Posts

Agreement in Principle Signed on Handover of Afghan Prisons, Night Raid Agreement to be Separate

Creating conditions dangerously close to those under which we have been warned that Lindsey Graham’s head will explode, the US and Afghanistan have signed an agreement in principle on the handover of prisons to Afghan control. The negotiations were carried out under the pressure of dual deadlines, with Afghan President Hamid Karzai having put today as his deadline for insisting on an agreement and President Obama declaring that an agreement had to be in place before the upcoming NATO summit in Chicago.

The agreement appears to use semantics to say that the prisons are being handed over today, but with the reality being that there will be a gradual process taking six months. From the New York Times:

The memorandum of understanding would officially hand over control of detainees to an Afghan official as of Friday, but would also allow for a six-month period of transition to full Afghan control of the American-held detainees, American officials said.

As a practical matter, American officials are expected to maintain day-to-day control over the 3,200 detainees, most of them suspected Taliban insurgents.

During the six months, custody of the American-held prisoners would gradually transfer to Afghan authority, with the first 500 prisoners to be transferred within 45 days, according to American military and diplomatic officials who spoke on condition of anonymity as a matter of policy.

The move is a major concession to the Afghans, but the Americans will retain ultimate veto authority over releases of any insurgent detainees as long as American troops are in Afghanistan, and will continue to monitor humane treatment of the prisoners, the American officials said.

With the US maintaining veto power over release of any prisoners, perhaps Senator Graham will have to hold off on throwing his next tantrum, as his major objection to the handover had been that the Afghans would release prisoners who would immediately attack US troops. It’s not clear how the US will be monitoring humane treatment of the prisoners, since it is US training that put the torture methods in place to begin with.

There is no indication in this Times article, or in articles from AP carried in the Washington Post or the Reuters article about the signing of the prison agreement on when an agreement on night raids is expected. The night raid issue appears to be the one remaining sticking point that needs to be addressed before the long term status of forces agreement can be established for laying out the ground rules after the expected US withdrawal from Afghanistan late next year. Presumably, the Obama administration will be pushing to have both the night raid agreement and status of forces agreement in place before the May NATO summit.

Oh, and those non-Afghan prisoners we’re holding at Bagram that the US wants us all to forget about? They stay under US control, of course.

Graham Throws Tantrum Over an Afghanistan With No Night Raids or US Control of Prisons

Proof from April, 2010 that we have trained the Afghans to manage their own prisons.

With most eyes yesterday on Super Tuesday and political wrangling over Iran’s nuclear technology, not many took notice of the update from Reuters Tuesday morning letting us know that an agreement on transfer detention faciliies to full Afghanistan control is expected by the end of this week. Lindsey Graham did notice the news,however, and chose to vent to Josh Rogin just before lunch.

Lindsey is not happy:

Graham, who has been one of the strongest congressional supporters for continuing the U.S. military mission in Afghanistan beyond 2014, said today that unless Karzai relents on his demands that the United States immediately hand over control of Afghan prisoners and end night raids against insurgents, there is no way the U.S. can achieve its objectives in Afghanistan and therefore should just end its involvement there.

“If the president of the country can’t understand how irrational it is to expect us to turn over prisoners and if he doesn’t understand that the night raids have been the biggest blow to the Taliban … then there is no hope of winning. None,” Graham said in the hallways of the Capitol Building just before entering the GOP caucus lunch.

“So if he insists that all the prisoners have to be turned over by March 9 and that we have to stop night raids, that means we will fail in Afghanistan and that means Lindsey Graham pulls the plug. It means that I no longer believe we can win and we might as well get out of there sooner rather than later.”

Graham gets so much wrong in his rant. He seems to think that the US is planning to hand over full control of the prisons on Friday. Reuters reports that the most likely agreement is for the process to start on Friday but take place over a six month period:

In a meeting Monday between Afghan President Hamid Karzai, U.S. ambassador Ryan Crocker and Gen. John Allen, the NATO commander in Afghanistan, the American side proposed a six-month timeline for the transfer.

Karzai was reported to have set a deadline of March 9 for the United States to hand over the detention facilities.

An Afghan official said that under one possible scenario, a transfer of prisons could start within the next few days and it may be completed within six months.

Next, Graham complains that the Afghans will merely turn insurgents loose to “start killing Americans again”, despite the fact that Afghanistan appears to hang onto some prisoners long enough to have built up quite a reputation for torture there.

And Graham seems to have forgotten that training has been a cornerstone of US policy in Afghanistan, presumably equipping the Afghans for the time when we could hand over prisons and other security arrangements to the Afghans so that we could go home. Read more

“Quiet Lobbying Campaign” For SOCOM: Hollywood Movie, President’s Campaign Slogan

Coming so quickly on the heels of Lt. Col. Daniel Davis documenting the depraved level of lying that characterizes the primary mode of action for many at the top levels in our military, it’s galling that Admiral William McRaven would take to the front page of today’s New York Times to advance his efforts–hilariously and tragically labeled by the Times as a “quiet lobbying campaign”–to gain an even freer hand for the Special Operations Command, which he heads.

Never forget that it was from within Special Operations that Stanley McChrystal shielded Camp NAMA, where torture occurred, from the International Committee of the Red Cross. Never forget that it was Special Operations who instituted the dark side of the COIN (counterinsurgency) campaign in Afghanistan that relied on poorly targeted night raids that imprisoned and tortured many innocent civilians. Never forget that Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld bypassed the normal chain of command to work directly with Stanley McChrystal when he headed JSOC, sending McChrystal on missions not reported to area command. This relationship with Cheney and Rumsfeld had a strong effect on JSOC, as noted by Jeremy Scahill:

Wilkerson said that almost immediately after assuming his role at the State Department under Colin Powell, he saw JSOC being politicized and developing a close relationship with the executive branch.

Among the military commanders being bypassed by Cheney and Rumsfeld was the head of SOCOM, the position that McRaven (who was McChyrstal’s deputy when most of McChrystal’s war crimes were carried out) now occupies, but this same attitude of teaming with the executive branch to bypass the regular defense chain of command has survived intact.

Today’s article in the Times opens this way:

As the United States turns increasingly to Special Operations forces to confront developing threats scattered around the world, the nation’s top Special Operations officer, a member of the Navy Seals who oversaw the raid that killed Osama bin Laden, is seeking new authority to move his forces faster and outside of normal Pentagon deployment channels.

The officer, Adm. William H. McRaven, who leads the Special Operations Command, is pushing for a larger role for his elite units who have traditionally operated in the dark corners of American foreign policy. The plan would give him more autonomy to position his forces and their war-fighting equipment where intelligence and global events indicate they are most needed.

At least the Times does pay a short homage to the quaint, old way of the chain of command as it currently exists:

While President Obama and his Pentagon’s leadership have increasingly made Special Operations forces their military tool of choice, similar plans in the past have foundered because of opposition from regional commanders and the State Department. Read more

Night Raids, Drones and Raymond Davis Still in Af-Pak News

A vitally important loya jirga, or grand gathering, is underway in Afghanistan with leaders from all over the country converging to share their views on the future of the Afghanistan-US relationship.  Afghan President Hamid Karzai has announced that a prerequisite for any deal with the US is an end to night raids.  Perhaps because of the importance of the meetings in Afghanistan, today saw a particularly large drone attack just across the border in Pakistan, with at least 15 killed in the attack.  Raymond Davis also makes a surprise re-appearance in today’s news, with former Pakistan Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi providing more details on his resignation when he was under pressure for refusing to grant diplomatic immunity to Raymond Davis.

The loya jirga starts today and the Taliban has vowed to attack it:

 About 2,000 Afghan community and political leaders will gather on Wednesday in Kabul under tight security for four days of deliberations on the country’s most pressing issues, including ties with main ally the United States.

The meeting, known as a loya jirga, or grand assembly, cannot make laws, and whatever it decides has to be approved by parliament, but the subjects up for debate are among the most sensitive: the scope of a U.S. military presence after a 2014 deadline for foreign combat troops to leave and the idea of peace talks with the Taliban.

The Taliban, who have long fought to oust foreign forces, have dismissed the meeting as a ruse to cement what they see as foreign interference and have already tried to disrupt it. They have vowed to target participants and said they had a copy of the jirga security plan.

Afghan President Hamid Karzai is using the occasion to say that no agreement with the US is possible without an end to night raids: Read more

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

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?