Friday 29 April 2011

The massive cost of the US war in Afghanistan

If you are worried about how the US government spends its tax dollars, stop reading here. A report from the Congressional Research Service - The Cost of Iraq, Afghanistan, and Other Global War on Terror Operations Since 9/11 -  on military spending in Iraq and Afghanistan since the 9/11 attacks makes daunting reading. 
In the decade since the 9/11 attacks on America, Congress has approved a total of $444 billion for Operation Enduring Freedom and other counter-terror operations in Afghanistan. This amounts to 35 per cent of all military spending during the period in question. The remaining 65% was mostly spent on operations in Iraq.
Today, however, the bulk of spending is in Afghanistan. For 2011, Afghan war costs accounted for 71% of war costs and Iraq 29%, a reversal of the split of two years earlier when Afghanistan’s share was one third and Iraq’s share was two-thirds. In the FY2012 request, the $114 billion cost for Afghanistan is a 91% increase over FY2009, and  161% higher than FY2008. In FY2012, the cost for Iraq drops to $18 billion, a decrease of $78 billion from FY2009.
The 59-page report notes "Between FY2009 and FY2010, average monthly DOD spending for Afghanistan grew from $4.4 billion to $6.7 billion a month, a 50% increase, while average troop strength almost doubled from 44,000 to 84,000 as part of the troop surge announced by the President last year. Troop strength in Afghanistan is expected to average 102,000 in FY2011. DOD’s plans call for troop levels to fall by less than 4,000 in FY2012 unless the President decides otherwise as part of his decision to “begin transition to Afghan security lead in early 2011. . . [to a ] a responsible, conditions-based U.S. troop reduction in July 2011.”"
It can be seen that the cost of the war in Afghanistan has risen dramatically since 2006, up from $19bn to $60bn in 2009. This will rise to $105bn for 2010 and $119bn in 2011. The cost increases reflect not only higher troop levels and more intense operations, but also substantial sums for training Afghan forces, extra procurement costs and, latterly, higher foreign aid levels. It also costs more per soldier to keep troops deployed in Afghanistan compared to Iraq. Incredibly, the Administration cites a figure of $1 million per troop per year in Afghanistan. Plenty more stats in this report if you can face it.

Wednesday 20 April 2011

Media and Telecoms guide to Afghanistan

Having helped to write and edit it, I can't oversell Infoasaid's Media and Telecoms Landscape Guide to Afghanistan. That having been said, I can highly recommend it if you want a quick and easy-to-read guide to how the media works in Afghanistan.

Monday 18 April 2011

Three Cups of Tea author savaged by 60 Minutes

Mortenson in Pakistan
Oh dear! Greg Mortenson, who shot to fame with the publication of his best-seller Three Cups of Tea, has had a bit of a thrashing from CBS's 60 Minutes.
They began investigating complaints from former donors, board members, staff and charity regulators about the way Mortenson runs the Central Asia Institute. They say there are "serious questions about how millions of dollars have been spent, whether Mortenson is personally benefiting and whether some of the most dramatic and inspiring stories in his books are even true."
Mortenson, who charges $30,000 for each public speaking engagement, has sold millions of copies of his books. And yet, as a series of replies from the CAI trustees to questions asked by 60 Minutes has revealed, he often uses a private jet to fly between engagements. Last year CAI apparently spent more on Mortenson's travel costs - which it pays -  than on building schools.
In addition, it appears that stories about him being kidnapped by the Taliban are untrue, as are stories about how villagers nursed him back to health on his descent from K2, the tallest mountain in Pakistan. Education officials at some schools in Pakistan reported to 60 Minutes that some of the schools built with CAI money are poorly constructed and that they have not heard from the charity for some time. Only 41 per cent of the money CAI spent in 2009 actually went to schools in Pakistan or Afghanistan. It was all too good to be true.

Opium production for 2011 set to rise in Afghanistan

Opium production in Afghanistan for 2011 is likely to increase strongly in the north and north-east of the country, although overall cultivation for the entire country is expected to decrease slightly, according to the latest survey from the UN Office on Drugs and Crime.
Cultivation in Badakhshan, Baghlan and Faryab provinces in the north of the country is likely to increase due to the present high prices for the drug. The two latter provinces were certified as poppy-free in 2010, so this is a setback. Both are likely to lose this status in 2011. Other provinces certified poppy-free in 2010 are likely to remain so.
In total 16 provinces are likely to remain poppy-free in 2011, with the remaining 18 provinces showing moderate to strong increases. Asked to explain the main reasons why farmers chose to grow opium rather than other crops, almost three-quarters answered that high prices was the main reason. Reasons for not growing opium were that it was banned by the government (38%), it was forbidden by Islam (30%) or fear of eradication (19%).
Only in eight per cent of surveyed villages - all of them in Baghlan -  did farmers receive cash advances from 'external sources' for growing opium. In Baghlan, this meant 57 per cent of all poppy-growing villages. UNODC found a strong statistical linkage between villages that had not received governmental agricultural assistance and the growing of opium.
The price increase for opium has been dramatic over the last year, rising between February 2010 and March 2011 by 306 per cent for dry opium and 251 per cent for fresh opium. By comparison wheat prices increased by 31 per cent and maize by 42 per cent over the same period. Rice actually fell in price by one per cent.
The interesting question is whether or not the increase in cultivation in the north of the country is a tactic supported and encouraged by the Taliban. It receives much of its income from opium production and with this being curtailed in the south, it seems likely that it is connected to the 'external sources' providing funding for farmers in the north of the country.

Thursday 14 April 2011

Hard facts of human rights in Pakistan

The annual report for the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, published yesterday, does not make comfortable reading. They say that957 people were killed in US drone attacks in 2010, while 1,159 people were killed in 67 suicide attacks. The fatalities included 1,041 civilians. In addition, a further 2,542 people were killed and 5,062 people injured in terrorist attacks.
In Karachi, 237 political activists and 301 other civilians were killed in targeted killings. Another 118 people were killed and 40 injured in targeted killings in Baluchistan. These included 29 non-Baluch 'settlers' and 17 members of the Shia Hazara community. The bodies of another 59 missing persons were found in the province.
The report reveals that there are more than 8,000 people on death row in Pakistan, including nearly 6,000 in Punjab alone. A total of 75,586 prisoners were detained in 55 prisons, although the authorised capacity for these prisons is only 42,617. Seventy-two prisoners died in prisons and another 157 were injured.
Freedom of movement in some areas of Pakistan, particularly in Balochistan and FATA, is so limited, that the report calls them "virtual no-go areas".
Ninety-nine members of the Ahmedi sect were killed in the year and at least 64 people were charged with blasphemy, including Aasia Bibi, a Christian farmhand. Three men (including two Christian brothers) accused of blasphemy were killed in police custody.
Twenty-five of the 102 Sikh families that had been forced to flee Orakzai through intimidation, returned to the area. However, 500 Hindu families from Balochistan migrated to India because of threats to their lives.
Many more fascinating and daunting figures are contained in this remarkable report.

Wednesday 13 April 2011

Pak financier of Indian Airlines hijack arrested in Chile?

Hijacked jet on the runway at Kandahar Airport in 1999
Indian news organisations are reporting that a man arrested in Chile last week in possession of a false passport may be Abdul Rauf, a Pakistani terrorist accused of financing and coordinating the December 1999 hijacking of an Indian Airlines passenger jet from Kathmandu to Kandahar, via Amritsar and Lahore.
The aircraft and its 11-member crew and 179 passengers was hijacked by five armed men who eventually landed at Kandahar and demanded the ransom of a number of Pakistani jihadis imprisoned in India. They killed one of the passengers in the eight-day stand-off before the Indian authorities agreed to release three men: Maulana Masood Azhar, founder of Jaish-e-Mohammad, Mushtaq Zargar, a Kashmiri separatist leader and Ahmed Omar Sayeed Sheikh, a British-educated Pakistani who was later convicted of the murder of Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl.
Taliban officials facilitated the handover of prisoners, which took place on the runway at Kandahar in the presence of the-then Indian foreign minister Jaswant Singh. All three men lived openly in Pakistan following their release, despite the fact that they had all been convicted of terrorist offences in India.
Rauf, who is brother-in-law to Azhar, is said to have sent money to the hijackers and also rented a flat in Dhaka where the hijackers fine-tuned their plans.
Two senior Indian police officers left for Chile yesterday in order to confirm Rauf's identity. His arrest was brought to their attention via Interpol. His last recorded presence in Pakistan was in October 2009 when he was called in by Pakistani authorities to help negotiate the release of 42 people taken hostage by pro-Taliban militants who had occupied part of an army base in Rawalpindi.
* The Indian team sent to Chile appear to have ruled out the man detained in Chile as being Abdul Rauf, although inquiries are continuing.

Mystery over closure of Afghan blog

President Najibullah hanging in Aryana Square in September 1996
Afghan journalist Fahim Khairy has been writing his blog Suffering City for the past year or so, much of it concentrating on internal political issues in Afghanistan and in particular criticising what he perceives to be the pro-Pashtun sentiments of the Karzai government.
But something has happened in the last week and the blog has been closed down for reasons that are still unclear. It seems that someone found his username and then hacked his password. Having done that, they then closed down the site. What could have prompted such an action? One possibility is that it is connected to a series of articles Khairy has written, based on the remarkable book Hidden Secrets by Razaq Mamoon.
This book, published in Dari in Afghanistan, examines the events that led up to the brutal killing of President Najibullah in Kabul in December 1996. Until now, it has always been believed that Najibullah was dragged from a UN compound and strung up from a lamppost in Kabul by the victorious Taliban forces who had entered the city shortly before.
However, Mamoon's book argues that he was killed by three men, two of whom were former communist comrades of Najibullah, but who had fled the country following a split in the Khalq party in 1991. The third person involved, according to Mamoon, was Colonel Imam, the infamous Pakistani intelligence officer who was murdered in North Waziristan in February. Imam was shot dead on the orders of Hakimullah Mahsud, leader of the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan, who watched as this hero of the anti-Soviet jihad was callously shot in the head.
Mamoon's book includes a series of documents from the Taliban's own intelligence service archive that  appear to confirm Mamoon's story of Najibullah's murder. According to these documents, the two other killers were Shanawaz Tanai, who once served as Najibullah's defence minister, and Garzai Khowkhozai. These two men later formed an anti-Najibullah movement in Pakistan and were  supported by the ISI.
Garzai was later arrested by the Taliban and the documents referred to by Mamoon and reproduced by Khairy appear to be handwritten notes from Garzai's interrogation. He says Col. Imam - at that time a serving officer in the Pakistan Army as well as an intelligence officer - was with him when they brought Najibullah to the Presidential Palace from the UN building at around midnight. A Taliban judge queried whether the killing of Najibullah would create a bad image of the Taliban, but Najibullah reassured them that no-one would care. The Taliban judge also asked why the former comrades wanted to kill Dr. Naibullah. Garzai replied that they were taking revenge for their comrades who were killed by Najib after the failed the coup in 1990. Garzai added that he was proud of killing him.
Not long after arriving, Najibullah was brought in the courtyard where he was forced to get into a car. There had already been an argument between Col Imam and Najibullah, although the reason for it is unclear. As he was brought into the courtyard Najib resisted and they started beating him and calling him names. Still he refused to get in the car. They finally shot and killed him and then tied him up and threw him into the back of a pick-up truck before driving away. His dead body was driven to Aryana Square where they hung him from a lamppost.
Following the publication of his book, Mamoon was attacked and badly injured in Kabul in January this year. His assailant threw acid in his face, saying that he had been forced to do it by men with Iranian accents. Mamoon's most recent book, Footprint of Pharoah, is about Iranian interference in Afghanistan.
This may explain the attack on Mamoon, but the identity of whoever it was who hijacked Khairy's site remains a mystery. Based in the United States since 2003, Fahim Khairy is in a wheelchair, following the onset of Guillain Barre Syndrome which has left him paralysed. He is a campaigner for disabled people in Afghanistan and a harsh critic of the Karzai Administration in Afghanistan.
Was it the ISI that closed down the site, concerned about the revelations? Or was it the Iranians, possibly seeking to limit the influence of Mamoon? Or was it connected to the internecine feuding that dominates some parts of Afghan polity?

Monday 11 April 2011

Latest fashions in uniform combat patches

Here is a selection of some of the uniform patches being worn by Coalition troops in Afghanistan at the moment. Not sure how many of them are 'official', but most of them are probably gracing someone's uniform. They come from a range of countries, including the USA, UK, France, Germany and Australia. Many can be bought at Bagram or Kandahar air bases. If anyone has any particularly enlightening examples, please send them in and I will add them to this little collection.