Thursday, December 31, 2009

This is the picture that the writer below was talking about in Afghanistan; the picture that Julie Jacobsen was talking about. I carried Julie's diary in this blog; it was one of the last posts before this chronicle went on temporary hiatus. This is Joshua Bernard of the United States of America's Army in Afghanistan; his legs were blown off while Julie watched it all happen. These were Josh's final moments.

Happy New Year, Iraq.

Justice Urbina ruled this week that Blackwater was not liable for the Iraq deaths which the world has been waiting to hear about all year..
Corporate food giant Monsanto uses patents to bully small farmers and strangle competition
December 14

It has been a very impressive year for the Associated Press. A few months ago, Julie Jacobson of the AP published tragic photos of a US Marine after both of his legs were blown off in Afghanistan. Not only did she receive a verbal whip lashing from the Obama Administration, but for a brief moment, a respected and mainstream media outlet exposed Americans to the graphic and utter horror of war.

While scanning over the New York Times today, I was pleased to see that the AP is now currently investigating the corporate food giant Monsanto, accusing them of
using its wide reach to control the ability of new biotech firms to get wide distribution for their products, according to a review of several Monsanto licensing agreements and dozens of interviews with seed industry participants, agriculture and legal experts.

Monsanto has had a long history of bullying their way around the country and the AP should be commended for adding to their laundry list of sins. But despite the article's claims, Monsanto's excesses are the products of state intervention, not capitalism.

Monsanto owns patents on the genes of nearly 90% of America's soy and corn products, and when these seeds eventually blow onto neighboring smaller farmers, Monsanto sues them for a violation of their intellectual property "rights." They have even sued farmers for saving Monsanto's patented soybean seeds.

Monsanto uses its government-granted monopoly to intimidate and violate the true property rights of its neighbors, which exposes intellectual property (IP) for the misguided policy that it is.

Human beings have inherent rights in their bodies and in their homesteaded property (the manipulation of matter) that can never be violated. These rights come not from God or governments, but from our reason, and as social beings who depend on each other for survival, enforcement of these rights is essential for cooperation. As the great Ayn Rand put it:

The right to life is the source of all rights—and the right to property is their only implementation. Without property rights, no other rights are possible. Since man has to sustain his life by his own effort, the man who has no right to the product of his effort has no means to sustain his life.

IP law, however, creates artificial scarcity out of a non-scare entity (ideas) by giving individuals a government-backed monopoly on its use and distribution for an arbitrary amount of time. This protection violates the rights of other individuals by putting restrictions on how individuals, like the farmers against Monsanto, use their property.

There is also virtually no evidence suggesting that intellectual property law encourages inventions, creation, and boosts the arts. In fact, when examining the record of anarchic or near-anarchic market societies and institutions (like medieval Iceland and common/merchant law), property rights were better respected, peaceful commerce expanded, and technological innovation flourished; and all of this without the government club.

Monsanto is an all too common feature of the US economy: a statist creature that benefits from patents, licensing, and farm subsidies to strangle its less politically-favored competitors. It also doesn't hurt having one of their former attorneys, Justice Clarence Thomas, upholding plant patents in the highest government court in the land.

Luckily, supporters of organic and local farming are starting to wake up and realize that their industry would be far better off in freer markets, liberated from the government's controls (whether indirectly through IP or directly through subsidies) that allow the strong to legally prey on the weak.


This article originally appeared in SF's (d)N0t blog.
Can you imagine learning to board in a war zone? :)

KABUL (Reuters) - Afghanistan's first skateboarding park and school opened in Kabul on Tuesday with a boarding showdown between dozens of youngsters -- ranging from ministers' children to streetkids -- that it aims to bring together.

"Skateistan" started two years ago in a dried-up fountain in the heart of the Afghan capital, when two Australians with three skateboards started teaching a small group of fascinated kids.

Now dozens of boys and girls from across all social classes can mix in a giant indoor park that looks like a cross between a military hangar and an urban hangout, festooned with the names of fashionable skating brands that have sponsored the park.

Classes are free, and at the back of the skating section are neat changing areas and classrooms where children can study everything from basic literacy to advanced computing when they put down their boards and take off their helmets.

"A year ago this was empty land, there were just dogs here," said Fraidoon Ilham, who helps write speeches for President Hamid Karzai as his day job but also helps Skateistan sort through the legal and government pitfalls of operating in Afghanistan.

One of the world's poorest and most conservative countries seems a strange place to set up a skateboarding school, but the founders say it has proved a remarkably successful way to reach out to marginalized children, particularly girls.

Sports such as football are seen as men's activities, but skateboarding is novel enough to be open to women.

"I want to be a professional skateboarder in future like my teacher, and help other children learn how to skate," said 10-year-old Mahro, a star student who seems undaunted by either traditional ideas about women or the steepest ramps in the park.

She has been skating for a year and would like to come every day, she says, shrugging off grazes on her hands from tumbles.


So far Skateistan have won donations of $650,000, around two thirds of which went toward the 1,800 sq m (19,380 sq ft) indoor arena.

The head of the Afghan Olympic Committee, which has donated the land for the park and is providing water, power and security, officially opened the indoor park and launched an enrolment drive. An outdoor area will follow.

"We managed to bring together about 200 street children, this sport is not only entertainment for them, it is also giving them hope for their future," said AOC head Mohammad Zahir Aghbar.

"I am working hard to expand this process, not only in the capital but further out, in the provinces also."

The children he hopes to help are those like 11-year-old Fazila, who used to sell chewing gum on the street, but was allowed to go to school and skate classes after Skateistan arranged to pay her parents the $1 a day she used to earn.

"I want to be able to jump like teacher Ollie. I can do a little already," she said with a shy grin, before wheeling off to tackle the two quarter ramps that make up the "Afghan gap" in her traditional headscarf and shalwar kameez, beside the children of Afghanistan's elite.

(Editing by Alex Richardson)
President Karzai’s security chiefs have demanded that America should hand over the gunmen behind a night raid in eastern Afghanistan that government investigators and the United Nations say killed at least eight schoolchildren.

It was the Afghan Government’s most aggressive response yet to an alleged attack on civilians. But the US insisted that its men had come under fire and that all the victims were part of an Afghan cell manufacturing bombs.

The call heightens a war of words between the Afghan Government and its powerful military backers. It is the first time that Mr Karzai has tried to hold foreign forces directly accountable for killing civilians, although he has issued impassioned responses to civilian casualties that threaten to undermine Nato’s mission in Afghanistan.

It also reflects the growing assertiveness of a Government that precariously held its position after fraudriddled elections in August and open criticism from Nato countries over corruption.

Kai Eide, the head of the UN in Afghanistan, issued a statement reinforcing Afghan claims that most of the dead were schoolboys. “Based on our initial investigation, eight of those killed were students enrolled in local schools,” he said.

He accepted that there was evidence to suggest that insurgents were in the area, but reiterated concerns that night raids by US special forces risked undermining consent for foreign forces in Afghanistan.

“The United Nations remains concerned about night-time raids given that they often result in lethal outcomes for civilians,” he said.

The National Security Council, chaired by Mr Karzai, accepted the findings of an Afghan investigation that contradicted Nato’s claims. It demanded: “Those responsible for the deaths of those innocent youths must be handed over to the Afghan Government”.

Conventional US units told investigators that they had no knowledge of the operation, in Narang district in eastern Kunar province. Assadullah Wafa, who led the investigation, said that US troops flew to Kunar from Kabul late on Saturday. Nato sources said that the foreigners involved were non-military, suggesting that they were part of a secret paramilitary unit based in the capital.

Mr Wafa said that they landed helicopters outside the village and walked in at the dead of night before shooting the children at close range. “They were children, they were civilians, they were innocent,” he said. “I condemn this attack.”

The Security Council endorsed his findings. “International forces entered the area and killed ten youths, eight of them school students inside two rooms in a house, without encountering any armed resistance,” a statement from Mr Karzai’s office said.

A Western official was also scathing. “There’s no doubt that there were insurgents there, and there may well have been an insurgent leader in the house, but that doesn’t justify executing eight children who were all enrolled in local schools,” he said. Rahman Jan Ehsas, the local headmaster, told The Times that seven of the students were handcuffed before they were shot. A local farm labourer and a shepherd boy were also killed, he said.

The deaths sparked protests across Afghanistan, with students in Jalalabad burning an effigy of Barack Obama and children in Kabul as young as 10 demanding that foreign forces should quit Afghanistan.

Nato’s International Security Assistance Force said there was “no direct evidence to substantiate” the Government’s claims that unarmed civilians were harmed in the “joint coalition and Afghan security force” operation. The National Security Council made no reference to any Afghan forces involved in the operation. In the past, Special Forces have been criticised for using private Afghan militias in operations.
Mentally ill soldiers are quite probably mentally ill because of their experiences in the army, I would gather. But then that's a subject for a whole other column.

Published December 31 2009
The Army can be bad for your health

Find new soldiers,

Where you can;

Get them ready,

For Iran.

Defense Secretary Robert Gates has announced he’s going to beef up the Army again. Another 20,000 recruits. And why not? Afghanistan and Iraq are busily chewing through our troops, Iran is waiting, and the Great Recession is still churning out fodder for recruitment. Might as well grab them now, while war sounds patriotic and they don’t have much else to do.

To get such youngsters into the right frame of mind, some towns invite the military to publicly show off their wares. They’d have you think that shooting people is the most natural thing in the world. Of course these days maybe it is, so why not start with kindergarteners? That’s now one target audience, at least (according to reports) in Juneau, Alaska, and the state of Hawaii. In Tarpon Springs, Fla., they do wait until high school, but then allow commercial gun dealers to tag along with the soldiers. In between we have the Junior ROTC.

In Philadelphia, the Army has struck off on its own with a new prototype. It rented an empty mall store and set up idealized electronic combat scenes where young people can shoot up the “enemy” (brown-skinned) in simulators and video games. Luckily the enemy doesn’t shoot back. Most of us had gotten that stuff out of our systems by the time we were 10, but this is for youth who still cling to childhood war fantasies. The place also draws protesters.

Of course, even in a jobless recovery, recruitment is no picnic. The Army reports that 75 percent of age-eligible youth aren’t qualified. There have always been plenty who flunked the entry exam, flunked out of school, or flunked the police-record search. Now the big hurdle is flunking the weight/height ratio. Obesity is suddenly all the rage. Luckily, waivers of all these flaws are common.

Then once in uniform, other problems crop up. About a third of women recruits end up getting raped. Official response to such trauma generally replicates that of the Taliban. And gays are always vulnerable under “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.” Undocumented immigrants are likewise vulnerable if they want to hang on to collect that magic citizenship paper upon discharge.

Safest of all recruits are the mentally ill. No one wants to oust them for a little thing like that. There’s too much need for their warm bodies. Yes, they may be more likely to kill themselves, or others, or to go around the bend at an inconvenient moment, but they do keep the troop count up.

And blessedly, all those excited young bucks and does entering the service can’t foresee what life will be like when they return as civilians. Mental and physical injuries can disable them for life. PTSD victims often find that marriages erode, landlords get cranky, jobs annoy, families lack understanding, and police grow irritable. Plus the VA doesn’t see what Agent Orange, depleted uranium or toxic fumes have to do with your later health problems. Let alone those of your kids.

Maybe the ongoing conflict in Afghanistan isn’t the Vietnam War, but a nation that lures its young into the military, sucks out their life, and deposits their living carcasses on the scrap heaps of society is morally bankrupt. Its victories of greed and power destroy its fiber and soul.

Not to say that we’re describing the United States here, but who else? Well, maybe Britain too. And maybe it’s just that we vets have a little clearer view of some things. If so, it’s time for a national program of contact lenses to help everyone share the vision.

Minuteman Media columnist William A. Collins is a former state representative and a former mayor of Norwalk, Conn., and is also a national board member of Veterans for Peace.
What a lovely story.

The daughter of New Zealand's top representative in Afghanistan has taken to busking in an effort to raise money for the country's children.

Day to day life in Afghanistan is a challenge at the best of times, but for the children it can be life or death.

The war torn nation has one of the worst infant mortality rates in the world, and while our defence force is doing what it can, the daughter of our top man in Bamiyan is taking to the streets this Christmas to do her part.

Leah Dransfield is half a world away from her father, but singing the same tune. Colonel Martin Dransfield is doing what he can to help those in Bamiyan

His 17 year old daughter, who kissed him goodbye in October, is using her own special skills to raise money for the country's impoverished kids.

"We're so lucky in New Zealand and we've all got so much stuff over Christmas and we just want to raise as much money as we can. And it's going towards medical supplies and all sorts of stuff for the babies," says Leah Dransfield.

Instrumental in this campaign on the homefront is Leah's mum, Cathey Dransfield.

She's been running bake sales and organising volunteers to knit baby clothes.

"About one in four babies die at birth and that's just through poor pre and post natal care so just little bits of money can make a huge difference," says Cathey Dransfield.

The money raised here will go to two Afghan woman the Kiwis have taken a special interest in and that's because they're having to raise their babies in a cold prison.

"They were in arranged marriages probably to older men and they wanted to be with the men of their choice so when they decided to take that step they were obviously caught or found out," says Cathey Dransfield.

Leah will be spreading some Christmas cheer for a good cause on Cuba Mall over the festive period.
I found this piece, carried in the Irish Times, to be quite interesting. It will be most interesting to see what the Germans choose to do next. Indeed, an Earthtimes press release today also carries a survey by the Leipzig Institute of Market Research which says that fifty one percent- more than half- of all Germans oppose the war in Afghanistan.

The Irish Times - Monday, December 21, 2009

SCALLY in Berlin

GERMAN DEFENCE minister Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg has proposed talks with “moderate” Taliban groups.

The beleaguered defence minister has also suggested greater differentiation between insurgents in Afghanistan as part of a new Nato strategy in the region.

Mr zu Guttenberg, under fire over a controversial German-ordered air-strike in Afghanistan in September, said next month’s Afghanistan conference in London will need to do more than agree to boost troop numbers.

“One will have to think about what sharpening up politically, what Henry Kissinger called ‘communications channels’. Not every insurgent is of equal danger to western society,” Mr zu Guttenberg told Welt am Sonntag newspaper. “There are differences between the groups in Afghanistan which radically oppose anything western and whose goal it is to fight our culture, and those which are simply immersed in their own, local culture.”

Talks with moderate Taliban could be constructive, “so long as one doesn’t set oneself a trap”.

The defence minister said he was cautious about Berlin blindly following President Obama’s request for a reported 2,500 German troops in Afghanistan.

Germany is the third-largest contributor of troops to Afghanistan, with about 4,400 on the ground. Any further deployments would be highly controversial.

The legitimacy of the already unpopular mission has suffered in recent weeks following leaks about a September-ordered airstrike in the region of Kunduz which killed dozens of civilians.

Next year’s call for extra troops is likely to come during a parliamentary inquiry into whether Germany has moved beyond civilian reconstruction to a strategy of targeted killing of insurgents.

Adding to the complications is a crucial state election next May in North-Rhine Westphalia, home to one in five Germans, before which chancellor Angela Merkel’s government will be anxious to avoid unpopular decisions.

Before January’s Afghanistan conference in London, Mr zu Guttenberg said Germany had an urgent need to address the “deficits in our dealing with the Afghanistan issue in the last years”.

“Whether we need more troops is still open,” said Mr zu Guttenberg yesterday. “The first logical step of a new strategy is not to say, ‘We’ll get more soldiers and then follow the strategy’. Now we formulate the strategy, from which will follow how many troops and civil forces one needs.”

Opposition politicians dismissed Mr zu Guttenberg’s suggestion yesterday as an attempt to distract from the Kunduz bombing.

Two years ago, Mr zu Guttenberg had dismissed opening channels to the Taliban as “misguided”.

Monday, December 28, 2009

This is very interesting because I have heard that many of the larger mammal species do live in the upper end of a cline- which are the ecoregions in any given place. The further North one goes, and Affy is quite far North, the more megafauna there is, and the more vulnerable the species are to disruptions in the ecoweb. I found this article really fascinating! :)

Obama's Afghanistan Escalation a Bad Sign for the Country's Environment

Monday 28 December 2009

by: Joshua Frank, t r u t h o u t | Report

(Image: Dag Hammarskjold Library / The United Nations)

Shipping off 30,000 more troops to the land of the Taliban may be infuriating to devoted antiwar activists, but the toll the Afghanistan war is having on the environment should also force nature lovers into the streets in protest.

Natural habitat in Afghanistan has endured decades of struggle, and the War on Terror has only escalated the destruction. The lands most afflicted by warfare are home to critters that most Westerners only have a chance to observe behind cages in our city zoos: gazelles, cheetahs, hyenas, Turanian tigers and snow leopards among others.

Afghanistan's National Environmental Protection Agency (NEPA), which was formed in 2005 to address environmental issues, has listed a total of 33 species on its Endangered list. By the end of this year, NEPA's list may grow to over 80 species of plants and animals.

In 2003, the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) released its evaluation of Afghanistan's environmental issues. Titled "Post-Conflict Environmental Assessment," the UNEP report claimed that war and long-standing drought "have caused serious and widespread land and resource degradation, including lowered water tables, desiccation of wetlands, deforestation and widespread loss of vegetative cover, erosion, and loss of wildlife populations."

Ammunition dumps, cluster bombs, B-52 bombers and land mines, which President Obama refuses to ban, serve as the greatest threat to the country's rugged natural landscape and the biodiversity it cradles.

The increasing number of Afghanis that are being displaced because of military conflict, UNEP's report warned, has compounded all of these problems. It was a sobering estimation. However, it was an analysis that should not come as much of a surprise: warfare kills not only humans, but life in general.

As bombs fall, civilians are not the only ones put at risk, and the lasting environmental impacts of the war may not be known for years, perhaps decades, to come.

For example, birds are killed and sent off their migratory course. Literally tens of thousands of birds leave Siberia and Central Asia to find their winter homes to the south. Many of these winged creatures have traditionally flown through Afghanistan to the southeastern wetlands of Kazakhstan, but their numbers have drastically declined in recent years.

Endangered Siberian cranes and two protected species of pelicans are the most at risk, say Pakistani ornithologists who study the area. The war's true impact on these species is not yet known, but President Obama's escalating of the combat effort in the country is not a hopeful sign.

Back in 2001, Dr. Oumed Haneed, who monitors bird migration in Pakistan, told the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) that the country had typically witnessed thousands of ducks and other wildfowl migrating through Afghanistan to Pakistan.

Yet, once the US began its bombing campaigns, few birds were to be found.

"One impact may be directly the killing of birds through bombing, poisoning of the wetlands or the sites which these birds are using," said Haneed, who works for Pakistan's National Council for Conservation of Wildlife. "Another impact may be these birds are derouted, because their migration is very precise. They migrate in a corridor and if they are disturbed through bombing, they might change their route."

Intense fighting throughout Afghanistan, especially in the White Mountains, where the US has hunted bin Laden, have been hit the hardest. While the difficult-to-access ranges may serve as safe havens for alleged al-Qaeda operatives, the Tora Bora caves and steep topography also provide refuge for bears, Marco Polo sheep, gazelles and mountain leopards.

Every missile that is fired into these vulnerable mountains could potentially kill any of these treasured animals, all of which are on the verge of becoming extinct.

"The same terrain that allows fighters to strike and disappear back into the hills has also, historically, enabled wildlife to survive," Peter Zahler of the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) told New Scientist at the onset of the Afghanistan invasion.

But Zahler, who helped to open a field office for WCS in Kabul in 2006, also warned that not only are these animals at risk from bombing, they are also at risk of being killed by refugees. For instance, a snow leopard, whose endangered population in the country is said to be fewer than 100, can score $2,000 on the black market for snow leopard fur. That money in turn can help these displaced Afghanis pay for safe passage into Pakistan.

Bombings, however, while having an initial direct impact, are really only the beginning of the dilemma.

As Zahler recently told Truthout, "The story in Afghanistan is not the actual fighting - it's the side effects - habitat destruction, uncontrolled poaching, that sort of thing."

Afghanistan has faced nearly 30 years of unfettered resource exploitation, even prior to the most recent war. This has led to a collapse of government systems and has displaced millions of people, all of which has led to the degradation of the country's habitat on a vast scale.

Forests have been ravaged to provide short-term energy and building supplies for refugees. Many of the country's arid grasslands have also been overgrazed and wildlife killed.

"Eventually the land will be unfit for even the most basic form of agriculture," explained Hammad Naqi of the World Wide Fund for Nature in Pakistan. "Refugees - around four million at the last count [in 2001] - are also cutting into forests for firewood."

In early 2001, during the initial attacks, the BBC reported that the United States had been carpet bombing Afghanistan in numerous locations.

John Stufflebeem, deputy director of operations for the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, told reporters at the time that B-52 aircraft were carpet bombing targets "all over the country, including Taliban forces in the north.

"We do use [carpet bombing strategies]," said Stufflebeem. "We have used it and will use it when we need to."

If Obama opts to carpet bomb, which the White House denies it will implement, this could lead to even further environmental problems and increase the already high refugee numbers.

Additionally, Pakistani military experts and others have made allegations that the United States has used depleted uranium (DU) shells to target specific targets inside Afghanistan, most notably against the Taliban frontlines in the northern region of the country.

Using DU explosives is not far-fetched for the United States. The US-led NATO air force used DU shells when it struck Yugoslavia in 1999. Once these deadly bombs strike, they rip through their target and then erupt into a toxic cloud of fire. Many medical studies have shown that DU's radioactive vapors are linked to leukemia, blood cancer, lung cancer and birth defects.

"As US and NATO forces continue pounding Afghanistan with cruise missiles and smart bombs, people acquainted with the aftermaths of two recent previous wars fought by the US fear, following the Gulf and Balkan war syndromes, the Afghan War Syndrome," wrote Dr. Ali Ahmed Rind in the Baltimore Chronicle in 2001. "This condition is marked by a state of vague aliments and carcinomas, and is linked with the usage of Depleted Uranium (DU) as part of missiles, projectiles and bombs in the battlefield."

France, Italy and Portugal have asked NATO to halt DU use, yet the Pentagon still does not admit that DU is harmful or that it has used such bombs during its assaults in the country.

Afghanistan's massive refugee crisis, lack of governmental stability, and extreme poverty, coupled with polluted water supplies, drought, land mines and excessive bombings, all contribute to the country's intense environmental predicament.

Experts seem to unanimously agree, there simply is no such thing as environmentally friendly warfare.

Joshua Frank is the author of Left Out! How Liberals Helped Reelect George W. Bush (Common Courage Press, 2005), and along with Jeffrey St. Clair, the editor of Red State Rebels: Tales of Grassroots Resistance in the Heartland (AK Press, 2008). Frank is also the co-author with St. Clair of the forthcoming Green Scare: The New War on Environmentalism (Haymarket Books, 2010)

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Yesterday, I met a little girl named Guljumma. She's seven years old, and she lives in Kabul at a place called Helmand Refugee Camp District 5.

Guljumma talked about what happened one morning last year when she was sleeping at home in southern Afghanistan's Helmand Valley. At about 5 AM, bombs exploded. Some people in her family died. She lost an arm.

With a soft, matter-of-fact voice, Guljumma described those events. Her father, Wakil Tawos Khan, sat next to her. He took out copies of official forms that he has sent to the Afghan government.

Like the other parents who were gathered inside a crude tent in this squalid camp, Khan hasn't gotten anywhere through official channels. He's struggling to take care of his daughter. And he has additional duties because he's a representative for 100 of the families in the camp, which is little more than ditches, mud structures and ragged canvas.

Khan pointed to a plastic bag containing a few pounds of rice. It was his responsibility to divide the rice for the 100 families.

Basics like food arrive at the camp only sporadically, Khan said. Donations come from Afghan businessmen. The government of Afghanistan does very little. The United Nations doesn't help. Neither does the US government.

Khan emphasized his eagerness to work. We have the skills, he said - give us some land and just dig a well, and we'll do the rest. From the sound of his voice, hope is fraying.

You could say that the last time Guljumma and her father had meaningful contact with the US government was when it bombed them.

If rhetoric were reality, this would be a war that's about upholding humane values. But rhetoric is not reality.

The destructiveness of this war is reality for Guljumma and her father. And for hundreds of families at Helmand Refugee Camp District 5. And, in fact, for millions of Afghan people. The violence of this war - military, economic and social - keeps destroying the future. Every day and night.

Is the US government willing to really help Guljumma, who now lives each day and night in the squalor of a refugee camp? Is the government willing to spend the equivalent of the cost of a single warhead to assist her?

So far, the answer is obscenely clear. But maybe we can force a change by contacting representatives and senators in Washington and demanding action - for Guljumma, for Wakil Tawos Khan, for all the other long-suffering residents of Helmand Refugee Camp District 5 and for all the victims of war in Afghanistan.

Success for one girl or one refugee camp might be a helpful baby step toward reversing the priorities that now have the US government spending about 90 percent of its budget for Afghanistan on military efforts.

Official Washington could start a move toward decency now. Helmand Refugee Camp District 5 is easy to find. It's in the capital of Afghanistan, on Charahe Qambar Road. A government that uses satellite guidance systems to aim missiles should be able to find it.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

In the days before and after the country's landmark presidential elections on Aug. 20, Afghanistan has seen the highest level of civilian deaths since the Taliban was routed out of power in 2002. As uncertainty surrounds the final outcome of the presidential vote, fraught with low turnout and mounting accusations of election fraud, Afghan civilians are at a greater risk than ever of violent attacks, aid officials warn. "With the outcome of voting in Afghanistan unclear, the danger and insecurity facing millions of Afghans continues and in fact is higher now than ever," says Sam Zarifi, Amnesty International's Asia-Pacific director.
This is a woman photographer for the Associated Press. Her diary is quite lengthy; the link to her observations is here. I have simply excerpted.

That's when I realized there was a casualty and saw the injured Marine, about 10 yards from where I'd stood, with his legs just hanging on by skin. For the second time in my life, I watched a Marine lose his. He was hit with the RPG, which blew off one of his legs and badly mangled the other. He lost consciousness a few minutes later just before they got him into the "ambulance." I hadn't seen it happen, just heard the explosion. I hit the ground and lay as flat as I could and shot what I could of the scene even though I didn't think I could use those casualty pics based on our media rules of engagement. It was also dusk at that point and very hard to shoot with such low shutter speeds. There was lots of yelling.

The injured Marine kept saying, "I can't breathe, I can't breathe." The other guys kept telling him "Bernard, you're doing fine, you're doing fine. You're gonna make it. Stay with me Bernard!" He held Bernard's head in his hands when he seemed to go limp and tried to keep him awake. A couple more ran in with a stretcher.

This whole time amidst gunfire, I lay flat on my stomach trying to brace my camera steady, but not doing very well at a 1/2 second. It was strange to be worrying about my shutter speed with all the bullets flying overhead. At the same time I kept trying to gauge whether or not to drop the camera and help the Marines with the injured man. I remember feeling that as my first instinct when we had first approached him, but saw that there were two guys with him and decided I was not needed.

So all this is going on and as they were trying to help him, (it was just too dark to see what exactly they were doing), another RPG hit the mud wall on the other side of the street from where we were, about five yards away. It was a big BOOM, and I just lay my face in the dirt and everything went quiet for about 10 seconds. It was just silence like I was wearing noise-canceling head phones or like world peace had finally descended upon the earth. The air was white with sand.

Then I started feeling the rubble fall down around me. And I thought, "Is this what it's like to be shell-shocked? Am I all still here? I can't believe I am." One of the Marines looked my way, and I told him I was good, and he told me to head for cover of the MRAP, so I did. Alfred, the writer, was there and was relieved to see me. He said he saw me lying on the ground and was worried until he saw me move. I was fine and surprised at how calm I was and that I could actually still hear. I kept trying to shoot from behind the MRAP, wanting to move up to the wall again around the soldiers who had finally gathered there shooting.

But a freakin' Afghan soldier shot an RPG with five Marines standing behind it and almost fried them all. Plus at that point, I was not sure I wanted another round of RPGs sitting next to the wall. Those walls are pretty thick and strong, but I just couldn't be sure.

Gunfire continued for several minutes more before things finally quieted. They had already moved the injured Marine out. Alfred and I stood in a doorway of a home compound, and it was also pretty daggum dark at that point. There was still a touch of light in the sky a bit, but not enough to shoot. I tried, but it did no good. I couldn't see enough to focus and couldn't hold steady for very long. It was frustrating. I shot some video just for the sound because the APTN guy had decided to stay behind and continue shooting what he saw on the roof of our post.

When the MRAP pulled away leaving us exposed, Alfred pulled a cowering ANA guy out of the door so we could stand there. A minute later a Marine came running up to us yelling "Has this house been cleared?!" It was to their rear and could have been a good ambush point. I shrugged my shoulders and just said, "I don't know, there was an ANA guy here but I don't think he did anything." There was another one of them sitting down the street up against the wall away from all the action. He was just sitting there, legs crossed with his weapon in his lap like he was waiting to be served tea. A flare lit up the sky. I made a few frames.

Shortly after, we decided to push back to the command post. The Marines said another squad was coming to do a night sweep through the orchard.

Someone started yelling for the translator, Franky. (They have American nicknames for the 'terps, 'cause they can't pronounce the real ones.) Franky didn't answer. They walked up and down yelling for him, worried that something had happened in the chaos. Then someone realized he was sitting in the 7-ton truck. He had retreated there when the firing started. Not a good thing, because it prevented the Marines from coordinating with the ANA.

We slowly began to push back. Cpl. Jackson asked me if I wanted night vision goggles to see to make my way back. I declined. I could make out their shapes in the dark, it was enough. As we made our way back, the night squad passed us going the other way, faces masked. They seemed like phantoms moving in the dark, intensely quiet, saying nothing to us as they passed.

We made it back to the command post just as the Black Hawk medevac helicopter was taking off with Bernard inside. Later in the night, we learned that Lance Cpl. Joshua M. Bernard had made it to the hospital at Camp Leatherneck but had died of a blood clot in his heart on the operating table.

Wednesday Aug. 19, 2009 The last few slow days have allowed me to reflect some on the events of Friday, the 14th. I did not ever formally meet Bernard. There are some 50 men in a platoon, and every day we were going out with different squads, so I have not really gotten to know the guys too well. ...

I shot images that day well aware that those images could very possibly never see the light of day. In fact I was sure of it. But I still found myself recording them. To ignore a moment like that simply because of a phrase in section 8, paragraph 1 of some 10-page form would have been wrong. I was recording his impending death, just as I had recorded his life moments before walking the point in the bazaar. Death is a part of life and most certainly a part of war. Isn't that why we're here? To document for now and for history the events of this war? We'd shot everything else thus far and even after, from feature images of a Marine talking on a SAT phone to his girlfriend, all the way to happy meetings between Marines and civilians. So shooting the image was not a question.

To publish or not is the question. The image is not the most technically sound, but his face is visible as are his wounds. Many factors come into play. There's the form we signed agreeing to how and what we would cover while embedded. It says we can photograph casualties from a respectable distance and in such a way that the person is not identifiable. Then you think about the relatives and friends of Bernard. Would you, as a parent, want that image posted for all the world to see? Or even would you want to see how your son died? You'd probably want to remember him another way. Although, it was interesting to watch the Marines from his squad flip through the images from that day on my computer (they asked to see them). They did stop when they came to that moment. But none of them complained or grew angry about it. They understood that it was what it was. They understand, despite that he was their friend, it was the reality of things.

Then there's the journalism side of things, which is what I am and why I'm here. We are allowed to report the name of the casualty as soon as next of kin has been notified. It is necessary and good to recognize those who die in times of war. But to me, a name on a piece of paper barely touches personalizing casualties. An image brings it home so much closer. An image personalizes that death and makes people see what it really means to have young men die in combat. It may be shocking to see, and while I'm not trying to force anything down anyone's throat, I think it is necessary for people to see the good, the bad and the ugly in order to reflect upon ourselves as human beings. It is necessary to be bothered from time to time. It is too easy to sit at Starbuck's far away across the sea and read about the casualty and then move on without much of another thought about it. It's not as easy to see an image of that casualty and NOT think about it. I never expect to change the world or stop war with one picture, but only hope that I make some people THINK beyond their comfort zones and hope that a few of them will be moved into some kind of action, be it joining a protest, or sending that care package they've put off for weeks, or writing that letter they keep meaning to write, or donating money to some worthy NGO, or just remembering to say I love you to someone at home. Something. I believe that is why I decided to send the photo in to the NY desk despite what the media rules of engagement said, to start some conversation about it and hope that it will move out there. It bothered me too much not to have at least some discussion about it. And with great respect and understanding to all the opposing arguments to publication, I feel that as journalists it is our social responsibility to record AND publish such images. We have no restrictions to shoot or publish casualties from opposition forces, or even civilian casualties. Are those people less human than American or other NATO soldiers? So, debate amongst yourselves or maybe just to yourself. Send me your thoughts if you like. Enlighten me if you disagree.

Thursday, Aug. 20, 2009 Today was election day. One civilian showed up to vote around 3:30 p.m. The other voters were all the Afghan soldiers and police from here. There was a suicide bomb threat. The streets were pretty empty all over as far as I heard from some police who had gone out. The polling place was delayed opening because the ballots delivered were lacking the presidential ballots. So the Marines had to fly them in from another town in the province. Other than that, and a couple mortars that hit a ways from here, all's quiet.

(c) 2009 The Associated Press.
Injured CBS correspondent to be flown to US
(AP) – 2 days ago

FRANKFURT — A CBS Radio News correspondent wounded in eastern Afghanistan will be flown to the United States from a military hospital in Germany, possibly as early as Tuesday, her employer said.

Cami McCormick will be transferred from the Landstuhl Regional Medical Center some time this week to Walter Reed Army Medical Center near Washington to undergo further treatment, CBS said in a statement Monday.

She was flown from Afghanistan to Landstuhl on Sunday after she was wounded last Friday when the Army vehicle she was in struck a roadside bomb in Logar province. CBS said McCormick suffered multiple injuries, including fractures to her arms and legs.

McCormick is an award-winning New York-based correspondent who has worked for CBS since 1998.

The Afghan Taliban's increasing use of roadside bombs has increased the risk to Western troops and to journalists traveling with them.

Two Associated Press journalists were wounded this month near Spin Boldak in southern Afghanistan.

Journalists have sometimes been brought to Landstuhl for treatment in the past. Among them was CBS News journalist Kimberly Dozier, who was injured in 2006 when a Baghdad car bomb exploded, killing two of her colleagues and a U.S. Army captain.
Pakistan forces kill 35 militants in Khyber raids
By RIAZ KHAN (AP) – 2 days ago

PESHAWAR, Pakistan — Government forces destroyed four militant bases and killed more than 35 insurgents Tuesday in battles near Pakistan's famed Khyber Pass, the main route for supplies to NATO troops in Afghanistan, the military said.

Elsewhere in the northwest, the army claimed that 105 Pakistani Taliban fighters had surrendered to the military in the Swat Valley, where a suicide bombing over the weekend prompted a security crackdown that has left scores of militants dead.

Eight of them are close aides to Swat Taliban chieftain Maulana Fazlullah, said Brig. Salman Akbar, the army commander of Kabal town in the valley.

The United States has been urging Pakistan to fight the Taliban who operate mostly in lawless tribal areas near the border, which Washington sees as another front in the Afghan war.

Two militant commanders were among those killed in the raids in the Bara area of northwestern Khyber region, a statement from Pakistan's paramilitary Frontier Corps said.

It said more than 35 insurgents were killed — a death toll that could not be independently confirmed. The statement added 40 suspected militants were captured in the operation, which started at dawn and continued through the day.

The new fighting came days after another suicide bombing — this one at the main Khyber border crossing between Pakistan and Afghanistan — killed 19 guards. The attack at the Torkham crossing was blamed on Taliban militants.

Pakistan's military has this year intensified its fight against the Taliban, who are believed to shelter al-Qaida leaders in areas they control, where the government has only nominal control. The Taliban also help mount attacks against Western troops across the Afghan border.

The two suicide bombings in Swat and at Torkham follow militant vows to avenge the death last month of their leader, Baitullah Mehsud, in a U.S. missile strike in South Waziristan and for the army operation in Swat, where the extremists had imposed their harsh interpretation of Islam on residents.

The reported surrender of 105 militants in Swat gives a boost to army efforts to pacify the region, where pockets of resistance remain and the atmosphere is still tense. After Sunday's suicide bombing at a police station that killed 17 cadets training in Swat's main town, the army said sweeps by security forces left at least 45 militants dead Monday.

Akbar said the Taliban fighters' surrender reflects their weakening hold in the valley as residents provide more intelligence to the military.

"There is a local uprising against the Taliban, that is why militants are surrendering," he said, adding the fighters would be tried in local courts. He urged other extremists to turn themselves in.

Human rights activists have accused security forces of executing captured militants and dumping their bodies, but the military denies it.

Copyright © 2009 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.
The wounded were brought in on a motorbike trailer. The sun was up and the heat and pain had thrown a sheen of sweat on their faces. One was missing a leg at the knee; the other three had suffered the wicked injuries of shrapnel to their lower limbs. Such wounds would guarantee a British soldier immediate evacuation from the war zone, followed by lengthy medical rehabilitation in Britain. But these were Afghan children — three siblings and a cousin — dull-eyed and mute with trauma. The oldest was aged 10, the youngest 4.

They had just returned to one of the areas of Helmand province in which the fighting is most intense — the very one in which they had recently been wounded, their family torn apart — in the desperate hope of receiving further treatment from British soldiers in Sangin.

The medics cut the old dressings from the children’s wounds, and were outraged. They had treated the same children nearly three weeks ago and had expected them to be recovering in an Afghan hospital, not returning with suppurating infections, including gangrene.

“This is the most disgusting thing I’ve seen here,” said Captain Rob Wise, 26, Sangin’s medical liaison officer. “The IED [roadside bomb] wounds we see are terrible, but what we expect. But this? The complete disregard for these children’s care is abhorrent.”

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Pictures: Afghanistan
The children were part of an impoverished farming family living in the fertile area along the Helmand river, just south of Sangin. On August 10 the Taleban attacked a nearby patrol base manned by Afghan and British troops. There was a brief firefight. It is uncertain who caused the explosion that tore through the yard of the family compound. The family blames the Afghan National Army.

Three small boys, none more than 4 years old, were killed instantly by the blast. Five other children and two women were seriously wounded. Without assistance from either side, survivors carried the wounded in wheelbarrows to the main British base, Forward Operating Base Jackson, in Sangin. They were given immediate treatment there, and within an hour were evacuated by helicopter to the British-run hospital in Camp Bastion for surgery.

There, one of the women, hit in the stomach by shrapnel, lost her unborn baby. The same woman’s daughter, aged 3, also died of her wounds.

At this point, owing to the pressures and confusions of the war in southern Afghanistan and the vagaries of the local health system, their care started to fall apart.

At the moment, two thirds of the beds in Camp Bastion’s military hospital are taken by Afghan civilians. The hospital excels in trauma care but has to move casualties out for subsequent treatment as soon as possible so that it can deal with the fresh numbers of incoming wounded, of whom there are many. The rate of Nato casualties last month exceeded that of any month since Western troops arrived in Afghanistan eight years ago.

Thus only two days after the survivors were operated on, the four children — three of whom require skin grafts — were moved to Kandahar where they were handed to the care of the local general hospital. Their wounded mother remained separated from them, in a military hospital in Helmand. What happened next remains unclear. Hospital records in Kandahar prove that three of the four children were admitted to the government-run Mirwais hospital on August 12. The fourth, a boy aged 4, with serious groin and leg injuries, somehow made it to Kabul, an eight-hour drive to the north.

Medical officials involved with Mirwais hospital insist that the children were seen there by doctors but that their family had them discharged against medical advice. The family denies this.

“I would rather see these children die here than get the treatment they got in Kandahar,” said Qarim Dad, 70, the children’s great-uncle, as the medics in Sangin cut the dressings from limbs. “In Kandahar hospital they lay for eight days before a doctor even looked at them. Now their wounds are all infected — worse than they were before.”

Whatever the case, by the time the children reappeared in Sangin, having been driven more than a hundred miles through the war zone in a taxi, their wounds had begun to rot. One young girl, Razia, may lose one of her legs to infection as a result.

If the family hoped that the children could be readmitted into a hospital run by Isaf (Nato) personnel they hoped in vain.

“The Isaf hospitals are full of Afghan civilians and we have to leave space for Isaf soldiers,” Captain Jennie Johnston, 30, the medical officer in Sangin, told a relative of the children as she examined their injuries. “It breaks my heart, but these are the rules — we have to get them back into the local care system.”

Had Sangin’s own development managed to progress much beyond the narrow swath of land around the British camp in the past three years then its healthcare system may have met the children’s short-term requirements.

But the Afghan Health Ministry has not staffed or equipped either of Sangin’s two clinics, one of which was refurbished with British funds. Neither of them functions. If you are poor and wounded in Sangin this summer, your options are thin.

“Who could tolerate seeing their children like this?” murmured Qarim Dad, turning away, his eyes briefly filling with tears, as the wounds were revealed. “It’s our curse that we have no money and that local doctors cannot aid us. I don’t want to take them back to a local hospital. Nothing will be done there. They will be at more risk.”

The medics did what they could. They removed the embedded skin staples and old stitches, sterilised the children’s wounds and gave them fresh dressings. They advised their uncle to take them 45 miles to Helmand’s provincial capital, Lashkar Gah, and seek treatment there at the Italian-run Emergency Hospital.

They gave him $150 (£90) — on top of the $200 handout the family were originally given from British funds to help to deal with their five dead and six seriously wounded — to cover the travel fares. They helped to load the children, who uttered barely a word throughout, back into the motorcycle cart, along with their medical documents, a supply of antibiotics and morphine. They said goodbye. They watched them drive away into the feral badlands of the Upper Sangin Valley and wondered what would become of them.

They may wonder still. By Sunday night, three days later, there was still no record of four wounded children having ever arrived at the Emergency Hospital in Lashkar Gah.
JALALABAD (Afghanistan) - FLASH floods in Afghanistan washed away homes and farmland, leaving up to 11 people feared dead a day after a suicide attack in the same province, an official said Thursday.

Triggered by unseasonal downpours overnight, the floods destroyed three mud-brick houses and damaged many others in a valley in Alingar district of Laghman province, said Sayed Ahmad Safi, spokesman for the provincial governor.

'Eleven people, including nine from one family, are missing. We have found five bodies so far and are still searching for others,' he told AFP.

The victims included women and children, he said.

The floods also killed dozens of animals and washed away around 60 hectares of farmland.

Following several years of drought, Afghanistan has had good rain and snow in the past two years, causing spring and summer floods.
THE family of a soldier killed in Afghanistan said last night that their son had been proud to fight there.

Sergeant Stuart "Gus" Miller, 40, died alongside Private Kevin Elliot in an explosion in southern Helmand.

At the family home in Inverness, Stuart's dad Gus Sr. said: "We're very proud of what he did. He was proud of the regiment and he was proud to serve his country.

"They believed in doing the job that they were there to do and they took it seriously."

Stuart and Kevin both served with the Black Watch. They died in an explosion while on foot patrol on Monday.

Former train driver Stuart was married to Jillian. They lived in Inverness with daughter Grace, two.

Stuart joined the Army in 2000 and also served in Iraq, Northern Ireland, the Falklands and Cyprus.
Out today.

Two US soldiers were killed Monday by roadside bombs in southern Afghanistan, as NATO’s top commander in the country, US General Stanley McChrystal, called for a revised strategy in the war against terrorism.

The soldiers were killed in two separate blasts in the volatile southern region, the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) said in a statement.

With 47 US soldiers killed in August, this month has been the deadliest for US forces since their invasion in late 2001 toppled the Taliban government.

More than 300 foreign troops have lost their lives this year, more than in any other year since the invasion.
Five Afghan National Army (ANA) soldiers were killed on Thursday as their vehicle hit a roadside bomb in Paktia province of eastern Afghanistan, an ANA spokesman in the province said.

"The incident occurred at around 9 a.m. local time in Barmali district when ANA unit was on routine patrol by their vehicle," Sahatgul Hotak told Xinhua.

Hotak added that another soldier got wounded in the incident.

In another two incidents in neighboring Khost province, two Taliban fighters were killed and three more were injured.

The spokesman for Khost provincial administration, Kochai Nasiri, told Xinhua that two militants were killed and one of them got wounded by police as the militants attack a police checkpoint in Sabari district on Thursday.
Excerpt from today's Toronto Star

Afghan security chief slain

A man is prepared for burial after a suicide attack in Mehterlam, the capital of Laghman province, east of Kabul, Afghanistan on Wednesday, Sept. 2, 2009. Email

Election costly, but worth it

Sep 03, 2009 04:30 AM
M. Karim Faiez
Laura King

KABUL–A suicide bomber yesterday killed Afghanistan's deputy intelligence chief and at least 22 other people in the most serious strike at the country's security apparatus since presidential elections two weeks ago.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

This article appeared today in a Sudbury, Ontario newspaper.

Skierszkan helped elect St. Laurent in '53
SUPPORTER: Ignatieff greets 93-year-old Grit
Posted 16 hours ago

Peter Skierszkan recalls with pride the first time he helped elect a Liberal prime minister.

"It was (Louis) St. Laurent ... in 1953. That was the first time I voted," Skierszkan said.

In the ensuing 56 years, the Latvian immigrant hasn't missed an election, always voting for the Liberal party that captivated him when he first set foot in the Canada.

"In my old country there was dictatorship; I didn't like dictatorship, of any kind," he said. "When I came to Canada, the government -- the Liberal government -- asked, 'what can you do?' They did not care what language you spoke or what religion you had or what country you were from. They treated you equally."

Skierszkan, who spent most of his working life at the former CIL acid plant in Sudbury, was recognized Tuesday by federal Liberals for his decades of support to the party.

The 93-year-old was singled out during a campaign-style rally attended by Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff and the party's national caucus of MPs and senators.

Following the rally, Ignatieff sought out Skierszkan for a brief chat and photo opportunity and presented the pensioner with a signed copy of his book,True Patriot Love.

Following the meeting, Skierszkan noted that while he has been a lifelong Liberal, he has openly opposed party policies or positions he could not countenance.

The latest is the country's participation in the war in Afghanistan.

"I have two grandsons in the army and I support the army," he said.

"But I'm against the Liberals supporting the Afghanistan war. We have no business being there. I don't agree with going to war to try to change people. People will change themselves."

Skierszkan did not say if he took Ignatieff to task Tuesday for the Liberals' support of Canada's role in Afghanistan.
Article ID# 1726160
Martin: Torture isn't right

The justice department is starting to examine some occasions of murder and torture the CIA committed, and worse yet, some they outsourced.

Outsourcing torture and assassinations is similar to hiring a hit man from the Mafia. Just claiming it's for a good cause doesn't make it right.

I could hire a mobster to kill someone, and even though everyone may agree with me the person deserves to die, it's still not right.

Reasons for not engaging in torture of our "enemies" are like those preventing us from using the World War I mustard gas and phosgene, or the World War II atomic bombs. (They were weapons of mass destruction, WMDs.)

They may be sometimes effective and help us "win," but we recognize there are lines we mustn't cross, if we are to claim we're a moral, or even a Christian, nation.

To "win," first we must deserve to win.

The low-level CIA people who committed the acts of torture and murder may have been under orders from higher up. How high? I remember reading a quote from George W. Bush before our attack on Iraq, that he wholeheartedly approved of torture. He may not have ordered it, but if you work at a company, and the boss announces that coming in late is no big deal, how many people will start doing just that?

"I vas chuste following orderz" was discredited at the Nuremburg trials. When I was in the Army, we were trained what we could, and couldn't, do with prisoners.

The "twin" attacks on Iraq and Afghanistan - were they to avenge attacks by a few individuals on our "twin" towers? So far (and it's not over yet) these wars killed more U.S.'ers than 9-11, and almost a million Middle Easterners, most of them innocent of any wrongdoing.

A. Martin,


Monday, August 31, 2009

It begins.

The following piece can be found at People's Worker Weekly.

With the U.S. commander in Afghanistan expected to ask President Obama to send more troops, peace groups are planning actions across the U.S. on Oct. 7, the eighth anniversary of the 2001 invasion of Afghanistan.

United For Peace and Justice, the national peace coalition, is urging grassroots peace and economic and social justice groups to gather in their cities and towns on Oct. 7 for “action, dialog, and reflection on the eight years of death and dying in Afghanistan.”

The events, UFPJ says, will raise the issues of “the costs, human and economic, of the occupation and war in Afghanistan and impact on the region.”

UFPJ, which was formed in 2002 as the Iraq war was looming, is calling on its 1,400 member groups to initiate local actions or educational events including teach-ins, vigils, rallies and delegations to congressional offices. Also suggested are phone call and letter-writing campaigns, house parties to raise money for Afghanistan relief or other aid to the Afghan people, and “creative actions to highlight the devastating effects of the drone air strikes” on civilians in the region.

President Obama was elected with hopes for diplomacy, not war, the coalition notes. With recent polls showing 54 percent of Americans believe the Afghanistan war is a mistake, “the peace movement is challenged to organize the hope for change into a movement to end the war in Afghanistan as one of the big steps towards addressing the crisis in our communities,” UFPJ says. “With every bomb dropped and every civilian and military death, we are no closer to helping the Afghan people and the region to grapple with their problems. In fact, the U.S. presence is the biggest obstacle to doing so.”

The Oct. 7 events are “aimed at galvanizing the grassroots” to blunt the expected Pentagon request for more troops, Judith LeBlanc, UFPJ national organizing coordinator, said. LeBlanc said there is a growing consensus “that there should not be an escalation, it has to end.” The question, she said, is “not only does it need to end, but how? It’s a complicated question — people have many questions about what will happen to the Afghan people, the women.” Therefore, teach-ins, house parties and similar events are important to “expose some of the myths, explain the costs of the U.S. military involvement, highlight the importance of political engagement to create a better international framework in the region, and bring pressure to bear on Congress to speak out.”

“We need an open congressional debate on what the U.S. goals are and what the timetable is to get our troops out,” she said.

More information is available at

Two days before the war’s anniversary, on Oct. 5, a coalition led by the National Campaign for Nonviolent Resistance will hold a procession to the White House, deliver a petition calling for an end to the Afghanistan war, and hold a nonviolent direct action in Washington. The pacifist group, founded in 2002 as the Iraq Pledge of Resistance, says it is “committed to ending the wars and occupations of Afghanistan and Iraq, and trying to encourage our government to invest in human needs rather than death and destruction.”

The petition can be signed online at Along with the withdrawal of U.S. forces from Afghanistan, the petition asks the U.S. government to “fund vigorous international efforts at assisting Afghans with the rebuilding of their decimated infrastructure.” It appeals to President Obama to “close a tragic chapter in our nation's history, restore its honor and improve our relationship with the global community.”

Peace Action, is calling for "out-of-Afghanistan" house parties. The group says, “Now is the time to tap into the political momentum for peace and educate the American public about the need to remove foreign forces from Afghanistan and increase international support of Afghan-led aid and development.”

Rep. Jim McGovern, D-Mass., and Sen. Russ Feingold, D-Wis., have called on the administration to present an exit plan and timetable. McGovern has introduced a bill, HR 2404, that would require the defense secretary to present an exit strategy by the end of the year. The bill, HR 2404, has 95 copsonsors to date, including seven Republicans.
Feingold is calling for a “flexible timetable” for withdrawal. A petition pressing the Senate to demand an exit strategy is online at

With the U.S. commander in Afghanistan expected to ask President Obama to send more troops, peace groups are planning actions across the U.S. on Oct. 7, the eighth anniversary of the 2001 invasion of Afghanistan. United For Peace and Justice, the national peace coalition, is urging grassroots peace and economic and social justice groups to gather in their cities and towns on Oct. 7 for “action, dialog, and reflection on the eight years of death and dying in Afghanistan.” The events, UFPJ says, will raise the issues of “the costs, human and economic, of the occupation and war in Afghanistan and impact on the region.” UFPJ, which was formed in 2002 as the Iraq war was looming, is calling on its 1,400 member groups to initiate local actions or educational events including teach-ins, vigils, rallies and delegations to congressional offices. Also suggested are phone call and letter-writing campaigns, house parties to raise money for Afghanistan relief or other aid to the Afghan people, and “creative actions to highlight the devastating effects of the drone air strikes” on civilians in the region. President Obama was elected with hopes for diplomacy, not war, the coalition notes. With recent polls showing 54 percent of Americans believe the Afghanistan war is a mistake, “the peace movement is challenged to organize the hope for change into a movement to end the war in Afghanistan as one of the big steps towards addressing the crisis in our communities,” UFPJ says. “With every bomb dropped and every civilian and military death, we are no closer to helping the Afghan people and the region to grapple with their problems. In fact, the U.S. presence is the biggest obstacle to doing so.” The Oct. 7 events are “aimed at galvanizing the grassroots” to blunt the expected Pentagon request for more troops, Judith LeBlanc, UFPJ national organizing coordinator, said. LeBlanc said there is a growing consensus “that there should not be an escalation, it has to end.” The question, she said, is “not only does it need to end, but how? It’s a complicated question — people have many questions about what will happen to the Afghan people, the women.” Therefore, teach-ins, house parties and similar events are important to “expose some of the myths, explain the costs of the U.S. military involvement, highlight the importance of political engagement to create a better international framework in the region, and bring pressure to bear on Congress to speak out.” “We need an open congressional debate on what the U.S. goals are and what the timetable is to get our troops out,” she said. More information is available at Two days before the war’s anniversary, on Oct. 5, a coalition led by the National Campaign for Nonviolent Resistance will hold a procession to the White House, deliver a petition calling for an end to the Afghanistan war, and hold a nonviolent direct action in Washington. The pacifist group, founded in 2002 as the Iraq Pledge of Resistance, says it is “committed to ending the wars and occupations of Afghanistan and Iraq, and trying to encourage our government to invest in human needs rather than death and destruction.”

The petition can be signed online at

Along with the withdrawal of U.S. forces from Afghanistan, the petition asks the U.S. government to “fund vigorous international efforts at assisting Afghans with the rebuilding of their decimated infrastructure.” It appeals to President Obama to “close a tragic chapter in our nation's history, restore its honor and improve our relationship with the global community.” Peace Action, is calling for "out-of-Afghanistan" house parties. The group says, “Now is the time to tap into the political momentum for peace and educate the American public about the need to remove foreign forces from Afghanistan and increase international support of Afghan-led aid and development.” Rep. Jim McGovern, D-Mass., and Sen. Russ Feingold, D-Wis., have called on the administration to present an exit plan and timetable. McGovern has introduced a bill, HR 2404, that would require the defense secretary to present an exit strategy by the end of the year. The bill, HR 2404, has 95 copsonsors to date, including seven Republicans. Feingold is calling for a “flexible timetable” for withdrawal. A petition pressing the Senate to demand an exit strategy is online at
This story, by the Toronto Star's Rosie DiManno, who is on location in Afghanistan right now, reminds me of my own garden! I wish that I had been half as industrious this summer- but of course, there is still time for spinach :) This story reminds me of how the Doukhobors helped Japanese Canadians, who would have otherwise suffered malnutrition, with produce during the Second World War.

Here is the link to the story and some kind comments.


The testimonials are simple and eloquent.

"I bought a cow."

"I bought a carpet."

"I bought a refrigerator."

"My children are in school."

And, in an echo of mom urgings all over the world: "My kids are now eating fresh vegetables!"

From a faith-based institution in Waterloo, Ont., to a rigidly non-religious NGO in Kabul, this is the outcome – nine villages in Parwan Province, north of the capital, where nearly 3,000 women tend garden plots that earn a godsend income for their families.

They are, quite literally, victory gardens – as Canadians planted them during World War II – a triumph of modest ambitions over the boondoggle that has become international aid in Afghanistan.

"The women are growing carrots, cucumbers, onions, potatoes, tomatoes, grapes," says Catherine Sobrevega, country manager for MEDA Afghanistan. "But these are not the products you find being sold from the back of trucks on the side of the highway. These are higher-quality fruits and vegetables that are sold in supermarkets and to hotels."

MEDA is the Mennonite Economic Development Association, headquartered in Waterloo, which provides microfinancing for the Garden Gate Project in conjunction with CIDA.

The women who participate know nothing about Mennonites and, if informed that such an altruistic venture originated with a religious denomination in Canada, would likely be averse to involvement. But there is no proselytizing allowed in the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan for faith-based charities. So "God's work" – a Mennonite hallmark of humanitarianism – is done secularly.

"I'm not a Mennonite," notes Sobrevega, who hails from the Philippines and spent 14 years working for CARE International in Afghanistan before taking the MEDA job. "We don't try to bring faith. The only important thing is the sincerity you bring to the project."

The undertaking started with three villages in 2007, since expanded to nine, and 14 more are knocking on the door to join. That, too, is a victory of alien practice over rural culture, where women are severely circumscribed by Afghan patriarchy, rarely venturing outside their homes, discouraged from any activities not directly related to their families.

Through direct $2,000 MEDA grants and funds secured via various agencies, microfinancing is extended to these rural ladies for instruction in modern horticultural techniques and marketing acumen, linking them to a network of development organizations such as Women for Women and the Afghan Women's Business Council.

"What we do is provide the horticultural experts and link them to financial institutions that can provide them with loans because 50 per cent of the funding needs to come from the women themselves," says Sobrevega.

This shared cost is meant to encourage individual ownership of the garden plot scheme, rather than promoting the beggar-bowl mentality that has crippled aid projects in Asia and Africa.

Afghanistan is an agrarian country, yet modern horticulture is an unknown concept to most as they struggle to raise crops other than hardy opium. The Garden Gate Project has introduced these backyard lady entrepreneurs to such innovations as solar dryer facilities, underground storage and winter greenhouses. A solar dryer runs about $250, a greenhouse $600. That's a huge investment for poor Afghans – hence the need for grants and loans. But modern techniques mean maximum output using fewer supplies. Storing garden crops brings higher profits in winter sales, especially to hotels in Kabul that cater to Westerners who crave fresh salads and vegetables.

A woman needs only show she has 250 square metres of land at her disposal, to start, with capacity to double that in the second or third year of gardening. Zero profit is expected in the first season of planting but $150 in the next and – with a greenhouse constructed, for example, an average of $380 in the third. That may seem piddling but it makes an immense difference to a rural household – allowing for the purchase of school supplies, appliances and other conveniences, even the odd luxury. And it's no small benefit that children get a better diet out of it to boot.

And, there has been an added benefit – a vibrant community of the feminine. "These women used to see each other only at weddings and funerals," says Sobrevega. "Now they're at each other's houses all the time, talking about vegetables and fruit prices."

Rosie DiManno usually appears Monday, Wednesday, Friday and Saturday.
This is an excerpt from a piece that came out a few weeks ago by Catrina Stewart of the Associated Press. Russia has not repeated its precipitate adventurings in Afghanistan, of course.

The full piece is here:

NATO uses Russian aircraft in two main ways. At one end of the scale, Russian choppers take on simple supply missions. At the other end, massive Russian-owned Antonov planes are taking off from distant air bases, such as RAF Brize Norton, the United Kingdom's largest station, bound for the deserts of Afghanistan with heavy and sometimes classified freight.

While the air service companies are private corporations, experts say they almost certainly operate with Kremlin oversight.

"At the very least, there is an acquiescence," said Galeotti, a military and organized crime expert at New York University.

Indeed, there appears to be a quid pro quo. Just days after Russia agreed to allow the U.S. to transship lethal Afghanistan-bound cargo via Russian territory, Russian cargo company Volga-Dnepr — which already has contracts with the U.S. military — said it was in the lead running for a U.S. tender to fly supplies to Afghanistan.

RIA-Novosti news agency quoted chief executive Valery Gabriel as saying Washington had been advised to choose a Russian carrier for this critical service.

For the Kremlin, Russian carriers mean a degree of control over these shipments. Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said Russia reserves the right to inspect all cargo flown across its territories.

For the carriers, the work means millions in revenue. The U.S. Transport Command said it has awarded Volga-Dnepr and another Russian company, Polet, $400 million in contracts up to September 2009 in the past year.

Figures for chopper companies are harder to obtain. All of the companies approached refused to divulge both numbers and the identity of their government clients, citing confidentiality.

"Russia is delighted to be involved," said Galeotti. "One, it's big business. Secondly, they are very keen for allied forces to be increasingly dependent on supply lines through Russia."

He added that Russia's GRU, its military intelligence arm — believed to have close links with several Russian companies operating in Afghanistan — may also stand to benefit.

"From a GRU standpoint, you have an extremely useful source — low-level but extremely useful intelligence," he said.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

The following story, and the poem are hosted here, at Our Journey to Smile, an organization started by Afghan college students and volunteers.

First, Zarlasht Hafeez, a female Pashto poet who has published a collection called "Waiting for Peace". Her lines read:

"The sorrow and grief, these black evenings,

Eyes full of tears and times full of sadness,

These burnt hearts, the killing of youths,

These unfulfilled expectations and unmet hopes of brides,

With a hatred for war, I call time and again,

I wait for peace for the grief-stricken Pashtuns"

This story makes me realize afresh that blue is such a beautiful colour- limitless, boundless, the hue of the great everlasting skies and oceans, of stone on the great mountains in the distance, the colour of freedom and the cosmos, to my mind.

But look now for the the tale:

I’m an Afghan girl. And ripe for marriage.

I don’t recall many pleasures in my childhood but I remember the blue skies.

I live near Kandahar. Most of you would have heard of this playground of war. But I don’t wish to describe the perpetual fighting. I wish to describe the perpetual sky.

You see, the pleasures which an Afghan child has, especially an Afghan girl, are few.

So whenever I could, I would sprawl on a secret green spot next to my mud house and stare at the blue beyond. Blue, blue, blue.

Afghan eyes, lakes and stones. That range of blue. Beautiful sky blues.

I’ll follow the clouds, magical pillows of comfort and tears. I’ll track the birds that paint and glide.

My mother used to tell me how the skies were divided into 7 layers and how when the dry lands were parched for help, everyone would look up to the heavens, often.

In the different swings of time, the sky would tease me by changing. Its blue changes. Real change in an unchanging war.

My mother would sometimes sit by my side knitting her shawl and I would sometimes lie on her lap looking up, safe, a true ‘refugee’, at peace.

The simple thing about the confidence of the skies was that it didn’t make claims. It didn’t need to say, “I am here for you.” It was there for me, even when it refused to rain in the harsh drought months.

I could hide under its generous freedom. I could shout complaints at it without being told ‘You are wrong!’, again. I could pour out my questions and hurts without being misconstrued as mad, as if I was talking with Allah, the sky’s keeper.

At least, the sky hears my voice.

It always helped when my mother whispered stories in my ears or better still, when she sang me the stories. She helped to seal the safety of earth below under a heaven above.

I’m lucky to be alive. Many mothers and newborns die early, despite hearts that hope. That’s just the way things are. It seems to be the best that life can do.

I remember the recent autumn when the leaves were turning yellow and the afternoons were beginning to cool a little. I watched the sky as its blue matured before the approach of dusk, as if coaxing me to rest, to cry if need be, but to rest.

The orange glow of our setting suns is wonderful too but that late afternoon, I did not want the blue to go away. I wanted it to stay because it was singing and dancing and twirling.

It made me surprisingly happy. Okay, maybe I was being childish, but I didn’t want to lose those colorful hues. I thought, “I’ll miss this blue sky like I miss my mum when I’m away collecting wood, too soon and too insensibly.”

A gust of wind came gushing by with a trail of dust, suddenly shielding me from the hanging sea view. My eyes shut instinctively, then, in the next second, needing to deliberately embrace the delight of the open skies, I forced them open.

Oh, the blue.

Thinking about such moments makes me smile many inner smiles.

People say that the Afghan smile is enchanting but there is nothing uniquely Afghan about that smile. It’s the smile of the skies. It arises from an ignored but dignified life.

That’s why this great expanse, drawn out like a cut blue ‘chadari’ ( burqa ) that flaps in the limitless winds, is worth the risk of a little dust. Dust may make my eyes smart and tear, but it’s worth it.

News of late hadn’t been good. Unrest. Insurgents. All sorts of shifty characters. And of course, killings. My mother says that Man and Woman have never been able to rid ourselves of what we don’t want, the selfishness and silence of violence.

Funny how both the perpetrators and spectators of this domineering violence are unaware of their own selfishness and silence. I really shouldn’t say funny. It’s not at all funny for the victims.

There are even rumours that strange planes have been spewing out remotely controlled bombs. And no pilots or humans in them! Ha! I usually don’t bother with such nonsense or make believe.

We shouldn’t have to cope with such cold possibilities; it’s just too unforgiving on our chronic grief.

It’s bad enough that people get blown to red pieces. People elsewhere hate us so much they say that even those red pieces are rotten, that we people are dirty.

Nowadays, we have to get permission even to bury those scattered, dirty pieces, just so others can quibble about the number who have been killed. And insist to each other, ‘You are wrong!’

Wrong not on the killing, but on the exact number killed.

As I mentioned, I was ready for marriage. Preparations had been underway and I was hopeful.

And please, don’t rob me of my hope, even if it were false hope. It can work out. I thought of my mum and how she had found and shown love in her family, my family.

The big, blue day had come.

My relatives and friends had gathered for my wedding. This was no make-believe! This was my wedding! My wedding!

That morning, my husband had received me into his village, and our future life. We had had gifts, food, dancing, and drums.

I was excited and nervous. My sisters were with me. The music was bright and homely. I was dressed to the glittering ‘brim’. :)

I was all the time conscious of my mother’s joy and sorrow. All my life, I’ve never let that go.

Through my veil, I could see the rhythmic clapping. It was a noisy merriment to drown all worries. I was compelled to sneak a look at the sky, at which I felt all calm and clouded.

When the carnage began, I was still feeling excited and nervous.

Damn…it must be the Taliban! Things and bodies were spurting everywhere.

I wanted to see my mother.

My sisters and I ran. Illogically, I still thought about preserving that wedding dress while scrambling, about retaining some trace of honour.

Blue, blue. Red and red. More red than blue.

I looked up. The planes, drones? Oh…they’re not rumours… and as the dizzying bombs made their precise way to my heart and everything and everyone I loved, I needed to deliberately embrace the delight of the open skies.

A sucking wind came gushing by with a stench of death, suddenly shielding me from the hanging sea view. My eyes shut instinctively, then, in the next second, I forced them open.

Oh,…the blue. The now misty blue I trusted and enjoyed.
This is from one of today's AFP stringers in Afghanistan. Excerpts below:

The troops were backed by helicopters in a battle on Friday that lasted 24 hours and resulted in the deaths of "a large number of enemy militants," the defence ministry and NATO said in a joint statement.

In the operation, which took place in an isolated mountain region of Urgun district, the joint force under NATO command "engaged small arms fire from hostile militants", it said.

"The force killed a large number of hostile militants and recovered multiple anti-aircraft artillery pieces, two heavy machine guns, two light machine guns, several assault rifles,... ammunition and communications gear.

"The force destroyed the bunker complex and all enemy weaponry in place," it said.

The Afghan interior ministry and deputy police chief of Kandahar province said seven civilians, including a child, were killed and another nine injured when their cars hit concealed roadside bombs on Saturday and Sunday.
"He saw war and tried to stop it," said Ted of Brother Bob." But who is trying to stop the wars now? Who is even talking about them?

We seem to have been living through what's been called a summer of death by well knowns-Michael, Farah, Walter, Don, Dominic and now a young DJ in New York-but, of course, others are dying whose names we don't know, who we don't hear about or maybe care about, in Iraq and Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Burma, and among the growing ranks of the poor in a world menaced by curable diseases and economic deprivation.

Can we as a country honor them they way we honor our own, can our TV Screens portray their struggles as they do those of the people on top? Can our hearts open to their pain and need? Can we walk the talk that Teddy tried to walk?

-link: "Mourning With the Kennedys"- Schecter, Danny

I do hope, regardless of my fondness for this beautiful reminesce, that it become abundantly clear through the provenance of this blog that rather a lot of people are trying to stop the wars; rather a lot of people care, and rather a lot of voices are joining the effort. As the New York Times noted in their coverage today, the antiwar movement is preparing to make a rousing effort come October: this is wonderful but not unsurprising; would that I felt that we had the luxury of time to plan in this area. I simply sally forth, outer hull blazing, and hope for the very best, as indeed many of us are doing. In certitude, much of the commentary below this piece was rhetorical- "stop the wars- shouldn't that be all of us- rather than throwing up our hands, etc. etc." Extremely refreshing to read. A great deal of struggle, and a great deal of satiation is my outlook for the months to come before us.
ISLAMABAD — Bombings targeted a Pakistani police station and set a NATO fuel convoy ablaze Sunday, killing 16 cadets in the northwest's Swat Valley and threatening the supply line to international forces in Afghanistan in a separate attack near the border.

The two blasts hours apart and hundreds of miles from each other came as Pakistani officials said the Taliban were ramping up strikes to avenge recent setbacks, including the loss of territory to the military and the death of their top leader in a CIA missile strike near the Afghan border.
(See TIME's photos: Pakistan beneath the surface)

Pakistan's military has in recent months intensified its fight against the al-Qaeda-linked extremists, who threaten stability in the nuclear-armed nation and are suspected of helping plot attacks against U.S. and NATO troops across the border in Afghanistan.

At least 16 cadets died Sunday after a suicide bomber sneaked into the courtyard where they were training in Swat's main town of Mingora and detonated his explosives, local government official Atifur Rehman said. It was the deadliest attack since an army offensive ended Taliban rule there.

Investigators later sifted through the blackened wreckage in the courtyard littered with body parts, shredded uniforms and police berets.

Authorities were looking into reports the attacker may have donned a uniform and slipped into the station posing as one of the dozens of recruits, Deputy Inspector General Idrees Khan of the district police said.

"We are investigating whether the bomber climbed over the wall of the police station, or whether he was already present among the police cadets," Khan said. He blamed the attack on a decision to relax a daily curfew in the area for the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, and police quickly blocked off roads and ordered residents back indoors.

The army's offensive to take back the area was its largest in years after periodic peace deals with the militants. The Taliban's takeover of parts of Swat, a former tourist enclave, about two years ago became a symbol of their expansion in the mostly Muslim country of 175 million.

Pakistan's army says it is restoring order to the valley and surrounding areas, but Sunday's attack indicated that while the Taliban may no longer be able to impose their harsh interpretation of Islam there, life is far from normal for the hundreds of thousands who are now returning after fleeing the army's fierce three months of fighting to wrest back control.

Provincial minister Bashir Ahmed Bilour blamed the Taliban for the suicide attack and said Pakistanis must be "mentally prepared" for more bombings until the Taliban are crushed.

The Pakistani Taliban have vowed revenge after the loss of Swat and the death of their top leader, Baitullah Mehsud, in a CIA missile strike Aug. 5 further west near the Afghan border. At least 40 U.S. drones have fired missiles into Pakistan's lawless border areas, targeting militant leaders believed to threaten the war effort in Afghanistan.

The other blast Sunday ripped through a line of trucks ferrying fuel to NATO troops in Afghanistan, setting several oil tankers ablaze at a backed-up border crossing in southwestern Baluchistan province, police said.

The blast appeared to be the second terrorist attack in a week to target a border crossing.

Local police chief Hasan Sardar said flames and smoke were billowing into the sky Sunday night as authorities struggled to control the blaze near the Chaman border crossing in Baluchistan province in Pakistan's southwest.

"It was a big explosion under one of the oil tankers that caused other vehicles to catch fire. The fire is spreading," Sardar told The Associated Press by phone.

"We are at the moment trying our best to control the blaze. We are not sure whether there is any human loss," he said. "It is just panic everywhere there."

Police officer Gul Mohammad said from the scene that a bomb was suspected. He said security officials had earlier found and defused another explosive device lying near one of the NATO tankers.

"This was another bomb, which we could not find in our earlier search, that exploded," Mohammad told the AP.

An eyewitness, Haji Mahmood, said he saw some men in a car and two on a motorcycle spraying the vehicles with a volley of bullets before the blast.

"The two men abandoned their motorcycle and escaped in the car," Mahmood said.

Chaman is one of two main crossing points for supplies for American and NATO troops fighting the Taliban in Afghanistan. The foreign troops get about 75 percent of their supplies through Pakistan.

Some 1,000 trucks, many of them NATO tankers, were backed up on the road leading to the border because the Chaman crossing had been closed for two days in a dispute between customs officials over fruit inspections, police officer Abdul Rauf said. Afghan officials closed the border on Saturday in retaliation for lengthy inspections by Pakistani customs that were holding up Afghan trucks carrying grapes and pomegranates, he said.

Rauf said that he heard the explosion and saw at least three oil tankers, two container trucks and two dump trucks on fire.

Another suicide bombing Thursday killed at least 19 guards further north at the Torkham border crossing, the other main route into Afghanistan and gateway to the famed Khyber Pass.
The "spin" shifts.

Existence of the Joint Inter-Agency Task Force, which "will go after drug networks linked to the insurgency, interdict drug shipments, destroy heroin labs and identify and arrest their protectors in (the Afghan) government," was revealed in a recent report by the U.S. Senate Committee on Foreign Relations.

That the U.S. and NATO are targeting drug lords is well-known, but counter-insurgency warfare expert Thomas X. Hammes said the task force, its composition and methods are new.

"People have been thinking about how to solve this and for the first time we're starting to get the resources," Hammes, a retired U.S. Marine colonel, said from Washington.

The team, which has wide discretion to capture or kill suspected drug traffickers, was at the time of the report's publication "awaiting formal approval in Washington and London, but operations have been co-ordinated informally through what officers involved call 'goodwill' among British, U.S. and Australian personnel."

Canada's elite and highly secretive JTF-2 commandos have fought shoulder-to-shoulder with American and British special forces since the overthrow of the Taliban regime in 2001.

The federal government rarely acknowledges the special forces operations, but Dan Dugas, a spokesman for Defence Minister Peter MacKay, said the burgeoning drug war is not among Canada's priorities and "our focus includes such things as training the (Afghan National Army) and the (provincial reconstruction team)," which is in charge of redevelopment.

It is the latest step back for the Conservative government, which having initially embraced the war, has grown disillusioned and tired of the costly struggle.

Hammes said he was surprised to see Canadians were not involved, but suggested holding the fort in Kandahar for three years is more than enough reason to take a pass.

"The administration should be having parades down here for what you've done," said Hammes.

"The Bush administration never gave you the recognition you deserved."

The team fuses soldiers, intelligence officers and drug enforcement investigators, including American DEA members and Britain's Serious Organized Crime Agency.

The Senate report estimated that the Taliban reap as much as US $70 million per year from the opium trade, a much lower estimate than international observers.

"The new consensus among U.S. military commanders in Afghanistan that the war cannot be won without severing the links between the drug traffickers, insurgents and corrupt government officials began to get traction as the administration increased resources for the war," said the Aug. 10 study.

But there has been fundamental disagreement within NATO about adding a drug war on top of a brutal counter-insurgency conflict. Nations have disagreed about the size and scope of the military effort.

Last winter, the former NATO supreme commander, U.S. Gen. John Craddock, declared all drug traffickers in Afghanistan to be legitimate military targets - an order that other generals in the western alliance challenged as a violation of the laws of war. The rules of engagement were later modified to declare that only traffickers with bone fide links to the Taliban were fair game.

The rules being used by the troops are classified, but the Senate reports said: "The military places no restrictions on the use of force with these selected targets, which means they can be killed or captured on the battlefield; it does not, however, authorize targeted assassinations away from the battlefield."

The Pentagon has a list 367 "kill or capture targets," of which 50 apparently have connections to the Afghan drug trade, U.S. commanders told the Senate committee.

It is just the kind of ghostly, dirty war that would make Canadian politicians and the public squeamish. Beyond that, Canadian commanders and diplomats have another more imperative political reason to keep their distance.

The U.S. Senate committee report makes specific reference to the allegations that Ahmed Wali Karzai, half-brother of President Hamid Karzai, is heavily involved in the drug trade.

"Stories about him are legendary - how Afghan police and military commanders who seize drugs in southern Afghanistan are told by Ahmed Wali to return them to the traffickers, how he arranged the imprisonment of a DEA informant who had tipped the Americans to a drug-laden truck near Kabul, how his accusers often turn up dead," the committee said.

"No proof has surfaced, and he and President Karzai have denied the accusations."

The German magazine Stern recently reported that British special forces troops raided a Kandahar field apparently owned by Wali Karzai and turned up "several tonnes of opium."

Karzai vehemently denied the charges, claiming the field did not belong to him and the accusations were politically motivated to hurt his half-brother's re-election chances, just days before Afghans went to the polls.

As head of the provincial shura - or council - in Kandahar, Wali Karzai has regular dealings with Canadians.

But the U.S. report warned that American officials in Kabul have made it clear there is no longer "a red line on anybody for corruption."

The new task force will work in conjunction with another specialized team tucked away at Bagram Airfield, near Kabul.

The Afghan Threat Finance Cell, with an anticipated staff of 60, will attempt to disrupt the financial networks of the traffickers as well as collect information "on senior Afghan government officials suspected of corruption."