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News of Afghanistan


18.02.2008 03:35

Afghanistan News Centre:

By ALLAUDDIN KHAN, Associated Press Writer
KANDAHAR, Afghanistan - A suicide bombing at an outdoor dog fighting competition killed 80 people and wounded scores more Sunday, a governor said, in what appeared to be the deadliest terror attack in Afghanistan since

Gitmo interrogator describes tactics
By ANDREW O. SELSKY, Associated Press Writer Sat Feb 16, 3:51 PM ET
GUANTANAMO BAY NAVAL BASE, Cuba - Interrogators got intelligence from detainees that helped U.S. troops in Afghanistan attack Taliban fighters last summer — and they did it through casual questioning

Afghan soldier, several militants killed in clash in eastern Afghanistan
AP - Sunday, February 17
KABUL, Afghanistan - Militants ambushed an Afghan army convoy in eastern Afghanistan, and several militants and a soldier were killed in the ensuing battle, the Defense Ministry said Sunday.

Durand line de facto border, says US
Dawn (Pakistan) February 16, 2008 issue
WASHINGTON, Feb 15: The United States believes that both Afghanistan and Pakistan recognise the Durand line as their de facto border but has not tried to settle the dispute between its two key allies, says a senior US official.

Afghanistan' s future will be decided outside Canada
Barbara Yaffe The Vancouver Sun Sunday, February 17, 2008
It would make no sense for a Canadian election to be called on whether this country's troops should remain in Kandahar. Other issues that could provoke a trip to the polls are the federal budget and a Conservative crime bill

Severe Flooding Expected During Afghan Spring Thaw
By Lisa Schlein 17 February 2008 Voice of America
United Nations aid agencies warn the onset of spring in Afghanistan is expected to bring severe flooding in many parts of the country. They say they are gearing up to help tens of thousands of Afghans survive the worst of the spring thaw.

Norwegian explosives experts to Afghanistan
Norwegian explosives experts will shortly be sent to Afghanistan to assist ISAF and Norwegian special forces who will soon be deployed in Kabul.
17.02.2008 08:30 Norway Post, Norway
It is expected that Taliban will increase their use of road bombs when they start their predicted spring offensive.

Afghan deputy provincial governor dies in road accident
www.chinaview. cn 2008-02-17 16:31:59
KABUL, Feb. 17 (Xinhua) -- Deputy governor of Afghanistan' s northern Baghlan province was killed in a road accident Sunday morning, a press release of Interior Ministry said.

Troops will fight Taliban without vital Chinooks
Telegraph.co. uk By Sean Rayment, Defence Correspondant 17/02/2008
British troops serving in southern Afghanistan have been warned that no extra Chinook helicopters will be made available for at least 12 months, The Sunday Telegraph has learnt.

Germans plead Second World War hangover
Telegraph.co. uk, United Kingdom By Gethin Chamberlain, Foreign Correspondent 16/02/2008
Germany's role in the Second World War has made it difficult to win public support for military action in Afghanistan, the German ambassador to Britain has admitted.

Afghan journalist jailed for translating Koran
By Nelofer Pazira The Independent (UK) Friday, 15 February 2008
Afghanistan in the 1980s was a police state and a generation of intellectuals and educated or influential people was already decaying inside the notorious Puli Charkhi prison.

In Defense of Hamid Karzai
Sunday, February 17, 2008; Page B06 The Washington Post
Ann Marlowe's unpleasant attack on Afghan President Hamid Karzai ["Two Myths About Afghanistan," op-ed, Feb. 11] painted him as a last-minute convert to the anti-Taliban cause, in 2001. In reality, he was an active opponent

Partners freeze sperm of troops on active duty
Guardian Unlimited, UK Mark Townsend The Observer Sunday February 17 2008
Growing numbers of wives of British soldiers are requesting to have their husbands' sperm frozen before they are deployed to Afghanistan and Iraq so they can still have children if their loved ones are killed in action.

Suicide bomber kills 80 in Afghanistan
By ALLAUDDIN KHAN, Associated Press Writer
KANDAHAR, Afghanistan - A suicide bombing at an outdoor dog fighting competition killed 80 people and wounded scores more Sunday, a governor said, in what appeared to be the deadliest terror attack in Afghanistan since the fall of the Taliban in 2001.

Officials said the attack apparently targeted a prominent militia commander who had stood up against the Taliban. He died in the attack.

Several hundred people — including Afghan militia leaders — had gathered to watch the event on the western edge of the southern city of Kandahar. Witnesses reported gunfire from bodyguards after the blast; it was not immediately clear if the bullets killed anyone.

Kandahar Gov. Asadullah Khalid said 80 people died in the attack. Abdullah Fahim, a Health Ministry spokesman, said 70 were wounded.

Khalid blamed the bombing on the "enemy of Afghanistan" — an apparent reference to the Taliban. A Taliban spokesman said he didn't immediately know if the militants were responsible. The Taliban often claim responsibility immediately after major attacks against police and army forces — often naming the bombers — but shy away from claiming attacks with high civilian casualties.

Kandahar — the Taliban's former stronghold and Afghanistan' s second largest city — is one of the country's largest opium poppy producing areas. The province has been the scene of fierce battles between NATO forces, primarily from Canada and the United States, and Taliban fighters over the last two years.

Dog fighting competitions are a popular form of entertainment around Afghanistan. The fights can attract hundreds of spectators who cram into a tight circle around the spectacle. The sport was banned during the Taliban rule.

The blast crumpled several Afghan police trucks and left bloodstains around the barren dirt field. Afghan soldiers donated blood at Kandahar's main hospital after the attack, said Dr. Durani, who goes by only one name.

"There are too many patients here," he said. "Some of them are in very serious condition."

Wali Karzai, brother of President Hamid Karzai and the president of Kandahar's provincial council, said the target of the attack was Abdul Hakim Jan, the leader of a local militia whom Karzai said was killed in the attack.

Jan was the provincial police chief in Kandahar in the early 1990s and was the only commander in the province to stand up against the Taliban during its rule, said Khalid Pashtun, a parliamentarian who represents Kandahar.

"Hakim Jan is one of the important, prominent jihadi commanders in Kandahar," Pashtun said. "There were so many people gathered and of course the Taliban and al-Qaida usually target this kind of important people."

Jan was most recently appointed the commander of an auxiliary police force — often shorthand for a local militia operating with government approval — to protect the Arghandab, a strategic area north of Kandahar. The area was overrun briefly by the Taliban late last year after the local leader, Mullah Naqibullah, died of heart attack.

A joint Afghan, NATO and U.S. force pushed the militants out of Arghandab. Shortly after, NATO's top commander in Afghanistan, U.S. Gen. Dan McNeill, visited Arghandab to reassure local leaders of the alliance's commitment to help President Hamid Karzai's government keep the area under their control.

Suicide attacks have been on the rise in Afghanistan, but rarely have they killed so many people. Militants carried out more than 140 suicide attacks in 2007, a record number.

Faizullah Qari Gar, a resident of Kandahar who was at the dog fight, said militant commanders' bodyguards opened fire on the crowd after the bombing.

"In my mind there were no Taliban to attack after the blast but the bodyguards were shooting anyway," he said.

The previous deadliest bomb attack came in November in the northern city of Baghlan, when a suicide bombing and subsequent gunfire from bodyguards killed about 70 people including six parliamentarians and 58 students and teachers. Investigators never determined how many of the deaths were caused by the blast and how many by the gunfire.
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Gitmo interrogator describes tactics
By ANDREW O. SELSKY, Associated Press Writer Sat Feb 16, 3:51 PM ET
GUANTANAMO BAY NAVAL BASE, Cuba - Interrogators got intelligence from detainees that helped U.S. troops in Afghanistan attack Taliban fighters last summer — and they did it through casual questioning and not torture, the military's chief interrogator here said.

In a rare interview with The Associated Press, veteran interrogator Paul Rester complained that his profession has gotten a bad reputation due to accounts of waterboarding and other rough interrogation tactics used by the CIA at "black sites."

Lawyers for Guantanamo detainees, however, allege their clients have been subjected to temperature extremes, sleep deprivation and threats at this U.S. military base in southeast Cuba.

Wearing a blue-striped business shirt without a tie and looking more like a harried executive than a top interrogator, Rester groused that his line of work is "a business that is fundamentally thankless."

He sat hunched over a table in a snack room inside the building where the top commanders keep their offices. In an attempt to keep personnel from blabbing about intelligence- gathering, a poster showed a picture of a hooded gunman and the words: "Keep talking. We're listening" — today's version of the World War II-era admonishment that "Loose lips sink ships."

"Everybody in the world believes that they know how we do what we do, and I have to endure it every time I turn around and somebody is making reference to waterboarding," Rester said. He insisted that Guantanamo interrogators have had many successes using rapport-building and said that technique was the norm here.

For security reasons, he would only discuss one of the successes, and that was only because his boss, Rear Adm. Mark Buzby, already had described it in a speech last month. Buzby said several detainees, using poster board paper and crayons, drew detailed maps of the Tora Bora area in eastern Afghanistan that enabled coalition forces to wipe out safe houses, trenches and supplies last summer as Taliban forces were returning to the stronghold they had abandoned more than five years ago.

Buzby, in a separate interview with the AP, said a U.S. commander in Afghanistan had requested the information on a Friday and it was obtained and sent to Afghanistan by the end of the weekend.

Rester indicated the interrogators casually asked the detainees about their knowledge of Tora Bora, not letting on that it was tactically important for a pending military strike.

"And it may in fact, since it was five years old, have seemed totally innocuous to the persons we were talking to," Rester said.

Buzby, the top commander of detention operations at Guantanamo, said the intelligence "had a very positive effect ... for us and a very negative effect on the enemy operating in that area." He declined to be more specific.

In the interview, Rester said only two detainees were given rougher treatment in Guantanamo, and that was during the earlier days: Mohammed al-Qahtani, the alleged 20th hijacker who was turned away from the United States by immigration officials just before the Sept. 11 attacks, and an unidentified man Rester said recruited lead hijacker Mohamed Atta.

"Most of the stories (of detainee abuse) that have propagated all stem from those two," said Rester, who began his career in the Vietnam War. "The constant attention on that takes away from the fact that the productive, consistent direct approach ... has enabled us to possess the vast body of knowledge that we actually have."

Al-Qahtani told a military panel at Guantanamo that he was beaten, restrained for long periods in uncomfortable positions, threatened with dogs, exposed to loud music and freezing temperatures and stripped nude in front of female personnel at Guantanamo. He said he admitted meeting Osama bin Laden and agreeing to participate in a "martyr mission" for al-Qaida only because he was tortured, and told the panel that he was innocent.

A 2005 military investigation concluded that al-Qahtani had been subjected to harsh treatment approved by then-Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld because he would not crack under interrogation. He is one of six Guantanamo detainees who were charged Monday in connection with the Sept. 11 attacks. The Pentagon said it was seeking the death penalty for all six.

Under the Military Commissions Act, statements obtained through torture are not admissible. But some statements obtained through "coercion" may be admitted at the discretion of a military judge.

Joshua Colangelo-Bryan, a lawyer who represents several detainees, scoffed at Rester's contention that rough treatment at Guantanamo was restricted to just two men.

"There are so many accounts by FBI agents ... and others who personally saw non-rapport- building techniques that Rester's statement is just not credible," he said.

The 2005 military investigation stemmed from FBI agents' allegations that detainees were being mistreated, and determined that interrogators used unauthorized techniques when two detainees were short-shackled to an eyebolt on a floor, when duct tape was used to "quiet" a detainee and when interrogators threatened the family of a detainee.

"It distracts from the efforts of every other individual who has been in contact with (military) intelligence," Rester said. "Nothing is a substitute for really knowing the subject matter, having the knowledge of the language and culture and being able to sit down with someone and speak as grown-ups."
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Afghan soldier, several militants killed in clash in eastern Afghanistan
AP - Sunday, February 17
KABUL, Afghanistan - Militants ambushed an Afghan army convoy in eastern Afghanistan, and several militants and a soldier were killed in the ensuing battle, the Defense Ministry said Sunday.

The clash happened Saturday while the soldiers were on patrol in a mountainous area near a military camp in Kunar province's Kandagal area, a statement from the ministry said.

A number of militants were also wounded during the clash, the statement said.
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Durand line de facto border, says US
Dawn (Pakistan) February 16, 2008 issue
WASHINGTON, Feb 15: The United States believes that both Afghanistan and Pakistan recognise the Durand line as their de facto border but has not tried to settle the dispute between its two key allies, says a senior US official.

Assistant Secretary of State Richard Boucher made these comments at a congressional hearing when asked to comment on a recent report which urged the US administration to help resolve the border dispute between Pakistan and Afghanistan.

The report by the Afghanistan Study Group, discussed at the Senate Armed Services Committee on Thursday, urges the United States to reduce antagonism between Pakistan and Afghanistan by persuading Afghanistan to accept the Durand Line as the official border. The report also advises Washington to persuade Islamabad to remove restrictions on transit trade between India and Afghanistan.

“Frankly, we haven’t taken on the issue of the Durand Line, a problem that goes back to 1893, to the colonial period,” Mr Boucher, the US State Department’s pointsman for South Asia, told the Senate panel.

“I think both sides do operate with that as the border; they shoot across it to protect it. They operate border posts on it, and our goal has been to try to reduce those tensions and get them to work in a cooperative manner across that line.”

Mr Boucher said the United States also keeps urging Pakistan to remove restrictions on Afghanistan’s transit trade with India.

“It is an issue that we have taken up, and we continue to take it up because, frankly, we think it’s in Pakistan’s overall economic interest to capture that transit trade and have it go through Pakistan, and not have it go through Iran,” he said.

“The Pakistani government keeps telling us it’s really a matter that’s determined by their bilateral relationship with India, and not even by their sort of broader global interests.”

Despite Pakistan’s reluctance, Mr Boucher said, the United States continues to push for the removal of these restrictions “because we think it would be not only helpful to us and our allies and others who operate in Pakistan, but it would be helpful to Pakistan itself”.

The Afghanistan Study Group has also recommended that America should open direct negotiations with Iran to seek its cooperation for defusing tensions in Afghanistan.

On the group’s recommendations for improving relations between Pakistan and Afghanistan, Mr Boucher said that due to US efforts the relations between the two countries have greatly improved since March when they were shooting at each other across the border.
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Afghanistan' s future will be decided outside Canada
Barbara Yaffe The Vancouver Sun Sunday, February 17, 2008
It would make no sense for a Canadian election to be called on whether this country's troops should remain in Kandahar. Other issues that could provoke a trip to the polls are the federal budget and a Conservative crime bill. Neither of these justify an election, either. If a vote is triggered in the next short while, you can bet the real inspiration will be political -- Liberals wanting to oust Conservatives and Conservatives yearning for a majority.

A federal election -- cost: $350 million -- would be futile, leading in all probability to yet another minority Parliament. Polls of late have not been encouraging for the two main contenders. Nonetheless, the Harper government has labelled a coming Commons vote on the Afghanistan deployment a confidence measure.

This reflects nothing more than posturing and preening. Both Stephen Harper and Stéphane Dion agree that Canada continues to have a role to play in the war-ravaged nation beyond February 2009, to 2011.

Conservatives believe that role is combat-oriented in Kandahar, where the Taliban are most active. Liberals believe the troops should focus, starting next February, on reconstruction and training work.

That said, the Liberals, sensibly, "have not ruled out the possibility of finding common ground with the other political parties."

Conservatives promptly signalled their own willingness to search for compromise.

Polls show Canadians are divided on Afghanistan, with some also supporting an NDP view that troops should be repatriated pronto.

This issue carries significant emotional and financial cost and touches on Canada's global responsibilities. But it's not one that deals directly with Canada's future.

Issues such as Second World War conscription, the Constitution, free trade with the U.S. or a huge deficit were central questions requiring politicians in years past to secure mandates for action.

Whether to shift a military mission's focus in a faraway country is not a matter begging for resolution at the polls.

Indeed, problems relating to the Afghanistan deployment arguably are not Canada's to address. They're NATO's responsibility.

The current tussle in Ottawa is tied to NATO's inability to secure sufficient commitments from the 26 alliance countries or nine partner countries plus New Zealand, all of which are contributing troops.

The situation has left Canadian soldiers, who began their difficult assignment in Kandahar in August 2005, without a contingent to replace them.

Canada took on the Kandahar responsibility with a clear end date -- February 2009. The troops have suffered casualties out of proportion to other NATO members. Given the small size of Canada's military force, it's not outlandish to expect another country to replace Canada.

If another NATO country had stepped forward, the current battle between Harper and Dion would not be taking place.

John Manley, reporting last month on Canada's war effort, highlighted the problem, advising Ottawa to issue an ultimatum to NATO to provide another 1,000 troops. Defence Minister Peter MacKay issued that ultimatum at the recent NATO meeting in Lithuania.

If the extra troops aren't provided, Manley is with Dion, saying the soldiers should quit Kandahar.

Since Harper has endorsed the Manley report and NATO hasn't yet assured Canada the extra troops will be provided, it may turn out that Harper will follow Manley's advice and withdraw the troops from Kandahar in a year's time.

Hence the folly of an election on the deployment. The resolution to this country's dilemma in Afghanistan will be played out well beyond Canada's shores.

U.S. Defence Secretary Robert Gates highlighted NATO's crisis at the NATO meeting: "I worry a great deal about the alliance evolving into a two-tiered alliance, in which you have some allies willing to fight and die to protect peoples' security, and others who are not."

There certainly is no made-in-Canada answer to the problem at hand.

If politicians in Ottawa want an election before an already scheduled October 2009 voting date, let them conjure one up based on a pressing issue, one that urgently involves the welfare of this country.

Barbara Yaffe is a columnist for the Vancouver Sun.
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Severe Flooding Expected During Afghan Spring Thaw
By Lisa Schlein 17 February 2008 Voice of America
United Nations aid agencies warn the onset of spring in Afghanistan is expected to bring severe flooding in many parts of the country. They say they are gearing up to help tens of thousands of Afghans survive the worst of the spring thaw. Lisa Schlein reports for VOA from Geneva.

U.N. officials say people in Afghanistan' s Western Region are living through one of the harshest winters in nearly 30 years. The United Nations reports more than 800 people have lost their lives so far this winter in the four provinces of Herat, Farah, Badghis, and Ghor.

In addition, 135,000 livestock have died from cold and lack of fodder. The United Nations says tens of thousands of people have lost their homes and possessions due to the heavy snow and severe cold.

UN humanitarian spokeswoman Elizabeth Byrs says these people are living in the open in freezing conditions, exposing them to many illnesses.

"We have seen because of this cold, many respiratory problems and hypothermia cases among the population," she said. "Over 170,000 people with pneumonia and other acute respiratory infections have been diagnosed and treated at health centers across Afghanistan in the past months. We are concerned about the spread of winter diseases especially in Ghor and in Nooristan provinces."

Byrs says many remote villages are cut off to outside assistance because of the snow. And the authorities are doing their best to clear the roads to make these places accessible.

She says the coming spring will bring no respite. The melting snows will simply add to the misery already endured by the Afghan people.

"We have to get prepared for landslides, for avalanches and also for flooding. That is why the international assistance and international donors will be requested for their preparedness measure in order to avoid more disasters in those poor villages which have already suffered from this bad weather," said Byrs.

Byrs says 25 provinces are in danger from spring flooding and preparations are underway to head off the worst. She says more than 840,000 sandbags and thousands of other barriers have been bought to provide protection to vulnerable communities.

She says these protective measures will benefit more than 75,000 people who are particularly exposed.
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Norwegian explosives experts to Afghanistan
Norwegian explosives experts will shortly be sent to Afghanistan to assist ISAF and Norwegian special forces who will soon be deployed in Kabul.
17.02.2008 08:30 Norway Post, Norway
It is expected that Taliban will increase their use of road bombs when they start their predicted spring offensive.

- The Taliban are doomed to lose conventional military operations against ISAF units, and are therefore forced to make use of alternative methods, says Deputy Commander at the Joint Forces Command, Roar Sundseth.

The Norwegian experts are now undergoing special training to familiarize themselves with the latest versions of Taliban's bombs.

These days they are participating in an international military exersice in Northern Norway, together with 11 other nations.
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Afghan deputy provincial governor dies in road accident
www.chinaview. cn 2008-02-17 16:31:59
KABUL, Feb. 17 (Xinhua) -- Deputy governor of Afghanistan' s northern Baghlan province was killed in a road accident Sunday morning, a press release of Interior Ministry said.

Sheikh Daulat was on his way to Balkh province when his vehicle collided with a vehicle coming form opposite site and was killed on the spot, it added.

One of Daulat's bodyguards who sustained injuries in the incident later also succumbed to his wounds at a nearby hospital, the ministry further said.

It did not say what exactly caused the accident but many roads in the northern provinces were in bad conditions due to persistent cold snap and snowfall over the past six weeks.
Editor: Bi Mingxin
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Troops will fight Taliban without vital Chinooks
Telegraph.co. uk By Sean Rayment, Defence Correspondant 17/02/2008
British troops serving in southern Afghanistan have been warned that no extra Chinook helicopters will be made available for at least 12 months, The Sunday Telegraph has learnt.

The delay has frustrated Army commanders and could undermine operations against the Taliban, who are expected to launch a full-scale spring offensive against British and Nato forces.

The helicopter shortage will force more troops to travel by armoured vehicle, rendering them vulnerable to attack with bombs and mines, which have been responsible for many deaths in the past 18 months.
Commanders had hoped eight Chinooks, originally acquired from Boeing in the United States in 1995, would be made available to counter any spring offensive.

They have already described 2008 as a "make or break" year in Afghanistan, as intelligence reports suggest the Taliban will attempt to drive British and Afghan troops out of the recently liberated town of Musa Qala.

The most successful operations against the Taliban have all involved the use of helicopters, which allow commanders to deploy large numbers of troops to enemy-held areas very quickly.

Every senior commander who has returned from Afghanistan has told Air Chief Marshal Sir Jock Stirrup, the head of Britain's Armed Forces, that the Helmand Task Force is desperately short of support helicopters.

Yet the Ministry of Defence insists commanders have all the helicopters they require to fight the Taliban.

The Prince of Wales met about 500 paratroopers, with their wives and girlfriends, yesterday as the men prepared to leave for Afghanistan.

Greeted by Lt Col Joseph O'Sullivan, the Prince - who is Colonel in Chief of the Parachute Regiment - met members of the second battalion near their base in Colchester, Essex. The visit followed criticism of the MoD by two coroners after they heard that the deaths of three British soldiers in Afghanistan and Iraq might have been prevented had they been better equipped.

More than 7,800 British soldiers are now based in Helmand. But while the number of troops has more than doubled in the past two years, the number of helicopters has remained broadly the same.

The force is currently supported by eight Chinooks, which can carry up to 40 passengers each, and four Royal Navy Sea Kings, which can carry up to 10 people.

Four Army Air Corps Lynx helicopters are also based in Helmand, but these cannot fly between 11am and 11pm during the summer. The force is also supported by Apache attack helicopters, but they do not carry passengers.

One senior officer said: "Support helicopters are vital because of the flexibility they provide and the manoeuvre capability they give us.

"Without them we will have to go by road and in the Helmand desert the Taliban can see you coming from quite a way off, so by the time you arrive at the enemy's position they have melted away. If we assault in vehicles we lose the element of surprise and that favours the Taliban."

The extra helicopters were promised by Tony Blair two years ago and commanders hoped they would be available by the end of next month.

In 2006, Mr Blair said: "Let me just make one thing clear - if the commanders on the ground want more equipment, armoured vehicles for example, more helicopters, that will be provided. Whatever package they want, we will do and it's not surprising, incidentally, that as a mission proceeds, so you may make adjustments as to what is and isn't necessary,"

The eight Chinook Mark 3s were mothballed immediately after purchase from Boeing for £252 million because of software problems.

Last year, however, ministers decided to spend an extra £100 million updating the aircraft after it became clear that a shortage of transport helicopters was undermining the mission in Afghanistan.

The procurement has been described by the Commons Public Accounts Committee as one of the "worst examples of equipment acquisition".
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Germans plead Second World War hangover
Telegraph.co. uk, United Kingdom By Gethin Chamberlain, Foreign Correspondent 16/02/2008
Germany's role in the Second World War has made it difficult to win public support for military action in Afghanistan, the German ambassador to Britain has admitted.

Wolfgang Ischinger said Germans had so often been told that their military had done "many awful things" it was hard to persuade them they should get involved in another conflict.

Germany is under pressure from the US, Britain and Canada to send more troops to reinforce the Nato mission in the south of Afghanistan, where the fighting against the Taliban is at its fiercest. Canada is demanding that other Nato members provide another 1,000 troops in the south if it is to remain in Afghanistan next year.

But describing criticism as "quite irresponsible", Mr Ischinger said that Germany had done more to help Afghanistan than any other European nation, including Britain. "In terms of financial assistance, civilian aid, military commitments, we would probably be the number one country," he told The Sunday Telegraph.

"The UK has been the number one European military contributor for the last period but as recently as 2004 the German contingent was bigger."

Germany is considering boosting troop numbers by 1,000 to about 4,500, but Mr Ischinger ruled out moving them from the more peaceful north.

He said politicians had to win over a post-war generation. "You have never been in the situation, certainly not in the last century, where you thought that the military had no role at all abroad, but that was the consensus in Germany as recently as 12 or 13 years ago.

"It is only very recently that we participated in more direct peacekeeping, and more recently still in actual combat operations. We have come a long way."

Germany is not alone in attracting criticism over Afghanistan. While the US has 15,000 troops attached to the Nato mission and Britain has 7,800, other nations maintain only a token presence. Georgia has one soldier, while Switzerland and Singapore have sent two each. Austria has three, Ireland seven and Luxembourg nine.

France is still considering whether to send another 1,000 troops on top of the 1,515 already there, with a decision expected before a Nato summit in April.

The latest row began when Robert Gates, the US defence secretary, sent what was described as an "unusually stern" letter to his German counterpart, describing Berlin's performance as "disappointing" and asking it to replace a 2,200-strong US unit which is being withdrawn from the south this autumn.

Writing in The Sunday Telegraph last week, David Miliband, the Foreign Secretary, urged other nations to commit troops to Afghanistan. "There is the responsibility to ensure the scale of our efforts matches the severity of the challenge," he said.
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Afghan journalist jailed for translating Koran
By Nelofer Pazira The Independent (UK) Friday, 15 February 2008
Afghanistan in the 1980s was a police state and a generation of intellectuals and educated or influential people was already decaying inside the notorious Puli Charkhi prison.

Mr Zalmai started the first Afghan open talk radio called "Voice of the People". Callers didn't have to identify themselves and Mr Zalmai took their complaints to the relevant authorities, demanding a response. The programme was eventually brought under control, but the precedent was set; Mr Zalmai was already hosting other programmes.

He found a way of turning the rhetoric of the Communist state on its head – using the language of propaganda to point out the government's failures, challenging the authorities to answer the people they claimed to serve.

After the fall of the Communist regime in 1992, Mr Zalmai became a cultural attaché to the mujahedin government at the Afghan embassy in Tajikistan.

Eventually he moved to the Netherlands as a refugee, until he received a formal invitation from the new Afghan government, asking him to return to take up an important post with the official Afghan TV and Radio. Mr Zalmai moved back to Kabul with his family to return to his profession. He became the president of the Association of Afghan Journalists and spokesman for the Attorney General's department (Saranwal) of the Afghan government.

When, as a teenager, I got the job of co-hosting a youth radio show with him, I was envied by peers and strangers alike. What people loved and feared about him was not just his good looks, dress style and the fact that he spoke French, but his ability to encourage criticism at a time when other media personalities were either fleeing the country, or too frightened to risk their positions.

Mr Zalmai's journalist colleagues claim that the Attorney General himself, Zabar Sabit, an overly religious man, played a significant role in Mr Zalmai's arrest. Mr Sabit is widely regarded as sympathetic towards the Taliban; some say he is proving his credentials because he is waiting for the Taliban's return to power. Mr Zalmai and his friend are accused of distributing a Koran which consists of "mistakes" and "misconceptions".

The Farsi (Persian) edition of the Koran – Dari, the Afghan version of Persian, is one of Afghanistan' s two official languages – had been published in the United States but appeared in Afghanistan without its original Arabic text alongside. Mr Zalmai had two other collaborators from the Saranwal with religious credentials to help him with the project, one of whom was also arrested. Small groups of students demonstrated against Mr Zalmai even though he had no role in the translation.

He has been imprisoned without any formal charges and has been given no access to a lawyer. Whether belonging to the wrong ethnic class – being a member of a well-known Sufi order – or because he was regarded as a liberal, Western-thinking intellectual, Mr Zalmai is paying for a crime he has not committed.

He has five children, and his family has been allowed to see him only once since his arrest. Despite an outcry among Afghans in the West, there has been no interest in his case expressed by Western governments, least of all the United States.

The Koran was translated and published in Farsi decades ago. But in Afghanistan these days, the Taliban's growing influence and the sensitivity of the increasingly de-legitimised Karzai government towards anything religious, are reason enough to teach others a lesson in servitude.

Nelofer Pazira is a journalist, film-maker and human rights campaigner
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In Defense of Hamid Karzai
Sunday, February 17, 2008; Page B06 The Washington Post
Ann Marlowe's unpleasant attack on Afghan President Hamid Karzai ["Two Myths About Afghanistan," op-ed, Feb. 11] painted him as a last-minute convert to the anti-Taliban cause, in 2001. In reality, he was an active opponent of the Taliban when few commentators inside the Beltway were prepared to pay Afghanistan much attention at all. Mr. Karzai and I shared a platform at a Capitol Hill Policymakers Forum in September 1999, and he was utterly forthright in denouncing both the Taliban and what he called Pakistan's "creeping invasion" of Afghanistan. Subsequent events proved that his assessment was remarkably acute.

It is hardly a secret that the Afghan government is beset with administrative problems. Some are of its own making, but the bulk are attributable to decisions made at the Bonn Conference in November and December of 2001, and to Washington's shortsighted blocking in early 2002 of the expansion beyond Kabul of the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF). Mr. Karzai was not a participant at the Bonn meeting, and he explicitly warned of the loss of momentum that would result from the failure to expand the ISAF.

Afghanistan faces huge challenges, not least because Pakistan's creeping invasion continues. The last thing Afghanistan needs at this critical juncture is to be distracted by an anti-Karzai campaign mounted by foreign visitors.
WILLIAM MALEY
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Partners freeze sperm of troops on active duty
Guardian Unlimited, UK Mark Townsend The Observer Sunday February 17 2008
Growing numbers of wives of British soldiers are requesting to have their husbands' sperm frozen before they are deployed to Afghanistan and Iraq so they can still have children if their loved ones are killed in action.

A British fertility clinic has revealed it is dealing with a 'significant' number of queries. In the US, at least four children have been conceived after their fathers died in Iraq.

Tim Mott, a spokesman for the Bridge Centre fertility clinic in London, said: 'We had expected interest to stem from soldiers rather than their partners, but what has been most surprising is that most inquiries have come from wives and girlfriends who want to have children should anything happen.'

One email received by the clinic last week said: 'My husband and I are both in the armed forces. He is about to deploy on operations and I want information on the right to my husband's sperm, in case the worse happens and I want to have his children.'

Mott said the centre had expected questions from service families about a loss of fertility following serious injuries. Instead, most of those who have made contact are having sperm frozen in case the future father does not return from duty. 'People are quite specifically looking at the death issue,' said Mott.

The Bridge Clinic is offering soldiers £300 half-price rates for counselling, collection and storage of four sperm samples for one year. Subsidised egg freezing is also being promoted, although the take-up is low due to the small proportion of women in the services. Mott said the decision to offer a deal to soldiers was made after learning the salary of front-line troops in the British army.

Although servicemen and women are to receive an above-inflation pay rise of 2.6 per cent, the basic salary of a private soldier remains £16,227, compared with police constables whose salaries begin at £23,500 after initial training.

Experts caution that proper consent must be obtained from soldiers before their sperm is stored and used due to the higher rate of marital breakdown among servicemen.

A spokeswoman for the War Widows Association of Great Britain said that, from her experience, wives did not consider that their husband might not return. 'Certainly, soldiers don't think they are not going to survive and as a result often don't make very good provision, such as making a will.'

Britain's overstretched Army is to send its last remaining reserve unit to the Balkans. As many as 1,000 troops are to be deployed as part of the Nato led Kosovo Force in response to fears that the newly formed state could become unstable.


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