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Afghan Report: May 26, 2004

26 May 2004, Volume 3, Number 19

By Ron Synovitz

U.S. military spokesman Lieutenant Colonel Tucker Mansager said on 24 May that Brigadier General Charles Jacoby will visit some 20 secret detention facilities across Afghanistan and deliver a report on conditions there by mid-June. "Lieutenant General David Barno, Combined Forces Command Afghanistan commander, has directed a top-to-bottom, general officer-led review and assessment of all coalition detention and holding operations in Afghanistan. The appointed general will physically visit every facility to ensure internationally accepted standards of handling detainees are being met," Mansager said.

Mansager said Jacoby also will report on whether interrogation procedures across Afghanistan are being conducted "in accordance with the spirit" of the Geneva Conventions.

U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld has repeatedly stated that the Geneva Conventions on prisoners of war do not apply to hundreds of Al-Qaeda and Taliban suspects being held across Afghanistan and at a U.S.-run prison in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. Washington says those detainees are "unlawful combatants" who do not belong to any conventional army or represent any state. Nevertheless, Rumsfeld has said that the United States would respect "the spirit" of the Geneva Conventions.

In Washington, a senior U.S. military official told reporters on condition of anonymity that the deaths of at least five Afghans at detention centers in Afghanistan are now under investigation.

Two of those deaths occurred at Bagram in December 2002 and have been ruled homicides by U.S. military doctors who conducted autopsies (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 13 May 2004). The inspector-general for the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) is looking into the death of an Afghan detainee during June of last year at a holding center in the eastern province of Konar. Another case under scrutiny involved a detainee in the southern province of Helmand whose death in November has been attributed to "multiple blunt-force injuries." In a fifth case, a U.S. prison guard reportedly told investigators that he shot and killed an Afghan detainee because the prisoner had tried to lunge toward a weapon.

Inspectors from the International Committee of the Red Cross have been allowed to visit the main prison at Bagram, to the north of Kabul, since the two deaths there in late 2002. But the U.S. military's criminal investigation into those deaths has lasted for 16 months without the release of preliminary findings or any order for disciplinary measures against military personnel or civilian interrogators. The conclusions by the Red Cross inspectors about the Bagram prison deaths have not been made public.

Mansager said the U.S. military command is still considering a request by Red Cross inspectors to visit a detention center at the Kandahar air field in southern Afghanistan. So far, the U.S. military has denied all requests by journalists to visit any of its detention centers in Afghanistan. It also has refused to allow visits by human rights groups like Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, or even the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission, which was created under the internationally backed Bonn accords to serve as an independent monitor on human rights abuses in Afghanistan.

Mohammad Farid Hamadi, a member of the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission, told RFE/RL that the commission received complaints about abusive behavior by U.S. troops even before an international scandal broke out over photographs of Iraqi prisoners being abused by U.S. captors at the Abu Ghurayb prison in Baghdad (for more see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report" 19 May 2004).

"Even before [the Abu Ghurayb scandal], we expressed concern in our contacts with military and political officials from the [U.S.-led] antiterrorism coalition and to people from the U.S. Embassy. Our concerns are not only about prisoners, but also about other complaints we have received in connection with arrests during military operations. Besides informing them about these complaints, we also requested access and information about these [detention centers]. But so far, we have not received any clear response [to our request]," he said (see news item below).

Hamadi said the human rights commission also has asked the Afghan Interior Ministry to help gather information about alleged abuses of Afghan citizens. But he said the ministry so far has not offered further information. "Some complaints [we have received] were related to operations that led to arrests," he said. "Other complaints were about detainees whose relatives did not have any information about their fate. The relatives simply wanted to get in touch with them. At the same time we had complaints about people who were asking for compensation."

A report in "The Washington Post" has linked both deaths at the Bagram prison to a military-intelligence unit that later oversaw interrogations at the Abu Ghurayb prison in Iraq. The newspaper found that interrogations at Bagram in late 2002 were supervised by Company A of the 519th Military Intelligence Battalion.

That battalion was moved to Iraq early in 2003 and some of its members were assigned to the joint interrogation and debriefing center at Abu Ghurayb. "The Washington Post" quoted an unnamed U.S. Army spokesman as saying that at least three members of the 519th Military Intelligence Battalion have been quietly disciplined for conduct that involved the abuse of a female Iraqi prisoner at Abu Ghurayb.

Ron Synovitz is a RFE/RL correspondent. RFE/RL correspondent Golnaz Esfandiari contributed to this report.

Powerful regional warlords met in Kabul to discuss the UN-backed Disarmament, Demobilization, and Reintegration (DDR) program, Voice of the Islamic Republic of Iran reported on 24 May. Attendees included Mohammad Ismail Khan, the governor of the western Herat Province; General Ata Mohammad, the commander of Military Corps No. 7 in the northern Balkh Province; General Hazrat Ali, the commander of Military Corps No. 1 in the eastern Nangarhar Province; and General Mohammad Daoud, the commander from the northern Konduz Province (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 19 May 2004). AT

Herat Governor Ismail Khan, before leaving for Kabul on 24 May, said he was irritated by the presence of ANA troops in his province, Voice of the Islamic Republic of Iran reported on 24 May. Khan added that the presence of ANA troops would harm the security situation in Herat. The central government dispatched some 1,500 ANA troops to Herat in March after armed clashes between Khan's militia and troops loyal to a Herat divisional commander, General Abdul Zaher Nayebzadah (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 25 March and 1 April 2004). AT

U.S. Ambassador to Afghanistan Zalmay Khalilzad in an 18 May press release welcomed General Ata Mohammad's agreement that day to "submit a list of troops under his command for Demobilization, Disarmament, and Reintegration (DDR)." Khalilzad said "this is one more significant step in the DDR process," although he acknowledged there is still a "long way to go." Ata Mohammad, who commands Military Corps No. 7 in northern Afghanistan's Balkh Province, was recently named by a UN official as being among the warlords or commanders who are unwilling to cooperate with the DDR process (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 19 May 2004). In response, Ata Mohammad said on 17 May that if the UN did not offer him an apology, he would cease all cooperation with the DDR program. AT

A day later, on 19 May, Khalilzad welcomed General Mohammad Daoud's agreement that day to submit a list of troops for verification as part of the DDR process in a press release. "This is one more positive step in the DDR process," Khalilzad said. Mohammad Daoud commands a militia in Konduz Province in northern Afghanistan.

In a press statement released by the U.S. Embassy in Kabul on 21 March, Khalilzad welcomed Herat Governor Ismail Khan's agreement to cooperate with the DDR program. Details on the procedure and timing of the program's implementation are yet to be made public. AT

Militants captured Mizana District in Zabul Province following fighting there on 17 and 18 May, Peshawar-based Afghan Islamic Press (AIP) reported on 19 May. However, Zabul Province Governor Khial Mohammad Hosayni refuted the report, telling AIP on 18 May that the neo-Taliban "suffered a defeat" in the district. An unidentified Zabul Province official told AIP on 19 May that "contact has been cut off with Mizana District for the past two days," but the source did not say if the government had lost control of the district. Zabul Province security commander Colonel Mohammad Ayyub was cited by AIP as saying that one neo-Taliban and two government guards were killed in the fighting. Two suspected neo-Taliban members were reportedly arrested. Hosayni announced on 17 May that the Mizana District had come under attack by neo-Taliban forces (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 19 May 2004). AT

In a statement sent on 19 May to several media outlets in Peshawar, neo-Taliban spokesman Hamed Agha claimed that militants captured Daichopan District in Zabul Province on 18 May, AIP reported. The statement alleges that five U.S. servicemen were killed in fighting in the district and that three Afghan militiamen allied to U.S. forces were captured. Casualty figures and claims of military successes provided by neo-Taliban sources are notoriously unreliable. AT

Zabul Province Governor Hosyani said on 22 May that the province's Mizan District has been liberated from neo-Taliban control, Voice of the Islamic Republic of Iran reported. Hosyani said that neo-Taliban forces captured Mizan District on 18 May but that the district was retaken following the arrival of reinforcements on 20 May from Qalat, the provincial capital of Zabul, and neighboring Kandahar Province (see above). "There are no other difficulties" in the area, Hosyani added. However, in describing the security situation in the area, he said the "government areas, that means the districts, are active and fully controlled by the government and the people are supporting the government." But the mountainous areas, he said, "cannot be guarded easily despite the massive presence of government forces." Hosyani said that, on the whole, the government is in control of the province. AT

The Afghan Interior Ministry said that two of the five men recently arrested in southern Afghanistan's Kandahar Province are bodyguards of Mullah Mohammad Omar, the leader of the former Taliban regime, Afghanistan Television reported on 18 May. Interior Ministry sources said that Afghan police arrested the men in Kandahar's Panjwai District as they allegedly attempted to transport a large number of assault rifles inside an oil tanker. The two suspected bodyguards, who are reportedly brothers, have been identified as Mullah Mohammad Hasan and Mullah Abdul Hakim. It is not clear when the arrests took place. Mullah Omar disappeared from the Taliban stronghold of Kandahar sometime in early December 2001. AT

Security forces in eastern Afghanistan's Khost Province recently detained 27 Pakistani nationals while conducting document checks, the Voice of the Islamic Republic of Iran reported on 19 May. Khost security officials alleged the Pakistanis were possibly in Afghanistan to carry out destructive actions, according to the radio station. AT

U.S. forces based in Afghanistan and their Afghan militia allies reportedly fired three missiles that landed in Pakistani territory on 17 May, the Islamabad daily "The News" reported the next day. No casualties were reported in the Pakistani regions of Garoi, Chekhel, and Urkh, where the missiles reportedly landed. AT

A Norwegian soldier serving with the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) was killed in Afghanistan on 23 May, "The Norway Post" reported on 24 May. The soldier died after a military convoy came under rocket attack near the Afghan capital. A second Norwegian soldier was reportedly injured in the attack. Two unidentified suspects have been arrested in the case. Approximately 230 Norwegian personnel are serving with the ISAF. AT

Belgian Prime Minister Guy Verhofstadt told Afghan Transitional Administration Chairman Hamid Karzai in Kabul on 20 May that Brussels will double the number of its troops in Afghanistan, Bakhtar News Agency reported. Belgium currently has 300 soldiers as part of the ISAF in Kabul, RTBF Radio 1 reported from Brussels. In August, the Eurocorps, of which Belgium is a member, will assume command of ISAF (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 19 May 2004). AT

The Turkish government has set a condition for it to assume command of a Provincial Reconstruction Team (PRT) in Afghanistan, the Istanbul daily "Milliyet" reported on 19 May. According to the report, Ankara has told Washington it would only deploy troops for a PRT in Afghanistan if the PRT is in the ethnic Uzbek region of that country. According to unnamed U.S. sources, Turkish Ambassador to Washington Faruk Laloglu told Bill Taylor, the U.S. special coordinator for Afghanistan, that Turkey would participate in a PRT "either in [the northeastern] Takhar Province or nowhere," "Milliyet" reported. The report added that U.S. authorities are pushing Ankara to accept responsibility for a PRT in western Afghanistan because Takhar is not a priority. It was unclear from the report whether the request for Turkey to assume command of a PRT is based on plans by NATO to expand its commitment to PRTs in Afghanistan beyond the PRT in the northern Konduz Province, or if the request comes from the United States. (For more on PRTs and NATO's involvement in Afghanistan, see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 23 January and 18 March 2004.) AT

Turkish Defense Minister Vecdi Gonul said on 20 May that Ankara has not received any formal request from NATO to dispatch troops to Afghanistan, the Anatolia New Agency reported. Gonul said that since "Afghanistan has been consigned to NATO," all "missions there are under NATO framework." While Gonul was referring to the dispatch of three helicopters to assist NATO in expanding its mandate in Afghanistan, his comments could also hint that Ankara's preference to assume command of a PRT would be under a NATO framework. Since assuming responsibility for the PRT in Konduz in January, NATO's plan to assume the command of additional PRTs has been marred by a lack of commitment from its members for greater contributions. AT

The Kabul daily "Arman-e Melli" wrote in a 22 May commentary on recent allegations of abuse suffered by Afghan prisoners in U.S. custody that such actions are unjustifiable. The paper said that while U.S. authorities have promised to launch an investigation into the alleged abuse cases in Afghanistan, people should "wait and see whether this probe will reduce the rate of abuse" (see feature above and "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 19 May 2004). The daily wrote that people who are arrested by the Afghan National Army or ISAF in Afghanistan cannot be labeled "terrorists or sympathizers" of the neo-Taliban "without a thorough investigation." The commentary adds that unless there is "evidence confirming" the collaboration of those arrested with the neo-Taliban or terrorists, "their human honor should be preserved." The main objectives of the 2001 Bonn agreement establishing the current political process in Afghanistan were the country's freedom, the "preservation of people's honor, and reconstruction," according to the paper. However, it added, "reconstruction has not been implemented as planned, general security has not been restored, and now there are reports that Afghan prisoners are being abused in coalition prisons." "Unless the U.S.-led coalition forces...change [their methods] of treating prisoners," the paper warned, "people's hatred of the coalition forces will increase and the relative peace in Afghanistan will be destroyed." AT

The UN's World Food Program (WFP) has launched an operation intended to provide food to more than 360,000 people to alleviate food shortages caused by the protracted drought in southern Afghanistan, the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) announced on 23 May. Speaking at a UNAMA news conference, WFP Information Officer Maarten Roest said the operation will continue for the next two months and is considered essential "to stem a renewed rise of internal displacement in a region where an estimated 80 percent of the 145,000 internally displaced people have fled drought." Kandahar Governor Yusof Pashtun earlier this month declared southern Afghanistan a drought-stricken area and asked for help from UN agencies. Despite a recovery in 2003, the region has suffered from its sixth consecutive year of drought, UNAMA added. In addition to Kandahar, the affected area includes the provinces of Nimroz, Oruzgan, and Zabul. AT

Three people have been killed in armed clashes that took place between two nomadic tribes in Laghman Province, east of Kabul, Radio Afghanistan reported on 18 May. The nomadic tribes, which have not been identified, apparently clashed in Qarghai District of Laghman over the fate of a girl. The report does did not elaborate further on the circumstances of the dispute. AT

Trafficking, by its nature, is a hidden problem. Few reliable statistics are available about the number of people victimized by trafficking or the countries to which they are taken.

Afghanistan is no exception. There are no figures available on the breadth of the country's child-trafficking rings -- just signs that the problem is getting worse (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 26 February 2004).

The number of arrests made in connection to child abductions is increasing. And since 2003, Afghan police have rescued nearly 200 abducted children -- both boys and girls -- in different parts of the country.

On 29 April, Afghanistan's interior minister, Ali Ahmed Jalali, said that in the past two weeks alone, some 25 people have been arrested in connection with the kidnapping and trafficking of children. That compared with 2003, when a total of 100 such arrests were made.

Jalali also said dozens of children were freed from their abductors in the wave of arrests.

"In the last two weeks, police in Kabul and other provinces, but especially in Kabul, rescued more than 16 or 17 children from the grip of their abductors. And this means that [child] abduction is a very serious problem facing the security organs," Jalali said.

Afghan children are being kidnapped on their way to school or while playing in parks. The Afghan interior minister says boys and girls are abducted for both domestic and international markets, to be used for sex or labor, or to provide human organs.

Jalali said last year some 750 children were abducted and taken to Saudi Arabia. Only 250 of them have been brought back home.

"The children who are being abducted are both boys and girls," Jalali said. "They are kidnapped for different purposes. Unfortunately, in many cases, a lack of public information, the cleverness of the abductors and the extent of the abduction network is leading to an increase in abduction in different parts of Afghanistan. During the last year we arrested 100 people who were involved in abduction."

In September, the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) expressed concern about the trafficking of children from Afghanistan and said in some cases children as young as 4 years old were abducted in the northern and northeastern regions of the country.

According to UNICEF's executive director, child trafficking represents one of the worst violations of children's rights in the world.

According to a recent report by the International Organization for Migration (IOM), trafficking in Afghanistan is attributed to several factors -- among them the decades of conflict, lack of security, and poor socioeconomic prospects.

Hangamah Anwari is an expert in children's rights at the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission. Anwari says poverty and even tradition prompts some families to willingly send their children abroad through illegal channels.

"For economic reasons, in general, families are willing to send their children to countries such as Pakistan and Saudi Arabia and other places so that they work [and earn money]. From a cultural and traditional point of view, many believe that by sending their children to places such as Pakistan, they can gain a better religious education. Consequently many families send their children to Pakistan and Saudi Arabia so that they study the Islamic teachings," Anwari said.

Few parents realize, however, what awaits their children once abroad. Afghan children are sold by traffickers for use as manual labor, street beggars, or sexual slaves. In some cases, their kidneys are removed and sold on the illicit organ market.

"Reports indicate that these children -- even if they're sent to work -- are being exploited," Anwari said. "Other reports that cause concern indicate that a number of children are abducted because of their body organs; they become victims of trafficking to foreign countries especially for their kidneys. In some cases children are kidnapped for sexual abuse."

A workshop on combating child trafficking in Afghanistan was held in Kabul recently. A national antitrafficking action plan was discussed during the two-day workshop that includes proposed antitrafficking legislation and increasing citizen awareness about the problem.

Anwari expressed hope that the plan might come into force in the near future.

"Our hope is that within a month or two the national plan will be approved by the cabinet, so that upon an order by the head of the government the plan can be applied throughout Afghanistan. We hope that through this legal framework which is the national plan we would be able to lessen and stop the practice of child trafficking and turn it to zero," Anwari said. (Golnaz Esfandiari)

Afghan Transitional Administration Chairman Hamid Karzai has announced incentive packages for teachers, Radio Afghanistan reported on 23 May. According to the plan, teachers in Kabul will receive a one-time payment of 1,100 afghanis (approximately $20) and teachers in the provinces and those who travel out of their area of residence to teach will receive slightly more. Afghanistan has an illiteracy rate of around 90 percent (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 31 July 2003). AT

Enayatullah Qasemi has been appointed to the post of ministerial adviser on legal affairs and international relations, Radio Afghanistan reported on 23 May. In April, Afghan Transitional Administration Chairman Karzai announced a plan to downsize his cabinet in order to make it more efficient but, thus far, there have been only additions (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 28 April 2004). AT

The Ariana cinema in downtown Kabul reopened on 23 May, RFE/RL reported. The 600-seat landmark, which was partially destroyed during the Afghan civil war in the 1990s, was repaired with help from the French film industry. AT

25 May 1988 -- The Soviet Union announces the following casualties figures from the Afghan war: 13,310 dead, 35,478 wounded, and 311 missing.

21 May 1994 -- General Abdul Rashid Dostum indicates having used six Stinger missiles to down two aircraft belonging to Afghan President Burhanuddin Rabbani's government.

21 May 2001 -- A decree of Taliban leader Mullah Mohammad Omar demands that Hindus place a yellow mark on their clothing and homes and prohibits them from wearing turbans.

Sources: "Historical Dictionary of Afghanistan," Third Edition, by Ludwig W. Adamec, (Lanham: The Scarecrow Press, Inc., 2003).