Afghanistan – Pride & Prejudice – Part II

Part II of a multi-part dossier

Jason Burke in The Observer, 28th September 2008: “The Taliban have been engaged in secret talks about ending the conflict in Afghanistan in a wide-ranging ‘peace process’ sponsored by Saudi Arabia and supported by Britain, The Observer can reveal….This summer’s fighting season in Afghanistan has been the most violent since the invasion of 2001. The deterioration of the situation has provoked a major review of strategy among the 40-nation international coalition pitted against an increasingly confident and effective insurgency.”—————————————————

Robert Fisk in The Independent, 20th September 2008: “And now it turns out that four of the 10 French troops killed in Afghanistan on 18 August surrendered to the Taliban, and were almost immediately executed. Their interpreter had apparently disappeared shortly before their mission began no prizes for what this might mean ñ and the two French helicopters which might have helped to save the day were too busy guarding the hopeless and impotent Afghan President Hamid Karzai to intervene on behalf of their own troops. A French soldier described the Taliban with brutal frankness. “They are good soldiers but pitiless enemies.”

The Soviet general at Bagram now has his amanuensis in General David McKiernan, the senior US officer in Afghanistan, who proudly announced last month that US forces had killed ‘between 30 and 35 Taliban’ in a raid on Azizabad near Herat. ‘In the light of emerging evidence pertaining (sic) to civilian casualties in the … counter-insurgency operation,’ the luckless general now says, he feels it ‘prudent” -another big sic here -to review his original investigation. The evidence ‘pertaining’, of course, is that the Americans probably killed 90 people in Azizabad, most of them women and children. We – let us be frank and own up to our role in the hapless Nato alliance in Afghanistan – have now slaughtered more than 500 Afghan civilians this year alone. These include a NATO missile attack on a wedding party in July when we splattered 47 of the guests all over the village of Deh Bala.”

Glenn Greenwald in, 11th September 2008: “On the night of August 22, the U.S. committed what Chris Floyd, in a richly detailed and amply documented piece, calls an ‘atrocity’ in the Afghan village of Azizabad, near the western city of Herat. The U.S. conducted a massive midnight airstrike on the village, killing scores of unarmed civilians, including large numbers of women and children. That was preceded just weeks earlier by another U.S. airstrike in Eastern Afghanistan which ‘killed 27 people in a wedding party — most of them women and children, including the bride.’

What makes the Azizabad attack particularly notable is the blatant and now clearly demonstrated lying engaged in by the U.S. Government regarding this incident, with the eager propagandistic assistance of what we are constantly told is the ‘legitimate news arm’ of Fox News — namely, Brit Hume’s show and his stable of ‘legitimate news reporters.’ Working in unison, Fox and the Pentagon continuously denied claims that large numbers of civilians had been killed in the airstrike, accusing the villagers of lying and U.N. investigators of having been ‘duped.’ But a mountain of documentary evidence and independent investigations have now conclusively confirmed that it was the U.S. Government that was lying and the villagers’ claims which were true along, forcing the military to ‘reinvestigate’ its own conclusions…”

Richard Norton-Taylor in the Guardian, 8th September 2008:”Civilian deaths in Afghanistan from US and NATO air strikes have nearly tripled over the past year, with the onslaught continuing in 2008 and fueling a public backlash, a leading human rights group says today.

The report by Human Rights Watch Human Rights Watch says that despite changes in the rules of engagement which had reduced the rate of civilian casualties since a spike in July last year, air strikes killed at least 321 civilians in 2007, compared with at least 116 in 2006. In the first seven months of this year at least 540 Afghan civilians were killed in fighting related to the armed conflict, with at least 119 killed by US or NATO air strikes, such as this July’s attack on a wedding party which killed 47, says Human Rights Watch.

“There has been a massive and unprecedented surge in the use of air power in Afghanistan in 2008,” the report says. It found that few civilians casualties were the result of planned air strikes on suspected Taliban targets. Instead, most were from air strikes during rapid response missions mostly carried out in support of “troops in contact” – ground troops under insurgent attack. Such strikes included situations where American special forces – normally small in number and lightly armed – came under insurgent attack.”

Andrew McGregor in Asia Times, 4th September 2008: “Conflicting accounts of a Taliban ambush of an elite French military unit in the Surubi district of Kabul province on August 18 have raised new concerns about the future of France’s politically unpopular deployment in Afghanistan….A French officer described the French troops involved in the ambush as ‘experienced’ and ‘combat-capable’.

Nevertheless, the Taliban made a political statement by targeting the new additions to the French ISAF contingent. …Army chief of staff General Jean-Louis Georgelin described the ambush as “a well-organized trap” on “terrain that was extremely favorable to the enemy”. The ambush was launched at 3:30 in the afternoon after the paratroopers left their APCs to reconnoiter a pass on foot.

As one survivor pointed out, the pass was nearly three hours out from the column’s starting point; ‘enough time for the Taliban to be warned by their accomplices of our arrival’. French General Michel Stollsteiner, ISAF commander in the Kabul region, stated, ‘In the past two weeks we had largely secured the zone but you have to be frank, we were guilty of overconfidence’.”

Julian Borger in The Guardian, 27th August 2008:”Sixty children were killed in air strikes by US-led coalition warplanes in western Afghanistan last week, a UN investigation has found. UN investigators said they discovered ‘convincing evidence’ that a total of 90 Afghan civilians died in the incident.

The toll, potentially the worst since the fall of the Taliban in 2001, could wreck relations between the Afghan government and the NATO-led coalition forces, which were already under severe strain over civilian casualties and strategy in the counter-insurgency against the Taliban.

…Military sources said the air strikes last Thursday on the Shindand district of Herat province were carried out not by the NATO force attempting to bolster Karzai’s government, but as part of a parallel US mission targeting al-Qaida and Taliban militants, called Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF).”

Sangar Rahimi and Carlotta Gall in the International Herald Tribute, August 24, 2008: “…a joint patrol of Afghan Army commandos and U.S. embedded Special Forces trainers called in airstrikes on a compound in the village of Azizabad….Government officials who traveled Saturday to Azizabad said the death toll had risen to 95 from 76, making the strike one of the deadliest bombing attacks on civilians in six years of war….
The Karzai government has expressed outrage over airstrikes that have led to civilian deaths as popular support for the coalition presence in Afghanistan dwindles…”

Terri Judd in the Independent, 22nd August, 2008: “….Senior military officers are reported to have held preliminary talks on increasing British soldiers in Afghanistan from 8,000 to 12,000 ñ a dramatic difference from the 3,300 initially expected to hold the ground when the UK force took over Helmand in 2006….Brigadier Carleton-Smith concluded: ‘Armies have never controlled Afghanistan. There has always been a political settlement’.”

Peter Almond in the Mail on Sunday, 6th July 2008: “They are the RAF’s newest squadron, flying crack missions against the Taliban over Afghanistan – but these pilots never have to leave the ground. Instead the men of 39 Squadron work by remote control out of a darkened room in the Nevada Desert, 8,000 miles from the action.
They operate drone MQ-9 Reaper planes via video camera, while talking directly to controllers on the ground in Afghanistan….But this revolution in warfare has raised moral questions about whether it is right to remotely bomb an enemy while taking no risk yourself….

A conference held by the Royal United Services Institute expressed fears of a host of ethical dilemmas. There are concerns that pilots will become trigger-happy when taking no personal risks. The Allies could lose the moral high ground with Afghans who see they are unwilling to risk their lives fighting the Taliban.

Simon Jenkins in the Sunday Times, 22nd June, 2008: “The British expedition to Afghanistan is on the brink of something worse than defeat: a long, low-intensity war from which no government will dare to extricate itself. With the death toll mounting, battle is reportedly joined with the Taliban at the very gates of the second city, Kandahar. There is no justification for ministerial bombast that ‘we are winning the war, really’….Britain went into Helmand two years ago on the basis of gung-ho, and gung-ho still censors public debate. Yet behind the scenes all is despair…

Nothing will improve without the support of the Afghan government, yet that support is waning by the month. Nothing will improve without the commitment of Pakistan. Yet two weeks ago NATO bombed Pakistani troops inside their own country, losing what lingering sympathy there is for America in an enraged Islamabad. Whoever ordered the attack ought to be court-martialled, except it was probably a computer. . .”

Tariq Ali in The Guardian, 11th June 2008: “…Many Afghans who detest the Taliban are so angered by the failures of NATO and the behaviour of its troops that they are hostile to the occupation. NATO itself has stopped pretending that its occupation has anything to do with the needs of the Afghan people and acknowledge it as an open-ended American military thrust into the Middle East and Central Asia….NATO’s failure cannot be simply blamed on the Pakistani government. It is a traditional colonial ploy to blame ‘outsiders’ for internal problems. If anything, the war in Afghanistan has created a critical situation in two Pakistani frontier provinces and the use of the Pakistan army by Centcom has resulted in suicide terrorism in Lahore with the federal intelligence agency and a naval training college targeted by supporters of the Afghan insurgents.

The Pashtun majority in Afghanistan has always had close links to its fellow Pashtuns in Pakistan. The present border was an imposition by the British empire, but it has always remained porous. It is virtually impossible to build a Texan fence or an Israeli wall across the mountainous and largely unmarked 2500km border that separates the two countries. The solution is political, not military. And it should be sought in the region not in Washington or Brussels.”

Robert Fox in The Guardian, 10th June 2008: “With the killing of three paratroopers on patrol in Helmand on Sunday, British military casualties in Afghanistan since 2001 have now passed the 100 mark. This is no empty symbol and statistic, considering the length of the campaign longer now than the entire second world war and that there seems no obvious end in sight in Helmand, or anywhere else across southern Afghanistan for that matter.

The deaths of the soldiers of 2nd Battalion the Parachute Regiment have stirred some deep emotions within the army, and not all of them just grief. There is a great deal of frustration against the political class that sent them on the open-ended wild goose chase across Helmand, Kandahar, Uruzgun and Zabul provinces now the home turf of the biggest narcotics production in the world”.

Peter Beaumont in The Observer, 8th June 2008:”In the seventh year after the fall of the first incarnation of the Taliban, two Afghanistans exist. The first is defined by international effort in the country – civil and military – whose story is told in battles won and reconstruction projects brought successfully to fruition. It is largely told through the prism of foreigners, diplomats and soldiers, British, Canadian and American. It emphasizes good news, most recently a claim – that would surprise Afghans – that foreign forces were ‘routing’ the Taliban.

The other Afghanistan is largely ignored. This has 30 million people in whose name the war is being fought. Its themes are disappointment, bitterness and pessimism: a conviction that the vast intervention to rebuild the world’s fourth poorest country has benefited only a small handful, and Afghanistan is heading for a new crisis. …Suicide bombings last year were up by 27 per cent over the preceding year, and up 600 per cent in comparison with 2005. Taliban attacks increased fourfold over the same period. Two months ago the International Crisis Group outlined a series of scenarios facing Afghanistan without further help – all catastrophic….

It is left to a lorry driver from Lashkar Gah to say: ….For now there is no peace, no security, no central government. During the time of the Taliban I was left in peace. ‘There is an old Pashto proverb,’ he adds ruefully. ‘The old thieves were better than the new.’

Julian Glover in The Guardian, 24th May 2008: “When British troops were sent to Helmand in large numbers in 2006, on a mission never explained to the public or parliament, the defence secretary, John Reid, foolishly said he hoped not “a single shot” would be fired. Instead, in the first year of the operation, more than 4m bullets were used. The stretcher cases in the front cabin of our RAF TriStar flight home showed the results.

There is plenty of talk in Britain of Afghanistan being lost, and about Helmand being a noble failure at best and an imperial folly at worst, an attempt to wash away the bloodstains of Iraq by doing good where no good can succeed. Evidence to back up this view is not hard to find: not just the insecurity that makes even a short trip a matter of flak jackets and helicopters, and nearly killed the governor of Helmand province when his Chinook was hit by rocket fire last Saturday, but the total failure too to prevent opium poppies being grown and the strangulated efforts at redevelopment.

If not wasted, the last two years have been a standstill, at huge cost to Afghan lives, foreign forces and British taxpayers. Politicians, the Lib Dem leader included, talk smoothly of the terrible consequences of defeat. But viewed from Britain, defeat looks close at hand.

It does not seem that way in Helmand. To see the operation on the ground is to encounter something far larger than the British government chooses to admit.

Rifatullah Orakzai of the BBC’s Urdu service, 19th May 2008: “News of a missile strike on a house in the village last Wednesday night came amid reports of progress in the government’s peace talks with militants in the region. At least 14 people were killed by the missile – which the Pakistani army says was fired by an unmanned Predator drone operated by the American CIA in Afghanistan….Taleban militants appear to be in complete control of two Bajaur sub-dsitricts, Mamund and Salarzai, and people seem to be reluctant to express their opinions freely. There were hundreds of people as well as armed militants at the scene of the missile strike. They were unanimous in their condemnation of Nato troops for carrying out the attack.

Jerome Starkey in the Independent, 16th May 2008:”Secret Afghan death squads are acting on the orders of foreign spies and killing civilians inside Afghanistan with impunity, a senior UN envoy has claimed. Professor Philip Alston, the UN special rapporteur on illegal killings, said ‘foreign intelligence agencies’ had used illegal groups of heavily armed Afghans in raids against suspected insurgents. He said the attacks were beyond the legitimate military chains of command, and they were ‘completely unacceptable’ and ‘outside the law’….In Helmand, where most of Britain’s 7,800 troops are based, Special Forces were accused of slitting a man’s throat in a botched night raid last year. Security sources now claim the operation was mounted by a secret spy unit.

In a preliminary report, Professor Alston added: ‘It is absolutely unacceptable for heavily armed internationals accompanied by heavily armed Afghan forces to be wandering around conducting dangerous raids that too often result in killings without anyone taking responsibility for them.’

He refused to name the spies behind the secret units, or their nationality, but most of the provinces he identified where these raids have been mounted fall under American command. He also refused to rule out the possibility that raids may have been made in Helmand, where British troops are in command.”

Jason Burke in the Observer, 27th April 2008:”Hamid Karzai, the Afghan president, has called on British and American troops to stop arresting Taliban insurgents in Afghanistan, saying that their operations undermined his government’s authority and were counter-productive….Karzai also attacked the number of civilian deaths inflicted by the coalition. Although levels of ‘collateral damage’ inflicted by NATO operations have dropped substantially, deaths still continue. Two women and two children were killed recently in an air raid by NATO troops on a suspected Taliban position after a firefight. Up to 9,000 civilians have died since 2001″.

Anand Gopal, Inter-Press report, 26th March 2008: “Last week, close to 400 demonstrators gathered near Lashkar Gah, the capital of Helmand, to protest civilian killings. Protesters claim that NATO soldiers raided a house and killed two people, including a child. One protester asked a local news agency, ‘We are poor people with no links to militants. Why are troops killing us?’

Fighting has raged in Helmand province for more than two years and has produced a steady exodus of injured and terrified civilians.

Tauskhan Palwesha arrived in Kabul three days ago from the Sangin district, where last year a fire fight broke out between coalition forces and the Taliban. ‘Bullets were flying past our home,’he recalls. ‘Suddenly a plane flew by and dropped a bomb – I heard a loud noise and everything around me burst into flames. I looked for my wife and saw that a beam had gone right through her head, spilling her brains onto the floor. My nine-year-old daughter had burns all over her body. When I picked her up I noticed that she was missing an arm.’

A leading Afghan NGO reports that close to 2,000 civilians were killed by the fighting and estimates coalition air strikes are responsible for nearly a tenth of these. Analysts say possibly many more deaths go unreported because of the poor security conditions that prevail in the southern provinces. Overall, aid agencies estimate that more than 12,000 people, at least a quarter civilians, have been killed since the start of the war in 2001.”