[This is a copy of my blog entry today at stopwarblog.blogspot.com, where I blog - presque tous les jours - on the war in Afghanistan.]
One of the stock phrases of NATO spokespeople, and thus of their loyal repeaters in the press, is "foreign fighters", or "foreign Taliban". The phrase has some accuracy and utility considering that many southern and eastern Afghans have deep connections with Pakistan, and thus Pakistani nationals are certainly among the insurgents which NATO/US forces are battling. However, those who wield these phrases are usually strongly hinting (or explicitly saying) that Uzbek, Arab and even Chechen fighters operate among the Taliban. Uncritical reporters have retailed these assertions, though supporting evidence has been non-existent.
Now consider a recent New York Times report on a US-run prison in Bagram. The thrust of the article is that the growing insurgency in the country has resulted in the Bagram facility becoming over-crowded, while plans to pass many prisoners on to an Afghan-run prison have stalled. The Red Cross accuses US officials of mistreating prisoners and not allowing Red Cross officials full access to detainees, as required in agreements with that organization. Further, the article cites unnamed US officials who claim that these habeus corpus violations were approved at the highest levels.
Author Tim Golden relates that "the Bagram detention center has become primarily a repository for more dangerous prisoners captured in Afghanistan." That being the case, you would expect that those odious "foreign fighters" who are thought to make up the middle management of the Taliban would be represented in the prison population. Not so.
Of the 630 prisoners thought to be in the US-run prison, "all but about 30 of those prisoners are Afghans, most of them Taliban fighters captured in raids or on the battlefield." And how many of those 30 (some 5% of total prisoners) are Pakistani? Golden apparently didn’t learn that, but I would guess all of them are, otherwise we would have heard about a captured Arab or Chechen Taliban.
I have been blogging about the "foreign fighter" rouse since June, when the Globe and Mail’s Graeme Smith repeated the NATO line. The problem with such claims is that there has been no evidence presented to substantiate them. No Arab Taliban have been trotted before the cameras. Indeed, even no Uzbek Taliban have been exposed, though it is quite possible that exiled members of Uzbekistan’s Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU) do in fact train in the lawless mountains of eastern Afghanistan. And the idea that Chechen fighters, only 500 strong in their homeland and motivated by nationalism not religion, would traipse over to Afghanistan to fight alongside Pashtun fighters is ludicrous on the surface. That, however, has not stopped claims to the contrary.
In September, CanWest’s Matthew Fisher reported that Canadian troops face off against Chechen militants. In October, the NYT’s David Rohde similarly reported on the presence of Chechens along with Arabs as well as Muslim militants from China. Last week CanWest’s reporter on the ground in Kandahar continued the tradition by parroting a Canadian general’s line about foreign militants.
Similarly, writing over a year ago veteran Afghanistan reporter Kathy Gannon of the Associated Press related the wild claims of a former Taliban government minister. Gannon was far too credulous of his claims that about 500 Taliban suicide bombers were being trained in 50 camps run by experienced jihadis of Arab and other foreign backgrounds. In truth, as revealed by a UN report on suicide bombing this year, bombers in Afghanistan are clearly not trained by experienced warriors, as their success rate shows.