Saturday, February 28, 2009

Human rights in Afghanistan

The US State Deptartment issued its annual reports on human rights throughout the world on Wednesday.

Paul Koring of the Globe and Mail notes that Canada's annual human rights report on Afghanistan is heavily censored to exclude details of torture by Afghan forces, yet the US report is freely available.

Excerpts of the Afghanistan report:

2008 Human Rights Report: Afghanistan
Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor
February 25, 2009

Afghanistan is an Islamic republic with a population of approximately 32 million. Under its new constitution, citizens elected Hamid Karzai president in 2004 and the following year selected a new parliament; although the elections did not fully meet international standards for free and fair elections, citizens perceived the outcomes as acceptable...

The country's human rights record remained poor. Human rights problems included extrajudicial killings; torture; poor prison conditions; official impunity; prolonged pretrial detention; restrictions on freedom of the press; restrictions on freedom of religion; violence and societal discrimination against women; restrictions on religious conversions; abuses against minorities; sexual abuse of children; trafficking in persons; abuse of worker rights; and child labor...


Section 1 Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including Freedom From:

a. Arbitrary or Unlawful Deprivation of Life
There were numerous reports that the government or its agents committed arbitrary or unlawful killings...

In May the UN Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary, and arbitrary executions visited the country and reported on many cases in which police killed civilians with impunity. He focused on the need to reform the Afghan National Police and judicial system, curbing Taliban and other anti-government elements' abuses, and addressing the often overlooked extrajudicial killing of women. His preliminary report dated May 29 stated that although there were no reliable figures on the numbers of such killings, the numbers of alleged killings were high enough to give Afghans, particularly in the south, some reason to support the Taliban...

c. Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment
The constitution prohibits such practices; however, there were reports of abuses by government officials, local prison authorities, police chiefs, and tribal leaders. NGOs reported security forces continued to use excessive force, including beating and torturing civilians.

Human rights organizations reported local authorities tortured and abused detainees. Torture and abuse included pulling out fingernails and toenails, burning with hot oil, beatings, sexual humiliation, and sodomy. A February 21 UN Secretary-General report noted detainees continued to complain of torture by law enforcement officials...

The Ministry of Women's Affairs (MOWA) and NGOs reported police frequently raped female detainees and prisoners...

According to a June 25 Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission (AIHRC) report, approximately half of the children in detention centers and orphanages were exposed to physical abuse. One 13-year-old boy told AIHRC police beat him with the barrel of a gun until he confessed. According to a UN Security Council report, cases of authorities threatening and mistreating juvenile detainees occurred throughout the year...

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention
The law prohibits arbitrary arrest or detention; however, both remained serious problems.

Role of the Police and Security Apparatus
... Official impunity remained pervasive. Illegal border checkpoints, some reportedly manned by tribal leaders and low-level members of insurgent groups, extorted bribes. Human rights groups and detainees reported local police extorted bribes from civilians in exchange for release from prison or to avoid arrest...

NGOs and human rights activists noted societal violence, especially against women, was widespread; in many cases security forces did not prevent or respond to the violence.

Arrest and Detention
... The press and human rights organizations reported arbitrary arrest in most provinces....

Police often detained women at the request of family members for "zina," a term used broadly to refer to actions that include defying the family's wishes on the choice of a spouse, running away from home, fleeing domestic violence, eloping, or other offenses such as adultery or premarital sex...

Political Prisoners and Detainees
There were reports that a number of tribal leaders, sometimes affiliated with the government, held prisoners and detainees. ...

Section 2 Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press
... In 2006 authorities for the Office of the Attorney General detained satirist Dr. Khalil Narmgoi after he authored an article titled, "Who is the President - Hamid Karzai or Farooq Wardak?" criticizing the influence of President Karzai's then-Minister of Parliamentary Affairs. Narmgoi issued a public apology several days later, and authorities released him after 10 days. On June 20, NDS authorities rearrested Narmgoi in relation to the same incident. After a closed-door hearing in Kabul, authorities released Narmgoi on July 10...

The parliament passed a media law in September that contained a number of content restrictions. Under Article 45 of the law, the following are prohibited: works and materials that are contrary to the principles of Islam; works and materials offensive to other religions and sects; works and materials humiliating and offensive to real or legal persons; works and materials considered libelous to real and legal persons and that may cause damage to their personality and credibility, works and materials affecting the stability, national security, and territorial integrity of the country; false literary works, materials and reports disrupting the public's mind; propagation of
religions other than Islam...

Section 3 Respect for Political Rights: The Right of Citizens to Change Their Government

... Elections and Political Parties
In 2004, citizens chose Hamid Karzai to be the first democratically elected president in an election that was perceived as acceptable to the majority of the country's citizens. Observers stated it did not meet international standards and noted irregularities, including pervasive intimidation of voters and candidates, especially women.

In 2005 citizens elected 249 members of the Wolesi Jirga, the lower house of the National Assembly, in an election the majority of citizens viewed as credible. The AIHRC and UNAMA reported local officials tried to influence the outcome of the 2004 and 2005 elections...

Section 5 Discrimination, Societal Abuses, and Trafficking in Persons

... Women
... According to NGOs jail authorities frequently raped women imprisoned overnight in jail... (link)

Thursday, February 26, 2009

More troops won't help

Veteran reporter Pamela Constable reports from Kabul:

Image Problem in Afghanistan
Growing Public Hostility to Troops May Hurt U.S. Surge Plans

By Pamela Constable - Washington Post

KABUL, Feb. 21 - The additional 17,000 troops the Obama administration is preparing to send to Afghanistan will face both an aggressive, well-armed Taliban insurgency and an unarmed but equally daunting foe: public opinion.

In more than a dozen interviews across the capital this week, Afghans said that instead of helping to defeat the insurgents and quell the violence that has engulfed their country, more foreign troops will exacerbate the problem...

"Bringing in another foreign army is not going to help. They always come here for their own interests, and they always lose. Better to let everyone sit down with the elders and find a way for peace," said Ibrahim Khan, 40, a cargo truck driver from Paktia province...

Many this week recounted experiencing, or hearing from relatives, incidents in which foreign troops stormed at night into houses where women and children were present, arrested innocent farmers as suspected insurgents and forced trucks off highways.

"I was driving on the road from Jalalabad last month, and an American military convoy came from the other direction," recalled Mahmad Humayun, who has a small shop that sells women's garments.

"They started flashing their lights at us to slow down, and then they started firing their guns at the road in front of us. This is our country, and these are our roads," he said angrily. "Don't we have the right to drive in peace?" ...

Most of the Afghans interviewed said they would prefer a negotiated settlement with the insurgents to an intensified military campaign. Several pointed out that the Taliban fighters are fellow Afghans and Muslims, and that the country has traditionally settled conflicts through community and tribal meetings... (link)

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

'We don't want more fighting here'

While media reports of late do occasionally note that the nascent troop surge in Afghanistan is widely expected to increase violence, few have considered the likely reaction of the Afghan population. Reactions in Wardak province, something of a test case for the surge, appear quite strong, and decidedly negative. Anand Gopal reports from Wardak:

Mini-surge to test out US strategy in Afghanistan
By Anand Gopal - Correspondent of The Christian Science Monitor

MAYDAN SHAHR, Afghanistan, Feb 18 - The 3,000 new American troops who arrived in recent weeks in Logar and Wardak provinces, both of which border Kabul, face a formidable challenge: establishing control in areas with little government presence and where insurgents operate freely.

In Band-e-chak, for example, a district capital in Wardak, gun-toting Taliban fighters regularly come into town on their motorbikes to do some shopping. They buy their produce and go home, driving past government offices unmolested...

One other Wardak district even lacks a Kabul-appointed governor, leaving only the Taliban administration...

Here in Wardak, the rebel group Hizb-i-Islami controls two districts and the Taliban four. Hizb-i-Islami was a leading guerrilla force that fought against the Soviet invasion in the 1980s and maintains ties from that time.
The rebels' ranks here are drawn mostly from the local population, unlike some other provinces where the Taliban imports fighters...

A group of tribes here, which locals call the Maidani, has historically supported Hizb-i-Islami and contributes fighters to its ranks. Other tribes have allegiances with the Taliban and still others support the Afghan government.

Washington's biggest challenge, however, may be winning the support of a local population that is wary of American troops. "I had a meeting with my constituents," says Roshanak Wardak, a member of parliament from Wardak Province. "They were completely, 100 percent against the arrival of foreign troops."

"People are worried that the injection of more troops will bring more civilian casualties," says Muhammad Hazrat Janan, a member of Wardak's provincial council.

"We don't want more fighting here," says Najibullah, a taxi driver. "When the Americans come, the Taliban attacks us." The others in his car nod in agreement... (link)

The kind of help that isn't

By my count, at least $11 billion out of $15 billion in aid to Afghanistan has been squandered, having been siphoned off as corporate profit for companies from occupying countries or has been deemed unaccounted for by the government there. However, even this figure understates the waste as it apparently does not include the exorbitant salaries of aid consultants*:

Corruption and incompetence cripple reconstruction effort, say aid workers

Clancy Chassay in Kabul
The Guardian, Thursday 19 February 2009

Chronic mismanagement and profligacy are blighting reconstruction efforts in Afghanistan, international aid officials have warned, wasting up to a third of the $15bn (£10.55bn) in funding already delivered and deepening local resentment towards foreign troops stationed there.

Senior British, US and local aid workers have described a number of problems including bribery, profiteering, poor planning and incompetence. The overall effect has been to cripple the development effort structured under the Bush administration's insistence on an unregulated and profit-driven approach to reconstruction...

Sayeed Jawed, the chairman of the Agency Coordinating Body for Afghan Relief (Acbar), an umbrella organisation for local and international NGOs operating in Afghanistan, made similar allegations about profiteering. "The budgets should not be subcontracted away like this," he said. "Maybe once, but not six times. There should be a limit to the amount of money made. There really are no records of how much money is spent, where it goes and where it came from. There is corruption but there is no way of documenting it."

The Afghan government now says $5bn, a third of all the international aid delivered, cannot be accounted for.

More than two-thirds of all aid bypasses the government in Kabul completely, and according to a recent Acbar report, less than 40% of technical assistance to Afghanistan is coordinated with the government. Some aid officials attribute this to high levels of corruption within the government itself.

Among the greatest drains on the aid budget are the sums paid to foreign consultants. "We have seen massive waste in technical assistance in the form of expatriate consultants," said Matt Waldman, who heads Oxfam's Kabul office and who authored the Acbar report. "Despite the fact that thousands have come and gone with very little impact, the cost of these consultants remains between $200,000 and $300,000 a year [each]." Such a salary equates to about 200 times the amount paid to a local Afghan employee.

More than 40% of aid goes back to donor countries in corporate profits - an estimated $6bn since the start of reconstruction seven years ago. According to Acbar, profit margins for foreign contractors are sometimes as high as 50%. A lack of accountability provides a smokescreen for such excesses, making it difficult to establish how much is being made at each stage of subcontracting... (link)
* In the article, Matt Waldman indicates that thousands of aid workers have been paid on average $250,000 a year. Supposing that 2,000 one-year contracts have been inked over the last 8 years (i.e. 250 per year for eight years), that puts the accumulated costs of their salaries at $0.5 billion.

235,000 IDP's

Amnesty reports on Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) in Afghanistan:

Thousands flee fighting and hunger in Afghanistan
18 February 2009 - Amnesty International

... Around 235,000 people are currently displaced in Afghanistan, according to estimates by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). Most are displaced as a result of the fighting between government forces (and allied US and NATO troops) and armed opposition groups including the Taleban, particularly in the South, Southeast and Northwest regions of the country...

Most people displaced by fighting in Afghanistan have remained in southern Afghanistan, including in camps near Kandahar, where they remain vulnerable to ongoing fighting between government forces and the Taleban and are largely cut off from international assistance...

A 35-year-old mother of eight in an informal camp in Kabul told Amnesty International:

"It’s about a year since we became displaced from Helmand province to Kabul because of the fighting [between government and Taleban insurgents]. Our homes were bombed [by NATO forces] and we lost everything we had. Here we have nothing, no job and no assistance. It was a long time ago when we received some rice and coal from an Afghan businessman. Since then we have nothing and I have to spend days and nights with no food." ... (link)

War heats up

The toll on soldiers:

East Afghan clashes up 20 pct this winter-ISAF

KABUL, Feb 25 (Reuters) - [...] Clashes in the east of Afghanistan, where mainly U.S. troops deployed went up by about 20 percent from November to January compared to the same three-month period last year, said Captain Mark Durkin, spokesman for NATO's International Security Assistance Force (ISAF)...

The figures still represent a significant rise in violence over last year when the U.S. military said clashes in eastern Afghanistan rose by 40 percent in the first five months of 2007, compared to 2006...

U.S. officials admit they are currently not winning the war in which large hi-tech Western armies find themselves fighting small groups of lightly armed insurgents who rely on suicide and roadside bomb attacks to undermine security.

Commanders predict violence will rise further this year as troops, bolstered by reinforcements, move into areas they have seldom patrolled before. (link)
Meanwhile, the NYT reports:
So far, 26 American service members and 13 from other countries in the coalition have been killed in Afghanistan this year, almost twice as many as the first two months of 2008... (link)
The Brits too:
More than 100 British soldiers have suffered amputations and other debilitating injuries in the past year in Afghanistan, according to previously suppressed Ministry of Defence (MoD) figures that reveal the true toll of the Taliban’s roadside bombing campaign.

The number of troops losing limbs or eyes, suffering serious burns or permanent brain damage has increased dramatically since August 2007 when the Taliban intensified their efforts... (link)

August 2007:
The Telegraph reports on increased casualties:
The casualty rate among front line units fighting in Afghanistan has now surpassed the average suffered by troops in the Second World War...

In particular the 1st Bn Royal Anglians has lost a fifth of its troops to battlefield wounds, disease and injuries with 131 soldiers, most of them front line veterans, becoming casualties... (link)

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

At least 12 dead in Herat, say officials (Updated)

From Reuters:

U.S. Air Strike Kills 12 Afghan Civilians, Police Say

HERAT, Feb 18 (Reuters) -- U.S. forces killed at least one child, video footage obtained by Reuters on February 18 showed, in an air strike in western Afghanistan that Afghan police say killed 12 civilians and U.S. forces said killed 16 militants.

Videos taken in the Gozara district of Herat Province in the aftermath of the attack on February 16 showed mangled, unrecognizable clumps of flesh -- all that remained of several people and dozens of animals killed in a tented nomad encampment. One body that was recognizable was that of a young boy.

"The information we have is 12 civilians, including six women, four men, and two children have been killed in the bombardment," General Ikramuddin Yawar, chief of police in western Afghanistan told Reuters...

Karim Khan, one of the survivors in the February 16 air raid, said aircraft started bombing the area at four in the morning. "Thirteen people from the tents and three other visitors were killed," Khan said.

The regional police chief said both civilians and militants were among those killed... (link)
Note that it seems that Karim Khan is stating there were 16 civilians killed in the incident.

Here is the US Air Force version of events:
In Afghanistan, F-15E Strike Eagles struck an encampment with guided bomb unit-38s in the Herat province. The strike targeted anti-Afghan leadership members using tactics to minimize bomb blast and prevent injury to nearby personnel not affiliated with enemy forces. (link)

On February 21, the US acknowledged killing 13 civilians and three militants following an investigation (see here). It should be remembered, however, that previous US military investigations have been of rather suspect quality. Note that the article (at previous link) reporting the Feb 21 announcement does not cite any locals' views on the finding.

February's toll:

February 5-6: US-led coalition forces in Zabul kill 6 civilians in an attack which targeted insurgents, say Afghan officials.
February 6: US-led coalition forces shoot and kill one man and wound a woman and child at a checkpoint in Khost province.
February 11: A provincial spokesman says NATO airstrikes kill four civilians in Logar province.
February 12: Five children are killed as Australian special forces battle militants while searching a house in Uruzgan province.
February 16: In Herat US forces kill 12 - 16 civilians in air attacks. An American investigation claims that 13 civilians and three militants were killed.
February 17: Two civilians in a vehicle are killed by NATO-led troops on patrol in the Maywand district of Kandahar.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Taliban: 1160; Us: 828

The latest UNAMA report on civilian casualties:

UNAMA - Annual Report on Protection of Civilians in Armed Conflict, 2008

... UNAMA Human Rights recorded a total of 2118 civilian casualties between 01 January and 31 December 2008. This figure represents an increase of almost 40% on the 1523 civilian deaths recorded in the year of 2007. The 2008 civilian death toll is thus the highest of any year since the end of major hostilities which resulted in the demise of the Taliban regime at the end of 2001.

Of the 2118 casualties reported in 2008, 1160 (55%) were attributed to antigovernment elements (AGEs) and 828 (39%) to pro-government forces. The remaining 130 (6%) could not be attributed to any of the conflicting parties since, for example, some civilians died as a result of cross-fire or were killed by unexploded ordinance. The majority of civilian casualties, namely 41%, occurred in the south of Afghanistan, which saw heavy fighting in several provinces. High casualty figures have also been reported in the south-east (20%), east (13%), central (13%) and western (9%) regions.In 2007 Afghan security forces and IMF supporting the Government in Afghanistan were responsible for 629 (or 41%) of the total civilian casualties recorded. At around 39% of total civilian casualties, the relative proportion of deaths attributed to pro-government forces remained relatively stable for 2008. However, at 828, the actual number of recorded noncombatant deaths caused by pro-government forces amounts to a 31% increase over the deaths recorded in 2007. This increase occurred notwithstanding various measures introduced by the IMF to reduce the impact of the war on civilians.

Air-strikes remain responsible for the largest percentage of civilian deaths attributed to progovernment forces. UNAMA recorded 552 civilian casualties of this nature in 2008...Accounting for 725 non-combatant deaths, or 34% of the total civilian casualties in 2008, suicide and IED attacks killed more Afghan civilians than any other tactic used by the parties to the conflict...

Large parts of the south, south-west, south-east, east, and central regions of Afghanistan are now classified by the UN Department of Safety and Security as an “extreme risk, hostile environment” for operations... (link to pdf here).

UNAMA and the military's lies

Conor Foley, who has some experience in Afghanistan as a humanitarian aid worker, has some juicy gossip to dish up on the UN mission in that country. From the Guardian's web site:

Conor Foley
Monday 16 February 2009

Triumph of the nation-builders

Obama's rethink on Afghanistan may finally signal an end to the mindless air strikes, and a focus on development...

[The United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan] has significantly scaled up its presence in the last year and also has far more human rights monitors in place. Their reports have helped to focus attention on issues such as corruption in the police and judiciary, and also on the growing number of civilians killed in western military air strikes. This is known to have infuriated the US and UK military and seems to have been what led to the recent arrest of Colonel Owen McNally.

McNally was the liaison officer between UNAMA and the Nato-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF). It was his job to keep the two respective organisations informed about one another's activities – a standard task that is common to all UN missions, where the model is for independence and oversight. Following his arrest, a number of British newspapers insinuated that he was having an affair with a Human Rights Watch researcher. A similar insinuation was made about his relationship with the head of UNAMA's human rights unit.

The stories themselves are ridiculous, but have served to draw attention away from the far more significant fact that his arrest was politically motivated. One Ministry of Defence official admitted to the Daily Mail that the information that he is alleged to have passed on did not concern any operational details, but exposed contradictions in official accounts about casualty details. "The whole point of defeating the Taliban is winning hearts and minds and stopping the population joining their cause," said the source. "If they think we're lying to them, it could become a very dangerous place. This has caused a diplomatic row and the Americans are not happy at all."

A UNAMA report due to be released next month is likely to show that over 3,000 civilians were killed by both sides last year... (link)
You can see the Daily Mail report Foley refers to here.

Tariq Ali on the war

Editor of (and co-chair of Derrick O'Keefe interviews Tariq Ali:

Derrick O'Keefe: Obama's 'diplomatic surge' will certainly feature a major effort to get NATO countries like Canada to boost their troop presence in Afghanistan. What are the prospects for this charm offensive? Will Afghanistan increasingly become even more of a strictly U.S. war?

Tariq Ali: It will. Most European countries are extremely nervous. The British Ambassador to Kabul has stated that the war cannot be won. A German General who returned from Afghanistan repeated the same thing. The Spanish are reportedly on the verge of withdrawal.Sending 20,000 more U.S. troops will make things worse, not better. My impression is that Obama's advisers are split on this question. All are however agreed that the aim is no longer nation-building (always a joke) but getting a pro or at least not an anti-Western regime without Karzai set up as soon as possible. This might not be as easy as they think.

DO: Newsweek recently ran a cover story, 'Afghanistan: Obama's Vietnam'. Could Pakistan become his Cambodia, and what does the appointment of Richard Holbrooke as his envoy to Pakistan forebode on that front?

TA: Holbrooke is little more than a messenger boy. He will do whatever the White House wants. But he should have picked up something on his latest travels including a few facts. A large majority in Pakistan want an exit strategy from Afghanistan. I have argued recently in my new book and in TomDispatch that such a strategy is crucial. However it should not entail handing over Afghanistan to the Pakistani military as happened last time after the Russians were defeated.

We need a regional solution that involves Iran, Russia, China and India as well as, of course, Pakistan. If this does not happen the Afghan war will become uncontrollable leading to further havoc in that country and Pakistan. Already the chaos in the region has emboldened religious extremists in the Frontier province and religious warlords have reduced Swat to a fiefdom. Here it must be said that the decision of the Pakistan state to abandon its legitimate monopoly of violence and permit armed gangs to burn down schools and assault women is astonishing. A state that is incapable of protecting its citizens against violence either local or external is doomed to collapse. In fact, as is obvious, the events in Swat could not have occurred had the governments of the country not colluded with some of these groups, using them to pressure Washington in different ways.

DO: [Some] pro-war commentators in Canada have tarred the anti-war movement as being 'supporters' of the Taliban. [Former NDP activist Tarek Fatah] has spread this accusation against you personally...

TA: My views have not changed at all... I have, just recently, written of the previous Taliban regime in Afghanistan as a 'malignant social order' and for that reason insisted on a national coalition government in that country following the NATO withdrawal. Given the massive increase in support for the new version of the Taliban that is the result of the war and occupation, any government has to include their representatives...

The fact that many former Afghan communists supported the NATO occupation is unlikely to help the secular cause. Nor is the deal done by the secular Awami National Party provincial government in the North West Frontier Province (NWFP) with hard-line extremists, agreeing to the IMARGRAH: A five-point agreement for the enforcement of Shariat in Malakand Division which has been finalized in the successful talks held between the NWFP government and Maulana Sufi Muhammad. They were wrong to do so just as they were wrong in supporting first the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan and more recently the NATO occupation... (link)

More Tariq Ali:
  • March 2008: "The Taliban is growing and creating new alliances not because its sectarian religious practices have become popular, but because it is the only available umbrella for national liberation," says Tariq Ali. He adds: "There is no way for NATO to win this war."

Every few days

As readers are no doubt aware, incidents involving NATO or coalition forces killing civilians occur with distressing frequency - on average about one every three or four days. This time, the incident was in Kandahar province, where Canadian troops are in charge:

Security developments in Afghanistan

Feb 17, KANDAHAR (Reuters) - NATO-led troops shot dead two Afghan civilians in a vehicle which sped towards a foot patrol and failed to stop after warning shots were fired in Maiwand district [Kandahar province], 400 km (250 miles) southwest of Kabul, the NATO-led force said. (link)
February's toll:

February 5-6: US-led coalition forces in Zabul kill 6 civilians in an attack which targeted insurgents, say Afghan officials.
February 6: US-led coalition forces shoot and kill one man and wound a woman and child at a checkpoint in Khost province.
February 11: A provincial spokesman says NATO airstrikes kill four civilians in Logar province.
February 12: Five children are killed as Australian special forces battle militants while searching a house in Uruzgan province.
February 17: Two civilians in a vehicle are killed by NATO-led troops on patrol in the Maywand district of Kandahar.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Chomsky on Afghanistan

From a recent interview with Noam Chomsky:

Q: Was the US right in invading Afghanistan following 9/11?

Chomsky: I felt that was a major crime and still do. The United States invaded Afghanistan for a very explicit reason. It was made public, but there has been a lot of lying about it since, but it was very public. The reason was that the Taliban- the Bush Administration demanded that they hand over Osama Bin Laden to the United States and they asked for evidence of his crime. Well the Bush Administration wouldn't provide any evidence so they invaded. The reason they didn't provide any evidence, it later turned out, was because they didn't have any. Eight months later the FBI conceded that after the most major international investigation in history, they simply didn't have any evidence. They believed the plot for 9/11 was hatched in Afghanistan, but was probably implemented in the Arabian Peninsula and in Europe.

So they invaded, and they invaded with the knowledge that they were putting several million people at risk of starvation. They were right at the edge of starvation and an invasion might have driven them over the edge. Their estimate was 2.5 million people. In fact, the aid agencies and others were infuriated by this and they had to pull out their support and so on. Fortunately the worst didn't happen, but to carry out an invasion on that assumption, when your sole goal is to get the government to hand over somebody when you can't provide evidence is just a major crime and the invasion has had a horrible effect on Afghanistan. Some of the current studies of public opinion reveals that one of the most popular figures in Afghanistan right now seems to be Najibullah, the last Communist ruler of the country after the Russians had withdrawn. Since then the US has turned the country over to warlords who tore it to shreds, then invaded, and now the country is heading towards disaster.

As for current policies, I think Obama looks more aggressive and violent than Bush. The first acts to occur under his administration were attacks on Afghanistan and in Pakistan, both of which killed many civilians and are building up support for the Taliban and terror. He wants to extend the military side of the war. There is an Afghan peace movement, which is calling for a reduction or an end of terror. President Karzai has pleaded with the United States not to carry out attacks that will hit civilians and, in fact, has demanded a timetable for the withdrawal of foreign forces, American forces, but that's just totally disregarded and the opportunities for a peaceful settlement are just ignored. There are reasons for that I won't go into, but I think it's a terrible policy. They're ruinous for the Afghans and maybe for the Americans as well. It's also spilling over into Pakistan, naturally, which is really dangerous. Pakistan, by now, is partially under the control of the radical Islamist elements that Reagan helped install there. It's an extreme danger for Pakistan and actually for the world, since Pakistan has nuclear weapons... (link)

Friday, February 13, 2009

Secret talks revealed

The possibility of further negotiations looms:

Secret talks with Taliban gather pace as surge looms
By Kim Sengupta - The Independent

FEBRUARY 13 - Secret talks between the Afghan government and the Taliban, brokered by a Saudi royal who heads the country's intelligence service, are gathering pace before the US-led military surge in Afghanistan.

Prince Muqrin bin Abdulaziz Al Saud is said to have been greatly encouraged by meetings he had held with both sides on recent visits to Afghanistan and Pakistan, paving the way for a fresh round of negotiations, The Independent has learnt.

The militant groups have appointed a former member of the Taliban regime as their envoy because of his good relations in the past with the Saudi government. He is Aghajan Mutasim, a minister under the ousted Taliban leader Mullah Omar, who is believed to have held detailed discussions with Saudi officials and also to have visited the kingdom during Ramadan.

The Afghan President Hamid Karzai, uncertain of US support in the forthcoming national elections, is said to be prepared for direct dialogue with the insurgent leadership. Officials close to him claim there is also growing concern that the US military offensive, with its prospect of a rising toll of civilian casualties, would hinder prospect of a peace deal.

Abdul Hakim Mujahid, a former Taliban envoy in New York at the time of 9/11, was invited by Mr Karzai to return to Afghanistan and help organise the reconciliation process... (link)

Five children killed

From Australia:

Five Children Killed In Afghan Shoot-Out With Taliban

CANBERRA, Feb 13 (Reuters) - Five children have been killed after a shoot-out between Taliban insurgents and Australian soldiers in Afghanistan, the Australian Defense Force said.

The incident happened on February 12 in Oruzgan Province, where Australia's special forces were clearing a number of houses in the hunt for insurgents, defense officials said in a statement.

"Current reporting indicates that those killed include a suspected insurgent and, sadly, local nationals including five children killed, and two children and two adults injured," it said... (link)
The statement released by the Australians is careful not to state whether the foreign troops actually killed the children. However, the Australian military expects they will be giving compensation to the families of the children, which seems like a tacit admission of guilt.

Reporting from Afghanistan, another Reuters report states: "The Afghan Defence Ministry said one woman and two children were killed and eight other people wounded in the attack."

February's toll:

February 5-6: US-led coalition forces in Zabul kill 6 civilians in an attack which targeted insurgents, say Afghan officials.
February 6: US-led coalition forces shoot and kill one man and wound a woman and child at a checkpoint in Khost province.
February 11: A provincial spokesman says NATO airstrikes kill four civilians in Logar province.
February 12: Five children are killed as Australian special forces battle militants while searching a house in Uruzgan province.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Four civilians killed in airstrikes

Four more dead:

Security developments in Afghanistan

FEBRUARY 11 (Reuters) - Four civilians and one Taliban fighter were killed in NATO-led air strikes in [...] Logar, a provincial spokesman said. (link)
February's toll:

February 5-6: US-led coalition forces in Zabul kill 6 civilians in an attack which targeted insurgents, say Afghan officials.
February 6: US-led coalition forces shoot and kill one man and wound a woman and child at a checkpoint in Khost province.
February 11: A provincial spokesman says NATO airstrikes kill four civilians in Logar province.

Saturday, February 7, 2009

Nangar Khel trial opens in Warsaw

As readers may recall, this blog has had near-exclusive coverage of the Nangar Khel massacre, wherein Polish NATO soldiers are accused of shelling a village and killing several civilians in Paktika province in August, 2007. Now that the trial has begun, it seems that we will be able to continue our streak, since the trial is not open to journalists' recording devices. So far, coverage of the trial (in English) has been almost zero, even on the internet.

Here's the latest, translated from Poland's leading daily, Gazeta Wyborcza:
Nangar Khel Comes Up
Gazeta Wyborcza

WARSAW, Feb 3 - At 10 a.m. today the trial of seven soldiers accused of shelling the Afghani village of Nangar Khel is to begin before the District Military Court in Warsaw. 'It's a unique trial, not only in Poland but also in Europe or even in the world. The last such case to have found its way to court was probably in relation to US Army activities in Vietnam,' says Lt Col Rafał Korkus, spokesperson for the District Military Court.

As a result of the shelling on 16 August 2007, six people died (including four women and a child), two more died in hospital, three women were seriously wounded. The military prosecutors charged six commandoes from the 18th Stormtrooper Battalion in Bielsko-Biała with manslaughter and one with 'opening fire at an undefended civilian facility.' Nangar Khel was shelled by eight from a total of 24 fired mortar shells (one hit a building) and heavy machinegun fire. According to the military prosecutors, there was no threat and the soldiers knew that their fire would hit civilian buildings and saw people moving there...

The trial is to explain whether the Nangar Khel incident was a mistake or a crime. Since the commandoes were arrested (in November 2007, they were later released pending trial), a public debate has continued on the issue...

The order issued by Capt Olgierd C., according to his subordinates, was to 'f*** over a couple of villages.' It was issued following a Taliban ambush that US Army soldiers had fallen into and a Polish patrol hastening to their rescue hit an IED.'Capt Olgierd C., commander of Charlie combat team at Wazi-Kwa base in Afghanistan, has denied the charges. His men too say they are innocent.All seven were released pending trial. But, despite what might have been expected, the case was not returned to be reinvestigated (the Supreme Court ruled on that in December)... (link)

Lots of information and photos can be found in these various blog posts:

One civilian dead

From Reuters:

Security developments in Afghanistan

KHOST, Feb 7 (Reuters) - U.S.-led coalition forces shot and killed one Afghan civilian man and wounded a woman and child when their car failed to stop at a checkpoint in southeastern Khost province on Friday, 150 km (95 miles) southeast of Kabul, the U.S. military said... (link)
February's toll:

February 5/6: US-led coalition forces in Zabul kill 6 civilians in an attack which targeted insurgents, say Afghan officials.
February 6: US-led coalition forces shoot and kill one man and wound a woman and child at a checkpoint in Khost province.

Friday, February 6, 2009

Six civilians die in coalition attack

Afghan officials announce another predictable tragedy:

Afghans say U.S.-led raid kills six in south

KANDAHAR, Feb 6 (Reuters) - U.S.-led forces have killed six people during a raid in the southern Afghan province of Zabul, Afghan officials said on Friday...

The victims in the latest incident were six civilian males from two families, said Mohammad Hashim, a member of Zabul's provincial council.

Deputy provincial governor Gulab Shah Alikheil confirmed that six people were killed in an overnight operation, but could not say whether they were civilians or Taliban insurgents.

A spokeswoman for the U.S. military said she was unaware of the incident and would check... (link)

Monday, February 2, 2009

Civilians continue to die

Two dead in Ghazni:

Afghan villagers say two civilians killed

KABUL, Feb 1 (AFP) – Afghan villagers said Sunday that two civilians were killed by US soldiers hunting down insurgents...

About 30 villagers gathered in the centre of the eastern town of Ghazni with the bodies of two men they said were killed in a raid by US soldiers on Saturday [Jan 31], an AFP reporter said.

One of the protestors, Abdul Latif, said the soldiers "came into the village and broke into a house and killed two brothers. Both were civilian."

Several people were hurt, including a woman who was bitten by a dog unleashed by the soldiers, he said... (link)
Four dead reported in Arghandab:
Bomb network busted in Afghanistan: US coalition

KABUL, Jan 30 (AFP) - The US-led coalition said Friday its troops killed four militants in an operation against a Taliban bombmaker in southern Afghanistan, but local residents said the dead were civilians.

Soldiers in the southern province of Kandahar on Thursday [Jan 29] went to a compound to find a Taliban suspect "known" to have planted bombs against troops and police but militants barricaded themselves inside, said the military.

"Coalition forces precisely engaged the barricaded militants after they refused to surrender, while safeguarding the women and children," said the US-led coalition in a statement.

Eight men who surrendered were arrested, it added.

But locals in Arghandab district gave a different account.

"One father, two sons and a guest were killed in the foreign forces' raid," resident Abdul Nabi told AFP.

Police stopped locals from taking the bodies to Kandahar city to protest against the killings, locals 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 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.
January 29: Locals say US-led coalition troops kill four civilians in Arghandab district of Kandahar while the force claims the dead were insurgents.
January 31: Soldiers in a NATO convoy fire on a vehicle and kill one tribal elder in Paktika.
January 31: NATO-led troops kill two children in Helmand when they return fire on insurgents.
January 31: US soldiers kill two civilians in a house raid in Ghazni.

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Nobody likes foreign occupation

Correspondent Chris Sands:

Afghans want ‘foreigners' out of Kabul
Chris Sands - The National (UAE)

KABUL, Jan 29 - Afghans living on the main motorway leading east out of Kabul have demanded that foreign troops be withdrawn from the area.

Residents on the Jalalabad Road say high-speed military convoys are becoming an increasing danger to the local population and their presence encourages suicide bombings.

“They cause lots of problems. If there are women, children or men in the street, they don't care. They just drive too fast,” said a 26-year-old who gave his name only as Babrak.

“We need the foreigners to leave the city. They should go right to the provinces or to the outside of Kabul.”

Jalalabad Road is one of the most important highways in Afghanistan. Heading east from the capital to the Pakistani border, it is a major supply route for Nato and American forces, as well as a vital transport link for civilian traffic...

“The Russians did good work in Afghanistan but these people have done nothing except spend lots of money,” said Babrak...

According to witnesses, one morning in November a military convoy deliberately rammed a minibus off the motorway and into a butcher's shop. Shots were also reportedly fired and a 12-year-old boy was killed. Riots subsequently broke out.

The victim's brother, Zirgay, said the troops drove straight on after the crash, rather than offering any help...

Residents say nervous foreign soldiers throw everything from stones to water bottles at civilian cars in an effort to keep them at a safe distance. Military vehicles also often have signs warning people to stay back... But with traffic often jammed bumper to bumper along the road, it can be difficult for cars to move out of the way...

Ghulam Mohauddin, a stationery shop owner, said there had never been these problems during the Soviet era...

Afghans across Kabul can now be heard saying their lives have not improved in the past seven years. Insecurity and high unemployment, they commonly say, are the main features of this latest occupation... (link)

Taliban 'not as weak as the military claims'

Graeme Smith:

Taliban turning to more 'complex' attacks
Globe and Mail

JANUARY 26 - Taliban fighters are increasingly hitting their targets directly instead of relying on bombs, according to a year-end statistical review that contradicts a key NATO message about the war in Afghanistan.

Public statements from Canadian and other foreign troops have repeatedly emphasized the idea that the insurgents are losing momentum because they can only detonate explosives, failing to confront their opponents in combat.

But an analysis of almost 13,000 violent incidents in Afghanistan in 2007 and 2008, prepared by security consultant Sami Kovanen and provided to The Globe and Mail, shows a clear trend toward open warfare.

By far the most common type of incident, in Mr. Kovanen's analysis, is the so-called “complex attack,” meaning ambushes or other kinds of battle using more than one type of weapon. The analyst counted 2,555 such attacks in 2008, up 117 per cent from the previous year...

The latest trends are disturbing, he says, because the Taliban need more manpower to launch complex ambushes...

[In Kandahar province] the number of bombing incidents has grown more quickly – up 141 per cent – than complex attacks – up 83 per cent. Kandahar remains the most violent province in the country...

“Clearly they are not as weak as the military claims,” Mr. Kovanen said...

[Beginning last summer] his database started to show the Taliban using more bombs against foreign troops and saving their guerrilla fighters for strikes on easier targets such as the Afghan army and police. That may explain why the pattern of attacks was different in Kandahar, with its concentration of international forces... (link)

Three civilians dead by foreign bullets

From Reuters:

Security developments in Afghanistan

PAKTIKA, Feb 1 (Reuters) - A convoy of NATO-led troops killed a tribal elder and wounded one more when their vehicle ignored warnings in the Urgun district [Paktika], some 180 km south of Kabul on Saturday [Jan 31], a statement from NATO forces said.

HELMAND, Feb 1 (Reuters) - Two children were killed and three adult civilians were wounded when NATO-led troops returned fire from insurgents in a compound in Nad Ali district [Helmand province], some 570 km southwest Kabul on Saturday [Jan 31], NATO troops 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 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.
January 31: Soldiers in a NATO convoy fire on a vehicle and kill one tribal elder in Paktika.
January 31: NATO-led troops kill two children in Helmand when they return fire on insurgents.