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Afghan conflict claiming more child casualties as insurgency spreads, UN report finds

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United Nations News Service

November 21, 2008

Children are being killed, exploited and abused in ever-increasing numbers in Afghanistan as the violence across the conflict-ridden country worsens, the United Nations says in a new report released today.

The report on the impact on children of Afghanistan’s armed conflict shows that all sides to the fighting – which pits the army and allied international forces against the Taliban and other insurgents – have committed numerous violations and abuses against the young.

The Taliban is persisting in using children as suicide bombers, while international and Afghan forces have inadvertently killed dozens of children as they attempt to beat back the insurgency, according to the report from Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, which detailed several examples.

“On 16 May 2008, a boy of approximately 12 years of age approached a joint International Security Assistance Force (ISAF)-Afghan National Army foot patrol in Panjwayi district, Kandahar province spreading his hands,” the report says. “The suicide vest he carried is believed to have been remotely detonated.”

In November last year, a suicide bombing that targeted parliamentarians on a road in northern Baghlan province led police and bodyguards to fire indiscriminately. Various independent reports indicated that the approximately 70 dead included 52 schoolchildren.

“Insurgent influence has intensified in areas that were previously relatively calm, including in the provinces closest to Kabul [the Afghan capital]. The number of security incidents rose to 983 in August 2008, the highest number since the fall of the Taliban in 2001,” the report adds.

It also notes that since the completion of the Government’s demobilization and reintegration of 7,444 under-age soldiers in 2003, there has been no monitoring of children vulnerable to further recruitment or re-recruitment.

A study of suicide attacks by UNAMA documented cases of children reportedly used as suicide bombers by the Taliban. Most were between 15 and 16 years of age and were tricked, promised money or forced to become suicide bombers.

Mr. Ban expresses concern in the report that there are children in the ranks of the Afghan National Auxiliary Police, conducting patrols, guarding police posts and carrying out checkpoint duties. In the south, two recently recruited 14-year-old boys were successfully released after an intervention with the authorities.

The Secretary-General also describes a number of disturbing cases involving children – especially boys – being sexually abused and exploited by members of the armed forces and armed groups. One case involved two police officers who were arrested for sexually abusing a 15-year-old boy in a south-eastern province, but later released after bribing the authorities.

“I encourage the Government of Afghanistan to implement more fully laws and programmes to prevent and punish sexual violence and to support victims, monitor grave sexual violations against boys as well as girls and work with my team in Afghanistan to study ways and means of combating harmful practices,” he writes.

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November 24, 2008 at 3:33 am

Posted in Security

ICRC continues to deliver relief aids in Afghanistan amid worsening security

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Xinhua / November 11, 2008

International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) said in a statement release here on Tuesday that the organization continued the relief operations in war-torn Afghanistan though security constraints hampered humanitarian assistance.

“The ICRC continued to respond to the needs of people affected by the armed conflict, though security constraints still hamper humanitarian operations in many areas,” the statement said.

It noted that “hostilities continue to claim the lives of Afghans, international aid workers and foreigners and access to remote areas remains a major problem in most parts of the country.”

Meanwhile, ICRC said it sent a team of about 11 medical-health expatriates working in different sectors of Miwais hospital with their Afghan counterparts in Kandahar province where has been the hot bed of Taliban militants.

ICRC, according to the statement, continued to monitor the situation of refugee families coming from neighboring Pakistan into Kunar province in eastern Afghanistan where the international organization has already carried out two rounds of emergency material assistance distribution.

Moreover, the ICRC and the Afghan Red Crescent Society are carrying out an important emergency humanitarian response in benefit of vulnerable families affected by this year’s drought-food crisis in north and north-western Afghanistan.

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November 12, 2008 at 5:36 am

Posted in Aid, Security

Aid worker kidnapped in Afghanistan

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KABUL, Afghanistan, Nov. 3 (UPI) — A French aid worker was kidnapped and two people who tried to help him were shot to death in Kabul, Afghanistan, Monday, authorities said.

The kidnapping of Dany Ereteau appeared to be the latest in a string of abductions by criminal gangs.

Egreteau, 32, was being driven to a meeting at the education ministry when his car was stopped by a group of armed men, the Times of London reported.

An Afghan intelligence officer and a local man who tried to prevent the kidnapping were reportedly shot to death.

Witnesses said a female aid worker and the driver of the car managed to escape.

The abduction was the latest in a spate of security incidents affecting foreign nationals in Kabul, the Times said.

Last month, a British aid worker was shot to death by Taliban militants who accused her of Christian missionary work. Less than a week later, two employees of freight company DHL were killed by a bodyguard hired to protect them.

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November 3, 2008 at 1:44 pm

Posted in Security

AFGHANISTAN: Local aid workers in the firing line

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KANDAHAR, 27 October 2008 (IRIN) – Homayun (not his real name) has grown a beard, changed the way he dresses, deleted all foreign names from his mobile, and conceals his ties to aid agencies: He is trying to stay safe in the face of increasing threats to aid workers by the Taliban and other insurgent or criminal groups.
 
He has been working for an international aid agency in Kandahar Province, southern Afghanistan, for five years but has never been as concerned as he is now.
 
“If the Taliban know that I work for an international organisation, it will not take them long to either kill or kidnap me,” he told IRIN at his office in Kandahar city, preferring anonymity for himself and his organisation.
 
“I am also worried about my family,” Homayun said, adding that abductions for ransom were rampant in the volatile province.
 
The worsening security situation and frequent attacks on aid workers have prompted aid agencies to be extra cautious. Some UN and international aid agencies have resorted to heavily guarded offices protected by huge blast-resistant walls and armoured vehicles. Others have restricted their movements and/or scaled down their activities.
 
Far more Afghans than international staff work for NGOs, and it is the Afghans that are more likely to be sent to, or willing to work in, volatile areas.
 
ANSO report
 
According to figures from the Afghanistan NGOs Safety Office (ANSO), 23 of the 28 aid workers killed from January to September were Afghans.
 
Afghans working for aid agencies are considered vulnerable to abduction by criminal gangs, too. Of the 72 abducted aid workers in the first nine months of the year, 68 were Afghans; three of them were killed in captivity, ANSO reported.
 
“Abduction has remained largely targeted towards Afghan nationals who account for 90 percent of the total,” ANSO reported in October.
 
“Abduction has been very lucrative with those involved gaining political, economic and military advantage,” it said.
 
ANSO suggests insurgents have “outsourced” abductions to smaller criminal groups who have easier access to urban areas.
 
Afghan aid workers have increasingly also suffered beatings, threats and armed robberies. Female aid workers face even greater security risks and social restrictions and some have already quit their jobs.
 
“Afghans are more vulnerable to security risks than internationals. They are more in number and work in remote areas with the communities,” said Anja de Beer, director of ACBAR – a network of 100 NGOs.
 
Almost half of Afghanistan’s estimated 26.6 million people live on less than US$2 a day, and NGOs are an important source of employment, with local aid workers earning more than government employees who get $100-250 a month.
Copyright © IRIN 2008. All rights reserved.

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November 1, 2008 at 3:47 am

Posted in Security

JCMB agrees to expand Afghan national army

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Source: United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA)

Kabul, 10 September 2008 – The Joint Coordination and Monitoring Board (JCMB), meeting today in Kabul, agreed the expansion of the Afghan National Army – increasing its strength to 134,000 personnel.

The Board, which consists of senior Afghan Ministers and representatives of the international community, also welcomed the new co-chair of the JCMB, Senior Cabinet Minister Hedayat Amin Arsala.

The Board endorsed a proposed Afghanistan Social Outreach Programme, whose aim is to empower local communities. It welcomed the proposal presented by the Afghan Government to set-up a mechanism to support the implementation of the Afghanistan National Development Strategy (ANDS). Reports were also presented on the status of preparations for elections and on the new anti-corruption body, the High Office of Oversight.

In addition, there were briefings on the humanitarian and refugee situations, with renewed calls to answer a humanitarian appeal for $404 million to help the most vulnerable Afghans over the coming winter months.

Kai Eide, the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Afghanistan and co-chair of the JCMB said:

“I welcome the decision taken today to expand the Afghan National Army. This increase is a huge step towards ensuring the Afghan Government has the number of soldiers it needs and that it can gradually take over the responsibility for the security of the country. We all know that ensuring security for all Afghans is of paramount importance.

“There is now a real sense of urgency to build on the commitments and progress that were made at the Paris Conference [in June]. This is a testing period for us all, but we all remain committed to implementing the commitments made – such as improved aid effectiveness and a more intensive fight against corruption.”

NOTES TO EDITORS:

The Joint Coordination and Monitoring Board (JCMB) was established for the overall strategic coordination and implementation of the Afghanistan Compact.

For further information, media should contact Nazifullah Salarzai (Dari, Pashto and English) on 0797 662 504 or Dan McNorton (English) on 0700 250 358.

United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan Spokesperson’s Office Kabul, Afghanistan tel: 00 39 0831 24 6121 or 00 93 (0) 20 297 6121 email: spokesperson-unama@un.org website: http://www.unama-afg.org

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September 13, 2008 at 3:21 am

Posted in Security

For sale: luxury villa with balcony, pool and Taliban death threat

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Residents are fleeing exclusive estate dreamed up by president’s brother        

    * James Palmer in Kandahar        
    * The Guardian,        
    * Friday September 12 2008        

The neat rows of new homes in the gated community sit behind freshly painted three-metre-high cement walls and rows of manicured shrubs.        

Pavements lined with imported eucalyptus trees border smoothly paved streets that fill at twilight with cyclists and walkers. Further back, another cluster of houses is being built, including an eight-bedroom villa with a pool, wraparound deck and balcony supported by doric columns.        

Residents at the Aino Mina housing development also have access to a mosque, two private schools, football fields, playgrounds and private armed guards on duty 24 hours a day. A hospital, supermarket, pizza parlour and golf course are also planned.        

But, despite luxuries rivalling those found in exclusive suburban communities in the United States, many owners are trying to sell or rent out their homes. Others have temporarily abandoned properties. The reason is as simple as the long-standing estate agent’s maxim: location, location, location.        

This upmarket residential neighbourhood is situated on the outskirts of the provincial capital of Kandahar – one of the most volatile and lawless provinces of Afghanistan. Others call the area the heartbeat of the Taliban, the place where the group formed in the early 1990s and where it is, by all accounts, re-establishing itself today.        

“I’m leaving tomorrow,” Sayed Hakim Kallmi, a 40-year-old hotel manager, said as he stood on the pavement outside his dream home in Aino Mina. He was watching his son and three of his six daughters play with neighbours. “There’s no security here.”        

According to Mahmoud Karzai, the driving force behind the project and younger brother of the Afghan president, Hamid Karzai, what is taking place is a clash between people who want a better life and those fighting any attempt at progress.        

“This is,” Karzai claimed, “a war against modernisation.”        

Aino Mina began with 24 hectares (60 acres) and an initial investment of $50,000 by five businessmen, including three Afghan-Americans, in 2002 shortly after a US-led invasion of Afghanistan toppled the Taliban. A $3m loan from the Overseas Private Investment Corporation, a US government agency that encourages investment from the American private sector in developing foreign economies, boosted the project.        

Today the project has grown to 800 hectares and $50m of investment. At least 300 homes have been sold. About half of those have been completed and a further 250 are under construction, according to the site manager, Mohammed Gul Pacha Khan.        

Karzai said he envisioned thousands of residents in a contemporary city on a par with any of its size worldwide.        

“Kandahar was once an economic and intellectual centre in Afghanistan, second only to Kabul, until the Taliban took it over,” said Karzai. “This was a dream come true for me because I was eager to build a modern city for the people with a proper water and electrical system, roads, sidewalks, trees, hospitals and schools.”        

A Taliban representative said his group opposed development because Karzai and the other investors were using government influence to enrich themselves.        

“This is the land of the people,” Qari Yousef Ahmadi said in a telephone interview. “The brother of Karzai is using it to serve his own interests and the interests of his friends.”        

Not so, the younger Karzai said. In fact, he countered, his group was providing affordable housing with modern amenities and building a tax base for the government, while creating approximately 1,000 jobs at a time when a weak economy and high unemployment were hindering development.        

“When the Taliban were in power,” he said, “there was nothing but dust and an undeveloped city with no signs of civilisation.”        

Taliban operatives have made no secret of their campaign to intimidate residents of Aino Mina. Ahmadi, who described himself as a spokesman for the group, said: “We seriously warn people not to buy here. Those who stay there and who buy there will be held responsible for the actions we take against them later.”        

Residents and workers in the development say the Taliban have targeted the area and maintain an unmistakable presence. During a sweltering July afternoon, a thickly bearded man in a shalwar kameez with a turban wrapped around his head rode a motorcycle along the nearly empty streets of Aino Mina with an AK-47 strapped across his back. The motorbike and the AK-47 both are long-favoured hallmarks of the Taliban.        

Despite the rider, a handful of construction workers at the project hauled wheelbarrows full of dirt, lugged slabs of concrete and scaled bamboo ladders. Naik Mohammed, 28, pointed to a two-story townhouse and said Taliban militants had recently looted the elegant dwelling and demanded protection money from its occupants.        

“They told the owners to pay $200,000 and they would allow them to live there peacefully and they won’t kill them,” Mohammed said. “The family left the next day.”        

However, Mohammed, who earns about $4 a day for a 12-hour shift, added that neither he nor any of his co-workers had been threatened.        

But Mohammed Sadiq, 38, who bought an eight-bedroom house in the project, said the kidnapping of two Aino Mina residents last month had hurt sales. “Building has slowed,” said Sadiq, who also is a construction manager for the development. “People are afraid to buy because of the Taliban.”        

Not all residents are as concerned. Some even say they feel safer on the development than in the city, where roadside bombs targeting Nato and government security forces explode with sickening regularity, crime is rife and religious extremism is prevalent.        

Mohabatullan Sayed Gul, 42, an electronic parts shop owner who has lived for five months in a three-bedroom ranch-style house complete with a flourishing garden of tomatoes, aubergines and cauliflowers fortified by a towering cement wall, said he moved there primarily for the private girls’ school available to his three daughters.        

“This is a modern place where modern people live and girls are free to go to school,” said Sayed Gul. He had received threatening letters at the doorstep of his previous residence in Kandahar from Taliban militants warning him to refrain from sending his daughters to school. “There are many people in the city who don’t want girls to receive an education.”        

Others are packing up.        

Kallmi, the hotel manager, spent the day preparing his wife and seven children to leave the house they were renting for $150 a month. The previous owner also had left because he did not feel safe. As Kallmi moved furniture and stacked bundles filled with personal belongings, he said he would leave the next day and go north.        

“I was very happy in this environment,” Kallmi said. “I’m sorry I have to leave.”        
© Guardian News and Media Limited 2008        

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September 13, 2008 at 3:19 am

Posted in Governance, Security

Where the good die all too often

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Tribune correspondent Kim Barker experiences firsthand Afghanistan’s lawless spiral of terror and corruption: Another person killed, like too many before, working to better his country       
By Kim Barker | Tribune correspondent       
September 12, 2008       

KABUL, Afghanistan — Mohammad Alim Hanif knew he would be killed, but he didn’t want to give up being a judge.       

“My life is in danger, and no one will listen until a judge is killed,” Hanif told me in July as we sat in his office, talking about the difficulty of sentencing drug traffickers.       

Maybe people will listen now. Last week, as Hanif drove to work, he was shot in the heart. He died at the hospital.       

It was but one small tragedy I have seen that barely rated a mention in Afghanistan, let alone the rest of the world. But the slaying of Hanif, and the fact that it seemed to matter so little in this country where so much appears to be going wrong, tells a larger story about what is happening in Afghanistan, about who might be winning and the country’s direction almost seven years since U.S. troops helped drive out the Taliban after the Sept. 11 attacks.       

As a journalist who has covered Pakistan and Afghanistan on and off for more than five years, I have known a number of people who have been killed, one by one: the men who said the right things, who stood up to militants, to corruption, to drug traffickers.       

Some were not entirely clean—after almost three decades of fighting, it is tough to find someone without bloodstained hands — but all wanted their country to succeed.       

Every time I arrive in Kabul, I hear the list of the dead. There was Abdul Hakim Taniwal, the scholar who came back from Australia to help rebuild his country. In March 2003, he was the governor of eastern Khost province and he invited me for a large dinner at his house, the first time I ate a meal sitting on cushions on the floor.       

In September 2006, Taniwal, a gentle and hopeful man, was killed by a suicide bomber.       

Mohammad Akram Khakrizwal, the head of security for southern Kandahar province when I met him in April 2003, told me that the Taliban wanted everyone to grow up illiterate and uneducated like them. He was fearless, built like a wrestler, and he later became police chief of Kabul.       

In June 2005, while Khakrizwal was at a funeral for a prominent cleric killed by insurgents, a bomb ripped through the mosque, killing him and 19 others.       

‘What have you done?’       

I saw his brother a year later. Mohammed Akbar Khakrizwal was his tribe’s leader in Kandahar, and he laughed when he saw me wearing an all-encompassing burqa, which covered my face and body, my attempt at a disguise that would allow me to travel unnoticed.       

“Oh, what have you done to yourself?” he asked, cracking up. “For 100 years, no one will recognize you like this. No one will touch you.”       

In June, he was gunned down by men on motorcycles, used often by the Taliban.       

And there were Mullah Naqib and Abdul Hakim Jan, two pro-government elders, and Habibullah Jan, a member of parliament from Kandahar who told me in June 2006 about a funeral for a pro-government cleric killed by the Taliban that only four people were brave enough to attend. All are gone now.       

The list of the dead is long and telling, a bitter story of failure in this war-torn country. Some were killed by militants, some in old rivalries, but rarely is anyone arrested.       

The bigger crime seems to be that the Afghan government cannot protect the men who are so clearly targets. If someone really wants to kill an official, it’s impossible to always prevent that. But it is possible to make it harder.       

As head of appeals for the drugs court in Afghanistan, Hanif, in his 50s, was an obvious target, responsible for putting away drug traffickers, some of the most powerful people in Afghanistan, where the drug trade is estimated at more than $4 billion a year. Everyone with any influence reportedly has their hand in drugs—the Taliban, government officials, relatives of government officials.       

‘We will kill you’       

But unlike some judges, Hanif was honest. He refused bribes. And he put away the mostly small-time drug traffickers who ended up in his court, no matter the threat.       

Hanif recently started receiving anonymous phone calls and text messages warning that people were watching him. “Soon, we will kill you,” one message said. Sitting in his office in July, Hanif looked frail and worried. Pending cases were stacked on a coffee table.       

Yet Hanif did not have an armored car, like government ministers or powerful warlords. He did not have security guards or police protection or even a gun. He did not have a safe place to live.       

“The government said, ‘We will give you armored vehicles,’ ” Hanif told me in July. “They said, ‘We will give you police to take care of your security.’ But they give us nothing. We can’t even go and pray in the mosque, because if people find out what we do, who we are, we will be in trouble.”       

Somehow these people found Hanif. This story is an obituary for him, and for the Khakrizwals, for Taniwal and Habibullah Jan and Mullah Naqib—and, in some eyes, for Afghanistan. Because for Afghans, the constant parade of deaths makes them feel they are losing their country, one small tragedy at a time.       

kbarker@tribune.com       
Copyright © 2008, Chicago Tribune  

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September 13, 2008 at 3:16 am

Posted in Governance, Security