What Happened in Takhar?

by Joshua Foust on 9/4/2010 · 14 comments

Spencer Ackerman wrote the other day of a new development with ISAF: they are now bragging about air strikes. This is something of a reversal, as in previous years ISAF has been low-key, even apologetic, at the least popular form of military activity in Afghanistan. But under General Petraeus, it seems, the military will try to boast about the insurgents it kills off.

The problems of air strikes, however, remain, namely those posed by bad intelligence. That’s what might have happened in Takhar province this week, where an air strike supposedly killed off an unknown “senior leader” in the IMU, but also killed several campaign workers and wounded a candidate for parliament. Digging through the different versions of the stories about this air strike is a difficult thing, and I found which version you choose to believe has a lot to do with your politics. I wrote for the Columbia Journalism Review:

It’s not uncommon, still, for U.S. forces to be misled by local opponents accusing their nemeses of belonging to one insurgent group or another. It happened in Shindand, Herat. Given ISAF’s choice of words—a “precision air strike,” targeting a specific person they know is a terrorist—it’s likely they just had bad information from a source they thought could be trusted.

But even more interesting than the particulars of this incident, whose details will emerge over time and provide an opportunity for informed reflection and analysis, is how these media outlets covered the event. The LWJ and BBC picked sides early—LWJ never questions the U.S. military, and the BBC almost never questions locals claiming knowledge of an event—and presented skewed, cherry-picked pieces of evidence to support their work. Only The New York Times came right out and said there is a sharp dispute between the West and Afghanistan over what happened, and that there just wasn’t enough information to say definitively what happened.

Oh well, right?

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This post was written by...

– author of 1848 posts on 17_PersonNotFound.

Joshua Foust is a Fellow at the American Security Project and the author of Afghanistan Journal: Selections from Registan.net. His research focuses primarily on Central and South Asia. Joshua is a correspondent for The Atlantic and a columnist for PBS Need to Know. Joshua appears regularly on the BBC World News, Aljazeera, and international public radio. Joshua's writing has appeared in the Columbia Journalism Review, Foreign Policy’s AfPak Channel, the New York Times, Reuters, and the Christian Science Monitor. Follow him on twitter: @joshuafoust

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M Shannon September 4, 2010 at 10:30 am

ISAF needs body counts to keep the morale in the US up. A steady stream of accounts of ISAF and ANSF casualties without accompanying totals of Taliban dead were making it look as if the insurgents were getting away Scot free. Of course the ISAF body counts are at best hopeful and its new info ops plan will likely backfire…again.

Grant September 4, 2010 at 5:14 pm

There are reasons that I only read the LWJ and SWJ journals sparingly. Of course I also have to admit that most news agencies (including the New York Times more often than not) simply report that ‘BLANK number of civilians were killed’ without ever giving a source or ascertaining events for themselves. Was the news really ever more trustworthy than this? I’m starting to think that the claims of ‘good old days’ are really just over romantic misinterpretations of a past that was every bit as flawed as it is now.

WOTN Editor September 4, 2010 at 6:37 pm

Despite arguments to hamstring an incredible upper hand on the side of US/Coalition Forces, proper use of air power can be very accurate and is far advanced from the days of WWII when entire cities were purposely leveled.

In fact Our Pilots are very careful NOT to endanger civilian lives, even when they can justify it.

And clearly, the purposeful misportrayals by the MSM, at the behest of Afghan civilians, threatened by the Taliban to claim the dead as civilians is cause to take the MSM reports with skepticism.

M Shannon September 4, 2010 at 11:20 pm

The MSM don’t a clue about all the stupid use of firepower that still goes on here. NATO is lucky that reporters off the big box FOBs are few and far between. Although if you’re preparing a “stab in the back myth” the evil media is a good whipping boy. The problem with the MSM isn’t that it’s anti-military. It’s that the vast majority of it’s members don’t know anything about the war or the military and rely on NATO press briefings without the knowledge to call the spokesmen on rubbish. The MSM has become the main cheer leader for the wars and not some force out to get the troops.

anan September 9, 2010 at 11:53 pm

Shannon, in the 7 months ending in August, there were no civilian casualties from ISAF/AAF air-strikes in the 14 provinces of RC-East.

The ROEs are very tight. As a result there are many cases of ISAF and ANSF in contact were were denied CAS.

Driving accidents by pro GIRoA kill more Afghan civilians than air strikes by pro GIRoA. Driving accidents also are arguably a larger cause of anger among Afghan civilians.

Bashir September 5, 2010 at 5:15 pm

My father, Brother, cusin,and 7 others my familly hass been killed at that Air strikes in Takhar they was not taliban and they do not helped anytime to the taliban.they just several campain workers and wounded a candidate for parliament.whay the ISAF Army done that bad action I heat the to be in My country i heat all of them the ISAF is our enemys Not our friends or helping for as i heat them for all of my life.
Bashir from Dubai

Toryalay Shirzay September 5, 2010 at 9:15 pm

Bashir, you say ten of your relatives were killed in this air strike.Can you provide more details? what story your relatives told you? who is this Khurasani? Why was this candidate for parliament with an IMU figure?were your relatives aware they were with an IMU figure? What is your understanding of the IMU?

Dilshod September 6, 2010 at 1:00 am

Exactly this type of questions cross my mind, when I read stories of how a member of the Afghan gov’t who happens to be in the vicinity for whatever reason gets killed along with bunch of Taleban guys. I give a benefit of doubt and may assume that the guy might be negotiating their surrender or preaching them to give up violence. But it happens too often …

Mmmm September 9, 2010 at 8:04 pm

Khurasani is my friend, the last thing he will do in his life is being with Taliban, who says that Imu Member were killed? In a car van of like 10 vehicle going to a direction it means all of them are in same path with same goal? Secondly, the killing of innocent people is in the interest of Taliban, as far as miss information in south provided huge popularity in south ,the same guys in intel area are providing same information for Nato To attack blindly, khurasani has lost about 15 member of his family, if any member of imu has Ben killed why they don’t name him? To kill a single member of imu first u attack them with missile then send 3 or 4 helicopter to shot to every one? This is like gangster act, bench of idiots whom they have modern warfare, you have lost the connection with the reality, it has been nine years you are searching and make notes about so called warlords, which is a myth. But there are some criminals, who are working with goverment or with Taliban and some idiots who work for NATO, and give information to them, sort of information to shot to the weddings or like this Incident across the country, and some who they have political agenda, sitting in Kabul in their offices,speak English, in give miss information about this or that people and make money,

anan September 9, 2010 at 11:45 pm

Mmmm and Bashir, there is an official joint GIRoA/ISAF investigation into the death of Khurasani. Have both of you contacted the investigative team and offered your information?

I don’t know who provided the intelligence that lead to the strike. If that person is found, what do you think should be done to him? What if he is a well intentioned patriotic member of the GIRoA who made a genuine mistake and is very sorry about it? If he asked you for forgiveness, would you forgive him?

anan September 9, 2010 at 11:50 pm

There are close air support air strikes to assist ANSF/ISAF who are in contact with the enemy. These are necessary.

But then there are strategic air strikes that do not immediately help protect the lives of ISAF or Afghans on the ground. In these cases the bar to authorize air strikes should be and are much higher.

An air strike like this probably needed multiple source confirmation before it was authorized. Look forward to seeing the joint report.

I hope that the commanding generals of the ANSF, ISAF, as well as the provincial governor and top political leaders in Kabul visit the families of the bereaved and offer their condolences. Under Pashtunwalla, condolences need to be accepted. Has this already happened?

Mmmm September 10, 2010 at 2:06 am

I don’t have contact with the ISAF but khurasani is available and I hope the investigation is going well. There is no forgiveness for killing of so many innocent people. But we don’t want confrontation with ISAF, we were in fight with this terrorist befor ISAF, so many people scarified the or life in the same area to fight against Taliban and alqaeda which they had front line in that area, now again those people who scarified their lives are target for international forces, it is un acceptble, some one should take responsibility, best thing is bravely take the responsibility and don’t use the unit which acted like this in combat area any more, specially the intelligence guys who made this mistake. If it was purposely, they should be prosecuted, but for sure they should remove this fools who easily play with people life. I’m sure when they report something last thing they think is innocent people life, reward and money is more important to them. Even if there were any imu member, they could arrest him easily, even afghan police could do that, in the presence of innocent people making this sort of operation, then what is difference between you and socide bombers? They don’t care about innocent lives. Why NATO do the same?

Chris September 10, 2010 at 11:07 am

Honestly, the posts by Mmmm and Bashir echo what I hear all the time from Afghans that know or are family members of people that were targets of ISAF raids. “He was a great person.” “I knew him my whole life.” “He would never do a thing like this.” “He had x number of sons in the ANA.” etc… Yet, when I look at the list of items that were uncovered during the raids, it adds up to some pretty damning evidence. If he was such a great, stand-up guy, why did he have a small arsenal complete with IED triggers and Home Made Explosives? I think one of the biggest issues ISAF has with a lot of these raids is that there is no IO campaign that follows on to show people the evidence against the target. I actually had a Taliban commander sit there and tell me that ISAF is attacking “innocent Muslims” then “prove” his point by citing an example that I know was a legitimate raid on a good target. In the past ISAF was pretty bad about checking their intel but they have also rather painfully learned that lesson.
To the topic at hand, I don’t think the intel was bad, but the handling after the fact certainly seems to have been pretty shody. ISAF can’t just say, “This was a good target we hit and you have to believe us because we are ISAF.” There needs to be some method of letting people know WHY it was a good target. The hard part is doing this and covering your sources, but this can be dealt with by showing incriminating evidence at the scene. This of course is pretty hard to do when you drop a JDAM on your target though….

Mmmm September 11, 2010 at 12:32 pm

I understand Chris concern, it’s not easy to fight and justify your action in a such situation, but in this case, I’m pretty sure there has been a big mistake in intel, the man is a secular person, working in a bank, and wants to participate in a democratic process that he believes in, as far as i know him.
if the man was with the Taliban is he that much fool to take all of his family with IED trigger and home made explosive with him? don’t generalize the story you have. In this case, as I know, and the political view that i have, which is completely against the Taliban where is the need to say the ….. Are killing the innocent Muslim? I don’t believe in that, but my advise as people is you should take this seriously, not generalize the story with other cases, every where is not same and when you shoot people you are not always right. If people like khurasani are with Taliban, honestly you should don’t waste your time in Afghanistan, a person with his view, in your eyes, and what you provide avoidance, if it is true, then all nation is against you, which is not, that’s why I’m pretty sure, khurasani case is diffren, if you use afghan agents to provide you with intel, you should think about it twice before taking any big major action, in other hand, the trigger and home made explosive are not that much import and to take this harsh stand, as I told you, police could dealt with that with the help of isaf, in baghlan and kundoz, near to the area which incident took place, are hundreds of Taliban, openly caring guns and kidnapping and killing the people, why the isaf don’t take any major action against them?

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