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The Sandbox and Areas Reports Thread (April '08)

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Articles found April 25, 2008

Hidden head injuries the new combat wound for Canadian soldiers?
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WINNIPEG — Soldiers who are exposed to explosions in countries such as Afghanistan might be suffering a mild brain injury without even realizing it, says an American doctor.

Harriet Zeiner, a clinical neuropsychologist with the Palo Alto Veterans Affairs Healthcare System in

California, spoke Thursday at a conference on military trauma.

"It's these other folks that we're missing," Zeiner said in an interview. "That's one thing we have to do, is figure out how to identify people who aren't complaining,"

Unlike moderate or severe brain injuries, where the damage is apparent, mild brain injuries aren't obvious, but can cause a series of problems, including learning impairment, memory loss, severe fatigue, headaches.

"It just looks like a regular person who's not functioning very well, and so you think of them as lazy, or manipulative, or not wanting to work, or just dumb," Zeiner said.

Medical schools really don't offer enough training about head injuries, said Zeiner.

"In the civilian sector, you end up with a lot of physicians who hold up two fingers and say, 'how many fingers?' (The patient says) two and they say, 'great, go home'," she said.
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Canada wants close working relationship with Pakistan
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ISLAMABAD: Canadian Foreign Minister Maxime Bernier phoned his Pakistani counterpart on Thursday to express Canada’s desire to work closely with Pakistan in areas of mutual interest.

Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi told Bernier Pakistan wanted to build a strong relationship with Canada through deepening co-operation, and emphasised the importance of expanding trade, economic and investment ties.

Qureshi said the fight against extremism and terrorism was in Pakistan’s national interest, stressing the importance of a multi-pronged approach combining political, socio-economic development and security measures. The two foreign ministers also discussed Afghanistan.
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NATO mentors hope Afghan police academy graduates will regain public trust
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KANDAHAR, Afghanistan — Hundreds of grinning Afghan police-academy graduates crowded like excited schoolboys into a dimly lit assembly hall Thursday for some words of encouragement before resuming their dangerous duties as keepers of the peace in a province racked by war.

Having completed an intensive eight weeks of basic training by largely American mentors, the officers - now known as members of the Afghan Uniformed Police - were being dispatched back to the Taliban heartland to work side by side with Canadian forces.

Formerly members of the oft-maligned Afghan National Police, it's the hope of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization that they take with them a new sense of professionalism, responsibility and propriety - one that will restore the country's shattered confidence in its fledgling government.

"You are the future of Afghanistan," Brig.-Gen. Harm de Jonge, deputy commander for NATO troops in the segment of the country known in military circles as Regional Command South, told graduates.
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India formally joins Turkmenistan, Afghanistan, Pakistan gas pipeline project
04.25.08, 3:09 AM ET
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MUMBAI (Thomson Financial) - India has been formally admitted as a member of the Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India (TAPI) gas pipeline project at a steering committee meeting in Islamabad on April 23-24, where a framework agreement to facilitate implementation of the project was signed by the oil and gas ministers of the four countries, an Indian government statement said.

The 1,680 km TAPI pipeline, which will supply 90 million standard cubic metres (mmscmd) of gas a day, will be executed by a consortium, the statement said.

Afghanistan will use about 5.0 mmscmd during the first and second year and 14 mmscmd from the third year onwards, with the rest of the gas being equally shared by India and Pakistan, the statement said.

The gas will be supplied from Douletabad and other fields in Turkmenistan and the principle of unobstructed transit of natural gas, in accordance with international norms, will be followed, the statement said.

The safety and security of the pipeline and related infrastructure will be provided by the concerned governments in their respective territories and transport tariff will be based on the cost of service method, the statement said.
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A Q & A with Naeem Muhammad Khan
Stewart Bell, National Post  Published: Thursday, April 24, 2008
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Torontonian Naeem Muhammad Khan openly supports the Taliban and calls Osama bin Laden a hero. Stewart Bell speaks to a self-avowed fundamentalist:

Q) Your profile picture on Facebook is a black flag with an AK-47 and the words "Support Our Troops." Which troops are you encouraging people to support and why?

A) "Support our Troops" means supporting the mujahideen [soldiers of God] who are fighting for their freedom and rights against illegal occupation in many, many places over the world like Afghanistan, Iraq, Chechnya, Kashmir, Palestine and Somalia.

Q) So in Afghanistan, where Canadian troops are deployed, you are rooting for their enemy, the Taliban? As a landed immigrant, how do you reconcile enjoying the benefits of Canadian society while at the same time cheerleading for an armed group that is killing Canadian soldiers?

A) Firstly, I disagree that Taliban are our enemies, neither did they ever attack us and nor did they support any attacks on Canada. Mullah Muhammad Omar clearly stated, "We assure the whole world that neither Osama nor anyone else can use Afghan territory against anyone." So how are Taliban our enemies to begin with? When the Taliban demanded proof of Osama's involvement in September 11, 2001 which he himself denied in an interview with Ummat on 28th September, 2001, none were presented to them and none have been presented to the world ‘til this very day. Even the FBI website does not mention September 11 attacks in Osama's profile. Besides I have been to protests where the anti-war groups protested over our involvement in Afghanistan and wanted our troops to be back from a war that does not exist. I want our Canadian troops back in Canada and not in Afghanistan to fight the fake war on terror which is baseless and is making things worse for the Afghans rather then improving it.
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U.S. to heighten Afghan role?
Pentagon weighs lead role in NATO's combat mission in the south to better fight Taliban.

CSM, April 25

The Pentagon is considering whether it should push to change the NATO mission in volatile southern Afghanistan to give the US greater control in the fight against a growing Taliban threat.

The move is one of many being assessed as fears rise that the collective effort of NATO forces there lacks coherence. The Taliban's comeback over the past two years has been marked by a spike in suicide bombings and other violence – at the same time that critics say the complex command structure governing NATO and US forces has stifled combat and reconstruction efforts.

American officials see a possible answer in modeling the southern region after the east, which falls under NATO but is led by a subordinate US command and viewed as relatively successful.

The issue is not a new one, but has been overshadowed by the need for more forces in Afghanistan. With new commitments by some allies in place, the focus now is on creating more workable relationships on the ground – without conjuring images of "American bullying," as one retired US officer puts it, among allies whose commitments already hang by a slender thread...

Support for change comes from outside the military as well. "I think there is a strong rationale for making that command and control much more efficient," Seth Jones, a political scientist at the Rand Corp., told a House panel this month. "We have multiple US chains of command that go through European Command, Central Command, Special Operations Command," he said. "I think there are a range of options on the table about making that arrangement more efficient."..

...a particularly thorny issue is the frequent rotations of commands. The southern sector rotates a new subordinate coalition command every nine months. The current Canadian commander, for example, will be replaced by a Dutch counterpart by the end of the year. The frequency of change allow the Taliban to exploit the seams of those transitions, critics say...

...discussion is ongoing about other options for improving the effectiveness of the command structure, in addition to the US assuming more responsibility in the south. Some Pentagon officials believe that the head of the NATO coalition in Afghanistan, a four-star general, should be "dual-hatted." In addition to reporting to the NATO leadership in Brussels, he should also have a direct link to Washington.

Supporters of this plan believe Washington's direct input would help to bring more unity of effort to the mission. Another, perhaps more politically palatable, option is to add a new American three-star general to oversee all American forces. That commander would serve as a deputy to the NATO commander but would also answer directly to Washington
[emphasis added]...

India drawn deeper into Afghanistan
Asia Times, April 24

India's presence and influence in Afghanistan has come under fire again. While an Indian road construction project was attacked by suspected Taliban militants a little over a week ago, Indian television serials are being taken off the air in Afghanistan under pressure from religious conservatives.

In the years since the fall of the Taliban in 2001, India's presence in Afghanistan has grown dramatically. India does not have a military presence in Afghanistan, but it does play a significant role in the country's reconstruction and has won support across Afghanistan's ethnic groups.

India's proximity to the Hamid Karzai government and growing India-Afghanistan cooperation has raised hackles among the Taliban and in Pakistan.

On Monday, an Indian working for a Dubai-based firm was kidnapped in Herat province, while on April 12 a convoy of India's Border Roads Organization (BRO), which is engaged in a road construction project, was attacked by the Taliban. The suicide attack left two BRO personnel dead and seven others, including two Afghans employed on the project, injured.

BRO is building a 218-kilometer road linking Delaram to Zaranj, which lies on Afghanistan's border with Iran.

The attack on the BRO came close on the heels of Afghan Defense Minister Abdul Rahim Wardak's week-long visit to India, during which he requested the Indian government to provide Afghan soldiers with counter-insurgency training. He also asked India for support in maintaining Afghanistan's Soviet-era helicopter gunships [emphasis added]. Wardak visited the Indian Air Force's training command at Bangalore and the army's 15 Corps headquarters in Srinagar in Jammu and Kashmir, which would have undoubtedly ruffled feathers in Islamabad, where the Pakistan government disputes India's rights to that territory.

Even if the attack on the BRO convoy in Afghanistan's Nimroz province was not an angry reaction from the Taliban to Wardak's visit to India, it was at the least a reaction to India's growing influence in Afghanistan...[lots of opinion later at end of piece]

BND Agents 'Knew What They Were Doing'
Spiegel Online, April 25

German intelligence agents have been caught spying on a German journalist -- again. The controversy over e-mails collected from a SPIEGEL reporter has become a national scandal. Chancellor Merkel says her faith in her spy chief has been rattled, while German papers wonder if the service can be trusted at all...

The latest scandal is like déjà vu. E-mails by a German journalist -- this time at SPIEGEL -- have been collected by German intelligence agents. The apparent target of the surveillance was Mohammed Amin Farhang, Afghanistan's Economy Minister, who traded e-mails with SPIEGEL reporter Susanne Koelbl between June and November 2006. She was sending him pieces of an in-progress book about Afghanistan.

Her correspondence was retrieved using Trojan-Horse software that invaded the minister's computer system and sent copies of his e-mail back to the BND. In the meantime Germany's highest court has severely restricted (more...)
the use of spyware against German citizens. It's doubtful the verdict will have a bearing on this case, but Mr. Farhang happens to carry a German passport.

The new scandal came to light only after Uhrlau personally apologized to Koelbl last week. Chancellor Angela Merkel has said her faith in Uhrlau has been "disturbed" but not "destroyed" -- and what Merkel thinks matters, because she can hire or fire the top German spy. SPIEGEL has criticized the surveillance, while many German newspapers on Friday are upset that no one in the government was told about the breach in policy before Uhrlau made his apology. They're complaining about a lack of "transparency," and accountability, in Uhrlau's BND...

Dewar makes a great to-do about Afghanistan and energy, no?
The Hill Times, April 21st, 2008, LETTERS

Re: "Parliament is ignoring 'New Great Energy Game' in Afghanistan, says MP," (The Hill Times, April 14, p. 1). NDP MP Paul Dewar makes a great to-do about Afghanistan and energy. That is simply silly. Afghanistan has no role in the production or transportation of Central Asian oil, the big prize in this great game, and only a potential, not terribly significant, role regarding natural gas.

Most of that oil is in Kazakhstan, far to the west of Afghanistan, and Kazakhstan has no need for Afghanistan as a pipeline route. Kazakh oil is now exported by pipeline via Russia and to China. Kazakhstan is also, as the story notes, planning an oil pipeline (a natural gas pipeline is also under consideration) through its own territory to link up across the Caspian Sea in Azerbaijan with the existing Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan pipeline.  This pipeline ends at the eastern Mediterranean in Turkey.

There are also plans to export Kazakh oil via Iran.

There is indeed a long-standing plan for a natural gas pipeline from Turkmenistan through Afghanistan to Pakistan and maybe India. But that is hardly a vital national security or capitalist interest for NATO members. Moreover, given current conditions, such a pipeline is not likely to be built for quite a while. In any case most of the gas would be for Pakistani and perhaps Indian consumption—not a major concern for other countries.

On the other hand, there are also plans to export Turkmen gas to Europe via a trans-Caspian pipeline. That plan is a lot more important to European NATO members (and the U.S.) than Afghan pipeline possibilities. In addition, plans are well advanced for a pipeline, to be completed in 2012, to export Turkmen gas via Russia. Once again the Afghan angle for Turkmen gas exports is pretty small beer by comparison.

Mark Collins

Ottawa, Ont.

Articles found March 26, 2008

Afghanistan with a laugh track
Is TV censorship in Kabul really a sign of 're-Talibanization'?
DOUG SAUNDERS Globe and Mail Update April 26, 2008 at 12:05 AM EDT
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KABUL — On a side street in downtown Kabul, behind the inevitable concrete barriers, bomb-resistant walls, heavy steel gates and barbed-wire spools, are two modest-sized houses, indistinguishable from neighbouring abodes except for one or two extra layers of security and a surprising number of people coming in and out.

That, and the sound of laughter that blasts from a TV mixing console inside this homegrown broadcast centre.

On the screen is an episode of the unlikely hit Laugh Bazaar, which has introduced stand-up comedy to Afghanistan. This shoestring broadcast empire created by Afghan entrepreneurs also includes Afghan Star, a vastly successful take on American Idol, and a number of very good investigative-news shows.

The humour on Laugh Bazaar tends toward the sardonic and is sometimes aimed at the Afghan government. One classic joke has a respected wise man dragged before one of the country's more ruthless leaders. "If you cannot prove that you are as perceptive as you claim," the leader says, "I will have you hanged." The man announces that he can see golden birds in the sky and demons under the earth. How, asks the leader, can you have such visions? He answers: "Fear is all you need."
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Police say bomb kills 2 officers in central Afghanistan
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KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) — A police official says a roadside bomb destroyed a police vehicle, killing at least two officers in central Afghanistan.

Deputy provincial police chief Mohammed Zaman says the remote-controlled bomb went off in Waghaz district of Ghazni province early Saturday.

He says two police died and three were wounded.

But an Associated Press Television News cameraman saw three saw three burned, mutilated bodies at the scene and four wounded people at a hospital. All appeared to be police.
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Taliban hamper dam project in Afghanistan
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KAJAKI, Afghanistan (AP) — British Maj. Mike Shervington watches over a stunning aqua-green lake and a 50-year-old story about U.S. struggles to aid Afghanistan.

Inside a security perimeter is an old American-built dam with the potential to provide Afghanistan with 6 percent of its power. Outside the line roam enough Taliban fighters to prevent Washington's largest single aid project in Afghanistan from ever reaching that goal.

The Kajaki Dam, built in the 1950s to help Afghan farmers irrigate their fields, is in Helmand province in southwest Afghanistan, which grows more opium poppies than any place in the world. And, thanks to an influx of Taliban fighters the last two years, it is one of the most dangerous regions in the country.

Western officials say the Taliban opposes any project carried out by international aid workers — schools, clinics or, in this case, the dam — because locals might turn toward the government. Militants also are likely trying to protect their lucrative drug trade in the area around Kajaki.

A small building at the base of the dam houses one working Westinghouse turbine, one of two the U.S. installed in the 1970s. The second turbine is dismantled for repairs. In between those is a large hole where the U.S. hopes to install a third turbine.

Even a small boost in output would be meaningful in a nation where only 6 percent of the population has electricity.
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Afghan Leader Criticizes U.S. on Conduct of War
NY Times, April 26 by Carlotta Gall

President Hamid Karzai strongly criticized the British and American conduct of the war here on Friday, insisting in an interview that his government be given the lead in policy decisions.

Mr. Karzai said that he wanted American forces to stop arresting suspected Taliban and their sympathizers, and that the continued threat of arrest and past mistreatment were discouraging Taliban from coming forward to lay down their arms.

He criticized the American-led coalition as prosecuting the war on terrorism in Afghan villages, saying the real terrorist threat lay in sanctuaries of the Taliban and Al Qaeda in Pakistan.

The president said that civilian casualties, which have dropped substantially since last year, needed to cease completely [emphasis added]. For nearly two years the American-led coalition has refused to recognize the need to create a trained police force, he said, leading to a critical lack of law and order.

The comments came as Mr. Karzai is starting to point toward re-election next year emphasis added], after six years in office, and may be part of a political calculus to appear more assertive in his dealings with foreign powers as opponents line up to challenge him.

But they also follow a serious dip in his relations with some of the countries contributing to the NATO-led security force and the reconstruction of Afghanistan, and indicate that as the insurgency has escalated, so, too, has the chafing among allies.

Complaints have been rising for months among diplomats and visiting foreign officials about what is seen as Mr. Karzai’s weak leadership, in particular his inability to curb narcotics trafficking and to remove ineffective or corrupt officials. Some diplomats have even expressed dismay that, for lack of an alternative, the country and its donors may face another five years of poor management by Mr. Karzai.

He was quick to reject such criticism, pointing out the “immense difficulties” that he and his government faced — “What is it we have not gone through?” — while trying to rebuild a state that was utterly destroyed.

He called instead for greater respect of Afghanistan’s fierce independence, and for more attention to be paid to building up the country, than doing things for it...

He admitted that “lots of things” in the last six years could have been handled better and singled out policies led by the United States, namely tackling terrorism and handling the Taliban, both as prisoners and on the battlefield.

On terrorism, he repeated a call he has made for several years, that sanctuaries across the border in Pakistan be closed off.

“There is no way but to close the sanctuaries,” he said. “Pakistan will have no peace, Pakistan’s progress will suffer, so will Afghanistan’s peace and progress, so will the world’s. If you want to live, and live in peace, and work for prosperity, that has to happen. The sanctuaries must go, period.”..

One of the biggest mistakes of the last six years has been the handling of the Taliban, he said, and the failure of his government to guarantee former members the amnesty that Mr. Karzai promised when the movement was toppled in December 2001...

The weakness of his own government meant that he learned only much later of some of the things that were occurring, he said.

He gave an example of a former member of the Taliban who was quietly running a paint shop in Kabul and had been arrested three times by American and Afghan security services.

“We have to make sure that when a Talib comes to Afghanistan, that he is safe from arrest by the coalition,” he said. “And we don’t come to know when the coalition arrests them; it is a major problem for us, a problem that we have spoken about repeatedly without solution.”..

UK troops to hand control of Helmand 'hot spots' to Afghan army
Independent, April 26

British troops in southern Afghanistan could hand control of key areas to Afghan forces within months, the commander of British forces said yesterday.

Brigadier Mark Carleton-Smith said he hoped the Afghan army would "deliver security" in the most dangerous parts of Helmand by the end of the year. He said the provincial governor was keen to see Afghan troops take over in three hotspot towns in "the heart of Helmand", and it was his job to help that happen.

"We may see, by the end of this year, or beginning of next, areas where security is delivered by the Afghan army," he said. "The priorities are Gereshk, Lashkar Gah and Sangin."..

Brigadier Carleton-Smith's strategy does not, however, mean an early exit for UK forces. Preparations are already under way for troops to be deployed beyond 2009, the projected time-frame for the end of the Helmand mission, which began in 2006.

Handing over security to Afghan security forces has its own risks. At Musa Qala, a town recently recovered from the Taliban, the Afghan police have been tasked with maintaining law and order while British forces stayed in the outskirts. A number of residents have complained bitterly about extortion by the police...

Speaking at a joint British, Australian and Danish outpost [emphasis added], he said his objective for the next six months was to improve "human security", which he said included physical security from threats such as criminals and insurgents, as well as economic and social security. "To my mind, that is better delivered by their own agencies than by the British," he added...

The Afghan National Army has been one of the country's few success stories since 2001, especially when compared to the corrupt and inept police force. There are three battalions of Afghan troops based in Helmand, but they depend on help from the British for logistics, medical treatment and air support [emphasis added]. That support will continue when they take control of the three key towns...


Karzai, Canadian ambassador flee gunfire
AP, April 27

KABUL — Afghan President Hamid Karzai and Canadian ambassador Arif Lalani were among the dignitaries forced to take cover Sunday when automatic gunfire erupted during a ceremony marking 16 years since the overthrow of the country's Soviet-backed rule.

Three people, including a lawmaker, were killed and eight were wounded. Mr. Karzai, his cabinet and foreign diplomats who were present — including Arif Lalani, Canada's ambassador to Afghanistan — were all safe, a statement from the presidential palace said.

A Taliban spokesman claimed responsibility for attack, saying it had deployed four militants with suicide vests and guns to target the president.

Hundreds of people fled in chaos as shots rang out. Firing appeared to come from ruined houses about few hundred metres from where the VIPs were seated. A live TV broadcast of the ceremony on a parade avenue in Kabul was quickly cut...

The attack came despite unprecedented tight security for Sunday's anniversary. For days Kabul was ringed by checkpoints with security forces and intelligence officials searching vehicles. The area where the ceremonies took place had been blocked by troops, tanks and armoured personnel carriers.

The live TV coverage of the assassination attempt will add to the sense of insecurity in the Afghan capital, which has been spared the worst of the violence as fighting has escalated in recent years between Taliban insurgents and NATO and U.S.-led forces, leaving thousands dead...

US Marines deploying in Afghanistan for 1st time in years
AP, April 26

HELMAND PROVINCE, Afghanistan - U.S. Marines are crossing the sands of southern Afghanistan for the first time in years, providing a boost to a NATO coalition that is growing but still short on manpower.

They hope to retake the 10 percent of Afghanistan the Taliban holds.

Some of the Marines that make up the 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit helped to tame a thriving insurgency in western Iraq. The newly arrived forces hope to move into regions of Afghanistan now controlled by the Taliban.

The troops are working alongside British forces in Helmand province [emphasis added] — the world's largest opium-poppy region and site of the fiercest Taliban resistance over the last two years. The director of U.S. intelligence has said the Taliban controls 10 percent of Afghanistan — much of that in Helmand.

"Our mission is to come here and essentially set the conditions, make Afghanistan a better place, provide some security, allow for the expansion of governance in those same areas," said Col. Peter Petronzio, the unit's commander.

Thirteen of the 19 Marines in the platoon of 1st Lt. Adam Lynch, 27, served in 2006 and 2007 in Ramadi, the capital of the Anbar province in western Iraq. The vast region was once al-Qaida in Iraq's stronghold before the militants were pushed out in early 2007...

The Marines' presence in southern Afghanistan is a clear sign that neither Britain nor Canada — which operates in nearby Kandahar province — have enough troops to control the region. But commanders and troops say the countries are working well together [emphasis added]...

The Marines are known as the theater task force, meaning they fall under the direct control of U.S. Gen. Dan McNeill, the commander of NATO troops in Afghanistan. McNeill can move the Marines to whatever flashpoint he wants [emphasis added]. Most other U.S. troops are stationed at permanent bases in the east.

The Marines have been moving supplies and forces through Helmand by ground convoys the last several weeks, a draining and dangerous task. Some convoys have taken more than 20 hours to complete, and two Marines were killed by a roadside bomb April 15...

Two Fronts, Same Worries
Washington Post, April 27, by David Ignatius

KABUL -- For many Americans who are weary of Iraq, Afghanistan is the "good war" in which the United States and its European allies are destroying what's left of al-Qaeda and the Taliban. That view certainly holds with the Democratic presidential candidates, who talk of adding troops in Afghanistan next year even as they pull troops out of Iraq.

But "bad" Iraq has more in common with "good" Afghanistan than people sometimes realize. Both have evolved into classic counterinsurgencies with a "clear and hold" strategy for providing security; both show the benefits of a military surge; both run the risk of failure because of weak and corrupt host governments.

Soon, the same U.S. commander -- Gen. David Petraeus -- will be overseeing both battlefields. If confirmed in the new post as head of Central Command, Petraeus will have to balance U.S. military needs in Iraq with those in Afghanistan. Given that Petraeus literally wrote the book on counterinsurgency for the military, his oversight should be good for both theaters.

The military surge in Afghanistan has largely gone unnoticed, in part because the U.S. commitment here is so much smaller. The 40-nation coalition force has increased to about 62,000 from about 42,000 in 2006. The American contribution is by far the largest, with more than 30,000 troops, including a new boost of 3,200 Marines just dispatched to southern Afghanistan, the area of the toughest fighting. Last year, the United States spent $4.9 billion on training and equipment for the Afghan army, after spending $3.5 billion during the preceding five years combined [emphasis added], according to a U.S. official.

"Without question, additional U.S. troops would be helpful in 2009," says Gen. Dan K. McNeill [emphasis added], the commander of coalition forces here. In particular, he's looking for new troops to take over from the 3,200 newly arrived Marines when they go home in October.

The success of the Afghanistan surge is clear in the east [emphasis added], which has been the main area of U.S. responsibility. McNeill doubled U.S. troops and spending there last year and added some innovative counterinsurgency tactics using the so-called Provincial Reconstruction Teams. These PRTs are building roads and schools and carrying out other development projects to help the Afghan government hold areas once they have been cleared by U.S. troops.

McNeill, like Petraeus in Iraq, has worked to isolate the hard-core enemy from those who can be co-opted. He describes his adversary not as the Taliban (some of whom have joined the Afghan parliament) but as extremist warlords who give support to al-Qaeda.

To bolster the Afghan police, McNeill adopted a new strategy for the country's 40 most violent districts, known as Focused District Development [emphasis added]. Each month, police are pulled from a half-dozen of these districts and replaced by an elite national force, while the local cops are retrained and the most corrupt and incompetent are purged...

Articles found April 28, 2008

Iranian president discusses Afghanistan, gas pipeline during brief Pakistan visit
The Associated Press Monday, April 28, 2008
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ISLAMABAD, Pakistan: Iranian and Pakistani leaders resolved issues related to a multi-billion-dollar gas pipeline project opposed by the United States during Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's brief Monday visit to Pakistan, state media reported.

Ahmadinejad, on his first trip to the neighboring country, met with President Pervez Musharraf and Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani in Islamabad during his four-hour stay before leaving for Sri Lanka.

Musharraf and Ahmadinejad were satisfied that "all issues that had delayed a final agreement" on the natural gas pipeline project were resolved, Pakistani Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi said, according to the state-run Associated Press of Pakistan. The report did not specify the issues resolved.

The two Muslim countries' foreign ministers will set a date for signing the pipeline accord, Qureshi said, according to APP.

India has also been involved in the project. The proposed pipeline would run 2,615 kilometers (1,625 miles) from Iran to India through Pakistan and initially carry 60 million cubic meters (2,120 million cubic feet) of gas a day.
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US military: 12 insurgents killed in Afghanistan
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KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) — The U.S. military says a dozen insurgents have been killed during a clash in eastern Afghanistan.

The military said in a news release that the fighting erupted after coordinated militant attacks on five U.S. and Afghan military outposts.

The military says another 12 insurgents were wounded. No U.S. or Afghan soldiers were hurt.

The clash happened Sunday in Korengal Valley of volatile eastern Kunar province.
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Militants behead 'spy' in Pakistani tribal area: police
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WANA, Pakistan (AFP) — Pro-Taliban militants beheaded a policeman in Pakistan's troubled tribal belt bordering Afghanistan on Monday after accusing him of spying for security forces, police said.

The body of 35-year-old Shaukat Khan was found dumped in a field at Dabar village in the tribal zone of South Waziristan, a day after he was abducted by gunmen, senior police officer Mumtaz Zarin told AFP.

A note found near the body said he was involved in the killing of Islamist warlord Nek Mohammad in a suspected US missile strike in June 2004 in the region, Zarin said.

"He had admitted his role in providing intelligence to the authorities," the note said. "We have repeatedly said we will teach such people a lesson."

Khan had been working as a tribal policeman at the local administration office in Wana, the main town in South Waziristan, which is inundated with Taliban and Al-Qaeda linked militants.
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Australian Commando Killed, 4 Wounded in Afghanistan (Update2)
By Madelene Pearson and Michael Heath
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April 28 (Bloomberg) -- An Australian commando was killed and four others wounded when they were attacked by Taliban militants in southern Afghanistan.

Afghanistan is ``moving into the fighting season'' as the snows melt, Angus Houston, Australia's defense force chief, said today in the capital, Canberra, as he announced the death of Lance Corporal Jason Marks. Fighting will probably intensify in coming weeks and months, he added.

The four wounded soldiers were transported to the hospital after their patrol was hit by ``heavy arms fire'' in Uruzgan province, Houston said. Their injuries aren't life-threatening.

Australia is a partner of NATO's International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan that is battling supporters of the Taliban regime that was ousted by a U.S.-led military coalition in 2001. Australia has 1,000 personnel in Uruzgan province and around Kandahar Airport in the south.

The death was Australia's fifth in combat operations in Afghanistan and Prime Minister Kevin Rudd said today the country's forces face a tough period ahead as the offensive by the Taliban gets under way.

This year ``will be difficult and dangerous and bloody and the Australian nation needs to prepare itself for further losses,'' he told reporters in Canberra. Rudd said the government has no plans to dispatch more troops to Afghanistan.
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New ways to quell Al Qaeda?
Pakistan's new leaders go soft with jihadists. But that takes hard tactics to pull off.
from the April 28, 2008 edition
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Americans can hardly complain that Pakistan is on the verge of a deal with jihadists. The US has already done a similar deal with Iraqi Sunni terrorists. In both cases, a prime goal is simply to isolate Al Qaeda.

In Iraq, the US military's payoffs of radical Sunni leaders since 2005 have largely achieved that aim. The former terrorists now openly oppose Al Qaeda, which appears to be on the run in Sunni areas.

In Pakistan, the stakes are even higher, with a new government trying to strike a pact with the local Taliban. Osama bin Laden probably operates somewhere along the 350-mile border, working in cahoots with Taliban terrorists from both Afghanistan and Pakistan. If Al Qaeda is planning another 9/11-style attack, that area is the launching pad.

Negotiating with one type of terrorist in order to isolate more-lethal terrorists has become a necessary but distasteful part of the post-Sept. 11 world. While President Bush has had to back into such a hold-your-nose tactic in Iraq, one issue in the Democratic primaries is whether the US should often negotiate with its enemies, such as Iran. Barack Obama says he would, and events unfolding in Pakistan serve as a current test case of that let's-talk approach.
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U.S. troops join British forces fighting Taliban in Helmand
TheStar.com April 27, 2008
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HELMAND PROVINCE–U.S. Marines are crossing the sands of southern Afghanistan for the first time in years, providing a boost to a NATO coalition force that is growing but still short on manpower.

The troops are working alongside British forces in Helmand province – the world's largest opium-poppy region and site of some of the fiercest Taliban resistance over the last two years.

The director of U.S. intelligence has said the Taliban controls 10 per cent of Afghanistan – much of that in Helmand.

"Our mission is to come here and essentially set the conditions, make Afghanistan a better place, provide some security, allow for the expansion of governance in those same areas," said Col. Peter Petronzio, the unit's commander.

Taliban fighters have largely shunned head-on battles since losing hundreds of fighters in the Panjwayi region of Kandahar province in fall 2006.

More than 8,000 people, mainly militants, were killed in insurgency-related violence last year, the United Nations says. The number of suicide attacks spiked last year at 140 bombings.
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Canadian soldiers in Afghanistan might soon have a free way to call home
Saturday, April 26 - 10:05:19 PM Reaon Ford VANCOUVER (NEWS1130)
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They're laying their lives on the line for their country, they don't need to get hit with huge phone bills to boot. Now, a US charity's plan to set up a satellite link between Canadian soldiers in Afghanistan and their families here at home. The Freedom Calls Foundation was originally created to give US troops in Iraq an alternative to costly communication services provided by military contractors.

The group's Kathryn Hudacek says it's been so successful she now wants to help Canadian soldiers too, "Our foundation does have the authority to provide communications in Afghanistan as well. We just haven't been able to raise the money to get in there and that's my personal goal for 2008, is to build at least two centres in Afghanistan." Hudacek says she'll need about $200,000 in donations to set the centres.

They use a combination of satellite and internet technology to provide soldiers with a free 24/7 link to their families.
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Soldiers sometimes walk a beat in Kandahar
Ryan Cormier ,  Canwest News Service Published: Saturday, April 26, 2008
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HAJJI MOHAMMAD, Afghanistan -- Walking through the green fields and crops of Panjwaii district in Kandahar province, Capt. John Weingardt tries to determine what social and security issues are concerning the locals.

A man stands by the side of the road, holding his bicycle and warily looking at the soldiers and armoured vehicles coming down the road. Weingardt flashes a smile as wide as he is tall, takes off his helmet and beckons the man over.

"We're walking through the area today seeing what people think of the current situation," he says through an interpreter. "What would you like to see from this government?"
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'The Taliban Are Celebrating a Symbolic Victory'
Spiegel Online, April 28

The Taliban's assassination attempt on Afghanistan's president has sent shockwaves around the world. German media commentators say that the attack has once again exposed the government's vulnerabilty and could further damage the president's credibility.

Their targets might have escaped without injury but the Taliban's message rang out loud and clear: no one is safe in Afghanistan, not even the country's president.

On Sunday, during a state ceremony to mark the Mujahedeen victory over the Soviet-backed government of Afghanistan 16 years ago, militants fired rockets and automatic rifles at President Hamid Karzai. Although the Taliban fighters missed their main targets, the attack was a propaganda victory. By sending the president and foreign ambassadors scurrying, the extremists vividly demonstrated the fragility of the Afgan government to a world-wide television audience.

As shots rang out, hundreds of police and army, who had formed an honor guard, fled in chaos. The president, cabinet ministers and senior diplomats, including the US and UK ambassadors, were bundled away by security forces. Three people, including a lawmaker who was around 30 meters from the president, were killed...

Afghanistan situation 'grim': Rudd
ABC News (Australia), April 28

[Labour] Prime Minister Kevin Rudd says the security situation in Afghanistan is "grim" and Australians need to prepare themselves for more casualties in a "difficult, dangerous and bloody" year ahead.

Mr Rudd was speaking in Canberra after an Australian special forces commando was killed and four of his comrades were wounded in a firefight with Taliban militants near their base in the southern Uruzgan province.

Twenty-seven-year-old Special Operations Task Group (SOTG) member Lance Corporal Jason Marks was killed early this morning during an attack on a "substantial number" of Taliban militants around 25 kilometres south of the Australian base at Tarin Kowt.

The death takes the Australian death toll since 2001 to five.

"The security situation in Afghanistan remains grim," Mr Rudd told a Canberra press conference.

"This is a dangerous and difficult operating environment for the Australian Defence Forces and it is likely to become more difficult in the period ahead.

"2008 will be difficult, dangerous and bloody and the Australian nation needs to prepare itself for further losses in the year ahead."

Mr Rudd said Australia's military commitment in Afghanistan was not open ended.

"I've committed this Australian government to being there for the long haul, but it's not a blank cheque - we'll continue to review this," he said.

Mr Rudd says there will be annual reviews of Australia's troop commitment in the country.

Opposition defence spokesman Nick Minchin says the attack should strengthen Australia's resolve to keep up the fight in Afghanistan...
[emphasis added]

Articles found April 29, 2008

Afghanistan: joined-up thinking
Britain needs to connect its military and reconstruction roles in Afghanistan
April 29, 2008
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The arrival of 3,500 US Marines in Helmand province of Afghanistan will be welcomed widely, not least by the 7,800 British troops stationed there, who, along with their Canadian allies, have borne the brunt of the fight against the Taleban. In military terms, that struggle has been a broadly encouraging one with UK Forces inflicting a far higher level of attrition on their foes than they have been forced to receive in return. The notion of an exclusively military solution to this conflict is, however, one that is at odds with Afghanistan's history. The best that arms can do is create the opportunity for reconstruction, which will allow this country to take its first steps towards modernity. Without some advance of this form, this mission will never end.

As we report today, the coming of the Americans offers Britain a chance to think again about its strategy in southern Afghanistan. Contrary to some of the stereotypes initially made in Iraq, it is the United States Army, radically reshaped by General David Petraeus and his associate, General Dan MacNeill, that has been notably successful at combining offensive operations on the ground with the building of roads, schools and hospitals that win the hearts and minds of the local population. In Helmand, by contrast, Britain has been impressive on the battlefield but the track record on the humanitarian front has been patchy. Although General MacNeill, the overall commander in Afghanistan, is too diplomatic to put it so bluntly, there are lessons that Britain should learn from the way in which the US military conducts business.

Much of this happened because Britain has sharply divided its efforts between the Ministry of Defence for warfare and the Department for International Development (DfID), which assumes charge of the humanitarian dimension. This is a division that works less well in practice than it might in theory. Culturally, DfID remains much happier at organising aid schemes in Africa than it is at dovetailing with the military in what is in essence a warzone.

Outsourcing this operation can only work smoothly if DfID comes to regard itself as a direct arm of British foreign policy and not a semi-detached entity more content in the company of worthy NGOs than squaddies. As this deficiency will not be remedied overnight, the military itself, like the American Army, will have to become more forcefully involved in the reconstruction endeavour.
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Canadian Forces adapts command structure for Rangers
Bruce Valpy Northern News Services Published Monday, April 28, 2008
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NUNAVUT - In any army, orders are issued by officers and carried out by soldiers without a lot of discussion.

As with so many things, the Canadian Forces command structure works a little differently on a Ranger patrol

"It's more of a relaxed atmosphere," said Major Luc Chang. "There is a sharing of the plan with the Rangers, consulting them on the campsite, petrol supply, more of a traditional approach."

Chang, who served in Croatia in 1995, Haiti in 1997, Bosnia in 2001 and Afghanistan in 2004, described Operation Nunalivut 08 as an excellent soldiering experience. "It was interesting watching Rangers from Yukon, NWT, Nunavut learning from each other. Dynamic!"

The Rangers who go on such land and sea operations are chosen in a Northern fashion as well. Notice is sent to the Ranger units in 25 communities that a patrol opportunity is coming up.

The units, which can have as many as 30 Rangers, decide who would best represent them.
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Blast kills 15 Afghans, wounds 25
Reuters Tuesday, April 29, 2008; 4:19 AM
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KABUL (Reuters) - At least 15 Afghans were killed and 25 wounded on Tuesday in an explosion in eastern Afghanistan, close to the border with Pakistan, a spokesman for NATO-led forces said.

"Initial reports are that 15 local nationals were killed and another 25 were wounded in an explosion in Nangarhar province," the spokesman for NATO's International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) said.

Residents in the district, south of the city of Jalalabad, said Afghan forces and civilians were among the dead, which they said could total as many as 31.

One resident, reached by phone from Kabul, said the dead included 11 members of the Afghan security forces and two children.

It was not immediately clear what caused the explosion but suicide bombers have carried out attacks in the area in the past.
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US Marines move into Taliban-held area of Afghanistan
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OUTSIDE GARMSER, Afghanistan (AP) — U.S. Marines exchanged gunfire with militants Tuesday after pouring into a Taliban-held town in southern Afghanistan in the first major American operation in the region in years.

Several hundred Marines, many of them veterans of the conflict in Iraq, pushed into the town of Garmser in pre-dawn light in an operation to drive out the insurgents, stretching NATO's presence into an area littered with opium poppy fields and classified as Taliban territory.

U.S. commanders say Taliban fighters were expecting an assault and planted homemade bombs in response. The British have a small base on the town's edge but Garmser's main marketplace is closed because of the Taliban threat.

Marines moved into town by helicopter and Humvee for Tuesday's assault in the southern province of Helmand, the first major task undertaken by the 2,300 Marines in the 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit, which arrived last month from Camp Lejeune, North Carolina, for a seven-month deployment. Another 1,200 Marines arrived to train Afghan police.

Maj. Tom Clinton, the American commander at Forward Operating Base Dwyer, a British outpost 10 miles west of Garmser, said militants and Marines exchanged fire in two parts of Garmser on Tuesday. There was no immediate word on casualties.
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Italy to stay in Afghanistan’
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ROME: Italian troops will stay in Afghanistan despite the change of government in Rome, the incoming foreign minister said in an interview published Monday.

“It’s not time to pull out,” Franco Frattini told the Corriere della Sera. “The attack on Hamid Karzai shows once again that Italy and its partners not only cannot withdraw from Afghanistan but also that they should pursue the UN and NATO goals” of democratising the country and fighting the Taliban, he said. President Karzai escaped Sunday after militants attacked a military parade with rockets and gunfire, leaving three people dead including an MP and a 10-year-old boy who was killed apparently in return fire.

Italy has some 2,500 troops in Afghanistan, stationed in the relatively calm western province of Herat and the capital Kabul. Italian soldiers do not take part in military operations against the Taliban in the south of the country. Media magnate Silvio Berlusconi is to return to lead a centre-right government in Italy after his convincing win in Italy’s general elections two weeks ago. afp
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U.S. brings Iraq-like surge to Afghan conflict
Globe and Mail, April 29

LASH KARGAH, AFGHANISTAN -- A force of 3,500 U.S. Marines charged into southern Afghanistan this morning in an effort to reduce the heavy casualties suffered by Canadian and British soldiers in the region, bringing with them new pressures on Canada and its allies to adapt to U.S. tactics and methods.

The planned marine attack on Taliban positions on the southern border, described as an Iraq-like "mini-thrust" by some U.S. officers, is a welcome development to Canadian and British NATO commanders who have seen ground lost to the insurgents and increasing deaths and terrorist attacks during the past year.

But this new U.S. contribution is accompanied by a push to "Americanize" the 40-nation NATO mission, especially in the British-Canadian Southern Command. General Dan McNeill, the U.S. Army officer who currently commands the 40-nation NATO coalition fighting in Afghanistan, said in an interview that he hopes Canada and other nations will adopt U.S.-style tactics and doctrines, including lengthier deployments for soldiers, harder-line opium-poppy-eradication strategies and the use of military forces in reconstruction and humanitarian work.

Canadian and British senior officers, in interviews yesterday, said the marines are a welcome relief to their faltering missions. But they expressed reservations about the American commanders' efforts to get their forces to adopt U.S. approaches...

In recent weeks, senior U.S. generals have visited the Kandahar base to try to persuade Canadian commanders to adopt the tactics they have practised in the eastern provinces, which involve an aggressive military-led approach to drug eradication and economic development, combined with deployments of 15 months for most soldiers. Canadians serve for six months.

Canadian officials in Kandahar largely agreed with the U.S. assessment, but expressed wariness at the suggestion that an Americanization of the approach to the Afghan war is under way.

But the arrival of the U.S. Marines at Kandahar Air Field has caused some anxiety among the Canadians. Other countries have already committed troops under Canadian leadership in the province - Nepalese Gurkhas, Portuguese soldiers, and a British parachute regiment - but it's not clear how much guidance the Canadians will be able to give the American newcomers...

"It's a good thing they're going to Helmand first," a Canadian official said. "They can do their learning over there, make their mistakes over there."

Nato's Afghan mission in trouble, says Brown
Daily Telegraph, April 29

The Nato mission in Afghanistan is "critically" short of key troops and equipment, Gordon Brown has told allies.

The Daily Telegraph has obtained a confidential Foreign and Commonwealth Office paper which admits to a catalogue of problems and weaknesses in Western attempts to stabilise the country.

On the Nato mission, the paper warns: "Critical military gaps remain to be filled."

The three-page document, which summarises the British view of Afghanistan, was drawn up at Mr Brown's request to be distributed to Western allies.

Britain has 7,800 troops in Afghanistan as part of a 47,000-strong Nato deployment to defeat Taliban-backed insurgents and bolster the elected government.

In a list of "critical areas to fill", the paper says Nato still needs three infantry battalions, more helicopters, more aircraft and more training teams to help the Afghan army.

It also raises concerns about the situation after November, when more than 2,300 US Marines are to be withdrawn from the south, where British forces are based.

The Prime Minister has repeatedly tried to persuade allies including France and Germany to bear more of the military burden in Afghanistan, but the paper concedes his efforts are largely failing.

He has also identified policing and justice as vital to the survival of democracy in Afghanistan, but Britain admits in the memo that efforts to train and support the Afghan police are going badly.

Afghanistan's insurgency spreading north
Militant attacks are increasing outside the Taliban's southern stronghold, such as Sunday's on President Hamid Karzai.

CSM, April 29

The attempted assassination of President Hamid Karzai Sunday came as the latest sign of a trend worrying Western officials: that the insurgency is spreading from the Taliban stronghold of the south to the central and northern regions of the country.

The militant attack, the biggest in Kabul since mid-March, came during a public ceremony. Despite a massive security presence, militants managed to fire bullets and rockets at the president, killing two nearby lawmakers and a boy.

The insurgency in Afghanistan has not been "contained," Director of National Intelligence Michael McConnell testified before a Senate subcommittee in February. "It's been sustained in the south, it's grown a bit in the east, and what we've seen are elements of it spread to the west and the north."

A recent study by Sami Kovanen, an analyst with the security firm Vigilant Strategic Services of Afghanistan, echoed this assessment. He reported 465 insurgent attacks in areas outside the restive southern regions during the first three months of 2008, a 35 percent increase compared with the same period last year. In the central region around Kabul there have been 80 insurgent attacks from January through March of this year, a 70 percent jump compared to the first three months of last year.

The numbers are part of a nationwide trend of rising violence. In the southern and southeastern provinces, including the insurgent hotbeds of Kandahar and Helmand, guerrilla attacks spiked by 40 percent, according to Mr. Kovanen's research.

Kabul itself has been largely free from the violence, but as Sunday's attack shows, there are signs that the Taliban's presence is growing here, too. On the sprawling, serene campus of Kabul University, where the nation sends many of its best and brightest, the Taliban has reached an unprecedented level of influence, students say...

Insurgents' influence is spreading to the northern and western regions of the country as well, analysts say. In the northern province of Baghlan, insurgent group Hizb-i-Islami is growing in presence, says Antonio Giustozzi, a researcher at the London School of Economics and an expert on the Afghan insurgency. Hizb-i-Islami, once the country's leading mujahideen party, was a US and Pakistani ally when the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan. Today it is considered one of the most effective insurgent groups in the north and east, and it is aligned with the Taliban and Al Qaeda...

Taliban insurgents are making headway in some districts in the far western province of Badghis, according to Satar Barez, deputy governor of the neighboring Faryab Province. "There are now frequent bombings and kidnappings in Badghis," Mr. Barez says. In the first quarter of 2007 there was just one insurgent attack in Badghis, but the guerrillas have already launched 17 in the first three months of this year...

We're Not Losing Afghanistan
WSJ, April 29, by Bret Stephens

Elaborate security preparations on the eve of Afghanistan's Independence Day nearly kept me from making my flight out of Kabul on Saturday. But they did little to stop insurgents from nearly assassinating President Hamid Karzai, Sadat-like, from his review stand on a military parade ground the very next day.

Are we "losing Afghanistan," as people like John Kerry seem to think? Sunday's attack illustrates a point, made to me by Brig. Gen. Mark Milley of the 101st Airborne Division, that "security is perception" – meaning that not only must the streets be safe, but people must believe them to be so. By that token, a spike in suicide bombings and kidnappings suggests Afghanistan is considerably less secure today than it was three or four years ago. It also suggests Afghanistan's ostensible weakening can be used as a political alibi to accelerate troop withdrawals from Iraq.

But after a week spent shuttling between Kabul, Kandahar and Nangarhar province (in sight of Tora Bora), I found the notion of "losing Afghanistan" to be, at a minimum, overblown. Afghanistan has 34 provinces. Twenty-nine of them are more or less at peace, more or less better off than they were six years ago, and more or less governed by someone their own people can live with.

That leaves five provinces that are the country's belt of real insecurity. Together with the adjacent provinces in Pakistan, these form what is sometimes called Pashtunistan, in reference to the ethnic group from which the Taliban sprang. In many ways it's another country. But even here the evidence that it is being "lost" is slight.

Take Musa Qala, a town in Helmand Province that the British effectively ceded to insurgents in late 2006, after which it became the Afghan version of Fallujah. In December, NATO and Afghan forces retook the town, but not before flipping a former Taliban governor, Mullah Abdul Salaam, to their side. Mullah Salaam was rewarded by becoming district chief in Musa Qala, where he routinely denounces his former comrades as un-Islamic while providing intelligence to NATO forces.

Mullah Salaam's story is not unique. If anything, it shows that the term "Taliban" ill suits the current insurgency. This consists of Taliban remnants loyal to Mullah Mohammed Omar in Pakistan; foreign jihadists; four or five disaffected tribal warlords; and peasant fighters whose loyalties are often up for sale.

Overall, this group amounts to maybe 10,000 fighters. It draws its strength less from religious zeal than from its ties to heroin smugglers, making it more akin to Colombia's narcoterrorist FARC than to Iraq's Mahdi Army. As a military force, it is no match for the 70,000 foreign troops and a comparable number of increasingly effective Afghan soldiers...

...soldiers need to get out of their garrisons. "We're so close to being [in Afghanistan] but we're really not," observes Lt. Col. Jesse Edwards at the Kandahar airbase. That comment doesn't apply to servicemen like Timothy Altizer of Princeton, W. Va., a Navy medic I met Friday as he and his company of Marines were about to deploy to their forward operating bases. But life at the airbase – where Pizza Hut delivers and there is nary an Afghan in sight – is as far removed from Afghan realities as Park Avenue is from the Bronx.

The second piece is to win over the tribes. In the northeastern city of Jalabad, I witnessed a meeting of 30 or so tribal elders, a provincial governor named Gul Agha Sherzai and Henrietta Fore, the capable administrator of USAID. Mr. Sherzai's reputation for corruption is nearly as outsized as his gold watch, and his province, Nangarhar, was until recently a major source of terrorism and poppies. But now the poppy crop has been reduced by 80% and violence is way down. Both achievements have been purchased by a combination of astute counterinsurgency, firm governance and a huge influx of development money for schools, roads and medical clinics...

Afghanistan: spring movements
Conference of Defence Associations media round-up, April 29
Push for 1500 more troops in Afghanistan long haul
Mark Dodd | April 30, 2008
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THE Rudd Government would need to deploy an additional 1500 troops backed by tanks and military jets if Australia took over from the Dutch in Afghanistan's war-battered southern Oruzgan province.

On Monday Kevin Rudd committed to the "long haul" in the Afghanistan conflict, expressing support for a rejuvenated NATO-led combat mission in which Australia is part of a 57,000-strong international force.

The Australian Strategic Policy Institute's Raspal Khosa said Canberra had some tough decisions ahead if the Dutch made good on their pledge to withdraw from Oruzgan by 2010.

The Australian Defence Force has 700 Diggers, including a 300-strong special forces task group, serving in Oruzgan under a 1600-strong Dutch provincial reconstruction task group based at Tarin Kowt.

Mr Khosa, a respected Afghan analyst, said southern Oruzgan was the birthplace of the Taliban's spiritual leader, Mullah Omar, and was among the most violent and unstable provinces in Afghanistan.

Seven years after the overthrow of the Taliban regime, corruption is rife, government institutions remain weak and a booming opium economy is helping to fuel the re-energised insurgency against the NATO-led forces.

The Dutch military will stay in the province until 2010, but are expected to draw down their forces after then to focus on civil reconstruction.

If Canberra opts to provide the main overwatch role in Oruzgan, the ADF would need to deploy a brigade-strength force (2500 troops) backed by military jets, troop lift helicopters, tanks and heavy artillery, Mr Khosa said.

"We've only got six Chinooks (twin-rotor medium-lift helicopters), and when two of them are deployed that is a significant capability that's gone," he said. "You would also need artillery. The Dutch have got self-propelled guns and they've got tanks there as well, Leopard 2s. So you would need all of that organic fire support if you were to deploy in that capacity and take possession of the province."

A bigger provincial security role for the ADF would mean the risk of more combat deaths. The low number of Australian fatalities in Afghanistan - five so far, most recently Lance Corporal Jason Marks on Sunday - is due to the Government's emphasis on using special forces to carry the brunt of the combat missions rather than infantry battalions, military analysts told The Australian.

It is understood some ADF commanders are increasingly uneasy about the continuing use of the special forces in this role, rather than the regular infantry.

Along with the US, NATO members Canada, Britain, Denmark and The Netherlands have borne the brunt of fighting in the volatile south and east of the country. They have suffered more than 600 combat deaths since December 2001.
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Afghanistan: Key Road Toward Pakistan To Improve Trade, Security
By Ron Synovitz Tuesday, April 29, 2008
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The new road is seen as vital to improving security along Afghanistan's southeastern border
A contract has been signed for a $100 million highway project in Afghanistan intended to dramatically reduce travel time from Kabul to border areas near Pakistan's volatile tribal region of North Waziristan.

The 100-kilometer stretch of road will link the provinces of Khost and Paktia to Afghanistan's "ring road," which will circle the country. The contract was signed on April 26 by the Afghan and U.S. governments. The project is being funded by the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) and is scheduled to be completed in 2009.

The new asphalt road is seen by Kabul as one of the most important reconstruction projects in southeastern Afghanistan. One reason is its economic impact. The road is intended to reduce travel time between Kabul and the Khost by four hours, making it much easier for agricultural produce from the border areas to be transported elsewhere in the country.

Loren Stoddard, the director of USAID's Agriculture and Alternative Development program in Afghanistan, explains that the primitive condition of roads on the Afghan side of the border has kept economic activity in Khost tied more to Pakistan's tribal regions than Kabul.

"The Khost area has long been isolated from the rest of Afghanistan," Stoddard says. "Khost has a fairly vibrant economy because of its closeness and interaction with the Pakistan economy, but it has always been somewhat of a regional economy that has been tied more to Pakistan than to the rest of Afghanistan. What we expect with this road is that Khost's economy will then begin to be somewhat more oriented toward the rest of Afghanistan, which is new."

Improving Security

Kabul also considers the road development as vital to the goal of improving security along Afghanistan's southeastern border with Pakistan. Khost lies at a strategic position across from Pakistan's tribal region of North Waziristan, an area that serves as a base for Al-Qaeda-linked militants, as well as pro-Taliban fighters who signed a peace accord earlier this month with Pakistan's new government. Despite the accord, militants continue to use Pakistan's tribal regions as a staging area for crossborder attacks.

Security officials say road improvements to Khost would make it easier for Afghan and international security forces to rapidly send ground troops and equipment into blocking positions along the border just a few kilometers from the Pakistani tribal town of Miram Shah.

Indeed, U.S. military officials in Afghanistan have told RFE/RL that completion of Afghanistan's ring road -- as well as secondary roads to connect that main highway to Afghanistan's provincial administrative centers -- is central to their strategy of deploying "rapid-reaction forces" overland for counterinsurgency operations.

That is why the regional and national highway system meant to link Afghanistan's major cities and economic centers has been a focus of the U.S. military and reconstruction aid groups since the collapse of the Taliban regime in late 2001. Work began in 2002 to rebuild and improve the ring road's southernmost section, much of which had been destroyed by the Taliban in late 2001 as the regime fled Kabul.

Reconnecting Kabul with the western Afghan city of Herat required some 700 kilometers of USAID-funded construction work through the cities of Ghazni and Kandahar, and through volatile provinces like Helmand and Zabul where the Taliban remains active.
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Articles found April 30, 2008

Aust soldier stable after Afghanistan shooting
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An Australian soldier is being treated for a gunshot wound to the arm after a battle with insurgents in Afghanistan's Uruzgan Province.

The soldier's injuries are not life threatening and the Defence Department says he is in a stable condition in hospital.

The incident follows the death of another Australian soldier and injuries to four others in a battle earlier this week.
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Cost overruns endanger copter deal
Ottawa warns it could kill contract after U.S.-based Sikorsky requests up to $500-million more in its bid to replace aging Sea Kings
DANIEL LEBLANC and STEVEN CHASE AND BRIAN LAGHI From Wednesday's Globe and Mail April 30, 2008 at 1:30 AM EDT
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OTTAWA — Federal officials are threatening to cancel a $5-billion contract with Sikorsky Inc. because the U.S.-based helicopter maker is asking for up to $500-million in extra funds to replace Canada's 40-year-old Sea Kings.

Senior sources said the relationship between Ottawa and Sikorsky took a turn for the worse after the firm acknowledged this year that it was running late in its plans to provide 28 high-tech Cyclone helicopters to the Canadian Forces.

The government's controversial efforts to replace the Sea Kings, which go back to the early 1990s, are now complicated by Sikorsky's request for more funds to deliver replacement helicopters.
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Is Afghanistan worth it? A brigadier general answers
DENNIS TABBERNOR  Special to Globe and Mail Update April 29, 2008 at 11:35 PM EDT
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I was recently asked if Afghanistan was worth the death of a Canadian soldier. It is a question that goes to the root of our nation's involvement in this vitally important region, a question made all the more poignant by the losses here that our nation has endured.

Let me answer.

The terror of 9/11 was born and bred in the lawless vacuum that was Afghanistan, a shattered land of shattered lives left desperate after 30 years of war and corruption. Around this vacuum swirled the regional turbulence afflicting Iran, Pakistan, China, India and Russia. An Afghanistan left unstable and vulnerable to the inrush of these forces would prove an immense incubator for terrors beyond the compass of imagination.

So, as part of a coalition, we went to Afghanistan. If we fail here, if we leave Afghanistan without security forces, without sound governance, without the rule of law, without an infrastructure and an alternative to narcotics, we will invite back the forces that spawned 9/11.
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Hunger on rise in Afghanistan despite aid
GRAEME SMITH From Wednesday's Globe and Mail April 30, 2008 at 5:12 AM EDT
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KANDAHAR, AFGHANISTAN — Afghanistan's food crisis may turn into a festering problem as prices remain stubbornly high, a United Nations official says, and local authorities are already complaining that emergency measures are not enough to handle the rising hunger.

The World Food Program has launched a $77-million program to provide extra food for Afghans who found themselves shut out of the market as prices climbed sharply in recent months.

But during a tour of food distribution points in Kandahar yesterday, the WFP's top official in the region said he's hearing complaints that the new help is not enough, and expressed concerns about what will happen if the crisis continues.

"What comes next after this program expires in June?" said Tony Banbury, WFP Asian director. The emergency program has eased prices, he said, but wheat remains two or three times as costly as it was in Afghanistan at the end of last year.
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Poppies and Russian guns keep Taliban in business     
Written by WL Mackenzie Redux Tuesday, 29 April 2008 
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I have long believed since the Canadian involvement in Afghanistan began We fight a war against a Narco-state....a sentiment echoed and validated by General Rick Hillier that Opium poppy trade fuels the Taliban terrorists and that destruction of the Afghan poppy production will do as much to win this conflict as strategic military engagement:

The heroin flooding Britain's streets is threatening the lives of UK troops in Afghanistan, an Independent investigation can reveal.

Russian gangsters who smuggle drugs into Britain are buying cheap heroin from Afghanistan and paying for it with guns. (...)

Russian arms dealers meet Taliban drug lords at a bazaar near the old Afghan-Soviet border, deep in Tajikistan's desert. The bazaar exists solely to trade Afghan drugs for Russian guns.

The drugs are destined for Britain's streets. The guns go straight to the Taliban front line. The weapons on sale include machine guns, sniper rifles and anti-aircraft weapons (...)

"We never sell the drugs for money," boasted one of the smugglers. "We exchange them for ammunition and Kalashnikovs."

Nato claims the Taliban get between 40 and 60 per cent of their income from drugs. The smugglers' claims suggest the real cost could be far higher.

Many military sources have stated that the continuence of poppy production keeps this conflict going. One of the first suggestions Hillier made at a NATO command summit, was to destroy the poppy production and subsidize the farmers. This eradication policy was adopted by  US and UK diplomatic inputs... but to date little direct action has been done due to the lack of sanctions from the Karzai government.
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Attack on anti-drug forces kills 19 in Afghanistan
The assault in the east is the latest by militants against government teams responsible for destroying the opium poppy crop. U.S. Marines encounter little resistance in their offensive in the south.
By M. Karim Faiez and Laura King, Special to The Times April 30, 2008
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KABUL, AFGHANISTAN -- A suicide bomber and gunmen attacked a drug-eradication team in eastern Afghanistan on Tuesday, killing at least 19 people and injuring more than 40 others, authorities said.

Twelve police officers were among the dead in the assault, the latest in a string of attacks by militants against government teams responsible for destroying the lucrative opium poppy crop during the planting season. The insurgency is fueled with profits from the drug trade.
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Toby Keith USO Performance in Afghanistan Halted by Mortar Fire
Tuesday, April 29, 2008
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OKLAHOMA CITY —  Country music star Toby Keith had a performance in Afghanistan last week interrupted by mortar fire, according to his booking agent.

Curt Motley, the agent, told The Oklahoman in an e-mail that the 46-year-old Keith was playing his song "Weed With Willie" for troops during a USO Tour stop at a base in Kandahar, Afghanistan, on Thursday when mortar fire sent the singer and most of the about 2,500 soldiers in the crowd scrambling for shelter.

Motley is traveling with Keith, a native Oklahoman, on the tour. The agent said in his e-mail that they ran about 100 yards to a concrete bunker, where they stayed for about an hour. During the wait, Keith signed autographs and posed for pictures with troops, Motley said.

After the scare was over, Keith returned to the stage and finished his show.

"He went right to the verse he was in and finished his show," Motley said.

Motley said the mortar fire wasn't the only difficulty encountered by Keith while on the tour. The agent said a giant sandstorm stranded Keith's traveling party on Sunday morning during a stop at Camp Fallujah in Iraq.
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An Afghan officer, NATO behind him, leads an assault
In Afghanistan's troubled south, one mission shows how far the Afghan Army has come –and what remains to be done.

CSM, April 30 (long story)


It is just after dawn when the Afghan soldiers creep into lush fields splashed with morning light. Their job is to turn back an insurgency whose members lurk among the grapevines, almond trees, and red-flowered poppy fields that border their military compound. Today, that means stopping a stream of attacks that has disrupted supply routes here in Kandahar Province, in the troubled southern reaches of Afghanistan.

As the men move through the vegetation, only a rooster's crowing breaks the enduring silence, suggesting that the mission may prove a bust. But then gunfire shatters an otherwise pristine morning – and Lt. Col. Sheren Shah, the Afghan commander, grabs the phone strapped to his radio operator and starts barking orders in Pashto.

In the tug of war between the increasingly robust Afghan Army and a potent – if much smaller – enemy, Colonel Shah is the kind of commander that his Canadian advisers like. Shah has earned a reputation for moving quickly, sometimes spearheading a mission just after receiving last-minute intelligence. In response, the Canadians have given him considerable latitude, deferring to him as commander even as they provide essential support.

On this day, after a brief lull in the gunfire, Shah directs his men to send a barrage of small arms fire and rocket-propelled grenades that fills the morning air as they move toward what they believe is an insurgent safe house.

As they observe Shah's operation, the dozen or so Canadians advising this mission [emphasis added] say the Army has come far in the past five years. But while wars in Afghanistan have imbued at least two generations of Afghans with a warrior spirit and strong sense of nationalism, the soldiers still lack key discipline and organizational skills. And, as the summer season approaches, opening the door to more aggressive fighting, the Afghans are fighting as a modern army trying to fight an opponent schooled in very different ways...

With the help of the Canadians, Shah orders his men to flush out the house. At his side is Major Ritchie, who tips the battle on the ground by calling in an airstrike. In minutes, an unmanned US plane known as a Reaper drops a 300-pound bomb on the house, killing five men [emphasis added]. The firefight continues as the soldiers pursue a sixth man who has run away.

It is later learned that one of the dead men is Loy Lala, whom the Canadians and Afghans had been looking for for some time. Shah's men find motorcycles used by the dead insurgents and Shah decides they should be burned...

Later, as Shah's men reposition themselves, another group of Taliban is found in the green thicket. But the Afghan forces don't move quickly enough. Ritchie makes another call and a British Harrier Jump Jet arrives, flying low in a show of force, but fails to flush them out.

Ritchie, who has been talking almost nonstop on his radio to his men and coordinating troop movements and airstrikes, marvels that British, US, Canadian, and Afghan forces have all worked on this mission. "Four countries contributing to do the right thing," he says
[emphasis added].

Shah's men ultimately find a cache of weapons, including two recoilless rifles used to harass Canadian-Afghan police substations in the area. Shah is ecstatic.

"This is good, Colonel," Ritchie says...

Pakistan’s Planned Accord With Militants Alarms U.S.
NY Times, April 30

Bush administration officials are expressing increasing alarm that a deal being negotiated between the new Pakistani government and militant tribes in the country’s unruly border area will lead to further unraveling of security in the region.

Cross-border attacks into Afghanistan by militants based in Pakistan doubled in March from the same period a year ago and have not diminished in April, a Western military official said, while Pakistani counterinsurgency operations in the tribal areas have dropped sharply during the talks.

American counterterrorism officials express concern that the new coalition government in Islamabad may withdraw some of the 120,000 Pakistani troops in the border area or curtail flights by the Central Intelligence Agency’s armed Predator aircraft in the region.

Indeed, Washington and Islamabad seem to be on dueling timetables, with the Bush administration trying to cripple Al Qaeda’s safe havens before leaving office, and the new Pakistani government seeking to establish credibility with its public by distancing itself from the American-backed policies of President Pervez Musharraf.

American officials say that Washington’s options now are even more limited, in part because Mr. Musharraf is no longer calling the shots, and that the situation in the tribal areas is unlikely to significantly improve before President Bush leaves office. American economic and development aid aimed to help wean the region off the militants’ influence is just now seeping into the tribal areas, while a tribal paramilitary force still needs years of training and equipping to be an effective counterinsurgency unit...

Administration officials said the ability of the United States to help the Pakistani Army, and the Frontier Corps in the tribal areas, was constrained. American officials say the Pakistani Army remains focused on India, its traditional adversary, despite efforts by the new army chief of staff, Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, to step up counterinsurgency operations.

“I have no information to suggest that what Pakistanis have done in past two to three months has seriously impeded Al Qaeda’s ability” to recruit new members and train them in small compounds in the tribal areas, said a senior American intelligence official who spoke on the condition of anonymity.

Pakistan's Moment
We Will Fight Terrorism -- Our Way

Washington Post, April 30, by Yousaf Raza Gillani

It is important for Pakistan -- which has transited from an authoritarian regime to democratic governance -- that the message of this first critical post-election period be bold and clear. Like newly elected governments in other democratic societies, we intend to set the tone and agenda. We want to show the world that our nation is back in business, with an overwhelming mandate from our people.

This is not an easy transition. The scars of the past decade are deep. The problems facing our country are great. But the sacrifices of millions of Pakistanis -- including Pakistan's quintessential democratic leader, Benazir Bhutto -- were not made so that our new government could be timid. We know our people expect action and progress. Our boldness is a manifestation of our awareness of the stakes -- both of success and failure...

We will reform our tribal areas economically, politically and socially through measures that address the needs of the people and will integrate these areas into mainstream society.

The world is rightly concerned about the threat of terrorism and expects its elimination to be our government's highest priority. We intend to vigorously continue the war against terrorism with the support of the people. Pakistan must fight terrorism for Pakistan's sake. Past efforts have suffered because of the view that Pakistan sought to combat terrorism only in response to international pressure.

Our strategy against global terrorism will be multifaceted. We will combine the use of force against terrorists and civil dialogue with those who, because of religious or ethnic considerations, were misled into supporting extremists. In the aftermath of Sept. 11, 2001, people and tribes along Pakistan's border with Afghanistan were swept into a wave of violence and anti-Western sentiment. Pakistan will not negotiate with terrorists, but it will not refrain from talking to insurgent tribesmen whose withdrawal of support could help drain the swamp in which terrorists fester and grow. Yet no talks will be held with anyone refusing to lay down arms.

Our policy aims to marginalize terrorists in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas and our North-West Frontier region, where the rule of law had been abandoned and territory all but ceded to al-Qaeda and the Taliban. Negotiations with the various tribes are being pursued with the help of the secular Pashtun nationalist Awami National Party, which has intimate knowledge of tribes and clans in the area and which, along with my Pakistan People's Party, received the bulk of the votes of ethnic Pashtuns in the Feb. 18 parliamentary elections.

Erroneous comparisons have been made between our new policy and the failed deals reached with tribal militants along the Pakistan-Afghanistan border in 2004 and 2006. Those agreements were signed after militant groups bruised Pakistan's security forces in battle. Now we are negotiating from a position of strength. Militants have been asked to surrender their weapons and unequivocally give up violence. We will not cut off our ability to use force or lower the vigilance we maintain to guard against violations of the peace agreements.

We intend to restore order and to give the people an option other than collaborating with murderers whose sole goal is chaos and anarchy. We will welcome our tribes back into society while respecting their conservative interpretations of Islam, as long as they give up violence and refuse to acquiesce to the intimidation of terrorists.

Since the anti-Soviet resistance of the 1980s, the security and prosperity of Pakistan and Afghanistan have become interdependent. The border between our countries is porous, not least because some 3 million Afghan refugees still in Pakistan need to maintain ties with their kin. We intend to work with the Afghan government to secure the border and to ensure the repatriation of the refugees with dignity, security and full economic opportunity...

The writer is prime minister of Pakistan and vice chairman of the Pakistan People's Party.

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