Karzai Expels US Troops as Drone Killings Soar over Afghanistan

February 25th, 2013 - by admin

Jason Ditz / AntiWar.com & Shashank Bengali and David S. Cloud / Seattle Times-Tribune – 2013-02-25 00:49:45

US Special Forces Ousted From Afghan Province Over Torture

US Special Forces Ousted From Afghan Province Over Torture
Jason Ditz / AntiWar.com

(February 24, 2013) — Afghan President Hamid Karzai has ordered all US special forces out of the Wardak Province today after probes into torture and “disappearances” of innocent civilians turned up evidence of US involvement.

“It became clear that armed individuals named as US special force stationed in Wardak province engage in harassing, annoying, torturing and even murdering innocent people,” Karzai said in a statement issued on the decision.

The probe centered on nine “disappeared” civilians, as well as a student taken from his home in a night raid and found dead two days later, his body showing signs of intense torture.

The US initially denied conducting the night raid in question, but has since said that it will not provide any additional comments on the Wardak cases until they consult more with the Karzai government.

US Drone Strikes Soaring in Afghanistan
Jason Ditz / AntiWar.com

(February 24, 2013) — As US troop levels are reduced and troops are actually now banned from at least one province, the occupation of Afghanistan is said to be “transitioning.” But to what, exactly?

The figures on 2012 attacks suggest that increasingly, Afghanistan is becoming a “drone war,” with a 72 percent increase in the number of drone strikes inside Afghanistan from 2011 to 2012, meaning drones now account for 12 percent of all air strikes in the occupied nation.

Officials attributed the growth in the number of drone strikes to an increase in the number of armed drones in Afghanistan, which suggests that so long as they have the weapons they’re going to find a way to use them. Though still a small number overall, drone strikes are killing several times more civilian bystanders than in recent years as well.

Which is probably to be expected. As US ground troops are engaged in less and less combat, and as night raids are gradually phased out, the US is going to rely more on its air power in regions it doesn’t directly control, and that is going to mean more and more drone strikes, with all of the same problems seen in Pakistan and Yemen.

US Drone Strikes Up Sharply in Afghanistan
Shashank Bengali and David S. Cloud / Seattle Times-Tribune

KABUL, Afghanistan (February 23, 2013) — One morning recently, a teenager named Bacha Zarina was collecting firewood on her family’s farm in eastern Afghanistan. About 30 yards away, as relatives recall, two Taliban commanders stood outside a house.

A missile screamed down from the sky, killing the two men instantly. Two chunks of shrapnel flew at Bacha Zarina and lodged in her left side.

Her family took her to the nearest hospital, a half-hour drive away, but she died en route, an accidental victim of the rapidly escalating US-led campaign of drone strikes in Afghanistan. She was 14 or 15 years old.

The US military launched 506 strikes from unmanned aircraft in Afghanistan last year, according to Pentagon data, a 72 percent increase from 2011 and a sign that US commanders may begin to rely more heavily on remote-controlled air power to kill Taliban insurgents as they reduce the number of troops on the ground.

Though drone strikes represented a fraction of all US air attacks in Afghanistan last year, their use is rising even as American troops have pulled back from ground and air operations and pushed Afghan soldiers and police into the lead. In 2011, drone strikes accounted for 5 percent of US air attacks in Afghanistan; in 2012, the figure rose to 12 percent.

Military spokesmen in Kabul and at the Pentagon declined to explain the increase. But officers familiar with the operation said it was due, in part, to the growing number of armed Reaper and Predator drones in Afghanistan and better availability of live video feeds beamed directly to troops on the ground.

The increase has coincided with a shift by the Obama administration toward a new strategy in Afghanistan that relies on a smaller military footprint to go after the Taliban and remaining al-Qaida fighters.

The use of armed drones is likely to accelerate as most of the 66,000 US troops in the country are due to withdraw by the end of 2014. The remotely piloted long-range aircraft, which kill targets with virtually no risk to US lives, carry an unmistakable attraction for military commanders.

“With fewer troops, and even with fewer manned aircraft flying overhead, it’s harder to get traditional support in combat missions,” said Joshua Foust, a Washington, D.C.-based analyst who has advised the US military in Afghanistan. “Drones provide a good way to do that without importing a bunch of pilots and the support infrastructure they’d need to remain based there.”

The strategy isn’t without risk: Drone strikes can kill civilians, as illustrated by the Sept. 23 strike that killed Bacha Zarina.

After Marine Gen. John Allen, the former coalition commander, issued an order limiting airstrikes in populated areas last year, US and NATO forces reduced civilian casualties in air attacks by 42 percent in 2012, according to U.N. figures.

But after an airstrike this month that reportedly killed 10 civilians in addition to four Taliban leaders, Afghan President Hamid Karzai banned his forces from requesting coalition airstrikes in residential areas, a decree that also would apply to drones.

Defenders of drones say they are more accurate and less prone to causing civilian casualties than manned aircraft, because they can watch a potential target longer and often use smaller munitions.

When civilians are inadvertently killed, it is sometimes because they are near where an airstrike is carried out, one US officer said. But there also are instances when troops on the ground mistakenly call for an airstrike against a target where only civilians are present.

The US military has acknowledged multiple times that it has accidentally killed civilians in drone strikes, including in 2010, when 24 Afghans were killed in Uruzgan province after being mistaken for insurgents, based on drone camera images. They were later determined to be noncombatants.

Last year, five coalition drone strikes killed 16 civilians and injured three, according to the U.N. mission in Afghanistan, which documented just one such incident in 2011. It wasn’t clear whether those were strikes from US drones; Britain’s Royal Air Force also flies armed Reaper drones in Afghanistan, although the vast majority of the coalition’s unmanned aircraft belong to the US

Many of the recent strikes have hit eastern Afghanistan, where Taliban insurgents retain control of many villages. In Marawara district of Kunar province, where Bacha Zarina lived, the two Taliban commanders killed in the Sept. 23 strike led a group of hard-line fighters who had banned cigarettes and shaving for men, littered the area with roadside bombs, and threatened to kill Afghans who worked for the US military at an outpost an hour’s drive away, villagers said.

The Obama administration has come under increasing pressure from Congress to disclose details and legal underpinnings for drone strikes, especially a 2011 attack that killed Anwar al-Awlaki, an American citizen and a leader of the group al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula.

Last week, Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., said US drone strikes worldwide had killed 4,700 people, the first public estimate of the death toll by a US official since the attacks began early in the George W. Bush administration.

“Sometimes you hit innocent people, and I hate that, but we’re at war, and we’ve taken out some very senior members of al-Qaida,” Graham told the Easley Rotary Club in South Carolina, according to news reports.

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