Friday, November 27, 2009

Pull Canadian troops, says Globe and Mail journalist

The Globe and Mail's foreign correspondent Graeme Smith has written an opinion piece calling for Canadian troops to be pulled out of Afghanistan.

Smith's assessment is important for at least two reasons: first, he is easily the best Canadian journalist working in Afghanistan for the past three years, as well as the perhaps the most experienced. Second, his newly declared opposition to the mission is not a principled position. That is, Smith has never seen a problem with NATO's military might being used to install a friendly regime in Afghanistan, despite the fact that the whole operation stems from an illegal invasion and regime change by the world's only superpower.

Thus, Smith's conclusion that Canadian troops should be withdrawn reflects his opinion that the war is unwinnable, not illegitimate:

The Mark - Nov 12 2009
Graeme Smith

... We should start by recognizing Canada's dwindling importance in Kandahar... Commanders once proudly declared they were chasing insurgents across 60,000 square kilometres of territory, but now Canadians are relegated to guarding Kandahar City and its approaches. From a practical standpoint, we're replaceable.

Symbolically, a Canadian withdrawal would signal to our allies that more soldiers aren't helpful at this point. That's a useful message... Every year I spent in the country, from 2005 to 2009, saw major troops surges – and terrible surges of violence. With every fighting season, more women and children were killed... The mission has failed, so far.

We need to acknowledge this failure if we're going to think clearly about what's next. I have profound respect for optimists... But how many roads are built in rural Afghanistan these days without paying bribes to local insurgents? How many villagers in Kandahar would get polio vaccinations without permission from the Taliban? Making the country better doesn't necessarily require fighting the insurgents – in many cases, it requires working with them.

Our soldiers have bravely followed orders in Kandahar. But they're being swept aside by a tidal wave of U.S. forces, and this surge is likely doomed to bring the same results as previous surges. Canada should withdraw its battle group, and push its allies toward peace talks. (link)

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Afghanistan's Colombia connection

The Afghan press has an interesting dispatch on burgeoning relations between Afghanistan and Colombia:

Jawad seeks Colombia's support on terror, narcotics
By Lalit K Jha

WASHINGTON, Nov 3 (Pajhwok) - Afghan Ambassador to the US Said T Jawad on Tuesday met the Colombian President Alvaro Uribe Velez to expand security and development cooperation between the two countries.

Jawad, who also holds the charge of the Afghan Ambassador to Colombia, sought Colombia's help in fighting both terrorism and counter-narcotics operations in Afghanistan.

We need Colombia's assistance with deployment of your special forces to help us fight terrorism, as well as training our counter-narcotics police and the Afghan National Army's counter-narcotics battalion, Jawad specifically requested President Uribe.

He also asked for establishment of a longer-term institutional relationship between Afghanistan's Ministry of Rural Rehabilitation and Development and Colombia's Accion Social** program implemented by the Office of the President of Colombia.

A key feature of Accion Social is its Center for Coordination of Integrated Action, which delivers timely integrated assistance to the affected populations in remote regions of Colombia.

Jawad also requested Colombia's assistance with establishing a Counter-Narcotics Police Academy at Afghanistans Ministry of Interior, which he said would immensely help improve governance and the rule of law in the country.

President Uribe responded positively...

Colombian National Minister of Defense Gabriel Silva Lujan and Vice-Minister for Policy and International Affairs Sergio Jaramillo Caro invited Jawad to visit a region of Meta, which until a few years ago was under the firm control of narco-terrorists... (link)
Earlier speculation about this budding relationship was reported this past spring in the Washington Post:
[After numerous failed eradication programs] Colombia's government may have found a remedy palatable to a Democratic-led U.S. Congress not only interested in emphasizing social development over military aid for this country but also looking for solutions to consider in Afghanistan, where the Taliban is entrenched and drug crops are flourishing.

The plan underway here is an ambitious state-building effort designed to incorporate a once-forgotten region into the legitimate economy by bringing in police and courts, paving roads, improving schools and offering farm aid. The idea is to provide broad incentives for farmers in this town in the southern state of Meta to stay put and grow legal crops.

Colombian authorities are working to duplicate the plan in five other drug-infested regions, and U.S. officials say it could work in other conflict zones far from Colombia.

The results here are promising: From 2007 to 2008, coca production fell 75 percent in a quadrant of the southern state of Meta that is bigger than Rhode Island, Colombian authorities say. With most hamlets around Vista Hermosa pledging to cooperate in exchange for help, eradication efforts have accelerated this year and the amount of coca here is now negligible... (link)
One doesn't need to be a close follower of Colombian affairs to know that the offer of a US-backed "Colombian solution" to any problem is not likely to be a solution at all. While rates of violence were dropping throughout Latin America (from a US-tutored peak in the 80's), Colombia's were soaring in the 1990's as that country became the Americans' number one aid recipient in the hemisphere.

Mentioned in both articles above as a model for the new anti-drug approach, the Colombian department of Meta, where Calgary-based Petrobank has operations, is also soon to host an American air force base for at least a decade. (Similarly, the US is making itself at home in Afghanistan with a booming mega-base near Kabul.) The back story of Meta department's pacification includes the assassination of virtually all of the leftist Patriotic Union's city councilors in the 1980's after that party had successes at the ballot box. Assassinations of other subversives like human rights activists was next on the repressive agenda, led by government and military officials and carried out by right wing death squads. American training for Colombian military units in the area soon followed. The area was also considered the home of the FARC and still hosts that group's most feared units.

** On the Colombian government's Accion Social, here's Human Rights Watch:
The report [by the Colombian government's Monitoring Commission on Public Policy for IDPs] notes that the reports of displacement caused by paramilitaries in the official information system have been dropping "probably because, among other factors, of the difficulties that have arisen in the process of registration…due to the paramilitary demobilization process…[because] as has been reported by many organizations… some Territorial Units (TUs) of Acción Social began to systematically refuse to register persons and homes who reported that paramilitaries were responsible for their displacement. According to the reports about the situation, the TUs were operating on the assumption that since the paramilitaries [are] demobilized, [they] could not be accused of having caused the displacement." (link)
Narco News also reports that Accion Social does not record pesticide spraying as a reason for displacement.

Monday, November 16, 2009

British protests greet an unpopular war

In Edinburgh this weekend, NATO delegates attending a meeting in the city were reported among some one thousand who rallied against NATO's war in Afghanistan:

Among those addressing the demonstration was Joan Humphreys, whose grandson, a British soldier, was killed in Afghanistan in August.

"I would like the troops to come home walking -- not on stretchers or in body bags," she said.

John Cannell, of the Stop the War Coalition, which helped to organise the march, added: "The only solution has to be a political one, but we need the troops out now to make the space for that political solution." ... (link)
The Press Association notes that "The protest even involved some delegates from the assembly itself, including Dutch senator Tiny Kox."

The protest taps into growing anti-war sentiment in Britain, as revealed in a poll commissioned by The Independent:
In a ComRes poll for the Independent on Sunday this weekend, an overwhelming proportion – 71 per cent – supported this newspaper's call for a phased withdrawal of British forces from Afghanistan within a year or so, while just 22 per cent disagreed... (link)

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Afghan war 'probably illegal, certainly immoral'

In a classic case of partisan journalism, Rupert Murdoch's London tabloid The Sun harangued the UK Prime Minister after it was revealed that a condolence letter which Gordon Brown had penned (in his own hand) spelled the addressee's name wrong. The recipient, the mother of a British soldier killed in Afghanistan, was evidently upset, prompting the Tory-supporting paper's well-timed outrage. (A by-election in Glasgow was then underway; held Nov. 12, returning Labour as the victor.)

One letter writer to the Guardian (UK) has a response worth quoting:

... The exploitation of the bereaved by the media, politicians and the military hierarchy poses a serious threat to a rational debate about the Afghan disaster. As public opposition to the war climbs, the apologists claim it is because the Labour government is not doing enough to support the war with helicopters and armour-plating. This is a perversion of the views of the majority, who believe that the war itself is wrong, probably illegal and certainly immoral...

Bill Major
Liverpool (link)

Friday, November 13, 2009

Malalai Joya: 'End the war now'

Outspoken Afghan women's leader Malalai Joya begins her Canadian speaking tour today:

Afghan women's leader in Vancouver: '2011 too late, Canada should end the war now'

Malalai Joya, the youngest woman ever elected to Afghanistan's parliament, is in Vancouver today to start a cross-Canada book tour for her new political memoir, A Woman Among Warlords, written with Vancouver writer and anti-war activist Derrick O'Keefe.

Ms. Joya will be appearing at several events Friday, Nov. 13, including a luncheon hosted by NDP MP Libby Davies, 12 Noon at Dr. Sun Yat Sen Garden, 578 Carrall Street and a talk at Langara College at 2:30p.m. Her main public event and book launch will be Saturday, Nov. 14, 7pm at Saint Andrew's Wesley church (1022 Nelson Street at Burrard). Her visit is being organized by

The 31 year-old Joya has been called "the bravest woman in Afghanistan" by the BBC, having survived five assassination attempts. In her book she recounts her life story growing up in refugee camps and working as an underground activist during the Taliban regime, and also spells out her views on the war in Afghanistan. She has a clear message for the Canadian government: "Ending the war in 2011 is too late, this occupation of Afghanistan must end now."

Malalai Joya has been a consistent critic of corruption in the NATO-backed Karzai government. Last month the New York Times reported that Ahmed Wali Karzai, President Hamid Karzai's brother -- who said to have links with drug trafficking -- has been on the CIA payroll for years.

"In Afghanistan we call this brother of Karzai in Kandahar a 'little Bush,'" Joya said about the most powerful man in Kandahar, where close to 2800 Canadian troops are currently stationed.

"On behalf of the Afghan people I offer my condolences to those Canadian families who have lost loved ones in my country," Joya added. "But I believe these troops are themselves the victims of the wrong policies of Canada, US and NATO -- these countries must stop supporting the warlords and end this occupation."

Monday, November 9, 2009

Cop who killed 5 UK soldiers 'a hero' say locals

The recent killing of five British troops at the hands of an Afghan police officer has set the UK reeling, prompting wider calls for the pull-out of troops from Afghanistan. Once again, the Institute for War and Peace Reporting is the only outlet able (or willing) to put reporters on the ground to relate the story from the local point of view:

What Drove Afghan Policeman to Kill UK Troops?
By Aziz Ahmad Tassal and Mohammad Ilyas Dayee

LASHKAR GAH, Nov 5 (IWPR) - Western and Afghan forces try to find out why an otherwise normal young man snapped and killed men he had worked with for months.

The young man’s name was Gulbuddin and he came from Musa Qala, in the northern part of Helmand. He was big and strong with a reputation for fierceness in fighting the Taleban. Gulbuddin was a graduate of the police academy, had served honourably for two years in the Afghan National Police in Helmand, and his commander describes him as trustworthy.

That was until the afternoon of November 3, when he suddenly took a machine gun and mowed down his British colleagues, killing five and wounding six others. Two Afghan police were also injured in the incident...

Some people in Helmand believe that Gulbuddin belonged to the Taleban and had infiltrated the police. Others think that he may have lost friends or family in the bombardments by foreign forces that have ratcheted up tensions between Afghans and western forces, especially in the south.

“Gulbuddin was a soldier like me,” said Khairullah, one of the wounded policemen. “He did not have psychological problems, and he was not a drug addict. He was a disciplined policeman. Nobody knows why it happened." ...

Gulbuddin fled the checkpoint where the shooting took place and a Taleban commander said that Gulbuddin was with them...

But most Helmandis think it is unlikely that the Taleban will give him up voluntarily.

“That boy is a hero,” said Khial Mohammad, a resident of Greshk. “The Taleban will treasure him like a flower.” ...

[S]ome Helmandis welcomed the news of British losses.

“(Gulbuddin) is a good boy, and the parents that bore him should be proud,” said Gul Agha, a resident of Greshk. “He should be given a medal. Let the foreigners know the pain of losing your own people. Let them know how death smells.”

“Let them know how tragic is the death of a son, a father or a brother,” said Abdul Majid, another resident. “Just last night they bombed innocent people in Babaji. Didn’t they have fathers and mothers? They were just farmers, threshing corn, and they were killed on the spot. All their young sons are dead. I am sure they would welcome that soldier as a hero.” ... (link)
Note that the residents who called the turncoat a hero apparently did so under their own names, rather than declining to be named, as did others quoted for the article.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Civilians die, protests result

Several recent incidents have resulted in foreign troops killing Afghan civilians. First, AP reports on incidents in Helmand province and Khost province:

Afghan villagers say air strike kills 9 civilians
By Noor Khan

NOVEMBER 5 - An overnight air strike by international forces killed nine civilians, including at least three children, villagers said today. Afghan authorities said they had no reports of civilian deaths...

Residents of Korkhashien village drove the bodies to the governor's office in the nearby provincial capital of Lashkar Gah, and AP footage and photos showed at least two children among the dead...

Villager Abdul Rashin said the people were killed while harvesting corn in their fields.

The convoy of vans and station wagons from Korkhashien drove from the governor's office to a central market, where the villagers shouted blame at both President Hamid Karzai and his international allies.

"Death to Karzai! Death to the foreigners!" they yelled as passers-by looked through the car windows at the blanket-covered corpses...

In eastern Khost province, several hundred people demonstrated today against an overnight raid that killed a resident of Baramkhil village. Walishah Hamat, head of the Mandozayi district government, said the dead man was innocent... (link)
Meanwhile, in northern Badghis province, American and Afghan soldiers and Afghan police in search of two missing American paratroopers have reportedly clashed with insurgents, killing civilians in the process:
The U.S. military said the soldiers on the search operation came under an attack that killed four Afghan soldiers and two policemen and wounded five American and 17 Afghan troops.

Afghan officials said the NATO airstrike hit a coalition base in the area or hit near it. The district's mayor, Abdul Shukor, put the death toll at 20 -- six Afghan soldiers, two policemen and 12 civilians. Shukor described the bombing site as a military checkpoint near a warehouse.

A NATO statement said authorities were investigating whether "close air support" caused some of the casualties... (link)
Earlier reports said that more than 25 foreign and Afghan soldiers were injured in the clash.

Malalai Joya a 'worthy choice' for Nobel

Malalai Joya, fittingly described by the BBC as the bravest woman in Afghanistan, begins the Canadian leg of her speaking tour this week in Vancouver. She has been in the US the past few weeks, where her autobiography impressed the heck out of America's leading intellectual.

Noam Chomsky writes, a propos of Obama's Nobel win:
The Nobel Peace Prize committee might well have made truly worthy choices, prominent among them the remarkable Afghan activist Malalai Joya.

This brave woman survived the Russians, and then the radical Islamists whose brutality was so extreme that the population welcomed the Taliban. Joya has withstood the Taliban and now the return of the warlords under the Karzai government.

Throughout, Joya worked effectively for human rights, particularly for women; she was elected to parliament and then expelled when she continued to denounce warlord atrocities. She now lives underground under heavy protection, but she continues the struggle, in word and deed. By such actions, repeated everywhere as best we can, the prospects for peace edge closer to hopes.