Thursday, April 30, 2009

The turncoat

Al Jazeera chats, rather briefly it seems, with a very unusual insurgent:

Switching sides in Afghanistan
By Qais Azimy

HELMAND, Apr 27 - A man with a long, black beard gets out of a Toyota, with four other Taliban fighters in tow...

It is immediately obvious that he is not Afghan.

The other Taliban fighters say he is an Arab who came to Afghanistan with the "infidel fighters". But he never fought with them - he fled the Sangen district base he had been assigned to and surrendered to the Taliban in his full military gear.

That was two years ago...

He introduces himself as Mustafa. I ask him for his second name.

"Just call me Mustafa," he said.

"Everyone in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) knows me. They all know my story," he says...

Mustafa says he had come to Afghanistan as a member of the UAE contingent to the Nato-led International Security Assistance Force (Isaf).

The UAE, which previously was one of three countries which had formally recognised the Taliban after their capture of Kabul in 1996, has approximately 25 troops serving with Isaf in Afghanistan, according to figures released in April 2009...

Mustafa says he had qualms that his service within Isaf was wrong, so instead of fighting the Taliban, he fled the base and joined the Taliban who welcomed him with open arms.

Now he is considered one the most revered and respected Taliban fighters in Helmand province... (link)

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Scholar dishes on Mujahedin and Taliban

As usual, journalist Chris Sands offers up a healthy dose of original and insightful reporting. Below, he interviews Nancy Hatch Dupree, widow of Louis Dupree the late dean of Afghanistan studies, who imparts some fascinating insider knowledge:

Witness to Afghanistan’s fall from grace
Chris Sands

KABUL, Apr 23 - When Nancy Hatch Dupree first came to Kabul in the 1960s, she saw a city that is unrecognisable now. Photographs from that time show a place of beauty and innocence, untouched by war...

[In the 1980's both she and her husband] befriended fundamentalist Mujahideen leaders who would later tear Kabul apart and, in some cases, fight US occupation.

“Then they were heroes. They were heroes. Even Gulbuddin Hekmatyar [a rebel commander now wanted by America], he was always open whenever Louis wanted to talk to him. He’d have a big joke with me and say, ‘I don’t really want you sitting here’, but I don’t know what else to do with you so sit there and shut up. He was popular cos’ he was the best organised,” she said.

“He wasn’t as rabid as he is now. I haven’t met him for years, not since Louis died. And I don’t know because I haven’t done any research on it, but I have a sense that he feels that he’s been badly treated because he was so strong at that time and now he’s a pariah.” ...

[The Taliban government] was initially welcomed by many Afghans and Mrs Dupree also remembers it with relative fondness.

I had a very good relationship with the Taliban. I try to tell people there were some who were very unpalatable and I am the first one to say that. But not all of them had horns and forked tails,” she said.

For years she was able to work with the help of a few key officials and send messages to Mullah Mohammed Omar whenever it seemed a historical monument might be in danger. Only later, when foreign jihadis led by Osama bin Laden exerted more of an influence, did the situation again take a turn for the worse.

“When they had that meeting about blowing up the [Buddhist statues in Bamiyan] it was no simple decision, it went on for the whole day. It was hardliners who were pushing for this and the others who were resisting and saying, ‘No, this is not what Islam teaches us’,” Mrs Dupree said.

“That was my indication that Mullah Omar had lost power and I felt so sorry for him. He was forced to give that order by the cabinet which was now in the hands of the hardliners.” ...

The 2001 US-led invasion was wrong, she said, and “an arbitrary thing, a knee-jerk reaction”. The high concrete blast walls, fortress-like embassies and mansions built on drug money that have sprung up under American occupation make her “madder than hell”... (link)

Failure to investigate

The Military Police Complaints Commission is finally finished its report (pdf). The Globe and Mail has some good coverage:

Military police failed to carry out obligations to detainees, probe finds
April 26, 2009

[The Military Police Complaints Commission report concludes] that “there was a failure by the military police … to investigate the origins of the injuries of one of the detainees, when it was their duty to do so.” The detainee was so badly beaten that the military police contingent's commanding officer remarked he was “beat up pretty bad. He looked like he had been kind of booted.”

Yet the military police accepted without question the second-hand, hearsay claims of soldiers in the field that the injuries were inflicted to subdue a struggling captive.

In his report, MPCC chairman Peter Tinsley points to systemic problems in which Canadian military police seem to have lost sight of their fundamental duty to investigate possible war crimes, including the abuse of prisoners...

[An RCMP investigator] found a “disturbing prevalence of an MP mindset in which their police training and instincts are somehow submerged or switched off when assigned to duties considered by some to be purely military.”

Why neither the military police nor anyone in the entire military chain of command recognized the need for an investigation remains unexplained. For instance, when a senior Canadian Foreign Affairs official in the human-rights and international-law section e-mailed his concerns, saying, “We would like to be satisfied that no allegations of mistreatment will arise against the CF as a result of these arrests, detentions and transfers,” it was entirely ignored. No one in the military even replied.

Not until nearly a year later, when Ottawa law professor Amir Attaran noted the unexplained facial injuries on medial forms and The Globe and Mail published them (and the military's flat denial that anything untoward had occurred) did the military belated launch multiple probes...

Mr. Tinsley seems to have reluctantly agreed to redactions. He said the MPCC “has not been persuaded as to the validity of [the military's claims of security] concerns and, as such, is not satisfied with the current redacted state of this report.”

However, he acquiesced, despite the MPCC's specific mandate as a supposedly independent body created by Parliament...

[The report] paints a picture of relentless pressure from the high command in Ottawa to turn detainees over to Afghan security forces as quickly as possible; so quickly that questioning is sometimes curtailed and military intelligence officers can't complete assessments of whether detainees are important or not...

A broader MPCC public inquiry into whether Canada's policy of turning battlefield captives over to Afghan security forces – despite widespread and persistent reports that prisoners are tortured and abused in Afghan prisons – is expected to begin public hearings next month. However, the government is seeking to quash that probe, arguing the MPCC is overstepping its mandate... (link)

Monday, April 27, 2009

Special forces get boost

The role of special forces in the war in Afghanistan is an obscure subject, as journalists are seldom permitted to even mention their presence in that country. Even if special forces are seen milling about Kandahar Air Field, reporters are forbidden to write about them. In one case, the presence in Afghanistan of Canada's JTF-2 special forces was only revealed when one of their members was killed in Kandahar province in 2007.

Readers of this blog may recall that we were virtually the only place on the internet to cover the allegations of a midnight massacre of civilians by Afghan and foreign (presumably American) special forces in Helmand.

The Obama administration has already indicated rather clearly their intention to increase international interventions, using beefed-up special forces to spearhead such operations. Now the Brits, explicitly wishing to curry favour with the Americans, are seeking to increase their reliance on special forces too:

Special forces to get boost to fight insurgents
By Kim Sengupta, Defence Correspondent
The Independent, 27 April 2009

Britain's special forces are to be boosted to prepare the country for long wars of insurgency...

The Defence Secretary, John Hutton, will today outline the new strategy which is being drawn up with the Americans to prepare for years of commitment in Afghanistan and the expectation of other similar conflicts...

SAS units are already being moved from Iraq to join the SBS in Afghanistan as part of a US led surge. This followed a specific request from the Americans who have been working closely with UK special forces in the two conflicts. The thinking behind the review, say officials, is that Britain must "play to its strengths" at a time of scarce resources... (link)

UK gives the gift of self-regulation

From the people who brought you the three Anglo-Afghan wars:

Foreign Office to propose self-regulation for private military firms

Richard Norton-Taylor
The Guardian, Friday 24 April 2009

The fast-expanding industry of private military companies, some of which have been engaged in highly controversial activities, should be self-regulating, the government is to propose...

At the height of such firms' activity in Iraq three years ago there were an estimated three British private security guards to every British soldier...

Tim Hancock, Amnesty International campaigns director, said: "There are a large number of British-based, private military and security companies operating in conflict zones ... if the government does propose a self-regulatory system it would effectively grant them impunity to do whatever they like... (link)

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Women's situation worse than under Taliban

The Sunday Times has a lengthy piece on the situation of women in Afghanistan today. Here are the most interesting bits:

The Sunday Times
April 26, 2009
The defiant poets' society

[After the fall of the Taliban in 2001] Kabul was soon full of feminist groups setting up gender-rights projects, even though in one of the world’s poorest countries all that most Afghan women really wanted was security and food on the table. Instead they got beauticians sponsored by American cosmetics companies, outraged that under the Taliban women had been locked up for wearing nail varnish. Like other journalists, I wrote enthusiastic stories on beauty schools, the first female driving school and girls’ football teams, though I did notice they were practising at dawn in secret...

President Hamid Karzai’s own wife, Zeenat, an obstetrician, not only stopped working once her husband became president, but never appears in public. When I asked Karzai about women, he claimed he had “lots” working in his office, yet was unable to produce one.

In the past three years, going back and forth to Afghanistan, I have watched the situation for women deteriorate...

Malalai Joya, a young woman MP who criticised warlords, was suspended from parliament and now lives in hiding, protected by five gunmen. Last November she shocked a London audience by declaring that the situation for women in Afghanistan is now worse than it was under the Taliban...

It would be wrong to say that the situation for women in Afghanistan is all bleak, but the statistics do not look good. According to Dr Soraya Sobhrang, director of women’s rights for the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission, 60% of marriages are forced, and while 40% of children in the first year of school are girls, by secondary school this drops to only 11%. By the age of 15, less than 4% are girls. “The situation was fine till 2004, but since then we’ve gone very slow, even backwards,” she says. “Honour killing and violence are increasing and the international community is doing nothing.” ... (link)

Friday, April 24, 2009

Afghan opinion: a surprise for some

Most readers will recall from junior high school the chanting sheep from George Orwell's Animal Farm. At the climax of the book, when the ruling pigs have taken on all the traits of the human bosses who ruled before them, the sheep block out all criticism of the new ruling class with their chant: "Four legs good, two legs better!"

It is of course rather blunt symbolism, as is the book as a whole, but it is not without considerable merit in illuminating important tendencies not only in the oppressive Soviet system but in our own society as well.

'If Comrade Napoleon says it, it must be right.'
Consider the oft-repeated claim that Afghans welcome the foreign occupation of their country. That is the assertion of such luminaries as Defense Minister Peter MacKay ('The Afghans want us there. '), Canada's ambassador to Afghanistan Arif Lalani ('at the end of the day Afghans want us there') as well as NATO official Christopher Alexander (' keep in mind that Afghans want us there').But how true is this statement? We'll get to some polling results directly, but first a word on how to interpret poll findings.

It is striking to see the enthusiasm with which the mass media trumpet poll results that indicate support for the occupation among Afghans. It seems never to have occurred to pundits and editors that the presence of foreign occupiers might lead to biased public opinion polling. Among scholars who study public opinion, however, there are few such illusions. For them, polling responses which support foreign occupiers, foreign-imposed regimes or dictatorships are basically useless - which conforms with simple common sense, one might add. Instead, only those poll respondents who voice criticism or opposition to such violently imposed regimes are taken to be sincere.

While dissident opinion is considered authentic under conditions of coercion, it is commonly thought to be under-reported. That is, expressed opinion which opposes a foreign-imposed regime is but a fraction of actual opposition. Precisely what fraction it represents is of course not known.

In light of this, let us look at some relevant polling results from Afghanistan, courtesy of Anthony Cordesman. In a recent essay, Cordesman analyzes the results of a recent poll commissioned by the BBC and ABC and ARD (Germany).

Note that percentages are given for all of Afghanistan ('Total') as well broken down for specific regions (East, South) and specific provinces (Kabul, Kandahar, Helmand, etc.):
So while a third of Afghans overall report being opposed to American forces, in those provinces where the fighting is most intense (and foreign presence most numerous), one half (sometimes more) are unafraid to say they oppose the foreigners. Again, keep in mind that these are responses under conditions of foreign occupation, in which identifying oneself as an opponent of the foreigners could get you dragged out of your house in the middle of the night and shot by foreign special forces.
Note that in Kandahar, long the beneficiary of Canada's NATO troops, at least two thirds of Afghans oppose NATO's presence. In Nangarhar, an important eastern province, an astounding 90% say they oppose NATO.

One of the most tragic consequences of the illegal war and occupation of Afghanistan has been the militarization of foreign aid in that country. Aid organizations have (ever so diplomatically) objected to the foreign armies' foray into providing "humanitarian aid" for fear that civilians will come to view aid as a weapon (as indeed military commanders see it), thus making aid delivery all the more difficult. The following table strongly suggests that those fears are correct:


Wednesday, April 22, 2009

British war crimes

White phosphorus weapons have achieved some notoriety since January when Israeli aircraft dropped US-made WP munitions on civilian areas of Gaza - a flagrant war crime. You can see a series of photos concerning the use of WP in Gaza on the Human Rights Watch website, which notes that UNRWA facilities came under direct fire from WP weapons. (Palestinian militants also reportedly fired WP munitions into Israel during the three-week massacre.)

Israel isn't the only US ally to use white phosphorus in the recent past. In its 2007 invasion of Somalia, forces of US proxy Ethiopia used phosphorus weapons in a civilian area, killing 35 civilians. And in the war in Iraq, US forces have used WP and even acknowledged their use as an incendiary weapon in the Battle of Fallujah after evidence to that effect surfaced, contradicting initial US claims.

Concerning the war in Afghanistan, it is known that US aircraft have fired phosphorus rockets in battles against Taliban insurgents (see, for example, this report concerning a 2003 battle in Kandahar province). So too have British aircraft (see this report concerning a 2006 battle in Helmand). However, no doubt owing partly to the controversial legal status of white phosphorus, US and British officials have generally claimed that WP is only used as a smoke screen or for illumination, not as a weapon. (See here for a description of the use of American aircraft-fired WP rockets for this purpose; see here for mention of WP grenades used by British forces for illumination.)

Official claims ring hollow, however, in light of statements from American war resister Chris Teske, who escaped to Canada to avoid the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq:
Teske still struggles to talk about what he says he saw [in Afghanistan]: enemy fighters burned alive by white phosphorus, melting the flesh on their bodies... [The Times (UK), July 28, 2007]
Canadian troops in Afghanistan have worked with American troops utilizing "Willy Pete" for ground cover, though I can find no solid evidence of Canadians using it, save for efforts to stamp out cannabis plants. There is, however, some faint evidence of non-agricultural use. Last October, Canadian military reservist Corporal Paul Demetrick wrote in a letter to the Toronto Star: "we fire white phosphorus shells (a chemical weapon outlawed by the Geneva Conventions due to the horrific way it burns human beings) into vineyards where it was known Afghan insurgents were deployed". Note that Demetrick does not indicate that he has seen their use himself, only that he has heard this. In any case, this would indicate only that Canadian forces are using WP as an incendiary weapon, which they are probably legally allowed to do. I say 'probably' because some experts, including the spokesperson for the organization which monitors the Chemical Weapons Convention, have judged WP weapons to be a species of chemical weapon, which are illegal.

Now, what about the war crimes from this post's title?

Ian Sinclair writing on ZNet has a remarkable quote from British Colonel Richard Kemp, who commanded forces in Afghanistan in 2003. Speaking to the BBC in February concerning Israel's use of WP in Gaza, he says:
"...when, for example, we [the British armed forces] are fighting in Afghanistan and Iraq. Of course we have to use aerial weapons like artillery and White Phosphorus, and we do use those weapons, even in areas that do have a certain amount of civilian population..." (link)
Flatly put, Colonel Kemp's words appear to acknowledge British war crimes. However, we must note that Colonel Kemp (whose name is fittingly similar to 'Colonel Blimp') is not saying that he himself performed these acts in Afghanistan. He may be repeating hearsay for all we know. Plus, Kemp's moronic shilling for the Israeli military on at least one other occasion (Israel is the most moral army that has ever existed, etc.) indicates that he is a shameless propagandist (or has a tenuous hold on reality).

Interestingly, on the same day that Kemp was interviewed by the BBC, the matter of white phosphorus use arose in the House of Commons. In response to questions, Secretary of State for Defense John Hutton explained:
In Afghanistan, white phosphorus munitions are routinely used to protect troops on operations by producing a smoke screen to provide cover. Records show white phosphorus munitions were last used for the same purpose in Iraq in 2005.

In accordance with the UN third convention on conventional weapons, UK training in the use of white phosphorus emphasises that it should be used solely for its intended purpose and not as an anti-personnel weapon. (link)

Earlier use of WP in Afghanistan:
"The journalists were shown both actual examples and photographs of the chemical weapons used by the extremists [i.e. US-supported mujaheddin] in Afghanistan. The overwhelming majority of the mines, grenades and rocket projectiles of white phosphorus bore the markings of the Lake Erie chemical company, and its address Cleveland 14, Ohio, USA." (Tass News Agency, "Use of chemical weapons by Afghan and Soviet forces in Nangarhar denied," from BBC Summary of World Broadcasts December 2, 1988)
Soviet officials claimed that WP had been used on at least 10 occasions by their enemies in Afghanistan, and added that Afghan civilians had been killed in the attacks.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Rape law: the American connection

Surely all readers will have heard of the family law signed by President Karzai earlier this year which in effect legalizes marital rape among the Shia population. Writing in the Guardian, Nushin Arbabzadah fills us in on the man behind the law, Asif Mohseni:

At the centre of this complex picture is Ayatollah Asif Mohseni, a Shia cleric and the architect of the new law. He's the owner of Tamadon (civilisation) TV, a privately owned television station with a visual outlook and religious content remarkably similar to Iranian state-run television channels. The night before the protest demonstration of 15 April, which ended in violence and made headlines around the world, the TV station repeatedly broadcast a message advising people to prevent family members attending the protest. In other words, the cleric had anticipated the protest and indirectly prepared the ground for the counter-protest, which resulted in broken windows and stones being pelted at demonstrators.

This, however, should not come as a surprise because Mohseni is far more than a prominent Shia cleric and TV station owner. He's a politician whose career has been far from uncontroversial. Mohseni, born in Kandahar in 1936, is the founder of the Islamic Movement of Afghanistan, a Shia anti-Soviet resistance movement... (link)
But Arbabzadah misses one interesting fact about Mohseni's history: He was imprisoned in 1980 by the Ayatollah Khomeini regime on account of documents obtained from the captured US embassy in Tehran which stated that Mohseni's party Harakat-i Islami had obtained money from the CIA. (Barnett Rubin, Fragmentation of Afghanistan, p. 222)

Saturday, April 18, 2009

'They are scared of the US soldiers'

YOUTUBE: A young US military medic tells gruesome tales of the war in Afghanistan:Link to video (unembeddable).

Wednesday, April 15, 2009


First of all, my apologies for a lack of blog posts of late. Due to other writing commitments, I just haven't had the time and energy. I can't promise a rate like before (roughly one blog post a day), but I will continue to blog when I have a chance.

Now, an apology of a different sort:

An Apology for an Occupation
Apology of US Sergeant Matthis Chiroux to Afghan leader Malalai Joya

On April 21st, 2009, U.S. Sergeant Matthis Chiroux, 25, faces Army prosecution in St. Louis, Missouri for publicly refusing to deploy to Iraq last summer...

From April 1st to 5th, Chiroux joined peace activists in Germany and France to speak out against NATO and the war and occupation in Afghanistan...

"How sorry I am for the violence that my Army has done..."
Apology of Sergeant Matthis Chiroux to Afghan leader Malalai Joya
Strasbourg, France, April 5, 2009

CHIROUX: Hi everybody. My name's Matthis, and I'm still a sergeant in the U.S. Army, hopefully not for much longer. And this is Malalai Joya, who's from Afghanistan. And in 2005, for a brief time, I helped occupy Malalai's country, and it was wrong. It was my mistake. I should not have been there. I should not have been supporting this oppression of her people. Today I want to look Malalai in the eye, and I want to tell you, Malalai, how sorry I am for the violence that my Army has done to your people, to your country...

JOYA: I'm speechless in thanks -- my dear brother. I have nothing to pass to you but the love of my people. I pass it to you, and I pass your love to them.

And I want to tell you that it is your government that must apologize first of all to great people like you: they are deceiving you and they use you for not a good cause; they use you for a war which only adds to the suffering of my people. And it is your government that must apologize to the Afghan people for invading their land and imposing a mafia government of warlords and drug-lords on them...

The suffering people of Afghanistan, nobody listens to their voice -- while these troops are killing our innocent people, most of them women and children, and on the other side these Taliban and the Northern Alliance terrorists are continuing their fascism under the rule of the US/NATO... (link)
More on Malalai: