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The Sandbox and Areas Reports Thread (January 2008)

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GAP

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New US Base in Afghanistan for CIA Pak Raids?
Rick Moran January 29, 2008
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The Asia Times is reporting that a new US military base near the Pakistan-Afghan border will be used to carry out lightening raids into Pakistan to take out al-Qaeda and Taliban targets - without the express approval of President Pervez Musharraf and the Pakistani government:


Pakistani intelligence quarters have confirmed to Asia Times Online that the base, on a mountain top in Ghakhi Pass overlooking Pakistan, is now operational. (This correspondent visited the area last July and could clearly see construction underway.)

The new US base is expected to serve as the center of clandestine special forces' operations in the border region. The George W Bush administration is itching to take more positive action - including inside Pakistan - against Pakistani Taliban and al-Qaeda militants increasingly active in the area and bolstering the insurgency in Afghanistan.
Intelligence chief Mike McConnell and CIA Director Hayden visited Pakistan this month to meet with Musharraf. It's a safe bet that these cross border operations came up in the conversation. Musharraf has fiercely resisted such operations in the past and for good reason; if it became known that he was sanctioning this activity, he would be a gone goose. However, what Musharraf doesn't know won't hurt him - at least that's the theory:
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Afghan tab at $7-billion and counting
Opposition says not enough spent on development
Tim Naumetz, Canwest News Service  Published: Tuesday, January 29, 2008
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OTTAWA -- Canada's military mission in Afghanistan cost $3.1-billion as of last September, with more than half of that spent after Canadian troops established a combat toehold in Kandahar two years ago, a government report to the Commons says.

An outline of all direct spending on the Afghan mission tabled by Defence Minister Peter MacKay shows Canada contributed $670-million on development aid for Afghan citizens during the same period, nearly half of it since April 2005.

The military expenditures do not include at least $1.2-billion more to be spent borrowing, buying and maintaining a total of 120 used tanks from Germany and the Netherlands, and $2.7-billion to buy and maintain a fleet of 16 Chinook helicopters for carrying troops.

The tank and helicopter acquisitions are a reaction to combat casualties the Canadians suffered after the current Kandahar mission began in February, 2005, bringing Canada's total war cost to at least $7-billion so far.

Mr. MacKay tabled the latest spending outline in response to a written question from Bloc Quebecois Leader Gilles Duceppe, who, with a Commons vote on Canada's Afghan mission looming, said the ratio of military to aid spending must change.

"It's not balanced," Mr. Duceppe said. "We have to propose another mission with a more balanced approach, because no one in Quebec or Canada is against helping the people of Afghanistan."

Liberal MP Denis Coderre, whose party has said it will wait until it sees a government motion on the mission before deciding its position, agreed.

But he added Canadians must also be confident increased spending on development assistance will be distributed effectively.
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Legion votes to fly flag at half-mast
Cheryl Cornacchia, Montreal Gazette Published: 2 hours ago
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Outside the Royal Canadian Legion in Ste. Anne de Bellevue, the Canadian flag is once again flying at half-mast in honour of another Canadian military casualty in Afghanistan.

The branch's 365 members voted unanimously to lower the flag for each Canadian soldier who dies in overseas combat and leave it at half-mast until his or her body is returned to Canada, repatriated and buried, usually in about 10 days.

But at the Legion branch in N.D.G., the Canadian flag remains at full-staff.
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NATO asks for rapid reaction force in Afghanistan
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BERLIN: NATO has formally asked Germany to deploy a rapid reaction force in northern Afghanistan to replace a Norwegian contingent, a defence ministry spokesman said on Tuesday.
The German government has been expecting the request and officials in Berlin suggested last week that the country would comply, despite strong opposition among the German public to its five-year-old military mission in Afghanistan.
According to NATO sources, the alliance is asking Germany to prepare a contingent of 250 troops who will be stationed at Mazar-e-Sharif, replacing the Norwegian force, which will withdraw in the summer.
Germany has some 3,200 soldiers in Afghanistan as part of the 37-nation, NATO-led International Security Assistance Force.
The overwhelming majority of the troops are stationed in the relatively calm north of Afghanistan and Berlin has resisted mounting pressure to deploy troops in the south to help its NATO partners fight a tenacious Taliban insurgency. Government officials have in recent weeks denied that supplying a rapid reaction force would amount to sending men into combat.
They pointed out that the force was designed to provide emergency support to other troops in the north and that though its brief includes hunting “terrorists” and dealing with kidnappings this is not its main task.
Senior German defence official Thomas Kossendey said last week that Germany would not need a new, wider parliamentary mandate to deploy the rapid reaction force and that it would “remain in northern Afghanistan”.
The current mandate limits the German force in Afghanistan to 3,500 soldiers.
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Assignment Kandahar: Into Panjwaii
Posted: January 29, 2008, 11:11 AM by Brian Hutchinson Assignment Kandahar
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This is where it happened, and where it continues. Where it never seems to end.

Operation Medusa was staged in and around this Taliban sanctuary in September 2006. Canadian soldiers from 1 RCR took the fight to insurgents and claimed victory after several days of intense fighting. Two generations of Canadian soldiers came of age during Op Medusa; tragically, some never returned home. Others did but may never fight again.

More clearing operations soon became necessary because the Taliban did not capitulate; Panjwaii, west of Kandahar city, is still their base in southern Afghanistan, their spiritual homeland, it is often said.

The Canadian military is again on the move here, the Vandoos of Valcartier this time, and they are deployed with many more Afghan National Army forces than before. Together they have pushed further west into places such as Talukan and Mushan, agrarian clusters that have seen appalling crimes committed by insurgents: summary executions of civilians, beheadings, the display of dismembered corpses in village centres, macabre threats to those who might think of collaborating with Coalition members.

Tuesday I was flown deep into Panjwaii. I’m now with Canadian and Afghan soldiers who have been mounting long foot patrols during daylight. The stories I’m hearing are chilling: IED attacks, Taliban ambushes, firefights. 

Their nerves shot, some soldiers have already left Panjwaii ahead of schedule. More about that and what I see in the coming days, here, in the National Post and other Canwest newspapers
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Articles found January 30, 2008

Signals soldiers depart for Afghanistan
Posted By LYNN REES LAMBERT
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They loaded a truck with their army-issue gear, bid goodbye to families and buddies and then boarded a bus for the first leg of a long journey from CFB Kingston to the battleground of Afghanistan.

And every single one of them — all 27 members from the Joint Signals Regiment — was eager to get going.

“Every one of these soldiers wants to bea part of this mission,” said Lt.-Col. François Chagnon moments before he shook hands with his troops in the Friday morning departure from CFB Kingston.

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National Post Editorial Board: The Bizarre Ms. May
Posted: January 29, 2008, 12:25 PM by Yoni Goldstein Editorial
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Green party leader Elizabeth May has done as much as she could to extricate herself from the controversy she touched off last week when she stated in a press release about Afghanistan that “forces from a Christian/Crusader heritage will continue to fuel an insurgency that has been framed as a ‘Jihad.’ ” She is still trying to blame the Conservative party and the press corps for her failure to make it clear that her use of the phrase “Christian/Crusader heritage” was what the Romans called oratio obliqua. Apparently, she has reached the age of 53, and spent an entire career in advocacy and public service, without learning the intricacies of that handy-dandy device known as the quotation mark.

It would be one thing if a Muslim political candidate had allowed those words to go out under his name, but Ms. May is studying for the Anglican priesthood — an unusual vocation for someone at the head of a political party in the Western world. Given this, the correct presumption in her case might be that she meant to refer to the “Christian/Crusader heritage” of Canadian troops without any irony or derisive connotation at all.
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Helicopter shortage still hovers over forces
Mike Blanchfield and David ********, Canwest News Service  
Published: Tuesday, January 29, 2008
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OTTAWA -- Canada has been quietly, and unsuccessfully, scrambling to secure a handful of desperately needed medium-lift helicopters for Afghanistan, Canwest News has learned.

In recent weeks, the federal government has approached European allies and major U.S. manufacturers for four to six aircraft, on a lease or loan basis, but has had no luck.

The government plans later this year to award a sole-sourced contract for 16 new CH-47 Chinook helicopters to the U.S. defence contractor Boeing, but because the first of those helicopters is not due to arrive until 2011, the military wants a temporary solution to the lack of air support in order to lessen the exposure of Canadian troops to deadly roadside bombs.

The Manley commission has called on the government to secure medium-lift helicopters by next year as a condition for continuing the Canadian Forces combat mission in Afghanistan.
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Harper seeks Dion support on mission
January 29, 2008 at 9:53 pm ·Jan 29, 2008 04:30 AM  Allan Woods Ottawa Bureau
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OTTAWA–Prime Minister Stephen Harper says Canada will extend its mission in Afghanistan beyond 2009 only if NATO is able to find an additional 1,000 soldiers to fight with the Canadians in Kandahar – and he reached out to Liberal Leader Stéphane Dion for his support.

Reacting to the report by former Liberal foreign affairs minister John Manley on the future of the Afghan mission, Harper also said he would work to secure transport helicopters and unmanned surveillance craft, or he would end the combat mission when the current commitment wraps up in February 2009.

Harper said he spoke to Dion on Sunday and will talk to him again in a few days.
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Killing Canadians 'best way': student
Web posts spark RCMP probe, free speech debate
Stewart Bell, National Post; National Post  Published: Wednesday, January 30, 2008
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TORONTO - A Toronto-area man has been posting messages on the Internet supporting attacks against Canadian soldiers on Canadian soil, drawing the attention of RCMP national security investigators.

Police have advised the Bangladeshi-Canadian that he is under investigation for incitement and facilitating terrorism after he repeatedly called the killing of Canadian troops in Canada "legitimate" and "well deserved."
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Tories mount failed search for choppers Desperately Needed
Mike Blanchfield and david ********, Canwest News Service  Published: Wednesday, January 30, 2008
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OTTAWA - Canada has been quietly, and unsuccessfully, scrambling to secure a handful of desperately needed medium-lift helicopters for Afghanistan, Canwest News has learned.

In recent weeks, the federal government has approached European allies and major U.S. manufacturers for four to six aircraft, on a lease or loan basis, but has had no luck.

The government plans later this year to award a sole-sourced contract for 16 new CH-47 Chinook helicopters to the U.S. defence contractor Boeing Co., but because the first of those helicopters is not due to arrive until 2011, the military wants a temporary solution to the lack of air support in order to lessen the exposure of Canadian troops to deadly roadside bombs.
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Time for the government to dispel the information fog
ROBERT MARLEAU Special to Globe and Mail Update January 29, 2008 at 6:56 PM EST
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It is often said that "No news is good news." It is beginning to seem as if the government has added to that adage, "Good news is no news."

A recent editorial in The Globe and Mail spoke of "the fog that has settled over the [Afghan] detainees": It was referring to the revelation that Canada had stopped turning over prisoners to the Afghan government in November, but had not disclosed this to Parliament or the public.

Since becoming Information Commissioner a year ago, it is my experience that it is not only the situation with detainees in Afghanistan that has become obscured. Indeed, a fog over information, even when the news is positive, has crept, little by little, over the government's activities.

As Information Commissioner, my job is to receive and investigate complaints by people who have requested access to information that is under the control of government institutions and are not satisfied with the response they have received. My staff of investigators is kept more than busy responding to these: Our caseload of complaints has doubled in the past year. But providing information in this way, under the Access to Information Act, is not the only, or necessarily the best, way for the government to communicate with its citizens.
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Military can disclose fate of detainees, PM says
BRODIE FENLON AND MICHAEL VALPY  Globe and Mail Update January 29, 2008 at 4:24 PM EST
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In an apparent policy twist, Prime Minister Stephen Harper says it's up to the Canadian military to decide if and when it will disclose information about the handling of insurgent detainees captured in Afghanistan.

“These are operational matters of the Canadian military,” Mr. Harper said as opposition MPs hammered the government for a second day in Question Period with accusations of excessive secrecy and mismanagement of the Afghan mission.

“If the Canadian military chooses to reveal that information that's their decision, but the government certainly isn't going to reveal it on their behalf,” the Prime Minister told the House of Commons.

NDP Leader Jack Layton rhymed off numbers of detainees handled by British, Dutch and American forces and asked why Canada can't be as open as its allies.
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Gen. Hillier reported ‘furious’ with Harper about Afghan detainee issue
The Cape Breton Post
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TORONTO  (CP) — The Globe and Mail said Tuesday that Canada’s top soldier is ‘furious’ with Prime Minister Stephen Harper for his handling of the Afghan detainee issue.
The Globe says Gen. Rick Hillier angrily phoned Harper on Friday and told him he is “tired of being used” in political controversy.
At issue is the Harper government’s refusal to answer questions about the Canadian military’s new policy on handling prisoners in Afghanistan.
The Prime Minister’s Office said last week it wasn’t told of the change in policy by senior military officers.
The Globe said Hillier was “absolutely” livid about that assertion.
The Globe says sources tell it Canadian Forces are now holding detainees at the Kandahar air base, rather than handing them over to Afghan authorities and are taking fewer prisoners and quickly releasing some of them.
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Dutch don't expect Canada to leave Afghanistan
Published: Tuesday 29 January 2008 18:28 UTC Last updated: Wednesday 30 January 2008 13:42 UTC
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The Hague - Dutch Defence Minister Eimert van Middelkoop says he does not expect Canada to withdraw its troops from Afghanistan in one year.

The minister says that the Canadians have the political will to stay.

On Monday, Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper said that the mission to Afghanistan would not be extended unless other NATO member states deploy more than 1,000 additional soldiers and more material.

Canada has 2,500 troops stationed in the southern province of Kandahar.

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10 militants killed in Pakistan
Mark Tran and agencies Tuesday January 29, 2008 Guardian Unlimited
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At least 10 suspected militants were killed when a missile struck a house in north-west Pakistan, officials said today.
The attack took place after midnight in Torkhali, a village in North Waziristan, a tribal region bordering Afghanistan, near the town of Mir Ali.

An intelligence official said six of the dead were Pakistani militants and four were foreigners. Violence has intensified in north-west Pakistan in recent weeks. Most of the fighting has been in South Waziristan, which also lies along the Afghan border.
The Pakistani government this month launched an offensive against Baitullah Mehsud, a Pakistani Taliban leader based in South Waziristan. He is blamed for the assassination of the opposition leader Benazir Bhutto last month, and for other attacks against Pakistani forces. More than 150 militants and more than 20 soldiers have died in the fighting.
In a separate incident, gunmen took up to 250 schoolchildren hostage in the town of Bannu in North West Frontier province yesterday, but released them unharmed after negotiations with tribal elders.
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Canada takes fewer prisoners in Afghanistan: report
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OTTAWA (AFP) — Canada's military in Afghanistan has been taking fewer prisoners and releasing them quicker after it stopped turning them over to Afghan authorities following torture allegations, The Globe and Mail said Tuesday.

Unidentified sources told The Globe and Mail that Canadian military were holding insurgents captured in Afghanistan at Kandahar Air Force base, "rather than turning them over to the Afghan authorities."

The Canadian military "are taking fewer prisonners and are quickly releasing some of them," the daily added.

Prisoner transfers ended in November after "a credible allegation of mistreatment pertaining to one Canadian-transferred detainee held in an Afghan detention facility," the Justice Ministry wrote to civil right groups last week.
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U.S. aid worker's abduction spurs protest in Afghanistan
About 500 women urged the release of the American, saying she had provided help.
By Noor Khan Associated Press
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KANDAHAR, Afghanistan - About 500 Afghan women gathered in a rare mass protest yesterday against the kidnapping of a U.S. aid worker. The women, many of them veiled, called on officials to find the captive American and urged the kidnappers to release her.
Officials said they had no suspects in the abduction of Cyd Mizell, 49, and her Afghan driver, Abdul Hadi. Gunmen abducted the two Saturday in a residential neighborhood of Kandahar.

The demonstration by so many women in the conservative southern province was a rare public display of their wishes. The 90-minute meeting was filled with prayers and speeches calling on government leaders to act.
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Copper project tests Afghanistan's resources
von Jon Boone (Kabul)
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The war-battered country might not be able to handle a huge but potentially lucrative deal.

The debris left over from previous attempts to extract some of Afghanistan's colossal mineral wealth can be found just 35km south-east of Kabul.

All that remains from Soviet attempts in the 1970s to assess one of the world's biggest copper reserves is exploratory drill holes. But in five years, if all goes to plan, the landscape in the Aynak exploration area will finally be changed into one of the world's largest opencast mines, thanks to a $3bn (Pfund1.5bn) investment by the China Metallurgical Group Corporation (MCC).

In November, the Chinese state-owned company beat eight other leading mining groups, including Phelps Dodge of the US, Hunter Dickinson of Canada and London-based Kazakhmys, to become the government's preferred bidder.

If contract negotiations are successfully concluded, MCC will have access to a reserve that, with copper prices running high, could be worth $42bn, according to one estimate.

By international standards, it is a huge project, involving the second-largest unexploited deposit in the world. By Afghan standards, it is gargantuan.

And therein lies both the potential reward and risk for a war-battered country that desperately needs the money such a deal could bring but which experts say is unprepared for regulating the sort of mega-projects that have caused social, political and economic catastrophes in other developing nations.

Lorenzo Delesgues, executive director of Integrity Watch Afghanistan, an independent research organisation that last month published a report on Aynak, says Afghanistan is not evenly matched with the company. "This is a multi-national company that is far bigger financially than Afghanistan. It's like David and Goliath, only David doesn't have any laws or regulatory framework to help him."
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Afghanistan: informing an important debate
Conference of Defence Associations round-up, Jan. 30
http://www.cdaforumcad.ca/cgi-bin/yabb2/YaBB.pl?num=1201721315/
 

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'Germany Should Not Change its Basic Afghanistan Strategy'
Spiegel Online, Jan, 30 (note that date!)
http://www.spiegel.de/international/germany/0,1518,532035,00.html

A day after NATO formerly requested that Germany send combat troops to Afghanistan and two days after Canada warned it would leave if more help didn't come south, Germans are debating whether sending more troops means more danger...

The German media on Wednesday looked at the implications of the NATO request, which could see Germany further embroiled in Afghanistan.

The center-right Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung writes:

"The defense minister is once again having a hard time explaining the decision, which had been made quite a while ago, to a predominantly critical public. Once again he has to hold out as a rationale the fiction of 'NATO's request,' which one can't turn down. This time even a letter from NATO headquarters was ordered. And that it just happened to arrive on the day that Minister Jung visited Kabul can be no coincidence. This unnecessarily defensive tactic for reinforcing your own troops serves neither the substance nor the debate about the deployment in Afghanistan. The Canadians, who have already lost 83 soldiers in the south, are threatening -- and not without due cause -- that they don't intend to stay there much longer, if soldiers from other members of the coalition don't get involved there."

The center-left Süddeutsche Zeitung writes:

"There's no reason to panic, but there surely is reason to worry. ...The arguments of the critics who are warning of the dangers of the new Afghanistan deployment are justified. The politicians should stop playing them down and allaying them. It is right to not change the German army's basic strategy in Afghanistan and to not go on the offensive against the Taliban. But it is also right that the mission of a 'fire brigade' deployment is differentiated from those of the combat troops working with the regional reconstruction teams, the so called PRTs. 'QRF is not PRT,' said Inspector General Wolfgang Schneiderhan (referring to the Quick Reaction Force), which is exactly the issue."

"The German army is providing the Quick Reaction Force, because no other NATO partner is ready to assume the task. In doing so, Germany is not immune to additional demands by its allies."

The conservative Die Welt writes:

"Germany cannot turn down the request from Brussels, demanding loyalty and solidarity with the allied partner countries -- the US, Canada, the Netherlands, Great Britain -- who are under constant fire in Afghanistan. There is also no doubt of the rightness of the allied mission against a nihilistic opponent, who -- if it ever got the chance to again -- would impose its totalitarian and inhumane world view on Afghan society. But there must be more truthfulness in the discussions concerning Germany's deployment. Won't the NATO partners just increase their demands on Germany, just as they are indirectly doing with Canada now?"

The left-leaning Berliner Zeitung writes about the "trans-Atlantic relationship's test of endurance:"

"Of course, it's easy for the Americans to point the finger at the other allies. But it's also true that it was in no way the case that all Europeans were convinced of the usefulness of the mission to Afghanistan in the first place. (It) is far away. The overthrow of the Taliban is already six years behind us, and yet the allies are preparing themselves to stay there for many more years. The burdens have already been enormous. There's no chance that voters are going to allow further adventures. [emphasis added]"

Mark
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Articles found January 31, 2008

Afghanistan needs Aussie troops till 2023: report
Peter Veness | February 1, 2008 - 5:42AM
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Afghanistan will be struggling to secure its southern regions 15 years from now, with Australian troops still needed to combat terrorism, a leading think-tank says.

The Australian Strategic Policy Institute says Taliban militants and others seeking to disrupt the democratic government in Kabul will still be conducting bombings and irregular insurgencies in southern and eastern provinces in 2023.

"In 15 years time, Afghanistan is likely to be divided geographically," the institute said in a paper published yesterday.

"An optimistic vision sees the government in Kabul with a tangible writ across the north and west.

"Provincial leaders will respond to central directives because Kabul is delivering the benefits of international assistance.

"In the south and east, Pashtun provincial leaders will take part in national governance and several provinces will be passive. However, areas of Kandahar, Helmand and the eastern provinces that border Pakistan will suffer from insurgency."
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$30,000 gift took 'a bit of slugging'
Canadian group buys 5,000 soccer balls for Afghans
Melissa Leong, National Post, With Files From Global National  Published: Thursday, January 31, 2008
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Canadian troops have given 5,000 soccer balls to Afghan children, thanks to a donation of $30,000 from a group of Canadian philanthropists.

Vahan Kololian, a Toronto businessman, co-ordinated the donations and arranged to have the balls delivered to Kandahar from a manufacturer in Pakistan.

"Small gestures go a long way," Mr. Kololian said yesterday. "The message of development and reconstruction in the Afghan mission is not being trumpeted and not being heard both internationally and within Canada.... By handing out soccer balls to the children of Afghanistan, it reinforces that message in a very tangible and on the ground level."

Soldiers presented the balls to the director of sport and the director of education in Kandahar on Tuesday. They will be distributed to schools and various soccer leagues
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MacKay raised prisoner abuse claims
TheStar.com - January 30, 2008 THE CANADIAN PRESS
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OTTAWA–Defence Minister Peter MacKay expressed Canada's outrage and dismay directly to Kandahar's governor within hours of diplomats discovering a clear case of prisoner abuse last fall.

The revelation raises fresh questions about why the public was kept in the dark about the suspension of Afghan detainee transfers for almost three months.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper alluded to the conversation between MacKay and the governor while facing a third straight day of opposition attacks in the House of Commons about the secret suspension of transfers.

"The minister of defence tells me he has met recently with the governor and has discussed these issues," the prime minister said answering a question from NDP Leader Jack Layton.

MacKay was in Kandahar on Nov. 6 visiting troops when the Canadian army decided to halt the handover of captured Taliban fighters to Afghan authorities.

The fact that the government kept the decision secret has infuriated opposition MPs.
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