Monday, July 14, 2008

Rubin: Notes from Kabul and Kandahar on Recent Bombings

In response to my previous post on the killing of civilians in the bombing of the Indian Embassy in Kabul and in a bombing by the U.S. in Eastern Afghanistan, BBC correspondent Alistair Leithead wrote, "We went up to the bomb site in Nangarhar's the report...":

On a hillside high in the mountains of eastern Afghanistan there are three charred clearings where the American bombs struck.

Scattered around are chunks of twisted metal, blood stains and small fragments of sequined and brightly decorated clothes - the material Afghan brides wear on their wedding day.

After hours of driving to the village deep in the bandit country of Nangarhar's mountains we heard time and again the terrible account of that awful day.

What began as celebration ended with maybe 52 people dead, most of them women and children, and others badly injured.

The US forces said they targeted insurgents in a strike. But from what I saw with my own eyes and heard from the many mourners, no militants were among the dead. A big double wedding was taking place between two families, with each exchanging a bride and a groom. So Lal Zareen's son and daughter were both getting married on the same day.

He gave the account with his son, a 13-year-old groom, sitting at his feet.

"This is all the family I now have left," he said in a disturbingly matter of fact sort of way.

Apparently the wedding party was crossing a narrow pass of the type that Taliban might use for infiltration when it was bombed by U.S. planes. It reminds of of an incident from 1984: Christian Science Monitor reporter Ed Girardet was traveling to the Panjshir Valley with a weapons convoy. At a narrow pass in Upper Panjshir Soviet fighters decimated a caravan of nomads, killing dozens of them, possibly trying to block the infiltration route.

Leithead concludes:

Mirwais Yasini, a local MP and the deputy speaker of Afghanistan's lower house, made the point that civilian casualties widen the gap between the people and the government, and the international forces.

As another memorial service took place in the mountains, Lal Zareen told me: "I want President Karzai to make sure the people responsible for this face justice."

That will depend on the US findings and how the Afghan government acts.

These mistakes are incredibly costly in a counter-insurgency campaign which relies on winning people over, not forcing them against the authorities.

I wonder how many enemies have been created in Nangarhar as a result of the latest bloodshed?

I also got a note from an Afghan in Kandahar who summarized the situation:
I am writing from Kandahar. It is hell hot here--both literally and figuratively. The temperature is around 40 degrees on centigrade. The heat is especially unbearable during mid days when the sun is strong. And there is almost no electricity in this city. During the Taliban time Kandahar had at least 12 hours of electricity in 24 hours, now days pass here without a blink of electricity. Normally though we have 4 hours of electricity in 2 days. And the political situation has never been as bad here in the last seven years as it is now. There is a general discontent among the people. While a few corrupt government officials are embezzling lots of money, the rest of the population is even deprived of the facilities that it had seven years ago like--electricity, drinking water, and security. The Taliban are using this pathetic situation to their benefit. With the help of local population the Taliban now manage to carry out attacks within the city like the spectacular attack on Kandahar prison last month--and they will not stop there. In Kandahar, time is definitely on Taliban's side.
Finally, further information on the attack on the Indian embassy from Tom Stauffer, President of the American University of Afghanistan, in Kabul:
Indian Embassy Blast. One result of the suicide bomb attack on the Indian Embassy in Kabul last week (7/7) was a flurry of inquiries from my emailing friends. The attack was a VBIED (vehicle borne improvised explosive device), actually a Toyota Corolla, with 80-100 kilos (over 200 pounds) of top quality RDX plastic bonded high explosive mixed with land mines and tank shells designed to inflict maximum hurt. The nature of the blast suggests that some professional intelligence service was involved. RDX (or cyclonite) is not found at street vendors.

The Indian Embassy was described as situated on a “leafy suburban street” in several press dispatches, which I figure must have been filed from London, Delhi or some other safe haven. (The actual location is in central Kabul.) Many journalists are afraid to come to Kabul, and, as a result, report from afar. I do not much blame them. . . .

Embassies and military compounds in Kabul are surrounded by wire mesh containers, about three yards on each side, filled with dirt, maybe also fronted by heavy concrete blast barriers. The mesh units each weigh many tons. This is what the bomb hit, albeit it at a weaker embassy entry point, and damage to embassy buildings could have been much worse. The blast was well absorbed, except for those unfortunates lined up to get travel visas to India.

At last count, about 60 died and 130 were wounded. More will succumb.Press dispatches always fail to convey the agony and human cost. Flesh and severed limbs were scattered about. Paris or Dubai based journalists reported the numbers but overlooked those real human beings who perished. Four included a mother and her three children who wanted to go to Delhi to catch a flight for London so that they would visit their student husband/father. A girl and a family, seeking a visa to study in India and passports respectively, were also wiped out. Most victims were just walking in the vicinity. Four Indian diplomats and six police officers were murdered and seven at the nearby Indonesian Embassy were wounded. Afghanistan’s Interior Ministry is also located on that same street and many visitors come on routine missions. I have been there twice. The mangled body of one Indian diplomat was found on the roof of his embassy’s main building hours following the blast. Today, the Indian Consulate started issuing visas again.

Anent who did it, everybody denies knowing anything as if the bombing was unplanned. Speculation on the streets and in the press run the gamut of possibilities, but talk concentrates on long deadly clashes among elements in India, Pakistan, and Afghanistan. The story takes too long to tell in my blog, but suffice to say there is poison in the well of regional peace. The Indian Embassy bombing is for the world’s intelligence services to resolve, but trust me, they are working on it. Pakistan and the Taliban deny involvement.

A friend and very prominent Afghan-American missed the explosion by ten minutes because he forgot a small item back at his residence. The human dimension cannot be lost among a pile of geo-political analyses and poorly informed speculation that inevitably follows this and other terrifying VBIED detonations.

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