Wednesday 27 July 2011

War Crimes in Afghanistan (Part 2)

By the latter part of 1979, Afghanistan was already in the grip of a civil war. The prime minister, Hazifullah Amin, tried to sweep aside Muslim tradition within the nation because he wanted a more western slant to Afghanistan. This outraged the majority of those in Afghanistan as a strong tradition of Muslim belief was common in that nation.

Thousands of Muslim leaders had been arrested and many more had fled the capital and gone to the mountains to escape Amin's police. Amin was also the leader of a communist based government that rejected religion and this was another reason for such obvious discontent both outside of and within his government.

Thousands of Afghanistan Muslims joined the mujahidin; a guerrilla force on a holy mission for Allah. They wanted to overthrow of the Amin government. The mujahidin declared a jihad (a holy war) on the supporters of Amin. This holy war was also directed towards the Russians who were now in Kabul (the capital of Afghanistan) at the invitation of Amin and who were trying to help him maintain the power of his government.

The Russians claimed that they were not invading the country. They claimed that their task was to support a legitimate government and that the mujahidin were no more than terrorists. Of course, the Russian’s purpose of being in Afghanistan was a lie. They had no intentions whatsoever of supporting Amin and his government.
Department 8 of the KGB (Russian secret police) succeeded in infiltrating a Russian agent named Mitalin Talybov (codenamed SABIR) as a chef in Amin's presidential palace. An attempted poisoning of Amin was undertaken on December 13, 1979. However, Amin switched his food and drink as if he expected to be poisoned, so his son-in-law became seriously ill, and ironically, his son-in-law was flown to a hospital in Moscow. Then there was another failed poisoning attempt.

Twelve days later, on December 25, 1979, vast numbers of Russian paratroopers arrived in Kabal.

Seeing this influx of Soviet soldiers in his capital, he suspected that something was not kosher so being concerned for his safety, Amin moved his presidential offices to the Tajbeg Palace. The Soviets deployed soldiers near the palace, ostensibly to help protect it. However, their real purpose was to scout out the area and form a plan of attack against Amin.

On December 27, elements of the KGB Alpha Group (It was the national security agency of the Soviet Union from 1954 until 1991, and its premier internal security, intelligence, and secret police organization during that time.) and Spetsnaz GRU (Russian army special forces) stormed the Presidential Palace and killed Amin. He was shot by a Spetsnaz officer while he was hiding behind a bar. Another Spetsnaz soldier then lobbed a grenade in the immediate vicinity of Amin, where it exploded, finishing off Amin and killing his young son.

The Soviet Spetsnaz blew up Kabul's communications hub, paralyzing the Afghan military command at 19:00. By 19:15, they had seized the Ministry of Interior. The Soviet military command at Termez did not wait until Amin's assassination to announce on Radio Kabul (in a broadcast prerecorded by Babrak Karmal) that Afghanistan had been liberated from Amin's rule.

On that same day, Amin was replaced by Babrak Karmal who had been in exile in Moscow. Meanwhile, many Afghan soldiers had deserted the Afghan army to join the Mujahdeen and for this reason, the Soviets then brought in 85,000 Russian soldiers to keep Kamal in power as head of the Afghan government.

The real reason why the Soviets entered Afghanistan in 1979 was their aim of establishing a key position in Asia, one with trade possibilities and getting access to oil in the Gulf Region. Few people in the mid-1980s believed that there would be an early end to the Soviet occupation. It appeared that the Soviets planned to stay in Afghanistan-for at least 10 to 15 years for the same reason they invaded it: to preserve a friendly regime that could not survive without substantial armed assistance. The military costs to Moscow were relatively modest. The number of Soviet troops in the country-estimated by different sources as between 105,000 and 150,000 but most often given as about 118,000 which was sufficient to maintain the status quo but not enough to decisively crush the resistance of the mujahidin.

Soon after their entry into Afghanistan, the Soviets imposed military and social reforms that began to make enemies within different sectors of the indigenous population. They initiated land reforms that troubled tribal leaders. They implemented economic measures that worsened conditions for the poor, and tried to curb ethnic uprisings by mass arrests, torture, executions of dissidents and aerial bombardments. According to Amnesty International, some 1 million Afghans died during this period, with more than 8,000 people being executed after being put on trial between 1980 and 1988.

Brutal Soviet ‘scorched earth’ tactics drove thousands and eventually an estimated three million Afghans into makeshift tent villages in the Northwest Frontier Province in Afghanistan and Baluchistan in Pakistan.

Shortly after Karmal was installed, more than 2,000 prisoners were released from Pul-iCharkhi, and on January 13, the new government declared an official “martyrs’ day” to commemorate the victims of the Taraki-Amin years. Amin’s secret police, KAM, was abolished and some of its officers executed.71 However, in its place the Soviets created a new and much more efficient intelligence agency.

The Khidamat-i Ittila’at-i Dawlati (State Information Services and referred to as KhAD, was modeled on the Soviet KGB. Over the next eight years, the KhAD continuously engaged in the widespread detention and torture of suspected mujahidin supporters along with the summary execution of an unknown number of them after they had so-called trials before Special Revolutionary Courts.

Demonstrations of opposition to the Soviet occupation were put down with force. In one of the more notorious incidents from this period, schoolgirls were shot during a protest march in Kabul. In April 1980, on the second anniversary of the Soviet invasion, hundreds of high school girls and other students organized demonstrations.

According to Human Rights Watch, throughout April and May, troops fired on these demonstrators and arrested participants by the thousands. About fifty students were killed, more than half of them schoolgirls. Again in September 1981, students, primarily high school girls, organized protests. At Pul-i Bagh-i Umumi in central Kabul, they were stopped by a line of Soviet and Afghan tanks and ordered to halt. A former official described the scene:

"It was coming from inside a tank like a tape (recorder) through loudspeakers, announcing, ‘Stop the demonstration, don’t go ahead, go back to your classes, otherwise you’ll be shot.’ There was a small speech like ‘You are the property of the country, and you young girls don’t know that this is the hand of imperialism, and imperialism is never happy for you to have a happy life, and you shouldn’t be fooled to listen to imperialism, and Russians are here to help us, and Russians are here to support revolution,’ and stuff like this. The girls continued shouting, ‘We know you Russians! We know you, sons of Lenin! We know you are murderers, and we don’t want to go back! We’d rather prefer to be killed than to go back to our classes. We want you Russians to get out of Afghanistan.’ That’s what they were shouting. Then there was firing from the Russian tanks. Six girls were killed. The six bodies, I saw that they were not able to move. Their hands and legs stopped moving, and they put them in a Russian jeep." unquote

In his first report, the UN Special Rapporteur Felix Ermacora, stated that the “concordant testimony” showed that “the special police [KhAD] and the members of the armed forces regularly practiced torture.” According to the Special Rapporteur, torture took place in “the Ministry of the Interior, the Kabul prisons and all the Khâd detention centres.” Among the latter, he specifically mentioned the “headquarters of Khâd, eight detention centres in Kabul controlled by the Khâd; and some 200 individual houses in the region of Kabul used as detention centres and controlled by the Khâd.” The largest KhAD detention center in the country, the headquarters mentioned by the Special Rapporteur, was in the Sedarat compound in Kabul.76 Sedarat contained the central interrogation office. Another major KhAD interrogation center was in the Sheshdarak District.

The ministry of the interior had its own security force, the Sarandoy. They tortured people by beating them with a special piece of wood on the legs and feet and they took out their finger nails with pliers, and by putting bottles into their anuses. They kept the prisoners awake. The “105”administration—technical section—was brought in. It was from outside the military intelligence. They had special torture instruments from Russia, for example, caps which gave electric shocks to the head and something similar which gave shocks to the fingers and genitals.

When the Soviet army began its occupation of Afghanistan in early 1980, many parts of the countryside were in revolt, and its goal was to secure selected areas of that territory essential to maintain the urban centers and lines of supply and communication. Thus, areas heavily bombed included those near main highways; farmland, irrigation systems, orchards and other rural resources that could be used by the mujahidin; border areas suspected of sheltering mujahidin crossing from Pakistan and Iran; villages adjoining areas in which Soviet or government forces had come under attack; and other villages targeted as a warning to its residents and neighbors: “Bombing conveyed to a village and its neighbors as collectivities the message that supporting the resistance had a cost.” On the 12th of April 1986, between 800 and 1,000 civilians were killed in the Andkhvoy District of Faryab Province during a bombing raid.

Acording to witnesses, Soviet security forces surrounded the village of Kas searching for the mujahidin. Not finding any (the mujahidin forces had retreated from the area), they then took 72 people out from their houses during the search activity, and even when they couldn’t find any weapons in the village, the Soviet soldiers shot them (men, women and children) and their livestock. The victims were simply farmers and there wasn’t any mujahidin fighters among them.

From the 11th to the 18th of March 1985, approximately 1,000 civilians were killed by army elements assigned to carry out reprisal operations against 12 villages in the Laghman province, Qarghai district. In the course of these operations, livestock was decimated, houses plundered and set on fire, women raped and some of them summarily executed, and several children locked up in a house were burned to death.

The Soviet occupation eventually brought about a shift in tactics during the occupation of Afghanistan. Aware of the need to build support for occupation, the Soviets ended the mass slaughter of intellectuals, religious leaders and others and instead adopted more systematic means of intelligence gathering and more selective targets of repression in their efforts to crush the resistance. In the
countryside, they engaged in massive bombing of villages, infrastructure and roads, and the killing of countless civilians.

The Afghan mujahidin were not seeking to wage an aggressive jihad beyond national boundaries, but were rather fighting a nationalist war against an occupier. The Soviets were having great difficulty in their fight against the mujahidin. Soviet tanks weren’t suitable for fighting in the mountains. Soviet helicopters weren’t generally successful in bombing the mujahidin from their hiding places in the mountains. Geography, poor training, low morale and the asymmetric nature of the conflict significantly undermined the Soviet advantage in equipment and manpower.

The 1979-1989 Soviet-Afghan War pitted a modern, mechanized army against a strong-willed guerrilla force fighting on some of the most inhospitable terrain on earth. The war soon devolved into a fight for control of the limited lines of communication,the road network which connected the cities of Afghanistan with each other and to Pakistan and the Soviet Union. The Afghan guerrillas learned to ambush supply convoys and cut the roads. The Soviet Army, whose ultimate survival depended on its ability to resupply itself, fought to regain use of the roads. During the war, the Soviets lost 11,389 trucks, 1314 armored personnel carriers, 147 tanks, 433 artillery pieces and 1138 command vehicles/radios during their fight with the mujahidin guerrillas. Many, if not most, of these losses occurred during the road war. The Afghan government and commercial contractors lost even more trucks to ambush during the war. Further, the Soviets really didn’t know the terrain they were fighting in like the mujahidin did. Worse yet, the Soviets really didn’t obtain the goals they originally had hoped for when they invaded Afghanistan.

In February 1986 the Soviet Union, under President Gorbachev, reached a decision to withdraw its forces by the end of 1988. In May 1986, the head of KhAD, Najibullah, was “elected” general secretary of the PDPA. In November, he replaced Karmal as president of the Revolutionary Council, and Karmal went into exile in the Soviet Union.

The total withdrawal of all Soviet troops from Afghanistan was completed on the 15th of February 1989, in compliance with the terms of the Geneva Accords signed 10 months earlier.

The Soviet invasion of Afghanistan served absolutely no purpose to the Russians. It was a stupid invasion. The Soviets gained nothing. About 14,500 Soviet soldiers and an estimated one million Afghans were killed between 1979 and the Soviet withdrawal in 1989. It reminds me of that stupid war in Vietnam. The Americans gained nothing and lost 50,000 of their soldiers. In the end, the North Vietnamese successfully captured South Vietnam and turned Vietnam into one country again.

Part 3 will be about Afghanistan while under the control of the Taliban.

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