Despite the rampant corruption of his administration and his many other faults, Hamid Karzai was a consistent critic of US-led night raids that led to many senseless civilian deaths, disappearances and torture. Those raids, and the US death squads that carried them out, were right at the top of the list of reasons Karzai refused to sign the BSA authorizing the continued presence of US troops in Afghanistan beyond the beginning of this year. Now that Ashraf Ghani has signed the BSA, the US has retained its right to “counterterrorism operations”, meaning that US-led night raids are still authorized despite Barack Obama’s declaration that combat operations have ended (while relying on a semantic sleight of hand in omitting that counterterrorism operations continue).
Ashraf Ghani seems to feel that US-led night raids are not enough, and so he called a meeting of Afhganistan’s National Security Council to authorize more night raids carried out by Afghan forces. Learning from Obama, Ghani has termed these raids “special military operations” rather than the unpopular night raids, but Khaama Press clearly knows that this is about night raids. Here is a partial screen capture of their article on the move, where we see that the chosen illustration for the story is a photo taken at night, showing forces wearing night vision equipment routinely employed in night raids:
Perhaps in a bit of a nod to Karzai’s previous objections to US-led night raids, the article notes:
The Afghan national security forces were instructed to take all necessary measures to respect the Islamic values, the Afghan culture, Afghan constitution and other laws of the country while executing a special military operation.
It’s hard to see how that instruction can be carried out, though, since the ANSF have been trained by US forces whose actions led to those very charges against them by Karzai. Even though Karzai forced the US to sign an “agreement” supposedly reforming US night raids in 2012, Karzai was still complaining about the US violating Afghan homes more than a year and a half later. Ghani is now authorizing these crimes to be committed by Afghan troops as well as US troops.
On a separate front, a number of Afghan Members of Parliament have declared that the failure of the Unity Government led by Ghani to establish a cabinet more than three months after assuming power rises to the level of a charge of treason. Ghani, however, appears to be shrugging off the charge.
With the idea of impeachment already in the air, Ghani’s move to institute night raids by Afghan forces might just provide a stronger basis for moving ahead with charges.
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.
Hamid Karzai continues his expert gamesmanship in his dealing with the US, forcing deadline after deadline to be abandoned in the US effort to get him to sign the Bilateral Security Agreement that would keep US troops in Afghanistan beyond the expiration of the NATO mission at the end of this year. Yesterday, Karzai followed through on his intention to release a number of prisoners who have been at the heart of one of the latest controversies when he gave final orders for the release of a number of them.
Recall that one week ago, Hypocrisy Tourists John McCain and Lindsey Graham were in Kabul to warn of the dire dangers of releasing these prisoners. Almost lost behind the headlines in this latest turn of events is that Karzai and Afghanistan have been true to their words in this process. Last week, their position was to state that the 88 prisoners were designated for release but that the US and NATO could provide any evidence that they have that would call for the prisoners to be sent to trial instead. It would appear that based on the latest evidence, 16 of those prisoners now are slated for trial and only 72 are now slated for release.
The Afghan government said Thursday it will release 72 high-profile detainees, a decision that defies pleas by U.S. officials and deals a massive blow to U.S.-Afghan relations just as the two countries attempt to complete a long-term security agreement.
U.S. officials say the prisoners pose a threat to both Afghan security and American service members based here, claiming their exoneration proves not only the dysfunction of the Afghan judiciary, but also the government’s inability to cooperate on even the gravest matters.
President Hamid Karzai declared Thursday that the evidence against the 72 men — which had been collected by both the Afghan intelligence service and the U.S. military — was insufficient to warrant formal trials, according to a statement from the presidential palace.
The release, which is expected within days, was ordered after a “thorough and serious review of the prisoners,” the statement said.
In an attempt to keep the detainees behind bars, U.S. officials had handed over reams of evidence against them — enough, they said they assumed, to at least justify formal trials.
So while by removing 16 prisoners from the list for release after considering the extra evidence, Afghanistan actually followed through with what they said they would do, word from the US has changed. Recall that last week, I pointed out that the US was claiming that their evidence for the disputed prisoners was enough to send them to trial “or at least to hold them pending further investigation”. I noted that given the number of years at least some of these prisoners have been held, this amounted to a plea to hold the prisoners indefinitely without charge. That language is now mysteriously missing from the US bleating about the harm that will be done by releasing the prisoners.
But that is not the only substantive change from the US side. Graham and McCain were leading the dire warnings to Karzai that releasing the prisoners was likely to lead Congress to cut off the billions of dollars of aid that would otherwise flow to Afghanistan and that even the Bilateral Security Agreement would be endangered.
Since he lobbied for and then obtained loya jirga approval of the Bilateral Security Agreement but then added new conditions before he would sign it, Afghan President Hamid Karzai has exasperated military planners in NATO and the US, confounded most of the Obama administration and spawned a growth industry among pundits trying to explain his actions. Karzai’s latest offering though, provides a delightful turning of the tables in which he has decided to characterize the actions of those who are pressuring him to sign the agreement. Here is how Tolo News described Karzai’s most recent gem:
Amidst highly public tensions with the United States over negotiating a long-term security deal for the coming years, President Hamid Karzai has said that the U.S. is behaving like a colonial power.
In a response to a somewhat leading question from the French newspaper Le Monde in an interview published Tuesday, “Do you think the USA is behaving like a colonial power,” President Karzai said:
“Absolutely. They threaten us by saying ‘We will no longer pay your salaries; we will drive you into a civil war.’ These are threats,” Karzai said. “If you want to be our partner, we must be friends. Respect Afghan homes, don’t kill their children and be a partner. So bluff or no bluff, we want respect for our commitment to the safety of Afghan lives and to peace in Afghanistan.”
I would have described the question from Le Monde as highly leading rather than somewhat leading, but Karzai’s response shows that he realizes that for those in his country, the situation indeed resembles colonialism with the US as the colonial power. And the US is clearly using that colonial positioning as a very blunt instrument with which to attempt to control Afghanistan. Karzai is telling us that only a colonial power would threaten to withhold salaries and generate a civil war. He wants the US to realize that he wants a partner and not a colonial overlord. The partner would have no trouble meeting his demands of secure homes and a negotiated peace with the Taliban.
I had missed it when it came out on Thanksgiving, but this Op-Ed in the New York Times could serve as Karzai’s primary example of colonial behavior by the US. It was penned by Michael O’Hanlon, who was perfectly described by Glenn Greenwald as a “really smart, serious, credible Iraq expert” who also clearly lends the same sort of intellectual firepower to his Afghanistan analysis and John Allen, the mental giant who opined that green on blue attacks in Afghanistan were caused by fasting at Ramadan (and appears to have found the perfect home for himself at Brookings with O’Hanlon after his retirement from the military). O’Hanlon and Allen open with a blast at Karzai’s lack of appreciation for all that the US has done for Afghanistan:
What is going on with President Hamid Karzai? The world’s only superpower, leading a coalition of some 50 nations, is willing to stay on in his country after a war that has already lasted a dozen years and cost the United States more than $600 billion and more than 2,000 fatalities — and yet the Afghan president keeps throwing up roadblocks.
Isn’t that just the height of ungratefulness? We (the world’s ONLY superpower!) waged war in Karzai’s country for twelve years, have offered to continue doing so and he has the gall to throw up roadblocks? Really!
But this paragraph is perhaps the height of colonial positioning by O’Hanlon and Allen: Continue reading
On the very same day that a member Congress stated that Middle Eastern cultures routinely lie during negotiations, several US senior officials suggested dishonest ways of working around Hamid Karzai’s conditions for signing the Bilateral Security Agreement by getting someone other than Karzai to sign it.
Granted, Duncan Hunter, Jr. is batshit crazy and also was arguing for the use of tactical nuclear weapons in a war with Iran, but his statements on honesty yesterday provide a supremely ironic context for John Kerry and Chuck Hagel suggesting someone other than Karzai could sign the agreement. TPM has Hunter’s comments:
Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-CA) said Wednesday that it is in the Middle Eastern culture to lie during negotiations.
“In the Middle Eastern culture, it is looked upon with very high regard to get the best deal possible no matter what it takes — and that includes lying,” Hunter said in an interview with C-SPAN. “That’s one reason that these Gulf states like to work with the United States — because we’re honest and transparent and we have laws that we have to live by.”
Hunter and his ilk, of course, would point to Karzai’s new conditions imposed after the loya jirga approved the BSA and urged Karzai to sign it. But is the US acting any differently than the actions Hunter criticizes in its attempt, at any cost, to get a work-around?
From the Washington Post:
The Obama administration is looking for ways to work around Afghan President Hamid Karzai’s new demands concerning a key security agreement with the United States, a senior U.S. official close to the negotiations said Wednesday.
“One of the things we’re trying to do quietly is design, engineer, imagine ways that we could get ourselves out of this fix,” the official said in an interview, speaking on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to describe the emerging strategy on the record. “One of those ways might be to find a mechanism, a technique where Karzai could abide by his loya jirga pledge not to sign it but still give us the document we need.”
Secretary of State John F. Kerry suggested this week that someone other than Karzai might sign the security deal. Possibilities include the top Afghan and U.S. defense officials, although U.S. officials played down that option after Kerry spoke.
But in Washington on Wednesday, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel also suggested to reporters at the Pentagon that the signature of an Afghan leader other than Karzai might suffice.
And Martin Dempsey has also joined the Coalition of the Working-Around:
Dempsey said it was important that any agreement be binding. “As long as the document is considered legally binding by both parties and credible internationally, then I think it will be a matter of who they decide signs it,” he said.
The attempts to bypass Karzai are not being received well in Kabul. From Khaama Press:
Aimal Faizi, spokesman for president Hamid Karzai has said that the Afghan ministers will not be authorized to sign the security pact unless the demands are met.
Mr. Faizi further added that president Hamid Karzai remains committed to his two main demands to sign the agreement. “President Karzai wants an absolute end to the military operations on Afghan homes and a meaningful start to the peace process, and we are certain that the Americans can practically do that within days or weeks,” Faizi quoted by Reuters said.
He also added, “As long as these demands are not accepted, President Karzai will not authorize any minister to sign it.”
There is one more very important tidbit buried near the end of this article. It turns out that the US didn’t merely mention getting someone other than Karzai to sign the agreement, it has already approached the Afghan defense minister to try to persuade him to sign it:
According to reports, US officials have also approached Afghan defense minister Gen. Bismillah Mohammadi during the NATO foreign ministerial meeting in Brussels to discuss such a possibility.
Hunter couldn’t have said it any better. The US wants this document signed, no matter what it takes.
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
With Hamid Karzai’s loya jirga only about one week away, Reuters has published information that adds fuel to one of the major objections to the new Bilateral Security Agreement between Afghanistan and the US that the jirga is meant to bless. Despite clear evidence provided recently in full by Matthieu Aikins that US special forces were involved in the murders of a number of civilians in the Nerkh district of Maidan Wardak province, Afghanistan’s security directorate has had to close their investigation into those deaths because the US will not provide access to the troops who were involved. The current status of forces agreement provides full criminal immunity to US troops and it is widely believed that criminal immunity going forward after 2014 will be the key decision point at the jirga and for Karzai signing the agreement.
For their article, Reuters came into possession of a report from Afghanistan’s National Directorate of Security that was written in September:
Afghanistan’s intelligence service has abandoned its investigation into the murder of a group of civilians after being refused access to U.S. special forces soldiers suspected of involvement, according to a document obtained by Reuters.
In the report authored by Afghanistan’s National Directorate of Security (NDS) intelligence agency, investigators said they had asked the United States for access to three U.S. Green Berets and four Afghan translators working with them but were rebuffed.
“Despite many requests by NDS they have not cooperated. Without their cooperation this process cannot be completed,” said the report, which was originally published on September 23.
U.S. military officials were not immediately available for comment but they have long said the Green Berets did not take part in, or turn a blind eye to, illegal killings in Wardak.
Yeah, right. How can the US claim they didn’t turn a “blind eye” when, among the many things Aikins documented, it was clear that Zakariah Kandahari was in Facebook contact with the special forces unit in question while he was officially “missing”?
There has been much posturing over the jirga in recent days, with assemblies of politicians and other leaders being called to both support and oppose any approval of the bilateral security agreement. The Taliban also has weighed in, warning that any tribal leaders voting for the US to retain a presence in Afghanistan will be targets of future attacks.
Of course, the US claims that even though US forces are immune from being charged by Afghan authorities, US troops are subject to the military justice system and that crimes are investigated and prosecuted. However, given the rush to prosecute only Robert Bales on the Panjwai massacre even though it seems quite possible he had help with at least some of those killings, by blocking Afghan access to the remainder of the death squad involved prompts speculation that Kandahari will be the scapegoat for the Nerkh killings, especially since the US continues to maintain that Kandahari wasn’t even officially working for the US.
Will the blocking of Afghanistan’s investigation into these brutal murders be the final straw that blocks approval of immunity and the BSA?
I’ve noted before how the “fighting season” in Afghanistan is viewed by the Pentagon in terms that are eerily parallel to baseball season, but the end of season reviews this year have sunk to a pitifully low level as military leaders cast about for anything that can be viewed as a positive sign to take away from the season that is winding down. In today’s New York Times, the season review has sunk lower than any diehard Cubs fan’s version of “wait until next year”:
Some American and Afghan commanders characterized a kind of moral victory for the Afghan forces: they mostly survived, and they did not completely give back gains from past Western offensives.
True to form, the article opened by presenting the “fighting season” framing:
When the Taliban announced the beginning of their spring offensive, they saw few limits to their ambitions: to kill top Afghan officials across every major ministry, to plot even more infiltration attacks against Americans and to bloody, break and drive off the Afghan security forces who were newly in charge across the country.
Now, Afghan and American officials are cautiously celebrating a deflation of the Taliban’s propaganda bubble, the militants’ goals largely unmet.
With this year’s fighting season nearly over, the officials say the good news is that the Afghan forces mostly held their own, responding to attacks well and cutting down on assassinations. But at the same time, the Afghans were unable to make significant gains and, worse, suffered such heavy casualties that some officials called the rate unsustainable.
So, in other words, the Taliban team was really cocky coming out of spring training and felt like they could win it all. Their arch-rivals ANSF instead played them to a standstill, with neither team making the playoffs yet again. And the ANSF team is in dire danger of being seriously depleted next spring.
The review coming from manager Joseph Dunford at the ISAF team website is no better:
While the ANSF are making real progress in security, the challenges faced by Afghans and the international community are primarily psychological and political. There is still widespread uncertainty amongst the Afghan people and in the region concerning the post-2014 environment. This uncertainty causes unhelpful hedging behavior. The overall perception of security is affected by the Taliban’s high profile attacks (HPAs), which is nothing more than a campaign of fear, murder and intimidation. ISAF’s current focus is to enable the ANSF to emerge from this fighting season confident and credible in the eyes of the Afghan people; this will create the perception of security that will support the political process and lead to successful elections in 2014.
If only that damned commissioner’s office would quit screwing around with league alignment, we’d win it all! Honest!
But all jokes aside, when military sources providing quotes to the Times can only speak of “moral victories” and when the commander of US forces has as his goal “the perception of security”, the battle is already lost.