The July 6 airpower summary at Air Force Link said " Coalition airpower integrated with coalition ground forces in Iraq and the International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan during operations July 6, according to Combined Air and Space Operations Center officials".
In total, they reported 50 close-air-support missions were flown as part of the ISAF and Afghan National Security Forces, reconstruction activities and route patrols, there was no mention of bombing in Nangarhar.
Nangarhar province in E Afghanistan has always been known for its agriculture. With its moderate climate, proximity to major rivers and elaborate irrigation system it prospered. The Soviet invasion of late 1979 and the ensuing civil war drove many villagers into neighbouring Pakistan, leaving their land untended. The canals that fed the crops clogged up with mud, grass and wild trees. Water seeped into the farmlands and turned them into marshes.
Nangahar Province has also been a major poppy growing area in Afghanistan, with an estimated 28,000 hectares planted to poppies in 2004. It also sits on a major smuggling route between the Afghan capital Kabul and Peshawar, Pakistan.
Mohammed Nadir Farhad in Kabul writes how Ambarkhana village in Nangarhar's Batikot district, 50 kilometres from the border with Pakistan, was a classic example of such neglect. A UNHCR project has resulted in canals being cleaned, irrigation systems at work and the mountainous land flourishing again.
"Drought/water shortages, blocked canals meant we were not able to get even one season of harvest from the land," recalled Haji Samiul Haq, the head of the local shura (council) who approached UNHCR to start the project. "But after the excavation of the spring and cleaning of the canal last year, the project enabled us to get two seasons' harvest."
Villager Gul Ahmad, who was working on his farm, added, "Given the current food crisis, hundreds of people would have abandoned their homes by now either for bigger cities within Afghanistan or for neighbouring countries, particularly Pakistan, if we had had no access to water."
Zafar, a 55-year-old who returned last year from Katcha Gari camp in north-western Pakistan, agreed: "Improving the irrigation system helped us to enhance our income. Thanks to UNHCR for improving our water resources and enabling us to live in our homeland."
At least 60,000 returnees living in 26 sub-villages in Ambarkhana have benefited from the US$75,000 (The cost of 3 GBU 38 1,000 HE laser guided bombs) project. The World Food Programme supported it by providing food and cash in exchange for work by the villagers, many of them returnees.
"Small-scale, but essential, projects cleaning water canals and improving the irrigation system have a great impact on the life of people who are particularly dependent on agricultural products," said Haji Samiul Haq.
Nonetheless, many basic needs go unmet, and access to water remains highly difficult. The villagers in this remote area traditionally relied on the karez system, an underground water network that was damaged by the protracted conflict. Most of the families now get their water from tankers.
The situation has been exacerbated by the recent return of more than 10,000 people to the village after Katcha Gari and Jalozai camps were closed in Pakistan in March. UNHCR helped repatriate 63,000 of the 175,00 in those camps which were part of the 2 million refugees from Soviet controlled Afghanistan which were supported in Pakistan.
Elsewhere in eastern Afghanistan, some 5,000 families who recently returned from Jalozai camp are living in poor conditions in a number of makeshift settlements. They cite tribal conflicts, insecurity, landlessness and unemployment as the main obstacles to their return to their places of origin.
The eastern region, particularly Nangarhar, Kunar and Laghman provinces, have received more than 60 percent of all returneess so far this year.
Mohammad Nabi is one of the new squatters in lower Sheikh Mesri, a recently-opened spontaneous settlement in Nangarhar. "I did not find the relocation option in Pakistan attractive," he said, referring to the alternative to repatriation when Jalozai camp was closed in May this year. "Yet I cannot go back to my home village of Torghar in Khogyani district due to severe living conditions including the lack of access to road and water."
Drought and the lack of food security are also affecting millions of vulnerable Afghans in far-flung areas of the country's north and west. Some people have had to leave their homes because of these problems, including an estimated 1,800 families in Balkh province.
Sustainable return remains a long-term challenge that UNHCR and other humanitarian organizations are able to address only initially. The answer to socio-economic problems for all Afghans lies in the success of the Afghanistan National Development Strategy endorsed in Paris last month.
A subsequent conference hosted by the government of Afghanistan and UNHCR is scheduled this November in Kabul to focus on return and reintegration challenges.
A Voice of America report on May 27th 2008 reported the other side of the story that Nangahar villagers have returned to growing opium poppies, they need less water than wheta, provide more income and promises of help have been derisory.
"Farmers have gone back to growing poppy here because they're poor and desperate," says one farmer, Malik Chakan. "They were expecting help from the government that hasn't arrived. We don't have a health clinic, we don't have schools or electricity."
Eradicating poppy is a pillar of U.S. policy in Afghanistan, says, Ambassador Thomas Schweich Coordinator for Counternarcotics and Justice Reform in Afghanistan.
These villagers don't even have potable water. They have to go to another village and carry it back.
Arghandi Gul, Village Elder explains, "Last year they told us they would provide an alternative livelihood if we agreed to eradicating the poppy. So people happily agreed. In return for this, we got 400 bags of fertilizer for 4,000 homes. This year, we got sixty 20kg bags of flour for our village. That was their 'alternative livelihood'!"
No crop pays like poppy. There is a need however to balance this report with one from the Economist June 19th 2008 that Gul Agha Sherzai governor of Jalalabad - a bear of a man known as “the Bulldozer”, has contrived to make Nangarhar officially “poppy-free” this year.
David Mansfield, a researcher for the Afghan Research and Evaluation Unit, a think-tank ***, (he is author of WATER MANAGEMENT, LIVESTOCK AND THE OPIUM ECONOMY Resurgence and Reductions: Explanations for Changing Levels of Opium Poppy Cultivation in Nangarhar and Ghor in 2006-07 ) is quoted in the above EConomist report , which that ,at the apex of the opium business are around 15 kingpins. Few have direct links to the business of smuggling but use political influence to ease the movement of drugs and protect figures lower down the chain. All are known to Western intelligence officials, but currently enjoy immunity. One senior Western diplomat says that if the West is to gain credibility it must get President Hamid Karzai to take action against 15 senior officials (at least one of his brothers being one of them) . “There should be a night of the long knives.”
Bombers kill 47 in wedding Party Sunday 6th July 2008 Nangahar
Of course what the July 6th Air Force Link report that opened this post failed to mention is that at least one of those 50 aerial sorties that day, resulted in the death of at least 47 civilians, mostly women and children. This is not the first time the US military have killed civilians in the area.
“A U.S. Marine unit broke international humanitarian law by using excessive force during a shooting spree last month that left 12 people dead, an Afghan human rights group said in a report Saturday March 4th 2007. The troops fired indiscriminately at pedestrians, people in cars, public buses and taxis in six different locations along a 10-mile stretch of road in Nangahar province after an explosives-rigged minivan crashed into their convoy on March 4, […] Six people were killed near the blast site, while the another 13 died ( 37 injured) on the road as the troops sped away, said Ahmad Nader Nadery, the group's spokesman. The dead included a 1-year-old boy, a 4-year-old girl and three women, the report said. Thirty-five people were wounded in the shootings. […]”
This resulted in a public apology and "solatia" (blood money) payment to the deceased family members.
Army Brig. Gen. Joseph L. Votel, Combined Joint Task Force-82 deputy commanding general said at a ceremony when the payments were made, “We are deeply saddened and angry over this incident,” Votel said. “On behalf of my country and our Soldiers, we humbly ask for your forgiveness and continued cooperation. As you know we are conducting an investigation. We ask for your continued cooperation during this investigation.”
Reuters are now reporting that A U.S. coalition force air strike on Sunday near Deh Bala killed 47 civilians, including 39 women and children. Initially it was reported that 23 were killed as aircraft bombed a convoy bringing a bride to her new husband's village in Nangarhar.
The U.S. military released a statement after the incident saying there were no civilians in the area and that they had been targeting a large group of militants.
"I reject the coalition statement saying that all those killed were militants," Burhanullah Shinwari, deputy speaker of the upper house, who is heading an investigation into Sunday's incident told Reuters on Friday. "There aren't any Taliban or Al Qaeda even several kilometres near to where the air strike took place. Fourty-seven people were killed; 39 of them were women and children," he said shortly after attending prayer ceremonies for the victims in the provincial capital Jalalabad.
An investigation has also been launched into another U.S. air strike carried out two days before Sunday's incident in which local officials say 15 civilians were killed. Another report said that on July 4, U.S. helicopters killed 22 civilians during a raid in Nuristan Province.The U.S. military is conducting its own investigation into Sunday's incident.
*** AREU funding is provided by the European Commission (EC), the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), the United Nations Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM), the World Bank, and the governments of Denmark, Japan, Norway, Sweden, Switzerland and the United Kingdom.