Monday, April 6, 2009

The Militarization of Humanitarian Aid in Afghanistan

Over 11 international aid agencies, including Oxfam, ActionAid, CARE Afghanistan and Save the Children UK, have issued a report, warning that the U.S. "surge" in Afghanistan is endangering the population there.
In 2008 there were 2,100 civilian casualties, a 30% increase on the previous year. Although 55% of civilian deaths were caused by militants, there are serious concerns about fatalities caused by air strikes from pro-government forces, which increased by 70% to 552.

Matt Waldman, head of policy for Oxfam International on Afghanistan, said: "The troop surge will fail to achieve greater overall security and stability unless the military prioritise the protection of Afghan civilians.

"Despite taking steps to reduce civilian casualties, and repeated calls for restraint, too many military operations by foreign troops involve excessive force, loss of life and damage to property. This is causing anger, fear and resentment among Afghans, and is steadily eroding popular support for the international presence. "
The report singled out for condemnation the militarization of relief aid, endangering the traditional neutrality of work by non-governmental agencies.
The report warns the military are blurring the distinction between aid workers and soldiers by doing extensive humanitarian and assistance work for counter-insurgency purposes, and by using unmarked white vehicles, which are conventionally only used by the UN and aid agencies. This undermines local perceptions of the independence and impartiality of aid agencies and therefore increases the risk to aid workers, and threatens to reduce the areas in which they can safely work.

The agencies also warn that the increasing distortion of humanitarian and development assistance for military aims could undermine long-term stability.

Agencies say that the Provincial Reconstruction Teams (PRTs), the military-led security and reconstruction teams, continue to receive massive amounts of funding: the annual PRT budget for the United States – over $200 million – exceeds the Afghan national budgets for health and education combined. The agencies recommend a phase-out of militarised aid and a substantial increase in development and humanitarian funding for civilian institutions and organisations.
We saw the issue of the PRTs raised when Senator Patrick Leahy called Vice Admiral (ret.) Lee Gunn as a witness at his hearing last month on the issue of calling for a "Truth Commission" to investigate Bush Administration torture and other crimes. I noted then the dubious role of the PRTs:
Vice Admiral (ret.) Lee Gunn is presented to the committee as President of the American Security Project. He also is president of their Institute of Public Research at CNA Corporation, a federally funded research and development center in Washington, D.C....

But Gunn's association with CNA bespeaks even more troubling associations. Down the hall from IPR, so to speak, at CNA’s Stability and Development Program, part of CNA Strategic Studies, we find some interesting connections with major counterinsurgency operations in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Dr. Carter Malkasian, formerly assigned to the I Marine Expeditionary Force (I MEF) as an advisor on counterinsurgency, directs the Stability and Development Program, which focuses on counterinsurgency, irregular warfare, and post-conflict reconstruction. The team provides objective, analytic perspectives—grounded in an understanding of actual operations—to support decision-makers charged with planning and conducting security and development operations.

The range of issues includes: insurgency and counterinsurgency, ethnic conflict, development of indigenous forces, economic development of war-torn states, “Phase IV” reconstruction efforts, and the establishment of political institutions.

The team most recently spent time on the ground in Afghanistan advising Provincial Reconstruction Teams (PRTs).
What are PRTs?
The Provincial Reconstruction Teams (PRTs) are “non-kinetic” operations carried out jointly by small number of lightly armed military personnel and civilian staff from the diplomatic community and development agencies to promote governance, security and reconstruction throughout the post-9.11 Afghanistan and Iraq. PRTs can be characterized in two ways: one as a miniature of multidimensional peacekeeping operations or “peacekeeping-lite,”and the other as an extended civil-military operation center (CMOC) or “super-CMOC.”
And the PRTs have some questionable activities, beyond humanitarian work:
The PRTs have critics in the international aid community. A recent analysis from the think tank Overseas Development Institute, said “In Afghanistan, Provincial Reconstruction Teams (PRTs) were perceived as blurring the lines between humanitarian and military action.”
Amnesty International ran across some shady operations conducted by some of the PRTs that involved torture:
Amnesty International is concerned that ISAF troops from New Zealand operating in Afghanistan and particularly the Provincial Reconstruction Team (PRT) could be involved in transferring detainees to Afghan security forces....

“The NZ PRT (107 personnel as of October 2007) Bamyan is tasked with maintaining security in Bamyan Province. It does this by conducting frequent presence patrols throughout the province.”, [sic] may apprehend and transfer detainees,” says Amnesty International Spokesperson Gary Reese.

In March this year, Amnesty International raised our concerns to Hon Phil Goff, Minister of Defence, that the 50-70 detainees handed over to U.S. forces by the NZ SAS could be subject to torture at Guantanamo Bay or other secret detention centres in a third country (through the US practice of ‘extraordinary rendition’).
What happens to those transferred from PRTs operating in Afghanistan to Afghan security forces? They are almost certainly tortured.
The public, starved of any real investigative or substantive reporting from the U.S. wars abroad, are unaware of how these wars are conducted. Reporting at home concentrates on buzzwords like "surge", and concentrate on the number of U.S. troops deployed, or U.S. casualties. Almost no one really knows how the war is actually conducted (although some may be familiar with the use of Predator drones used to assassinate opponents, and kill many civilians in the process).

The U.S. wars of conquest and control, mislabeled a "war on terror," have tarnished everything they touched that could be decent or true. Torture, assassination, lies, cover-up, mass murder, and now the transformation of humanitarian aid into a cover for counter-insurgency. Truly this is a very sick country, with a maniacal ruling elite who loves their technology of destruction, and finds nothing sacred in their quest to rule over whatever they want, and whomever stands in their way.

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