Reporting Afghanistan

John Wendle

Archive for September 2012

Afghan soldiers pay the price

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Afghan soldiers pay the price as US forces told not to interact with them

The decision to order US forces to not conduct patrols and to not interact with Afghan forces is adding one more strain to a relationship that has become more and more fraught as the US begins to “pull the rug out from under the Afghan forces feet” in the words of one US commander, to help them stand on their own, as they seek to prepare the Afghan Army and Police for the day when they will not be able to turn to the US and Nato for assistance in 2014.

This story sparked a furor in the UK and had Secretary of State for Defense Philip Hammond brought to speak before parliament (so I’m told).

You can read the full story here –

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September 19, 2012 at 5:38 pm

Afghans without Americans

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Afghans Without Americans: A Preview of Soldiering When the U.S. Withdraws

After protests swept through Muslim countries last week and Afghan security forces killed a number of Coalition troops in insider attacks, U.S. commanders in Afghanistan decided that halting foot patrols would decrease the risk of angering locals. At the same time, limiting interaction between the U.S. platoons and their Afghan counterparts would minimize the risk of further green on blue killings. But while the measures were temporary, they gave Afghan soldiers a glimpse of what it will be like after the U.S. leaves – and the local troops, at least in Garda, did not like the view.

My latest story and photo up on TIME at Afghans Without Americans: A Preview of Soldiering When the U.S. Withdraws.

Read more by following at @johnwendle on Twitter.

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September 19, 2012 at 5:29 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

New portfolio up – Azerbaijan: Oil, Islam and Elections

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A new portfolio of my photos are now live at called Azerbaijan: Oil, Islam and Elections. The photos represent more than a year and a half of work from 2005-2006 and bring together some of the first professional work I did. Take a look and please share.

For more, follow on Twitter at

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September 18, 2012 at 4:16 pm

Innocent Detainees Still Held at Gitmo

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Death at Guantanamo Underscores Need to Close Facility
Adnan Latif’s Death Highlights Trauma of Indefinite Detention Without Trial

(Washington, DC, September 12, 2012) – The death of a detainee at Guantanamo Bay on September 8, 2012, underscores the need for the United States government to either charge detainees in civilian court or release them, Human Rights Watch said today. The death of Adnan Latif, a Yemeni who suffered severe emotional distress and had attempted suicide several times, highlights the suffering experienced by people serving long-term indefinite detention without trial.

“The death of yet another detainee should draw the world’s attention to the ongoing tragedy of indefinite detention without trial at Guantanamo,” said Andrea Prasow, senior counterterrorism counsel at Human Rights Watch. “The Obama administration should follow through on its longstanding promise to close Guantanamo.”

Latif was first detained by Pakistani military authorities in late 2001 and sent to Guantanamo in January 2002. In 2004, Latif told a US military review board that he went to Pakistan for medical treatment for injuries he had suffered in a car accident and later to Afghanistan. The board rejected his plea to search for medical records that would support his account. The medical records, later obtained by Latif’s lawyers and sent to Human Rights Watch, described acute head injuries and recommended that he seek an additional operation.

As early as 2004, US Defense Department officials recommended Latif’s release, acknowledging that he took no part in any terrorist training. In 2007, Bush administration officials also recommended his release. Yet Latif and his lawyers did not receive this information until it was disclosed in federal court proceedings in 2010.

During his detention, Latif indicated he was experiencing severe hardship. In May 2010, before he even knew about the prior release recommendations, he wrote to his lawyer: “You are still looking for justice and seeking hearings [while] I am being pushed toward death.” Latif frequently engaged in hunger strikes, during which military personnel would force-feed him through a tube forced down his nose. His lawyer described arriving for legal visits and finding him emaciated, wearing a protective “suicide smock.”

“It is hard to imagine the suffering these men undergo after 10 plus years of detention without an opportunity for a criminal trial,” Prasow said. “Whether US lawmakers realize it or not, Guantanamo remains a serious obstacle to promoting human rights abroad.”

Following a challenge to the lawfulness of Latif’s detention, in 2010 US district judge Henry Kennedy, Jr., ordered Latif released, finding his story “plausible.” But instead of returning Latif to his home country of Yemen or seeking his resettlement in a third country, the Obama administration appealed the order to the DC circuit court, which in 2011 reversed Judge Kennedy’s decision.

The DC appeals court’s ruling not only affected Latif’s case, but also severely undercut the ability of other Guantanamo detainees to challenge their detention. It held that government evidence should be afforded a “presumption of regularity” requiring lower court judges to presume the accuracy of evidence obtained by government officials. This included information obtained in chaotic battlefield settings, unless there was clear evidence to the contrary, effectively shifting the burden to the detainee to prove that the evidence was false or unreliable. In June 2012, the Supreme Court decided against hearing the case, leaving the appeals court’s ruling the law governing Guantanamo detainee cases.

Following Latif’s death, 167 detainees remain at Guantanamo. Only six of them are facing active charges. Previously, the Obama administration had approved 57 of the remaining detainees for transfer, with an additional 30 Yemenis conditionally approved for transfer. Forty-eight detainees were initially recommended for ongoing indefinite detention; two of those original 48 have since died. Information on which detainees were designated for transfer and which were designated for ongoing indefinite detention has not been made public. Following the so-called Christmas Day airliner bombing attempt in December 2009 by Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, a Nigerian who had trained in Yemen, the administration imposed a moratorium on transfers to Yemen.

In 2010 and 2011, Congress imposed restrictions on the transfer of detainees out of Guantanamo, requiring the administration to sign certifications detailing the release plans and indicating that appropriate steps had been taken in the receiving country to mitigate any risk the return might pose. The administration has yet to provide such a certification in any case. In April 2012, two Uighur detainees – previously determined to be detained unlawfully – were resettled to El Salvador and in July 2012 Ibrahim al Qosi was returned to his native Sudan under the terms of his plea agreement in a military commission. Both these transfers fell within statutory exemptions to the certification requirement.

The press release can be read here

And more can be read on these issues at

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September 12, 2012 at 2:40 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

The Trouble With Vetting

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The recent spate of blue-on-green (or “insider”) attacks against US and NATO forces in Afghanistan prompted the Special Operations command to halt the training of its Afghan Local Police trainees this week – as part of a wider ranging implementation of more supposedly more stringent vetting and security measures across the Afghan army and police forces.

You can read about some of it here –

Seemingly simple questions often have no good answer in Afghanistan. When asked where he lived, Gul only said that “there are four or five houses between my home and the mosque.” Asked in what direction from the mosque, he, like many uneducated Afghans, did not know the meaning of north, south, east and west. He guessed his age as being “between 28 and 30.” His secondhand motorcycle was unregistered. He had no mobile number. It was even unclear at which mosque he worshipped, since he could not read a map and Staff Sergeant John Fox did not know the names of all the mosques in the area. Fox, working with experienced interpreter Aziz Mohammad Shirzada, was finally able to narrow it down to only: “Right there, when we come around that corner going into Bala Tabin.”

The answers were crucial since NATO and the U.S. uses registration numbers and interviews with mullahs and village-council members to find out more about the men who apply for positions with the ALP, as well as the army and the police. The vetting process was deemed critical after members of extremist militias in Iraq were inadvertently armed by the U.S. in a similar effort called the Sons of Iraq, put into place in 2005, after being insufficiently screened. But with no contact details, little verifiable history and no address or registration number, the Americans were running out of ways to figure out who exactly the young man was. Doing proper background checks to ascertain if recruits could have Taliban affiliations or sympathies is just one of the many challenges facing the U.S. and NATO as they prepare for withdrawal from Afghanistan by the end of 2014.

My full story can be read at: Can the U.S. and NATO Prevent ‘Green on Blue’ Attacks in Afghanistan?

To read more, follow on Twitter at @johnwendle

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September 5, 2012 at 10:27 am

Afghanistan’s Only Paralympian

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Despite having millions of people wounded and maimed by landmines and UXO, Afghanistan has sent only one competitor to the 2012 London Paralympics. Power lifter Mohammad Fahim Rahimi will compete tomorrow. Though he doesn’t expect to win, Fahim has great pride in representing Afghanistan.

     You can watch the short video the UK’s Channel 4 aired yesterday at From Afghan taxi-driver to Paralympian.

The weightlifter lost his right leg to a landmine – a continuing problem in this country – during the civil war. The loss depressed him, but, with the encouragement of friends, he pulled himself out of his depression by taking up weightlifting. He became so obsessed that he never missed a day throughout Taliban rule – partly because life was boring without something to do. He even carried his 40 lbs. bicycle up and down the mountainside he lived on, strapped to his back with only one good leg in the snow, just to get to the gym.

Today, the dedication has paid off. But even with his second trip to a Paralympics, his problems are not over. To compensate for a small government stipend (around $450 a year) he works as a minibus taxi driver, making around $20 a day. On these wages and benefits, he, his wife and their three young children live in a single room in a ramshackle house built on a mountainside overlooking Kabul.

He is afraid that as the US and NATO wind down their involvement in Afghanistan, the small stipend that helps them get through the winter will evaporate.

If you are interested in helping Fahim and his family, please contact me through this blog or send me a direct message on Twitter. Dozens of people who saw the report this week are donating money, which I will get to Fahim when he gets back.

To see more, follow @johnwendle on Twitter.

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September 2, 2012 at 3:21 pm