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."