Hearts, minds and the same old warlords

big strategy founders on corruption and tribalism

Published on Le Monde Diplo, by Stephen Grey, July 2010.

Go up close to what’s happening in Afghanistan – for example, in the city of Kandahar – and you find crime, corruption, tribal conflict and ordinary people powerless to resist the armed might of the militias. No happy ending is in sight … //

…Who is in control?

If not the Taliban, who is really in control? Nervous local journalists recall a reporter, Jawed “Jojo” Ahmad Jojo, who asked too many questions about militias and their links to Americans. They claimed that first he was sent to Bagram airbase, then he was released but wouldn’t keep his mouth shut. So eventually he was killed, not far from our hotel.

The reporters also mentioned a colleague, Abdul Samad Rohani, a BBC stringer in Lashkah Gah, the capital of neighbouring Helmand. He was digging into the connections between the Afghan police, local militias and the drugs trade. The police chief at the time was said to have warned him off. Then he was killed.

But there is no proof of these connections. We tried to find out about the most notorious crime committed by a militia in Kandahar, the murder in June 2009 of the chief of police, Matiullah Qateh. It was officially investigated by a prosecutor based in Kabul and that has provided rare clarity about a militia force known as the Kandahar Strike Force.

This is what we discovered: Qateh was gunned down in broad daylight along with other senior policemen, by a militia, based at the US Special Forces and CIA base known as Camp Gecko, around the former home of the Taliban supreme leader, Mullah Omar. The militia had gone with US-supplied uniforms, weapons and vehicles to a local courthouse to try to force prosecutors to release one of their members from jail. 
Brigadier-General Ghulam Ranjbar, a senior military prosecutor in Kabul who investigated the case, told us he had issued an arrest warrant for a US Special Forces commander, known only to him as “John” or “Jonny”. He said all the militia members arrested after the killing had claimed Jonny sanctioned the raid to free their imprisoned comrade. (He did not suggest the Americans ordered or approved the killings, but said they were guilty of creating an outlaw unit and had refused to cooperate with his investigation.)

According to his investigation, and other witnesses in Kandahar, the militia from Camp Gecko could never have left the base in full uniform unless their mission had been approved. But a US spokesman said: “No US or coalition forces were involved in the attack; the guards were not acting on behalf of US or international forces.”

Ranjbar said: “If you go to Kandahar, people say these guys pretend to be interpreters but carry out night raids and assassinations.” And the militia who carried out the raid were not just a team of guards from Camp Gecko. Instead the men involved claimed to be integrated into Special Force activities, participating in arrest raids on enemy targets by day or night.

We had been told about a more recent death, of a young man, Janan Abdullah, 23, who was killed by grenade and gunfire, and his wife paralysed, during a raid last November led by American soldiers, according to Abdullah’s family. They said the Afghans did the shooting. “We were surprised. It was our own people – Pashtuns – doing this to us. They were so cruel to us. We thought not even the Americans can be this cruel. It was those from our own country doing this to us.”

The family said they had no idea why their home or Janan was targeted. They heard later it was a mistake. A US spokesman could find no record of the incident. But the independent human rights investigators who studied the case linked the force involved to Camp Gecko. This was also where injured family members were taken.

Every place has a king: … (full long text).

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