Canada in Afghanistan
Are highly secretive Canadian Joint Task Force 2 commandos assassinating Afghanis during night raids?
That is what a recent Globe and Mail article seems to imply. "A top Canadian commander has defended his forces' night raids on Afghan homes after a leading human-rights group and the Kabul government condemned the controversial tactic." After describing the recent Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission (AIHRC) report and the Canadian forces reaction, the article notes, "the Globe and Mail is bound by an embedding agreement at Kandahar Air Field that forbids detailing Special Forces operations."
If he wants to continue reporting from Kandahar, Globe journalist Graeme Smith must avoid describing JTF2 operations. Already, a Toronto Star reporter has been expelled from a military base in Afghanistan after reporting on JTF2 night operations as well as the guard towers around a prisoner detention centre. "At the Kandahar airfield," Shadow Wars explains, "Canadian military public affairs officers threatened journalists with expulsion from the installation if they dare to write about special forces operating from the base. Some reporters were even told not to look in the direction of the JTF2 compound as they walked by."
It's not certain whether JTF2 commandos or regular Canadian forces participated in the night raids, but it is clear that these operations are becoming more and more important to NATO's counterinsurgency war. Opposition to night raids from the AIHRC, a group heavily reliant on Western government money, follows on the heels of comments made by UN special rapporteur on extra-judicial, summary and arbitrary executions, Philip Alston. In May he denounced foreign forces for organizing informal groups of Afghan fighters that launch secret night raids with little concern for civilian casualties.
The AIHRC report also adds to a growing body of evidence that Canada and its allies are spurring the insurgency. "The combination of abusive behaviour and violent breaking and entry into civilians' homes in the middle of the night stokes almost as much anger and resentment toward PGF [pro-government forces] as the more lethal air strikes."
"Life is clearly more perilous because we are there," is how a 2007 Senate Defense committee report described the violence engendered by the foreign occupation of Afghanistan. Similarly, when the Globe and Mail interviewed 43 Taliban footsoldiers in Kandahar on why they joined the insurgency, twelve said their family members were killed in NATO airstrikes and 21 said their poppy fields were targeted for destruction by anti-drug teams.
Airstrikes appear to be the most common cause of civilian casualties. Hundreds have died in bombings this year alone. On August 12, the Associated Press reported that "President Hamid karzai said airstrikes carried out in Afghan villages by US and NATO troops are only killing civilians." A week later 92 civilians, including 60 children, were killed in a single NATO bombing raid.
Canada has no fighter jets in Afghanistan, but Canadian personnel operate the NORAD systems that support US bombings in that country. More ominously, Canadian troops regularly call in US airstrikes.
In September 2006 Canadian forces spearheaded NATO's Operation Medusa aimed at Taliban strongholds in the Panjwaii and Zhari districts of Kandahar. This is how Corporal Ryan Pagnacco from Waterloo, Ontario, described the airstrikes: "After watching bomb after bomb drop on these targets, I wondered how anything could survive. I figured that when we went in, we'd be walking into a ghost town." The Medusa offensive forced 80,000 civilians to flee their homes, resulted in hundreds of enemy combatant deaths and, according to the New York Times, "at least 50 civilians were killed over several weeks of bombing."
In the air or on the ground, the fighting in Afghanistan is brutal. In June 2006 France 2 TV showed unedited images of Canadian soldiers searching villages and houses, breaking down doors and interrogating residents. According to a report in La Presse, Canadian soldiers are shown telling villagers that it is not smart to join the Taliban because our soldiers are really good, they are well trained and good shots "and you will die". Later on the video shows a Canadian commander saying "too bad for you if you don't want to tell us where the Taliban are hiding. We will come and kill them. We will drop many bombs and fire all over. Is this what you want? Well then continue telling us nothing."
Government documents suggest Canadian forces are waging an extremely active counterinsurgency campaign. DND files uncovered by the Ottawa Citizen show that Canadian troops fired an astounding 4.7 million bullets between April 2006 and December 2007, including over 1,650 tank shells and 12,000 artillery rounds. Running low on ammunition, in late 2006 Canada turned to the US army for an emergency $14 million bullet order.
The Western press has reported numerous incidents of Canadian troops killing Afghan civilians. "Canadian soldiers have repeatedly killed and wounded civilians while on patrol in civilian areas," the New York Times reported in May of last year.
Canadian armored vehicles regularly fire warning shots at bikes, cars or trucks that get too close, often causing crashes, leaving Afghans injured or worse. This past July Canadian soldiers killed a five-year-old girl and her two-year-old brother after their vehicle got too close to a convoy. The father exclaimed afterwards, "if I get a chance, I will kill Canadians."
Yves Engler is the author of two books: Canada in Haiti: Waging War on the Poor Majority (with Anthony Fenton) and Playing Left Wing: From Rink Rat to Student Radical. He is currently finishing a book on Canadian foreign policy.