An Afghan civilian protesting against a night raid by coalition forces which killed between nine and fifteen civilians was shot dead by national police on Friday. Hundreds of Afghans took to the streets near Jalalabad demanding an explanation for the raid. A NATO spokesperson confirmed that ISAF troops were engaged in operations in the area but claimed they were not aware of any civilian deaths. It is reported that ISAF troops had been flown to the area by helicopter before carrying out the raid, which was targeting Taliban sub-commanders and fighters. Local villagers have stated that those killed had nothing to do with the Taliban.
The openSecurity verdict: ISAF commander General Stanley McChrystal has taken pains to minimise civilian casualties, having issued revised tactical guidelines last year specifying the need to keep night raids to a minimum. Based on the figures this has not worked, with the United Nations stating that last year was the bloodiest for Afghan civilians since the war began in 2001. According to Afghan officials, 170 civilians were killed between March and April this year, a rise of 33 percent compared with last year.
The conduct of night raids, frequently carried out by international and Afghan national forces, has been the subject of sustained controversy in recent months. Unlike the impersonal nature of aerial bombing, the use of ground troops causes more outrage among Afghan civilians; a plane missing its target is one thing, soldiers killing women and children due to incompetence is another. Eyewitness accounts of US special forces preventing family members from taking innocent victims to hospital and then attempting to cover up the deaths have further incensed communities.
This does not bode well for McChrystal’s strategy or for the conduct of the war in general. The Obama administration has resolved on a twin track approach to Afghanistan, emphasising increased aid and efforts to win over the civilian population on the one hand, with a more robust military approach on the other. The next objective for the vaunted Afghan surge is Kandahar, the spiritual heartland of the Taliban movement. With ISAF’s credibility among Afghan grass roots communities in tatters, at least in the region around Jalalabad, it is unlikely that whatever military gains are made in the next few months will be sustainable.
Obama funds Israel missile shield as Russia defends Hamas talks
It was announced on Friday that US President Obama will be requesting $200 million from Congress to fund the Israeli ‘Iron Dome’ short range missile system. The weapon is designed to intercept mortars and missile attacks from Hamas in the Gaza Strip and Hizbollah bases in southern Lebanon. A White House spokesman reiterated President Obama’s ‘unshakeable commitment’ to Israel’s security. The announcement comes one week after Secretary of State Hilary Clinton emphasised the US administration’s concern over the ballistic missile threat posed by Hamas and Hizbollah, amid rumours that Iran had supplied the latter with SCUD missiles.
Yesterday, Israel bitterly criticised the decision by Russian President Medvedev to meet with Hamas chief Khaled Meshaal. Comparing Hamas with Chechnyan militant groups, an Israeli foreign ministry statement said “Israel always stood behind Russia in its fight against Chechen terrorism, and would have expected similar treatment regarding Hamas terrorism against Israel.” Russia has defended the decision, calling for renewed engagement with the Islamist group, with foreign ministry spokesman Andrei Nesterenko characterising it as ‘a movement that draws on the trust and sympathy of a large number of Palestinians’. Nesterenko also pointed out that other members of the Middle East Quartet maintained their own contacts with Hamas.
Armed clashes rock Thai capital
Turmoil continued in the Thai capital today as government forces clashed with red shirt protesters, killing at least five of them. The deaths occurred as security personnel attempted to seal off a heavily defended red shirt camp in the heart of the city’s commercial district. The government had previously cut power and water to the camp.
Demotix/Chandler Vandergrift. All rights reserved.
Thousands of soldiers were involved in the operation which came one day after the rogue Thai general who had been organising the protesters was shot in the head. Khattiya Sawasdipol, also known as ‘Commander Red’, a member of the red shirt’s militant faction, is currently in intensive care with a low chance of survival.
The red shirts, many of whom are supporters of former Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra who was deposed in a coup in 2006, are calling for the current government to step down and for fresh elections to be held. The chaos began as an orderly rally, held on the 14 March when thousands of protesters descended on the capital. After discussions with the government collapsed on the 30 March, the situation has steadily escalated, with regular clashes between protesters and the government breaking out following incumbent Prime Minister Abhisit’s declaration of a state of emergency on the 7 April.
Russian security forces kill Moscow bombing organisers
On Thursday, the head of Russia’s Federal Security Service, the FSB, reported that three people involved in the execution of the Moscow metro terrorist attack in March had been killed while resisting arrest. Alexander Bortnikov, reporting to President Medvedev, said that, following their identification by FSB agents, ‘to our great regret, we did not manage to seize them alive.’ Two of the three were involved in transporting the Moscow metro suicide bombers first to the Russian capital and then to the target itself.
The two women who carried out the attack, which left forty people dead, were natives of Russia’s restive Daghestan republic, which neighbours equally troubled Ingushetia and Chechnya. Islamic groups in the region are fighting for a separate state. The identities of the three people killed today and the location where the attempted arrest took place have not been disclosed.