Issues & Analysis
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Understanding the Taliban

London Review of Books, Vol. 32 No. 17 · 9 September 2010by Jonathan Steele

The road from Kabul to Kandahar was once known as the Eisenhower highway. Built in the 1950s, when the United States and the Soviet Union competed peacefully for Afghan friendship, this US-funded 300-mile ribbon of tarmac was plied for two decades by lorries and garishly painted buses with no concern for security. Among the passengers were half-stoned Western hippies on the overland trail through Asia. Then came civil war and in 1979 the Soviet invasion. Ambushes turned the highway into a death trap until the victorious Taliban swept into Kabul in September 1996, eliminating all security problems once again. The only threat when I travelled the highway a few weeks later was colossal discomfort. After years of neglect, the road was close to collapse. Long stretches rippled like a corrugated roof, making travel in our hired minivan unbearable even at five miles an hour. What should have been a six-hour journey took 23.

I was on the way to the Taliban’s Kandahar heartland with a colleague from the New York Times. We had seen wide-eyed young Taliban fighters in Kabul, like peasant boys parachuted into Gomorrah, rip cassettes out of car stereos and stride into hospitals to order female doctors home and men to grow beards. Now we wanted to meet the ideologues who had launched the movement. We asked an official in the Taliban’s ‘liaison office’ about the Taliban budget and how they decided their spending priorities. He looked blank. It was clear that the Taliban had nothing resembling normal state administration, let alone service delivery. What role did the government play in connection with the foreign aid which the UN and a few Western NGOs were still providing? The official relaxed visibly. ‘We identify projects. We assist them in assisting us,’ he answered, as though the Taliban were doing foreigners a great favour.

Mullah Muhammad Hassan Rahmani, the governor of Kandahar and a close associate of Mullah Omar, the Taliban leader, was happy to receive us for two hours as soon as our translator contacted his office. An unhurried and genial figure, he planted the metal end of his artificial leg on a small table between us in an apparently practised gesture. He clearly saw it as a useful talking point, knowing we would ask about his record in the jihad. He had lost his right knee fighting the Russians, he said. With no sense of awe he described Mullah Omar as a political leader more than a fount of wisdom. ‘He has not too much religious knowledge,’ he said. ‘He was involved in fighting for years and did not have the time to acquire it. A lot of scholars know more than he does.’ Television was banned under Taliban rule because ‘worshipping statues was forbidden by the Prophet and watching television is the same as seeing statues. Drawing pictures or looking at them is sinful.’ Large weddings with male and female guests and music and dancing were also forbidden. Education for girls was permitted but had to take place in a separate building; the Taliban hadn’t had the funds to build any new schools in the two years they had held power in Kandahar. Women would be allowed to work outside the home once the war was over. Stoning was the punishment for adultery, with the man put into a sack and the woman, in her burqa, placed in a pit up to her waist before the crowd pitched in. It was an effective deterrent, the governor said: so far as he could recall there had been only two or three cases in Kandahar in the last two years. ‘I was busy and couldn’t see it. In fact I’ve never seen it.’ Asked whether the Taliban wanted to spread their views beyond Afghanistan’s borders, Hassan was adamant that this was ‘enemy propaganda’. Afghanistan wanted good relations with everyone and would not interfere abroad.

Fourteen years have passed since that encounter and, remarkably, almost no other senior Taliban leader has offered himself for interview in that time. After 1996 journalists rarely got visas to Afghanistan, until the Taliban lost power in 2001. Since they re-emerged to start their insurgency against the US-led intervention, not one top mullah has met the press. About 30 ‘reconciled’ Taliban now live in government guesthouses in Kabul. Some are ex-Taliban leaders who were captured and taken to Guantánamo after their regime fell, then amnestied on their release and sent back to Afghanistan; others were not senior enough to be detained in the first place. They talk to the media and Hamid Karzai sees them as potential mediators with their former colleagues. But none were part of the new insurgency and it is unclear whether they still have contact – let alone influence – with the men who are running it.

So the Afghans who really matter are out of view at exactly the wrong time, with Obama’s war sinking into a Vietnam-style quagmire and pressure growing for a political settlement as the best exit strategy for the US and its allies. Mullah Hassan went into hiding when Kandahar fell in 2001. His whereabouts are unknown, as are Mullah Omar’s. He is said to live near Quetta but no diplomat, politician or journalist has been able to meet him since 2001. Occasional statements on the Taliban website are all we have to go by. So the important questions remain unanswered. Have the Taliban changed in the decade since they lost office? Is there a neo-Taliban, as some suggest? What of the younger generation of field commanders who lead today’s resistance to the Americans and British? Are they in regular touch with Mullah Omar and do they answer to him in any practical sense, either in military strategy or in their political objectives? Above all, is there room for compromise between the Taliban, President Karzai and the Tajik and Uzbek leaders who surround him in Kabul so that, if the US withdraws in the next few years, a power-sharing government can have a chance of lasting?

Some evidence that the Taliban have moved on since they were in power is provided by Antonio Giustozzi, a scholar at the Crisis States Research Centre at the London School of Economics, who has edited a collection of essays entitled Decoding the New Taliban.[*] For one thing, the technology has changed. Men who used to reject television now put out propaganda DVDs and run a website of news and opinion, complete with pictures. More important, their social attitudes have shifted. Giustozzi argues that the Taliban realise their old position on education was self-defeating and lost them support, and the line is now being reversed. In Lashkar Gah, the capital of Helmand, according to Tom Coghlan, one of Giustozzi’s contributors, people in September 2008 ‘reported a strikingly less repressive interpretation of the Taliban’s social edicts.’ They no longer ban TV, music, dog-fighting and kite-flying; nor do they insist on the old rule that men grow beards long enough to be held in the fist.

Some analysts believe that US air strikes have been so effective in killing senior Taliban that the war is now being run by a new generation of men in their twenties and thirties, with no experience of the anti-Soviet struggle that schooled the mujahidin warlords as well as Mullah Omar and his Taliban colleagues. Whether this means they are more radical than the previous generation is unclear. Coghlan quotes a Taliban cleric near Lashkar Gah in Helmand in March 2008 as saying: ‘These new crazy guys are really emotional. They are war-addicted.’

Recent reports suggest that most Afghans, tired of the all-pervasive insecurity, want negotiations with the Taliban. A survey of 423 men in Helmand and Kandahar, carried out in May by the International Council on Security and Development, found that 74 per cent were in favour of negotiations. In Kabul in March, I interviewed several women professionals, the people who suffered most from the Taliban’s restrictions on girls’ education and women working outside the home. To varying degrees they all supported the idea of dialogue with the Taliban. They felt the top priority was to end what they saw as a civil war – not an insurgency, as Nato calls it. They saw the Taliban as authentic nationalists with legitimate grievances who needed to be brought back into the equation. Otherwise, Afghans would go on being used as proxies in a long battle between al-Qaida and the US. It was time to break free of both sets of foreigners, the global jihadis and the US empire. Shukria Barakzai, an MP and women’s rights campaigner, put it like this: ‘I changed my view three years ago when I realised Afghanistan is on its own. It’s not that the international community doesn’t support us. They just don’t understand us. The Taliban are part of our population. They have different ideas but as democrats we have to accept that.’

The shift in Afghanistan’s public mood since 2007, when I was last in Kabul, is dramatic. Then, the Taliban’s military comeback was still in its infancy and defeating them was the priority. There are several things behind the change: growing disappointment that billions of dollars of Western aid seem to go nowhere except into the bank accounts of foreign consultants or local politicians; despair over the continuing civilian casualties, many caused by US airstrikes; anger and humiliation caused by the high-handedness of foreign troops; and a desire to build a national consensus in which Afghans resolve their problems themselves. Karzai’s recent outbursts against the Americans and other foreigners reflect a widely held mood.

The war logs released by WikiLeaks and analysed in July in the GuardianDer Spiegeland the New York Times paint a picture of worsening insecurity and previously unreported but mounting civilian casualties, caused by Taliban IEDs as well as Nato air strikes. A UN report in August said civilian casualties had risen by almost a third in the first six months of this year, including an increase in Taliban assassinations of teachers, doctors and tribal leaders accused of collaborating with the US. The war logs put the spotlight back on Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence directorate’s role in funding the Taliban in the early 1990s and sheltering many of its leaders since 2001. Although much of the intelligence is flimsy or based on prejudice, the general trend of ISI support for the Taliban is clear.

Conversations with Afghans, too, reveal increasing anger with Pakistan as well as the US. Many feel Pakistan exploits the war to keep Afghanistan divided and weak. They see Pakistan’s link with the Taliban as malign, though opinions differ as to whether the Taliban are puppets, victims or willing agents of Islamabad. Among Afghanistan’s Pashtun population there is considerable support for the view that the north-western territories of Pakistan, including the city of Peshawar, belong to them; Afghanistan has never officially recognised the Durand Line that was drawn in 1893 between the British Empire and Afghanistan. Afghans believe Pakistan tries to control any Afghan group that seeks power in Kabul in order to prevent it from raising the Pashtunistan issue.

The only detailed insider account of the Taliban is a memoir by Abdul Salam Zaeef, the movement’s former ambassador to Pakistan. Zaeef is no spokesman for Mullah Omar and the Quetta shura. But My Life with the Taliban usefully shows that its leaders saw themselves as nationalists, reformers and liberators rather than Islamist ideologues.[†]Mullah Hassan’s characterisation of Mullah Omar in that 1996 Kandahar interview as a political rather than a religious leader fits well with Zaeef’s version of history. Zaeef, too, is contemptuous of Pakistan, and the ISI in particular. He made a point of resisting their advances when he took up his diplomatic post in Islamabad, seeing them as ill-intentioned and manipulative. Pakistan ‘is so famous for treachery that it is said they can get milk from a bull,’ he writes. ‘They use everybody, deceive everybody.’ Some of his anger comes from his childhood in refugee camps near Peshawar, where Afghans were treated as second-class citizens, regularly picked on by the Pakistani police. But he is also furious with Pakistan’s role in the ‘war on terror’: its torture and detention of suspected terrorists, he believes, is as bad as anything the US does.

Arrested after the Taliban collapse in 2001, Zaeef was sent to Guantánamo. On the way he spent time in US custody in Kandahar and Bagram, where he was kept in solitary confinement with his hands and feet tied for 20 days. In Kandahar – shades of the abuse in Abu Ghraib – Zaeef says he was stripped naked and mocked by male and female US troops, one of whom took photos. After three years in Guantánamo, he was offered release on condition he signed a statement that he had been a member of al-Qaida and the Taliban and would cut all ties with them. ‘I was a Talib, I am a Talib and I will always be a Talib, but I have never been part of al-Qaida,’ he retorted. Eventually they allowed him to go after signing a declaration: ‘I am writing this out of obligation and stating that I am not going to participate in any kind of anti-American activities or military actions.’

Zaeef maintains that he was shocked by al-Qaida’s attack on 9/11, of which he had no foreknowledge. He says he wept when he watched TV pictures of the burning buildings and people throwing themselves out and falling to the ground like stones: ‘I stared at the pictures in disbelief.’ He immediately saw the likely repercussions. ‘I knew that Afghanistan and its poverty-stricken people would ultimately suffer for what had just taken place in America. The United States would seek revenge.’ He admits that some of the Taliban watching the scene were jubilant and thought the US was too far away to retaliate. ‘How could they be so superficial?’ he asks.

Mullah Omar rang to consult Zaeef about how to react. Next morning Zaeef called a press conference in Islamabad and read a statement condemning the attacks. ‘All those responsible must be brought to justice. We want them to be brought to justice and we want America to be patient and careful in their actions,’ it said. Zaeef returned to Kandahar, where he found Mullah Omar blindly sure that the US was unlikely to attack. He tried to warn the Taliban leader. He told him Pakistan was urging the US to launch air strikes on Afghanistan and had already started talks with the Northern Alliance in the expectation that they would be the leaders of a post-Taliban government. But Omar claimed America could not attack Afghanistan without valid reason. He had asked Washington to deliver proof incriminating bin Laden and said the Taliban would take no further action until it was given hard evidence. Zaeef’s account seems plausible given that the Taliban made no preparations for war, but it shows how out of touch Omar had become. The destruction of the Buddha statues at Bamyan earlier in the year had already suggested he had no real understanding of the way the outside world perceived the Taliban.

We know almost nothing about the Taliban’s current views, but it’s clear that on the US side there is as yet no readiness to talk. There is some evidence that General David Petraeus, the new US commander in Afghanistan, is more in tune with Afghan realities than his predecessor, General Stanley McChrystal. But both have been committed to the current ‘surge’ of extra US troops. Petraeus’s image in the US as a man who had success with the surge in Iraq may wed him even more closely to the strategy than McChrystal. Known as a company man with an ear for the subtleties of inter-agency jockeying in Washington, Petraeus recognises that the White House believes the Taliban have to be weakened militarily before the US can contemplate talks. Petraeus will not step out of line.

In its political strategy the US puts its money on ‘reconciliation and reintegration’. Decoded, this amounts to little more than amnesty and surrender. Taliban fighters and commanders should renounce violence and sign up to the constitution, in return for which they may be paid a short-term allowance and perhaps be offered a job. The deal is highly unlikely to tempt anyone of any significance. Amnesty was first offered in 2005 and no senior commander has defected. Only 12 of the 142 Taliban leaders on the UN security council sanctions list have come over, and none was involved in the post-2001 insurgency. The Americans are fighting a variety of local Taliban commanders, and, in south-eastern Afghanistan, different groups entirely: Hizb-i-Islami, founded by Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, and the so-called Haqqani network, led by a father and son team. Each group has different regional and tribal loyalties but it is fanciful to imagine any of them can be persuaded to join the Americans and fight each other. Previous American efforts to create local militias have had minimal success. Offering local ceasefires is a more productive path. Groups would keep their arms but drop out of the fight unless outsiders move into the district. The British tried this in 2006 in Musa Qala in the northern part of Helmand when they persuaded the town’s elders to ask the Taliban not to enter if the British withdrew. At the time the Americans were not happy, and neither was General David Richards, then the International Security Assistance Force commander in Afghanistan and soon to be Britain’s chief of the Defence Staff. The truce broke down after a US air strike killed the brother of the local Taliban commander just outside the demilitarised area. It may have been deliberate sabotage.

The US ‘reconciliation’ approach at least recognises, for the first time, that most Taliban are motivated by a sense of grievance and a demand for justice. They are not ideologues or Islamists pursuing a global jihad like al-Qaida. Trying to start a dialogue with them through local elders may be productive if it is aimed at understanding their wider objectives beyond the obvious one, the withdrawal of Western forces from their district and ultimately from the country. At the national level it is essential that talks take place between Karzai and Mullah Omar. If Omar insists he can only talk with the Americans, there could be a format that includes plenary sessions with Karzai, the Taliban and the Americans so that the Taliban address their remarks to the Americans. Pakistan’s role is vital. Ideally, Pakistan would be included in a regional forum of ‘Friends of Afghanistan’ made up of Iran, Pakistan, India, China, Turkmenistan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan and Russia: these countries would be asked to make pledges of non-interference and recognise Afghanistan as a non-aligned state with no foreign bases. But Pakistan is likely to insist on more than that. A model might be the Geneva talks that ended the Soviet occupation in 1988. They included the Soviet Union, the US, Afghanistan and Pakistan. Today’s version would be the US, Pakistan, the Kabul government and the Taliban. Eventually, there should also be an Afghan Loya Jirga with all the Afghan parties, including the Kabul government, the Taliban, and Hekmatyar and the Haqqanis. Any changes to the constitution must be agreed by representatives of Afghan women’s groups and human rights organisations.

Can a settlement along these lines be found? Only an exploratory dialogue with the Taliban can even begin to answer this question. There are bound to be misunderstandings and breakdowns on the way. Twenty-six years elapsed between the Conservative government’s first secret contacts with the IRA in 1972 and the signing of the Good Friday Agreement. In South Africa, where there was broad agreement on the need for a transfer of power, it still required four years to work out the details. What would a post-American Afghanistan look like? It is likely to have a weak central government and powerful semi-autonomous regions, in part because Kabul has never been a strong ruling centre. The national army may well have to be broken into regional corps. At the moment its officer corps is Tajik-dominated and it is hard to see how Taliban commanders could work with them.

Are we getting ahead of ourselves? Until the Obama administration comes round to the idea of negotiations, progress is stalled. When David Miliband advocated talks with the Taliban in March, he did not mention their name in his key sentence. ‘The idea of political engagement with those who would directly or indirectly attack our troops is difficult,’ he said in a speech at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. In spite of this cautious formulation, US policy-makers reacted negatively and the current British government’s line is not to repeat it. But Obama will have to move at some point from his ‘reconciliation’ policy to one of ‘accommodation’. That means taking the Taliban’s grievances on board and being willing to address them in a compromise deal that is likely to involve the formation of a power-sharing government in Kabul in return for a US withdrawal. The US public is growing steadily more disillusioned with what is already America’s longest war. Obama has promised to review his strategy in December, a year after he announced the surge. By then the results of November’s Congressional elections will be in. The decision he faces is momentous: go into the 2012 campaign as a president who has started the endgame or play the tough guy even though he must know any hope of defeating the Taliban militarily is doomed.

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Somalia: the intervention dilemma

Source: Institute for Security Studies (ISS), Date: 31 Aug 2010

INTRODUCTION

On 23 July 2010, the eve of the African Union’s Summit in Kampala, AU Commission chairperson Jean Ping announced that he had asked countries, including South Africa, Angola, Nigeria, Ghana and Guinea, to send troops to Somalia to boost the under-strength African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM), currently comprising Ugandan and Burundian forces. This move came against the background of suicide bombing attacks on 11 July 2010 that had killed 79 people in the Ugandan capital. Al-Shabaab, the militant Somali organisation with undefined links to al-Qaeda, claimed responsibility for the bombings, explaining that these were retribution for Ugandan and Burundian violence against the civilian population in Mogadishu. It would appear that the bombings were also aimed at testing the endurance of Uganda as a contributing country, as well as the resolve of other AU member states that may be contemplating contributing towards the required troop surge.

AMISOM was first deployed in 2007 to protect the Transitional Federal Government (TFG) and strategic infrastructures (the port and airport) in Mogadishu from the insurgents who had strengthened their position as Ethiopian forces withdrew, and to provide support for humanitarian assistance for the Somali population. The proposed additional deployment to Somalia must be viewed in the context of the chronically unstable situation in Mogadishu and in Somalia as a whole.

In a nutshell, the AU decision to reinforce AMISOM by almost 2 000 troops would increase the size of the force from its current level of around 6 300 (4 Ugandan and 3 Burundian battalions), to the 8 000 mandated in 2007. Some AU member states had even called for the force to be augmented to between 14 000 and 20 000 troops.

This Policy Brief examines the apparent urgency to increase AMISOM force levels. It interrogates the AU’s interventionist strategy in Somalia, including the planned troop surge, analyses the terrorist dimension of the bombings, drawing parallels with the Afghanistan case as a basis for suggestions for a clear and holistic approach to the conflict in Somalia.

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Lacking Money and Leadership, Push for Taliban Defectors Stalls

New York Times, By ROD NORDLAND, Published: September 6, 2010


Photo: Eros Hoagland for The New York Times

Muhammad Akram Khapalwak, a top official at the Afghan Peace and Reconciliation Commission, said some fighters who had changed sides in the past had been disappointed.

KABUL, Afghanistan — A $250 million program to lure low-level Taliban fighters away from the insurgency has stalled, with Afghans bickering over who should run it, and international donors slow to put up the money they had promised.

Notes from Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq and other areas of conflict in the post-9/11 era. Go to the Blog »
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The Takeaway With The Times’s Rod Nordland

Six months after Afghanistan’s foreign backers agreed to generous funding for a reintegration effort, only $200,000 has been spent so far by the United States and little or nothing by other donors.

During the same period, the flow of Taliban fighters seeking to reintegrate has slowed to a trickle — by the most optimistic estimates, a few hundred in the last six months. It is not clear whether that is because of the lack of a program that would provide them with jobs, security guarantees and other incentives, or because most Taliban no longer see the insurgency as a losing proposition.

In the past five years, a poorly funded Afghan reintegration effort, the Peace and Reconciliation Commission, recorded 9,000 Taliban who sought to join the government side — compared with 100 since April, officials said.

“It’s almost dead,” said Muhammad Akram Khapalwak, a top official at the nearly moribund commission in Kabul. He said employees there had not been paid in three months. “The Taliban know the government doesn’t have a single policy for peace and reconciliation.”

There has been broad American and international support for a more ambitious initiative. When Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal took command in Afghanistan last year, he argued in his initial assessment that there was a need for a program that would “offer eligible insurgents reasonable incentives to stop fighting and return to normalcy.”

Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates, testifying in favor of such a program before Congress, said, “This is really about getting the foot soldiers to decide that they don’t want to be a part of the Taliban anymore.”

Congress this year earmarked $100 million to support reintegration programs, while at the London Conference on Afghanistan in February, several countries, Britain, Germany and Japan among them, promised another $150 million to go into a Peace and Reintegration Trust Fund, to be administered jointly by the Afghan government and foreign backers. A United States official said that as of August, only $200,000 of the American money had been spent on reintegration.

So far, Britain has put in about $2.6 million, although officials said the nation was committed to about $7.5 million. Money has yet to come from Germany, which pledged $64 million, and Japan, which pledged $50 million — although officials said both countries were expected to contribute this month.

Only Estonia has put in its full contribution: $64,000.

There is little pressure on the donors to meet their pledges more quickly, however, since the Afghans have yet to form an agency to spend the money. As one American official said, “There isn’t any there there yet.”

At a peace assembly, or jirga, in June, delegates agreed to form a High Peace Council, which would be responsible for trying to engage Taliban leaders in talks.

“I am telling you, dear brother Talib-jan, this is your country, come and have a peaceful life in the country,” President Hamid Karzai said, using a suffix that Afghans often attach to friends’ names.

Subsequently, at a Kabul conference in July, more international money was pledged for the reintegration trust fund, and delegates agreed that the High Peace Council would run the program financed by that fund.

Since then, a “force reintegration cell” at the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force, known as ISAF, has been working with Afghan officials on how such a program would be structured, but the program has yet to start because of bickering among Afghan officials over who would head the council.

“There’s a lot of political resistance to this from a lot of people,” said an American official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the delicacy of the subject.

Gary Younger, an ISAF spokesman, said: “Because the Afghan government has the structure in place, hopefully it’ll move ahead quickly” once the council is formed. “We are seeing interest out there.”

Mr. Karzai’s office said in a statement on Saturday that the council’s members had been decided upon and that their names would be announced after the Id al-Fitr holiday, which begins Thursday.

Nonetheless, there is some doubt about how effective the council will be once it starts its work. “There are several parties from the government who don’t want the Taliban to come in,” Mr. Akram said.

Muhammad Dawood Kalakani, an ethnic Tajik member of Parliament, expressed a view commonly held among non-Pashtun minority groups: “We don’t want peace at the cost of losing the achievements of the last nine years in terms of human and women’s rights, civil society, media and governance.”

Insurgents who have changed sides in the past have been bitterly disappointed, Mr. Akram said.

Ghulam Yahya Akbari, an insurgent commander in Herat Province, was killed last October and 200 of his fighters surrendered to the Afghan government. To date, Mr. Akram said, none of them have received benefits other than emergency food rations, and they cannot return to their homes for fear of reprisals from the Taliban.

“Nobody finds them shelter, nobody gets them jobs, nobody opens a place for them in society,” he said.

More recently, small numbers of Taliban have turned themselves in to provincial officials in Baghlan Province and elsewhere, where local officials have run ad hoc programs to try to resettle them. In all, the American official said, estimates are that “several hundred” have turned themselves over in recent months, though he added that there was no way to verify the number.

NATO late last year estimated Taliban strength at 25,000 fighters, an increase of 25 percent over the previous year.

Sangar Rahimi contributed reporting.

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US Government Report Argues for Police Force for American Interventions Overseas

by: Matthew Harwood, t r u t h o u t | Report,  Tuesday 07 September 2010

President Barack Obama’s declaration Tuesday that the US combat mission in Iraq is officially over may give some Americans hope that US foreign policy may become less invasive and adventurous, especially if American troops begin to return home from Afghanistan by the end of 2011. Yet, inside the defense establishment, some intellectuals continue to examine the need for the United States to build a paramilitary police force to deploy to fragile or failing states to restore security and order.

In May 2009, the federally financed RAND Corporation published a 183-page report, “A Stability Police Force for the United States: Justification and Options for Creating US Capabilities”. The report, conducted for the US Army’s Peacekeeping and Stability Operations Institute (PKSOI) at the Army War College, examined the need for a “stability police force” (SPF), which it described as “a high-end police force that engages in a range of tasks such as crowd and riot control, special weapons and tactics (SWAT) and investigations of organized criminal groups.” Most soldiers do not possess the specialized skills an SPF officer needs to prevent violence, the report notes. “Most soldiers are trained to apply overwhelming force to secure victory, rather than minimal force to prevent escalation.” The SPF would also train indigenous police forces, much like what occurs today in Iraq and Afghanistan.

According to the study led by Terrence K. Kelly, a senior researcher at RAND, the United States clearly needs an SPF. “Stability operations have become an inescapable reality of US foreign policy,” the report states. The RAND report estimates that creating such a paramilitary police force would cost about $637 million annually, require about 6,000 personnel and that it should be headquartered inside the US Marshals Service (USMS), not the US Army.

“Of the options considered,” the RAND report argues, “this research indicates that the US Marshals Service would be the most likely to successfully field an SPF, under the assumptions that an [military police] option would not be permitted to conduct policing missions in the United States outside of military installations except under extraordinary circumstances and that doing so is essential to maintaining required skills.” The idea here is that members of an SPF would be a “hybrid force” and could be embedded in police and sheriff departments nationwide to retain their policing skills when not deployed overseas. When needed, a battalion-sized SPF unit could be deployed in 30 days.

This recommendation did cause a small number of libertarians to take notice of the report after it was published because of the Posse Comitatus Act, which forbids using the military for domestic policing inside the United States. Libertarian William Grigg blogged on LewRockwell.com that he feared that an SPF could be used domestically. “If ‘peacekeepers’ end up patrolling American streets, they probably won’t be foreigners in blue berets, but homegrown jackboots commanded by Washington,” Grigg wrote. Chris Calabrese, a legislative counsel for the American Civil Liberties Union, was less fearful of an SPF, but he told Truthout that the report’s recommendation to headquarter “a super police force that would be deployed both foreign and domestically in the US Marshals Service” did violate the spirit of the Posse Comitatus Act.

“In essence, you have this force that would in theory be a civilian force that would be part of the US Marshal Service but they would be deployed as part of the Army and the military forces,” Calabrese said. “That would be their primary deployment purpose. Their civilian purpose would be secondary. They describe it as a training purpose. So who does this police force work for then?”

Talking to WorldNetDaily in January, Kelly did say an SPF could be deployed in the United States, although that’s not what their primary purpose is.

“If there were a major disaster like Katrina it could be deployed in the U.S. but that’s not the purpose of the research,” he said. “It’s important to point out that the goal was to create a force that’s deployable overseas. If it’s to be used in the United States it would be a secondary thing and then only in an emergency.”

The RAND Corporation would not make any of the report’s authors available for an interview. Emails to the USMS asking for a comment on the report and its recommendations also went unanswered.

Calabrese also said there are practical concerns behind such a force outside of the Posse Comitatus Act. “It’s also somewhat strange,” he said. Calabrese wonders what would happen when SPF personnel get called up from wherever they’re embedded to deploy overseas. “What happens to all the police work they’re doing domestically?” he asked.

But the RAND report has more implications for the future of US foreign policy than it does about the militarization of police inside the United States. It signals that some defense and peace intellectuals believe that the United States will continue to intervene in fragile and failing states. After listing the stability operations that the United States has participated in since the end of the cold war – Panama (1989), Somalia (1992), Haiti (1994), Bosnia (1995), Kosovo (1999), Afghanistan (2001), Iraq (2003)and Haiti again in 2004 – the RAND report notes this trend will continue. “There are several countries where the United States could become engaged in stability operations over the next decade, such as Cuba and Sudan,” according to the report.

While an SPF could be part of a multilateral response directed by the United Nations, the RAND report also imagines times when the United States will need an SPF to restore security and order in another country because it has acted unilaterally. “While there may be times in which allies make important contributions, to do so would be to limit US freedom of action on the international stage.”

Robert Perito, a senior program officer at the United States Institute of Peace and the author of “Where Is the Lone Ranger When We Need Him? America’s Search for a Post Conflict Security Force“, believes a stability police force is necessary, especially after the looting and rioting that occurred in Baghdad after the US invasion of 2003. If the United States was able to prevent that disaster, the Iraq campaign could have gone differently.

“We have a proven need for a capacity that would makes things better if it existed,” Perito said. “We refuse to do it and we keep ending up with a negative result.”

The United States, however, once did have some of the capabilities of a SPF, said Perito until Congress scuttled it in 1974. The US Agency for International Development (USAID) once trained foreign police officers at the International Police Academy in Washington, DC. In a recently released paper from the PKSOI, retired US Army Col. Dennis Kellerexplains why Congress eventually ended US assistance to foreign police and closed the academy.

“Congress’s growing opposition to USAID’s police training and assistance programs peaked in 1973, the concern being that police trainers had allegedly approved, advocated, or taught torture techniques to civilian police in some countries, which in turn had damaged the image of the United States,” Keller writes. While other departments like Homeland Security, Justice and State do train foreign police, Keller notes there is no SPF capacity and that the training is a bureaucratic maze, carried out by large contract police trainers, like DynCorp and MPRI in Iraq and Afghanistan.

He, like Perito, however, believes the United States needs a centralized, government-led policing capacity to restore order in a fragile and failing state before terrorist or criminal organizations fill the power vacuum and then transition to training police forces to carry out their public safety duties.

Perito says four federal agencies entities have recently put forth proposals to create stability police forces to deploy overseas. He said two of those agencies were federal law enforcement entities, but would not name them, although he said one does have personnel in Iraq.

“These are serious federal agencies,” he said. “I don’t have much of a fear that this is going to turn into a rogue force that goes wandering around getting into trouble.”

Perito, however, is skeptical there is any real movement to create an SPF from the upper echelons of the US government. “I don’t think this is on the president’s agenda,” he said.

“From my perspective, I really wish it was true, that this was moving forward at a rapid clip,” Perito said. “But I don’t think it’s imminent.”

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It’s all coming together! Applications for documentary training are piling up!

In less than one month our five-week intensive training in documentary filmmaking begins in Afghanistan.  Production equipment, donated and purchased, is rolling in the door.  The passport is stamped, shots are taken and ticket bought for departure on September 13th. A staff of co-trainers, assistants, translator and editors is coming together.

Our project is particularly lucky to have Medhi Zafari taking the lead in Kabul. Mehdi is an Afghan filmmaker and educator who has worked for some years with Ateliers Varan, a French film training organization working in the observational documentary style of the legendary filmmaker Jean Rouch.  Mehdi and colleagues at The Killid Group, our Afghan co-producers, are helping to pull all the logistics together on the ground.  And, applications for the training are piling up!  It is a very exciting time after 18 months of development and planning.

Thanks to your support this project will help strengthen the Afghan news and documentary sectors, which are both seriously lacking and critically important to the dissemination of objective and accurate information in the country’s intensifying fight against extremism.

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Education aid – an apparent success story in Faryab Province

Source: United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs – Integrated Regional Information Networks (IRIN),

KABUL, 29 August 2010 (IRIN) – Education in Faryab Province, northern Afghanistan, has never been as good as it is now thanks to the dozens of new schools built by Norway.

Over 120 new schools have been built in the province over the past few years and 40-50 more will follow in the next two years, with Norwegian development assistance.

“Faryab’s educational needs have been met by the new schools,” said Gul Agha Ahmadi, a spokesman of the Ministry of Education.

For an estimated population of 800,000 there are 423 state schools, 20 religious seminaries, two teacher training institutes and one vocational training centre in the province, according to the Education Ministry.

Over 40 percent of the total 282,080 students in the province are female.

Faryab is a success story in a country where almost half of the 12,600 schools nationwide do not have a building (classes are held in the open or in tents), officials said.

“We want to concentrate our efforts in a few development sectors. What is important is that Norwegian taxpayers want to see some concrete results,” Kåre R. Aas, the outgoing Norwegian ambassador to Afghanistan, told IRIN.

Norway’s flag and other official symbols are not used on the schools which, according to some experts, have helped keep them immune from armed attacks. Schools, students and teachers have often been attacked and harassed by gunmen allegedly associated with Taliban insurgents.

At least 20 percent of Norway’s US$125 million annual aid budget for Afghanistan goes to Faryab Province, where about 500 Norwegian soldiers are stationed as part of the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force.

The rest of the aid is spent on projects elsewhere in the country, at the discretion of the Afghan government.

Aid and the military

NATO-member states have troops in different parts of the country, where they are also engaged in aid activities through the so-called Provincial Reconstruction Teams (PRTs).

Aid agencies have criticized the involvement of PRTs in humanitarian and development projects, labelling the process “aid militarization”.

“Our military has no involvement in our civilian development projects,” said Aas, adding that his country’s aid was strongly “scrutinized and monitored” in order to prevent mismanagement and corruption.

But he conceded that not all aid projects in which Norwegian money was involved, had been corruption-free: “We have closed down some projects after corruption charges against specific projects which we supported,” Aas said.

Education Ministry officials said Norway’s school building projects were planned in collaboration with the government and implemented by NGOs.

Helmand versus Faryab

Afghanistan’s 2004 constitution insists on geographical equity in terms of development projects and the delivery of services, but the reality is different. In terms of education, the southern province of Helmand, severely affected by the insurgency, appears to lag far behind Faryab Province.

Though it has roughly the same population as Faryab, Helmand has only 282 schools of which over 150 have been closed due to insecurity and lack of teachers, provincial officials said.

But Pierre Fallavier, director of the Kabul-based independent think-tank Afghanistan Research and Evaluation Unit, introduced a note of caution: “Building schools does not mean improving education – any more than building a hospital means improving health care,” adding that the focus on education was good but not at the cost of other important issues.

The reasons children do not go to school include the lack of safe road access, the lack of clean school toilets, parents’ financial situations as well as their attitudes towards education, said Fallavier.

Up to seven million students are currently enrolled at schools across Afghanistan, according to the Education Ministry, indicating significant progress since 2001 when only two million (boys only) were enrolled.

However, about five million school-age children, mostly girls in the insecure southern and eastern provinces, are still being deprived of an education due to war, poverty, lack of schools and social restrictions, the Education Ministry said.

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Afghan refugees forced to start over after floods

By RAVI NESSMAN (AP)
AZAKHEL, Pakistan — After fleeing the Soviet invasion of his country with nothing, Afghan refugee Ziarat Gul spent three decades building a new life in neighboring Pakistan.

After the devastating floods that rolled across Pakistan last month, he is back to nothing.

Gul and tens of thousands of other Afghan refugees here are struggling to recover from a double tragedy, seeing their homes across the border engulfed by war and then their refugee camps here demolished by floods.

“Again, I am left with only the clothes I am wearing,” the 60-year-old said.

The floods, which swamped wide swathes of the country and left 8 million people in need of aid, will hammer Pakistan’s economy and lead to “massive” job losses, Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani said Wednesday, predicting a grim couple of years for the already fragile country.
One-fifth of the country’s irrigation infrastructure, livestock and crops were destroyed, and the reduction in agriculture will snowball into other parts of the economy, he told his Cabinet. Economic growth would drop to 2.5 percent in 2011 down from a predicted 4.5 percent this year, and inflation predicted to hit 9.5 percent next year would likely be in the range of 15 percent to 20 percent instead, he said.
The situation is particularly grim for Gul and the 23,000 other residents of the Azakhel refugee camp, 95 miles (150 kilometers) from the capital, Islamabad.

All of their homes, made of mud and loose brick, are gone. Unable to open bank accounts because of their refugee status, they kept their cash savings in their houses. Much of that disappeared as well, with the refugees accusing neighboring villagers of looting it.
Gul, who lived with his extended family of 22 people, kept 200,000 rupees ($2,300) as well as jewelry in a wooden box in a cupboard. Now, he can’t even find the cupboard. “Everything vanished,” he said.

Gul originally came here 33 years ago, walking for 24 hours over the mountains with 10,000 others to flee the Soviets who invaded his village in Logar province. He worked as a scrap dealer until he was forced to retire six years ago after a car accident. Now, his life savings is the 200 rupees he was given by a local charity. A tarp stretched between trees is his home.

Nearly 70,000 Afghan refugees in 13 camps were affected by the floods, said Ariane Rummery, a spokeswoman for the U.N. refugee agency. Many refugees complain that they have not yet received any aid; Rummery said the agency has sent tents, tarps and mosquito nets to the refugees, but has yet to reach everyone.

The scene in Azakhel, the largest of the destroyed camps, is a testament to the ferocity of the floodwaters that overflowed the rivers rushing down from the mountainous northwest last month.

A brick frame and its wooden door stand alone as the only remnant of one house. A man points underfoot to where a mud and straw roof has melted into the earth. Mounds of crushed bricks and twisted steel are strewn everywhere, along with bundles of matted hay that had been intended to feed the refugees’ now dead livestock. The thick smell of rot, mold and sewage sticks in the hot, humid air.
Only the mosques, made of concrete, stand undamaged. The refugee agency is looking to move the residents to other camps while they rebuild the homes, roads, drainage systems, schools and health centers, Rummery said. “It needs to be rehabilitated and we’ve had our engineers there looking at what needs to be done,” she said.

In the meantime, the residents have found refuge in nearby schools, been taken in by local Pakistanis or are living out in the open. The few who have managed to scrape together some money, like Umer Khan, 45, are able to rent rooms.

Khan, who fled Afghanistan as a child, managed to turn a job selling fruit off a cart into a thriving grocery store. “We were a well-to-do family here,” he said. The flood destroyed 300,000 rupees worth of mangoes, rice and flour from his shop, one of the few structures left standing amid the rubble and craters of what was once the village bazaar. He lost another 400,000 rupees in jewelry and cash from his home, he said.

“My 32 years of hard work vanished in two hours,” he said. He has managed to recover some money by selling three freezers and a refrigerator destroyed in the flood for scrap. Other residents gather here everyday to sift through the remnants of their lives for rusted metal to sell to scrap dealers, who have hung scales from trees outside the camp.

“Now, we are back where we were when we left Afghanistan,” said Lal Marjan, a 44-year-old brick kiln worker. “We don’t have any home, we don’t have any jobs, we don’t have any money. I don’t have any resources to rebuild a home. It’s all up to the government.”
Amid the flood devastation, more than 200 families from the camp have returned to Afghanistan, Rummery said.

Marjan said he had no choice but to stay.
“What can I do there? I don’t have money to buy land in my country. Whatever we had there was gone,” he said.

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Armed Conflict Forces Increasing Numbers of Afghans to Flee

Internal Displacement Monitoring Forces (IDMC), 15 April 2010

EXCERPT: “After large, and mostly spontaneous, return movements following the ousting of the Taliban regime in 2002, internal displacement is again on the rise, with new displacements as a result of the intensification of fighting in many regions. The latest estimates indicate that 240,000 persons are currently internally displaced due to armed conflict and insecurity. Data-tracking and the provision of humanitarian aid is inordinately difficult due to security and logistical constraints, particularly where displacement serves as a short-term coping mechanism. IDPs in Afghanistan suffer from lack of access to basic services and legal protection mechanisms, including lack of access to land (repossession of land and landlessness), absence of livelihoods, additional risks due to the minority status of some and political and ethnic dynamics in places of displacement. Female heads of households are particularly vulnerable due to their exclusion from social and economic services and the lack of social protection measures in the country. Access to education has been affected by attacks on schools, especially girls’ schools and female teachers.”

Read the entire report [pdf].

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The Humanitarian’s Dilemma: collective action or inaction in international relief?

Source: Overseas Development Institute (ODI), Date: Aug 2010

Following the devastating earthquake in Haiti in January of this year and the intense media coverage of the subsequent aid operations, the UK’s The Lancet journal published an editorial entitled ‘The growth of aid and the decline of humanitarianism’. The piece described aid agencies as:

‘…highly competitive with each other. Polluted by the internal power politics and the unsavoury characteristics seen in many big corporations, large aid agencies can be obsessed with raising money through their own appeal efforts. Media coverage as an end in itself is too often an aim of their activities. Marketing and branding have too high a profile. Perhaps worst of all, relief efforts in the field are sometimes competitive with little collaboration between agencies, including smaller, grass-roots charities that may have better networks in affected counties and so are well placed to immediately implement emergency relief…’ (The Lancet, 2010)

The article concluded: ‘…But just like any other industry, the aid industry must be examined, not just financially as is current practice, but also in how it operates from headquarter level to field level.’

The supposed lack of examination of the aid sector is also a key theme in a widely publicised critique of aid agencies published in 2010 by Linda Polman, a Dutch journalist. In War Games, Polman cites numerous examples of humanitarian aid agencies making things worse in the countries in which they operate by furthering war economies and sustaining the need for aid (Polman, 2010).

What is perhaps most surprising to many of those working within aid agencies is that these arguments have been presented as breaking scandals, as if the messages were new insights. Despite the rather sweeping accusations to the contrary, humanitarian aid organisations do examine their work. Many of the critiques cited above were first identified in efforts that were commissioned, funded and managed by the humanitarian system itself – from the Rwanda evaluation published in 1996 (Danida, 1996) to the Tsunami evaluation published in 2006 (TEC, 2006). For well over a decade now the humanitarian sector has been exploring various dilemmas of aid, and doing so in a way that is arguably much more systematic and less anecdotal than Polman, and less partial and sensationalist than The Lancet editorial.

That is not to say that the anger and frustration expressed in The Lancet and by Polman is not understandable. However, the question that humanitarians should be asking themselves is not how to defend the sector against these critiques – although of course this may be necessary. The burning question is: why do these findings, many of them identified by aid agencies over a decade ago, still have traction?

This is what we explore in this Background Note, first by examining the stated reasons for the apparent lack of change put forward by those within the sector. We then move on to introduce analytical frameworks which we believe will help uncover some important underlying and often neglected issues. Following a preliminary application of these ideas to the sector, we reflect on the implications for its future and suggest how change might be brought about.

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A Community based peace-building approach

Please check out this fascinating new collection of testimonies from the Afghan organization Cooperation for Peace and Unity:
Nomadic and Settled Communities, A Community based peace-building approach

This is the introduction to the study from CPAU project manager Khibar Rassul

We are pleased to present testimonies of nomadic and settled community members which CPAU has collected since November 2009. CPAU has been working with nomadic and settled communities in Nangarhar, Laghman and Wardak towards the promotion of a community based approach to conflict resolution and conflict transformation. This program has involved training workshops for members of these communities and the gathering of 30 personal testimonies from members of the two different communities. The testimonies have been gathered in-order to give voice to the people and bring out their perspective on this conflict which enable greater understanding of the
conflict and of potential common ground were progress can be made towards stability. All 30 testimonies can be found online in English, Dari and Pashto at http://www.cpau.org.af/Peace_building/NomadicSetCom_AComPBapp.html

The testimonies give us an insight into the deadly and violent conflict which has occurred against both sides, building an understanding of these people’s experiences, perspectives and perhaps even the feeling they have towards each other. The testimonies have also shown us that there is potential for stability between these people. Their past experiences prior to the 1979 revolution tell of beneficial mutual trade and good relations between elders of both communities. These relationships enabled them to solve their disputes internally, limiting the level of violence and the magnitude of the conflict.

As one nomadic participant said; “previously when conflicts occurred between us and the Hazaras, for example if our cattle crossed over to their agricultural lands and inflicted damage, we would pay for their looses and the conflict would be solved; now they ask us to leave the area and never return”.

And as one settled participant said; “the conflict with the nomads in Behsud region goes back in time. During the revolution for 10 to 15 years the nomads could not come to the area. During the government of Taliban and Karzai, the nomads arrived to the area, the people of the area had no problems with them. In fact, we spent 100,000 USD on building karezes and canals and allowed the nomads and their livestock to use these. If any problems occurred between the people of the region and the nomads our elders and leaders would discuss it and the problem would be solved. The fighting began with the 1387 (2008) nomad attack on upper Kujaab Valley”.

In November CPAU will publish a conflict analysis report about the conflict between nomadic and settled communities in the Behsud region of Wardak which will draw upon the testimonies published today as well as additional primary research amongst the communities.

The project is supported by the National Endowment for Democracy (NED). CPAU does not endorse the views of any particular community in the project but seeks to provide a platform through which the communities can engage one another and explore ways of addressing their conflicts.

CPAU is an Afghan non-governmental organization and has been working in
conflict resolution and transformation in Afghanistan for the last 14 years.
More about CPAU’s approach to community conflict resolution and our ongoing
research programmes can be found at www.cpau.org.af <http://www.cpau.org.af> . Please feel free to
pass this email on to any contacts who may be interested.

Kind Regards,
Khibar Rassul
Project Manager and & PR Coordinator
Cooperation for Peace and Unity (CPAU)
Kabul, Afghanistan
+93 (0) 788092387


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Afghanistan Tops “Food Risk Index”

The Press Association, 19 August 2010

EXCERPT: “Afghanistan is at greater risk of suffering disruption to its food supplies than any other country, new research has found. Poverty, poor infrastructure and the ongoing war between Nato forces and insurgents mean the central Asian nation is ranked top in the ‘food security risk index‘ compiled by global analysts Maplecroft. Afghanistan was judged to be at highest risk despite the billions of pounds of aid pumped into development projects since the 2001 US-led invasion that overthrew the Taliban. Maplecroft said the food security situation there remained precarious because of the continuing violence, failing road and telecommunications networks and the country’s vulnerability to droughts and flooding. The index is based on 12 factors, including nutrition and health levels, cereal production and imports, GDP per head, natural disasters, conflict and the effectiveness of governments.”

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Afghan refugees homeless again in Pakistan floods

Source: Agence France-Presse (AFP), Date: 20 Aug 2010

By Sajjad Tarakzai (AFP)

AZAKHEL PAYAN, Pakistan — Afghan refugees who fled their homeland when Soviet troops invaded 30 years ago are now homeless once again — this time due to the floods that have devastated Pakistan.

“Nothing is left. Everything is destroyed,” Muhib Ullah, 40, told AFP, sitting on the debris of his home at Azakhel refugee camp.

Originally a giant tent city for Afghan refugees, the camp morphed into a permanent village. Today the settlement lies in ruins close to the Grand Trunk road heading to the northwestern city of Peshawar.

The smashed remains of what were once brick and mud homes lie scattered across the muddy ground for several kilometres, as if the area had been carpet-bombed.

Ullah, a teacher in a madrassa, who migrated from Afghanistan at the time of the Soviet occupation, has moved his five boys and five girls into a nearby tent.

Wearing wet clothes and a traditional white Muslim cap, he bundled bedsheets, cushions, quilts and pillows to one side and tried to dry them out.

Broken beds, stools and other furniture were visible under the debris of Ullah’s house while a ceiling fan full of mud and dirt lay on one side.

Millions of Afghan refugees fled three decades of civil war and turmoil, crowding into camps in neighbouring Pakistan and Iran.

The Pakistani government says 20 million people have been affected by the country’s worst flooding in 80 years, which has struck an area the size of England, ravaging villages, farmland, infrastructure and businesses.

The UN refugee agency UNHCR said Azakhel accommodated around 6,000 Afghan families but the villagers who lost everything said the number was closer to 11,000.

“Ninety-nine percent of the camp has been completely destroyed by the floods. Clearing the rubble will take at least two months,” said UNHCR shelter coordinator Werner Schellenberg.

“I saw a handful of people trying to rescue their belongings but most of the Afghans have left to live with relatives or camp along the roadside, where a makeshift site has sprung up,” he said.

For Islam Gul, 30, who lost his medical store and his home, the future in Pakistan is so bleak that he’s contemplating a return to Afghanistan, convinced that his native city Jalalabad in the east can now afford more comfort.

“All the medicines are buried. I have nothing to feed my family with,” he told AFP outside the wreckage of his shop.

Children paddled barefoot in filthy water. An awful stench stung the back of the throat and made breathing difficult.

“It’s because of dead cattle. Hundreds have died here,” Gul said.

All around, parents and children were busy rescuing their belongings from the filthy water.

An eight-year-old boy clutched a toy in his left hand, having walked through muddy, contaminated water to retrieve it.

“Everybody is facing skin problems and allergies. We’re also facing gastro discomfort and other stomach problems,” said Gul.

The lack of electricity and miserable conditions in the nearby displacement camp means Gul is now considering taking his parents, five brothers, their wives and children, as well as his own offspring, back home.

“I’m living on that roof over there but plan to go to Jalalabad along with my family. There are so many mosquitoes here,” he said.

Exhausted and weighed down with bags on their shoulders and in their arms, schoolteacher Mohammad Ali, 45, and his 12-year-old daughter Salma walked out of the camp with bundles of household goods and a bag of clothes.

They were going back to their family, now relocated to the nearby small town of Akora Khattak, famous in Pakistan as the location of a pro-Taliban madrassa.

Ali’s house and the school where he taught were destroyed.

“For me the real problem is the destruction of the school. I’m worried about the future, both the future of our children and my own,” he said.

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Kabul blames most corruption on Western allies

BY SARDAR AHMAD, AFP AUGUST 23, 2010

KABUL – Afghanistan said Monday blame for most of the corruption plaguing the impoverished country lies with its Western backers who dole out “illegitimate” contracts that have created an “economic mafia”.

Afghanistan, one of the most corrupt countries in the world, is under intense pressure from its foreign backers to end endemic graft.

Presidential spokesman Waheed Omer said Afghanistan’s foreign allies were responsible for the vast bulk of corruption in the country, which is mired in extreme poverty despite receiving tens of billions of dollars in Western aid over the past decade.

“Our international partners provided the ground for some people in Afghanistan to become unbelievably rich. Some people (have) become an economic mafia in Afghanistan,” he said.

Security deals between U.S. and NATO troops and private security companies operating in the troubled nation since 2001 were chief among the “corrupt contracts” that saw cash drain out of Afghanistan, Omer said.

“One of those is private security companies who have earned billions of dollars in contracts and are threatening sustainability of peace here in Afghanistan,” he said.

Karzai last week ordered the 52 private security firms operating in Afghanistan, local and foreign, to disband by the end of the year.

Despite concerns among the international community about finding an alternative source of security, Omer said the Kabul government was “determined” the decree would be carried out.

Private security firms in Afghanistan are employed by U.S. and NATO forces, the Pentagon, the UN mission, aid and non-governmental organisations, embassies and Western media.

They employ about 26,000 registered personnel, though experts say the real number could be as high as 40,000.

The tenor of the decree has been largely welcomed as the presence of tens of thousands of armed private guards is seen as potentially undermining government authority.

Afghans criticize them as overbearing and abusive, particularly on the country’s roads, and Karzai has complained they duplicate the work of the Afghan security forces and divert much-needed resources.

But there are concerns about the tight deadline, which allows little time to negotiate an alternative to private contractors in a country were security is a priority and police are generally not trusted.

Omer said the government would integrate employees of private security firms into Afghan state security forces and other government institutions.

He conceded that some government officials were involved in graft, but said that a much greater share of the corruption was caused by Western allies.

“From every 100 dollars that have come to Afghanistan, 80 dollars was spent by the international community, the remaining by Afghans,” he said.

“From that 80 dollars the international community have spent, there are Afghans who have turned into economic dragons. They’re not the ones who have (received) bribes working for the Afghan government,” he said.

Most of the graft within Karzai’s administration was in “service delivery” such as customs and the courts, although some Afghan politicians had used their positions to obtain military lucrative contracts, he said.

“Like the war on terror, we want corruption to be addressed at its roots. The roots of corruption are in the big contracts,” he added.

Omer defended the release of a presidential aide from jail reportedly at Karzai’s order after he was arrested late last month by a U.S.-backed anti-corruption taskforce.

Mohammad Zia Salehi, a senior official in Karzai’s national security council, was arrested on allegations of soliciting a bribe to close a probe into a money-transferring contract deal.

Omer said Salehi was being investigated by Afghan prosecutors but Karzai had opposed the nature of his detention, which he said contravened his human rights.

© Copyright (c) AFP

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Shadows and Scalpels: Expanding the “War on Terror” in Yemen

by: Michael Horton, t r u t h o u t | News Analysis, Wednesday 25 August 2010

In an August 14 article entitled, “Secret Assault on Terrorism Widens on Two Continents,” The New York Times reported on how the US is expanding its counterterrorism role in Yemen.(1)The article describes an evolving “shadow war” where the US utilizes a “scalpel” approach to deal with the perennial threat of al-Qaeda or, in the case of Yemen, the recently rebranded al- Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP). The article goes on to discuss how the US has launched a series of attacks on supposed al-Qaeda encampments across Yemen and how the attacks have been carried out by a combination of cruise missiles and American Harrier jets. While the US attacks on supposed al-Qaeda encampments in Yemen may be part of a shadow war, US involvement in the attacks is common knowledge in Yemen, and is the source of growing anger against both the US and the Saleh government. Such attacks are justified by the accusation that Yemen has been a haven for al-Qaeda operatives. However, the expansion of the US-led “war on terror” in Yemen will further destabilize the country and will almost certainly end up turning it into a haven for al-Qaeda operatives.

One example of the scalpel strategy was the May 24 attack on a home in a remote wadi in the desolate, oil-producing governorate of Marib. An American UAV or Harrier jet launched a missile at a house where a suspected al-Qaeda militant was supposed to be residing. In the aftermath of the missile strike, the suspected al-Qaeda member was variously reported as having been wounded or as not having been in the house at all. However, the Deputy Governor of Marib, Sheikh Jabir Ail al-Shabwani, was in the house. Sheikh Shabwani and four of his body guards were killed. Shabwani was head of the powerful and well-armed Shabwani clan, a member of the Abidah tribe. Following the sheikh’s death, the Shabwani clan and members of the wider Abidah tribe attacked the town of Marib, the capital of the governorate of Marib. While The New York Times article cites a single attack on an oil pipeline by angry tribesmen, the attacks and resulting damage were far more widespread than this single incident. Large parts of the town of Marib were ransacked, military installations and checkpoints throughout the governorate were attacked and a number of power substations were smashed.(2)

Fearing losing control of the oil-producing governorate, Yemeni President Saleh responded to the attacks by sending tanks and troops into Marib. This led to more fighting: the tribesmen that reside in Marib zealously guard what they regard as their land, and are generally not well disposed to the Saleh government. The deployment of large numbers of government troops and tanks in Marib resulted in allied tribes joining the fight against government troops. Rather than risk all-out war, the Saleh government backed down and made use of traditional tribal mediation to try and resolve the conflict. The US attack on a single suspected al-Qaeda member further destabilized an already unstable area and further undermined the Saleh-led government.

As The New York Times article rightly points out, President Ali Abdullah Saleh is a tenacious leader. Saleh has governed Yemen by continually playing Yemen’s many tribes off of one another and by carefully balancing favors and largess with the perceived prestige of the numerous tribes, clans and subclans. Though Saleh’s formal education does not extend beyond the elementary level, he is reported to have a prodigious memory when it comes to Yemen’s complex tribal genealogies. Understanding this tapestry of tribes and tribal alliances is one of the keys to understanding Yemen and, most certainly, northern Yemen. It is an understanding that US policymakers and their Special Forces operatives lack.

President Saleh’s determination to maintain his grip on power means that he is not opposed to making use of the Americans, their money and, most especially, their weapons. In contrast to the American’s myopic focus on AQAP, President Saleh’s government is far more concerned with rebellions in the north and south of the country. In the governorate of Sadah, in northern Yemen, Houthi rebels have been fighting against the government for six years. The Houthis subscribe to a strident form of Zaidism, a conservative offshoot of Shi’a Islam. They claim that they and their beliefs have been marginalized by a government that has often deployed Salafi (Sunni Islamic fundamentalist) fighters against them. In the south, the Saleh government faces a growing rebellion by southerners who cite disenfranchisement and discrimination by the north and the dominant northern tribes. The Saleh government has been quick to link both rebellions with al-Qaeda despite the fact that in the case of the Houthis, al-Qaeda is their sworn enemy. In the south, there is no evidence that any of the various political groups are in any way allied with al-Qaeda. The southern opposition groups are largely politically and ideologically opposed to al-Qaeda.

Given the dearth of Arabic speakers and Yemen experts in the US Embassy in Sana’a and the inability of US officials to travel freely in Yemen, collecting and assessing intelligence is very difficult. Assessing the intelligence provided by the often corrupt Yemeni Political Security Bureau and the Yemeni National Security Agency is even more difficult. It would be relatively easy for the Saleh government to use the US and its weapons to take out targets that have nothing to do with al-Qaeda. A recent Congressional report cited serious concerns about US counterterrorism/military aid being used against the Houthis.(4)

In the north, as a result of the American attack in Marib, the leader of the Houthi rebels, Abdul Malik al-Houthi, has launched an “awareness” campaign that is focused on educating his followers about the threat of al-Qaeda. The Houthis along with many other Yemenis believe that al-Qaeda is an American creation designed to provide the American government with an excuse for waging war in the Middle East. Abdul Malik takes the argument further by stating that Saleh is the puppet of the Americans and is exaggerating the number and power of al-Qaeda in Yemen so that he can, with US help, maintain control of the country. The belief is one that is increasingly popular throughout Yemen.

The expansion of the war on terror in Yemen is replete with risks for both the US and, most importantly, given that it is their country, Yemenis. The US attacks in Marib and the December 17, 2009, attack on suspected al-Qaeda camps, where, according to Amnesty International, 14 women and 21 children died, have done little or nothing to impede the growth of al-Qaeda oriented groups.(5) Quite the opposite, AQAP, has used the civilian deaths as a recruiting tool. The attacks have also further compromised the Saleh government by showing that he and his regime are actively working with the Americans by allowing them to bomb Yemenis.

US politicians, like Sen. Joe Lieberman, who in a fine example of senatorial moderation, called for a pre-emptive attack on Yemen shortly after the failed “underwear” bombing, would do well to read about the two Ottoman invasions of Yemen and the more contemporary Egyptian experience in Yemen. Yemen is not kind to invaders. Though it is quite possibly one way to unify the country. I was in Sana’a in the month following the attempted underwear bombing when the language from the US cable news networks was at its most bellicose. Many Yemenis I spoke with during afternoon qat (a mild stimulant not unlike coffee consumed by most of the country) chews were convinced an American invasion was imminent. I was surprised to hear even “liberal” Yemeni friends, wealthy Yemenis who are not opposed to the occasional whiskey, making plans to return to their villages and fight.

Yemen faces an abundance of challenges: water shortages, declining oil production, systemic corruption, demographic pressures and a moribund economy. None of these problems are easily dealt with, but the answer to them is certainly not poorly planned missile attacks and increased military aid. I suspect Yemenis can find answers to their own problems if given the chance. While Yemen is often described as “lawless” and medieval, this is far from the truth. Yemen’s tribes have long governed themselves by employing tribal law, “urf” in Arabic. Tribal law is both adaptive and responsive and, most importantly, has evolved many mechanisms for mitigating and limiting conflict. Tribal law is what President Saleh fell back on to defuse the situation in Marib. However, more scalpel operations like the one in Marib could easily overwhelm any and all Yemeni efforts to defuse the resulting conflicts. The expansion of the shadow war in Yemen only adds to Yemen’s many problems and could easily result in the US being mired in another country it doesn’t care to understand.

1. Scott Shane, Mark Mazzetti, Robert F. Worth, “Secret Assault on Terrorism Widens on Two Continents,” New York Times (August 14, 2010).
2. Andrew McGregor, “Tribal Resistance and al-Qaeda: Suspected US Airstrike Ignites Tribes in Yemen’s Ma’rib Governorate,” Terrorism Monitor (June 16, 2010). Fattah Haidrah, “Tensions breakout in Marib over killing local leader,” Yemen Observer (May 29, 2010).
3. Michael Horton, “Borderline Crisis,” Jane’s Intelligence Review  (January 2010).
4. “Following the Money in Yemen and Lebanon: Maximizing the Effectiveness of US Security Assistance and International Financial Institution Lending,” Committee on Foreign Relation United States Senate (January 5, 2010).
5. Amnesty International (June 7, 2010).

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The Secret Killers: Assassination in Afghanistan and Task Force 373

TomDispatch | News Analysis, Thursday 19 August 2010 by: Pratap Chatterjee

“Find, fix, finish, and follow-up” is the way the Pentagon describes the mission of secret military teams in Afghanistan which have been given a mandate to pursue alleged members of the Taliban or al-Qaeda wherever they may be found. Some call these “manhunting” operations and the units assigned to them “capture/kill” teams.

Whatever terminology you choose, the details of dozens of their specific operations — and how they regularly went badly wrong — have been revealed for the first time in the mass of secret U.S. military and intelligence documents published by the website Wikileaks in July to a storm of news coverage and official protest. Representing a form of U.S. covert warfare now on the rise, these teams regularly make more enemies than friends and undermine any goodwill created by U.S. reconstruction projects.

When Danny Hall and Gordon Phillips, the civilian and military directors of the U.S. provincial reconstruction team in Nangarhar province, Afghanistan, arrived for a meeting with Gul Agha Sherzai, the local governor, in mid-June 2007, they knew that they had a lot of apologizing to do. Philips had to explain why a covert U.S. military “capture/kill” team named Task Force 373, hunting for Qari Ur-Rahman, an alleged Taliban commander given the code-name “Carbon,” had called in an AC-130 Spectre gunship and inadvertently killed seven Afghan police officers in the middle of the night.

The incident vividly demonstrated the inherent clash between two doctrines in the U.S. war in Afghanistan — counterinsurgency (“protecting the people”) and counterterrorism (killing terrorists). Although the Obama administration has given lip service to the former, the latter has been, and continues to be, the driving force in its war in Afghanistan.

For Hall, a Foreign Service officer who was less than two months away from a plush assignment in London, working with the military had already proven more difficult than he expected. In an article for Foreign Service Journal published a couple of months before the meeting, he wrote, “I felt like I never really knew what was going on, where I was supposed to be, what my role was, or if I even had one. In particular, I didn’t speak either language that I needed: Pashtu or military.”

It had been no less awkward for Phillips. Just a month earlier, he had personally handed over “solatia” payments — condolence payments for civilian deaths wrongfully caused by U.S. forces — in Governor Sherzai’s presence, while condemning the act of a Taliban suicide bomber who had killed 19 civilians, setting off the incident in question. “We come here as your guests,” he told the relatives of those killed, “invited to aid in the reconstruction and improved security and governance of Nangarhar, to bring you a better life and a brighter future for you and your children. Today, as I look upon the victims and their families, I join you in mourning for your loved ones.”

Hall and Phillips were in charge of a portfolio of 33 active U.S. reconstruction projects worth $11 million in Nangarhar, focused on road-building, school supplies, and an agricultural program aimed at exporting fruits and vegetables from the province.

Yet the mission of their military-led “provincial reconstruction team” (made up of civilian experts, State department officials, and soldiers) appeared to be in direct conflict with those of the “capture/kill” team of special operations forces (Navy Seals, Army Rangers, and Green Berets, together with operatives from the Central Intelligence Agency’s Special Activities Division) whose mandate was to pursue Afghans alleged to be terrorists as well as insurgent leaders. That team was leaving a trail of dead civilian bodies and recrimination in its wake.

Details of some of the missions of Task Force 373 first became public as a result of more than 76,000 incident reports leaked to the public by Wikileaks, a whistleblower website, together with analyses of those documents in Der Spiegel, the Guardian, and the New York Times. A full accounting of the depredations of the task force may be some time in coming, however, as the Obama administration refuses to comment on its ongoing assassination spree in Afghanistan and Pakistan. A short history of the unit can nonetheless be gleaned from a careful reading of the Wikileaks documents as well as related reports from Afghanistan and unclassified Special Forces reports.

The Wikileaks data suggests that as many as 2,058 people on a secret hit list called the “Joint Prioritized Effects List” (JPEL) were considered “capture/kill” targets in Afghanistan. A total of 757 prisoners — most likely from this list — were being held at the Bagram Theater Internment Facility (BTIF), a U.S.-run prison on Bagram Air Base as of the end of December 2009.

Capture/Kill Operations

The idea of “joint” teams from different branches of the military working collaboratively with the CIA was first conceived in 1980 after the disastrous Operation Eagle Claw, when personnel from the Air Force, Army, and Navy engaged in a disastrously botched, seat-of-the-pants attempt to rescue U.S. hostages in Iran with help from the Agency. Eight soldiers were killed when two helicopters collided in the Iranian desert. Afterwards, a high-level, six-member commission led by Admiral James L. Holloway, III recommended the creation of a Joint Special Forces command to ensure that different branches of the military and the CIA should do far more advance coordination planning in the future.

This process accelerated greatly after September 11, 2001. That month, a CIA team called Jawbreaker headed for Afghanistan to plan a U.S.-led invasion of the country. Shortly thereafter, an Army Green Beret team set up Task Force Dagger to pursue the same mission. Despite an initial rivalry between the commanders of the two groups, they eventually teamed up.

The first covert “joint” team involving the CIA and various military special operations forces to work together in Afghanistan was Task Force 5, charged with the mission of capturing or killing “high value targets” like Osama bin Laden, senior leaders of al-Qaeda, and Mullah Mohammed Omar, the head of the Taliban. A sister organization set up in Iraq was called Task Force 20. The two were eventually combined into Task Force 121 by General John Abizaid, the head of the U.S. Central Command.

In a new book to be released this month, Operation Darkheart, Lieutenant Colonel Anthony Shaffer describes the work of Task Force 121 in 2003, when he was serving as part of a team dubbed the Jedi Knights. Working under the alias of Major Christopher Stryker, he ran operations for the Defense Intelligence Agency (the military equivalent of the CIA) out of Bagram Air Base.

One October night, Shaffer was dropped into a village near Asadabad in Kunar province by an MH-47 Chinook helicopter to lead a “joint” team, including Army Rangers (a Special Forces division) and 10th Mountain Division troops. They were on a mission to capture a lieutenant of Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, a notorious warlord allied with the Taliban, based on information provided by the CIA.

It wasn’t easy. “They succeeded in striking at the core of the Taliban and their safe havens across the border in Pakistan. For a moment Shaffer saw us winning the war,” reads the promotional material for the book. “Then the military brass got involved. The policies that top officials relied on were hopelessly flawed. Shaffer and his team were forced to sit and watch as the insurgency grew — just across the border in Pakistan.”

Almost a quarter century after Operation Eagle Claw, Shaffer, who was part of the Able Danger team that had pursued Al Qaeda in the 1990s, describes the bitter turf wars between the CIA and Special Forces teams over how the shadowy world of secret assassinations in Afghanistan and Pakistan should be run.

Task Force 373

Fast forward to 2007, the first time Task Force 373 is mentioned in the Wikileaks documents. We don’t know whether its number means anything, but coincidentally or not, chapter 373 of the U.S. Code 10, the act of Congress that sets out what the U.S. military is legally allowed to do, permits the Secretary of Defense to empower any “civilian employee” of the military “to execute warrants and make arrests without a warrant” in criminal matters. Whether or not this is indeed the basis for that “373” remains a classified matter — as indeed, until the Wikileaks document dump occurred, was the very existence of the group.

Analysts say that Task Force 373 complements Task Force 121 by using “white forces” like the Rangers and the Green Berets, as opposed to the more secretive Delta Force. Task Force 373 is supposedly run out of three military bases — in Kabul, the Afghan capital; Kandahar, the country’s second largest city; and Khost City near the Pakistani tribal lands. It’s possible that some of its operations also come out of Camp Marmal, a German base in the northern city of Mazar-e-Sharif. Sources familiar with the program say that the task force has its own helicopters and aircraft, notably AC-130 Spectre gunships, dedicated only to its use.

Its commander appears to have been Brigadier General Raymond Palumbo, based out of the Special Operations Command at Fort Bragg, North Carolina. Palumbo, however, left Fort Bragg in mid-July, shortly after General Stanley McChrystal was relieved as Afghan war commander by President Obama. The name of the new commander of the task force is not known.

In more than 100 incident reports in the Wikileaks files, Task Force 373 is described as leading numerous “capture/kill” efforts, notably in Khost, Paktika, and Nangarhar provinces, all bordering the Federally Administered Tribal Areas of northern Pakistan. Some reportedly resulted in successful captures, while others led to the death of local police officers or even small children, causing angry villagers to protest and attack U.S.-led military forces.

In April 2007, David Adams, commander of the Khost provincial reconstruction team, was called to meet with elders from the village of Gurbuz in Khost province, who were angry about Task Force 373’s operations in their community. The incident report on Wikileaks does not indicate just what Task Force 373 did to upset Gurbuz’s elders, but the governor of Khost, Arsala Jamal, had been publicly complaining about Special Forces operations and civilian deaths in his province since December 2006, when five civilians were killed in a raid on Darnami village.

“This is our land,” he said then. “I’ve been asking with greater force: Let us sit together, we know our Afghan brothers, we know our culture better. With these operations we should not create more enemies. We are in a position to reduce mistakes.”

As Adams would later recall in an op-ed he co-authored for the Wall Street Journal, “The increasing number of raids on Afghan homes alienated many of Khost’s tribal elders.”

On June 12, 2007, Danny Hall and Gordon Philips, working in Nangarhar province just northeast of Khost, were called into that meeting with Governor Sherzai to explain how Task Force 373 had killed those seven local Afghan police officers. Like Jamal, Sherzai made the point to Hall and Philips that “he strongly encourages better coordination… and he further emphasized that he does not want to see this happen again.”

Less than a week later, a Task Force 373 team fired five rockets at a compound in Nangar Khel in Paktika province to the south of Khost, in an attempt to kill Abu Laith al-Libi, an alleged al-Qaeda member from Libya. When the U.S. forces made it to the village, they found that Task Force 373 had destroyed a madrassa (or Islamic school), killing six children and grievously wounding a seventh who, despite the efforts of a U.S. medical team, would soon die. (In late January 2008, al-Libi was reported killed by a Hellfire missile from a Predator drone strike in a village near Mir Ali in North Waziristan in Pakistan.)

Paktika Governor Akram Khapalwak met with the U.S. military the day after the raid. Unlike his counterparts in Khost and Nangarhar, Khapalwak agreed to support the “talking points” developed for Task Force 373 to explain the incident to the media. According to the Wikileaks incident report, the governor then “echoed the tragedy of children being killed, but stressed this could’ve been prevented had the people exposed the presence of insurgents in the area.”

However, no military talking points, no matter in whose mouth, could stop the civilian deaths as long as Task Force 373’s raids continued.

On October 4, 2007, its members called in an air strike — 500 pound Paveway bombs — on a house in the village of Laswanday, just six miles from Nangar Khel in Paktika province (where those seven children had already died). This time, four men, one woman, and a girl — all civilians — as well as a donkey, a dog, and several chickens would be slaughtered. A dozen U.S. soldiers were injured, but the soldiers reported that not one “enemy” was detained or killed.

The Missing Afghan Story

Not all raids resulted in civilian deaths. The U.S. military incident reports released by Wikileaks suggest that Task Force 373 had better luck in capturing “targets” alive and avoiding civilian deaths on December 14, 2007. The 503rd Infantry Regiment (Airborne) was asked that day to support Task Force 373 in a search in Paktika province for Bitonai and Nadr, two alleged al-Qaeda leaders listed on the JPEL. The operation took place just outside the town of Orgun, close to U.S. Forward Operating Base (FOB) Harriman. Located 7,000 feet above sea level and surrounded by mountains, it hosts about 300 soldiers as well as a small CIA compound, and is often visited by chattering military helicopters well as sleepy camel herds belonging to local Pashtuns.

An airborne assault team code-named “Operation Spartan” descended on the compounds where Bitonai and Nadr were supposed to be living, but failed to find them. When a local Afghan informant told the Special Forces soldiers that the suspects were at a location about two miles away, Task Force 373 seized both men as well as 33 others who were detained at FOB Harriman for questioning and possible transfer to the prison at Bagram.

But when Task Force 373 was on the prowl, civilians were, it seems, always at risk, and while the Wikileaks documents reveal what the U.S soldiers were willing to report, the Afghan side of the story was often left in a ditch. For example, on a Monday night in mid-November 2009, Task Force 373 conducted an operation to capture or kill an alleged militant code-named “Ballentine” in Ghazni province. A terse incident report announced that one Afghan woman and four “insurgents” had been killed. The next morning, Task Force White Eagle, a Polish unit under the command of the U.S. 82nd Airborne Division, reported that some 80 people gathered to protest the killings. The window of an armored vehicle was damaged by the angry villagers, but the documents don’t offer us their version of the incident.

In an ironic twist, one of the last Task Force 373 incidents recorded in the Wikileaks documents was almost a reprise of the original Operation Eagle Claw disaster that led to the creation of the “joint” capture/kill teams. Just before sunrise on October 26, 2009, two U.S. helicopters, a UH-1 Huey and an AH-1 Cobra, collided near the town of Garmsir in the southern province of Helmand, killing four Marines.

Closely allied with Task Force 373 is a British unit, Task Force 42, composed of Special Air Service, Special Boat Service, and Special Reconnaissance Regiment commandos who operate in Helmand province and are mentioned in several Wikileaks incident reports.

Manhunting

“Capture/kill” is a key part of a new military “doctrine” developed by the Special Forces Command established after the failure of Operation Eagle Claw. Under the leadership of General Bryan D. Brown, who took over the Special Forces Command in September 2003, the doctrine came to be known as F4, which stood for “find, fix, finish, and follow-up” — a slightly euphemistic but not hard to understand message about how alleged terrorists and insurgents were to be dealt with.

Under Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld in the Bush years, Brown began setting up “joint Special Forces” teams to conduct F4 missions outside war zones. These were given the anodyne name “Military Liaison Elements.” At least one killing by such a team in Paraguay (of an armed robber not on any targeting list) was written up by New York Times reporters Scott Shane and Thom Shanker. The team, whose presence had not been made known to the U.S. ambassador there, was ordered to leave the country.

“The number-one requirement is to defend the homeland. And so sometimes that requires that you find and capture or kill terrorist targets around the world that are trying to do harm to this nation,” Brown told the House Committee on Armed Services in March 2006. “Our foreign partners… are willing but incapable nations that want help in building their own capability to defend their borders and eliminate terrorism in their countries or in their regions.” In April 2007, President Bush rewarded Brown’s planning by creating a special high-level office at the Pentagon for an assistant secretary of defense for special operations/low-intensity conflict and interdependent capabilities.

Michael G. Vickers, made famous in the book and film Charlie Wilson’s War as the architect of the covert arms-and-money supply chain to the mujaheedin in the CIA’s anti-Soviet Afghan campaign of the 1980s, was nominated to fill the position. Under his leadership, a new directive was issued in December 2008 to “develop capabilities for extending U.S. reach into denied areas and uncertain environments by operating with and through indigenous foreign forces or by conducting low visibility operations.” In this way, the “capture/kill” program was institutionalized in Washington.

“The war on terror is fundamentally an indirect war… It’s a war of partners… but it also is a bit of the war in the shadows, either because of political sensitivity or the problem of finding terrorists,” Vickers told the Washington Post as 2007 ended. “That’s why the Central Intelligence Agency is so important… and our Special Operations forces play a large role.”

George W. Bush’s departure from the White House did not dampen the enthusiasm for F4. Quite the contrary: even though the F4 formula has recently been tinkered with, in typical military fashion, and has now become “find, fix, finish, exploit, and analyze,” or F3EA, President Obama has, by all accounts, expanded military intelligence gathering and “capture/kill” programs globally in tandem with an escalation of drone-strike operations by the CIA.

There are quite a few outspoken supporters of the “capture/kill” doctrine. Columbia University Professor Austin Long is one academic who has jumped on the F3EA bandwagon. Noting its similarity to the Phoenix assassination program, responsible for tens of thousands of deaths during the U.S. war in Vietnam (which he defends), he has called for a shrinking of the U.S. military “footprint” in Afghanistan to 13,000 Special Forces troops who would focus exclusively on counter-terrorism, particularly assassination operations. “Phoenix suggests that intelligence coordination and the integration of intelligence with an action arm can have a powerful effect on even extremely large and capable armed groups,” he and his co-author William Rosenau wrote in a July 2009 Rand Institute monograph entitled” “The Phoenix Program and Contemporary Counterinsurgency.”

Others are even more aggressively inclined. Lieutenant George Crawford, who retired from the position of “lead strategist” for the Special Forces Command to go work for Archimedes Global, Inc., a Washington consulting firm, has suggested that F3EA be replaced by one term: “Manhunting.” In a monograph published by the Joint Special Operations University in September 2009, “Manhunting: Counter-Network Organization for Irregular Warfare,” Crawford spells out “how to best address the responsibility to develop manhunting as a capability for American national security.”

Killing the Wrong People

The strange evolution of these concepts, the creation of ever more global hunter-killer teams whose purpose in life is assassination 24/7, and the civilians these “joint Special Forces” teams regularly kill in their raids on supposed “targets” have unsettled even military experts.

For example, Christopher Lamb, the acting director of the Institute for National Strategic Studies at the National Defense University, and Martin Cinnamond, a former U.N. official in Afghanistan, penned an article for the Spring 2010 issue of the Joint Forces Quarterly in which they wrote: “There is broad agreement… that the indirect approach to counterinsurgency should take precedence over kill/capture operations. However, the opposite has occurred.”

Other military types claim that the hunter-killer approach is short-sighted and counterproductive. “My take on Task Force 373 and other task forces, it has a purpose because it keeps the enemy off balance. But It does not understand the fundamental root cause of the conflict, of why people are supporting the Taliban,” says Matthew Hoh, a former Marine and State Department contractor who resigned from the government last September. Hoh, who often worked with Task Force 373 as well as other Special Forces “capture/kill” programs in Afghanistan and Iraq, adds: “We are killing the wrong people, the mid-level Taliban who are only fighting us because we are in their valleys. If we were not there, they would not be fighting the U.S.”

Task Force 373 may be a nightmare for Afghans. For the rest of us — now that Wikileaks has flushed it into the open — it should be seen as a symptom of deeper policy disasters. After all, it raises a basic question: Is this country really going to become known as a global Manhunters, Inc.?

Pratap Chatterjee is a freelance journalist, TomDispatch regular, and senior editor at CorpWatch who has worked extensively in the Middle East and Central Asia, including nine trips to Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Iraq. He has written two books about the war on terror: Iraq, Inc. (Seven Stories Press, 2004) and Halliburton’s Army (Nation Books, 2009). He recommends using DiaryDig to better understand the WikiLeaks Afghan War Diary. A good glossary of military acronyms can be found by clicking here. You can contact him via email at pchatterjee@igc.org.

Copyright 2010 Pratap Chatterjee

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Pakistan’s leader says world losing Afghan war

Pakistan’s leader says world losing Afghan war because of its failure to win over the Afghan people
By PAISLEY DODDS (AP) – Aug 3, 2010

LONDON — The U.S.-led coalition’s battle against the Taliban has already been lost because of its failure to win over the Afghan people, Pakistan’s president warned Tuesday before tough talks this week with Prime Minister David Cameron, who has accused the country of exporting terrorism.

President Asif Ali Zardari told the French daily Le Monde online that the coalition had “underestimated the situation on the ground and was not conscious of the scale of the problem” against the Taliban largely because “we have lost the battle to conquer the heart and soul” of the Afghan people. Long-term help — not just military reinforcements — was needed.

“To win the support of the Afghan population, we must bring them economic development and show that we cannot only change their lives, but above all improve them,” Zardari was quoted as saying.

Zardari is set to meet with Cameron on Friday. The talks have been overshadowed by Cameron’s remarks last week that Pakistan had looked two ways in dealing with terrorists.

The visit of Zardari, the widower of Benazir Bhutto, comes amid growing concern that some elements in Pakistan’s intelligence service and military have been sympathetic to militants — a claim supported in Wikileaks, the self-described online whistle-blower that recently posted leaked U.S. military documents alleging Pakistan’s unwillingness to sever its historical ties to the Taliban.

“Pakistan and its people are the victims of the terrorists,” said Zardari, who said Britain and Pakistan needed unity — not division on the fight against terrorism. Pakistan has lost some 2,500 of its security forces in the past few years during battles against insurgents.

Zardari denied allegations that elements in Pakistan were cooperating with the Taliban and said the Wikileaks documents citing Pakistan predated his time as president.

White House spokesman Robert Gibbs rejected Zardari’s assessment Tuesday, saying he thought coalition actions taken in the past few months “have much the hearts and minds of the Afghan people.” Gibbs said, “The Afghan people know of the brutality of the Taliban.”

Cameron’s comments about Pakistan’s alleged role in the export of terrorism — remarks made last week during his visit to Pakistan’s nuclear rival, India — caused a diplomatic row.

Pakistan’s intelligence chief, Lt. Gen. Ahmed Shujaa Pasha, called off a trip planned to London because of the dispute, while Britain’s envoy in Pakistan was summoned to Islamabad. Dozen of protesters from the Islamist group Shababe Milli, meanwhile, burned an effigy of Cameron in the port city of Karachi over the weekend.

The Pakistani leader also is facing mounting criticism at home for his government’s handling of deadly floods that have killed 1,500 people, some of the worst in recent history. Also marring the visit were a series of revenge attacks that killed at least 45 people in Pakistan’s largest city, Karachi, after the assassination of a prominent lawmaker.

One analyst said Zardari’s decision to carry out the visit left him scratching his head.

“With all the floods, the shooting in Karachi … David Cameron’s comments, I can’t imagine he’s going to have very much positive to take home,” said Gareth Price, the head of the Asia program at London’s Chatham House think tank. “The politically astute move would seem to be to have canceled the whole trip to Europe and say: ‘I need to be there.'”

Pakistan is one of Britain’s most important allies in fighting terrorism — nearly 1 million people of Pakistani origin live in Britain, and Pakistani intelligence has been crucial in several terror investigations, including the 2005 suicide attacks that killed 52 London commuters and a 2006 trans-Atlantic airliner plot. Many of the plots have had links back to Pakistan.

Cameron defended his comments Tuesday, but stressed the importance of Friday’s talks.

“The key thing is to build on the relationship that we have and to make sure we are co-operating on security issues,” he said.

Britain is one of the largest donors to Pakistan and is expected to increase aid by an estimated 40 percent as Britain cuts other foreign aid in an effort to boost support in Afghanistan and Pakistan. Britain offers about 120 million pounds ($190 million) a year in aid to Pakistan and announced in June it plans to prioritize work to improve access to education, particularly for women.

An additional 5 million pounds ($8 million) of emergency aid has been promised following the floods.

Last year, Pakistan’s powerful military rejected U.S. attempts to link billions of dollars in foreign aid to increased monitoring of its anti-terror efforts.

Analysts have warned any breakdown in intelligence sharing and other types of cooperation would hurt the fight against a resurgent Taliban in Afghanistan. U.S. and NATO commanders have repeatedly said the war cannot be won unless Islamabad does more to tackle extremists on its side of the border.

“There is a huge amount of international tension about what Pakistan is doing to deal with the issue of terrorism,” said Sam Zarifi, Amnesty International’s director for the Asia-Pacific. “What remains very much in doubt is whether Pakistan’s civilian government has an overall plan or the capacity to address or control the insurgency in the northwest.”

The 55-year-old Zardari has long been haunted by corruption allegations dating back to governments led in the 1990s by his late wife who was assassinated in 2007 after her return from exile to Pakistan. He spent several years in prison under previous administrations and allegations he misappropriated as much as $1.5 billion.

Zardari has routinely denied any wrongdoing, but there have been growing calls to reopen an alleged corruption case involving Zardari and his late wife that had been heard in a Swiss court.

Zardari will be holding private talks on Wednesday and Thursday with Pakistani officials, community members and other British officials before meeting Cameron on Friday. He also is expected to speak Saturday at a rally of his Pakistan Peoples Party in Birmingham.

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Here Be Dragons

Here Be Dragons
MRAPs, Sprained Ankles, Air Conditioning, Farting Contests, and Other Snapshots from the American War in Afghanistan

By Ann Jones

In the eight years I’ve reported on Afghanistan, I’ve “embedded” regularly with Afghan civilians, especially women.  Recently, however, with American troops “surging” and journalists getting into the swing of the military’s counterinsurgency “strategy” (better known by its acronym, COIN), I decided to get with the program as well.  Last June, I filed a request to embed with the U.S. Army.

Polite emails from Army public affairs specialists ask journalists to provide evidence of medical insurance, a requirement I took as an admission that war is not a healthy pursuit.  I already knew that, of course — from the civilian side.  Plus I’d read a lot of articles and books by male colleagues who had risked their necks with American troops in Iraq and Afghanistan.  What struck me about their work was this: even when they described screw-ups coming down from the top brass, those reporters still managed to make the soldierly enterprise sound pretty consistently heroic.  I wondered what they might be leaving out.

So I sent in a scan of my Medicare card.  I worried that this evidence of my senior citizenship, coupled with my membership in the “weaker sex,” the one we’re supposedly rescuing in Afghanistan, would raise questions about my fitness for missions “outside the wire” of a Forward Operating Base (FOB, pronounced “fob”) in eastern Afghanistan only a few miles from the tribal areas of Pakistan. But no, I got my requested embed — proof of neither fitness nor heroism required (something my male colleagues had never revealed).  In the end, my age and gender were no handicap. As Agatha Christie’s Miss Marple knows, people will say almost anything to an old lady they assume to be stupid.

Boys and Their Toys

Having been critical of American policies from the get-go, I saw nothing on the various Army bases I visited to change my mind.  One day at that FOB, preparing to go on a mission, the sergeant in charge wrote the soldiers’ names on the board, followed by “Terp” to designate the Afghan-American interpreter who would accompany us, and “In Bed,” which meant me.  He made a joke about reporters who are more gung-ho than soldiers.  Not me.  And I wasn’t alone.  I had already met a lot of older guys on other bases, mostly reservists who had jobs at home they felt passionately about — teachers, coaches, musicians — and wives and children they loved, who just wanted to go home.  One said to me, “Maybe if I were ten years younger I could get into it, but I’m not a boy anymore.”

The Army had sent me a list of ground rules for reporters — mostly commonsense stuff like don’t print troop strength or battle plans. I also got a checklist of things to bring along.  It was the sort of list moms get when sending their kids off to camp: water bottle, flashlight, towel, soap, toilet paper (for those excursions away from base), sleeping bag, etc.  But there was other stuff too: ballistic eyewear, fireproof gloves, big knife, body armor, and Kevlar helmet.  Considering how much of my tax dollar goes to the Pentagon, I thought the Army might have a few spare flak jackets to lend to visiting reporters, but no, you have to bring your own.

That was perhaps a sign of things to come, as I was soon swamped by complaints from soldiers and civilian contractors alike: not enough armor, not enough vehicles, not enough helicopters, not enough weapons, not enough troops — and even when there seemed to be plenty of everything, complaints that nothing was of quite the right kind. This struck me as a peculiarly privileged American problem that seemed to underlie almost everything I was to see on the eastern front of this war.  Those complaints, in fact, seemed to spring from the very nature of the American military enterprise — from its toxic mix of paranoia, entitlement, and good intentions.

Take the paranoia, which I suppose comes with the territory.  You wouldn’t be there if you didn’t think that there were enemies all around.  I turned down a military flight for the short hop from the Afghan capital Kabul to Bagram, the main American base — a rapidly expanding “city” of more than 30,000 people.  Instead, I asked an Afghan friend to drive me out in his car.

A Public Affairs officer warned me that driving was “very dangerous,” but the only problem we met was a U.S. military convoy headed in the opposite direction, holding up traffic.  For more than an hour we sat by the highway with dozens of Afghan motorists watching a parade of enormous flatbed trucks hauling other big vehicles: bulldozers and armored personnel carriers of various vintages from Humvees to MRAPs (Mine-Resistant Ambush-Protected vehicles). My friend said, “We don’t understand.  They have all these big machines.  They put them on trucks and haul them up and down the road. Why?”

I couldn’t get an answer, but I got a clue when I took an Army chopper from Bagram to a smaller base and met a private contractor partly responsible for Army vehicle maintenance.  He gave me a CD to pass on to his foreman at the FOB I was headed for.  Rather than music, it held an instruction manual for repairing the latest model M-ATV, a hulking personnel carrier with a V-shaped hull designed to repel the blast of roadside bombs.  These are currently replacing the older MRAPs and deadly low-slung Humvees.  The Humvees are, in turn, being passed off to the Afghan National Army, whose soldiers are more expendable than ours.  (You see what I mean about entitlement.)  Standing in a lot full of new M-ATVs already in need of fixing, the foreman seemed pleased indeed to get that CD.

It’s a measure of our sense of entitlement, I think, that while the Taliban and their allies still walk to war wearing traditional baggy cotton pants and shirts, we Americans incessantly invent things to make ourselves more “secure.” Since no one can ever be secure, least of all in war, every new development is bound to prove insufficient and almost guaranteed to create new problems.

Still, Americans feel entitled to safety.  Hence the MRAP was designed to address a double whammy of fear: roadside bombs (IEDs) and ambushes.  I was trained to be a passenger in an MRAP for a mission that never materialized, but in the process I learned where the built-in handholds are for those frequent occasions when the top-heavy MRAP rolls down a mountainside.

The trainer talked so assuredly about what to do in case of a rollover that he almost gave me the impression you could swivel your hips and right the vehicle, like a kayak.  But no, once it rolls, it’s a goner.  You have to crawl out and walk.  (So much for ambush protection.)  Then, one of those big trucks we saw on the highway to Bagram has to come out and haul it back to base, where the foreman with that new instruction-manual CD may have a go at fixing it.  That, in a nutshell, is why the 7-passenger MRAP is being replaced by the 5-passenger M-ATV, a huge armored all-terrain vehicle not quite so inclined to tip over.   Because it holds fewer soldiers, however, you have to put more of those vehicles on the road, and I’m sure you already see where that leads.

One benefit of our addiction to expensive, state-of-the-art stuff, however faulty it may prove, is that the private manufacture of armaments now helps keep our economy on life support and makes some military-industrial types rich.  One drawback is that — though it’s a hard point for American soldiers in the line of fire to grasp — it actually undercuts our heralded COIN strategy.  Afghans out there fighting in their cotton pajamas take Western reliance on heavy armor as a measure of our fear — not to mention the inferiority of our gods on whose protection we appear unwilling to rely.  (By contrast, the watchman at the small Afghan National Army base adjacent to the FOB I was visiting slept on a cot on the roof, exposed to enemy fire with his tea kettle beside him, either trusting his god, or maybe knowing something we don’t about the “enemy.”)

All the Comforts of War

On the great scale of American bases, think of Bagram as a city, secondary bases as small towns, FOBS as heavily gated communities in rural landscapes, and outlying COPs (Combat Outposts) as camps you wouldn’t want your kid to go to.  A FOB is, by definition, pretty far out there on the fringe, but I have to say straight out that when the chopper dropped me off in full (and remarkably heavy) body armor and Kevlar helmet at my designated FOB, it didn’t look at all like “the front” to me.

I should explain that my enduring image of war comes from the trenches of World War I, from which my father returned with a lot of medals, lifelong disabilities, and horrific picture books I wasn’t allowed to see as a child.  In that war, men lived for months on end without a change of uniform, in muddy or frozen trenches, infested with rats and lice, often amid their own excrement and their own dead.

The frontline FOB where I landed and its soldiers, by contrast, are spic-and-span.  Credit for this goes largely to the remarkably inexpensive labor of crews of Filipinos, Indians, Croatians, and others lured from distant lands by American for-profit private contractors responsible for making our troops feel at home away from home.  The base’s streets are laid out on a grid.  Tents in tidy rows are banked with standard sand bags and their super-sized cousins, towering Hescos filled with rocks and rubble.

The tents are cooled by roaring tornados of air conditioning, thanks to equipment fueled by gasoline that costs the Army about $400 per gallon to import.  It takes fuelers three to four hours every day to refill all the giant generators that keep the cold air coming, so I felt guilty when, to prevent shivering in my sleep, I stuffed my towel into the ducts suspended from the ceiling of my tent.

More permanent buildings are going up and some, already built by Afghans and deemed not good enough for American habitation, are scheduled for reconstruction.  Even in distant FOBs like this one, the building boom is prodigious.  There’s a big gym with the latest body-building equipment, and a morale-boosting center equipped with telephones and banks of computers connected to the Internet that are almost always in use.  A 24/7 chow hall serves barbequed ribs, steak, and lobster tails, though everything is cooked beyond recognition by those underpaid laborers to whom this cuisine is utterly foreign.

There’s a remarkably speedy laundry and, as for the toilets and showers — I can speak only for those few designated “Female” — they were the best I’d seen anywhere in Afghanistan.  A sign politely suggested limiting your shower to five minutes, a nod to the expense of paying for-profit contractors to hire truckers to haul in the necessary water, and then haul out to undisclosed locations the copious effluence of American latrines.  (At Bagram, that effluence goes into a conveniently nearby river, a water source for countless Afghans.)  The other detritus from this expanding FOB is dumped into a pit and burned, including a staggering, but undisclosed, number of plastic water bottles.  All this helps explain the annual cost of maintaining a single American soldier in Afghanistan, currently estimated at one million dollars.

Don’t get me wrong.  I’m not making a case for filthy trenches.  But why should war be gussied up like home?  If war were undisguisedly as nasty and brutish as it truly is, it might also tend to be short.  Soldiers freed from illusions might mutiny, as many did in Vietnam, or desert and go home.  But this modern, cushier kind of pseudo-war is different.

Many young soldiers told me that they actually live better in the Army, even when deployed, than they did in civilian life, where they couldn’t make ends meet, especially when they were trying to pay for college or raise a family by working one or two low-wage jobs.  They won’t mutiny.  They’re doing better than many of their friends back home. (And they’re dutiful, which makes for acts of personal heroism, even in a foolhardy cause.)  They are likely to reenlist, though many told me they’d prefer to quit the Army and go to work for much higher pay with the for-profit private contractors that now “service” American war.

But the odd thing is that no one seems to question the relative cushiness of this life at war (nor the inequity of the hardscrabble civilian life left behind) — least of all those best able to observe firsthand the contrast between our garrisons and the humble equipment and living conditions of Afghans, both friend and foe.  Rather, the contrast seems to inspire many soldiers with renewed appreciation of “our American way of life” and a determination to “do good things” for the Afghan people, just as many feel they did for the people of Iraq.

I emphasize all this because nothing I’d read about soldiering prepared me for the extent of these comforts — or the tedium that attends them.  Plenty of soldiers don’t leave the base.  They hold down desk jobs, issue supplies, manage logistics, repair vehicles or radios, refuel generators and trucks, plan “development” projects, handle public affairs, or update tactical maps inscribed (at certain locations I am obliged not to name) with admonitions like “Here Be Dragons” or “Here Do Bad Stuff.”  They face the boredom of ordinary, unheroic, repetitive tasks.

The most common injury they are likely to suffer is a sprained ankle, thanks to eastern Afghanistan’s carpet of loose rocks — just the size to trip you up. On the wall in the FOB medics’ clinic is a poster with schematic drawings and instructions for strengthening ankles, an anatomical part not enhanced by any of the fitness machines at the gym.  The medics dispense a lot of ibuprofen and keep a supply of crutches handy.

What’s Going On

As this is an infantry base, however, most squads regularly venture outside the wire and the characteristic, probably long-term disability the soldiers take with them is bad knees — from the great weight of the things they wear and carry. The base commander reminded me of one of the principles of COIN: security should be established by non-lethal means.  So most infantry missions are “presence patrols,” described by one officer as “walking around in places where we won’t get shot at just to show the Afs [Afghans] that we’re keeping them safe.”

I went outside the wire myself on one of these presence patrols, a mission to a village, and — I’m sorry to say — it was no friendly stroll.  It’s a soldier’s job to be “focused”; that is, to watch out for enemies.  So you can’t be “distracted” by greeting people along the way or stopping to chat.  Entering a village hall to meet elders, for instance, may sound cordial — winning hearts and minds.  But sweeping in with guns at the ready shatters that friendly feeling. Speaking as someone who has visited Afghans in their homes for years, I have to say that this approach does not make a good impression.  It probably wouldn’t go over well in your hometown either.

Nor does it seem to work. Since the U.S. military adopted COIN to “protect the populace,” civilian casualties have gone up 23%; 6,000 Afghan civilians were killed last year (and that’s undoubtedly an undercount). No wonder the presence of American troops leaves so many Afghans feeling not safer, but more endangered, and it even inspires some to take up arms against the occupying army.  Ever more often, at least in the area where I was embedded, a non-lethal presence patrol turns into a lethal firefight.

One day, near the end of my embed, I watched a public affairs officer frame a photograph of a soldier who had been killed in a firefight and mount it on the wall by the commander’s office beside the black-framed photos of seven other soldiers. This American fighting force had been in place at the FOB for only a few weeks, having relieved another contingent, yet it had already lost eight men.  (Five Afghan soldiers had been killed as well, but their pictures were notably absent from the gallery of remembrance.)  The Army takes a photograph of every soldier at the beginning of his or her service, so it’s on file when needed; when, that is, a soldier is killed.

Most American bases and combat outposts are named for dead American soldiers.  When a soldier is killed — or “falls,” as the Army likes to put it — the Internet service and the phones on base go dead until an Army delegation has knocked on the door of surviving family members.  So even if you’re one of those soldiers who never leaves the base, you’re always reminded of what’s going on out there. And then usually toward evening, some unseen enemies on the peaks around the base begin to shoot down at it, and American gunners respond with shells that lift great clouds of rock and dust from the mountains into the darkening sky.

Doing Good to Afghans

On the base, I heard incessant talk about COIN, the “new” doctrine resurrected from the disaster of Vietnam in the irrational hope that it will work this time.  From my experience at the FOB, however, it’s clear enough that the hearts-and-minds part of COIN is already dead in the water, and one widespread practice in the military that’s gone unreported by other embedded journalists helps explain why.  So here’s a TomDispatch exclusive, courtesy of Afghan-American men serving as interpreters for the soldiers.  They were embarrassed to the point of agony when mentioning this habit, but desperate to put a stop to it.  COIN calls for the military to meet and make friends with village elders, drink tea, plan “development,” and captivate their hearts and minds.  Several interpreters told me, however, that every meeting includes some young American soldiers whose locker-room-style male bonding features bouts of hilarious farting.

To Afghan men, nothing is more shameful. A fart is proof that a man cannot control any of his apparatus below the belt.  The man who farts is thus not a man at all.  He cannot be taken seriously, nor can any of his ideas or promises or plans.

Blissfully unaware of such things, the Army goes on planning together with its civilian consultants (representatives of the State Department, the U.S. Department of Agriculture, and various independent contractors who make up what’s called a Human Terrain Team charged with interpreting local culture and helping to win the locals over to our side).  Some speak of “building infrastructure,” others of advancing “good governance” or planning “economic development.”  All talk of “doing good” and “helping” Afghanistan.

In a typical mess-up on the actual terrain of Afghanistan, Army experts previously in charge of this base had already had a million-dollar suspension bridge built over a river some distance away, but hadn’t thought to secure land rights, so no road leads to it.  Now the local American agriculture specialist wants to introduce alfalfa to these waterless, rocky mountains to feed herds of cattle principally pastured in his mind.

Yet even as I was filling my notebook with details of their delusionary schemes, the base commander told me he had already been forced to “put aside development.”  He had his hands full facing a Taliban onslaught he hadn’t expected.  Throughout Afghanistan, insurgent attacks have gone up 51% since the official adoption of COIN as the strategy du jour.  On this eastern front, where the commander had served six years earlier, he now faces a “surge” of intimidation, assassination, suicide attacks, roadside bombs, and fighters with greater technical capability than he has ever seen in Afghanistan.

A few days after we spoke, the Afghanistan command was handed to General Petraeus, the sainted refurbisher of the military’s counterinsurgency manual.  I wonder if the base commander has told Petraeus yet what he told me then: “What we’re fighting here now — it’s a conventional war.”

I’d been “on the front” of this war for less than two weeks, and I already needed a vacation.  Being outside the wire had filled me with sorrow as I watched earnest, heavily armed and armored boys try to win over white-bearded Afghans — men of extraordinary dignity — who have seen all this before and know the outcome.

Being on the base was tedious, often tense, and equally sorrowful at times when soldiers fell. Then the base commander, on foot, escorted the armored vehicles returning from a firefight on to the base the way a bygone cavalry officer might enter a frontier fort, leading a riderless horse.  The scene would look good in a Hollywood war movie: moving in that sentimental Technicolor way that seems to imbue with heroic significance unnecessary and pointless death.

One night I bedded down outdoors under a profusion of stars and an Islamic crescent moon.  Invisible in the dark, I couldn’t help overhearing a soldier who’d slipped out to make a cell phone call back home.  “I really need to talk to you today,” he said, and then stumbling in his search for words, he broke down.  “No,” he said at last, “I’m fine.  I’ll call you back later.”

The next day, carrying my helmet and my armor on my arm, I boarded a helicopter and flew away.

Ann Jones is the author of Kabul in Winter (Metropolitan, 2006).  Her newest book about women in conflict zones, War Is Not Over When It’s Over, will be published by Metropolitan in September.

Copyright 2010 Ann Jones

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Tremendous News! Thanks for your continued support!

We have tremendous news to share with you!

We are thrilled to let you know that this week the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation and the Danish International Development Agency are following your lead and contributing substantially to the first phase of Brewing Tea in a Kettle of War (BTKW).

In addition, your generous outpouring of support raised an incredible $17,000 dollars that our challenge donor has kindly agreed to match.

We are very grateful to you and our international funders.  With this support, Michael will return to Afghanistan in September to train Afghan filmmakers and begin production.

Since the inception of Community Supported Film last December, your support has allowed Michael to travel to Afghanistan; establish a partnership with The Killid Group – Afghanistan’s largest community media organization; travel to Washington to speak with government officials about effective aid in Afghanistan; and to meet the Afghan journalists, who will now become the heart and soul of this project.  Equally important, your support enabled us to spend the necessary time and energy presenting this project to institutional funders such as the Swiss and Danish development agencies in Afghanistan and the United States.

When Michael returns to the US in November we would like to share our work with you, your friends and colleagues.  Please let us know if you can organize a presentation in your community to raise awareness and additional funds for BTKW.  This could be a gathering of 10 people or 100 people, in a church basement, a classroom or in the living room – whatever works for you. At these events, we will share our understanding and experiences of economic development from the perspective of Afghan villagers.  And, we will be encouraging our government officials to pursue policies that prioritize sustainable security and development that is owned and implemented by the affected people – whether they be in Afghanistan today or Somalia tomorrow.

In the months ahead, we will be working hard to raise awareness about alternative approaches to creating peace and stability in this troubled region. In this endeavor, your continued generosity is a real blessing.

Please let us know if you have any questions, comments or suggestions. Sign up to receive project updates by adding your email address to the subscribe section in the right column of this web page.

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Flash floods kill at least 65 in Afghanistan

Source: Agence France-Presse (AFP), Date: 31 Jul 2010

KABUL — Flash floods in Afghanistan have killed at least 65 people and affected more than 1,000 families, the national disaster authority chief told AFP Saturday.

Rescue teams in the northeast of the country are still struggling to reach areas cut off by flooded roads and the threat of insurgent attacks, said Abdul Matin Edrok, head of the Afghanistan National Disaster Management Authority.

“Initial information sent by our provincal offices shows that nearly 70 people have been killed and tens injured. We estimate more than 1,000 families have been affected but these figures may rise,” he said.

Most of those affected were in northeast Kapisa province, where 31 people died, he said. Others were killed in the eastern provinces of Nangarhar, Laghman, Kunar and Logar, central Ghazni province and northern Parwan.

Edrok said food and medical aid was being distributed using some Afghan and NATO coalition helicopters, and that the rains causing the floods had now ended.

In neighbouring Pakistan, at least 408 people have been killed and 600,000 people affected by the worst floods in living memory, as monsoon rains triggered flash floods and landslides.

Military operations are under way to help those living across the Afghan border in the impoverished remote mountain belt.

Copyright © 2010 AFP

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Hearts and mind hard to reach in Afghan valley

Source: Reuters – AlertNet, Date: 30 Jul 2010

By Rob Taylor

SAIDON KALACHEH, Afghanistan, July 30 (Reuters) – Defeating insurgents in Afghanistan’s volatile Arghandab Valley would take time, but there were now enough U.S. and Afghan troops to defeat the Taliban, the area’s U.S. commander says.

A two-day push to widen security to “friendly” villages around a besieged U.S. combat post in Arghandab went awry this week, with American soldiers drawn into an insurgent fight and arguing with local people about their presence.

Soldiers shot and killed two suspected Taliban who had opened fire on them, although local people said the men were farmers. They accused U.S. troops of reacting to a backfiring tractor, underscoring how difficult the American mission to win support in the Taliban’s birthplace will be.

Colonel Arthur Kandarian, who commands the 2nd Brigade of the U.S. 101st Airborne Division, said he was confident Afghan soldiers now joining U.S. troops would eventually convince local people that the Taliban no longer controlled the fertile farmlands of Afghanistan’s bread basket.

“I think we are going to be fine. Across the three districts that I’m in charge of, we’re just starting to see additional forces in some of these areas. Security of the population takes time,” Kandarian told Reuters.

The Arghandab river valley is an important infiltration route used by the Taliban to attack U.S. forces and smuggle weapons and men a few miles east to Kandahar city.

An operation across Kandahar by U.S and NATO soldiers is being planned, but insurgents in Arghandab are tying up Kandarian’s brigade with mines and hit-and-run attacks launched from thick cover in ripening grape and pomegranate plantations.

“NO HEARTS AND MINDS HERE”

U.S. commanders are pursuing a complicated counter-insurgency or COIN strategy, in which “protecting the population” takes priority over military efforts to defeat insurgents, thereby winning local “hearts and minds”.

But many frontline soldiers and junior officers believe the strategy will not work in Afghanistan, at least not before the July 2011 date set for the start of an American withdrawal by President Barack Obama.

They point out that, unlike Iraqis, Afghans have never rallied behind a strong central government and have allegiances to their local tribal groups rather than provincial and district leaders friendly to the U.S. and Afghan President Hamid Karzai.

“There are no friendly villages, there are no hearts and minds here,” a U.S. soldier muttered as a lieutenant stood outside a mud-walled mosque at dawn in Saidon Kalacheh village this week, trying to convince the village leader or “malik” to let his troops stay a night.

After a threat of a forceful occupation to run security patrols, locals eventually moved the platoon into a difficult-to-defend house compound and complained they would be killed by Taliban if seen lending any support.

Kandarian said Afghan troops would bridge the cultural and trust differences in one of the most violent areas around Combat Outpost Nolen and the wider valley, but had only been conducting patrols for around five to six days.

“I think the people are very resilient, and I think a lot of them that do own lands are probably farming in their lands and then they are temporarily moving to other locations until they figure out what the security is going to be like,” he said.

(Editing by David Fox) (rob.taylor@thomsonreuters.com; +93 705 998 317) (If you have a query or comment on this story, send an email to news.feedback.asia@thomsonreuters.com)

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