Bangui, Central African Republic
AS THE militiamen wielding guns, knives and machetes stormed into his village, Massoudo Bichefou fled into the tall grass near his home. The rest of his family were too slow.
Bichefou, 55, watched from his hiding place as armed men dragged his nine children and a grandchild in front of a large fighter clutching a knife. One by one the man slit the throats of each child. Then he killed both of Bichefou’s wives.
“Then [they killed] more people; people they had caught in the neighbourhood. There were bodies everywhere,” he told Human Rights Watch, which has conducted extensive research into abuses committed during the conflict in the Central African Republic, one of the continent’s poorest and most troubled nations.
The murders, which took place in early September near Bossangoa in the northwest of the country, form part of a growing pattern of atrocities that, according to America, France and the UN, have brought the country to the brink of genocide.
The vast, landlocked nation of just 5.1m people, ruled for 13 years until 1979 by Jean-Bédel Bokassa, one of Africa’s most notorious tyrants, has been plunged into anarchy as Muslims and Christians butcher one another in a spiralling cycle of bloodletting that shows little sign of abating.
Rebels, ragtag groups of militiamen and a president, Michel Djotodia, whose power barely extends beyond his palace, are rapidly tearing the country apart. Read the rest of this entry »
Dear Sir David Cameron,
I have served in the British army and the British foreign office as an interpreter for five and half years. As a result, I have received death threats from the Taliban. My brother was nearly assassinated and the Taliban fired a rocket at my house as a warning. Many times insurgents have threatened to kill me and my family. I tried to tell the Provincial Reconstruction Team in Helmand about my life being in danger. But they ignored me.
Two weeks ago, the PRT officials told me I could no longer work for them because they wanted to cut their budget in Helmand. They said the threats to my life were not their problem because I no longer worked for them and so they were no longer responsible for what happens to me. I lost my job a few days after I gave an interview with Sunday Times, highlighting my troubles.
The PRT has treated me like a person who has never worked for her majesty’s government. It took them two hours to get rid of me from the base in Helmand despite the dangers they knew I will face if I return home.
I risked my life for British forces and the British government. I believed in making a difference in Afghanistan on behalf of the British. Yet how do they repay me? They took my job, which means they repay me by sending me to die at the hands of the Taliban. I feel like they have condemned me to death.
I am frightened, alone and in hiding. I cannot leave my house to find a job because of the fear. I beg you sir to help me and my young family escape the death that waits for us. No amount of money can change the dangers that face us if we stay in Afghanistan.
I would be forever grateful if you would help me on behalf of the British people. Thank you for listening.
AN AFGHAN interpreter who faces the threat of being killed by the Taliban after being dismissed from his job with British forces has written to David Cameron, urging the prime minister to help him “escape the death” that awaits him and his young family.
Wahidullah Noori, 25, who served British soldiers and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office for 5½ years, gave an interview to The Sunday Times three weeks ago in which he highlighted the government’s failure to protect interpreters who receive death threats from the Taliban.
A week later, British officials in Helmand told Noori he was being made redundant. They said they could no longer afford his monthly wage of £710.
Noori says he was given two hours to pack his bags before they walked him to the gates of the British base in Lashkar Gah, Helmand’s capital.
Refusing to let him stay the night while he waited for a flight to Kabul, they told him to find a hostel in Lashkar Gah, where Taliban spies and gunmen are known to operate.
“I risked my life for British forces and the British government,” wrote Noori, who has a three-year-old son and a two-year-old daughter, in his letter to Cameron. “Yet how do they repay me? They took my job, which means they repay me by sending me to die at the hands of the Taliban.
“I am frightened, alone and in hiding. I cannot leave my house to find a job because of the fear. I beg you, sir, to help me and my young family escape the death that waits for us.”
News of Noori’s dismissal came as Cameron indicated that only in extreme cases would interpreters be allowed to resettle in Britain.
Iraqi interpreters were given the right to come to Britain after the war in Iraq but Cameron wants the Afghans to be given money and encouraged to stay and rebuild their country. Read the rest of this entry »
WAHIDULLAH NOORI has tied tourniquets to the limbs of wounded British soldiers and watched friends and colleagues die in front of him. He has met insurgent leaders in secret UK negotiations with the Taliban and has toiled alongside British special forces.
As a result of Noori’s work for the British, the Taliban want to kill him. Insurgents have already shot his brother and blown up the front gate of his family home with a rocket- propelled grenade.
Yet, despite his 5 years as an interpreter for UK forces in Helmand, the British government refuses to protect the 25-year-old from his would-be murderers.
“I am scared and disappointed,” said Noori, who still works for the British in Helmand. “No one wants to leave the country they love but when your life is at risk then it is necessary.”
While the government helps Iraqi interpreters who worked for British forces by resettling them abroad, no similar scheme exists for Afghan interpreters. The government says people who have put their life on the line will not be abandoned while arguing that the “situation in Afghanistan is quite different from Iraq”.
Yet the Taliban are known to murder Afghan interpreters. In November, gunmen killed two as they drove to work at a Nato base in eastern Afghanistan.
As Nato pulls soldiers out of the country, officials fear that insurgents and other armed groups will find it increasingly easy to take revenge on those Afghans they view as traitors. Last year, the United Nations noted a rise in the killings of civilians who work for international forces.
“These are retribution killings,” said one British official. “They are revenge for working with the enemy.”
THE Taliban fighter, wearing a black balaclava, dark glasses and black clothes, raised a long, thin cane above his head before bringing it down on the villager’s bare back with a deft flick of his wrist.
The villager, identified only as Amanullah, 28, writhed on the grass with his hands tied behind his back as fellow residents of Bala Deh, a village in the remote province of Nuristan, in northeast Afghanistan, looked on. After 70 lashes Amanullah could barely stand when the Taliban untied him.
His crime? Failing to grow his beard long enough.
“We couldn’t do anything except watch,” said Haji Saeed Ahmad, 51, a teacher, who said he had been forced to witness the punishment. “They try to control you with fear.”
Ahmad and others from Kamdesh, a mountainous district of Nuristan, said the Taliban had been beating locals for smoking cigarettes, listening to music or chewing snuff since they arrived three months ago.
The morality police, who dress from head to toe in black, hark back to the Taliban’s rule in the late 1990s when the notorious vice and virtue ministry was established to enforce a strict moral code.
The ministry’s 30,000-strong force beat women for revealing any trace of skin, smashed televisions, banned music and kite-flying and forced men to grow long beards.
Today in Kamdesh, residents describe morality squads, their faces hidden by black balaclavas, who behave even more aggressively. “They’re so strict they even beat their own people if they catch them breaking the rules,” a United Nations official said.
The birth of these radical morality squads – the first to appear in Afghanistan since the Taliban regime fell in 2001 – highlights one of the risks inherent in Nato’s plan to pull out most of its soldiers by the end of 2014.
American forces withdrew from Nuristan in 2010. So great was the ensuing security vacuum that, in the months that followed, Osama bin Laden told his commanders that their “first option” was to decamp to Nuristan if they wanted to escape the CIA’s drones in Pakistan.
In a letter to one of his most senior military commanders, the Al-Qaeda chief wrote in October 2010: “[Nuristan] is more fortified due to its rougher terrain … and it can accommodate hundreds of the brothers without being spotted by the enemy. This will defend the brothers from the aircrafts.”
But Nuristan’s security void – a product of American abandonment and Afghan government neglect – not only attracted Al-Qaeda operatives: Pakistani militants affiliated to an array of Jihadi groups entered in even greater numbers, according to Afghan and UN officials, analysts and local journalists.
Over the last two years, an increasing number have sought shelter among the pine forests, soaring snow-capped mountains, lush valleys and stone hamlets that make up one of Afghanistan’s most isolated provinces.
Local journalists who have met insurgent commanders report the presence of Pakistan’s militant proxy Lashkar-e-Taiba, other groups affiliated to the Pakistani Taliban, Afghan Salafi militants and ordinary Taliban.
This mix taking refuge along the border with Pakistan has grown so toxic that American Special Forces plan to increase their strike operations in Nuristan to prevent militants from infiltrating neighbouring regions, according to a senior western official. Read the rest of this entry »
By David Leppard and Miles Amoore
THE SAS made a daring night-time march across the mountains in Afghanistan in a “breathtaking” operation to free the British aid worker Helen Johnston and three other hostages, David Cameron revealed yesterday.
Johnston, a 28-year old nutritionist who lived in Stoke Newington, north London, while studying at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, was rescued unharmed with her three colleagues. More than 10 of the heavily armed kidnappers were killed just after midnight yesterday.
The SAS opted for what Cameron called their “long route march at night” because they did not want to tip off the hostage-takers by arriving in a helicopter. A helicopter raid to rescue another British aid worker, Linda Norgrove, in 2010 went badly wrong. Norgrove was killed by a grenade thrown by a an American Navy Seal during a battle with her captors.
Yesterday’s operation was authorised by the prime minister late on Friday afternoon after he was told by military leaders that the hostage-takers had split into two groups and there was an increased threat to their captives’ lives.
In a significant toughening of the government’s stance towards those who kidnap Britons, Cameron said the outcome served as a warning that such groups could expect “a swift and brutal end”.
Speaking outside Downing Street, he praised the courage of the strike force of about 30 SAS troops who carried out the rescue: “It was an extraordinarily brave, breathtaking even, operation that our troops had to carry out. I pay tribute to their skill and dedication.” Read the rest of this entry »
By Miles Amoore and Christina Lamb
THE two men should be sworn enemies. One is a Taliban commander waging what he says is a holy war against foreign soldiers in Afghanistan. The other is an Afghan army officer trained and paid by Nato to fight the Taliban.
Yet rather than do battle, the two men have forged a secret alliance. In the area of Ghazni province where both are based, just an hour’s drive south of Kabul, they collaborate to loot Nato supply convoys, dividing up the proceeds. They even share intelligence about military operations.
“We lost seven men in an ambush when I first arrived at the base,” explained Afghan army lieutenant Mohammad Wali, who commands 18 men. “So I thought, why risk my life when there’s another way?”
These are the security forces on which Nato strategy depends as world leaders gather in Chicago today to set in motion an end to the alliance’s biggest military operation — if not an end to the war itself.
The drawdown — officials avoid the word withdrawal — is based on handing over security to an Afghan army able to prevent Afghanistan from plunging into civil war when most of the 130,000-strong Nato-led force pulls out in 2014.
Last week, the alliance announced the transfer of another chunk of territory to Afghan control and soon three-quarters of the Afghan population will come under the protection of the Afghan security forces (ANSF).
In its latest report to the US Congress, the Pentagon claims 40% of operations are already led by Afghans. But Michael O’Hanlon, a defence expert at the Brookings Institution, who visited Afghanistan last week, said almost all were simple operations.
Revelations of secret ceasefire agreements between Taliban insurgents and Nato-trained Afghan soldiers appear to undermine Nato’s confidence that the latter can hold the line.
Nato handed over control of Ghazni city, the provincial capital, to Afghan security forces at the end of last year. Last month the Taliban closed down 100 schools in the province.
Wali said he had been approached by the local Taliban commander six months ago. Meeting in a bazaar, the pair agreed a ceasefire and a plan to ambush Nato supply convoys on the Kabul-Kandahar highway, which passes through the province.
“The plan is simple,” said Wali. “When the Taliban attack the convoys we stay in our bases. If the Taliban capture something valuable then they share it with us later.” Read the rest of this entry »