In This Edition: An Unusually Clear Moral Dilemma - US Officials Wring Their Hands (In Their Own Words) - The US Position In Summary - And So There Is Now No Way Out… For Pakistani Teenagers! - Is This A War Crime?
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Sludge Report #120
An Unusually Clear Moral Dilemma
The military situation around the Northern Afghanistan city of Kunduz is a moral trap, and US Secretary of State Donald Rumsfeld has taken the US Administration right into its jaws.
According to numerous reports the situation is as follows – unlike most aspects to this war, there is very little doubt about the main facts listed below:
- Between 10,000 and 30,000 Taliban troops, including an unknown number of international “volunteers” are beseiged in the town of Kunduz, and have been for more than a week now;
- The US has been bombing them for several days even though they have expressed a desire to surrender;
- Northern Alliance commanders have repeatedly said that while they will allow the Afghan Taliban to surrender, all “foreigners” that surrender will be executed as terrorists;
- During the recent defeat of Taliban forces in Mazar-e-Sharif around 520 Taliban troops (and foreign volunteers) were massacred;
- The besieged Taliban troops, knowing presumably both what happened in Mazar-e-Sharif and the statements of their would be executioners, have requested to be allowed to surrender to US or UN forces;
- Yesterday the US command announced that a further three day period was being given to the beseiged troops to surrender by the Northern Alliance;
- Meanwhile, according to reports in some US newspapers, Taliban troops who wish to surrender are being killed by the “foreign” troops who do not wish to do so.
US Officials Wring Their Hands
…entirely in their own words…
Defence Donald Rumsfeld On November 16th
(See.. Secretary Rumsfeld Interview with Fox News)
Q: What about the reports that there is a Taliban possibility of surrender in Kunduz? Can you talk about that at all?
Rumsfeld: Well, the situation in Kunduz has been fierce fighting, which, as I've said, leads me to believe it's probably heavily al Qaeda and heavily ex-Afghan people from other countries that were al Qaeda oriented and Taliban oriented. And then I'm sure there are Taliban troops there as well.
Their problem is that since they're not Afghans and I'm guessing, I'm not totally guessing, but were they Afghans, they could melt into this scenery. Were they Afghans they could defect, flip sides. The Afghans putting pressure on them are unlikely to want someone to switch sides if they're not Afghani, and particularly if they're al Qaeda. That means that they -- once they were cut off from Kabul, their exit route, they're cut off to the north. They're cut off to the east and west, and once they were cut off to the south, they had really only one choice and that was to surrender or fight. And they chose the latter, and I think for the reason I've said.
So it's still going on and there have been attempts to get them to surrender, but the basis on which they wanted to surrender was not acceptable. They wanted conditions and there aren't conditions.
Secretary of State Colin Powell On November
(See.. Colin Powell IVs: Fox News And ABC)
QUESTION: Let me try to get a yes or no out of you on this one. There's a report that the Taliban in Kunduz may be ready to surrender. Should we accept that?
SECRETARY POWELL: I can't confirm that. If they're ready to surrender, then one has to let somebody surrender who intends to surrender.
QUESTION: Okay. I think I understand that. (Laughter.) Secretary of State Colin Powell, thank you.
Secretary of Defence Donald Rumsfeld On November
(See.. DoD News Briefing - Secretary Rumsfeld)
Q: We're getting reports that Mullah Mohammed Omar is trying to negotiate a surrender from Kandahar, a surrender for himself, the Taliban, including those now being encircled by Northern Alliance forces at Kunduz. Is that true? And if so, what are the terms of the surrender the United States will accept?
Rumsfeld: The United States is not inclined to negotiate surrenders. Nor are we in a position, with relatively small numbers of forces on the ground, to accept prisoners.
The negotiations that are taking place are, for the most part, taking place with the opposition forces and elements that are putting pressure onto the various cities you've mentioned, whether it's Kunduz or Kandahar or whichever. That means that those discussions are taking place.
Needless to say, we have some ongoing discussions with those forces, and it's our hope that they will not engage in negotiations that would provide for the release of al Qaeda forces; that would provide for the release of foreign nationals, non-Afghans, leaving the country and destabilizing neighboring countries, which is not your first choice either. The idea that they would keep their weapons is not a happy one from our standpoint, either. So, we are able to provide input into that process, but we're not in a position of determining it or controlling it.
Q: Mr. Secretary, to just continue this line of questioning, we would not knowingly allow, you said, Mullah Omar to get out of Kandahar. There's however-many thousand of al Qaeda/Taliban surrounded in Kunduz. Is it in America's interest to have those people get out in any way, as prisoners or in any way -- prisoners who might somehow get out of being in prison at some future time, people who are dedicated to whatever the mission is of al Qaeda and the Taliban?
Rumsfeld: Well, I've not done a head count in Kunduz. But my strong impression, which I have indicated here previously, is that the fierceness of the fight up there suggests that they are, for the most part, not Afghans -- that they are al Qaeda or people from other countries that have been supporting Taliban or al Qaeda. And you're quite right. The idea of their getting out of the country and going off to make their mischief somewhere else is not a happy prospect. So my hope is that they will either be killed or taken prisoner.
Q: But there are allegedly these negotiations. There are calls for perhaps the U.N. coming in and intervening. You would not be in favor of either the negotiations or the U.N. coming in to intervene in that particular fight? Is that --
Rumsfeld: Well, I'm not in a position to have really an opinion on it. The -- you know, the U.N. is going to do what it wants to do, but my -- any idea that those people in that town who have been fighting so viciously and who refuse to surrender should end up in some sort of a negotiation which would allow them to leave the country and go off and destabilize other countries and engage in terrorist attacks on the United States is something that I would certainly do everything I could to prevent.
Q: So you would like it to be a fight to the death in that particular --
Rumsfeld: Oh, no! They could surrender.
Q: Then what happens to them?
Rumsfeld: Well, one would hope they did not get let go into another country or even free in that country. They ought to be impounded. I mean, they're people who have done terrible things.
Q: Can you confirm the reports that some Taliban troops in Kunduz have been killed to prevent them from surrendering?
Rumsfeld: I have seen reports that people have been found with bullets in their heads, and not in the fronts, and been told what you just repeated. But I just do -- I've not been down on the ground. Our people have not been in that close proximity, although, as I recall, some of those reports have been by people who have in fact escaped from Kunduz, who have made those reports. But I can't -- I'm not in a position to validate them.
Q: Sir, have you received any specific information that would contradict what the U.N. was reporting last week about human rights violations on the part of the Northern Alliance in Mazar-e Sharif? Last week we talked about it, but you didn't have any specific information.
Rumsfeld: Yeah. I have received no -- not even the beginnings of a scrap of validation of that allegation, and I don't believe it was by the U.N. I think it was by a person who might have been employed in the country by a U.N. agency, but I'm -- I could be wrong on that, but --
Rumsfeld On November 20th
(See.. Secretary Rumsfeld With Philippine President )
Q: Mr. Secretary, it now appears that there is a negotiation, a very strong one, under way for the surrender of large numbers of forces in Kunduz. Yesterday you said you were not interested in a surrender if it meant that some of the fighters would go free. It does appear that some have already surrendered. Is there anything the U.S. can do under this situation to prevent some of the -- especially the Chechens and the Arabs from going free?
Rumsfeld: Well, the United States is -- has been working with the Northern Alliance forces that are surrounding Kunduz, and I'm sure that they're providing the kind of advice that's appropriate, and that is that it would be most unfortunate if the foreigners in Afghanistan, the al Qaeda and the Chechens and others who have been there working with the Taliban -- if those folks were set free and in any way allowed to go to another country and cause the same kind of terrorist acts, it would be most unfortunate.
Admiral Stuffelbeem on November 20th
(See… DoD News Briefing 20/11 - Clarke and Stufflebeem
Q: Admiral, you said both Kunduz and Kandahar are at a standoff. Could you elaborate on that? And also, does the U.S. military have any real concerns that, say, for instance, Kunduz could turn into a bloodbath, or -- what is the U.S. military worried about for these two areas?
Stufflebeem: No particular worry about the areas; monitoring them very closely. By a standoff, it's not unlike what we observed around Mazar-e Sharif before it fell. There are areas of very active fighting, described, I think, as fierce fighting. There are other areas of negotiations between opposition and Taliban forces.
We hear anecdotal reports from inside the city of non-Afghans and what they would intend to do, which would tend to be dig in and have to be dug out, I suppose. So there is that mixed -- there is that mixed bag of what we're hearing, reports that might tend to be positive in one sense or negative in another sense. So it continues a standoff because it's not clear as to how it will be resolved.
Those forces have fought the opposition groups. Those forces have been previously in control of the country. And this is a refuge, if you will, that they hope that they can get out of. It's not clear as to whether or not some or all will be able to negotiate their way out. It's not clear if all want to negotiate their way out. And so to hypothesize or to suppose that this may become an area of concern because of the conflict that may ensue is not there yet. So I think we have to let some more time go by, see how these negotiations between them are going on, see how the fighting is going on, see what effects that our air strikes are having, which at the moment appear to be providing good pressure, and see how that facilitates the outcome of it.
The US Position In Summary
The official US Department of Defence position can be reasonably summarised from the above in the following way.
1. The US has been aware of attempts by the forces in Kunduz to surrender since at least the 16th of November.
2. Some US media seem to think the idea of the troops in Kunduz dying en masse as funny (Fox News IVer to Colin Powell - “Okay. I think I understand that. (Laughter.)”)
3. The US does not acknowledge the almost universally reported massacre at Mazar-e-Sharif. (Rumsfeld “I have received no -- not even the beginnings of a scrap of validation of that allegation, and I don't believe it was by the U.N.”)
4. The US is not willing to assist in negotiating a surrender which would avoid a blood bath. (Rumsfeld – “The United States is not inclined to negotiate surrenders.”)
5. The US is not willing to support U.N negotiations for a surrender which would avoid a blood bath. (Rumsfeld- “The -- you know, the U.N. is going to do what it wants to do, but my -- any idea that those people in that town who have been fighting so viciously and who refuse to surrender should end up in some sort of a negotiation which would allow them to leave the country and go off and destabilize other countries and engage in terrorist attacks on the United States is something that I would certainly do everything I could to prevent.”
6. The US is not willing to assist by taking the prisoners itself. (Rumsfeld – “Nor are we in a position, with relatively small numbers of forces on the ground, to accept prisoners.”)
7. The US is ambivalent as to whether a bloodbath. (Rumsfeld –“ So my hope is that they [Foreign Troops in Kunduz] will either be killed or taken prisoner. ")
And So There Is Now No Way Out… For Pakistani Teenagers!
While Donald Rumsfeld would like everyone to accept his word that the foreign “volunteers” in Kunduz are ruthless international criminals – who are keeping themselves busy by killing their Taliban compatriots - for all anyone knows they may in fact include large numbers or terrified Pakistani teenagers.
We know that large numbers of foreign volunteers answered the Taliban’s call to Jihad by arming themselves and crossing the border from Pakistan. We also know that included among these “volunteers” have been at least some British teenagers with little or no military training.
Many of these “volunteers” may or may not be in Kunduz. The fact is, nobody knows.
Meanwhile, as Rumsfeld has tried- albeit not too hard - to wash his hands of whatever happens to these “fighters” by commenting that it is “beyond his control” - the effective message being delivered to the US’s Northern Alliance allies is clear.
This message has been delivered both in the official remarks quoted above., and through the fact that US air power has been used to prevent any attempt by the Kunduz garrison to break out of its prison.
And stripping it of its euphemism the message is very clear.
“We the US have already turned a blind eye to what happened in Mazar-e-Sharif, and we will not complain if you kill every foreigner in Kunduz.”
Is This A War Crime?
According to the internationally accepted rules of war, aka the Geneva Convention, and according to international criminal law as enforced at the Hague War Crimes Tribunal the killing of prisoners is a war crime.
Therefore there can be no doubt that if the Northern Alliance kills the “terrorists” who surrender at Kunduz they will be guilty of a war crime.
But what about the US?
As this column is written the former President of Yugoslavia Slobodan Milosevic is being tried for presiding over war crimes committed in Bosnia and Kosovo.
What were the nature of President Milosevic’s instructions?
Did he simply say to his commanders that he would not be happy if the Muslim males of Srebrenica were allowed to leave the town with their unarmed UN peacekeeper protectors, and thus possibly live to fight again?
In many ways the US role in any coming massacre of Kunduz will be far clearer than that Milosevic may have played at Srebrenica.
Here we have a situation where a massive war crime has been clearly threatened by US ally over a period of more than a week. This threat, or promise, has been reported in international media throughout the world.
Far from doing anything to discourage the Northern Alliance from taking the action they say they will, the highest defence officials in the US Administration have refused even to address it. And all the while US air power is being used to secure the would-be victims of this war crime and prevent them from escaping.
What would the court in Den Hague make of this?