Friday, May 23, 2008

Occupation turns Afghans into insurgents

The Toronto Star's Rosie DiManno follows up on the story out of Nangarhar province which we examined two weeks ago.

Making Afghan enemies
When U.S. forces descended on a village, rounding up the men and killing three, they left behind newly fertile ground for Taliban recruiters

NANGARHAR, May 24 - It's an eerily quiet village, almost a ghost hamlet...

The murky events in Khale Faram – either a disastrous military cock-up or a legitimate raid that resulted in the death of three insurgents – make a story that needs to be told.

Because Khale Faram is every village in Afghanistan where the population is seething over civilian deaths caused by foreign troops conducting military operations. About 200 people have been killed by Afghan and coalition forces since the beginning of this year, according to UN officials; more than 300 have been killed by militants during that time.

"There were no Taliban fighters here," insists Haji Halim, head of the youth council in Old Marcoh, the nearest town to the village, some 40 kilometres east of Jalalabad, the provincial capital and thoroughly Pashtun.

"But there will be now. The Americans are driving our young men to the insurgents by coming into our villages in the middle of the night, invading our homes, shooting innocent people. This is how you make enemies, not friends."

Shah Raji Durshi, a former jihad commander, wants the story out...

This much is certain: Three Afghan males were killed in the early morning hours of May 10. They are: cousins Jalil and Jahangir, 28 and 26; and Haji Gulmir, 80.

"Haji was sleeping right here," says Durshi, pointing to a terrace area just outside the village mosque. "He heard the shooting. He got up to see what was happening and he was shot. This is where he died, an old man who wasn't hurting anybody."

Sahilan, 25, picks up the tale.

"It was 2 o'clock in the morning. Suddenly, there was gunfire. I came outside and there were American troops everywhere. They rounded up all the men, me and my three brothers too. They made us kneel down and they tied our wrists together."

The cousins, adds another villager, were shot in their compound, located just behind the mosque...

But this wasn't a coalition operation, as Brig.-Gen. Carlo Branca [sic - i.e. Carlos Branco], chief spokesperson for the International Security Assistance Force, made clear last week, although asserting that the dead were definitely insurgents: "that's 100 per cent for sure." Nor were Afghan forces involved... (link)
DiManno is deeply suspicious of wily Afghans who claim the dead were innocents and not insurgents (see link), yet apparently sees nothing to doubt in NATO's assurances to the contrary - despite the fact that one of the victims was an 80 year-old man.

The phenomenon of foreign forces driving Afghans to insurgency is a common theme:
Helmand Farmers Fight to Defend Opium Crop
Growers take up arms alongside the Taleban

By Mohammad Ilyas Dayee

HELMAND, May 19 (IWPR) - Until recently, the Marja area of Helmand province, close to the provincial capital Lashkar Gah, enjoyed relative peace. The main occupation here is farming, albeit with a specific twist – opium poppies take up almost all the arable land.

The calm ended last month when the Afghan government decided to send “eradication teams” into Marja to destroy the crop.

Local residents say the tougher new line yielded little other than angering and radicalising the farmers...

"To be honest, I am very happy that the campaign has failed in the Marja district,” said Janan [a local]. “We’d lose everything if the Taleban didn't help us. We wouldn’t have anything to eat if our poppy fields were destroyed. I thank God for the Taleban.” ...

In previous years, efforts to eradicate the crop have faltered, largely due to corruption. This year, the government announced a major counter-narcotics initiative, and farmers complained that police were no longer as susceptible to bribery as they used to be.

The Taleban have mounted their own campaign to capitalise on the anger and desperation of Helmand’s farmers. According to local residents, the insurgents have been distributing guns and turning farmers into fighters...

A policeman in the Sipan area, speaking on condition of anonymity, confirmed that the eradication efforts had failed.

“A huge campaign involving many people came to Marja, but it was unable to confront the Taleban,” he said. “The Taleban in Marja are very strong. They attack us every night. That is the only reason why the campaign failed.” ...

Ali Mohammad, who lives in Marja, said the police were lucky to get away with their lives.

“The police had a lot of personnel and many vehicles. I cannot understand why they did not destroy any poppy fields,” he told IWPR. “But the farmers were all saying that they would resist until they were caught or killed. The interior ministry team was lucky to leave quickly.”

The final results of this season’s poppy eradication campaign have yet to be tabulated, but preliminary figures reported by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime suggest that several thousand hectares of land have been destroyed in Helmand, out of at least 100,000 hectares cultivated with the crop. That is at least an improvement on last year, when an area less than 1,000 hectares is believed to have undergone eradication.

The area under cultivation is believed to have remained more or less stable, because there is little more arable land available to grow poppy.

Counter-narcotics officials with Helmand’s provincial government have been conducting their own campaign, and they are proud of the results...

“We have destroyed 7,500 hectares of poppy,” said Fazel Ahmad Shirzad, a senior official with the Helmand counter-narcotics department. “I have no idea what the interior ministry’s team has done. They have not been in touch with us.” ...

Mohammad Hussein Andiwal, Helmand’s chief of police, gave a rousing speech when the season’s eradication campaign kicked off, saying, “This time we will use all of our resources and destroy all of the poppy.”

His police then launched a campaign, which, according to farmers, was fierce and efficient...

The resolute campaign pursued by the provincial administration may have set the scene for the Taleban’s success in Marja. The uncompromising nature of the eradication effort, contrasting with the more malleable approach seen in past years, clearly angered the farmers and spurred them to take up arms – and find allies where they could.

“The campaign destroyed lands belonging to pro-government farmers,” said Ali Shah Mazlumyar, a tribal elder from the area. “Then the Taleban showed those farmers that they could protect them. So even the pro-government farmers took up arms and stood with the Taleban when the interior ministry came.”... (link)

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