KABUL, Afghanistan — On a piece of barren land on the western edge of this capital, a refugee camp is steadily swelling as families displaced by the heavy bombardment in southern Afghanistan arrive in batches.
The growing numbers reaching Kabul are a sign of the deepening of the conflict between NATO and American forces and the Taliban in the south and of the feeling among the population that there will be no end soon. Families who fled the fighting around their homes in Helmand Province one or two years ago and sought temporary shelter around two southern provincial capitals, Lashkar Gah and Kandahar, said they had moved to Kabul because of growing insecurity across the south.
“If there was security in the south, why would we come here?” said Abdullah Khan, 50, who lost his father, uncle and a female relative in the bombing of their home last year. “We will stay here, even for 10 years, until the bombardment ends.”
Sixty-one families from just one southern district — Kajaki, in northern Helmand Province — arrived in Kabul in late July. A representative for those families, Khair Muhammad, 27, said that a major jailbreak last month that freed hundreds of Taliban prisoners was the latest sign of the deteriorating security. “Do you know, the Taliban entered Kandahar city and broke into the prison?” he said. “Do you think that is security?”
The United Nations refugee agency has registered 450 families from Helmand Province at the camp — approximately 3,000 people. But that is only a part of the overall refugee picture. An estimated 10,000 to 15,000 people have been displaced by the insurgency in the south, but the numbers fluctuate as some have been able to return home when the fighting moves elsewhere.
The International Committee of the Red Cross has warned that the displaced who have reached the cities represent only the tip of the iceberg, and many others are trapped by violence in remote areas without assistance.
Many of the families who have arrived in Kabul have suffered traumatic losses and injuries, and they say that they are pessimistic about the future.
“The Taliban are getting stronger,” said Muhammad Younus, a farm worker who abandoned his village after his father, brother and uncle were killed in an airstrike two years ago. “There were armored vehicles on the hill and they were firing. There was a heavy bombardment, and planes bombed, too,” he said. “They did not differentiate between the guilty and not guilty.”
He, like many of the displaced people, complained that villagers found themselves trapped between Taliban fighters, who used the villages for cover to attack foreign forces, and NATO and American forces, which would often call in airstrikes on village compounds where civilians were living.
“We left our houses because we had no power to resist the Taliban or the government,” said Mr. Muhammad, the representative who brought families to Kabul from villages in Kajaki.
“Anytime the Taliban fired a shot from our houses, then the coalition, the government and the police came to the area and hit us.”
“The government comes and arrests us, and then the Taliban come and arrest us as well,” he said. “We are under the feet of two powers.”
As a civilian plane circled above the city, Mr. Muhammad and the crowd of men around him all looked nervously upward. “We are in trouble with these things,” he said, pointing at the plane. “There was fighting in the village a hundred times, roadside bombs, bombardment, firing and shooting.”
His strongest complaints were against the Taliban who, he said, had accused a relative of being a spy for the coalition forces and executed him. “I absolutely know he was not,” he said vehemently.
“The Taliban are coming during the night, with heavy weapons, riding on vehicles, and we cannot even dare ask them to leave, because if they see someone at night outside they will slaughter them and accuse them of being spies,” he said.
But the heavy reprisals by NATO and American forces was what drove them from their homes in the end, he and others said.
Khan Muhammad, 35, came with 40 people from his extended family three months ago after their village, Tajoi, near Kajaki, was bombed and his 4-year-old son, Umar Khan, was killed. “His mother was cooking, and he was lying beside her,” he said. “The whole village was destroyed, and after that we left.”
He said the villagers did not even see the Taliban but heard them fire as foreign troops were driving along the road outside the village.
“We don’t know from which side they fired, but we heard that,” he said. “Half an hour or an hour later they bombed.”
His father, Sher Ali Aqa, 75, was trapped under the rubble and his leg was shattered. Still unable to walk, he sat on a mat beside a makeshift tent.
“I blame the foreigners,” Mr. Muhammad said. “If the Taliban fire from over there, do you come and bomb this village?”
He added, “We only want a stable country, whether with the Taliban or the foreigners.” But he said that the level of violence made him realize that the foreign forces could not bring security.
That sentiment was echoed by many of the villagers, who said that the civilian deaths were particularly galling given the sophisticated technology of the coalition’s warplanes.
“If they kill, if they wound innocent people, we don’t want them,” said Tauz Khan, a man from the Sangin district who said he lost five members of his family in bombings last year. “If they build and bring peace we will accept them.”
His father, brother and a daughter were among those killed. “You cannot take revenge against a plane,” he said. “But I will not forgive the foreigners for this crime.”
August 3, 2008 NEW YORK TIMES
South Korea Says U.S. Killed Hundreds of Civilians
By CHOE SANG-HUN
WOLMI ISLAND, South Korea — When American troops stormed this island more than half a century ago, it was a hive of Communist trenches and pillboxes. Now it is a park where children play and retirees stroll along a tree-shaded esplanade.
From a hilltop across a narrow channel, Gen. Douglas MacArthur, memorialized in bronze, appears to gaze down at the beaches of Inchon where his troops splashed ashore in September 1950, changing the course of the Korean War and making him a hero here.
In the port below, rows of cars, gleaming in the sun, wait to be shipped around the world — testimony to South Korea’s industrial might and a reminder of which side has triumphed economically since the conflict ended 55 years ago.
But inside a ragged tent at the entrance of the park, some aging South Koreans gather daily to draw attention to their side of the conflict, a story of carnage not mentioned in South Korea’s official histories or textbooks.
“When the napalm hit our village, many people were still sleeping in their homes,” said Lee Beom-ki, 76. “Those who survived the flames ran to the tidal flats. We were trying to show the American pilots that we were civilians. But they strafed us, women and children.”
Village residents say dozens of civilians were killed.
The attack, though not the civilian casualties, has been corroborated by declassified United States military documents recently reviewed by South Korean investigators. On Sept. 10, 1950, five days before the Inchon landing, according to the documents, 43 American warplanes swarmed over Wolmi, dropping 93 napalm canisters to “burn out” its eastern slope in an attempt to clear the way for American troops.
The documents and survivors’ stories persuaded a South Korean commission investigating long-suppressed allegations of wartime atrocities by Koreans and Americans to rule recently that the attack violated international conventions on war and to ask the country’s leaders to seek compensation from the United States.
The ruling was one of several by the government’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission in recent months that accused the United States military of using indiscriminate force on three separate occasions in 1950 and 1951 as troops struggled against Communists from the North and from China. The commission says at least 228 civilians, and perhaps hundreds more, were killed in the three attacks.
In one case, the commission said, at least 167 villagers, more than half of them women, were burned to death or asphyxiated in Tanyang, 87 miles southeast of Seoul, when American planes dropped napalm at the entrance of a cave filled with refugees.
“We should not ignore or conceal the deaths of unarmed civilians that resulted not from the mistakes of a few soldiers but from systematic aerial bombing and strafing,” said Kim Dong-choon, a senior commission official. “History teaches us that we need an alliance, but that alliance should be based on humanitarian principles.”
The South Korean government has not disclosed how it plans to follow up on the findings. And Maj. Stewart Upton, a Defense Department spokesman in Washington, said the Pentagon could not comment on the reports pending formal action by the South Korean government.
Under South Korea’s earlier authoritarian and staunchly anti-Communist governments, criticism of American actions in the war was taboo.
But after investigations showed that American soldiers killed South Korean civilians in air and ground attacks on the hamlet of No Gun Ri in 1950 — and after the United States acknowledged the deaths but refused to investigate other claims — a liberal government set up the fact-finding commission in 2005. More than 500 petitions, some describing the same actions, were filed to demand the investigation of allegations of mass killings by American troops, mostly in airstrikes.
The recent findings were the commission’s first against the United States, and it is unlikely that the commission has the time or resources to investigate many more before it is disbanded, as early as 2010.
Separately, the commission has also ruled that the South Korean government summarily executed thousands of political prisoners and killed many unarmed villagers during the war.
The Wolmi victims’ demands for recognition tap into complicated emotions underlying South Korea’s alliance with the United States.
“We thank the American troops for saving our country from Communism, for the peace and prosperity we have today,” said Han In-deuk, chairwoman of a Wolmi advocacy group. “Does that mean we have to shut up about what happened to our families?”
The airstrikes came during desperate times for the American forces and for the South Koreans they came to defend.
The war broke out in June 1950 with a Communist invasion from the north. In September, when the American military planned the landing at Inchon to relieve United Nations forces cornered in the southeastern tip of the peninsula, it decided it first had to neutralize Wolmi, which overlooks the channel that approaches the harbor.
“The mission was to saturate the area so thoroughly with napalm that all installations on that area would be burned,” Marine pilots said in one of their mission reports on Wolmi that were retrieved by the commission from the National Archives and Records Administration of the United States.
They also reported that no troops were seen, “but the flashes observed on the ground indicated the intensity of the fire to be accurate enough to destroy any about.”
The reports describe strafing on the beach but make no mention of civilian casualties.
The Inchon landing helped United Nations troops recapture Seoul and drive the North Koreans back. But the tide turned again when China entered the war.
The other two attacks the commission ruled on, in Tanyang and Sansong, south of Seoul, occurred as Communist forces barreled down the peninsula. As the allies fell back, they were attacked by guerrillas they could not easily distinguish from refugees.
Fearing enemy infiltration, American troops stopped refugees streaming down the roads and told them to return home or stay in the hills, or risk getting shot by allied troops. On Jan. 14, 1951, the Army’s X Corps under Maj. Gen. Edward M. Almond ordered the “methodical destruction of dwellings and other buildings forward of front lines which are, or susceptible of being, utilized by the enemy for shelter.” It recommended airstrikes.
“Excellent results” was how American pilots summarized their strikes at Sansong on Jan. 19, 1951.
The same day, however, one of General Almond’s subordinates, Brig. Gen. David G. Barr of the Seventh Infantry Division, wrote to General Almond that “methodical burning out poor farmers when no enemy is present is against the grain of U.S. soldiers.” At least 51 villagers, including 16 children, were killed in Sansong, according to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.
The attack on Tanyang followed the next day, when, survivors say, American planes dropped napalm near the entrance of the cave where refugees had sought shelter.
“When the napalm hit the entrance, the blast and smoke knocked out kerosene and castor-oil lamps we had in the cave,” Eom Han-won, then 15, said in an interview. “It was a pitch-black chaos — people shouting for each other, stampeding, choking. Some said we should crawl in deeper, covering our faces with wet cloth. Some said we should rush out through the blaze. Those who were not burned to death suffocated.”
Like Mr. Eom’s family, most of the people there were refugees who had been turned back at an American roadblock south of Tanyang, survivors said. In the days before the attack, the cave was packed with families. When the American warplanes flew in from the southwest, children were playing outside amid cattle and baggage.
That day, the Seventh Division’s operations logs noted that 13 planes attacked “enemy troops” and “pack animals and cave.” It reported “many casualties and got all animals.”
Mr. Eom, who rushed out of the cave into a hail of machine-gun fire from the planes but survived, said, “The Americans pushed us back toward the enemy area and then bombed us.” He said he lost 10 family members.
Shortly afterward, South Korea’s Second Division reported 34 civilians killed and 72 wounded at Sansong, but “no enemy casualties,” prompting the American military to open an investigation. The American investigators did not dispute the South Korean report but concluded that the airstrike was “amply justified.” They said that Sansong was considered an enemy haven and that its residents had been warned to evacuate.
The case appeared closed until several years ago, when, in the course of a Korean television reporter’s investigation, villagers acquired a copy of the American military’s wartime report and read that they had been told to evacuate. They insist, and the commission agreed, that this was not true. They say the village where North Korean troops were sighted was elsewhere and was never bombed.
Regarding the Wolmi attack, the commission said that while it recognized the need for the landing at Inchon, it could find “no evidence of efforts to limit civilian casualties.”
Wolmi survivors said the North Korean officers’ housing was about 1,000 feet away from their village. They say the American pilots, whose mission reports noted “visibility unlimited” and firing altitudes as low as 100 feet, should not have mistaken villagers, including many women and children, for the enemy.
They said the American troops later bulldozed their charred village to build a base.
“If you say these killings were not deliberate and were mistakes, how can you explain the fact that there were so many of these incidents?” asked Park Myung-lim, a historian at Yonsei University in Seoul.
The victims’ grievances found an outlet in 2005, when left-leaning civic groups tried to topple the MacArthur statue. But Wolmi survivors said they did not join the protest for fear they might be branded anti-American.
“We consider MacArthur a hero to our country, but no one can know the suffering our family endured,” said Chung Ji-eun, an Inchon cabdriver whose father died at Wolmi. “Both governments emphasize the alliance, but they never care about people like us who were sacrificed in the name of alliance.”
Bush warns of ‘serious action’ after evidence of agents masterminding deadly embassy bombing
Officers from Pakistan’s main intelligence agency have had links with the Taliban.
The United States has accused Pakistan’s main spy agency of deliberately undermining Nato efforts in Afghanistan by helping the Taliban and Al-Qaeda militants they are supposed to be fighting.
President George W Bush confronted Yusuf Raza Gillani, Pakistan’s prime minister, in Washington last week with evidence of involvement by the ISI, its military intelligence, in a deadly attack on the Afghan capital and warned of retaliation if it continues.
The move comes amid growing fears that Pakistan’s tribal areas are turning into a global launch pad for terrorists.
Gillani, on his first official US visit since being elected in February, was left in no doubt that the Bush administration had lost patience with the ISI’s alleged double game.
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Bush warned that if one more attack in Afghanistan or elsewhere were traced back to Pakistan, he would have to take “serious action”.
Gillani also met Michael Hayden, director of the CIA, who confronted him with a dossier on ISI support for the Taliban. The key evidence concerned last month’s bombing of the Indian embassy in Kabul, which killed 54 people, including the military attaché.
An intercepted telephone conversation apparently revealed that ISI agents masterminded the operation. The United States also claimed to have arrested an ISI officer inside Afghanistan.
Yesterday ministers said they had left Washington reeling from what they described as a “grilling” and shocked at “the trust deficit” between Pakistan and its most important backer.
“They were very hot on the ISI,” said a member of the Pakistan delegation. “Very hot. When we asked them for more information, Bush laughed and said, ‘When we share information with your guys, the bad guys always run away’.”
“The question is why it’s taken the Americans so long to see what the ISI is doing,” said Afra-siab Khattak, provincial president for the Awami National party which runs the government in the Frontier province bordering Afghanistan. “We’ve been telling them for years but they wouldn’t buy it.”
The American accusations were categorically denied by Rehman Malik, Pakistan’s de facto interior minister. “There is no involvement by the ISI of any form in Afghanistan,” he told The Sunday Times. “We requested evidence which has not yet been given.”
Malik admitted that in meetings in London, senior British government and intelligence officials had also told him they were convinced of ISI involvement in the embassy bombing.
It is the first time the White House has openly confronted Pakistan since just after the 9/11 terrorist attacks on Washington and New York when General Pervez Musharraf’s regime was told to drop its support for the Taliban or be bombed back to the Stone Age.
Musharraf agreed and went on to change the director of the ISI and build a close relationship with Bush who described him as his “best friend”. But many middle-ranking officers continued to hold close links with militants built up over 20 years since the mujaheddin was fighting the Russians in Afghanistan.
There were persistent reports of Pakistani territory being used for terrorist training camps and recruitment. Foreign journalists were banned from Quetta “for our own security” – those of us who have ventured there to investigate have generally ended up arrested.
President Hamid Karzai of Afghanistan has repeatedly accused Pakistan of harbouring Taliban leaders, providing lists of addresses and at one time claiming that its leader, Mullah Omar, was living in a military cantonment.
For the West, confronting Islamabad is a risky strategy as Pakistan’s support is critical to the war on terrorism. Afghanistan is landlocked and much of the logistical support and food for the 53,000 Nato troops, including water for the British forces in Helmand, has to be shipped into Karachi and driven through Pakistan.
“It’s a calculated risk,” said a western diplomat in Islamabad, pointing out that Pakistan could not afford to do without US aid, which averages £1 billion a year. The military has also benefited: only last week four more F-16 fighter jets were handed over to the air force.
An open challenge to the ISI was welcomed by Nato troops operating in Afghanistan, particularly the American forces fighting in the east.
For years their commanders have expressed frustration at militants coming across the border to take pot shots at them, before moving back to the sanctuary of the triba areas. These areas are seen as the new battleground in the war on terror. Originally created by the British as a buffer between the Indian empire and Afghanistan, they stretch along Pakistan’s 1,500-mile border with Afghanistan.
As the poorest and most backward part of Pakistan with a literacy rate of just 3%, but fiercely martial, they are the breeding ground for militant groups. Political parties are not allowed. As militant groups have grown in influence, local people have nowhere else to turn.
Most of the attacks on US soldiers in eastern Afghanistan are ordered by Maulvi Jalalud-din Haqqani, who operates from Miramshah in North Waziristan, and whom the United States believes to have close ties with Al-Qaeda.
Neighbouring South Waziristan is dominated by Baitullah Mehsud, a former gym teacher, whose Pakistan Taliban is believed by the CIA to be responsible for the assassination of Benazir Bhutto, the former prime minister, last December.
“The security of Pakistan, Afghanistan, the entire region and maybe that of the whole world will be determined by developments in the tribal areas over the next few months,” said Khattak.
The United States has carried out a number of bombings and missile strikes inside the areas, although each time the key targets seem to have escaped. So concerned is the Bush administration that the ISI is tipping militants off that in January it sent two senior intelligence officials to Pakistan. Mike Mc-Connell, the director of national intelligence, and Hayden asked Musharraf to allow the CIA greater freedom to operate in the tribal areas.
Of particular US concern was the ISI’s alleged involvement with Haqqani, one of its former allies, and its links to Lashkar-i-Toiba, a Punjab-based militant group, which is thought to have been behind the attack on an American outpost in Kunar last month in which nine US soldiers were killed.
Many US intelligence officials have long suspected that ISI officers accept their money and then help their foes, but it has been difficult to find proof. In June the Afghan government publicly accused the ISI of being behind an assassination attempt on Karzai in April and threatened to send their own troops into the border. But they were unable to produce any concrete evidence.
“The Indian embassy bombing seems to have finally provided it. This is the smoking gun we’ve all been looking for,” a British official said last week.
On the eve of the Washington visit, the Pakistan government tried to tame the ISI by announcing that it would henceforth come under interior ministry control. It was forced to revoke the decision within three hours after angry phone calls from the army chief.
Malik, on behalf of the government, claimed the decision had been misinterpreted. “What we were trying to do was bring national security and the war on terror under the interior ministry but it was wrongly announced,” he said.
US officials say the number of attacks on their soldiers in Afghanistan have increased by 60% since the civilian government took power this year.
There is widespread disillusion with Gillani’s government after elections in the wake of Bhutto’s assassination brought her Pakistan People’s party (PPP) to power as head of a coalition government. Nearly six months on, Musharraf is still president.
In a reflection of who really calls the shots, while the government party was in Washington Lieutenant-General Martin Dempsey, acting commander of Centcom, the US military command, was in Islamabad handing over F-16 fighter planes and holding meetings with the top brass. A British officer who was present at the meeting said Pakistani generals had spoken of their frustration with the civilian government: “They said they were still waiting for a signal to act in the tribal areas. To be honest, none of us could think of a thing they had done in six months.”
The sensitivity of the intelligence issue became clear on Friday night when Sherry Rehman, the information minister, acknowledged to journalists that the ISI might still contain pro-Taliban operatives. “We need to identify these people and weed them out,” she said, only to change her statement later to maintain that the problems were in the past and there would be no purge.
For its part, Islamabad says America is interested only in countering attacks in Afghanistan and gives it no help to confront militants causing problems in its own territory nor vital equipment, such as drone spy planes.
Pakistan ministers were particularly incensed when the United States launched a missile strike inside one of the country’s tribal areas on Monday, while the government party was still en route to Washington. “It was the first thing I read on my BlackBerry when I got off the plane,” said a member of the delegation. “What a nice gift.”
Offer of Inquiry into Kabul attack
Pakistan yesterday offered to investigate the bombing of the Indian embassy in Kabul on July 7, in which 54 people died and 140 were injured. It was the bloodiest attack in the Afghan capital since the fall of the Taliban in 2001. Nobody has claimed responsibility.
A suicide bomber drove a lorry laden with explosives into the embassy gate during the morning rush hour, wounding and killing many of those queuing for visas. The embassy is in the centre of Kabul.
The main target seemed to be a diplomatic convoy that had just entered the gate. Among those killed were two senior diplomats including the military attaché, Brigadier Ravi Mehta.
Borderland Pakistan is the old west reincarnated, and ignorant outsiders won't force change.
Peter Preston The Guardian
America has seen enough John Ford movies to get the point. Britain, too, had its fill of John Wayne. So why are we all so infernally slow to realise that borderland Pakistan is the old west reincarnated - except that we're not talking Apaches or Sioux now, just Bugti, Swati, Jadoon and Tareen in the realms of the Pashtuns and Baluchis?
Such parallels bound out only a few miles from Peshawar. If this were Nevada, you'd find casinos down some desert road, run as a matter of restitution by the tribes. That big, lushly watered house on the hill would be where the chief lives, counting his cash. And here the feeling is just the same: no slots or blackjack, maybe, but gun supermarkets, smugglers' paradises, walled mansions and the rest - ritually patrolled by the tribes' own internal police. Ten yards off the Khyber Pass, Pakistan's national forces' law and order give up the ghost. Their writ doesn't run. Reservation self-preservation.
Yet still, Washington doesn't see the similarities. It wanted elections, even after Benazir Bhutto's assassination, but now it can't abide the result. Yousuf Raza Gilani's fragile PPP-led government seems more feeble than Musharraf at bringing the tribes to heel. Even more cross-border flits for the Taliban; even less hope of catching Bin Laden. A bomb in Kabul kills 58, and renegade extremists in Pakistan army intelligence must be "weeded out". This country has just got to do what it's told - otherwise (shades of Barack Obama) the White House will send its cavalry in. After you, General Custer ... And nobody sees the challenge whole.
That shanty city along the main route out of Peshawar is Afghanistan by another name: more than a million who fled the Russians and haven't gone home. In Baluchistan far to the south, the tribes have been fighting each other for centuries - and, much more recently, the troops Musharraf sent in to try to bring some semblance of order (they want independence, not devolution). The North-West Frontier Province has a population the size of Iraq, and the religious far right in control. It's a dusty, rugged, rock-strewn terrain, perfect for using the Stingers you bought on your last trip to the supermarket.
Telling Gilani, far away in Islamabad, to order his army to crack down on this chaos is empty foolishness. The army - mostly born and nurtured in Punjab - has scant stomach for rumbling civil war. It has lost too many of its own on these killing slopes already. Meanwhile, slipping and slithering back and forth, the enemies we call the Taliban - or al-Qaida, in our more facile moments - are part of the landscape, simply unstoppable except by the kind of massive, sustained surge nobody has the will or resources to mount. Musharraf couldn't do it when he was really in charge. Random, passing politicians are even further off the pace.
And the danger, time after time, is seeing Pakistan's far west in the way that ignorant generals from the east were expected to act (until James Stewart showed them what a fine chap Geronimo was). This is a deep and often deluding mix of race, many tongues, acute poverty, tradition and religion. It isn't some simple terrain where the word of the PM goes. Nor is it a territory invaded and held by alien terrorist forces. What you've got, instead, is something fiercely autonomous but also anarchic - a world where the state called Pakistan barely exists.
There's suspicion and duplicity lurking in these ravines, to be sure. Army intelligence, like some corrupt trading-post keeper, is used to playing both ends against the middle: and was hailed in heroic terms when the Red Army was one of the ends it ran ragged. But the greater game far outweighs small, if bloody, plots. Gilani, and the heirs of Bhutto, barely in power and already buffeted by food shortages and energy costs, are the best democratic hope Pakistan has on offer. It's politicians or the generals again, and the braided ones haven't really gone back to base yet after their last failed spell. The frail balance of turn and turnabout between democrats and soldiers is perilously out of phase.
Pakistan as a whole voted against extremism a few months ago: but Pakistan is not a whole. Indeed, in many places, the central government is disregarded. Gilani - widely advised - has tried to take off the pressure, to reassure the Baluchis and Pashtuns, to bring gifts and pipes of peace. That's not good enough for the long knives from DC, perhaps. They want crackdowns and action: they've got a war against terrorism to win. But we know, from too many seats in the stalls, who truly wins in the end. And it's not the ignorant, impatient outsiders raining death on a people their "civilisation", in its careless way, cannot comprehend.