Friday, 28 September 2012

Taliban fighters show off latest uniforms

Kandahar Media Information Center have just put out this pic of a mid-level Taliban commander wearing a burqa and disguised as a woman. He was arrested by the Afghan Border Police. Nice dress.

Wednesday, 19 September 2012

Air charter company condemns explicit pics

Balmoral Central Contracts SA, the Johannesburg-based air charter company that employed eight South Africans (and four others) killed by a suicide bomber in Kabul two days ago, has published a statement on its website condemning the circulation of explicit photos of the incident. "There are some gruesome pictures doing the rounds in the media at the moment and we would earnestly request that you respect the dignity of the victims and the families by not publishing pictures in your publications showing the bodies of the victims". The only such pictures I know of were credited to Reuters, which should know better.
The statement continues: "Having lived through what was probably the worst night of our lives things are starting to settle.  While we are completely incapable of understanding the lunacy and hatred that would motivate a young woman (or any other human being) to deliberately set out to destroy herself and the lives of more than a dozen innocent people, yet we will not allow ourselves to be slaves to unforgiveness and we therefore choose to forgive. We are reminded that she too has parents and possibly brothers and sisters and our hearts and prayers go out to them in their time of loss."
A very touching comment.
Balmoral, which was formed in 1992, operates 17 aircraft in Afghanistan: 4 x Beech 1900C's; 7 x Beech 1900D's; 5 x King Air 200s and 1 x MI8MTV helicopter. All are based at Kabul International Airport.

Tuesday, 18 September 2012

How official pics help Taliban attack planners

Well done to John Young at Cryptome for pointing to the extraordinary array of tactically useful photographs of Camp Bastion published by the UK Ministry of Defence (369 images) and the US Department of Defense (over 500 images).
It seems quite remarkable that these two organisations should have published photos that allow Taliban strategists to make accurate models of the layout of the camp. The positioning of hangars, medical centres, troop bivvies - pretty much everything - is on view in these high-res photos. The photo of the church is pointless and inflammatory in the hands of a Taliban recruiter.
In late July the Taliban posted an hour-long video of an attack on Camp Salerno, the largest US base in Afghanistan. It was filmed on three separate cameras and was well shot. The content included shots of a commander showing the attacking force a mock-up model of the base and aerial photos which he used to explain how they would attack. 

In that video many of the militants can be seen wearing US army fatigues as they train in the mountains with rocket propelled grenades, mortars, and AK-47's. The Camp Bastion attackers were also wearing US Army uniforms. Presumably everyone there had been told to be on the lookout for a copycat attack?
Still from Taliban video of Camp Bastion attack
It seems entirely likely that the Camp Bastion attack was planned using models built with the help of the official government photos. The ISAF spokesman himself admitted  that it was "a well-coordinated attack". He also claimed that of the 15 who took part in the attack, 14 had been killed and one captured. How then does he explain the video posted online soon after  the attack by the Taliban and showing burning buildings at Camp Bastion? It suggests at least one member of the attack team made it back to base.

Still circling the lion's den

It's a small landmark, nonetheless I am delighted to tell you that this blog has now had more than 100,000 visits in its nearly four-year history. Not huge, I know, but the average number of visitors is also increasing. I have published 570 articles - well over a quarter of a million words - most of which cover issues that receive little publicity elsewhere. Has it made any difference? Now there's a question...

Monday, 17 September 2012

Camp Bastion attack major boost for Taliban

If there are any more weekends like the one that has just passed, then there won't be any need for the Taliban to negotiate. Six Coalition soldiers were shot dead by Afghan Police in two separate incidents, a team of Taliban commandos dressed in US Army uniforms penetrated the huge American and British army base at Camp Bastion and destroyed aircraft and stores worth more than $250 million dollars and - to cap it all - American aircraft bombed and killed eight women and wounded many others collecting firewood in Noor Laam Saeb area of Alingar district, Laghman province, leading to rioting in the provincial capital. In Kabul and other cities there were large demonstrations against the anti-Mohammad film made by Coptic zealots in America.
The Camp Bastion night attack will go down as one of the most one-sided and audacious attacks in the history of modern warfare. Around 15-20 Taliban got into the base - home to 21,000 US and British soldiers - and proceeded to destroy six US Marine Harrier AV-8B jump jets, as well as damage many others. The cost to the Taliban, besides the deaths of its fighters, was probably no more than a few thousand dollars. The costs to the Coalition runs into hundreds of millions of dollars. The base, which is surrounded by desert, was thought so safe that even Prince Harry was allowed to stay there. He was hidden away in a bunker for the duration of the four-hour firefight. Not our most glorious moment.
The attack parallels similar attacks by the Tehreek-e-Taliban in Pakistan against Pakistan military targets, including the naval base at Mehran and the airforce base at Kamra. In both these cases small team of fighters dressed in official uniforms penetrated the bases and concentrated on destroying very expensive planes and equipment. As with Camp Bastion, almost all the attackers died having achieved their goals.

Interviews with Taliban's Qatar negotiators

Taliban negotiator Sohail Shaheen
NHK World TV has broadcast interviews with two of the six Taliban negotiators in Qatar. In the interviews Sohail Shaheen - former deputy Taliban ambassador in Pakistan -  and Syed Rasool say they last met US negotiators in January, but that talks were suspended because of the failure to agree the exchange of prisoners and the opening of an official Taliban office. "If the American side implement the conditions which they agreed upon, there is no problem, no obstacle for the talks to resume. We are still abiding by that rule", said Sohail Shaheen, who added that talks with the Americans started in 2010 in Germany.
The most interesting part of the interview was as follows:
"Q: When we interviewed the US side, the US government said that the reason why the dialogue is stalled is that the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan doesn't issue the statement which is to denounce international terrorism and dissociate from Al Qaeda. What do you think their claim ?

Syed Rasool
A: First of all, there are no Al Qaeda now in Afghanistan and even the officials of the United States of America, they admit this. Secondly, the statement, that would be a part of the understanding but that would be after the confidence building measures are taken. It will be followed by the confidence building measures but actually even during the time of the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan, no one was allowed officially to use the soil of Afghanistan. Our agenda is in Afghanistan non-intervention in other countries, maintaining good relation with all countries of the world because it is necessary we know for the construction and development of our country, we are living in this world, we have to maintain relation with the international community to benefit from their advancement, their knowledge. So, we know that. And also we focus on our country, our infrastructure of our country, industries of our country. This is our agenda. We do not believe in export of revolution to other countries. So, our agenda is Islamic nationalistic. "
I've seen no coverage of these interviews anywhere in the Western press. Hmmm.

Thursday, 13 September 2012

More on cyberwarfare in Afghanistan - and elsewhere

I hadn't seen this before, and even though it was published last year I think it is worth a good look. Compiled by the National Intelligence Open Source Center in the United States and made public by the public intelligence organisation , the Open Source Center Master Narratives Country Report for Afghanistan makes interesting reading.
According to the document itself "Master narratives are the historically grounded stories that reflect a community’s identity and experiences, or explain its hopes, aspirations, and concerns. These narratives help groups understand who they are and where they come from, and how to make sense of unfolding developments around them."
The point here is that if you want to understand how and why Taliban propaganda is so successful, then you need to understand the narratives that lie behind it. The authors say they have unearthed six master narratives that are articulated by supporters of the Taliban, and others in Afghanistan.
For example, the idea that the Taliban are the liberators of Afghanistan is articulated thus: "In the face of foreign crusaders seeking to conquer Afghanistan, Afghan freedom fighters have always protected the people and liberated the country. Today the Taliban has inherited this jihad, leading the people against the most powerful army in the world. As their grandfathers and fathers did before them, Afghans must fight against the foreigners and their puppet government in order to restore the Islamic Emirate and Afghan independence".

Nor are the narratives limited to the Taliban. A more nationalist narrative, held by supporters of the central government, would go as follows: "Afghanistan’s progress as a modern democratic nation was destroyed by the Soviet invasion and the subsequent civil war and Taliban rule. With the overthrow of the Taliban, Afghans finally have an opportunity to restore the modernization and progress first established by Zahir Shah, peacefully uniting the country behind a central government representing all Afghans. Afghans must support the central government if they hope to restore this glorious period and avoid civil war."
None of this is very complex or very new, but it makes sense as the US military continue to come to grips with how to defeat its adversaries online as well as on the battlefield.
In response to these issues, last autumn the US State Department set up the Center for Strategic Counterterrorism Communications (CSCC), which by the end of 2011 had 45 staff, including 20 native speakers of Arabic, Urdu and Somali, with other languages to follow. Its aim is to "identify, confront and undermine the communications of al-Qaeda and its affiliates". 

According to hearings in August in the House Subcommittee on Terrorism, Nonproliferation and Trade, "Arabic, Urdu and Somali speakers 'contest' the online space, media websites and forums where al-Qaeda and its affiliates operate." Chairman Ed Royce gave an example of the kind of work the CSCC does: "After the al-Qaeda affiliate in Yemen posted photos of coffins draped in American flags, the Center produced a counter-ad that replaced the flags with Yemeni ones, conveying that most victims of terrorist attacks are locals. These videos have been applauded by analysts for their use of 'out of the box' thinking and ridicule."
Lots more here if you are interested in the modern face of cyberwarfare. Fascinating stuff.

Bringing Streets of Afghanistan to Kabul

Just a couple of days to go to donate to the Streets of Afghanistan appeal, a full-size photography exhibition organised by Shannon Galpin of the Mountain2Mountain organisation. Galpin wants to display the wonderful pictures in this exhibition in Kabul and is asking for donations to make this possible. "It is now time for Streets of Afghanistan to return home to Kabul as a groundbreaking public street art installation this fall.  After all, it is because of the Afghan community and artists that this exhibition has come to life," she says. The organisers need another $4,500 by Saturday. More info here  and on the Streets of Afghanistan website.
Update: Delighted to see that this project raised the $20,000 needed to mount the exhibition in Kabul.

Wednesday, 12 September 2012

ANA loses papers for $475 million in fuel payments

How strange! All the Afghan National Army documents concerning the financial records for the purchase of petroleum, oil and lubricants for the period October 2006-February 2011 have been shredded, according to John Sopko, the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction. These relate to payments totalling nearly $475 million. Sopko adds: "In addition, CSTC-A could not provide more than half of the documents we requested for our audit period from March 2011 to March 2012. As a result, SIGAR reduced the audit period and could not audit the documentation for more than $4.5 million of selected ANA fuel orders paid during our audit period." The interim report on this scandal can be found here.
In February 2010 the US Army Central Command issued a memorandum instructing its financial managers not to dispose of financial documents related to the conflict in Afghanistan. Presumably the legions of American officers attached to the ANA were aware of this order. Corruption is thriving in Afghanistan, not just on the Afghan side of things.

Australian as she is spoken

When Lt Gen Richard P Mills, deputy commandant of the US Marine Corps, acknowledged a few weeks ago that the Taliban was engaged in "almost constant incursions" as it attempted to access military computer systems in Afghanistan, it caused a bit of a stir.
Now, it seems the military authorities in Australia have warned their soldiers deploying to Afghanistan to beware of Taliban supporters using "fake profiles" to get information on deployments, troop strengths and other information. An article in the tabloid Sunday Telegraph in Australia warns that Taliban insurgents are posing as "attractive women" on Facebook to befriend soldiers and gather information.
OK, I accept that the Taliban is capable of hacking into some military computers - but pretending to be the kind of woman that would appeal to an Aussie squaddie? I don't think so.
Can you imagine the conversation:
"Hello, my name is Sheila and I think you very nice. You and me, we go to Bondi for barby?"
- "Blimey chook! I just got me bang stick ready and I was about to brass up
" (trans. Well, well. I have cleaned my rifle and was about to fire it).
"What this bang stick? You and me, we have a good time, eh?"
- "Naahhh. Me and the other diggers are going out for a few tinnies and goffers and then a gonk. I'll be in me farter if you want me, if I'm not too maggoted."(trans. Me and the other soldiers are going out for a few beers and soft drinks and then to sleep. I will be in my sleeping bag if I'm not too drunk.)
- Why you no speak English?
- "You numpty! Don't mention the whingeing Poms. Bunch of Ruperts if you ask me! (trans. You moron, don't mention the English. Bunch of toffs, etc....."
The Australian Department of Defence said it was working on new social media guidelines, to be released by Christmas. Perhaps they should just encourage their soldiers to speak pure Australian.

Tuesday, 11 September 2012

General Dostum enters the world of twitter

I see General Dostum has begun to tweet. Should make interesting reading...He also has a new Dostum Foundation website, although I can't seem to get it to work properly.

Background docs on Haqqani Network

The US National Security Archive has published an interesting little trove of documents on the Haqqani Network to coincide with last week's State Department decision to designate it as a terrorist organisation.
Included are records that detail direct meetings between Jalaluddin Haqqani and US diplomats,  his role as a Taliban military commander, his intimate ties to foreign militants, his al-Qaeda connections,  as well as his potentially critical function as a major advocate for Osama bin Laden within the Taliban administration.
They include admissions by Haqqani that he had had good relations with US officials during the anti-Soviet war in Afghanistan which ended following the cruise missile attack on one of his camps in Khost in the wake of the 1998 al-Qaeda attacks on American embassies in East Africa.

Monday, 10 September 2012

Further indications Taliban wants to negotiate

A RUSI paper examining Taliban Perspectives on Reconciliation, written by Michael Semple, Theo Farrell, Anatol Lieven and Rudra Chaudhuri, can be found here.
Like Semple's last paper, it relies on his extensive contacts with elements of the Taliban leadership to explore three issues: Taliban links to al-Qaeda; the potential for a ceasefire and the continuing presence of US forces in the country.
Last time round, in July, the Taliban wasted no time in characterising Semple's contact as "mentally insane" for suggesting that many Taliban supporters regarded al-Qaeda as a "plague". 

This time, the four unnamed Taliban figures interviewed say that the organisation's leadership and base deeply regret their past association with al-Qaeda and that they would obey a call by Mullah Omar to renounce any links and prevent them operating on Afghan soil. They are even willing to allow US forces to stay on Afghan soil under certain circumstances.
It is clear that there is a strong faction within the Taliban that is willing to discuss a ceasefire. Only yesterday, in a statement issued to mark the 11th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, the Taliban reiterated its attitude towards al-Qaeda: "The Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan once again clarifies to the entire world including America that we are neither a threat to anyone nor will we let our soil be used to harm anyone. It is our due legal and religious right to defend our homeland and establish in it an Islamic system and we shall continue with our sacred struggle and Jihad against the invaders until we attain this right and we sincerely believe in being victorious in achieving this ambition and defeating the enemy."

The only thing now holding up negotiations is the American political process, where it is considered bad form to negotiate important deals that a successor administration may have to implement. Even if he is re-elected, Obama's team will no doubt waste further months attempting to ensure any settlement does not look like a military defeat for US forces.
Update: Predictably, the Taliban quickly issued a statement denying that it was willing to accept the presence of US troops in Afghanistan, calling it "fatuous jibber-jabber". The statement continued: "The Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan strongly condemns this malicious and strictly propaganda based report of the said think-tank and declares it has no plans of prolonging the American invasion of Afghanistan even for a single day. Our religion, national interests, national pride and values forbid us from making such illegitimate deals or agreeing to the continuation of invasion or accepting their revolting presence due to fear and our own safety. We believe that this report by the so called think-tank, based on the opinions of a few anonymous faces, is fabricated and consider it the direct work and move of the intelligence circles prepared for its people and for raising the moral of its defeated troops."

Thursday, 6 September 2012

HRW condemns Shia killings in Pakistan

From a statement issued yesterday in New York by Human Rights Watch on the continuing killings - at least 320 this year so far - of Shias in Pakistan:
"Human Rights Watch urged Pakistan’s federal government and relevant provincial governments to make all possible efforts to promptly apprehend and prosecute those responsible for recent attacks and other crimes targeting the Shia population. The government should direct civilian agencies and the military responsible for security to actively protect those facing attack from extremist groups, and to address the growing perception, particularly in Balochistan and Pakistan’s tribal areas, that state authorities look the other way when Shia are attacked. It should increase the number of security personnel in Shia majority areas and enclaves at high risk of attack, particularly the Hazara community in Quetta. The government should also actively investigate allegations of collusion between Sunni militant groups and military intelligence and paramilitary forces and hold accountable personnel found to be involved in criminal acts."
HRW points out to the case of Malik Ishaq, the leader of Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, who despite being the accused in some 44 cases that involve the killing of around 70 people, mostly Shias, has previously been acquitted by Pakistani courts in 34 of those cases and granted bail in the other 10. He was arrested (again) in Lahore on 31 August under the provisions of the Maintenance of Public Order Act as a threat to public security. It remains to be seen whether he will ever face trial.

More details emerge on Khan's anti-drone march

Pakistani politician and former cricketer Imran Khan  announced this week that the anti-drone march into South Waziristan - expected to attract up to 100,000 participants - will take place on 6-7 October. Khan confirmed that foreign activists will accompany the marchers, including British film maker and activist Carol Grayson. Other people slated to attend include Cherie Blair's sister Lauren Booth, representatives of the London-based Reprieve organisation led by Clive Stafford Smith and members of the American human rights organisation Code Pink.
Khan said the march would leave from Islamabad and reach South Waziristan on 7 October after an overnight stay at Dera Ismail Khan. He said that more than three million people had been displaced because of military operations in the tribal areas and that a planned Pakistan Army operation into North Waziristan would bring more disasters. He claimed that 12 drone attacks had taken place within 24 hours last week, a figure that has not been confirmed by any other source.
How such a large march - much of it will be vehicle-borne - will be catered for in the remote tribal areas is unclear, but Khan remains optimistic and support for the initiative is growing. However, cynics in Pakistan are suggesting that Khan knows the march will never take place because of the impending action by the Pakistan military and that he is simply seeking to garner as much publicity as possible.

Sunday, 2 September 2012

Pak Taliban killers

My apologies if this offends, but this picture shows murderers from the Pakistan Taliban who have just decapitated 12 Pakistani soldiers they captured at a checkpoint in Bajaur recently. And still the Pakistan military prevaricates about an offensive in North Waziristan...

UK campaigner to join Waziristan anti-drone march

Carol Grayson                                        pic: CAAB
A British filmaker and campaigner, Carol Grayson, will travel to South Waziristan later this month to take part in a peace march calling for an end to drone strikes and organised by former cricketer and leader of the Tehreek-e-Insaf party, Imran Khan.
The march has already created a stir, with the Pakistan Taliban having threatened to kill Khan - and then withdrawing the threat.
Grayson, who has campaigned to expose the infected blood scandal of the 1970-80s and has also helped to make a film about a notorious incident in Iraq in which a US Army helicopter killed eight men, including two Reuters journalists, in 2007, told the Drone Wars UK website that she refuses to support "the US and British state-sanctioned terror of targeted killing by drone, being used in the so-called 'war on terror' which frequently annihilates civilians in the Tribal Areas of Pakistan".
She said she had been invited to join the march into one of the most dangerous areas in Pakistan by Imran Khan: "I will be joining a peace march to Waziristan with international media, human rights activists and anti-war protesters in solidarity with drone victims. I plan to publicly disassociate, ditch and disown any connection to those drones manufactured as remote control killing machines operated out of airbases in the US and soon the UK."
She said that she did not think the march was a gimmick and revealed that Imran Khan had met with tribal leaders this week who are supportive of the march. An anti-drone protest will take place in Bradford, Yorkshire - in advance of the Wazirstan march - on 14 September.