In January, MediaLens examined the alleged execution of Afghan civilians by US troops in a late-December night raid, as well as the mainstream media's apparent lack of interest in the story. However, it seems that that one act of terror was only the tip of the iceberg. Even as attention turns towards Yemen and Iran, it appears that aggression and terrorism is far from over on the first front of the "War on Terror." The following examination of the ongoing "night raids" comes from The Seminal.
An assortment of American military, security contractors from the U.S., and Afghani security and police organizations that likely answer to U.S. military leaders engage in war on a daily basis and, as Anand Gopal recently detailed, are subject to targeted assassinations, night raids, secret detention centers, disappearances, and other acts of "counterterror."
Many Americans have heard stories seep into corporate media’s news coverage of the Afghanistan War (or, in general, the "war on terror"). Americans know detention has been a common tool used against "terror suspects" and that certain "suspects" have in many cases been held secretly.
Who knows how many Americans are aware of disappearances which terrify a population along with targeted assassinations that come from foreign military or security forces that are seeking to enforce "counterterror" measures.
Targeted assassinations are to be expected in any war from any invader seeking to control a country. And, America has perfected the art of detaining civilians or "suspects" for indefinite detention. But, what about the night raids on Afghanis that have come into focus in the past few months? What purpose do the raids serve?
What information do we have on these night raids and just how similar are the raids to similar tactics used by repressive police forces in history?
With "Afraid of the Dark in Afghanistan," Anand Gopal published a detailed analysis that covered the use of night raids by "counterinsurgency" forces;
It has become a predictable pattern: Taliban forces ambush American convoys as they pass through the village, and then retreat into the thick fruit orchards that cover the area. The Americans then return at night to pick up suspects. In the last two years, 16 people have been taken and 10 killed in night raids in this single village of about 300, according to villagers. In the same period, they say, the insurgents killed one local and did not take anyone hostage.
The people of this village therefore have begun to fear the night raids more than the Taliban. There are now nights when Rehmatullah’s children hear the distant thrum of a helicopter and rush into his room. He consoles them, but admits he needs solace himself. "I know I should be too old for it," he says, "but this war has made me afraid of the dark."
The night raids were further detailed during a segment on Democracy Now!.The segment featured Gopal explaining that night raids are "seen as a major affront to local culture, to the extent where people are actually scared in many places to actually go to sleep at night, because they don’t know who will burst through the door at night and take away their loved ones."
Raids have come under increased scrutiny from human rights organizations in the past few years. Not long ago, the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission published a 55-page report on the tactic.
The Commission said the tactic was a "combination of abusive behaviour and violent breaking and entry into civilians’ homes in the middle of the night [that] stokes almost as much anger and resentment toward PGF [pro-government forces] as the more lethal air strikes."
An article by The Globe and Mail (Canada), which also featured coverage of the AIHRC report, covered Canadian commander Brigadier-General Denis Thompson’s defense of the night raids.
In response to scrutiny from human rights organizations, he argued that "philosophically" he and his forces were opposed to such raids, that there was "nothing worse than busting into somebody’s house in the middle of the night." But, he added, "in the cases where we actually go into a compound, it’s either in self-defence or it’s as a result of a long string of intelligence-gathering that has led us to a certain compound and, invariably, when it comes time to execute the raid, there are no innocent civilians there, there are just bad guys."
Afghanistan Rick Reyes would probably disagree. Reyes appeared on Uprising Radio in May of 2009 to discuss Obama’s push for more troops. In his appearance, he mentioned the use of night raids as he argued the occupation wasn’t going well and at best the U.S. should rethink the strategy in Afghanistan;
Sonali: And what did you do with the intelligence? Like, what did you do when somebody told you that there was a suspected Al-Qaeda or Taliban person living in this house?
Rick: We’d patrol the area first just to get an idea of what the terrain, just to get an idea of the general area. Once we felt comfortable enough with the area we’d plan raids or attacks on these suspected points of interest.
Sonali: What was a raid like?
Rick: There were usually night raids. We’d go in there mostly when the people were probably asleep. We’d just raid the home from all directions and arrest and detain whoever was in there.
Sonali: And, what was the effect of such a raid and did you often get the wrong person?
Rick: It, it didn’t work. Every time we detained someone, at the end of it all, we just let them go.
Sonali: So, they were mostly innocent?
Rick: They were mostly innocent. And whatever we did destroy along the way we tried to compensate the destruction with offering food or money or replacing doors or windows or whatever it was. So, just the entire operation was just counterproductive from beginning to end.
Sonali: So, in your entire time that you served, did you ever apprehend an honest-to-goodness member of the Taliban or Al-Qaeda?
Rick: From my experience, no.
Sonali: So, what was then the result of these actions, these on-the-ground actions? Did people accept the compensation of food and the replacement of doors and windows graciously?
Rick: No, they were very angry. The population was just very angry at us. They didn’t want us there. Whenever we’d enter into a neighborhood for the first time we were never greeted humbly. We’d have young kids as young as 5, 6, 7 years old throwing rocks, giving us the finger who knows where they learned that but that’s what they’d do.
Sonali: You served also in Iraq. How similar are operations in Afghanistan and Iraq?
Rick: Very similar. Very similar. Almost identical. The only differences are maybe some of the terrain but overall it’s the same strategy.
Reyes’ perception of Iraq and Afghanistan reinforces what is known about the "night adventures" or night raids that Bernard Kerik participated in. Kerik, the man chosen to rebuild Iraq’s police forces, would organize "hundred-man Iraqi police paramilitary unit[s] to chase down and kill off members of the black market criminal syndicates," which sprouted after the U.S. invasion. Kerik would go on the night raids and return home to tell stories of his adventures. And, he would sleep during the day leaving the rebuilding of Iraq police forces to others so he could go out and take a hit off the night raid drug he had become hooked on.
As early as August 2008, civilians were coming to Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission (AIHRC) with complaints about night raids. A civilian, Mohddin, complained about the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) in Afghanistan saying he was frustrated with the fact that the ISAF seemed to be deliberately hitting civilian targets. Mohddin believed this was "driving people toward anti-government forces."
Such complaints from civilians increase the need for cultural sensitivity but the occupation in Afghanistan that has recently been expanded by President Obama is not something that lends itself to cultural sensitivity. Occupying one’s homeland can almost never be considered sensitive especially if it appears that the occupation is creating more tension and battles between forces and factions in the country, especially if security takes precedent over human rights. (And, indeed, one could argue that occupation is a supreme violation of an entire society’s human rights.)
Night raids are symptomatic of the reality occupational forces under U.S. and NATO do not feel they must answer to any guidelines or international laws. The tactic fits nicely right along with the other tools forces are using (secret detention, torture, drone strikes, disappearances, targeted assassinations, etc) in Afghanistan and now, also, in Pakistan. One would expect forces that seek and create ways to get around international law to utilize such brutal tactics.
Those that crave victory in Afghanistan should shudder in horror at what is being done to the Afghani people by military and security forces. There are very few reasons to justify the infliction of such horror in an occupation that one would think requires the hearts and minds of Afghanis in order to succeed. So, one must unavoidably wonder if the interests of corporations are why the U.S. wages a forever war in Afghanistan.
Is this an occupation being continued for the sake of corporations like Blackwater (Xe) that are under contract? Are U.S. military and international forces simply there to legitimize their presence and allow them to continue to profit off of human destruction?
Undoubtedly, leaders in America are foolishly ignoring history and also thoughtlessly dismissing the growing resistance to the occupation of Afghanistan. This doesn’t just impact Afghanis but it also impacts our soldiers who only fear the Afghani people more because they think every Afghani is the enemy.
Fear is then communicated through acts of violence justified with an ends-justifies-the-means argument. Those in control find violence to be the only way to prevent continued violence. But, violence begets violence. Violence also sullies the soul of soldiers who see the folly of such acts like night raids and, if not killed in action, return home to suffer from survivor guilt, an uncontrollable emotion that may push them to suicide or push them to return to war so they may atone for what was done.
Night raids ensure the "war on terror" continues. This is devastating to humanity, but to those who aren’t doing the killing, to those who profit and improve their status in society through this perpetual war, continued insurgency doesn’t matter. Humanity is of no concern. Continued insurgency means the outlook for business is good.