Sunday, January 25, 2009

Special forces strike fear

Last summer, the CBC reported that Canadian JTF-2 commandos were taking part in "hunt and kill" operations in Afghan villages in search of insurgents. At the time, the UN Special Rapporteur investigating atrocity allegations suggested that Canada was ignoring its legal obligations to share information with him.

Now the Canadian military confirms some of those details. Note that it is unclear if it is JTF-2 or the CSOR (Canadian Special Operations Regiment) involved:

Grame Smith has the story:

Report slams tactic of night raids on homes;
Graeme Smith - Globe and Mail

KANDAHAR, Dec 24 - [...] Brigadier-General Denis Thompson, Canada's most senior military officer in Kandahar, confirmed for the first time yesterday that his specialized units participate in high-risk searches of suspected Taliban compounds under cover of darkness.Afghanistan's largest human-rights group singled out the tactic for criticism in a report yesterday, saying the raids don't inflict as many civilian casualties as air strikes but incite strong resentment among villagers, who see the intrusions as a cultural affront...

"The combination of abusive behaviour and violent breaking and entry into civilians' homes in the middle of the night stokes almost as much anger and resentment toward PGF [pro-government forces] as the more lethal air strikes," the report says.

Afghan President Hamid Karzai [said that] foreign troops should not be allowed to search local homes.

The Canadian commander said he agrees with the Afghan leader in principle, but such operations are sometimes a necessary part of the war.

"We are philosophically against such raids as well," Gen. Thompson said. "There's nothing worse than busting into somebody's house in the middle of the night. [I think there is something worse, namely having foreign soldiers raid your home against the wishes of your elected leader, all in the name of democracy. - DM]

"However, in the cases where we actually go into a compound, it's either in self-defence or it's as a result of a long string of intelligence-gathering that has led us to a certain compound and, invariably, when it comes time to execute the raid, there are no innocent civilians there, there are just bad guys."

But the AIHRC report documented several cases in which ordinary Afghans have woken up to the sounds of foreign troops bursting into their homes - including one of the AIHRC's own staff members, whose house on the north side of Kandahar city was raided in 2007. Nobody was hurt in the operation, but the human-rights staffer said he was threatened when he tried to get compensation for the property damage.

"One man from Kandahar province, where there are more frequent night raids than in most other areas of Afghanistan, told AIHRC, 'Most of the time these night raids end up killing civilians in their houses. People are afraid to complain.' " ...

[The] AIHRC report, based on 74 interviews with local, military and government sources, said the nighttime searches also spread fear among the villagers.

"They were a significant cause of fear, intimidation and resentment," the report said.

Most of the raids are conducted by a mix of foreign and Afghan forces, and usually involve separating the men from the women, tying up the men, and often detaining one or two of them.

"There have been incidents where men were not taken but simply shot on-site," the report says. Many of the targets appear to be legitimate, the report added, but in several cases "significant evidence" suggests innocent people were raided... (link)
The Canadian Press has more:
"Afghan families experienced their family members killed or injured, their houses or other property destroyed, or homes invaded at night without any perceived justification or legal authorization," the report says.

"They often did not know who perpetrated the acts against the family or why. To their knowledge and perception, those who perpetrated the acts were never punished nor prevented from repeating them," the report says.

The night raids frequently involve "abusive behaviour and violent breaking and entry," which the report says stokes almost as much anger toward coalition forces as the air strikes.

"Afghans in these regions generally know stories of friends or family members who have been awakened in the middle of the night to be tied up, and often abused by a group of armed men," it says... (link)
Meanwhile, Australia has recently seen its own revelations of extrajudicial killings carried out by their special forces:
Rare insight of SAS operations in Afghanistan
Australian Broadcasting Corporation

'Lateline', broadcast Nov 26, 2008 [...]

RAFAEL EPSTEIN, REPORTING: What Australia's best soldiers do in Afghanistan is one of the military's best kept secrets. But one recent report from the Defence Department let slip a few details. In September, a special forces group mistakenly got caught up in a fire fight. One of those killed was a district governor, a high-profile ally of the Afghan President.

What the special forces soldiers had originally set out to do is detailed in this ADF report. They were part of 'Operation Peeler'. Its aim: to disrupt the Taliban leadership and bombmakers. On the 17th September, they were after 'Musket', a code name given to a local Taliban target. Action against him is approved after appropriate checks with relevant military advisers and military lawyers, all subject to 'intelligence triggers', that is, when sufficient evidence has been gathered...

On that September night, actionable intelligence indicated 'Musket', this Taliban figure, could be targeted by Australian special forces. Military sources here and overseas agree that the next sentence is almost certain to be interpreted this way. The mission statement asked the force element, the group of special forces soldiers, to assassinate 'Musket', to deny the Taliban either leadership and/or an ability to attack Coalition forces. The Defence Department won't say what proportion of these missions involve assassination, nor how many involve simple arrests...

The last time we know of that Australia's special forces played a big part in a strategy like this was Vietnam. Then, targeted killings and attempts to win heart and minds ran in parallel with a conflict that spread into neighbouring countries, just as this war is spreading to Pakistan...

JIM MOLAN [RETIRED AUSTRALIAN MAJOR GENERAL]: I conducted these kind of operations every day of the week for the year that I spent in Iraq. We go to extraordinary lengths to try to get it right. But in a war, things don't always go the way you want them to go and unfortunate accidents, incidents, do happen. (link)
The reference to the Vietnam war is not encouraging when one considers the record of Australian forces in that war. Indeed, Australian troops have garnered something of a reputation over the decades. A respected military historian remarks on their fame at the end of WWI: "For all their undoubted valour, the Diggers had gained a reputation for ruthlessness in battle, for shooting prisoners-something of which English soldiers were seldom guilty." (MacDougall, Australians At War (1991). See here.)

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