Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Caught in the Jaws of a Vice - Afghanistan

The Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission recently released two reports - one on excessive violence by the country's pro-government forces (Afghan National Army, the U.S. forces and the NATO forces or ISAF). This report caught the attention of Western media because of the by now standard condemnation of excessive resort to air strikes and night raids on Afghan villages.

The report I found far more cogent was the AIHRC's report on insurgent abuses against Afghan civilians. It addresses the standard litany of Taliban and other insurgent abuses - kidnappings, shooting, hangings, decapitation and mutilations.

In an attempt to weaken the Afghan government, insurgents in Afghanistan are systematically terrorizing the civilian population with “night letters,” kidnappings, executions (often by beheading) and other crimes. Their targets include doctors, teachers, students, government aligned elders, Ulema Council members, civilian government employees, suppliers and day laborers of public-interest reconstruction work and military bases, as well as former police and military personnel. Others, such as unassociated relatives of civil servants, have also been targeted. (See, From Intimidation to Murder, below.)

In an attempt to further weaken public support for the government, insurgents have also begun violent campaigns of intimidation against schools, medical services, humanitarian aid and commercial supply lines. (See, Far Reaching Consequences of Insurgent Abuses, below.)

Such abuses by insurgent are part of an overall strategy to coerce entire communities into not cooperating in any way with the government, the international community or international military forces. Insurgents take the view that nearly all displays of government strength and support, no matter how insignificant, are legitimate military targets. The simple act of being a civil servant or being friendly with government officials is enough to justify an attack.

There really wasn't too much of significance in this aspect of the report. It detailed basic guerrilla terrorist tactics, the stock in trade of typical insurgencies. The critical part isn't the atrocities but how the government and its forces respond.

Insurgents use terror to undermine the civilian population's trust in their government. They seek opportunities that will show the government unable or unwilling to protect the public or that cause the government forces to go to the other extreme, to overreact and cause added death and suffering to the civilian population.

The AIHRC offered this anecdotal evidence of what their field studies found:

During the research for this report, Afghans voiced a wide spectrum of complaints about the government’s failure to provide them with adequate security. Some also aimed their anger at international military forces. Lack of willingness, resources and training as well as abuses of power topped the list of complaints.

Corruption and poor communication between different security agencies were also mentioned. People said that besides undermining their security, these problems limited their access to justice and left them outside the protection of the law.

"We complained to the police about the night letters. Their response was, 'We cannot do anything to help.' We repeatedly approached the head of the Kandahar provincial council and asked him to assist us with our problems […] but he can do nothing either […]"

"We are not satisfied with the performance of Afghanistan National Army. During night they stay in their check posts and don’t dare to move out of their check posts and patrol. The international forces do not patrol in our area either."

Interview with 35 year old man from Kandahar City 13 February 2008

"My father did not attempt to inform police that he was intimidated because the police are very scared and are not able to move and operate in the villages. They just stay in their compound inside the district center. Furthermore, police cannot be trusted since they are involved in harassing and bribing people."

Interview with a 20 year old man whose father was first intimidated, and then assassinated, by the Taliban in Paktia Province

In June 2007, a villager named T killed his nephew in a personal dispute. T’s great-nephew approached the district authorities of Zurmat complaining about the incident and asked for police assistance and justice. The authorities said, “We will send police to the village provided that you guarantee our security. If you cannot do this, we will not send police.

Interview with a 27 year old farmer in Paktia Province
25 February 2008

My brother was farming in late October when a roadside bomb blast hit a nearby U.S. supply convoy that was being escorted by police. After the explosion, police wearing their uniforms got out of their pickup trucks and started firing indiscriminately. Two police came and fired at my brother but missed him. They were three to four meters away from him. My brother stood and raised his hands, yelling at them, “I am innocent I did not exploded the bomb. I am a professional military officer working for the government. How is it possible for me to do such an action?” Despite all of this, during this argument one of police shot him, putting three bullets in his chest, and killed him.

A community elder phoned the district commissioner, informed him of the
incident, and asked for legal action. The district commissioner told the
community elder, “Why are you complaining? There was a mine explosion a few months ago that resulted into the killing of district police. Did I complain to you about this?”

Interview with a 28-year-old man in Paktia Province
26 February 2008

"…The security situation has deteriorated a lot in Zabul. There is no rule of law and police lack professional training. Many of them themselves have been involved in crimes and misuse of their power…"

Interview with a 59-year-old tribal elder from Zabul in Kandahar City
13 February 2008

These anecdotal comments, if representative of the true situation, reveal that the insurgency is succeeding. The focus is on the failure of the Kabul government and its forces to secure and defend the civilian population. That is compounded by a widespread fear and resentment of the government's security forces as abusive and predatory of the public.

For the last several years there have been clear warnings coming from Afghan organizations and credible foreign observers that we've allowed the national government to degenerate into a criminal enterprise. The country has fallen under the ruinous hold of warlords, drug barons and thugs.

The American solution is to double their ground force by adding 30,000 reinforcements. It sounds impressive but it's far too little, far too late. It also shows the enormously flawed approach the Americans are taking.

Doubling their force to 60,000 in a country as large as Afghanistan does little beyond expanding the American's ability to conduct a military war. The insurgents are fighting, and winning, their war - the political war. The witness comments in the report all point to that same, unanswered problem - the people are losing faith in and have come to fear their government and its security forces.

The Afghan public want security. That means keeping an effective presence in their communities capable of repelling insurgents day or night, 365 days a year. That would take many hundreds of thousands of troops for the security mission alone. And it would mean giving the public security not only against the insurgents and terrorists but also against their own government.


WesternGrit said...

... And all the best to you and your's this Christmas, Mound. Cheers!

(Yes... will be tipping a few back tonight, and tomorrow. Quiet family gathering).

LeDaro said...

MoS, bro, very happy Christmas to you and yours and all the best for the New Year.