[Marxism] From Hospital, Afghans Rebut U.S. Account

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Mon Jan 26 07:58:57 MST 2009

NY Times, January 26, 2009
 From Hospital, Afghans Rebut U.S. Account

MEHTARLAM, Afghanistan — The American military declared the nighttime 
raid this month a success, saying it killed 32 people, all Taliban 
insurgents — the fruit of an emphasis on intelligence-driven use of 
Special Operations forces.

But the two young men who lay wincing in a hospital ward here told a 
different story a few days later, one backed up by the pro-American 
provincial governor and a central government delegation.

They agreed that 13 civilians had been killed and 9 wounded when 
American commandos broke down doors and unleashed dogs without warning 
on Jan. 7 in the hunt for a known insurgent in Masamut, in Laghman 
Province in eastern Afghanistan. The residents were so enraged that they 
threatened to march on the American military base here.

The conflicting accounts underscore a dangerous rift that has grown 
between Afghans and the United States forces trying to roll back 
widening Taliban control of the countryside.

With every case of civilian casualties or mistaken killings, the anger 
that Afghans feel toward the government and foreign forces deepens and 
makes residents less likely to help American forces, Afghan officials 
warn. Meanwhile, American forces are reluctant to share information 
about future military raids with local officials, fearing that it will 
be passed on to the Taliban.

Added to all that is a complication for American forces here: many 
villagers are armed, in the absence of an effective local police force.

Into that increasingly complex environment, the Obama administration is 
preparing to send as many as 30,000 more troops this year. As the plan 
moves forward, Afghan officials and some Western coalition partners are 
voicing concern that the additional troops will only increase the levels 
of violence and civilian casualties, after a year in which as many as 
4,000 Afghan civilians were killed.

The outrage over civilian deaths swelled again over the weekend. 
Hundreds of angry villagers demonstrated here in Mehtarlam, the capital 
of Laghman Province, on Sunday after an American raid on a village in 
the province on Friday night. The raid killed at least 16 villagers, 
including 2 women and 3 children, according to a statement from 
President Hamid Karzai.

The president condemned the raid, saying it had not been coordinated 
with Afghan officials, and called for such raids to stop. The United 
States military said that 15 armed militants, including a woman, had 
been killed.

In a sign of how serious the episode was, an American military 
spokesman, Col. Greg Julian, said the military would send an 
investigation team to the area, The Associated Press reported.

Raids like the ones in Laghman Province by United States Special 
Operations forces, on Jan. 7 and on Friday, have been a special focus of 
complaint for several years.

Provincial governors say the tactics used, and the lack of coordination 
with Afghan and other American and NATO forces, alienate villagers and 
cause unneeded casualties among civilians. The raids are undoing much of 
the good work done by other American and international troops and 
reconstruction teams, they say.

The Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission warned that the lack 
of accountability of those conducting such raids, and the lack of 
redress for civilian victims, was stoking resentment. “The degree of 
backlash and community outrage that they provoke suggests they may often 
not be an advisable tactic within the Afghan context,” the commission 
concluded in a report in December.

Mr. Karzai said in an address at the opening of Parliament on Tuesday 
that he had once more sent written requests to United States forces and 
to NATO to end civilian casualties.

Afghans would never complain about casualties among their security 
forces, but they would never accept the suffering of civilians, he said, 
to a great shout of support from the chamber. The speaker of the Senate, 
Sebaghatullah Mojadeddi, followed with a warning that if more care was 
not taken, the nation could rise up against the foreign troop presence here.

A number of different American units, Special Forces and others, have 
been conducting counterterrorism operations around the country for the 
past seven years, operating out of the Bagram and Kandahar airfields, 
and several small Special Forces bases. They do not operate under NATO 
command and usually do not coordinate their operations with Afghan 
forces, since they argue that the element of surprise is critical.

Military spokesmen often release results of raids but do not identify 
the forces involved. Philip Alston, a United Nations special rapporteur, 
or investigator, complained last year that despite high-level meetings 
with the military, he had been unable to identify some of the groups 
conducting the raids or to establish the chain of command under which 
they operated.

Afghan officials and others suspect some of the raids may also be 
carried out by the C.I.A.

The raid in Masamut on the night of Jan. 7 was typical of many conducted 
in Afghanistan. United States Special Operations forces entered the 
village under cover of darkness looking for a known Taliban insurgent, 
Gul Pacha, who was killed in the raid, along with a visitor to his home, 
another Taliban member, Bahadur Khan.

According to several villagers, the nighttime raid stirred alarm and 
confusion as people were roused from their sleep.

One of the first to be shot and killed was a man called Qasem, a member 
of the Afghan Border Police who was at home on leave. His brother, 
Wazarat Khan, said Qasem was killed as soon as he looked out his front door.

“We did not think they were Americans; we thought they were thieves,” he 
said. “They killed my brother right in the doorway.”

One of the men in the hospital, Abdul Manan, 25, who had a bullet wound 
in the shoulder, said he woke up when he heard a female neighbor calling 
for help and heard three shots.

He said he came out of his house and saw soldiers wearing headlamps. “I 
thought they were smoking cigarettes,” he said. “They said something in 
English that I did not understand, and then they shot me.”

Another man, Darwaish Muhammad, 18, hospitalized with shrapnel wounds, 
said he was awakened by the mother of a neighbor, Shahpur Khan, calling 
for help. He had been shot.

Mr. Muhammad said he and two others rushed to help carry the woman’s son 
on a rope bed down a slope outside the village to get help. They were 10 
minutes from the village when a helicopter fired a rocket at them, 
killing the wounded man and two of the bearers. He and the mother were 
badly wounded, he said.

A United States military spokesman, Col. Jerry O’Hara, confirmed that 
United States air support forces had fired on a group of five carrying a 
wounded person outside the village. He said all five had been killed and 
all were militants. That some of the villagers survived may explain some 
of the discrepancy of the death toll.

Colonel O’Hara added that care had been taken not to use air power 
inside the village, to avoid civilian casualties. He dismissed the 
villagers’ accounts that they had mistaken the soldiers for thieves. “I 
am not buying that,” he said. “These people were acting as sentries.”

In a statement, Colonel O’Hara said, “Coalition forces exercised great 
restraint and prevented any civilian casualties at the same time the 
enemy placed the whole village in harm’s way by operating the way they do.”

In an interview, he also expressed frustration that four years after his 
earlier tour in Afghanistan, people still were not coming forward with 
information against Taliban members. “Until there is active involvement 
amongst Afghan civilians to turn in or give a tip on people with 
explosives, you are not going to get on the road to peace,” he said.

Yet, after seven years of war, Afghans say that villagers are less and 
less inclined to side with a foreign army that still conducts house 
searches and bombardments.

The villagers of Masamut readily acknowledged that Mr. Pacha had been a 
member of the Taliban. They had even nicknamed him “Al Qaeda.” But they 
criticized the United States forces for killing his elderly father and 
two sons along with him, and for the shooting of the other villagers.

“The government should have informed us not to come outside while they 
surrounded the house of Gul Pacha,” said Mawla Dad, 35, whose brother, 
nephew and cousin, an off-duty policeman, were all killed.

The governor of Laghman Province, Lutfullah Mashal, acknowledged that 
some of the villagers were armed. But he explained that because there 
was no police force to speak of in rural areas, villages kept security 
through a kind of neighborhood watch. “Whoever came out with a weapon, 
he was shot because the American forces have night-vision devices,” the 
governor said.

Villagers of Masamut, and local officials who visited the village 
afterward, protested the tactics used in the raid to United States 
military officials. The governor also complained that the raid had been 
conducted without coordination with Afghan forces or even with other 
American forces based in the province.

The raid undermined the government, Mr. Mashal said, and the tactics 
violated Afghan customs and whipped up a religious hatred, which was 
very damaging for both the government and the international forces.

“The people are angry with us,” he said. “Unless the international 
community, and especially military forces, coordinate with us, we are 
not going to win this war, because to win the war is to win the hearts 
and minds of the people, and then you can beat the enemy.”

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