Daily Times (Pakistan) : Afghans see mounting attacks, civilian deaths as NATO failure

Monday, October 29, 2007

Afghans see mounting attacks, civilian deaths as NATO failure

* Taliban using roadside explosions, suicide attacks to target troops
* ‘Unwarranted house searches’ creating bad blood between troops and civilians

By Daud Khattak | October 28, 2007

KABUL: Scared of the increasing number of attacks on Afghan and foreign troops, NGO workers and government officials, kidnapping of foreigners, and the growing number of civilian casualties in military operations by emboldened Taliban rebels, many Afghans are questioning the role of NATO and the US-led coalition in bringing peace and stability to their country.

While the fledgling Afghan police and army are an easy target for militants in volatile southern and southeastern parts of the country, the well-armed NATO and US-led Coalition troops, numbering around 50,000, are not safe either inside their bases.

New tool: Copying tactics from Iraqi insurgents, Taliban in Afghanistan are now using roadside explosions and suicide attacks to target foreign and local troops instead of engaging in direct conflict.

The kidnapping of two Germans - one of them was later killed and the other freed recently - in July from the Jaghato district of Maidan Wardak, 40 kilometres south of Kabul, and that of 23 Koreans in Qarabagh district of Ghazni, points to the fact that even highways and cities in close proximity to Kabul are no longer secure.

Kabul University analyst and Professor Wadir Safi said the situation was drifting towards anarchy. “Unfortunately, the international community missed the opportunity of bringing peace to Afghanistan during the Bonn Conference,” he told Daily Times.

He said the non-inclusion of Taliban in the Bonn Process and giving representation to warlords accused of human rights violations had been a costly blunder. To remedy the situation, he suggested, the best option was to invite Taliban and other dissidents to meaningful negotiations.

Bad blood: Besides rising militant attacks, mounting civilian casualties and house searches by NATO and coalition troops are also creating resentment among Afghans. Safi said the “unwarranted house searches” run counter to Afghan culture.

Foreign forces often storm into houses in the Pashtun-dominated southern provinces, an act that has been fuelling anger against them. As for the civilian casualties, he said the Afghans, who welcomed the foreign troops as saviours, now wanted them out of the landlocked country.

Seven civilians were reported dead and more were wounded as NATO aircraft pounded an area in Jalrez, a district of Maidan Wardak province, two days before Eid. The district was once again bombed on October 22 and locals claimed 11 members of a family perished in the imprecise airstrike.

However, NATO officials said no civilians had died in the bombing. Major Charles Anthony, spokesman for the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) in Kabul, told Daily Times that investigations into the bombardment proved no civilian was killed or injured.

Asked about the killing of residents in ground operations or what ISAF calls “incidents of mistaken identity,” Major Anthony replied the NATO-led forces always try to avoid civilian deaths in its operations. However, he hastened to add the Taliban were using civilians as human shields.

On the situation growing out of widespread insecurity in the provinces and rising collateral damage in military operations, analyst Muhammad Hasan Haqyar feared it could lead to a total collapse of the system.

About the Taliban claim that dozens of districts in the volatile southern and southeastern regions were under their control, Haqyar said the writ of the Afghan government was mainly restricted to Kabul or only a few provinces.

While the southern and eastern parts are controlled by the Taliban or men loyal to the Hezb-e-Islami of Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, powerful commanders are in control in the northern and western parts of the country.

NATO restricted: Haqyar claimed NATO troops had virtually been restricted to their bases in main cities and did not dare chase rebels in mountainous terrain or other places where they had pockets of support. “The most they (NATO/coalition) can do is to bomb areas and that usually results in large-scale civilian deaths.”

The gravity of the situation can be gauged from a recent speech of President Hamid Karzai, who literally broke into tears while lashing out at the foreign troops for “killing our children, women and the elderly in airstrikes”. He was referring to civilian casualties in the lawless Helmand province.

Besides Karzai, his international backers and the United Nations have also expressed concern over the mounting civilian casualties time and again. Reacting to a fresh incident outside Kabul, a UN spokesman told journalists at a news conference last week “civilian casualties in military operations are intolerable”.