Tag Archives: war Afghanistan

Why the Taliban are Unbeatable: the justice system in Afghanistan

Afghanistan Courthouse in Asadabad. Image from wikipedia

Frustrated by Western-inspired legal codes and a government court system widely seen as corrupt, many Afghans think that the militants’ quick and tradition-rooted rulings are their best hope for justice. In the Pakistani cities of Quetta and Chaman, havens for exiled Taliban figures, local residents describe long lines of Afghans waiting to see judges.“You won’t find the same number of people in the Afghan courts as you do in the Taliban courts,” said Hajji Khudai Noor, a Kandahar resident who recently settled a land dispute through the Taliban in Quetta. “There are hundreds of people waiting for justice there.”

Western officials have long considered a fair and respected justice system to be central to quelling the insurgency, in an acknowledgment that the Taliban’s appeal had long been rooted in its use of traditional rural justice codes. But after the official end of the international military mission and more than a billion dollars in development aid to build up Afghanistan’s court system, it stands largely discredited and ridiculed by everyday Afghans. A common refrain, even in Kabul, is that to settle a dispute over your farm in court, you must first sell your chickens, your cows and your wife.  Countless training programs funded by Western allies for lawyers and judges have become bywords for waste….

The Taliban have seized on this discontent. In some areas, they have set up mobile courts to reach villages outside their zones of influence. They hold hearings two days a week in the southern borderlands, requiring plaintiffs to produce evidence and witnesses. In Kunar, Taliban legal experts embed with militant commanders to provide services to locals and the fighters.

While few Afghans recall the Taliban rule from 1996 to 2001 with any fondness, the lack of corruption in justice then was seen by some as a strong suit. Bribes were uncommon. The power of litigants and their extended clans mattered less. The implementation of Islamic law, or at least the rural Afghan version of it, was standard.

But the brutality at the heart of Taliban justice has not been forgotten. Mass public executions were common. Minor offenses, like cutting beards short or listening to music, often brought fierce beatings as punishment. Yet the government system still compares unfavorably in the eyes of many Afghan,s

Excerpts from AZAM AHMED, Taliban Justice Gains Favor as Official Afghan Courts Fail, NY Times,  Jan. 31, 2015

Afghanistan Withdrawal to Benefit US Bases Overseas

Salang Pass Road. Image wikipedia

Barack Obama says he is still deciding how many American troops to keep in the country after NATO’s combat mission expires in 2014. No doubt it will be a tiny fraction of today’s total. In the next 18 months America expects to remove as many as 28,000 vehicles and 40,000 shipping containers of equipment.  Shifting that much kit, with an estimated value of $30 billion, is daunting enough. The retrograde itself will cost as much as $6 billion and involve about 29,000 personnel, for the American part alone (each of the 50 coalition countries is responsible for its own logistics). The job is unprecedented in complexity; compared with Iraq, the region’s terrain and politics make it a mover’s nightmare.

The biggest problem… is that for the first time America finds itself fighting a war without a reliable seaport. From Iraq there was easy access to Kuwait. Afghanistan’s landlocked borders put the nearest usable port in Karachi, in Pakistan, which can be reached only by crossing the Khyber Pass in the east, or at Chaman in the south.  Uneasy relations between national governments have become the worst pitfall of those routes…..The difficulties of the southern route have spurred the search for an alternative. The “northern distribution network” crosses from Afghanistan into Uzbekistan, branching through the Central Asian republics and onwards, along a Soviet-era rail system, to the Black Sea, the Baltic Sea and Europe. The route is safer and less volatile, but also slower and far more expensive. Perhaps its biggest drawback is Central Asian bureaucracy. …

A particular weak spot is the 3,900-metre-high Salang pass, which joins the north and south of the country. Prone to avalanches in winter, the road is in poor condition all year.   A final unknown is how the Taliban will react. Cargo trains make tempting targets, and some outbound convoys have already been attacked. Commanders are loth to reassign troops to their protection, when it would mean diverting them from building up the Afghan forces.

This unending procession of lumbering armour must be cleaned, stripped of munitions, loaded and secured for shipping. Each mine-resistant vehicle, for instance, is itemised as 17 different components, from turret to on-board computer, each piece to be logged separately. About 1m items are in the system. Some will be sent to other parts of Afghanistan, but 90% are bound for American bases overseas.

Excerpt, Withdrawing from Afghanistan: The big retrograde, Economist, Apr. 27, 2013, at 38.

Loving and Funding your Enemies: United States

image from wikipedai

The U.S. government may accidentally be funneling millions of dollars to the very terrorists and insurgents it’s fighting in Afghanistan through sloppy contracting regulations, according to a new government report.  The report, called “Contracting With the Enemy”  (pdf) and published April 11, 2013 by the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR), examined the system designed to make sure that the U.S. reconstruction is not providing business for any individuals or groups associated with terrorist or insurgent organizations.  SIGAR said that due to “several weaknesses” in the long and complicated process, “millions of contracting dollars could be diverted to forces seeking to harm U.S. military and civilian personnel in Afghanistan and derail the multi-billion dollar reconstruction effort.”

The report centered on what’s known as Section 841, part of the 2012 National Defense Authorization Act that describes how the U.S. government is supposed to identify individuals or companies with suspected ties to insurgents, confirm that information, pass it along to the head of the contracting activity, then to the primary contractor and finally to the targeted subcontractors whose business deals would then be voided or restricted based on guidance from higher up.

SIGAR said Section 841 was part of a “variety of efforts” undertaken by the government to keep American contracting money out of terrorists’ hands in the wake of incidents like the $2.16 billion Host Nation Trucking contract. In that instance, SIGAR said, the U.S. government paid several companies to ship more than 70 percent of food and materiel to American troops in Afghanistan, only to realize that some of those funds were “widely believed to have been funneled to insurgents.”

Section 841 is still full of holes, SIGAR said, from the military not telling the head of contracting activity about potentially shady actors to the head of the contracting activity not telling their prime contractors.  The SIGAR report also notes that Section 841 only applies to contracts worth more than $100,000, even though it said approximately 80 percent of contracts awarded in Afghanistan are worth less than that.

SIGAR made seven recommendations to rectify the reporting loopholes, most to “improve visibility over active contracts” and one to ditch the $100,000 threshold on Section 841. The SIGAR report said the military in general agreed with those recommendations but plans to issue a formal response to the new report later.

US May Unwittingly Fund Terrorism in Afghanistan: Report, ABC News, Apr. 13, 2013

The More Scrutiny, the Less Transparency: Drones

MQ-9 Reaper at Kandahar Airfield, Afghanistan, June 25, 2012. Photo from website of US Air Force Command

As scrutiny and debate over the use of remotely piloted aircraft (RPA) [drones or UAVs] by the American military increased last month, the Air Force reversed a policy of sharing the number of airstrikes launched from RPAs in Afghanistan and quietly scrubbed those statistics from previous releases kept on their website.  In October 2012, Air Force Central Command started tallying weapons releases from RPAs, broken down into monthly updates.

The Air Force maintained that policy for the statistics reports for November, December and January. But the February numbers, released March 7, contained empty space where the box of RPA statistics had previously been. Additionally, monthly reports hosted on the Air Force website have had the RPA data removed.   Those files still contained the RPA data as of Feb. 16, according to archived web pages accessed via Archive.org. Metadata included in the new, RPA-less versions of the reports show the files were all created Feb. 22.

Defense Department spokesman Cmdr. Bill Speaks said the department was not involved in the decision to remove the statistics. AFCENT did not respond to a request for comment by press time.The data removal coincided with increased scrutiny on RPA policy caused by President Barack Obama’s nomination of John Brennan to head the CIA. Brennan faced opposition in the Senate over the use of RPAs and his defense of their legality in his role as Obama’s deputy national security adviser.

On Feb. 20, two days before the metadata indicates the scrubbed files were created, Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., sent a letter to Brennan saying that he would filibuster the nomination over concerns about using RPA strikes inside the U.S., a threat he carried out for over 12 hours on March 6 (Brennan was confirmed the next day).  That same day, Sen. Lindsay Graham, R-S.C., told a crowd in South Carolina that strikes by American RPAs have killed 4,700 people.  “Sometimes you hit innocent people, and I hate that, but we’re at war, and we’ve taken out some very senior members of al-Qaida,” Graham was quoted by the Patch website as saying.

Excerpts, Brian Everstine and Aaron Mehta AF removes RPA airstrike number from summary, Air Force Times, Mar 8, 2013

To  Access the “sanitized” version of the statistics (2012-2013)

Torture in Afghanistan: following the master

Image from wikipedia

The UN report (2013), titled “Treatment of Conflict-Related Detainees in Afghan Custody,” offered a grim tour of Afghanistan’s detention facilities, where even adolescents have reported abuse like beatings with hoses and pipes and threats of sodomy.

In the case of the intelligence service, the United Nations reported a lower incidence of torture. But it was not clear whether that finding reflected improved behavior as much as it did a decrease in the number of detainees handed over to the intelligence service by the international military coalition. And some detainees have alluded to new secret interrogation centers.

The Afghan government rejected the report’s specific allegations but said that there were some abuses, and that it had taken numerous steps to improve the treatment of detainees. The government gave United Nations officials access to those held in all but one detention facility.Among the questions raised by the report is whether the pervasiveness of torture will make it difficult for the American military to hand over those being held in the Parwan Detention Facility, also known as Bagram Prison, as required under the agreement reached last week in Washington between President Obama and President Hamid Karzai of Afghanistan.  The United Nations did not look at the Parwan Detention Facility, in part because it is not yet wholly under Afghan control….

After a United Nations report on torture in 2011, the international coalition suspended transfers of battlefield detainees to 16 Afghan detention sites. ISAF resumed transfers to most of those centers after certifying that they were complying with human rights protocols. Then, in October 2012, the coalition received new reports of torture and abuse and halted some of the transfers that it had restarted only months before, the United Nations report said. The United Nations has briefed ISAF at several points in the course of its research, which included interviews with more than 600 detainees as well as employees of the Afghan intelligence service, the Afghan police, judges and prosecutors….The Afghan government’s 20-page response, which is included in the United Nations report, rejected all specific allegations, including “beating with rubber pipes or water pipes, forced confession, suspension, twisting of the detainees’ penises and wrenching of the detainees’ testicles, death threats, sexual abuse and child abuse.”

ALISSA J. RUBIN, Anti-Torture Efforts in Afghanistan Failed, U.N. Says, NY Times, Jan. 20, 2012

See also Convention against Torture

 

Foreign Soldiers who Die in Afghanistan: the insider attacks

At the height of this dusty summer, American troops are dying at unprecedented rates at the hands of their Afghan allies. And both sides are struggling to explain why, even as they search for ways to stem what are known in military parlance as “insider” attacks.  This month, at least 10 U.S. troops — including a U.S. service member shot Sunday and five members of America’s elite special-operations forces slain earlier — have been killed by Afghan police, soldiers or civilian workers at military installations. As of Sunday, that accounted for a stunning 32% of the 31 American military fatalities in Afghanistan reported thus far in August by the monitoring website icasualties.org.  [I]nsider shootings have wider-ranging repercussions. They have provided a propaganda bonanza to the Taliban, and could threaten a linchpin of the Western exit strategy: training Afghan security forces in preparation for handing over most fighting duties to them by 2014.

The military says only a very small share of insider attacks is carried out by Taliban “sleepers” in the police or army. But that opens the way to perhaps an even more alarming conclusion: that the majority of the assailants are undertaking what are in effect spontaneous, self-assigned suicide missions, because many insider shooters are killed on the spot in return fire.

The military says it is working to address the threat. Changes in recent months have included the posting of armed Western troops — so-called guardian angels — to watch over others in mess halls, sleeping tents and gyms. Last week, the American commander of the NATO force, Gen. John Allen, ordered that NATO troops across Afghanistan keep a loaded magazine in their weapons, even when on base.  This year, an Army captain described an informal buddy system at his base of troops signaling each other to keep a close watch on armed Afghans nearby, especially if one of their comrades was diverted by some task.  “‘Shona-ba-shona,’ OK,” the captain said, invoking the “shoulder-to-shoulder” slogan of the NATO force and its Afghan partners. “But also: ‘Eyes on, all times.'”…..

How to guard against such attacks is the subject of considerable debate in military leadership circles, because overtly heavy-handed measures can send a signal to the Afghans that they are not trusted, which can be taken as an insult. And in traditional Afghan culture, perceived insult can swiftly lead to exactly the sort of violence the attacks represent…The phenomenon is so pervasive that the killings have their own evolving nomenclature. Previously, the military called them green-on-blue attacks, a color-coded reference to Afghan and Western forces. Now the preferred, more encompassing term is “insider threat,” stemming from the fact that assailants have included not only uniformed police and soldiers, but also civilian members of the Afghan security apparatus, or simply someone with access to a coalition base, even in a low-level capacity.

The Taliban movement has noted the rising number of insider shootings with ill-concealed delight, boasting of having infiltrated all branches of the Afghan security forces. In the past, the Taliban leadership claimed responsibility for virtually every such attack, but lately the group’s publicity machine often cites individual initiative by those without links to the insurgency.  “Our fighters are in the ranks of the police, army and intelligence service, but there are also some who carry out attacks on foreign troops only because they are Afghans and Muslims and act on their religious obligation to protect their country from invading forces,” said Zabiullah Mujahid, a spokesman for the group. “It is an indication of utter hatred against the foreigners.”…….

Some analysts believe part of the problem is the sheer longevity of the war, now in its 11th year. In the conflict’s early stages, such attacks were an extreme rarity.  “I wouldn’t say it’s normal, but I think it’s understandable in a war situation which is lasting for more than a decade,” said Fabrizio Foshini of the Afghan Analysts Network. “The conflict has been becoming worse, nastier — and the presence of foreign troops doesn’t seem in the eyes of many Afghans to have brought positive changes.”

Laura King, Afghanistan ‘insider’ attacks pose threat to West’s exit strategy, LA Times, August 20, 2012

How Much it Costs to Kill Someone in Afghanistan

The United States usually pays up to $2,500 for civilians killed in lawful operations such as air strikes, according to an investigation by CIVIC, a rights advocacy group  The study, compiled two years ago, has been regularly updated…The payments are traditionally allocated in the case of accidental death….Historically, each time the U.S. goes to war, a decision is made about whether to authorize payments for civilian deaths. At the beginning of both the Afghan and Iraq wars, the United States Central Command declined to authorize claims for civilians suffering losses due to U.S. combat operations. Then in September 2003, the highest level of command in Iraq authorized what it called “solatia-like” payments. Two years later in November 2005, condolence payments were approved for use in Afghanistan.

Reuters has calculated a country-by-country breakdown of payments by the U.S. and major NATO allies.

United States: With 90,000 troops in Afghanistan, the United States pays up to $2,500 for civilian deaths and payments above that figure are rare. U.S. special forces, however, make no disbursements, but rely on other local U.S. or Afghan forces. Field commanders have significant control over payouts and sometimes U.S. forces pay even if it is unclear who was to blame.

Britain: Britain has around 9,500 soldiers, mainly in volatile Helmand province. British forces have paid between $210 and $7,000 for deaths. From 2007-2010, London paid 1,142 claims totaling more than $1.2 million – about $100,000 was paid in total for injuries and $150,000 for deaths. The rest was for damages claims.

Germany: Berlin, with 4,700 troops in Afghanistan, has no set policy for giving assistance to civilians harmed in operations. In August 2008, Germany dished out $20,000 in cash and a car worth $5,000 to a family after its troops shot dead three family members at a checkpoint.

Italy: In May 2009, Italy gave out around $13,500 to a family of a 14-year-old girl killed at a checkpoint. Like Germany, Italian forces also do not have a standard policy for paying victims. It has almost 4,000 soldiers in the country, based mostly in the west, near the border with Iran.

Other countries

Norway made a payment of $8,000 to a family of someone killed by its forces in 2009. Australia, the largest non-NATO troop contributor, disbursed around $120,000 for four incidents involving one or more deaths or injuries from 2001 through May 2009. Poland makes payments of up to $2,500. The Dutch, who have now withdrawn most soldiers, have paid about $475,000 for civilian losses from 2006 to 2010 and were responsible for at least 80 deaths and 120 injuries, mainly in southern Uruzgan.

Calculating the price of a civilian life in Afghanistan, CBS News, Mar. 14, 2012