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British Soldier, Several Civilians Killed in Afghanistan, Pakistani Troop Fire Turns Back US Helicopters

British soldier killed in Afghanistan to be named

15. September 2008, 03:01

A British soldier killed in an explosion in southern Afghanistan, becoming the third British casualty there in a week will be named on Monday, the Ministry of Defence said.

The serviceman, from 2nd Battalion, the Parachute Regiment, was killed while on a routine patrol near Kajaki in the restive Helmand province on Saturday.

He was not immediately named, but his next of kin have been informed.

He is the second soldier from the regiment to die in Afghanistan in the space of 48 hours, after Private Jason Lee Rawstron, 23, was killed in a firefight with Taliban extremists in Helmand on Friday.

Gaz O'Donnell, a 40-year-old father of four, was killed in Afghanistan on Wednesday as he tried to defuse an explosive device set by the Taliban.

The deaths bring to 120 the number of British soldiers who have died in Afghanistan since the US-led invasion in late 2001 that ousted the Taliban from power in Kabul.

Of these, 93 were killed as a result of hostile action, while the other 27 died either as a result of illness, non-combat injuries or accidents, or have yet to be assigned an official cause of death.

Britain has approximately 7,800 soldiers in Afghanistan, most of them in Helmand Province, where the Taliban has mounted a resurgence over the past 12 months.

The figure is to rise to just over 8,000 by early 2009.

Pakistan troop fire turns back U.S. helicopters

15. September 2008, 03:00
By Zeeshan Haide, Reuters
Firing by Pakistani troops forced U.S. military helicopters to turn back to Afghanistan after they crossed into Pakistani territory in the early hours of Monday, Pakistani security officials said.

The incident took place near Angor Adda, a village in the tribal region of South Waziristan where U.S. commandos in helicopters raided a suspected al Qaeda and Taliban camp earlier this month.

"The U.S. choppers came into Pakistan by just 100 to 150 meters at Angor Adda. Even then our troops did not spare them, opened fire on them and they turned away," said one security official.

Pakistan is a crucial U.S. ally in its war on terrorism, and its support is key to the success of Western forces trying to stabilize Afghanistan. But Washington has become impatient over Islamabad's response to the threat from al Qaeda and Taliban fighters in Pakistan's tribal regions on the border.

At least 20 people, including women and children, were killed in the South Waziristan raid earlier this month, sparking outrage in Pakistan and prompting a diplomatic protest.

Pakistani army chief General Ashfaq Kayani said in a strongly worded statement last week that Pakistan would not allow foreign troops onto its soil and Pakistan's sovereignty and territorial integrity would be defended at all costs.

Another security official said on Monday that U.S. armored vehicles were also seen moving on the Afghan side of the border, while U.S. warplanes were seen overhead.

He said Pakistani soldiers sounded a bugle call and fired in the air, forcing the helicopters to return to Afghan territory.

Military spokesman Major Murad Khan confirmed that there had been shooting. But he said the American helicopters had not crossed into Pakistani airspace and Pakistani troops were not responsible for the firing.

"The U.S. choppers were there at the border, but they did not violate our airspace," Khan said.

"We confirm that there was a firing incident at the time when the helicopters were there, but our forces were not involved."

The New York Times newspaper reported last week that U.S. President George W. Bush has given clearance for U.S. raids across the border.

The raid on Angor Adda on September 3 was the first overt ground incursion by U.S. troops into Pakistan since the deployment of U.S. forces in Afghanistan in late 2001.

The United States has intensified attacks by missile-firing drone aircraft on suspected al Qaeda and Taliban targets in Pakistani tribal lands in the past few weeks.

Afghanistan: Pakistan fury at US cross-border attacks

14. September 2008, 15:02
By Raymond Whitake, The Independent (UK)

Pakistan's new President, Asif Ali Zardari, is facing demands to withdraw co-operation with the US in the "war on terror" amid rising anger at the increasing number of American attacks on Pakistani soil. There have been four so far this month, including the first acknowledged ground assault by US special forces based across the border in Afghanistan.

Despite official Pakistani condemnation of the strikes, mostly by missiles fired from Predator drones, Mr Zardari is being accused by opposition parties of having secretly agreed to them. Equally damaging, it is possible that Pakistan's military chiefs were aware of US operations but did not inform him.

The row has intensified in the past week since the disclosure that President George Bush signed an order in July authorising cross-border attacks from Afghanistan without seeking Pakistani agreement.

The US has made no secret of its concern at Afghanistan's worsening instability, emphasised yesterday by the death of a provincial governor in a suicide bombing 12 miles from Kabul. The US emphasis on the militant threat from Pakistan's lawless tribal areas, where al-Qa'ida's top leaders are believed to be hiding, is part of a reassessment of US priorities in Afghanistan and Iraq.

President Bush said last week that troop levels in Iraq would remain high, with only 8,000 coming home early next year, and he announced a "quiet surge" in Afghanistan. A Marines battalion due to go to Iraq in November will be switched to Afghanistan, and an army combat brigade will follow, adding about 4,500 US troops to the 33,000 already there.

Mr Bush's statement was followed by congressional testimony from Admiral Michael Mullen, the top US military commander. He told the House Armed Services Committee: "I'm not convinced we're winning it in Afghanistan", but added he was "convinced we can" as long as there is a new strategy to address the issue of militants in Pakistan.

"These two nations are inextricably linked in a common insurgency that crosses the border between them," he said. "We can hunt down and kill extremists as they cross over the border from Pakistan... but until we work more closely with the Pakistani government to eliminate the safe havens from which they operate, the enemy will only keep coming."

The recent wave of cross-border attacks raised the question of how much co-ordination there has been with Pakistan's civilian government. On several occasions, Pakistani helicopter gunships have swept the area shortly after US missile strikes, signalling a degree of tacit acceptance by the military.

However, on 3 September, US special forces crossed near the Afghan village of Angoor Adda and attacked a Pakistani settlement only a few hundred yards from the border. At least 15 people were killed, with local people claiming some were civilians.

The anger caused by this incident grew after The New York Times disclosed Mr Bush's secret order to permit ground operations in Pakistan. It quoted a senior US official as saying: "We have to be more assertive. Orders have been given."

Pakistan's army chief, General Ashfaq Kayani, condemned the raids and denied any "agreement or understanding" that would allow Nato forces to operate on Pakistan's territory. But he attended a conference aboard USS Abraham Lincoln in the Indian Ocean last month with Admiral Mullen and top US commanders in Afghanistan.

If the US has decided to bypass Mr Zardari's civilian government, it risks exacerbating Pakistan's "significant political uncertainty", the phrase used by Admiral Mullen in his congressional testimony.

Military analysts expect the bulk of American reinforcements to be sent to eastern Afghanistan, bordering the tribal areas. But in Helmand province, where most of Britain's 8,000 troops are stationed, 2,500 US Marines sent to help early this year will not be replaced.

Bolstered by air power, the Marines drove the Taliban out of the southern district of Garmsir. They are now handing the district back to Afghan and British troops, but it remains to be seen whether these forces have the firepower to maintain the gains.

Six children, three UN staffers die in new Afghan violence

14. September 2008, 14:50

Six children were killed in a bomb explosion in Afghanistan Sunday while a suicide car bomb blew up a marked United Nations vehicle and killed two Afghan doctors and a driver, officials said.

Authorities meanwhile reported that seven policemen were dead after Taliban militants attacked a remote district centre on Saturday, the same day a British soldier was killed in a bomb blast in the troubled south.

The bloodshed comes amid growing concern over deteriorating security, seven years after a US-led invasion ended the Taliban regime, with top-level talks on rising extremist attacks due in London and Washington due in the coming days.

The children were killed when a bomb they were playing with exploded in a village in the central province of Ghazni, Andar district governor Abdul Rahim Daisiwal told AFP.

Around a dozen more children were wounded in the blast and some are in a critical condition, he said, adding it appeared the bomb had been planted and was not one left over from countries decades of war.

Some of the wounded children had been transferred to an international military base for treatment, the NATO-led force headquarters in Kabul said.

The Taliban, behind a wave of unrest, denied involvement in the bomb blast.

But the insurgents did claim responsibility for a suicide car bombing that ripped through the southeastern town of Spin Boldak, hitting a vehicle of UN staff on a mission to monitor efforts to vaccinate children against polio.

Afghan doctors Mamoon Tahiri and Shamsulhaque Kakar were killed outright in the explosion, the Afghan health ministry said in a statement. A driver died in hospital from his injuries, it said.

The doctors were under contract to the World Health Organisation's polio campaign, the UN special representative in Afghanistan, Kai Eide, said.

Afghan officials said between 15 and 18 other people, most of them civilians, were wounded in the blast which struck a UN-marked car as it drove through a market in Spin Boldak on the Pakistan border.

"This attack was on innocent civilians working only for the people of Afghanistan, and is beyond comprehension," Eide said.

Health Minister Amin Fatimie condemned the "very horrible incident" in a statement that called on parties in the Afghan conflict to respect the impartiality of health workers.

Afghans receive health care without discrimination but health ministry "staff and clinics are targeted by opposition," Fatimie said in a statement.

"Doctors are kidnapped and killed. This time, unfortunately, suicide attack has taken lives of two doctors and one driver."

Separately, three policemen wounded in a Taliban attack on a district centre on Saturday died, taking the toll from the incident to seven, Ghazni province deputy police chief Mohammad Zaman said.

Another two policemen were missing, he said. A Taliban spokesman, Zabihullah Mujahid, said his group was holding the men and was "deciding on their fate."

A British soldier was also killed on Saturday after being caught in an explosion in Helmand province, the Ministry of Defence in London said. The province is a Taliban stronghold.

And in another incident blamed on the Taliban, an Afghan interpreter working for the US military was shot dead as he stepped out of his home Sunday, police said.

President Hamid Karzai is due to meet US President George W. Bush in Washington on September 26 for talks to include security issues, the White House announced this week.

Pakistan's new president, Asif Ali Zardari, is to discuss the conflict with Taliban and Al-Qaeda militants on his side of the border with British leaders in the coming days.

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