Wednesday, 28 July 2010
Tuesday, 27 July 2010
Awful Truth On Scale Of Civilian Deaths
By Rachel Reid
Seven children killed by rockets in a mosque, a 16-year-old girl abused by a district police chief, more than 80 civilians killed in bomb attacks written off as insurgents. The dismal glimpse into the relentless chaos of war, seen through the hazy eyes of international soldiers in Afghanistan, comes from the massive leak of military field reports. And while US Department of Defence officials were quick to say things have changed, it is sadly only half true.
I have trawled through the unwieldy database of 92,000 documents, released by whistleblower website WikiLeaks, for some of the incidents that I have followed since 2008. For the most part, though, what I've seen fits what I already knew - that the battlefield assessments before and after some massive civilian casualty incidents have been horribly inaccurate about the presence of civilians and about civilians killed.
Advertisement: Story continues below
Part of this no doubt reflects the fog of war, and the difficulty of troops on the ground making sense of messy situations. But the documents also expose a poor vision which is troubling - not least because it is too often turned into stony-faced public denials from US and NATO spokesmen. I've met families, still reeling with grief after these incidents, who struggle to comprehend why the representatives of those they have seen wreak havoc in their homes are denying responsibility for their actions.
Since 2008, American and NATO forces have introduced some significant improvements in operational guidelines in order to reduce civilian harm and to avoid the denials and the misreporting. The steps have helped, but have not solved the problem of poor intelligence, human error, and a lack of transparency and accountability. And this includes incidents I have looked into during the past few months, long after some of the tactical directives issued to remedy these problems.
The most notable, positive impact has been a reduction in casualties from air strikes. But the air strikes continue, with several incidents last month in which civilians were reportedly killed in air attacks. There has been an improvement in guidance to minimise civilian harm during ''night raids'' - ground operations under the cover of darkness to capture or kill insurgent commanders - but as air strikes have reduced, troop numbers have increased and the use of raids has intensified.
Nine men and teenage boys were killed in May in Nangahar province, according to the government and family members. The US declared them all Taliban and refused to investigate; that the two men the US detained and held for five days were never questioned and were so quickly released suggests that the US forces soon realised their mistake. But the official position is still that a Taliban sub-commander named Mullah Shamsuddin was killed in the attack. The Afghan government investigation, not yet made public, concurred with what the local residents said - there was no Shamsuddin and they must have mixed him up with a student named Shamsurrahman. Like mixing up Robinson with Robertson. Only deadly. And still denied. I discovered amid the leaked reports what might be proof of a similar and even more catastrophic example of poor intelligence. When the US bombed a village in western Afghanistan in August 2008, killing more than 80 civilians, it was declared a success because a Taliban commander called Mullah Sadiq had been eliminated. (The huge number of civilians killed was initially denied until protests and video evidence forced the US to admit to 33 dead.)
Locals told me that Sadiq was still around days after the bombing. And now here he is - Sadiq seen after the bombing in the western region in at least three field reports in the leaked documents. So, more than
80 dead, based on bad intelligence, with the target still alive. And nobody is known to have been investigated or held responsible.
The leak comes at an interesting moment. Last month I was in Washington, DC, where some argue that Afghans won't fight and Americans aren't allowed to because their hands are tied by too many rules. In Kabul last week, I heard that new tactical directives were bouncing around the Pentagon while the US military headquarters in Afghanistan was revising existing ones - it is still not known which direction they are going in. But the fear is that, far from strengthening the rules to protect civilians, the gloves might come off and the emphasis swing back to ''force protection'': protecting the lives of international troops even at the cost of Afghan lives.
One can only hope that these massive leaks, with their graphic descriptions of civilians killed, will mute the cries for weakening protections. The situation in Afghanistan is deteriorating and many are questioning the military strategy there. An increase now in civilian casualties would be a tragedy for Afghans, and a disaster for international efforts in Afghanistan.
Rachel Reid is a researcher in the Asian section of Human Rights Watch.
Monday, 26 July 2010
Sunday, 25 July 2010
Friday, 23 July 2010
This affair helps to reopen the Iraq debate, in a way that vindicates Blair's most severe critics. Tony Blair's remaining defenders say he was motivated in Iraq by a hatred of terrorism and tyranny and had no regard whatsoever for getting access to oil. Yet at the very same time the New£abour government was plotting in Libya to hand the worst terrorist in British history to a tyrant in exchange for oil. It's proof that oil and corporate power were a much bigger factor in driving foreign policy than the public rhetoric of opposing tyranny or terror.
David Cameron refuses to open an investigation. He says he will release all the relevant documents – but the Cabinet Office has quietly declared that Blair's permission will be needed before any records are shown to the public. For the families of all the innocent people slaughtered in Lockerbie, this has been a cold-water education in what their governments really value. Helen Cohen, remembering her murdered 20 year-old daughter Theodora, says: "Western governments seem to be run by one thing now – the great God money."
There's a revealing postscript to this story. Last month, Blair went to Libya on behalf of the many mega-corporations who now employ him. He was greeted by Gaddaffi himself – who tortures dissidents and terrorises his population – "like a brother", according to the Libyan press. There has even been speculation that, now they need a CEO, Tony Blair will go to work for BP. In so many ways, it seems, he always has.
Thursday, 22 July 2010
The acts of official betrayal at the heart of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq are being exposed by the week. The former head of MI5 Eliza Manningham-Buller confirmed to the Iraq inquiry this week that the security services had indeed warned Tony Blair's government that aggression against Iraq, "on top of our involvement in Afghanistan", would radicalise a generation of Muslims and "substantially" increase the threat of terror attacks in Britain. A few days earlier, Carne Ross, Britain's former representative at the UN responsible for Iraq before the invasion, told the inquiry that the British government's statements about its assessment of the threat from Saddam Hussein "were, in their totality, lies". My recent posts have links to both statements.
Nine years into the ‘war on terror’ and its litany of torture, kidnapping, atrocities and mass killing these testimonies combine to highlight the utter disgrace of the British political and security establishment who deceived the public about both invasions.
Of course the UK commitment to join the attack on Iraq was clearly never driven by the supposed menace of Saddam or the legal casuistries advanced at the time, but by an overriding commitment to put Britain at the service of US power, under whichever political leadership and wherever that might take it. The "blood price", as Blair called it, for this – David Cameron made explicit last week – subservient relationship had to be paid. Someone said that the special relationship Cameron has been trumpeting in recent days(Brown parroted the same script), is so special that only one side knows about it.
Blair’s blood price is now being paid again in Afghanistan , as the ConDem coalition claims, against all the evidence, that UK troops are dying to keep the streets of Britain safe from terrorism. Cameron and his ministers have pulled out the stops in recent weeks to give the impression that Britain 's commitment to the Afghanistan war isn't open-ended. Yesterday, in the wake of yet another meaningless international conference on Afghanistan , the prime minister pledged to end the British combat role by 2015 while holding out the possibility of a start to withdrawal next year, depending on "conditions on the ground".
It's hardly surprising he feels the need to talk withdrawal. Up to 77% of the British public want troops out in a year. The £4bn annual cost is hard to justify when you're slashing public services. And the rising rate at which British troops are being killed is now proportionally far higher than their US counterparts. If this were maintained for the next five years, the British death toll would rise to over 1,000.
What is Cameron asking those soldiers to die for? Not a single terror attack in Britain – or plot, real or imagined – has been sourced to Afghanistan . Al-Qaida has long since decamped elsewhere – Pakistan , Iraq , Somalia , Yemen . Meanwhile, the strength of the Taliban continues to grow as the number of occupation troops increases, while Afghan civilians are dying in their thousands every year. There's no reason to believe the situation will be fundamentally different in four years' time.
Obama's presidency is now dangerously in hock to hawkish generals such as James Mattis (see posts passim) who declared it was "a hell of a lot of fun to shoot" Afghans
The public been accustomed to the fact that Iraq has been a disaster; now they are getting used to seeing the war in Afghanistan in the same light. It has failed in every one of its ever-changing objectives – from preventing the spread of terrorism and eradicating opium production to promoting democracy and the position of women, which has actually deteriorated under NATO according to Afghan women's groups.
What is now taking place in Afghanistan reinforces what has already been demonstrated in Iraq - namely the limits of US power to impose its will by force. If the might of the American military can be seen off by a militia on old motorbikes in one of the poorest countries of the world, the implications for the new international order are profound. Which is why the US and its closest allies will do everything to avoid the appearance of defeat – and why many thousands more Afghans and NATO troops will pay the price of a war their leaders now accept can never be won.
Tuesday, 20 July 2010
Sunday, 18 July 2010
With Iraq, it was enough that US voters got the impression they had won. A retreat could be conducted with no US objectives achieved, but nobody could be accused of cutting and running. This was the achievement of General Petraeus, now the military commander in Afghanistan.
But political and military conditions are wholly different there. Dressing up a withdrawal as some sort of success will be far more difficult in Afghanistan. From Patrick Cockburn
Tuesday, 13 July 2010
'Often they would tell us they preferred the Russians [occupying the country] to the Americans. We were all Americans to them. They would say the Russians left them a better infrastructure and even took some of them on visits to Russia.
'It was often the case that, when we were strong, they would be our friends. When we showed a moment of weakness, they would turn against us. That's the Afghan trait.'
There's a lack of trust between the Nato soldiers and their Afghan counterparts, whether they be police or military. I'm incredibly proud of the British soldier, but there's an awful lot going on. I feel awfully sorry for the troops on the ground. I'm not so proud of the people who put them there.
Who are the enemy? Nine times out of 10, it's the village people who can pick up a gun, fire at you and then hide it back under the floorboards. People just want to be left alone.
The British army has been to Afghanistan four times [in history], and we have lost 4-0. I first went there in 2004, and everything I saw in may last trip last year suggested it has changed for the worse.
Everyone calls it an insurgency. It's not. It's a civil war. It's the Northern Alliance against the Pashtun south. We are taking part on one side in a 30-year civil war. Link'
Monday, 12 July 2010
Saturday, 10 July 2010
Friday, 9 July 2010
Thursday, 8 July 2010
Agence France Presse
PARIS: France will punish a general who criticised the US-led war effort in Afghanistan, Defence Minister Herve Morin said today, amid growing doubts about the NATO war strategy.
General Vincent Desportes, director of France’s Joint Forces Defence College, which trains staff officers, last week told the daily Le Monde that the situation in Afghanistan “has never been worse”.
Desportes said US President Barack Obama appears unsure of his strategy, that the counterinsurgency plan underway on the ground is not bearing fruit and that American soldiers are unhappy with their leadership.
His comments were an embarrassment for President Nicolas Sarkozy’s French government, which has 3,500 soldiers in Afghanistan fighting alongside Afghan forces in a US-led coalition against a fierce insurgency.
“He will be punished,” Morin told BFM television, adding that he had asked the French chiefs of staff to take administrative action against Desportes, whom he said had shown a “lack of judgement”.
“Until we hear otherwise, soldiers are under the authority of politicians, just like any other public employee,” he warned.
Desportes spoke out shortly after Obama triggered a new round of doubts over the Afghan war when he sacked the US commander of the NATO coalition, General Stanley McChrystal, over his own comments in the media. According to the investigative weekly Canard Enchaine, Desportes’ concerns about the coalition’s strategy are widely shared among senior French officers, one of who described the war as “an unmanageable shitstorm”.
French civilians are also opposed to the war. Opinion polls showed that 80 per cent of voters were against Sarkozy’s decision last year to reinforce the French contingent with additional troops.
'It's an American war', Desportes told Le Monde, complaining that NATO pays no heed to European concerns. 'When you're a one per cent shareholder you don't get to speak out. The allies have no strategic voice.'
Wednesday, 7 July 2010
Josef Blotz, a Nato spokesman, confirmed the attack. He said he regretted the incident and that Isaf would launch an investigation. "The reason for this is perhaps a co-ordination issue," Blotz said. "We were obviously not absolutely clear whether there were Afghan national security forces in the area." He extended the personal condolences of General David Petraeus, the newly arrived commander of Nato and US forces in Afghanistan, to the families of the victims. A Nato air strike killed four Afghan soldiers in Wardak province in January and the German army accidentally killed five Afghan soldiers in April in a "friendly fire" incident in Kunduz province.
I think Blotz could have left the word 'perhaps' out of his first sentence.
It makes a change for NATO to be 'not absolutely clear' whether there are Afghan soldiers in the area as opposed to be being 'not absolutely clear' whether there are Afghan civilans in the area.
It didn't take long for Petraeus to have to trot out the condolences in the context of another NATO bloodbath. It won't be long till the next time(see posts passim).
Tuesday, 6 July 2010
Recent Pentagon accident reports reveal that the pilotless aircraft suffer from frequent system failures, computer glitches and human error.Design and system problems were never fully addressed in the haste to push the fragile plane into combat over Afghanistan shortly after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks more than eight years ago. Air Force investigators continue to cite pilot mistakes, coordination snafus, software failures, outdated technology and inadequate flight manuals.Thirty-eight Predator and Reaper drones have crashed during combat missions in Afghanistan and Iraq, and nine more during training on bases in the U.S. -- with each crash costing between $3.7 million and $5 million. Altogether, the US Air Force says there have been 79 drone accidents costing at least $1 million each. So much for the state of the art, high tech warfare we are always being spun. Obama, the Peace Laureate, as one poster on here recently reminded us, likes them.
During lunch, as my hosts casually pointed out the various places in the village where the British had been massacred in 1842, I asked them if they saw any parallels between that war and the present situation. "It is exactly the same," said Anwar Khan Jegdalek. "Both times the foreigners have come for their own interests, not for ours. They say, 'We are your friends, we want democracy, we want to help.' But they are lying." ...“Afghanistan is like the crossroads for every nation that comes to power," [said] Jegdalek. "But we do not have the strength to control our own destiny - our fate is always determined by our neighbours. Next, it will be China. This is the last days of the Americans."...