Saturday, January 31, 2009

New NATO order: assassinating druggies

Der Spiegel has the story:

Order to Kill Angers German Politicians
Der Spiegel
By Matthias Gebauer and Susanne Koelbl

BERLIN, January 31 - German politicians expressed dismay on Thursday over the fact that NATO high commander Bantz John Craddock wants to permit the targeted killing of drug traffickers even without proof that they are involved in terrorist developments. NATO is trying to downplay the paper, saying it is merely a "guidance," but that's not correct...

The content of the order is explosive. It is "no longer necessary to produce intelligence or other evidence that each particular drug trafficker or narcotics facility in Afghanistan meets the criteria of being a military objective," Craddock writes in the guidance... (link)


Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Americans don't want Obama's surge

Seems Americans like Obama, but not his policies:

Only 1-in-3 Favor Sending More U.S. Troops to Afghanistan
Business Wire

ROCHESTER, N.Y., Jan 23 - Most Americans feel very positively about President Obama, but that does not mean they support everything he says he plans to do. A new Financial Times/Harris Poll finds that they support his positions on some foreign policy issues but not on others...

A 46% to 30% plurality of Americans is opposed to the president's plan to send more U.S. troops to Afghanistan. On other hand, a 65% to 35% majority of Americans supports meeting with Iranian leaders, something he has said he would consider. The poll also finds Americans to be split on continuing the embargo on Cuba: 35% favor continuing it, 22% oppose it while fully 42% neither support nor oppose it... (link)
The American public aren't the only ones who oppose the surge, as even a number of military analysts have expressed reservations in recent weeks. Military blogger Andrew Exum comments:
Given the successes enjoyed by the United States military in implementing its new counter-insurgency doctrine in Iraq in 2007, one would expect proponents of the doctrine to be eager to attempt a similar effort in Afghanistan. But that’s not the case. Indeed, many of the military officers and theorists who championed this doctrine are divided over whether or not a similar approach would work in Afghanistan. For them, Afghanistan presents an especially difficult case study... (link)
And while the public abhors the war, Obama expects them to pay more dearly for it:
Obama administration warns public to expect rise in US casualties

JANUARY 24 - The Obama administration warned the US public yesterday to brace itself for an increase in American casualties as it prepares to step up the fight against al-Qaida and the Taliban in Afghanistan and the border regions of Pakistan.

Against a background of widespread protests in Pakistan and Afghanistan over US operations since Obama became president, the vice-president, Joe Biden, said yesterday that US forces would be engaged in many more operations as the US takes the fight to its enemies in the region...

Biden, in an interview with CBS news, defended the [Jan 24 Pakistan] strikes, saying that Obama had repeatedly said on the campaign trail he would not hesitate to strike against any high-level al-Qaida targets... (link)
Note that it was Biden this time who defended the Pakistan attacks - again, not Obama himself.

The other Gitmo, except this one stays open

President Obama has signed an order to close Guantanamo, but has left Bagram prison, and other prisons in Afghanistan, open for business. (While White House correspondent Helen Thomas did inquire about the discrepancy at the first President Obama press conference, it was left to an Obama spokesman to spin an excuse.)

The New York Times once called Bagram "larger and more secretive" than its counterpart on Cuban soil. From London's Sunday Telegraph:

Inside the other Guantanamo
Prison camp at American base in Afghanistan has twice as many inmates and an even murkier legal status

KABUL, Jan 25 - [...] More than 600 detainees are held at the US Bagram Theatre Internment Facility - known by campaigners as "the other Guantanamo''. Not only are there no plans to close it, but it is in the process of being expanded to hold 1,100 illegal enemy combatants; prisoners who cannot see lawyers, have no trials and never see any evidence there may be against them.

Like Guantanamo, since opening it has held men which the US military says must be kept off the battlefield; alleged al-Qaeda terrorists and Taliban fighters. Some, US officials have confirmed, were arrested abroad before being flown to Bagram for incarceration.

According to human rights lawyers, the prison also holds scores of innocent people, many seized after tip-offs from tribal rivals. The alleged offences are never tested in court.

The prison has been accused of torturing detainees and two men were allegedly beaten to death there in 2002. The US Army does not let outsiders in to view conditions...

Dr Ghairat Baheer was a former Mujahideen leader who was arrested in 2002 because he is related to Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, a notorious warlord whose men have killed dozens of American soldiers...

Dr Baheer's ordeal lasted for years as he was shifted from one Afghan prison to another. Sometimes he was denied food; and in some facilities he was held in cells with al-Qaeda terrorists.

He said of one prison: "It was an enemy factory, creating future insurgents from the detainees and their large families.''

A Western diplomat in Kabul agreed. He said: "His treatment is an example of how we helped create the insurgency. He should not have been arrested at all. They [the Americans] thought arresting him would help them get to Hekmatyar.'' ... (link)

Monday, January 26, 2009

Jan 21 incident

Xinhua reports on an accidental killing:

NATO friendly fire kills 2 civilians, wounds 4 more in S Afghanistan

KABUL, Jan. 24 (Xinhua) -- Two civilians have been unintentionally killed with four more wounded by friendly fire of the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) in southern Afghan province of Helmand, said ISAF statements received here on Saturday...

[I] in Sangin district, "a local man was unintentionally killed and four others injured in an incident on Wednesday [Jan 21] when ISAF forces came under attack from enemy fire and were forced to act in self defense," said the statement.

It noted that "at the time of the incident, ISAF forces were conducting an intelligence-led operation in the Sangin area to locate and make safe enemy facilities where significant numbers of weapons, ammunition and IED-making equipment were discovered." .... (link)
January's civilian toll:

January 5: British forces in Helmand province kill between five and 19 civilians.
January 6: A US-led assault kills between 17 and 23 civilians in Laghman province.
January 7: NATO shells kill eleven civilians in Uruzgan.
January 20: Coalition forces kill 25 civilians in Kapisa province, say locals.
January 21: NATO troops in Sangin district of Helmand kill one civilian while under fire.
January 22: NATO-led soldier kills civilian mistaken for a bomb planter in Gereshk district of Helmand.
January 23: In Obama's first military action, up to 22 Pakistani civilians are killed by US drone-launched missiles.
January 24: US troops with air support kill 16 civilians in Laghman, say officials.

Obama murders his first civilians

Sardonic congratulations are in order:

President orders air strikes on villages in tribal area
By Ewen MacAskill

WASHINGTON, Jan 24 (Guardian) - Barack Obama gave the go-ahead for his first military action yesterday, missile strikes against suspected militants in Pakistan which killed at least 18 people.

Four days after assuming the presidency, he was consulted by US commanders before they launched the two attacks. Although Obama has abandoned many of the "war on terror" policies of George Bush while he was president, he is not retreating from the hunt for Osama bin Laden and other al-Qaida leaders...

The US missiles were fired by unmanned Predator drones...

The strikes will help Obama portray himself as a leader who, though ready to shift the balance of American power towards diplomacy, is not afraid of military action.

The first attack yesterday was on the village of Zharki, in Waziristan; three missiles destroyed two houses and killed 10 people. One villager told Reuters of phone that of nine bodies pulled from the rubble of one house, six were its owner and his relatives; Reuters added that intelligence officials said some foreign militants were also killed. A second attack hours later also in Warizistan killed eight people... (link)
Inevitably, it seems, civilians catch hell:
U.S. Missiles 'Don't Help' Pakistan's War Against Militants
Pakistan has protested U.S. strikes before, but not at President Asif Ali Zardari's level.

JANUARY 25 (RFE) - Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari has sharply criticized U.S. missile strikes on suspected terrorists in his country's tribal region...

The Pakistani leaders remarks underline again Islamabad's anger over twin missile strikes on January 23 that killed 22 people.

Officials say eight of the victims were suspected foreign militants, the rest are unidentified but said to include an unspecified number of civilians...

The twin strikes hit Al-Qaeda strongholds in Waziristan, killing eight suspected foreign militants among the 22 victims. One of the identified militants is Egyptian operative Mustafa al-Misri. Pakistani officials say they are now trying to learn what level of seniority he had in the terrorist network...

[I]n recent months, the number of missile attacks on targets in the tribal areas [of Pakistan] has steadily increased.

Reuters has reported that there have been more than 30 strikes since August, more than half of them during the past four months.

The news agency cited reports from Pakistani intelligence agents, district government officials, and residents as indicating more than 220 people, including foreign militants, have been killed in the attacks recorded since August... (link)
In the Globe and Mail, Saeed Shah notes that "Women and children were among the dead" in the January 23 attacks. He goes on to reveal more about the effects of the continuing American policy in Pakistan:
An estimated 220 people have been killed, including more than 100 civilians [in US attacks on Pakistan] during the last 12 months. The death toll, especially of innocent bystanders, has caused massive public anger and provoked street protests, with resentment directed at the governments of both the United States and Pakistan.(link)

The Los Angeles Times reports 22 civilian dead:
Village elders provided a much different account to provincial officials, saying there were no Taliban in the area, which they described as a hamlet populated mainly by shepherds. Women and children were among the 22 civilian dead, they said, according to Hamididan Abdul Rahmzai, head of the provincial council...

The American military statement said searches of village compounds after the raid uncovered weapons caches...

The woman who was killed was advancing on troops with a rocket-propelled grenade, the military said. Western forces occasionally have reported encounters with female combatants... (link)

Helmand civilian shot dead

NATO-led soldier kills civilian in Helmand, where British forces lead the NATO project:

Security developments in Afghanistan

HELMAND, Jan 24 (Reuters) - A soldier from the NATO-led force shot dead a man believed to be burying an explosive device near a military base in Gereshk district, 530 km (330 miles) southwest of Kabul, on Thursday [Jan 22], the alliance said.

An investigation revealed the man was a civilian and had not been burying any explosive device, it said. (link)
January's toll:

January 5: British forces in Helmand province kill between five and 19 civilians.
January 6: A US-led assault kills between 17 and 23 civilians in Laghman province.
January 7: NATO shells kill eleven civilians in Uruzgan.
January 20: Coalition forces kill 25 civilians in Kapisa province, say locals.
January 21: NATO troops in Sangin district of Helmand kill one civilian while under fire.
January 22: NATO-led soldier kills civilian mistaken for a bomb planter in Gereshk district of Helmand.
January 24: US troops with air support kill between 11 and 22 civilians, say officials.

More dead civilians, more protests

Karzai's spokesman says 16 civilians were killed in an American-led raid in Laghman.

Afghans Protest Against U.S. On Civilian Deaths Report

MEHTAR LAM, Laghman province Afghanistan, Jan 25 (Reuters) - Thousands of Afghans protested against President Hamid Karzai and the United States over reports of fresh civilian deaths caused by U.S.-led troops during a raid against Taliban militants...

The operation causing the latest controversy happened this week in eastern Laghman Province. The U.S. military said on January 24 that troops, backed by air support, had killed 15 militants in an overnight operation.

Assadullah Wafa, a Karzai adviser investigating the deaths, said on January 25 that "16 civilians, many of them children and women, were killed" in the operation...

Chanting slogans against Karzai and the United States, thousands of people took part in the protest, despite heavy rain.

"If the foreign troops do not put an end to their operations, we will launch jihad," said Malik Hazrat, a protest leader... (link)
January's toll:

January 5: British forces in Helmand province kill between five and 19 civilians.
January 6: A US-led assault kills between 17 and 23 civilians in Laghman province.
January 7: NATO shells kill eleven civilians in Uruzgan.
January 20: Coalition forces kill 25 civilians in Kapisa province, say locals.
January 24: US troops with air support kill 16 civilians, says Karzai.


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.)


Rubin on the war

The dean of Afghanistan studies, Barnett Rubin, has a longish piece in the Boston Review. It's very wide-ranging and interesting, full of historical context, etc. His thoughts on the war effort:

Most of the solutions they propose, such as increasing troop levels, might have worked several years ago, but my sense of the society—the same sense that led to my previous skepticism—now makes me suspect that it is too late to save the enterprise we began after 9/11. But that does not mean Afghanistan will go back to what it was under the Taliban. If I have learned anything from experience, it is that Afghanistan defies expectations... (link)

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Taliban fill vacuum

From the New York Times:

In Afghan South, Taliban Fill NATO's Big Gaps
By DEXTER FILKINS - New York Times

TSAPOWZAI, Afghanistan, Jan 22 - The Taliban are everywhere the soldiers are not, the saying goes in the southern part of the country.

And that is a lot of places.

For starters, there is the 550 miles of border with Pakistan, where the Taliban's busiest infiltration routes lie.

''We're not there,'' said Brig. Gen. John W. Nicholson, the deputy commander of NATO forces in southern Afghanistan. ''The borders are wide open.''

Then there is the 100-mile stretch of Helmand River running south from the town of Garmser, where the Taliban and their money crop, poppy, bloom in isolation.

''No one,'' General Nicholson said, pointing to the area on the map.

Then there is Nimroz Province, all of it, which borders Iran. No troops there. And the Ghorak district northwest of Kandahar, which officers refer to as the ''jet stream'' for the Taliban fighters who flow through.

Ditto the districts of Shah Wali Kot, Kharkrez and Nesh...

Five of the six busiest Taliban infiltration routes are in the south, American officers said.

''Drugs out,'' one American officer said, ''guns in.''

The commanders here call the current situation ''stalemate,'' meaning they can hold what they have but cannot do much else. Of the 20,000 British, American and other troops here, only roughly 300 -- a group of British Royal Marines -- can be moved around the region to strike the Taliban. All the other units must stay where they are, lest the area they hold slip from their grasp.

It is perhaps in Kandahar, one of the provincial capitals, where the lack of troops is most evident. About 3,000 Canadian soldiers are assigned to secure the city, home to about 500,000 people. In a recent visit, this reporter traveled the city for five days and did not see a single Canadian soldier on the streets....

On a recent foot patrol through the village of Tsapowzai, about thirty miles west of Kandahar, a platoon of American soldiers ventured inside and found empty streets...

Finally, the soldiers came across three Afghan men...

''Do you ever see anyone moving through here at night?'' Lieutenant Holloway asked.

''We don't go outside at night,'' said Mr. Niamatullah, who, like many Afghans, uses one name. ''When we do, you guys search us and hold us for hours. And you never find anything.''

Lieutenant Holloway shook his head.

''The last person we stopped in this village, we held for 20 minutes,'' the lieutenant said. ''We never detain anyone.''

''We are afraid of you,'' Mr. Niamatullah said... (link)

Europeans reject war ramp-up

The Financial Times has commissioned a European opinion poll:

Poll shows EU voters resistant on Afghan war
Financial Times

JANUARY 22 - Any attempt by Barack Obama to get European Union members of Nato to send more troops to Afghanistan will be strongly rebuffed by EU voters, according to a new opinion poll for the Financial Times.

As Mr Obama prepares to be sworn in as US president today, a Harris poll for the FT shows that clear majorities in the UK, France, Italy and Germany believe their governments must not send more forces to Afghanistan, irrespective of demands that the new American head of state might make...

While the poll underscores the considerable respect Mr Obama enjoys in these countries, it also reveals the resistance he will face if, as strongly expected, he calls on Europe to do more in the fight against the Taliban.

Some 60 per cent of German respondents to the survey said they would not wish Berlin to send more troops to Afghanistan under any circumstances. Even in the UK, the second largest contributor to Nato's mission in Afghanistan, some 57 per cent of respondents rejected calls for any more British troops to be sent.

In both France and Italy, some 53 per cent of people said their countries should not send troops. Only in Spain is there a majority willing to consider sending additional troops... (link)

US bombs kill 25 civilians say locals

Afghan accuse coalition of massacre in Kapisa:

Afghan officials, Coalition forces investigate claims of civilian casualties in Kapisa

KABUL Jan 21 (Pajhwok) - Coalition forces are meeting with Afghan officials to look into allegations of civilian casualties as a result of operations conducted in Kapisa province on Jan. 20.

Statements from Kapisa leaders and Coalition operational reports maintain Coalition forces only killed Taliban commander Mullah Patang and 18 other militants. However, Pajhwok Afghan News reported Tuesday Kapisa residents said Coalition troops killed 25 civilians during the operation... (link)
January's toll:

January 5: British forces in Helmand province kill between five and 19 civilians.
January 6: A US-led assault kills between 17 and 23 civilians in Laghman province.
January 7: NATO shells kill eleven civilians in Uruzgan.
January 20: Coalition forces kill 25 civilians in Kapisa province, say locals.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

How did 11 civilians die?

More on the January 5 incident in Uruzgan where NATO troops allegedly killed eleven civilians:

Australian troops in Uruzgan province stand accused of killing nearly a dozen civilians and injuring several more. The circumstances indicate that the the civilians may have been killed as the Australian troops were avenging the death of a fellow soldier.
Afghan women, children die in clashes involving DiggersTom Hyland
The Age (Melbourne)

JANUARY 11 - Australian troops fired mortars and called in air strikes in a series of intense battles in which eight Afghan women and at least one child were reported killed last week.

Australian officials have released only sketchy details about the incident, which happened a day after an Australian soldier was killed by a Taliban rocket in a fiercely contested region of Oruzgan province, in south-central Afghanistan [the soldier was killed Jan 4 - DM].

Private Greg Sher, whose funeral will be held in Lyndhurst today, was killed last Sunday at a fortified outpost in the Baluchi Valley, north-east of Tarin Kowt, where the bulk of Australia's 1000 troops are based.

Official Afghan accounts say up to 11 civilians were killed and nine wounded by rocket or missile fire the following day at a village called Qala Naw, close to the outpost.

There are conflicting versions of what happened. Local police quoted in the Afghan press said they were hit by a Taliban rocket, while some residents said they were hit in an air attack...

A statement from the Afghan Interior Ministry on Wednesday said 11 civilians were killed and nine wounded in the incident, in which 12 Taliban were also killed...

In a written response to questions from The Sunday Age, the ADF said Australian troops in the area had been engaged in "ongoing contacts" with Taliban fighters since December 29, when an Australian soldier was shot and wounded.

The following day Australian troops shot dead an Afghan man who approached a patrol "in a manner that was suspicious"... (link)

The Australian has more on the circumstances:
Troops avenge comrade
The Australian

JANUARY 12 - Australian special forces in Afghanistan have avenged the death of commando Gregory Sher by killing the Taliban leader who orchestrated the fatal rocket attack of a week ago...

"It is quite clear you made them pay for the death of a comrade," Air Chief Marshal Houston told the special forces soldiers at their Tarin Kowt base in southern Afghanistan.

He praised them for continuing the operation in a professional manner despite Private Sher's death... (link)

January's toll:

January 5: British forces in Helmand province kill between five and 19 civilians.
January 5: Australian forces in Uruzgan kill 11 civilians, according to locals.
January 6: A US-led assault kills between 17 and 23 civilians in Laghman province.

Civilians didn't need to die, says Marine

On 4 March, 2007, following a suicide attack on a US convoy on a highway in Nangarhar province, US Marines opened fire along a 12km stretch of road killing some 19 civilians and injuring many more. An investigation by the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission (AIHRC) found that the soldiers had used indiscriminate and excessive force.

More on that story:

Two Marines differ on details of deadly shooting

CAMP LEJEUNE, N.C., Jan 9 (AP) - Two Marines who rode in the same vehicle during a deadly shooting in Afghanistan gave a Marine Corps panel dramatically different accounts of what happened.

Nathaniel Travers, a former staff sergeant, said Afghans were killed needlessly. But Staff Sgt. Jose Queiro, who was riding in the gun turret of the same Humvee, said the Marines performed professionally when their convoy was attacked by a suicide car bomber.

Travers and Queiro were called Tuesday during the first day of testimony at a fact-finding proceeding...

Travers, a former intelligence sergeant who left the Marines last year and who acknowledged he was unhappy in the Marine Corps, disagreed [with Queiro]. ''I really felt there were a lot of people who died who didn't need to,'' he said. ''They were just driving their cars.'' (link)

Monday, January 19, 2009

Civilian toll

By way of more catching up, here is an update on civilian casualties, going back to November:

November 27: eighteen civilians killed in air raid

On November 27 an attack by some 200 insurgents on an Afghan army convoy in Badghis province resulted in at least a dozen dead ANA soldiers and nineteen stolen military vehicles. Most media, western and Afghan, relayed fears that the incident reveals that the Taliban have a strong presence in the area, once considered relatively safe. Nearly all reports mentioned nothing about civilian casualties. With the exception of the Afghan Islamic Press, however, no media reports cited comments by residents of the district.

Air raid kills 18 Afghan civilians in western district
Afghan Islamic Press (Peshawar)

HERAT, November 28 - At least 18 civilians were killed and several more wounded in an air strike last night by foreign forces in Bala Morghab District of western Badghis Province after Taleban attacked a convoy of Afghan security forces, residents said Friday (Nov 28).

"A bomb hit the house of 70-year-old Abdul Hamid, killing 10 people including six males and four women," an elder of the Akazo village told Afghan Islamic Press on phone.

He said Abdul Hamid was also among the dead.

"The house of Enzar Gul, near our house, was also bombarded in which eight family members of Enzar were martyred, another resident of the same village told Afghan Islamic Press.

He continued: "People of the village are still running here and there, there are no complete details of the dead but I believe that the death toll may be over 18." ... (link)
According to LexisNexis, Afghanistan's Ariana TV also reported the allegations on November 28.

December 6: Two civilians killed in NATO air strikes

Two killed in south Afghanistan fighting

KABUL, Dec 6 (Reuters) - Two civilians were killed and six wounded in an operation in southern Afghanistan on Saturday that included air strikes by NATO-led forces, military officials said.

The British military in the southern province of Helmand said the casualties were civilians... (link)
December 10: Six police and one civilian killed in US air strikes

On December 10, US forces killed six police and one civilian (and wounded 13) in an apparent case of mistaken identity. Al-Jazeera's reporter there adds more.

From BBC Monitoring:
Al-Jazeera reporter sees "no chance of mistake" in US bombing of Afghan police

[From Al-Jazeera Satellite Channel Television in Arabic:]

... "according to eyewitnesses, there was, initially, an exchange of fire between the Afghan police and NATO forces, but afterward an aerial bombardment was initiated on an Afghan police station in the city of Qalat in Zabol Province, killing six policemen and one civilian, in addition to wounding 11 Afghan policemen in that area. The coalition forces have not commented or issued any statement in this regard so far. However, it seems that there is no chance of a mistake here because the bombed area is very close to the capital of Zabol Province and there is unlikely to be any movement of Taleban members in that area."
December 25: Locals say 11 civilians killed in Kandahar air strikes

From BBC World Monitoring:
Afghan residents say civilians, not Taleban, killed in coalition operation

[Text of report by state-owned National Afghanistan TV on 26 December:]

[Presenter:] Coalition forces say they killed eleven Taleban fighters in a series of operations in Maywand District of Kandahar Province last night [25 Dec 08], but residents of Maywand District say their houses were bombarded and all those killed were innocent people...

The locals say some residents of the district put the dead bodies of a number of those killed on the Kandahar-Herat highway in protest and temporarily blocked the road to traffic.
January 7: NATO shell kills eleven civilians

Afghanistan: 11 Civilians Killed
New York Times

KABUL, Jan 7 - Eleven Afghan civilians were killed and nine wounded when an errant artillery shell hit a house during a firefight between Taliban militants and NATO forces in central Afghanistan, the Afghan government said Wednesday. The battle, which occurred Monday morning, unfolded in the village of Qalai-e-Now, near Tirin Kot, the capital of Oruzgan Province... (link)

HRW blasts US military

Human Rights Watch takes the US military to task over its recent report on the killing of numerous civilians in Azizabad in Herat province in August 2008. (Blog posts on the bombing are here, here, here, here, here and here.)

Note that HRW appears to catch the US military in a lie. While the military's report says that the head of the Haj ministry in Afghanistan said that massacre victims were buried one per grave, officials from that same ministry say the exact opposite.

Letter to Secretary of Defense Robert Gates on US Airstrikes in Azizabad, Afghanistan

January 15, 2008

Robert M. Gates
Secretary of Defense
100 Defense Pentagon
Washington, DC 20301-1000

Re: Investigation into US Airstrikes in Azizabad, Shindand district, Afghanistan

Dear Secretary Gates,

We write to you concerning the October 1, 2008 Executive Summary of the investigation by USAF Brig. Gen. Michael W. Callan into civilian casualties resulting from the US and Afghan engagement in Azizabad in Afghanistan on August 21-22, 2008 (Callan Report Summary)...

[We are] deeply dismayed by the Callan investigation and ensuing Report Summary on the events in Azizabad... Instead of being an exemplary US investigation derived from a new operational mandate, the Callan Report Summary appears to be little more than a return to the discredited inquiries of recent years. It simply and summarily dismisses the methodology used in the investigations by the United Nations, the government of Afghanistan, and the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission (AIHRC); rejects information provided by villagers by arbitrarily calling into question their motivations; effectively places responsibility for preventable civilian deaths on Taliban forces; and exonerates US forces of any wrongdoing...

[The Callahan Report Summary] suggests without presenting evidence that Taliban forces deliberately used civilians as “shields,” apparently to reach an unsubstantiated conclusion that the actions taken by US and Afghan forces were “in self defense, necessary and proportional”—and thus lawful under the laws of armed conflict...

The Callan Report Summary states that according to the “General Director of the Haj, in the GIRoA [Afghan government], all casualties in this incident would have been buried one body per grave”—an assumption affecting US calculation of civilian death tolls. However, representatives from the Ministry of Haj have told Human Rights Watch that this is not the case. Villagers and human rights investigators who visited the area consistently reported that there were multiple graves where more than one person had been buried; Human Rights Watch confirmed this in interviews with villagers and human rights officials involved in the investigations.

These reports were backed by officials in the Ministry of the Haj who were involved in the investigation and with Islamic scholars in Afghanistan who told Human Rights Watch that there is no prohibition in Islam on burying several bodies per grave, particularly when many people have been killed, and when there are body parts that must be buried.

The Callan Report Summary provided limited evidence for defining 22 of the deceased as “Anti Government Militia.” The AIHRC concluded that there were 13 men of fighting age who may have been involved in the firefight. Their investigators could not establish a link with insurgent groups. As the US investigation admits, several of the dead men were employed by the British company Armor Group, working as security guards for the US military in Shindand...

Only 15 weapons were confiscated during the US “site exploitation,” and of those, at least five were legally registered to the Armor Group contractors... the evidence provided thus far on the presence of Taliban forces is problematic...

In addition, had the US had intelligence from sufficient sources, they would have been aware that there was about to be a memorial ceremony in the village where the operation was taking place. The ceremony had drawn many civilians, including persons from outside the village. Reasonable precautions should have uncovered a large civilian presence in the village. It is, therefore, questionable that the close proximity of insurgent forces to civilians was “unknown” to US and Afghan forces; if it was unknown, then the quality of US intelligence was shockingly poor...

[C]onducting airstrikes over several hours that destroy or damage 12 to 14 houses in the middle of the night makes high civilian casualties almost inevitable.

There is admittedly no simple method for determining whether a particular attack would likely cause disproportionate civilian loss or should have been halted for being disproportionate. However, an attack designed to target a mid-level enemy commander and causing (at most) 22 insurgent deaths, but coming at the expense of high numbers of civilian deaths, raises serious proportionality concerns...

Protocol I also prohibits attacks in which the weapon used is likely to strike combatants and civilians without distinction (article 51(4)). Human Rights Watch is thus concerned to learn that the AC 130H gunship’s 105mm howitzer was used in Azizabad... Human Rights Watch believes that area-effect weapons such as howitzers and other heavy artillery should never be used against targets in populated villages. These weapons have indiscriminate effects when used in populated areas because their blast and fragmentation radius is so large it puts civilians as well as combatants at risk...

The weaknesses in the Callan Report Summary call into question the depth of the Defense Department’s commitment to institute reforms that would reduce civilian casualties...

Yours sincerely,

Brad Adams
Executive Director
Asia division

US to arm militias, says UN official

From AFP:

Afghans Wary Of "Militia" Plan

KABUL, Jan 9 (AFP) - A U.S.-backed plan to form local forces to fight insurgents, like those that had some success in Iraq, has met with alarm in Afghanistan...

Under the program, the United States would give members of certain local communities training, clothing and other supplies to "restore their own capacity to protect themselves", [US Ambassador] Wood said.

They would be linked into military back-up but the United States would not provide them with weapons, he said...

These groups would likely have weapons. But officials have been vague about who would supply them, with some saying it would be the interior ministry and also insisting the groups could not be called "militias" as they would fall under government supervision...

Observers said it would be better to reinforce the Afghan police and army than set up militias that the government one day might not be able to control.

"We are concerned," said Nader Nadery from the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission.

"We have tried to disarm groups for many years now, and this means to rearm some people," he said, referring to a UN-backed government program to persuade the country's myriad armed factions to hand in their weapons...

A UN official said the organization was "absolutely against" the plan.

Despite Wood's assurance to the contrary, the official, who did not wish to be named, said the guards would likely be armed through the United States, which is supplying arms to the fledgling Afghan police and army, and there was a risk the weapons could one day be used against official forces. (link)

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Playing catch-up

A legal quandary for NATO officials:

NATO commanders in Afghanistan wary of antidrug effort

Kandahar, Dec 26 (CSM) - NATO leaders' agreement this fall to let their troops attack drug traffickers in Afghanistan held the promise of stemming the flow of funding for the violent insurgency here.

But military commanders now seem reluctant to go after the drug runners. NATO commanders in Afghanistan say they are holding back because of concerns over the legality of drug operations...

Military officials cite legal concerns that, despite the Budapest agreement, it is inappropriate for the military to be used in a counternarcotics role – which is still seen as a criminal activity. (link)
Special Forces train Afghan police and army:
A surge of Special Forces for Afghanistan likely
Defense officials say it will fill urgent gaps but Special Forces officers are skeptical.
By Gordon Lubold | Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor

Washington, Dec 23 - The Pentagon is likely to send up to 20 Special Forces teams to Afghanistan this spring, part of a new long-term strategy to boost the Afghan security forces' ability to counter the insurgency there themselves.

The "surge" of elite Special Forces units would represent a multiyear effort aimed at strengthening the Afghan National Army and police units that the US sees as key to building up Afghanistan's security independence, say defense officials who asked to remain anonymous because the controversial decision has not yet been announced...

The initial deployment of the Green Berets would expand the size of the Special Forces contingent there by 30 or 40 percent, defense officials say, and represent a significant new commitment to developing and expanding Afghan security forces...

Yet many within the tightly knit Special Forces community say the Special Forces teams already in use in Afghanistan should be employed far more effectively before any new teams, which number about a dozen men each, are deployed...

[I] in many cases, the Green Berets are paired with much smaller groups of Afghan forces, sometimes even one-on-one. In other cases, they are used to man checkpoints, say some Special Forces officers.

Critics worry that Lute's plan is to simply send more Special Forces units to Afghanistan without a coherent plan to support them. "Don't just throw ODAs out there as an answer," says another senior officer. "That's just the easy, lazy answer out there." ... (link)
German spies target NGO:
Der Spiegel

Germany Spied on Aid Organization in Afghanistan

Dec 8 - Germany's foreign intelligence agency, the Bundesnachrichtendienst (BND), spent years spying on an office of a German aid organization in Afghanistan. The BND has informed the group, Deutsche Welthungerhilfe or German Agro Action, that it monitored the e-mail traffic of Afghanistan NGO Safety Office (ANSO), an agency run by Welthungerhilfe, between October 2005 and April 2008...

Intriguingly, during the period in question, Welthungerhilfe was run by Ingeborg Schäuble, the wife of German Interior Minister Wolfgang Schäuble... (link)

Canadians help kill civilians

From December:

Tensions Rise As Afghans Say U.S. Raid Kills Civilians

New York Times

KABUL, Dec 18 - A deadly United States military raid on a house near Afghanistan’s border with Pakistan became a new source of tension on Thursday, with the Americans calling it a successful counterterrorism strike and the Afghans saying it left three innocent civilians dead and two wounded, including a 4-year-old boy bitten by an attack dog.

The raid took place on Wednesday in the village of Kundi, in Khost Province...

In Khost, American-led forces blasted the gate of the house early on Wednesday, then fatally shot the family’s father and mother and a male relative, according to Tahir Khan Sabry, deputy governor of the province. Their relationship with the wounded boy was unclear, and another woman was also bitten. Mr. Sabry described all the victims as noncombatant civilians.

The American military said that the raid led to the detention of an operative of Al Qaeda and that those killed were armed and showing “hostile intent.” ...

In Khost, public outrage over the house raid was visible at the funerals for those who were killed. The use of dogs in military actions is especially delicate for Afghans...

“I saw the 4-year-old boy, and he had an injury under his knee that was definitely the mark of a dog bite,” said Rasoul Adel, a local television reporter. (link)
On December 26, US forces killed a local Taliban commander along with several civilians, with a little help from their Canadian friends:
Afghanistan: Protests Over Raid

New York Times

Dec 26 - For the second time in a little over a week, a deadly United States military raid on an Afghan house has incited protests and produced conflicting reports over who was killed.

The Americans said they killed 11 armed Taliban militants, part of a bomb-making cell in the Maiwand District west of Kandahar, on Thursday. The Americans said they found dozens of land mines, grenades and bomb-making materials.

But local government leaders said eight militants and four civilians were killed. Outraged Afghans protested by blocking the highway between Kandahar and Herat with burning tires. (link)
The Globe and Mail, referring to the same US-led raid:
The man believed responsible for the earlier bombings, known as Shahir Sahib, died earlier in the day as U.S. forces swept into compounds further west of the city during an overnight raid in Maywand district, according to a military statement.

“Canadian intelligence operators played a key role in developing leads and information that led to the conduct of this operation,” the statement said.

But the raid ignited an angry protest on the main highway later in the afternoon, with local villagers burning tires and blocking the road for three hours, claiming that innocent people were killed in the attack...

At one point, witnesses described the unruly mob swelling into a crowd of hundreds and preparing to charge the heavily guarded barricades of Maywand District Centre, the main government outpost in the rebellious district...

[L]ocal villagers said a child was killed and two other women injured and suggested that the U.S. troops had been tricked by a local man into targeting the houses as part of an ongoing feud. The owner of a house targeted in the raid, Nazar Mohammed, had a violent disagreement with his brother-in-law after a recent marriage... (link)

'People have turned against the NATO forces'

From the Huffington Post:

Virginia M. Moncrieff - Veteran Foreign Reporter
January 16, 2009

Obama Must Isolate Al-Qaeda By Negotiating With Taliban: Analyst

Federico Manfredi strolled down to the local bus depot and started talking to people. The bus depot was in Kandahar, south Afghanistan, and it was the quickest way for Federico to get a grip on how people felt about the mess their country is in.

Manfredi, wearing civilian clothes and no threat to anyone, was able to ask local people about their concerns. What he heard underlined what he already knows as an insurgencies and counterinsurgencies specialist. The war is not working. Lack of security is a major issue, even though foreign troops are thick on the ground in southern Afghanistan. People were agitated and fearful, their sympathies have turned against the NATO forces, and yet they were anguished about the rising of the Taliban.

Manfredi became acutely aware of "the sense of helplessness [rural Afghans] experience when they hear the roar of combat aircraft approaching their villages... Coalition ground troops may request air support to win battles, but in doing so they are losing the war."...

Federico Manfredi feels that the increasing troop levels and stepping up military operations because the bipartisan view is that Afghanistan is a "good war" is just plain wrong.

In a report for the World Policy Institute... Manfredi says that the current US strategy in Afghanistan is failing, and that the US and their NATO allies are being led into an increasing bloody war that is straining relationships in NATO, having little success on the ground, and creating hostility with ordinary Afghans.

"Conventional military attacks on the Taliban and al Qaeda only radicalize besieged rural communities and fuel the insurgency. Instead of relying primarily on military force the United States should seek to isolate al Qaeda politically," Federico Manfredi told the Huffington Post from Kandahar. "Right now the Taliban and Al-Qaeda share a common enemy in the United States. But if the Obama administration can make it clear that the United States has no interest in a permanent occupation of Afghanistan, and that it would willingly withdraw its troops from the region if only the Taliban agreed to deny a safe haven to Al-Qaeda, then the nationalist factions within the movement might decide to switch their allegiance." ... (link)

Friday, January 16, 2009

Students embed

From the Folsom, California NewsBlaze:

Canadian Reserves Train at Camp Shelby
By Sgt. Kenny Hatten

CAMP SHELBY, Mississippi, Jan 15 - More than 1,500 reservists of the Canadian Forces' 34th and 35th Brigade Groups held their annual "Noble Guerrier" exercise at Camp Shelby Joint Forces Training Center (CSJFTC). The exercise was held from January 3rd through the 13th, and consisted of a variety of situational training exercises designed to simulate a contemporary operating environment in Afghanistan.

This year's exercise also included student journalists from the University of Quebec in Montreal (UQAM), who took part in the training as "embedded journalists" alongside the Soldiers in the field... (link)

Wednesday, January 14, 2009


A wee round-up today.

No winter lull this year; experts credit local fighters:

The Independent
UK forces in Afghanistan in worst ever winter campaign

By Terri Judd
Sunday, 11 January 2009

... Traditionally the onslaught from the Taliban has quietened over the icy winter... But the hiatus has failed to materialise this year and the fighting has been relentless...

In the first two-and-a-half months in Helmand, 3 Commando Brigade has suffered 17 deaths. By contrast, the previous 2006 and 2007 winter tours cost 10 and 12 men respectively over a six month period...

British commanders in Helmand insist the heavy losses are due to the fact that the Royal Marines and attached army units have been “taking the fight to the Taliban” in a previously untouched insurgent stronghold.

Experts, however, believe the surge has more to do with a build up of locally-based militants, increasingly sophisticated terrorist tactics and a pre-emptive strike to disrupt this year’s elections...

The numbers may not be bigger but it could be the fact that they are more active.” This, [Colonel Christopher Langton of the International Institute for Strategic Studies] added, was probably due to locals continuing to take up arms in the winter... (link)
Seven staffers at Afghan newspaper Payman are arrested:
Afghan Newspaper Staffers Arrested In Kabul

Jan 14 (RFE) - An Afghan government commision that oversees the media is taking journalists from the daily "Payman" to the Supreme Court to be prosecuted, RFE/RL's Radio Free Afghanistan reports.

The commission accuses "Payman" of printing articles that are anti-Islamic and anti-religion... (link)
NATO tightens its rules:
NATO tightens Afghan rules to cut civilian deaths

BRUSSELS, Jan 14 (Reuters) - NATO said yesterday it had further tightened its rules of engagement in Afghanistan to cut civilian casualties...

Nearly 700 civilians were killed in 2008 up to October in raids by foreign and Afghan forces, an Afghan rights body said last month, quoting a UN estimate.

Raids by foreign forces on homes and mosques are a major source of resentment against the more than 60,000 NATO and U.S.-led coalition troops in the country.

A directive by NATO's commander in Afghanistan, U.S. General David McKiernan, stresses the need for proportionate use of force and for Afghan forces to take the lead in searching Afghan homes and religious sites unless a clear danger is identified.

The Dec. 30 order, only now made public, also requires commanders to ensure troops are properly trained for duties such as manning checkpoints to minimise the need to resort to deadly force. It also requires proper investigation of civilian casualties...

In October, NATO ordered troops to pull back from firefights with the Taliban rather than call in air strikes that might kill civilians... (link)
Readers may recall that when the Oct 2008 orders were put in place, rather than a decrease in Close Air Support operations as predicted, there was in fact an increase in CAS missions.

US Power Grab?
US will grab power from British in Afghanistan

The Sunday Times, UK

Jan 10 - The United States is building a command structure in Kandahar that will sideline the British general who takes command of southern Afghanistan in May.

Brigadier-General John Nicholson, a senior American officer who previously served in Afghanistan with the 10th Mountain Division, has already arrived in Kandahar to oversee the Afghan “surge”.

Although technically he will be subordinate to the British general who takes command in May, he will in reality have control of all US troops, UK defence sources said last week.

Nicholson’s bombproof, rocket-proof command centre will dwarf the British general’s headquarters, which ostensibly controls operations across southern Afghanistan.

The takeover will be complete by the autumn of next year when the US will assume permanent control of the south, which at present rotates between the British, Canadians and Dutch. The move to sideline the British comes amid tensions between the two countries’ armies... (link)

Monday, January 12, 2009

Israel out of Gaza; NATO out of Afghanistan

From the National Post:

Afghan protesters condemn Israel, NATO troops

KANDAHAR CITY, Jan 5 (CanWest) - Carrying banners reading "Death upon Israel" and shouting against "the enemies of Muslims," hundreds of Afghans converged on the Kandahar's city centre Monday to angrily denounce Israeli attacks on Gaza...

The crowd turned its anger against coalition forces in the province, demanding the immediate withdrawal of NATO troops from Afghanistan, which includes about 2,700 Canadians.

"We do not want help from non-Muslims countries. They have proved in Afghanistan that they are unable to help Muslim countries," said Muhammadullah, another protester, according to an interpreter.

"We blame NATO for killing Afghan civilians as well," he said.

Protesters said international human-rights organizations have been too slow to get involved in the conflict, and condemn the growing civilian death toll.

"This is not fair that non-Muslims are attacking Muslims and killing their children and women," said Jamil Ahmad. "Where is human rights? Where is [the] world community? Why they are silent?"

Bismillah Afghanmal, a member of Kandahar's provincial council, spoke out at the protest against the bombing "whether it takes place in Afghanistan" or elsewhere... (link)

All southern Afghans 'despise' foreign troops

Film director Benjamin Gilmour:

Afghan war can't be won by foreigners

The Australian
By Benjamin Gilmour

... According to Mohammad Khan, my friend and fixer for the film Son of a Lion, everyone - regardless of whether they agree with the Taliban ideology - despises foreign troops in southern Afghanistan. This includes those who accept bribes and foreign aid there, those who inform on Taliban positions for money to feed their starving families, and even members of the Afghan National Army who, according to Khan, "could turn their weapons on NATO troops at any time"...

Benjamin Gilmour is the Australian director of the 2008 feature film Son of a Lion, set on the border between Pakistan and Afghanistan. (link)

Friday, January 9, 2009

17 dead civilians (maybe 19 or 23)

Once again:

Afghan President Says U.S.-Led Raid Killed 17 Civilians

KABUL, Jan 8 (Reuters) - Afghan President Hamid Karzai has condemned a U.S.-led coalition military operation that reportedly killed 17 civilians, including women and children.

The U.S. military said only militants were killed in the incident...

The lastest reported civilian casualties occurred in an area of eastern Laghman Province on January 6, the palace said in a statement.

"Based on the reports, during a coalition operation, 17 civilians including women and children were killed among militants in Laghman Province," it said... (link)
From BBC Worldwide Monitoring:
Agency says 19 civilians killed in Afghan south
Afghan Islamic Press (Peshawar)

KANDAHAR, Jan 7 - Nineteen people, including a woman, have been killed as a result of a foreign forces attack and barrage. A member of Helmand provincial council in Baghran District, Haji Mohammad Khan Aqa, told Afghan Islamic Press today, 7 January, that the night before last, 5 to 6 January, the foreign forces killed 19 civilians in Baghran District [Helmand]...

[A] press release from the ISAF press office today says that their forces carried out a series of precise operations in the northern part of Helmand Province yesterday and that they do not have any information about casualties, except the killing of opposition forces...
Also from BBC Worldwide Monitoring:
[From the text of an Ariana TV broadcast, January 8:]

... However, the residents of the area say that 23 civilians were killed in the area. On the other hand, an Afghan government statement has confirmed the death of 17 civilians in the air strikes and condemned killing of civilians in air strikes and military operations by the foreign forces.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Brits kill five civilians, say Afghan authorities

More death:

British Forces Checking Report On Afghan Civilian Deaths

KABUL, Jan 6 (Reuters) - NATO's British forces say they are checking a report that some civilians were killed during an operation against the Taliban insurgents...

The latest incident happened in Baghni [sic] district [Helmand province] on January 5 when, according to a provincial government source, five members of a family were killed in an operation by British forces.

No further details were given by the official... (link)
Note that there is no Baghni district in Helmand. The district in question is Baghran.

Other reports say the death toll was higher - some 11 civilians killed.

Update: Still other sources report an even higher death toll. The Afghan Islamic Press reported on January 7:
A member of Helmand provincial council in Baghran District, Haji Mohammad Khan Aqa, told Afghan Islamic Press today, 7 January, that the night before last, 5 to 6 January, the foreign forces killed 19 civilians in Baghran District. (via Lexis-Nexis)
It was exactly a month ago that locals reported 10 dead civilians, including six women and two children, in a NATO operation in Helmand.

Canadians say troops out

Angus Reid conducted an online poll of a population described as "Angus Reid forum panelists":

53 per cent of respondents believe the bulk of Canadian troops in Afghanistan should be withdrawn before 2011.

Conversely, 30 per cent of respondents would remove most soldiers in 2011, while eight per cent would retain Canadian troops in Afghanistan after 2011. (link)

More here.


Insurgents are winning

From Chris Sands:

Taliban gains could lead to political crisis

KABUL, Dec 8

... Observers of the conflict say the rebels are winning, having taken new ground and adopted more sophisticated tactics.

They do not regard defeat for the government and its foreign allies as inevitable, but they do say the state’s future is hanging precariously in the balance...

“People look at the balance of power in this country. I am sure if the government will improve a little bit more in terms of security a number of these groups will try to join the government. If they see the government weakening further and further, then you will see more people who could rise up and call themselves Taliban,” said Haroun Mir, co-director of Afghanistan’s Centre for Research and Policy Studies...

According to Mr Mir, Afghanistan has “never recovered” from the riots that briefly tore Kabul apart in May 2006, when the government lost control of the capital as mobs took to the streets chanting “Death to America”. The trigger for that unrest was a fatal road accident involving US troops and innocent people...

More foreign soldiers are due to be sent here soon, with up to 20,000 American troops being deployed. Britain is also considering sending reinforcements.

In an interview via e-mail, Antonio Giustozzi, of the London School of Economics, warned that a surge might not have the desired impact because “so far more troops has only meant more insurgents”... (link)
More from Chris Sands:
  • Pashtuns "see hypocrisy in the international community’s willingness to pay, forgive and empower warlords from the north, while killing and arresting militants from the south."

Most are willing to join insurgents

The National (UAE) carries a report from an unnamed Afghan journalist:

Hope battles despair in Ghazni village
Special Correspondent, The National

GHAZNI, Dec 15

... This year, the Taliban claimed to have captured Ajristan without firing a single shot. Soon afterwards, the government insisted it had regained control. People from there say power now changes hands on a regular basis, with neither side having a firm grip on the situation.

However, in scenes mirrored across southern Afghanistan, the insurgents do appear to be gaining strength. Disillusionment, rather than any kind of hardened ideology, is gradually causing people to resist.

“We are not happy with the government or the Taliban,” [a villager] said. “But the younger generations in particular get angry when the Americans and Afghan forces search people’s houses without permission. That, and high unemployment, are why they are changing face to join the Taliban.”

One British think tank has warned that millions of people throughout the country will be threatened with famine during the next few bitterly cold months. The Royal United Services Institute predicted unrest would grow if not enough is done to tackle the crisis. In Ajristan, at least, that already seems to be coming true.

“Those families living in distant villages are starving,” Mr Hashimi said. “In winter they have to share plants with the animals and some even die because of a lack of food.”

Elsewhere, poverty is also a key factor behind the frustration sweeping through the province. Mohammed Mussa, a 42-year-old taxi driver, said families in his part of Ghazni’s main district had stopped sending their daughters to school after one female student was murdered. Despite this, the number of rebels continues to increase.

Now most of the young men are willing to join the insurgents or get weapons and build their own group,” Mr Mussa said... (link)

We are breeding terror

Deborah Storie of Christian aid group TEAR Australia has doubts about the efficacy of guns:

Our desire to honour our soldiers does not oblige us to continue a counter-productive military campaign.

As an Afghan acquaintance confided, "Your governments think they are 'stamping out terrorism' … They keep a score card and think they are winning because they count more dead Talibs than dead Americans. That's not how it works. But, if arithmetic is all your governments understand, tell them to look beyond their tally cards and see the trouble multiplying on the ground. For every Talib you kill, you make 10 more. For every mother you hurt, a thousand Talibs are born. You are breeding terror, not stamping it out."

Our motives and what the war costs us are not the main issues. The human consequences are much more important. Local capacities for peace and non-military alternatives need to be taken seriously.

This will necessarily involve conversation, respectful dialogue — and drinking tea...
Deborah Storie, the deputy chair of TEAR Australia, lived and worked in Afghanistan from 1992 to 1998 and still visits and works in the country regularly. (link)