Saturday, June 30, 2007

Scores more civilians die

"Local people who telephoned the BBC said that as many as 50 to 80 civilians had been killed" in an air attack in Gerishk district of Helmand province. Reports indicate that some 30 Taliban fighters perished as well.

Media reports differ on the circumstances of the attack. A US Air Force Major says that ISAF (NATO) troops called for close air support after being attacked. Other reports say it was a joint US/Afghan army convoy which initially came under Taliban fire. Britain is the lead country in the ISAF mission in that province, though Canadian troops have operated there on several occasions.

Deutschland aus (ein wenig)

German parliamentarians are considering pulling out some 100 special forces troops in Afghanistan who are there under the US-led Operation Enduring Freedom. Public opinion in Germany is opposed to the Afghan mission.

Germany currently has some 3000 soldiers in northern Afghanistan operating as part of NATO's ISAF forces as well as several surveillance jets recently added to the NATO project. The mandates of both those deployments will come up for renewal this fall. Thus the move to pull out the special forces could be an attempt to play to public opinion in order to keep the main body of troops in Afghanistan.

Meanwhile, IWPR reports on German aid workers pulling out of the northern Kunduz province after the German PRT advised them that the area is too dangerous due to Taliban attacks.

Friday, June 29, 2007

US troops shoot four civilians

"KABUL, June 29 (Reuters) - U.S. soldiers killed four civilian members of the same family during a raid on Friday in Afghanistan's eastern province of Nangarhar". (link here)

The province of Nangarhar has seen several similar incidents in recent months, which have resulted in large protests while polling shows that 52% of Nangarharis want the US out of the country.

As for NATO forces, on June 24 NATO air strikes killed 10 civilians in Pakistan, after reportedly chasing insurgents from Afghanistan across the border. The Pakistani government condemned NATO. (That same day saw one civilian killed by troops following a suicide attack in Helmand as "NATO troops opened indiscriminate fire on locals who were trying to run away from the area."link here)

Thursday, June 28, 2007

IWPR reports from Afghanistan

Two items from the Institute for War and Peace Reporting give some insights to what's happening on the ground in Afghanistan.
From Kabul, Hafizullah Gardesh writes:

It has been a difficult few weeks for President Hamed Karzai. Not only has his attorney general publicly accused a former interior ministry official of attempting to kidnap him, his law officers have tried and failed to search the home of a former Kabul police chief, and a high-ranking military official is engaged in a violent dispute with a governor in the north.
The piece is worth reading in full, as the stories it relates are emblematic of what is occurring in Afghanistan. Take the one about Attorney General Sabat: Famous for ordering a violent raid on Tolo TV a couple months back (prompted by the station airing a sound-byte of the A-G taken, so he said, out of context), Sabat alleges that he was beaten by militia men operating under General Jurat, himself a former official of the interior ministry.

Now, warlords with private militias are pretty common in Afghanistan, especially in "lawless" rural areas; however, this incident occurred just 20 minutes outside Kabul. And this warlord isn't a run-of-the-mill warlord, but an entrepreneur: the general, having been fired from his post with the interior ministry, formed a private security company.

As it turned out, the Attorney General, having retured to Kabul, sent some military troops to arrest General Jurat, but Jurat's supporters succeeded in keeping the soldiers from entering Panjshir Valley to make the arrest. The A-G chose not to pursue the matter any longer.

General Jurat's penchant for business is a sign of the times just as much as his Panjshir Valley proto-state. The Afghan government has been on a privatization binge for the past year or so, and has lately been contemplating membership in the World Trade Organization. In fact, joining the WTO is planned out as a development benchmark in the Afghanistan National Development Strategy, inked in Bonn in January 2006 with Canadian participation.

Oxfam has weighed in on the WTO bid, advising against it: "Liberalising the Afghan economy too soon could undermine vital efforts to reduce poverty and suffering," according to Matt Waldman, Oxfam's policy and advocacy adviser in the country. (See the report here, in pdf.)

So if the Canadian government is so intent on assisting development in Afghanistan, will we hear calls from Ottawa for a re-think on free trade being bestowed on the country? Doesn't seem very likely.

Also from the Institute for War and Peace Reporting is a very interesting blog entry by Jean MacKenzie, who is by now a veteran reporter on Afghanistan. Her account of a visit to Helmand (which is, not coincidentally, the hotspot of both the opium industry and the insurgency) is eye-opening.

The area is racked with violence, and MacKenzie is shocked by what she is told by her Afghan colleagues:
I, like most Westerners, assume the violence is associated with the resurgent Taleban. Daily reports of battles and bombings reinforce the fear, and when speaking with my journalist colleagues, I expect them to lay the blame squarely at the feet of the fundamentalists.

"Oh, no, it's not the Taleban," they tell me. "It's criminals."

... Out of two dozen reporters, not one was willing to blame the Taleban.

... On this trip, more than even before, I realise how intertwined the Taleban are with the local population. I wonder why we call them "insurgents" – suggesting that they have come in from the outside - when they are at least as likely to be next-door neighbours, relatives or colleagues.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

'Operation Torture'

- Here is the eyewitness account of alleged US torture in Afghanistan by German embeds Wolfgang Bauer and Karsten Schoene.

- Echoing US statements made yesterday, NATO spokespeople say bombing and strafing runs "would not be something we would be looking to change at this point."

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

'Afghanistan: Becoming Iraq'

- CBC's On the Map, in the last week of their one-month trial run (don't worry they are returning in November), had another feature on Afghanistan, interviewing author Ann Jones about women's rights.

- The Editorial Board of the Seattle-Post Intelligencer warns, "If we're not careful, Afghanistan could turn into another Iraq for us."

- 78 per cent of Poles are opposed to their soldiers' occupying Afghanistan, with 81 per cent opposed to occupying Iraq.

- Yet another 'Record opium crop' in Afghanistan.

- U.S. General rejects the recent ACBAR report on civilian casualties, says bombing and strafing runs "are good -- they work."

- Two German journalists say they witnessed U.S. soldiers abuse detainee; NATO launches an investigation.

- Labatt's Blue is now in on the 'support the troops' bandwagon; they have launched a 'Canada Day Program to Recognize Canadian Troops Overseas' in conjunction with the Canadian Forces Personnel Support Agency (CFPSA), aka Department of Defence. The Labatt's website flashes special commemorative photos of the CF as part of their "Message [to the troops] in a Blue Bottle" campaign.

- German defense minister in Washington to talk to Hadley and Gates about Afghanistan.

Monday, June 25, 2007

To 'Support' or 'Not Support' the Troops? That is (/is not) the question

The 11th turn-around by Toronto's Mayor and Council to continue putting yellow "Support the Troops" ribbons on emergency vehicles has released a torrent of media commentary on the question.

As noted in an earlier post, this furor has spilled over into several cities across Canada: Fredericton, Ottawa, Edmonton, London, and Vancouver have all seen the issue come to the fore.

During a ceremony in Edmonton last Thursday Conservative MP Laurie Hawn handed over 30 'support the troops' decals to a couple of City Councilors who are seeking to pass a motion that will "adorn the city's emergency vehicles" with them. Hawn, who sits on the Standing Committee for Foreign Affairs and International Development (FAAE), made a revealing comment about the yellow ribbons/'support the troops' 'movement':

"This is something we need to do and we need to spread it across the country."
And, the Journal reported:
"Hawn said he has sent letters to all members of Parliament asking that they do the same in their own cities and said he expects a positive response."
If the yellow ribbons/'support the troops' frenzy is part of the latest Conservative political ploy, Harper's recent assertions that "he wants a consensus among Canadians, not just parliamentarians, about the country's future role in Afghanistan" should be taken with a tablespoon or so of salt.

- The mainstream discourse has given little space to the viewpoint that rejects the 'support the troops' mantra altogether. With that in mind, here are a couple of essays in this vein by Liddell and Hoenig. And, in their Sunday edition, the Ottawa Citizen did publish one letter to the editor, 'Support our troops' message is a way to suppress dissent,"a portion of which states:

"No matter what anyone says, these "support our troops" stickers and banners are a jingoistic meaningless way to suppress dissent against this unnecessary aggression against Afghanistan and Iraq. (Canada is in Iraq too, with soldiers on exchange with U.S. units, but who could blame you for not knowing it?) "Support our troops" echoes the propaganda of totalitarian, militaristic regimes."

Sunday, June 24, 2007

Civilian deaths...

ACBAR, the Agency Coordinating Body for Afghan Relief, released a Statement on the Conduct of Military Operations (pdf) this week. In it, they "strongly condemn" military operations by foreign forces "in which disproportionate or indiscriminate use of force has resulted in civilian casualties."

Then they quantify civilian deaths, finding "since the beginning of 2007 international and Afghan government forces have been responsible for the deaths of a minimum of 230 civilians including at least 60 women and children."

ACBAR doesn't provide an estimate of civilian deaths attributable to insurgents, however the Associated Press has done that. They report that "militants killed 178 civilians in attacks through June 23", while in their estimate "Western forces killed 203".

'Scud Stud' on Afghanistan

Veteran Canadian journalist Arthur Kent has produced numerous short documentary pieces on Afghanistan, which are worth checking out, on his regularly-updated website,

Saturday, June 23, 2007

Report on media

The Canadian Defence and Foreign Affairs Institute has a new report on Afghanistan and the media: The Information Gap: Why the Canadian Public Doesn’t Know More About its Military (pdf), by Sharon Hobson. As part of her research, Hobson interviewed several Canadian journalists who have reported on Afghanistan.


A few reporters ran afoul of the military's guidelines and were ejected from the base [Kandahar Air Field], although the exact nature of their infractions was not always made clear.
...the public affairs officers dealing with the embedding program were happy with what they had accomplished. One public affairs officer (PAffO) commented that embedding created a pro-military bias and positive news stories. But as he also noted, “measuring embedding on the basis of press clippings is an error. The real success is the growth of understanding in the media.

...Scott Taylor, editor of Esprit de Corps magazine, listened to General Hillier's complaints about the press and decided to look into his accusations that the media was not giving a balanced view of the mission.
Taylor talked to Senator Colin Kenney, Chair of the Senate Defence Committee, who told him he'd asked for information on development projects but had received nothing from the DND. “They have a map showing the location of each and every one of our casualties,” said Kenney, “but they have nothing which shows the schools built or the wells which they've dug? I find that difficult to comprehend.”Next Taylor went to the DND photographic website, “Combat Camera,” ... The search for images of wells drew a blank, and any pictures of ’roads’ invariably showed combat convoys rather than construction crews.” Taylor concluded that “DND was equally to blame for emphasizing the same negative issues that caused Hillier to denigrate the media.”

Friday, June 22, 2007

25 more civilians killed; war debate heats up in Quebec

More of the same from Afghanistan: News is in that another NATO bombing killed 25 civilians. The attack occurred in the Helmand province. A NATO spokesman blamed the Taliban for provoking the strike. The International Herald Tribue article on these latest civilian casualties of the war in Afghanistan also reported on criticism of NATO made by a number of humanitarian groups working in the country:

"Earlier this week, Acbar - a coalition of Afghan and international relief agencies such as CARE, Save the Children and Mercy Corps - criticized the United States and its allies, saying that hasty military action led to a minimum of 230 civilian deaths in 2007."

Meanwhile, on the home front of this war...

The battle for "hearts and minds" heated up in Quebec, as anti-war groups prepared to stage a protest to coincide with a military parade through Quebec City. A spokesperson for the anti-war activists stated, "When we found out there was a military parade, we decided it would be a good opportunity to show the population, the military and politicians the opposition to this mission."

Earlier this month, activists mailed 3000 letters to military families urging soldiers to refuse to take part in the Afghan war. The letters read in part:

For several months you’ve been preparing for your mission to Afghanistan, and you will be leaving shortly for Kandahar. During your training, you’ve been told again and again that your mission is to stabilize Afghanistan, to win the hearts and minds of Afghans, to liberate women, and to establish democracy. We are writing this letter to offer you a dissenting point-of-view about your deployment that we hope will prompt you to reconsider your participation.

The Afghan people have never attacked Canada or Québec, and had nothing to do with the attacks of September 11, 2001. Still, Defence Minister Gordon O’Connor -- who used to work as a lobbyist for corporations and public relations firms who profit from war – recently stated that your presence in Afghanistan is “retribution” for 9-11. [Edmonton Journal, January 21, 2007]

The Canadian government defends its involvement in Afghanistan in the name of women’s liberation. However, the Afghani government that you are defending is comprised of warlords who are just as brutal in their treatment of women as the former Taliban regime. In the words of the Revolutionary Association of the Women of Afghanistan (RAWA):

“The corrupt and mafia government of Mr. Karzai and its international guardians, are playing shamelessly with the intolerable suffering of Afghan women and misuse it as their propaganda tool for deceiving the people of the world. They have placed some women into official posts in the government who are favored by the warlords and then proclaim it as symbol of "women's liberation" in the country.” [RAWA Statement on International Women’s Day, March 8, 2007,]

Your deployment in Afghanistan means complicity with the civilian deaths and other activities – like the transfer of prisoners to potential torture and death – that are tantamount to war crimes; here are some examples:

- this past April, US airstrikes killed at least 57 civilians in Herat Province, more than half of who were women and children [International Herald Tribune, May 12 2007];
- earlier, in Nangarhar Province, another 19 civilians, including an infant, were killed indiscriminately by US troops, who forced journalists to erase their videotapes of the incident [CBC News, March 4, 2007].

To read the full letter visit the Valcartier 2007 website.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Afghanistan On the Map and Elsewhere

On Thursday night, Afghanistan was the focus of CBC's new pilot, On the Map with Avi Lewis. All previously aired episodes are viewable in their (commercial-free) entirety. Check the archives. One of the segments focussed on the evolving counter-narcotics strategy in Afghanistan, where the U.S. is trying to fashion a 'Plan Afghanistan' drug war akin to Plan Colombia. Lewis takes a hawkish former assistant secretary of defense, Andre Hollis to task. Lewis also made NATO's Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer squirm. He was in Canada to speak at a meeting of political and economic elites during the Conference of Montreal, and to promote the Afghanistan Adventure. One of several high- level speakers, de Hoop Scheffer - who George W. Bush called "a strong advocate of fighting terror" when they met in Crawford, Texas last month - used the occasion to plant the seed for Canada's extending its mandate beyond the February 2009 date that was narrowly approved by Parliament last year. Said de Hoop Scheffer:

"Given the facts, I think more time is necessary to create those conditions for reconstruction and development to go on and proceed ... that will not be the end of it...That is a message to Canadians, as much as to the Dutch, or to the Danes or to the Norwegians. It's a message I have for all my allied friends in the alliance and for the partners alike."
With Parliament now recessed for the Summer, de Hoop Scheffer has left us with a cliffhanger: will the Harper government attempt to extend the mission when the next 'season' returns?

- As part of the grassroots element of the military's latest PR offensive, the Quebec-based Vandoos, set to ship of to Afghanistan soon, took part in a pro-war rally in Quebec City on Thursday. It would seem, now that the hockey playoffs are over, the Canadian Forces public relations team has transitioned to the CFL as a propaganda tool, as CTV explains:
More than 2,000 soldiers from Quebec's CFB Valcartier gathered in Montreal on Thursday night, to hold a tailgate party and watch the local CFL team play against the Toronto Argonauts...The event was meant to drum up flagging support for Canada's mission in Afghanistan...
- The "decal debacle" as it has been dubbed, ended in Toronto Mayor David Miller's 'about-face,' resulting in a unanimous 39-0 vote (with significant abstentions) to keep the "yellow ribbons" on Toronto's emergency vehicles. The Toronto Star reported:

"The biggest single thing for me was the deaths of the three members of the military this morning,'' Miller told reporters yesterday, adding he had "reflected'' on that before changing his mind.
The views of one abstainer were reported, with the now-obligatory, 'but I support the troops' qualifier:
Councillor Janet Davis, who said Tuesday she doesn't believe city vehicles should be used to "promote political messages,'' was present for the first vote but absented herself for the second. She later said she supports Canadian soldiers, but not extending the ribbon campaign.
- 'Support the troops' hysteria spilled over into Quebec politics when "Anti-war sentiment spilled on to the floor of the Quebec National Assembly Wednesday." The Globe & Mail reported:
when a group of officers from the Royal 22nd Regiment, known as the Vandoos, stood to be greeted in the public gallery, a handful of Parti Québécois MNAs refused to stand and applaud, sparking anger and a heated debate in the National Assembly.
- Since the media ignored it the other day when the National Defence Committee tabled their report, the NDP separately issued their 12-page "dissenting opinion," which they have dubbed a new "action plan for Afghanistan ."

We'll have a look at the Committee report, as well as the NDP and other dissenting reports, over the weekend...

Asymmetric Diplomacy: Cellucci's New Digs

Calian Technologies, an Ottawa-based "technology service provider," appointed former U.S. Ambassador to Canada (2001-2005) Paul Cellucci to its Board of Directors on Tuesday. You might recall that Cellucci was a big proponent of Canada's military transformation and its accompanying spending hikes. Calian is a beneficiary of the ensuing defence largesse in Ottawa.

Calian's revenues have jumped from $132 million in 2002 to $183 million in 2006. Some of their profits come directly from the war in Afghanistan. They boast in their 2006 Annual Report:

"The majority of our training contracts with the Department of National Defence have experienced significant organic growth over the past several years and 2006 was no different. Our simulation training services have expanded significantly in support of the Canadian Forces (CF) NATO deployment in Afghanistan."
They also have a hand in an undisclosed training program for Canadian Forces recruiters:
"In addition, we continue to see ever increasing demand for our training services in support of the CF’s ongoing recruitment."
In their short article on Cellucci's appointment, the Canadian Press recalled his "attracting rancour for his criticism of Canada's decision not to enlist in the war in Iraq." They, and the rest of the few outfits that covered the story, seem to have forgotten that Cellucci was only playing up the 'shame on you Canada' bit for the media. He rectified this mischaracterization himself in a March 26, 2003 Ottawa Citizen article, well worth quoting at length, especially since it still applies:
Canada's role in the war against terrorism in Afghanistan is indirectly providing more support to the U.S.-led war in Iraq than most of the nations in the coalition fighting Saddam Hussein's regime, U.S. ambassador to Canada Paul Cellucci said yesterday.
Canada's refusal to join the Iraq campaign without UN support is being offset by Canada's extended contribution of warships in the Persian Gulf and some Canadian military planners working with U.S. and British forces in the Gulf region, Mr. Cellucci said in a Toronto speech to a business audience and in later comments to journalists.
As well, the U.S. has used Newfoundland as a refuelling stop for military flights en route to the Middle East.

"Ironically, the Canadians indirectly provide more support for us in Iraq than most of those" 45 countries in the coalition against Iraq, Mr. Cellucci said.

Flashpoints and Parenti on Afghanistan

Flashpoints Radio's Dennis Bernstein conducted an informative interview with journalist Christian Parenti on Tuesday. There's no explicit reference to Canada (or NATO), but you can fill in the blanks as Parenti provides context generally not found in the predominantly embedded Canadian reporting from Afghanistan. Listen here (the interview begins at around the 18:00 mark).

A couple of interesting quotes right off the top:

Parenti: "The Taliban now control the Southern half of Afghanistan."

Bernstein: "...What was most striking in your most recent trip...that we're not hearing about here in this country...?"

Parenti: "I think one of the most...shocking things is just the geographic extent the Taliban control..."

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Spate of Bombings Continues, Anti-Occupation Sentiments Grow, Anglo-Canadian PR Offensive Gears Up

Several items today:

- Five Afghan soldiers and three Canadians killed by roadside bomb today. The Canadians say the blast occurred in the Panjwai district outside Kandahar, while a Taliban spokesperson says it was carried out in Helmand Province. There were at least three other bombings targeting Afghan police (in Khost), private foreign security firms (in Zabul), and a civilian in
Ghazni Province. Meanwhile, Afghan villagers are outraged after "the Americans" raided a home in Kandahar city, blasting their way in with a grenade and killing a 20-year old named Zadan ""If they kill one of ours... ten will stand up against them," said his brother.

- We also learn from the CP that the Canadian Forces engaged in a four-hour battle with the Taliban in the Zhari District of Kandahar Province, which ended with 15 Taliban killed when, " Eventually three kinds of aircraft were called in for support." "Support" is the sanitized military term used to denote "bombing," or "strafing." The CP further reports that the Afghan National Army (ANA) "led the operation with tank support from the Canadians and air support from two fixed-wing aircraft, an F15 and an A10, as well as an attack helicopter." According to the latest Air Power Summary for June 18th, there were 59 of these "close air support missions" in Afghanistan. The F-15s "
dropped guided bomb unit-38s, 39s, and GBU-12s on multiple Taliban firing positions," while the A10s "provided shows of force."

- Elsewhere, General Dynamics in London, Ontario is awarded a $20 million contract by the U.S. Army for "
Mine Protected Vehicles" that "have proven to be highly effective against mines, improvised explosive devices and ballistic threats encountered by U.S. and allied forces in both Iraq and Afghanistan."

- Chief of Defence Staff Rick Hillier and "the entire command of the mission" were in Afghanistan last weekend, where they conducted "secretive meetings" in order "to devise a strategy for the months ahead." Reporters knew about the top level meetings at Kandahar Airfiled (calling into question how "secretive" they really were) but were instructed by military officials not to report on them until after the meetings had concluded.

- A furor over the 'support the troops' movement's bid to keep yellow ribbons on fire trucks and ambulances in Toronto is grabbing top headlines across the country. Front page articles in the Globe & Mail and National Post, featured by the CBC, while the Toronto Star has sought reader feedback on the question. This debate is emerging only days after the CP leaked "that military officials are planning a major public relations blitz to shore up public support." City councilors vote today on a resolution that could lock in the measure, which many feel make the city "
appear supportive of the controversial war in Afghanistan."

- Canadians having to cope with a deluge of war propaganda are not alone. A couple of articles by Tom Hyland in Australia's The Age earlier this month indicate that the AUSCANNZUKUS alliance is unified in relegating the 'war for the public mind' to the foremost levels of importance. The most recent, "
Army aims for hearts, minds on home front," describes a report by Australian army Major Michael Harris:

While the Australian Defence Force insists it sticks to a non-political ethos, the report shows army public relations tactics risk straying into political territory.

It reveals how the ADF used press releases and pictures from al-Muthanna province as "strategic shaping tools" in the battle for public support — in Iraq and Australia.

While winning hearts and minds of Iraqis is a standard counter-insurgency tactic, the report shows the army also takes account of the "Australian domestic political backdrop".

See Hyland's earlier, "Theatre of War." It provides more and context about Australia's brand of PR war, which, as one Aussie professor concludes, "verges on propaganda."

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Defence Committee Tables Afghanistan Report, Calls for Debate, 'Sometime'

After hearing testimony from over fifty "stakeholders" over the last year, the Parliamentary Standing Committee on National Defence (NDDN) tabled a 174-page report today, "Canadian Forces in Afghanistan."

G&M focused on the NDDN's belief that the Afghanistan adventure is "tarnished by detainee abuse," and add a mis- (or lack of) reading of at least one of the Committee's 19 recommendations. It seems that the GM only read the executive summary, as seen in their claim that the report "called for a debate to take place one year from now." The CP made the same mistake, reporting that the Committee said "Parliament should hold a debate halfway through next year." Even CanWest read past page 9, noting that the Committee, in their 4th (out of 19) recommendation[s], call for a debate "without delay."

The full passage, on p. 59, reads:

The government should hold a debate on the Canadian mission in Afghanistan without delay, to provide Canadians with an accurate and up-to-date understanding of the aim and status of the mission, Canada’s role in it and to inform government decision-making relating to the mission deadline in February 2009.

Bombing Context

Guardian blogger Matthew Yglesias provides some some useful context on the question of air strikes and counterinsurgency in his post, "How to lose Afghanistan."

If you're ever curious, the U.S. Air Force releases its daily 'air power summary,' where they provide ambiguous details about the dropping of "general-purpose 500-pound bomb[s]," firing of "20 mm cannon rounds," and carrying out "several strafing runs" against insurgents in Afghanistan and Iraq. Beyond the Air Force informing us whether or not these bombing runs carried out "good hits" or not, the public is privy to precious few details about the overall destruction caused by the US and NATO's relentless bombing raids.

Canada does merit mention in the daily summary for their supporting cast role, " Coalition C-130 crews from Australia, Canada and Korea flew in support of operations in Afghanistan or Iraq..." The reason Canada doesn't have its F18's in Afghanistan strafing the countryside?

Rick Hillier explained a couple of months ago:

Our allies have much in the way of airpower in the country so at the moment there is no need to deploy F-18s - they simply are not required. We monitor all of the above every day and stand ready to make recommendations to our government for force changes, if needed.
Also recall that since last September, Canada has had its F18s, which haven't seen use since the illegal bombing of Yugoslavia in 1999, on the ready.

Monday, June 18, 2007

NATO airstrike kills 7 Afghan children

Yet another NATO strike taking civilian casualties, just reported by the Associated Press:

"U.S.-led coalition jets bombed a compound suspected of housing al-Qaida militants in eastern Afghanistan, killing seven boys and several insurgents, officials said Monday..."

"Local authorities are working with NATO and coalition troops 'to have better coordination and to not have these misunderstandings, but today we had a misunderstanding and the people will be unhappy,' Akhpelwak told The Associated Press by telephone. `We will go to the area and discuss the issue with the people and apologize to the people.'"

Read the full article in today's Guardian.

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Don't believe the hype

Graeme Smith, the Globe and Mail correspondent who broke the story of Afghan detainee torture this Spring, appears to have lost his critical faculties. His latest dispatch from Afghanistan repeats NATO propaganda that the Taliban include a large contingent of Chechen and Arab fighters:

"The insurgents basically decided they're going to mass within that area," Lt.-Col. Walker [Canadian battle group commander] said. "There's a lot of foreign fighters, Chechens and Arabs that have decided to move into that area."
Smith cites claims that "Arab and Chechen fighters ... form the notorious hard core of the insurgency".

Similar claims about the Taliban have been made for some time. However, most experienced journalists and experts on the region are highly skeptical of such assertions - pointing out that neither the Afghan government nor the US/NATO have offered proof of such claims, such as dead bodies of Chechens. Indeed, if the "notorious hard core" of the Taliban is composed of Arabs and Chechens, surely there would be numerous foreign corpses to display as proof of these claims.

Toronto-based security consultant (and Chechnya expert) Andrew McGregor took Smith to task in a letter to the Globe (available only to subscribers). He points out that various media continue to parrot charges of Chechen fighters active in Iraq, Afghanistan, Kashmir, Pakistan, and Somalia despite the fact that Russian intelligence estimates that Chechen resistance fighters number only a few hundred in Chechnya itself. He attributes these erroneous assertions to several factors, including "a tendency for local Pashtuns to confuse Uzbeks of the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (who are active in the area) with 'Chechens,' and the common practice by Afghan clans to settle disputes by telling NATO of 'Chechens' or Arabs", in order to have their enemies bombed by Western forces.

Saturday, June 16, 2007

Pianist Receives Doctorate, Slams Afghan Occupation; Mulroney Counters With Fear and Loathing

The London (Ontario) Free Press reports that famous Austrian pianist Anton Kuerti "decrie[d] Afghanistan war to students," while receiving an honorary degree at the University of Western Ontario on Thursday.

Kuerti said "to applause" during his Convocation Address:

(Tuesday's) horrible incident, with our trigger-happy allies killing eight Afghan policemen [in a so-called "friendly fire" in Nangarhar Province]is just the latest in a string" of such deadly mistakes..."I think it's a good reason for us to stop our involvement in that morass...Britain, the Soviet Union and the United States tried to subdue the Afghans without success...
An unfortunate counterpoint to Kuerti's courageous speech came the following day by way of another honorary degree recipient, former Prime Minister Brian Mulroney (who is reportedly an "important adviser" to current PM "Steve" Harper). Fittingly, Mulroney is on the executive Board's of many Fortune 500 companies, including *Quebecor World, Inc., the company that owns the London daily newspaper reporting on him. The Free Press lauded Mulroney's address, reporting that he "regaled" and "delight[ed] UWO grads," and had them "in stitches" "with self-effacing humour." However, it "wasn't all fun and games," as Mulroney was only, evidently, preparing the audience for a dose of fear-mongering, when he intoned, "Terrorism is a brutal reality that will affect all of your lives for decades to come."

Although making no explicit reference to Afghanistan, throughout his speech Mulroney repeatedly called for "close international cooperation" against threats such as "global narcotics" trafficking and the "lethal infection" of global terrorism.

Although unreported by LFP Mulroney appeared to exhort the graduating UWO students "as young Canadians" to take up the 21st century White Man's Burden through "association with, and in many cases, your leadership of...other peoples in the world," which "will help solve the problems that impact developments in your own backyard."

After all, argued Mulroney, in making sure Canada's "national interest remains compatible with the common interest," they "must understand that constructive internationalism and cooperation among nations are the hallmarks of civilized global conduct."

Germans want their troops out too

The Angus Reid website reports on a recent poll of German voters which finds that 54% of Germans want their troops withdrawn from Afghanistan. There as part of the NATO/ISAF force, the German contingent is quite large - some 3000 soldiers.

Especially significant for Canada is the fact that the German troops are deployed in the north of Afghanistan - far from the lawless and violent south where Canadian troops are. Many Canadians who oppose our mission in Afghanistan advocate for a redeployment of Canadian Forces to the north of the country - something that Germans would evidently caution against.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Ending the "Good War"

James Ingalls and Sonali Kolhatkar, authors of Bleeding Afghanistan, write in Foreign Policy In Focus:

Ending the "Good War" (link here)
The piece is excellent and too long to summarize here - though a few of their comments merit special attention:

U.S. and NATO troops are doing the same things in both countries [i.e. Iraq and Afghanistan]: bombing civilian areas, invading villages, rounding up people without evidence, torturing detainees, causing deaths in custody, and shooting into crowds. “NATO’s tactics are increasingly endangering the civilians that they are supposed to be protecting, and turning the local population against them,” says Sam Zia-Zarifi, the Afghanistan researcher for Human Rights Watch.

... In an important 2005 survey by the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission, 69% of Afghans identified either themselves or immediate family members as direct victims of human rights violations perpetrated by the warlords in parliament and their ilk; 61% rejected amnesty for such crimes. In fact, 76% felt instead that bringing war criminals to justice would “increase stability and bring security” to their country.

... Based on published polls and our own interviews with people in Afghanistan, most Afghans want primarily two things. They want security and justice, which translates into foreign troop withdrawal, warlord disarmament, and war crimes tribunals. And they want assistance to rebuild infrastructure and meet basic needs such as food, shelter, health care, education, and jobs.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Blair fears Afghanistan will become another Iraq

Tony Blair, about to leave office after 10 years in power, foresees an Iraq-like disaster:
Afghanistan risks becoming another Iraq: Blair
Blair explains that "in a situation – whether Iraq or Afghanistan – where you are trying to bring about a different form of government, these people will try to stop us".

Blair's comments are well-timed, as two incidents in war-torn Afghanistan illustrate the type of looming disaster which Afghanistan faces:
US strike 'kills Afghan police' In what is billed as a "friendly fire" incident, US forces killed seven Afghan police. Accounts differ as to who fired first, but all agree that "close air support" was called in by US troops in Nangarhar province. Nangarhar has seen numerous incidents involving civilian deaths at the hands of US forces and a recent poll says over half of the population wants US troops out of Afghanistan.

Secondly, in neighboring Kunar province, NATO troops shot dead three civilians in a vehicle which failed to stop after being given warning signals.

Meanwhile, today's Edmonton Journal reports: "A vehicle commander who watched as a roadside bomb killed a young army driver says he warned his bosses days ago that the route where the blast took place is too dangerous and should not be used by Canadian troops."

Finally, the International Committee of the Red Cross has added its voice to the chorus warning of worsening disaster in Afghanistan:
“Civilians suffer horribly from mounting threats to their security, such as increasing numbers of roadside bombs and suicide attacks, and regular aerial bombing raids. They also lack access to basic services. It is incredibly difficult for ordinary Afghans to lead a normal life.”

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Halliburtons of the North?

An alarming article in today's Toronto Star reports:

More than 40 per cent of Canada's billion-dollar military contracts last year were classified by a government agency as "non-competitive," according to a report released yesterday by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives.

The study said the percentage of public money spent on "non-competitive" contracts more than doubled over the past two years.

Read the full article here.

NATO "losing Afghanistan"

Author Ramzy Baroud weighs in on NATO's occupation of Afghanistan: "Foreign powers are clearly failing in Afghanistan; they neither won hearts and minds nor contributed to the stability and rebuilding of the country in any meaningful way – 60 percent of the country’s economy is now dependent on narcotics exports." Read the full article here.

Monday, June 11, 2007

Bill Moyers interviews Christian Parenti

Christian Parenti, who has written extensively on Afghanistan for the Nation, is interviewed by Bill Moyers on PBS (video, with transcript).

...BILL MOYERS: How do you explain the fact that Americans don't seem to American policymakers don't seem to grasp that?

CHRISTIAN PARENTI: I think it has to do with a number of things. One is that people cycle through these war zones on one year contracts and their goal is primarily the advancement of their career, secondarily the advancement of the larger project. And it's usually not good for your career to say, "Hey, the larger project isn't going well. Sorry to be the jerk in the organization, but I disagree with the scenario that's being laid here."...
...BILL MOYERS: What is the endgame to the American NATO in Afghanistan?

CHRISTIAN PARENTI: The optimistic state department types and who pass through for one year have a version of the endgame that I think is highly unrealistic which is the originally story we were all told. That Afghanistan turns into a functioning capitalist democracy with a developed economy. More realistically people talk quietly about negotiating with the Taliban and letting the Taliban into the government. And then a sort of third version of things is a return to the collapse and open civil war that marked life in Afghanistan during the 1990s.

Friday, June 8, 2007

No military solution

Veteran journalist Jonathan Steele, who has more than his share of experience in Afghanistan, writes in the Guardian (link):
The west has to accept that there is no military solution

...At least 135 unarmed civilians have been reported killed over the past two months by western troops, mainly US special forces
...Isaf troops demolish houses, empty out villages, displace tens of thousands of people, and use indiscriminate firepower that kills innocent civilians
...Making a priority of 'force protection' - which means that soldiers on patrol or in convoy treat every Afghan as a potential enemy and fire on anything suspicious - has helped the Taliban to gain recruits...

Thursday, June 7, 2007

No evidence of Iranian support for Taliban

US Defense Secretary Robert Gates, visiting Afghanistan, held a press conference with Afghan President Karzai. Both men told the press that there is no evidence for Iranian government involvement in supplying weapons to Afghan insurgents. Karzai was blunt: “We don’t have any such evidence so far of the involvement of the Iranian government in support of the Taliban", he said.

This comes on the heels of recent reports that various Iranian-made weapons have turned up in Afghanistan. Observers note that many weapons - only some of which are Iranian-made - are available on the black market in Afghanistan.

Tuesday, June 5, 2007

Violence spreads across Afghanistan

Chris Sands, whose dispatches from Afghanistan have been unmatched in their hard-hitting truths, writes in today's (tomorrow's!) Independent:

Bloodshed is spreading across Afghanistan, warn aid workers

Bloodshed is spreading to previously stable provinces of Afghanistan, threatening aid efforts as humanitarian workers contend with growing numbers of attacks from insurgents and criminals.

Sands report goes on to put the lie to Canadian government and military officials' pronouncements that the security situation is improving in Afghanistan:
Aid workers ... fear it is pushing disgruntled Afghans into the hands of the Taliban and adding fuel to a guerrilla war that now rages across much of the country.

A series of UN "security accessibility maps" obtained by The Independent paint the same picture, showing areas considered to be in the top danger category spreading across the country in the past year.
...almost all of Helmand, Kandahar, Zabul and Uruzgan is regarded as an extreme risk/hostile environment... Meanwhile, two extreme-risk areas now sit on the fringes of Kabul province, and a high-risk area even exists inside its boundaries.

...Afghans throughout the country often complain they have not received the aid they expected after the US-led invasion. As a result, some say they will turn to crime or join the Taliban...

Monday, June 4, 2007

The "Battle for Hearts and Minds"

Anthony Fenton has an article in the latest issue of Briarpatch looking at the "home front" of the war in Afghanistan:

"Few Canadians know that the transformation of Canada’s military and foreign policy establishment towards more aggressive opperations has been afoot since the end of the Cold War. But in the face of Canada’s escalating engagement in a dirty counterinsurgency war in Afghanistan, are Canadians finally beginning to wake up to this fact? The military and economic establishments certainly fear as much, which is why we’ve witnessed such a media barrage of patriotism and militarism in the past year. Canada’s heavily concentrated media industry and its incomplete and uncritically supportive coverage of Canada’s Afghan adventure have been crucial to the establishment’s effort to push public opinion into line with Canada’s new foreign policy alignment." Read the full article at Znet

Sunday, June 3, 2007

Human Rights Watch on Malalai Joya

Malalai Joya, Afghanistan's 28-year-old firebrand female MP, was suspended from the Afghan parliament last month. The reason? She broke Article 70 of the legislature's rules which forbids MP's from criticizing fellow MP's when she told a television interviewer that the parliament was worse than a zoo.

Human Rights Watch has mounted a campaign to have her reinstated and to urge the Afghan government to revise article 70 to "ensure that elected representatives can speak freely". In their news release, HRW's Asia director calls Joya "a staunch defender of human rights and a powerful voice for Afghan women". Further, HRW notes that "members of parliament have regularly criticized each other, but no one else has been suspended. "

Saturday, June 2, 2007

Senlis Council's latest

The Senlis Council's Norine MacDonald recently lambasted the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA), saying "on the ground in Kandahar, it's sad to say, despite good intentions, CIDA's efforts are non-existent".
MacDonald hit the media upon the release of Senlis' new report, On a knife edge: Rapid Assessment Field Survey, Southern and Eastern Afghanistan (pdf here). The report is based on face-to-face interviews with 12000 Afghans and is especially relevant to Canada as it largely deals with the south of Afghanistan, where Canadian Forces are.
Some highlights:

"...Across the south, the majority of survey respondents both worry about being able to feed their families, and do not believe that the international troops are helping them. Afghans in southern Afghanistan are increasingly prepared to admit their support for the Taliban".

"...The insurgency in Afghanistan is now at a critical juncture. It is clear that the Taliban are winning the propaganda war. This victory is now having a direct effect on the war itself, through people’s perceptions of who is going to win. It is likely that this relatively high – and increasing - level of support for the Taliban will prompt further attacks, which will in turn raise levels of support and convictions of success, triggering a positive spiral of support for the Taliban. The ensuing psychological advantage coupled with the ongoing poverty crisis in southern Afghanistan will help the Taliban to recruit thousands of new fighters."

"...In fact, international community’s misguided policies are responsible for the worsening situation of many Afghans: the thousands inhabiting the internal refugee camps of Kandahar and Helmand have been displaced by the aerial bombing of their villages carried out by NATO and the International Security Assistance Force."

"...Canada’s current pledge for humanitarian support through CIDA is $100 million dollars per year – aid that has not been visible in Afghanistan - or about $3.40 per person per year; it’s military expenditures are estimated to be as much as $140 per person."

"...52% of the population [of the province of Nangarhar] now believes that the US should leave Afghanistan."

The Senlis report includes an extract from Gordon Smith's Canada in Afghanistan: is it working? (pdf here), which Smith wrote for the Canadian Defence and Foreign Affairs Institute. The Smith extract concludes:

"...a pull out of NATO forces would seriously question the legitimacy of North-Atlantic Treatment Organization forces and its role as a tool for stabilization, peace-keeping operations and reconstruction. A worst-case scenario would see NATO be substituted by a European military instrument coming from the European Union or from Asian countries or even regional countries in a coalition of forces that would have a less Washington-centric vision of international order".

For Smith, a professor at UVic, the "worst case scenario" is an Afghanistan which isn't dominated by the US, despite the wishes of 52% of Nangarhar.