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In 2010, Abdul Wahid Khurasani was a candidate for national parliament from Takhar province, northern Afghanistan. Zabet Amanullah, his uncle, influential and well known in the province, managed the campaign.

On September 2, the campaign hit the road in six vehicles, covered in campaign placards. U.S. Special Forces had been watching. At an unpopulated stretch of road, selected to minimize outsider casualties, two NATO jets attacked a vehicle in the campaign procession.

NATO helicopters arrived. One helicopter flew at low altitude over the wreckage, maneuvering around to peer at the survivors. Muhammad Merajuddin, a driver, hired with his Corolla for the day, had lost both legs in the jet bombing. He had telephoned the police for help, to say so. But the presence of the maneuvering helicopter, for an hour, kept emergency first responders away.

Zabet Amanullah was among the dead. He had been wounded in the initial bombing. And then shot by the low flying helicopter, directly in the face. A targeted killing.

ISAF issued a press release. In a precision air strike, not campaign workers, but a shadow deputy governor had been killed, ISAF said.

Kabul, Afghanistan (Sept. 2) - Coalition forces conducted a precision air strike targeting an Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan senior member assessed to be the deputy shadow governor for Takhar province this morning.

... Intelligence tracked the insurgents traveling in a sedan on a series of remote roads in Rustaq district. After careful planning to ensure no civilians were present, coalition aircraft conducted a precision air strike on one sedan and later followed with direct fire from an aerial platform. The vehicle was traveling as part of a six-car convoy, but no other vehicles were hit in the strike.

Coalition Forces Conduct Precision Strike Against Senior IMU Member in Takhar Province, ISAF

At a press conference the next day, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates confirmed that the intended target had been killed.
Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates, who was in Kabul to meet with President Hamid Karzai of Afghanistan, said at a news conference with Mr. Karzai that “I can confirm that a very senior official of the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan was the target and was killed.”

We have never had the granular understanding of local circumstances in Afghanistan that we achieved over time in Iraq,” General Petraeus told reporters...  “[W]ho the powerbrokers were in local areas, how the systems were supposed to work, how they really worked, which tribe was which.”

Accounts Differ on Fatal NATO Strike on Afghans, New York Times

Kate Clark, in a report for Afghanistan Analysts Network, gives a biography of Amanullah. The report is a granular understanding of local circumstances. The biography is a tour across recent Afghan history.

Zabet Amanullah was pious but with a secular education. During the Soviet occupation, he took military training in Pakistan. On return to Afghanistan, he was arrested by the Soviets, and tortured. The Soviets then turned him over to Afghan forces, who put him in the army. He escaped the Afghan army and joined the mujahideen.

In the mujahideen, he rose to be a top lieutenant for Qazi Kabir, presently the most important strongman in Takhar. The two had a falling out when the strongman switched faction to Shura y Nizar. Amanullah was imprisoned by Shura y Nizar, and severely tortured. After three years, he escaped, and joined the Taliban.

After the American invasion in 2001, Amanullah officially turned in his arms, moved to Peshawar, and worked for the Afghanistan Justice Project, researching and documenting war crimes. After a number of years, he was arrested by the Pakistan ISI, and tortured. On release, he returned to Afghanistan. He stayed in Kabul, fearing, after having been tortured by three sides, pretty much everyone. But he then returned to Takhar province, to local fanfare and ceremony, to work on his nephew's political campaign.

Kate Clark points out in two different places, to emphasize about Amanullah: Afghans were incredulous, simply incredulous, that American military in the area did not know of the man.

[S]omething was catastrophically wrong with the US intelligence that led to the attack.

Targeted killings and the parallel worlds of US intelligence and Afghanistan, Afghanistan Analysts Network

U.S. Special Forces, by their own account, had not known of the man they had targeted and killed. They had not known much of the shadow deputy governor who they thought they had targeted and killed. And they had not even known of the local strongman.
Qazi Kabir who rather drastically prevented the attempt of Pashtun refugees to return from Pakistan to their land in Khwaja Bahauddin district in northern Takhar in 2006 by imprisoning more than 80 families in an old castle.
they [Special Forces] had not even heard of a Qazi Kabir (author’s interviews, December 2010)
Among other things, Qazi Kabir had been the governor of Takhar province, from 2003 to 2005.

We are conducting highly aggressive and lethal operations, separating the good guys from the bad, propping up one and killing the other, in a place where we have simply no clue.


When pressed about the existence – and death – of an actual Zabet Amanullah, [Special Forces] argued that they were not tracking a name, but targeting the telephones.

Targeted killings and the parallel worlds of US intelligence and Afghanistan, Afghanistan Analysts Network

So, it was two jetfighters and some helicopters in a battle with, not insurgents, but a cellphone.

Plus, then, the driver with the Corolla the cellphone had hired to drive it around for the day. And a number of the cellphone's relatives. And a couple of the cellphone's security guards.

Whether the cellphone was killed or wounded in action is not known. But the cellphone had come to be a target in the war as follows.

The United States had a prisoner in custody. Intelligence exploitation of the prisoner led to a relative, Muhammad Amin, who was in fact the shadow deputy governor of Takhar. Muhammad Amin's conversations were electronically surveilled, and a network analysis conducted.

Zabet Amanullah had occasionally talked with Muhammad Amin on the phone. The United States caught this in the surveillance. But the United States came to believe that Amanullah and Amin were the same person. When Zabet Amanullah answered Zabet Amanullah's phone, saying "This is Zabet Amanullah," the United States, listening in, had thought this was an alias.

To this day, the United States military does not admit that Zabet Amanullah, who they had killed, ever existed. And they still claim they had killed shadow deputy governor Muhammad Amin, who is actually still alive.

We know that Amin is still alive, because Michael Semple, who had worked with Zabet Amanullah at the Afghanistan Justice Project, called Muhammad Amin up on the phone. Press releases of Amin's death were greatly exaggerated.

The Amin I met in March of 2011 clearly was the man Special Forces had been hunting. The clinching details were that he had served as Taliban deputy governor for Takhar, elaborated on family relationships that the Special Forces had notes on, and even carried an identity card. He also shared enough information on his family background and career to locate him in the northern Afghanistan sociopolitical landscape like a marker on the terrain in Google Earth.

Caught In The Crossfire: The Takhar Airstrike and U.S. Intelligence In Afghanistan, AfPak Channel

It had taken Semple six months. But Semple found Amin by having a granular understanding of local circumstances. By doing a network analysis, but having the right phone numbers to call.

Ethnic factionalism and warlordism often travel together in Afghanistan. The United States, by supporting the second, drives and strengthens the first.

Rarely reported in U.S. media, we have so little opportunity to hear of it, but in Afghanistan, to the warlordism, there is another side.

I’m so glad that you all came... I really appreciate it. For a long time, I was away from here, as you know due to some difficulties and problems. I am not a man who belongs to the sayeds or the Pashtuns, the Uzbeks or the Turkmen. I am from here and in this district now. I am among you and I am one of your people.

Zabet Amanullah, campaign speech, August 25, 2010

On September 2, by two NATO jetfighters and a helicopter, this campaign was gunned down. This part was not a targeted killing. But it was certainly collateral damage.
[Provincial strongman] Qazi Kabir won a seat at the elections just two weeks later.

Last Wednesday, U.K. law firm Leigh Day announced a lawsuit over the targeted killing. The suit is on behalf of Habib Rahman of Kabul. In the attack on the campaign convoy, Rahman lost two brothers, two uncles, his father-in-law, and his cousin Zabet Amanullah.

The press release for the lawsuit over the military attack on the political campaign in Afghanistan cites, democracy.

Rosa Curling from Leigh Day, who is representing Mr Rahman, said: “Our government argues that the UK’s presence in Afghanistan is needed in order to help establish and maintain democracy and the rule of law.

Afghan 'Kill List' Legal Challenge, Leigh Day

The lawsuit is against the UK’s Serious Organized Crime Agency. This is a civilian agency, not a military one.
“The UK government has no hope of doing this, if at the same time it is itself involved in the unlawful killing of civilians in Afghanistan. We cannot have civilian law enforcement official involved in military operations."
Military electronic surveillance gathers the information. Civilian law enforcement draws up the targeted kill list from the information. And the military does the killing.


The intelligence was bad enough that I felt they were not operating in the same country I was.
--Kate Clark

Is US killing strategy in Afghanistan illegal?, Al Arabiya

In Afghanistan, the U.S. military, by its own account, was conducting electronic surveillance, trusting its methods, and not even bothering to know things such as who the governor of a province had been. Their methods, they thought, were correct. And they still maintain they were correct, in a specific case, despite massive evidence to the contrary.  

In the United States, as we have been so strongly reminded recently, the military also does the electronic surveillance. The surveillance information is then passed to civilian law enforcement. We have the same system here as we use in Afghanistan.

The government stresses, very strongly, that electronic surveillance and the drawing up of kill lists is done very carefully, that there are safeguards, that there is process.

However, we oppose the current effort in the House to hastily dismantle one of our Intelligence Community’s counterterrorism tools.  This blunt approach is not the product of an informed, open, or deliberative process.  We urge the House to reject the Amash Amendment, and instead move forward with an approach that appropriately takes into account the need for a reasoned review of what tools can best secure the nation.

Statement by the Press Secretary on the Amash Amendment

The Amash/Conyers amendment is a political campaign. It is traveling down the road now, covered in campaign placards.

Elements of the U.S. military account of the targeted killing of Zabet Amanullah do not add up. Some details are deeply questionable. If U.S. Special Forces had been closely watching Amanullah, how could they not have known of the political campaign? If NATO had thought they were facing a convoy of insurgents, why did the helicopter hover for so long, within range of being shot down?

Same question goes for Jay Carney, and the Amash amendment. Does he not recognize U.S. deliberative political process when he sees it? Or does he recognize the policital campaign, it can't possibly be missed, but claim not to?

And which is worse?

Originally posted to This Week in Afghanistan on Wed Jul 24, 2013 at 12:02 PM PDT.

Also republished by Progressive Policy Zone.

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