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Vol. 74/No. 12      March 29, 2010

Afghan war: U.S. general
reorganizes commandos
(front page)
March 16—U.S. general Stanley McChrystal, top commander in Afghanistan, has brought many U.S. special forces in the country directly under his authority, the New York Times reported yesterday. The move comes after a number of operations in Afghanistan that caused civilian casualties have gained wide publicity, cutting across Washington’s efforts to win the “hearts and minds” of Afghanis and bolster support for the U.S.-backed government in Kabul.

Washington has elevated the place of its special operations forces, trained hunter-killers, over the last decade in advancing its wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and in anticipation of other “counterinsurgency” campaigns to protect U.S. imperialist interests. The appointment of McChrystal to command U.S.-led forces in Afghanistan was in line with this course. He specializes in commanding “black operations”—clandestine missions such as kidnappings and assassinations—and had led the Joint Special Operations Command in Iraq and Afghanistan.

But heavier reliance on these paramilitary soldiers—who are widely seen as responsible for a large proportion of civilian deaths—has hindered efforts to improve Afghani perceptions of the U.S.-led force, including as protectors from the brutality of the Taliban.

A team led by U.S. special forces that included Afghan police killed five civilians in a house during a February 12 raid in Paktia Province, according to the New York Times and the Times of London.

Twenty-five guests and three musicians were gathered at the house at night for a celebration. As an Afghan man, who happened to be a local police chief, left the place to investigate what he thought were Taliban, he and his 15-year-old son were shot. His brother, a district prosecutor, was shot dead as he sought to protest the family’s innocence. Three women, two pregnant, were also gunned down by U.S. special forces.

The surviving guests and injured relatives were “assaulted by U.S. and Afghan forces, restrained and forced to stand barefeet for several hours outside in the cold,” said an unpublished UN report cited in the London Times.

Nine days later, at least 27 civilians, including women and children, were killed and 12 injured when special forces called in an air strike on buses that turned out to be transporting workers from central Afghanistan to Kandahar in search of jobs.

Special forces generally operate independently with separate chains of commands from regular soldiers. This, along with their often covert nature, allows for greater latitude and less accountability. The new command structure seeks to place many of these forces under a similar protocol as regular soldiers. McChrystal has issued stricter rules of engagement, including restrictions on night raids, air strikes, and other operations designed to lower deaths traced to coalition forces.  
Washington’s challenges
While U.S.-led forces have registered initial gains in clearing Taliban from key areas in southern Afghanistan and are benefiting from deepening intelligence and military cooperation with the Pakistani government, U.S. imperialism and its allies face a range of difficulties beyond combating the Taliban.

The Afghan police force has a widespread reputation for corruption and brutality. Dramatically increasing its ranks and revamping its image remain one of these challenges. In an effort to effect some change, 3,000 officers are being sent to Jordan and Turkey for training.

In one recent example of the problem, the police chief of Now Zad district in central Helmand was deposed for charging residents to return to their homes following the marines’ capture of the area from the Taliban in December.

The New York Times described a visit by Defense Secretary Robert Gates to the area’s main town last week. It remains largely deserted, with only 2,500 of 30,000 residents having returned. Locals, previously paid by the Taliban to plant bombs, are paid $5 per day by the U.S. military to remove mines and do other work—a relatively good paying job in a country which has an unemployment rate of 40 percent.

Similarly, the U.S. military’s effort to bribe the Shinwari Pashtun tribe—comprising about 400,000 people in the southeast—with small-scale development projects and cash-for-work programs in exchange for fighting the Taliban has not borne fruit. A war between rival clans over a land dispute has eclipsed the project.  
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