NATO rejects rights group report on Afghanistan as ‘one-sided’ and ‘propagandistic’

November 5th, 2010 - 10:01 pm ICT by BNO News  

KABUL (BNO NEWS) — NATO officials on Friday rejected a critical report by a human rights group on Afghanistan as ‘one-sided, ill founded and propagandistic.’

The Afghanistan Rights Monitor (ARM) on Thursday released a report in which it claimed that hundreds of homes have been destroyed or partially damaged as the result of ongoing fighting between pro-government Afghan and coalition forces and Taliban fighters, mainly in the Arghandab, Panjwaye, Zheray and Daman districts of Kandahar province.

The group also accused US-led forces of using a ‘blanket bombing tactic’ in a bid to eliminate all Taliban sanctuaries and improvised explosive devices (IEDs), which are placed throughout the conflict areas and continue to cause heavy Afghan and coalition casualties in the south.

“US and allied forces have widely used air bombings apparently in order to destroy IEDs and booby traps which inflict heavy casualties on pro-government forces,” one local source, who could not be named for security reasons, told ARM.

One farmer accused U.S. troops of destroying property. “The Americans destroyed our pomegranate gardens and grape orchards in order to establish military stations and create new roads for their vehicles,” the farmer from Arghandab District, who was also not identified, said.

NATO on Friday, however, condemned the report and referred to a United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) statement in January 2009 which described the group as ’superficial and uninformed’. The ARM then criticized the UN and international aid agencies for their alleged inability to reach and assist needy communities, particularly in insecure areas.

“ARM’s many claims can only be backed by anonymous sources and anecdotal evidence, hardly indicative of accepted research or reporting standards,” said U.S. Army Lt. Col. Web Wright, a spokesman for NATO’s Regional Command (RC) South, adding that ARM made no attempts to gain comment from NATO or Afghan officials before publishing the report.

“This report cites only conveniently unnamed sources with a profoundly negative bias. We dismiss these claims for what they are; one-sided, ill founded and propagandistic,” Wright added.

Wright further said that NATO takes ‘great care’ to minimize civilian casualties and limit collateral damage. “Based on concerns raised by groups like the UNAMA Human Rights, ISAF has implemented tactical directives to ensure that the loss of human life and property destruction is minimized,” he said. “RC South embraces these directives and implements them into the full spectrum of operations. As a result, the insurgency kills, by far, more civilians than the coalition and Afghan forces.”

In Thursday’s report, elders from Zheray District also complained about what they called abusive intrusions into their houses by foreign forces. They said in such raids their strong cultural norms, particularly the protection of females, were being violated.

“Why are they intruding into our houses without prior notice and search our women?” said Malik Aminullah, an elder from Zheray District. “Security and the Taliban have nothing to do with women and children.”

Wright, however, said that kinetic operations have increased over the last several months in southern Afghanistan, especially in Panjwai district. “This area has been known historically as an insurgent safe haven,” he said. “The insurgents have had time to develop vast and in-depth improvised explosive device fields to hinder freedom of movement of the Afghan security and coalition forces. Likewise, the insurgents have developed large scale ammonium-nitrate based homemade explosive (HME) factories and processing plants in and amongst the population centers.”

The official said that, as a result of these factories, NATO has increased the number of precision airstrikes and use of mine clearing charges to eliminate these weapons. “Great care is taken in the decision to reduce these threats so as to minimize any damage or loss of life,” Wright added. “When possible, local officials are consulted to gain their approval prior to any release of munitions, the area is cordoned, and announcements are made through local media or loud speakers prior to reduction. ARMs allegations of indiscriminate ‘blanket bombing’ is absolutely fallacious and fraudulently misleading.”

Another allegation by ARM cited locals as saying that people affected by military operations had been promised they would be assisted to rebuild their destroyed properties and resume a normal life. However, ARM claims that little or no protection and assistance services have been offered to hundreds of families that have been forced out of their homes and villages by the conflict.

“When damage is caused, remuneration is made and reconstruction is attempted,” Wright responded to the claim. “However, the security situation will drive the speed and temp of that reconstruction. Only when security is established can the rebuilding begin. Rebuilding will remain slow in districts like Panjwai as we methodically clear the IEDs, mines and other dangers from the area.”

The ARM did, however, acknowledge the threat posed by the Taliban. “The Taliban have unleashed an extensive terror campaign in Kandahar by targeted assassinations, intimidation and improvised explosions,” ARM said in its report. “Figures collected and verified by ARM indicate that hundreds of civilian people have been killed and wounded by direct Taliban attacks or a result of their armed activities.”

“The real situation in Kandahar is not as promising as described by the commander of all foreign forces in Afghanistan, General David Petraeus,” ARM added. “And, it is not as good as reported by the journalists embedded with foreign forces in Kandahar.”

ARM said the situation for many of those living in Kandahar Province is similar to the situation in the 1980s when civilians were suffering as a result of internecine fighting between various militia groups and the then Soviet-backed government.

“The Taliban are like a shade whose body is in Pakistan but the Americans are only fighting the shade in Afghanistan,” one local told ARM. “With the onset of winter when skies turn cloudy, the shade - the Taliban - disappears until next spring.”

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