Monday, October 29, 2007

Airstrikes 'putting children at risk' - UNICEF

Earlier this week, UNICEF issued a special report on Afghanistan, Child Alert Afghanistan (pdf here). Excerpts:

... Of the 37 nations in ISAF, it is principally Canada, the United Kingdom and the United States that are engaged in combat in the south and east of Afghanistan. Their intensive use of air power in support of ground troops, whose numbers are limited, is putting children at risk. The Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission believes that neither side has respected the laws of armed conflict and that children in particular are more vulnerable than they have been at any time during the war. The commission’s records include, for example, an account of a two-day battle in Helmand Province, in June 2007, during which the Taliban were engaged in action against the combined forces of ISAF and Afghan soldiers and police. Neither side appeared to suffer any casualties, but air strikes claimed the lives of 27 civilians, including 17 children. ...

... Child soldiers are commonly recruited by warlords and used in tribal warfare. They served in the ranks of the irregular armies that overthrew the Taliban. While they were sometimes forced to fight, they were more frequently used as guards, cooks and commanders’ personal servants.

... No children are recruited into the Afghan National Army or into the police. Children’s advocates are concerned about the police auxiliary, however, because there have been anecdotal reports that it maintains informal associations with children. The Taliban, who respect no laws or conventions, remain the greatest cause for concern. However, the insurgency is not thought to be using large numbers of underage fighters at this time. Young men living in areas not controlled by the central government may be drawn to fight for the Taliban because they will be better paid than if they join the Afghan Army. Volunteers are not in short supply, and the Taliban can rely on the recruitment of adults, both national and foreign. ...

Canadian arms exports surge amid secrecy

A CBC investigation reveals that Canada is now the world's sixth leading arms exporter, as watchdogs accuse us of secrecy.

Canada's military exports have more than tripled over the past seven years, a CBC News investigation has learned.

Over the past seven years, Canada has exported $3.6 billion in military goods. Canada now exports more arms and military goods than it imports. ...

... for the past four years the federal government has not released annual reports providing detailed information to Parliament. ...

The prolonged silence by Ottawa has now become an international embarrassment, said Ken Epps of Project Ploughshares, an arms control watchdog and peace group founded by the Canadian Council of Churches.

Epps cited a recent report by the Small Arms Survey, a Geneva-based monitoring group, which dropped Canada's transparency rating on arms controls to just above that of Iran. ...

But the federal government couldn't release figures on military exports to Canada's biggest buyer, the United States, even if it wanted to. Ottawa doesn't track those sales.

In fact, most military exports to the U.S. don't even need government permits because of a defence agreement signed by Ottawa and Washington in the 1940s.

The agreement leaves a huge loophole in Canada's arms controls, [defense analyst Janice] Stein said.

"The export licencing requirements for what we sell to the United States are so minimal that it is possible that some of that equipment moves to third parties," Stein told CBC News. "We would never know." (link)
Canadian Copters?
Unable to convince NATO allies to contribute more war machines, NATO command has decided to rent helicopters from private sources. Meanwhile, Toronto-based company SkyLink Aviation "is one of several firms from around the world that could provide the choppers NATO is now looking to use in Afghanistan", reports David Pugliese in the Ottawa Citizen. "We have been working with NATO and ISAF (by) providing them the information they would need in order to go out for a commercial lease agreement," SkyLink general manager Jan Ottens said. (link)

Suspects handed over by CF tortured, prisoners allege

La Presse, the French language daily, reported the other day that interviews in Sarposa prison have revealed allegations of torture of suspects handed to Afghan authorities by Canadian troops.

Canada brushes off allegations of torture
October 29 (Reuters)

...The three suspected Taliban members said they had been captured by Canadian troops, given a document that said torture was no longer used in Afghanistan and then transferred to the Afghan secret police.

"The people from the secret service tore it (the document) up and threw it in my face. They tortured me for 20 hours. I protested and said the Canadians had promised that nothing would happen to me," La Presse quoted one of the three men as saying.

"They replied: 'We're not in Canada, we're at home. The Canadians are dogs!"' he said. ... (link)

Over a quarter of Canadian soldiers suffer mental health problems post-Afghanistan

Canadian Press reporter Alison Auld reports on data compiled by Canadian Forces researchers:

About 28 per cent of the 2,700 Canadian Forces soldiers who were screened after serving in the war-torn country were found to have symptoms of one or more mental-health problems, including depression, panic disorders and suicidal tendencies.

Of those, 17 per cent exhibited signs of high-risk drinking, about five per cent showed symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD, and another five per cent had symptoms of major depression. ...

The military might also be capturing only a small number of troops suffering from mental-health problems, because it lacks a comprehensive information system that both tracks soldiers' health over a long period of time and gathers data from all sources.

Soldiers are supposed to undergo screening sometime between 90 to 180 days after they return home from their deployment. But if they develop mental-health problems after that period, they won't be included in Zamorski's data. ...

[A]n official with Veterans Affairs said that since the Afghan mission began five years ago, the number of clients receiving care for PTSD at the department's clinics has risen to 6,500 from 1,800. (link)

US airstrikes up over 50% this year

USA Today reports that the US Air Force has increased close air support operations in both Iraq and Afghanistan, this year over last.

Airstrikes are up in Afghanistan, too. Coalition planes have made 2,764 bombing runs this year, up from 1,770 last year. The figures don't include strikes by helicopter gunships. (link)
This represents an increase of some 56% over last year.

This comes despite Afghan President Karzai's repeated pleadings with US/NATO command to cut back or eliminate air strikes. (His most recent request was last week.)

The USA Today piece goes on:
The increasing use of air power also stems from improved accuracy and smaller munitions that allow commanders to launch airstrikes against insurgents who travel in small groups and sometimes hide among civilians.
Keep in mind that in fact, civilian deaths have increased this year over last. Note also that the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission summed up August thusly: "Two thirds of the 168 civilian deaths happened in military operations conducted by international forces against their opposition"

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Taliban are broad coalition, says former Dutch general

The Toronto Star's Middle East bureau chief Mitch Potter quotes some frank comments by former military adviser to the UN's Kofi Annan:

One NATO adviser, retired Dutch military commander Frank van Kappen, told the Star of the "deepening doubts" of at least one branch of military intellectuals who now are questioning many of the larger political assumptions around which the foreign troop presence was designed.

"In academic circles, the biggest issue now is: `Are we shooting the right guys?' It stems from the realization that the Taliban is a motley bunch that shifts like a virus and is riddled with seams," said van Kappen, a senior analyst with the Hague Centre for Strategic Studies.

"What the Dutch are finding in Uruzgan is that there are many groups who have joined the Taliban for all kinds of reasons – business interests, family reasons, tribal conflicts, smuggling, drugs – layers and layers of factors far too complex for us to ever truly understand.

"But ... if you place your knife at the right part of the seam, you can break part of it off by negotiating it to your side. ... (link)
[P.S. For a revealing analysis of Potter's coverage of Israel-Palestine, see Justin Podur's exchange with him here.]

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

13 civilians killed near Kabul in NATO air raid


At least 13 Afghan civilians have been killed in a Nato air strike near Kabul, a provincial official says.

Thirteen others were injured, the head of Wardak provincial council said. ...

Local people had told him 11 members of one family were among those killed, he said. Two others had also died and 13 were injured. ...

An Isaf spokesman confirmed there had been an air strike in the area at around 0900 on Monday morning but said it was targeting a known insurgent position.
Also of note, says the BBC:
Several hundred civilians have also been killed [this year] - exact numbers are impossible to establish. Western forces dispute estimates given by aid workers and Afghan officials. (link)

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Walkom and McQuaig on Harper's politicking

Commenting on Harper's appointment of former Liberal cabinet minister John Manley to a panel set to study the Afghan war, Thomas Walkom writes in the Star:
"Our role in Afghanistan really about US ties"

None of the five on it is an expert on that country (although one, former Liberal deputy prime minister John Manley has twice visited there.) Yet four – Manley, former New York consul-general Pam Wallin, former Washington ambassador Derek Burney and former CN Rail chief Paul Tellier – have been intimately involved with the problems of Canada-U.S. relations, and in particular with the campaign to convince Americans that Canada is not soft on terror...

After the 9/11 attacks, it was Manley – then foreign affairs minister – who pushed his colleagues in government to meet U.S. security needs. ...

[John Manley:]"I was saying, `Excuse me ... have you been reading the papers lately?' while some other ministers were saying, `Let's not be sucked in by the Americans,' I thought these people were nuts and I still do."

Meanwhile, in New York, then consul-general Wallin was handling the thankless job of explaining to Fox News why Canada wasn't joining Bush's war on Iraq. ...

So too Burney. Chief of staff to prime minister Brian Mulroney when the original Canada-U.S. free trade agreement was signed and, later, ambassador to Washington, Burney has kept his eyes fixed firmly south.

"Canada's place in the world is defined by our relationship with the U.S. and our ability to keep the U.S. engaged in multilateralism," he told one interviewer in 2003.

As for Tellier, he has had to deal with border issues head-on. In the aftermath of 9/11, the then CN head spent his time urging Canada and the U.S. to forge a security deal that would keep traffic moving across the border.
Linda McQuaig chimes in:
"Clever ploy to extend the war"
The opposition parties had Stephen Harper pretty much over a barrel when it came to Afghanistan, refusing to give him parliamentary support to continue the unpopular war beyond 2009.

That was before John Manley came to Harper's rescue last week...

Manley himself is a pro-American hawk who, as foreign affairs minister in the wake of 9/11, famously struck a combative tone when he stressed the country's war-fighting past, telling reporters “Canada does not have a history as a pacifist or a neutralist country.”...

This could leave Dion in the difficult position of having to reject the advice of a bipartisan panel — headed by a respected Liberal...

[The appointment of Manley] also lays the groundwork for the re-emergence of an elite consensus in favour of more robust Canadian co-operation with Washington's aggressive military stance in the world

US troops and the Koran; Canadian Forces doesn't like refugees

US forces twice accused of desecrating Koran

KHOST, Afghanistan, Oct 17 (Reuters) - Hundreds of Afghans staged a protest against the United States on Wednesday, saying U.S. troops had thrown a copy of the Koran during an operation in the southeast, a police officer said...

Protesters said U.S. troops broke into a house on Monday night in Urgun, arrested four people, including a woman, and one soldier threw away a copy of the Koran...

A similar protest was held in the eastern province of Kunar where villagers and several lawmakers say U.S. soldiers desecrated the Koran last week. (link)
Canadians quit training Afghans
The Ottawa Citizen
By David Pugliese

A key Defence Department training program for Afghan officers in Canada has been shut down after several students left the course and requested refugee status...

[T]hree Afghan officers from the program offered by the department's Military Training Assistance Program disappeared on Dec. 17, 2006, the day they had been scheduled to return to Afghanistan. They later turned themselves in to authorities, but it is not known whether they returned to Afghanistan or claimed refugee status.

Similar incidents occurred in 2004 and 2005 when Afghan officers left the language training program to claim refugee status.

At least 50 personnel from Afghanistan have come to Canada to learn English.

... NATO officials have complained that the poor English of Afghan personnel has hurt the development of that country's security forces.

Monday, October 15, 2007

US merc company under fire; NATO kills 3 civilians, says cop

US private security company USPI stands accused of overbilling on their contracts in Afghanistan, according to the Associated Press (link). The largest private force in the country, USPI allegedly claimed expenses and employees which didn't exist.

USPI's hiring practices in Afghanistan have drawn criticism from the International Crisis Group, a Belgium-based think tank that works to prevent and resolve deadly conflict.

In a 2005 report on disarmament in Afghanistan, the group said a majority of the men on USPI's payroll are associated with private militias and have not gone through formal channels.

"Many have used their authority to engage in criminal activity, including drug trafficking," the report said.

Later that year, the firm drew attention again when an Afghan official said an American supervisor for USPI allegedly shot to death his Afghan interpreter and was flown out of the country the next day. USPI officials have declined to comment on the incident.

Meanwhile, the deputy police chief of Wardak province reports that a NATO air strike killed 3 civilians and injured 7 along with killing 5 Taliban. A NATO spokesperson denied the accusation, saying "We double-checked that. There were no civilian casualties" (link).

Friday, October 12, 2007

Gwynne Dyer on Afghanistan: "Now the war is lost"

The always thoughtful Gwynne Dyer, a military officer-cum military historian-cum insightful world affairs commentator, weighs in on the war in Afghanistan:

This week is the sixth anniversary of the start of United States air strikes against al-Qaeda and its Taliban hosts in Afghanistan. It was a very clever politico-military operation, and by December 2001 all of Afghanistan was under the control of the US and its local allies for a total cost of 12 American dead. Then, for no good reason, it fell apart, and now the war is lost. ...

Washington had the wit to make Hamid Karzai, a Pashtun from a clan that never had much to do with the Taliban, its puppet president in Kabul, but it didn't carry through. It froze out all the prominent Pashtun political and religious leaders who had had dealings with the Taliban which was, of course, almost all of them.

The Taliban had been the government of Afghanistan for almost five years, and were at the time the political vehicle of the Pashtun ascendancy in the country. If you were a traditional Pashtun leader, how could you not have had dealings with them? ...

[The US] would not talk to Pashtun leaders who had been linked to the Taliban. Six years after the invasion that wasn't, the Pashtuns are still largely frozen out.

That is why the Taliban are coming back. ...

The Taliban are still the main political vehicle of the Pashtuns, because there has been no time to build another. It doesn't mean that all Pashtuns are fanatics or terrorists. Indeed, not all the Taliban are fanatics (though many of them are), and hardly any of them nurse the desire to carry out terrorist acts in other countries.
Dyer's predictions about what will happen after a pull-out of foreign troops are bold and intriguing:
The current fighting in the south, the Pashtun heartland... will continue until the Western countries pull out. ... Then, after the foreigners are gone, the Afghans will make the traditional inter-ethnic deals and something like peace will return.

Will Karzai still be the president after that? Yes, if he can convince the Pashtuns that he is open to such a deal once the foreigners leave.

Will the Taliban come back to power? No, only to a share of power, and only to the extent that they can still command the loyalty of the Pashtuns once it is no longer a question of resistance to foreigners.

Will Osama bin Laden return and recreate a "nest of terrorists" in Afghanistan. Very unlikely. The Afghans paid too high a price for their hospitality the first time round. (link)

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Private Security Companies "underming the rule of law"

Private security companies in Afghanistan employ over 9000 personnel in Kabul alone - a phenomenon which has ushered in "a long series of security problems and criminal activities," which allegedly include killings. In response to similar efforts by the US-installed government of Iraq, the Afghan government has kicked out two firms and plans to do the same to 10 more. In addition, the government has drawn up a draft law for regulation of security firms. Excerpt:

Current and main set of problems related to PSCs:

1. Undermining the rule of law;

2. Lack of legal system and policies regulating the activities of PSCs;

3. Legal shortcomings in the provisions on private sector under the Investment law;

4. Lack of institutional capacity for enforcement mechanisms in parallel with the sudden "mushrooming" of PSCs in the country;

5. Disguising of a wide range of militia and criminal groups as PSCs, enabled in an environment free of clear guidelines, code of ethics or agreements and administrative corruption. (link)

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Thousands in Kunar protest troop presence

Over 3000 people gathered to protest the presence of foreign and Afghan military personnel at bases in Kunar province. In response to numerous civilian casualties, locals have demanded that military bases be removed from residential areas.

The protestors, number around 3,000, blocked the Asadabad-Jalalabad road in Sawkai district for all kinds of vehicular traffic for two and half hours.

Chanting full-throat slogans against the provincial governor and foreign troops, the demonstrators asked the central government to remove bases of foreign and local troops from civilian areas in the district.

"Twenty-two citizens have been perished in rocket attacks and exchange of fire between Taliban and Coalition troops in Sawkai over the previous two months," said Gul Rahim, 40, dweller of the district and one of the organisers of the protest meeting.

The government troops, he insisted, had failed to maintain security in the province. "They must leave and remove their bases from our areas," he said in a loud voice. ...

Maulvi Naik Muhammad, another protestor and resident of the district, said: "We want withdrawal of foreign forces from the district."(link)
Kunar, it should be noted, is mainly a Pashtun province. The Afghan military, on the other hand, is disproportionately non-Pashtun, particularly in higher ranks.

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

Foreign Minister Bernier in Afghanistan; Canada won't interfere?

KANDAHAR, Afghanistan — Foreign Affairs Minister Maxime Bernier contradicted all publicly available assessments of security in southern Afghanistan Sunday with a bold claim that insurgent attacks have decreased in Kandahar, leaving the province more secure for humanitarian work. ...

"The security situation in Afghanistan is assessed by most analysts as having deteriorated at a constant rate through 2007," said a paper by the UN Department of Safety and Security in August. That report showed violent incidents increased almost 25 per cent this year, although the authors noted that the figure may be conservative.

Kandahar was among only three provinces listed in the United Nations report as places where the security situation has fallen into its worst category — "Extreme Risk/Hostile Environment" — across most of the province. This rating causes less accessibility to UN programs, the report notes.

These statistics fit with those collected by other analysts. The respected security firm Vigilant Strategic Services Afghanistan found that Kandahar suffered more anti-government attacks than any other province, in a tally of incidents from the beginning of the year to Sept. 30. ...
Interference and hypocrisy
Following the executions of 15 Afghan prisoners in Kabul earlier this week, Canadian officials responded with muted concerns, citing a reluctance to "interfere" in an internal Afghan matter. (The Dutch, meanwhile, called the executions "extremely unwelcome".)

Yet Canada has already interfered in internal matters there, as we blogged about here last month. To repeat:
The police chief in Zhari district is on his way out, in part because of Canadian complaints about his performance.

"He was probably more part of the problem than the solution," [Colonel] Juneau said. (link)

Sunday, October 7, 2007

Six years in Afghanistan: A timeline; Prince William's mentor killed

Lifted from The Independent:

* October, 2001 – British-backed US-led air strikes against Taliban strongholds. Taliban leader Mullah Omar flees to Pakistan border as his forces forced to withdraw.

* December, 2001 – The Bonn deal on the future of Afghanistan sees the creation of an interim government, headed by the US-backed President Hamid Karzai. .

* January, 2002 – Nato peacekeepers arrive with a year-long mandate.

* June, 2002 – The "grand assembly" selects Hamid Karzai as interim president.

* July, 2002 – Attacks increase throughout country and a vice-president, Haji Abdul Qadir, is shot dead with his son-in-law in Kabul.

* September, 2002 – Assassination attempt on President Karzai.

* January, 2004 – The Assembly backs a new national constitution

paving way for elections.

* September, 2004 – Another attempt on life of Karzai who is confirmed as President with 55 per cent of vote in elections - first for a generation.

* Spring/summer, 2006 – Taliban regroup in the south and carry out a series of fierce attacks there and elsewhere.

* July-October, 2006 – Nato peacekeeping forces, 18,500 and rising, take over full control.

* Spring, 2007 – Renewed efforts made by British-led coalition troops to force Taliban out of south.

* October, 2007 – Violent incidents, especially suicide bombings, are up 30 per cent on last year, with an average of 550 a month.

Patrick Cockburn on Afghanistan
Six years after a war was launched to overthrow the Taliban, British solders are still being killed in bloody skirmishing in a conflict in which no final victory is possible. ...

The outcome of the conflict in Afghanistan will be decided in Washington and Islamabad. There is no chance of defeating the Taliban so long as they can retreat, retrain and recoup in the mountain fastnesses of Pakistan.

Yesterday, we learned of the death of another British soldier. Although his identity has not been released, it is believed that the dead man acted as a mentor to Prince William. ...

Victory in Afghanistan six years after the start of the war to overthrow the Taliban is not likely. Even massively expanding troop levels would just mean more targets, and more losses. Armies of occupation, or perceived occupation, always provoke a reaction. ... (link)

Taliban offensive brewing?

Last week, this blog noted that recent Taliban activity in Ghazni province was unusual, since the insurgents massed in a group of some 200 fighters, easily taking a remote district. The following day, 300 Afghan and US-led forces retook the area from insurgents.

Asia Times' veteran reporter Syed Saleem Shahzad writes that this may be the beginnings of a pre-winter push by the Taliban, aimed at taking key territories before fighting winds down due to weather. The reasons Shahzad gives for the timing are interesting, involving the politics of Pakistan, where the Taliban's top leaders are based:

The Pakistani Taliban and Islamabad signed peace agreements in February 2005 and September 2006, under the terms of which the Pakistani Army cut back its troop levels in the tribal areas in return for militants stopping their attacks on the Pakistani Army and forces in Afghanistan.

In July the Taliban abandoned the treaties following the storming of the radical Lal Masjid (Red Mosque) in Islamabad by government troops. ...

In the past 10 days, however, militants have launched at least nine carefully planned operations against security positions in [Pakistan]...

As a result, all security operations against the Taliban and their al-Qaeda colleagues in the tribal areas have stopped, and by all accounts the army is running scared. ... (link)

Saturday, October 6, 2007

Civilians dead in Paktika, Paktia and Kunar; Brits to bring in special forces and mercs

A clash involving US-led troops of Operation Enduring freedom, operating in Paktika province, resulted in several civilians being killed. According to the Associated Press:

The joint force came under attack during a raid on compounds suspected of housing militants in Waza Khwa district, in Paktika province. In the ensuing battle, several Taliban fighters, but also civilians — including a woman and a child — were killed, a coalition statement said. (link)
Pajhwok Afghan News puts the number of dead civilians at seven (see here).

In two other incidents, three more civilians were killed by NATO troops:

In Kunar, two civilians were shot dead and three others wounded when their vehicle failed to stop at a checkpoint. According to the BBC:
It said the truck was given several signals to stop but failed to do so and was, in Isaf's words, "engaged by the Isaf checkpoint"...
In Paktia, meanwhile, another civilian was shot at a checkpoint. The BBC continues:
Isaf said the second incident happened further south in Paktia province when a man approached one of its convoys behaving suspiciously.

It said he ignored signs and shouts to stop and, on trying to evade capture, was shot dead by Isaf personnel.
UK to send elite forces
Last week, we reported how British military brass do not expect their troops will be able to hold some recently captured territory. Trying to regain the upper hand, London has decided on its own version of a troops surge:
London is to send 3000 paratroopers, including the entire Parachute Regiment, to southern Afghanistan in the northern spring, as well as [tripling] the number of special forces in the country.

It will be the first time in the regiment's history that all four para battalions, including its reservists, have fought together on the same battlefield.

... It has also emerged that the Ministry of Defence is considering ways in which private security companies could bolster frontline troops in war zones such as Afghanistan. ...

The plan will involve the force of 7000 British troops returning from Afghanistan and a total of 8000 being sent out, bringing together the army's most battle-hardened elite. (link)
The move comes as the number of UK forces in Iraq is about to be reduced from 5,250 to 4,500.

Wednesday, October 3, 2007

Hundreds of Taliban take Ghazni district

Agence France Presse reports claims of local officials that hundreds of Taliban fighters stormed a district centre in Ghazni, killing two police in the process. Surviving police retreated, leaving the Taliban in charge.

Readers will no doubt be aware that a mass of hundreds of insurgents is a rarity in Afghanistan lately. NATO and US military officials predicted that Taliban would never again amass in large groups after Operation Medusa, which military brass claimed killed hundreds of insurgents.

Also of note, the incident occurred in Ghazni, in central Afghanistan, where Taliban have lately been without control of any districts, unlike Helmand and Kandahar provinces where Taliban have their own in administration officials operating in some districts.

Norway's quid pro quo

OSLO, Oct 3 (Reuters) - Norway expects NATO to help defend its Arctic borders given its involvement in the western military alliance's operations in Afghanistan, Defence Minister Anne-Grete Strom-Erichsen said.

Norway shares its Arctic sea and land borders with Russia, which has increased military activity there over past months. ... (link)
Cynics might point to Canada's recent yearnings in the Arctic (and the parallel Russian rivalry) and suggest Canada kick up a similar fuss to make our needs known.

Rubin Video, Part 2
The second part of an interview with Barnett Rubin, the leading academic authority on Afghanistan. (link)

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

Canadians fire on civilians; UK forces may lose ground

Canadians kill Afghan civilian, wound child
The Canadian Press
October 2, 2007

KANDAHAR, Afghanistan — An Afghan civilian was killed and a child injured Tuesday in what a military spokesman said was an accidental shooting by Canadian troops.

A Canadian combat logistics patrol was on a resupply mission to Canada's forward operating base at Ma'sum Ghar when a motorcycle approached the convoy in downtown Kandahar.

The driver of the motorcycle was shot and the passenger, an eight-year-old child, was injured, a military spokeswoman said.
The circumstances seem a bit strange:
... a motorcycle carrying a 35-year-old man and his young son were driving towards the convoy," Chao told CTV Newsnet, reporting from Kandahar.

"They did not heed the warnings by the soldiers to stay back. Unfortunately an accidental discharge of a weapon happened. These are the words the military is using to describe it: an accidental discharge." (CTV)

[...] 'Canadians are acting like enemies ... they are not here to help. They are destroying us,' the injured boy's uncle told CTV News from the boy's hospital bedside at Mirwais Hospital.
NATO admits weakness
The Guardian reports that NATO's commander acknowledges the likelihood that territory which British troops currently hold could fall to Taliban forces in coming months:
General Dan McNeill, an American, said British soldiers had made "significant progress" in Helmand province but were facing difficulties securing gains and it was "likely" some of the ground would have to be taken again if the Taliban regrouped over the winter.
Recall that Canadian Forces operating in Kandahar province, next door to Helmand, recently retook area that they had won in Operation Medusa last year. The area had fallen to Taliban insurgents.

Barnett Rubin interview (video)
Watch as Rubin, the leading academic specialist on Afghanistan, answers a question about Iran's influence on the Taliban and its role in Afghanistan. (link)

Monday, October 1, 2007

Interview - Ragstar and Skinner

Back in the summer, we ran excerpts of Mike Skinner's travelogue of Afghanistan (starting here). Today we run an excerpt of an interview on the Dominion site with Skinner and fellow Afghan-Canada Research Group member Hamayon Ragstar. Skinner and Ragstar spent one and three months in Afghanistan on their recent visits, respectively (Ragstar was born there).

[Skinner:] ... We were told that the Canadian military is forcing evacuations of villages. Many people also suffer human rights abuses such as home invasions, arbitrary arrest and detention.

We occasionally hear about some of the worst cases of civilian deaths in the Canadian media, but most of the damage our military is doing remains undocumented.

...I think that probably the largest number of [the population of Afghanistan] actually had some really mixed feelings[about the US/NATO invasion]; a lot of people said initially they’d hoped there would be some progressive change. The Taliban were a repressive regime, certainly an incredibly anti-woman regime so people held out hope for some progressive change. But that hope has dissipated in the past 6 years because those changes have not occurred. ...

We asked for a list of CIDA projects from the Canadian embassy in Afghanistan and they said they would contact us and we never heard back from them. We stumbled across one CIDA project that was an artificial insemination project – with a sign on an office – it was closed and the windows were broken. ...

[Question:] RAWA (Revolutionary Association of Afghan Women), Malalai Joya (former Afghan parliamentarian), and sections of the international ‘left’ who recognize the presence of warlords and drug barons in the Afghan government, but who say the regime as a whole cannot be dismissed. That is, they claim that people like Karzai are different from these warlords, and can still be worked with. Do you agree with this assertion?

Hamayon Ragstar: I don’t agree with this position at all because it does not reflect the reality on the ground. Hamid Karzai’s government is corrupt from A to Z –Hamid Karzai’s brother himself, Ahmad Wali Karzai, is the largest drug lord in the southern provinces. ...

[Skinner, on the Canadian Forces:] The Canadian military will give 24 hours warning to a village, they’ll tell the people ‘we are coming to your village – evacuate!’ and if you don’t evacuate you risk being killed. So of course people evacuate. The forces come in, they are looking for weapons, explosives. But because it is considered unsafe to go into a building because it might be booby-trapped, they just destroy every building: they destroy the homes, they destroy the farm buildings, they destroy the wells because there might be weapons hidden in the well. And then they leave and tell the people they can go back. Then for some reason the Canadian military is shocked when these people become refugees instead of going back and starting all over again to rebuild their homes and their farms... (links: part 1; part 2)