Sunday, August 29, 2010

A hit off the action, a walk on the dark side

Frequently I get asked about war and the people I meet in the course of my work in conflict or post conflict.  My heart, my prayers and empathy goes out to those who are caught up in wars, such as the civilian population, and those who have no choice such as conscripted soldiers, child soldiers; but the others ?

"Men and women who venture to someone else’s war through choice do so in a variety of guises. UN general, BBC correspondent, aid worker, mercenary: in the final analysis they all want to do the same thing, a hit off the action, a walk on the dark side. It’s just a question of how slick a cover you give yourself, and how far you want to go.. If you find a cause later then hold on to it, but never blind yourself with your own disguise,” writes Anthony Lloyd.

Author on the war in Afghanistan, Jason Elliot, goes to Afghanistan as an 18 year old English school boy during the Soviet occupation.

Photo: Jason Elliot.

In the winter of 1996 when the Taliban were bombing the little life left in  Kabul, (Jan-Feb) Anthony Lloyd stayed with me in my house. He and an English cameraman lived in the bunker in our house. We travelled  to Khord Kabul where the British were routed in their retreat from Kabul in 1859. This was the front line and we were with Masoud’s troops and could see plainly, Talban soldiers moving about with RPGs. Over 300 British troops had been slaughtered in this valley in 1859.

A few years ago, Lloyd published a book called “ My War Gone By, I Miss It So,  about the wars in former Yugoslavia. It's a remarkable book where a young misfit goes to war as a correspondent. He writes:

‘ Listen, said Peter, the Dutchman, ‘we don’t fight for the money, and we’re not in it for the killing. It’s about camaraderie and, sure it’s about excitement. Some are bullshitters, some are psychotics. We are neither. We are here because we want to be, and if there is a price to pay, then we are ready for that too.’

US Armed PCs during the Vietnam war. Photo: Bob McKerrow

"There was very little difference between them and anyone else who goes to war voluntarily. In their case they had taken a side and were ultimately prepared to kill. Though my reasoning for being there was still in flux, at its simplist I was there to watch, and that gave neither of us the higher moral ground. Men and women who venture to someone else’s war through choice do so in a variety of guises. UN general, BBC correspondent, aid worker, mercenary: in the final analysis they all want to do the same thing, a hit off the action, a walk on the dark side. It’s just a question of how slick a cover you give yourself, and far you want to go.. If you find a cause later then hold on to it, but never blind yourself with your own disguise.”

Sometimes I wonder why I have spent so much time in conflict or post conflict regions and the answer comes to mind when I read Nicolas Bouvier, a Swiss writer and artist, He said, “ My belief is that one must have passed through fire be able to sort out...the contents of those storehouses of sorrow, where fortunately we can also find, more often than we might have dared to expect...enough small miracles to motivate and encourage those in the field who are so often compelled, to quote a mediaeval Japanese poem, ‘to bear the unbearable and tolerate the intolerable.’

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

New Zealand troops involved in torture in Afghanistan

I have worked in too many conflict situations in Asia and Africa, seen and heard of the use of torture,  to believe the words of politicians such as  John Key's response to allegations that the New Zealand SAS are handing over prisoners to the Afghan secret police, where they are likely to be tortured?

My fellow blogger No Right Turn, an experienced analyist I respect says this:

"Mr Key said when New Zealand troops handed over someone they had detained they made sure that person would not be tortured later on.

+Where the New Zealand SAS worked alongside the unit in Kabul it was not the detaining force, Mr Key told NewstalkZB.

"In that instance, it's not our responsibility when it comes to those people that are detained."
"This is simply bullshit. Kiwi soldiers are helping to capture these people. Therefore we bear moral responsibility for what happens to them. We cannot simply wipe our hands of that responsibility by drawing an arbitrary box around it and saying "not our problem", says Right Turn.

New Zealand is a better country than this. Our response to Afghan torture should be to protect people from it, not enable it. And if the SAS cannot serve in Afghanistan without colluding in torture, then they should not be there. It is that simple

So what is the background on this issue ? Questions have been raised about whether New Zealand's SAS may have handed over prisoners to an Afghan unit that is believed to use torture.

SAS members on patrol in Kabul, Afghanistan.

The British military has been banned from handing prisoners to the Afghan National Directorate of Security as it is so notorious for torture.

The Government has said the SAS worked with Afghanistan's Crisis Response Unit in Kabul, but was not directly responsible for any prisoners captured by the unit because it was not the head of the unit.

Prime Minister John Key said the SAS were not involved in torture of prisoners in Afghanistan.

If New Zealand troops detained someone there were clear written protocols about how that was done and those protocols honoured the Geneva Convention, he said.

The Geneva Convention sets out the standards for the humanitarian treatment of prisoners of war.

Mr Key said when New Zealand troops handed over someone they had detained they made sure that person would not be tortured later on.

Where the New Zealand SAS worked alongside the unit in Kabul it was not the detaining force, Mr Key told NewstalkZB.

"In that instance, it's not our responsibility when it comes to those people that are detained."

However, the SAS recorded the name of every person detained by the unit and those names were freely available to international agencies, he said.

Defence Minister Wayne Mapp said the SAS worked with the unit to capture insurgents.

"It's likely some are [transferred to the Afghan National Directorate of Security], yes," he told the Sunday Star-Times.

He was understood to be looking into the situation.

Green Party MP Keith Locke said the New Zealand Defence Force had to share responsibility for what happened to insurgents it captured.

He supported the withdrawal of the SAS from Afghanistan.

"We don't want New Zealand's good name muddied by links for the torture of prisoners, which is reputed to include beatings, electric shock treatment, and sleep, food and water deprivation."

My fellow blogger No right turn at:

wrote this last Sunday :

"The Sunday Star-Times has a major news story this morning: the New Zealand SAS are turning over prisoners to the Afghan secret police. Those secret police are known torturers, who use amputations, electric shocks, sleep deprivation, starvation, beatings and burns to extract "confessions". So basically kiwi soldiers are turning people over to be tortured.

Our Defence Minister's response to this? The prisoners are "an Afghan responsibility". So he's basically washing his hands of the whole matter.

Fortunately, he can't. New Zealand has specific obligations under both international and domestic law to prevent torture and not turn people over in this way. The Convention Against Torture is pretty clear:

No State Party shall expel, return ("refouler") or extradite a person to another State where there are substantial grounds for believing that he would be in danger of being subjected to torture.
While phrased in terms of immigration law, its application is wider, and applies to any transfer of any form. Domestically, the Bill of Rights Act affirms that

Everyone has the right not to be subjected to torture or to cruel, degrading, or disproportionately severe treatment or punishment.

The government's obligation to uphold this right is not limited geographically; it applies to any act or omission by any branch of the New Zealand government, whether it is done in Wellington or Kabul. If the SAS turns people over to an organisation which uses torture, or assists in their capture so they may be turned over, then they are violating it. That's exactly what the UK High Court found, under an almost identical provision in the UK Human Rights Act, when they banned the British armed forces from transferring prisoners to the NDS facility in Kabul - the same facility the SAS are sending people to.

If the government won't do the decent thing here, and ban the SAS from transferring any prisoners, then we will have to make them. The Bill of Rights Act gives us one lever for doing so. Amnesty or some other human rights group should bring a case.

(Another option is a complaint to the Ombudsman. This has the advantage that it is free, and if taken up would likely have the same result. But it would hinge on the questions of whether a decision to turn someone over to torture was "a matter of administration", and on whether anyone other than a victim of such mistreatment had standing to complain. And it would need more information than is contained in the SST story to back it up. But if any human rights group can build a case, I'd urge them to pursue this avenue as well).

Monday, August 16, 2010

Hard time for Kuch nomads in Afghanistan.

I have written a number of articles on Kuchi nomads and today the editor of the Kuchi Voice wrote to me asking for my support in raising awareness of the threat they face from the Hazara people

Hazara are stealing land that has belonged to the Kuchi people for thousands of years, long before the mongols (Hazara) arrived to Afghanistan. Yet they don't respect the rights of the Kuchi people and harass them when ever it suits them. The true masters of the Hazara's is the evil's axis Iran who supports them and guides them to eliminate Kuchi people.
For further information read below or go to the Kuchi voice.

For Kuchi nomads like Rahmat Goal's family, survival is a daily struggle

It took me eight hours to hike through the Hindu Kush mountains in Turkman Dara in northern Afghanistan to get to Rahmat's tent.
His only neighbours are the high peaks of the Hindu Kush, and the wild spring that flows through a nearby valley.
His dog, Babar, keeps a watchful eye for wolves and other dangerous animals that occasionally breach the boundaries of his territory.
"Even the tigers and lions are scared of my dog," boasts Rahmat with a grin.
Originally from south-eastern Afghanistan, Rahmat's family experienced the hardship of the Soviet occupation.

"When the Russians came, everyone fled but we couldn't, because we had hundreds of sheep, goats and camels.
"We didn't have anywhere else to go, so we stayed," remembers Rahmat bitterly.
The decision to remain in Afghanistan ended up costing Rahmat's family dear.
"One morning we left for the border with Pakistan and a landmine blew up five of my family members and killed dozens of our animals.
"It was all the more painful because we had to leave their bodies and continue," recalls Rahmat, his eyes welling up with tears.

Kuchi nomads moving lock, stock and barrel through the highlands of Central Afghanistan.

'Promises broken'
For as long as Afghans can remember, Kuchis have provided the backbone of the trade and commerce that occurs at the cross-section between South Asia and the Middle East.

They have also borne the brunt of Afghanistan's wars throughout the years.
When Soviet troops invaded Afghanistan in 1979, the Kuchis arguably suffered more than anyone else as they were without shelter and constantly found themselves amid the fighting.
The lifestyle of the Kuchi nomads means most of them are kept out of touch with the modern world - they still spend their lives without proper sanitation or formal education systems.
Although the life of the Kuchi has always been hard, they say things have worsened under the current Afghan government.
"Hospitals turn down our sick, and cemeteries deny our dead," says a Kuchi elder in the capital, Kabul.
''We are disappointed but we are trying to get our rights recognised. We have met President Karzai who has promised to end our suffering and we trust his word," says the elder, sipping green tea at his Kabul mansion.

The Kuchis comprise approximately six million of Afghanistan's 25 million citizens, and they primarily consist of Pashtun and Baloch nomads. Kuchis are also estimated to make up half of Afghanistan's Pashtun population.
The status quo is intolerable, Kuchis say, as they continue to be denied health care, education and electricity.
Kuchi elders are clearly frustrated with President Karzai: "We need schools, clinics and our rights. We all voted for Karzai but he never honoured his promises," says another elder.
Young Kuchis, such as 14-year-old Zar Gola, hope to attend school, but instead they must tend livestock in order to ensure their family's survival.
Zar Gola has been a shepherd for the last five years, and when she turns 16 she will have to take on more responsibilities, such as milking the animals.
She is a shy young girl with weary, weathered eyes set above long, slim cheek bones.
"When we travel for days, I do see a lot of girls and boys going and coming from school. I want to be like them but we travel all the time," says Zar Gola.
'Not worried'
Unfortunately, critics say, the Karzai administration seems only to pay attention to Kuchi demands during election years.

Kuchis often note that Naim Kuchi, the nomads' most prominent figure, was only freed from imprisonment by the US-led coalition in the months preceding the post-Taleban presidential elections of 2005.
In this time of extraordinary uncertainty about Afghanistan's future, Kuchis appear as resilient as ever.
"I love being a Kuchi because this is the life my forefathers practised, and I have no interest in leaving my tradition. We will be packing again very soon for the east of the country before winter arrives," says a Kuchi father of four.
He pauses before continuing: "I am not worried about it at all because that is the life of a Kuchi."

Thanks to Bilal Sarwary BBC News, Afghanistan, for permission to quote him.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Full information on deaths of 10 aid workers in Afghanistan,

SACRIFICE: The ten civilian volunteers who were killed in Afghanistan on August 5 - Glen D Lapp, Tom Little, Dan Terry, Thomas Grams, Cheryl Beckett, Brian Carderelli, Karen Woo, Daniela Beyer, Mahram Ali, and Jawed.

The first sign of danger was the crackle of gunfire over their heads. Ten gunmen, their faces covered, rushed toward terrified humanitarian workers and began shouting "Satellite! Satellite!" - a demand to surrender their phones.

Moments later, 10 of them lay dead, including two women hiding in the back seat of a car the attackers hit with a grenade, according to an Afghan official familiar with the account the sole survivor gave police.

It is the first detailed narrative of the slaying of six Americans, two Afghans, one German and a Briton on August 5 in remote northern Afghanistan. They were ambushed and shot August 5 after journeying about 100 miles - much of it on foot and horseback - through the Hindu Kush mountains, giving eye and other medical care to impoverished villagers.

Afghan and US investigators spent at least four hours this week questioning the survivor, a 24-year-old father of three named Safiullah. He was employed as a driver for International Assistance Mission, a nonprofit Christian organisation that has worked in Afghanistan since 1966.

Safiullah, who like many Afghans uses only one name, told investigators that the killings occurred around 7.30am or 8.30am, according to the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to disclose details of the ongoing investigation.

The Parun Valley, high in the Hindu Kush, where the aid workers had been conducting eye and health clinics for two weeks before they were murdered. Photo : Bob McKerrow

The official, whose information has proven reliable in the past, said Safiullah, who is being held but not behind bars, gave the following account of how the killings unfolded.

At the end of the trip, the team spent their final night in a village. The next morning, riding in four-wheeled drive vehicles, they encountered a river swollen by heavy rains.

An Afghan man in the area offered to help the team as it was trying to cross the river. Two members of the team - including leader Tom Little, an optometrist from Delmar, New York, who had worked in Afghanistan since the late 1970s - rolled up their pants legs and waded in to find a spot shallow enough for the vehicles to ford the river.

After successfully crossing, the team stopped to take a break in a forested area at the side of the road, which ran through a narrow valley. They wanted to get ready for their long journey back though Badakhshan province and on to the Afghan capital, Kabul.

Libby and Tom Little in their home in Kabul

The Afghan man who had offered to help the group left. Then came the attack.

The gunmen rushed in, firing bullets over the medical team members' heads.

"What's happening?" Little shouted.

A gunman struck Little in the head with the back of an AK-47 rifle. Little fell bleeding to the ground. When he tried to get up, the attackers fatally shot him in the torso.
Two of three female members of the team had jumped inside one SUV to hide. The attackers tossed a grenade at the vehicle, killing them both. Then, one by one, they killed the rest of the group - except the driver.

Safiullah told investigators he believes the lead gunman was Pakistani because he yelled "Jadee! Jadee!" - a word used in several regional languages that means "hurry up." It is more commonly used in Pakistan and India than Afghanistan. He said all the attackers understood Dari and Pashto, the two main languages spoken in Afghanistan, but conversed in Pashaye, a local dialect used only in parts of the northeast corner of Afghanistan.

Safiullah said he doesn't know why he survived while two other Afghan members of the team were killed. He said he raised his arms in the air and recited verses from the Islamic holy book Quran as he begged the gunmen for his life.
The official said Safiullah speculated that the gunmen might have shot the team's Afghan cook, who was lying under one of the vehicles, because they thought he was armed. Safiullah said they might have killed the second Afghan, a guard employed at International Assistance Mission since 2007, because he was wearing a head scarf wrapped in a style favored by northern militias.

A fourth Afghan on the trip, Dr. Said Yasin, left the group a day before the killings, saying he was tired and wanted to take a more direct route back to Jalalabad where he has family. Dirk Frans, the IAM executive director, said Yasin told the team he was suffering from a kidney ailment and asked permission to leave on his own.
"He is fine now," Frans said about Yasin. "He's OK. He is well - of course extremely sad that all but one of his colleagues are gone."

After the killings, the gunmen took Safiullah with them on a seven- or eight-hour hike through a forest. During the journey, one of the gunmen spoke on a radio with a high antenna, saying, in Pashto, "Everything's finished. We killed them," Safiullah told investigators, according to the official.
The attackers stopped to pray in the evening, then continued on, walking toward a flashing light that Safiullah said was meant to guide them to a village near Barg-e-Matal, scene of heavy fighting in recent weeks between government forces and militants who crossed over from Pakistan.

There, they met up with another group of people, who asked Safiullah if he was a Muslim, his father's name, how many children he has and how he got a job working for foreigners.

The gunmen told Safiullah that he could leave, but he told investigators he feared he would be shot in the back if he did so. He said he dropped to his knees and began hugging the legs of one of the men. Eventually convinced that they had no plans to kill him, Safiullah said he started running. He said he rested by a large rock, and then despite extreme fatigue began running again.

An older man he met along the way let him briefly ride a donkey. Safiullah said he eventually found his way back to the town in the Kuran Wa Munjan district of Nuristan province where the group had left their three four-wheeled drive vehicles and rented eight horses at the beginning of the trip.

The high Hindu Kush that stretch through Nuristan and Badakhshan where the 10 aid workers travelled. Photo: Bob McKerrow

The group had assembled last month in Faizabad, the capital of Badakhshan, and then drove south, according to Safiullah.
They left their vehicles in Kuran Wa Munjan and then trekked nearly half a day on foot and horseback over mountainous terrain to reach the Parun valley. The valley is a harsh, isolated area about 9500 feet above sea level where an estimated 50,000 people eke out a primitive existence as shepherds and subsistence farmers.

Safiullah said he was not aware of any threats to the team during the two weeks they spent walking from village to village providing medical care.

The Taliban said they carried out the attack because the team members were spying and trying to convert Muslims to Christianity. IAM said it is registered as a Christian organization with the Afghan government, but does not proselytize.

"IAM would not be invited back to villages if we were using aid as a cover for preaching," Frans said in a statement. "This specific camp, led by Tom Little, a man with four decades experience in Afghanistan, has led eye camps for many years to Nuristan - and was welcomed back every time."

The bodies of four of the Americans, escorted by FBI personnel, were flown to the United States on Wednesday aboard US military aircraft, according to Caitlin Hayden, a spokeswoman for the US Embassy in Kabul. "In accordance with their families' wishes, the remains of two American citizens will remain in Afghanistan and be laid to rest here, in the country they selflessly and courageously served for so many years," she said.

I have been discussing the murder of Tom Little and his team with friends  worked with in Afghanistan and one letter that I would like to record here, is from Jason Elliot who wrote a remarkable book on Afghanistan, An unexpected light.
Kia Ora mate,

I remember Libby's pancakes too, and I remember Tom as an incredibly brave and dedicated man - one of a tiny number who stuck it out during the darkest days in Kabul. As you well know, that took a special sort of person.

His character did the talking and he had no interest in prosletysing. He was one of the humblest and bravest men I ever met. I am sure too that after all those years of having cheated death, he went to his Maker with a tranquil heart. I hope he was able to give some comfort to the others with him. He toa taumata rau.

A pity we could not have sent a hundred thousand men like Tom to Afghanistan instead of soldiers.
Let's catch up soon,


Sunday, August 8, 2010

Afghan medical mission ends in death for 10

Tom Little, seen with Libby Little in this 2001 picture, was killed in a Taliban ambush in Afghanistan.

I had a relaxing hour by the swimming pool today in Colombo, and came back to my room after midday and was shocked to get the news that my good friend Tom Little and nine other medical workers were gunned down in cold blood, probably last Friday, in Afghanistan.

During 1993-96 when I lived in Kabul, Tom and his family lived down the road. Often I would pop round for their weekly pancake evening where we shared food, laughter and much needed company.

Tom is dead. The mighty Totara (tree) has fallen. I am empty.

I feel so angry that a group calling themselves soldiers, have brutally murdered Tom Little, and nine others people who had carried out medical work in the remote  Parun Valley. Tom and his team brought sight back to people who had been blind all their lives, enabled people to walk who had been crippled by land mines, and helped thousands of others with major health problems. There are thousands of Afghans today who owe their sight to Tom Little and his teams.

Tom Little would never harm a fly. Now Libby and her three daughters are without a husband and father.

Tom and Libby have spent about 30 years in Afghanistan, rearing three daughters and surviving both the Soviet invasion and bloody civil war of the 1990s that destroyed much of Kabul. That was when I got close to Tom, Libby and their daughters during long periods of bloodshed and anarchy in Kabul.

Yes, Tom was a Christian, but from knowing the man well, he would never attempt to convert anyone to Christianity. Just being in Tom's presence was enough to know this man was real and committed to humanity.

The Parun valley is one of the remotest in Afghanistan, and in 1996 it took me three days to walk in with members of the Afghan Red Crescent. It is perched high in the Hindu Kush in Nuristan.

Tom was the team leader Tom Little, an optometrist from Delmar, New York, who has been working in Afghanistan for about 30 years and spoke fluent Dari, one of the two main Afghan languages, Frans said. Little, along with employees from other Christian organizations, were expelled by the Taliban government in August 2001 after the arrest of eight Christian aid workers - two Americans and six Germans - for allegedly trying to convert Afghans to Christianity.

He returned to Afghanistan after the Taliban government was toppled in November 2001 by U.S.-backed forces. Known in Kabul as "Mr. Tom," Little supervised a network of IAM eye hospitals and clinics around the country largely funded through private donations.

"He was a remarkable man, and very committed to helping the people of Afghanistan," said David Evans of the Loudonville Community Church, New York, who accompanied Little on a 5,231-mile road (8,419-kilometer) trip to deliver the medical team's Land Rover vehicles from England to Kabul in 2004.

Dirk Frans, director of the International Assistance Mission, at the agency's Kabul office on August 7, 2010. Relevant offers

Ten members of the Christian medical team - six Americans, two Afghans, one German and a Briton - were gunned down in a gruesome slaughter that the Taliban said they carried out, alleging the volunteers were spying and trying to convert Muslims to Christianity. The gunmen spared an Afghan driver, who recited verses from the Islamic holy book Quran as he begged for his life.

Team members - doctors, nurses and logistics personnel - were attacked as they were returning to Kabul after their two-week mission in the remote Parun valley of Nuristan province about 160 miles (260 kilometers) north of Kabul. They had decided to veer northward into Badakhshan province because they thought that would be the safest route back to Kabul, said Dirk Frans, director of the International Assistance Mission, which organized the team.

Another member of the team, British surgeon Karen Woo (left), regularly blogged about her work and life in Afghanistan, calling herself Explorer Kitten. The entries included her impressions working at a medical clinic in Kabul as a bomb detonated nearby and a search for the perfect silk cloth for a tailored gown.

The bullet-riddled bodies - including three women - were found Friday near three four-wheeled drive vehicles in a wooded area just off the main road that snakes through a narrow valley in the Kuran Wa Munjan district of Badakhshan, provincial police chief Gen. Agha Noor Kemtuz told The Associated Press.

Taliban spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid told the AP that they killed the foreigners because they were "spying for the Americans" and "preaching Christianity." In a Pashto language statement acquired by the AP, the Taliban also said the team was carrying Dari language bibles and "spying gadgets."

Frans said the International Assistance Mission, or IAM, one of the longest serving non-governmental organizations operating in Afghanistan, is registered as a nonprofit Christian organization but does not proselytize.

Frans said the team had driven to Nuristan, left their vehicles and hiked for nearly a half day with pack horses over mountainous terrain to reach the Parun valley where they traveled from village to village on foot offering medical care for about two weeks.

"This tragedy negatively impacts our ability to continue serving the Afghan people as IAM has been doing since 1966," the charity said in a statement. "We hope it will not stop our work that benefits over a quarter of a million Afghans each year."

Among the dead was team leader Tom Little, an optometrist from Delmar, New York, who has been working in Afghanistan for about 30 years and spoke fluent Dari, one of the two main Afghan languages, Frans said. Little, along with employees from other Christian organizations, were expelled by the Taliban government in August 2001 after the arrest of eight Christian aid workers - two Americans and six Germans - for allegedly trying to convert Afghans to Christianity.

He returned to Afghanistan after the Taliban government was toppled in November 2001 by U.S.-backed forces. Known in Kabul as "Mr. Tom," Little supervised a network of IAM eye hospitals and clinics around the country largely funded through private donations.

"He was a remarkable man, and very committed to helping the people of Afghanistan," said David Evans of the Loudonville Community Church, New York, who accompanied Little on a 5,231-mile road (8,419-kilometer) trip to deliver the medical team's Land Rover vehicles from England to Kabul in 2004.

"They raised their three girls there. He was part and parcel of that culture," Evans said.

Little had been making such trips to Afghan villages for decades, offering vision care and surgical services in regions where medical services of any type are scarce.

The work has long been fraught with risk, but Evans said Little was a natural for the job. He spoke the language, knew the local customs, and had the patience and diplomatic skills to handle sticky situations.

Another relief organization, Bridge Afghanistan, said on its website that the group included one of its members, Dr. Karen Woo, who gave up a job in a private clinic in London to do humanitarian work in Afghanistan. A message posted last March on the Bridge Afghanistan website said she was "flat broke and living in a war zone but enjoying helping people in great need."

In a fundraising blog posted last month, Woo said the mission to Nuristan would require hiking with pack horses through mountains rising to 16,000 feet (5,000 meters) to reach the Parun valley, a harsh, isolated area about 9,500 feet (3,000 meters) above sea level where an estimated 50,000 people eke out a primitive existence as shepherds and subsistence farmers.

"The expedition will require a lot of physical and mental resolve and will not be without risk but ultimately, I believe that the provision of medical treatment is of fundamental importance and that the effort is worth it in order to assist those that need it most," she wrote.

"The area ... we will reach is one of great harshness but of great beauty also. I hope that we will be able to provide medical care for a large number of people."

Names of the other foreigners were not released until the bodies could be brought to Kabul for identification, Frans said.

Frans told the AP that he was skeptical the Taliban were responsible. He said the team had studied security conditions carefully before continuing with the mission.

"We are a humanitarian organization. We had no security people. We had no armed guards. We had no weapons," he said.

Authorities in Nuristan heard that foreigners were in the area and sent police to investigate, according to Nuristan Gov. Jamaluddin Bader. The police provided security for the final three or four days of the mission and escorted them across the boundary into Badakhshan, he said. The escorts left after the team told them that they felt safe in Badakhshan, he added.

Frans said he last talked to Little, over a scratchy satellite phone connection, on Wednesday evening. On Friday, the Afghan driver who survived the attack called to report the killings. A fourth Afghan member of the team was not killed because he took a different route home because he had family in Jalalabad, Frans said.

The surviving driver, Saifullah, told authorities that team members stopped for lunch Thursday afternoon in the Sharron valley and were accosted by gunmen when they returned to their vehicles, according to Kemtuz, the Badakhshan police chief. The volunteers were forced to sit on the ground. The gunmen looted the vehicles, then fatally shot them, Kemtuz said.

The Afghan driver who survived "told me he was shouting and reciting the holy Quran and saying 'I am Muslim. Don't kill me,'" Kemtuz said. The gunmen let the driver go free the next day. A shepherd witnessed the carnage and reported the killings to the local district chief, who then brought the bodies to his home, Kemtuz said.

Aid workers have been often targeted by insurgents.

In 2007, 23 South Korean aid workers from a church group were taken hostage in southern Afghanistan. Two were killed and the rest were later released. In August 2008, four International Rescue Committee workers, including three women, were gunned down in Logar province in eastern Afghanistan.

In October 2008, Gayle Williams, who had dual British and South African citizenship, was killed by two gunmen on a motorcycle as she walked to work in the capital of Kabul. In late 2009, a French aid worker was kidnapped at gunpoint in the Afghan capital. Dany Egreteau, a 32-year-old worker for Solidarite Laique, or Secular Solidarity, who was seen in an emotional hostage video, was later released after a month in captivity.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

NZ soldier dies in Afghanistan.

Soldiers fight wars and die ! I have faniliy who died in the first World War, the Second World War, and I spent two years in the Vietnam War, and saw many New Zealanders maimed or killed. When Mothers send their children off to war, they know there is a chance of their son's body returning in a casket.

So why do we make heroes out of people fighting unwinnable wars ?  NZ now realises we should never have been in Vietnam. And why on earth are we fighting in Afghanistan. And, to confuse matters further, we are putting arm carrying soldiers out to do humanitarian work. This only serves to put the true humanitarian workers at risk, and the soldiers themselves at greater risk.

My condolences go out to the family. but I ask the Government, and the soldiuer's Mothers, why do you send you sons to a war that will never have an end ?

I have a strong viewpoint on the blurring of lines and roles between soldiers and aid workers. Have a look at the story:

I post an article on the death in Afgfhanistan..

A hearse carrying the body of the first New Zealand soldier killed in Afghanistan has left Whenuapai air base.

And two wounded soldiers evacuated from Afghanistan have been taken by ambulance to hospital after a brief meeting with family on the tarmac.

A New Zealand Defence Force Boeing 757 landed at Whenuapai today after flying out of Dubai yesterday carrying the body of Lt Timothy O'Donnell, 28, of Feilding, and injured soldiers Lance Corporal Matthew Ball, 24, and Private Allister Baker, 23.

Family of Ball and Baker were allowed on the plane to meet the wounded men.

Ambulance staff then went on board and the pair were taken off on stretchers. Each was then placed in their own ambulance and their respective families were given another opportunity to speak with them before the ambulances left for hospital.

The plane then went to a far end of Whenuapai to a hanger where Lt O'Donnell's family, army comrades and top army brass waited including Major General Rhys Jones and joint forces commander Air Vice Marshall Peter Stockwell.

"The ceremony that we held was the formal bringing out of the aircraft of Tim O'Donnell's body," Army Chief Major General Rhys Jones told media.

"When it was removed from the aircraft the family was given time by themselves to connect with him and from there it was moved on to the hearse."

Lt O'Donnell's body has now gone to the Auckland Coroner for a formal autopsy.

He will then return to Whenuapai and be flown to Ohakea tomorrow for a formal ceremony by the army.

Major General Jones added that Allister and Matthew were in good spirits.

"They'd rested well, they'd been treated very well by the medical staff coming back," he said.

"They were quite upbeat, they were certainly looking forward to meeting their families again and were very thankful for the support they've been given right through.

"Their children were quite amused at the beards they'd grown, Willie Apiata style. They were very happy to have them back, they were very pleased at the condition they were in."

Maj Gen Jones said the injuries to LCpl Ball and Pte Baker were reasonably serious and it would take them time to recover.

"They will have a medical assessment tonight. They will spend one, perhaps two nights in hospital for that assessment.

"They will then be able to go home, where they can reconnect with their families far more effectively than being in the hospital.

"In the longer term, rehabilitation is their priority, so however long it takes for their physical and their mental state to be approved ... they will come back into military service."

It was likely they would attend Lt O'Donnell's funeral, a full army funeral which will be held at Linton Army Camp on Wednesday, he said.

"It's what Tim would have liked. Tim was very much an army person from his early age," Maj Gen Jones said.

"His family were very much keen to have the military being an equal part of his funeral. They have said they want to have one service as it's a tough occasion for them."

Ad Feedback Lt O'Donnell was killed in action and his two comrades and a local interpreter were injured after their patrol was ambushed while on patrol in Bamiyan Province on Wednesday.

All four were in the leading Humvee vehicle of the patrol, destroyed by an improvised explosive device (IED).

Lt O'Donnell was killed in the initial blast, and officers were reasonably certain he did not suffer, Commander Joint Forces Air Vice-Marshal Peter Stockwell said.

LCpl Ball suffered burns and cuts to his limbs, while Pte Baker had a broken foot and burns to his left arm.

Colleagues of the trio were travelling behind in a military-equipped Toyota Hilux which was immobilised by the explosion, and a group of insurgents soon after attacked the convoy with small arms fire and rocket-propelled grenades.

The soldiers later destroyed this vehicle to stop it from getting into enemy hands.

''We don't know where the bomb was, how it was activated or what strength it was,'' Stockwell said.

There was no clear evidence of whether the insurgents were Taliban or criminals.

Four days after the deadly attack, the search for answers continues.

A team of soldiers is carrying out a site investigation, trying to find answers on just who was responsible for the attack.

''It's a painstaking process that they conduct initially and of course they have to be mindful of the security environment they're in given the nature of the situation up to the northeast of Bamiyan,'' Vice-Marshal Stockwell said.

He added LCpl Ball and Pte Baker were ''probably pretty lucky given the nature of that explosion''.

IEDs have reportedly accounted for around 800 of the roughly 1100 United States combat deaths in Afghanistan and have wreaked havoc with Humvees, such as the one in which Lt O'Donnell died.

But using more heavily armoured vehicles was a balance due to the poor roads in which troops operated, as cumbersome heavily armoured vehicles could be dangerous in such terrain, Stockwell said.

''Right now, we think that the armoured Humvee is the right vehicle, given the state of the roads where we're trying to operate, and the nature of the threat.''

Lt O'Donnell was farewelled in a simple but sombre and poignant ceremony in Bamiyan yesterday, where red poppies were worn in his honour. Prime Minister John Key also stated an independent court of inquiry would be held into Lt O'Donnell's death, covering areas such as military tactics, procedures and equipment.

''We also have a lot of people stationed in Bamiyan and want to make sure they are being afforded all the protection that we would expect them to be,'' Key said.

Losing a New Zealand soldier in combat was a serious issue and an inquiry was needed, Mr Key told reporters at the Pacific Island Forum in Vanuatu yesterday.

The New Zealand Defence Force (NZDF) has 106 personnel serving with the Provincial Reconstruction Team (PRT) in Bamiyan. The 16th rotation arrived in April and will remain in there for about six months.