Thursday, December 31, 2009

Up to 18 Afghan civilians killed in attacks

On Monday, Dec 28, President Karzai condemned a foreign airstrike in Kunar province, saying the attack killed 10 civilians including eight students. Now the UN's Kai Eide has weighed in on the matter:

UN Says Eight Afghans Killed In Weekend Raid Were Students

KABUL, Dec 31 (Reuters) - The United Nations said today that eight Afghan students died in a controversial nighttime raid last weekend, which NATO-led forces say only targeted insurgents but Afghan officials say killed 10 civilians...

"The United Nations remains concerned about nighttime raids given that they often result in lethal outcomes for civilians, the dangerous confusion that frequently arises when a family compound is invaded, and the frustration of local authorities when operations are not coordinated with them," [UN Special Representative Kai] Eide said... (link)
The New York Times reports that the UN investigation's findings are only preliminary at this stage. Note that the UN doesn't so far shed any light on the other two alleged civilian victims.

Now there are reports of similar incident, this one in Helmand province:
Air Strike Kills Afghan Civilians, Provincial Official Says

KANDAHAR, Dec 31 (Reuters) - An air strike by foreign forces in Afghanistan's southern Helmand Province on December 30 killed civilians, although the number of victims is unknown, a spokesman for the provincial governor said.

"A patrol of foreign troops came under Taliban ambush at 3 p.m. After the ambush, planes came and bombed the area, which caused civilian casualties," said Dawud Ahmadi, spokesman for the Helmand governor... (link)
The New York Times relates reports that seven civilians died in the attack and Xinhua quotes an official to that effect:
"NATO-led troops carried out air strike outside Helmand's provincial capital Lashkargah on Wednesday, killing seven civilians and wounding two others," spokesman for provincial administration Daud Ahmadi told Xinhua.

The attack, he added, took place when some elders in Walizai village were discussing on the irrigation system in their area... (link)
Al Jazeera says "at least eight civilians" were killed in the Helmand incident.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Washington Post: Many Afghans prefer the Taliban

For many people whom I speak to about the war in Afghanistan, the point which proves the criminality of our occupation of that country is that many Afghans prefer the harsh but predictable rule of the Taliban to the monsters and thugs we have put in power. We have seen in previous blog posts some of the extent of this reluctant support for the Taliban. Now the Washington Post offers us similar sentiments from Laghman province, next to Kabul (and the location of the recent airstrike which is said to have killed up to fifteen civilians).

Taliban shadow officials offer concrete alternative
Many Afghans prefer decisive rule to disarray of Karzai government
By Griff Witte - Washington Post

LAGHMAN, Dec 8 - Like nearly all provinces in Afghanistan, this one has two governors.

The first was appointed by President Hamid Karzai...

The second governor was chosen by Taliban leader Mohammad Omar and, hunted by American soldiers, sneaks in only at night. He issues edicts on "Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan" stationery, plots attacks against government forces and fires any lower-ranking Taliban official tainted by even the whiff of corruption...

"These people in the shadow government are running the country now," said Khalid Pashtoon, a legislator from the southern province of Kandahar who has close ties to Karzai. "They're an important part of the chaos."

U.S. military officials say that dislodging the Taliban's shadow government and establishing the authority of the Karzai administration over the next 18 months will be critical to the success of President Obama's surge strategy. But the task has been complicated by the fact that in many areas, Afghans have decided they prefer the severe but decisive authority of the Taliban to the corruption and inefficiency of Karzai's appointees.

When the Taliban government was ousted in 2001 following five disastrous years in power, a majority of Afghans cheered the departure of a regime marked by the harsh repression of women and minorities, anemic government services and international isolation. Petty thieves had their hands chopped off, and girls were barred from school.

Today, there is little evidence the Taliban has fundamentally changed. But from Kunduz province in the north to Kandahar in the south, even government officials concede that their allies have lost the people's confidence and that, increasingly, residents are turning to shadow Taliban officials to solve their problems.

Pashtoon said that on a recent visit to Kandahar, he heard from constituents who were pleased with the Taliban's judges...

Afghans who live under Taliban control say the group's weaknesses remain the same as during the movement's five-year tenure ruling the country. The Taliban provides virtually no social services, leaving Afghans on their own when it comes to health care, education and development... (link)

More deaths, more denials (Updated)

Reuters reports on an incident in Afghanistan's Laghman province, which neighbors the capital of Kabul:

NATO Denies Civilians Killed In Afghan Attack

KABUL, Dec 8 (Reuters) - The NATO-led force has denied it had killed any civilians in an operation in eastern Afghanistan, but a provincial official said 12 people, probably civilians, had been killed in the attack...

The statement said the joint force came under "hostile fire from multiple positions and returned fire" in Armul village, in Mehtar Lam district.

"The joint force searched the compound without further incident and recovered multiple AK-47 rifles."

The spokesman for Laghman's governor, Sayed Ahmad Safi, said 12 people in four houses were killed during the operation.

"We have launched an investigation to find out how many of them were civilians and how many were Taliban," he said. "It looks like all of them may have been civilians, including women." (link)
Pajhwok Afghan News says locals reported 15 civilians dead, as does Iran's PressTV, who apparently have a reporter on the ground.

The Associated Press reports that Afghan security forces killed one protester on Tuesday (Dec 8) in the provincial capital as hundreds of demonstrators protested the airstrikes.

It seems that NATO is now coming (somewhat) clean:
NATO Says Civilians May Have Died In Afghan Raid

KABUL, Dec 9 (Reuters) - Civilians may have been among those killed in a NATO-led attack in eastern Afghanistan on December 8, the U.S. general in charge of the NATO force's day-to-day combat operations has said...

NATO said on December 8 that no civilians had died in its raid in Laghman Province... (link)

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Repeating the Russian disaster

Robert Fisk doing what he does best:

This strategy has been tried before – without success
Dec 3, 2009

... Victor Sebestyen, who has researched a book about the fall of the Soviet empire, has written at length of those frozen days after the Russian army stormed into Afghanistan just after Christmas of 1979. He quotes General Sergei Akhromeyev, commander of the Soviet armed forces, addressing the Soviet Politburo in 1986. "There is no piece of land in Afghanistan that has not been occupied by one of our soldiers at some time or another. Nevertheless much of the territory stays in the hands of the terrorists. We control the provincial centres, but we cannot maintain political control over the territory we seize."

As Sebestyen points out, Gen Akhromeyev demanded extra troops – or the war in Afghanistan would continue "for a very, very long time". And how's this for a quotation from, say, a British or US commander in Helmand today? "Our soldiers are not to blame. They've fought incredibly bravely in adverse conditions. But to occupy towns and villages temporarily has little value in such a vast land where the insurgents can just disappear into the hills." Yes, of course, this was Gen Akhromeyev in 1986...

Outside the city, I was told that the "mujahedin" – President Ronald Reagan's favourite "freedom fighters" – had destroyed a school because it was educating girls. Too true. The headmaster and his wife – after they had been burned – were hanging from a tree.

Afghans approached us with strange stories. Political prisoners were being taken from the country and tortured inside the Soviet Union. Secret rendition...

The "mujahedin" infested Helmand province and crossed and recrossed the Pakistani border, just as they do today. A Soviet Mig fighter-bomber even crossed the frontier in early 1980 to attack the guerrillas. The Pakistani government – and the United States, of course – condemned this as a flagrant breach of Pakistan's sovereignty. Well, tell that to the young Americans who control the unmanned Predators so often crossing the border today to attack the guerrillas... (link)