Monday, June 30, 2008

Foreign troops making security worse: Governor

From Quqnoos:

Governor blames foreigners for insecurity
Foreign troops fail to respect Afghan culture, Balkh official says

June 26 - The governor of Balkh has blamed foreign troops for increasing insecurity in Afghanistan.

Governor Ata Mohammad Noor said on Thursday that US-led and NATO-led troops failed to respect Afghan culture, which he said fuelled the insurgency, especially in the south of Afghanistan.

He said the coalition should leave house raids and arrests to the Afghans security forces to avoid upsetting the local populace.

He also criticised foreign soldiers for using heavy-handed tactics, such as air-strikes, against the Taliban, which he said led to the deaths of innocent civilians.

The relationship between the government and the civilian population has deteriorated because of the raids and air-strikes on civilian homes, he said.

The coalition forces rejected Noor’s claims, arguing that they are in the country to provide security and assistance to the Afghan people... (link)
FYI, Governor Noor visited the US last year. Here he is seen visiting an elementary school in Seattle.

US military forces farmers off land

From Quqnoos Afghan news:

'US troops cut water supply to Bagramis'
Residents claim US soldiers in Bagram airbase have turfed them off their land
By Shakeela Ibrimkhil

June 25 - More than 1,500 families have been forced to leave their homes near Bagram airbase because American officials on the base have cut off their water supply, residents say.

The US-led coalition force blocked off water used by farmers in the area to irrigate their land and then seized the farmers’ property, residents claim.

The US-led coalition, which wants to expand Bagram airbase, refused to comment on the claims.

Some of the land near the military base, which has been under US command for more than six years, is owned by the Ministry of Defence.

But a senior official in the ministry said the US army could only expand the base once all the remaining land was bought from residents.

He said: "Once the people are paid the price of their land, then the government can take the land and the base can expand."

Locals say the US cut off their water several days ago.

One of the residents said: "Three small rivers are blocked by the Americans because they say they have leased the lands from the people, but they have even not paid the lease money to the people." ...

Bagram’s governor, Kabir Ahmad Rahil, also said the coalition had cut off the water supply... (link)

JTF-2 on execution missions?

From the CBC:

Canadian military silent on Afghan civilian deaths: UN investigator
Thursday, June 26, 2008
CBC News

The Canadian military is being criticized by a UN investigator for a lack of accountability for civilian deaths in Afghanistan...

The United Nation's special rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, Philip Alston, told CBC News that senior Canadian officers, among those from other NATO countries operating in Afghanistan, have refused to provide him with information about civilian casualties when asked.

"They said, 'We don't have the information; we can't give it to you. We promise you that we look at individual cases and we do it really very conscientiously.' Good, so give me the results. 'Well we don't have them,'" Alston said...

The CBC's Brian Stewart reported Thursday that the raids, dubbed "hunt and kill" operations by American soldiers, are conducted by Canadian JTF-2 commandoes, as well as British and American soldiers. The raids are so secret that some Afghans believe the attacks are really execution missions, Stewart said.

"To the extent that those sort of raids go on fairly systematically, they set up a situation in which people are likely to be shot to death," Alston said.

While he said he has found no evidence Canadian officers involved in the raids have acted illegally, Alston criticized the Canadian military nonetheless for a lack of accountability.

"First of all, there are international law obligations to accountability and transparency. Second, we're pushing the Afghans very much to be accountable on these things. And thirdly, what I said before is we have a self-interest in a sense, as far as the West is concerned, in making sure that we hold ourselves to much higher standards," he said... (link)
I have blogged in the past about an alleged special forces massacre in Toube, Helmand province which sounds a lot like one of the execution missions the CBC alludes to. The story won't be found in the mainstream media in North America. Only the British Telegraph carried a story on the allegations, which British military officials were "taking seriously".

US air strikes kill more civilians

From Reuters:

Afghan governor says civilians killed in U.S raid

KABUL, June 30 (Reuters) - U.S.-led coalition troops, backed by air strikes, killed 28 Taliban insurgents in southwestern Afghanistan, but six to eight civilians were also killed in the operation, the provincial governor said on Monday.

The raid on June 29 was aimed at a Taliban meeting in the Khash Rud district of Nimroz Province, provincial governor Ghulam Dastagir Azad told reporters.

"The operation was carried out on the basis of a tip-off. Twenty-eight Taliban and between six to eight civilians were killed in it," he said, without giving further details.

The U.S. military confirmed the mission, but said nothing of civilian casualties. It said the operation was aimed at disrupting militant activities in Nimroz. (link)
Here's the US Airforce's version of events from their June 29 daily airpower summary:
In Afghanistan, Air Force F-15E Strike Eagles dropped guided bomb unit-12s onto anti-Afghan forces in Lowkhi. An on-scene joint terminal attack controller declared the mission a success. (link)
(Lowkhi is the main population centre of Khas Rud district in Nimruz province.)

Deutsche Presse-Agentur adds a detail:
Nimroz governor Ghulam Dastagir Azad said a large number of Taliban fighters had entered Khash Rhud district and the coalition troops bombed their hideouts after they were passed 'accurate' intelligence... (link)
If it is true that the US airstrikes were based on "accurate" intelligence, then presumably the six to eight dead civilians didn't figure significantly on the American commanders' moral radar. In this they are perhaps in keeping with the laws of war which state that damages to civilians must be proportionate to any military advantage gained by the attack. The US did, after all, claim that some 28 Taliban including several commanders were killed in the attack.

Friday, June 27, 2008

Most Afghans want foreign troops out

The Senlis Council recently released a report entitled "Iraq: Angry hearts and angry minds," (pdf) which marks the group's first foray into Iraqi politics. For the study, they interviewed many Iraqis to get their views on the foreign occupation of their country. Not surprisingly, they found that a majority of Iraqis want foreign troops to leave - a result that echoes many other polls and reports as well as the impressions of many journalists and Iraqi commentators. What is more surprising is the results of their interviews with Afghans:

When asked about the ongoing presence of foreign troops in their country, over half (55%) of those interviewed in Iraq thought that the foreign troops should leave. When asked further about the effect that the foreign troops leaving would have on the presence of Al Qaeda in Iraq, 41% thought that AQI will remain in Iraq after the foreign troops leave.

However, a similar number (44%) of those interviewed think the opposite, that Al Qaeda will not remain in Iraq once the foreign troops leave. In comparison, more than six out ten of those interviewed in Afghanistan said that the foreign troops should leave, despite more than seven in ten believing that Al Qaeda will still be present in the country after the foreign troops have left. In Somalia, 85% of those interviewed think that foreign forces should leave their country, with nearly nine in ten believing that Al-Shabab and Al Qaeda will remain in the country.
These results are, as Senlis states, merely preliminary and further they don't give any indications of how many people were thus polled.

Speaking with CTV Television, the Senlis Council's manager in Afghanistan Almas Bawar Zakhiwal explains the situation:
ALMAS BAWAR ZAKHIWAL: So, first of all, it's not possible to go ahead without the military support. We definitely need the support of the military in Afghanistan and all these other countries. But we need to focus more and give more attention to the development side and try to win the hearts and minds of the local people which is --

O'REGAN [CTV host]: But how are we doing right now in those efforts? How are we doing?

ZAKHIWAL: We're not doing good right now.

O'REGAN: Okay.

ZAKHIWAL: We are losing the support of the local people. And that is because we see in Kandahar if the Taliban can succeed, if the insurgency can succeed, breaking into a prison and releasing thousands of prisoners, they were not alone. So, there was support behind them, local support... (link)

Taliban rising says Pentagon report

While NATO/US officials have recently grown hoarse while insisting that Afghan insurgents are not gaining strength in Afghanistan, the Pentagon's latest report puts that spin to rest:

Taliban likely to step up attacks in Afghanistan

WASHINGTON, June 27 (AP) - The Taliban has regrouped after its initial fall from power in Afghanistan and the pace of its attacks is likely to increase this year, according to a Pentagon report that offers a dim view of progress in the nearly seven-year-old war.

Noting that insurgent violence has climbed, the report said that despite U.S. and coalition efforts to capture and kill key leaders, the Taliban is likely to "maintain or even increase the scope and pace of its terrorist attacks and bombings in 2008."

The Taliban, it said, has "coalesced into a resilient insurgency."

At the same time, the Afghan Army and national police are progressing slowly and still lack the trainers they need...

The report described a dual terror threat in Afghanistan that includes the Taliban in the south, and "a more complex, adaptive insurgency" in the east. That fragmented insurgency is made up of groups ranging from al-Qaida and Afghan warlords such as Gulbuddin Hekmatyar's radical Hezb-i-Islami group to Pakistani militants such as Jaish-e-Mohammed.

Insurgents will continue to challenge the government in southern and eastern Afghanistan, and the may also move to increase their power in the north and west, the report predicted.

The assessment was bluntly pessimistic as it described efforts to train the Army and police.

As of March, it said, just one Army battalion and a headquarters unit could operate independently, while 26 battalions, five brigade headquarters and two corps headquarters units could plan and execute counterinsurgency operations with the support of coalition forces.

In addition, as of the spring, the U.S. had provided only 44 percent of the nearly 2,400 trainers needed for the Afghan Army, and just 39 percent of the mentors for the Afghan police... (link)
In a similar vein, Russia's ambassador to Afghanistan, who has a long history in that country, recently commented on the status of the NATO/US project:
Russia says Taliban influence in Afghanistan steadily growing

BRUSSELS, June 26 (RIA Novosti) - The Taliban is steadily expanding its zone of influence in Afghanistan, the Russian ambassador to Kabul said on Thursday.

The Taliban, ousted from power after a U.S.-led military operation in 2001, have been stepping up their activities in recent months. The radical Islamic movement has vowed to increase attacks in order to undermine the authority of the current Afghan administration.

"Despite the annual increase in the numbers of foreign troops in Afghanistan, the Taliban's area of influence in the country is constantly growing," Zamir Kabulov told reporters after a Russia-NATO Council meeting in Brussels.

"I believe that the Taliban have an influence in more than half of Afghanistan's territory and control up to 20% of that area," he said, adding that there are many places that "are off limits to foreign troops"... (link)

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Amnesty on NATO's 'indiscriminate attacks'

On May 27, Amnesty International released its International Report covering 2007, with entries for virtually every country in the world. The section on Canada features Amnesty's concerns over our policies involving indigenous people (Grassy Narrows, Lubicon Cree, etc.), the 'war on terror' (Maher Arar, security certificates, etc.), violence against women, asylum seekers and refugees (Safe Third Country), policing issues (Tasers), and the death penalty (i.e. that Canada will no longer seek clemency for Canadians sentenced to death in the USA). That section of the report was briefly summarized by CanWest reporter Peter O'Neil, whose piece was carried in two major newspapers - the Ottawa Citizen and the Montreal Gazette (not online). These, plus a very brief version of O'Neil's piece in the Nanaimo Daily News, appear to be the only mention of the AI report in our nation's newspapers. Further, the minimal coverage elicited nothing in the way of commentary. A truly shameful story, but not our story.

Our story concerns the Afghanistan portion of Amnesty's report. As you'll see below, the section on Afghanistan contains some extremely damning evaluations of NATO forces, American forces, and the government of Afghanistan. There was, however, not one word about any this in our national print media. Zero.

Excerpts from the AI report:

At least 6,500 people were estimated to have been killed in the context of the conflict [in Afghanistan]. Violations of international humanitarian and human rights law were committed with impunity by all parties, including Afghan and international security forces and insurgent groups. All sides carried out indiscriminate attacks, which included aerial bombardments by the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) and US-led Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF) forces, as well as suicide attacks by armed groups. According to the Afghanistan NGO Security Office, there were around 2,000 non- combatant civilian deaths, with international forces causing over a quarter of casualties and insurgent groups just under half. Rights associated with education, health and freedom of expression were violated, particularly for women...

Abuses by the Afghan government

Justice system
In June an international conference highlighted serious and systematic flaws in Afghanistan’s administration of justice...

The NDS [National Directorate of Security] mandate continued to be opaque as the presidential decree that outlines its powers remained classified. In practice, the NDS appeared to continue to exercise extensive powers including detaining, interrogating, investigating, prosecuting and sentencing people alleged to have committed crimes against national security. The lack of separation of these functions violated the right of suspects to a fair trial, contributed to impunity for perpetrators of human rights violations and undermined the rule of law. There were consistent reports of torture and other ill-treatment of detainees held by the NDS...

Impunity
A culture of impunity continued, boosted in February by the introduction of the Amnesty Bill, which absolves the government of responsibility for bringing to justice suspected perpetrators of past human rights violations...
Abuses by international forces

Killings of civilians
International military forces reportedly caused the deaths of several hundred civilians. Some may have been victims of indiscriminate attacks in aerial bombardments and other operations that may have violated international humanitarian law. After several high-profile incidents in mid-2007 involving civilian deaths caused by international military forces, ISAF forces instituted new rules of engagement. It remained unclear what impact this had, although there were regular reports of disproportionate civilian casualties as a result of international military operations.

* On 4 March, following a suicide attack on a US convoy on the Jalalabad highway in Nangarhar province, US troops opened fire indiscriminately along a 12km stretch of road killing at least 12 civilians and injuring 35 people. Investigations by the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission (AIHRC) found that US forces had used indiscriminate and excessive force...

Torture and other ill-treatment
ISAF forces continued to transfer detainees to the NDS, despite allegations of torture and other ill-treatment by the NDS. Attempts by international forces to monitor transferred detainees were inconsistently applied.

In addition, forces involved in the US-led OEF continued to transfer people to the NDS and to US-run detention facilities, including at Bagram airbase near Kabul. US authorities transferred more than 100 detainees from Bagram and Guantánamo to the newly refurbished D-Block of the high security Pol-e Charkhi prison outside Kabul. It was not clear who had oversight of the D-Block. About 600 detainees were believed to remain in Bagram at the end of the year.

Abuses by armed groups

Abductions and killings
Armed groups, including the Taleban, Hizb-e Islami and al-Qa’ida, deliberately targeted civilians as part of their ongoing struggle with the Afghan government and international military forces... (link)
Note that Amnesty asserts that foreign forces (i.e. NATO and US-led Operation Enduring Freedom forces) killed over a quarter of the roughly 2000 civilians killed in the conflict last year. Insurgents killed just under half. Though AI doesn't say so, this indicates that Afghan forces (army, police and border guards) were responsible for the remaining quarter or so. It thus also means that we and our allies killed more civilians than did the Taliban.

It is not difficult to understand why Amnesty's report was suppressed. Their explicit assessment of our war in Afghanistan as a murderous and law-breaking project directly contradicts the story promoted by Canada's elites and is therefore not acceptable fare for the mainstream media.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Times writers say it's time to quit Afghanistan

Matthew Parris writes a remarkable commentary in The Times (UK):

The Taleban can't win in Afghanistan - but nor can we
By Matthew Parris

June 21 - History teaches us that British defiance always turns to compromise. Why should it be different in Afghanistan? ...

British commanders in the field are right to say that the Taleban's resort to crude terrorism marks a retreat of a kind: an acknowledgement that it cannot gain victory in set-piece battle. And nor can we. And nor can the Taleban gain victory by terrorism...

I'm only 58 years old but I remember through boyhood six huge and sustained campaigns against local insurgencies that have dominated the news in my lifetime, four of them British. They are Cyprus, Kenya, Malaya, Aden, Algeria and Vietnam...

[Parris consulted the Times archives on the histories of these counterinsurgency wars and found a pattern in elite opinion:]

At first we announce that the insurgents must be beaten... We are confident that the insurgents do not represent the majority of the native population, who approve of our efforts.As the conflict drags on, we note that the insurgents are resorting to terrorist methods of the most cowardly sort. We observe that this threatens our popularity among the majority population, because of the intrusive methods we need to adopt to keep the terrorists at bay.Throughout we report successes and setbacks, the dominant tone being guardedly optimistic that the battle is being won so long as we redouble our efforts, send as many troops as necessary, and stay the course...After three or four years of fighting, we start to talk about a “settlement”, which we describe as (and genuinely persuade ourselves to be) a progressive and honourable move. We insist, in the immediate, that the military effort must be maintained, but that the battle - a battle for hearts and minds - will not be won by military means. Give-and-take may be necessary. And in the end we withdraw, never saying (even to ourselves) that we are retreating, and wish everyone well.

Take Aden:
December 31, 1964. “[The terrorist] campaign in Aden has been misconceived and mistimed and will misfire, whatever toll of innocent life the terrorists may take, and brag of, at the outset. Any appreciable reduction in the [commitment] is scarcely feasible.”

April 4, 1966. “The hope is that [regional delegates to a conference] will agree upon a combined Government with authority to treat with Britain on the transference of power. Terrorism will then come to an end, because it will have no further purpose.” ...

Or Kenya:
November 8, 1952. “There have been welcome signs that law-abiding citizens of all races are co-operating with the security forces... there can be no going back on the course which Britain set herself”

February 17, 1953. “The Armed Forces have conducted wide and successful sweeps through the affected areas the volume and accuracy of intelligence reports seem to be increasing.”

May 6, 1954. “Some 370 Africans have now been executed by hanging and 150 more are under sentence of death... anxiety cannot fail to be felt at the high number of executions”Enough. None of these cases is the same either as each other or as Afghanistan. But militarily we were in every case able to hold our own (or better) until the question “can we?” was replaced with the question “why”, as casualties and costs showed no sign of abating and the ingrained nature of our opponent's position looked harder to alter...

It is time the “why?” overtook the “can we?” in Afghanistan too... (link)
In a book review in the Times, Max Hastings (once a co-author of the reviewed book's author) observes: "A growing body of western critics such as Simon Jenkins argues that we must recognise failure in Afghanistan, and quit."

As a knighted former editor of the Times, Simon Jenkins is perhaps an unlikely advocate of the removal of western troops from Afghanistan. In the recent past he was heard moaning about taxes on second homes for well-off Brits. However, he is a specialist on the region and he is rather serious. In addition, he was an opponent of the military option to deal with Osama bin Laden and the Taliban back in 2001. He also writes in the Times:
Stop killing the Taliban – they offer the best hope of beating Al-Qaeda
By Simon Jenkins

June 22 - The British expedition to Afghanistan is on the brink of something worse than defeat: a long, low-intensity war from which no government will dare to extricate itself...

Those who still support the “good” Afghan war reply to any criticism by attempting to foreclose debate. They assert that we cannot be seen to surrender to the Taliban and we have gone in so far and must “finish the job”.

This is policy in denial...
A moment’s thought would show that any invasion that replaced the Taliban with a western puppet in Kabul would merely restore the Taliban as champions of Afghan sovereignty...

Two things were known about the Taliban [before 9/11] and they are probably still true. First, under outside pressure their leaders were moving from the manic extremism of their “student” origins, even responding to demands to curb the poppy harvest. The present Nato policy of killing the older leaders and thus leaving young hotheads in charge is daft.

Second, the Pashtun Taliban are not natural friends of the Arab Al-Qaeda, despite Bin Laden being given sanctuary by the Taliban’s Mullah Omar. Bin Laden helped the Taliban by murdering Ahmed Shah Massoud, the Tajik leader, but that put a Tajik price on his head, which no man wants. Then the 9/11 coup made the Taliban pariahs even within the region...

Seven recent books on relations between Al-Qaeda and the Taliban discussed in the current edition of The New York Review of Books scream one policy message: do not drive Al-Qaeda, set on crazy world domination, into the arms of the Taliban, set only on Pashtun nationalism...

There is much murmuring among realists that “we” should talk to the Taliban, as if we were Her Majesty’s Government dealing with the IRA. The parallel is absurd...

Hamid Karzai, the outgoing Afghan president, is the only one who can talk. He is no fool and has been attempting to do what Kabul rulers have always done: cut deals with whichever provincial commanders appear to control territory and can forge alliances with local Taliban or whoever. That may not be the grand strategy beloved of western think tanks, but it is the realpolitik of Afghanistan...

The Taliban’s chief objective is not world domination but a share of power in Afghanistan. While they cannot defeat western troops, they can defeat Nato’s war aim by continuing to build on their marriage of convenience with Al-Qaeda...

While it is implausible for the West to withdraw from Kabul at present, the attempt to establish military control over provincial Afghanistan is merely jeopardising the war aim. Security within the country now depends on fashioning the patchwork of alliances sought, however corruptly, by Karzai. It means dealing with reality, not trying to change it with guns and bombs.

It therefore makes sense to withdraw soldiers from the provinces and forget “nation-building” in the hope that Karzai can exert some leverage over local commanders to separate the Taliban from the Al-Qaeda cells in Pakistan. This is a race against the most appalling strategic catastrophe, a political collapse in Pakistan that may open a new and horrific front involving Al-Qaeda.

It is madness to prolong an Afghan war that can only undermine the most unstable nuclear power in the world, Pakistan. The war is visiting misery on millions and destroying western interests across central Asia... (link)

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Khost in translation

For those who would like to get a look at what the foreign occupation of Afghanistan is like for the Afghans who live it, watching the video linked here is essential. In it, British reporter John McHugh films the antics of a patrol of American NATO soldiers in Khost province.

The patrol visits Mangratay village, which is thought to have hosted "Anti-Coalition Militants" who had recently shelled the American base in the area. The people there are "terrified, caught between America and her allies," McHugh explains.

"This is like every other town; everyone disappears," remarks the group's leader, Sgt Adams, who is clearly in over his head, looking very nervous and frightened. He even gets aggressive with the unit's Afghan translator in the midst of his desperation when seeking an elder with whom he can speak.

When the troops finally manage to meet with a village elder, the result is striking. The translator completely misrepresents what the elder says,* making the elder look like a liar. "For f**k's sake, tell him he's full of s**t," says the sergeant.

Sgt Adams explains his predicament:

No matter how many times you tell them - or how you tell them - they never seem to want to understand...

If they put an AK in a dude's face and shot him, knowing he's a bad guy, [the Taliban] would stop coming.
When the troops leave the village and the translator remarks that the villagers deceived him (the translator), Sgt Adams exclaims, "I fucking hate this town." Later, he tells McHugh "I feel like basically cleaning the town out."

Watch the video:
guardian.co.uk/world/video/2008/jun/11/afghanistan.johndmchugh

* McHugh's original dispatch following the meeting took the translator's version at face value. Evidently the video tape was later reviewed by a different translator.

Losing the war

Canada's former deputy prime minister John Manley, who headed a panel which reviewed Canada's role in Afghanistan, says that NATO risks losing the war.

"NATO sent 50,000 troops to Bosnia (in the 1990s), which is a country of about 1.8 million. Afghanistan's (population) is over 30 million," he said. "They just aren't taking it seriously enough, in my view. The risk of (the mission) coming out without a very satisfactory outcome is a real one."

Meanwhile, the Associated Press reports that for the month of May, American and allied combat deaths in Afghanistan surpassed those in Iraq for the first time.

By the Pentagon's count, 15 U.S. and two allied troops were killed in action in Iraq last month, a total of 17. In Afghanistan it was 19, including 14 Americans and five coalition troops...

Even when non-combat deaths are included, the overall May toll was greater in Afghanistan than in Iraq: a total of 22 in Afghanistan, including 17 Americans, compared with 21 in Iraq, including 19 Americans, according to an Associated Press count.

The comparison is even more remarkable if you consider that there are about three times more U.S. and coalition troops in Iraq than in Afghanistan... (link)

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Weapons

The Sunday Times breaks a story:

Army 'vacuum' missile hits Taliban

June 22 - British forces in Afghanistan have used one of the world’s most deadly and controversial missiles to fight the Taliban.

Apache attack helicopters have fired the thermobaric weapons against fighters in buildings and caves, to create a pressure wave which sucks the air out of victims, shreds their internal organs and crushes their bodies.

The Ministry of Defence (MoD) has admitted to the use of the weapons, condemned by human rights groups as “brutal”, on several occasions, including against a cave complex.

The use of the Hellfire AGM-114N weapons has been deemed so successful they will now be fired from RAF Reaper unmanned drones controlled by “pilots” at Creech air force base in Nevada, an MoD spokesman added.

Thermobaric weapons, or vacuum bombs, were first combat-tested by the Soviet Union in Afghanistan in the 1980s and their use by Russia against civilians in Chechnya in the 1990s was condemned worldwide...

The weapons are so controversial that MoD weapons and legal experts spent 18 months debating whether British troops could use them without breaking international law.

Eventually, they decided to get round the ethical problems by redefining the weapons.

“We no longer accept the term thermobaric [for the AGM-114N] as there is no internationally agreed definition,” said an MoD spokesman. “We call it an enhanced blast weapon.” ...

Human Rights Watch argues they are “particularly brutal” and that their blast “makes it virtually impossible for civilians to take shelter”... (link)
You can find a Human Rights Watch backgrounder on vacuum bombs here. Note that HRW writes that "because they are wide-area weapons, military forces must exercise extreme caution and refrain from using them in or near population centers." Yet Global Security notes that the AGM-114N is commonly used by American forces as part of Military Operations in Urban Terrain (MOUT).Pajhwok Afghan News relates that NATO forces recently used cruise missiles:
NATO forces fire cruise missiles in Zadran
By Abdul Saboor Mangal and Khan Wali Salarzai

ASADABAD/KHOST CITY, June 8 (PAN) - NATO forces have fired small Cruise missiles into Zadran area of the southeastern Khost province targeting suspected Taliban hideouts.

A NATO press officer in the Regional Command Southeast in Khost told Pajhwok Afghan News that the alliance forces have bombed some targets in Zadran area in the past two days and have destroyed 'a number of Taliban hideouts' with severe casualties to the militants... (link)
While cruise missiles are known to have been used in the early days of Operation Enduring Freedom, one rarely hears about continued use in the war.

In other weapons-related news:
Russia, US agree deal on Moscow arms for Afghanistan: ministers

June 20 (AFP) - Moscow and Washington have agreed a deal in principle over the supply of Russian weaponry to the Afghan army in its fight against the Taliban insurgency, senior diplomats announced in a statement Friday.

The deal was signed in the Russian capital as part of the United States-Russia Working Group on Counterterrorism (CTWG), although no immediate figures were put on any Russian supplies... (link)

Torture was routine, as is impunity

It is useful to keep in mind that the US-led project in Afghanistan is founded upon violations of international law and that the use of torture is apparently routine amongst (at least) our American and Afghan allies.

U.S. abuse of detainees was routine at Afghanistan bases
Tom Lasseter, McClatchy Newspapers

KABUL, Afghanistan, June 16 — American soldiers herded the detainees into holding pens of razor-sharp concertina wire, as if they were corralling livestock.

The guards kicked, kneed and punched many of the men until they collapsed in pain. U.S. troops shackled and dragged other detainees to small isolation rooms, then hung them by their wrists from chains dangling from the wire mesh ceiling.

Former guards and detainees whom McClatchy interviewed said Bagram was a center of systematic brutality for at least 20 months, starting in late 2001. Yet the soldiers responsible have escaped serious punishment.

The public outcry in the United States and abroad has focused on detainee abuse at the U.S. naval base in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and at the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq, but sadistic violence first appeared at Bagram, north of Kabul, and at a similar U.S. internment camp at Kandahar Airfield in southern Afghanistan...

The eight-month McClatchy investigation found a pattern of abuse that continued for years. The abuse of detainees at Bagram has been reported by U.S. media organizations, in particular The New York Times, which broke several developments in the story. But the extent of the mistreatment, and that it eclipsed the alleged abuse at Guantanamo, hasn't previously been revealed.

Guards said they routinely beat their prisoners to retaliate for al Qaida's 9-11 attacks, unaware that the vast majority of the detainees had little or no connection to al Qaida.

Former detainees at Bagram and Kandahar said they were beaten regularly. Of the 41 former Bagram detainees whom McClatchy interviewed, 28 said that guards or interrogators had assaulted them. Only eight of those men said they were beaten at Guantanamo Bay.

Because President Bush loosened or eliminated the rules governing the treatment of so-called enemy combatants, however, few U.S. troops have been disciplined under the Uniform Code of Military Justice, and no serious punishments have been administered, even in the cases of two detainees who died after American guards beat them...

The most violent of the major U.S. detention centers, the McClatchy investigation found, was Bagram, an old Soviet airstrip about 30 miles outside Kabul. The worst period at Bagram was the seven months from the summer of 2002 to spring of 2003, when interrogators there used techniques that when repeated later at Abu Ghraib led to wholesale abuses...

The brutality at Bagram peaked in December 2002, when U.S. soldiers beat two Afghan detainees, Habibullah and Dilawar, to death as they hung by their wrists...Soldiers who served at Bagram starting in the summer of 2002 confirmed that detainees there were struck routinely.

"Whether they got in trouble or not, everybody struck a detainee at some point," said Brian Cammack, a former specialist with the 377th Military Police Company, an Army Reserve unit from Cincinnati. He was sentenced to three months in military confinement and a dishonorable discharge for hitting Habibullah...

The mistreatment of detainees at Bagram, some legal experts said, may have been a violation of the 1949 Geneva Convention on prisoners of war, which forbids violence against or humiliating treatment of detainees...

No U.S. military officer above the rank of captain has been called to account for what happened at Bagram...

Capt. Carolyn Wood, who led the interrogators at Bagram, was sent to Abu Ghraib in the summer of 2003 and assumed control of interrogation operations there that August.

A military investigation that followed the Abu Ghraib scandal — known as the "Fay-Jones Report" for the two generals who authored it — found that from July 2003 to February of 2004, 27 military intelligence personnel there allegedly encouraged or condoned the abuse of detainees, violated established interrogation procedures or participated in abuse themselves.

The abuse resembled what former Bagram detainees described.

A key factor in serious cases of abuse at Abu Ghraib, the report found, was the construction of isolation areas, a move requested by Wood, who said that "based on her experience" such facilities made it easier to extract information from detainees.

Wood remains an active-duty military intelligence officer. (link)
More from Lasseter:
Syed Ajan: Afghan district chief
Tom Lasseter, McClatchy Newspapers

JALALABAD, Afghanistan (June 11) - From beginning to end, Syed Ajan repeated it like a mantra: He was a district chief appointed by the Interior Ministry of the government of U.S.-backed Afghan President Hamid Karzai.

When U.S. soldiers arrested him in May 2003 in his house in Kunar province, he said he'd been the district chief for eight months and had documents to prove it.

After the soldiers took him to their base and, he said, beat him repeatedly, Ajan told them, between gasps and heaves, of his title...

Ajan is one of several former members of Karzai's government, a key U.S. ally in the battle against al-Qaida and the Taliban, whom American forces arrested and shipped to Guantánamo. All of those interviewed claim that tribal or political rivals set them up, a frequent occurrence in Afghanistan, where feuds simmer for centuries... (link)
Related:

Friday, June 20, 2008

Arghandab redux

A rough sketch of what unfolded at Arghandab these past few days:

The Taliban scored a propaganda coup when Kandahar's Governor Khalid told the media that some 600 Taliban were in Arghandab, poised to attack the city. (Unnamed Canadian officials assert that it was more like 150.)

Then when NATO and Afghan forces moved to clear the area, Afghan authorities claimed there were many Taliban casualties ("hundreds" according to Khalid) while NATO said, to use current lingo, "not so much". However, at one site, in Manara village, journalists counted 19 bodies of alleged Taliban who were evidently victims of an airstrike.

Afghan clashes point to larger problems
By M. Karim Faiez and Laura King
Los Angeles Times

The fighting near Kandahar, though brief, disrupted lives of villagers in a nominally secure area, and raised concerns about communication gaps between Afghan and Western allies

KABUL - When the Taliban seized a string of villages outside one of Afghanistan's largest cities this week, NATO-led forces moved fast, airlifting in hundreds of Afghan and Western soldiers and sending warplanes and attack helicopters into the skies...

"No large formation of insurgents were met or spotted; only minor incidents occurred," Brig. Gen. Carlos Branco, the spokesman for the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force, told journalists in Kabul, the Afghan capital, on Thursday.

But villagers said the insurgents, in keeping with their usual battlefield practice, did not attempt to mass and confront the superior firepower of arriving coalition forces. Instead, they sought cover in the region's lush fields once aerial bombardment began, then slipped away.

An Afghan Defense Ministry spokesman, Gen. Mohammed Zahir Azimi, said he thought many insurgents had fled under cover of darkness Wednesday night.

"The Taliban have just gone to other parts of Kandahar province," said Saadullah Khan, a tribal elder in Arghandab...

Even though it did not last long, the Arghandab confrontation showed the havoc insurgents could readily inflict on civilians, even in an area barely half an hour's drive from the main coalition base in southern Afghanistan...

From the time the Taliban arrived in Arghandab, statements by the coalition and Afghan authorities were somewhat embarrassingly out of sync, suggesting that the Afghans and their Western allies might not be fully sharing intelligence or conferring closely with each other...

NATO initially said no significant numbers of residents were fleeing; Afghan officials reported an exodus numbering in the thousands. Eventually, the alliance acknowledged that about 700 families had taken shelter elsewhere, but said there was no humanitarian crisis.

On Tuesday, two days after the insurgents had moved in, the Afghan Defense Ministry said the Taliban force numbered about 400; NATO said that estimate was "greatly exaggerated," but never provided its own.

The Defense Ministry said more than 50 Taliban fighters were killed during the 24 hours beginning Wednesday morning.

Kandahar's governor put the total of killed and injured insurgents in the hundreds. NATO did not issue any tally... (link)
AP:
Afghan villagers return to grim aftermath of fight
By NOOR KHAN

MANARA, Afghanistan, June 20 (AP) -- Corpses lay stinking in the shade of mulberry trees and in the ruins of a collapsed storehouse...

In the village of Manara, an Associated Press reporter counted 19 bodies, some of them missing limbs. Some were piled in a mud-brick storehouse, which was missing its roof. Others lay prone in an alleyway beside a tree-shaded stream.

Afghan and French soldiers pointed to a 3-foot-deep crater in a nearby field and to broken and scorched trees as evidence of an airstrike. There was no sign of a gunbattle, though residents of other villages reported hearing heavy fire.

NATO spokesman Brig. Gen. Carlos Branco said the fighting was over by early Thursday. He said there had been only small ground skirmishes, though an alliance helicopter had returned fire against gunmen in one incident and warplanes carried out "very limited" airstrikes.

The Afghan Defense Ministry said 56 militants were killed in all. Two Afghan troops also died. However, Gov. Asadullah Khalid said Friday that militants were killed in about 10 locations, and that the death toll was over 100...

Branco said the lone reported civilian casualty and the deployment of 1,100 Afghan troops within 24 hours were "very important" positives from the operation...

Din Mohammed, a farmer returning to Manara with 12 relatives, said Taliban fighters had been bent on combat.

"They said they wanted to fight the Afghan and foreign forces. I asked them what should I do, but they said they didn't care, so I left everything, my land, my possessions, my animals," he said.

"Last night I heard on the radio that the Taliban were either dead or gone, so we came home," he said.

Several other vehicles laden with people and possessions headed into the district, though the governor urged villagers to wait a few more days until troops had finished searching the area for militants and bombs... (link)
Canadian Press:
Kandahar city calm after insurgent storm
Alexander Panetta

ARGHANDAB, Afghanistan, June 20 (CP) - The buzzing of helicopters and explosion of rockets gave way to a scene of farmers tilling wheat fields yesterday in an area that was under Taliban control just a day earlier...

The declaration of victory was diminished by alliance officials who implied that Afghan authorities had handed the militants a propaganda coup by exaggerating the threat they posed.

Afghan officials had said 500 Taliban fighters seized the area. Asadullah Khalid, the governor of Kandahar province, said yesterday that hundreds of insurgents had been killed or injured in the campaign to drive them out.

Canadian officials doubt that estimate, maintaining that the strength of the insurgency had been greatly exaggerated and suggested no more than 150 Taliban fighters had been in the area... (link)

Thursday, June 19, 2008

What do you mean, 'we'?

The American ambassador to Afghanistan, William Wood, saying it as only an imperialist can:

QUESTION: Can you talk about how the security situation, which, by many accounts, is only getting worse, is going to impede some of the projects you’d like to do in the future, especially now that you’ve gotten all of these donations and pledges?

AMBASSADOR WOOD: I think our unified assessment in Kabul is that the Taliban is weaker in 2008 than it was at the beginning of the fighting season in 2007.

... this doesn’t mean that the fight is won, by any means. I’m not claiming that. But I think that we are – we, the United States; we, the international community; and we, the Government of Afghanistan, are feeling much more confident as we approach the midpoint of the 2008 fighting season than we felt before we – the 2007 fighting season began... (link)

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Arghandab ambiguity

Confusions abound in the reporting of recent events in Arghandab district in Kandahar province.
From the Guardian:

Afghanistan: Kandahar braces for Taliban attack as thousands flee

June 17 -More than 4,000 people have fled villages near Kandahar in southern Afghanistan after Taliban forces destroyed bridges and laid mines in a major show of force.

In anticipation of a Taliban attack, the Afghan army today flew four planeloads of soldiers to Kandahar from the capital, Kabul. Canadian forces have also moved in to the region...

Thousands have fled the area, said Sardar Muhammad, a police officer manning a checkpoint on the east side of the Arghandab river. Police stopped and searched every person passing on the road. On the west side of the river, hundreds of Taliban controlled around nine or 10 villages, Muhammad said...

One of the Afghans fleeing Arghandab said families were being forced out just as grape groves needed harvesting, meaning financial ruin for thousands. Haji Ibrahim Khan said Taliban fighters were moving through several Arghandab villages with weapons on their shoulders, planting mines and destroying small bridges.

"They told us to leave the area within 24 hours because they want to fight foreign and Afghan troops," Khan said. "But within a week we should be harvesting, and we were expecting a good one. Now with this fighting we are deeply worried the grapes are the only source of income we have." ... (link)
But NATO claims otherwise:
NATO's International Security Assistance Force and the U.S.-led coalition offered a strikingly different picture of the Arghandab region than the one portrayed by Afghan officials. The U.S.-led coalition said in a statement that it had sent a patrol through Arghandab that met no resistance. (link)
Earlier, NATO spokesperson General Carlos Blanco dismissed as "nonsense" claims that Taliban were poised to take over Arghandab.

Reuters:
Ahmad Wali Karzai, the head of Kandahar's provincial council and a brother of President Hamid Karzai, said about 600 Taliban had positioned themselves in Arghandab district, which lies 20 km (12 miles) to the north of Kandahar city, one of Afghanistan's largest cities. He did not know if the militants included the 400 set free in the jailbreak.

NATO and Afghan forces have deployed troops to seal off the area to drive the militants from the district, which has an estimated population of 150,000. NATO troops have dropped leaflets by air warning people to leave the district, fleeing villagers said... (link)
Veteran AP reporters Noor Khan and Jason Straziuso, apart from relaying NATO skepticism as we saw above, have a slightly different take on civilian evacuations:

NATO aircraft, meanwhile, dropped leaflets in Arghandab telling residents to stay in their homes — even though the Afghan Defense Ministry was telling them to leave.

"Keep your families safe. When there is fighting near your home, stay inside," NATO spokesman Mark Laity quoted the leaflet as saying.

Despite that message, more than 700 families — perhaps 4,000 people or more — fled Arghandab, said Sardar Mohammad, a police officer at a checkpoint on the east side of the Arghandab River.

On the west side of the river, hundreds of Taliban controlled about nine or 10 villages, Mohammad said.

"Last night the people were afraid, and families on tractors, trucks and taxis fled the area," he said. "Small bridges inside the villages have been destroyed."

The Ministry of Defense — which rushed in some 700 Afghan soldiers — said insurgents got close to a police checkpoint in Arghandab and asked the police to "join them." The ministry said the fact the militants had to use a translator shows that foreign fighters were behind the assault.

Haji Agha Lalai, a provincial council member, said the militants were destroying bridges and planting mines in hopes of repelling attacks from Afghan and NATO forces.

"From a strategic military point of view, Arghandab is a very good place for the Taliban," he said. "Arghandab is close to Kandahar city, allowing the Taliban to launch ambushes and attacks more easily than any other place in the province. Secondly, it's covered with trees and gardens — they can easily hide from airstrikes." ... (link)
In The New York Times, Carlotta Gall cites a tribal elder who says the Taliban have taken as many as 18 villages. The Washington Post says seven. According to Reuters, the Afghan government says it is eight villages.

Democracy = 2 million bullets

Nothing says 'we're here to help' like 2 million bullets:

UK AFGHANISTAN TROOPS FIRE TWO MILLION ROUNDS

June 17 - British troops in Afghanistan have fired more than two million rounds of ammunition since December, Defence Ministry figures revealed tonight.

Armed Forces Minister Bob Ainsworth said some 980,000 5.56mm bullets - the type used in the Army's SA80 rifles - had been fired.A further 930,000 7.62mm rounds and 186,000 .50 calibre rounds used in machine guns were also fired in the last six months.

More than 920,000 rounds were fired in March alone, the Minister said in a Commons written answer to Tory Tobias Ellwood (Bournemouth E).

Mr Ainsworth said the figures included rounds used in training as well as on operations... (link; see also here)
It is instructive to compare the tallies above with numbers given earlier this year concerning an earlier period (see link below). In the 14 months ending Sept 2007, British troops fired some 4 million bullets. While it is not clear what time period is represented by the recently released numbers, let us assume it is for the period of January to the end of May. In that case, sustaining the current rate would mean the firing of 5.6 million bullets in a 14-month period, or a 40% increase.

Of course, even this might understate the increase as the January-May period contained a large chunk of winter lull. However, we might temper that with the fact that there are now more British troops (and NATO troops of other nationalities) in Helmand than there were in the 06-07 stretch. Further, history tells us we might well question the accuracy of the latest figures. The British government previously low-balled their reports of ammunition usage (see link below).

Related:

Our warm welcome turns to hostility

Some observations and commentary:

Nato's lost cause
Tariq Ali

... US failure in Afghanistan is now evident and Nato desperation only too visible. Spreading the war to Pakistan would be a disaster for all sides. The Bush-Cheney era is drawing to a close, but it is unlikely that their replacements, despite the debacle in Iraq, will settle the American giant back to a digestive sleep...

That the "good war" has now turned bad is no longer disputed by a number of serious analysts in the US, even though there is no agreed prescription for dealing with the problems. Not least of which for some is the future of Nato, stranded far away from the Atlantic in a mountainous country, the majority of whose people, after offering a small window of opportunity to the occupiers, realised it was a mistake and became increasingly hostile.

The "neo-Taliban" control at least 20 districts in the Kandahar, Helmand and Uruzgan provinces where Nato troops replaced US soldiers. It is hardly a secret that many officials in these zones are closet supporters of the guerrilla fighters. As western intelligence agencies active in the country are fully aware, the situation is out of control...

... repression, striking blindly, leaves people with no option but to back those trying to resist, especially in a part of the world where the culture of revenge is strong. When a whole community feels threatened it reinforces solidarity, regardless of the character or weakness of those who fight back.

Many Afghans who detest the Taliban are so angered by the failures of Nato and the behaviour of its troops that they are hostile to the occupation...

The basing agreement signed by Washington with its appointee in Kabul in May 2005 gives the Pentagon the right to maintain a massive military presence in Afghanistan in perpetuity...

There are at least two routes out of the Khyber impasse. The first and the worst would be to Balkanise the country...

The second alternative would require a withdrawal of all US/Nato forces, either preceded or followed by a regional pact to guarantee Afghan stability for the next ten years...

Nato's failure cannot be simply blamed on the Pakistani government. It is a traditional colonial ploy to blame "outsiders" for internal problems...

The solution is political, not military. And it should be sought in the region not in Washington or Brussels. (link)
Pursuant to Ali's claim that Taliban fighters control 20 southern districts comes this bit from Afghan news agency Quqnoos:
Taliban run four districts in Helmand - official
Governor says military efforts are under way to retake districts

June 16 - The Taliban have occupied four districts in the province of Helmand, according to the provincial governor Gulab Mangal.

The governor said the army were currently trying to re-take the districts of Marjar, Baghran, Washer and Naw Zad... (link)
The Toronto Star's Rosie DiManno's recent dispatch from Afghanistan echoes Ali's comments. As the dust settles following her encounter with arrogant U.S. soldiers, she relates one local's reaction:
"This is why Afghans have come to hate Americans," said my driver, who works as an interpreter for ISAF and is a strong advocate of the NATO mission in Afghanistan.

"Afghanistan is not our country any more. They are our bosses. They treat us sometimes as if we are trespassing on our own land." ...

But I suspect some more enemies were made on this afternoon, adding incrementally to the hostility that is rapidly replacing the warm welcome that most Afghans had originally given their "liberators." ... (link)
The Observer's Peter Beaumont covers some of the same ground:
Fear, disillusion and despair: notes from a divided land as peace slips away

Peter Beaumont
The Observer, June 8

... As even some Western diplomats are beginning to acknowledge, the prevailing fear is that the war is in danger not of being lost or won in Helmand province, but in the perceptions of Afghans...

What optimism that there was after the fall of the Taliban has largely dissipated...

When asked, the unemployed who gather at the roundabouts, the tribal leaders, and the women activists, the journalists and the housewives list the same complaints. Karzai, they say, is 'weak'. Security is disintegrating. His cabinet is corrupt, the country is in danger again of descending into warlordism...

Other Western officials concede one of the country's most pressing problems is that Afghans are no longer being persuaded that the course set out in the Bonn Conference and the Afghanistan Compact of 2006 has any meaning for them...

[A Kabul man asks:] 'There are soldiers of 40 countries fighting here. So why is the fighting still going on? We have peacekeepers not keeping the peace. The countries who send them [are] not co-operating but following their own agendas, and a weak government [has] no control. If this situation continues for another month, people will start leaving Afghanistan again.' ...

But Kandahar's differences exist in a hidden geography, in such places as Loyah Wallah, the 'Big Canal' district, towards the city university where the Taliban discreetly hold sway. Officially the government says it controls the city. But local people tell a different story...

In the town of Lashkar Gah, Haji Omar Qani, the local head of Rural Rehabilitation and Development, describes his country's decline. 'Three years ago,' he says, 'we used to work all over Helmand province.' But that was before the renewed Taliban insurgency that gained pace in 2006.

'In the last two years we have been able to work in six of the 13 districts.' An experimental farm is being run by the government with US and British aid on the outskirts of Lashkar Gah. Despite claims the town is 'pacified', the farm has watchtowers and guards with guns. 'The farm can be insecure,' Qani explains... (link)

Monday, June 16, 2008

Looking the other way

From the Toronto Star:

Don't look, don't tell, troops told
Civilian sex assaults by Afghan soldiers ignored

Jun 16 - [...] The chaplain, Jean Johns, says she recently counselled a Canadian soldier who said he witnessed a boy being raped by an Afghan soldier, then wrote a report on the allegation for her brigade chaplain.

In her March report, which she says should have been advanced "up the chain of command," Johns says the corporal told her that Canadian troops have been ordered by commanding officers "to ignore" incidents of sexual assault. Johns hasn't received a reply to the report.

While several Canadian Forces chaplains say other soldiers have made similar claims, Department of National Defence lawyers have argued Canada isn't obliged to investigate because none of the soldiers has made a formal complaint, says a senior Canadian officer familiar with the matter...

The independent claims bolster the credibility of an account provided by Cpl. Travis Schouten, a Canadian soldier who served in Afghanistan from September 2006 through early 2007 and now suffers from severe post-traumatic stress disorder.

A Star story Saturday detailed an allegation levelled by Schouten that during his tour, he heard an Afghan national army soldier abusing a young boy and then saw the boy afterwards with visible signs of rape trauma, his bowels and lower intestines falling out of his body.

The alleged abuse occurred in late 2006 near a forward operation base, some 20 kilometres from the Kandahar Airfield. Another chaplain at CFB Petawawa, Joe Johns, said a third chaplain told a group meeting last summer about having been approached by several Canadian military police officers who asked for help reconciling the fact they hadn't done anything to stop abuses. That chaplain declined to comment.

Bryon Wilfert, the Liberal critic for national defence... called Schouten's claims "very serious and disturbing" and says Canada at least should have sent the Afghan government a diplomatic note about the allegations... (link)

War is stupid

From the Globe and Mail:

'War is stupid. Everybody knows that'
by Jessica Leeder

June 10 - For the first time since troops entered Afghanistan, a parent of a Canadian soldier killed in the war has spoken out against the mission, criticizing politicians for engaging in the battle.

"War is stupid. Everybody knows that. Everybody knows that. Well, no they don't. The politicians don't know that," David Snyder, told CTV in Penticton, B.C., hours after learning his youngest son, Captain Jonathan Snyder, died Saturday night in Kandahar province after falling down a deep well during a night patrol.

With his comments, Mr. Snyder broke ranks with the families of seven dozen other Canadian soldiers who have died in Afghanistan. None of the other family members have declared opposition to the war; many say that doing so would demean the soldiers' deaths... (link)

Sunday, June 15, 2008

NATO kills 15 civilians, say locals

Once again, Afghan security forces have fired upon anti-NATO protestors. This time, the protests were held in Zurmat district of Paktia province, where several days ago NATO admitted to killing a woman in an attack which killed five Taliban fighters. (Reuters reports that an officials claimed there were two women killed.) Locals, however, say that 15 civilians died in the incident, resulting in protests which were met with police fire. Police claims that only three protestors were injured are contradicted by a local doctor.

Police open fire on anti-NATO protest
Gunfire wounds more than a dozen protestors, doctor says

June 14 - POLICE have opened fire on anti-NATO demonstrations in the south-east, wounding more than a dozen protestors, eye-witnesses have said.

Hundreds of people in Paktia’s Zurmat district took to the streets on Saturday in protest at what they called NATO’s heavy-handed military tactics, which residents blame for the recent death of 15 civilians in a NATO raid on a home in the district.

One of the demonstrators, Haji Zahir, said police opened fire on the rally and wounded 13 people.

An official at the provincial police headquarters, Ghulam Dastgir Rustamyar, said police opened fire on the protestors, but that only three people were wounded.

Rustamyar said police were told "terrorists" had infiltrated the protest...

Protestors denied rebel fighters were among the crowd of demonstrators.

The head of a private clinic in the area, Dr Haji Muhammad, said 13 people had been brought into his clinic with gunshot wounds. He said six people were in a critical condition.

NATO officials say they killed five Taliban insurgents and one woman in the air-strike two days ago.

Residents say the raid killed 15 civilians, including six children. (link)
Related:

Friday, June 13, 2008

Civilians slaughtered by NATO

From the Afghan press:

Paktika elders criticize NATO operations
By Zubair Babakerkhil

KABUL, Jun 11 (PAN): A number of influential and local elders on Wednesday warned of dire consequences if the NATO operations in the southeastern provinces not stopped.

Mira Jan Sahiqi, a local elder complained 48 people mostly children, women and elders were killed in the NATO raid in this area last night. Several others were wounded and arrested by the NATO infantry forces in this operation, he worried.


"Such happenings every time they happen force people to leave their houses and villages and join Taliban." He argued.


"Without bothering to find out whether there are Taliban, NATO assault innocent people while asleep and destroy their houses." Sharifa Zurmati MP from this province criticized.


The death toll of the incident would raise to 60 people she worried...


Foreign Forces claimed killing Mulla Salam they introduced as Taliban commander and several Taliban fighters but the residents claim Salam was a prayer leader and did not have any links with Taliban.


NATO in a press statement said they had arrested 12 Taliban and killed many others however the residents rejecting the statement's claims and said the overnight raid killed civilians. (link)

The incident, in Paktika's Mata Khan district, received different treatment in the U.S. military's narrative. They claimed that just four civilians were killed while "several militants" died and 12 were detained.


The Deutsche Presse Agentur version confirms the Pajhwok version:

“The US aircraft bombed several houses in Ebrahim Kariz village and killed around 40 civilians,” Haji Mangal, a tribal elder in the area, said.

“First the military forces bombed the area and then soldiers descended from helicopters,” Mangal said, adding that the dead included several women and children.

An Afghan lawmaker from the province said he had spoken with several sources who told him 33 civilians were killed.

“I have information from the area that 33 people - including women, children, schoolteachers, school students - were killed in the air raid,” said Khalid Farouqi, member of the Afghan parliament.

Farouqi said government sources told him eight of the dead were Taliban militants but added, “I have accurate information from the area that all of them are civilians.” ... (link)
The comments of the US military spokesperson are worth noting:
"... the blood is on the hands of the militants who choose to fire on coalition forces from these areas with their families present," said Lt. Col. Rumi Nielson-Green, the top U.S. military spokeswoman in Afghanistan.
Nielson-Green may wish to take a peak at international law, which has a rather different take on the acceptability of such actions. According to the law of war, risks to civilians and civilian objects should be proportionate to the military gains won by such actions.

Addendum:
Pajhwok followed up the above story with this one the next day:
Four demonstrators wounded in Paktika protest
by Obaidullah Sarawzawal

SHARAN, Paktika, June 12 (PAN) - Four demonstrators were wounded in a protest walk against US forces in the southeastern province of Paktika on Thursday, witnesses said.

Hundreds of demonstrators marched this morning from Muta Khan district towards the provincial capital Sharan...

The protestors in Sharan attacked on police and hurled stones at security forces. The police in response, fired in air and into the demo to disperse the protesters. Several protesters told Pajhwok Afghan News that they saw four people wounded in shooting by the police.

The protesters also hurled stones at shops and signboards in the city. Their number increased by reaching to Sharan, becoming around 2,000 people...

The protestors were chanting slogans against American forces. (link)
Update:
Quqnoos has this:
Governor hits out at US over civilian deaths
Coalition says it only killed Taliban fighters during air raid

June 17 - The governor of Paktika has lashed out at coalition forces who he blames for the killing of innocent civilians in his province during an intense air assault on Taliban positions.

Governor Akram Khupulwak said the US-led coalition had failed to warn him of the attacks, which he said killed many civilians.

Five days ago, coalition troops launched an operation in the Mata Khan district.

The coalition said it killed scores of Taliban in the raid.

Both the governor and residents in the district said the troops had only killed civilians. (link)

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Update

See the updated post from two weeks back about the U.S. Marines' underwhelming achievements in Garmser, Helmand.

Has the US grown tired of Karzai?

From The New York Times:

As Ills Persist, Afghan Leader Is Losing Luster
by Helene Cooper

WASHINGTON (June 8) — After six years in which Hamid Karzai has been the darling of the United States and its allies, his luster may be fading...

A senior State Department official questioned whether Mr. Karzai had the “trust and the backbone” for the job... “... there’s a lot of talk inside the administration saying maybe there’s a need for some tough love to push him to do the right thing.” ...

American officials expressed particular frustration over the Afghan president’s refusal to arrest drug lords who are running the country’s opium trade, which many international observers believe the Taliban have used to fuel their comeback...

Asked to comment about Mr. Karzai, a White House spokesman, Gordon D. Johndroe, said, “President Bush appreciates the work that he’s doing in Afghanistan, but we all know that there is more to be done.” ...

According to American and European diplomats, recent tension has flared around an episode that received little attention outside Afghanistan and that involved Mr. Karzai’s refusal to arrest a notorious Uzbek warlord, Gen. Abdul Rashid Dostum...

The diplomats — American and European, who spoke on condition of anonymity — said that they urged Mr. Karzai to have General Dostum arrested but that he told them he did not want to pick a fight with General Dostum for fear of alienating his backers...

Bush administration officials and their British counterparts are still fuming over Mr. Karzai’s rejection this year of the British diplomat Paddy Ashdown as a special envoy.

... European and American diplomats said it had more to do with Mr. Karzai’s desire, one year before Afghan elections, to improve his image by standing up to Western powers. The diplomats complained that the international community, with more than 62,000 troops in Afghanistan, had a right to demand a strong coordinator representing its interest in the country.

A senior United States military officer in Afghanistan said that the disillusionment with Mr. Karzai was palpable among the wide swath of people he dealt with, including allied military and civilian officials. “Their message is consistent,” the officer said in an e-mail message, speaking on condition of anonymity because of diplomatic sensitivity. “He’s a weak leader.”

Frustration over corruption and ineffectiveness in Mr. Karzai’s government has grown within Afghanistan as well in recent years...

Western diplomats said that Afghan drug lords and warlords had bought the freedom they exercise throughout the country by bribing members of Mr. Karzai’s government.

Gen. James L. Jones, a former NATO commander in Afghanistan who now works as one of Mr. Bush’s Middle East envoys, said that while the NATO forces military had been making some strides against insurgents, no amount of additional troops would counter the Afghan government’s inability to rein in corruption and the country’s exploding opium cultivation.

“The Karzai government, which is benefiting so much from the sacrifice, in both treasure and lives, by so many countries, needs to show more willingness to meet the expectations of the international community,” General Jones said in an interview. “This is particularly true with regard to reversing the nation’s economic dependency on narcotics, battling corruption within the government and championing judicial reform as a matter of national security.” (link)
Related: