Monday, June 29, 2009

Porter and Kaufmann

Gareth Porter has an excellent analysis of the Pentagon's recent claim that just 26 civilians died in May's bombing in Farah province, in contrast to the Afghan government which claimed the attack killed 140 civilians.

Pentagon 'rewrites' airstrike atrocity
By Gareth Porter - Jun 27

The version of the official military investigation into the disastrous May 4 airstrike in Farah province made public last week by the Central Command was carefully edited to save the United States command in Afghanistan the embarrassment of having to admit that earlier claims blaming the massive civilian deaths on the "Taliban" were fraudulent...

The report gave no explanation for continuing to assert such a figure, and virtually admitted that it is not a serious claim by also suggesting that the actual number of civilian deaths in the incident "may never be known".

The report also claimed that "at least 78 Taliban fighters" were killed. The independent human-rights organization had said in its May 26 report that at most 25 to 30 insurgents had been killed, though not necessarily in the airstrike.

A closer reading of the paragraph in the report on Taliban casualties reveals, however, that the number does not actually refer to deaths from the airstrike at all. The paragraph refers twice to "the engagement" as well as to "the fighting" and "the firefight", indicating that the vast majority of the Taliban who died were all killed in ground fighting, not by the US airstrike.

An analysis of the report's detailed descriptions of the three separate airstrikes also shows that the details in question could not have been omitted except by a deliberate decision to cover up the most damaging facts about the incident...

The report reveals that two 1,100-kilogram bombs and two 4,400-kg bombs were dropped on the target, not only destroying the building being targeted but three other nearby houses as well...

Again the report offers no evidence suggesting that there were any "Taliban" killed in the strike, in contrast to the first airstrike.

By these signal omissions, aimed at avoiding the most damaging facts in the incident, the report confirms that no insurgent fighters were killed in the airstrikes which killed very large numbers of civilians...

The central contradiction between the report and the US military's "human shields" argument was allowed to pass unnoticed in the extremely low-key news media coverage of the report...

None of the news media reporting on the highly expurgated version of the investigation pointed out that it had confirmed, in effect, the version of the event that had been put forward by residents of the bombed villages.

As reported by the New York Times on May 6, one of the residents interviewed by phone said six houses had been completely destroyed and that the victims of the bombing "were rushing to go to their relative's houses where they believed they would be safe, but they were hit on the way". (link)
And some commentary from the Calgary Sun's Bill Kaufmann. Thanks to Sid Shniad for this one:
Arms business growing force
By Bill Kaufmann - June 26
Calgary Sun

... following in the faltering footsteps of our southern neighbour, it's clear we've become a more militarized country, whether it's in the steady diet of propaganda for the Afghan occupation, increased "defence" spending or greater deference to all things martial...

This week, the Calgary branch of U.S. defence giant Raytheon was revelling in a $155-million contract to refurbish the Phalanx weapons system for use on Canadian warships.

That would be fine if the equipment was being used soley to defend the country in missions like coastal patrols. But Canada's increasingly taken on an auxilliary role for U.S. military adventurism around the globe.

Raytheon's Calgary workers also produce optics for a light armoured vehicle deployed in Afghanistan.

It's a weapon used to support a warlord-ridden Afghan government whose brutality and corruption is oxygen for the Taliban insurgency, perpetuating a cycle of conflict and profits for weapons merchants...

Israel, despite its gruesome human rights record and illegal occupation, has received Canadian arms and a little-discussed security deal inked with that nation last year raises concerns of a busier weapons pipeline.

But a Canadian arms industry watchdog insists the main issue remains our country's enabling the world's biggest exporter of weapons and war -- the U.S.

"That we are selling them into unsavoury hands elsewhere is a distraction," says Richard Sanders of the group Coalition to Oppose the Arms Trade (COAT).

"Three quarters of the weapons we sell go to the U.S. and they are the ones really waging wars and killing people." And 90% of the defence components leaving Canada are bound for countries at war, he says. (link)

Friday, June 26, 2009

Drugs, secrets, deaths and enemies

First, a little house keeping: This blog, transmitting out of for two years now, is now being mirrored at (Big thank you to the good people at rabble.) The format is still the same - an emphasis on aspects of the war that are not reported on the front pages coupled with a tendency to quote rather than summarize, yet also to draw in the facts as well as plenty of parallels and recollections. However, until I have figured out images for the rabble version, there may be more graphics at the blogspot version.

Today, rather unusually for this blog, we play catch-up with a series of info snatches:

More dead civilians
From Reuters reports on NATO's doings in Helmand (where British forces predominate in the NATO mission):

HELMAND, June 24 - An Afghan civilian was shot dead by a NATO-led patrol on Sunday after he ignored signals to stop while driving his car towards the patrol near Babaji district, the alliance said in a statement. (link)
NATO in Khost province (an American-run affair):
KHOST, June 24 - NATO troops shot dead an Afghan civilian in a car in Khost province in the southeast after the car failed to stop following a warning, the alliance said. (link)
And in the war in Pakistan:
US drones kill scores of people in Pakistan tribal region
Jeremy Page and Zahid Hussain - The Times

ISLAMABAD, June 25 - A US drone fired at least three missiles at a Taleban training camp in the Makeen area of the tribal region of South Waziristan on Tuesday morning, killing at least seven militants, including a commander called Niaz Wali, according to local officials.

Another drone then fired at least four missiles in the evening at a funeral prayer meeting for Wali, attended by hundreds of militants and local villagers, the officials said...

... estimates from local officials and residents for the two strikes combined ranged from 45 to 70.

Jalaluddin Mehsud, who lives near the area and knew many people at the funeral, told The Times that 67 people had been killed, including 18 civilians... (link)
Later reports say "more than 80 militants" died in the Waziristan incident but are vague about how many civilians were killed.

Harper government keeps costs secret
Canwest reports on the Harper government's approach to public relations:
In a significant policy shift, the Canadian government now believes that telling the country's taxpayers the future cost of the war in Afghanistan would be a threat to national security...

The Defence Department cited a national security exemption when it censored a request under Access to Information by the federal NDP for the military costs... (link)
Afghan public opinion is enemy number two
Pursuant to the previous post on this blog the other day: Greg Jaffe of the Washington Post reports on an American unit in Kunar province as it tries to win hearts and minds:
[The company commander] faces two enemies in Afghanistan. The most obvious is the Taliban, whose fighters lurk in the mountains along the border. The other is the overwhelming frustration that Afghans feel toward U.S. forces.

Eight years of airstrikes, civilian casualties and humiliating house-to-house searches have left the Afghan people deeply suspicious of the U.S. troops who are supposed to be protecting them... (link)
Jaffe's assessment of Afghan opinion echoes that of many other observers, especially Pamela Constable of the Washington Post, who wrote in February:
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... (link)
A slight change of course?
The US appears to be adjusting its disastrous drug war policy for Afghanistan. To call it a reversal, as Reuters does, seems a bit of an exaggeration, since under the new strategy they will still be pursuing drug lords, thus marking poppy growers as targets in counterinsurgency efforts.
U.S. Reverses Afghan Drug Policy, Eyes August Vote

TRIESTE, Italy, Jun 27 (Reuters) -- Washington is to dramatically overhaul its Afghan anti-drug strategy, phasing out opium poppy eradication, the U.S. envoy to Pakistan and Afghanistan told allies on June 27...

"We are not going to support crop eradication. We're going to phase it out," [Richard Holbrooke] he said. The emphasis would instead be on intercepting drugs and chemicals used to make them, and going after drug lords.

He said some crop eradication may still be allowed, but only in limited areas...

The head of the UN Office of Drugs and Crime, told Reuters the old U.S. eradication strategy had been "a sad joke."

"Sad because many, many Afghan policemen and soldiers...have been killed and only about 5,000 hectares were eradicated, about 3 percent of the volume," Antonio Maria Costa said... (link)

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

In failing war, Afghan opposition grows

A British officer from the Defense Intelligence Staff has created a bit of stir with his scathing indictment of the war in Afghanistan. While such damning facts and figures which Major S. N. Miller cites are not new to this blog, one rarely sees them discussed elsewhere. In fact, Miller's is the first commentary I have seen on the current state of Afghan opinion. (E. g., that majorities in the south and east of the country want NATO forces out of their country, while even in Kabul, which has received the lion's share of the economic stimulus accompanying the occupation, some 45% say they want NATO out.)

Miller has a go at his superiors:

British officer launches stinging attack on 'failing' UK strategy
June21 - Telegraph (UK)

By Sean Rayment

A British Army officer has launched a devastating attack on the UK's "failing" strategy in Afghanistan...

Writing in the British Army Review, an official MoD publication, Major SN Miller, stated: "Lets not kid ourselves. To date Operation Herrick [the British codename for the War in Afghanistan] has been a failure"...

In direct contradiction to the view of the defence chiefs and the government, Major Miller added that the much-vaulted British strategy of "winning the hearts and minds" of the Afghan people in Helmand had failed.

Instead, he claimed, the opposite had happened, with polls showing that 23 per cent of the population support the Taliban in the south west of the country, a threefold increase compared with 2008.

He wrote: "Where a year (2008) ago, 81 per cent stated that the Taliban have "no significant support at all" in the area, now only 52 per cent judged this to be the case.

"Just 45 per cent of polled Afghans supported the Nato presence in the south west, down from 83 per cent in the previous year. The often repeated statement that 'the Afghans don't want the Taliban back' is increasingly open to question." ...

"Positive opinion of overall living standards have dropped by 20 points – a remarkably bitter under achievement for a campaign that purported to improve the lives of Afghans." ... (link)
Miller's figures are a little puzzling. His data are similar to, but not identical with, polling data which we looked at in a post a while back. That data doesn't tease out figures for the "south west" by itself, so perhaps Miller has access to a data breakdown which I haven't found. Also, 23% support for the Taliban is a higher figure than I have seen elsewhere.

It is thus possible that Miller is referring to polling data commissioned by the British military. The Canadian Forces has undertaken PSYOPS of just that type:
Afghans' safety concerns spike
Murray Brewster - Winnipeg Sun


... Over the last 18 months, the Canadian military has conducted several public opinion surveys in the war-ravaged city of Kandahar, asking residents about their level of support for the Afghan government, the Taliban and their perception of public safety.

Surveys conducted in late 2007 and early 2008 found 55 per cent of respondents saying they lived in a secure environment, but [Brig.-Gen. Denis] Thompson said that figure is now down to about 25 per cent.

Support for both Karzai's government and the Taliban have remained largely static, he added: Roughly 70 per cent of those asked said they support the government, while the Taliban pulls down between 15 and 20 per cent support at any given time. (link)
  • Opinion poll: Majorities in the east and south of Afghanistan say they oppose the presence of NATO troops in Afghanistan.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

'People were 100% happier under Taliban'

An increasingly unpopular occupation takes its toll:

Weak become ever more vulnerable
Chris Sands - Foreign Correspondent, The National (UAE)
June 17, 2009

... for men and women in Jowzjan, the past eight years have also ushered in a period of criminality and fear. The powerful now do whatever they want, whether it is inside or outside the home.

Maghferat Samimi runs the [Afghanistan Human Rights Organisation's] regional office in Sheberghan. She keeps a photo album containing an image of a naked young body, burnt to the colour pink. Elsewhere, infant boys and girls stare blankly out from the pages – each one a rape victim. They are just some of the cases she has investigated.

“It’s getting worse because there is no law. There are rules, but no one is following them,” she said.

According to Mrs Samimi, the most significant impact of the US-led invasion has been a rise in violent crime because the perpetrators know they have a good chance of getting away with almost any offence. The social restrictions imposed upon women have also continued, albeit largely unofficially.

“People were 100 per cent happier under the Taliban. OK there was some fighting and people were poor, but they accepted the law,” she said.

Another case shuffled quietly into the office. Taj Niaz was 12 when she married a man in his forties. Now 20, she has spent the past five years unsuccessfully trying to divorce her physically abusive husband...

Later, her mother Rahima added that life had been safer for women under the Taliban because they could at least go out after dark in those days...

Jowzjan and its neighbouring provinces are relatively stable compared to much of the country, but people’s anger is clearly growing and unrest is spreading as a result. That the international community and the Afghan government is losing support far away from the Taliban’s heartlands should serve as a stark warning for the future... (link)

'The majority are not happy with the Americans'

It is common for Afghanistan observers and journalists to note massive Afghan opposition to the current foreign occupation there. Sadly, the mass media rarely take notice of this fact, thus little discussion arises.

Civilian deaths lift support for Taliban
Sayed Karim - Foreign Correspondent, The National (UAE)

BARAKI BARAK DISTRICT, June 21 - Aminullah was getting ready to pray when the glass around him shattered. He ran inside and found his wife lying on the hallway floor, a bullet hole in her back. She cried fainly twice before she died...

The new commander of US and Nato forces has promised to cut civilian casualties, but for Aminullah, and many others caught in the crossfire, it is already too late.

His pregnant wife appears to have been killed during a battle involving the Taliban and US troops six months ago. The bullet that killed her, Aminullah pointed out, is not the type commonly used by the rebels.

Although there is no suggestion that she was shot deliberately, it is of little consolation to the 25-year-old and his two children. The majority of Logar’s residents may also have had enough.

“I am sure it is the Americans who are committing crimes like this. That means they are stirring up a bees’ nest because the people will stand against them,” he said...

Haji Aminullah, Aminullah’s father, recalled how they were trapped inside their home for hours before they could inform relatives of the death in their family. He added that more unrest is inevitable.

The majority of the people are not happy with the Americans. Now a lot more soldiers have come to this country and to Logar, so again there will be fighting,” he said.

According to US military officials, Afghanistan last week suffered its most violent week since the war started in 2001. Figures also show that insurgent attacks increased by 59 per cent between January and May compared with the corresponding period in 2008.

But it is the civilian fatalities caused by US coalition and Nato-led International Security Assistance Force that concern people here the most.

Ekramuddin is a 24-year-old member of the border police. His brother was going to a wedding party when he found himself caught in the same firefight that killed Aminullah’s wife. He was hiding behind a wall when foreign troops shot him dead. US soldiers later alleged that Ekramuddin’s brother was armed.

This is the habit of the Americans. If the Taliban fire at them, they start firing at the whole village even after the Taliban have retreated,” Ekramuddin said... (link)
  • Opinion poll: Majorities in the east and south of Afghanistan say they oppose the presence of NATO troops in Afghanistan.

The occupation has not brought security

Recently, US officials have tried to downplay last month's bombing in Farah province, which was variously estimated to have killed over 100 civilians. (See below for more.)

Malalai Joya, who was elected to represent her home province of Farah and was subsequently ejected from the Afghan parliament for her outspoken views, has the following response to the tragedy:

As an elected representative for Farah, Afghanistan, I add my voice to those condemning the NATO bombing that claimed over 150 civilian lives in my province earlier this month...

Just as the US air strikes have not brought security to Afghans, nor has the occupation brought security to Afghan women. The reality is quite the opposite.

This now infamous law is but the tip of the iceberg of the women’s rights catastrophe in our occupied country...Rates of abduction, gang rape, and domestic violence are as high as ever, and so is the number of women’s self-immolation and other forms of suicide. Tragically, women would rather set themselves on fire than endure the hell of life in our liberated country.

The Afghan constitution does include provisions for women’s rights. I was one of many female delegates to the 2003 Loya Jirga who pushed hard to include them.

But this founding document of the new Afghanistan was also scarred by the heavy influence of fundamentalists and warlords, with whom President Hamid Karzai and the West have been compromising from the beginning...

We are told that additional US and NATO troops are coming to Afghanistan to help secure the upcoming presidential election. But frankly, the Afghan people have no hope in this election. We know that there can be no true democracy under the guns of warlords, the drug-trafficking mafia and foreign occupation...

I must conclude that this presidential election is merely a drama to legitimise the future US puppet.

Just like in Iraq, war has not brought liberation to Afghanistan. Neither war was really about democracy or justice or uprooting terrorist groups; rather they were and are about US strategic interests in the region...

Perhaps if the citizens of North America had been better informed about my country, Obama would not have dared to send more troops and spend taxpayers money on a war that is only adding to the suffering of our people and pushing the region into deeper conflicts.

A troop surge in Afghanistan, and continued air strikes, will do nothing to help the liberation of Afghan women. The only thing it will do is increase the number of civilian casualties and increase the resistance to occupation. (link)
While American officials claim that the true number of civilians killed by their bombs is 26, a Reuters dispatch adds a revealing caveat to the assertion:
While the report noted that U.S. investigators had concluded that about 26 civilians and about 76 fighters had died, it acknowledged the figures were imprecise and said the true civilian death toll would never be known.

But in the military's first public acknowledgement of Afghan accounts of much larger civilian tolls, the report noted that an Afghan human rights agency had concluded that 86 civilians had died and praised its findings as "balanced" and "thorough." ... (link)

Thursday, June 11, 2009

US forces kill civilians, say locals

A not-so-shocking surprise:

US checks civilian death reports in Afghan strike
By Sharafuddin Sharafyar

HERAT, Afghanistan, June 11 (Reuters) - An insurgent commander targeted by a U.S. air strike in western Afghanistan may have survived, but the U.S. military is checking reports that civilians were among the dead, the military said on Thursday.

The U.S. military said on Wednesday Mullah Mustafa and 16 fighters had been killed in a targeted air strike in Ghor province, describing the commander as a "warlord" reported to have links with both Iran and the Taliban.

It said he had been struck after being observed meeting with armed men at a remote location where no civilians were present.

But on Thursday, the military issued an updated statement, which said "credible reports surfaced that Mustafa survived the attack" and "unsubstantiated reports of civilian casualties emerged". It said it was checking the reports of civilian deaths.

Ghor's deputy governor, Keramuddin Rezazada, told Reuters he was not able to confirm whether Mustafa had been killed, and villagers had reported that 10 civilians as well as 12 armed men were killed in the strike... (link)

Locals accuse the US of more carnage:
Casualties as US forces bomb civilians
By Khan Wali Salarzi

ASADABAD, June 9 (Pajhwok) - One civilian was killed and dozens wounded in a bomb dropped by US forces on a locality in Asadabad, capital of the eastern Kunar province, officials and witnesses said on Tuesday.

Giving an eyewitness account, Khan Mohammad told Pajhwok Afghan News the bomb was dropped opposite the main mosque in the provincial capital at about 9:00am. The casualties included schoolchildren and pedestrians.

Dr. Ehsanullah Fazli, head of the Kunar Civil Hospital, confirmed a dead body and 44 injured had been brought to the hospital.

School children, shopkeepers and passers-by are among the injured, he added.

A 25-year-old injured person in the hospital told this scribe that a US forces tank crashed against a traffic sign and then dropped a bomb on the people. Many civilians were injured by the bomb blast, he said... (link)
Here's the New York Times coverage of the same accusations:
Accounts Differ on Afghan Grenade Attack
By Adam B. Ellick - The New York Times

KABUL, June 9 — A grenade explosion killed two Afghan civilians and wounded 56 people in a crowded market in Kunar Province in eastern Afghanistan on Tuesday morning, but the identity of the person who threw the grenade was in doubt, with American officials blaming an Afghan militant and some Afghan officials an American soldier.

The head of the provincial council said that he had spoken to dozens of the injured and that they had described how an American soldier threw the grenade into a crowd of some 100 Afghans gathered around a stalled American military vehicle in the town of Asadabad. “It was daylight,” said the official, Malavi Ezatallah. “Everybody saw it.” Speaking by telephone from the funeral of one of victims, he called the attack “a complete cruel crime against civilians.”

The Interior Ministry, on the other hand, released a statement blaming the attack on militants and said local police found a metal ring at the scene that is a remnant of a Russian hand grenade, implicating the insurgents.

An American military spokesman in Kabul, Chief Petty Officer Brian Naranjo, strongly disputed the suggestion that an American had thrown the grenade, calling it “completely unfounded.” ... (link)

Monday, June 8, 2009

Foreign troops accused of war crimes

From Press TV:

Afghanistan to 'try criminal foreign troops'
Press TV (Iran)

JUNE 6 - Afghanistan's Wolesi Jirga, the lower house of parliament, has accused foreign troops based in the country of war crimes, urging a trial for the criminals.

Wolesi Jirga secretary Abdul Sattar Khawaasi told reporters that 73 members of parliament are collecting documents regarding foreign troops' crimes and offences in Afghanistan.

"Foreign troops poured into the country under the banner of security and stability, much to the contrary however, they committed unforgivable crimes," he said.

Khawaasi added that foreign troops based in Afghanistan have violated the Constitution as well as international agreements in more than 20 instances...

"Afghanistan's parliament plans to pass an approval and send all related documents to the country's High Court as well as the international Hague tribunal," Khawaasi said... (link)
Khawaasi, secretary of the Wolesi Jirga, was recently vocal over legalizing foreign air strikes in the country, demanding that foreign troops be accountable under Afghan law.

Body count's in the house

The return of a bad idea:

Army Deploys Old Tactic in PR War
By Michael M. Phillips - The Wall Street Journal

BAGRAM AIRFIELD, Afghanistan, June 1 - Body counts are back, reigniting the decades-old debate about whether victory in war can be judged by measuring the stack of enemy dead.

In recent months, the U.S. command in Afghanistan has begun publicizing every single enemy fighter killed in combat, the most detailed body counts the military has released since the practice fell into disrepute during the Vietnam War...

U.S. officers say they've embraced body counts to undermine insurgent propaganda, and stiffen the resolve of the American public...

But ISAF -- which is led by the same American general -- almost never releases enemy-casualty figures for fights involving forces under its command...

[S]enior commanders in Iraq discouraged using enemy casualties as a public measure of success, according to a general involved in those decisions in 2005 and 2006.

In fact, the military kept classified its running tally of enemy deaths in Iraq between June 2003 and September 2007 -- 18,832 -- and only revealed the figure in 2007 when forced to do so under a Freedom of Information Act petition. That number hasn't been publicly updated.

In Afghanistan, counting bodies is now more prevalent than it ever was in Iraq...

The Army began a rethink when the 101st Airborne Division took over Afghan media operations in April 2008. Commanders worried the U.S.-led coalition appeared to be losing ground...

Commanders first decided to publicize body counts from major engagements...

In October, Col. Julian [who as Army press officer had shunned body counts at the start of the Iraq war] assumed responsibility for public affairs for a new unified command, U.S. Forces -- Afghanistan, taking over much of the work done by the 101st Airborne. He immediately ordered his staff to get ahead of their Taliban counterparts by reporting enemy casualties, no matter how small. From now on, he decided, news releases would provide ample detail about each fight to add to their credibility...

The U.S. does not, Col. Julian says, keep an official running tally of how many Taliban, al Qaeda and other insurgents are killed. A review of the record, however, shows U.S. officers have released details of at least 1,971 insurgent deaths since April 10, 2008, the day the 101st Airborne took over press operations... (link)
There seems little reason to expect a different outcome for the body count this time around. In the Vietnam War, generals with an eye fixed firmly on their careers following their one-year stints in Vietnam produced dubious "statistics for promotion and decorations," according to the finest historian of that war, Gabriel Kolko (Anatomy of a War, New Press 1994, p. 195).

Sunday, June 7, 2009

NATO posing as civilians say aid groups

Once again, NATO and US forces are accused of violating the law. And once again, the fact is exposed by journalists from whom you would not expect hard-hitting stories. In this case, it is the UN humanitarian news agency, IRIN:

Aid agencies win NATO concession on vehicle markings

KABUL, June 1 (IRIN) - International forces under NATO command in Afghanistan will stop using white vehicles from 1 June in response to calls from NGOs for clearer markings to distinguish between civilian and military vehicles...

Agreement on this was reached after months of strong lobbying by mostly international aid agencies which have accused NATO/ISAF of deliberately using white vehicles to get greater protection...

NGOs say white four-wheel-drive vehicles have traditionally been used by the UN and aid agencies in conflict zones to distinguish themselves from the military...

“When the military use white vehicles this undermines aid workers’ identity and can make it easier for us to be confused with the military, which can worsen our security and our access to the communities who need our vital services,” Ingrid Macdonald, protection and advocacy manager of the Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC), told IRIN in Kabul.

Armed attacks on NGOs increased by about 40 percent in 2008 and dozens of aid workers were killed, kidnapped and wounded across Afghanistan, according to NRC and Oxfam...

NATO’s new policy regarding the use of white vehicles will not apply to thousands of US troops operating beyond the writ of NATO/ISAF and engaged mainly in counter-insurgency and “anti-terrorism” military activities...

NGOs say the use of white vehicles by military forces and for military purposes would be a violation of the modus operandi agreed between aid agencies and the military in August 2008.

Under international humanitarian law, combatants are required to distinguish themselves from civilians in conflict,” said Oxfam’s Jackson. (link)
It is useful to recall that the media regularly wholesales accusations by US/NATO forces that Taliban fighters hide among civilians, even though western military acknowledge officials their own use of media manipulation (PSYOPS). Here we have a case where aid agencies, which have some credibility, are accusing NATO of deliberately posing as civilians yet there will, I predict, be no notice paid to the issue.

Meanwhile, the march to integrate aid and military operations continues at Canadian headquarters. We have seen recently that about half of Kandaharis want aid agencies out of their country, doubtless due in no small part to the ambiguity of such operations since they've been added to the armory of our military.
New Drones Allowing Canadian Aid Officials to Check Up On Contractors
The Globe and Mail

KANDAHAR, May 26 - Canada's unmanned military aircraft are helping keep tabs on school-building projects...

The fact that unmanned aerial vehicles are being used in such a way indicates how much control the insurgents are exerting.

Military convoys are often asked to keep away from some school projects for fear they'll draw unwanted attention and, possibly, attacks... (link)

NATO's popularity wanes

Canada's General Vance, with an embedded journalist in tow, picks on a child:

A boy throws a stone, and Gen. Vance teaches a lesson in counterinsurgency

KANDAHAR, June 5 -

[W]hen someone in Kandahar city chucked a rock at his head on Tuesday, Canadian Forces Brigadier-General Jonathan Vance made sure the attack was avenged.

Though the throw missed, he ordered his convoy to halt. He scrambled down from atop his armoured vehicle, his bodyguards trailing him onto the busy Afghan street.

The boy who had cast the stone ran off, but the headmaster of the mosque remained.

The general spoke to him instead. How dare the child do that? Didn't his students know what Canada sacrificed for Afghanistan?

It was a telling episode. The Kandahar mission's popularity may be waning and the Taliban is promising to blow up soldiers on an epic scale. But the stubborn commander wants to leave no stone unturned... (link)
Judging from recent opinion polling which finds that two thirds of Kandaharis want NATO troops out of their country, one assumes that the child was expressing the desire of the majority of his neighbours when he threw that rock.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Making friends imperialist style

Canadian soldiers apparently catch undue blame:

New U.S. Afghan strategy will cost billions, take years

PANJWAII, June 3 (CP) - Some Afghan farmers are complaining Canadian soldiers are shooting at them while they work their fields after dark.

They say unless the shooting stops, they will be forced to leave their village homes nestled in the heart of the insurgent badlands of southern Afghanistan.

But the Canadians are adamant the firing isn't coming from them. They believe soldiers from Afghanistan's army may be firing at people suspected of planting roadside bombs.

In one recent case, Canadian solders did kill a man relaying their movements to insurgents... (link)
That last sentence is intriguing and has serious implications for international law. If the man was not actively relaying troop positions when he was killed, in which case he would be a combatant, then he was hors de combat, n'est-ce pas? Why didn't the Canadian forces alert the supposedly respected Afghan police or army - you know, those competent security forces we are training? It is fairly clear that the article refers to a targeted assassination, which are illegal under the Geneva Conventions.

Meanwile, in Wardak province, US special forces find that locals are not happy with their presence:
Locals Wary Of U.S.-Afghan Patrol Program
June 3 - Soraya Sarhaddi

Afghanistan's Nerkh district, an hour's drive west of Kabul, looks like a tranquil paradise, with snowcapped mountains, lush orchards and humble homes enclosed inside mud walls. But looks can be deceiving...

In this dangerous enclave, a U.S. Special Forces team and the Afghan government are trying to create a neighborhood watch program that many officials say is vital to securing Afghanistan. One of the program's most pressing tasks is to turn public opinion around inside this Taliban haven, where it's hard to tell farmers from militants — they all glare at the Green Berets as they rumble past in armored vehicles...

But in this district, where "Death to America" is spray-painted in Dari on mud walls, they are more likely to run into militants who prefer gunfights to conversation... (link)

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Collateral damage

Two incidents. One near Kabul:

MAIDAN WARDAK, June 2 (Reuters) - An air strike by NATO-led forces killed six Taliban fighters and two civilians in Maidan Wardak province, west of Kabul, a provincial spokesman said. (link)
Another near Herat:
Afghans Protest Against Civilian Deaths In Firefight

HERAT, June 1 (Reuters) - Dozens of people in northwestern Afghanistan have protested against civilian deaths, but local authorities say some elders in the area were to blame for helping a Taliban ambush.

Residents of Bala Murghab district of Badghis Province say six civilians, including women and children, were killed during firefight between Afghan and Taliban forces.

The deputy governor said only two civilians died, but added that local collusion with the insurgents made it hard for security forces to avoid innocent deaths during firefights...

Local residents say they are not colluding with the Taliban for ideological reasons, just trapped between two sides and trying to survive in a war zone.

"The government arrest and beat shopkeepers for selling groceries to the Taliban, but we are victimized by both sides," shopkeeper Haji Mohammad Shah told Reuters by phone... (link)