Sunday, September 30, 2007

Three civilians reported dead in NATO air strikes

Recently, the province of Paktia has been the scene of heated clashes between foreign troops and insurgents. Yesterday, NATO close air support operations resulted in a reported three civilians dead. Initially, NATO denied involvement in the battle (see Associated Press here), later acknowledging the incident:

KABUL, Sept 30 (Reuters) - Three Afghan civilians were killed during a clash of NATO-led forces with Taliban insurgents in Afghanistan's southeastern province of Paktia, the alliance said on Sunday.

President Hamid Karzai has repeatedly warned Western forces in Afghanistan to avoid civilian casualties during operations as it would sap support for his government and would be risky for the presence of the troops there.

The clash broke out on Saturday after the Taliban made an abortive ambush on Afghan forces patrol in the area, NATO said in a statement, adding a number of militants were also killed. ...

Saturday, September 29, 2007


In the wake of the recent suicide bombing in Kabul which killed some 28 Afghan troops and two civilians (link), Afghanistan's President Karzai reportedly remarked that he would be willing to meet with Taliban leader Mullah Omar and would also be open to allowing the Taliban into government, in exchange for peace.

Taliban spokespersons, in response, have rejected the overture, insisting that negotiations can only start after foreign military forces have withdrawn from Afghanistan (see NYT here).

Reacting to this development, Canada's Defense minister Pete Mackay, sounding like any random member of the Bush administration, insists that the Taliban must accept the presence of NATO for the foreseeable future (see Globe and Mail report here). The Globe and Mail, it seems, didn't ask Mr MacKay why he felt it was his decision.

Regarding the proceedure for negotiations with the Taliban, the Ottawa Citizen recently ran an informative overview the context for negotiations. The piece (here), by U of Ottawa prof Peter Jones, is excerpted below:

[A]n acceptable peace in Afghanistan may well be a situation where the country is not used as a base for trans-national terrorist groups (as it was for al-Qaeda), and where the drug trade is under some semblance of control.

...Any serious negotiation would likely be a three-way affair among the government of Afghanistan, the Taliban and the international community. The latter is potentially vast and includes NATO, the U.S., Russia, China, the UN, Iran and Pakistan, to name a few. It is unlikely all of these would actually be "at the table." Rather, one can imagine a complex diplomatic process. Most of it would take place behind the scenes.

... Sometimes the initial stages of such a process take place through a phenomenon known as "Track Two diplomacy." Players who do not recognize each other meet, usually quietly, in a non-official way to explore whether serious talks are possible.

... Recently, the Taliban advanced a set of conditions for peace. These included the removal of all foreign forces and the creation of a state based on a very strict interpretation of Islamic law... But we do not know whether they were put forward as the first step in a long process of trading concessions towards a compromise, or as a "take it or leave it" proposition. The Taliban themselves may not know; they may have been testing the waters...

Indeed, other questions are raised by this list of conditions: Are the Taliban a sufficiently unified group to be able to make strategic decisions and compromises over time, or are they, as many are coming to appreciate, more a group of factions that may lack the discipline to negotiate over time and stick to decisions? Does the fact that there are differences between factions of the Taliban mean that getting a meaningful agreement will be impossible...

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Civilians killed in Uruzgan, Kunar; US troops open fire on crowd

Taliban: stronger or weaker?
While the Globe and Mail tells us that Afghan insurgents are "weaker than last year", a Washington Post dispatch says "the Taliban is enjoying a military resurgence in Afghanistan and is now staging attacks just outside the capital". It goes on:

... attacks in June and July were 80 to 90 percent higher than the same period last year, showing a general escalation in the conflict, rather than seasonal fluctuations.

"Attacks have spread across the entire southeast border area, with a rapid escalation in the east, and in the last four months in the center", [says an NGO official].
Which is right? Maybe both.
Canadian troops, operating out of the enormous Russian-built, American-run Kandahar Airfield (KAF), are mostly concerned with Panjwai and Zhari districts. Meanwhile, according to an IRIN dispatch, other districts of Kandahar are seeing residents leave in droves (while refugees flock to Kandahar City); parts of Helmand and Uruzgan have seen the same. These latter two provinces have between them been the site of over 160 Taliban insurgents' deaths in recent days, according to foreign forces.

Uruzgan: 10 civilians reported dead
It was in Uruzgan province that
"more than three dozen insurgents were killed as they prepared an ambush," read another US military statement released on 26 September.

The US military said three non-combatants were wounded in the crossfire and evacuated to a military medical facility in Uruzgan Province. Local people, however, said at least 10 civilians died in the military operations. (link)
Kunar: 8 civilians dead
In Kunar's Asadabad district, a long time Taliban stronghold and scene of intense fighting in the last few days, an military operation by foreign forces was said to have killed 18 insurgents, though locals said otherwise:
People who said they were wounded in the operation were treated in a hospital in the provincial capital Asadabad, and said around eight civilians were killed.

"Four of my daughters are killed and my husband's second wife has also been killed in the bombing," said a woman who gave her name as Tella Gulla.

The US Air Force describes their part in the event thusly:
An Air Force B-1B Lancer targeted enemies firing on coalition forces in Asadabad with guided bomb unit-31s and guided bomb unit-38s to suppress enemy fire. The on-scene joint terminal attack controller reported the firing positions were suppressed.

An Air Force F-15E Strike Eagle struck enemies on a ridgeline in Asadabad with a GBU-12. The JTAC confirmed the weapon hit its target and the desired result was achieved.

Other F-15Es in Asadabad targeted enemies in a cave with GBU-31s. The JTAC confirmed the target was destroyed

Air Force A-10 Thunderbolt IIs strafed enemies in Asadabad with cannon fire. The JTAC confirmed the rounds hit the target and the desired result was achieved.

Also in Asadabad, A-10s conducted shows of force to deter enemy attacks. The show of force was reported as successful by the JTAC. (Sept 27 airpower summary)
In Nangarhar province, US forces opened fire on civilians after a failed suicide bombing attempt followed by a car accident:
A spokesman for U.S.-led coalition forces said only one soldier had opened fire. "A U.S. servicemen fired two shots and those shots were away from the crowd and not directed toward the crowd," said Major Joe Klopple. ...

[Reuters correspondent Noor Mohammad] Sherzai and other reporters at the scene said many shots were fired and Afghan police were among those fleeing the scene. "I was running away as fast as I could, but some of the police overtook me," Sherzai said.

The police, he said, "were very angry because the Americans were shooting and wanted to shoot back but others stopped them". "A bullet hit the ground between my legs while I was running," said Takiullah Taki, a cameraman for private Afghan channel Tolo TV.

"Some Afghan national police wanted to shoot back, but others said that would make the situation deteriorate further so they did not." (link)

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

"Death to Canada"

Kandaharis protest foreign forces
Afghan villagers in Zhari district (see map) where Canadian troops operate staged a protest after an alleged overnight raid which killed two local clerics. While the CBC, below, reports a crowd of 500, Al Jazeera says "more than 1000 people" took part in the demonstration.

About 500 protesters shut down the main highway out of Kandahar city about 7 a.m. local time with some chanting "death to Canada" and "death to foreigners," and calling on foreign troops to leave the country.

Canadian military officials have denied involvement in the raids by both their own soldiers and NATO's.

One Afghan man at the protest told CBC News that he had guests in his house when soldiers burst into the building. "The soldiers tied their hands and feet, covered their eyes and took them away," he said. Another witness said the raids were by American and Canadian soldiers, who took eight people and killed two.

"They're killing our young men," one protester told an interpreter for the Canadian Press. "The day is not far when these innocent civilians will stand against NATO and other foreign troops."

Witnesses also told the Canadian Press that known members of the Taliban were at the demonstration. In the end, Afghan elders in the district quelled the protest. [...]

Habibullah Jan, a lawmaker from Sanzari village, told the Associated Press that NATO forces were responsible for the deaths.

He warned that if international forces continued to target civilians, "people will take up arms against the government and NATO." (link)

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Canada's rogue military

Documents reveal forces' political campaign
The NDP's Dawn Black today released documents which indicate that the Canadian military prepared a draft of a speech for Afghan President Hamid Karzai which he delivered to Canada's parliament a year ago.

Canada military wrote big Karzai speech: opposition
Tuesday, September 25, 2007

OTTAWA (Reuters) - A speech that Afghan President Hamid Karzai delivered to Canada's Parliament a year ago, urging the country's continued military support, was nothing more than a "political stunt," written by Canadian defense ministry staff, an opposition party charged on Tuesday.

Dawn Black of the left-leaning New Democrats said the speech -- in which Karzai asked Canada to keep its soldiers in Afghanistan -- was a blatant bid by the minority Conservative government to shore up flagging support for the mission. ... (link) (See also CBC's coverage.)
The documents, obtained through access to information, are evidently situation reports sent from Kandahar to various senior Canadian officers. The smoking gun itself can be viewed here (pdf) and contains this explicit revelation:
"Team prepared initial draft of president's address to Parliament 22 Sep(tember). It was noted that key statistics, messages, themes, as well as overall structure, were adopted by the president in his remarks"...
Also note that a "communications advisor" (from the CF presumably) accompanied Karzai's delegation to New York and Ottawa last September.

Free advice
But that's not all the document says. It also notes the Strategic Advisory Team's "interaction" with the government of Afghanistan "continues with emphasis on Ministry of Interior and Ministry of Justice - probability of success is high." Here's what one veteran military journalist wrote about the SAT:
Consisting of 16 Canadian Forces personnel, the SAT provides what they call "capacity building" in the form of personal advisors to the cabinet ministers of Afghan President Hamid Karzai. This unique project – well beyond the normal realm of military operations – was the brainchild of Canada’s Chief of Defence Staff Gen. Rick Hillier.

"When Hillier was here in Kabul as the commander of [the International Security Assistance Force], he established a close personal relationship with Karzai," says Aubin, the deputy commander of SAT. "The idea became reality in August 2004 when Canada and Afghanistan signed a bilateral agreement." (link)
Canada as king-maker
This meddling by the CF seems to be a continuing trend. Only last week the Toronto Star reported that the forces in Kandahar have developed their own version of corporate head-hunting:
The police chief in Zhari district is on his way out, in part because of Canadian complaints about his performance.

"He was probably more part of the problem than the solution," [Colonel] Juneau said. (link)

Monday, September 24, 2007

Relay NATO propaganda, win a journalism prize!

The Conference of Defense Associations gives out a media award every year - last year it went to Christie Blatchford. This year, the esteemed winner is Matthew Fisher, Middle East correspondent for CanWest. Here's the most recent example of his work:

Matthew Fisher - The Ottawa Citizen, Monday, Sept 24, 2007
KANDAHAR, Afghanistan - The toughest fighters confronting Canada's Van Doos in Afghanistan are not Afghans, but guerrillas from the volatile Russian republic of Chechnya. ... (link)
We covered this ground on this blog before (here) when the Globe and Mail's Graeme Smith made similar silly statements about Chechens amongst the Taliban:
Toronto-based security consultant (and Chechnya expert) Andrew McGregor ... points out that various media continue to parrot charges of Chechen fighters active in Iraq, Afghanistan, Kashmir, Pakistan, and Somalia despite the fact that Russian intelligence estimates that Chechen resistance fighters number only a few hundred in Chechnya itself. He attributes these erroneous assertions to several factors, including "a tendency for local Pashtuns to confuse Uzbeks of the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (who are active in the area) with 'Chechens,' and the common practice by Afghan clans to settle disputes by telling NATO of 'Chechens' or Arabs", in order to have their enemies bombed by Western forces.
For a more comprehensive rebuttal to the Chechen charge, see this excellent entry in the Afghanistanica blog. And we'll leave the last word to the respected author of the book Taliban, Ahmed Rashid:
Rashid says he does not believe that Mullah Omar and other members of the Taliban leadership would agree to allow non-Afghans to guide their movement -- even though Al-Qaeda has a clear behind-the-scenes role in supporting the Taliban.

"I think there's a huge disinformation campaign -- probably being carried out by NATO and the Americans -- in order to present Mullah Omar in a light in which he is seen as being just a tool of Al-Qaeda and foreigners". (link)

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Afghan diary - part two

Last week we ran excerpts from an RFE reporter's diary of his trip to Afghanistan. Today we hear about his experiences in Chora, Uruzgan, where Dutch ISAF (NATO) soldiers head up the mission.

Chora is a small Dutch base situated amidst a patchwork of areas that ISAF describes as being mostly "nonpermissive." In a "nonpermissive" environment, attacks on ISAF troops are regular. ... [T]he Dutch say they suffer one attack a day. ...

Again, I chat to ANA soldiers who say the Taliban are "strong" in the area. They say they are eager to fight, but complain they remain dependent on ISAF for air cover.

They also tell me many Taliban are local. "They come from Kala-Kala," says one, referring to a notorious regional Taliban stronghold. A Dutch officer concurs, saying "more than half" of the Taliban are locals with mostly petty grudges that drive them to armed violence. ... (link)

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Six (or twelve or four) civilians die in NATO bombing

The New York Times reports four dead, AFP says six and Pajhwok says twelve civilians died Wednesday (Sept 19) in Helmand's Gereshk district in a NATO air attack against insurgents.

Ali Muhammad, resident of Grishk, told Pajhwok Afghan News on Friday that two houses were pounded by NATO aircrafts. The air raid caused 12 civilian casualties.

Majority of the dead were women and children, said Ali Muhammad.

Another dweller of the district Haji Sher Muhammad said that operation was still underway in Haidar Abad and Mirman Dab areas of the district. Several civilians had been killed and injured in the previous two days of operation.

NATO press office, on the other hand, said some civilians had been suffered casualties but would not give the exact number. ...

The incident caused a very small splash in the Canadian media, in which notice of the incident was given only in articles mostly about other subjects, and headlined accordingly (see CBC, "Kabul car bomb attack kills French soldier and Afghan civilian", and "81 killed in Afghan fighting, air strikes; US says Iran supplying insurgents"; "French soldier dies in attack in Kabul: police"; also, the Globe and Mail print edition mentioned the incident, citing a death toll of six, on page 21 under "Developments".)

"The desired results were achieved"
Listen to how the US Air Force's September 19 air power summary reported the incident:
Air Force F-15E Strike Eagles engaged enemies near Gereshk using guided bomb unit-38s. Continuing the engagement, a pilot struck an enemy compound with a GBU-12. The on-scene joint terminal attack controller confirmed the munitions hit their targets and the desired results were achieved. (link)
The one that (nearly) got away
Earlier in the week, while the media was busy relaying other important information, another NATO-caused tragedy went virtually unreported:
Kandahar, Afghanistan – One local national died and two others were injured in a clash between Taliban insurgents and ISAF forces in Zabul Province, Sept 18... (from NATO press release - here)
The Globe and Mail mentioned the incident buried (in paragraph 13 of 17) in a story entitled, "British-led forces launch major Afghan operation". Pajhwok Afghan News appear the be alone in featuring the news in a headline: "Woman killed in crossfire in Zabul: ISAF"

Friday, September 21, 2007

VIDEO: Hillier's public relations operation

The CBC recently ran a documentary called Selling the Forces. It focuses on General Hillier's Operation Connection, which is basically a well-orchestrated PR campaign to sell the Afghan mission and the CF generally. In the clip, we learn:

  • Hillier is "a highly sophisticated military scholar who has intensely studied public relations as a key component of strategy".
  • Hillier "spends up to 40% of his time meeting the public and politicians".
  • In his own writing about the Afghan mission, this military scholar notes that "the objective becomes creating desired perceptions in those one wishes to influence".
  • There are "500 uniformed and civilian public affairs staff worldwide in a $23 million a year effort" in public relations.
  • "[T]here are three to four times more media officers in Kandahar - usually about a dozen - than the three CIDA civilian aid workers", notes the CBC.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

A journalist's diary of Afghanistan

Radio Free Europe's Belgian correspondent traveled on a junket to Afghanistan to observe NATO's military operation there. [Readers interested in RFE's CIA origins can see wikipedia here.] He wrote a short diary for the RFE website. While most of it suffers from a case of white man's burden, he has some original comments about the Taliban and their NATO nemesis. Excerpts:

Much of the anecdotal evidence I have come across suggests the Taliban is a grass-roots phenomenon, better understood in terms of perceived local grievances than highly organized jihadist ideology. Estonian troops fighting in Helmand told me in February that the enemy "farms by day and fights by night."

A local elder from Dand district near Kandahar insisted that NATO, as much as Pakistani-based militants, is to blame for stoking up resentment among the locals... The Dand elder said that fighting the Taliban will only make it stronger. Instead, NATO must talk to the Taliban, he said.

It is striking how little NATO professes to know about its enemy. It routinely distinguishes between "Tier One" militant "irreconcilables" and "Tier Two" foot soldiers, motivated by greed and a list of other mundane concerns. But officials concede most of this is no more than guesswork.

Things appear more complex. Much of the backbone of the unrest in the Pashtun south seems to involve a "Tier Three" of the Taliban -- locals who are simply ignorant of ISAF's goals. One ISAF officer tells me that after ISAF first arrived in 2006, many locals believed "the Russians had returned." The Dand elder says local people still don't know "if the foreigners are coming for cooperation and rebuilding, or just to fight and get the country in their hands."
... Every car which does not stop to let an ISAF convoy pass is in real danger of being fired upon...

[T]here were no friendly faces among the locals as we drove through Zabul. There were, however, little boys miming the pulling of triggers and explosions. I had seen the same mimics in Kandahar the day before. There, a rock thrown by a child landed in my vehicle in a minuscule act of defiance. (link)

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

US forces and Taliban - reading from the same page?

Compare and contrast, as a high school english exam might say:

Taliban Accused of Using Kids As Shields

KABUL (Associated Press) - The U.S.-led coalition accused the Taliban of using children as human shields during a battle in southern Afghanistan on Wednesday, while NATO said it was investigating a shipment of weapons intercepted near the border with Iran this month.

The fighting in Uruzgan province began when more than 20 insurgents armed with machine guns, rocket-propelled grenades and mortars attacked a joint Afghan and coalition patrol Wednesday morning, the coalition said in a statement.

As a coalition aircraft prepared to bomb the site, "coalition forces as well as the aircraft identified several insurgents in one compound using children as human shields," it said. Ground forces and the aircraft withheld fire to avoid injuring the children. It was impossible to independently verify the coalition allegations. ... (Sept 19/07 - link)
AFGHANISTAN: Call for USA to move bases away from civilian areas

US forces say they help Afghan army and police improve security in Kunar Province
ASADABAD, 12 September 2007 (IRIN) ...

... [T]he spokesman said mounting pressure by local people had led the provincial authorities to ask the US army to move those of its bases which happened to be near civilian areas.

According to the Geneva Conventions and International Humanitarian Law, “each party to the conflict must, to the extent feasible, avoid locating military facilities within or near densely populated areas.”

All parties are also legally bound to distinguish between military and non-military installations and avoid attacks which may harm civilians or their property. ... (link)

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Police report dead civilians in bombing raid; NATO silent (media too)

Pajhwok Afghan News quotes a local police chief reporting that 4 civilians (including one woman) were killed on the weekend in a NATO bombing operation. Apparently no major western news sources carried news of the killings.

The bombing occurred in Sarobi district of Kabul province - an area where insurgents have frequently been active. It is worth noting that the area is easier for journalists to access (being close to the city of Kabul) than the remote areas of Helmand and Kandahar. In those two provinces of late, NATO and US spokespersons talk of hundreds of Taliban casualties in the past few weeks. The same spokespersons usually also note that civilian casualties have been avoided - to which news agencies simply add that "independent verification" of such claims can't be made.

A few months back, Pajhwok often carried reports by Afghan journalists who had visited villages wherein NATO/US forces claimed to have killed Taliban fighters, only to find local citizens and police who told them about civilian victims. Lately, however, security concerns are preventing journalists from getting in to report on these incidents. The result is that what we hear is only the NATO or US version (which is always self-serving) along with a Taliban spokesperson version (which is always outlandish).

Pajhwok excerpt:

Nadar Shah Nizami, in charge of the police post in Ozbeen, told Pajhwok Afghan News exchange of fire between the two sides was followed by an airstrike.

"Two jet fighters and three helicopters pounded two houses in the village," he said, adding a woman and three men, all of them civilians, were killed as a result.

Several others who sustained injuries were rushed to hospital for treatement, said the officer, who would not say about casualties among the attackers.

Nizami said Gaz village was consisting of around 1,000 houses. Some of 500 of them had been vacated for fear of military operations and airstrikes by local and foreign troops.

Maj. Charles Anthony, spokesman for the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF), confirmed the bombing by saying that the raid was the result of an armed attack on their troops in that area.

The spokesman did not give details about casualties among common citizens and the attackers. ... (link)

Monday, September 17, 2007

Still no evidence that Iranian government arms Taliban

While reports of "Iranian weapons" being intercepted en route to the Taliban are not new, it bears repeating that there is still no evidence that the Iranian government has anything to do with it. But that won't stop elite news organizations like the Washington Post in their insinuations like this:

An Iranian arms shipment destined for the Taliban was intercepted Sept. 6 by the international force in Afghanistan in what appears to be an escalating flow of weaponry between the two former enemies...
Only after the article cites unnamed "officials" repeating accusations of Iranian government involvement does the Post relate any skeptical comments:
U.S. officials began to publicly accuse Iran of aiding the Taliban several months ago. R. Nicholas Burns, the undersecretary of state for political affairs, said in June that there was "irrefutable evidence" Iran was using its elite Revolutionary Guard Corps to arm the Taliban.
At the time, other officials were more cautious about earlier intercepted arms shipments. U.S. Army Gen. Dan K. McNeill, commander of NATO forces in Afghanistan, said there was no concrete evidence that the Iranian government was backing the Taliban. (link)
Yet the Post still leaves the issue open. It takes an AFP dispatch quoting the very same General McNeill who clarifies whether this latest arms shipment is really "news" at all:
"The geographic origin of that convoy was clearly Iran but take note that I did not say it's the Iranian government," the US general told AFP in an interview.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

NATO delegation acknowledges lack of Afghan support

Recently, a delegation of six members of the Defence and Security Committee of NATO's Parliamentary Assembly visited Afghanistan to assess NATO's mission. Led by Portuguese diplomat Julio Miranda Calha, the delegation included an American, a British, and a Canadian representative.

In their initial press release, the delegation makes a startling admission. After initial niceties about the mission ("visible progress", "increased economic activity", etc.), the statement airs its "strong concern" on a number of matters:

The NATO mission still suffers from a lack of personnel and assets... While NATO forces are able to clear any given area of insurgents, they do not have enough personnel to 'backfill' and hold a cleared area after a successful operation... The end result is the re-infiltration of cleared areas by insurgents, and an inability by local populations to commit to actively support NATO and the central government.
An "inability by local populations to commit to actively support NATO and the central government" is bureaucrat-speak. It means that Afghan villagers do not (or cannot) support NATO's war effort, nor Karzai's government. Of course, this refers primarily to southern Afghanistan, where support for the NATO/US missions has dropped dramatically, according to polls. A November 2006 opinion poll conducted in Afghanistan (pdf here) found that 43% of the residents of Kandahar and Helmand provinces, where Canadian combat troops have been active, feel that the toppling of the Taliban government was a “bad thing”. Further, this figure has jumped since the year previous, when just 13% of Afghans in the southern region felt that way.

Returning to the delegation's assessment: They call for more troops and intelligence with fewer restrictions on troop activities ("caveats"). Then they turn to Karzai's government:
Corruption, often linked to the surging drug trade, crippled efforts at every level of government from, for example, the Ministry of the Interior, to provincial governors, judges and police forces. Without dramatic progress in these areas, the vision of a stable and democratic state, responsive to the needs of the Afghan people, will remain unattainable
They conclude:
Fundamentally, the delegation came away with a sense that current efforts are making significant incremental progress, but not at a rate that will ensure without doubt an acceptable end state to our mission there.

Saturday, September 15, 2007

NYT sums up Canadian Forces action

Today's New York Times has an article by Afghanistan correspondent David Rohde, "Canadian Forces Regain Part of Strategic Area in Southern Afghanistan". It sums up Operation Light Candle, covered on this blog (here) earlier in the week. Excerpts:

Canadian forces this week regained control of roughly half of a strategic area outside of the southern city of Kandahar that fell to the Taliban in August...

Four Afghan police officers died and two Canadian soldiers were wounded in an offensive that unfolded [Sept 9 and 10] in the Zhare district, officials said. Seven hundred Canadian troops, backed by airstrikes and Leopard tanks, met little resistance from Taliban fighters. ...

The Taliban generally have avoided direct clashes with heavily armed NATO forces and instead attacked lightly armed Afghan police forces or carried out suicide and roadside bomb attacks. ...

Taliban forces took back roughly two-thirds of Zhare and one-third of Panjwai after Canadian forces withdrew from the area during a troop rotation in August. The Taliban struck vulnerable police posts and, in recaptured areas, began hanging civilians they declared “spies,” according to Afghan officials. ...

Sayed Aqa Saqib, the Kandahar provincial police chief, said three of the Afghan police officers who died during the operation this week had struck a land mine. He said 150 Taliban had been killed.

Canadian officials ... declined to give an estimate of the number of Taliban killed.

Friday, September 14, 2007

Afghanistan deteriorates

Today's blog entry catalogues some of the bad news that NATO and US officials prefer to overlook in their rosy pictures of progress in Afghanistan.
Conflict spreads
An official with the International Committee of the Red Cross states that conflict in Afghanistan is "clearly spreading and in certain areas is intensifying". The violence now affects half of Afghanistan, the ICRC reports. In addition, the growth internally displaced people (IDP's) continues due to fighting. "Up to 80,000 additional civilians have been forced to leave their homes by the recent upsurge in fighting", reports SwissAid.

The worsening security situation also directly affects Afghan refugees. The UN's development news agency IRIN reports that 82% of the 2.15 million Afghan refugees residing in Pakistan do not want to return to their homeland. The reasons they gave for this reluctance were concerns about security (41%), shelter (30%) and livelihoods (24%).

“In recent weeks there has also been a stark deterioration of security in Kunar Province, as well as in Wardak and Logar and the central region in general,” [said a UNHCR spokesperson] (link).
Al Jazeera reports on the widening of the areas of conflict, featuring a journalist's experience in Kapisa province, north of Kabul. Their reporter, meanwhile, shows Afghan goevernment claims of security to be highly questionable:
General Zahir Azimi, spokesman for the defence department, said: "The only organisation which is carrying out military operations in this area is the Afghan National Army and they have the trust of the people. ...
However, Al Jazeera's producer travelled with the Taliban for five hours in Tabag district and saw no sign of Afghan or American forces. (link)
Our allies, the warlords [Warning: disturbing content]
On the other hand, there are areas of Afghanistan where Taliban insurgents are not active, yet the people there continue to suffer from a lack of security and the rule of law. Takhar province is one such area. There, as IWPR reports, warlords who are part of Afghanistan's parliament rule through violence and intimidation:
While attention focuses on fighting in southern Afghanistan, there are parts of the north where the law is made not by Kabul, but by militia commanders who use violence and intimidation to maintain their hold over the civilian population. ...

Habib Rassoul, a resident of Takhar, cannot talk about his wife without tears of grief and rage. For the past three months, he has had no word of her.

“Commander Piram Qul [former mujahidin warlord and current member of parliament] kidnapped my wife while I was away in Kabul helping my sick brother,” he said. “I have no idea what has happened to her. I went to every office, complained to every official, but no one will help me. They are all afraid of Piram Qul.”

According to Habib, the kidnapping was intended to punish him for attending a demonstration in April against the dominance of local militia commanders in the province.

“The government is lying when it says it’s in control of the country,” he said bitterly. “There is no government here, just local commanders who control our destinies. NATO and ISAF [International Security Assistance Force] are busy in the south, and they have left us in the clutches of local commanders who are more dangerous than the Taleban.” ...
This disturbing picture is confirmed by an official from Afghanistan's Independent Human Rights Commission:
“Five months ago, one of the minor commanders raped a 10-year-old boy in Bangee district,” [an AIHRC official] said. “The child was injured, with a perforated bowel. But when the child’s father tried to sue the commander, he had no success. The commander used his money and influence, and the whole matter was decided in his favour.”

There were hundreds of such cases, he added, concluding, “It is a disaster here.”

A member of parliament who did not want to be named said that the commanders were a law unto themselves.

“Every single former commander has created his own local government in the districts,” said the parliamentarian. “They do whatever they please, with no regard for the law. No one, including the institutions of central government, can do anything without the permission of these local commanders. (link)
Corruption and graft
Interviewed by the BBC, Afghanistan's urban development minister Yousaf Pashthun says that a "land mafia" of well-connected persons has stolen 5,000 sq km of land this year.
Former military commanders, members of parliament and senior officials are seizing land and then selling it on illegally, says Yousaf Pashthun. ...

One man, who lives in the northern town of Mazar-e-Sharif, told the BBC how an estate that had been in his family for 80 years was taken over by local strongmen.

They drew up false papers, divided the land up into plots and sold it off for private housing, he says.

Although the original owner has taken the case to court, he is not optimistic since the people who stole his land are wealthy and powerful. ...

Mr Pashthun says one of the reasons very little is being done about the problem is that many people in positions of power, including the government, are involved in the land mafia. (link)

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Japanese PM resigns over Afghanistan

Shinzo Abe, Prime Minister of Japan, has resigned.

[T]he final straw appears to have been the deadlock over Japan's controversial naval mission, which for six years has been providing fuel support for coalition forces in Afghanistan. The legislation allowing the Indian Ocean mission expires on November 1, and Abe had staked his job on parliament agreeing to extend it. (link)
See here for earlier blog entry on this development.

Council of Canadians says NO to "Support our troops" decal

The CoC yesterday launched a campaign opposing "Support our troops" decals on public vehicles. Currently some 18 municipalities nation wide allow/promote the decals on police cars, buses and the like. From the CoC statement (here):

The Council of Canadians opposes the “Support our Troops” decals because it is unacceptable for public vehicles to carry any political message, let alone one that promotes the views of the governing party. Prime Minister Stephen Harper has said that “Support our Troops” implies support for the current mission in Afghanistan. In other words, the campaign excludes people, like the Council, who support our troops by demanding that they be brought home immediately.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Operation Medusa - all over again

Almost exactly a year later, Canadian Forces in Kandahar province are attempting to retake an area which they fought for in Operation Medusa. This time the name of the game is Operation Balye Deweh (Light Candle) and it aims to take back control of Zhari district, which Canadian troops had handed over to Afghan security forces, only to see the area retaken by insurgents. (See earlier post, "Taliban resurgent in Kandahar under Canadian watch". See also this map of the area.) The assessment of Gar Pardy, former Director General of Consular Affairs at DFAIT, is blunt:

The ebb and flow of "captured" territory in Kandahar province is but the latest evidence of a doomed mission. (link)
So how bad are things? We reported here on the Senlis Council's scathing assessment of the work of CIDA and the military. We also saw (here) that the Taliban control vast swaths of territory. Now IRIN, the UN development news agency, reports on Canada: Canadians and Kandaharis differ on security and development.
When Canada took over, medical workers were able to treat patients in 15 of Kandahar's 17 districts. Now, they have access to only 12 districts. ...

After military operations in the Panjwai and Zherai [Zhari] districts of Kandahar in October 2006, Canada promised that it would help rebuild hundreds of houses damaged in clashes with Taliban insurgents.

However, residents of both districts say their lives have not improved since. “We have only received promises of aid,” Fayezullah, a resident of Safid Rawan village in Panjwai, said. ...

[T]he owners of hundreds of houses damaged in fighting have not received any assistance for rebuilding.

Lalai [provincial council member] said that of the estimated 2,000 houses damaged, only 180 houses in Panjwai and Zherai were to get Canadian assistance for re-building.
Meanwhile, elsewhere in Kandahar
Troops from the US-led coalition (i.e. under Operation Enduring Freedom, not ISAF) have been in combat in Shah Wali Kot district. That district is in the north end of Kandahar province, up the Arghandab River from Zhari and Panjwai districts. And unlike what the Canadian troops are seeing in Zhari, the Taliban trying to fight back, though US officials claim to have killed scores of insurgents:
Throughout the engagement, insurgents reinforced their positions with an estimated 150 additional fighters. The combined force repelled the attack using small-arms and later called in air support. (See Pajhwok News report here.)
A separate Pajhwok report on the battle presents what appears to be a disturbing picture of the coalition's regard for civilians. One clash erupted when coalition troops on patrol came under fire from within a village. Pajhwok relates what happened next:

The Coalition troops warned the villagers through loudspeakers to vacate their houses after which air support was called to bomb the hideouts of the militants.

Two compounds suspected to be used by the Taliban to target the Coalition and Afghan troops were destroyed and six insurgents were killed in the airstrike, the statement said. (link)

Monday, September 10, 2007

Women in Karzai's Afghanistan Part 2

Last week, the BBC interviewed Andrew Anderson, deputy director of Front Line - an organisation which supports human rights defenders worldwide. Anderson himself recently interviewed many Afghan women who have received death threats. Excerpt:

AA: Some of [the women interviewed] believed they had been threatened by people linked to the Afghanistan security services. Some felt they'd been threatened by people linked to the various warlords - some of whom are still involved in the parliament...

BBC: And did these women feel that they could go to the police with these threats?

AA: No. Universally they said that they didn't trust the police, that the police were corrupt and dangerous. ... [link for audio]

Sunday, September 9, 2007

Women in Karzai's Afghanistan

Al Jazeera reports that Afghan women prisoners, upon their release, are housed, not in half-way houses, but in newly-built prisons. It seems that money for prisons is forthcoming while money for other reahabilitative services in not.

But don't think that these women are criminals. They "would qualify as victims rather than criminals under any interpretation of international human rights laws, including those to which Afghanistan is a signatory." That, sadly, is only the beginning of Afghan women's woes. Excerpts from Al Jazeera:

The UN women's fund (Unifem) found that 80 per cent of the violence perpetrated against women in Afghanistan originated in their homes.

According to the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission (AIHRC), 60 to 80 per cent of marriages in Afghanistan are forced, some of them involving girls as young as six years old.

Subjected to sexual and psychological abuse along with violence in their marital home, many girls run away. And when they come in contact with Afghanistan's criminal justice system, instead of receiving any protection, they are seen as offenders and convicted.

Even Afghanistan's formal justice system does not clearly define rape as a separate crime, including it under the offence of "zina" or adultery, pederasty and violation of honour.

In practice, a woman often has to prove her lack of consent in a rape case in order to avoid being punished for it.
Several women who were interviewed by UNODC were verbally divorced and had married again, but were later "reported" by their first husbands and jailed. In one case the woman had been in her second marriage for 10 years and had given birth to five children.

Friday, September 7, 2007

UK to US: We're winning battles but losing the war

From the Times of London:

Britain is risking a new foreign policy rift with the US after bluntly telling the Bush Administration that it is “winning the battles but losing the war” in Afghanistan.
Britain also has expressed opposition to the American plan for aerial spraying of opium crop in Afghanistan. Additionally, Britain recently withdrew troops from Basra, Iraq. However, few commentators see this as a trend toward an independent foreign policy on the part of Brown's new Labour government. Perhaps time will tell.

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

Civilian deaths spiked in August

IRIN, the UN news agency, reports that civilian deaths in Afghanistan increased 16% over July, totalling 168 by their count. Mohammad Farid Hamidi of the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission reveals that "Two thirds of the 168 civilian deaths happened in military operations conducted by international forces against their opposition".

Tuesday, September 4, 2007

Civilians die in coalition bombing

Police said Sunday four Afghan civilians were killed and five wounded in a US-led force air raid that pounded Taliban insurgents in mountainous eastern Afghanistan on Friday.

The US-led coalition confirmed the military had dropped a precision-guided bomb on militants who had fired mortars on an outpost in the same area and at the same time.

It said it had reports of non-combatant casualties but they could not be verified. (link)

Meanwhile, Linda McQuaig in her column in the Toronto Star writes about the Canadian media's war boosterism:
One way to prevent this pro-war momentum from setting in here would be for us to demand that the casualties we inflict on Afghans also be treated with some attention and respect. Instead, our government and media celebrate the number of "Taliban" we kill...

More surprising is the disrespectful way our government and media treat even Afghan civilian casualties.

There's been minimal coverage here of the repeated pleas from Afghans – including President Hamid Karzai – for an end to the U.S. and NATO bombings that have killed countless Afghan civilians. (And they are literally countless; we don't bother counting them.)

As part of the NATO force over there, Canada is surely complicit in these war deaths.Yet our media tend to make short shrift of them, even raising doubts about whether they really take place.

Sunday, September 2, 2007

Taliban resurgent in Kandahar under Canadian watch

"Over the past six weeks, the Taliban have driven government forces out of roughly half of a strategic area in southern Afghanistan that American and NATO officials declared a success story last fall", reports David Rohde of the New York Times. The area in question is in the Zhari and Panjwai districts of Kandahar, where Operation Medusa was fought one year ago. (See this map of the Medusa battlefield.)

The Taliban took advantage of the recent rotation of Canadian troops which saw Quebec's Van Doos regiment take over duties in Kandahar. Insurgents "overran isolated police posts and are now operating in areas where they can mount attacks on Kandahar, the south’s largest city."

The pullback left two Afghan police posts in Panjwai largely unprotected, [Kandahar's provincial police chief] said. On Aug. 7, the Taliban attacked the posts simultaneously. For several hours, the police held them off and called for help from Canadian forces, he said, but none arrived. Sixteen policemen were killed.

“The Canadians didn’t support them," [he] said.
Rohde then offers some figures which reveal the escalation of the insurgency this year as compared to last:
According to an internal United Nations tally, insurgents set off 516 improvised explosive devices in 2007. Another 402 improvised explosive devices were discovered before detonation.

Reported security incidents, a broad category that includes bombings, firefights and intimidation, are up from roughly 500 a month last year to 600 a month this year
NATO and American troop fatalities are also up 20% over last year.

So what does this increase mean on the ground? Rohde sees a stalemate:
Recent visits to three southern provinces revealed territorial divisions that largely resembled those of last year. In Kandahar and Helmand, the government has a strong presence in about half of each province, the local police said. And in Oruzgan Province, where Dutch NATO forces focus more on development programs than on combat, the government controls the provincial capital, several district centers and little of the countryside.

Saturday, September 1, 2007

Japanese opposition calls Afghan war illegitimate

In Japan, Ichiro Ozawa, leader of the opposition, has voiced his opposition to the Japanese role in Operation Enduring Freedom. Japanese naval vessels are involved in supporting efforts to interdict terrorists on the Indian Ocean - a commitment which frees up US forces for other duties. Ozawa told German Chancellor Merkel that he believes that the UN has not properly authorized the war in Afghanistan, and is therefore illegitimate.

Though Prime Minister Shinzo Abe could use his parliamentary majority to overrule the opposition, he is loathe to do so as Ozawa's position is supported by a majority of the Japanese public. (See article from The Australian here.)