Monday, March 9, 2009

Occupation wears thin in Logar

Veteran foreign correspondent Pamela Constable has recently been reporting from Logar province, where US forces have upped their footprint of late. Their task there may be an uphill one: "Officials say most Logaris, though frustrated by poor government services, have not yet decided where their loyalties lie," she writes. Earlier, she reflected on the differences she sees between her previous visit and today:

... But for a visiting journalist who has been here before, who has meandered through the villages of Logar and bought jars of sticky honey beside the roads and chatted comfortably with elders, it feels surreal, confining and terribly sad to return in a veritable tank -- peering through bullet-proof glass at a once-familiar landscape, drawing sullen stares from people who once smiled and invited curious foreigners in for tea.

That was still possible two years ago, before the insurgents got bolder and started burning schools and threatening teachers and beheading government employees as spies, before people in Logar and other provinces began to respect and fear the Islamist rebels more than the weak and corrupt national government.

It was possible before many Afghans, who had welcomed Western forces with open arms after the defeat of Taliban rule in 2001, began to see them as interlopers and gold diggers and oppressors from a decadent way of life, before any reported abuse by foreign troops became accepted as fact, before a Westerner browsing in a vegetable market became a potential target instead of a guest... (link)

Death toll climbs

More dead civilians, more protests:
Afghans protest after overnight raid kills four

KABUL, Mar 7 (AP) — Afghans are demonstrating in front of a line of U.S. military vehicles in eastern Afghanistan to protest what officials say are the deaths of four Afghans during an overnight U.S. raid.

Khost Province Deputy Gov. Tahir Khan Sabari says the raid killed four people and wounded two. Protesters also said several Afghans were arrested.

Sabari says the raid took place without the participation of Afghan forces despite a recent agreement saying Afghans would take part in raids to prevent civilian casualties and help with cultural issues.

Hundreds of protesters shouted "Death to America" and threw rocks in the eastern city of Khost. AP Television News footage showed Afghan men blocking the path of U.S. military vehicles. (link)
Xinhua notes that the demonstration was attended by hundreds of people and that the protestors brought the bodies of the dead into the streets.

On March 8, two Afghan police in Kapisa were shot and killed by a joint Afghan/coalition patrol after the police had first fired at the patrol.

Finally, one child is killed in Helmand:
One child killed, another wounded in mortar fire in Afghanistan

KABUL, Mar 8 (RIA Novosti) - One child was killed and another wounded as NATO-led coalition forces opened mortar fire, battling Taliban militants in the Helmand province in southern Afghanistan, the alliance said on Sunday.

The incident occurred on Sunday when a patrol of the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) was ambushed by Taliban militants in Naad Ali district. The coalition forces had to open retaliation fire, the alliance said... (link)
March's toll:

March 1: NATO troops kill a civilian in Nangarhar province in a vehicle accident.
March 7: In an early morning raid, US soldiers entered two houses and killed four civilians, according to locals in Khost province.
March 8: NATO troops killed a child in a clash with insurgents in Helmand.
March 8: Coalition and Afghan troops kill two Afghan police in a friendly fire incident in Kapisa.

We're more murderous than the Taliban

Chris Sands:

War-weary people fear little hope of peace
Chris Sands - The National (UAE)

KABUL, Mar 9 - Afghans in Kabul see no realistic hope of peace on the horizon, with insurgents, the government and foreign troops all being blamed for the chaos enveloping the country...

[M]any are calling for an end to the occupation and demanding a greater emphasis on serious negotiations with rebel leaders, even though they believe such talks will probably fail.

"The best way to bring peace is for the Americans to leave the country. Right now you can see if an American vehicle passes here the soldiers will block the road. Why? They came to bring security for us but now they are just trying to make good security for themselves," said Fazel Mohammed, as he sold strawberries from a wooden cart...

If recent weeks are anything to go by, it looks like violence could escalate far beyond the record levels it hit last year. In January and February, the number of American troop fatalities increased threefold compared with the same period in 2008. Meanwhile, according to the Associated Press, foreign soldiers were responsible for more civilian deaths in those first two months than the insurgents...

Asked if US and Nato soldiers should continue to stay, Sayed Ibrahim, a local resident, said: "The majority of Afghans don’t like having foreigners in their country." He added that dialogue was necessary, although it probably would not be successful.

"I think if the government tries to arrest [Mr Hekmatyar] and put him in jail the people of Afghanistan will not be happy. He has lots of supporters and if they arrest him the situation will only get worse." ... (link)

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Are Canadian forces getting away with murder?

Readers may recall that this blog was one of the only blogs or websites to cover the Toube massacre of November 2007, when according to villagers foreign special forces killed children in their sleep and slit the throats of adult civilians. The British military was taking the reports seriously, and the incident was later investigated by UN Special Rapporteur Phillip Alston, who also investigated the incident described here by Amnesty:
Amnesty International, USA
March 1, 2009

... The killing of two brothers in Kandahar in the middle of the night last January is a notable example of the lack of accountability of international forces. Amnesty International’s research in Kandahar indicates that Abdul Habib and Mohammed Ali, who were unarmed, were shot at home at point blank range by international forces in camouflage uniforms...

“The ongoing impunity surrounding the deaths of Abdul Habib and Mohammed Ali highlights the lack of proper accountability for Western forces operating in Afghanistan,” said Sam Zarifi...

So far no one has accepted responsibility for the deaths of the two brothers...

Amnesty International has, however, received information that the operation was conducted by personnel operating out of Firebase Gecko (also known as Firebase Maholic), located at the former home of Taleban leader Mullah Omar. Now used as a US base, it houses regular international troops, special forces units, as well as personnel from intelligence agencies forces, such as the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), known to operate in Afghanistan. These forces are often referred to as “other government agencies” or OGAs... (link)
Here are some extracts from the AI report:
... ISAF forces have become engaged in significant counter-insurgency operations. These include special reconnaissance and direct action operations carried out by Special Operations Forces deployed as part of ISAF which are essentially little different from the operations carried out by Special Operations Forces deployed as part of OEF. Furthermore, it appears that in many instances ISAF and OEF forces engage in joint operations.

In addition to Special Operations Forces deployed as part of CJSOTF-A, elite Task Forces or Special Mission Units (SMUs) have also been deployed to Afghanistan for the specific purpose of tracking, targeting, and apprehending or killing of what the USA calls “high-value targets” within al-Qa’ida, the Taleban and other associated insurgency groups. These Task Forces/SMUs are highly secretive, and have frequently changed their name and composition in order to minimize their exposure.

They are reportedly comprised of the most elite Special Operations Forces...

Over the past few years, a small number of other countries have also deployed their Tier I Special Operations Forces to these Task Forces/SMUs including Canada and the United Kingdom. US civilian intelligence or ‘other government agency’ (OGA) personnel from the CIA as well as personnel of the Defence Intelligence Agency, and US civilian contractors, have also reportedly been included in these Task Forces/SMU’s...

Amnesty International has received credible information that CIA personnel are currently operating in Kandahar Province, and that they have operated out of Firebase Gecko...

In addition to formal ANSF, there are also other Afghan forces in Kandahar which are reportedly currently working closely with some international Special Operations Forces and civilian intelligence agencies, particularly OGAs such as the CIA. Comprised of former militias which are controlled by Afghan powerbrokers who exercise influence in Kandahar, the militias played a key role in supporting US Special Operations Forces and the CIA in ousting the Taliban in late 2001. Amnesty International has received information that such Afghan militias controlled by international personnel are operating in Kandahar Province... (link)

Friday, March 6, 2009

Coming apart at the seems

Chris Sands reports on a man we've covered on this blog, Ghulam Yahya Akbari, an ethnic Tajik in Herat who has taken up the banner of jihad against the Afghan government, explicitly allying himself with the Taliban. According to Sands, the warlord now has areas under his authority where a shadow government operates, much as in Taliban-held areas:

Brutal insurgent rules the mountains
Chris Sands - The National (UAE)

HERAT, Feb 17 - A former member of the US-backed Afghan government is now an insurgent commander in the western province of Herat.

Ghulam Yahya seems to rule a vast mountainous area here, with his men launching regular attacks on the police and imposing fundamentalist Islamic law by amputating the limbs of criminals.

While visibly concerned that talking to a foreign journalist would put their lives at risk, local residents said they supported his stance...

Having been warned that it was too dangerous to travel to his stronghold of Siwoshan, in Gozarah district, The National met residents from there in Herat’s provincial capital instead. Although it is impossible to independently verify their claims, they all gave similar accounts of the situation in separate interviews.

Mr Yahya was described in almost mythical tones as a vigilante fighting for justice...

According to residents, he has established his own justice system. Along with amputating the limbs of thieves, he also reportedly blackens the faces of captured criminals and parades them on donkeys through villages...

Locals put the number of men under Mr Yahya’s command at about 500...

Another local rebel commander and former government official goes by the name of Malim Majid. He was the head of Herat airport before the Taliban came to power and, with between 50 and 100 of his own fighters, is now an ally of Mr Yahya, though the two militias do occasionally clash... (link)
Elsewhere, Sands notes something that Canadian forces are undoubtedly finding out: Even when insurgents kill civilians, foreign troops often take the civilians' rage because of their failure to provide security for these past several years.
Civilian dead threaten to hand victory to the rebels
Chris Sands - The National (UAE)

KABUL, Feb 19 - In Afghanistan it does not matter if the victim was killed by the Taliban, US forces or Nato soldiers. Relatives of the dead now usually blame the government and the occupation for their loss...

Each civilian death is a defeat for the occupation. Many Afghans had faith in the promises they were given about peace and democracy, so the bloodshed and violence they have suffered instead is regarded as an act of betrayal...

All sides in Afghanistan are guilty of killing the innocent, but only one benefits – and that is the insurgency.

The majority of the population does not need to support the Taliban for the rebels to be victorious. It is enough for them simply to feel disillusioned with the government and its allies... (link)
And Sayed Karim reports on support for the Taliban from an unusual quarter:
Nato forces lose ground to Taliban in Khost
Sayed Karim - The National (UAE)

KHOST, Feb 20 - If the residents of Khost come to Haji Feroz Khan wondering what to do about the bloodshed in their midst, he will tell them there is only one side worth fighting for.

“I know lots of people who have sold their land and their property to join the Taliban,” he said. “It is the right way and I support that.”

Mr Khan is an imam and former United Nations employee...

Since the foreigners have come the security has gotten worse. They are not here to bring peace, they are here to bring conflict.” ...

Another Khost resident, Abdullah Zazai, 40, fled from his village home to the provincial capital because he feared that foreign soldiers would either bomb or raid his house. However, he said he felt most secure in those rural areas that were under the rebel’s control...

While residents often express their admiration for the insurgency, they also admit that rebels do move freely back and forth across the frontier... (link)

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Civilian body count

We saw here last week the ambiguous claims being made about an incident in Sangin district of Helmand. Some reports said civilians were injured by NATO troops, others claimed they were killed, but no numbers were forthcoming. Now it is revealed. From AFP:

Afghan, NATO probe says civilians killed in firefight

KABUL, Mar 2 (AFP) - A joint inquiry by the NATO-led international force in Afghanistan and Afghan authorities has concluded that eight civilians were killed during a recent battle with insurgents in the south...

In a joint statement, the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force and the government of Helmand province said 17 other civilians were wounded in the February 23 firefight which erupted when an ISAF patrol was ambushed...

"They (civilians) were killed in fire from ISAF helicopters," Daud Ahmadi, the Helmand government spokesman, told AFP, adding that the force also used artillery during the fighting...

Meanwhile an Afghan court Sunday sentenced a man to death for giving false information to foreign forces last year about a rebel presence in a village in the west, leading to an air strike which killed about 90 non-combatants... (link)
Meanwhile, there's a whole lot of shooting of civilians going on, as reported in Reuters' Security Developments brief for March 2:
NANGARHAR - U.S.-led coalition forces shot at a car when it failed to heed warning signals in Jalalabad city, 115 km (70 miles) east of Kabul, wounding one civilian passenger on Sunday, the U.S. military said...

HELMAND - NATO-led troops wounded one Afghan boy when they fired mortars at two men they say were planting a roadside bomb in Gereshk district, 530 km (330 miles) southwest of Kabul, on Thursday, the alliance said.

FARAH - NATO-led soldiers wounded two civilians when they shot at a car they say was travelling too close to their military convoy in Farah, 650 km (405 miles) southwest of Kabul, on Sunday, the alliance said. (link)
And, finally, the Canadian Forces exonerated themselves in an investigation this week following allegations that left-over Canadian ordnance killed three children on Feb 23. Here's how the Globe's Graeme Smith reports on the military's investigation:
In an unusually swift examination of the site about 15 kilometres west of Kandahar city where the children died, Canadian investigators found a blast pattern and bomb fragments that they said proves Canadian ordnance did not cause the deaths.
Smith notes the villagers' "hard feelings are unlikely to be softened" by the announcement. However, in an effort to make nice, the Canadian commander has ordered his troops to stop using their back yard as a shooting range. As Smith comments: "The villagers have long resented the Canadians' use of the rocky wasteland near their homes for weapons practice".

February's toll:

February 5-6: US-led coalition forces in Zabul kill 6 civilians in an attack which targeted insurgents, say Afghan officials.
February 6: US-led coalition forces shoot and kill one man and wound a woman and child at a checkpoint in Khost province.
February 11: A provincial spokesman says NATO airstrikes kill four civilians in Logar province.
February 12: Five children are killed as Australian special forces battle militants while searching a house in Uruzgan province.
February 15: Three civilians are injured (one fatally) when NATO troops and insurgents clash in Sangin district, Helmand.
February 16: In Herat US forces kill 12 - 16 civilians in air attacks. An American investigation claims that 13 civilians and three militants were killed.
February 17: Two civilians in a vehicle are killed by NATO-led troops on patrol in the Maywand district of Kandahar.
February 23: Villagers report that Canadian weaponry killed three children in Panjwai district. Later, a Canadian military investigation exonerates the forces.
February 23: In a clash with militants, NATO helicopter fire kills 8 civilians and wounds another 17 in Sangin district, Helmand.

Total: 39 - 43 civilians killed.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

More talks revealed

The world of talks and shuttle diplomacy is a murky one. A couple of weeks back, we saw that the Taliban has reportedly sent an emissary, one Aghajan Mutasim, to speak with Saudi intelligence chief Prince Muqrin bin Abdulaziz Al Saud in Pakistan. The prince also met with Afghan officials, it was said. Now it seems that Gulbuddin Hekmatyar has sent emissaries to speak with Brits, Saudis and Afghan government emissaries:

'Secret' Taliban talks under way
Al Jazeera

FEBRUARY 26 - Western officials, the Afghan government and Taliban-linked mediators have been engaged in secret negotiations to bring elements of the group into Afghanistan's political process, Al Jazeera has learned.

The talks, which have been taking place in Dubai, London and Afghanistan since the beginning of the year, have proposed the return of Gulbaldin Hekmatyar, the former Afghan prime minister, who has been in hiding for seven years, to Afghanistan.

Hekmatyar is the leader of the Hezb-i-Islami forces, a faction of Afghanistan's Hezb-i-Islami party, and is purported to be in the northwest tribal region of Pakistan.

His forces fight alongside the Taliban and are considered a terrorist organisation by the United States forces in Afghanistan.

According to information revealed to Al Jazeera, Hekmatyar would be offered asylum in Saudi Arabia, after which he would be allowed to return to Afghanistan with immunity from prosecution.

The British government is backing that element of the deal, sources told Al Jazeera.

James Bays, Al Jazeera's correspondent in Kabul, said: "The plan is to widen these talks and to bring in elements of the Taliban."

It is not clear whether the secret negotiations were aimed at separating Hekmatyar's Taliban-linked faction from the group, or whether to encourage some elements of the Taliban to join the political process.

Michael Griffen, an Afghanistan expert, told Al Jazeera: "If Hekmatyar is in this only to trade for his own survival and immunity from prosecution and eventual retirement, that doesn't provide for his followers.

"If they are not included in the deal, they will follow the Taliban." ...

Al Jazeera has also learned this is not the first time in recent months that talks between the Afghan government and Taliban representatives have been attempted.

Last year, Ahmed Jan, an intermediary for the Taliban and tribal elder from Helmand province, was sent on behalf of the Taliban to Kabul for talks with the Afghan government, our correspondent said.

Jan was arrested after US officials discovered talks were to take place, and is now being held in US custody at Bagram, an Afghan political figure told Al Jazeera... (link)

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Taliban in Kandahar

This map might be helpful for what follows. (N.B: Zhari district does not appear on the map; it was later carved out of the northern part of Panjwayi district.)

From the Afghan press:

Govt writ in Kandahar limited to three districts: Wafa
By Zubair Babakarkhel - Pajhwok Afghan News

KABUL, Mar 3 - Head of the complaint commission of the President's office Asadullah Wafa on Sunday claimed that the government had effectively established its writ in three districts of the southern Kandahar province out of its 17 districts.

Wafa told a press conference in Kabul on Sunday that Ghorak and Miansheen districts were completely under Taliban control while the militants still hold sway in 12 other districts of the southern province.

His remarks came a day after he returned from his ten-day visit to the lawless southern Kandahar province.

However, he did not name the districts where the government's writ is prevailing, but security officials in Kandahar say these districts are Spinboldak, Daman and Arghandab... (link)
  • November 2008: Taliban shadow government in Maiwand and Zhari provinces metes out harsh - though reportedly popular - justice.

Monday, March 2, 2009

Growing number of Afghans oppose surge

There is no shortage of Afghan opinion opposing the troop surge already underway in Afghanistan. As described below, it seems that the majority of people in Pashtun areas (i.e. the targets of our hearts and minds campaign) oppose the surge. I am yet to see any commentary noting this peculiar state of affairs and what that might mean about our supposed commitment to democracy.

Anand Gopal has more on the "growing number of Afghans" who oppose the surge:

Many in Afghanistan oppose Obama's troop buildup plans
Anand Gopal - The Christian Science Monitor

KABUL, Mar 2 - Parliamentarian Shukria Barakzai says she has an innovative amendment to Washington's planned injection of up to 30,000 new troops here.

"Send us 30,000 scholars instead. Or 30,000 engineers. But don't send more troops – it will just bring more violence."

Ms. Barakzai is among the growing number of Afghans – especially in the Pashtun south – who oppose a troop increase here, posing what could be the biggest challenge to the Obama administration's stabilization strategy.

"At least half the country is deeply suspicious of the new troops," says Kabul-based political analyst Waheed Muzjda. "The US will have to wage an intense hearts-and-minds campaign to turn this situation around."

The lack of public support could provide fertile recruiting ground for the Taliban and hinder US operations, Mr. Muzjda says...

[A] recent ABC News/Washington Post poll found that 64 percent [of Americans back the surge].

Much of the Afghan opposition comes from provinces dominated by the Pashtun ethnic group, which include areas that have seen the most fighting and where the new troops will be deployed. A group of 50 mostly Pashtun members of parliament recently formed a working group aimed at blocking the arrival of new troops and pushing for a bilateral military agreement between Kabul and Washington, which currently does not exist...

"I can't find a single man in the entire province who is in favor of more troops," says Awal Khan, a tribal leader from Logar province, just south of Kabul. "They don't respect our tradition, culture, or religion."

"The majority of my people disagree with this increase," says Hanif Shah Hosseini, an MP from Khost province who is not part of the working group. "More troops won't bring more security, just an increase in the fighting." ...

The injection of forces still enjoys support outside the Pashtun belt...

Officials in Washington and Pashtun villagers agree on one thing: They expect the violence to increase this summer as the new forces attempt to root out insurgent strongholds.

"I know once the snows melt, things will start to get much worse," Logar resident Nasar Ahmad says. "The fighting will be intense, and a lot of us villagers are talking about fleeing to Kabul."

"We are worried our families will be caught in the middle," he adds. (link)

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Another needless tragedy

A NATO press release:

ISAF vehicle accident kills Afghan local

KABUL, Mar 1 (NATO) - On the morning of 1 March an International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) vehicle rolled over resulting in the death of an Afghan citizen.

The accident occurred in Jalalabad City, Nangarhar province at approximately 10:30 a.m., when the ISAF vehicle swerved to prevent a collision with a local vehicle that had pulled out in front of the convoy. The Afghan male killed in the accident was riding a bicycle in the vicinity... (link)

Tedious as a twice-told tale

If wishes were horses, all of NATO would ride:

More troops means more violence, predicts general
Canwest News - December 17, 2008

The coming year will bring more violence in Afghanistan than in 2008, the commander of the Canadian mission said Tuesday.

Lt.-Gen. Michel Gauthier said he expected violent incidents to increase next year after thousands of additional U.S. troops arrive in the country...

"The insurgents are on their back foot, have been, and that's in part why we went almost three months without casualties," Gauthier said. "They did get a couple of -- I would say lucky -- attacks on us.... (link)
A little tour of the illustrious history of over-confidence (or pure B.S.) about the Taliban:

"I'm not making a prediction, but I think temporarily they're on their back foot, and we need to keep them there." - Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage, Sept 29 2004.

"[The Taliban] have been set on their back foot recently." - Canadian General Rick Hillier, Sept 29 2006.

"[The Taliban] are on their back foot in Kandahar province, and in region south in general". - Rick Hillier, Dec 18 2006.

"[Canadian soldiers] believe they need to keep the Taliban on their back foot until they can help the Afghans build their own army". - Rick Hillier, Dec 26 2007.

"[T]he Taliban are on their back foot with the recent arrival of aggressively on-the-offence U.S. Marines". - Rosie DiManno, Toronto Star, May 19 2008.

"It's become apparent that the Taliban are very much on the backfoot." British Brigadier Gordon Messenger, June 1 2008.

Police open fire on demonstrators

While news of police opening fire on demonstrators is almost commonplace, recent events reveal a lot about the credibility of NATO statements of innocence. First, see the BBC:

Protest at Afghan 'mosque raid'

FEBRUARY 27 - There have been angry protests in the Afghan province of Ghazni at what locals say was a raid on a mosque by international forces.

A number of people were hurt when police clashed with protesters.

A Nato spokesman said there were no indications its troops were in the area on Thursday [Feb 26] when the incident was said to have occurred.

Some reports say shots were fired in the mosque and also that a Koran in the building was damaged.

One protester told Associated Press he saw Polish forces at the mosque in the village of Dhi Khodaidad... (link)
But wait. Note that the NATO spokesperson (Lt-Cmdr Chris Hall) said none of their troops were in the area. Yet, that's not what NATO said the next day in their press release:
Previously, Afghan National Police in Ghazni, acting on information that a certain building in the village of Deh-e Khodaydad was being used as a militant safe house and recruitment centre, requested that ISAF troops support an ANP operation intended to capture militant cell leaders there.

During the Feb. 26 operation, Afghan National Police entered the building using a non-lethal concussion grenade to subdue possible occupants. ISAF forces provided a security cordon around the building, but did not enter. The ANP found no militants inside the building, and no shots were reportedly fired. There were no reports of injuries in the operation or of significant damage to the building or its contents... (link)
So, not only were there NATO troops in the area after all, but the operation there was pre-planned. Thus, when NATO spokespeople tell us their troops were absent from an alleged event, it is entirely possible they are speaking falsely. Whether by neglect or design, it seems that spokespersons are not always privy to the facts.

The release also does not state whether the troops on scene when the alleged incident occurred were Polish or American soldiers, something which witnesses apparently disagree on.

Reuters reports that six people were injured when police opened fire on the demonstrators.


More civilians perish

While the media was full of chatter about the two (then three) children allegedly killed by Canadian munitions in Kandahar on Monday, February 23, a rather obscure event was going on in neighboring Helmand province.

In Sangin district, NATO troops were involved in a clash with insurgents, resulting in "a number of civilian casualties" (note: not necessarily deaths) according to a NATO press release of Feb 23. (Only the day before in the same district Afghan and NATO troops fired on a motorcyclist, injuring him.) The next day (Feb 24), a NATO press release states that three civilians were injured during a clash in Sangin district on February 15, one of whom later died from their wounds.

Then there's Reuters from Thursday, Feb 26:

HELMAND - Helmand Deputy Governor Hajji Abdul Sattar and NATO-led and Afghan security forces have launched a joint investigation into the death of civilians during an engagement between NATO-led forces and insurgents Monday, the alliance said. (link)
The Feb 15 incident does not seem to have been reported elsewhere, so one is tempted to conclude it is a typo and that it should have read Feb 23. That still doesn't explain why Reuters reported more than one killed in the Feb 23 incident, a reference I have not found elsewhere.

February 5-6: US-led coalition forces in Zabul kill 6 civilians in an attack which targeted insurgents, say Afghan officials.
February 6: US-led coalition forces shoot and kill one man and wound a woman and child at a checkpoint in Khost province.
February 11: A provincial spokesman says NATO airstrikes kill four civilians in Logar province.
February 12: Five children are killed as Australian special forces battle militants while searching a house in Uruzgan province.
February 15: Three civilians are injured (one fatally) when NATO troops and insurgents clash in Sangin district, Helmand. [N.B.: The veracity of this report is unclear.]
February 16: In Herat US forces kill 12 - 16 civilians in air attacks. An American investigation claims that 13 civilians and three militants were killed.
February 17: Two civilians in a vehicle are killed by NATO-led troops on patrol in the Maywand district of Kandahar.
February 22: A motorcyclist is shot and injured by NATO troops in Sangin district of Helmand.
February 23: Villagers report that Canadian weaponry killed three children in Panjwai district. According to some, it was unexploded left-over ordnance; others said it was a Canadian artillery shell fired at the children.
February 23: A number of civilians are injured in a clash between NATO forces and insurgents in Sangin district, Helmand. Reuters later reports that more than one of them died.

Surge: who wants it and what effect will it have?

An interesting interview with Francesc Vendrell who was special envoy for Afghanistan for the United Nations (2000-02) and the European Union (2002-08) and is currently a visiting scholar at Princeton University. He is interviewed by Radio Free Europe (which, as I never tire of reminding readers, is funded by the US Congress and has in the past acted as a CIA media asset).

Radio Free Europe: Do you think that U.S. President Barack Obama's recent decision to send an additional 17,000 troops to Afghanistan will improve the security situation in Afghanistan?

Vendrell: It would have been preferable if any deployment would have waited until there was a total review of the strategy to be followed...

My impression is that no Afghan public figure is actually calling for more foreign forces...

One has to be careful in terms of increasing the foreign military presence because -- although we have been very lucky that the Afghan population has welcomed, particularly in 2001 and 2002, the arrival of international forces -- I think, we have to be careful that our welcome is not wearing out...

Q: Do you think President Karzai, by increasingly expressing his opposition to U.S. military strategies that result in civilian casualties, is using the situation for campaigning purposes ahead of the presidential elections?

A: I think there are very genuine Afghan grievances. He may be formulating them -- the timing may be somewhat linked to the elections, but I think the grievances are very genuine. Even though the Taliban may also be killing as many civilians, or more, than foreign forces. At the end of the day, Afghans are increasingly unwilling to accept civilian casualties at the hands of foreigners. And he is right in saying that Afghan patience may be wearing thin.

Q: What kinds of challenges can Richard Holbrooke, U.S. President Obama's special envoy for Afghanistan and Pakistan, expect?

A: ... I think there are genuine grievances, inside Afghanistan, that have led to either Afghans joining the Taliban, or probably a very large number of particularly [ethnic] Pashtuns sitting on the fence between the government and the Taliban...

Q: What is your prognosis of the issue of talking to the Taliban?

A: The Afghan government and the president need to define a framework about how to proceed with any reconciliation talks with the Taliban. And the president needs to reach a consensus with other legal political forces in Afghanistan as to what this dialogue with the Taliban will consist of. And then, of course, he needs to have on board the key members of the international community. I personally think that one should start by making approaches to some of the local commanders who may be fighting in Afghanistan not because they want to establish an Islamic emirate, but because they have local grievances that have not been met... (link)
I'm sure that most readers are familiar with the rather widespread opinion that the upcoming surge in troop levels in Afghanistan will most likely lead primarily to increased violence in that country and neighbouring Pakistan. Jean MacKenzie, a woman with maximal current experience in Afghanistan, sums up the common wisdom:
Afghanistan troop surge costly
By Jean MacKenzie - GlobalPost

KABUL, Feb 26 - One general with the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) in Afghanistan refers to the cost of a U.S. troop surge as the "mathematics of death."

And Afghans and the international community agree, the proposed deployment of 17,000 additional U.S. soldiers in Afghanistan will almost certainly mean a spike in the level of violence in the country.

“There is the risk of an increase initially,” Brig. Gen. Richard Blanchette, spokesman for the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) in Afghanistan, told GlobalPost in an interview. “There will be more kinetic action, more operations being conducted.” ... (link)
Finally, from the Wall Street Journal:
"I hate to say it, but yes, I think there will be [more U.S. casualties]," Vice President Joe Biden said on CBS Sunday. "There will be an uptick." (link)

Canadians terrorise village

Most readers have undoubtedly heard about the children alleged to have been killed by Canadian weaponry in Kandahar, resulting in another "Death to Canada" protest. Below is some of the better reporting on that incident, which reveals that, quite apart from the merits of the recent allegations, Canadian forces have been menacing the area for some time.

Graeme Smith:

Canadians blamed for childrens' deaths in Kandahar
Graeme Smith - Globe and Mail

KANDAHAR, Feb 24 - Angry villagers carted the bodies of two dead children into Kandahar city yesterday, screaming, "Death to the Canadians," and blaming the foreign troops for testing weapons near their homes...

The Canadian military has launched an investigation, saying its troops had been test-firing artillery and tank cannons...

No clear answers have emerged [as to what killed the children], said Canadian military spokesman Major Mario Couture, because that dusty part of the Panjwai valley is strewn with hazards.

"It's littered with all kinds of unexploded ordnance and mines, and it's a very dangerous area, so anything is possible," Major Couture said.

The tragedy occurred ... less than half a kilometre from Sheik Mohammed bin Rashid village, also known as the "handicapped village." It's a small settlement devoted to helping disabled Afghans, named after its benefactor** - the wealthy ruler of Dubai - whose support has been crucial for the Afghan mission...

Major Couture acknowledged that "children would have been killed and injured" had they come into contact with unexploded ordnance left behind by Canadian troops, "who were conducting a range in the area the day prior to the incident."...

Villagers were so upset by the incident that they briefly blocked two roads. At one point, they loaded the corpses of the two boys onto a wooden trailer hauled by a motorbike and drove them to the centre of Kandahar, demonstrating noisily on the road between the governor's meeting hall and the provincial council offices.

Their shouts drew the attention of journalists, whose footage showed the children's blood-splattered faces and brown eyes staring blankly...

Some of the protesters were hobbling on crutches, missing legs. Afghan officials said the dead children were residents of the so-called handicapped village... (link)
The CBC:
3rd child dies after Afghan explosion
CBC - February 24, 200

... Officials in Kandahar City's Mirwais Hospital identified the third victim as four-year-old Juma Gul, one of three children treated for shrapnel wounds after the explosion on Sunday.

Two other children, a 13-year-old identified as Sadar Walli and 12-year-old Amed Jan, were killed instantly...

But some of the village elders could not back up the father's claims.

Mohammed Zahir said he heard an explosion around 11 a.m. as children were returning from religious school...

He said foreign troops come to the area twice a month to practise firing.

"It scares our children," he said. "They can’t sleep." ... (link)
So, from all this we have established that the Canadian Forces twice monthly fires off weapons such as artillery and tank cannons in an area which has an abundance of dangerous unexploded mines and ordnance and which is located less than 500m from a village of disabled people and closer still to the village of Salehan, where the children are frightened and cannot sleep.

The third dead child would mark, by my count, the fourteenth Afghan civilian known to have been killed by Canadian troops. (See here for antecedents.)

** Numerous reports have asserted that Sheik Muhammed (who was then crown prince) visited Osama Bin Laden in Kandahar in the late 1990's for one of Bin Laden's fund-raising hunting expeditions. (See this L.A. Times article. ) Some insist that the sheik did not meet with Bin Laden there, or even that he did not visit Kandahar at all at that time. However, the existence of a charity village dedicated to the sheik is perhaps support for the assertion that he has visited the area.

N.B.: For more on the Oct 18 2006 incident in Ashoqa (aka Ashogo) noted in the graphic above, see Markland, "Media blind to Afghan civilian deaths".

February's toll:

February 5-6: US-led coalition forces in Zabul kill 6 civilians in an attack which targeted insurgents, say Afghan officials.
February 6: US-led coalition forces shoot and kill one man and wound a woman and child at a checkpoint in Khost province.
February 11: A provincial spokesman says NATO airstrikes kill four civilians in Logar province.
February 12: Five children are killed as Australian special forces battle militants while searching a house in Uruzgan province.
February 16: In Herat US forces kill 12 - 16 civilians in air attacks. An American investigation claims that 13 civilians and three militants were killed.
February 17: Two civilians in a vehicle are killed by NATO-led troops on patrol in the Maywand district of Kandahar.
February 23: Villagers report that Canadian weaponry killed three children in Panjwai district. According to some, it was unexploded left-over ordnance; others said it was a Canadian artillery shell fired at the children.