Afghan President Hamid Karzai on Feb. 25 ordered all US Special Forces out of two key provinces within two weeks, accusing Afghan units under their command of being responsible for the torture, abuse and disappearance of civilians. Wardak and Logar provinces, lying just outside Kabul, are considered strategic gateways to the capital. Karzai's charges reference two apparently recent incidents: The disappearance of nine civilians following a special forces operation, and the death of a student who was taken away during a night raid and whose body was found two days later under a bridge with his throat cut and signs of torture. The US has denied its forces were involved.
One of Afghanistan's top airlines has been officially blacklisted by US authorities for allegedly trafficking opium on civilian flights, the Wall Street Journal reported Jan. 25. Kam Air is said to be smuggling "bulk" quantities of the drug to Tajikistan, a major export route to international markets. US Army Maj.-Gen. Richard Longo, commander of Task Force 2010, a coalition anti-corruption unit, stated: "The US will do no business with those who fund and support illicit activities. Kam Air is too large of a company not to know what has been going on within its organization." Gen. Longo confirmed that his task force has conducted an investigation into Kam Air but said details remain classified. The airline remains barred from US contracts, even as Kam Air is in talks to merge with Afghanistan's state-owned carrier, Ariana Afghan Airlines.
UN Special Rapporteur on human rights and counterterrorism Ben Emmerson announced (PDF) on Jan. 24 that he will begin investigating the legality of the use of drone strikes. Emmerson said that after asking the US to allow an independent investigation of its use of targeted killings last year, there is still no consensus among the international community as to the legality of the conduct. He stated an investigation by the UN was necessary in order to establish clear international guidelines on the use of this and other emerging technology:
Prisoners in some Afghan-run detention facilities are still being beaten and tortured, according to an annual report (PDF) released Jan. 20 by the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA). UNAMA interviewed 635 conflict-related detainees in detention facilities across Afghanistan, finding that more than half of those interviewed had experienced maltreatment and torture. Fourteen different methods of torture were described, including prolonged and severe beatings with cables, pipes, hoses or wooden sticks, and suspension from the ceiling by the wrists or from chains attached to the wall so that the victim's toes barely touch the ground or he is completely suspended in the air for lengthy periods. Detainees were also threatened with sexual violence or execution. Torture generally took the form of abusive interrogation techniques by Afghan officials seeking information or a confession:
Pakistan's Foreign Affairs Minister Hina Rabbani Khar on Jan. 22 condemned US drone attacks as a violation of Pakistan's sovereignty and international law. Khar stated that the drone attacks are "counterproductive" and that she plans to discuss the issue with the US and its ambassador to Pakistan. Earlier this month, retired general Stanley McChrystal expressed similar concerns cautioning against the overuse of drone attacks and stating that their use breeds resentment around the world. US President Barack Obama, who personally approves each drone strike against suspected terrorists, is expected to sign off on a manual which will establish rules for the administration's targeted killing program. However, the administration's counter-terrorism manual will exempt drone strikes against al-Qaeda and Taliban targets in Pakistan from being bound by the new rules.
Thousands of Pakistanis chanitng "we want change" filled the streets of Islamabad in a massive anti-corruption protest led by Sufi cleric Muhammad Tahir-ul-Qadri Jan. 14. Security forces responded with tear gas and shots fired in the air as the protesters attempted to march on parliament. Qadri has given an ultimatum to the Pakistan government to dissolve the national and provincial assemblies by the next day. He is also calling for a delay in elections, and a greater role for the army in forming a caretaker government. Grievances include chronic energy shortages, economic stagnation, and continued attacks by the Taliban like-minded Islamist militants. Islamists accuse Qadri of being backed by the military. (Frontier Post, IBN, Jan. 15)
Shi'ites in Quetta, capital of Pakistan's Balochistan province, spent three nights in freezing cold with the bodies of their slain loved ones at one of the city's main intersections—in defiance of their own traditions of speedy burial—to demand action in the face of a wave of terror taregting their community. The bodies were those of 83 people killed last week in coordinated bomb attacks on a Shi'ite neighborhood—the latest in a wave of such attacks across Pakistan. The bodies were finally buried Jan. 14 under heavy security, as mourners chanted slogans against the security forces for their failure to protect them.
Gen. John R. Allen, outgoing US commander in Afghanistan, submitted military options to the Pentagon that would keep 6,000 to 20,000 troops in the country after 2014, defense officials said Jan. 2. Gen. Allen offered Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta three plans with different troop levels: 6,000, 10,000 and 20,000, an anonymous official told the New York Times. The 6,000 troops would mostly consist of Special Operations commandos who would hunt down insurgents. With 10,000 troops, the US would expand training of Afghan security forces. With 20,000, the US would add conventional Army forces to patrol in areas of the country.