Friday, July 3, 2009

Villagers take up arms against US forces

The big news on the front pages is the huge US-led assault on Helmand province, now into its second day. The CBC today also featured the operation in tones that convey a smooth victory for the occupiers, with the only possible problem being that the American forces "may have difficulty garnering community support." The New York Times has a far, far more critical take on it, as we'll see.

As an antiwar project, this blog has for some time now observed several obvious themes of the war in Afghanistan which the mass media have almost entirely ignored, despite plenty of evidence and despite plenty of respectable observers who acknowledge certain unsaid facts. Some of these are: that a majority of Afghans, especially in the south, now oppose the foreign occupation of their country; that the disastrous occupation and the disastrous government it underwrites are driving more young men into the insurgency; that foreign soldiers are committing war crimes; and that the insurgents which foreign troops are fighting are not foreign agitators but homegrown, local fighters driven to armed resistance largely because of the occupation itself.

In a very important article in the New York Times by Carlotta Gall, an experienced correspondent, all of these themes are vividly illustrated:

U.S. Faces Resentment in Afghan Region
By Carlotta Gall - The New York Times

LASHKAR GAH, July 2 - The mood of the Afghan people has tipped into a popular revolt in some parts of southern Afghanistan, presenting incoming American forces with an even harder job...

Villagers in some districts have taken up arms against foreign troops to protect their homes or in anger after losing relatives in airstrikes, several community representatives interviewed said. Others have been moved to join the insurgents out of poverty or simply because the Taliban’s influence is so pervasive here...

Yet Taliban control of the countryside is so extensive in provinces like Kandahar and Helmand that winning districts back will involve tough fighting and may ignite further tensions, residents and local officials warn...

Taliban influence is so strong in rural areas that much of the local population has accepted their rule and is watching the United States troop build-up with trepidation. Villagers interviewed in late June said that they preferred to be left alone under Taliban rule and complained about artillery and airstrikes by foreign forces. “We Muslims don’t like them — they are the source of danger,” said Hajji Taj Mohammed, a local villager, of the foreign forces. His house in Marja, a town west of this provincial capital that ...

“Now there are more people siding with the Taliban than with the government,” said Abdul Qader Nurzai, head of the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission in southern Afghanistan.

In many places, people have never seen or felt the presence of the Afghan government, or foreign forces, except through violence, but the Taliban are a known quantity, community leaders said...

People from Marja said that foreign troops carrying out counter-narcotics operations conducted nighttime raids on houses, shot people dead inside their homes and used dogs that bit the occupants.

“The people are very scared of the night raids,” said Spin Gul, a farmer from the area. “When they have night raids, the people join the Taliban and fight.”

“Who are the Taliban? They are local people,” interjected another man who did not give his name...

Fazel Muhammad, a member of the district council of Panjwai, an area west of Kandahar city where three years of fighting have ruined livelihoods, said he knew people who were laying mines for the Taliban in order to feed their families. He estimated that 80 percent of insurgents were local people driven to fight out of poverty and despair. Offered another way out, only 2 percent would support the Taliban, he said... (link)
Note the claims of the people from Marja, a village just outside of Lashkar Gah, Helmand's main town. Their description of foreign forces entering houses and killing civilians might sound to some rather far-fetched, but similar accusations have been levelled before by civilians just to the south of them, down the Helmand River in Toube. At the time, British army officials said they were "taking seriously" the allegations of a massacre in Toube and began an investigation.

When UN Special Rapporteur for Extrajudicial Killings Phillip Alston later visited Afghanistan, he investigated the Toube incident among other allegations of killings. While he found no evidence to support the claims of deliberate killings, his inquiries were stymied by military officials from Canada and elsewhere. Despite this, it was apparent to Alston that foreign intelligence forces were acting with impunity in parts of Afghanistan.

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