Saturday, August 30, 2008

More dead civilians, more denials

From Agence France-Presse:

5 Afghans die in US-led strikes

KABUL, Aug 30 (AFP) - Two senior Afghan police officers alleged Saturday that the US-led coalition killed five civilians in airstrikes aimed at Taliban insurgents, but the force denied causing any civilian casualties...

“Five civilians, including two women and a child, were killed in an airstrike by coalition forces early this morning,” Sayed Sakhidad, criminal investigation police chief for Kapisa province outside Kabul, told AFP.

Five Taliban were also killed, he said. Kapisa’s deputy provincial police chief Abdul Hamid Hakimi also said, “Five civilians and as many rebels, including a militant commander, were killed in the strikes.”

He gave the names of the civilian dead, whom he said were from the same family and included two females and three males, one of them 17 years old.

The coalition dismissed the allegations. “There were no civilian casualties in that incident,” a spokesman said. The coalition said in a statement earlier that “several militants” were killed in the operation in Kapisa’s Nijrab district, which started Friday.

Troops were looking for a Taliban commander involved in smuggling weapons and attacks on foreign soldiers when they came under attack from a compound, the coalition said... (link)
The grim toll for August:

Aug 4: US troops in Ghazni province kill five civilians.
Aug 7: US troops kill five civilians in Ghazni.
Aug 9: NATO airstrike kills between 11 and 31 civilians in Kapisa.
Aug 12: NATO troops kill driver in Helmand.
Aug 13: NATO airstrike kills 3 children in Logar.
Aug 16: Local officials say NATO bombing kills 11 civilians in Ghazni.
Aug 17: NATO rocket attack kills 3 civilians in Helmand.
Aug 19: German NATO troops in Badakhshan province shoot and kill a man later said to have been a civilian.
Aug 21: US-led forces call airstrikes that kill between 12 and 20 civilians in Laghman province. (One report cites locals saying at least 24 civilians were killed.)
Aug 22: US special forces accompanying Afghan troops called in an airstrike in Shindand district of Herat. Estimates by Afghan and UN officials, journalists and the AIHRC range from 78 to 95 civilians dead. Locals say no insurgents were present at the time of the attack.
Aug 27: American-led soldiers kill Afghan national cricket star Rahmat Wali in a raid on his home in Khost.
Aug 28: In Kunduz, German (or Afghan) troops open fire on a vehicle, killing two children and a woman.
Aug 30: In Kapisa, an airstrike in support of US-led forces kills five civilians, according to police officials.
Total: 139 to 184 civilians killed.*

July's toll revisited:

July 3: Six civilians killed in US-led airstrike in Farah.
July 4: Seventeen civilians killed in US airstrike in Nuristan.
July 6: US airstrike in Nangarhar kills 47 to 52 civilians in wedding party - mostly women and children.
July 9: In Logar province, NATO troops kill a civilian man and injure his wife in a house raid.
July 9: Red Cross says 250 civilians dead in five days (i.e. July 4 - 8). The NGO blames both insurgents and NATO/US forces and their Afghan allies.
Jul 15: NATO airstrike kills eight (perhaps nine) civilians - mostly women and children - in Farah.
July 16: Local officials say over 50 civilians killed by NATO airstrikes in Herat.
July 19: NATO forces kill four (perhaps seven) civilians with mortars in Paktika.
July 20: Airstrike kills nine Afghan police in Farah. Other reports say it was four police and five civilians.
July 26: British NATO troops in Helmand shoot and kill four civilians at checkpoint.
July 26: NATO airstrike kills civilian couple in their home in Kapisa.
July 27: Canadian NATO troops in Kandahar fire on a vehicle and kill two children.
July 29: An ISAF helicopter kills six civilians in Kunar province, according to local officials.
Total: 147 to 161 civilians killed.*

* Totals are based on the author's own tallies of all available reports of Afghan civilians killed by troops of NATO's International Security Assistance Force and the US-led Operation Enduring Freedom.

When civilians are shot

On Thursday August 28, a woman and two children were killed, and perhaps four children wounded (or five wounded including three minors), at a checkpoint in northern Afghanistan run by German and Afghan troops. The governor and the police chief of the province of Kunduz both say it was German soldiers who fired the fatal shots. The Afghan press reports that this is yet another attack on a group of wedding-goers:

From Pajhwok Afghan News:

German troops kill woman, two children

KUNDUZ, Aug 30 (PAN) - Three civilians - a woman and two children - were killed as foreign troops fired at a wedding procession in the northern Kunduz province, a top government official alleged on Friday.

Governor Eng. Muhammad Omar told Pajhwok Afghan News firing from the foreign soldiers wounded another five people including three minors.

The marriage party came under fire on its way from Khanabad district to the provincial capital. The incident took place late Thursday night in the Malarghay area, the governor said, adding the German forces fired at two vehicles of the wedding guests. The soldiers hit the cars after the drivers flouted signals to stop... (link)
The German press has more details:
Three Afghan civilians dead
Police Chief Accuses German Soldiers of Shooting

AUGUST 29 - An Afghan police chief has accused German soldiers of killing two children and a woman in Kunduz after opening fire on a civilian car that didn't slow down at a checkpoint. Berlin has not yet confirmed the details of the incident but says the matter is being investigated.

German soldiers stationed in Afghanistan opened fire on a civilian vehicle after it failed to slow down for a checkpoint in northern Kunduz province, Kunduz Chief of Police and Security Abdul Rahman Aqdash told SPIEGEL ONLINE on Friday. The incident occurred just before 10 p.m. on Thursday, according to official reports.

Aqdash says two cars of the same make approached the checkpoint from the north. One turned around just before the checkpoint and the second followed suit at the last moment. Security forces made up of German ISAF soldiers and Afghan police thought they were dealing with drug dealers or members of the Taliban. Aqdash claims that German soldiers then opened fire on the back of the second car. The driver survived, but two children and one woman were killed... (link)
Interestingly, the latest incident comes close on the heels of an incident last week where German troops killed their first Afghan - who turned out to be a shepherd, not an insurgent according to the chief of police:
German Troops Kill First Person in Afghanistan

AUGUST 21 - Six years into its Afghanistan mission, the German army has killed a person there for the first time. Reports, though, are conflicting. While some speak of a firefight, others say it was an unarmed shepherd...

According to a report in the Rheinische Post on Thursday, a German patrol was attacked late on Tuesday night not far from the base in Faisabad. The soldiers on the patrol, none of whom were injured, returned fire and killed one person. The event is noteworthy because it marks the first time in the six-year operation that the German army has killed someone there.

The person they killed, though, may not have been from the Taliban at all. According to a Wednesday report in the German news agency DPA, the victim may have been an unarmed shepherd. The agency cites the police chief from the province of Badachshan, Agha Noor Keentoz, as saying that the man merely wanted to signal the patrol away from his herd of sheep. The German army, the Bundeswehr, is investigating the incident together with state prosecutors... (link)
Meanwhile Canadian troops, themselves still reeling from having killed two children at a highway checkpoint a few weeks ago (see here), found themselves repeatedly firing warning shots to deter civilian motorists.

Edmonton Journal reporter Graham Thomson was recently embedded with Canadian troops in Kandahar city when they fired warning shots at three separate vehicles in the space of 30 minutes - an unprecedented event, according to officials. In the first case, the driver was the son of an Afghan military commander, the second an off-duty cop and the third was a contractor at a Canadian military base. All drivers were unhurt though in one of the encounters, a ricocheting shot injured an elderly man standing nearby.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Oliver North: witness

American officials are still denying that US-led forces killed upwards of 90 civilians, as claimed by several investigations. This is perhaps not surprising, as it repeats the performance witnessed after the Nangarhar wedding bombing in July. Following that incident, US officials dismissed local claims of scores of dead civilians even as Afghan government officials and international journalists confirmed a body count of at least 47 civilians. And going further back, US officials also dismissed similar claims one year ago in Helmand province.This time, US officials have again called accusations of a massacre "Taliban propaganda," according to the BBC's Alister Leithead, reporting from Kabul. He also reveals that:

Every night for the past week the state-run national television station has been running stories showing strong anti-American feeling among Afghan people. (link)
If US denials and civilian anger are not news, what is more surprising in recent reports is the background information. According to Fisnik Abrashi and Jason Struziuso of the Associated Press, it is indeed the case that American special forces accompanied Afghan army commandos for the ground portion of the operation.

What is more, these special forces were accompanied by an embedded reporter named Oliver North - yes, that Oliver North. Also, it appears the bulk of the apparent victims of the tragedy came from one family whose head was a security contractor to US forces in Afghanistan:
In a report after the raid, Oliver North, a Fox News reporter who accompanied the U.S. special forces unit during the firefight, interviewed an unidentified American major on camera who said credible information had come from a council of local tribal elders indicating a Taliban meeting would be held in the village.A top NATO official, speaking on condition of anonymity because the results of the U.S. investigation have not been released, said the U.S. and Afghan troops were fired on first when they moved into the village before dawn.

He said combat spanned several hours, during which troops called in airstrikes from Apache helicopters, AC-130 gunships and Predator drones.

The clash destroyed or damaged 15 houses, the official said. Afghan officials give similar accounts of the extent of the damage on the property.

The U.S. and Afghan troops stayed in the village until 8 a.m. and counted 30 dead — 25 militants and five civilians, the NATO official said. The target of the operation, a militant named Mullad Siddiq, was killed, and there were no reports of mass casualties among civilians, the NATO official said...

Ahmad Nader Nadery, the head of Afghanistan's Independent Human Rights Commission, said his investigators concluded 91 people were killed in Azizabad: 59 children, 19 women and 13 men.

Nadery said 76 of the victims belonged to one large, extended family — that of Timor Shah's brother, who is named Reza. Reza was also killed, Nadery said.

Nadery said Reza, whose compound bore the brunt of the attack, had a private security company that worked for the U.S. military at nearby Shindand airport and was thus unlikely to be a Taliban member.

Afghan officials who were part of government investigative commissions claimed Thursday there were no insurgents among the civilians killed.

Nek Mohammad Ishaq, a provincial council member in Herat and a member of both government delegations sent to Azizabad, said that when he visited the village hours after the raid, he counted 76 dead civilians laid on the grounds of the mosque.

More bodies were brought out of the ruins the next day, he said.

"Some of them were decapitated, some did not have a hand. Each body was photographed," Ishaq said.

He said photographs and video of the victims were with Afghanistan's secretive intelligence service. The spokesman for the service, Sayed Ansari, would not confirm or deny that officials held such evidence... (link)
Earlier posts on the Shindand incident here, here, here, here and here.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

US-led forces kill cricket star

From Radio Free Europe:

Afghan Cricket Star Reportedly Killed In U.S.-Led Raid

AUGUST 27 - Rahmat Wali, a 28-year-old former member of Afghanistan's national cricket team, reportedly was killed overnight during a raid on his home by coalition troops.

According to several Afghan officials, Wali was killed while the forces were searching his home in the village of Kheder Pirano west of Khost city -- the provincial capital of Afghanistan's southeastern province of Khost...

The head of the Khost Provincial Council, Austad Tajali, also told RFE/RL's Radio Free Afghanistan that Wali was killed in the raid.

Aziz Malang Zazai, who heads operations in Khost Province for the Afghan Olympic Committee, told RFE/RL what he had learned about the incident.

"Overnight, at about 2 o'clock in the morning, coalition forces killed our best player, Rahmet Wali," Zazai said. "He had played on the Afghan national cricket team from 2002 to 2006... He was martyred in his house. It was a cruel act." ... (link)
Reuters cites two officials who say that Wali's brother was arrested in the raid.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

A losing war

Anthony Cordesman is a senior analyst at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington. The Independent quotes him:

"The US is now losing the war against the Taliban. Pakistan may officially be an ally but much of its conduct has made it a major threat to US strategic interests." ... (link)
Pakistan's presidential hopeful Asif Ali Zardari, the widower of Benazir Bhutto, echoes this assessment. He says the Taliban have "the upper hand". A Russian statesman has similar comments:
NATO will be defeated in Afghanistan without Russia's help - Rogozin

MOSCOW, Aug 26 - The NATO operation in Afghanistan will not be successful without Russia's assistance, said Russia's ambassador to NATO Dmitry Rogozin.

"Without our help the whole campaign will fail. It will be another Vietnam," he told a press conference at the Interfax head office on Tuesday.

Moscow "did everything it could to keep this cooperation going," he said.

"It would be madness if NATO further deteriorates its relations with Russia," the Russian official said.

Currently, all NATO cargoes are going through Pakistan, which has certain risks, and up to 40% is being either lost or stolen on the way, he said.

"And after the resignation of Pervez Musharraf we expect this situation to get much worse," Rogozin said... (link)
Meanwhile, Reuters reports that militants in Karachi, Pakistan set fire to two armored personnel carriers (APCs) destined for U.S. forces in Afghanistan, according to police.

Herat: tragedy and denial

Now that the UN, Afghanistan's human rights commission, the Afghan government, and journalists, have each investigated the Azizabad incident in Herat and all concluded that there were scores of civilians killed, the US military still maintains that 25 Taliban and five civilians were killed:

UN accuses US-led troops in deaths of Afghans

KABUL, Aug 26 (AP) - In a stark warning to U.S. forces, the Afghan government said it will try to regulate the presence of U.S. troops and their use of airstrikes, while the U.N. on Tuesday announced that "convincing evidence" exists that an American-led operation killed 90 civilians.

The U.N. sent in a team of investigators, who relied solely on villagers' statements in alleging the American-led operation in the western province of Herat on Friday killed 60 children and 30 adults. The U.S. military stood by its account, that 25 militants and five civilians were killed in the operation...

The U.N. said that "residents were able to confirm the number of casualties, including names, age and gender of the victims."

"The destruction from aerial bombardment was clearly evident with some 7-8 houses having been totally destroyed and serious damage to many others," the statement said... (link)
True to character, the Institute for War and Peace Reporting got Afghan journalists to interview locals. Their piece reveals that the Afghan government commission sent to investigate the incident found that no Taliban were killed by the bombs and further that no Taliban were present in Azizabad at the time of the attack:
Afghans Incensed by Air Attack on Village
By Sayed Yaqub Ibrahimi and Sadeq Behnam

KABUL and HERAT, Aug 26 (IWPR)

... “Americans think that all Afghans are terrorists, and they send rockets and missiles against us,” said Gulbuddin, a resident of Azizabad. “I myself buried more than 50 women and children. Are all of them terrorists?”

According to the New York Times, the bomb struck a gathering of local people who had gathered to honour the memory of a man who died one year earlier.

This was borne out by Fatima, 25, who lost eight members of her family, including her husband and children, in the attack. She spoke to IWPR from her hospital bed in Herat, where she wept and cursed those who carried out the air strike.

“We were holding a memorial service in our home,” she said, tears running down her face. “Suddenly the infidels attacked and I lost consciousness. When I came to, I was in hospital, and they told me that all of my family were dead and already buried. Was my two-year-old child a terrorist? Then am I not also a terrorist? Why did they let me live?” ...

Naimatullah Shahrani, the Minister for the Hajj who was appointed head of a presidential commission tasked with investigating the Azizabad attack, told IWPR that no insurgents were killed.

According to our investigation, there was not a single armed individual from the opposition in the area,” he said...

Residents of Azizabad protested when the commission attempted to distribute funds, throwing rocks and forcing them out of the area.

A television report showed one angry father, who screamed at the camera, “Karzai can keep his money. I want my child. Will this money bring him back?” ...

The Taleban were better than this puppet government and its masters,” said Nur Ahmad, 55, who said he was saved by a rescue team in Azizabad after being buried in rubble by the attack. “The Taleban would at least distinguish between civilians and enemies. But these thugs think everybody is their enemy.” (link)
The Guardian adds that the government commission found that 15 Afghan civilians were injured in the airstrike, (rather than six as reported earlier) while the Sunday Mail states that eight (rather than six) civilians were injured in the clash between Afghan soldiers and angry locals:
Soldiers were also blamed for wounding eight people in the target village after they threw stones at them as they handed out food yesterday... (link)
Meanwhile, the National Post relates the words of a resident of Azizabad:
Haji-Gul Ahmad, who lost family members in the attack, said several relatives were there for the funeral of his brother and were staying in the area that was hit. He said one family lost 76 members in the raid.

"We are not helping the Taliban, nor were they in the village," Mr. Ahmad said in a telephone interview Tuesday. "We don't know why the coalition forces raided our village with blind eyes. This does not make sense."

Mr. Ahmad said there have been protests at the Aziz Bad police station since and locals have been throwing stones at coalition forces who are trying to administer humanitarian aid in the area... (link)
Mr. Ahmad's comment that coalition forces were handing out aid indicates that foreign troops have attempted to dispense aid, which suggests that foreign troops may have been present, or involved, when the Afghan troops injured the eight civilians.

(Earlier entries on the Herat tragedy: First, second, third.)

Monday, August 25, 2008

Taliban rule near Kabul

The Guardian's Jason Burke, author of the stand-out book on Al Qaeda, is a respected and resourceful journalist. On assignment in Afghanistan for some time now, he has evidently been able to develop a decent network of contacts, allowing him to write about things most journalists cannot:

Taliban win over locals at the gates of Kabul

MAIDAN SHAH, Aug 24 - While clashes in remote Helmand dominate the headlines, another battle is being waged by the insurgents on Kabul's doorstep. There, the Taliban are winning support by building a parallel administration, which is more effective, more popular and more brutal than the government's...

'The war in the south is basically a tough, bitterly fought stalemate,' admitted one senior Nato officer last week. 'It is around Kabul that the Taliban must now be stopped.' ...

Although news bulletins inside and outside Afghanistan are dominated by bomb blasts or clashes, the real strength of the insurgents lies not in their ability to ambush convoys or plant roadside bombs but in the parallel administration they have managed to establish in huge areas across the south and east of Afghanistan. There they make the law, enforcing a harsh, but sometimes welcome, order while intimidating any dissenters. Their strategy is deliberate and long-term. From this new position of strength, they are building durable networks of support. What has happened in Wardak province shows how they have done it.

The only cases that come before Amanullah Ishaqzai, a government judge in Wardak, are those which require an official stamp or disputes among the province's mainly Shia Muslim Hazara ethnic minority, who have historically suffered at the hands of the Sunni Pashtun tribes who make up the bulk of the Taliban. Most of the province's 800,000 inhabitants, mainly peasants, go to the insurgents for rough but often effective justice...

Every villager has stories of how the Taliban settle the myriad property disputes which mark Afghan society. In scores of cases, Ishaqzai said, he had convened a traditional tribal council with an Islamic scholar as a judge rather than send cases to higher courts...

Last year human rights groups in Afghanistan estimated that the Taliban had executed between 70 and 90 people in the villages they control and punished thousands more for criminal acts.

Often such acts are popular. According to Hotak, the first act of the Taliban in the villages near his home had been to announce that they would take responsibility for law enforcement. 'They said they were responsible for every chicken,' Hotak said. 'People believe them. When they kill a robber, everyone is happy.'

A government minister talked of how in his own village earlier this month a shopowner had complained to the Taliban after being robbed and had got his goods back after the insurgents simply circulated a 'night letter'...

Ismatullah the elder was clear. 'When the Taliban were in power, you could drive all the way to Kandahar [Afghanistan's second city, 250 miles away] with a bag of money and no one would touch you,' he said. 'Now the government are thieves. Since 2001 nothing has changed, except security is worse.' ...

'The police know that, if they stay in their station and do nothing, the Taliban leave them alone and only launch attacks in the next district,' said one elder from the small town of Chak...

In some areas they control, the Taliban enforce their strict interpretation of Islamic law, banning music and television. Men who do not wear long beards are roughed up or threatened. Wedding parties find unwelcome guests arriving to check for 'immoral behaviour' and to help themselves to the food. Schools, especially those for girls, are regularly burnt. In other areas, the local commanders are more lenient, restricting themselves to punishing 'criminals' and 'spies'...

[R]efugees who have fled from the province to Kabul said that exploitation of local communities by the Taliban was rare. 'They ask the landowners for food, but not us,' said Roz Ali, 42. 'Anyway we have nothing to give.' However, taxes are sometimes levied on farm production - including opium...

In some instances, young men are pressured to join the ranks of the insurgents, sometimes for a single operation...

Intelligence estimates obtained by The Observer conservatively place the strength of the Wardak Taliban at about 800 lightly armed men, split into dozens of different factions...

There are signs that the insurgents are penetrating the capital itself. Ten days ago authorities reported a 'rocket strike' on the newly refurbished airport. Only it was not rockets, which have a range of many miles, that were fired at the terminal but rocket-propelled grenades, launched from 200 metres away... (link)
Similarly, the Times reports on the threats to Kabul:
In the past month, [militants] have stepped up attacks on the road from Kabul to Pakistan via Jalalabad - the main supply route for food, fuel and water...

“We're seeing history repeat itself,” said Haroun Mir, co-founder of the Afghanistan Centre for Research and Policy Studies and a former aide to Ahmad Shah Massoud, the assassinated Mujahidin commander. “The Taleban's trying to cut the main roads to Kabul to target supplies for foreign forces, just like the Mujahidin did with the Soviets. If the highways are cut even for two days, it could also create riots in the city.”

Kabul is vulnerable to blockades because it is surrounded by mountains and has to ship in supplies on three roads leading north, east and southwest. The British learnt this the hard way during the siege of Kabul in 1841, documented by Lady Florentia Sale in A Journal of the Disasters in Afghanistan. “Khojeh Meer says that he has no more grain,” she wrote on December 3, 1841. “He also says that the moolahs have been to all the villages and laid the people under ban not to assist the English and that consequently the Mussulman population are as one man against us.” A month later, the British began their retreat from Kabul...

Local officials say that the Taleban, which derive most of their support from ethnic Pashtuns, are enlisting villages around Kabul and feeding off frustration with the lack of development since 2001. They fear that the next target will be the northern routes to the borders of Uzbekistan and Tajikistan... (link)
August 2007: IWPR reports from Taliban-ruled Musa Qala district in Helmand where the Taliban had allowed schools to operate, allowed men to shave their beards, and other relatively moderate policies.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Herat bombing toll: 90 civilians (updated)

An Afghan government investigation has found that 90 civilians - 60 children and teens, 15 women, 15 men - were killed and six civilians were injured. The US government appears to have acknowledged civilian casualties but has not named a number.

Radio Free Europe has the story:

Afghanistan Concludes 90 Civilians Killed In Coalition Air Strike
By Abubakar Siddique

AUG 24 - An Afghan government investigation has found that some 90 civilians, including 60 children and teenagers, were killed in a coalition air strike in a village in the western Afghan province of Herat on August 22.

Afghan President Hamid Karzai strongly condemned the deaths and sacked two senior Afghan military commanders for negligence...

A survivor of the August 22 air strike in Azizabad village in Shindand district of Herat Province told RFE/RL that he lost 11 family members in the bombing. He blamed local authorities for feeding the wrong information to coalition troops.

“The district governor [of Shindand district] has grievances with the residents of Zer Koh [where Azizabad village is located]," the man said. "He gave them wrong information, and they bombed us all and spared nobody.”...

First Lieutenant Nathan Perry, a spokesman for the U.S.-led coalition in Afghanistan, told RFE/RL on August 23 that the United States was not aware of any civilian casualties having occurred in the operation...

On August 24, without confirming the reports of 90 deaths, Tony Fratto, a spokesman for U.S. President George W. Bush, said, "We regret the loss of life among the innocent Afghanis who we are committed to protect. Coalition forces take precautions to prevent the loss of civilians, unlike the Taliban and militants who target civilians and place civilians in harm's way." ... (link)
Note that the survivor interviewed attests that a local authority used the US/NATO air force to settle scores or otherwise advance his own agenda. This isn't the first time such accusations have been made by Afghans, though obviously it's hard to tell if those accusations are themselves disinformation.

Meanwhile, Reuters adds some details to Saturday's protest in Shindand, saying that residents condemned both the Afghan military and the United States. According to Reuters:
Hundreds of people demonstrated in Shindand district on Saturday, saying Americans should withdraw from the area.

"We will continue our demonstration till the international community listens to us and bring those who carried out yesterday's attack to justice," village elder Shah Nawaz told Reuters...

The demonstrations erupted in Shindand after Afghan soldiers arrived in the area to bring aid to the victim's families, Nawaz said, adding Afghan soldiers fired shots into the air and wounded six people after the crowd threw stones.

"People didn't accept the aid and started throwing stones at the soldiers saying the Afghan army is our enemy, we don't want anything from our enemies," he said... (link)
The Guardian's correspondent Jason Burke relates one local man's personal tally:
Mawlawi Gul Ahmed, a local elder and MP for the Shindand area in the southwest of the country, where the attack took place early on Friday, said he had spoken to villagers who had buried 92 bodies, including women and children... (link)
And Carlotta Gall of the New York Times relays the Afghan government's latest estimate of 95 dead civilians:
Afghan president decries airstrike he says killed 95

KABUL, Aug 24 - President Hamid Karzai strongly condemned a coalition airstrike that he said killed up to 95 Afghan civilians in a village in western Afghanistan...

Government officials who traveled to the village of Azizabad in Herat province yesterday said the death toll had risen from 76 to 95, making it one of the deadliest bombing strikes on civilians in six years of the war... (link)

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Investigations confirm devastation

The Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission sent an investigator to Shindand district in Herat yesterday. In an initial report, the AIHRC says that 78 civilians were killed in the US bombing in the middle of the night of Thursday/Friday.

Group says 78 Afghans killed; US to investigate

KABUL, Aug 23 (AP) - An Afghan human rights group said Saturday that at least 78 people were killed in a joint Afghan-U.S. coalition military operation in western Afghanistan...

Ahmad Nader Nadery, the group's commissioner, said one of the group's researchers visited Azizabad on Friday and found that 78 people had been killed and 15 houses were destroyed...

Ghulam Azrat, 50, the director of the middle school in Azizabad, said he collected 60 bodies Friday morning after the bombing.

"We put the bodies in the main mosque," he told The Associated Press by phone, sometimes pausing to collect himself in between tears. "Most of these dead bodies were children and women. It took all morning to collect them."

Azrat said villagers on Saturday threw stones at Afghan soldiers who tried to give food and clothes to them. He said the soldiers fired into the crowd and wounded eight people, including one child critically wounded... (link)
Agence France-Presse has more on the melee with Afghan soldiers and adds that journalists have also seen the site of the bombing:
... About 250 villagers staged an angry protest on Saturday, hurling stones at Afghan troops, the police chief for western Afghanistan, General Akram Yawar, told AFP.

Shots were fired into the air to disperse the crowd and four people were wounded, he said.

The troops were forced back into their compound, he said by telephone, with the crowd's chants against the government and the international troops heard in the background.

Reporters who later went to the area with a police escort could see around 15 houses reduced to rubble and fresh graves that locals said contained the bodies of the victims.

Demonstrators had torched a police car and checkpost and blocked the main road to Herat for several hours, an AFP correspondent said. They had also overturned a food delivery truck, he said...

The US military... insisted only 30 militants were killed in the fighting and air strikes...

"We are very confident of the information that we have because we physically went into that compound and identified the people," coalition spokeswoman Lieutenant Colonel Rumi Nielson-Green told AFP Saturday... (link)

Friday, August 22, 2008

Cops open fire on protestors

Police and soldiers met protests with violence:

Several killed as police, protesters clash in Nangarhar
By Abdul Moeed Hashimi

JALALABAD, Aug 19 (PAN): Several people have reportedly been killed and injured on Tuesday during clashes between local villagers and law enforcers in eastern Nangarhar province.

Residents of Hesar-e-Shahi desert of the province protested a government plan for establishment of a residential scheme inaugurated by Gul Agha Shirzai Governor of the province a day earlier in the desert and in a display of opposition protestors closed the Kabul-Jalalabad Highway but faced police resistance.

Mumtaz a local resident told Pajhwok Afghan News police opened fire on the protestors leaving 17 people killed and injured. The residents claimed the ownership of the desert and government could not build any scheme there, he added.

Law enforcers and Afghan National Army attacked the protestors and went on hitting a number of journalists including Taqiullah Taqi of Tolo private television and broke his camera... (link)
The assaulted Tolo TV journalist, Taqiullah Taqi, has had previous run-ins with authority. He was present during the aftermath of the suicide bombing which triggered a shooting spree by US Marines in Nangarhar in March of 2007. Taqi and other journalists had their cameras or film confiscated by marines, who reportedly told him: "Delete them, or we will delete you."

Comme les francais disent: Troops out!

In the wake of Monday's clash which saw insurgents kill 10 French soldiers, a poll finds a majority of the French public want their troops pulled from Afghanistan:

55 pc French want out of Afghanistan

PARIS, Aug 23 (AP) - A majority of French people want their troops pulled out of Afghanistan, a poll suggested on Friday, days after an ambush there killed 10 French soldiers.

A survey in Le Parisien daily showed 55 per cent of respondents think France should leave the Nato mission fighting the Taliban in Afghanistan, compared to 36 per cent who say they should remain following on Monday’s bloody attack... (link)

Officials: 76 civilians killed by US-led forces

The Afghan Interior Ministry announced that US-led troops have killed 76 civilians in Herat province. Reuters has the story:

U.S.-led forces kill 76 Afghan civilians: ministry
By Sharafuddin Sharafyar

HERAT, Aug 22 (Reuters) - U.S.-led coalition forces killed 76 Afghan civilians in western Afghanistan on Friday, most of them children, the Interior Ministry said...

"Seventy-six civilians, most of them women and children, were martyred today in a coalition forces operation in Herat province," the Interior Ministry said in a statement.

Coalition forces bombarded the Azizabad area of Shindand district in Herat province on Friday afternoon, the ministry said. Nineteen of the victims were women, seven of them men and the rest children under the age of 15, it said.

U.S.-led coalition forces denied killing any civilians. They said 30 militants had been killed in an air strike in Shindand district in the early hours of Friday and no further air strikes had been launched in the area later in the day...

Saeed Sharif, an elder and member of a local council where the strike took place, told Reuters many civilians were killed.

"Last night, around 2 a.m. some people were attending a holy Koran recitation in Shindand district when Americans started bombing. Tens of civilians were killed," said Sharif.

A senior police commander in western Afghanistan confirmed the incident but could not say how many civilians died...

A spokesman for the Defence Ministry in Kabul said U.S. special forces and Afghan troops had been carrying out an operation against a commander named Mulla Sidiq, who was planning to attack a U.S. base in Herat.

"Twenty-five Taliban were killed, including Sidiq and one other commander,"
said spokesman General Zaher Azimi.

"Unfortunately, five civilians were killed in the bombing." ... (link)

Note that some locals apparently claimed the bloody incident occurred in the afternoon of August 22, while others say it occurred earlier, around 2:00 AM on August 22. While the US military acknowledges an early morning operation, they deny there was any afternoon assault. In any case, earlier reports indicated, as the Defence Ministry's Azimi states above, that the middle of the night attack killed 25 insurgents and five civilians (three women and two children).


Al Jazeera has some details:
... Al Jazeera's Zeina Khodr reported that the figures had been confirmed by the provincial governor and police chief.

She said the information had been gathered by a team of investigators from the army, police and intelligence service. They had retrieved bodies from houses that had been bombed. They expect the toll to rise as not all the houses have been checked.

"People are very angry," Khodr reported. "This is not the first time. Hamid Karzai, the Afghan president, has made repeated calls for Nato to stop air strikes." ... (link)

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Solution for an unwinnable war

The Manchester Guardian's associate editor Seumas Milne, a 24-year veteran of the paper, has an informed opinion:

Far from reducing the threat of terrorism, this crucible of the war on terror has simply spread it around the region...

Afghanistan was supposed to be a demonstration of Nato's expanded horizons in the post-Soviet new world order. Instead, as with Nato's disastrous engagement with Georgia, it has underscored the dangers of giving the cold war alliance a new imperial brief. The growing conflict must also be added to the litany of US foreign policy failures that have been overseen by George Bush - from Iraq, Iran, Palestine and Lebanon to Latin America and now the Caucasus - and the evident necessity of a new direction...

The Afghan war certainly cannot be won, but the bitterly unpopular 2005 agreement for indefinite bases in the country left no doubt that the US is planning to stay for the long haul. Nato's secretary general, Jaap de Hoop Scheffer, made clear in a speech to the Brookings Institution in Washington earlier this year that western interests in Afghanistan went well beyond good governance to the strategic interest in having a permanent military presence in a state that borders central Asia, China, Iran and Pakistan.

The only way to end the war is the withdrawal of foreign troops as part of a political settlement negotiated with all the significant players in the country, including the Taliban, and guaranteed by the regional powers and neighbouring states. A large majority of Afghans say they back negotiations with the Taliban, even in western-conducted opinion polls. The Taliban themselves insist they will only talk once foreign troops have withdrawn. If that were the only obstacle, it could surely be choreographed as a parallel process. But given the scale of commitments made by the US and Nato, the fire of the Afghan war seems bound to spread further. (link)

Recurring nightmare: more civilians killed

Local officials in Laghman province report that US-led forces killed over a dozen civilians in an August 20th operation which was originally claimed to have killed 30 insurgents. Al Jazeera has more:

[...] The attacks were called when the area was clear of women and children after about 200 civilians were seen fleeing, and there were no civilian casualties, [a US military] statement said.

But an Afghan politician told Al Jazeera that there were at least 20 civilians among the 30 people killed in the air raids.

Later, the Reuters news agency also two unnamed provincial officials as saying at least a dozen civilians had been killed in the attack.

About 20 people were wounded in the attack, including an elderly man, four children and eight women, Asadullah Rauf, a surgeon, was quoted by the AFP news agency as saying... (link)
Quqnoos Afghan news adds that the victims were, once again, wedding-goers:
Hazrat Gul, an elder of Garoch area told Pajhwok Afghan News, that 17 civilians were killed, a dozen from the same family.

The dead included six women, two children and elders and youth, he said.

NATO raided a house belonging to Haji Qadir, where people were getting ready for a wedding party, he said.

All houses in the village were destroyed except a mosque, he added... (link)
According to Laghman's governor, the US-led coalition attacked insurgents who were exiting the valley where Monday's attack on French troops took place. The US military's spokesperson said the forces were not "completely certain" that these insurgents had been involved in the earlier attack which killed 10 French soldiers and injured 21 others.

Readers may recall that in the wake of the July 6 bombing in Nangarhar, US officials similarly denied any wrongdoing.

Regarding Monday's headline-grabbing attack on the French troops, Le Monde has printed explosive reports on the nature of the incident (via Agence France-Presse):
... The soldiers said that once they had fallen into the ambush they had to wait for four hours before any backup was sent.

"We had no more ammunition for our other weapons and we were left only with our Famas (assault rifles)," one soldier, who was not named, was quoted as saying.

When NATO planes finally arrived to help them they sometimes missed their target and hit French troops, the paper quotes the soldiers as saying.

Afghan soldiers sent in as backup also mistakenly targeted the French soldiers, it said... (link)
The tally for August:
Aug 4: US troops in Ghazni province kill five civilians.
Aug 7: US troops kill five civilians in Ghazni.
Aug 9: NATO airstrike kills between 11 and 31 civilians in Kapisa.
Aug 12: NATO troops kill driver in Helmand.
Aug 13: NATO airstrike kills 3 children in Logar.
Aug 16: Local officials say NATO bombing kills 11 civilians in Ghazni.
Aug 17: NATO rocket attack kills 3 civilians.
Aug 21: US-led airstrikes kill between 12 and 20 civilians.

'Troops out' says Trudeau son

From the Montreal Gazette:

Afghan mission 'foolish and wrong,' says Alexandre Trudeau

MONTREAL, Aug 21 (Canwest) - Canada's "aggressive" war in Afghanistan is all about "teaching lessons with weapons" and will leave nothing behind "except the blood we've lost there," the journalist son of late prime minister Pierre Elliott Trudeau said Thursday.

"Our aggressive military activities in Afghanistan are foolish and wrong," said Alexandre (Sacha) Trudeau, 34.

"The Pashtun [people] have extremely different values than ours, values we may not agree with in any case, but it's not our business to try and teach them lessons with weapons," Mr. Trudeau told Canwest News Service.

"Because, in fact, they'll be the ones teaching us lessons.
"We're going to have to leave the place or there'll be nothing left of us or of whatever we've done, except the blood we've lost there after we leave. So it's better we leave now." ...

Asked Thursday whether he now wants to make his next film in Afghanistan...

"I don't think I'd go to Afghanistan," he said.

"I don't want to go and sit in the [Canadian Forces] camp in Kandahar and film the Tim Hortons.

"What I want to do is leave it to younger filmmakers to show who the Pashtun are -- people we falsely call Taliban, in most cases -- and why we really have no reason to tell them how to live their lives, why Afghanistan should be left to its own devices." ... (link)

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Documents reveal military lies

In a shocking development, recently released documents show that Taliban fighters were capable of massing in large formations even a few months after the battle that set them "on their back foot" in September 2006. Despite the Canadian military's repeated claims that Operation Medusa forced the Taliban to resort to hit-and-run, small formation attacks, militants were seen to amass in groups of several hundred. The Canadian Press has the story:

Taliban fielding battalion-sized forces, military records reveal

OTTAWA, Aug 20 (CP) - Taliban militants reportedly amassed a 600-strong fighting force and dragged out bigger weapons only 10 months after being routed by NATO forces in a landmark 2006 battle west of Kandahar, newly released documents have revealed.

The heavily-censored records, released to The Canadian Press under access to information laws, provide a candid glimpse of the insurgency...

[T]he documents – withheld for months by the Canadian Defence Department – suggest Taliban commanders have long been gaining critical battle experience in Kandahar, using Afghan security forces as target practice.

As many as 100 insurgents were involved in Tuesday's attack on a French and U.S. reconnaissance patrol in the Sarobi district.

But Canadian army daily situation reports show Afghan forces and the Canadians mentoring them were encountering Taliban organized into formations ranging from 200 to 600 fighters in June 2007...

In what can now be best described as rehearsals for taking on NATO troops, Taliban forces would plaster outposts and checkpoints with AK-47 and rocket propelled grenade fire. They even rolled up four-man armour-crunching 82 mm recoilless rifles and blasted away.

They were careful to avoid punishing NATO air strikes and direct fights with the Canadian battle group, whenever possible...

[Retired Canadian general Lewis MacKenzie] said the speed in which the Taliban were able to regroup and field what amounts to a battalion-sized force after losing an estimated 800 fighters just months before during Operation Medusa is breathtaking...

What is also remarkable is how the Taliban was able to hold itself together and thrive despite a focused NATO campaign to kill senior and mid-level militant commanders, such as the blood thirsty Mullah Dadullah, who died in May 2007... (link)
While the media is unlikely to learn a lesson from the Canadian Forces' PSYOPS efforts, one hopes that concerned citizens will take note that they themselves are prime targets of NATO disinformation.

While the story so far is indeed an eye-opener, the Canadian Forces' acts of deceit could go even further. As I noted in an article some time ago, NATO estimates of the number of Taliban killed in the 2006 Operation Medusa in Kandahar province ranged as high as 1500. However, reporters on the ground found no evidence of a large number of casualties. Perhaps the reason for the Taliban's quick rebound is that not many were actually killed in Medusa.

NATO forces kill and injure civilians

While Afghan officials report that NATO troops killed perhaps eleven civilians in Ghazni, the western press is silent:

Militants, civilians perish in lawless Ghazni
By Sher Ahmad Haidar

GHAZNI CITY, Aug 17 (Pajhwok): Over a dozen civilians, most of them women and children, and a large number of Taliban militants were killed during separate bombings of NATO soldiers, in the troubled southern province of Ghazni, officials said on Sunday.

Muhibullah Khpalwak administrative head of Nawa district told Pajhwok Afghan News the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) soldiers bombed in the outskirts of the district headquarters late on Saturday night.

He added a large number of Taliban fighters and four civilians including a woman have been killed in the bombing that took place in that district that was also fallen to the hands of Taliban late on Friday.

The district chief has claimed that the Taliban fighters have evacuated the district and there were no Taliban or government officials in the district headquarters. In Muqor district local officials said seven civilians have been killed in a separate airstrike of the NATO soldiers.

A security source who did not want to be named informed this news agency most of the perished civilians were being women and children. He added eight Taliban militants were also killed in the overnight airstrike... (link)
A Lexis-Nexus search reveals that these events of August 16 were not conveyed in any other English language media.

Next, on August 17, two children and a woman were killed and four others injured in a NATO rocket attack in Helmand:
Afghan woman, two children killed in British rocket fire

KABUL, Aug 18 (AFP) - An Afghan woman and two children were killed when British soldiers fired rockets at a compound in southern Afghanistan over the weekend to thwart a Taliban attack, the British military said Monday.

Another four civilians were hurt in the incident on Saturday in the southern province of Helmand, a British military statement said... (link)
The Guardian has some background:
[...] Troops on a routine patrol fired rockets after intercepting a radio message calling for insurgents to converge on the area, a spokesman for the Nato-led International Security Assistance Force said.

After identifying insurgents on the roof of a compound, the soldiers fired the rockets, not realising that there were women and children inside the building... (link)
For their part, NATO officials have accused Taliban insurgents of "total disregard" for Afghan civilians. Note above, however, that NATO soldiers didn't realise civilians were present. The NATO spokesperson uses the nicely passive phrase "unbeknown to the patrol" to describe this apparent breakdown in standard procedure rather than something more direct like "they didn't check." This despite the fact that NATO constantly accuses Taliban fighters (correctly, no doubt) of putting civilians in harm's way. NATO commanders didn't realise the danger, so they are blameless.

Despite the murderous probabilities of US/NATO airstrikes, and in this case admission that forces didn't know the status of civilians, it is doubtful that anyone will pay any notice. Anyone outside Afghanistan, that is; one doubts that Afghans are so blind to NATO misdeeds.

Postscript: In an effort to polish its image, NATO has hired former Coca-Cola exec Michael Stopford as a communications specialist. Since Coke was recently murdering unionists in Colombia, Stopford probably thought he'd be a good fit.

An unpopular occupation

Reuters correspondent Jon Hemmings rides along with a US military unit in Kandahar city while the troops get a cold reception from the locals:

WITNESS: Kandahar by Humvee

[...] "That kid just gave me the finger," says the TC (top cover gunner). "A--hole. I swear I'm gonna slot one of these kids one day." Silence, then: "I got a bad feeling about today."

Something hits the windscreen. "Was that a piece of s--- someone threw?" asks the major.

"Don't know sir," says the driver, in a dead-pan tone. "There's still some stuck to the hood though if you'd care to take a closer look." ...

"Hey did you see that?" the major says, obviously encouraged. "That little girl was pumping the well with one hand and giving us the thumbs up with the other."

"I don't see thumbs up anymore, sir," says the top cover. "Only thumbs down." ...

[The troops reach their objective: under a bridge, where several locals are bathing, tending animals, etc.]

The major and terp' (interpreter) climb out. I don't think we're about to be ambushed given all the people happily hanging out, but I stay in the Humvee just in case and listen to the intercom chatter.

One man lies asleep on the ground, oblivious as the major -- looking like a science-fiction figure in camouflage, flak jacket, wraparound sunglasses and helmet -- steps over him to inspect the bridge.

"Do you think that guy's dead?" asks the driver.

"If I put a bullet in him and he moves, then we'll find out," answers the top cover...

There was nothing doing under the bridge so we turned round and headed back into town.

More children stood at the roadside. Some gave us the thumbs up, some the thumbs down, another one gave us the finger, then one threw something and hit TC full on. He must have a great aim to hit a guy whose head only just pokes above the armor, and a moving target too...

"I've had three fingers, I don't know how many thumbs down, two rocks and a potato today," says the TC as we arrive back at base as if to sum up our score-card...

Two months later, I know that at least one of the men in our convoy is now dead, killed by a massive roadside bomb.

The success of Western governments' policies in Afghanistan ultimately rests on the shoulders of some very young men. They are very brave, and mostly very professional, but expected to be killers one minute and diplomats the next. That is a lot to ask. (link)
New York Times reporter Carlotta Gall has similar observations of US troops operating in Wardak province:
An Afghan lifeline, plagued by insurgents
SAYDABAD, Afghanistan

[...] Soldiers of Afghanistan's 201st Corps are now posted in old hilltop positions [in Wardak province] that the Soviet Army used in the 1980s, surveying the road and the side valleys that provide cover for the insurgents.

Since their arrival three weeks ago, the Afghan soldiers say they have been engaged in repeated firefights with insurgents...

Haji Muhammad Musa Hotak, a member of Parliament from Wardak Province, said public confidence in the government has virtually collapsed along with the security situation.

Insurgents and other armed groups in the province have swelled from barely 100 last year to an estimated 500, as villagers have joined the insurgents, either for money or their own protection, he said.

''Dissatisfaction of the people is growing, anger is growing, people are joining the opposition groups,'' he said in an interview in his Kabul office...

Two days later villagers came to complain that U.S. troops had also fired on two children in the street, he said.

Down the road, at the town of Saydabad, shopkeepers said U.S. troops had also opened fire when passing through the town two days earlier and shot a doctor through the wrist. They fired on a minibus a month before as well, shooting as many as five, said a 20-year old mechanic, Homayun, who works in the bazaar and uses one name.

''The Americans are not looking at us like human beings, but we are also human beings,'' he said.

''We don't like either of them,'' he said of the Taliban and United States forces. ''If they are fighting each other, innocent people get hurt.'' ... (link)

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Afghan press under continued attack

Christian Science Monitor reporter Anand Gopal reports from Kabul:

... In fact, the Afghan government is responsible for at least 23 of the 45 reported incidents of intimidation, violence, or arrest of journalists between May 2007 and May 2008, according to the Nai Center for Open Media, an Afghan nongovernmental organization.

The figure represents a 130 percent spike from the same period the year before...

Only a few weeks ago, authorities arrested Raj – like many Afghans, he goes by only one name – the manager of the independent outlet Nili Radio in Daikundi Province. Mr. Raj told reporters that he was arrested because he did not provide enough coverage of the activities of the local governor.

"Even independent news outlets are under tremendous pressure," says Hafiz Barakzai, assistant director of the National Union of Journalists. "If news directors or editors write something critical of the government, they will be sure to get a call from a government official." Mr. Barakzai adds that dozens of journalists have been fired because they failed to curb their reporting to meet government demands.

For example, Sohaila Wedah Khamoush, a reporter for the independent daily Payman, says she has been repeatedly abused by police and government officials. "I saw police beating protesters in an anti-US demonstration," she says. "When I tried to take pictures I was sent to the attorney general's office and he arrested me. He eventually released me and ordered me not to write the story." ...

The Afghan media industry had boomed after the fall of the Taliban in 2001. Media freedom was unprecedented in the country's history...

But now, some question the independence of Afghan media outlets. "Eighty to 90 percent of newspapers are supported by ex-mujahideen commanders and other strongmen who are very politically minded," says Barakzai. "If the news director writes something these politicians don't like, he will lose his job." ...

Television personality Fayaz, meanwhile, has gone into hiding, citing fears for his life. "My family called me and told me that some mysterious armed men were lurking outside my house," he says. "I'm under risk and I can't continue airing my program. There are a lot of powerful interests against me. If this is how they treat the media, I want to leave Afghanistan and not come back." (link)

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Certain of our nobility

I'll be absent from blogging for about three days so I'll leave you with an original piece submitted by a friend of StopWarBlog, Terry Greenberg:

Terry Greenberg - Know Thine Enemy

The most important thing to remember about Canada’s military mission in Afghanistan is that we are there fighting Afghan people. It is convenient to refer to them as Taliban or terrorists, or even as Canadian General Hillier so ineloquently did, as "scumbags". But it behoves us to remember, in spite of all this terminology, that Canadian soldiers have travelled half way around the globe to fight and kill Afghan people in their own country. Our leaders, and pandering war-propagandists like John Manley, tell us we are there as part of a noble cause. Maybe he thinks so, but it is not enough just to say the cause is noble, when faced with the fact that Canadians are killing Afghans in Afghanistan. If we are so certain of our nobility, we should not be afraid to look beyond the demonizing names and try to see who exactly we are killing and what is motivating them to fight us.

First, it is obvious that there are some Afghans who are fighting with us, not against us, so it is important to examine how these two groups differ. One place to start would be to recognize that there is a severe gap between the city people and the country people in traditional Afghanistan. In a very real sense, the city of Kabul and the rest of Afghanistan are like two different countries. While Kabulis have been actively modernizing, secularizing and globalizing for decades, the rural people have mostly rejected this tendency.

This dichotomy between Kabul and the rest of the country was evidenced by the fact that in the 1970s indigenous Afghan communists were able to establish themselves as the rulers of all Afghanistan from their base in Kabul. This was in spite of the fact that the vast majority of Afghans in the countryside totally rejected the secular and modernist orientation of these communists. In order to obtain the submission of the majority of their citizens, these communists had to resort to force, and when the inevitable backlash ensued, they called on help from the Soviet Union.

The situation was very similar to colonialism, with the minority metropolitan power, Kabul, fighting against the majority in the Afghan countryside. This battle has not ended. Today the minority metropolitan power in Kabul is still fighting the majority of its citizens, but now with the help of Canadians. And most of the people fighting us, against the authority of Kabul, are the same people who fought the Kabul Government 40 years ago, and then fought the Soviets. In their own eyes they are freedom fighters, resisting the authority of people who wish to impose foreign and undesirable changes on their lifestyles, and who they suspect are intent on robbing them of their wealth, resources and other things they hold dear. To put it in a Canadian context, they are doing precisely what the bravest, most loyal Canadians would do if Canada were invaded by foreigners who were intent on changing our lifestyles and stealing our resources. If these are scumbags, we can only hope there are enough scumbags in Canada to stand up for us if we are attacked.

It might be suggested that the attempt of Kabul to impose its will and its values on the countryside, with our help, and earlier the help of the Soviets, is benign. After all, it included such things as equal rights for women, and modern economic and political structures. These are good things for us, but we must recognize that they were not necessarily seen as good by the majority of the countryside Afghans. When outsiders, including the most foreign of all, the Canadians, arrive and encourage them to remove the veils from their women, their reaction is much like ours would be if foreigners arrived in Canada and forbad Canadian women from wearing any clothing at all. Clearly our perspective on women’s rights differs radically from theirs, but the real issue here is whether the imposition of values from outside is appropriate. And we must not forget that we are the outsiders and they are the insiders.

As for the new economic and political forms that Kabul, with our help, wants to impose on the countryside, we speak glibly of bringing them "democracy". However if one examines traditional Pashtun tribal culture and practices, they may, on some levels, be more democratic than anything we have to offer. In traditional Pashtun communities, governance was in the hands of an assembly of tribal men, much like the ancient Greek model. Of course, women were excluded, and young men had less influence than the elders, but there was a great deal of equality amongst the members of the assembly. Even the elected leader was chosen as one amongst equals, and had no authority to make any major decisions without referring back to the assembly. But as soon as the Kabulis arrived on the scene, the first thing they did was attempt to co-opt the tribal leaders, often with financial bribes, and by investing them with more authority than their rural peers would allow. This did not result in an increase in democratic freedom for the average rural dweller, but an immediate diminishment of control over his life and loss of freedom.

On the economic front, traditional Afghan rural communities were quite equitable in the distribution of wealth, and there was a lot of communal cooperation and sharing of the commons. With the arrival of Kabul, this system was put under stress, and soon the majority of rural dwellers found that their economic welfare was being reduced, by confiscation of assets, by conscription away of their productive young men, and by increasingly stark inequalities in access to resources in their communities. In the eyes of many rural Afghans, Kabul was the enemy for its attempts to force unwanted economic changes on them.

We Canadians are working for Kabul, fighting these rural Afghan people in order to force them to strip their women naked (in their eyes), and replace their own systems of cooperative governance and equitable conomic structures, with Western political systems of oligarchic power disguised as democracy and massive inequalities in wealth.

As if this was not enough to inspire resistance amongst the majority of Afghans to theK abul-dominated government and its Canadian defenders, one might also look at the culture of the Pashtuns. This has the code of Pashtunwali at its core and the central element of this code is masculine honour. The belief is that it is better to be dead than be dishonoured, because a man is already dead in his own eyes and that of his community, if he is dishonoured. Submitting to foreign-imposed (and that means both Kabul and Canadian) lifestyle changes is seen as dishonourable and this inspires many of the young men to fight and resist.

Canadians should realize that we are in Afghanistan fighting Afghan people who are defending themselves from their own central government in Kabul, which, with the violent assistance of foreigners including us, is trying to impose values, laws, and dramatic lifestyle changes on them. The rural people of Afghanistan have been fighting this defensive battle for decades. However much we might dislike their culture, it is extremely hard to see how it can be a "noble cause" for Canada to ally with their enemies, follow in the footsteps of the Soviets, and take up arms against these people.

Three kids killed in NATO airstrike

In Logar province, where three aid workers were killed by militants earlier this week, a new tragedy:

NATO airstrike kills three kids

PUL-E-ALAM, Aug 14 (PAN) - Three children of a family were killed in the airstrike of NATO forces in central Logar province, a Logar MP claimed on Friday.

Haji Sadiq Yousafzai, a provincial council member from Kharwar district of Logar province told Pajhwok Afghan News that the attack was made on the house of a shephard in Godenkhel village last night. He said three children including a boy and two girls were killed in the strike while a pickup and a tractor were also destroyed besides killing 15 sheeps.

He said NATO forces carried out the attack on the wrong information that Taliban fighters were hidden in the house...

Haji Malik, an elder of the district told this news agency that hundreds of people participated in the funeral ceremony of the children. He said the participants vowed not to allow foreign troops in the area unless the killers of the children were brought to book... (link)
While the murder of the aid workers has made international headlines for several days, it is difficult to find any media which even mention the incident above.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

RAWA interview

From Justin Podur of ZNet:

The NATO Occupation and Fundamentalism
An interview with Miriam of
By Justin Podur

ISLAMABAD - The Revolutionary Association of the Women of Afghanistan (RAWA) is a women's organization that runs underground schools and other projects, educates Afghan girls, runs a periodic journal, and agitates politically for women's rights, human rights, secularism, and social justice in Afghanistan. From the 1979 Soviet invasion through to the 2006 closings of the camps, millions of Afghan refugees lived in Pakistan and many still do. While RAWA's operations were always based primarily in Afghanistan, they have also had a strong presence in the Pakistan refugee community. I spoke to Mariam from RAWA in Islamabad when I was there in July 2008...

Q: [W]hat is the situation of Afghan refugees in Pakistan today?

RAWA: In general, Pakistan has been better to Afghan refugees compared to Iran or other neighboring countries... [W]e were running a refugee camp in suburbs of Peshawar for over two decades until it was finally forcibly evacuated by the Pakistan government some months ago. In 2001-2002, after the US invasion and occupation, large numbers of Afghans went back. The Peshawar refugee communities were basically emptied, but due to bad conditions, returning to Afghanistan is still an unattractive option for many refugees.

When the government decided to close some refugee camps in 2006, it had a huge effect. Most of the refugees were forced to leave, even though they had lost everything in Afghanistan: they had no jobs, no shelter, nothing to go back to. And in fact no one knows what happened to them. Those families who have returned to Afghanistan are very disappointed with the lack of any job and facilities in Afghanistan, and many came back to seek refuge to Pakistan for the second time.

Today according to the UNHCR, refugees are coming back to Pakistan and they are trying to find places in the cities...

Q: [Tell us] a bit of your analysis of the political and military situation in Afghanistan.

RAWA: It is a complicated situation. We have NATO's occupation and the interference of neighbors, Pakistan, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Tajikistan, Russia etc. all of whom have supported different fundamentalist groups in recent years. The Taliban control some areas and in recent months even reached the borders of Kabul... The brothers-in-creed of the Taliban, the Northern Alliance, are in power today and generously supported by the US government. Much of the northern part of Afghanistan is ruled by the local warlords of the northern alliance. The government of Hamid Karzai has no tangible control there. The Taliban and other Islamic movements are the enemy of the Afghan people. And their strength is supported by the US and the West. The support the fundamentalists get from outside makes it difficult for the Afghan people to resist them...

Q: You have described all of these Islamic political movements as enemies of the people, whether they are supported by the West or fighting NATO...

RAWA: [...] The fundamentalist groups have committed unprecedented crimes under the name of Islam over the past two decades. Today Afghans are so fed up with them that majority of Afghans support any voice raised against the fundamentalists. When Malalai Joya spoke against them for only 2 minutes in the Loya Jirga, her voice was soon echoed and supported by millions of Afghan across the country and she was called a heroine and voice of the voiceless. The fundamentalists impose their domination with the help of their weapons, foreign masters and money. Without these, they have no footing in Afghan society.

Q: Is the NATO occupation helping or harming Afghanistan? Can it be used somehow to strengthen progressive forces? Is it holding back a Taliban victory which would
be worse than the current situation?

RAWA: Seven years ago when the US invaded, the situation was different. Many Afghans appreciated their presence and were happy to get rid of the Taliban's oppressive rule. They thought - the Taliban had been eliminated, the international community worked, they were promised a better life, democracy and freedom and an end to the fundamentalist groups. Within months, it was clear that the US government still continues its wrong policy of supporting the fundamentalists in Afghanistan. We saw that the US rely on the fundamentalists of the Northern Alliance to fight another fundamentalist band - the Taliban. It doesn't matter if they fight the Taliban or "terrorism", they are supporting the Northern Alliance, and for Afghans both are the same - both are terrorists and fundamentalists, supported by foreign governments, whether by the West, or Pakistan, Iran, Saudi Arabia or any other country. They violate human rights, they abuse women, they commit corruption and fraud and smuggling, as we have documented.

From the beginning, RAWA announced that the US and the West have their own reasons for being here and it is not for the freedom of the Afghan people. We said that what the US/NATO is doing under the name of democracy is in fact a mockery of democracy. It is clear for us. Today NATO bombings are increasing, more civilians are being killed, and other violations are being done by the US and NATO. And now even they are trying to share power with the Taliban and terrorist party of Gulbuddin Hekmatya. If this plot is realized, it will mean another tragedy for Afghanistan and its people, the unification of all enemies of Afghan people under one umbrella so they could jointly smash the Afghan people and freedom-loving individuals and forces.

Under the mafia system and the shadow of gun and warlordism, unfortunately there is no chance for progressive forces to come to the scene and work openly. Any serious and stanch anti-fundamentalist and anti-occupation force still needs to fight underground and they are not supported and encouraged. In fact the US is afraid to see emergence of a powerful progressive movement in Afghanistan. Those who openly criticize the government and warlords face threats, imprisonment and restrictions. We are facing the same problems and risks today which we were faced under the Taliban...

JP: What about the argument that if NATO left, Afghanistan would quickly fall to the Taliban, which would be worse?

RAWA: It is true that it might be worse under a Taliban regime. But at least we will not be occupied by a foreign power. Today we have two problems: our own local fundamentalists and a foreign occupier. If NATO left we would have one problem rather than two.

RAWA has announced a number of times that neither the US nor any other power wants to release Afghan people from the fetters of the fundamentalists. Afghanistan's freedom can be achieved by Afghan people themselves. Relying on one enemy to defeat another is a wrong policy which has just tightened the grip of the Northern Alliance and their masters on the neck of our nation.

Q: If NATO left the Taliban would also have a more difficult time portraying themselves as a national liberation movement, an argument they can make and a source of prestige for them so long as the occupation continues.

RAWA: Actually both parties depend on each other. If the US were to eliminate the Taliban somehow, they would find themselves with no pretext for being here. But the Taliban and terrorism are only a pretext. They are not honest. They are here for the strategic ends: the central location from which to control Iran, Russia and China, affect Pakistan's government and society, strengthen its grip on the Central Asian Republics and so on. That is why they keep increasing their military presence and building up bases. NATO will probably leave, but the US won't - they wanted a pretext for being here, and the US will not set aside the golden opportunity... (link)

Note that Miriam does not list oil or gas or a pipeline as an American strategic end. Many Westerners know little of Afghanistan's history as a buffer state and its strategic significance going back well before oil became a factor in international affairs. Many outsiders are thus quick to finger oil as an explanation for American interest in the area, though many Afghans are not so easily fooled.