Wednesday 27 February 2013

State Dept (finally) designates Maulvi Nazir group

The US Department of State has announced, rather belatedly, that what it theatrically refers to as the ‘Commander Wazir Group’ of South Waziristan and one of its alleged leaders , ‘Sub Commander Malang Wazir’ are to be designated as a global terrorists. Steady on boys! This is not South America! A detailed investigation into the various factions in South Waziristan written by Mansur Khan Mahsud of the FATA Research Centre in 2010, makes no mention of Maulvi Nazir's group being known by this name.
Leaving aside the fact that Maulvi Wazir himself was killed in a US drone strike in January, it seems a little odd to me that State has decided to designate ‘sub commander’ Malang Wazir, who is known to be part of the leadership, but has chosen not to mention Bahawal Khan, also called Salahuddin Ayubi, who was announced as Nazir's successor.
Bahawal Khan, said to be aged 34 and an illiterate former bus driver, is a long-time close associate of Mullah Nazir, the two men having fought together alongside the Taliban in Afghanistan before the 2001 US invasion. Bahawal Khan is seen as hot-tempered, unlike his predecessor.

No fall in Taliban attacks in 2012

So reported attacks by the Taliban did not fall by 7 per cent last year, according to the AFP news agency. ISAF had previously published the figures on its website, but yesterday was forced to admit they were wrong. "This is a regrettable error in our database systems that was discovered during a routine quality check. We are making the appropriate adjustments," said Pentagon spokesman George Little.
Officials later explained that the figures were wrong because some had come from Afghan units which had not entered the figures correctly into a database. Literacy and levels of education in some of the units is low, according to reports. In fact Taliban attacks in 2012 totalled around 3,000, about the same as the previous year.

Monday 25 February 2013

Panorama preview at the Frontline tonight

At the Frontline Club in London tonight, where we will be previewing a Panorama film, directed by Ben Anderson, on Helmand. Anderson's film, Mission Accomplished? The Secrets of Helmand, shows that American combat troops have already withdrawn, training has been reduced, not accelerated - and the Afghan Security Forces are not ready to take over. Casualty rates are as high as ever, they are just all Afghan now, the Taliban are as strong as ever, locals say their lives have not improved and the police still look like part of the problem. 
I will be chairing the discussion following the screening of the film. Also on the panel are Dawood Azami, former BBC World Service Bureau Chief and Editor in Kabul, and Will Pike who served as a British Army Major in Afghanistan, and on the Afghan Desk at the MOD before leaving the Army in late 2007.

Thursday 21 February 2013

US Army on the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan

The US Army's Foreign Military Studies Office at Ft Leavenworth has published an interesting essay on the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan. Written by Matthew Stein, The Goals of the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan and Its Impact on Central Asia and the United States the document looks into "the history, current operations, and goals of the IMU". Conclusions: "The current lack of consistent leadership and subsequent goals has meant that the IMU is difficult to differentiate from other militant or terrorist groups operating in Afghanistan or Pakistan, particularly when the remnants of the IMU rely on others to stay operational. The IMU’s goals are now more dependent on and reflective of these other groups. For the United States, the IMU remains a threat while the country’s forces remain in Afghanistan, although the threat is more from associated groups with better capabilities. For the governments of Central Asia, the IMU remains a threat, but a minor one compared to the capabilities of the group in 1999-2000. Ultimately, the group has become more of a misnomer than a threat to stability."
Pakistan Taliban leader Hakimullah Mahsud with IMU's Usman Odil

Tuesday 19 February 2013

Civilian casualties fall for first time in six years

A total of 2,754 civilians were killed and 4,805 injured in Afghanistan in armed conflict during 2012, according to the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA)  These numbers reflect a 12 percent reduction in civilian deaths and a minimal increase in civilians injured compared to 2011, but they also underscore the continuing high human cost of armed conflict in Afghanistan Over the past six years, 14,728 Afghan civilians have lost their lives in the armed conflict.
Anti-Government Elements - most the Taliban - increasingly targeted civilians throughout the country and UNAMA documented 6,131 civilian casualties (2,179 civilian deaths and 3,952 injuries)  in 2012, an increase of nine percent compared to 2011. 81 percent of the total civilian casualties in 2012 were attributed to Anti-Government Elements.

UNAMA recorded a 108 percent increase in civilian casualties from targeted killings and a rise in casualties from the indiscriminate use of improvised explosive devices (IEDs), particularly illegal pressure plate IEDs which are victim-activated. 
Eight percent of all civilian casualties (316 deaths and 271 injuries) were attributed to Pro-Government Forces in 2012, a 46 percent decrease from 2011. Civilian casualties from the actions of Afghan National Security Forces in 2012 were consistent with numbers documented 2011 with 96 civilian casualties (33 civilian deaths and 63 injuries), the majority occurring during ground engagements.The remaining 841 civilian casualties (259 deaths and 582 injured) could not be attributed and occurred in crossfire incidents during ground engagements, cross-border shelling or from explosive remnants of war.
One interesting fact contained in the report: the number of weapons released by drones jumped from 294 in 2011 to 506 in 2012 - a 72 percent increase in Afghanistan.
UNAMA documented five incidents of drone strikes which resulted in 16 civilian deaths and three injuries, an increase from 2011 when UNAMA documented one incident involving civilians. There are no figures for the number of combatants killed by drones.
Most of the civilian casualties from drone strikes in 2012 appear to be the result of weapons aimed directly at insurgents. However, some may have been due to targeting errors. For example, UNAMA documented one incident that occurred on 20 October 2012 when a drone struck in Baraki Barak district, Logar province, killing four children, aged between 11 and 13 years. Three boys died immediately while the fourth died during the transport to a Kabul hospital.

Tuesday 12 February 2013

Pay up or get out - the plague of corruption

Corruption continues to plague Afghanistan, according to a new report from the UN Office on Drugs and Crime. Half of Afghan citizens paid a bribe last year while requesting a public service and the total cost of bribes paid to public officials amounted to US$ 3.9 billion - an increase of 40 per cent in real terms between 2009 and 2012, while the ratio of bribery cost to GDP remained relatively constant (23 per cent in 2009; 20 per cent in 2012).
Corruption is also seen by most Afghans as one of the most urgent challenges facing their country and yet seems to be increasingly embedded in social practices, with patronage and bribery being an acceptable part of day-to-day life. Thus 68 per cent of those interviewed in 2012 considered it acceptable for a civil servant to top up a low salary by accepting small bribes from service users (as opposed to 42 per cent in 2009). Similarly, 67 per cent considered it sometimes acceptable for a civil servant to be recruited on the basis of family ties and friendship networks (up from 42 per cent in 2009).
Afghanistan has made a little progress in reducing the level of corruption within the public sector. While 59 per cent of the adult population had to pay at least one bribe to a public official in 2009, 50 per cent had to do so in 2012, and whereas 52 per cent of the population paid a bribe to a police officer in 2009, 42 per  cent did so in 2012.
But worrying trends have also emerged: the frequency of bribery has increased from 4.7 bribes to 5.6 bribes per bribe-payer with the average cost of a bribe rising from US$158 to US$214. Education has emerged as one of the sectors most vulnerable to corruption, with the percentage of those paying a bribe to a teacher jumping from 16 per cent in 2009 to 51 per cent in 2012. In general, there has been no major change in the level of corruption observed in the judiciary, customs service and local authorities, which remained high in 2012, as in 2009.

Friday 8 February 2013

Death and injury in war - the bare facts

A total of 2,165 US servicemembers have been killed so far in Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF), in Afghanistan, and 18,230 have been wounded in action. In addition, since 2000 (and therefore including US activities in Iraq) a total of more than 131,000 servicemembers have been diagnosed with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and more than 250,000 have been diagnosed with traumatic brain injury. 
Of this latter diagnosis, about 195,000 have been mild, 42,000 were moderate and around 6,500 have been severe or penetrating. All figures come from a new report from the Congressional Research Service.
Nearly 700 servicemembers in Afghanistan have lost major limbs due to battle-injury amputations, with another 28 losing part of a foot or hand.
The Department of Defense says 97 servicemembers died of self-inflicted wounds while serving in OEF. Ninety-eight per cent of those killed in Afghanistan were men, with a total of 42 women having been killed.
A breakdown by race shows that 85.4% of those killed were classified as white, 7.9% as black or African American, 2.7% were Asian and 1.3% American Indian/Alaska Native.
A total of 23,742 servicemembers were air-evacuated for medical reasons from Afghanistan, of which about a third were due to battle injuries.

Wednesday 6 February 2013

Mental disorders suffered by US Veterans.

A Congressional Research Service report on mental disorders amongst Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom veterans says that of the 1.6 million veterans in touch with the Veterans Administration (VA), about 14% suffer from a major depressive disorder, whilst a further 22 suffer from less serious depressive disorders.
About 29% are said to suffer from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder; 6% are said to be alcohol dependent; 3% are drug dependent; and 5% are drug abusers. The VA stress that there are important limitations on the data, which are explained in the report.