ANALYSIS: Afghanistan: Brigade 888 and other atrocities —Musa Khan Jalalzai - Thursday, March 03, 2011

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Canada supported Brigade 888 and its torture of civilians and considered the gang to be a trusted ally, protecting Canadian outposts in Kandahar. This military and financial support of the Canadian government encouraged the outlaw Brigade 888 in torturing, raping and murdering civilian in Kandahar

Afghanistan has suffered from a quarter century of civil war, torture, humiliation and foreign intervention. The devastation wrought by warlords, drug lords, and ethnic and sectarian conflicts has resulted in the collapse of a hardly existing state and its institutions. Afghanistan was a poor and weakly functioning state before it was engulfed in persistent conflict. The country is now facing many challenges, specifically the challenge of legitimate state formation, criminal trade, illegal market economy and Taliban insurgency. Organised criminal groups and regional commanders are trying to control the market economy across the country. These commanders, their private militias and corrupt officials in the police department have established a joint network of drug and human trafficking across the country.

Elements in the interior and defence ministries are encouraging and facilitating these groups for controlling illegal market economy through key appointments in the army and police departments. The control of police organisational structures at district and local levels is often critical to the control of criminal trade. The Afghan government remains mired in corruption and unwilling or unable to satisfy people’s basic needs. Recently, in Northern Afghanistan, a commander of the reserve forces of Dilaram district in Nimroz province and two policemen were arrested on charges of drugs smuggling. Not only this, posts of governors, deputy governors, mayor and police chief are being sold by the interior ministry. Every criminal, terrorist, warlord, drug lord or murderer can become a governor or police chief of a province if he pays $ 200,000 in bribe to the interior minister or the president’s office.

The post of mayor has been on sale for $ 100,000 for the last seven years. The post of IG police costs $ 150,000 for every candidate. Having realised a constant threat from the corrupt officials and nationalist elements within the Afghan National Army and the police department, ISAF, NATO and the US turned to warlords’ private militias for the protection of their military headquarters and convoys.

These warlords are not only protecting the contributing states’ military and logistics convoys; they also send their soldiers for jihad across the border into Pakistan. They receive dollars in Afghanistan, but fight in Pakistan. The record of their criminal activities is heartrending. Their rogue armies kill and rape men and women in all provinces. Investigative journalist Bob Woodward claims there are 3,000 CIA-backed paramilitaries in Afghanistan, working closely with the US Special Forces on combat operations and intelligence gathering. These people are closely in contact with the warlords and regional commanders and receive support from their rogue armies.

According to Mark Curtis’ recent report on Afghanistan: “British and US policies in the country are not helping but setting back development prospects. Hundreds of millions of dollars are wasted while up to 80 percent of donations return to donor countries in corporate profits or consultants’ salaries.” Foreign and Commonwealth Office and the Department of International Development spent £ 69 million on the “shadow army” of private militias providing “security” and “combat support” to regular forces from 2004-2009. The US has spent more than $ 224 billion on defeating the Taliban and al Qaeda, while the UK government has spent £ 11 billion since 2001. Mark Curtis has estimated the arms supply of the British government to Afghanistan from 2008-2010 as worth of £ 32.5 billion including 18,000 assault rifles and 800 machineguns. Moreover, the Afghan government imported $ 621 million worth of arms during the last nine years.

As we all know, private militias are armed military groups not recognised by states and governments. In states that do not outlaw them, they are limited only by the criminal laws applicable to all of society. In some provinces of Afghanistan, private militias have formed their own governments. For example, the governor of Balkh province, former warlord Atta Muhammad does not recognise the government in Kabul. He does not take any direction from the Karzai administration. In more than 15 districts in southern Afghanistan, the Taliban run their own government.

The story of Canada’s military and financial support to the criminal militias and warlords of southern Afghanistan is very painful. Its support to the warlords like Assadullah Khalid brought disrepute to the country. Afghans ask whether Canada is involved with their criminal business or just feeds them. Canada spent more than $ 41 million on hired criminals in Afghanistan over four years. Much of this fund went to security companies slammed by the US Senate for having warlords on their payroll. The issue was kept secret from the general public and parliament for a long time, because Canadian forces have been receiving assistance from 11 private security contractors in Kabul and Kandahar since 2006.

The recently released comprehensive report of the US Senate investigation committee revealed that relying on Afghan warlords militias resulted in murder, kidnapping, bribery and anti-coalition activities. Governor Assadullah Khalid and his Brigade 888 were accused of human rights abuses, rape and torture during his governorship period. Canada supported Brigade 888 and its torture of civilians and considered the gang to be a trusted ally, protecting Canadian outposts in Kandahar. This military and financial support of the Canadian government encouraged the outlaw Brigade 888 in torturing, raping and murdering civilian in Kandahar.

The Canadians who knew of them say they witnessed no abuses because they support Brigade 888 and they are protected. Common Afghans ask why the Canadian army is abetting the crimes of Brigade 888. A Canadian newspaper The Globe and Mail reported that the Canadian soldiers “lived beside” Brigade 888 personnel in the Kandahar governor’s palace and “helped to train Afghans who routinely committed torture”. In 2008, Khalid was removed from Kandahar and appointed minister of frontier and tribal areas. From 2005 to 2008, during Mr Khalid’s brutal tenure in Kandahar, the palace became the microcosm of Canada’s moral dilemmas.

Another heartrending story of the Canadian army is the use of Brigade 888 for intelligence purposes against the civilian population. Assadullah Khalid is a known human rights violator. He runs at least one private detention facility for torturing detainees, but Canada never repudiated him, or reported this to the ISAF command. On one occasion, a prisoner handed over to Brigade 888 by the Canadian forces was severely tortured, abused and humiliated. The Canadian who spoke in favour of the governor was Major-General David Fraser. Canadians who served in Kandahar are not willing to say a single word about their soldiers’ involvement with Brigade 888.

In summation, in view of the US, UK, Canada and Australia’s army support to the warlords and their private militias and the increasing number of rogue armies across the country, peace and stability will not return to Afghanistan. This process of militarisation of Afghanistan and privatisation of security can harm the neighbouring states in near future.

The writer is the author of Britain’s National Security Challenges and Punjabi Taliban. He can be reached at

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