Posts Tagged ‘Karzai’

Exclusive, on-the-ground interviews obtained by Brave New Foundation’s Rethink Afghanistan project confirm what NATO forces repeatedly denied: U.S. and allied forces in Afghanistan killed dozens of people in the Sangin District of Helmand Province on July 23.

Afghan President Hamid Karzai’s office first acknowledged the incident when they condemned the killings on July 26. At that time, the Afghan National Directorate of Security claimed that the American-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) killed “52 civilians…including women and children” in a “rocket attack.” (The Kabul government later revised that tally to 39.) By Sunday, August 1, there were protests in the streets of Kabul.

ISAF immediately attacked the credibility of the Afghan government’s report, complaining bitterly of Karzai’s decision to condemn the incident without conferring with U.S. and allied forces.

Working with our team in Afghanistan led by Anita Sreedhar, Brave New Foundation‘s Rethink Afghanistan campaign sent an intrepid local blogger into Sangin–one of Afghanistan’s most volatile areas–to get the truth. The video interviews he obtained are incredible and horrifying. We made the full interview transcripts available online at http://rethinkafghanistan.com, and we encourage you to read them. Here’s the short version: Every survivor our interviewer talked to confirmed that a massive civilian casualty event occurred, and that NATO was responsible.

NATO vs. the Kabul Government

ISAF began their push-back against press accounts of the Sangin incident with a simple press release on July 24: “We have no operational reporting that correlates to this alleged incident.” No further press release available on the ISAF website expands or updates this statement. However, ISAF personnel soon ratcheted up their attacks on the Afghan government’s narrative and, in the process, circulated alternative (and often contradictory) official responses, tallies and accounts of the event.

Quoted in a July 27 New York Times article, Rear Adm. Gregory Smith (whom you might remember from that embarrassing and horrific event in Gardez earlier this year) escalated ISAF’s push-back by claiming Karzai’s office’s account was premature and speculative.

“Any speculation at this point of an alleged civilian casualty in Rigi village is completely unfounded…We are conducting a thorough joint investigation with our Afghan partners and will report any and all findings when known.”

On August 5, ISAF spokespeople still claimed to lack information on the outcome of this promised “joint investigation.” However, that didn’t stop other ISAF officials from offering “speculations” of their own. Brigadier General Josef Blotz, for example, claimed that Afghan and coalition forces examined images of the scene and interviewed witnesses but found “no substance in terms of proof or evidence” to support Karzai’s claim. He did, however, concede that "one to three civilians may have been inadvertently killed.”

Later, again on August 5, while ISAF provided quotes from named sources for attribution that denied knowledge of the outcome of the investigation, an unnamed “senior intelligence official” told The New York Times that six civilians died with eight Taliban fighters when a troop fired a Javelin rocket into a structure from which U.S. Marines took fire.

When asked to explain the discrepancy between his tally and that of the Afghan government, the unnamed official cited “political challenges,” as if “political challenges” account for a 33-person difference in the death tallies. This explanation reminds one of the Gardez massacre earlier this year, when ISAF tried to pass off its blatant lie about an American special forces team finding women “bound, gagged and executed” as a “cultural misunderstanding,” when in fact they’d killed the women themselves and tried to dig the bullets out while one of them was still alive, screaming in pain. In effect, this unnamed source accused Afghan locals and officials of lying about civilian deaths because of hard feelings between them and the coalition.

What is going on here? One explanation might be that ISAF engaged in the same type of damage control campaign utilized in other horrifying incidents like the Farah airstrike and the Gardez massacre. In both cases, ISAF initially denied wrongdoing, aggressively attacked the credibility of alternative accounts that disputed the official story, and claimed that the evidence was either neutral or exculpatory. Only when new information made it impossible to deny responsibility did ISAF admit its guilt in both cases. Perhaps we’re seeing a repeat of that behavior here.

Regardless of the source and possible motivation for all this contradicting information and blatant disinformation, what is clear, based on interviews obtained by our team on the ground in Sangin, is that ISAF troops killed dozens of civilians on July 23.

What We Found

52 people were killed! We don’t know how many children or women! …The rest of my family is scattered and lost I don’t know where they are. …My mind doesn’t work okay. … My daughter’s in laws were sitting in our house with their other children when the bombing started I saw them get killed with my own eyes!

–Mahmoud Jan Kaka

I saw a child on the floor was injured. I thought he was the only injured one so I took him to the clinic. When I came back my nephew told me that there were more injured people. I tried to pull my daughter from the rubble but I couldn’t. I heard her calling for help but I couldn’t reach her.

–Abdul Zahar

In all of my experiences not the Russians or the Taliban ever did what they (N.A.T.O.) did. …I wanted to go to the government post and tell them to kill the rest of us too as we have nothing to live for anymore!

…In the morning we see bodies with heads, blood and guts everywhere, arms here and legs there. All of my loved ones who were still alive were soaked in blood. We tried to go and identify the bodies; everyone was looking for there missing relatives. There was so much sorrow and pain from those people who were lost in shock.

–Unnamed Sangin Resident 1

See the full transcripts.

The most important takeaway from these interviews, aside from the universal attribution of blame to NATO, is that there is absolutely no way that the civilian death toll is in the single digits. One person described losing eight family members; another said he lost nine loved ones; still another lost 11. One of the men, Abdul Barg, insisted that, “the number of martyred were no less than 35 up to 50.” He also related that “every family in the village was placing at least a couple of their loved ones in a bag.”

These video interviews prove what NATO wants to deny. As you watch the footage of these Afghan men and hear their voices crack, it becomes sickeningly clear. U.S. and allied forces killed dozens of Afghan civilians in Sangin.

This incident is more than a moral outrage: it shows why the Afghanistan War undermines our safety. Thanks to the work of the National Bureau of Economic Research, we know that, statistically speaking, every time an incident like this happens, we can expect an additional six attacks on coalition forces. But we don’t have to generalize from this incident to see the threat when the specifics spell it out so clearly:

More than 200 people demonstrated over the July 23 incident in the Sangin district of Helmand province… The protesters shouted "Death to America" and carried banners calling for justice and pictures of children they say were killed in the strike…

This is what our elected officials need to understand: when we debate the war in Afghanistan, it’s not an academic exercise. It’s a string of specific incidents like Sangin, concrete moral outrages that pay us back with increased strategic risk.

Our reaction to Sangin and the other similar catastrophes defines us. That’s why when I go into a voting booth this November, or I get a solicitation for a political donation or a request to volunteer for a federal candidate, I’m going ask, “How did this person respond when he or she heard that we slaughtered the heart of a village? Did this person explain it away? Did they continue to support a policy that ensured more Sangins all across Afghanistan? Or did they finally catch themselves, finally realize that this war ensures the slow death of more children under rubble while parents claw at the pile?” These are the questions I’ll ask myself before I punch the touch-screen at the local library, and if the opinion polls are any indication, I’ll be far, far from alone.

I encourage all of you to visit http://rethinkafghanistan.com to send a note to your elected officials and let them know you’ll be watching what they do in response to this disaster, and that you’ll remember it when you vote in November.

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Cross-posted from Rethink Afghanistan.

In case you hadn’t heard, the next stop in General McChrystal’s counterinsurgency plan is Kandahar, the ideological heart of the Taliban. Using the spadework done in advance of the Marjah operation as a template, McChrystal says the plan is to:

"…do the political groundwork, so that when it’s time to do the military operation, the significant part of the population is pulling us in and supporting us, so that we’re not only doing what they want, but we’re operating in a way that they’re comfortable with."

Remember that:

  1. "what they want," and
  2. "operating in a way that they’re comfortable with."

"What They Want"

That was March, and it sure sounded nice. But this is April, and the people who live in Kandahar are telling the Kabul government and McChrystal’s International Security Assistance Force (ISAF), "Not so much."

Earlier this month, McChrystal travelled with Karzai to a shura in Kandahar, presumably to get the kind of rubber-stamp for the upcoming operation that the Marjah elders gave them prior to Operation Moshtarak. It didn’t go as planned.

Visiting last week to rally support for the offensive, the president was instead overwhelmed by a barrage of complaints about corruption and misrule. As he was heckled at a shura of 1,500 tribal leaders and elders, he appeared to offer them a veto over military action. “Are you happy or unhappy for the operation to be carried out?” he asked.

The elders shouted back: “We are not happy.”

“Then until the time you say you are happy, the operation will not happen,” Karzai replied.

General Stanley McChrystal, the Nato commander, who was sitting behind him, looked distinctly apprehensive. The remarks have compounded US anger and bewilderment with Karzai, who has already accused the United States of rigging last year’s presidential elections and even threatened to switch sides to join the Taliban.

Presumably, ISAF and the Karzai government will keep working the shuras until they get what they need in the way of a signed and sealed invite to flood the region with international and Afghan National Security Forces military and police personnel. But as it stands, it’s clear that a military offensive in Kandahar is not "what they want."

"Operating In A Way That They’re Comfortable With"

If the shura harangue were not enough, yesterday a U.S. troop fired on a civilian passenger bus in Kandahar, killing at least 4 people and injuring 18.

Here’s how ISAF described the incident (take with grain of salt, given their recent propensity for spin):

Before dawn this morning, an unknown, large vehicle approached a slow-moving ISAF route-clearance patrol from the rear at a high rate of speed. The convoy could not move to the side of the road to allow the vehicle to pass due to the steep embankment.

The ISAF patrol warned off the approaching vehicle once with a flashlight and three times with flares, which were not heeded.

Perceiving a threat when the vehicle approached once more at an increased rate of speed, the patrol attempted to warn off the vehicle with hand signals prior to firing upon it. Once engaged, the vehicle then stopped.

However, at least one eyewitness who credibly claimed to be the bus driver had a different story:

Abdul Ghani, an Afghan man who told The Washington Post in a telephone interview that he was the driver of the bus, said the soldiers "didn’t give me any kind of signal. . . . They just opened fire. No signal at all."

Ghani’s account could not be independently confirmed, and other news organizations quoted a different person who said he was the driver. But Ghani, 35, related to The Post specific details about the bus and the incident that suggest he knew what had occurred.

He said the green and white 1984 German vehicle left a Kandahar city bus depot at 4:30 a.m., bound for Nimruz province, seven hours away. Half an hour into the trip, the bus drove up behind the U.S. convoy. The gunfire erupted when the bus was 80 to 100 meters behind the convoy, he said.

The bullets tore into the passenger side of the windshield and struck several rows. The American soldiers walked around the bus after the shooting stopped, Ghani said, then climbed on board without speaking to him. "They saw the people who were killed and left them there. And then they took the injured ones and started doing first aid immediately."

Ghani said he was eventually was able to drive the bus back to the city. "Why we are being killed by these people?" he said. "They are here to protect us, not to kill us."

The locals were understandably enraged, and hundreds of them gathered around the bus shouting, "Death to America!" and related anti-Western phrases. The local NATO commander, Maj. General Nick Carter (no, not that Nick Carter) tried to apologize, but just couldn’t seem to help himself and got a dig in at the local hicks in the course of the apology (Skip to 1:56 in the video below). Apparently, when you shoot up a civilian bus at a checkpoint, "it’s a two-way street" when it comes to responsibility.

Right.

"We have shot an amazing number of people [at military checkpoints], but to my knowledge, none has ever proven to be a threat," said McChrystal during a recent video-conference with troops…

But hey, at least he could rattle off "salaam alaikum" at the beginning of the "apology."

Here’s what one local had to say about this incident:

“Zhari [district in Kandahar Province] is where they were planning to do an operation,” Haji Wali Jan said. “Now the people there are furious with the Americans, and everyone knows that without local support from the people, it’s very hard to do an operation.” Haji Jan Mohammed, another elder who lives in Kandahar city, said: “These incidents have a bad effect. Already, most people didn’t trust the foreign troops. With this incident, foreign troops lost all their trust.

“All the elders, everyone knows, if the operation starts, there will be lots of civilian casualties.”

Somehow I doubt that this qualifies as "operating in a way that they’re comfortable with."

Sending more troops to Kandahar will not make us safer. The president should decrease, not increase, the number of U.S. troops in Afghanistan.

Had enough? Join us on Rethink Afghanistan’s Facebook page.

Here’s my latest video for Brave New Foundation.

If the President of the United States stood at a podium and said the following, hopefully we’d tell him to go to Hell:

We must summon all of our might and moral suasion to meet the challenges of a new age.*

That’s why I have decided it is in our vital national interest to send 30,000 additional troops to prop up a government with a record of extrajudicial killings, torture, poor prison conditions, official impunity, restrictions on freedom of the press, restrictions on freedom of religion, violence and societal discrimination against women, restrictions on religious conversions, abuses against minorities, sexual abuse of children, trafficking in persons, and abuse of worker rights.

Let us reach for the world that ought to be — that spark of the divine that still stirs within each of our souls.**

This is, however, exactly what he’s saying to the American people, according to the State Department’s newly released human rights report on Afghanistan. The bold portion above is excerpted from the description of Afghanistan’s human rights record under the Karzai administration, the government for which the U.S. government is charging American taxpayers hundreds of billions of dollars and the lives of almost a thousand personnel. According to President Obama’s own administration, the government we’re propping up in Afghanistan is a human rights nightmare.

State’s report tells the story of a predator government degrading and abusing its subjects in an atmosphere of impunity. It tells of torture used by government officials, local prison bosses, polices chiefs and tribal leaders, torture that included, but was not limited to:

  • beating by stick, scorching bar, or iron bar;
  • flogging by cable;
  • battering by rod;
  • electric shock;
  • deprivation of sleep, water, and food;
  • abusive language;
  • sexual humiliation; and
  • rape.

These methods are “commonplace among the majority of law enforcement institutions, especially the police.” Torture was used when victims would not confess to a crime, when a bribe was sought, or simply because the torturer held a grudge.

Let us reach for the world that ought to be…

The report depicts an Afghan government preserving a hell for women where police frequently rape female prisoners and do not respond to or prevent violence against them, where the charge of “zina,” the crime of heterosexual sex between unmarried persons, is invoked to arrest women who flee their families, who won’t marry the spouse chosen for them, who report their own rape. Sometimes, these wretched women are even imprisoned as proxies for the males in their families who commit crimes, or, if they are young, given to be married “to a man whose family [a] defendant had wronged.”

…all of our might and moral suasion…

Children also fall into the hands of Afghanistan’s predator government. State reports that children in detention centers are physically abused, threatened, and generally mistreated. They are often sexually assaulted at police checkpoints–the offense that, in the mythology of the Taliban, once led a one-eyed mullah named Omar to begin the march to Kabul.

State’s report is a litany of horrors undertaken largely by the Afghan government, the government on whose behalf American forces are killing and dying today in Afghanistan. This is what we’re purchasing with our trillion dollars and our thousand dead soldiers and with our many thousands of dead Afghans: a festering sore of corruption, predation and abuse, the impunity of men who know they are backed by a massive opium trade and the guns and treasure of the United States of America.

President Obama campaigned on hope and rode a wave of optimism about the future into the White House. Partnering with this government in Afghanistan, though, shows the worst kind of cynicism.

*From President Obama’s West Point Address.
**From President Obama’s Nobel Prize Lecture.

Note: Derrick Crowe is the Afghanistan blog fellow for Brave New FoundationThe Seminal.

Fahim, Karzai and Khalili: The Unholy Trinity of Afghan Corruption

Fahim, Karzai and Khalili: The Unholy Trinity of Afghan Corruption

You know what’s funny? Hamid Karzai, Electioneer-in-Chief, stood between these two guys, Mohammed Qasim Fahim and Karim Khalili to declare [h/t and photo credit, Wired’s Danger Room blog]:

Those who spread corruption should be tried and prosecuted. Corruption is a very dangerous enemy of the state. …Afghan ministers should be professional and servants of the people. The government officials should register their earnings.

Just for the record, Hamid Karzai had roughly a million fraudulent votes thrown out in the election. You can learn all about Fahim and Khalili in a Human Rights Watch report titled (and I’m not even kidding) Blood-Stained Hands which details the war crimes for which they and their subordinates were responsible. So by all means, gentlemen, explain to us how you’re going to lead Afghanistan into a new era of peace, prosperity and transparency.

As Matthew Hoh noted in his resignation letter, the corruption at the very top in the Government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan is only the most visible symptom of the rot that’s set in within the Afghan state from top to bottom, which includes:

  • Glaring corruption and unabashed graft;
  • A President whose confidants and chief advisors comprise drug lords and war crimes villians, who mock our own rule of law and counternarcotics efforts;
  • A system of provincial and district leaders constituted of local power brokers, opportunists and strongmen allied to the United States solely for, and limited by, the value of our USAID and CERP contracts and whose own political and economic interests stand nothing to gain from any positive or genuine attempts at reconciliation; and
  • The recent election process dominated by fraud and discredited by low voter turnout, which has created an enormous victory for our enemy who now claims a popular boycott and will call into question worldwide our government’s military, economic and diplomatic support for an invalid and illegitimate Afghan government.

The Afghan government is not worth one more American life or dollar. This cartel is a very large part of the problem, not the solution, in Afghanistan. We should be reducing, not increasing, or military commitment in that country, post haste.

Tomorrow I’ll be interview Matthew Hoh on the situation in Afghanistan. Until then, here’s another clip of his conversation with Daniel Ellsberg about the need for us to start the drawdown.

Note: Derrick Crowe is the Afghanistan blog fellow for Brave New FoundationThe Seminal. Learn how the war in Afghanistan undermines U.S. security: watch Rethink Afghanistan (Part Six), & visit http://rethinkafghanistan.com/blog.

Talks between Hamid Karzai and Abdullah broke down today, according to CNN, meaning there will be no power-sharing arrangement to head off a highly problematic runoff vote.

That would be bad enough in itself, since the administration recognized the difficulties posed by getting a legitimate poll done before winter sets in and had hoped a power-sharing deal would provide legitimacy while dodging the dicey balloting.  But, things actually get much worse:

According to the source, Abdullah will likely announce this weekend that he will boycott the runoff presidential election slated for November 7, a runoff that had been scheduled after intense diplomatic arm twisting by the United States. [emphasis mine]

One hopes a CNN reporter simply failed to choose his/her words carefully and meant instead “drop out of” the race, because if Abdullah is going so far as to boycott the race, Afghanistan could become a much more dangerous place than it is already. Recall that earlier this year, Abdullah supporters were promising protests “with Kalashnakovs” if he simply lost in a fair vote, and, as if to prove their point, reports indicated a frightening flow of weapons toward Abdullah’s political base. Now we’re potentially talking about him urging people not to participate and declaring the entire runoff process illegitimate.

This has already been a terrible week for the U.S. as President Obama wraps up his sixth review of Afghanistan policy with a meeting of the Joint Chiefs of Staff today. Earlier this week, IED attacks pushed the U.S. death toll to its highest monthly level since the U.S. invasion. Yesterday, we learned that Hamid Karzai’s drug-trafficking, electioneering mafioso of a brother was on the CIA payroll.  If the CNN report is accurate, things may be about to get much worse.

Note: Derrick Crowe is the Afghanistan blog fellow for Brave New FoundationThe Seminal. Learn how the war in Afghanistan undermines U.S. security: watch Rethink Afghanistan (Part Six), & visit http://rethinkafghanistan.com/blog.

Senator John Kerry came back from Afghanistan calling President Hamid Karzai a “patriot” and supportive of a plan “closer to McChrystal than to Biden,” meaning he loves him some counterinsurgency, just not in the doses prescribed by Gen. McChrystal. Kerry’s Monday speech to the Council on Foreign Relations shows that in sipping the COIN Kool-Aid, he’s beginning to display the worst habits of internal contradiction prevalent among the counterinsurgency glitterati.

Kerry proceeds from a nonsensical definition of success:

I define success as the ability to empower and transfer responsibility to Afghans as rapidly as possible and achieve a sufficient level of stability to ensure that we can leave behind an Afghanistan that is not controlled by Al Qaeda or the Taliban.

Having the “ability” to do something is not success. Saying you’re going to do something “as rapidly as possible” tells you nothing about how quickly you will do it. What, you think there’s a plausible future where the president tells the American people that he screwed around a bit instead of getting Afghanistan done as “rapidly as possible?” Sloppy definitions make poor policy, and that’s what we get from the rest of the speech. For example, take this goofy piece of self-contradiction:

Second, we simply don’t have enough troops or resources to launch a broad, nationwide counterinsurgency campaign.  But importantly, nor do we need to.

We all see the appeal of a limited counterterrorism mission— and no doubt it is part of the endgame.  But I don’t think we’re there yet.  A narrow mission that cedes half the country to the Taliban could lead to civil war and put Pakistan at risk.

What a mess. We don’t have enough troop “for a broad, nationwide counterinsurgency,” but we can’t cede “half the country to the Taliban” without risking civil war. Following his warning about the dangers of ceding “half the country,” Kerry calls for “narrowly focused” counterinsurgency operations in less than 40 percent of the country.

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