U.S. special forces in Afghanistan double. The U.S. military has doubled the presence of Special Operations Forces in Afghanistan, bringing the number of Special Forces to more than those present in Iraq during the surge of 2007. The move is part of a new focus to target the leadership of insurgent groups, reports the Los Angeles Times. The Pentagon and the White House, faced with a limited window of time, hope that by assassinating the heads of groups they can lure the rank-and-file to switch allegiances and lay down their arms. As Karzai tries to reintegrate the Taliban, the Obama administration believes that "by hunting Taliban leaders, the specialized units hope to increase pressure on foot soldiers to switch sides." Some worry, however, that the buildup of Special Ops increases the risk of civilian deaths, which may further undermine Afghan support for NATO troops.
Move over Washington. After facing Washington's ire over his alleged rigging of the Afghan Presidential elections, Karzai turns his sights eastward, where he spots a new wealthy patron--China. In Foreign Affairs, Christian Le Miere argues that Kabul sees the possibility for a stronger military and economic relationship with the People's Republic. And China sees advantages in allying with Afghanistan too. Frustrated with Islamic militants from the separatist Turkistan Islamic Party (TIP) shooting rockets into Chinese territory, China wants Afghanistan to secure its borders to fight terrorism along its frontier. Beijing also looks to Afghanistan for greater trade and economic ties: it invested $3.5 billion in a copper field in Logar province and is building a 400-megawatt coal-fired power plant in the country. In December, Harvard's Stephen Walt chided American policymakers for having created a situation where "American troops have helped make Afghanistan safe for Chinese investment."
The myth of war reporting in Pakistan. A journalist who reported on the Pakistani military campaign in the Swat Valley last year discusses "the myth of war reporting in Pakistan." He recounts how his editors had removed any mention of civilian casualties as a result of military operations, citing that "the management has told us that we can only run pro-Army stories." The military's Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR) restricted journalists' access to the war zone, preventing any independent assessments of the situation. It also waged a media campaign by issuing countless press releases about the number of dead militants and soldiers "martyred," excluding any mention of civilian deaths. Jerome Starkey, an independent journalist, recently accused NATO forces of the same, and chastised reporters for falling victim to the NATO military propaganda machine. Starkey found that NATO had covered up an attack by NATO and Afghan forces on an Afghan family, blaming the deaths on the Taliban, when in fact coalition forces were to blame. It goes to show that readers should be critical of officially reported statistics and stories.
Translator says Canadian troops subcontracted torture to Afghan intelligence. As allegations of torture by U.S. troops in Afghanistan surface (see BBC report mentioned earlier), the torture of Afghan detainees has become a major political issue in Canada as well. According to the Globe and Mail, a former translator for the Canadian military, testifying before a parliamentary committee yesterday, alleged that Canadian troops deliberately transferred prisoners to Afghan intelligence officials for torture "when the detainees did not tell them what they expected to hear." He said the military effectively "used the NDS as subcontractors for abuse and torture." The torture of Afghan prisoners under Canadian custody has become an explosive issue in Ottawa, where the current government has been accused of a cover-up.
Afghan prisoners allege beatings at Bagram air base. Former Afghan prisoners told the BBC that they were abused at a secret detention facility located inside Bagram air base, a U.S. base outside of Kabul. An older prison at Bagram was closed after allegations of abuse and death surfaced. The U.S. military opened a new holding facility in 2009 at the air base, called "The Detention Facility in Parwan," and invited reporters to the prison, touting its transparency. But former detainees claim that abuse at a secret prison in Bagram, which they call "the Black Hole," continues, despite the Obama administration's promise to end torture. The prisoners allege that U.S. troops beat them and deprived them of sleep. Vice Admiral Robert Harward, in charge of Parwan, denied the existence of a secret detention facility and repudiated claims of torture.
Car bomb in Kandahar hotel. A car bomb targeted a hotel in the heart of Kandahar city, injuring six. The blast, which occurred in a parking lot, shattered the windows of the Noor Jehan Hotel. Tensions are high in Kandahar, as U.S. and Afghan forces prepare for an offensive in June, hoping to rout out the Taliban from their heartland. The Associated Press also reports that four NATO soldiers were killed in fighting in northern Afghanistan. While the nationality of the troops is not known, reports speculate that the soldiers were German.
The International Red Cross said today that civilian deaths due to roadside bombs have risen this year. According to the U.N., the percentage of civilian deaths attributed to NATO and Afghan forces fell, however, while civilian deaths due to insurgent attacks rose, accounting for two-thirds of all civilian war-related deaths.