Back in October, I noted that one of Hamid Karzai’s primary barriers to signing the Bilateral Security Agreement is his objection to night raids carried out by US-trained death squads because of the high rate of civilian casualties involved. Yesterday, yet another night raid went bad, but this time, instead of the death squad killing civilians, an air raid called in when the raiding party came under heavy fire was responsible for civilian deaths. In an attempt to deflect blame, ISAF tried to emphasize that this mission was Afghan-led:
International Security Assistance Force regrets that civilians were killed Jan. 15 during a deliberately-planned, Afghan-led clearing operation to disrupt insurgent activity in Ghorband district, Parwan province.
The mission, led by commandos of the 6th Special Operations Kandak and supported by ISAF special operations advisers, was conducted to disrupt insurgent activities in the district, including attacks on Bagram Airfield, and in support of Afghan National Security Forces’ tactical priorities. Local district and provincial officials were informed in advance of the operation and were provided updates during and after the actions.
It would not surprise me if ISAF eventually blames the “local district and provincial officials” who were warned for tipping off the insurgents so that an ambush could be carried out. But note that “ISAF special operations advisers” were present, and as I have noted previously, this is the hallmark of the US-trained death squads that have previously operated with impunity but have infuriated Karzai. Even though ISAF is claiming that the intelligence for the operation was generated by the Afghans, you can bet that our “advisers” would not have ventured off their base if our own intelligence hadn’t also been involved in planning the attack.
Strangely, the NYTimes article linked above puts the operation taking place at 6:30 am, but the Washington Post puts it at 1 am, which fits night raid timing much better. The details in the two stories differ substantially. From the Times:
Aziz Ahmad Zaki, a spokesman for the governor of Parwan, said that the coalition Special Operations advisers had come to assist the Afghan forces in the area, setting up alongside them in a district check post that quickly came under fire from Taliban attackers on Tuesday.
Around 6:30 a.m. Wednesday, Afghan and coalition forces began a clearance operation in the Wazghar Valley, but ran into a Taliban ambush, taking fire from several compounds in the area at once, officials said.
“Afghan and coalition forces returned fire and required defensive air support to suppress the enemy fire,” according to the coalition statement.
But according to the Post, the raiding party attempted to enter a home at 1 am, rather than conducting a “clearing operation” at 6:30:
According to Karzai and the governor of Parwan province, the incident occurred about 1 a.m. when U.S. Special Forces attempted to enter a home. A gun battle ensued, resulting in a coalition airstrike that killed the children and a female relative in the house, they said.
This version says nothing about being attacked at a checkpost but instead follows a usual night raid routine.
Karzai is furious. From AFP:
President Hamid Karzai on Wednesday accused the United States of killing seven children and a woman in an airstrike in central Afghanistan — an incident set to further damage frayed ties between the two allies.
Relations between Washington and Kabul have been rocky for years, and negotiations over an agreement that would allow some US troops to remain in the country after this year have broken down into a long-running public dispute.
“As a result of bombardment by American forces last night… in Siahgird district of Parwan province, one woman and seven children were martyred and one civilian injured,” a statement from Karzai’s office said.
“The Afghan government has been asking for a complete end to operations in Afghan villages for years, but American forces acting against all mutual agreements… have once again bombarded a residential area and killed civilians.
The zero option in Afghanistan is looking more and more likely.
After Sunday got off to a historic start with the announcement of an agreement between the P5+1 and Iran, the day continued to be momentous as the loya jirga in Kabul approved the Bilateral Security Agreement between the US and Afghanistan. Even though the jirga coupled its approval of the agreement with a plea to Karzai to sign it immediately (the chair of the meeting, a former Afghan president, threatened to leave the country if Karzai doesn’t sign), Karzai followed through on his warning from his opening remarks of the four day meeting on Thursday and stated that he will delay signing the agreement until Afghanistan’s elections are completed in April.
Formal approval of the BSA comes as a big surprise for me. I have maintained since the start of negotiations a year ago that the Afghanistan agreement would go the same route as the Iraq agreement and that our military would be forced into a complete withdrawal, primarily over the issue of criminal immunity for the troops remaining in the country. While that “zero option” remains a distinct possibility, it now would be forced by Karzai’s delay in signing the agreement where immunity has now been granted.
The second big surprise for me is that I did not expect security surrounding the jirga to be a complete success. I feared at least one successful attack, especially after the site was hit with a suicide attack just a few days before the gathering began. However, a security force that apparently numbered around 25,000 strong appears to have thwarted a number of additional suicide attacks and at least one planned rocket attack.
By having the approval for the BSA in hand while refusing to sign it, Karzai has built a huge point of leverage over the final issue that threatened to derail the agreement. Unilateral counterterrorism raids by the US, especially in the form of night raids that enter the homes of Afghan citizens, were the final sticking point for Karzai. The US reluctantly agreed at the final minute to provide an assurance in the form of a letter from President Barack Obama that such raids would occur only under exceptional circumstances when the lives of US troops were at stake. Most likely because he remembers just how readily the US lies when developing agreements with Afghanistan on issues where there is disagreement, Karzai has warned the US that the very next night raid will mean that he never signs the agreement. From ToloNews:
“If there is one more raid on Afghan homes by U.S. forces, there is no BSA. The U.S. can’t go into our homes from this moment onward,” President Karzai said in his closing remarks at the Jirga on Sunday.
Karzai’s brinksmanship has set up a very high stakes game of “chicken” played by two junkies. The US has stated that it must know by the end of this year whether the BSA will be signed now that it has been approved. Karzai has stated that he will wait until at least April for signing. Just who will blink first is anyone’s guess. The US is strongly addicted to night raids. Will they be able to hold off on them, even for a month? Karzai is equally addicted to the billions of dollars the US pumps into Afghanistan’s economy. Will he hold off his signature past the date at which the US has warned it will drop pursuit of the agreement and proceed with a full withdrawal–of both troops and funds? Will the US allow the decision point on the zero option to be delayed until after the April elections?
Yesterday evening, reports appeared in both the New York Times and Khaama Press in Afghanistan that the final hurdle for the Bilateral Security Agreement had been cleared and that US President Barack Obama would sign a letter to be read at the loya jirga. The letter would note that the US has made mistakes in its war efforts in Afghanistan. Further, the letter would convey an apology along with a pledge to avoid repeating the mistakes in which innocent Afghan citizens suffered.
But for the endless war faction within the US military and government, an apology just won’t do (even if there was one to Pakistan that finally reopened the supply routes after the US killed 24 Pakistani border troops). National Security Advisor Susan Rice immediately got time with Wolf Blitzer on CNN to nip the idea of an apology in the bud:
“No such letter has been drafted or delivered. There is not a need for the United States to apologize to Afghanistan,” National Security Adviser Susan Rice said on CNN’s “Situation Room.”
“Quite the contrary, we have sacrificed and supported them in their democratic progress and in tackling the insurgents and al Qaeda. So that (letter of apology) is not on the table.”
Rice said she has seen news reports but has no idea where they are coming from, describing the claims as a “complete misunderstanding of what the situation is.”
Here’s the video:
I’m surprised she didn’t go all the way to insisting on an apology from Afghanistan for being ungrateful for all the freedom we’ve unleashed on them.
The Times version of the story has been through a number of changes. Note that the url retains the early headline for the story “Key Issue Said to be Resolved in US-Afghan Security Talks”. The story now reflects the push-back from Rice, but it also shows that diplomats are focusing on a letter anyway (but of course now can’t call it an apology):
A senior State Department official, speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss continuing negotiations, was more noncommittal, saying that a letter acknowledging past issues like civilian casualties was a possibility being weighed. “We will consider his request for reassurances, including the option of a letter from the administration stating our position,” the official said.
Under the Afghan description, in return for the letter, Mr. Karzai would then accept wording that allowed American Special Operations raids to search and detain militants within Afghan homes, but only under “extraordinary circumstances” to save the lives of American soldiers. That would seem to greatly hamper the American intent behind those operations, which commanders have said are critical to taking the fight directly to Al Qaeda and other terrorist groups.
It is difficult to imagine how the situation could be any worse for the US ahead of Thursday’s opening of the loya jirga that was meant to give a stamp of approval to the Bilateral Security Agreement that would govern US troops remaining in Afghanistan after 2014. Both the New York Times and Reuters are reporting a sticking point (the issue is not a new one) in the negotiations that threatens to prevent an agreement being reached. Furthermore, a suicide bomber struck on Saturday at the site where the jirga is planned. The Taliban has claimed responsibility. Finally, the UN is reporting that despite as many as 12,000 Taliban fighters being killed, wounded or captured in the last year, violence in Afghanistan is at its highest point since the US surge.
The latest sticking point in the Bilateral Security Agreement (immunity for US troops also is a sticking point that is just as likely to derail approval by the jirga) addresses US troops entering Afghan homes without permission. This is at the heart of the operations of US death squads as Special Operations forces carry out night raids. From the Times:
Offstage, however, American raids continued to be a point of deadlock, according to the Afghan officials, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the negotiations were continuing. In recent days, the talks have been led on the Afghan side by Mr. Karzai, and on the American side by Ambassador James B. Cunningham and the military coalition commander, Gen. Joseph F. Dunford Jr.
The Afghan officials said Mr. Karzai would not change his position before Thursday’s loya jirga, to which 3,000 officials, elders and notables from around the country have been invited to ratify or reject the security agreement.
So even though these negotiations are being carried out at the highest level, it appears that a serious disagreement persists, just a few days short of the critical jirga. The article notes that some on the US side feel that this is a last-minute ploy by the Afghans, but considering that Karzai has opposed the raids from the beginning, it is hard to see how that argument has any merit. The article continues to show how this disagreement could scuttle the entire deal: Continue reading
As evidence from investigations carried out by Afghan officials continues to mount that a figure now named (although it seems quite likely to me that this is not a real name) Zakaria Kandahari is at the heart of the cases of torture and murder of Afghan civilians that prompted Hamid Karzai to ban US Special Forces from Maidan Wardak province in February, the US found it necessary to provide an anonymous official to the New York Times as they published the Afghan revelations. Here is the heart of the dispute as outlined in the Times article:
The accusations against the man, Zakaria Kandahari, and the assertion that he and much of his unit are American are a new turn in a dispute over counterinsurgency tactics in Wardak that has strained relations between Kabul and Washington. American officials say their forces are being wrongly blamed for atrocities carried out by a rogue Afghan unit. But the Afghan officials say they have substantial evidence of American involvement.
They say they have testimony and documents implicating Mr. Kandahari and his unit in the killings or disappearances of 15 Afghans in Wardak. Mr. Kandahari is of Afghan descent but was born and raised in the United States, they say. Included in the evidence, the Afghan officials say, is a videotape of Mr. Kandahari torturing one of the 15 Afghans, a man they identified as Sayid Mohammad.
As the discussion moves to the videotape, the anonymous official is trotted out:
Afghan officials who have seen the videotape say a person speaking English with an American accent can be heard supervising the torture session, which Mr. Kandahari is seen conducting.
An American official, speaking on the condition of anonymity in line with official policy, confirmed the existence of the video showing Mr. Kandahari but denied that he was an American citizen. “Everybody in that video is Afghan; there are no American voices,” the official said.
What appears not to be in dispute, then, is that Kandahari is torturing the victim in the tape. The US claims no Americans are present and even that the voice identified by the Afghans as having an American accent is not American. But how can the anonymous US official know whose voice is the one in dispute? If the person is not seen on the tape, then the only way the American official’s claim could be true is if they carried out voice analysis on a computer and got a positive match with a person known not to be American.
But the next denial from the anonymous official is even less believable. The US Special Forces group at the center of this controversy is now known to have been based in the Nerkh district of the province and to be an “A Team”, “who work with extra resources that the military calls “enablers””. Remarkably, the article doesn’t make the tiny leap that is needed to deduce that at least some of these “enablers” working with the A Team must be CIA, even though near the end of the article, it is noted that this group came to Nerkh from Camp Gecko in Kandahar and there is a definite CIA connection there: Continue reading
In a move that is guaranteed to provoke another tantrum from Lindsey Graham, Afghan President Hamid Karzai announced to the Afghan parliament today that final handover of the Detention Facility in Parwan to full Afghan control will take place on Saturday and that he plans to release prisoners that he says are innocent. Both AFP and Radio Free Europe have reported Karzai’s claims. From AFP:
“Our efforts for the transfer of the US-run prison, years-long efforts, have eventually paid off and next week the transfer will at last take place,” Karzai told the opening of a new parliamentary session in Kabul.
“This transfer of prison will take place on Saturday,” he added.
“We understand that there are some innocent people in these jails, I will order their release, no matter if there is criticism.”
Radio Free Europe also carried Karzai’s call for abuse to end in Afghan prisons:
Karzai on March 6 also called on his security forces to end incidents of torture and abuse of their countrymen.
“Today, I want to promise the people of Afghanistan that they are safe inside their houses,” Karzai said. “The law should take its course only in relations to the criminals. I call on their parliament to raise their voice and react strongly to cases of abuse, if they hear about it. As long as we do not end abuse and torture in our own institutions, we cannot stop others.”
An investigation by the government last month unveiled widespread abuse in prisons run by Afghan forces. The findings backed a recent United Nations investigation that Kabul initially rejected.
These words from Karzai on ending abuse in Afghan prisons are an encouraging development. Let’s hope the words are followed with action against those who have been involved in torture.
If it does occur, this handover will be an important next step in the US transferring authority to the Afghan government. However, handover of the prison has been a very long process in which the US has bargained in bad faith. Back in November, Karzai lashed out at US deception in this process.
Note also Karzai’s reference today to Afghans being “safe inside their houses”. That is clearly a reference to the hated US practice of night raids, which Karzai has also been looking to end. Of course, US night raids are the primary source of innocent Afghans being in US-run prisons, so it should be no coincidence that Karzai would speak of innocents being detained and night raids in the same speech.
It should also be noted that the US has a long history of secret prisons in Afghanistan and, as Marcy has noted, Obama still claims the right of indefinite detention without charges in Afghanistan, so don’t look for Saturday’s handover, if it occurs, to include those prisoners that Obama and Holder believe to be their most important, even if they can’t come up with a way to charge these prisoners with any actual crimes.
Karzai’s move to release prisoners he says are innocent could well provoke a showdown. As I reported last April, the prison agreement (and the night raid agreement, for that matter, too) although described as giving the Afghans full authority, in reality was a sham that left the US with full veto power over the release of prisoners. Will the US try to prevent Karzai releasing these prisoners? Or will the US simply re-arrest them and take them to a facility still under US control?
Today’s story in the Washington Post covering Afghan President Hamid Karzai’s decree expelling US Special Operations forces from a province just outside Kabul illustrates how completely the upper levels of the US military have been ignoring reality in Afghanistan. The Post reported that the “announcement appeared to come as a surprise to American military officials”. For those who have been paying attention, it has been clear that Afghanistan has been upset for years over a program tied to US Special Operations forces that develops what amounts to private militias which are sometimes under the Afghan Local Police name and sometimes not. These groups are particularly lawless and have been reported to participate in revenge killings, disappearances and torture (which are also the specialties of JSOC). And this program was at the heart of David Petraeus’ operations when he took over in Afghanistan:
Jack Keane, a former Army general and a mentor to David H. Petraeus, the American commander in Afghanistan when the program began, said that “the brilliance of the program is also the vulnerability” because recruits are selected by elders, not by Americans. Although there has always been some form of NATO vetting, “we’re totally dependent on their judgment as to who they’ve selected.”
And some groups continue to warn of the dangers of reintroducing militia-like forces to a country long bedeviled by warlords. Last year, Human Rights Watch reported instances of killing, rape, theft and other abuses among the local police that raised “serious concerns about the A.L.P. vetting, recruitment and oversight.” The group added: “Creation of the A.L.P. is a high-risk strategy to achieve short-term goals in which local groups are again being armed without adequate oversight or accountability.” (At the time, NATO said that some aspects of the report were dated or incorrect.)
Although a short pause in Special Operations forces training of Afghan Local Police took place back in September when the article quoted above came out, it is clear now that the “re-screening” of ALP personnel was a sham and that the abuses under this program continue. Here is Khaama Press describing Karzai’s decision:
After a thorough discussion, it became clear that armed individuals named as US special force stationed in Wardak province engage in harassing, annoying, torturing and even murdering innocent people. A recent example in the province is an incident in which nine people were disappeared in an operation by this suspicious force and in a separate incident a student was taken away at night from his home, whose tortured body with throat cut was found two days later under a bridge. However, Americans reject having conducted any such operation and any involvement of their special force.”
“The Ministry of Defense was assigned to make sure all US special forces are out of the province within two weeks,” the statement said adding that “All the Afghan national security forces are duty bound to protect the life and property of people in Maidan Wardak province by effectively stopping and bringing to justice any groups that enter peoples’ homes in the name of special force and who engage in annoying, harassing and murdering innocent people.”
This comes as US special forces and their interpreters were accused of misbehavior and humiliation of innocent local residents in Nekh district of Maidan Wardak province earlier in January.
Most of the news reports covering this move by Karzai do note that Special Operations forces are expected to play a key role after the “withdrawal” of coalition forces planned for the end of 2014. As noted in the Guardian: Continue reading
Afghan President Hamid Karzai lashed out yesterday, calling for the US to live up to the agreement signed last March that hands over complete control of the prison at Parwan to Afghanistan. As I pointed out while Lindsey Graham was throwing a tantrum over the prospect of this agreement (and a simultaneous one on night raids), the agreement called for a phased process, handing over control over a six month time frame. The agreement was signed a short time later and it did indeed call for a six month process. It also, at least according to the New York Times article on the agreement, allows the US to veto any decision by the Afghans on release of a prisoner. The six month process for the handover was set to end in September, but the US did not live up to its obligations under the agreement and still held a significant number of prisoners. At the same time, the US was urging Afghanistan to create, contrary to its constitution (and international law), a system for indefinite detention of prisoners without trial. Remarkably, the US also began at that time to argue that the agreement only held for prisoners in custody as of the time of signing and that the US retained control of those the US arrested after the agreement was put into place.
Now, after two months of wrangling over finalizing the handoff, Karzai has had enough. From the New York Times:
President Hamid Karzai ordered Afghan forces to take control of the American-built Bagram Prison and accused American officials of violating an agreement to fully transfer the facility to the Afghans, according to a statement from his office on Monday.
The move came after what Mr. Karzai said was the expiration of a two-month grace period, agreed to by President Obama, to complete the transfer of the prison at Bagram Air Base.
At issue in particular are 57 prisoners held there who had been acquitted by the Afghan courts but who have been held by American officials at the prison for more than a month in defiance of release orders, Aimal Faizi, the spokesman for President Karzai, said in an interview.
Similar language opens the Washington Post story on Karzai’s orders:
President Hamid Karzai has ordered his aides to institute the “full Afghanization” of the U.S.-run prison at Bagram air base, charging that American forces are continuing to detain Afghans despite a bilateral agreement in March to transfer all prisoners to Afghan authorities.
In a Pashto-language statement tweeted from the presidential palace late Sunday after Karzai met with his top security officials, the president complained that some prisoners ordered released by Afghan courts are still being held by U.S. forces.
“These acts are completely against the agreement that has been signed between Afghanistan and the U.S. president,” the statement said.
It said the Afghan defense minister, the attorney general and the national police general in charge of the Bagram prison should “take all required actions for full Afghanization of Bagram prison affairs and its complete transfer of authority to Afghans.”
I want to return now to the convergence of two details mentioned above. Continue reading
Hamid Karzai lashed out yesterday against the continued use of NATO air strikes in civilian areas. He angrily referred to police actions in the US and France, noting that even when the most dangerous suspects are being sought, houses where they are holed up are never bombed. Remarkably, the New York Times provided background that helps to understand Karzai’s rage, explaining that the sham agreements on night raids and prison management recently enacted only “nominally” put Afghanistan in charge.
Here’s a basic description of the new “restrictions” on air strikes as it appears in the Washington Post:
Allen issued new orders this week restricting the use of airstrikes on civilian dwellings in response to the Logar deaths and continued criticism by Karzai. U.S. military officials said commanders will be instructed to use other means to get Taliban fighters out of homes and buildings rather than calling in airstrikes. Civilian homes have been damaged by airstrikes 32 times so far this year, according to U.S. military statistics.
Ah, but as in all the NATO agreements driven by the Obama administration, the devil is in the details. As the New York Times reported on the US response to Karzai’s outburst:
Hours later, the allied commander in Afghanistan, Gen. John R. Allen, reiterated significant changes to rules concerning the use of airstrikes announced earlier this week, issuing a statement in which he said he had given the order that “no aerial munitions be delivered against civilian dwellings.” But he added the caveat that the strikes would be permitted as an absolute last resort in self-defense “if no other options are available.”
As in all other agreements from Obama and NATO, the caveat allows a full work-around of the main point of the agreement. Here is how the article describes the night raid and prison management agreements in the context of the air raid “restrictions”:
But authority over both night raids and detention is nominally in the hands of Afghans now, since memorandums of understanding were signed this spring. And, while Americans still call many of the shots on both, the clock is running on how long that will go on: the NATO combat mission in Afghanistan is set to end in 2014, and by the end of this year, there will be 23,000 fewer American troops here.
So Afghanistan is in charge of night raids. But not really. And Afghanistan is in charge of prisons. But not really. And NATO will not bomb civilian areas. But not really. Is it any wonder that Karzai is ranting? Returning to the Washington Post article:
Karzai said he had an argument with Gen. John Allen, the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan, over the weekend about the issue, following a deadly airstrike that killed civilians in Logar province. “I said, ‘Do you do this in the United States?’ There is police action every day in the United States in various localities. They don’t call an airplane to bomb the place.”
The Times carries more of this outburst, where Karzai expanded it to include more of NATO:
“There was a police action in France, in Toulouse, when they were going to neutralize the terrorist,” Mr. Karzai said, referring to a French siege in March at an apartment where a man had holed up after killing seven people. “They were engaged in a fight with the person who was in a house, for about 36 hours or so, but they didn’t call the French Air Force to bomb the house.”
Mr. Karzai added: “Airstrikes are not used in civilian areas. If they don’t want to do it in their own country, why do they do it in Afghanistan?”
Don’t worry, Hamid, NATO and the US have promised they will only bomb civilians as a “last resort”. Don’t you trust them?
On April 8, the US and Afghanistan finally signed an agreement handing over primary responsibility for night raids to Afghan forces. Although the Obama administration was hell-bent on inking that deal as part of the effort to have agreement with Afghanistan on overall status of forces thinking prior to the May NATO summit in Chicago, this agreement was a full month later than the agreement handing over responsibility for detention operations. Negotiations took so long because the US sees night raids as a central factor in success in both Iraq and Afghanistan while the Afghans are critically aware of the polarizing effect of night raids and how they fuel the insurgency.
As I pointed out in this post on an excerpt from Michael Hastings’ The Operators, Lieutenant General Michael Flynn was a key intelligence staffer for Stanley McChrystal during the Camp NAMA torture and torture cover-up in early 2004. His biography notes that “Major General Flynn commanded the 111th Military Intelligence Brigade from June 2002 to June 2004.” Many of those who were victims of torture during that time in Iraq had been rounded up in night raids. Here is Michael Hirsh as quoted by Chris Suellentrop in the New York Times:
Reading “Fiasco,” Thomas Ricks’s devastating new book about the Iraq war, brought back memories for me. Memories of going on night raids in Samarra in January 2004, in the heart of the Sunni Triangle, with the Fourth Infantry Division units that Ricks describes. During these raids, confused young Americans would burst into Iraqi homes, overturn beds, dump out drawers, and summarily arrest all military-age men — actions that made them unwitting recruits for the insurgency. For American soldiers battling the resistance throughout Iraq, the unspoken rule was that all Iraqis were guilty until proven innocent. Arrests, beatings and sometimes killings were arbitrary, often based on the flimsiest intelligence, and Iraqis had no recourse whatever to justice. Imagine the sense of helpless rage that emerges from this sort of treatment. Apply three years of it and you have one furious, traumatized population. And a country out of control.
The Hill adds this to Flynn’s background:
Flynn was also the top intelligence officer at International Security Assistance Force-Afghanistan, working under former ISAF chiefs Gen. Stanley McChrystal and Gen. David Petraeus.
Flynn often is credited with recognizing the poor state of intelligence on which the earliest night raids were conducted and working to improve the underlying intelligence. Despite claimed progress on this front, however, even as late as last year, a full 20% of night raids in Afghanistan were incorrectly targeted.
Flynn has now parlayed the success with which he is credited into a nomination to head the Defense Intelligence Agency: Continue reading