AntiWar.com & Mirwais Harooni / Reuters & Matthew Rosenberg / The New York Times – 2014-01-27 00:00:44
US Riled as Afghan Report
Details Civilian Deaths in Air Strikes
Jason Ditz / AntiWar.com
(January 25, 2014) — The Karzai government his issued a new report [See story below] detailing its on-the-ground findings in the January 15 US air strikes in Parwan, fueling anger among US and NATO officials and warnings of “growing doubts” about Karzai’s fitness to rule.
The report is in keeping with previous statements from officials involved in the probe, confirming the eight hours of US air strikes killed at least 12 civilians, and potentially as many as 17. NATO initially put the figure at zero, but revised it to two the day of the attack. They also promised investigations but haven’t issued any new statements.
And while plenty of Afghans are mad about the civilian deaths, that anger seems to pale in comparison to US anger about those deaths being publicized.
There is no real dispute of the facts among Western diplomats, but they are complaining that the report sounds similar to the narrative of Taliban statements about the US strike, and reflects the Karzai government’s hostility toward the occupation forces.
“We have a lot of Afghans in the government who want us to leave,” complained one EU diplomat. “I think we’re all beginning to realize that.”
Karzai used the report as an opportunity to reiterate his opposition to a Bilateral Security Agreement (BSA) that would keep the occupation going “through 2025 and beyond.” Karzai added in a statement that he wants the US to start peace talks with the Taliban, or failing that to just leave outright.
Afghan President Says US Should
Start talks with Taliban or Leave
Mirwais Harooni / Reuters
KABUL (January 25, 2014) — President Hamid Karzai appeared to stiffen his resolve on Saturday not to sign a security pact with Washington, saying the United States should leave Afghanistan unless it could restart peace talks with the Taliban.
“In exchange for this agreement, we want peace for the people of Afghanistan. Otherwise, it’s better for them to leave and our country will find its own way,” Karzai told a news conference.
The president said pressing ahead with talks with the Taliban, in power from 1996-2001, was critical to ensure that Afghanistan was not left with a weak central government.
“Starting peace talks is a condition because we want to be confident that after the signing of the security agreement, Afghanistan will not be divided into fiefdoms,” he said.
Most diplomats now agree that Karzai is unlikely to sign the Bilateral Security Agreement (BSA) that would allow for some form of US military presence in Afghanistan after the end of 2014, when most troops are due to leave.
Along with reviving peace talks with the Taliban, Karzai is also demanding an end to all US military operations on Afghan homes and villages, including strikes by pilotless trones.
The United States has threatened to pull all of its troops out unless a deal is signed in good time, but embassies are examining alternative solutions behind the scenes that would enable the NATO-led mission to remain.
Karzai’s defiant tone struck a chord with those in the West who have already decided that further discussion with the Afghan president may be pointless and waiting for his successor to be elected is the best option.
“The more people speak about it being signed after the election, the more irrelevant he becomes,” said one diplomat. “Sad as it is, we might have to bank on the next guy.”
But representatives from some countries say this would not leave enough time for them to prepare for a post-2014 mission. Afghans are due to vote in a presidential election on April 5, but it could take weeks for Karzai’s successor to assume power if a run-off round is required.
Karzai initially agreed to a text of the pact in November and an assembly of elders called on him to sign it. But he has since refused to sign.
In his comments to reporters, the Afghan president also denounced the use of advertising — some paid for by the United States — that lobbies for signature of the BSA.
“To harm the psyche and soul of the people of Afghanistan, there is serious propaganda going on,” said Karzai, referring to the advertisements broadcast for weeks by local media but now taken off the air.
“No pressure, no threat, no psychological war can force us to sign the BSA. If they want to leave, they should leave today. We will continue our living.”
False Claims in Afghan Accusations on US Raid
Add to Doubts on Karzai
Matthew Rosenberg / The New York Times
KABUL, Afghanistan (January 26, 2014) — It was the kind of dossier that the Taliban often publish, purporting to show the carnage inflicted during a raid by American forces: photographs of shattered houses and bloodied, broken bodies, and video images of anguish at a village funeral, all with gut-churning impact and no proof of authenticity.
But this time, it was the government of President Hamid Karzai that was handing out the inflammatory dossier, the product of a commission’s investigation into airstrikes on Jan. 15 on a remote village and the supposed American cover-up that followed.
In an apparent effort to demonize their American backers, a coterie of Afghan officials appears to have crossed a line that deeply troubles Western officials here: They falsely represented at least some of the evidence in the dossier, and distributed other material whose provenance, at best, could not be determined.
An examination of the dossier by The New York Times also revealed that much of the same material was posted on a Taliban website last week, a rare instance of the militant group’s political speech matching that of the government it is fighting to topple.
Mr. Karzai’s growing antipathy toward the United States is no secret, and civilian casualties have proved to be one of the most corrosive issues between the allies. Yet the photographs and the video, handed out by Mr. Karzai’s office last week, have injected a new level of vitriol into the relationship and shown how the Karzai government’s political speech has been increasingly mirroring that of the Taliban — including the insurgents’ habit of twisting facts, or simply making them up when necessary.
The purpose of the dossier, according to other Afghan officials, was to justify Mr. Karzai’s stalling on signing a long-term security agreement with the United States and to improve the chances for peace talks with the Taliban by showing that he is no American stooge, as the insurgents have often derided him.
For American and European officials, the episode has reinforced a growing sense that for all the talk of securing an enduring partnership, Mr. Karzai may have no intention of ever signing the security agreement. Without an agreement, the Obama administration has said, it will pull American forces from Afghanistan when the NATO combat mission here ends this year.
“There is no overall partnership,” a European diplomat said. “We have some Afghan partners, and we have a lot of Afghans in the government who want us to leave. I think we’re all beginning to realize that.”
The troubled relationship with Mr. Karzai has worsened to a point where the Afghan leader, in his public statements, seems to blame the United States for the war with the Taliban. He often portrays American intransigence as the main obstacle to peace, not the Taliban’s unwillingness.
The sentiment underpinned a statement Mr. Karzai made on Jan. 18 after the insurgents attacked a restaurant in Kabul popular with Western civilians, killing 21 people. He drew equivalence between the restaurant attack and the latest airstrikes, using the opportunity as a chance to castigate the United States along with the Taliban.
Speaking to reporters on Saturday, Mr. Karzai implied that Americans wanted the security deal to keep the war here going. He could not agree to any deal, he said, if Americans “expect Afghanistan to continue as a semi-war zone for many years to come.”
He cited the dossier to drive home his point. “Did you see the video?” he said. “Did you see the woman whose face was missing? She was a member of this nation.”
Mr. Karzai’s remarks seemed in line with what Afghan officials close to the president say is his current habit of seeking out negative information about the Americans, and often disregarding more neutral or positive reports. One official said he has told advisers that the United States is ultimately responsible for all Afghan deaths, even though the vast majority of civilian casualties come in Taliban attacks, according to the United Nations.
Western officials and some Afghan have begun to push back. On Jan. 17, after the lead Afghan investigator looking into the airstrikes said at least 14 civilians had been killed, Abdul Basir Salangi, the governor of Parwan Province, where the strikes took place, offered a blunt retort. He said the death toll was in the single digits and those claiming higher deaths tolls were “supporters of the Taliban.”
No one disputes that civilians died in the airstrikes, which hit Wazghar, a remote village in a valley thick with Taliban fighters. But more than a week after the raid, the death tolls offered by the American-led coalition and the Afghan government differ starkly, as do their accounts of how the civilians died.
The operation was planned and led by the Afghan Army, American officials have repeatedly emphasized. They said the airstrikes were necessary to save dozens of Afghan commandos and a handful of American advisers who were pinned down by heavy Taliban fire; an American and an Afghan had already been killed in the action.
The airstrikes destroyed the two compounds producing the heaviest Taliban fire, and two children were killed in one of the houses, they said.
By contrast, the Afghan commission appointed by Mr. Karzai to investigate the raid described the action as primarily American, with roughly eight hours of indiscriminate and unprovoked bombing followed by a house-to-house rampage by American soldiers. The commission has said that it can prove that 12 civilians were killed, and that there were indications of two to five additional civilian deaths.
“Villagers on the streets and even inside their houses were shot,” said Abdul Satar Khawasi, a member of Parliament from the area who led the investigation. “Ten houses were destroyed.”
He said the bulk of the evidence came from two sources: accounts given by villagers, and the photographs and video that were distributed last Sunday by Mr. Karzai’s office.
No commission members appear to have actually visited Wazghar. Instead, Mr. Khawasi sent his driver and a bodyguard to conduct the interviews and take photographs and video, according to Mr. Salangi, the provincial governor.
But at least two of the images distributed in the dossier could not have shown casualties from the Wazghar strikes, because the photos are more than three years old.
One was taken at the funeral of victims of a NATO airstrike in northern Afghanistan in 2009, which killed at least 70 civilians. It was distributed by Agence France-Presse and Getty Images and published in The Times on Sept. 5, 2009, along with an article about the airstrike.
The origins of the second misrepresented photograph are murkier. It shows the bodies of two boys wrapped in burial shrouds, and has been used for years on websites assailing civilian deaths in American drone strikes in Pakistan.
Now both the Afghan government and the Taliban are using it: It was posted on the Taliban’s website two days before the government began handing out a CD-ROM with images said to be from Wazghar.
Aimal Faizi, a spokesman for Mr. Karzai, said the commission assembled the dossier and a reporter’s query was “the first time I am hearing” that some of the material was misrepresented.
American officials would say only that they thought the doubts about the dossier spoke for themselves.
The CD-ROM contains nine other photographs, all of which appear to be frames from a video clip on the disk. The video purports to show the funeral of villagers who were killed in the airstrikes and houses that were destroyed. The graphic images include some of a woman whose face is gone.
The Times’ examination found no physical clues in the video that would help determine where or when it was shot. The file’s creation date is Dec. 18, nearly a month before the raid, though it may not be accurate; digital time stamps on the accompanying photos say they were created in April 2014, and the video’s embedded data could be similarly unreliable.
Even if the video is actually of a funeral in Wazghar, some Afghan and Western officials said there was no way to tell from it whether an airstrike or some other gunfire or explosion had killed the people seen being buried, or who was responsible.
“There wasn’t an investigation,” said one commission member, who requested anonymity to avoid being seen to publicly challenge Mr. Karzai.
The commissioner said some officials complained to Mr. Karzai about the inquiry’s conduct and conclusions, but he dismissed their objections in favor of Mr. Khawasi’s account. “The president himself knows who is biased,” the commissioner said.
He was referring to Mr. Khawasi’s well-documented anti-American sentiments. In a video recorded two years ago, for instance, Mr. Khawasi is heard urging a crowd of angry Afghans to wage a holy war against Americans, saying, “Anyone who sits silent is a traitor.”
Briefing reporters last week about his investigation, Mr. Khawasi called the airstrikes “cowardly bombardment.” Americans, he said, “are heartless people.”
The Taliban have since posted the purported funeral video on their website. The civilians were “killed mercilessly,” the narrator says, and the images of the bodies show “actions that have documented American savagery.”
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