The cousin of the Afghan President, Hashmat Karzai was a colorful character. He kept a pet lion at his home. NDTV tells us that the photo of him and the lion at left was posted by him on Facebook. The Washington Post gives us more of his background:
For years, he ran Asia Security Group, a security company supplying logistics and protection for convoys of U.S. and other foreign troops. After his father was murdered in the early 1980s by a relative, Hashmat Karzai’s family moved to the United States, and he became a U.S. citizen and worked at a Toyota dealership in Virginia, the New York Times reported.
Regarding Asia Security Group and private security contractors in Afghanistan, recall that back in 2010, Hamid Karzai tried to expel US private security contractors so that companies (specifically including Asia Security Group) controlled by Ahmed Wali Karzai (and Hashmat, although I don’t see him mentioned in that post) could take over the business.
So Hashmat went from hiding out in the US after his father was killed to running a large security contracting company in Afghanistan, presumably raking in huge profits from the US war in Afghanistan. That history, along with his being a cousin of the president, would of course make him a logical target for any number of reasons. But Hashmat’s recent activities suggest another strong possibility for why he was killed. From The Guardian:
Hashmat Karzai was a campaign manager in Kandahar for Ashraf Ghani, one of the two presidential candidates involved in a bitter dispute over fraud that threatens to pitch the country into worsening instability.
The Post story adds that the bomber was only 16:
The bomber, a 16-year-old boy, detonated explosives hidden in his turban while embracing Hashmat Karzai as part of special greetings for the Eid al-Fitr Muslim holiday at Karzai’s home in Karz district of Kandahar, they said.
The bomber also was well dressed, according to Reuters:
A spokesman for the provincial governor said the bomber had been well dressed.
“His style was very modern, everything was new, and when he came to talk with Hashmat Khalil and wish him a happy Eid, he blew himself up,” the spokesman said.
Reuters adds that no group has claimed responsibility for the attack yet. There were no other fatalities in the explosion.
The Post brings us Ghani’s response posted on Twitter:
Ghani, a candidate to succeed President Karzai, condemned the assassination on his Twitter account.
“We will not succumb to cowardly acts of the enemies of Afghanistan,” he wrote. “Every loss of Afghans reminds us that we must stay united to overcome the challenges.”
It will be very interesting to see if more information comes to light on the motives of the suicide bomber and whether Ghani’s followers take it upon themselves to seek revenge in any way. Many have predicted that the Abdullah-Ghani disputed recount could spark a civil war along ethnic lines. Should that come to pass, the killing of Hashmat Karzai may stand out as the first casualty of that war.
I have been harping lately on the US approach to international crises being to first ask “Which group should we arm?” and how this strategy has come back countless times to bite us in the ass, as seen most spectacularly in Osama bin Laden. Further, in Afghanistan, the dual problems of failed training and insider attacks have demonstrated that Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF) are ineffective and now even require a separate layer of security between them and US forces.
Back when there was a stronger push for the US to arm and train “moderates” in Syria, I noted the poor record-keeping that was being put into place, where we were being assured by those doing the training that they were getting handwritten receipts for the weapons they were handing out. Who could have known that in our much larger program of handing out weapons, in Afghanistan, that records were not much better? The 2010 NDAA required that DOD establish a program for accounting for weapons handed out in Afghanistan. The Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction released a report today (pdf) on how that accounting has gone. And the answer is not pretty:
The National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2010 required that DOD establish a program for registering and monitoring the use of weapons transferred to the ANSF. However, controls over the accountability of small arms provided to the ANSF are insufficient both before and after the weapons are transferred. Accountability over these weapons within DOD prior to their transfer to Afghan ownership is affected by incompatible inventory systems that have missing serial numbers, inaccurate shipping and receiving dates, and duplicate records, that may result in missing weapons prior to transfer to the ANSF. However, the problems are far more severe after the weapons are transferred to the ANSF. ANSF record-keeping and inventory processes are poor and, in many cases, we were unable to conduct even basic inventory testing at the ANSF facilities we visited. Although CSTC-A has established end use monitoring procedures, the lack of adherence to these procedures, along with the lack of reliable weapons inventories, limits monitoring of weapons under Afghan control and reduces the ability to identify missing and unaccounted for weapons that could be used by insurgents to harm U.S., coalition, and ANSF personnel.
This graphic from the report shows the insanity of how three completely independent and incompatible databases are used to track the weapons:
Seriously, who comes up with these acronyms? The database used by the military in shipping the weapons out is the Security Cooperation Information Portal, or SCIP. This name seems designed to let us know up front that these weapons are skipping town and there is no prospect for tracking them. And to make sure they can’t be tracked, once they arrive in Afghanistan, the weapons are logged in, but they go into a completely different database incompatible with SCIP. In Afghanistan they use the Operational Verification of Reliable Logistics Oversight Database, or OVERLORD. SIGAR tells us “SCIP is used by DOD personnel to track the shipment of weapons from the United States, while OVERLORD is used for tracking the receipt of weapons in Afghanistan. Errors and discrepancies often occur because these two systems are not linked to each other and require manual data entry.”
Perhaps if we were dealing with the relatively smaller number of weapons for an operation like our death squad training in Syria, manual entry into a database might make sense. But here is a photo from SIGAR of one of the weapons caches that they attempted to audit in Afghanistan:
But perhaps even worse is that SIGAR has found Afghan forces already have far more light weapons than they need. From the databases they determined that there are 112,909 weapons in excess of stated needs for the Afghans (and 83,184 of them are AK-47′s that many Afghans learn to handle practically from birth) already in country.
As if that is not enough, more weapons will keep flowing even though ANSF force size is projected to shrink:
The problems posed by the lack of a fully functional weapons registration and monitoring program may increase as plans to reduce the total number of ANSF personnel proceed. According to our analysis, the ANSF already has over 112,000 weapons that exceed its current requirements. The scheduled reduction in ANSF personnel to 228,500 by 2017 is likely to result in an even greater number of excess weapons. Yet, DOD continues to provide ANSF with weapons based on the ANSF force strength of 352,000 and has no plans to stop providing weapons to the ANSF. Given the Afghan government’s limited ability to account for or properly dispose of these weapons, there is a real potential for these weapons to fall into the hands of insurgents, which will pose additional risks to U.S. personnel, the ANSF, and Afghan civilians.
What could possibly go wrong?
I’m wishing that I had started a spreadsheet a couple of years ago to track the various deadlines the US has issued for having a signed Bilateral Security Agreement in hand. Such an agreement would authorize US troops to remain in Afghanistan with criminal immunity after the current agreement expires at the end of this year. Just a search of the tag “Bilateral Security Agreement” brings back three pages of posts on the topic at Emptywheel. Early in the process, the US position was that the mental giants in our military needed a full year to plan whether or not we were withdrawing completely, and so a signed BSA had to be in hand by the beginning of 2014. Then, after Karzai defied the loya jirga and stated that he would not sign the agreement while in office, the US pinned its hopes on the presidential elections, since the two leading candidates both stated they would sign the agreement immediately upon winning. There was the unrealistic hope that a clear winner would emerge from the first round of voting in April, but that did not come to pass. The runoff was originally slated for May 28, then moved to June 7 and finally took place June 14. But when the preliminary results of the runoff showed Abdullah moving from beating Ghani by a million votes in the first round to losing to him by a million votes in the runoff, the problems with counting votes in Afghanistan have moved to the center of the ongoing crisis.
The crisis shows no prospect of abating. Even though Kerry brokered an extra-constitutional “unity government” agreement between Abdullah and Ghani (and there has even been a nebulous conference on the new structure), the dim prospects for these two actually sharing power can be seen in how long the arguments over how to audit the runoff votes has carried on. We have had countless pronouncements out of Kabul that the snail’s pace of the audit will accelerate any day now, once the two sides agree on the procedure. The UN finally put forward its own proposal for a procedure yesterday since the candidates could not agree on one. Further disruptions in the audit will come next week as two more days will be lost to Eid. With thousands of ballot boxes still to be audited, there is no way that an official final tally will be issued by the specified August 2 date Karzai had planned for inauguration of the new president.
It’s hard to see how Kerry’s fantasy of a shared government will ever come to pass. Each candidate in the runoff will have strong grounds for declaring the results fraudulent should the other be declared the winner of the audit, and I think that is behind the impasse on developing an audit procedure. The argument can be made that there is no legitimate government in place since Karzai’s term has already expired, so there simply is no way to say who should be responsible for signing a BSA at this point. Back in December, the US openly floated the idea of working around Karzai to get someone else to sign the agreement. I’m thinking that plan is being dusted off again this week in Washington.
Kerry and the rest of the Obama administration have already shown that they are quite willing to work outside Afghanistan’s constitution when it is in their interest (as demonstrated by the shared government plan). As noted above, Karzai’s term officially expired in May. I look for the US work-around of Afghanistan’s constitution to continue and for some sort of interim government to be declared once one or both of the candidates formally abandon(s) the audit process. You can bet that government will be headed by someone who will sign the BSA immediately. But remaining in Afghanistan likely also will suddenly require a lot more US troops since it also seems likely that violence will break out between supporters of Abdullah and Ghani rather than the two sharing the new government. I doubt Obama has the courage to simply walk away from Afghanistan, but in my opinion that still remains the best option for both the US and Afghanistan. Walking away is needed because it seems clear at this point that a US presence in Afghanistan serves only to make the situation worse.
Back in April, I wrote about the horrible success rate of Israel’s Iron Dome defense system and the outrageous sums of money that the US has poured into it. With more rockets now being fired fired from Gaza and Israel responding by massacring Palestinians who have no escape, the Iron Dome system is getting renewed attention. And as with much in the Israel-Palestine situation, there is the propaganda we see in much of the main press and then there is the stark reality behind it that is vastly different.
Writing in The Atlantic, James Fallows noted a week and a half ago how the Washington Post had swallowed the propaganda completely, putting up the headline ‘Israel’s “Dome’ changes the fight” and provided a snippet of the Post’s praise:
To Israeli security officials, the success of Iron Dome is akin to that of the separation barrier between Israel and the West Bank, which they say helped bring an end to an onslaught of suicide bombings in the early 2000s.
The Iron Dome system has rendered rockets so ineffective that Hamas and its allies have, in recent days, been attempting more-creative ways of attacking Israel.
To debunk this baseless propaganda, Fallows relied heavily on an article by John Mecklin in the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists. Mecklin pulls no punches, titling his piece “Iron Dome: the public relations weapon”. Unlike the Post’s propaganda, Mecklin backs up his piece with evidence, experts and explanations that ring true to common sense:
With the latest rounds of rocket fire from Hamas fighters in the Gaza strip, Israel’s missile defense system, known as Iron Dome, is getting a lot of press again, much of it positive. As with much reporting on missile defense, however, the Iron Dome coverage has lacked context and misconstrued reality.
Ted Postol, an MIT-based missile defense expert and frequent Bulletin contributor, provided a dose of context to the Iron Dome coverage in a National Public Radio interview Wednesday. “We can tell, for sure, from video images and even photographs that the Iron Dome system is not working very well at all,” Postol said. “It—my guess is maybe [it hits a targeted missile] 5 percent of the time—could be even lower. … And when you look—what you can do in the daytime—you can see the smoky contrail of each Iron Dome interceptor, and you can see the Iron Domes trying to intercept the artillery rockets side on and from behind. In those geometries, the Iron Dome has no chance, for all practical purposes, of destroying the artillery rocket.”
I’ve been so buried in Netroots Nation and related issues I’ve only followed the top-line coverage of the MH17 shoot-down. I think the version the Administration released yesterday — that Ukrainian rebels shot down the airliner by mistake — is the most plausible explanation, though I’m aware of questions about that story.
All that said, there’s something about yesterday’s dog-and-pony show offered at the Office of Director of National Intelligence that seriously discredits the US story.
As the WSJ account of it makes clear, the reporters brought in for that dog-and-pony were explicitly told the dog-and-pony was being held to “not let a Russian narrative get out there.”
The Russian government is making a “full-court press” to spread a Russian version of events that try to pin the shoot-down on the Ukrainians, which is “not plausible to us,” one senior intelligence official said.
A key goal of Tuesday’s presentation, said one senior intelligence official was “not letting a Russian narrative get out there,” said one senior U.S. intelligence official.
(Apparently this senior intelligence official is not honest enough to admit both sides are already in a game of full court pressing – and John Kerry has already gotten beyond what the government released yesterday.)
Here’s the thing. While the Russians have not offered as much proprietary intelligence as the US offered yesterday, the presentation this dog-and-pony show is meant to rebut involve their Ministry of Defense providing a televised briefing on their questions about the event.
By contrast, noted liar James Clapper’s office invited hand-picked journalists in, and swore them to silence about who actually gave the briefing, and only afterwards released a transcript and other materials on the briefing. Spencer Ackerman was among the obvious journalists who should have been but was not invited.
Some of the evidence provided by US intelligence – whose fiscal 2013 budget was $68bn – included Facebook posts. “After it became evident that the plane was a civilian airliner, separatists deleted social media posts boasting about shooting down a plane and possessing a Buk (SA-11) surface-to-air missile system,” a senior intelligence official said in the briefing, held on condition of anonymity. The Guardian was not invited to the briefing, a transcription of which was later made available.
Look, if the US government has a case, they can release it publicly. But what they appear to be doing instead is creating their own official press corps and presenting their case there.
That’s especially true given that something else said at the briefing undermines the US case against the rebels.
They noted that it can be difficult to track the transportation of weapons because they are often moved at night, and the Russians have provided the separatists with types of weapons that the Ukrainians also have in order to maintain “plausible deniability.”
If the Russians have gone to some length to hide their role in arming rebels, why would they also give them a weapon that would draw so much attention (the Ukrainian government has them as well, but they haven’t used them)? (Though I actually think the point is they have been fired, but weren’t considered so fancy until they took down a civilian jet.)
I suspect at this point both sides are hiding interesting details they know. But the US has the more plausible case, thus far. So why are they unwilling to present their case publicly?
On the surface, today’s suicide attack in Kabul looks like many others, but some details disclosed in the New York Times story on the attack illustrate the lengths to which the US has been forced to go to protect against green on blue attacks in which Afghans kill Americans. The attack took place at Camp Gibson. Those killed were described by the Times as guarding buildings occupied by trainers from Dyncorp at a facility dedicated to counternarcotics operations. Three guards who were killed were from Nepal and one was from Peru, according to the Times. The Washington Post says two were Nepalese, one was Filipino and one was of unknown nationality. The Times explains why there are both Afghan and foreign guards:
Security guards from countries like Nepal and Peru are common at foreign military and diplomatic compounds in Afghanistan. The guards, many of whom are Nepalese veterans of the British Army’s Gurkha regiments, usually provide a layer of security behind the Afghan police and security guards, who man the first line of checkpoints.
The setup is used because of deep concerns about the efficacy and loyalty of the police, a force that is riddled with corruption and drug use. It also provides a final layer of defense should Afghan guards turn on the foreigners they are guarding.
So the outside layer of security consists of Afghan personnel, but the US must use a ring of foreign security personnel to protect against the Afghans turning their weapons on the US personnel they are “guarding”. And it appears that the Afghan who carried out this attack had some help among his fellows in that outside ring of security. The attacker was Afghan, but the uniform he wore matched those of the foreign guards rather than Afghans:
An official from the NATO-led military coalition said there were suspicions that the attacker had inside help. An Afghan in a uniform worn by foreign guards would “strike me as more suspicious, not less, right?” said the official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to avoid antagonizing his Afghan counterparts.
The Times article points out that previous attacks aimed at US personnel have killed only foreign guards, so this layered security situation likely has been described before, but I didn’t have a full appreciation of how and why it is set up in this way until today.
An interesting detail offered by ToloNews is that the attacker was not new to the facility:
On condition of anonymity a security official said that the suicide bomber was an Afghan security guard working alongside foreign contractors.
“The suicide bomber was an Afghan security guard working alongside foreigners at the anti-narcotics office for many years,” said the security official.
It would be interesting to know whether the attacker had planned all along to carry out such an attack or if he only recently decided to switch sides.
Meanwhile, the “auditing” of ballots from the runoff is proceeding much more slowly than the target rate, so look for more delays before a “final” vote count is released.
Aside from the fact that the only craft beer served at the National Security Caucus session at Netroots Nation 2014 was an outdated California beer rather than a local Michigan beer, it was a session marked by interesting discussion. I received quite a bit of support during that discussion for noting that the US response to any crisis anywhere, for far too long, has been simply to ask “Which group should we arm?”. Further, I noted, as we had heard in the “Iran: Diplomacy or War?” session, there is reason for optimism among those of us who favor diplomacy over violence in the successful removal and ongoing destruction of Syria’s chemical weapons rather than the missile strikes the US had been planning and in the remaining strong possibility of a diplomatic solution to the Iran nuclear technology issue instead of a war to destroy the technology. I illustrated that point by mentioning the tragic downing of MH17 and how that demonstrated the folly of training and arming rebel groups that often veer into extremist actions that result in atrocities. That point ties to the mad push to arm Syria’s rebels with the shorter range MANPAD antiaircraft missiles even though they are less powerful than the Buk missile that took down MH17. As I noted, will Syrian “moderates” promise us never to take the MANPADS to a site where civilian aircraft are within range, and would there be any reason to believe such a promise?
In executing his Full Ginsburg yesterday, US Secretary of State John Kerry reached new heights of hypocrisy, as he went from Sunday morning talk show to talk show, proclaiming the evils of Russian actions in Ukraine. The evils for which Kerry is castigating Putin are precisely the evils that the US has been unleashing on the world in places like Iraq, Afghanistan, Yemen, Syria and beyond. From today’s New York Times:
In presenting the most detailed case yet alleging Russia’s involvement in the Ukraine crisis, Secretary of State John Kerry said on Sunday that Russia had funneled large quantities of heavy weapons to Ukrainian separatists and trained them how to operate SA-11 antiaircraft missiles, the type of system that is believed to have been used to shoot down the Malaysian airliner over eastern Ukraine.
“We know for certain that the separatists have a proficiency that they’ve gained by training from Russians as to how to use these sophisticated SA-11 systems,” Mr. Kerry said on the CNN program “State of the Union.”
Just as when CIA Director John Brennan got his panties in a wad over al Qaeda training death squads in Syria after we had trained our own death squads to send there, Kerry is now saying that Russia choosing a group to arm and train is a horrible thing even though he has been instrumental in helping the Obama administration to do the exact same thing in other areas.
And just as the US now faces problems in its upcoming training of Iraqi troops because of the previous failures in training Iraqi troops, there is reason to believe that the atrocity of MH17 may be due in part to failed training by the Russians. From today’s Washington Post:
Meanwhile, in Kiev, the U.S. Embassy said American intelligence analysts had confirmed the authenticity of recorded conversations in which rebel leaders bragged about shooting down what they thought was a Ukrainian military transport plane moments after the Malaysian jetliner was blown apart.
So even though the separatists are good at using the missiles to blow aircraft out of the sky (the Times article notes they have downed “almost a dozen Ukrainian transport planes, reconnaissance aircraft and helicopters”), it would appear that they haven’t quite worked out that whole target verification thing and that this tragedy may not have been an intentional targeting of civilians as much as it is a training failure. But yes, the Russians own a large portion of this tragedy, as the evidence seems strong that they provided the weapon along with instructions on firing it (if not the full lesson on target verification). And their tactics in doing do were taken directly from the US playbook, all the way down to the training being an abject failure.
The abject failure of US efforts to train troops in Iraq and Afghanistan has been one of my most frequent topics. Even though the US mission in Iraq has officially ended and the mission in Afghanistan is mired in a surreal form of purgatory as the government re-invents it vote auditing procedure and even the structure of its government, the US military just can’t kick its addiction to training and is now contemplating yet another attempt at training Iraqi troops.
The New York Times tries to come to the aid of the military this morning with a front page story dedicated to re-starting the training process. The problem though, is that as the Times dives into the idea, it becomes apparent that our previous failures in training may have made it too dangerous to start (and, of course, fail again, but the Times doesn’t go there) the process yet again. That danger even makes it into the headline: “US Sees Risks in Assisting a Compromised Iraqi Force“.
The story opens:
A classified military assessment of Iraq’s security forces concludes that many units are so deeply infiltrated by either Sunni extremist informants or Shiite personnel backed by Iran that any Americans assigned to advise Baghdad’s forces could face risks to their safety, according to United States officials.
The report concludes that only about half of Iraq’s operational units are capable enough for American commandos to advise them if the White House decides to help roll back the advances made by Sunni militants in northern and western Iraq over the past month.
Imagine that. Despite eight years of work and over $25 billion invested, two and a half years after we left Iraq only about half of Iraq’s units are even fit enough for the US to advise them in an effort to take on their latest existential threat.
But the real beauty in the current conundrum lies in who stepped up to fill the training gap when the US left:
Adding to the administration’s dilemma is the assessment’s conclusion that Iraqi forces loyal to Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki are now heavily dependent on Shiite militias — many of which were trained in Iran — as well as on advisers from Iran’s paramilitary Quds Force.
Shiite militias fought American troops after the United States invaded Iraq and might again present a danger to American advisers. But without an American-led effort to rebuild Iraq’s security forces, there may be no hope of reducing the Iraqi government’s dependence on those Iranian-backed militias, officials caution.
So when we left, Maliki supplemented his military with the very Shiite militias that US forces had been fighting. At least one reason for Maliki’s move was that these militias knew how to fight and the troops the US trained were useless. Those militias have been trained by Iran. And as much as the US would love to “rebuild Iraq’s security forces” through yet another ride on the training carousel, that could well be too dangerous because many of the people we would then be training might remember that less than three years ago, the US trained their weapons on them while training other Iraqi troops to go after them. The Times article rightly recognizes this situation as ripe for a resurgence of green on blue insider killings if the US tried to train such forces. They quote Michael Barbero, who was in charge of training in Iraq from 2009 to 2011 (funny, once again, while discussing training failures, David Petraeus is never mentioned):
“The advisory mission has inherent risks, but they can be mitigated,” he added. “You can put security with them. You can be selective about where you put the advisers. We can apply the lessons learned from dealing with the insider threat in Afghanistan.”
Gosh. Our military just can’t stop looking at hopeless situations and saying that they are at the turning point where they will get better. Despite all those previous failures, this time, by golly, we’ll get it right:
And General Dempsey also emphasized any American military involvement in Iraq would be different than in the past.
You see, this time we’ll call our guys advisers instead of trainers. That should make all the difference. Even if those we are advising know that we were trying to kill them very recently…
Three short weeks from tomorrow marks the date on which Afghanistan’s new president is to be sworn in. The problem, though, is that Abdullah Abdullah refuses to believe that he could have beaten Ashraf Ghani by a million votes in the first round and then lost to him by a million votes in the runoff a few weeks later. Both US Secretary of State John Kerry and the UN have tried to defuse the crisis, but neither effort has had any effect whatsoever.
No words are needed to describe Kerry’s failure. In their story on Kerry’s visit to Kabul today, Reuters carried photos of Ghani and Abdullah with Kerry in front of the same backdrop of US and Afghan flags. The photo of Ghani and Kerry could pass as a propaganda photo handed out jointly by the two governments to promote a continued relationship between the US and Afghanistan with Ghani as the new president. The photo with Abdullah, on the other hand, shows a deeply distrustful Abdullah casting a sideways glance at Kerry, who seems not to have the courage to look Abdullah in the eye, let alone shake hands as he did with Ghani. Perhaps Abdullah and Kerry did shake hands, but photographer Jim Bourg seems to have captured the essence of the crisis perfectly.
Meanwhile, the UN proposal for additional auditing has fallen flat. From the New York Times:
The United Nations proposal centered on a special audit of suspected fraudulent votes, and it appeared to be a winner when the office of President Hamid Karzai called reporters shortly after midnight Friday, the beginning of the Afghan weekend, to spread the news of the new plan.
Aimal Faizi, the spokesman for Mr. Karzai, said the president was backing the proposal, which involved a deeper audit of votes from 8,000 polling stations, or about 43 percent of the 8.1 million ballots cast. The plan had been presented to Mr. Karzai on Thursday evening by Jan Kubis, the special United Nations envoy for Afghanistan, who was to brief Mr. Abdullah and Mr. Ghani about it later on Friday, Mr. Faizi said.
But within minutes, Mr. Abdullah’s campaign said it had already made clear to United Nations officials that the plan was not acceptable during discussions on Thursday about possible ways out of the crisis. A senior aide to Mr. Abdullah said the campaign had its own plan, which would entail audits of votes from about 11,000 of the roughly 22,000 polling stations.
Western reports on the election crisis that I have read have danced around a very important central issue without ever addressing it. The huge problem that Afghanistan faces is that there is no real way to audit this election after the fact. Elections in Afghanistan do not take place in the way that elections in the West are conducted. Once outside of Kabul, Afghan society is structured around village life and women often live their entire lives without going outside the walls of the family compound. Village elders carry huge influence for all residents of the village.
In his book No Good Men Among the Living, Anand Gopal provided a couple of very informative vignettes of previous presidential elections. On page 156, we have this from the 2004 election: Continue reading
Today, Pakistan’s military escorted selected members of the media through Miramshah, which had been ground zero for militants in Pakistan’s North Waziristan and the focus of the heaviest fighting in the Zarb-e-Azb offensive undertaken by the military last month. From the video provided in the Express Tribune story on Miramshah, it is clear that the town is essentially deserted and most buildings appear to be heavily damaged.
The offensive is taking a huge toll on Pakistan. Depending on the source cited, there are either 787,000 or 833,274 people who have been displaced from North Waziristan. Those are truly remarkable numbers, as the linked Washington Post article notes that previous estimates of the population of North Waziristan were only 600,000, so it is clear that virtually all citizens have left the region.
Because the media have been banned from the region before today, Pakistan’s military has controlled the flow of information. The latest claims I can find put the death toll at 400 militants and 20 soldiers. No information on civilian deaths has been released and the military claimed that the civilian death toll was zero even after over 200 militants were said to have been killed.
One of the most remarkable stories to emerge along with those who have fled Miramshah is that of Azam Khan, who was a barber in Miramshah:
Azam Khan was one of the top barbers in Miranshah — the main town of North Waziristan — until he, like nearly half a million others, fled the long-awaited offensive unleashed by the Pakistan military on the tribal area in June.
He told AFP his business boomed in the month leading up to the army assault as the militants sought to shed their distinctive long-haired, bearded look.
“I have trimmed the hair and beards of more than 700 local and Uzbek militants ahead of the security forces’ operation,” he said while cutting hair in a shop in Bannu, the town where most civilians fled.
For years he cut Taliban commanders’ hair to match the flowing locks of former Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) leader Hakimullah Mehsud, killed by a US drone last November, but in May a change in style was called for.
“The same leaders came asking for trimming their beards and hair very short, saying that they were going to the Gulf and wanted to avoid problems at Pakistani airports,” Khan said.
It would seem that there is now a good chance that the real targets of this offensive left before it even began. All citizens of the region have been displaced and most buildings have been rendered useless, only to kill the low level forces who were left behind because they didn’t have the resources to flee along with their leaders.