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Despite Accuracy Improvement, Huge Increase in Afghan Night Raids Detains More Innocent Civilians

US soldiers on night raid Nov. 22, 2010. (US Army photo)

In Friday’s post, I noted in passing the recent revelation that only about 50% of night raids had accurate targeting.  A new report (pdf) released today by the Open Society Foundations and The Liaison Office informs us that targeting for night raids in Afghanistan is now about 80% accurate, but because the rate of raids has increased more than five-fold, the number of innocent civilians detained in the night raids continues to go up.  As one might expect, the backlash from these improper detentions is significant and likely contributes to the increased rate of insurgent attacks.

The press release announcing the report provides a broad picture of the findings:

Ten years after the invasion of Afghanistan, security is at its worst level since the fall of the Taliban. U.S. and NATO forces argue that night raids are their best tool against insurgents, but a new report by the Open Society Foundations and The Liaison Office finds that the cost of the raids outweighs the benefits.

/snip/

An estimated 12 to 20 night raids now occur per night, resulting in thousands of detentions per year, many of whom are non-combatants. Mass detention operations, holding entire villages for questioning on site for prolonged periods of time, may violate international prohibitions against indiscriminate detention, the report found.

Civilians feel caught between the warring parties, and often blame international forces. As one man from Nangarhar, interviewed in the report said, “They claim to be against terrorists, but what they are doing is terrorism. It spreads terror. It creates more violence.” Weak accountability mechanisms where civilian casualties and mistaken detention occur and a failure to explore alternatives to night raids further increase anger over the raids. Read more

Many years ago, Jim got a BA in Radiation Biophysics from the University of Kansas. He then got a PhD in Molecular Biology from UCLA and did postdoctoral research in yeast genetics at UC Berkeley and mouse retroviruses at Stanford. He joined biosys in Palo Alto, producing insect parasitic nematodes for pest control. In the early 1990’s, he moved to Gainesville, FL and founded a company that eventually became Entomos. He left the firm as it reorganized into Pasteuria Biosciences and chose not to found a new firm due a clash of values with venture capital investors, who generally lack all values. Upon leaving, he chose to be a stay at home dad, gentleman farmer, cook and horse wrangler. He discovered the online world through commenting at Glenn Greenwald’s blog in the Salon days and was involved in the briefly successful Chris Dodd move to block the bill to renew FISA. He then went on to blog at Firedoglake and served a brief stint as evening editor there. When the Emptywheel blog moved out of Firedoglake back to standalone status, Jim tagged along and blogged on anthrax, viruses, John Galt, Pakistan and Afghanistan. He is now a mostly lapsed blogger looking for a work-around to the depressing realization that pointing out the details of government malfeasance and elite immunity has approximately zero effect.

Will a Role in Afghan Peace Negotiations Trump Indefinite Detention?

The Telegraph reports that a High Peace Council convened by Hamid Karzai may request that some Gitmo detainees be freed so they can participate in peace talks. (h/t Carol Rosenberg)

Taliban prisoners would be freed from Guantánamo Bay to potentially join peace negotiations under a proposal from the Afghan council appointed to find a settlement to the insurgency.

[snip]

The 68-strong High Peace Council was inaugurated by Hamid Karzai last month to pursue a twin-track strategy of reaching out to Taliban leaders while coaxing foot soldiers from the fight.

Mullah Rahmani, an education minister in the Taliban regime, heads a group of former Taliban on the council and chairs a subcommittee on political prisoners.

[snip]Mullah Rahmani said he wanted influential prisoners freed from American and Pakistani custody as a confidence-building gesture and potentially to join talks.

[snip]

He said: “We could use these people in negotiation. They have good contacts and are trusted by the Taliban.” Khairullah Khairkhwa, Taliban governor of Herat province until 2001, and Mullah Mohammad Fazl, deputy chief of staff in the Taliban army, were among those who should be freed from Guantánamo he said.

Khairkhwa is “a hardliner in terms of Taliban philosophy”, with “close ties to Osama bin Laden” according to his Guantánamo case file. Fazl was second-in-command of the Taliban’s army at the time of the United States’ invasion.

As these peace talks have developed, I’ve been suspecting something like this would happen. In particular, I’m curious whether this request would need to — and would — trump the US government’s decision that Khairkhwa and Fazl needed to be indefinitely detained.

I asked Rosenberg whether she knew if Khairkhwa was among the 40-some detainees slotted for indefinite detention, and she responded that she did not recall his name submitted for trial.

I asked that question because the Gitmo Task Force Report (pdf) had included top Taliban leaders among those who had been picked for indefinite detention.

In contrast to the majority of detainees held at Guantanamo, many of the detainees approved for detention held a leadership or other specialized role within al-Qaida, the Taliban, or associated forces.

[snip]

Others were Taliban military commanders or senior officials, or played significant roles in insurgent groups in Afghanistan allied with the Taliban, such as Hezb-e-Islami Gulbuddin.

Khairkhwa and Fazl would certainly qualify as “military commanders or senior officials.”

Now, if Khairkhwa and Fazl are senior enough members of the Taliban and legitimate and necessary peace partners, doesn’t that suggest they were not illegal combatants, but rather legitimate political leaders? And doesn’t that mean they should have been treated as POWs from the start?

Marcy Wheeler is an independent journalist writing about national security and civil liberties. She writes as emptywheel at her eponymous blog, publishes at outlets including Vice, Motherboard, the Nation, the Atlantic, Al Jazeera, and appears frequently on television and radio. She is the author of Anatomy of Deceit, a primer on the CIA leak investigation, and liveblogged the Scooter Libby trial.

Marcy has a PhD from the University of Michigan, where she researched the “feuilleton,” a short conversational newspaper form that has proven important in times of heightened censorship. Before and after her time in academics, Marcy provided documentation consulting for corporations in the auto, tech, and energy industries. She lives with her spouse in Grand Rapids, MI.

We Spend $1 Billion/Year Fighting Each al Qaeda Member in Afghanistan

Think Progress does the math on Panetta’s admission that there are just 100 al Qaeda members in Afghanistan, and discovers we’ve got 1,000 American troops in Afghanistan for each al Qaeda member.

The U.S. has committed nearly 100,000 troops to the mission in Afghanistan. ABC This Week host Jake Tapper asked CIA Director Leon Panetta how big is the al Qaeda threat that the soldiers are combating:

TAPPER: How many Al Qaeda, do you think, are in Afghanistan?

PANETTA: I think the estimate on the number of Al Qaeda is actually relatively small. I think at most, we’re looking at 50 to 100, maybe less. It’s in that vicinity. There’s no question that the main location of Al Qaeda is in the tribal areas of Pakistan.

The 100,000 U.S. forces that have been tasked to dismantle the 100 or so al Qaeda members — a ratio of 1000:1 — is complicated by the fact that we are also engaged in operations going after the Taliban leadership.

Now let me add to their math. Even Afghan war fans admit that it costs $1 million a year–on top of things like salary–to support a US service member in Afghanistan.

Michael O’Hanlon, a defense analyst at the Brookings Institution, says one useful way to break down these huge numbers is to look at how much it costs to send just one soldier to war.

“We are at a point where it’s unbelievably costing us close to a million dollars, in additional costs — above and beyond salaries and the equipment that’s already in the inventory — per soldier or Marine per year,” he says.

Fighting in Afghanistan means fighting in one of the most remote regions on Earth, and that plays a large role in the seemingly astronomical figure.

Dov Zakheim, a former chief financial officer for the Defense Department, says the $1 million price tag includes getting the soldier to Afghanistan, getting his equipment to Afghanistan, and moving the soldier around once in the country.

So 1,000 US troops per al Qaeda member, at a cost of $1 million each. That’s $1 billion a year we spend for each al Qaeda member to fight our war in Afghanistan.

This sort of adds a new twist to that old Einstein quip about the definition of insanity being doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. Because we’re doing the same thing over and over again–at a cost of $1 billion a year per nominal opponent–and expecting anything other than bankruptcy.

Marcy Wheeler is an independent journalist writing about national security and civil liberties. She writes as emptywheel at her eponymous blog, publishes at outlets including Vice, Motherboard, the Nation, the Atlantic, Al Jazeera, and appears frequently on television and radio. She is the author of Anatomy of Deceit, a primer on the CIA leak investigation, and liveblogged the Scooter Libby trial.

Marcy has a PhD from the University of Michigan, where she researched the “feuilleton,” a short conversational newspaper form that has proven important in times of heightened censorship. Before and after her time in academics, Marcy provided documentation consulting for corporations in the auto, tech, and energy industries. She lives with her spouse in Grand Rapids, MI.

Has Aafia Siddiqui’s Daughter Surfaced?

Aafia Siddiqui has been at the center of one of the many mysteries flowing from the Bush and Obama administrations’ conduct of  intelligence operations. A Pakistani native and former MIT scientist, background on Siddiqui can be found several places, including a Seminal diary by ondelette here.

The stories of Siddiqui’s disappearance and  her recent trial in the US are too convoluted to easily summarize.  For purposes of the story now emerging — the possible appearance of Siddiqui’s daughter — the bare bones are that, after returning to Pakistan from the US, Aafia Siddiqui was named by Khalid Sheikh Mohammed in his US-run torture interrogations.  Shortly thereafter, in March, 2003, Siddiqui disappeared. Her three children —  oldest son Ahmed, 4-year-old Maryam and her infant son, Suleman — disappeared with her.

After seven years, Siddiqui suddenly reappeared in Afghanistan, where the US alleged she was involved in the attempted shooting of an American soldier as she was being detained for interrogation. When Aafia was  apprehended in Afghanistan, a boy was with her. The US handed off the boy to Afghan intelligence while they shipped Siddiqui to the US for trial.

Pakistan became involved diplomatically over the child and demanded his return. He was handed over to Siddiqui’s family in Pakistan, but her other children have remained missing. There has been controversy in Pakistan over the status of the boy and whether he truly was Siddiqui’s son or not.

Last weekend a girl approximately 12 years old, who spoke only English and Persian and claimed her name was  “Fatima,” was dropped off in front of the home of Siddiqui’s sister.  Some stories indicate an American named “John” may have been with her. Dawn reported a senior policeman described that the girl was:

… wearing a collar “bearing the address of the house in case she wandered off”.

That was last week.

This week, April 11 marks the start of a visit by Pakistan’s Prime Minister, Yousuf Raza Gilani, to the Read more

Marcy Wheeler is an independent journalist writing about national security and civil liberties. She writes as emptywheel at her eponymous blog, publishes at outlets including Vice, Motherboard, the Nation, the Atlantic, Al Jazeera, and appears frequently on television and radio. She is the author of Anatomy of Deceit, a primer on the CIA leak investigation, and liveblogged the Scooter Libby trial.

Marcy has a PhD from the University of Michigan, where she researched the “feuilleton,” a short conversational newspaper form that has proven important in times of heightened censorship. Before and after her time in academics, Marcy provided documentation consulting for corporations in the auto, tech, and energy industries. She lives with her spouse in Grand Rapids, MI.

Operation “The Surge Is a Success–Bury the Afghanistan NIE”

John McCain has a narrow road to the Presidency. He has to bank on his claimed greater qualifications to be Commander-in-Chief to attract the votes of those who still believe the Global War on Terrorists and the Nations We Occupy (GWOTANWO) is our biggest concern. To win his Commander-in-Chief argument, McCain has to downplay the fact that Obama’s gradual withdrawal from Iraq is in fact the plan Maliki supports (and McCain has to hope Bush remains successful in shutting Maliki up about it), emphasize the spin that Obama has said the surge was a success, and hope no one remembers that McCain was a big hawk on the Iraq war back when we could have avoided it.

Oh, and he has to hope no one talks about how the McCain-Bush Iraq myopia led to the utter neglect of Afghanistan, thereby letting the terrorists regain a foothold in Pakistan’s tribal areas.

And to that end, the Bush Administration will not tell us what its NIE on Afghanistan says.

Officials say a draft of the classified NIE, representing the key judgments of the US intelligence community’s 17 agencies and departments, is being circulated in Washington and a final "coordination meeting" of the agencies involved, under the direction of the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, is scheduled in the next few weeks.

According to people who have been briefed, the NIE will paint a "grim" picture of the situation in Afghanistan, seven years after the US invaded in an effort to dismantle the al Qaeda network and its Taliban protectors.

After all, the only way the Iraq surge can look even remotely successful is if we remain ignorant of the opportunity costs we paid to execute it.

Marcy Wheeler is an independent journalist writing about national security and civil liberties. She writes as emptywheel at her eponymous blog, publishes at outlets including Vice, Motherboard, the Nation, the Atlantic, Al Jazeera, and appears frequently on television and radio. She is the author of Anatomy of Deceit, a primer on the CIA leak investigation, and liveblogged the Scooter Libby trial.

Marcy has a PhD from the University of Michigan, where she researched the “feuilleton,” a short conversational newspaper form that has proven important in times of heightened censorship. Before and after her time in academics, Marcy provided documentation consulting for corporations in the auto, tech, and energy industries. She lives with her spouse in Grand Rapids, MI.

Entangling Alliances

When I read Peter Baker’s description of Bush bailing on a NATO meeting early, I guessed that his stated reason for Bush’s departure–he was bored–was wrong. After all, Baker notes that Bush was only the third NATO leader to leave the meeting.

Bush was not the first leader to leave while the conversation dragged on. French President Nicolas Sarkozy and Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper were seen leaving before Bush did.

Two leaders with whom Bush should get along splendidly (well, except for the whole tradition of DeGaulle in France), Sarkozy and Harper, bailing before he did. I suspected then that our NATO allies were fed up with the US and close affiliates blaming the French, especially, but also the Canadians and Germans, for not providing enough troops in Afghanistan. After all, I can imagine the Canadians and French thinking, if the US had just heeded allies’ warnings about the Iraq War–or even simply abided by international law–the US would have plenty of troops to contribute to the Afghan cause. Why should NATO allies have to pay because the US has degraded its own military so badly?

So I was not surprised to hear Bob Gates announce the US is going to raise our troop levels in Afghanistan (on President Obama’s or President Clinton’s watch, mind you).

The United States intends to send many more combat forces to Afghanistan next year, regardless of whether troop levels in Iraq are cut further this year, Defense Secretary Robert Gates said Friday.

It is the first time the Bush administration has made such a commitment for 2009.

[snip]

Gates said he advised Bush to make the pledge to allied leaders in Bucharest even though the movement of the unspecified additional troops would ultimately be a decision for the next president, who will take office in January.

And, just as surely, TP reports that our NATO allies were no more interested in helping Bush out with his plans to allow Georgia and Ukraine into the alliance.

Even though Bush was putting “his personal prestige on the line” in supporting membership for the former Soviet Republics, he was forced to check his legacy at the door. NATO rebuffed, a “remarkable rejection of American policy in an alliance normally dominated by Washington.” Read more

Marcy Wheeler is an independent journalist writing about national security and civil liberties. She writes as emptywheel at her eponymous blog, publishes at outlets including Vice, Motherboard, the Nation, the Atlantic, Al Jazeera, and appears frequently on television and radio. She is the author of Anatomy of Deceit, a primer on the CIA leak investigation, and liveblogged the Scooter Libby trial.

Marcy has a PhD from the University of Michigan, where she researched the “feuilleton,” a short conversational newspaper form that has proven important in times of heightened censorship. Before and after her time in academics, Marcy provided documentation consulting for corporations in the auto, tech, and energy industries. She lives with her spouse in Grand Rapids, MI.

The Taliban and the Towers

Barnett Rubin offers an explanation for something we’ve been pondering for some time: why has the Taliban been blowing up cell phone towers in Afghanistan?

Setting up a cell phone tower anywhere in Afghanistan requires the consent of whoever "controls" the territory, or at least has the power to blow up the cell phone tower.

I have not yet been able to conduct a systematic survey of where the four mobile phone companies in Afghanistan (Afghan Wireless, Roshan, Etisalaat, and Areeba) pay the Taliban or other powerholders taxes/extortion/bribes to protect their phone towers, but one friend in the business says that the companies have to pay the Taliban in most of southern Afghanistan, right up to Kabul province.

[snip]

I have been told that Taliban (or people claiming to represent them) sometimes call up mobile phone companies and claim that they are right at a tower with explosives, which they will detonate unless money is immediately transferred to their mobile phone. This is a new technology that enables migrant workers to send cash home without going through either a hawala or Western Union.

Read more

Marcy Wheeler is an independent journalist writing about national security and civil liberties. She writes as emptywheel at her eponymous blog, publishes at outlets including Vice, Motherboard, the Nation, the Atlantic, Al Jazeera, and appears frequently on television and radio. She is the author of Anatomy of Deceit, a primer on the CIA leak investigation, and liveblogged the Scooter Libby trial.

Marcy has a PhD from the University of Michigan, where she researched the “feuilleton,” a short conversational newspaper form that has proven important in times of heightened censorship. Before and after her time in academics, Marcy provided documentation consulting for corporations in the auto, tech, and energy industries. She lives with her spouse in Grand Rapids, MI.