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Mission: Ghor and getting away from the madness for a bit

Tuesday, May 8, 2007 by Marianne Elliott

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This week I am on mission in Ghor again. I'm here with my fabulous colleague KK to repeat the workshop on criminal justice with a focus on women's access to justice that we ran in Badghis earlier this year. The workshop is going to keep us busy for the coming week, but quite frankly it makes a nice change from the mania that has prevailed in Herat for the past few weeks.

I can't go into too much detail here about the politics that surround the public statements made by various actors (the Coalition Forces, the Afghan government, the United Nations and others) in relation to an incident like the CF operation in Shindand last week.

My job in a situation like this, and that of my fellow human rights and humanitarian affairs officers from various organisations, is to work carefully and painstakingly to verify as accurately as possible excatly what happened and what the impact was on civilians. We do this by visiting the location, interviewing affected families, visiting hospitals and interviewing patients, their doctors and their families. We take photographs and copius notes and little by little we try to build up the most accurate picture possible of what happened.

Meanwhile, all sorts of different people – with all sorts of different agendas – are in a great rush to make public statements about what happened. "136 Taleban killed by Coalition Forces in the largest operation this year" … "Us forces kill more than 50 civilians including women and children" … "Amongst the Taleban killed in last weeks operation were ten high level Taleban commanders including one of the commanders released in exchange for the release of Italian journalist"…

This extract comes from from Newsweek – please note the reference to "fragmentary reports from the field". The reports are 'fragmentary' because the whole picture has not yet emerged. Which you might think would be a good reason to hold off on talking to the media for a moment. But it seems not everyone sees it that way:

On the country's far-western side, meanwhile, U.S. aircraft and Special Forces were pounding positions in Herat province's previously peaceful Zerkoh Valley. When the fighting was over, the Coalition reported that 136 Taliban had been killed. No one could say how many noncombatants had died with them; a week later, Afghans were still digging dead bodies out of the rubble. U.N. investigators in Kabul, piecing together fragmentary reports from the field, suspect that U.S. Special Forces, in search of Taliban fighters, raided two desert compounds belonging to heavily armed local tribesmen. The men were angered by the U.S. intrusion and fought back against the Americans in the name of honor. Some Taliban visitors in the area may have been killed as well, but local people insist most of the dead were civilians.

U.S. military spokesman Maj. Chris Belcher said he had received no such reports, adding that U.S. forces do all they can to avoid harm to noncombatants. "The Taliban intentionally put civilians at risk by operating in close proximity [to them]," said Belcher. After visiting the scene of the fighting, members of Herat's provincial council said at least 51 civilians had been killed. First U.N. reports said 49. The Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission [AIHRC] put the number at 60 and warned that it could go higher as more rubble was excavated.

Whatever its toll, the battle was one more psy-war victory for the Taliban. Last week hundreds of protesters poured into the streets of Shindand, 37 miles north of the valley, chanting "Death to America" and battling police. There was speculation that the raid was based on bad intelligence provided by the tribesmen's traditional rivals. U.N. officials worry that the fighting could turn into a vendetta. "In a culture that puts a high premium on personal and family honor, it becomes almost incumbent on someone to take revenge," says Afghanistan expert Barnett Rubin of New York University's Center on International Cooperation.

Anyway, I'm in Ghor for a week so I'll probably be out of circulation in the e-world until I get back.


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9 Responses to "Mission: Ghor and getting away from the madness for a bit"

  1. Please take care- we will be waiting for your safe return…

  2. Alex says:

    Please be safe! I am always amazed at how much I learn from you.

  3. Alex says:

    Please be safe! I am always amazed at how much I learn from you.

  4. susanna says:

    Yikes! I looked up the CF operation on google and read a few Canadian news reports about it. According to one report, the soldiers marched and fought through a field of opium (heroin) poppies and chose not to destroy it. Apparently they didn’t want to enrage the farmers. What an odd world. Anyway, there wasn’t much mention of civilians being killed in the operation. That isn’t really a surprise, is it? Sigh…how does one clean up such a mess? Anyway, I hope that you and The Commander are keeping safe.

  5. [a} says:

    WHHHYYY is everything so saaaad????????????????
    I don’t know much about politics or world affairs or any of that…[I’ve learned a lot about Afghanistan from your blog] But it all sounds despicable. Especially the US soldiers killing all those innocents. ANYone killing ANY innocents makes me outraged. And sad.
    Your mission sounds quite civilized, structured, and stuff, but doesn’t the thought “I’m on a mission!” make you tingle with a sort of 007 feeling??
    Also I’m so glad that there’re actually people out there making extraordinary efforts just to get the facts straight. Not leaving anything out, or exaggerating. Imagine all the suwab you’re getting! The news media always seems to me quite wishy-washy in unbiased accuracy. xxoxoxoxo you mighty-brave-woman, you

  6. Paris Parfait says:

    All this “collateral damage” of war makes me ill. I wrote a post recently about Human Rights Watch’s report about civilians killed in Afghanistan – not only by the Western forces, but by the Taliban. No matter who’s doing it, there’s no excuse for it. Just outrageous! Stay safe. xo

  7. lacithecat says:

    Ah …
    You should be home soon and I hope it went well! Look forward to hearing all about it!

  8. homeinkabul says:

    I am going through Frida withdrawal.
    No pressure though. 😉

  9. AnnieElf says:

    Wishing you an exciting and productive week. Say “hi” to the kids for me.

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