Monday, July 26, 2010

Death, lies and profits for some

THE Afghan government has accused NATO forces of carrying out a rocket attack killing Afghan villagers who were trying hide from the firing line between NATO and Taliban. The report of the incident in Helmand province comes as a collection of 92,000 classified documents obtained by the Wikileaks internet site has embarrassed politicians, military top-brass and intelligence services by revealing aspects of the Afghan war that they have tried to hide.

These include:
* Attacks by NATO forces on civilians
* Much higher civilian casualties from both Taliban and NATO attacks than were officially admitted.
* The operation of a US-led special unit charged with tracking down and killing individuals on a hit list.
* Alleged continuing support to Taliban from Pakistan intelligence services.
* Taliban has successfully used surface to air missiles to bring down military aircraft.

Much of the material on killing of civilians will come as little surprise to those who have been opposing the war in Afghanistan. But what it shows up sharply is the difference between the realities of this war and the picture given by official sources, of "our boys and girls", along with our gallant allies, protecting the Afghan people and helping them achieve a new life.

One of the incidents described took place on March 4, 2007 involving a convoy of US marines, who had arrived in Afghanistan three weeks earlier. Hit by an explosives-rigged minivan outside the city of Jalalabad, the marines made off in a panic, down a six mile stretch of highway, firing with automatic weapons at almost anyone they saw – teenage girls in fields, motorists in their cars, old men as they walked along the road. Nineteen unarmed civilians were killed and 50 wounded.

The marines' own account claims that, simultaneous to the suicide explosion, "the patrol received small arms fire from three directions". The rampage as they drove away is captured in five words: "The patrol returned to JAF [Jalalabad air field]." Forty-nine minutes after the initial bombing, they requested a "routine medevac" for a private with "shrapnel wounds to the arm". Their only casualty. He was evacuated to safety.

Journalists who tried to report what actually happened had their cameras snatched by angry marines. Rahmat Gul, a freelance photographer working for the Associated Press, said two soldiers and a translator came up to him and asked: "Why are you taking pictures? You don't have permission." Then they deleted his photographs. Later, Gul said, one of the soldiers came up to him and raised his arm, as if to hit him. Taqiullah Taqi, a reporter for the private Tolo TV channel, said the Americans told him through a translator: "Delete them, or we will delete you."

Nine hours after the shooting, the governor of Nangarhar province appealed to the marines to stay at home. "He did not want more CF [coalition forces] in the area due to public hostility." At about the same time the Americans stopped issuing internal reports. "Event closed at 1349Z" it read. But that was not the end of the affair.

Demonstrations ran through the streets of Jalalabad over the following days, the logs report, in which protesters broke windows and blocked roads. A month later, in April 2007, the Afghan Human Rights Commission published a report into the shooting which said the victims included a 16-year-old newlywed girl carrying a bundle of grass and a 75-year-old man walking back from the shops. The report said the marines may have come under fire from one source straight after the suicide bomb but challenged the assertion they suffered a "complex ambush from several directions".

By then a US army colonel had admitted to the Afghans that the shootings were a "terrible, terrible mistake" and "a stain on our honour". He paid $2,000 to the families of each victim. The special forces commander in Afghanistan, Major General Francis Kearney, ordered the marines to pull the 120-man company out of the country. But there would be no punishment. The marines, angered by the criticism of their unit by an army commander, held their own inquiry into the shootings and issued their findings a year later. It exonerated the marines. The troops "acted appropriately and in accordance with the rules of engagement … in response to a complex attack," said Major General Samuel Helland, the commander of marine forces in the Middle East and Afghanistan.

In other incidents described, Polish troops took "revenge" for a Taliban attack by mortaring an Afghan wedding party. German planes attacked two fuel tankers, in what was supposed to be an attack on guerrillas, but actually killed over 100 civilians who were queuing for for fuel.

The Obama administration would like to argue that the Wikileaks documents only go up to the end of last year, and the issues can be laid at the door of the Bush administration. There are supposed to be new rules of engagement to reduce civilian casualties. But the latest incident reported by the Afghan government only happened on Friday, at Regey village. £The investigation shows that the rocket was fired by Nato and 45 civilians, many of them women and children, have been killed," Siyamak Herawi told Reuters. Some reports said the toll was as high as 52, including 17 women and seven children.

He did not say what nationality the troops were. But the incident happened in Sangin, the district where British forces have come under attack and are soon to withdraw. The British forces are coming under US command.

What is most sickening is that the response of those in authority both sides of the Atlantic is to express outrage - not at the crimes committed against the Afghan people but at the "crime" of revealing the truth. White House national security adviser General Jim Jones claimed the documents "put the lives of Americans and our partners at risk." He attempted to absolve the Obama administration of any guilt, pointing out that the documents described a period from January 2004 to December 2009, mostly during President George W Bush's administration.

On BBC news this morning David Cameron's Security minister, Baroness Pauline Neville -Jones said the documents could have come from leaks or been obtained by hacking, but either way revealing secret information like this could endanger "your sons and mine".

This is a woman who has done well out of wars. A former chair of the joint intelligence committee she served Tory Douglas (now Lord) Hurd when he was Foreign Secretary, and met Serbian leader Slobodan Milosevic at the Dayton talks ending the war in Bosnia. Later she went to Belgrade together with Hurd, on behalf of Nat West Markets, to help Milosevic in the sale of Serbian telecomms. The deal they brokered was later undone, by which time Milosevic was to die in his cell at the Hague, but NatWest had made £10 million, and Hurd and Neville-Jones were well remunerated for their part in this.

Neville-Jones next became a governor of the BBC, and director Greg Dyke blamed her for bringing about his resignation over the David Kelly affair, concerned with what the Blair government really knew when it went to war with Iraq. Evidently she saw no conflict of interest between her duties at the BBC and being paid £133,000 a year as chair of the defence research and equipment contractor Qinetiq. Taking advantage of share options she made a further £400,000 as Qinetiq was taken over by the US-based Carlyle Group.

So what kind of secrets are people like Baroness Pauline Neville-Jones or the generals concerned with guarding? Do they really fear the leaks will endanger British troops, or is it something else they fear?

As today's Morning Star asked:

'Do they think that Afghans have been unaware of misdirected "precision bombs," of wedding parties being wiped out as Taliban gatherings, of civilian buses, lorries and cars being riddled with bullets by jittery troops or of Nato assassination units causing a high level of "collateral damage?"

Is it plausible that Afghan opponents of the US occupation know nothing of the sophisticated, shoulder-mounted surface-to-air rockets deployed by Taliban forces against coalition helicopters?

The Afghan people are well aware of the ongoing slaughter and, even though civilian deaths have been caused by both Nato and Taliban actions, they blame the invaders for the conflict and for their losses.

While up-to-date casualty figures for each national contingent of Washington's coalition of the complicit are readily available, we shall probably never know the true extent of Afghan civilian deaths. Afghans are as expendable as Iraqis, for, as US General Tommy Franks noted when asked about the civilian death toll as a result of the 2002 invasion "We don't do body counts."

The point about inadequate news and deliberate disinformation fed to the media by Nato military spokespeople is that their role is not to mislead Afghans - whether civilians or military resistance - but to bamboozle domestic audiences.'

Whereas the BP explosion and oil spill killed workers, destroyed innocent wildlife and ruined the livelihoods of hard-working fisher folk and others, the Wikileak explosion threatens the guilty politicians and others who have lied to us, and could ruin the careers of some warmongers.

Profiting from Proxy War in Africa

From a war in which British forces are all too involved, to a proxy war, in which other people do the fighting and get killed, while governments like ours pretend to disapprove and have no interest. A charity says the British government has been covering up.

Global Witness is taking HM government to court, alleging that a number of British companies known to have been trading in minerals sourced from the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) should have been put forward to the UN Sanctions Committee.

UN security council resolution 1857, passed in 2008, calls for a travel ban and asset freeze to be imposed on all individuals and entities supporting illegal armed groups in the eastern DRC through the illicit trade of natural resources. It was backed up and strengthened by resolution 1896, passed in 2009.

Global Witness campaigns director Gavin Hayman said: "It is a sad day when we have to sue the UK government, but we hope that this case will mark a turning point. The issues at stake have global significance for how wars are financed.

"These companies have profited from a brutal conflict, and should face UN sanctions - but sanctions are useless without a fair and clear government procedure for considering whether individuals or entities should be listed."

Global Witness and the UN group of experts have obtained evidence to show that British companies have supported armed groups by purchasing minerals from areas under their control in the DRC.

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