Friday, 30 December 2011

Another Balochi doctor assassinated

Dr Baqir's funeral in Jecobabad earlier today
The assassination campaign continues in Balochistan, most recently with the murder of Dr Baqir Shah yesterday in Quetta. Shah, a prominent police surgeon, conducted the postmortems on five foreigners - four Russians and a Tajik, including two women - who were shot dead by police and soldiers from the Frontier Corps in Kharotabad on 17 May. The security forces at first insisted that all five had been killed by the explosion of a hand grenade in their possession, but Dr Shah's examination proved that they had all been killed by bullets fired by the security forces themselves. The Russian and Tajik embassies both declared that their nationals had been innocent of any crime.
There had been signs that Dr Shah was in danger. Following his postmortem on the five people killed in May, he was badly beaten by a group of ten men dressed in police uniforms, who attempted to abduct him. He later issued a statement that he had received threats to his life, saying he had been pressurised to change his postmortem report.
Dr Shah was the third prominent Balochi doctor to have been killed in the last three months, prompting strikes and walk-outs by colleagues across the province. Two further doctors remain missing. The slain doctor was on his way home from Bolan Medical Complex hospital, where he worked, when two men opened fire from point blank range at his head. He was taken to Bolan Medical Complex Hospital in his car where he was pronounced dead.
His assistant, Abdul Hameed Mengal, the only witness, who was sitting in the car, told the police that when  Dr. Shah slowed his car close to his house, one of the two gunmen rushed towards him and  started firing. Both assassins covered their faces and escaped on motorcycle.
The Baloch Doctors’ Forum (BDF) strongly condemned the killing of  Dr Shah saying the incident was part of the ongoing “government-sponsored cycle of targeted assaults on Baloch doctors”.
The BDF called an emergency meeting for today (Friday) and also announced a strike in hospitals all over Balochistan in protest against Dr Shah's killing. Out-patient departments will remain closed for an indefinite period.

Thursday, 29 December 2011

Who's representing the Taliban?

Useful article on who may or may not be representing the Taliban in peace talks, written by Mujib Mashal for al-Jazeera.

New evidence in Benazir murder case

Dawn reports an interesting development in the investigation into the murder of Benazir Bhutto, almost exactly four years ago on 27 December 2007. The paper has published a five-line letter from Brigadier Abdul Basit Rana on behalf of the then head of the ISI, to Syed Kamal Shah, secretary of Pakistan's Interior Ministry.
The letter, dated 10 December 2007 and headlined 'al-Qaeda Threat', states: "It has reliably been reported that a few extremist groups related to al Qaeda have made some plan to assassinate Mrs.Benzir Bhutto and her adviser Mr Rehman Malik on 21 December 2007. The exact plan of execution not known."
Immediately on receiving the letter Kamal Shah added in his own writing "This is a threat with specific date, we should sensitize them". He directed Brig Javed Iqbal Cheema, then director general of the Interior Ministry's National Crisis Management Cell,  to speak to Rehman Malik and warn him. Cheema wrote back to say he had done so. Malik is known immediately to have written a three-page memo requesting a tightening of security around the recently returned politician.
According to Dawn, Brig Rana, who provided the intelligence, has yet to appear in front of the official investigation into Bhutto's murder, so it is uncertain where the information originated. Bhutto was killed in a gun and bomb attack on her car in Rawalpindi. It is widely believed that the killing was organised by Baitullah Mahsud, then leader of the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan. Mahsud was killed in a drone strike in August 2009.
Bhutto in Rawalpindi moments before she was killed

Tuesday, 27 December 2011

Sen. Lieberman calls for Taliban censorship

The Telegraph reports that Joe Lieberman, chair of the US Senate Homeland Security Committee, wants to block the Taliban's twitter account. Aides told the paper that pro-Taliban feeds, including @ABalkhi and @alemarahweb - which I follow - should be blocked because they regularly boast about the deaths of "cowardly invaders" and "puppet" Afghan government forces.
Grow up Mr Lieberman. We live in the information age. Censorship achieves nothing. You should be more concerned about the fact that the Taliban is far more effective in communicating its messages than US forces in Afghanistan. And it will soon have a public office in one or more Islamic countries if press reports emanating from Afghanistan today can be believed.

Body of former bank governor's killer found

More on the death of former Afghanistan central bank head Mir Najibullah Sadat Sahou, who was shot dead at the end of September in San Diego, California, which I wrote about here.
Mr Sahou, who drove a taxi, was shot dead late at night by a passenger, who then took his cab and abandoned it on a coast road several miles away. At the time there was some suggestion of a possible political motive for the killing.
Now police have revealed that recreational divers  recently found the body of the main suspect in the killing, Ismael Raul Lopez, in the Pacific Ocean. Along with the bones, divers also found part of Lopez's skull with a bullet hole in it. Police believe that the killer either jumped the curb of the coastal road by accident or intended to drive into the sea, as paint marks on the cab matched those of the wooden fence next to the road. One theory is that the 28-year-old convicted paedophile tried to commit suicide by driving the car into the ocean. When that failed he walked to the water's edge and then shot himself in the head.

Redacted version of border incident report

A redacted version of the official investigation by Brigadier General Stephen A Clark into the recent incident at the Salala Checkpoint, Khas-Kunar province on the Afghanistan-Pakistan border in which 24 Pakistani soldiers were killed can be found here.
While stating that the catalyst for the engagement was the opening of fire on a joint Afghan Army/US Special Forces operation by Pakistani soldiers from the other side of the poorly demarcated border, the report admits that procedures and directives governing this kind of operation close to the border "lacked clarity and precision" and were not followed. It further states that "time-sensitive senior Command override measures" for such incidents are lacking and that a series of mis-communications within the chain of command delayed confirmation of the identity of the Pakistani forces that had been attacked.
That having been said, the hysterical reaction of the Pakistan military to the incident had more to do with internal politicking and relations between the military and the civilian government than to the incident itself. Pakistan's military and intelligence communities are increasingly disturbed by the devastation being caused to the insurgency along the border by the US drone campaign and operations such as the one that led to this firing incident. It is no secret that they are only willing to take action against insurgents who are fighting the Pakistani state itself, not against those who target NATO and US forces across the border in Afghanistan.

Monday, 19 December 2011

Pakistan Taliban crisis deepens

An interesting article in Pakistan's Express Tribune sheds further light on the demise of the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan. The article suggests that the TTP is now in terminal decline, with its leader Hakimullah Mahsud isolated due to threats from drones and from the Pakistan military.
They quote a former associate thus: “He is virtually a lonely man running for his life … he is always on the move and doesn’t meet even his once most-trusted lieutenants”.
As I suggested below in the article on Shamim Mahsud and the TTP in South Waziristan, the reason for Hakimullah's isolation is partly due to the existence of peace talks with the Pakistan government - although I was wrong in thinking that it was the Waliur Rehman faction that was excluded from talks.
In fact, it is Hakimullah who has refused to talk to Pakistan's government - presumably under the influence of al-Qaeda and other die-hard jihadists - while Waliur Rehman from South Waziristan and Maulvi Faqir Mohammad from Bajaur are reported to be in discussions.
The latest claim from Maulvi Faqir Mohammad came 10 days ago, when he said talks were progressing and that they had so far resulted in the release of 145 Taliban prisoners. However, Mullah Dadullah, leader of the TTP in Bajaur, quickly denied the claim, adding that fighting would continue until sharia law was introduced throughout the whole of Pakistan.
The Express Tribune article says that money has dried up for the TTP and this has led to the desertion of former supporters, many of whom only fought for money. The TTP's shura, or ruling council, has shrunk from nearly 40 members to less than 10.
The reason funds are in short supply, the article speculates, is that the Afghan Taliban has stopped paying the TTP because it is now in negotiations with the Afghan government.
Presumably Pakistan will introduce an amnesty for TTP members that agree to call a truce with the government, although the ISI will be happy if they continue to fight across the border in Afghanistan.
However, if talks with the Afghan Taliban leadership are really underway, this may be difficult. The big question is where this will leave the foreign jihadists. In his recent interview (see below), Shamim Mahsud was quite happy to show correspondents the houses in the Ladda area where fighters from Turkmenistan were living and training. How will they and the other foreigners fit into the picture?

Friday, 16 December 2011

The murder of a good man

Zarteef Khan Afridi
How sad to hear of the murder of Zarteef Khan Afridi, coordinator in the Khyber Agency for the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan. Afridi, 52, was shot dead by masked men on 5th December as he walked to the school in the Saparee area where he had taught for more than 20 years. The killing was claimed by the Abdullah Azzam Brigade - a cover name that could refer to any of the half-dozen militant groups that infest the area.
Hundreds of people turned out in Peshawar on 8th December to honour Zarteef's memory. His family said that Zarteef had recently been receiving death threats because of his opposition to Taliban activity in Khyber and because of his support for women's rights - in a remarkable display of his own practical support for women's rights he married off his three daughters without asking for or receiving bride money.
He was well known for promoting education and the observance of human rights. The HRCP called him a "tireless human rights defender". Some idea of his work can be found here.
In 1996 he founded the FATA Education and Welfare Society to promote secular education over madrassah schooling. He was almost a lone voice amongst tribesmen in Khyber seeking to promote secularism. For this he was labelled by local leaders and clergy as a kaffir.
Despite the threats, which grew in regularity and vehemence, Zarteef declined to leave Khyber. Sadly, he paid with his life for this brave decision.

Thursday, 15 December 2011

Confusing reports on Pakistan Taliban

TTP fighters train in South Waziristan
It's a little depressing when you cannot rely on major news agencies to get even basic details right. Both AP and Reuters are carrying reports about a journey made by their correspondents to meet leaders of the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) in the Laddah region of South Waziristan.
According to the Reuters account, the group of three senior tribal journalists met with Shamim Mahsud, the "deputy commander" of the TTP at his secret base in the mountains close to the border with Afghanistan.
According to an updated report by Ishtiaq Mahsud of AP, the reporters had been invited to meet with Hakimullah Mahsud, leader of the TTP, but he had cancelled, with his aides saying he had had to meet a delegation of Afghan Taliban elders who had arrived from across the border. This report again refers to and quotes from Shamim Mahsud, now calling him the "operational commander" of the TTP.
But a third report, from Sailab Mehsud in the Dawn newspaper, differs yet again. This  says that the journalists met with Shamim Mahsud, who Sailab describes (correctly) as "the key operational commander and chief of Laddah sub-division chapter of TTP". However, he adds that "The journalists were invited to meet commander Waliur Rehman, Emir of South Waziristan Taliban, but he was busy in meetings with some Taliban delegations from Afghanistan and other areas of Pakistan. Then they had to meet Shamim Mehsud."
Confused? You should be. There is a big difference between meeting Hakimullah in South Waziristan and meeting Waliur Rahman.
It may help to know that Shamim Mahsud and Waliur Rahman, his emir, are not exactly close to Hakimullah Mahsud and the rest of the leadership of the TTP. For a time there was a blood feud between Shamim and Qari Hussein, Hakimullah's deputy, over who had the right to train suicide bombers. You can read more about that in an interesting article published by the FATA Research Centre. The fact that Shamim seems to have facilitated this unusual trip for journalists is significant, simply for this fact alone. It suggests that Shamim is attempting to reassert Waliur Rahman's claim to leadership of the TTP, perhaps because the South Waziristan faction of the group has been excluded from peace talks rumoured to have been held recently with the government.
Either way, perhaps our main foreign news agencies, on whom we rely for important information, can try a little harder to get basic information right first time.

Saturday, 3 December 2011

Available in a variety of colours....

I am grateful to Mujib Masha, who tweets as @MujMash, for tweeting this fantastic pic of an old Jeep photographed recently at the Torkham border post in the Khyber Pass between Afghanistan and Pakistan. Its flying an Afghan flag, so presumably it's on that side of the border.

Wednesday, 30 November 2011

Getting aid right in Pakistan

Bringing out a report on the effect of the Kerry-Lugar-Berman Act - which regulates US non-military aid to Pakistan - just as relations between the two countries disappear down the pan may not be the best of timing. But a 17-strong panel brought together by the Woodrow Wilson Center's Asia Program has concluded that robust US civilian assistance to Pakistan serves important interests in both countries.
Aiding Without Abetting: Making US Civilian Assistance to Pakistan Work for Both Sides also warns that changes are needed to the Act and offers almost 30 recommendations. The report recommends that aid should not be tied to security or economic reform and that Pakistan should be pressed to return to an arrangement with the IMF.
It suggests a more realistic timeline for stepping up the percentages of US aid to be dispensed through Pakistani government structures, while at the same time pressing the country to improve tracking and donor oversight of aid. Support for the Benazir Income Support Program should only be continued if political manipulation can be halted.
Priorities for funding should be clean urban water, power, sanitation, youth organisations and literacy training. Support should also be given to the small/medium enterprises sector.
There are many other good proposals in this report from a group of experts who clearly understand the weaknesses of the present system.
However, it is hard to be as optimistic as the authors of this report about the prospects for the future. It is self-evident that much of the senior bureaucracy in Pakistan is in reality a kleptocracy. Aid enriches officials - and international NGOs - and only seldom reaches down to the masses. Monitoring costs consume an ever-increasing proportion of aid. And the political context is becoming ever-more complex. The Woodrow Wilson report says that terminating the US assistance program "would fuel anti-Americanism in Pakistan". In truth, relations between the two countries are so bad at present, that short of outright war, it is hard to perceive them as being any worse: the Raymond Davis affair, the killing of bin Laden, the growing Pakistani opposition to drone attacks, the recent cross-border attack, the ongoing support by the Pakistan military for the insurgency in Afghanistan and many other incidents mark what must be the worst year for US-Pakistan bilateral relations in a generation. I'm not convinced that even a $7.5 billion aid program can sort that lot out.  

BAE Systems dishonours a US hero

Former US Marine sergeant Dakota Meyer, a recipient of America's highest award for valour, is suing British defence contractor BAE Systems, saying the company ridiculed his award and falsely claimed he was mentally unstable and suggested he had a drink problem. The claims, says Meyer, cost him a job.
Meyer has filed a lawsuit in San Antonio, Texas, claiming his former employer - BAE Systems OASYS Inc, prevented him from getting a job by telling his prospective employer that he was a poor worker during the three months he worked for the company in the spring of this year.
Even worse for BAE Systems, it turns out that Meyer left the company after protesting that it was selling advanced thermal-optic sniper scopes to Pakistan. The scopes were more powerful than those used by US troops and Meyer was appalled that they could be used against his former comrades in Afghanistan. "This is where I could see me still 'doing my part' for the guys who are in the same situation now that I was in 18 months ago," he explained in an email to his former supervisor. Meyer's lawsuit alleges that the supervisor "berated and belittled" him after he objected to the sale.
After Meyer resigned in May, he attempted to get his old job back, but the BAE supervisor then wrote to his previous manager, saying that he was mentally unstable, was not performing his duties and had problems with social drinking.
Mayer received his Medal of Honor from President Obama at the White House in September this year. The citation reads: "For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the repeated risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty as a member of Marine Embedded Training Team 2-8, Regional Corps Advisory Command 3-7, in Kunar Province, Afghanistan, on 8 September 2009". During a six-hour ambush at Ganjgal in Kunar, he saved 36 lives. Ignoring orders to the contrary, he repeatedly drove a Humvee into the ambush site to rescue his fellow Marines and Afghan soldiers. Together with fellow Marine, Staff Sgt. Juan J. Rodriguez-Chavez, he made five runs to pull out wounded Afghan troops, and then went back in, only to find that the remaining four Marines were dead. Rodriguez-Chavez was awarded the Navy Cross for his actions (along with Captain Ademola D Fabayo) that day. Mayer is only the third living recipient of the Medal of Honor since the Vietnam War and the first living US Marine to be so honoured.
The company intends to contest the case, although the chances of BAE Systems winning  are negligible. Who was the idiot that sanctioned the action against Meyer? And who was the even bigger idiot trying to sell such advanced weaponry to Pakistan?

Thursday, 24 November 2011

Debating the US National Intelligence Estimate

Excellent, well-informed article by Steve Coll in the New Yorker on the latest US National Intelligence Estimate on the war in Afghanistan. Coll says the NIEs, which are seldom published and are classified Secret or Top Secret, contain the most up-to-date information on the Obama Administration's take on the war. The last two, he says offered a gloomy picture, with the 2010 report warning that "large swathes of Afghanistan are still at risk of falling to the Taliban".
The new draft, around 100 pages long and due to be circulated shortly, contains six Key Judgments and is said to be gloomier than the typical public statements made by US military commanders in Afghanistan.
It is said to raise doubts about the authenticity and durability of alleged gains in Kandahar and Helmand provinces since the Obama troop surge and also suggests that the next generation of political leaders after Karzai will be more corrupt.
It also questions the success of the programme to train and equip the Afghan military and police forces, noting that the projected cost of running a force of 350,000 after 2014 will be $8-10 billion a year, more than the US is willing or able to pay.
As Coll points out, you hardly need secret information to come to these conclusions. It is not hard to see that little progress is being made in the country and that conditions in many areas are deteriorating, despite the billions of dollars sloshing around in military and civilian aid.
Coll says that Maj.Gen. John R Allen, the US commander in Afghanistan, and Ryan Crocker, the US ambassador, believe the NIE to be too pessimistic and that they intend to dissent from its conclusions. With General David Petraeus now in charge of the CIA there is also a danger, says Coll, that intelligence from that quarter will also be 'militarised'. To guard against this he argues that unclassified versions of the key judgments in the latest NIE should be published so that they can be publicly debated. Well said.

Tuesday, 22 November 2011

Can the Libyans solve a bin Laden mystery?

Until its final days, the regime of Libya's Colonel Gaddaffi liked to remind the West that it was his government that issued the very first arrest warrant for Osama bin Laden, way back in March 1998.
That warrant accused bin Laden and three Libyan accomplices of responsibility for the 1994 murders of Germany's top counter-terrorism officer, Silvan Becker and his wife Vera, in the coastal city of Sirte - ironically the place where Gaddaffi himself met his end in October. The warrant was forwarded to Interpol headquarters in Lyon France and on 15 April 1998 it was issued as an official international arrest warrant. However, the 'red notice' warrant received almost no publicity at the time and was only revealed years later in an obscure French book on bin Laden.
With the death of Gaddaffi and the capture of his intelligence chief, Abdullah al-Senussi a few days ago, perhaps the true story of the Beckers' murder will be revealed.
At the heart of this story is the question of whether or not the Beckers were killed by Islamists opposed to the Gaddaffi regime or by the regime itself. 
According to the official story, Becker worked for Division Six, the terrorism department of the Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution (the BfV). He had responsibility for Arab terrorism and latterly, for the Tamil LTTE. Vera Becker is also believed to have worked for the BfV and both were said to be working on the investigation into the Lockerbie bombing, elements of which were planned in Germany.
Working in such sensitive posts, they should never have been in Libya in the first place and no convincing explanation of how the couple ended up there on a 'sight-seeing' tour has ever been given.
However, on 10 March 1994, soon after arriving in Libya, the couple were both shot and taken to a military hospital in Sirte. Vera Becker died on 28 March and Silvan Becker died on 10 April 1994.
Were the couple on an officially 'unauthorised' visit to Libya - don't forget that Libya had been accused of bombing the La Belle nightclub in Berlin in April 1986 and that there were no diplomatic relations between the two countries - or was something else afoot? To this day, the BfV refuses to offer any further information on the affair or even to confirm that Becker was involved in the La Belle/Lockerbie investigations.
The Libyans accused three citizens - Faraj al-Alwan, Faez Abu Zeid al-Warfali and Faraj al-Chalabi, all members of the Libyan Islamic Fighting Groups - of carrying out the killings on the instructions of Osama bin Laden. All three are still wanted by Interpol where their mugshots can be found on the official website.
However, other scenarios have been proposed. According to some reports, the Beckers travelled to Egypt under false identity to work with Egyptian intelligence officers evaluating the results of the embargo on Libya and to update their information on changes within the leadership of the Libyan intelligence community. Having finished their official business in Cairo, the couple headed up to Alexandria for a few days relaxation. 
According to this scenario, it was whilst they were in Alexandria that they were likely abducted and taken across the border to Libya where they were interrogated and later shot - although presumably the Libyans would have killed them outright rather than let them live.
The Interpol warrant for bin Laden was first revealed by French writers Jean-Charles Brisard and Guillaume Dasquie in their book Bin Laden: the Hidden Truth. They maintained that the warrant was not acted upon or publicised because Western intelligence agencies, in particular MI6, were funding the Libyan Islamic Fighting Groups to the tune of £100,000 in the hope that they would assassinate Gaddaffi.
Whatever happened, with the departure of Gaddaffi and his security apparatus, there is now an opportunity to solve this case.

Monday, 14 November 2011

Will the real Zabihullah Mujahid please stand up?

Reports that Afghan Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid has been arrested in Paktika Province may be somewhat premature. Much as all IRA statements in the past were signed by P O'Neill, which was never a specific person, ZM is a nom-de-guerre used to show that statements are sanctioned by the Taliban leadership, not the actual person. Whilst there is possibly a person who issues press statements on behalf of the Taliban leadership, it is much more likely to be the cover name for anyone speaking on their behalf. The person arrested in the Saw Hawsa area of Paktika told his captors that he was the Paktika ZM and that others existed in different areas. 
Of more significance is the Taliban's claim yesterday to have obtained detailed security plans (see above) for this week's Karzai-controlled 'loya jirga' taking place in Kabul. The 28 pages and six maps seem genuine enough although Afghan government officials claim they are fake. 

Wednesday, 9 November 2011

Lessons not learned by Taliban fighters

Yesterday's attack on Combat Outpost Margah in the Barmal district of Paktika province, only a couple of miles from the border with Pakistan, is not the first large-scale assault on this base.
In yesterday's attack around 70 insurgents - many of them foreign fighters, identified by their radio chatter prior and during the attack - were killed for no reported US casualties. Most of those killed died through accurate bombing from aircraft and artillery called in during the six-hour attack.
Compare that attack to an almost identical event that occurred at COP Margah on 30 October last year, when 60 US soldiers from Fox Company, 2nd Battalion, 506th Infantry came under attack in the night from a large number of insurgents, of whom around 80 were killed. Reports on that attack can be found here and here
The ferociousness of that encounter, one of the largest between US forces and insurgents in the last 10 years, can be gauged from the medals awarded afterwards: Fox Company soldiers received one Silver Star, three Bronze Stars, 12 Army Commendation Medals, two Purple Hearts and 10 Combat Infantrymen Badges.
And just a few weeks before the recent attack, on 7 October, Haqqani fighters launched a series of attacks on several US bases in the area, including Margah. According to one report, COP Margah itself was hit by 111 high explosive rockets plus mortars. Then, at 8am, as this official photo shows, an attempt was made to drive a truck bomb across flat ground straight into the base. It was stopped 50 yards short of the base when the driver was killed and the explosives ignited. 

Presumably in most of these cases the US had advance information about the attacks. But why, having been so comprehensively defeated at this location, did the Taliban/Haqqani fighters come back again and again?

Tuesday, 8 November 2011

Pak Taliban flexes its muscles in FATA

TTP warning leaflet distributed in Tank last week
An article on the website of the FATA Research Centre says that the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan has started a campaign against tribal elders and peace committee members who are opposed to them in different parts of the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA). It says that more than 20 pro-government tribal elders and members of tribal lashkars (militias) have been killed in Bajaur alone in the last two months, forcing many to reconsider their decision to support the security forces in the area.
TTP militants have also begun to kill the leaders of the Abdullah group, the only anti-TTP group based in Tank and Dera Ismail Khan districts of Khyber-Pakhtunkwha. The Abdullah group has been successful in keeping the TTP out of these areas for the last two years. But on 25 October Shahad u Din Burki, head of the Abdullah Group in Tank was gunned down. Later the same date another member of the group, Asmatullah Mahsud, was also shot dead. The TTP later distributed leaflets in the area warning people not to work for the government.
Contractors working for the government on road construction in South Waziristan have also been targetted by the TTP, including Faizullah Bhittani - whose son was killed - and Saboor Bhittani, both from the Tank district.
There are also serious problems in Orakzai agency, which the army has claimed on numerous occasions to have cleared of militants. The News reports that parts of Upper Orakzai are still a stronghold of the TTP and that several hundred Pakistani and foreign fighters control an area of 25 square kilometres in this mountainous region. From here they can easily move from Mamozai either towards Kurram and the border with Afghanistan, or towards the Tirah Valley in Khyber Agency. The TTP fighters recently showed their contempt for local security forces when on 11 October they subjected the governor of Orakzai Agency, Syed Masood Kausar, to a rocket attack that killed a boy and injured nine officials.
So bad has the situation become that Salamat Khan Orakzai, head of the pro-government Amn Lashkar militia announced this week that he was closing down their centre in Shahukhel village in Hangu district due to non-cooperation from the security forces and the government. Nine members of the lashkar have been killed in the last year and 13 others injured. “The government had pledged to provide us with arms and ammunition but it could not deliver on its promise. We cannot continue battling the militants on our own,” said Salamat Khan Orakzai.

Monday, 7 November 2011

Istanbul conference - not a lot happened

Whatever happened at the Istanbul conference on 'Security and Cooperation in the heart of Asia' that promised so much and was billed as the precursor to the Bonn conference to be held next month?
Not a lot is the short answer. Most of Afghanistan's neighbours were unwilling to support American plans to establish permanent military bases in the country beyond 2014. Nor would they act as guarantors for a 'new regional mechanism' for peace in the country.  Host country Turkey, together with the USA, were forced to drop the original draft proposal to set up a contact group for monitoring a series of confidence-building measures, opting instead for a much more anodyne statement.
In the end this conference fell victim to American attempts to load it with a series of geopolitical manoeuvres that tried to sideline Russian and Chinese ambitions in Central Asia. This strategy was never going to work. In fact, in the long term it has probably strengthened the hand of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation, the only regional security mechanism the Russians and Chinese (and Pakistan) are willing to countenance. The chances of the Bonn conference in a few weeks time producing a diplomatic breakthrough - or even of the Taliban showing up - are receding by the day.

Friday, 4 November 2011

Taliban fighters told to avoid civilian casualties

Mullah Omar's Eid-ul-Adha message emphasises the need to avoid civilian casualties, even suggesting that religious scholars should be used to preach protection of civilian life, wealth and honour to the mujahideen. He says that all civilian casualties caused by the mujahideen should be reported to superiors. If a case is proved against a muhahideen then a penalty should be implemented in accordance with sharia law.

US civilian aid to Afghanistan begins to fall

The Office of the Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan - part of the US State Department - has issued a status report on civilian engagement in Afghanistan and Pakistan that makes it clear that US civilian aid will begin to decline as troop levels are reduced over the next three years.
Already US economic and humanitarian aid to Afghanistan has fallen from $4.1 billion in 2010 to $2.5 billion this year, the report says, as it shifts from funding stabilisation projects to "long-term sustainable development at lower funding levels".

Tuesday, 1 November 2011

Whatever happened to the 9/11 planners?

A recently released photo of KSM in Guantanamo
Readers with a good memory may remember that the invasion of Afghanistan in 2001 was a response to the attacks on America carried out by al-Qaeda. Those attacks were conceived and organised by Khalid Sheikh Mohammad, who is now in Guantanamo. According to KSM there were 35 people who knew in advance about the attacks on America. What has happened to them? You can read their story in an article I have written (together with Yosri Fouda) for openDemocracy. The Fate of the 9/11 planners and the failure of Justice can be found here.

Monday, 31 October 2011

Pak safe havens a major problem - progress report

The latest six-monthly Report to Congress on Progress Toward Security and Stability in Afghanistan notes that ISAF has made important security gains - except in areas along the border with Pakistan - and has transferred responsibility for security to Afghan forces in seven areas. However, safe havens in Pakistan and the limited capacity of the Afghan government remain the biggest risks to creating a stable country. 
After five years of increasing violence, attacks begn to fall in May 2011 compared to the previous year and they continue to decline. As a result 10,000 of the US 'surge' troops with be withdrawn by the end of 2011, with the remaining 23,000 surge troops withdrawn by the end of September 2012.
Whilst there have been security gains in the south-west and south of the country, security in the east "remains tenuous". And Kabul remains vulnerable to high-profile attacks and assassinations. The build-up of Afghan forces continues apace, with the Afghan National Army reaching 170,781 soldiers and the Afghan National Police Force reaching 136,122 policemen. Both the ANA and ANPF remain on track to achieve their respective growth goals for October 2012.
This report contains some interesting nuggets in its 138 pages. The Afghan National Army has been issued with 29,896 pieces of rolling stock in 64 variants, including high mobility multi-purpose wheeled vehicles, all built to the same standard as those issued to US troops. Afghan special forces also get the best quality night vision goggles - although the report notes that "Reinforcement of accounting procedures for these highly sensitive items is ongoing", suggesting some are going missing. There is an interesting discussion of the Afghan Air Force, which is rated as "CM-4" ie it exists, but cannot accomplish its mission.
On Special forces, the report notes that the UK has trained Commando Force 333 - a special police commando unit originally developed by UK Special Forces for counter-narcotics and interdiction, but now considered a multi-functional commando force capable of high-risk arrests - as well as Task Force 444 - a national task force developed by UK Special Forces to conduct operations in Helmand Province. In addition there is the Crisis Response Unit, based in Kabul and trained for high-risk arrests and hostage rescue missions.
The report notes that safe havens in Pakistan "represent the most significant risk to ISAF’s campaign". It adds: "Taliban senior leaders remain capable of providing strategic guidance to the broader insurgency and channeling resources to support their operational priorities. Pakistan-based senior leaders exercise varying degrees of command and control over the generally decentralized and local Afghan insurgency. Within Afghanistan, leadership structures vary by province. In general, the insurgency is led by a shadow governor and a military commander at the provincial level, who oversee district-level shadow governors and lower-level military commanders."
Other nuggets: ISAF employs 34,000 private contracted security guards, 93 per cent of whom are Afghans. However, many of these are due to be replaced by March 2012 under Presidential Decree 62, which directs that they should be replaced by the Afghan Public Protection Force. Some companies, owned by Afghan officials, have already been disbanded.

Thursday, 27 October 2011

Partial indication of war casualties

A useful - if incomplete - new report from the US Congressional Research Service on Military and Civilian Casualties in Afghanistan gives a partial indication of the impact of the conflict and offers both US and NATO-compiled statistics. There is no comprehensive collection of stats and the figures in this report come from a number of sources, so cannot be relied on as definitive.
As the CRS report notes: "Because the estimates of Afghan casualties contained in this report are based on varying time periods and have been created using different methodologies, readers should exercise caution when using them and should look to them as guideposts rather than as statements of fact." It should also be noted that statistics on Afghan civilian casualties did not start to be collected until 2007. Nor are there any figures for the number of insurgents killed or wounded.
However, even with these constraints, there is some useful information.
The total numbers of American soldiers killed from 7 October 2001 to 29 September 2011 during Operation Enduring Freedom are as follows:
As a result of Hostile incidents            1,411
As a result of non-hostile incidents        367
Total                                                      1,778

Total number of Wounded in Action  14,239

The annual breakdown for US troops is shown in the following table:
The figures for Coalition troops (below) do not include the numbers of Wounded in Action. 
As for Afghan Civilians, Afghan National and Local Police and Afghan National Army, killed from 2007- August 2011, the figures are as follows:
Afghan Civilians (2007-2011):                  10,757 killed
Afghan National and Local Police:               3,716 killed
Afghan National Army                                1,887  killed    

                                Total                            16,360 killed                      

Tuesday, 25 October 2011

Pak airforce gets F-16 upgrade sweetener

More signs that Pakistan and the United States have patched up some of their differences. US Defence contractor ITT is to supply 18 hi-tech electronic warfare pods for Pakistan's fleet of F-16 fighter aircraft at a cost of $49 million.
The ALQ-211(v)9 Advanced Integrated Defensive Electronic Warfare (AIDEWS) pods provide digital radar warning, high-power jamming, threat geolocation and situational awareness to the aircraft via a pod that is attached beneath the aircraft. It can also detect chemical weapons. It is the first production order for the pod which will also be made available to a number of other countries, including Oman and Taiwan.
The sale was first requested (and partly paid for) in 2008. An announcement was then made in July this year, but it is thought that the deal was finally cleared only within the last few weeks. 
Although it has been reported in the defence press, the deal has not been announced on ITT's own website.

Friday, 21 October 2011

Contract cheat Sarah Lee Mitcham faces US court action

Update: Regular readers of this blog will recall my articles (on 6,12 and 13 Jan 2011) about Sarah Lee Mitcham, a US defence contractor, who skipped out of Afghanistan while absent-mindedly 'forgetting' to pay her Afghan contractors the millions of dollars she had received from the US government to pay them.
I notice that one of those contractors, namely Jalal-Uddin Saeed, of Associates in Development, has now issued proceedings against Mitcham (or Lee, as she is sometimes known) in the US District Court for Northern Texas, Dallas Division for fraud and breach of contract, demanding $2 million he says he is owed.
The 26-page complaint says Mitcham and her co-accused "committed the worst kind of war profiteering seen in Afghanistan". They also undoubtedly had an impact on US Army counter-insurgency programmes, souring relations between the military and Afghan communities and probably leading to further deaths and injuries to American soldiers.
"Once the defendants received the benefit of the work from these companies they submitted invoices for payment to the US government (or the prime contractor). After receiving payment, they wrongfully kept the money amounting to at least $5 million and refused to pay the Afghan companies. In early 2010, defendants fled Afghanistan with millions rightfully belonging to the Afghan companies." 
The complaint alleges that after leaving Afghanistan the Afghan contractors were told via email that Sarah Lee Mitcham had committed suicide.
In addition, Mr Saeed says that he risked his life to support NATO, against the wishes of many in his village. When he was unable to pay his workers, he and his family were forced to flee in order to save their lives. Mitcham, whose last given address is 104 Hoyt Clark Rd, Many, LA 71449-6022, is known to use at least 13 aliases. She has allegedly filed for bankruptcy protection. It is still not clear what action, besides barring her from applying for further contracts, the US Army intends to take against Lee and her associates.

Thursday, 20 October 2011

Excellent new blog on Afghanistan

An absolute must-read for anyone who wants to keep an eye on what is happening in the heart of Afghanistan's government is the newly-established Afghan blog, Dirty Politics. Amongst its stories:
- an amazing video clip showing how government ministers were selected at an informal meeting of Uzbek and Hazara politicians organised by prominent businessman Haji Ramazan and including General Abdul Rashid Dostum (passim), Haji Muhammad Muhaqiq, Speaker of the House Abdul Rauf Ibrahim and others;
- a video clip from Pakistan's Dunya TV in which former ISI director General Hamid Gul, in speaking of Gulbuddin Hekmatyar and Jalaluddin Haqqani, says (in Urdu) that both men defended Pakistan during the anti-Soviet war and stayed loyal to Pakistan until the US invasion of Afghanistan. "They are both as patriotic Pakistanis as I am," he adds.
Best story: that of a man arrested in Jalalabad  province yesterday for making fake government documentation, including fake documents identifying him as President Karzai. Abdul Wares faked President Karzai's signature for permits to allow the carrying of guns and to drive a  car with tinted windows. He also created counterfeit documents with the signatures of the Ministers of the Interior, Defence and Agriculture, Traffic Chief and Speaker of the Upper House.

Saturday, 15 October 2011

Pak suicide bombers avoid military, kill civilians.

A study of the 12 suicide attacks carried out in Pakistan in the period from July to September shows that of the 158 people killed, 123 (84 per cent) were civilians and of the 336 injured, 308 were civilians.
The Islamabad Conflict Monitoring Center notes that four attacks were in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, three were in Baluchistan, four in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas and one in Sindh. There were no attacks in the Punjab, Azad Kashmir or Gilgit-Baltistan. Seven of the attacks were in public places, while only four were aimed at security forces. Only one attack was aimed at the Pakistan Army and that was foiled by an alert soldier (who nonetheless died).
Looking at the figures for the first nine months of 2011, there were 36 suicide attacks in Pakistan, only four of which were aimed at military installations, including 'soft' targets such as a military bakery and a recruitment centre.
The CMC says that the operational capacity of the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) has been badly damaged: "Initially suicide attacks were meant to target only high value targets, which required high level of planning, but now TTP using its suicide weapon just like a shotgun with almost no strategic planning involved." 
Aftermath of suicide attack on a mosque in Jamrud, 19 August
The report adds that the death of the TTP's Qari Hussein in a drone strike last year was a huge blow to the TTP. Hussein was the main planner for suicide attacks. "TTP's command structured is now ineffective and suicide attacks are no more controlled by its central command." The consequences are that targets are now chosen by local commanders, with predictable results. For example, a suicide attack on a mosque in Jamrud on 19 August that was planned by the Tariq Afridi group of the TTP based in Khyber Agency and which killed more than 50 people has caused huge damage to the organisation, even in areas where there was previously some sympathy.

Chinook shoot-down report

The summary of the official report into the shooting down of a US Chinook CH-47D helicopter in Wardak Province on 6 August, which killed all 38 special forces and aircrew on board (plus a military working dog), makes fascinating reading. There are comparatively few reports on combat operations available in the public domain and we only tend to see them when there has been a tragedy of some kind - in this case the worse combat loss for the US forces during the whole campaign in Afghanistan. While no-one is blamed for the disaster, yet again it shows how a $50 RPG can cause immense losses, both of men and materiel.

Friday, 14 October 2011

Murder of former central bank governor in California

Sad to read about the death of Mir Najibullah Sadat Sahou, former governor of Afghanistan's central bank. The 69-year-old Sorbonne-trained economist was shot dead in San Diego at the end of September while working a late shift driving a taxi.
Sahou, who also hosted a talk-show on Ariana-Afghanistan International TV, based in Irvine, California, left Afghanistan in 1992 after the collapse of the Presidency of Burhanuddin Rabbani, who was himself murdered in Kabul a few weeks ago. In fact, Sahou's last broadcast programme focussed on the killing of his former mentor.
According to witnesses, Sahou and his killer got out of the cab just before midnight. Three shots were fired, after which the killer got into the cab, leaving Sahou on the pavement. The cab was found abandoned a few miles away.
Despite his master's degree in finance and economics from the Sorbonne and fluency in four languages, Sahou was unable to find work in the United States and finally decided to purchase a taxi cab, although according to his daughter Savitar he remained very much a scholar, reading during breaks on the job and writing poetry.
Some family members believe that Sahou was executed and that there may have been a political motive to the killing, but police are treating the crime as robbery-murder.

Wednesday, 12 October 2011

ISAF capture/kill operations decline - report

 A new report from the Afghanistan Analysts Network on ISAF capture/kill operations, written by Alex Strick van Linschoten and Felix Kuehn, shows a significant fall-off in such operations from June 2011, possibly due to the departure of General David Petraeus, whose command saw an increased emphasis on such actions.
The authors' data comes from ISAF press releases, of which there were 3,771 between 1 December 2009 and 20 September 2011. These releases report a total of 3,157 incidents, during which 3,873 individuals were reported killed and 7,146 were detained.
The authors point to inconsistencies in ISAF's terminology, with the terms 'facilitators' and 'leaders' often used interchangeably. About five per cent of those killed and 13 per cent of those detained during these operations are described by ISAF as leaders or facilitators.
The reason for the decline in capture/kill operations since June this year is now the subject of much speculation in the military. Yesterday, Maj. Gen. Michael Krause, deputy chief of staff for ISAF, said that for the first time, Taliban attacks in Afghanistan are declining - they were lower in the past two months than during the same time period last year. Krause also revealed that ISAF had intercepted a communication from the Taliban's "inner shura" admitting that their summer campaign to take back the southern provinces of Kandahar and Helmand had "utterly failed."

Tuesday, 11 October 2011

Massive increase in Afghan opium production

The area under opium cultivation in Afghanistan is seven per cent higher this year than last, according to the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) Afghanistan Opium Survey 2011. A total of 131,000 hectares was under cultivation, compared to 125,000 ha last year.
However, that obscures the fact that the amount of opium produced will rise by 61 per cent this year compared to last, to a total of 5,800 metric tonnes. This is because crops were affected by disease last year, which dramatically reduced yields.
With rising prices, it will also mean that the roughly 200,000 families - about five per cent of the total population - involved in the business will see their incomes rise dramatically, in some cases almost doubling. The average farm-gate price is up 41 per cent on last year. Total farm-gate income is likely to be around $1.407bn, from a per-hectare income of around $10,700. 
Ninety-five per cent of cultivation took place in nine provinces in the South and Western regions of the country, with three fewer provinces being poppy-free this year. Baghlan, Faryab and Kapisa were the provinces that returned to cultivation. The UNODC points out the strong correlation between opium production and insurgency and reckons the Taliban will earn around $700m from the opium trade this year.
There have been some counter-narcotic successes, with a reduction in opium cultivation in central Helmand province, mainly due to the successful introduction of counter narcotics programmes by the central government. But in the north and south of the province production increased. To put things in context, total eradication amounted to only about three per cent of the area under cultivation.
While Afghanistan continues to be the source of much of the world's heroin, the main sufferers from this trade are the Afghans themselves, with tens of thousands of new addicts and a growing problem with HIV/AIDS infection.

Monday, 10 October 2011

UN report criticises torture in Afghanistan

A report published today by the United Nations Assistance Mission to Afghanistan (UNAMA) found that almost half (125 or 46 per cent) of the 273 conflict-related detainees UNAMA interviewed who had been held by Afghanistan's National Directorate of Security (NDS) had experienced torture, as defined under international law, and 41 (35 per cent) of the 117 detainees held by the ANP experienced treatment that constituted torture or other forms of cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment.
“UNAMA’s findings indicate that mistreatment is not an institutional or Government policy,” said Steffan de Mistura, the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Afghanistan. “The fact that the NDS and Ministry of the Interior cooperated with UNAMA’s detention observation programme suggests that reform is both possible and desired as does the Government’s announced remedial actions to end these abusive practices. UNAMA welcomes the Government’s timely attention to this issue and steps taken to put in place corrective and preventive measures.”
In early September ISAF stopped transferring detainees to 16 installations identified as places where, according to UNAMA, torture took place. Afghan officials have launched their own inquiries, have begun to change procedures and say they will punish anyone found to be responsible for such behaviour. Hmmm.

Friday, 7 October 2011

Pakistan anti-drone campaign loses momentum

The Islamabad-based Conflict Monitoring Center, which monitors drone attacks and anti-state insurgencies in South Asia, notes in its latest report that the CIA has only carried out four attacks in Pakistan's tribal areas in September, killing 22 and injuring 9 others - a substantial reduction on  the same month last year.
Most of those killed, it says, were unknown suspected militants, but they also included al-Qaeda's operational chief in Pakistan, Abu Hafs al-Shahri and Haleemullah, a deputy to the Mullah Nazir faction of the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan.
The CMC - which says it is independent, but does not reveal the source of its funding - says the number of attacks in the first month that General David Petraeus has been in charge of the CIA - he took up office on 6 September - was particularly low, although overall figures for 2011 are also lower than in previous years.
The figures show that in the first nine months of 2011 there were 66 drone attacks, killing around 515 people. The CMC argues that there is a punitive element to the drone campaign and that attacks are not solely motivated by the aim of killing militants: "United States uses this lethal weapon for its punitive approach towards Pakistan." It claims that a particularly brutal attack on 17 March this year, in which 40 tribesmen attending a tribal jirga were killed, was a revenge attack for the detention of CIA contractor Raymond Davis.
The CMC report also notes: "The CIA has carried out a drone attack after every high level meeting between Pakistani and American officials during the year 2011". Not sure if this argument can be verified, when there have been so many attacks, but clearly there is a perception in Pakistan that this is happening.
Interestingly, the report notes that following the reduction in the number of drone attacks over this summer, the protest movement in Pakistan has lost its momentum. "No significant public protest was observed during the month of September 2011. Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf – a political party led by veteran cricketer Imran Khan- had started sit-ins (Dharna) against drone attacks in May and June but during previous two months, the party has not organized any protest in this regard. In Pakistan’s National Assembly, the issue of drone attacks was raised by parliamentarians a few months back however, after the reduction in number of drone attacks, the issue is no more of prime attention of the parliamentarians."

Wednesday, 5 October 2011

£4bn annual cost of UK military ops in Afghanistan

A research paper published by the House of Commons in September on the cost of Britain's international military operations reveals that expenditure in Afghanistan totalled £3.774 billion in 2010-11, very slightly lower than the year before. Total costs for the current financial year are likely to be £4.0 billion.
The report also provides details of the increase in troop numbers since June 2002 when there were only 400 UK troops in Afghanistan. Those seem like faraway days. Since April this year there have been around 9,500 military personnel deployed in Afghanistan, the highest figure ever in the present campaign.

Monday, 3 October 2011

CIA contractor gets into another fight

A smartened-up Davis arriving at court
Oh dear. I see that Raymond Davis, the CIA contractor who got himself into a spot of bother in Pakistan after he shot dead two men in the street, has got himself into further trouble in the notorious bandit country of Highlands Ranch, south of Denver, Colorado.
Davis, who was freed in Pakistan in March after someone paid $2.34 million in blood money to the families of the men he killed, was arrested Saturday in the car park of an Einstein Bros Bagel outlet after getting into a fight over a shopping centre parking spot. He was charged with third-degree assault on Jeff Maes and disorderly conduct and was freed from the Douglas County Jail after posting bail of $1,750.
Update: On Tuesday Davis was charged with second degree assault, a felony which carries a minimum sentence on conviction of five years. The judge at the hearing said Davis needed to work on 'anger management' issues and banned him from carrying a gun in Colorado. He told Davis, who described himself as a weapons instructor working in Washington DC, that he could travel to DC and use a weapon there. Hopefully he will not take the judge up on the offer. The bail bond was raised to $10,000. Davis will be back in court on 15 December for a preliminary hearing.

Friday, 30 September 2011

Here's something you didn't read earlier

More than two months after it was published - on 17 July - the UK Defence Select Committee report on Operations in Afghanistan has still received almost no publicity.
This is worrying. The committee laboured for months, visiting Afghanistan and holding hearings at which just about every senior officer in the armed forces appeared - not to mention many other witnesses - and yet its conclusions have been greeted with near silence. No newspaper reports, no TV coverage, about the most expensive and extensive military campaign ever mounted by Britain.
The same was true of the Foreign Affairs Select Committee report on Afghanistan that appeared in August 2009 and received almost no coverage. (You can read my comments on it here.)
Is there something wrong with our parliamentary system? What is the point of these long, extended inquiries if they receive no publicity and no-one takes any notice? And what is wrong with the press? Why are they not holding our lawmakers to account? It's not as if these inquiries are about minor issues. Hundreds of soldiers have died and many hundreds more have been wounded. Here's some figures from the report that you may have missed:
"From the start of operations in Afghanistan in 2001 to 15 June 2011, 371 British military personnel were killed with a further 586 very seriously or seriously wounded. Over 5,000 troops were admitted to the field hospital of whom 1,712 were wounded in action and the remainder had a non battle injury or disease. Some 4,700 personnel were evacuated back to the UK by air."
In case you are interested, amongst other things, the report examines the thinking behind the decision to send British troops into Helmand in 2006, concluding overall that it was a bad idea. In particular the committee was very upset that the Ministry of Defence would not let it see Chiefs of Staff Committee minutes that discussed the deployment to Helmand. Ahh, now I'm beginning to understand....

Wednesday, 28 September 2011

Debunking myths about Afghanistan

In case you have absorbed some of the many myths associated with Afghanistan, veteran Guardian reporter Jonathan Steele has drawn up a debunking list of the ten most prevalent. Have the Afghans always beaten foreign armies? Check out the list, extracted from his latest book Ghosts of Afghanistan: The Haunted Battleground, Portobello, £25.

Tuesday, 27 September 2011

How to go to war and make money

Sidharth Handa (r) receives a Bronze Star in happier days
Case one: Last Friday Sidharth 'Tony' Handa, a former captain in the US Army Reserve, was sentenced to 10 years in prison for soliciting $1.3 million in bribes from contractors involved in US-funded reconstruction efforts in Afghanistan and participating in a conspiracy to traffic heroin. It is the largest Army-connected bribery prosecution relating to Afghanistan. Handa, of Charlotte, NC, was also ordered to pay $315,000 in restitution.
“Mr. Handa used his official position assisting the United States’ reconstruction efforts in Afghanistan to line his pockets,” said US Assistant Attorney General Lanny A Breuer. “He promised multi-million dollar contracts to Afghan businessmen in exchange for cash. He was so meticulous about collecting his bribes that he kept track of them on a spreadsheet. We will not tolerate this kind of fraud and abuse. Today’s sentence reflects the disgracefulness of Mr. Handa’s conduct.”
“From the day he stepped foot in Afghanistan, Mr. Handa negotiated a staggering amount of bribes from contractors in a blatant breach of the trust our military put in him. His actions brought shame to our mission, harmed our reconstruction efforts, and defrauded American taxpayers who funded the contracts he looted.”
Handa was stationed in Afghanistan only for the six months from March until November 2008 and served as the liaison to the local governor and engineers on the Kunar Provincial Reconstruction Team (PRT). He helped award reconstruction project contracts to local contractors through what should have been a competitive bidding process. In fact, almost immediately on arrival in Afghanistan, he began to solicit bribes from contractors seeking large PRT construction projects.
With the help of an Afghan interpreter - who appears not to have been proscuted so far -  Handa asked for 10 percent of the overall contract value, though the actual bribe payment was negotiated based on the contractor’s ability to pay. The total value of bribes contractors agreed to pay amounted to $1,323,000, and Handa and the interpreter collected $315,000, which they split evenly.
After leaving Afghanistan Handa tried to collect over $1 million in bribes that contractors had pledged to pay. A cooperating witness (CW) offered to help Handa collect the money, and through 2010 and early 2011 Handa provided him with details of outstanding bribes. It was at this point that Handa said he knew people in the drug business and he and the CW developed plans to sell kilogram quantities of heroin to Handa’s drug contacts.
However, in April this year he was arrested after a sting operation at a northern Virginia hotel. He was carrying the bribe money, a loaded handgun and a spreadsheet detailing specific bribe amounts paid and outstanding.
Case two: A former member of the US Army employed by a private security firm was arrested at Miami International Airport last week on charges of bribery, fraud and theft of government funds, in connection with the award of a contract to provide services to a US government provincial reconstruction team in Farah, Afghanistan.
Raul Borcuta was arrested when he tried to enter the United States from Europe. Immediately, the US District Court for the Northern District of Illinois unsealed a nine-count indictment charging Borcuta and his co-conspirators, Zachery Taylor and Jared Close, with mail fraud, wire fraud, conspiracy, bribery and theft of government funds.
According to the indictment, Borcuta, 32, defrauded the US government in connection with a contract to provide two up-armoured sport utility vehicles to be used by an Afghan official in the government of Farah Province, Afghanistan, who had received death threats from insurgent groups.
The indictment alleges that Borcuta bribed US Army contracting officials Taylor, 40, and Close, 40, with $10,000 each to award him the contract and to make full payment to Borcuta before the vehicles were delivered. Taylor and Close, formerly US Army staff sergeants assigned to the provincial reconstruction team in Farah, allegedly authorized a payment of approximately $200,000 in US government funds to Borcuta. Borcuta received the money even though he never delivered the vehicles required by the contract.
The case is similar to another case, in Iraq, that I reported on for The Guardian involving a company called Zeroline. In that case, too, the US Army paid millions of dollars in advance for armoured vehicles that were never delivered. Still no news on whether or not those involved will be prosecuted. We are waiting.

Wednesday, 21 September 2011

Afghanistan's donor dependence

A report from the US Government Accountability Office on Afghanistan's Donor Dependence  notes that the US and other funders have provided 90 per cent of Afghanistan's public expenditures from 2006-2010. The US alone has allocated over $72 billion to its mission in Afghanistan. To put this in context, in 2010, for example, the Kabul government's entire domestic revenues - raised mostly through customs revenues and property taxes - amounted to just $1.6 billion.
With the 2014 target date for the withdrawal of US troops now only three years away, these figures raise huge questions about how the government in Kabul will fund its own security forces, who use up the lion's share of this donor income.
The report shows that Afghanistan's total public expenditure more than doubled between 2006-2010, from $5.5 billion to $14.3 billion, but that almost 80 per cent was off-budget ie donor funded. Of this, just under half (45%) was security related. Ninety per cent of all security spending was provided by the US.

Tuesday, 20 September 2011

Massive increase in Coalition night raids

Night raids, one of the most divisive and resented tactics used by Coalition forces in Afghanistan, have skyrocketed in use, increasing five-fold between February 2009 and December 2010, according to a new report from the Open Society Foundations and The Liaison Office (an independent Afghan NGO).
This is the second report published by OSI and the Liaison Office. The first, published in February 2010, can be found here.
The new report, The Cost of Kill/Capture: Impact of the Night Raid Surge on Afghan Civilians, notes that military forces conducted an average of 19 raids a night in the three months between December 2010 and February 2011. The trend is continuing according to the report's authors and may even be increasing, with reports of up to 40 raids a night on occasion. It adds that the raids have created a massive backlash and that ISAF commanders have refused to alter their policy, although there have been some changes to procedures that have reduced property damage and led to more respectful treatment of women.
However, the report notes: "although civilian casualties have been reduced significantly, they still occur, many as a result of mistaken interpretations of 'hostile intent'." 
The report recommends that ISAF and US forces should cease raids that do not discriminate between combatants and civilians, ensure such raids are not used as substitutes for criminal proceedings or other methods of intelligence gathering and that commanders should consider alternative methods of detention wherever possible.