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Afghan Report: June 12, 2003

12 June 2003, Volume 2, Number 20
By Amin Tarzi

When the Soviet Union sent hundreds of "advisers" to Afghanistan in 1978 in support of the newly established leftist regime in Kabul, many Germans living in the country began painting large German flags with the words "Jarman" or "Allmani" -- German in Dari -- across them. This measure was taken so that Afghans, who were beginning to loath the Soviet presence in their country and to target them in attacks, could distinguish the Germans as such.

More than 20 years later, in January 2001, when German troops came to Afghanistan for the first time as members of the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF), they also carried their flags with "Allmani" printed on them. Historically, Afghanistan and Germany have enjoyed very good relations. Beyond the warm official ties, traditionally the Afghan people have regarded the Germans with an almost exaggerated level of respect and admiration. As such, Germans rightfully viewed the displaying of their identity in Afghanistan as a measure of safety.

On 7 June, in a suicide mission for which no one has claimed responsibility, four German soldiers were killed and 29 others injured as they were traveling by bus to an airport en route to return home to Germany after serving their tour of duty. This time, however, the German flag would not have been a good preventive measure, nor was the attack a case of mistaken identity.

Has something changed in the Afghan-German interaction to transform one of Afghanistan's favorite people into an enemy? Afghan Transitional Administration Chairman Hamid Karzai at first argued that the suicide-killer was likely not an Afghan, and that the planners of the attack were probably foreigners as well. Ordinary Afghans were more blunt in rejecting the premise that Afghans were behind the attacks of 7 June. Ja'far Tayar, a high-school teacher echoing the initial sentiment of the majority of Afghans, told Deutsche Presse-Agentur (dpa) on 9 June: "No one in the world has heard that an Afghan has committed a suicide attack in any part of the world. This is the culture of those Arabs who wanted to occupy our country," referring to the Al-Qaeda terrorist network.

Nonetheless, on 12 June Afghan Interior Minister Ali Ahmad Jalali identified the suicide bomber as an Afghan man named Abdul Rashid from the Khogiani District of Nangarhar Province. Khogiani is where the Tora Bora region is also situated, home to a number of Al-Qaeda's training camps and caves.

German Defense Minister Peter Struck blamed the attack on Al-Qaeda, and said that it was likely that financial and logistical backing came from elements loyal to the ousted Taliban regime as well as Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, the radical leader of the opposition faction Hizb-e Islami. In March, just before the United States and the United Kingdom launched their military campaign in Iraq, there were reports in the German press that Germany's federal intelligence service, the Bundesnachrichtendienst (BND), and the military counterintelligence service (MAD) agreed that Hekmatyar, in close cooperation with Al-Qaeda, posed the greatest danger to the Germans serving with ISAF.

Notwithstanding the fact that the killer was an Afghan as well as the question of accuracy of the intelligence assessments by the BND and MAD, the suicide attack of 7 June and the subsequent assertions by Struck may indicate that Al-Qaeda is the primary threat to ISAF personnel in Afghanistan. Furthermore, this terrorist network may be backed by or working with Afghans loyal to the Taliban or Hekmatyar..

The question to be asked -- beyond the very real possibility that a neighboring country or countries, with or without the assistance of the threesome of Al-Qaeda, the Taliban, and Hekmatyar, may be trying to keep Afghanistan unstable -- is: What has changed in the tactics and targets of terrorists operating in Afghanistan, and why?

There are three main factors to be considered in looking at this important issue.

First, Afghans are correct to assert that suicide attacks are a new phenomenon in their country. There is no single record of Afghan resistance groups utilizing suicide attacks in their decade-long struggle (1979-89) against the militarily far superior invasion forces of the Soviet Union. Likewise, while most sides involved in the civil war of 1992-2001 committed horrible atrocities, suicide tactics were never employed. The only suicide attack in the Afghan memory is that which took the life of the celebrated Afghan resistance leader Ahmad Shah Mas'ud on 9 September 2001. The culprits in that attack were identified as Arabs.

However, there is nothing to suggest that a new generation of Afghan fighters, perhaps influenced by Arab members of Al-Qaeda or other organizations operating in Afghanistan, Pakistan, or elsewhere, have not adopted suicide tactics as part of their campaign to destabilize Afghanistan. As it appears that an Afghan in fact committed this attack on the German troops, this seems to be the case. Abdul Rashid is the first known Afghan suicide bomber.

Second, the attack against German troops traveling in a bus on their way to the airport suggests a new phase in the post-Taliban battleground of Afghanistan. The choice of "soft" targets, or nonmilitary targets, imply the intention to deny the Afghan Transitional Administration the chance to succeed in bringing peace and security to the country. The suicide mission against departing ISAF peacekeepers comes after a series of other violent attacks against unarmed demining teams, foreign aid workers, and tourists. The United Nations has as a result repeatedly scaled back its operations and ceased operations completely in some parts of the country at times. Nongovernmental organizations can no longer rely on their nonpolitical stature as a measure of security and exemption from the clashes that are plaguing reconstruction in Afghanistan. In short, no one is guaranteed safety from the terrorists who aim to destroy the current efforts to rebuild this war-ravaged country.

The fear likely to be generated from this gross absence of security will lead to negative repercussions. Foreign investors, for example, will be less likely to commit to projects in Afghanistan in this environment. International organizations are less likely to increase their activities, and some may even pull out of the country if the violence continues to escalate.

Without foreign support, Afghanistan will surely return to chaos. This is exactly what the terrorists are hoping. They are keenly aware of the fact that they cannot defeat the U.S.-led antiterrorism coalition militarily. So by assuming asymmetric tactics, in which innocents become the victims and chaos reigns, the terrorists are betting on the fact that the Afghan Transitional Administration will lose legitimacy both internationally and domestically as a result.

And this will in turn be a victory to an array of interested parties. For Al-Qaeda, Afghanistan's stability translates into a victory for the United States, so those followers who remain in Afghanistan and the surrounding region are likely to continue this strategy. There are also Afghan groups, with and without foreign support, who wish to see the Transitional Administration fail. Some of these groups have political ambitions based on ethnic, religious or other considerations, which they believe are not addressed by the current political arrangement. Others, mainly the warlords, have territorial ambitions that are served best by a weak central government.

There are other actors, both foreign and domestic, that for a variety of reasons -- including but not limited to drug trafficking, border disputes, anti-Americanism, and oil and gas politics -- are also trying to prevent the development of a stable, democratic, and unified Afghanistan. As such, looking only at Al-Qaeda, the Taliban, and Hekmatyar as Afghan suspects in the recent attacks misses the larger picture.

A final, third factor to be aware of in the wake of the 7 June suicide attack is that the new multifaceted terror campaign against the peacekeepers in Kabul does not distinguish between Afghanistan's traditional friends, such as Germany, and others. The new campaign apparently aims to warn all countries helping the United States in the war on terrorism in Afghanistan that they too are legitimate targets by association. Theoretically, once NATO assumes command of ISAF under Canadian leadership at the end of August this year, all 19 members of the alliance can expect to become targets of terror by the new elusive enemy operating in Afghanistan.

If ISAF does indeed extend its mandate beyond Kabul as it is currently considering, the level of violence against its peacekeepers is likely to increase. In the worst-case scenario, the target range of the terror campaign could even expand beyond the Afghan theatre to the home turf of NATO member states.

The only way for Afghanistan to make its way down the long path ahead to normalcy is for its leaders and the country's international backers to face the realities -- and fast. They must tackle the urgent need for security head-on. The warlords must be removed as a first important step. In addition, in order to address a frustration that is growing among the Afghan population as a whole, the Kabul administration should become more representative of all the people it portends to govern, especially in the defense forces.

The Afghan people, who still regard the Germans and most other foreign forces as allies, need to be given a chance to live in a fair society. The killers of the Germans on 7 June -- as well as those of other peacekeepers, aid workers, and civilians -- are also the killers of Afghanistan's hopes. (Kimberly McCloud contributed to this article.)

Fighting erupted on 4 June between Taliban fighters and troops loyal to Kandahar Governor Gul Agha Sherzai near Spin Boldak in southern Afghanistan, leaving at least 40 Taliban and seven Afghans dead in the wake of a nine-hour firefight, AP reported. The battle reportedly started in the morning in the town of Nimakai, about 10 kilometers north of Spin Boldak, and spread to the neighboring villages of Populzai and Hasanzai. According to Spin Boldak District chief Sayyed Fazluddin Agha, 50 soldiers descended on Nimakai following a tip that Taliban fighters, who had been launching sporadic attacks in the region for several days, were hiding in the villages. Another 50 soldiers later reinforced those troops. Agha said it was unclear who was leading the Taliban faction because "they were all killed and nobody is left." (Traci Hukill)

U.S. and Italian troops arrested 21 people in a major military operation in the Shahi Kot Mountains in the eastern province of Paktiya, AP reported on 4 June (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 5 June 2003). According to U.S. military spokesman Lieutenant Colonel Douglas Lefforge, the 21 suspected guerrilla fighters were arrested on 2 and 3 June without incident after coalition troops searched 300 vehicles and 800 people as part of a mission dubbed "Operation Dragon Fury." The mission, in which several hundred U.S. soldiers were joined by 150 Italian troops and backed by 20 aircraft, ended on 3 June. Its purpose was to "prevent the re-emergence of terrorism, deny anti-coalition members sanctuary, and prevent further attacks against nongovernmental organizations, coalition forces, and equipment," according to an official statement. (Traci Hukill)

Four Afghan militiamen were killed on 10 June during a three-hour gun battle between U.S. and militia forces in the border town of Shkin, Paktika Province, Radio Afghanistan reported. The militiamen are suspected of belonging to the ousted Taliban regime, according to "The New York Times." No U.S. casualties were reported. Afghan Transitional Administration Chairman Hamid Karzai has stated his belief that the Taliban are finished in Afghanistan (see below). If that is the case, the attacks against the U.S.-led antiterrorism coalition must be seen as being carried out by terrorists or by a combination of forces that are disenchanted with the current administration. (Amin Tarzi)

Rebel Afghan tribal leader Pacha Khan Zadran said on 4 June that the appointment of his ally Gholam Gailani as district governor of Sayyed Karam in Paktiya Province does not resolve his dispute with the Afghan Transitional Administration of Hamid Karzai, the Pakistan-based Afghan Islamic Press (AIP) reported on 5 June. Zadran said that Karzai had promised him control over the provinces of Khost, Paktiya, and Paktika. Despite Zadran's posture, the appointment of Gailani is seen, according to the AIP, as an attempt by Asadollah Wafa, the new governor of Paktiya, to reconcile the differences between Zadran and the Transitional Administration. Zadran was an ally of Karzai and the United States, as well as a signatory to the 2001 Bonn agreement, but later took up arms against the central administration. In March, Zadran's forces, in a battle in which his son Jaylani Khan was killed, for the first time directly engaged U.S. forces (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 27 March 2003). On 5 June, U.S. forces allegedly arrested Abdul Wali, another son of Zadran. (Amin Tarzi)

In the deadliest attack thus far against the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF), four German soldiers were killed and 29 others were injured on 7 June when the bus carrying them was "involved in an explosion," ISAF reported. In a suicide attack, a taxi collided with the bus, which was transporting 33 German soldiers to an airport to fly home after the end of their tour of duty in Kabul, dpa reported on 7 June. The German Defense Ministry said that 10 of the injured are in critical condition, dpa reported. Since March 2002, accidents, mines, and the latest terrorist attack have claimed the lives of 14 German peacekeepers in Kabul (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 2 January and 5 June 2003). A teenage Afghan bystander died of his injuries on 8 June, bringing the total number of dead to five, "The New York Times" reported on 9 June. (Amin Tarzi)

German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder said in a statement issued on 7 June that while he is "devastated" by the news of the attack in Kabul, Germany is determined to continue its participation in ISAF, dpa reported. Some leftists in Schroeder's own party have called for the withdrawal of German troops from Kabul. Meanwhile, ISAF spokesman Lieutenant Colonel Thomas Loebbering said on 8 June that despite the possibility of increased attacks against the international forces in Kabul, ISAF does not plan to halt its operations, Radio Afghanistan reported. It seems that a new tactic of terrorist groups and forces opposed to the Afghan Transitional Administration is to concentrate on "soft" targets, such as international aid workers and ISAF units, rather than attacking U.S.-led antiterrorism coalition forces operating outside Kabul. If such attacks continue after NATO assumes command of ISAF in August under Canadian leadership (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 29 May 2003), all members of the alliance could find themselves targets of terrorist attacks by association (see feature above). (Amin Tarzi)

German Defense Minister Peter Struck said on 7 June that he has circumstantial evidence, obtained through a telephone call from a "reliable source" in the region, that Al-Qaeda was responsible for the attack on German troops in Kabul, ZDF television reported. General Afzal Aman, deputy commander of Kabul, said that he does not doubt that Al-Qaeda was responsible for the attack, "The New York Times" reported on 8 June. However, an official of Germany's Bundesnachrichtendienst (BND) intelligence service said that the attack against German troops in Kabul might be linked to radical Hizb-e Islami leader Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, ddp reported on 8 June. In March, the BND concluded that Hekmatyar posed the "greatest danger to German soldiers" serving with ISAF (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 19 March 2003). Hekmatyar, who is believed to be living in Pakistan and has been out of the spotlight for the past two months, has declared a jihad to liberate Afghanistan from foreign troops and as a result has been designated a terrorist by the U.S. State Department. (Amin Tarzi)

Peacekeepers in Kabul received a warning before the 7 June suicide bombing, Reuters reported on 9 June. ISAF spokesman Loebbering said on 8 June that the peacekeeping force receives such warnings on a daily basis and that it is very difficult to judge the accuracy of such reports, Radio Afghanistan reported. An Afghan man purchased the taxi involved in the attack two weeks ago in Jalalabad, capital of Nangarhar Province, "The New York Times" reported on 9 June. It should be noted that suicide bombings are a new phenomenon in Afghanistan and are most likely the influence of Arab Islamists attached to Al-Qaeda. During the Afghan war of independence against Soviet forces and the ensuing civil war, there were no reports of suicide bombings by Afghans. (Amin Tarzi)

Afghan Transitional Administration Chairman Karzai said that foreign terrorists backed by foreign countries, not the Taliban, were responsible for the 7 June suicide attack against German troops in Kabul, "The New York Times" reported on 10 June. Karzai said that the Taliban movement is "finished," adding that the terrorism threat in Afghanistan is "mostly foreign." While Karzai did not name a country, Interior Minister Ali Ahmad Jalali blamed Pakistan, saying "terrorists and antigovernment elements cannot stay for long inside the country, so they take refuge in these areas along the Pakistan-Afghanistan border," the New York daily reported. (Amin Tarzi)

Interior Minister Jalali said in a news conference on 12 June that the suicide bomber who blew up a bus carrying German troops on 7 June has been identified, Pakistan-based AIP reported. According to Jalali the bomber was named Abdul Rashid and came from Khogiani District of Nangarhar Province and he purchased the taxi that he used in the attack on 28 May. Tora Bora, the center from which jihad was carried out against the Soviets, is situated in Khogiani District, the report added. Some of the caves and training camps of Al-Qaeda terrorist network were situated in Khogiani. Hamid Karzai had said that the suicide bomber was mostly likely a non-Afghan. (Amin Tarzi)

Whereas the German government blamed terrorists for the attack of 7 June, one German solider said that while being bussed through Kabul, the troops were wearing their "summer uniforms as if we were on an outing back home in Germany," and were not allowed to wear protective gear such as bullet-resistant vests or helmets, Germany's N-TV reported on 7 June. The soldier said that "in the event of a terrorist attack," the Germans traveling in buses "were sitting ducks." The German Defense Ministry said that it had taken all necessary precautions, dpa reported on 7 June. (Amin Tarzi)

As an immediate measure to safeguard German troops serving with the ISAF in Kabul after the 7 June suicide attack that killed four Germans, the Budeswehr command has decided to no longer transport troops by bus, dpa reported on 9 June. Major Guenther Bender, spokesman for the German ISAF contingent, said that troops in busses could not be protected "when here or there a lone attacker with huge quantities of explosives blows himself up." The Germans are planning to use special armored jeeps to travel around Kabul. Bender added that German soldiers "will continue to go out on patrol and maintain a public presence." (Amin Tarzi)

A remote-controlled explosive device was detonated as a U.S. military vehicle passed along the Khost-Gardayz road on 4 June, injuring a shopkeeper, the AIP reported. According to the report, the incident marked the first instance in the region that a remote-controlled explosive has been used to carry out an attack. On 27 May, a remote-controlled bomb damaged a U.S. military vehicle in Khost Province, near the Afghan-Pakistani border (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 5 June 2003). The use of remote-controlled devices highlights the difficulty that terrorist groups and opposition Afghan forces face in confronting U.S.-led coalition forces, but it also suggests that hostile forces are turning to increasingly sophisticated weaponry. (Amin Tarzi)

Security officials in Kandahar Province have refrained from commenting on a bomb explosion that claimed the lives of three Afghans in Panjawi District, Radio Afghanistan reported on 9 June. The explosion occurred inside a bus on 2 June, "Erada" reported. According to Radio Afghanistan, the cause of the incident is not yet known. Not commenting on deadly attacks in key provinces may signify a new tactic by officials to understate the level of instability in the country. For now, the media in Afghanistan are keeping the pressure on the authorities to remain accountable to the public. (Amin Tarzi)

Mawlawi Fazl Hadi Shinwari in a speech on 8 June said that the United States trained Al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden to fight the Soviets in the 1980s and that Washington should today increase its efforts to eradicate the remnants of the Al-Qaeda terrorist network from Afghanistan, Hindukosh news agency reported. Speaking a day after the suicide attack against German troops in Kabul to an audience that included Afghan Transitional Administration Chairman Karzai, Shinwari said that Afghanistan is incapable of fighting terrorism alone. (Amin Tarzi)

A large explosion destroyed a newly constructed building in Logar Province on 4 June, the Bakhtar information agency reported on 5 June. The explosion did not cause any casualties and is believed to have been the result of a personal dispute. A number of antitank mines were used to destroy the building. The case illustrates the ready availability of weapons in Afghanistan and the lack of control by either local Afghan authorities or international forces in the country over their sale and transfer. (Amin Tarzi)

A meeting of the NATO-Russia Council in Madrid on 4 June ended with a pledge by Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov to lend non-troop support to the alliance's peacekeeping operation in Afghanistan when NATO assumes command of the ISAF in August, Reuters reported. Ivanov did not specify what type of support Moscow would provide, but he did say it "has no plans to deploy military forces." Russian troops would likely be an unwelcome sight in Afghanistan, where the Soviet Union's 1979 invasion and subsequent 10-year occupation spawned more than two decades of bloodshed. A NATO diplomat cited by Reuters said Russia was considering extending logistical and intelligence aid, as well as provisional use of its air bases in Tajikistan. NATO Secretary-General Lord George Robertson said Russia's offer, which would have been "inconceivable" a few years ago, underscored a marked improvement in relations between Russia and the West. (Traci Hukill)

Prime Minister Helen Clark has announced that New Zealand will send up to 100 troops to Afghanistan to support Karzai's Transitional Administration, dpa reported on 9 June. The New Zealand contingent will operate a Provincial Reconstruction Team (PRT) (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 30 January 2003) -- not as peacekeepers, but as facilitators of the civilian contribution to reconstruction. Clark said that her country views Afghanistan as "a high-threat area" and that New Zealand's decision was based on its desire to be "a good international citizen." New Zealand is scheduled to establish the PRT in September. The report did not indicate where the contingent will be based. PRTs are part of a U.S. plan to promote reconstruction projects in Afghanistan while safeguarding security. Some international aid agencies have criticized the plan for blurring the line between military units and aid personnel. (Amin Tarzi)

Following fierce fighting near Spin Boldak in Kandahar Province on 4 June in which up to 40 suspected loyalists to the ousted Taliban regime were killed, a border row between Afghanistan and Pakistan erupted on 5 June, the BBC reported the next day. The disagreement began when Afghan authorities sent 20 bodies to the Pakistani side of the border, claiming that the dead rebels were not Afghans. Pakistan refused to accept the bodies. A Pakistani border official said that his country "has nothing to do with affairs across the border." After a protest by Pakistan, Afghan officials from Spin Boldak reclaimed 14 bodies later on 5 June, "Dawn" reported the next day. A Pakistani official said that none of the bodies were Pakistani "and nobody identified them as Pakistani." Afghan authorities have accused the Pakistani intelligence service of helping former Taliban fighters re-enter Afghanistan, a charge that Pakistani officials have denied. (Amin Tarzi)

Rahmatollah Musa Ghazi, an Afghan diplomat in Islamabad, denied reports that Pakistan has lodged a protest with Afghanistan over the transfer of 20 corpses to Chaman from Kandahar on 5 June, Pakistan-based AIP reported on 9 June. Ghazi said that he and Afghan Ambassador to Pakistan Nangialay Tarzi met on 9 June with Pakistani officials, who did not "mention or protest [the incident], nor were we handed any protest note." According to AIP, a report by Pakistan's official news agency, APP, indicated on 9 June that Tarzi had been summoned to the Pakistani Foreign Ministry to receive a strong protest over the transfer of dead bodies over the border. (Amin Tarzi)

The United Nations has strongly urged the Afghan authorities to reform the country's military structure to make it more representative, the BBC reported on 9 June. According to the report, key posts in the Defense Ministry are still controlled by ethnic Tajiks, "despite promises to make its staff more closely reflect the country as a whole." The UN warned that if the situation were not improved, efforts to disarm the warlords would be adversely affected. A Human Rights Watch report issued on 5 December 2002 (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 12 December 2002) claimed that Defense Minister Marshal Mohammad Qasim Fahim "continues to command an army whose primary allegiance is to him." (Amin Tarzi)

Afghan Transitional Administration Chairman Karzai issued a decree on 10 June, establishing a commission to reform the civilian sectors of his administration, Reuters reported on 11 June. According to the decree (see below), the Independent Commission for Administrative Reforms and Civil Services will have the power to appoint or dismiss even higher-level government employees "on the principle of merit and qualification." According to Khaleq Ahmad, a press official attached to Karzai's office, the main aim of the decree "is to end bribery, corruption and get rid of nepotism." Karzai's decision to establish the new commission comes after accusations by many Afghans that corruption and nepotism are rampant in the Transitional Administration (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 15 May 2003). (Amin Tarzi)

Article No 1 - The independent commission, which was established on the bases of the Bonn Agreement through Decree No 257 dated 2/3/1381 [May-June 2002] aimed at ensuring solid administration and employment of senior civilian officials on the bases of talent and capability, is responsible to sketch, arrange, implement and lead an all out administrative reform program.

Article No 2 - The name of the independent civilian administrative commission is Independent Commission for Administrative Reforms and Civilian Services.

Article No 3 - The Independent Commission for Administrative Reforms and Civilian Services will have the following responsibilities:

1- Appointment of senior civilian officials.

2- Evaluation of proposals by ministries, departments and civilian institutions for employment, transfer and promotion of senior civilian officials and presenting these proposals to the related authorities for approval.

3- Monitoring the employment of low-ranking civilian officials in ministries and civilian department of the government.

4- Evaluating application and complaints of civilian officials and those people who have applied for employment, and taking due measures in this regard. The elected officials of municipality and several other elective institutions are exempted from this decree.

Article No 4 - Independent Commission for Administrative Reforms and Civilian Services is a budgetary administrative unit and will directly report its performance to the head of the government.

Article No 5 - The structure and executive policy of the Independent Commission for Administrative Reforms and Civilian Services will be arranged through a separate charter.

Article No 6 - Ministries, departments, and government institutions must respect and implement the decisions, instructions and demands of the Independent Commission for Administrative Reforms and Civilian Services.

Article No 7 - This decree must be implemented and registered in the official gazette from the date of its endorsement. (Amin Tarzi)

Transitional Administration Chairman Karzai arrived in the United Kingdom on the eve of scheduled talks with British Prime Minister Tony Blair in which the two are expected to discuss Afghanistan's worsening security situation, stalled reconstruction efforts, and resurgent opium trade, AP reported on 4 June. Afghan Finance Minister Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai and Foreign Minister Abdullah Abdullah are accompanying Karzai on the state visit. The delegation intends to explore with London "new ways to expand relations and see how the United Kingdom can play a larger role" in rebuilding Afghanistan and making it secure, according to Foreign Ministry spokesman Omar Samad. Reuters reported that Karzai will likely seek financial assistance from London following Ahmadzai's announcement this week that the country needs $15 billion to $20 billion over the next five years, a figure far in excess of commitments made by international donors since the Taliban regime crumbled in the fall of 2001. The news agency also reported that Afghan officials are fearful the world's preoccupation with reconstructing Iraq will divert attention from their plight. (Traci Hukill)

Queen Elizabeth II awarded the insignia of the Knight Grand Cross of the Order of Saint Michael and Saint George to Hamid Karzai on 6 June as a token of friendship, the BBC reported. However, London did not immediately respond to Karzai's plea for an additional $15 billion to $20 billion in aid money, the BBC reported on 8 June. During his visit to the United Kingdom, Karzai said that "terrorism is defeated" in Afghanistan. (Amin Tarzi)

Police in the northern Afghan city of Mazar-e Sharif raided several houses on 3 June and arrested 25 women, accusing them of "moral corruption," Hindukosh news agency reported on 5 June. The report added that the police beat and punched the women during the raid. Mazar-e Sharif security chief Abdul Majid said that police acted on their own without informing the responsible authorities. It is not clear to whom police are expected to report before carrying out such raids. (Amin Tarzi)

A new Swiss-based airline, Swiss Skies, will launch a specialized service between Washington Dulles Airport and Kabul, with a stopover in Geneva, on 14 July, Air Transport Intelligence news reported on 4 June. The twice-weekly service, which will use an MD-11 aircraft formerly owned by Delta Air Lines, is targeting passengers from the U.S. government, the UN, and other international agencies operating in Afghanistan. (Amin Tarzi)

Biscuits donated by India for schoolchildren in Afghanistan are being sold on the streets of Jalalabad, the capital of Nangarhar Province, according to the Institute for War and Peace Reporting (IWPR) on 9 June. Pounani Forbes, regional director for the World Food Program in Jalalabad, said 9,500 tons of biscuits were distributed to 150,000 schoolchildren through local Afghan NGOs. However, when the UN agency "discovered the fraud and theft" it immediately suspended distribution to those NGOs, which Forbes refused to name. Shopkeepers selling the donated biscuits claimed that "teachers and the workers of the NGOs are selling them," according to IWPR. Abdul Ghani Hedayat, regional education director of Nangarhar Province, said his department was not invited by the UN to distribute the biscuits. Forbes said the province's education department was not used because it lacks "staff and transportation facilities." Afghans have complained that international aid agencies rely on NGOs to carry out tasks instead of empowering the Afghan government to do so. (Amin Tarzi)

12 June 1949 -- Pakistani plane bombs Moghalgai inside Afghan territory, killing 23 Afghans.

6 June 1993 -- Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, as the Afghan prime minister, presides over the first meeting of his government in Chaharasiab.

8 June 1994 -- Afghan President Burhanuddin Rabbani, trying to extend his term, says that his successor should be chosen in a loya jirga.

Sources: "Historical Dictionary of Afghanistan" by Ludwig W. Adamec, (Lanham: The Scarecrow Press, Inc., 1997).