Thursday, 24 September 2009

Threat to Germany from Waziristan colonists

Islamic Jihad Union fighters in Waziristan

The emergence of several videos in German in recent days, threatening an al-Qaeda attack on the country unless it withdraws its 4,000 soldiers from Afghanistan, may well be linked to this Sunday's national election. It would not be the first time al-Qaeda has attempted to influence the outcome of a European election, having done the same in Spain in 2005.
The videos have been appearing since January this year, with several of them fronted by a young Moroccan-born German called Bekkay Harrach. In the January video he threatens attacks on Berlin, Cologne and Bremen. Its release followed a bomb attack on the German Embassy in Kabul that killed two Afghans and wounded several German and American nationals.
There is little doubt that Germany, which hosted many of the 9/11 hijackers as they planned their attacks on America, has a problem with Islamist extremists. The German government is presently trying to secure the release of a group of suspected German terrorists arrested by the Pakistani authorities as they made their way to a German jihadi colony in Waziristan.
According to a report in Der Spiegel magazine entire families are moving from Germany to ‘mujahideen villages’ in Pakistan's Tribal Areas, from where they take part in attacks on US and Afghan troops.
The magazine refers to a 30-minute video produced by the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, in which a young speaker called Abu Adam invites other Germans to join him in Pakistan: "Doesn't it appeal to you? We warmly invite you to join us!" Abu Adam says, raising his index finger. He lists all the things this earthly paradise has to offer: hospitals, doctors, pharmacies as well as a daycare center and school -- all, of course, "a long way from the front"."
German security officials believe that the IMU is the largest and most active Islamic group recruiting in the country. What is significant is the fact that they appear to be recruiting not just men, but entire families.
For several weeks, German diplomats have been discussing with Islamabad the fate of a group of suspected terrorists from Germany’s Rhineland region, who have been held in custody in Pakistan since May. The group includes a young Tunisian and six Germans, including Andreas M of Bonn, a Muslim convert, and his Eritrean wife Kerya and four-year-old daughter.
The group, which the magazine said apparently met each other in a Bonn prayer room, left Germany in several small groups in March and April. “They travelled through Turkey to the Iranian city of Zahedan. Located close to the border with Pakistan, Zahedan is notorious for its jihad tourism — hotels even set aside entire room allotments for radical foreigners making their way to the city,” Der Spiegel said.
“From Zahedan, most take taxis to Pakistan. For the group of Germans, though, that’s where the problems started. After crossing the border, the Germans were captured by police and taken to a jail in Peshawar.”
Initially they all claimed they were from Turkey and had lost their papers. Only in August did the ISI find out they were Germans.
Security officials believe that the goal of Abu Adam and the IMU was to strengthen the German “colony” in Waziristan. The detainees also include his brother-in-law, the German-Libyan Ahmed K.
It is well known that the IMU has a strong base in North Waziristan, particularly around the town of Mir Ali. One recent report suggested that there were at least 5,000 Uzbeks living in the region. Many are known to have joined Afghan Taliban fighters in Helmand to fight the British and American forces.
One group of German Islamists, known as the Sauerland Cell, was trained in Waziristan to carry out attacks on US soldiers stationed in German They were affiliated to an Uzbek group called the Islamic Jihad Union, also based in the Mir Ali region. Members of the cell have been on trial in Dusseldorf since May this year following their arrest in September 2007. The leader of the IJU, Najmiddin Kamolitdinovic Jalolov, was reportedly killed five days ago in a US drone missile strike.
In addition to the Sauerland cell, other extremists have been recruited from Germany. Cuneyt Ciftci from the Bavarian town of Ansbach, for example, blew himself up in a suicide attack in Khost in Afghanistan in 2008. Saadullah K. from the state of Hesse died fighting for the IJU during an exchange of gunfire. Two other recruits are presently on trial in Frankfurt. Meanwhile, investigators believe that Eric Breininger from Saarland and German-Lebanese suspect Houssain al-Malla are somewhere in Afghanistan.

Wednesday, 23 September 2009

Another 40,000 US troops for Afghanistan?

If President Obama eventually agrees to support General Stanley McChrystal's recommendation of more US troops in Afghanistan, just how many troops is that likely to be? No-one outside the Pentagon knows for sure, as the figures are not contained in the General's report.
However, Frederick W. Kagan, director of the Critical Threats Project at the American Enterprise Institute and Kimberly Kagan, President of the Institute for the Study of War, have produced a report that offers some estimates.
A Comprehensive Strategy for Afghanistan: Afghanistan Force Requirements argues that an additional 40-45,000 troops will be necessary in 2010 to add to the 64,000 already there.
(It should be noted that, according to the authors, of the 64,000 troops presently in-country, only 23,000 are available for counter-insurgency operations.
Compare that to Iraq, where before the troop surge the 15 US brigades there could put around 72,000 counter-insurgency troops on the ground and at the height of the surge, the total was more like 105,000. Iraq and Afghanistan have similar populations, although the latter is a much bigger country.)
These troops are in addition to the 20 non-US ISAF battalions that provide another 16,000 counter-insurgency troops and around 50,000 Afghan National Army troops. It will also be necessary to speed up the training of an extra 30,000 Afghan troops by October next year.
The US and ISAF troops should concentrate their efforts in Helmand/Kandahar, Paktia/Paktika and Nangahar and the Konar River Valley, say the authors. Other areas should simply be held or, in some cases, abandoned.
Without the extra troops suggested by Kagan and Kagan, they say the fighting in Helmand will continue to be indecisive, and Kandahar will have to be ceded to the enemy. Alternatively it may become necessary to withdraw completely from Helmand, which would not only humiliate the British Army, but would also lead to a mass slaughter of those who cooperated with the ISAF forces. From a military standpoint at least, President Obama would appear to have very few choices.

Monday, 21 September 2009

General Stanley McChrystal the anthropologist

What a fascinating document is General Stanley McChrystal's Initial Assessment on Afghanistan, delivered to President Obama on 30 August and made public today for the first time, with redactions.
McChrystal, who is America's top military man in Afghanistan, has written a document that must be one of the most unusual ever to come from a military commander.
He often sounds more like an anthropology professor than a general as he grapples with the tricky problem of what is going on in Afghanistan. "The conflict in Afghanistan can be seen as a set of related insurgencies, each of which is a complex system with multiple actors and a vast set of interconnecting relationships among those actors", he states. This is true, of course, but it is a pity it has taken eight years for America's senior brass to work out this most fundamental of facts.
Until recently there was no recognition by the military of the importance of the Afghan tribes to understanding events in the country. It was not understood, for example, that for insurgents to move from one part of the country to another required agreement from any tribes inhabiting the land in between.
Or that some of the Pashtun tribes were only fighting in Afghanistan, while others were also fighting against the Pakistan government. Or that there are both Sunnis and Shias amongst the Pashtuns. Or, until recently, that there are at least three (according to McChrystal) different Taliban factions (others would say there are five, or even seven).
The precise relationship between opium production and the insurgency has not been investigated. Opium eradication has been seen as a public health issue, not a matter of military strategy. And no effort has been put into producing propaganda that highlights the hypocrisy of the Taliban for producing drugs that are killing thousands of Moslems.
And how is it that the Taliban faction in Quetta in neighbouring Baluchistan is left undisturbed in this war? Everyone knows where they are and yet they appear to be untouchable.
In a remarkable admission, McChrystal acknowledges that the Taliban is better at propaganda than the Coalition: "Major insurgent groups outperform GIRoA and ISAF at information operations...They have carefully analysed their audience and target products accordingly. They use their Pashtun identity, physical proximity to the population and violent intimidation to deliver immediate and enduring messages with which ISAF and GIRoA have been unable to compete."
This is deeply depressing stuff. There are companies and consultants being paid millions of dollars to come up with solutions for problems like these, and yet the results are risible.
Having thoroughly (and correctly) trashed the Karzai government and the international community, McChrystal advocates what he calls population-centred counter insurgency. ISAF, together with the Afghan security forces, must shelter Afghans from violence, corruption and coercion. Military officers must also gain a much greater understanding of the country and its people.
This means local language training, a remarkable turnaround, considering that the British Foreign Office, for example, does not presently have any Pashto speakers.
"All ISAF personnel must show respect for local cultures and customs and demonstrate intellectual curiosity about the people of Afghanistan," he says.
It will be necessary to build personal relationships with the local people: "To gain accurate information and intelligence about the local environment ISAF must spend as much time as possible with the people and as little time as possible in armoured vehicles or behind the walls of forward operating bases."
This is all a very tall order and the question that will be on everyone's mind is whether or not it has all come too late. It may simply make more sense for the military to think of ways they can force the Taliban - in all its complexity - to the negotiating table.

Sunday, 20 September 2009

Mullah Omar remains silent on the big questions

Mullah Mohammad Omar, leader of the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan, has issued a message for Eid ul-Fitr, which you can find here in its entirety. The message, directed towards Afghans, particularly those who still show loyalty towards the Karzai regime, makes Mullah Omar sound almost like a paragon of reason.
"The rampant corruption in the surrogate Kabul administration, the embezzlement, drug trafficking, the existence of mafia networks, the tyranny and high-handed ness of the warlords, and spread and increase of the centers of obscenity being materialized as per the previously contemplated plans, are part of the colonial ambitious and conspiratorial accords." Ignoring the syntax and hyperbole, Mullah Omar clearly has a point.
He says that a new government will act to help develop the country: "The Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan has distinctive and useful plans for the future of Afghanistan under the shade of the just social system of Islam after the withdrawal of the foreign forces. They include rehabilitation of social and economic infrastructure, advancement and development of the educational sector, industrialization of the country and development of agriculture."
Not only that, but anyone acting wrongly (see my article about the new Taliban rule book below) will be purged. And what about the usual question raised in relation to women and education? "They have wrongly depicted us as a force being against education and women’s rights. They also accuse us of our being a threat to the countries of the world. The Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan wants to clear away all these doubts provided a conducive atmosphere is available."
It all sound rather wonderful, but Mullah Omar remains silent about his organisation's relationship with the Pakistan military, its dependence on money and men from Arabia, its drug dealing, its use of small boys to carry out suicide bombings and, most importantly - for many in the West - its relationship with al-Qaeda.
Not that any of that will put off many Afghans. If the perception continues to grow that the West will lose in Afghanistan, many who are now neutral will begin to reconsider their position. We are only just beginning to understand how asymmetric, asymmetric warfare can be.

Saturday, 19 September 2009

'Don't go to any Charlie company parties'

This week the US Commission on Wartime Contracting in Iraq and Afghanistan held hearings on 'State Department Oversight and Contractor-Employee Conduct'. The immediate reason for the hearing was the much publicised incidents involving private contractors guarding the US Embassy in Kabul, many of whom - expecially those from the British-owned Armor Group - were indulging in orgies rather than carrying out their duties.
The idea behind the Commission, set up in 2007, was inspired by the work of the Truman Committee, initially led by Senator Harry Truman, that investigated government waste during and after World War II and American taxpayers valued at an estimated $178bn in today’s dollars.
The Commission is required to study, assess and make recommendations concerning wartime contracting for the reconstruction, logistical support, and the performance of security functions in Iraq and Afghanistan. Its major objectives include a thorough assessment of the systemic problems identified with interagency wartime contracting, the identification of instances of waste, fraud and abuse, and ensuring accountability for those responsible.
The problems it faces are huge: the Defense Contract Audit Agency estimated in 2007, for example, that there was more than $10bn in questioned and unsupported costs relating to the Iraq reconstruction and military support contracts valued at $57bn that it had reviewed. The agency noted that contracts worth $300bn remained to be audited.
Opening the hearings, Commission co-chair Christopher Shays, in reference to the Embassy guards, said: "Our primary interest is in the disturbing questions these incidents raise about the subject of wartime contracting, which Congress has mandated us to study. Specifically, who in the government, or in this case the State Department, is watching the contractors? Rhetorically, why are we having this hearing now, when significant issues with this particular contract have been festering for over two years?"
Shays pointed out that reports of misconduct about ArmorGroup personnel first surfaced in December 2008. He added: "The incidents reported near the Kabul embassy undermine American efforts to build a stable, peaceful, and democratic Afghanistan. To put it bluntly, they
provide free recruiting material to the Taliban."
Terry Pearson, a British Army veteran, provided the most graphic account of what the ArmorGroup employees had been up to. He had blown the whistle months ago to his employers (who were ArmorGroup subcontractors), but was forced to resign for his troubles."Never go to any party that Charlie shift has," he was warned soon after he arrived at the US Embassy in Kabul.
Samuel Brinkley, spoke on behalf of ArmorGroup's owners, G4S plc, and issued a litany of apologies for the disgusting behaviour of his staff. G4S, which employs more than 530,000 people, is a British company, formerly known as Group 4 Securicor. Former UK Cabinet Minister (and still a serving MP) Dr John Reid is an adviser to the company.

Thursday, 17 September 2009

The fruits of cooperation for Pakistan's military

A Congressional Research Service paper on US Arms sales to Pakistan, provides some incredible statistics.This little pamphlet, only four pages long, succintly sets out the curious history of arms deals between the United States and Pakistan. Supported in the 50s and 60s, ignored in the 70s, back in favour in the 80s, no sales in the 90s, biggest customer in a single year in the 00s. Who would bet on a continuing relationship?
The September 2001 attacks on America gradually brought Pakistan back into the American camp as President Bush looked for allies in the war on terror. From then on the defence sales burgeoned. In June 2004, President Bush designated Pakistan a Major Non-NATO ally and the resulting list of material bought by Pakistan - with finance from US banks - is truly staggering.
By 2006 Pakistan was spending $3.5bn a year on American weapons, thus becoming the US defence industry's biggest customer.
Amongst the purchases were 36 F-16c/D Block 50/52 fighter aircraft ($1.4bn); a variety of missiles and bombs for use with the F-16 C/D fighter ($640m); the purchase of upgrade kits for Pakistan’s F-16A/B aircraft ($890m); and 115 M109A5 155mm Self-propelled howitzers ($52m).
Not bad for a country that defied the United States to produce its own version of the hydrogen bomb. And despite the fact that from 1985 until the end of the century US policy had been influenced by laws which required the President to certify each year to Congress that Pakistan did not possess a nuclear explosive device, before authorising any defence sales.
Now we learn that for the period from 2005-2008, Pakistan has placed defence orders in America valued at $4.5bn. Quite a turnaround.

Wednesday, 16 September 2009

Taliban rule book emphasises lawful actions

Thanks to the NEFA Foundation for publishing a translation of the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan's (Taliban's) new Book of Rules. (see my post of 31 July).
Translated from Pashto, the book comprises 11 chapters, starting with 'Granting Refuge' and running through dealing with prisoners and spies, the enemy's logistics and supplies, war booty, formation and dispatchment, intra-muhahideen affairs, martyrdom operations, education and training, official forbiddance, general advice and a short chapter called 'About the Book of Rules'.
The book tells us many things about the Taliban. First it shows yet again that the organisation knows how to create good publicity. In Pakistan, where the existence of the book has had extensive coverage in local languages, it sustains the belief that that Afghan Taliban - in contrast to its Pakistani counterpart - is fighting a just war against occupation and should be supported.
Besides being a code of behaviour, it is also an attempt to present the organisation as a government in waiting. With a substantial presence now in 80 per cent of the country, it may actually control more of Afghanistan than President Karzai. Its regional and provincial structure has grown dramatically and it seems certain the Taliban sharia courts are already active in many areas.
The simple, effective shape of the organisation, means that military decisions can be made quickly and independently and that basic justice can also be delivered quickly. (Of course, real government - the administration of health, education, transport, etc - is something else and it is doubtful that the Taliban has any skills in this area).
It also wants to come across as a reasonable organisation, acting in a lawful manner - definitely not the brutal thugs so redolent of its previous incarnation. This was the reasoning behind the organisation's recent statement that it no longer wanted to be known as the Taliban - not least because of the activities of the Pakistan Taliban, which is increasingly seen as a liability. It prefers to be known as the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan.
The fact that the organisation felt it necessary to issue such a document is in itself significant. This is clearly a growing organisation that needs to exert central control over new and expanding forces. Yet the rules are not a constitution for any potential future Taliban state. They are effectively the marching orders of a band of raiders.
The introduction states that "It is compulsory for all the Mujahideen, their provincial and districts’ heads to strictly follow this new set of rules and regulations. All the materials issued prior to this booklet will be considered invalid.”
The rules allow 'refuge' to be given to anyone who renounces the existing government of Afghanistan, although it allows them to stay in their job if it will serve the mujahideen cause.
They also give a procedure for dealing with prisoners. Whether or not they are local or foreign, they are to be handed over to the Taliban provincial commander, who will decide what to do. Some will be released in exchange for other prisoners held by the Afghan government, but the rules explicitly state: "Receiving money for prisoners' release is forbidden."
This is significant. It should make it easier to identify who the kidnappers are. If they ask for money, the likelihood is that they are not Taliban. And it also means that the death of any prisoners in Taliban custody can be directly attributed to their leader, as the rules also state that no-one has the authority to authorise the execution of prisoners except for Taliban leader (Emir al-Momeneen) Mullah Omar and his (unnamed) deputy. The rules allow Taliban guards to shoot their prisoners if they are themselves in danger.
Even spies caught working for the enemy can only be executed with the permission of Mullah Omar. Having in the past allowed zealous footsoldiers to execute 'spies' with little or no trial or evidence,the rules now say there must be witnesses and good evidence before someone can be convicted of spying. Executions of spies (by gunshot) can no longer be filmed for propaganda purposes.
The rules are mostly unsurprising. The form of organisation is hierarchical, but not cellular. There are guidelines for resolving disputes between militia commanders and rules on the distribution of booty, which plays an important role in radical Islamist literature. Mujahideen who loot a convoy after a firefight can seize the goods as booty, while paying a tenth as a toll to the Taliban organisation. If the same men happen to come across an abandoned convoy and seize the goods without firing a shot, the lot belongs to the Taliban's central funds.
The rules on suicide bombers say the bomber must be well trained and that he should only be used against important targets and that civilian casualties should be avoided. Sadly, these rules seldom seem to be in force. Many of the bombers are young boys who are bullied and manipulated to carry out operations, often with little regard for innocent lives. Nowhere is there a justification for this technique under Islamic law.
Mujahideen are warned against getting involved in local disputes and told to refer such issues up to the provincial command. They are also strictly warned against taking weapons without consent, smoking, homosexuality with young boys, the forceful collection of religious tax, house searches and kidnapping for ransom.
The rest of the book tells mujahideen to be 'firm but fair' and to look clean and respectable. "The Mujahideen should behave well with the general public and make efforts to bring their hearts closer to them. It must be the quality of a Mujahid to present himself as a role model for a common man." They must follow the rules or expect punishment if they don't.

Monday, 14 September 2009

Casting aside illusions over Afghanistan

If you are feeling a bit bleak about the present situation in Afghanistan, try reading Rory Stewart's essay, The Irresistible Illusion, written for the London Review of Books in July this year. I don't agree with everything he writes, but he comes closer to understanding the way Afghanistan works than almost anyone else writing on the subject. He doesn't offer any quick fixes, but that is the point.

Friday, 11 September 2009

Rethinking 'Af-Pak' - does it really make sense?

The term 'Af-Pak' - now widely used within the Obama administration - caught on quickly when it entered the lexicon at the beginning of this year. Its meaning has been most clearly spelt out by US Ambassador Richard Holbrooke, the President's special envoy on Afghanistan and Pakistan, whose job title itself reflected the new policy. Speaking at the 45th Munich Security Conference, held on 8 February, Holbrooke said:
"We often call the problem Af-Pak, as in Afghanistan – Pakistan. This is not just an effort to saved eight syllables. It is an attempt to indicate and imprint in our DNA the fact that there is one theater of war, straddling an ill-defined border, the Durand Line, and that on the western side of that border, NATO and other forces are able to operate. On the eastern side, it’s the sovereign territory of Pakistan. But it is there on the eastern side of this ill-defined border that the international terrorist movement is located - Al Qaeda and other organizations of its sort - and we have to think of it that way, not to distinguish between the two."
As he spoke, the Taliban offensive in Afghanistan was gathering in intensity, ahead of the expected US troop surge. Since then there has been no sign of a let-up, with Coalition casualties at record levels.
Across the border in Pakistan, however, the PPP government of President Zardari was agreeing a peace deal with the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) in the Swat Valley which allowed for the introduction of Sharia law. Western commentators were aghast at the deal and foresaw impending catastrophe for the country.
Six months later and conditions are starkly different. So much so that President Zardari yesterday publicly rejected the idea of linking policy for Afghanistan and Pakistan.
What has changed? The most significant point is the turnaround in Pakistan's attitude towards the TTP and the military defeat of a significant section of that organisation. Its leader Baitullah Mahsud was killed on 5 August by a US drone missile strike and it is unclear who now leads the organisation.
Fighting broke out amongst the tribes immediately after Baitullah's death which was only resolved when the Taliban in Afghanistan sent emissaries to patch up the differences. It was announced that Hakimullah Mahsud had replaced his kinsman as leader of the TTP, but the Pakistan government has consistently stated that Hakimullah was actually killed in the shoot-out and is being impersonated by his younger brother.
Whatever the truth, the fact is that the TTP leadership is in crisis and the organisation may simply dissolve into warring factions.
Meanwhile, in Swat the TTP has been shattered. Every day the Pakistan Army announces more deaths of TTP fighters (and their Uzbek, Chechen and Afghan allies), while dozens - possibly hundreds - of bodies of TTP fighters have been dumped at the roadside. There is strong circumstantial evidence to suggest that they have been killed after having been taken prisoner by the security forces.
At the same time, no-one in Swat appears to be complaining too much. Most of the million-plus internal refugees are happy to have been able to return to their homes, even if hundreds of properties - and more than 500 schools - have been destroyed.
Today it was announced that the TTP spokesman in the Swat Valley, Muslim Khan, TTP commander Mahmud Khan and three pro-TTP clerics were taken into custody by the Army "during search operations" in the Valley. Other sources say the five men were a TTP delegation that had voluntarily gone to Mingora and Peshawar to take part in secret peace talks with the Army. The talks were mediated by Kamal Khan, a resident of Deolai village who is now a US citizen. In exchange for peace the TTP wanted full implementation of sharia law in the Valley and the release of Taliban prisoners.
The fact that the TTP was looking for negotiations emphasises the extent to which the organisation is under pressure.
In other parts of the NWFP (recently renamed Pakhtunkhwa) and FATA the Army has continued to pressurise the TTP and other militants. In Khyber Agency around the town of Bara the army is running an operation menacingly called Bia Daraghlam (Here I come again), directed against the sectarian Lashkar-e-Islam and its leader Mangal Bagh Afridi. Over 100,000 people have left their homes during the last ten days. In South Waziristan, it was recently revealed that the local political agent issued an order on 14 June under section 21 of the Frontier Crimes Regulations allowing the confiscation of property of every member of the Mahsud tribe living even in settled districts of NWFP.
Considering the above, it is hardly surprising that President Zardari has rejected the idea of Af-Pak. And I think I probably agree with him. The fact that tribal groups straddle the border is not in itself enough to link policy. While some policies make sense in both countries, they are not the same place. How else can we explain the different fortunes of Mullah Omar's Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan and the now largely defunct TTP of Baitullah Mahsud and his cronies?

Growing presence of Taliban across Afghanistan

The Taliban now has a permanent presence in 80 per cent of Afghanistan, up from 72 per cent in November 2008 and 54 per cent in 2007, according to information from the International Council on Security and Development released yesterday. (See also my blog from 8 December last year giving details from the previous ICOS report.)
Another 17 per cent of the country is seeing 'substantial' Taliban activity and taken together these figures show that the organisation has a significant presence throughout the whole country.
“Despite the presence of tens of thousands of foreign troops in Afghanistan, the return, the spread and the advance of the Taliban is now without question” said Norine MacDonald QC, President and lead field researcher for ICOS.
“The dramatic change in the last few months has been the deterioration of the situation in the north of Afghanistan, which was previously one of the most stable parts of Afghanistan. Provinces such as Kunduz and Balkh are now heavily affected by Taliban violence. Across the north of Afghanistan, there has been a dramatic increase in the rate of insurgent attacks against international, Afghan government, and civilian targets“, stated Mr. Alexander Jackson, policy analyst at ICOS.
ICOS defines the Taliban presence as 'permanent' in a region if there is one or more insurgent attack per week. 'Substantial' implies at least one attack per month.

Thursday, 10 September 2009

Afghan reporters appalled at death of colleague

Dreadful news that Sultan Mohammad Munadi, 34, a journalist and translator working with New York Times reporter Stephen Farrell, was killed during a military operation to rescue the two men from Afghan kidnappers. A British paratrooper involved in the operation also lost his life, as did at least three other people, one of whom was a woman. Farrell, 46, fortunately survived.
Farrell and Munadi had gone to Kunduz to report on the story of the hijacked petrol tankers that had been hit in a controversial NATO bombing raid, killing dozens of people. (You can read the Taliban account of this raid here.) Despite warnings from local police that it was dangerous to visit the area, the two men did so and were kidnapped.
The alarm was raised by their driver and news of the kidnappings was suppressed at the request of the NYT. The rescue operation came after the two men had spent four days as hostages.
Farrell's account of what happened during his capture and the subsequent military operation has already appeared - although more information is likely to come out at the UK inquest into the soldier's death.
The BBC reports that Mohammad Nabi from Char Dara district in Kunduz claimed that it was his home that was raided and that it was his brother's wife who was killed. He said that the Taliban had turned up there on Tuesday night with the two captives and demanded shelter. Nabi added that his sister-in-law was killed when soldiers blew the door off the house.
Farrell told his own newspaper that he saw Munadi step forward, shouting "Journalist! Journalist!", but in the darkness was hit by gunfire and killed. Farrell then heard British voices and shouted "British hostage", at which point he was told to come over. It was then that he realised Munadi had been killed.
Afghan journalists have been appalled at what happened to Munadi, pointing out that it is not the first time that one of their colleagues has died during a hostage crisis, while foreign reporters have been saved. The Afghan information minister has called for an inquiry, as has Rahimullah Samander, head of the Afghan Independent Journalists' Association, who said the operation showed international forces "did not care" about Afghan journalists. Unforgiveably, Munadi's body was left where it fell and was only recovered at daybreak.

Afghan Taliban rebrands to avoid growing stigma

The Afghan Taliban has suddenly got very touchy about being called the Taliban, according to an article by the much-respected reporter Rahimullah Yusufzai, writing in the News International in Pakistan. They prefer to be known as the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan (Amirat-I-Islami Afghanistan in Dari or Da Afghanistan Islami Amirat in Pushto).
Yusufzai says a senior official of the organisation told him: "In our declarations or in statements by our leader Mullah Muhammad Omar, you would have noted the absence of the word Taliban. Our leadership and shuras refer to our organisation as Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan and to our fighters as mujahideen."
The official said that there was a growing stigma attached to the use of the term Taliban and that others had misused the name and committed crimes. "This has brought a bad name to the Taliban. The term Taliban no longer represented the madrassa students who rose against the Afghan mujahideen in Afghanistan in the mid-1990s and challenged and defeated their corrupt and cruel commanders."
Another Afghan Taliban official added: "The Afghan Taliban are fighting Western forces that have occupied Afghanistan. It is jihad against non-Muslims and occupiers. We cannot say the same about the new groups of Taliban fighting in places outside Afghanistan."
Presumably this person was referring to the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan, which has been strongly condemned in Pakistan for fighting against its own government and people and which has suffered catastrophic defeats in recent months in Swat and other areas and whose commander, Baitullah Mahsud, was killed in a US drone missile strike on 5 August.
It is hard to say if this attempt to create distance between the two Taliban organisations is a serious rift, as most of the TTP leaders have previously sworn allegiance to Mullah Omar. However, there is confusion within the TTP at present following Baitullah's death and the Afghan Taliban clearly wants nothing to do with some of the elements within its sister organisation on the grounds that they are little more than common criminals. At the same time, the Afghans know that their bases and logistical support are located in Pakistan and that they will have to play a careful game if they are not to alienate important backers.

Thursday, 3 September 2009

Contractors and the shape of modern warfare

The Congressional Research Service report on contractors in Iraq and Afghanistan , published this week by Steve Aftergood of Secrecy News, provides some fascinating material on the shape of modern warfare.
According to the report, as of March 2009, there were 68,197 Department of Defense (DOD) contractors in Afghanistan,compared to 52,300 uniformed personnel. Contractors therefore made up 57% of DOD’s workforce in Afghanistan. This apparently represents the highest recorded percentage of contractors used by DOD in any conflict in the history of the United States.
For Fiscal Year (FY) 2007 and the first half of FY2008, DOD obligated over $5 billion for contractors in Afghanistan. Whether or not these contractors represent value for money is unclear as it was not until the end of 2007 that DOD even began to collect data on contractors.
The report says that some analysts and DOD officials believe that the higher percentage of contractors in Afghanistan (compared, say, to Iraq, where the figure is around 47 per cent) is partially a result of contractors providing some services to the more than 30,000 international forces that are part of the International Security Assistance Force, and DOD’s expansion of facilities to support the anticipated military surge in Afghanistan.
The DOD does not give a breakdown of services that contractors provide in Afghanistan, with the exception of data on private security contractors. Nevertheless, the types of services are similar to those conducted in Iraq including: logistics, construction, linguist services, and transportation.
However, the percentage of contractors providing each service are different. For example, in March 2009, 16% of contractors in Afghanistan provide security compared to 10% of contractors in Iraq. DOD officials say they will start providing data regarding the breakdown of services in Afghanistan in the next quarterly census.
As of March 2009, of the approximately 68,000 contractors in Afghanistan, 9,378 are US
citizens, 7,043 are third-country nationals, and 51,776 are Afghans. Afghans therefore make up more than 75% of contractor personnel.This also means that there are almost half as many Afghans working as contractors for the US Army as there are in the Afghan army itself.

Wednesday, 2 September 2009

Mystery of the missing opium crop

Some remarkable figures today in the 2009 Afghan Opium Survey from the UN Office on Drugs and Crime report. The main finding is that "the bottom is starting to fall out of the Afghan opium market", with opium cultivation down 22%, production down by 10% and prices at a ten-year low.
The number of poppy-free provinces have increased from 18 to 20 and drug seizures, while still tiny, are rising. Cultivation has fallen from 193,000 hectares to 123,000 hectares. Opium production is calculated at 6,900 tons. It has not fallen as sharply as poppy cultivation because farmers are extracting more opium per bulb. They do this by taking several crops from each bulb. This allows them to harvest 56kg of opium per hectare, compared to just 10kg/ha in the Golden Triangle of South East Asia.
The real mystery in these figures concerns the issues of stockpiles. World demand for opium is stable at around 5,000 tons - much less than what Afghanistan produces each year. UNODC Executive director Antonio Maria Costa says "Stockpiles of illicit opium now probably exceed 10,000 tons - enough to satisfy two years of world heroin addiction or three years of medical (morphine) prescription."
As a result of this over-supply, prices are falling. Wholesale prices in Afghanistan have fallen by a third in the past year, from $70/kg to $48/kg, the lowest prices for ten years. So despite higher yields per acre, farmers are receiving less per acre for their crop due to the falling prices.
Even at these lower prices farmers are receiving a total of $438 million at the farm gate. Once the opium is refined and sold on, the amount of money in this business multiplies many times. It is little wonder that stocks of opium are being kept off the market in order to shore up prices.
Opium production has become increasingly bound up with the Taliban who are known to tithe farmers and also to receive funds for protecting crops as they are delivered to laboratories where the raw opium is turned into heroin. Money from this business is then used to finance the insurgency - and to make various warlords and middlemen very rich indeed. Much of the financing for this business is done in the Gulf states, which is also where the proceeds are invested, mostly into real estate.
Some obvious questions that should be asked:
What is being done to find out who is stockpiling the excess opium?
Does it make sense to interdict or destroy the opium crop when it is already an over-supplied market. Won't that create more demand and help sustain the industry?
As I have asked before, where are the fatwas from religious scholars forbidding the opium trade? Do they not realise that the majority of victims are moslems? The UNODC report notes that there are now an estimated three million addicts in Iran alone.
Who is following the money trail? Don't banks in the Gulf have 'know your customer' rules?