Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Shhh, don't talk about the war...

As 2008 wound down, Canada had its deadliest month of the year in Afghanistan. Meanwhile, over at the NDP website... no statement on any of the recent deaths.

Is the federal NDP really willing to leave Afghanistan 'off the table' in pursuit of a now-unlikely coalition with the Liberals?

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Three Canadian soldiers killed - death toll reaches 100

Just as the Afghan issue had been lost amidst the headlines around Canada's political crisis (with the Liberals making clear that the war was "not in the table" for the opposition coalition), three soldiers were killed by an IED in Kandahar, bringing the Canadian soldier casualties to 100.

With news of this milestone, the father of the first female soldier killed in Afghanistan questioned the "mission":

"On Friday, Cpl. Mark Robert McLaren, Pte. Demetrios Diplaros and Warrant Officer John Robert Wilson all died in a roadside bomb blast, bringing Canada's death toll to 100 since the Afghan mission began in 2002.

Three fatalities on Sept. 3 took place in the area where Goddard's daughter was killed, making him wonder whether the Canadian mission is meeting its stated objectives.

'We're still losing soldiers in the same geographical location and that makes you wonder how successful we're being in imposing security on that area.'"

At the time, other family members of soldiers fallen in Afghanistan questioned "if anything had changed."

The Canadian Peace Alliance, meeting in convention in Toronto December 5-7, held a vigil Friday night with the Toronto Stop the War Coalition to reiterate the demand of the Canadian anti-war movement to bring the troops home now.

Friday, November 28, 2008

Afghans riot after troops kill civilian


Afghans riot in Kabul after troops kill civilian

KABUL, Nov 28 (Reuters) - Dozens of angry Afghans threw stones at police after a convoy of foreign troops killed one civilian and wounded four more in the capital, Kabul, on Friday, the Kabul police chief and witnesses said...

A convoy of British troops killed the man and wounded three more after a "misunderstanding", Kabul police chief Mohammad Ayoub Salangi said.

Witnesses said the troops opened fire on a minibus. (link)
November's toll:

November 3: Airstrikes in Kandahar province kill between 40 and 90 civilians. Locals report that Canadian ground troops were involved.
November 5: Airstrikes kill 7 civilians in the northern Badghis province.
November 7: NATO airstrikes kill two civilians in Khost province.
November 9: US troops shoot and kill at least 14 security guards working for a construction company in Khost. (AP says 14; Pajhwok says over 14) This follows an Oct 26 report that 20 security guards were killed in a US airstrike in Ghazni province.
November 11: Local officials report three civilians killed by NATO airstrikes in Ghazni province.
November 11: NATO troops in a convoy ran over and killed a teenager in Kabul.
November 17: In Zabul province, US-led forces kill one civilian with a grenade.
November 20: In Zabul province, US-led forces kill a woman civilian and injure three others in a clash with insurgents.
November 21: In Khost province, US-led forces at a traffic checkpoint kill one woman.
November 27: 18 civilians killed in an air raid in Badghis province.
November 28: British troops in Kabul kill one civilian, sparking riot.

Total: 89 - 145 civilians dead

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

US-led coalition kills two women

US-led forces killed a woman civilian and injured three other civilians during a clash with insurgents in Zabul province on November 20.

On November 21, US-led forces in Khost province killed another woman civilian when troops opened fire on a vehicle which didn't stop at a checkpoint.

November's toll:

November 3: Airstrikes in Kandahar province kill between 40 and 90 civilians. Locals report that Canadian ground troops were involved.
November 5: Airstrikes kill 7 civilians in the northern Badghis province.
November 7: NATO airstrikes kill two civilians in Khost province.
November 9: US troops shoot and kill at least 14 security guards working for a construction company in Khost. (AP says 14; Pajhwok says over 14) This follows an Oct 26 report that 20 security guards were killed in a US airstrike in Ghazni province.
November 11: Local officials report three civilians killed by NATO airstrikes in Ghazni province.
November 11: NATO troops in a convoy ran over and killed a teenager in Kabul.
November 17: In Zabul province, US-led forces kill one civilian with a grenade.
November 20: In Zabul province, US-led forces kill a woman civilian and injure three others in a clash with insurgents.
November 21: In Khost province, US-led forces at a traffic checkpoint kill one woman.

Russian general reveals parallels

The Los Angeles Times has an interview with retired Russian General Ruslan Aushev who served for 5 years in Afghanistan in the 1980's:

Q: Do you remember a time when it became clear from events on the ground in Afghanistan that it was a losing war for the Soviet Union, that there was nothing to be done but withdraw? What was that time like?

When we entered Afghanistan in 1979, people gave us a very nice welcome. Exactly a year later, 40% of the population began to hate us. Five years later, 60% of the population hated us. And by the time we were to pull out, 90% hated us. So we understood, finally, that we are fighting the people. (link)
Note that the trajectory which the general describes is similar, though not identical, to what has transpired following the American invasion of 2001. While several opinion polls conducted between 2005 and 2007 found that a majority of Afghans supported the American-led occupation, the only poll to ask that question in 2008 found popular opposition to the presence of foreign troops.


Our abuse of Afghan children

It seems that when Afghan government officials aren't raping children, they are recruiting them to be child soldiers:

UN accuses Afghan government of abusing kids

UNITED NATIONS, Nov 24 (AP) - Secretary General Ban Ki-moon says the government and armed groups in Afghanistan are perpetrating "grave abuses" against children by recruiting them to fight... (link)

The Afghan press has more:
UNICEF also said Western military operations were killing more children, and pointed to an air strike in July in which 30 of the 47 civilians killed were children.

The report contained documented cases of Afghan security forces recruiting children aged between 15 and 17, although Johnson said children were rarely abducted and forced into working as soldiers and most were driven to join up by poverty... (link)


Monday, November 24, 2008

Troops out now

A letter to the Guardian:

Withdraw the troops from Afghanistan
November 21 2008

Seven years after the supposed liberation of Afghanistan, there is now conclusive evidence that the Nato occupation is a disaster (The errors of Iraq are being repeated - and magnified, November 19). The civilian death toll is mounting. The level of violence is higher than at any time since the invasion in 2001. The UN reports that, under occupation, life expectancy has fallen to 43 years and one in five children die before they reach their fifth birthday. Afghanistan is now fourth from bottom of the UN's league table of development. The mounting violence has caused a refugee crisis and, according to Acbar, the umbrella group of Afghan NGOs, it is making the delivery of aid to the majority of the country impossible. The NGOs warn that there is a very real danger that thousands of Afghans will starve this winter.

The end of the Bush era should be a moment to reassess our foreign policy: 68% of the British public now believe the troops should leave Afghanistan within a year; and 125 British soldiers have already lost their lives in a war that even the UK ambassador to Afghanistan, Sherard Cowper-Coles, has said is unwinnable. We urge Gordon Brown to recognise the facts, respect public opinion and order the withdrawal of British troops.

Nazir Ahmed House of Lords, Julie Bowman Military Families Against the War, Louise Christian human rights lawyer, Jeremy Corbyn MP, George Galloway MP, Lindsey German Convener, Stop the War Coalition, Elfyn Llwyd MP Plaid Cymru UK parliamentary group leader, Rachael Massey Military Families Against the War, Andrew Murray Chair, Stop the War Coalition, Michael Rosen poet & broadcaster, Nitin Sawhney musician, Walter Wolfgang Labour CND (link)

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

US-led coalition kills one civilian

From US Fed News:


KABUL, Nov 17 - The U.S. Department of Defense's Combat Joint Task Force 82, Operation Enduring Freedom, issued the following news release:

One Afghan civilian was accidently killed when insurgents attacked a joint coalition and Afghan National Police patrol. The mounted patrol received direct fire from the insurgents in Qalat located in Zabul province, early Nov. 15.

The Afghan National Police and coalition team returned fire, killing one insurgent. However, one grenade fired by coalition forces overshot its target, killing a civilian.

Coalition forces are meeting with village elders and the family of the civilian killed. (link)
November's toll:

November 3: Airstrikes in Kandahar province kill between 40 and 90 civilians. Locals report that Canadian ground troops were involved.
November 5: Airstrikes kill 7 civilians in the northern Badghis province.
November 7: NATO airstrikes kill two civilians in Khost province.
November 9: US troops shoot and kill at least 14 security guards working for a construction company in Khost. (AP says 14; Pajhwok says over 14) This follows an Oct 26 report that 20 security guards were killed in a US airstrike in Ghazni province.
November 11: Local officials report three civilians killed by NATO airstrikes in Ghazni province.
November 11: NATO troops in a convoy ran over and killed a teenager in Kabul.
November 17: In Zabul province, US-led forces kill one civilian with a grenade.

We will, we will rock you

From the Calgary Sun:

Smiles - and rocks - greet troops

KANDAHAR CITY, Nov 17 - A young boy grounds his kite and salutes the troops to show his appreciation.

The soldier waves and gives the thumbs up.

A rock pings off the side of the armoured Canadian vehicle rolling through the streets of Kandahar.

The same soldier mutters a curse under his breath, barely audible over the roar of a diesel engine.

The thumbs and salutes far outnumber the rocks though as a convoy of armoured vehicles rolls through the congested streets of Kandahar City... (link)

NATO kill 3 civilians, say police

From Pajhwok Afghan News:

Three killed in airstrike on engagement party
Sher Ahmad Haidar

GHAZNI CITY, Nov 11 (PAN) - Three civilians were killed in the southern Ghazni province in an airstrike by foreign troops targeting an engagement party, witnesses and local officials said.

Police chief of Andar district, Muhammad Nabi Patang, told Pajhwok Afghan News foreign forces targeted a group of people busy in an engagement ceremony in Nazarwal village.

He added that NATO airplanes appeared in the sky in the village where the party was ongoing on and the people, frightened by the low flights of the airplanes ran worriedly towards a mosque.

As the people entered the mosque, the airplanes bombed them perhaps thinking that they were militants trying to hide, said Patang.

Niamatullah, a local resident of Nazarwal village, said the mosque was also destroyed and copies of Quran were burnt as the foreign forces bombed the mosque, he lamented foreign troops had launched operation in the area and were patrolling on air and on ground. (link)
November's toll:

November 3: Airstrikes in Kandahar province kill between 40 and 90 civilians. Locals report that Canadian ground troops were involved.
November 5: Airstrikes kill 7 civilians in the northern Badghis province.
November 7: NATO airstrikes kill two civilians in Khost province.
November 9: US troops shoot and kill at least 14 security guards working for a construction company in Khost. (AP says 14; Pajhwok says over 14) This follows an Oct 26 report that 20 security guards were killed in a US airstrike in Ghazni province.
November 11: Local officials report three civilians killed by NATO airstrikes.

Pashtuns see our hypocrisy

Correspondent Chris Sands, whose reporting from Afghanistan has been amongst the best available, makes some interesting observations:

The National (UAE)
Isolated Karzai grapples for credibility
Chris Sands

November 18 - [...] Despite coming from Kandahar and being a Pashtun himself, Mr Karzai has lost most of his credibility among the very community he should be able to rely on.

Across southern and eastern and parts of western Afghanistan, where the war is taking a devastating toll, there is dwindling support for a government that has been unable to stop or even slow the bloodshed.

In Ghazni, Helmand and Paktia, democracy means death by air strike and doors smashed down after dark as the men of the family are hauled off to who knows where. It means paying bribes to officials and being scared of a police force that is accused of carrying out kidnappings and murders. Most of all, it means broken promises.

Mr Karzai’s offer to Mr Omar was really an appeal to the Afghans whose allegiance he will need if he is to stand any chance of winning the presidential election due next year.

Those Pashtuns who do not now openly support the Taliban usually have at least some sympathy for the insurgents. They see hypocrisy in the international community’s willingness to pay, forgive and empower warlords from the north, while killing and arresting militants from the south...

[I]t should be remembered that Mr Karzai is not the only person to blame for the mistakes that have helped cause the unfolding tragedy.

Diplomats in Kabul, politicians in London, and much of the world’s media like to mock him now. Yet they are often the same people who adored him when he first arrived on the scene. In their own ways, they are just as responsible for the continuing destruction of this beautiful country. (link)

Karzai versus Diem

Karzai's latest offer:

Hamid Karzai offers protection for Taliban leader as incentive for talks

KABUL, Nov 16 (AP) - Hamid Karzai, today offered to provide security for the Taliban's reclusive leader, Mullah Omar, if he agrees to enter peace talks, saying the US and other nations could remove him as Afghanistan's president if they disagree.

His comments come as international political and military leaders are increasingly mulling whether negotiating with the Taliban is necessary as the insurgency gains sway in large areas of Afghanistan.

Karzai has long supported drawing the Islamist militia into the political mainstream on the condition that they accept the country's constitution.

"If I say I want protection for Mullah Omar, the international community has two choices: remove me or leave if they disagree," Karzai said in an hour-long press conference in Kabul.

"If I am removed in the cause of peace for Afghanistan by force by them, than I will be very happy. If they disagree, they can leave. But we are not at that stage yet." (link)
The note of defiance in Karzai's voice is unmistakable, a step up from his first communication aimed at Barack Obama on November 5 when Karzai issued a "demand" to end civilian casualties following the deaths of an estimated 40 wedding goers in Kandahar province.

But Karzai's pose may not serve him well, as the ghost of Ngo Dinh Diem could tell him. Diem, the South Vietnamese leader appointed by the US in 1955, had built up a family fiefdom to make the Karzais jealous. His family filled out the cabinet while his brother Ngo Dinh Can "ran the northern provinces around Hue without any nominal post whatsoever" (Gabriel Kolko, Anatomy of a War, 86). Today, Hamid Karzai's brother Ahmed Wali Karzai similarly reins over Kandahar province in the south. As an Afghan Interior Ministry official told one journalist, “He is the unofficial regional governor of southern Afghanistan and leads the whole [drug] trafficking structure.”

In June of 1963 Diem's South Vietnam regime, secretly and without the American's knowledge, contacted North Vietnam for talks. By this time, "[m]ost US advisors believed that the Diem regime was rapidly losing the war," (Kolko, 118) and the secret talks were the last straw. Soon, Washington gave the green light for a military coup, with full knowledge that Diem would likely be assassin- ated to prevent his return to power. Soon after that, Diem was dead following a coup approved by JFK. His government, according to Kenndy's ambassador to South Vietnam Henry Cabot Lodge, had been another of "the very unsatisfactory governments through which we have had to work in our many very successful attempts to make these countries strong enough to stand alone." (Marilyn Young, The Vietnam Wars, 100)

The Afghan government, filled as it is with warlords and other criminals, is arguably another in a long line of "very unsatisfactory governments." And so it may be time to cut them loose, say some insiders. Writing in the Herald Tribune, South Asia specialist Daniel Markey of the Council on Foreign Relations says American officials are concerned over Karzai's newfound shrill populism and are wondering whether it's time to show him the door:
The Karzai question
By Daniel S. Markey

[A]n enormous gap still looms in U.S. policy: No one is sure what to do about President Hamid Karzai. Elections are scheduled for next fall, and the Afghan capital is buzzing with questions about whether Karzai can, or should, win another five-year term.

It would be nice to say that America should support the principle of free Afghan elections, and focus on process over personalities. Indeed, the defense of Afghanistan's nascent electoral institutions and culture is a worthy cause in and of itself. But Washington's unmatched influence in Kabul means that it cannot sit impassively - inaction will send as loud a message as action...

But practically any conversation in Kabul quickly exposes a wide range of harsh anti-Karzai criticism. Many international officials cite the alleged corruption of his family and political allies, note that he has proven himself a decidedly ineffective institution builder, and voice concern over his increasingly shrill, populist rhetoric. (link)
Note the reasoning Markey offers for why the US cannot be distracted by free elections: Since the US already controls Afghanistan, an election is sort of a farce anyway.


Monday, November 17, 2008

Taliban hearts and minds campaign

From the Sunday Times:

‘Robin Hood’ dishes out Nato booty

PESHAWAR, Nov 16 - A Taliban “Robin Hood”, who distributes cut-price food from Nato convoys to the poor, is disrupting supply lines to British and US troops in Afghanistan.

In an audacious raid in Pakistan’s border region last week, two American Humvee armoured personnel carriers and 10 lorries laden with food were seized by Taliban fighters.

In the past year the Taliban have increased attacks on convoys carrying hardware, food and oil as they make their way from Karachi to Peshawar and through the Khyber Pass.

Lorry-loads of hijacked grain have been sold off cheaply in local markets and the Humvees paraded as war “booty”, giving the rebels a propaganda boost. More than 30 tankers with fuel bound for allied forces have been destroyed in bomb attacks on the road this year.

The Taliban commander who led the raids, Mustafa Kamran Hijrat, told The Sunday Times last week that he planned to sever the allied supply lines. “We will continue to seize convoys carrying goods for Nato and American troops. We are waging holy war and we shall continue the struggle by every means,” he said.

Hijrat claims to have hundreds of fighters under his command, although local officials estimate his force at no more than 200...

The lorries loaded with grain were driven to two other towns where Taliban fighters used loudspeakers to invite locals to buy it at knockdown prices.

Eyewitnesses said the militants were welcomed because the grain was being sold for a quarter of its normal price. (link)
  • (Oct 2008) Graeme Smith reports that the Taliban's power is growing on account of their "position[ing] themselves as the best enforcers of security in rural Afghanistan."
  • Many more similar links here.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Ottawa tries to limit inquiry

From the Globe and Mail:

Ottawa moves to block detainee-transfer hearings

Nov 13 - More than 20 months after it first promised full co-operation, the Harper government has moved to block public hearings into whether it ordered Canadian soldiers to transfer prisoners to Afghan security forces knowing the detainees would likely be tortured...

Ministers and senior military officers initially promised co-operation with the MPCC [Military Police Complaints Commission] investigation into allegations that transferred prisoners were being tortured. But the government has now twice launched court actions seeking to derail public hearings...

[A]fter the MPCC announced that public hearings would begin next month, the government was faced with the possibility that senior military officers might be called to testify about the origins of government policy ordering soldiers to turn all prisoners over to Afghan security forces.

Turning prisoners over to known torturers or to those who would abuse them is a war crime, under the Geneva Conventions.

Justice Department lawyers filed an application Oct. 30, seeking a Federal Court order “prohibiting the chairperson [of the MPCC] and the commission from investigating” the allegations.

The MPCC “is in fact attempting to review policy decisions made by governmental officials in relation to the transfer of Afghan detainees by the Canadian Forces to Afghan authorities,” which, the government asserts, “falls outside of the confines of the mandate” of the MPCC, the government's filing says.

Yet the MPCC was created in the wake of the Somalia scandal in part because the government of the day shut down a public inquiry just as it was delving into the role of the senior government officials and military officers. The MPCC was established to investigate systemic failings as well as individual transgressions of military police...

While there were several instances of ordinary Canadian soldiers and junior officers refusing to turn over prisoners to Afghan police or army units because they feared the detainees would be killed or tortured, senior officers and ministers long maintained that adequate safeguards were in place.

“The problem lies at the higher levels of the Canadian forces and the Canadian government,” Paul Champ, the Ottawa lawyer representing Amnesty International Canada and the British Columbia Civil Liberties Association, the original complainants to the MPCC, said yesterday.

Then, a year ago, during a follow-up inspection, a transferred detainee showed Canadian officials the location of the electrical cables his Afghan guards used to torture him. All transfers were immediately stopped, but the government kept that fact secret for months. The prisoner transfers were resumed and Ottawa said it had new assurances from the Afghanistan government...

Throughout, the government has refused to say how many prisoners it has turned over, or whether it can account for all of them. (link)

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Two thirds of Brits say 'troops out'

From the BBC:

To accompany [an upcoming BBC-sponsored debate on Afghanistan] ICM asked a random sample of 1,013 adults whether or not Britain should withdraw its armed forces from Afghanistan within the next 12 months.

More than two-thirds (68%) of those questioned said the UK should pull its soldiers out during the next year. Less than a quarter (24%) said they believed the troops should remain. (link)

Friday, November 7, 2008

NATO kills two civilians: locals

From Pajhwok Afghan News:

Afghans slam NATO for killing civilians

KHOST CITY, Nov 7 (PAN) - Residents in the southeastern Khost province claimed NATO-led troops killing two civilians however a local governmental official informed the foreign troops shot dead three militants early Friday morning.

The NATO-led International Security Assistance Forces (ISAF) after landing from helicopter in the lawless Sabri district of the province killed three militants in a car, Khost governor Arsala Jamal told Pajhwok Afghan News...

Enayatullah and Qari Toor both civilians were killed in the assault by coalition troops, said a resident of the area who declined to be named. (link)

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Seven civilians killed by foreign bombs

This time, the incident occurred in the north of Afghanistan:

Fresh Air Strike Kills Seven Afghan Civilians, Officials Say

HERAT, Nov 6 (Reuters) - Foreign forces have killed seven civilians in an air strike in northwest Afghanistan, officials said, a day after the Afghan president said warplanes had killed 40 civilians in the south...

The air strike was called in after a Taliban attack in the Ghormach district of Badghis Province in the northwest late on November 5, provincial officials said.

District chief Abdullah said seven civilians and 15 insurgents were killed in the raid.

"I myself have been to the area and seen the bodies of seven civilians. The house of a member of the provincial council was also bombed, two of his sons and a grandson were also killed," said Abdullah, who only uses one name.

Troops from the U.S.-led coalition, NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF), and Afghan security forces responded to an insurgent ambush while on a route clearance operation, the U.S. military said in a statement...

There has been a steady rise in violence in Ghormach, an ethnic Pashtun pocket in the mainly Tajik and Uzbek north, in the last two years, holding up work on completion of a road linking the west to the capital, Kabul, and hampering aid deliveries. (link)
Air attacks by foreign forces are becoming rather commonplace in the northern province of Badghis. Below are some extracts from the US Air Force's daily airpower summaries showing that US planes have released all manner of bombs and missiles in the area over the past few weeks.

Oct 21 airpower summary:
... In the vicinity of Moqor [Badghis], an F/A-18 conducted a show of force to deter enemy activities. A JTAC declared the mission successful.

Coalition aircraft performed shows of force in the vicinity of Morghab [Badghis] and Tarin Kowt to deter enemy activities. The missions where confirmed a success by the JTACs. (link)
Oct. 22 airpower summary:
... In the vicinity of Morghab [Badghis], an Air Force B-1B Lancer dropped guided bomb unit-31s and GBU-38s onto a group of enemy fighters on motorcycles firing against coalition forces. A JTAC reported the mission successful... (link)
Oct 28 airpower summary:
In Afghanistan, an Air Force A-10 Thunderbolt II fired rockets and cannon rounds onto enemy compound in the vicinity of Morghab [Badghis province]. The mission was confirmed a success by an on-scene joint terminal attack controller... (link)
Nov 3 airpower summary:
An F-15E conducted a show of force to deter enemy activities and provide armed aerial overwatch for coalition ground forces who were under imminent threat in the vicinity of Moqor [Badghis] and near Morghab [Badghis]. The mission was declared a success by a JTAC. (link)
It is worth noting that Badghis province is situated between Herat province to the west, run by Tajik warlord Ismail Khan, and the domain of Uzbek warlord Dostum to the east. We have seen previously that Herat now has an ethnic Tajik insurgent group whose leader sees himself as working in solidarity with Mullah Omar's Taliban. To the east, Rashid Dostum, who is as much a warlord as Ismail Khan and who thus finds himself in the Afghan government which the US installed, is in a constant state of rivalry with fellow warlord Abdul Malik.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Afghans allege American war crimes

In a shocking report, the Institute for War and Peace Reporting reveals that civilians in Balkh province say American soldiers beat them while their Afghan interpreters stole valuables from them. And there is already some official acknowledgment to substantiate the claims.

An official from the ISAF force acknowledged that special forces of the Afghan interior ministry mounted an operation at that time and place, adding that ISAF supplied fuel to the helicopters used in the assault.

Villagers, on the other hand, maintain that the main attackers were foreigners with American flags on their uniforms. The provincial police chief meanwhile says his units were prevented from entering the area by foreign troops.

Balkh's governor General Atta Mohamad Noor, who visited the US in 2007 (see him here at a Seattle elementary school) is outraged, but is unsure which foreign troops are responsible.

IWPR reports:

Confusion and Anger Over Balkh Raid
By Sayed Yaqub Ibrahimi and Qayum Babak

MAZAR-E-SHARIF, Nov 5 (IWPR) - “It was during evening prayers when five foreign helicopters landed in our village,” recalled Mohammad Amin, a resident of Khanabad village in the Charbolak district of Balkh province.

“American troops, accompanied by their Afghan interpreters, surrounded our houses. They searched the homes of Sufi Mohammad Gul, Shah Khan, Tela Mohammad, Juma Khan, Shahabuddin, Shir Jaan, as well as mine.”

According to multiple witnesses, the alleged foreign troops, who are said to have numbered over 50, broke down doors, struck local residents, and ripped the locks off storage boxes. More than one villager claims that valuables such as gold jewelry were pocketed by the soldiers’ Afghan interpreters in the course of the operation, which reportedly occurred on October 10...

Mohammad Mihdi, spokesperson for the International Security Assistance Force, ISAF, in Mazar-e-Sharif, confirmed that a security operation had taken place in Khanabad.

“The special counter-narcotics forces of the Afghan interior ministry conducted the operation to discover drugs,” he said. “ISAF forces in Mazar-e-Sharif supplied fuel for their helicopters.”

But Lieutenant Commander Walter Matthews, spokesperson for US forces in Afghanistan, said that his office had no knowledge of the incident.

American troops in Afghanistan fall under one of at least two command structures, making it difficult at times to determine which units are responsible for a certain operation.

The 32,000 American soldiers in Afghanistan are split between ISAF – which answers to NATO – and the mainly US Coalition force – controlled by US central command. There are also American special forces operating in Afghanistan.

Provincial officials insist there was a security operation in which locals were harmed, but weren’t able to reveal the nationality of the foreign troops reported to have taken part.

Balkh governor Atta Mohammad Noor called the raid “a reckless operation”. “If such actions are repeated I will advise the people to attack the foreign troops with sticks and stones,” he said, although he said “it is still not clear which foreign military unit was involved in the operation”.

Balkh police chief Sardar Mohammad Sultani told IWPR that his office, too, had few details. The police should be kept abreast of military operations, he said, since they have the local knowledge necessary to make such actions a success.

“We learned about the [Khanabad] operation only when the helicopters landed,” he told IWPR. “We immediately dispatched police units to the area, but the foreigners had surrounded the village and did not allow us to approach. We had to wait for about three hours for the operation to end.”

Once the foreign troops departed and the police were able to get into the area, they rushed a wounded villager to a nearby hospital, said Sultani...

[Mohammad Naser Amini, a professor in the department of law and political science at Maulana Jalaluddin Balkhi University in Mazar-e-Sharif:]

Conducting such operations has undermined the legitimacy of the presence of foreign forces in Afghanistan. It makes people furious.” ...

The alleged Khanabad victims are demanding an apology and compensation for their losses. (link)
The incident is reminiscent of an alleged massacre by foreign and Afghan special forces in Toube, Helmand province last year.

The alleged acts would in all likelihood constitute a war crime, as the Fourth Geneva Convention (on the treatment of civilians) (Art 3) outlaws "Violence to life and person" as well as "Outrages upon personal dignity; in particular humiliating and degrading treatment."


US kills 40 civilians in another wedding bombing

Twenty-three children are among at least 40 civilians killed in an airstrike in Kandahar province. Once again, the victims are said to be wedding-goers.

While Canadian troops do operate in the district of Shah Wali Kot* where the incident took place, they were not involved in the November 3 operation, according to a spokesperson.

Karzai Says Coalition Air Strike Kills 40 In Afghanistan

KABUL, Nov 5 (Reuters) - Afghan President Hamid Karzai has said an air strike by coalition forces earlier this week killed some 40 civilians and wounded about 28 in Kandahar Province...

The air strike took place on November 3 in the Shah Wali Kot district in the southern Taliban heartland of Kandahar Province.

"By bombing Afghanistan, the war against terrorism cannot be won," Karzai told a news conference.

Several villagers who had taken a group of wounded to the hospital in Kandahar city said the air strike hit a wedding party.

The U.S. military said it was checking reports...

Reuters television pictures from the village of Wech Baghtu showed a burnt car and half a dozen men shovelling white, dusty rubble from an area surrounded by a wall. The villagers showed Reuters white material soaked in blood.

The bride was among the wounded brought to the main hospital in Kandahar city, her relative Juma Khan said. The air strike happened during a clash between foreign troops and Taliban insurgents in Shah Wali Kot district, Khan said. (link)
Bill Graveland of the Canadian Press has more:
The governor of Kandahar province, Rahmatullah Raufi, told a news conference Wednesday that the Taliban attacked an American convoy in an area where a wedding party was also underway.

The Americans responded by calling in an air strike, he said.

"It was a mistake - they hit the wedding party and thought it was the Taliban," Raufi said.

"The plane hit the mountain and the village, too, which resulted in heavy civilian casualties."

The governor declined to venture a guess on the number of dead and accounts from others varied widely.

One witnesses, Juma Khan, said 37 people, including 23 children and 10 women, were killed in his compound. A senior official with Kandahar's provincial government put the death toll as high as 90...

Canadian ground troops also operate in the Shah Wali Kot region but were not involved in Monday's hostilities.

"I can confirm that no Canadian troops were involved in the incidents in Shah Wali Kot," said Canadian Forces spokesman Maj. Jay Janzen in Kandahar.

"Canadian troops are responsible for Kandahar province. We do occasionally go into the Shah Wali Kot area but do not proceed as far north as where the incident occurred." (link)
The Guardian cites a local who says he saw about fifty bodies.
* Here's how Shah Wali Kot was described in the early weeks of Canada's operation in Kandahar (April 2006):

So far, Canadian commanders say they have made progress in the district of Shah Wali Kot. Canada concentrated its battle group there for most of February and March, scouting the land, surveying the economic needs in villages, and searching for Taliban guerrillas and weapons caches.

"It's a traditional transit area up there for the Taliban," Lt.-Col. Ian Hope, commander of the Canadian battle group, told reporters before the start of the latest mission.

"Up to 12 months ago, (the Taliban) would transit through there in the day with impunity, taking what they wanted from the villages and acquiring conscripts. We are no longer seeing that transit presence in Shah Wali Kot. (link)

Later, the Canadians mostly gave up on Shah Wali Kot, concentrating instead on the more populated districts of Zhari and Panjwai.

Monday, November 3, 2008

'It's all over. We've lost Afghan consent.'

A very interesting interview:

Morning Star
October 29, 2008

Interview: James Fergusson speaks his mind on the brutal war on terror
Ian Sinclair

James Fergusson is pissed off. As a freelance journalist, he's reported from Algeria, Cuba and Haiti, but, today, as he sits sipping a pint in a west London club, it's Afghanistan he's reflecting on.

Troop activity there "is the ruination of that country," he says. "I also think we are going to lose and I think we are losing."

His bleak assessment has been informed by travelling to Afghanistan several times since his first visit in 1997 and from interviewing serving veterans of the British campaign for his new book.

Fergusson is no radical peacenik though...

Regarding solutions to the fighting, Fergusson makes a number of, some may say contradictory, suggestions.

On one hand, he believes that "we need the military there for sure - a strong central army if the country is going to work as a state. That means training up the Afghan national army.

"You need to pour money in to military training. I think you also keep your special forces and you go after al-Qaida, because they are around and maybe you do go over the border to Pakistan."

On the other hand, he says that "a conventional occupation in Afghanistan's case will be a disaster. It's part of the problem and not part of the solution." ...

Despite the huge amount of sympathy, he so clearly holds for both the war-weary Afghan people and the British troops sent on a "fool's errand," Fergusson is pessimistic about the future of the conflict.

As I take my leave, he tells me: "It's all over. We've lost the consent of the people. It's finished. I'm very depressed about it."

- A Million Bullets: The Real Story Of The British Army In Afghanistan by James Fergusson is published by Bantam Press, priced £16.99. (link)
  • See this post (and links there) on the numerous journalists and experts who say that NATO/US forces are now unwelcome in Afghanistan.

Margolis on our 'terror campaign' in Afghanistan

An interview with journalist Eric Margolis, noted libertarian and second generation millionaire owner of Jamieson Laboratories, purveyor of fine vitamins and skincare products:

Margolis on Why Afghanistan is a Martyr Nation

October 29 2008

Q: Do you think we are in a long war with Islam?

No, I don't. The world of Islam and the West are certainly at loggerheads now, but it's not an irreversible trend, it's not inevitable and it can be ended...

Westerners don't realize it, but the West exercises an imperial control over much of the Muslim world.... We rule the Muslim world just the way the British ruled India. That's why my book is called American Raj, raj being the imperial rule.

What we call terrorism is actually the natives fighting back, what the British used to call the 'cost of empire.'

The anger in the Muslim world is not, like Bush said, because they hate what we believe. Freedom. That's bullshit. The anger is directed at what the West has been doing for the last 150 years...and at specific political questions starting with Palestine...

[Q: How did Canada get involved?]

"The U.S. dragooned it allies into the war. [Former Liberal deputy prime minister] Sheila Copps told us on TVO. She said the White House called and said 'Send troops to Afghanistan or Iraq, or don't ship anything across the border.' It was that kind of crude pressure...

Q: You're a military historian. Can the West hold Afghanistan?

"No. One of my maxims is 'never fight a war against people who live in the country you are fighting in.' Eventually they know you're going to go home. The Afghans are very happy to fight for 100 years. They really enjoy fighting.

"We can bomb the crap out of Afghanistan, as we're doing. It's really a terror campaign. Any village that's accused of harbouring Taliban is bombed by the U.S. (link)
Margolis says that former deputy prime minister Sheila Copps revealed that the white House had phoned and given the Canadian government a choice between Iraq and Afghanistan. This either adds to our knowledge of how Canada ended up in Afghanistan, or it goes beyond the available evidence.

My guess is the latter, as Margolis seems to make a habit of going beyond the evidence. For instance, he says that the Taliban "used to be our freedom fighters." This is a repetition of the fallacy that the Taliban are merely mujahidin with a new leader (Mullah Omar). While it is known that some early Taliban were former mujahidin, it is also the case that the Taliban at an early point in their development welcomed into their ranks many Pashtuns who were former communist army officers of the Khalq faction. (See William Maley, Fundamentalism Reborn, pp. 15, 54.) Thus, it's probably just as accurate to say that the Taliban "used to be the Soviet Union's freedom fighters."

Returning to Margolis' claim about the call from the White House, I can't find a transcript or video of Copps' appearance on TVO, but here is how Copps is quoted in Stein and Lang's instant classic, The Unexpected War:
"I was at the [Liberal government's cabinet meeting of Feb 4, 2003] when the decision was made, and there were two theatres playing out. One was in Iraq and the other was in Afghanistan and we deliberately made a decision to go to Afghanistan because we knew very shortly down the road we would be asked to participate in a US-led invasion of Iraq which we did not want to do and this was a neat political way of squaring the problem... of Canada-US relations. (Stein and Lang, pp 67-68.)
In the Stein and Lang book, neither Copps nor anyone else claims that the White House called and offered any such choice. Indeed, later revelations indicated that the US preferred not to have Canada in the Iraq war at all.

Atomic vets get the shaft

It is a story of contrasts. While Canadian military vets exposed to US atomic bomb testing are ignored and demeaned by Canadian government officials, that same government shells out big bucks and hoopla for a planned Remembrance Day vigil.

From journalist David Pugliese's blog:

Canada’s atomic veterans were exposed to radiation during multiple nuclear blasts in the U.S. as well as cleanup duties during a couple of accidents at the Chalk River nuke plant in the 1950s. Many have come down with various cancers and other illnesses which they attribute to their exposure….and they want compensation from the government because of that...

Defence Minister Peter MacKay has offered them each $24,000, a generous amount according to the government. “All those who serve their country, past or present, deserve the respect, admiration and care of a grateful nation,” Mr. MacKay said in the announcement several months ago. (Mr. MacKay did not invite any of the vets to his speech where he announced the compensation package….his office said that was the job of the University of Calgary, the organizers of the event)

The vets responded to the offer that they’ll see the government in court.

What’s interesting is what the vets say are the ongoing attempts by DND to stymie them from getting some of the official documents that could help their legal case... (link)
Pugliese goes on to detail how DND is withholding unclassified documents from these vets and instead referring them to a painfully slow appeals process - for vets who are an average of 77 years old.

For edification, consider the upcoming spectacle for Remembrance Day, with vigils and nighttime projections on government buildings in Canada and London UK, complete with the Queen's participation. Pricetag: over three hundred grand:
Veterans Affairs Canada's Community Engagement Partnership Fund has generously contributed $340,000 towards the production of the national Vigil on the War Memorial in Ottawa, the simultaneous webcast of the event, and support for the coordination of other Vigil sites. (link)
The difference is of course that dead soldiers (and nearly all WW1 vets have passed away now) are more politically useful than living ones, who may have a thing or two to say about how politicians make hay of their experiences. Of course, remembering WW1 is more consistent with the "Canada fights" mantra than recalling the Canadian Forces' history as atomic guinea pigs for the Americans.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

The Taliban's shadow government

Once again, a foreign correspondent finds that the Taliban have a very significant presence, providing governance that the Afghan government cannot, and gaining popular support for doing so:

Afghans turn to Taliban shadow gov't
Parallel administration defies Canadian troops with separate court system, mass events

Tom Blackwell
National Post

KANDAHAR, Oct 27 - They mete out justice in their own courts, ban schools and even organize large religious gatherings, like one that drew thousands of people just outside Kandahar city recently.

As Canadian Forces continue to fight and die throughout Kandahar province, the Taliban have quietly set up parallel governments only kilometres away from the provincial capital, local residents say.

Large swaths of the province for which Canada is responsible have fallen increasingly under the control of the insurgents...

A panel of three or four judges in Maiwand district, for instance, has for the past year been issuing prompt rulings on civil and criminal matters, said one man.

"The Taliban announced to the villagers that if they face any kind of problems, they should come to the court and they will find a transparent judgment," he said.

"They deal with a number of cases: land disputes, family disputes, loan disputes, robbery, killing, fighting ... and the people are happy with them."

In Zhari, the insurgent court has sentenced 27 people to death, said a resident of that district.

Surprisingly, the farmers said the Taliban have issued no edicts against radio and TV or even shaving beards -- all things banned under their government -- though the villages tend to eschew such behaviour out of fear, anyway...

The men spoke of deep frustration at having to choose between insurgents they say are often too harsh, government officials who are crooked and ineffective, and NATO forces who bring them little more than warfare...

"We see trouble from the Taliban, from NATO and from the Afghan government."

All asked that they not be identified, and none would meet directly with a foreign journalist, for fear of repercussions.

They said about 70 per cent of the districts of Zhari and Maiwand, both west of Kandahar city, are under Taliban control...

For the Eid festival marking the end of Ramadan early this month, the Taliban invited people to a special prayer in Senjaray, 15 kilometres west of Kandahar city. Thousands came, with the insurgents handling security.

"It was amazing, and shameful for the current government," he said.

Taliban courts move from place to place, hearing complaints and seeking out witnesses before delivering a decision, which the people tend to heed, said the farmer...

The Taliban do have willing supporters in these areas, including young people who enjoy the insurgent life because "they have guns, power and money, plus motorbikes," said the second Maiwand farmer. But others "don't like to kill people, they don't want to fight." (link)
In recent posts, we have seen that many respected journalists have related similar assessments of the Taliban and the support they receive from locals:
  • (Oct 2008) Graeme Smith reports that the Taliban's power is growing on account of their "position[ing] themselves as the best enforcers of security in rural Afghanistan."
  • (Oct 2008) Nir Rosen relates his experiences embedding with the Taliban.
  • (Sept 2008) The Washington Post's Pamela Constable reports: "More and more, people here look back to the era of harsh Taliban rule from 1996 to 2001, describing it as a time of security and peace."

Canadian Forces in action

The Washington Post has an interesting, close-up view of a Canadian Forces operation in Zhari district, just West of Kandahar city. This district, along with Panjwai next to it, is the primary area of operations for the Canadians, and has been since summer 2006 when they abandoned Arghandab district to the north.

Note, near the end, that the Canadian troops control only a third of each of those two districts. These two districts - out of 16 in the province - are the focus of Canadian efforts on account of them being the most densely populated in the province, after Kandahar city.

Canadian Troops in Afghanistan Measure Success Inch by Inch

By Candace Rondeaux
Washington Post Foreign Service

ZHARI, Afghanistan, Nov 2 - The company of Canadian soldiers set off from the small base in southern Afghanistan a few hours before dawn. Combat boots crunching along the wide plains of the Kandahar desert, they moved slowly in a long line into the moonless black ahead...

The soldiers' target, a Taliban bomb-supply compound, was only a little more than two miles away. But it took the contingent of 200-plus troops about three hours to march from the cemetery to the insurgent stronghold. That is the way the war is being fought in southern Afghanistan: inch by inch...

"The bottom line in Zhari and Panjwai is that we own about a third of those districts. The other two-thirds aren't owned by the Taliban, but I call them contested," Thompson said. "If you're out there, you're going to get into a scrap. There are firefights, and there's combat every day in Zhari and Panjwai." ...

The first shot rang out a little before first light as dozens of Canadian soldiers crept to the edge of a wide irrigation ditch. Someone shot a wild dog that was attacking a group of soldiers approaching the main compound. Two helicopters swooped overhead. A contingent of Canadian tanks rumbled loudly over the fields in the distance. An Afghan interpreter shouted into a megaphone that anyone in the compound should come out unarmed. The show of force was met with silence.

The only sign of insurgents was the frantic chatter that crackled over a radio monitored by an Afghan interpreter with the Canadian troops. As the Canadians pushed deeper into the web of Taliban compounds surrounding their objective, a panicked voice commanded someone to move the bombs out of the compound. The radio went dead for a few minutes. Then came the crack, crack, crack of automatic gunfire. A rocket-propelled grenade landed a few hundred feet from a line of Canadian soldiers returning fire into the leafy thicket of grape fields.

The firefight was over in minutes. The Taliban fighters faded into the countryside as the Canadians poured into the compound, which was packed with dozens of huge mortar shells, ammunition shells and what appeared to be ingredients for homemade bombs. After a careful sweep of the area, Canadian military engineers set charges around the bomb storage site and the compound was blown up. (link)

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Coalition kills 16 civilians, say locals

While many western news sources reported the US-led coalition's claims of killing 12 insurgents in Wardak province, none of them relayed accusations by locals that many civilians were killed. Only in the Afghan press do such testimonies see the light of day:

16 civilians killed in Maidan Wardak operation
Habib Rahman Ibrahimi and Sher Ahmad Haidar

GHAZNI CITY, Oct 28 (PAN) - The US-led coalition forces say they have killed a dozen Taliban fighters in an operation in the central Maidan Wardak province, but local residents say 16 civilians were killed in a joint operation by US and Afghan forces.

A statement from the coalition forces said on Tuesday they killed 12 militants Monday and detained one while securing the site where a Coalition helicopter was forced to land in Wardak province after taking enemy fire...

However, eyewitnesses in Saiadabad districts Haftasiab area, where the operation took place, said 16 villagers were killed in bombing by foreign troops accompanied with ground operation by Afghan forces.

Muhammad Ibrahim, a resident of Dandoki village, said seven children were killed only in his village in bombing by foreign forces.

The children were in front of a mosque when foreign planes dropped bombs on them.

After this, government troops took out villagers from their homes in Haftasiab area, tied their hands to their backs and shot them dead, said Ibrahim.

Muhammad Tahir, another resident of the area, said he counted 16 bodies killed in the military ground and air operation by Afghan and foreign forces on Monday.

He added that a security contractor company guards were also with the Afghan forces that killed the civilians. (link)

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Locals pelt soldiers with rocks

The Canadian Press reveals popular anger at our troops in Afghanistan:

Assessing Afghan security no easy task for troops

KANDAHAR, Oct 21 (CP) - Dozens of smiling children skipped along behind the heavily armed Canadian soldiers as they walked slowly through Kandahar’s dusty streets and muddy lanes, some trying out their hesitant English, some limited to a shy “hello” and a wave.

One of the soldiers, sweating in in full battle dress, glanced around with a wry smile.

It isn’t always this friendly. When we drive LAVs (Light Armoured Vehicles) down this road, we get pelted with rocks. Just pelted.” ...

“It’s difficult, there’s no doubt,” sighs Capt. Jean Breton of the Toronto Scottish Regiment, who’s learned to balance what he’s told with what he sees around him.

The patrol’s strategy is simple: walk down the road, taking care to maintain good battle order, and talk to anyone who’s willing...

Breton also tries to assess the people’s awareness of their local government. He asks everyone he meets if they’ve even heard of the city official who’s supposed to be the district manager. Out of 15 people, only one had heard of Abdul Qadar... (link)

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Kambakhsh case developments

Journalism student Pervez Kambakhsh, imprisoned for the past year, catches a break for once:

Afghan Journalist's Death Sentence Commuted

KABUL/PRAGUE, Oct 21 (RFE/RL) - An appellate court in Afghanistan has commuted the death sentence of student and part-time journalist Sayed Perwiz Kambakhsh but ordered him to spend 20 years in jail for distributing an Internet article that questioned Islam's treatment of women.

Kambakhsh's lawyer immediately challenged the court's logic in handing down any prison time for the 23-year-old from northern Afghanistan.

"I am not convinced by the court session because witnesses didn't say a word relating to the distribution of that anti-Islamic article of which he is accused -- they [witnesses] were simply discussing some classroom arguments with no logical connection to this case," lawyer Afzal Noristani told reporters after the verdict, according to RFE/RL's Radio Free Afghanistan.

"Moreover, an individual that was presented as an eyewitness to the primary court -- who has been forced to testify -- has admitted to providing false information," Noristani said. "I would perceive today's verdict as an attempt at conspiracy, since no credible evidence has been provided to the court."

Kambakhsh and relatives have said they suspected his prosecution was the result of a private vendetta by an influential local warlord... (link)
Britain's Independent, which headed a campaign calling for Mr. Kambakhsh's release, adds interesting details:
The appeal court decision was seen as a major legal victory for Mr Kambaksh. According to the defence team, as well as a number of other legal experts, the court had the power to uphold or set aside the death sentence, but it had no right to "arbitrarily" impose a jail term...

During yesterday's hearing, one of the prosecution's main witnesses, a fellow student, Hamid Ali, appeared to withdraw his testimony against Mr Kambaksh, who was also prevented by the judge from addressing the court over his protestations that an alleged "confession" had been beaten out of him.

After the hearing, Mr Kambaksh said: "I was, of course, hoping to be freed, but the fact that they have said I no longer face the death sentence is a big relief..."

Amnesty International appealed for Mr Kambaksh to be freed. "There are no legal grounds for either his conviction or this sentence," said Sam Zarifi, its Asia Pacific director. "While it can only be a positive step that he is no longer on death row, he should be freed immediately." (link)
  • (April 2008) Kambakhsh's appeal gives new hope.

Dead civilians are predictable outcome

An Op-Ed by Guardian editor Seumas Milne:

Civilian dead are a trade-off in Nato's war of barbarity
The killing of innocent Afghans by US bombs is the result of a calculation, not just a mistake. And it is fuelling resistance

Seumas Milne
The Guardian, October 16 2008

... By far the most comprehensive research into Afghan casualties over the past seven years has been carried out by Marc Herold, a US professor at the University of New Hampshire. In his latest findings, Herold estimates that the number of civilians directly killed by the US and other Nato forces since 2006, up to 3,273, is already higher than the toll exacted by the devastating three-month bombardment that ousted the Taliban regime in 2001. And over the past year civilian deaths at the hands of Nato forces have tripled, despite changes in rules of engagement...

It is that equation that makes a nonsense of US and British claims that their civilian victims are accidental "collateral damage", while the Taliban's use of roadside bombs, suicide attacks and classic guerrilla operations from civilian areas are a sign of their moral depravity. In real life, the escalating civilian death toll is not a mistake, but the result of a clear decision to put the lives of occupation troops before civilians; westerners before Afghans.

Dependence on air power is also a reflection of US imperial overstretch and the reluctance of Nato states to put more boots on the ground. But however much the nominal Afghan president Hamid Karzai rails against Nato's recklessness with Afghan blood, the indiscriminate air war carries on regardless. Given that the US government spent 10 times more on every sea otter affected by the Exxon Valdez oil spill than it does in "condolence payments" to Afghans for the killing of a family member, perhaps that shouldn't come as a surprise. (link)

Monday, October 20, 2008

Rapes continue as military drags feet

From the Toronto Star:

Critics slam Afghan rape probe
Investigation drags even as more soldiers accuse Afghan allies of abusing young boys

Oct 19 - The Canadian military's National Investigation Service is telling some witnesses it could take up to two years to investigate claims by Canadian soldiers that they've seen Afghan soldiers and interpreters raping young boys near Canadian bases outside Kandahar...

Canadian investigators, who were initially slow to move on the claims, saying they lacked formal complaints, began reviewing the allegations in July at the request of military police...

Soldiers who allege they have witnessed assaults are continuing to return home from Afghanistan seeking trauma counselling.

The latest soldiers to request counselling are from a group of about 30 based in Newfoundland, said a senior military source who asked not to be identified. A medical officer is scheduled to go to Newfoundland to help the soldiers later this month.

In June, the Star reported that several Canadian soldiers had complained about the abuse of Afghan children to military officers in Afghanistan and chaplains and medical staff in Canada.

The first soldiers to complain said their allegations were ignored.

John Pike, an analyst with, a Washington-based military think tank, said a two-year timetable is "preposterous." ...

The NIS has interviewed soldiers such as Cpl. Travis Schouten, a Sarnia native who in 2006 was based at Forward Operating Base Wilson in Afghanistan.

Schouten said he heard an Afghan soldier raping a young boy at one of the outposts near Kandahar and later saw that the boy's lower intestines had fallen out of his body, a sign of trauma from the assault. Schouten has been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress syndrome and the military intends to have him discharged.

A Canadian military chaplain has said she has heard similar accounts from other soldiers.

And Lt. Col. St├ęphane Grenier said he counselled a British soldier who said he watched a young boy being raped by an Afghan soldier while his senior officer concluded a meeting nearby with Afghan army officers.

The Afghan rape allegations are the subject of two investigations.

Besides the NIS, a military board of inquiry is also examining the rape claims. (link)

Afghans seek a solution without guns

From Anand Gopal:

Afghanistan's emerging antiwar movement

KABUL, Oct 20 - In a musty room near the edge of town, a group of bearded men sit on the floor and heatedly discuss strategy. The men are in the planning stages of an event that they hope will impact Afghan politics – a peace jirga, or assembly, that will agitate for the end of the war between the Taliban and Afghan government by asking the two sides to come to a settlement.

"People are growing tired of the fighting," says Bakhtar Aminzai of the National Peace Jirga of Afghanistan, an association of students, professors, lawyers, clerics, and others. "We need to pressure the Afghan government and the international community to find a solution without using guns."

Mr. Aminzai is not alone in his sentiments. As violence and insecurity grow in this war-ravaged nation, a broad network of peace activists have been quietly pushing for negotiations and reconciliation with the Taliban.

This push coincides with recent preliminary talks in Saudi Arabia...

[B]ut many peace activists are critical of the Saudi talks. "We want reconciliation with the Taliban through a loya jirga," or grand assembly of Afghans, says Fatana Gilani, head of the Afghanistan Women's Council (AWC), a leading nongovernmental organization (NGO) here. "We don't want interference from foreign countries or negotiations behind closed doors," she says.

Like the AWC, many local NGOs have incorporated antiwar activities into their routine and are joining with other civil society groups to promote the idea of dialogue. The AWC convened a "peace assembly" this past Spring and invited members of the Afghan government and the Taliban to attend. It has also run seminars and conferences in Kandahar, the Taliban's heartland, promoting negotiation.

The National Peace Jirga also organized a series of peace assemblies in recent months, drawing thousands of people. The meetings often feature fiery speakers who condemn international forces for killing civilians – but who also criticize the Taliban.

"Afghanicide – the killing of Afghanistan – must be stopped," says Israir Ahmed Karimizai, a leader of Awakened Youth of Afghanistan, a prominent antiwar group. After seeing the violence grow sharply last year, Mr. Karimizai and a group of friends formed Awakened Youth with the aim of creating a movement that is independent of both the government and the Taliban. In late September the group headed an initiative to observe International Peace Day with speeches, rallies, and a pledge from both the international forces and the Taliban to lay down their arms for one day...

For Ms. Gilani and other peace activists, this doesn't mean however that they let the West off lightly, however. "We are against Western policy in Afghanistan," she says. "They should bury their guns in a grave and focus on diplomacy and economic development." (link)
  • (September 2007) More on negotiations.
  • (April 2008) More here.