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The Sandbox and Areas Reports Thread June 2008

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Afghanistan sacks police chief over jail break
Reuters Published: Thursday, June 26, 2008
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KANDAHAR, Afghanistan - The Afghan government sacked the police chief of Kandahar on Thursday for negligence after some 400 Taliban prisoners and 700 criminals escaped this month in one of the biggest jail breaks in history.

The Taliban scored an important tactical and propaganda win when a suicide bomber in a fuel truck smashed into the gates of Kandahar prison on June 13 and militants stormed the building, setting their comrades free.

The prison break was a major embarrassment for the Afghan government as it showed Taliban insurgents were able to mount a large operation in the heart of the country's second city. Afghan authorities ordered an immediate investigation.

"The investigation shows some officials neglected their duties, therefore the government of Afghanistan has decided to sack General Sayed Aqa Saqeb, the provincial police chief of Kandahar," the Interior Ministry said in a statement.

The head of the intelligence agency and the head of police criminal investigations were also removed from their posts and the cases of all three were forwarded to the attorney general's office for further investigation, the ministry said.

Several other officials will also lose their jobs.

"The government of Afghanistan will never allow anyone to play with the security of the Afghan people," the ministry said.

Three days after the jailbreak, more than 200 Taliban insurgents seized some seven villages close to Kandahar, forcing the Afghan army to fly in hundreds of reinforcements and mount a major operation to drive them out.

Afghan security forces backed by around 64,000 foreign troops (?? my emphasis)are struggling to contain the Taliban insurgency centered in the mainly ethnic Pashtun south and east of the country.

While the Taliban are routinely routed in any direct fight with Afghan and international forces, the insurgent campaign of hit-and-run attacks, backed by suicide and roadside bombs is aimed at wearing down Afghan support for the Kabul government and forcing Western public opinion to demand troops be brought home.
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Articles found June 27, 2008

Militant Attack in Afghanistan Kills 3 Foreign Soldiers, 1 Afghan
By VOA News 26 June 2008
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A militant attack in Afghanistan has killed three soldiers from the U.S.-led coalition and their Afghan interpreter.

The coalition says the four died in a powerful blast in Wardak province Thursday.

June has been an especially deadly month for soldiers battling Taliban militants. At least seven foreign forces and two Afghan soldiers were killed in the past four days alone.

The coalition says several Taliban insurgents were killed Thursday in the southern provinces of Kandahar and Zabul. Twenty-two others were killed Wednesday in Paktika province

U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates says a 40 percent rise in attacks by insurgents in eastern Afghanistan this year is a matter of real concern. He says one reason for the increase is that more fighters have been able to cross the border without facing sufficient pressure from Pakistani troops.
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Congress Approves $162 Billion for Iraq, Afghanistan Wars
By Nicholas Johnston and Catherine Dodge June 27 (Bloomberg)
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-- Congress gave final approval to legislation providing $162 billion for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan along with funding for veterans and unemployment benefits sought by Democrats.

The Senate voted 92-6 last night to approve the spending bill, which was passed by the House of Representatives last week. It next goes to President George W. Bush who has said he will sign it.

The legislation allocates money for the wars until mid- 2009, when Bush's successor will be in office, and ends the 18- month legislative battle in which Bush resisted Democratic efforts to tie war funding to demands for troop withdrawals.

``Congress has given the president everything he's asked for'' on the war, said Mackenzie Eaglen, senior policy analyst for national security at the Heritage Foundation in Washington, a policy group with close ties to the Republican Party.
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Taliban closes in on Peshawar
Maya Mirchandani Thursday, June 26, 2008 (Peshawar)
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Peshawar isn't under siege yet but it is within striking distance of the Taliban. They have extended their civil war to the outskirts of the Northwest Frontier Province's capital city.

Peshawar is along a key supply route for NATO forces in Afghanistan. It's also a major base for the Pakistan Army that has been fighting Taliban forces in the Pak-Afghan border areas.

The Taliban has reached the Jemrud Road - which runs on the outskirts of Peshawar- it is a major artery that connects to the Khyber Pass.

Last week, Taliban militants entered Peshawar and kidnapped 16 members of a local Christian community but they were later released.

There are reports that another 22 people have been killed and five girls' schools were burned down in Swat.

Reports say that the militants call themselves the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan - lead by Baitullah Mehsud, the man believed to be behind many major suicide blasts in Pakistan last year and also Benazir Bhutto's assassination.

His group has established a parallel government in parts of the NWFP.

After years of a military campaign, the new democratic government in Pakistan signed a peace deal with militant leaders. They claim it has brought peace to the areas but as the Taliban closes in, it is clear that this is a fragile peace that's already falling apart.
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Afghanistan Fires Police Chief for Kandahar Prison Break
By VOA News 26 June 2008
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US soldiers in armored vehicles patrol in Arghandab district of Kandahar province, 26 Jun 2008
Afghanistan says it has fired the police chief of the southern province of Kandahar for negligence related to a massive jailbreak earlier this month.

The Interior Ministry said Thursday the deputy police chief and the criminal investigation director also were fired for the incident.

The cases have been sent to the provincial attorney general's office for further investigation. Several other officials are expected to lose their jobs.

More than 1,000 prisoners, including about 400 Taliban militants, escaped Kandahar's main prison after a suicide bomber blew open the gates.
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Cadets Chat With Troops In Afghanistan - VIDEO
Posted By Gord Young Posted 16 hours ago
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22 Wing/Canadian Forces Base North Bay hosted a video teleconference Thursday with Cpt. Gareth Carter and Master Cpl. Stacy Melrose, who are currently posted in Afghanistan. Local cadets, members of 22 Wing and family members participated in the interactive event.
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June 26th, 2008
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One hour after two rockets landed somewhere in KAF Kandahar; after an hour in the relative comfort of the two-foot thick concrete walls of a bunker the “All Clear” siren wailed, and a group of Canadian performers returned to the stage to fire back its reply.

The group of singers and musicians ranging from Country artists (Diane Chase, Duane Steele and Ginette Genereux) to Cape Breton fiddlers (Troy Macgillivray and Kimberley Frazier), Comedians (Pete Zedlacher and Kenny Shaw), one Canadian Blues legend (Matt Minglewood) and one Rock Band (SUCKERFACTORY) were on a tour of war-torn Afghanistan to help bolster the morale of NATO troops stationed there. T.Z. Wade of the rock band, “SUCKERFACTORY” has now performed on five such Show Tours. “I was part of a tour in ‘05 that visited Kabul, and I was amazed to see that although there are aspects of Afghanistan that feel like a lot of progress has been made, there were ways in which it seemed more dangerous.” Certainly most would consider a Rocket attack during one’s performance something beyond dangerous - the 401 is “dangerous” but, “It didn’t really hit home that it had been risky until we were on our way back home. Due to security issues no one is allowed any information about where the rounds actually land, however on the Airbus ride home there were whispers that it was in fact a very good shot, although again due to security we can’t say where they hit.”
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Ex-Taliban fighter tells of training, cash, orders from Pakistani military
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KANDAHAR, Afghanistan — A former Taliban fighter has provided a gripping first-hand account of being secretly trained by members of the Pakistani military, paid $500 a month and ordered to kill foreigners in Afghanistan.

Mullah Mohammed Zaher offered a vivid description of a bomb-making apprenticeship at a Pakistani army compound where he says he learned to blow up NATO convoys.

He's one of three former Taliban fighters introduced to The Canadian Press by an Afghan government agency that works at getting rebels to renounce the insurgency.

Zaher insists he was neither forced to go public with his story nor coached by Afghan officials, whose routine response to terrorism on their soil is to blame neighbouring Pakistan.

Pakistan officially sides with the West against the insurgents and vigorously denies mounting accusations that it is a two-faced participant in the war on terror.

A report produced for the Pentagon and released this month by the Rand Corp., a U.S. think-tank, claims individuals in the Pakistani government are involved in helping the insurgents.

An illiterate, career warrior, Zaher has not seen the 177-page report. But he made a series of claims in a 90-minute interview that supported its broad conclusions - and offered a deluge of new details.
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Great progress made in Afghanistan: colonel
Ryan Cormier, edmontonjournal.com Published: Thursday, June 26
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EDMONTON - Canadians are too accustomed to outdated definitions of military success to see progress in Afghanistan, says the soldier who next year will take over command of our troops in that country.

"There has been tremendous progress, it's just whether or not they're seeing it," Col. Jon Vance said today.

"Canadians, I believe, are still accustomed to the World War Two-style of success. Lines on a map, going from here to there. Those kind of successes don't exist in our new way of war.

"I wish they did, it would be easier, more linear and probably more understandable."

Vance was to sign over command of 1 Canadian Mechanized Brigade Group tonight. The Edmonton-based soldier will be promoted sometime this year before he takes leadership of Joint Task Force Afghanistan in February 2009 from Brig.-Gen. Dennis Thompson.

Vance pointed to the rejuvenation of the southern city of Bazaer-E-Panjwaii as an overlooked success. "Those are big successes in a counter-insurgency, but they don't resonate with Canadians."
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Canadian military silent on Afghan civilian deaths: UN investigator
Last Updated: Thursday, June 26, 2008 | 11:27 PM ET CBC News
The Canadian military is being criticized by a UN investigator for a lack of accountability for civilian deaths in Afghanistan, where more than 200 civilians have been killed by international military forces this year, a recent report suggests.

The United Nation's special rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, Philip Alston, told CBC News that senior Canadian officers, among those from other NATO countries operating in Afghanistan, have refused to provide him with information about civilian casualties when asked.

"They said, 'We don't have the information; we can't give it to you. We promise you that we look at individual cases and we do it really very conscientiously.' Good, so give me the results. 'Well we don't have them,'" Alston said.

In May, Alston estimated more than 200 civilians had been killed by foreign forces during the first four months of the year, often in joint operations with Afghan security forces. He said secrecy and a dearth of public information regarding the casualties was jeopardizing support for the mission.
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Articles found June 29, 2008

Canada backing tough new top cop in troubled Afghan district
Doug Schmidt, Canwest News Service Published: Saturday, June 28, 2008
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DAND DISTRICT, Afghanistan -- There's a tough new sheriff in Dand district, a dusty scattering of mud-walled villages at Kandahar City's doorstep where visitors are told the bad guys roam freely.

Like other lawless areas in Afghanistan's turbulent south, it's the kind of place where even the cops can be crooked. Asked about the state of policing in his adopted neighbourhood, district police chief Fida Mohammed motions up the road toward a checkpoint of armed men in Afghan National Police uniforms next to machine-gun mounted pickups with ANP markings and he shrugs.

"They are criminals," the newly appointed Mohammed says angrily.
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In Courts, Afghanistan Air Base May Become Next Guantanamo
By Del Quentin Wilber Washington Post Staff Writer Sunday, June 29, 2008; Page A14
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Jawed Ahmad, a driver and assistant for reporters of a Canadian television network in Afghanistan, knew the roads to avoid, how to get interviews and which stories to pitch. Reporters trusted him, his bosses say.

Then, one day about seven months ago, the 22-year-old CTV News contractor vanished. Weeks later, reporters would learn from Ahmad's family that he had been arrested by U.S. troops, locked up in the U.S. military prison at Bagram air base and accused of being an enemy combatant.

Lawyers representing Ahmad filed a federal lawsuit early this month challenging his detention on grounds similar to those cited in successful lawsuits on behalf of captives at the U.S. military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. The lawyers are hoping to turn Ahmad's case and a handful of others into the next legal battleground over the rights of terrorism suspects apprehended on foreign soil. More lawsuits are expected on behalf of Bagram detainees in coming months, the lawyers said.
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No Afghan peace while Taliban have sanctuary - NATO
Sun Jun 29, 2008 6:56am EDT By Hamid Shalizi
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KABUL, June 29 (Reuters) - Afghanistan will not be secure as long as insurgents are allowed to operate freely in sanctuaries on the Pakistan side of the border, a NATO spokesman said on Sunday.

With international forces in Afghanistan struggling against what the U.S. Pentagon describes as a "resilient insurgency", Pakistan is coming under increasing pressure to stop militants operating out of remote enclaves in ethnic Pashtun border lands.

"We know that as long as the insurgents operate safely on the Pakistan side of the border, then there can not be security in Afghanistan," NATO spokesman Mark Laity told a regular news conference in Kabul.

Pakistani forces launched an offensive in the Khyber region on Saturday to clear militants from the approaches to the city of Peshawar.

But the militants being attacked are from a faction that does not have a reputation for crossing into Afghanistan to fight Western troops backing the government of President Hamid Karzai.
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Pakistani forces take control of area in Khyber
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PESHAWAR, Pakistan (AP) — Paramilitary troops returned Sunday to posts they had been forced to abandon and Pakistani forces widened their offensive against militants operating in a volatile tribal area along the Afghan border, an official said.

The government launched the operation Saturday because the militants in the Khyber region presented an "immediate problem," Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani said. The militants began threatening the nearby city of Peshawar and ambushing supply convoys bound for U.S.-led coalition troops in Afghanistan.

The military operation appears to be a shift in strategy by Pakistan's new government, backing its calls for peace deals in the tribal areas with the threat of forceful action against militants who get out of line.

The United States has criticized the move for peace deals, saying it gives militants the freedom to regroup for attacks on U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan.

Speaking to reporters in Lahore, Gilani defended the peace deals, but warned that authorities will resort to force "if (the groups) backtrack from their agreements and damage state property."

Troops from the paramilitary Frontier Corps, backed by tanks and armored personnel carriers, quickly cleared militants out of the Bara region, said Muhammad Siddiq Khan, a local official.
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British soldier dies in Afghanistan when vehicle overturns
The Associated PressPublished: June 29, 2008
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LONDON: Officials say a British soldier has been killed in Afghanistan when his vehicle overturned.

Britain's Defense Ministry says the soldier was on patrol in Helmand Province when the incident occurred.

Sunday's announcement comes after another soldier was killed in Lashkar Gar when his patrol vehicle hit a land mine. Since British troops entered Afghanistan in 2001, 110 of the country's soldiers have died.

June has been a deadly month for British troops with 13 soldiers killed.
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Germany takes over Quick Reaction Force in Afghanistan - Feature
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New Delhi/Kabul - When the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) deployed in Afghanistan in early 2002, some 850 German troops were in its ranks. That number has increased more than fourfold. Confined at first to Kabul, the Germans' mission was widened to the northern part of the country, where they took command in 2006. Last year Germany sent Tornado jets to the NATO-led ISAF. A few days ago the German Defence Ministry announced it was raising the ceiling on its troop deployments in Afghanistan from 3,500 to 4,500. And the next escalation is due on Monday as Germany takes over the Quick Reaction Force in the north.

Not only Germany's involvement in Afghanistan has expanded greatly, but also that of the ISAF as a whole. With just 5,000 personnel in the beginning, the ISAF today comprises more than 52,000 men and women from 40 countries. Another 13,000 troops in Afghanistan belong to the US-led coalition.

The ISAF, whose initial United Nations mandate called for securing the capital Kabul and surrounding areas, has been deployed countrywide since October 2006. Though its role was once peacekeeping, the ISAF has become a combat force, suffering many dead and wounded. But victory in Afghanistan remains elusive despite the steady increase in commitment, both military and civilian, by the international community.

It is true when NATO officials say that the Taliban, having taken heavy casualties, largely try to avoid fighting head-on the superior forces arrayed against them. This does not mean that the country has become more secure, however; quite the contrary. There were some 160 suicide bombings last year, compared with just two in 2003, the first year of suicide attacks following the overthrow of the Taliban regime.
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Top soldier says progress being made
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Canada's next top soldier says progress is being made in Afghanistan but it's being overshadowed by death and tragedy.

Public perception and reality are different animals in the war-ravaged country occupied by about 2,500 Canadian soldiers, Col. Jon Vance said Thursday.

"The Canadian public deserves to see progress," Vance said. "And there has been. There's been tremendous progress."

Since Canada's military entered Afghanistan in 2002, about 10,000 soldiers have rotated through Kandahar. More than 80 have been killed.

"There are lots of people who find it convenient to use a dead soldier as a launching pad to question lots of things," Vance said.

He described the so-called repatriation ceremony -when the body of the dead soldier is taken off the plane upon its return to Canada -- as an "iconic image" in the eyes of Canadians.

"We don't have the same iconic image for Canadians to see a success."

Yet Vance said it's obvious soldiers are making a difference to those who stroll into vibrant Afghan communities once frozen by intimidation and fear.

He said progress will continue in the form of
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Articles found June 30, 2008

Chance to kill, vengeance, money: why Taliban fighters took up arms
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KANDAHAR, Afghanistan — For some Taliban fighters, killing foreign soldiers was nothing more than a steady job that offered cold, hard cash.

For Mullah Janan, it was all about hot-blooded revenge.

The bushy-bearded farmer with the towering turban and vacant stare was among three former Afghan insurgents who spoke with The Canadian Press about why they took up arms against foreigners.

Janan says he has always supported the Taliban politically, with its stern interpretation of Islam and iron-fisted grip on security.

He grew up in Oruzgan province just north of Kandahar, not far from the village where Taliban founder Mullah Omar was born.

He blames a NATO bombing of his village for destroying his life - and for compelling him to fight.

"I lost my wife and children," Janan says, speaking softly and staring blankly across the room.

"Even before this operation, I supported the Taliban. But this was the key point that made me a more committed Talib, and made me declare war against these people."

Janan remained a lowly foot soldier.

He says he never dabbled in explosives, military strategy or anything more sophisticated than firing an AK-47 assault rifle at foreign troops.

He replies coyly when asked whether he killed anyone. But he offers a dismissive shrug when asked whether killing foreigners would have been wrong.
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Slashing the Taliban's cash crop
Martin Chulov | June 30, 2008
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SOON before Mick Keelty arrived in Afghanistan last week, a violent jailbreak underlined the tough challenge the Australian Federal Police chief's men face on terror's front line. Late last year, a small group of AFP officers quietly slipped into Afghanistan to launch a mission even more ambitious than the Australian Defence Force's efforts to defeat al-Qa'ida. They were put in charge of an international bid to sharply restrict the Taliban's income by eliminating the cultivation and export of opium, the main source of the terror group's wealth.
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Pakistani operation against militants raises questions
By Laura King, Los Angeles Times Staff Writer June 30, 2008
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Officials deem the action near Peshawar a success. But residents say the militants, who got plenty of warning, just melted away and will return when it suits them.

PESHAWAR, PAKISTAN -- When government troops pushed their way into a local warlord's stronghold just outside one of Pakistan's major cities over the weekend, what they found followed a familiar pattern.

With plenty of warning from officials that troops were coming, Islamic insurgents in the mountainous Bara district outside Peshawar, the provincial capital, had simply melted away, disappearing into a remote valley to the north.

Pakistani authorities declared Sunday that the district had been restored to their control. But residents said they expected the militants to return whenever it suited them.

What's more, almost no one in Bara's dusty and deprived main town had anything bad to say about the vanished warlord, Mangal Bagh, an illiterate bus driver-turned-cleric. Bagh maintained law and order, people said, and the shadow government he set up in recent months was more effective than the state-sanctioned one.
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Attacks secure Nato supply route
June 30, 2008
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Islamabad Pakistani security forces secured control over Nato’s main supply route into Afghanistan yesterday and drove back Islamic militants threatening Peshawar, the capital of volatile North West Frontier Province (Zahid Hussain writes).

The government offensive in the Khyber region destroyed several militant hideouts, killing a senior militant commander in Bara district. Pakistani forces also occupied militant posts on the surrounding hills and imposed a curfew in the area. “It has been a successful operation. The writ of the Government has been established,” Rehman Malik, a senior Interior Ministry official, said.

More than a thousand army and paramilitary troops, backed by tanks and helicopter gunships, launched the offensive in the Bara district on Saturday.
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US opposes refugee repatriation
By Anwar Iqbal
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WASHINGTON, June 29: The United States has urged Pakistan not to repatriate Afghan refugees as it would have a destabilising effect on the Afghan government.

The Pentagon’s first assessment of the Afghan situation since the US invasion of 2001 deals with the refugees’ issue from the Afghan perspective, completely ignoring Pakistan’s concern that the Taliban militants use the camps to hide and recuperate.

The Pentagon also ignores the US government and media reports saying that areas near Pakistan’s border with Kandahar, which has a high concentration of Afghan refugees, has become a major hideout of Afghan militants.

Instead, the report depicts Pakistan’s demand for the repatriation of these refugees as “a major regional issue” which creates tension between Pakistan and Afghanistan.

The report notes that Pakistan has placed three major camps —Jalozai, Girdi Jungle and Jungle Pir Alizai — on its closure list every year since 2006 but has not closed them. The estimated combined population of these camps ranges from 130,000 to 145,000 and they are in an area which, according to US media and official reports, is a major staging ground for cross-border attacks in and around Kandahar.

It is the same area where Afghan President Hamid Karzai says Mullah Omar and other key Taliban leaders are hiding. US media reports support Mr Karzai’s claim.
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Spud farmer returns to roots to help Afghans
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BOISE, Idaho (AP) — To help poor Afghani villagers make money on potatoes instead of opium poppies, Idaho farmer Pat Rowe used a little old technology: root cellars.

The 68-year-old Rowe, whose family raises tubers and wheat on 2,000 acres near American Falls, went to the Central Asian country with a root cellar design common across his home state's famous potato country in the 1930s and 1940s.

As part of his work in Bamiyan, located about 100 miles west of Kabul, Rowe said it was important that his potato sheds not be too sophisticated. They had to be built with materials readily available in the impoverished valley between the Hindu Kush and the Koh-i-Baba mountains with only dirt roads, a gravel runway, scant trees and almost no electricity.

Before leaving, he took notes from neighbors on Idaho's Snake River plain who had an old root cellar on their property.

"You look at what people are using and see what they are doing," Rowe said Monday, of his trip. "You don't want to be a crazy foreigner with all these ideas. You've got to be practical with the application."
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