iOS app Android app More

Afghanistan War: NATO Accused Of Misleading Reports

By HEIDI VOGT 04/25/12 07:13 AM ET AP

KABUL, Afghanistan -- A new report Wednesday by a Kabul-based think tank accuses international forces of misleading the public by calling military operations "Afghan-led" even in cases where NATO or U.S. forces are the only troops on the ground.

The charge cuts to the heart of a public perception battle being waged in Afghanistan, where international troops are eager to showcase successes by Afghan forces and to downplay the role played by international soldiers as NATO draws down forces and hands over security to Afghan control.

The United States and other nations that make up the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) have already started pulling out troops with the goal of putting Afghans in charge of countrywide security by the end of 2014. The alliance wants to show that Afghans are up to the task so that the country does not descend into civil strife after 10 years of a NATO-led war against Taliban and al-Qaida militants.

"ISAF's desire to present accounts of events as favorably as possible is to be expected, but sometimes this slips into propaganda, half-truths and, occasionally, cover up," said British analyst Kate Clark, the author of the report by the Kabul-based think tank Afghan Analysts Network.

As the drawdown of foreign forces progresses, the international troops are expected to transition more and more into the role of supporting Afghan forces, rather than leading them.

A draft strategic partnership pact agreed by the U.S. and Afghanistan earlier this week said after 2014, U.S. forces will only fight in Afghanistan with the government's approval.

In the transition, one phrase – "Afghan-led" – has become increasingly prevalent in NATO and U.S. news releases describing operations.

The report charges alleges that the term has been so loosely applied that it has, in at least once instance, been used for an assault conducted entirely by U.S. troops.

The report entitled "Death of an Uruzgan Journalist" focuses on the case of Afghan reporter Omaid Khpulwak, who was caught in a TV and radio broadcasting station known as the RTA building in July 2011 when it was attacked by insurgent suicide bombers as part of a larger attack on the southern city of Tarin Kot.

Khpulwak survived the initial blast but was shot by an American soldier who mistook him for an insurgent, according to a U.S. military investigation report made public by Australia's "The Age" newspaper in January after a Freedom of Information Act request. The investigation also concluded that U.S. troops were the only ones to enter the building and that Afghan forces on the ground did not issue commands to those forces.

But a NATO news release a day after the attack said: "Afghan commandos and a combined team of Afghan national security forces responded unilaterally to insurgent attacks in Tarin Kot."

Clark argues in her report that the messaging put out by the Afghan government and NATO and U.S. forces following the attacks in Uruzgan obfuscated the role of U.S. troops, leading Khpulwak's family and others in Tarin Kot to suspect an intentional cover-up.

A spokesman for U.S. forces said it was still appropriate to call the Uruzgan response "Afghan-led" because Afghan forces were overseeing the entire response that day, which included defending against attackers at the governor's compound and elsewhere in the city.

"The personnel that were at the RTA building were part of an Afghan-led response to the entire attack in Tarin Kot," said Col. Gary Kolb. He said that any operation for which the command element is Afghan would be considered Afghan-led.

"Afghan-led is Afghan-led if we're only providing a level of minimal support and they're the ones making the decisions to do a particular response," Kolb said.

But confusion appears to result from what qualifies as "minimal support." In the case of Tarin Kot, U.S. forces made the decisions on the ground at the RTA building, entered the building and oversaw the operation to find the bombers hiding inside, according to the U.S. military investigation.

It's a linguistic detail that will become increasingly important over the next few years as officials in the U.S. and other NATO countries will have to decide how quickly to remove troops from areas that have been handed over to Afghan control and how many to pull out.

The phrasing created confusion as recently as this month's coordinated attacks on Kabul and three other eastern cities. Kabul city was one of the first areas to transition to Afghan control and NATO commander Gen. John Allen praised Afghan forces for fighting off the insurgents without having to call on international troops.

Of course, that was not the entire picture. The Afghan Crisis Response Unit – the quick reaction police force that led much of the response in the capital – has Norwegian and British special forces soldiers embedded in units. When a Greek and Turkish base came under fire, the NATO forces stationed there fired back, rather than waiting for Afghan forces to mount a defense, according to an AP reporter at the site at the time. And NATO air power was called in to finish off a standoff at two buildings and end the attack, Kolb said.

NATO and Afghan officials say Afghan forces have made great progress toward acting on their own and the response in the Kabul attacks shows that improvement.

"The Afghans did the majority of the operations," Kolb said. "They were the ones doing the lead in the clearing operations, the ones scaling the building."

And Afghan forces are taking charge of many more operations than they were a year ago.

A spokesman for the Afghan Defense Ministry said that including conventional operations, about 60 percent are now Afghan-led. Gen. Dawlat Waziri said that this means Afghans are deciding when and where to strike, but that coalition forces help with air power or ground forces if needed.

"In all the provinces that we have transitioned to Afghan control, we are in the lead," Waziri said. "We have the commanders, we have the units, we are making the plans."

Afghan special operations forces conduct about 5 percent of their operations completely unilaterally, meaning that Afghans conduct them without international intelligence, advice, airpower or other support, said Lt. Col. Jimmie Cummings, another U.S. forces spokesman. And he noted that joint Afghan-U.S. special operations have been overseen by the Afghan government for months.

"Since December, all U.S. counterterrorism and special forces missions have been Afghan-led," said Lt. Col. Jimmie Cummings, another U.S. forces spokesman. He did not provide details on exactly what made them so.

Also on HuffPost:

live blog

Oldest Newest


Police take their position alongside a giant picture of Afghan national hero Ahmad Shah Massoud, on the roof of police headquarters in Kabul on May 7, 2012. The United States has freed up to 20 detainees from a military prison in Afghanistan over the past two years in an effort to promote reconciliation with insurgent groups, the US embassy said. (BAY ISMOYO/AFP/GettyImages)

Share this:
@ AbasDaiyar : Dreams Of A Mining Future On Hold In #Afghanistan : NPR

Share this:


An Afghan youth looks out from an intricately carved truck window at a police checkpoint in Kabul on May 7, 2012. Afghan forces are ready to take responsibility for security in 2013, the defence ministry said on May 7, reacting to a pledge to withdraw French troops early by president-elect Francois Hollande. Hollande made a campaign promise to pull French soldiers out of Afghanistan this year, ending his country's combat role two years earlier than NATO's carefully crafted plan to hand security control to Afghans by 2014. (SHAH MARAI/AFP/GettyImages)

Share this:
@ ISAFmedia : AP reports: Afghan Govt forces will thwart any attacks mounted by Taliban. #ANSFCanDo

Share this:
@ headlinenews : Fox: What French presidential vote means for European debt crisis, Afghan war, global diplomacy: French voters c...

Share this:
@ AfghanNews24 : Afghanistan a major focus of NATO summit - Chicago Sun-Times

Share this:

U.S. servicemen inside of a plane before their departure to Afghanistan from the U.S. transit center Manas, 30 km outside the Kyrgyzstan's capital Bishkek, on March 27, 2012. A planned withdrawal of US and coalition forces by the end of 2014 hinges on building up Afghan army and police, but the surge in 'fratricidal' attacks threatens to undermine that strategy, with strained relations between NATO troops and Afghan forces marked by distrust and cultural clashes. (VYACHESLAV OSELEDKO/AFP/GettyImages)

Share this:


An Afghan boy walks with his cow at sunset in Mazar-i Sharif, capital of the Balkh province on April 9, 2012. Agriculture has traditionally driven the Central Asian nation's economy, with wheat and cereal production being mainstays and quality fruits, especially pomegranates, apricots, grapes, melons, and mullberries being exported to many countries. (QAIS USYAN/AFP/GettyImages)

Share this:
@ JoeNBC : Looking Ahead to the Afghan War's Next Decade - Global - The Atlantic Wire:

Share this:
@ NewYorkPost : US soldier dies of rabies after dog bite in Afghanistan

Share this:

Gazing glumly over millions of dollars worth of machinery which used to churn out thousands of police and army boots each day but now sits wreathed in plastic sheeting, Farhad Saffi fears he is seeing the death of an Afghan dream.

Read the entire story here.

Share this:

Afghan President Hamid Karzai speaks during a press conference at the presidential palace in Kabul on May 3, 2012. Karzai hailed a new pact with the United States but warned that tough negotiations on Washington's military presence in his war-torn country after 2014 still lay ahead. (BAY ISMOYO/AFP/GettyImages)

Share this:

U.S. Marine Corps Gen. John R. Allen, the commander of the ISAF forces in Afghanistan, explains to Al Jazeera English why the handover in the turbulent country is "like building an airplane in midflight."

Share this:
@ cbrangel : As we begin our withdrawal from Afghanistan, we honor the 1,828 heroic Americans who paid the ultimate sacrifice.

Share this:
@ csmonitor : Obama's agreement with Karzai in Afghanistan short on specifics

Share this:

Filed by Eline Gordts  |