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 – 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.

Sources: 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. '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. Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court
9. 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. - 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. - 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 – 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. - 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. - 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

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Seeking Allies in War: America turns to Pakistan, NATO to Russia.

NATO leaders approached Moscow today, seeking to garner Russian support for the NATO/ISAF war underway in Afghanistan. Russia has intimate tactical and operational experience in Afghanistan, and has repeatedly refused to participate in hostilities (after losing its own brutal and draining 10 year war in the mountainous nation). Moscow says however, that it supports the US-Led initiative to topple the Taliban from power, and the most recent NATO overtures are invitations to Russia to play a role in the shaping of the new Afghan National Army and the training of security personnel. NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen was quoted in a Reuters article as saying: "Next, Russia could provide equipment for the Afghan security forces. Thirdly, Russia could provide training. These are just some examples. I think we should explore in a joint effort how we could further Russian engagement..."

Memorial to Russian War Dead from their 10 year fight against the Mujaheddin in Afghanistan.

Meanwhile, US officials pledged $1.5 Billion a Year for the next 5 years to support Pakistan as an ally in the war on terror. This funding comes in the form of ‘nonmilitary aid’ but is intended to shore up stability and combat extreme sentiment in Pakistani society. This aid will undoubtedly encompass economic development and social improvements, in order to combat the trends of radicalization and give marginalized tribal populations in Pakistan alternatives to taking up arms.


Reuters – Pakistan seeks long-term commitment from U.S.
Reuters – NATO seeks more Russian Help in Afghanistan

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Afghanistan Casualties in the New Defence Paradigm: Strategic Epistemology

The challenges facing coalition forces in Afghanistan are myriad. The US Government, under Barack Obama is facing the prospect this week of accepting or rejecting a request from General Stanley McChrystal for 40000 new troops. Recent developments and a sharp escalation in casualties will no doubt compound the issues surrounding these deliberations. A press release by White House National Security Advisor James Jones today, spoke promisingly about the progress of the war.

"The good news that Americans should feel at least good about in Afghanistan is that the al Qaeda presence is very diminished… The next step in this is the sanctuaries across the border [Pakistan]…But I don't foresee the return of the Taliban and I want to be very clear that Afghanistan is not in imminent danger of falling." (1)

While the White House insists that ‘Afghanistan is not in imminent danger of falling’, it also cannot say for certain that Coalition forces are in imminent proximity to winning the war on terror and human insecurity in the tiny landlocked nation. The longer the administration waits in their deliberative process, to come to a realization of coherent overarching international strategy and to draft a plan for its implementation, the more damage that can be done to their capacity for success by the Taliban and other tribal militias who are wasting no time in exploiting international media attention.

An American Soldier holds a defensive position while engaging insurgents in Afghanistan.

A well coordinated attack in the province of Nuristan on October 4 claimed the lives of eight American soldiers and up to seven of their Afghan police colleagues. The attack came early in the morning, with what is estimated to be about 300-700 insurgent fighters storming an Afghan police outpost, located at the foot of a hill and then pushing up the slope to attack a US Army outpost from two directions. (2)

The attackers were supported with a hail of rocket-propelled grenade, small arms and mortar fire directed toward the American position. The defenders managed to kill an estimated 40 of the insurgents and the rest withdrew, taking prisoner up to 30 Afghan police, including the police chief of the Kamdesh district. The American forces holding their outpost position responded with a hail of small-arms fire in return and called in artillery strikes and close-air-support from both helicopter and fixed-wing assets.

This is the second time the American forces have incurred significant losses in a single engagement in the Nuristan region. (3) It is considered one of Afghanistan's most dangerous provinces, because of its proximity to the Afghanistan-Pakistan border region and its use by insurgents to smuggle men and matériel through the mountains. These recent events and significant casualties mirror an incident that took place in 2008 where 9 American Soldiers lost their lives in a Taliban assault on an outpost also located within Nuristan.

Elsewhere in the nation, two American soldiers were killed when their Afghan police colleague opened fire unexpectedly. (4) The assailant fled immediately and has not yet been found by coalition forces. It is unclear as to whether he simply lost his head or was working as an agent of the Taliban. These challenges to American (and by relation Coalition) authority, which imply on the surface that little progress has been made, are timed to coincide with the upper-level policy deliberations by the Obama administration and other NATO leaders.

In his essay "The Epistemology of Strategy"(5), published in the defence studies publication SITREP, Richard Maltz, a retired US Army Officer discusses the necessity for a dramatic shift in thought about war. He states that we need to move from focusing on victory in the practical engagement to the deeper epistemological analysis of events and their effects on national and international polities.

"We are moving increasingly away from predominantly mechanistic, kinetic and pyrotechnic solutions to those that require us to take account of the complexities of the environment, its inhabitants, our adversaries and most important, ourselves."(6)

The current strategy for the Afghan war actually sees the US soldiers leaving Nuristan in short order and ceding control of its security to the ANA and ANP forces there. The Department of Defense has said in no uncertain terms that this incident will not alter their plans to withdraw from the region.(7) The withdrawal was planned as part of an ongoing effort to consolidate around urban centers and civilian populations to provide security in the hopes of transitioning the mission from one of outright war to peace support and counter-terrorism.

That the Taliban have stepped up their own operations is a doubtful coincidence given the weight and tone of international discussions surrounding the fate of the nation. Despite their demonstrated ability to inflict casualties in decisive and well-organized 'raids' on military targets, the Taliban have not demonstrated any coherent ability to 'win battles'. Currently this 'resistance by body count', reminiscent certainly of American experiences in Indochina, is having an effect on policy and public opinion within the NATO structure.

"The war was fought on many fronts. At that time the most important one was American public opinion. Military power is not the decisive factor in war. Human beings! Human beings are the decisive factor."

--General Vo Nguyen Giap

Former NVA CINC, on the Tet Offensive(8)

Reports of rising casualties will have an effect, quite possibly a detrimental one on the ability of ISAF Leadership Personnel to prosecute the war and fulfill their mandate. Senior US General Stanley McChrystal formally requested an increase of troop levels in the nation by 40000, in the hopes of using another major surge to destabilize the Taliban insurgency. This approach proves problematic for an administration that must find a coherent balance between public opinion shifting against the war and bureaucrats directing experienced military personnel in the prosecution of a war. (9)

Maltz's paper on the theory of knowledge and its application in the field of Strategy and Policy, identifies the need to operate within what he terms the 'Cognitive Domain'. Specifically, this is the incorporation of Psychological and Sociological factors into the determination of strategy.

"These exist on multiple levels at the same time, extending from the individual (the Psychological), through various layers of group identity, consciousness and affiliation, from the family thru the highest level of overarching identity -nationality, ethnicity, religion (the Sociological.)"(10)

The challenge now for the policy makers is how to deal with what will most certainly be a whelming tide of public opinion against the war, in light of the incident in Nuristan. A potentially beneficial approach might be to turn the battle that took place into one of deep national significance. The loss of service personnel in any NATO army is treated as a sobering and momentous occurrence. The Taliban seem to have adopted an effective strategy of using the power of media institutions to deliver crippling blows not only in the physical battlespace but also in the Cognitive Domain. Some possible counteractions to this strategy (specifically as pertains to Nuristan) could be an official proclamation lionizing the American and ANA unit(s) involved, awarding medals and merited distinguishments to the surviving personnel and an official rhetoric aimed at generating indignation over the losses and spinning them so as to galvanize public opinion in support of war against a barbaric foe.

A decidedly ‘spun’ broadcast from the less-than-objective ‘Russian Television’ News Service discussing upcoming Anti-War protests scheduled for October 7, 2009 across the United States.


1. Reuters – “Taliban Return to Power Unlikely”

2. New York Times – “Eight U.S. Soldiers Dead in Bold Attack in Afghanistan

3. CBC – “8 U.S. Soldiers, 7 Afghans Killed in Attack” – “Afghan wearing police uniform kills 2 U.S. soldiers.”

5. Maltz, Richard “The Epistemology of Strategy”. (2009, April 17). SITREP, Vol. 69, Number 3, p 7-12. (also at RCMI Archive)

6. Richard Maltz, A. “The Epistemology of Strategy”. (2009, April 17). SITREP, Vol. 69, Number 3, p.7

7. –“Eight US Soldiers Killed as Taliban Storm Outpost”

8. Maltz, Richard “The Epistemology of Strategy”. (2009, April 17). SITREP, Vol. 69, Number 3, p.9

9. New York Times – “Letter from Washington – A Voice Worth Heeding on Afghanistan

10. Maltz, Richard “The Epistemology of Strategy”. (2009, April 17). SITREP, Vol. 69, Number 3, p.10

Further Recommended Viewing:

Friday, October 2, 2009

In Afghan War, Focus Now Lies in Neighbouring Pakistan's Volatile Tribal Region

The border region of Waziristan and the Federally Administered Tribal Regions, which lie along the mountainous border of Afghanistan and Pakistan are growing fronts in NATO's war effort. The challenging fight to stabilize the nation of Afghanistan is becoming more and more about the stabilization and extension of human security throughout the entire region. The 'Pashtun Belt' a huge swath of lands inhabited by the ethnic tribe of Pashtuns straddles both sides of the border. The Taliban, who are the primary belligerent standing in the way of peaceful reconstruction are almost entirely from the various sub-tribes of the Pashtun peoples.

A map from 'Frontlines' detailing the Federally Administered Tribal Regions and Waziristan, two central 'homelands' where the Taliban insurgency has taken root.(1)

This means that the cultural and military spheres of influence for the Taliban extend along roughly the same lines as the distribution of their tribal groups. (2) On the Pakistani side of the border, a desperate war is being fought by Pakistani security forces to contain the growing spread of radicalism and fundamental Islamic conservatism within their own borders. In recent months, conflicts have rocked the particularly volatile Swat valley and Pakistan has raided militant compounds located well within its own geographical borders.

Over the last year, some 70 attacks have also been staged inside Pakistani territory, ostensibly by American forces. There have been no troop incursions across the border, nor has traditonal American air power been engaged in bringing the fight to a distant and inaccessible foe. A relatively new military technology, that of combat drones, more specifically the 'Predator' and 'Reaper' drones, has allowed the United States and its allies to bring the fight wherever it is needed, with a high degree of accuracy and relatively low margin of error. (3) Contrary to what the name implies, while Predator and Reaper drones are in fact unmanned, they are not autonomous. A human operator controls the drone remotely and the device is first used to conduct aerial surveillance before the order to deploy an Air-to-Ground PGM (Precision Guided Missile) is given. While the potential of this technology is lifesaving, in that it removes much of the risk factor for the combat personnel, the perceived incursion against Pakistani sovereignty has not gone unchallenged.(4)

In this undated photo, a Predator drone is seen to be firing a 'Hellfire' PGM, the same type of munitions being employed against the Pakistani Taliban.

A recent survey conducted by the International Republican Institute, (5) a not-for-profit group based in the United States indicated that 80% of Pakistanis stand against their government's support for the NATO ISAF war, a remarkable increase of 19% from only a few months ago. Whether this can be directly attributed to drone strikes is not demonstrable, but the same respondents also polled low (77% in opposition) on the issue of America and her Allies broadening the front into Pakistan's Border Regions.

The challenge for NATO personnel is that the Taliban, chief adversaries to the stabilization and reconstruction of the Nation of Afghanistan, have now moved their physical center of gravity to well within the Pakistani tribal regions. (6) The majority of their support networks, inflow of arms, equipment and internal leadership have been outsourced to Pakistan, where beyond drone strikes and increasingly unpopular internal operations by the Pakistani Military, they face relatively few risks. That the Taliban have been free to withdraw further into the Pashtun Belt and continue plotting attacks from within the relative safety of another country's geographical border confounds many of the best attempts by international forces to restore order and governance to the troubled nation of Afghanistan.

In a few days time, a potentially major new front will be opened as the Pakistani military commences operations (announced Oct 1st, 2009)(7) they have been planning for several months. A large number of troops will be entering the tribal region with the intent of combating the insurgency there. The plan was drafted in the wake of the death of the top Taliban commander
Baitullah Mehsud (8) in an August drone strike. His death it was hoped, would fragment the command structure of his personal army, comprising of approximately one understrength division of irregular guerrillas, which once formed the core guard of the Pakistani Taliban.

“We thought that Baitullah’s death would unravel the Mehsud militant group and galvanize the tribe to stand up to the people they have suffered from... It didn’t happen.”

What is certain, is that the fighting, due to commence any day now, and timed during the region's fall and winter months where most militants ususally return to their mountain hideouts and rural dwellings, will not be easy for the Pakistani Military. With rapidly diminishing support inside of Pakistan for these operations, dislodging the Taliban from their new physical center will be no easy task. The last two operations within Waziristan by the Pakistani Military actually led to the capitulation of the Military who were forced to withdraw after suffering heavy losses.

For the average citizen of Pakistan, it is business as usual. The same poll, conducted by the IRI revealed that 13 per cent of respondents felt that terrorism was the primary institution causing internal instability in the nation. Instead, privation and economic necessity were their major concerns with 72 per cent saying the suffering Pakistani economy had affected their lives in the past year. Within Pakistan, the need to uproot the insurgency may not be acknowledged, but within the international community, it is recognized that if there is a hope of providing security to the troubled nation of Afghanistan, the greatest change from this point forwards will likely have to occur within these tribal regions.

NPR Radio Broadcast from October of last year, talking about the border situation between Afghanistan and Pakistan. (9)

1. PBS.ORG: Frontline 'Return of the Taliban'
2. Wikipedia - Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA)
3. Wikipedia - MQ1 Predator Drone
4. The Globe and Mail - '80% of Pakistanis against helping US fight militants'
5. The International Republican Institute Homepage
6. West Point - CTC Sentinel - Profile of Tehrik-i-Taliban in Pakistan(PDF)
7. New York Times - 'Pakistan to Target Taliban Epicenter'
8. BBC - Obituary: Baitullah Mehsud
9. NPR - All Things Considered (Podcast)