Thursday, March 27, 2008

Only Afghan media reveal civilian death toll

Picking through the Afghan media, one often finds reports of incidents which went unreported in the Western press. Such is the case with this article:

Helmand dwellers protest NATO operation

LASHKARGAH - Mar 9 (Pajhwok Afghan News): Nad Ali district residents staged a protest demonstration on Sunday against a NATO troops operation that killed two people in the southern Helmand province.

At least 400 protestors, who migrated to the Nad Ali from Washer district due to a severe drought and persisting insecurity, took rallied against the civilian slayings.

A day earlier, the demonstrators claimed, the foreign troops raided a house, killing two people including a child and detained another.

One participant Abdur Razzaq, in a chat with Pajhwok Afghan News, demanded of the government to investigate the incident. If the demand was not met, he warned, the people themselves would take action against the troops.

"We are poor people with no links to militants. Why are the troops killing us?" asked Noor Muhammad, who complained they continued to suffer both at the hands of the guerrillas as well as security forces. ...

A NATO spokesman in the province has confirmed the killings during a search operation of a house in the district. However, he explained the irresponsible attitude of the house owner provoked the troops into opening fire at them. (link)
Following shortly after that incident, as readers may recall, NATO forces killed four civilians in an air attack in Helmand on about March 12.

Now again, the Afghan press relates another incident of civilians killed which the foreign press didn't mention:
NATO airstrike kills 13 civilians in Helmand, locals say

LASHKARGAH - Mar 14 (Pajhwok Afghan News) Residents of Grishk district in southern Helmand province claim 13 civilians including women and children were killed by bombings of foreign troops.

However a spokesman for British forces in Helmand confirming the bombing claimed several Taliban militants were killed in the attack.

Mohammadullah, a resident of Grishk told Pajhwok Afghan News 13 civilians were killed in the air strike in Hyderabad village of the district. Another resident Mohammad Shoib also confirming the killing of civilians said the bombing started after Taliban attacked a patrolling party of NATO forces. ...

Though NATO forces had announced two months back that the Hyderabad area had been recaptured from the militants[,] local people claim Taliban still dominate[ ] the area. (link)
Residents of Helmand got no reprieve, as just three days later in Sangin district, it happened again. "Local lawmakers and Sangin residents said at least 50 people were killed when NATO jets bombed an area where people were playing games," said the VOA News.

No this revealing incident, not covered by the Western press at all it seems:
NATO troops fire on reporters in Ghazni

GHAZNI CITY - Mar 26 (Pajhwok Afghan News): NATO troops opened fire on a vehicle of reporters accompanying the Afghan National Army (ANA) in the Andar district of the restive Khost province on Tuesday.

The group of reporters with ANA soldiers was to monitor aid distribution in the Taliban-infested southern province. As a result of fire from ISAF personnel, the reporters vehicle flipped over.

Reporters of Pajhwok Afghan News (PAN), BBC, Bakhtar News Agency (BNA) and Radio/Television Authority (RTA) were travelling in the vehicle. Some of the journalists were slightly injured in the accident.

Ghazni-based BBC reporter Asadullah Jalalzai, who linked the incident to lack of coordination between ANA and NATO forces, slammed US troops as arrogant. He said the foreign forces always treated passenger vehicles in a rash manner.

"We were companying the ANA convoy and the NATO personnel who opened fire on us did not bother to stop for investigation or help," Jalalzai charged.

BNA reporter Raz Muhammad accused the foreign [troops] of failing to differentiate between civilians and militants. The ISAF and US troops always targetted civilians, he claimed. ... (link)
With all this obvious discontent, it is tempting to suppose there is more going on than meets the eye in this report:
Afghan Government Seeks Exit Of Foreign Army Bases From Kabul

KABUL - Mar 26 (AFP) An Afghan parliamentary committee is working on a draft proposal to demand foreign forces move their bases out of central Kabul to ease congestion in the overcrowded capital, an official said.

Traffic in the densely populated city is often gridlocked because of the presence of barriers that block roads in.

The situation compounds further by concrete anti-blast blocks positioned around foreign military bases, some of them in the heart of the capital.

"International forces should remove their military bases from the city center to the suburbs," Kabir Ranjbar, head of the lower house's inspection and oversight on law implementation committee, said Wednesday. ...

Ranjbar said the proposal will also include a suggestion that the troops stop patrolling the city which was hampering the traffic.

"I think there's no need for foreign soldiers to patrol the city. Now we have our own security forces to do the job," he said. ... (link)

Those last words seem like an echo of Education Minister Atmar's recent call for Afghans to take over security from foreigners (blogged here). And don't forget that last month, when President Karzai was away on holidays, a government-run paper's editorial called for foreign armies to set a pull-out date.

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