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The Sandbox and Areas Reports Thread December 2008

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Articles found December 23, 2008

Pentagon gives Canadian firm contract for 3 helicopters, crews in Afghanistan
18 hours ago
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MONTREAL — The United States government has hired a Canadian company to provide three Bell 212 helicopters and crews to ferry supplies and personnel in Afghanistan.

Canadian Helicopters Income Fund (TSX: CHL.UN) said Monday that contract could be worth up to US$120 million over five years.

The helicopters will be used to move supplies and personnel in Afghanistan, where the United States, Canada and other NATO members have been fighting the Taliban.

Canadian Helicopters is the largest helicopter transportation services company operating in Canada and one of the largest in the world, serving primarily the resource industries.

The Obama administration is expected to increase the U.S. government's military presence in Afghanistan soon after officially coming to power in January.

Admiral Mike Mullen, chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, said on the weekend that the United States would send an additional 20,000 to 30,000 troops to Afghanistan by summer.

Canadian Helicopters said Monday its contract with the Pentagon begins with a one-year base period beginning in the first quarter of 2009. The Pentagon also options for four one-year extensions.
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Injured veterans born anew
For former soldiers who have returned to Canada as parents, the mission is on the home front
SIRI AGRELL sagrell@globeandmail.com December 23, 2008
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When Jonathan Klodt saw a man in a wheelchair in Shoppers Drug Mart recently, the two-year-old tried to climb in his lap.

"It makes me chuckle," said his mother, Deena Schreyer. "He associates them with his dad."

Jonathan was not yet born when his father, Corporal Chris Klodt, was shot in the spine in the Pashmul region of Afghanistan on July 7, 2006, and paralyzed from the chest down.

Jonathan arrived exactly two months later, with his father watching from the first of many wheelchairs.
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Taliban 'narco-terrorist' begs for mercy, gets life sentence
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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- A distraught, sobbing Afghan Taliban member begged the court for mercy, but got none as an unmoved federal judge here Monday handed down maximum life sentences for convictions on drug trafficking and narco-terrorism charges

Khan Mohammed, 38, of Nangarhar Province became the first person convicted and sentenced in the United States under a 2006 law that increased the penalty for a defendant found to be involved with terrorism and distributing illegal drugs.

Mohammed, who had been extradited from Afghanistan, was convicted by a jury in May of plotting a rocket attack on U.S. military forces and Afghan civilians at Jalalabad Airfield.

He also was found guilty of distributing between $1 million and $3 million worth of heroin into the United States "to kill Americans as part of a jihad."

Mohammed's court-appointed lawyer, conceding that "what he did was wrong," urged U.S. District Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly to be lenient and sentence his client to only 20 years in prison.

Then the full-bearded Mohammed, dressed in an orange jailhouse jumpsuit, addressed the judge. With tears streaming down his face, and choking back his words, he begged for only one or two years.
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Seoul denies considering troop deployment to Afghanistan
South Asia News Dec 23, 2008, 9:55 GMT  Article Link

Seoul - Seoul is not considering whether to deploy its special civilian-military unit to Afghanistan, as reportedly requested by US officials, a government spokesman said Tuesday..

'Since we have not yet received any official request from the US, we are not yet even in a position to consider this issue of whether to redeploy our troops or not,' Foreign Ministry spokesman Moon Tae-Young told reporters.

Local media quoted military sources saying the incoming US administration hopes for elite military forces capable of self-defense and training, like Seoul's Zaytun force, to be deployed in Afghanistan.

The Zaytun contingent completed its four-year mission in Iraq and returned home last week. The force was praised as a success in providing vocational training to local residents and providing medical services.
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Comparisons to Iraq highlight re-enegized Afghan war in 2009
CP, Dec. 22, by Murray Brewster
http://www.macleans.ca/article.jsp?content=n122261A

Canada's mission in Afghanistan was originally due to end in February 2009 but instead will grow in scope and cost in the coming year because of a political compromise arranged last spring by the Harper government.

With 103 soldiers dead, hundreds more wounded and an estimated price tag of $18.3 billion, the country appears resigned to a long, costly fight in a war that for some has come to resemble the bloody stalemate in Iraq.

Tens of thousands of fresh U.S. troops are due to surge into Afghanistan starting in the spring, much as they did in Iraq two years ago.

The Americans appear ready, over the objection of some allies, to adopt a transplanted strategy to pacify Afghanistan. Ground commanders have warned of more confrontation with the Taliban and escalating violence.

As well, Afghans will be headed to the ballot box in the fall of 2009, giving militants another reason to increase attacks.

"One can expect a more intense insurgency and a more determined effort on the part of the Taliban to disrupt democracy," Defence Minister Peter MacKay said in a year-end interview with The Canadian Press.

The influx of as many as 30,000 more American troops is reflection of president-elect Barrack Obama's determination to make the war in Afghanistan the central front in the fight against terrorism.

Reinforcements are coming from battle-hardened units drawn down from Iraq, where violence is slowly subsiding.

Even without the political push of a new U.S. Democratic administration, there have been signs throughout 2008 that the battle in Afghanistan's desert wastelands and mountain creases may become the conflict of choice for Islamic jihadists.

Where once the south presented the greatest challenge to stability, security in the once relatively quiet eastern region of the country descended this year into an unanticipated cauldron of bombings and fire fights.

The most graphic illustration was the massacre of 10 newly-arrived French soldiers, ambushed in a mountain pass last August not far from the capital, Kabul.

Despite the bloodshed and the alleged influx of foreign fighters, the head of the Canadian army said only a superficial comparison can be made between Afghanistan and Iraq.

"I wouldn't say it's the war of choice for jihadists - yet," said Lt.-Gen. Andrew Leslie.

"The Afghans themselves (are) very proud, very ancient people, with very rich tribal cultures and in the hinterlands relatively xenophobic to outsiders."

The "natural suspicion and hostility" toward foreigners is not restricted to westerners and extends to those "who seem very keen to use their young men to attack NATO forces," he added.

Leslie, who did a stint as commander of NATO's International Security and Force, or ISAF, five years ago in Kabul, said "there are enormous tensions between Afghans, no matter what ethnicity, and non-Afghans" that will likely temper the violence to levels below what Iraq experienced.

Much of the bloodshed in and around Baghdad since 2004 involved Sunni and Shia Muslims tearing each other apart in vicious sectarian feuds, with U.S. and British troops caught in the middle.

Afghanistan does not have the same toxic demographic mix - a fact MacKay took pains to emphasize...

The cornerstone of Ottawa's withdrawal plans involves training Afghan National Army and police to handle their own security in Kandahar.

With 288 combat deaths among NATO forces as of mid-December and an estimated 4,000 civilian casualties, 2008 has turned out to be the bloodiest year since the overthrow of the hard-line Taliban regime.

The number of Canadian soldiers who have given their lives since 2002 surpassed the psychological milestone of 100 in early December, a majority of them victims of indiscriminate roadside bombs and booby traps.

Although they can't guarantee it, the country's generals are hoping the introduction of battlefield transport helicopters, armed escort choppers and unmanned surveillance drones will reduce the steady flow of casualties in 2009.

The public angst and political outrage that characterized the war throughout much of 2006 and 2007 faded from view in 2008 after Prime Minister Stephen Harper engineered a bi-partisan compromise with the Liberals that extended the country's military deployment in Afghanistan until 2011.

Late in the year, even the New Democrats, the most vocal opponents of the war, dropped their demand that troops come home immediately in their own political compromise with the Liberals

It may appear that the mute button on political opposition has been hit, but opinion polls have repeatedly shown the public remains ill at ease with the war and longs for the days when Canadian soldiers were peacekeepers instead of peacemakers...

Agencies prep Obama for 'tourniquet' on Afghanistan
Many military leaders seek a new strategy to deal with the growing violence and advances by the Taliban and other extremists.

LA Times, Dec. 23
http://www.latimes.com/news/nationworld/nation/la-na-usafghan23-2008dec23,0,3844919.story

The Pentagon and U.S. national security officials are transmitting a battery of new information about the Afghanistan war to President-elect Barack Obama's transition team in hopes that the incoming administration will act quickly to prevent U.S. fortunes there from eroding further.

The effort underscores a sense of urgency about addressing an increasingly dangerous situation in Afghanistan. Many military leaders think a broad strategic shift is needed to reverse the growing violence and to turn back troubling advances by the Taliban and other extremists.

Obama's staff is being given detailed information on the findings of separate strategy reviews by the Pentagon and the White House National Security Council. The reviews cover proposals to beef up U.S. force levels, improve coordination among government agencies and overhaul U.S. foreign aid efforts, including to countries such as Pakistan.

"Right now there is a sense you need to apply a tourniquet of some kind," said a senior Defense official who spoke on condition of anonymity when discussing contacts with the transition team. "You need to control bleeding at the site of the wound, you need to stabilize, and you need to see what you need to do next."

After a record number of U.S. deaths in Afghanistan this year, national security officials consider it crucial for the new administration to act soon after taking office. The senior Defense official said Obama would have a limited time period to announce a new strategy for Afghanistan and build up the troop strength.

"Over time, it will be harder to put more stuff in," the official said. "You have a window where you can do dramatic things. But the opportunity to do dramatic things reduces over time."

During the campaign, Obama said he wanted to intensify the military's focus on Afghanistan, elevating the war to a primary Pentagon effort.

Obama was briefed in person last week by Navy Adm. Michael G. Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, on details of war plans.

Among other issues, Mullen described the size of the units the Pentagon plans to send to Afghanistan and when they would be sent, Defense officials said.

There are 36,000 U.S. troops in Afghanistan. Based on plans already made public, about 20,000 new troops will be headed to Afghanistan in 2009. They include an additional Army brigade announced by President Bush in September and as many as four more brigades under plans endorsed by Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates, who will remain in his post under Obama...

Too many U.S. troops could weaken the Afghan government's will to build up its armed forces and take more responsibility, Gates is said to believe.

"He supports the additional combat brigades and aviation brigade," the official said. "Beyond that, it will start to look less like an Afghan operation and more like an occupation."

Mullen is overseeing the Pentagon strategy review. Army Lt. Gen. Douglas E. Lute, appointed by Bush to coordinate war planning for the White House, is supervising the National Security Council review.

A third review is underway, overseen by Army Gen. David H. Petraeus, head of the U.S. Central Command overseeing forces in the Mideast. Obama will probably be briefed on the conclusions of that review too.

The Mullen and Lute reviews both conclude that any new strategy must examine Pakistan as well as Afghanistan, officials said. Both also discuss ways to increase cooperation between the Defense and State departments [emphasis added]...

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A surge of Special Forces for Afghanistan likely
Defense officials say it will fill urgent gaps but Special Forces officers are skeptical.

CS Monitor, Dec. 23
http://www.csmonitor.com/2008/1223/p01s01-usfp.htm

The Pentagon is likely to send up to 20 Special Forces teams to Afghanistan this spring, part of a new long-term strategy to boost the Afghan security forces' ability to counter the insurgency there themselves.

The "surge" of elite Special Forces units would represent a multiyear effort aimed at strengthening the Afghan National Army and police units that the US sees as key to building up Afghanistan's security independence, say defense officials who asked to remain anonymous because the controversial decision has not yet been announced. The US already plans to send thousands of additional conventional forces to Afghanistan sometime next year. But it is hamstrung by limited availability since so many of those forces are still in Iraq.

The deployment of the Green Berets, the independent, multifaceted force skilled at training indigenous forces, could fill critical gaps in Afghanistan almost immediately, defense officials say...

The deployment of the additional Green Berets has not yet been approved, but a senior defense official indicated it was very likely and would be finalized next month.

The deployment would be relatively small, probably only a few hundred individuals at first. Ultimately, other special operations forces, such as marines from Special Operations Command, Air Force special operators, and Navy Seals could be deployed under the plan.

The initial deployment of the Green Berets would expand the size of the Special Forces contingent there by 30 or 40 percent, defense officials say, and represent a significant new commitment to developing and expanding Afghan security forces.

Criticism over plan

However, the proposal is controversial. The plan is being pushed by Lt. Gen. Doug Lute, the so-called war czar under President Bush, who is poised to release a set of recommendations for how to reverse the deteriorating security situation in Afghanistan in coming days. Defense officials say General Lute believes the deployment of the Green Berets could go a long way toward making up for a significant shortfall in the number of troops needed in the region.

Yet many within the tightly knit Special Forces community say the Special Forces teams already in use in Afghanistan should be employed far more effectively before any new teams, which number about a dozen men each, are deployed.

"I just don't think it's a very good use of the units if they are not going to be doing combat advising in an effective way," says one Special Forces officer with recent experience in Afghanistan. "I don't know any Special Forces who think that's really what we need over there."

"Textbook" operations for Special Forces dictates that the 12-man teams, known as Operational Detachment Alpha teams, or ODAs, should be paired with units of at least a few hundred Afghan security force soldiers.

But in many cases, the Green Berets are paired with much smaller groups of Afghan forces, sometimes even one-on-one. In other cases, they are used to man checkpoints, say some Special Forces officers.

Critics worry that Lute's plan is to simply send more Special Forces units to Afghanistan without a coherent plan to support them. "Don't just throw ODAs out there as an answer," says another senior officer. "That's just the easy, lazy answer out there."

Poor use of existing forces

There are other gripes with the way the teams now deployed to Afghanistan are being used.

Too few of the Special Forces teams are partnered with Afghan forces for longer than, say, a month at a time, creating an unsustainable and unproductive training relationship that runs counter to Special Forces doctrine...

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Articles found December 24, 2008

Canadian soldiers keep holiday traditions alive
'Brings Us Back'
Darah Hansen, Canwest News Service  Published: Wednesday, December 24, 2008
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Every morning for the past nine days, Captain Roy Laudenorio has risen long before the sun and headed to church.

The days between Dec. 16 and Dec. 24 are an important part of Christmas celebrations for the hundreds of Filipinos who make up a large portion of the civilian work force living alongside the military forces at Kandahar Airfield.

Each morning, dozens of the most dedicated worshippers gather at 4 a. m. at the small base chapel to take part in a special Mass known as Missa de Gallo, or "Rooster Mass" because of its early start.

It is one of several Christmas services being held at the church as soldiers and civilians alike do the best they can to celebrate the season in a war zone. Capt. Laudenorio, a battlefield padre serving in Kandahar with the Canadian Forces, has been leading the morning Mass.

It is important to maintain tradition, he said, especially for those who are far away from loved ones and friends.

"It's sad for many of us, but it's also reassuring because we are here with a different kind of family, our military family," he said.
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Officer spends Christmas in Kandahar, Afghanistan
Published: December 23, 2008 11:00 PM
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FOR YEARS a member of the Terrace RCMP detachment, including time spent as a dogmaster and time with the region’s RCMP emergency response team, Corporal Lothar Bretfeld is now serving in Afghanistan.

Below find excerpts from several emails he has sent.

I am presently serving as a Police Mentor (Advisor) with the RCMP in Afghanistan, Kandahar Province, Zhari District, at the Canadian Forces Forward Operating Base (FOB) “WILSON.”

I will be spending Christmas at the forward operating base and will attempt to contact family members at that time, technology permitting.

One has to understand that this is a very remote area, and rather in the desert.


Due to the fact that this area is still very volatile, the Canadian Forces supply a force protection for the police mentors so we can fulfill our duties.

Our duties consist in mentoring, advising and teaching various police techniques and procedures.

We also try to instil the “moral right” as in the Canadian policing system.

The RCMP tour of duty is one year and I have been on the ground since July 3, 2008.
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Air strikes, night raids a 'last resort' in Afghanistan
Updated Tue. Dec. 23 2008 4:52 PM ET CTV.ca News
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Brig.-Gen. Denis Thompson, the head of Canadian and NATO forces in Kandahar, is taking issue with an independent report alleging air strikes and nighttime raids in Afghanistan may be stoking a backlash among civilians.

The report by the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission -- entitled "From Hope to Fear" -- says violent house raids and air strikes on civilians could undo seven years of NATO and government efforts to win the hearts and minds of the Afghan civilians.

Thompson says he welcomes the report but also noted that coalition soldiers only conduct such strikes as a "last resort."

"Every precaution is taken to ensure there is a high degree of certainty regarding targets ... Task Force Kandahar troops -- both U.S. and Canadian -- take extraordinary efforts to minimize collateral damage and to avoid harm to innocent civilians," he said
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Christmas A Tough Time For Canadian Soldier
Away From Home
Ethan Baron, Canwest News Service  Published: Tuesday, December 23, 2008
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SANGASAR, AFGHANISTAN - Master Corporal Kelly Harding will not be home for Christmas.

But from thousands of kilo-metres away in Afghanistan, she will be taking comfort in the fact that her 16-year-old daughter, Jessica, and her parents will be celebrating together in Parksville, B. C.

"I wish I could be there," says Master Cpl. Harding, a combat-zone medic who accompanies infantry troops into the Taliban heartland.

"It'll probably be a tough go. Hopefully, I'm somewhere close to a phone."

Master Cpl. Harding, 36, is posted at Canada's main base in the violent Zhari district. Her work takes her -- heavily burdened with medical supplies and an assault rifle -- on long marches through fields and villages.

Sometimes the operations last a few hours. Sometimes they go for days, and she subsists on packaged rations, sleeps in the dirt and thinks about her family
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Spying in Afghanistan is world's riskiest job
24 Dec 2008, 1357 hrs IST, AGENCIES  Article Link

ISLAMABAD: Anwar Saeed's life was at risk either way, whether fighting with the Taliban and Al Qaeda in Pakistan's restive tribal region or spying 
on them for US forces in Afghanistan.

But he opted for the second option. The promise of $6,000 from US intelligence agents was enough for him to buy better health services for his ageing parents, and perhaps a chance to be self-employed in some big city - where he could vanish to with his family and be anonymous among millions of people.

The gamble did not pay off and Saeed, 21, was caught before he could guide a Hellfire missile fired from a US pilotless aircraft to the hideouts of two important Taliban commanders in Khaisor and Sholam areas of South Waziristan.

"He was one of us but some of his moves made him a suspect," said a local Taliban fighter, who requested to be identified only by his alias Mohammed Zia. "We took him to our headquarters, seized his Kalashnikov, and showed him the knives we wanted to use to cut his throat, and he told us everything."
According to Zia, the "traitor" had planted two microchips that identified the places for US drones in two different villages where two Taliban commanders were supposed to be on a night in October.
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Articles found Dec 25, 2008

DINING IN ZHARI
Army cooks at Canada's forward-operating base in the Zhari district of Afghanistan are serving meals that would satisfy the pickiest palate
Ethan Baron , Canwest News Service Published: Wednesday, December 24, 2008
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PASAB, Afghanistan - One of the globe's worst war zones is an unlikely place to find top-notch cuisine.

But at Canada's forward-operating base in the blood-soaked Zhari district of Afghanistan, army cooks are serving up meals that would satisfy even the pickiest palate.
It is steak-and-seafood night at the Zhari base. Rage Against the Machine's Killing in the Name is blasting from a boom box inside the serving tent, as soldiers line up outside. From the patio's dual barbecues, smoke carries the aroma of grilling rib-eyes, and from the stove inside the tent wafts the redolence of lightly curried shrimp - bathed in clarified butter the cooks have tended with care all afternoon.

On the second of the appointed dinner hour, the troops file into the tent, holding out paper plates as soldier-volunteers dole out large helpings of meat, shrimp, pasta alfredo, sauteed mushrooms and baked potatoes.

When a Taliban rocket explodes two kilometres away, a few soldiers look up, briefly. Most keep their eyes on the serving trays, staring at the steak and shrimp and keeping a firm grasp on their plates.

"I love the food," says Master-Cpl. Kelly Harding, a field medic. "They put a lot of energy, time, and actually personality into the food they cook. They love doing their job, which shows in the food that comes out. The lasagna I had the other night was phenomenal."

Inside the dining tent, the salad bar is bursting with the vibrant colours of fresh fruits and vegetables - Greek salad, green salad, broccoli salad, a tray full of cherry tomatoes, carrot sticks, celery, red and yellow bell pepper, a platter of watermelon and pineapple slices. Troops grab Styrofoam bowls and load up, then lay assault rifles and machine-guns down at the ends of the tables before digging in.
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Christmas for troops in Afghanistan: turkey patties, grape juice and calls home
By NANCY A. YOUSSEF McClatchy Newspapers
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There was little hint of Christmas day when the sun rose over this barren military base.

The Marines had their missions lined up: to protect trucks carrying wheat seeds to farmers from a Taliban attack; to link up with the Afghan police to track a Taliban leader believed to be hiding in the nearby mountains; and to continue building new facilities to provide creature comforts on this base, part of U.S. military push into new parts of Afghanistan.

But as the day wore on, platoon leaders tacked on a new mission - to make sure every Marine had the chance to call home.

"It's important for the morale of my boys," explained Lt. Phil Gilreath, 23, of Kingwood, Texas, a platoon commander.

Marines are used to being away from home on Christmas. About 40 percent of those stationed here have been to Iraq or Afghanistan before or have missed the holiday due to training.

The Marines, the 3rd Battalion 8th Marine Regiment based out of Camp Lejeune, N.C., are stationed in Farah province, one of Afghanistan's most difficult regions, an area where Taliban forces not only fight but also sell opium poppy to finance their operations.

In the days leading up to Christmas, some Marines put up small Christmas trees or lined their cold tents with holiday lights. Others spent their evenings watching Christmas movies on their laptops. Some stared at care packages, waiting until Thursday to open them.

In the chow tent, someone lined the electrical cords powering the fluorescent lights with candy canes. During Christmas breakfast, the New York Giants were playing the Carolina Panthers on one of the few televisions on base. One by one, troops walked in and wished the others a Merry Christmas. One quipped: "Honestly, it was nice to not go Christmas shopping this year."
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Two NATO soldiers slain in Afghanistan
Published: Dec. 25, 2008
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KABUL, Afghanistan, Dec. 25 (UPI) -- Two NATO soldiers have been slain in Afghanistan, military officials said Thursday.

Capt. Mark Windsor, a spokesman for the International Security Assistance Force in Kabul, told CNN one unidentified soldier died in combat in southern Afghanistan, while another was killed in the eastern part of the country Wednesday.

"This is a terrible loss for those families and the friends of those fallen soldiers," Windsor said. "These soldiers came to Afghanistan to bring peace, security, and stability to this country and the people of Afghanistan."

ISAF policy prohibits releasing the nationalities of any casualties prior to the home countries doing so, CNN said.
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Int'l troops pass peaceful Christmas Day in Afghanistan
www.chinaview.cn  2008-12-25 22:30:45 
  Article Link

    KABUL, Dec. 25 (Xinhua) -- Both the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) and the U.S.-led Coalition forces based in Afghanistan passed a peaceful Christmas Day on Thursday in the conservative post-Taliban nation as no major violent incidents has been reported.

    Based in Bagram, 50 km north of Afghan capital Kabul, the Headquarters of U.S. army in the post-Taliban nation celebrated the festival amid tight security.

    The casualties that the international troops have received were the killing of two soldiers including Briton in the restive Helmand province on the eve of Christmas Day on Wednesday while the other one lost his life in the eastern part of Afghanistan.

    The soldier, who took part in a combat operation near Helmand's provincial capital Lashkar Gah, according to British sources, was killed during a gun battle with the insurgents.
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British soldier, four road workers killed in Afghanistan
14 hours ago
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KABUL (AFP) — A British soldier was shot dead in Afghanistan on Christmas Eve, the same day a US soldier died in a separate attack, officials said Thursday as international mortar fire killed four road workers.

The Royal Marine, whose identity was not released, was killed Wednesday while trying to drive "enemy forces" from a compound in the southern province of Helmand, the British defence ministry said in a statement.

"The death of this Royal Marine is a tragic loss and coming so close to Christmas, this is particularly poignant," said the British military's spokeswoman in Helmand, Commander Paula Rowe.

His death had already been announced by the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF), under which the British troops are serving alongside those of nearly 40 other nations, but ISAF gave no details about the incident.

ISAF said Wednesday that another of its soldiers was killed in an attack in eastern Afghanistan. The US military confirmed Thursday the trooper was a US national.
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Kandahar kids get Canadian Christmas gifts
Soldiers hand out toys, warm clothing outside NATO base in southern Afghanistan
Last Updated: Wednesday, December 24, 2008 | 4:02 PM ET CBC News
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Canadian soldiers outside Kandahar Air Field in southern Afghanistan faced a rowdy crowd of local civilians Wednesday but the encounter had a happy outcome.

Dozens of Afghan children walked away from the meeting with soldiers carrying stuffed toys, new clothes and other Christmas gifts from Canada's Armed Forces.

Two military trucks pulled up just outside the main base at the airfield and soldiers were immediately surrounded by boys and girls of all ages. Troops handed down purple, white and lime-green teddy bears, bars of soap, sweaters and scarves.

Despite the bright winter sunshine, the warm clothing is essential, according to Canadian troops involved in the exercise.

"It gets cold around here at night this time of year," said Cpl. Lisa Parianos, adding with a smile, " We tried to get it out in an orderly fashion but didn't work out so well."

Parianos was one of several Canadian Forces soldiers giving away the toys and clothing. In charge was Chief Warrant Officer Mike Hayes, who said the decision to give away surplus school supplies and toys was made earlier this week.

"We knew we had a lot of [leftover] stuff and we knew this was a good time to hand them out, so we brought them out on Christmas Eve," said Hayes, who serves as a liaison between the military and local people.
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Articles found December 26, 2008

Spain PM says no more troops for Afghanistan
The Associated Press Friday, December 26, 2008
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MADRID, Spain: Spain's prime minister says he has no plans to expand his country's contingent of peacekeepers in Afghanistan.

Within days, the government will eliminate a 3,000-person limit on the number of Spanish soldiers who can be stationed abroad.

This has led to speculation that the 800-strong Spanish contingent in western Afghanistan might be increased, if U.S. president-elect Barack Obama requests it.

But Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero told a news conference Friday he has no such plans.

He said Spain has carefully measured what it "should and can" contribute to the allied operation in Afghanistan and "the government's position is not in favor of increasing Spanish troops in Afghanistan."
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VIAGRA IS STIFF RESISTANCE TO TERROR
By ANDY GELLER Last updated: 3:03 am December 26, 2008
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The CIA is taking a hard line against terrorism - bribing Afghan tribal chiefs with Viagra, it was reported yesterday.

While the spy agency has a long history of buying information with cash, the growing Taliban insurgency has mandated that it rise to the occasion with creative methods to gain support in some of the country's rough neighborhoods, The Washington Post reported.

In one case, the newspaper said, a CIA officer visited an Afghan chieftain who looked older than his 60-odd years and had four younger wives, the maximum allowed by the Koran.

The officer saw an opportunity and reached into his bag for a small gift - four Viagra pills.

"Take one of these. You'll love it," the officer said, according to the newspaper.

The turn-on worked.

The officer returned four days later to an enthusiastic reception.

The chief offered up a bonanza of information about Taliban movements and supply routes - and came on strong with a request for more pills.

"He came up to us beaming," the officer said. "He said, 'You are a great man.'

"And after that, we could do whatever we wanted in his area."
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Articles found December 29, 2008

US: 14 students die in bombing at Afghan school
By AMIR SHAH and JASON STRAZIUSO – 20 hours ago
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KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) — A suicide bomber tried to attack a meeting of tribal elders and blew himself up near an Afghan primary school on Sunday, killing 14 children and wounding 58 people, the U.S. military said.

The suicide blast went off near the entrance to a police and army post, said Yacoub Khan, the deputy police chief of the eastern province of Khost. U.S. troops are also stationed inside the outpost, but no troops were wounded or killed in the attack.

The U.S. military said that 16 people were killed, including 14 students, an Afghan soldier and another person, who was likely an Afghan security guard that Afghan officials said was killed.

Dr. Abdul Rahman, a doctor at a hospital near the blast, said the children were aged 8 to 10.

Photos of the bombing's aftermath showed bloodied text books lying on the ground beside small pairs of shoes. The U.S. military also released images of the blast caught on a security camera.

U.S. Gen. David McKiernan, the top NATO commander in Afghanistan, said he believes the militant network run by warlord Siraj Haqqani was responsible for the attack.

"The brutality and disregard for human life by terrorists is sickening, as I continue to witness innocent men, women and children being killed and maimed in the pursuit of this pointless insurgency," McKiernan said in a statement.
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Building starts for extra US troops in Afghan south
Sun Dec 28, 2008 12:54pm EST By Golnar Motevalli
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KANDAHAR, Afghanistan, Dec 28 (Reuters) - Construction work has begun to accommodate an influx of U.S. troops in southern Afghanistan, where NATO-led forces are facing the toughest fight against the Taliban, an alliance commander said on Sunday.

Up to 30,000 extra U.S. troops have been earmarked for Afghanistan starting in the spring and the commander of NATO forces in southern Afghanistan, Major General Mart de Kruif, said his region was most in need of new fighters.

"It would surprise me if the bulk of the forces wouldn't go to RC-South ... the military main effort throughout all of Afghanistan is in the south ... it is in Helmand and Kandahar," De Kruif, who leads 18,000 mainly British, Dutch and Canadian soldiers told reporters at Kandahar airfield.
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Suicide Attack Near Afghan School Kills 7, Wounds 36  
By VOA News 28 December 2008
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Afghan officials say a suicide bomber blew himself up near a primary school in the southeastern province of Khost Sunday, killing at least seven people and wounding 36.

Police say the dead included four children and two security personnel.

Authorities say the bomber was attempting to attack a meeting of officials in the nearby district headquarters and detonated his bomb prematurely when he was challenged.  Officials say U.S. troops were in the building, but were not injured.

In another act of violence, officials say a roadside bomb Saturday killed two Canadian soldiers and two Afghans working with the NATO-led force.
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Articles found December 30, 2008

Bulgaria to increase forces in Afghanistan next year 
www.chinaview.cn  2008-12-30 02:50:23
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    SOFIA, Dec. 29 (Xinhua) -- Bulgaria is going to increase its contingent in the International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan next year, local Sofia News Agency reported on Monday, citing the chief of staff of the Bulgarian Army, General Zlatan Stoykov.

    According to the general, NATO had asked Bulgaria to increase its troops in Afghanistan. The scope of the surge in Bulgarian forces in the central Asian country, however, remained unclear as Stoykov's General Staff was first going to craft an expert opinion, which was then going to be presented to relevant national institutions. Bulgaria currently has 460 troops in Afghanistan.

    Stoykov and Bulgaria's Defense Minister Nikolay Tsonev on Sunday visited the Butmir base of the Bulgarian unit at EUFOR ALTHEA in Bosnia and Herzegovina, where they met with the Bulgarian soldiers in service.

    A total of 116 Bulgarian troops are stationed in Bosnia's capital Sarajevo guarding several checkpoints.
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US eyes alternate supply lines into Afghanistan: official
1 hour ago
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WASHINGTON (AFP) — Alternate routes are being studied to supply international troops in Afghanistan, after Pakistan temporarily shut down the traditional supply line, a US military official said Tuesday.

With NATO reinforcements expected soon, potential alternatives could include "neighboring countries in the north," according to the official who asked not to be named.

"Not only because of the attacks (at the Khyber Pass) but also because we are expecting an increase of troop numbers and equipment" in the coming months which means there will be a greater need for supplies, the official said.

Supplies can be ferried in by air but "it is more expensive," the official added.

Earlier Pakistan cut off supplies to NATO and US forces in Afghanistan via the Khyber Pass for now as its security forces launched a major operation against militants there, officials said.

The offensive followed spectacular raids by suspected Taliban militants on foreign military supply depots in northwest Pakistan earlier this month in which hundreds of NATO and US-led coalition vehicles were destroyed
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Wounded soldier credits mates for survival
Tue, December 30, 2008
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AFGHANISTAN: Travis Snyder is home in Wyoming, recovering from a bomb blast Nov. 21 near Kandahar
By SHAWN JEFFORDS, SUN MEDIA

WYOMING -- Pain has come as a relief to Travis Snyder.

The Wyoming man looks down at his right arm. It's lined with deep scars on either side. His elbow is gone.

It feels like a "noodle." Snyder can't move it, but he sure can feel it these days. Numbness has given way to pain.

That's a good sign.

"I was beginning to get worried," he said, sitting at the kitchen table at his family's home, moving his thumb and two index fingers. "Losing my arm's not an option."

That Snyder, 32, is alive at all is a testament to training scenarios drilled into his fellow soldier's heads. The men he commands are good, he said, so good they saved his life after a roadside bomb exploded beneath a LAV 3 he was riding in.

The improvised explosive device, packed by the Taliban and buried beneath a paved road, was so powerful it flipped the 22-tonne vehicle. Snyder, a master corporal, and eight other Canadian soldiers were wounded in the attack in Afghanistan on Nov. 21.
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‘Half of Pakistanis believe US missile strikes ineffective’
* Gallup poll shows majority believe US presence in Afghanistan ‘threat’ to Pakistan
Daily Times Monitor
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LAHORE: Amid a surge in suspected US missile strikes in the Tribal Areas, a poll conducted by a US-based economic and socioeconomic research organisation shows that nearly half of the Pakistanis questioned (48 percent) do not believe the US missile strikes are effective, while just 5 percent say they are effective – with the remaining refusing to express an opinion.

Gallup had asked Pakistanis if they believe the US missile strikes are an effective way of flushing out the Taliban.

In June, even before the US intensified its attacks, several Pakistanis viewed the US military presence in Afghanistan and Asia as threats to their country. As strikes continued, a majority of Pakistanis came to embrace this view.
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Soldier alleges military pattern of Christian bias
By JOHN HANNA – 18 hours ago
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TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — An atheist soldier suing over prayers at military formations claims a larger pattern of religious discrimination exists in the military, citing attempts to convert Muslims in Iraq and Afghanistan and an evangelical bias in a suicide prevention manual.

The expanded lawsuit filed Monday by Spc. Dustin Chalker and the Military Religious Freedom Foundation in U.S. District Court in Kansas City also claims the military doesn't take complaints of religious discrimination seriously enough.

The Defense Department has identified fewer than 50 complaints about alleged violations of religious freedoms during the past three years, with 1.4 million personnel in uniform, spokeswoman Eileen Lainez said.

She declined to comment on a pending lawsuit but noted that the military has policies against endorsing any religious view.

The revised lawsuit criticizes the Army's 2008 manual on suicide prevention, quoting it as promoting "religiosity" as a necessary part of prevention and describing "connectivity to the divine" as "fundamental."

The lawsuit cites comments from a chaplain and a second soldier in Christian missionary publications about attempts to convert Muslims in Iraq and Afghanistan, including the two soldiers' desire to distribute Bibles.
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Articles found December 31, 2008

Canadians honour soldiers along Highway of Heroes
Updated: Tue Dec. 30 2008 6:20:52 PM CTV.ca News Staff
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The bodies of three Canadian soldiers killed in Afghanistan were transported along the Highway of Heroes on Tuesday, as mourners looked on from overpasses and waved Canadian flags.

Among those paying their respects was Jim Honey, the father of a soldier who was travelling with Pte. Michael Bruce Freeman when he was killed in a roadside-bomb blast.

"It's hard every time," he told CTV Toronto. "You never get used to it, I don't think."

Freeman, of Peterborough, Ont., died last Friday. He had been conducting a routine security patrol in the Zhari District of Kandahar Province.

The procession along the Highway of Heroes also included the bodies of Warrant Officer Gaetan Joseph Roberge and Sgt. Gregory John Kruse, who were killed in a bomb blast on Saturday.

They had been patrolling an area 24 kilometres west of Kandahar city.

Before the remains of the fallen soldiers were taken along the highway, mourners had gathered for their arrival at CFP Trenton in eastern Ontario.

"I'm not supporting the war, but I am supporting the troops," Trenton resident April Bishop, 52, told The Canadian Press. "I'm supporting the families."
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NATO and Russia discuss equipment move to Afghanistan
Wed Dec 31, 2008 1:49pm GMT
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BRUSSELS (Reuters) - NATO and Russia are discussing whether to allow the military alliance to move its equipment through Russian airspace to Afghanistan, the pact's spokesman said on Wednesday.

"Talks are underway for NATO-wide air transit for military equipment," said James Appathurai.

So far, Russia has allowed only some individual NATO member states to ship weapons and equipment through its land to Afghanistan, where the alliance is fighting resurgent Taliban.
End

US Forces Killed 11 Taliban Insurgents in Afghanistan
31.12.08 14:26
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Afghanistan, Kabul, January. 1 / Trend News, A. Hakimi/  US led forces assisted ANA launched operation targeted militants commander in northeast of Kabul

This operation targeted insurgent's commander near the Afghan capital.

U.S.-led coalition forces killed 11 insurgents during an operation just outside the Afghan capital, the coalition forces press release said on Wednesday Dec 31, 2008.

The coalition troops said its forces targeted a commander wanted for trafficking weapons and fighters throughout the region.

According to coalition forces, their troops killed two militants with gunfire and nine others with airstrikes during the operation in Sorobi district.

Sorobi is located about 70 kilo meters form Kabul.

Meanwhile, Afghan government expressed concern on intensifying new style of violation like road side bombing and suicide attack in which civilians suffer more than others.

Desertion of police and joining Taliban is the start of a new film in Afghanistan
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French defence minister visits troops in Afghanistan
5 hours ago
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KABUL (AFP) — French Defence Minister Herve Morin arrived in Kabul Wednesday for a New Year visit with French soldiers in the multinational, NATO-led force helping Afghanistan fight an extremist insurgency.

Morin was due to meet Afghan President Hamid Karzai later Wednesday, said an AFP reporter travelling with the minister, and would visit a French-funded mother-and-children's hospital in the capital.

He will also take part in a military outreach operation with Afghan civilians and join French troops at one of their forward operating bases for the New Year's Eve celebration.

On Thursday Morin is due to fly to a large military base outside the southern city of Kandahar, where France has stationed six Mirage 2000 fighter jets to support US and NATO-led troops on the ground.
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SKorea considers expanding rebuilding role in Afghanistan: report
12 hours ago
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SEOUL (AFP) — South Korea will send a team to Afghanistan in January to see if it can do more to help rebuild the war-ravaged country, a report said Wednesday.

"A fact-finding team led by a senior foreign ministry official will visit Afghanistan in mid-January," Yonhap news agency quoted an unidentified ministry official as saying.

The incoming US government of president elect Barack Obama is likely to ask Seoul to expand its role in Afghanistan, Yonhap said.

A ministry spokesperson could not confirm the report.

The delegation will inspect the situation in Afghanistan, including the activities of a South Korean team of medical staff and vocational training experts already there, Yonhap said.

"This has nothing to do with anything like a feasibility study to send troops back there," the official was quoted as saying.

A local media report said last week that Washington has unofficially asked Seoul to send troops back to Afghanistan.
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'Cowards' killed heroes

By JOE WARMINGTON


As three hearses pass by all I can think of is who murdered these fine Canadians?

What are their names? And will they ever face justice?

When they detonated that improvised explosive device did they know Pte. Michael Freeman was from Peterborough and was beloved there?

Did they know W/O Gaetan Roberge was from Sudbury and was known as the kind of guy who would do anything for anybody -- including the Afghan people whom he gave his life to help?

Did they know New Brunswick native Sgt. Gregory Kruse was a father of three young girls -- twin six-year-olds named Megan and Victoria and an 11-year-old, Kari?

In the latest blast, there was an Afghani interpreter and police officer also killed. No one seems to know either of their names. But they had names and were brave and serving with our Canadians.

IEDs, roadside bombs or landmines are easy, effective and deadly. But they are another thing. They are instruments of murder. And those who use them successfully are murderers.

Specifically, in some of these cases, these murderers may have been playing both sides.

"The enemy is all around," said newly widowed Jill Kruse.

One of the things she stressed to me this week is how caring the Canadians have been over there -- and all of the work they have done. All of that good can be taken away in a flash by someone who sees them as an occupying force.

"I just call them cowards," she said of those who would use IEDs. "It is not a fair fight. It is not traditional warfare."

Standing on Grenville St. last night with Toronto EMS paramedics Gary McAuley and Joe Moyer and citizens like Ron Jardine or visitors like Julie Harvey of New York and watching these hearses come home, one can't help but swell up with pride to go with the tears.

And when a wounded soldier on crutches, whose name tag read "Brennan" gets out of a limousine to thank those who came out and was met with spontaneous applause -- it brings patriotism to a level not often seen or felt in Canada.

"We are not allowed to do this in America," comments Harvey, holding her tiny three-year-old granddaughter, Makela.

"I know this is not nice, but it is nice that people can pay their respects like this. We are in tears."

The Highway of Heroes movement has definitely helped with the harsh realities of grief. Families appreciate it -- last night some were yelling "thank you" out of limousine windows.

But the funeral trek to the Centre for Forensic Sciences for post mortems should not become something palatable.

It should always be a reminder of just how final and wicked war can be and of the ultimate sacrifice.

And it must not stop us from our duty to ask questions to make sure we don't just keep repeating this scene.

For security reasons, one of the aspects of this war that concerns me is I don't hear enough stories of people facing prosecution.

"No matter which way you look at it, murder is murder," former Toronto Police homicide squad Det. Mark Mendelson tells me. "And each murder has its own signature, its own pattern and its own forensics."

Murders can be solved. The Afghanistan people have to help us solve these murders to prevent more. We are there to help them. Yet you hear of few arrests -- and certainly no names attached to these killers.

My suggestion to the Canadian government is to not only beef up the helicopter program, but also strengthen the investigation and intelligence operations. Lean on the locals more for information of who is doing this and be aggressive in trying to find all bomb-making lairs.

They also need to double or triple the money to be paid to informants.

To simply say a Canadian was killed by a roadside bomb but have no face to who did it, is not enough. These families are entitled to justice. "I will get justice," said Jill Kruse. "Justice will come when we overcome the enemies."

Meanwhile there's probably nothing more surreal than the scene of three black hearses edging along Toronto streets.

It has happened three times this month. That's nine hearses with nine soldiers inside who had names.

Outrageously, so far, their murderers don't.


 
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