Saturday, July 4, 2009

Canada spins the truth in Afghanistan

This is an older post but relevant. News is being subtly controlled out of Afghanistan. Several days ago the police chief of Kandahar and other officers were shot by a group trained by the US and hired for anti-terrorist activity. There were a few news reports many of them murky and lacking in detail. However since June 29th there have been no new reports even though Canadians were involved in the aftermath of the attack. Supposedly the group is being sent to Kabul for a military trial. This is passing strange given that the military disavows any connection to the group. Karzai asked that they be turned over to Afghan authorities but there is no confirmation that this has happened. All the news in Afghanistan is about the US offensive in Helmand and the death of another Canadian. This article gives another example of news being embargoed when it suits authorities. The whole article is available at the National Post.

Friday, June 26, 2009
Presented by

Operation embargo: Canada spins the truth in Afghanistan
Brian Hutchinson, National Post
Peter Andrews/Reuters files
Muhammad Ehsan would rather not hold his meetings inside the living room of a safe house, on the outskirts of Kandahar city, a loaded AK-47 assault rifle at the ready.
But the Kandahar Provincial Council deputy chairman feels he has no choice. The building where Mr. Ehsan and fellow elected councillors gathered and conducted their business was destroyed two months ago in a brazen suicide attack.
Five men rushed the council office complex and blew themselves up, taking with them 13 people, including Kandahar's education minister and the province's public health deputy. Ten days later, assailants shot to death a female council member, Sitara Achakzai, outside her Kandahar city home. Again, in broad daylight.
The Taliban claimed responsibility for both attacks. Since then, says Mr. Ehsan, most of Kandahar's councillors - and all of the council's female members - have left the city.
This doesn't bode well for provincial council elections to be held later this year, he points out.
The high-profile attacks did not stop there. In May, prior to my visit with Mr. Ehsan, suicide bombers attempted to assassinate Kandahar governor Tooryalai Wesa.
A dual Afghan-Canadian citizen, Mr. Wesa was at the time inside the governor's palace in downtown Kandahar. His wife was in the palace kitchen. The insurgents stormed the entrance but were prevented from getting inside. They killed three policemen and two civilians instead.
Such acts of murder and terror in Kandahar are nothing new. But in Ottawa, government and military officials insist - at least in public - that the Canadian mission in Kandahar is making steady progress, that the insurgency is either stalled or is slowly being beaten down.
Less often do they speak about Kandaharis. This is understandable, but dangerous.
Understandable, because the Kandahari perspective does not conform to Canada's official view of its military and reconstruction mission in the province, which began in 2006 and will end two summers from now.
Dangerous, because disregarding or downplaying what Kandaharis have to say about their own environment puts everyone at risk, including Canadian soldiers and civilians working in the province.
While Mr. Ehsan's unvarnished analysis brings little comfort, it's useful.
"The truth is, things are deteriorating," he says. "The truth is, we are despondent."
This was not what I heard three years ago. The mood in Kandahar was lighter then, even as Canadian soldiers battled Taliban directly, in the dangerous provincial districts of Panjwaii and Zhari.
The fighting displaced families. Local farmers who remained complained that they lacked water for their crops. Closer to the provincial capital, factories were closing thanks to a scarcity of electrical power. But there was a sense of optimism. The Canadians were promising change.
Last year, one could feel a shift. Most of the fighting had stopped, the Taliban having turned almost exclusively to so-called asymmetrical tactics such as suicide attacks and remote bombings. Crime was on the rise. Kidnappings for ransom were all too frequent and police were said to be complicit in them.
Businessmen who had arrived from exile in America with hard- earned cash expressed fear and dismay. The Taliban carried out gruesome assaults on schoolgirls.
This year, girls don't attend schools. The same businessmen and their families with whom I spoke have left, for Kabul, for Dubai, for the West. The lights are still out. And now, elected officials have no place to meet and do their work.
"I've received three calls from intelligence [officers], telling me that terrorists in town are looking for me," says Mr. Ehsan. "They say they plan to hunt me and kill me, like they did to Sitara."
He is resilient, and defiant. The AK-47 in his living room is not just for show; he knows how to use it. Like many Kandaharis of his generation, Mr. Ehsan fought the Soviet occupation in the 1980s, lived in exile in Pakistan during the Taliban years, and returned to Kandahar post-2001, hoping for a brighter future.
"We were accustomed to conflict, but it was different then, because we were expecting [things would be] better," he says. "People were expecting that after the Taliban left power, the international community would bring security."
But that hasn't happened and local expectations have changed. Canada's military leadership knows this. In a remarkably candid exchange with reporters earlier this year, Brigadier-General Denis Thompson, the outgoing commander of Canadian troops in Kandahar, described the results of local surveys conducted on behalf of the military.
To no one's surprise, 55% of Kandahar residents surveyed said they felt relatively safe when asked in 2007. But only 25% said the same last year.
Never before had these survey results been shared with the Canadian public. Brig.-Gen. Thompson acknowledged their importance; they showed that the Kandaharis' own personal assessment of the security situation in their province had "plummeted," thanks, he said, to new Taliban tactics.
Six weeks later and back in Canada, Brig.-Gen. Thompson went on a cross-country speaking tour and visited with editorial boards at various newspapers, including the National Post. He referred again to the survey results.
Apparently, that was more than enough clarity for the Canadian Forces. The unflattering survey results were put back in the vault. A military spokesman told me they "have been re-classified and aren't available for public consumption."
As expectations around the mission in Kandahar diminish, information about Canadian operations and results in the province are either withheld, or scrupulously finessed by the government and senior military brass. .............................................................
National Post
© 2009 The National Post Company. All rights reserved. Unauthorized distribution, transmission or republication strictly prohibited.

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