The latest atrocity adds to the long list inflicted on Afghans since the U.S. invasion. It adds to intuitive reactions and propaganda efforts that feed the illusion of terrorism as a virtue. Jerome Starkey of the London Times reports to Russia Today (7:51):
U.S.-led troops near Kandahar, Afghanistan sprayed a passenger bus with gunfire, shooting out the windows on one side, Monday morning, reportedly killing at least four civilians and wounding at least 18. “If the casualty toll is correct, it would imply that troops may have fired scores of rounds,” Richard Oppel and Taimoor Shah report at The New York Times (NYT).
“Hundreds of demonstrators poured into the area around a station where the damaged bus was taken on the western outskirts of Kandahar. They blocked the road with burning tires for an hour and shouted ‘Death to America’ and ‘Death to infidels’ while also condemning the Afghan president, Hamid Karzai, according to people in the area,” reports the NYT.
President Karzai said, “Opening fire on a passenger bus is an act against NATO’s commitment to protect civilians and is by no means justifiable,” Agence France Presse (AFP) reported.
The International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) Joint Command, headed by U.S. General Stanley McChrystal, released a statement shortly after the attack that the bus “approached a slow-moving ISAF route-clearance patrol from the rear at a high rate of speed”. The statement claims the troops were not aware the vehicle was a passenger bus until “upon inspection”, after four people, including one woman, were slaughtered by them.
“The killings were the latest deadly case of what the military calls ‘escalation of force,’ in which troops guarding military convoys or checkpoints gun down Afghans perceived as a threat because they have come too close or are traveling too fast,” reports the NYT. “Deadly force is supposed to be used on encroaching vehicles only after warning shots, flares or other tactics.”
“The Kandahar governor, Tooryalai Wesa, called for the commander of the military convoy who opened fire to be prosecuted under military law,” the NYT adds.
“If you want to stop the bus, it should be shot in the tires,” Mr. Wesa, who told the AFP the troops were American, said. “Why shoot the people inside?”
“An American convoy was ahead of us and another convoy was following us, and we were going to pull off of the road, and suddenly the Americans opened fire,” said one passenger, Nida Muhammad, who suffered a shoulder wound.
“This bus wasn’t like an a suicide bomber, and we did not touch or come close to the convoy,” he said. “It seems they are opening fire on civilians intentionally.”
Mohammed Nabi, who identified himself as the bus driver, “said he did not violate any signal from the troops”, adding: “I was going to take the bus off the road” before the troops began firing from 60-70 yards away.
Gen. McChrystal, in a video conference last month, told troops “[I]n the nine-plus months I’ve been here, not a single case where we have engaged in an escalation of force incident and hurt someone has it turned out that the vehicle had a suicide bomb or weapons in it and, in many cases, had families in it.”
Extremely conservative estimates of Afghan civilian deaths by the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan still made 2009 the deadliest year since the fall of the Taliban in 2001. [.pdf] Unknown causalities have resulted in the expansion of the war into Pakistan with its government collaborating.
U.S. Special Operations Forces (S.O.F.) “trainers play a bigger role than has been widely disclosed in helping Pakistan’s paramilitary Frontier Corps,” Reuters reports today. The number of S.O.F. trainers “fluctuates between 60 and 120” with “200 U.S. military personnel in Pakistan, including troops who guard the sprawling American Embassy compound in Islamabad”. Monday, the U.N. released a statement that over 200,000 Pakistanis have been displaced in one region since U.S.-Pak aggression escalated last year and the Pakistani military killed “nearly 100 people in air raids” on Saturday. “Some 1.3 million Pakistanis have already been displaced as a result of the army’s last year crackdown on militants in South Waziristan,” Press TV reports today.
Unintelligent ‘Intelligence’, Blowback, Stingy Bribes, Blowback
Gareth Porter at Inter Press Services reports today, “The inability of the U.S. military to organise its own networks of reliable agents has also led to a willingness to act with lethal force on the basis of tips from dubious sources.”
“Civilian casualties are a source of anger among Afghans and are often used by politicians and the Taliban to whip up public opposition to the 126,000 U.S. and NATO troops based in the country”, the AFP added today.
The Americans are constantly killing our civilians and the government is not demanding an explanation,” Mohammad Razaq, a local resident, told Al Jazeera (AJ). “We demand justice from the Karzai government and the punishment of those soldiers responsible.”
Haroun Mir, a founder of the Centre for Research and Policy Studies, a think-tank based in Kabul, told AJ that “this incident will contradict all their [the U.S. military’s] efforts” to “win people’s hearts and minds”, adding that it “will be a difficult task for the U.S. military to show to the Afghan people that they are trying to protect civilians”.
A study [.pdf] released today by the Campaign for Innocent Victims in Conflict (CIVIC) found: “In 2009, more Afghan civilians died as a result of conflict than in any other year since the U.S. invasion, with many more suffering injury and property loss…. Under international law and agreements signed with the Afghan government, ISAF troop contributing nations are not liable for damage to civilian property or civilian injury or death as a result of their operations. Yet most ISAF members offer ‘ex-gratia’ (out of kindness) payments to civilians.” (h/t: Nathan Hodge)
Vice Admiral William McRaven, Gen. McChrystal’s successor as commander of Joint Special Operations Command, brought Mohammad Tahir two sheep, “the equivalent of begging for forgiveness”, ABC News reports. (h/t: Glenn Greenwald) Mr. Tahir lost his 18-year-old daughter and two sisters-in-law in a February massacre by ISAF troops for which NATO has claimed responsibility for the deaths of the Afghan government officials with two pregnant women and the teenage girl murdered in the night raid. To cover up the slaughter of the women, “[S.O.F.] soldiers dug bullets out of their victims’ bodies in the bloody aftermath of a botched night raid, then washed the wounds with alcohol” to stage the scene as a ‘honor killing’ that preceded the raid, Jerome Starkey reported at the London Times.
Mr. Tahir accepted the sheep, but said it wasn’t necessary, adding that he only asks the officer who supplied the faulty intelligence that led to the night raid be brought to justice. “You don’t have to give him to us,” the family told Vice Adm. McRaven, Mr. Tahir said. “At least hand him over to the Afghan government.”
Dr. Porter reports that Gen. McChrystal and ISAF intelligence chief General Michael Flynn, “have admitted the profound ignorance of the U.S. military about Afghan society, while avoiding the implications of that ignorance for the issue of false intelligence on the Taliban”. He later adds [emphasis added]:
More often than not, the U.S. and NATO have depended heavily on ties with Afghan tribal leaders and warlords. That has proven disastrous over and over again.…
Despite such warnings, however, C.I.A. and military intelligence operatives have continued to rely on tribal patriarchs and local warlords as intelligence sources on the Taliban. As recently as December 2008, U.S. intelligence officials were telling Washington Post reporter Joby Warrick that their operatives had been using gifts of Viagra, among other inducements, to get warlords and tribal leaders to provide such intelligence.
The U.S. military, including S.O.F. units, have also relied on local warlords to provide security for their bases and logistics, as documented by a study by the Centre on International Cooperation at New York University last September. Those ties translate into channels for intelligence as well.
The most egregious example is the C.I.A.’s use of intelligence from Ahmed Wali Karzai, the brother of President Hamid Karzai, the chairman of the Kandahar province council and the most powerful figure in the province.
In the most widely known instance of mass civilian casualties from a U.S. attack, an airstrike on the village of Azizabad in Heart province in August 2008, Afghan officials expressed certainty that U.S. commanders had been misled by a rival of clan leader Timor Shah, who had died some months before….
The U.S. command carried out a devastating bombing of what turned out to have been a memorial ceremony for Timor Shah.
As many as 90 civilians, including 60 children, were killed by the bombing.
U.N. Rapporteur Philip Alston wrote in a May 2009 report that “numerous government officials” had told him that “false tips” had “often” caused night raids to result in the killing of innocent civilians. He reported that one provincial governor had “stated that there were people in his province who made a business acting as intermediaries who would give false tips to the international forces in return for payment from individuals holding grudges.”
Alston was told by a village elder in Nuristan that a district government had fed false information to “international forces” that led to a raid targeting his local opponents. He also said a similar incident in Nangarhar’s Ghani Khel district was reported to him.
Alston reported that a “senior official” who responded to his critical report did not deny that “feuds” drive much of the identification of local Taliban officials. Instead the official suggested that such “feuds” were simply “part and parcel of the conflict between the Taliban and the Government”.
Instead of admitting that U.S. intelligence was fatally flawed, the U.S. military command had simply adopted a justification that did not require any real understanding of the society.
McChrystal, on the other hand, has lamented that ignorance but continues to authorise raids that are based on the faulty intelligence it generates.
S.O.F. are “stationed at forward operating bases throughout the country while others conduct raids and missions in areas where they have no permanent presence”, therefore, “often do not compensate and rely on local U.S. forces or the Government of Afghanistan to investigate and provide payment”, according to CIVIC. “In some cases, local commanders or Judge Advocates will investigate S.O.F. incidents. However, S.O.F. often fail to share information and coordinate with local forces, delaying and hampering investigations”.
“The secrecy surrounding U.S. S.O.F. also leaves victims without answers or acknowledgement of their losses,” the study continues. “As U.S. S.O.F. do not often engage in this process or disclose their involvement in operations, Afghans harmed by their operations are more likely to be overlooked”.
The latest attack by ISAF in Kandahar is being investigated and if the probe displays fault, families of the dead could receive up to the equivalent of $2,000, the injured up to $400.
The Afghans don’t primarily ask for money. Historically, survivors of gross aggression demand justice. Mr. Tamir’s family wants the intelligence officer brought to some sort of justice, he said after receiving the sheep. More significant to the article, brought to my attention by Mr. Greenwald, is that Mr. Tamir told ABC that “he saw American troops extract bullets from the women’s bodies, an explosive charge in a conservative country where American troops are generally told to avoid interacting with women, especially in southern and eastern Afghanistan”. This initially infuriated him to consider going so far as to become a suicide bomber.
“I have lost patience. I am obliged to revenge my martyrs,” he told an ABC News cameraman on March 18. “I will destroy everything I have and will launch my own suicide attack. My heart is burning.”
To which Mr. Greenwald adds [emphasis added]:
[A]nd had this man carried through on that threat, American media—as always—would undoubtedly have depicted it as some sort of senseless, irrational act of religious fanaticism underscoring yet again how primitive, violent, and full of baseless rage those radical Muslim Terrorists are and how vital it therefore is that we stay and defeat these Evil Enemies.
This is what has been happening over and over for a full decade now. How many new America-haters and suicide bombers did we create today with the story (accurate or not) of our bombarding that civilian bus with bullets? How many have been created by what Gen. McChrystal calls the “amazing number” of innocent people and families we’ve shot at Afghan checkpoints in the last nine months alone? Listen to the embittered anti-American rage of the brother of the 21-year-old Reuters photographer killed by the Apache helicopter in Baghdad after the brother (along with hundreds of millions of other Muslims) viewed the WikiLeaks video. Two weeks ago, horror over a deadly suicide attack in the Moscow subway system was quickly followed by the unsurprising revelation that the suicide bomber was the young widow of an insurgent killed by Russian forces three months ago, because suicide bombers tend to be what gets produced when foreign armies kill people’s loved ones. WikiLeaks is now preparing to release graphic video of an American airstrike last year that killed close to 100 Afghan civilians, after which the U.S. vehemently (and falsely) insisted that it was Taliban fighters, not civilians, who were killed. How many suicide bombers did that incident create, and how many will be created when the video of what we did is broadcast around the world?…
Both Gen. Petraeus and Gen. McChrystal have been admirably candid about the link between our actions and the Terrorist reaction they cause, along with the need to be mindful of that causal link, but waging war in countries where the Enemy is composed of a substantial part of the population will inevitably entail incidents like the bus shooting this morning, and thus inevitably worsen the Terrorist problem we are ostensibly trying to combat.”
Germans, ISAF Facing International Blowback in Afghanistan
Three German soldiers were killed in an “ambush” in Kunduz on Good Friday. The firefight resulted in the “accidental killing” of six Afghan soldiers, Der Spiegel reported days later.
“Members of the feared Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan are providing arms and training to their fellow fighters in Afghanistan, but Germany is struggling to find an adequate response”, providing “good reasons to fundamentally question the German mission in Afghanistan”, Suzanne Koelbl reports today at Spiegel, adding later [emphasis added]:
The fighters of Chahar Dara are backed and trained by non-Afghan religious warriors from former Soviet republics who provide them with top-notch military training and state-of-the-art weaponry.
The foreigners are primarily extremists from the neighboring country of Uzbekistan, but some also come from Tajikistan and Chechnya—and they are highly trained professional killers. These men belong to the network of the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan….
The cause of the death of the German soldiers tragically resembles the circumstances under which up to 142 Afghans died on a bend in a river only a few kilometers south of Isa Khel on Sept. 4, 2009 in a controversial air strike that had been requested by German Colonel Georg Klein….
Apparently, the Taliban hastily organized their April 2 ambush and only deployed their men after they were informed by local spies of the Germans’ presence. “We arrived in Isa Khel just as the soldiers were preparing their return trip,” Taliban representative Qari Zabihullah from Chahar Dara told SPIEGEL.
Pres. Karzai and Gen. McChrystal visited with tribal leaders in Kunduz on Sunday.
“Karzai gave a speech renewing his offer to reintegrate Taliban fighters and even commanders into Afghan society if they lay down their weapons” while Gen. McChrystal “has identified Kunduz as a second crisis zone—following the Taliban stronghold of Kandahar—and wants to fight far more aggressively in the region”, Matthias Gebauer and Shoib Najafizada report at Spiegel today.
“German troops have observed U.S. special units accessing areas located very close to their base almost every night in recent weeks. German forces were generally kept informed about recent deployments of these tough, elite troops, but the Germans don’t learn who the troops arrest or kill, or what the U.S.’s overall strategy in Kunduz may be. ‘The U.S. is taking the reins out of our hands,’ one high-ranking officer says.”—their report continues, adding later that Gen. McChrystal “plans to solicit more German support for the operation”.