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The Sandbox and Areas Reports Thread (February 2007)

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8 Coalition personnel killed in helicopter crash
COMBINED JOINT TASK FORCE -76, COMBINED PRESS INFORMATION CENTER, Release #086, Feb. 18, 2007
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BAGRAM AIRFIELD, Afghanistan – Eight Coalition personnel were killed and 14 others were wounded early Sunday when a Coalition CH-47 helicopter had a sudden, unexplained loss of power and control and crashed in eastern Afghanistan.  A search and rescue operation was launched immediately to secure the site, recover the passengers and transport wounded personnel to Coalition medical facilities for treatment.  The helicopter was transporting a total of 22 people, including aircrew, at the time of the crash.  Coalition forces strongly advise any Afghans in the area of the crash to stay away from the site for their own safety.  Recent reporting indicated a Taliban build up for operations against the Coalition forces in the region.  “The loss of these servicemembers is felt by all of us here in Afghanistan, and we offer our deepest sympathy to the families of those who were killed,” said Lt. Col. David Accetta, Coalition spokesman.  The names of those involved in the incident are being withheld pending notification of next of kin.  The specific location and details of the incident will not be released until the completion of recovery operations.  An investigation will be conducted to verify the cause of the crash.

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Eight US military personnel killed in Afghan chopper crash
Agence France Presse, 18 Feb 07
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Eight US servicemembers were killed and 14 injured when a helicopter crashed in southeastern
Afghanistan after a "sudden loss of power and control," the US-led coalition said.  The twin-rotor chopper crashed in the southeastern province of Zabul, about 250 kilometres (155 miles) southwest of the capital Kabul, not far from a main highway, residents and officials said on Sunday.  "Eight coalition personnel were killed and 14 others were wounded early Sunday when a coalition CH-47 helicopter had a sudden, unexplained loss of power and control and crashed in eastern Afghanistan," a coalition statement said.  "The helicopter was transporting a total of 22 people, including aircrew, at the time of the crash," it said.  The coalition said an investigation would be launched to verify the cause of the crash. It had said earlier the chopper came down after reporting engine failure.  "Recent reporting indicated a Taliban build-up for operations against the coalition forces in the region," the statement said.  Zabul is a rugged and mountainous area that sees regular clashes between security forces and fighters from the Islamist Taliban movement.  The chopper was on a transport mission and not a combat mission at the time of the crash, coalition spokesman Lieutenant Colonel David Accetta told AFP ....


8 U.S. troops die in Afghan 'copter crash
CNN, 18 Feb 07
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Eight coalition members were killed and 14 others wounded when their helicopter had a "sudden, unexplained loss of power and control" and crashed in southeastern Afghanistan on Sunday, military officials said.  All eight were U.S. personnel, according to news wire reports.  The CH-47 Chinook was transporting 22 people, including crew, at the time of the crash.  Rescuers found the 14 injured passengers after launching a search operation and transported them to the hospital.  The crew initially indicated they had engine failure, an earlier statement said ....


8 U.S. Troops Die in Afghan Copter Crash
NOOR KHAN, Associated Press, 18 Feb 07
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Eight U.S. troops were killed and 14 wounded when a military helicopter crashed Sunday in southeastern Afghanistan after reporting engine failure, the U.S.-led coalition said in a statement.  The CH-47 Chinook helicopter was carrying 22 passengers and had a "sudden, unexplained loss of power and control and crashed," the statement said.  "It was not enemy fire related," said Col. Tom Collins, spokesman for NATO's International Security Assistance Force. "The pilot was able to radio in that he was having engine problems. We're confident it was not due to enemy action."  The helicopter crashed in the Shahjoi district of Zabul province, about 50 yards from the main highway between Kabul and Kandahar, and appeared to be destroyed and scattered in several pieces.  U.S. and Afghan military blocked reporters from entering the crash site.  The incident Sunday was the first U.S. military helicopter crash since May 2006, when a CH-47 Chinook helicopter that attempted a nighttime landing on a small mountaintop crashed in eastern Kunar province, killing 10 U.S. soldiers ....



Canadian troops kill ‘threatening’ Afghan civilian
Graham Thomson, CanWest News Service, 17 Feb 07
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Fearing they were about to be attacked by a suicide bomber, Canadian troops shot and killed an Afghan civilian who was acting in a “perplexing” manner on Saturday, according to military officials.  And, in what appears to be an odd coincidence, a second Afghan civilian was fatally shot by yet-unidentified coalition forces in the same region of southern Afghanistan hours earlier.  In the shooting involving Canadians, soldiers thought the man was wearing a bomb as he approached a military convoy on a highway near Kandahar Air Field.  “He appeared to be chanting and refused to heed verbal and visual warnings to stop,” said Lt.-Cmdr. Kris Phillips. “As he continued his approach members of the convoy noted that there appeared to be a device with wires protruding from it attached to his chest.”  Phillips said soldiers fired warning shots twice before shooting the man.  “The behavior of this individual is somewhat perplexing. Upon closer investigation explosives were not found although the man did have an unusual mix of wires straps, tubes and other materials strapped to his torso.”  Phillips said the man’s identity is unknown and the matter is under investigation.  “He was acting in an unusual and threatening manner,” added Karen Johnston, a Armed Forces spokesperson in Ottawa ....


Afghan civilians killed by soldiers
Canadian troops question one victim’s mental stability

MURRAY BREWSTER The Canadian Press, 18 Feb 07
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Two unarmed Afghan civilians were shot and killed by NATO forces in a pair of bizarre, seemingly unrelated, incidents Saturday.  One episode, 12 kilometres west of Kandahar, involved a Canadian battle group patrol and a man the army implied may have been mentally unstable ....  For the Canadians, it is the second time in a week they’ve been involved in an unintentional shooting and both incidents Saturday join a long series events which have started to erode relations with the Afghan population, who’ve taken to complaining bitterly about being in the crossfire — or on the receiving end of stray warning shots.  Describing the man as a suspected suicide bomber, Phillips said the unidentified victim in the Canadian incident — outside the village Senjaray — approached a patrol, walking along the centre line of the road.  "He appeared to be chanting and refused to heed verbal and visual warnings to stop," Phillips said at Kandahar Airfield.  The closer the man came, the stranger he appeared and as the patrol slowed soldiers spotted what they thought were wires sticking from a bulge in the man’s jacket.  Two warning shots were quickly snapped off but the man kept coming until a third burst was fired, killing him instantly.  "Upon closer investigation, no explosives were found but the man did have an unusual mix of wire, straps, tubes and other materials fastened to his torso," said Phillips, who added a military police investigation has been launched in conjunction with Afghan authorities.  "His behaviour is perplexing to say the least. We’re not sure why he was in the middle of the road.  "We’re not sure why he was approaching one of our convoys. We’re not sure why he was behaving the way he was, so there are some questions that need to be answered." ....



NATO school under siege by Taliban
Young Afghans risk death for chance to build better future

Graham Thomson, Edmonton Journal, 18 Feb 07
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A new school opened in Afghanistan on Saturday -- which might not sound like a big deal.  But in Afghanistan it is huge.  The Tarin Kowt Trade Training School is a symbol of everything that can go right in this devastated country -- and a reminder of what is still so terribly wrong.  The NATO-run school will teach young men who are illiterate and impoverished, and therefore prime targets for Taliban recruiting, the basics of carpentry. They'll learn how to build tables and chairs, maybe even a coffee table. In the words of one of their teachers, they'll take up the saw, not the sword.  Which sounds wonderful, except that to operate safely the school has to be located inside a special military compound surrounded by blast walls. That, in turn, is located inside a large NATO base, Camp Holland, home to 2,000 troops near the town of Tarin Kowt, 100 kilometres north of Kandahar.  Security is such a dicey affair here that for the opening ceremonies, dignitaries arrived in a convoy of armoured personnel carriers. Reporters based at Kandahar Air Field were flown in on a helicopter that had three machine-gunners and was shadowed by a second helicopter gunship.  The students -- there are only nine of them -- smiled bravely for the cameras, even though they face death from the Taliban for taking the classes ....



Daily News Summary:  Bush Afghan Broadside Targets NATO
Michael Moran, Council on Foreign Relations, 16 Feb 07
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The North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) likes to think of itself as the most successful military alliance in history for its role in checking Soviet expansion during the Cold War. But faced with fighting an actual war in Afghanistan, the alliance is finding it hard to turn decades of war planning into an effective battlefield strategy (TIME). Speaking to the American Enterprise Institute, President Bush on February 15 echoed complaints from U.S. commanders in Afghanistan that some European NATO military units arrive with so many “caveats,” or restrictions on engagement, that they amount to little more than an overarmed constabulary. He has ordered 3,200 soldiers of the U.S. 173rd Airborne Brigade into the country, a move he must not relish given the tenor of the U.S. domestic debate on Iraq.  Many of Europe's politicians, however, appear unmoved. Under political fire at home, Norway's government assured angry parliamentarians on February 14 its 150 soldiers would serve only in the relatively calm capital city, Kabul (Aftenposten). German and French forces, too, operate under strict, noncombat limitations (LAT).  The effort to secure Afghanistan could falter, Bush said, if NATO does not step up. “Allies must lift restrictions on the forces they do provide so NATO commanders have the flexibility they need to defeat the enemy.” He added his voice to numerous predictions that Taliban forces will conduct their own “surge” (NYT) when the spring thaw arrives in Afghanistan ....



10th Mountain commanding general talks to troops about extension
CJTF-76 (USA) news release # 082, 18 Feb 07
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BAGRAM AIRFIELD, Afghanistan – A sea of faded, dusty Army Combat Uniforms covered the cold metal folding chairs inside the chapel at Forward Operating Base Sharana, Afghanistan, January 29 as the Soldiers from the 2nd Battalion, 87th Infantry Regiment, wearing them anxiously awaited the arrival of their commanding general.  Army Maj. Gen. Benjamin Freakley, the 10th Mountain Division commanding general, went to Sharana to visit the troops and discuss the recent announcement that the 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 10th Mountain Division’s tour in Afghanistan will be extended.  “Because you are staying here, you’ll make a huge difference,” Freakley said.  “The Soldier’s creed says I will always place the mission first-this is the mission,” he said.  “Your mission is to destroy the enemy and come home safely.  Destroy the enemy and bring each other home.”  Freakley also informed the Soldiers that their families were being well taken care of.  A group has been put together at Fort Drum to help families with counseling as well as helping them attempt to get refunds on trips and activities that had already been paid for in anticipation of the Soldiers’ return.  “You’re a championship team that’s been asked to play another quarter,” Freakley said.  “There are days when you make a difference for our whole nation with what you do.”  “I’d rather be fighting them over here than back at home,” said 2-87 Command Sgt. Maj. Jose Vega before encouraging his troops to “Lace up your boots one more time.”  The Soldiers seemed to appreciate Freakley’s genuine interest in their families well being. When Freakley asked if there were any other issues brought on by the extension that the command could help with, several Soldiers raised their hand to express concerns ranging from pregnant spouses to schools they had planned to attend.  Freakley assured his troops that each issue would be looked at and had notes taken on the Soldiers’ concerns.  Freakley once again told them “You guys have made a phenomenal difference in Afghanistan,” before waiting outside of the small wooden chapel to shake the hands of each Soldier as they left to return to their jobs and carry on with the mission.

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Pakistan Urges Kabul to Talk With Taleban
Arab News (SAU), 18 Feb 07
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Pakistan has renewed a call for neighboring Afghanistan to open dialogue with Taleban insurgents to stem the rise in violence in the war-torn country.  Ali Muhammad Jan Aurakzai, a former general who is now governor of the North West Frontier Province bordering Afghanistan, warned the Taleban-led insurgency was already turning into a “liberation war” in Afghanistan.  It is “developing into some kind of nationalist movement, a resistance movement, some sort of liberation war against the coalition forces,” he told journalists in the provincial capital of Peshawar.  Aurakzai was speaking ahead of a rare media trip to North Waziristan, an area used by Taleban militants close to the Afghanistan border.  A group of journalists flew yesterday to Miranshah, the main city in North Waziristan where thousands of troops are deployed to stop Taleban cross-border movement, for a briefing by senior army officials.  In September Aurakzai engineered a peace deal with militants in North Waziristan, evoking suspicions from Kabul and the commanders of international forces battling the Taleban in Afghanistan ....



Pakistani forces say determined to seal Afghan border
Robert Birsel, Reuters, 18 Feb 07
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Pakistani troops in Lwara Fort on the Afghan border are on guard, but not for invaders from Afghanistan. They're trying to stop militants crossing in to Afghanistan to battle U.S.-led NATO troops.  The red, brick fort sits on a small, barren plain surrounded by snow-streaked mountains, several hundred metres from the Afghan border.  Brigadier Rizwan Aktar, commander of the fort, points from its high walls to a fracture in a nearby line of hills -- the Chandi Gap, a notorious militant crossing point, he says.  But he told reporters on a weekend tour of border defences in Pakistan's North Waziristan tribal region he and his men were determined to stop infiltration into Afghanistan: "The people who want to create any nonsense, we are going to control them."  Pakistan is a major U.S. ally in the war on terrorism but U.S. officials appear increasingly frustrated about the help a resurgent Taliban in Afghanistan is getting from the Pakistani side of the border.  Taliban leaders are operating from Pakistan where training, financing and recruiting are also taking place, they say.  Pakistan says it can't completely seal the 2,500 km (1,500 mile) border but it is doing all it can to stop infiltration.  But Pakistan says infiltration is a minor factor behind the Taliban surge. Rather, it's a cocktail of Afghan factors including anger over civilian deaths in military attacks, corruption and the booming drug trade that's fueling the Taliban war, it says ....

 

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Canadian convoy ambushed twice in Kandahar; police officer, civilian dead
Canadian Press, 19 Feb 07
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A Canadian convoy was ambushed twice late Sunday by Taliban fighters armed with rocket propelled grenades and small arms.  The resulting firefights saw one Afghan National Police officer and a civilian mistakenly gunned down by soldiers. Maj. Dale MacEachern, a spokesman for the Canadian Forces, says the initial attack happened in the vicinity of the governor's palace as the battle group convoy was moving between bases.  As rockets and automatic weapons fire slammed into the RG-31 Nyala patrol vehicles and Coyote armoured cars, the soldiers returned fire and stepped on it to get out of the area.  A few kilometres away, one of the damaged vehicles broke down, the troops were forced to set up a security cordon and MacEachern says that's when insurgents attacked again .... 


Canadian convoy attacked twice in city, two Afghans killed
Agence France Presse, 19 Feb 07
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Insurgents ambushed a Canadian convoy twice as it moved through Afghanistan's Kandahar city overnight, with an Afghan policeman and a civilian killed in the clashes, the force said.  Police said International Security Assistance Force troops had shot the two Afghans in the southern city, "perhaps mistaking them as enemy". The Canadian military said it regretted the killings and they were being investigated.  Attackers first fired guns and rocket-propelled grenades at the convoy in the centre of the city, striking again about three kilometres (nearly two miles) later, a Canadian military spokesman told AFP on Monday.  "The first attack was at about 11:15 pm (1845 GMT) when the convoy was engaged by small-arms fire and rocket-propelled grenades," Captain Martell Thompson told AFP.  "After sustaining hits by anti-tank rockets, the convoy pushed through."  Almost half an hour and a few kilometres later, the convoy was forced to stop because one of the vehicles became disabled due to damage in the ambush.  "During this halt, the second attack occurred. The convoy was engaged with small-arms fire," Thompson said.  Canadian soldiers returned fire and the Afghan army, police and quick reaction force came to their assistance.  "An Afghan local was shot and killed as he approached the soldiers during the firefight despite repeated warnings to move away," Thompson said.  A local policeman was also killed, he said. An investigation had been launched into the incident and the Afghan police were likely to launch their own, he said ....



CF-18 jets are mission-ready
Documents show deployment plans to Afghanistan set, but orders unlikely

Bruce Campion-Smith, Toronto Star, 19 Feb 07
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Canada's air force has detailed plans to deploy six CF-18s fighter jets to Kandahar, even to the point of predicting how many so-called "smart" bombs would be needed for a six-month air campaign battling insurgents, documents show.  Defence officials say they have no intention of sending the fighters overseas. But military memos and orders obtained by the Toronto Star make it clear that extensive planning has laid the groundwork for a deployment should the Conservative government give the okay.  "With respect to the current situation ... there are no plans at this point in time do so," Lt.-Col. John Blakeley, director of air force public affairs, said last Friday.  But just over a year ago – as Canada's army units made the move to Kandahar from Kabul – it seemed certain the air force's front-line fighter would be deployed to join them in an operation expected to cost $18 million, documents obtained under the Access to Information Act show.  In January 2006, air force headquarters in Winnipeg sent out an order to the two CF-18 bases at Bagotville, Que., and Cold Lake, Alta., regarding "deployment to Kandahar."  "The purpose of this (message) is to co-ordinate deployment milestones that will ensure the directed fighter preparedness posture is achieved and maintained," it said.  The order laid out some of the requirements for the Kandahar operation, such as parking space for six of the sleek fighters with a spot where another jet could undergo maintenance work ....



Military shouldn’t dismiss survey of Afghans
SCOTT TAYLOR, Halifax Chronicle Herald, 19 Feb 07
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....  Last summer, the Senlis Council recommended that the international community purchase the Afghan poppy crop and use it to create pharmaceutical products rather than illegal street drugs. The premise is that the simple eradication of the poppy fields leaves the farmers with no means of survival. As the Afghans are producers, not users, in the opium trade, the purchase of their existing crops would provide a short-term regional economic solution until the farms can be converted to generate alternative products.  Once again, retired military analysts were quick to shoot down the proposal. "Can’t have that, old chum. We’d simply be empowering the drug lords. Military knows best; burning the poppies is the only answer, what, what."  What most of these naysayers don’t know is that long before the council proposed this solution, Canadian officers and the Karzai government had discussed the same solution. It turns out the major obstacle to implementing this common-sense initiative came from the Western pharmaceutical companies — not the Afghan drug lords.  If there’s one thing the big drug corporations understand, it’s the principle of supply and demand. The last thing they want is to flood the existing market with a glut of Afghan opiates ....



VIEWPOINT : Canada vs. the Taliban
Dennis Rimmer, Grand Forks Herald (USA), 19 Feb 07
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The images are familiar: Heavily armed soldiers with (mainly) Caucasian features, on patrol in a dusty Middle Eastern town. Their helmets are tightly secured, their guns are at the ready and their firepower is obvious.  U.S. forces at war in Iraq, right?  Nope. Canadians battling the Taliban in Afghanistan.  This may come as a surprise to many who still believe that Canada has sat back and done nothing to assist in the struggle against those who encouraged others to fly airplanes into buildings, bomb subway stations and otherwise attempt to correct what they feel are the sins of Western society ....



British and Estonian military locked in disputes in Afghanistan
The Baltic Times, 19 Feb 07
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Estonia’s role in the NATO mission in Afghanistan has come under question after the British command relieved an Estonian military intelligence team of their duties.  The daily newspaper Eesti Paevaleht reported that the British were unhappy with the skill level of their Estonian counterparts.  According to Paevaleht’s sources, there have been communication problems with the British command, under which a 130-strong Estonian contingent is serving.  Deputy Commander of the UK Task Force in Helmand Col. Ian Huntley was quoted as saying that Estonian and British scouts were unable to work side by side because their work methods did not mesh. Another high-ranking NATO officer cited Estonian scouts' lack of skills.
The British command in Kandahar relieved the intelligence team of their duties in mid-January, and it is highly likely that the Estonian mission in Afghanistan will be terminated in May, according to the report.
The Estonian defense officials have declined comment, citing the state secrets act.  "All I can say is that I do not comment on these things. It's simply such a sensitive matter," Defense Minister Jurgen Ligi told the daily.



Signs of Qaeda resurgence
Mark Mazzetti and David Rohde, New York Times, via International Herald Tribune, 19 Feb 07
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Senior leaders of Al Qaeda operating from Pakistan have re-established significant control over their once-battered worldwide terror network and over the past year have set up a band of training camps in the tribal regions near the Afghan border, according to American intelligence and counterterrorism officials.  American officials said there was mounting evidence that Osama Bin Laden and his deputy, Ayman al-Zawahri, had been steadily building an operations hub in the mountainous Pakistani tribal area of North Waziristan. Until recently, the Bush administration had described Bin Laden and Zawahri as detached from their followers and cut off from operational control of Al Qaeda.  The United States has also identified several new Qaeda compounds in North Waziristan, including one that officials said might be training operatives for strikes against targets beyond Afghanistan ....



Australia to beef up military presence in Iraq, Afghanistan
Agence France Presse, 19 Feb 07
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Australia will send up to 70 additional military instructors to war-torn Iraq and may deploy more troops in
Afghanistan, according to Prime Minister John Howard.  His remarks came ahead of a visit this week by US Vice President Dick Cheney, who is expected to urge Canberra to consider beefing up its assistance to US forces fighting in the long-running conflicts  ....  On Afghanistan, Howard said he would keep under review Australia's military commitment of some 550 Australian soldiers.  "The situation in Afghanistan is not easy. We would like to see a greater commitment in the southern part of the country from a number of the non-
NATO countries."  Opposition leader Kevin Rudd said the Labor Party would not back any increase in the number of Australian troops in Iraq, even military trainers.  "Our troops have been there for four years now and our policy is our combat forces should come home and secondly there should be no more troops sent," he said.  Rudd signalled, however, that Labor was receptive to the idea of Australia increasing its efforts in Afghanistan.  "This is a task that requires continued commitment," he said ....



Residents flee Kajaki district as tension persists
Abdul Samad Rohani, Pajhwok Afghan News, 17 Feb 07
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More than 4,000 families had fled the Kajaki district of the southern Helmand province due to the recent fighting and persistent tension in that area, residents said.  Of the migrated people, around 1,500 had taken refuge in the provincial capital of Lashkargah, while the rest had migrated to the neighbouring districts, said tribal elders.  Haji Azizullah, head of a family arrived in Lashkargah said people had started leaving their homes after the last week fighting in the district.  The NATO-led ISAF had bombed Taliban positions in the district last week which resulted in the killing of some 30 militants as well as some local commanders. Taliban had denied the losses and said only civilians had killed in the air strike.  Hanji Abdul Ahad, another tribal elder who migrated from Kajaki along with his family, demanded emergency assistance for the displaced families.  Provincial Governor Asadullah Wafa admitted large-scale migration from Kajaki and said the rural rehabilitation and development department had been assigned the task to conduct a survey about the displaced people.  Director of the department Haji Mohammad Omar Qaane said they had extended emergency assistance to those displaced from Musa Qala and other districts and would soon help the people migrated from Kajaki.



Unsung heroes of Afghanistan
Paul Adams, BBC online, 17 Feb 07
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Nato forces are preparing for a new wave of fighting in Afghanistan. But away from the battlegrounds, local and international schemes are attempting to break the country's cycle of conflict and poverty.  "Would you like to see the Taleban's last stand?" the lady asked.  Well, thanks. Yes. That would be great.  I confess I had not expected anything so conclusive quite so early on in my trip.  Wondering what she could possibly mean, I followed, along one of the wide, dusty tracks that pass for roads in Kandahar's sprawling airbase.  It was not a withering display of firepower, of course, but simply a gaping hole in one of the base's older buildings, caused by an American guided bomb back in 2001.  It had been one of the final acts of the war, destroying what was then a Taleban stronghold in their spiritual heartland ....

 

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Articles found February 20, 2007

Canadian actions questioned in killings
Conflicting stories emerge after Afghan beggar, policeman shot
GRAEME SMITH From Tuesday's Globe and Mail
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KANDAHAR, Afghanistan — Canadian soldiers have fatally shot an Afghan policeman and a homeless beggar during the latest in a series of bloody incidents that have tarnished the reputation of foreign troops in the city.

The shooting on Sunday night happened after insurgents fired rocket-propelled grenades and smaller weapons at a Canadian convoy, the first such attack within the city limits since Canada took responsibility for security in this dangerous province nearly 12 months ago.

The Canadian military says two people were mistakenly killed in the ensuing gun battle.

“The shootings occurred during the firefight, while we were engaged with the insurgents,” Major Dale MacEachern said.
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Suicide blast wounds 3 U.S. soldiers in Afghanistan
Tue Feb 20, 2007 3:01am ET
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KHOST, Afghanistan (Reuters) - An Afghan suicide bomber disguised as a doctor blew himself up and injured three U.S. soldiers during a function at a hospital in Khost on Tuesday, officials said.

Khost governor Arsala Jamal told Reuters that a U.S. soldier had seen the bomber acting suspiciously at a gathering of provincial officials and troops under NATO's command.

"The bomber wore a gown and looked suspicious," Jamal told Reuters by phone from the hospital. "An American soldier saw him, fired at him and then the bomber blew up his explosives in which three American soldiers were wounded."

He had no more details.
End

Taliban capture another district in Afghanistan, Govt downplays it
Kabul, Feb 20 (ANI)
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Around 300 Taliban insurgents captured a remote district in western Afghanistan yesterday, after storming it and forcing out the government forces, a provincial governor confirmed

Bakwa district in the western province of Farah is the second district taken by Taliban after the militants captured Musa Qala in southern Helmand province more than two weeks ago, reported the Daily Times.

"The district has been captured by Taliban. We've no communication with our people down there," the paper quoted provincial governor Moheedin as saying in an interview with a foreign news agency.

But, he declined giving further details, whether the takeover involved fighting and whether casualties may have resulted.

But, a government official downplayed the significance of the latest capture, saying: "As you know Bakwa is a remote area. There is not a proper police force and it is easy for one to capture it. Capturing a district like this is not a strategic threat but it definitely gives media coverage to the enemy."
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Heroes of fighting in Afghanistan receive medals
Canadian Press Tuesday, February 20, 2007
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OTTAWA (CP) -- On a stifling afternoon in Afghanistan last summer, a group of Canadian soldiers came under heavy fire as they attacked a Taliban outpost.

After two senior leaders were hit, Sgt. Patrick Tower took over command. With rocket-propelled grenades going off all around, with machine-gun fire lashing the area, Tower led a medic and a second soldier over 150 metres of bullet-whipped ground to the rescue of the wounded.

He loaded them aboard an armoured vehicle and got them to safety. Four soldiers died that day and more might have been lost but for Towers.

That same summer, Capt. William Hilton Fletcher, Tower's company commander, made a habit of leading under fire, even after two soldiers were shot down beside him.

On Monday, Tower and Fletcher became the first soldiers to receive the Star of Military Valour, second only to the Victoria Cross as a decoration for courage. Four others were awarded the Medal of Military Bravery, the third ranking medal.

The country's awards for military valour were established in 1993, but were never awarded until Monday, when Gov. Gen. Michaelle Jean presented these six to men who performed extraordinary deeds under fire in Afghanistan

Fletcher, of Edmonton, and Tower of Edmonton and Sidney, B.C., were cited for courage and selflessness.

"Sgt. Tower's courage and selfless devotion to duty contributed directly to the survival of the remaining platoon members," his citation read.
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Alleged US spy found beheaded in Pakistan
20/02/2007 - 07:23:49
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Suspected Islamic militants beheaded an Afghan refugee they accused of spying for the US, a Pakistani intelligence official said today.

The man’s body, with its severed head and limbs, was found yesterday near Ghulam Khan, a town in North Waziristan close to the Afghan border.

A note found with the body identified the dead man as Nek Amal, from Zozak village in Afghanistan’s neighbouring Khost province. It said Amal was “a spy of America”, the official said.

Afghan refugees from Khost living in Ghulam Khan identified Amal’s body and transported it to Khost for burial, he said.
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Experts say Afghanistan's army doing well in spite of problems
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(Kabul, Afghanistan-AP) February 19, 2007 - For all its problems - and there are many - the army in Afghanistan looks better to military analysts than the Iraqi army does.

Forces in Afghanistan struggle with old equipment and low pay. Many soldiers desert. But with more than $8.5 billion in American money for security, the Afghans are stepping up recruitment. They hope to have 70,000 soldiers by the end of next year - three years sooner than first thought.

Analysts also think the Afghan army is in a better position to succeed than its Iraqi counterpart. That's because it faces a weaker adversary, and began training more than a year earlier.

The hope is to have Afghanistan defending itself without American and NATO support within 10 years.
End
 

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Is Hillier out of line?
Chief of defence is playing a highly unusual public role in promoting the mission in Afghanistan, even bypassing the defence minister to deal directly with the Prime Minister

Toronto Star, February 20, 2007 by Michael Byers
http://www.thestar.com/printArticle/183409

Canada's mission in Afghanistan is failing and Chief of Defence Staff Rick Hillier deserves much of the blame.

Since becoming Canada's top soldier two years ago, Hillier has pushed the politicians hard. At his own swearing-in ceremony, he criticized Paul Martin for underfunding the military; one month later, he browbeat the Liberal cabinet into volunteering troops for a combat mission to Kandahar.

Then-prime minister Martin and his ministers assumed Canadian casualties would be limited. So far, 44 soldiers have lost their lives. Hillier, the professional upon whose expertise the politicians relied, should have explained the real risks to them.

The Martin government also assumed Canada would contribute to the combat mission for a limited time only. But Hillier changed his tune shortly after Stephen Harper was elected: "From NATO's perspective, they look at this as a 10-year mission, right? Minimum. There's going to be a huge demand for Canada to contribute over the longer period of time."

Hillier promised Martin that the combat mission would not preclude Canadian participation in UN peacekeeping missions elsewhere. He's since broken that promise, ruling out troops for Lebanon and Darfur on the basis that Canada is fully committed in Afghanistan.

We're experiencing a serious case of "mission creep."

Under Hillier's leadership, Canada's role in Kandahar has morphed from a "provincial reconstruction team" made up of soldiers, diplomats and development personnel, into a "battle group" supported by Leopard tanks.

Hillier has also used language that may have placed ordinary Canadians at greater risk. Foiled terrorist plots in Toronto and London were reportedly motivated, at least in part, by anger at the presence of Western troops in Afghanistan.

Characterizing the enemy as "detestable murderers and scumbags" can only exacerbate the situation. It also makes the jobs of diplomats and politicians more difficult, as they search for the inevitable, negotiated peace.

Hillier has even compromised this country's commitment to international law.

In December 2005, he usurped the role of the Canadian ambassador by signing a detainee-transfer agreement with the Afghan defence minister.

The agreement provided only the most rudimentary protections for prisoners, despite the fact that Britain, Denmark and the Netherlands had already concluded much more rigorous transfer agreements – copies of which were available to Hillier as models of "best practice."..

On the whole, Hillier has been content to adopt the approach of the Bush administration, emphasizing aggressive search-and-kill tactics and downplaying diplomacy, development, and international law.

It's an approach that's already failed in Iraq, leading to the resignation of U.S. defence secretary Donald Rumsfeld...

A new approach is clearly needed, one that focuses on effective and transparent development assistance, the training and ongoing support of a well-paid and professional Afghan police force, and dialogue and diplomacy with at least some of the groups we're fighting against.

Twenty-one out of 26 NATO countries realize this, which is why Canada has been carrying so much of the combat load, and suffering 25 per cent of the casualties.

Hillier shares the dubious company of U.S. President George W. Bush and British Prime Minister Tony Blair in stubbornly refusing to admit his mistake...

On Friday, Hillier, who claims to be non-partisan, called the Liberal cutbacks of the 1990s a "decade of darkness" for the military...

With spring arriving in Afghanistan, the risk to Canada's soldiers is about to escalate. How many more of them must die before Hillier is called to account?
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Michael Byers hold the Canada Research Chair in Global Politics and International Law at the University of British Columbia. His new book, Intent for a Nation, will be published in May.

Iraq dogs Afghan mission
Toronto Star, February 20, 2007, by James Travers
http://www.thestar.com/printArticle/183408

Here's a puzzler with life, death and election consequences. Question: What's more threatening to Canada's Kandahar mission than the expected Taliban spring offensive? Answer: Confusing the war in Afghanistan with the war in Iraq.

The reason rests squarely on modern reality. Troops sent abroad must constantly look over their shoulders at public opinion at home.

Wars fought by democracies are struggles for not one but two sets of hearts and minds. Soldiers can't beat the formidable odds against them without convincing skeptical voters along with suspicious locals that the interlopers are there to help...

Similar ghosts now stalk the Afghanistan mission even though the original motivation was different and the current problems not nearly so extreme...

It's not clear how much those problems are contributing to soft Canadian war support. But it's revealing that the ambiguity continues even though the recent lull is reducing casualties and, considering what often happens in chaotic, alien, and high-risk situations, the headlines aren't full of horrors...

...Iraq is making Canadians as well as Americans infinitely more savvy about the complexities and open-ended commitments involved in trying to create facsimile states out of entrenched traditional cultures with layers of internal and external conflicts...

His [PM's] problem now is that anything that remains possible in Afghanistan is in danger or being confused with what is now clearly impossible in Iraq. That danger increases with every parallel news story about troop surges, the deployment of Cold War weapons and smart, innovative enemies willing to fight forever.

Anything that blurs the line between Afghanistan and Iraq is a multiple threat. It raises doubts about the mission and the competence of a government that last year extended it until 2009 without negotiating the critical agreements with Pakistan, NATO and Kabul.

An error by an inexperienced administration rushing to toughen Canada's international image is now an election variable. If the Afghan spring turns as bloody as predicted, it will narrow the already small window for an early federal campaign this year and by fall the famous francophone Van Doos regiment will be doing the fighting with self-evident implications for Conservative prospects in pivotal Quebec [emphasis added].

Sometime between now and when voters pass judgment on the Conservatives, this Prime Minister needs to convince the country that Afghanistan is not Canada's Iraq. Each passing day makes that more problematic.

Mark
Ottawa







 

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Board of Inquiry members confirmed to investigate the treatment and processing of certain detainees
Department of National Defence news release NR–07.003, 19 Feb 07
Article Link

General Rick Hillier, Chief of the Defence Staff, has confirmed today the composition of the Board of Inquiry (BOI) to investigate the treatment and processing of detainees by Canadian Forces members in Afghanistan, and the circumstances regarding the transfer of three detainees from a Canadian field element to Military Police at Kandahar Airfield that took place April 6-8, 2006. The BOI will also include a review of the orders, directives and procedures associated with that process.

Lieutenant-General W.J. Natynczyk, Vice Chief of the Defence Staff (VCDS), has been appointed the convening authority to provide the BOI sufficient latitude to go beyond the operational chain of command, therefore allowing for a complete review of detainee handling processes.

The VCDS is responsible for issuing written Terms of Reference (ToR) for the BOI. The ToR will identify the officer that will preside over the BOI, its members and advisors, the security classification or designation and the scope under which the BOI will be responsible for investigating and providing findings and recommendations.

The VCDS has appointed the following members to the BOI: Major-General M.G. Macdonald as the president of the board, Brigadier-General (Retired) G. E. Sharpe and Captain (Navy) P.C. Avis. In addition the BOI will receive guidance on legal, public affairs, medical, military police and training development issues from a number of advisors. Chief Warrant Office W.A. Ford, Chief Warrant Officer J.D. Levesque, will provide operations advice.

A BOI is an administrative inquiry normally convened to examine and report on complex or significant events. It serves to determine, in accordance with the ToR, what occurred, how and why it occurred, looks for problems and proposes solutions to reduce the likelihood of recurrence. The BOI is distinctly different than the ongoing Canadian Force National Investigation Service (CFNIS) investigation. In the case of the CNIS investigation, Military Police trained investigators assess evidence to determine whether or not a criminal offence has occurred, and whether or not there is sufficient evidence to lay charges.

The BOI conducts its work and meetings separate from the ongoing military police investigation conducted by the CFNIS into the same incident. As such, the BOI will be undertaken in a manner that ensures it does not interfere with the NIS investigation.

At the completion of the BOI, a report containing findings and recommendations will be submitted to Lieutenant-General Natynczyk for review after which it will be forwarded to the Chief of the Defence Staff. The findings, results, and recommendations will then be made public, subject to the limitations on the release of information imposed by the Privacy Act and the Access to Information Act.

- 30-



Foreign fighters filling out depleted Taliban ranks: Canadian commander
MURRAY BREWSTER, Canadian Press, 20 Feb 07
Article Link

In what may be a mixed blessing, a Canadian commander claimed Tuesday there has been a slide in local support for the Taliban throughout the winter in Kandahar but foreign fighters are now filling the insurgency's depleted ranks.  "We are getting the sense support in traditional strongholds is waning," said Col. Mike Cessford, the new deputy commander of Canadian troops in Afghanistan.  "We are seeing foreign fighters, people not familiar with this area, people not from this area, conducting Taliban operations - which suggests to me that the baseline of support is eroding significantly."  Speaking to journalists after a change-of-command ceremony, Cessford offered no proof of his assertion but his statement comes amid reports that the al-Qaida has reconstituted itself in the lawless tribal areas of Pakistan that border Afghanistan.  There has been much talk in NATO ranks about exactly what role the terrorist network may or may not be playing after a tape was released last week by an al-Qaida production company that purportedly showed its fighters attacking a U.S. base in neighbouring Zabul province.  If foreigner jihadists are reinforcing Taliban ranks in large numbers, it could be a worrying trend for the alliance. Foreign militants are generally motivated by ideology and fight more fanatically than the local hired guns the Taliban usually employs.  Cessford said he wasn't certain whether the foreign fighters belong to al-Qaida. He also wasn't prepared to speculate on their nationality ....



Canadian general urges troops to use restraint following civilian shootings
MURRAY BREWSTER, Canadian Press, 20 Feb 07
Article Link

Canadian commanders in southern Afghanistan are still looking for the right balance between protecting their soldiers from the Taliban and safeguarding the lives of civilians who get caught in the crossfire.  Brig.-Gen Tim Grant said Tuesday that he has spoken to his battle group commander about the rash of civilian shootings since fresh Canadian troops arrived in the region earlier this month.  "Every time that we injure a civilian, it is devastating to us, it's devastating to the families and it's something we have to stop," he told reporters following a change of command ceremony, where the 2nd Battalion Royal Canadian Regiment officially took over operations in Kandahar.  "It's a clear priority of mine that we reduce the number of rounds fired and that we protect the people as we go through the city, particularly," he said ....



Afghan Forces Retake Town Briefly Held By Taliban
Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty
Article Link

Afghan security forces backed by NATO troops are reported to have retaken control of a small town in western Afghanistan that was briefly seized by Taliban militants.  Farah Province Governor Mohidin Khan was quoted by the Associated Press as saying about 200 Afghan police and soldiers moved into the town of Bakwa early today and faced no resistance.  Khan said some NATO forces also took part in the operation.  "There is now security there, and there isn't any problem," Afghan Interior Ministry spokesman Zamarai Bashari said today. "There is no damage to the main district office, and there are no casualties among civilians. Security forces are currently in the district."  Taliban fighters were reported to have moved into the town on February 19 ....



Documents show troops will be in Afghanistan in 2011, NDP MP says
DANIEL LEBLANC, Globe & Mail, 20 Feb 07
Article Link

The NDP accused the government yesterday of harbouring a hidden agenda in Afghanistan, pointing to internal documents showing planned rotations for the Canadian Forces in Kandahar into 2011.  But the government said the Canadian Forces are simply engaged in contingency planning and that no plan is in the works to extend the mission beyond 2009.  An undated briefing document prepared for Chief of the Defence Staff General Rick Hillier shows plans to send the Royal Canadian Regiment to Afghanistan in February, 2010, and the Royal 22nd Regiment in August of that year.  "The Minister of National Defence has refused the NDP request to set a time for debate and a vote on whether or not to extend the mission in Afghanistan beyond 2009," New Democratic Party MP Dawn Black said during Question Period.  "The Chief of the Defence Staff is already way ahead of the government. The CDS has detailed plans going until 2011 for deployments. Will the minister tell the members of the Canadian Forces and their families what General Hillier has planned for them?" ....



Liberal senator wins dubious 'Teddy' award
CTV.ca, 20 Feb 07
Article Link

The Canadian Taxpayers Federation has named Liberal Senator Colin Kenny as winner of the federal "Teddy" award -- an honour bestowed upon what the federation calls the worst offender when it comes to government waste and overspending.  The CTF claims to be a non-profit, non-partisan advocacy group which fights for lower taxes, and greater government accountability  ....  In a tongue-in-cheek, Oscars-like ceremony, the CTF awarded Kenny for "Best Comedic Performance by an Unelected Official" for his starring role in "Letters & Bills from Dubai".  Last year, the senate's National Security and Defence Committee (of which Kenny was the head) was accused of misspending public funds following a $138,000 overseas trip that included a stop at a luxury hotel in Dubai.  The defence committee went with the intent of visiting Canadian troops in Kandahar, but they were prevented from going into Afghanistan by military commanders who said the situation was too dangerous. Kenny and four other senators remained in Dubai, where they investigated port security and spent C$311 a night on rooms at the Renaissance Hotel.  Kenny and his committee were unanimously cleared of the allegations, but the CTF said:  "Documents clearly show that military officials told them in advance that a film shoot in Afghanistan was not an option. Undeterred, the star of the film leads the crew onwards where they stay in a luxurious hotel in Dubai for 7 days even though only one three-hour shoot is scheduled. The hotel bill? A cool $30,000." ....



NATO split in Afghanistan
Vanessa Mock, Radio Netherlands, 20 Feb 07
Article Link

Cracks are emerging within NATO in Afghanistan, after Canada last week criticised some allies for not pulling their weight. A bruising report by the Canadian Senate said all the fighting was being left to just a handful of countries while others focussed exclusively on reconstruction. The report also urgently calls for more troops in the south of the country, a demand that in the past days has been repeated by President Bush. But so far that call has not been heeded, despite predictions that the Taliban is preparing for a major spring offensive against NATO troops.  These are anxious days for NATO troops. Reports are streaming out of Afghanistan that the Taliban is growing fast and is preparing a violent assault on foreign troops in the Spring.  Some 37,000 NATO troops are currently posted in the country, but many are engaged in reconstruction work in the North, far removed from the heavy fighting in the South ....



UN mission in Afghanistan expands presence to foster stability – envoy
UN News Centre, 19 Feb 07
Article Link

Responding to Afghanistan's need for greater stability, the United Nations Assistance Mission in the country (UNAMA) has established new offices in the provinces, its chief said today.  “Over the past months I have opened offices in Kunar, Badghis, Zabul and Khost,” Tom Koenigs, the Secretary-General's Special Representative in Afghanistan, told a press briefing in Kabul. “On Saturday last I opened our newest office in Nimroz province. In the coming months we will open further offices in Daikundi and Ghor. And maybe others will follow.”  With the new expansion, UNAMA will nearly double the number of its offices to significant effect, Mr. Koenigs observed. “This outreach to the provinces reflects a critical need. Afghanistan needs stability, it needs peace, governance and development.” ....



Afghan Lawmakers Approve Amnesty For War Criminals
Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 20 Feb 07
Article Link

The upper house of Afghanistan's parliament -- the Meshrano Jirga -- approved a controversial bill today that rules out legal proceedings for war crimes committed by Afghans during the last 25 years, RFE/RL's Radio Free Afghanistan reported.  The upper house, which has many warlords as members, approved the bill by a reported vote of 41 to 16. The lower house -- also dominated by individuals alleged to have been involved in war crimes -- approved the bill last month ....  The document still needs to be approved by Afghan President Hamid Karzai to become law.  Karzai's spokesman has said that he will not sign the bill. But according to Afghanistan's Constitution, the lower house of parliament can override a presidential veto if a bill is supported by two-thirds of the legislators.  A translation of the bill reads that "all political parties and belligerent groups who fought each other during the past two-and-a-half decades...will not be pursued legally or judicially." ....



UN official arrives in Afghanistan to review aid effort
UN News Centre, 18 Feb 07
Article Link

A senior United Nations humanitarian official today began a five-day visit to Afghanistan to see how the world body can better deliver relief aid to the war-torn country.  During her fact-finding mission, Margareta Wahlström, the Assistant Secretary-General for the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, will be looking at how to ensure civilians are better protected and how to best provide support and aid to people in areas that are affected by conflict, the UN said.  Ms. Wahlström will be visiting Kandahar province to see how projects are progressing there ....

 

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Liberals back Afghan mission until 2009
Campbell Clark, Globe & Mail, 21 Feb 07
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The federal Liberals will support Canada's NATO mission remaining in southern Afghanistan until 2009 but call for another country to take over afterward, according to sources in the party.  Split between hawks and doves, Stéphane Dion's opposition party has hammered out its long-promised common-ground position that includes signalling to allies that Canada will give up the leadership of the Kandahar-based NATO mission at the end of its current tour, two years from now.  When he took the reins of the Liberal Party in December, Mr. Dion said he would have little patience for a rising Canadian death toll unless the mission achieved better results. But he also faced a faction of MPs, including deputy leader Michael Ignatieff, who adamantly oppose early withdrawal.  Tomorrow, Mr. Dion will deliver an address in Montreal outlining his party's new position. Liberal sources said the key elements have been hammered out in meetings of MPs over several weeks ....



Canadians rue spate of civilian shootings
By MURRAY BREWSTER, Canadian Press, via London Free Press, 21 Feb 07
Article Link

Canadian commanders in southern Afghanistan are still looking for the right balance between protecting their soldiers from the Taliban and safeguarding the lives of civilians who get caught in the crossfire.  Brig.-Gen Tim Grant said yesterday he has spoken to his battle group commander about the rash of civilian shootings since fresh Canadian troops arrived in the region this month.  "Every time that we injure a civilian, it is devastating to us, it's devastating to the families and it's something we have to stop," he said after a change of command ceremony, where the 2nd Battalion Royal Canadian Regiment officially took over operations in Kandahar.  "It's a clear priority of mine that we reduce the number of rounds fired and that we protect the people as we go through the city, particularly," he said ....



Amnesty slams Canada over Afghan detainees
Paul Koring, Globe & Mail, 21 Feb 07
Article Link

Canada's practice of turning detainees over to Afghan security forces, widely accused of torture and abuse, violates international law and the Charter of Rights, Amnesty International and the British Columbia Civil Liberties Association say.  The two groups will Wednesday file an application in Federal Court in Ottawa seeking judicial review of the military's controversial policy. Named as respondents in the action are Defence Minister Gordon O'Connor, General Rick Hillier, Canada's Chief of the Defence Staff, and Attorney-General Robert Nicholson.  The legal action will be announced today by Alex Neve, Amnesty International Canada's Secretary-General, and Shirley Heafey, a B.C. Civil Liberties Association board member.  “There's a very strong chance of it winding up in the Supreme Court,” said Paul Champ, who is acting on behalf of Amnesty and the BCCLA.  The case will raise significant constitutional issues, including whether Canadian soldiers fighting abroad are legally bound by the Geneva Conventions even if generals insist that “enemy combatants” aren't entitled to Geneva rights, and whether Charter guarantees of due process extend to captives apprehended on battlefields halfway around the world ....



France defends its military contribution in Afghanistan
Mike Blanchfield, CanWest News Service, 20 Feb 07
Article Link

France says it is not abandoning its Canadian ally in volatile southern Afghanistan and has chided Canada’s Senate for publicly suggesting that.  The French embassy in Ottawa this week sent a letter to Liberal Senator Colin Kenny after the upper chamber’s national security and defence committee, which he chairs, criticized France and Germany in a report for not sending troops to southern Afghanistan, where Canadian soldiers are battling the Taliban insurgency.  While Canadian politicians and military officials have complained in recent months some of their NATO allies are not pulling their weight in southern Afghanistan, they have refrained from singling out specific countries.  But French officials decided they could not stay silent after Kenny’s committee crossed that line.  “The general message that we want to send is that France has not turned a blind eye to Canada’s call for help,” said a senior French diplomat ....


UK seeks more NATO hardware for Afghanistan
Reuters, 20 Feb 07
Article Link

Britain accused its NATO allies on Tuesday of failing to send enough troops and hardware to fight Taliban guerrillas in southern Afghanistan.  "This is a real test of the resolve and of the credibility of NATO and I'm not sure that every NATO member understands the significance of that," Kim Howells, the Foreign Office minister responsible for Afghanistan told parliament.  "If they did then I'm sure they'd be far more ready to put more troops and more assets down into the south where the real battle is going on at the moment," he said.  He added: "I know of countries that have helicopters that might as well be parked up in leading European airports for the amount of good they are doing in some parts of Afghanistan."  NATO has a force of more than 30,000 troops in Afghanistan and many countries have contributed, but the brunt of most fighting has been borne by U.S., British, Canadian and Dutch forces deployed in the restive south ....


Italian foreign minister urges communist allies to back government action in Afghanistan
Associated Press, via International Herald Tribune, 21 Feb 07
Article Link

Italy's foreign minister urged the government's communist partners Wednesday to back his plans to keep troops in Afghanistan, a policy that has exposed deep rifts in the ruling center-left coalition.  Massimo D'Alema outlined the government's foreign policy priorities in a wide-ranging, hour-long address to the Senate, where the center-left forces have a minimal majority. The upper house was scheduled to vote on the government's guidelines for foreign policy later in the day.  The vote is not a confidence vote, but is a crucial political test for Premier Romano Prodi's government, which has been in place for less than a year. Its outcome is uncertain, as some senators from the far-left have indicated in recent days they would not support the government.  D'Alema warned radical leftists Tuesday that the government might resign if it loses the vote.  Italy has 1,800 troops in Afghanistan. Prodi has agreed to keep the troops there, resisting calls from Communists to pull them out and a NATO request to increase them ....



Suicide attacker in doctor’s coat strikes Afghan hospital
Gulf Times (QAT), 21 Feb 07
Article Link

A suicide bomber dressed as a doctor wounded two US soldiers at an Afghanistan hospital yesterday, while officials said a US and Afghan soldier died in other suspected Taliban-linked violence.  The attacker tried to enter a room at the hospital, in eastern Khost city, where doctors and Nato-led troops had gathered for a ceremony to open a new emergency ward built by the alliance, the interior ministry said.  Two Nato-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) soldiers were injured in the blast, the ministry's press office said. ISAF confirmed a suicide attack involving its forces, but had no details.  "He was shot by police. As he fell down he exploded his bombs which injured two Nato soldiers," the ministry said, adding that one Afghan man was also "very slightly injured".  There was no claim of responsibility but most suicide blasts here last year were linked to the extremist Taliban movement, waging an insurgency after being toppled by a US-led invasion in 2001 ....

Suicide bomb wounds six US soldiers in Afghan hospital
Kuwait Times, 21 Feb 07
Article Link

An Afghan suicide bomber disguised as a doctor blew himself up at a hospital in southern Afghanistan yesterday, wounding six Americans.  Khost Governor Arsala Jamal told Reuters that US soldiers opened fire on the man who was acting suspiciously as he and US officers attended a function in the hospital.  The Taleban have warned they will dramatically step up suicide attacks this year after suffering heavy losses in conventional pitched battles in 2006. The guerrillas claimed responsibility for the hospital attack and for the killing of a US soldier in fighting on Monday in the eastern province of Kunar, bordering Pakistan. He was the tenth US soldier to die this month ....



Taliban set to ramp up bomb attacks in spring, NATO spokesman says
ALISA TANG, Associated Press, 21 Feb 07
Article Link

NATO-led forces will face "hard fighting" this spring in Afghanistan's volatile south and west, where the Taliban is gearing up for increased suicide and roadside bomb attacks, an alliance spokesman said Wednesday.  The insurgents will focus their efforts on reducing Afghans' support for their government, said Col. Tom Collins, spokesman for NATO's International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan.  "The enemy is making preparations to ramp up their activities in the spring," Collins told reporters, noting that such an increase in attacks has been a trend in recent years - as the harsh winter weather breaks and snows melt on mountain passes used by militants.  "We know that there are concentrations of Taliban forces in some areas of the south," he said, listing Uruzgan, Kandahar and Helmand and the southwestern provinces of Farah and Ghor.  Military operations would take place where the Taliban were impeding efforts for reconstruction and development, Collins said. He expected militants to launch attacks, mainly suicide and roadside bombs.  "We do expect some hard fighting in selected areas," Collins said.  Insurgency attacks occur almost daily in the lawless southern provinces, once a former stronghold of the Taliban where the government wields little power. Last year saw the bloodiest upsurge in violence since the hardline regime was ousted in late 2001 for hosting al-Qaida ....



Fifty-five insurgents join Afghan gov't
Xinhua (CHN), via www.chinaview.cn, 21 Feb 07
Article Link

Fifty-five militants including two suicide bombers have laid down their arms and joined the government-backed peace program in Afhanistan, a local newspaper reported Wednesday.  "With the initiative of Strengthening Peace Commission (SPC) 55 militants including two suicide bombers loyal to Taliban and Hekmatyar-led Islamic party the Hizb-e-Islami gave up resistance and joined the government on Tuesday," Daily Afghanistan writes.  The two suicide bombers, who did not want to disclose their names, told the newspaper that Taliban imparted training to them for three months and sent them into Afghanistan to target Afghan and NATO forces.  Taliban movement, they said, had trained tens of hundreds of youths to carry out suicide attacks in Afghanistan ....



Women forced to quit work because of insecurity
IRIN News Service (UN), 21 Feb 07
Article Link

Jamila Niyazi has received several death threats as principal of Lashkar Gah girls' high school in the southern Afghan province of Helmand. Niyazi, who oversees 7,000 girls, is a target for ultra-conservative elements, including Taliban insurgents, who use propaganda, coercion and violence to spread their influence.  In 'night letters' delivered to her doorstep, followed up by threatening phone calls, the Taliban have repeatedly warned Niyazi to close down her school on the grounds that girls should not leave their homes.  She is not alone. Increasing insecurity in the southern province of Helmand, where the conflict between the anti-government elements and the international forces has intensified in recent months, has been pushing more and more women out of the workforce back into their homes.  The Afghan Ministry of Interior, which is responsible for security, agrees that safety has deteriorated, but says it does not have enough personnel to deal with the problem. Ministry spokesman Zemarai Bashary said "there is no special unit for the protection of women", but noted that "all citizens have the same rights".  Soraya Sobhrang, a member of the Afghan Human Rights Commission, however, feels "women are the first who are victimised when there is no rule of law or security". Reports from Helmand reveal that "young girls are unable to go to school and hospitals due to fear" ....



US orders review into treatment of wounded troops
Matt Spetalnick, Reuters, 20 Feb 07
Article link

The Bush administration ordered a review on Tuesday of the care of wounded U.S. troops returning from Iraq and Afghanistan after reports that many face neglect in the Army's medical system.  Democrats controlling Congress demanded a thorough investigation and promised legislation after a Washington Post series exposed deteriorating conditions for hundreds of outpatients at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, the premier U.S. military hospital.  The controversy poses a public relations problem for President George W. Bush, who has spoken often of America's debt to military personnel wounded in the wars, visited the hospital's wards and honored military amputees at White House functions.  The White House expressed concern at conditions for veterans after reports that many suffering physical and psychological problems lived in shoddy housing on or near the sprawling complex and faced long battles with Army bureaucracy.  "I can tell you that we believe that they deserve better," White House spokesman Tony Snow told reporters. "Of course, there's outrage that men and women who have been fighting have not received the outpatient care."  "We need to make sure that whatever problems there are get fixed," he added.  The Pentagon said an independent panel would look into outpatient care and administrative processes at Walter Reed and the National Naval Medical Center in Bethesda, Maryland ....

 

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Articles found February 22, 2007

Canadians pay Afghan farmers for land lost
Updated Thu. Feb. 22 2007 8:32 AM ET Associated Press
Article Link

PATROL BASE WILSON, Afghanistan -- Money, it seems, does not buy peace of mind, especially for war-weary Afghan farmers, who have over the last couple days received C$938,000 in compensation for land bulldozed by Canadians to build a road west of Kandahar.

For refugees returning to their homes in Zhari district after being driven away months ago by heavy fighting, the money is welcome recompense, but there is still a deep sense of unease.

"We're very disappointed about the insecure situation in this region,'' said Bismalah, a farmer with a deeply lined face, who returned to his land three weeks ago.

"The only thing we need is security. This is our wish. If the Canadians give us hundreds of thousands, millions of dollars, but we are living in an insecure situation, we don't like money; we like security.''

In order for Bismalah and roughly 55 other farmers to get their money, they had to pass through a security cordon that included personal searches, armed escorts into the base and a display of Canadian military firepower in the form of a pair of Leopard C2 tanks.

For Shafikahn, a somewhat more affluent landowner, it was an illustration that the peace around here was tenuous at best and the recent decision to flee his home a second time was justified.

"Half of our family is still living in the city so we decided to move back to the city,'' said the remarkably tall farmer who could only guess his age to be between 40 and 48 years.
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Taliban Claims It Used Surface-To-Air Missile To Down Helicopter
Thursday February 22, 2007 (0344 PST)
Article Link

KABUL: Taliban fighters using Surface-to-Air Missile 7 (SAM 7) brought down a coalition CH-47 Chinook helicopter in south-eastern Afghanistan on Sunday, according to high-level Taliban sources speaking to Adnkronos International (AKI).
According to the sources, who provided AKI with exclusive documents and video CDs, the attack on the helicopter marks the start of the Taliban spring uprising and the use of more sophisticated weapons in their fight against foreign forces. Coalition forces said aircraft crashed killing eight people because it had "a sudden, unexplained loss of power and control".

The Taliban sources told AKI that they would be using more advanced missile technology in their upcoming attacks. The militant group had acquired the surface to air missiles in 2005 and had arranged for a training programme for its fighters.
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Al Jazeera journalists released in Afghanistan
Thursday February 22, 2007 (1155 PST)
Article Link

KABUL: One British and three Afghan journalists working for Al Jazeera Television were released after they captured by Taliban militants in southern Province of Helmand in Afghanistan, held overnight and released yesterday, one of the team said.

Talking to mediamen, Al Jazeera producer Qais Azimy said. "We were captured by Taliban. They behaved well with us, Today before evening we were released."

The Kabul office of the Qatar-based satellite channel said earlier it lost contact with the television crew on Tuesday and was told by the Taliban they had been captured. The office asked for the information not to be released until the team was safe.

A Taliban spokesman said the four had "entered our area without Taliban permission" and were "taken into custody" near the town of Gereshk. The movement's leadership had decided to release the journalists, spokesman Yousuf Ahmadi said before they were freed.

Helmand has seen fierce battles this month between coallation forces and the Taliban, which has kidnapped and sometimes executed several Afghans and foreigners since being toppled from power in 2001.
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Three ISAF soldiers killed in Afghanistan 
KABUL, Feb 22 (KUNA)
Article Link

The NATO-led ISAF in Afghanistan announced on Thursday the death of three of its soldiers in combat and non-combat operations in different parts of the country over the past 24 hours.

According to a NATO statement, one soldier was killed in southern Afghanistan on Wednesday in a combat operation. The statement did not give further details on the exact location of the operation and its nature.

Another ISAF soldier died in a non-combat operation in the eastern zone, said the statement.

The eastern zone of Afghanistan comprises the provinces of Nangarhar, Kunar, Nuristan and Laghman.
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Australia Says It May Send More Troops to Afghanistan (Update1)
By Gemma Daley and Ed JohnsonFeb. 22 (Bloomberg)
Article Link

Australia may deploy more troops in Afghanistan to help the North Atlantic Treaty Organization battle Taliban insurgents and is sending a team to evaluate requirements, Defense Minister Brendan Nelson said today.

Australians shouldn't be surprised ``if we did decide we need to increase our numbers there,'' Nelson told Sydney Radio 2UE. He declined to comment on a report in the Australian newspaper that the national security cabinet will next month approve doubling the size of the contingent.

Australia has 550 soldiers in Afghanistan, including 110 personnel belonging to a CH-47 Chinook helicopter detachment that provides logistical support to coalition partners, according to the Defense Department's Web Site.

NATO expects a renewed offensive by insurgents in coming months and has appealed to allies to commit more troops and resources. The future of Italy's 1,800-strong contingent in Afghanistan could be in doubt after lawmakers yesterday failed to back a motion supporting Italian participation in the NATO mission, prompting Prime Minister Romano Prodi to resign.

Prodi has been under pressure from the Green Party and the Party of Italian Communists to draft an exit strategy for the troops in Kabul and Herat.
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Afghanistan ambassador says Pakistani army has power to counter terrorism, extremism
By Barry Schweid ASSOCIATED PRESS 2:49 p.m. February 21, 2007
Article Link

WASHINGTON – Afghanistan's ambassador said Wednesday that real power in Pakistan is in the hands of that nation's army and it is capable of countering extremism and terrorism along the countries' border.
“The real institution in charge is the military,” Said Tayeb Jawad said in an interview, sidestepping an assessment of the effectiveness of Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf.

Afghanistan long has criticized Pakistan and its president as not cracking down on training camps on its side of a long border with Afghanistan.
Pakistan, by contrast, says it is working hard to counter terrorism. On a visit to Washington last September, Musharraf won praise from President Bush. “We are on the hunt together,” Bush said, referring to Osama bin Laden, leader of the al-Qaeda network, and other terror chiefs.

But Jawad said the army holds the cards. “The army is a powerful and capable institution to reduce the influence of extremism and also to fight terrorism and extremism effectively,” the diplomat said.
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Karzai asks Canada, Italy not to withdraw
Dawn.com (PAK), 22 Feb 07
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President Hamid Karzai urged Italy on Thursday not to withdraw its troops from Afghanistan, after the Italian government resigned because of a parliamentary defeat over its plan to keep its 2,000 forces in the volatile country.  Karzai, whose own shaky grip on Afghanistan is under threat from resurgent Taliban rebels, also urged another key contributor to the NATO security force, Canada, to stay the course.  “My message to the countries helping us in Afghanistan, to Canada, to Italy, is that the Afghan people, the Canadian people and the Italian people are in the same fight, a fight for the security of our lives today and tomorrow,” Karzai told reporters after meeting NATO's Secretary-General, Jaap de Hoop Scheffer in Kabul ....



First Regional Security Committee meeting held in Kandahar
ISAF news release # 2007-122, 22 Feb 07
Article Link

KANDAHAR, Afghanistan (22 February) – Yesterday, the Regional Security Committee (RSC) held its inaugural meeting at Kandahar Airfield. The meeting was attended by Maj Gen Ton Van Loon, Commander, ISAF Regional Command South, Maj Gen Rahmatullah Raufi, Commander 205th ANA Army Corps, Maj Gen Afmatullah Zazai, Southern Regional Chief of Police and Col Wahidi, National Directorate of Security.  The aim of the RSC is to solve security issues.  Ton Van Loon said that the meeting, “was a major step forward to building on the ongoing successful co-operation between ISAF and the Government of Afghanistan security forces in the Southern Region.”  “By working together through committees such as this, we will have a better understanding of how to best support the Government of Afghanistan and its people,” he added.



Most Canadian Support Troops In Light of Recent Investigation Into Afghanistan Abuses
But Canadians Remain Split On The Continued Military Effort In Afghanistan

Ipsos-Reid news release, 22 Feb 07
Permalink to news release, tables of results

In the light of the recent launch of an investigation into allegations that Canadian soldiers may have mistreated detainees in Afghanistan, a new Ipsos Reid poll reports that most Canadians (63%) are sceptical that the Canadian public will ever really find out what happened. Many (37%), though, believe that investigation will get to the bottom of the issue.  Whatever the investigation’s finding might be, it appears as though Canadians’ support for their troops’ actions and behaviour in Afghanistan is unwavering:
* 73% agree that “whatever is reported back, it is probably an extremely isolated circumstance and not widespread among the Canadian forces”;
* 63% agree with the statement “I don’t believe that our Canadian troops are involved with torturing combatant prisoners”; and
* 86% agree that “our armed forces are doing a good job in Afghanistan”.
In fact, a good proportion of Canadians (39%) say they “don’t have a problem with our Canadian troops roughing up or manhandling combatant and Taliban prisoners because it’s a war zone”.  But while support for the actions and behaviour of Canada’s troops in Afghanistan is high, support for the military effort in Afghanistan is middling ....


Canadians split over staying until 2009:  poll
Jack Aubry, CanWest News Service, 22 Feb 07
Article Link

A new national poll indicates Canadians remain overwhelmingly supportive of their troops and the job they are doing in Afghanistan, although they are split over the government's decision to extend the mission until 2009.  Conducted exclusively for CanWest News Service and Global National, the Ipsos Reid poll was released yesterday as human-rights groups petitioned the Federal Court of Canada to stop Canadian soldiers from giving up control of prisoners captured during fighting in Afghanistan.  Amnesty International wants Ottawa to put a stop to transfers of detainees until the court reaches a decision on the constitutionality of surrendering captives to foreign governments.  Involving a random group of 1,000 respondents from Feb. 15 to 19, the survey found 53% support for the Canadian military sticking it out until its tour of duty ends in 2009 because they believe Afghanistan is too important to abandon ....


Canadians split on mission, but strongly support troops
Paul Koring, Globe & Mail, 23 Feb 07
Article Link

Four in 10 Canadians think it's okay for Canadian soldiers to beat their captives in Afghanistan and nearly two-thirds doubt investigations into alleged detainee abuse will uncover the truth, according to an Ipsos-Reid poll released yesterday.  As three probes into allegations of detainee abuse gear up in both Ottawa and Kandahar, the poll results provide a revealing glimpse of a Canadian public torn over the Afghanistan military mission, yet strongly supportive of the troops.  More than a third (37 per cent) of respondents said they believe Canadian troops "are involved with torturing" prisoners.  They were asked last week, just days after General Rick Hillier, the Chief of Defence Staff, and the independent Military Police Complaints Commission announced multiple investigations into allegations that detainees were abused by Canadian troops in April, 2006.  The poll found Canadians have little faith in the investigations. Nearly two-thirds of respondents (63 per cent) rejected the proposition that the investigations "will really find out what happened."  "There's a general skepticism in the public," said John Wright, an Ipsos-Reid senior vice-president ....



Compensation deal reached with Afghan farmers
Graham Thomson, CanWest News Service, 22 Feb 07
Article Link

This week a special Canadian convoy arrived here carrying a strongbox loaded with cash - 40-million Afghanis, the equivalent of $1 million Cdn, for more than 50 delighted farmers.  The cash was the compensation they had been promised ever since Canadian combat engineers, in the heat of battle, bulldozed a four-kilometre road through the region so troops could more safely travel to and from the neighbouring Panjwaii district, the site of vicious fighting between Canadian soldiers and the Taliban last summer and fall.  The million dollars was just a small part of the price Canadians actually paid for building what used to be dubbed Ambush Alley.  Six Canadian soldiers were killed working, guarding or patrolling the construction of this strategic route that became for a time the front line in the fighting between the Canadians and the Taliban ....


They have cash, but no peace
Canadian soldiers pay Afghan farmers for land lost to building of road

Murray Brewster, Canadian Press, via Hamilton Spectator, 23 Feb 07
Article Link

Money, it seems, does not buy peace of mind, especially for war-weary Afghan farmers, who have over the last couple days received $938,000 in compensation for land bulldozed by Canadians to build a road west of Kandahar.  For refugees returning to their homes in Zhari district after being driven away months ago by heavy fighting, the money is welcome recompense, but there is still a deep sense of unease.  "We're very disappointed about the insecure situation in this region," said Bismalah, a farmer with a deeply lined face, who returned to his land three weeks ago. The only thing we need is security. This is our wish. If the Canadians give us hundreds of thousands, millions of dollars, but we are living in an insecure situation, we don't like money; we like security."  In order for Bismalah and roughly 55 other farmers to get their money, they had to pass through a security cordon that included personal searches, armed escorts into the base and a display of Canadian military firepower in the form of a pair of Leopard C2 tanks ....



Comment:  A bleak Afghanistan report
Victoria Times Colonist, 23 Feb 07
Article Link

....  The latest Senate defence committee report is billed as "a hard look at a hard mission." It's a valuable addition to what has been a disappointingly empty and unfocused public discussion.  The report, focused on Canada's efforts in Kandahar, is discouraging. It acknowledges the Afghanis' need for help and the threat to Canada should the Taliban return to power.  But the committee, which visited Afghanistan in December, identifies serious problems that could mean the sacrifices being made are in vain ....


Getting back on track
This is Canada's mission, so let us ensure we tackle it Canada's way

Taylor Owen & David Eaves, Toronto Star, 23 Feb 07
Article Link

....  Militarily, the killing of even one civilian can do great strategic harm, turning entire villages against us. The Taliban use these casualties to great effect, so that some Afghans now fear international forces more than those who brutally ruled over them.  We need to rethink our counter-insurgency strategy, by relying less on military force, and more on innovative local interactions.  As a start, we must curtail the use of air strikes, resume the policy of compensating civilian casualties and determine how our forces can best support reconstruction.  Most importantly, we need to ensure effective governance .....



More UK troops for Afghanistan
BBC online, 23 Feb 07
Article Link

A substantial number of extra British troops are to be sent to Afghanistan, the BBC has learned.  Defence Secretary Des Browne will give details of the new deployment to the House of Commons on Monday.  The UK has been reluctant to add to its 5000-strong force in the country, as it has reinforced several times already.  Shadow defence secretary Liam Fox said the move showed that British forces were too "overstretched" to carry out duties in both Iraq and Afghanistan.  British forces are in Afghanistan as part of Nato's International Security Assistance Force (Isaf) ....


Reports: Britain to increase troop levels in Afghanistan
Associated Press, via International Herald Tribune, 23 Feb 07
Article Link

Britain will send an extra 1,000 soldiers to bolster its force in Afghanistan, a move that will be announced in the coming days, the Guardian newspaper reported.  Defense minister Des Browne is expected to address Parliament on Monday to provide lawmakers with details of the deployment. The increase is to come less than a week after Prime Minister Tony Blair announced that Britain will be withdrawing 1,600 of its soldiers from Iraq in the coming months.  A Defense Ministry spokesman would not comment on the report but said force levels in Afghanistan were constantly under review to make certain commanders have the troops they need. If any changes are made, they will be announced to Parliament, he said.  Britain has more than 5,000 soldiers in Afghanistan, concentrated in the volatile southern Helmand province. In all, NATO has about 35,000 troops in the region ....



Former Mujahedeen Stage Rally in Kabul
Associated Press, via Guardian Online (UK), 23 Feb 07
Article Link

Police tightened security and searched cars entering Kabul on Friday as thousands of former mujahedeen gathered for a mass rally to support a proposed amnesty for Afghans suspected of war crimes during a quarter-century of fighting, officials said.  International rights groups have condemned the proposed amnesty, which has been passed as a resolution by both houses of parliament. President Hamid Karzai must decide whether it should be made into a law.  It covers the leaders of the mujahedeen, or holy warriors, who fronted the anti-Soviet resistance in the 1980s and plunged the country into a civil war in the early 1990s that cost tens of thousands of lives.  Security was tight Friday morning for the planned rally at Kabul's National Stadium, with aid agencies advising their foreign employees to stay off the streets.  Lawmaker Mustafa Kazimi, a former mujahedeen leader, promised there would be no violence. ``It's not a gathering to seek revenge but to promote unity. It's a sign of democracy in Afghanistan,'' he said ....


Afghan warlords plan pro-amnesty law demonstration
Agence France Presse, 22 Feb 07
Article Link

Afghan warlords Thursday announced plans for a demonstration in Kabul in support of a controversial bill that would give amnesty for crimes committed during the country's years of conflict.  The planned demonstration on Friday at the Kabul sports stadium comes after the upper house of parliament approved the legislation on Tuesday.  The lower house passed the bill in January, but President Hamid Karzai, whose agreement is needed for the bill to become law, has yet to sign it.  "In the gathering, the people will show their support for the jihadi leaders and for the amnesty bill," said Waqif Hakimi, spokesman for Jamyat Islami, one of the Islamist factions involved in the country's 1992-1996 civil war.  "It will be huge. I think 50,000 people will attend." ....


Afghan commanders rally for amnesty
Al Jazeera English, 23 Feb 07
Article Link

Kabul police are tightening security as thousands of former fighters gather for a mass rally to support a proposed amnesty for Afghans suspected of war crimes during a quarter-century of fighting, officials said.  International rights groups have condemned the proposed amnesty, which has been passed as a resolution by both houses of parliament.  Hamid Karzai, the Afghan president, must decide whether it should be made into a law.  It covers the regional commanders of the fighters, who fronted the anti-Soviet resistance in the 1980s and plunged the country into a civil war in the early 1990s that cost tens of thousands of lives.  Security was tight on Friday morning for the planned rally at Kabul's National Stadium, with aid agencies advising their foreign employees to stay off the streets ....

 

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Articles found February 23, 2007

SAS to boost troops in Afghanistan
23rd February 2007, 6:30 WST
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Australia is preparing to send more SAS troops to Afghanistan to help fight the resurgent Taliban forces and answer US requests for more help in the war against terror.
 
Defence Minister Brendan Nelson said yesterday that an ADF advance team was already assessing conditions in Afghanistan and Australians should not be surprised if we had to increase our presence in the country.
 
He said the Taliban “was starting to regrow like a weed”, echoing analysts who believe the former government is making alliances with local warlords and opium-growers in remote areas of Afghanistan.
 
There are 550 Australian soldiers in Afghanistan after a group of 200 SAS Commandos completed their mission last September. The main deployments are a reconstruction team in the dangerous southern province of Oruzgan and two Chinook helicopters and their crews.
 
The SAS deployment was successful in reducing the Taliban’s influence in Oruzgan province and was involved in several heavy firefights with Taliban soldiers.
 
Fighting in Afghanistan is seasonal with Taliban forces holing up in remote mountains during winter snows and increasing attacks in the spring thaw. An SAS deployment could be in Afghanistan for the most crucial months of this year.
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A bleak Afghanistan report
Times Colonist Published: Friday, February 23, 2007
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What if we're losing in Afghanistan, or at best waging a well-meaning but ultimately doomed effort?

The latest Senate defence committee report is billed as "a hard look at a hard mission." It's a valuable addition to what has been a disappointingly empty and unfocused public discussion.

The report, focused on Canada's efforts in Kandahar, is discouraging. It acknowledges the Afghanis' need for help and the threat to Canada should the Taliban return to power.

But the committee, which visited Afghanistan in December, identifies serious problems that could mean the sacrifices being made are in vain.

It's always difficult for foreign troops to fight local insurgents. Even if they represent a repressive force such as the Taliban, they are countrymen and Canadian troops are invaders.

The insurgents know the land and the people and can dispense both aid and retribution. They know that time is on their side. "Invading armies can only spend so much time on foreign soil before patience and money run out at home," the Senate report notes.

Even military victories can be political defeats. When our troops call in air support, innocent villagers die. At worst, the survivors become enemies; at best they conclude that our presence is making their lives more difficult. All this is especially true in Afghanistan, the report notes, where successive foreign invaders have been driven out over almost two centuries. The prudent course for Afghanis is to wait out the conflict.
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300 troops could be sent to Afghanistan
February 23, 2007 04:33pm
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AUSTRALIA has the capacity to send up to 300 more troops to Afghanistan, Foreign Minister Alexander Downer says.

The Government is considering bolstering its commitment in Afghanistan and may send special forces to the war-torn nation ahead of an expected surge in activity by the Taliban in the northern hemisphere spring.

A small group of military officers has been sent to Afghanistan to assess the security environment before advising if more Australian troops should be deployed to Oruzgan province.

Mr Downer said Australia had the capacity to increase it troops.

"If we were to send a small number of additional forces to Afghanistan we could certainly do that," he said.

"Two hundred, three hundred, that sort of number."
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U.S. can't stay for long in Afghanistan: Hekmatyar
By Sayed Salahuddin Reuters Thursday, February 22, 2007; 12:11 PM
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KABUL (Reuters) - An Afghan warlord on a U.S. wanted list has said the United States does not have the capacity to stay for long in Afghanistan and he predicts it will pull out at the same time as it withdraws from Iraq.

Denouncing the United States as "the mother of problems," Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, a former prime minister whose forces operate in southeastern areas near Pakistan, said Afghanistan's turmoil would not end until U.S. forces left the region.

"As long as America remains in Afghanistan and in the region, war and problems will continue," he said in a copy of a video tape obtained by Reuters on Thursday.

"I can say with full assurance and confidence that America does not have the ability to stay for a long period in Afghanistan...," he said.

Wearing a black turban, the bespectacled and heavily-bearded Hekmatyar said America's allies had sent troops to Afghanistan and Iraq out of fear of Washington.
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Canada urged to stick it out in Afghanistan
Updated Fri. Feb. 23 2007 9:11 AM ET CTV.ca News Staff
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During a lightning visit to Afghanistan, NATO's secretary general urged Canada to stick with its commitment to the war-torn nation until the job is done.

Jaap de Hoop Scheffer and the alliance's supreme commander, U.S. Gen. John Craddock, made a brief stop at Kandahar Airfield Friday to consult with military officials.

De Hoop Scheffer called on Italy and Canada not to withdraw their troops, echoing an impassioned plea he made Thursday during a meeting with Afghan President Hamid Karzai.

The message came as the Opposition Liberals said they were committed to ending Canada's combat commitment in February 2009, if they form the next government.

It also came as news emerged that the Italian government was deeply conflicted over the nation's plan to keep forces in Afghanistan.

De Hoop Scheffer chose his words carefully when responding to the Liberals' position on Afghanistan, said CTV's Tom Clark, reporting from Kandahar.
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Articles found 24 February, 2007



"Afghanistan will soon be in a position to defend itself"
Saturday February 24, 2007 (0122 PST
Article Link

ABU DHABI: Afghan Defence Minister General Abdul Rahim Wardak believes the country will soon be in a position to defend itself as its national army continues with reforms to restore its genuine military traditions.

In an exclusive interview with Gulf News, General Wardak, who was in the UAE to attend the International Defence Exhibition 2007 (Idex 07), said Afghanistan will be able to defend itself without US and Nato support when commitments for reforms, assistance and regional cooperation are implemented.

The minister said it depends on foreign assistance, Nato, US and other allies` support as well as reforms in the Afghan National Army (ANA), which is being rebuilt from scratch.

"It depends on how well Afghans do their part, improve the army and restore genuine military traditions. I`m committed to it. The Afghan National Army is becoming disciplined, balanced, national-oriented, professional and cohesive. There have been big successes over the years," the minister said.

He added that Afghanistan needs the support of its friends, friendly countries, allies and neighbours to help restore stability in the region.

General Wardak, who is a former mujahideen commander who fought the former Soviet Army on various fronts, also said there is growing popular support among people for the Afghan Government and the Afghan National Army. He said people across the country have been gathering support and joining the national army to fight Taliban and other terrorist outfits.
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Canadian forces want more than just to keep the peace
A military at war with peacekeeping
Feb 24, 2007 04:30 AM James Travers National Affairs Columnist
Article Link

OTTAWA–Canadian soldiers are fighting something in Afghanistan beyond the Taliban, opium warlords and entrenched corruption: They are struggling with an image of themselves the military loathes and the country loves.

Led by Rick Hillier, arguably the most aggressive and political chief of the defence staff ever, the armed forces, particularly the army, are tearing down the dated poster of Canada as the world's peacekeeper. The clear signal flashing home from Kandahar is that Canadians in war zones are combat-ready troops who can also keep the peace, not do-gooders who in a pinch can be pressed into action.

No doubt public perception trails international realities. Once able to boast that this country invented peacekeeping and always formed its vanguard, Canada fell from its United Nations pedestal in the '90s after bad experiences in Bosnia, Zaire and, most of all, Somalia.

As former Liberal foreign and defence minister Bill Graham diplomatically puts it: "Our military, to some level, lost faith in the UN to command those missions."

That wasn't all that changed in the decades after the fall of the Berlin Wall. Many small conflicts and the big threat of Islamic fundamentalism emerged from the Cold War. So did a political and military consensus that it was time for Canada to reassert its international place.

Those factors contributed both to Hillier's swift promotion and to Canada's 2005 decision to dispatch a provincial reconstruction team south to Afghanistan's worst neighbourhood. In trumping rivals for the top job, Hillier sold to then-prime minister Paul Martin the vision of a tough, nimble military and that Afghanistan was the right place at the right time to demonstrate that new capacity to help stabilize failed and failing states.

If anything, the fit was too perfect. While Martin had reservations about Afghanistan and forced a commitment from Hillier to reserve enough strength to intervene elsewhere, the Kandahar mission was an opportunity to define changing priorities while repairing the diplomatic damage done by Canada's refusal to join the U.S. invasion of Iraq.

But that last giant step away from traditional peacemaking and into post-modern conflict resolution and democracy-building was then – and continues to be – accident-prone. Put bluntly, Canada bit off more than it could chew.
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'We have absolutely no reason to give up'
GRAEME SMITH From Saturday's Globe and Mail
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KANDAHAR, AFGHANISTAN — The tension in Kandahar city grew so intense last summer that a strange thing happened on a clear day in late August. An explosion engulfed a Canadian convoy in flames, and the intense heat slowly detonated the ammunition inside one of the armoured vehicles, causing bursts of staccato noise that sounded like a gunfight.

Residents had been expecting the war in southern Afghanistan to sweep into the city itself, and the sound of bullets convinced many people that the Taliban had finally invaded. They ran through the streets, screaming at their neighbours to flee.

Shopkeepers were still cleaning up the charred debris from that explosion the next morning, Aug. 23, when the city's elders, politicians, aid workers and other notables sat down for cups of green tea. They didn't gather to talk about the previous day's violence, or to discuss the problem of Taliban digging bunkers just outside the city limits. They were looking at a much bigger picture: trying to imagine the future of Kandahar city.

Over the next two days, as the radio buzzed with news of war and birds chirped in the well-tended gardens around their meeting hall, the city planners sketched an outline for the next five years. They assumed the Taliban would be beaten, or at least pushed away from the city. They hoped that foreign donors would keep their promises.

In the end, they produced a 35-page document that calls for a "prosperous, beautiful, well-developed Kandahar city," a place transformed from a jumble of mud-brick warrens into a modern centre with paved walking paths, electric buses and public Internet kiosks.

The sheer optimism of the vision — recycling plants, sports facilities and tree nurseries — seems almost naive, but the official in charge of planning says it's feasible.

"We have a dream," said Mohammed Rahim Rahimi, head of Kandahar's economy department. "Afghanistan will be the best country in Asia."

Exactly one year after Canada took responsibility for Kandahar, many Canadians are expressing deep skepticism about that dream. Canadian troops fought the biggest battles of their generation to protect this dusty city on the other side of the world, losing 45 lives and spending $2.3-billion in Afghanistan so far, and the broad outlines of the country's plight have hardly changed: It remains terribly poor, and plagued by a vicious insurgency. This week, Liberal Leader Stéphane Dion called for Canada to give up the mission in Kandahar by 2009 at the latest, saying the whole approach was flawed.
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Afghanistan condemns ban on TV channels by Pakistan
Saturday February 24, 2007 (0122 PST)
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KABUL: Afghanistan condemned the ban slapped on its four TV channels by the government of Pakistan.
The Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (PEMRA), the body controlling media in Pakistan, had banned Ariana, Shamshad, Tolo and Milli Television in that country.

Commenting on the step, Foreign Ministry spokesman Sultan Ahmad Bahin said it was against the international principles of freedom of expression. He said there were no restrictions on transmissions of Pakistani media in Afghanistan.

The Ministry of Information and Culture, in a statement, condemned the step and said this was not the first time that Pakistan was imposing ban on Afghanistan TV channels.

The statement said such practices were unacceptable in the global village. It hoped the international community would join the protest by the Afghan government.

Meanwhile, a statement released from the freshly-formed SAFMA-Afghanistan office, said the step would create problems for the people of Afghanistan and Pakistan in getting access to information.
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Russian Foreign Minister arrives in Kabul
Friday February 23, 2007 (1245 PST)
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KABUL: The Russian Foreign Minister, Sergei Lavrov arrived in Kabul the capital city of Afghanistan, today, to hold talks with President Hamid Karzai, the Foreign Minister and other senior officials of Afghan Government.
According to the Afghanistan Foriegn Ministery, Lavrov would discuss Russia's contribution regarding Afghanistan's reconstruction and its role in traing the country's Anti-Narcotics Police Force.

Lavrov's visit to Afghanistan was scheduled last month but was cancelled due to prevailing bad weather.
End

Czech government approves donation of ammunition to Afghanistan
Friday February 23, 2007 (0352 PST)
Article Link


Czeh Republic: The Czech government the other day approved to donate 20,000 automatic rifles and 650 machine guns, worth of 30 million crowns (1.4 million U.S. dollars) to Afghanistan.
The Defense Ministry said the arms were redundant, which would contribute to the international efforts to achieve security and improve democracy in the region.

Czech military pointed out that it was more expensive to liquidate than to donate the great amount of redundant weapons , which were from the previous cold-war period in Europe.

In early March, the Czech government is to decide on the donation of 12 transport and combat helicopters to the Afghan military.
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Prime minister quits on Afghanistan vote
Friday February 23, 2007 (0352 PST)
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ROME: Prime Minister Romano Prodi resigned after radical, anti-American senators demanding Italy withdraw troops from Afghanistan failed to support the center-left government, setting off an unexpected political crisis.
Mr. Prodi, a former Christian Democrat and former president of the European Commission, looked grim as he formally quit during an audience with President Giorgio Napolitano hours after the government was defeated by two votes on its Afghanistan policy in the upper house, where any chance for a majority would be razor thin.

The president, who asked Mr. Prodi to carry on in a caretaker capacity, may ask the prime minister to hold a full confidence vote in both houses of parliament, perhaps after a Cabinet reshuffle, political commentators said.
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No threat from Taliban, says Karzai
Saturday February 24, 2007 (0122 PST)
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KABUL: Downplaying the threat of Taliban spring offensive, President Hamid Karzai has said he can not believe that 10,000 fighters were waiting for the winter to end to launch big attacks against his government and the US-led coalition forces in Afghanistan.
"Who is this Taliban commander Hayatullah Khan who made this claim? I have never heard his name and probably you also don't know him," said the president in an interview with Pajhwok Afghan New at his sprawling Gul Khana or Presidential Palace.

The previously unknown Hayatullah Khan, claiming to be a Taliban commander, announced recently that 10,000 fighters were ready to take part in the "spring offensive" against the foreign forces in Afghanistan.

President Karzai argued the Taliban can not launch an offensive, whether in spring or any other season, without assistance from the outside.

Pointing out that Taliban attacks in Afghanistan had registered decline in recent months, Karzai said Pakistan had taken steps to stop the militants' infiltration from across the border.

"We have seen an improvement in the situation. My government is happy with some of the measures adopted by Pakistan in this regard. But we feel Pakistan needs to do more to tackle the problem," he stressed.
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Articles found February 26, 2007

Lives lost, lessons learned
By GLORIA GALLOWAY David Bercuson, Alexander Moens, Wesley Wark, Scott Taylor and Richard Martin
Monday, February 26, 2007 – Page A4
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Five years ago this month, the first Canadian soldiers arrived in Afghanistan to begin their first real combat mission in decades. The deployment came after nearly 10 years of cuts by a federal government that was more focused on deficit reduction than military expansion. As they grappled with the transition from peacekeeping to conventional warfare, the Canadian Forces have learned many hard lessons, particularly about the state and capabilities of its equipment. GLORIA GALLOWAY describes some of the more pointed examples.


Lesson No. 1. Transport

The problem: People and supplies must travel far from their base camps over dangerous roads to reach the outposts where Canadians patrol. The Taliban know that trucks heading to the front will eventually return, setting a perfect stage for an ambush. So Canada, which has no heavy-lift helicopters in the theatre, must borrow rides from allies such as the Americans and Dutch
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Helicopters Thunder Across Afghanistan Territory
By: Tim King Salem-News.com  DISPATCHES FROM AFGHANISTAN
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The helcopters fly fast and low is because a fast moving target is difficult to hit when it is close to the ground.

(KABUL, Afghanistan) - The thunderous blades of U.S. Army helicopters mean many things to soldiers at war.

Sometimes the sound means an infantryman is approaching battle, while other times the deafening roar is the sound of rescue and evacuation.

These helicopters making an approach in an Afghanistan mountain valley carry combat troops that are on the move. This CH-47 Chinook was also my ride back to the Afghanistan capitol, Kabul.

The Blackhawk helicopter represents the new technology in place in the U.S. military. Blackhawks are used in a number of combat roles and they are also widely used in military and civilian rescue operations.

The CH-47 Chinook helicopter is used primarily for troop transport. Afghanistan is a high country and the extra elevation limits the capabilities of these aircraft. While the twin overhead blades of the CH-47 are powerful, these helicopters fly very low to the ground, often lower than nearby mountaintops.

Aircraft in war often fly in pairs for protection, and the crewman aboard this helicopter wastes no time after getting airborne in locking and loading his machine gun. Increasing hostilities in Afghanistan and Iraq have put aircrews on high alert and the recent loss of a helicopter like this one in a similar location in recent weeks is a reminder of how vulnerable they are to everything from groundfire to mechanical failure.
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Harper to announce $200M in aid for Afghanistan
Updated Sun. Feb. 25 2007 3:14 PM ET Canadian Press
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OTTAWA -- Prime Minister Stephen Harper will announce about $200 million in reconstruction aid for Afghanistan in an effort to demonstrate that Canada's mission there is making a positive difference in people's lives.

As Canada marks the official one-year anniversary this week of its mission in Kandahar, government sources say the prime minister will make the announcement Monday at an event on Parliament Hill.

It comes in the final phase of a frosty Afghan winter, and a relative peace that's expected to melt over the coming weeks as pro-Taliban fighters descend from the mountains to resume their bloody insurgency.

Before those dispiriting images of flag-draped coffins return to Canadian television sets, the prime minister hopes to remind the country of the more uplifting things being accomplished.

"Progress is being made,'' said one government official.

"We're investing more funds in order to ensure that we keep on building more schools, more hospitals, to ensure the standard of living rises for the Afghan people.''

Harper declared several weeks ago that he would soon make a "significant announcement'' about Canada's next steps in Afghanistan, and he also promised to table a report in Parliament about the mission's successes and ongoing challenges.

If the single greatest challenge is winning over Afghan hearts and minds, a multitude of observers has cited the slow pace of construction as the most nagging impediment to success in Kandahar.

NATO's former commander in Afghanistan -- British Gen. David Richards -- has warned that Afghans could rebel en masse against foreign troops unless they see a tangible difference in their lives soon.

Canada has already pledged about $1 billion over 10 years to rebuilding Afghanistan.

However, much of the money so far has gone to longer-term or more abstract projects, including economic development programs and good-governance projects like training judges.
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Canadians Think Hillier Should Speak His Mind
February 26, 2007  (Angus Reid Global Monitor)
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Many Canadian adults believe their chief of defence staff should be able to express his views freely, according to a poll by Angus Reid Strategies. 58 per cent of respondents think Rick Hillier is entitled to speak his mind publicly, regardless of political implications.

Conversely, 30 per cent of respondents think Hillier, as the chief of defence staff, should not make public statements that could have political implications, and 12 per cent are unsure.

Earlier this month, Hillier criticized former Liberal governments for under-funding the military, and referred to the 1990s as a "decade of darkness" for the Canadian Armed Forces. Hillier justified his comments, declaring, "I describe things as accurately, as clearly, as bluntly and as frankly as I possibly can and that’s what I’ve done. We’ve gone through a decade of darkness and we’re starting to come out of it and that’s a description of the Canadian Forces. Like it or not, that’s the description."

Former cabinet minister and current Liberal parliamentarian Denis Coderre expressed dismay at Hillier’s allegations, claiming the chief of defence staff has become "a prop" for the Conservatives.

Canadians renewed the House of Commons in January 2006. The Conservative party—led by Stephen Harper—received 36.3 per cent of the vote, and secured 124 seats in the 308-member lower house. Harper leads a minority administration after more than 12 years of government by the Liberal party.

Polling Data

As you may know, Rick Hillier, Canada’s chief of defence staff, recently criticized former Liberal governments for under-funding the military. Hillier also referred to the 1990s as a "decade of darkness" for the Canadian Armed Forces. Which of the following statements comes closest to your view?
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After Afghanistan policy defeat, Italy's PM gets new chanceBy SILVIA ALOISI  Reuters News Agency Monday, February 26, 2007 – Page A14
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ROME -- Romano Prodi, given a second chance to prove that he can govern Italy, scrambled for support yesterday ahead of a vote of confidence this week that he must win to stay on as Prime Minister.

Mr. Prodi resigned last week after suffering an embarrassing defeat in the upper house over plans to keep 1,900 soldiers in Afghanistan. But Italy's President asked him on Saturday to stay on and put his majority to the test in parliament.

Mr. Prodi needs to prove he has enough support in both chambers of parliament to keep his government afloat. The votes are expected to take place on Thursday and Friday.

While his fractious Catholics-to-communists coalition has a comfortable majority in the lower house, in the 315-seat Senate the bloc is effectively level with the opposition, forcing him to court outside senators for support.

Mr. Prodi appeared to have won the backing of two extra senators, an independent and a Christian Democrat who served as deputy prime minister in Silvio Berlusconi's previous, centre-right government.

Barring defections, that raises Mr. Prodi's support to 158 elected senators, against 156 for the opposition, the centre-left says. The Senate speaker traditionally does not take part in votes.
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Rice says US is concerned about al-Qaida comeback in Afghanistan-Pakistan area
The Associated PressPublished: February 25, 2007
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WASHINGTON: The White House is pressuring Pakistan to crack down on al-Qaida and Taliban operatives in the lawless border area with Afghanistan that President George W. Bush recently said was "wilder than the Wild West."

The move comes amid growing concern in Congress and the administration that terrorist forces are regrouping in the border area and preparing for a spring offensive in Afghanistan.

Vice President Dick Cheney made a surprise visit to Pakistan on Monday for talks with President Gen. Pervez Musharraf on efforts to stabilize Afghanistan.

Cheney praised Pakistan's contribution in the war against terrorism but also "expressed U.S. apprehensions of regrouping of al-Qaida in the tribal areas and called for concerted efforts in countering the threat," Musharraf's office said.

"He expressed serious U.S. concerns on the intelligence being picked up of an impending Taliban and al-Qaida 'spring offensive' against allied forces in Afghanistan," the statement said.
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Tom Clark's Afghanistan Blog
Updated Sun. Feb. 25 2007 3:44 PM ET Tom Clark, CTV News
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Sunday Feb. 25: There were a number of reasons why I couldn't write here yesterday, but the best ones were: first, there was no power at the Base for most of the day; and second, when it did come back on, we came under a rocket attack. I don't know which was more inconvenient, but it all made for a rather unproductive day.

In case anyone studies ballistics for a hobby, the rockets, as best we can tell, were Katusha 107 mm. For those who don't have a clue what that means, they're old Soviet leftovers, fired from a tube arrangement as far as eight kilometres away, but they still pack a punch, and make a hell of noise if you're close, and I was. But no one was hurt, and everyone here pretty much just shrugged when it was over.

Big Daddy (cameraman Al Stephens, see Sunday Feb. 18 entry, below) and I went to a place just down the road today that was stark, quiet, eerie, and that quite literally changed the world. It was the former home and compound of Osama bin Laden, the place where the attacks of 9/11 were planned and plotted.

It's a massive place, surrounded by 10-foot high thick walls, and sits right on the edge of the Red Desert, an endless expanse of... well... red sand.

The place was bombed heavily by the Americans back in 2002, but much of it still stands.

To one side is a ghost town of some two hundred houses, home to the elite of al Qaeda. In the central courtyard, one side was a massive warehouse for weapons of all kinds, another side a garage for vehicles, and standing above it all, a very large three-storey tower that was the personal domain of bin Laden, one of his wives and one of his families. Out back, there is an instantly recognizable al Qaeda training camp, the obstacle course still in tact.
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Intelligence report reassesses threat of al Qaeda
By Sean Rayment LONDON SUNDAY TELEGRAPH February 26, 2007
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LONDON -- Al Qaeda has established a foothold in most countries across North Africa and the Middle East and poses a far graver threat to Britain than previously thought, according to a report being circulated among British security departments.
    Titled "Extremist Threat Assessment," the document, which was drawn up this month, also predicts that Afghanistan will supersede Iraq as the main location for terrorists planning violent acts against the West.
    The secret intelligence document says that the number of locally based Islamist terrorists involved in plotting suicide attacks against "soft" targets in Britain could number more than 2,000.
    The document, which has been circulated to the MI5 counterintelligence service, Scotland Yard, the interior ministry, Cabinet officials and the Ministry of Defense, says al Qaeda has grown into a worldwide organization with a foothold in virtually every Muslim country in North Africa, the Middle East and central Asia.
    It says the terrorist group's influence extends from North Africa, including Egypt, through to Lebanon, Turkey and Jordan, and into Somalia and Sudan. Al Qaeda is "resilient and effective" in Iraq, its "operating environment and financial position" in Pakistan has improved and a new group had emerged in Yemen.
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Afghanistan has reached the breaking point: report
By Our Correspondent  WASHINGTON, Feb 25
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US efforts to stabilise Afghanistan are `misguided’ and have contributed to growing unease among the population, says a report prepared by a Washington think-tank and funded partly by a US government agency.

The report notes that Afghans are beginning to disengage from national governing processes and lose confidence in their leadership. "Dramatic changes are required in the coming weeks, or 2007 will become the breaking point.”

The report based in part on 1,000 interviews with ordinary Afghans notes that conditions in Afghanistan have deteriorated markedly since 2005.

“Since then, conditions in Afghanistan have deteriorated into the `danger zone’,” warns the report titled “Breaking Point: Measuring Progress in Afghanistan.”

“Afghan ability to meet needs and interests has not improved since 2005, despite more money spent, more projects implemented, and more time passed.”

The report, by the non-partisan Centre for Strategic and International Studies and funded in part by the US Agency for International Development, underlines violence and government corruption as two major concerns of ordinary Afghans.
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Pakistan Fed Up With U.S. And Allies On Afghanistan
Contributed by: 4Canada Sunday, Feb 25, 2007 04:30 AM Haroon Siddiqui
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Pakistan tired of hearing it's not doing enough on Taliban and Al Qaeda, says Haroon Siddiqui

PESHAWAR–Those who invaded Iraq claiming it had weapons of mass destruction and have been blaming Iran and Syria for the murderous mess in Iraq, are also the same people now blaming Pakistan for the mess in Afghanistan.

They say Pakistan is aiding and abetting the Taliban and Al Qaeda. Maybe it is. But U.S. President George W. Bush and Afghan President Hamid Karzai have offered little or no proof.

The American media are running a parallel campaign, hurling a more serious allegation, that the Pakistan army is extending logistical help to the Taliban and Al Qaeda. Most such stories are based on unnamed sources.

The New York Times, which in the pre-Iraq war days carried phony WMD stories, is back practising the same sort of discredited journalism.

In a Washington-datelined story last week on ostensible Al Qaeda camps in North Waziristan, I counted 20 attributions to unnamed "American officials," "intelligence officials and terrorism experts," "American analysts," "counterterrorism officials," etc.

The assertions of Pakistani involvement have been repeated so often they have become part of the received wisdom of many Canadian politicians, editorial writers and pundits as well. I do not know and have not been able to ascertain whether Pakistan is guilty or not. But, given the track record of those making the allegations, we should be skeptical.

In the circumstances, it is useful to know what the Pakistanis, from President Pervez Musharraf down, have been saying.
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Television gaining ground in Afghanistan: survey
New York, Feb. 26 (PTI)
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Television is gaining ground in Afghanistan as the most important news and entertainment source in urban areas despite continued difficulties with security and reconstruction, according to recent media surveys in the war-torn country.

"Television use and importance is rising most quickly in Kabul, where socio-economic conditions are better than in the rest of the country, and among young people aged 15-24," the surveys conducted by Washington based media and public opinon research organisation, InterMedia.

"From 2005 to 2006, television access in the city rose from 59 to 78 percent. Even urban residents who can't afford to buy a television set have greater access to places where TV is available-others' homes, cafes and work places.

"However, due to problems with infrastructure, mainly a lack of consistent electricity and little disposable income, television's appeal is more socially desirable than affordable for many Afghans," the survey found.

In a country where 84 per cent of the population is rural, the urban-rural split is pronounced: nationwide only 37 per cent of Afghans claim to watch TV weekly, compared to 89 per cent in Kabul.
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AFGHANISTAN: TALIBAN ATTACKS SIGNAL START OF SPRING OFFENSIVE
Ron Synovitz 2/25/07 A EurasiaNet Partner Post from RFE/RL
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Taliban fighters have launched a series of attacks this month across western, southern, and eastern Afghanistan -- signaling that their expected spring offensive is now under way.

NATO officials say the Taliban has concentrated forces in at least five southern and western provinces of Afghanistan -- Helmand, Kandahar, Farah, Uruzgan, and Ghor.

NATO spokesman Colonel Tom Collins says militants in those areas are preparing to carry out attacks in those provinces as part of an "expected spring offensive."

Offensive Under Way?

But Taliban commanders say they began their spring offensive on February 2 when militants seized the town of Musa Qala in Helmand Province.

Militants continue to control Musa Qala, which is about 25 kilometers from a key reconstruction project in southern Afghanistan, the Kajaki hydroelectric dam.
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http://toyoufromfailinghands.blogspot.com/2007/02/afstan-yet-more-uk-forces.html

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Articles found February 27, 2007


Cdn. soldiers accidentally kill Afghan civilian
Updated Tue. Feb. 27 2007 7:49 AM ET CTV.ca News Staff
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Canadian troops on Tuesday were involved in another civilian shooting in Afghanistan, in the third such incident this month..

It happened when an Afghan male driving a white Toyota approached Canadian soldiers as they formed a security cordon around a broken-down armoured vehicle.

Army spokesperson Maj. Dale MacEachern said the driver of the vehicle failed to heed warnings to stop.

He said the vehicle blew past one checkpoint manned by Afghan National Police and accelerated towards Canadian vehicles. That's when troops shot and killed the driver. One passenger was also wounded.

In a separate incident, a militant with explosives strapped to his chest blew himself up on a crowded street, injuring three bystanders.

No Canadian troops were in the area.

Just last week, Canadian Forces ordered troops to use more restraint before firing to avoid killing civilians accidentally. Canadian soldiers killed a civilian and a member of the Afghan National Police following an attack on a Canadian convoy on Feb. 18.

Canada has about 2,500 soldiers based in Afghanistan, mostly in the Kandahar region. Since the mission began in 2002, 44 Canadian soldiers and one diplomat have been killed in Afghanistan.
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Afstan: ISAF fighting forces to be up 7,300/7,300
Tuesday, February 27, 2007
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At the Riga Summit last November NATO commanders were saying they needed some 2,500 extra troops for southern Afstan. Well, it seems they have got them--and quite a bit more--from the usual contributors.

Total ISAF forces are being increased by what amounts to one brigade of Brits and one of Americans. The Brits are sending three additional battalions of infantry (that's brigade strength, plus others), for a total of 2,200 more troops:

1st Battalion Worcestershire and Sherwood Foresters (announced Feb. 1)
1st Battalion Royal Welsh Fusiliers
1st Battalion Scots Guards (latter two announced Feb. 26).

More on UK units deploying here.

The US, for its part, is sending an additional brigade combat team, the 173rd, of 3,200 soldiers. One battalion of US troops will be based alongside Canadians at Kandahar.

So that's 5,400 more UK and US troops than a few months ago. All the extra Brits plus one American battalion will be in the south, total almost 2,900.

And 1,000 Poles are now scheduled to arrive in Afstan in April.

The Minister of Defense confirmed on Wednesday that Polish troops could be located anywhere that they are needed in Afghanistan, raising the possibility that Polish troops will be dispatched to the most dangerous regions.

"Everyone realizes that this is not a simple mission and that experience of the Canadian army were not the best [emphasis added]," said Aleksander Szczyglo, Minister of Defense. However, he admitted that the troops would be dispatched in Afghanistan by the beginning of April and the final decision on the location of bases is already made. Over half of domestic troops will be located in the most dangerous areas of the country, with the Minister stressing that Poland was one of the few countries that did not request any limitations to location and use of its troops in Afghanistan...

Moreover, Australia may be doubling its strength in the south to 900 soldiers.
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Cheney Safe After Attack on Air Base in Afghanistan (Update5
By Brendan Murray Feb. 27 (Bloomberg)
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Vice President Dick Cheney was unhurt when Bagram air base in Afghanistan came under attack during his visit, U.S. military spokesman David Accetta said. At least 19 people were killed in the incident, Associated Press said.

The attack occurred at the front gate to the base, the spokesman said. Cheney, who stayed at Bagram overnight, is ``fine,'' his spokeswoman Lea Anne McBride said.

The incident took place at 10:30 a.m. Afghan time and the base was placed on temporary alert, Accetta said. One U.S. solider and two Afghans were among those killed in what was a suicide attack, Agence France-Presse said, citing the U.S. military said. The Taliban said it was responsible for the assault, Sky News reported.

Cheney stayed at the base after bad weather delayed his talks with Afghan President Hamid Karzai. Cheney is visiting Afghanistan and Pakistan this week to press the countries to improve security along their border to prevent a resurgence of the Taliban and al-Qaeda.

The U.S. is concerned about countering al-Qaeda's attempts to re-establish training camps and an anticipated spring offensive by the Taliban launched from the remote mountainous region along Pakistan's 1,510-mile-long (2,430 kilometer) border with Afghanistan.

The U.S. and Italian ambassadors to Sri Lanka was injured today when artillery shells landed at an air force base during a visit to the east of the country. The Sri Lankan military blamed the rebel Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam for the attack.
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Gov't flounders in north Afghanistan
Tuesday, February 27, 2007 · Last updated 12:51 a.m. PT By FISNIK ABRASHI ASSOCIATED PRESS WRITER
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PUL-E-KHUMRI, Afghanistan -- The disarmament of Afghanistan's illegal private militias has ground to a halt and the price of weapons in the country's relatively quiet north is skyrocketing - a sign of the embattled central government's failure to assert its control, Afghan and Western officials say.

This mountainous, ethnically diverse region has been spared the intense violence in the past year that has rocked the south and the east, where the Taliban has staged a violent comeback, launching scores of suicide bombings and brazen guerrilla attacks on Afghan, U.S. and NATO forces.

But the relative calm has not helped President Hamid Karzai's government extend its influence here, despite the presence of NATO security forces.

"No (provincial) governor has stayed for more than three or four months in the job because there are powerful people and networks" who force them out, said Habibullah, a car mechanic in Pul-e-Khumri, the provincial capital of Baghlan, where the top Kabul-appointed administrator was replaced three times during 2006.

Ethnic Tajik and Uzbek warlords from the Northern Alliance that helped the U.S. defeat the hardline Taliban regime still dominate and local citizens are increasingly seeking guns for self-protection because of rampant criminality and distrust of the police, residents say.

The price of a Russian-made AK-47 assault rifle has risen in the past three years from $100 to $400, officials and local commanders said.
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Flight to Afghanistan
Hassan Haydar      Al-Hayat    - 27/02/07
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Tony Blair's decision to withdraw a third of the British troops stationed in the South of Iraq may be seen as a late response to the demands of the majority of the British, who were opposed to the war from the beginning, they remained steadfast in this opposition, even after the eruption of the war, and they still demand a full withdrawal from Iraq.

However, the real reason behind the decision does not lie in a sudden sensitivity by the prime minister to the anti-war demonstrations, as he has shown a callused indifference toward these protests, shunning them when they were at their climax. It was rather a combination of factors that reflect the ruling Labor Party's desire to ensure a smooth succession of Blair in June that will keep the conservatives' hands off power and re-arrange Britain's foreign policy priorities.

It is probable that the Labor politicians will choose Treasury Secretary Gordon Brown to fill the vacancy at No. 10, Downing Street, after the departure of Blair in May. The potential successor, however, must face David Cameron, the conservative opponent, who is being steadily favored in opinion polls, the last of which gave him 43% of the votes compared to 34% for Brown in an indication of the decline in the overall backing for the Labor party.
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NZ mulls more Timor, Afghanistan troops
Tuesday Feb 27 13:35 AEDT
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New Zealand will consider raising its troop levels in East Timor if it is required, its defence minister says.

Defence Minister Phil Goff said New Zealand is also considering a request to boost troops in Afghanistan ahead of an expected northern offensive.

New Zealand currently has about 116 troops deployed on provincial reconstruction work in Bamiyan province in Afghanistan, and 150 defence force personnel in East Timor.

But Mr Goff said it was possible troops levels in East Timor might have to rise in the future.

"Clearly there is a level of violence between different regional groups and gangs within the community that do cause some concern," he told reporters.

"At the moment 150 troops on the ground seems about right but we need to see if there are further demands that might require other aspects of our defence force personnel."

Any decision would be taken by Cabinet after consultation with the United Nations and other countries in the joint peacekeeping force.

Peacekeepers were deployed to East Timor last May amid political unrest and bloody violence in the tiny nation.
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Tom Clark's Afghanistan Blog
Updated Mon. Feb. 26 2007 2:11 PM ET Tom Clark, CTV News
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If you think that you may have a phobia of being in a small enclosed space with people you don't know and can't understand, relax. It's not as bad as you think.

It happened to me today. 

Big Daddy, myself, and our colleague from the Canadian Press, Murray Brewster, decided we would take a little road trip. There were some old Russian barracks we wanted to see, and beyond them the remains of Taliban and al Qaeda installations.

So we went "outside the wire," in other words beyond the gates of the Kandahar Base, to meet Jojo, my Afghan driver, interpreter, and all-around nice guy. Jojo is in his early twenties, so he drives fast and talks even faster. 

We all piled into his car and bumped along something that is called a road, by the locals, but I think that just speaks to their sophisticated sense of humour.

At length, we came upon two interesting things all at once. On one side, there was what could only be described as a vehicle killing ground, a vast area of burned out, bombed out old Soviet tanks, trucks, even a mobile radar station. On the other side was a four-story tower that was home to an Afghan Army check point.

So we stopped.

It all went quite well, so well in fact that the guards invited us in the tower for tea. The Afghans are very hospitable people, when they're not shooting each other, and it would be rude to decline, even though tea drinking can take an awfully long time.

Big Daddy was the first to bail, with the entirely plausible excuse that he wanted to get video of the Soviet wasteland while the light was just right. Murray, no fool, mumbled something about helping out, and quickly fell in with BD. Jojo then said he better go too... just in case. That left me, and six grinning Afghan soldiers.

Inside, tea was poured in an awful silence. Bread was offered wordlessly. I had to say something. Not knowing a word of Farsi, I plunged in with something remarkably stupid like... "So you guys like it out here?" No one understood of course, but I got what I figured was a considerate reply from the commander, in Farsi. We all grinned. Here was a great challenge.

And so for the next half hour we all made up sign language, Pig Latin and anything else we could think of to communicate.

When my fair-weather colleagues returned, they were somewhat perplexed to find me chatting amiably with the soldiers on the front steps.

With a wave we were off, and I said to no one in particular in the car how easy a language Farsi is to pick up.
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Improve foreign aid by revitalizing CIDA
TheStar.com - opinion - February 25, 2007
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Can you name Canada's minister of international co-operation, who is responsible for the $3.1 billion aid budget dispensed by the Canadian International Development Agency? If you can't, don't feel bad because CIDA does not command a particularly high-profile cabinet post.

In fact, despite its significant budget, CIDA does not even warrant its own statute outlining its role and responsibilities, but is covered by a single paragraph in the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade Act.

The upshot of CIDA's second-class status is that the agency has neither the power to set its own policies nor a well-defined mandate with clear objectives. And according to a report last week by the Senate committee on foreign affairs and international trade, this absence of purpose is clearly evident.

While the report focuses on the deplorable state of sub-Saharan Africa and on the manifold causes of the region's failure to share in economic growth that has swept most of the world over the past 40 years, CIDA comes in for special attention.

"Since its inception in 1968," the report says, "CIDA has spent $12.4 billion in bilateral assistance to sub-Saharan Africa, with little in the way of demonstrable results. CIDA is ineffective, costly and bureaucratic."

To make the most effective use of every development dollar, the committee recommends Ottawa adopt either the approach used by Denmark and the Netherlands, or follow Britain's lead.

Under the model adopted by Denmark and the Netherlands, Ottawa would kill off CIDA and integrate responsibility for development assistance into the overall policy framework of the Department of Foreign Affairs.
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Articles found 27 February, 2007

This is an interesting blog while Tom Clark is in Afghanistan....excellent writer.
Tom Clark's Afghanistan Blog
Updated Tue. Feb. 27 2007 3:49 PM ET Tom Clark, CTV News
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Tuesday, Feb. 27: If you need a dose of optimism, then you have to go to the Syed Bacha school.

It is the poorest, most overcrowded, most wonderful place I have ever seen.

To find it you have to go just five minutes down the road from the massive NATO base near Kandahar. Then look for the old apartment buildings that were bombed by the Americans in 2002.

Go to the one that was the most badly damaged, the one that a bomb almost cut in two, and there, amid the rubble, you'll find the place that 500 children call school.

There is no running water, no electricity, no heat. There is no library, the chalk boards are all broken, and there's not a single piece of sports equipment.

And yet against some of the longest odds you can imagine, this place is brimming with hope.

At first, it doesn't make sense. After all, the teachers are horrendously underpaid; fifty dollars a month. Sometimes there aren't enough teachers, so the older students are told to teach the younger ones. There's no more computer classes because that teacher died in a bomb attack by the Taliban last summer. Even when there were classes, the schools only computer stayed in its box because there was no electricity to run it. The students had to imagine what it could do.

But its when you meet the kids that it all starts to fall in place. They love being here.

They are excited about learning, excited about their futures. One after another they came up to me and announced that they want to be a doctor, or a teacher, or a pilot, or a carpenter. Their optimism seems to be without limit.

Now here's the amazing part. Given the almost total deprivation of material goods, when I asked them what they wanted most for their school, the first answer was unanimous; more teachers, teachers that will "teach harder," teachers for subjects they've only heard about, like biology and chemistry.

Of course they need so much more. They live in a bombed out garbage strewn wasteland, with no level ground for a game of soccer, and only one slide for a playground.

So far, not many have come to help, except for some Canadian soldiers who have quietly given what they could in the way of pens pencils and paper.

So much of this could be fixed, of course. A few bulldozers from the base, five minutes away, could transform the place within days, and a bit of help from overseas could fill the rooms with books, and the playground with equipment. Heck, how difficult would it be for NATO to just build them a proper school? They're neighbors after all.

But it wouldn't be charity if that happened. It would only be an attempt by the rest of the world to share in just a bit of the magic created by the teachers and kids of the Syed Bacha School.
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Afghan police push to provide convoy security
Updated Tue. Feb. 27 2007 3:19 PM ET CTV.ca News Staff
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A civilian shooting in Afghanistan on Tuesday by Canadian troops is highlighting an ongoing push to have local authorities handle security for foreign military convoys.

On Tuesday, an Afghan male driving a white Toyota approached Canadian soldiers as they formed a security cordon around a broken-down armoured vehicle.

Army spokesperson Maj. Dale MacEachern said the driver of the vehicle failed to heed warnings to stop and was shot dead after accelerating in the direction of the troops.

Tuesday's shooting is the fourth time this month that troops have shot dead an Afghan civilian.

Abdul Quadar Noorzai, the regional program manager of the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission, is pushing to have Afghan authorities handle security on convoys.

Although the Afghan National Police did have a checkpoint at the site of Tuesday's incident, Noorzai said that foreign troops, Afghan forces and civilians are not co-ordinated well enough.

Noorzai told the Canadian Press that it would be "better to let Afghan Army or Afghan police handle security on convoys. If they were to let the chief of police know when they are moving between places, it would be great."

Last Friday, Kandahar police chief Asmatullah Alizai put forward the proposal in a meeting with Canadian military officers.

However, such a move would require Canadians to disclose convoy times and routes with Afghan authorities.
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U.S. doubtful about Taliban bombing-Cheney claim
Updated Tue. Feb. 27 2007 5:21 PM ET CTV.ca News Staff
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The U.S. White House says it's too soon to say whether the Taliban knew that Vice President Dick Cheney was at Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan when a suicide bomber attacked outside the main gates.

At least 23 people died in Tuesday's bombing, which happened at 10 a.m. local time at the base located about 60 kilometres north of the capital of  Kabul.

The Taliban claimed responsibility for the bombing and claimed Cheney, who was in the region on an unannounced visit, had been the target at the Bagram base.

Tony Snow, the White House's press secretary, said it was an isolated attack and not indicative of  Taliban strength.

U.S. Major William Mitchell said Cheney was far from the site of the blast and called the Taliban claim "far-fetched."
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Pakistan girl was to be poker debt bride
Updated Tue. Feb. 27 2007 11:41 AM ET Associated Press
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KARACHI, Pakistan -- Police are seeking 10 men, including several tribal elders, accused of pressuring a Pakistani woman to hand over her teenage daughter as payment for a 16-year-old poker debt, officials said Tuesday.

In the latest case highlighting how conservative customs threaten women's rights in Pakistan, Nooran Umrani alleges that, despite paying off her late husband's debt of $165, she was threatened with harm if she failed to hand over her daughter, Rasheeda.

The 17-year-old was to be surrendered as a bride for the son of Lal Haider, the man who won the card game years before, Umrani told reporters on Monday in Hyderabad, 100 miles northeast of Karachi.

Umrani said her husband was a gambler who ran up the debt at a poker game when Rasheeda was 1 year old. He promised Haider that he would get Rasheeda in lieu of payment when she grew up, the mother said.

Koral Shah, a Hyderabad police officer, said both families belong to the Umrani tribe of Pakistan's impoverished Baluchistan province.

He said a group of elders from the tribe came to Hyderabad in January to investigate the case and had ruled that, under tribal custom, the girl should be married to Haider's 23-year-old son Abdul Ghani.
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Goff Reveals SAS Work in Afghanistan    
12:24 pm, 28 Feb 2007   
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Defence Minister Phil Goff has disclosed that SAS troops operating in Afghanistan in 2002 captured up to 70 people who were then passed on to other powers.

But he says the Defence Force understands none of those detained are now in the hands of the United States or any other country with troops in Afghanistan.

New Zealand has had three deployments of the special forces soldiers to Afghanistan as part of the United States-led war on terror to track down Al Qaeda members, but none are there now.

Strict secrecy surrounded their activities at the time.

Mr Goff has given some details of their work in a letter to Parliament’s foreign affairs, defence and trade select committee.

Between 45 and 60 SAS troops at a time served for a year from the end of 2001 and then in two six-month stints in 2004 and 2005.

On several occasions they were involved in direct action, his letter says. None were killed but some were injured during the fighting.
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Shifting Afghan gears
Feb 27, 2007 04:30 AM
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As Canada's bid to help Afghanistan rolls into a sixth year with only mixed success, Prime Minister Stephen Harper's government is still struggling to strike the right balance of military action, diplomacy and reconstruction aid.

Prodded by Liberal Leader Stéphane Dion, who last week urged a withdrawal of combat troops from Kandahar in 2009 and more aid for the region, Harper yesterday acted on two fronts, stepping up aid and sounding a tough diplomatic note.

Canada will double aid to $200 million this year and next, reflecting the public's wish to help rebuild the shattered country, not just have our 2,500 troops fight the terrorist-friendly Taliban there. This is a welcome, if modest, shift in gears.

The money will pay salaries for police, teachers and health workers. In addition, it will fund microcredit programs, road building and mine clearing, and will seek to reduce the heroin trade.

Whether it will buy much goodwill in Kandahar for our beleaguered troops is open to question. Few Afghans will see a "Made-in-Canada" stamp on this aid because it will flow through international agencies.

Even so, it is in Canada's best tradition to increase aid to President Hamid Karzai's regime, and ease out from military combat duty as conditions permit.

The bleak, and thin, "progress report" tabled in Parliament yesterday by the Conservative government on Canada's "difficult and dangerous" mission to deliver security and foster development underscores how much remains to be done.
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