Marjah: Success for the military, hell for the residents

At GlobalPost, Jean MacKenzie and Mohammad Ilyas Dayee write:

The dusty squares of Marjah are empty; there is no life, the soul of the place seems to have disappeared. Those residents who are left cower in their homes, afraid of bullets or mines if they venture out, even for food.

“It is a small picture of Doomsday,” said Alishah Mazlumyar, the head of Helmand’s Department of Information and Culture, and a member of the Marjah shura, or council. “Dozens of civilians have been killed. Their families cannot bury the bodies, and for days they have been lying in their houses, beginning to decompose. There is a smell of death here.”

Twelve days into Operation Moshtarak — pitting 15,000 U.S., British and Afghan troops against a few hundred Taliban — the message from the military and diplomatic communities is resolutely upbeat.

Western diplomats term the operation a success, and the media office of the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) points to a bright future.

“Signs of steady progress in development and governance are being seen in central Helmand province. Bridges, roads and culverts are being repaired, bazaars are re-opening and attracting customers, and a variety of initiatives are being planned or implemented,” read the IJC press release of Feb. 22.

But those in Marjah are telling a very different story.

Reporting for Christian Science Monitor, Anand Gopal says:

Pakistan has arrested nearly half of the Afghanistan Taliban’s leadership in recent days, Pakistani officials told the Monitor Wednesday, dealing what could be a crucial blow to the insurgent movement.

In total, seven of the insurgent group’s 15-member leadership council, thought to be based in Quetta, Pakistan, including the head of military operations, have been apprehended in the past week, according to Pakistani intelligence officials.

Western and Pakistani media had previously reported the arrest of three of the 15, but this is the first confirmation of the wider scale of the Pakistan crackdown on the Taliban leadership, something the US has sought.

“This really hurts the Taliban in the short run,” says Wahid Muzjda, a former Taliban official turned political analyst, based in Kabul. Whether it will have an effect in the long run will depend on what kind of new leaders take the reins, he says.

The New York Times reports:

Inside a secret detention center in an industrial pocket of the Pakistani capital called I/9, teams of Pakistani and American spies have kept a watchful eye on a senior Taliban leader captured last month. With the other eye, they watch each other.

The C.I.A. and its Pakistani counterpart, the Directorate of Inter-Services Intelligence, have a long and often tormented relationship. And even now, they are moving warily toward conflicting goals, with each maneuvering to protect its influence after the shooting stops in Afghanistan.

Yet interviews in recent days show how they are working together on tactical operations, and how far the C.I.A. has extended its extraordinary secret war beyond the mountainous tribal belt and deep into Pakistan’s sprawling cities.

Beyond the capture of Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, C.I.A. operatives working with the ISI have carried out dozens of raids throughout Pakistan over the past year, working from bases in the cities of Quetta, Peshawar and elsewhere, according to Pakistani security officials.

The Washington Post says:

A blizzard of bank notes is flying out of Afghanistan — often in full view of customs officers at the Kabul airport — as part of a cash exodus that is confounding U.S. officials and raising concerns about the money’s origin.

The cash, estimated to total well over $1 billion a year, flows mostly to the Persian Gulf emirate of Dubai, where many wealthy Afghans now park their families and funds, according to U.S. and Afghan officials. So long as departing cash is declared at the airport here, its transfer is legal.

But at a time when the United States and its allies are spending billions of dollars to prop up the fragile government of President Hamid Karzai, the volume of the outflow has stirred concerns that funds have been diverted from aid. The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, for its part, is trying to figure out whether some of the money comes from Afghanistan’s thriving opium trade. And officials in neighboring Pakistan think that at least some of the cash leaving Kabul has been smuggled overland from Pakistan.

Finally, in Mother Jones, Daniel Schulman reports:

Blackwater improperly obtained hundreds of weapons intended for use by Afghanistan’s already underequipped police force—and then falsely claimed to a Senate committee that the firearms had been returned when many remained unaccounted for.

According to a months-long investigation by the Senate Armed Services Committee that unearthed a range of misconduct by the company’s personnel, contractors working for a Blackwater subsidiary named Paravant operated recklessly and routinely violated military regulations. The inquiry also identified a series of major vetting lapses by the company, which employed at least one contractor it had previously fired for improper behavior in Iraq and others who abused alcohol and drugs, including steroids. The investigation paints a grim picture of the state of contracting oversight in Afghanistan, where, according to committee staffers, military officials missed multiple red flags calling Paravant’s conduct into question—and were even confused about who was ultimately responsible for overseeing the company’s work in the first place.

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