Archive for March 2006
From correspondents in Oslo
NORWAY will maintain its military contingent in Afghanistan despite an attack on a Norwegian base in which six Norwegian servicemen were injured, Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg said overnight.
“Norway is going to stay in Afghanistan with troops,” Mr Stoltenberg told a press conference in the presence of visiting NATO Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer.
“It was very serious when the base with Norwegian soldiers was attacked not many weeks ago, but we are not going to change our approach,” Mr Stoltenberg added.
Norway is a member of NATO and its Afghanistan contingent is part of the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) serving there.
The six Norwegian soldiers received minor injuries when stones and a hand grenade were hurled during a demonstration at a base at Maimana in northern Afghanistan, in protest against the cartoons in a Danish newspaper depicting the Prophet Mohammed.
By Daniel Dombey in London
Published: March 3 2006
Afghanistan’s opium harvest in 2006 will be at least as big as last year’s, a United Nations report has predicted.
The survey, produced by the UN Office on Drugs and Crime and the Afghan ministry of counternarcotics, adds that a big rise in poppy cultivation this year is expected in the south of the country – where Nato is set to send 7,000 troops.
After a decline in cultivation in 2005, the study reports that “the situation is different this year”.
It adds: “Villagers have already planted crops on a scale equal to or exceeding that of 2005, on the basis of which opium poppy cultivation in the majority of Afghanistan’s provinces is not expected to decrease in 2006.”
Although the report says a government eradication campaign this year may turn the trend around, it adds that many farmers do not believe the Kabul administration will manage to ban poppy cultivation or destroy crops.
It says that in areas such as the southern Helmand province, to which the UK is sending 3,300 Nato troops, “a sharp increase in cultivation is expected”.
Kim Howells, minister of state at the UK Foreign Office, said that the drugs crackdown had previously not been sufficiently well targeted at the “wheeler dealers” who profited from drugs, and acknowledged that some Afghan regional politicians could still be involved in the trade.
He added that drugs traffickers were often well armed in Afghanistan, and were sometimes equipped with anti-aircraft weaponry. But he said it was still up to the Afghan forces – rather than Nato – to lead the counternarcotics effort.
“We don’t go in to knock crops down, but we try to provide a degree of security,” he said.
Mr Howells cited a separate report to the UK Foreign Office that cited “encouraging signs” such as negligible levels of poppy cultivation in the country’s relatively wealthy areas of Nangarhar and Laghman.
He added that the resilience of the opium harvest in the past had largely been due to good rains and a lack of crop disease and that the area of land under cultivation had been reduced last year.
But even the British report predicts dramatic increases in poppy cultivation in Helmand province, where 72 per cent of interviewees said they had increased the amount of land devoted to poppies over the previous 12 months.
Nato is expected to assume command in the south ofthe country in July, butwill keep its stabilisation and peace-building workdistinct from the combat activities by US troops in the area.
Fri Mar 3, 5:40 PM ET
UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) – A falloff in contributions for impoverished Afghanistan and earthquake-ravaged Pakistan is forcing the World Food Program to cut back on aid to the needy Asian neighbors, the U.N. aid agency said on Friday.
In Afghanistan, which is recovering from decades of conflict, the program will have to reassess its presence in a number of provinces if it fails to get more funding in the next two months, WFP spokesman Trevor Rowe said.
Donations of $11 million are urgently needed to keep feeding 3.5 million people for the next three months, he said.
In Pakistan, the WFP already has begun cutting back on its use of costly helicopters to deliver food to remote areas hit hard by an October 8 earthquake that killed some 73,000 people and left 3 million homeless, Rowe told Reuters.
“We need to sustain those helicopters for the next few months to keep feeding villages in the remote and inaccessible mountains and to preposition food in the quake-devastated areas, so that those people who have sought refuge in camps will return home and start rebuilding their lives,” he said.
The agency needs another $24 million to keep the helicopter operations going through the end of August.
“We don’t see any of it now,” Rowe said. “We’ve been waiting and appealing and it is not coming in.”
The helicopter fleet serving the earthquake zone peaked last month at 20 and has been scaled back this month to 17. Without fresh funds, the number of helicopters will fall to 13 by March 23, he said.
The cutbacks are coming during a brutal winter in an area where road access has always been a problem.
In the past two weeks alone, the region has had more than 50 landslides, some of them fatal, leaving the roads in extremely poor condition and in many cases impassable, Rowe said.