'The Governors Poppy Eradication Efforts Received a Bit of a Setback': How Afghans Protested the Occupation
As recorded by the US military
In February 2007 soldiers in Jalalabad reported: “the Governors poppy eradication efforts received a bit of a set back in the Shinwar district as people reacted negatively to the eradication. Protests led to rock throwing which supposedly led to the crowd shooting at the police.”
With six people wounded and one killed, “The ANP Chief is investigating. The Governor is still in Kabul and his return and status is unknown.”
Sporadic crop destruction by the US Islamic Republic government was met with widespread resistance that spring. Days later in February the National Police told US troops:
“There was a riot in the village of Paryana.. ANP were conducting poppy eradication when a counter drug agent spotted 20 armed men with AK47 and RPGs”.
And again in Jalalabad, protestors “torched two tractors intended to be used for eradication of poppy. The protesters threw stones at, and fired on narcotics police.”
AFP reported, “There has been a handful of similar incidents this year as Afghanistan redoubles efforts to slash opium production, which jumped by 50 percent last year and accounts for 90 percent of world supply.”
US and European involvement in drug trafficking in Afghanistan is documented in several studies including The Politics of Heroin: CIA Complicity in the Global Drug Trade by historian Alfred McCoy, Drugs, Oil, and War: The United States in Afghanistan, Colombia, and Indochina by former diplomat Peter Dale Scott and The Development of Taliban Factions in Afghanistan and Pakistan by Maj (retd) A.H Amin, Col (retd) D.J Osinski and Dr Paul Andre DeGeorges.
These eradication efforts therefore pitted armed and unarmed farmers, traders and strongmen against Afghan and NATO soldiers, and security contractors including DynCorp, in a violent purported effort to combat a lucrative trade that many relied on to survive.
Even flattering media reports from 2007 – “After a week, the DynCorp men were told that the Uruzgan mission was complete. The Nepalese Gurkhas (hired by DynCorp) slaughtered a goat in celebration” – emphasise the falsity of efforts to curb the opium trade, which the UN said had been eradicated by October 2001 from Taliban controlled Afghanistan.
In April there was another large protest in Bati Kot:
“The protest is peaceful at the time, but some demonstrators have AK47s and RPGs.. The Nangarhar Governor and ANP were on the scene, and have arrested approximately 15 protestors.”
Days later, “Thousands of protesters in Helmand province thwarted the Afghan Eradication Forces attempts to eradicate poppy in the province’s Nahi Sirraj district on April 6; efforts will resume tomorrow.”
The cable claims these efforts followed “intense negotiations with ISAF, UK Task Force Helmand, and GoA officials to gain consent for eradication in the district.”
But “the protesters complained to Helmand Deputy Governor Haji Pir Mohammad.. that the AEFs presence was unfair given Governor Wafa’s earlier promises that there would be no more eradication”.
Government “officials, for four hours, attempted to reach a compromise with the protesters but were forced to send the AEF back to their base camp. The AEF will attempt to eradicate in Nahi Sirraj again on April 7.”
These reports are part of the military and diplomatic cables leaked by intelligence operator Chelsea Manning in 2010 to Wikileaks. Dating from the five years prior they record over 200 protest demonstrations conducted by Afghan civilians under occupation. While most were peaceful protests against NATO murders and resource grabs as described in part 1, many other domestic and international issues were raised and used to resist the war.
“Hundreds of district residents participated in a protest action to denounce the PAK border fence initiative. They reportedly chanted anti-PAK slogans and burned PAK flags. Demo remained peaceful,” states a report from near Asadabad by the Pakistan border in January 2007.
A few months later another protest against a “border incident” was held outside the Pakistan embassy in Kabul.
“Pakistan invaded Afghanistan!” and “Death to Pakistan!” were among the slogans shouted by around 500 demonstrators, many of them “tribesmen from the eastern border province of Paktia” where the clashes occurred. They blocked a road leading to the consulate in peaceful protest “for several hours as policemen in anti-riot gear kept them away.”
The Taliban too figure in these demonstrations.
In May 2005 soldiers reported a pro-Taliban demonstration near Ghazni lasting two hours: “The crowd has Taliban flags and is shouting anti-coalition and anti-American slogans.. Local police have sent patrols to the area of the demonstration. It is believed that the demonstrators have come from the Logar province.”
But more often the protests were for civilians attacked by the Taliban. In August 2007 some 150 people assembled outside the UN Mission in Kabul, blocking the road “in support of the 3 local nationals that worked in a demining company that were killed by the Taliban”.
Around 400 people protested against the Taliban the same day near the airfield in Qala Naw.
That year the US Air Force dropped nearly 2,000 high-explosive munitions on Afghans, an aerial bombardment that would rise to over 7,000 bombs in 2019.
A number of protests about international issues are also recorded in these logs.
In June the US embassy in Bishkek cabled home about “35-40 demonstrators gathered in front of the Embassy to protest the Manas Airbase’s continued presence in Kyrgyzstan.”
“On June 1 the Ambassador met separately with MPs Iskhak Masaliyev and Melis Eshimkanov to discuss the base. Masaliyev said he continued to oppose the base ‘on principle’ but doubted there were enough votes in parliament to adopt his suggestion that the base agreement be cancelled.
“He said parliamentarians would be reluctant to forgo the lucrative contracts associated with the base or to go against other Coalition members.
“Eshimkanov, who now supports the base, asked for additional points to use in any subsequent parliamentary hearings on the base.”
The US military vacated the Manas Airbase in 2014.
Other protests added domestic issues to prevailing anger about international events, such as the mock trial and execution of deposed Iraqi president Saddam Hussein on December 30, 2006, which led to a number of protests in Afghanistan.
In January protestors gathered outside the Bagram Airfield: “Bagram Bazaar area outside of BAF is closed and the ANP is trying to secure the area.. the demonstrators are protesting the hanging of Saddam Hussein and are also protesting against the Governor of Parwan, Governor Taqwa.”
There were nine further protests that month.
There were also demonstrations for the many Afghans who had been rendered refugees abroad. In May people gathered in Kabul to protest a decision by the Iranian government:
“Approximately 200 Afghans are protesting at the Iranian Embassy.. ANP has closed the road between Camp Eggers and the Iranian Embassy.. The Afghans are protesting the deportation of male heads of households from Iranian refugee camps and expected to remain peaceful.”
Afghans internally displaced within their country also conducted a demonstration outside the Parliament Building:
“A group of approx 150-200 refugees.. are protesting in support of their request to [the Government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan] for land. The refugees are a ‘mixed-bag’ of various ethnic groups from across the country and are led by an elder.”
And the growing number of Afghans with disabilities protested in Kabul:
“The demonstration was reportedly in reference to disabled local nationals asking for human rights. The demonstration was peaceful and lasted only 15 minutes.”
Some of the biggest protests on international issues followed the Israeli massacre in Gaza. When Israel began its attack on December 27, 2008 which lasted three weeks and killed 1,400 Palestinians including 300 children, Afghans were already resisting colonial violence in their own land.
Two days before the attacks, near Sarawbi by the Kabul river, nearly 2,000 civilians conducted a non-violent demonstration to force a meeting with the US area command.
“The fourth Kandak commander is holding a Shura at the location of the demonstration with the villagers to explain why a compound was raided and individuals were taken away.”
“Local nationals very upset with Coalition Forces, the capture/ kill of the four individuals. The Afghan National Army will conduct security for funerals on 26 December; the villagers demand the return of the detainees immediately.”
Next day in Maywand, soldiers at forward operating base Hutal observed “a large group of local nationals protesting (burning tires and blocking roads with rocks).”
They used a drone to observe the 300 civilians, reporting later that “The protest is believed to be related to the wounding of a local national in event number 12-1073.”
“We are developing a strategy to respond to this protest,” they said. Two hours later, “Pattern of life returned to normal. Afghan National Police cleaned the debris, rocks and tires from the road and returned to base. Protest over.”
It was only on New Year’s Day that protests against the Israeli bombardment began, when soldiers in Kunduz reported:
“A demonstration against Israeli and US politics took place in Kunduz City, near Takh Arestan mosque. A few hundred participants followed the call of several maulawis. The demonstrators threw stones and burned an Israeli flag.”
Soon the police, riot control and Afghan army were dispatched to the scene and “fired warning shots to calm down the crowd.” No damage or casualties were claimed.
The same day around 1,000 Afghans assembled peacefully in downtown Pul-e Khumri. “The aim of the demonstration was solidarity of Palestinians.”
Then in Kabul, over 2,000 people were reported walking through a stretch of the city “to protest against Israel attack on Gaza. The area is out of bounds for the moment.”
Next day near the UN compound, 400 people gathered “to protest against Israeli air strikes over Gaza’s Strip”. And again the following week, 150 people assembled outside the UN to protest the attack.
On January 16 there was a huge protest in Paghman: “Demonstrators gathered to protest Israel’s strike against Gaza Strip. There are about five thousand people. They are not moving for the moment. The end of the demonstration is not known for now.”
Operation Cast Lead ended on January 18. Afghans conducted eight further protests that month and a dozen more in February. At one, “Falcon 2-7 reported that one of their gunners was hit in face with a rock.”
Afghans also contested the simultaneous occupation of Iraq. As news or rumour spread of the desecration of a Quran by a soldier there in May 2008, they staged a number of large demonstrations against the coalition.
A cable from the airport road near Chakhcharan reported:
“violent demonstration composed of 200 people against ISAF.. the demonstration is a result of the shooting of the Koran by an American soldier in Iraq. Rocks and fire bombs have been thrown over the fence. Shots have been fired inside the camp.”
Two days later another “anti-coalition demonstration” of 800 people was reported from Logar. The peaceful protest forced a US patrol to take “an alternate route back to home station.”
That demonstration was “started by a Taliban commander coercing a Logar school headmaster because of his stature in the community to start an Anti-Coalition Protest, to protest the CF soldier shooting the Koran in Iraq,” the cable claims.
In response, “Gov Wardak will host a meeting with Logar Education Director and other Headmasters that this type of behavior will not be tolerated and any action like this will result in immediate dismissal.”
But perhaps the biggest wave of protests came after the publication of some Muhammad cartoons in Denmark in February 2006.
It led to 15 large and often violent protests in a span of five days, including attempts to storm US military bases and camps, in Mitharlam, Bagram, Jalalabad, Qalat, Gardez, Khulbesat, and in Kabul.
“All protests were over the political cartoon depiction of the Prophet Mohammed,” Task Force Devil reported.
But most are also described as anti-coalition. These included “300 local nationals protesting the hiring of Pakistan workers” by the Afghan army in Qalat, and in Kabul clerics who broadcast “anti-American slogans” decrying “foreign interference in Afghan politics”.
A typical statement of such interference came from the medieval town of Adraskan in Herat.
Here 200 people in “multiple buses, jingle trucks and a septic tank truck” gathered to protest “the fact that the representative they voted for to represent them in Kabul was not allowed to go, but someone else was picked to represent them that they did not vote for.”
A peaceful demonstration, they blocked the road and the soldiers “had to take different route around location.”
A harried cable from the US Embassy in Kabul records a trail of people killed by the occupation, then in its sixth year, and the political fallout.
“On the night of April 28, Coalition and Afghan National Security Forces conducted an operation against a suicide bomb cell in the vicinity of Bati Kot, about 20 miles southeast of Jalalabad. In the course of the operation, four insurgents as well as a woman and teenage girl were killed. Two other girls, a 15 year-old and a three year-old, were injured.
“The following day between 500-1,000 area residents temporarily blocked the highway linking Jalalabad and the border to protest the deaths..
“Particularly coming against the backdrop of the March 4 incident in Nangahar in which US Marine Special Forces killed 15 civilians and injured 35 others after coming under attack, Governor Sherzai quickly returned to the province to help quell concerns..
“This incident, and the public affairs fall-out of a separate clash in Shindand District of Heart Province on April 28-29 in which ANA and US forces were involved and in which civilians were allegedly killed, underscore the challenge of addressing the serious security problems facing Afghanistan..
“President Karzai expressed concern that these incidents could affect popular attitudes toward ISAF and the Coalition in a May 2 meeting with his security advisors, the Ambassadors from US, EU, NATO and UN SRSG, and COMISAF.
“Karzai said a fourth day of demonstrations was underway in Jalalabad (today’s was peaceful) and called for better coordination before and after military (especially SOF) operations. He assigned MOD Wardak to engage with COMISAF on this matter.”
Thirteen years later, over 180,000 Afghan civilians are thought to have been killed by the heedless NATO invasion, and nearly 3 million forcibly displaced.
On March 22, 2007:
“Gladius 6 Category 2 interpreter received a call from General Salim regarding the construction outside tower 19. He stated that the people of Jangadam do not want to give up any of their land.
“They are currently protesting outside the construction site. Gen Salim fears the people may possibly begin massing and could get up to 100 people to try to fight for their land.
“TF Cincinatius is currently sending their PAO and an interpreter to the site to explain to the people it is only a de-mining operation not a construction project.”