I met a traveler from an antique land,
Who said, “Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert…
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare,
The lone and level sands stretch far away.”
A number of writers have preceded me in quoting Shelley’s Ozymandias to evoke the huge US and NATO bases planted since 2001 in Afghanistan. The comparison is irresistible, but not necessarily apt. Even if only the head and legs were left, bits of Ozymandias’s statue had still presumably survived for three thousand years or so, which is a pretty good record as these things go. Few US or NATO officials, by contrast, seem to be planning seriously much beyond the next three years.
In Kabul, the changes wrought by the West’s twelve-year Afghan adventure have a certain solidity, at least to the point where the banks and office buildings would make for reasonably imposing and long-lasting ruins. Even some more intelligent members of the Taliban seem to recognize that the Afghan capital, a city of some five million people, is no longer the rubble-filled and shrunken city that they ruled in 2001; that the modern educated classes have grown to the point where they cannot be subjected to the moral code of a madrassa in a Pashtun mountain village; and that if a future Afghan government including the Taliban wants the help of these people — those who do not depart following the West’s withdrawal — in ruling and developing Afghanistan, it will have to grant them some freedom.
In the southern Pashtun province of Helmand, however, the atmosphere is very different. The presence of the Taliban is much more palpable both from conversations and the watchfulness of the Western forces. The veil of progress brought by the West is also a great deal thinner. During a recent trip with NATO officials, I was kept within the fortified perimeters of the US and British forces and the Afghan government centers—an indication of the current level of concern about the Taliban.
Visiting US and NATO bases there, I found that the images that came to mind were not Ozymandian images of long-fallen imperial grandeur, but rather those of science fiction: of Ray Bradbury’s human and Martian species meeting under an enormous, indifferent sky amidst the vast and utterly strange landscape of Mars. In an even gloomier mood, I thought of the Strugatsky brothers’ dystopian novel Roadside Picnic, on which Tarkovsky’s film Stalker was based. The premise is that aliens dropped by briefly on earth for some reason of their own, leaving behind a weirdly transformed landscape littered with discarded alien objects. In fact, seen from the air at night, Helmand’s huge Western military installations — Camp Leatherneck, the US Marine base, and the adjacent Camp Bastion, the main British base — look like a giant spaceship, a great blob of blazing lights amid a dark sea of desert. At the height of the Western occupation, the camps used more electricity than the rest of the province put together. Every drop of fuel for the generators had to be shipped in through Pakistan, along with every drop of mineral water and every bite of food consumed by the troops.
And if you want to move from science fiction to Alice in Wonderland, ask yourself this: how has it been possible to bring all that stuff in by road through areas of Pakistan controlled largely by the Pakistani Taliban, allied to the Afghan Taliban — areas from which Pakistani Taliban have launched innumerable attacks on Pakistani forces? Why have there been so few attacks, and those few (to judge by circumstantial evidence) only when the Pakistani military wants to send a message to Washington? The answer appears to be that the Taliban tax these NATO convoys as they tax all other trade in the region: Obtaining tax revenues from mineral water, fruit juice, hamburgers, and other NATO necessities that do them no harm at all is, it turns out, far more advantageous than interrupting our supply routes. In other words, all these years NATO has actually been subsidizing the Taliban’s war effort. [Continue reading...]
The Observer reports: Chilling new evidence that Britain and America came close to provoking the Soviet Union into launching a nuclear attack has emerged in former classified documents written at the height of the cold war.
Cabinet memos and briefing papers released under the Freedom of Information Act reveal that a major war games exercise, Operation Able Art, conducted in November 1983 by the US and its Nato allies was so realistic it made the Russians believe that a nuclear strike on its territory was a real possibility.
When intelligence filtered back to the Tory government on the Russians’ reaction to the exercise, the prime minister, Margaret Thatcher, ordered her officials to lobby the Americans to make sure that such a mistake could never happen again. Anti-nuclear proliferation campaigners have credited the move with changing how the UK and the US thought about their relationship with the Soviet Union and beginning a thaw in relations between east and west.
The papers were obtained by Peter Burt, director of the Nuclear Information Service (NIS), an organisation that campaigns against nuclear proliferation, who said that the documents showed just how risky the cold war became for both sides.
“These papers document a pivotal moment in modern history – the point at which an alarmed Thatcher government realised that the cold war had to be brought to an end and began the process of persuading its American allies likewise,” he said.
“The Cold War is sometimes described as a stable ‘balance of power’ between east and west, but the Able Archer story shows that it was in fact a shockingly dangerous period when the world came to the brink of a nuclear catastrophe on more than one occasion.”
Able Archer, which involved 40,000 US and Nato troops moving across western Europe, co-ordinated by encrypted communications systems, imagined a scenario in which Blue Forces (Nato) defended its allies after Orange Forces (Warsaw Pact countries) sent troops into Yugoslavia following political unrest. The Orange Forces had quickly followed this up with invasions of Finland, Norway and eventually Greece. As the conflict had intensified, a conventional war had escalated into one involving chemical and nuclear weapons.
Numerous UK air bases, including Greenham Common, Brize Norton and Mildenhall, were used in the exercise, much of which is still shrouded in secrecy. However, last month Paul Dibb, a former director of the Australian Joint Intelligence Organisation, suggested that the 1983 exercise posed a more substantial threat than the Cuban missile crisis of 1962. “Able Archer could have triggered the ultimate unintended catastrophe, and with prompt nuclear strike capacities on both the US and Soviet sides, orders of magnitude greater than in 1962,” he said. [Continue reading...]
Michael Hastings writes: On Sunday morning, I picked up my official NATO Summit press credentials, went through an extensive security check from my hotel (dogs, metal detectors, Secret Service, all in the The Hyatt Regency, where most of the NATO media is staying) and boarded a bus to McCormack Place, the massive conference center where most of the summit is taking place.
Both the trip there and the trip back seemed designed to keep the chaos at bay, out of sight and out of mind, with roads closed down to secretly slip us by the potentially angry people in the streets. If Chicago residents were going to get annoyed by the traffic, and NATO protesters annoyed by the heavy handed police tactics, the global elite weren’t going to be bothered by any of it.
Compared to the reality of the Chicago streets — the heat, the smells, a sense of manic purpose — the cavernous McCormack place felt very sterile. World leaders faces were broadcast on big screens, played in endless loops exchanging pleasantries. (Example: “It is great to be back in Chicago,” says NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen. “Welcome each and everyone of you to my hometown,” says President Barack Obama.)
The international press corps covering NATO must be one of the most boring collectives of journalists ever assembled. They seem very keen on not missing any press releases handed out at the NATO media desk.
The summit itself is mostly a symbolic affair — we nations gather together and affirm our commitment to one another. In Afghanistan’s case this is no longer true, however: the commitment is really to get out of our commitments as quickly as possible.
Bernard Harcourt writes: “No amount of medals, ribbons, or flags can cover the amount of human suffering caused by this war.”
“I have only one word, and it is shame.”
“This is for the people of Iraq and Afghanistan.”
“Mostly, I’m sorry. I’m sorry to all of you. I am sorry…”
In the shadow of the Nato summit, under the watchful eyes of a phalanx of full-black-clad riot police, dozens of former servicemen and women in uniform, veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, threw away their medals, with apologies. It was one of the most moving experiences many of us had witnessed in our lives. It is hard to describe in words. I couldn’t get the lump out of my throat. Out of the corner of my eye, I caught a woman next to me crying. Their words, their voices, crackling under the emotion of their courageous act, breaking under the weight of the pain, the trauma, their anger, sadness, and hope – theirs was a heroic and beautiful act, a moving ceremony. It was a privilege to be there with these women and men who served in our wars.
Operation Iraqi Freedom medal. Tossed. Global War on Terror medal. Thrown. National Defense medal. Pitched. Marine Corps Good Conduct medal. Flung. Navy and Marine Corps medal. Chucked.
Most of the reporting of the demonstrations that met the summit will focus on the minor violence, on the few clashes between protesters and police, on the blood, on everything that happened after the peaceful march was over. In our sad world of spectacle, the pushing and shoving will be all that gets our attention. It is a pity.
Because what was truly remarkable today was the American servicewomen and men tossing their medals back at Nato. In a mixture of sadness, shame, anger, and pride, of trauma, sorrow, and pain, some looking back at their time in Iraq and Afghanistan, some healing from PTSD, others chanting Occupy slogans, these men and women showed a type of courage that the Nato leaders should have been forced to watch. Tragically, our leaders were busy posing for photo ops. They should have been forced to listen to these courageous men and women, to their veterans. It is their loss, ultimately. [Continue reading...]
Gary Younge writes: On Friday morning in Brighton Park, a neighbourhood in southwest Chicago, around half a dozen Latina volunteers in luminous bibs patrolled the streets around Davis Elementary school. The school sits in the crossfire of three gangs; the Kings, the 2/6s and the SDs (Satan’s Disciples). The trees and walls nearby are peppered with “tags” denoting territory and mourning fallen gang members. There is a shooting in the area every couple of weeks, explains Mariela Estrada of the Brighton Park Neighbourhood Council, which facilitates the volunteers.
That same evening, just a couple of blocks away, a 14-year-old, Alejandro Jaime, was shot dead while out riding his bike with his 11-year-old friend. According to witnesses, a car knocked them both off their bikes. They picked themselves up and ran. A man got out of the car and shot Alejandro in the back. “Although it’s the city’s job to provide public safety, we had to respond since our children are in danger and continue to face threats of gang violence,” said Nancy Barraza, a Parent Patrol volunteer.
The next morning world leaders started arriving in Chicago for the Nato summit where, just 20 minutes from Brighton Park, they would discuss how to maintain international security. The dissonance between the global pretensions of the summit this weekend and the local realities of Chicago could not be more striking. Nato claims its purpose is to secure peace through security; in much of Chicago neither exists.
When the city mayor Rahm Emanuel brought the summit to Chicago he boasted: “From a city perspective this will be an opportunity to showcase what is great about the greatest city in the greatest country.” The alternative “99% tour” of the city, organised by the Grassroots Collaborative that came to Brighton Park, revealed how utterly those who claim to export peace and prosperity abroad have failed to provide it at home.
The murder rate in Chicago in the first three months of this year increased by more than 50% compared with the same period last year, giving it almost twice the murder rate of New York. And the manner in which the city is policed gives many as great a reason to fear those charged with protecting them as the criminals. By the end of July last year police were shooting people at the rate of six a month and killing one person a fortnight. [Continue reading...]
Bernard Harcourt writes: With Nato delegates arriving Saturday night, the City of Chicago has been turned into a police state. Courtesy of Mayor Rahm Emanuel, who several months ago began implementing new draconian anti-protest measures, Chicago has gone on security lockdown. Starting early Friday night, 18 May 2012, the Chicago Police Department began shutting down – prohibiting cars, bikes, and pedestrians – miles and miles of highways and roads in the heart of Chicago to create a security perimeter around downtown and McCormick Place (where the Nato summit is being held).
Eight-foot tall, anti-scale security fencing went up all over that perimeter and downtown, including Grant Park; and the Chicago police – as well as myriad other federal, state, and local law enforcement agencies, such as the FBI and the US secret service – were out in force on riot-geared horses, bikes, and patrols – batons at the ready. Philadelphia Police Department is sending over reinforcements to help out; Chicago has also asked for recruits from police departments in Milwaukee and Charlotte-Mecklenburg, NC. Meanwhile, F-16 warplanes “screamed through the skies as part of a pre-summit defense exercise” and helicopters hovered incessantly.
The Chicago Police Department has spent $1m in “riot-control equipment” in anticipation of the Nato summit. According to the Guardian, “The city of Chicago’s procurement services website shows that in March  $757,657 was spent on 8,513 ‘retro-fit kits’ to be fitted to police helmets. In February  673 of the same kits, which include a face shield and ear and neck protectors, were purchased for $56,632.” Plus, the Chicago Police Department will be deploying its two, new, expensive long-range acoustic device (LRAD) sound cannons – which it bought at $20,000 a pop. These are the type of devices that were used by the Pittsburgh police to deliver high-pitched alarm tones during the G20 summit meeting there in 2009. [Continue reading...]
The New York Times reports: NATO’s seven-month air campaign in Libya, hailed by the alliance and many Libyans for blunting a lethal crackdown by Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi and helping to push him from power, came with an unrecognized toll: scores of civilian casualties the alliance has long refused to acknowledge or investigate.
By NATO’s telling during the war, and in statements since sorties ended on Oct. 31, the alliance-led operation was nearly flawless — a model air war that used high technology, meticulous planning and restraint to protect civilians from Colonel Qaddafi’s troops, which was the alliance’s mandate.
“We have carried out this operation very carefully, without confirmed civilian casualties,” the secretary general of NATO, Anders Fogh Rasmussen, said in November.
But an on-the-ground examination by The New York Times of airstrike sites across Libya — including interviews with survivors, doctors and witnesses, and the collection of munitions remnants, medical reports, death certificates and photographs — found credible accounts of dozens of civilians killed by NATO in many distinct attacks. The victims, including at least 29 women or children, often had been asleep in homes when the ordnance hit.
In all, at least 40 civilians, and perhaps more than 70, were killed by NATO at these sites, available evidence suggests. While that total is not high compared with other conflicts in which Western powers have relied heavily on air power, and less than the exaggerated accounts circulated by the Qaddafi government, it is also not a complete accounting. Survivors and doctors working for the anti-Qaddafi interim authorities point to dozens more civilians wounded in these and other strikes, and they referred reporters to other sites where civilian casualties were suspected.
Two weeks after being provided a 27-page memorandum from The Times containing extensive details of nine separate attacks in which evidence indicated that allied planes had killed or wounded unintended victims, NATO modified its stance.
U.S. and Afghan government officials are struggling to reach a strategic long-term agreement — the sticking point is Afghan opposition to night raids which have surged under the Obama administration and now happen as often as 40 times a night.
NATO officials say they have modified how night raids are conducted in response to the Afghan government’s concerns.
“Ninety-five percent of all night operations at this stage are already partnered,” said Brig. Gen. Carsten Jacobson, the NATO spokesman in Afghanistan. “So basically the recommendation of the traditional loya jirga is already put into action.”
“It is in our combined interest that as soon as possible, Afghanization is accomplished,” he added, referring to an Afghan takeover of security responsibility.
Mr. Faizi was unimpressed by that argument. “According to reports from our officials in different provinces, the Afghan security forces are leaving with the American forces to go conduct night operations without being informed directly where they are going, which house they are searching and who is the target,” he said.
While General Jacobson said night raids averaged 10 a night now, a recent study of night raids by the Open Society Foundations, financed by George Soros, estimated that 19 a night were taking place during the first three months of 2011.
The American military is so enamored of the tactic that some generals have said that without night raids, the United States may as well go home.
General Jacobson said that 85 percent of night raids took place without a single shot fired, and that over all such operations accounted for less than one percent of all civilian casualties.
Statistics might calm the doubts of feeble-minded U.S. senators, but they will have little to no impact on the perceptions of Afghans whose homes are being violated. To live in a country where there is an ever-present risk of foreign soldiers breaking into your house in the middle of the night is to live in a state of oppression. This is the nature of occupation.
[Aimal Faizi, the spokesman for President Hamid Karzai,] said the raids were the biggest complaints that Mr. Karzai heard when visitors from the provinces met with him.
“If one of the messages of the United States is to win the hearts and minds of the Afghan people, then these night raids are totally against this,” he said. “People are becoming more and more against the international presence in Afghanistan.”
On the frontlines of southern Helmand Province, the governor of Sangin district, Mohammad Sharif, is a critic of the practice, even though his district has been the center of some of the toughest fighting of the war, with among the highest casualty rates for NATO forces. He said the Special Operations forces that carried out the raids often got the wrong people, including many pro-government people. “People are not happy, and they feel bad toward Americans,” he said.
A high-ranking official in Helmand Province saw the matter differently, although he did not want to be quoted by name endorsing night raids because of their unpopularity. “So many Taliban commanders have been killed or detained in night raids, and if it wasn’t for them, we would not have the peace we now have,” he said. “Taliban commanders are like snakes: it’s hard to catch them, and night raids are their charmers.”
He also noted that trying to arrest a Taliban commander during the day would inevitably mean a battle, which might well cause casualties among bystanders.
Mr. Faizi said the president was concerned that in many cases, Afghan families were forced to give food and shelter to insurgents, and then later were blamed for doing so and arrested. “We think that all these night raids, they bring the conflict directly to the homes of the Afghan people,” he said. “It has to be the opposite, the fight has to be fought somewhere else.”
Bloomberg reports: Pakistan stepped up its protests over a NATO airstrike that killed 24 of its soldiers, deciding to boycott an international conference on Afghanistan to be held in Germany next week.
The decision to pull out from the Dec. 5 summit in Bonn was agreed at a meeting of the federal Cabinet yesterday, according to a government statement. The nuclear-armed nation had already closed border crossings to trucks carrying supplies for U.S.-led forces in Afghanistan and ordered American personnel to vacate the Shamsi airbase in Pakistan’s southwest that has served as a launching point for Predator unmanned aircraft.
Pakistan still supports “stability and peace in Afghanistan and the importance of an Afghan-led, Afghan-owned process of reconciliation,” the government said in the statement. “In view of the developments and prevailing circumstances, the country has decided not to participate in the conference.”
The U.S. wants the Bonn meeting to cement a sustained international commitment to stabilize Afghanistan, and prevent any Taliban takeover, following the planned U.S. pullout of its main combat forces by 2014. The U.S. and Afghan governments have said Pakistan’s role is critical as it wields influence with the Taliban and could press the guerrillas for concessions in a peace process.
Following the Nov. 25 airstrike, “there’s a lot of domestic pressure in Pakistan that’s forcing the government to move beyond rhetoric,” Shaheen Akhter, an analyst at the Institute of Regional Studies in Islamabad, said yesterday. Still, Pakistan can’t afford “to remain on the sidelines as the international community decides on the future of Afghanistan. They will be back at the table soon.”
The Economist‘s correspondent in Lahore notes: Pakistan’s leaders know the Americans are still deeply dependant on them. In the past few months NATO—and especially the Americans—have done an impressive job of reducing their reliance on land transport corridors through Pakistan to supply Western soldiers in Afghanistan. Over the past 120 days, for example, of the materiel received by the Americans in Afghanistan, around 30% was flown in and 40% was driven over Afghanistan’s northern borders from Central Asia, leaving just 30% to come via Pakistan’s roads. That is a sharp reduction on previous years. Thus the immediate and predictable closing of the Pakistan route, in response to the deaths on the border, should prove less disruptive than it once would have been.
But America relies on Pakistan in other ways. A military base, Shamsi, used by America inside Pakistan, apparently to launch drones, has been ordered closed within 15 days. That may be smoke and mirrors (it was quite possibly no longer used by the Americans anyway, after a previous clash), but is a sign of the sort of co-operation the Americans have quietly enjoyed on Pakistan’s account as they hunted al-Qaeda and other extremist leaders whom Pakistan does not regard as allies. Intelligence co-operation (however flawed) from Pakistan, against individuals plotting attacks on the West will also continue to be crucial in the coming years. Keeping close tabs on Pakistan’s large (perhaps 100-warhead strong) and fast-growing nuclear arsenal is also a long-term priority for the Americans.
Yet America and Pakistan could decide it is better to wind down their relationship to something minimal. A strong cohort within the Pentagon—especially after attacks on America’s embassy in Kabul, in September, by fighters seen as allied with Pakistan—has been demanding direct American military intervention in North Waziristan, possibly including American soldiers on the ground, even if Pakistan’s government opposes the idea. Pakistan is blamed for NATO and Afghan army forces’ failure to defeat the Taliban and other insurgents in Afghanistan, and for the Taliban’s refusal to consider peace talks. American lawmakers have also grown increasingly hostile over civilian and military aid to Pakistan, especially once it appeared that bin Laden had been harboured in Pakistan.
Within Pakistan, a breaking point could be near. One factor may be the rise of Imran Khan, a populist figure who makes a big deal of his opposition to America’s role in the ongoing fighting. As important may be the rise of younger, more religious army officers who are instinctively more anti-American than previous generals. After a year of crises and confrontations, the relationship, though troubled, survives. But the moment when one side or the other decides it is better to cut aid, reduce military co-operation and weaken diplomatic ties is growing nearer.
Reuters reports: NATO helicopters and fighter jets attacked two military outposts in northwest Pakistan on Saturday, killing as many as 28 troops and plunging U.S.-Pakistan relations, already deeply frayed, further into crisis.
Pakistan retaliated by shutting down vital NATO supply routes into Afghanistan, used for sending in almost half of the alliance’s non-lethal materiel.
The attack is the worst single incident of its kind since Pakistan uneasily allied itself with Washington in the days immediately following the Sept 11, 2001 attacks on U.S. targets.
Relations between the United States and Pakistan, its ally in the war on militancy, have been strained following the killing of al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden by U.S. special forces in a raid on the Pakistani garrison town of Abbottabad in May, which Pakistan called a flagrant violation of sovereignty.
The Pakistani government and military brimmed with fury.
“This is an attack on Pakistan’s sovereignty,” said Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani. “We will not let any harm come to Pakistan’s sovereignty and solidarity.”
Daniel Williams writes: If anyone is surprised by the apparent killing of Moammar Gadhafi while in the custody of militia members from the town of Misrata, they shouldn’t be.
More than 100 militia brigades from Misrata have been operating outside of any official military and civilian command since Tripoli fell in August. Members of these militias have engaged in torture, pursued suspected enemies far and wide, detained them and shot them in detention, Human Rights Watch has found. Members of these brigades have stated that the entire displaced population of one town, Tawergha, which they believe largely supported Gadhafi avidly, cannot return home.
As the war in Libya comes to an end, the pressing need for accountability and reconciliation is clear. The actions of the Misrata brigades are a gauge of how difficult that will be, and Misrata is not alone in its call for vengeance. In the far west, anti-Gadhafi militias from the Nafusa Mountains have looted and burned homes and schools of tribes that supported the deposed dictator. Anti-Gadhafi militias from Zuwara have looted property as they demanded compensation for damage they suffered during the war.
The apparent execution of 53 pro-Gadhafi supporters in a hotel in Sirte apparently under control of Misrata fighters is a bad omen. It is up to the National Transitional Council to rein in all the militias and quickly establish a functioning justice system. The NTC should take control of the many makeshift detention facilities, expedite the return of displaced Libyans, and ensure the investigation, trial and punishment of wrongdoers acting in the name of vengeance. That includes Gadhafi’s killers if the evidence showed crimes were committed. The NTC, and its foreign backers, have comprehensively failed to start setting up a justice system — even in Benghazi, where they have been in charge since the spring.
Clearly the NTC is up against the passions of a nasty war. Misrata withstood a two-month siege at the hands of Gadhafi’s forces with near-daily indiscriminate attacks that killed about 1,000 of its citizens. The town’s main boulevard, Tripoli Street, is in ruins. Facades of public buildings and private homes collapsed from tank fire and are charred inside and out. The pockmarks of bullet holes disfigure construction everywhere.
The fierce fight for Misrata has left a penetrating bitter aftertaste. Misratans say they detest anyone who backed Gadhafi. They are not welcome in Misrata, even if the city and its environs was their home for generations.
The Misrata militia is focusing its greatest wrath on Tawergha, a town of about 30,000 people just south of the city. Both Misratans and Tawerghas say residents there were enthusiastic Gadhafi supporters. Hundreds of erstwhile civilians in that town took up arms to fight for him. Misratans say Tawergha volunteers committed rapes and pillaged with gusto, though Misrata officials decline to produce evidence of the alleged rapes, saying family shame inhibits witnesses and victims from coming forward.
In any event, Misratan militia members are venting their anger on all Tawerghas, who are largely descendants of African slaves. Most fled their town as Misratan fighters advanced there between Aug. 10 and Aug. 12.
Witnesses and victims we interviewed provided credible accounts of Misratan militias shooting and wounding unarmed Tawerghas and torturing detainees, in a few cases to death. In Hun, about 250 miles south of Misrata, militias from Benghazi have taken it upon themselves to protect about 4,000 refugees. They say Misratans are hunting down Tawerghas.
One hospitalized Tawergha told Human Rights Watch how he was shot in the side and leg and abandoned to die near Hun: “They left us at the edge of the road, put a blanket over us and then started swearing, ‘You are dogs, hope you die.’”
Misrata militias, with the momentary compliance of local officials, insist that no Tawerghas should return to the area. Ibrahim Yusuf bin Ghashir, a representative of the NTC, said: “We think it would be better to relocate them somewhere else.” The allegations of rape, he added, “cannot be forgiven and it would be better to resettle them far away.”
This unforgiving campaign is not limited to Tawerghas. Many Misratans say that any tribe or group that supported Gadhafi — thousands of people — should not return to the city. The graffiti on tumble-down town walls express Misratans’ view: “(Expletive) No returnees.”
Human Rights Watch has interviewed refugees from Misrata who tried to return and were forbidden to enter the city without a permit from the local council. A Misrata militia member told the media that all pro-Gadhafi travelers are barred from the city.
As painful as the losses have been for Misrata and the rest of Libya, everyone who fought Gadhafi should remember what they were fighting for: an end to torture, to arbitrary detention, to pitting one tribe against another; for respect and equality among neighbors. Otherwise, the agony that preceded victory will breed vengeance, rancor and a divided new Libya — one that in disturbing ways may resemble the old.
Daniel Williams is a Senior Researcher at Human Rights Watch
The Associated Press reports: For the past two months, Tawergha has been a ghost town, with access roads blocked by earthen mounds and other obstacles. Road signs pointing to Tawergha have been painted over. Misrata brigades have scribbled slogans on the walls of abandoned homes.
“The Tawergha are the rats of Gadhafi,” read graffiti on one facade, using Gadhafi’s derogatory name for his opponents. The fallen regime had tried to ensure Tawergha’s loyalty with promises of jobs and investment, and while some of the homes there were ramshackle, the town also boasted a modern school, medical clinic and rows of new apartment buildings.
A tour of Tawergha on Friday showed widespread vandalism. The school, clinic, small shops and modern apartments had been ransacked, with some rooms burned and contents of closets strewn on the ground.
Human Rights Watch said its team saw militias and individuals from Misrata set 12 homes on fire during a three-day period in early October. On Oct. 25, the team saw trucks drive out of Tawergha with furniture and carpets that had apparently been looted, and that Misrata fighters who claimed to be guarding the town did not intervene.
Two Misrata fighters driving through Tawergha on Friday said the town’s residents are no longer welcome. “They will have to find a different place and build houses there,” said 22-year-old Naji Akhlaf, standing outside a small grocery that had been largely emptied out, with cartons of juice strewn across the entrance.
“This is the best solution so we can relax and get on with our lives,” he said.
Tawerghans also lived in other parts of Libya, including in Misrata where a rundown apartment complex that once housed hundreds of them is to be razed. City officials say the complex is also home to non-Tawerghans and is being torn down because it’s unsanitary and unsafe. Tawerghans have fled those apartments and their neighbors said they won’t allow them back.
Human Rights Watch, citing interviews with dozens of Tawerghans, said they gave credible accounts of arbitrary arrests and beatings of detainees by Misrata militias, including descriptions of two deaths in custody.
About 10,000 Tawerghans have reached two camps on the outskirts of the eastern city of Benghazi, until recently the seat of the National Transitional Council, and U.N. officials say that number is growing. Thousands more have sought refuge near Tripoli, Tarhouna and in remote areas of the south.
An NTC-funded aid group, LibAid, is providing food and other supplies to some of the displaced, said Mohammed el-Sweii, an official in the group. El-Sweii said guards have been stationed at the camps to prevent acts of revenge.