Wednesday, January 30, 2008

NATO as genocidaire

Ali Khan is a contributing editor of Jurist , a publication of the University of Pennsylvania Law School. Today he writes that in the name of the "war of terror," NATO is committing genocide in Afghanistan by demonizing insurgents and systematically hunting them down.

Sloganeers, propagandists and politicians often use the word "genocide" in ways that the law does not permit. But rarely is the crime of genocide invoked when Western militaries murder Muslim groups. This essay argues that the internationally recognized crime of genocide applies to the intentional killings that NATO troops commit on a weekly basis in the poor villages and mute mountains of Afghanistan to destroy the Taliban ... The dehumanized label of "Taliban" is used to cloak the nameless victims of NATO operations. ...

In almost all NATO nations, the Taliban have been completely dehumanized ... Promoting the predatory doctrine of collective self-defense, killing the Taliban is celebrated as a legal virtue. ...

A similar dehumanization took place in the 16th and 17th centuries when NATO precursors occupied the Americas to purloin land and resources. ... Thomas Jefferson, the noble author of the Declaration of Independence, labeled Indians as
"merciless savages." ...

The Facts
... Read the following recent attacks, which the NATO itself reports, and smell the scent of genocide:

  • On January 19, 2008, NATO launched a preemptive strike relying on "credible intelligence" that the Taliban were planning to mass on a NATO base. The attack killed two dozen "insurgents" in the Watapoor District of Kunar Province, though the exact number of casualties could not be confirmed because of the rough mountainous region. The world media reported that numerous civilians were killed and 25 bodies were buried in just one mass grave.
  • On January 12, 2008, NATO forces conducted what it calls a "precise strike" on a compound in Kapsia Province targeting Taliban leaders. NATO claimed that the civilians were cleared from the compound before the attack. The claim is absurd because any removal of civilians from the compound would have alerted the battle-hardened Taliban that an enemy attack was imminent.
  • On September 20, 2007, NATO forces launched "Operation Palk Wahel" to kill and remove the Taliban from an area in the Upper Gereshk Valley. Numerous civilians were killed. The evidence of the genocide was so obvious that NATO admitted that it "was unaware of civilians in the vicinity of the target and unfortunately it appears that a number of non-combatants were caught in the
    attack and killed."
N.B. Perhaps Khan's essay suffered a bit in the editing, as the events he describes in the first bullet above are confused. While there was a NATO bombing attack on or about Jan 19, which NATO claimed killed two dozen insurgents (see here), no media have relayed claims of civilian deaths. However, in July 2007, a NATO bombing was reported to have killed 25 civilians. Likely Khan confused the two events (see here). He continues:

The Law

The Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide entered into force, 1951) is binding on all states ... In murdering the Taliban, NATO armed forces systematically practice on a continual basis the crime of genocide that consists of three constituent elements - act, intent to destroy, and religious group. The crime, as defined in the Convention, is analyzed below:

  1. Act: The Convention lists five acts, each of which qualifies as genocide. NATO forces in Afghanistan are committing three of the five acts. They are killing members of the Taliban. They are causing serious bodily harm to members of the Taliban. They are deliberately inflicting on the Taliban conditions of life calculated to bring about their physical destruction in whole or in part. Any of these three acts committed one time constitutes the crime of genocide. ...
  2. Intent to Destroy: The crime of genocide is a crime of intent. It must be shown that NATO combat troops and the high command ordering these troops carry
    the requisite intent to destroy the Taliban. Mere negligent killings do not qualify as genocide. The statements of NATO's Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer and those of NATO spokesmen leave no doubt that the NATO conducts military operations to "hunt and destroy" the Taliban. Preemptive strikes to kill the Taliban are sufficient proof that NATO troops and commanding generals have specific intent to destroy as many Taliban members as they can find. The weekly murderous planning and intelligence gathering to locate and eliminate the Taliban leaders and members further demonstrate that the killings in Afghanistan are not negligent, accidental, or by mistake. For all legal purposes, NATO's incessant and deliberate killings of the Taliban are powered with the specific intent to destroy a religious group.
  3. Religious Group: The Genocide Convention is far from universal in that it does not protect all groups from genocide. Its protection covers only four groups: national, ethnic, racial and religious. (Political groups are not protected). The Convention does not require the complete eradication of a protected group as a necessary condition for the crime of genocide. Even part destruction of a protected group constitutes the crime. It is no secret that the Taliban are a religious group. (They may also qualify as a national (Afghan) or ethnic (Pushtun) group). The Taliban advocate and practice a puritanical version of Islam. The Convention does not demand that the protected group advocate and practice a form of religion acceptable to the West or the world. The questionable beliefs and practices of a religious group are no reasons to destroy the group. That the Taliban are armed or support terrorism or oppress women are unlawful excuses to commit genocide. (All reasons that Hitler had to murder Jews would be simply irrelevant under the Convention).

The Holding

It may, therefore, be safely concluded that NATO combat troops and NATO commanders are engaged in murdering the Taliban, a protected group under the Genocide Convention, with the specific intent to physically and mentally destroy the group in whole or in part. This is the crime of genocide.

Ali Khan is a professor at Washburn University School of Law in Kansas (link)

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

CF still transfering to Afghans: Valpy

The Globe and Mail's Michael Valpy relays what an anonymous source told him: Canadian forces, conveniently claiming they are led by Afghan units, continue to hand over prisoners to Afghan custody.

Detainee fallout: take few, free quickly

The Canadian Forces are holding insurgent detainees at their Kandahar Air Force base rather than turning them over to Afghan authorities, are taking fewer prisoners and are quickly releasing some of them. ...

One well-placed source who spoke to The Globe and Mail Monday on condition of anonymity said that, in addition to being told that Canadian detainees were being held at Kandahar Air Force base, he understood some insurgents detained in joint Canadian Forces-Afghan National Army combat operations were being turned over to the Afghan military in a “grey zone” action.

He said he has been told that Canadians have been content in some cases to allow operations to be labelled as Afghan-led military proceedings. Thus, detainees passed into Afghan military hands with no records kept.

Since the Canadian military's decision to stop transferring detainees became known, there has been rife speculation on what is being done with them, with three options being mentioned: that Canadians were holding detainees at KAF; that Canadians were transferring detainees to the Americans; and that Canadians had simply stopped detaining people.

Transferring detainees to the Americans would be, in the words of one federal politician, “the red-hot issue” because of the harsh interrogation techniques the U.S. military uses.

Janice Gross Stein, director of University of Toronto's Munk Centre for International Studies and co-author of a widely lauded book on Canada's military engagement in Afghanistan, said, “I would be astonished if the Canadian Forces were transferring detainees to the Americans, absolutely astonished.”

She also said she had not heard of any “grey zone” transfers but commented: “That would be a very dangerous thing to do.” ... (link)

Hear, hear: McGill Daily editorial

Well said:

Editorial: Afghanistan for Afghans

As Canada’s involvement in the Afghanistan war nears its seventh year, serious questions about what exactly Canada is doing in the country are long overdue. But the Manley commission’s report, released last week, doesn’t address them. In fact, nothing but an endorsement of the mission could have been expected from the Commission, stacked as it was with Liberal and Conservative hawks more attuned to Washington’s needs than those of the Afghan people.

Manley’s commission essentially offers a seal of approval to continued counter-insurgency beyond 2009, on the condition that Stephen Harper demand NATO pony up 1,000 more troops. This is empty posturing on Manley’s part, since the US has already promised 3,200 extra Marines for Afghanistan, and could manage 1,000 more. But pitching more troops into battle will not change anything – with the insurgency gathering strength throughout the south, the war will not be winnable, as previous occupiers of Afghanistan know well.

Many Canadians remain confused about the goals of the mission. Some may think Canada is fighting so Afghan boys can fly kites and women go without burqas. Others think we’re doing our part in the “war against terror.” But the deployment of massive amounts of violence in foreign countries, against the will of their people, has only generated massive increases in global terrorism. Then there’s the reassuring popular distinction between the current Middle East wars: Afghanistan, good; Iraq, bad. In truth, both wars are part of the same disastrous and immoral U.S.-led mission to reshape the region to suit its geo-strategic interests. Canada is playing the role of junior partner, with Canadian troop presence in Afghanistian freeing up American troops to fight in Iraq.

The mainstream media’s uncritical coverage – limited to discussion about military tactics and minimal criticism about the conduct of the occupation – has been a huge disservice to Canadians. There has been little discussion of perhaps the most serious aspect of the war: that it was an illegal invasion, not sanctioned by the United Nations. For those who think international law should hold the U.S.’s awesome military power in check, the Afghanistan war has entrenched a dangerous precedent.

The Karzai government and members of the Taliban insurgency have been conducting informal negotiations for some time, despite the Canadian government rejection’s of the idea. The negotiations shouldn’t surprise anyone: going by their attitudes toward women, democracy, and human rights, there is not a great deal of difference between the Karzai regime – whose membership includes drug lords and war lords who rule with a Constitution informed by Sharia law – and the Taliban. Canadians should be listening to courageous voices like Malai Joya’s, the 29-year-old former Afghan parliamentarian who has narrowly escaped assassination attempts and was suspended from the Afghan parliament for condemning the Northern Alliance war criminals empowered by the NATO occupation. She has appealed to Canadians to stop propping up an undemocratic government, and to instead support genuine democratic movements in the country.

Even if we took the Canadian government’s word that the aim of the Afghanistan mission is to help Afghans, the achievements are paltry indeed. Reconstruction has been an abysmal failure. Aid money, miniscule in any case compared to military spending, has enriched Western companies that spend it on corporate overhead, shoddy construction, and out-sourcing, or it has been siphoned off by the corrupt Afghan government.

It’s true there have been some improvements in infrastructure, children’s access to education, and women’s rights, mainly in areas with NATO troops. But the same could have been said of the Soviet occupation that preceded NATO’s – and no one in the West justified the Soviet invasion and its brutal occupation, which cost thousands of lives, much like NATO’s has. There are many ways that Canadian could genuinely assist developing countries – and without going to war to do so.

Though the needs of ordinary Afghans never entered the calculations of Western countries when they first invaded, these countries could entertain them now: by negotiating a permanent ceasefire and a troop withdrawal, under U.N. or regional auspices. (link)

Monday, January 28, 2008

6 dead civilians 'not of great significance': US major

Readers may recall that six Polish soldiers (and Poland is a NATO country, remember) are facing war crimes charges stemming from the killing of six Afghan civilians in August (see previous entries here and here).

The news blackout on this trial is just about total. While the New York Times (Nov 29), the International Herald Tribune (Nov 29) and the LA Times (Nov 15) related the news of the soldiers' charges back in November, and the Financial Times also made note (Dec 7), my search turned up no other major mainstream coverage. A full-text search of all major Canadian dailies reveals that no domestic papers have even mentioned the charges. (The August event itself was reported in Poland but apparently nowhere in the English language press.)

Since then, the hearings occurring in Poland have been almost totally shut out of the English language press. The only exception is an excellent Inter Press Service report (as I blogged earlier).

Since the IPS report came out, a translation of a Polish article was carried by the BBC Foreign Service (via Lexus-Nexus). It was written by Pawel Solenski who won a journalism award from Reuters and Columbia University two years back.

To recap the case: On Aug 17, a unit of Polish soldiers mortared and machine-gunned a village named Nangarkhel, killing six civilians, including children. This fact is not disputed. What is at issue is whether there were Taliban fighters present or not.

In hearings, witnesses have reportedly testified not only that there were no insurgents present, but that the attack was pre-planned by the unit's superiors, likely in revenge for the killing of a Polish soldier by insurgents the day before. It has been learned that at least one other unit refused to carry out the same orders before the unit in question did so. It has also been asserted that American military officials had originally drawn up the plan, which included attacks on several villages.

Here are some excerpts from Solenski's long piece:

Right after Nangar Khel was fired upon, a counterintelligence report suggested this may have been an act of revenge. [Former Defence] Minister Szczyglo must have been familiar with it, yet publicly stated something else. ...

One major wearing the grey field uniform of the US army says: "The Poles are performing excellently in Afghanistan, and that is what should be the front-page news, not any Nangar Khel - something unfortunate, but not of great significance." ...

[After the killings, Nangarkhel] was given sheep and flour as compensation from the Republic of Poland. Those severely injured were given places in Polish hospitals. The placated village elders - the media reported - opted out of the traditional clan vengeance, and dealings with the local population allegedly did not change one bit.

But then: "the family atmosphere at Wazi-Khwa ended," wrote Gazeta Wyborcza reporters present at the base when Wazi-Khwa was fired upon. "On the bathroom wall, someone scribbled: 'Delta should be behind bars - murderers of children.'" ...

Suddenly, information comes spilling out. The soldiers had lied; there had been no Taleban at Nangar Khel and no-one had attacked the Poles. Were they horrified by the consequences of the attack? Did they want to conceal their true intentions?

The suspects testified that they had received orders to fire on three villages even before they had gone out on patrol, and even before they were notified that they should assist their colleagues who had struck a land mine. They conceded that civilians had been visible to the naked eye in Nangar Khel, but they did not refuse to carry out the orders. And after the massacre, their commanders invented justification.

Another Polish patrol, the newspapers reported, had refused to fire upon Nangar Khel. ...

The [Polish] special forces officer says: "... Colleagues of other nationalities have asked around about Nangar Khel, but cautiously and tactfully. Harming a civilian is something that could happen to any soldier."

"I have been sitting here for many months now, and over that period the danger has increased by some 300 per cent. We don't have the time or inclination to ponder or consider things overly much. The Americans experience similar incidents even once a week. Although a substantial majority of such cases result from poor air reconnaissance. ...

The high-ranking National Defence Ministry official says: "The ministry was informed about the massacre nearly immediately: several days after Nangar Khel was fired upon - on 20 August the first military counterintelligence report appeared on the desk of the defence minister at that time, which indicated that soldiers had perhaps committed an act of revenge, presumably for the killing of Second Lieutenant Kurowski. The report was turned over to the Military Police on 21 August. What happened next? We don't know."

Not long thereafter, Minister Aleksander Szczyglo publicly stated that the Poles had been fighting Taleban at Nangar Khel, and boasted that a dangerous terrorist had been apprehended. Not a word about the doubts included in the report. ...

The US major says: "I don't understand why an unimportant incident has gained such great significance in your country. Why so much attention? Civilian deaths occur every week, because Afghanistan is no Sunday-school ...

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Manley report wrong: Margolis

Eric Margolis, journalist and author of a book on Afghanistan (War at the Top of the World), reacts to the Manley Report:

January 28, 2008

The report on Afghanistan delivered by the Manley Panel to Canada’s government last Monday was deeply flawed and most disappointing. Its totally predictable findings could have been written without the panel of instant Afghan experts wasting millions of taxpayer money.

This whitewash was designed to provide political cover for the Conservative government of PM Stephen Harper, which has faithfully followed the Bush Administration’s party line on Afghanistan. PM Harper has hung his political hat on the failing war in Afghanistan. By threatening to quit the conflict if NATO does not provide more troops, the Manley report provided the government with a handy escape hatch if things go terribly wrong in Afghanistan and the 2,500 Canadian troops there are forced to cut and run.

The Manley report provides the latest doleful example of the opposition Liberal’s pathetic failure to demand Ottawa answer tough questions about the growing mess in Afghanistan. Canada’s opposition has done even worse than the Democrats in Washington. ...

Most disturbing, the report claimed continued military operations in Afghanistan, which had so far cost 79 Canadians dead and untold billions, were necessary to `enhance’ Canada’s international influence. Two days later, another Canadian soldier died in action ...

In Europe and Asia, most people regard the Afghanistan conflict as a 19th century-style colonial war over future oil pipeline routes, and NATO’s role there the result of severe arms-twisting by Washington. That’s why most NATO troops are kept out of combat. ...

... Every bombed Afghan village breeds new enemies for Canada.

Ottawa is hiding the full truth about Afghanistan from Canadians. Its flag-waving media has further obscured the facts. When did one last see a report filed from the side of Taliban and its growing number of allies? The North American media has done as lousy a job in reporting Afghanistan as it did Iraq.

The report’s claim that Afghanistan’s US-imposed regime is `democratic’ is absurd. CIA `asset’ Hamid Karzai was installed by Washington and is kept in power by US troops and a stream of cash payoffs to drug-dealing tribal chiefs. His rigged `election’ was supervised by US troops and bought with $100 bills.

Afghanistan’s so-called `national army’ is made up of US-paid mercenaries. The `army’ does not need more training, as Manley claims. It needs loyalty to a legitimate national government – which does not exist.

Half of Afghanistan’s population, the Pashtun tribes (the source of the Taliban religious movement), has been largely excluded from political power. Until included, there will be no stability, never mind democracy. But Washington and Ottawa, have painted themselves into a corner by so demonizing Taliban and making enemies of the Pashtun (half of Afghanistan’s population), that overt negotiations with the movement or its growing number of allies is impossible.

Ominously, the Afghan war is steadily spreading into Pakistan, threatening the kind of `mission creep’ seen in Vietnam. Meanwhile, Canada is hypocritically backing Musharraf’s ugly dictatorship in Pakistan while claiming to be fighting for `democracy’ in Afghanistan.

The Manley report also soft-soaped government corruption. It ignored the 800 lb gorilla in Kabul: senior government officials up to their turbans in the heroin trade. ...

Most important, Manley’s report completely ignored the biggest problem of all. Canada has no political objective in this aimless war beyond making high-ranking Ottawa officials feel self-important at NATO meetings.

The Karzai regime, which rules only Kabul, would not last a week without western troops. There is no prospect of national political consensus until Taliban and its allies are brought into the process. ... (link)

If the Afghan conflict is a vital matter of national security, as Canada claims, then maintaining a mere 2,500 troops in Afghanistan is no more than a gesture that wastes the lives of its soldiers. If fighting Taliban is that important, then Canada should mobilize and send 100,000 troops ...

Canada is not being ennobled by this sordid, ugly, drug-fueled war, as Mr. Manley wrongly believes. ...

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Sign the petition to stop execution of Kambakhsh

It took the handing down of a death sentence to jolt the Canadian media into finally reporting on the case of Parwiz Kambakhsh, a 23-year old Afghan journalism student. (See my blog entry here.) Here's the extent of the coverage in the major Canadian dailies:

Toronto Star: Jan 24, page A23; AP article, 293 words.

Globe and Mail: Jan 24, page A19; AP article, 233 words.

Winnipeg Free Press: Jan 23, page A7 ('Around the World' heading); AP article, 99 words. (Also, letter to editor, Jan 25.)

The IWPR, with whom Parwez' brother Ibrahimi writes, reports on his trial proceedings:

... The young journalist was given no legal representation and no opportunity to defend himself in a summary trial that lasted less than an hour over charges which are fully denied.

“Guards brought me into a room where there were three judges and an attorney sitting behind their desks,” Kaambakhsh told IWPR. “The death sentence had already been written. I wanted to say something, but they would not let me speak.” ... (link)
Jean MacKenzie of IWPR is quoted by the Guardian:
... MacKenzie said the harassment of Ibrahimi was being carried out by the national directorate for security. "In the north, it is clear evidence of the growing power of former commanders or warlords, who are working through religious fundamentalist mullahs, who are also growing in power." ... (See Guardian article here.)
Perhaps most shocking are comments made by the Attorney General of Balkh province, where Parwez Kambakhsh lives:
In an interview with RFE/RL's Radio Free Afghanistan, Balkh Province Attorney-General Hafizullah Khaliqyar said Kambakhsh had insulted Islam, misinterpreted the Koran, and distributed the article to others. He denied there had been any violation of the journalist’s rights and said the trial was held in a "very Islamic way." Khaliqyar also said that he would arrest any journalist who defended Kambakhsh. (Link to RFE article.)
International appeal to support the immediate release of a young Afghan Journalist

Wednesday 16 January 2008

The case of Parwiz Kambakhsh, a reporter for the local newspaper, “Jahan-e Now,” and a student at Balkh University, requires the urgent attention of journalists and activists for freedom of expression.

Kambakhs was accused and has been unlawfully detained for three months for possessing an article, which discussed controversial verses of The Holy Quran regarding women’s rights.

We believe that the government of Afghanistan and his Excellency president Karzai has an important responsibility to secure free speech for journalists, especially in the area of religion, like the world’s leading democracies.

We pledge our support for and call on Mr. Karzai to work for the immediate release of Mr. Kambakhsh. He has strong support among those who care about freedom of speech and democracy, and they are distributing the facts of this case world-wide.

Show Your Support asks you to show your support for Parwiz and free speech in Afghanistan by posting a comment below. We will forward your comments to Hamid Karzai, president of Afghanistan, and his spokesperson. Comments will also be forwarded to The International Federation of Journalists, Reporters Without Borders, and the Committee to Protect Journalists. Include your name, occupation, country of residence, and a comment asking for the release of Parwiz Kambakhsh

[Click here to sign]

You can also directly e-mail your support to and

Afghans protest Koran desecration and civilian deaths

From the London Times:

... In Kandahar there were reports that a crowd of several hundred Afghans were chanting anti-British slogans today in protest at an alleged incident in which British troops hunting insurgents are said to have desecrated the Koran while searching villages in the Girishk district of Helmand.

"The villagers told them that there were no Taleban hiding in the villages and swore by copies of the Koran they had in their hands," claimed Ghulam Mohammed, in a phone interview with a news agency. He claimed to be among the protesters.

"The British soldiers threw away the Koran and began searching the houses."

Lieutenant Colonel Simon Millar, a British forces spokesman, denied that either the alleged incident or the protest had taken place.

"That is a lie. There was no protest and no burning of the Koran," said Lieut Col Millar. (link)
Millar uses pretty strong words indeed. Yet on the same day the Daily Mail quotes the same officer admitting there was a protest:
Afghan protest over 'desecration' of Koran as British troops 'knock book out of their hands'

(Jan 21) Up to 600 Afghans are thought to have protested against what they called the desecration of the Koran by British forces when villagers claim soldiers knocked copies to the floor, the district governor said.

Numerous people describing themselves as demonstrators and residents also telephoned an agency reporter in the southern city of Kandahar to say some 600 people took part in the protest in Girishk district of neighbouring Helmand province.

Abdul Manaf, Girishk's district governor, confirmed at least 150 people had demonstrated in the town, but that there had been no desecration of the holy book.

He suggested that Taliban fighters had spread false rumours to provoke a protest.

One protester who introduced himself as Ghulam Mohammad said British soldiers knocked copies of the Muslim holy book out of the hands of villagers.

"The villagers told them that there were no Taliban hiding in the villages and swore by copies of the Koran they had in their hands," he said by telephone.

"The British soldiers threw away the Koran and began searching the houses."

Chanting slogans against the Afghan government and foreign troops, the protesters will continue unless the culprits are punished, another man said.
British forces spokesman Lieutenant Colonel Simon Millar said a small protest had taken place, but there had been no desecration of the Koran. ... (link)
Note that the protest occurred in Kandahar City, while the alleged desecration of the Koran occurred in Gereshk district of neighboring Kandahar.

Meanwhile, an American bombardment in Ghazni province reportedly killed nine Afghan police and two civilians:
(Jan 24) Reuters - Nine police and two civilians were killed in an air strike by U.S.-led troops in Afghanistan, a provincial doctor said on Thursday, but the coalition said Taliban fighters had been killed.

The raid, which sparked protests, happened in a village outside Ghazni town to the southwest of Kabul on Wednesday night, Dr. Ismail Ibrahimzai, the head of the local public health department said.

"Nine police, including an officer, two civilians, one of them a woman, were killed in the raid," he told Reuters.

Five police were wounded, he said, adding they were in a vehicle patrolling the area when it was hit in the air strike.

The U.S.-led coalition confirmed the attack but said several Taliban insurgents were killed in the raid ...

Some 200 villagers marched toward Ghazni town to protest against the latest strike, witnesses said. They chanted slogans against Karzai's government and U.S. troops who form the bulk of the coalition force in Afghanistan. ... (link)
The protests continue, according to Pajhwok Afghan News.

The Manley Report

The Manley Report was released this week. See it here (pdf).

The most interesting reactions:

The Scott Ross blog (as summarized by David Pugliese):

What Mr. Ross found is quite interesting in that there are almost direct passages taken from Mr. Manley’s previous writing in Policy Options which found their way into the Manley panel report. This is now being used by some to suggest Mr. Manley already had some of his conclusions ready to go even before listening to any other arguments/submissions to the contrary. Whatever the reason, it raises more than a few questions.

Here’s some examples from Mr. Ross’s blog:

“On page 4 of the Manley Report it states:

Whenever we asked Afghans what they thought ISAF or Canada should do, there was never any hesitation: “We want you to stay; we need you to stay.” Without the presence of the international security forces, they said, chaos would surely ensue.

Now compare that to what John Manley wrote three months ago, on page 12 in Policy Options:

Whenever we asked Afghans what they thought ISAF or Canada should do, they did not hesitate to say that we must stay. Without the presence of the international forces, chaos would surely ensue."

On his blog Mr. Ross raises the question of whether the Manley panel even asked Afghans what they thought of ISAF and Canada? Or was that just something John Manley had done for his Journal article, and then re-wrote almost word for word for the panel report? It's a good question that should be answered by Mr. Manley. (See the Scott Ross blog entry here.)
The Scott Ross blog continues its probing questions as to the nature of the Manley panel here. It echoes the analysis of Far and Wide blog. As they pointed out, quoting an Ottawa Citizen piece:
Sources at NATO headquarters in Belgium and in the United States have indicated in recent days that two marine battalions being sent to southern Afghanistan for seven months this spring with specific orders to assist the Canadians are likely to be followed by even more marine battalions in 2009 and 2010. ...

The officer, who did not wish to be identified because he was not authorized to speak about the issue, said U.S. help for the Canadians had been in the works for several months. (See Ottawa Citizen here.)
Thus, the Manley panel's recommendation that Canada extend its mission only if NATO allies contribute another 1000 soldiers was perhaps political "bait". And it is one that may be paying off:
OTTAWA — Canadians are giving a supportive welcome to John Manley's report on Canada's involvement in Afghanistan, with 49 per cent of voters surveyed saying they would back extending the mission if Mr. Manley's conditions are met.

By contrast, 35 per cent would oppose extending the mission even if the recommendations were carried out. ... (see Globe and Mail)

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Afghanistan at 'beginning' of war, not end says NGO

I'll continue my trend of this week by relating an item which has been largely ignored by Canada's major media.

The Afghanistan NGO Safety Office (ANSO) is an NGO which deals (as you might guess) with the question of security for other NGOs in Afghanistan. (See for example this report done in conjunction with CARE.) Their latest report (not available online yet it seems) was released to journalists. Here's what AFP said:

Taliban now seriously in the fight, war begins: NGO

(Jan 19) The Taliban last year "seriously rejoined the fight" in Afghanistan, an NGO security group said in a report that concluded the country was "at the beginning of a war, not the end of one."

It has also become clear that the Taliban's "easy departure" in 2001, when a US-led invasion drove them from power, was "more of a strategic retreat than an actual military defeat," the Afghanistan NGO Safety Office (ANSO) said.

"A few years from now, 2007 will likely be looked back upon as the year in which the Taliban seriously rejoined the fight and the hopes of a rapid end to conflict were finally set aside by all but the most optimistic," ANSO said.

About 1,980 civilians were killed in 2007 -- half by insurgents and the rest almost equally by soldiers or criminal groups, the group said. ...

The size of the Taliban force was unknown, but estimates ranged from 2,000 to 20,000.

"There would not appear to be any capacity within ISAF to stop or turn back anticipated AOG (armed opposition groups) expansion," the report said.

"In simple terms, the consensus amongst informed individuals at the end of 2007 seems to be that Afghanistan is at the beginning of a war, not the end of one." ...

"We totally disagree with those who assert that the 'spring offensive' did not happen and would instead argue that a four-fold increase in armed opposition group initiated attacks Feb to July constitutes a very clear-cut offensive," ANSO said. (link)
It seems that this news is not newsworthy, however. While the Ottawa Citizen, the Vancouver Sun and several of the Sun chain's papers (1,2,3) ran the item on their websites, no major broadsheet dailies featured it in their print editions.

** N.B. Trivia Alert: It's possible that the media was distracted from the ANSO report by a visceral reminder of how badly 'the fight' is going in Afghanistan - the bombing of the Serena Hotel in Kabul. Incidentally, the Globe and Mail is an investor in that hotel, through the Aga Khan Foundation.

Monday, January 21, 2008

Boy accuses Canadian troops of killing his family

Canadian soldiers killing Afghan civilians is sadly not a new or unique event. Neither is a round of media silence about such killings.

Just over a year ago, when Canadian troops at a checkpoint shot and killed a well-known Pashtun elder, the Toronto Star ignored the event completely, while the Globe and Mail's lefty columnist Rick Salutin was the only one who mentioned the man in those pages (see Markland, Media blind to Afghan civilians' deaths).

Now, we have the spectacle of a repeat performance. First I append the (edited) story from the Toronto Star (via Canadian Press), then comment on the ever-so-narrow coverage:

Canadian military probes Afghan civilian death; villagers angry at mistake

KANDAHAR - Canadian and coalition forces trying to win the hearts and minds of the Afghan people face the prospect of a new kind of insurgency as a result of mounting civilian casualties from military operations.

Frightened residents in one village say tension is brewing after Canadian gunfire hit civilians during a battle with insurgents about five days before Christmas.

A 12-year-old boy said he was there when soldiers - whom he insisted were Canadian because he recognized their vehicles - shot and killed his father and seven-year-old brother while they tended crops north of Kandahar city.

"I said 'Let's go. Let's run.' But my father said 'What are you talking about? We have shovels in our hands, no one's going to shoot us'," said the boy ...

The villagers believe the troops had returned to recover a vehicle disabled earlier in the day when they were attacked.

"Foreigners don't have eyes. That's my problem with them," said the boy's guardian, a mild-mannered Afghan who works with foreigners and generally supports the presence of coalition troops. ...

A colleague who witnessed another civilian shooting involving British troops in the Dand district of Kandahar said such incidents are inspiring people to take up "jihad," or holy war, against coalition forces as a form of blood debt. ...

Civilian-Military Co-operation teams - CIMIC teams - are usually the first point of contact with civilians who have a complaint.

"In many cases we don't hear about injuries or damage until an individual presents himself to the camp, at which time we take a full report from the individual," she said. "The Military Police do a complete investigation and there's an investigation by the NIS (National Investigation Service) in the most serious of cases."

"If it is confirmed that Canadians are involved in the incident, then we again immediately contact the family members and begin discussions for compensation." ...

Just this week, NATO's International Security Assistance Force stepped up efforts to minimize civilian deaths, unveiling new signs that will be mounted on military vehicles to warn people to stay back or risk getting shot.

While all vehicles are currently equipped with warning signs, ISAF acting chief of theatre force protection Lt.-Col. Bernd Allert said some people have complained the writing isn't clear and that the signs are difficult to see at night.

"When ISAF convoys are on the road it is important that other vehicles around them behave in such a way that they cannot be mistaken for a threat," he said. ...

Jan Mohammed said his 17-year-old son Izatullah and two nephews Asadullah, 18, and Ismatullah, 15, were shot by Canadian troops about six months ago in their village of Kolk, in the volatile Zhari district of Kandahar.

He told the soldiers the young men were innocent and urged them to investigate and provide compensation.

The Canadians, he said, returned during the burial and tested him for explosives before conceding that they had made a mistake.

He met with CIMIC officials at the forward operating base in Zhari and recounted his story to lawyers from Camp Nathan Smith and military brass from Kandahar Airfield before giving up.

"I became confused and wanted to forget about the compensation amount and wanted to get rid of the case. I even signed a piece of paper at KAF (Kandahar Airfield)," he said.

"Shooting innocent people makes one compelled to stand against Canadians." (link)
Just how widely were these revelations carried? Not far at all. The Star of course have it on their web site (though it doesn't appear on their Afghanistan special section page). It was in the print edition of the Star on page 17 (Jan 18). It was also printed in the Prince George Citizen (Jan 18, p. 14) and very briefly in the Hamilton Spectator though apparently nowhere else in print in Canada.

As for web presence, we have the Ottawa Sun's page, the Halifax Chronicle Herald, the Brandon Sun, and a blog or two. Perhaps stopwarblog needs a new slogan: 'Near-exclusive coverage of the Afghan war'.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Media ignore repression of Afghan journalists

We can be quite confident that major media outlets are aware of recent statements of Reporters Without Borders and the Committee to Protect Journalists expressing concern over actions of the Afghan government. Thus it would seem that this news was simply suppressed.

Voices from the mainstream have criticized the Karzai government's heavy-handed approach to press freedom for some time now. Yet the Canadian media is uninterested in shedding light on the repressive side of Karzai's government. And remember, this is an Afghan government with Canadian advisers in various ministries - most of whom are Canadian military. (These role of these advisers - the SAT - has recently been called into question as officials contemplate ending their mission.)

At issue is the case of Sayed Parwez Kambakhsh, a journalism student in Mazar-e-Sharif in the North of Afghanistan about to be tried for blasphemy by a sharia court. His brother Ibrahimi happens to be a reporter with IWPR, known for his criticism of the government. Ibrahim and many of his colleagues believe that Kambakhsh has been targeted because of his brother.


"The calls for the death penalty for Kambakhsh highlight the growing influence of fundamentalist groups on intellectual debate," the organisation said. "The blasphemy charges are an ill-disguised attempt to hide the desire of the local authorities to restrict press freedom." ...

Reporters Without Borders is also very concerned about Ghows Zalmay, a former journalist and attorney-general’s spokesman, who is being held for publishing a translation of the Koran into Dari. He was arrested in early November after conservative religious leaders said the translation was "un-Islamic" and misinterpreted verses about adultery and begging. Parliamentarians have even accused him of being "worse than Salman Rushdie."(link)

Dear President Karzai:

The Committee to Protect Journalists is concerned about your government’s failure to push through proposed media reforms at a time when the Afghan press is growing increasingly restricted. As a nonpartisan, not-for-profit organization of journalists committed to supporting our colleagues around the world, CPJ is troubled by our findings on Afghanistan, which suggest that media policy is increasingly aimed at hampering journalists. ...

* The Council of Religious Scholars has recommended the death penalty for a young reporter and student charged with blasphemy in Mazar-i-Sharif ...

* On January 4, you met with influential clerics who called popular music shows and Indian soap operas broadcast by Tolo TV un-Islamic, according to Agence France-Presse. Shortly after that meeting a communication from Minister Abdul Khuram to private TV channels banned programs contrary to Afghanistan’s culture and laws on threat of referral to the attorney general for prosecution. Saad Mohseni, who runs Tolo and other networks, provided CPJ with a copy of the letter last week. Mohseni told us that NDS representatives reiterated the minister’s ban in a meeting with private TV station heads on January 9.

* In 2002, you pledged to turn state-owned Radio Television Afghanistan (RTA) into a public service broadcaster. Yet your latest recommendations on the proposed media law vetoed the draft proposals to establish an independent commission, including legislative and judicial representatives, to govern RTA on the grounds that they were unconstitutional, local news reports say. RTA’s director of planning and foreign relations, Abdul Rahman Panjshiri, resigned in September 2007, directly citing Minister Khuram’s efforts to curb the station’s independence as his reason. “During my 29 years of service with RTA I have not seen such an attempt to suppress freedom,” he said in comments published on the Web site of Radio Netherlands. (link)
Just how unreported are these cases in Canada? The country's major daily newspapers have NEVER mentioned Mr. Kambakhsh (arrested in October) nor Ghows Zalmay's arrest in November for his unauthorized Koran translation. (Source: Proquest full-text search.) Nor has our national media breathed a word about Minister Khuran's recent declaration restricting Afghan television. A quick google search of blogs finds no Canadian bloggers (besides yours truly) have written about Zalmay, while it seems that just three Canadian blogs have carried the story of Kambakhsh. (1, 2, 3) It is perhaps too much to expect some consistency from those rabid bloggers who berate press policies of official enemies like Iran, Cuba and Venezuela.

'Out of Afghanistan' say British and Canadian people

The above graphs come courtesy of the Afghanistan Conflict Monitor. The full results of the British poll are here (pdf) while the Canadian poll is here (pdf).

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Trajectory of disaster

Paul Weinberg writes an excellent piece in Toronto's Now Magazine, pointing to a fundamental contradiction in the Canadian military's counterinsurgency strategy. The basic problem is that Canadian troops, in an effort to avoid or reduce the effects of insurgent attacks, are kept isolated from Afghan civilians. Rather than a strategy that involves lightly armed foot patrols and development projects (said to be COIN 'best practices' if you will), Canadian troops are patrolling in armoured vehicles and generally pointing a lot of guns at a lot of people. The resulting alienation of the population undermines public support for the occupation forces and thus of the Afghan government.

... “We don’t have as many boots on the ground as the government would like us to think,” [UWO professor Peter Langille] says.

The Canadian Institute of Strategic Studies estimates that of the 2,500 Canadian soldiers in Afghanistan, only about 450 are currently on foot or in armoured vehicles, and another 100 are engaged in big-gun artillery. The rest are playing support roles.

Langille claims Canadian soldiers have been shooting off thousands of rounds of ammunition from their M777 155-millimetre howitzers at suspected insurgents, risking the lives of civilians, rather doing foot patrols and village visits.

These big guns can fire from a distance of 30 to 40 kilometres but do not have pinpoint line-of-sight accuracy.

Described as “area weapons,” they may hit anything or anybody within a 300-metre radius of their target.

He suggests the Canadian Forces are acting out of frustration with the refusal of other NATO countries to provide combat reinforcements. “By the time [the Canadians] chose to deploy tanks and heavy artillery, they had to know they were going to lose [the war]. So they chose systems to lose the fewest people.”
According to UBC prof Michael Wallace:
“The problem is a combat strategy that seeks maximum isolation between the Afghan population and Canadian soldiers, whether it is fast-moving LAVs, tanks, or helicopters. The message is, if we need to use these on a long-term basis, we’ve lost, no matter what the relative body count.
Weinberg continues:
Take what happened in the foreign affairs committee November 27. There, according to committee minutes, Foreign Affairs Deputy Minister Leonard Edwards declared the Afghan mission’s much-vaunted “three Ds” mandate – development, diplomacy and defence – dead as a doornail.

When NDP Foreign Affairs critic Paul Dewar opined that this sounded suspiciously like a policy shift, Edwards waved him off, replying that the change is only a matter of government branches working in one effort. “We don’t have a three-D strategy; we have a one-D strategy – we’re all working together,’’ he said. (link)
It's interesting to compare the comments above, especially Wallace's, with yesterday's blog post here. British forces in Helmand, who famously lack tanks and other heavy armour vehicles, seem to have compensated for their lack of protection. In 13 months, they fired 4 million rounds of ammunition. (See this photo of British troops in Helmand, versus this photo of Canadians in Kandahar.)

Picking up on themes similar to those of Weinberg, the Inter Press Service relates:
Six years on it's understood that the crucial window to inject development and win over disillusioned Pasthuns when the Taliban fled was diverted by the Iraq war. According to the Congressional Research Service, Washington has spent about US$3.4 billion a year on reconstruction, or less than half of what went to Iraq.

The aid that has trickled into Afghanistan has gone almost wholesale towards military expenditures. But the integrated "light footprint" strategy used so effectively to topple the Taliban, in which special forces on horseback and small ground units reinforced Northern Alliance irregulars, was replaced by blast-walled compounds and heavy armor vehicles.
They quote a former practitioner who gives a usable definition of counterinsurgency:
Former marine Captain Nathaniel Fick, a seasoned veteran of the Afghan and Iraq campaigns, highlighted in an August 12 Washington Post op-ed what he called "the paradoxical world of counterinsurgency warfare - the kind of war you win without shooting".

Those now backing on a "surge" of marine manpower to hunt Taliban appear to have forgotten what he reminds us: "The laws of these campaigns seem topsy-turvy by conventional military standards: money is more decisive than bullets; protecting our own forces undermines the US mission; heavy firepower is counterproductive; and winning battles guarantees nothing."
And concerning other COIN approaches:
A related option [i.e. related to a plan to ally with tribal leaders who are hostile to the Taliban] is to ensure that at least some US military aid is tied to specific performance, step up counter-insurgency training for the army and the paramilitary Frontier Corps, and provide $750 million in development aid to FATA over five years as part of a long-term effort to weaken the insurgency.

But Christine Fair, a regional specialist at the Rand Corporation, has argued that such a plan is "four years too late", given the degree to which radical forces have taken control of the region. "I'm not sure who we would spend it on," she said at a recent briefing. (link)

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

UK troops fire 4 million bullets in a year

The Telegraph has a story on yet another instance of the British Labour government's misleading the public. Some weeks ago, senior British officials admitted that British government representatives had in fact been negotiating with the Taliban, despite earlier government claims to the contrary. Now, the Ministry of Defence admits that it previously issued an erroneous report of the number of bullets which their forces had used in Afghanistan. Here's the breakdown of the numbers, including the earlier reported number and the corrected one:

Rounds used [by British troops in Helmand province, Afghanistan]

Aug 2006 - Sept 2007

SA80 (5.56mm)
Original report: 1,100,000
Actual number: 2,020,000

General Purpose Machine Gun (7.62mm)
Original report: 1,600,000
Actual number: 1,830,000

Artillery (105mm) Original report: 12,000
Actual number: 25,000
The shadow defence secretary noted that these figures "call into question [Defence Secretary] Des Browne's judgment that the Taliban poses no strategic threat to the Government of Afghanistan." (link)

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Diplomats 'constrained' by military in Afghanistan

Ottawa's Embassy newsweekly this week has a story on efforts to replace Michel de Salaberry, who returned to Canada in November following a six-month stint as Canada's civilian representative in southern Afghanistan. The fact that his position appears to have sat vacant for two months is testimony to the ambivalent attitude of the Conservative government toward DFAIT and diplomacy. But the Embassy article goes further, quoting the assertions of an NGO official that Canadian diplomats in Afghanistan are following the dictates of the military:

Mr. de Salaberry met civil society officials in Ottawa on Dec. 17 where he presented a mixed review of the situation in Afghanistan.

One NGO representative at the meeting who asked not to be identified said Mr. de Salaberry alternated between positive assessments and the feeling that significant challenges remain. One such problem was that the governor in Kandahar is deeply involved in illegal drug trafficking.

"I'm also convinced that he was clearly constrained," the representative said. "The military called the shots." ... (link)

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

Granatstein's UN fantasies

Historian Jack Granatstein has lately moved from academia to cheer-leading, creating for himself a position as one of the Harper government's most prominent boosters. He has an Op-Ed in the Globe and Mail of January 8. It's subscriber-only but I paste the juicy bits below:

... Paul Martin's government sent troops to Kandahar precisely to play a counterinsurgency role, not for peacekeeping or peacemaking. The government of 2005 understood that there could be no peace until the Taliban were either defeated or had their support reduced to a level at which the elected Karzai government could gradually extend its control across the country.
Granatstein seems to be forgetting the famous observation of Canada's Major-General Leslie: "Every time you kill an angry young man overseas, you're creating 15 more who will come after you." Leslie's statement acknowledges two important things: One, pursuit of a military solution in Afghanistan will only result in a growing insurgency; and two, the NATO war will also cause growing opposition from Afghan civilians.

Granatstein continues:
The opposition parties and those who support them have forgotten a few facts. ... The United Nations authorized the intervention and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization picked up the burden.

In other words, Afghanistan is part of a UN-authorized mission now being conducted by NATO-led forces. Canada, then, is not, as [Defence critic Steven] Staples puts it so crudely, "really fighting for George Bush." It is, in fact, trying to help fulfill a UN mandate. ...
UN mandate? UN authorized? That's a stretch. Here's what one of Canada's leading jurists Osgoode Hall's Michael Mandel has to say about the opening of Operation Enduring Freedom:
The Security Council passed two Resolutions on terrorism between September 11 and America’s attack on Afghanistan on October 7 (SR 1368 of September 12 and SR1373 of September 28). No honest reading of these could possibly conclude that they authorize the use of force. They condemn the attacks of September 11 and take a whole host of measures to suppress terrorism ... [N]ot once does either of these resolutions mention military force or anything like it. They don’t even mention Afghanistan by name. Nor do they use the accepted formula "all necessary means" of Resolution 678 of November 29, 1990 by which the Security Council authorized the Gulf War of 1991.

Absent authorization of the Security Council, the only even barely arguable legal basis for the war in Afghanistan is the right of self-defence preserved by Article 51 of the [UN] Charter ... (
But Article 51 surely doesn't apply either for several reasons, as Mandel explains.

Elsewhere, writing with David Orchard, Mandel and co-author write of the status of ISAF, the multinational force under the NATO umbrella:
... From the start, ISAF put itself at the service of the American operation, declaring "the United States Central Command will have authority over the International Security Assistance Force" (UNSC Document S/2001/1217). When NATO took charge of ISAF, that didn't change anything. NATO forces are always ultimately under U.S. command. The "Supreme Commander" is always an American general, who answers to the U.S. president. (link)
While Granatstein, in concert with many others, sees a UN stamp of approval on America's Afghan war, honest observers should be more skeptical of the oft-repeated claims of government and military officials. The idea that the UN might take an independent stand from the US on such a matter is highly suspect. During the lead-up to the 2001 attack on Afghanistan, Bush administration officials seem to have regarded the UN as their personal clean-up crew: "Let the UN administer [Kabul] or maybe the OIC," Colin Powell advised Bush (OIC is the Organization of the Islamic Conference).
Bush asked [CIA Director George] Tenet, "How do you get the Northern Alliance to accept the Pashtun tribes?"
"The UN administration."
"It's okay with me," Bush said. "No problem with the UN doing Kabul." [Bob Woodward, Bush at War, pp 231, 236]
If you still think that the UN would only ever be backing a "Just War", consider the remarks of former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan when he explained how the UN became involved with the Iraq occupation.
"The Security Council’s mandate was for us to help the Iraqi people. I don’t think one can say that the Security Council sanctioned the occupation of Iraq, it merely noted the occupation of Iraq and asked the UN to help the Iraqi people..." (see reference here.)
Recall that Annan himself, while still S-G, had labeled the US war in Iraq "illegal".

Monday, January 7, 2008

Chalmers Johnson reviews 'Charlie Wilson's War'

Chalmers Johnson was once a Cold Warrior - an academic supporter of the US war in Vietnam and Indochina. Somewhere along the way he had a conversion - like Saul on the road to Damascus, a 180 degree turn, a 360 degree turn - well, whatever you may call it. At any rate he is a leading scholar of Japan with an intense interest in US foreign policy especially its intelligence services.

He reviews the latest Tom Hanks vehicle, "Charlie Wilson's War". Excerpts:

... Wilson's activities in Afghanistan led directly to a chain of blowback that culminated in the attacks of September 11, 2001 and led to the United States' current status as the most hated nation on Earth.

[In 2003] I published a review in the Los Angeles Times of the book that provides the data for the film Charlie Wilson's War. ...

In my review of the book, I wrote,

"The Central Intelligence Agency has an almost unblemished record of screwing up every 'secret' armed intervention it ever undertook. ... Therefore the tale of a purported CIA success story should be of some interest. ...

"Crile's sole measure of success is killed Soviet soldiers (about 15,000), which undermined Soviet morale and contributed to the disintegration of the Soviet Union in the period 1989 to 1991. That's the successful part.

"However, he never once mentions that the 'tens of thousands of fanatical Muslim fundamentalists' the CIA armed are the same people who in 1996 killed nineteen American airmen at Dhahran, Saudi Arabia, bombed our embassies in Kenya and Tanzania in 1998, blew a hole in the side of the U.S.S. Cole in Aden Harbor in 2000, and on September 11, 2001, flew hijacked airliners into New York's World Trade Center and the Pentagon." ...

But there are a number of things both the book and the film are suppressing. As I noted in 2003,

"For the CIA legally to carry out a covert action, the president must sign off on -- that is, authorize -- a document called a 'finding.' Crile repeatedly says that President Carter signed such a finding ordering the CIA to provide covert backing to the mujahideen after the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan on December 24, 1979. The truth of the matter is that Carter signed the finding on July 3, 1979, six months before the Soviet invasion, and he did so on the advice of his national security adviser, Zbigniew Brzezinski, in order to try to provoke a Russian incursion. ...

In the bound galleys of Crile's book, which his publisher sent to reviewers before publication, there was no mention of any qualifications to his portrait of Wilson as a hero and a patriot. Only in an "epilogue" added to the printed book did Crile quote Wilson as saying, "These things happened. They were glorious and they changed the world. And the people who deserved the credit are the ones who made the sacrifice. And then we fucked up the endgame." That's it. Full stop. Director Mike Nichols, too, ends his movie with Wilson's final sentence emblazoned across the screen. And then the credits roll. ...

An Imperialist Comedy

Which brings us back to the movie and its reception here. (It has been banned in Afghanistan.) One of the severe side effects of imperialism in its advanced stages seems to be that it rots the brains of the imperialists. They start believing that they are the bearers of civilization, the bringers of light to "primitives" and "savages"...

Melissa Roddy, a Los Angeles film-maker with inside information from the Charlie Wilson production team, notes that the film's happy ending came about because Tom Hanks, a co-producer as well as the leading actor, "just can't deal with this 9/11 thing."

Similarly, we are told by another insider reviewer, James Rocchi, that the scenario, as originally written by Aaron Sorkin of "West Wing" fame, included the following line for Avrakotos: "Remember I said this: There's going to be a day when we're gonna look back and say 'I'd give anything if [Afghanistan] were overrun with Godless communists'." This line is nowhere to be found in the final film.

Today there is ample evidence that, when it comes to the freedom of women, education levels, governmental services, relations among different ethnic groups, and quality of life -- all were infinitely better under the Afghan communists than under the Taliban or the present government of President Hamid Karzai, which evidently controls little beyond the country's capital, Kabul. But Americans don't want to know that -- and certainly they get no indication of it from Charlie Wilson's War, either the book or the film. ...

My own view is that if Charlie Wilson's War is a comedy, it's the kind that goes over well with a roomful of louts in a college fraternity house. Simply put, it is imperialist propaganda and the tragedy is that four-and-a-half years after we invaded Iraq and destroyed it, such dangerously misleading nonsense is still being offered to a gullible public. The most accurate review so far is James Rocchi's summing-up for Cinematical: "Charlie Wilson's War isn't just bad history; it feels even more malign, like a conscious attempt to induce amnesia." (link)

Prison stats reveal ruse of 'Foreign Taliban'

One of the stock phrases of NATO spokespeople, and thus of their loyal repeaters in the press, is "foreign fighters", or "foreign Taliban". The phrase has some accuracy and utility considering that many southern and eastern Afghans have deep connections with Pakistan, and thus Pakistani nationals are certainly among the insurgents which NATO/US forces are battling. However, those who wield these phrases are usually strongly hinting (or explicitly saying) that Uzbek, Arab and even Chechen fighters operate among the Taliban. Uncritical reporters have retailed these assertions, though supporting evidence has been non-existent.

Now consider a recent New York Times report on a US-run prison in Bagram. The thrust of the article is that the growing insurgency in the country has resulted in the Bagram facility becoming over-crowded, while plans to pass many prisoners on to an Afghan-run prison have stalled. The Red Cross accuses US officials of mistreating prisoners and not allowing Red Cross officials full access to detainees, as required in agreements with that organization. Further, the article cites unnamed US officials who claim that these habeus corpus violations were approved at the highest levels.

Author Tim Golden relates that "the Bagram detention center has become primarily a repository for more dangerous prisoners captured in Afghanistan." That being the case, you would expect that those odious "foreign fighters" who are thought to make up the middle management of the Taliban would be represented in the prison population. Not so.

Of the 630 prisoners thought to be in the US-run prison, "all but about 30 of those prisoners are Afghans, most of them Taliban fighters captured in raids or on the battlefield." And how many of those 30 (some 5% of total prisoners) are Pakistani? Golden apparently didn't learn that, but I would guess all of them are, otherwise we would have heard about a captured Arab or Chechen Taliban.

I have been blogging about the "foreign fighter" rouse since June, when the Globe and Mail's Graeme Smith repeated the NATO line. The problem with such claims is that there has been no evidence presented to substantiate them. No Arab Taliban have been trotted before the cameras. Indeed, even no Uzbek Taliban have been exposed, though it is quite possible that exiled members of Uzbekistan's Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU) do in fact train in the lawless mountains of eastern Afghanistan. And the idea that Chechen fighters, only 500 strong in their homeland and motivated by nationalism not religion, would traipse over to Afghanistan to fight alongside Pashtun fighters is ludicrous on the surface. That, however, has not stopped claims to the contrary.

In September, CanWest's Matthew Fisher reported that Canadian troops face off against Chechen militants. In October, the NYT's David Rohde similarly reported on the presence of Chechens along with Arabs as well as Muslim militants from China. Last week CanWest's reporter on the ground in Kandahar continued the tradition by parroting a Canadian general's line about foreign militants.

Similarly, writing over a year ago veteran Afghanistan reporter Kathy Gannon of the Associated Press related the wild claims of a former Taliban government minister. Gannon was far too credulous of his claims that about 500 Taliban suicide bombers were being trained in 50 camps run by experienced jihadis of Arab and other foreign backgrounds. In truth, as revealed by a UN report on suicide bombing this year, bombers in Afghanistan are clearly not trained by experienced warriors, as their success rate shows.

Friday, January 4, 2008

The 'Blame Iran' scam (with update)

Defense journalist Scott Taylor, editor of Esprit de Corps magazine, takes Peter MacKay to task for his recent statement that IED's in Afghanistan are being supplied from Iran. While MacKay did not specifically accuse the Iranian government of supporting the arms traffic, newspapers like the National Post picked up on the theme and ran with it. Their headline on Dec 26, page one: "Iran Aiding Taliban: MacKay".

Taylor observes that "it is not surprising that MacKay’s allegations of Iranian interference echo those currently emanating from the U.S. State Department." Indeed, US officials have made the same allegation in the past few months. The problem with such accusations is the there is no evidence to back them up. Further, it is obvious to all observers that Iran's influence in Afghanistan is a decidedly stabilizing one. This goes right back to the Bonn conference of January 2002 when Iranian diplomats were an integral part of efforts to establish a new government in Kabul. (See Bob Woodward, Bush at War.)

The reality was acknowledged by Canada's General Laroche, as related by CTV News: Top General says no evidence Iran behind IED's.

Back to Taylor:

To be fair to MacKay, foreign fighters operating in Afghanistan are a major obstacle to NATO’s potential success and eventual withdrawal. However, these are not the idealistic Muslim jihadists, but the roughly 20,000 Western mercenaries employed as private security contractors. Unlicensed and unregistered, these yabobs operate completely outside both Afghan law and coalition forces’ military discipline. ...

If MacKay is serious about plotting a new course for our mission he would be wise to quit reiterating American-generated "blame Iran" rhetoric and start challenging the uncontrolled use of so-called private security mercenaries in Afghanistan.


CanWest's Mike Blanchfield picked up on Taylor's theme and rounded up some more illuminating details:
"I think we're going to have to ask him where he got his information," Brig.-Gen. Marquis Hainse said several days later. ...

His office isn't saying. But his spokesman made clear Friday where it didn't come from: U.S. ambassador David Wilkins, who accompanied MacKay on his lengthy journey to Kandahar.

The original source of the Iran-meddling-in-Afghanistan narrative began with top Bush administration officials. ...

U.S. experts suggest it is unlikely that Tehran is directly supporting the insurgency.

In western Afghanistan, Iran is a positive influence and evidence is easy for any visitor to see, said Anthony Cordesman, a senior analyst with the Centre for Strategic and International Studies in Washington.

In Kandahar, MacKay said he was concerned about information on how to make improvised explosive devices was coming into Afghanistan from Iran.

But Gary Sick, a member of the National Security Council in the 1970s, said there is nothing inherently Iranian about the IEDs. "Anyone with a decent machine shop who knows what they're doing" can build IEDs." (link)

Thursday, January 3, 2008

Militias for Afghanistan

The Financial Times has an interesting piece on British plans for Pashtun tribal militias - known as arbakai. British and Danish military officials are reported to support the idea of establishing the militias in places like Helmand, where British troops lead the NATO efforts. However, the senior NATO general, American Dan McNeill, says such a plan would not work in Helmand though he suggests that in eastern Afghan provinces like Khost the plan might be effective.

... The tribal militia plans have appalled some analysts who say that any attempt to provide tribes with weaponry will further undermine a disarmament process that is already criticised for being ineffective.

Ehsan Zahine, director of the Tribal Liaison Office in Kabul, said it was unlikely that a 200-year-old arbakai system would be effective even in the three south-eastern provinces where it has traditionally held sway.

“In a place like Khost it will be very hard to persuade villages to fight for a government which they regard as abusive. Two years ago our proposal to use arbakai in the south-east was rejected. Now it’s unlikely the tribes would be willing to fight for a government they no longer trust.”

Jelani Popal, the head of the recently created Independent Directorate for Local Administration, is promoting the use of “community self-defence forces” but he told the FT they would have to be relatively formal bodies more akin to a locally recruited police force. In many cases, such local forces would not even be armed.

He said he had come under strong pressure from one of the foreign missions in Kabul to agree to non-uniformed “loose militias”.

“I did not agree to that, we do not want to create mujahedeen groups when we have worked so hard on national disarmament.”

Mr Popal said his proposal was similar to the ill-fated auxiliary police scheme introduced in 2006.

“It was a good idea, but it was badly implemented. Not enough attention was paid to recruitment – people just went to warlords to get 60 people or so. Many of them were drug addicts or criminals, or related to the warlord. We will ensure the community defence forces are properly screened and trained.”

An official at the British embassy in Kabul said the UK was not planning to exactly replicate the arbakai outside the south-eastern border lands. Proposals were being worked out for a small-scale trial of the plan. ... (link)
The reason why an arbakai system might be expected to work in the eastern provinces, while it would not in Helmand, has to do with geography and the nature of Pashtun tribal relations in the two areas. The eastern tribes are located in more mountainous areas where tribal independence is prized - and arguably easier to maintain. (See this photo of a valley in Khost. Notice the mountains which hem the valley in.) Thus, it would be relatively straightforward to establish an arbakai (or legitimize existing ones) on a valley-by-valley basis in the region. In Helmand, by contrast, the tribes are federated into the Durrani or Ghilzai tribal confederations. (Notice too, the typical geography of southern Helmand - see this photo.) Thus, attempts by British forces to put arbakai in charge of a given area in Helmand would run up against the desires of these larger Pashtun tribal federations.

Readers may recall that US officials recently floated the idea of using Pakistani tribal militias in their counter-insurgency efforts on the other side of the Durand line.

Wednesday, January 2, 2008

Majority of Canadians say no to extended mission

An Angus Reid poll released on New Year's Day finds that a majority of those polled do not want to see the Afghan mission extended beyond Feb 2009. (Link to press release. Link to full poll results - pdf.)

Do you agree or disagree with this statement? - Canada should extend the mission in Afghanistan beyond February 2009

Dec. 2007

Jul. 2007







Not sure



Rubin on 9/11

Barnett Rubin, the leading scholar on Afghanistan, was in Manhattan on Sept 11/01. He wrote about it on his blog recently:
... I went up to the roof of a friend's apartment building, together with a friend of hers whom I did not know. It was about noon. The Towers had collapsed, and we saw the huge clouds of smoke. At that time we didn't know about the heroic achievement of the New York Police and Fire Department in evacuating people from the buildings. I thought I was watching the death of 10,000, maybe 20,000 people. And I was pretty sure who was responsible. I had been writing about the "Arab Islamists in Afghanistan" since 1989. Now I knew why Ahmad Shah Massoud had been assassinated two days earlier, on September 9, 2001, in Afghanistan's first suicide bombing.

My old friend (she had been a fellow student of my wife at the University of Chicago 30 years before), knowing of my "expertise," asked me the question I dread, What happens now? My standard answer is that I am not an expert on the future; I have never even been there. But on September 11, 2001, I lost my pessoptimistic irony. I didn't know what would happen. But I knew what I feared: that the U.S. would lash out in anger, blaming Afghans for an act planned in their country by a group they did not control. "I hope we don't just carpet-bomb Qandahar," I said. I don't recall what my friend's friend said exactly, but it was something like, "Kill them all." And this was within shouting distance of where Bob Dylan and Joan Baez started their careers when I was in junior high school. ... (link)

Tuesday, January 1, 2008

2500 Afghan protesters angered by US

Some 2500 residents of Nangarhar province gathered to demand the release of a tribal leader held by US-led forces.

JALALABAD, Dec 30 (Pajhwok Afghan News): Hundreds of demonstrators in Sherzad district of eastern Nangarahar province on Sunday demanded the release of tribal elder detained by coalition forces.

Tribal elder Zabit Zahir was arrested on Dec 26th in the district.

About 2500 residents and tribal elders of the district marched from Bagh-i-Omomi to Mamakhil village on Sunday morning.

The protesters were asking early release of the elder and an end to unauthorized operations in the area.

Haji Rahmatullah, a tribal elder told Pajhwok Afghan News the march was peaceful.

He however warned if such arrests and operations continued against the tribal elders and residents they will stop cooperation with coalition forces and Afghan government.

Through a written resolution the protesters demanded that all the prisoners arrested by coalition forces should be released in Nangarhar province.

The written resolution said: "If the detention of tribal elders was not stopped, the deterioration of security situation will be the responsibility on those who do such actions"

The resolution said Zabit Zahir is a well-known tribal elder and has worked for peace, if the coalition forces have any evidence against him, they should make it public.

Khybar Momand, district chief of Sherzad told this news agency the protest ended peacefully and police had taken strict security measures.

... Meanwhile coalition forces said they have arrested Zabit Zahir accused of supporting the opposition. (link)
While US-led forces in Nangarhar had to deal with peaceful protests, a CanWest dispatch tells of Canadian soldiers in Kandahar encountering a more 'kinetic' form of protest:
Allison Lampert
CanWest News Service

ZHARI DISTRICT, Afghanistan (Jan 1/07) The soldiers of B Company had spent months preparing for Afghanistan, but the harshness of the war they were about to fight really hit them at their going-away party in June. ...

During the next few months, Canadian troops would expand their presence on the ground throughout Zhari district. Roads that were ominously quiet when the soldiers started their tour are now lined with children.

A few throw rocks, but the vast majority wave at the Canadian convoys. (link)