Archive for December 2007
By JASON STRAZIUSO
Associated Press / December 29, 2007
KABUL, Afghanistan—Eight Afghans who ate an infected camel as part of a religious celebration died of what health experts suspect is a rare case of naturally occurring anthrax, officials said Saturday.
The deaths, in the southwestern province of Nimroz, included two women and an infant, said Dr. Abdullah Fahim, an adviser to Afghanistan’s health minister. Ten others fell sick.
Officials cannot say positively that the deaths were anthrax related until laboratory results—expected in the next two days—are completed, said Fahim.
The outbreak began when two men in a remote area of southwest Afghanistan along the border with Iran tried to sell a sick camel, said Ghulam Dastagir Azad, the governor of Nimroz province.
Nobody bought the camel and the men instead killed it and distributed the meat to needy families, as is the custom during the Muslim holiday of Eid al-Adha.
The two men “were the first victims. They cooked the meat and 12 hours later they were dead,” said Azad. “Then some of the families who cooked (the meat) in their homes became victims.”
Anthrax—an acute infectious disease caused by a spore-forming bacterium—occurs in wild and domestic animals like cattle, sheep, goats and camels, according to the U.S.-based Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
It can also occur in humans when they are exposed to infected animals, or when anthrax spores are used as a weapon.
Fahim said there is no evidence to suggest terrorism played any part in the outbreak.
——— Associated Press writer Rahim Faiez contributed to this report.
KABUL, December 29 (RIA Novosti) – A bodybuilding club for women has been inaugurated in Afghanistan, news agency Bakhtar said on Saturday.
The Afghan agency said at least 20 women in Ngar in the Parwan province will be able to exercise from now on at the club built by the Women’s Association of Ngar.
The inaugural ceremony was attended by some provincial authorities, representatives of human rights organizations and local people.
Women in the Asian country have been denied most legal rights. Under the Taliban rule they were even barred from going to school. Domestic violence and forced marriages remain common throughout the country.
JALALABAD, Dec 29 (Pajhwok Afghan News): Almost three hundred residents of eastern Nangarhar province came out to the streets on Saturday asking the government to protect their villages from flood devastation of Kabul River.
The demonstrators got together in Narmasi village of Behsud district and blocked Jalalabad-Kunar highway for all kind of traffic for some time.
Protestors speaking through a loudspeaker warned they would close the highway for longer times unless their demands were met.
Speaking on behalf of the protestors, Hafizullah told Pajhwok Afghan News that thousands of residents in the villages of Narmasi, Beniga, Mirano and Banghar and Belai areas were faced with a probable flooding in the summer.
“We face great disaster unless protective walls were constructed on the sides of the river before the summer”, he warned.
A local construction company, named Ihsan, built some protective walls in the area, he complained, the floods last year swept away the walls.
Engineer Abdul Sattar an official of the Rural Rehabilitation department agreed that the villages were faced with probable flood threats; he complained lack of facilities to help resolve the problem.
By Eleanor Mayne
The Telegraph (UK)
December 30, 2007
Two European diplomats accused of holding secret talks with the Taliban in Afghanistan were thrown out of the country following a complaint by the US, intelligence officials in Kabul have told The Sunday Telegraph.
Mervyn Patterson, who is British, and Irish-born Michael Semple were flown out of Kabul on Thursday after the Afghan government accused them of “threatening national security”.
The pair had been working for the United Nations and the European Union respectively.
But according to a senior Afghan intelligence source, American officials had been unhappy about meetings between the men and high-level Taliban commanders in the volatile Helmand province.
The source claimed that the US alerted Afghan authorities after learning that the diplomats were providing direct financial and other support – including mobile phone cards – to the Taliban commanders, in the hope of persuading them to swap sides.
“This warning came from the Americans,” he said. “They were not happy with the support being provided to the Taliban. They gave the information to our intelligence services, who ordered the arrests.”
A government source in Kabul said there were close links between Afghanistan’s National Directorate of Security (NDS) and the US Central Intelligence Agency, adding:
“The Afghan government would never have acted alone to expel officials of such a senior level. This was information that was given to the NDS by the Americans.
” These claims will reinforce perceptions of a rift between the US and its international partners in Afghanistan, including Britain.
Last year, US commanders expressed frustration with the British decision to withdraw from Musa Qala and allow tribal elders to strike a deal with the Taliban, who quickly reoccupied the town.
The American embassy has strongly denied any involvement in the incident involving the two diplomats, saying it had “no knowledge” of their activities.
Afghan officials, speaking anonymously, have accused the men of giving support to the Taliban in the form of money, food and phone cards for 10 months.
Sun Dec 30, 8:45 AM ET
KABUL (AFP) – The top UN representative in Afghanistan called on authorities Sunday to free a local employee detained in a diplomatic row that also saw two foreign officials expelled.
The government last Thursday expelled two Western officials — the second most senior European Union official in Afghanistan and a top UN political advisor here — accusing them of threatening national security.
Kabul said an unknown number of the pair’s Afghan colleagues had been arrested and were being questioned by authorities.
The UN representative to Afghanistan, Tom Koenigs, said the incident was a “misunderstanding” and called on the US-backed government here to free a local UN consultant arrested for links to the diplomats.
“We’re certainly concerned that one consultant working for us is still in jail and we’ll do everything to get him out,” Koenigs said on the last day of his mission in Afghanistan, without giving details of the detained man.
The Afghan government has said the two expelled officials made contact with the Taliban during visits to the southern province of Helmand, a stronghold of the Islamic rebels.
One official said the two — Irish national Michael Semple with the EU and Briton Mervyn Patterson — had given money to the rebels.
Koenigs dismissed the charges against the employee of the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) as “misunderstandings.”
“We at UNAMA are not making intelligence operations. We’ve no money to pay to anybody because we don’t make projects,” he said, adding the UN was in talks with President Hamid Karzai’s government to resolve the row.
Koenigs said he hoped that time and coordination between government bodies would clear the pair of the allegations.
The UN mission has watched over the political development and reconstruction of Afghanistan since the toppling of the Taliban in 2001 following the September 11 attacks by the Al-Qaeda network.
After two years in Afghanistan, Koenigs said he was departing with mixed feelings of “hope and concern.”
“Afghanistan is moving from being a country decimated by decades of conflict to a progressive Islamic democracy, striving to improve the lives of its people,” Koenigs said.
“However, I share the same concern as the Afghan people for the security situation, particularly in the south of the country,” he said.
Violence, mainly from an insurgency the Taliban launched months after their toppling, has increased in the past two years.
Along with the increased insecurity, opium poppy cultivation has risen to record levels.
“With such a huge illegal economy the legal economy can not prosper. So efforts must be made, success must be achieved in counternarcotics,” Koenigs said.
The Central Asian nation produced 8,200 tonnes of opium this year, a 34 percent increase on last year’s output.
Philip Stavrou, CTV.ca News
December 30, 2007
As Canada prepares for its sixth year in Afghanistan, there is growing consensus that the mission needs to focus on empowering the Afghan army and government with the tools to achieve independence.
An example of this is a small but growing number of Canadian troops heading to Kandahar next year that will find themselves in a mentoring role instead of on the front lines of combat.
Roughly 200 soldiers, under the umbrella of NATO’s Operational Mentor and Liaison Team (OMLT), will arrive this February with the goal of helping to develop the Afghan National Army (ANA).
Col. Francois Riffou, the incoming commander of the Canadian forces mentoring program, has been preparing the new batch of soldiers since April 2007.
In an interview with CTV.ca, Riffou said many of the returning soldiers will have an adjustment to make since they are used to working in a combat role.
“Those soldiers now are going to be working with us and — although we are there to mentor a fighting force and in some cases expected to fight side-by-side with that fighting force — we really want to allow them to take the lead and my soldiers would stand back a little and coach them.”
In mid-2006, about 65 Canadian troops first began mentoring a single Afghan National Army battalion, which consists of approximately 350 people on the ground.
Now, Canada has approximately 180 soldiers mentoring three units.
Last September, the Canadian task force also launched an initiative to bolster the local Afghan police. The project is being done in consultation with the Afghan civilian authorities and the American-led Combined Security Transition Command — a training outfit.
“We have about 60 soldiers right now deployed with police sub-stations,” said Riffou.
“We’re hoping that as we coach them in being a little more robust from a security perspective that they will eventually be able to do that one on their own — and we won’t need to be necessarily co-located with them 24-7 to provide that security mentorship.”
Looking forward, Riffou said the eventual goal is to have the ANSF(Afghan National Security Forces) conduct their own security tasks without any assistance from external or international agencies.
But he cautioned that mentoring is an ongoing process which could take years.
“When I talk to my soldiers we talk about passing from mentoring, through to advising, through to liaison and eventually we’ll be completely pulled away,” he said.
“We’re in the midst of the mentoring effort right now and as units become more proficient our efforts can be reduced and focused at other organizations.”
Regarding the overall mission, Canada’s Ambassador to Afghanistan, Arif Lalani, told CTV News that in 2008 the ‘Afghanisation’ of the country will be very important.
‘Afghanisation’ refers to “having Afghans more and more in the lead on their own governance, on their own development, with their own army and with their own police forces,” said Lalani.
Another focus will be “on building up the institutions of the Afghan government so that they are more directly providing services throughout the country.”
Lalani recognized that there are still many challenges facing the country, including the recapturing of some areas by the Taliban. But he said great gains have also been made in the past year.
“I think we’ve had a very successful military year alongside the Afghan army and there are a number of local leaders and commanders who are wondering about their future and are thinking about laying down their weapons and working on a new Afghanistan,” he said.
Talking with the Taliban
Lalani said Afghanistan’s President Hamid Karzai is open to holding discussions with those members of the Taliban.
“Those Taliban and terrorist leaders… who are willing to lay down their arms, to renounce violence, to accept the Afghan constitution are welcome to return and help rebuild the new Afghanistan,” he said.
But some critics say Canada needs to do more to encourage the Afghan government to negotiate with its enemies.
“I see very little diplomacy going on,” Louis Delvoie, Canada’s former high commissioner to Pakistan in the early 1990s, told The Canadian Press in a recent interview.
“Much of the diplomacy seems to be focused on developing relations with other NATO countries as opposed to bringing the Afghan government along in certain directions, which might make it more congenial to its own population and might make it more congenial to neighbouring Pakistan, among others.”
For Col. Dennis Thompson, who will take over command of Joint Task Force Afghanistan in early 2008, success will be measured by the advancement of the Afghans.
Thompson told CP that later next year if his counterpart, an Afghan brigadier-general, is “confident that he can perform his function” by providing a better level of security then it will be mission accomplished.
“We have learned we really have to take a comprehensive approach. This is not just a gunfight,” said Thompson.
Will Canada pull out or stay?
In Canada, Prime Minister Stephen Harper has commissioned a panel to advise the government on what Canada should do in Afghanistan once its commitment to the NATO mission ends in 2009.
Harper told CTV News in a year-end interview that he hopes to keep troops in the country until 2011, but will await the recommendations of the panel in January.
Harper said that once the panel releases its findings, he’ll put a resolution before Parliament on whether to extend Canada’s military commitment past early 2009.
“Realistically, by the end of spring that decision would have to be made,” he said.
There are nearly 2,500 Canadian troops serving in Afghanistan. There are also about 26,000 U.S. troops and 7,800 British troops.
By David Loyn
BBC News, Kabul
Sunday, 30 December 2007
After two years in which the violence in Afghanistan has become worse, it is hard to see signs of hope in 2008.
The detailed new international commitments, and promises of more money, put forward at the London Conference in January 2006, made little headway as the war against the Taleban went into a new phase.
In the south, mainly British and Canadian forces have sustained far more casualties during this period than earlier, as they have fought for control of the Pashtun heartland.
In the east, US forces have been trying to contain the insurgency in the giant White Mountain range, hampered by a porous border to the Taleban recruiting grounds in Pakistan’s North West Frontier Province on the other side.
Development assistance that matters, and the normal business of government, are difficult to provide in these areas.
To fill the vacuum the military have been taking an increasing role in providing aid; a task that they are not trained nor equipped for.
Failure to bring other meaningful development means that tactical victories, such as the symbolically important capture of the town of Musa Qala in northern Helmand, have little value in the overall counter-insurgency campaign.
It is hard to win the hearts and minds of people whose fields and homes are constantly fought over.
The Taleban found it hard to recruit three years ago.
Now they have significant influence across the countryside, although not the main roads and towns, in most of Afghanistan.
Given the frail reach of the national police and justice system, the Taleban have increasingly been called on to settle local disputes.
To tackle this, new thinking across the international community in 2008 includes a fresh look at links between the Taleban-led insurgency and the opium trade.
There have been some successes: opium is grown in fewer provinces.
But in the main growing area of Helmand the increases have far outstripped reductions elsewhere.
The US government has been wanting to spray opium fields from the air, but appear to have lost this argument.
Instead the aim is to send Afghan forces in on the ground to destroy twice as many opium fields in Helmand province as last year. Drug barons will be pursued and targeted much more ruthlessly.
President Hamid Karzai has been under growing pressure to name and shame those high up in government circles who are believed to have links to the opium trade, as corruption moves to centre stage as one of the key challenges facing his government.
Mr Karzai does not need to face the electorate again until 2009 but there is some speculation that he could call an election in 2008, to cut off the campaigns of a growing number of serious challengers.
Attempts to introduce democracy further down to district level have so far failed, and instead the international community is trying better to understand how traditional power networks operate – sitting down with tribal elders instead of insisting that they face elections.
The idea that democracy can provide a solution on its own – the dogma of 2001 – has been abandoned.
Alongside tribal elders, tribal militias are being trained and encouraged to defend their areas against the Taleban, despite the obvious risks of this strategy giving more power to regional warlords.
Aid flows remain far smaller per head than in some other post-conflict countries, and co-ordination, either in the military or civilian sphere, remains a major challenge.
The influential think tank, the International Crisis Group, speaks of the “failure of Kabul’s diplomatic and donor community to engage fully in the fledgling process”.
The former Liberal Democrat leader Paddy Ashdown has been negotiating terms for a new role in Afghanistan co-ordinating the international effort and its links with the Karzai government – a job locally nicknamed the “super gorilla”.
He comes with experience from a similar role in Bosnia, but Afghanistan is a far larger task as he acknowledged recently, going as far as saying, “We have lost and success is unlikely”.