Sunday, May 31, 2009

An anti-war candidate?

From Chris Sands:

Presidential campaign heating up
Chris Sands, The National (UAE)

KABUL, May 30 - Afghanistan’s electoral campaign season is well underway, with supporters of the main opposition candidate for the presidency holding a series of rallies across Kabul...

The biggest challenger to the incumbent, Hamid Karzai, looks like it might be Abdullah Abdullah, his foreign minister until 2006 and a prominent member of the old Northern Alliance movement.

Rallies have been held throughout the city during recent days in an effort to drum up support for a man considered second favourite. They were often characterised by criticisms of the foreign occupation...

Bashir Banish Hanifi, 22, a student from the northern province of Badakhshan, described Mr Abdullah as “a jihadi” who could help bring peace and reduce nationwide unemployment. He added that the occupation should end, a demand none of the principal contenders are likely to agree with yet.

“My opinion is that we want the man we support to have his hands free. If the foreigners leave the country and let the government work alone, that will be better. A lot of people believe the foreigners are trying to make the situation worse,” he said... (link)
See AbdullaAbdullah's Wikipedia entry.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

British bombs

From the Guardian:

MoD admits use of controversial 'enhanced blast' weapons in Afghanistan
The Guardian (UK)
By Richard Norton-Taylor

MAY 28 - British pilots in Afghanistan are firing an increasing number of "enhanced blast" thermobaric weapons, designed to kill everyone in buildings they strike, the Ministry of Defence has revealed.

Since the start of this year more than 20 of the US-designed missiles, which have what is officially described as a "blast fragmentation warhead", have been fired by pilots of British Apache attack helicopters. A total of 20 were also fired last year after they were bought by the MoD from the Americans last May...

The missile's warhead is made with a mixture of chemicals rather than a simple blast mechanism...

US forces have deployed the missiles in Iraq as well as Afghanistan... (link)
Here's what Amnesty International says about these weapons:
[Vaccum bombs] are a type of thermobaric weapon, also called fuel air explosives. This type of weapon introduces an aerosol cloud of volatile gases in the target area, which is then ignited to create a fireball that sucks air out of the atmosphere and produces lethal effects, such as severe burns and lung collapse, to individuals in the target area. Like all weapons of modern warfare they pose a danger to civilians and could be used in indiscriminate or other unlawful attacks. Their great destructive potential raises concerns that they are more likely to result in indiscriminate killing.

An example of the horrific toll on civilians of such weapons came in 1982, during the Israeli army’s siege of Beirut. The Israeli air force dropped a vacuum bomb on an apartment block in which they believed PLO leader Yasser Arafat was hiding. Around 200 people were reported to have been killed... (link)

Amnesty: 'indiscriminate use of air strikes'

Amnesty International's annual human rights report was released today. An excerpt:

Abuses by Afghan and international forces

Civilian casualties have been increasing since 2001...

Serious concerns about the indiscriminate and disproportionate use of air strikes were raised following several grave incidents. On 6 July US-led coalition air strikes in Deh Bala district in Nangahar Province reportedly killed 47 civilians, including 30 children; on 21-22 August air strikes carried out in Shindand district of Herat Province resulted in more than 90 civilian casualties, including 62 children.

In September 2008, responding to criticism regarding the high number of civilian deaths, NATO again revised its rules of engagement...

Some families whose relatives were killed or injured and those who had property destroyed received financial compensation from governments involved in military operations. However, Afghan and international forces lack a systematic programme for assisting those injured by Afghan and international military forces.

NATO and US forces continued to hand over detainees to the NDS, Afghanistan’s intelligence service, which perpetrates human rights violations including torture and arbitrary detention with impunity... (link)
It must be pointed out that international law makes no distinction between deliberate attacks on civilians (which western miltary leaders frequently accuse the Taliban of committing) and indiscriminate attacks. “From the standpoint of the law of international armed conflict," notes a leading legal scholar, "there is no genuine difference between a premeditated attack against civilians (or civilian objects) and a reckless disregard of the principle of distinction; they are equally forbidden.” [Yoram Dinstein, The Conduct of Hostilities Under the Law of International Armed Conflict, Cambridge University Press (2004), p 117.]


Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Three killings and a protest

Nothing unusual here, just a couple vignettes of occupation:

Forces kill three men, detain six in Helmand raids

KABUL, May 25 (Pajhwok) - Afghan and US-led coalition forces killed three men and detained six suspects early Monday during deliberate operations targeting militants in southern Helmand province, the US military said...

[In Lashkar Gah:] At one compound, the statement said, a man exited a building and walked toward the force. The man appeared to be wearing a suicide belt and was warned to halt. He was killed when he continued to approach forces, the release claimed.

At the same compound, Afghan forces issued verbal commands for occupants to exit two other buildings. Women and children who exited indicated no one else was inside. Forces entered one of the buildings and encountered a man shielding himself with a woman and children. When the man shouted a threat, forces shot him. A ricochet struck a woman and child, causing non-life threatening injuries.

Forces entered a third building on the compound and encountered another man who was also using women and children as shields, the release said.

Forces shot the man, ending the situation without harming the woman and children he had endangered... (link)
And in Uruzgan:
In Uruzgan, demo staged against ISAF
Ahmad Omeed Khpalwak

TIRIN KOT, May 25 (PAN) - More than one hundred people in central Uruzgan province late Sunday rallied against the NATO-led ISAF forces for arresting 18 people including tribal elders and a candidate in the provincial council elections...

A similar incident of arrests by the ISAF troops also took place in the central province last month... (link)

The Vancouver connection

Lately, most references to violence and Vancouver involve street gangs. However, this time the accused perp is the University of British Columbia's own Tooryalai Wesa, recently appointed governor of his native Kandahar province:

Afghanistan's election gets rough, and it hasn't even started
By Brian Hutchinson in Kandahar

MAY 26 (Canwest) ... On Sunday, prominent local journalist Mohammad Yar lodged a complaint with the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission after receiving a "politically motivated" beating from gun-toting assailants in Kandahar City.

The beating took place Thursday in broad daylight and followed a heated exchange between Yar and the city's mayor, Ghulam Haider Hamidi. The two men clashed at a poetry festival held inside the Governor of Kandahar's official guest house, where Yar had attempted to distribute a biography of Afghanistan's former finance minister, Ashraf Ghani...

Karzai appointed Hamidi as mayor two years ago...

Kandahar's mayor took issue with Yar and said he was distributing illegal campaign material. The mayor later went on national television and repeated the allegation.

Yar countered the material in question was not illegal. He said it was strictly biographical and did not mention Ghani's fledgling campaign...

After his run-in with the mayor, Yar was escorted to a separate room where, he alleges, Afghan intelligence officials questioned him.

He was then "ordered out of the governor's guest house. They told me that they were acting on orders from the governor himself." Kandahar's governor is Tooryalai Wesa, a dual Afghan-Canadian citizen who Karzai appointed last year. He was travelling to his second home in Vancouver Monday and could not be reached for comment.

[An official in the governor's office said] that Wesa did not attend the poetry festival. He was in meetings at the time of the alleged incident, the official said.

After his run-in with the mayor, things got worse for Yar.

"I left the guest house with about 10 friends," he recalled Monday.

"We walked outside on the street for about 30 metres when three armed guys in civilian clothes came up to us. They had pistols in their hands. They started hitting me," said Yar, who suffers from polio and does not have the use of one of his legs.

He uses crutches to move about. He said his assailants pushed him to the ground and then started beating him with his crutches. The beating lasted seven to 10 minutes, he alleged, until both crutches were broken.

"These men threatened my friends with their pistols. No one could help me," said Yar.

During the beating, he said, an unmarked police vehicle pulled alongside him. Several uniformed officers asked why he was being hit.

Yar's assailants said nothing, and continued landing blows. The officers sat in their vehicle and watched, according to Yar. They did not intervene... (link)

US troops trample rights

Z Net's Japan Focus section is one of the best English language resources for analysis of East Asia, complete with essays and articles translated from Japanese and Korean. Today they featured a translation of several dispatches from Japanese photo journalist Shirakawa Toru, who writes of being embedded with an American unit which is probably a PRT in Khost province. What he reports about the troops' behaviour is quite jarring:

... I left the base with the humanitarian aid unit who said they were going to visit nearby houses. A protection unit accompanied us.

Though they call themselves doctors and vets, they look no different than combatants. They wear bulletproof vests and sunglasses. M16 rifles hang from their necks. Physicians who are supposed to be saving lives are carrying rifles. It is a strange spectacle.

As they approach a house, a man of about forty, presumably its owner, is standing in the doorway. The eyes with which he looks at the US troops are extremely frightened.

"Please don't come into the house. There's a woman inside. Please stop." The man firmly refuses the US army's medical assistance.

The commanding officer persuades the man to yield, promising that only female soldiers will enter.

The female soldiers enter the house. The protection unit soldiers follow directly after them. This is not what was promised.

As I enter the premises, I see protection unit soldiers on the roof.

I tense up. Nearly all the people who live in the border region support the Taliban. The Taliban often use private houses as a base. If any Taliban are discovered, there might be a firefight.

Fortunately, the protection unit emerges from the house having found no one who looks like a combatant.

Medical treatment has been given, but it is a formality. The man, whose skin is dry, has been given cream...

As we leave the house, we see that soldiers from the protection unit have lined up the males of the house against a wall.

A soldier is holding what looks like a camera against a man's face. The man's eye is reflected in the apparatus lens.

"I'm taking a photo of his retina and data-basing it."

I ask him what for, but the soldier says nothing more. According to what a British journalist familiar with army activities tells me later, it is so that when a Taliban fighter is captured they can check the data base and find out what village he is from. Evidently the data can also be useful for targeting air strikes...

No longer relying exclusively on military attacks, the US army is changing its strategy and attempting to win the people over through humanitarian aid.

Yet recalling that man's frightened eyes, I cannot think that the strategy is succeeding. Many Afghans regard the United States as an aggressor... (link)
In light of the above, particularly the deceitful and unwelcome entry of male troops into the home, it bears mentioning that the Geneva Conventions outlaw "Outrages upon personal dignity, in particular humiliating and degrading treatment." One would also think that civilians have a right not to be fingerprinted by occupation forces.

As a footnote, here's the latest civilian casualty:
KABUL, May 27 - Coalition forces on Tuesday shot dead one Afghan and wounded another in the Afghan capital when they thought a vehicle was threatening their convoy, U.S. forces said in a statement... (link)

Monday, May 25, 2009

700 dead Pakistani civilians

From The Times:

Concern mounts over US Predator covert killings

WASHINGTON, May 23 - America has stepped up the covert targeted killing policy in Pakistan and Afghanistan despite the concern of security experts about its effectiveness and complaints by human rights groups about civilian casualties.

The CIA is said to have carried out at least 16 Predator strikes in Pakistan during the first four months of this year, compared with 36 strikes in the whole of 2008...

David Kilcullen, who was the chief counter-terrorism adviser to Condoleezza Rice, the former Secretary of State, has said that the programme should be scrapped. “Since 2006 we’ve killed 14 senior al-Qaeda leaders using drone strikes; in the same time period we’ve killed 700 Pakistani civilians in the same area. The drone strikes are highly unpopular.” he said... (link)
Kilcullin may not be the best source to quote, however. Juan Cole finds his recent rantings about Pakistan's imminent collapse and more "absurd." (In the comments here, one anonymous insider claims Kilcullin is a "huckster and a showman".) Perhaps more seriously, anthropologist Price outlines an accusation that Kilcullin lifted parts of the US military's new counterinsurgency manual from Lawrence of Arabia.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Suicide in the US army

From the Washington Post:

Generals Find Suicide a Frustrating Enemy
As Numbers Continue to Climb, Top Officers Meet Monthly to Look for Answers
May 23

... Such meetings are one piece of a broader effort to arrest the Army's rising suicide rate, which has surged to record levels in the past year. In 2008, 140 soldiers on active duty took their own lives, continuing a trend in which the number of suicides has increased more than 60 percent since 2003, surpassing the rate for the general U.S. population...

The Army's biggest challenge is that its volunteer force is in uncharted territory. Many soldiers are now in the midst of their third or fourth combat tour, and Army surveys show that mental health deteriorates with each one... (link)
And the Daily Beast reveals the US military's backward treatment of mental illness:
... The surviving recruit's superiors were concerned about him. For two weeks, he was put on suicide watch, a common but not entirely standard procedure for at-risk soldiers. "Two battle buddies watch you 24/7," the recruit, who is still in training to become a radio operator, says. "You have to wear a road guard vest—there's no shoelaces, no bedsheets, no belt." On an Army base, where everybody is wearing the same digitized camouflaged uniform—and everybody is trained to spot small differences, like rank and unit, from a distance—just wearing boots held together by rubber bands instead of laces would draw attention. But a road guard vest is bright, construction-zone orange. In a sea of green, you can't miss it.

"You're in an isolated state," the recruit says. The orange vest makes you a pariah...

Suicide watch (also called unit watch, buddy watch, or command interest profile) is how the Army deals with soldiers in garrison who express suicidal thoughts but don't appear to be in immediate danger of harming themselves. It's been around in some form since the 1980s, and generally involves a suicidal soldier being watched by one or two fellow soldiers around the clock, and having his gun, shoelaces, and belt taken away, so he can't kill himself.

It’s unclear how widespread exactly the use of the road guard vest is. Not every base uses it, though it is used at Fort Benning, where infantry soldiers, who are more at-risk for killing themselves when they come back, are trained. One soldier-blogger at an unspecified base wrote in the summer of 2008 that “there are around five kids that have to wear big red vests for suicide watch because they tried to.”

The purpose of the vest is, ostensibly, to make it easy for others to keep an eye on a suicidal soldier, but forcing a soldier to advertise his own depression creates a powerful stigma. "When you see what happens to someone on suicide watch—the orange vest, the trips to the chaplain, the drill sergeant talking about them when they're not there, saying they can't handle the military. … When you see that, you're going to think twice about speaking up and saying you need some help. It makes you not want to talk to someone. You don't want to be like that guy," the recruit from Benning says.

One soldier describes suicide watch on his blog like this: “[E]veryone can see you because you're wearing a bright orange vest in a yard of green uniforms. Your baggy camouflage pants are always falling down and you can't walk any way but awkwardly without loosing [sic] your boots. Two guys who don't like you are constantly at your side and you'd damned well better do whatever they say. Drill Sargeants [sic] go out of their way to make fun of you for the captive audience. You are fodder. You are an example.”

"I can't think of anything worse in the ethos of the military," says Polly Coe, a therapist who treats soldiers stationed at Fort Campbell, in Kentucky. Singling out suicidal soldiers, she says, "makes them more suicidal." ...

I talked to many soldiers who remember seeing guys in orange vests at Fort Benning, though few of them have much sympathy for those recruits, who are often seen as wimps trying to get out of their contract... (link)

Civilian killings continue

Though not as dramatic as the Farah bombings which killed over a hundred civilians early this month, there have been more killings of civilians by foreign troops:

Farmer's killing sparks protest in Farah
Ahmad Qureshi - May 18, 2009 - 10:50

HERAT CITY (PAN): Nearly a hundred people on Monday staged a protest demonstration against the US forces for what they say killing an innocent farmer in the southwestern Farah province.

The US-led coalition soldiers killed a local farmer and bombed his motorbike while the man was irrigating his farmland in Poshtrod district on Monday morning, a member of the provincial council Balqis Roshan told Pajhwok Afghan News.

She claimed the troops destroyed the farmer's motorbike soon after killing him.

"The US troops used hand grenades to destroy motorcycle of the farmer in order to prove it for locals that the farmer wanted to plant bombs or tried to attack their convoy," she alleged.

She added more than 80 tribal elders and locals had gathered to carry the dead body towards the Governor's House to show the governor that the killed person was a local... (link)
Note that the killing reported above was in Farah - the same province where over 100 civilians were killed early this month.

And another:
Coalition strike kills Afghan farmer: officials

KABUL, May 24 (AFP) – An Afghan farmer has died after being wounded in a US-led coalition air strike, launched last week after he was wrongly suspected of planting a roadside bomb, Afghan and NATO officials said Sunday...

The May 20 strike in the eastern province of Paktya was called in to support ISAF troops, it said.

"A subsequent investigation has determined that the individual was not emplacing improvised explosive devices, as originally suspected," it said... (link)
And US-paid contractors are in on the game as well:
US military investigates contractors after Afghan killing

KABUL, May 23 (AFP) – The US military in Kabul said Saturday it was looking into referring the killing of an Afghan civilian by US contractors to the justice department in Washington.

Contractors from the Paravant group, affiliated to the Blackwater security firm accused of killing civilians in Iraq, were involved in a traffic accident in Kabul on May 5.

The contractors told the US military that after they stopped because of the accident, they had felt "threatened" by another vehicle, Lieutenant Colonel Chris Kubik told AFP.

"They fired on the vehicle and they ended up killing one Afghan and wounding two others, one of whom was a pedestrian," Kubik said.

Kubik added Paravant was subcontracted to the US military in Afghanistan to do weapons training with Afghan soldiers as part of US-led efforts to build the war-shattered country's army... (link)
Airstrike kills construction worker, wounds 18 others near Afghan capital

KABUL, May 23 (Xinhua) - An airstrike of international troops on Friday night killed a road construction worker and wounded 18 others in Afghanistan's Wardak province, some 70 km west of the capital Kabul, an official said on Saturday.

"The war plane of international troops attacked a garden near a road construction company in Chak district, killing one and injuring 18 other workers," Hajji Hazrat Janan, head of the provincial council, told Xinhua.

He also said five of the wounded were in critical condition and had been transferred to a hospital in Kabul... (link)

Saturday, May 23, 2009

'She hates the foreign soldiers'

We have all heard the hype about the blogosphere - that, with all these bloggers sniffing about nothing of any importance can slip by the the wonks. Yet the two article below appear not to have been blogged or reposted any news gathering site (i.e. they have only one hit on the google machine ).

Reporting from Wardak province, Sayed Karim, who has substantial experience in various parts of the country, writes the kind of dispatch that should have war advocates rethinking their position. My prediction is nobody will pay any attention:

Some in Afghanistan look back on Taliban era as the good old days
Sayed Karim - The National (Abu Dhabi)

MAIDAN WARDAK, Afghanistan, May 21 - Nostalgia for the Taliban regime comes in many forms. Some Afghans associate that time with security; others simply remember it as an era when their husband or son had regular work. Then there are those who preferred the old life because their nation was not being occupied.

In Maidan Wardak province, all these feelings have built up to create a deadly, hostile environment. Few people are happy with what the US-led war has brought them and they want the troops out.

“The only way the situation can get better is if this government is finished and a new one takes its place. The foreigners should leave this country because they can’t control anything. The Americans want to send 20,000 more soldiers but, god willing, even if they send two million more the security will get worse,” said Mohammed Nayen...

“We liked the Taliban regime because there was security. It was good for rich and poor people, everyone was happy. The Americans just go to areas where the roads are good. If the roads are bad, they don’t go there,” Mr Nayen said.

Like other locals, he described a situation in which the government has completely lost the trust of the general public. The police are violent, commit robberies and are always looking for bribes, he said, adding that they falsely arrest university and madrasa students on trumped-up charges of being insurgents...

Law and order, more than education or democracy, is what Afghans here crave most...

[A shopkeeper:] “In all the districts of Maidan Wardak the government just keeps control in its offices. They can’t go out from them because everything else is under the control of the Taliban.”...

[The shopkeeper] said every effort must be made to hold talks with the insurgents if more bloodshed is to be avoided.

“If the government wants to negotiate with the Taliban we will be happy. I don’t know if the Taliban will accept the idea of talking or not, but they are also from Afghanistan and they have their own rights,” he said...

Dressed in a burqa, Jamila, who is 30, tells people she is off to visit her mother-in-law whenever she goes to her job as a tailor. She is scared of the Taliban, but also hates the foreign soldiers. “My sons must travel far to go to school and my husband is unemployed. If you looked at my home you would think that not even animals could live there,” she said.

I don’t like the foreigners or what they have done for this country and for its women. During the Taliban time my husband had a job, now he doesn’t. The foreigners should leave the country because it’s not just me – no one likes them. They have killed lots of people.” (link)
It is of course hardly worth noting that opinions like that of the woman (and men) quoted above are easy enough to find, yet the mass media and such Afghanistan "advocates" as the Canada-Afghanistan Solidarity Committee are uninterested in these Afghans and their opinions. CASC has, it seems, not addressed the evident hostility toward the foreign occupation which many journalists and even opinion polls have reported (see links below).

They are not alone, of course. Apart from the two main political parties, even the NDP has been tepid in their opposition to the war and seem uninterested in denouncing the illegality of the operation. None of these actors seem capable of asking the question: is the occupation wrong when most people in the province we are operating in want us to leave? If the answer is no, then at what point does it become wrong? When a majority of the whole country's population opposes us? After that?

Also writing in The National is Chris Sands, whom we've seen much of on this blog:
Afghan anger grows at slaughter of the innocents
Chris Sands, Foreign Correspondent

KABUL, May 19 - In the afternoon heat of the Kabul spring, Ghrana sat alone in the shadows of a rehabilitation centre. Surrounded by men hooked up to catheters or walking on crutches, she recounted how she had come to be in their company – a 13-year-old girl torn apart by a war fought in the name of freedom and democracy.

She sounded neither angry nor particularly sad describing what happened during a journey to her sister’s house in the south-western province of Helmand, one morning. “I didn’t hear any shooting or anything. Then I saw red coloured bombs falling from the aeroplane,” she said.

Nine of her relatives were killed, including her mother. Ghrana lost her right leg and much of her left arm...

Each day that goes by they are joined by other men, women and children caught in a struggle that many Afghans say is more brutal than anything in their country’s history...

Exactly why Ghrana and her family were bombed in Musa Qala district three-and-a-half months ago may never become clear. She insists there were no Taliban in the area at the time and there is no obvious reason why her family was confused for insurgents.

... she must now try to find decent medical treatment and piece her life back together. Meanwhile, her remaining relatives pray for the day when the foreign troops finally withdraw from their country.

“It will be like Eid for us,” said her uncle, Ahmed Abed, a polite 32-year-old who brought his niece to Kabul.

“The Americans know who is a Talib and who is innocent, but they don’t care. If it is a Talib or a girl, they don’t care. They are crazy. It’s like they are blinded by love. If anyone comes in front of their face, they shoot them. They never care who it is. I can accept that airplanes make mistakes, but I have seen with my own eyes them fire from a vehicle at a woman in the street.

Mr Abed’s anger is common among Pashtuns, Afghanistan’s largest ethnic group. Predominant in the south and east, many of them were naturally suspicious of the occupation. Now, with their homes in ruins and their futures more uncertain than ever, they are downright hostile.

“We can’t even talk because if we do the Americans will say ‘he is al Qa’eda, he is a Talib’. They have arrested our tribal leaders. We can’t control whether we can walk in the road – all the control is with the Americans. We feel as though we are not from this country. We are like illegal immigrants,” Mr Abed said.

“I know one man who lost all his family members, just he is alive. Now these are the kind of people who are joining the fight. There are no Talibs and no al Qa’eda, they are all people who had their relatives killed by the Americans. We are Afghan, apologies are not enough for us.”...

In April, coalition planes dropped 438 bombs on Afghanistan – a record monthly total, and the fourth consecutive month the number has risen. This compared to 26 dropped in Iraq, and did not include strafing runs, helicopter gunship missions or the launching of small missiles...

“The Americans come to fight with the Taliban, then they retreat a little bit and hide. The Taliban shoot at them and escape. Then the Americans ask for the air force and they start bombing us. Even if there are no Talibs in the village, they destroy the village. If there are children in the houses, they bomb them,” [Raz Mohammed from Sangin] said.

“The people are not united. One family likes the Taliban, one family doesn’t. No one can say anything about it. Some people are friends with the Taliban and if you say something they will inform the Taliban and you will be executed.

“Half of the district likes the Taliban, half doesn’t. If we are one nation that works together there will be no Taliban and no Americans. We can then build the country ourselves.”

This kind of fear and anger is prevalent across the south...

Afghans frequently use two catchall terms when talking about international troops: “Foreigners” or “Americans”. The cautious optimism they had after 2001 is fading fast. Instead, the various countries that have soldiers here – including Britain, Canada, Holland, Italy and France – are seen as a homogenous mass that has brought them widespread insecurity...

[At a refugee camp on the outskirts of Kabul:] From those three provinces in the south, more than 700 families have set up base in this squalid part of Kabul to avoid the unrest that they insist is “all the foreigners fault”... (link)

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Indian country??

Sometimes you just have to shake your head.

First, there is the Canadian Forces' new brilliant idea:

Canadian Forces want more aboriginals to sign up for the military

KANDAHAR, May 16 (CP) - Canada's armed forces are looking for young aboriginals who want to build on the long history of their ancestors in helping to defend Canada.

And as the Canadian Forces prepare to mark the military's self-proclaimed Aboriginal Day on Thursday, native soldiers in Afghanistan are echoing the call to a segment of the Canadian population - aboriginal, Inuit and Metis - that's represented by only four per cent of Canada's military personnel... (link)
(You can see the very impressive website for the Aboriginal Awareness Week here.)

Now, observe the blog writings of one BruceR, an officer with the Canadian Forces who recently returned from Afghanistan where he was a member of an Operational Mentor and Liaison Team (OMLT), who embed with and train the Afghan army:
... For the last few years, most of the fighting in [the Arghandab Valley] has been in the green spaces of Zhari and Panjwaii districts... The Afghan army and its Canadian allies, whose main bases are centred around the old international airport to the southeast of the city (KAF) are largely, at this point in the game, ensconced in three large forward operating bases, or FOBs, posing a barrier across the valley itself. To the west of this line within Zhari or Panjwaii is, basically, Indian country right now... (link)
I imagine that a Canadian Forces spokesperson might call this a "disconnect".

(Also see: In 2004, reporter Chris Wattie noted that Canadian soldiers use the term "Indian country" to describe areas of Afghanistan not controlled by ISAF forces; In 2007, an American soldier in Afghanistan told the Washington Times about returning to his base from "Indian country".)

More American war crimes

We saw a while ago on this blog that a British general who had commanded forces in Afghanistan claimed in a TV interview that British forces use white phosphorus (WP) as a weapon in civilian areas. If true, this would surely be a war crime.

Recently, US forces were accused of using WP in its deadly bombing in the Bala Baluk district of Farah province. Subsequent investigations indicate, however, that that is unlikely. Yet now we have this from the New York Times' correspondent Christopher Chivers reporting from Korengal Valley:
The morning after the sweep, the soldiers gathered outside. A pair of boots, a helmet and a rifle had been arranged before an American flag. Dog tags hung from the rifle. They bore the name of Pfc. Richard Dewater, 21, who had been killed by a bomb hidden on a trail...

After the ceremony, the violence resumed. The soldiers detected a Taliban spotter on a ridge, which was pounded with mortars and then white phosphorus rounds from a 155-millimeter howitzer.

What did the insurgents do? When the smoldering subsided, they attacked from exactly the same spot, shelling the outpost with 30 millimeter grenades and putting the soldiers on notice that the last display of firepower had little effect. The Americans escalated. An A-10 aircraft made several gun runs, then dropped a 500-pound bomb... (link)
Note that the action described by Chivers occurs in the morning, meaning the WP rounds were likely not used for illumination, which is considered a legal use of WP. Further, it seems unlikely that the WP rounds were being used for visual cover, which is also allowed under the law. Indeed Chivers writes that the soldiers "pounded" the ridge with mortars then WP, which doesn't sound like non-weapon use of WP. And while use of WP to mark targets for airstrikes is allowed, Chivers writes that the soldiers "escalated" to airstrikes after the initial attack, meaning that targeting was not the purpose of firing the WP rounds.

Here is the US policy from the horse's mouth (i.e. Combined Joint Task Force 101):
White phosphorus is appropriately employed for screening of troop movements, marking targets, illumination, as well as destruction of unoccupied bunkers, buildings and weapons systems, and the demolition of otherwise flammable materials such as ammo and petroleum products.

WP is used as a smoke-producing agent common to the arsenals of many nations, and is classified as conventional ordnance. It is not designed for use against personnel. ISAF employs white phosphorus in accordance with theatre rules of engagement and international law. (link)
Elsewhere, a senior official told CNN: "It is U.S. military policy to employ white phosphorous for illumination, marking targets or destroying buildings, but to abstain from using it against people." The same CNN article carries a photo (reproduced nearby) dated Oct 28, 2008 of white phosphorus in use with a caption which states "U.S. mortars using white phosphorous target Taliban".

As for the legality of the use of WP as a weapon, here is an excerpt from a BBC report a couple of years ago:
[Chemical] weapons are outlawed by the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC) to which the United States is a party.

The CWC is monitored by the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, based in The Hague. Its spokesman Peter Kaiser was asked if WP was banned by the CWC and he had this to say:

"No it's not forbidden by the CWC if it is used within the context of a military application which does not require or does not intend to use the toxic properties of white phosphorus. White phosphorus is normally used to produce smoke, to camouflage movement.

"If that is the purpose for which the white phosphorus is used, then that is considered under the Convention legitimate use.

"If on the other hand the toxic properties of white phosphorus, the caustic properties, are specifically intended to be used as a weapon, that of course is prohibited, because the way the Convention is structured or the way it is in fact applied, any chemicals used against humans or animals that cause harm or death through the toxic properties of the chemical are considered chemical weapons." ... (link)

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Recent US and NATO killings of civilians

NATO kills more civilians, this time in Helmand:
NATO says air strike likely killed Afghan civilians

KABUL, May 20 (Reuters) - A NATO-led air raid may have killed eight civilians in Afghanistan, the alliance said on Wednesday...

Separately, the U.S. military said an initial investigation showed that between 20 to 30 civilians were possibly killed in its air strike early this month in western Farah province, where the Afghan government says the deaths numbered 140.

NATO said it sent warplanes on Tuesday to Nawa in southern Helmand province after insurgents attacked an alliance patrol... (link)
As for the American claims that the Farah bombings earlier this month killed just 20-30 civilians, Patrick Cockburn addresses the subject:
The story told by the US military spokesman Colonel Greg Julian in Kabul yesterday is specific about its conclusion that most of the dead were Taliban fighters though vague about evidence for this. Colonel Julian said that video cameras on board a B1 bomber showed two groups of people, each numbering about 30, fleeing fighting and taking refuge in houses which were then destroyed by heavy bombs.

Colonel Julian said that the 60 people moving into the houses could not be identified from the video film footage, but "other information which I could release" proved they were members of the Taliban...

Few Afghans are likely to accept the US military explanation of events. Earlier the new US ambassador to Afghanistan General Karl W. Eikenberry was quoted as saying that he doubted the wisdom of dropping 2,000 pound bombs on houses when it was not known who was inside and coalition forces would change their tactics in order to prevent civilian casualties.

Gen Eikenberry's admission that the US did not know who was inside the houses that were demolished contradicts the official story that they were Taliban fleeing a battle... (link)
Some other recent killings of civilians:
PAKTIKA, May 13 (Reuters) - U.S. forces acknowledged killing two civilians as well as six militants when they responded with air strikes and artillery to a rocket attack on two bases in southeastern Paktika province. (link)
Italian troops deployed in western Afghanistan killed a little girl recently:
Italian troops kill Afghan girl, 12 - family

HERAT, May 3 (Reuters) - Italian troops fired on a passenger car in western Afghanistan on Sunday, killing a 12-year-old Afghan girl and wounding three members of her family, the family said.

A spokesman for the Italian contingent in Afghanistan said the girl was in a car that was driving at high speed and had ignored warning signs...

Reuters television footage showed a white Toyota car with its rear and side windows destroyed and its frame punctured with bullet holes. The girl, named Behnooshahr, lay dead on a gurney at a hospital in Herat, a city near the Iranian border.

"Suddenly I heard a loud bang, I couldn't work out what it was, but I saw that my daughter was dead and my family were badly hurt," said her father, Ahmadi, who did not give a last name and is from the neighbouring province of Farah. He said the military convoy was driving behind him and he could not see or hear any signals to slow down or pull-over.

After firing, the convoy continued to drive past his car and did not stop to help his family reach a hospital, he said...

Barakatollah Mohammadi, a doctor who treated the family at a hospital in Herat, said he was shocked at the extent of the girl's wounds: "Her head was almost severed from her neck."(link)
And other ISAF troops in Wardak province:
Afghan dies in escalation of force incident

KABUL, Apr 29 - An Afghan motorcyclist was fatally wounded by Afghan National Security Force (ANSF) and International Security and Assistance Force (ISAF) troops yesterday in Sayed Abad District, Wardak province, after speeding toward an ANSF-ISAF checkpoint, despite repeated warnings to stop. In the incident, ANSF and ISAF troops manning a traffic control point observed a motorcycle approaching their position... (link)

Saturday, May 16, 2009

US forces and Islamic radicals are codependent

An interesting article from Graham Fuller, former CIA Chief of Station in Kabul:

Huffington Post
May 11, 2009

Obama's Policies Making Situation Worse in Afghanistan and Pakistan

[...] The Taliban represent zealous and largely ignorant mountain Islamists. They are also all ethnic Pashtuns. Most Pashtuns see the Taliban -- like them or not -- as the primary vehicle for restoration of Pashtun power in Afghanistan, lost in 2001...

-- India is the primary geopolitical threat to Pakistan, not Afghanistan. Pakistan must therefore always maintain Afghanistan as a friendly state...

In the end, only moderate Islamists themselves can prevail over the radicals whose main source of legitimacy comes from inciting popular resistance against the external invader. Sadly, U.S. forces and Islamist radicals are now approaching a state of co-dependency...

If the past eight years had shown ongoing success, perhaps an alternative case for U.S. policies could be made. But the evidence on the ground demonstrates only continued deterioration and darkening of the prognosis. Will we have more of the same? Or will there be a U.S. recognition that the American presence has now become more the problem than the solution? We do not hear that debate... (link)
And Patrick Seale on the Obama administration's new focus on counterinsurgency:
Obama’s New Af-Pak Strategy
By Patrick Seale

MAY 15 - U.S. President Barack Obama has chosen to adopt a high-risk counter-insurgency strategy against the Taliban militants in Afghanistan and Pakistan...

What does the new U.S. strategy imply? It means, of course, being militarily agile, matching the insurgents’ hit and run tactics, and killing their leaders, when and where possible. But it also means the deliberate use of disproportionate force, even at the cost of massive civilian casualties. The key idea is to make life so intolerably dangerous and harsh that the local population will desert the insurgents, and that both will lose the will to fight. That is the theory behind the strategy.

Israel adopted a similar counter-insurgency strategy in its war against Hamas in Gaza last December/January. It did not, however, have the desired effect since Hamas remains very much in control of Gaza, and may even have increased its legitimacy...

Under American pressure, the Pakistan Army has also deliberately resorted to the disproportionate use of force, launching this month a sudden and massive assault on the Swat valley, which is said to have so far killed 700 militants. It has also forced hundreds of thousands of destitute civilians to run for their lives, thereby creating a vast and virtually unmanageable refugee problem...

But, in the meantime, counter-insurgency is a gamble because it sometimes has the opposite effect to what is intended. Instead of driving a wedge between the population and the militants it can bind them together in adversity. Instead of drying up the pool of jihadi recruits, it can swell their ranks.

Both Afghanistan and Pakistan have been destabilized by America’s war. The next six months will show whether the situation can be retrieved. If it cannot, there will have to be another change of strategy, perhaps something more radical like announcing a withdrawal of U.S. troops on the Iraqi model, and leaving the Afghans and the Pakistanis to work things out for themselves...

Probably the best way to defeat the activists is to stop killing Muslims. (link)

Friday, May 15, 2009

Three massacres - you're out

The Independent breaks a startling story:

Rumsfeld's renegade unit blamed for Afghan deaths
Special Forces group implicated in three incidents that claimed the lives of hundreds of innocent civilians

By Jerome Starkey in Kabul
Saturday, 16 May 2009

A single American Special Forces group was behind at least three of Afghanistan's worst civilian casualty incidents, The Independent has learnt, raising fundamental questions about their ongoing role in the conflict.

Troops from the US Marines Corps' Special Operations Command, or MarSOC, were responsible for calling in air strikes in Bala Boluk, in Farah, last week – believed to have killed more than 140 men, women and children – as well as two other incidents in 2007 and 2008. News of MarSOC's involvement in the three incidents comes just days after a Special Forces expert, Lieutenant-General Stanley McChrystal, was named to take over as the top commander of US and Nato troops in Afghanistan. His surprise appointment has prompted speculation that commando counterinsurgency missions will increase in the battle to beat the Taliban.

MarSOC was created three years ago on the express orders of Donald Rumsfeld, US defence secretary at the time, despite opposition from within the Marine Corps and the wider Special Forces community. An article in the Marine Corps Times described the MarSOC troops as "cowboys" who brought shame on the corps.

The first controversial incident involving the unit happened just three weeks into its first deployment to Afghanistan on 4 March 2007. Speeding away from a suicide bomb attack close to the Pakistan border, around 120 men from Fox Company opened fire on civilians near Jalalabad, in Nangahar province. The Marines said they were shot at after the explosion; eyewitnesses said the Americans fired indiscriminately at pedestrians and civilian cars, killing at least 19 people.

The US Army commander in Nangahar at the time, Colonel John Nicholson, said he was "deeply ashamed" and described the incident as "a stain on our honour". The Marines' tour was cut short after a second incident on 9 March in which they allegedly rolled a car and fired on traffic again, and they were flown out of Afghanistan a few weeks later.The top Special Operations officer at US Central Command, Army Major General Frank Kearney, refuted MarSOC's claims that they had been shot at. "We found no brass that we can confirm that small-arms fire came at them," he said, referring to ammunition casings. "We have testimony from Marines that is in conflict with unanimous testimony from civilians."

At the military hearings on the incident, which were held back in the US, soldiers said the MarSOC troops, who called themselves Taskforce Violence, were gung-ho and hungry to prove themselves in battle. The inquiry also heard testimony suggesting there were tensions between the Marine unit and its US Army counterparts in Nangahar province.

Col Nicholson told the court the unit would routinely stray into areas under his control without telling him, ignoring usual military courtesies...

In August last year, a 20-man MarSOC unit, fighting alongside Afghan commandos, directed fire from unmanned drones, attack helicopters and a cannon-armed Spectre gunship into compounds in Azizabad, in Herat province, leaving more than 90 people dead – many of them children... (link)
Patrick Cockburn comments:
... Everything the US military has said about the air strikes on the three villages in Bala Boluk district on the evening of 4 May should be treated with suspicion – most probably hastily-concocted lies aimed at providing a cover story to conceal what really happened. Official mendacity of these proportions is comparable to anything that happened in Vietnam.

The US military now seem to have dropped their previous suggestion that Taliban gunmen had run through the village streets lobbing grenades into houses because villagers had failed to give them a cut of the profits from the opium crop. No evidence was produced for this unlikely tale. Witnesses saw no signs of grenade blasts or machine gun fire. A US official source in Washington eventually admitted that the claim was "thinly sourced".

Survivors from Gerani, Gangabad and Khoujaha villages say that there had been fighting nearby but the Taliban had long withdrawn when US aircraft attacked. This was not a few errant sticks of bombs but a prolonged bombardment. It had a devastating effect on the mud-brick houses and photographs of the dead show that their bodies were quite literally torn apart by the blasts. This makes it difficult to be precise about the exact number killed, but the Afghan Rights Monitor, after extensive interviewing, says that at least 117 civilians were killed, including 26 women and 61 children... (link)

Malalai Joya and the Farah bombings

Malalai Joya reponds to the May 5th US airstrike in her home province of Farah:

May 14, 2009
MP for Farah Province condemns NATO bombings:
’This massacre offers the world a glimpse at horrors faced by our people’
By Malalai Joya

As an elected representative for Farah, Afghanistan, I add my voice to those condemning the NATO bombing that claimed over 150 civilian lives in my province earlier this month. This latest massacre offers the world a glimpse of the horrors faced by our people.

However, as I explained at a May 11 press conference in Kabul, the U.S. military authorities do not want you to see this reality. As usual, they have tried to downplay the number of civilian casualties, but I have information that as many as 164 civilians were killed in the bombings. One grief stricken man from the village of Geranai explained at the press conference that he had lost 20 members of his family in the massacre. The Afghan government commission, furthermore, appears to have failed to list infants under the age of three who were killed. The government commission that went to the village after three days -- when all the victims had been buried in mass graves by the villagers -- is not willing to make their list public. How can the precious lives of Afghans be treated with such disrespect?

The news last week is that the U.S. has replaced their top military commander in Afghanistan, but I think this is just a trick to deceive our people and put off responsibility for their disastrous overall strategy in Afghanistan on the shoulders of one person.

The Afghan ambassador in the U.S. said in an interview with Al Jazeera that if a ‘proper apology’ is made, then ‘people will understand’ the civilian deaths. But the Afghan people do not just want to hear ‘sorry.’ We ask for an end to the occupation of Afghanistan and a stop to such tragic war crimes.

The demonstrations by students and others against these latest air strikes, like last month’s protest by hundreds of Afghan women in Kabul, show the world the way forward for real democracy in Afghanistan. In the face of harassment and threats, women took to the streets to demand the scrapping of the law that would legalize rape within marriage and codify the oppression of our country’s Shia women. Just as the U.S. air strikes have not brought security to Afghans, nor has the occupation brought security to Afghan women. The reality is quite the opposite.

This now infamous law is but the tip of the iceberg of the women’s rights catastrophe in our occupied country. The whole system, and especially the judiciary, is infected with the virus of fundamentalism and so, in Afghanistan, men who commit crimes against women do so with impunity. Rates of abduction, gang rape, and domestic violence are as high as ever, and so is the number of women’s self-immolations and other forms of suicide. Tragically, women would rather set themselves on fire than endure the hell of life in our ‘liberated’ country.

The Afghan Constitution does include provisions for women’s rights – I was one of many female delegates to the 2003 Loya Jirga who pushed hard to include them. But this founding document of the ‘new Afghanistan’ was also scarred by the heavy influence of fundamentalists and warlords, with whom Karzai and the West have been compromising from the beginning.

In fact, I was not really surprised by this latest law against women. When the U.S. and its allies replaced the Taliban with the old notorious warlords and fundamentalists of the Northern Alliance, I could see that the only change we would see was from the frying pan to the fire.

There have been a whole series of outrageous laws and court decisions in recent years. For instance, there was the disgusting law passed on the pretext of ‘national reconciliation’ that provided immunity from prosecution to warlords and notorious war criminals, many of whom sit in the Afghan Parliament. At that time, the world media and governments turned a blind eye to it.

My opposition to this law was one of the reasons that I, as an elected MP from Farah Province, was expelled from Parliament in May 2007. More recently, there was the outrageous 20-year sentence handed down against Parvez Kambakhsh, a young man whose only crime was to allegedly distribute a dissenting article at his university.

We are told that additional U.S. and NATO troops are coming to Afghanistan to help secure the upcoming presidential election. But frankly the Afghan people have no hope in this election – we know that there can be no true democracy under the guns of warlords, the drug trafficking mafia and occupation.

With the exception of Ramazan Bashardost, most of the other candidates are the known, discredited faces that have been part and parcel of the mafia-like, failed government of Hamid Karzai. We know that one puppet can be replaced by another puppet, and that the winner of this election will most certainly be selected behind closed doors in the White House and the Pentagon. I must conclude that this presidential election is merely a drama to legitimize the future U.S. puppet.

Just like in Iraq, war has not brought liberation to Afghanistan. Neither war was really about democracy or justice or uprooting terrorist groups; rather they were and are about U.S. strategic interests in the region. We Afghans have never liked being pawns in the ‘Great Game’ of empire, as the British and the Soviets learned in the past century.

It is a shame that so much of Afghanistan’s reality has been kept veiled by a western media consensus in support of the ‘good war.’ Perhaps if the citizens of North America had been better informed about my country, President Obama would not have dared to send more troops and spend taxpayers’ money on a war that is only adding to the suffering of our people and pushing the region into deeper conflicts.

A troop ‘surge’ in Afghanistan, and continued air strikes, will do nothing to help the liberation of Afghan women. The only thing it will do is increase the number of civilian casualties and increase the resistance to occupation.

To really help Afghan women, citizens in the U.S. and elsewhere must tell their government to stop propping up and covering for a regime of warlords and extremists. If these thugs were finally brought to justice, Afghan women and men would prove quite capable of helping ourselves.

Malalai Joya was the youngest member of the Afghan Parliament, elected in 2005 to represent Farah Province. In May 2007 she was unjustly suspended from Parliament. Her memoir, A Woman Among Warlords: The Extraordinary Story of an Afghan Who Dared to Raise Her Voice, is forthcoming later this year from Scribner.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Meet the new boss, same as the old boss

So the Obama administration has taken the rather unusual step of firing General David McKiernan, replacing him with General Stanley McChrystal. Reuters outlines what most see as the reason for the switch:

McChrystal is a former commander of special operations forces attuned to the style of counterinsurgency combat that the Obama administration has adopted as its strategy to thwart the Taliban and other militant groups...

McKiernan has pushed for an additional 10,000 troops in 2010, a proposal that appeared to run afoul of Gates who has expressed a reluctance to boost the force level beyond 68,000 troops... (link)
But General McChrystal has a rather dubious service record and it will be interesting to see if the media picks up on it.

Perhaps most seriously, General McChrystal appears in a 2006 Human Rights Watch report on detainee abuse in Iraq. One section of the report is devoted to a detention and interrogation facility run by Task Force 121, a CIA and military team which was involved in the capture of Saddam Hussein in his spiderhole. Many allegations of prisoner abuse arose from goings-on at the facility, whose site at Baghdad Internatiol Airport was off-limits to the Red Cross. HRW says "abusive treatment was a regular part of interrogations" at the site.

According to HRW, Task Force 121's "targets have included Saddam Hussein and Abu Musab Al-Zarqawi, but also hundreds of anonymous, and often innocent, detainees." General McChrystal, then commander of U.S. Joint Special Operations forces in Iraq, is said to have visited the facility a numerous occasions.

McChrystal seems to have given assurances to personnel at the site that neither the Red Cross nor any other inspectors would come to investigate the task force's activities:
Jeff [pseudonym for a soldier] explained that the colonel told them that he “had this directly from General McChrystal and the Pentagon that there’s no way that the Red Cross could get in.” Jeff did not question the colonel further on how these assurances were given to those in command in Camp Nama.

He explained that they were told: “they just don’t have access, and they won’t have access, and they never will. This facility was completely closed off to anybody investigating. Even Army investigators.” ... (link)
The general seems to have a penchant for public relations, as when he fielded questions on the US miltary's attack on Al-Jazeera's Baghdad office which was rocketed despite American assurances that they would not target it as they had the Kabul office in 2001:
The offices of Al-Jazeera in Baghdad were hit directly by fire, killing their reporter, Tariq Ayoub.

Major Gen. Stanley McChrystal responded to inquiries about the deaths by saying, ''We are at war.'' ''Our forces came under fire, they exercised their inherent right of self defense.'' ... (link) shows McChrystal piling on the charm:
At the Pentagon briefing on Saturday afternoon, a reporter asked General Stanley McChrystal and Pentagon Spokesperson Victoria Clark about a report by General Franks that the US was currently holding 1,000-2,000 Iraqi prisoners. "What happened to the other Iraqis who surrendered?" General McChrystal mumbled, and then said "They must have run off." No follow-up question was asked... (link)
And Norman Soloman and Lisa Finnegan offer some further useful insights into McChrystal's ability to spin a good tale. Writing on the early stages of the war on Iraq:
U.S. Army Major General Stanley McChrystal, vice director for operations for the Joint Chiefs of Staff, went even further when he told journalists that the United Statees has achieved "unprecedented precision" that enabled it "in most cases, to his exactly what wer are trying to hit, and scale the munitions appropriately to the task...

[Yet] Marc Garlasco, a U.S. intelligence official during the war, who went to work for Human Rights Watch after he left the intelligence community, told the New York Times that the precision-bombing shock-and-awe campaign was an "abject failure." "We failed to kill the HVTs (high value targets) and instead killed civilians and engendered hatred and discontent in some of the population. [Lisa Finnegan and Norman Solomon, No questions asked, Greenwood Publishing (2006), p. 112. (See google books)]
And as we see in this excerpt from Stan Goff, McChrystal was involved in the Pat Tillman fiasco:
At the highest levels, there was a decision to be made about how far one could get away with the lie [re: Pat Tillman's death] in the short term, and hide their own complicity in case the lie was exposed in the long term.

On April 29, Major General Stanley McChrystal - commander of the task force that the Rangers served in Afghanistan, and head of the most secretive joint-service force in the US military - sent a memo to John Abizaid, telling him to warn everyone all the way to Commander-in-Chief George W. Bush, an investigation "will find that it is highly possible Cpl. Tillman was killed by friendly fire... I felt that it was essential that you received this information as soon as we detected it in order to preclude any unknowing statements by our country's leaders which might cause public embarrassment if the circumstances of Cpl. Tillman's death become public."

No reference to telling the truth... "which might cause public embarrassment if the circumstances of Cpl. Tillman's death become public." ... (link)
This memo was sent the day after McChrystal had approved Tillman's Silver Star citation which proclaimed the fiction that Tillman had died in combat, not by friendly fire as was in fact the case. So, while the truth might later prove an "embarrassment," in the meantime the military would use Tillman's memory in their propaganda to recruit more cannon fodder.

I enjoy Illinois

All hail the Illinois Senate:

Illinois Senate takes stand against Afghanistan war

SPRINGFIELD, Ill. May 12 (AP) - The Illinois Senate has jumped into the deep water of foreign policy by passing a resolution that criticizes President Barack Obama's plan to step up military efforts in Afghanistan.

The resolution calls for the United States to withdraw all troops from Afghanistan rather than send more, as Obama plans to do.

"The people of the United States have indicated that this war has gone on long enough," says the resolution, which passed last week. "The Senate believes that it is not in the national interest of the United States to deepen its military involvement in Afghanistan."

This puts state senators at odds with Obama, who once served in the Illinois Senate, and with public opinion.

Polls show strong support for Obama's plan to send an additional 21,000 troops to Afghanistan despite some frustration with the length of the war... (link)
Of course, the population of Illinois is largely made up of Chicagoans - some 85% of the state's population lives there I believe. It thus an urban as well as a Democratic state.


Sunday, May 10, 2009

More American crimes

Once again, the Institute for War and Peace Reporting features very brave and competent journalism which breaks hard-hitting stories. One cannot over-emphasize how wide a disparity exists between the Afghan journalists with IWPR and western journalists reporting from Afghanistan.

Readers may recall that IWPR broke the story of the Toube massacre - which was only picked up the Telegraph and then only for one article. Keeping in mind that, for Afghan journalists there are real risks involved in criticizing the powerful, the record of western journalists stands in stark relief.

We saw recently that Canadian journalists loyally repeated the claims of victory by Canadian forces officials when the latter pulled out of Mushan. Yet, no Canadian reporter would have his brother locked away by the authorities for criticizing the government, as has happened to one IWPR journalist.

IWPR Probe Challenges US Account of Kunduz Killings
Findings suggest five men killed by US forces in counter-insurgency operation had no extremist connections.

By IWPR reporters

KUNDUZ, April 16 - An IWPR investigation has challenged the American military’s account of a recent raid by its forces on a town close to the border with Tajikistan, in which a number of men were either killed or taken away for questioning.

Over the past few weeks, local and international media reports have speculated about the motive for the March 22 dawn attack on Imam Sahib and the identity of those killed and detained.

The United States military has insisted that its forces stormed what it describes as a militant stronghold in Kunduz. It claims the troops battled insurgents, killing five and detaining four. But an IWPR probe, based on extensive interviews with local people, questions key aspects of the US army’s version of events.

The principal IWPR findings suggest the five men killed had no connection with extremists and cast doubt on the American claim that the victims had opened fire on the troops. Reporters’ enquiries indicate that only one of those killed owned a weapon and that two were asleep when they were shot.

It was the middle of the night, about 3.30 am, when the two Chinook helicopters landed in Imam Sahib, residents told IWPR, and approximately 60 soldiers zeroed in on a compound belonging to the mayor of the town, Sufi Abdul Manan. They blew in the gate, and then, equipped with night-vision goggles and guns with silencers, advanced into the courtyard and surrounded a guesthouse where visitors to the town often stayed, locals claim.

“I was awoken by the sound of these large helicopters and saw Americans approaching the gate of the guesthouse,” said the owner of a fuel station nearby. “They had things on their helmets. I hid, so I could not be seen. I heard a sound from shots – like a ‘phhht-phhhht’.” ...

Townsfolk say there were nine men in the guesthouse that night. Judging by the position of the bodies, seen by an IWPR reporter in an amateur video shot by a local right after the incident, the soldiers shot two men as they lay sleeping in their beds: Hassan Jan and Almed Imam...

The soldiers also shot the mayor’s driver Obaidullah, who – from the video evidence – appeared to be trying to run away, and the mayor’s bodyguard, Nasrullah, along with his cousin Naqibullah, who had been living in the guesthouse for several weeks while he looked for a job in Imam Sahib, locals say.

They insist Nasrullah was the only one of the victims to possess a gun - his Kalashnikov was registered with the local authorities and was used to protect the mayor.

“We were in a room near the courtyard of the guesthouse, and we could hear the shots – those ‘phhht’ sounds of guns with silencers,” said the mayor. “We could hear Nasrullah, my bodyguard, who was probably standing in front of the gate to our house. He was begging the Americans not to enter, he kept saying ‘there are women and children there.’ Then there was another shot, and we did not hear Nasrullah any more.”

The mayor said the troops then left...

Dr Amir Barakzai, an Afghan-German agrarian scientist who works for Deutscher Entwicklungsdienst, a German development agency operating in Kunduz, visited the area the day before the attack.

“I knew all five [dead] people very well, because I stayed in the guesthouse for two and a half months when I came back to Imam Sahib from Germany,” he said. “There is no hotel in Imam Sahib, so everybody stays there. Four of the men had been working there for years – the tea cook, the driver, the bodyguard, and someone who was always washing cars. The fifth man was the cousin of the bodyguard.” ...

Locals insist they heard no loud gunfire, only the sounds of the US soldiers’ silenced firearms...

Drugs were something that had been mentioned only tangentially in reports about Imam Sahib. The German news magazine Der Spiegel quoted unnamed intelligence sources as saying that the US military had been “tricked” into disposing of a rival drug lord...

“When we used to hear these stories of civilians killed by US forces and villages bombed in the south, we always thought it was Taleban propaganda,” said an elderly, well-dressed man near Imam Sahib’s central mosque, where he had just attended a memorial service for the dead.

“But now we know that it is all true!” (link)

Students oppose 'the biggest terrorist'

Anger over the recent massacre of civilians:

Hundreds protest Afghan civilian killings

KABUL, May 10 (AFP) — Hundreds of Kabul university students labelled the United States "the world's biggest terrorist" Sunday as they protested against US air strikes said to have killed scores of Afghan villagers.

Chanting "Death to America," "Death to the biggest terrorist" and "long live Islam," up to 1,000 protesters marched outside the university to condemn what is believed to be the deadliest such incident in nearly eight years.

Their banners read "The blood of the Farah martyrs will never dry" and "USA is the world's biggest terrorist," an AFP photographer at the scene witnessed.

Another banner demanded that those responsible for the air strikes last week in southwestern Farah province go on trial.

Student leaders read out a statement condemning civilian casualties from both Taliban attacks and military strikes.

"Our people are fed up with Taliban beheadings and suicide bombings. On the other hand, the massacre of civilians by the American forces is a crime that our people will never forget," it said...

One local investigation has said 140 civilians were killed, including 94 girls aged under 18 who had gathered in a compound to take shelter from the fighting.

Some villagers said the strikes hit an area which the Taliban had already left and where there was no fighting... (link)