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Bush's Afghan report ignores surge in violence

Associated Press
Published January 30, 2008


KABUL, Afghanistan - In his State of the Union address, President Bush called Afghanistan a young democracy where children go to school and Afghans are hopeful.

He didn't mention the violence that has killed 147 students and teachers, and closed 590 schools in the last year - almost as many as the 680 the U.S. has built.

Bush's rosy outlook for a country that once hosted al-Qaida chief Osama bin Laden didn't contain any falsehoods. New roads and hospitals are being built, just as he told the nation Monday night.

Boys and girls are going to school in record numbers. About 5.8-million students, including 2-million girls, are now in class, compared with less than a million under the Taliban.

But some here might say Bush glossed over the bad news. Violence reached a record level last year, and military leaders and analysts expect the suicide bombings, clashes and kidnappings to increase in 2008.

"The security is going from bad to worse, especially in the south and the east," said Abdul Kaiyoom, 47, who works for Afghanistan's Education Ministry.

Bush said sending an additional 3,200 Marines to Afghanistan - a decision made just this month - would help continue the country's successes. But in reality, it came only after U.S. officials couldn't persuade other NATO countries to send more soldiers to bolster the 28,000 U.S. forces already there.

"Thanks to the courage of these military and civilian personnel, a nation that was once a safe haven for al-Qaida is now a young democracy where boys and girls are going to school, new roads and hospitals are being built, and people are looking to the future with new hope," Bush said.

USAID, the government's aid arm, has built or refurbished 680 schools in Afghanistan since 2001. Still, Education Minister Mohammad Hanif said last week there is a shortage of qualified teachers - and schools themselves.

Out of the country's 9,400 "schools," only 40 percent are actual buildings. Sixty percent of classes are held in tents or the open air.

There's an even more worrying trend: The number of students and teachers killed in Taliban attacks tripled in the past year, to 147, Hanif said, while the number of students out of class because of security has hit 300,000 since March 2007, compared with 200,000 in the previous 12 months. The number of schools closed has risen from 350 to 590.

Afghanistan NGO Safety Office, the Kabul-based security company that surveys conditions for international aid organizations in Afghanistan, said in a report this month that 2007 will be seen as the year the Taliban seriously rejoined the fight.

Kidnapping protested

About 500 Afghan women gathered Tuesday in Kandahar, southern Afghanistan, to protest the kidnapping of an American aid worker and her Afghan driver and to call for her release. The kidnapped woman, Cyd Mizell, 49, works for the Asian Rural Life Development Foundation and was seized Saturday on her way to work in Kandahar, along with her driver, Abdul Hadi. Afghan officials said they had no leads on who abducted them, nor has there been any contact with the kidnappers or demands by them. In a strong show of support for Mizell, who has lived in Kandahar for six years, working on educational projects and women's development, Afghan women's associations called in speeches for officials, elders, ordinary citizens and young people to work for her release.

New York Times

[Last modified January 30, 2008, 02:12:43]

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