Thursday, April 29, 2010

Fouad Pervez: Coverups in Afghanistan

Coverups in Afghanistan
By Fouad Pervez
Foreign Policy in Focus

The conflict in Afghanistan, which will enter its 10th year this fall, shows no signs of abating. The United States has expended substantial blood and treasure to try and stabilize the country. However, recent events suggest that U.S. efforts are problematic in themselves and that the chaos will only worsen. There are critical problems with accountability, transparency, and public scrutiny, all of which not only make it harder for the United States and NATO to shift away from unproductive policies. These also create serious domestic political issues in Afghanistan.

The recent news about the women killed in a botched raid on February 12 is emblematic of all the current woes in Afghanistan. The military finally admitted that U.S. Special Operations Forces were responsible for the deaths of three women, two of whom were pregnant, in a nighttime raid. They already admitted the same raid resulted in the deaths of two men, a policeman, and a prosecutor. More troubling is the accusation that the troops dug the bullets out of the women’s bodies to cover up the evidence. General McChrystal, the U.S. and NATO commander in Afghanistan, is now ordering an investigation of the raid.

This incident is a prime example of the current problems in the Afghanistan strategy. First, McChrystal launched an investigation only after the story of the alleged cover-up gained widespread media coverage. Officials from the U.S.-led NATO command have denied the tampering charge, though Afghan officials pointed out that NATO officials were perplexed by the evidence precisely because of the tampering. Afghan officials were unable to perform an autopsy on the bodies and were denied access to the bodies at the scene. There were also several bullets missing from the scene. Given the oddities surrounding the case in the first place, the Pentagon should have launched an investigation much earlier.

The initial Pentagon report claimed the men were insurgents, and that the women were found already dead, bound and gagged, possibly from an honor killing. Thus, it was filled with inaccuracies, if not outright lies. More than a dozen survivors, witnesses, and local investigators strongly disputed the Pentagon’s initial claims, too, but there was no investigation until the story finally got wider media coverage in the past week.

This incident follows the pattern of others. Many nighttime raids conducted in Afghanistan are based on poor intelligence and result in the deaths of many civilians. Yet there is little in the way of public accountability. No information is available about reprimands handed out to troops who kill civilians, intelligence officers who obtain poor information, or higher-up commanders who plan these botched raids. This incident is one of the few where any information about an investigation is even public. If they find the soldiers did indeed commit a crime, will they be punished? Given the track record, it seems unlikely. We may never even hear about the results.

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