Sunday, March 30, 2008

Afghan Canadian says media soft on Karzai regime


The Support Our Mission blog, best known for being an ersatz grassroots campaign (see below), seems a bit taken aback by comments from Nelofer Pazira, the Afghan-Canadian star of Kandahar. It wasn't the usual speech for the Canadian War Museum, where she spoke before a crowd of fellow Carleton U. alumni:

Speaking before a crowd of at least 150 Carleton University alumni, she painted a picture of today’s Afghanistan where corruption is rife and suffering widespread. Despite billions being spent by well-intentionned Westerners, our efforts are failing to build a better country and our leaders accept a level of corruption in the Karzai administration that she says is alienating ordinary Afghans. ...

Having lived through what she hoped was the worst for her country, she came back encouraged by the seeming determination of the Western world to get right what they’d gotten so wrong in the last twenty years in Afghanistan.

Instead she found her country being run by many of the same warlords and Islamists–this time from a parliament in Kabul, instead of from the seat of their local fiefdoms–that had ruined her country in the 80s and 90s.

A Carleton University educated journalist, Pazira condemned Western media outlets for failing to adequately convey the shortcomings of the new regime. If journalists ever make it outside the base, she says, they seek out feel-good stories about girls going to school and life returning to normal. The reality, she claims, is that Afghans are exhausted and frustrated with rising corruption among the Afghan police and government officials and that Western contractors are hobbling the potential of the Afghan economy.

Pazira likened the decision to replace President Karzai’s Afghan security detail with U.S. Marines as the beginning of a perception problem on par with what Afghans experienced during the Soviet era when invading forces installed a puppet regime to carry out Moscow’s orders.

With due deference to Pazira’s knowledge and experience, I understand not all observers would accept her characterization. Nonetheless, the lecture raises questions that warrant discussion:

  • Are we supporting forces of positive change in Afghanistan?
  • If we must accept a level of imperfection in the process and allow time for new Afghan structures and governance to improve, where must we insist on basic standards? Where can we afford to turn a blind eye?
  • We condemned the ultimately doomed Soviet incursion into Afghanistan in the 1980s. If it’s our contention that the UN’s project in Afghanistan is different today, how is it so? How do we explain this to the people directly affected? Where must we do a better job? ... (link)
The blog, a spin-off of a Facebook group called Canadians for Afghanistan, got some unsolicited press coverage some weeks back:
Ex-Tory staffer behind pro-mission group
The Ottawa Citizen - January 25, 2008

A self-described grassroots youth organization that wants Canada to continue its mission in Afghanistan was organized with help from a lobbyist who, until recently, worked for a prominent Conservative MP.

The group, Canadians for Afghanistan, introduced itself to the national media on Parliament Hill yesterday by calling on Canada to remain committed to ongoing military and humanitarian support. ...

The Canadians For Afghanistan website lists its main contact as Josh McJannett, a former Conservative staffer who worked for government whip Jay Hill until September. He had previously worked as an aide to Conservative MP Rahim Jaffer.

After leaving the Hill, Mr. McJannett became a lobbyist with Summa Strategies, an Ottawa government-relations firm that counts some defence contractors, including U.S. aircraft manufacturer Boeing, among its clients.

Canadians for Afghanistan was formed a few months later.

Mr. McJannett didn't speak at the press conference and, when asked where he was, one of the Canadians for Afghanistan speakers said he was "in Ottawa." In fact, Mr. McJannett was sitting in the gallery in the briefing room, metres from the podium. He declined to answer questions after the news conference, but did say he was on the steering committee. ... (link)

Aid SNAFU

The BBC's Frank Gardner recently revealed that Arab soldiers from the United Arab Emirates have been operating in Afghanistan alongside American units. Here, his film crew goes out with the Emiratis and captures a scene which is perhaps a common one:

Afghan 'trust' in Arab troops
BBC, Saturday, 29 March 2008

(This week the BBC's Frank Gardner revealed that a contingent of Arab troops from the United Arab Emirates (UAE) has been secretly operating alongside the Americans in Afghanistan. But getting access to them took months and was fraught with hurdles, especially as our correspondent is in a wheelchair. - BBC editors)

[S]afety concerns meant I had to stay behind on-base - "in the rear, with the gear, where there is no fear" - while our crew went off to film. ...

In the village of Qalat Baland, my companions watched as boxes of sweet, sticky dates were handed out to grey-bearded elders, and children were given school notebooks while a tall, charismatic Emirati army officer sat cross-legged in a courtyard, listening as a young boy chanted verses from the Koran by memory.

From the pictures they brought back it all looked a vision of harmony, but then I could see it began to go wrong - word spread that there was not enough to go round.

Suddenly the crowd surged, pushing and elbowing their way past the uniformed troops to get at the plastic-wrapped goodies.

The Afghan police, who had now turned up, weighed in with unrestrained brutality and it took all the Emiratis' diplomacy to restore calm before the scene descended into a riot. ... (link)
For a visual depiction of a similar scene, see the video I edited on the Afghan war here (Part 1) and here (Part 2). In it, Canadian soldiers on a Village Medical Outreach mission (which is a very rare phenomenon, despite Canadian Forces' propaganda claims) simply run out of medicines to dispense.

Kambakhsh moved to Kabul

Condemned journalism student Pervez Kambakhsh was finally moved out of Mazar-e Sharif and into Pul-e Charkhi prison, east of Kabul. The fact that the move could happen at all indicates that the recent prison riot at the facility (see here and here) has probably ended, though I've seen no comment to that effect. Though Reporters without Borders, who have been Kambakhsh's main Western advocates, are frequently cited by the mainstream press, and although the student's jailers are our allies, the Canadian press has been reluctant to cover the case. True to form, the latest announcement, though carried by the AFP newswire (here), doesn't appear to have gained any print media attention in this country.

Kambakhsh now awaits trial. His lawyers have reportedly said they will seek a pardon.

(See our previous coverage of the case here, here, here and here.)

Friday, March 28, 2008

Hard to find a Karzai supporter in Afghanistan

British journalist Chris Sands, whom we've featured before on this blog (see here), writes in the New Statesman:

Chris Sands

Afghanistan: is it too late?
The Taliban are very far from being defeated. Worse, western governments are in denial about the dangers of failing

[W]hat the west is starting to acknowledge, people here have known for some time: Afghanistan is not a success story. ...

Earlier this year I met the husband of an MP from southern Afghanistan. With him was a team of bodyguards that he had hired recently after his wife received threatening phone calls telling her never to go back to parliament. When I asked him who was responsible, he insisted it was allies of Karzai. People are frightened by all sides in this war, including government and Nato-led forces. ...

Mahfouz Khan was killed in [a suicide bombing]. At first, his brother Isatullah could only find a familiar-looking pair of legs in the morgue. Then he discovered the body. ...

"I will never blame the suicide bomber. Maybe he was in trouble or had been given bad advice. Someone had put him under pressure and told him this would be Islamic, or perhaps he was just very poor," said Isatullah. "But I blame my government. If we had a proper government that could deploy good police on our borders how could these people cross into our cities? There is no real government and no real police. Everyone in the government is a killer."

It is now hard to find an Afghan who genuinely supports Karzai. From Kabul to Kandahar, people complain that his administration is incompetent and corrupt. Their loyalty is to tribal elders, religious leaders or militia commanders, not to a regime they believe to be the tool of the Americans. ...

Violence is also rising in the north, where warlords are tightening their grip on power. ...

Many people hate the Taliban, but that does not mean they like Britain, the US, Nato or the Karzai government. In the words of a former Northern Alliance commander, a one-time ally of the US: "Now when any foreigner is killed every Afghan says, 'Praise be to God.'" (link)

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Only Afghan media reveal civilian death toll

Picking through the Afghan media, one often finds reports of incidents which went unreported in the Western press. Such is the case with this article:

Helmand dwellers protest NATO operation

LASHKARGAH - Mar 9 (Pajhwok Afghan News): Nad Ali district residents staged a protest demonstration on Sunday against a NATO troops operation that killed two people in the southern Helmand province.

At least 400 protestors, who migrated to the Nad Ali from Washer district due to a severe drought and persisting insecurity, took rallied against the civilian slayings.

A day earlier, the demonstrators claimed, the foreign troops raided a house, killing two people including a child and detained another.

One participant Abdur Razzaq, in a chat with Pajhwok Afghan News, demanded of the government to investigate the incident. If the demand was not met, he warned, the people themselves would take action against the troops.

"We are poor people with no links to militants. Why are the troops killing us?" asked Noor Muhammad, who complained they continued to suffer both at the hands of the guerrillas as well as security forces. ...

A NATO spokesman in the province has confirmed the killings during a search operation of a house in the district. However, he explained the irresponsible attitude of the house owner provoked the troops into opening fire at them. (link)
Following shortly after that incident, as readers may recall, NATO forces killed four civilians in an air attack in Helmand on about March 12.

Now again, the Afghan press relates another incident of civilians killed which the foreign press didn't mention:
NATO airstrike kills 13 civilians in Helmand, locals say

LASHKARGAH - Mar 14 (Pajhwok Afghan News) Residents of Grishk district in southern Helmand province claim 13 civilians including women and children were killed by bombings of foreign troops.

However a spokesman for British forces in Helmand confirming the bombing claimed several Taliban militants were killed in the attack.

Mohammadullah, a resident of Grishk told Pajhwok Afghan News 13 civilians were killed in the air strike in Hyderabad village of the district. Another resident Mohammad Shoib also confirming the killing of civilians said the bombing started after Taliban attacked a patrolling party of NATO forces. ...

Though NATO forces had announced two months back that the Hyderabad area had been recaptured from the militants[,] local people claim Taliban still dominate[ ] the area. (link)
Residents of Helmand got no reprieve, as just three days later in Sangin district, it happened again. "Local lawmakers and Sangin residents said at least 50 people were killed when NATO jets bombed an area where people were playing games," said the VOA News.

No this revealing incident, not covered by the Western press at all it seems:
NATO troops fire on reporters in Ghazni

GHAZNI CITY - Mar 26 (Pajhwok Afghan News): NATO troops opened fire on a vehicle of reporters accompanying the Afghan National Army (ANA) in the Andar district of the restive Khost province on Tuesday.

The group of reporters with ANA soldiers was to monitor aid distribution in the Taliban-infested southern province. As a result of fire from ISAF personnel, the reporters vehicle flipped over.

Reporters of Pajhwok Afghan News (PAN), BBC, Bakhtar News Agency (BNA) and Radio/Television Authority (RTA) were travelling in the vehicle. Some of the journalists were slightly injured in the accident.

Ghazni-based BBC reporter Asadullah Jalalzai, who linked the incident to lack of coordination between ANA and NATO forces, slammed US troops as arrogant. He said the foreign forces always treated passenger vehicles in a rash manner.

"We were companying the ANA convoy and the NATO personnel who opened fire on us did not bother to stop for investigation or help," Jalalzai charged.

BNA reporter Raz Muhammad accused the foreign [troops] of failing to differentiate between civilians and militants. The ISAF and US troops always targetted civilians, he claimed. ... (link)
With all this obvious discontent, it is tempting to suppose there is more going on than meets the eye in this report:
Afghan Government Seeks Exit Of Foreign Army Bases From Kabul

KABUL - Mar 26 (AFP) An Afghan parliamentary committee is working on a draft proposal to demand foreign forces move their bases out of central Kabul to ease congestion in the overcrowded capital, an official said.

Traffic in the densely populated city is often gridlocked because of the presence of barriers that block roads in.

The situation compounds further by concrete anti-blast blocks positioned around foreign military bases, some of them in the heart of the capital.

"International forces should remove their military bases from the city center to the suburbs," Kabir Ranjbar, head of the lower house's inspection and oversight on law implementation committee, said Wednesday. ...

Ranjbar said the proposal will also include a suggestion that the troops stop patrolling the city which was hampering the traffic.

"I think there's no need for foreign soldiers to patrol the city. Now we have our own security forces to do the job," he said. ... (link)

Those last words seem like an echo of Education Minister Atmar's recent call for Afghans to take over security from foreigners (blogged here). And don't forget that last month, when President Karzai was away on holidays, a government-run paper's editorial called for foreign armies to set a pull-out date.

Why Canada Should Withdraw

Mike Skinner of the Afghanistan Canada Research Group wrote the group's submission to the Manley panel (excerpted below). He also wrote a travelogue of sorts last summer when he and fellow researcher Hamayon Ragstar traveled to Afghanistan in part to film a documentary film. We excerpted Skinner's valuable journal, starting here and ending here. Also, Skinner and Ragstar sat for an interview with the Dominion (excerpted here), an excellent website which is a welcome and badly needed voice in Canadian media.

Afghanistan: Why Canada Should Withdraw Its Troops
by Michael Skinner

The Afghanistan Canada Research Group was formed in 2006 by a group of York University graduate students concerned with the Canadian Mission in Afghanistan. The focus of our work over the past two years was to document Afghan opinions of the international intervention in Afghanistan.

In June and July of 2007, I spent five weeks travelling in Afghanistan with another researcher Hamayon Rastgar. ...

[T]he high number of grievances Afghans expressed in opposition to the international intervention we recorded suggests there may be far less support for the military mission than some polls suggest. ...

Afghans expressed to us numerous grievances regarding the international intervention: 1) the international military forces are causing high numbers of civilian casualties, displacing populations, arbitrarily arresting and detaining people, and generally humiliating Afghans; 2) the international intervention has reconstituted the theocratic regime first instituted by force with American support, in 1992, and has rewarded warlords who are accused of war crimes; 3) the international community has not reconstructed the essentials of public infrastructure in any systematic way; and 4) promises of liberating women are perceived as not only ineffectual, but intentionally deceptive. ...

We had a close encounter, when our taxi driver mistakenly pulled into an intersection in front of an ISAF convoy. Our driver stated we were fortunate the soldiers were Turkish rather than Canadian or American, because the Canadians and Americans are known to shoot the occupants of the car in such cases. ...

We were told that, if insurgents are suspected of staying in a village, the villagers are given twenty-four hours notice by the Canadian Forces to evacuate or else risk death. After the evacuation, every building, water well, and any other place weapons could be hidden is destroyed. After thoroughly sweeping the village for weapons caches -- a process that can take days -- the villagers are allowed to return to care for their parched livestock and wilted crops and to rebuild their homes and livelihoods.

One of our sources stated: "For some reason, the Canadian officers are mystified when these people become refugees, instead of undertaking the nearly impossible task of rebuilding their lives from scratch." ...

Many Afghans reminded us that Afghanistan had always been a secular state until the mujaheddin instituted the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan, in 1992. ...

Afghanistan remains a theocratic state today, thanks to the current international military mission. This is despite the United Nations Security Council Resolution 1378, 14 November 2001, which expressly states a new Afghan government should respect freedom of religion, which also implies freedom of secular beliefs.

The commitment to religious freedom made by the UN Security Council was overturned at the Bonn Conference, where it was decided Afghans have the right "to freely determine their own political future in accordance with the principles of Islam" (Bonn declaration). ...

Many Afghans reminded us that the drafters of the Bonn declaration also expressed "their appreciation to the Afghan mujahidin . . . whose sacrifice has now made them both heroes of jihad and champions of peace, stability and reconstruction of their beloved homeland, Afghanistan. . ." (Bonn declaration). ...

Many Afghans reminded us that the military leaders of the Northern Alliance -- the same warlords accused of multiple war crimes and crimes against humanity and the same leaders who first instituted the repressive and misogynist regime of the original Islamic Republic of Afghanistan -- now form the core of the ruling and business class of the reconstituted Islamic Republic of Afghanistan. ...

Peter MacKay claims: "More than 80 per cent of Afghans have access to basic health care today"...

But in reality, few Afghans have access to adequate medical care. The Afghanistan Research and Evaluation Unit (AREU) reports: "The healthcare statistics many policymakers cite are exaggerated; living in a district where a healthcare facility exists in no way means people have real access to these services; and services are often of poor quality and facilities cannot meet the high demand" ("Afghanistan's Health System Since 2001," AREU, Dec. 2006).

An investigation of CIDA's claims of improving healthcare states: "We could not find evidence of CIDA work or CIDA funded work at Kandahar hospital that matched the information given to us by CIDA. . . . there were 28 children sharing 8 beds" ("The Canadian International Development Agency in Kandahar: Unanswered Questions," Senlis Council, 2007). ...

The international forces claim they cannot construct development projects without first stabilising the security situation -- a claim met by incredulous disbelief by Afghans who must live in this environment.

We witnessed disgusting scenes of abject poverty immediately outside the walls of the American embassy -- within sight, earshot, and I suspect smelling range of American embassy officials. This is a neighbourhood which, along with most of Kabul, has been secure since 2001, so claims that reconstruction must wait for stabilisation obviously do not apply. The smell of sewage and garbage is overpowering. Children line up throughout the day at water taps -- sometimes waiting for hours -- for water to be turned on. ...

We also witnessed the construction of a new shopping centre across the street from a bombed-out school. After six years of occupation, students still study in this shell of a school without protection from the weather, but a tiny minority of wealthy Afghans and international workers will soon have a new place to shop. ...

Many Afghans find the rationalisation of the international forces hard to believe when many areas of Afghanistan are obviously considered stable enough to construct commercial developments that make a few people rich, but apparently not stable enough to construct social developments that could benefit all Afghans. ... (link to pdf of Manley panel submission)

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Underwhelmed with aid

ACBAR is the Agency Coordinating Body for Afghan Relief, a sort of umbrella organisation to coordinate aid in Afghanistan. The other day, they released a new report authored by Matt Waldman (a researcher with Oxfam - see here) entitled "Falling Short: Aid Effectiveness in Afghanistan" (available here in pdf). It's causing a bit of a stir for its claim that some 40% of all aid money spent returns to donor countries as profits and fees. However, the problems are far worse than that, not least of which is the fact that much of the pledged aid is never delivered (see graphic).

Here's a Reuters article on the report:

Afghan peace hurt by failed aid pledges - agencies

KABUL, March 25 (Reuters) - Peace in Afghanistan is being undermined by the failure of Western nations to deliver promised assistance, aid agencies said on Tuesday.

Afghanistan relies on international aid for 90 percent of its spending ...

The U.S. military alone now spends some $100 million a day fighting Taliban insurgents in Afghanistan, but spending on aid by all donors since 2001 amounts to only $7 million a day. ...

Afghanistan received just $57 per capita in aid in the two years after international intervention, compared with $679 a head in Bosnia and $233 in East Timor, it said.

The international community has pledged to spend some $25 billion on reconstruction and development in Afghanistan.

But, the report said, "just $15 billion in aid has so far been spent, of which it is estimated a staggering 40 percent has returned to donor countries in corporate profits and salaries".

While there are problems delivering development due to poor security, government corruption and the ability of the country to absorb aid, major donors have fallen far behind on their pledges, ACBAR said.

The United States, by far the biggest donor, has paid out only half of the $10 billion it committed in aid to Afghanistan for the period 2002-2008, the Asia Development Bank and India only a third of their pledged assistance for the same period.

Two-thirds of international assistance to Afghanistan bypasses the Afghan government, undermining the rebuilding of its state institutions. Donors also do not coordinate well among themselves and with the Afghan government, the report said.

Afghanistan called for funds to be channelled through government coffers. ... (link)
Turning to the ACBAR report itself, coming in for particular comment is the Provincial Reconstruction Team, or PRT:
With greater funding and technical capabilities PRTs have often overshadowed and in some cases assumed the responsibilities of local government. Thus, they have slowed the emergence and development of state institutions at local level, which jeopardises the broader prospects for medium to long term statebuilding. It also hinders efforts to increase Afghan ownership of the development process. ... (link to pdf)
A few weeks ago, we heard from the Guardian's Conor Foley, who is well-informed on the subject of aid. "Six years into the occupation, it is clear that the PRT strategy has failed," he wrote (see blog entry here).

Elsewhere, Foley has more on the subject:
Sleepwalking to disaster
By Conor Foley - February 26, 2008

... Aid is being poured into areas, not on the basis of where it is needed, or can do any good, but solely because of its supposed ability to buy the allegiance of local populations to stop them trying to kill western soldiers. If the strategy was working then we could at least discuss its merits, but it patently is not because the insurgency is spreading. Almost all of the areas which have received the largest assistance over the last few years are now increasingly coming under the Taliban's control.

Much of the aid is being delivered by military-led Provincial Reconstruction Teams (PRTs), which the head of one UN agency described to me as being "largely amateurs with plenty of money, but little sense of what needs to be done or how." ... (link)
With all these disastrous effects of the militarization of aid, it is not surprising that aid organisations are under fire:
Kabul’s development community returned from an important conference of donors in Tokyo this month, depressed that government ministers increasingly blame the international community for Afghanistan’s problems. ... (link)

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Atmar calls for 'Afghanisation' of the war

Afghanistan's Minister of Education, Mohammad Hanif Atmar (pictured), talked to the BBC recently:

BBC
'Leave Taleban to Afghans' call

An influential Afghan minister has called on the West to allow local communities in Afghanistan to take over the fight against the Taleban.

Education Minister Mohammad Hanif Atmar said the answer lay in what he called the "Afghanisation" of security.

Mr Atmar, who is a close ally of President Hamid Karzai, said Afghan forces needed more training. ...

While Nato leaders have been calling for member countries to commit more troops to Afghanistan, Mr Atmar told the BBC that this was not the answer.

He says a traditional Afghan system, with local communities being allowed to practice self-defence, would be more effective.

He believes that Afghan forces could defeat the Taleban in five years, instead of the 15 he believes Nato would need.

And with at least 10 times as much money being spent on foreign troops as on Afghan forces, he believes that money could be better spent in training and providing resources.

The BBC's Elettra Neysmith says "Afghanisation" is a popular concept at the moment within Nato.

She says it has been cynically described as a "get out of jail free" card for Western countries mired in the deepening Taleban insurgency. ... (link)
We last heard from Atmar last month, citing his participation in crafting an international NGO report on women and peace-building in Afghanistan. The youthful educational minister, along with two prominent Afghan women, were among the report's expert authors. Therein, they explain that emboldened conservative forces "both inside and outside parliament" threaten efforts to achieve peace "and thus can be seen as the real threats to women in Afghanistan." (See blog post here.)

Monday, March 24, 2008

Manley Report redux

The effects of the Manley Report are still being felt, as journalist Jon Elmer makes clear below. For those who wish to revisit commentary on the report, we have blogged at least four times on the Manley Report (here, here, here and here). For a useful summary of the Manley Report and its context, see Roger Annis, Ottawa Gets Advice on Prolonging the War (Part 2 here).

Now back to Elmer. Aside from being an admired photo journalist with experience in many of the world's conflict-ridden areas, he is one of the most unflinching and well-informed commentators on Canada's foreign policy. (For proof of that assertion, see this Google video of a speech Elmer gave last year in Vancouver.)

CANADA: Pro-U.S. Panel Was Key in Extending Afghan Mission
By Jon Elmer

VANCOUVER, Mar 19 (IPS) - Buoyed by the recommendations of a government-appointed blue-ribbon panel, Canada's parliament last week approved a motion to extend its combat mission in Afghanistan until the end of 2011.

The outcome of the motion was effectively predetermined, as the two largest parties in the House of Commons -- the Liberals and the governing Conservatives -- agreed on the wording of the resolution in the weeks leading up to the vote. ...

During the vote, protestors in the House of Commons public gallery chanted "end it, don't extend it" ...

While the Manley Panel was bipartisan in affiliation, its members shared an essential vision of the importance of Canada's integration with the United States. ...

"They are all either conservative Liberals, or Conservatives who have an involvement in the United States-Canada relationship," said [author Stephen] Clarkson ...

"Since Canada's role in Afghanistan is so obviously connected to Ottawa's desire to please Washington, it was very unlikely they would recommend anything other than staying in Afghanistan," he said. ...

U.S. President George W. Bush said last week that he intends to use the [upcoming] Bucharest summit to persuade allies to ramp-up the fight in the south. "We're mindful of their request, and we want to help them meet that request," President Bush said of the Canadian contingency.

Retired Canadian Major-General Terry Liston told IPS that the troop request is simply a political gesture, far short of what NATO generals on the ground say is required. "Just in Kandahar province, according to American [counterinsurgency] doctrine you'd need about 16,000 soldiers," he said. "It's a drop in the bucket, the 1,000."

Meanwhile, in anticipation of the so-called fighting season in Afghanistan, the United States has sent and additional 3,600 Marines on a seven-month deployment to southern Afghanistan. The Marines, about half of whom have already arrived in the country, will operate under Canadian Major-General Marc Lessard and NATO's Regional Command South, which includes Helmand and Kandahar provinces -- the heart of the Afghan insurgency.

A report of the United Nations secretary-general earlier this month detailed a sharp increase in insurgent activity in 2007, an average of 566 incidents a month compared with 425 a month in 2006. Data from the United States Central Command indicates a concurrent rise in NATO and U.S. airstrikes during that same period – 2,926 bombs dropped in 2007 up from 1,770 in 2006. More than 8,000 people were killed last year, including at least 1,500 civilians, the U.N. said. (link)
It should be noted that the last paragraph of the piece contains an error, resulting in an understatement of the number of bombs dropped on Afghanistan. The US CENTCOM data referred to above is given in a recent short study by widely-respected American defense analyst Anthony Cordesman (pictured), entitled "US Airpower in Iraq and Afghanistan: 2004-2007" (pdf here). In it, we read:
[In Afghanistan] the total number of close air support/precision strike sorties flown in that dropped a major munition rose from 86 in 2004, and only 176 in 2005, to 1,770 in 2006 (10-fold annual increase), and 2,926 in 2007 (1.7 times higher as of 5 December). ...
Thus, the CENTCOM data count the number of sorties that dropped bombs, not the number of bombs dropped. A look at yesterday's US Airforce Airpower Summary shows that aircraft frequently drop more than one bomb per sortie:
In Afghanistan, an Air Force B-1B Lancer dropped guided bomb unit-31s and guided bomb unit-38s onto an enemy compound and enemy combatant positions ...

A B-1B dropped GBU-31s onto an enemy bunker and an enemy building ...

Air Force A-10 Thunderbolt IIs fired cannon rounds and dropped general purpose 500-pound bombs onto enemy combatant positions ... (link)
Nearby, you can see photos of the GBU-31 (a 2,000 lb munition) as well as the GBU-38 (a 500 lb munition).
Previously, we have seen that British and
Canadian troops have fired off some 9 million bullets in the two southern Afghan provinces of Helmand and Kandahar. We have also seen that, beginning with the stepping-up of the war in mid-2006, US and NATO air strikes have dropped 80,000 to 100,000 lbs. of bombs per month (see blog entries here and here).

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Brussels: 100 anti-NATO protesters arrested

Police in Brussels arrested over 100 protesters opposed to the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. Reuters has the story:

Over 100 anti-war protesters arrested at NATO HQ

BRUSSELS, March 22 (Reuters) - Around 100 anti-war protesters were arrested trying to force their way into NATO's headquarters in Belgium on Saturday, police said.

Police in riot gear and on horses clashed with over 500 activists from across Europe -- opposed to military action in Iraq and Afghanistan and the use of nuclear weapons -- outside NATO's Brussels hub.

Water cannons were used to prevent most of the protesters from gaining entry to the large security compound situated on the outskirts of the Belgian capital and close to Brussels national airport. [See photo, above.]

At least one protester was taken to hospital with serious injuries after falling on barbed wire, a police spokeswoman said. "We have arrested over 100 and they are being taken to court to be dealt with swiftly."

A NATO official said the compound had not been breached. ... (link)
The protest, dubbed "NATO - Game Over", was called by Bombspotting, a Belgian peace group. You can see a couple of Youtube videos showing the jailing and more:
video 1
video 2

Friday, March 21, 2008

Professor Mandel on our illegal war

Once again, Michael Mandel of Osgoode Hall law school describes the legal aspect of Canada's war in Afghanistan - that is, the fact that the war is illegal. Mandel (pictured) is the author of How America Gets Away With Murder: Illegal Wars, Collateral Damage and Crimes Against Humanity (2004). It is noteworthy that, as far as I can tell, he is the only person to have stated this bald fact in Canada's major media - with the exception of David Orchard who co-authored an Op-Ed with Mandel (see my earlier blog entry here).

We're in it with Bush
It's time to rid ourselves of the fiction that the war in Afghanistan has nothing to do with the 'U.S.-led war in Iraq'

The whole campaign to keep Canadian troops fighting in Afghanistan has been desperate to distance our mission from "the U.S.-led war in Iraq." Consider the report of the Manley panel on Canada's Future Role in Afghanistan:

"... Neither do we accept any parallel between the Afghanistan mission and the U.S.-led war in Iraq. To confuse the two is to overlook the authority of the UN, the collective decisions of NATO, and the legitimacy of the Afghan government that has sought Canada's engagement."

As its main example of UN authority, the report says this:

"The day after 9/11, the UN Security Council formally recognized the right of individual and collective self-defence and called on all member states to co-operate in Afghanistan 'to bring to justice the perpetrators, organizers and sponsors of these terrorist attacks.'"

But the reason that the word "Afghanistan" doesn't make it inside the quotation marks is because you won't find it in any of the Security Council Resolutions said to authorize America's attack of October 2001.

You might think it strange to authorize a war against a member state of the United Nations without even mentioning its name. You might think it stranger still to authorize the use of military force without mentioning anything resembling military force even once among all the measures that the Security Council called on member states to deploy to deal with terrorism. The resolutions do not even say that a state may use "all necessary means," to use the well-know euphamism.

In fact, the only means mentioned in the Security Council Resolutions of bringing anyone "to justice" is to "ensure that ... such terrorist acts are established as serious criminal offences in domestic laws and regulations." In other words, fight terror through law, not war.

The war on Afghanistan was George W. Bush's war, not the UN's. It had no more UN authority than the war on Iraq. Both are marked by the same original sin, Nuremberg's "supreme international crime" of aggressive war. That the Security Council later succumbed in both cases, and authorized the subsequent use of force to defend (both) the American-installed governments doesn't diminish that fact, just the way it doesn't bring back the innocent dead.

But the similarities don't end there. The reason why Afghanistan isn't mentioned in the September 2001 Resolutions is that, within one day of those attacks, the neo-cons who had taken over the White House decided to use 9/11 as a pretext to carry out their pre-existing plans for war against Iraq. They wanted to unfurl an open-ended banner of "self-defense" to justify using their military might against the many and varied pockets of resistance to American "foreign policy" wherever they might be found throughout the wide world.

Authorization for an attack on Afghanistan alone would have cramped their plans. That the self-defence claim was bogus was immediately understood in the White House, according to eye-witness Richard A. Clarke, President Bush's special assistant for combating terrorism (Against All Enemies: Inside America's War on Terror).

But when informed of this by none other than Donald Rumsfeld, the president famously replied, "I don't care what the international lawyers say, we are going to kick some ass." ...

To cap it all off, right from the beginning, the famously "UN-authorized" ISAF put itself firmly under the command of OEF: "In respect of the relationship between the International Security Assistance Force and forces operating in the Afghanistan theatre under Operation Enduring Freedom, and for reasons of effectiveness, the United States Central Command will have authority over the International Security Assistance Force" (Letter from the U.K. government to the Security Council, Dec. 19, 2001).

ISAF does not answer directly to OEF but must defer to it. ... In fact, on its website, NATO makes a point of reminding everyone that "ISAF is not a UN force, but is a coalition of the willing." ... (link)
For a classic example of what happens when you speak such simple truths, see this blog post at an unofficial Canadian military blog which references Mandel's piece. The author, a frequent booster for the war, simply scoffs at Mandel rather than addressing his argument. We'll take his silence as a tacit admission that he is knowingly cheer-leading for an illegal war which is helping undermine international order and the rule of law.

Afghanistan and Iraq are one war: CF colonel in Iraq

The Globe and Mail sheds some light on the "little known" fact that several Canadian Forces officers are serving with American units in Iraq. The paper's Mark MacKinnon interviews a charming Canadian colonel (Lieut-Col Darryl Mills, pictured) who likens the welcoming looks he gets as a lonely Canuck to being "the pretty girl at the dance":

For Canadian, serving in Iraq is a source of pride
MARK MACKINNON - Globe and Mail

March 21 - When Lieutenant-Colonel Darryl Mills walks through the halls of Saddam Hussein's former palace on the outskirts of Baghdad, people tend to stare at his left shoulder. The red-and-white Canadian flag he wears is a rare sight for Iraqis and U.S. soldiers alike.

He doesn't mind the odd looks. He says he's both proud of his country and of being one of the few Canadians taking part in what the U.S. Army calls Operation Iraqi Freedom.

"I feel like the pretty girl at the dance party," Col. Mills said of the stares, adding that he's chosen to wear a larger-than-standard flag to make sure everyone knows he's Canadian. "From a soldier's perspective, I wouldn't call it razzing. It's, 'Oh, I thought Canada didn't support the war.' "

Canada refused to join in when the United States, Britain and a collection of allies invaded Iraq in 2003. That Col. Mills and four other Canadian officers are serving in Baghdad under an exchange between the U.S. and Canadian militaries is little known, and little publicized by either government.

The Department of National Defence website makes no mention of Col. Mills and the other officers being deployed to Iraq. ...

Col. Mills has also served on the other major front of what Mr. Bush calls the "war on terror," the PPCLI being the first group of Canadian soldiers to deploy to Kandahar, Afghanistan, in 2002. Like the U.S. President, he sees the two conflict zones as part of a single struggle.

"You can't look at them as separate, distinct fronts. What happens in one place will clearly affect what happens in the other place," he said, noting that Afghanistan's Taliban seem to borrow tactics that have proven effective for Iraqi insurgents. "It's all about global stability." ... (link)
Note that MacKinnon writes that "Canada refused to join" the Iraq war. But that's not quite the way it happened, according to Lang and Stein's recent book, The Unexpected War. Indeed, co-author Eugene Lang was the Chief of Staff to then-Minister of Defense John McCallum when he and his boss attended a Pentagon meeting called by Donald Rumsfeld a couple of months before the invasion of Iraq. Lang told the CBC that "Rumsfeld did not envisage a Canadian military role in Iraq - particularly in the invasion phase."

From a review of the book by Professor Peter McKenna:
Stein and Lang inform us that former U.S. secretary of defence Donald Rumsfeld and the Pentagon had no objections to Canada sitting out the Iraq invasion -- as long as it took up the leadership of ISAF in the Kabul region for one year and thus freed up U.S. forces for the Iraq campaign. ... (link)

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Winter soldier video


So far, not all of the Winter Soldier videos have been posted on their website (see here), but one in particular has relevance to the war in Afghanistan:

James Gilligan testimony (video)
Gilligan describes a patrol he was on in Afghanistan in 2004 which came under insurgent fire. He called in erroneous coordinates for a defensive air strike, resulting in repeated air strikes on a village.

Gilligan also recounts an incident, again in 2004, when he witnessed a Huey gunship open fire on fleeing, unarmed Afghans who had been slated for arrest.

US forces kill more civilians

In the province of Khost in southeastern Afghanistan, several civilians were killed by troops from the US-led coalition (Operation Enduring Freedom soldiers, rather than NATO soldiers from ISAF). Reuters has the story:

U.S.-led force kills Afghan civilians in raid

By Elyas Wahdat

MUQIBEL, Afghanistan, March 19 (Reuters) - U.S.-led coalition troops killed three men, two children and a woman, in a raid in southeastern Afghanistan, provincial officials and village residents said on Wednesday.

They said the victims, from the families of two brothers, were all civilians, but the U.S. military said the two brothers were involved in conducting bombing operations using improvised explosive devices.

The issue of civilian casualties is a sensitive one as it undermines public support for the presence of foreign troops and the pro-Western government of President Hamid Karzai.

"We will join the jihad" and "Death to Bush", chanted residents of the village of Muqibel in the province of Khost where the incident happened overnight.

Foreign troops raided two adjacent houses belonging to two brothers and killed three men, two children and a woman from the two families, district governor Gul Qasim told Reuters.

The children, both boys no older than 10, had bullet wounds to the head and chest, a Reuters witness said. ...

Troops discovered the bodies of a woman and a child in the buildings after the fighting, the statement said, blaming the militants for putting the woman and child in harm's way.

A son of one of the brothers said he was a member of the border police and had returned from duty for the funerals.

"I heard about it this morning and came here," said the son, Alefuddin. "I lost three members of my family and three members of my uncle's family ... they were ordinary people." ... (link)

The BBC's version of the story notes that "Oxfam said half of the 1,200 civilian deaths last year were caused by international and Afghan troops."

Even readers with short memories will recall that foreign troops have in the past several days killed Afghan and Pakistani civilians in several incidents. Last week, British forces called in an airstrike in Helmand which killed four civilians (two women and two children) while US-fired artillery killed four more civilians (two women and two children) when shots landed across the border in Pakistan (see my blog entry here). And yesterday, I blogged on a report that a NATO airstrike in Helmand killed unknown numbers of civilians - estimates are as high as 25 civilians killed (see blog entry here).

Recall also that NATO troops have been accused of opening fire on prisoners at the notorious Pul-e Charkhi prison outside of Kabul where there is currently a prison riot going on (see blog entry here). Reuters has the latest from the prison:
Inmates riot at high-security Kabul jail

KABUL, Mar 19 (Reuters) - Scores of prisoners rioted in a high-security Kabul jail and at least nine people were wounded in an exchange of gunfire as Afghan police tried to restore order, sources in two foreign aid agencies said on Wednesday.

A part of the Pul-i-Charkhi prison had been taken over by the inmates who said they were being illegally confined despite a decree by President Hamid Karzai acquitting them over a year ago, an aid agency worker said on condition of anonymity.

Some 150 inmates had been on a hunger strike for days demanding their release.

Unknown number of people, including several hundred suspected Taliban prisoners are being held at the jail which lies in the eastern outskirts of Kabul and earned notoriety for executions and torture during the communist rule in the 1980s.

"We know there were some shootings yesterday and the prisoners have taken control of parts of the prison," the foreign aid agency source said on condition of anonymity.

Nine people, most of them inmates, have been evacuated with gunshots and are being treated, another source said. ... (link)
The Russian Novosti news agency reports that over 70 inmates have sewn their mouths shut and are on hunger strike at the prison.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

UN presses for end to impunity

When polled for their opinions, Afghans in post-Taliban times have repeatedly shown a desire to see human rights abusers from the past brought to trial for their crimes. The Karzai government, set up under Western tutelage, has failed to address the issue. Now the UN is pressing for action:

Afghan govt must bring rights abusers to justice-UN
By Jonathon Burch

KABUL, March 18 (Reuters) - The Afghan government needs to take more action to bring human rights abusers to justice and end the culture of impunity that undermines faith in the state, the United Nations said on Tuesday

Six years ago, the United States relied on air power, special forces and a loose alliance of Afghan warlords to topple the Taliban government after the hardline Islamist movement refused to give up al Qaeda leaders behind the Sept. 11 attacks.

Many of the warlords are accused of serious rights abuses during Afghanistan's three decades of war. They now dominate the parliament and some hold key positions within the state, but little has been done to bring them to book.

"You have heard of the phrase 'action speaks louder than words'. Here in Afghanistan the lack of action speaks volumes," Norah Niland, the UN's Chief Human Rights Officer in Afghanistan told a news conference.

"I think there is a lack of political will both within Afghanistan and without," she said.

Afghan forces and more than 50,000 foreign troops are now struggling to contain a resurgent Taliban campaign of guerrilla war, backed by suicide and roadside bomb attacks. Some 6,000 people were killed last year, the most violent since 2001.

Many Afghans are growing weary of the presence of foreign troops, official corruption and the ongoing lack of security. ... (link)

Civilians die in NATO air raid, say residents

The details are unclear at this time, but two members of parliament along with locals have reported that civilians were among at least 30 victims of an air strike Monday in Helmand. NATO officials denied the accusation, saying that the air strike killed just 12 Taliban.

Reuters:

Air raid kills civilians in Afghan south-lawmakers

Mar 18 - An air strike by foreign forces has killed more than 30 people, including civilians, in Afghanistan's southern province of Helmand, two members of parliament from the area said on Tuesday.

But the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) said reports of civilian casualties in the airstrike were wrong. It was not possible to independently verify the conflicting reports due to poor security in the area. ...

The raid happened on Monday in a village in Helmand's Sangin district, Nasima Niyazi, a member of the lower house of the Afghan parliament representing the province, told Reuters.

"More than 30 people have lost their lives and it is said that the Taliban and civilians were amongst those killed," she said. She did not have any more details about the air strike.

The Pakistan-based Afghan Islamic Press news agency quoted another parliamentarian from Helmand as saying 60 people had been killed in the strike, but also reported that the provincial police chief said he had no information about the incident. ... (link)
Voice of America News:
NATO Says Afghanistan Air Strike Killed Insurgents, Not Civilians

Mar 18 - NATO is rejecting claims by Afghan residents that several civilians were killed ...

Local lawmakers and Sangin residents said at least 50 people were killed when NATO jets bombed an area where people were playing games.

They said at least half the victims were civilians. ... (link)

Afghanistan in focus

Conn Hallinan of Foreign Policy in Focus writes on Afghanistan:

"There is No Way for NATO to Win This War"
Afghanistan: A River Running Backward

By CONN HALLINAN

When historians look back on the war in Afghanistan, they may well point to last December's battle for Musa Qala, a scruffy town in the country's northern Helmand Province, as a turning point. ...

"The number of districts in which the Taliban operates exploded last year," says John McCreary, former senior intelligence analyst for the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff. "This is the first year they have managed to sustain over 100 attacks per month for a whole year since they started to climb back. One hundred attacks per month used to be a surge figure. Now it is the new norm."

In fact the number of attacks are averaging 548 a month. According to the United Nations, it is too risky to send aid teams into one fifth of the country. "The river appears to be running backward," one analyst told the Financial Times ...

When the U.S. or NATO finally go on the offensive, the coalition's lack of troops means they must rely on artillery and air power, which translates into a greater number of civilian casualties. Louise Arbour, the UN's High Commissioner for Human Rights, says that civilian casualties caused by military activity has reached "alarming levels" this past year. ...

In a blow to the current push for more troops, the Netherlands decided it would withdraw all its soldiers by 2010. " The Dutch decision," says the German newspaper Der Spiegel, "may set a precedent, raising concerns among NATO military leaders over a possible domino effect. If only one major NATO country yields to domestic pressure and decides to withdraw its troops from Afghanistan, it could set off an avalanche." ...

"The Taliban is growing and creating new alliances not because its sectarian religious practices have become popular, but because it is the only available umbrella for national liberation," says Pakistani historian and political commentator Tariq Ali. "As the British and the Soviets discovered to their cost in the preceding two centuries, Afghans never like being occupied." ...

"There is no way for NATO to win this war," says Tariq Ali bluntly. ... (link)

Afghanistan moving to dictatorship?

On Saturday in Afghanistan's Herat City, factory employees and judges returned to work, ending a week-long work stoppage begun by the city's doctors. The strike was called to demand measures to ensure security following a wave of kidnappings and extortion of doctors and their families. In response to the protest, the national government threatened legal action against the doctors, forcing them back to work. Meanwhile, the doctors' protest had been joined by workers in some 250 factories, as well as shopkeepers and a hundred judges.

While it is unclear what the government promised in order to end the action, it seems measures will include beefed up security around industrial parks. "Crime," notes Agence France-Presse, "including kidnapping for ransom, has soared in major cities since the fall of the hardline Taliban government in late 2001." (See this page of photos of Herat City.)

Moving slightly east, but sticking to the theme of insecurity, readers may recall the saga of warlord Abdul Rashid Dostum. Dostum, an Uzbek commander from Jowzjan province, was last heard from when he and his men beat and abducted a former Dostum ally and current member of parliament. Dostum, a key warlord with tremendous influence in five provinces (Balkh, Faryab, Sar-e Pul, Jowzjan and Samangan), went on to defy the attorney general's attempts to bring him to account for his crime.

The Independent brings us up to speed on Dostum:

General Dostum is now in his base at Shibirghan in the north, where his private army is being rearmed, and supporters hold daily demonstrations threatening an uprising unless the arrest warrant against him is revoked and his official powers are restored. The Uzbek, physically a big, bear-like man, is said to be feeling isolated. Increasingly, to the worry of his staff, he is drinking vodka heavily. ... (link)
Moving further east to Mazar-i Sharif in Balkh province, where Pervez Kambakhsh still languishes in jail convicted of blasphemy for allegedly distributing material critical of some religious teachings. His brother Yaqub Ibrahimi, whom readers may recall was the actual target of the action against Pervez, gave a press conference recently in Paris. (See Reporters Without Borders press release here. See previous blog postings on Kambakhsh here and here.)

Finally, I'll excerpt a report by Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson, Afghanistan bureau chief of National Public Radio:
Too Much Power in Karzai's Hands, Critics Say

March 7 (NPR) - One reason American troops are still in Afghanistan nearly seven years after ousting the Taliban is to protect the still fragile democracy there. A growing number of Afghans question whether that democracy is worth protecting.

They complain that the government they've elected is corrupt and that it does a poor job of providing basic services, let alone law and order. They accuse the West of caring more about backing President Hamid Karzai, than addressing his government's problems.

Some are so frustrated that they've taken matters into their own hands.

One by one, the elders of the Mohammadzai tribe arrive for their weekly meeting in the southern city of Kandahar. They sit cross legged on the floor in front of cups of steaming green tea.

This gathering, or shura, is a tradition the elders resurrected 18 months ago to address people's economic and security needs. They say they did so because they no longer trust their government to take care of them.

The elders debate a new plan by their tribe and 26 six others in Kandahar province to form a council that would, in effect, take over the duties of the existing provincial government. ...

"The West kicked out the powerful Taliban regime and replaced it with a government people don't like and a person who cannot be a strong leader," [former Kandahar attorney general Mohammad Issa] Durazai says.

Such criticism of Karzai and his government is common in Afghanistan these days. ...

While Karzai's government is widely viewed here as ineffective, experts note he still controls the levers of power. It's the president who appoints the cabinet ministers and provincial governors. That means government officials answer to the president and his advisers, rather than to the people they are supposed to serve.

Even parliament is unable to force the president to fire ministers. The legislators impeached the Afghan foreign minister last year, but he's still in office.

"There are signs that if we are not careful, we might be moving towards a dictatorship," says Mahmoud Saikal, a former deputy foreign minister who also served as ambassador to Australia. ... (link)
What Nelson refers to above as a Mohammadzai tribal shura is surely what the Globe and Mail's Graeme Smith was referring to last month when he described a tribal manifesto that was about to be unveiled. Smith quoted the outspoken Mohammad Issa Durazai, quoted above, as saying:
"The foreign soldiers aren't helping, they're behaving like an occupying force".

Monday, March 17, 2008

McQuaig condemns torture - Harper hides it

Linda McQuaig once again takes on the arrogant and powerful:

Votes that condone torture
Linda McQuaig

March 11, 2008 - Later this week, our two leading political parties are expected to join forces and commit Canada to another three years of military intervention in support of the Afghan government – which we know practises torture. ...

So mainstream is torture in the "war on terror" era that U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia recently told the BBC that if a hidden bomb were about to blow up, "it would be absurd to say you couldn't, I don't know, stick something under the fingernail, smack him in the face. It would be absurd to say you couldn't."

Such a flippant approach to torture from one of America's top judges is in sharp contrast to the more enlightened position taken by Canadian justice Dennis O'Connor, who investigated the torture of Maher Arar. As O'Connor wrote: "The infliction of torture, for any purpose, is so fundamental a violation of human dignity that it can never be legally justified." O'Connor went on to cite former UN secretary-general Kofi Annan: "Let us be clear: torture can never be an instrument to fight terror, for torture is an instrument of terror."

This clear, moral stand against torture doesn't seem to be shared by the Canadian government or military. Indeed, attempts by human rights advocates over the past two years to create protections for detainees transferred from Canadian to Afghan custody have been mostly resisted by Canadian officials. ... (link)
Meanwhile, the Globe and Mail has the latest developments in the attempt by Military Police Complaints Commission to investigate the detainees issue:
Tories stalling abuse probe, watchdog says
Military Police Complaints Commission orders public hearings to get access to key uncensored reports on treatment of detainees

PAUL KORING
March 13, 2008

Thwarted for more than a year by the Conservative government's refusal to co-operate, the independent Military Police Complaints Commission announced Wednesday it would hold public hearings to try to force disclosure of documents that will show whether the military knew detainees transferred to Afghan custody were likely to be tortured.

The decision sets the stage for a confrontation between the Harper government and the independent civilian oversight body.

“Ordering a public interest hearing is necessary to ensure a full investigation of the grave allegations raised in this complaint,” said Peter Tinsley, chairman of the MPCC.

The government has refused to release uncensored versions of hundreds of pages of documents – many of which are entirely blacked out – although it provided no reasons. ...

“The government's continuing attempt to stonewall and delay are consistent with its communication strategy on detainees and torture,” Jason Gratl, president of the BCCLA, said Wednesday.

“But it's only a matter of time that the issue of torture catches up with them.”

After insisting for nearly a year that safeguards to prevent torture existed, and repeatedly changing those safeguards as they proved inadequate, the military stopped transferring detainees to Afghan security forces in November after credible evidence of torture was reported by Canadian diplomats. ...

A handful of documents have been leaked. For instance, the government censured every reference to torture in its routine annual human-rights and governance summaries. It also blacked out the reference to Asadullah Khalid, governor of Kandahar, when a detainee alleged he had been tortured by him.

However, the details of most of the heavily censored documents remain completely unknown. ... (link)

Female Taliban, women warlords and bombers

Some time ago, various reporters profiled a woman warlord in Baghlan province of northern Afghanistan, one Bibi Ayesha, aka the Pigeon. (See photos of Baghlan here, here and here.) She was then in the process of resisting the UN-sponsored disarmament program after fighting the Taliban as a member of the Northern Alliance. The Pigeon, who claimed to have 150 men under her command, did however bend to conservative social mores, always having male accompaniment in battle. Her position, she explained, was inherited from her father, following the deaths of several brothers. (See the BBC and the Telegraph.)

In early December a woman in Pakistan, thought to be Afghan according to reports, blew herself up near a Pakistani military checkpoint (see BBC). Later in December, a woman on a suicide mission was arrested in Jalalabad, Nangarhar province, in eastern Afghanistan. (Reuters report here. See also this amazing set of vintage photographs of Jalalabad.) Meanwhile, female suicide bombers are old news in Iraq, such as one white European woman who carried out a suicide attack against US troops in Baquba in 2005 (see NYT here).

Now, Deutsche Presse-Agentur reports that an Afghan woman was killed fighting among Taliban fighters in Khost province.

Armed woman among several militants killed in Afghanistan

16 March 2008

KABUL (DPA) - An Afghan armed woman and several Taliban militants were killed by US-led coalition forces and seven more insurgents were killed by indigenous police forces, officials said on Sunday.

Coalition forces killed several militants including an armed woman during a search operation in Tani district of south-eastern province of Khost on Saturday, US military said in a statement on Sunday.

After the first round of engagement, in which several Taliban militants were killed, the combined forces identified an armed militant, who made “threatening gestures and presented an imminent threat,” the statement said.

“Coalition forces responded in self-defence, engaging and killing the armed individual,” it said, adding, “Coalition forces discovered the dead militant armed with an AK-47 assault rifle was a woman after the engagement.”

Two other militants were arrested by the combined forces, who told the joint forces that the armed woman was sent out to determine coalition forces’ locations.

This is the first armed Afghan woman to have been killed in military encounters since the fall of the Taliban regime in late 2001 in a US-led military invasion. ... (link)

NATO troops open fire on prisoner: report

Asia Times Online's Pakistan bureau chief, Syed Saleem Shahzad, relays his sources' report that NATO soldiers opened fire on prisoners in the midst of a riot at Pul-e-charkhi prison (see aerial photo here). The prison, notorious for overcrowding and abuses both during the Soviet era and today, is located a few kilometers east of Kabul.

Afghanistan: Riot in US-run prison
Syed Saleem Shahzad

KABUL, March 13 (AKI) - Prisoners held in Kabul’s controversial Pul-i-Charkhi jail rioted late on Thursday when NATO forces tried to shift Taliban inmates for interrogation.

Unnamed sources told Adnkronos International (AKI) that inmates in block 4 of the prison resisted their removal by NATO personnel, alleging that NATO officials wanted to carry out an extrajudicial killing.

The protest soon spread all over the jail. Inmates in another part of the prison (block 7) turned violent and around five were wounded when NATO personnel opened fire on the prisoners, according to AKI's sources.

Pul-i-Charkhi, where political prisoners are held, is located outside the Afghan capital. Most Taliban prisoners are currently held there. ...

Experts have said the prison is one of several around the world holding repatriated Afghans detained by the United States including former inmates from the notorious US military prison camp at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. ... (link)

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Afghans grow more suspicious of our occupation: Afghan diplomat

Sharif Ghalib is a long-time Afghan diplomat who was the first representative of Afghanistan in Canada. He was the Charge d'Affaires in Ottawa from 2002 until 2005. He writes in the Asia Times:

Mar 14, 2008

Afghanistan: New envoy, old challenges
By Sharif Ghalib

... Frustration over the lack of security is mounting so much so that a growing number of ordinary Afghans question whether the multinational coalition forces are in their country to bring peace or whether these forces are capable of doing the job in the first place.

As a result, the declining pattern of security has taken a heavy toll on the confidence of the people over the ability of the Afghan government and the international community to carry out reconstruction objectives at the desired pace, aimed at tangibly improving their lives.

... a great many wonder how negligibly their lives have been changed with the billions of dollars that have been funneled to the country. ...

Oddly, UNAMA, on more than one occasion, has been on the record as taking position and/or putting out intrusive statements over purely internal government issues, such as appointments of certain state officials, and at times even judging the country's parliamentary decisions, irrelevant to its jurisdiction and the framework of its responsibilities, and detrimental to the efficacy of its role, image and integrity in a post-conflict nation still susceptible to upheavals.

By the same token, revelations about UN-ranking delegates' clandestine activities in southern Afghanistan in making contact with the Taliban last December, found by the Afghan government to be unsanctioned and inconsistent with the nature of their jobs, and the ensuing controversy surrounding their expulsion, are instances which run utterly counter to impartiality as an underlying principal enshrined in the charter of the United Nations as an international organization. ... (link)

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Winter soldier

In a now-famous event in 1971, US veterans of the Vietnam war testified in an unofficial hearing about war crimes they had witnessed or committed during that conflict. It was called Winter Soldier, and featured young political hopeful John Kerry.

Today, an echo of that event is occurring, called Winter Soldier Iraq and Afghanistan, sponsored by the Vietnam Veterans Against the War. Their web site features audio and video feeds from that event:

Winter Soldier Iraq and Afghanistan

Bringing the Russians back to Afghanistan?

Former Indian diplomat M K Bhadrakumar, a frequent commentator for Asia Times, reveals that the buzz in diplomatic circles is that the NATO/US war machine is attempting to enlist Russian support for the war. Specifically, the Western armies hope that Russia will set up supply lines for the war near their southern frontier. while this sounds like a dramatic shift in allegiance, the Russians are expected to limit the supplies to non-military items.

Currently, supply lines for foreign forces in Afghanistan run through Pakistan, a dubious and unstable ally to say the least.

Russia throws a wrench in NATO's works
By M K Bhadrakumar

For the first time in the 60-year history of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), Russia will attend the alliance's summit meeting on April 2-4 in Bucharest, Romania.

... Conceivably, it clears the decks for what could prove to be a turning point in Russia-NATO relations. Russia may be about to join hands with NATO in Afghanistan. ...

According to the Russian newspaper Kommersant and the Financial Times of London, the initiative came from Russia when its new ambassador to NATO, Dmitry Rogozin - erstwhile Russian politician with a controversial record as a staunch Russian nationalist who routinely berated the West - signaled a strong interest in this area at a recent meeting of the NATO-Russia Council at Brussels. The plan involves Russia providing a land corridor for NATO to transport its goods - "non-military materials" - destined for the mission in Afghanistan. Intensive talks have been going on since then over a framework agreement.

From the feverish pace of diplomatic activity, the expectation of the two sides seems to be that an agreement could be formalized at NATO's Bucharest summit. ...

Russian diplomats have been quoted as saying that Moscow is engaged in consultations with the governments of Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan as regards the proposed land corridor to be made available to NATO.

Given the complicated history of Russia-NATO relations, the issue is loaded with geopolitics. Russian President Vladimir Putin hinted as much at a joint press conference with visiting German Chancellor Angela Merkel in Moscow last Saturday. He said, "NATO is already overstepping its limits today. We have no problem to helping Afghanistan, but it is another matter when it is NATO that is providing the assistance. This is a matter beyond the bounds of the North Atlantic, as you are well aware." ...

The implications are obvious. Russia would be willing to cooperate with NATO, but on an equal and comprehensive basis, and, secondly, the sort of selective engagement of Russia by NATO that the US has been advocating will be unacceptable to Moscow. Significantly, Putin frontally questioned the standing of NATO's monopoly of conflict resolution in Afghanistan. ...

The coming to power of the Awami National Party (ANP), an avowedly Pashtun nationalist leftist party, in the sensitive North-West Frontier Province of Pakistan, further complicates political alignments.

ANP leader Amir Haider Khan Hoti bluntly told Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty in an exclusive interview this week, "Our priorities are clear. We first want to move toward peace through negotiations [with the Taliban], jirgas [tribal councils], and dialogue. God willing, we will learn from [failed talks and jirgas in the past] and will try not to repeat the same mistakes. We will try to take into confidence our people, our tribal leaders, and our [clerics] - and together with them, we will try to move toward peace through negotiations."

Hoti didn't speak a word about the "war on terror" or the George W Bush administration's expectations of Pakistani military operations in the tribal areas. ... (link)

Thursday, March 13, 2008

War costs skyrocket

The Canadian Press on the escalating costs of the war in Afghanistan:

Tories downplay report of Afghan budget blowout

OTTAWA, March 11 (CP) — The Conservative government scrambled Tuesday to explain a report that the Afghanistan mission will run $1-billion over budget this fiscal year.

The government did not deny the budget blowout for 2007-08 reported in Montreal's La Presse newspaper. It simply warned that the $1-billion was based on preliminary estimates that cannot be confirmed until after the end of the fiscal year later this month. ...

Documents obtained under the Access to Information Act indicate the mission has cost Canadian taxpayers at least $7.5-billion since 2001 — double what was budgeted.

The documents say the mission cost $538-million more than expected over the first six months of the current fiscal year, and is projected to overshoot its budget by another $539-million by March 31. ...

The Defence Department says the projected budget for the Afghanistan mission through 2009 was $4.5-billion, but was adjusted to $5-billion because of the additional equipment purchased to protect soldiers. It says the increase does not count as a cost overrun.

The $5-billion figure, however, is at adds with the $6.3-billion cited by former defence minister Gordon O'Connor in a post-budget hearing last spring before the House of Commons. ... (link)
The Canadian taxpayer isn't the only one reeling from cost increases, as a Guardian report shows:
Treasury to pay extra £2bn for surging cost of war

Richard Norton-Taylor
The Guardian, March 13 2008

The Treasury will spend "over £2bn more" in the coming financial year to support troops "on the front line" in Iraq and Afghanistan, the chancellor promised yesterday. ...

However, defence officials admitted that the £2bn-plus promised by Darling would not be enough and that the MoD will have to ask for more before Christmas. ...

The cost of operations in Iraq and Afghanistan since the invasion of Iraq in 2003 now totals about £10bn, according to estimates based on annual official figures from the Treasury and MoD. ... (link)

A shift in Taliban attitudes?

Taliban spokespeople have lately signaled changes in the insurgents' policies:

Taliban urge factions to fight foreign forces

By Sayed Salahuddin

KABUL (Reuters) - Afghanistan's Taliban Islamic movement has urged the war-torn nation's former mujahideen factions to join it in their campaign to drive out foreign forces from the country.

The Taliban appeal follows complaints by some mujahideen leaders about being sidelined from President Hamid Karzai's government they brought to power by helping U.S.-led forces with the overthrew of the Taliban in 2001. ...

"Now, it is necessary that [mujahidin] stand beside their people and the nation and show their sacrifice once again against this invasion...the Islamic Emirate will adopt a understanding path with them and keep its bosom open for them," the statement said. ...

The Taliban said they wanted good ties with the world, adding their fight was only to liberate their country from U.S.-led forces.

"If countries allied to America end the occupation of Afghanistan and pull out their troops, then Afghans will not view them as enemies like America." ... (link)
Radio Free Europe's Ron Synovitz adds more to this development:
Afghanistan: Al-Qaeda Bloggers' Sparring With Taliban Could Signal Key Differences

By Ron Synovitz

Islamic extremists who regularly post messages to a pro-Al-Qaeda website in Egypt are accusing Afghanistan's Taliban of straying from the path of global jihad. Prominent Taliban have responded by lashing back with criticism of their own.

The development suggests a rift is emerging between the Taliban leadership and religious extremists in the Arab world ...

Internet criticisms of the Taliban follow a February statement from Taliban leader Mullah Mohammad Omar announcing that his movement wants to maintain positive and "legitimate" relations with countries neighboring Afghanistan.

Mullah Omar, who heads a Taliban leadership council that was purportedly formed in 2003, also has said that the Taliban is exploring the possibility of holding peace negotiations with Afghan President Hamid Karzai's government.

"We want to have legitimate relations with all countries of the world," Mullah Omar's statement said. "We are not a threat to anyone. America believes that the Taliban is a threat to the whole world. And with this propaganda, America wants to use all other countries to advance their own interests."

Pro-Al-Qaeda bloggers who were angered by Mullah Omar's statement were further outraged in early March when the Taliban expressed solidarity with Iran by condemning the latest round of sanctions imposed on Tehran by the UN Security Council over its nuclear activities. ...

One of those bloggers -- who calls himself "Miskeen" or "The Wretched" -- responded to the Taliban declaration on Iran by writing: "... [T]he disaster of defending the [Iranian] regime is on par with the Crusaders in Afghanistan and Iraq."

... "Miskeen" also wrote that a "nationalist trend" appears to be penetrating the Taliban. Other pro Al-Qaeda bloggers have called for Al-Qaeda leaders Osama bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahri to censure the Taliban over their recent statements. ... (link)
It seems there is also new developments in the Pakistani Taliban:
Pakistani Taliban commander sets demands to halt militancy
Mar 13, 2008

The Pakistani Taliban has offered in a recent telephone conversation to lay down arms if President Pervez Musharraf quits, his policies are reviewed and Islamic laws are enforced in Pakistan.

In an exclusive telephone interview with Kyodo News, a spokesman for Taliban Commander Baitullah Mehsud said the Taliban launched their struggle because of the ''wrong'' policies of Musharraf, particularly in Pakistan's tribal areas.

''We have said it loud and clear that the wrong policies of government must be abandoned, Musharraf should be removed and Islamic laws enforced. These three things will guarantee that we will stop our struggle,'' spokesman Mullah Omar said. ... (link)