WikiLeaks: Afghan Tribal Elders Threaten to ‘Fight NATO like the Soviets’
US diplomats in Afghanistan continually warned that night raids against insurgents by special forces had dramatically eroded public support for the Nato mission in key parts of Afghanistan.
Night raids have recently become a major area of contention between Karzai and Nato. The Afghan president told the Washington Post last month that he wanted an end to the “kill or capture” missions.
The cables show he has been privately asking the Americans to change their tactics for almost two years. In a memo of February 2009 Karzai asked the US under-secretary of defence policy Michele Flournoy for a limit on night raids. Since then the number of raids has increased fivefold.In several cables state department officials working in Afghanistan’s provincial reconstruction teams (PRTs) passed on reports from the field about the growing resentment towards night raids and warnings by locals that the US would inevitably come to be seen in the same light as the Soviet Union, which occupied Afghanistan in the 1980s.
Read related article “WikiLeaks cables: Karzai pushed Nato to end Afghanistan night raids” in the Guardian here.
Document 1: Afghan tribal elders threaten to ‘fight Nato like the Soviets’. Nato raids prompt local leaders to warn they will withdraw their support for the occupying forces if the attacks don’t stop.
Thursday, 12 February 2009, 11:14
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CG CJTF-101 POLAD
EO 12958 DECL: 02/12/2019
TAGS PGOV, PREL, KDEM, AF
SUBJECT: PRT ZABUL: IT’S HOT IN QALAT
REF: KABUL 131
Classified By: DCM Christopher Dell for Reasons 1.4 (b) and (d)
1. (C) The situation in Zabul province grows increasingly tense, following a February 6 Special Forces operation near Shar-e-safa that killed six, captured three, and garnered national and international media attention. Tribal elders, religious leaders and Provincial Councils members issued polite but determined ultimatums about coalition operations: change the way special operations are conducted at night and cooperate with Afghan security forces, or we will fight you the way we fought the Soviets. Zabul’s provincial police, army and intelligence chiefs admitted the mood at an 800-person rally February 8 at the Qalat mosque “frightened” them. Governor Arman asked the PRT for advice in how to diffuse the situation, but noted that President Karzai’s anti-coalition rhetoric makes it hard for him, Karzai’s appointee, to counter Taliban propaganda in the media. End summary.
Special Ops in Zabul
2. (SBU) The February 6 operation in Torri Kalay, Shar-e-safa is only the latest in a series of coalition attacks against insurgents that resulted in casualties and public outrage (reftel). According to CENTCOM, when the force arrived at the targeted compound, it conducted a call-out and all women and children exited the buildings to safety. Coalition forces pursued suspected militants to a nearby cave; the ensuing engagement killed six militants and captured three.
3. (SBU) The following day (February 7), the PRT shared with Deputy Governor Gulab Shah Alikhel releasable intelligence. National and international media outlets picked up Provincial Council Chief Haji Mohammed Hashim’s statements calling the victims innocent civilians. More than 300 Shar-e-safa residents took to the streets in protest, and threatened to bring the bodies to Kandahar (where Hashim and Shar-e-Safa district chief Shodi Khan, a close associate of the Karzai family, were conferring with Ahmed Wali Karzai), rather than bury them according to Islamic custom, to show their outrage. Gulab Shah dispatched additional police from Qalat, who diffused the situation and convinced the residents to bury their dead.
4. (C) Gulab Shah denied protesters permission to demonstrate in the streets February 8, but told them they could gather in the mosque, provided it remained peaceful. Prior to the meeting, he warned the PRT that he might not be able to control a spontaneous demonstration, if the protesters decided to block Highway 1. The Afghan police estimated that 800 people attended the rally. Several Afghan security leaders told PRT staff at a private dinner at the governor’s residence February 9 that the atmosphere at the mosque was unsettling. “It was frightening,” said Zabul’s Army chief and commander of the 2d Brigade of the 205 Corps MG Jamaluddin. “It was scary,” said the NDS deputy, who said that although the protesters had promised to remain peaceful, “foreigners” (meaning Pakistanis) heated up the rhetoric. The ANSF agreed that the tension had not passed, and that future gatherings would need to be closely monitored.
A clear message delivered . . .
5. (SBU) Over the last weeks and in the past days, PRT Afghan contacts ranging from mullahs, elected Provincial Council members, the local UNAMA head, members of the ANSF to tribal elders delivered the same recommendations:
— Cooperate with the Afghan national security forces on operations so they have an Afghan component for public credibility.
— Stop the night raids which terrify women and children; conduct arrests during the day, when most of the recent victims are easy to find in their shops and fields.
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— Respect Afghan culture and Islamic values, protect our civilians.
6. (C) Provincial Council Chief Mohammed Haji Hashim and Provincial Council Member Abdul Salam asked the PRT February 8 to meet with the Shar-e-safa elders “to give them comfort” after many district families had abandoned their homes and livestock. They said the residents did not want humanitarian assistance or development projects, only security in their homes. They alleged that when the villages hear the sound of helicopters at night, the men flee into caves out of fear, not guilt. Hashim suggested that the Afghan army, police, and possibly the deputy governor participate in the shura, along with the PRT, ISAF and Provincial Council.
7. (SBU) They also requested that CF coordinate their operations with the Afghan security forces. PRT informed them that we had an outstanding request with Governor Arman and NDS to assign trusted agents to work with special forces, but had yet to receive names, despite repeated reminders. Haji Hashim said he would bring this up at the next provincial security meeting.
A second time, louder, more forcefully . . .
8. (SBU) A six-person delegation of two tribal elders, two Provincial Council members, and two religious leaders brought a similar, but more severely worded message, to the PRT February 9: stop the special operations at night that kill civilians and terrify our women and children. If you don’t, you will lose our support. We will close our shops, block the streets, move to the mountains and fight you the way we fought the Soviets. We want to help you fight the Taliban who terrorize us during the day, but the special operations are doing more harm than good.
9. (SBU) Using provocative, sometimes aggressive language, they questioned the legality of the operations under the Afghan constitution. (Note: Article 38 of the Constitution stipulates, “No one, including the state, shall have the right to enter a personal residence or search it without the owners permission or by order of an authoritative court, except in situations and methods delineated by law.”) They emphasized that they do not object to special operations that capture insurgents, but they wanted them conducted according to Afghan cultural values. They noted that the current operations benefited the enemy. “The Taliban call and laugh at us every time civilians die.” They also agreed to meet with coalition forces and Afghan government representatives in a shura.
And a third time
10. (SBU) Governor Arman, recently returned from Kabul, asked PRT to address a group of 45 Shar-e-safa elders February 10, again to “offer to console the people.” Several elders spoke out against the operations which forced their families to seek refuge in Kandahar, and questioned why the United States couldn’t catch the enemy, but instead killed the innocent. “You came to bring peace and security, but we don’t want it, if it comes at the cost of our culture and religion.”
11. (SBU) Echoing previous comments by Provincial Council members, mullahs, and tribal elders, the Shar-e-safa residents expressed the firm conviction that special operations were violating Afghan culture and against Islamic principles. They shook their heads in disbelief when PRT explained that special operation forces took special precautions to protect women and children. They suggested that if CF were not more respectful, they would be perceived the same as the Soviets. &We stood against the Soviets for nine years, when they attacked our religion and culture. Don’t force us to do the same to you.8 (Note: PRT is hearing comparisons to the Soviets more and more frequently. End note.)
Help us help you
12. (SBU) PRT made the point in all three meetings that the operations were intended to break up a cell that was planting bombs on Highway One, killing civilians as well as CF, ANA and ANP, and destroying the infrastructure by blowing bridges and culverts. Coalition forces needed community involvement
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and the support of the elders in identifying IEDs and the people who placed them. The PRT also pointed out to the elders that the U.S. also stood against the Soviets, and since SOF operations were conducted no bridges or culverts were destroyed. The PRT also promised to attend a shura in Sara-e-Safa next week as part of Task Force Zabul’s “First Step” operations. Governor Arman will also attend. In addition, the PRT promised to convey their concerns to ISAF and U.S. Embassy.
13. (C) In a private meeting February 9, Governor Arman turned to the PRT for advice. PRT recommended that he or his deputy help counter Taliban propaganda by publicly reassuring the Zabul residents about coalition operations, and asking for their support. He noted ruefully that he would have to be “a little careful” about getting ahead of President Karzai, who criticized the Zabul operations. Arman said he needed to speak with the Shar-e-safa elders and mullahs and other provincial authorities before deciding a course of action for provincial shuras or other gatherings.
14. (C) Another special operation with casualties could tip the balance in Zabul towards anti-coalition forces. If Coalition Forces (CF) disregard the clear warnings and specific requests for cooperation, they risk endangering all of their stabilization and reconstruction efforts, and creating a more hostile environment as the U.S. plans on increasing troops in the province. Equally important, CF are losing the public relations campaign in Zabul -* no matter how Special Operation Forces (SOF) operations are actually conducted, the firm public conviction that CF are killing civilians and treating women badly works against them. The Taliban has the upper-hand in media relations, by declaring all casualties &civilians.8 PRT is working with Zabul local media to set the record straight, but will need robust support from ISAF. End Comment.
15. (U) This cable has been reviewed by the PRT Commander.
Document 2: Hamid Karzai criticises UK military. The Afghan president appears to question the “moral platform” of British troops, saying 4,000 soldiers are not able to improve the security situation in Helmand.
Saturday, 21 February 2009, 04:27
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EO 12958 DECL: 02/16/2019
TAGS PGOV, PREL, PTER, SNAR, AF, PK, IR
SUBJECT: PRESIDENT KARZAI PREVIEWS STRATEGIC REVIEW IDEAS
FOR USD/P FLOURNOY
1. (C NF) President Karzai on February 15 told Undersecretary of Defense for Policy Flournoy that his government welcomed the opportunity to join in the USG’s strategic policy review. He suggested his team likely would advocate for: 1) greater efforts to target terrorist leaders and sanctuaries in Pakistan; 2) additional work to strengthen Afghan communities to enhance security; and 3) new multilateral talks with individual groups of Taliban who agree to respect the Afghan constitution. On the contentious issue of civilian casualties, Karzai expressed satisfaction with the recent agreement on specific military operations and a willingness to move forward. The President predicted Iran would respond positively to the new US administration’s offers of dialog.
FOCUS ON PAKISTAN
2. (C NF) The fight for stability in Afghanistan must be taken to the terrorist planners and their sanctuaries in Pakistan, Karzai said. He noted he had long argued for greater efforts in this direction, including in public remarks in Kabul in 2005. Karzai expressed frustration that the close relationship between the United States and Pakistan had yet to yield a serious campaign against terrorist leaders operating there. Instead, he argued, Afghanistan paid the price of perceived US and Pakistani reluctance to grapple with the problem. Pakistan, of course, had long used Islamic fundamentalism as a policy tool. But “Pakistan is a puzzle to me now,” Karzai admitted. “I see things happening on a massive scale in the northwest that are not the work of ISI,” the Pakistani intelligence service.
3. (C NF) On cooperation between Afghanistan and Pakistan, Karzai said, “Zardari is of a different (positive) mindset.” The Pakistani President has yet to move, however, from good intentions to implementation, and is weak. Karzai asked Flournoy whether the US strategic review envisioned more direct bilateral military cooperation between Afghanistan and Pakistan, with the US or NATO as broker, or whether only greater US-Pakistan military cooperation was under consideration. Flournoy replied that the regional strategic review, while urgent and extremely important to the new US administration, was only just underway.
RENEW COMMUNITY SUPPORT
3. (C NF) The President underscored his analysis that the support of communities was key to countering the insurgency. When I first returned to Afghanistan, Karzai mused, I had only 14 American soldiers with me. But we had the Afghan people with us, they believed in the moral correctness of what we were doing, and even Helmand was safe for girls to go to school. Now, 4000 (sic) British soldiers are in Helmand, and the people are not safe. “We must stand on a higher moral platform than the bad guys,” the President said.
4. (C NF) Community empowerment is not about the arming the tribes, Karzai noted. Media speculation about this approach is misleading. We need ordinary people, the elders and the villagers, to trust in the government’s ability to do the right thing, and give them what they need to be able to defend themselves, the President said. In turn, the government must minimize civilian casualties, limit night raids, and make sure women and children are protected during military operations. Increasing the numbers and capabilities of the police and army, and strengthening government institutions, are also important, Karzai added.
TALK TO AFHGAN TALIBAN
5. (C NF) Afghanistan and the US together should formally launch a process of peace-making with those Taliban who are not al Qaeda or part of any terrorist network, Karzai proposed. There are groups and individuals who would accept the Afghan constitution, who have “run away” from us because of our own failings, he said. Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, and religious leaders have the right resources to make such a process work and should participate. But US partnership with Afghanistan is key to success and has been the missing element in efforts to date.
6. (C NF) If there really was a Taliban movement, Karzai said, I would be greatly worried by US reports that Iran is supporting the Taliban. But I do not think the Taliban is really a movement. It is the result of three decades of past Pakistani policy, plus a lot of poor, desperate kids who lack
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connection to a family or community.
FRIENDS DESPITE FRICTIONS
7. (C NF) On several topics, Karzai said, recent frictions in the bilateral relationship represent “annoyances” between “friends.” “We have been hurt by some recent statements,” he said, and also I know my “loud speeches” on civilian casualties hurt your feelings. Still, the two nations have common interests, and the two peoples are friends. Afghanistan is very grateful for the generosity of US aid in reconstruction and development. The agreement on civilian casualties is a “good start” and we can now move forward to implement it and so speak with one voice on this issue. On Iran, Karzai said, Afghanistan cannot be a channel, but we can help you convey the nuances of your demands. Iran is likely to respond positively to US offers of dialog even though it will never give up its nuclear programs. Progress in curbing poppy cultivation this year probably largely reflects market forces such as high wheat prices. Afghans consider poppy “not respectable,” however, and with stability and hope for the future will respond to international efforts to replace its cultivation with alternate livelihoods.
8. (C) Comment: Coming in the immediate aftermath of Special Representative Holbrooke’s visit, this meeting reflected Karzai’s effort to stick by his agreement to re-found the relationship. His calm, constructive comments on civilian casualties contrast sharply to his attitude previously.
9. (U) Undersecretary Flournoy cleared this cable.
Document 3: Afghan elders threaten to display civilian victims’ bodies. After a night raid kills five people, the local elders of Jaldak are so furious they refuse to bury the bodies – an inflammatory step given the Islamic requirement to bury the dead immediately.
Monday, 19 January 2009, 12:01
S E C R E T SECTION 01 OF 03 KABUL 000131
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EO 12958 DECL: 01/17/2014
TAGS PGOV, PREL, AF
SUBJECT: OUTRAGE AGAINST COALITION SPECIAL OPS INCREASES IN
Classified By: PRT Director Valerie C. Fowler for reasons 1.4 (b) and ( d)
1. (C) A series of Coalition special operations in Zabul province during December 2008 and January 2009 heightened emotions and public outcry against coalition forces (CF). This situation provided an opportunity for select provincial leaders to promote their own political agendas. Governor Delbar Jan Arman and his deputy Gulab Shah diffused several tense situations with angry village elders, and convinced residents from Arghandab and Shar-e-Safa districts that Coalition operations benefit provincial security in the long run. Arman’s efforts tempered but did not stop the growing public disapproval of how coalition operations are conducted. He cannot match the anti-coalition public information campaign of Senator Zalmay Zabuli, Provincial Council, and the behind-the-scenes influence of Lower House member Hamidullah Tukhi in Kabul.
2. (S) PRT, Task Force Zabul, and OEF Special Forces representatives engaged the governor and tribal elders to ease tensions and hear the concerns of affected and displaced communities. However, two messages ring loud and clear: Zabul residents want Afghan forces involved in coalition operations and Zabul security forces want better coordination and cooperation when targeting the enemy. Without “error free” coalition operations and a serious provincial government-led information campaign highlighting successful combined Afghan-CF operations; the coalition, PRT, and Governor Arman may soon lose public support in Zabul. End Summary.
3. (C) At least six operations since mid-December caught the Afghan public’s attention for their “civilian casualties” and “wrongful detentions.” Two special operations missions in December 2008 in Arghandab district allegedly displaced up to 200 families, who fled to Qalat. The Arghandab elders complained to Arman, as well as UNAMA, and their parliamentarians in Zabul and Kabul.
4. (C) A January 9 operation in Jaldak, southwest of Qalat, resulted in five deaths and the capture of three suspected militants. The Jaldak elders maintain the innocence of the dead and detained, to the point that they refused to bury the bodies and threatened to display them on Highway 1, until Arman convinced them that this would not benefit their communities. Arman reported that among the five dead males were an 80 year-old, a 70 year-old, an 18 year-old, a 20-year-old and 30 year-old — leaving no men in that household. The governor suggested to PRT that they were not enemies but allies of the government. Arman provided 1000 dollars for burial and calmed the village. The villagers requested the PRT find out the status of the prisoners and have them released.
5. (SBU) The media regularly highlighted the civilian death toll, and select Zabul politicians used the events as a platform to condemn inappropriate conduct during coalition operations (echoing Karzai’s recent statements condemning civilian deaths). Senator Zalmay Zabuli appeared on television several times in December, surrounded by Zabul residents, calling for coalition accountability and strongly condemning civilian casualties. Provincial Council Member Fawzia spoke on Afghan national television January 11 against coalition operations and declared the Provincial Council would close for a week in protest. Local and national news published comments from the Zabul Provincial Council chief after the closure, calling the operations “willful and obstinate” and noting that coalition forces did not heed earlier requests to stop killing civilians.
6. (C) Arman informed the PRT that he heard rumors that in Kabul, Lower House member Hamidullah Tukhi, an open opponent of the governor, complained to Minister of Interior Atmar about coalition operations and encouraged threats of protests.
Coalition Attempts to Assuage…
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7. (S) PRT, ISAF and Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF) Special Forces met repeatedly with Arman, Gulab Shah, ANSF and village elders to diffuse situations and listen to public claims of wrongful deaths and detention. PRT is ready to provide humanitarian assistance to the displaced Arghandab families. An OEF representative visiting January 10-12 spelled out carefully for Arman the precautions taken to avoid civilian casualties, but noted that when assault forces come under fire, they will return fire. He also met with the NDS chief in an effort to improve communication and intelligence sharing.
8. (S) Arman understands the Coalition’s procedures to minimize civilian deaths, and has been a forceful public advocate for the Coalition’s anti-terrorism efforts. However, he repeatedly asks for improved coordination and cooperation when targeting the Taliban. He has frequently asked for advance notice of sensitive operations to help with coordination, and, when possible, an Afghan security force presence during the operations to ensure that searches and detentions are done in a “culturally appropriate manner.” His security team — NDS, ANA, and ANP — has made the same suggestions at different times.
…But Is Unsuccessful
9. (C) Community leaders seem more determined than ever to get a satisfactory response from Arman and ISAF, or make their case against Coalition operations louder, more public, and more disruptive. Arghandab and Jaldak elders present at a January 13 provincial security meeting argued that Afghan participation in night raids would shift the accountability to Afghan security forces. Like the governor, they requested more coordination and cooperation. The elders were quick to emphasize they did not support the Taliban or welcome a Taliban presence in their communities. However, when Coalition operations hurt innocent civilians, “the Taliban wins.” They suggested “the Taliban is laughing at the Coalition” and the Afghan government every time a civilian is killed.
10. (SBU) Several Provincial Council members and Lower House member Abdusalam Roketi spoke in support of the elders’ demands for more carefully executed operations. Said Roketi, “When asked, what is sweeter than Islam? The prophet responded, ‘Security.’ But the people of Zabul are far removed from this sweetness. And in the name of security, the coalition is doing things that drive our people from their homes, and leave women and children in the cold.” The PRT responded by offering condolences to the village elders on the loss of lives and property. To counter accusations that all coalition operations were killing civilians, the PRT noted many operations that arrested or killed insurgents were confirmed to be good operations by the Provincial Government and ANSF.
11. (C) Perception is reality, and the Zabul public is increasingly convinced that Coalition Forces are disregarding civilians in their quest to fight the Taliban. Community elders and provincial leadership are unanimous in their call for increased cooperation on targeting missions. Without some evidence that coalition forces are concerned about civilian casualties and more efforts to include Afghan partners on missions, public support will continue to move away from the Afghan government and coalition. At this point in time, village elders from Arghandab and Jaldak districts are willing to accept this was a coalition mistake. However, the atmospherics in the province are becoming increasing fragile, and any positive effect special operations hope to achieve may be countered by a spread of discontent in the local populace.
12. (C) Missing from all the talk about coordination and communication is a provincial government strategic communications campaign to respond to the anti-government and anti-coalition propaganda. The PRT will push news releases to local media contacts in an effort to tell the other side of the story, and work with Arman’s office to counter rumors and grandstanding from his political opponents.
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13. (U) The PRT Commander has reviewed this cable.