Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Australians oppose Afghan war

In a shift of opinion, a major foreign policy survey has found that a majority of Australians are against that country's involvement in the war in Afghanistan:

Canberra Times
Australians lose faith in Afghan war effort
By Philip Dorling

Sept 30 - Almost two in three Australians think the country's foreign policy places too much emphasis on the United States, and most people now oppose military involvement in Afghanistan...

Opposition to the war in Afghanistan has grown significantly, despite bipartisan support for Australia's involvement from the Labor Government and the Coalition Opposition.

Of those surveyed, 56 per cent opposed Australia's military commitment, and 42 per cent expressed support.

Asked why Australia was involved, 38 per cent referred to Australia's alliance with the US, 35 per cent cited fighting terrorists and only 17 per cent said the aim was to support a democratic Afghan government... (link)
In a virtual echo of similar findings in Canada, the news was accompanied by lamentation that the mission has not been explained well to Australians. Some reactions, however, showed more courage. Richard Tanter of Australia's Nautilus Institute articulates what many Australians are feeling:
"I think we are making no positive contributions to the possibility of peace there and what is really important is to foster a domestic internal Afghan peace process, and unfortunately we are no longer in the position of being an honest broker." (link)
Addendum (from Angus Reid):

Polling Data

Should Australia continue to be involved militarily in Afghanistan?









Don’t know






Source: Field Works Market Research / Lowy Institute for International Policy
Methodology: Telephone interviews with 1,001 Australian adults, conducted from Jul. 12 to Jul. 27, 2008. Margin of error is 3.1 per cent.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Evidence supports allegations

CTV journalist Steve Chao's affidavit adds corroborating details to Jawed Ahmad's allegation that he was arrested on a Canadian tip-off and subsequently tortured:

Freed Afghan journalist blames Canadian forces for ordeal

KANDAHAR, Sept 24 (Canwest) - The Afghan journalist who was freed this week after almost a year in an American jail on undefined terrorism allegations charged Wednesday that his hellish ordeal was as much the fault of Canadian Forces as those of the US...

His allegations receive some backing from a fascinating affidavit - obtained by Canwest News Service on Wednesday - filed by a colleague at CTV, who described how Canadian soldiers voiced suspicions about the young journalist more than a year ago, and how U.S. troops once held the two of them at gunpoint, threatening to shoot them on the spot...

A spokesman for the U.S.-led coalition has said Yazamy had access to the Red Cross, enjoyed regular medical treatment and never complained of abuse.

The journalist said both the U.S. soldiers who first arrested him and his interrogators at Bagram both told him it was Canadians who warned he might be a security risk.

In a lengthy affidavit prepared for Barabara Olshansky, Yazamy's U.S. human rights lawyer, Steve Chao, a veteran CTV correspondent, provides a further, intriguing glimpse at what might have been behind the arrest.

Chao relates how the fixer was temporarily fired by the network last fall because he had lost $300,000 to Nigerian scam artists, racking up a debt CTV feared might put their crews in danger inside Kandahar city. The network re-hired him later when he had repaid the money. But in the interim, Canadian officers banned Yazamy from the base and confided they were suspicious of how quickly he arrived at the scene of Taliban attacks, suggesting he might have some advance knowledge of them.

Then, just weeks before his arrest, Yazamy took a boy wounded by Canadian soldiers to Kandahar Air Field, after which both he and Chao were confronted by two armed U.S. soldiers in civilian clothes, who questioned the reasons Yazamy was there.

"The two men accused JoJo of lying, and, pointing the gun close to our heads, they said they had the right to shoot us and kill us right then and there," Chao, CTV's Beijing correspondent, said in the document. "We were absolutely terrified for our lives."

The reporter said he later discussed the incident with a senior Canadian officer - Lt.-Col. Grant Dame - who called the Americans "cowboys." However, Dame again voiced suspicions about Yazamy's activities and said the fixer would continue to be banned from the airfield, Chao recalled... (link)

A pro-war Green Party?

Elizabeth May no doubt surprises a few Green Party members:

"By the way, the Greens would not withdraw troops from Afghanistan as other parties would. We want to make sure that the mission that our soldiers are in has a strategic chance of success." (May, CBC's "Your Turn" Sept 29/08)
See the video on Youtube here.

Silence on Afghan media repression

It is instructive to look at our media's performance when favoured states like Karzai's Afghanistan commit injustices. While the case of Iranian journalist Akbar Ganji was widely and justly denounced in Canadian newspapers, what would happen if the Afghan government were to persecute journalists? The question is relevant since we in Canada have a lot of influence, hence reponsibility, in Afghanistan. Following are a few cases which may help us answer that question.

Ahmed Ghous Zalmai, a former celebrity journalist and an ally of President Karzai, was recently sentenced by a Kabul court to 20 years in prison for publishing a Dari translation of the Koran. Zalmai was allegedly targeted by Attorney General Sabet, said to be a Taliban sympathizer and who once lived in Montreal. Canadian newspaper coverage of Zalmai's case has amounted to exactly one passing mention in the National Post (Jan 24, A14).

Jawed Ahmad, an Afghan stringer for CTV arrested and allegedly tortured by the American military, is finally released after being held for 11 months without charge. While the saga of Ahmad's incarceration involves secret back-channel discussions between CTVglobemedia and American officials as well as calls by human rights organizations for his release, the Canadian media took little notice. The Gobe and Mail had the most coverage, with three articles: first on Feb 28 (p A14; 442 words), after other papers had reported on it a week earlier; second on June 5 (A13; 66 words) when CTV lawyers filed a lawsuit against the US government; finally on Sept 22 (A1; 1245 words) the story was given some prominence, though of course the article has zero advocacy value, coming after the fact.

Journalist Perwez Kambakhsh, languishing in jail and condemned to die by an Afghan court. Insiders say that Kambakhsh was arrested in order to pressure his brother, himself a journalist with a record of exposing official perfidy. Since January, Kambakhsh has been mentioned 33 times by major Canadian daily newspapers, according to a ProQuest search. Although The Globe and Mail did publish an editorial (Feb 5) calling attention to the injustice, that paper has carried only one report on Kambakhsh (Jan 24, A19, 233 words).

The Washington Times has more on media repression in Afghanistan:

Risks increase for Afghan war reporters

KABUL, Sept 27 - Media freedom, one of Afghanistan's key post-Taliban achievements, is under assault as journalists grapple with worsening security and threats from warlords and Islamic hard-liners who wield an increasingly heavy hand against the government, media rights groups and some state officials...

Topics related to national security, religion and official corruption have become "red lines," according to Rahimullah Samandar, head of the Afghan Independent Journalist Association (AIJA). Self-censorship is on the rise, and there is concern that instability and a steady erosion of public support may combine to make the government even more rigid toward reporters.

"Warlords in the Cabinet wield too much power and have no respect for freedom of the press," Samandar said. "In some ways the government is now worse than the Taliban."

According to the Nai Supporting Open Media in Afghanistan, a nongovernmental organization, the government was responsible for at least 23 of the 45 reported incidents of intimidation, violence or arrest of journalists between May 2007 and May 2008.

This amounts to a 130 percent spike compared with the same period the previous year and explains in part why the country dropped 12 places, from 130th to 142nd, in the annual Reporters Without Borders press freedom index.

Even critics admit that Afghan journalists have come a long way and still have greater freedoms than those working in neighboring countries such as Iran and Pakistan...

The primacy of local strongmen over a weak central government, and traditionally conservative values over progressive ones, mean that the "further you get from Kabul, the less respect people have for freedom of expression," said Mujeeb Khalvatgar of the Open Society Institute, a private foundation that promotes democracy and human rights.

Several powerful former mujahedeen, or holy warriors, have bought media outlets to use as propaganda machines, Mr. Khalvatgar explained, while others use fear to impose their agenda.

This month, the owner and chief editor of an independent radio station run by women in northern Faryab province was warned by the provincial governor, Abdul Haq Shafaq, that the station would be shut down unless programming was consistent with his political requirements, according to the AIJA... (link)

Police claim foreign troops kill 3 civilians (with update)

From the Associated Press:

Afghan police: 3 civilians die in coalition strike
By Rahim Faiez

KABUL, Sept 28 (AP) - An Afghan police official said Sunday that a U.S.-led coalition operation apparently targeting a suicide bomb cell in eastern Afghanistan killed three civilians...

Gen. Abdul Jalal Jalal, the provincial police chief in the eastern province of Kunar, said airstrikes hit a compound in the province's Asmar district, killing three civilians.

The U.S.-led coalition said its troops targeted an al-Qaida cell network responsible for a number of bomb attacks in Kunar province.

The coalition said two militants were killed after a fire-fight in one of the compounds. It said no civilians were killed. Capt. Scott Miller, a U.S. spokesman, said artillery strikes were used in the fight but no airstrikes.

It was impossible to independently verify either report, due to the remoteness of the area... (link)
AFP has more:
A police commander Sunday backed claims by villagers that two brothers and a teenage boy were killed as they prepared a pre-dawn meal in a home for the holy month of Ramadan.

"The coalition forces conducted an operation on a home where they were falsely told that Taliban were hiding. Three men were killed. Unfortunately they were all civilians," Asmar police chief Mohammad Ghaous told AFP.

A man claiming to be the brother of those killed said military helicopters launched several rockets on their mud brick home.

"I was preparing the food when they came. I told them to not fire. but ... they opened fire. Later I saw my brothers and our guest dead," Nasir Ahmad said.

An AFP reporter travelling to the area, about 30 kilometers (18 miles) from provincial capital of Asadabad, saw holes created by rockets around the house.

The reporter saw the bullet-riddled bodies of three men whom several villagers also said were civilians.

"Two of them were brothers. One of them was a shopkeeper, the other one was a van driver and the third one was their relative who visiting them," Mohammad Salim, a villager told AFP. (link)

Taliban win hearts and minds

The vile nature of the Taliban's rule in the 1990's having been vigorously documented (e.g. here and here), it boggles the mind to consider what might make a person nostalgic for those days. As we will see presently, the failures of the current Afghan government are doing just that. And since our occupation is propping up that government, it is worth pondering our own responsibility for the current and truly sad state of affairs.

From The Times:

Weak government allows Taleban to prosper in Afghanistan

LASHKAR GAH, Sept 29 - The wild-eyed policemen were high on opium, harassing locals and demanding bribes from drivers on the road so recently built at the expense of the British taxpayer.

“I might as well shoot myself in the head,” said one officer, jaw slack and eyes unfocused, as he leant on his Kalashnikov. “We have no life, no salary, and no respect from the people.”

His tattered uniform flapping, he added, with apparent self-loathing: “It is true what people say: the police are the robbers round here.” ...

Among the most visible sources of criminal behaviour are the demoralised, underpaid and predatory Afghan police - and it is now the Taleban, with their reputation for brutal but impartial justice, who appear to be gaining ground in this war of popular perceptions, successfully presenting themselves as the guardians of the public.

Through the window of an estate agent, Maleeq Khan watched the antics of the police and sighed wearily. “This construction is pointless,” he said, gesturing at the road. “We just want security. If I rent a house to someone I can't even carry the money home without people killing me. The British are completely useless.”

The message was remarkably consistent across several dozen interviews The Times conducted on the city streets. Most also contrasted the local instability with the situation in the swaths of territory the Taleban hold.

In early September there was panic in Lashkar Gar when Marja and Nad Ali, two districts west of the city, fell to the Taleban after local police and militiamen allegedly abandoned their posts. It was the closest the Taleban had been to the Helmand capital and, as they moved openly around the outskirts, rumours swept Lashkar Gar that the city was about to fall.

An assault has yet to materialise, but in the weeks since stories have reached the city of a dramatic improvement in security in Nad Ali and Marja under Taleban rule. Two weeks ago the Friday bazaar in Marja was reopened, with the Taleban in control.

“When the Government was in charge, the police were beating people and stealing from them,” said Mr Khan. At the first bazaar under the new Taleban regime, there was no stealing by the Taleban and the only beating was of a man caught stealing a motorbike...

Others in the city had similar tales. Many reported an apparent Taleban public relations drive which has seen such unpopular Taleban social edicts as bans on music, television, kite-flying and shaving of beards quietly dropped. There are also persistent reports of a Taleban amnesty for government officials and police who swap sides and a promise that the Taleban will defend poppy fields from government eradication.

“Support for the Taleban is up a lot,” said one man among a lounging group of shopkeepers. “They are completely different to how they used to be,” said another.

The Taleban have rebranded themselves, insisting that they should now be called Mujahidin (holy warriors) - a word that links them to the earlier Jihad against the Soviet forces...

“The Taleban have been trying to get people to like them,” said a local reporter, who asked not to be named after a colleague was beheaded in June. “If we ask people: ‘Do you remember the old Taleban?', they say: ‘Yes - when they get the power again they will take out the stick again'.” (link)
The Washington Post's Pamela Constable similarly reports on what is motivating Afghans to back the Taliban:
"The government is weak, and it has an enormously high level of tolerance for crime, abuse and corruption," said Nader Nadery, an official of the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission. "If you have power and money, you don't have to account for your actions. Instead of the rule of law, there is a state of impunity, which is one of the factors contributing to the growth of the Taliban."

Although Taliban fighters routinely hang and behead people in rural areas, the growth of crime and the lack of justice are the reasons most frequently cited by Afghans who support the reconstituted Islamist militia. More and more, people here look back to the era of harsh Taliban rule from 1996 to 2001, describing it as a time of security and peace.

One group whose lives and livelihoods now face constant danger from armed criminals are the truckers and bus drivers... Although vulnerable to Taliban attack, the drivers say they are just as often ambushed and robbed by well-armed thieves.

Mohammed Hussain, 40, [a bus driver, narrowly missed being robbed by a gang].

"I was lucky. I had 57 passengers, including women and children," Hussain said. "The thieves wait for us in the dark, and they have powerful weapons. If we go to the police for help, they are either scared or involved in crime themselves. In the Taliban time, the roads were totally safe. You could drive anywhere in the country, 24 hours a day. Now, you take your life in your hands every time you leave on a trip."

Burke reveals secret negotiations

The experienced and knowledgeable correspondent Jason Burke breaks the story of behind-the-scenes negotiations between the Taliban and the Afghan government. The talks, sponsored by Britain and the Saudis, are currently stalled, Burke says:

Revealed: secret Taliban peace bid
Jason Burke

KABUL, Sept 28 - The Taliban have been engaged in secret talks about ending the conflict in Afghanistan in a wide-ranging 'peace process' sponsored by Saudi Arabia and supported by Britain, The Observer can reveal.

The unprecedented negotiations involve a senior former member of the hardline Islamist movement travelling between Kabul, the bases of the Taliban senior leadership in Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and European capitals. Britain has provided logistic and diplomatic support for the talks - despite official statements that negotiations can be held only with Taliban who are ready to renounce, or have renounced, violence.

Sources in Afghanistan confirmed the controversial talks, though they said that in recent weeks they had 'lost momentum'. According to Afghan government officials in Kabul, the intensity of the fighting this summer has been one factor. Another is the inconsistency of the Taliban's demands...

[T]he Saudi initiative is the first attempt to talk to the Taliban leadership council based in or around the south-west Pakistan city of Quetta, known as the 'Quetta Shura'.

The talks started in the summer and have been brokered by Saudi Arabia at the invitation of the Afghan government...

The Taliban are understood to have submitted a list of 11 conditions for ending hostilities, which include demands to be allowed to run key ministries and a programmed withdrawal of western troops.

In Kabul, President Hamid Karzai's national security adviser, Zalmay Rasul, has been in charge of the negotiations. It is understood that Karzai has yet to make a formal response to the demands, leading to frustration among some western officials.

The Observer has also learnt of a separate exchange of letters in the summer between Karzai and the Taliban ally Gulbuddin Hekmatyar. The dialogue proved fruitless... (link)
In an accompanying article, Burke relates that Karzai's inaction is another contributing factor to the current lack of progress:
The backing given by the West to these talks is a measure of how badly things have gone wrong in Afghanistan, and how far Western governments are prepared to go to stabilise a deteriorating situation which is costing more in men, money and political capital than they ever imagined...

Hekmat Karzai, director of a think tank in Kabul, said that although discussions with the Taliban 'might not be too difficult... getting the international community on board would be extremely hard'.

Another problem would be convincing other ethnic groups in Afghanistan who suffered heavily under the Taliban regime to accept any deal...

In May, the former Afghan President Burnahuddin Rabbani said he had contacted the Taliban and received 'encouraging responses'. The Taliban published a statement on their website saying they would 'fight until the withdrawal of the last crusading invader', but added that 'the door for talks, understanding and negotiations will always be open' to 'mujahideen' such as Rabbani, who fought the Russians in the Eighties.

One problem with the Saudi-sponsored talks so far is that the go-between has been unable to speak directly to Mullah Omar... (link)
Note the observation of President Hamid Karzai's cousin Hekmat (who was at one time an Afghan embassy official in Washington, appointed shortly after his cousing gained power). He observes that it will be hard to get the international community on board. While he may have had in mind the Russians or the Iranians, it seems more likely he was thinking of the Americans. After all, Pakistan has shown its willingness to talk with insurgents, as has Britain, as the current case shows.

I am yet to see any commentary which has stated the obvious: that the United States, which is avowedly promoting democracy in a sovereign Afghanistan, is preventing that country from taking the widely popular step of negotiating with insurgents.

The Taliban leadership has reportedly denied that talks were occurring, saying the reports are an effort to sap their morale. Howevcer, in relating their spokesman's words, Reuters correspondent Sayed Salahuddin observes that even the Taliban's denial reveals a softening stance:
"Our struggle will continue until the withdrawal of foreign forces and the establishment of an independent Islamic government," said the statement sent to Reuters.

Despite the denial of talks and the hard-line rhetoric, the statement appeared to maintain a softening of the Taliban line on the Afghan government begun this year in that it did not call for the toppling of President Hamid Karzai's administration. (link)

Another civilian motorist killed

British forces kill another civilian who failed to heed warnings:

British soldier kills Afghan civilian after warning: official

LONDON, Sept 29 (AFP) - A British soldier shot dead an Afghan civilian on a motorbike Monday who failed to stop as he approached a military patrol in southern Afghanistan, the defence ministry here said.

A spokesman said the man "failed to react to two verbal warnings and two warning shots" as he approached troops from the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) in Helmand province...

The incident took place at about 5:00 pm (1330 GMT) near Forward Operating Base Inkerman in the Upper Sangin Valley, described by the defence ministry as "one of the most dangerous and austere bases that UK troops occupy"... (link)
Meanwhile, an incident in Jaji district of Paktia province has left one Afghan and one NATO soldier dead:
... Insurgents then engaged the patrol with small arms fire, [a joint statement by ISAF and the Afghan Interior Ministry] said. Later seven civilians were detained after testing positive for having explosive residues and taken to the Afghan police station at the district centre in the town of Jaji.

"While at the district centre, there was an altercation during which an ANP officer and one ISAF soldier were killed," the statement said.

ISAF spokesmen declined to elaborate on how the dispute began or who it was between, but Afghan media said the policeman opened fire on the troops who then fired back. (link)

Pakistan developments

From The Times:

Pakistan and US troops exchange fire

Sept 26 - ... Two American OH-58 reconnaissance helicopters, known as Kiowas, were on a routine patrol in the eastern province of Khost when they received small arms fire from the Pakistani border post, according to a U.S. military spokesman in Bagram. There was no damage to aircraft or crew, officials said.

U.S. Central Command spokesman Rear Admiral Greg Smith said the helicopters had been escorting U.S. troops and Afghan border police. When the helicopters were fired on, the ground forces fired rounds meant not to hit the Pakistani troops, but to make certain that they realized they should stop shooting; Rear AdmiralSmith said from Centcom headquarters in Florida.

The Pakistani forces fired back during a skirmish that lasted about five minutes. The joint patrol was moving about a mile inside Afghanistan, with the helicopters flying above, he said.

The Pakistani military disputed the U.S. version, saying its troops fired warning shots when the two helicopters crossed over the border — and that the U.S. helicopters fired back... (link)
Meanwhile, Pakistani military attacks against Taliban insurgents in Bajaur have driven hundreds of thousands of civilians from their homes, some 20,000 of whom fled across the border into Afghanistan, according to the UN. These 4,000 families, now in Kunar provine, have mostly taken up with relatives, though some 200 families are staying" in the open air" (UNHCR spokesperson). The Red Cross, UNICEF and others are assisting.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Foreign forces 'are the enemy of Afghans'

From Reuters:

Afghans say life no better after invasion

SPIN BOLDAK, Sept 11 (Reuters) - Seven years after the attacks on New York and Washington, the event that sparked off the U.S.-led invasion of Afghanistan, many Afghans say life is no better and some say its worse...

"We feel no change in our lives," said Mohammad Usman, a 40-year-old shopkeeper from Spin Boldak.

"They (foreign forces) are not the enemy of the Taliban, they are the enemy of the Afghan people. The U.S. army calls us al Qaeda and kills us but we don't know what al-Qaeda is." ...

Ali Jan, a 30-year-old bearded man from Spin Boldak, wants the Taliban back because under them life was safer, he says.

"In those times there were no security problems. Now U.S. forces began killing Afghan civilians and destroying our country," said Ali Jan, adding that he had paid the Taliban money during this holy month of Ramadan.

"We are forced to help the Taliban against the occupying forces because the Taliban are Muslims and Afghans. They are fighting for the freedom of Afghanistan," he said.

Frustration at the country's deteriorating security is not confined to the volatile south. Taliban insurgents have been able to launch increasingly daring and deadly attacks inside the relative safety of Kabul.

"Life did change in the first years after the invasion," said Azim, a money-changer on one of Kabul's streets.

"But now security has become worse and people are escaping Afghanistan. If the insecurity continues, people will turn against the U.S. like they did against the Taliban." (link)

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Reviewing the war

Jim Miles reviews Stein and Lang's Unexpected War. His summary of the book's themes is apt:

The Unexpected War - Canada in Kandahar. Janice Gross Stein and Eugene Lang. Viking Canada (Penguin), Toronto, 2007.

... In The Unexpected War the authors Stein and Lang continually highlight two motifs: first, the degree of appeasement towards Americans by the Canadian government for its lack of commitment to Iraq and its lack of commitment to missile defence; second the obsequious manner in which the Canadian military tried to ingratiate itself to its American counterpart, wanting to prove itself with the big boys...

The authors do provide a reasonable if brief background to the situation in Afghanistan, starting with the Russian invasion - perhaps one could call it assistance as the Americans tend to do for their client states. No mention is made however of the Brzezinski comments about having the CIA operate within Afghanistan prior to this date to create a more destabilized situation that would draw the Soviets in. ... (link)
Alas, even critical leftists are taken in by the self-promoting fantasies of the likes of Brzezinski. Miles is not alone, as Brzezinski's claim to have "knowingly increased the probability" of Soviet intervention appears to have been wholesaled by the entire internet.

Specialists, however, are skeptical of Brzezinski's claims. He is, after all, a major political actor (expected to get a plum position in an Obama administration) and with the Nouvel Observateur interview managed to take credit for the downfall of the Soviet empire. So his claims merit some fact-checking.

Some background: Nur Muhammad Taraki's Afghan communist regime was highly unpopular, at least in rural areas where a heavy modernizing hand, which included forced education and land reform, induced strong reactions. By March of 1979, less than a year after Taraki took power, a revolt led by current government minister Ismail Khan broke out in Herat province, a province next to Iran, which was then in the throes of an Islamist revolution. At this point, the Russians had not yet committed to defend Taraki's regime with significant troops and were reluctant to do so. Instead, the Soviets advised Taraki to soften his stance on Islam to curb the revolt, to no avail.

At that point, the Carter administration at least twice considered the possibility of providing military support to the rebels, who were then receiving low-level aid from the Zia government of Pakistan. Finally, on July 3, 1979 the US opted to provide supplies and money via Pakistan for the rebels, but no arms.

In his book Ghost Wars, Washinton Post reporter Steve Coll takes a serious look at Brzezinski's claims:
[In the 1998 French interview] Brzezinski implied that the had slyly lured the Soviets into a trap in Afghanistan. But his contemporary memos... show no hint of satisfaction that the Soviets had taken some sort of bait... [A]ny claim that Brzezinski lured the Soviets into Afghanistan warrants deep skepticism. (Ghost Wars, p. 581, n17.)

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Pakistan army fires on US helicopter

An American helicopter, apparently working with NATO's ISAF, was fired upon from Pakistani positions. The Pakistanis say it was in their airspace; American officials deny wrongdoing.

From Reuters:

NATO Says Fired On From Pakistani Checkpoint

KABUL, Sept 25 - The NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) in Afghanistan has said its helicopters were fired on from a Pakistani military checkpoint along the eastern border.

There were no reports of any damage to the helicopters or any casualties, it said.

"ISAF helicopters received small-arms fire from a Pakistan military checkpoint along the border near Tanai district, Khost [Province] on September 25 while conducting routine operations in Afghanistan," ISAF said in a statement.

"At no time did ISAF helicopters cross into Pakistani airspace," it said... (link)
Pakistan's version of events:
"There were two helicopters from Afghanistan that crossed into Pakistani territory," said the spokesman, Major-General Athar Abbas. "Our soldiers fired warning shots and those helicopters returned fire and flew back." (link)
American officials confirmed they were US choppers:
"They were U.S. helicopters," Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman told reporters at a briefing. "The flight path of the helicopters at no point took them over Pakistan." (link)

Canada delivered journalist to US torture

Revelation about CTV journalist Jawed Ahmad's recent release from US military custody:

Afghan journalist says Canadian tip-off was behind his arrest, imprisonment
By Bob Weber

KANDAHAR, Sept 24 (CP) - An Afghan freelance journalist recently freed after spending 11 months in a U.S. military prison undergoing harsh interrogation said Wednesday he was arrested at the suggestion of the Canadian forces.

"It was Canadians who told them I was a risk," said Javed Yazamy [Jawed Ahmad], known by the nickname Jojo among western journalists in Afghanistan.

Yazamy was unexpectedly set free Sunday after being arrested on Oct. 26, 2007, at Kandahar Airfield, the main coalition base in the southern province. He had been declared an enemy combatant by U.S. authorities and was held both at Kandahar and at the main U.S. military base at Bagram, near Kabul.

A spokesman for the U.S.-led coalition said Monday that Yazamy was handed over to Afghan authorities because he was no longer considered a threat, although no specific reason was ever given for his arrest...

Yazamy estimated he was interrogated more than 100 times during his incarceration. He faced shouted questions, threats and kicks.

"Whenever I was trying to sleep, it was jigsaw, jigsaw. Jigsaw means stand up," Yazamy said Wednesday.

"Six hours they stand me in the snow. No socks, no shoes. Nothing. I had nothing except that orange suit. And two times I became unconscious."

"They were dragging me - jigsaw, jigsaw - and I was totally useless. Finally they took me inside."

He was housed in a dark cell with 16 other detainees who, he said, beat him so badly they broke some of his ribs.

Although Yazamy made no mention of the alleged Canadian involvement in his arrest in initial interviews after his release, he now says that his American interrogators told him that it was Canadians who fingered him.

He said his captors told him: "We were informed by Canada that you were a risk for us" and "we were told by Canada you were a risk and that you should be banned from (Kandahar Airfield)." ...

Both CTV and the New York Times vouched for Yazamy in an effort to secure his release. The Committee to Protect Journalists demanded that U.S. authorities disclose evidence and specify charges against him... (link)
Javed Ahmad was held in a US prison in Bagram in what human rights groups calling for his release termed a "legal black hole." The Globe and Mail's Graeme Smith has more on his allegations of torture by US forces:
... [H]is excellent language skills and physical fitness made him an ideal candidate when the U.S. Special Forces arrived in southern Afghanistan looking for translators.

Mr. Ahmad spent the years after 2001 roaming the country with elite troops, who gave him the nickname Jojo and a rich network of connections in the new regime. He eventually left the military for better pay as a freelance security consultant, and started working full-time as a media translator in 2006, mostly for CTV. He became known for his dogged reporting, once suffering broken bones in a vehicle accident but returning to work the next day to record footage of a bombing scene in Kandahar city.

But his journalistic endeavours may have contributed to his eventual imprisonment, Mr. Ahmad said, because much later his U.S. interrogators seemed interested in his forays into Taliban territory...

About halfway through 2007, he started having problems getting through the gate at Kandahar Air Field, the main military base in the province.

He was once briefly detained and given a warning to stay away. He avoided the military base for a while, but returned Oct. 2, 2007, to help a 12-year-old boy shot by Canadian troops. After leaving the base hospital, a U.S. Special Forces soldier put a gun to his head and threatened him, telling him to stay away from the military base.

He again obeyed the warning, he says, until late October when he says he received a phone call from a male caller who described himself as a U.S. public-affairs officer who wanted to conduct an opinion survey of Afghan journalists. Mr. Ahmad agreed to meet the officer at KAF's main gate. A red pickup truck arrived, he said, and the driver asked him to climb inside.

They drove into the U.S. Special Forces compound at KAF, he said, and soon events started unfolding like a movie...

His hands were bound with plastic ties, and he was hooded with a heavy bag. In the following days, he says, he was questioned, taunted, screamed at, beaten with chairs and slammed into walls.

"I was crying," he said. "They were laughing, saying 'You're a spy,' " His captors accused him of spying for Iran, Pakistan or the Taliban.

They said he sold a sniper rifle to the insurgents. Interrogators falsely told him his family had been arrested and confessed. They even concocted wild stories about his Canadian employers, telling him that CTV had arranged for his detention - or, on another occasion, that a CTV reporter was a foreign intelligence agent.

"I knew these were lies," Mr. Ahmad said.

The worst treatment he received at KAF was sleep deprivation, he said.

Placed in a small metal cage, and monitored by soldiers on a boardwalk overhead, he said they refused to let him sleep for nine days, frequently shouting abuse at him during the ordeal.

After the initial questioning he was flown to Bagram airbase north of Kabul, he said.

Still badly sleep-deprived, he was unloaded at the U.S. base and forced to stand for six hours in the snow wearing only a thin jumpsuit - no shoes, no hat - and he fell unconscious twice. Each time the guards forced him to stand up again.

"It felt like I had no skin left on my feet," he said.

He tried to endear himself to his guards, who were amused to find a prisoner who enjoyed reading Shakespeare. But his situation got abruptly worse in early 2008, he says, when the stories began appearing in the media about his situation. Soon afterward, he was formally declared an enemy combatant. He was placed in a room he describes as the "death cell."

Telling the story, his eyes brim with tears when he thinks about his treatment there, and says he doesn't want to discuss all of it now.

He was deprived of sunlight, he said. "It was like a grave." The interrogations continued at Bagram, he said, and no less violently than in Kandahar.

"They broke two of my ribs during the beatings. Four days I couldn't eat because of this," he said.

He received hints on Friday that he would be released, and yesterday he was abruptly transferred to local Afghan authorities and then onward to the Red Cross... (link)
  • Feb 2008: A journalist working for a Canadian firm, imprisoned without rights, by our leading ally and neighbor, while rights organizations scream... No, no story there! Canadian media shuns one of their own.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

New US outpost

Stars and Stripes reports on the new Forward Operating Base Ramrod in the Maiwand district. It seems logical to conclude that the Canadian artillery crew we heard about yesterday will be working out of FOB Ramrod:

New base beefs up Afghanistan presence

MAIWAND DISTRICT, Afghanistan, Sept 22 - U.S. forces are beefing up their presence in southern Afghanistan, building a new base and joining a Canadian task force in an effort to stem a rising tide of violence in the heartland of the Taliban insurgency...

In an unusual arrangement for U.S. forces, 2-2 Infantry has been placed under the command of the Canadian-led Task Force Kandahar. Canada has 2,500 soldiers in the southern province, where it has held overall security responsibility for the past three years.

But the addition of the 800 or so U.S. soldiers nearly doubles the number of combat troops in Task Force Kandahar, said Navy Lt. Alain Blondin, a spokesman for Canadian forces.

"It brings about 70 to 80 percent more in terms of boots on the ground," he said.

The American troops assumed responsibility for their area of operations on Aug. 27. In a statement at the time, the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force said their mission would be to improve security in the district so that reconstruction and political development can take place.

ISAF officials have identified Maiwand as an important logistics hub for the movement of Taliban fighters, weapons and money... (link)
For the trivial minded, FOB Ramrod shares its name with a forward operating base set up by the US army in 2003 in Husa, Ethiopia. The American forces used the base to train members of the Ethiopian army. (See Word file document here.)

Monday, September 22, 2008

Canadian troops to be American artillery

From Brantford, Ontario:

Brantford Expositor
Cheryl Bauslaugh, Expositor staff

[Warrant Officer Paul Elliott] is one of five local soldiers -- all reservists with the 56th Field Regiment Royal Canadian Artillery in Brantford -- who will head to Afghanistan within the next week. The others -- Master Bombardier Matt Bradley, 27, and Bombardier Ryan Nielissen, 22, both of Brantford, Bombardier Scott Hoo, 22, of Harley, and Bombardier Geoff Henderson, 20, of Jerseyville...

The four younger men will be stationed in northwest Kandahar, where they'll provide fire support for the American infantry. Elliott will be a liaison officer, stationed at Kandahar airfield... (link)

Taliban seen as 'legitimate resistance'

Jean MacKenzie is a journalist with plenty of experience in Afghanistan. In fact, she has for several years been helping train Afghan journalists working in English with the Institute for War and Peace Reporting. The Afghans she has worked with, through their experiences and contacts, have provided the IWPR with rare and important glimpses of Afghanistan, while MacKenzie herself has also been proactive in getting out into the countryside and other out-of-the-way places. In short, she is well-placed to have her finger on the pulse of Afghan society.

In a recent editorial, MacKenzie relays her rather surprizing assessment of the opinion of Kabul's modern, progressive elite:

Things have reached a point where Kabul’s chattering classes have begun to murmur among themselves that the Taleban should not be regarded as an insurgency, but rather a legitimate resistance force. And this is from the progressive, Soviet-educated academics and engineers who make up the backbone of the intellectual elite. Picture the debate in the teahouses of Kandahar, where the bearded, turbaned patrons may have just lost a family member to a foreign air strike.
She goes on:
This is not to say that troops should be withdrawn altogether. At present, it is only the radical fringe and the insurgents, who support this idea. Those of us who live in the real world understand all too well what would happen were the international presence to disappear. It would not be long before Afghanistan would be once again engulfed in civil war, with long-simmering ethnic tensions, historical grievances and political rivalries unleashed... (link)
MacKenzie's assertion here is interesting. According to her, the continued NATO/US occupation is legitimized by the fact that, should their troops be withdrawn, a civil war would result. During the 1980's, Soviet spokespersons used precisely the same formulation in an attempt to justify their continued occupation of Afghanistan. No one bought the Russians' line then. Why are we expected to buy this excuse now?

Further, when MacKenzie claims that "only the radical fringe and the insurgents" support a pull-out of foreign troops, she seems out of touch with recent reporting on public sentiment. Not only has the Senlis Council reported on their poll which found "more than six out ten of those interviewed in Afghanistan said that the foreign troops should leave," but Sakhi Muneer, editor-in-chief of an Afghan government-run newspaper: "Most of the people now would be happy if they [foreign troops] left the country. They think the actions of the foreign forces are causing the violence to rise."

Anand Gopal, correspondent for The Christian Science Monitor relates what is by now an increasingly common conclusion:
"We are poor farmers. We had absolutely no opinion about America five years ago," says Sherafadeen Sadozay, who lost three children and his wife to an aerial attack in the Urozgan Province. "But now we don't think America is here to help us. If the Taliban will bring peace, we will support them." (link)

Canadians greatly undervalue Afghan lives (with update!)

As we saw the other day, the Canadian Forces recently released data on the number of civilians killed and injured by our troops: 10 killed (now 11) and 30 injured. The same article relates how military officials are authorized to give up to $2,000 in compensation to families of those killed or injured.

Two thousand dollars is also the amount which US military officials are authorized to give out to Afghans as compensation. The problem is, this is an insultingly low figure.

Mirwais Ahmadzai is the regional director of the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission (AIHRC) for the eastern part of the country. He has been lobbying the US and NATO forces for significantly higher compensation rates:

Ahmadzai points out that the "blood price" for a killing under Afghan customary law is more than 10 times this amount...
Dawn Black of the NDP hit the nail on the head:
Ms. Black took issue with the overall combat-oriented nature of Canada's engagement in Afghanistan, as well as the $2,000 maximum for compensation, which she called "quite insignificant."

Steven Staples, director of Ottawa think tank the Rideau Institute, disputed the completeness of DND's body count.

Mr. Staples doubted whether DND's figures included Afghan civilians killed by airstrikes called in by Canadian Forces, but delivered by other national forces such as Americans. (link)

List of civilians killed by our forces:

March 14, 2006-Nasratali Hassan, an Afghan man of unknown age, is killed when the taxi he was riding in drove too close to a Canadian patrol vehicle.

July 13, 2006-Information unavailable.

Aug. 22, 2006-Following a suicide bomb attack that killed one Canadian soldier and wounded three outside Camp Nathan Smith near Kandahar City, a 10-year-old boy was shot and killed by a Canadian soldier when the motorcycle he was riding passed through a security cordon. The motorcycle's 17-year-old driver was also shot. While listed as being in serious condition shortly after the shooting, DND reports two deaths on this day and no other information is available to determine whether the teenager also died. Canadian forces did kill an Afghan policeman in late August 2006 who was travelling in an unmarked vehicle as he approached a security checkpoint, but it's unclear if he was listed as the other civilian casualty.

Nov. 30, 2006 Information unavailable.

Dec. 12, 2006 90 year old Abdul Rahman, former primary teacher to Afghan President Hamid Karzai, was shot after failing to stop at a security checkpoint.

Feb. 17, 2007 A man of unknown age was killed after acting strangely as he approached a convoy near Kandahar Air Field.

Feb. 27, 2007 A man of unknown age was killed in Kandahar City when the car he was in is fired upon by a Canadian convoy.

July 27, 2008 A two-year-old boy and his four-year-old sister were killed in Panjwaii district when the car they were in was fired upon by a Canadian convoy.

Sep. 18, 2008 Canadian soldiers in Kandahar city shoot one civilian in a civilian car which approached a convoy.

From the comments section:

terry_price said...

While any civilian death is tragic and, at one level, of inestimable value, there is evidence Canada is paying more than the amounts you're mentioning.

"Afghan families got up to $9,000 each for losing a family member...."
"Forces paid for friendly-fire deaths, files show," Globe & Mail, Apr 23/08

"...Canadian officials say they have talked to Muhammed and offered him their condolences. They have also started the process of deciding whether to pay compensation which, in past accidental killings, has ranged from $2,000 to $9,000..."

"'. . . I will kill Canadians'," National Post, Jul 31/08

September 23, 2008 4:23 AM

Thank you for that, terry price. However, as I'm sure you'll agree, it is scarce comfort to consider that we might at best approach half the monetary compensation which Afghans feel is right.

US crimes in Bagram may continue into long term

Bagram prison will be expanded, an indication of American plans to settle into Afghanistan for the long-term. Some time ago, the New York Times reported that the Bagram complex was considered "worse than Guantanamo," as prisoners in Afghanistan had no access to lawyers nor other basic rights. The abuses have continued, as the Times again noted early this year.

Pentagon to expand intel ops at U.S. prison in Afghanistan
By Peter Eisler, USA TODAY

WASHINGTON, Sept 16 — The Pentagon plans to expand intelligence operations at its main prison in Afghanistan, records and interviews with military officials show.

Interrogators and analysts are being sought for a bigger Bagram prison scheduled to open next year. They will be hired to question prisoners and provide intelligence that can be used on the battlefield, according to contract solicitations reviewed by USA TODAY. The Army also is seeking a "trained Mullah" to conduct Islamic services for detainees and advise U.S. officials on religious issues.

The developments are the latest indication of U.S. plans for a long-term presence in Afghanistan...

After peaking at nearly 700 prisoners in 2006, the population at Bagram has hovered for the past year at its 600-prisoner capacity, according to Central Command figures provided in response to a USA TODAY inquiry.

The intelligence hires are to be in place before next summer's scheduled completion of the new detention center that will hold 1,000 prisoners, an increase in capacity by 65%... (link)
It strikes one as odd that the US military is only now seeking a "trained mullah." Evidently they don't have one currently, and perhaps never did. Meanwhile, the Wall Street Journal reveals a new American strategy development:
U.S. to Expand Drone Use, Other Surveillance in Afghanistan

WASHINGTON, Sept 18 -- The U.S. Army is preparing to deploy a network of drones and other surveillance aircraft to Afghanistan in an expanding effort to defeat the resurgent Taliban and reverse a downward spiral in the country.

The effort, known as Task Force ODIN-A, is set to begin early next year and will coincide with the planned deployments of thousands of American troop reinforcements to Afghanistan, senior U.S. military officials said.

The officials said drones -- remotely piloted aircraft -- and manned surveillance aircraft will be deployed to identify insurgent targets inside Afghanistan, including on the Afghan side of the border with Pakistan. The military will use the information to launch airstrikes and ground attacks on militants.

Drones are already used widely in Afghanistan and Pakistan, but the new aircraft should significantly boost the Army's ability to track insurgents and quickly funnel usable intelligence to individual units, officials said...

The initiative is modeled on an effort in Iraq, where the Army last year began flying drones and piloted planes, including a modified version of the C-12, a small civilian plane, for surveillance and reconnaissance purposes.

In Iraq, the Army aircraft fed data on insurgent positions to Apache attack helicopters and ground forces. U.S. commanders said the effort has contributed to the deaths of more than 3,000 suspected insurgents.

The expansion of the program into Afghanistan hasn't been formally announced, but Defense Secretary Robert Gates alluded to the plan during a congressional hearing last week. Mr. Gates told lawmakers from the House Armed Services Committee that he was going to "re-create" the Iraq effort and "replicate it in Afghanistan with additional assets." (link)

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Peter MacKay

From an editorial in Embassy magazine:

Picking and Choosing from the Afghan Motion

... Mr. MacKay was on television, defending the prime minister's pledge and refuting allegations Canada was indeed "cutting and running" from the war-torn country...

[T]hen came the shocker.

Mr. MacKay said the end of the military mission did not constitute the end of Canada's work in Afghanistan—wait for it—but that the mission would change. Specifically, Canada will "emphasize the humanitarian aspect, continue with training, continue with our people there that are both with the domestic police and maybe on the military side to build...capacity.

"We have combat engineers that are there helping with the Dahla Dam," the defence minister continued. "We have people building roads and supervising some of the training exercises that go on, but the emphasis will change, and that's consistent with the parliamentary resolution."

So let us get this straight: Canadian soldiers will remain in Kandahar until 2011, at which point the majority of them will leave, but Canada will shift the emphasis to humanitarian efforts, training of Afghan security forces and development?

Isn't that supposed to happen starting in 2009?

That, after all, is what the parliamentary resolution actually states. (link)
Also in Embassy, Scott Taylor tells a couple of interesting tales about MacKay:
Our Troops and Peter MacKay's True Colours

... Defence Minister Peter MacKay took aim at Halifax West NDP candidate Tamara Lorincz, going so far as to suggest that NDP Leader Jack Layton "should pull that woman's nomination papers."

What set Mr. MacKay ablaze was an incident that occurred the previous Friday outside the DEFSEC trade show at Halifax's Cunard Center. In addition to being the current NDP candidate of record, Lorincz is also a founding member of the Halifax Peace Coalition. This organization staged a small vigil to protest the U.S. defence companies that were exhibiting at DEFSEC.

According to published accounts and confirmed by Lorincz herself, when a carload of senior brass drove by, Lorincz shouted, "This is a racket and it should be shut down. We need a peace economy, not a military economy."

Peter MacKay was not present at this encounter, but when he read those words in the newspaper the following day, he told reporters that he "felt physically ill" and that it was "one of the most disgusting things [he's] heard in a long time." ...

In September 2006, during a visit to Ottawa by Afghan President Hamid Karzai, a large Support-the-Troops rally was held on Parliament Hill. The vast majority of the 8,000 demonstrators were conservatives who wildly cheered the speech by Prime Minister Stephen Harper. At the back of the crowd, Trevor Haché, the president of the NDP Ottawa-Vanier riding association, stood alone and quietly raised a placard that read: "Support the troops, bring them home."

Several red-shirt-wearing zealots were angered by this message and proceeded to rip Mr. Haché's sign in half and then bodily threw him to the ground. Police quickly intervened to rescue the NDP representative from further assault...

Close followers of Peter MacKay's political career will recall that, when Canadian soldiers were under fire from U.S. Secretary of Defence Robert Gates, our defence minister did not speak up to defend their reputation...

As Canada was in the process of begging the Americans for used Chinook helicopters, Mr. MacKay didn't feel Canada was in a position to rebuff the U.S. secretary of defence.

That is, of course, nonsense, and Mr. Gates of all people would have understood an angry backlash over his offending comments (in fact, he issued a subsequent clarification/retraction).

What this latest incident over Ms. Lorincz's outburst has shown us is that Mr. MacKay is certainly capable of speaking up for the troops—even if they're not under attack—provided his opponent is small enough. (link)

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Fisk and Cockburn on 'our terrible war'

Two of the best journalists working anywhere in the world remarking on the Afghan-Pakistan war:

Why does the US think it can win in Afghanistan?
Robert Fisk

... First of all, back in 2001, we won the war in Afghanistan by overthrowing the Taliban. Then we marched off to win the war in Iraq. Now - with at least one suicide bombing a day and the nation carved up into mutually antagonistic sectarian enclaves - we have won the war in Iraq and are heading back to re-win the war in Afghanistan where the Taliban, so thoroughly trounced by our chaps seven years ago, have proved their moral and political bankruptcy by recapturing half the country.

It seems an age since Donald "Stuff Happens" Rumsfeld declared,"A government has been put in place (in Afghanistan), and the Islamists are no more the law in Kabul. Of course, from time to time a hand grenade, a mortar explodes - but in New York and in San Francisco, victims also fall. As for me, I'm full of hope." Oddly, back in the Eighties, I heard exactly the same from a Soviet general at the Bagram airbase in Afghanistan - yes, the very same Bagram airbase where the CIA lads tortured to death a few of the Afghans who escaped the earlier Russian massacres. Only "terrorist remnants" remained in the Afghan mountains, the jolly Russian general assured us. Afghan troops, along with the limited Soviet "intervention" forces, were restoring peace to democratic Afghanistan...

Back in the late 19th century, the Taliban - yes, the British actually called their black-turbaned enemies "Talibs" - would cut the throats of captured British soldiers. Now this unhappy tradition is repeated - and we are surprised! Two of the American soldiers seized when the Taliban stormed into their mountain base on 13 July this year were executed by their captors...

What the British couldn't do in the 19th century and what the Russians couldn't do at the end of the 20th century, we're going to achieve at the start of the 21 century, taking our terrible war into nuclear-armed Pakistan just for good measure... (link)
The Independent's Patrick Cockburn:
The US strategy for Afghanistan won't work
Patrick Cockburn

September 15 - "Covert action is frequently a substitute for policy," was an aphorism first coined by the former director of the CIA Richard Helms...

True to Helms's nostrum, Mr Bush has not adopted a new policy, but is resorting to covert operations, the political disadvantages of which are obvious, and military benefits dubious...

In reality, covert warfare seldom works. Up-to-date intelligence is hard to come by. Take, for instance, the repeated claims by the US Air Force that it had killed Saddam Hussein during the US-led invasion of Iraq in 2003. This was meant to be based on up-to-the minute information, much of which turned out to be spurious...

Covert operations only really succeed when they have strong local allies who want outside support. There are two recent outstanding examples of this. In Afghanistan in 2001, US special forces reinforced the anti-Taliban Northern Alliance and, most importantly, gave them forward air controllers who could call in air strikes. Two years later, US special forces played a similar role in northern Iraq, when they provided air support to Kurdish troops attacking Saddam's retreating army.

But if covert forces are acting alone, they are very vulnerable. What will happen to them in Pakistan if they get in a fire fight with regular Pakistani forces? What will they do if they are ambushed by local tribesmen allied to the Taliban? Usually, the first to flee in these circumstances are the local civil authorities and the civilian population, so the Taliban will be even more in control than they were before.

Helms's dictum was right. The Bush administration got itself into a no-win situation in Afghanistan. "The US attack on Iraq," writes the Pakistani expert Ahmed Rashid, in his newly-published Descent into Chaos, "was critical to convincing Musharraf that the United States was not serious about stabilising the region, and that it was safer for Pakistan to preserve its own national interest by clandestinely giving the Taliban refuge." (link)

Friday, September 19, 2008

'War sucks' says Afghanistan vet

The Georgia Straight profiles a brave soul who has left the war behind and come north of the 49th:

The 20-year-old California native has such a strong sentiment because he’s seen war firsthand. He fought with the U.S. Army’s 82nd Airborne Division in Afghanistan for 15 months. His unit operated in the provinces of Paktika, Paktya, and Khost, which are north of Kandahar, where Canadian forces are locked in combat with Afghan insurgents.

“What I saw in Afghanistan led me to believe that the motives that were put forward to us by the U.S. government and the U.S. army were a total farce,” Tindungan told the Georgia Straight. “They said we were there to bring democracy to the people. They said we were there to rout terrorism and to prevent terrorism. While I was there, I noticed that we’re pissing off more people than we were winning hearts and minds.”

According to him, Canadian troops aren’t doing any differently. “They’re doing the same exact shit that we were doing in our area of operations,” Tindungan said. “I’ve always thought of Canadians…as UN peacekeeper kind of guys.” (link)

Three quarters of Poles oppose Afghan role

From Poland:

Low public support for Afghan mission

WARSAW, Sept 17 (PAP) - 74 pct of Poles disapprove of Poland's military action in Afghanistan, 21 pct are in favour, 5 pct have no opinion about it, a poll conducted by CBOS has found.

60 pct fear the mission could cause terrorist attacks, 33 pct do not fear such attacks, 7 pct hold no opinion on the issue.

19 pct think that the Afghan operation will be successful in bringing peace in that country, 65 pct are doubtful about it, 16 pct do not know... (link)
No doubt the rather strong anti-war sentiment among Poles owes something to fact that Polish troops stand accused in the Nangar Khel massacre.

Afghans see occupiers

The Canadian Press profiles Ariel Nasr, a Canadian filmmaker who has made a film about the Afghan diaspora:

Nasr travelled on his own to Afghanistan this summer to interview people about how their lives have changed since the NATO mission began.

Over two weeks, he said he could find no one who said life had improved since the Taliban was ousted and foreign troops moved in. Many, he said, simply saw the international presence as just another occupying force.

''I never met a single person who was really optimistic about the situation,'' he said. ''There was a lot of disillusionment and I think that comes from people not seeing their lives getting better.'' (link)
The film, Good Morning Kandahar, premiered in Halifax recently.

Canucks and Aussies kill Afghans

From the Globe and Mail:

Afghan killed when Canadian troops fire on civilian vehicle

KANDAHAR, Sept 19 (CP) - Canadian soldiers fired on a civilian vehicle that was driving toward a military convoy Thursday evening, killing one of the occupants...

A few days ago, Canadian military investigators ruled on an incident from last July in which two Afghan children were killed when the vehicle they were riding in got too close to a convoy.

The investigation found the soldiers had followed proper procedures before firing a single round from a 25 millimetre cannon into the speeding vehicle which came within 10 metres of the convoy.

Four-year-old Maraka and two-year-old Tor Jan were killed July 27 in the Panjwaii district southwest of Kandahar City.

Military officials said at the time that the soldiers involved flashed the lights on their vehicles, made hand gestures and issued audio warnings for the vehicle to pull over before they fired... (link)
CTV's Paul Workman reports from Afghanistan:
"There's always a fair amount of anger on the streets of Kandahar City when these events happen because it once again reminds the Afghans that they really don't have control of their roads," [Workman] said. (link)
Note above that the Canadian troops who killed the two kids back in July seem to have fired no warning shots. While that might seem as though "proper procedures" were not followed, in fact our troops are not required to fire warning shots, as Edmonton Journal reporter Graham Thomson noted a few weeks back:
The troops, I'm told, don't have to fire warning shots. If they feel threatened, they can fire directly into the vehicle. (link)
The father of the two dead children, Ruzi Mohammad, still awaits his promised compensation, as the Canadian Press recently reported:
Told it could take four weeks for the cash to flow, Mohammed said he needs it now.

"lf Canadians will not support me now, I am compelled to join the Taliban and to take revenge for my two innocent children," he said... (link)

The latest fatality is the eleventh Afghan civilian directly killed by the Canadian Forces, according to Embassy magazine. Last week, that journal reported on the first time release by Department of National Defence of statistics on Afghans dead and wounded. Ten dead, thirty wounded in the past two and a half years.

Meanwhile, the Australian Defence Force has their own problems:
Australia to probe whether soldiers killed Afghan governor

SYDNEY, Sept 19 (AFP) - The Australian military said Friday it would investigate whether its soldiers accidentally killed an Afghan district governor and several others during a firefight in a former Taliban stronghold...

The district chief and two of his men were shot and killed when they went to the aid of a friend who had called for help believing Taliban had surrounded his home in troubled Uruzgan province, a local Afghan official told AFP.

The soldiers outside the man's home were however international troops who then mistook Khan and his men for Taliban fighters, he said.

The Australian Defence Force said the deaths occurred after a special forces patrol group was fired upon from a number of locations and returned fire in self-defence... (link)

The new Taliban

Readers will likely recall Globe and Mail reporter Graeme Smith's investigation into the Taliban earlier this year. Through numerous interviews with Taliban fighters, Smith was able to provide a sketch of a typical insurgent. Motivated to join the insurgency by attacks on family and neighbors, not highly ideological nor even showing any deep commitment to Taliban leader Mullah Omar, those interviewed showed a surprising side of the Taliban.

In The Telegraph Alex Thompson writes of cameraman Mehran Bozorgnia's visit to a Taliban encampment:

New breed of Taliban replaces old guard

Mehran Bozorgnia, a cameraman working for Channel 4 News, spent time with the Taliban in Kandahar in southern Afghanistan to discover this new breed...

Inside, it turned out to be the former home of Mullah Dadullah, the Mujahideen-turned-Taliban commander, killed by Nato forces (including Britain's Special Boat Service) last year. The house is still a command centre for "the Taliban". But that word is starting to lose meaning...

They soon demonstrated gruesome beheading videos on their state-of-the-art mobiles to establish their credentials...

And there was no evidence here of hordes crossing the frontier from Pakistan. To a man they were Afghan. The sole foreigner, Aftab Panjabi, a former Pakistan Army officer, took a dozen Talibs through the art of firing an AK47 accurately.

They were candid about their motives. There was no chat of Mullah Omar...

In modern terms they feel nothing has changed. They see a country mired in corruption...

By night they liked nothing more than a drop (or three) of whisky - though did not drink in front of a camera.

By day they encouraged locals to bet on the local sport of ram-fighting, laying money on which horned headbutter stuns its opponent the quickest. The Taliban who overtook this country more than a decade ago would have blanched.

They appeared equally happy to be filmed at a local wedding where - heaven forefend - a local band whacked out traditional Pashtun party tunes. The drum and keyboard combo need not have worried about the Mullah sending in goons to silence them. There is more, much more to the modern Taliban than brain-washed kids coming in from Pakistani madrassa schools, strapped up with explosives.

Of course they exist. But so do these new-style Afghan Talibs. Changed lifestyles and changed military tactics too. They happily showed off their stash of Afghan police and army uniforms. They discussed how they infiltrate local security forces. So they know when, where and how they will move. It's all about intelligence, ambush technology - not the costly frontal assaults of old.

As if to prove that, they supplied a video of them using the main Kabul-Kandahar highway as cover for rocketing a nearby compound. Daylight, brazen, confident - they moved almost leisurely, firing from the road. The traffic barely slowed. And what can Nato do - strafe Afghanistan's equivalent of the M1 motorway? ...

In all of this, an urgent lesson for Nato: these local, Afghan fighters enjoy real support. It is simply wrong to say it is just coercion and terror. Just like the Mujahideen did. Indeed, on this evidence the so-called Taliban might be changing into something far more like the Mujahideen than the madrassa-produced Pakistani Taliban.

Have Nato allowed themselves to become the new Russians? Many an Afghan would say yes. (link)
The New York Times recently quoted Spanish diplomat Francesc Vendrell who has eight years experience in Afghanistan:
While only a minority of Pashtuns actively support the Taliban, he said, most Pashtuns “are sitting on the fence to see who is going to be the winner."


A press release from the International Freedom of Expression eXchange (IFEX):


September 17 - IFEX members ARTICLE 19 and Reporters Without Borders (RSF) are calling on Afghanistan's President Hamid Karzai to intervene in the case of a former journalist and a mullah who were sentenced to 20 years in prison last week for publishing a translation of the Koran.

On 11 September, former journalist Ahmed Ghous Zalmai and Mullah Qari Mushtaq were sentenced by a Kabul court to 20 years in prison for publishing a Dari translation of the Koran...

A five-year suspended sentence was also handed down to the printer, Mohammad Ateef Noori, who will be kept under police surveillance.

The defendants described the verdict as "illegal" and are planning to appeal.

Allegedly, Zalmai and Mushtaq used a Dari translation that had been done in the U.S., but failed to print the Arabic original alongside the translation, as required by Islamic law...

Zalmai was well known in the 1980s as a fairly outspoken TV journalist, hosting a call-in talk show, "People's Voice". He worked as a cultural attaché in an Afghan embassy after the fall of the Communist government. After several years of exile in the Netherlands, the Karzai government invited him back to work for public radio and television. Zalmai also headed the Afghanistan National Journalists Association and was spokesperson for the Kabul prosecutor's office for several years. (link)
Note that Zalmai is not only prominent, but obviously a friend of sorts to President Karzai. It is hard to miss the muscle-flexing message that ultra-conservatives are sending him.



Arthur Kent has settled out of court his lawsuit against the film studio which made Charlie Wilson's War last year. The film used clips of his TV reporting without permission.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Globe and Mail cheers on criminals

As we saw the other day, there is a serious question as to the legality of the current American strategy in Pakistan. The Globe and Mail doesn't appear to care a wit:

Don't wait to ask
The Globe and Mail
(Editorial - September 12)

... After allowing some of the worst elements of the Taliban and al-Qaeda to operate in Pakistan for years, the government in Islamabad is in no position to cite "sovereignty" when U.S. forces pursue them.

Territorial inviolability is a bedrock principle of international relations, but when a state is used as a launching pad for aggression abroad, even by non-state groups, it is forfeit.

... agree that the ISI has been providing active support for terror attacks inside of Afghanistan, including the bombing of the Indian embassy in Kabul in July. Mr. Kayani is thought to have approved of that operation in his role as head of the army.

In light of such treachery, why should Washington wait for a green light from the Pakistani government before acting, when it identifies threats to its soldiers or to stability on the Afghan side of the border?

Some Pakistani leaders have made good-faith efforts to bring militant activity under control, and rein in the ISI. The new President, Asif Ali Zardari, will have to walk a tightrope, assisting Western anti-terrorist efforts, while not excessively provoking Pakistani extremists. And offending the military, which has few reservations about intervening in politics, has generally been an unwise idea in Pakistan.

But until and unless Islamabad can take responsibility for what goes on in territory it nominally rules, American raids should continue, and they do not require the Pakistani government's permission. (link)
To a rational observer, it would appear that Canada's national paper is suggesting that the state of Florida deserves missile attacks and invasion by special forces for harbouring Orlando Bosch, or more recently Luis Posada Carriles. But the Globe is so singularly concerned with Uncle Sam's problems that the editors likely wouldn't see the contradiction if it was pointed out to them.

Carry on down the Khyber

Here at StopWarBlog, we have tried to keep to the subject matter of our subtitle - Canada and Afghanistan. Thus, while we've had occasion to delve into Afghan political, economic, ethnic and tribal dynamics, we have generally shied away from blogging on Pakistan.

However, the current circumstances of the war have made that impossible, as recent US-led attacks into Pakistani territory - complete with the awful yet familiar civilian corpses - have escalated what was a somewhat low-level involvement in that country. (For its part, NATO has said it will not take part in any operations in Pakistan.)

True, there have been CIA teams operating in the Pakistani tribal areas for some time, and there have been numerous US missile attacks from Predator drones and reportedly by ground forces in Afghanistan. And true also, US aircraft and ground forces can, according to their existing operational rules, continue engagements with insurgents who cross from Afghanistan into Pakistan. But the latest attacks are widely seen as a significant escalation with unknown, but potentially very grave, effects.

So, today we have four articles on Pakistan, lovingly edited to bring you, dear time-poor reader, just the important and juicy bits.

The Sunday Times has a gut wrenching on-the-ground account of a US assault on a Pakistani village earlier this month which is said to have killed 20 civilians. US authorities, true to form, are claiming that those killed were insurgents.

Playing with firepower

SEPTEMBER 14 - The Americans picked an inauspicious day to open a new front in the war on terror. It was 4am on the third day of the Islamic holy month of Ramadan...

Two US helicopters supported by a AC130 Spectre gunship landed close to the shrine of a local saint. Out jumped about three dozen heavily armed marines and Navy Seals from a crack unit called Detachment One. As they emerged from the churning dust onto the rock-strewn hills, they made for a terrifying sight in their night-vision goggles.

Within minutes the commandos had surrounded the mudwalled compound of Payo Jan Wazir, a 50-year-old woodcutter and cattle-herd. They believed an Al-Qaeda leader was hiding inside.

According to villagers, the troops burst in, guns blazing, killing Payo Jan, six children, two women and a male relation. Among the dead were a three-year-old girl and a two-year-old boy, they said.

The gunfire brought neighbours running out of their homes. As people headed towards Payo Jan’s house to see what had caused the commotion, the commandos opened fire, killing 10 more villagers.

The Americans fanned out, conducting house-to-house searches, before jumping back into the gunships and off into the sky. Stunned villagers were left to carry away the bodies left in the street.

The first known American ground assault inside Pakistan had left 20 people dead...

Both US and British special forces have been carrying out missions inside Pakistan since March this year following an agreement in January between Bush and Pervez Musharraf, then president of Pakistan.

In return, Pakistan’s military received £227m to upgrade its F-16 fighters. The deal explains why the Bush administration – and Whitehall – were so keen to keep Musharraf in office after elections in February in which the party he backed was defeated...

Their missions have concentrated on surreptitious “special reconnaissance” operations designed to go undetected, a British source said. The only firepower has come from unmanned Predator spy planes...

In July all that changed. Pakistan’s new democratically elected government made its first visit to Washington. Instead of the congratulations and aid packages they expected, ministers received what they described as a “grilling” and left reeling at “the trust deficit” between Pakistan and its most significant financial backer...

Whether it was because of the worsening security situation, or in the hope of springing “an October surprise” in the form of Bin Laden’s head to boost the election chances of the Republican John McCain, Bush decided it was time to go beyond reconnaissance and tracking...

Another US attack took place on Friday, this time a missile directed against a former school in Miranshah being used as a base for a militant organisation. The front page of Pakistan’s Dawn newspaper yesterday accused the US of “mocking talk of sovereignty”... (link)
Britain's Independent has the latest developments in Pakistan:
US drone strikes in Pakistan hours after sovereignty pledge
By Omar Waraich

ISLAMABAD, Sept 18 - A US drone attacked suspected militants inside Pakistan yesterday, only hours after the US military chief assured Pakistani leaders that the country's sovereignty would be respected...

Admiral Mullen met Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani and the Pakistani army chief General Ashaf Kayani. Afterwards the US embassy said: "Admiral Mullen reiterated the US commitment to respect Pakistan's sovereignty and to develop further... co-operation."

But within hours a pilotless drone fired four missiles into South Waziristan, killing five militants, according to local intelligence officials. Reuters claimed the attack was the product of "US-Pakistani intelligence-sharing", but government officials appeared to disagree... (link)
Third, we have a much-hyped report from Newsweek:
Pakistan’s Dangerous Double Game

... This July, top U.S. military and CIA officers confronted their Pakistani counterparts with evidence of the ISI links to [Pakistani Taliban leader Sirajuddin] Haqqani. One consequence: over the summer President George W. Bush approved new, more relaxed rules of engagement along the border.

The Pentagon once required "90 percent" confidence that a "high-value target" was present before approving Predator strikes in Pakistan territory. Now U.S. officials on the ground need to have only 50 to 60 percent confidence to shoot at compounds suspected of sheltering foreign fighters, according to knowledgeable U.S. sources who would speak of sensitive matters only anonymously. The CIA declined to comment.

The new rules also allow "hot pursuit" incursions by U.S. Special Operations troops into Pakistan, a move that Bush had long avoided so as not to offend his close ally President Pervez Musharraf, who resigned last month... (link)
Finally, Tariq Ali:
US pushes Pakistan towards the brink
By Tariq Ali

The decision to make public a presidential order of July authorizing American strikes inside Pakistan without seeking the approval of the Pakistani government ends a long debate within, and on the periphery of, the George W Bush administration.

Democratic presidential candidate Senator Barack Obama, aware of this ongoing debate during his own long battle with Senator Hillary Clinton, tried to outflank her by supporting a policy of US strikes into Pakistan. Republican Senator John McCain and vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin have now echoed this view and so it has become, by consensus, official US policy.

[The effects of American assaults] on Pakistan could be catastrophic, creating a severe crisis within the army and in the country at large. The overwhelming majority of Pakistanis are opposed to the US presence in the region, viewing it as the most serious threat to peace.

Why, then, has the US decided to destabilize a crucial ally? ...

[In my view the expansion of the war relates] to the Bush administration's disastrous occupation in Afghanistan. It is hardly a secret that the regime of President Hamid Karzai is becoming more isolated with each passing day, as Taliban guerrillas move ever closer to Kabul.

When in doubt, escalate the war - this is an old imperial motto...

Although, in the world of the Western media, the Taliban have been entirely conflated with al-Qaeda, most of their supporters are, in fact, driven by quite local concerns...

The neo-Taliban now control at least 20 Afghan districts in Kandahar, Helmand and Uruzgan provinces...

Elsewhere, mullahs who had initially supported Karzai's allies are now railing against the foreigners and the government in Kabul. For the first time, calls for jihad against the occupation are even being heard in the non-Pashtun northeast border provinces of Takhar and Badakhshan...

The key in Pakistan, as always, is the army. If the already heightened US raids inside the country continue to escalate, the much-vaunted unity of the military high command might come under real strain. At a meeting of corps commanders in Rawalpindi on September 12, Pakistani Chief of Staff General Ashfaq Kiani received unanimous support for his relatively mild public denunciation of the recent US strikes inside Pakistan in which he said the country's borders and sovereignty would be defended "at all cost"...

What is really required in the region is an American-NATO exit strategy from Afghanistan, which should entail a regional solution involving Pakistan, Iran, India and Russia. These four states could guarantee a national government and massive social reconstruction in that country. No matter what, NATO and the Americans have failed abysmally. (link)