Friday, November 30, 2007

Canadian military get pushy

The Toronto Star's Middle East bureau chief, Mitch Potter, reports from Canada's area of operations on CF officers' attempts to strong-arm village leaders:

PANJWAII, Afghanistan–It was 40 unhappy Pashtoon tribal elders versus three tough-talking Canadian army officers with a rather large carrot and an even bigger stick – a stick they had never before shown.

Align with us against the Taliban, the Canadians told the chieftains, and the people of embattled Panjwaii will reap untold rewards, starting with a large stack of Ottawa-and-Washington-backed development dollars poised for the first whisper of actual security.

Remain mere observers to lawless insurgency and – here comes the stick – Panjwaii will be forgotten. Unless the elders soon seize their tribal entitlement to power and influence and take a stand, the spoils of stability will go to a more hospitable patch of Kandahar province...

The Canadians spoke firmly of security first, aid second. The Afghan elders begged for the reverse.

... Some of the greybeards wore glowering expressions, some heaved frustrated sighs, others still just stared into space with looks of sheer fatigue. (link)
For some interesting context to the above meetings, kindly see this map showing areas of government control as well as areas of insurgent control. In Panjwai, the government's writ scarcely applies anywhere, save for a couple slivers of territory.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

US Marines: Out of Iraq, into Afghanistan?

The top general of the US Marines, James Conway, is pushing his new plan to move the main contingent of Marines out of Iraq and redeploy them in Afghanistan. As the Christian Science Monitor reports:

Conway says that marines, who have been largely responsible for calming Anbar Province in Iraq, can either return home or "stay plugged into the fight" by essentially redeploying to Afghanistan.
Anbar province? See Patrick Cockburn on Anbar province:
[T]he US has, in effect, created a new Sunni tribal militia which takes orders from the US military and is well paid by it and does not owe allegiance to the Shia-Kurdish government in Baghdad. This is despite the fact that the US has denounced militias in Iraq and demanded they be dissolved.

The US success in Anbar was real but it was also overblown because the wholly Sunni province is not typical of the rest of Iraq. The strategy advocated by Washington exaggerated the importance of al-Qa'ida and seldom spoke of the other powerful groups who had not been driven out of Anbar. (link)
At any rate, the CSM article does not mention the Marines' reputation in Afghanistan. In March of this year, a US Marines unit killed twelve civilians in a "rampage" following a suicide attack in Nanagarhar province, notes the New York Times.

NYT on Polish war crimes trial
WARSAW (November 29, 2007) - Poland is facing a rare war-crimes prosecution at a crucial juncture for both the newly elected government’s commitment to overseas military engagements and the effort to overhaul the nation’s armed forces.

Seven Polish soldiers sit in a military jail in Poznan, accused of killing six Afghan civilians, including women and children, in the village of Nangarkhel in August...

The country has 1,200 soldiers in the NATO operation in Afghanistan. Poland has also been a significant ally for the United States in Iraq, and it still has 900 troops there. ..

The new government has also declared its intention to phase out conscription completely by 2010, as Poland continues its effort over many years to transform its army from a lumbering institution of the Communist era to a nimble modern force geared toward distant missions like Afghanistan and Iraq. But the war in Iraq was unpopular with the Polish public even before the invasion in 2003...

Public opinion is opposed to [the Afghanistan mission], according to one recent survey here conducted for the newspaper Gazeta Polska... (link)

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

US bombing kills 14 civilians in Nuristan

From Associated Press:

KABUL, Afghanistan - U.S.-led coalition troops killed 14 road construction workers in airstrikes in eastern Afghanistan after receiving faulty intelligence, Afghan officials said Wednesday.

The coalition said only that it was looking into the incident.

The engineers and laborers had been building a road for the U.S. military in mountainous Nuristan province, and were sleeping in two tents in the remote area when they were killed Monday night, said Sayed Noorullah Jalili, director of the Kabul-based road construction company Amerifa. There were no survivors, he said...

Jalili earlier said 22 workers were killed, but he said the latest reports indicated the death toll was 14. He did not say why the preliminary figures were higher. (link)

Monday, November 26, 2007

Insurgency and denial

Opposition parties this week accused the military and government of not honestly depicting the status of the war in Afghanistan. Following General Atkinson's appearance before the Commons defense committee, one member accused the General of wearing rose coloured glasses and not telling it straight on Panjwai and Zhari, where Canadian troops operate.

While military and government types denied the accusations, as if on cue seven Afghan police were beheaded by insurgents in the Arghandab district. It was in this area where several weeks ago Taliban insurgents briefly took territory within 16km of Kandahar city. That occupation followed the death of local strongman Mullah Naqib, leader of the Alikozai tribe and considered a solid NATO ally.

Now complaints are surfacing that President Karzai wrongly engineered a successor for Naqib:

Installing an untested young man as their tribal leader has hurt security, they say, pointing to the fact that, within weeks of the decision, Canadian and Afghan troops were required to push back the first major Taliban attack on Alokozai lands north of the city.

General Khan Mohammed, an Alokozai tribesman who serves as an adviser to the Interior Minister, said he recently visited Mr. Karzai at his palace with another senior elder to complain about the selection of the young leader...

"The tribe didn't choose this leader. I told him, you're increasing the violence in our lands." ...

"I told [Mr. Karzai], 'You're a Pashtun, you know our culture. ... This is the first time ever in Afghanistan, that a leader is chosen like this.' "

A Western diplomat in Kabul acknowledged that tribes usually choose their own leaders, but added that it's customary in Afghanistan for the central government to play a role in the selection of such an important figure as the Alokozai chief...

Victim of US coalition bombing speaks

Time Magazine reports on recent admissions by US and Afghan officials of their responsibility for civilian casualties in an air raid September 27 in Chora district, Uruzgan province. The focus is on Assadullah, a man who lost 20 family members when US planes bombed his house at the behest of Afghan and American ground troops, according to one NATO officer.

... Assadullah says he and his neighbors had no warning that any operation was imminent in their region. He thinks the bombing may have been sparked when a family became frightened after seeing army patrols and moved into the house next to his in the village, arousing the soldiers' suspicion. He says that house was bombed. Other villages where families moved in with each other were also bombed, said residents of the area.

"There was no Taliban around at the time," Assadullah says. "The Taliban did not even get a bleeding nose that night." Despite his loss, Assadullah says if the ISAF helps to rebuild the villages and stops bombing and shelling, then the villagers might continue to support their efforts. But he adds an ominous warning: "If nothing changes for the good, our people must join the Taliban."
We here at StopwarBlog covered this event at the time (here), quoting IRIN, the UN development news service thusly: "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."

A few days before the tragic attack, a journalist with recent experience int he area described the Chora district as "non-permissive", meaning that attacks on NATO troops are "regular" (see our entry here).

Chora's backstory
Now the Sept 27 attack wasn't the first encounter which locals in Chora have had with foreign forces. In June, an event which has been called the biggest Taliban offensive of 2007 occurred in the ditrict, called the Battle of Chora. It was fought between Dutch-led NATO forces and Taliban insurgents, and reportedly resulted in some 60 civilians killed.

Interview sums up the quagmire

A very intriguing interview appears on from the other day. The interviewee is academic and author Abdulkader H. Sinno, who has a forthcoming book about Afghanistan. Excerpt:

Q: Out of the various Afghan organizations you have meticulously studied, what particular group if any holds the greatest chance of future political dominance in Afghanistan?

A: Historically, only organizations that can successfully mobilize the Pushtun have been able to gain political dominance in Afghanistan in a sustained way. Today, the only organization with the potential to do so is the Taliban. President Hamid Karzai has negligible support among the Pushtun and current Afghan institutions will likely disintegrate absent the foreign military occupation. Gulbudin Hekmatyar’s Hizb cannot mobilize the Pushtun population beyond a few areas, particularly in the presence of a Taliban alternative, because it is perceived to be anti-tribal, too modernizing, anti-Durani, and too centralizing. Unless a new potent organization emerges to mobilize the Pushtun better than the Taliban, I see only two alternatives: 1) a growing insurgency against the NATO/U.S. occupation and the institutions it established or 2) a Neo-Taliban state that controls at least Kabul and the Pushtun south and, possibly, the rest of the country. ...
Q: A recent report by the British Oxfam group said the US is spending too little on humanitarian aid in Afghanistan and that a great portion of the aid money is diverted to the high salaries of expatriate employees and subcontractors. Is this part of the international community’s failure in Afghanistan that you describe in a chapter of your upcoming book?

A: Absolutely. It is part of a wide array of failed policies by the Bush Administration in Afghanistan that transformed what could have been a glowing success into a disaster in the making. The Bush Administration had a short term goal to win a war on the cheap in Afghanistan and it therefore allowed allied local militia leaders to reemerge and skimped on reconstruction and humanitarian aid, in spite of its promises...

It is amazing how billions of dollars in aid can be wasted by Western companies and NGOs on inflated salaries, corrupt and inefficient practices, security for unnecessary foreign personnel, redundant and prestige projects with little impact, nearly luxurious facilities in an impoverished country, huge profits on the back of desperately poor Afghans, and projects meant to support counterinsurgency rather than Afghans’ welfare. These projects and some foreign NGOs have caused much resentment along with limited benefits in Afghanistan. They raised property prices beyond the reach of nearly all Afghans in Kabul and the lifestyle of their personnel offends many. The main Afghan beneficiaries of their activities are well-connected people, including militarized local leaders, who get a slice of the action as subcontractors or by providing security outfits.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Vive la Suisse! Vive le Japon!

Both Switzerland and Japan have lately removed themselves from the US/NATO project in Afghanistan.

Japan pulls out
Japan had been supplying free fuel - to the tune of 129 million gallons - to war ships from the US, Britain and Pakistan. According to Xinhua:

The mission was abruptly halted on Nov. 1, after opposition parties raised concerns it was too broad and possibly violated Japan's pacifist constitution.
Two Japanese naval ships have returned home - one a refueller, the other a destroyer.

Switzerland pulls out
Switzerland, meanwhile, had been supplying a handful of "peacekeepers" in Afghanistan. But their mandate has been stretched to non-peacekeeper duties, it seems:
Two Swiss army officers, currently working with a German team in the northeastern Kunduz province, will return home by March next year, Swiss Defense Minister Samuel Schmid told a press conference in Bern, the Swissinfo website reported.

Schmid said he took the decision for security reasons. The NATO-led mission in Afghanistan has become a peace enforcement operation rather than a peacekeeping duty, he said.

According to Schmid, a continued Swiss military presence in Afghanistan - although "rather symbolic" - is impossible because it goes against the spirit of the constitution and is not in line with the law.
An ISAF troop summary from last year lists the Swiss contribution as five.

One torturer supports another

Backing Canada up on our nasty little endeavor is France - a country remembered for torture and group punishment during its war against Algeria. (See this photo [WARNING: Explicit], from this archive.)

PARIS - The French foreign affairs minister is defending the treatment of Afghan prisoners by Canadian soldiers.

Bernard Kouchner said Friday that France has total confidence in Canada when it comes to the way captured Afghans have been treated. ...

See here for an excellent backgrounder on Kouchner, by longtime European correspondent Diana Johnstone. Also see ZNet for the ongoing scandal of French President Sarkozy's Mossad connections:
The influential French daily Le Figaro last week revealed that the French leader once worked for -- and perhaps still does, it hinted -- Israeli intelligence as a sayan (Hebrew for helper), one of the thousands of Jewish citizens of countries other than Israel who cooperate with the katsas (Mossad case-officers).

The fit hits the shan: torture issue resurfaces

As part of the legal case brought by Amnesty International and the BC Civil Liberties Association, the Canadian federal government has been forced to release some 1000 pages of documents - censored documents to be precise. The documents relate to prison conditions in Afghanistan. Here is a blow by blow of the action:

Government's rouse
In an article titled
'Credible' case of torture found in Afghanistan, the Toronto Star relays the government's attempt to soften the blow of the release of the documents relating to prisoner torture in Afghanistan. By admitting to a few cases of torture and crediting the military's agreement with the Afghans, they tried to take the sting off revelations to come. (My guess is the media won't be too hard on the Conservatives anyway.)

[The revelations came] just before the foreign affairs department released about 1,000 pages of files late last night that suggests widespread abuse of prisoners – including those captured by Canadian soldiers – continues to occur in Afghanistan.

"The allegation has come to light because we have a good agreement with the Afghan government," Foreign Affairs Minister Maxime Bernier said in the Commons.
In 32 interviews with former Canadian detainees transferred to Afghan custody, at least seven reports of torture (or "ill treatment") surfaced:
[A]n individual detained by Canadian soldiers and later interviewed by Corrections Canada officials in prison reported having his toes burned, and being kicked and beaten while blindfolded. Another reported receiving electrical shocks, having hands and feet bound and being made to stand for 10 straight days. ...

[A] Canadian army medic examined a detainee in a local police station who was still wearing the plastic handcuffs used by Canadian soldiers. The detainee had a 4-cm cut on his face, a bloody nose and had suffered blunt force trauma injuries to the back of his neck and head.
What did they know and when did they know it?
The Globe and Mail, Nov 16 (link)
The Harper government knew prison conditions were appalling long before The Globe and Mail published a series of stories last April detailing the abuse and torture of prisoners turned over by Canadian soldiers to Afghanistan's notorious secret police, documents released this week show.

The heavily censored documents also show that at the same time as senior ministers were denying evidence of abuse, officials on the ground in Afghanistan were collecting first-hand accounts from prisoners of mistreatment. ...

[In requisition requests, one Correction Canada employee] asked for better boots in February, 2007, months before the published reports, because she was "walking through blood and fecal matter" on the floor of cells as they toured Afghan prisons.

... Another report noted that the warden of the main prison in Kandahar, where many prisoners handed over by Canadians soldiers were held, had been fired after charges that he raped juvenile detainees. Cosmetics and hashish were found in his office. He was exonerated because an Afghan military judge said it was "impossible for a drunken man in his 50s to commit an act of rape," reported a Canadian official in a cable to Ottawa.

Other reports detail conditions far outside internationally acceptable norms. At one Kandahar secret police prison, all inmates are shackled in leg irons around the clock. Some have been kept that way for more than a year.

[Gordon O'Connor lies:] ... On April 23 [i.e. following the revelations of G&M's Graeme Smith] Canadian diplomats in Kabul reported back to Ottawa after an urgently arranged meeting with the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission that "the commission is unable to monitor the condition of detainees as per their agreement with the Canadians, Dutch and others" because the NDS refused to allow them into the prisons.

The next day, then-defence minister Gordon O'Connor told the House of Commons during Question Period that "the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission has assured us that it will report any abuse of prisoners. It is able to monitor all the prisoners."

Canadian Forces flatly refuse to say how many prisoners they have taken and either released or handed over to Afghan authorities. However, blacked-out numbers in the documents indicate the number is in triple digits and Canadian sources in Afghanistan say more than 200.

Yet in more than six months of follow-up monitoring, Canadian officials have been able to arrange only 32 interviews. Several of those were multiple meetings with the same detainees, David Mulroney, the government's point man on the Afghan file, has said.

That suggests that more than 100, perhaps more than 150 detainees have gone missing.

In the 32 interviews, at least seven detainees claimed they were abused or ill-treated. The government no longer seems to use the word "torture" in connection with prisoners in Afghanistan.

Among the many partially blacked-out references in the documents released in Ottawa is a cryptic mention from early April, warning "there are also indications that Canadians may have been present during questioning of detainees by NDS."
Canadian prof's op-ed
Amir Attaran, semi-famous for suing the Canadian government, has an Op-Ed in the Guardian (UK). It is well worth reading in full (and short, too). Excerpts:
[According to NATO's rules of operation] Under the Nato's plan, coalition forces in Afghanistan arrest both combatants and non-belligerents. There is no list of approved offences, and soldiers can arrest any person for any reason they think necessary (ie the detainees are not all Taliban prisoners). Once in custody, detainees are fingerprinted and interrogated, but never provided a lawyer. Within 96 hours, the detainee and the interrogation files are transferred to the Afghan secret police.

...But it could also be that Nato knows about the torture, and finds it convenient to accept the intelligence it yields - in which case the detainee transfers are actually renditions, and Afghanistan's torturers are performing an outsourced service.

...[L]egal scholars have advised the international criminal court that Canada's top military officers, having authorised the transfers and so having aided and abetted the torturers, could now be prosecuted for war crimes. The Harper government is dolorously navigating a thicket of lawsuits and investigations (interestingly, with the help of Professor Christopher Greenwood, who is known to Britons as the very well-remunerated barrister who soothed the Blair government with a memo that going to war in Iraq was legal).

...Nato should do as Amnesty recommends, and establish constant, 24/7 coalition oversight in an Afghan prison where detainees are held. Such a prison would be run cooperatively with the Afghans, and could serve as a training college where safe detention and interrogation are taught.
No NATO prisons
The Toronto Star reports on NATO's reaction to Amnesty's call:
'General rules out NATO-run prisons' Cites Canada's General Henault rejects Amnesty International's call for NATO -run prisons:
Henault rejected accusations there is "systematic" torture in Afghan jails, or at the hands of its secret police, and said he is not aware of any individual cases of abuse.

"But it would probably be inappropriate for me to say that there is nothing like that that ever happens in Afghanistan."
Not only "inappropriate" but willfully ignorant, as this AFP report notes:
Speaking to more than 100 senior police officials in Kabul, Karzai said people were still being tortured despite improvements in his US-backed government's prison system.
Canada Violates Geneva Conventions, say opposition MPs
Globe and Mail, Nov 17(link):
Opposition MPs have called on the government to order the Canadian Forces to halt the transfer of detainees to the Afghan government, alleging that Canada has violated the Geneva Conventions by permitting prisoner abuse to continue.
Liberal defence critic Denis Coderre: "Canada must stop the transfer of detainees or it will continue to violate the Geneva Conventions.”
Laurie Hawn, parliamentary secretary for defence, said it was ridiculous to allege that Canada was violating the Geneva Conventions and said that, in any case, the primary responsibility was with the Afghan government.

“We are abiding by all measures,” he said, referring to the arrangement on treatment of detainees between Canada and Afghanistan agreed to last May.

“We are not abusing anybody's rights,”...

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Government Warning: Un-Canadians Amongst Us!

Defence Minister Peter MacKay sunk to a new low the other day:
G&M: War-crime allegations 'un-Canadian', MacKay says

"These scurrilous allegations that somehow Canadian soldiers are complicit in war crimes is beyond contempt. It is reprehensible. It is un-Canadian for that member to make those kind of allegations in this place."

Outside the Commons, Mr. Coderre likened being called un-Canadian to U.S. citizens being dubbed un-American for opposing the war in Iraq.

He said that Mr. MacKay obviously has not read the documents the government was forced to release last week in a Federal Court case, which indicate Canada has transferred juvenile prisoners to Afghan jails.

One of the documents noted that the warden of the notorious Sarpoza prison in Kandahar, where many prisoners handed over by Canadians were held, had been fired after charges that he raped juvenile detainees.
Joining Coderre in daring to utter such heresy, former Canadian judge and current UN human Rights Commissioner Louise Arbour stated during her trip to Afghanistan that NATO forces "breach international law":
She said civilian casualties from operations by the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) and U.S.-led coalition forces in Afghanistan had reached "alarming levels".

"These not only breach international law, but are eroding support among the Afghan community for the government and international military presence, as well as public support in contributing states for continued engagement in Afghanistan," she said.

Senlis: Taliban gaining 'political legitimacy' amongst Afghans

The Senlis Council's latest report, Stumbling into Chaos was released this week, and it has caused quite a splash. The Guardian sums it up well with Afghanistan 'falling into hands of Taliban':

The Taliban has a permanent presence in 54% of Afghanistan and the country is in serious danger of falling into Taliban hands, according to a report by an independent thinktank with long experience in the area.

Despite tens of thousands of Nato-led troops and billions of dollars in aid poured into the country, the insurgents, driven out by the American invasion in 2001, now control "vast swaths of unchallenged territory, including rural areas, some district centres, and important road arteries", the Senlis Council says in a report released yesterday.

On the basis of what it calls exclusive research, it warns that the insurgency is also exercising a "significant amount of psychological control, gaining more and more political legitimacy in the minds of the Afghan people who have a long history of shifting alliances and regime change".

It says the territory controlled by the Taliban has increased and the frontline is getting closer to Kabul - a warning echoed by the UN which says more and more of the country is becoming a "no go" area for western aid and development workers.

While NATO types quickly seconded the Senlis call for more troops (while dismissing other aspects of the report), it seems that NATO bigwigs don't expect a significant troops surge and are thus settling for the meager forces they do have while putting on a brave face:
"As far as the NATO military presence in Afghanistan is concerned, we are almost there," said [NATO Secretary-Gen Jaap] de Hoop Scheffer. "We have filled what the military say we need by 90 percent, but not 100 percent, so I am not satisfied as a NATO secretary general." (link)

Burning semen: DU hysteria and skepticism

Via Sid Shniad's e-mail list (always a welcome sight in my Inbox):
Radioactive Ammunition Fired in Middle East May Claim More Lives Than Hiroshima and Nagasaki, by Sherman Ross.

So much ammunition containing depleted uranium(DU) has been fired, asserts nuclear authority Leuren Moret, “The genetic future of the Iraqi people for the most part, is destroyed.”

“More than ten times the amount of radiation released during atmospheric testing (of nuclear bombs) has been released from depleted uranium weaponry since 1991,” Moret writes, including radioactive ammunition fired by Israeli troops in Palestine. ...
Sound convincing? Hardly. Readers who want a good larf are encouraged to read the comments section of the above link, where the ostensibly respectable Leuren Moret herself weighs in and shows herself to be anything but respectable. She attacks one commenter on the thread, a Gulf War and Iraq War vet who himself was exposed to DU and who says he has no ill effects. Moret calls him an "obvious disinformation agent", apparently working for the "Zionist Anglo American Economic Empire". Further, she states that he is probably in denial about health effects of his DU exposure and she even muses that the man's wife could attest to his "burning semen" (I kid you not dear reader). The ex-soldier wisely asks Moret for scientific evidence for burning semen. Moret of course does not answer that request.

Reason, not hype
Readers interested in the rather surprising reality of DU and anti-DU activism can do no better than consult Dan Fahey. While, Fahey is generally called an "anti-DU activist" (and indeed this seems a good label), he is vary careful about evidence and very critical of fellow anti-DU activists like Moret.

A couple of Fahey articles:
Summary of DU test results for Iraq War Veterans (march 2006)
The emergence and Decline of the Debate Over Depleted Uranium Weapons (2004)
Science or Science Fiction? (2003)

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Update on Baghlan revelations

The other day, we related how preliminary reports from UN officials investigating the Baghlan suicide bombing indicate that the majority of deaths were caused by bodyguards shooting into the crowd following the actual bombing.

Now an internal report obtained by reporters is even more damning:

An internal U.N. report obtained Monday said bodyguards protecting Parliament members fired "deliberately and indiscriminately" into a crowd after a suicide bombing and that children bore "the brunt of the onslaught."

The report also said there was no evidence to show authorities had tried to identify those behind the shootings or bring them "to account for their crimes." (link)
Recall from an earlier blog posting (here) :
According to Reuters, one [arrested bombing suspect] is "a mosque prayer leader", while the other is "a resident of the industrial part of the town where the blast took place". While the efficacy of policing in Afghanistan is questionable, on first appearance it doesn't seem like the suspects are likely to have been innocents arrested for propaganda purposes. The suspects don't match the preferred narrative of the government of Afghanistan and NATO officials who tell us that the hard core of Taliban fighters come from Pakistan or yet other foreign countries.

Corruption in Kandahar

From Pajhwok Afghan News:

10 policemen disarmed, arrested in Kandahar

LASHKARGAH, Nov 18 (Pajhwok Afghan News): 10 policemen of Tarnak check post, of Daman district in southern Kandahar province, including its commander were disarmed and arrested upon public complaints, officials of Daman told Pajhwok Afghan News on Sunday.

District police chief of Daman, Col. Ghulam Rasool said that the policemen were accused of robbing ten thousands afghanis from a resident of Khost province.

...Gul Mohammad, a driver of this route told this news agency that he had to grease the palm of the policemen almost daily.
Foreign forces injure civilians in Khost
In Afghanistan's eastern Khost province, where American forces take the lead, Pajhwok Afghan News states rather vaguely that "foreign forces" are responsible for injuring some 7 civilians during military training.
Confirming the unpleasant incident, Col. Israr, Commander of the 1st army brigade in 203 Thunder military corps, said foreign forces were involved in Saturday's incident not the Afghan National Army (ANA).

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Insurgents in Farah

Yesterday, the Afghan National Army managed to retake Farah province's Bakwa district [see pdf map here]. The district had been taken by Taliban insurgents some three weeks ago.

The capture of Bakwa came amid insurgent attacks on several districts in Farah, starting with Gulistan district, next door to Bakwa district:

[Oct 30/07:] ...Local Taliban carried out the raid on Gulistan district of western Farah province on Monday night and were joined by about 400 rebels from neighbouring Helmand, provincial police chief Abdul Rehman Sarjang said.

"Police made a tactical retreat, the battle is ongoing now. ...

Taliban spokesman Yousuf Ahmadi claimed that the hardline movement's fighters had captured Gulistan. "We are in control of the district now," he said.

But the police chief denied the claim, saying that Afghan forces and NATO-led troops were being deployed in support of police "to retake total control." (link to AFP dispatch)
Five days later, Reuters says the battle still rages and has spread:
[Nov 3/07:] ...Afghan forces battled hundreds of Taliban fighters for a fifth day in the west of the country on Friday for control of two districts, and the chief of a third fretted his region might soon fall. Afghan and foreign troops fought the insurgents around Gulistan this week, far from fleeing, the rebels gained more ground and captured the neighboring district of Bakwa on Wednesday.

"Gulistan district is still controlled by the Taliban," Ikramuddin Yawar, the police chief for western Afghanistan, told Reuters. "We want assistance from NATO to support us from the air." (link)
Note that is was during those five days of fighting in Farah (in an area rather close to Taliban stronghold Musa Qala in Helmand) that Taliban fighters struck on the other side of Helmand. That was the attack on Arghandab district, just north of Kandahar city (see Kandahar province districts map here). Recall further that the Arghandab attack followed the death of a NATO-friendly local strongman, and may have resulted in insurgents carting off the illegal weapons cache of the deceased.

As for Farah province, Reuters reported the retaking of Gulistan on Nov 9. (The third district in Farah which was taken by insurgents was given up almost immediately.)

Meanwhile, check this map, produced by the Senlis Council, depicting areas of insurgent control/threat in southern Afghanistan.

230,000 Displaced People in South

The Brookings Institute's Khalid Koser recently gave a presentation on IDPs in Afghanistan. The text is here. Excerpt:

According to UNHCR there are currently about 129,000 registered IDPs in Afghanistan. ...

The figure 129,000 mainly covers people displaced by drought and insecurity in the south of Afghanistan, who are living in camps, and have been displaced for significant periods of time. It covers some, but by no means all, of the growing numbers of IDPs living in irregular settlements in Kabul and other urban areas. It does not include more recent displacement elsewhere in the country arising from human rights violations, inter-communal tensions, floods or drought. Neither does it include at least 20,000 families – that’s about 100,000 individuals - displaced in the last few months by conflict in the south. The Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre reckons that the true number of IDPs in Afghanistan today is probably closer to 300,000. ...
Adding to the issue, IRIN news relates:
Because neither the UN nor the government of Afghanistan support the establishment of new camps - fearing this may encourage other people to leave their homes in search of aid - IDPs have been dispersed in and around urban locations, often living with relatives or in irregular settlements...

[Afghan Red Crescent Society spokesperson] said aid agencies could not meet the most urgent humanitarian needs of many vulnerable displaced families, particularly in conflict-affected areas.

“The Afghan Red Crescent Society does not have adequate resources and capacity to assist all IDPs,” Gailani said...

If armed hostilities intensify and spread to different parts of Afghanistan, internal displacement could see a significant increase, warn experts... (link)
** N.B. For a graphic view of where the humanitarian hot spots are, see this map from the UN news agency's site.

War's spread into Pakistan
From the Guardian:
The US is seeking to beef up Pakistan's counter-insurgency efforts in the tribal areas along the border with Afghanistan by expanding an American special forces team in the country to train the Frontier Corps and recruiting local militias to take on the insurgents.

The aim is to replicate the Iraq model, in which the Americans recruited, financed and armed local militias against insurgents, firstly in Anbar province and then elsewhere in the country.

US special forces at present only go to Pakistan for six-week trips. The intention is that from early next year they will be there for longer assignments, mainly in a training and advisory role, though combat is not ruled out.

The US has about 50 troops in Pakistan at present and the intention is to add at least dozens more.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Senlis Council's latest - a sneak peak

The Senlis Council will release its latest report later this week. The Toronto Star got a preview of it:

the Senlis Council mobilized its staff of 50 to conduct 1,000 interviews across the country, including 250 in and around Kandahar City. Among the findings:
  • Armed Taliban checkpoints are becoming more commonplace in areas throughout the province, with a particularly high concentration of Taliban fighters in control of the town of Khakrez, northwest of Kandahar City, since September. Survey respondents also said Taliban recruiters have infiltrated refugee camps in the region.
  • Afghan residents and shopkeepers have all but evacuated the once bustling road to Lashkar Gar, a key artery leading to neighbouring Helmand province, citing fears of Taliban ambush.
  • Afghan workers displaced by Taliban encroachment have spilled into Kandahar City in search of day labour, increasing tensions by driving wages down. The current rate for day labour in the area is less than 180 Afghanis, about $3.50 Canadian.
  • Worsening relations between rival Pashtun tribes have contributed to a further weakening of Karzai's standing in his home province, with some sub-tribes feeling under-represented in the government.
  • Afghan poll respondents say many families have been terrorized into contributing to both ends of the struggle, placing one son with the Afghan National Army and another with the Taliban.
  • The Taliban is gaining grassroots political support by cleverly exploiting Afghan anger over civilian casualty counts throughout southern Afghanistan.

Why do we kill more civilians than Taliban do?

The Washington Post asks a burning question
Few news outlets put the question as baldly as does the Washington Post:

According to U.N. figures, 314 civilians were killed by international and Afghan government forces in the first six months of this year, while 279 civilians were killed by the insurgents.

So why on Earth are the NATO and U.S. forces and their Afghan allies killing more civilians than the Taliban? One explanation can be found in the relatively low number of Western boots on the ground. ... So the West has to rely far more heavily on airstrikes in Afghanistan, which inevitably exact a higher toll in civilian casualties. Indeed, the Associated Press found that U.S. and NATO forces launched more than 1,000 airstrikes in Afghanistan in the first six months of 2007 alone -- four times as many airstrikes as U.S. forces carried out in Iraq during that period.
Readers may recall that in his recent report to the Security Council, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon included an estimate of over 75 civilians killed by air a ground operations in the month of September alone.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Baghlan suicide bomb: bodyguards killed most victims

Confirming what has been alleged in various corners, a UN report reveals:

Up to two-thirds of the 77 people killed and 100 wounded in a suicide bombing last week were hit by bullets from visiting lawmakers' panicked bodyguards, who fired on a crowd of mostly schoolchildren for up to five minutes, a preliminary U.N. report says... (link to AP story here)
The AP report goes on and relates more details which make the Afghan government look rather unsavory:
An Afghan doctor who treated patients after the Nov. 6 blast, meanwhile, told the AP that a high-ranking government official told him not to publicly reveal the number of gunfire victims, suggesting a possible government cover-up...

Among the parliamentarians killed was Sayed Mustafa Kazimi, the chief spokesman of Afghanistan's only opposition group, the National Front. No group has claimed responsibility for the attack, and Afghan officials say they don't know who was behind the bombing. The Taliban has denied it was responsible. A government investigation is also under way.

Sayed Mohammad Bakir Hashimi, a Shiite cleric who performed a religious ceremony on Kazimi after the blast, told the AP the lawmaker had three bullet wounds. However, Kazimi's family now denies he was hit by bullets. ...

Annotated close air support
The US Air Force's Nov 17 air power summary provides some details on the clash in Zhari district which involved CF and ANA against Taliban insurgents and which I blogged about yesterday:
In Afghanistan, Air Force F-15E Strike Eagles fired cannon rounds against enemy combatants, located west of Kandahar, who were in hostile contact against coalition forces. Additionally, this same aircrew conducted shows of force with flares to deter further enemy activities. The on-scene joint terminal attack controller confirmed both missions as successful.

During the same mission, a Royal Air Force Harrier GR-7 aided the strike by using Winnipeg-made] rockets against the enemy combatants. The JTAC confirmed the desired effect was achieved and deemed the mission as successful.

An Air Force MQ-9A Reaper [an 'unmanned' plane] also aided the strike in the same mission by firing hellfire missiles against the enemy combatants. The missiles hit the intended targets and the mission was reported as a success by the JTAC. ...

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Two Canadians die amid flare-ups in Canadian zone

A roadside bomb in Kandahar's Zhari district killed two Canadian soldiers and their interpreter early Satruday morning. Three other CFers were injured. Zhari district, adjacent to Panjwai district has been the scene of several security incidents in recent days. According to Bill Graveland's account in the Globe and Mail, the attack marks the end of "Two months of relative calm" in that district. That depiction squares nicely with pronouncements from NATO spokespeople, yet seems to be contradicted by other NATO officials quoted later in Graveland's piece.

“The area is pretty active in terms of insurgent activity,” [Colonel Juneau] said. ...

Despite several skirmishes and plenty of activity, the two deaths Saturday are the first since Sept. 24.
Agence France Presse's correspondent writes that Zhari district "sees regular attacks by Taliban fighters".

Later in the day Saturday, "Canadian and Afghan troops battled militants and called in airstrikes in Zhari district," reportedly killing 20 insurgents, according to Graveland (above).

Also Saturday, insurgent attacks and clashed occurred in Helmand, Ghor province (in the north), and Nangarhar (in the east).

This violence comes during what appears to be a broad Taliban offensive, which I blogged about last week. Evidence of the continued campaign can perhaps be glimpsed on the US Air Force's site. The Nov 15 Air Power Summary reveals an unusually high number of Close Air Support missions - 51. The number of CAS per day has lately averaged in the high 30's, with 44 being rather high. Further the summary mentions two CAS missions in Kabul. One by an F-18, the other by a B-1 bomber, and both in order to deter enemy activity. Also, two missions over Bagram are mentioned - and both, again, to "deter enemy activity". Bagram, of course, houses the biggest US air base in the region.

Anyway, the air summary also tells of missions to Paktia province, Paktika province, Kunar province, a couple of attacks in Uruzgan province, and a couple of clashes in Helmand.

Canadians kill civilian
Thursday in Kandahar City, Canadian soldiers fired on civilians in a taxi, killing one and injuring another. The vehicle's driver had apparently ignored visual signals to stop. According to the CBC:
The military said it was applying "escalation of force" rules. Vehicles on the highway are supposed to pull over to let a convoy pass. If the vehicle doesn't stop, warning shots may be fired or lethal force may be used.
By coincidence this week, previously classified documents were released showing that Canadian soldiers fire at civilian vehicles about once a week for getting too close to convoys or approaching checkpoints at high speed. The soldiers, of course, are guarding against suicide attacks on NATO convoys and patrols. Doing the math: Canadian soldiers have thusly killed at least 9 civilians and injured 22, according to the documents. Meanwhile, at least 12 Canadian soldiers have been killed by suicide attacks on convoys.

Friday, November 16, 2007

UN Secretary General on civilian casualties

75 civilians killed in September alone
UN Secretary General Ban-Ki Moon issued his report to the Security Council recently. Report of the Secretary-General on the protection of civilians in armed conflict. Excerpts:

In Afghanistan, violence and insecurity have resulted in renewed and increasing displacement, particularly in the southern provinces, with some 44,000 people displaced during the first half of 2007...

[Insurgent tactics which endanger civilians] are inexcusable violations of international humanitarian law of which civilians bear the brunt. There is also a risk that in fighting an enemy that is difficult, if not impossible, to identify, militarily superior parties may increasingly respond with methods and means of warfare that violate the principles of distinction and proportionality, of which civilians, again, bear the brunt...

In Afghanistan, civilian casualties have been caused by aerial bombardments and ground attacks as a result of imprecise targeting or mistaken identity, in some cases provoking expressions of concern from the Government. The Afghan Human Rights Commission claims that over 75 civilians were killed during air strikes and ground operations in September 2007 alone. It is critical that Afghan and multinational forces exercise increased care in the conduct of their operations to avoid civilian casualties. Unfortunately, in many instances security conditions limit the ability of the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) to carry out independent verification of incidents involving civilian casualties...
US seeks non-Pakistan supply route for Afghan war
On CounterPunch, journalist Robert Bryce writes how the US military relies heavily upon unstable Pakistan for its supply of fuel for the Afghan conflict.
The Bush Administration's muted reaction to the new dictatorial rule of Pakistani president Pervez Musharraf can be traced to the American military's logistics problems in Afghanistan. Without the cooperation of Musharraf's government, the 24,000 U.S. troops who are stationed in Afghanistan would likely run out of fuel within a matter of days.
Agence France Presse has recently reported on the theme, saying the US "has begun making contingency plans in case its supply lines to its forces in Afghanistan are disrupted by the turmoil in Pakistan, a Pentagon spokesman said Wednesday." (link)

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Mission gets more dangerous for CF

Estimated 600 seriously wounded or killed since 2001
The Globe and Mail reports that the wounded rate for soldiers in Afghanistan has increased since last year. In fact, by the first of September, the number of wounded (108) had nearly matched the total for the whole of 2006 (115). Additionally, the Globe cites reports that numerous injuries have occurred since the 108 mark was reached.

Defence officials refused to explain the increase despite requests over a number of days for clarification.

Although other countries are open about the number of wounded returning from the conflict, Canadian officials are tight lipped.
What's more, the article cites Esprit de Corps magazine's charge that official figures of wounded in Afghanistan are substantial understatements:
When injuries in incidents not directly related to the conflict - such as a truck rollover or an accidental discharge from a firearm - are taken into account, the magazine says the list of Canadians wounded or killed since 2001 tops 600.
Afghan authorities still harassing journalists
In northern Afghanistan, authorities continue to hold a journalism student on charges of distributing anti-Islamic literature at a university. Authorities have released the brother of the accused who was briefly detained and who is a journalist working with IWPR. (See IWPR director Jean MacKenzie's article here.) The release came after international appeals by journalist associations, according to MacKenzie.

Last week in this space we excerpted the story of another IWPR journalist who was among several journalists detained by police (one overnight) following their tour into Taliban territory in Helmand province.

NATO scoffs at Amnesty International

Canadian troops exposing detainees to "real risks of torture"
Amnesty International's latest report relates that organization's "concerns" that Canadian and other NATO troops are breaking international law in their handling of prisoners. From the AI press realease:

The NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) in Afghanistan is exposing detainees to real risks of torture or other ill-treatment by Afghan authorities, says Amnesty International in a report released today.

The report documents how ISAF forces – particularly those from Belgium, Britain, Canada, the Netherlands and Norway – have transferred detainees to Afghanistan’s intelligence service, the National Directorate of Security (NDS), despite consistent reports of torture and other ill-treatment by the NDS... (link)
In response, the Canadian Forces' own James Appurthurai, spokesperson for NATO, "dismissed Amnesty's proposal for a transfer moratorium," says Reuters.
"Our policy was developed with the Red Cross/Crescent and meets international standards. We are comfortable with it," NATO spokesman James Appathurai said.

"NATO-ISAF has no evidence of mistreatment of detainees transferred by NATO to Afghan custody. Of course we could never rule it out, but we part ways with Amnesty on the way forward ...It is not for NATO to create a parallel detention system." ... (Reuters)
Appathurai's comment that NATO "has no evidence of mistreatment" may have been over the top. In other comments the same spokesperson uses different words: "Nato has no proof of ill-treatment or of torture of detainees that its forces have transferred to the Afghans." (See Al Jazeera site.)

Now compare either of Appurthurai's versions of the facts with Amnesty International's report:
Analysis of interviews with 15 individuals held in Afghan custody, but who were originally captured by Canadian forces, reveals that 10 were transferred to the NDS, either directly or through the Afghan National Army (ANA) or Afghan National Police (ANP). Of the 10 detainees held in NDS custody, six described torture and other forms of ill-treatment. Canadian officials themselves have stated they have received at least six first-hand reports of torture.

The Canadian government has continued to state that more than 40 individuals have been transferred. However, AI believes that the number of transfers may be as high as 200, and that this figure does not include many of the immediate transfers which happen in the course of military operations in-field.
The Amnesty report "Afghanistan Detainees transferred to torture: ISAF complicity?" is available here.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Polish ISAF soldiers arrested on war conventions breach

From Reuters:

WARSAW (Nov 13) - Polish authorities have detained seven soldiers in connection with an incident in which Afghan civilians were killed, the defence ministry said on Tuesday.

Military prosecutors ordered the detentions accusing the soldiers of breaking the Hague and Geneva Conventions, which deal with war crimes and the treatment of non-combatants and prisoners of war, the ministry said in a statement. ... (link)
The charges, resulting from an incident in August of this year when Polish soldiers killed several Afghan civilians during a clash with insurgents, will be presented on Wednesday.

Afghan government and the drug trade
From the letters section of the Guardian:
The idea of the UK buying out the Afghan farmers' poppies with a direct transfer of development aid into the hands of producers is not new (Report, November 10). I briefly had the thankless task Mark Malloch Brown now has of dealing with the drugs question in Afghanistan as a junior Foreign Office minister. Six years ago I asked officials about buying out the crop and got the usual "Can't be done, minister" replies from the experts of Whitehall. ...

On a recent visit to Afghanistan I was told that as long as corrupt middle-men in the Afghanistan state bureaucracy are allowed to take mammoth cuts from the heroin trade, little will happen. Second, Islamist militant fundamentalists in Pakistan as well as in Afghanistan need first to be defeated in order that some security and confidence in state administration can allow farmers to move away from profitable poppy cultivation. It is fashionable to blame US and UK foreign policy for Islamist militancy. As hapless Pakistani soldiers trying to guard the frontier with Afghanistan are beheaded for apostasy after being taken prisoner by Islamist fundamentalists, is there anyone willing to admit that contemporary Islamist ideology is part of the problem of containing the heroin production in Afghanistan?

Denis MacShane MP
Lab, Rotherham [link]

**N.B. While MacShane's factual assertion about what he was told is interesting, his posturing and ranting about "Islamist idealogy" might lead one to question his clarity of thought. Caveat emptor.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Private security companies hire warlords says study

From Reuters:

KABUL (Nov 12) - Private security contractors in Afghanistan add to the sense of insecurity, are often confused with foreign troops, employ former militiamen and may have links to crime, said an independent Swiss study published on Monday.

... some ordinary Afghans interviewed for the study by the Swisspeace think-tank complained some security contractors behaved in a "cowboy-like" way and did not treat Afghans with respect.

The presence of so many armed men, often from different groups operating in close vicinity to one another, added to residents' sense of insecurity, the study found.

"Many Afghans are not quite able to distinguish the private security sector from the international armed forces, from their own Afghan National Police and Afghan army and general confusion prevails," Schmeidl told a news conference in Kabul.

Security companies often hire former Afghan militiamen either as individuals or, in some cases, en masse along with their local warlord commander, the study said.

... Afghans perceived private security companies to be involved in crime and the robbing of several Kabul banks -- thought to be 'inside jobs' -- prompted President Hamid Karzai to try to speed up legislation for the sector which has long languished in parliament. ... (link)
The report, by Swisspeace, is available here (pdf).

"US-led" troops kill civilians amid Taliban
KABUL, Nov 12 (Reuters) - U.S.-led coalition forces killed around 15 militants, but also a woman and two children, during an operation in southern Afghanistan, the U.S. military said in a statement on Monday. (link)
The incident occurred in Helmand province, next door to Kandahar province. In the main, NATO's ISAF mission in Helmand is run by the British, as Canada runs the operation in Kandahar. However, non-NATO troops from Operation Enduring Freedom, including special forces units, are known to rove into the province. Their sidekicks could be Polish, Canadian, Australian, etc.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Thugs and theocrats - our nasty allies

While Canadian and NATO officials claim that our mission in Afghanistan is intended to support democracy in that country, pesky facts have a habit of putting the lie to such claims. Some recent events illustrate:

Afghan police arrest blasphemer
Reuters reports that a man who has been a spokesperson for the Afghan Attorney General was arrested by Afghan police after he published an unofficial translation of the Koran (link). Ghaus Zalmai who has also served as director of the Afghanistan National Journalists' Association, was nabbed at the border with Pakistan.

The arrested man is said to be charged with publishing the translation without permission from an authorized Koranic scholar (see this link). As Reuters notes, the Afghan constitution is based on Islamic Sharia law.

Reporters stalked by cops - 'Now journalists are also terrorists'

Over at the web site of the Institute for War and Peace Reporting, there are two revealing reports on journalists who ran afoul of the authorities.

The Limits of Afghan Press Freedom

Helmand journalist describes police mistreatment on return from reporting trip to Taleban territory...

By Aziz Ahmad Tassal in Lashkar Gah

On Monday, November 5, four of us set out for Musa Qala, a Taleban-held town. Besides me, there were Aziz Ahmad Shafe, who works for the BBC as well as several other organisations...

We went by invitation of the Taleban, but we also told the governor of Helmand we were going, as well as the head of the department of information and culture, Jan Gul Khan.

We were scared to death going into Musa Qala. ...

We spoke to many people, we took films of the Taleban on parade. They had a lot of vehicles, over 100, with weapons. They let us do what we wanted.

I did not get nervous until we were on the way back. In Greshk, the car I was in was stopped by the police. When they saw my equipment bag they asked me what was in it.

“I am a journalist,” I told them.

“Get out,” said the policeman.

The checked everything, they made me show them the pictures I had taken. Then they listened to my interviews. One was with a man who was complaining about NATO and their bombs.

“They have destroyed our mosque, now we do not even have a place to pray to God,” said the man.

When he heard this, the policeman got angry and began to shout at me.

“Why do you record such things?’ he said angrily.

They also asked me a lot of questions about the trip. They wanted to know where I had stayed in Musa Qala, who I had been with. They asked for names and phone numbers.

... I managed to make a call to a friend of mine in Kandahar. Thank God I did. I think he made some calls of his own, because after about half an hour, they released both of us. ...

But that evening I began to get phone calls, from men saying they were the police, and demanding that I come down to the station. But I told them, “Who are you? I don’t know you, I don’t want to talk to you.”

At 8:00 pm, the police came to my house. They surrounded the place, and they knocked on the door. They were asking for me, but my brother told them I was in Kandahar, and they left.

I thought to myself, “Wow, so now journalists are also terrorists.”

I did not know what I had done wrong. Had I committed some crime? So I called the chief of police, Huseeinm Andiwal, who spoke to me quite coldly, although I know him from other reporting I have done.

“If you have the Al Jazeera reporter with you, or any other guests, hand them over,” he told me.

I called the head of the national security directorate, a man whom we know only as “rais”(chief). He told me that he had no idea who it was who was looking for me.

But someone is. I have gone many times with the government to visit war-torn areas. But this time, when I went with the Taleban, the government started harassing me.

You know it is very hard to be a journalist in Helmand. We risked our necks going to Musa Qala, and the government knew about this. We were aware of the danger - we knew there was a possibility we would not come back alive. And now the government, who is supposed to ensure our safety, is trying to imprison us. They do things that are worse than the Taleban.
Readers are encouraged to read IWPR director Jean MacKenzie's piece on the same site. She recounts what befell the other journalists along that day.

100 vehicles?
Note that Aziz Ahmad Tassal, above notes that the Taliban had over 100 vehicles with weapons on display in Musa Qala, Helmand on November 5. Recall from another post that the Taliban have been busy attacking in several provinces, sometimes in sizable numbers, according to authorities. In fact, insurgents were then said to be holding at least two of the three districts in Farah province which they took in late October and early November. And the third of these districts was reportedly attacked with 40 vehicles. A few days later, 100 are on display in Helmand, and the next day in Daykundi province a district is attacked from three directions.

Afghan MP wants troops out

From the Globe and Mail's coverage of the memorial for the Afghan MPs killed in last week's suicide bombing:

"We're very sorry the international community cannot provide security," said Sediqa Balkhi, a member of the upper chamber of parliament. "The troops should leave, and let us take care of this." (link)
Update on Baghlan suicide bombing
Tuesday's huge suicide bombing reportedly killed at least 75 people including several MPs and 59 children and injured some 80 others. A Taliban spokesperson has denied that group's involvement - a denial to be taken with a grain of salt, needless to say.

Some reports have surfaced that Afghan security forces fired their guns wildly in the mayhem that followed the blast. Some victims may have fallen to their bullets rather than the initial blast.

Two suspects have reportedly been detained in connection with the bombing. According to Reuters, one is "a mosque prayer leader", while the other is "a resident of the industrial part of the town where the blast took place". While the efficacy of policing in Afghanistan is questionable, on first appearance it doesn't seem like the suspects are likely to have been innocents arrested for propaganda purposes. The suspects don't match the preferred narrative of the government of Afghanistan and NATO officials who tell us that the hard core of Taliban fighters come from Pakistan or yet other foreign countries.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Recent unrest - a Taliban pre-winter offensive?

Following the Taliban's surprise attack (see here) some 2 weeks ago in Arghandab district, 16km north of Kandahar City, the insurgents quickly withdrew. This despite the reported fact that NATO/US/Afghan forces had some 200 fighters surrounded.

Coincidentally, a very similar thing happened during Operation Medusa, when troops of the Canadian-led battle claimed to have several hundred fighters surrounded, only to see them escape without being caught.

However, the recent Taliban attack in Arghandab may have a hidden and surprising motivation. The Globe and Mail reports on suspicions that insurgents may have robbed the armories of recently deceased warlord Mullah Naqib. Naqib had been hailed as a powerful, pro-government influence and his recent death is said to endanger the uneasy allegiance of local notables to the Karzai government. Like most strongmen, he was rumoured to have only partially decommissioned his arms under a government program.

The stolen arms, if they exist, may well have been put to use in the recent spate of Taliban attacks throughout Afghanistan. A review:

First, Taliban rebels captured the Farah district of Gulistan [on October 29], then on[Oct 31] took nearby Bakwa. On [Nov 4], the insurgents seized Khak-e Sefid without a fight. [Khak-e Sefid is also in Farah province] (link)
One report relays the revelations of an unnamed Western security analyst who says that "up to 38 police officers defected to the Taliban" during the unrest in the area. Additionally, "Local residents have complained that NATO-led troops, under Italian command in western Afghanistan, have not helped Afghan forces to retake the districts." (link) This wouldn't be the first time that Italian troops have stayed out of combat in Herat. This past summer, when NATO and US airstrikes reportedly killed 108 civilians, Italian forces were quick to add that they were uninvolved.

It is of note that when the insurgents attacked Khak-e Sefid district, the fighters reportedly did so aboard some 40 vehicles. (Undoubtedly many Toyota pick-ups were present.) This represents a rather sizable force, and one in operation while their fellows were holding down the other two Farah districts. (In more recent days, Afghan military officials have claimed they have retaken these Farah districts, though there has been no definite confirmation regarding all three districts yet, as far as I can tell.)

Soon after in Kunar province on November 2, several police officers were killed in two separate insurgent attacks (link).

The same day in southern Uruzgan province, one Afghan and one foreign soldier were killed in an attack by insurgents (link). Afghan officials later claimed that Afghan forces killed 25 Taliban in a fresh attack. While such claims must be taken with a grain of salt, it raises the possibility that Taliban were again attacking in larger numbers.

On November 6, Taliban forces captured a district of Daykundi province, attacking from three directions (link).

Meanwhile, on November 6 unknown attackers ambushed a convoy of supplies destined for Coalition forces in Wardak province.

Also on November 6, a suicide bomb in Baghlan province killed at least 75 people including 59 schoolchildren. A Taliban spokesperson denied their involvement.

Most recently, a "complex ambush" mounted by insurgents killed 6 American and 3 Afghan soldiers while injuring almost a dozen others. The attack occurred in the eastern province of Nuristan on Satuday, November 10.

Also, an attack on foreign forces in Kapisa province killed one soldier, while attacks and bombings in Helmand and Zabul have killed both Afghan police and several civilians. (See this link for latest security incidents.)

Thursday, November 8, 2007

UN group warns of mercs in Afghanistan - media uninterested

Yesterday, the Office of the UN High Commissioner on Human Rights presented a report on private security companies - "Report of the Working Group on the Use of Mercenaries" (see pdf here). The report noted "a significant increase in the number of private security companies operating in conflict-ridden areas, notably in Afghanistan and Iraq," according to their press release. Further, the authors warn that "States that employ these services may be responsible for violations of internationally recognized human rights committed by the personnel of such companies."

Readers may find this excerpt of the report edifying:

A delegation of the Working Group, composed of the Chairperson-Rapporteur and one member, visited Peru from 29 January to 2 February 2007. It received information indicating that hundreds of Peruvians had been recruited and trained in Peru by private security companies to work in Iraq and Afghanistan as security guards. The recruiting companies operating in Peru worked for companies based abroad and with contracts obtained from the Government of the United States of America. The Working Group was informed of contractual irregularities, poor working conditions, partial or non-payment of salaries, neglect of basic needs and that over 1,000 Peruvians allegedly remained in Iraq. It also received allegations that private security groups or police officers engaged in private security work were involved in actions to intimidate persons in the Cajamarca region.
Meanwhile, an electronic search of all major Canadian newspapers finds no mention of the report anywhere.

US-led forces bomb factories in Nangarhar, hundreds protest civilian killings

In what is reportedly a new counter-narcotics tactic for Afghanistan, helicopters, guided by Afghan ground forces dropped bombs on six opium labs. Pajhwok news:

JALALABAD, Nov 5 (Pajhwok Afghan News): Coalition helicopters destroyed six opium-producing laboratories in Achin district of the eastern Nangarhar province, an official said on Monday.

Police spokesman Col. Abdul Ghafoor told Pajhwok Afghan News the factories in Damgal locality of the district were pounded in an airstrike coordinated with Afghan forces.

... Twenty-three opium labs have been razed in operations conducted by Afghan ground forces as part of a counter-narcotics campaign. It is the first time the US-led forces have used aircraft to hit the factories.(link)

It is perhaps worth noting that the Geneva Conventions forbid military attacks on civilian infrastructure.

US-led troops kill, hundreds protest
Also in Nangarhar province earlier this week, a raid conducted by Afghan forces supported by US forces, killed three civilians and wounded three others, according to a local police official. US spokespersons on the other hand claim the victims included an insurgent and his family. (See Pajhwok here; AP here.) Pajhwok:

Infuriated by the civilian slayings, hundreds of people including tribal elders gathered in the village to protest the action as outrageous. They vowed the victims would not be buried unless the Coalition assigned a clear reason for killing them.

Tribal elder Haji Miskeen Shinwari accused the foreign troops of gunning down the innocent civilians without any reason. The forces stormed into the house of Haji Ghulam Muhammad, whose sons sold sugarcane juice and yogurt in the Torkham border town, he explained.

Muhammad and his minor sons were killed while they were asleep inside their house, Shinwari alleged, claiming a women and two children were wounded in the raid. The injured and three of Muhammad's sons were taken away by the soldiers.
Continuing an apparent epidemic of bad behavior, Afghan forces in Badghis province put their foreign tutoring to use forcing civilians from their homes amidst battles with insurgents. Pajhwok:

QALA-I-NAW, Nov 6 (Pajhwok Afghan News): Government officials claimed 20 Taliban militants were killed in an air raid in Ghormach district of the western Badghis province. Residents accused rebels as well as security forces of forcing civilians from homes.

Maj. Gen. Murad Ali Murad, commander of the 209th Shaheen Military Corps in the northern zone told Pajhwok Afghan News on Tuesday a Taliban base was pounded by Defence Ministry and NATO choppers late Monday night. The air raid left 20 armed miscreants dead, he said.

...Meanwhile, Jersiah tribal elder Haji Abdul Rahman complained Taliban and government officials attacked the civilians fleeing the embattled area. Owing to the deteriorating security situation, he alleged, women and children had sought refuge in mountains.

Deputy Governor of Faryab Abdul Sattar Bariz said he had ordered security forces not to disturb the residents during operations and house-to-house searches. ...

I wonder how one avoids disturbing residents during house to house searches. (Link here to the Pajhwok article, wherein the claims of the Afghan officials - al Qaeda was there, etc. - must surely be taken with a grain of salt.)

Thursday, November 1, 2007

Taliban take district outside Kandahar City

Last week, Taliban fighters entered Arghandab district, north of Kandahar City (see this photo of the Arghandab River). New York Times:

KANDAHAR, Afghanistan, Oct. 30 — Several hundred Taliban fighters have moved into a strategic area just outside the southern city of Kandahar in recent days and clashed with Afghan and NATO forces, according to Canadian and Afghan officials.

The fighting, which began Tuesday, is the first time large numbers of Taliban have been able to enter the area just north of the city since 2001. Control of the area, known as the Arghandab district, would allow the Taliban to directly threaten Kandahar, southern Afghanistan’s largest city...

Residents said hundreds of people were fleeing the district because of fears of a major battle. Cars and trucks loaded with families from the area have streamed into Kandahar over the last two days, sparking fear among city residents.

“The people are leaving the village because they are afraid of fighting and bombardment,” said Agha Muhammad, a 43-year-old farmer who fled Arghandab on Tuesday. “Today, many families have left their houses.”

Sarah Chayes, an American journalist and aid worker who has lived in Kandahar since 2001, said a powerful pro-government leader in the district, Mullah Naqibullah, died of a heart attack two weeks ago. ...

But in a sign of the weakness of President Hamid Karzai’s government in the area, joyous Taliban fighters seized control of Mullah Naqibullah’s home village in Arghandab within two weeks of his death.

... “It’s like a psychological operation on the part of the Taliban, and I think it’s a very effective one.” (link)
Later, it was reported that NATO forces have some 250 Taliban surrounded and also claimed to have killed 50 fighters.

Herat and Ghazni too
Meanwhile in Farah province, a similar situation is reported: 50 Taliban killed and 400 remaining against Afghan and foreign troops.

Finally, in Ghazni province, US-led forces report 30 dead Taliban. (link)