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Afghanistan in Turmoil: 330+ Killed in One Week, U.S. Bombing Raids Continue, Taliban Seizing Control in Southern Region

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In Afghanistan, more than 330 people have died over the past week in some of the heaviest fighting since the war began almost five years ago. Taliban have moved out of the mountains and seized large areas in the south. We speak with an Afghan human rights activist who was forced to flee the country because of his work documenting human rights abuses committed by U.S. forces. [includes rush transcript]

In Afghanistan, more than 330 people have died over the past week in some of the heaviest fighting since the war began almost five years ago.

On Monday U.S. A-10 fighter jets and Apache helicopter gunships bombed homes in the village of Azizi, west of Kandahar.

The air strikes, which lasted for hours, killed about 100 people including as many as 30 civilians. U.S. officials said the raids targeted Taliban fighters who were involved in a series of deadly attacks last week.

The increase in fighting comes just two months before the United States is scheduled to hand over command of southern Afghanistan to NATO forces.

Fighting has greatly increased in Southern Afghanistan as the Taliban have moved out of the mountains and seized large areas of the region.

Last week the U.S. commander in Afghanistan, Army Gen. Karl Eikenberry, admitted that the Taliban are now better trained, armed and organized than in the past. He said the Taliban has adopted tactics used in Iraq including suicide attacks and roadside bombs.

Meanwhile the Afghan government has accused Pakistan of recruiting, training and coordinating attack missions for the Taliban.

Afghan president, Hamid Karzai, said, “Pakistani intelligence gives military training to people and then sends them to Afghanistan with logistics.” The Pakistani government has rejected the charge.

For more we are joined by Habib Rahiab–he is an Afghan-born human rights activist. Up until two years ago he lived in Afghanistan where he helped “Human Rights Watch” document human rights abuses committed by U.S. forces — including some similar to those that later surfaced in the Abu Ghraib scandal in Iraq. He is now a fellow at Harvard Law School.

  • Habib Rahiab, Afghan-born human rights activist who was forced to flee Afghanistan two years ago because of his work documenting human rights abuses.

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re joined from Boston by Habib Rahiab. He is an Afghan human rights activist. Up until two years ago, he lived in Afghanistan, where he helped Human Rights Watch document human rights abuses committed by U.S. forces, including some similar to those that later surfaced in the Abu Ghraib scandal in Iraq. Habib Rahiab is now a fellow at Harvard Law School, and we welcome you to Democracy Now!

HABIB RAHIAB: Thank you for having me.

AMY GOODMAN: It’s very good to have you with us. Can you start off by talking about the situation now in Afghanistan?

HABIB RAHIAB: As you have mentioned, right now that the security situation in Afghanistan generally has gotten worse. And this scenario have actually started to get deteriorated from the moment that the United States have toppled down the Taliban. At first, the Afghan people had a lot of hope that the international community and the United States will bring peace and security and will establish a government that could help Afghans rebuild their society and to get rid of some of the bad and notorious warlords who used to perpetrate and used to violate human rights. But it didn’t come true.

However, I should mention that the security situation that has gotten worse recently, especially in the south and southeastern parts of Afghanistan, have many reasons, and there are many factors involved in it. Some of this could be attributed to internal affairs inside Afghanistan, and the policies that have United States adopted in Afghanistan encourages that policy.

And besides that, there are some of the factors that are outside Afghanistan that are the interference of our neighbors, especially in the south, that as our president Hamid Karzai clearly and explicitly mentions ISI intelligence service of Pakistan that training, helping and giving assistance to Taliban and encouraging them to come back into Afghanistan and to wage this war. So we have this picture in the south and southeast and southwest of Afghanistan that Taliban have become more organized, well equipped, and they have now the ability to conduct military operation in a larger scale, while in the north part of Afghanistan still we have some of the stronger warlords who enjoy impunity, and still there are some credible reports that some of these notorious warlords or perpetrators have their private prisons.

But in generally, in other parts the life of people to some extent have improved. Government have achieved significant successes, and women’s rights to some extent have improved. However, I should add that it’s not the way as it’s been portrayed in the media that Afghanistan is a country — or a success. There are huge challenges in front of Afghanistan and international community. Unless the international community double its assistance in both militarily and financially. Afghanistan’s security situations will not improve.

But I should add here that with consideration of this factor that help Afghanistan, we should also pay attention that how our neighbor in the south of country will adjust its policies in regarding to Afghanistan. We have noticed that Pakistan have a double policy in regard to Afghanistan. On one side, it declares its commitment to fight against terrorism and al-Qaeda and [inaudible], and there are other elements inside the country of, I mean, Pakistan, that are helping and supporting Taliban, that this double policy should be addressed.

JUAN GONZALEZ: Well, Habib, I’d like to ask you first to go back to the earlier part of your statement, where you said that the Afghan people had a lot of hopes when the American occupation began, that you have been responsible for several human rights reports in recent years that have raised questions about why some of that disillusionment might have set in. You’ve reported about the impact of cluster bombs on the civilian population, American cluster bombs, and you’ve also reported about the abuses of prisoners in Afghanistan. To what degree have these kinds of abuses by United States forces affected how the Afghan people regard the U.S. presence?

HABIB RAHIAB: Well, still there are lot of good will in Afghan that resonates in most parts of the country, except in the southern part of the country, where Taliban actually are manipulating the sentiment of Afghan people who have lost their hope because the central government and the international community could not reach to them, and Taliban are recruiting from this among these young people who have lost their hopes, and they don’t see any good future for themselves. And the second thing which I mentioned at the beginning, that Afghan people had hopes, and still that hope exists. If that hope does not exist, I think the security situation will get even worse.

But the question is how the United States can preserve the good will, how the United States and the international community can do much better to start this good will that gradually diminishing even in most parts of the country. And this is something that we want that the international community and the United States to reassess the policies that they have done. From right at the beginning the United States, when toppled down Taliban, they handed over the control of most parts of the country to the warlords. And without any balance and check, they let them to do whatever they wanted to do, and there was not accountability. There was not pressure on them. And second thing, most of those bad people have been recruited inside the Afghan army and police forces, and still some of those bad people are in the senior official positions in the army, in police forces and also in Afghan cabinet and Afghan parliament. So this is the scenario.

When people look at this picture that sees that not much have been done, they say — and besides that, that less have been emphasized in international media and in Afghan media, that there is a lack of a strong commitment to fight against — to fight morally against Taliban. Most of the time it has been argued that let’s have everyone, let’s have an inclusive government to include all elements, including Taliban, except those person or people who have committed serious violations. So — but there has not been any challenge to Taliban to fight with the notion that Talibanism is a crime, because Talibanism was a crime and is a crime to stop women not to go to school and to burn a school or to close the university doors or Afghan school and force everyone to obey what the Taliban were believing. So that’s a strong violations. And because this has not been done and also pressure has not been put on Pakistan to stop helping Taliban, there is a sense in Afghanistan among all people that there is not much hope. The security situation gotten worse. The economical situation has not improved. So people have lost to some extent the hope that did exist in the past.

AMY GOODMAN: Afghanistan has been, before the Taliban, a massive source of heroin, opium in the world. What is it today?

HABIB RAHIAB: Well, opium production has decreased in the areas where the government has succeeded to control it, but it has spread to the other parts of the country. We have seen that in Afghanistan that the Taliban, drug mafia and some of the bad local commanders have all got together, and they, altogether these three elements, have contributed to the deterioration of the security situation. Officially, there has been an indication — or a decrease in the number of drug that’s been produced, but it doesn’t include unofficially where it has spread to the other parts of the country. So it has been to some extent successful, just in the areas that the government has reached, but not in the other areas. Some of the reason is the promise that was given to farmers not to produce and cultivate, the heroin or poppies have not been given to them. So this problem still exists, and any alternative means of productions have not been provided to the poor farmers.

AMY GOODMAN: Habib, your response to Hamid Karzai, the Afghan president, calling for an investigation into the U.S. air strikes that killed 16 people, 16 civilians earlier this week.

HABIB RAHIAB: Well, I personally did interview with some of the people who were killed in Uruzgan, if you remember, two years ago in a wedding party. And I remember that how the people who were injured and were in the hospital were unhappy and how much resentment was there. I remember after that President Karzai assigned three ministers to do an investigation about the bombing in Uruzgan, but the result didn’t come out.

And this time, again there is not much hope that this commission of investigation that President Karzai has asked and appointed will come to a conclusion and to release its finding publicly. But what I would like to say, that the result of this finding should be publicized first, and then it should be a check of balance on the international troops who are conducting military operations, because this kind of operation, maybe in a short term, just during the operation, may succeed killing a few Talibs, but generally it will deteriorate. It will cause huge negative problems for the long term.

I remember I talked with a girl who lost her mother, her brother, her sister in the bombing in that wedding party. And she was saying, “Can I forgive United States? I will never, never forgive, and I will encourage all whoever I know to take guns and to fight against America.” So this is the effect of this kind of operation.

And I also conducted some of the research regarding the excessive military use or military power that the United States was using in law enforcement operation in Afghanistan and the negative effect that it was producing among the local community. This is something that should be addressed. If international committee would like to help Afghanistan and to help Afghanistan government get strong, there is a need that international community must behave accordingly to some of the internationally recognized law.

AMY GOODMAN: Habib Rahiab, I want to thank you very much for being with us. Habib Rahiab is a human rights activist who was forced to flee Afghanistan because of his work documenting human rights abuses and advocating that Afghan warlords implicated in war crimes should be brought to justice, also responsible for the Human Rights Watch report that looked at the abuse of Afghan detainees by U.S. forces, which documented abuses similar to those that later surfaced in the Abu Ghraib scandal.

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