Archive for June 2007
June 24, 2007
(Kyodo) _ Eighteen members of an Afghan nongovernmental organization were abducted by militants in southern Afghanistan, the NGO said Sunday.
Shahab Hakimi, director of the Mine Detection and Dogs Center, said the group was taken at gunpoint in the Andar district of Ghanzni Province on Saturday along with their three sniffing dogs and three vehicles.
“Yesterday, while our team of de-miners was going to the de-mining site, militants stopped their convoy and abducted 14 de-miners, one doctor, and three drivers,” Hakimi said, blaming the abduction on the Taliban.
He said the NGO’s sub-office in Ghazni Province received a telephone call warning against government interference.
The Taliban militants were not available to comment.
via USA Today
June 24, 2007
KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) — U.S.-led coalition and NATO forces fighting insurgents in Afghanistan have killed at least 203 civilians so far this year — surpassing the 178 civilians killed in militant attacks, according to an Associated Press tally.
Insurgency attacks and military operations have surged in recent weeks, and in the past 10 days, more than 90 civilians have been killed by airstrikes and artillery fire targeting Taliban insurgents, said President Hamid Karzai.
On Sunday, another civilian may have been killed when British troops opened fire in a populated area after their convoy was hit by a roadside bomb, officials and witnesses said.
Separate figures from the U.N. and an umbrella organization of Afghan and international aid groups show that the numbers of civilians killed by international forces is approximately equal to those killed by insurgents.
After a seething speech by Karzai on Saturday — in which he accused NATO and U.S. forces of viewing Afghan lives as “cheap” — NATO conceded that it had to “do better.” Coalition spokesman Maj. Chris Belcher suggested that some civilians reportedly killed by foreign forces may in fact have been killed by insurgents.
“One of the problems is sometimes determining who exactly caused the casualties. It’s not always clear if a civilian casualty is caused by an extremist or coalition forces,” Belcher said.
Accurate figures for civilian death tolls are hard to come by in Afghanistan, where militants often wear civilian dress and seek shelter in villagers’ homes. Furthermore, after a quarter of a century of civil war and conflict, it is not unusual for Afghans to have weapons in their homes.
Much of the violence takes place in remote areas that are too far or too dangerous for independent observers or journalists to reach for verification of the reports.
The AP count of civilian casualties is based on reports from Afghan and foreign officials and witnesses through Saturday. Of the 399 civilian deaths so far this year, 18 civilians were killed in crossfire between Taliban militants and foreign forces.
The U.S. and NATO did not have civilian casualty figures. The U.N. Assistance Mission in Afghanistan has counted 213 civilians killed by insurgents in the first five months of this year — compared to 207 killed by Afghan and international forces.
ACBAR — the Agency Coordinating Body for Afghan Relief — has counted 230 civilians killed in U.S. and NATO operations, basing their figure on reports from the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission, Afghan NGO Security Office and the U.N.
The number of civilians killed in militant attacks was approximately the same as those killed by foreign forces according to ACBAR’s latest figures from about a month ago, said Anja de Beer, director of ACBAR.
“The international forces are here to support the Afghan government, the purpose is to get a better and safer life for the Afghan people,” de Beer said. “If in doing so, they’re causing more civilian deaths than the people they’re fighting against, that doesn’t look very good, to put it mildly.”
Maj. John Thomas, a spokesman for NATO’s International Security Assistance Force, blamed the insurgents for hiding in areas populated by civilians, who are then killed during attacks against militants, but he said “that does not absolve ISAF of the responsibility of doing all it can to minimize civilian casualties.”
On Saturday, Karzai accused NATO and U.S.-led troops of carelessly killing scores of Afghan civilians and warned that the fight against resurgent Taliban militants could fail unless foreign forces show more restraint.
“Afghan life is not cheap and it should not be treated as such,” Karzai said angrily.
The mounting toll is sapping the authority of the Western-backed Afghan president, who has pleaded repeatedly with U.S. and NATO commanders to consult Afghan authorities during operations and show more restraint.
Karzai also denounced the Taliban for killing civilians, but directed most of his anger at foreign forces.
In one of the recent incidents lamented by Karzai, police said NATO airstrikes killed 25 civilians along with 20 militants who fired on alliance and Afghan troops from a walled compound in the southern province of Helmand.
On Sunday, Helmand provincial police chief Mohammad Hussain said British gunfire killed one man after the troops were attacked, but it was not clear if the victim was a civilian or a militant involved in the attack.
Raz Mohammad Sayed, director of a local hospital, said one man was killed, and another man was wounded by British gunfire. He referred to both victims as “civilians.”
NATO blames the insurgents for hiding among civilians, and insisted that troops had the right to defend themselves.
“If someone’s firing at me, he’s a combatant,” Thomas said.
Another NATO spokesman, Nicholas Lunt, said, “We need to do better than we have been doing so far. But unlike the Taliban, we do not set out to cause civilian casualties, and that is a critical difference.”
In Helmand’s Langar village, Afghan and coalition troops clashed with insurgents and called in airstrikes Saturday, killing more than a dozen militants, one coalition soldier and an Afghan soldier, the coalition said.
Other violence around Afghanistan Sunday killed three policemen and wounded six. Roadside bombs killed three soldiers and wounded five, officials said.
29 Jun 2007 12:48:05 GMT
With only a day to go before the June 30 planned closure of two Afghan refugee camps by the Government of Pakistan, UNHCR is calling for continued dialogue between the government and the refugees to ensure a peaceful approach to the process.
The decision to close four camps- – Katcha Gari and Jalozai in Pakistan’s North West Frontier Province, and Jungle Pir Alizai and Girdi Jungle in Balochistan – was taken last year during a tripartite meeting between UNHCR, Pakistan and Afghanistan. It was reaffirmed this year, and deadlines were set for June 15 – later extended to June 30 – for Katcha Gari and Jungle Pir Alizai, and the end of August for the other two camps. The Government of Pakistan stated that the camps should be closed mainly for security reasons.
The two camps closing this weekend host more than 82,000 registered Afghans – the majority of whom are women, children under 18 and the elderly, according to a 2007 registration report. The Afghans were given two options by the Pakistan government. Those wishing to return to Afghanistan can do so with UNHCR’s assistance, while others unable to return can choose to relocate to an existing camp in Pakistan designated by the government.
In recent weeks, UNHCR has been closely monitoring the camp closure preparations. So far this year, more than 16,000 registered Afghans have repatriated from Katcha Gari camp and at least 600 from Jungle Pir Alizai camp. UNHCR notes the fact that the closure of Katcha Gari is now proceeding peacefully. We have no access to Jungle Pir Alizai for security reasons, and hope there will not be a replay of clashes that took place in mid-May. Some of the camp residents refuse to vacate the premises, claiming they are Pakistanis, not Afghans. No families have approached UNHCR for relocation to date.
Some of the Afghans who have returned to Afghanistan from the two camps said they felt repatriation was the best option of the two alternatives offered to them. They also cited remote locations, lack of basic infrastructure, limited livelihood possibilities and the three-year duration of their permission to stay as reasons for not relocating.
UNHCR is aware of the complex challenges that the Government of Pakistan faces with regard to the camps. However, it is noteworthy that the majority of the Afghan population from Jungle Pir Alizai and Girdi Jungle camps, mostly women and children, originate from provinces seriously affected by the ongoing conflict in the south of Afghanistan. Approximately one-third of the population of Jalozai camp originate from provinces where security is tenuous at best.
At the recent Tripartite Commission meeting in Dubai, UNHCR underlined its concerns over Afghanistan’s deteriorating security situation and limited absorption capacity. The three parties discussed the implications of these factors on the sustainable repatriation of the remaining 2.15 million registered Afghans in Pakistan.
More than 3 million Afghans have been assisted home from Pakistan since UNHCR started facilitating voluntary returns in 2002, making it one of the largest repatriation operations in the world. This year 50,000 registered Afghans have voluntarily returned home from Pakistan, benefiting from the enhanced repatriation cash grant of US$100 average per person. An additional 200,000 unregistered Afghans also returned with the new assistance package.
We count on all parties to continue the camp consolidation process with full respect of voluntariness which has been a hallmark of this operation since 2002.
Over 2.15 million were recently registered as Afghan citizens living temporarily in Pakistan, and given cards valid for three years. More than half of this population lives in urban areas. Some 84 percent said they had concerns about going home, mainly for reasons of security and access to land, shelter and livelihood opportunities.
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By Andreas Cremer
June 29 (Bloomberg) — German lawmakers are considering scaling back the country’s military commitment to the U.S.-led war on terrorism in Afghanistan, a move that could undermine Chancellor Angela Merkel’s government and strain U.S. ties.
The Social Democrats, one half of Merkel’s coalition, are drawing up plans to withdraw special forces engaged in U.S.-led efforts to fight the Taliban insurgency, lawmakers said. About 100 soldiers from the KSK special forces are deployed in Afghanistan under Operation Enduring Freedom, the U.S.-led military response to the September 11 terrorist attacks.
“A majority is emerging in the Social Democrats’ parliamentary caucus in favor of pulling the 100 special forces out of Operation Enduring Freedom,” Hans-Peter Bartels, who sits on the German Parliament’s 30-member defense committee, said in an interview. Fellow party lawmakers view Germany’s involvement as “a burden,” he said.
Any reduction of Germany’s military engagement would be a blow to Merkel and her Christian Democrats, who have vowed to keep troops in Afghanistan, described by NATO Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer as “one of the front lines” in the global fight against terrorism. Public opinion is against the deployment though, and the German Bundestag, or parliament, must vote by October 12 to renew troop deployments.
Defense Minister Franz Josef Jung’s position “is clear: We need parliament to back all troop mandates,” ministry spokesman Thomas Raabe told a regular news conference in Berlin today.
Social Democrat lawmaker Walter Kolbow, a deputy defense minister under former Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder, said there are “very many critical voices” about the operation within the party. It’s valid to ask “whether or not this operation is still wise,” given that North Atlantic Treaty Organization air raids are causing a growing number of Afghan civilian casualties, he said in an interview.
Germany currently has about 3,000 soldiers and other staff in Afghanistan with NATO-led forces and reconstruction teams. A mandate to participate in the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force expires Oct. 13, the same date as the mandate for six Tornado fighter jets deployed in April to assist NATO- authorized reconnaissance and surveillance work. The special forces are under a separate mandate.
The Tornado deployment is the subject of an opposition-led legal challenge. Germany’s highest court is due to rule on the case on July 3.
German voters are uneasy about Germany’s military engagement in Afghanistan regardless of the mandate, polls show. Sixty-eight percent of 1,000 people questioned by Emnid oppose Germany’s military deployment, according to a poll published on May 22, three days after three German soldiers and five Afghan civilians were killed in a suicide attack in Afghanistan. No more than 29 percent said they supported the engagement.
Against that backdrop, Bartels said pulling out German special forces would free Germany of a “heavy burden” and make it easier for him and fellow legislators to vote in favor of extending the NATO-led ISAF mandate.
“We shouldn’t take responsibility for something we cannot at all influence,” Bartels said, noting that Operation Enduring Freedom is exclusively led by the U.S.
Sixty-nine lawmakers, almost a third of the Social Democrats’ 222-member parliamentary group, voted against Merkel’s motion in March to deploy Tornado jets. The Social Democrats, along with the opposition Greens and Left Party, would have sufficient seats in the 613-member Bundestag to block any extension of a mandate.
Merkel’s Christian Democrats counter that any step to weaken anti-terror efforts may undermine the ISAF-led civil rebuilding program for Afghanistan. German forces under ISAF may even be forced to engage in combat against the Taliban if the country withdrew from Operation Enduring Freedom, said Eckart von Klaeden, the Christian Democrats’ foreign affairs spokesman.
“The fight against terror under the auspices of OEF is indispensable for the success of ISAF,” von Klaeden, an alternate member of parliament’s defense committee, said in an interview.
A 21-member group of Social Democrat defense, foreign policy and security experts is now working on a list of demands, including possible changes to Germany’s Afghanistan-related mandates. The proposals will be discussed by the party’s parliamentary caucus on July 4.
“When the summer recess is over, Merkel will have some work to do to persuade her Social Democrat allies” to stand by the Afghanistan commitment, Uwe Andersen, a professor of political science at the University of Bochum, said in an interview. “There’s no doubt that her sunny summit season is over. What’s needed now is leadership at home.”
Appeal for women’s protection ahead of conference on rule of law
Kabul, 29 June (AKI) – Ahead of the international conference on the rule of law in Afghanistan in Rome next week, the vice president of the Wolesi Jirga or lower house of the Afghan parliament, Fawzia Koofi has made an appeal to the international community to help protect the women of Afghanistan. “Help the legislative bodies in Afghanistan adopt and implement laws that provide protection for women, help the struggle against domestic violence for women, and raise awareness on women issues,” said Koofi in an interview with Adnkronos International (AKI).
“More importantly support the system that provides justice to people”, Koofi told AKI. “Security will not be guaranted if people have no justice,” she said.
Rome will host an international conference on the justice system and rule of law in Afghanistan next week on 2-3 July. Italy is the lead country for the reform of Afghanistan’s justice system and the conference will be attended by representatives of governments and international institutions involved in the development of a coordinated strategy on the reform of Afghanistan’s justice system.
“Women don’t have protection in the family,” she said. “There are lots of cases of domestic violence against women, judges are not sensitive to women issues and as a result women prefer to burn or kill themselves if they are victims of violance,” Koofi said.
“I think during the past 5 years, there was some progress on the justice sector, for example, juvenile code has been developed and adopted, rehabilitation centres have been established for children,” she said. “However, comparing to the funds spent, there has not been much progress in terms of infrastructure,” said Koofi.
Koofi believes that there is a need to concentrate on the long-term training of judges and the law faculties at the university or under Sharia, because “short term courses of one week or so will not help.”
Training could also reduce the number of cases decided by local shuras. According to Koofi, 80 percent of women’s and children’s cases are dealt with local shuras.
The local tribunals in certain tribal areas of Afghanistan are composed of judges who “are not profession and uneducated, said the deputy president of Wolesi Jirga who stressed that in order to reform the process it is necessary to “integrate local shuras to the official justice sector of the country. The process “may take time, but it is needed for reform,” she said.
“If we are not able to strengthen our system to address people’s need in that sense, people may not trust us any more,” Koofi told AKI. In thsi sence the “rich justice system” that Italy has could be “used in many ways in post-conflict countries like Afghanistan,” she said.
In order to create an effective Afghan justice system, however it is necessary to improve the prison system, guarantee the security in the prisons and create “separate prisons for women and men,” Koofi concluded.
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By Sayed Salahuddin
Fri Jun 29, 3:38 AM ET
KABUL (Reuters) – U.S. soldiers killed four civilian members of the same family during a raid on Friday in Afghanistan’s eastern province of Nangarhar, an Afghan rights body said.
The soldiers also arrested 15 civilians during the pre-dawn raid in Khogiani district which lies in the foothills of the provincial capital Jalalabad, Lal Gul, the head of Afghanistan’s Human Rights Group said.
Those killed in the raid were an 85-year-old man, Mohammada Jan, two of his sons and a grandson, Gul told Reuters.
“The American soldiers blew up the gate of Mohammada Jan’s house and then martyred him along with his three family members,” Gul said.
“From there they went to several other houses, broke into them and arrested 15 civilians,” he added.
A provincial spokesman confirmed Gul’s accounts.
A U.S. military official confirmed the operation, but said coalition soldiers killed three militants after they came under fire and arrested 16 more militants.
They said there were no civilian casualties.
President Hamid Karzai and provincial officials said last week that scores of civilians had been killed recently in foreign troops operations in Afghanistan.
Facing resurgent Taliban attacks, growing dissatisfaction over rampant corruption as well as crime and lack of economic development, Karzai said foreign troops would fail in Afghanistan unless they took more care to protect non-combatants while hunting the Taliban.
Nearly 300 civilians have been killed in operations led by foreign forces this year alone, according to government officials, residents and aid groups.
Scores more have been killed in Taliban suicide and roadside bomb attacks.
Afghanistan is going through its bloodiest period since the
Taliban’s fall and this year is regarded as a crunch time for all sides involved in the conflict.
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Medical Teams Scale Back As Attacks on Them Rise
By Griff Witte
Friday, June 29, 2007; A15
JALALABAD, Afghanistan — This month, two Afghan medical workers drove off into the hazy blue mountains that rise above this dusty provincial capital. They have not been seen since.
No one knows who took them, but their disappearance has had far-reaching consequences. With security in doubt, other health-care workers have been ordered off the roads. Clinics are fast running out of medicine because supplies can’t be delivered. Doctors are searching for safer places to work.
The problems here mirror a developing crisis across Afghanistan. Just as violence is heating up, with civilian casualties rapidly escalating, the health-care system is breaking down, according to Afghan and international medical experts.
The deterioration has been especially pronounced in rural areas, scene of some of the most intense fighting between Taliban and international forces. In those places, clinics are shutting their doors because the medical workers have become targets.
“Day by day it’s becoming worse,” said Nadera Hayat Burhani, a doctor and the government’s deputy health minister. “In each country, it’s a rule that you let the medical staff do their work. Unfortunately, in Afghanistan it is not that way. Here, they kill the medical staff.”
Insurgents have been campaigning for years to prove to Afghans that their government has little to offer. Police officers, schoolteachers and local political leaders have been targets of violence. Now medical workers fear that they are in danger as well.
The International Committee of the Red Cross recently said it faces a more restrictive environment than it has in two decades of work in Afghanistan. “It’s not a conflict where there are clear front lines,” said Franz Rauchenstein, the agency’s deputy chief in Kabul. “It’s more complicated than in the good old days, when you had Party A controlling one area and Party B controlling another. Now that can change every day.”
Rauchenstein said his organization has had to pull back from many areas because it has not been able to get security guarantees. Other groups have pulled back, too. The ones that remain in the most dangerous regions are reconsidering their operations with each new attack.
There has been a series of disturbing episodes in recent months. A nurse was beheaded by Taliban fighters, who blamed his death on the government’s failure to turn over the body of their former commander. Six medical workers in the northeastern area of Nuristan have been taken hostage. Overall, 39 government medical workers have been killed in less than two years, according to Health Ministry statistics.
Mohammad Naseem, a doctor who manages health care in the Jalalabad area for HealthNet TPO, a Dutch nonprofit organization, hopes his two workers aren’t added to the list.
The two — 35-year-old Shiraz and 40-year-old Wali Jan — were helping with an immunization drive in the remote district of Shirzad when they were abducted June 13. Since then, the kidnappers have periodically used Jan’s cellphone to make demands and to threaten to kill their hostages if they don’t get what they want.
HealthNet TPO has worked in this eastern Afghan province for 12 years, but this is the first time its workers here have been seized. Now the organization, which runs 54 health facilities in the province, is contemplating getting out.
“If something goes wrong, there will be a very, very negative impact on health care in this area,” Naseem said. “At the moment, our health facilities are open. But the time may come when we will not be able to supply drugs, and the services will collapse.”
Even before the kidnappings, health facilities in the area were showing signs of strain.
While up to 80 percent of Afghans have access to basic health care, about 70 percent — 22 million people — lack a nearby hospital capable of treating more serious conditions.
That’s why the health facility in the Shinwar district, a rural outpost an hour’s drive from Jalalabad amid corn and poppy fields, has become so popular. The campus of spare concrete buildings looks rudimentary from the outside, but the two surgeons inside — along with a pediatrician and a gynecologist — are enough to draw patients from 50 miles away along rough mountain roads. Many die making the journey.
The facility is equipped to receive 1,800 patients a month; these days, it gets 6,000. Lately, more and more of them are war wounded.
On March 4, a patient arrived at the clinic with a gunshot wound to the neck. A second showed up minutes later with a bullet hole in his jaw. Over the next several hours, 21 additional trauma patients arrived — victims of an attack by U.S. Marines that the military later called “a mistake” and apologized for.
The staff was overwhelmed. Anyone in the area who knew basic lifesaving skills was brought in to help. The local pharmacy was emptied of medication. Patients who were not in imminent danger had to give up their beds.
“If two or three trauma patients come in at once, we can cover that very well,” said Aman Gul Amani, a doctor and the hospital manager. “But 23 is too much.”
Similar mass-casualty events have been reported across Afghanistan in recent weeks. According to an Associated Press estimate, NATO and U.S.-led forces have killed 203 civilians this year; Taliban fighters have killed 178 civilians. Hundreds more people have been wounded.
NATO and U.S.-led forces say that they do everything they can to provide care to civilians and that they routinely offer medical evacuations by helicopter or plane.
But the areas where airstrikes occur are often exceptionally remote, and some are even beyond the reach of international forces.
Such was the case this month in the southern province of Uruzgan. There, 120 people were wounded and more than 60 killed over three days of intense clashes between NATO and Taliban forces.
Jan Mohammed, who is in his late 50s, was asleep at 4 a.m. in the Uruzgan district of Chowreh when a bomb tore through his home. Lying amid the wreckage, he could see the bodies of his wife, children and grandchildren. Overall, 22 members of his family were killed.
He was barely alive himself, with severe bleeding from his arm, abdomen and legs. For four hours, he lay there, desperately hoping for help. It finally arrived, but not in the form of an ambulance or military convoy. Instead, it was his neighbor, who put together a makeshift rescue squad to ferry the injured on the treacherous two-hour journey to the nearest medical facility.
“The hospitals didn’t help us. The government didn’t help us. The foreign people didn’t help us,” said Mohammed, breathing heavily through tears. “Only my neighbor came to help me.”
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By Sayed Salahuddin
June 29, 2007
KABUL (Reuters) – U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon made a surprise visit to Kabul on Friday to hold talks with President Hamid Karzai ahead of a conference in Rome next week that will seek ways to improve law and order in Afghanistan.
The meeting took place amid heavy security at the presidential palace, which still bears the scars of the past 30 years of conflict in the central Asian state.
Journalists were called to the palace, but there was no news conference.
Earlier this month, U.N. Special Representative to Afghanistan, Tom Koenigs, said Ban would make the establishment of the rule of law in Afghanistan a top priority at a conference to be held in Rome on July 2 and 3.
Koenigs said he was dissatisfied with the progress made in the last three to five years and an era of lawlessness, corruption, unprofessional police and an unreliable justice system had to end.
Karzai was hand-picked by Western governments to lead Afghanistan after U.S.-backed forces ousted the Taliban in 2001, following al Qaeda’s attacks on New York and Washington.
Afghans are growing increasingly impatient with Karzai, having voted for him as president in 2004, in the belief that he would bring about an economic revival and improve security for ordinary people.
Critics say Karzai has failed to stamp out corruption in government, and has little influence outside Kabul.
Afghanistan is the world’s leading supplier of opium and heroin, and money from the drugs trade is helping to finance the Taliban insurgency.
But, some criminals and drug barons are linked to former warlords who helped U.S.-led forces evict the Taliban six years ago and who now serve inside government.
The lower house of parliament, populated by ex-warlords and former militia leaders along with suspected drug dealers, has also proposed a blanket amnesty for those who committed war crimes over nearly 30 years of conflict.
Meanwhile, Afghan police are poorly trained and ill equipped, and violent street crimes often go unpunished.
Ban also met General Dan McNeill, the U.S. commander of NATO forces in Afghanistan, with Afghan anger growing over the growing number of civilian casualties resulting from U.S. and NATO military operations against insurgents in the south and east of the country.
On Friday, according to an Afghan rights group, U.S. soldiers killed an 85-year-old man, two of his sons and a grandson during a raid in the eastern province of Nangarhar.
The soldiers arrested 15 people during the pre-dawn raid in Khogiani district, on the outskirts of the provincial capital of Jalalabad, Lal Gul, the head of Afghanistan’s Human Rights Group said.
A U.S. military official confirmed the operation and said coalition soldiers killed three militants after they came under fire and arrested 16 more militants.
But a provincial official said four civilians were killed in the operation. Villagers later protested chanting anti-U.S. and anti-Karzai slogans.
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