Pulling faces in the middle of a poppy field with Georgian forces on a foot patrol in Musa Qala, Helmand. The locals told us, “if you destroy it, we’ll die.”
President Karzai took a surprise turn this week, by issuing a ban which gave US special forces operating in Wardak province two weeks to leave. He accused the SF units of partnering with Afghan forces, who locals claimed were harassing, abusing and, in one case, murdering villagers.
As with all issues in Afghanistan, it’s more complicated than it may seem. And it already seems pretty complicated.
* The reports of SF harassing Wardak locals seem to be true. The Country Director of the Swedish Committee for Afghanistan (who is, full disclosure, also the drummer in my band) has issued a public complaint as part of the Afghanistan Alliance of Health Organisations against SF operating in the area. The report says that ISAF helicopters have landed at night and Afghan men in military uniform have tied up their workers, smashed windows and equipment and occupied their clinics, which is, they say, in breach of the Geneva convention, which states that healthcare facilities are to be regarded as neutral crowd.
He has told me, also, that his doctors often complain of Afghans, claiming to be special forces, entering on their own, without ISAF and demanding to see patient details or forcing doctors to sign papers for “driving licences”.
* No-one seems to know who these Afghan “special forces” are. Afghan special forces, such as the Crisis Response Unit, based in Kabul, do exist and have done exemplary work in the past, responding to complex attacks in the city. They are mentored by ISAF special forces, in Kabul these are New Zealand and Norweigan forces.
However, in Wardak, it seems murkier. As no ISAF operation is permitted to happen without Afghan Security forces partnering, US special forces in Wardak would have to have Afghans working alongside them. However, there have been accusations of the US hiring Afghans to work with them to provide a credible face, rather than being bona fide special forces, accountable to the MOI or MOD.
These Afghans could also be NDS (National Directorate of Security) aka the “Afghan FBI”, who are known for not caring too much about asking permission first or the concept of human rights.
* It’s also no secret that Wardak is a cradle for Taliban and Hekmatyar’s men. Most attacks on Kabul are staged from this province. Karzai is surrounded by Hek members in his government, being as it also operates as a political party. If Karzai wants to put forward his candidate for President in the next elections, he’s going to need Hek support. If the SF operations in Wardak have been too successful, he may have received pressure to ease up operations in the province.
* There’s also speculation that ISAF isn’t behind all this at all, but it’s the work of the CIA. Of course, in a country that thrives on rumours, this is not only par for the course, but, naturally, impossible to ascertain.
ISAF promise there will be a full investigation, but where they might start and what they might dig up remains unmistakably murky.
Anonymous asked: Hey Ruth, I am just dropping a quick hello from Canada. You interviewed me in Kandahar and your Cpl Tuck piece on Christmas Sweaters is a cult classic in our unit. I just checked out your site. It is awesome. Hope all is well. Major Steve MacBeth
Steve! Great to hear from you. Just dropping you an email on your hotmail adress.
Anonymous asked: Is Kabul safe for female foreigners?
In short: yes. Stay within cultural boundaries, take sensible precautions like you would in any third-world city (or first-world, in many circumstances), like not walking alone at night. Also, listen to advice from other foreigners and, more importantly, Afghan friends. You’ll be fine.