Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Obama Announces 30,000 Troops to Afghanistan, Exit Strategy

Barack Obama announced today that 30,000 more American combat personnel were destined for the theatre of war in Afghanistan. The earliest deployments of this surge are expected to occur by Christmas. This influx of American soldiers will bring troop levels up from 71,000 to its highest level since the war began in 2001, at about 100,000 soldiers deployed. In his speech Tuesday, Barack Obama also stated that America will begin withdrawing its forces in 2011, a process which is expected to take up to three years. Defining a reasonable ‘end’ to hostilities and the American led presence in the nation has brought intense criticism from republicans and democrats alike in the United States, but also from analysts around the world. It is said that establishing a concrete date has given the Taliban the impression that victory can be achieved, provided they can endure the temporary conditions of the surge.

The influx of troops to the wartorn nation is undoubtedly a mirror of America’s previous policy on Iraq, where a timely ‘surge’ of forces is credited with containing and mitigating the previously widespread insurgency. The basic principle behind the surge is that elevation of troop numbers will create not only immediate security, but increased patrols will generate a number of close, quick contacts in the coming year, impeding the Taliban’s ability to operate. Britain’s Prime Minister Gordon Brown announced just this week intentions to move 500 more troops to the country, elevating his country’s presence to 10,000 troops. Other regional powers, India and Pakistan have expressed mixed reactions to the announcement that troop levels will be sharply increased by roughly 50%.

"As far as India is concerned we welcome the continued commitment of the US and by extension of the NATO effort in Afghanistan because our prime minister has repeatedly made clear India believes that entire international community has stake in the continued stability of Afghanistan and in the success of the democratically elected government of President Karzai in establishing his authority throughout the country. It is very clear that as long as the Taliban and Al-Qaeda elements are free to wreak havoc in Afghanistan, that the aspirations of the Afghan people for decent life, peace and security, will not be fulfilled, and for that reason the continued military pressure on them is an important security component of the challenge facing Afghanistan,"

-Shashi Tharoor, Indian Minister of State for External Affairs

Pakistan, despite support for the US led NATO/ISAF war against the Taliban militants, with whom they are also militarily engaged on their own side of the border, communicated fear over potential ‘fallout’ for their nation. The predominant fear in Pakistani political and security communities is that a ramping-up of troop levels in Afghanistan will potentially intensify the conflict in South Waziristan as militants increase the scope of their own operations to counter the changing situation. In tandem with local criticism, the United Nations has called for a ‘transition strategy’, which espouses moving responsibility for development and security increasingly into the hands of Afghanistan’s various governmental agencies.

"I think we should talk about transition strategy, which is something completely different,"

-Kai Eide, UN Secretary General’s Special Representative to Afghanistan

Perhaps in the most disheartening comments made to date, a Russian General, Victor Yermakov who commanded his nation’s 40th army at war in Afghanistan between 1982-83, stated that America now faces the same fate his nation’s military encountered. His commentary also espoused a ‘transition’ away from traditional military engagement towards further peace support, peace enforcement and operations other than war (OOTW). "Restoring Afghanistan's economy, its industrial enterprises, its education system, schools and mosques will increase your authority. War can only evoke resistance. Afghans regard war only as an attempt to enslave them."

What is coming in the weeks and months ahead as thousands of American soldiers from Regular force and National Guard units across the United States prepare for their deployment, remains to be seen. Whether the surge will be successful and this decision by President Obama can be credited as a keystone victory in the almost decade-long struggle against fundamental tribal militancy is unclear. What is clear is that the international community’s consensus about how to deal with the Afghan problem and popular support for the NATO coalition undertakings in Afghanistan is dwindling.

With firm exit dates now given by the Americans and the Canadians, it will fall to the rest of the nations in the alliance structure to determine a timeline for their own tactical and logistical withdrawal. Still, a decision to send more troops in the short-term, meeting General Stanley McChrystal’s September request by a little over three quarters and the simultaneous announcement of a definitive timeline for ‘success’ represents a wise political move. The president is simultaneously providing the necessary personnel to achieve his military officer’s objectives while reassuring the public and critics that the war in Afghanistan is not a war without end, but rather one in which he intends to be victorious.


Washington Post – Pakistan officials wary of Obama’s strategy for Afghanistan

ANI – India hails Obama’s decision to send 30,000 more U.S. troops to Afghanistan

CNN – Soviet commander: U.S. faces similar Afghan fate

Express IndiaUN calls for ‘transition strategy’ in Afghanistan

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Corruption Report Places Afghanistan Amongst the Worst

Transparency International, an international corruption watchdog has released a damning list of 180 nations, ranking each in order of most corrupt to least corrupt. Nations were assigned numerical orderings, based on criteria culled from ‘general impressions’ in business and political communities and incidences of published corruption. The results of the Study, the CPI (Corruptions Perception Index) placed Afghanistan as one of the most corrupt nations in the world, second only to Somalia.

Ranking nations on a scale of zero to ten, with zero being the most corrupt possible, the study accrues data from international economic institutions and compiles them into a central report. Burma, Sudan and Iraq were close behind. Even after thousands of lives lost in the establishment of peace, good government and rule of law in Afghanistan, the country is still immensely corrupt by international standards.

Some of the reasons are cited as governmental corruption, money laundering, tacit support of the opium trade and influence peddling. A blog at transparency international’s homepage also cites the multi-billion dollar projects of American defence contracting companies as heavily corrupt, further dragging the nation down in the rankings.


Transparency International- Corruption Perceptions Index 2009: What does a number mean to you?
Turkish Weekly – Afghanistan, Iraq Rated Among Most Corrupt Nations
Reuters – Afghanistan sinks in new corruption ranking

Monday, November 9, 2009

Canada Announces 'Draw Down' of Combat Presence

An announcement made by Chief of the Defence Staff General Walter Natynczyk has laid the groundwork of a ‘drawdown’ of Canadian military personnel in Afghanistan to occur over the next year and a half. Canada has currently no plan for combat troops to remain in the country after the summer of 2011. The planned withdrawal is based on a framework laid out by parliament, requesting that Canada end its military field involvement by 2011. The next year and a half will embody a good deal of logistical and clerical work as Canada begins to move materiel and later men, out of theatre. Defence minister Peter McKay has avoided speaking directly as to the post 2011 commitment that Canada will have in Afghanistan, but sources indicate that Canadian troop levels will be minimal following that deadline.

"I would caution you against saying dozens or hundreds or a thousand, there will be exponentially fewer… Whether there's 20 or 60 or 80 or 100, they will not be conducting combat operations."

-Spokesperson for Steven Harper, Dmitri Soudas.

There are 2800 Canadian troops in Theatre, and casualties have consisted of 133 soldiers and a diplomat. As the Canadian nation makes preparations for Remembrance Day ceremonies, the government has awarded for the first time, a medal intended for soldiers killed or wounded in Afghanistan. The ‘Sacrifice Medal,’ (pictured above) created last year was bestowed upon 46 individuals yesterday and formally replaced the wound stripe (pictured below) which was the standard decoration, since the second world war.

The Ottawa Citizen – No plans for Afghanistan after 2011, top general affirms

Xinhua - Canada awards medals to soldiers killed or wounded in military actions

Saturday, November 7, 2009

US Army Psychiatrist Who Shot 43 at Fort Hood, Killed 13 Was Being Deployed to Afghanistan

At about 1:30PM November 5th, a US Army Major, Nidal Malik Hasan walked through the doors of the Soldier Readiness Centre at Fort Hood Texas, drew two pistols and opened fire. The building where the shooting took place was filled with military personnel waiting for routine pre-deployment medical examinations and dental work. The readiness centre at Fort Hood (One of the largest military installations in the world) is the hub of activity on that base for troops about to be deployed to one of America’s theatres of operations overseas. Preliminary reports indicate that Maj. Hasan was scheduled for deployment to Afghanistan.

His position in the Military will no doubt raise some questions about the potential effect of radicalization on the upper echelons of command. The forthcoming paranoia that Idea-Driven Fourth Generation Warfare has so thoroughly penetrated the defense department will no doubt result in a high degree of internal awareness as well as scrutiny of the US Military’s Chain of Command and Leadership Structure from external agencies. The FBI is reported to have arrived on base within the hour and is providing its investigative services, as the Army is still unsure whether the act constitutes terrorism. An American born man of Jordanian descent, he has been called ‘a lifelong muslim’ by Faizul Khan, a former Imam at the mosque he attended (often in uniform) His family has been quoted as saying that he received harassment in the workplace for his religious choices. Maj. Hasan had raised the attention of authorities up to six months ago with the publication of personal musings online which suggested that terrorists carrying out suicide bomb attacks were similar to troops that would throw themselves selflessly onto a grenade to save their comrades.

“There was a grenade thrown among a group of American soldiers. One of the soldiers, feeling that it was to late for everyone to flee jumped on the grave with the intention of saving his comrades. Indeed he saved them. He inentionally took his life (suicide) for a noble cause i.e. saving the lives of his soldier. To say that this soldier committed suicide is inappropriate. Its more appropriate to say he is a brave hero that sacrificed his life for a more noble cause. Scholars have paralled this to suicide bombers whose intention, by sacrificing their lives, is to help save Muslims by killing enemy soldiers. If one suicide bomber can kill 100 enemy soldiers because they were caught off guard that would be considered a strategic victory. Their intention is not to die because of some despair. The same can be said for the Kamikazees in Japan. They died (via crashing their planes into ships) to kill the enemies for the homeland. You can call them crazy i you want but their act was not one of suicide that is despised by Islam. So the scholars main point is that ‘IT SEEMS AS THOUGH YOUR INTENTION IS THE MAIN ISSUE’ and Allah (SWT) knows best.
Poster: NidalHasan Source: Scribd.com

Maj. Hasan’s role as a psychiatrist means he had access to troops returning from theatres in Iraq and Afghanistan and provided them with professional post-traumatic stress counseling. Graduating from VA Tech with a degree in biochemistry, he joined the Army and worked at Walter Reed Army Medical Center pursuing his career in psychiatry, as an intern, a resident and a fellow in disaster and preventive psychiatry. He received his medical degree from the military's Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences in Bethesda, Md., in 2001
"He never went to Iraq. He was dealing with people coming back, trying to help them with their trauma," Nader Hasan (Gunman’s Cousin) said. "He was just normal, loved sports, never got into trouble.” On paperwork obtained by the media, filled out at his mosque, Maj. Hasan indicated that his birthplace was Arlington VA. And that his nationality was ‘Palestinian’.

A US Army Col. (ret.) Terry Lee claimed to have worked with Maj. Hasan and elaborated to the media that it was Hasan’s desire to see American troops withdrawn from warzones in Afghanistan and Iraq. His anti-war perspectives brought him into direct conflict with his co-workers and superiors and records indicate that he had sought legal proceedings on the grounds of a harassment claim to prevent his deployment to Afghanistan.

His decision to walk into an on-base processing centre was not preceded by any clear warning signs. He donated some furniture and a bag of frozen broccoli to his neighbors, one of whom he told he was moving to Oklahoma, the other was told he was deploying to Iraq. Maj. Hasan then went to a convenience store for a breakfast of hash browns and coffee dressed in a traditional robe and cap. Then, he proceeded to the site of the shootings, in his US Army Uniform where he drew a single 5.7mm FN ‘Five Seven’ Pistol and opened fire, pumping about 100 rounds into the crowds in the Soldier Readiness Centre. Investigators have noted he was carrying a second handgun, but that it was never drawn. The weapon he chose is an elegant one, with a highly specialized purpose. Its round penetration physics are such that it is designed to be employed against targets wearing body armour and leaving a much larger than normal exit wound (despite the lightweight nature of the actual projectile).

Whatever the reason for his irrational and catastrophic meltdown that precipitated these heinous actions, the fact that he survived the exchange of gunfire fit to stand trial means significant potential down the road revelations. Military service records indicate he had requested not to be deployed to Iraq but was willing to be deployed to Afghanistan. This incident followed only a day after an Afghan national police officer opened fire on his British colleagues, killing five and then escaping. Whether the incident in Afghanistan provided some sort of ideological inspiration for Maj. Hasan’s action will doubtless come out in any ensuing investigation. For now, the focus of the American Department of Defence is most certainly turned inward, dealing with support for soldiers and their families, respectful treatment of the dead and preventative measures to ensure that radicalization of both the enlisted men and educated officership is much more readily detected.


ABC - Fort Hood Gunman who Killed 12, Wounded 30 Survived Gun Battle
Christian Science Monitor - What did the Army know about Fort Hood's Nidal Malik Hasan?

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Echoes of Iraq: UN Evacuates International Staff

The United Nations announced that it was evacuating hundreds of its non-essential international personnel from Afghanistan on Thursday, citing a deteriorating security situation as the impetus for this move. 600 of the nations 1100 staff are to be moved. This constitutes a serious development for progress by the international community to stabilize the country, as well as a direct blow to western military efforts. The decision comes on the heels of a series of fast-moving events over the last fortnight. A failed presidential election runoff, with the opposition candidate withdrawing from the ballot and a suicide attack on a UN guesthouse which killed five volunteer staff there have marred much of the impression of progress, combined with a sharp increase in casualties, the situation is ‘worsening’.

In August 2003, a massive bomb blast at the UN Headquarters in Iraq killed 22 workers in that country. As a result, the UN made arrangements to involuntarily remove its international personnel from the nation. The situation in Afghanistan has an eerie parallel. The difference is that Iraq was less than a year from its inception, Afghanistan has had almost a decade of international intervention in every aspect of its internal affairs. Security would appear to be deteriorating, but whether this is indeed the case or whether the insurgency is fighting with its last failing strength remains to be seen.

The penalties for failure are dire, if the situation deteriorates further and a mass exodus of NGOs, aid groups and contractors occurs, it will seriously damage the credibility of any future NATO effort, as well as the ability of the United Nations to function in regions of unrest. The penalty for an organization like NATO could potentially be the fragmentation of its own international composition, as countries withdraw from their obligations or outright quit the alliance structure in disenfranchisement. Failure in Afghanistan could quite potentially mean the failure of those things which were so hard won throughout the tense years of the Cold War. So the world simply cannot fail.

Transitioning towards an exit strategy is of course important, and may result in a coherent ‘end date’ for combat operations and transition into more peaceful practices of shoring up security and creating infrastructure. Moving too quickly toward the door just because of a few bad hands will give the whole game away and the stakes are far too high for international institutions, individual nations and the people of Afghanistan itself.


Reuters – U.N. pulls out foreign staff from Afghanistan
Reuters - Factbox- The worsening security picture in Afghanistan
Telegraph.co.uk- Our mission in Afghanistan can still succeed

Monday, November 2, 2009

Afghanistan’s Runoff Election Cancelled Less Than a Week from Vote

Dr. Abdullah Abdullah, former Foreign Minister for Afghanistan under President Hamid Karzai, and opposition in the upcoming runoff elections announced his withdrawal from the ballot today. The reason he gave for his decision was a fear that repeat-fraud and widespread unrest would transpire, similar to the heavily contested August election which cost UN Envoy Peter Galbraith his position in the country. The UN secretary General, Ban Ki Moon said clearly that his organization would continue its work and would support the government and people of Afghanistan in any way that it could.

With no contestation by Abdullah, incumbent President Karzai is set to transition into his third term as the nation’s leader since the NATO/ISAF invasion of 2001. Independent Election Commission chairman Aziz Lodin stated, “We declare Hamid Karzai, which got the majority of votes in the first round and is the only candidate for the second round of the election in Afghanistan in 2009 ... is the elected President of Afghanistan." Hamid Karzai is now free to continue his work with international governing body, coalition forces and foreign diplomats to ensure the lasting stability and peaceful development of his nation.


Telegraph.co.uk – Afghanistan election runoff cancelled
TIME - Karzai Declared President as Runoff Cancelled

Friday, October 30, 2009

Attack on UN Compound 'Despicable and Brutal': Secretary General

Smoke rises across the Kabul skyline from UN Guesthouse where 5 volunteer workers were killed.

A review is underway by the United Nations regarding the security of its personnel in Afghanistan, following one of the deadliest attacks against UN staff ever. Five persons identified as volunteer logistics coordinators were killed when three attackers bearing rifles and wearing suicide vests stormed the guesthouse where they were staying. UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon has since condemned the attacks as ‘despicable and brutal.’ The staff were in the country working on projects related to the Afghan Presidential election runoff, scheduled for November 7th. Kai Eide, the head of the United Nations mission in the country called it a ‘dark day’ but gave hope in solidarity, saying “This attack will not deter the UN from continuing all its work to reconstruct a war-torn country and to build a better future for all Afghans. We will remain committed to the people of Afghanistan…”

The UN security council has called for improved security measures to be taken on behalf of its personnel in the volatile country. Kabul, the capital city where the attacks took place is considered relatively safe by local standards. Its security is maintained by coalition forces, Afghan National Army, Afghan Police and independent Security Contractors working for the various international organizations which hold offices there. UN reports indicate that the attack was aimed at destabilizing the international governing body’s efforts to ensure free and fair elections, but also went on to say that there would be no disruption as a result.


BBC News – UN to Boost Afghan Security

Telegraph.co.uk – Afghanistan counts cost of deadliest assault on UN in fifty years

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

US Casualties Hit 814, 2009 Bloodiest Year In Afghan War, October the Bloodiest Month.

A report run in The Seattle Times sheds new light on the numbers of American casualties which have climbed to 814 military personnel. These persons lost their lives in 814 participating directly in Operation: Enduring Freedom, the codename for the US-Led NATO Coalition war against the Taliban and Al Qaeda militants in Afghanistan, Pakistan and Uzbekistan. A curious footnote to the casualty report is that 71 personnel have died in support of O:EF in Guantanamo Bay Naval Base, Cuba; Djibouti; Eritrea; Ethiopia; Jordan; Kenya; Kyrgyzstan; Philippines; Seychelles; Sudan; Tajikistan; Turkey; and Yemen. Only three of these casualties were due to hostile action, and the report is not specific.

With over 420 soldiers killed this year, (more than half of the casualties incurred to date) 2009 marks by far the bloodiest and costliest year of the campaign, since the initial invasion of 2001. This month of October is the bloodiest month so far. Troop levels have continued to increase and US General Stanley McChrystal has requested up to 40,000 more troops, a decision which the Obama administration is weighing heavily against the success or failure of domestic policy objectives. Ten American personnel died this week as well when their helicopter crashed, returning from a narcotics-related raid on a compound.

US President Barack Obama salutes the casket of a fallen soldier at a dignified transfer service at Dover Airforce Base in Dover, Delaware.


The Seattle Times- US military deaths in Afghanistan region at 814
Taiwan News Online- 14 Americans killed in 2 helicopter crashes

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Pakistan Engages Mehsud Tribesmen (TTP) in Waziristan, Wins Major Victory

The Pakistani military has been engaged in pitched battle with fundamentalist tribal militias in South Waziristan for just over a week. The military claims that it is making headway, and its recent capture of a militant stronghold resulted in an elated pronouncement from a senior General that the militants were shaving their beards and laying down their arms in an effort to blend back in with a Civilian exodus from the region. Almost 30,000 soldiers are participating in a combined-arms operation using unmanned aerial drones, light armour, artillery, helicopter gunships and fixed-wing jets to pound insurgent positions. The goal is to make the insurgents position untenable, while simultaneously convincing the ‘Behsud Militia’ to lay down arms and submit to governance by the Pakistani authorities. This situation is complicated greatly by the ethnic composition of the Waziristan region, primarily ethnic Pashtun and deeply linked at a community level to Guerilla fighters waging another war on the other side of the border with Afghanistan. Pakistan’s recipient status of arms and funding from the United States causes a significant loss of support in the tribal regions and even serves to fuel the tribesmen’s animosity.

The Pakistani army’s initiation of a new offensive came as a direct result of the loss to the insurgency of towns in the Buner District, which lay only a few hours drive from Islamabad. Conflict between the tribal groups, Waziris and Mehsuds predominantly, implies that this is a good time to strike. The army is supporting its combat operations with airdropped leaflets and radio broadcasts on an FM radio channel “The Voice of Peace.” Unlike the previous Swat offensive, there is no indication that the exodus of refugee families from Waziristan is on the verge of causing a humanitarian catastrophe.


Telegraph.co.uk-Pakistan army’s South Waziristan battle fails to win hearts and minds of tribesmen
Toronto Star- Westhead: This time, Pakistani media, public are behind the army.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Playing Politics with Lives: Abuse Allegations in Afghanistan Cheapen our Sacrifices

An Afghan man is detained by Canadian Forces personnel.

In 1993, news of the ‘Somalia Affair’ broke in the Canadian Media and Canada’s NDHQ (National Defence Headquarters) was immediately inundated by requests for an inquiry and rapidly, allegations of a cover-up. The crisis in question stemmed from evidence that Canadian Airborne soldiers had been involved and were in fact directly responsible for the beating death of a Somali teenager Shidane Arone.(1) This incident was precipitated by acts of barbarism including the shooting deaths of looters, unarmed civilians and bandits by members of the same Airborne Unit. The subsequent inquiry into their conduct shook the defence establishment in Canada to its core, costing many personnel their careers from the ranks of private up to the lofty position of Lieutenant-Colonel. The two directly implicated in the attack were formally charged, but the supposed perpetrator of the attack Master Corporal Clayton Matchee hung himself, causing severe brain-damage and thus was rendered unfit to stand trial. Private Kyle Brown was sentenced to five years imprisonment and received a dismissal from the army in disgrace, but served only one year behind bars. The culminating effect of investigations was the disbandment in 1995 of the Canadian Airborne and the deepening of what former Chief of Defence Staff General Rick Hillier recalls in his recent memoirs A Soldier First: Bullets, Bureaucrats and the Politics of War as “The Decade of Darkness” for the Canadian Forces.

Fast forward to Kandahar, 2006 when Canadian Diplomat Richard Colvin wrote a report (as yet unpublished) detailing the extent of detainee abuses at the hands of Afghan Jailers.(2) Prisoners, captured by Canadian Forces on the battlefield were being turned over to local Afghan authorities for detainment. Colvin’s report alleged a systemic problem of detainee torture and abuse within the Afghan Government that was "serious, imminent and alarming." The long and the short of the issue seems to be that a lack of governmental oversight in the handling of detainees has resulted in numerous allegations of misconduct by Afghan Authorities in handling Canadian battlefield prisoners. Reports have surfaced, mostly through Human Rights Watch(3) that detainees are being abused, not directly at the hands of our men and women in uniform, but by their keepers once we have turned them over to their own legitimate national authorities.

"There's no explanation that one can find except that it's a cover-up
it's almost like an obstruction of justice,"

Bob Rae, Liberal Party Foreign Affairs Spokesperson(4)

It is beyond the scope of Canada’s agreement with the nation of Afghanistan (not to mention being against several international laws) to extradite prisoners from Afghanistan to Canada. Belligerents who are captured by our forces and the forces of other NATO countries are criminals within their own societies and not subject to Canadian detainment or prosecution. It is legally necessary for our government to have an agreement with the Afghan authorities governing the conditions of release by Canadian personnel of prisoners and to ensure access and oversight at all stages of the process by Canadian diplomats and human rights officials. There is a formal “Arrangement for the Transfer of Detainees between the Canadian Forces and the Ministry of Defence of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan”(5) (Unavailable for reference due to technical error or removal at the time of this article’s writing).

The agreement was signed by Chief of Defence Staff Rick Hillier in 2005, with the intent of facilitating the transfer of detainees, but the treaty critically failed to make provisions for Canadian access to or oversight of both detainees and the facilities at which they were being held. Given the ingrained presence of violence in Afghan society, the general perception of human life within that nation as having little worth and other systemic rights abuses, such an agreement can be demonstrated as preparing the groundwork for abuse, torture and extrajudicial executions. An American report through the State Department’s Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor published in February 28, 2005 offers a brief summary of the conditions of human rights within the nation of Afghanistan.

"The Government's human rights record remained poor; although there were some improvements in a few areas, serious problems remained. There were instances where local security forces and police committed extrajudicial killings, and officials used torture in prisons. Efforts to bring to justice serious human rights offenders were often ineffective; impunity from the law remained a serious concern. Punishment of officials usually took the form of administrative actions rather than prosecution. Prolonged pretrial detention and poor prison conditions led to deteriorating health conditions and death among some prisoners."

Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor
February 28, 2005 (6)

The situation is both alike and in many ways unlike the 1995 Somalia Affair which unfolded almost 10 years earlier. It appears to the casual observer that the lessons of Somalia which had widespread repercussions within the Canadian political and defence communities were not carried forward through subsequent missions, or in the policy governing Canada’s contribution to the ISAF mission in Afghanistan. Of course, the obvious differentiation being that the abuses are not occurring directly at the hands of our Canadian Forces personnel.

Michael Byers a respected authority on International Affairs and Tier 1 Research Chair at the University of British Columbia elaborates in his April 2006 submission to the Liu Institute for Global Issues(7) that Canadian Forces personnel overseeing or facilitating the transfer of detainees to the Afghan government under the auspices of our current agreement might face arraignment by the International Criminal Court. His supporting evidence of potential misconduct and Canadian culpability in the matter is derived from the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court(8), which expressly dictates the inherent responsibilities by members of the international community to prisoners of war, detainees and any others involved in an armed conflict.

In the case of an armed conflict not of an international character, serious violations of article 3 common to the four Geneva Conventions of 12 August 1949, namely, any of the following acts committed against persons taking no active part in the hostilities, including members of armed forces who have laid down their arms and those placed 'hors de combat' by sickness, wounds, detention or any other cause:

(i) Violation to life and person, in particular murder of all kinds, mutilation, cruel treatment and torture;

(ii) Committing outrages upon personal dignity, in particular humiliating and degrading treatment;

1998 Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court
Article 8(c)

The potential for Canadian soldiers to be held accountable and prosecuted in the International Criminal Courts casts a dark pall over the value of our participation in the Afghan mission. It serves also, to foment public opinion against a defence establishment badly in need of popular support. Little justice is afforded those brave women and men who have given their lives in defence of Human Security and Human Rights within the nation of Afghanistan. The ‘War on Terror’ has successfully uprooted Al Qaeda influence in Afghanistan and provisions have been made for the creation of a stable democracy. However, failure to oversee prisoner treatment undermines the moral authority or national prestige of Canadian and other ISAF participant nations, as well as to fray the moral fiber of the Canadian Defence establishment. Michael Byers cites Article 16 of UN International Law Commission’s Articles on State Responsibility (9) as a body of international legislation by which Canadian policy makers and personnel involved in detainee transfers might be held accountable.

A State which aids or assists another State in the commission of an internationally wrongful act by the latter is internationally responsible for doing so if:

(a) That State does so with knowledge of the circumstances of the internationally wrongful act; and

(b) The act would be internationally wrongful if committed by that State.

UN International Law Commission’s Articles on State Responsibility
Article 16

Canadian Foreign Affairs Expert Michael Byers addresses the issue of Afghan detainee abuses and Canada's Human Rights track record through the War on Terror.

Now is the time to ask hard questions of Canadian Politicians and Defence leaders, as this question of detainee treatment has surfaced once again in the media. Public awareness of these issues is baffled by a marked unwillingness to accept responsibility or even to admit knowledge of verified findings by human rights investigators. It is the subordination of human rights at the political level and by the policy makers that cheapens the value of noble sacrifices made in this war. Prime Minister Harper, when confronted in 2007 with reports of detainee abuses, dismissed them as terrorist propaganda and went so far as to state that anybody questioning the ethics of turning detainees over to the Afghan authority cared more for the Taliban than they did for Canadian Forces personnel.
He made these statements in total ignorance or denial of the fact that Diplomat Richard Colvin’s 2006 report on the conditions for detainee rights in Afghanistan had already made the rounds of both the Foreign Affairs department and the Department of Defence chain of command. (10) General Rick Hillier, in his memoir recalls DoD reservations about the treatment of Afghans and details steps taken on the operational end to ensure the preservation of Canada’s prestige.

“…complaints that the Afghans were abusing some of those handed to them. Their judicial and prison systems were still somewhat nascent and there was always some risk that abuse could occur. That, unfortunately, is not abnormal in failed states and occurs even in solid countries like Canada. After indications that some abuse might have occurred, the CF felt it was a necessity to have Canadian officials make regular, unannounced visits to Afghan prisons to ensure the people we transferred were being treated humanely. The first visit noted details that caused us some concern and, in the view of the commander, Brigadier-General Guy Laroche, meant that we had to have those visits continue and other measures in place. Guy, who had my complete support, felt a variety of steps would allow him, hand over his heart, to say that he had confidence we were meeting not only the letter but also the spirit of international law.” (A Soldier First, 462) (11)

Footage from Parliamentary debates about the detainee abuse allegations underscore the controversial nature of the discussion and the use of rhetoric by Government figures to obfuscate the facts surrounding the transfers.

That the Prime-Minister’s office would seek to dismiss legitimate and credible allegations, acknowledged within the Department of Defence, indicates a political unwillingness to preserve Canada’s moral authority. In war, decisions made at the policy level can have unforeseen consequences for the personnel actively engaged in operational and tactical capacities. There is little doubt what with recent evidence, that the Prime Minister’s office, if not the prime minister himself were aware of the conditions facing detainees in Afghan custody, but decided to play ‘hot potato’ with the issue and to this day are seeking to block investigations by the Military Police Commission, including a request by the chief commissioner that Richard Colvin testify under oath about his findings in 2005.(12) The reason cited for blocking this request is the ‘threat to national security’ that publication of Colvin’s report or his direct testimony might create.

“The government of Canada was well aware of our decision, and Foreign Affairs, with CIDA, the RCMP and Correctional Service Canada, were mandated to help the Afghans improve...

…The previous fall, we had told Foreign Affairs, CIDA and the rest of the government that unless inspectors visited Afghan jails continually and built confidence that those detained by us were still being treated humanely, we were not going to transfer any more.”
(A Soldier First, 466)(13)

So is this a return to the political climate of the ‘Somalia Affair’ and Hillier’s ‘Decade of Darkness?’ The most effective and transparent thing that Canada’s politicians can do now, is to order a full review of the conditions surrounding their agreement with Afghanistan surrounding detainee transfers and to ensure that all future transfers occurring between now and the termination of the mission meet the requirements of international law. At a time where support for the U.S. led war in the impoverished nation is at an all time low, (both in Canada and elsewhere in the world) we must take stock of our successes, admit our failings and endeavor to forge at all levels of government and defence, a political, strategic, operational and tactical blueprint for success, that will enable us to bring our troops home as victorious providers of human rights and human security, not internationally persecuted participants in obfuscated injustice. We owe it to our heroes in uniform to provide the best, most supportive and positive environment in which to undertake what is undoubtedly one of the world’s most difficult and demanding jobs.


1. CBC Digital Archives- The Somalia Affair
2. Macleans.ca- 'I have not seen those reports.'
3. Human Rights Watch- Afghanistan: Letter to NATO Secretary General Regarding Summit in Latvia
4. DefenceWeb- Canada covered up Afghan abuse allegations - critics
5. Arrangement for the Transfer of Detainees between the Canadian Forces and the Ministry of Defence of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan(Dead Link)
6. U.S. State Department: Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labour - Afghanistan
7. Byers, Michael. Legal Opinion on the December 18, 2005 "Arrangement for the Transfer of Detainees between the Canadian Forces and the Ministry of Defence of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan" Liu Institute for Global Issues (April 7, 2006) 25 October 2009.
8. UNtreaty.org Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court
9. UNtreaty.org Report of the International Law Commission on the work of its fifty-third session
10. The Star - Ottawa Had Early Warning of Torture in Afghan Jails
11. Gen(ret.) Hillier, Rick. A Soldier First: Bullets, Bureaucrats and the Politics of War. Toronto: Harper Collins, 2009. Print. p. 462
12. The Ottawa Citizen - Canadian Diplomat Reported Afghan Prisoner Abuse in 2006
13. Gen(ret.) Hillier, Rick. A Soldier First: Bullets, Bureaucrats and the Politics of War. Toronto: Harper Collins, 2009. Print. p. 466

Monday, October 19, 2009

French Diplomacy Alive and Well: Kouchner Visits Afghanistan

French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner arrives in Afghanistan in 2008.

French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner visited Afghanistan this week in a move that a French diplomatic report (published at France Diplomatie) said was intended to convey a message of unity and trust. With political tensions in the nation running high due to the imminent announcement of presidential election results, Kouchner met with both the incumbent President Karzai, who has been accused extensively of corruption during the ongoing United Nations investigation into electoral misconduct. He also met with Dr. Abdullah Abdullah, the primary opposition candidate who is widely regarded as being the most likely to successfully challenge Karzai’s established position as Afghan head of state. Kouchner’s staded intent was to inspire unity through his diplomatic efforts, convincing Afghans to work together with Afghans in ‘security and reconstruction.’

A French 'Panhard' Armoured Car on patrol in Afghanistan.

An interview with the French Foreign Minister conducted for ‘Le Figaro’ newspaper was conducted shortly after his visit. He indicated in response to questioning that France had no intent to increase its troop presence in Afghanistan from the 4,000 military personnel it had in theatre, nor did it intend to increase the amount of aid destined for the Afghan National Army. Kouchner (founder of the international humanitarian organization Medecins Sans Frontieres) did state that France was exploring a renewed commitment to development, infrastructure and civilian aid. He also concluded that ‘the whole world recognizes that French diplomacy has regained its full position.’ French defeats in Indochina, counterinsurgency conflict fought in Algeria and minor political debacles around the world have eroded global confidence in France’s diplomatic corps since the period of the Cold War, however the Foreign Minister’s comments indicate that he at least, feels his nation is on the right track once more.


France Diplomatie - Visit by Bernard Kouchner to Afghanistan (October 17 and 18, 2009)

Afghanistan – Interview given by Bernard Kouchner, Minister of Foreign and European Affairs, to the “Le Figaro” newspaper

Sunday, October 18, 2009

UPDATE: Afghans to Return to Polls for Runoff, U.N. Says

The Independent Elections Commission (IEC) charged with monitoring the August 20th Afghan presidential election has failed to announce a definitive result to the vote, stemming from widespread allegations of electoral fraud. (1) Given the very real need to shore up the democratic process in the nation before winter sets in, the citizens of Afghanistan are scheduled to return to the polls on November 7th for a runoff which will hopefully determine the rightful leader of their nation.(2) The Election Complaints Commission (ECC) received 2,700 complaints of misconduct and chose to invalidate 210 of the polling stations, resulting in the loss of incumbent Hamid Karzai’s majority share of the vote, dropping him from 54.7% of the popular vote to below 50%. (3)

Hamid Karzai, after talks with the UN Commission and U.S. Senate Foreign Relation Committee chairman John Kerry has hailed the runoff as an opportunity for the Afghan democracy to establish its legitimacy. He was quoted as having said on Tuesday in a press conference, "We welcome the decision made by IEC. We believe the decision is legitimate, legal and in accordance with the constitution." (4) Fears remain that violence will mar the runoff and voter turnout will have sharply declined from the August 20th election. 26 Afghans were killed and scores injured across the nation in attacks by Taliban militants who sought to disrupt the electoral process and discourage ordinary Afghans from attending polling stations. (5)

“We have learned very valuable and painful lessons from the first round… We will try to ensure that all Afghan people should be able to express their own will freely and without any intimidation or threat.”
U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon
Speaking to reporters in New York(6)

If Karzai does not accrue enough popular support to form a government, possibilities exist that he will form a governing coalition with his political rival Dr. Abdullah Abdullah. (7) It is highly necessary for the nation of Afghanistan to develop a strong political representation in order to preserve the faith of the citizenry in their governing institution. Both candidates have spoken against forming a coalition, but it is likely that if the results of the November 7th runoff are not conclusive enough, drastic political measures will have to be taken. In the face of a deteriorating security situation, a major offensive against Taliban Militants in Pakistan (8) and attacks by the militant group Jundollah against the Revolutionary Guard in neighbouring Iran, (9) Afghanistan needs a strong government to represent the nation’s interests in the region and on the world stage.

1. Xinhua-Afghan runoff vote to face security, climate challenges
2. San Francisco Chronicle - Afghans in Bay Area Torn over Runoff
3. Bloomberg.com - Afghan Runoff Election Prompts Steps to Fight Fraud
4. The Globe and Mail - Afghanistan may yet avoid runoff
5. CNN - Officials Hail Afghan Vote as Success Despite Deaths
6. UN.org - Off The Cuff with the Secretary General
7. The New York Times - Rival Says He is Ready for Runoff with Karzai
8. GMA News (AP) - Taliban vow to defeat army in Pakistan battle
9. The Associated Press - Iran arrests suspects in attack on military chiefs

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Public Committee Identifies Serious Problems With MOD Procurement

An 11% shortfall in available helicopters and only 20% of a new ‘Mastiff’ Armoured Vehicles being ‘fit’ for service in Afghanistan has left Britain’s MOD with some serious question about its capabilities in supporting the NATO/ISAF mission. Internal public monitors in the United Kingdom have been measuring readiness levels and equipment condition in an attempt to determine whether the ministry of defence is taking all steps necessary to ensure the best possible equipment is reaching its soldiers overseas. With 8,300 personnel in Afghanistan, Britain has been met with constant logistical challenges which affect the scope and capability of their combat or security presences.

"The MOD has had some successes in providing support for our armed forces in Iraq and Afghanistan: notably, the delivery of life-saving medical treatment at the front line. But there are important areas where the process is creaking…
…(That)MOD continues to fail to meet its own supply chain targets is of concern. The department must improve its logistic information systems so that it always knows where stocks are and can fully track through the supply chain their movement to our troops,"

-Chairman Edward Lee of the Public Accounts Committee, quoted in Xinhua.

The reports indicate that helicopters have been “cannibalized” to obtain spare parts and in several cases, helicopters have been contracted from private companies or borrowed from ISAF coalition partners. The harsh, dusty nature of the countryside has lead to extensive wear-and-tear on the land vehicles, Land Rovers, Mastiffs and others which are in active use. The reconsideration of procurement techniques will hopefully lead to a robust response on the part of the MOD to ensure that the needs of its soldiers are being met and that their capacity to observe, orient, decide and act (OODA) is not compromised by equipment.


Xinhua – British military supplies to Iraq, Afghanistan inadequate: report
WalesOline.co.uk – Afghan defence equipment under fire

Monday, October 12, 2009

White House Commits 13,000 support troops to Afghanistan, Partners with India in Wargames

A report published in the Washington Post indicates that troop levels in Afghanistan are expected to rise to 68,000 personnel following a series of smaller deployments. 13,000 support personnel are being moved to the nation, which the report explains are comprised of engineers, medical personnel, intelligence experts and military police. American General Stanley McChrystal has requested as many as 40,000 more personnel be deployed to the theatre, in order to combat a growing insurgency problem and to assist with establishing security on the ground. The support personnel are not included as part of a deployment total, but are necessary to preserve the ratio of approximately 1000 support troops to every 4000 personnel in a combat Brigade. Defense Secretary Robert Gates refers to these support soldiers as ‘enablers’, whose role is to facilitate logistics, intelligence and other fundamental non-combative aspects of Peace Support Operations.

America has also engaged in a series of wargames with India, who despite espousing ‘nonalignment’ was considered an adversary state during the period of the Cold War. This new development indicates a commitment to South-Asian security and underscores the concern that both nations have in the unstable nuclear power, Pakistan which neighbors India. India has maintained an embassy in Afghanistan’s capital Kabul where the US-Led NATO/ISAF coalition is currently engaged, but last week 17 people were killed there in a suicide-bomb attack. There is a shared goal of regional security and both nations hold serious concerns about a rising China. Whether or not overtures between the Indo-US military establishments represent a new-era form of containment to Chinese economic and cultural emergence remains to be seen.


Washington Post – Support Troops Swelling U.S. Force in Afghanistan

Reuters – Massive War Games Showcase Deepening India-US Ties

Friday, October 9, 2009

Afghan Election: Understanding the Fledgling Democracy

Revelations that the recent Afghan presidential election, held on the 20th of August, 2009 were rife with corruption and fraud has shaken both the fledgling Afghan electoral institution and the United Nations to the core. The UN, which was charged with overseeing the elections has had its reputation both within the country and globally as a safeguard against this kind of injustice, thoroughly tarnished. It was American ex-UN Envoy Peter Galbraith(1) who first broke the story to the international media and stated that a cover-up had taken place at the international level.

“What we had in this election was wholesale fraud. That is to say, in at least a thousand polling centers, the polling centers never opened. And yet, votes were manufactured in those polling centers, or perhaps not even manufactured, merely reported. And in that circumstance, it’s possible that 1/3 of the votes that President Karzai was reported to have received were fraudulent. Incidentally, there was also fraud in the tally of Dr. Abdullah and Ramazan Bashardost, the third candidate, maybe in some of the others. But not on the scale that there was for President Karzai.”
Peter Galbraith
NPR ‘On Point’ with Tom Ashbrook(2)

Within three days of the results having been announced, the Electoral Complaints Committee (ECC) had received 225 complaints of misconduct(3) and there was a rapidly developing opinion that something had gone badly wrong. Many Afghans reported coercion, ballot stuffing and other democratic anomalies on such a large scale that the international media community quickly adopted the story that widespread fraud had in fact, taken place. These suspicions were further corroborated when Peter Galbraith was discharged from his position by his Norwegian boss Kai Eide and UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon(4) for his remarks which were branded damaging to the diplomatic and military missions underway in the country.

Kai Eide (right) and Peter Galbraith (left)

"As you know, Kai Eide and I have had prolonged disagreement as to whether UNAMA should take action to prevent or mitigate fraud in the Afghanistan elections. Given our mandate to support “free, fair, and transparent” elections, I felt UNAMA could not overlook the fraud without compromising our neutrality and becoming complicit in a cover-up. For a long time after the elections, Kai denied that significant fraud had taken place, even going to the extreme of ordering UN staff not to discuss the matter. And, at critical stages in the process, he blocked me and other UNAMA professional staff from taking effective action that might have limited the fraud or enabled the Afghan electoral institutions to address it more effectively.”
Peter Galbraith
Letter to UN Secretary General Ban-Ki Moon(5)

Galbraith claims that the decision to remove him from his position was not connected to comments he made, but rather to the disagreement between himself and Mr. Eide over how best to deal with the allegations of fraud. An investigation seems like the sensible course of action, but findings of severely fraudulent behavior on the part of any candidate could plunge the country into political uncertainty, necessitating a ‘run-off’ campaign to solidify and establish the true distribution of the popular vote. (6) With the winter season and accompanying harsh weather in the mountainous nation, a run-off might not be possible until the spring, which has the dangerous potential to drag out the political uncertainty in a time where critical governmental consolidation should be taking place.

The fighting season in Afghanistan runs from approximately March through to November. (7) Militants who have been battling Coalition and Afghan National Army forces across the country traditionally withdraw to mountain hideouts and rural dwellings to wait out the bitter cold. If the Afghan government fails to grow in strength due to internal discord, or worse, serves to further divide the country along ethnic lines, the spring fighting season might herald the return of a renewed insurgency in a nation with a greatly weakened or failing governing polity. This could result in widespread disorder, civil war and even has the potential to jeopardize the Coalition mission in the region. What is certain is that time is critical to ensure satisfaction of the people of Afghanistan that their legitimate democratic will has been carried through.

The election issues themselves are almost too myriad to record. Afghanistan is a nation plagued by numerous problems, not the least of which is an almost complete lack of educational, public health, social services or communications infrastructure.(8) The internal security crisis, ongoing insurgency and continued occupation by Coalition Forces makes fostering international relationships and improving governmental approval ratings difficult, no matter who is in charge. The incumbent in the contested election, Hamid Karzai is well versed in relations with the United States and the developed world. He was appointed first as Interim leader of the nation in 2002 (9) by a Pashtun tribal council ‘Loya Jirga’. He was formally elected to power in 2004 and took a moderate, reformist path towards restoring order in his fragmented nation.

Karzai in Brief:

His Excellency, The Honourable Hamid Karzai’s personal history includes working as a media, logistics and humanitarian aid coordinator for a royalist Mujahedeen faction during the soviet invasion of Afghanistan. (10. Ghost Wars, Coll P. 285) After the Soviet withdrawal and the rise of the Taliban, he worked to draw moderates away from their ranks and to sew the seeds for creating an Afghan democracy. Since the coalition intervention in 2001, Karzai has been a staunch supporter of the international order and a true friend of the west.

Karzai was wounded in October 2001 by an American Missile, while embedded with a group of Mujihideen,(11) but he was treated promptly in the United States, recovering with only minor nerve damage. In 2003 he was awarded the distinction of being an Honorary British Knight (12) (Knight Grand Cross of the Order of St Michael and St George). He holds several honorary degrees from western and eastern academic institutions alike. Hamid Karzai is, for all intents and purposes the preferred candidate and leader of Afghanistan, at least from the perspective of the United Nations and the Coalition diplomats. His international support has been ebbing considerably, throughout 2009 as revelations of corruption and the recent accusations of electoral fraud have cast a negative light on his administration. It is reported that he received 54.6% of the popular vote(13), in uncertified final results.

Abdullah Abdullah in Brief:

The candidate who stands closest to Karzai in terms of popular support is Dr. Abdullah Abdullah, a medical doctor who was educated in Afghanistan until he was forced to migrate outside the country as a result of civil war.(14) He worked in Peshwar, Pakistan as a medical doctor providing assistance to Afghan refugees. In 1995, Dr. Abdullah was appointed as the spokesperson for the Islamic State of Afghanistan, but in 1996 when Kabul fell to the Taliban, he headed to the Northern provinces where he joined the Northern Alliance, a collection of prominent tribal leaders and warlords who allied with Coalition forces during the 2001 intervention. (15) The international community recognized the Northern Alliance as Afghanistan’s official ruling polity, and he served as foreign minister for their government. Following Hamid Karzai’s election in 2004, Dr. Abdullah was appointed to the position of Minister of Foreign Affairs.

His platform speaks about rooting out the systemic corruption in the Afghan government, as well as using the political system to effect change in the distribution of power. One of his major plans for restructuring Afghanistan’s political landscape is the institution of provincial premierships and creation of a decentralized parliamentary system, which seems aimed at creating representation for the various ethnic groups who currently feel marginalized.(16) While Abdullah himself is descended from a Pashtun father, his mother is widely reported to have been a Tajik, which makes him a likely candidate to bridge Afghanistan’s ethnic divide. He is not as ‘westernized’ as Hamid Karzai and is not widely perceived to be working as a proxy for the Coalition, a factor which likely had a great deal to do with his receiving a reported 27.8% of the popular vote. (17)

With winter closing in, time is fleeting for both the UN Committee charged with overseeing the elections (and investigating their aftermath) and the Afghan people. If a resolution can be reached and a declaration on the legitimacy of Karzai’s election can be made, and soon, it is possible that the Afghan people could see themselves going to a run-off as early as November. This would enable a final result to be determined and give the nation the acting government it so badly needs heading into the seasonal lull in violence. Of course, the reverse of that particular coin is that failure to shore up political power now could lead to the catastrophic failure of the fledgling democracy when the Taliban return from winter retreat and commence their spring offensive.

1. TimesOnline.co.uk - Sacked envoy Peter Galbraith accuses UN of 'cover-up' on Afghan vote fraud
2. NPR 'On Point' - Peter Galbraith on Afghanistan
3. Al Jazeera - Afghan Rivals Claim Election Fraud
4. UN Daily News(PDF)
5. The New York Times - Excerpts - Galbraith's Letter to U.N. Secretary General
6. Reuters India - Runoff needed in Afghanistan poll, U.S. group says
7. Washington Post - A Fight in Afghanistan
8. Wikipedia - The Economy of Afghanistan
9. BBC - Profile: Hamid Karzai
10. Coll, Steve. Ghost Wars: the secret history of the CIA, Afghanistan and Bin Laden, from the Soviet invasion to September 10, 2001. New York: Penguin 2004. Print. p. 285
11. CBS News - Fog of War: Facing Friendly Fire
12. BBC - Queen Gives Karzai Knighthood
13. Ohio.com - Karzai leads with 54.6% in election
14. Official Website of Dr. Abdullah - Biography
15. BBC - Profile: Abdullah Abdullah
16. Official Website of Dr. Abdullah - Platform(PDF)
17. TIME - Why Karzai's Rival Abdullah Won't Compromise on Runoff