Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Afghanistan War Update: United States Hunts War Files Leaker; Occupation Forces Kill Civilians

Tuesday, July 27, 2010
09:29 Mecca time, 06:29 GMT

US hunts Afghan war files leaker

The Pentagon is investigating what damage the leaks could have caused on the ground in Afghanistan

The US defence department has launched an investigation to identify
who leaked tens of thousands of classified documents on the war in
Afghanistan to whistleblower website.

Officials said on Monday that whoever handed over the about 91,000
documents to Wikileaks appeared to have security clearance and access to sensitive documents.

"We will do what is necessary to try to determine who is responsible
for the leaking of this information," Geoff Morrell, the Pentagon
press secretary, said.

He warned that while it remained unclear who had handed over the
information more leaks were possible.

"Until we know who's responsible, you have to hold out the possibility
that there could be more information that has yet to be disclosed. And
that's obviously a concern."

Bradley Manning, a US army intelligence analyst, was charged earlier
this month in connection with the leak of a classified video, showing
a 2007 helicopter attackthat killed a dozen civilians in Baghdad, to

The Pentagon said in June that it was investigating allegations that
Manning had handed over classified video and 260,000 secret diplomatic cables to the website.

It was not immediately clear if he was being investigated about the
leak of the files on the war in Afghanistan and the Pentagon has
declined to name any suspects.

Assessing damage

The unverified files suggest that Pakistan's intelligence agency has
been holding strategy sessionswith Taliban leaders to aid their
efforts in Afghanistan.

The documents also include descriptions of a covert US special
operations unit formed to target high-level al-Qaeda and Taliban
figures, incidents that caused civilian casualties and a host of other
operational reports.

The Pentagon said its review of the documents made public would take "days if not weeks" and that it was too soon to assess any damage to national security.

Still, US military officials played down the significance of what had
emerged so far, saying that they appeared to be low-level assessments that largely confirm the military's publicly stated concerns about the Afghan war.

"The scale of [the leak], the scope of it, is clearly alarming. I
don't think the content of it is very illuminating," Morrell said.

The Pentagon said it was also looking at possible damage to the war effort on the ground in Afghanistan.

Michael Hayden, a former CIA director, said the leak was a gift to the
enemies of the United States.

"If I had gotten this trove on the Taliban or al-Qaeda, I would have
called it priceless," he said.

He predicted that the Taliban would take anything that described a US attack and the intelligence behind it "and figure out who was in the room when that particular operation, say in 2008, was planned, and in whose home".

Then the fighters would likely punish the traitor who had worked with
the Americans, Hayden said.

'Enemies list'

Jane Harman, a Democratic congresswoman, said the White House had indicated the disclosures compromised a number of Afghan sources.

"Someone inadvertently or on purpose gave the Taliban its new enemies list," she said.

The leak of classified documents could create deeper doubts about the war at home, cause new friction with Pakistan over allegations about its spy agency and raise questions around the world about Washington's ability to protect military secrets.

The White House called the leak, which is one of the biggest in US
military history, "alarming".

But Robert Gibbs, the White House spokesman, emphasised that the documents covered the period before Barack Obama, the president, ordered a major increase in US troops fighting in Afghanistan, and the administration denied they would cause any policy shift in the fight against the Taliban.

Source: Al Jazeera and agencies

Tuesday, July 27, 2010
09:21 Mecca time, 06:21 GMT

'Scores die' in Afghan village raid

A Nato rocket attack on a village in Afghanistan last week killed 52
civilians, including women and children, the office of Hamid Karzai,
the Afghan president, has said in a statement.

Based on reports from the Afghan National Directorate of Security, a
house in Regey village in Sangin district of the southern Helmand
province was hit with a rocket launched by Nato troops on Friday.

Karzai has offered his condolences via telephone to the mourning
families and called on Nato troops to "put into practice every
possible measure to avoid harming civilians during military

The Afghan president has ordered the National Security Council to
investigate the incident, Sediq Sediqqi, head of media relations at
the presidency, said earlier.

Helicopter attack

Reports surfaced on Saturday that a helicopter gunship fired on
villagers who had been told by fighters to leave their homes as a
firefight with troops from Nato's International Security Assistance
Force (Isaf) was imminent.

According to witness accounts, men, women and children fled to Regey village and were fired on from helicopter gunships as they took cover.

Abdul Ghafar, 45, told AFP, a French press agency, that he lost "two
daughters and one son and two sisters" in the attack.

He and six other families fled to Regey, about 500 metres from their
village of Ishaqzai, after being warned about the imminent battle, he

Men and women took shelter in separate compounds, he said, ahead of an expected firefight between Taliban fighters and Nato troops.

"Helicopters started firing on the compound killing almost everyone
inside," he said, speaking at the Mirwais hospital in Kandahar city.

"We rushed to the house and there were eight children wounded and
around 40 to 50 others killed."

Ghafar said he took three girls and four boys to the Kandahar hospital.

"Three of the wounded are my nephews and one is my son. One of the wounded children is four years old and has lost both parents."

The British broadcaster BBC quoted villagers saying they had buried 39 people.

Isaf investigation

Civilian casualties are an incendiary topic in Afghanistan, though
surveys have shown that most are caused by Taliban attacks.

Colonel Wayne Shanks, an Isaf spokesman, said the location of the
reported deaths was "several kilometres away from where we had engaged enemy fighters".

Isaf forces had fought a battle with the Taliban, Shanks said, but an
investigation team dispatched after the casualty reports emerged "had accounted for all the rounds that were shot at the enemy".

"We found no evidence of civilian casualties," he said.

Leaked documents carried by Wikileaks, a whistleblower website, on
Sunday pointed to under-reporting of civilian casualties, which Waheed Omar, the presidential spokesman, said were a cause of concern for the Afghan government.

The Pentagon files and field reports, spanning the period from January 2004 to December 2009, detail hundreds of unreported civilian deaths caused by Nato and Taliban attacks.

"We have continuously stated that the Afghan government and Afghan
people were upset about civilian casualties," Omar told reporters,
adding that Karzai had found nothing new in the leaked documents.

The White House condemned the leaks, saying the information could
endanger US lives but also pointed to the administration's long-held
concerns about alleged links between Pakistani intelligence agents and Afghan insurgents.

Source: Agencies

Tuesday, July 27, 2010
21:47 Mecca time, 18:47 GMT

Nato denies Afghan civilian deaths

Afghan government and Nato officials have disputed each others'
accounts of reports that over 50 civilians were killed after being
caught up in fighting between foreign forces and the Taliban.

The Afghan officials said on Monday that 52 people, many women and children, were killed by a Nato-rocket attack in Sangin, Helmand
province, but Nato said an investigation had not yet revealed any
civilian casualties.

Civilian deaths caused by foreign forces are a major source of
friction between Afgan president Hamid Karzai and his Western backers, whose 150,000 troops are engaged in an increasingly bloody war with the Taliban.

The United Nations said it was "deeply concerned" at the reports and
urged a thorough investigation.

"I once again highlight the need for all sides to meet their
obligations to protect civilians," said Staffan de Mistura, the UN
Secretary-General's Special Representative.

The latest reports coincided with the publication on Monday by the
whistleblower group WikiLeaks of tens of thousands of classified U.S. documents which cast a new light on civilians caught up in what it called "the true nature of this war".

A spokesman of the Afghan government said information that 52
civilians had been killed came from the country's intelligence service
in the district.

Karzai strongly condemned the attack and asked Nato troops to
prioritise the protection of civilians in their military campaign, his
office said in a statement citing the same casualty figures for the

'No evidence'

Isaf, however, insisted that a joint investigation with the Afghan
government had so far found no evidence of civilian deaths, while a
provincial official suggested local residents could even have made it

"The villagers took the joint team to a graveyard in Regey village and
they claimed that 35 people were buried there, but the graves seemed to be old," said Dawood Ahmadi, a spokesman for the provincial governor, referring to the village where the incident is supposed to have taken place.

"The team have not found any evidence to show that the civilians were killed," he said.

"They may have been lying but we are there to find out."

There are various compensation packages for civilians caught up in the fighting, but Isaf has reported many cases of wrongful claims.

An Isaf spokeswoman said the team was still in the area, trying to
establish the truth.

"We take any civilian casualty very seriously but there was no report
of operational activity in Regey," she said.

Poor reputation

Isaf has a poor reputation among Afghans for investigating similar incidents.

In the worst attack of its kind, 140 civilians were killed in May last
year in an Isaf air strike on a village in Western Farah province,
among them 93 children and 25 women.

For days Isaf denied knowledge of the incident, and then suggested
those killed were mostly insurgents, before admitting to a much lower casualty figure.

WikiLeaks described a similar pattern with thousands of unreported
civilian deaths in the near nine-year-old war.

A report by the Afghanistan Rights Monitor said nearly 1,100 civilians
were killed in the first half of this year in Isaf-operations or
Taliban attacks.

The UN said some 2,400 civilians were killed in conflict-related
incidents last year.

Source: Agencies

Monday, July 26, 2010
18:57 Mecca time, 15:57 GMT

Afghan forces' flaws exposed

By Andrew Wander

Al Jazeera's Clayton Swisher reports from southern Afghanistan on drug use in Afghan security forces.

Afghan security forces have shot civilians, launched attacks on each
other, held drug fuelled parties and stolen vehicles in mass
desertions, leaked US military documents have revealed.

Hamid Karzai, the Afghan president, wants his forces to take
reponsibility for security in the country by 2014, but the documents,
posted on the website Wikileaks on Monday, reveal a worrying culture
of ill-discipline and incompetence within their ranks.

Dozens of reports in the slew of leaked documents describe incidents suggesting the scale of the challenge in preparing Afghan forces to take the lead in the country's security is even larger than previously thought.

The documents contain more than 70 records of so called "Green on
Green" incidents in which Afghan security forces have fought each
other rather than the Taliban.

One report, on the shootings of a logistics officer and an Afghan
intelligence officer in February last year, says that two Afghan
policemen were "conducting horseplay with their service arms when they accidently shot the NDS director... and logistics officer."

Deliberate attacks

That incident was accidental, but the documents also describe episodes where Afghan security personnel have turned their weapons on each other in anger, often as a result of disputes between the army and the police.

Fighting takes place within individual units as well. In April 2009
British troops reported that an Afghan soldier had shot his sergeant
following an argument, and in another incident, a firefight between
Afghan forces left a local civilian boy with a gunshot wound in his

Martine van Bijlert, co-director of the Afghanistan Analysts Network,
said that the reports were no surprise.

"There have been regular cases of local fights between the army and
the police, or internally between army or police units," she said.

"It's part of the current nature of the Afghan security forces; partly
a lack of discipline, small disputes that get out of hand. And
sometimes there are pre-existing conflicts that come to a head,
particularly between local forces."

Drug abuse

Some of the violence occurs after heavy drug use amongst Afghan
forces. US troops have told Al Jazeera that some Afghan soldiers are
smoking large quantities of marijuana before going out on patrol,
leaving them unable to concentrate and suffering from repeated fits of "giggles" as they move through Taliban-held territory.

One incident described in leaked documents records how a gunfight
broke out between Afghan border guards who "were high on opium and having a party," on the roof of an interpretor's accomodation.

The guards awoke the interpretor and an argument broke out. In the
ensuing gun battle one of the guards was killed after being shot in
the stomach.

Another problem revealed by the documents is the high rate of
desertion. The records show that at least 20 Afghan policemen deserted from a single post last summer, stealing vehicles in seperate incidents a fortnight apart.

Van Bijlert says some of the equipment taken during desertions has
ended up in the hands of the Taliban.

"There have definitely been reports from the field of desertions where
equipment is taken, in some cases the guns and cars are handed over to the insurgency," she said, adding that Karzai's timetable for Afghan forces taking control could be affected by the release of the

Timetable affected?

"There is a danger with tight timetables that the picture is made
rosier than it is, in order to argue that things are on track. That
might have become a bit harder, now that these documents are out
there. They don't just show how things are, but also what the military
and the administration knows."

More than $27 billion has been invested in Afghan security forces and revelations will come as a major concern to countries with troops in Afghanistan, many of whom have endorsed Karzai's handover plan.

David Cameron, the British prime minister, has explicitly linked the
outcome of the war with the degree to which Afghan security forces are able to take responsibility for the country.

"Victory in this war is being able to hand over to an Afghan
government and an Afghan army and police force that are capable of
securing their own country," he said last week.

Source: Al Jazeera

Saturday, July 24, 2010
07:49 Mecca time, 04:49 GMT

'US drones' hit Pakistan compound

South Waziristan was the scene of a major Pakistani offensive against Taliban last year

Suspected US drones have fired missiles into a compound used by
anti-government fighters in Pakistan's northwestern tribal belt,
killing at least 16 people, officials said.

The missile strike on Saturday morning occurred in the Angoor Ada area of South Waziristan, official sources told Al Jazeera.

Agence France-Presse, citing an unnamed Pakistani security official,
reported that two US drone aircraft had executed the strike, firing
four missiles.

Intelligence officials in Wana, South Waziristan's main town, and
Peshawar also confirmed the attack.

South Waziristan was the scene of a major Pakistani assault last year. It became the focus of the Pakistani military's offensive against
Taliban sympathisers after earlier assaults in the Swat valley and

US drone strikes are unpopular in Pakistan and the government in
Islamabad has repeatedly urged Washington to end them.

Pakistan says the attacks kill civilians, stoking resentment among the local population and thus prove to be counter-productive in the battle against armed groups. The attacks also undermine Pakistani
sovereignty, Islamabad says.

But the US has persisted with the drone attacks, saying they were
effective means to deal with Taliban and al-Qaeda fighters operating
in Pakistan's border areas with Afghanistan.

Source: Al Jazeera and agencies

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