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)

Friday, April 9, 2010

German special forces killed 83 Afghan civilians

We saw recently that the German army is, despite its government's claims to the contrary, knee-deep in an unpopular war. Today we will explore the event which for many Germans has proven to be the straw that broke the camel's back, an incident known to many as the Kunduz massacre.

Readers may recall Labour Day weekend this past year, when a German-ordered airstrike by US jets blew up two fuel tankers stranded on a riverbed which had reportedly been stolen from foreign forces. Almost immediately, it was widely reported that the number of insurgents and civilians killed in the inferno was at least fifty and was perhaps 90 or more. Also, despite vague details, the Afghan health ministry reported that "a big number of civilians were killed and wounded" in the September 4 bombing. (You can see the rather disturbing drone's-eye-view video of the strike here.)

Despite such early developments, Canada's major newspapers, in concert with the mainstream English language media worldwide, tended to favor the lowest available estimates of the strike's human toll. Even as firmer and more authoritative tallies emerged which supported higher estimates of casualties, the Canadian media generally lowered its reported tallies. The facts of the matter are still unreported in the Canadian press, and the same is true of the United States.

Early Canadian coverage following Sept 4, generally drawn from wire services, cited figures as high as more than 45 civilians dead out of 90 killed in total. By September 14, however, most major Canadian dailies had settled on the figure of 30 (sometimes 30-40) dead civilians.

Only one Canadian newspaper (The Province, Sept 8) carried an AFP report which cited Afghanistan Rights Monitor's tally of 60-70 civilians deaths based on the organization's interviews with 15 residents of Omar Khel village, where the attack occurred. **

The same day as the article the Province, the National Post ignored the ARM tally and instead poured scorn on the United Nations for something that body had not even done yet. According to the Post's editorial board UN condemnation of the Kunduz bombing was "inevitable" following the Taliban's "call for a UN investigation." By this depraved act the Taliban resemble "the Islamists who attack Israel" in their cynical use of the UN, which "never seems able to see through the schemes and plots of extremists and dictators," the editorial warns.

Characteristically, the National Post's sermon is deeply flawed owing to its peripheral relation to the facts. In reality, the UN mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) had already been investigating for several days, prompted not by insurgents but by the seriousness of the incident. Contrary to the Post's claims, the Taliban had called not for an investigation but for the bombing to be condemned and steps taken to prevent a recurrence.

On September 14, most of Canada's major dailies (National Post, Ottawa Citizen, Montreal Gazette, Toronto Star, Vancouver Sun) ran notices relating the results of an Afghan government appointed commission which found that 30 civilians had been killed in Kunduz. However, almost all Canadian media completely ignored a crucial part of the commission's findings. Only the Edmonton Journal (Sept 18) found reason to include the commission's condemnation of the attack. Of course, Afghanistan being something of a vassal state, the condemnation is very mildly worded, saying simply that NATO's decision to launch the airstrike was "the wrong decision".

Quite oddly, Canada's leading daily, the Globe and Mail, did not even mention the Sept 4 air strike until September 9 when a Canadian general serving with NATO command was appointed to investigate the incident. Regarding civilian deaths, the article notes that estimates of civilians killed ranged from "less than 10 to more than 80." They appear not to have followed up on the story.

That the leading media outlets were not more vigorous in their questioning might strike some as odd, given NATO's initially clumsy public relations. " NATO initially said it believed the casualties were all Taliban fighters," wrote one Reuters correspondent, "but later acknowledged that large numbers of wounded civilians were being treated in hospitals."

It seems that the Afghan government appointed commission was not the last word on the matter. Amnesty International, after visiting the site of the bombing and speaking with locals, came out with a report in late October:

Amnesty international’s investigation into the Kunduz incident suggests that the laws of war may have been violated during the airstrike...

According to the German military, NATO’s investigation could not verify the exact number of casualties. Village elders from the area told Amnesty International in Kunduz that 142 people had been killed in the attack, of which at least 83 were civilians...

Amnesty International gathered eyewitness testimonies from survivors of the attack, as well as interviews with Mohammed Razaq Yaqoobi, the local chief of police, UN officials, and the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission...

The organisation’s research shows that NATO did not provide civilians in the area with effective warning that they were going to launch an attack, endangering the lives of people in the area.

In some circumstances, NATO aircraft in Afghanistan fly close to targets or shoot warning rounds to get civilians away from a potential target. Eyewitnesses to the attack told Amnesty International that they did not see NATO aircraft engage in any warning action prior to the Kunduz airstrike... (link)
But even Amnesty's figure of 83 dead civilians was not the end of the story. In November a report in Der Spiegel (not translated into English) related the story of an independent investigation which concluded that only a handful of Taliban insurgents were killed

German lawyer Karim Popal, himself born in Afghanistan, claimed to represent 78 relatives of victims of the strike in a compensation suit against the German government. Popal had traveled to Kunduz in the weeks after the bombing and met with family members of victims of the bombing.

According to Popal's investigations, the attack killed just five Taliban while claiming the lives of 139 civilians, including 36 children and 20 women. Some 163 children were orphaned. There were 20 wounded civilians as well as 20 missing civilians. Assuming that those 'missing' were most likely dead, Popal's figures imply that 159 civilians were killed.

However, a month or so after this turn of events, Popal's claims were seriously questioned. At least one Afghan whose relatives were killed in the Kunduz bombing distanced themselves from Popal, while a lawyer colleague claimed that Popal had not personally met with all victims' family members as he had claimed. German news magazine Report Mainz cites Amnesty International Germany's Monika Lüke dismissing Popal's figure and calling his allegedly inflated tally an attempt at "haggling" with the German government over compensation.

Interestingly, however, Report Mainz also refers to an unpublished report from the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission which found that 112 civilians were killed. (Those who sprechen kein Deutsch can drop the text into Google translate, though expect difficult reading of grammar strange in.) Of course it is difficult to know what to make of this assertion. The AIHRC's staff have shown themselves to be quite competent in the past, but it is unclear why the report wasn't published. However, it is worth noting that Amnesty found that "at least 83" of 142 victims were civilians.

It is worthwhile to note here some details of other things about the Kunduz bombing which have come to light. Much of the controversy centers upon two actions of Colonel Georg Klein, the commanding officer who ordered the September 4 airstrike. First, Klein told the American pilots who were dispatched to the scene that his forces had an informer on the ground at the riverbank relaying real time intelligence on the situation. Then Klein rejected the suggestion that the pilot first fly in close on the scene in order to scare off civilians.

The Kunduz incident recently made headlines in Germany once again after it emerged that Chancellor Angela Merkel may have lied about when she learned of civilian casualties in the September bombing. The Irish Times has some excellent coverage of this development:
An e-mail from Germany’s secret service, leaked to Der Spiegel magazine, suggests the chancellery was informed nine hours after the German-ordered strike on September 4th that 50-100 civilians had been killed.

By contrast, for days after the strike – three weeks before the general election – former defence minister Franz Josef Jung claimed that “only Taliban terrorists” had been killed...

Mr Jung was forced to resign from Dr Merkel’s new cabinet after it emerged that he knew about civilian casualties far earlier than he admitted in public...

“Merkel allowed the defence minister to lie about civilian casualties, contrary to the facts,” said Jürgen Trittin, co-leader of the opposition Greens...

The current defence minister, Karl Theodor zu Guttenberg, first called the bombing military justified, then changed his mind. He blamed his top two military advisers for the U-turn and dismissed them, claiming they had withheld crucial information from him. He then later changed his mind on being misinformed.

It later emerged that German special forces were closely involved in the strike, suggesting it was a targeted strike against Taliban leaders near the tankers and not, as claimed in public, a preventative measure to stop the tankers being turned into rolling bombs... (link)
That last bit is quite important in light of the NATO version of events, which told of Taliban insurgents attempting to attack foreign occupation forces with two stolen tanker trucks. It makes a difference legally, since if the Taliban are about to attack, they can be counter-attacked. But if they were simply transporting fuel they would arguably be hors de combat, thus a legally dubious target. Of course, the suspects in this case were in possession of stolen fuel, but that would arguably be a police matter, and not an act which justifies an armed attack in response.

Of particular interest also is the apparent involvement German special forces, mostly likely the KSK who are known to be operating in Afghanistan.

** Interestingly, the Reuters dispatch in the Province notes the Taliban's own efforts to assess the attack: "The Taliban said they had set up their own commission to investigate the incident and released a list of 79 civilians killed in the air raid. The list includes 24 children under age 18." If we assume that Amnesty's tally of 83 dead is authoritative, it is noteworthy that the Taliban's initial report was the most accurate, erring on the conservative side.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

New York Times sees 'occupation' in Afghanistan

Back in February, the Open Society Institute released a report on the war in Afghanistan entitled 'Strangers at the Door' which noted improvements in some areas of forces conduct following the introduction of General McChrystal's new guidelines. In particular, there has been progress in "reducing civilian deaths due to airstrikes," according to the report. It continues:

One practice, however, that has changed little is the search and seizure operations known as night raids. (link)
We saw back in January that there is reason to believe that ground force attacks, often at night, are replacing the airstrike as the most common terror tactic in use by American-led forces in Afghanistan. Now reporter Richard Oppel of the New York Times has news of a similar kind:
Tighter Rules Fail to Stem Deaths of Innocent Afghans at Checkpoints
Richard Oppel, Jr.

KABUL, March 26 (NYT) - American and NATO troops firing from passing convoys and military checkpoints have killed 30 Afghans and wounded 80 others since last summer, but in no instance did the victims prove to be a danger to troops, according to military officials in Kabul.

“We have shot an amazing number of people, but to my knowledge, none has ever proven to be a threat,” said Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal, who became the senior American and NATO commander in Afghanistan last year. His comments came during a recent videoconference to answer questions from troops in the field about civilian casualties.

Though fewer in number than deaths from airstrikes and Special Forces operations, such shootings have not dropped off, despite new rules from General McChrystal seeking to reduce the killing of innocents. The persistence of deadly convoy and checkpoint shootings has led to growing resentment among Afghans fearful of Western troops and angry at what they see as the impunity with which the troops operate — a friction that has turned villages firmly against the occupation. ...

Many of the detainees at the military prison at Bagram Air Base joined the insurgency after the shootings of people they knew, said the senior NATO enlisted man in Afghanistan, Command Sgt. Maj. Michael Hall.

“There are stories after stories about how these people are turned into insurgents,” Sergeant Major Hall told troops during the videoconference. ... (link)
Oppel should be commended for his use of the word "occupation" to describe the task of foreign troops in Afghanistan. It may be a first for the New York Times.

In another New York Times milestone, a former member of the Reagan administration became the first commentator I've seen to advocate in its pages for an old solution to a new problem. Bing West, former Marine and former assistant secretary of defence, wants to see the US get tight with an expanded and empowered military and pull out:
The Philippines — and South Korea as well — evolved into thriving democracies at their own pace, well after American aid helped to beat back the military threats facing them. It was enough to prevent the Communist takeovers and leave behind governments controlled in the background by a strong military. We didn’t spend tens of billions of dollars on material projects to inculcate democratic principles.

Similarly, a diminished Hamid Karzai can be left to run a sloppy government, with a powerful, American-financed Afghan military insuring that the Taliban do not take over. ... (link)
And lest we forget that even a supposedly improved situation is still a horrific one for those on the population of the country:
KABUL, April 6 (Reuters) - NATO launched an investigation on Tuesday into whether its forces had killed four civilians -- two women, a child and an elderly man -- in an air strike overnight on a compound in southern Afghanistan.

In a separate incident, the NATO-led force said it was also investigating how one child had been killed and three wounded during a clash with fighters in the east of the country... (link)

Canadian forces working closely with criminals

The latest revelation in the revelation-a-week detainee/torture scandal is that the government was warned just last year about the Canadian military's possibly illegal relationship with the Afghan version of the FBI, known as the NDS.

The CBC has the story:

Tories alerted to Afghan secret police legal 'risk'

APRIL 6 - The Conservative government was warned last summer that working with the Afghan secret police would lead to allegations Canada condoned abuse and that Canadians could face legal liability for complicity in torture.

The information, contained in a candid top-level government memo shared with CBC News, shows that officials were worried that Canada's relationship with the Afghan National Directorate of Security was risky — and possibly illegal — even while the government was defending it...

The NDS has wider powers of arrest and detention than most intelligence agencies, the memo says, and as a result, "there is considerable scope for the use of improper methods." Engaging with the NDS "entails a degree of risk to Canadian interests," it adds...

"Canadian partnership in NDS projects without prior insight into its methods runs the risk of appearing to condone human rights abuses and acts which would be illegal under Canadian law," the document states.

Government officials admit that Canada has used the fruits of NDS intelligence-gathering. Brig-Gen. Denis Thompson, former commander of the Canadian mission in Afghanistan, told a parliamentary committee last week that his assessment of the NDS in fighting the insurgency "is that they were a very valuable partner, and I mean, we acted on the intelligence we received from the NDS." ... (link)
These rather stark views of the NDS are quite similar to those of the former political director of the Provincial Reconstruction Team in Kandahar, Cory Anderson. Last week, he testified before the ongoing special parliamentary committee on Afghanistan which has played host to the revelations of Richard Colvin and memorable testimonies from a variety of witnesses. His explanation of one of the main tasks of Canadian diplomats is quite startling:

“I don’t think it helps our cause to be so closely associated with the NDS in a very overt fashion because of the specific reputation that it has among the population,” [Anderson] said.

Afghans most often reach out to Canadian diplomats not for development funds but to enquire about missing siblings, he said.

“What they were concerned about was, what happened to their cousin a year-and-a-half ago who has gone missing or why has someone been in NDS custody for months at a time without having any charges laid against them, and were they (transferred by Canadian Forces)?” Anderson said...

The NDS provides good generic intelligence, but there are concerns that intelligence is obtained through ways that breach “obligations under international standards,” he said...

Anderson said he repeatedly voiced concerns about “mission killers” — such as Canada’s partnership with the NDS — with members of the Canadian Forces and politicians, including Defence Minister Peter MacKay.

The diplomat also slammed the military for absolving itself from any monitoring responsibility leaving a handful of diplomats ill-equipped to penetrate the NDS and judge whether torture was taking place... (link)
And the Toronto Star elaborates on Anderson's views on the role of the Canadian Forces:
Anderson spelled out a scenario Wednesday in which the Canadian Forces wiped their hands of responsibility for the well-being of the detainees they had captured as soon as they left their temporary prisons at Kandahar Airfield.

The military did as little as possible to help their civilian partners – primarily diplomats – monitor those prisoners to ensure they were not being tortured, he told the House of Commons special committee ...

[Anderson said the NDS] was an agency built on “endemic and systemic duplicity” and its officials appeared to resent the interference of Canadian diplomats in their operations and resisted all but the most basic cooperation ... (link)
Anderson is of course not the first person to sound warnings about the NDS. Here's what whistle blowing diplomat Richard Colvin wrote about his attempts to tell civilian and military officials about the risk of torture:
[I]n early March 2007, I informed an interagency meeting of some 12 to 15 officials in Ottawa that, "The NDS tortures people, that's what they do, and if we don't want our detainees tortured, we shouldn't give them to the NDS." (The NDS, or National Directorate of Security, is Afghanistan's intelligence service.) The response from the Canadian Expeditionary Force Command (CEFCOM) note-taker was to stop writing and put down her pen... (link)

Massacre cover-up exposed

We saw last week that NATO was busy smearing British journalist Richard Starkey for reporting on the victims' version of events in Gardez during a murderous special forces house raid in February. Now Afghan investigators are finding corroboration for the villagers' version.

The New York Times has the story:

Afghan Investigators Say U.S. Troops Tried to Cover Up Evidence in Botched Raid
Richard A. Oppel, Jr. - NYT

KABUL, April 5 - Afghan officials investigating the deaths of five Afghan civilians gunned down in February during a bungled raid by American Special Operations forces believe that troops tampered with evidence at the scene, the lead investigator said Monday...

The joint American and Afghan assault team shot five Afghans — all family members — from the roofs of buildings in a large residential compound near Gardez, in southeastern Afghanistan, where members of an extended family lived in different homes, survivors said. The Americans did the killing, they said...

In an interview, [lead investigator Merza Mohammed] Yarmand said the raiding party had killed all five Afghans — and then meddled with the scene.

“We came to the conclusion that the NATO patrol was responsible for the killing of the two men and the three women, and that there was evidence of tampering in the corridor inside the compound by the members” of the assault team, Mr. Yarmand said...

Yet to be determined is whether Special Operations forces dug bullets out of the victims’ bodies in an effort to hide what had happened, as described by family members who survived the raid.

Mohammed Tahir, whose 18-year-old daughter was killed, said he had watched from the compound through an open door as an American knelt over one corpse with a knife and tried to extract bullets. “I saw them working on the bodies,” Mr. Tahir said. “I saw a knife in one of the American’s hands.” ... (link)
Reading the above, a keen eye might note a certain discrepancy in Oppel's reporting. He cites terms like US Special Operations and NATO patrol interchangeably, though it is not clear. It would be unusual, from what we know of past trends, if this was a NATO night raid undertaken by US special forces with Afghans training or assisting alongside. Until now, the bulk of evidence indicates that such operations are done outside NATO command, and instead under the USA's Operation Enduring Freedom. It seems likely the reasons have to do with preventing the involvement of NATO allies in either planning or responsibility or both. Night raids have a highly dubious legal status and some of NATO's more sensitive members might not stay quiet if their forces were involved in such operations.

Over at the Rethink Afghanistan blog, which has been following this story closely, the revelations brought this well-expressed rebuke:
Remember that survivors of the raid said that the special operations forces denied the wounded medical treatment and prevented survivors from going to get medical help for an extended period of time, during which one of the women and one of the men who were mortally wounded died.

That means special operations forces were busy digging bullets out of walls and/or people to cover their asses while the innocent people they shot were bleeding to death... (link)
Finally, another dispatch from Richard Oppel sheds some light on what is happening in Marja:
Violence Helps Taliban Undo Afghan Gains
Richard A. Oppel, Jr. - NYT

MARJA, Afghanistan, April 3 - Since their offensive here in February, the Marines have flooded Marja with hundreds of thousands of dollars a week...

One tribal elder from northern Marja, who spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of being killed, said in an interview on Saturday that the killing and intimidation continued to worsen. “Every day we are hearing that [the Taliban] kill people, and we are finding their dead bodies,” he said. “The Taliban are everywhere.”

The local problem points to the larger challenges ahead as American forces expand operations in the predominantly Pashtun south, where the Taliban draw most of their support and the government is deeply unpopular...

“We’ve got to re-evaluate our definition of the word ‘enemy,’ ” said Brig. Gen. Larry Nicholson, commander of the Marine expeditionary brigade in Helmand Province. “Most people here identify themselves as Taliban.”

“We have to readjust our thinking so we’re not trying to chase the Taliban out of Marja, we’re trying to chase the enemy out,” he said. “We have to deal with these people.” ...

After the February offensive, the Marines used cash payments to prod more than 20 store owners at one bazaar in northern Marja to open their doors, a key to stabilizing the area and reassuring residents.

By late March, all but five shops had closed, Major Coffman said. A prominent anti-Taliban senior elder was also gunned down in northern Marja, prompting most of the 200 people in his district to flee... (link)
Note the American general's tacit acknowledgment that Taliban fighters in Marja were largely local men who thus enjoyed substantial support from the population.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Germany is at war

Thousands of Germans took to the streets in this year's Easter Marches, following a yearly tradition going back half a century to early anti-nuclear protests. Gathering in 30 different cities, the demonstrators called for nuclear disarmament and an end to the war in Afghanistan.

While their numbers were somewhat small, they represent the overwhelming majority of German public opinion on the war - a fact not lost on the CIA. In a recently leaked report prepared for the agency, authors examined the question of why France and Germany are able to contribute large contingents of soldiers to the war "despite the opposition of 80 percent of German and French respondents to increased ISAF deployments".

The answer they arrive at is that the war's "low public salience has allowed French and German leaders to disregard popular opposition". They warn, however, that an increase in European casualties could usher in a feared "backlash," which has now taken a concrete form in the recent Dutch commitment to following through on removing all troops from Afghanistan as scheduled. The CIA authors refer to this as a "precedent for 'listening to the voters,'" revealing the traditional fear of democracy necessary for functioning in elite institutions.

The dreaded backlash is getting some fuel lately:

Germany shocked by Taliban ambush

BERLIN, April 5 (UPI) - The German government for the first time spoke of being at war in Afghanistan after a heavy firefight with 80 Taliban insurgents left three German troops dead.

It was a terrible Good Friday for the NATO-led security mission in Afghanistan: First a German patrol was ambushed near Kunduz by two groups of 40 Taliban insurgents. The heavy firefight, which lasted for several hours, left three Germans dead, severely wounding eight more.

Shortly after the clashes began, another German unit was sent to help their comrades. Yet en route to the ambush, the Germans opened fire on two vehicles that officials in Berlin said would not stop approaching them despite warnings. Six Afghan troops in the vehicles were killed. While Germany says the troops approached in civilian cars, Kabul says they were military vehicles...

In Germany, observers are now calling for soldiers to better prepared for these attacks.

Ulrich Weisser, a retired German Navy admiral... urged Berlin to equip troops in Afghanistan with reconnaissance drones to Afghanistan so that ambushes like Friday's can be prevented. And to counter them, they need combat and transport helicopters as well as heavy artillery, he said. Weisser added it was "completely unacceptable" that not a single German combat helicopter has been sent to Afghanistan... (link)
Calls for German troops to get more powerful weaponry are an ominous development, though it appears there are already other efforts to "enhance" Germany's involvement in the war:
The Sunday Times (London)
RAF and Luftwaffe unite in flight
Michael Smith

APRIL 4 - A navigator from the Luftwaffe has become the first member of his country's air force to fly into combat with the RAF...

[The navigator and his British pilot] flew about 18 missions together over a six-week period in December and January, providing air support for troops on the ground.

The aircraft was armed with 500lb laser-guided Paveway IV bombs, Brimstone air-to-ground missiles and a 27mm cannon.

The Luftwaffe navigator's role was specifically requested by Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg, the German defence minister, as part of an effort to enhance the country's involvement in the Afghan war.

Its armed forces have been criticised by Nato for restrictions imposed by their government that prevent their ground troops from going out at night, operating in southern Afghanistan-where the fighting is fiercest - or taking part in offensive action.

By flying sorties in the south, the navigator has arguably breached those restrictions and his role may be seen as controversial in Germany... (link)

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Karzai's justice: children brutalized in jail

For anyone who follows events in Afghanistan even casually, it is not news that children there are suffering tremendously. Most obviously, there has been an horrific toll of children killed directly by the war. According to one tally, last year US/NATO airstrikes alone killed more children than the Taliban and other insurgents did in all their attacks (131 vs. 128).

But the challenges for children go beyond the direct horrors of war. "The world is ignoring the daily deaths of more than 850 Afghan children from treatable diseases like diarrhoea and pneumonia, focusing on fighting the insurgency," according to British charity Save the Children. Afghan children have the world's worst chance of seeing their fifth birthday and yet Canada, along with other belligerent countries, is spending a mere pittance on aid for that country while the military sucks in billions of dollars.

And who can forget the scandalous 2008 accusation by Canadian Forces padre Jean Johns who revealed that Canadian soldiers were ordered by commanding officers to look the other way as allied Afghan soldiers engaged in "bacha bazi" ("boy play"). Her accusations were later echoed by other soldiers. The Canadian Forces NIS is likely still investigating the allegations.

Interpress Service's Gareth Porter has more on the hazards facing Afghan children:

Two-Thirds of Boys in Afghan Jails Are Brutalised, Study Finds

WASHINGTON, Mar 30 (IPS) - Nearly two of every three male juveniles arrested in Afghanistan are physically abused, according to a study based on interviews with 40 percent of all those now incarcerated in the country's juvenile justice system.

The study [was] carried out by U.S. defence attorney Kimberly Motley for the international children's rights organisation Terre des Hommes...

Those statistics parallel the findings of a study published by the U.N. Children's Fund and the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission in 2008, which found that 55 percent of boys and 11 percent of girls reported having been beaten upon their arrest.

Virtually all the male juveniles said the police beatings were aimed at forcing them to sign a confession. They said they had signed either while being beaten or threatened with being beaten, and that the confessions were then used to convict them.

The testimony of the juveniles themselves on brutalisation by police was consistent with Motley's interviews with juvenile court judges. Forty-four percent of the judges interviewed indicated that juveniles complained routinely about torture and physical abuse by police officers. Another 33 percent refused to answer when asked whether they had heard such complaints...

Almost half the children brought before a court in Afghanistan are also denied the right to speak in their defence, according to Motley's study...

One of the male juveniles denied the right to testify in court was a boy charged with pederasty, or sexual relations between an adult male and a child. As is often the case, he was the victim of rape, after having been kidnapped by three adults, all of whom were released and never charged...
It is worth noting that officers from the Correctional Service of Canada have been in Afghanistan for several years instructing their Afghan cohorts as well as inspecting correctional facilities there. Of course, we don't know if CSC ever found evidence of the crimes which both Motley and Porter rather easily discovered. While it might at first seem difficult to believe that Canadian officials would be hypocritical on issues of sexual morality, cynical readers might simply interject that recent Ministers of Public Safety (responsible for CSC) have included the morally challenged Stockwell Day and Vic Toews.

Related blog posts:
(September 2007) Al Jazeera: "Even Afghanistan's formal justice system does not clearly define rape as a separate crime, including it under the offence of "zina" or adultery, pederasty and violation of honour."

(August 2008) Afghan government representatives commit child rape, says Afghan human rights organization.