Afghanistan – Pride & Prejudice – Part III

Part III of a multi-part dossier

Adrian Hamilton, 30th April 2009, in The Independent: “It’s gang up on Pakistan time.The US Secretary of State, Mrs Clinton, has declared it ‘poses a mortal threat to the security and safety of our country and the world’ and now Gordon Brown has joined the party, flying to Kabul and Islamabad to show that he too regards the two neighbours as one region and making that the centrepiece of his so-called ‘new’ Afghan policy in the Commons yesterday. There was, he claimed, a ‘chain of terror’ stretching from the mountainous border between Afghanistan and Pakistan to the capitals of the world.

If this reminds you of the language of the Raj, when the North-West Frontier obsessed our administrators and took up a disproportionate part of our military resources, so it should. Just as the British failed to control the area in Victorian times, so we are back in the same exercise again, only this time we’re demanding that the Pakistanis act as the redcoats bringing order to the wild tribal lands. Now leave aside the question of whether this really does amount to a new strategy …It’s his headlong rush to join up with the US Af-Pak approach, however, that is so worrying.”
Tom Engelhardt, 24th April 2009, writing in “…A UN survey tallied up 2,118 civilians killed in Afghanistan in 2008, a significant rise over the previous year’s figure, of which 828 were ascribed to American, NATO, and Afghan Army actions rather than to suicide bombers or Taliban guerrillas…And how exactly do we explain this ever rising pile of civilian dead to ourselves? It’s being done, so we’ve been told, for our safety and security here in the U.S. The previous president regularly claimed that we were fighting over there, whether in Iraq or Afghanistan, to keep Americans safe here…Personally, I always thought that we could have locked our plane doors and gone home long ago. We were never in mortal danger from al-Qaeda in the badlands of Afghanistan, despite the fervid imagination of the previous administration and the riotous fears of so many Americans. ”

Richard Norton Taylor in the Guardian, 30th March 2009: “John Reid, defence secretary at the time of the initial deployment of 3,000 British troops in April 2006, said: ‘We are in the south to help … the Afghan people construct their own democracy. We would be perfectly happy to leave in three years and without firing one shot because our job is to protect the reconstruction.’

Three years later military commanders and ministers admit that the situation in Afghanistan was little understood. General Sir Richard Dannatt, head of the army, suggests the tactics were crude and self-defeating. He said that ‘in the early days the troops probably wound up – maybe still are – killing lots of farmers’.”
Bruce Kent’s letter to the Editor, The Guardian, 25th March 2009: “…Why war in Afghanistan at all? That any war was started in 2001 was itself the result of a gross violation of the UN charter by the security council. Article 42 only permits military action when all the non-violent alternatives suggested in article 41, aimed at restoring international peace and security, ‘would be or have proved to be inadequate’. In the few short weeks after 9/11, no such assessment was or could have been made”.
Jason Burke in The Observer, 22nd March 2009: ” The US ambassador to Kabul told the Observer that America would be prepared to discuss the establishment of a political party, or even election candidates representing the Taliban, as part of a political strategy that would sit alongside reinforced military efforts to end the increasingly intractable conflict.

The move will cause concern among allies struggling to keep pace with rapidly evolving US policy.

Other ideas being discussed include changing the Afghan constitution as part of potential negotiations, taking senior Taliban figures off UN blacklists to establish dialogue and possible prisoner releases.

European nations are currently weighing up US requests for more troops and resources for Afghanistan ahead of a series of forthcoming summits. Tough fighting is expected as America sends a surge of 17,000 troops into the country before the August elections.”
Jon Boone in The Guardian, 9th March 2009: “A British plan attempted to push for progress with Taliban commanders in Helmand, in 2007, by setting up secret “retraining” camps to provide insurgents with inducements to swap sides. But Karzai reacted furiously, expelling two foreign diplomats.”
Audrey Gillan in The Guardian, 8th March 2009: “Asked in the interview if the US was winning the war in Afghanistan, Obama said ‘no’.”
Jon Swaine in the Daily Telegraph, 7th March 2009: “Commanders in the field are being overwhelmed by contradictory information and are often unwilling to share intelligence among allies, according to the confidential report.

It points to an example of Dutch pilots in Afghanistan who bombed targets on US orders, but were refused access to US “battle damage assessments” on what they had hit.

….In an echo of the war in Vietnam, some commanders in Afghanistan are relying on “the fallacy of body counts” as a measure of progress in their missions, the report found.”
David Wilson, Press Office, Stop the War Coalition, 26th Feb 2009: “Three British soldiers were killed on Wednesday in southern Afghanistan as a result of an ‘enemy explosion’ while a fourth died after suffering wounds from enemy fire. For what? In support of a corrupt US-sponsored government which
rules little further than the firing range of President Karzai’s Blackwater bodyguards.

Once again British ministers will send their sympathies to the familes of the dead soldiers. They should instead send out their letters of resignation….”
Norman Solomon in, 25th Feb 2009: ” The reasons why the war in Afghanistan cannot be won are directly connected to why the war is wrong. In essence, people do not like their country occupied for years on end, especially when the occupiers are routinely killing civilians (whatever the rationale). Monochrome words like Taliban and ‘terrorists’ might seem tidy and clear enough as they appear in media coverage, or as they roll off a president’s tongue, but in the real Afghan world the opponents of the U.S. war are diverse and wide-ranging. With every missile strike that incinerates a household or terrorizes a village, the truly implacable ‘extremists’ can rejoice at Uncle Sam’s assistance to their recruiting efforts.

Those who are fond of talking and writing about President Obama’s admirable progressive values will, sooner or later, need to come to terms with the particulars of his actual policies. In foreign affairs, the realities now include the ominous pairing of his anti-terrorism rhetoric and his avowed commitment to ratchet up the U.S. war effort in Afghanistan.

Mary Dejevsky in the Independent on Sunday, 15th Feb 2009: “… and the requirements  could well move away from combat troops towards police training and infrastructure projects.

There, combat-ready British, rather than the more risk-averse Germans, may therefore emerge as the odd ones out from the US policy review. It was striking that British ministers –  the Defence Secretary, John Hutton, and the Foreign Secretary, David Miliband – are still speaking the old US language of anti-terrorism, existential threats and combat operations. Some fast-footwork, Karzai-style, might be called for in London.

Rachel Reid in the Guardian, 6th Feb 2009: ” talk to Afghans in the south and east of the country where the conflict rages. They tend not to begin with the horrors of the Taliban and other insurgents. What they want me to hear first are their stories about the women and children bombed at a wedding party, the Qu’ran that was ripped up by foreign soldiers in a night raid, or the family shot dead in their car because they didn’t understand orders in English to stop at a checkpoint. They are outraged and bewildered by the killings, in particular the air strikes. By UN estimates, more than 500 civilians were killed in air strikes in Afghanistan last year. The insurgents may have killed more than 1,000, but Afghans expect little from the Taliban.

The worst civilian casualty incident of last year took place in Azizabad, in a district called Shindand in the west of Afghanistan. In August 2008 the US launched a “kill/capture” operation, targeting a mid-ranking Taliban commander. The Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission says that at least 76 civilians were killed, 59 of whom were children. The UN put the civilian death toll above 90. Among the many photographs of the dead, one in particular has always stuck in my mind. It is of a young girl who looks as though she could be sleeping. But beneath the long lashes of her closed eyes is a line of shrapnel wounds. She was five years old, and she was called Kubra. And in that photograph you can glimpse how the last moments of Kubra’s life must have passed.

The US military, whose forces carried out the air strike, was cold and dismissive about the reports of civilian dead. Initially they denied any casualties, later admitting five to seven civilian deaths. It was only weeks later, after video evidence emerged that they were forced to investigate again and revised the civilian death toll up to 33. Whatever the final figure, the death toll from this incident was shocking. The subsequent military denials compounded the fury that Afghans already felt about these deaths.”
Jim Lobes in Asia Times, 5th Feb 2009:
“…In a new report released on Tuesday by the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, Gilles Dorronsoro, a French expert on South Asia, argued that adding troops would actually be counter-productive because the mere presence of foreign soldiers in Pashtun areas has fueled the Taliban’s resurgence and that the best way to weaken it is to reduce military confrontations. In that respect, ‘the only meaningful way to halt the insurgency’s momentum is to start withdrawing troops’. ”
Press Association, The Guardian, 4th Feb: “A senior British Army officer has been arrested in Afghanistan for allegedly supplying sensitive civilian casualty figures to a human rights campaigner.

Lt Col Owen McNally, 48, was held in the war zone on suspicion of breaching the Official Secrets Act, it is understood.

The Ministry of Defence said the officer was being returned to the UK for questioning, where his case has been referred to the Metropolitan Police.

‘We can confirm that a British Army officer has been arrested in Afghanistan on suspicion of breaching the Official Secrets Act,’ the MoD said in a statement. ‘He is being returned to the UK for questioning.

The investigation has been referred from the MoD to the Metropolitan Police and is now under consideration. No further details will be released at this stage.’

According to a report in the Sun, Col McNally had access to the figures through his work for Nato’s International Security Assistance Force, which is running military operations across the country.

American generals in the Afghan capital Kabul are reported to be furious about the allegations….”
Daily Telegraph, 27th January 2009: “Nato is losing its battle in Afghanistan because of tensions within the alliance, according to the International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS) . ..The report [its annual Military Balance survey] said that the Taliban insurgency had continued ‘unabated’ throughout the past 12 months – even moving into previously quiet provinces – adding to pressures on the alliance.

‘Counter-insurgency efforts were forced to adapt to changes in Taliban tactics and seemed to make little overall headway,’ it said….Attempts to turn fighters away from the Taliban have met with only limited success, even though this effort was likely to be ‘essential’ to the long-term success of the international mission.”
————————————————— news services 25th January 2009: “…President Hamid Karzai on Sunday condemned a U.S. operation he says killed 16 Afghan civilians, while thousands of villagers denounced the American military during an angry demonstration, Reuters reported….Chanting slogans against Karzai and the United States, thousands of people took part in the protest in the town of Mehtar Lam, Laghman province, despite heavy rain.

‘If the foreign troops do not put an end to their operations, we will launch jihad,’ said Malik Hazrat, a protest leader.

The provincial governor tried to calm the demonstrators and invited them for talks with representatives of the U.S.-led troops. But some protesters threw stones at him and he stopped his speech.

Jerome Starkey & Kim Sengupta in the Independent, 23rd Jan 2009: “British soldiers complain that they are being forced to share hospital facilities in Afghanistan with Taliban fighters. Enemy combatants are treated at the Camp Bastion Field Hospital in line with the Geneva Convention. But personnel are objecting to the traditional war-time practice. ”
Isabelle Lasserre in Le Figaro, 31st December 2008: “The Defence Minister Herve Morin, meets on Wednesday our troops [in Afghanistan] who are applying the counter-insurgency methods inspired by the war in Algeria….fifty years after the Battle of Algiers, the French strategists are re-examining their counter-insurgency. It is for this reason that one dares today, even though it is something we would rather not, to compare the war being waged by the West’s armies against the Taliban of Afghanistan with the conflicts waged by French armies in Indo-China, and particularly in Algeria…the similarities, it must be said, are manifold. In Afghanistan, like in Algeria, the adversary is a rebellion against a central power imposed by occupation forces, an asymmetric conflict, based on daily harassment, ambushes and skirmishes. In both cases the insurrection benefits from the terrain of hills and valleys where it can lodge on its return. Like in Algeria, the insurrection benefits from its neighbours and is sustained by Pakistan where the tribal zones comprise a massive reservoir of manpower, money and arms for the Taliban.

It is not only a similarity of conditions, but also of methods of operation. The principal counter-insurgency theorists in France are ‘rereading David Galula [Captain in the French army who ‘pacified’ the Berbers], Roger Trinquier [another French army veteran of the Algerian war, who later became a mercenary in the Congo] and Lawrence of Arabia’, explains General Olivier, who directs the CDEF, the Centre for Studies in Deployment at the Military School….”
Julian Borger in The Guardian, 31st December 2008: “The US yesterday outlined a controversial plan to organise local militias in Afghanistan to contain the growing strength of the Taliban, echoing tactics used by American commanders in Iraq….But the Canadian defence minister, Peter MacKay, said: ‘The tribal militia idea that has been around for some time now is controversial; we are not on board with that. Our preference is to continue with this more formal training process that leads to a more reliable, more professional soldier and Afghan national security force.’ ..

Critics of the plan said it would entrench tribal differences, bolster local warlords, spark sectarian conflict, and reverse the work of a UN-led disarmament project in the provinces. ”
Max Hastings in The Guardian, 22nd December 2008: “….The British army is chastened by its Afghan experience. Senior officers were rashly over-optimistic. Today, they realise they are making little progress in securing Helmand, and far less controlling the drug industry. The UK is getting scant thanks from the Americans, who believe we are not doing enough.

Even a reinforcement of, say, 3,000 UK troops is unlikely to alter fundamentals. More men are of limited value when the British are chronically short of helicopter lift to deploy them outside their firebases. A retired general said to me last week: “How do we keep explaining dead British soldiers to the British people, when we are getting nowhere?”
Ghaith Abdul-Ahad in The Guardian, 22nd December 2008:”…A young Afghan soldier sitting next to the police commander said: ‘When the Taliban attack they are so close that we talk to each other on the radios. They shout ‘allahu akbar, allahu akbar’. We ask them why are they fighting us – we are Afghans like them. They tell us that we are infidels because we are helping the foreigners occupy our country.’

‘What do you tell them?’ I ask.

‘Nothing. They are right.’
Clancy Chassay in The Guardian, 16th December 2008: “…’We were walking, I was holding my grandson’s hand, then there was a loud noise and everything went white. When I opened my eyes, everybody was screaming. I was lying metres from where I had been, I was still holding my grandson’s hand but the rest of him was gone. I looked around and saw pieces of bodies everywhere. I couldn’t make out which part was which’.

Relatives from the groom’s village said it was impossible to identify the remains. They buried the 47 victims in 28 graves.

Stories like this are relatively common in today’s Afghanistan. More than 600 civilians have died in Nato and US air strikes this year. The number of innocents killed this way has almost doubled from last year, and tripled from the year before that. These attacks are weakening support for the Afghan government and turning more and more people against the foreign occupation of the country.

…The latest figures from the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission, taken a month ago, suggest about 750 civilians have been killed by foreign forces this year. Most were killed in air strikes. The remainder were shot by jumpy soldiers, who often open fire in crowded public places after an attack on one of their convoys.

Humanitarian aid agencies say privately that they believe the figure is significantly higher, as many victims classed as “insurgents” are actually non-combatants.

As the situation deteriorates across the country, the killing of civilians is seen as a final affront in a litany of mistakes by the foreign forces in Afghanistan. Patience among ordinary Afghans has worn thin and anger grows with each attack.

…’The anti-American feelings in Afghanistan are not just coming from conservative or religious elements,’ said Shukria Barakzai, a female MP.

‘These feelings stem from the actions and military operations of the foreign troops. The anti-western sentiment is directly because of the military actions, the civilian casualties, and the lack of respect by foreign troops for Afghan culture’.”
Richard Norton-Taylor in The Guardian, 9th December 2008: “The Taliban is experiencing a renaissance and now has a permanent presence in more than 70% of Afghanistan: so claimed a report published yesterday by an independent thinktank, the International Council on Security and Development. Some of its conclusions appeared exaggerated, enabling the government to rubbish the lot. But few would quarrel with the underlying message, not least Britain’s top brass.”
Richard Norton-Taylor et al in The Guardian, 9th December 2008: “NATO countries are scrambling for alternative routes as far afield as Belarus and Ukraine to supply their forces in Afghanistan, which are increasingly vulnerable to a resurgent Taliban, the Guardian has learned. Four serious attacks on US and NATO supplies in Pakistan during the past month, including two in the past three days, have added to the sense of urgency to conclude pacts with former Soviet republics bordering Afghanistan to the north…independent analysts described it as a well-planned move, with 100 militants torching more than 100 trucks….”
Patrick Saint-Paul in Le Figaro, 20th November 2008: Germany is concerned with the amount of alcohol consumed by its soldiers in Afghanistan. In 2007, the German contingent forming part of the NATO force is said to have drunk about 1 milliion litres of beer and 70,000 litres of wine, according to figures released by the Army. A Social Democrat MP has called on the goverment to “offer soldiers an alternative to the consumption of beer by developing sporting and cultural activities”. The German defence minister sought to play down the issue within the 3,500 strong contingent…
Simon Jenkins in The Guardian, 19th November 2008, “…a private war is being fought by US special forces against anyone with a gun in the east of the country, the bombing of Pakistani villages so capricious and counter-productive as to suggest a lack of all tactical control. In the south the British have no strategy except to re-enact the Zulu wars at exorbitant cost in money and lives. The Helmand campaign is magnificent but mad.”