Tuesday, 27 July 2010

Scale Of Afghan Civilian Deaths

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.

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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

Civilian casualties in Afghanistan air strikes since 2006

Civilian casualties in Afghanistan air strikes since 2006

Task Force 373 - Force For Freedom

From The Guardian and Wikileaks:

Shum Khan, a man both deaf and unable to speak, lived in the remote border hamlet of Malekshay, 7,000ft up in the mountains. When a heavily armed squad from the CIA barrelled into his village in March 2007, the war logs record that he "ran at the sight of the approaching coalition forces … out of fear and confusion".

The secret CIA paramilitaries, (the euphemism here is OGA, for "other government agency") shouted at him to stop. Khan could not hear them. He carried on running. So they shot him, saying they were entitled to do so under the carefully graded "escalation of force" provisions of the US rules of engagement.

Khan was wounded but survived. The Americans' error was explained to them by village elders, so they fetched out what they term "solatia", or compensation. The classified intelligence report ends briskly: "Solatia was made in the form of supplies and the Element mission progressed".

Behind the military jargon, the war logs are littered with accounts of civilian tragedies. The 144 entries in the logs recording some of these so-called "blue on white" events, cover a wide spectrum of day-by-day assaults on Afghans, with hundreds of casualties. Index here.

Sunday, 25 July 2010

Afghan War Leaks - Some Links

The Guardian and NYT are in receipt of 90,000 classified documents which show the true blood-soaked debacle in Afghanistan. They have started to publish them.

A few examples here here and here

The White House criticised the publication of the files by Wikileaks: "We strongly condemn the disclosure of classified information by individuals and organisations, which puts the lives of the US and partner service members at risk and threatens our national security.'' Or, in plain language "We strongly condemn the disclosure of information that makes us look like bloodthirsty fucking idiots."

More on this tomorrow.

Regey Massacre - Investigation Underway

An investigation has begun into another major massacre of civilians by Nato in Helmland Province. Details are still becoming clear since Nato claimed to have investigated and found nothing. Details here.

Friday, 23 July 2010

Al Meghrahi Release - Smoke and Mirrors

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

Unusually Long But Justified Rant By Tony

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

Stalingrad - German Eyewitness Account

I found an old English language Russian magazine called 'Sputnik' (uninspiredly) from 1968 in a charity shop recently and bought it for this article which is so interesting and unique that I thought I would post it in full. Most people who visit this site are interested in history, recent and current. The events described here (the magazine was marking the 25th anniversary of the battle) are direct from the diary and notes of Wilhelm Adam (on right in picture), aide to Fieldmarshal Friedrich Paulus (left), the German commander of the 6th Army.
'I was pacing my little room nervously, three steps forward three steps back. I couldn't get that map with all its markings out of my head. The red arrows indicating the advance of the Russians from the North and South haunted me. I could almost see them closing in at Kalach. My God. What would happen then. Would the panzers arrive in time to prevent the encirclement of the sixth army? What would the next few hours bring? The answer came sooner than I expected. Paulus summoned me to his room. It was thick with tobacco smoke and the ash tray on the table was overflowing. Next to it stood an unfinished cup of black coffee. The Commander-in-Chief was lighting another cigarette. 'As you know, Adam, the 14th Armoured Division suffered heavy losses in the defence fighting. The Russians have almost wiped out the Artillery Regiment. Now the Divisional Commander, General Bessler, has reported sick. Looks like his old heart trouble again. He asked me to help get him sent back home. I agreed. I've no time for a commander who reports sick at a time like this. He'd only be in the way. ' But it's desertion' I said. 'He's a coward. I don't believe he's ill. Afraid of parting with his precious life.' 'That's the concern of the Army operations group. I've sent them a report. General Bessler was in such a hurry that he'll soon be there.
Death Road
I was summoned by HQ Commander Major-General Schmidt. 'Adam, set up the command post in the new position.' I ordered the car to be got ready. On January 13th, just before 9.00 in the morning, I set out. We were still in control of a short stretch of highway. On it was an endless stream of retreating soldiers and before I had covered even one kilometre my car was filled with wounded. Two stood on the running board. 'Drive slower' I told the driver who was afraid the springs might break under the load. I decided to make a small detour to deliver the wounded to hospital. Though my car was packed, we stopped to pick up one more wounded soldier. I had already noticed him from a distance. He was standing by the road, his blanket-wrapped arm raised in entreaty. As we approached I was struck by his child-like eyes, which expressed utter despair. Tears were running down his cheeks. I thought of my son and ordered the car to halt. The poor boy stumbled towards us with great difficulty. ' I beg you, sir' he said, ' take me to Stalingrad'. I moved closer to the driver and sat the soldier next to me. The lad wasn't yet nineteen. His hands and feet were frostbitten. He had been standing on the road for nearly an hour but nobody had taken any pity on him. He didn't know how to thank me and several times tried to shake my hand. To him Stalingrad meant safety and life. I unloaded the wounded at the hospital in the western part of the city. The young fellow had to be carried in.
The highway was covered with bodies. While walking to the city the wounded and the sick would become exhausted, sit down on the road, fall asleep and freeze to death. No one removed the bodies. Tanks and trucks rode over them, rolling them into shapeless, flat cakes. Drivers and passers-by looked at them stupidly and with indifference. This stretch was called 'Death Road'. Here also was the wreckage of hundred upon hundred of cars, trucks and buses that had been destroyed by bombs. Among them were wrecked tanks and artillery pieces. Here and there were blackened fragments of burned bombers. Along the road were countless numbers of undamaged cars standing motionless, needing only one thing - fuel.
Meeting The Victors
January 31, 1943 - 7.00 a.m.
It was still dark but day was dawning almost imperceptibly. Paulus was asleep. It was some time before I could break out of the maze of thoughts and strange dreams that depressed me so greatly. But I don't think I remained in this state for very long. I was going to get up quietly when someone knocked at the door. Paulus awoke and sat up. It was the HQ Commander. He handed the Colonel General a piece of paper and said:
'Congratulations. The rank of Field-Marshall has been conferred upon you. The dispatch came early this morning - it was the last one.'
'One can't help feeling it's and invitation to suicide. However I'm not going to do them such a favour.' said Paulus after reading the dispatch. Schmidt continued:
'At the same time I have to inform you that the Russians are at the door.' with these words he opened the door and a Soviet General and his interpreter entered the room. The General announced that we were his prisoners. I placed my revolver on the table.
'Prepare yourself for departure. We shall be back for you at 9.00. You will go in your personal car.' said the Soviet General through his interpreter. Then they left the room.
I had the official seal with me. I prepared for my last official duty. I recorded Paulus's new rank in his military document, stamped it with the seal then threw the seal into the glowing fire.
The main entrance to the cellar was closed and guarded by the Soviet soldiers. An officer, the head of the guards, allowed me and the driver to go out and get the car ready. Climbing out of the cellar, I stood dumbfounded. Soviet and German soldiers, who just a few hours earlier had been shooting at one another, now stood quietly together in the yard. They were all armed, some with weapons in their hands, some with them over their shoulders.
My God, what a contrast between the two sides! The German soldiers, ragged and in light coats, looked like ghosts with hollow, unshaven cheeks. The Red Army fighters looked fresh and wore warm winter uniforms. Involuntarily I remembered the chain of unfortunate events which had prevented me from sleeping for so many nights.
The appearance of the Red Army soldiers seemed symbolic. At 9.00 sharp the HQ Commander of the 64th Army arrived to take the Commander of the vanquished German 6th Army and its staff towards the rear. The march towards the Volga had ended.

Sunday, 18 July 2010

Dressing Defeat Up As Success

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

Afghans 4 Brits 0 - Lessons of History

'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

Human Rights Report - Afghan Civilian Casualties

'The arrival of thousands of additional US/NATO forcesforces into the country, and the desire to "disrupt, dismantle and defeat" the insurgents and their al Qaeda associates by military might, bodes ill to civilian Afghans who have suffered the brunt of war casualties. The troop surge and the appointment of Gen. David Petraeus as the commander of all US/NATO forces has widely been interpreted as 'the last push before exit' which not only has emboldened the insurgents but has also encouraged Pakistan, Iran and other regional interventionist states to resurface and back proxies for a post-US/NATO Afghanistan.'
Link to Relief Web article and full report here

Friday, 9 July 2010

Gardez Raid Probe Excluded Key Witnesses

'But the father and mother of an 18-year-old girl who died from wounds inflicted by the raiders and the brother of a police officer and a prosecutor killed in the raid all said in interviews with IPS last week that they had never been contacted by US investigators about what they had seen that night. All three gave testimony to the Afghan investigators. In an interview with IPS, Mohammed Tahir, the father of Gulalai, the 18-year old girl who was killed in the raid, said, "I saw them taking out the bullets from bodies of my daughter and others." Tahir said that he and as many as seven other eyewitnesses had told interior ministry investigators about the attempted cover up they had seen. But he insisted, "We have never been interviewed by the US military." Link

Thanks to John for the link.

Thursday, 8 July 2010

French General Disciplined For Truth Telling

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

NATO Attack Kills More Afghan Soldiers

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.

Three thoughts:

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

One For All You Droneheads Out There

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.

Blizzard of Banknotes Through Kabul

"Our records show that USD 4.2 billion has been transferred in cash through Kabul International Airport alone during the last three-and-a-half years," Omar Zakhilwal, the Afghan Finance Minister wrote in a letter to Nita Lowey, a US Congresswoman. Link to full story

The Last Days of The Americans

Thoughtful and informed analysis by William Dalrymple. Excerpt:
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."...

Sunday, 4 July 2010

Does Anyone Notice A Change In Obama?

Can't Say I've noticed it myself.

Kandahar Offensive Creaking Into Motion

Some Afghan bloggers are reporting this morning that there has been a huge escalation in checkpoints and road-blocks by NATO. They suspect this is the long awaited start of the worst-kept military secret in modern neo-colonialist history. Petraeus is possibly looking for some good PR 'Getting Things Done' headlines. Watch out for the spike in civilian (sorry make that 'suspected militants') casualties. The collateral damage to ordinary Afghans(sorry make that 'compound people') by ISAF/NATO goes on. Links here and here. The second incident happened in Kandahar.

Thursday, 1 July 2010

Petraeus - Primed To Fail In Afghanistan

Petraeus created the illusion of success in Iraq where the carnage and deadlock continue. Obama hopes he can pull the same trick in Afghanistan. He won't. Short clip on corruption and chaos at the heart of the continuing debacle.