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 As a result 10,000 of the US 'surge' troops with be withdrawn by the end of 2011, with the remaining 23,000 surge troops withdrawn by the end of September 2012.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.