Sunday, January 24, 2010

Protests multiply in Afghanistan

We saw that hundreds of people in Ghazni hit the streets in protest on Thursday (Jan 20) after an overnight raid killed several people, alleged by the protesters to be innocent civilians. The protests continued on Friday, when Pajhwok Afghan News reported that "hundreds" of protesters forces the closure of streets and businesses. Shopkeeper Hamidullah told the reporter:

"The victims had links neither with Taliban fighters nor with other anti-government group. Abdullah, a security guard of a mobile tower, was killed along with two sons in the air raid." Driver Fazal Karim was the fourth civilian victim, he said. (link) [N.B.: The shopkeeper is translated as referring to an air raid, when it was a ground forces raid.]
The protesters returned the next day, according to PressTV which reported the mobilization of "500 angry demonstrators". More interestingly, however, PressTV also reports that Afghan workers at Bagram Air Base are on strike against their US employers:
Afghan workers protest at Bagram base

JANUARY 24 - Afghan workers at Bagram Air Base have staged a protest against maltreatment by the US military and laser health hazards at the camp, says a report.

Employees at the US military airport and housing complex in Bagram, 11 kilometers southeast of Charikar in the Parwan province of Afghanistan, gathered in front of the camp to show opposition "to US inappropriate treatment of the workers," a Press TV correspondent reported on Saturday.

Demonstrators said they have to pass through a "scanning device equipped with laser beans" which puts the employees' health in danger.

"We have to stand in queue for many hours to pass the security check post one by one," explained one of the protestors...

Thousands of Afghans work in the camp every day. They warned of quitting in the event the problem is not resolved... (link)

Friday, January 22, 2010

More killings by ground forces reveal emerging tactic

Another protest following more alleged civilian killings, this time in Ghazni province northeast of Kandahar. What is especially noteworthy about this incident is that ground forces are once again the perpetrators. This is in fact another in a series of incidents involving ground troops, whereas only a few months ago, civilian casualties by foreign forces were nearly all caused by airstrikes. So it appears that new more aggressive (or at least more numerous) ground force operations have become the principle source of civilian casualties by foreign forces.

Afghans protest over alleged civilian deaths

GHAZNI, Jan 21 (AFP) - Angry Afghan villagers took to the streets on Thursday claiming that civilians were killed in a raid by Afghan and NATO troops but the international force said the dead were insurgents.

NATO's International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) said it killed four insurgents including a 15-year-old boy in an operation in the Qarabagh district of Ghazni province on Wednesday night...

But about 50 furious villagers brought five coffins to the provincial capital Ghazni city on Thursday, claiming that three of the dead were civilians, including two children below the age of seven, an AFP reporter saw.

"Doctors told me that there were two children among the bodies brought to hospital," said Mohammad Ismail Ibrahimzai, head of the provincial hospital where the bodies were initially taken... (link)
The day following the alleged killing of the three civilians, NATO troops in Helmand (most likely US Marines) attended to three children wounded in crossfire.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

A Taliban charm offensive?

The New York Times' Alissa Rubin reports that some rural Afghans are seeing an improvement in the behaviour of Taliban insurgents. She also twice notes the disdain which Afghans exhibit for NATO troops, thus echoing Al Jazeera's reporter last week who said that locals "don't hide their hatred" of the foreign soldiers.

Taliban Make Over Their Image to Win Allies
By Alissa J. Rubin

KABUL, Jan 21 (NYT) - The Taliban have embarked on a sophisticated information war, using modern media tools as well as some old-fashioned ones, to soften their image and win favor with local Afghans...

Now, as the Taliban deepen their presence in more of Afghanistan, they are in greater need of popular support and are recasting themselves increasingly as a local liberation movement, independent of Al Qaeda, capitalizing on the mounting frustration of Afghans with their own government and the presence of foreign troops. The effect has been to make them a more potent insurgency, some NATO officials said.

Afghan villagers and some NATO officials added that [the Taliban code of conduct issued last year] had begun to change the way some midlevel Taliban commanders and their followers behave on the ground. A couple of the most brutal commanders have even been removed by Mullah Omar...

But the most important factor in their growing reach is the ineffectiveness of the central government and Afghans’ resentment of foreign troops.

Military intelligence analysts now estimate that there are 25,000 to 30,000 committed Taliban fighters and perhaps as many as 500,000 others who would fight either for pay or if they felt attacked by the Western coalition...

Interviews with tribal elders in areas where the Taliban are active suggest a complex picture. Several interviewed in rural Kandahar Province praised the Taliban’s new, less threatening approach, but said that did not translate into enthusiasm for the Taliban. At the same time, there is not much liking for either the Afghan government or NATO troops.

“There is a tremendous change in the Taliban’s behavior,” said Haji-Khan Muhammad Khan, a tribal elder from Shawalikot, a rural district of Kandahar Province

“They don’t behead people or detain those they suspect of spying without an investigation. But sometimes they still make mistakes, people still fear them, but now generally they behave well with people. They had to change because the leadership of the Taliban did not want to lose the support of the grass roots.” (link)
Rubin's figure of a half million almost-insurgents is an estimate I have not seen before. That puts a number value on the potential hornet's nest which the American-led war could be stepping into with their plans to get close to the population and make Afghans like the occupation.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Afghans 'do not hide their hatred' of Canadian troops

In this BBC translation of a January 15 broadcast of Al-Jazeera Arabic, Kabul correspondent Waliyullah Shahin reports on a Canadian Forces operation in the Panjwai district:

(Shahin:) These forces realize that danger is looming everywhere. They proceed with extreme caution in the Taleban movement's stronghold, which lies a few kilometers away from the city of Kandahar. They are trying to win the hearts and minds of the people of the Panjwai District, which was the scene of large-scale operations.

(Captain Peter, Canadian contingent:) We are visiting the hospital, schools, and the police station in Panjwai's market to ascertain what the people in the area need.

(Shahin:) The residents of the area do not hide their hatred of these forces. They accuse these forces of violating their privacy and depriving them of the basic needs for a secure rural life. Animosity continues to grip the relationship between these forces and the residents of the area.

(Unidentified Afghan, speaking in a local dialect:) The foreign forces bombard innocent civilians, but not the Taleban. We suffer from the Americans and the Afghan government; we experience a great deal of harassment... (link)
Meanwhile, violence in American-held Garmsir district continues as one civilian is killed by what appears to be US Marines (NATO won't say the nationality of the troops responsible):
NATO Troops Shoot Afghan In Area That Saw Unrest

KABUL, Jan 17 (Reuters) - NATO-led troops shot dead an Afghan civilian whose vehicle approached a convoy today in an area that has seen violent civil unrest over the past week in Afghanistan, the alliance said.

It was at least the third time in a week that either NATO or Afghan troops had shot civilians in Helmand Province's Garmsir district, raising the political temperature in an area mostly seized by U.S. Marines from the Taliban last year.

The International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) said troops had opened fire after a large vehicle with no headlights approached a convoy at high speed early today... (link)
In a similar incident, German troops killed a civilian in the north:
German troops kill civilian - Afghan official

KUNDUZ, Jan 18 (Reuters) - German troops with a NATO-led contingent killed an Afghan civilian and wounded a second person on Sunday at a roadside checkpoint in northern Kunduz province, a senior police official said...

"Despite hand signals and warning shots, the car didn't stop and instead sped towards the checkpoint. Given the escalation, soldiers then opened fire with small arms," the German Federal Armed Forces said in a statement... (link)
With all this carnage, it is perhaps not surprising that a large Ghilzai Pashtun tribe, the Kharoti tribe, is calling for an end to nighttime raids by foreign forces:
Elders seek end to house searches
By Rahmatullah Afghan

KABUL, Jan 15 (Pajhwok) - Elders from the Kharoti tribe have unanimously asked foreign troops to stop unwarranted night operations in their areas.

The demand came at a meeting attended by 60 elders and representatives of the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) in Kabul.

Mullah Sayed Yaqub, representative from the southern zone and resident of the Sra Roza district of Paktika province, said: "We are fed up with the operations. They enter our houses at night and kill us."

He said the international troops should discuss with locals or others if they had any problem in an area... (link)
The Kharoti tribe since 2001 have it seems been trying to maneuver between the Taliban and the foreign occupation forces (see here and here). While the tribe's traditional lands are further north in Paktia and near Kabul, a sizable number of Kharoti settlers can be found in the Nad-i Ali district of Helmand, where US Marines have been operating for several months now. Those Kharotis settled in the district decades ago to work the new farmland created by a costly irrigation project built by an American engineering firm which soon proved a disaster as salination stunted productivity. It is likely, however, that those settlers are largely de-tribalized, as are other Kharoti settler communities in the north of the country. The warlord Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, who is loosely allied with the Taliban, comes from such a Kharoti settler community in Kunduz province.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Are rosy opinion polls bogus?

A new poll conducted by D3 systems for the BBC and ABC and a German TV station has hit the headlines worldwide. The Globe and Mail says the poll shows "that Afghans are more confident about their future, prefer the administration President Hamid Karzai over the Taliban, and support the presence of American and NATO troops".

However, the poll immediately met with skepticism by knowledgeable and experienced observers like the respected expert on Post-Taliban Afghanistan Daniel Korski as well as journalist Jason Burke. They cited the implausibility of pollsters being able to travel to a high enough percentage of districts to make the sample a valid one. But the criticism goes far beyond that.

The Huffington Post has more:

Afghanistan is a highly patriarchal society, meaning that getting a woman's true opinion is extremely hard. [Prakhar Sharma of the Karzai family-connected Centre for Conflict and Peace Studies in Kabul] said that his research teams have never been able to get even close to the 50-50 male/female split that the ABC survey claims...

Those with experience in Afghanistan were skeptical that the surveyors actually went where they said they did. "If you look at it, the polling was conducted in built-up areas, in urban areas where we have our bases and where the Afghan government has a presence, primarily off the major highways," said [recently-resigned US foreign service official Matthew] Hoh. "So through the South and West of the country, primarily it was done right along Highway 1 where the government has control and where we have control. Off those areas, we don't have control." ...

Hoh said he simply doesn't buy it, both because the areas are impenetrable and because the answers make no sense. "I just don't really believe that, because what I saw in both the East and the South of the country...where all the fighting's really going on, this doesn't jive with, it doesn't agree with what you get when you go out and meet with local villagers. When you go out to these valleys and meet with folks, it doesn't square that they see a central government as a force for good," said Hoh...

Gopal and the others said that Afghan respondents try to figure out what the interviewer wants. "They almost always tell the surveyor what he wants to hear...

"I've seen this first hand when I accompanied surveyors in the field a couple of years ago." ...

Sharma said he has worked directly with the D3 subsidiary and found them to be the best qualified survey contractor among an unimpressive field. But even with that outfit they found "data falsified for insecure provinces (90 respondents in Ghazni had identical responses to all governance related questions, for instance)," Sharma wrote in an e-mail...

"The way the surveys work is by recruiting, say, 34 people for the 34 provinces," [Gopal] writes. "Each of these people are then tasked with finding participants for the survey in their province. In rural Afghanistan, with geographical, logistical and security concerns, these people can't very well go door to door. Moreover, they can't randomly select phone numbers here ... Therefore the surveyors usually find participants by polling their friends and family. This means that you don't have a random sample, and the results of the survey depend entirely on the political outlook of [the] person in charge. Since the surveyors are often educated people who live in urban areas and have ties to the government (in most provincial urban centers, almost every educated person--and there's not many--have family members working for the government, because that's the only job available to them.), there's a heavy pro-government and pro-coalition bias in the surveys." (link)
But easily the most damning criticism of the D3/ACSOR polling comes from Antonio Giustozzi, a British academic who is the recognized authority on the post-2001 Taliban. He was interviewed by British writer Ian Sinclair:
I ask him about the 2009 BBC/ABC News opinion poll conducted in Afghanistan which put support for the Taliban at around 9 per cent and support for the government at 65 per cent.

"The 9 per cent is an underestimate," he replies. Having studied the methodology of previous BBC/ABC polls, Giustozzi explains it is very unlikely that the polling staff travelled to the rural areas in the south - "where the Taliban are" - instead focusing on the cities and provincial centres.

"The sampling is very, very biased ... there are very few unemployed people, whereas even the government says unemployment is 40 per cent.

"In the poll 5 per cent were police and army, whereas in Afghanistan the actual percentage of the population in the army and police is 0.2 per cent. Fourteen per cent were managers and directors. There were no mullahs."

If the sampling was balanced, he estimates the Taliban would get around 15 per cent support nationwide and 30-40 per cent support in the south.

Interestingly, Giustozzi mentions that he has seen polls conducted by the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) which use different methodologies and get very different results - much higher support for the Taliban and much lower support for the government.

"In ISAF polls in early 2009 support for (Afghan President) Karzai was 4 per cent," he says. "They don't release them, of course - because they show a completely different picture." (link)

US Marines shoot at stick wielding protester

In the previous blog post, we saw that on January 12, Afghan and (allegedly) US troops shot and killed eight protesters in Garmsir, a town on the edge of the desert in Helmand province. The following day, January 13, saw another protest which met with troops' bullets, but this time the Americans' involvement is explicit:
NATO, Afghan troops fire on Afghan crowd wounding five

KABUL, Jan 15 (Reuters) - At least five Afghan civilians were wounded when a combined force of Afghan troops and U.S. Marines opened fire on a crowd at the gate to a military base in Helmand, Afghanistan's most volatile province, NATO said on Friday.

The incident, which took place on Wednesday but was not reported until Friday, was the second demonstration to turn violent in two days in Helmand's Garmsir district, suggesting mounting civil unrest in a part of the country where U.S. Marines under NATO command made major advances last year.

"ANA and ISAF forces warned a crowd of between 200 and 400 assembled civilians to keep its distance from the outpost," a NATO statement said...

"A number of civilians in the crowd disregarded instructions, resulting in forces firing warning shots. Deliberative escalation of force procedures were followed, but one individual continued to ignore instructions, striking members of the combined force with a stick," the statement said.

Lieutenant-Colonel Todd Breasseale said both Afghan troops and the U.S. Marines subsequently fired at the crowd...

The incident came a day after another violent demonstration in Garmsir...

Dawood Ahmadi, spokesman for Helmand governor Gulab Mangal, said Wednesday's demonstration had taken place outside a base where U.S. and Afghan officials were discussing the unrest from the day before.

He said Taliban infiltrators in Wednesday's crowd fired at the U.S. and Afghan troops, prompting the Afghans to return fire. The NATO statement made no mention of shots fired from the crowd... (link)
Note that the governor's office claimed the troops had been fired on, while NATO said no such thing. This is a strange discrepancy considering the two-day delay in relasing any news about this. And it bears asking, considering this incident was covered up for two days, have there been similar incidents which have never been reported?

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Locals say US troops shot protesters

Residents of Garmsir in Helmand province are accusing American troops of killing anti-US demonstrators at a protest attended by several thousand. The Americans claim their forces were nearby, but not on scene, as security forces forces clashed with rowdy demonstrators, killing eight civilians and three members of the security forces.

While US military officials have denied the charges, the size of the protest alone is of particular note. Whether the thousands of protesters who came were organized by non-insurgents or whether the Taliban organized them or even coerced them to attend, it is still a significant number of demonstrators.

Deadly Protest in Afghanistan Highlights Tensions
By Dexter Filkins - New York Times

KABUL, Jan 12 - At least eight Afghan civilians were killed and a dozen wounded Tuesday during a street protest in a volatile town along the Helmand River, after a raid on an Afghan home Sunday by American and Afghan forces. The raid was seized on by Taliban provocateurs who organized the protesters and pushed them toward violence, local officials said...

Local officials said the protest, which involved several thousand local Afghans, was organized by the Taliban’s “shadow” governor for Garmsir, Mullah Mohammed Naim...

No eyewitnesses to the disputed raid could be located; it took place Sunday night in the nearby village of Darwashan. American officers in Kabul denied that their soldiers had abused any Afghan women or desecrated a Koran...

The protesters in Garmsir began shouting, “Death to America” and “Death to [local police chief] Kamal Khan,” and overturned several cars. They set a school on fire. Then they stormed the local office of the National Security Directorate, the Afghan domestic intelligence service.

The security directorate is sometimes blamed for providing faulty intelligence to the Americans, who then detain the wrong people. As the crowd moved in, agents opened fire, Mr. Khan said.

In addition to the eight protesters killed and 13 wounded, an Afghan intelligence agent and two police were killed.

As the chaos unfolded, American officials said, a Taliban sniper began firing into the nearby American base, known as Forward Operating Base Delhi, a few hundred yards away. American officers said they killed the sniper, but no one else. In a statement, the Americans denied that they had fired on any protesters...

“The American are blaspheming the holy Koran and violating and disrespecting our culture,” said Jan Gul, a farmer whose son was killed in the protest. “We cannot tolerate such behavior. We will defend our religion.”

Indeed, some Afghans maintained that the American forces were present with the Afghan agents and fired on the crowd... (link)
Reuters reporter Abdul Malek, reporting from Helmand, adds support to the accusations that American troops did in fact take part:
Haji Jan Gul, who described himself as one of the demonstrators, said that his son had been killed in the melee. The foreign forces opened fire when protesters threw stones at them, he said.

"The foreigners shot many people in the streets, some 10 people died and others were wounded," he said... (link)
Also the Financial Times:
Ahmad Khan, a farmer who told the Financial Times by telephone that he was wounded in the demonstration, accused local and foreign forces of opening fire. “We wanted to condemn those foreigners who set fire to the Holy Koran and killed civilians,” he said. “The foreigners and the Afghans fired at us.” (link)

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Losing a disastrous war

A string of developments in the past couple of weeks is revealing that the war in Afghanistan is going rather badly. In late December, NBC did a story on a leaked report prepared for CENTCOM commander David Petraeus which looked at the Afghan National Army and found it in a dismal state. I haven't found a copy yet, but the NBC reporters quoted from it:

'Nepotism, corruption, and absenteeism among ANA leaders makes success impossible. Change must come quickly.' Another line: 'If Afghan political leaders do not place competent people in charge, no amount of coalition support will suffice in the long term.' (link)
Meanwhile, the top American intelligence officer in Afghanistan, Maj-Gen Michael Flynn, has delivered a bombshell assessment of the war's progress in beating down the Taliban:
'Afghan Insurgency Can Sustain Itself Indefinitely,' Top U.S. Intel Chief Says
By Noah Shachtman -

JANUARY 8 - The Taliban not only has the “momentum” after the most successful year in its campaign against the United States and the Kabul government. “The Afghan insurgency can sustain itself indefinitely,” according to a briefing from Major General Michael Flynn, the top U.S. intelligence officer in the country. “The Taliban retains [the] required partnerships to sustain support, fuel legitimacy and bolster capacity.”

And if that isn’t enough, Flynn also warns that “time is running out” for the American-lead International Security Assistance Force. “Regional instability is rapidly increasing and getting worse,” the report says...

Flynn’s December 23rd presentation on the “State of the Insurgency : Trends, Intentions and Objectives” may be the gloomiest public assessment of the war yet. The “loosely organized” Taliban is “growing more cohesive” and “increasingly effective.” The insurgents now have their own “governors” installed in 33 of Afghanistan’s 34 provinces. And the “strength and ability of [that] shadow governance increasing,” according to the presentation...

The presentation also cast doubt on some of the war’s stated central aims. The Obama administration has repeatedly said that additional troops are necessary to prevent a Taliban takeover of Afghanistan — which would then allow Al Qaeda to re-establish its safe haven there. According to interviews with detainees, however, the insurgents “view Al Qaeda as a handicap – a view that is increasingly prevalent.” The Taliban feel they have to “manage [the] relationship with AQ to avoid alienating Afghan population, but encourage support from [the] global jihad network.” ... (link)
And here's a rather shocking story that had no legs at all. I couldn't find a single reference to this development in the English world press. The UN's development news agency IRIN has the story:
More IDPs than previously thought - government

KABUL, Jan 4 (IRIN) - The number of internally displaced persons (IDPs) in Afghanistan is significantly higher than estimated by the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR), the government has said.

New Ministry of Refugees and Returnees (MoRR) figures from all 34 provinces indicate that 82,778 households (413,890 individuals) are currently internally displaced...

UNHCR estimates of 275,000 people displaced within Afghanistan are based on the findings of a National IDP Task Force which included UN agencies, government bodies and NGOs.

Many IDPs belong to caseloads dating back to 1998-2002: These IDPs are mainly in camps and settlements in the south and west.

Over one million people were reportedly internally displaced in 2002... (link)
By giving the figure of 1 million IDPs in 2002, the article gives the impression that the number of IDPs has declined since then, albeit not as dramatically as previously thought if the latest report is accurate. In fact, the number of IDPs appears to have dropped quite dramatically after 2002 and began rising a couple of years ago. In November 2007 there were 129,000 UNHCR-registered IDPs, though The Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre reckoned the true number to be closer to 300,000. A year ago the UNHCR was estimating there were 235,000 IDPs in total, somewhat lower than their current estimate of 275,000.

Finally, a deeply saddening testament to the evils of war:
Afghan women turning to suicide in greater numbers: report
By Murray Brewster

OTTAWA, Jan 6 (CP) - More Afghan women are choosing suicide to escape the violence and brutality of their daily lives, says a new human-rights report prepared by Canada's Foreign Affairs Department.

The 2008 annual assessment paints a grim picture of a country where violence against women and girls is common...

“Self-immolation is being used by increasing numbers of Afghan women to escape their dire circumstances, and women constitute the majority of Afghan suicides,” said the report, completed in November 2009.

The document was obtained by The Canadian Press under the Access to Information Act.

The director of a burn unit at a hospital in the relatively peaceful province of Herat reported that in 2008 more than 80 women tried to kill themselves by setting themselves on fire, many of them in their early 20s... (link)
Note that the report was apparently not released publicly.

Friday, January 8, 2010

5000 Afghans shout 'Death to Obama'

Recently, protests over the alleged US special forces massacre of eight teenagers were held in Kabul and Jalalabad, where hundreds of students rallied, as well as in Asadabad, the capitol of Kunar province where the killings occurred. That protest was attended by 1,500 according to media reports.

But yesterday in Jalalabad, a new protest brought 5,000 people to the streets chanting slogans against the US over the deaths of several civilians in a bomb blast near that city. But the unusual (and vitally important) thing about the protest is that it was an insurgent bombing, not American planes or troops, which took that toll.

In this context, the message of the protest is clear: Afghans blame the occupation for all the violence in that country, even those acts perpetrated by those who resist the foreigners. While this is not an unusual phenomenon, it is one lost on many who write on the war in Afghanistan. Just recently I mentioned the phenomenon to a Canadian military blogger in response to his comment, but "" appeared neither to know nor care. This is certainly not unusual; many commentators, in response to justified outrage about civilians killed by foreign forces, rebut with a breathless catalog of insurgent crimes. This latest protest shows how morally shallow such performances are.

In any case, it is interesting that those Afghans in the streets of Jalalabad are in a way making concrete the Nuremburg principle that aggression is the "supreme international crime [which] contains within itself all the accumulated evil of the whole."

New civilian deaths roil Afghans
Thousands chant ‘Death to America' to protest latest killing of children

KABUL, Jan 7 (AP) - Thousands of Afghans shouting "Death to America" protested the killings of children Thursday, the latest in a string of controversial cases in which international forces have been blamed for civilian deaths...

On Wednesday, an explosion tore through a group of children gathered around foreign soldiers visiting a U.S.-funded road project in Nangarhar province, east of the capital of Kabul. Afghan officials said four children were killed. NATO said two died.

Minutes after the blast, local residents were accusing American forces of throwing a grenade into the crowd — even though several international troops were among the wounded. The Afghan Interior Ministry later released a statement saying the explosion occurred when a passing police vehicle hit a mine.

Still, an estimated 5,000 protesters demonstrated the deaths Thursday along a road between Kabul and Jalalabad in Nangarhar. They waved a banner condemning the attack, set fire to an effigy of President Barack Obama and chanted "Long live Islam!" and "Death to Obama!"

"We are shouting 'Death to America' and 'to the Afghan government,'" Sardar Wali, a university student at the demonstration. "It is the responsibility of the Afghan government to find and hand over the people who are responsible for this attack." ... (link)

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Canadian media sits on juicy murder story

Here's a rather revealing item which got almost no mention in the Canadian press. A cousin of Hamid Karzai kills another cousin of Hamid Karzai in an honour killing. It appears that the killer, Hashmat Karzai, had the support of Hamid and his brothers, one of whom, Ahmed Wali Karzai, is the recognized head of the Karzai clan and the de facto governor of Kandahar - and drug kingpin and CIA informant. Police investigation seems to be blocked, likely due to Wali's influence.

This remarkable story got mentioned on page 16 of the Montreal Gazette (Dec 24/09) and nowhere else in the Canadian press.

Killing Bares Karzai Clan Feud, And Doubts on Afghan Justice
James Risen - The New York Times

WASHINGTON, Dec 20 - On Oct. 16, four sport utility vehicles barreled into Karz, Afghanistan, the hometown of the country's president, Hamid Karzai, and pulled up to the home of one of his cousins, Yar Mohammad Karzai.

Teams of armed guards blocked the street and herded passers-by into a nearby mosque while seizing their cellphones, then removed the front door of the house, according to Karzai family members and several people from the mosque. A man in traditional white Afghan robes, accompanied by two security guards, walked inside and found two of Yar Mohammad Karzai's children, 18-year-old Waheed and his 12-year-old sister, Sona, doing their schoolwork in their bedroom.

The girl later said that she remembered the robed man raising a pistol and shooting Waheed three times as she shouted: ''Don't kill my brother! Don't kill my brother!''

As the intruders fled, firing their weapons, a cousin, Zalal Karzai, 25, came running from elsewhere in the house and saw Waheed stagger from the bedroom. ''What happened to you?'' Zalal Karzai recalled asking.

'' 'Hashmat shot me!' '' he said the youth screamed back.

Waheed Karzai, who relatives say provided the same account to other family members before dying two days later at an American military hospital in Kandahar, was referring to Hashmat Karzai, 40, a first cousin of the president and the owner of a private security company that has close ties to the Afghan government and millions of dollars in contracts with the United States military...

Some relatives said they believed that the death was vengeance for an ''honor killing'' of Hashmat Karzai's father nearly 30 years ago by Yar Mohammad Karzai...

While some family members accuse the Karzai government of stonewalling, they do not claim that the president played an active role in blocking an investigation. Instead, they blame several of his brothers, including Ahmed Wali Karzai, the political boss of Kandahar...

Noor Karzai, 40, a cousin who lives in Maryland, expressed similar disappointment. ''They are protecting Hashmat,'' he said. ''He is sitting in Kabul getting money from the U.S. government. No one will touch him. We are sending billions of dollars of ...

The village of Karz is in Kandahar Province, about three miles outside the city of Kandahar, where Ahmed Wali Karzai, one of the president's brothers, wields enormous political power. But after Waheed's killing, government officials in the Kandahar area were strangely unhelpful...

Meanwhile, at least three of President Karzai's brothers -- Ahmed Wali, Mahmoud and Qayum -- have been urging family members to allow relatives to deal with the killing privately without bringing in the police, said Noor and Mohammad Karzai, the brothers from Maryland... (link)
A few days after the NYT story, which caused quite a stir in Afghanistan, the Associated Press related that President Karzai had finally ordered an investigation:
A spokesman for the Interior Ministry, Zemeri Bashary, said Karzai ordered the ministry to begin investigating the killing Sunday, the same day the newspaper report was published.

He said counterterrorism police and criminal investigators were assisting local officials, who began looking into the killing earlier.

Yar Mohammad Karzai said he was frustrated the president took so long to acknowledge the slaying. "He did not even give me a condolence call,'' he said... (link)
So President Karzai apparently made no move to order a murder investigation early on and didn't even call to condole his cousin whose son was murdered. It thus seems the alleged murderer's family is closer to Hamid and his brothers than is the victim's family.

But clearly this debacle is not simply a matter of the security forces wisely staying out of difficult family feuds. Forty-year-old Hashmat Karzai, the alleged killer, heads a major security firm contracted to the US military while his younger brother Hekmat, 36, founded the Centre for Conflict and Peace Studies and is an advisor to his cousin Hamid Karzai. (It was their father, Khalil Karzai, who was killed in the early 80's by the father of the recently dead teen.)

It seems likely that many Afghans will see this latest slaying not as justice being served, but as another wealthy and powerful man using the immunity of his position to victimize others. Which is surely the last thing that Afghanistan needs right now. It also seems like something people in Canada might want to know about, given our important role in propping up the government there. But boosters for the war - and the media have more than their fair share of those - find such revelations a little bit awkward. Best to leave it out.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Scholars agree: Afghan war is illegal

Marjorie Cohn, former head of the National Lawyers' Guild, was a highly visible and formidable critic of the Bush administration. Her book Cowboy Republic is the best source I know on the various crimes of that era. Below, Cohn admirably continues her efforts, turning her attention to Obama's war.

Cohn is not the only jurist to examine the legal status of the Afghan war in recent years. Canadian law professor Michael Mandel has written substantially on the matter as have Myra Williamson and highly respected scholar Alex Conte, who have each produced a book on the subject. Interestingly, all of them have found that the war in Afghanistan began illegally and those who look past the initial invasion (all but Williamson) find that the war continues to be illegal.

A Grave Breach of the Geneva Conventions
Why the Af/Pak War is Illegal
By Marjorie Cohn

... The UN Charter provides that all member states must settle their international disputes by peaceful means, and no nation can use military force except in self-defense or when authorized by the Security Council. After the 9/11 attacks, the council passed two resolutions, neither of which authorized the use of military force in Afghanistan.

“Operation Enduring Freedom” was not legitimate self-defense under the charter because the 9/11 attacks were crimes against humanity, not “armed attacks” by another country. Afghanistan did not attack the United States. In fact, 15 of the 19 hijackers hailed from Saudi Arabia. Furthermore, there was not an imminent threat of an armed attack on the United States after 9/11, or President Bush would not have waited three weeks before initiating his October 2001 bombing campaign. The necessity for self-defense must be “instant, overwhelming, leaving no choice of means, and no moment for deliberation.” ...

Bush's justification for attacking Afghanistan was that it was harboring Osama bin Laden and training terrorists, even though bin Laden did not claim responsibility for the 9/11 attacks until 2004. After Bush demanded that the Taliban turn over bin Laden to the United States, the Taliban’s ambassador to Pakistan said his government wanted proof that bin Laden was involved in the 9/11 attacks before deciding whether to extradite him, according to the Washington Post. That proof was not forthcoming, the Taliban did not deliver bin Laden, and Bush began bombing Afghanistan.

Bush’s rationale for attacking Afghanistan was spurious. Iranians could have made the same argument to attack the United States after they overthrew the vicious Shah Reza Pahlavi in 1979 and the U.S. gave him safe haven. If the new Iranian government had demanded that the U.S. turn over the Shah and we refused, would it have been lawful for Iran to invade the United States? Of course not.

When he announced his troop “surge” in Afghanistan, Obama invoked the 9/11 attacks. By continuing and escalating Bush’s war in Afghanistan, Obama, too, is violating the UN Charter. In his speech accepting the Nobel Peace Prize, Obama declared that he has the "right" to wage wars "unilaterally.” The unilateral use of military force, however, is illegal unless undertaken in self-defense...

The use of these drones in Pakistan violates both the UN Charter and the Geneva Conventions, which prohibit willful killing. Targeted or political assassinations—sometimes called extrajudicial executions—are carried out by order of, or with the acquiescence of, a government, outside any judicial framework. As a 1998 report from the UN Special Rapporteur noted, “extrajudicial executions can never be justified under any circumstances, not even in time of war.” Willful killing is a grave breach ... (link)

Saturday, January 2, 2010

The Afghan peace movement

As we saw in the previous blog entry, in December there were three disastrous nighttime raids carried out by (so it seems) US special forces and/or CIA in Afghanistan. Two of them involved ground troops allegedly killing civilians at close range, while the third involved a deadly airstrike called in by special forces. In total the incidents killed some 24 civilians.

The reaction among Afghans appears to be quite strong. In the wake of the first incident, the Dec 7/8 attack in Laghman province which killed 12 civilians, Afghan parliamentarians reacted bitterly, as reported on Afghanistan's Tolo TV:

(Mawlawi Sayed Rahman, MP representing Laghman Province:) This is an aggression. This is an advanced way of occupying a country where a number of people are being killed or detained under several pretexts. In this way, they (foreigners) are insulting the people...

(Yunos Qanuni, lower house Speaker:) Basic principles of this country's policies for the coming five years should be presented (to the lower house). This should include debate about country's new policies about the presence of foreign forces in Afghanistan. [BBC Foreign Service translation]
Note that the Laghman MP calls the western presence in his country an occupation and that Yunos Qanuni, a very important Afghan politician, calls into question the legitimacy of that occupation.

In the second incident, a Dec 27/28 nighttime operation by US special forces or CIA resulted in at least eight civilians killed by ground forces. Agence France-Presse reports that President Karzai "strongly condemned" the Kunar killings, which is I believe the strongest language he has ever used in incidents of this kind. There are, however, reports that Afghan army soldiers were involved in the Kunar incident, so Karzai's anger may be a rouse to deflect attention from his responsibility.

The Kunar incident sparked at least three major protests in Afghanistan. On Dec 30, protests attracting hundreds of demonstrators were held in Kabul and Jalalabad, the major eastern Afghan city and gateway to Pakistan and on Dec 31 some 1,500 protesters hit the streets of Asadabad, capital of Kunar province.
Afghans burn Obama effigy over civilian deaths

JALALABAD, Dec 30 (AFP) - Protesters took to the streets in Afghanistan on Wednesday, burning an effigy of the US president and shouting "death to Obama" to slam civilian deaths during Western military operations.

Hundreds of university students blocked main roads in Jalalabad, capital of eastern Nangarhar province, to protest the alleged deaths of 10 civilians, mostly school children, in a Western military operation on Saturday.

"The government must prevent such unilateral operations otherwise we will take guns instead of pens and fight against them (foreign forces)," students from the University of Nangarhar's education faculty said in a statement.

Marching through the main street of Jalalabad, the students chanted "death to Obama" and "death to foreign forces", witnesses said.

The protesters torched a US flag and an effigy of US President Barack Obama in a public square in central Jalalabad, before dispersing.

"Our demonstration is against those foreigners who have come to our country," Safiullah Aminzai, a student organiser, told AFP...

A similar protest was planned in Kabul against the "killing of civilians, especially the recent killing of students in Kunar by foreign forces," said organisers from the youth wing of Jamiat Eslah, or the Afghan Society for Social Reform and Development.

"The demonstration is to show our hatred, anger and sorrow about the current situation," said Sayed Khalid Rashid.

"Our main request is that the American and NATO forces must leave the country and Afghan people must have political autonomy," he said, adding that he expected hundreds of people to turn out for the march through western Kabul... (link)
The organisers of the Dec 30 Kabul protest, Jamiat Eslah's youth section, issued this statement:
1. On behalf of the young generation of our country, we strongly condemn the recent killing of our innocent compatriots by US and NATO troops in the provinces of Kunar, Laghman, Baghlan and everywhere else. We condemn such operations by whatever name carried out, either it is called peacekeeping or enduring freedom, and want an end to cruelly massacring of our people.

2. We urge the Afghan government and law-enforcement agencies to seriously chase these killings and bring to justice the perpetrators.

3. The Afghan youth urge the United Nations, human rights watchdogs and the international community not to stay indifferent towards killing and massacre of civilian Afghans anymore. They must stop brutal killing of innocent Afghans via legal and legitimate ways.

4. The Afghan people believe that US and NATO must think about ending their war policies in Afghanistan, instead of sending out more troops to kill more innocent Afghans.

5. We urge the world community not to impose its mandate on the Afghan people. A nation that has lived together throughout the history can decide its own fate and can coexist as a sovereign nation with no need to foreign intervention.

6. We ask all Afghans to put away their factional and personal interests and work for higher national interests to make an independent, free and prosperous Afghanistan.

The Afghan youth will not allow foreign hands to exploit our disunity for carrying out their imperialistic agendas and destroy our country.

Long live Afghanistan (link)
Note that the Kabul protest statement does not explicitly call for all foreign troops to be pulled out (only that occupying countries "must think about ending their war policies"), though the spokesperson at the protest asserts that their "main request is that the American and NATO forces must leave the country."

On the other hand the Jalalabad students' rhetoric is notable for its bravado, as their statement says that if there is no change, students will take up arms.

One obvious question which arises is who is Jamiat Eslah's youth section, exactly? Information is scant but the parent organization Jamiat Eslah (Afghan Society for Social Reform and Development) appears to be a respected NGO, affiliated with ACBAR and the UN and recipient of international foundation money. Browsing through this flickr photo essay of the Kabul protest reveals a distinct blue headband motif. Can this be seen as a distinctly secular gesture? An echo of the so-called colour revolutions or Iran's green-adorned protesters, perhaps?

The current batch of peaceniks are not a lone voice in Afghanistan, as readers of this blog are no doubt aware. The recently well-publicized Malalai Joya has been calling for foreign troops to withdraw for some time now. And besides Joya and her supporters, the peace camp also includes RAWA and their supporters as well as the National Peace Jirga.

The current protests seem to be having no small effect, spurring the Karzai administration to strike out against the occupying powers over the explosive issue of civilian casualties:
Kabul demands foreign 'killers' handed over
by Sardar Ahmad Sardar Ahmad

KABUL, Dec 31 (AFP) – The Afghan government demanded Thursday to take into its custody foreigners wanted over the alleged killing of 10 civilians, sharply escalating a war of words with its powerful Western military backers... (link)

Friday, January 1, 2010

Boy watches US forces shoot father in head

Recent reports indicate that a new stage may have been reached in the war in Afghanistan. Secret operations of CIA and special forces appear to have stepped up their infamous night raids, which have induced fear in much of the local population.

We saw in a blog post a few weeks ago that up to 15 civilians in Laghman were killed in a ground forces operation apparently carried out under NATO command. NATO itself, after initial denials, appeared to acknowledge civilian casualties, but was characteristically vague about it.

Now, according to the article below, it seems that the attack-cum-massacre was carried out at night and, according to locals, perpetrated by US special forces on the ground. (The Washington Post, however, mistakenly reported as late as Dec 30 that the attack was an airstrike.)

US forces ‘like to kill us’
Sayed Karim - The National
December 28. 2009

... According to witnesses, US troops entered a number of houses near the provincial capital, Mehtar Lam, in an overnight operation [on Dec 7/8]. The victims included Mohammed Ismail, whose 10-year-old son, Rafiullah, described what happened: “When the soldiers came to our house, my father asked them, ‘Who are you?’ Then they shot him in the head and told us, ‘Be quiet and tell us where the weapons are’.”

Said Ahmad Safi, a spokesman for Laghman’s governor, said insurgents had previously staged attacks against officials and foreign troops in the area. He acknowledged that 12 people – including a woman – had apparently died in the raid, which locals reported was carried out by US Special Forces...

Discontent with the government and the occupation has inevitably fuelled support for the Taliban among the local population. Despite still being relatively secure compared with much of eastern Afghanistan, there has been growing rebel activity here in recent months as the insurgents edge closer and closer to neighbouring Kabul...

Gulzar Sankerwal, chairman of the provincial council, said: “The Taliban do not fight face to face. This is guerrilla fighting so if more troops arrive, they will not solve the problem. When the commander in Kabul asked Obama for the extra troops, he knew the USA would end up with one achievement, and that is more civilian casualties.” ... (link)
Note that in spite of (and because of) the two Obama-ordered troop surges, the insurgency continues to spread, moving closer to Kabul.

So it turns out that the deaths occurred in a nighttime raid, one of what appears to be an increasing number of such operations. The Dec 7/8 disaster was recently repeated in Kunar on Dec 27 and again in Baghlan on Dec 28/29 - an incident which has gone largely unnoticed in the media, though it has now been overshadowed by the Dec 30 incident in Helmand - a daytime missile strike by NATO forces. AFP has more on the Dec 27 Kunar incident:
Nato's International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) had no information on any operations or casualties in Kunar.

A senior Western military official told AFP that US special forces have been conducting operations against militants in the border regions of Kunar.

"They have been killing a lot of Taliban and capturing a lot of Taliban," he said.

The operations were conducted independently of ISAF, which number more than 110,000 fighting to eradicate the Taliban, he said... (link)
And yet that may not be the end of the intriguing details. While locals in Kunar say the 8 teenagers were killed in a US special forces raid, AFP reports that they may have been CIA operatives:
NATO forces have disputed the results of the Afghan probe, saying the foreigners involved were non-military Americans on a sanctioned operation who fired in self-defence after being shot at by villagers. (link)
US special forces like the Green Berets or Navy Seals are military personnel while CIA officers are not. Of course, neither are mercenaries such as Blackwater. It seems possible that "non-military Americans" could refer to either CIA or mercs.

In all likelihood, the recent spate of nighttime raids were undertaken by a mix of CIA, special forces and perhaps mercenaries. CIA agents are known to work alongside special forces in Afghanistan and recent reports about Blackwater revealed their involvement in CIA operations there.

Finally, the recent attack in Baghlan, courtesy of the Afghan press since few if any western media reported the incident:
'Four civilians killed in Baghlan air raid'
Habib Rahman Sherzai - Dec 29, 2009

PUL-I-KHUMRI (Pajhwok) - Four civilians have reportedly been killed and eight others wounded in a fresh air strike by foreign forces in northern Baghlan province, residents alleged on Tuesday.

The overnight attack took place in Kohna Qala area of Baghlan-i-Markazi district, residents told Pajhwok Afghan News...

In the last night air raid, the dead included a father and his three sons, who were killed while running to escape the bombardment, a teacher at the Jamiat Aburjaee High School in the area, Karim Safi, told Pajhwok Afghan News. A student of the school, Karim Javed, said that the air raid also left many people wounded including a student of his school.

Head of the district hospital, Abdul Qahir Qanit, said they had received eight injured people delivered to the hospital with a woman and a child in a critical condition... (link)