Saturday, May 31, 2008

CF see surprising resistance in Pashmul

As readers may know, Pashmul is an oft-contested area in Zhari district, the scene of many battles involving Taliban, the Canadian Forces and their Afghan trainees. (Operation Medusa took place in the vicinity in September 2006). Since the beginning of the Canadian war in Kandahar, the area has frequently been cleared of insurgents, only to see them return later when the foreign soldiers leave the area. This past week, Canadian troops carried out a repeat performance of this pattern, only to see some surprises:

Operation Rolling Thunder ends successfully

PASHMUL, Afghanistan, May 30 (Globe and Mail)

... Code-named Operation Rawa Tander, Pashto for Rolling Thunder, the joint Canada and Afghan military mission was aimed at disrupting insurgent activity in one of Kandahar province's most dangerous areas, Pashmul...

The operation, which involved multiple platoons, started before day-break on Tuesday and, by 6:15 a.m., bullets were already ripping through Pashmul, a collection of small, ancient villages and farmland. The few locals still living in the area either fled by foot or hunkered down in their compounds before the fighting started. Most are poor farmers...

As the week progressed, the fighting intensified, with Friday being the most hard-fought for Canadian and Afghan forces.

About 8 a.m. Friday, a large number of insurgents began shooting at the soldiers from several positions. The terrain, which was mainly lush grape fields and small groves of dense trees, made it difficult at first to tell exactly where the militants were hiding.

For about two hours, the two sides exchanged fire, with the Canadian and Afghan forces calling in air and artillery support. More than 30 rounds of artillery fire whistled through the hot, spring morning air and hit mud grape huts and compounds where the insurgents were positioned.

By 11 a.m., the shooting had largely stopped...

Major Grubb acknowledged the operation isn't a “permanent result” because the Taliban seem to have an unlimited supply of fighters willing to battle for Pashmul. However, he quickly added that, in the short-term, it “really hurt” their activities in the area and showed ISAF has the ability to “project power anywhere, any time.” ... (link)
Canadian Press journalist Murray Brewster, who has done numerous stints in Afghanistan, reports that Taliban fighters surprised the Canadian contingent by standing and fighting rather than retreating at the first sign of attack:
The Taliban had for months been using roadside bombs and booby traps to chip away at better armed NATO troops. Canadian troops have been mounting a sophisticated campaign to go after insurgent bomb-makers and small explosives factories.

Over the last few weeks, however, Taliban have chosen to stand and fight small-arms engagements.

Canadian commanders conceded there has been a "significant increase" in direct-fire attacks, but they are not ready to conclude the Taliban have switched tactics... (link)

Friday, May 30, 2008

It's about fighting all the lawlessness

Reporter Doug Schmidt, having recently returned to cover Afghanistan, writes:

Focus on terrorists, not Taliban, Afghan elders urge Canadians

DAND DISTRICT*, Afghanistan, May 29 - Openly vowing to destroy the Taliban is probably not the diplomatically correct route to take to win over the people of Dand, a rural collection of mud-walled villages south of Kandahar City where even the district police chief complains that some police road checkpoints are populated by "criminals."

Be careful who you label the bad guys, a group of Canadian visitors was advised during a visit with district elders this week.

"The Taliban are our local people. We speak their language, we can work with them," said one village leader...

Dand is considered by coalition forces to be a gateway for armed insurgents into the country's second-largest city, which lies to the immediate north...

"The problem is not the Taliban, the problem is the terrorists," said the elder... [meaning] troublemakers from neighbouring Pakistan and Iran.

"Slowly, slowly the situation has got worse. How come the security situation is getting worse?" another elder wants to know...

"Am I surprised to hear that there are Taliban here? No," Lt.-Col. Dana Woodworth, who commands the Kandahar Provincial Reconstruction Team (PRT), said when told of the we-are-Taliban confession. "It's tough to nail down who is the enemy in Afghanistan," he said.

The Canadian Forces' counter-insurgency tactics are subtly shifting in the area at a time when attacks and contacts with the enemy are on the rise.

"Has there been a transition in mindset? I'd say so," said Capt. Chris Quinlan, an operations staff officer with Joint Task Force Afghanistan headquarters. "The job here is not to be terrorist-killers... it's about fighting all the lawlessness," he added.

While the Taliban are the best-organized among those fighting the democratically elected government, warlords, drug lords, other Islamist radicals, criminal gangs and even rogue elements of the Afghan police are fuelling the insurgency.

"Most of the men recruited to fight us are local men. Killing the young men of the village... is incredibly counterproductive," Quinlan said... (link)
* Dand district, located close to Kandahar city, is not an official district, or at least no longer. Its area is now within Kandahar district (see pdf here).

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Karzai a weak and paranoid leader

Der Spiegel's whirlwind tour of Afghanistan, abridged:

Der Spiegel
Why NATO Troops Can't Deliver Peace in Afghanistan
By Ullrich Fichtner

May 29 - Forty nations are embroiled in an unwinnable war in Afghanistan. Anyone who travels through the country with Western troops soon realizes that NATO forces would have to be increased tenfold for peace to be even a remote possibility...

He said the terrorists are, by and large, little more than a fractured bunch, no longer capable of launching substantial attacks. Those were the words of Dan McNeill, the words he used in his messages intended for a Western audience, the words he used in his standard speech, written for chancellors and prime ministers. But little of what the general said jibes with the reports he is now getting during his visit to Helmand.

In an office behind closed doors, filled with furniture upholstered in a floral motif, [Helmand governor Gulab Mengal] reports that half of the districts in his province are out of control. Alliances formed by the Taliban and drug barons, he says, rule the villages, and none of the highways are safe against bomb attacks, roadside bandits and kidnappers...

McNeill promises the governor that he is now able to send an additional 3,200 US Marines to Helmand, and that the British have also maximized their troop levels in the province...

In 2007, opium poppies were grown on 193,000 hectares (476,900 acres), a 17-percent increase over the previous year. Meanwhile, ISAF looks on without taking any action. But its inaction is a precautionary measure.

For fear of triggering hostility against foreign troops among the local population, the powers that be agreed early on that the Afghans would have sole responsibility for waging the drug war, with no NATO involvement whatsoever. To demonstrate their supposed commitment, the police and Afghan army occasionally stage symbolic drug burnings, and sometimes they even wade into the fields to decapitate a few plants. The operation, dubbed "eradication," is one of the most dangerous in this war.

The narcotics agents routinely face enemy fire...

"We assume that 500,000 families have their fingers in the pie," says General Mohammed Daoud, once a young commander under the legendary mujahedeen leader Ahmed Shah Massoud. Today Daoud is the deputy interior minister in charge of running Kabul's anti-drug operation...

[I]n the Maiwand district of Kandahar Province, soldiers in the B Company of the Third Battalion of the British Parachute Regiment are preparing for a patrol...

They arrived here in late March, the first Western troops to set foot in the area. The Canadians, who are in fact responsible for Kandahar, lacked the manpower to deploy troops to all of the districts in the province. When the British arrived, they expected to encounter resistance. They brought in 500 soldiers, vehicles and equipment, and on March 26 they stood, in the gaping desert north of Hutal, and proceeded to march westward into operations zones identified on their maps with names like "Birmingham," "Camberley" and "Thailand." But nothing happened...

At the beginning of the week, [soldiers from 3 Para] opened fire on a teenager on a moped who, with his brother sitting on the back, was foolishly driving in their direction. They could only conclude that he was a suicide bomber, because he ignored all gestures and all warnings, and simply continued driving toward them. The company doctor later tended to his wounds, and now the boy is up and walking in his village again, but the mood has deteriorated since then. The locals say that the foreign troops are shooting at their children...

[Fichtner goes to dinner with Chris Alexander, political director of the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan:]

Yes, says Alexander, there is a lot of bad news, but there is also good news to report. "We had less than 1,000 schools here in 2001. Today there are 9,000, which is quite impressive."

The conversation at the table soon turns to the Karzai government. It has been in office for six years, but has failed to produce any presentable successes. Two-thirds of the ministries are hopelessly corrupt, they say, the cabinet is split along ethnic lines. As for Karzai? Merely the mention of his name is a source of amusement. He is seen as nothing but a weak, paranoid leader...

Old warriors with world-famous names, like Dostum and Hekmetyar, are active once again, as old rifts spark anew between the peoples of the country's south and north. Mutual suspicions continue to grow as it becomes clear that the new era is failing to produce successes. Rival clans are already embroiled in their small wars and feuds. Afghanistan remains a combustible country, a potential battlefield where civil war is still an option -- a civil war that some are already waging.

On the day of the attack on Hamid Karzai, Mujahedeen Day, a national holiday in Afghanistan and a day of parades, three men have been lurking for at least 36, probably 72 hours, in a guesthouse less than 500 meters from the Kabul parade ground. Their accomplices have locked them into their room from the outside. A padlock is on the door to create the impression the room is unoccupied. The assassins have stocked up on energy drinks, water and crackers. They urinate into bottles and send short text messages to telephone numbers in Pakistan.

The room on the fourth floor, which offers a clear line of fire at the grandstand where the government of Afghanistan, headed by President Karzai, and the country's top generals and religious leaders, members of parliament and foreign guests, ambassadors, ISAF commanders and UN directors are about to sit down, has been rented for 45 days. One of the attackers, a Turkmen, claimed to be a carpet merchant with business at the nearby bazaar. The weapons are hidden in rolled-up carpets...

[T]he door to the room was locked from the outside, the owner of the guesthouse tells police. The people aren't home, he says, and he hasn't seen them in a while. Why break down the door, he asks?

No one has any idea that a police colonel is part of the plot. The Taliban have a mole in the heart of the country's security apparatus. Perhaps their man is guiding preparations for the parade in the wrong direction, or perhaps he is sending police on the wrong track.

The mole is the one who procures the weapons for the attack. Unable to get sniper rifles, he does manage to bribe his way into buying assault rifles. Corrupt accomplices set the guns aside in an Afghan army training camp, behind the Americans' backs. They even manage to line up a bazooka and a grenade launcher...

The attackers wait, less than 500 meters away, keeping a watchful eye on Karzai. They plan to open fire during the national anthem -- for the effect...

Three members of parliament are hit on the grandstand, 25 meters (82 feet) below Karzai to the right. Grenades explode on the asphalt, killing a child and a policeman in the line of fire...

The next day, US Ambassador Wood will say: "The whole thing was over within 120 seconds." This is the sugarcoated version for the Western public. The people in Afghanistan, however, know that in reality the shooting continued for 25 or 30 minutes, and that the attackers used bazookas, machine guns and grenades. Soon there were helicopters in the air and the assassination attempt turned into a battle, with the presidential guard returning fire, eventually killing the three attackers and chasing three of their accomplices through the city... (link)

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

US Marines win 5 square kilometers (update)

The modern history of southern Helmand and its relations with the U.S. is a curious one. Much of its population are recent settlers who came in the wake of U.S. - built irrigation systems which enabled settlement in what was desert. It seems that much of this newly-created farmland is government owned. Thus its tenants have changed through the decades of turmoil as de facto rulers have resettled the lands to be more to their tribal and political liking.

Writing in the New York Times, after repeating a whole lot of U.S. military propaganda ("hundreds" rather than thousands of families displaced; Arab Taliban; Iranian Taliban, etc.), veteran Associated Press reporter Carlotta Gall sums up the US Marines' accomplishment:

After a month in the region, the marines have secured only half of a 10 square kilometer area south of Garmser, and Taliban operating out of two villages are still attacking their southern flank and even creeping up to fire at British positions on the edge of the town... (link)
And Pajhwok carries accusations from two Afghan politicians:
'Civilians the worst sufferers of Helmand operation'
Makia Monri

KABUL, May 26 (PAN) - ... Two senators from Helmand told reporters in Kabul on Monday that many civilians were killed, wounded and displaced [in Garmsir].

Haji Mahboob Garmsiri, a senator from the district, and Haji Sher Muhammad Akhunzada, head of the parliamentary committee for internal safety in the senate also from Helmand, said that the civilians were the worst sufferers in the operation...

[Garmsiri] said only the United Nations Development Program has distributed some aid to the IDPs, but that was very insufficient.

He also blamed foreign troops of breaking into civilians homes and detaining innocent people. He said there were already dozens of people detained. Some of them [were] taken to the Kandahar air field and some were freed later. He also claimed that more civilians were killed and wounded in the bombardments and raids that worried the local population. He blamed the Afghan forces of looting public property...

Earlier, head of the Helmand provincial council, Haji Muhammad Anwar, said more than 10,000 families have been displaced from the area. [N.B. The author may be confusing Anwar's earlier estimate of 10 - 15,000 people in total displaced.]

Sher Muhammad Akhunzada told the press conference that harsh treatment of foreign and Afghan forces with local people was causing further alienation of the population and have already resulted in more areas to fall in hands of the Taliban.

If the situation does not improve, people will increasingly turn to the Taliban and against the government, said Akhunzada... (link)
Haji Sher Muhammad Akhundzada, quoted above, has an interesting background. His uncle rose to prominence in Musa Qala district in the late 70's when Afghan communists drove many land-owners (i.e. traditional leaders) out. Soon, Nasim Akhundzada was a military commander of Helmand's most popular mujahiddin group. By 1987 Nasim Akhundzada became involved in a civil war of sorts as his Hezbi Enqalab fought a rival commander of Hezbi Islami so that when Russian occupation troops arrived in northern Helmand the population welcomed the security they brought.

Sher Muhammad Akhundzada became the first post-Taliban governor of Helmand on account of the connections the family had made with the Karzai family from neighboring Kandahar province during their exile in Pakistan. This despite the fact that the Akhundzadas are known drug lords.

The senator has weighed in on the issue of U.S. attacks before. Last year, he denounced an American air attack which killed civilians in Gereshk district of Helmand: "We want to tell the world we can no longer tolerate the situation obtaining in Helmand, where civilians are bombed day in and day out."

Speaking from Kabul, NPR's Ivan Watson reports: "From the indications I got there from NATO officials here, in Kabul, militants tried to stage frontal attacks against the marines, several weeks after they arrived in Helmand province." (See: Lexis-Nexus)

Update: Carlotta Gall reports that the U.S. Marines' original plan was in fact for a 3-day operation to secure the highway through Garmser.

Monday, May 26, 2008

Nangar Khel - the song

The England-based Polish band called The Poise Rite has released a song about the Nangar Khel incident. Hear it here.

Translated lyrics below (courtesy of this web site), just slightly edited for clarity. All the ###'s stand for swear words, but I know not which ones, unfortunately.

Nangar Khel 2130*
Piosenka z wolnej stopy [Song for the foot soldier(?) -DM]

Mountains, the base,
Father Chaplain
In the shitter, "Kid’s Murderers" on the wall
Trained, armed,
Fear, adrenaline, steroid food, porn DVD

Orders have been given, native people meet their death
Military jailed, the army’s divided
It could have not been me shooting, it could have been you,
Either they’ll get us, or we get them

Genocide, mistake, runaround, two thousand one hundred and thirty...
Civilian crowd, politics

Who had killed whom here? The new shift is going to ask
Two thousand one hundred and thirty above sea level
Three days on patrol
Six months on the mission
Combat formation
The gunner wearing goggles, Arafat style keffiyeh, mortar
Live rounds
Small victorious war
#### fiction

Kevlar helmet, kevlar heart, kevlar head
Buddies dying, mothers crying
Peacekeeping mission

Civilians have been killed, the uniform has been dishonored

Genocide, mistake, runaround

Who’s the victim?
Their children or ours?
Their wives or ours?

Genocide, mistake, runaround
Two thousands one hundred and thirty...

Civilian crowd, politics
Who had killed whom here? The new shift is going to ask

Genocide, mistake, runaround
Two thousand one hundred and thirty...

Civilian crowd, politics
Who had killed whom here? The new shift is going to ask

[Soldiers' choir:]

When I was rotting the #### in jail for half a year, without the verdict
- rotting the #### in jail for half a year without the verdict

The people the #### were surprised, The minister the #### himself was deriding

The people the #### were surprised,
The minister the #### himself was deriding

*Nangar Khel is 2130m above sea level.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Major setback for USMC in Helmand

Readers with sound memories will recall that US Marines were operating in Nangarhar province last year, but were sent home after opening fire on civilians in the wake of a suicide attack on their convoy which injured one marine. The incident of March 4, 2007 prompted an investigation by the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission. It found:
"In failing to distinguish between civilians and legitimate military targets, the U.S. Marine Corps Special Forces employed indiscriminate force," the report said. "Their actions thus constitute a serious violation of international humanitarian standards." ... (link)
The marines' rampage killed 12 people, including a child and three elderly men. A US military judge recently decided not to charge any of the soldiers over the killings, causing outrage among many Afghans.

This year, the marines were sent back to the country and began arriving at Kandahar Air Base around mid-March. However, their arrival was far from smooth, as some sort of bureaucratic SNAFU was in the works which caused a month-long delay in the start of the marines' activities.

On April 9, General Rick Hillier told Canada's foreign affairs committee that the marines would operate under NATO rules: "They are coming in to work for the ISAF mission, which means they work under the NATO rules of engagement," he said. But the issue evidently revolved around who would command the marines. Would it be General Dan McNeill at ISAF's HQ in Kabul or would it be Regional Command South, whose command rotates through British, Dutch and Canadian commanders.

The marines' assault finally began on April 28 in the extreme south of Helmand at a forward operating base likely located in Reg district. Moving north, the marines encountered heavy resistance as they approached the district centre of Garmsir. The Pentagon's news service reported on May 7 that Taliban fighters had attacked the marines "daily" since the start of the operation.The following day, Pajhwok Afghan News reported that six civilians had been killed in the fighting, though it was not known if the Americans or the Taliban were responsible. According to the report, "[Helmand's] provincial council head said most of the district was still in the Taliban's control and that claims [to the contrary] by NATO were not true."

On May 12, the Toronto Star's Rosie DiManno reported:
[P]rovincial government sources, along with aid workers in the region, accuse the Marines of conducting aggressive door-to-door searches, rousting civilians from their homes, arresting innocents and forcing upward of 15,000 Afghans to flee into the hot desert for safety.

None of these claims has been confir- med. How- ever, the U.S. propensity for using air strikes and artillery and mortar barrages in support of their ground troops has much of the domestic media here caterwauling about a suddenly "Americanized war" in Afghanistan...
It is noteworthy that DiManno evidently feels experienced enough in Afghanistan to pass judgment on assessments by local media. Their concerns about the trajectory of the war, presumably informed by years spent living in the war-torn region, are seen by DiManno as mere "caterwauling".
[NATO spokesman in Brussels Carlos] Branco couldn't say if American troops are bound by the same rules of engagement – never specifically spelled out for public dissemination – as their NATO colleagues. "I don't actually know the answer to that question," Branco told the Toronto Star... (link)
Though DiManno deserves some credit for being perhaps the only mainstream journalist to report on the alleged misbehaviour of the marines, her report is tame compared to the UN's humanitarian news agency:
AFGHANISTAN: Call for food aid from conflict-hit Helmand Province

KABUL, May 13 (IRIN) - [...] Over 6,000 families - about 30,000 individuals, mostly women and children - are estimated to have abandoned their homes in Garmsir and flocked to various locations across the province...

Due to problems of access there has been no reliable information about civilian casualties resulting from the conflict.

However, Mohammad Anwar Khan, head of the provincial council, said many civilians had died and some had been wounded in the crossfire... (link)
AP has more:
Marines stay in Afghan town after Taliban influx

GARMSER, May 14 (AP) - U.S. Marines who once planned to be in this southern Afghan town for just a few days are extending their mission by several weeks after facing an influx of Taliban fighters.

The change in plans shows that despite a record number of international troops in the country, forces are still spread thin and U.S...

The 2,400-strong Marine unit met stiff resistance as they moved in. Between 100 and 400 Taliban fighters moved into the Garmser area as the poppy harvest got under way, apparently to defend their interests in the lucrative drug trade.

Maj. Tom Clinton Jr. said the Marines would be in Garmser for several more weeks. It means the Marines might not take part in an operation that was planned in another southern province this month.

"The number of fighters that stood and fought is kind of surprising to me, but obviously they're fighting for something," Clinton said, alluding to poppies...

Commanders say their goal is to rid the region of Taliban fighters so the Afghan government can move in and tackle the drug problem.

The prospects of that happening appear remote...

"We can't be a permanent 24/7 presence. We don't have enough men to stay here," said Staff Sgt. Darrell Penyak, 29, of Grove City, Ohio. "We would need the ANA (Afghan army) to move in, and right now the way we're fighting, there's no way the ANA can come in. They couldn't handle it." (link)
While I can find no other mention of the marines' hoped-for second operation, it is possible that it might have been in Kandahar alongside Canadian troops.On May 19, the UN mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) announced that 1500 families are still displaced by the fighting, while press photos show that the marines were still seeing heavy resistance. And it looks as though the fighting still hasn't let up as the US Air Force reports on close air support for the battle in Garmsir, reporting that "an F-15E dropped guided bomb unit-38s in order to destroy enemy combatants."

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)

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Afghan police kill anti-US demonstrators - again

From veteran correspondent Declan Walsh:

Afghan anti-US protest leaves three dead
The Guardian

ISLAMABAD, May 23 - Two Afghans and a Nato soldier were killed yesterday during a violent protest in western Afghanistan against a US soldier who used the Qur'an for target practice.

A 1,000-strong crowd gathered outside a military base in remote Ghor province, throwing rocks and setting tents on fire, a Nato spokesman said.

The protesters were enraged by reports that a US sniper used the Islamic holy book for target practice on a shooting range outside Baghdad earlier this month. Afghan police opened fire on the crowd, killing two and wounding at least seven. A soldier from Lithuania was also killed, although it remains unclear who fired the shot.

The Ghor police chief, Shah Jahan Noori, said Taliban militants mingled among the protesters. "Among these people were rebels, who opened fire," he said, adding that 10 officers were also wounded... (link)
Deutsche Presse-Agentur has more:
... Similar demonstrations also took pace in Afghanistan's northern Badakhshan province on Thursday, witnesses said.

The protesters in Faizabad, the provincial capital, asked the Afghan government to end its political relations with the US and to expel US soldiers from Afghanistan, Ahmad Bari, one of the organizers of the demonstration said...

Hundreds of students in the northern province of Kunduz took to streets on Wednesday and chanted anti-US slogans, while in Kabul dozens of Afghan members of parliament walked out of the lower house of parliament on Tuesday in protest. (link)

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Human Rights Watch: Reinstate Malalai

From Human Rights Watch:

Afghanistan: Reinstate Malalai Joya in Parliament
Suspension of Female MP One Year Ago Is Setback for Democracy

NEW YORK, May 21 – One year after her illegal suspension, the Afghan parliament should reinstate Malalai Joya to office, Human Rights Watch said today...

“Afghanistan is requesting billions of dollars in assistance from donors next month and presenting itself as an emerging democracy,” said Brad Adams, Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “If Malalai Joya remains suspended for exercising her right to free expression and has to keep moving around because of threats for which the government does nothing, what does this say about the state of human rights and democracy?”

Malalai is an outspoken human rights activist who has publicly criticized warlords and drug barons in Afghanistan. At 29, she is the youngest member of the Wolesa Jirga. In 2003, she gained international attention for speaking out publicly against warlords elected to the constitutional assembly and involved in drafting the Afghan constitution. Two years later, she was the top vote-getter from Farah province in Afghanistan’s parliamentary elections.

Since 2003, Malalai has received many death threats. She moves from house to house on a daily basis to avoid attacks...

"Instead of branding her a criminal, the Afghan government should be demanding that parliament reinstate Malalai and arresting the people threatening her life," said Adams. "This is a real test for President Hamid Karzai to show donors that women – even outspoken women – have a role to play in Afghan politics and in the rebuilding of Afghanistan." (link)
The NDP's Alexa McDonough reminds us of Joya's Harper connection:
Over the past year, the Harper government has deliberately avoided several opportunities to address Malalai Joya's mistreatment.

By chance, Prime Minister Harper was in Afghanistan on the day of her expulsion, yet raised no objection to the lack of fair parliamentary process. At the time, I wrote the Prime Minister, urging him to express concern about Ms. Joya's arbitrary, undemocratic treatment. The Foreign Affairs Minister's only response was to invoke the "independence of Afghan lawmakers" as an excuse for Canada washing its hands of any responsibility... (link)

Monday, May 19, 2008

CSIS and CSOR in Afghanistan

From the Globe and Mail:

Rules urged for spies in Afghanistan

May 9 - Canada's spies working in Afghanistan are doing so without a rulebook, the watchdog that reviews CSIS's operations says.

Eva Plunkett, Inspector-General of the Canadian Security Intelligence Service, says the agents are doing "commendable work" but that laws governing the spy service need to be updated now that agents are being dispatched to war zones.

A "suitable policy framework" is needed to tell the spies what they should and should not do, she says in her "Top Secret" annual report to Public Safety Minister Stockwell Day, which was posted, partly censored, on a federal website this week.

The findings allude to - but don't actually explain - the nature of CSIS's clandestine support for Canadian soldiers battling the Taliban.

"As you are aware, the Service has been in Afghanistan [CENSORED]," the public report says. "As such, the Service's role in Afghanistan is relatively new, but I am impressed with [CENSORED] on which I am informed."...

Earlier this year, it was revealed that CSIS asked a Federal Court judge to sign off on spying warrants that would have allowed counterterrorism agents to follow Canadian citizen suspects to unidentified countries, and then intercept their communications. The judge said he had no authority to endorse any such warrants.

When CSIS was formed in 1984, it was envisioned as an agency that would operate within Canada under strict checks and balances... (link)
In an otherwise uninteresting profile of General Rick Hillier in Legion Magazine, the military chief reveals that CSOR is operating in Afghanistan:
As the battle for Kandahar province moves away from conventional force-on-force confrontation, the fight is increasingly becoming the kind of thing special operations forces were designed to do. While Joint Task Force 2—Canada’s top-end counter-terrorist force—has been in Afghanistan since 2002, Hillier confirmed that the Canadian Special Operations Regiment (CSOR) is now conducting operations in Afghanistan as well. While details of the operations are secret, Hillier makes it clear that Canada’s special operations forces are actively hunting Taliban leadership across Kandahar province.

“(Canada’s special operations forces) are a major factor. We’re a significant player in going after and helping disrupt Taliban coherence"... (link)

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Nangar Khel: NATO's unknown massacre

Note: Below is an essay of mine posted a couple of weeks ago at Rabble and ZNet concerning the Nangar Khel incident. Here, I've added pictures and an update. Readers of this blog have already been subjected to extracts of translated Polish news coverage which constitute some of the sources for the essay below.

Nangar Khel: NATO's Unknown Massacre
It's the story of an unprecedented attack on Afghan civilians, and it's not being told

On the afternoon of August 16, 2007 a unit of Polish soldiers operating under NATO's International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) in Paktika Province approached a small Afghan village. Known as Delta platoon, the patrol had come to the village, called Nangar Khel, in reponse to a Taliban IED attack on American forces early that morning in the same area.

What happened next is still not clear and awaits an upcoming trial, but in preliminary hearings officials have acknowledged that these Polish NATO troops killed six civilians and seriously wounded three more in mortar and machine gun fire. The victims, who were reportedly taking part in a wedding celebration, included several women and children.

Soon after the incident, ISAF's public relations department announced that several civilians had been killed in a skirmish between NATO forces and Taliban insurgents. As is normal for NATO press releases, the notice did not name the nationality of the foreign troops involved. Less commonly, however, ISAF did not state whether it was NATO or Taliban forces who had killed the civilians. While several news agencies carried brief reports relaying the facts, these were not picked up and the incident was basically ignored by the major English language media. Soon, however, Poles were alerted to the fact that the soldiers involved were from the Polish Land Forces. But a delay in the official announcement, which came some six days after the incident, prompted widespread accusations that the Polish Defense Minister was hiding something. Indeed, two former Defense Ministers, from either end of the Polish political spectrum, publicly accused Minister Aleksander Szczyglo of attempting to conceal details of the incident.

An act of revenge?
In fact Szczyglo was hiding something, for on August 20, he had received a military counterintelligence assessment of the incident which must have stunned him. The report said that there had not been any insurgents present during the firing and that the village may have been attacked by the Polish soldiers in an act of revenge for the death of a colleague. Some two days before the Nangar Khel incident, a Polish soldier in an adjacent province had been killed in a Taliban ambush, thus becoming the first Pole to die in NATO's Afghanistan war. The residents of Nangar Khel, for their part, were reportedly thought to secretly support Taliban insurgents. Rather than revealing these growing concerns, Szczyglo told reporters that the Polish troops had captured an important terrorist while battling with Taliban fighters that day. Meanwhile, the report of misdeeds was passed on to military police officials.

Delta platoon were operating in the Wazi Khwa district of Afghanistan's southeastern Paktika Province where they shared a base with American troops. The Polish NATO contingent, working amid flat, dry and dusty valleys hemmed in by low mountains, were no strangers to morale problems. Just two months before the Nangar Khel event, eleven Polish commandoes stationed at Wazi Khwa had demanded to be sent home early to Poland rather than continue to operate with the dangerously unsafe equipment provided them. While the rebellious soldiers did not get their way, they were celebrated by the ranks, a significant portion of whom are conscripts.

When news of what went on outside the wire became widely known at the base, the spirit of camaraderie was shattered. That oft-cited barometer of public opinion, the latrine walls, told of the revulsion felt by other soldiers: "Delta should be behind bars - murderers of children," read the bathroom graffiti.

Back in Poland, government officials announced that an investigation had begun into the nature of the incident, which was still largely a mystery to most Poles. But the investigation did not appear to bear fruit until after national elections which saw the incumbents ousted, including Defense Minister Szczyglo.

Arrests and cover story

On November 13, as Poland's newly elected government was entering office, seven soldiers were arrested.* News photographers captured images of masked teams of SWAT-style military police hauling away hooded and handcuffed suspects. The following day, military prosecutors announced criminal charges for some members of Delta platoon. Two privates, a sergeant, a warrant officer, a lieutenant and a captain were charged with murder of civilians under circumstances of war or occupation, while one private was charged with attacking civilian objects. The prosecutor stated that the crimes for which they are charged constitute violations of the Hague Conventions of 1907 and the Geneva Conventions of 1949 and carry jail sentences of twelve years to life for the murder charges and five to 25 years for the lesser charge.

Under questioning, several of the accused recanted the stories they had given to investigators earlier. The lower ranking soldiers now claimed that they had received orders to fire on three different villages and that they had received these orders before leaving the Wazi Khwa base. This is the accusation leveled by the assistant to the platoon's commanding officer. Warrant Officer Andrzej O., assistant to Second Lieutenant Lukasz B., said he was present at the meeting where the platoon was ordered to attack Nangar Khel and two nearby villages. Lieutenant Lukasz B. was present for the meeting, according to his assistant.

The accused stated that they did not refuse to carry out their orders even after they saw that civilians were present in Nangar Khel. They also told of a cover story which their commanders had concocted to prevent the truth from being revealed. According to one of the accused, Polish commander General Marek Tomaszycki met with the accused at the Wazi Khwa base just days after the incident and persuaded the soldiers to hush up the incident: "He said that we should not discuss it at all, help each other and watch each other so that nobody committed suicide, as then it would all come out," claimed the soldier. The general denied the claim.

The Polish press also reported on leaked testimony that Delta platoon was not the only unit to be given the order to attack. Another platoon had reportedly been given the orders earlier but had refused to carry them out as they recognized that civilians would be endangered.

Though physical evidence is being kept secret, it has been widely reported in the Polish press that a video recording of the attack on the village is amongst said evidence. Supposedly, the video shows the troops entering Nangar Khel, despite earlier claims that the troops did not enter the village at any time. Relating what the video shows next, one journalistic account related the sentiments of people who had seen the video: "Behavior that does not befit a soldier," was their assessment.
American involvement?

While the arrests of the accused soldiers sparked a media frenzy in Poland, the issue has been almost completely ignored outside the country. This omission is especially glaring in the case of the American media, as it is the US who are in nominal command of NATO forces in Paktika. And indeed, the relationship between the Polish and American forces goes deeper than that. Stanislaw Koziej, a retired Major-General in the Polish army and former deputy minister of defense, writes that Polish troops in Afghanistan are more closely placed under American command than they are in Iraq. "The incorporation of the small combat sub-units into the American structures was not advantageous." The reason for this, he continues, is that "integration with the lowest ranks of the US structures naturally forces our soldiers to use the American tactical doctrine," which he says contrasts with the situation in Iraq, where some 1200 Polish soldiers operate with more independence.

With this structure of command as background, the lack of attention from the US press is telling. Apart from very brief notices in three American papers (New York Times, LA Times, New York Newsday) taken from a November 15 Associated Press dispatch, American press coverage has amounted to one article in the New York Times on November 29. The article, by Berlin bureau chief Nicholas Kulish, generally promotes the view that the Polish soldiers attacked the civilians by accident. This despite the fact that Poland's leading daily newspaper, Gazeta Wyborcza, had already revealed testimony from colleagues of the arrested soldiers who saw several of the accused deliberately firing on civilian targets. Kulish's 900 word article, reprinted in the International Herald Tribune, represents the only English language coverage I could find apart from mention of the case in a Financial Times opinion piece authored by an American defense analyst (Dec 7). (Canadian print media coverage has been precisely zero.)

"Up to this point," wrote Kulish in his Times piece, "there has been no suggestion of American involvement in the civilian deaths." Before long, however, allegations were flying in Poland that the order to attack the villages came from American commanders. So said the wives of two suspects when interviewed on national television. Their accusations reportedly received support from both ex-Defense Minister Szczyglo and current Defense Minister Bogdan Klich but other Polish observers dismissed it out of hand. However, the American media, along with the non-Polish press generally, has reported no more on the case. This despite an excellent Inter Press Service piece by Zoltán Dujisin on December 27. Sadly, that piece was scarcely picked up, even by major leftist websites.

Hearings told civilian deaths routine

The Polish military prosecutors held preliminary hearings on the case, bringing in various military and government officials including at least one American army major who sought to calm Polish nerves. The killing of numerous civilians at Nangar Khel, he said, is "something unfortunate, but not of great significance". He stressed the triviality of the event, saying "I don't understand why an unimportant incident has gained such great significance in your country. Why so much attention? Civilian deaths occur every week, because Afghanistan is no Sunday school."
A Polish special forces officer also told the hearings that the killings were a non-event: "Harming a civilian is something that could happen to any soldier." He added that "The Americans experience similar incidents even once a week. [However,] a substantial majority of such cases result from poor air reconnaissance."

The accused soldiers who shot the weapons have claimed that they did not follow their orders to fire on Nangar Khel. Instead, the soldiers claim they aimed near to the village, but that their weapons misfired, hitting the civilians after all. Yet against this version of events is the testimony of several fellow soldiers who were operating alongside the accused. One of them, a sergeant, told the court that he talked with one of the accused privates while the latter was shelling Nangar Khel. "Asked why [the accused soldiers were] shooting at a village where civilians are present, he confirmed he had been ordered to do so."

Following the hearings, the Polish court decided to keep the accused in custody while they await trial, citing the "large probability that they are guilty as charged". Some worry, however, that a fair trial is not possible as some officials have tainted public opinion on the matter. In an unguarded moment in February, former Defense Minister Szczyglo snapped at a reporter:"Please do not tell me that I am in any way responsible for a bunch of morons shooting at civilians."

* The suspects are named as: Capt. Olgierd C., Second Lt. Łkasz B., Ensign Andrzej O., Platoon Sgt. Tomasz B. and privates first class Damian L., Robert B. and Jacek J. (Polish law forbids publishing the suspects' full names.)

Note on sources: throughout, I make use of Polish media reports translated by the BBC Worldwide Monitoring and available through the Lexis-Nexis database.

Dave Markland is a peace activist, writer and researcher based in Vancouver.

On April 28, Polskie Radio reported that defence lawyers have finally received the court files for the case. The same day, Gazeta Wyborcza online reported:

[T]he investigation is beginning to lean in the commandos' favour. An expert report on the mortar gun which was used to fire on the village concluded that the weapon had a wide field of dispersion and the charges had a hidden defect. That means that when firing on Taleban observation points, Poles may have accidentally struck civilians. (Gazeta Wyborcza website, Apr 28 - BBC transl.)
Meanwhile the commander of the Polish Land Forces, Gen Waldemar Skrzypczak, threatened to quit his post if the seven soldiers were convicted, and added further his own personal guarantee that the accused are innocent. The general was promptly stripped of his post as his remarks were viewed as putting pressure on the military court's proceedings.

Another general, Jerzy Wójcik, who commands the brigade which encompasses Delta platoon's battalion, reveals some of the fallout from the affair. He calls it 'Nangar Khel syndrome':
"The men slated to travel out on successive missions are now wondering: what for? So that I will be afraid to draw my weapon and shoot? They are not saying this outright, but one can already sense it when talking to the soldiers. We are having trouble putting together full contingents for the successive rotations to Afghanistan. Instead of close-knit units, we will be sending out a hodgepodge of people from throughout Poland." (Op. cit.)
The general also made some important observations about culpability:
"Perhaps we should disband the army? If a private receives an order there's no time for discussion... The military is no local council meeting, privates do not discuss things with their commander. Convicting privates undermines the sense of the army's existence. We gave them the right to use force and weapons, without any caveats like other armies did. Where were the lawyers then?! Why didn't they say then that this ran counter to our conventions, why didn't they raise objections that our soldiers were under the command of the Americans, who are not bound by any conventions?" (Op. cit.)
On May 6, Gazeta Wyborcza carried a commentary by journalist Miroslaw Czech:
The Polish state sent out its troops to take part in a war that is in practice not governed by any rules... Our problem stems from the fact that it is above all the United States which does not want to subject itself to the International Criminal Court's jurisdiction.

In both Iraq and Afghanistan, the Polish state placed its units under US operational command without guidelines as to how those soldiers should behave if events like those in Nangar Khel took place. Should they follow the example of the Americans, who explain everything in terms of an attack by the Taleban using civilians as a shield, or should they follow the Boziewicz code [1919 dueling code of honour] or European standards of war law?
Polskie Radio (May 6) has more on what the recently released files show:
[T]he case records, just made available to the defence lawyers, include a witness account of the Taliban shooting first at American and then Polish troops in Nangar Khel. The Polish troops fired back, but stopped as soon as they realised civilians were hit, according to a witness.

Also, according to the Wprost weekly, Polish troops charged with the Nangar Khel killings reported faulty equipment weeks before the tragic incident... (link)
On May 12, the three low-ranking soldiers were released from the military prison to remain free while they await trial. The four officers are still in custody and will be held through their trial, which is set to begin in June. In making the pitch for his clients' release, defense lawyer Piotr Kruszynski recalled a comment by Defence Minister Klich that similar incidents occurred for American forces twice a month on average.

"The court motioned the decision with the fact that the released soldiers were of too low a rank to have any influence on orders," observed Polskie Radio. The Associated Press sums up the development thus: "It said the three are accused of obeying military orders and, as such, would face lower possible sentences, if convicted, than the four officers who remain in custody in the case."

While the accused officers have suffered thus far the ignominy of their incarceration, General Tomaszycki, who was said to have headed a hush-up effort, has been notably successful in his post-Afghanistan career, as Polityka (May 10) comments:
General Mark Tomaszycki ... was not hampered in his successive promotions even by the fact that it was during his shift that the tragic incident with Afghan civilians at the Nangar Khel village occurred. In recent days he has become chief of the Training Directorate at the General Staff...

NATO replays Russian record

From the BBC:

Is Nato repeating the USSR's mistakes?
By Alastair Leithead

KABUL, May 15 (BBC) ... The aptly named Zamir Kabulov first arrived in Afghanistan as a young Soviet diplomat in 1977 and has lived through the last turbulent 30 years of this country's misfortunes.

Now he is Russian ambassador in Kabul...

"There is no mistake made by the Soviet Union that was not repeated by the international community here in Afghanistan," Mr Kabulov said, listing the problems.

"Underestimation of the Afghan nation, the belief that we have superiority over Afghans and that they are inferior and they cannot be trusted to run affairs in this country."...

"Nato soldiers and officers alienate themselves from Afghans - they are not in touch in an everyday manner. They communicate with them from the barrels of guns in their bullet-proof Humvees."...

Ahmad Shah Ahmadzai, a mujahideen leader and prime minister in exile during the 1990s, admits they failed in the years following the Soviet withdrawal.

He is now an opponent of the government who stood against President Hamid Karzai in the last election...

[A]sked how the Soviet occupation compared to today's mission: "To my opinion the ground situation is no different because the Soviets were imposing their Communist regime on us. The present forces - they are imposing their so-called democracy on us.

"They were wrong then and the present Nato forces are doing wrong now by killing innocent people - men, women and children."...

"They are winning the battles but losing the war," ambassador Kabulov said, explaining that things are even harder now than they were in the 1980s.

"The structures of government then were very much there and our task was very much was to support and to win loyalty - or, if you will, hearts and minds - but we had a working administration."

In Helmand province British forces in Kajaki are fighting from positions originally built by the Soviets... (link)
Russia's Ambassador Kabulov, quoted above, recently spoke to a Russian newspaper:
The longer NATO remains in Afghanistan, the worse it will be for them. But it would be incorrect to imagine Russia wants NATO out of Afghanistan as soon as possible, at any cost. We will not let them out of Afghanistan until they solve the problems they have created... (link)

Friday, May 16, 2008

Pak politician: Foreign troops out of Afghanistan

From the Daily Times of Pakistan:

Foreign troops must leave Afghanistan, says Khamosh

PESHAWAR, May 13 - Pakistan Mazdoor Kisan Party Central President and member of the Pak-Afghan Joint Peace Jirga Afzal Khamosh has said that foreign troops must leave Afghanistan to help succeed the peace efforts.

According to a statement issued here on Monday, Khamosh was addressing a reception ceremony hosted by an Afghan legislator in his honour in Kabul.

Speaking on the occasion, Khamosh said Afghans had been facing hardships for the last three years. The biggest problem faced by the Afghans is the presence of foreign troops, he added.

He said restoration of peace in Afghanistan was a must for bringing peace to NWFP and the rest of Pakistan. He stressed the need for people-to-people contacts to ensure peace in the region. (link)
Notes on Mr. Khamosh and his party:

The Pakistan Mazdoor Kisan Party (i.e. Pakistan Worker Peasant Party) is known as PMKP. In the past, the party has been formally merged with the Communist Party of Pakistan forming the CMKP.

The Punjab general-secretary of Khamosh's party (then the CMKP) wrote about an incident in Charsadda, NWFP in 2002. Some 3,500 security forces had come to evict thousands of peasants from lands expropriated from large landowners. The peasants resisted. A group of women villagers, a thousand strong, were drawn into the fray, burning several tractors brought in to destroy the crops. After the humiliating defeat meted out by the peasants, the Pakistani government charged over a hundred peasant organizers and leaders, including Khamosh, under the Anti-Terrorism Act of 1997.

Amnesty International said the Act, still in effect, is "seriously flawed" as it explicitly lifts several legal safeguards provided by the Pakistani constitution. The Act "invites serious human rights violations" by putting wide-ranging powers in the hands of law enforcement agencies known for torture and executions. Political prisoners are "likely to be subjected to unfair trials".

Many Pakistanis observe that such attacks are a result of Musharraf's participation in the American war on terror; emboldened by Washington's support the dictator attempts to roll back land reforms.

In 2006, the PMKP formed an alliance called Awami Jamhoori Tehreek along with five other left parties: National Workers Party, Awami Tehreek, Labour Party Pakistan, Pakistan Mazdoor Mohaz, and Inqilabi Jamhoori Workers Committee.

In 2007, Khamosh warned that force is no way to deal with Talibanisation in Pakistan, saying that political and economic measures must be used.

Khamosh himself is an avowed supporter of the Revolutionary Association of the Women of Afghanistan (RAWA).

Afghan journalists terrorized

Yaqub Ibrahimi is the brother of condemned journalist Pervez Kambakhsh (the latest on him below). By the best insider accounts (i.e. Ibrahimi's employer Jean MacKenzie of IWPR), it seems that the young Pervez was arrested and condemned as an effort to terrorize his older brother Yaqub, who is a competent journalist seemingly unafraid to tell the truth.

Ibrahimi spoke at an international media conference in Bali, Indonesia last month. Participants included reporters from Associated Press, Der Spiegel and International Herald Tribune. Excerpts from his speech:

'Situation for the Media in Afghanistan is Getting Worse and Worse'

Thanks for giving me the chance to speak. My special thanks to those who hold such conferences to discuss the freedom of speech...

I would like to say very openly that the situation for the media in Afghanistan is getting worse and worse, and if this situation is not controlled, it will turn Afghanistan into a major abattoir of journalists and a graveyard for the media. Despite the three or four years ago, in which the media had changed Afghanistan. Today and in particular since early 2007, it has been very bad for the media in which everything has been moving backwards...

The question is who these enemies are?

1. Fundamentalist warlords in the north part of country, who consider the freedom of speech as the only source for revealing their crimes. They are in the threshold of dominating the situation. They have found their way into the Afghan parliament and through the parliament; they have remarkable influence on the Afghanistan government. They own the laws and with their local and military power, they use the laws against the freedom of speech and against the journalists.

2. The extremist Taliban group in the south and west of the country which does not need to talk about because everybody knows about this group. They do not believe in any values of freedom of speech. Beheading journalists and writers are considered as their regular hobbies. Tackling the freedom of speech and press is part of their policy.

3. Taliban-style Mullahs in the capital and some parts of the country. They have established religious councils and they misuse the religion to put pressure on the freedom of speech and press. They control most of the country’s judicial system and through that, they can bring the journalists and the media to the court very easily and sentence them to death. They put them in jail or make them apologize.

4. And finally, it is Karzai's administration which has paved all of these ways for putting pressure and tackling the freedom of speech in my country. So it is changing to a system of anti-freedom of speech and press gradually...

The weak regime of Karzai is currently unable to control the bad situation for the media in Afghanistan because the fundamentalists, who are the enemy of the freedom of press and speech, control most of the regime... (link, at RAWA site)
Meanwhile, Kambakhsh's case is delayed:
Appeal hearing delay for journalist under sentence of death

MONTREAL, May 14: Reporters Without Borders calls on the Afghan authorities to cooperate with the lawyer of Sayed Perwiz Kambakhsh, a young journalist under sentence of death, to allow him to submit his client's appeal. Nearly two months have gone by since the case was transferred to Kabul, but his lawyer has still not been given the case file, which is preventing him from preparing the appeal.

"The case has not progressed since it was transferred to the Kabul court of justice," the press freedom organisation said. "We urge the authorities to speed up the procedure so that Kambakhsh's appeal can receive a fair hearing, far from the influence of religious fundamentalists. This was not the case when he was tried and sentenced to death for blasphemy in Mazar-i-Sharif. We call on foreign governments to continue to intercede on Kambakhsh's behalf."...

Jawed Ahmad, a young Afghan journalist who works for the Canadian television network CTV, has been held without trial by the US military at Bagram airbase, north of Kabul, since 2 November... (link to RSF press release)

Thursday, May 15, 2008

UN official drops pair of bombshells

The UN Special Rapporteur on extra-judicial, summary or arbitrary executions, Philip Alston, is a distinguished professor at NYU law shool. Last year, he went to Brazil to investigate extrajudicial executions by off-duty and former police in three areas of the country. (In one of those areas, Parambuco state, " a reliable estimate is that 70% of all homicides are committed by death squads, and many of those death squads are made up of policemen and former policemen."(link)

Yesterday, Alston finished up an investigative visit to Afghanistan:

AFGHANISTAN: Unlawful killings must cease immediately - UN rapporteur

KABUL, May 15 (IRIN) ...

[Alston] said at least 300 civilians had been killed by insurgents and about 200 others had been killed by international forces in 2008. ...

He demanded that extrajudicial, summary and arbitrary killings in Afghanistan must stop immediately.

“In a nutshell: police killings must cease; widespread impunity within the legal system for killing must be rejected; the killing of women and girls must end; the international military forces must ensure real accountability for their actions; and the UN should give greater prominence to the role of human rights in its activities,” Alston said.

''A key reason for these failures to act is the extent to which senior government and international officials focus on ‘stability’ and ‘security’ rather than ‘human rights’.''

Amid intensifying conflict-related violence which has increasingly affected civilians, the human rights of Afghan civilians have been overlooked, according to Alston. ... (link)
Earlier week, we saw that while NATO officials claimed recently that NATO troops had killed just four civilians so far in 2008, an NGO in Afghanistan puts the number killed by foreign forces at 60. (Note of course the distinction between NATO and foreign troops, which can also mean US-led Operation Enduring Freedom forces.)

Reuters has more:
While [Alston] said he had found no evidence of intentional killing by foreign troops and particular cases were investigated at considerable length, no international force was able or willing to provide information on numbers of civilians killed, the results of investigations or whether anyone had been punished...

The problem of accountability [of foreign forces], he said, was exacerbated by the operations of forces who were not accountable to any military but appeared to be controlled by foreign intelligence services.

Alston said the Afghan police should be better trained, equipped, and monitored and called for an end to corruption within the force and the impunity that the police generally enjoy after they have been accused of killing civilians...

Some 95 percent of those killed by the Taliban were innocent civilians, Alston said, but while this was a "disaster", rights activists should seek to engage the insurgents.

He said he had wanted to talk to representatives of the Taliban but the Afghan government had said there should be no dialogue with the rebels over human rights issues.

"I consider this to be a mistake," he said. "I reject the claim that such discussions legitimise the Taliban. The Taliban exist, they are engaged in widespread killing and we have an obligation ... to seek to diminish the civilian casualties and killings," he said. (link)
Along the way, Alston also accused foreign special forces of operating with impunity:
UN: Foreign agents behind spate of Afghan killings
By Fisnik Abrashi

KABUL, Afghanistan - A U.N. rights official alleged Thursday that foreign intelligence agents were acting with impunity in Afghanistan and have taken part in secret raids that have killed civilians.

U.N. envoy Philip Alston said he was aware of at least three such recent raids in the country's south and east. He said no one was taking responsibility for the killings.

He did not name a particular country, but mentioned one raid in January that allegedly killed two Afghan brothers that was conducted by Afghans and personnel from a U.S. special forces base in Kandahar...

He said foreign intelligence agencies were operating with apparent "impunity" in certain provinces. He said such secret operations were "absolutely unacceptable."...

"I am trying to encourage both the Americans and the Afghan government and others to take some of this seriously," Alston said.

U.S. military officials could not immediately be reached for comment.

Alston said there had also been raids in the eastern province of Nangarhar — another hotbed of the Taliban insurgency and al-Qaida militants, where U.S. special forces and other American-led units operate.

"When the international military forces at whatever level are asked what they know about them (the raids), the answer sometimes is, 'I know nothing,' and sometimes 'It is interesting, I must inquire into it,' but usually 'Yes, it's a problem, I wish we could do something,'" Alston said... (link)

Monday, May 12, 2008

How many civilians have we killed?

The BBC reports:

Taleban 'killing more civilians'
By Martin Patience

KABUL, May 5 (BBC) - The rate of Afghan civilians killed in Taleban attacks this year has increased compared to 12 months ago, Nato-led forces and local organisations say.

However, Nato's claim that the number of civilians killed by its forces has reduced has been disputed.

Senior officials in the Nato-led force say that 240 civilians were killed in Taleban attacks from January to mid-April this year.

That is a six-fold increase on the same period in 2007.

The officials said most of these deaths were from Taleban suicide bomb attacks aimed at international forces.

They also said that there had been a dramatic reduction in the number of civilians killed by Nato troops, dropping from 31 to four this year.

But these figures were disputed by local organisations.

One group which monitors security and advises aid workers said that at least 60 civilians had been killed by international troops this year.

The American-led coalition, which operates outside Nato's remit, says that it does not keep a tally on civilian casualties... (link)
Note that, if accurate, the NGO estimate represents a doubling of the rate civilians killed by our forces in 2008 as compared to 2007. As for what the numbers actually were last year, there are varying estimates, with some of the more reliable sources giving the highest estimates. Though the figures are rarely reported in the Western media, the UN news agency IRIN cited an Afghan government report and figures from the UN's Afghanistan mission (UNAMA) that showed over 1400 Afghan civilians had been killed between January and mid-August 2007. As for who was to blame, IRIN noted that "civilian deaths in military operations conducted by international forces - particularly US troops operating outside NATO writ - and their Afghan allies have roughly balanced that of the Taliban."

Finally, the conservative Washington Times, February 5, 2008:
The number of civilians inadvertently killed by U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan doubled in 2007 from the previous year as coalition forces dropped about a million pounds of bombs on the country... (link)

Sunday, May 11, 2008

VIDEO: Afghan police open fire on anti-US demo (updated)

Below, you can watch a Youtube video of a demonstration on Saturday (May 10) in Afghanistan's Nangarhar province which was called to protest against civilian deaths caused by US-led troops. The Afghan police are seen as they open fire on demonstrators. Police officials have claimed the shooting was in response to violence including rock-throwing by the protesters. Two of the demonstrators were killed by the shots, according to witnesses.

The event that sparked the protest occurred the day before, on Friday May 9, when foreign soldiers raided a home in Nanagarhar's Shinwar district. While NATO claims that several insurgents were killed and captured in the raid (though it is unclear whether this means it was a NATO operation), locals say that three civilians were killed by the foreign troops including one elderly man holed up in a mosque.

It appears that the protest centered around a funeral for one of the men allegedly slain by the foreign troops (see photos).

Reuters has the latest:

Protesters clash with police in Afghan east, two dead
By Mohammad Rafiq

NANGARHAR, Afghanistan, May 10 (Reuters) - At least two people were killed and seven wounded in eastern Afghanistan on Saturday in clashes between police and demonstra- tors protes- ting against civilian deaths at the hands of foreign troops, witnesses said.

Several thousand protesters had blocked a highway through Nangarhar province linking the capital Kabul with Pakistan. They said they were demonstrating against the killing of three civilians in the area by foreign forces in an overnight raid...

The protesters said five civilians had also been detained in the raid, in the Shinwar district of Nangarhar. Both NATO-led and troops under U.S. command are stationed in the province.

An official for NATO in Kabul said he was not aware of the raid. The U.S. military said all those killed were militants and the target of its raid was "a foreign fighter network"...

Protestors hurled stones at police, who responded by firing in the air and into the ground, a Reuters reporter at the scene said.

"We will start jihad if they (foreign troops) continue to carry on like this," Khairullah, a 35 year-old protestor chanted as others shouted "Allahu akbar", or God is greatest... (link)
Agence France-Presse has more details:
One dead at Afghan demo against US-led soldiers: witnesses
Samoon Miakhial

NANGARHAR, Afghanistan, May 10 (AFP) - At least one person was killed and several wounded in Afghanistan Saturday when police opened fire to disperse a protest...

Provincial police chief Sayed Abdul Ghafar denied his men had caused any casualties, saying they had only fired into the air after being shot at from the crowd. Two policemen were wounded, he said.

Ghafar however said that -- contrary to US-led coalition claims -- the men killed in an operation overnight in the Shinwar district were not militants or from the extremist Taliban movement.

"The coalition conducted independent operations in Shinwar and martyred three people. They were civilians," he told AFP.

Before the demonstration was dispersed, protestors chanted slogans against foreign troops, US President George W. Bush and Afghan leader Hamid Karzai.

"The Americans killed three civilians," said demonstrator Pizwan Khan. "They were my neighbours and I knew they were not Taliban," he told AFP above shouts of "Death to America, death to Bush, death to Karzai."

Others said the dead were an elderly man shot in a mosque and two other men, employed as drivers, shot in their homes... (link)
The video:

It seems that US troops have been busy in Nangarhar this past week. On Monday (May 5), US troops killed several militants and captured several more in a raid in another district.

Pajhwok Afghan News cites a local tribal elder of the Shinwari tribe as stating that three protesters were killed by the security forces.

On May 12, US-led coalition forces released all nine suspects detained in the May 9 raid which sparked the protests, says Pajhwok. The report also puts the number of people wounded in the raid at six.