The Wrong Occupation

by Kathy Kelly

October 20, 2011

In Kabul, Afghanistan’s beleaguered capitol city, a young woman befriended me during December of 2010.  She was eager to talk about her views, help us better understand the history of her country, and form lasting relationships.  Now, she is too frightened to return a phone call from visiting westerners.  The last time I saw her, during the spring of 2011, she was extremely anxious because, weeks earlier, U.S. Joint Special Operations Commandos (JSOC) had arrested her brother-in-law. The family has no idea how to find him. Once, someone working for the International Commission of the Red Cross called the family to say that he was still alive and in the custody of the International Security Assistance Forces, (ISAF).  Numerous families in Afghanistan experience similar misery and fear after night raids that effectively “disappear” family members who are held incommunicado and sometimes turned over to Afghan National Police or the dreaded National Directorate of Security, (NDS).

An October 22, 2011 New York Times report about the findings of UN researchers who interviewed 324 Afghans detained by security forces, found that half of those who were in detention sites run by the NDS told of torture which included beatings, twisting of genitals, stress positions, suspension, and threatened sexual assault.  Of the 324 interviewed, 89 had been handed over to the Afghan intelligence service or the police by U.S./NATO international military forces.

Even though high commanders in the ranks of the U.S. JSOC acknowledge that 50% of the time the night raids and drone attacks “get” the wrong person, (Washington Post, September 3, 2011), the U.S. war planners have steadily escalated reliance on these tactics.

Consider the killing of three brothers in the Nemati family who lived in the Sayyidabad village in Afghanistan’s Wardak province.  Ismail, age 25, and Buranullah, age 23, had returned from their studies in Kabul to celebrate the start of Ramadan with their family in August of 2010. With their brother Faridullah, age 17, they went to the family guest room to study for exams.  They were joined by their younger brother, Wahidullah, age 13.

An initial U.S. military press release on August 12th, 2010, indicated that U.S. forces had captured an important Taliban figure nearby and had taken fire from the Nemati home where they believed Taliban fighters were being hosted as guests. Indeed, two Taliban fighters had stopped at the home two days earlier, asking for food.  Fearful of repercussions if they didn’t feed them, the family had given them food.

Continue reading “The Wrong Occupation”

More Lost by the Second

by Kathy Kelly

Afghan women and children wait as U.S. Special Operations forces and Afghan soldiers search their home during a night raid in Farah province. (Associated Press)

It’s a bit odd to me that with my sense of geographical direction I’m ever regarded as a leader to guide groups in foreign travel.  I’m recalling a steaming hot night in Lahore, Pakistan when Josh Brollier and I, having enjoyed a lengthy dinner with Lahore University students, needed to head back to the guest lodgings graciously provided us by a headmaster of the Garrison School for Boys.  We had boarded a rickshaw, but the driver had soon become terribly lost and with my spotty sense of direction and my complete ignorance of Urdu, I couldn’t be any help. My cell phone was out of juice, and I was uncertain anyway of the needed phone number. I bumped and jostled in the back seat of the rickshaw, next to Josh, as we embarked on a nightmare of travel over unpaved, rutted roads in dizzying traffic until finally the rickshaw driver spotted a sign belonging to our school – the wrong campus, we all knew – and eager to unload us, roused the inhabitants and hustled us and our bags into the street before moving on.

We stood inside the gate, staring blankly at a family that had been sound asleep on cots in the courtyard.  In no time, the father of the family scooped up his two children, gently moving them to the cot he shared with his wife so that Josh and I would have a cot on which to sit.  Then he and his spouse disappeared into their humble living quarters. He reappeared with a fan and an extension cord, wanting to give us some relief from the blistering night heat.  His wife emerged carrying a glass of tea for each of us.  They didn’t know us from Adam’s house cat, but they were treating us as family – the celebrated but always astonishing hospitality that we’d encountered in the region so many times before.  Eventually, we established with our host that we were indeed at the wrong campus, upon which he called the family that had been nervously waiting for our errant selves.

This courtyard scene of startling hospitality would return to my mind when we all learned of the U.S. Joint Special Operations (JSO) Force night raid in the Nangarhar province, on May 12, 2011. No matter which side of the Afghanistan/Pakistan border you are on, suffocating hot temperatures prevail day and night during these hot months.  It’s normal for people to sleep in their courtyards.  How could anyone living in the region not know this?  Yet the U.S. JSO forces that came in the middle of the night to the home of a 12 year old girl, Nilofer, who had been asleep on her cot in the courtyard, began their raid by throwing a grenade into the courtyard, landing at Nilofer’s head.  She died instantly.  Nilofer’s uncle raced into the courtyard. He worked with the Afghan Local Police, and they had told him not to join that night’s patrol because he didn’t know much about the village they would go to, so he had instead gone to his brother’s home.  When he heard the grenade explode, he may well have presumed the Taliban were attacking the home.  U.S. troops killed him as soon as they saw him.  Later, NATO issued an apology.

Continue reading “More Lost by the Second”

More Afghan Casualties of War in Laghman Province

On September 25 the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) claimed that they had killed at least 30 “insurgents” in Afghanistan’s eastern Laghman province with an air and ground assault. After widespread reports from villagers that the “insurgents” were actually civilians, consequent investigations are expected to reveal that the villagers were telling the truth.

“Americans Don’t Flinch” – They Duck!

by Kathy Kelly and Dan Pearson

June 24, 2010

Yesterday, accepting General McChrystal’s resignation, President Obama said that McChrystal’s departure represented a change in personnel, not a change in policy. “Americans don’t flinch in the face of difficult truths or difficult tasks.” he stated, “We persist and we persevere.”

Yet, President Obama and the U.S. people don’t face up to the ugly truth that, in Afghanistan, the U.S. has routinely committed atrocities against innocent civilians. By ducking that truth, the U.S. reinforces a sense of exceptionalism, which, in other parts of the world, causes resentment and antagonism.

While on the campaign trail and since taking office, President Obama has persistently emphasized his view that attacks against civilians are always criminal, unless the U.S. is the attacker, in which case they are justified. We heard this again, yesterday, as the President assured the U.S. people that we will persevere in Afghanistan. “We will not tolerate a safe haven for terrorists who want to destroy Afghan security from within, and launch attacks against innocent men, women, and children in our country and around the world.”

In considering the security of Afghan civilians, it’s crucial to ask why, on May 12, 2009, General McChrystal was selected to replace General McKiernan as the top general in Afghanistan. News reports said it was because he had experience in coordinating special operations in Iraq. That experience involved developing death squads, planning night raids, and coordinating undercover assassinations. McChrystal proved, since his appointment, that he could organize atrocities against Afghan civilians and simultaneously present himself as a protector of Afghan civilians. In doing so, he relied on collaboration and cooperation from Defense Secretary Gates, General Petraeus and President Obama. They are united in their culpability.

Continue reading ““Americans Don’t Flinch” – They Duck!”