As the US military bumbles and stumbles toward an ignominious exit from Afghanistan that is looking more and more like it will follow the script from the Iraq exit, it appears that the final ploy from Washington is an effort to paint Afghan President Hamid Karzai as detached from reality. This current ploy seems to be serving two purposes. First, it attempts to set the stage for an end-run around Karzai in a last-ditch effort to get some other party to sign the Bilateral Security Agreement allowing US troops to stay in Afghanistan after the end of this year. Second, it is obscuring yet another incident of indiscriminate US air raids and affiliated operations resulting in civilian casualties. Totally missing from these US actions is any awareness that Afghans cooperating with the US in this operation could well be motivated by the upcoming elections or an appreciation that the willingness of some Afghan citizens to participate in fabricating charges against the US isn’t necessarily an endorsement of the Taliban as much as it represent the intense desire of many Afghans to get the US out of their country after 13 years of war.
The current circus was precipitated by the January 15 incident in the Ghorband District of Parwan province. As I noted right after it happened, distinctly different accounts of what happened appeared in the New York Times and Washington Post. Karzai appointed a commission to investigate the incident. Leading the commission was Abdul Satar Khawasi. He is a member of the Afghan Parliament and represents Parwan. He also is known to be anti-American, and articles about the commission’s report from both ToloNews and the New York Times mention a video in which he appears and:
Mr. Khawasi is heard urging a crowd of angry Afghans to wage a holy war against Americans, saying, “Anyone who sits silent is a traitor.”
The Times pointed out just after the report was released that at least one photo in the report was from 2009, but now the entire report is being questioned by the Times because of that one photo:
The CD-ROM contains nine other photographs, all of which appear to be frames from a video clip on the disk. The video purports to show the funeral of villagers who were killed in the airstrikes and houses that were destroyed. The graphic images include some of a woman whose face is gone.
The Times’ examination found no physical clues in the video that would help determine where or when it was shot. The file’s creation date is Dec. 18, nearly a month before the raid, though it may not be accurate; digital time stamps on the accompanying photos say they were created in April 2014, and the video’s embedded data could be similarly unreliable.
Even if the video is actually of a funeral in Wazghar, some Afghan and Western officials said there was no way to tell from it whether an airstrike or some other gunfire or explosion had killed the people seen being buried, or who was responsible.
But even though an Afghan villager was brought out to “identify” fellow villagers in the false photo in question, this whole episode of discrediting the commission’s report still has one major problem: Continue reading
In his article that the New York Times today cowardly labelled as “news analysis” rather than straight reporting, Matthew Rosenberg makes a number of astute observations regarding Afghan accusations that groups affiliated with US Special Operations forces have been responsible for a number of atrocities in Maidan Wardak province, prompting Hamid Karzai’s call to expel them. Perhaps the most important observation comes almost as an aside, when he links to this story on Special Operations troops covering up their murder of innocent women during a night raid, going so far as to dig bullets out of their corpses in order to impede the subsequent investigation. Here is the reference in its wider context of overall Afghan concerns about Special Operations forces and their reliance on loosely affiliated groups:
The ban also reflected the Karzai administration’s limited patience for the use of Special Operations forces, whose aggressive tactics previously resulted in abuses, and attempted cover-ups. But Afghan officials cited as even more troubling American Special Operations units’ use of Afghan proxy forces that are not under the government’s control. Afghan civilians and local officials have complained that some irregular forces have looked little different from Taliban fighters or bandits and behaved little differently.
I’ll return to Rosenberg’s reporting in a bit, but we also have to keep in mind a point that virtually all of the reporting on this incident has covered, and that is the secrecy surrounding Special Operations forces. See, for example, this passage in today’s Washington Post article:
Because Special Operations troops carry out classified missions, it is difficult to independently confirm their activities or links to local groups.
“The U.S. has had a long history in Afghanistan of working with some of these irregular militias that are not accountable to anyone,” said Sahr Muhammedally, legal adviser for the Center for Civilians in Conflict, who has studied such groups.
“A lot of villagers talk about these campaign forces,” she said. “It is not the first time I have heard the name…. But the U.S. Special Operations forces don’t confirm or deny anything.”
Gosh, just as Marcy pointed out yesterday that the media is shocked that Robert Gibbs was told he couldn’t confirm or deny the existence of the drone program, now we have Special Operations not being able to confirm or deny their association with shadowy groups that are responsible for crimes. And yet, even though the media notes the secrecy surrounding the operations, they are unable to point to that secrecy directly within the context of NATO claiming it can find no evidence supporting the Afghan accusations. For example, here is the same Washington Post article again:
But NATO said its past inquiries found no evidence to support allegations of misconduct by U.S. Special Operations forces in Wardak province, southwest of Kabul.
That was the second paragraph in the article and yet, when they get to the passage on secrecy six paragraphs later, they merely point out that the classified nature of the work makes independent confirmation difficult and completely overlook the role that a Glomar-type response would play in making it impossible for NATO to find evidence because that evidence is classified and cannot be provided to NATO from JSOC.
Note added in clarification: Marcy points out to me via email that it would be more accurate to state here that CIA and/or JSOC would deny the existence of these operations because they are covert, not because they are classified.
Another vitally important point where Rosenberg stands apart from all the other reporting on this issue is his mention that we might be dealing here with a militia supported by the CIA rather than JSOC: Continue reading