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The Sandbox and Areas Reports Thread (July 2007)

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The Sandbox and Areas Reports Thread (July 2007)

News only - commentary elsewhere, please.
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Articles found July 1, 2007

Soldiers celebrate Canada Day in Kandahar
Updated Sun. Jul. 1 2007 10:20 AM ET CTV.ca News Staff
Article Link

Canadian soldiers in Afghanistan retired their camouflage fatigues today and sported some red and white in celebration of Canada Day.

Troops gathered around the boardwalk in Kandahar to raise a mug of Tim Horton's coffee and eat a few donuts.

After an afternoon of sports events and contests, soldiers will gather for a barbecue and the coveted prize of the day -- two cold beer.

During a Canada Day address, Governor General Michaelle Jean reminded Canadians of the opportunities and freedoms Canada offers and how important it is to protect them.

"To say what we think without fear or repercussion, to walk down the streets without fear, to give our children every possible means of flourishing. To have dreams as big as Canada is. That is the freedom we have in this country," Jean said during a televised address on Sunday.

"We can not take this freedom for granted and it is our responsibility to spread this freedom around us and around the world. The commitment of our soldiers in Afghanistan is an excellent reminder of this."

Jean stressed that Canada's "very presence in the world represents hope" and Canadians should not take their freedoms and opportunities for granted.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper echoed Jean's sentiments and stressed the importance of Canada's role on the international stage
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Three soldiers buried as family, friends recall their sacrifices
TheStar.com - July 01, 2007 Melanie Patten Canadian Press
Article Link


While Canadians prepared to celebrate Canada Day with concerts and parties, families and friends said goodbye yesterday to three soldiers killed in Afghanistan.

Funeral services for Sgt. Christos Karigiannis, Cpl. Stephen Bouzane and Pte. Joel Wiebe were held in Quebec, Newfoundland and Alberta, respectively.

"(Karigiannis) knew the stakes that (lay) ahead," Sgt. Dwayne MacDougall, who commanded troops alongside Karigiannis, said before the service in Laval, Que., north of Montreal.

"But (he was) more than willing to sacrifice and put his life down for his country and for any member of his section."

Verses of "O Canada" echoed from the open doors of Sainte-Rose-de-Lima Church as more than 500 mourners and military personnel showed up to remember the 30-year-old soldier.

Karigiannis, like Bouzane and Wiebe, was a member of the Edmonton-based 3rd Battalion Princess Patricia's Canadian Light Infantry.

The men were killed June 20 when their unarmoured vehicle, known as a Gator, struck a roadside bomb west of Kandahar as they travelled between checkpoints.
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Air strike kills 62 Taliban, 45 Afghan civilians
Updated Sun. Jul. 1 2007 7:33 AM ET Associated Press
Article Link

AHAR, Afghanistan -- An investigation into airstrikes that slammed into Afghan homes where Taliban fighters sought shelter found that 62 insurgents and 45 civilians were killed, two Afghan officials said Sunday.

An investigating team was sent to Helmand province's Gereshk district, where fighting took place between insurgents and Western forces late Friday, said Dur Ali Shah, the mayor of Helmand province's Gereshk district, and Mohammad Hussein Andewal, the provincial police chief.

NATO's International Security Assistance Force has acknowledged some civilians were killed in the southern battle but has said the death toll was nowhere near as high as Afghan officials have claimed.

Because of the battle site's remote location, it was impossible to independently verify the casualty claims. Afghan officials said fighter jets and ground forces were still patrolling the region and that the fighting continued into Saturday.

Meanwhile, a suicide attacker on foot blew himself up near a convoy of British forces in Gereshk district on Sunday, wounding several Afghans, an Associated Press reporter at the scene said.

The battle on Friday began when Taliban fighters tried to ambush a joint U.S.-Afghan military convoy, then fled to Hyderabad village for cover, said Helmand provincial Police Chief Mohammad Hussein. Airstrikes then targeted the militants in the village.
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Aid battle for flood-hit Pakistan  
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Rescuers in Pakistan are struggling to bring aid to more than a million people hit by storms that have also struck many other areas in south Asia.
Army helicopters and transport planes are dropping aid to the homeless in Pakistan's Balochistan province.

Officials say fewer than 20 people died when Cyclone Yemyin struck on Tuesday but poor communications and remoteness mean an accurate figure is unavailable.

A key Hindu pilgrimage in Kashmir has been suspended due to heavy rain.

More that 140 people have been killed in storms and floods over the past week in India.

In flooded parts of Afghanistan, more than 80 people have died in recent days.
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MarkOttawa

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Britain to throw extra troops into Afghan front line
Sunday Times, July 1
http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/uk/crime/article2010088.ece

Military commanders plan to increase Britain’s frontline fighting units in Afghanistan by at a least a quarter amid signs the war against the Taliban is intensifying.

General Sir Richard Dannatt, the head of the army, has ordered an extra infantry battalion of frontline troops including Gurkhas to take on the Taliban in war-torn Helmand province, according to sources.

Four battalions, one each from the Coldstream Guards, the Yorkshire Regiment, the Royal Gurkhas and the Royal Marines have been formally “warned” that they should be ready to deploy to Helmand this autumn. They are set to replace the three fighting battalions currently in theatre [emphasis added].

The decision to deploy the Gurkhas will send a signal to the Taliban commanders that British forces will not flinch in their determination to press the Taliban back high into the mountains. More than 1,000 of them are reported to have been flown from their base in Brunei for training in Britain.

Des Browne, the defence secretary, announced last February that troop numbers would increase by 1,400 to 7,700 this summer. But the new plans are likely to see the overall deployment increase by as many as 800 more fighting men, bringing the total commitment to 8,500 [emphasis added].

The MoD said last week that it could not comment on any plans for new troop deployments. A spokesman said details of any new deployment would first be announced by Browne in a statement to parliament. That was expected in the autumn, he said...

Reports of the planned deployment come just days after Sir Sherard Cowper-Coles, Britain’s ambassador in Kabul, predicted that British involvement in the region would last at least 30 years [most of that very long term involvement would not be militry, however - MC]. He described the offensive as “a marathon, rather than a sprint”.

Patrick Mercer, the Tory MP and former army colonel said: “The decision to send further combat forces to Afghanistan represents a serious and necessary escalation in combat power. The problem, of course, is that this imposes further strain on an already overstretched army. There needs to be a greater number of combat troops recruited and trained to ease the strain.”

The additional deployment to Afghanistan comes as Britain prepares to reduce its military presence in Iraq. Britain now has 5,500 troops based in Basra. Some military sources have suggested this number will be cut to 1,500 next year but the MoD has declined to comment on this, dismissing it as speculation.

Mark
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Canada’s finest revel in life at the end of the world
Don Martin CanWest News Service Sunday, July 01, 2007
Article Link

PATROL BASE WILSON, Zhari District, Afghanistan - The temperature crested 50 C degrees before noon here on my first day at Afghanistan's most isolated outpost overlooking the birthplace of the Taliban.

I know it's hot in parts of Canada, but this swelter was so intense the cribbage pegs were melting and a soldier's cigarette lighter blew up in a display of spontaneous combustion.

As sweat soaked every shred of clothing in an environment without air conditioning or even a fan, the only comforting thought was that it couldn't possibly get any worse. Well, yes it could.

A wind-howled dust storm whacked the camp in late afternoon. The mess tent started to lift off. Everything and everybody was sand-blasted with a brown film of what my soldier roommates insist is two parts dried fecal matter to one part regular dust.

Finally, just in time to catch everyone trying to find relief in sleep between mosquito bites, came the first downpour in five months. Thunder. Lightning. Gushing through tent windows, it drenched unsuspecting sleepers in their bags. (This freak monsoon hit on and off for the next four days, flooding trenches around the base, washing away part of the security perimeter and bringing on, perish the thought, intense humidity.) What else could hit? Frogs? Locusts?

"We've already had the locusts," wryly observed Warrant Officer Jim Hunter. "They hit in the spring."

That leaves only the camel spiders, poisonous snakes and, yes, the odd frog. Welcome to the end of the world, Afghanistan style. Patrol Base Wilson is the last 'austere forward operation base' in this untamed district - and that's truth in advertising.  That means no fresh food, no air conditioning, no flush toilets. Water, powerful coffee and packaged American military rations, that's it.
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A major piece summarizing the security situation, too long to excerpt fairly--do read it (good maps and graphs too):

As more blood spills, the military sees progress
Civilian deaths rise and danger zones spread, but officials point to a stronger Afghan army and weakened Taliban

Globe and Mail, July 2, by Graeme Smith
http://www.theglobeandmail.com/servlet/story/RTGAM.20070702.wafghan02/BNStory/Afghanistan/

How Taliban exploit civilian casualties
Armed militants are quick to offer rudimentary care in hopes of winning support
Globe and Mail, July 2, by Graeme Smith
http://www.theglobeandmail.com/servlet/story/RTGAM.20070702.wafghanhelman02/BNStory/Afghanistan/

The scene of Afghanistan's latest civilian bombing was still smoking, the injured still moaning in the dust, when villagers witnessed the Taliban's unnerving ability to exploit the carnage for propaganda.

Armed insurgents arrived almost immediately at the blasted patch of desert near Hyderabad in Helmand province, villagers say - speaking in grateful tones about the gunmen who helped them recover the bodies and ferry the injured to hospitals.

"All the people in this area will start jihad against the foreign troops," said Haji Nazar Mohammed, 50, a small-time farmer who claimed to have lost dozens of relatives. By declaring jihad, or holy war, against the soldiers, the villagers would commit themselves to helping the Taliban.

In the two days since the overnight bombing left an unknown number of people dead on Saturday morning, residents say the Taliban have been busy drumming up support in the affected area, offering rudimentary medical care, and even helping journalists arrange telephone interviews with relatives of the victims.

Dur Ali Shah, the government's district chief, says he cannot offer the victims any help of his own because the area remains too dangerous for him to visit.

Village elders visited him on Saturday and claimed they had recovered the bodies of 45 civilians and 62 Taliban, he said, but he has no way of confirming the information.

Those figures would make the Hyderabad bombing one of the largest in years, although NATO disputes the numbers...

The number of civilian deaths inflicted by NATO and U.S. operations in Afghanistan has risen dramatically, with roughly 300 killed so far this year.

One of the major exceptions to this trend has been in Kandahar province, where Canadian commanders say they haven't heard any complaints of civilian casualties in 2007 [emphasis added].

Mark
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These ARE very good pieces - am including permalinks in case they're already off G&M site when you try lreading them

MarkOttawa said:
As more blood spills, the military sees progress
Civilian deaths rise and danger zones spread, but officials point to a stronger Afghan army and weakened Taliban

Globe and Mail, July 2, by Graeme Smith
http://www.theglobeandmail.com/servlet/story/RTGAM.20070702.wafghan02/BNStory/Afghanistan/
Permalink here

MarkOttawa said:
How Taliban exploit civilian casualties
Armed militants are quick to offer rudimentary care in hopes of winning support

Globe and Mail, July 2, by Graeme Smith
http://www.theglobeandmail.com/servlet/story/RTGAM.20070702.wafghanhelman02/BNStory/Afghanistan/
Permalink here


 

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Red and white all over
By STEPHANIE LEVITZ, CP Mon, July 2, 2007
Article Link[/url]
     
Our troops in Afghanistan take a day off from war to fondly remember their country

KANDAHAR, Afghanistan -- A ray of red and white burst through the monochrome of army life at Kandahar Airfield as soldiers swapped their camouflage for Canadian colours to celebrate our national birthday half a world away.

Gone were the digitized uniforms with their flecks of brown and grey, replaced by a smorgasbord of T-shirts proclaiming pride in everything Canadian.

Soldiers and support employees alike tossed aside the usual muted patriotism that characterizes the military's work here in favour of some pure Canadian spirit.

"It's like finally getting a little taste of home, being surrounded by all this," said Cpl. James Nickerson, 34, of Canso, N.S., as he strolled the boardwalk at the airfield decked out with strings of Canadian flags on the banister. Bigger flags hung from the ceiling. "Now if it could only just snow."

Indeed, one of the only regular things about Canada Day in Kandahar was the scorching sun, beating down on the soldiers and civilians who took part in July 1 activities at the sprawling airfield.
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Articles found July 2, 2007

British soldier killed in Afghanistan
Posted Mon Jul 2, 2007 6:22am AEST
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Related Story: Afghanistan strike killed fewer than dozen civilians: NATO A British soldier serving with NATO was killed on Sunday in a Taliban attack in southern Afghanistan, the Ministry of Defence said.

The soldier, from the 19 Regiment Royal Artillery, died around 9:30am local time after his patrol was engaged by small arms fire and rocket propelled grenades as they left the town of Girishk in Helmand province.

"After the initial engagement a vehicle suffered an explosion and there were five casualties. The injured were flown to an ISAF medical facility in Camp Bastion, and sadly, one soldier was pronounced dead on arrival," the MoD said.

The soldier's next of kin have been informed, the ministry added in a statement.

The death brought to 63 the death toll of British troops killed in Afghanistan since late 2001 when a US-led force ousted the Taliban regime in Kabul in the wake of the September 11 attacks in the United States.
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West looks at "law and order" in Afghanistan
Sun Jul 1, 2007 5:47PM BST
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ROME (Reuters) - The leaders of the United Nations, NATO and Afghanistan gather in Rome this week for a conference aimed at shoring up Kabul's "law and order" agenda, even as the nation slips deeper into conflict.

Widespread corruption and violent crime in Afghanistan are feeding disillusionment with the government of Western-leaning President Hamid Karzai, nearly seven years since U.S.-led forces removed the Taliban from power.

There is also growing outrage over civilian killings -- a theme off the official agenda, but one which is expected to be raised at least privately after as many as 45 civilians died on Saturday in a U.S.-led air strike.

The July 2-3 "Conference on the Rule of Law in Afghanistan" is meant to map out a strategy -- particularly a financing strategy -- to address the perceived failings of Afghan justice.

Beyond Karzai, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and NATO Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer, the conference will be attended by senior diplomats from more than 20 nations.

"The era of lawlessness and corruption and unprofessional police and an unreliable justice system must end," the U.N. Special Representative to Afghanistan, Tom Koenigs, said in Kabul last month, looking ahead to the conference
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Canada Day kicks off in Kandahar
STEPHANIE LEVITZ  Canadian Press July 1, 2007 at 10:49 AM EDT
Article Link

KANDAHAR, Afghanistan — A ray of red and white burst through the monochrome of army life at Kandahar Airfield on Sunday as hundreds swapped their camouflage for Canadian colours to celebrate Canada Day in Afghanistan.

Gone were the digitized uniforms with their flecks of brown and grey, replaced by a smorgasbord of T-shirts proclaiming pride in everything Canadian. Soldiers and support employees alike tossed aside the usual muted patriotism that characterizes the military's work here in favour of some pure Canadian spirit.

“It's like finally getting a little taste of home, being surrounded by all this,” said Corporal James Nickerson, 34, of Canso, N.S., as he strolled the boardwalk at the airfield decked out with strings of Canadian flags on the banister. Bigger flags hung from the ceiling.

“Now if it could only just snow.”
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New Zealand soldier wins top bravery award for actions in Afghanistan
The Associated Press Sunday, July 1, 2007
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WELLINGTON, New Zealand: A 35-year-old corporal who carried a badly wounded colleague to safety across a battlefield in Afghanistan has been awarded the Victoria Cross, the highest military honor among British Commonwealth countries.

Cpl. Bill Apiata became the first New Zealander to win the medal since World War II, Prime Minister Helen Clark said Monday, announcing the award and heralding Apiata's actions.

"Cpl. Apiata carried a severely wounded comrade over 70 meters (yards) across broken, rocky and fire-swept ground, fully exposed to the glare of battle, heavy opposing fire and into the face of return fire from the main New Zealand troops' position," Clark told reporters.

"This brave action saved his comrade's life," she said.

Three other members of Apiata's squad, from the Special Air Services commando unit, were awarded lesser gallantry medals for actions in the battle, in Afghanistan in 2004. They were not named for security reasons, Clark said.

Apiata was a member of the SAS squad that won a Presidential Citation from U.S. President George W. Bush in 2004 for their actions in Afghanistan
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The Taliban’s Opium War
The difficulties and dangers of the eradication program.
by Jon Lee Anderson July 9, 200
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In the main square in Tirin Kot, the capital of Uruzgan Province, in central Afghanistan, a large billboard shows a human skeleton being hanged. The rope is not a normal gallows rope but the stem of an opium poppy. Aside from this jarring image, Tirin Kot is a bucolic-seeming place, a market town of flat-topped adobe houses and little shops on a low bluff on the eastern shore of the Tirinrud River, in a long valley bounded by open desert and jagged, treeless mountains. About ten thousand people live in the town. The men are bearded and wear traditional robes and tunics and cover their heads with turbans or sequinned skullcaps. There are virtually no women in sight, and when they do appear they wear all-concealing burkas. A few paved streets join at a traffic circle in the center of town, but within a few blocks they peter out to dirt tracks.

Almost everything around Tirin Kot is some shade of brown. The river is a khaki-colored wash of silt and snowmelt that flows out of the mountain range to the north, past mud-walled family compounds. On either side of the river, however, running down the valley, there is a narrow strip of wheat fields and poppy fields, and for several weeks in the spring the poppies bloom: lovely, open-petalled white, pink, red, and magenta blossoms, the darker colors indicating the ones with the most opium.

One afternoon this spring, at the height of the harvest, I drove through the area with Douglas Wankel, a former Drug Enforcement Administration official who was hired by the United States government in 2003 to organize its counter-narcotics effort here. Wankel, who is sixty-one and has piercing blue eyes, was stationed in Kabul as a young D.E.A. official in 1978 and 1979, during the bloody unrest that led up to the Soviet invasion. “I left on a flight to New Delhi a couple of hours before the Soviets rolled in,” he said. “People thought it was because I knew it was coming. I didn’t; I just happened to be leaving on a trip. But the Soviets branded me a C.I.A. agent, and so I couldn’t come back—until now, that is.”

Working first with the D.E.A. and then with the State Department, Wankel helped create the Afghan Eradication Force, with troops of the Afghan National Police drawn from the Ministry of the Interior. Last year, an estimated four hundred thousand acres of opium poppies were planted in Afghanistan, a fifty-nine-per-cent increase over the previous year. Afghanistan now supplies more than ninety-two per cent of the world’s opium, the raw ingredient of heroin. More than half the country’s annual G.D.P., some $3.1 billion, is believed to come from the drug trade, and narcotics officials believe that part of the money is funding the Taliban insurgency.

Wankel was in Uruzgan to oversee a poppy-eradication campaign—the first major effort to disrupt the harvest in the province. He had brought with him a two-hundred-and-fifty-man A.E.F. contingent, including forty-odd contractors supplied by DynCorp, a Virginia-based private military company, which has a number of large U.S. government contracts in Iraq, Afghanistan, and other parts of the world. In Colombia, DynCorp helps implement the multibillion-dollar Plan Colombia, to eradicate coca. The A.E.F.’s armed convoy had taken three days to drive from Kabul, and had set up a base on a plateau above a deep wadi. With open land all around, it was a good spot to ward off attacks.
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7 killed as bomb destroys a police vehicle in southern Afghanistan
Mon Jul 2 08:16:00 CDT 2007
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KANDAHAR, Afghanistan (AP) — A roadside bomb has destroyed a police vehicle patrolling in southern Afghanistan, killing all seven policemen in it.
Officials say the police truck, a Ford Ranger, was travelling through the Zhari district of Kandahar province when the bomb exploded.

Provincial Police Chief Fayed Agha Faqid says Zhari, the scene of one of NATO’s largest-ever battles with Taliban rebels, remains a dangerous region.

NATO says it killed between 500 and 1,000 Taliban insurgents in Zhari last fall
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Bomber’s End: Flash of Terror, Humble Grave
KABUL, Afghanistan, June 30
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The two men had come to the common end of all human journeys. Their bodies, swathed in bloody white sheets, lay on a rocky hillside. Awaiting them were two thin rectangles of shallow graves. The city of Kabul was responsible for the burial. No mullah had been asked to preside over this earthly farewell

“One of these guys needs a smaller hole,” one gravedigger said, laughing.

The bigger of the bodies belonged to an old man, Khan Mir. His body had gone unclaimed, and the obligations of an Islamic funeral were forgone because he was a pauper. The identity of the other man was unknown. He was only half a body really, a headless torso with but a right arm and a right leg. His interment was meant to be ignominious because he was a suicide bomber, or yak enteher kunenda.

“Cover them with rocks and throw on the dirt,” the chief gravedigger called out.

In Kabul, the burial of a suicide bomber occurs at a secret time in a secret place, the forgettable end to what most here consider an unforgivable act. Of course, it is easier to bury the remains of a bomber than the fearsome consequences of the bombing. At least 193 suicide attacks have been reported in Afghanistan during the past 18 months, enough to contaminate much of the nation with the persisting malady of terror.
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Friendly fire killed Canadian soldier: U.S. report
Associated Press, via Toronto Star, 2 Jul 07
Article link - MILNEWS.ca Media Summary, to 2 Jul 07

MONTPELIER, Vt. – A U.S. army report says friendly fire was responsible for the death of a Canadian soldier and an American soldier in Afghanistan last year.  The report says friendly fire from behind killed Canadian Forces Private Robert Costall and Sgt. John Thomas Stone of the Vermont National Guard.  The report, released to The Associated Press today, says a number of U.S. and allied soldiers were wounded.  The report is collection of witness statements assembled by U.S. investigators. One statement says a gunner opened fire at two allied positions in quick succession on March 29, 2006.  Costall, a 22-year-old machine-gunner, was born in Thunder Bay, Ont., and grew up in Gibson, B.C.  The possibility of him being killed by friendly fire was raised earlier by his wounded comrades.  Stone, the American killed, was shot once in the back and once in the head while he and allied soldiers were repelling a major, night-time attack.



- edited to add latest Media Summary .pdf -
 

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Friendly fire killed Canadian
Investigators find U.S. Special Forces machine-gunned local soldier

CanWest News Service, 3 Jul 07
Article link

An Edmonton-based army private who became the first Canadian soldier to lose his life in combat since the Korean War was killed by friendly fire, U.S. investigators have concluded.  Machine-gun fire from U.S. Special Forces was responsible for the March 2006 death of Canadian Forces Pte. Robert Costall in an Afghanistan firefight with insurgents, The Associated Press reported Monday.  Costall, 22, was a gunner with the First Battalion Princess Patricia's Canadian Light Infantry. He was born in Thunder Bay, Ont., and raised in Gibsons, B.C.  Also killed in the nighttime battle was Sgt. John Thomas Stone of the Vermont National Guard. Both were shot from behind.  One witness, a sergeant referred to as Witness 1, reported that a gunner quickly opened fire on the fateful night.  "When the majority of the firefight took place (at) approximately 02:15, the (Special Forces) security element in the northeast corner began shooting out toward the perimeter, I immediately realized the S.F. was shooting at the Canadian position," Witness 1 said.  He immediately signalled the Special Forces position to cease fire. "The S.F. Security then turned his weapon 100 to 140 degrees from its original position and began firing in the direction of the American ETT compound," the witness said, referring to the location where Sgt. Stone, an embedded tactical trainer, was hit ....



Canadian was shot in back, U.S. army confirms
Long-awaited report points to friendly fire in Pte. Costall's death

OMAR EL AKKAD AND UNNATI GANDHI, Globe & Mail, 3 Jul 07
Article link

Canadian soldier Robert Costall was shot to death from behind in Afghanistan last year by American troops, who opened machine-gun fire on him and then another friendly position during an insurgent attack, a newly released U.S. army report says.  Private Costall, 22, and Vermont National Guard Sergeant Tom Stone were killed during a prolonged and fierce gun battle in southern Afghanistan on March 29, 2006.  Pte. Costall was part of a 38-member Canadian quick-reaction force dispatched to assist a convoy under Taliban attack. During a larger battle that ensued, as Taliban forces attacked a forward operating base, two soldiers lost their lives.  In the weeks following Pte. Costall's death, Canadian and U.S. forces would not rule out friendly fire as a possible cause. A month after the Afghanistan battle, both forces launched an inquiry into the incident. The newly released U.S. army report, given to the Associated Press yesterday, all but confirms that Pte. Costall was shot and killed from behind by his allies.  However, the report does not include any statements from the Canadian soldiers present at the fight, nor does it say whether anyone has been disciplined as a result of the deaths.  In the version of the report made public, all names other than those of the two dead soldiers are blacked out.  Also apparently missing from the report is a statement from the soldier believed to have fired the M240 machine-gun that killed Pte. Costall and Sgt. Stone ....



Friendly fire killed Canadian: U.S. Army
Soldiers hit from behind by machine-gun bursts in 2006, report finds

Rosie DiManno, Toronto Star, 3 Jul 07
Article link

While Canadian military authorities continue to drag their heels, the U.S. Army says Pte. Robert Costall was killed by friendly fire – apparently American special forces.  The 22-year-old machine-gunner, born in Thunder Bay and deployed to Afghanistan with Princess Patricia's Canadian Light Infantry, was the first Canadian firefight casualty in that country.  He was slain during a fierce battle March 29, 2006, after his rapid-response platoon was sent to a forward operating base in support of Afghan and special forces troops who had come under siege.  The possibility of potential friendly fire arose almost immediately and Canadian Brig.-Gen. David Fraser, then head of Regional Command South, Task Force Afghanistan, promptly requested a board of inquiry investigation.  Canada, the United States and Afghanistan all launched probes.  Yesterday, the U.S. Army released its investigation results to Associated Press, asserting that Costall and an American sergeant, also killed that night, were shot from behind in a burst of machine-gun fire that originated from within the compound at Forward Operating Base Robinson, some 110 kilometres northwest of Kandahar City.  American investigators interviewed U.S. troops at the scene, with several accounts mentioning that the gunner shot at two "friendly positions'' in quick succession.  The witness statements said Sgt. John Thomas Stone of the Vermont National Guard was shot once in the back and once in the head as he crouched behind a wall atop a building where he and other allied troops were repelling the major nighttime attack ....



Military: Friendly Fire Killed Guardsman
WILSON RING, Associated Press, 2 Jul 07
Article link

A Vermont National Guard soldier and a Canadian private who were killed in Afghanistan last year were hit by friendly fire, according to an Army report released Monday to The Associated Press.  Sgt. 1st Class John Thomas Stone, 52, was shot once each in the back and head on March 29, 2006, while crouching behind a wall atop a building where he and other U.S. soldiers were repelling a major nighttime attack.  He had joined the Army in 1971 in part to try to learn what happened to his brother, a freelance photographer who disappeared in Cambodia in 1970 with Sean Flynn, the son of the actor Errol Flynn.  The machine gun rounds that killed Stone were fired from inside a compound operated by U.S. Special Forces soldiers, according to the report, a collection of witness statements assembled by American investigators.  The friendly fire also killed Canadian Forces Pvt. Robert Costall and wounded a number of American and allied soldiers, the report said. It does not indicate whether anyone was disciplined .....
 

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German Court Rejects Bid to Halt Jet Deployment to Afghanistan
By Karin Matussek July 3 (Bloomberg)
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Germany's top constitutional court rejected a bid to block the deployment of Tornado fighter jets to Afghanistan, bolstering the country's ability to commit to international military engagements.

The opposition Left Party had asked the Federal Constitutional Court to find that Germany's participation in the NATO-led mission in Afghanistan violated the rights of Parliament. The mission goes beyond the 1955 NATO treaty as ratified by lawmakers and German troops are participating in illegal actions, the party argues.

The Karlsruhe-based court today rejected the case in proceedings broadcast live on German television.

Six Tornados, deployed in April, are engaged in reconnaissance to help the North Atlantic Treaty Organization counter Taliban insurgents. Germany currently has about 3,000 soldiers and other staff in Afghanistan.

The party, with 53 lawmakers in the 614-member lower house of Parliament, had claimed NATO's worldwide crisis-intervention missions are an unauthorized shift in policy.

The mandates to participate in the mission and send jets expire on Oct. 13. NATO has asked Germany to extend the Tornado mission beyond that date. The government said yesterday that it wishes to grant the request.
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Afghan army carries out first major operation
Updated Tue. Jul. 3 2007 2:41 PM ET Associated Press
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ANDAR DISTRICT, Afghanistan -- Two Black Hawk helicopters swooped down into the makeshift base in the middle of a Taliban hotbed, and U.S. soldiers snapped salutes to the mission's top general -- an Afghan, not an American.

Afghan officers, with a big assist from U.S. counterparts, planned and executed their first major operation as part of a monthlong offensive, taking a key step forward in the U.S. effort to build up Afghanistan's army so it can secure the country on its own and let foreign troops leave.

Operation Maiwand, which officially ended Tuesday, did not see heavy fighting. But Afghan and U.S. soldiers held some of their first meetings with tribal elders and opened schools and markets in Andar district, which is a Taliban stronghold in the southern province of Ghazni.

About 800 Afghan soldiers, 400 American soldiers and 200 Afghan policemen took part in the operation. Afghan soldiers raided houses of suspected militants, something U.S. troops can't do without a cultural uproar.

"We bring a lot of skills to the table and they have a lot of expertise on the human terrain, the people, and when you put that together it's a powerful combination," said Maj. Gen. David Rodriguez, commander of U.S. troops in Afghanistan.

Col. Martin P. Schweitzer, the lead American officer during Operation Maiwand, said the Afghan army would take even greater control of operations in the next several months and that U.S. soldiers were training their way out of a job.
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Canada to commit $30M to Afghan legal system
Updated Tue. Jul. 3 2007 8:26 AM ET CTV.ca News Staff
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Canada is committing $30 million to help reform Afghanistan's legal system. The announcement was made Tuesday in Rome by Helena Guergis, Secretary of State, Foreign Affairs and International Trade, who is representing Canada at a two-day conference.

Guergis is among representatives from more than 20 countries who are meeting in Rome to formulate a plan Afghanistan can implement to reform its justice system after 30 years of tyranny.

"What we hope to accomplish here is, first off, the launch of the process where we can revitalize or strengthen the rule of law in Afghanistan," Guergis told CTV Newsnet from Rome on Tuesday.

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, Afghan President Hamid Karzai and NATO Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer were also expected at the summit. The conference has been organized by the Italian and Afghan governments with the help of the United Nations.
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Clashes at Pakistan mosque leave nine dead
Updated Tue. Jul. 3 2007 12:36 PM ET Associated Press
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ISLAMABAD, Pakistan -- Security forces clashed with militants Tuesday outside a radical mosque where students have carried out a string of kidnappings of police officers and alleged prostitutes, killing at least nine people, a senior official said.

The battle marked a major escalation in a standoff at the Lal Masjid, or Red Mosque, whose clerics have challenged the military-led government by mounting a vigilante anti-vice campaign in the Pakistani capital of Islamabad for the past several months.

Deputy Interior Minister Zafar Warriach said the dead included four students, three civilians, one soldier and a journalist. However, clerics at the mosque claimed that 10 of their supporters had died, according to a lawmaker sent to mediate the dispute.

The minister said 148 were injured, most of them by tear gas fired by security forces.

By nightfall, the city's top security official, Khalid Pervez, said a cease-fire had been reached with the militants. But Warriach said the government was "considering all options" when asked what steps would be taken to defuse the standoff with the students.

The trouble began when student followers of the mosque, including young men with guns and dozens of women wearing black burqas, rushed toward a nearby police checkpoint. Police and paramilitary soldiers fired tear gas and, as the students retreated, an Associated Press photographer saw at least four students, some of them masked, fire shots toward security forces
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Suicide bomber hits U.S.-led convoy in Afghanistan
Tue 3 Jul 2007, 10:47 GMT KABUL (Reuters)
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A Taliban suicide bomber targeted a U.S.-led coalition convoy on Tuesday in Afghanistan, but there was no immediate report of any casualties.

The attack, part of rising violence in recent months by Taliban insurgents, happened in Logar province which lies to the south of the capital, Kabul.

The Taliban claimed responsibility for the attack. A spokesman for the coalition confirmed the raid, but had no further information
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U.S. investigators recommend no charges in friendly-fire death of Canadian
WILSON RING, Associated Press, 3 Jul 07
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A U.S. Army investigator recommended that no charges be filed against the U.S. Special Forces machine-gunner who killed Canadian Pte. Robert Costall and an American soldier during a heated night-time battle last year in Afghanistan.

The recommendation is in documents released by the army on Tuesday about the friendly-fire deaths of Costall and Vermont National Guard 1st Sgt. John Thomas Stone.

Their deaths, "while regrettable, are understandable in the context of this firefight," said one document, a report written by an American army officer whose name was blacked out.

The officer said Costall and 37 other Canadian soldiers were sent to reinforce Forward Operating Base Robinson for an expected attack on March 28, 2006.

They were moved into the field of fire of the machine-gunner, who was at a Special Forces compound inside the base, the report said.

It said an "inaccurate target identification" that night by the gunner, who was not identified in the report, caused him to fire at the rooftop position where Stone and other soldiers were crouched behind a wall, fighting off an attack by Taliban forces.

In the report and a second one released Tuesday, the army said an inadequate base defence plan and fatigue contributed to the tragedy, as did a lack of communication from headquarters and significant supply problems at the base in Helmand province in southern Afghanistan.

In the new reports, one investigator said he spoke with the two Special Forces soldiers manning two machine-guns in the area where the fatal shots were fired. Neither acknowledged firing the fatal shots, but their statements "lack credibility," the investigator said.

The Special Forces report said the small base, established about a month earlier, had been under near daily attack. It had acute supply problems and its soldiers were exhausted, the report said.

At one point in February, soon after the base was established, the Americans had to use their own money to buy food for the Afghan soldiers with them, the report said.

The Canadian reinforcements arrived by helicopter after dark at the same time an 80-vehicle supply convoy arrived, creating confusion about where the vehicles and soldiers should be placed, the reports said. The attack began about 1:45 a.m. March 29 with mortars followed by rocket propelled grenades and small arms fire.

Stone went to the roof of the building where he was staying and was hit in the back by a machine-gun bullet that travelled through his body and into his head, according to the reports. He was not wearing body armour.

Costall and other Canadian soldiers were on a berm outside the gate. Costall was hit by two shots, either of which would have been fatal, the report said.

Costall, 22, was a machine-gunner with 1st Battalion Princess Patricia's Canadian Light Infantry. He was born in Thunder Bay, Ont., and grew up in Gibsons, B.C. The possibility of him being killed by friendly fire was raised earlier by his wounded comrades.

The battle effectively ended when coalition forces called in an air strike, the U.S. Army reports said.

Both reports are executive summaries of investigations into the tragedy. One was done for the U.S. Department of Defense command in Kandahar, Afghanistan. The second was prepared for the 3rd Special Forces Group at Fort Bragg, N.C.

Both were inadvertently excluded from a compact disk delivered to The Associated Press on Monday in response to a Freedom of Information Act request.

The documents released Monday marked the first official confirmation that friendly fire caused the deaths.

The U.S. investigation into possible friendly fire began the day after Stone and Costall were killed.

The Canadian military has also conducted an investigation but its report had not yet been released.

Stone, 52, of Tunbridge, joined the military after high school, but was in an out of the service several times over the course of 35 years.

He was on his third tour in Afghanistan.

 

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Family of fallen soldier frustrated with U.S. military
Tb News Source, 4 Jul 07
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The family of a Thunder Bay-born soldier killed in Afghanistan doesn't feel satisfied with the U.S. report into his death.

The American investigation has revealed that Private Robert Costall died by friendly fire on March 29, 2006.

Costall's Aunt, Colleen McBain, says that her family is still waiting for an apology from the U.S. military.

'In any mistake that is made in life, you learn from it, or you can learn. Apologies even for mistakes haven't, to my knowledge, been issued by the U.S. military to the family members.'

McBain also feels that the report isn't fair.

'The report informed us, the public, that there were not any statements taken from Canadian witnesses. I don't know where they are collecting there information from, when the Canadian witnesses were the first to go forward with the information that it was friendly fire that caused the death of those two soldiers.'

A U.S. Army investigator has recommended that no charges be filed against the U.S. Special Forces machine-gunner who killed Costall and an American soldier.

 

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Articles found July  4, 2007

Afghanistan fight winding down for India Company
Updated Tue. Jul. 3 2007 8:03 PM ET CTV.ca News Staff
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Soldiers with the Royal Canadian Regiment conducted one of their last firefights on Tuesday during a sweep west of Kandahar City.

The troops of India Company are in their last month on the ground in Afghanistan.

They reported two insurgents killed and two wounded.

"The most important part of this stage of the tour is not a body count on either side," said Maj. Dave Quick, the company's commanding officer. "My soldiers are staying focused to keep themselves alive so we can set the conditions for the next battle group to come in."

Quebec's Royal 22nd Regiment, popularly known as the Van Doos, will be the battle group rotating into Afghanistan.

Military officials reported no casualties among the Canadian and Afghan troops who took part in the search-and-destroy operation codenamed Operation Drag-On.

The fighting took place at Ma'sum Ghar in Zhari district, the scene of very intense fighting last fall. On Monday, seven Afghan police officers died in the district, killed by a roadside bomb.

The soldiers moved into an attack zone under cover of darkness, then waited for the enemy.
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New Zealand makes fresh aid grant to Afghanistan rural communities
Wednesday July 4, 2007
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WELLINGTON, New Zealand (AP): New Zealand will give 800,000 New Zealand dollars (US$626,000; euro460,000) to aid rural projects in Afghanistan, Foreign Affairs Minister Winston Peters said Wednesday.

The latest aid grant will go toward helping local communities in Afghanistan's Bamiyan province build or repair irrigation systems, improve local roads and extend electricity supply to villages, he said.

New Zealand currently has some 120 troops deployed on provincial reconstruction work in Bamiyan, northeast of the capital, Kabul, where they had created "a secure environment,'' Peters noted.

Bamiyan is where the Taliban in 2000 destroyed two ancient Buddha statues carved into a hillside cliff.

"Ongoing conflict, political instability and severe periods of drought have caused extreme poverty in Afghanistan, especially in rural communities in provinces such as Bamiyan,'' he said.

The aid would go to the Afghan government's national solidarity program, which was improving the lives of millions of rural citizens, Peters said.
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Clashes kill 20 suspected militants in Afghanistan
Updated Wed. Jul. 4 2007 6:24 AM ET Associated Press
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KABUL, Afghanistan -- Twenty militants and one policeman are dead after three separate clashes in southern Afghanistan.

Officials say militants battled Afghan and U.S.-led coalition troops.

The provincial police chief of Ghazni province says militants attacked at least three police checkpoints in Ghazni Tuesday, and ensuing gunbattles left 13 militants and one officer dead.

A spokesman for Zabul province's governor says Afghan and U.S.-led coalition forces there clashed with suspected Taliban militants Tuesday in Shahjoy district, leaving seven militants dead and six others wounded.
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Norway to send more Afghan refugees back home
Wednesday July 04, 2007 (1753 PST)
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STOCKHOLM, Jul 4 (Online): Between 700 and 800 Afghan asylum seekers have had their application turned down, and will have to face returning from Norway to their homeland, said reports reaching here on Wednesday.

Last weekend, 13 Afghan refugees were returned, and on Monday another seven were sent back after their final appeal had been turned down, Aftenposten reported.

"These are single men. Others, more vulnerable groups, like single women and children, families with children, or people with serious illness have been allowed to stay," said head of the Aliens Board, Terje Sjeggestad.

Police inspector Knut Oevregaard said it is impossible to say when all who have had their application for asylum turned down, will be sent out of the country
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Troops not to withdraw from Afghanistan: German
Wednesday July 04, 2007 (1752 PST)
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BERLIN, July 04 (Online): German Defense Minister Franz Josef Jung said here that the country would not withdraw troops from war-ravaged Afghanistan.

While attending a symposium, Jung said it is necessary to prolong the stationing of German troops in Afghanistan under the U.S.-led anti-terrorist peace mission.

"As long as there are terrorist attacks in Afghanistan, the mission has to continue," Jung said.

He said that in order to achieve stability and carry out reconstruction work in Afghanistan, the international force first needs to tackle terrorism.
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Dutch defense minister proposes cutting number of tanks, F-16s
Wednesday July 04, 2007 (0645 PST)
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NETHERLANDS: The Dutch defense minister announced the government plans to reduce the number of its tanks and F-16 fighter jets as part of a package of spending cuts.
The cuts, which must be approved by lawmakers, come as Dutch armed forces are running up huge bills in Afghanistan, where 2,000 troops are involved in a reconstruction operation in the southern province of Uruzgan.

The government will debate with lawmakers in coming months on whether to extend the two-year mission, which is scheduled to end in August 2008.
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Pakistan closes two camps for Afghan refugees
Monday July 02, 2007 (1616 PST)
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GENEVA, July 01 (Online): Pakistan this weekend is closing two camps for Afghan refugees. The U.N. refugee agency is urging the government of Pakistan to make sure the closure goes peacefully. Violent clashes occurred in mid-May when Pakistan tried to close another camp for Afghan refugees..

The U.N. refugee agency says it does not want a replay of what happened in May, and it is calling for continued dialogue between the government and the refugees in the camps that are being closed.

U.N. refugee spokesman Ron Redmond tells VOA the camps host more than 82-thousand registered Afghans, most of whom are women, children and the elderly. "Overall, there has been a pretty good response from the Afghan community to the decision to consolidate camps in Pakistan. And a lot of the Afghans took the opportunity in advance of these camp closures to take advantage of various assistance programs being offered by UNHCR to actually go back to Afghanistan itself," he said.
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Herat Bank robbed of more than six million afghanis
Wednesday July 04, 2007 (0645 PST)
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HERAT CITY: Over six million afghanis were stolen from a National Bank branch in the western Herat province, officials said.
Col. Nisar Ahmad Paikar, head of investigation department at the provincial police headquarters, told Pajhwok Afghan News initial investigations suggested no outsider was involved in the bank robbery.

The bank staff could be complicit in the theft, he said, adding some of them had been quizzed. A joint team comprising officials from the attorney office, bank officials, governors house and security personnel was looking into the case.
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Six NATO soldiers killed in southern Afghanistan
Globe and Mail Update July 4, 2007 at 11:05 AM EDT KABUL —
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Six soldiers with the NATO-led force and their Afghan interpreter were killed Wednesday when their vehicle struck a bomb in southern Afghanistan, NATO says.

The 37-nation International Security Assistance Force did not release the nationalities of the foreign troops, leaving such announcements to their home nations.

The attack happened in a volatile region of Kandahar province. The majority of NATO troops there are Canadian.

The deaths took to 105 the number of foreign soldiers killed in Afghanistan this year, most of them in combat.


The Canadian Defence Ministry said there had been an "incident,"according to AFP.

"We are aware of an incident but it's still being investigated. We don't have any further details," spokeswoman Lieutenant Carole Brown said.
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http://www.ctv.ca/servlet/ArticleNews/story/CTVNews/20070704/afghan_soldiers_070704/20070704?hub=TopStories

Six Canadian soldiers killed in roadside blast
Updated Wed. Jul. 4 2007 12:46 PM ET

CTV.ca News Staff

A roadside bomb has killed six Canadian soldiers in the volatile Panjwaii district of Afghanistan, as well as an Afghan interpreter.

Brig.-Gen. Tim Grant, commander of Task Force Afghanistan, confirmed the deaths during a news conference Wednesday in Kandahar.

He said the soldiers -- who have not been identified pending notification of next of kin -- were travelling in a RG-31 Nyala armoured vehicle with the interpreter when the attack occurred.

"We're greatly saddened by the loss of these great young Canadians, exceptional young men," Grant said.

"The attack on us and our Afghan colleagues, however, will not diminish our resolve and our determination to bring to Afghanistan a peaceful land for the children of this country."

The attack happened about 20 kilometres southwest of Kandahar while the soldiers returned from a joint operation they had conducted with the Afghan National Army.

With the most recent deaths, 66 Canadian military personnel have now been killed in Afghanistan.


Earlier violence

Earlier Wednesday, AP reported that three separate clashes left 20 militants and one police officer dead in Afghanistan.

The gun battles were sparked after militants attacked several checkpoints in Ghazni province in Afghanistan's south, the province's police chief told The Associated Press.

The fighting left 13 militants and one police officer dead.

In separate gun battles in Zabul province on Tuesday, U.S.-led coalition forces fought with suspected Taliban militants in the province's Shahjoy district.

Seven militants were killed and six others were wounded in those battles, according to a spokesperson for the province's governor.

More than 2,400 people have been killed so far this year in Afghanistan, including civilians, militants and troops according to an AP tally.

 

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CAUSE OF DEATH (end of link)
Globe and Mail, July 5
http://www.theglobeandmail.com/servlet/story/LAC.20070705.AFGHANIED05/TPStory/?query=%22cause+of+death%22

MILITARY VEHICLES: NONE CAN GUARANTEE SAFETY
Globe and Mail, July 5
http://www.theglobeandmail.com/servlet/story/LAC.20070705.AFGHANVEHICLES05/TPStory/?query=g-wagon

Deaths by province (end of link)
Globe and Mail, July 5
http://www.theglobeandmail.com/servlet/story/LAC.20070705.AFGHANPOLITICS05/TPStory/National

The Human Toll (deaths by country and number of troops in theatre)
Globe and Mail, July 5
http://www.theglobeandmail.com/servlet/story/LAC.20070705.HUMANTOLL05/TPStory/?query=%22human+toll%22

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Articles found July  6, 2007

Soldiers' bravery earns praise
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Military officials extol their dedication, while families begin to speak of their dependability.
By BOB WEBER, CP

EDMONTON -- A Canadian military leader says the army grieves for the soldiers who were killed in Afghanistan this week, but will also steel itself for future challenges.

Brig.-Gen. Mark Skidmore says the six who died were dedicated to their jobs and committed to the task Canada had set before them.

"We're proud to have known these soldiers. We are privileged to have served alongside them and we would be honoured to replace them in their noble cause in the accomplishment of our shared mission," Skidmore, commander of Land Force Western Area, said yesterday.

"The army was their life, the army is our life and Canada is No. 1. And with those anchor points in our thoughts, we'll tend to our fallen and steel ourselves for the future challenges."

Skidmore called on Canadians to honour the memory of the young soldiers who "have given so much and asked for so little."

Col. Jon Vance, commander of the 1st Canadian Mechanized Brigade, echoed those thoughts, saying the most important thing right now is for all Canadians to stand behind the families who have lost their loved ones.

Vance said the families are well aware that there is a debate about Canada's mission in Afghanistan, but the most sensitive and mature approach right now is to send out a "clarion call" of love and support.

The six soldiers and an Afghan interpreter died Wednesday in a roadside explosion as they were returning from a mission southwest of Kandahar.

Cpl. Jordan Anderson, Capt. Matthew Dawe, Cpl. Cole Bartsch and Pte. Lane Watkins were all members of the 3rd Battalion Princess Patricia's Canadian Light Infantry based in Edmonton.

Master Cpl. Colin Bason was a reservist with the Royal Westminster Regiment based in New Westminster, B.C., and Capt. Jefferson Francis was with 1 Royal Canadian Horse Artillery, based in Shilo, Man.

The family of Dawe, one of the highest-ranking Canadian officers to be killed in Afghanistan, remembered their son, brother and husband as a dedicated soldier who wouldn't let something as minor as a ruptured Achilles tendon get in his way.

Family members were not speaking to the media, but released a statement praising his love for the soldiers who worked under him.
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Suicide attack kills 10 Afghan police; NATO soldier killed
KANDAHAR, Afghanistan (AP)
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A suicide bomber blew himself up at a checkpoint in southern Afghanistan, killing 10 police and wounding 11, while a roadside bomb in the east left one NATO soldier dead, authorities said.

Afghan National Army (ANA) soldiers participate in a joint US-Afghan military exercise, on the outskirts of Kabul.

In the west, kidnappers released an abducted German man and his translator on Thursday, hours after demanding US$40,000 (euro29,300) for their freedom, officials said.

The latest violence brought to over 3,000 the number of people -- mostly militants -- killed in insurgency-related violence in Afghanistan this year, according to an Associated Press tally of numbers provided by Western and Afghan officials.

The suicide attacker walked into a room full of policemen eating lunch at a checkpoint near the Pakistan border before blowing himself up, said Sayeed Agha Saqib, the provincial police chief. The incident occurred near Spin Boldak, a town in the southern province of Kandahar.

The blast killed 10 policemen, wounded 11 and destroyed two rooms, Saqib said. Spin Boldak's district police chief was among those wounded.

Grisly suicide attacks have become a prime tactic of Taliban militants, who have dramatically stepped up their campaign of violence against the government of President Hamid Karzai and its Western backers.
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Convicted soldier barred from serving time in Afghanistan
CanWest News Service Published: Thursday, July 05, 2007
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QUEBEC - A Valcartier-based Canadian Forces soldier was denied an absolute discharge that would have allowed him to serve in Afghanistan. Instead he was sentenced Thursday to 15 months to be served in the community for sexual assault.

The sentence could end the two-year military career of Pierre-Olivier Boulet, 22, but defence attorney Richard-Philippe Guay said there would be an appeal in the case and noted that he remains a member of the military in the mean time.

Mr. Guay had asked for the absolute discharge so Mr. Boulet could serve in Afghanistan, but Quebec Court Judge Carol St Cyr said that would have meant trivializing the crime.
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Afghan, Turkmen leaders discuss trans-Afghan natural gas pipeline
The Associated Press Thursday, July 5, 2007 ASHGABAT, Turkmenistan
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The leaders of Turkmenistan and Afghanistan on Thursday discussed prospects for a pipeline that would carry natural gas from energy-rich Turkmenistan to Pakistan and India via Afghanistan.

Reaching out to Turkmenistan's violence-plagued southern neighbor in talks with his Afghan counterpart Hamid Karzai, new President Gurbanguli Berdymukhamedov also promised to provide Afghanistan with electric power worth US$300,000 (€220,000) at no cost.

"This is a big gift from the Turkmen people to the Afghan people," Berdymukhamedov, who came to power after the December death of autocratic longtime leader Saparmurat Niyazov, told a joint news conference with Karzai after talks.

Karzai said the discussions focused on a potential trans-Afghan gas pipeline — an idea raised more than a decade ago, but stymied by violence and political instability in Afghanistan. Turkmenistan, Central Asia's largest gas producer, now depends on Russian lines for its exports.

"Afghanistan is interested in receiving income from the transit of Turkmen gas to Pakistan and India," Karzai said. Speaking through an interpreter, he said that "one of the main conditions of the project" is the issue of how much money Afghanistan would make for the transit of gas.
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Two NATO soldiers killed in Afghanistan
Kabul, July 06, 2007
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Two NATO soldiers were killed on Thursday in eastern Afghanistan, the alliance said on Friday.

"ISAF soldiers throughout Afghanistan today are mourning for the fallen soldiers and their families," said International Security Assistance Force spokesperson Maria Carl.

A third soldier with the NATO-led force was also killed on Thursday when a bomb struck a vehicle in southeastern Afghanistan.
end

Why our Afghan sacrifices matter
JAMES APPATHURAI  July 6, 2007 at 12:04 AM EDT
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A few days ago, six Canadian soldiers and their Afghan interpreter were killed by a roadside bomb during an operation in the province of Kandahar. This was a heavy blow for Canada, whose forces have already paid a very high price in Afghanistan.

Not surprisingly, this tragic event has renewed calls for Canada to either abandon the mission immediately or confirm to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization that in February, 2009, it is definitely out of Kandahar. It is for Canadians alone to have that debate; as they do, there are a few key points to keep in mind.

It might seem that this mission is all about fighting, but it isn't. Billions of dollars are being spent on development projects, on improving health care and education, on building a government that works for Afghans. And it is paying off. Compared to six years ago, 10 times as many Afghans have access to health care. Six times as many are in school, more than 30 per cent of them female. And they have an elected parliament that robustly challenges the elected President. Canada, and the many other countries investing in Afghanistan and its people, should be proud and encouraged.

But that development needs security. Aid workers cannot go where their lives are at risk unless there are soldiers there to create a secure environment. It is a fiction to suggest that we can invest solely in reconstruction and development without investing in security. It is also a fantasy to imagine that security can take firm root unless development is taking off. These are two sides of the same coin.

We must also imagine what would happen if our soldiers were not there. A few weeks ago, a major battle took place in the province of Uruzgan, next to Kandahar. Dutch NATO troops suddenly faced about 500 Taliban fighters who were trying to overrun the district. The Taliban committed the most profound war crimes: burning and cutting the throats of civilians, forcing civilians to fight with them, using civilians as human shields. The Dutch, heavily outnumbered, stood and fought, and regained control of the district.
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Kidnapped German released in Afghanistan, government says
The Associated PressPublished: July 5, 2007
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KABUL, Afghanistan: Kidnappers released a German man and his translator on Thursday, a week after they were seized in western Afghanistan, officials said.

The two men were brought to the police chief of Delaram district of Farah province and then passed to the custody of NATO forces, Afghan and German officials said.

The men were released hours after the kidnappers, using tribal elders as intermediaries, demanded US$40,000 (€29,300) for freeing them. However, it was not immediately clear if any money had changed hands.

German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier said the pair were in the care of NATO troops and on their way to Kabul, where the German ambassador awaited them.

"I am very glad that this kidnapping came to such a quick end," Steinmeier said. He offered no details of how they were freed, but praised Afghan authorities and NATO troops, "in particular the British units, who were very helpful."
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Berlin confirms release of German hostage in Afghanistan Berlin, July 6, IRNA
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German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier here Thursday confirmed the release of a German national who was abducted in Afghanistan a week ago.

"He is in the safe custody of ISAF troops," German television quoted Steinmeier saying.

The ex-German hostage who reportedly worked for a foreign company in Afghanistan, was on his way to Kabul after being kidnapped in the western Afghan province of Farah.

Kidnappers had initially demanded a 40,000 US dollar ransom for the release of the German man and his Afghan translator.

It is the first kidnapping case of a German citizen in war- stricken Afghanistan after the collapse of the Taliban regime in late 2001.

Germany has presently deployed around 3,000 forces in northern Afghanistan as part of the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF).
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All the polish, none of the blood
TheStar.com - columnists - All the polish, none of the blood

July 06, 2007
Rosie DiManno

Afghans were right all along. The West can't be trusted.

They had the wrong impression, exposed essentially to soldiers, who are a different breed and mean what they say, putting their lives on the line for ideals as espoused by their fair-weather political bosses.

Of course, soldiers don't often speak of ideals, the geopolitical framework of the Afghanistan mission, and when they do, to journalists, it sounds stilted or corny, as if rehearsed or reading off a teleprompter. They know the sound bytes that are required of them and getting to the pith of the thing requires a level of trust that must be earned. But even beneath the patina of propaganda, and despite the quietly expressed doubts that some troops might harbour about the assignment – not self-doubt; rather, suspicion of politicians and shifting public opinion – there is sturdiness and confidence in their sense of purpose.

Their governments, too many of which have paid mere lip service to the rehabilitation of Afghanistan as a functioning state, are made of weaker stuff.

Only Canada, Britain and the United States – selectively, Holland, and a small Romanian contingent – have genuinely put their shoulders to the wheel. The failure of most NATO countries to fulfil their Bonn Conference promises has severely jeopardized, perhaps outright doomed, the bold undertaking. By this impotence, the very concept of NATO has been invalidated.

There's no reason to believe other member-nations will step up if Canada abandons Afghanistan in 2009, or retreats to the relative safety of Kabul as an urban cantonment. The likes of France, Italy and Germany won't fill the combustible gap in Kandahar, Helmand and Uruzgan. Easier for them to stay beyond reach in Kunduz or Herat, where insurgent attacks are rarities and showcase reconstruction humming alone nicely: All the brass polishing with none of the blood.

And this façade of deployment is what many Canadians want for their troops.

The British will likely stay and the Americans aren't leaving. But southern Afghanistan will probably collapse, further imperilling the central government in Kabul while simultaneously affording Al Qaeda a huge operating sanctuary in Central Asia: Afghanistan as terrorist state redux.

The neo-Taliban are not the Mongol hordes, sweeping across the plains of Afghanistan. They are a localized and heavily infiltrated – by Arab and Pakistani fighters – phenomenon, stubborn and fanatical, effective in tactics disproportionate to their numbers, but far, far from an undefeatable opponent. They can plant roadside explosives and crank out suicide bombers from here till Armageddon without ever gaining either political or strategic control of Afghanistan. But they do have patience and the West doesn't.

It behooves defeatists – in their weird upside-down triumphalism – to conflate Afghanistan and Iraq. Calamities such as Wednesday's dreadful attack against a Canadian convoy, killing six troops and an Afghan interpreter, suck the ballast out of a nation and buoy the political ambitions of opposition parties.

But Afghanistan isn't Iraq, most especially in this one core factor: There is no religious schism driving the madness and exploited to fuel the barbarity. In Iraq, religion is politics is power. Al Qaeda involvement aside, minority Sunnis (40 per cent) seek to reassert their paramount political eminence and the majority Shiite (60 per cent) have little willingness to share, not after the oppression they long suffered.

Afghanistan is 88 per cent Sunni. Most Shiites are in the distant west, along the border with Iran. The Pashtun tribes in southern Afghanistan may be more fundamentalist, and intractably resentful of Kabul, thus widely supportive of the Taliban, but this is still a religiously homogenous country.

It is not preordained to implode unless the international community – and Canada – forsakes Afghanistan again.
http://www.thestar.com/printArticle/233027 (impressive for the Star)
 
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