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The Sandbox and Areas Reports Thread (February 2007)


Army.ca Legend
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Sorry, forgot to start February thread....Posts for the first couple of days of February can be found at the end of the January thread...

Articles found 4 February, 2007

Canadian soldier’s legacy lives on Afghani babies helped by generosity of Sooke Quilters
By Pirjo Raits Sooke News Mirror Jan 31 2007
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photo below: A soldier is shown with a tiny Afghani baby wearing one of the “Boomer” hats made by people in Canada and sent to Afghanistan on military planes

When there is a need, it seems one can always count on the people in Sooke. Last fall there was a call for Boomer hats — tiny knitted hats for babies. These hats, along with assorted blankets and other items, were handmade by women in Sooke and sent through the military to Afghanistan to be gratefully received by mothers.

The hats were called Boomer hats because of one young soldier stationed in Afghanistan. His name was Corporal Andrew Eykelenboom (Boomer) and he was killed in August 2006 while on duty saving lives. His letters home spoke of the ongoing need to help.

During one of his phone calls home, he said, “Mom, people in Canada have no idea of what having nothing means, even our street people have more than those in Afghanistan.”

Who was Boomer?

A young man with a big goofy smile, one who was kind and caring. He was just one of the many dedicated men and women in our military who are willing to risk their lives for a bigger cause, who are willing to be there for their comrades and to help those far less fortunate.

Part of an email from Andrew:

“Well, I finally got the picture you have been waiting for. About two weeks ago a little girl brought her infant sister to the UMS while I was on duty. She had second degree burns on her hand from touching a kettle. I bandaged her hand and after gave a doll that your friend made to her. She instantly stopped crying and started sucking on the nose of the doll. A special thanks goes from her older sister to your friend for such a wonderful gift; and a thanks from me for being the one to accept her gratitude. Making the children happy is the most rewarding thing about this tour. Love Andrew”

His last sentence is what this is all about....”The Canadian Military is in the south, and through the work of the Provincial Reconstruction Teams they are making a difference for the women, men and children in the southern Kandahar area, so much more is needed to be done – what can we do – you and I?”

June Wesley of the Sooke Quilters has been keeping her hands busy and her heart full as she and the other quilters knit, crochet, sew and put together small items to send to Afghanistan. The military uses its planes to deliver the hats, blankets and other items.
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Where Defence and Development meet
Saturday, February 03, 2007
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Apparently, some Canadians think our CF should be digging wells instead of fighting murderous and fanatic misogynists in Afghanistan.

Well, here's a photo for you: Seen at bottom of todays listings

You see what I did there? A pun on the word "well." Oh, come on, it was funny...OK, clever at least...

My point in posting this? Not much of one, except to say the CF can - how to put this delicately? - create insurmountable difficulties for Taliban fighters to take even one more breath, and at the same time dig wells and win hearts and minds. Concurrent activity, folks. Walking and chewing gum.

Not that putting the Taliban thugs into a shallow grave doesn't win hearts and minds, because it does. Imagine: your village has been terrorized by these butchers, your elders threatened, your teachers shot, your neighbours forced to grow opium crops by a bunch of thugs.
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Women weavers in Afghanistan find rugs loom large in future
Houston woman's project helping faraway people
Feb. 2, 2007, 8:29PM By MAGGIE GALEHOUSE  Houston Chronicle
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Life definitely takes strange turns that you can't predict," says Connie Duckworth.

In 2003, not long after retiring from Goldman Sachs in New York, the Houston native flew to Afghanistan as a member of the newly created U.S.- Afghan Women's Council.

The Taliban had fallen in November 2001, and Duckworth was familiar with the abuses suffered by Afghan women under that repressive regime. The atrocities included sexual and physical violence, and women were subjected to rigid rules of dress and behavior.

Duckworth knew that she wanted to use her business experience to employ women in this central Asian country not quite as large as Texas. A Wharton graduate, Duckworth has also chaired the Committee of 200, a professional organization of the country's top women executives and entrepreneurs.

On the airplane home from Afghanistan, she started drafting a business plan that soon became Arzu Inc., a nonprofit company that now employs more than 700 Afghan women. Based mostly in rural villages, the women weave contemporary and traditional rugs. The company's profits provide health care and education to people in remote areas of Afghanistan.

Arzu visits the Houston Center for Contemporary Craft this week, offering rugs for sale along with demonstrations, photographs, and lectures.

"The starting premise is that we pay an above-market rate to the women, so they are generating cash income that can help pull them out of debt," says Duckworth. "We provide materials. The yarn is from Afghanistan, and we ship it to the areas where the women work."

The rugs cost $900-$16,000, depending on size and complexity, with traditional, tribal and modern patterns available. Duckworth says the modern designs, which range from solid colors to freestyle patterns created by individual weavers, sell fast.
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Local troops train for Afghanistan
Alan Hustak  Montreal Gazette Friday, February 02, 2007
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CFB FARNHAM – Air Force Master Cpl. Normand Daigneault struggled to lift the body of Cpl. David Tran-Hu and throw him over his shoulder to carry him 100 metres along the tarmac.

But under the weight of Tran-Hu’s 140 pounds, Daigneault stumbled and both men ended up splayed on the ground.

“I had him, but I didn’t have him properly, he was sitting on my arm instead of on my shoulders, and we fell,” Daigneault said. “It shouldn’t have happened. I had to pick him up again and reposition. Something like that in combat can cost lives.”

Daigneault, who is with the 438 Tactical Helicopter Squadron (438ETAH), was taking part Friday in a routine physical training exercise at Canadian Forces Base Farnham, 60 kilometres southeast of Montreal.

The drill is ongoing work for the flight (what the air force calls a military squadron), made up of 15 of the so-called primary forces – men and women who could be in combat when they are shipped to Afghanistan in August – and nine others who are being put through the same paces and will serve as backups.

As a helicopter swirled overhead, they set off before dawn Friday in full combat gear on a 13-kilometre march, slogging their way along gravel and dirt roads, up and down hills, with a rifle over their shoulders and a 25-kilogram pack on their backs.

Once they reached their destination, they had to carry each other the final 100 metres, as they would have to do if they were under fire and one of their buddies was wounded.

“The walk itself is not hard, but it is demanding,” Cpl. Jimmy Lagüe said as he high-fived one of his colleagues after completing the exercise. “Anyone who is in good physical shape can do it. You can get a sore back and blisters on your feet, for sure, but that’s about it.”
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Why Canada must muscle up
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Whose War Is It?
How Canada Can Survive in the Post-9/11 World
By J. L. Granatstein - HarperCollins, 246 pages, $34.95

Not too long before 9/11, Henry Kissinger published one of his habitual surveys of the world. Troubled by the apathy of his wealthy, contented fellow Americans in the wake of the Cold War, Kissinger provocatively entitled his book, Does America Need a Foreign Policy? With unprecedented domestic prosperity and the absence of a serious foreign threat, Americans no longer held much interest in their role in the world. Some, such as the conservative populist Pat Buchanan, even questioned the need for one at all. Ever the realist, Kissinger warned that a nation as powerful as the United States could not hide from its international challenges and obligations. Did America need a foreign policy? The answer, naturally, was yes.

J. L. Granatstein, Canada's most prolific writer on national defence and the military, is also a realist. In recent years, he has used his high profile and astonishing productivity to sound alarm bells about our own apathy, namely Canada's declining stature in the world, the deterioration of our armed forces and our decreasing capability to safeguard our own domestic security. Like Kissinger, and for basically the same reasons, Granatstein envisions an active international role for his country.
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Trick your ride: customizing the LAVIII
Thursday, February 01, 2007
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Earlier this month, I noticed an article online by Captain Nicole Meszaros, an Air Force PAffO, that talked about a sky-blue engineering unit being used to cut steel armour for use on the Army's LAVIII:

More than 100 Light Armoured Vehicles (LAV III) had their existing armour improved thanks to the addition of specially cut pieces of steel.

"Based on mission changes, a natural phenomenon, the Army asked us to help manage their changing needs," said Lieutenant-Colonel Frances Allen, Commanding Officer of ATESS [Aerospace and Telecommunications Engineering Support Squadron]." Generally, we support Air Force initiatives, but in this case the Army has turned to the Air Force and the Navy to improve their deployed equipment."

This is the first time ATESS has been involved in such a tri-service initiative. "The focus within the Canadian Forces has been adjusted to a CF-first focus so as the CF prioritizes, we could get involved in such future projects away from those that are strictly Air Force," said LCol Allen.

I didn't post about it, because the subject invites misinterpretation. I'll explain how in a moment.

Today, I've received information from the east coast that some journalists have been sniffing around the shipyards on what is either a similar project or an extension of this one. Which means that information on this project is going to be out there in a couple of days. And I'd bet good money that the way that information is presented is going to be wrong.

When I first saw the Air Force piece, I realized that someone wanted to talk about how one branch of the military is helping another. I suspect that's why the folks who wear the deep blue uniform on the east coast granted interviews on this project as well - to remind everyone that no matter which colour of uniform they wear, the Canadian Forces work together.
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Sexsmith proclaims Red Friday in honour of soldier
By DEREK LOGAN Herald Tribune staff
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When Pte. Farrel Starkey heads over to Afghanistan next week, his only major link back to his family in Sexsmith will be his laptop computer.

Although the Canadian Forces have digital link-ups at the Kandahar base, the wait times on them are long and the allotted time to talk to family is limited. Starkey's superiors suggested he get his own computer.

"He bought himself one with a webcam so he's hoping to be able to contact home more so we can see him because we don't know how good phone calls are from there," said his mother, Donna Starkey.

There is some anxiety in the family as the 24-year-old private heads off for his first overseas tour of duty Feb. 6. For the next seven months, Farrel will be an apprentice of sorts with the explosive ordinance disposal unit for the combat engineer regiment (4-CER) from his home base, CFB Gagetown near Oromocto, N.B.

Although his primary role is to drive one of the armoured Bison vehicles, he will also be assisting the ordinance team in clearing landmines and explosives for the frontline combat units.

For his family, which includes two brothers and 13-year-old twin sisters, there will be a lot of anxiety and concern to deal with over the coming months. The Taliban have been regularly leaking announcements of heightened aggression against the Canadian forces in southern Afghanistan.
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U.S. gives 8 attack helicopters to Pakistan, bolstering counterterror capability
The Associated Press Friday, February 2, 2007 ISLAMABAD, Pakistan
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The United States gave eight attack helicopters to Pakistan on Friday, bolstering the key U.S. ally's ability to combat Taliban and al-Qaida militants suspected of attacking neighboring Afghanistan from Pakistan's border areas.

The Pakistani army took possession of the Cobra AH1-F helicopters at Qasim air base, near the capital, Islamabad, the U.S. Embassy said. Another 12 Cobras are to be delivered later in a military aid package worth a total of US$50 million (€38.4 million), it said.

The refurbished helicopters, which are specially equipped for nighttime operations, are "important weapons in our common fight," U.S. Ambassador Ryan Crocker said at the hand-over ceremony, according to an embassy statement.

Afghanistan, the United States and the NATO-led coalition fighting Taliban and al-Qaida rebels in Afghanistan are urging Pakistan to do more to stop the insurgents from using Pakistan's remote border areas to launch attacks.

Pakistan insists it is doing all it can, pointing to the loss of hundreds of soldiers in operations against militants near the border with Afghanistan. President Pervez Musharraf said Friday that Pakistan will soon begin erecting fencing to reinforce the long, mountainous frontier.
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Residents respond to soldier’s request for help
By Paula Vogler Thursday, February 01, 2007 - Updated: 11:20 AM EST
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With boxes stacked to the ceiling in every nook, cranny, and corner in his small room as well as on the bed and under the bed, Captain Benjamin Tupper said he does not have room for any more.

The good news is that children in Afghanistan, where Tupper is stationed, are benefiting from the huge outpouring of aid Easton residents have sent in response to Tupper’s plea for winter clothing and small toys for these children.
“Of all the newspapers and community groups that responded to my appeal, by far Easton stands out as the town that responded the strongest,” said Tupper in an email. “To date I’ve received close to 40 boxes from Easton and I’m expecting another 40 in the coming weeks. I hope those who supported this project can appreciate what a significant impact a pair of shoes or an old floppy winter hat can have on a child without these items. The smiles, and the look of amazement on their faces when they receive them, are beyond explanation.”
Tupper said he and his fellow soldiers were able to distribute clothing on one recent mission to approximately 300-400 children with the items people have sent. They used a school in the village of Zaran Sharanwhich serves more than 400 local children as a distribution center.
“All boys, no girls allowed,” said Tupper, “which is unfortunately common here. However if the school served girls, it would have been burned down already by the Taliban.”
Tupper had to first secure the site and clear any booby traps or IEDs (improvised explosive devices). He said there were already close to 200 children milling around when he first arrived.
“In order to properly secure the site, we (had) to move all these kids about 200 meters away from the school grounds, which I can tell you was harder than herding cats,” Tupper said. “After an hour, the kids were outside the cordon, the area was deemed safe, and the trailers full of your items rolled into the school grounds.”
He said every child left with something; many barefoot children left with their first pair of winter boots. A lot of the items were pre-packaged in large plastic bags to speed up the distribution.
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US Military Kills 7 Insurgents in Southern Afghanistan
By VOA News 02 February 2007 
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The U.S. military in Afghanistan says coalition forces have killed up to seven militants preparing to launch a rocket attack in Paktika province, near the Pakistani border.

A military statement says coalition forces fired mortars and carried out airstrikes after spotting a group of militants setting up rockets in Bermel district of the eastern province Friday.

The military says a ground patrol went to the site and confirmed that two militants died on the spot and another five were presumed dead.

On Thursday, the United States gave thousands of weapons and hundreds of armored vehicles to Afghanistan's army as it braces for renewed fighting with Taleban insurgents in the coming warmer months.
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Editorial: Now’s not time to forget about Afghanistan
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The war in Iraq has been very costly to America. According to the Associated Press, 3,083 American troops have been killed in Iraq as of Jan. 31, and 23,279 have been wounded in fighting since the war began in March of 2003. In January alone, at least 82 U.S. personnel were killed.

Let’s not forget the Iraqi civilian deaths, which are estimated at more than 54,000. The U.N. Assistance Mission for Iraq reports 34,452 Iraqis were killed in 2006 alone.

The price of the war has been just as frightening, with more than $350 billion having been spent in Iraq. Combine that with the conflict in Afghanistan and operations against terrorism elsewhere and the cost has topped at least $500 billion.

While the war in Iraq continues to haunt Americans, it seems many people have forgotten about the U.S. service members who have been killed fighting in Afghanistan as a result of the U.S. invasion in late 2001.

As of Friday, close to 300 U.S. military members have died in Afghanistan, Pakistan and Uzbekistan, according to the Defense Department. Of the nearly 300 service members killed, the military has reported 192 were killed by hostile action.
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US takes over NATO in Afghanistan
(Reuters) 4 February 2007
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KABUL - The United States, which has just doubled its combat troops in Afghanistan, took over command of the 33,000-strong NATO force in the country on Sunday amid warnings of a bloody spring offensive by the Taleban.

The Taleban leader in a key southern district was also killed on Sunday as part of a NATO offensive to recapture the town of Musa Qala from the rebels, the alliance and residents said.

U.S. General Dan McNeill now heads NATO’s International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) after taking over from British General David Richards, who saw the force grow from just 9,000 as it expanded into the Taleban’s southern heartland during his nine-month command.

Last year was the bloodiest since U.S.-led forces ousted the Taleban government in 2001, and U.S. and NATO leaders warn of a bloody spring offensive in what analysts say will be the decisive year in the battle for Afghanistan.

More than 4,000 people died last year and the Taleban warned this weekend they have 2,000 suicide bombers ready for what they say will be the bloodiest year yet for foreign troops.
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Caring for Veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan Will Cost $662 Billion Over 40 Years
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According to Linda J. Bilmes, a former chief financial officer and assistant secretary of the US Commerce Department, it will cost $662 billion over the next 40 years to care for returned veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan. 
Bilmes, who now lectures on public policy at the John F Kennedy School of Government, accuses the Bush administration of being unprepared for what disability benefits and medical care will cost for veterans. 
The costs are increased by the fact that more soldiers are surviving their injuries. In Vietnam the wounds per death ratio was 2.6:1, now it is 16:1. In addition there is a large number of soldiers who have disabilities as mental health conditions.

Successes and Setbacks in the "Long War"
By David Huntwork on Feb 02, 07
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A year ago the Pentagon released its Quadrennial Defense Review. It was essentially a strategy for a 20-year “long war” and a generational battle plan designed to prepare the military for a Cold War type struggle against the forces of militant Islam.

According to the official unveiling:

Since the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, our nation has fought a global war against violent extremists who use terrorism as their weapon of choice, and who seek to destroy our free way of life. Our enemies seek weapons of mass destruction and, if they are successful, will likely attempt to use them in their conflict with free people everywhere. Currently, the struggle is centered in Iraq and Afghanistan, but we will need to be prepared and arranged to successfully defend our nation and its interests around the globe for years to come.

It is apparent that the United States and its assorted allies are still seeking to adequately define its enemy, reach a consensus on tactics, and achieve some sort of victory in (or graceful exit from) Iraq. In this age of round the clock news and information it is easy to get caught up in the crisis of the moment. But it is also important that we examine the big picture in the War on Terror and take the time to look back at some of the successes and setbacks experienced since 9-11.


* The United States exposed and virtually eliminated the Pakistani Khan Nuclear Proliferation Network which peddled nuclear weapons designs and related technology, as well as delivery systems, throughout the world. Client states included Iran, Syria, North Korea and Libya as well as attempted sales to Saddam’s Iraq.
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- edited 051211EST Feb 07 to add madrassa story -

Canadian soldiers reflect after months of combat
PAUL WORKMAN, CTV News, 4 Feb 07
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A Chinook helicopter beats its way to the ground sending a cloud of dust and stones in all directions.  It lands in the pitch of night, under a full moon, and as the tailgate drops, a line of soldiers comes running out, struggling under the weight of their packs and the force of the rotors.  Then with a signal from inside, another line of soldiers runs toward the chopper, whooping and yelling, some waving their weapons.  After six months in Afghanistan, their tour of duty is over, and this is the first leg home.  They've survived what will one day be remembered as "Canada's Afghan War."  In particular, they've survived weeks and months living a bit like rats in one of the most inhospitable camps on the front line.  They call it "Vimy."  Hours earlier, Private Jacob Williams was standing around, drinking coffee and smoking cigarettes, killing time as best he could before the flight back to Kandahar.  He looked skinny and worn out, with dirty hair, dirty face, dirty uniform, an engaging humor and years of battlefield insight packed into six months.  And he's only 21 ....

Changing of guard for Canadian troops
Challenge of real world awaits old guard as reinforcements arrive

Murray Brewster, Canadian Press, 5 Feb 07
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STRONG POINT NORTH, Afghanistan -- For Cpl. Alexander Darroch, the last six months of combat in southern Afghanistan have been "one big spin" in his mind.  It's been a mad kaleidoscope of firefights, seemingly endless stretches of boredom, rocket attacks, unbearable heat, patrols, sweat, food in plastic bags, infrequent showers and more patrols.  All that came to an end this weekend as members of Bravo Company, 1st Battalion Royal Canadian Regiment (RCR), based in Petawawa, Ont., were relieved by fresh troops from bases in Atlantic Canada.  Sgt. David Horocuk of 2nd Battalion Royal Canadian Regiment, based in Gagetown, N.B., takes a break at Strong Point Centre as fresh troops arrive.View Larger Image View Larger Image  "Good luck to these guys," said Darroch, who spoke reluctantly.  "The weather's starting to warm up again and hopefully they have a better go than we did. Hopefully they stay safe, know what I mean?"  Everything that Darroch didn't want to say was betrayed by the slight trembling of the cigarette in his hand ....

Canada backs plan to open Afghan version of Islamic school in Kandahar
MURRAY BREWSTER, Canadian Press, 5 Jan 07
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KANDAHAR, Afghanistan (CP) - The Afghan government hopes to open a madrassa - a school of Islamic education - in Kandahar province this year with the active encouragement of Canadians.  The country's Education Ministry has drawn up an $890,000 pilot program for a 16-classroom school, with a dormitory for 300 students, to be located in the vicinity of the provincial capital.  Unlike madrassas in northern Pakistan seen by the West as breeding grounds for fire-breathing extremism, the Afghan model would be based on Hanafi, a less fundamentalist form of Islam.  The plan is outlined in a Jan. 7, 2007, position paper written by the ministry. A senior education official confirmed the pilot program but refused to be quoted because he was not authorized to speak on the topic.  Support for the idea was percolating at the ground level from the Canadian Civilian-Military Co-operation team - known as CIMIC - in Zhari district where NATO fought a bloody campaign last fall to root out Taliban insurgents.  "They see education as one of the keys to solving their problems around this area," said Sgt. John Courtney, one of two CIMIC members at Patrol Base Wilson west of Kandahar .....

Kandahar PRT conducts mine awareness training for children
ISAF news release # 2007-089, 5 Feb 07
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KANDAHAR, Afghanistan (5 February) – The Kandahar Provincial Reconstruction Team (PRT), at Camp Nathan Smith, conducted mine and unexploded ordnance awareness training for local children in Kandahar yesterday.  “The aim of this training session is to teach the kids three simple steps to follow if they find a mine or unexploded ordnance: don’t touch it; stay away from it and tell an adult, a policeman or an ISAF soldier,” said Master Cpl. Brendan Hynes.  Following the training, PRT members provided the children with a snack and donated rubber boots, socks, gloves, backpacks and toys. One child also received medical attention for an infection on his foot.  Many of the children who attended the training previously received medical attention during a medical outreach patrol conducted by the Kandahar PRT at the Kandahar City fire brigade’s compound on Jan. 7.

Abdul Ghafour killed in Musa Qala
ISAF news release # 2007-090, 5 Feb 07
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KANDAHAR, Afghanistan (5 February) – Yesterday a senior Taliban commander, Abdul Ghafour, was killed in a precision air strike by ISAF, in Musa Qala district.  Ghafour was a key Taliban leader who played an instrumental part in the seizure of Musa Qala district centre on Friday.  “By removing him, we have disrupted their command and control and made it more difficult for the insurgency to plan their next move,” said Colonel Tom Collins, ISAF spokesman. “The strike was made by ISAF forces at the request of Government of Afghanistan after the Taliban had threatened the local elders and their governing authority.”

NATO drops fliers calling on Taliban to abandon southern Afghan town
Associated Press, 5 Feb 07
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NATO-led troops dropped leaflets on a southern Afghan town overrun by militants, warning them to leave after their leader was killed in an airstrike, officials said Monday.  The leaflets dropped over Musa Qala late Sunday ordered the Taliban to leave the town, Interior Ministry spokesman Zemeri Bashary said.  An estimated 200 fighters descended on Musa Qala last week, destroying the government compound and temporarily taking local elders hostage. An October peace deal between village elders and the Helmand provincial government prevented NATO, Afghan and Taliban fighters from coming within 5 kilometers (3 miles) of the town center.  Capt. Andre Salloum, a spokesman for the NATO-led force in southern Afghanistan, confirmed that alliance aircraft helped distribute the leaflets over Musa Qala. Two different messages from Helmand's governor were dropped — one addressed to the people of Musa Qala and the other to Taliban militants, he said ....

General McNeill assumes command of ISAF
ISAF news release # 2007-086, 4 Feb 07
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KABUL, Afghanistan (4 February) – U.S. Gen. Dan McNeill assumed command of ISAF from British Gen. David Richards, in the presence of President Hamid Karzai, during a change of command ceremony this morning at HQ ISAF.  The passing of the symbolic ISAF pennant from General Richards to General McNeill, flanked by an ISAF honor guard, marked the change of command.  Upon taking command, General McNeill praised the efforts of President Karzai and General Richards and reaffirmed ISAF’s commitment to facilitate the reconstruction of Afghanistan.

Canadians weary of costly Afghan fighting
While its allies occupy safe zones, Canada suffered 20 percent of coalition deaths last year

LAURA KING and MAGGIE FARLEY, Los Angeles Times, 5 Feb 07
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In the wind-scoured high desert that once was the Taliban heartland, the will and determination of a little-heralded American ally have been undergoing a harsh test.  For six months, the task of confronting insurgents in volatile Kandahar province in southern Afghanistan has fallen to Canada, whose troops have participated in myriad peacekeeping missions in recent years but had not seen high-intensity combat since the Korean War.  Although its nearly 3,000 troops account for less than 10 percent of the allied forces in Afghanistan, Canada absorbed nearly 20 percent of the coalition's combat deaths last year, losing 36 soldiers. In addition, a suicide bomber killed a Canadian diplomat.  The casualty count in a region that Taliban commanders have pledged to seize this spring has triggered debate about whether Canada is finding itself in a quagmire of American making.  The deployment is a strain for military families. Moreover, the Canadian mission points up the strains caused by unequal burden-sharing within NATO.  Already, alliance unity has been frayed by what commanders describe as an insufficient troop commitment and rules that sharply limit the combat capabilities of some participants ....

Defending Canada on the cheap
Even the 'expensive' option to be presented by the military for new spending would leave our forces in worse shape than they are now

Colin Kenny, Ottawa Citizen, 5 Feb 07
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So here's the situation. Canada's military, badly undernourished after long years of neglect, drafts a needs list. The list asks Canada's nearly new government for more money. It sets out three possible cost options for funding the Canadian Forces for the next two decades.  The most expensive option it presents calls for an increase of Canada's defence budget from the current level of $14.3 million a year to something between $35 billion and $36.5 billion a year by 2025.  That isn't enough, but the cheaper options are worse. Either would actually worsen Canada's already depleted military capacity.  The government would be better off arming the populace with slingshots than going with one of those two options ....

Canada fights 'holistic war' in Afghanistan
Gary Ostofi, Hamilton Spectator, 5 Feb 07
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Get over it. Canada no longer is a peacekeeper.  I know many Canadians like to point to our past accomplishments in peacekeeping, but that has come to an end. We have thrust ourselves on to the world stage by fighting a "holistic war" -- which is not to be confused with a holy war -- in Afghanistan.  Just what is a "holistic war"?  It is a war fought using all the tools you can muster -- militarily, diplomatically and with the civilians in mind.  I recently attended a round-table discussion with Brigadier-General David Fraser, the most recent commander of Canadian troops in southern Afghanistan.  Fraser said that when he went into battle there was a gun in one hand and money in the other. Fraser and the soldiers under his command were fighting the Taliban -- a vile, dastardly and venomous group. They are not the Afghan people as a whole. He went after the "snake" and asked the Afghans to help.  Why would Fraser think that the Afghans would help? The Taliban are from their communities and appear to be like them. They bombard the Afghans with rhetoric that sends a message of fear about foreign invaders. If the Afghan people do not buy that message, they use fear, threats and murder to gain compliance ....

Filling the holes
NATO strategy in Afghanistan faces key obstacles to success

Ray Crabbe, Winnipeg Free Press, 31 Jan 07
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....  Establishing security must be viewed as a prelude to the essential rebuilding, reconstruction and humanitarian efforts so critical to winning over the Afghan people. Without pre-judging the outcome of the U.S. efforts in Iraq over the next critical eight to 10 months, the U.S. and NATO fully realize their credibility is at stake, and simply cannot afford to let Afghanistan slip through their fingers.  Failure in Afghanistan will allow the country to revert back to a failed state and breeding grounds for insurgents and terrorists to wreak havoc on the world. Plugging these holes in the Afghan mission will go a long way to preventing such a catastrophe.  The planned reinforcement of NATO is a good first step; getting the Pakistani government to eliminate the Taliban safe havens would be a monumental leap forward.

Articles found February 5, 2007

Weary Ontario troops in Afghanistan get relief
Mon, February 5, 2007 By CP
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STRONG POINT NORTH, Afghanistan -- For Cpl. Alexander Darroch, the last six months of combat in southern Afghanistan have been "one big spin" in his mind.

It's been a kaleidoscope of firefights, stretches of boredom, rocket attacks, unbearable heat, patrols, sweat, food in plastic bags, infrequent showers and more patrols.

All that came to an end this weekend as members of Bravo Company, 1st Battalion Royal Canadian Regiment (RCR), based in Petawawa, Ont., were relieved by fresh troops from bases in Atlantic Canada.

Col. Omer Lavoie was mindful of the wounds his men will carry home.

"I was asked at one point in time whether I have any scars," said Lavoie.

"Sincerely, I've got 19 scars. I lost 19 soldiers across this tour."

Minister Won't Rule Out Deploying Troops to Afghanistan's South
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Just days before the German government decides whether to allow its Tornado jets to patrol in southern Afghanistan, Defense Minister Jung said he would not rule out sending troops to the relatively more violent south.

If sent, the six German jets could serve as a means of locating potential targets and passing the information on to operational planners, Jung said.

We need better reconnaissance to counter terrorist attacks in a timely manner," the minister told the Welt am Sonntag newspaper.

Jung also said he would not rule out sending German special forces wherever they are required saying Germany "would naturally help, even in other regions" of Afghanistan as it already has by providing NATO with transportation and radio technology.

Decision expected this week

The German cabinet is set Wednesday to debate and possibly decide on whether to permit the country's Tornado reconnaissance jets to fly patrols in southern Afghanistan, as requested by NATO and the Afghan government.

The planes could arrive in Afghanistan by the end of March if the deployment is approved by both the German government and parliament.

Germany currently has nearly 2,900 soldiers engaged in reconstruction efforts in the relatively safe northern region of Afghanistan, and NATO, which leads the international military deployment to Afghanistan, has repeatedly requested Germany expand its Afghan mission.
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Canada fights 'holistic war' in Afghanistan
By Gary Ostofi The Hamilton Spectator (Feb 5, 2007)
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Get over it. Canada no longer is a peacekeeper.

I know many Canadians like to point to our past accomplishments in peacekeeping, but that has come to an end. We have thrust ourselves on to the world stage by fighting a "holistic war" -- which is not to be confused with a holy war -- in Afghanistan.

Just what is a "holistic war"?

It is a war fought using all the tools you can muster -- militarily, diplomatically and with the civilians in mind.

I recently attended a round-table discussion with Brigadier-General David Fraser, the most recent commander of Canadian troops in southern Afghanistan.

Fraser said that when he went into battle there was a gun in one hand and money in the other. Fraser and the soldiers under his command were fighting the Taliban -- a vile, dastardly and venomous group. They are not the Afghan people as a whole. He went after the "snake" and asked the Afghans to help.

Why would Fraser think that the Afghans would help? The Taliban are from their communities and appear to be like them. They bombard the Afghans with rhetoric that sends a message of fear about foreign invaders. If the Afghan people do not buy that message, they use fear, threats and murder to gain compliance.

Afghans are a tribal and warrior society. They are, for the most part, illiterate. As a people, they are tough, resilient and loyal to their tribe. Afghans want to make their own decisions in their own context. Outsiders, be they Taliban or foreigners, are judged on results.
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Petawawa Soldiers Leave Afghanistan
Josh Pringle  Sunday, February 4, 2007
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Canadian soldiers from CFB Petawawa are beginning the trip home from southern Afghanistan.

Fresh troops from bases in Atlantic Canada began arriving at the Canadian base at the Kandahar Air Field over the weekend.

The soldiers from CFB Petawawa have endured the bloodiest combat Canadians have seen in half a century.

Since August, 19 Canadian soldiers have died in the Panjwaii and Zhari districts.

12-hundred soldiers from Atlantic Canada will arrive in Kandahar over the next few weeks.

Coalition forces in Afghanistan are preparing for a possible spring offensive by the Taliban.

Warning Issued Against Possible Kidnap of Koreans in Afghanistan
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The Korean government today cautioned Koreans in Afghanistan over a possible attempt by a group of insurgents there to kidnap Korean travelers.
The warning followed a recent intelligence report suggesting the kidnap attempt.

``The Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade is taking appropriate measures to protect our citizens in the Afghanistan city of Torkham as it came across an intelligence report that Taliban forces based in Peshawar, Pakistan, are planning on kidnapping South Koreans traveling from Torkham to the capital Kabul," the ministry said in a press release.

The ministry said the insurgents appeared to be working for the release of one of their top leaders, who was arrested about a year ago.

``The reason they picked South
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Heritage Foundation lauds Musharraf’s role
Sunday, February 04, 2007 By Khalid Hasan
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WASHINGTON: The Heritage Foundation, the flagship conservative think tank in the capital, has said that the Pakistan–Afghanistan border area is one of the most dangerous terrorist safe havens in the world and while President Musharraf’s assistance has been laudable, also worrisome is the continued presence of Taliban and Al Qaeda terrorists in the region and the growing belief in Washington that the Pakistan government could do more to crack down on these elements which are straining US-Pakistan ties.

The paper, relating to the recommendations of the 9/11 Commission, was authored jointly by James Jay Carafano, Baker Spring, James Sherk, Brian Walsh, Helle Dale and Lisa Curtis.

The six experts write that in apprehending key Al Qaeda leaders President Musharraf has contributed to a strong US–Pakistan partnership since the 9/11 attacks
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U.S. gen. leads NATO in Afghanistan
Feb. 4, 2007, 5:27PM By JASON STRAZIUSO Associated Press Writer
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KABUL, Afghanistan — Gen. Dan McNeill, the highest ranking U.S. general to lead troops in Afghanistan, took command of 35,500 NATO-led soldiers on Sunday, putting an American face on the international mission after nine months of British command.

The transition comes after a year of sharply increased violence following the alliance's push into the Taliban's southern heartland, and military officials said privately they expect McNeill to take a harder line with militants than his predecessor, Gen. David Richards.

Richards backed a peace deal in the southern town of Musa Qala that crumbled in his last days in command when an estimated 200 Taliban fighters overran the town on Thursday. NATO said a targeted airstrike Sunday killed a key Taliban leader causing the upheaval.

The appointment of McNeill, one of only 11 four-star generals in the Army, raises the profile of the American mission here two weeks after the Defense Department extended the tour of 3,200 10th Mountain Division soldiers.

There are now 26,000 U.S. troops in Afghanistan, the highest number ever. About 14,000 American forces fall under the command of NATO's International Security Assistance Force; 12,000 troops focused on training Afghan forces and special operations fall under the U.S.-led coalition.
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General calls for more troops
The Observer, Feb. 4

The British general who has been commanding Nato forces has called for a major reinforcement of the multinational coalition efforts in Afghanistan, saying he has 'always been without the resources [he] would wish for' during his nine months in charge and calling a crucial battle against the Taliban last autumn 'a damned near-run thing'.

Interviews from the most senior to the most junior levels in Afghanistan by The Observer have revealed a chronic lack of troops, which will be only partially allayed by the dispatch of extra Nato soldiers announced by American, British and Polish governments in recent days. A series of European governments have refused to send more troops and the UK has only enhanced the 6,000-strong British deployment by around 350...

This newspaper has been able to piece together an account of what happened at the critical battle at Panjway, close to Kandahar in the south of Afghanistan, late last year. The battle, in which it is estimated more than a thousand Taliban fighters were killed, is now described by Nato spokesmen as the engagement that established a crucial 'psychological ascendancy'. However, victory only came after five days of fierce fighting during which the Taliban came close to forcing heavily outnumbered Nato forces to give up their attack.

With troops committed to essential operations around the country, only one company of Canadian soldiers was found to spearhead the assault. Fighting was so fierce that the ammunition reserves for the entire operation were almost exhausted within 24 hours [emphasis added]. Successive attempts to cross the crucial Argandhab river and advance into Taliban positions failed, with casualties being inflicted both by enemy ambushes and by a friendly-fire incident involving a coalition jet...

British fear gung-ho Americans
The Sunday Times, Feb. 4

SENIOR defence sources have voiced fears that an imminent push by the United States in Afghanistan will force British soldiers to adopt an overly aggressive approach that will damage relations with ordinary Afghans and play into the hands of the Taliban.

The extent of “frictions” between US and British commanders are revealed in the latest edition of Pegasus, the journal of the Parachute Regiment, in which an unnamed senior officer accuses the Americans of undermining British strategy during last year’s handover.

British troops had planned to focus on reconstruction to win hearts and minds among the local population, the article states. However, American commanders “forced” them to take part in an offensive.

“The UK taskforce arrived in theatre immediately prior to Operation Mountain Thrust, an offensive operation being planned by the US commander to destroy and defeat the Taliban,” Pegasus says. “Despite our ‘ownership’ of Helmand and our request to conduct ops in ‘the British way’ we were unable to prevent Mountain Thrust occurring. As a result of the threat of unilateral action and in order to ensure our own force protection, UK taskforce’s involvement was forced.”

The article goes on to suggest that Mountain Thrust caused more problems than it solved. “This operation forced a change in the security dynamic in a number of areas across the province and played, to a certain extent, into the hands of the Taliban,” it argues.

“Consequently the operation created a dent in the UK taskforce’s reputation with the local population and meant an indifferent start to the mission.”

As US Army General Dan McNeil takes over command of Nato forces today, British defence sources fear that the switch will herald tougher tactics [emphasis added]. While a number of prominent US commanders have commended “the British approach” to counter-insurgency, the bulk of the US military has tended in both Iraq and Afghanistan to be more aggressive...

Pegasus journal here--article does not seem to be online:

Job done: Taliban ‘are on the run’
The Sunday Times , Feb. 4

At Nato headquarters in Kabul yesterday, they were putting a rather desperate spin on events [emphasis added], saying the incursion proved to critics such as the Americans that the Musa Qala agreement had not been a peace deal with the Taliban. “We will take it back but in a manner and timing of our choosing,” said Mark Laity, a spokesman. “It’s a question of if, not when.”

Whoever ends up with their flag flying over Musa Qala, the general will not be returning home as “Richards of Afghanistan” as he clearly hoped when he arrived last April. But he has acquired widespread respect from both Afghans and diplomats as well as a nasty bout of whooping cough topped with viral pneumonia.

“General Richards has done a good job,” said President Hamid Karzai yesterday. “He’s tried hard and the situation is much better. But I don’t think we can declare victory.”..

Via Norman's Spectator:

Try conquering the cultural divide
ChronicleHerald.ca, Jan. 5, by SCOTT TAYLOR

JUST OUTSIDE the sprawling NATO airbase in Kandahar, a large temporary camp is full of internally displaced local Afghans.

Housed in a combination of mud huts and tents, these Pashtu farmers live without access to electricity or even the most basic of sanitation facilities. As one travels down the main highway, it becomes evident from the filthy streets that most of Kandahar’s city dwellers do not live under much better conditions...

In contrast to that poverty, less than a kilometre down the bumpy road is the NATO base. Once inside, you realize that you’ve gone from the Third World to a world with all possible modern amenities. Massive generators pump out electrical power to the point that the entire compound actually hums day and night.

Three giant mess halls cook up a veritable smorgasbord four times a day to feed the base’s 8,000 coalition soldiers. Should the troops tire of the seven-day repeat menu the camp caterer dishes out (including steak and lobster nights each week), they can always chow down on some fast food. Whether your preference is Burger King, Subway, Korean sushi or pizza, you need only to mosey down to the central community centre known as the boardwalk...

But if the coalition forces are ever going to win the hearts and minds of the Afghan people, they need to start bridging the immense cultural divide. To date, the Canadian military has not been able to produce a single soldier capable of speaking conversational Pashtu [emphasis added]. We have had troops in the Afghan theatre for five years and not one can do any more than exchange rudimentary pleasantries with the inhabitants. What a novel concept it would be for our soldiers to spend their evenings learning Pashtu instead of ballroom dancing...

While soldiers might moan and groan that such studies would cut into their "free time," the fact is our troops deployed abroad are expected to be on duty "24-7." Besides, speaking Pashtu would only serve to better protect them and enable them to enhance their operational effectiveness through an increased awareness of the environment.

No amount of salsa training can accomplish that.

Afghan troops 'huge asset'
Key to Canada's exit strategy

Doug Schmidt, Windsor Star, February 05

SABLAGHAI, Afghanistan - "The Taliban will kill me if I talk to you ... it's a little dangerous," Sardar Mohammed tells a reporter through a Pashto interpreter.

Sardar casts a nervous glance toward the curious who are gathering beyond the dozens of heavily armed soldiers and Afghan police, backed by tanks, armoured vehicles, explosives-sniffing dogs and specially trained military extraction teams massing next to a nearby closed school. The interpreter says the Taliban and their spies lurk everywhere in this rural village pocket in the Zhari District that is still not securely held by Afghan and international forces...

...hidden among those coming home are remnants of the Taliban.

As the armoured units spread out to form protective cordons, heavily armed foot patrols are being formed to start a neighbourhood search, compound by compound, room by room. While bolstered by plenty of foreign military muscle, they're being led by Afghan National Army (ANA) troops mentored by Canadian officers.

If Canada and the soldiers of 36 other countries on this UN-sanctioned mission are ever to leave this strife-torn country, it will be the ANA and Afghan National Police who will have to be relied on to shoulder the security burden. Neither of these two national security forces existed four years ago.

"This is an eventual exit strategy ... the ANA are here to stay," says Capt. John Benson, head of a five-man Operational Mentor Liaison Team (OMLT). Benson is among the first group of Canadians to be mentoring Afghan soldiers, picking up on an idea inherited last fall from the Americans and now in practice by the seven largest coalition partners...

Laven, like many Afghans, goes by one name, is young but responsible for a household of 10 in his native Kabul. Fighting for the past year, he says he last saw his wife and kids six months ago.

That will soon change, promises Lt.-Col. Jean-Marc Lanthier, head of Canada's OMLT teams that total 64 officers. He and other army brass praise the courage and skills of the Afghan soldiers, but the young national army is struggling with the basics, including paying, housing, feeding and otherwise caring for the grunts who do the fighting...

The Afghan army currently stands at about 36,000 soldiers with the goal being 70,000 by the end of next year. Entry-level soldiers get "decent pay, not tremendous," says Lanthier -- US$100 a month for what can be very dangerous work.

Also in March, soldiers will begin seeing deductions in their pay to support new pension and disability benefits, as well as to provide health coverage for their families.

But building an army, especially one where many of its soldiers are illiterate, takes a lot of patience. Despite what politicians back home are saying about Canada's current commitment lasting another two years, "nobody expects us to pack up and leave in 2009," says Lanthier. "We're going to have to be here for quite a bit longer.".. [emphasis added]

Canada boosts support for successful Afghan microfinance program
CIDA news release 2007-04, 5 Feb 07
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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 allocate an additional $16 million to Afghanistan's national microcredit program, the Microfinance Investment Support Facility for Afghanistan (MISFA).

"Microfinance has proven to be a vital and effective tool in helping Afghans rebuild their lives and regain their self-sufficiency," said Minister Verner. "As the leading international donor for this program, Canada's New Government is ensuring the freedom of Afghans, especially women, to invest in the future and long-term growth of their country."

Minister Verner made the announcement at a breakfast hosted by the Board of Trade of Metropolitain Montreal, with fellow guests Amjad Arbab, Managing Director of MISFA, and Mary Coyle, the Director of the Coady International Institute at St. Francis Xavier University, Nova Scotia, world-renowned as a centre of excellence in community-based development. Ms. Coyle sits as Canada's Representative on the Board of Directors for MISFA.

CIDA will provide $16 million to MISFA, which provides poor Afghans with access to loans and financial services that would otherwise be unavailable to them. Launched by the Government of Afghanistan in 2003, MISFA funds 13 microfinance institutions that, in turn, offer a range of income generation and enterprise development services, as well as consumer loans to the poor. Currently, the microcredit program is helping over 300,000 Afghans, almost three quarters of whom are women. During the last 12 months, the number of Afghans benefitting has almost doubled, with an average of over 10,000 additional Afghans accessing the program each month.

Last year, an interim performance review of MISFA and the Afghan microfinance sector was commissioned by the Afghan Government and international donors including Canada. Published in October 2006, the report concludes that MISFA's design and implementation should serve as a model for building the microfinance sector in other conflict affected countries.

Today's announcement is part of Canada's total contribution of nearly $1 billion over 10 years aimed at reconstruction, reducing poverty and strengthening Afghanistan's governance, all of which are key elements in stabilizing the country and the region.

For more information on Canada's programming in Afghanistan, please refer to CIDA's website at www.cida.gc.ca/afghanistan-e. 

Canada to bolster Afghanistan's 'model' microcredit
Afghanistan Watch, 5 Feb 07
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Today Josée Verner, Minister of International Cooperation announced that Canada, the leading donor for microcredit, will give an extra $16 million to Afghanistan's national program, the Microfinance Investment Support Facility for Afghanistan (MISFA).  While this is a modest budget by international standards, money spent in this way can have a big payoff. MISFA was launched in 2003 and currently funds 13 microfinance institutions that provide poor Afghans with access to loans and financial services. The program has doubled in reach in the past twelve months, and currently assists 300,000 Afghans, three-quarters of whom are women ....

Ahmed Rashid, EurasiaNet, 5 Feb 07
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The fall of Musa Qala, a small town in Afghanistan’s southern Helmand Province, may herald the start of an offensive by the Taliban in order to preempt NATO reinforcements that are arriving in southern portions of the country. The Taliban attack came amid a regular rotation of commanders of the NATO force, with British Gen. David Richards, an expert at negotiations, giving way to an American, Gen. Dan McNeill.  Several hundred Taliban insurgents overran Musa Qala on February 2. The attack laid waste to an agreement there, brokered last fall by Richards and local tribal elders, under which NATO troops agreed to withdraw from the town in return for a commitment by local Afghan leaders to oppose the Taliban. On February 4, a NATO air strike killed the Taliban commander, identified as Mullah Abdul Ghaffar, who was supposedly in charge of the Musa Qala operation.  The retaliatory air strike came shortly before Richards relinquished command of the 33,000-strong NATO force, including 14,000 Americans. A separate American force, numbering roughly 8,000, operates in Afghanistan independently of NATO command ....

Taliban Bases Destroyed by U.K. Forces Near Afghan Dam Project
Paul Tighe, Bloomberg wire service, 6 Feb 07
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U.K. troops destroyed a Taliban base in Afghanistan's southern Helmand province in an operation that will allow a dam project to go ahead to bring electricity to 1.8 million people, the Ministry of Defense said.  The base, consisting of 25 compounds, was used to carry out attacks near the Kajaki hydro-electric dam, the ministry said in a statement yesterday on its Web site. U.K. forces, in operations in the past six weeks, created a safe zone around the dam for engineers to bring the project to full power, it said.  British Royal Marines destroyed a number of Taliban bunkers and trench systems and ``gathered valuable intelligence for future operations,'' said Captain Anthony Forshaw, commander of the offensive known as Operation Volcano.  The U.K. government last week said it was sending an additional 300 soldiers to join its 6,000-strong contingent serving with the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan. More than 5,000 British soldiers are in Helmand where Taliban fighters in the past year have increased attacks to destabilize President Hamid Karzai's government ....

British forces take Taliban HQ
The Sun Online (UK), 5 Feb 07
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BRITISH forces seized a Taliban base in Afghanistan yesterday in a major step towards improving energy supplies in Helmand province.  Royal Marines cleared out 25 compounds in Kajaki after months of mortar attacks.  Operation Volcano helped secure the area around a hydro-electric dam supplying 1.8million people ....

British forces take Taliban base
Daily Mail (UK), 4 Feb 07
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British forces have taken control of a Taliban base in Afghanistan in a major step towards improving energy supplies in Helmand province.  Royal Marines cleared out 25 compounds in Kajaki, northern Helmand, after months of mortar attacks.  Operation Volcano was part of a ongoing drive to secure the area around a hydro-electric dam so engineers can enter and bring it up to full power.  It will then supply electricity to 1.8 million people in Afghanistan.  Troops from M Company 42 Commando - based at Royal Marines Bickleigh Barracks, Plymouth - have been clearing compounds for the past six weeks, regularly coming under fire.  They were supported in the operation by 59 Commando Royal Engineers Arms Explosives Search Team and Royal Engineer Search Teams, based at Royal Marines Chivenor, in Barnstaple, Devon ....

Ulema council members shot dead in Kandahar
Saeed Zabuli & Majid Arif, Pajhwok Afghan News, 4 Feb 07
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Five people, two of them members of a local religious council, were killed on Sunday during the latest violence incidents in southern Afghanistan.  Brig Gen Esmatullah Alizai, police chief of the southern Kandahar province, told Pajhwok Afghan News two unidentified armed motorcyclists opened fire on Mullah Sayed Imam, deputy head and a member of the provincial Ulema council around 6:30 pm. Both were killed in the shooting from running motorbike, said Alizai, adding that the attackers mangeed to escape after the incident ....

Construction company workers kidnapped
Saeed Zabuli/Jamal Asifkhel, Pajhwok Afghan News, 4 Feb 07
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Three local workers of a construction company have been kidnapped in the volatile southern province of Uruzgan, officials said on Sunday.  Deputy police chief of Uruzgan Mohammad Nabi said workers of Kohsar Construction Company, contracted by the government for running reconstruction projects, were abducted from Toor Baba area near the provincial capital of Tirin Kot.  They were on way from their work place to Tirin Kot Saturday afternoon when interrcepted by unidentified gunmen. The abductors set fire to the vehicle they were travelling in, and abducted the men on gunpoint, the officer told Pajhwok Afghan News.  The company is involved in reconstruction projects of the National Solidarity Programme (NSP) in the province.  Taliban fighters are believed to be involved in the kidnapping of the three workers ....

Grave concern over impunity plans for war lords
Integrated Regional Information Networks News (UN), 4 Feb 07
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The United Nations and a leading human rights group in Afghanistan have expressed concern over a draft law that seeks to grant impunity to Afghans accused of committing war crimes during 25 years of conflict in the country.  On 31 January, the 249-seat lower house (Wolesi Jirga) of Afghanistan’s National Assembly approved and voted in favour of a draft law granting impunity to all those who committed war crimes during the Soviet occupation, from 1979 to 1989; the civil war that followed until 1996; and during the Taliban rule until late 2001. Some members of the lower house said that the motion would boost reconciliation in Afghanistan.  The bill also calls on opposition groups such as Hezb-e-Islami of Gul Buddin Hekmatyar and the Taliban, who are waging a deadly insurgency against the government, to join the peace process.  The draft bill still needs to be endorsed by the 102-member upper house (Meshrano Jirga) of parliament and then signed by President Hamid Karzai before it is enforced as law ....

Warlord Democracy
Dr. G. Rauf Roashan, Afgha.com, 4 Feb 07
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A bill of amnesty passed by the lower chamber of Afghan parliament to those accused of war crimes and violations of human rights comes as a threat to Afghanistan’s evolving democratic system and the nation’s aspirations for a redressing of its grievances during the long years of war in the country and might drive the nation farther away from the so-called democratic institutions.  If the bill is also passed by the upper chamber-chances are that it might, it would make a great test of President Karzai’s statesmanship. It is apparent that he would have a great challenge coming his way. Perhaps a presidential veto accompanied by a Supreme Court ruling that parliament cannot legally make such a law would save the situation. It is hoped that as dictated by prudence he makes a decision that would bring him closer to the nation rather than the warlords ....

Rebuilding ‘not on track’
Integrated Regional Information Networks News (UN), 1 Feb 07
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The international community pledged billions of dollars for the recovery of Afghanistan in 2006, and in return, the Afghan government promised to introduce policy reforms to improve its people’s lives. Out of this was born the Afghanistan Compact, which established targets and benchmarks to be met by the Afghan authorities over five years.  In February 2006, 64 countries and 11 international organisations meeting in London agreed to contribute US$10.5 billion towards the reconstruction of Afghanistan until the end of 2010. They identified security, governance and economic development as the three key areas that the government needed to focus on to ensure stability and progress.  One year on, analysts say the Afghan government is behind in meeting even the most basic targets. In a report released in New York on Tuesday, Human Rights Watch (HRW) says the Afghan government is failing to meet the basic security and human rights needs of its citizens.  "Afghanistan hasn’t really met any of the benchmarks, particularly those addressing the wellbeing of the Afghan people," said Sam Zarifi, Asia research director at HRW.  "Kabul and its international backers have made little progress in providing basic needs like security, food, electricity, water and healthcare." ....

Pakistan hunts 'high value targets' in Waziristan
Afghanistan Sun, 5 Feb 07
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Pakistan has deployed over 2000 para-military personnel in volatile North and South Waziristan to hunt for 'high value' terrorist targets, including key Taliban operative Baitullah Mehsud.  The deployment is ahead of what the government calls 'grand operation' in its Federally Administered Tribal Area (FATA) bordering Afghanistan.  'Security forces are expected to begin a grand operation in the troubled Waziristan tribal region to hunt down Al Qaeda and Taliban militants, including Baitullah Mehsud, who is holed up in the area,' The Daily Times said Monday quoting unnamed officials.  In a related report, the newspaper said the intelligence agencies have alerted the interior ministry that 15 Taliban fighters arrived in Rawalpindi from Bannu and South Waziristan on Jan 25 with plans to target US and UN interests in Islamabad ....

New Film Opens Old Wounds in Afghanistan
Actor flees Afghanistan after “Kabul Express” creates uproar.

Hafiz Gardesh, Afghan Recovery Report, ARR No. 240, 30 Jan 06
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It may be conventional wisdom that there is no such thing as bad publicity, but for Afghan actor Hanif Hangam the furore surrounding the film Kabul Express has been very unfortunate indeed. He has been forced to flee his homeland because of lines uttered by his character in a new Indian-American-Afghan film.  Kabul Express, directed by Indian filmmaker Kabir Khan, paints a portrait of post-Taleban Afghanistan, telling the story of two Indian journalists who come to cover the conflict and are taken hostage by the remnants of the fundamentalist faction.  In the course of their adventure, they meet a variety of people including one character, a truck driver played by Hangam, who complains loudly about the Hazara ethnic group. According to the character, Hazaras are dangerous bandits who kill people by driving nails into their skulls.  “I just read my lines,” said Hangam, appearing on Tolo television, where he is a presenter on the popular Alarm Bell show. He was bewildered by all the fuss, he said, but in mid-January he fled Kabul and took refuge in India ....

Military investigates claim detainees abused
Civilian agency also wants answers after allegations at least one Afghan was beaten

Paul Koring, Globe & Mail, 6 Feb 07
Article Link - Permalink to both Globe & Mail articles

The Canadian military has launched an investigation into allegations of detainee abuse by soldiers in Afghanistan, The Globe and Mail has learned.  Spokesperson Major Luc Gaudet confirmed Monday that the military began its probe last week after being informed that the Military Police Complaints Commission — a civilian body formed to investigate complaints against the military — had received a request for an investigation into the treatment of several detainees. The commission is expected to decide within days whether to launch its own probe — a “public interest investigation” — into the allegations.  At least one, and perhaps three, Afghan detainees “taken captive by the Canadian Forces appears to have been beaten while detained and interrogated by them,” alleges Amir Attaran, a University of Ottawa law professor, in a letter sent to the commission.  The allegations are based on documents obtained by Mr. Attaran under the Access to Information Act outlining injuries in the cases.  The Globe and Mail has examined the military documents obtained by Mr. Attaran that refer to injuries sustained by detainees while in Canadian custody last April ....

Ottawa silent on fate of captured terror suspects
No accounting for scores of detainees that have been handed to Americans, Afghans

PAUL KORING, Globe & Mail, 6 Feb 07
Article Link

Scores of terrorist suspects captured by Canadians have disappeared into the murky netherworld of Afghan and American prisons, but Ottawa refuses to say what has happened to them or even if it knows whether any have been tried, charged, or released, or how they are treated.  According to a Canadian Forces log of detainees, 40 had been handed over by April, 2006. From a review of a heavily excised and incomplete set of military police documents, it seems that several dozen more have been captured and handed over to Afghan police since then.  But Canada's Expeditionary Forces Command, headed by Lieutenant-General Michel Gautier, who oversees all Canadian Forces deployed abroad, refuses to account for terrorist suspects captured since May 1, 2006.  Some have apparently been freed by the Canadians who determined -- in a process not made clear -- that they didn't deserve to be handed over to the Afghan police. However, there is no accounting for them either, only the terse notations "fit for release" on medical forms.  Others, dubbed "fit for transfer," disappear into Afghan prisons. Once there, there is no further Canadian oversight.  Canada's out-of-sight, out-of-mind approach means detainees are handed over to others as soon as possible, often within hours. Once gone, the Canadian government, in effect, washes its hands of further responsibility or accountability ....

Canadians accused of Afghan abuse
Probe launched into complaints by three detainees in Kandahar

Bruce Campion-Smith, Toronto Star, 6 Feb 07
Article Link

Two separate probes are underway into a complaint that up to three prisoners suffered injuries while in the custody of Canadian soldiers in Afghanistan, the Toronto Star has learned.  The allegation, if substantiated, could rock military morale and further undermine public support in Canada's dangerous – and controversial – mission in Kandahar.  Questions are being asked about how as many as three unidentified men suffered injuries to their upper body while being detained by Canadian soldiers in the Kandahar region last April.  And investigators want to know why the military police officers who eventually took charge of the detainees didn't do their own probe of the injuries.  "We have received allegations of mistreatment," Stan Blythe, of the Military Police Complaints Commission, said yesterday. This independent civilian body, responsible for probing reports of misconduct by military police officers, received the complaint of possible abuse last week ....

Military probes allegations of detainee abuse
CTV.ca, 6 Feb 07
Article Link

The military is investigating a complaint that alleges prisoners were abused while in the custody of Canadian soldiers in Afghanistan.  At least one, and as many as three, Afghan detainees "taken captive by the Canadian Forces appears to have been beaten while detained and interrogated by them," alleges University of Ottawa law professor Amir Attaran in a letter sent to the Military Police Complaints Commission, an independent civilian body, last week.  The accusations are based on documents that Attaran obtained under the Access to Information Act.  In the documents, there are references to injuries that detainees sustained last April while under the custody of Canadian forces.  Commission chairman Peter Tinsley has notified by letter Chief of Defence Staff Gen. Rick Hillier and Capt. Steve Moore, who heads the military police.  "The complaint suggests various failings by the military police members involved relative to safeguarding the well-being of the persons in custody, and, more particularly, in respect of their failure to investigate the causes of various injuries which may have been sustained while in (Canadian Forces) as opposed to military police custody,'' Tinsley wrote on Jan. 30, reports The Toronto Star ....

Peaceful solution sought for Taliban-occupied Afghan town
Agence France Presse, 6 Feb 07
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Taliban fighters were holed up in a southern Afghan town for a fifth day as officials said they wanted to end the occupation without military action that could cost civilian lives.  NATO planes on Sunday dropped government leaflets into Musa Qala, which was captured Friday, urging the rebels to leave or face action. Thousands of people have already left, fearing bombing raids by NATO warplanes.  "The government is still trying to find a peaceful solution to the problem to avoid civilian casualties," interior ministry spokesman Zemarai Bashary told AFP on Tuesday.  Afghan military corp commander for the south, General Rahmatullah Raufi, said the army was on a state of alert but was awaiting the outcome of negotiations between tribal elders and the Taliban ....

Afghan leader 'set to reject amnesty'
news.com.au (AUS), 6 Feb 07
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PRESIDENT Hamid Karzai will likely reject as unconstitutional a draft Bill adopted by the lower house that gives amnesty for crimes and abuse in Afghanistan's 25 years of war, his spokesman said today.  The warlord-dominated lower house last week approved the document ruling out legal action against men accused of rights abuses in the past 25 years of brutal conflict, saying the move was in the interest of reconciliation.  The MPs who presented the document want it to be approved as a law, which means it has to pass through the upper house of Parliament and then be approved by Mr Karzai ....

German defense minister on surprise visit to troops in Afghanistan
Associated Press, 6 Feb 07
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BERLIN: Defense Minister Franz Josef Jung made a surprise visit to German troops in northern Afghanistan, his ministry said Tuesday, as Germany discusses whether to send fighter jets to the region.  The minister, who departed Monday for Mazar-e-Sharif, praised the roughly 2,700 German soldiers serving there as part of the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force for their efforts.  Germany is deciding whether to provide further assistance to the NATO mission, including deploying Tornado warplanes.

ISAF carries out distributions around RC-C
NATO news release # 2007-084, 3 Feb 07
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Over the last two weeks of January, ISAF forces have carried out a series of distributions around Regional Command-Capital.  The series of donations began in Surobi district, where the Finnish Civil Military Cooperation (CIMIC) team made five food donations. In total, 33000kg of long-life food were distributed to the villages of Brickkiln, Sarcheshmeh, Naghlu and Katseh Shirknan. Five hundred families were provided in rice, sugar, oil, beans and so on to go through the winter.  ISAF personnel from the Finnish CIMIC team also met with local leaders and women from Police District 9, in Kabul, to supply 20 sewing machines, sewing materials, toys for children and hygiene products. A food donation was distributed to support 30 women and their families for the winter.  Shakila, the head of the shura, said that "it is wonderful to receive such equipment. Women of the neighborhood will increase their sewing activity, and maybe, sell their creations" ....

Soldiers' triumphs lost in the spin
Calgary Herald, Feb. 6, by George Koch

During one day of the late-summer offensive, 104 Canadians were killed. The next day, 97 died in combat. The intense fighting wounded 473. In two days - Aug. 31 and Sept. 1, 1944 - the Canadian Army corps in Italy suffered nearly 700 casualties. Yet these results, astounding to the post-modern sensibility, did not trigger a crisis in the Canadian army. Neither the troops nor their generals even saw them as a sign of something wrong with their force...

Reading Canadian writer Mark Zuehlke's excellent account of this campaign in the recent edition of The Gothic Line: Canada's Month of Hell in World War II Italy, it was impossible not to notice the difference in how Canada today -- at least swathes of the news media, the intelligentsia, the opposition parties and a chunk of public opinion -- reacts to individual combat deaths in Afghanistan...

...while a handful of commentators have tried to explain Canada's strategy in Afghanistan and place events within the larger picture, most media outlets -- especially TV -- focus obsessively on Canadian deaths.

Over and over last fall, we were told that five Canadians "lost their lives" during combat in Afghanistan. If you didn't read the paper every single day or check specialized military weblogs, you'd miss the astounding fact that during this same period Canada and its NATO allies had killed up to 1,500 of the enemy. And more important, that the initial Canadian-led operation and its larger NATO successor made a mockery of the Taliban's vow to retake a whole region.

The Taliban failed. We succeeded. Yet virtually all we heard was several Canadians died.

Each loss generated at least five national news cycles [emphasis added]. First, a vague report that something went wrong. Then, identification of the dead and reaction from stricken loved ones. Third, the sombre loading of the casket(s). Fourth, the equally sad roll down the airplane ramp in Canada. Fifth, the funeral. Plus bonus items: interviews with depressed former classmates, an unctuous Jack Layton or foreign policy analyst demanding Canadians retreat to some Afghan province where nothing is happening, or accusations of duplicity or callousness against the Conservative government...

"Canada Would Like Its Allies to Show More Flexibility"
Spiegel Online, Feb. 06

In an interview with SPIEGEL ONLINE, Canada's Ambassador in Kabul, David Sproule, reflects on a difficult time in relations between Ottawa and Berlin and reiterates his country's wish for Germany and other allies to show greater flexibility in their deployment therein Afghanistan...

SPIEGEL ONLINE: Still, there is great ambivalence in Germany about the best way to move forward in Afghanistan. There was initial sentiment in some European countries -- including Germany -- that the United States, Britain, Canada and others were putting the goal of wiping out the Taliban above the goal of winning the hearts and minds of people in southern Afghanistan.

Sproule: I just don't agree. The approach is the same in the north as it is in the south. But the reality is that in the south the security challenge is greater. We have to create an environment which allows reconstruction and institution-building to go forward. In the north, the security environment is such that we can proceed more expeditiously with the rebuilding. But since Operation Medusa, we have been able to put an unprecedented amount of development and reconstruction assistance into Kandahar that was not possible before we dealt with the security situation.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: The level of disappointment with the West among Afghans is considerable, especially in the south. Germany's ambassador to Kabul, Hans-Ulrich Seidt, warned last year that a war in the south "could not be won militarily." Is the war in the south a winnable one?

Sproule: This effort will not succeed on military means alone. Everybody agrees about that. We need reconstruction and development -- especially institutional development. It's going to take time and patience. But if we didn't think this could be accomplished, why would Canada be providing $100 million a year in development assistance and why would Germany be giving so generously? None of these parts can be ignored. They're all indispensable.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: The Canadian military has developed a new approach -- you call it Baaz Tsuka -- in which you forewarn villages of coming NATO attacks against the Taliban. The program also seeks to convert guerrillas who are fighting for the Taliban because it offers a better pay check.

Sproule: Operation Medusa was our response when the Taliban decided to confront ISAF and NATO. With the next logical step -- Operation Baaz Tsuka -- we have gone out into previously insecure communities and are trying to show Afghans that it is time to come back to their homes and to get themselves back on their feet economically. But we also send out another message: We believe the vast majority of Taliban fighters are neither extremist nor ideologically committed. They may be there for a daily wage rather than out of support for the evil cause of the Taliban. We can say: You've got an alternative now -- we are reconstructing your communities and there are going to be new economic opportunities for you. Our initial indications are that we've been successful...

Outrage in the Canadian Press
Spiegel Online, Feb. 06

The following is a selection of quotes from articles and editorials in the Canadian media following September's Operation Medusa.

"Casualty rates among major European nations like France, Italy, Spain and Germany are negligible. The 2,900 German troops are prohibited from combat operations and have not suffered a single casualty. It is grossly unfair that our allies should share the burden so inequitably." -- The Vancouver Province, Nov. 29, 2006

"If Canada's partners in NATO have legitimate qualms about the Afghanistan mission, let's hear them, instead of the ducking and covering we heard in Riga this week. During the summit, German chancellor Angela Merkel was pressed repeatedly by reporters whether her country was doing enough in Afghanistan. She called the discussion 'unhelpful.' Less helpful is a group of powerful NATO allies who won't help prevent southern Afghanistan from again becoming a breeding ground for Taliban oppression and al-Qaida terrorists." -- Edmonton Journal, Dec. 2, 2006

"Life on the ground in Afghanistan would be easier and safer if, and the mission would be more effective, if Germany and France -- big countries with lots of soldiers and equipment -- pulled their weight." -- Montreal Gazette, Dec. 1, 2006

"Countries with modern, well-equipped militaries, such as France and Germany and Italy, are not only restricting their troops to working in the relatively peaceable north of Afghanistan, they're tut-tutting about our warlike insistence on shooting back at insurgents who are shooting at us. At a two-day summit in Riga, Latvia, this week, Canada insisted that our allies need to help. Little good it did. The closest they'll come is agreeing to support us in emergencies: If we're about to be overrun by Taliban, they'll come help. They'll stop us from obviously losing, in other words. If we want to win, we're pretty much on our own." -- Ottawa Citizen, Nov. 30, 2006

"If France, Germany, Italy, Spain and other European powers do not step up to the challenge, then NATO's first 'hot war' will be its last." -- National Post, Dec. 2, 2006

"Will other NATO countries - Germany, Italy, Spain, France and others - help? Or will the United States and Britain be obliged once again to do more heavy lifting? Or will these countries, their forces already stretched and their politicians frustrated at other NATO countries' passing the buck, conclude they can do nothing more?" -- Globe and Mail, Jan. 19, 2007

Berlin Hesitant to Broaden Afghanistan Mission
Spiegel Online, Feb. 06, by Severin Weiland and Matthias Gebauer

NATO's request for German reconnaissance planes for Afghanistan was hardly uncontroversial. Now, though, it looks like Berlin will approve the mission. With a number of restrictions...

...the Tornado jets cannot provide direct support for ground operations -- one of the main advantages the international strike force has in its ongoing and escalating fight against the Taliban. Frequently, US military units deliberately allow the enemy to open fire on them so that artillery positions can be identified from the air and then eliminated; some British units use the same tactic. Military commanders in Afghanistan describe such air support as essential to their mission.

So what would the jets be able to do? In emergency situations -- when NATO troops or soldiers from the US led Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF) find their lives in danger -- German pilots could help out. Otherwise, military observation would be the name of the game. Images taken from the air would be analyzed on the ground. The Tornados are technically incapable of transmitting the images while in flight...

Government ‘will not interfere' in Afghan investigation
Globe and Mail, 6 Feb 07
Article Link - Permalink

A military investigation into allegations of detainee abuse by soldiers in Afghanistan will be open, accountable and free of government interference, the defence minister has said.  Defence Minister Gordon O'Connor said the government would not interfere with a military investigation into the allegations that at least one, and perhaps three, Afghan detainees taken captive by Canadian forces were beaten during interrogation.  The allegations were first asserted by Amir Attaran, a University of Ottawa law professor, based on documents obtained by Mr. Attaran under the Access to Information Act outlining injuries in the cases.  “Those investigations will determine the facts, whatever they are,” Mr. O'Connor said in response to questioning from NDP leader Jack Layton in Commons on Tuesday.  “I want to assure the member that I do not interfere with, nor will ever interfere with, any investigative process.... Any reports that come from the investigations will be made public.”  Speaking to a media scrum outside parliament, Mr. O'Connor said the National Investigation Service could report back within weeks on the matter, but a Board of Inquiry scrutinizing the whole process would likely take months ....

Afghans not surprised by allegations of detainee abuse against Canadian army
Murray Brewster, Canadian Press, 6 Feb 07
Article Link

Allegations that Afghan detainees were abused after they were captured by Canadians came as no surprise Tuesday to Kandahar residents who have mixed feelings about the soldiers from Canada.  Residents remember shooting incidents that have killed at least two Afghans over the past year and injured several others, many of them motorists or motorcyclists who failed to obey Canadian orders to stop. The latest reports of alleged abuse touched a raw nerve in Kandahar, even though the suspects involved were believed to be Taliban insurgents.  "They promised to do reconstruction," Afadullah, 30, an auto mechanic with a shop near the city's gate, said about the Canadians through a translator.  "If (the Canadians) cannot co-operate with us, they should go home and then the Americans should send somebody else."  But others in Kandahar were prepared to give Canadians the benefit of the doubt. They urged patience while the allegation is being checked out.  "Canadians are better than Americans; more humble," said Abdul Khan, a taxi driver.  "They can be forgiven as long as they promise to stop shooting at civilians."....

O'Connor dismisses parallels between Afghan abuse claims and Somalia scandal
Macleans.ca, 6 Feb 07
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Defence Minister Gordon O'Connor was quick to reject comparisons between allegations of abuse of Afghan prisoners by Canadian soldiers and the Somalia affair that brought shame and disrepute to the army.  O'Connor said none of the claims have been proven and any attempt to draw parallels to the Somalia scandal is misguided. Soldiers from the Canadian Airborne Regiment tortured and killed a youth in Somalia in 1993. The death was followed by failed attempts to cover-up the death of Shidane Arone ....

U.S. defence chief presses NATO for more help in Afghanistan
Associated Press, 6 Feb 07
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U.S. Defence Secretary Robert Gates said Tuesday that NATO allies must provide the troops and equipment needed to battle an expected increase in violence by Taliban insurgents in Afghanistan this spring.  Gates, who will is scheduled to meet with other NATO defence ministers Thursday in Seville, Spain, is expected to outline whether the United States plans to adjust its troop levels in Afghanistan or extend the deployment of any units already there, said a senior defence official.  The defence official spoke on condition of anonymity because details have not been made public. Currently there are about 27,000 U.S. troops in Afghanistan, the highest number since the start of the war in 2001.  At a U.S. Senate armed services committee hearing Tuesday, Gates said the United States will hold the NATO countries to promises they offered during a summit in Riga, Latvia, last November, particularly for more trainers.  His comments came about two weeks after the U.S. Defence Department said 3,200 soldiers from the New York state-based 10th Mountain Division already in Afghanistan would have their tour extended by four months. Defence officials have not ruled out extending other units but a recent increase of U.S. troops in Iraq for a new push to secure Baghdad is already straining the military ....

NATO allies face new Afghan troop call
Reuters, 6 Feb 07
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NATO's top operational commander wants more troops to help crush an expected Taliban offensive in Afghanistan but is facing widespread reluctance among allies to come forward, alliance officials said on Tuesday.  U.S. General Bantz Craddock will present a request for three and a half extra battalions -- the equivalent of over 2,000 troops -- at a meeting of national defence ministers in Seville on Thursday and Friday, they said.  The United States and Britain have in past weeks announced they will send reinforcements of the 34,000-strong NATO force. But Craddock, who took over as NATO's Supreme Allied Commander Europe in December, sees the need for more.  "It is absolutely expected he will make recommendations and that he will buttonhole individual defence ministers," a senior U.S. official said of the talks in the Spanish city ....

Italy tells Canada, other allies, to butt out of its Afghan policy decisions
ARIEL DAVID, Associated Press, 6 Feb 07
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Foreign Minister Massimo D'Alema sent a protest letter to six allied countries Tuesday, accusing them of interfering in Italian affairs with their public appeal for Rome to keep its troops in Afghanistan.  The Foreign Ministry said D'Alema expressed "surprise and disapproval" over the open letter published Saturday in an Italian daily by the ambassadors to Italy of Australia, Britain, Canada, the Netherlands, Romania and the United States.  "We must remain united," the ambassadors wrote in La Repubblica daily. "We must share all of the responsibilities to sustain security in Afghanistan."  Premier Romano Prodi, in talks on foreign policy with members of his centre-left coalition, criticized the appeal, saying Italy was keeping commitments to its allies in Afghanistan and elsewhere.  The letter irked the Italian government, which is facing opposition from its far-left allies before a key vote to refinance the country's military mission in Afghanistan.  D'Alema wrote to his counterparts in the six countries that the appeal "can be interpreted as an inopportune interference" in Italian state matters, the ministry said in a statement. D'Alema considered the "case closed" but requested that the ambassadors "operate with more respect for their responsibilities and prerogatives." ....

Nearly 80 percent of Poles against military presence in Iraq, Afghanistan: poll
Xinhua, via People's Daily Online (CHN), 7 Feb 07
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Nearly eighty percent of Poles disapprove of the country's military presence in missions in Iraq and Afghanistan, the PAP news agency reported on Tuesday.  According to a survey conducted by the Polish Public Opinion Polling Centre, only one fifth of the respondents expressed their support for the mission in Iraq, the lowest level since 2003.  Meanwhile, 20 percent of the respondents voiced support for the Polish involvement in the mission in Afghanistan, and 75 percent were against it, the survey showed.  As many as 74 percent of the respondents believe that the missions in Iraq and Afghanistan may result in terrorist attacks on Poland, down from 79 percent in 2006 and 83 percent in 2005. Only 20 percent think that there is no such threat ....

Afghan gov't mulling ways to recapture southern district from Taliban
Xinhua, via People's Daily Online (CHN), 7 Feb 07
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The Afghan government is mulling the ways to dislodge Taliban militants from Musa Qala in the southern Helmand province, Presidential spokesman Mohammad Karim Rahimi said Tuesday.  "Afghan government is considering the ways to regain the control of Musa Qala without inflicting casualties on civilians," Rahimi told newsmen at a news briefing here.  However, he did not give more details, only saying the government is planning to solve the problem with minimum casualties.  Hundreds of Taliban fighters overran the far-flanged district early Friday ....

Afghanistan: Facing The Taliban Threat In The Coming Months
Ron Synovitz, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 6 Feb 07
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NATO forces in Afghanistan are preparing for an anticipated spring offensive by the Taliban. On February 2, hundreds of Taliban fighters attacked and seize the town of Musa Qala in a remote district of Helmand Province. The battle has been closely monitored by Ahmed Rashid, a Pakistani journalist and author of the book "Taliban." RFE/RL spoke to Rashid today about the events at Musa Qala and what fighting there suggests about Taliban tactics in the months ahead ....

Pakistan: U.S. Program Seeks To Reform Madrasahs
Andrew Tully, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 6 Feb 07
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A major irritant in relations between Pakistan and Afghanistan has been the charge that many of Pakistan's Muslim religious schools, madrasahs, teach intolerance and help recruit young men to the Taliban, which has become a resurgent threat in Afghanistan.  Madrasahs also have been blamed for making Al-Qaeda attractive to young Pakistanis. A U.S. think tank has been involved in an initiative to foster understanding between these schools and the West. On February 5, Douglas Johnston, the president and founder of the International Center for Religion and Diplomacy (ICRD), brought two Pakistani Muslim leaders to Washington to take part in a panel discussion of madrasah reform.  Johnston said he and his colleagues decided nearly four years ago that it was time to address the issue of the Pakistani madrasahs ....

Governor General announces the awarding of Military Valour Decorations, Meritorious Service Decorations and a Mention in Dispatches
Governor General of Canada news release, 6 Feb 07
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OTTAWA—Her Excellency the Right Honourable Michaëlle Jean, Governor General and Commander-in-Chief of Canada, announced four Military Valour Decorations to members of the Canadian Forces who have displayed gallantry and devotion to duty in combat. She also announced two Meritorious Services Decorations (Military Division) and one Mention in Dispatches to individuals whose specific achievements have brought honour to the Canadian Forces and to Canada.  The recipients will be invited to receive their insignia at a presentation ceremony to be held at a later date ....

Commission to decide whether prisoner abuse hearings will be public
Mike Blanchfield, CanWest News Service, 6 Feb 07
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A military complaints commission is expected to decide by week’s end whether hearings into alleged prisoner abuse against Canadian soldiers in Afghanistan will be made public.  University of Ottawa professor Amir Attaran has called on the Military Police Complaints Commission to hold a full-blown public inquiry into allegations that Canadian troops may have abused three Afghans they arrested in southern Afghanistan this past April.  The law professor and human rights advocate filed the complaint based on documents he obtained under Access To Information.  Two other military investigations are underway. Both are being held behind closed doors.  A Board of Inquiry will hear evidence in-camera before delivering a public report that will be subject to Canada’s privacy laws. The military police’s National Investigation Service is also currently conducting its own investigation ....

Hillier orders full inquiry into treatment of detainees
Defence Minister O'Connor vows findings will be made public

Article Link - Permalink

Canada's top soldier, General Rick Hillier, ordered a full-blown board of inquiry yesterday to probe detainee treatment in Afghanistan as a political storm shook Ottawa over allegations that captives were beaten while in Canadian custody.  As Gen. Hillier and Defence Minister Gordon O'Connor unveiled multiple probes into the detainee-abuse allegations, they also rejected any comparison with Somalia, where elite Canadian troops tortured and killed a teenage captive more than a decade ago and senior officers were embroiled in a cover-up that eventually stained the entire military.  "This isn't Somalia," Mr. O'Connor said outside the House of Commons, when asked what assurances Canadians had that the government wouldn't close down an inquiry if embarrassing revelations emerged.  "Let's get the scale properly," he said, adding that the findings of both a criminal investigation by the military and the board of inquiry would be made public.  Gen. Hillier said: "We learned many lessons from Somalia. One is responsibility of the chain of command. One is thorough training and preparation."  The general said there was "an incredible hyper-sensitivity to handling detainees.  "We understand how important it is to get this right," he said, and added that "if there was a lapse in a process or policies, we'll find that out and correct it."  In Afghanistan, military police investigators will try to find the three Afghans who may have been beaten 10 months ago. Their whereabouts are unknown because once the Canadian military hands them over to Afghan authorities, it keeps no records of whether they are released or charged, or languish in prison ....

Military probes abuse allegations in Afghanistan
Gen. Rick Hillier says all prisoners handled humanely

CBC Online, 6 Feb 07
Article Link

Military officials are investigating allegations that three Afghan prisoners were abused while in the custody of Canadian soldiers.  The allegations come from a law professor at the University of Ottawa, Amir Attaran, based on government documents he obtained under the Access to Information Act.  Attaran said he received three documents from the Department of National Defence. They were handwritten reports from Canadian military police in the southern Afghan city of Kandahar.  The documents show three men were brought to military police by a single interrogator in one day with injuries to their faces, heads and upper bodies, he told the CBC on Tuesday ....

O'Connor says military probing abuse allegations
CTV.ca, 6 Feb 07
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Defence Minister Gordon O'Connor says an investigation is underway into allegations that prisoners were abused while in the custody of Canadian soldiers in Afghanistan.  O'Connor said Tuesday that the information uncovered during those investigations will be made public.  But the defence minister stressed that the probes haven't concluded yet that the allegations are warranted.  If the complaints are indeed substantiated, corrective action will be taken, O'Connor pledged.  University of Ottawa law professor Amir Attaran lodged a complaint in a letter sent to the Military Police Complaints Commission last week.  Attaran alleges that at least one, and as many as three, Afghan detainees "taken captive by the Canadian Forces appears to have been beaten while detained and interrogated by them." ....

Afghan aid an exercise in 'feeling good'
John Ivison, National Post, 7 Feb 07
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Afghanistan is now the largest recipient of Canada's foreign aid, with the government committed to spending $100-million a year on reconstruction efforts there. Stephen Harper said in an interview published in the National Post yesterday that he believes we are "making progress," and hinted in a major speech at new initiatives to improve accountability in the rebuilding efforts.  Yet many people who have looked at the performance of the Canadian International Development Agency, through which the aid money flows, question whether this is just a "feel-good" exercise, as one person familiar with CIDA put it.  Critics argue that CIDA is little more than an automatic teller machine for agencies like the World Bank, who actually deliver the programs on the ground. A list of CIDA projects reveals it is already committed to spending $227.8-million on 41 different projects but has only a slight presence on the ground. By the admission of Josee Verner, the CIDA Minister, there are only 11 agency staff in Afghanistan. Sometimes the three based in Kandahar leave the Canadian Forces base "to take pictures of what we are doing," she said ....

Troops Tired of of Chicken Wings
Josh Pringle, CFRA.com, 7 Feb 07
Article Link

Canada's military ombudsman suggests Canadian soldiers in Afghanistan eat something a bit lighter and healthier.  Yves Cote says the kitchens that feed Canadian troops in Kandahar aren't catering to Canadian tastes.  The troops have told Cote that eating chicken wings for a month is OK, but five and a half months is too much.  The kitchens are run by a civilian company from the United States.

German Cabinet approves deploying squadron of Tornado jet fighters to Afghanistan
Associated Press, via International Herald Tribune, 7 Feb 07
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Germany took a key step Wednesday to bolster NATO efforts in Afghanistan, with Chancellor Angela Merkel's Cabinet approving the deployment of six Tornado jets to help gather reconnaissance for NATO-led troops there.  The decision must still be approved by the nation's parliament, which is expected to vote in March on whether to send the jets, each equipped with powerful cameras to help the NATO-led force with logistics, a government spokesman said.  If lawmakers grant their approval, which is expected, the planes could be deployed as early as mid-April to assist with surveillance across Afghanistan, particularly in the southern part of the country, the Defense Ministry said.  The six-month tour will cost Germany an estimated €35 million (CDN$53.8 million - US$45.34 million).  Germany has about 2,700 troops serving with the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan, most of them focused in the north of the country. It has also sent several helicopters and planes to help the force with logistics.  However, Berlin has resisted pressure from other NATO countries to send combat troops to the south, where British and Canadian soldiers have borne the brunt of fighting with resurgent Taliban rebels ....

ADNKI (ITA), 7 Feb 07
Article Link

Italy will not pull out its troops from Afghanistan, prime minister Romano Prodi has said. "Regardless of the situation (in Afghanistan), we will remain in Kabul because we are dealing with a UN mission," Prodi told his centre-left allies late on Tuesday. Prodi also vowed to boost civilian aid and diplomatic action in Afghanistan, in an effort to appease left-wing pacifist allies who had threatened to pull out of the government coalition over the military mission.  Decisions to keep Italy's 1,800-strong contingent in Afghanistan and approve the enlargement of a US military base in the northern Italian city of Vicenza have angered key coalition allies - the Refounded Communist party, the third largest coalition ally, along with the Italian Communist Party and the Greens.  Last week, Prodi's majority lost a vote in the Senate in a debate on the expansion of the US base. Though the incident had no direct repercussion on the coalition, it further exacerbated in-fighting over the government's foreign policy ....

Czech Senate votes to send military field hospital to Afghanistan
Associated Press, via International Herald Tribune, 7 Feb 07
Article Link

The Czech Senate voted on Wednesday to send a military field hospital to Afghanistan.  The one-year hospital mission, which also needs approval from the Czech parliament's lower chamber, would include a 70-member team and be stationed at the international airport in Kabul as part of the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force.  Requested by the Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers Europe, the mission is expected to start in March.  The lower parliamentary chamber planned to vote on the mission later this week.  About 150 Czech troops participate currently in ISAF, but their number will increase to some 225 this year.

Law prof warns of Afghan abuse
Calls for resignations

Ottawa Sun, Feb. 07

An Ottawa professor is calling for the resignations of Defence Minister Gordon O'Connor and the Chief of Defence Staff Rick Hillier for what he says is their failure to address possible abuse of detainees by Canadian soldiers in Afghanistan.

Amir Attaran, a University of Ottawa law professor, said O'Connor and Hillier should resign over Canada's "routine practice of handing over prisoners to known torturers."

"It has long been my concern that Canada is acting disgracefully in transferring detainees to Afghanistan when we know the Afghan national police torture," he said.

The scholar's comments come on the same day it became public that as many as three Afghan detainees being held by Canadian Forces in April exhibited injuries consistent with having been beaten.

"There are certain deeply troubling and unexplained facts about how possibly three men came to be injured while in the custody of a single Canadian interrogator and that needs an investigation," he said.

Attaran obtained the documents on which he has based his allegations, which have not been proven, through the Access to Information Act. He has also launched a formal complaint to the Military Police Complaints Commission, an independent civilian body...

Attaran's frustration was apparent as he spoke about the length of time it has taken for the Department of National Defence to investigate the injuries suffered by the detainees. He said they declined to do an investigation as recently as a week ago.

"If you have got a case in your files where it appears the detainee is not well while in Canadian custody, you investigate it," he said. "And you don't leave it to a University of Ottawa law professor to find it for you [emphasis added]."

Major article--just the summary:


Policy Options, Dec. 06/Jan. 07, bySean M. Maloney

While Canadian troops are deployed in Afghanistan’s dangerous province of Kandahar, the re-defined nature of the mission — from patrolling the capital to taking it to the Taliban in the wild south — has left Canadians deeply dvided about the mission. Royal Military College historian Sean Maloney, who has been on the ground four times in Afghanistan since 2003, points out that Canada is engaged in war, not peacekeeping, against an unrelenting foe and rigid ideology — radical Islamism. “The al-Qaeda movement’s belief system, its ideology,” he writes, “is in no way compatible with ours. We cannot negotiate with it. We have to keep it as far away as possible and aggressively challenge it. That is what we are doing in Afghanistan.”..

Berlin Agrees to Send Tornado Jets to Afghanistan
Spiegel Online, Feb. 07

The German cabinet decided on Wednesday to send six Tornado reconnaissance jets to Afghanistan to help locate Taliban bases in response to a request from NATO.

The German pilots will be accompanied by around 500 support staff. The mission has to be approved by parliament in March and the Tornados could be deployed in April for a six-month tour.

The jets are equipped with powerful cameras. The government has ruled out the planes being used to attack ground positions  [emphasis added] in so-called Close Air Support -- a strategy NATO forces have been using in Afghanistan whereby ground troops draw fire from insurgents so that they can locate them and direct air attacks on them...

Defense Minister Franz Josef Jung said the Tornados would offer added protection for the ISAF troops and Afghan population. "Reconnaissance isn't combat," he told a news conference after the cabinet meeting on Wednesday.

He said the jets could help prevent civilian casualties and that the mission was necessary given that the Taliban had announced it would launch 2,000 suicide attacks.

Meanwhile an opinion poll showed a big majority of Germans are opposed to sending Tornado jets to the south of Afghanistan. Only 21 percent were in favor, with 77 percent opposed [emphasis added], said the survey by the Forsa institute conducted on February 1 and 2...

French Navy Hopes To Fly New Rafales Over Afghanistan
DefenseNews.com, Jan. 25

The French Navy plans to fly two Rafales, capable of delivering bombs, to join the Charles de Gaulle when the aircraft carrier deploys in March to the Indian Ocean, a Navy spokesman said.

The carrier will provide air support to the NATO-led stabilization force in Afghanistan, Commander Jerome Erulin told journalists Jan. 25...

If the two Rafales undergoing evaluation for the F2 strike standard qualify in time, they will join the nine Rafale F1 aircraft on the carrier, which will take up station for a month in mid-March.

Up to now, the Navy has only flown the F1 air superiority version of the Rafale. The Rafale F2 will be armed with Paveway 250 bombs [emphasis added].

Inquiry into fall's friendly-fire death in Afghanistan completed
Canadian Press, via Canada.com, 7 Feb 07
Article Link

OTTAWA (CP) - A military board of inquiry has finished its investigation into a friendly-fire incident in Afghanistan last September which killed a Canadian soldier and wounded several others.  The report will be studied by the staff before being passed on to Lt.-Gen. Michel Gauthier, head of the Forces expeditionary force command.  It will then go to Gen. Rick Hillier, chief of the defence staff, before it is released publicly.  It could be months before the report is released, however.  While the senior officers cannot alter the report, they can ask the board of inquiry to reconvene if they feel the document falls short of the terms of reference.  Pte. Mark Graham was killed Sept. 4, when an American A-10 ground attack plane mistakenly strafed a group of Canadian soldiers in the Panjwaii district of Afghanistan.  The United States air force, NATO forces in Afghanistan and the Canadian Forces national investigation service all conducted their own investigations of the incident. None of these reports have yet been released.

Canadian report on fatal Panjwaii strafing incident finished
Hamilton, Ont., soldier killed in friendly fire incident last September

CBC online, 7 Feb 07
Article Link

A military board of inquiry has finished its investigation into a friendly fire incident in Afghanistan last September that killed one Canadian soldier and wounded several others.  The report will be studied by the staff before being passed on to Lt.-Gen. Michel Gauthier, head of the Forces expeditionary force command.  It will then go to Gen. Rick Hillier, chief of the defence staff.  It could be months before the report is released publicly.  While the senior officers cannot alter the report, they can ask the board of inquiry to reconvene if they feel the document falls short of the terms of reference.  Pte. Mark Graham of Hamilton, Ont., was killed Sept. 4, when an American A-10 ground attack plane mistakenly strafed a group of Canadian soldiers in the Panjwaii district of Afghanistan ....

Law prof warns of Afghan abuse
Calls for resignations

Article Link

An Ottawa professor is calling for the resignations of Defence Minister Gordon O'Connor and the Chief of Defence Staff Rick Hillier for what he says is their failure to address possible abuse of detainees by Canadian soldiers in Afghanistan.  Amir Attaran, a University of Ottawa law professor, said O'Connor and Hillier should resign over Canada's "routine practice of handing over prisoners to known torturers.  It has long been my concern that Canada is acting disgracefully in transferring detainees to Afghanistan when we know the Afghan national police torture," he said.  The scholar's comments come on the same day it became public that as many as three Afghan detainees being held by Canadian Forces in April exhibited injuries consistent with having been beaten.  "There are certain deeply troubling and unexplained facts about how possibly three men came to be injured while in the custody of a single Canadian interrogator and that needs an investigation," he said ....

Canada to investigate Afghan detainee abuse allegations
Kate Heneroty, Jurist Paper Chase web page, 7 Feb 07
Article Link

The government of Canada has ordered an official inquiry Tuesday into whether detainees in Afghanistan were abused while in Canadian custody. The probe began following a civilian complaint filed by Amir Attaran, a University of Ottawa law professor, whose research uncovered a pattern of suspicious injuries on three detainees captured last April and later released. Military police have also launched a search for the three Afghans.  Chief of the Defense Staff General Rick Hillier and Defence Minister Gordon O'Connor have already announced two separate probes. A third "public interest investigation" may also be launched. Canadian lawmakers made assurances that all findings will be made public and damaging information would not be concealed ....

No big deal
Don Martin, National Post, 7 Feb 07
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So let’s put off hunting down the Taliban, the better to scour Kandahar for three Afghans who may have been injured while resisting arrest by Canadian forces — or may well be dead after a successful stint as suicide bombers.  And in lieu of concern for soldiers being killed or wounded, let “a political storm” (to use the Globe and Mail’s breathless hyperbole) erupt at some cuts, bruises and a couple black eyes which allegedly appeared on a detained trio of suspicious dudes.  In a theatre of war that has claimed 45 Canadian lives and maimed dozens of soldiers for life, the overstretched military is about to waste time and resources defending itself against the hypothetical prospect it may have beaten up several resistant suspects ten months ago ....

NATO defense ministers aim to hone Afghan strategy, U.S. to push on troops
Associated Press, via International Herald Tribune, 7 Feb 07
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NATO defense ministers on Thursday will seek to sharpen the alliance's strategy in Afghanistan, where its force of 35,000 is preparing for a fresh campaign against the Taliban bolstered by additional American and British troops.  U.S. Gen. John Craddock is expected to present the ministers with a plan to "rebalance" the force, using the more mobile combat units in the southern and eastern regions along the border with Pakistan where the battle against the Taliban is set to intensify with the spring thaw.  NATO commanders hope allied troops will be able to launch their own "spring offensive" against Taliban holdouts to pre-empt the traditional rise in insurgent attacks when the snow melts.  "We are not simply going to sit and wait, we are going to try and find ways to address the Taliban actively," John Colston, NATO's assistant secretary-general for defense policy, told reporters at allied headquarters in Brussels this week.  The U.S. decision to extend the tour of more than 3,000 of its soldiers and the planned deployment of 800 British combat troops to southern Afghanistan over the coming months will give Craddock the bulk of the forces he needs, but he is still expected to press other allies to drum up additional troops, helicopters and planes ....

Taliban to be pushed into the mountains and marginalized: Canadian commander
MURRAY BREWSTER, Canadian Press, via Canoe.ca, 7 Feb 07
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Pushing Taliban militants up into the central mountains of Afghanistan and marginalizing them in remote locations is a cornerstone of NATO's strategy this year, says a senior Canadian commander.  The objective, however, looked much better on paper than in reality Wednesday as militants launched a series of bomb attacks that killed eight policemen and guards across the south and western portions of the country.  The hope is that once isolated, the insurgency will lose its bite and eventually wither away, said Col. Mike Kampman in an interview with The Canadian Press.  Since arriving in the volatile southern region almost a year ago, NATO forces have "spread out and pushed up against the insurgent staging areas," he said, pointing to a headquarters map that lays out Afghanistan's 34 provinces.  "If we apply pressure on them, essentially the effect we have over time is disrupting their ability to move back down into the populated areas and have an influence." ....

NATO forces in Afghanistan determined to avoid pitfalls of past guerrilla wars
Associated Press, 7 Feb 07
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HERAT, Afghanistan: It wasn't an ordinary engagement for NATO's top commander — a visit to a pediatric hospital.  When Gen. John Craddock came to Afghanistan last week, the military alliance was keen to show its softer side — ramming home the point that the battle here can't be won by just bombing the Taliban.  "There's some momentum now ... making it possible to deliver infrastructure improvements and social services to the people," Craddock said after Dr. Raufa Niazi explained that the hospital would be the first such facility in western Afghanistan — a country suffering some of the highest infant mortality rates in the world.  NATO officials say for their mission to succeed, the lives of poverty-stricken Afghans need to be improved so they aren't tempted to side with the resurgent Taliban guerrillas. The strategy sounds great on paper and development efforts here are less stymied by insecurity than in Iraq, but analysts remain skeptical that Afghanistan's Western backers can make it work.  Last year, the Taliban surprised military experts who had dismissed them as a spent force by ratcheting up the level of violence to the highest degree since the fundamentalist religious group was ousted from power following the U.S.-led war in 2001 ....

Perils of bargaining with Taliban
Montreal Gazette, 7 Feb 07
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....  "Negotiating with the Taliban" is a charming concept, full of the promise of conciliation, compromise and partnership. But the Taliban, loosely organized though it might be, stands firmly for certain values, including not compromise or partnership, but rather subjugation.  The toll of butchered schoolteachers, burned schools, suicide bombings that kill more Afghans than NATO soldiers - all of these reveal a ruthless fighting force unready to compromise ....

NATO Struggles With Security, Rebuilding In Helmand
Ahto Lobjakas, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 7 Feb 07
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Once referred to as Afghanistan's "breadbasket," this is among Afghanistan's the most developed regions. Some of Helmand Province's infrastructure -- including irrigation networks and roads donated a half-century ago by the United States and the Soviet Union -- could be returned to use with a minimum of effort.  But Helmand is also home to Taliban militants, opium production, and tribal tensions.  Taliban fighters' brazen takeover of a town in southern Afghanistan this month marked a major setback for NATO and its Afghan allies. Just days before that seizure, British officers were touting the power-sharing deal that kept Taliban fighters out the town of Musa Qala as a possible blueprint for other parts of Helmand Province.  These problems are hampering NATO's British-led efforts to rebuild the province ....

Pakistan, Afghanistan finalise camp closure plans
UNHCR statment, via Reuters AlertNet, 7 Feb 07
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Four Afghan refugee camps in Pakistan's border provinces will be closed this year as part of bilateral plans to manage the Afghan population in Pakistan. These plans also include new return modalities starting in the next few months.  The decision was reached at the 12th Tripartite Commission meeting between Pakistan, Afghanistan and UNHCR in Pakistan's capital, Islamabad. For security and development reasons, the four camps in question – Girdi Jungle and Jungle Pir Alizai in Balochistan, and Katchagari and Jalozai in North West Frontier Province – had been slated for closure as early as 2004.  "We understand that security near the border is a top priority and stress that refugee camps must retain their civilian nature," said Guenet Guebre Christos, UNHCR's representative in Pakistan. "At the same time, the authorities should recognise genuine humanitarian needs, as they have done in the last 30 years, and offer options to Afghans affected by camp closure."  Pakistan's Minister of States and Frontier Regions Sardar Yar Muhammed Rind, who oversees refugee issues, noted that the four camps – together housing more than 230,000 people – would be closed this summer. Katchagari and Jungle Pir Alizai will be closed by June 15 while Jalozai and Girdi Jungle will be closed by August 31 ....

Cash for guns deal proposed
Ex-Taliban fighter wants Canada to pay remaining insurgents to surrender their weapons

Doug Schmidt, Vancouver Sun, 8 Feb 07
Article Link - Permalink

KANDAHAR, Afghanistan - Mullah Zahir said he has fired rockets, machineguns and his Kalashnikov assault rifle at Canadian troops, but the Taliban fighter decided to come in from the cold last year after an influential elder he respects convinced him those foreign soldiers he was aiming to kill are actually trying to help Afghanistan.  "Yes, we fought against the Canadians here, they were our enemies," said Zahir, 48, who was deputy to a powerful official in the Taliban regime who later became an insurgent commander.  Since becoming Kandahar's director last spring of a two-year-old national reconciliation program, Haji Agha Lalai Dasthaqir -- a district tribal chief in Panjwaii and member of the provincial council -- has been luring almost 50 insurgents a month, such as Zahir, out of the fight.  "Nobody listens to (Afghan President Hamid) Karzai, but they listen to (Agha Lalai) because he is a trusted tribal leader," said Zahir.
"Before, we didn't give this much consideration, but when he became director, I joined (the peace process) -- he's a big leader."....

Detainee whistle blower's 'agenda' attacked
Naval officer tried to intimidate him, law professor says

Paul Koring, Globe & Mail, 8 Feb 07
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The Ottawa law professor who sparked an investigation into the possible abuse of Afghan detainees by Canadian soldiers says he was contacted by a senior naval officer yesterday who tried to intimidate him and impugn his motives.  The officer, Commander Denise LaViolette, a communications specialist for the military legal-affairs department and for the Provost Marshal, the military's chief of police, confirmed that when she returned a telephone call from Amir Attaran, she called him "unprofessional," questioned whether he "had a personal agenda" and eventually hung up on him after an acrimonious conversation.  Cdr. LaViolette's querying of Prof. Attaran's motives came a day after Defence Minister Gordon O'Connor assured Canadians that the government takes the abuse charges seriously.  Prof. Attaran had called Navy Captain Steve Moore, the Provost Marshal, to seek information related to the case.  "It sounded like she wanted to manage the problem by trying to intimidate me," Prof. Attaran said, adding that he found it insulting. "She was impugning my motives and believing that it was inappropriate of me" to have raised the issue of detainee abuse, he said ....

Story of abuse a distraction from key issue

Thomas Walkom, Toronto Star, 8 Feb 07
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Before everyone goes nuts over the did-Canadians-abuse-Afghan-prisoners story, let's keep one thing in mind.  No one has claimed that Canadian Forces soldiers in Afghanistan roughed up prisoners in their charge. The three prisoners in question (wherever they are) haven't made that claim. Nor, unlike other cases involving disputes between Afghans and foreign troops, have their families or friends. Nor has a Canadian Forces whistle-blower at Kandahar or an investigative journalist or, indeed, anyone in Afghanistan.  Even the University of Ottawa human rights advocate who first raised this issue isn't saying that he necessarily believes the trio were beaten by Canadians. Law professor Amir Attaran is much more careful. All he said, in the complaint letter that finally brought this issue into the public domain this week, was that his reading of declassified military police logs "suggests" that the men were beaten.  Or, in other words, there is enough evidence to warrant an investigation.  Attaran, quite properly, asked the Military Police Complaints Commission, an independent civilian oversight body, to do just that. It, equally properly, agreed. The embarrassed military brass then ordered two additional investigations.  In short, there are now three inquiries looking into whatever may or may not have happened after the three men were picked up by Canadian soldiers last April near a place called Dukah ....

Far-off war injures politicians at home
Jim Travers, Toronto Star, 8 Feb 07
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.... It's possible that the spin masters are accurately gauging public capacity for informed debate. Perhaps we are too distracted by daily life or too uninterested in the management of a shrinking planet to seriously consider why or how war emerges as the favoured option.  More certain is that limiting public discussion works better for politicians in the short- rather than the long-term.  While easily stirred by the beat of patriotic drums, opinion turns almost as quickly when things inevitably go wrong.  There is an alternative. Instead of selling war by disguising difficulties, demonizing the enemy and defining victory in absolute terms, governments can be honest about the limited effectiveness of force in modern conflicts, the political aspirations of insurgents and the inescapable 21st century reality that "winning" may be merely a positive adjustment to the status quo ....

Taliban continue hold on Afghan town
About 200 residents flee area; NATO says it will help government take control from militants

Fisnik Abrashi, ASSOCIATED PRESS, 8 Feb 07
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Taliban militants remain in control of a southern Afghan town nearly a week after capturing it, but NATO expects the Afghan government to soon reassert its authority there, an alliance spokesman said Wednesday.  About 200 people have fled the southern town of Musa Qala after militants captured it last week, said Col. Tom Collins, a spokesman for NATO's International Security Assistance Force.  The Taliban fighters, whose local leader was killed in a NATO airstrike Sunday, are operating in the town center but not reinforcing their presence there, Collins said.  The town was peaceful for four months after an October peace deal between village elders and the Helmand provincial government. The deal prevented NATO, Afghan and Taliban fighters from coming within three miles of the town center.  On Feb. 1, a group of about 200 militants moved into town, disarmed the local police force, destroyed the district center and temporarily held the local elders hostage.  Collins said NATO troops stand ready to help the government take control of the town but that there "is no need to rush to action here ....  We are confident that the government of Afghanistan, with ISAF's support, will take back Musa Qala at a time and place that is most advantageous" to them ....

ISAF issues correction to press release: three children injured during an attack on ISAF
ISAF news release # 2007-093, 7 Feb 07
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KANDAHAR, Afghanistan (7 February) – Upon further investigation it appears that three children, believed to have been injured in a Taliban mortar attack earlier today, were wounded by the accidental detonation of unexploded ordnance.  “I regret that we provided inaccurate information.  We strive for complete accuracy, but in this case we did not meet that standard,” said ISAF spokesperson, Col. Tom Collins.  The three children were flown to an ISAF medical facility, where they are still undergoing treatment.

First playground for the children of Helmand
ISAF news release # 2007-092, 7 Feb 07
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HELMAND, Afghanistan (7 February) - The first ever children’s playground in Helmand province has been built in Lashkar Gah.  The play area, which is approximately 50m by 100m, has swings, climbing frames, a football pitch and a covered picnic area with benches.  It was built by local Afghan contractors at a cost of $52,000 and has been funded and coordinated by the United Kingdom’s (UK) Civil Military Cooperation (CIMIC) team.  “They haven’t got anything like that in Helmand. This is the first of what we hope is going to be a lot more” said SSgt Hutton from the UK CIMIC team. “It has a football pitch, benches, play apparatus and we’ve planted some hedgerows. The children love and it and since it was installed they haven’t stopped using it which makes it all worthwhile.”  The initial idea for the playground was suggested by an ISAF soldier, who whilst patrolling the town, had seen children playing on a makeshift see-saw made from a plank of wood. The proposal was put to the CIMIC team who agreed to fund the project through the UK’s Quick Impact Project fund.  The construction of the playground was done in full cooperation with the Mayor of Lashkar Gah. It has been such a success that work has now started on a second playground in Lashkar Gah and there are plans for a third in the nearby town of Gereshk.

ANALYSIS - Suicide bombs show Pakistan confronting Taliban menace
Simon Cameron-Moore, Reuters, 8 Feb 07
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For all the doubts about Pakistan's commitment to fighting the Taliban, a recent wave of suicide attacks on its soldiers and cities belies suspicions that they might be in cahoots, analysts and diplomats say.  Hardly a week passes without President Pervez Musharraf having to fend off accusations, mostly from Kabul, that the Pakistani army tolerates Taliban sanctuaries and its spies support the insurgents in Afghanistan.  "I don't see that there would be any sense in supporting the Taliban when it is killing our troops and creating embarrassment with the international community," commented Talat Masood, a retired general-turned-analyst.  Last November, a suicide bomber killed 42 Pakistani army recruits in revenge for an air strike on a militant madrasa in Bajaur tribal agency that killed about 80 men and boys.  Over the past few weeks close to 30 people, many of them police and soldiers, have been killed in similar attacks believed by intelligence officials to have been ordered by a Pakistani Taliban commander, Baitullah Mehsud, after an air strike on one of his bases in South Waziristan on Jan. 16 ....

Pakistani Taliban leader denies links to attacks
Agence France Presse, 8 Feb 07
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A wanted pro-Taliban militant leader has denied allegations that his Islamist fighters were to blame for a deadly wave of attacks in Pakistan, a senator said.  Pakistan has been rocked by five suicide bombings in two weeks including one at Islamabad international airport on Tuesday when an extremist blew himself up with a hand grenade after a gunbattle with police.  But rebel chief Baitullah Mahsud told a council of tribal leaders at a secret location in South Waziristan tribal region on Wednesday that he was not involved in the attacks, said senator and council leader Maulana Saleh Shah.  "I had announced I would seek revenge for the Zamzola attack in anguish over the violation of the peace agreement by government, but I have repeatedly denied my role in attacks in Peshawar, Dera Ismail Khan, Tank and Islamabad," the senator quoted Mahsud as telling the elders ....

Pakistani authorities probe claims that NATO, Afghan forces entered village
ABDUL SATTAR, Associated Press, 8 Feb 07
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Pakistani authorities are investigating claims by residents of a remote border village that NATO and Afghan forces crossed into Pakistan to search for suspected Taliban militants and killed a local tribesman, officials said Thursday.  Afghan troops entered the village of Qamar Din on Wednesday morning and began shooting, killing one villager, said Abdul Raziq Bugti, spokesman for the government of Baluchistan province, citing claims by residents.  Villagers reported that the Afghan border security forces also wounded two Pakistani tribesmen and detained 11 villagers who were taken to Afghanistan, Bugti said.  The government has ordered authorities in the area to investigate the alleged incident in the village, about 210 kilometres northeast of Quetta, Baluchistan's capital, he said.  Pakistan - a close ally of the United States in its war against terrorism - has repeatedly said it will not allow foreign forces to operate on its soil in the hunt for militants.  Maulvi Mohammed Sharif, mayor of Zhob district where Qamar Din is located, said Thursday that NATO forces also entered Qamar Din along with the Afghan government troops, citing reports by villagers and security officials ....

Those allegations of military misconduct
Editorial, Globe and Mail, Feb. 08

Allegations that three Afghan captives were mistreated while in Canadian hands need to be thoroughly investigated, which is what Chief of the Defence Staff Rick Hillier has set out to do. The military's own police investigators are conducting a criminal probe, and General Hillier has also ordered a board of inquiry. Meanwhile, the Military Police Complaints Commission, an independent civilian body, is still considering whether to weigh in. Only when the investigators' work is done and all the facts are known can there be an accurate assessment of whether Canadian soldiers acted appropriately in difficult circumstances.

But based on what we do know, there is no evidence that the military is in any way dealing with another Somalia-type scandal [emphasis added] of the sort that did such severe damage to the image of the Canadian Forces more than a decade ago. It is also important to remember that Canada is in a full-scale war in Afghanistan against a vicious enemy whose soldiers hide by dressing like ordinary farmers and blending in with civilians. The Taliban do not play by the rules, which makes the soldiers who have to confront suspected members necessarily wary and tense.

Military documents indicate that the three Afghans were captured last April near the village of Dukah, west of Kandahar, by a small group of Canadian soldiers. One of the men was detained after being spotted observing the Canadian position. He escaped and was recaptured the following day. A field report described him as "non-compliant." Another was labelled as "extremely belligerent" after being dis-covered in a room with women and children during a raid on a compound. The report said it took four soldiers to subdue him.

The third, who was apparently the most seriously hurt, was described as a suspected bomb-maker. The report said that "appropriate force" was used. His various injuries, listed in a military police transfer log, included lacerations on the eyebrows, bruises and swelling of both eyes, facial cuts, abrasions, and multiple bruises on upper arms, back and chest. Such injuries would certainly be consistent with efforts to restrain struggling prisoners. Some of this damage was apparently inflicted while the suspect's hands were tied behind his back.

The explanation for this, provided by the military command, seems plausible. "When transferred to Military Police stationed at Kandahar Airfield, the detainee continued to display extreme agitation as well as belligerent and totally unco-operative behaviour. Already restrained by nylon straps to his wrists while being guided by Military Police, the detainee used his legs to leverage himself off the back of a vehicle in an effort to generate resistance against the military police escorting him. In accordance with proper use of force procedures, Military Police used appropriate physical control techniques to restrain him from doing that."

Whether the cuts and bruises were inflicted in the course of subduing a combative suspect or stemmed from a deliberate beating needs to be determined by the investigators. But in no sense does itcompare with the unbridled violence unleashed by Canadian soldiers participating in a failed peacekeeping mission in Somalia in 1993.

The atrocities then included the torture and murder of a teenage prisoner by his Canadian guards and the summary execution of another young civilian. A commission of inquiry concluded that inadequate training, lack of discipline and failures of leadership all played a key role in the soldiers' dreadful conduct.

The military learned hard lessons from Somalia. It improved training, preparation and accountability and put in place stronger mechanisms to prevent a recurrence. The stain of Somalia has been imprinted throughout the chain of command. There is, Gen. Hillier said, "an incredible hypersensitivity to handling detainees." He added that if a lapse occurred "in a process or policies, we'll find that out and correct it."

Jakob Kellenberger, president of the International Committee of the Red Cross, said last fall that Canadian troops in Afghanistan were respecting all the rules when taking prisoners. It would be disturbing, and surprising, if the inquiries found anything to the contrary.

Articles found February 8, 2007

Czechs to send military field hospital to Afghanistan
The Associated Press Thursday, February 8, 2007 PRAGUE, Czech Republic
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The lower chamber of Czech parliament on Thursday approved plans to send a military field hospital to Afghanistan.

The one-year hospital mission will include a 70-member team and be stationed at the international airport in Kabul as part of the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force.

The mission, requested by the Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers Europe, is expected to start in March. The Czech Senate approved the mission on Wedneday.
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Afghanistan: The Unwinnable War
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In Afghanistan, NATO is facing a tough, indigenous guerrilla force and the mission is not clear. This week, Defense Ministers meet in Seville and there are disputes to be resolved critical to the character and mission of the Atlantic Alliance, says Patrick Seale.

Why is NATO in Afghanistan? And what is it trying to achieve? Defence ministers of the Atlantic Alliance will be wrestling with these questions at their meeting in Seville this week. It will not be an easy meeting as differences between the allies run deep.

Over the past year, the West’s peace-keeping mission in Afghanistan has turned into an all-out war. To NATO’s evident surprise and alarm, suicide missions, road-side bombs, direct fire attacks on NATO and Afghan forces have all vastly increased and are now at record levels. Better armed, equipped and organised than ever before, the Taliban have greatly expanded their area of operations. Over 4,000 people were killed last year in Afghanistan in insurgency-related violence.

A major Taliban offensive is expected in the spring, perhaps aimed at seizing control of the southern provinces of Kandahar and Helmand, where British troops have been fighting hard in recent months and are being reinforced.

So, what to do?
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Administration, Members of Congress Agree on More Troops for Afghanistan
By Sayed Zafar Hashemi February 7, 2007
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(AXcess News) Washington - A brigade of 2,300 fresh men and women in uniform has arrived in Afghanistan, a Pentagon spokesman said, a deployment that required no congressional approval.

The Pentagon extended the tour of other troops involved in Operation Enduring Freedom who had expected to return home.

All are expected to fight in a likely spring offensive.

After Robert Gates' first visit to Afghanistan as defense secretary and his discussions with high-ranking Afghan officials and American combat troops, he increased the number troops upon the request of U.S. commanders serving in Afghanistan
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2 suspected al-Qaida members caught by coalition forces
Two commanders of Gulbudin-led Hezb-e-Islami held in Nangarhar
Thursday February 08, 2007 (0258 PST)
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KABUL: Coalition forces captured two suspected al-Qaida members during an early morning raid in eastern Afghanistan on Wednesday, a military statement said.
Afghan officials said soldiers captured six men and killed one person during the raid.

The raid near the town of Hakimabad in Nangarhar province was conducted based on information provided "about an al-Qaida member known to pass correspondence for al-Qaida senior leaders," the U.S.-led coalition said in a statement.

The two Afghan men were taken into custody to determine their association with al-Qaida, the statement said.

Ghafoor Khan, the spokesman for the provincial police chief, said coalition troops shot and killed one person during the raid, and that six people were detained and taken away. He said the raid took place 15 kilometers (10 miles) south of Jalalabad.
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Philippines Shamed By Tag With Afghanistan As Deadly For Media

The Philippines protested a report Wednesday by an international media group that ranked the country with Afghanistan as the deadliest places for working journalists in Asia.

Presidential spokesman Ignacio Bunye said there was no basis for comparing the state of press freedom in the Philippines with that of Afghanistan.

"The Philippines is not a war zone, we are not under military rule and no journalist is in jail for the practice of his or her profession," he said.

On Monday, the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists noted the deterioration of press freedom in Asia and cited the Philippines and Afghanistan as having the highest number of journalist deaths in the region last year.

The National Union of Journalist in the Philippines said that in 2006, 11 journalists were killed.

In 2005, 10 journalists were killed in the Philippines, mostly over their reporting on corruption and illegal activities in government. Most of the killings remain unsolved.

Bunye said that law enforcement agencies were already investigating the attacks and "in many instance, suspects have been identified and cases filed."
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A 'warfighter' takes charge of the Afghanistan mission
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The Norman Transcript

The war in Afghanistan, often overlooked due to the larger U.S. military presence in Iraq, may take on a more aggressive stance now that an American general has assumed command.

Gen. Dan McNeill took charge of more than 35,000 NATO troops in Afghanistan this past weekend. He replaces Gen. David Richard, a British officer.

Analysts, quoted by the Associated Press, anticipate strong military action from Gen. McNeill whom fellow officers described as a "warfighter to the bone."

He'll take command at a time when violence from the Taliban forces has stepped up in recent months. In 2006, NATO estimates more than 4,000 people died in insurgency-related violence. Like in Iraq, roadside and suicide bombs are the weapon of choice. Few of the militants want to face down U.S. and NATO troops.
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AFP officers being sent to Afghanistan
Email Print Normal font Large font February 7, 2007
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Private, armed security guards will protect four Australian Federal Police officers being sent to Afghanistan to help try and curb the amount of heroin being produced in the country.

Afghanistan's opium cultivation rose a staggering 60 per cent last year, according to the UN, and Western governments fear the illicit trade is undermining the fledgling Afghan government.

The AFP will send four officers to the country to work alongside Afghan police, with two to be based in the capital Kabul and two to work in Jalalabad, in the east.

AFP Commissioner Mick Keelty said heroin overdose deaths in Australia had fallen from about 1,100 a year to just 300 over the past six years - partly because of the liaison and advisory work by the agency in Burma's drug producing areas.
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Suicide Bomber Dies at Airport in Pakistan
By SALMAN MASOOD Published: February 7, 2007
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ISLAMABAD, Pakistan, Feb. 6 — A suicide bomber armed with pistols and grenades killed himself and at least one other person after a shootout with security guards at Islamabad’s international airport on Tuesday night, in what the police described as a thwarted but brazen terrorist attack.

It was the second suicide bombing in Islamabad in less than a week and appeared intended to inflict major casualties at the airport, which was teeming with passengers and was sealed off by the police for hours. At least five people were wounded, including three security personnel, and were rushed to nearby Rawalpindi General Hospital.

Aftab Ahmed Khan Sherpao, the interior minister, said in an interview that the bomber and an accomplice fled a taxicab at an airport checkpoint near the parking lot. He said the bomber zigzagged, fired at security guards and detonated a grenade as he was hit by an officer’s bullet. Another intelligence official said the accomplice was wounded and arrested
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Bullet-riddled bodies found in Pakistani tribal region near Afghanistan
Feb. 6, 2007, 3:41AM By BASHIRULLAH KHAN Associated Press
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MIRAN SHAH, Pakistan — Villagers discovered the bullet-riddled bodies of two men today in a Pakistani tribal region near the Afghan border where the government is at loggerheads with pro-Taliban militants, an official said.

The two men, their hands tied behind their backs, were found on a roadside near Miran Shah, the main town in North Waziristan, an intelligence official said on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to reporters. The men had been shot in the head and torso, he said.

Their bodies were taken to the municipal office in Miran Shah where no one immediately claimed them. There were no firm clues to the identity of the men or of their killers, the official said.

North Waziristan lies in the remote Pakistani tribal belt along the border with Afghanistan where Arab, Central Asian and Afghan militants, some suspected of links to al-Qaida, have found refuge with sympathetic tribesmen.

Scores of tribesmen have been killed in the area in recent years in suspected militant attacks after being accused of collaborating with Pakistani authorities or being informers for the United States.
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German defense minister on surprise visit to troops in Afghanistan
The Associated PressPublished: February 6, 2007
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BERLIN: Defense Minister Franz Josef Jung made a surprise visit to German troops in northern Afghanistan, his ministry said Tuesday, as Germany discusses whether to send fighter jets to the region.

The minister, who departed Monday for Mazar-e-Sharif, praised the roughly 2,700 German soldiers serving there as part of the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force for their efforts.

Germany is deciding whether to provide further assistance to the NATO mission, including deploying Tornado warplanes

Aid to Afghanistan
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Americans and Europeans are patting themselves on the back over recent pledges of new aid to Afghanistan -- $10.6 billion from the U.S. and €600 million ($778 million) from the European Commission. So it's worth asking how much good all that money will actually do. The answer, based on the record to date: a resounding "it depends." A host of countries have already spent $14 billion in Afghanistan with, at best, mixed results. The test now is whether the donors can figure out how to spend the new aid monies more effectively.
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No second leg for Afghanistan vs. Vietnam Olympic soccer qualifier
February 06, 2007         
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The return leg of an Olympic soccer qualifying match between Vietnam and Afghanistan has been cancelled due to security fears in the Afghan capital Kabul, the Asian Football Confederation said on Monday.

The two teams are due to play the first leg of their Asian Olympic preliminary round qualifier in Vietnam on Wednesday.

An AFC official told there would only be one leg in this preliminary round because of security concerns.

Vietnam coach Alfred Riedl confirmed his team would not travel to Afghanistan.

"The AFC said there was a security problem and we did not need to go there. We heard Bangkok would stage the match but then they decided against it so that is much better for us," Riedl told from Hanoi.

Source: Xinhua

German surveillance jets for Afghanistan to be barred from combat
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Berlin - Germany plans to deploy Tornado jets for surveillance with NATO forces in Afghanistan but the fighter aircraft will be barred from any combat activities, officials said Monday.

The German cabinet is set to approve deployment on Wednesday of six Tornado jets with electronic combat and reconnaissance systems, an official told Deutsche Presse-Agentur dpa.

Tornado pilots will be authorised to to provide intelligence for NATO attacks on Taliban formations but will not be allowed to use their bombs or missiles to carry out attacks, the official said.

A final green light for the mission is required from the German parliament. There has been growing criticism over move by some members of Chancellor Angela Merkel's coalition and banning a combat role for the jets is aimed at winning over skeptical Bundestag members.

NATO Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer has requested the Tornados to fly support missions over southern Afghanistan for NATO ground forces amid fears of Taliban offensive in the coming months.
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By Vladimir Socor Monday, February 5, 2007
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Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili High-level Georgian-Lithuanian talks on February 2 in Tbilisi included the issue of deploying a Georgian military unit and civilian specialists to Afghanistan with NATO forces there. Lithuania’s Prime Minister Gediminas Kirkilas, Minister of Foreign Affairs Petras Vaitiekunas, Chief of Staff Brig.-General Vitalijus Vaiksnoras, and Defense Ministry Undersecretary Renatas Norkus discussed this issue with their Georgian counterparts during this visit.

Lithuania operates a Provincial Reconstruction Team (PRT) in Ghor province as part of NATO’s International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) in Afghanistan. One option under discussion for the Georgian unit is to join the Lithuanian PRT. Georgian soldiers trained in mountainous terrain in their own country could add value to NATO’s multinational contingent in Afghanistan.

Summing up Tbilisi’s position, State Minister for Euro-Atlantic Integration Giorgi Baramidze expressed readiness to deploy a highly trained military unit to Afghanistan, as soon as the NATO Command determines the size and place of deployment and gives the green light.
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Not the Same as Being Equal: Women in Afghanistan
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Ann Jones shares her experience in post-Taliban rule Afghanistan, focusing on women’s issues from a feminist perspective.

Born in Afghanistan but raised in the United States, like many in the worldwide Afghan Diaspora, Manizha Naderi is devoted to helping her homeland. For years she worked with Women for Afghan Women, a New York based organization serving Afghan women wherever they may be. Last fall, she returned to Kabul, the capital, to try to create a Family Guidance Center. Its goal was to rescue women -- and their families -- from homemade violence. It's tough work. After three decades of almost constant warfare, most citizens are programmed to answer the slightest challenge with violence. In Afghanistan it's the default response.

Manizha Naderi has been sizing up the problem in the capital and last week she sent me a copy of her report. A key passage went like this:

"During the past year, a rash of reports on the situation of women in Afghanistan has been issued by Afghan governmental agencies and by foreign and local non-governmental organizations (NGOs) that claim a particular interest in women's rights or in Afghanistan or both. More reports are in the offing. What has sparked them is the dire situation of women in the country, the systematic violations of their human rights, and the failure of concerned parties to achieve significant improvements by providing women with legal protections rooted in a capable, honest, and stable judiciary system, education and employment opportunities, safety from violence, much of it savage, and protection from hidebound customs originating in the conviction that women are the property of men."
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Two from Spiegel Online, Feb. 08--with familiar rings for Canadians:

Those Who Wage War Should Call it War

By Claus Christian Malzahn

In approving the deployment of Tornado jets to Afghanistan, but only for reconnaissance purposes, the German cabinet has revealed the full extent of Germany's schizophrenic Afghanistan policy. This double game has to stop. The chancellor should finally say it like it is: Germany is at war...

"Germans Don't Really Realize they Are at War"

As Germany decides to send Tornado reconnaissance jets to Afghanistan, is this the beginning of a slippery slope that will see German troops getting involved in combat duty in the volatile south?..

Detainee briefings routine in '05
Issues relating to Afghan captives were a high priority during his tenure as defence minister, Graham says

Paul Koring, Globe & Mail, 9 Feb 07
Article Link - Permalink

Official Canadian documents show that General Rick Hillier and former defence minister Bill Graham were routinely briefed in 2005 on the transfer and medical condition of Afghan detainees.  The documents -- originally marked "Secret (Canada/USA Eyes Only)" -- have been declassified, and although heavily edited, released under access-to-information legislation.  "These would have been routinely received in my office," Mr. Graham confirmed yesterday. The documents include not only details of the capture and transfer but also the detainee's medical condition and whether he had been injured.  The Canadian Forces didn't respond yesterday when asked whether Gen. Hillier, the Chief of Defence Staff, and current Defence Minister Gordon O'Connor were similarly briefed 10 months ago about the injured detainees, now at the centre of a criminal investigation into possible abuse by Canadian soldiers.  This week, Mr. O'Connor said: "Senior management is not aware of every activity going on inside the department." ....

Activist swamped by abusive messages
ESTANISLAO OZIEWICZ, Globe & Mail, 9 Feb 07
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To say that Amir Attaran is no stranger to controversy is a bit of an understatement.  He's taken on the World Health Organization over malaria treatment, environmentalists over banning DDT and even Médecins sans frontières (Doctors Without Borders) over drug patents.  Now, the 40-year-old University of Ottawa professor is in the middle of another maelstrom, the treatment of detainees in Afghanistan. And, this time, it's getting more than a bit personal.  Since Prof. Attaran asked that an investigation be held into the possibility that Canadian soldiers may have roughed up prisoners, he has been swamped with abusive messages.  "I have received a very great amount of hate mail, saying that I am not a real Canadian. Well, I am. And I have received quite a lot of other material attacking me -- and I won't use the real language because it's really vulgar -- as a damn Muslim. Use your imagination to substitute for damn." ....

In the shadow of a scandal
No, it's not the Somalia affair, but the military must get to the bottom of the alleged abuse of Afghan prisoners to retain the trust of Canadians

Gar Pardy, Ottawa Citizen. 9 Feb 07
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....  Canadians expect a high standard of behaviour from their military, police and public officials. This is fuelled by a press that seldom applies the same standards to its own behaviour. As a result there is little tolerance or understanding when things do go bump in the dark hours and the shadows ....

Bruises don't warrant a military inquiry
Don Martin, National Post, 8 Feb 07
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....  Only in Canada could the cuts and bruises suffered by a few suspected terrorists give the entire Canadian military a black eye. The murderous take-no-prisoners Taliban can only be laughing at the insanity of it all.

Not to be confused with Somalia
DAVID BERCUSON, Globe & Mail, 8 Feb 07
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....  whatever the truth of the allegation, one thing is perfectly clear. There must be quick action to reveal the truth. Wrongdoings must be prosecuted. Failures in the system that might have been responsible for this lapse must be corrected, and it must all be done with complete candour. And while all that is taking place, there must be no hesitation on the part of the military in carrying out the mission assigned by the Canadian government to help secure Afghanistan, stop the Taliban from reimposing their heinous rule and help rebuild the country ....

Those allegations of military misconduct
Globe & Mail, 8 Feb 07
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....  Jakob Kellenberger, president of the International Committee of the Red Cross, said last fall that Canadian troops in Afghanistan were respecting all the rules when taking prisoners. It would be disturbing, and surprising, if the inquiries found anything to the contrary.

New museum exhibit on Afghanistan war attempts to skirt political minefield
Bruce Cheadle, Canadian Press, via Canada.com, 8 Feb 07
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From the thick bundle of crisp Canadian $100 bills, found in the debris of the World Trade Centre, to the final photo montage of dead soldiers lost in the war sparked by 9-11’s carnage, a new exhibit on Canada’s military mission in Afghanistan carries a visceral, gut-wrenching impact.  Afghanistan: A Glimpse of War, officially opens Friday at the Canadian War Museum. Drawn from the work of two Canadian journalists who provided much of the material, the year-long show inevitably raises questions about news coverage as war propaganda in a politically fraught mission whose outcome remains uncertain.  “The exhibition itself is not political,” Andrew Burtch, the museum’s lead historian for the show, said Thursday during a media preview.  “Everyone has their own opinion and we actually invite them to share their opinions in the gallery,” he added, gesturing to pencils and paper placed at small kiosks around the exhibit.  “We’re interested to hear what people have to say because it’s their history and it is something that is ongoing. There are debates going on around kitchen tables and workplaces and, no doubt, people will bring that with them into the (exhibit) space.  “When they see the stories, they will react to them in their own way. But one way or the other, we’re not trying to tell them what to think.” ....

'War, as we all know, is hell,' and this glimpse proves it
Paul Gessell, Ottawa Citizen, 9 Feb 07
Article Link

You may leave in tears, which just might bring smiles to the brass at the Defence Department.  Afghanistan: A Glimpse of War is the most powerful exhibition mounted at the Canadian War Museum in many a year. It opens today for an 11-month run.  The exhibition is definitely pro-soldier. You instantly bond with the Canadian troops whose lives and deaths are pictured in this show. You feel you know these men and women; your kids probably play with their kids. In that sense, the exhibition is a triumph for the museum and for the military.  However, A Glimpse of War is not propaganda. It's not even political. It does not try to convince you of the rightness or wrongness of Canada's involvement in Afghanistan.  It's simply, as the title suggests, "a glimpse of war." And war, as we all know, is hell ....

Wanted: military doctors for Afghanistan
CBC Online, 9 Feb 07
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The Canadian military desperately needs doctors to treat soldiers in Afghanistan and at home, offering up to $225,000 in cash incentives to physicians and medical students who enlist.  Canada's military says it only has half the doctors it needs to serve in Afghanistan — 40 instead of 80. To fill the gaps, the military has been hiring local civilian doctors. In Canada, the military needs 150 family physicians, but only has 120.  "There is a critical need for specialists right now, in particular in areas of general surgery and orthopedics," Lt.-Col. Randy Russell, who is in charge of recruiting physicians, told CBC News.  The military is offering first-year medical students $40,000, if they agree to serve as medical officers for at least four years after being licensed as physicians.  Medical students who are close to graduating are offered $180,000, while licensed doctors who enlist are eligible to receive $225,000.  The precise reason for the lack of doctors is hard to pinpoint, officials said ....

U.S. defence official says NATO must launch offensive in Afghanistan
LOLITA C. BALDOR, Associated Press, 8 Feb 07
Article Link

The United States and its allies must launch their own offensive this spring against the Taliban in Afghanistan, a senior U.S. defence official said Thursday, calling this a pivotal time in the nearly five-year-old war there.  Previewing the message Defence Secretary Robert Gates will deliver to NATO allies at a meeting in Seville, Spain, later Thursday and Friday, the official said now is the time finally to defeat the Taliban, who harboured planners of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks that prompted U.S. global war on terror.  The end of winter in Afghanistan has traditionally brought an upsurge in attacks by Taliban militants, and U.S. commanders have already predicted that this spring there will be even more violent than last year when a record number of attacks included nearly 140 suicide bombings.  "We think the upcoming spring in Afghanistan is a pivotal moment in the conflict, and we're encouraging the allies to do as much as they can as soon as they can," said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because the planned discussions had not yet been presented to allies. "The offensive should be our offensive. That's the offensive we've been communicating to the allies." ....

NATO Needs More Troops for Afghanistan
PAUL AMES, Associated Press, 8 Feb 07
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NATO defense ministers were under pressure Thursday to find more troops for the alliance mission in Afghanistan ahead of an expected surge in fighting with the Taliban when the snow melts this spring.  NATO's new top commander, U.S. Gen. John Craddock, was presenting ministers with a plan to "rebalance" the force of 35,000, using the more mobile combat units in the southern and eastern regions along the border with Pakistan where combat is expected to be most intense.  Allied officials said Craddock was seeking around 1,500 extra combat troops in addition to reinforcements recently announced by the United States and Britain, which supply more than half the soldiers in the force.  However, several European nations have resisted pressure to send more units, especially to the provinces in the south and east. In particular, the reluctance of France, Spain, Italy, Germany and Turkey to provide more combat troops, has caused frustration among nations on the front lines ....

Wary NATO allies urged to boost Afghan fight
Kristin Roberts and Mark John, Reuters, 8 Feb 07
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The United States raised pressure on NATO allies on Thursday to rush more troops to Afghanistan to crush an expected Taliban offensive, saying the coming weeks would be key in battling the insurgency.  But despite Washington's mounting impatience, European nations held back from making major commitments at the meeting of defence chiefs in the Spanish city of Seville, and Germany questioned whether more troops were the real priority.  New U.S. and British reinforcements mean the two allies will provide half a NATO Afghan force which has now swollen to some 35,000 troops, with their soldiers located predominantly in the Taliban's southern heartlands and by the Pakistan border.  "I was very clear in saying that nations should fulfil all the commitments they have made and I hope they will will do so quickly," U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates said.  "We have an opportunity this spring to significantly disrupt the increasing level (of violence) we have seen in recent years caused by the Taliban. I'm optimistic this spring offensive will be ours," he told a news conference.  U.S. General Bantz Craddock, who took over as NATO's Supreme Allied Commander Europe in December, laid out plans that will require allies to deliver a further 2,500 troops ranging from special forces to logistics personnel, one alliance source said ....

NATO Defense Ministers Resist US Pressure to Send More Troops to Afghanistan
Voice of America news, 8 Feb 07
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NATO defense ministers have come under increased U.S. pressure to provide more troops for the NATO mission in Afghanistan in preparation for the Taleban offensive in the coming months.  At a meeting in Seville, Spain, Thursday, NATO's new supreme commander, U.S. General Bantz Craddock, presented the ministers with a plan to rebalance the existing force of 35,000 troops in Afghanistan.  The United States wants to bolster alliance forces in the southern and eastern regions of Afghanistan, near the Pakistani border where the Taleban are most active.  U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates told reporters the allied push could significantly disrupt the Taleban's fighting ability.  But several European allies say there is too much emphasis on a military solution.  German Defense Minister Franz Josef Jung, whose country approved the deployment of six Tornado surveillance aircraft, said Russians had 100,000 troops in Afghanistan, and they did not win ....

No more troops to Afghanistan: Spain
Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting, 9 Feb 07
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Spanish Defence Minister Jose Antonio Alonso said on Thursday that his country would maintain the size of its force in Afghanistan and would not send more troops there.  Alonso told a press conference that he had reaffirmed the Spanish government's stance on the issue at talks with NATO Secretary General Jaapde Hoop Scheffer on Thursday morning.  He said the 690 troops Spain currently has stationed in Afghanistan was sufficient.  Since Spain started its military intervention in Afghanistan in January 2002 it has spent a total of 685 million euros (890 million dollars) on the mission and deployed 7,247 soldiers ....

ANALYSIS-New U.S. emphasis on Afghan forces vital but risky
Terrry Friel, Reuters, 9 Feb 07
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The United States wants to refocus its Afghanistan effort on the local army and police, but there are serious questions about a strategy that has also run into problems of desertions, sectarianism and graft in Iraq.  A much-heralded U.S. handover of weapons, vehicles and other materiel in Kabul last week -- the biggest ever with 12,000 guns and hundreds of vehicles -- was as telling for what was held back as for what was given.  "This move is geared toward NATO's overall strategy of eventually being able to hand over security to some form of native force so that NATO can leave -- but, realistically, this cannot happen for years," U.S. think tank Stratfor.com said.  "Humvees and machine guns will give the ANA (Afghan National Army) enhanced mobility and better firepower, but -- unlike heavier weapons, such as armoured fighting vehicles and artillery -- they do not indicate that NATO especially trusts the ANA."  The 40,000-strong Afghan army still relies on the almost 45,000 foreign troops for air support, major transport, artillery and medical evacuations.  Even now, in some joint bases U.S. forces operate separately run and separately guarded camps within camps, keeping Afghan soldiers outside the wire.  A popular conspiracy theory here is that the United States is obstructing the formation of a local air force through fear of a an attack by a rogue pilot ....

Joshua Kucera, EurasiaNet Insight, 8 Feb 07
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A new political movement is taking shape in Afghanistan that is pro-Western in orientation and seeks to present Afghans with a clear ideological alternative to the vision offered by the resurgent Taliban movement. The movement’s leader maintains that a "great" number of Afghans want to move in a democratic direction.  The movement, Fedayeen-e-Sul, or Sacrificers for Peace, is led by Hamed Wardak, the 31-year-old son of the current defense minister of Afghanistan, Abdul Rahim Wardak. The younger Wardak is a graduate of Georgetown University and was a Rhodes Scholar at Oxford University in Britain.  The movement aims to be pan-ethnic, reformist and democratic. Wardak said he acted to establish the movement after traveling around Afghanistan, speaking to local elders and painstakingly building a network of respected local leaders. "The more I deal with elders, I realize the potential for democracy in this country is so great. The type of ideals that we have, they also share, they just express it in different ways," he said ....

Afghan cleric takes Islamic battle to the airwaves
Sayed Salahuddin, Reuters, 8 Feb 07
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When the Soviet Union occupied Afghanistan in the 1980s, Sheikh Mohammad Asif Mohseni formed an Islamic force while in exile to fight alongside other holy warriors against the invaders.  But when the communist-backed regime collapsed, the victorious Mujahideen groups began a bloody power struggle, sparking a civil war that killed tens of thousands and he found himself trying to play peacemaker.  Now, the 75-year-old, silver-bearded Mohseni has another mission; this time to save Afghanistan's deeply conservative Islamic society from corruption by alien cultures.  Mohseni is launching a semi-Islamic television channel which does not focus exclusively on Islamic teachings. It will be Afghanistan's first such channel.  Called Tamadon, or "civilization," the network will go on air in a few months. It is the latest in a string of private channels springing up since the Taliban government fell in 2001.  But while some, especially newly returned refugees, welcome the explosion of choice -- there's even a racy MTV-style channel broadcasting from the United States -- others complain the Indian and Western music and programs are vulgar.  "I want to take part in civilizing my Muslim people in the 21st century and the direction (Muslims now) follow has a deviated from its path," he said ....

- edited 101305EST Feb to add fourth item -

NOTE:  Full text of first three articles are also available on one single page here

No room for two inquiries: Military complaints chairman
Expresses 'concerns' over Hillier's decision to probe alleged abuse of Afghans

Mike Blanchfield, National Post, p. A6, 10 Feb 07
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The head of the Military Police Complaints Commission said yesterday he has "significant concerns" over General Rick Hillier's decision to convene his own board of inquiry into allegations of prisoner abuse by Canadian soldiers in Afghanistan because it might interfere with his own probe.  Commission chairman Peter Tinsley expressed that view in a letter to the Chief of the Defence Staff and in an interview as he announced he would launch a "public interest" investigation into allegations soldiers abused three Afghan detainees last April near Kandahar.  "I’m not wanting to go to war with the Chief over this," Mr. Tinsley said. "It's simply a concern that I'm expressing in terms of the timing."  Gen. Hiller has already said publicly he is not inclined to believe the allegations against his troops.  Though Mr. Tinsley won't call evidence --for now --in a courtroom-type setting, he said he would resort to subpoenas and other "additional powers" if he does not have the Defence Department's full cooperation. Eventually, he said, he wants the military to release photos that depict injuries to at least one, if not all, of the Afghan detainees in question .....

Third probe of detainee treatment
Bruce Campion-Smith, Toronto Star, p. A04, 10 Feb 07
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Senior military officers "belatedly" looked into a report that Canadian troops may have mistreated Afghan prisoners, and now that investigations are under way, have made "unfortunate" public comments that suggest they've already decided nothing was done wrong.  Those are two reasons cited by Peter Tinsley, chair of the Military Police Complaints Commission, as he announced yesterday that he was launching his own "public interest" probe into possible misconduct of military police officers in their handling of three detainees last April.  While the military's top cop had appealed to the commission to delay its probe, worries about public confidence in the armed forces and concern about the seriousness of the allegations dictated the commission act now, Tinsley said.  "The possible abuse of defenceless persons in (Canadian Forces) custody, regardless of their actions prior to apprehension and the possibility that military police members may have knowingly or negligently failed to investigate such abuse ... are matters of serious concern," Tinsley said in a letter to senior military officers.  The commission, which looks into complaints about the military police, will also examine whether officers "failed to follow proper protocols for the treatment of detainees."  And Tinsley said he's ready to hold a public hearing, if needed, to exercise subpoena powers to summon witnesses as he examines the "possible abuse" of three prisoners detained by Canadian troops near Dukah in Kandahar province.  "If I have to, well, we'll move to that. But I sure hope it's not required," Tinsley said in an interview ....

A third probe for Afghan abuse claims
Case could lead to wider review of detainee policy

Paul Koring, Globe and Mail, p. A20, 10 Feb 07
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The independent Military Police Complaints Commission yesterday ordered a "public-interest investigation" into possible detainee abuse by Canadian soldiers in Afghanistan, the third investigation into the case announced in a week.  "The possible abuse of defenceless persons in CF [Canadian Forces] custody, regardless of their actions prior to apprehension and the possibility that military police members may have knowingly or negligently failed to investigate such abuse . . . are matters of serious concern," chairman Peter Tinsley said.  The investigation could expand beyond the narrow issue of whether one or more detainees captured near Dukah, Afghanistan, in April, 2006, were beaten or abused in Canadian custody before being turned over to Afghan security forces.  The murky issue of whether Canadian military police can lawfully hand detainees to Afghan authorities without ironclad guarantees that they will not be mistreated could conceivably become part of the investigation, Mr. Tinsley said, adding it is too early to know where his probe will lead.  "We are looking at a specific complaint, but the commission is not restrained from progressing from the facts of a case to systemic issues," he said in an interview ....

Independent body created to oversee military police
ESTANISLAO OZIEWICZ, Globe & Mail, 10 Feb 07
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The Military Police Complaints Commission, established in late 1999, is an independent quasi-judicial civilian agency whose mandate is to provide oversight of Canadian Forces military police.  The commission has the power to administer oaths, subpoena witnesses and compel them to give evidence and produce documents.  But, in its most recent annual report, the commission does not appear to have been very busy, having begun only nine "public interest investigations/hearings" since its inception. In fact, in 2005, André Marin, the then-outgoing military ombudsman, complained that the MPCC dealt with only several dozen complaints a year while the ombudsman reviewed more than 1,000 in the same period.  According to the MPPC annual report, the commission monitored 52 conduct complaints in 2005 and one "interference complaint." It also launched a hearing about the "involvement of military police in a sexual-assault investigation."  The 52 conduct complaints refer to the MPPC's monitoring of complaints by the agency responsible for managing the Forces' military police. An interference complaint refers to allegations a member of the forces or a Defence Department official interfered with a military police investigation.

Military urged to keep track of Afghan detainees
Surrendering suspects seized by Canadian soldiers to Afghan authorities decried by human-rights advocates

Bruce Campion-Smith, Toronto Star, 10 Feb 07
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They caused a stir on Parliament Hill, sparked two formal military probes and had the country's top general on the defensive about the conduct of his troops in Kandahar.  But the identity of the three Afghan men who may have been mistreated by Canadian soldiers, their conditions and whereabouts all remained a mystery this week.  They have vanished into the world of Afghan justice, where torture is common and prison conditions are "deplorable," according to human-rights groups.  And for Michael Byers, that fact is just as troubling as the suggestion that the men may have been abused while in Canadian custody.  "I think it's appalling that we have no idea where these men now are and that no efforts have been made up to this point to verify their well-being," says Byers, a professor at the University of British Columbia and a long-time critic of Canada's detainee policies.  "If they had been beaten in Canadian custody and bore the marks of that beating, that may have increased their risks once they reached Afghan authorities of further abuse," he says.  "I think, among other things, it's exposed the more general problems with our detainee handling system."  Canadian troops, who nab "many detainees," according to one officer, hand them over to Afghan authorities, inform the International Red Cross and absolve themselves of any further responsibility. Unlike the Dutch, who are also in Afghanistan, Canada has no right to make follow-up visits to check the well-being of detainees it has transferred.  Gen. Rick Hillier, chief of the defence staff, defends the agreement that he signed with the Afghanistan government in December 2005.  "We have a policy in place to handle them humanely and appropriately, and ... we hand them off to the Afghan authorities," Hillier says ....

INTERVIEW - Taliban united, talks only way out - former minister
Sayed Salahuddin, Reuters, 10 Feb 07
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The Taliban remain a united force and President Hamid Karzai must start wide-ranging talks to save Afghanistan from more bloodshed, the group's former foreign minister said on Saturday.  "I think that the Taliban to a large extent is the only group that has remained united before and after its fall," former Taliban foreign minister Wakil Ahmad Muttawakil said.  "If we look back to past years, evidence shows that they have expanded and increased their operations and there is the possibility of that once again," he told Reuters in Kabul.  More than 4,000 people, including about 170 foreign troops and 1,000 civilians died in fighting last year, the bloodiest year since U.S.-led troops ousted the Taliban's strict Islamist government in 2001.  NATO, the United States, Afghan authorities and the Taliban say the guerrillas will launch a major offensive when spring comes in a few months, although no one seriously believes the guerrillas can regain power.  But they are gaining support in rural areas where the failure to create a non-drugs economy has left no jobs and fighting for the Taliban pays more than working for the police ....

Afghanistan Troop Buildup Extended
Associated Press, via Military.com, 10 Feb 07
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The Pentagon plans to extend its buildup of several thousand combat troops in Afghanistan, initially announced as lasting until late spring, well into next year, a senior U.S. military official said Friday.  The move comes as U.S. and allied commanders anticipate a renewed offensive this spring by the Taliban, and as they seek additional reinforcements from NATO countries. The effort to bolster forces there so far has brought only limited success, with a few nations promising handfuls of additional troops and equipment.  The extension of the U.S. buildup means American troop levels in Afghanistan, which increased this month to about 26,000 - the highest of the war - will remain roughly the same until at least spring 2008. Until now, a level of 22,000 to 23,000 had prevailed through much of last year.  The decision, expected to be announced in Washington as early as next week, entails sending an Army combat brigade to replace the 3rd Brigade of the 10th Mountain Division when it leaves this spring.  Without replacing that brigade, the number of U.S. troops in Afghanistan would have receded to the lower level. That is because the U.S. has had extra troops in the country since earlier this month, when a brigade of the 82nd Airborne Division arrived ....

NATO commander says too few troops in Afghanistan
Agence France Presse, 10 Feb 07
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NATO's top commander has said there were not enough international troops in Afghanistan to control the border and maintain the steady military presence needed to underpin reconstruction efforts.  US Army General Bantz Craddock, the supreme allied commander, acknowledged that allies were sceptical of the need for more troops at a recently concluded defence ministers meeting in Seville.  "Right now commanders are finding, without adequate forces available, they have to move from one (place) to the other, and they are continually shifting around," he said.  "We must maintain presence, because with presence the Taliban does not come back," he said, speaking to reporters on the sidelines of an international security conference on Saturday.  Craddock recently concluded a reassessment of requirements of the 35,000-strong NATO-led International Security Force in Afghanistan.  He said he found that the allies had not provided all the forces they had previously promised and that more troops were needed to control border areas and protect reconstruction efforts ....

Taliban ambush kills 4 Afghan police, wounds 3
Associated Press, 10 Feb 07
Article Link

Taliban militants ambushed a truck carrying police in southern Afghanistan, killing four officers and injuring three at the site of NATO's largest-ever ground battle, while a separate gunfight left 11 Taliban fighters dead, officials said Saturday.  The attack on the police occurred Friday evening in Kandahar province's Panjwayi district, said provincial police chief Asmatullah Alizai.  The three injured were in serious condition, he said.  NATO forces killed more than 500 militants in the Panjwayi area in September, largely clearing the region of militants in an offensive called Operation Medusa.  Canadian and U.S. Special Forces are working to increase security in Panjwayi. More Afghan security checkpoints have been set up, a new road is being built, and schools and clinics are reopening. Yet small groups of fighters remain.  The attack on the police happened near Talukan village, where militants beheaded two men in December, saying they were working with NATO forces ....

News Analysis: Factors behind Taliban resurgence
Yu Zhixiao & Zhang Haibo, Xinhua news agency, via www.chinaview.cn (CHN), 10 Feb 07
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The Taliban recently said it would launch a spring offensive against foreign and government troops in Afghanistan and 2,000 suicide bombers were ready to make this year the bloodiest one for foreign soldiers.  Moreover, due to rising Taliban-linked insurgency, Afghanistan plunged into the worst spate of bloodshed in 2006 after the Taliban regime collapsed late 2001 as 4,000 persons were killed. The number was nearly three times bigger than in 2005.  Obviously the Taliban is showing a strong trend of resurgence. Analysts say several factors including geographic elements; enough fund and local support are behind the Taliban's revival.  The first geographic factor benefiting the Taliban is the numerous mountains in southern and eastern Afghanistan, which are hotbeds of Taliban militants. The militants hide and move in mountains and frequently ambush foreign and government troops. This guerrilla-style maneuver makes foreign troops, despite their weapons superiority, hard to deal with and eradicate the militants.  The second geographic factor is the porous Afghan-Pakistani border. Many Taliban militants cross the 2,400-km border back and forth, making it difficult for Afghan and the 48,000-strong foreign troop to hunt down them, as the soldiers can't overrun the border ....

PRT continues good work in Nuristan
ISAF news release #2007-095, 8 Feb 07
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Sunday, the Nuristan Provincial Reconstruction Team (PRT), in Kala Gush dedicated the newly completed Nurgram Ministry of Justice building, conducted a medical outreach in Dareng village and inspected the on-going construction of a school in Kowtalay village.  Under official Afghan law, the new Nurgram Ministry of Justice (MOJ) office is charged with a wide range of legal affairs and will work closely with other provincial ministries in the district to ensure that the rule of law is upheld.  “It is essential for the maintenance of peace and order in society that a person who causes an injury or steals property be appropriately punished,” said Nuristan MOJ Director Hafizullah.  ISAF forces from PRT Nuristan also visited Kowtalay village to assess the construction progress of a new school building. Once open, the eight-room school will hold up to 160 students. The school, which was approved by the Nuristan Provincial Governor Tamim Nuristani, was funded by the Nuristan PRT Commander’s Emergency Response Programme.  Following the school assessment, a medical outreach was held in Dareng village, where more than 120 men, women and children were treated for a variety of ailments. Dareng is also the site of two well projects that are approved by the provincial government and supported by the PRT.  The construction of the school in Kowtalay, the Dareng wells and the medical outreach are part of PRT Nuristan’s mission to assist in the reconstruction and development of Afghanistan. Working in partnership with the provincial district governor and the local community, the Nuristan PRT strives to improve the conditions faced by the people of this region.

A soldier's story
His body shattered in a suicide bombing in Afghanistan, Mike McTeague is winning the battle to heal

DAVID COOPER, Toronto Star, 9 Feb 07
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All eyes are on Mike McTeague as he struggles to pull up his socks.  The 21-year-old soldier severely wounded in Afghanistan has, as usual, an audience for his occupational therapy session. Two army guys, a friend who visits daily, and another member of his therapy team cheer on his progress. In his three months at St. John's Rehab  Hospital, he's gone from needing four people to turn him in bed to being able to sit up, stand up and nearly dress himself.  The socks are the latest hurdle, and not an easy one, seeing as a ball bearing tore through his neck, shrapnel ripped through his bowel, and his legs and feet were fractured in eight places, some so badly the bones shattered.  "I didn't work hard today," says McTeague nonchalantly after mastering the task. "I didn't scream."  McTeague, who finally left hospital yesterday, was the victim of a suicide bomber riding a bicycle who killed four Canadians and seriously injured 10 soldiers and 27 Afghan residents in September. Since 2005, 188 Canadian soldiers have been wounded badly enough to be sent to the Kandahar hospital ....

American, SAfrican dog handlers build rock mural to honour Canadian troops
Murray Brewster, Canadian Press, via Canada.com, 10 Feb 07
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- photo posted below -

Taking and holding the area around Ma'sum Ghar last fall cost Canadians the lives of five soldiers and that sacrifice is now etched into this dusty, ragged hillside by - of all people - American and South African dog handlers.  A huge red-and-white rock mural of the Canadian flag has been carefully laid out on slope leading to a hilltop observation post at this bustling forward base. Running along the bottom of the flag are a series of whitewashed boulders, representing the soldiers who died here.  For Van Thames of AM-K9 Protection, erecting the symbol and the memorial was a way to say thank you to Canadians who have kept him and his team safe and comfortable.  Working on the project in his spare time, Thames had no idea how much the gesture would mean to members of Alpha and Charles Companies of the 1st Battalion Royal Canadian Regiment, who have endured months of bitter, desperate fighting with Taliban militants.  "I had one guy that come up and first of all I thought he was mad with me," Thames said, his long South Carolina drawl, stretching out every syllable.  "He said, 'I'm pissed. I'm pissed.' I said, 'What's wrong? What I do wrong?' He said: 'I'm mad 'cause it took an American to think about it and do it instead of one of us doing it."  It was, Thames chuckled, a backhanded way of saying, 'thank you.' ....

Outside the Wire:  Illumination Rounds
Doug Schmidt, Windsor Star blog, 10 Feb 07
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Today was a good day. Had a couple hours to kill after arriving at this military forward operating base overlooking the vast former homeland valley of the Taliban, so went for a little climb. The Canadians spilt much of their own blood taking and holding this steep and craggy bluff in the Panjwaii District during Operation Medusa last fall (something the Soviets' Red Army failed to do against the Mujahedeen two decades ago).  Other Canadian soldiers arriving by convoy in the middle of the night with me last night after a couple days out awoke to a big surprise — the Americans and South Africans who work with the bomb-sniffing dogs here spent that time constructing a giant maple leaf flag using rocks they then painted. It's on a hill overlooking the camp.  "It's our thanks," said dog handler Van Thames of South Carolina. He admits he had "reservations at first" when told he and his dog would be working with the Canadians. But the experience proved rewarding: "I've met a lot of good, life-long friends here, Canadians." ....