Saturday, July 28, 2007

'Dozens' more civilians killed

Once again, airstrikes called in to take out suspected 'Taliban,' (near Helmand Province), NATO denies knowledge of civilian casualties, the civilians themselves say, "The war planes came and bombed these villagers, more than 40 civilians killed, including women and children," said villager Nimatullah Khan. In Eastern Afghanistan where the majority of US forces are concentrated, 2 US soldiers were reportedly killed in Nuristan province, with thirteen wounded (link).

Friday, July 27, 2007

Robert Fisk's Zahir Shah Obituary

You likely heard about the death of Afghanistan's former King Zahir Shah earlier this week. PM Stephen Harper issued official condolences, a clear sign of what journalist Robert Fisk calls "Western arrogance" in his thoughtful 'obituary' in The Independent (link); the caption of which reads:

The last king of Afghanistan;
He was King of a nation that, in the the minds of many, does not really exist. He was a feudal master who believed in liberating women. He was a figurehead who lived a life of luxury in exile while his people suffered the agonies of war and occupation. The story of Zahir Shah is the story of Western arrogance and Eastern impotence, argues Robert Fisk

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

On the ground in Afghanistan (Part 4)

Mike Skinner's account of his experiences in Afghanistan (intro here).

Sunday, June 17 (excerpts):.

... The Canadian embassy is like none I have seen anywhere else – it is surrounded by an earthen fortress typical of a military installation not an embassy. While most embassies in the neighbourhood of Wazir Akbar Khan are typical of what you would expect to see in Ottawa – a gated mansion with security guards – the American, British and Canadian embassies are impregnable fortresses.

After passing through three checkpoints on the road leading into the embassy, we were admitted to a cramped security office. Here we were processed through an intensive security protocol – our bags were searched and I had to turn on my laptop and all my cameras and then these were taken away for
storage until our departure. An armed guard then accompanied us to a second building where we spoke to a receptionist through a bullet-proof glass partition.

... We had hoped to get a list of current Canadian development projects so we could visit these to see what progress if any is being made, but it seems there is no such list that can be provided by the receptionist at least. By some reports, every Canadian journalist and official who visits Afghanistan is taken
to the same two locations – a school and a health clinic in Kabul both funded by the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA). (See entire post here.)

Monday, July 23, 2007

Canadian Ally in War and Propaganda

In recent years, the Canadian government has ramped up its public relations efforts in the US. The promotion of Canada-US economic, energy, and military ties have been the feature of a campaign to 'sell' US elites on Canada since the May 2004 launch of the
website. The program only really made headlines in March 2006, when we learned, "Canada is advertising its military role in Afghanistan with seven massive posters and banners in the U.S. capital area's subway stations." The posters read:

''Canadian troops in Kandahar, Afghanistan. Boots on the ground. U.S.-Canada relations. Security is our business.''

The website has targeted "
the litany of Washington-based thinks-tanks [and] opinion-shapers in the capital who routinely deal with large U.S. media." The DC-based office, headed by an 'advocacy secretary' has undertaken an "intense diplomatic focus on Congress," as part of what a former director calls "the hidden wiring of the Canada/U.S. relationship."

While it was the brainchild of former Liberal PM Paul Martin Jr., the Conservatives have spruced it up to better reflect their shift to a more overt drive toward a deepening of the Canada-US "partnership." Unabashed in its hammering away at the key points it is driving across to its elite constituency, the website boasts: Canada is an 'emerging energy superpower,' the 'largest provider of energy to the US,' and, most importantly. "Canada has deployed 23,750 military personnel in the War on Terror since October 2001."

They've also added faux 'news' videos, produced by the Canadian Army's public affairs department (modeled, presumably, on 'The Pentagon Channel') featuring stories about 'Canada-US' 'ties of friendship,' and human interest stories about Canadian soldiers serving in Afghanistan.

In covering Harper's recent visit to Colombia, a country of relatively minor economic significance to Canada (while evidently one of major political significance), the Globe and Mail's Alan Freeman noted that in pursuing a free trade deal with the hemisphere's most repressive government, Harper "
would be emulating U.S. President George W. Bush." Freeman also noted how despite Bush's good intentions, the free trade deal has:

stalled in the U.S. Congress, where Democrats have vowed to stop the deal over allegations that Mr. Uribe's allies and top generals colluded with paramilitaries who have murdered union organizers, teachers and journalists over the past decade.
With the program in mind, one has to wonder to what extent diplomatically-emboldened Canadians are whispering in the ears of the US policy elite, pushing Canada's 'third way' of supporting Colombian state terrorism. The Conservative media backgrounder (handed out at a Hill press briefing prior to Harper's departure) emphasized Canada's military role in Colombia, "in the pursuit of a peaceful resolution to the ongoing internal conflict." Despite a torrent of mainstream media coverage of Harper's trip, no one even speculated that Harper's visit might be fulfilling some lobbying purpose for the Bush regime. What else are 'dependable allies' for?

As it happens, in a recent ZNet commentary, Justin Podur writes:

One can imagine the process that led to the visit. Uribe's regime is shaky, his own role in paramilitarism is becoming increasingly public, and he needs to demonstrate his closeness to the US, one of the only sources of prestige he has left. Bush wants to help Uribe out for his years of loyal service. Bush calls Harper and asks him to go associate publicly with Uribe. Harper does what he's told. If Canada can say it wants free trade with Colombia, why not the rest of the world? Canada has long played a role of selling the unpalatable to the world for the US - the Korean war in the 1950s, the Congo coup in the 1960s, the Vietnam war in the 1960s and 1970s, the Iraq wars of the 1990s, the Afghan war in 2001, the Haiti coup in 2004 and the sanctions on the Palestinians in 2006, as just a few examples...
The other would-be significant angle ignored by the Canadian press corps are the increasing parallels drawn by the US war machine between Colombia and Afghanistan. As discussed in detail on an episode of CBC's On the Map last month (link), "largely under the radar, the United States is in the first stages of exporting its patented 'war on drugs' strategy from Colombia to Afghanistan."

Even with headlines such as "Afghanistan haunts prime minister on Americas tour," (James Travers, Kitchener-Waterloo Record, July 19, 2007) there was no discussion of the similarities between the narco-wars in Colombia and Afghanistan, or what the Ottawa Citizen called on May 18, 2007, "The Colombia Experiment." Presumably, because (as the issue has been covered by the Canadian press) Canada is not 'officially' engaged in counter-narcotics operations in Afghanistan, how those operations are carried out by the UK and US has no bearing on Canada's counter-terror and counterinsurgency operations in Afghanistan. One would think this might have made for interesting copy last week. But then, this might have led to some uncomfortable questions being raised, especially as Harper carried on to Barbados and Haiti, two transshipment points for the cocaine that departs Colombia. Someone might have even noted how ironic it was that only a few days before Harper arrived in Port au Prince, the US DEA attempted to arrest paramilitary and alleged murderer (turned Presidential candidate Guy Philippe, for his alleged drug trafficking ties. They failed and Philippe remains in hiding. Philippe has recently denied the charges.

In a recently published interview with Peter Hallward, Philippe revealed that, contrary to the propaganda delivered to the world at the time of the coup, his "rebels," who had entered from the Dominican Republic in early February 2004, were financed by the political opposition that was 'peacefully' rallying for the ouster of President Jean-Bertrand Aristide. Although TransAfrica founder Randall Robinson presents evidence in his new book, "Haiti: An Unbroken Agony," (which he discussed today on Democracy Now!) that the Philippe-led paramilitaries were only providing a diversionary pretext for a US-led invasion that eventuated in Aristide's kidnapping on February 29th, 2004, the role that the rebels played is by no means an insignificant one. When on February 5th, 2004, the "rebels" entered Haiti from the DR, the leader of Guy Philippe's political wing, Paul Arcelin, was in Montreal meeting with then-MP (and future foreign affairs minister) Pierre Pettigrew. Many of Philippe's collaborators from the Haitian elite have close ties to Canadian officials; since the coup, Canada has funneled millions of dollars to organizations that were rallying for Aristide's ouster. In keeping with the script none of these, or myriad other potential questions, were raised by the press corps accompanying Harper on his 'whirlwind' trip through the Hemisphere, Canada's 'new backyard.'

One last note on the Colombia-Afghan question. The
New York Times article, 'Poppy Fields Are Now a Front Line in Afghan War,' which inspired the Citizen piece above, is here.

Sunday, July 22, 2007

On the ground in Afghanistan (Part 3)

Mike Skinner's account of his experiences in Afghanistan (intro here).

Saturday, June 16 (excerpts):

… As we drink our morning tea in our room we notice the distinctive
mushroom cloud of an explosion rapidly building about two kilometres along the highway towards Ghazni and Kandahar.
... as we proceed to our morning meeting other riders on the bus talk
about what they have heard. An ISAF convoy was hit by a remotely activated bomb killing an American soldier (every ISAF soldier is considered American regardless of nationality). The ISAF troops immediately fired indiscriminately into the crowd of morning commuters killing eight civilians. The news report we hear later in the day on the ISAF sponsored television channel confirms that ISAF troops did kill eight civilians and wound one. ...

...[In the office of one of Kabul's leading newspapers:] While we waited for the editor to arrive, we chatted with the assistant editor. We were just getting into an interesting discussion regarding how the privatisation of state services under the orders of the occupation has thrown thousands of Afghanis into unemployment when the editor arrived.

...[Meeting a former warlord ('qomandan' in Farsi):] His Hazara militia was one of the last remaining forces of resistance against the Taliban as Kabul fell in 1996....
When the Taliban completely surrounded his community, the people
recognised that they must negotiate with the Taliban, or suffer either the slow death of starvation under siege, or a fast massacre in a military confrontation. The qomandan was able to negotiate favourable conditions to save the community and maintain his militia.
When the Americans occupied the region in 2001, the community believed they had a reliable ally against the Taliban. Believing the promises made to him that by surrendering his arms the Americans would provide developmental aid for his community the qomandan gave up his arms worth, in his estimation, several million dollars. Unlike many military commanders who profited handsomely from cash payments made for their guns, he gave up his arms in exchange for a promise that his community would benefit from development aid. No aid has materialised and he has been reduced to working as a security guard.
He showed us his only reward – a letter of recommendation signed by an American military officer.

Friday, July 20, 2007

Civilian toll

Eliza Szabo of the Center for Defense Information writes on Civilian Casualties in Afghanistan. Excerpts:

Research revealed only two estimates of civilian deaths in the first three months of the war. [New Hampshire University's Marc] Herold's online database counts Afghan civilian casualties reported by the media. He estimates 2,567-2,947 civilians were killed in U.S. aerial bombings between Oct. 7 and Dec. 10, 2001.

Carl Conetta, co-director of the Project for Defense Alternatives, a project that researches security policy and its challenges, estimates anywhere from 1,000 to 1,300 Afghan civilian deaths due to U.S. aerial bombardment between Oct. 7, 2001 and Jan. 10, 2002. Conetta attributes what appears to be a minimum of 3,000 additional civilian deaths to the impact of the conflict on the nation's refugee and famine crises. The Herold and Conetta studies were based exclusively on media reports...

NATO accounts of civilians killed in individual incidents are often inconsistent with estimates from Afghan officials. For example, a NATO spokesman was quoted in a July 2, 2007, New York Times article regarding recent airstrikes in Helmand Province as saying, "we want to make it clear that we at this point believe the numbers [of civilians killed in the incident] are a dozen or less." Afghan officials, however, reported that the strikes resulted in 45 civilian deaths.

Elsewhere in the province, barely three days earlier, Afghan officials reported up to 60 civilians killed in fighting and U.S.-led airstrikes. A NATO spokesman said that the military could not confirm "numbers that large" and issued an often-used statement about enemy fighters willingly endangering civilian lives.

A U.S. government news release acknowledged that some civilians were killed in the attacks but did not include an estimated number...

(Growing) Majority opposed to Afghan war...

This story, quoted in full, ran Wednesday on CTV.

Most Canadians oppose Afghanistan mission: poll News Staff

Only seven per cent of Canadians strongly support the Afghanistan mission, while the total number of those opposed in Quebec remains high at 75 per cent, according to a new poll by The Strategic Counsel.

The survey, conducted between July 12-16 for CTV and The Globe and Mail, suggests the level of intensity for Canadians strongly opposed to the mission is far greater than those who are in firm support: (percentage point change from a July 12-15, 2006 poll in brackets):

Total Support: 36 per cent (-3)
Strongly Support: 7 per cent (-1)
Support: 29 per cent (-2)
Oppose: 31 per cent (same)
Strongly oppose: 27 per cent (+2)
Total Oppose: 59 per cent (+3)
Peter Donolo, a partner with The Strategic Counsel, told the numbers show only a small minority of core supporters for deploying troops to the war-ravaged country.

"In every single region, the level of strong support is in the single digits," said Donolo. "Whereas the level of strong opposition ranges from 41 per cent in Quebec to the mid-20s everywhere else."

Quebec showed the strongest opposition towards the mission of any other region in Canada.

Earlier this month, anti-war protesters crashed a parade for the Quebec-based 22nd Regiment known as the Van Doos, who are now being deployed to Afghanistan.

The soldiers also received about 3,000 letters asking them not to go.

Only three per cent of Quebecers strongly support deploying troops to Afghanistan (percentage point change from a July 12-15, 2006 poll in brackets):

Total Support: 22 per cent (-2)
Strongly Support: 3 per cent (NA)
Support: 19 per cent (-5)
Oppose: 34 per cent (-2)
Strongly oppose: 41 per cent (+6)
Total Oppose: 75 per cent (+4)
"This mission has been unpopular in Quebec virtually from the beginning," said Donolo.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

On the ground in Afghanistan (Part 2)

Mike Skinner's account of his experiences in Afghanistan (intro here).

Friday June 15 (excerpt):

[Here, Mike Skinner and Hamayon Rastgar spend a day off at Kargha Lake, a popular retreat for residents of Kabul.]

...Our conversation with a small group of young men in their twenties and thirties we were sitting with soon turned to politics. None of these young men are Muslim, all are secular and certainly do not fit the stereotypes portrayed in the North American media of radical Islamic fundamentalists.

They are intelligent, articulate and well-informed of global events and their own place in the world. They also represent the cosmopolitan ethnic mix of Afghanistan. Most of all, these young men are full of piss and vinegar – they say they want to fight what they regard as the imperialist occupation of their country by NATO and overthrow the puppet regime of Hamid Karzai.

One of the young men told us about what he had witnessed just the day before, as an example of why he is so angry. The young man was on foot crossing the street during a traffic jam. He saw a man he identified as an American in civilian clothes carrying a very large gun get out of one of the cars stuck on the street. The American put the gun to the head of the driver of the car in front and yelled at him to move out of the way. As each car made way, the American proceeded along the line of traffic in the same manner clearing a path for his own driver.... (full version here)

Monday, July 16, 2007

On the ground in Afghanistan (Pt 1)

As mentioned last week on this blog, you can find on-the-ground dispatches from Afghanistan courtesy of the Afghan-Canada Research Group at this link (note: the link has changed since we linked to it last week). Mike Skinner has been writing about his experiences there; here, we will excerpt them. (You can read an introduction to the efforts of Mike and the others here.)

From Skinner's June 14 dispatch:

[A report by the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission] documents how the residents of a home were awakened by banging on their door accompanied by demands that they open the door. Thinking this was a burglary one of the residents went to the roof and was shot at.

The door of the home was blown out by explosives – a large group of Afghani soldiers accompanied by two American commanders entered the home zip-locked the hands of the men and placed hoods over their heads. One of the men was booby-trapped by having his hands connected to an explosive charge. Meanwhile the women were searched by the male soldiers.

The contents of the home were destroyed including a computer most of the windows were broken and $600 in cash went missing. As the report states, only when the raiding party discovered documents that identified some of the residents as United Nations staff and staff of the AIHRC were the men released and "told to report to a nearby international military base to receive damages".

At the base, the residents were offered $100 in compensation and given an explanation that the Americans involved were contractors and not regular military forces. When the victims refused this settlement on the grounds it was insufficient compensation, the presiding NATO official left the room and "the remaining Afghan forces threatened the victim that if he proceeded with this complaint he would be 'beaten and thrown into jail'".

Hamayon and I are left wondering what further events would have transpired had the victims been ordinary people and not people of some importance working for the UN and AIHRC?

Sunday, July 15, 2007

VIDEO: When Bush comes to shove

The good people of the Toronto Video Activist Collective have produced a short promo video for the Canada-wide demonstrations set to greet George Bush when he comes to Canada next month. Check it out:

Saturday, July 14, 2007

Afghanistan unraveling says former CIA man

Time magazine's intelligence columnist, Robert Baer, is a former CIA agent. His latest article is a short report on his recent experiences in Afghanistan:

... How fast is Afghanistan unraveling? Westerners live in heavily protected enclaves, waiting for Armageddon to break out. They look a lot like Crusader castles. Western officials and military venture out only in armored Toyota Land Cruisers, easily recognizable by their electronic counter-measure domes and whip antennas. With no license plates, they barrel down the streets at high speeds, staying ahead of any potential suicide car bombers. They don't stop at police checkpoints — extraterritorial status has its privileges.

Not surprisingly the Afghans resent their second class citizenship but so far tolerate it — it's better than the savagery of the Taliban. On the other hand they wonder how long it's going to last...

Friday, July 13, 2007

Drug abuse rises in Canadian Forces while mission support languishes

"The number of Canadian soldiers battling drug and alcohol problems has more than doubled since Canada became involved in the war on terrorism in 2001", according to a report carried by Sun Media. "From 2001 to 2006, the number of soldiers assessed as requiring treatment soared 125%, according to access to information documents obtained by Sun Media."

Meanwhile, a report by Strategic Counsel, based on a series of focus group discussions has found that "only 40 per cent of respondents across Canada, and almost none in Quebec, support the [Afghanistan] deployment." In Quebec, "support was virtually non-existent." While the Strategic Counsel advised the government on how to overcome this predicament, their assessment was pessimistic: "There is a growing belief that the government is trying to avoid talking about the issue to play down the grim reality that the mission is failing." (Globe and Mail article here.)

Thursday, July 12, 2007

More on the 'Air Wars'

A couple of new critical sources including Tom Engelhardt's "Carnage from the Air and the Washington Consensus," and some analysis from IPS news' Khody Akhavi in "IRAQ-AFGHANISTAN: Overlooking the Air War."

Arguing for the need for an "honest discussion of air power," while providing some useful context from the Vietnam era, Engelhardt notes how bombings have "
become so commonplace that, in the news, they begin to blur into what looks, more and more, like a single, ongoing airborne slaughter of civilians."Akhavi concludes that "Reliance on airpower and the cumulative effect of errant bombs portends an ominous future for U.S. [and, we should add, Canadian, NATO...] political goals in the region."

We would be remiss if we didn't add that NDP leader Jack Layton issued a statement last week wherein he called for an end to the destructive air campaign:

"Today I am calling on the Prime Minister to take a leadership role and add Canada’s voice in telling both the Bush administration and the North Atlantic Council of NATO that the level of Afghan civilian deaths is unacceptable and that indiscriminate and deadly airstrikes be stopped. Airstrikes which are only adding to the escalation to a war that shows no signs of ending."
Reportedly, Layton conveyed his demands in person to Harper yesterday.

Canadian Trade Unionists' Dispatches from Afghanistan

Members of the Toronto-based Trade Unionists Against the War have formed "the Afghanistan-Canada Research Group to investigate Canada's role in Afghanistan." Some of them are currently in Afghanistan. They have been filing dispatches from Kabul and most recently Bamiyan, all of which you can read here.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Corruption and repression in Karzai's Afghanistan

Journalist Arthur Kent, writing from Afghanistan, issues a searing indictment of the pervasive corruption of the Karzai regime.

The sheer scope of fraud within the regime's ministries has caused a collapse of public trust. So much so that Hamid Karzai's corrupt dominion arguably constitutes a greater threat to the long-term security of Afghanistan than anything those back-country no-hopers known as the Taliban are capable of mustering on the battlefield.

Kent offers a dizzying array of examples of corrupt government officials linked to warlords and drug barons. Of particular note is this passage about Attorney General Abdul Jabar Sabet:

So is Hamid Karzai's Attorney General really in league with the heroin gangs? It's a question that should interest the government of Canada for at least two reasons. First, heroin profits help finance the Taliban's war effort. Second, Sabet boasts to friends of enjoying residency in Canada: his wife and children live in Montreal. Yet officials in Ottawa - at Foreign Affairs, Immigration and the Prime Minister's Office - have refused since mid-March to confirm the status of President Karzai's rogue Attorney General.

Sabet's past is littered with reasons that he should never have gained entry into Canada, particularly due to his long history of association with the black prince of Afghan extremists, Gulbuddin Hekmatyar. Sabet was a longtime counsellor to Hekmatyar, once the United States' most-favoured anti-Soviet guerrilla leader, but now on their most-wanted list of terrorists.

But Kent is not the only journalist bringing this mess to light. The Institute for War and Peace Reporting, which hires and trains Afghans to do most of their reporting in that country, offered this summary of the situation in Helmand province:
Corrupt police have been implicated in a wave of lawlessness in Helmand, which is fueling support for the Taleban - who, growing numbers of local residents believe, would restore order to the region.

And by no means is it just Afghans who are fleecing the Afghan population. Reuters cites the head of Afghanistan's central bank:

He gave an example of a current $85 million project to help Afghanistan's fledgling financial sector. Highly paid foreign managers would pocket a large slice of the cash.
"Only 40 percent goes to the project, 60 percent goes to the managers. Out of that 60 percent, perhaps 80 percent goes into the pockets of foreigners. It is going out of Afghanistan," he said.

Meanwhile, the International Federation of Journalists and Reporters without Borders have recently both condemned the Karzai government over the illegal arrests of two journalists who criticized the regime. (One of the journalists, Kamran Mir Hazar, has since been released; Asif Nang is still being held.) From the IFJ press release regarding Asif Nang, editor of a government-owned magazine:

The Afghan president was reportedly angered by an article Nang had written titled “Afghanistan as a football between the large oil companies”, and ordered his arrest.

“To hold Nang in detainment without charge is a clear violation of his basic human rights,” IFJ Asia-Pacific Director Jacqueline Park said.

“This is a disappointing move by the Afghan president to suppress information, which will do nothing to dispel the climate of fear and intimidation rampant in the Afghan media community,” Park said.

Nang, who was accused of spying without the proper credentials, is currently being held as a suspect without charge, according to IFJ sources.

Reporters without Borders offers a slightly different explanation for Nang's arrest:
It is thought he is being held for publishing an extract from a Canadian essay critical of President Hami Karzai and not, as initially reported, for suspected spying.

Sunday, July 8, 2007

Candid in Kandahar

The Afghanistan Watch blog has lately carried some first-hand accounts of Afghanistan by Tom Perriello, an NGO official working there. Recently, he wrote about a trip to Kandahar, including "an evening spent with four Afghan men in their mid-20s, all employed":

The early rounds of the conversation began with the usual comments, including great praise for the job US troops did post-Taliban and some critiques of the backsliding under Canadian forces. They too lambasted the government for its corruption and international forces for civilian casualties and house invasions, but remained largely in favor of a strong US and ISAF troop presence.

But an hour into the conversation, as trust built (and most dropped their assumption that I was CIA), the criticisms of international forces became increasingly intense. Eventually I asked each what he would do if made President of Afghanistan...

[T]his guy I shall call Abdul said, “The first thing I would do is kick out every single foreign troop. Every one one of them. I would not ask them to leave. I would order them out. Starting with the Americans. Now.” Within minutes, the entire group was eagerly on board with the agenda, even those who earlier in the conversation had advocated for a US troop surge...

Here we go again: 144 civilians reported dead; NATO denies

The New York Times has a report on the all too familiar events in Farah and Kunar provinces over the last few days.

According to the Times, "the leader of a tribal council in Farah Province said Saturday that 108 noncombatants had been killed Friday in a NATO airstrike." Farah province is in the extreme west of Afghanistan, bordering on Iran. The report says that NATO forces were involved in the attacks:

“NATO soldiers, along with the Afghan National Army and people from the national police, came to Shewan Village and told us they needed to search three or four houses,” the tribal chief, Hajji Khudai Rahm, said in a telephone interview. “As we talked, a firefight began and 20 houses were destroyed when the planes dropped bombs.

“We counted 108 bodies, including women and children,” he said.
Meanwhile, in Kunar province (located near Kabul in the central-east region of Afghanistan), airstrikes on Thursday and Friday took the lives of more innocents:
... residents and officials in Kunar Province said 36 civilians had been killed in recent airstrikes, 11 of them on Thursday during a bombardment, and 25 more on Friday as they attended a funeral for the deceased.
NATO's hand was behind this operation also:

Maj. John Thomas, a spokesman for NATO, said the alliance had ordered airstrikes in both Farah and Kunar during the times in question.

True to form, the NATO spokesperson denied civilian casualties:

“We’re aware of the reports of civilian casualties but none of it tracks with the information we have, which is pretty extensive,” he said. “In both cases, we had good reconnaissance before and after.”

This last comment seems difficult to believe in light of reports that the area of Farah in question is in fact controlled by insurgents:

"The area is under the control of the enemy," [chief of Farah provincial council] Daqeq said. "No one can go to Bala Baluk to find out the exact number of casualties. I cannot go there, human rights officers can't go there, government officials can't go there."

Thursday, July 5, 2007

The Secret Air Wars in Iraq and Afghanistan

"A relentless attack from the air against Iraq and Afghanistan has been going on for years, with the United States conducting an average of 75 to 100 airstrikes in the 2 countries every day. The death toll from these attacks is unknown, but a reasonable estimate is in the range of 100,000 to 150,000 in Iraq, with the number in Afghanistan as yet unexplored. Yet the story of these air wars is almost unknown in the United States. Without access to Iraqi or Afghani sources, it is not possible to offer firsthand accounts of the consequences of the air wars, but it is possible to go to some available sources to get a glimpse of what is happening."
Jeff Nygaard examines this important issue, also "almost unknown" in Canada, in the June issue of Z Magazine.

- By "almost unknown" in Canada, that means those who are outside of the defence establishment. In fact, on a directly related note, today the Canadian Forces College Aerospace Warfare Centre in Toronto wrapped up a three-day conference entitled, "Flea Hunting: The Historical Dimension of Air Power and Counterinsurgency Warfare." A relatively high-level affair bringing together AIR-COIN experts from the U.S., UK, and Canada.

Wednesday, July 4, 2007

The "Canadian Ministers" in Afghan Government

Writing for WSWS, Guy Charron penned a solid piece that puts Canada's 'Strategic Advisory Team-Afghanistan' (SAT-A) into context, while citing some declassified ATIP documents. SAT-A, otherwise known as "Operation Argus," stemmed from Rick Hillier's pre-CDS days as commander of Canada's occupying contingent in Kabul in 2004. SAT-A has been lauded as an exemplar of Canada's "3D" or "whole-of-government" approach to 21st century foreign policy, wherein "unity of effort" brings defence, diplomacy, and development together to wage counterinsurgency (COIN).

COINcidentally, today's issue of Embassy features a [laudatory] profile of a Canadian, Tonita Murray, who is "attached to the Afghan interior ministry as a gender advisor. Her job is to advise and oversee projects that empower and facilitate the entry of women into the police force." Although SAT-A is not mentioned, her CIDA and CANADEM-funded COIN assistance must see crossover with them, for they too have an advisor embedded with the same ministry. The recent Defence Committee report, although (and unsurprisingly) uncritical of the SAT-A program, lists all of the Afghan ministries that Canadians are embedded within:

The Chief of Staff of the Office of the President; The Senior Economic Advisor to the President; The Executive Director of the Afghan National Development Strategy; The Minister of Justice; The Minister of National Communications; The Minister of Rural Rehabilitation and Development (National Solidarity Program); The Minister of Education; The Minister of Transportation and Civil Aviation; The Minister of the Interior; The Minister of Finance; and The Chairman of Independent Administrative Reform and Civil Service Commission (p. 59)
For some of the little background that is publicly available on SAT-A, also check out Brian Stewart's "Inside the Mission" piece produced last March for CBC. In introducing the 12-minute story, Peter Mansbridge referred to SAT-A as "A little know Canadian contingent with a lot of influence."

Amnesty exposes, media ignores

On June 29, Amnesty International issued a statement regarding Afghanistan's justice system. In it, AI paints a very disturbing picture of the Karzai government, saying "widespread human rights abuses [are] being committed with impunity" while it raps Canada and our NATO allies for handing prisoners over to the National Security Directorate, which has a growing track record of human rights violations.

The Canadian media completely ignored the statement. Amnesty, which is quoted and cited in the major media outlets quite frequently, was completely shut out of the big newspapers.


...the ongoing failure of the Afghan government to uphold the rule of law and effectively guarantee fair and transparent justice which meets international standards is impeding the country’s progress, contributing to increased insecurity, poor governance, corruption, a burgeoning illicit drugs trade and widespread human rights violations being committed with impunity.
In addition, Amnesty International is increasingly concerned that national bodies such as Afghanistan’s intelligence agency the National Security Directorate (NSD), and provincial governments, who are charged with maintaining the rule of law are reportedly carrying out human rights violations, beyond the reach of justice.

In this context, Amnesty International is alarmed that under agreements between the Afghan government and NATO-contributing states, including Canada, the UK and the Netherlands, persons detained by NATO International Security Assistance Forces are being turned over to the NSD.
There appears to be little or no effort on the part of the Afghan authorities to reform the NSD...

Monday, July 2, 2007

More disasters, more denials

NATO soldiers in Kandahar City shot a motorcyclist mistaken for a suicide bomber. While NATO claims that careful warning shots were fired and that the motorcyclist was merely wounded, hospital officials report that the motorcyclist was in fact killed, while at least three others were wounded:

I was riding a bicycle when the NATO convoy was passing, and when they got close they started firing and I was hit," said Mohammad Naimat, who was recovering from a bullet wound at the hospital. "There was no explosion, no fighting. I don't know why they started firing." (link to AP article)
"(The) Wounded told us that NATO forces opened fire on them without any reason," said Dr. Mohammed Hashim at Mirwais Hospital. (link to Reuters article)
NATO's shabby public relations efforts were mirrored in US military statements regarding house raids in eastern Afghanistan. While American officials claimed to have killed four and captured sixteen militants, locals (including police) had another story:
A villager named Ketab Jan said the dead were a father, two sons and a nephew from the same family.

“The people who are killed and arrested by the coalition forces are innocent people,” he said by telephone from the area. “They were shopkeepers and farmers and labourers.

“They don’t have any relationship with the Taleban and Al Qaeda people. They (the soldiers) were operating without strong information.”

There have been several cases in Nangarhar province, on the border with Pakistan, in which coalition forces have said they had killed militants whom locals said were innocent civilians.
Meanwhile, the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission has called for US/NATO to cut back on air strikes to lower the number of civilian deaths. This amid statements by the UN, an AIHRC commissioner and the Associated Press that Afghan and international forces (i.e. NATO/US) have killed more civilians this year than have the Taliban.

More on "jingoistic" saga

CBC reports that Quebec-based anti-war coalition, Échec à la guerre, "protests support-our-troops billboards" in Montreal's west-end. This is only the latest city council across Canada to approve what former (Bush-stompin') MP (and current Mississauga city councilor) Carolyn Parrish called a "jingoistic approach to world issues."

There is more to the June 25th post where we highlighted hawkish Edmonton Center MP Laurie Hawn. As part of a campaign he launched on June 21st, Hawn "
has sent letters to all members of Parliament asking that they [encourage councilors to get support-the-troops decals] in their own cities and said he expects a positive response."

It appears that Hawn may not trust his MP colleagues to strong-arm their city councils into legislating publicly-mandated support for the war. The Cornwall Standard-Freeholder reports that he (presuming he is the "MP in Edmonton") is going straight to the councils:

"[Cornwall] Councillors Glen Grant and Guy L,ger have brought forward a notice of motion asking the city to take part in the ribbon campaign by placing decals on all of the emergency response vehicles in the city's fleet. The motion will be debated at council's next meeting on July 9. Grant said a letter was sent out by an MP in Edmonton asking all municipal councils to take up the initiative, and he decided to bring the idea forward." [Emphasis added]

Afghan War Yields 'Procurement Bonanza'

In war profiteering news, Alberta-based ATCO Frontec was

"awarded five contracts to provide multiple support services for up to five years at the Kandahar Airfield in Afghanistan for the more than 10,000 troops serving NATO's International Security Assistance Force."
These contracts, the amount of which was undisclosed in the press release, are a spin-off of business generated by Canadian Forces contracts. Increasingly since the interventions in the former Yugolslavia, the CF and its allies have been contracting out services that would ordinarily be performed by the military themselves - in effect, privatizing certain aspects of the military in order to free up personnel for war-fighting. ATCO is one of the larger beneficiaries of what the CF calls their Contractor Augmentation Program, or CANCAP(formerly the Contractor Support Program). How this translates to a NATO contract in Kandahar is explained in a Business Edge article:
"It's common for Canadian defence firms to use DND contracts as the basis for developing products and services that can then be sold to foreign military customers. Atco Frontec, for example, developed valuable expertise during 2000-03 providing support services for 1,500 Canadian Forces personnel deployed in Bosnia. That know-how soon led to more opportunities for the company in the upkeep of military camps."
More generally, Atco is one of the largest recipients of what is being referred to by defence industry insiders as a "rearmament boom" and "procurement bonanza," credited to PM Stephen Harper (but really begun under the previous Liberal government), where it is now common for war contractors to be "bursting at the seams" with war-related revenues.

The President of ATCO Frontec, Harry Wilmot, is also on the Board of the Canadian Association of Defence and Securities Industries (CADSI). As the CADSI homepage states, "CADSI is the voice of Canada’s defence and security industries." Thanks to government and allied largesse, CADSI member-companies generate some $7 billion in annual revenues.

Half of ATCO's Board of Directors' are retired from long careers in the Canadian Forces. One of those former CF board members, Michael Gervais, gushed about how "Defence is the fastest-growing part of our business."

- Elsewhere, Granby, Quebec-based Stedfast, Inc. has "recently landed an $850,000 contract from the Department of National Defence to come up with enhanced personal protection for soldiers in Afghanistan against improvised explosive devices, or IEDs." In the Montreal Gazette article, we again see the theme of Canadian war-waging as a boon for business:

"With the increasing number of military contracts alone, mostly from the Defence Department, but also from the U.S. and Britain, Stedfast is leaving behind what [CEO Rob] Kellock referred to as "the challenging period we went through from 2000 to 2002."

Sunday, July 1, 2007

UK to increase occupying forces 'by at least a quarter': Sunday Times

A week and a half ago, the UK's new ambassador to Afghanistan announced that those involved in the occupation "should be thinking in terms of decades." Today, the Sunday Times is reporting that military officials are planning "to increase Britain's frontline fighting units in Afghanistan by at least a quarter amid signs the war against the Taliban is intensifying." UK forces, of course, are mainly located in Helmand Province, where NATO bombing raids killed dozens over the weekend.

It is likely that UK soldiers will head to Canadian Forces Base Suffield in Alberta prior to deploying, a 21st century war zone training facility that is "considered the"gold standard" in British army training." At Suffield (which has received lots of attention recently due to the hysteria surrounding Prince Harry's presence there) they will train in counterinsurgency methods amidst mock Afghan and Iraqi villages. In an article in the Liverpool Echo last May, Lieutenant-Colonel Gary Deakin Said of Suffield, ""It can only make people better when they do this for real when we deploy to Afghanistan, Iraq or the Balkans." Few Canadians probably appreciate the extent to which Canada is also helping wage the war in Iraq by providing training facilities for UK prior to deployment there.