Monday, December 13, 2010

Canadian Peace Alliance: Most Afghans want NATO troops out of their country

Toronto - The most recent poll of Afghan attitudes towards NATO shows that a huge majority want NATO to leave their country. In fact, only 17 per cent want the West to stay after 2011.

“With violence increasing at alarming rates throughout the country and each new deployment of soldiers only making matters worse, these poll results are no surprise,” said Canadian Peace Alliance Co-Chair Chris Jones.

The poll, conducted in November by four major news agencies including the BBC, also showed a dramatic increase in the number of Afghans who think that attacks on foreign forces are justified, a four-fold increase compared to one year ago. This makes increasingly unlikely the notion asserted by Defence Minister Peter MacKay that Canada’s “training mission” after 2011 will take place in a “safe”, non-combat space in Afghanistan.

“The Afghan people have spoken and they are asking us to leave their country, and the Canadian people have spoken and they want the troops brought home,” said Derrick O’Keefe, Co-Chair of the Canadian Peace Alliance. “The questions is, who was Stephen Harper listening to when he decided to extend the Canadian troop deployment for another three years?”

One answer is U.S. Ambassador David Jacobsen who worked to broker the deal between the Conservatives and Liberals to extend the mission. It is also true that Canadian mining corporations have expressed interest in exploiting part of the nearly $1 trillion in untapped mineral resources in the country. In short, the rich and powerful want Canadian troops to stay longer, against the wishes of the people in Afghanistan and in the NATO countries.

The Canadian Peace Alliance promises to continue its efforts to end the Canadian deployment to Afghanistan. “We have the backing of a clear majority of Canadians -- and this includes the involvement of increasing numbers of Afghan Canadians and military family members – as we carry on our push to bring the troops home,” said Jones.


Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Afghans don't trust Canadian forces

Canadian journalist Brian Hutchinson has reported from Afghanistan on a number of occasions since 2006. On returning recently to the country, he penned an interesting assessment of the situation on the ground:

The counterinsurgency is failing in the hinterland. Rural Afghans are still wary of foreign troops, even after almost nine years of intervention. ...

The situation is worst in rural Kandahar, where Canadian soldiers have operated since early 2006 and where they have never been made to feel welcome. Coalition soldiers no longer speak of winning local “hearts and minds.”

Kandaharis are in “self-survival mode,” a senior Canadian officer serving in Kandahar told me recently. “They’ve lived with war for 30 years,” the officer said. “They don’t trust anyone outside of their immediate family.” ...

[Disgraced former Brigadier-General Jonathan Vance's "model village" approach is the] most successful counterinsurgency measure introduced to Kandahar in the past four years.

Unfortunately, that isn’t saying much. Only one “model village” in Kandahar has seen any progress, in terms of stability and development. Deh-e-Bagh in Dand district, just south of Kandahar city, is not trouble-free, but it was peaceful enough this summer that Brig.-Gen. Vance could bring civilians there to walk about. We removed our body armour but we were not without armed escort.

Deh-e-Bagh is just one little village. It’s only a few kilometres removed from Afghanistan’s second largest city, which since July has been ringed by a network of walled vehicle checkpoints, manned by U.S. and Afghan soldiers.

The security ring looks impressive but inside Kandahar city, insurgents continue to target and kill government workers. “People do not look to ISAF forces as a source of protection and security, especially in the city itself,” says Peter Dimitroff, a former Canadian military officer who works as a civilian security advisor inside the provincial capital. ... (link)

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Afghan protesters burn NATO base

Over the past several days, protests in Afghanistan reportedly stemming from threats to burn copies of the Koran in the US have met with armed police reactions which have resulted in injuries and at least four deaths. In the latest protest (Sept 15), Reuters reports that "thousands" of Afghans gathered in Kabul to denounce the United States and that such demonstrations are putting the upcoming Afghan elections in jeopardy.

Here I will look back on recent Afghan protests against the western-led occupation of that country, where it would appear that protesters' tactics have escalated. We saw last month that a spontaneous demonstration against American security contractors saw the crowd set fire to a couple of Dyncorp vehicles. One August protest went well beyond that, aiming to burn down a NATO base.

In late August, an incident in Afghanistan's northern province of Baghlan sparked a riot which targeted the Spanish-run NATO contingent there.

The trigger for the riot was an attack on Spanish troops by an apparent Afghan infiltrator. On August 25, an Afghan driver working for an Afghan police officer shot and killed three Spanish nationals (two police trainers and one Iranian-born translator). The attacker had been working for an Afghan National Civil Order Police (ANCOP) officer who was being trained by Spanish Civil Guard officers stationed in Qala-E Naw, the capital of Badghis province in Afghanistan's north. Reports emerged soon after that the Afghan attacker had relatives in the insurgency while Spain's El Pais noted that the same is true of most Afghans. However, some reports said the man had been picked up several times in the past on suspicion of being an insurgent. Others said he had even declared beforehand that he would attack the foreigners.

The attack is the latest in a spate of infiltration-style attacks on foreign forces in the country, so it is not so unusual. What distinguishes this attack is the riot which followed.

More from Reuters:

[According to Badghis governor Dilbar Jan Arman] at least 1,000 protesters tried to storm the base, which lies near the border with Turkmenistan.

Residents however said thousands of protesters had set fire to one part of the base.

One protester, who identified himself only as Abdullah, said there were also casualties among the protesters after troops inside the base fired on them. ... (link)
The Associated Press reports:
Afghans angry at the driver's death stormed the base in northwestern Badghis province with stones and set fire to at least one vehicle, underscoring the brewing resentment among many Afghans over the presence of foreigners on their soil and the problems in rapidly expanding Afghanistan's security forces. ...

When word of the shooting spread, several hundred angry men gathered outside the walls of the Spanish compound, shouting "Allahu Akbar," or God is Great, hurling stones and ripping down fences around the installation, Associated Press Television video showed. Gunshots rang out, although it was unclear who was firing.

Provincial health director Abdul Aziz Tariq said 25 people were wounded in the protest, most of them by bullets, with two in critical condition. Seven of those hospitalized were under 18 years old but their wounds were not life threatening, he said.

Police strung barbed wire in the streets to contain the crowd and restored order by mid-afternoon, said provincial government spokesman Sharafuddin Majidi. He said shots had been fired both from and toward the base, but NATO spokesman James P. Judge said there was no indication NATO soldiers had fired. ... (link)
Radio Free Europe:
[Radio Free Europe's] correspondent in the area, Sharafuddin Stanakzai, reported that angry demonstrators tried to storm the PRT compound after the initial shooting incident.

He said that demonstrators on the scene said they broke through the compound's outer perimeter and set fire to part of the base.

One witness told RFE/RL that Spanish troops fired on rioters who were storming the base, injuring several of them.

However, Saberi confirmed that hundreds of demonstrators later marched on the provincial government's headquarters in Qalay-e Naw -- smashing several windows of the building and forcing local authorities to call for the deployment of troops from the Afghan National Army and national police. ... (link)
Javed Hamim Kakar of Pajhwok Afghan News:
Following the incident, hundreds of angry people hurled stones at the ISAF office in Qala-i-Naw, the provincial capital, and smashed its windowpanes. The demonstrators tried to set the office on fire.

The protestors also torched two civilian houses in the city, [deputy governor] Abdul Ghani revealed, saying the demonstrators were prevented from marching towards the governor's office, police headquarters and the intelligence department.

The enraged men threw stones at the policemen, who had to fire into the air to disperse them. At least 21 protestors were wounded, the deputy governor said.

Without naming anyone, he alleged elements behind the demonstration wanted to damage government offices and private properties. ... (link)
Fences around the base were torn down and fires set. At least one truck was torched. NATO said it was monitoring the demonstration. ... (link)
You can see video of the protest following the shoot-out here. It shows male demonstrators young and old throwing paving stones and seems to include the sound of gun fire. In response to the Badghis incident and its aftermath, NATO helicopters moved 150 ANCOP officers to Qal-E Naw, the capital of Badghis.

A couple of earlier protests are of note as well:
US troops fire shots to disperse Afghan protesters
By Rahim Faiez

DATELINE: KABUL, Aug 24 (AP) - U.S. troops fired warning shots to disperse a protest in eastern Afghanistan over the arrest of a religious leader suspected of a rocket attack, NATO said Tuesday.

The alliance said no civilian injuries were reported from the protest Monday, but Gen. Faqir Ahmad, the deputy police chief of Parwan province, said one civilian was killed by shots fired from an unknown source.

NATO said about 300 people surrounded a patrol and attacked vehicles with rocks and iron bars outside the massive coalition air base at Bagram, in Parwan province.

"After several attempts to stop the attack and disperse the crowd, coalition troops received small-arms fire directed at them," NATO said in a news release. Coalition forces then fired the warning shots.

Gen. Ahmad said the only gunfire came from the coalition. He said the shots enraged the crowd, with some then using rocks and sticks to attack police and the head of the district government, Kabir Ahmad, who had tried to calm the situation. The deputy police chief said Ahmad and a police officer had serious but not life-threatening injuries.

The man arrested Monday by Afghan police was a religious teacher suspected of taking part in a rocket attack on a coalition patrol two weeks ago, Gen. Ahmad said. About 50 students from his religious school began the protest, which then attracted up to 2,000 villagers, he said. (link)
The unmistakable Orwellian character of the Afghan government's response to the Parwan protest is of particular interest:
BBC Worldwide Monitoring
Text of report by state-owned National Afghanistan TV on 23 August

[Presenter:] The announcement by the National Directorate of Security's press office on the demonstration by a number of the residents of Bagram District of Parwan Province dated 23 August 2010:

Our compatriots know that it is the National Directorate of Security's responsibility to ensure a peaceful and trusty atmosphere in the country, fight those who carry out terrorist activities that result in the killing of innocent people and tackle any threats against internal and external security in Afghanistan in line with penal law.

The vigilant personnel of the National Directorate of Security arrested Qari Mohammad Kazem son of Mohammad Taher, a resident of the Meyan Shakh area of Parwan Province, on 21 August 2010 on charges of carrying out terrorist activities in this province. He was the head of the Hazrat-e Belal seminary. He confessed to his crime as follows:

... [Mohammad Kazem, talking to camera:] My name is Mohammad Kazem son of Mohammad Taher, resident of the Meyan Shakh village of Parwan Province. I am the head of the Hazrat-e Belal seminary. Nur Agha had encouraged me to carry out such actions. ...

[Presenter] Earlier, Shah Mohammad was arrested in relation to this terrorist case. He also confessed to be a member of this terrorist network and wage terrorist attacks.

A limited number of individuals launched a demonstration aimed at abusing the pure sentiments of the residents of the Bagram District. This demonstration was aimed at releasing the arrested terrorists. This demonstration is against the enforced law and steps are taken to arrest the perpetrators and inciter of the move. (no link)
Thus, the Afghan government is declaring the protest described above as illegal and is apparently taking measures against such "inciters" who "abuse the pure sentiments of" Afghans.

Describing yet another protest, AFP reports from the eastern city of Jalalabad, Afghanistan's gateway to Pakistan:
Up to 600 residents blocked the main highway in protest on Wednesday [Aug 18], an AFP reporter on the scene said. They chanted "Death to Americans" and "Death to Karzai," referring to Afghan President Hamid Karzai. (link)
Finally, an August 16 protest against the construction of an Afghan military base turned ugly when US troops fired on the crowd:
In the east, meanwhile, protesters set upon U.S. troops outside of Bagram Air Field, the main U.S. base in the country. A number of people were wounded as the demonstration in Pul-e-Sayad village turned into a riot, NATO said.

The crowd of 250 gathered around the American troops to protest the building of an Afghan army base on land owned by local villagers, said Abdullah Adil, an Interior Ministry official who works with NATO forces in the area.

A few villagers had first gone to the construction site in the morning to demand that work be stopped, and when it was not, they returned with more people, he said.

Protesters threw rocks at the troops as they escorted a contractor to the base, NATO said.

The rocks injured some service members and when they couldn't quell the riot, a soldier fired at the crowd in self-defense, NATO said. ...

One 12-year-old boy was shot, but his wounds were not life-threatening, Adil said.

Construction has now been halted pending more discussion with the villagers, he said. ... (link)

Friday, September 10, 2010

Secret 'kill team' killed civilians for sport

This past spring, revelations surfaced of war crimes committed by soldiers based out of Fort Hood in Washington State. Details have been somewhat sketchy until now. The Guardian's Chris McGreal reports from Washington on the latest revelations:

US soldiers 'killed Afghan civilians for sport and collected fingers as trophies'

SEPTEMBER 9 - Twelve American soldiers face charges over a secret "kill team" that allegedly blew up and shot Afghan civilians at random and collected their fingers as trophies.

Five of the soldiers are charged with murdering three Afghan men who were allegedly killed for sport in separate attacks this year. Seven others are accused of covering up the killings and assaulting a recruit who exposed the murders when he reported other abuses, including members of the unit smoking hashish stolen from civilians.

In one of the most serious accusations of war crimes to emerge from the Afghan conflict, the killings are alleged to have been carried out by members of a Stryker infantry brigade based in Kandahar province in southern Afghanistan.

According to investigators and legal documents, discussion of killing Afghan civilians began after the arrival of Staff Sergeant Calvin Gibbs at forward operating base Ramrod last November. Other soldiers told the army's criminal investigation command that Gibbs boasted of the things he got away with while serving in Iraq and said how easy it would be to "toss a grenade at someone and kill them".

One soldier said he believed Gibbs was "feeling out the platoon".

Investigators said Gibbs, 25, hatched a plan with another soldier, Jeremy Morlock, 22, and other members of the unit to form a "kill team". While on patrol over the following months they allegedly killed at least three Afghan civilians. ...

The Army Times reported that a least one of the soldiers collected the fingers of the victims as souvenirs and that some of them posed for photographs with the bodies. ...

The killings came to light in May after the army began investigating a brutal assault on a soldier who told superiors that members of his unit were smoking hashish. The Army Times reported that members of the unit regularly smoked the drug on duty and sometimes stole it from civilians.

Two days [after the soldier reported the drug use,] members of his platoon, including Gibbs and Morlock, accused him of "snitching", gave him a beating and told him to keep his mouth shut. The soldier reported the beating and threats to his officers and then told investigators what he knew of the "kill team". ...

The charges will be considered by a military grand jury later this month which will decide if there is enough evidence for a court martial. Army investigators say Morlock has admitted his involvement in the killings and given details about the role of others including Gibbs. ... (link)

Saturday, August 7, 2010

The Afghan anti-war movement grows

Coverage of Afghanistan's burgeoning anti-war movement is sadly quite scarce, though we have seen in this space some of the more interesting reporting (see here for example). Lately, however, there have been developments which shed some interesting light on the (mostly) non-violent Afghan anti-war movement.

The Afghanistan Solidarity Party (ASP) has a platform dedicated to "women’s rights, democracy, and secular society, a disarming of the country, and freedom of the press," according to a spokesperson interviewed by Sonali Kolhatkar and James Ingalls. Formed in 2004, the ASP has its roots in Maoist parties of the past, though it may be mentioned that Maoism in Afghanistan was often simply a label for anti-Soviet Marxists and socialists. In a manner typical of Afghan political parties, the ASP operates as a coalition of six parties and forms a part of a larger association of like-minded secular parties oriented toward democracy. It reports being active in most of Afghanistan's 34 provinces.

The party's pursuit of a human rights-centered value system has earned it many members. The internationally respected former Afghan foreign minister Dadfar Spanta, once a member of Germany's Green Party, joined the ASP a while after its founding.

As well, the ASP has won the admiration of widely-known Afghan activist Malalai Joya. When asked by an Italian audience last year about what groups they could financially support, Joya recommended RAWA, the Afghan Women's Mission and the ASP.

Indeed the ASP has gained a wide variety of supporters. Canada's own liberal war-boosters the Canada-Afghan Solidarity Committee have helped raise money for them. CASC's Terry Glavin, a pro-war fanatic if there ever was one, wrote in 2008:

It's heartening to see the Afghanistan Solidarity Party making a comeback after key party leader and co-founder Lal Mohammad was beheaded by the Taliban three years ago. ...

These are precisely the kind of Afghans the Canada Afghanistan Solidarity Committee wants Canadians to know more about, and to support, politically, morally and materially. (link)
At the time the ASP was involved in the kind of mobilizing that Western war advocates can easily get behind. The party headed up a large demo in Kabul that year in support of Pervez Kambakhsh, the student journalist who has since been freed from death row. The CASC, however, will no doubt be disappointed to hear that the ASP is now mobilizing against the US-led occupation of their country.

Here you can see a Youtube video of an ASP protest in Herat this past May condemning Iran's hanging of several Afghan nationals living in Iran. The video shows a woman lifting her burka to speak into a megaphone, some minor property damage inflicted upon the Iranian embassy as well as what appears to be tussling with police. Participants are evidently a fairly broad mixture of people from secular and religious walks of life.

The Herat protest was part of several which the ASP organized in various cities. You can see photos of those demos here. All of them featured rhetoric aimed at the United States as well as Iran, and ASP banners denouncing the American-led occupation were prominent.

On July 30, a significant event occurred on the streets of Kabul, near the American embassy. A DynCorp SUV was involved in a collision with a civilian vehicle, killing one and seriously injuring two more. Accounts differ as to what followed, as US officials deny that the security contractors opened fire on the gathering crowd. In any case, a spontaneous protest broke out among those present, resulting in rioting as two DynCorp vehicles, the first having been joined by another, were set on fire. While most reports say that demonstrators set them on fire, AFP has an interesting account:
It was unclear how the vehicles were set alight, as some security firms torch cars they are forced to abandon as a matter of policy, a security contractor in Kabul said, speaking on condition of anonymity. (link)
The DynCorp employees reported injuries from the rioting. Press photos show young Afghans joyously stomping on a burning American SUV as others wield clubs and throw rocks at the wreck.

The ASP soon organized a protest to harness the anti-occupation sentiment. On August 1, hundreds of Kabulis hit the streets behind ASP banners and placards of various anti-occupation themes, one of which featured the iconic media image of young protesters smashing a DynCorp truck. The photos from the demo appear to show young men using face coverings to hide their identities (see here and here in particular).

Here's the story in the Afghan press:
Kabul residents protest against foreign troops
By Abdul Qadir Siddiqui

KABUL, Aug 1 (Pajhwok) Hundreds of men and women protested against foreign troops on Sunday in Kabul and demanded their withdrawal from Afghanistan.

The demonstration started at around 10am from Shah Do Shamshera area of Kabul toward Deh Aghanan square, where the protesters chanted "death to the invaders", "death to the countries which interfere in the affairs of Afghanistan" and "killers of Afghans should leave Afghanistan."

The demonstration follows the deaths on Friday of four civilians [later said to be one killed, several injured - DM] whose car apparently pulled out in front of an armoured vehicle belonging to an American Embassy contractor and was crushed. The accident drew large crowds who threw stones and set the contractors vehicles on fire.

The protesters also chanted slogans against Pakistan and Iran, two other countries they accuse of interfering in Afghanistans affairs.

They condemned the acts of US and its alliance in Afghanistan, said chairman of Afghanistan Solidarity Party, Daud Razmak, who led the demonstration. ... (link)
And the Washington Post has more on the August 1 protest:
"Many times NATO troops and these cars have killed our innocent people. They never care whether we are Afghans or animals," said Samia, 26, an activist from Kabul who took part in the demonstration.

Samia, who like many Afghans goes by only one name, said that she did not want the Taliban to return to power in Afghanistan but that NATO has only aggravated the situation over the past decade and fed a parasitic and dependent Afghan government.

"We want NATO troops and American troops to leave Afghanistan. Even with their huge army, they couldn't do anything in the past 10 years. And in the future, they won't be able to do anything." (link)

Monday, July 26, 2010

Petraeus' first move: proxy forces

Longtime readers of this blog may remember that a couple of years ago, I was regularly running long compilations of civilian deaths at the hands of foreign forces (see, for example, here and here). Deadly incidents occurred every few days for months on end. More than once did the tally of civilians killed by western troops exceed that of civilians killed by the Taliban.

Evidence of such carnage has been thinner for over a year now, suggesting two possibilities: Either there were fewer civilians killed by occupation forces, or the incidents continued at the same rate while there was less reporting of them. Few doubt that General McChrystal's new stricter rules of engagement, aimed at winning Afghan hearts and minds, had resulted in less danger to the Afghan public. Soldiers were often quoted lamenting that their hands were tied by the new rules.

It is now widely known that General McChrystal's replacement, General Petraeus, has decided to reverse the earlier order, returning the rules of engagement to their former character.

In contrast, another of McChrystal's policy innovations has been treated with more interest. His efforts to introduce militias are being intensified by his successor:

Petraeus's first act is to establish militias to fight the Taliban
General persuades a reluctant President Karzai to sign up to tactics imported from Iraq

Kim Sengupta - The Independent

HELMAND, July 16 - Armed militias of the type used to fight the insurgency in Iraq are to be introduced to Afghanistan in what is seen as a controversial part of the new strategy of General David Petraeus to counter the tide of Taliban attacks.

The setting up of the groups – who will provide up to 10,000 fighters – is the first major initiative by General Petraeus after taking over command of Western forces in the Afghan campaign following the sacking of his fellow American, General Stanley McChrystal.

The move, has, however, faced resistance from Afghanistan's president, Hamid Karzai, who fears that the groups would become power bases for regional strongmen. ...

The militias are to be deployed in less inhabited areas, which have seen a drawdown of Western forces in accordance with General McChrystal's decision to concentrate on more populated centres. ... (link)
Militias, of course, are seen as a potential problem in and of themselves.

Your guide to WikiLeaks' Afghan war logs

On Monday, as most readers are probably aware, WikiLeaks released an enormous trove of US military reports from Afghanistan.

First, the local angle: There is some Canadian content, though very little. One incident report claims that an air attack by friendly forces killed four Canadian troops on September 3, 2006 during Operation Medusa. At the time, those deaths were officially reported to be caused by Taliban fire, and indeed there is a small amount of literature describing those soldiers' last moments. The Canadian military denies the report.

Next, a little bubble bursting: The purported Pakistani intelligence-Taliban link is not as strong as some of the hyped articles have it. The New York Times' coverage has opted to focus on the Pakistan angle, citing intelligence reports from the WikiLeaks cache which report that Pakistan's ISI is in cahoots with the Afghan Taliban:

The documents, made available by an organization called WikiLeaks, suggest that Pakistan, an ostensible ally of the United States, allows representatives of its spy service to meet directly with the Taliban in secret strategy sessions to organize networks of militant groups that fight against American soldiers in Afghanistan, and even hatch plots to assassinate Afghan leaders. (link)
The key word in that run-on sentence is "suggest," as in the evidence does not prove that the ISI supports the Taliban. Indeed, the evidence for the connection is rather poor, according to Declan Walsh, a Guardian reporter with plenty of experience in Afghanistan and who was part of the Guardian team for the WikiLeaks report. The reports:
fail to provide a convincing smoking gun for ISI complicity. Most of the reports are vague, filled with incongruent detail, or crudely fabricated. The same characters – famous Taliban commanders, well-known ISI officials – and scenarios repeatedly pop up. And few of the events predicted in the reports subsequently occurred. (link)
American diplomat Peter Galbraith, formerly stationed in Afghanistan, is more credulous. While he admits that some evidence is poor (noting "surely the ISI did not plot to poison Kabul-bound beer, an enormously complex operation with limited pay off since US troops are not allowed to drink alcohol in Afghanistan") he observes that the documents "show a continued relationship between the ISI and the Taliban."

What follows is a summary of the highlights of the revelations of the Afghan war diary, mostly taken from the Guardian team's analysis.
Afghanistan war logs: Massive leak of secret files exposes truth of occupation

Nick Davies and David Leigh
The Guardian - Sunday 25 July 2010

A huge cache of secret US military files today provides a devastating portrait of the failing war in Afghanistan, revealing how coalition forces have killed hundreds of civilians in unreported incidents, Taliban attacks have soared and Nato commanders fear neighbouring Pakistan and Iran are fuelling the insurgency. ...

The war logs also detail:

- How a secret "black" unit of special forces hunts down Taliban leaders for "kill or capture" without trial.

- How the US covered up evidence that the Taliban have acquired deadly surface-to-air missiles.

- How the coalition is increasingly using deadly Reaper drones to hunt and kill Taliban targets by remote control from a base in Nevada.

- How the Taliban have caused growing carnage with a massive escalation of their roadside bombing campaign, which has killed more than 2,000 civilians to date. ...

The logs detail, in sometimes harrowing vignettes, the toll on civilians exacted by coalition forces: events termed "blue on white" in military jargon. The logs reveal 144 such incidents.

Some of these casualties come from the controversial air strikes that have led to Afghan government protests, but a large number of previously unknown incidents also appear to be the result of troops shooting unarmed drivers or motorcyclists out of a determination to protect themselves from suicide bombers.

At least 195 civilians are admitted to have been killed and 174 wounded in total, but this is likely to be an underestimate as many disputed incidents are omitted from the daily snapshots ...

Rachel Reid, who investigates civilian casualty incidents in Afghanistan for Human Rights Watch, said: "These files bring to light what's been a consistent trend by US and Nato forces: the concealment of civilian casualties." ... (link)
Declan Walsh on the Pakistani ISI:
At least 180 files contain allegations of dirty tricks by the powerful agency with accounts of undercover agents training suicide bombers, bundles of money slipping across the border and covert support for a range of sensational plots including the assassination of President Hamid Karzai, attacks on Nato warplanes and even poisoning western troops' beer supply. ...

But for all their eye-popping details, the intelligence files, which are mostly collated by junior officers relying on informants and Afghan officials, fail to provide a convincing smoking gun for ISI complicity. Most of the reports are vague, filled with incongruent detail, or crudely fabricated. The same characters – famous Taliban commanders, well-known ISI officials – and scenarios repeatedly pop up. And few of the events predicted in the reports subsequently occurred. ...

[A] retired US officer said some [Afghan] NDS officials "wanted to create the impression that Pakistani complicity was a threat to the US". And more broadly speaking, "there's an Afghan prejudice that wants to see an ISI agent under every rock". ... (link)
Walsh also writes on what the leaked files show about the Afghan insurgency's weaponry for attacks against US/NATO aircraft:
The US military covered up a reported surface-to-air missile strike by the Taliban that shot down a Chinook helicopter over Helmand in 2007 and killed seven soldiers, including a British military photographer, the war logs show.

The strike on the twin-rotor helicopter shows the Taliban enjoyed sophisticated anti-aircraft capabilities earlier than previously thought, casting new light on the battle for the skies over Afghanistan.

Hundreds of files detail the efforts of insurgents, who have no aircraft, to shoot down western warplanes. The war logs detail at least 10 near-misses by missiles in four years against coalition aircraft, one while refuelling at 11,000ft and another involving a suspected Stinger missile of the kind supplied by the CIA to Afghan rebels in the 1980s.

But if American and British commanders were worried about the missile threat, they downplayed it in public – to the extent of ignoring their own pilots' testimony. The CH-47 Chinook was shot down on 30 May 2007 after dropping troops at the strategic Kajaki dam in Helmand...

Later that day Nato and US officials suggested the helicopter, codenamed Flipper, had been brought down by a rocket-propelled grenade – effectively, a lucky hit. ...

But US pilot logs show they were certain the missile was not an RPG and was most likely a Manpad – the military term for a shoulder-launched surface-to-air missile. ... (link)
The Guardian's Nick Davies looks at a heretofore obscure American unit called Task Force 373, used for targeted assassinations and captures. Interestingly, he also summarizes an incident where official statements contained lies about the deaths of civilians, again showing US-led deception efforts:
The Nato coalition in Afghanistan has been using an undisclosed "black" unit of special forces, Task Force 373, to hunt down targets for death or detention without trial. Details of more than 2,000 senior figures from the Taliban and al-Qaida are held on a "kill or capture" list, known as Jpel, the joint prioritised effects list. ...

[O]n 4 October [2007], [TF 373] confronted Taliban fighters in a village called Laswanday [in Paktika province]. The Taliban appear to have retreated by the time TF 373 called in air support to drop 500lb bombs on the house from which the fighters had been firing.

The final outcome, listed tersely at the end of the leaked log: 12 US wounded, two teenage girls and a 10-year-old boy wounded, one girl killed, one woman killed, four civilian men killed, one donkey killed, one dog killed, several chickens killed, no enemy killed, no enemy wounded, no enemy detained.

The coalition put out a statement claiming falsely to have killed several militants and making no mention of any dead civilians; and later added that "several non-combatants were found dead and several others wounded" without giving any numbers or details...

In spite of discovering that the dead civilians came from one family, one of whom had been found with his hands tied behind his back, suggesting that the Taliban were unwelcome intruders in their home, senior officials travelled to the stricken village where they "stressed that the fault of the deaths of the innocent lies on the villagers who did not resist the insurgents and their anti-government activities … [and] chastised a villager who condemned the compound shooting". Nevertheless, an internal report concluded that there was "little or no protest" over the incident. ...

The logs include references to the tracing and killing of other targets on the Jpel list, which do not identify TF 373 as the unit responsible. It is possible that some of the other taskforce names and numbers which show up in this context are cover names for 373, or for British special forces, 500 of whom are based in southern Afghanistan and are reported to have been involved in kill/capture missions...

Some of these "non 373" operations involve the use of unmanned drones to fire missiles to kill the target...

Other Jpel targets were traced and then bombed from the air. ... (link)
Readers will notice in the above that nothing is said about the involvement of Canadian special forces.

Declan Walsh on Afghan-Pakistani tensions on the border:
Afghanistan war logs: Secret war along the Pakistan border
Americans caught in middle of flare-ups over disputed colonial boundary and attacks by Taliban from within tribal zone

Declan Walsh - The Guardian, Sunday 25 July 2010

The Taliban are not the only enemy along the fraught borderlands of the Afghan war. Secret intelligence files reveal severe tensions between putative allies who can be drinking tea one day and fighting each other the next.

The war logs detail hundreds of cross-border clashes along the lawless frontier with Pakistan, far more than previously reported. The most violent salvos came from US troops disregarding Pakistani sovereignty to fire on Taliban fighters sheltering in its tribal belt. ... (link)
Finally, the Guardian's David Leigh on the little-discussed role of the CIA:
Afghanistan war logs: Secret CIA paramilitaries' role in civilian deaths
Innocent Afghan men, women and children have paid the price of the Americans' rules of engagement

David Leigh - The Guardian, Sunday 25 July 2010

Shum Khan was a deaf and dumb man who lived in the remote border hamlet of Malekshay, 7,000ft up in the mountains. When a heavily armed squad from the CIA barrelled into his village in March 2007, the war logs record that he "ran at the sight of the approaching coalition forces … out of fear and confusion".

The secret CIA paramilitaries, (the euphemism here is OGA, for "other government agency") shouted at him to stop. Khan could not hear them. He carried on running. So they shot him, saying they were entitled to do so under the carefully graded "escalation of force" provisions of the US rules of engagement. ...

But the logs demonstrate how much of the contemporaneous US internal reporting of air strikes is simply false. ...

In another case the logs show that on the night of 30 August 2008, a US special forces squad called Scorpion 26 blasted Helmand positions with multiple rockets, and called in an airstrike to drop a 500lb bomb. All that was officially logged was that 24 Taliban had been killed.

But writer Patrick Bishop was embedded in the valley nearby with British paratroops at their Sangin bases. He recorded independently: "Overnight, the question of civilian casualties took on an extra urgency. An American team had been inserted on to Black Mountain … From there, they launched a series of offensive operations. On 30 August, wounded civilians, some of them badly injured, turned up at Sangin and FOB Inkerman saying they had been attacked by foreign troops. Such incidents gave a hollow ring to ISAF claims that their presence would bring security to the local population." ...

The US also realised very quickly that a Polish squad had committed what appeared to have been a possible war crime. On 16 August 2007 the Poles mortared a wedding party in the village of Nangar Khel in an apparent revenge attack shortly after experiencing an IED explosion. ... (link)

Saturday, June 19, 2010

The Taliban's counter-surge

With Obama's troop surge now half a year old, we can begin to see its effects on the Afghan Taliban. A couple of items in this week's news reveal a bolstered, rather than cowed, insurgency.

From the CBC:

A dramatic increase in the number of homemade bomb attacks is part of an "alarming trend" in Afghanistan, a UN report released Saturday said.

The report to the UN Security Council said bombings and assassinations have soared in the past four months amid ramped-up military operations in the Taliban-dominated south.

The number of attacks involving improvised explosive devices increased by 94 per cent over the same period in 2009, while assassinations of Afghan officials rose by 45 per cent. ... (link)
In other signs that the insurgency is not diminishing in force, officials admit that the northern province of Baghlan is thick with Taliban:
'All districts in Baghlan may fall into Taliban hands'
By Habib Rahman Sherzai

PUL-I-KHUMRI, June 16 (Pajhwok) - Baghlan provincial council members have warned of falling all the districts into the hands of Taliban, who are already in control of almost 11 districts in the northern province.

A fragile government's writ was prevailing in Barka, Tala Barfak, Farang, Khost and Dahna-i-Ghori districts, the council members told Pajhwok Afghan News. They added the remaining 11 districts were under complete control of the Taliban insurgents. ...

Residents have also confirmed the presence of Taliban in some of the districts. The Taliban have been in control of most parts of Barka district, they say.

A resident of the district, Abdul Ghayor, 50, said Taliban resolved their problems and imposed their own laws. The Afghan government could only control the district, he added. (link)

Monday, June 7, 2010

June 12 - StopWar Vancouver AGM and anti-war conference

This Saturday, you're invited to join members of Vancouver's Coalition for a day of workshops, presentations and discussion. AGM and Anti-War Conference

Saturday, June 12, 2010, 11 am – 4:30 pm

At the Maritime Labour Centre (111 Victoria Drive)

Join us for a conference on June 12th to discuss the escalated war in
Afghanistan and the Harper government’s role in warmaking, occupation
from Haiti to Palestine.

StopWar advocates for an end to the war on Iraq, for Canadian troops to
be brought home from Afghanistan, and for a Just Peace in the Middle
East. StopWar opposes any attack against Iran by the United States or

Formed in 2002, is a broad-based peace coalition based in the
Lower Mainland of British Columbia, endorsed by over 160 organizations
and prominent individuals. StopWar is a member of the Canadian Peace
Alliance. We carry out our activities in a cooperative way, and we are
always looking for new activists and volunteers. General meetings are on
the first Wednesday of every month, 5:30 pm at the Maritime Labour
Centre, 111 Victoria Drive, Vancouver (entrance by parking lot).

AGM Schedule

11 am-12:30 pm - Annual General Meeting of Coalition

12:30-1:30 pm - Lunch break

1:30-2:30 pm - Plenary session on the war in Afghanistan

2:30-4:00 pm - Concurrent workshops on Latin America & Palestine

4:00 pm - Report Back Plenary

For more information email

Saturday, June 5, 2010

US troops kill Afghan civilians 'chosen randomly'

One American soldier based out of Fort Lewis in Washington state has been arrested while others are under investigation for the alleged murder of civilians in Kandahar province earlier this year. All the soldiers are with the US Army's 5th Stryker Brigade, which deployed to Kandahar in July of 2009. The unit suffered a large number of casualties, which observers have seen as a catalyst for anger which resulted in the alleged outrage.

Pentagon correspondent Tom Bowman reports on some of the details for NPR's All Things Considered:

We're told at least several soldiers from the Stryker Brigade Combat Team out of Fort Lewis, Washington, were involved. And here's what we know so far. I'm told that civilian deaths occurred during a patrol or it may have been on more than a single patrol. One source tells me the victims were chosen randomly, and there's no indication there was any type of enemy action - any firefight here - before the civilian deaths. ...

[T]his all came to light when a soldier approached his chain of command and told them about the civilian deaths.

Now, this soldier went back to his unit and he was beaten up by his fellow soldiers, so this suggests there may be some sort of cover-up here. Now, the soldier again went back to his chain of command, to his officers, to tell them what happened to him, and that's when other soldiers started coming forward. ... (link)
Agence France-Presse adds some details:
The soldier was beaten after telling authorities about illicit drugs and then, while recovering in hospital, recounted his comrades' alleged role in the deaths of three Afghan civilians, said two officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

The soldier was "beaten within an inch of his life," one of the officials told AFP. ... (link)
This is not the first time that occupation troops in Afghanistan have been accused of the deliberate killing of civilians. Back in 2007, Polish NATO soldiers were arrested for the Nangar Khel massacre, in which eight civilians were killed. The case was still before the military court this past winter. According to the most recent publicized testimony, it appears that the unit's mid-level commanders ordered the village targeted in retaliation for perceived local support for an earlier deadly Taliban attack on a NATO patrol. Afterward, those commanders first falsely claimed that Taliban fighters were present in the village. When their underlings were not willing to go along with the fiction, those mid-level commanders blamed their commander.

Friday, June 4, 2010

Kandahar hostile to foreign troops

One of the frequently recurring themes of this blog has been the unreported current of Afghan public opinion which sees the NATO/US mission in their country as an unwanted occupation. This current is undoubtedly substantial and may, as we've seen, constitute the majority view, at least in some regions of the country (see here, for example).

It's not that major media outlets have not reported these developments, but their coverage is typically shallow and generates little echo or commentary. Thus, the story dies soon after it is reported. Below, I excerpt reports from the Washington Post, the Guardian and the New York Times which all acknowledge the reality of public opposition to the foreign occupation. True to tradition, there was no reflection in those papers about what it means to be carrying out a war against the wishes of local people.

The Washington Post's Karen DeYoung warns of the risks of the Kandahar operation which is taking shape at this moment:

Results of Kandahar offensive may affect future U.S. moves

MAY 23 - The Obama administration's campaign to drive the Taliban out of Afghanistan's second-largest city is a go-for-broke move that even its authors are unsure will succeed.

The bet is that the Kandahar operation, backed by thousands of U.S. troops and billions of dollars, will break the mystique and morale of the insurgents, turn the tide of the war and validate the administration's Afghanistan strategy.

There is no Plan B. ...

U.S. civilian officials are simultaneously trying to wrest control from local power brokers and to correct imbalances that favor one tribal group. They plan to set up 10 administrative districts, each with a representative council and money to spend.

Success has been only vaguely defined, and progress will be monitored through what the military calls "atmospherics reporting," including public opinion polls and levels of commerce in the streets. A senior military official said the central question, which the administration will pose and answer for itself, is: "Are we moving toward a solution in Kandahar that the people support?"

Public descriptions of the balance between the offensive's military and civilian aspects have fluctuated in response to Afghan sensibilities in a region that is arguably more hostile to foreign intervention and the government in Kabul than to the Taliban. ... (link)
The Guardian's John Boone writes from Kandahar, also about the upcoming NATO offensive in that city:
A recent public opinion survey in Kandahar conducted for the US army found that despite their efforts to remain above the fray, most of the 1,994 people questioned sympathised with the insurgents' reasons for taking up arms against the government. Some 94% of respondents did not want foreign forces to start a new operation. ...

Despite the dire state of security in the city and its surrounding areas, there is widespread opposition among locals to a major military offensive, which, like the February operation in Marjah, has been well publicised in advance. ... (link)
And Richard Oppel, Jr. writes for the NYT on the "threat" that foreign forces pose:
NATO Apologizes for Killing Unarmed Afghans in Car

KABUL, Afghanistan, April 21 (NYT) - NATO apologized Wednesday for shooting to death four unarmed Afghan civilians this week in Khost Province and acknowledged that it had wrongly described two of the victims as “known insurgents.” ...

But in some parts of the country, American and NATO convoys are already considered by Afghans to be as dangerous a threat as Taliban checkpoints and roadside bombs, raising questions about whether the damage can be reversed to any real degree.

“People hate the international forces,” said Bakhtialy, a tribal elder in Kandahar who, like many Afghans, goes by one name.

“Their presence at the moment is too risky for ordinary people. They are killing people, and they don’t let people travel on the road.” ... (link)
Finally, the National Post has some revealing news about the state of Kandahar City:
"The Taliban are in control in Kandahar and the areas geographically adjacent to Kandahar city. They control it completely," said Hy Rothstein, a retired U.S. Special Forces Colonel who teaches at the U.S. Navy's Postgraduate School in Monterey, California.

"Those areas are fortified. There are IED belts (improvised explosive devices) and a population that is not going to provide the type of information the coalition needs in any serious way because the Taliban remain and their shadow government remains strong. ...

Recent visitors to Kandahar say the city is overwhelmed with anxiety. Residents fear being caught up in the NATO offensive and are worried by rumours Taliban leaders in Pakistan have drawn up "kill lists" of people marked for death.

The United Nations recently shut its Kandahar office and removed foreign staff from the city because of the surge in violence. ... (link)

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Militias: NATO's proxy forces

As the nearly nine-year war in Afghanistan has progressed, it has undergone a sometimes shifting development. In previous years, we saw a steady rise in US (and British and French) air attacks (called 'Close Air Support') on insurgents clustered in rural compounds. More recently, while the air attacks have basically continued at the same rate as before, the US military has shifted its rhetoric (and, somewhat, its practice) toward "engaging the civilian population," to use the terminology preferred by counterinsurgency fantasists. For many Pashtun villagers in Afghanistan's south, this has translated into heightened danger, as more contact with civilians has meant more night raids, which outrage the population.

Below, the Guardian's Stephen Grey reports on another emerging trend of the war: US-backed militias. Recent months have seen a variety of security armed groups attain some form of recognition from US military authorities, including militias which are more or less tribal and others which may be warlord-led. (In a future post, we will take a look at these various militias as well as new police and military forces.)

Afghan prosecutor issues arrest warrant for US army officer over police killing
Stephen Grey - The Guardian

KANDAHAR, May 16 - An Afghan prosecutor has issued an arrest warrant for an American special forces commander over allegations that a police chief was murdered by a US-trained militia.

Brigadier General Ghulam Ranjbar, the chief military prosecutor in Kabul, has accused the US of creating an outlaw militia which allegedly shot dead Matiullah Qateh, the chief of police in the city of Kandahar.

The militia, which Ranjbar claimed is armed and trained by US special forces, also allegedly killed Kandahar's head of criminal investigations and two other officers, when they attempted to free one of their members from a courthouse. ...

[Ranjbar] accused American officials of refusing to hand over evidence or to permit his investigators to interview the special forces commander, known to Afghans only as "John or Johnny", who he alleges sanctioned the raid. ...

Ranjbar said an investigation found that the force that killed Qateh operated from Camp Gecko, in the hills outside Kandahar, a base for both US special forces and the CIA. ...

He claimed that suspects arrested for the courthouse raid had confessed to being part of a 300-strong militia unit run by "Johnny". ...

[A]ccording to the Afghan account, the militia known locally as the "Kandahar Strike Force", or the "Kandahar Special Group", arrived at the courthouse last June with US-supplied uniforms, vehicles and weapons. They demanded the release of a comrade held for a traffic offence. When police were called to the scene by terrified court officials, the militia opened fire, killing Qateh, and three other policemen. ...

The involvement of the Camp Gecko militia is politically sensitive because of its alleged close ties to Ahmed Wali Karzai, brother of the Afghan president, Hamid Karzai. ... (link)
Writing from Kandahar, journalist Dion Nissenbaum reports on an Afghan government plan to consolidate private security firms (which often closely resemble warlord-led militias) in southern Afghanistan. Not surprisingly, Ahmed Wali Karzai appears to have his fingers in this one, too:
The pending proposal from the Afghan Interior Ministry calls for consolidation of about two-dozen small, lightly regulated security companies under the command of a Kandahar-based security mogul known simply as Ruhullah.

Ruhullah told McClatchy the deal would allow him to create a 2,500-person security firm to provide protection for NATO supply convoys in southern Afghanistan. This would make his firm by far the biggest of its kind in Afghanistan. ...

Some analysts worry that Ahmed Wali Karzai could use the new force to thwart any attempt during the U.S.-backed drive in Kandahar to supplant him ...

In an interview last week at his Kandahar compound, Ruhullah said he got his start in security after the U.S. invasion in 2001, when he started providing protection for CNN and CBS crews covering the conflict.

"I am the one who laid the foundation for security firms in southern Afghanistan," Ruhullah said.

Since then, security specialists say Ruhullah established a powerful security network that now controls long stretches of the convoy supply routes in southern Afghanistan.

Afghan and American government officials said that Ahmed Wali Karzai personally lobbied U.S. policymakers and top Afghan officials to approve the deal. ...

Abdul Manan Farahi, head of the Interior Ministry's counterterrorism department that regulates private security companies, challenged the perception that the new company would become part of Ahmed Wali Karzai's political empire. He said the plan calls for a new leader to take control every six months and includes a diverse collection of security contractors from different tribes that consider Karzai a rival. ...

"The main profits will go to a few people," said one Kandahar security contractor who asked that his identity be kept secret out of fear of retaliation from Ahmed Wali Karzai. "Anyone who has good relations with Ahmed Wali will get the good contracts." ... (link)
Allegations of Wali Karzai's wickedness are thick on the ground, including accusations that he is drug kingpin and CIA asset. What is undisputed is his vast influence in Kandahar, where he is head of the provincial council and often referred to as the effective governor. In March, Time Magazine's Tim McGirk wrote that his "sources insist that Wali Karzai in the past has threatened to call down NATO air strikes or arrange night raids by U.S. special forces on tribal elders who defied him."

Monday, May 31, 2010

Remote control civilian killers

The New York Times' Dexter Filkins relates a glimpse of the sanitized butchery in the State-side control rooms for the drone war. It seems that drone operators watching computer screens a half a world away from Afghanistan ignored evidence that civilians were about to be killed in their attack:

Operators of Drones Are Faulted in Afghan Deaths

KABUL, May 29 (NYT) - The American military on Saturday released a scathing report on the deaths of 23 Afghan civilians, saying that “inaccurate and unprofessional” reporting by Predator drone operators helped lead to an airstrike in February on a group of innocent men, women and children. ...

The attack occurred on the morning of Feb. 21, near the village of Shahidi Hassas in Oruzgan Province ...

In this case, the military Predator operators in Nevada tracked the convoy for three and a half hours, but failed to notice any of the women who were riding along, the report said.

According to military officials in Washington and Afghanistan, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to brief reporters on the case, intelligence analysts who were monitoring the drone’s video feed sent computer messages twice, warning the drone operators and ground command posts that children were visible.

The report said that drone operators reported that the convoy contained only military-age men. “Information that the convoy was anything other than an attacking force was ignored or downplayed by the Predator crew,” General McHale wrote.

Immediately after the initial attack, the Kiowa helicopter’s crew spotted brightly colored clothing at the scene, and, suspecting that civilians might have been in the trucks, stopped firing.

After the attack, the Special Operations team turned over the bodies to local Afghans. Even so, General McHale said, officers on the ground failed to report the possibility of civilian casualties in a timely way. ... (link)
Note that military officers evidently attempted to avoid publicizing the civilian casualties.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Taliban flex muscle amid US troop surge

The recent Taliban-claimed attack in Kabul that claimed the life of a Canadian Forces colonel, and which the National Post says marks a "new turn" in the war, was quickly followed by a Taliban attack on nearby Bagram airbase, a major American installment. The pair of attacks has prompted some observers to declare that the Taliban's Spring offensive has begun.

Mustafa Qadri writes for the Guardian's site that the Taliban are seen as freedom fighters by many Afghan Pashtuns:

Taliban: the indistinguishable enemy

MAY 16 - They may be repressive fanatics who enslave women and give sanctuary to al-Qaida, but the US-led occupation of Afghanistan has transformed the Taliban into Pashtun freedom fighters. There are two principal reasons for this.

First, despite our best attempts, the foreign troops and the state they prop up are viewed as outsiders who have come not to liberate the country but subjugate it.

Second, so long as our presence in Afghanistan is primarily military, our relationship to ordinary Afghans will be based primarily on violence. Armies, by their very nature, must intimidate and coerce the population into accepting their authority. Despite the talk of winning hearts and minds and civilian surges, much of what we do in Afghanistan creates fear and hostility. ...

The problem for foreign powers in a foreign land is their limited interest in the welfare of the people whose lands they occupy. There can be no sustainable resolution of the current violence, however, unless and until the locals take the lead in looking for political solutions. (link)
Julian E. Barnes reporting for the Los Angeles Times discusses recent indications that the Taliban-led insurgency is not disappearing in the face of President Obama's military surge. The surge, which is expected to peak in September, is in fact the fourth troops increase which the Afghanistan war has seen. All of the previous ones have resulted in heightened violence.
Afghan Taliban getting stronger, Pentagon says
A Pentagon assessment, while expressing confidence in U.S. strategy, says the movement has flourished despite repeated assaults.

WASHINGTON, April 29 (L.A. Times) - A Pentagon report presented a sobering new assessment Wednesday of the Taliban-led insurgency in Afghanistan, saying that its abilities are expanding and its operations are increasing in sophistication, despite recent major offensives by U.S. forces in the militants' heartland.

The report, requested by Congress ... concludes that Afghan people support or are sympathetic to the insurgency in 92 of 121 districts identified by the U.S. military as key terrain for stabilizing the country. Popular support for Karzai's government is strong in only 29 of those districts, it concludes. ...

A senior Defense official who briefed reporters on the report said violence increased last year in part because of the additional U.S. troops. ...

The report also notes that insurgents' tactics are increasing in sophistication and the militants have also become more able to achieve broader strategic effects with successful attacks. ... (link)
And an Associated Press report cites the Red Cross in shedding some light on the extent of insecurity in southern Afghanistan. Note that insurgents are not the only source of insecurity, as personal and tribal rivalries also commonly break out into armed clashes. These rivalries are often fueled by the accoutrements of the US-led war and occupation of Afghanistan.
UN refugee chief: Security worse in Afghanistan, foreign staff can't access half of country

GENEVA, May 5 (AP) - Security in Afghanistan has deteriorated in recent months to the extent that foreign staff of the U.N.'s refugee agency are unable to travel to half of the country, its top official said Wednesday.

The agency has to rely on local staff or Afghan partner organizations to reach tens of thousands of displaced people and returning refugees it is trying to aid, said U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees Antonio Guterres.

"There was a worsening security situation in the recent past," he told reporters in Geneva. "Access of our international staff to the territory is now limited to about 50 percent."

Last month the United Nations announced it had relocated several foreign employees from the southern city of Kandahar to Kabul and told more than 200 Afghan workers to stay home after security threats.

Guterres said aid workers have become targets for violence in part because the distinction between the foreign military and humanitarian groups has been blurred. ... (link)

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Is peace in Afghanistan at hand?

The Guardian's Jon Boone writes from Kabul:

Taliban leaders to be offered exile under Afghanistan peace plan

KABUL, May 5 - Top Taliban leaders could be offered exile outside Afghanistan if they agree to stop fighting the government of Hamid Karzai, a long-expected peace plan by the Afghan government will propose later this month.

The far-reaching proposals, seen by the Guardian, also call for "deradicalisation" classes for insurgents and thousands of new manual jobs created for foot soldiers who renounce violence.

The long-delayed Afghan Peace and Reintegration Programme has emerged just as Karzai prepares to go to Washington for talks with Barack Obama...

Western powers are likely to be pleased by the level of detail about the new High Level Peace Council, which will take over from a notoriously chaotic predecessor body accused of reintegrating fighters who subsequently took up arms again.

However, diplomats are worried that the government lacks the capacity to implement a programme that calls for complex activities in around 4,000 villages ...

If they agree to lay down their arms and cut ties with al-Qaida they will be entitled to an amnesty against prosecution for any crimes they may have committed. They will also be issued with a biometric "reintegration card". They will then be offered a "menu" of options designed to keep them peacefully occupied, including vocational training in such trades as carpet-weaving and tailoring. ...

By far the most controversial option is the option for former insurgents to join the Afghan army or police force. ... (link)
There is of course one thing missing from the peace plan, at least as outlined by in the Guardian. No mention is made of the Taliban's central demand, which is the removal of foreign troops from Afghanistan. However, the plan does not appear to preclude any outcome on that question, but simply side-steps it. While it does appear to block certain outcomes (e.g. power sharing by Taliban leaders), it seems to leave the status of foreign troops open. Perhaps, then, this plan is considered a starting point for negotiations which would address that more central question.

Also in the Guardian, veteran correspondent Jonathan Steele has a fascinating report focusing on women's attitudes toward negotiations with the Taliban. The article uncovers some rarely-discussed aspects of the Taliban, such as the fact that the Taliban leadership authorized women to study medicine during their reign inthe 1990's.
Afghanistan: is it time to talk to the Taliban?
Jonathan Steele - Guardian - May 4

... Perhaps most surprisingly, even among Afghanistan's small but determined group of woman professionals, the notion of making a deal with the ultra-conservative men who forced them into burkas and denied them the right to work outside the home is no longer anathema. A desperate desire for peace is trumping concern over human rights. ...

I was one of the few journalists in Kabul as the Taliban swept up from Kandahar to take control of the Afghan capital in 1996, prompting the mujahideen warlords to abandon resistance and flee. The sudden shift left everyone stunned, but the crowds that came out to watch the Taliban's pick-up trucks roaring around the streets were mainly supportive. ...

[E]ven as repression grew women could still be heard saying that their family's new-found safety from the civil war's shells and rocket-fire made it worth it.

A similar calculus of security-versus-rights is re-emerging now. Three years ago, when I was last in Kabul and the Taliban were only just starting their comeback on the battlefield, defeating them was the watchword of the day. There has been a tectonic shift in Afghanistan's public mood since then. It is prompted by a host of factors: growing disappointment with western governments and the ineffectiveness of billions of dollars in aid that seems to go nowhere except into the bank accounts of foreign consultants or local politicians; a sense that there can be no military solution to the new civil war and that outsiders are deliberately prolonging it; grief and despair over the mounting toll of civilian casualties, many caused by US airstrikes; rising nationalist anger and a feeling of humiliation; and a desire to return to an Afghan consensus in which Afghans create their own space and find their own solutions. Karzai's recent outbursts against the Americans and other foreigners are no aberration. They reflect a widely held mood.

Over two afternoons, I sit down over tea with a group of six women professionals. If anyone should be suspicious of the Taliban, it would be educated women like these. In varying degrees they all favour negotiations. Though they do not want their names used, so I will identify them by the letters A to F.

A is a Pashtun, Afghanistan's largest ethnic group and the one from which almost all Taliban come. She was already a refugee in Pakistan when the Taliban took over, having fled in 1993 at the height of the civil war. She only returned to Kabul after the Taliban were overthrown.

B, also a Pashtun, lived under Taliban rule. She feels the US, Pakistan and other foreigners are manipulating the war and even have the elusive Taliban leader, Mullah Omar, under their influence. I encounter this sense of the Taliban as puppets, even victims, in numerous conversations with Afghan men as well as women.

"It's an excuse for foreigners to occupy Afghanistan and stay here," says A. "That's why the war continues. It's not a war against the Taliban. It's a war for their own objectives."

B says Taliban rule had positive as well as negative sides. As a woman, you couldn't work, "but if you were walking in the street no one could kidnap you. We felt safer than now, when there are all these security guards and other people with guns who can abduct a woman at any time." ...

F, a Tajik, says she has noticed Taliban members presenting themselves as nationalists more than Islamists these days. ...

Anders Fänge, the country director of the Swedish Committee for Afghanistan, a large aid agency, has spent around 20 years in the country, also working as a journalist and a UN official. The Taliban should never have been portrayed in the black-and-white terms that Bush and Blair used, he says. During their period in power they often turned a blind eye to the discreet "home schools" where teachers taught girls in people's flats or family compounds. "In 1998 the Taliban governor of [the central Afghan city] Ghazni told me, 'We know you have these girls' schools, but just don't tell me about them.' A Taliban minister even approached me and said, 'I have two daughters. Can you get them in?'" he recalls.

Similar attitudes exist today, he says. In Wardak, a province close to Kabul that is heavily contested by Taliban and Nato forces, "we don't have much problem with the Taliban," says Fänge. "They accept girls' schools and women doctors. They just ask for two hours of Islamic education in schools, that teachers grow beards and not spread propaganda against the Taliban."

The difficulty comes from foreign Taliban, the Pakistanis and Arabs, or Taliban from other provinces. "At the local level, it's a patchwork, a mosaic of local commanders, who may recognise Mullah Omar as their spiritual leader but are not under his control," he adds.

Fänge's points support the case, rarely mentioned by western politicians, that Taliban conservatism differs from the rest of the country in degree, not in kind. Afghanistan is a largely rural society where the oppression of women runs deep. Even in villages populated by Tajik, Hazara and Uzbek, Afghan women are routinely banned by husbands or fathers from leaving the family compounds, and girls are kept out of school, according to Afghan women reporters.

... Arsalan Rahmani was deputy minister of higher education and later minister of Islamic affairs in the Taliban government. Four years ago Karzai invited him back to Kabul and made him a senator. He accepts the Taliban made a string of mistakes. "They didn't have good management, they were young, they had no experts, doctors, and couldn't run ministries. My boss was a boy of 25, who couldn't even sign an official letter."

He describes reports of restrictions on girls' education and women being denied the chance to work as false. "That wasn't their idea, then or now. We didn't let girls go to school because of lack of security. There was a war on. But now in Pakistan, Taliban girls go to school and university. My son is a doctor and I want him to marry a lady doctor. I've got three daughters. During the Taliban time they were in Pakistan and all studied there."

He goes on to tell an incredible story. "When I was deputy minister of higher education, people came to me and said they had girls who had finished school and wanted to study medicine. I consulted Mullah Omar and he authorised us to set up rooms in a central Kabul hospital, now called Daoud Khan hospital, where women could study to become doctors. Around 1,200 graduated, and if you track them down you'll see my signature on their degree certificates," he says.

I have no time to follow his advice but I do locate Shukria Barakzai, an independent woman MP who stayed in Afghanistan throughout the Soviet occupation, the four-year rule by mujahideen warlords, and the Taliban period. She confirms the senator's story.

Like many educated Kabulis, she criticises the warlords as strongly as the Taliban (during the warlords' clashes she lost a son and daughter). She too favours talks with the Taliban. "I changed my view three years ago when I realised Afghanistan is on its own. It's not that the international community doesn't support us. They just don't understand us. Everybody has been trying to kill the Taliban but they're still there, stronger than ever. They are part of our population. They have different ideas but as democrats we have to accept that. Every war has to end with talks and negotiations. Afghans need peace like oxygen. People want to keep their villages free of violence and suicide bombers."

Her relaxed attitude to the Taliban stems, in part, from confidence that they cannot win again. "They no longer have the support and reputation they had back then. Taliban is an ideology. It's no longer a united force," she says. ... (link)

Monday, May 3, 2010

May 29 set for Vancouver action against war

With NATO planning to launch a new offensive in Afghanistan's Kandahar Province in June, Vancouver's Coalition is organizing a day of protest to respond. Here is the notice for the May 29 action.


Stop Harper's War Now!

Join a rally and roving protest

Saturday, May 29, 1pm
Vancouver Art Gallery (North lawn, Howe & Georgia)

Organized by

Why it's important to demonstrate now

Please join us for a mass demonstration against Canada's continued involvement in the war in Afghanistan. With pressure being ramped up for an extension of Canada's military role in the NATO occupation beyond 2011, and with a massive new military offensive planned for June in Kandahar, it's more important than ever to show our opposition to this war. Organize your family, friends and community to participate in this rally now.

Real aid, not bombs

The war in Afghanistan has killed many thousands of Afghan civilians, and over 140 Canadians. The total cost to Canadian taxpayers is projected to reach $22 billion. Canada's annual military budget is over $18 billion, and the Harper government plans to pour $500 billion into the military over the next 20 years. At the same time, governments across Canada are cutting funds for education, health care, and low-income housing. It's time to bring the troops home. Military spending must be redirected towards genuine humanitarian aid for the people of Afghanistan, and urgent social priorities in Canada!

To get involved, or for more information, email

Monday, April 19, 2010

American soldiers lose confidence, says poll

Writing for Politics Daily, columnist David Wood, well-known as a specialist on war and the military, reveals American soldiers' declining confidence in victory in the war in Afghanistan:

U.S. Military Confidence Sinks on Winning Afghan War, Poll Finds
David Wood - Politics Daily

April 13 - The military's confidence that it will win the Afghan war is declining, according to a new tracking poll showing only 60 percent of active-duty military personnel believe the U.S. can triumph.

The poll, conducted by the Military Times newspapers, which are not affiliated with the Defense Department, showed the percentage of respondents who believe the United States is likely to win in Afghanistan has dropped from 77 in 2008 to 68 in 2009 to 60 percent in late January and early February of this year. ...

Military Times, a subsidiary of Gannett, publisher of USA Today, publishes weekly newspapers that cover each of the military services. The poll was an online survey of subscribers, including some 1,800 active-duty military members. More than 200 responded while deployed in or near a war zone, the Times said, mostly officers and non-commissioned officers. ... (link)

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Canada subcontracts torture

Revelations don't get much more explosive than this. On Parliament Hill Wednesday, the Afghanistan committee heard from Malgarai Ahmadshah, an Afghan Canadian who worked for the Canadian Forces as an interpreter. Here's the Globe and Mail:

Mr. Malgarai, whose Canadian Forces’ codename was “Pasha,” was an interpreter for the military in Afghanistan for one year ending in June, 2008...

“I saw Canadian military intelligence sending detainees to the NDS when the detainees did not tell them what they expected to hear,” Mr. Malgarai told the special Commons committee on Afghanistan.

“If the [Canadian] interrogator thought a detainee was lying, the military sent him to NDS for more questions, Afghan style. Translation: abuse and torture.”

Effectively, he said, “the military used the NDS as subcontractors for abuse and torture.” ...

There is friction between Mr. Malgarai and the Canadian government. He alleges that someone in the Canadian Forces leaked his real name and identity to the Taliban, calling it punishment for complaining to them about detainee transfers. The ex-interpreter says this led to death threats from the Taliban and forced his family to flee Afghanistan as refugees.

Mr. Malgarai, who now lives in Ottawa, said Defence Minister Peter MacKay and former chief of the defence staff Rick Hillier refused his requests for help in relocating his family...

In one July, 2007, example, he said the NDS refused to take a detainee suffering battlefield injuries. The NDS colonel, in front of two Foreign Affairs advisers, placed his pistol on the table and said, “Here is my gun. Go shoot him. Give me the body and I will justify it for you.”

Mr. Malgarai said one Foreign Affairs official, Ed Jager, immediately told the colonel: “I will pretend you did not say [that] and I did not hear it.”

The detainee was ultimately handed over. “Canada’s government says detainees are never transferred to NDS if there is a risk of abuse. But this is a lie,” the ex-interpreter said... (link)
Agence France-Presse has more:
Malgarai Ahmadshah alleged that in summer 2007, Canadian soldiers shot an unarmed man whom they believed had been carrying a gun.

"After the Canadian Forces wrongly killed a man, they panicked, they swept through the neighborhood, arresting people for no reason. They arrested over 10 men from about 10 to 90 years old," said the Afghan-Canadian who was codenamed Pacha during his tenure as translator.

Ahmadshah said he had personally interrogated the detained Afghans at the insistence of Canadian troops to determine whether they had any links to the Taliban.

"None did anything wrong except to be at home when the Canadian Forces murdered their neighbor," he said, adding that Canada had transferred "these innocent men" to the Afghan security forces. ... (link)
Under questioning from Liberal Bob Rae, Ahmadshah clarified that he had not seen the alleged killing. CanWest has this bit from Malgarai's appearance:
Malgarai said he translated 40-50 detainee transfer documents from English to Pashto, Afghanistan's official language. He would ask the Canadians: "Should I translate this as transfer for questioning or transfer for torture?"

"They would just laugh," he said. "They were subcontracting torture." (link)
The CBC's Kady O'Malley liveblogged Malgarai's testimony and includes this:
Oh, and the explosive test - that, [Malgarai] says, is "ridiculous". The soil in Afghanistan is tainted -- he, himself, put his hands on it once, asked for a test - and came back positive. (link)
Although the media seem not to have picked up on this revelation, if true it is arguably more serious than his other disclosures. It is doubtless the case that Canadian forces have detained and passed on to the NDS a large number of Afghans on evidence from explosives tests and little else. If the tests are as prone to false negatives as Malgarai contends, then it follows that we have likely jailed (and worse) many innocent people.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Military poll shows Taliban support in Kandahar

Murray Brewster, a reporter with plenty of experience in Afghanistan, has this:

Public support for Taliban in Kandahar hit 'all time high' last spring: poll
By Murray Brewster

KANDAHAR, April 6 (CP) - Public support for the Taliban hit an all-time high in Afghanistan's Kandahar province last spring just as the United States was preparing to deploy the first wave of military reinforcements, polling data compiled by the Canadian military suggests.

The data, obtained by The Canadian Press under access to information laws, provide a look at the disenchantment of ordinary Afghans, and perhaps illustrate the method behind the madness of Afghan President Hamid Karzai's recent anti-West rants.

The survey, conducted as part of the military's spring 2009 campaign assessment, illustrates just how much resistance there was even a year ago to the growing U.S. troop buildup in Kandahar.

"International economic assistance is heavily preferred over military assistance," the report said of Afghan public opinion.

A startling 25 per cent of those asked said they had a favourable view of the Taliban, including six per cent with a "very favourable" opinion.

The poll was conducted in most major provincial districts, but the military did not release details about the sample size or methodology. The army has been conducting regular surveys of the Afghan population since 2007.

A human rights group said the sentiments captured in the poll are still present today...

"Fewer Kandaharis report feeling safe than in previous polls; more believe that security is worsening than improving," said the study, carried out in February 2009... (link)
This is not the first time that we have seen mention of these military-run polls. Brewster first mentioned them last year when he reported that "the Taliban pulls down between 15 and 20 per cent support" in the polls. Britain-based academic Antonio Giustozzi recently alluded to them, saying they find higher support for the Taliban and lower support for the Afghan government than do polls conducted for news agencies.

The NATO polling figures are actually not too far from what some professional polling firms have found. In late 2007, a poll conducted for the BBC and others found 23% of respondents in the Afghan southwest reported that the Taliban had local support.

Other experts feel that even these surprising figures understate Taliban support. This is not outlandish given that, for Afghan civilians, there is quite a risk associated with declaring to NATO-backed pollsters one's support for the Taliban. In a briefing prepared for the Pakistan Security Research Unit, veteran Pakistani journalist Syed Saleem Shahzad writes of a January 2007 conversation he had with the then head of the British PRT in Helmand, and current British ambassador to Congo (DRC), Nicholas Kay. Kay told him that the majority of the population of southwest Afghanistan support the Taliban.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

UK troops assist in framing respected NGO

It appears as though NATO has taken its revenge on the Italian NGO Emergency, headed by Nobel Peace Prize nominee Gino Strada. During the recent showcase attack in Helmand, Operation Moshtarak, the NGO was unsparing in its criticism of the foreign forces:

Emergency Press Release

FEBRUARY 14, 2010 - Since yesterday, the Surgical Centre run by the Italian Ngo EMERGENCY in Lashkar-gah, in southern Afghanistan, has been anticipating the arrival of victims of the bombings carried out by Anglo-American forces, that for two days now have been targeting the village of Marjah, located about 50 km southwest of the capital of Helmand province.

Our staff has been notified that dozens of seriously injured civilian victims are unable to be transferred to hospitals due to military blockades which are impeding vehicles transporting injured victims. As of this morning, six victims died because their evacuation was hindered...

EMERGENCY denounces these severe war crimes perpetrated by the international coalition of forces led by the United States, and calls for a humanitarian route be opened in order to guarantee immediate assistance to the wounded. (link)
Fortunately for NATO, the NGO's condemnation was completely ignored by elite media. I can find no mainstream coverage of this item, which was however publicized by Democracy Now!

NATO officials no doubt hope to demonstrate that you can't call them war criminals and get away with it:
Italians held over alleged plot to kill Afghan governor

APRIL 11 (AP) - Three Italian medical workers are among nine people who were detained over an alleged plot to kill an Afghan provincial governor, officials said.

The nine were held after suicide bomb vests, hand grenades, pistols and explosives were discovered in a hospital storeroom in Lashkar Gah, capital of the southern province of Helmand, a spokesman for the provincial government said. Police had been tipped off about a plot to kill Helmand's governor during a future visit to the hospital, the spokesman said.

A video of the raid shows British troops accompanying Afghan police, soldiers and government officials to the hospital, which is run by the private Italian group Emergency. In a storeroom, boxes are opened containing what appear to be bullets, pistols, hand grenades, and bags of explosives... (link)
Reuters has more:
"They want to get rid of a troublesome witness. Someone has organised this set-up because they want Emergency to leave Afghanistan," the head of Emergency, Gino Strada, told reporters.

He accused the government of President Hamid Karzai of effectively "kidnapping" the charity's employees -- a doctor, a nurse and a logistics worker -- with the backing of NATO forces fighting the Taliban in the province...

A spokesman for the NATO-led international force said on Saturday no NATO troops were involved in the arrest, but Strada said video footage of the arrest showed NATO soldiers were at the hospital.

"Emergency shows the results of the so-called war on terrorism ... 40 percent of the wounded are children under the age of 14. We had asked for a humanitarian corridor to evacuate the wounded, but they put up a security cordon that does not let them reach hospitals," Strada said.

"Until recently we managed to treat the wounded because international conventions were respected ... Today this is no longer possible," he said... (link)
And in typical police state style, the cops say they already have confessions:
Italians 'confess' to murder plot in Afghanistan
Times Online

APRIL 11 - Three Italian aid workers seized by Afghan police in Helmand have confessed to their part in a plot to assassinate the provincial governor, Afghan officials claimed today...

“We still have not been able to reach them by phone,” [an Emergency] statement said. “The only contact we have been able to make has been through one of the employee’s cell phones answered by someone who identified himself as a British military official. This person notified us that the Italians were well, but unavailable to speak at the time.”

The Italian ambassador has flown to Lashkar Gar in an attempt to see the accused Italians...

Military officials insisted that Nato forces were not involved in the raid. Britain’s Special Forces and the Secret Intelligence Service based in Helmand are not part of the Nato mission but they work alongside Afghan forces in Helmand... (link)
You can see the video of the raid here. It shows British troops and Afghan officials entering the Emergency clinic and shows the armaments allegedly found in the clinic. Notice that the Afghan police and others who are collecting the evidence make no attempt to keep their fingerprints off the weapons. It appears as though British forces were watching this, yet they obviously did not intervene to stop this egregious mishandling of evidence.

CNN has this odd assertion:
Authorities said the suspects had taken $500,000 from the Pakistan Taliban to launch their attack in a crowded location when Gov. Gulab Mangal was present. ... (link)
However, the New York Times says the Afghan authorities accuse the Emergency staff of being in league with the Taliban's Quetta shura, which is separate from the Pakistani Taliban.

Tom Coghlan of the Times adds some interesting background:
[I]n 2007 darker accusations were made by the Government, which accused employees of the Emergency hospital of a role in the kidnap of an Italian journalist, Daniel Mastrogiacomo, and two Afghan colleagues by the Taleban.

The Italian was freed after the release of a number of Taleban prisoners. The Afghans were beheaded.

Afghan officials say that Italian government pressure stopped further investigation of the hospital’s alleged role in the kidnap. As one senior government official said in Kabul yesterday: “There has been suspicion for some time of Emergency.” ... (link)