.  "The overall operation has been unfolding exactly as per the plan," Lt.-Col. Omer Lavoie, commander of the Canadian Battle Group, said Friday.  "As far as the Canadians are concerned it was considered to be, as much as possible, a non-kinetic operation," he said. "In other words, we were not going in hard in a way characterized by combat operations, but certainly characterized by a lot of combat power if we needed it." ....

Canada's New Government partners with UNICEF and the World Food Programme to assist families in Afghanistan
Canadian International Development Agency news release, 20 Dec 06
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The Honourable Josée Verner, Minister of International Cooperation and Minister for La Francophonie and Official Languages, today announced that Canada will contribute $4.5 million to UNICEF and $4 million to the World Food Programme (WFP) to assist vulnerable families in Afghanistan's Kandahar Province.  "Canada is committed to supporting Afghanistan in its efforts to address the basic needs of its most vulnerable citizens," said Minister Verner. "Today's contributions to UNICEF and the World Food Programme will improve the lives of tens of thousands of people living in Kandahar, primarily women and children, by providing food aid, improving health and nutrition, access to clean water and basic shelter."  UNICEF will provide some 20,000 families with non-food items such as tents, blankets and warm jackets which are very much needed with winter's arrival. With Canada's support, UNICEF will also provide health and medical supplies to hospitals and clinics, as well as micronutrients for children and pregnant women. Through UNICEF, support will be given to the Public Health Department's measles vaccination campaign to immunize as many as 189,000 children. In addition, UNICEF, through the Afghan Department of Education, will procure and distribute education materials for about 40,000 students who are now going to school in temporary centres ....

Ottawa to give $8.5 million in humanitarian support to Afghanistan
Canadian Press, 20 Dec 06
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Ottawa will give $8.5 million in humanitarian support to the poorest families in the Kandahar province of Afghanistan.  International Co-operation Minister Josee Verner says the federal money will go to about 30,000 families. A total of $4.5 million will be given to UNICEF and $4 million to the United Nations' World Food Program.  The UNICEF money will be used for tents, blankets and warm clothing, along with medical supplies and food for pregnant women and children.  The food money will augment offerings to 31,000 families touched by the conflict and drought.  The federal money is part of $1 billion over 10 years included in the Conservative budget for the reconstruction of Afghanistan.

More News on CAN in AFG here

Afghanistan: Fighting in the south sets off new displacement
Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre (IDMC) report, 22 Dec 06
Article Link (244KB .pdf) - News Release

Fierce fighting between NATO troops and insurgents in southern Afghanistan has sent tens of thousands of people fleeing from their homes in a new wave of displacement. Although numbers are unverified, the government said that more than 20,000 families had been displaced due to the fighting in the provinces of Helmand, Kandahar and Uruzgan as of November 2006.  In addition to this new wave of displacement, some 132,000 people – most of them displaced since 2001-2002, remained in relief camps as of September 2006. Most are Kuchi nomads who were forced to leave their home areas due to drought, but appear to be prevented from return by a combination of factors, including protection concerns in return areas. During 2006, thousands of Pashtuns who were previously displaced from the north and west of the country after the overthrow of the Taliban government in 2001 were able to return home. Although accurate figures are not available due to limited access to the south, the total number of displaced in Afghanistan is estimated at around 270,000, as of November 2006 ....

FAST Update Afghanistan: Semi-Annual Risk Assessment May - Nov 2006
Swiss Peace Foundation report, 22 Dec 06
Article Link (200KB .pdf)

.... The Taliban are testing the strength of the ISAF forces and try to drive one ISAF nation out of Afghanistan in order to win an information victory they can capitalize on in the perception of the population.  Their strong push towards Kandahar fits into this strategy  ....

Articles found 23 December 2006

Kandahar Letters
From Saturday's Globe and Mail
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Canadian soldiers based in Afghanistan reflect on their mission and share their thoughts about home at Christmas.

SERGEANT CHRIS VAN HAMME: 'It can get rather emotional'

Here I sit once again amidst a mountain of paperwork. I sometimes ask myself: Where on Earth does it all come from? Well, it is all part of my job as Chief Clerk, Headquarters Joint Task Force -- Afghanistan.

My crew of four (well three-and-a-half, actually, as one of my staff isn't a trained clerk) are working very hard to administer the soldiers at headquarters. The sheer volume of work is quite a challenge and some of the issues are complex.

Unfortunately, we are also responsible for issuing the casualty messages back to Ottawa and there have been far too many of those. Casualty administration is the most difficult part of our work here -- and it can get rather emotional.

One thing I brought with me to remind me of home was a blue album with all my photos of Figgy (my cat) and my adventures on the Bruce Trail. It has provided a happy reminder of home and the things that I enjoy and now miss. Something to look forward to, I suppose. It has also provided much amusement at headquarters.

Whenever someone dares to step foot into my office, I make them look at a few pages before I allow them to escape. I have even had some compliments on a few of my shots, but the number of my visitors has decreased.

I was surprised and thrilled to meet a calico cat named Sophie at clothing stores yesterday. She was perched high on a pile of laundry bags washing her paws and looking quite at home. At home is a bit of an understatement of course; we are talking about a cat, here. It was quite evident that she was running the place! Too bad I couldn't have brought Figgy with me.
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Gen. Rick Hillier to spend Christmas with troops
Updated Fri. Dec. 22 2006 8:05 PM ET Canadian Press
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OTTAWA -- Gen. Rick Hillier celebrated Christmas with his family a week ago so he could spend the real holiday with soldiers, sailors and air personnel in and around Afghanistan.

The chief of the defence staff flew aboard the patrol frigate HMCS Ottawa in the Persian Gulf on Friday to start a whirlwind holiday tour.

He flies into Afghanistan on Christmas Eve after a day aboard the warship.

"I'm going to spend some time with our troops both inside and outside the wire at Kandahar and the provincial reconstruction team and a few hours in Kabul because we've got probably got 75 Canadians in Kabul,'' he said in a telephone interview from the ship, minutes after his helicopter landed in the darkness.

Hillier has brought some entertainment for the troops, including comedians Rick Mercer and Mary Walsh and the Montreal rock band Jonas.

Jonas released its self-titled first album in 2004 and has just released another called Suite Life.

Hillier said the band members, Jonas Tomalty, Corey Diabo, Ange E. Curcio and Domenic Romanelli are keen to get on the ground with the soldiers.

"They're pretty excited to be able to come out and show their support,'' he said.
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Fallen soldier's parents keep his memory alive
Updated Fri. Dec. 22 2006 11:10 PM ET CTV.ca News Staff
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For the families of Canadian soldiers killed in Afghanistan, the holiday season can be a difficult time.

But many families find comfort in each other, and some say it has eased their burden to bury their loved ones alongside comrades at Canada's National Military Cemetery.

For Debby and Gerry Warren, visiting their son's grave around Christmas is hard because it reminds them even more of what they've lost.

"Jason was home for Christmas last year," Debby told CTV's Roger Smith. "It was his favorite time of year so it's tough."

Cpl. Jason Warren, a 29-year-old reservist, was killed in July by a suicide bomb.

While many Canadian casualties have been buried in their hometowns, Jason's parents and sister, a soldier too, chose to bury him in the National Military Cemetery.

It was opened five years ago, mainly for veterans of past wars, but it's taken on greater prominence with the interment of soldiers killed in Afghanistan.
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Gordon Ramsay gives our troops in Helmand Province, Afghanistan a Christmas they'll never forget..
Exclusive by Chris Hughes, Security Correspondent, In Afghanistan 23 December 2006
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SUPERCHEF Gordon Ramsay prepared a slap-up Christmas feast for 800 British troops yesterday - and the Mirror picked up the tab.

We flew the star of Hell's Kitchen and the F-Word into war-torn Helmand Province in Afghanistan to give our brave fighting men and women a festive treat they will never forget.

Gordon, 40 - and two of his top culinary aides Angela Hartnett and Jason Atherton from London - rustled up a sumptuous turkey dinner in a field kitchen using only basic army equipment.

The Michelin-starred celebrity said: "This is by far the most difficult cooking challenge I have ever faced. But it was well worth it to see the look on the guys' faces when they came into the dining tent. It was absolutely brilliant."

Gordon's efforts got a big thumbs-up. Royal Marine Lee Oliver, from 42 Commando, based in Bickleigh, Devon, said: "The food was absolutely delicious.
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U.S. military says airstrike killed senior Taliban leader
The Associated PressPublished: December 23, 2006
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KABUL, Afghanistan: A top Taliban military commander described as a close associate of Osama bin Laden and Taliban leader Mullah Omar was killed in an airstrike this week close to the border with Pakistan, the U.S. military said Saturday. A Taliban spokesman denied the claim.

Mullah Akhtar Mohammad Osmani was killed Tuesday by a U.S. airstrike while traveling by vehicle in a deserted area in the southern province of Helmand, the U.S. military said. Two associates also were killed, it said.

There was no immediate confirmation from Afghan officials or visual proof offered to support the claim. A U.S. spokesman said "various sources" were used to confirm Osmani's identity.

Osmani, regarded as one of three top associates of Omar, is the highest-ranking Taliban leader the coalition has claimed to have killed or captured since U.S. forces invaded Afghanistan to oust the Taliban regime in late 2001 for hosting bin Laden.

U.S. military spokesman Col. Tom Collins described Osmani's death as a "big loss" for the ultraconservative militia.
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Secrets case suspect was club-owning teacher
Saturday, 23rd December 2006
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AN aide to the British commander of Nato forces in Afghanistan accused of passing secrets to Iran is a former nightclub owner of Iranian descent.

Corporal Daniel James, 44, reported to be an interpreter for General David Richards, appeared at City of Westminster Magistrates' Court in London on Wednesday accused of divulging secret information to `the enemy'.

But details of his identity were not revealed during the hearing, much of which was held in camera because of, according to the judge, a `possible prejudice to national security'.
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French troops had bin Laden in sight twice”
12/22/2006 2:00:00 PM GMT
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(ocolly.okstate.edu) French forces had bin Laden in their sights twice

French special forces in Afghanistan had al-Qaeda chief Osama bin Laden in their sights twice about three years ago, but their U.S. superiors never ordered them to fire, according to a French documentary.

The documentary, titled 'Bin Laden, the failings of a manhunt', asserts that the French troops had al-Qaeda leader in their rifle scopes in 2003 and then again six months later in 2004.

Four French soldiers assigned to a 200-strong special forces unit operating under U.S. military command near Afghanistan’s border with Pakistan confirmed that they could have killed bin Laden “at different times and in different places" but that they didn’t receive an order to shoot, the filmed report states.

“In 2003 and 2004 we had bin Laden in our sights. The sniper said 'I have bin Laden'," one of the French soldiers is quoted as saying.

The documentary is by journalists Emmanuel Razavi and Eric de Lavarene, who have worked for several major French media outlets in Afghanistan. It is due to be aired on a French cable television channel in March.

"We have the original voice recordings of the soldiers," Razavi told AFP. "But their anonymity has to be guaranteed."

Razavi said the soldiers told them it took roughly two hours for the shooting request to reach the U.S. officers who could authorize it but they noted that “there was a hesitation in command."

The French army, however, said the story was “pure fabrication.”
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Bombings kill 6; lawmaker targeted
Items compiled from Tribune news services
Published December 23, 2006 KANDAHAR, AFGHANISTAN
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A roadside bomb exploded next to a police patrol in southern Afghanistan on Friday, killing five policemen, an official said.

The bomb exploded about 10 miles north of Tirin Kot, the provincial capital of Uruzgan province, said Qayum Qayumi, the governor's spokesman
In Kabul, a suicide bomber blew himself up outside a lawmaker's home, missing the parliamentarian but killing one person and wounding seven, officials said.

The bomber apparently thought lawmaker Bacha Khan Zadran was in a car pulling out of his compound, and the blast near the vehicle injured three people inside and five on the street, said district police chief Mohammad Khan Katawzi. One of the wounded on the street later died.
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Afghanistan urged to stop blame game
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ISLAMABAD: Interior Minister Aftab Ahmad Khan Sherpao advised the Afghan authorities to stop blaming Pakistan for unrest in their country or provide solid proof if they have any to substantiate their allegations.

Talking to the media here on Friday after inaugurating the computerisation of a vehicle registration project, he reiterated that a stable Afghanistan is in the vital interest of Pakistan and the region as a whole.

“We are doing our best for stability and peace in Afghanistan and the government is contributing a lot towards rehabilitation and reconstruction in the neighbouring country,” Sherpao said.

Replying to a question, the minister said Pakistan had avoided indulging in accusations as Islamabad wants to have good relations with Kabul.

Replying to a question about holding of anti-government rallies by political elements, Sherpao said no one would be allowed disturb peace and order in the country. “Such protests would achieve nothing as people understand the politics of the Opposition parties and know that they do not have any agenda to put before the nation,” he said.

Addressing the inaugural ceremony of the project earlier, he said the computerised vehicle registration (CVR) would provide foolproof security system and help in eliminating fake registration of motor vehicles. Computerising all departments in the capital, including the records of revenue, police and Islamabad Capital Territory (ICT) administration is also under way, Sherpao said.

He informed that the government is working to install security cameras in the capital, while efforts are also being made to further improve the infrastructure. “A record amount of Rs 1.2 billion has been allocated for uplift of the rural areas of Islamabad,” he mentioned.

The minister directed the ICT administration to maintain strict check on prices of the items of daily use on the eve of Eidul Azha.

Earlier, Chief Commissioner ICT Administration Khalid Pervaiz said in his inaugural address that the Excise and Taxation (E&T) Department has registered 250,000 vehicles since 1980 and is registering 200 vehicles daily at present.

AFGHANISTAN: Communist era mass grave discovered hightlights need for post-war justice
22 Dec 2006 12:28:19 GMT Source: IRIN
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KABUL, 22 December (IRIN) - Some 2,000 bodies are believed to have been dumped in a recently unearthed communist-era mass grave in Afghanistan's capital Kabul, officials said on Thursday.

The mass grave was unearthed one day earlier close to the communist era's most notorious prison Poli Charkhi on the eastern outskirts of the capital by the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF), said Dr Mohammad Halim Tanwir, director of the international press centre at the Afghan Ministry of Information and Culture (MIC).

MIC officials believe that the massacre took place between 1978 and 1986 when the Moscow-backed communist presidents, Noor Mohammad Tarakai, Hafizullah Amin and Babrak Karmal were in power.

Human skulls with bullet wounds, broken bones, pieces of clothing and shoes were seen in the several metre-long grave.

"More than 50,000 of our innocent people - who were mainly jailed in Poli Charkhi prison, were executed at that time," Tanwir asserted. "The recovered bodies show that many of them had been shot in the head and then buried."

Tens of thousands of Afghans and their family members were imprisoned and killed by the security services of the communist regimes during 1978-1992 for their alleged links with the Mujahideen groups who were waging stiff resistance against the Russian invasion and its communist regime in Afghanistan, officials say.

"The soldiers surrounded our house at night and then handcuffed my father and took him in a Russian jeep during the regime of Noor Mohammad Tarakai [the Afghan president from 1978 to 1979]," 38-year old Ehsanullah of Alingar district of Laghman province told IRIN. "He was in Poli Charkhi prison for some time and then disappeared. I am sure he might have been killed by communists," Ehsanullah claimed.

In January this year, a former Afghan intelligence chief, Assadullah
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US encourages the Talibanization of Afghanistan
By Abid Mustafa 12-22-06, 8:56 am

Lately, relations between Kabul and Islamabad have taken a dramatic turn for the worse. Hamid Karzai has accused Pakistan of spurring the Taliban to carry out attacks against his fledgling government and the NATO troops that defend it. He is not alone in holding Pakistan responsible for the re-emergence of the Taliban. NATO commanders, the New York Times and the International Crisis Group (ISG) have all pointed the finger at Pakistan for fomenting the Pushtoon resistance that shows no sign of abating.

On its part, the Musharraf government vehemently denies such accusations and continues to blame Karzai’s government for its failure to include the Taliban and other militants as part of the national reconciliation drive. It must be stressed here—Pakistan is almost isolated on its present stance—evidence to the contrary shows that Islamabad has actively nurtured Taliban fighters to reassert their authority on towns and villages ceded to US led forces in the aftermath Taliban’s collapse during the winter of 2001.

Oddly enough, the White House instead of holding Islamabad to account has thrown its weight behind the Pakistani government and has suggested that a more collaborative approach between Islamabad and Kabul would stymie the rising militancy in Afghanistan. Washington’s ambivalent attitude raises the question; is America encouraging the emergence of Taliban as a way of extricating itself from Afghanistan?
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Articles found 24 December 2006

Battery (E) included in Christmas gifts
December 24, 2006 Oakland Ross Staff reporter
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BRAVE FRONT | Soldiers' nonchalance fades at sight of treasures from loved ones back home

PATROL BASE WILSON, Afghanistan–Sudden as a desert sunrise, Christmas came calling for the stouthearted men of Battery E.

One moment, they were firing 5.56-mm automatic-rifle rounds on a practice range adjoining their base here in the southern Afghan province of Kandahar. The next thing they knew, Santa Claus had come and gone – several days early and a long, long way from home.

"Well, I'll be darned" – or words to that effect – said Bombardier Josh Erling, 24, of Ottawa, as he stared wide-eyed at the stacks of elaborately wrapped boxes heaped upon his camp cot in the tent he shares with the other members of his small artillery unit. "I don't know where to start."

He wasn't alone.

The other cots in the tent were all in a similar state, buried beneath mounds of Christmas bounty, when only an hour or so earlier they were merely army-issue camp cots, plain and simple, burdened with nothing more remarkable than army-issue sleeping bags.

But, on their return from rifle practice on the 35-metre firing range set up behind this Canadian-run forward-operating base in southern Afghanistan, the artillerymen of Battery E suddenly found themselves confronted by something that looked an awful lot like Christmas. Presents – lots and lots of presents, all packed and sealed and dispatched to Afghanistan by family and friends back home in Canada.

"This is awesome," exulted Bombardier Ed Hoszko, 23, also from Ottawa.

Like the others, he hovered near the tent's low entrance, peering inside as if it contained the world's largest and most brightly illuminated Christmas trees, surrounded by heaps of the planet's largest conglomeration of gifts.

And then, for a short while, these youngsters on the cusp of manhood seemed to remember themselves.

For a brief time, they tried to be nonchalant, tried to act as if this were no big deal, as if they were a group of typically jaded, world-weary adults, for whom the prospect of tearing open bundles and boxes containing treasures from loved ones back home were just another mindless chore in a long list of mindless daily chores, something that could wait for, oh, some other day – such as, let us say, tomorrow.

But they weren't fooling anybody, much less themselves. Pretty soon the Canadian troops in this particular tent had reverted to a rambunctious state any impartial observer would immediately identify as "boyhood."

Making straight for their respective cots, they proceeded to burrow through these surprise stashes of Christmas loot, even though the big day had yet to formally arrive.

"I'm gonna have to do one package a day," said Erling, in what might have been a fit of conscience.

But he was kidding himself.

Like the others in Battery E – like any youngster anywhere in the world faced with such an overwhelming temptation – he just dove straight in and kept right on going, all the while keeping up a running commentary on his progress through this unexpected abundance.

"It's a scarf!" he announced at one point, and later: "Truffles!"
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Operation Baaz Tsuka steamrolls the Taliban
Brian Hutchinson, CanWest News Service  Saturday, December 23, 2006 PANJWAII DISTRICT, Afghanistan
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The commander of Canada's battle group in Afghanistan says the latest campaign to roust the Taliban from Kandahar province is proceeding almost flawlessly, adding that insurgents have offered little resistance to what he calls "very robust combat power."

Speaking to reporters in Panjwaii District on Saturday evening, Lieutenant-Colonel Omer Lavoie said the only way things might have gone better in the week-old campaign is if "Taliban commanders had come out waving a white flag and all converted to our side."

That hasn't happened, obviously, but most of the estimated 700 to 900 Taliban fighters in an area near the village of Howz-e Madad have not engaged with NATO and Afghan forces. Instead, many have "capitulated" and moved elsewhere, according to Lt.-Col. Lavoie.

Coalition forces have suffered no casualties in the current campaign.

But Taliban deaths and injuries have been significant, he said, particularly in an area about 10 kilometres south of Howz-e Madad, where American and British forces are advancing forward.

"Even in the Canadian [area of responsibility] we had minor engagements where we picked up [the Taliban], engaged them, and in most cases destroyed them, but on a fairly small level."

Lt.-Col. Lavoie said the Taliban likely "learned a lesson" from Operation Medusa, the violent predecessor to the current campaign.

"In typical insurgent [fashion], for static targets they're willing to take pokes at you and retreat quickly," he said. "But…they can't take on a conventional force head to head. They tried in Medusa and were beaten pretty badly."

Lt.-Col. Lavoie estimated that the large Canadian combat force positioned in and around the village of Howz-e Madad was recently reduced by two-thirds.
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Canadian-born RAF pilot to receive top honours
Matthew Sekeres, CanWest News Service; Ottawa Citizen Saturday, December 23, 2006
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OTTAWA -- As thousands of rounds of Taliban ammunition filled the air near Sangin, Afghanistan last July many of them directed at his Chinook helicopter Royal Air Force Flying Officer Christopher Hasler said he felt no fear.

Instead, fear will set in at a Buckingham Palace ceremony this April, when the Canadian flyboy turned British war hero receives the Distinguished Flying Cross from Queen Elizabeth. The military decoration is awarded for "acts of valour, courage and devotion to duty whilst flying in active operations against the enemy."

"I'm so scared," a home-for-the-holidays Hasler said Friday at his parents' Ottawa house. "That's 10-fold more scary than actually going into Sangin. It's daunting, but an honour."

The 26-year-old helicopter captain was born in Jasper, Alta., and raised in Halifax. These days, he has the spit-and-polish appearance of a British serviceman, complete with an English accent.

Military service runs on both sides of the family, and you could almost feel the pride swelling from parents Mike and Mary-Margaret and sister Olivia Friday as Hasler conducted interviews and posed for photographs in advance of his first Christmas on Canadian soil since 2004.

"They pick individuals to receive this award, but with Chinooks, especially because it is such a crew environment, everyone has a part of it," said Hasler, who belongs to the 18(B) Squadron based at RAF Odiham in Hampshire, England.

The citation lauded him for "great courage and composure in the most demanding, high risk environment," according to the RAF website. It said he displayed "the highest standards of gallantry and professionalism and outstanding capability as a helicopter captain."

All of it begs the question of why the Canadian Forces rejected him when he applied out of high school?
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Flower Shops Bring Christmas to Kabul
By RAHIM FAIEZ The Associated Press Sunday, December 24, 2006
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KABUL, Afghanistan -- In devoutly Muslim Afghanistan, Christmas is like any other day _ people go to work, there are no blinking lights lining the streets and pine trees remain unadorned _ except on Flower Street, where local tree vendors are making an extra buck from the foreigners' holiday.

Located in the heart of Kabul, Flower Street is different at Christmas from any other time of year, transformed into a festive place full of trees decked with multicolored tinsel garlands and lights.

"After the Taliban, we started to make Christmas trees because lots of foreigners are around, and they are asking for them," said Eidy Mohammad as he decorated a tree at his shop, the Morsal Flower Store. "Business is growing _ we had only the wedding season before, but now we have Christmas as well."

Unlike many non-Christian countries in Asia, Afghanistan does not recognize or celebrate Christmas. But thousands of foreigners who live in Kabul working with the United Nations, non-governmental organizations or international military forces, celebrate the holiday quietly in restaurants and behind military barracks.
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Queen's message for the forces
7.32, Sun Dec 24 2006
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The Queen has recorded a special Christmas message for British troops.

Her Majesty praises their bravery and also pays tribute to the families of soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan.

She said: "Our country asks a lot of you and your families.

"In Iraq and Afghanistan you continue to make an enormous contribution in helping to rebuild those countries and in other operational theatres you undertake essential duties with a professionalism which is so highly regarded the world over."

It is the second time in recent years that the Queen has recorded a separate message for troops in addition to her annual December 25 broadcast.

Capt. Michael Roddey U.S. Army stationed in Afghanistan
Dánica Coto: dcoto@charlotteobserver.com
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Roddey, 39, oversees 110 airborne combat engineers. His parents live in Charlotte.

HOW ARE YOU PREPARING FOR CHRISTMAS AND NEW YEAR'S? One soldier's aunt bought ornaments and a 6-foot Christmas tree. She spent close to $500 to ship it. We will not take much time off for Christmas. Every day is a work day here, but we will slow the pace a bit .

WHERE ARE YOU FINDING THE HOLIDAY SPIRIT? I think soldiers embody this spirit daily through their selfless sacrifice and good will to others. I hope I don't sound glib, but it's never hard for us to find the holiday spirit.

HAVE YOU RECEIVED GIFTS ALREADY? I was home for R&R leave in October. My parents had the tree set up and gifts for me. It was a small affair but very special for what it represented. I enjoyed the closeness of my family. That was the gift. My mother's office did the kindest thing for me and my soldiers. Each office member was given a small box to fill with goodies as they saw fit. Some filled the box with candies, others with staples (Ramen noodles, etc.), while others filled them with toiletries. By the time I arrived "home" from leave, the boxes had arrived and I had several soldiers open them in front of the assembled company.

HAVE YOU BOUGHT ANY GIFTS? I haven't. I've asked my wife if she will forgive me for this. She is a great military spouse and understands my situation over here. Of course, as the day draws near, I will send something, even if only flowers to say I love and miss her. We bought my 14-year-old son a leather coat. Since I wanted him to pick the style he liked and have the jacket early in the season, we made it an early Christmas gift.


Afghan women, girls risk death for education
Updated Sat. Dec. 23 2006 10:11 PM ET CTV.ca News Staff
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While soldiering and policing are dangerous occupations in Afghanistan, teachers educating girls also run the risk of intimidation and death from the Taliban.

The Taliban believe educating girls is a violation of Islam. When in power, the repressive regime banned young women from attending school.

After NATO forces toppled the Taliban in late 2001, educating women became an important priority in rebuilding the country. However, the schools are far from safe.

The Taliban has turned to using terror, intimidation and even murder to keep girls at home.
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Kalispell police chief retires so he can help in Afghanistan
By MICHAEL JAMISON of the Missoulian
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KALISPELL - Somewhere in Afghanistan, there's a family with children a lot like Frank Garner's.

He can imagine that family, can imagine what life must be like for them, what they must think of their future, and what they must think of Americans.

Which explains why the Kalispell chief of police is retiring at age 44, leaving his wife and three teenagers for a year to travel to the war-ravaged country.

His official job will be to train local Afghan police, but “if someone over there realizes that someone over here truly cares about their future, then it will be a success,” he said of his civilian mission. “And if that contributes to their kids not growing up to want to blow up my kids, then I would think that's a pretty good day at the office.”

If there's such a thing as an average small-town cop, Garner's probably not it.

He's a practical guy, a nuts-and-bolts problem solver, but he also comes with a big-picture curiosity and a decidedly philosophical view of the world.

That he can imagine an unknown Afghan family when he looks at his own is a measure of Garner's sense of sympathy. That he will leave his own children to help that Afghan family is a measure of his sense of duty.

“I come from a military family,” Garner said. “Service is something that's expected.”

His father was a military man. So were his three brothers. After high school graduation next spring, his oldest son will follow the tradition
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Decking The Halls In Afghanistan
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(AP) In devoutly Muslim Afghanistan, Christmas is like any other day — people go to work, there are no blinking lights lining the streets and pine trees remain unadorned—except on Flower Street, where local tree vendors are making an extra buck from the foreigners' holiday.

Located in the heart of Kabul, Flower Street is different at Christmas from any other time of year, transformed into a festive place full of trees decked with multicolored tinsel garlands and lights.

"After the Taliban, we started to make Christmas trees because lots of foreigners are around, and they are asking for them," said Eidy Mohammad as he decorated a tree at his shop, the Morsal Flower Store. "Business is growing — we had only the wedding season before, but now we have Christmas as well."

Unlike many non-Christian countries in Asia, Afghanistan does not recognize or celebrate Christmas. But thousands of foreigners who live in Kabul working with the United Nations, non-governmental organizations or international military forces, celebrate the holiday quietly in restaurants and behind military barracks.

Many shop at Flower Street for their holiday trees.

"Christmas is a good season for flower stores in Kabul," Mohammad said, adding that during the Taliban's rule, nobody was allowed to make Christmas trees in Kabul.

He has sold about a dozen Christmas trees, earning anywhere from $20 to $200 — a hefty sum for Afghans, many of whom make only about $50 a month. The trees are from across Afghanistan and are adorned with Chinese-made artificial materials.
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Pakistani city a hub for Taliban, many say
Dec. 24, 2006, 12:25AM By LAURA KING Los Angeles Times
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Quetta is known as a 'safe haven' where militants can regroup, train

QUETTA, PAKISTAN — At a time when the Taliban are making their strongest push in years to regain influence and territory across the border in Afghanistan, this mountain-ringed provincial capital has become an increasingly brazen hub of activity by the Islamist militia.

Quetta serves as a place of rest and refuge for Taliban fighters between battles, a funneling point for cash and armaments, a fertile recruiting ground and a sometime meeting point for the group's fugitive leaders, say aid workers, local officials, diplomats, doctors and Pakistani journalists.

"Everybody is here," said Mahmood Khan Achakzai, a Quetta-based member of Pakistan's National Assembly. Quetta is the capital of the Pakistani province of Baluchistan.

The apparent ease of Taliban movement in and out of Quetta comes against a backdrop of increasingly bitter squabbling by authorities in Afghanistan and Pakistan over who bears the responsibility for the militia's use of tribal areas in Pakistan as a staging ground for attacks that have killed at least 180 NATO and allied troops this year.

Afghan President Hamid Karzai earlier this month blamed Pakistan for orchestrating Taliban activity.

Pakistan, a key ally in President Bush's war on terrorism, in turn accused Karzai of seeking a scapegoat for his own failures.

Pakistani authorities in Quetta insist they keep a tight lid on Taliban activity — a claim derided by many residents of this city of about 1.5 million people, and one backed by little evidence.

Residents described nerve-racking random encounters with Taliban convoys bristling with weaponry, and volleys of automatic-weapons fire echoing from within some walled-off madrasahs. Taliban recruitment videos sell briskly.

"For the Taliban, this is considered to be a safe haven," said Syed Ali Shah, a journalist. "They come here, they regroup and retrain."

At a local madrasa, or Islamic seminary, black-turbaned young men gathered around a makeshift fountain on a recent day, making ablutions before noon prayers
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PSO seeks govt approval for exporting jet fuel to Afghanistan
By Fida Hussain
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ISLAMABAD: The PSO has sought the government approval for exporting jet fuels to Afghanistan. The company is also seeking rebate on such exports to neighbouring country in future, sources told Daily Times on Saturday.

The PSO, which claims to be the largest Oil Marketing Company (OMC) of the country, has sought clearance to the move, which will enable the country to provide JP4 and other jet fuels, as the consumption of jet fuel is expected to rise in Afghanistan and currently no other company in Pakistan is properly concentrating on the supply of this fuel.

According to the sources, the company has sent a formal proposal to the Ministry of Petroleum and Natural Resources, and Central Board of Revenue (CBR) and other concerned authorities for their consideration.

The PSO has expertise in handling the largest infrastructure of storage facilities in Pakistan and due to the emerging challenges in the market, the company needs to expand its network in Afghanistan.

The PSO must be allowed to operate in the war-torn and civil-strife stricken neighbouring country as the international community is likely to increase its presence in Afghanistan. The flights movements to and from Afghanistan are also expected to increase in the coming days. The Attock Refinery Limited (ARL) claims to be the pioneer in crude oil refining in the country with its operations dating back to the early nineteen hundreds. Backed by a rich experience of more than 80 years of successful operations, ARL’s plants have been gradually upgraded/replaced with state-of-the-art hardware to remain competitive and meet new challenges and requirements.

Located at Rawalpindi, ARL’s configuration/processing allows it to process the lightest to the heaviest (23-65 API) crude oils to produce a complete range of petroleum products from LPG to Asphalt including specialty products such as Jet Fuels (Jet A 1, JP-4, and JP-8) Cutback Asphalts, Polymer Modified Asphalt, Mineral Turpentine Oil, Solvent Oil, etc.
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Army saves by topping up tanks with chip oil
Chris Gourlay December 24, 2006
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OUT of the frying pan into the firefight. British troops in Iraq, Afghanistan and other military bases around the world are to be told to recycle used cooking oil as fuel for military vehicles.
The Ministry of Defence (MoD) said it was planning the move on environmental grounds. However, others have pointed out that the MoD is trying to cut costs wherever possible to fund Britain’s two conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The new plan may enable precious diesel to be bulked out with cleaned-up chip oil and other waste.

In addition, the recycled material could be sold on the domestic heating market.

British army bases produce huge volumes of oil from frying food and under the proposals announced last week in a Commons written answer, this would no longer be poured away.

Instead, it would be siphoned off, filtered and re-used, possibly fuelling vehicles such as armoured Land Rovers and Warriors.

Derek Twigg, a junior defence minister, said the MoD hoped to recycle used oils from mess kitchens for use in biodiesel, which is usually combined with ordinary fuel before being used in engines.

John “Lofty” Wiseman, a former soldier in the SAS and author of the bestselling SAS Urban Survival Handbook, welcomed the proposals.

“These days everyone wants to be green so it doesn’t surprise me that they are planning this,” he said.

“The thing is, the MoD has to pay for disposing of oils wherever it goes. It costs a lot, so it makes sense to recycle it. I think it’s a great idea. The lads won’t mind doing it — we’re used to recycling stuff in the army.”

Trials for the scheme are under way.

The move to bulk out fuel with waste oils comes as the MoD is trying to cut costs.
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Tokens From the Home Front
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It's Christmas Eve, and people in the Washington area are abustle with their tinsel and toys, sugarplums and fruitcake, prayers and candlelit services. Far away are the Americans serving in Iraq and Afghanistan. Far away, but not far from thought. Many people extended their hearts across the ocean this holiday season.
Sunday, December 24, 2006; Page C01

When students at Hollywood Elementary School in St. Mary's County made holiday cards for Marines in Iraq last month, they didn't expect any response from 6,000 miles away, much less the one they got.

A Marine, a St. Mary's native, called their principal. He was returning to the United States in December, he said, and he wanted to come thank the children in person.
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Queen Elizabeth Praises British Troops
Associated Press 12.23.06, 11:12 PM ET
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Queen Elizabeth II sent a special Christmas message to British troops overseas on Sunday, praising their courage in a year of mounting losses in Iraq and Afghanistan.

"Our country asks a lot of you and your families," she said in a prerecorded Christmas Eve radio broadcast to Britain's military.

In only her second Christmas broadcast to military personnel in recent years, the Queen says her thoughts and prayers are with the families of military personnel who were killed.

The country has around 7,000 soldiers stationed in southern Iraq, mainly based around the city of Basra. There are around 6,000 troops based in Afghanistan, the majority in the volatile southern province of Helmand where more than 30 soldiers have been killed since June in an escalation of violence.

"In Iraq and Afghanistan you continue to make an enormous contribution in helping to rebuild those countries and in other operational theaters you undertake essential duties with a professionalism which is so highly regarded the world over," the monarch said.

"Your courage and loyalty are not lightly taken. It is a pledge which calls for sacrifice and devotion to duty.
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Heroin UK
Mark Townsend, Anushka Asthana and Denis Campbell
Sunday December 24, 2006 The Observer
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The murders of five women in Suffolk, all of them addicts, have served to highlight Britain's growing heroin problem. Opiates have moved from being the preserve of the few to the drug of choice in towns across the UK

They were offering Christmas specials on the south coast last week. Two wraps of heroin for the price of one. Buy a gram, get a hit of crack for free. Mike was unable to resist. Another year would soon pass with the 48-year-old from Hastings, Sussex, still enslaved to the 'brown'.
Heroin has never been as cheap or as easily available in the 30 years Mike has been injecting opiates into his skinny, mottled arms. 'These days it is easier to score than cannabis. I could go into any town in Britain and score within a day. Try the social security building, look for street drinkers or people using drugs support centres and you'll soon find it,' he said. His eyes were glassy. He looked dog-tired. He had just injected half a gram of heroin.
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On the trail of the Taliban's support
More signs suggest Pakistan plays a role in aiding the Afghan insurgency.
By Paul Watson, Times Staff Writer December 24, 2006
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LIZHA, AFGHANISTAN — The guerrillas followed a dirt road from the Pakistan border through a valley surrounded by low, grassy mountains to their target: an Afghan police post.

Not long after sunset, they opened fire from several sides. For almost four hours, scores of suspected Taliban fighters outgunned the lightly armed Afghan border police, and almost overran their camp.

Then, as quickly as it started, the fight ended. The militants picked up their dead and wounded and fled back into sanctuaries, three miles away, in one of the loosely governed tribal areas of Pakistan.

"A hundred armed Taliban men passed through the Pakistani border with their equipment, and with their rocket-propelled grenade launchers," said Qasim Khail, commander of the Afghan border police's 2nd Brigade, which guards the post here. "And they retreated the same way. There are only two escape routes out of here, and both of them end at a Pakistani border post."

Confidential documents obtained by The Times show that for at least two years, U.S. military intelligence agencies have warned American commanders that Taliban militants were arming and training in Pakistan, then slipping into Afghanistan with the help of Pakistani border control officers.
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Italy pledges $9 m aid to Afghanistan
Sunday December 24, 2006 (0159 PST)
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KABUL: Italy's aid to the Afghanistan's Reconstruction Trust Fund will reach about $9 millions by the end of 2007.
A statement issued by the Italian embassy said the decision by the Italian government would help Afghanistan to pay a portion of expenses of the ongoing reconstruction process.

Quoting the Italian ambassador to Afghanistan Ettor Francesco Sequi, the statement said Italy would remain committed to help Afghanistan and the increase in aid mark the trust and confidence of that country over Afghan officials.

Speaking to Pajhwok Afghan News, first secretary at the Italian embassy Sara Rezoagli said the Italian aid to the trust fund would start pouring in mid-2007.

The amount from Afghanistan Reconstruction Trust Fund is used for payment of salaries of teachers, health workers, ministerial and provincial workers, administrative purposes, capacity building and repatriation programmes

Elders support Karzai`s stance
Sunday December 24, 2006 (0159 PST)
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KHOST CITY: Hundreds of Pashtun tribal elders from Khost and Pakistan`s border area of Kuram Agency have supported President Hamid Karzai`s last week stance against Pakistan.

In a meeting held here, tribal elders from both sides of the border said Pakistan was trying to enslave Afghans, as arrest of the two Pakistanis proved this.

Deputy head of the Tribal Solidarity Council (TSC), Mir Zaman Sabari, told Pajhwok Afghan News the desires of Pakistan regarding enslaving Afghans would never be fulfilled.

He also condemned remarks by the Pakistani president Gen Pervez Musharraf, who said that Taliban had roots in Pashtun. Sabari said: "In his remarks, Muhsarraf has revealed his animosity towards Pashtuns."

Governor of Khost Arsala Jamal urged the elders from Kuram Agency to help in restoring security to the region.

He also asked them not to provide shelter or training to their children for suicide attacks. Malak Akbar Khan, head of the delegation from Kuram Agency, promised they would not allow militants to use their area for launching attacks on Afghanistan. After the meeting, the participants issued a resolution, expressing their support to President Hamid Karzai`s policy against Pakistan.

The resolution also called on the Taliban to end violence and take part in reconstruction process of their country. They demanded of foreign forces to take maximum caution not to harm civilians during their military operations.

Merry Christmas to All
More Articles found 24 December 2006

Not home for the holidays
Christmas greetings lift troops' spirits during lonely battle against Taliban
Brian Hutchinson, National Post Sunday, December 24, 2006
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MAS'UM GHAR, Afghanistan - Slouched inside a sandbagged bunker at the top of an alpine military placement, Pte. James Arnal slurps down instant noodles from a Styrofoam cup. He does not seem infused with Yuletide joy.

Who could blame him? In this lonely spot, inside a country so distant and foreign from his own, and in the midst of an interminable war, Pte. Arnal feels adrift. Were it not for a few decorations and greeting cards that hang from a piece of string in his bunker, one would hardly know that it's Christmas time at all.

"I've never been away from home at Christmas before," says the 23-year-old Winnipeg native, nibbling at the last of his noodles.

Manning an observation post in dusty Kandahar province is not the first place he'd choose to spend the season, but so it is.

"I'll be calling in the reindeer," he said.

Otherwise, he plans to spend tomorrow the same way he spends every day here: Gazing out at the arid landscape, looking for Taliban fighters.

Chances are slim that he'll see any.

Pte. Arnal is stationed at Mas'um Ghar, a key Canadian forward operating base about 35 kilometres southwest of Kandahar city. The Taliban were chased from the immediate vicinity four months ago.

Pte. Arnal helped remove them.

On Aug.19, he and his mates from Princess Patricia's Canadian Light Infantry met the Taliban head on, in a gruesome battle that unfolded not 50 metres from where he now stands.

"They came right over the top of this mountain," he says. "We killed 72 of them. We didn't have one casualty. It wasn't even close."

That's now a distant memory. Pte. Arnal has since survived Operation Medusa, and a friendly fire incident that occurred just a short distance from his current position and killed Pte. Mark Graham.

Now it is Christmas, in Kandahar. Pte. Arnal misses his family, his girlfriend, and his buddies back home. He sends them messages when he can, and places a phone call now and then. It's not the same.

But something happened recently that lifted his spirits. He received a letter from a Canadian teenager grateful for his efforts.

Actually, the letter wasn't addressed to him. "It was 'To Any Canadian Soldier,' Pte. Arnal recalls. "I opened it and read the letter. It was really nice. It was from someone in Quebec named Tristynn Duheme."

Tristynn, it turns out, is a 15-year-old Grade 10 student who lives in St. Anicet, about 80 kilometres west of Montreal. She wrote the letter as part of a class project. Pte. Arnal took the time to reply and express his thanks for the thoughtful gesture.

Yesterday, he received another mailing from Tristynn. This one included a cheery Christmas card, and a care package containing an assortment of goodies: potato chips, candy, chocolate, and best of all, several boxes of Kraft Dinner, a Canadian staple
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Into the Taliban heartland
December 23, 2006  Oakland Ross Staff reporter
Article Link

PATROL BASE WILSON, Afghanistan–This is the way that Afghanistan's war is being waged – with much din, an ample supply of arms, the slender prospect of peace, and no small component of fear.

Consider Lieut. Michel Tousignant.

With a wife at home in Quebec City – his high-school sweetheart, the only girlfriend he's ever known – and with two small children, plus a third on the way, Tousignant is feeling the pressure of this ghostly war, a conflict in which anyone, positively anyone, could turn in a flash from an innocent bystander to a deadly foe.

Tousignant served on a Canadian peacekeeping mission in Bosnia in the 1990s, but things are different here. Now 33, he is a leader of men, commanding half a platoon of motorized infantry aboard two armoured vehicles. He is responsible for lives apart from his own.

"My main goal is to bring all my men home alive at the end of our mission," he confided, before climbing into his LAV-3 armoured personnel carrier at the start of yet another dangerous assignment here in southern Afghanistan's Kandahar province, a territory haunted by war. "I think about it every day."
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Afghan MP escapes assassination   
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One person was killed after a bomb
exploded close to Zadran's car [AFP]

One person has been killed and seven injured in the Afghan capital Kabul after a suicide bomb attack close to the home of an anti-Taliban politician, police said.

An explosives-laden vehicle was detonated on Friday near a car belonging to Padshah Khan Zadran, an outspoken parliamentarian, about 50 metres from his residence in eastern Kabul.

"The suicide attacker rammed his bomb-filled vehicle into Zadran's car as his car left the house but fortunately he was not in the vehicle," said Ali Shah Paktiawal, a police criminal investigation chief.

The attack is the first suicide bomb attack in Kabul since October.

Critical condition

"One wounded civilian died on the way to hospital. Four other civilians and three of bodyguards are wounded," said Zemarai Bashari, an interior ministry spokesman.

Police said all the wounded were in critical condition.

Zadran, the leader of an ethnic Pashtun tribe and a former anti-Soviet fighter, is an MP for Paktia province in southeast Afghanistan.

He has often criticised the Taliban and has accused neighbouring Pakistan of aiding them.

Speaking to James Bays, Al Jazeera's correspondent, in Kabul shortly after the attempt on his life, Zadran was blunt. "These people are the enemies of Afghanistan and the world," he said.

"We call them al-Qaeda. Pakistan and ISI, its intelligence agency, trained them there and sent them here."

Bays reported quoting an Afghan police officer that security for Zadran had been tightened recently based on increased threat perception.
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NATO campaign still moving forward peacefully
Updated Sat. Dec. 23 2006 11:32 PM ET Canadian Press
Article Link

MAS'UM GHAR, Afghanistan -- NATO forces have rolled into another village in the Panjwaii and Zhare districts of Afghanistan -- once again with no shots being fired.

Lieutenant-Colonel Omer Lavoie (luh-Voy'), commander of the Canadian Battle Group, says Operation Baaz Tsuka (Falcon's Summit) is moving into its third and final phase.

Earlier this week, and under NATO direction, Canadian forces rolled into the village of Howz-e Madad week with a full contingent of tanks, armoured vehicles and infantry.

Things have gone well enough for the Canadian contingent that Lavoie has moved about two-thirds of his substantial military force to other, undisclosed areas.

Operation Baaz Tsuka is aimed at removing hardline Taliban leadership from the area south of Howz-e Madad.

The region was not part of the highly successful Operation Medusa led by Canadian troops earlier this year.

It's believed that three or four hundred Taliban members are in the region but so far there have been no battles of any kind.
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Afghan women, girls risk death for education
Updated Sat. Dec. 23 2006 10:11 PM ET CTV.ca News Staff
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While soldiering and policing are dangerous occupations in Afghanistan, teachers educating girls also run the risk of intimidation and death from the Taliban.

The Taliban believe educating girls is a violation of Islam. When in power, the repressive regime banned young women from attending school.

After NATO forces toppled the Taliban in late 2001, educating women became an important priority in rebuilding the country. However, the schools are far from safe.

The Taliban has turned to using terror, intimidation and even murder to keep girls at home.

Najuala Safida, a teacher at a girls' school in Kandahar, leaves for work every morning knowing she is risking her life.

"Last year, armed men from the Taliban came to my door at night," Safida said. "They told my husband, 'Your wife, the teacher, we are going to kill her'."

Despite the intimidation tactics, the number of young women attending classes continues to grow.
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A little reminder about how hard the Reconstruction of Afghanistan is

Afghan reconstruction a frustrating process
Updated Mon. Nov. 20 2006 11:12 PM ET CTV.ca News Staff
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Canada's provincial reconstruction team in Afghanistan's Kandahar province is using a strategy that gives local Afghans input in the rebuilding process.

But the program faces a mounting list of difficulties.

In one case, the soldiers bring Afghan doctors from the city to the remote region of Al Bach in Kandahar province to deliver medical care.

But minutes in, angry elders from a nearby village arrive demanding to know why they've been left out. "Where's our treatment, where's our gifts?" one man shouted.

The Canadian troops are now caught up in a tribal dispute with only one group getting most of the aid.

"I'm not about to get into village squabbles, I'm telling you right now," said Sgt. Nichola Bascon. "It's extremely frustrating."

Corruption is another frustration for the PRT, which is responsible for more than $100 million donated annually by Canada for the rebuilding process.

In February, Canada's military celebrated the groundbreaking for a new police station. But, nine months later, little has been built. The local engineer was fired for mismanagement.

"It's these kinds of missteps that have led many international aid groups to suggest Canada's military has no business being involved in reconstruction," said CTV's Steve Chao, reporting from Afghanistan. "But the reality is that in this dangerous region there are few alternatives."

The head of Kandahar's department for women understands the danger - the Taliban assassinated her predecessor.
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'The blast left the soldier on his back, staring at the mess of his leg'
Sunday Telegraph, Dec. 24 (video and pictures)

Struggling to sit up, Frederic Couture surveyed his torn trouser leg and the bloodied strips of flesh which were all that remained of his foot. A landmine had exploded, blowing the rest of it away. "I'm 21-years-old and I've lost my foot," he cried. "What am I going to do now?"

"You'll be fine," his comrades tried to reassure him, pulling hard on the tourniquet they had tied just above the ragged wound. "You'll be fine." But it was not true – not really.

The young Canadian private was inconsolable. "I'm 21 and I've lost my foot," he repeated. "What do you think I'm going to do?"

It was a beautiful, crisp winter morning on the Pashmul plain in Afghanistan's Kandahar province, the Taliban heartland and the scene of some of the fiercest fighting since the start of the war in 2001.

The patrol – Canadian and Afghan units, accompanied by The Sunday Telegraph – had intended to head out from a remote stronghold to assess the damage from months of fighting.

advertisementIt was the first day of Operation Falcon's Summit, a campaign involving British, Canadian and Afghan troops, which was launched last week. Its aim is to sweep away the hard-core Taliban and persuade local people, who fled weeks ago, to return to their homes.

The previous evening, after darkness fell, two terrorists had been shot dead while planting a bomb just 200 yards from the army outpost. It was not the first they had buried that night – but at the time, only they knew that.

Soon after dawn, the army patrol snaked out on to a narrow path alongside a wadi. The track was hard where it had been trodden down. But at the sides, where the ground sloped away, the earth was looser. That was where the Taliban had buried the mine.

Seven Afghan soldiers had already passed the spot when Pte Couture put down his left foot, triggering the explosion that was to change his life.

From 10 yards away, the blast assaulted the senses. Dust billowed outwards and the shock wave smashed into the eardrums. Knocked off balance, those nearest slid down into the wadi, seeking cover, fearing they had walked into an ambush.

Half a minute passed. There was shouting, soldiers running. Pte Couture was lying on his back across the path, his machine gun a little way away, his foot gone. But he was not screaming or shouting, just looking at the mess at the end of his leg. Shrapnel had also torn into his right thigh, but the bleeding was limited, the heat of the metal cauterising the wound.

His officer, Capt John Benson, and Cpl Frederick Morissette, the team's medic, were the first to his side. They worked on his wounds while the signaller called for a helicopter to fly him to hospital. The injured man was eased on to a green tarpaulin and handed down into the wadi. Ploughing through the thick mud, four soldiers carried him for 100 yards until they could transfer him to a stretcher and up to a waiting armoured ambulance.

Pte Couture was the first casualty of Falcon's Summit. He was taken to a military hospital in Kandahar and later flown to Germany. He had been in the army three years and now his military career was effectively over.

The blast demonstrated, in brutally unpleasant fashion, the problem Nato faces in convincing local people that they are safe from the Taliban.

The day before, about 30 tribal elders had crammed into a small room in a coalition base near Masum Gar to hear Sergeant Major Denis Tondreau, the man in charge of the reconstruction effort, explain how the coalition planned to deliver aid to their villages.

The sergeant major tried to allay their fears but the elders were unconvinced. Areas had been identified that were safe to return to, he told them. "Where are these areas?" the elders demanded. They did not believe it was safe to return, they said. Why was Nato not getting rid of the Taliban?

The answer was that the Canadians and the Afghan army were struggling to find, and identify, the elusive Taliban fighters.

The elders said it would take more than a couple of days of relative calm to convince them that the tide had turned.

One of the elders, Noor Mahamad, jabbed his finger at the Canadians. "You have all these weapons, why can't you find them?" he asked.

Capt Benson leaned forward. "We don't know where they are until they attack," he explained. And, as the next morning's events were to prove, even an attack does not necessarily reveal the whereabouts of the coalition's dangerous quarry.

General Hillier serves up Christmas
Inside former Taliban fortress

Brian Hutchinson, CanWest News Service, 25 Dec 06
Article Link

In a scene that bordered on the surreal, Canadian troops gathered inside a former Taliban stronghold yesterday to enjoy a traditional Christmas feast, served up by an eclectic delegation of visitors flown in for the occasion -- including Chief of Defense Staff Rick Hillier and comedian Rick Mercer.  Standing within a maze ancient fortress-like walls that until recently protected a hive of Taliban insurgents, and surrounded by a heavily armed Special Forces militia, General Hillier first delivered to the troops a speech that touched on hockey, off-beat soldier haircuts, and the task still ahead ....

Video shows aftermath of Taliban landmine blast
CTV.ca, 24 Dec 06
Article Link

Pte. Frederic Couture is recovering this Christmas season. He lost a foot to a Taliban landmine earlier this month.  However, what happened in the immediate aftermath of that horrible incident is a story of ordinary soldiers showing uncommon courage.  Couture -- a soldier in the Royal 22nd Regiment, or Vandoos of Quebec -- is nicknamed "Chest" by his comrades in arms.  They were all heading out for a meeting with village elders in Panjwaii District, where Canadians have fought some of their bloodiest battles since the Korean War.  This patrol on Dec. 16 helped kick off Operation Falcon Summit, the latest effort to keep the pressure on the Taliban in Panjwaii ....

More News on CAN in AFG here

No Christmas break for troops in Afghanistan
Agence France Presse, 25 Dec 06
Article Link

Tens of thousands of NATO and US-led troops celebrated Christmas in insurgency-hit Afghanistan as the bloodiest year since the fall of the Taliban drew near a close.  Military officials from the 30,000-strong International Security Assistance Force said the holiday offered them no pause in their hunt for Taliban militants.  "We're still operational. We'll have a Christmas meal and we'll have Christmas celebrations today with some music and and other entertainments," ISAF spokesman Captain Andre Salloum said on Monday ....

Troops celebrate white Afghan Christmas
Jason Straziuso, Associated Press, 25 Dec 06
Article Link

U.S. and NATO soldiers at bases in Bagram and Kabul woke up to a white Christmas as more than 6 nches of snow fell in central Afghanistan by midday Monday.  Soldiers wearing red Santa hats and even a couple dressed as elves walked around Camp Eggers — the main U.S. base in Kabul — entertaining troops, some of whom were packing fresh snowballs and launching them at each other.  "The white Christmas definitely makes me feel at home, actually," said Navy Master Chief Ozzie Nelson, who now lives in San Diego with his wife and five kids but spent winters growing up in the Rochester, N.Y., area.  More than 50 soldiers attended a Christmas-day church service at Eggers, where they sang traditional Christmas hymns ....

Identity of slain Taliban leader confirmed by forensics, U.S. military says
Alisa Tang, Associated Press, 25 Dec 06
Article Link

Forensic analysis and other information enabled the U.S. military to verify that a key associate of Taliban chief Mullah Omar was killed in an air strike in southern Afghanistan last week, a spokesman said Sunday.  The military is "very sure" it killed Mullah Akhtar Mohammad Osmani although it can't provide visual proof as his body was "obliterated" in Tuesday's attack on a vehicle traveling through Helmand province, said military spokesman Col. Tom Collins.  A Taliban spokesman has disputed that Osmani died in the attack, and identified another militant it claimed was killed ....

The Broadening Border War
Strategy Page, 28 Apr 06
Article Link

Mullah Akhtar Mohammed Osmani, a close aide to Taliban leader Mullah Mohammed Omar, has been cited by Afghan President Karzai as one of the four most dangerous Taliban leaders still in the country. He is apparently in command of Taliban forces in Kandahar (Qandahār) province. The province, which has 880,000 people, is a rugged area in the southern part of Afghanistan, against the Pakistani border. The Taliban has remained relatively stronger in Kandahar than in many other areas as a result of infiltration across the mountains from Pakistan, and tribal connections among the largely Pushtun inhabitants.

U.S. urges Pakistan to launch fresh military operations in tribal areas: report
People's Daily Online (CHN), 25 Dec 06
Article Link

The United States has asked Pakistan to launch fresh military operations in Waziristan tribal areas on the Pakistani-Afghan border against the suspected al- Qaeda and Taliban militants, the newspaper the Nation reported Monday, quoting diplomatic sources.  Washington has provided satellite images and other intelligence evidence to Pakistan about alleged hideouts of foreign and local militants in South and North Waziristans, two tribal agencies belonging to Pakistan's Federally Administrated Tribal Areas on the border, sources was quoted as saying by the Nation.  Accordingly, Pakistan's security officials were examining the information provided by the United States ....

Governor launches uplift projects in Helmand
Pajhwok Afghan News, 23 Dec 06
Article Link

New Governor of Helmand Asadullah Wafa Saturday launched several uplift projects as alternative livelihood for abandoning poppy cultivation in the southern Helmand province.  On recommendations by the Interior Ministry President Hamid Karzai has appointed Asadullah Wafa as new governor of Helmand. Wafa has also remained governor of Paktika, Kunar provinces and is currently also working as advisor to the President Hamid Karzai.  He was introduced to provincial officials during a ceremony held here. Administrative chief Abdul Malik Sidique, former governor of Helmand Engineer Daud, tribal elders and other government officials attended the ceremony.  Addressing a ceremony, Wafa said if the growers promised them of abandoning poppy cultivation and destroying the poisonous crops, he would launch some big projects in the province ....

German-led PRT provides free treatment to patients
Pajhwok Afghan News, 23 Dec 06
Article Link

German doctors have provided treatment to over 2,200 patients in Bagh-i-Shirkat area of the northern Kunduz province.  Lt Col Dr Safar, in charge of German-led PRT health branch, said 60 to 70 patients were treated and provided with free medicines once in a week. He said over 40% of the patients were children, who were mostly suffering from cough, cold and headache.  Safar said they shifted two to three serious patients to provincial PRT hospital. The patients were provided intensive medical care and were then discharged after one or two weeks, he added. He said they had treated 60 patients suffering from cardiac or orthopedic patients in PRT hospital ....

Insecurity halts learning in Zabul
Pak Tribune (PAK), 25 Dec 06
Article Link

Due to insecurity, round about 148 schools were closed in the southern Zabul province. According to officials, 22,000 students were deprived of the education in the region.  Mohammad Nabi Khushal, head of the Education Department, told Pajhwok Afghan News that only 33 out of the 181 schools were operative in the province. He said that remaining 148 schools were closed sine die due to different security reasons. Khushal said: "Early in the year, we have 40,000 students, that reduced to 18,000 at the end of the year." ....

Wind and lightning mark the arrival of Christmas in Afghanistan
Bill Graveland, Canadian Press, 25 Dec 06
Article Link

Lightning flashed, coyotes howled and a cold wind whistled through the observation post at forward operating base Mas'um Ghar. Christmas 2006 had arrived in Afghanistan.  Down below in the village of Bazar-e Panjwaii, a handful of lights remained on with the silhouette of the local mountain range looming in the darkness.  Christmas isn't forgotten here in Afghanistan, it is simply set aside until the troops here go home.  "I make it six days and 25 minutes," said Cpl. Dave Taylor of Owen Sound, Ont. checking his watch and who along with Pte. Ryan Argente, 30, of Edmonton are counting the days, minutes, and seconds until they head off on leave.  To mark the arrival of Christmas, soldiers in other military posts throughout the Panjwaii district sent up a number of flares into the pitch black sky, lighting up the landscape and turning the Arghandab River, which runs through the verdant landscape in the region, into a ribbon of silver ....

Canadian troops prepare to meet Taliban 'head-on'
Insurgents reportedly executed 26 residents of a village last week

Brian Hutchinson, Can West News Service, 26 Dec 06
Article Link - Permalink

Having savoured a warm holiday feast and a short break from their duties, Canadian soldiers are now preparing for the next phase of Operation Baaz Tsuka, the latest NATO-led campaign in the war against the Taliban.  While senior military officers have revealed little about what the next phase in the campaign will involve, they indicate that Canadian troops will confront the enemy head-on after avoiding "kinetic" contact over the first 10 days of the campaign.  Earlier, NATO announced that the village of Talukan, one of several Taliban strongholds in Panjwaii District, is "now secure," as are the villages of Howz-e Madad and Zangabad.  Talukan is the village where up to 26 residents were beheaded and hanged by Taliban fighters last week. While NATO has not confirmed the scale of the slaughter, first reported by Can West New Service, Canadian officers have received intelligence reports that describe the carnage and count the number killed at 26 ....

Taliban vows to continue jihad despite success of Operation Baaz Tsuka
Bill Graveland, Canadian Press, 25 Dec 06
Article Link

The jihad against NATO forces will continue despite the apparent success of Operation Baaz Tsuka a spokesman for the Taliban said Tuesday.  "The Jihad will be going on until we kick them out of Afghanistan," said Qari Yousaf Ahmadi in an interview with The Canadian Press by satellite phone.  "The non-Muslims came and occupied our country."  NATO forces launched Operation Baaz Tsuka with the goal of eliminating what it calls "tier-one Taliban" from the Panjwaii and Zhare districts. It is believed roughly three-quarters of Taliban fighters, still located in the area, are only in it for the money - and could be convinced to put down their weapons and return to their villages.  A number of villages in the Panjwaii and Zhare districts have been secured by Canadian and NATO forces with few fireworks so far. A number of U.S.-led air strikes has taken its toll on the Taliban with a number of commanders being killed ....

More News on CAN in AFG here

Opinion:  War's fatalities trigger anxiety
Robert Howard, Hamilton Spectator, 26 Dec 06
Article Link

.... Every death is one too many. There is nothing that makes up for the loss of a child, a spouse or a parent. But we can ensure the sacrifices so far -- and those to come -- are not in vain. We can see the job of defending and rebuilding Afghanistan to the end, and finish the work they began on our behalf.

Column:  Offer troops genuine thanks, not cheesy poems
Scott Taylor, Halifax Chronicle-Herald, 25 Dec 06
Article Link

THIS CHRISTMAS season the Canadian military has certainly been at the forefront of public festivities and the media coverage of these events. With 2,600 personnel on active service in the volatile Kandahar region, Canadians have launched a number of nationwide initiatives to show the troops they care about them — and their families at home ....

US endorses the Talibanisation of Afghanistan
Abid Mustafa, Global Politician, 26 Dec 06
Article Link

Lately, relations between Kabul and Islamabad have taken a dramatic turn for the worse. Hamid Karzai has accused Pakistan of spurring the Taliban to carry out attacks against his fledgling government and the NATO troops that defend it. He is not alone in holding Pakistan responsible for the re-emergence of the Taliban. NATO commanders, the New York Times and the International Crisis Group (ISG) have all pointed the finger at Pakistan for fomenting the Pushtoon resistance that shows no sign of abating.  On its part, the Musharraf government vehemently denies such accusations and continues to blame Karzai's government for its failure to include the Taliban and other militants as part of the national reconciliation drive. It must be stressed here-Pakistan is almost isolated on its present stance-evidence to the contrary shows that Islamabad has actively nurtured Taliban fighters to reassert their authority on towns and villages ceded to US led forces in the aftermath Taliban's collapse during the winter of 2001 ....

Pakistan to mine and fence Afghan border
Masroor Gilani, Agence France Presse, 26 Dec 06
Article Link

Pakistan has said it will fence and mine parts of its frontier with Afghanistan, amid allegations of militant infiltration across the border.  "(The) Pakistan army has been tasked to work out modalities of selectively fencing and mining the border," Foreign Secretary Riaz Mohammad Khan told a news conference Tuesday.  "These measures will supplement the measures which are already enforced to prevent militant activity from Pakistan inside Afghanistan," Khan said.  He said fencing and mining would be "one of the measures which will help prevent militants from crossing into Afghanistan" ....

Pakistan plans to secure Afghan border
Sadaqat Jan, Associated Press, 26 Dec 06
Article Link

Pakistan will fence and land mine parts of its border with Afghanistan to prevent cross-border militancy, the Foreign Ministry said Tuesday.  The announcement comes amid growing international criticism of Pakistan over alleged infiltration of Taliban and al-Qaida militants from the country's border regions into Afghanistan.  "In keeping with our policy to prevent any militant activity from Pakistan inside Afghanistan, the Pakistan army has been tasked to work out modalities for selectively fencing and mining the Pakistan-Afghanistan border," Foreign Secretary Riaz Mohammed Khan told a news conference.  Islamabad also will deploy additional paramilitary troops at the frontier, Khan said ....

Pakistan to fence, mine Afghan border
Kamran Haider, Reuters, 26 Dec 06
Article Link

Pakistan said on Tuesday it would fence and mine parts of its border with Afghanistan to try to stop Taliban rebels crossing to wage their growing rebellion.  Afghanistan, increasingly critical of Pakistan for not doing enough to stop cross-border incursions, immediately rejected the plan as neither helpful nor practical.  "It will be done selectively ... the armed forces have been asked, they have been tasked, to work out the modalities," Pakistani Foreign Secretary Riaz Mohammad Khan told a news conference in Islamabad.  "This is a part of our established policy. We are taking measures to prevent any militant activity from Pakistan inside Afghanistan." ....

Articles found 26 December 2006

Dark humour on a grim holiday
No Article Link


It was our midnight mass — that and the sound of flares and the occasional burp of machine-gun fire and the claps of thunder and the roar of light armoured vehicles and the crunch of machine and boots on gravel, all of it melding into the low ominous rumble that forms the elevator music of this spooky place.

The soldiers of Charles Company Combat Team, 1st Battalion Tthe sic Royal Canadian Regiment, got some extra shut-eye, with reveille at 8 on Christmas morning not the usual 5:45 or 6. And then they were up for the normal standing-around period, or one of them, which make up the grunt's life when all is quiet.

Next thing, a couple of vehicles went the few kilometres up to Ma'sum Ghar, the next little Canadian base south of here and just down the Panjwai Valley, to fetch the Christmas meals.

Sergeant-Major John Barnes gathered the boys around then, in the centre of the gravel that, with a row of HESCO bunkers and a few Sea Can trailers and some tents, is this little base, nothing more.

"Make sure you know where your kit [flak jacket and helmet] is," he said, "in case we start taking incoming rounds."

The 40-year-old Officer Commanding of Charles Company, Major Matthew Sprague, had a few words. He's not one for speeches, but managed to be profound and revealing despite himself, as often he is.

"I ******* hate Christmas," Major Sprague said. "But I can think of no better spot for Charles Company to have Christmas than here, right on the ground where this thing all started about four months ago. This place I think will always have special meaning, for a lot of reasons, not necessarily all good reasons.

"No group of people in the entire ******* Canadian Forces more deserves this than you do.

"When you guys look in the mirror, be proud of what you've done, of what you've become. You're the ******* best, and that's the way it is.

"Padre, grace."

From profane to sacred in an instant is the soldier's way, and without missing a beat, Padre Guy Chapdelaine said a few words, and the grub — turkey, mashed potatoes, veggies and all the chips and cookies a soldier could want — was on.

This is ground zero for Charles Company, where their hairy, shoot-'em-up tour of southern Afghanistan began, and where their fallen fell. Virtually every place that is hallowed to them — the notorious so-called White School; the dun-coloured fields that in summer were green and lush with marijuana plants three metres tall and that they crossed as they closed in on the school; the big ditch where one LAV got stuck and the men inside found themselves surrounded by Taliban; the place where the Zettelmeyer, an armoured version of a bulldozer, was attacked and is now buried beneath the ground — are all here, or within a few hundred meters.

The company was barely on the ground in Afghanistan late last August when, leaving Patrol Base Wilson about five kilometres north, a convoy made the sharp left turn onto the highway and into a rocket propelled grenade that signalled the start of an ambush that lasted five full kilometres and 45 minutes.

"It was terrifying," Sgt.-Major Barnes, who was in the back of the OC's LAV, says. "It really was. You had no control. I felt things hitting the vehicle, but even more importantly hitting the road, and you felt the vehicle rock, and you were waiting for that one that went through the LAV."

Sept. 3, about 6 a.m., Charles Company crossed the Arghandab River, toward the White School, and found themselves in a fierce gun battle that lasted a good five hours, taking two casualties — the first, Warrant Officer Rick Nolan, up at the front in a G-Wagon, the second Sergeant Shane Stachnik of the 2nd Combat Engineer Regiment at Petawawa, Ont., killed when his LAV was hit by an .82 mm recoilless rifle.

Sgt.-Major Barnes was the one to pull Sgt. Stachnik's body out of the vehicle to safety. "It wasn't real at first," he says. "It didn't really affect me at first. Then a minute or two later, I walked around the vehicle and threw up."

It was the crew of Master-Corporal Sean Neifer's LAV who got WO Nolan into their vehicle, but as they headed for the breach that would buy them a measure of safety, the LAV ended up in a ditch instead, stuck, its wheels spinning. They could hear, see, smell Taliban all around them; the vehicle was hit twice by RPGs already and they knew it was just a matter of time before something would penetrate the hull, and they would all die. The order to abandon boat came then, breaking Corporal Drew Berthiaume's heart because he couldn't bear the thought of leaving WO Nolan behind, whom he would have followed anywhere, even for a minute.

They were trying to lower the rear ramp on the LAV when the third RPG struck it squarely; because of the vehicle's position in the ditch, the ramp would open only 15 centimetres, saving them all.

They left through the small emergency door in the ramp, rolling into the ditch, then running 100 metres on open ground under fire to a makeshift casualty collection point, then finally to another, set up between a mound of earth and the Zettelmeyer that was parked there — or rather, right here, where now the Christmas dinner was being served.

They were all there, breathing hard, starting to shake the way you do after, when another .82 mm. round came in, killing Warrant Officer Frank Mellish, who had come over when he heard his friend WO Nolan had been killed, and Private Will Cushley, a dear gangly boy of 21 from Port Lambton, Ont.

M-Cpl. Neifer, 28, was standing between them, unscathed, when they fell.

The next day, Sept. 4, they were getting ready to head back to the White School for round two, standing around all sleepy, when an American A-10 airplane mistakenly strafed the company, killing Private Mark Graham and wounding 38 others.

By October, Charles was patched up, Sgt.-Major Barnes and the OC, both of whom had been wounded — Major Sprague seriously and healing in Canada for about seven weeks — back at the helm. They were based then at Strong Point Centre, a reinforced position, and heading across the road to Strong Point West for almost daily gun battles.

Sgt.-Major Barnes would no sooner suggest an early lunch when, as if on cue, the fighting would start. The A-10s would be overhead, bullets and RPGs filling the air, and the Sergeant-Major would be on the radio, reading aloud from a pornographic magazine to keep the boys amused.

This is Charles Company's world — death, loss, pain, black humour to get them through it.

So this was Christmas, 2006: They ate their dinner under tarps in a cold rain, lined up to call or e-mail home, played video games and cards, said prayers and swore, watched the mists roll in and hide the mountains.

As Major Sprague says, "I don't think anyone really feels anything about anything to be honest. Walls are up, everywhere, emotional barriers are up." Perhaps in the spring, when Charles Company is home, they will fall.

Christmas storms into Afghanistan
Article Link

MAS'UM GHAR, Afghanistan -- Lightning flashed, coyotes howled and a cold wind whistled through the observation post at forward operating base Mas'um Ghar. Christmas 2006 had arrived in Afghanistan.

Christmas isn't forgotten here in Afghanistan, it is simply set aside until the troops here go home.

"I make it six days and 25 minutes," said Cpl. Dave Taylor of Owen Sound, Ont., checking his watch and who along with Pte. Ryan Argente, 30, of Edmonton are counting the days until they head off on leave.

To mark the arrival of Christmas, soldiers in other military posts throughout the Panjwaii district sent up a number of flares into the night sky, lighting up the landscape.

"Things like Christmas, it gets put on hold. We're out here, it's Christmas time, we're handing around presents and Santa came to visit," said Argente, who now calls Vancouver home.

"Everyone knows it's Christmas, but even when we get home months afterward, that's going to be the real Christmas time when we're home with our families," he added.
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Afghanistan Rejects Pakistan's Plan to Fence, Land Mine Border to Stem Militancy
Tuesday, December 26, 2006
Article Link

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan  —  Pakistan will fence and land mine parts of its border with Afghanistan to prevent cross-border militancy, the Foreign Ministry said Tuesday. Afghanistan quickly rejected the plan.

Pakistan will also deploy additional paramilitary troops at the frontier, Foreign Secretary Riaz Mohammed Khan told a news conference.

"Rather than beating around the bush, we must confront terrorists in a real manner," said Khaleeq Ahmed, a spokesman for Afghan President Hamid Karzai. "Fencing or mining the border is neither helpful or practical. That's why we are against it. The border is not where the problem lies.

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Christmas in Afghanistan: Mr. Harper's on the phone
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Ottawa -- Prime Minister Stephen Harper placed phone calls over Christmas to Canadians serving in Afghanistan, a statement from his office said yesterday.

Mr. Harper made two separate calls coinciding with Christmas celebrations in Afghanistan, the statement said.

The first was on Christmas Eve to Canadian Forces personnel, development workers, police and diplomats who are members of Canada's provincial reconstruction team.

He made the second call Christmas morning to Canadian Forces personnel at Kandahar Air Field. CP
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Recruits don't want combat jobs
Air force, support roles interest those considering Forces careers
David ******** The Ottawa Citizen Tuesday, December 26, 2006
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Comedian Rick Mercer speaks to Canadian troops at Strong Point West in Panjwaii district, Afghanistan on Sunday. (CP/Bill Graveland)

Canadians considering joining the military want to go into either support jobs or the air force, according to a newly released survey commissioned by the Defence Department.

And the vast majority -- 72 per cent -- say they would join the reserve forces, rather than committing to a full-time military career.

The report, which was produced in September, presented the results of a public opinion survey of almost 2,000 people conducted to determine the level of interest in joining the Canadian Forces.

The last such survey conducted by the Defence Department was done in 2000.

"Respondents with any interest in joining show the greatest preference for the support occupations, followed by the Air Force occupations, and then the Army, with the Navy occupations being of least interest," according to the report obtained by the Citizen.

One in five surveyed said they are at least somewhat interested in joining the Canadian Forces, down slightly from 2000, the report pointed out. About 13 per cent said they may visit a recruiting centre in the next year.

What effect the data might have on the Canadian Forces recruiting process and advertising is not certain at this point since the information is still in draft form, military officials said.
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Canadian Soldiers In Afghanistan Break For Christmas
December 26, 2006 7:26 a.m. EST
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Danielle Godard - All Headline News Staff Writer
Kandahar, Afghanistan (AHN) - A momentary respite from fighting was greeted with stormy weather in Kandahar this Christmas, as Canadian service men and women celebrated the holiday, worlds away from their families.

Though the day was effectively a typical workday, bagpipe music, turkey dinner, a beer allowance and the General's visit that also saw him serving Privates their meals, set the mood for a festive Christmas celebration at the soggy Afghan airstrip.

Conservative MPs from Alberta and BC flew in to join the party and were joined by comedians Rick Mercer, Mary Walsh and many more Canadian icons who were grateful for the soldiers' effort.

General Rick Hiller served the festive meal in the mess tent on the base, and was thrilled with the morale of the fighting men and women he met.

"I've met 1,500 people so far," said General Hiller.

"I've been inspired by their devotion to their jobs."

The Canadian troops also held the opening ceremony of "Canada House" on Monday, which serves as a recreational centre for off-duty soldiers.
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Year of bloody terror
Clive Williams December 26, 2006 11:00pm
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THIS past year has been one of the bloodiest on record for terrorism, largely due to the ongoing carnage in Iraq. As many as 655,000 Iraqis have been killed during this war since 2003, a Johns Hopkins University study claims.

I define terrorism as "politically (including socially and religiously) motivated violence, mainly directed against non-combatants, intended to shock and terrify, to achieve a strategic outcome".
Terrorism may be perpetrated by individuals, groups or states.

Historically, states have been far more efficient at killing civilians than individuals or groups.

In 2006, the war in Lebanon between Hezbollah and Israel accounted for 1183 Lebanese and 163 Israeli deaths. Ethnic cleansing in Darfur, Sudan, has resulted in at least 300,000 deaths since 2003.

The multi-faceted Afghanistan conflict accounted for at least 4000 Afghan deaths in 2006, while NATO/US forces there suffered nearly 200 deaths during the year.

The tit-for-tat terrorism, since September 2000, between the Palestinians and Israelis in Gaza and the West Bank has resulted in about 4400 Palestinian deaths and 1100 Israeli deaths. This year, the ratio of Palestinian deaths to Israeli deaths moved closer to 10 to one, notwithstanding the recent Hamas versus Fatah violence.

Numbers do not, of course, tell the full story. Terrorists and insurgents play for time and encourage their adversaries to kill civilians as it suits their purpose.

Every civilian that an "occupation" force kills in Iraq, Afghanistan, Palestine or Chechnya makes them more enemies.

Time will always beat capability. It is a truism that military forces and politicians don't yet seem ready to acknowledge, despite all the evidence.

In terms of operations by terrorist groups in the West, they are having less success against better prepared security services
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Afghan women suffer daily violence
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Five years ago, after the fall of the Taleban, Afghanistan's new government pledged swift action to improve the lives of women.

But a recent report by the international women's organisation Womankind Worldwide said millions of Afghan women and girls continue to face discrimination and violence in their day-to-day lives.

The BBC's Afghan service has been talking to Afghan women about their lives.

Afghan women's rights groups acknowledge that women now have a variety of rights which they didn't have under Taleban rule.
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Clashes leave 2 militants dead, 7 wounded in E. Afghanistan
December 26, 2006         
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Clashes between Afghan police and anti-government militants left two rebels dead and seven others wounded in Afghanistan's eastern Paktika province, provincial governor Akram Khapalwak said Monday.

The incidents took place in the districts of Barmal and Gomal along the border with Pakistan, he added.

"Taliban militants attacked police checkpoints in Bermal and Gomal districts Sunday night and police encountered. As a result two rebels were killed and seven others were wounded," Khapalwak told Xinhua.

Two policemen also sustained injuries during the fire exchange which lasted for about one hour, he added.

Meantime, a statement released by the U.S.-led coalition forces here said that the personnel of Afghan army and police backed by the coalition's air power defeated Taliban fighters in Bermal district Monday.

However, it did not give more details on whether there were any casualties on militants side.

Nearly 4,000 people, mostly militants, have been killed in Taliban-linked insurgency so far this year in Afghanistan, according to officials.

Source: Xinhua

White Christmas falls on Afghanistan 
December 26, 2006         
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Foreign troops in Afghanistan woke up to a white Christmas and snowball fights yesterday.

More than 15 centimetres of snow fell overnight on some American and NATO bases in central Afghanistan. Soldiers wearing red Santa hats and even a couple dressed as elves walked around Camp Eggers, the main US base in Kabul, as others hurled snowballs.

"The white Christmas definitely makes me feel at home," said Navy Master Chief Ozzie Nelson, who grew up with cold winters in New York State.

Shoppers, meanwhile, packed malls awash with tinsel, plastic pine trees and special promotions in mostly Buddhist Japan and predominantly Hindu India, reflecting the ever-growing commercialization of the season worldwide.

But for the most part Christians, who represent a minority in most Asian nations, celebrated the birth of Jesus with services and family feasts. In the Philippines, where those practicing the faith are in the majority, a flurry of mobile phone text greetings swamped networks.

Those wishing to celebrate in Sri Lanka, where the resurgence of a civil war has resulted in spiralling inflation, complained that with the price of eggs and butter six times higher than usual there would be no cake this year.

Residents in Australia's drought-affected southeast danced in the streets as summer rains drenched wildfires that have burned out of control for the past three weeks, enabling around 800 volunteer firefighters to go home to their families for Christmas.

"It rained all last night and this morning," said Kirrily Pay, a hotel manager in Woods Point, Victoria, which has been under threat from the blazes. "We had the biggest party, we were absolutely ecstatic, we can't believe we're still here."

Source: China Daily

A global search for truth
Dec. 26, 2006, 7:36AM
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From Dr. Phil to Afghanistan, polygraph expert puts a wide range of subjects to test
By BRIAN ROGERS Copyright 2006 Houston Chronicle

A Houston polygraph operator who uses his skills to keep convicted felons in line will make his nationwide television debut next month on the Dr. Phil talk show, using his machine to help the TV psychologist settle a long-standing dispute.

However, John Swartz probably will miss seeing the show because he will be halfway around the world giving lie-detector tests to Afghan police who have been recruited to fight the re-emerging opium trade in that region.

These are the latest chapters of a busy career that has taken Swartz around the world for the past 35 years.

Swartz, 54, has been asking the questions and watching the needles bounce in Houston since 1995. Before that, he spent 24 years with the Justice Department, including a long stint administering lie-detector tests for the Drug Enforcement Administration in South America.

Now in the private sector, Swartz makes his living keeping convicted criminals on the straight and narrow.

While the results of his tests are not admissible in court, they can be used to send probationers and parolees back to jail, Swartz said.

The lie detector is a tool courts are finding especially useful, particularly when it comes to sexual predators, he said.

State District Judge Denise Collins agrees. In 1996, she hired Swartz to interview convicted sexual offenders to get a complete sexual history as a condition of probation. The practice has spread to the other courts during the past 10 years, Swartz said.

By giving a full sexual history there is a record of everything the offender did.

These interviews, Swartz said, can be eye-opening in the depth and breadth of information, including disclosure of previously unidentified victims and incidents.
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Afghani official: Afghanistan wants rapprochement between West and Iran Kabul
Dec 25, IRNA
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Afghanistan Foreign Ministry Spokesman Sultan Ahmad Behin told private TV station "Toloo'" on Monday that Afghanistan wants improvement of relations between Iran and the West.

He added, "We have historical ties with Iran and the level of relations will never decrease."
Concerning official stance of Afghanistan government on the UN Security Council resolution for Iran, the spokesman added, a third country will not affect bilateral relations between the two neighbors.

He also expressed hope that his country will try to improve ties between Iran and the west.

The TV channel quoted Iran's president as saying that "Iran is not worried about the UN Security Council resolution."
It added, President Ahmadinejad has called the measure unjust and illegal.

Quoting some remarks of Iran's president, Toloo network continued, "I am sorry for you, because you lost the opportunity of Iranian friendship while you are not able to harm Iranians."
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Soldier leads special ops in Afghanistan
CHRIS GRAY, cgray@newsreview.info December 24, 2006
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Sutherlin man delivers holiday cheer to fellow troops in the form of hot meals

Loading the chopper up with turkey, ham, salad and cold drinks, Command Sgt. Major Jeff McClure had a special mission in mind Nov. 23 in Afghanistan.

The Sutherlin resident of the Oregon Army National Guard delivered hot Thanksgiving dinners to troops who were far away from their southern Afghanistan base in Qalat, which is in a state bordering Pakistan.

Many of these troops hadn’t had anything better than a packaged meal for months.

“To see the look on their face, I know they appreciate it,” McClure told Scott Kesterson, a video blogger for KGW.com in Portland and The Huffington Post, an online newspaper. “It hits you right in the heart.”

Kesterson’s coverage of the Thanksgiving meal deliveries depicted McClure and other soldiers flying many of the meals into remote locales by helicopter.

McClure’s parents, Loren and Judy McClure of Sutherlin, said their son was hoping to repeat the mission as Operation Candy Cane for Christmas Day, which in Afghanistan begins at 11:30 a.m. PST today. Afghanistan is 12 1/2 hours ahead of Oregon.

“All I know is he’s requested air support,” said Judy McClure.

“He’s a very personable guy,” Loren McClure said. “He takes care of his troops.”

Jeff McClure has been in Afghanistan since February. His ex-wife and three daughters, Nikki, Megan and Rachel, live in Green.

As a command sergeant major, McClure is the highest-ranked enlisted man. He was out in the field and could not be reached by e-mail before press time Saturday night.

McClure volunteered to serve a tour in Afghanistan as a soldier in the active National Guard
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ADB backing energy cooperation between Afghanistan and Tajikistan
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KABUL: The Asian Development Bank (ADB) is backing a project to tap Tajikistan’s power surplus to meet shortfalls in neighboring Afghanistan through loans to the two countries totaling US$56.5 million.

Tajikistan’s annual generated capacity is 4,405 MW, most of which comes from hydropower. An annual surplus of about 1,500 gigawatt-hours is available for export, but only for about half a year during the spring-summer period. Part of the surplus is already exported through Uzbekistan via its southern grid while the rest is not utilized.

Afghanistan, on the other hand, faces serious power supply shortages, which are expected to become more acute as demand grows. Its power generation, transmission and distribution systems have been severely damaged by years of conflict. All around the country, including the capital Kabul, power is available for just a few hours a day.

To meet the needs of both countries, the project will construct a 220 kilovolt double circuit transmission line that will link the hydropower stations on Tajikistan’s Vakhsh River to the border town of Sherkan Bandar, then to Kunduz, Baglad, Pul-e-Khumri and, ultimately, Kabul in Afghanistan.

The project will also include new investments and upgrading in Tajikistan that will help reduce the winter power deficit by boosting the available level of generation and decreasing technical losses in the south of the country resulting in an additional 320 gigawatt-hours annually.

"The project offers a win-win situation for both Afghanistan and Tajikistan," says Xavier Humbert, an ADB Energy Specialist. "It will restore power supply and reduce costs for consumers in the former while allowing Tajikistan to export 300 megawatts."

The total net economic benefits of regional cooperation of the project are estimated to be US$114 million, split fairly evenly between the two countries.

ADB’s loans - US$35 million to Afghanistan and US$21.5 to Tajikistan - come from its concessional Asian Development Fund and carry a 32 year term, including a grace period of 8 years. Interest on each is charged at 1% per annum during the grace period and 1.5% during the rest of the term.

Other financiers of the project, which will cost an estimated US$109.5 million, are the OPEC Fund for International Development, Islamic Development Bank, Afghanistan Reconstruction Trust Fund, and the Afghanistan and Tajikistan governments.
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ANALYSIS:Incredible line on Afghanistan
Rasul Bakhsh Rais
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Pakistan’s relationship with Afghanistan is strategically too important for stability and peace within Pakistan and in the region to be left to the private groups or be subject to any ambiguity or ambivalence on Pakistan’s part

The world around Pakistan and beyond has changed during the past five years, and the pace of change is likely to quicken further in the coming years. What has changed is too obvious even to an ordinary observer. But let’s recap.

Afghanistan continues to remain troubled and uncertainty about its future hangs thick. This will have serious security repercussions for Pakistan. Under the American guns and thunder, Iraq is now a failed state and on the verge of disintegration along ethnic and sectarian lines. What should concern Pakistan and other Muslims states is the destructive sectarian civil war that has sucked in Iran and is likely to draw Arab states into this conflict. The issue of Islam, ethnicity and the contest over political power in the emerging Central Asian states will also have vibrations in all directions.

Located at the crossroads of ethnic and religious polarisations, Pakistan is caught in deadly crossfire. One the one side are the United States-led western countries trying to win two wars and shaping the security of these regions according to their vision of peace and stability. On the other hand are theocratic Iran and Islamists with a different agenda of political change and national security. It may not necessarily be the infamous clash of cultures, but a bipolar worldview on what is good for the Muslims societies and who has the right and responsibility to define that good has definitely emerged.

This is not a simple question; it involves larger issues of state sovereignty, regional autonomy and self-determination of peoples, communities and nations. The Southwest region and Afghanistan have reached a new boiling point and it is unclear if our policymakers have the vision, depth and the sense of history to grasp the political and security trends and realise the dangers ahead.

Instead of relying on the robustness of institutions and the depth of collective thinking on national security issues, we lack clarity, remain ambivalent and rely heavily on ‘great men’ to give us direction. It should be obvious that relations with Afghanistan constitute the most important regional relationship for Pakistan in terms of the latter’s security. Consider the elements that impinge on Pakistan’s national security: common ethnicity, porous borders, migration, refugees and movement of non-state actors, to list a few and it should be clear that the insecurity and instability of Afghanistan will have great impact on our own stability and security.
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Truck driver sends Christmas trees to troops in Iraq, Afghanistan
The Associated Press  Sunday, December 24, 2006 at 8:25 pm
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WESTMINSTER, Md. — A truck driver has sent 75 Christmas trees festooned with battery-operated lights and shiny ornaments to homesick troops in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Jim Ward of Westminster got the idea after his daughter, Army Spec. Luisa Gonzalez, was deployed two months ago to a base north of Baghdad.

When Ward thought of her alone on Christmas, he decided that the best way to give her some holiday cheer was to send a Christmas tree.

“These soldiers are risking their lives over there and can’t even spend Christmas with their families,” said Ward, 33, who delivers trees for a nursery. “Don’t they at least deserve a Christmas tree to remind them of home while they’re stuck there?”

To get a tree to Iraq, he had to think small. His solution: Charlie Browns, 2-foot-high trees named after the classic Christmas cartoon special in which one was featured.

The trees were short enough to be easily shipped inside a box. And at just $7.98 each, Ward could afford to send them to dozens of other Americans fighting overseas.

He ended up shipping 35 trees to his daughter’s company and the rest to Marines from Fort Detrick in Frederick and his brother-in-law’s unit in Afghanistan.

The live potted trees arrived in a box emblazoned with the logo Operation Christmas Tree, along with lights and ornaments.

“Everyone was just in shock. Here we are in the middle of Iraq, and suddenly it smells like Christmas,” said Gonzalez. The 22-year-old medic was randomly assigned a two-week leave and is back home for Christmas.
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Afghanistan to suspend diplomatic missions in 3 countries
December 25, 2006        
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Afghanistan has decided to suspend its diplomatic missions in one African and two Asian states, spokesman of the country's foreign ministry Sultan Ahmad Baheen said Monday.

"For the time being the foreign ministry would suspend its embassies in Sudan, Kyrgyzstan and Syria," Baheen told Xinhua.

The decision would come into effect from beginning 2007, he stressed.

Counting financial problems for taking such step, he added that the aim of the decision was to save money.

"In order to prevent unnecessary expenditure and support some other diplomatic missions, the foreign ministry has taken this step," the spokesman further said.

He also hinted at suspending more Afghan diplomatic missions by saying more embassies could be suspended in the future, but he did not give more details.

Source: Xinhua

More Articles found 26 December 2006

Canadian Soldier chosen CP Newsmaker of 2006
Updated Mon. Dec. 25 2006 11:42 PM ET Canadian Press
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MAS'UM GHAR, Afghanistan -- Standing at an observation post in the heart of Taliban country, Pte. Conrad Craig of Edmonton was in a reflective mood on what it means to be a Canadian soldier.

The 23-year-old member of the Princess Patricia's Canadian Light Infantry is keenly aware of the changing status for the Canadian soldier in the eyes of Canadians and the world. Their mission in Afghanistan and the sacrifices they have endured have put Canadian troops at the forefront of public attention.

"I've always been proud to be a Canadian soldier,'' said Craig, looking through binoculars for possible threats among the lush-green grape orchards in the restive district west of Kandahar city. "Always will be and even if I ever do get out, I'll always be a Canadian soldier.''

The men and women of the Canadian Forces have dominated news coverage in 2006 and as such, editors and broadcasters across the country have chosen the Canadian Soldier as Canada's Newsmaker of the Year in the annual poll by The Canadian Press and Broadcast News.

"The issue of Canada's involvement in Afghanistan has been on the lips, and in the hearts, of Canadians all year,'' said Gary MacDougall, managing editor of the Charlottetown Guardian, in explaining his newsmaker choice.

"The sight of flag-draped caskets bearing the bodies of brave, young Canadian men and women is not one Canadians are accustomed to. On the one hand Canadians are proud of the actions of their military, and on the other hand confused at how we suddenly become embroiled in such a violent conflict.''

Chief of Defence Staff Gen. Rick Hillier was pleased when informed about the choice for Newsmaker of the Year.

"The mere fact that anybody would even consider . . . the Canadian soldier, and I use the soldier in the most generic term -- air, land and sea -- because they're all there in Afghanistan, reflects the fact that Canadians have really realized the importance of the Canadian Forces, the role that it plays in our society, how it helps protect Canadian interests, at home, around the continent and internationally.

"I think it's an incredible compliment to Canadian soldiers.''

It's only the second time in the 60-year history of the CP-BN Newsmaker of the Year survey that the nation's newsrooms have made a symbolic selection over a specific person. In 1992, the voters chose the constitutional referendum on the Meech Lake accord.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper was the runner-up in the 2006 survey, garnering 52 votes to the 73 cast for the Canadian soldier. Maher Arar, the Syrian-born Canadian who was deported to his native country and tortured as a result of faulty information passed on from the RCMP to U.S. officials, came in third with 29 votes.

Many of those who picked this year's Newsmaker of the Year said they did so because of the changing image of the Canadian soldier as a result of the conflict in Afghanistan.

"For the first time in a generation Canadian soldiers are being recruited, trained and sent to a war zone,'' said Jim Poling, managing editor of the Hamilton Spectator. "This story is a new chapter in Canadian history and the implications are broad and dramatic. It is a cross-generational story.''

Added Bill Scriven, managing editor of the Sentinel Review in Woodstock, Ont.: "Canadians have made it clear that while they do not support the war in Afghanistan, they proudly support the efforts of the Canadian troops.''

Just a few years ago, supporters of Canada's military felt they were in an uphill battle for public recognition.

The fighting force that distinguished itself with bravery and tenacity in the Second World War and in Korea had in subsequent decades taken on the role of an international peacekeeper. But the Canadian Forces has had to struggle to remain effective in the face of multimillion-dollar budget cuts from a succession of governments.

That began to change on Sept. 11, 2001.

The stunning attacks on the United States by Osama bin Laden's al-Qaida organization prompted a military response. Within months, Canadian troops were in Afghanistan as part of the U.S.-led coalition which toppled the Taliban government that had offered sanctuary to al-Qaida terror training camps.

Vote totals
Results of poll in the 2006 Canadian Press, Broadcast News poll to determine Canada's Newsmaker of the Year:

Canadian Soldier, 73

Stephen Harper, 52

Maher Arar, 29

Stephane Dion, 7

Cindy Klassen, 7

Kimveer Gill, 4

Belinda Stronach, 2

Giuliano Zaccardelli, 1

---Canadian PressBut Taliban insurgents held areas where their influence is deep-rooted -- such as Kandahar province, where most of Canada's 2,500 troops are deployed. Canada found itself taking on more of a leadership role, and its military slowly started building its new reputation.

Over the past year, Canadian troops have led the battle against the Taliban, spearheading Operation Medusa on the insurgents' home turf. The fighting resulted in the largest number of Canadian battlefield casualties since the Korean War, keeping Canadians riveted to developments in Afghanistan.

Forty-four Canadian soldiers have died in Afghanistan since 2002, but 36 of those deaths came in the last year. The sudden increase in deaths has changed the image of Canadian troops from those of traditional peacekeeping to a combat army.

Canadians battling Taliban insurgents are reluctant to brag about their accomplishments. They show pride only when talking about fellow soldiers or about their jobs.

"I adore it. There's nothing I would rather do than be in the Canadian army,'' said Sgt. Abdul Guindo of Quebec City, who has encountered more than a dozen attacks by the Taliban and suicide bombers while on convoy duty.

He said it's time Canadians get over their obsession with peacekeeping and accept that Canadian troops are now at war.

"We've been recognized as a fighting force, which we've always been, but we got out of the peacekeeper mentality,'' Guindo said. "Yes, we are peacekeepers but we are soldiers first. And at times you have to soldier on and then be a peacekeeper.''

Soldiers say fighting the Taliban is a badge of honour, combined with the attempts to help with the reconstruction of Afghanistan.

"No one in their right mind wants to actually get into a firefight, but you do what you have to do and everything works out,'' Pte. Craig said.

"This is what we do. I would like us to be able to keep doing what we've been doing. Humanitarian aid and getting the people on our side,'' he said.

"It's absolutely worth it. If nobody's helping it's all going to go downhill from here,'' chipped in Master Cpl. Jon Weiss, 32, of Winnipeg.

Recognition of the Canadian soldier has captured the imagination of people at home.

Remembrance Day ceremonies have been crowded with both veterans and the younger generation, who are experiencing the loss of war through news reports and ramp ceremonies that send fallen soldiers home.

There is a move afoot to have Canadians adopt "Red Fridays,'' which began at Canadian Forces Base Petawawa, Ont., where people wear the colour red to recognize Canadian troops. Curlers at the Scotties Tournament of Hearts have been asked to wear red to honour Canadian troops at the national women's curling championship in Lethbridge, Alta., in February.

Watching the valour of his troops on the battlefield is the head of the Canadian Expeditionary Force Command, Lt.-Gen. Mike Gauthier.

"Afghanistan has been an illuminating point. This is unlike anything a Canadian soldier has experienced since Korea,'' Gauthier said on a visit to Kandahar.

"The mission here is about rebuilding a nation,'' Gauthier said.

"This is history in the making and it's not just Afghan history. It's Canadian history that is being written. These are historic times for Canadian soldiers -- historic times for Canada.''

Merry Christmas ... from Afghanistan
By Amy V. Talit, The Bristol Press 12/25/2006
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Email to a friend
Christmas is a time for families to be together, but for those families with a loved one serving overseas in the military, "home for the holidays" is not a reality.

In Connecticut, and the rest of the country, lights strung up around houses and trees give off a warm glow reminding people that it is the time of year to be thankful, joyous and giving.
Overseas, the only thing strung up around the soldiers' "homes" is the concertina wire surrounding their base protecting them from the enemy. Instead of battling the crowded malls in an attempt to buy the perfect holiday gift, "a parade of [military] vehicles, weapons bristling, leave the wire on dangerous patrol missions out into the villages and countryside."
"There are no holidays here except for what is carried in one's own heart and the love, encouragement and food sent by loved ones at home," wrote Sgt. 1st Class David Carello, a Bristol police officer serving in Eastern Afghanistan with the Army National Guard HHC First Battalion 102nd Infantry, in an e-mail.
"There are brothers here, mothers and fathers, sisters too," Carello wrote, "and no soldier goes without, that another soldier gladly shares the last of what he has with him."
Though Carello is usually assigned to a unit based at Camp Rell in Niantic, the New Haven-based unit needed soldiers with his particular rank for its tour of duty.
Carello, who has never been deployed during the holidays, left home last January and has been in Afghanistan since April, training Afghan forces in the use of the AK-47 rifle, as well as several other military and police tactics and techniques.
Carello's wife of almost 10 years, Joanne, said, "Emotionally it's kind of draining, but I just keep on trucking."
"I'm not in as a bad a position as most because I don't have little kids around," she said
Carello has two sons, Cristopher, 32, and Matthew, 28, from his 16-year marriage to his first wife, Debbie, whom he shares a close relationship, and who Joanne considers a best friend.
Though David Carello is thousands of miles away in a foreign country, where around every corner the possibility that the enemy is waiting, he is able to communicate by e-mail with his family and friends in Bristol.
"God bless modern technology," said Joanne Carello.
Christopher said though his father's e-mails frequently detail the lack of animation on the country's horizon, he marvels about the brilliance of the night sky. "He's never seen so many stars in the sky."
Matthew Carello said, "Everyone thinks of the soldiers, but no one really thinks of what their families are going through at home."
Every Christmas, according to Joanne, both her and her husband's families come over on Christmas Eve for a large holiday gathering, but Christmas Day is reserved for "the immediate family, just Dave, me, Debbie, Matt and Chris."
This year's gathering is "going to be a bit more subdued," said Christopher, calling his father "kind of like a linchpin for the family."
"He's the party, the celebration," said the older Carello son Saturday, noting a certain irony in his father's deployment. "I've been out of state for the past 10, almost 15 years [away at college earning his doctorate and only able to return home annually for Christmas]. I'm back and now he's gone. As for what Christmas will be like, I'm not sure. I don't think I'll know until [today]."
"Christmas Eve is [always] like a war zone here, no pun intended," Joanne Carello said, "but Christmas Day is just for us."
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Afghanistan's forgotten drought
POSTED: 1305 GMT (2105 HKT), December 25, 2006 From Anjali Kwatra for CNN
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Away from the frontlines of the war against the Taliban, thousands of Afghans in the grip of a drought face a fight their lives. Anjali Kwatra, a journalist with Christian Aid, contributed this story for CNN.com from the affected area.

SYA KAMARAK, Afghanistan -- While the eyes of the world are focused on the international military coalition's continuing struggle with the Taliban, Afghan children are dying because of a little reported drought which has hit huge areas of the country.

The U.N. says 1.9 million people are at risk because of the drought and along with the Afghan government has appealed for $76 million for food aid.

In one village, Sya Kamarak in western Afghanistan, three children died recently on the same day from malnutrition.

The father of one of them, Attalullah, said he was angry that millions of dollars were coming into his country in aid, but he did not have enough to feed his two-year-old daughter Uzra.

"We had very little milk or food to give my daughter. She was always hungry and crying," he said, sitting by the small pile of stones that marks the grave of his daughter.

"Lots of money is coming into our country but here we do not see any of it."

The villagers say 50 children have died so far this year -- a far higher number than usual -- because of the drought.

Almost all the 300 families in Sya Kamarak, which is a day's drive along bumpy tracks from the nearest city Herat, live off the land and most lost all their wheat harvest when the rains failed in April and May.

A Christian Aid assessment of the drought in five northern and western provinces showed that farmers lost between 80 and 100 percent of their crops in the worst affected areas and water sources in many villages had dried up.

Jan Bibi, 40, whose three-month-old daughter Nazia also died, said she had been feeding her with boiled water and sugar because she had nothing else.

Her surviving twin daughter Merzia is the size of a newborn rather than a three-month old and cries continually for food.
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Kandahar Letters
Globe and Mail Update
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Canadian soldiers based in Afghanistan reflect on their mission and share their thoughts about home at Christmas.

CAPTAIN JESSICA JONES: 'Found outside of Kandahar': a rescued leaf, an act of kindness and a reminder of home

As the days become shorter and the weather cooler, I am reminded that one of the things I miss most about home is the changing of the seasons.

In anticipation of a long deployment in Afghanistan, I brought a number of personal mementos with me, including family photos, a dream catcher and some of my favourite novels. What I didn't foresee, however, was the void created by the absence of fall colours.

Since my arrival in Afghanistan in July, the temperature in Kandahar has dropped significantly from the blistering, dry heat we first experienced. In Canada, this change in the weather would trigger the trees to start displaying their glorious fall colours. In Afghanistan, however, the onset of fall brings the rainy season, and the limited vegetation that does manage to survive on the Kandahar Air Field is still the dusty green it has always been, albeit a little healthier looking for the dose of rain that followed a seven-year dry spell.

A while ago, I came into work to find that someone had posted a pressed, red-hued maple leaf on the notice board in our office building. The note posted along with it provided the explanation that the leaf was "Found outside of Kandahar."

How this leaf managed to make its way to Afghanistan is not beyond imagining. It probably arrived in a package sent from loved ones back in Canada, who knew it would be a fitting reminder of home and the beauty of the season. It was probably put on display in some vehicle as it was heading "out the wire," destined for a home in one of the many forward operating bases, its owner trying to keep this small heartfelt reminder close.

He must have been disappointed to discover that it had disappeared during the trip, left wondering where it would find its next home. How fitting that the leaf was rescued by fellow Canadians who saw it fit to put on display for others. Just one small reminder that although we are half a world away, we are all touched by the same acts of kindness and the small reminders that we live in one of the greatest, most beautiful countries in the world.

Personnel file

Age: 28

Years of service: 10

Hometown: Dryden, Ont.

Current home: Hamilton, Ont.

Family status: In a relationship with John Donachie, a police constable and reserve soldier.

First thing you will do when you get home: Go hiking on the Bruce Trail.

John Donachie on his partner, Jessica: "We both knew going into our jobs, especially both of us in the military -- I'm still in the reserve -- it's just a given that if I had to go over or she had to go over, there would not be any rumblings . . . "

CORPORAL JOHN FOLEY: "Doing the right thing builds a feeling of trust"

This is my third tour to Afghanistan, and the thing that surprises me still is the culture. I don't understand why anyone would want to cover and hide women. Why did they also accept a government that forced people into the streets to beg and that killed their own people if they did not listen and follow the rules? The evil of the former Taliban government is still fresh in the minds of the people here.

I recently came to realize that even though these people are very strong-willed, and even though at times it is hellish over here, the people really do need our help. We are doing the right thing.

I think it is kind of neat to see the progress in the country over the past 3½ years, like the number of schools that have been opened, both to boys and girls of all ages; or the number of women who have gone from having to wear full burkas to now showing their faces in public when they go out. Before Operation Medusa, I could have counted on the fingers of one hand how many women I had seen without burkas. When we redeployed to our base after the operation and we had to travel through Kandahar city, I saw more women exposing their faces and men wearing Western-style clothes than I had ever seen before.
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Article found 27 December 2006

The slow hunt for the Taliban
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HOWZ-E MADAD, Afghanistan (CP) - The Taliban is proving an elusive enemy in the current NATO-led offensive in southern Afghanistan.

More than a week after Canadian troops entered this tiny village without a shot being fired, the Canadians have yet to engage the insurgents in their part of Operation Baaz Tsuka, which means Falcon Summit in the local Pasto language.

The offensive, involving British, Dutch, Canadian and Afghan forces began in mid-December and is aimed at driving hardcore Taliban fighters from the region and putting Afghan security forces in control, while delivering humanitarian assistance to the local population.

Military official believe there are Taliban hiding nearby, but finding them has proven to be extremely difficult.

"This is a huge area of operations . . . so there are very likely areas of my area of operations I won't get to in my six month tour here," Maj. Mike Wright, 35, of Oakville, Ont., who is in command of this operation, said in an interview Tuesday.

"You're always looking for any combat indicators as we go - an absence of women and children, a whole lot of fighting age males," he said. 

But the insurgents easily blend in with the local population and there are virtually hundreds of hiding places for them in this bleak, desert region.

As patrols drive Highway 1 and then across country, they come across dozens of mud compounds, each like a small fortress dotting the landscape. After hundreds of years of living a nomadic existence, Afghans built these self-contained mud forts with high walls and small connected houses.

As troops set up camp for the night, two of the mini-fortresses had to be checked for security purposes.
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‘Until we kick them out’
Taliban vows to continue jihad despite success of NATO Operation
By BILL GRAVELAND The Associated Press
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MAS’UM GHAR, Afghanistan — The jihad against NATO forces will continue despite the apparent success of Operation Baaz Tsuka, a spokesman for the Taliban said Tuesday.

"The Jihad will be going on until we kick them out of Afghanistan," said Qari Yousaf Ahmadi in an interview with The Canadian Press by satellite phone. "The non-Muslims came and occupied our country."

NATO forces launched Operation Baaz Tsuka with the goal of eliminating what it calls "tier-one Taliban" from the Panjwaii and Zhare districts. It is believed roughly three-quarters of Taliban fighters, still located in the area, are only in it for the money, and could be convinced to put down their weapons and return to their villages.

A number of villages in the Panjwaii and Zhare districts have been secured by Canadian and NATO forces with few fireworks so far. A number of U.S.-led air strikes has taken its toll on the Taliban with a number of commanders being killed.

Their deaths will not deter the Taliban from the ultimate goal of ridding Afghanistan of coalition forces, said Ahmadi. "Several of our members are killed in the jihad and it happens in this kind of war," he said.

Brig.-Gen. Tim Grant said the strikes against the Taliban leadership have been heartening but the long-term success of Operation Baaz Tsuka comes down to letting Afghan people provide the security in these villages.
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German soldiers in Afghanistan come under small arms fire
Dec 27, 2006, 13:48 GMT
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Berlin - German soldiers serving with NATO forces in Afghanistan came under small arms fire but suffered no injuries, a defence ministry spokesman said Wednesday.

The incident took place Tuesday near the northern Afghan town of Faiserbad, the spokesman said in Berlin.

Six soldiers travelling in two armoured vehicles came under attack and returned fire. None of the unidentified attackers were injured.

A civilian was slightly hurt by one of the German army trucks after the driver briefly lost control of the vehicle. The injuries were not serious and the man was treated by German medical staff.

German has about 2,700 soldiers serving as part of NATO's 32,000-member stabilisation force in Afghanistan.

Hillier serves Christmas lunch with lashings of thanks
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STRONG POINT WEST, Afghanistan — The collection of mud dwellings and grape drying huts seemed an unlikely locale for Christmas dinner but General Rick Hillier arrived here with an entourage on Sunday to spend time with the troops.

Gen. Hillier, the chief of defence staff, brought along comedian Rick Mercer, treasury board president John Baird and MP's Jay Hill and Laurie Hawn.

“I'm delighted to be here and spend some time with you and to simply say Merry Christmas. I know it's hard to think about Christmas Eve when you're in this kind of environment,” said Gen. Hillier to about 120 troops from Bravo Company.

“There are millions of wishes passed on from Canada. You've got incredible support back in Canada for what you do — absolutely incredible support,” he said inside the compound made up of thick mud walls and huts which in some ways resembled a fortress.
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Sharing a toast in Afghanistan
Soldiers in Kandahar raise paper cups to honour Royal Canadian Regiment
December 22, 2006 Oakland Ross Staff reporter
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PATROL BASE WILSON, Afghanistan–Canadian soldiers fighting in this beleaguered Central Asian land are officially on a dry mission – in other words, no alcohol allowed – but yesterday was a rare and evidently welcome exception.

"Happy birthday," said Warrant Officer Steve Konynenberg for the umpteenth time, as he served up yet another rum-based concoction known as the Ortona Toast, in celebration of yesterday's 123rd anniversary of the Royal Canadian Regiment, now based in Petawawa, Ont.

The RCR currently dominates the 1,200-strong combat arm of the nearly 2,500 Canadian military personnel stationed in Afghanistan, part of a NATO coalition battling Taliban insurgents.

Known as One RCR Battle Group, the battalion also includes members of at least two other regiments, the Lord Strathcona's Horse (Royal Canadians), based in Edmonton, and the Princess Patricia's Canadian Light Infantry, based in Shilo, Man.

Yesterday, they were all honorary members of the Ontario regiment, whose soldiers have seen action down through the years in a long list of international conflicts dating back to the Boer War
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Afghan dangers will continue: Harper
Canada's troops are making progress and mission should go beyond 2009, PM adds
December 22, 2006  Les Whittington ottawa bureau
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OTTAWA–The dangerous situation in Afghanistan that has led to the deaths of dozens of Canadian troops is unlikely to improve in the next year, Prime Minister Stephen Harper says.

In fact, Harper said in a year-end interview that he would like the Canadian military to prolong its Afghan mission beyond the current commitment, which now calls for troops to return home in early 2009.

"I would hope that we are making progress in two years and I quite frankly hope that we could stay to make more progress," Harper said.

Even though Canada and its allies are making progress in Afghanistan, the Taliban insurgency in the southern region where Canadian soldiers operate has created a difficult mission, Harper has said in his year-end interviews.

"Obviously, we'd like to see the security situation improve. I can tell your viewers, frankly, I don't think it will improve in the next 12 months," he told Global TV.

Harper, who has said he would rather lose power than abandon the Afghan mission as demanded by some opposition MPs, said it's in Canada's long-term security interest to stay.

"If we pull out today, if Canada, and those that are carrying the freight – and there's seven or eight countries in the south that are doing most of the heavy lifting – if we all leave, my prediction is we'll be back there in less than a decade."

The remarks came in a series of year-end TV interviews to be broadcast over the holiday period. They were screened for reporters in Ottawa yesterday.

In an interview with OMNI Television, Harper denied that he had a pro-Israel bias in Middle East affairs. He said it was not possible for Canada to be neutral in the struggle in July and August between Israel and Lebanon's Shiite militant group, Hezbollah. Nor can Canada deal with Hamas, the Palestinian group that will not recognize Israel's right to exist.

"I do not believe Canada can be neutral in a conflict between a democratic state and a terrorist organization bent on its destruction. I don't make any secret of that," the Prime Minister said.
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Refuelers keep mission going Christmas Day over Afghanistan
by Master Sgt. Mitch Gettle 376th Air Expeditionary Wing Public Affairs
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12/26/2006 - MANAS AIR BASE, Kyrgyzstan (AFPN) -- 'Tis the season for giving and receiving. In the skies over Afghanistan, every day of the year could pass as Christmas Day.

Refueling aircraft give up their fuel to the receiving aircraft which carry out the mission of air supremacy and ground support for Operation Enduring Freedom.

Christmas Day 2006 will be remembered fondly by a KC-135 Stratotanker crew from the 22nd Expeditionary Air Refueling Squadron, which provided 39,000 pounds of fuel to a B-1 Lancer so it could carry on with its mission.

"This is the third year of my four-year career that I have flown a refueling mission on Christmas Day," said Senior Airman Chelsey Johnson, a 22nd EARS boom operator. "I am very proud of what I do and it makes a difference to the warfighter."

At a time when most people in the U.S. are gathering with family and friends, Airmen around the globe, like this crew, perform the Air Force's mission regardless of the day's significance.

"It doesn't matter if it's Christmas Day, New Year's Day or the third Monday of the month," said Capt. Mike Englehardt, 22nd EARS aircraft commander. "Every day of the year we support our receivers and our guys on the ground. The enemy doesn't care what day it is, we have to keep doing our part, too."

"(Us being here) tells the enemy we have complete resolve and we believe in what we are doing and we're going to be here regardless of Christmas or not," said 1st Lt. Tyler West, 22nd EARS pilot. "It also means our friends and families back home are enjoying this time of year because we're out here securing their peace and liberties." 
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Afghanistan arrests Pakistani `suicide bomb supplier'
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Khost (Afghanistan), Dec 26: Afghan authorities on Tuesday said that they had arrested a Pakistani national who had allegedly been providing suicide bombers to the Taliban in eastern Paktika province.

The man, whose name was not revealed, was "in charge of recruiting suicide bombers and equipping them," provincial governor, Mohammad Akram Khpolwak said.

He was arrested from Bermal district in the bordering Paktika province yesterday, the governor said.

He gave no further details saying that the case was under investigation.

Afghan government officials frequently blame Pakistan for a surge in Taliban-led violence including the increase in suicide bombings in Afghanistan.

Pakistan firmly denies helping the Taliban and points to the fact that it has 80,000 troops along the border with Afghanistan, hundreds of whom have died fighting pro-Taliban militants.

The Governor also said that police raided a suspected Taliban compound in the same district and seized a bomb-fitted motorbike. However the owner of the motorcycle fled before the raid, he added.

Some 4,000 people, including 1,000 civilians, have died this year in insurgent violence that has made 2006 Afghanistan's bloodiest year since the fall of the Taliban five years ago.

Bureau Report
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No more troops for Afghanistan, says Belgian minister
Wednesday December 27, 2006 (0027 PST)
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KUNDUZ CITY: Belgian Defence Minister Andre Flahaut has said his country will not send more troops to Afghanistan.

Flahau said this during a visit to the northern Kunduz province to meet his country`s troops stationed under the command of the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF).

The minister said Belgium was eager to play its role in bringing peace and stability to Afghanistan but could not send more troops to that country due to its limited resources.

Flahaut said Belgium was a small country, but it had contributed troops to improve security and help in reconstruction in Afghanistan. "In addition to our help to enhance the capacity of Afghan police and army, we will continue to assist in improving lives of people living in remote areas of Afghanistan," he added.

The visiting dignitary said 300 Belgian soldiers were performing duty at the Kabul International Airport, 18 soldiers in Kunduz and 10 more were stationed in the northern provinces of Balkh and Badakhshan.

Seven European countries, including Belgium, Germany, Italy, France, Switzerland, Romania and Hungary, have deployed 500 troops in Kunduz and the neighbouring Takhar province in the north to maintain security and continue reconstruction.

Iran in Afghanistan: Paving with good intentions?
By David Rohde Published: December 26, 2006
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ISLAM QALA, Afghanistan: Two years ago, foreign engineers built a new highway through the desert of western Afghanistan, past this ancient trading post and on to the outside world. Nearby, they strung a high-voltage power line and laid a fiber-optic cable, marked with red posts, that provides telephone and Internet access to the region.

The modernization comes with a message. Every 8 to 16 kilometers, or 5 to 10 miles, road signs offer quotations from the Koran. "Forgive us, God," declares one. "God is clear to everyone," says another. A graceful mosque rises roadside, with a green glass dome and Koranic inscriptions in blue tile. The style is unmistakably Iranian.

All of this is fruit of Iran's drive to become a bigger player in Afghanistan, as it exploits new opportunities to spread its influence and ideas farther across the Middle East.

The rise of Hezbollah, with Iran's support, has demonstrated the extent of Tehran's sway in Lebanon, and the American toppling of Saddam Hussein has allowed it to expand its influence in Iraq. Iran has been making inroads into Afghanistan, as well.

During the tumultuous 1980s and 1990s, Iran shipped money and arms to groups fighting first the Soviet occupation and later the Taliban government. But since the United States and its allies ousted the Taliban in 2001, Iran has taken advantage of the central government's weakness to pursue a more nuanced strategy: part reconstruction, part education and part propaganda.
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Pakistan, Afghanistan in border row
Wednesday, December 27, 2006
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A new source of conflict has arisen in South Asia that could derail the war on terror. It involves the troubled Pakistan-Afghanistan border.

Pakistan says it will 'mine and fence' a part of its troubled border with Afghanistan while the latter has dubbed it an act of 'beating around the bush' in response to charges that Islamabad is fuelling a Taliban resurgence.

An I-care-a-damn Islamabad says it does not require Kabul's permission.

But Kabul has reacted angrily to the decision by Pakistan and demanded that it fight 'terrorists in a real manner'.

'Rather than beating around the bush, we must confront terrorists in a real manner,' said Khaliq Ahmad, a presidential spokesperson.

'Fencing or mining the border is neither helpful nor practical,' he said. 'We are against it. The border is not where the problem lies.'

Pakistan has said it will build a fence and lay mines at 'selected places' on its side of the border with Afghanistan to restrict cross-border movement, Foreign Secretary Riaz Muhammad Khan said Tuesday.

'This is a part of our established policy. We are taking measures to prevent any militant activity from Pakistan inside Afghanistan,' Khan said.

The Pakistan Army has been tasked to work out the modalities of the project. The 2,400-km Pakistan-Afghan border has 700 crossing points.

However, Khan did not give any time frame for the completion of the project, nor mentioned the specific areas to be fenced or mined.

Afghanistan has been battling, with virtually no success, cross-border movement by Taliban and Al Qaeda fighters who use Pakistan's tribal area as a safe haven and source of arms and money.

The growing Taliban and Al Qaeda campaign inside the Afghan territory has been a constant source of border skirmishes and verbal exchanges at the level of the two presidents, Hamid Karzai and Pervez Musharraf.

Mediation efforts by US President George W. Bush, who invited the two to dinner in October, and tripartite US-Afghan-Pakistan mechanism for border management have been of little use
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Iran making inroads into Afghanistan
Press Trust of India New York, December 27, 2006
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Iran, which has increased its influence in Lebanon by supporting Hezbollah and in Iraq after toppling of Saddam Hussein, has also been making inroads into Afghanistan, a media report said on Wednesday.

Since the United States and its allies ousted the Taliban in 2001, Iran has taken advantage of the central government's weakness to pursue a more nuanced strategy: part reconstruction, part education and part propaganda, the New York Times reported.

Iran has distributed more than 200 million dollars in the country. It has set up border posts against the heroin trade, and next year will begin work on new road and construction projects and a rail line linking the countries.

In Kabul, its projects include a new medical center and a water testing laboratory.
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Sgt. Nicholas R. Fitzpatric u.s. army stationed in afghanistan Dánica Coto: dcoto@charlotteobserver.com
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Fitzpatric, 28, (shown with wife Aimee) is stationed in Deh Dahdi, Afghanistan. He is a special operations combat medic. His brother-in-law lives in Charlotte.

HOW ARE YOU PREPARING FOR NEW YEAR'S? Mostly we prepare for a more important arrival -- that is, winter -- outfitting our living and sleeping areas appropriately for freezing temperatures. We also have "snow shovels" from the local economy we have purchased. They consist of a flat piece of plastic connected to the end of a carved handle .

WHERE ARE YOU FINDING THE HOLIDAY SPIRIT? ...Wherever we can. Some of the guys get very disenchanted during this period of time because they are away from home. There are a few of us with more cheer then the others, and we try to spread it around.

HAVE YOU BOUGHT ANY GIFTS? I am sending my father an American flag that is being flown here at the firebase on Christmas Day.
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Afghanistan: NATO Commander urges political focus
Tuesday, December 26, 2006
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Former NATO commander said establishing the country as a self-sustaining democracy can be only be done by strengthening its civil institutions and eradicating the huge trade in opium   
A former supreme commander of NATO said today that pacifying Afghanistan can best be done by shifting the focus away from a military solution and toward a political one.

U.S. Marine General James Jones, who led NATO forces from 2003 until earlier this year, told journalists in Washington on December 21 that the alliance's troops are still needed in Afghanistan, but establishing the country as a self-sustaining democracy can be only be done by strengthening its civil institutions and eradicating the huge trade in opium.

The Problem Is Drugs

Jones said it's time for NATO countries to focus their attention on reconstruction and development in Afghanistan.

In his view, it's still necessary for NATO forces to help the government of President Hamid Karzai to fight the Taliban insurgency. But he said the real problem in Afghanistan is the drug trade and the money it generates.

"I think the Achilles heel of Afghanistan is the narcotics problem," Jones said. "I think the uncontrolled rise of the spread of narcotics, the business that it brings in, the money that it generates is being used to fund the insurgency, the criminal elements -- anything to bring chaos and disorder."

Jones said that without funds from the opium trade, the Taliban wouldn't be able to afford to continue its insurgency
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Troops wake to a white Christmas
JASON STRAZIUSO Associated Press
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KABUL, Afghanistan — U.S. and NATO soldiers at bases in Bagram and Kabul woke up to a white Christmas as more than 15 centimetres of snow fell in central Afghanistan by midday Monday.

Soldiers wearing red Santa hats and even a couple dressed as elves walked around Camp Eggers — the main U.S. base in Kabul — entertaining troops, some of whom were packing fresh snowballs and launching them at each other.

“The white Christmas definitely makes me feel at home, actually,” said Navy Master Chief Ozzie Nelson, who now lives in San Diego with his wife and five kids but spent winters growing up in the Rochester, N.Y., area.

More than 50 soldiers attended a Christmas-day church service at Eggers, where they sang traditional Christmas hymns.
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Canadians Take more Taliban Turf
Brian Hutchinson, National Post, 28 Dec 06
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With one pump of his fist and a menacing glare, a burly soldier from Alpha Company, Princess Patricia's Canadian Light Infantry, exhorted his mates this week to put on their game face and confront the Taliban.  "Let's get it on, boys," the soldier yelled, seconds before jumping into his LAV-III, a light armoured vehicle now ubiquitous in Kandahar province.  The rest of his Shilo, Man.- based company needed no encouragement. The soldiers from A Company are no strangers to close combat. They engaged the Taliban within days of arriving here in August, and a month later played a key operational role during Operation Medusa, the violent, two-week-long campaign that saw Canadian troops strike deep into Taliban country and secure a front line 30 kilometres west of Kandahar city ....

More News on CAN in AFG here

British soldier dies in Afghan blast
View London web page, 28 Dec 06
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A British soldier has been killed in Afghanistan and three other troops have been injured, the Ministry of Defence (MoD) has said.  An MoD spokesman confirmed that the soldier died when the vehicle he was travelling in was blown up near Garmser in Helmand province yesterday.  The incident occurred during a reconnaissance mission in the south of the country and there were no Taliban in the area at the time, the spokesman added.  "One soldier was also seriously injured and two suffered minor injuries," the spokesman said, adding that it was too early to tell what caused the explosion ....

Afghan air strike irks U.S. soldiers
Rowan Scarborough, Washington Times, 28 Dec 06
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Special-operations soldiers say that if the command in Afghanistan had listened to them four years ago, there would have been no need this month for a U.S. air strike that killed senior Taliban leader Mullah Akhtar Mohammed Osmani.  He already would have been locked up.  As reported in 2002 by The Washington Times, an Army Green Beret "A Team" said it captured Osmani in a village near Kandahar, the Taliban's birthplace ....

Tragic incident between ISAF troops and Afghan civilian
ISAF news release # 2006-395, 27 Dec 06
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This morning, an ISAF security patrol was involved in a tragic incident resulting in the death of a young Afghan civilian.  A vehicle approaching the patrol failed to head warnings to stop. The patrol fired upon the vehicle, unfortunately killing one Afghan civilian.  The incident occurred 2.5 kilometres outside of Kandahar Airfield on Highway 4. ISAF deeply regrets this loss of life.  Afghan National Police and ISAF are conducting an investigation.

Afghan civilian killed by NATO forces' warning shots
Deutsche Presse-Agentur, 28 Dec 06
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A young Afghan civilian was killed when NATO forces fired warning shots after he failed to stop a vehicle that was approaching a NATO patrol convoy in southern Afghanistan, the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) said.  The incident took place Wednesday near the provincial airport in Kandahar province, the ISAF said in a statement ....

Taliban command structure in Fata ‘alarms’ US
Anwar Iqbal, Dawn.com (PAK), 28 Dec 06
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The Taliban have established a command and control structure in the tribal areas and are using their “sanctuary” for regrouping, said a senior US official on Tuesday.  Assistant Secretary of State Richard Boucher, however, acknowledged at a briefing in Ottawa, Canada, that Pakistan was aware of the problem and was making concerted efforts to deal with it.  Mr Boucher, who looks after South and Central Asian affairs at the State Department, said the presence of Taliban forces in the tribal region was “one of the key items” on the US agenda.  A text of the statement, issued by the State Department on Wednesday, quoted him as saying that “the Taliban have been able to use these areas for sanctuary and for command and control and for regrouping and supply.” The United States, he said, was not only alarmed by this development but had also conveyed its concerns to Pakistan ....

Articles found 28 December 2006

Christmas in flak jackets
From a showbiz perspective, General Hillier is a tough act to follow, says RICK MERCER
RICK MERCER From Thursday's Globe and Mail
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A few months ago, General Rick Hillier promised me a Christmas I would never forget; turns out he is a man of his word.

This year, on Christmas morning, I was in Sperwan Ghar in the Panjwai district of Afghanistan sitting around a single-burner Coleman stove with a dozen Canadian soldiers. Rush was on the stereo and we were watching a pot of Tetley tea bags threaten to boil. Outside it was wet and muddy, but inside the sandbag bunker where these Royal Canadian Dragoons ate and slept it was warm and as comfortable as one could expect under the circumstances. Corporal Frank Farrell was in charge of the pot and there was no top on it this morning -- this was not to be rushed.

Gen. Hillier is a very persuasive man. He is also a Newfoundlander. And while he is the chief of the Canadian Forces it has been suggested that he might think he is the chief of all Newfoundlanders. He'll call you up and suggest to you that on Dec. 25 there is only one place you should be and it's so special that by agreeing to go there you render your life insurance null and void. You aren't asked so much as you are told.

This was my third trip to Afghanistan but my first at Christmas. Gen. Hillier was on a personal mission to shake hands with every man and woman wearing a Canadian uniform in Afghanistan and the Persian Gulf and I was along for the ride. The way he described it was simple: "It's Christmas" he said, "and all we are going to do is pop in and say hello to a few folks." In Canada "popping in to say hello" at Christmas is just a matter of arranging for a designated driver or making sure you have cab fare in your pocket. This was a little more complicated.
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How to win the war

Canadian efforts in Afghanistan shift into reconstruction mode
JOHN GEDDES January 01, 2007
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In the fight for attention back home, Canada's provincial reconstruction team in Kandahar is losing badly -- and it's not hard to see why. The PRT, which is struggling to help rebuild the economy in the violent southern Afghanistan province, is up against the war itself. When it comes to vying for TV time and front-page treatment, what chance does digging irrigation ditches and paving roads have against the latest bloody suicide bombing or pitched battle? Yet in 2007, the political debate about Canada's entanglement in Afghanistan could turn on the federal government's success or failure in shifting at least some of the focus from destruction to development. As Prime Minister Stephen Harper braces for a possible spring election, he needs voters to see a glimmer of hope behind reports of carnage from Canada's biggest gamble on the world stage.

More than anyone else, Lt.-Col. Simon Hetherington bears the burden of delivering those signs of progress from embattled Kandahar city. As the PRT leader there, he oversees the work of 330 Canadian Forces personnel and a handful of officials from Foreign Affairs, the Canadian International Development Agency and the RCMP. The idea behind the PRT is to closely link troops to development experts, allowing aid work to press ahead even in areas where there's still fighting. So far, criticism of the team's impact has outweighed praise. Opposition politicians slam the government for underemphasizing it -- making combat, not reconstruction, the real mission in Kandahar. Beyond the Canadian debate, some international observers contend the PRTs -- there are 24 in Afghanistan run by 12 countries -- have generally failed to live up to expectations in the face of the Taliban insurgency. But in an interview with Maclean's, Hetherington painted a picture of how 2007 might provide a far more upbeat story.
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Afghanistan slams Pak's decision to fence border
28 Dec, 2006
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KABUL: The Hamid Karzai-led Afghan government has strongly protested Pakistan's plan to fence and mine parts of the border between the two countries.

Expressing hope that Pakistan would reconsider its decision, Foreign Ministry Spokesman Sultan Ahmad Baheen said that "if it failed to do so, Kabul will call on the international community to pressurise Islamabad and to destroy terrorist centres inside Pakistan."

Earlier on Tuesday, Pakistan had said that it would build a fence and plant land mines on parts of its 2,430 km frontier with Afghanistan.

Retaliating to Islamabad's stand that an agreement with Afghanistan was not needed on the border issue since Pakistan was fencing and mining its own side of the borer, Baheen said: "It is only the Afghan Loya Jirga (the Afghan assembly of people) and representatives of people on the Pakistani side of the Durrand Line who are entitled to take a crucial decision of this nature."

Pashtoon tribes and clans live on both sides of the border and were artificially divided by the Durrand Line in the British days. Delineated in 1893 by the British by arm-twisting a weak Afghan ruler, the Durrand Line has never been sought to be fenced before.
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German government considers deploying air force in Afghanistan
Thursday December 28, 2006
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BERLIN: The German coalition government is currently preparing a major expansion of its military commitment to the war in Afghanistan. To this point the government has claimed that the only role of the German army in that country would be to help with reconstruction and assure the security of the Hamid Karzai puppet regime.
To this end the German government limited the operations of its forces to the nation's capital and the relatively calm northern part of the country. The recent decision to send six Tornado aircraft to Afghanistan would thrust German forces into the violent fighting taking place in the south.

The request from NATO arrived in Berlin on December 11, but was only made public ten days later. No official decision has yet been announced. The S?sche Zeitung assumes, however, that "Chancellor [Angela] Merkel, Foreign Minster [Frank-Walter] Steinmeier and Defense Minister [Franz Josef] Jung have already decided that they cannot reject the request by NATO." Official requests of this kind, the paper says are "only made when a positive answer has been given at a working level."

The request calls for the deployment of so-called Recce Tornado airplanes, which conduct reconnaissance and can identify small objects from the air. The maintenance of the highly complicated and expensive machines requires approximately 250 soldiers, who are likely to be stationed in the south of the country.

Even if the German Tornadoes were merely sent on reconnaissance missions and did not drop bombs, their use nevertheless constitutes a combat mission. They would identify targets for the American and British NATO units, which are carrying out a bloody war against rebels in the south of Afghanistan in a war that has claimed the lives of many innocent civilians. The S?sche Zeitung commented, "Whoever conducts reconnaissance is assisting towards successful bombardment with all the consequences-up to and including the ominous collateral damage, which one experienced in the Kosovo war." Spiegel Online noted, "The Germans are allowing themselves to get deeper and deeper involved in the Afghanistan conflict, and there is no end in sight."
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Special visitors spread cheer to Airmen in Afghanistan
by Master Sgt. Chuck Roberts U.S. Air Forces in Europe Public Affairs
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12/27/2006 - KANDAHAR AIRFIELD, Afghanistan (AFPN) -- The U.S. Air Forces in Europe commander visited Airmen deployed to Afghanistan to thank them for what they do. He also brought along the USAFE popular music band Direct Hit to spread holiday cheer.

The high-quality blend of rock, pop, and rhythm and blues delivered right on target, but Gen. Tom Hobbins was pleased to discover from numerous conversations that while the music was hugely appreciated, deployed Airmen said the reward of their mission more than sustains their spirits.

"The Airmen I met downrange are just totally dedicated to the mission they're doing," General Hobbins said after concluding a Dec. 18-20 visit to Kabul and Kandahar. "Even though they're away from home and missing family members and loved ones, they all said they are glad to be a part of this joint team."

General Hobbins said Airmen were in good spirits because they know "their Air Force family is always there for them and they feel a sense of pride in what they are doing in Afghanistan.
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Death toll of female troops 'troubling'
By Rowan Scarborough THE WASHINGTON TIMES December 26, 2006
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The number of military service women killed in Iraq and Afghanistan has reached 70, more than the total from the Korean, Vietnam and Desert Storm wars.
    "Some have argued that the women who have died are no different than the men," according to a report noting the 70 casualties from the Center for Military Readiness, which opposes women in combat. "But deliberate exposure of women to combat violence in war is tantamount to acceptance of violence against women in general."
    The reasons for the historical high casualty rate are multiple. Women now make up more than 14 percent of the volunteer force, performing a long list of military occupational specialties they did not do 50 years ago. Women in earlier wars were mostly confined to medical teams. Today, they fly combat aircraft, drive trucks to resupply fighting units, go on patrol as military police (MPs) and repair equipment.
    What's more, the Afghan and Iraq conflicts are lasting longer than the relatively brief Desert Storm, which featured the first large contribution of American women in a war zone.
    But the real difference in Afghanistan and Iraq is the battlefield. It is virtually every road, neighborhood and rural village. Insurgents do not just attack front-line combat troops. Suicide bombers and improvised explosive devices (IEDs) strike at any time, meaning that women in support units can be just as vulnerable as men in ground combat.
    "What it means is, it's just unprecedented," said Elaine Donnelly, who heads the Center for Military Readiness. "It is something that people are not aware of, for the most part. Some of these stories are incredibly sad."
    Her report lists names, ranks and cause of death of eight women killed in Afghanistan and 62 killed in Iraq. The vast majority are enlisted women killed by IEDs or other ambush.
    This month, two female officers died in Iraq, including Maj. Megan McClung, 34, a Marine Corps public-affairs specialist. Illustrating there are no firm battle lines, the death happened when Maj. McClung was escorting journalists near Ramadi. Her truck was hit by an IED.
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Pakistani driver killed in rocket attack in Afghanistan
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KABUL: A Pakistani driver died in a rebel attack on a convoy of oil tankers in Kandahar, officials said Wednesday.

The insurgents fired rockets at oil tankers carrying fuel for a US military base in southern Afghanistan, killing a Pakistani driver and wounding three others, district governor Habibullah Khan told media.

Four fuel tankers came under automatic weapons fire in the Takhtapul district of Taliban-infested Kandahar province on the highway linking Kandahar city with the Pakistani border, Khan said.

"One driver of a fuel tanker truck was killed and three others were wounded in the Taliban attack," Khan said, adding the tankers did not catch fire.

British aide sent for trial, but denies Iran spying claims
ROBIN MILLARD Globe and Mail Update
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Agence France Presse — An aide to the British commander of NATO troops in Afghanistan was sent Wednesday for trial at London's central criminal court, accused of passing secrets to “the enemy” -- believed to be Iran.

Corporal Daniel James, an interpreter to Lieutenant General David Richards, proclaimed his innocence even as he was ordered to face the Old Bailey charged under the Official Secrets Act with "prejudicing the safety of the state".

“He's innocent of the charge against him,” said the soldier's solicitor David Martin outside court.

“He's looking forward to presenting his case in court and answering the allegation made and clearing his name, as he's absolutely confident he will do,” he added.
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U.N. criticizes Pakistan plan to plant land mines on border
ALISA TANG Associated Press
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KABUL, Afghanistan — A top U.N. human rights officer said Wednesday that Pakistan's plan to mine parts of its border with Afghanistan would only add to civilian casualties in a region already littered with unexploded ordnance. Pakistan said Tuesday it would plant land mines and build a fence on parts of its 1,500-mile frontier with Afghanistan to fend off criticism it does too little to stop Taliban and al-Qaida guerrillas from crossing the border. "From a human rights perspective, we would be concerned about any mining, including this," said Richard Bennett, the U.N.'s chief human rights officer in Afghanistan. "Human rights advocates are solidly opposed globally to the use of land mines. The U.N. is opposed to the use of mines." Afghanistan is one of the world's most mine-affected countries, with thousands of civilian deaths and maimings in the past 25 years of war. The frontier region is inhabited on both sides by Pashtun tribespeople who travel freely across the border. Taliban-led insurgents have stepped up attacks in Afghanistan over the past year, triggering the worst violence since U.S.-led forces ousted the hardline regime five years ago and threatening the shaky rule of Hamid Karzai, the nation's first popularly elected president. Aleem Siddique, a spokesman for the U.N. assistance mission to Afghanistan, there needs to be better coordination between Pakistan and Afghanistan to fight the insurgency. "It's difficult to see what value laying fresh mines could bring to the people of either country," he said. Relations have been souring between the neighbors, which are key U.S. allies in its fight against terrorism. Afghan and Western officials contend militants operate from sanctuaries in Pakistan, but Islamabad insists it does all it can to stop them. A spokesman for the NATO-led security mission in Afghanistan said the Pakistani mining plan should be discussed by Afghan, Pakistani and NATO commanders. "We obviously applaud any statement about further efforts to improve border security, but the methodology should be discussed in the tripartite council," said Mark Laity, senior civil representative spokesman for the International Security Assistance Force. Afghanistan quickly objected to the idea of a fence along the rugged border, whose demarcation is disputed by the two nations. But Pakistani Foreign Secretary Riaz Mohammed Khan said his country would be acting on its own territory and did not need Afghan consent. Khan told reporters Pakistan also will send unspecified military reinforcements to the frontier, joining about 80,000 soldiers already in the country's northwestern tribal regions. He did not say when the mining and fence work would start.
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Iran Moves Into Afghanistan
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It seems I wasn’t entirely off my rocker in seeing Iran advance into Afghanistan over the next 15 years:
The rise of Hezbollah, with Iran’s support, has demonstrated the extent of Tehran’s sway in Lebanon, and the American toppling of Saddam Hussein has allowed it to expand its influence in Iraq. Iran has been making inroads into Afghanistan, as well. During the tumultuous 1980s and ’90s, Iran shipped money and arms to groups fighting first the Soviet occupation and later the Taliban government. But since the United States and its allies ousted the Taliban in 2001, Iran has taken advantage of the central government’s weakness to pursue a more nuanced strategy: part reconstruction, part education and part propaganda.
Iran has distributed its largess, more than $200 million in all, mostly here in the west but also in the capital, Kabul. It has set up border posts against the heroin trade, and next year will begin work on new road and construction projects and a rail line linking the countries. In Kabul, its projects include a new medical center and a water testing laboratory.
Ambassador Bahrami is correct in saying Iran has a legitimate security concern in making sure Afghanistan is stable… to say nothing of their probable nervousness at beefed up U.S. military forces on either side should things get too bad in both countries.
It would appear Iran is finally feeling in a position to flex its muscles as the returning regional power, given its activities in both Iraq and Afghanistan—a side effect of being a nuclear nuisance. Those activities include making things as difficult as possible for the American troops. This is unfortunate, as Iran and the U.S. actually cooperated in the initial campaign against the Taliban in late 2001. After Bush’s “Axis of Evil” speech, the Iranians backed off from their general offer of support and focused instead on securing their position within Herat province.
It has other implications as well. Rather than applying to work somewhere like Europe or the U.S., hundreds of thousands of Afghani citizens are applying for work visas in Iran each year. Despite the probable security concerns five years down the line, Iran certainly seems to have an easier time of PR than the U.S. does, which bodes poorly for the future of our efforts there. For the moment, the U.S. and NATO have a narrow margin in good vibes; this is unlikely to last, however, with Musharraf’s reckless border campaigns and continued low levels of “nation building” personnel