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."


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