Afghanistan – pride and prejudice – Part VI [to 31st December 2009]

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[Part VI of a multi-part dossier]

Associated Press, 30th Dec 2009: “Separately on Wednesday, NATO questioned Afghan reports that international troops killed 10 civilians, including schoolchildren, in a weekend attack that prompted hundreds of angry Afghan protesters to burn an effigy of U.S. President Barack Obama and chant ‘death’ to America.

The head of an investigative team appointed by Afghan President Hamid Karzai told The Associated Press by telephone that eight students between the ages of 12 and 14 were among the dead discovered in a village house in a remote section of Kunar province in eastern Afghanistan. NATO said in a statement released late Wednesday night that while there was no direct evidence to substantiate the claims, the international force had requested and welcomed a joint investigation…

Conflicting accounts of what occurred during fighting in Kunar’s Narang district prompted an emotional outcry over civilian deaths, one of the most sensitive issues for international troops fighting the more than eight-year-old war. Although insurgents are responsible for the deaths of far more civilians, those blamed on coalition forces spark the most resentment and undermine the fight against militants. With 37,000 more U.S. and NATO troops being deployed to the battle zone, concern over civilian casualties is unlikely to ease anytime soon.”
Daily Telegraph, 28th December 2009: “Initial reports indicate that in a series of operations by international forces in Kunar province… 10 civilians, eight of them school students, have been killed…A senior official in the Afghan government, speaking on condition anonymity, said the death toll could change because investigations are ongoing.

Nato’s International Security Assistance Force (Isaf) had no information on any operations or casualties in Kunar.

A senior Western military official told that US special forces have been conducting operations against militants in the border regions of Kunar.”
Stephen Kinzer in The Guardian, 28th December 2009: “One way for the US to have reacted to the Soviet invasion would have been to cheer the Soviets’ stupidity and wait patiently for Afghan resistance fighters to do their duty to history. This would have been a prudent, restrained policy, one of limited ambition and risk. It would have kept the US out of a dangerous place where it had not previously been entangled and which it did not know well.<p>

Instead the US chose the opposite path: hyperactive engagement. The CIA launched its biggest operation ever, pouring billions of dollars into the Afghan resistance, matched dollar-for-dollar by Saudi Arabia. This operation contributed decisively to the Soviet defeat, culminating in the Red Army’s retreat back across the Amu Darya in 1988.<p>

America’s decision to escalate this war also had other effects that only became clear later. It brought tens of thousands of foreign fighters, including Osama bin Laden, to the Afghanistan-Pakistan region. With them these outsiders brought harsh forms of Islamic fundamentalism that had been little known in Afghanistan. Their influence ñ Wahhabi fanaticism preached to Afghan resistance fighters in a war paid for by the US and Saudi Arabia ñ gave birth to the Taliban. Pakistan served as eager midwife and quickly turned the Taliban into its proxy force in Afghanistan. Once in power, the Taliban offered a safe haven to al-Qaida, which prepared the September 11 attacks there.”
Jonathan Wynne-Jones & Duncan Gardham in the Sunday Telegraph, 13th December 2009: “The Rt Rev Stephen Venner called for a more sympathetic approach to the Islamic fundamentalists that recognises their humanity. The Church of Englandís Bishop to the Forces warned that it will be harder to reach a peaceful solution to the war if the Afghan insurgents are portrayed too negatively….Bishop Venner stressed his admiration for the sacrifices made by the British forces fighting in Afghanistan but also urged the need for a reassessment of how the Taliban are viewed.

‘We’ve been too simplistic in our attitude towards the Taliban,’ said Bishop Venner, who was recently commissioned in his new role by Dr Rowan Williams, the Archbishop of Canterbury.

‘There’s a large number of things that the Taliban say and stand for which none of us in the west could approve, but simply to say therefore that everything they do is bad is not helping the situation because it’s not honest really. The Taliban can perhaps be admired for their conviction to their faith and their sense of loyalty to each other”
Christina Lamb & Miles Amoore in the Sunday Times, 6th December 2009: “Although the Taliban are estimated at only 15-20,000, they are proving a more formidable enemy than previously realised. According to John McCreary, a defence intelligence analyst, for every allied soldier killed, wounded or kidnapped last month, the Allies killed, wounded or captured a single Taliban, compared with six a year ago. Allied soldiers killed two anti-government fighters for every Nato and government death. ‘During all of 2008 the kill ratio was never so close,’ said McCreary. ‘This should be unacceptably embarrassing news for the coalition’.”
Ewan MacAskill in the Guardian, 3rd December 2009: “US officials said Obama wants almost all the US troops out before the end of his first term in office in January 2013, leaving behind a small contingency force…The new strategy comes at the end of three months of intensive debate in Washington over the future of Afghanistan, an issue that has swamped the rest of Obama’s agenda…The risk for Obama is that the extra 30,000 troops may not be enough to counter an increasingly confident Taliban and that the timetable for training the Afghan army and police is over-optimistic.”
Malalai Joya in the Guardian, 1st Dec 2009: ” have said before that by installing warlords and drug traffickers in power in Kabul, the US and Nato have pushed us from the frying pan to the fire. Now Obama is pouring fuel on these flames, and this week’s announcement of upwards of 30,000 more troops to Afghanistan will have tragic consequences.

Already this year we have seen the impact of an increase in troops occupying Afghanistan: more violence, and more civilian deaths. My people, the poor of Afghanistan who have known only war and the domination of fundamentalism, are today squashed between two enemies: the US/Nato occupation forces on one hand and warlords and the Taliban on the other.

While we want the withdrawal of one enemy, we don’t believe it is a matter of choosing between two evils. There is an alternative: the democratic-minded parties and intellectuals are our hope for the future of Afghanistan.”
Jane Merrick in the Independent on Sunday, 29th Nov 2009: “…the Prime Minister laid out a series of milestones for the Kabul government to meet before Britain’s commitment can end.

It follows intense public pressure on Mr Brown to scale back Britain’s commitment to what many see as an unwinnable and ill-judged war. A poll for The Independent on Sunday earlier this month showed seven out of ten people wanted British troops out of Afghanistan within a year or so.

The announcement enables the Labour leader to go into a spring general election claiming that “Afghanisation” is under way in the country, and that within the year the number of British troops can fall. Yet, with corruption rife and troops engaged in bloody battles with Taliban fighters, such a timetable must be in doubt.”
Kate Connolly in the Guardian, 28th Nov 2009: “The future of Germany’s mission in Afghanistan was thrown into doubt today after a government minister resigned under growing pressure to admit his involvement in a campaign of misinformation over an air raid in which civilians were killed….Video footage emerged yesterdayof the botched air raid ordered by the German commander, Colonel Georg Klein, on the basis of a single piece of intelligence from an Afghan informant who was unable to see the vehicles….It was shortly after midnight on 4 September that a commander ordered what would turn out to be the most significant military action involving Germany since the second world war. Militants had seized two tankers delivering jet fuel to Nato forces in the northern province of Kunduz, where international military operations are led by Germany. Fearing the fuel could be used in attacks, German officers called in an air strike, even though the trucks were surrounded by civilians at the time. “Based on information available at the scene, the commanders believed they were insurgents,” a Nato spokesman said. It soon became clear this was not the case. The Taliban said after one of the trucks became stuck in mud the militants emptied them, and many of those nearby had been local people seeking to get some of the fuel. Whatever the truth, the final death toll remains unclear. According to an Afghan government inquiry, 30 of 100 casualties were civilians. The independent Afghanistan Rights Monitor group said 70 civilians died.

For several days after the attack Franz Josef Jung, the then-defence minister, said there was no evidence of civilian deaths, despite apparently having access to military reports saying precisely the contrary.”
Caroline Lucas in the Guardian, 26th Nov 2009: “First Tony Blair, then Gordon Brown, told us that priority number one was Osama bin Laden and ridding the world of al-Qaida. Then we were getting rid of the Taliban. We were the benevolent invaders, bringing democracy to a downtrodden people. Or we were stabilising the region between Pakistan and Afghanistan. Our streets would be safer. It was about women’s rights or the opium trade.

In Washington, Barack Obama considers General Stanley McChrystal’s request for up to 40,000 more troops, which would take the number of foreign troops in Afghanistan towards 150,000. Yet he knows that the deployment of thousands more foreign soldiers has so far failed to stem the tide of Taliban influence. Recent insurgency attacks in Kabul, Peshawar and Baghdad show the violence and insecurity in the region only seem to be increasing.

….Despite the efforts of the UN and the western powers, there is no credible national government in Afghanistan. In part, wilful amnesia in foreign policy has prevented us from learning from past mistakes; attempts to impose a western model of democratic governance on a failing state, with ill-informed notions about the culture, geography or history of the place and its people, are bound to end badly. Worse still, attempting to do so through the barrel of a gun and via million-dollar bribes to corrupt warlords and criminals can only result in a failure of devastating proportions.”
Seamus Milne in the Guardian, 23rd Nov 2009: “So now we know the secret weapon of the the new western plan to pacify Afghanistan: cash. As President Obama prepares to announce the expected dispatch of tens of thousands more troops to America’s eight-year-old war and occupation, US and British commanders on the ground have already begun to fund and equip Afghan militias to help fight the Taliban….It’s classic colonial practice ñ or “counter-insurgency”, as it’s politely known ñ detectable from Malaya and Kenya to Vietnam and the Palestinian “village leagues” Israel set up in the 1970s. But it’s also the delusion of occupiers through the ages that you can kill off people’s determination to run their own country by handing them wads of notes.”
Simon Jenkins in the Guardian, 17th Nov 2009: “Britain’s military failures in Basra and Helmand, rescued in both by the Americans, increased this subservience. While French and German governments assess their nation’s interest, Blair and Gordon Brown have been me-too kids on the block, panting after Washington’s every wild venture. Despite 412 British soldiers dead, Brown indicated in his speech on Monday night that nothing had changed. The torture continues. London twitches only when Washington kicks.

Almost nothing Brown says on Afghanistan makes sense, and he seems painfully aware of it. He must say that soldiers are dying in Helmand to make Britain’s streets safe, even when intelligence reports say the opposite…..

Britain and America should demilitarise the war on terror, surely the most counterproductive main-force deployment in recent history. They need no longer rely on grand armies, popinjay generals and crippling budgets; on bringing death, destruction and exile to hundreds of thousands of foreigners in the faint belief that this might stop a few bombs going off back home. They would hand that job to the appropriate authorities; to the police and security services.”
Jim Jarrasse in Le Figaro, 17th Nov 2009: “A new instruction manual recommends making payments to those Afghans tempted to join the ranks of the Taliban. The British Defence Secretary prefers to talk about the ‘importance of financing projects’ – replacing ‘weapons’ with ‘sacks of gold’. There we have it – the advice in a new manual of directives for British soldiers arriving in Afghanistan…this new doctrine, explains General Paul Newton, is more suited to modern insurrections. It was adopted by the Americans since the war in Iraq”.
Stephen Grey in the Sunday Times, 15th November 2009: “Two years ago Corporal Alex Temple fought like a lion to capture the Afghan town of Musa Qala from the Taliban. Last week he was back, once again in a fierce battle just two miles from its centre…’It has changed though,’ he said. ‘It’s more dangerous. The fighting is harder.’… Yet the enemy had learnt too. ‘The Taliban can shoot more accurately’ said Temple. ‘And they donít give up so easily.’

The capture of Musa Qala was declared a model for how this war might be won. The Taliban were bribed to switch sides, the Afghan army was portrayed as the victor and a reconstruction plan prepared. ‘The eyes of the world will be on Musa Qala,’said Bill Wood, the former US ambassador to Afghanistan.

Now, we were back with B Company to hold a front line that, after two years of heavy fighting, has moved barely two miles north and south of the ‘liberated’ town centre. We watched as the Taliban were pounded with bullets, grenades, shells, missiles and airstrikes – and still they came back for more.”
Aram Rostom in the Nation, 13th November 2009:”The Popal brothers control the huge Watan Group in Afghanistan, a consortium engaged in telecommunications, logistics and, most important, security. Watan Risk Management, the Popals’ private military arm, is one of the few dozen private security companies in Afghanistan. One of Watan’s enterprises, key to the war effort, is protecting convoys of Afghan trucks heading from Kabul to Kandahar, carrying American supplies.

Welcome to the wartime contracting bazaar in Afghanistan. It is a virtual carnival of improbable characters and shady connections, with former CIA officials and ex-military officers joining hands with former Taliban and mujahedeen to collect US government funds in the name of the war effort.

In this grotesque carnival, the US military’s contractors are forced to pay suspected insurgents to protect American supply routes. It is an accepted fact of the military logistics operation in Afghanistan that the US government funds the very forces American troops are fighting. And it is a deadly irony, because these funds add up to a huge amount of money for the Taliban.”
Richard Norton-Taylor in the Guardian, 13th November 2009: “British officials are increasing pressure on the Afghan government to talk to Taliban leaders as part of a major attempt at reconciliation, it emerged today.

The move is strongly backed by the Foreign Office ñ notably Sherard Cowper-Coles, the government’s special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan ñ by MI6, and by Lieutenant General Graeme Lamb, former head of the SAS and Britain’s senior military officer in Kabul, the Guardian understands.

Lamb was deployed to Afghanistan with the task of persuading insurgents to give up their arms. He believes many young and rank-and-file Taliban fighters carry a sense of ‘anger and grievances that have not been addressed’….the prime minister dismissed reports that he was planning to ‘talk to the Taliban’, although he raised the prospect of ‘mercenaries’ fighting for the Taliban being reintegrated into Afghan society”.
Patrick Cockburn in the Independent on Sunday: “The US and Britain have tumbled into a second war in Afghanistan that they weren’t expecting. Justifying their own misjudgements, American and British leaders claim that Afghanistan is a war that has to be fought because it is the epicentre of the war against international terrorism. These threats are all grossly exaggerated…The main reason for Britain’s military commitment in Afghanistan was to maintain its position as America’s principal ally in the world. …”

Christina Lamb in the Sunday Times, 8th November 2009: “[Lord] Ashdown spoke for many when he said: ‘We have a government that has completely failed to make a cogent case for this war or convince us that it has a strategy worthy of the
sacrifices being made….Might it be time to face the possibility that the presence of foreign troops is acting as a recruiting tool?”
Sonali Kolhatkar in, 3rd Nov 2009: “One of the original justifications for the war in 2001 that seemed to resonate most with liberal Americans was the liberation of Afghan women from a misogynist regime. This is now being resurrected as the following: If the U.S. forces withdraw, any gains made by Afghan women will be reversed and they’ll be at the mercy of fundamentalist forces. In fact, the fear of abandoning Afghan women seems to have caused the greatest confusion and paralysis in the antiwar movement.

What this logic misses is that the United States chose right from the start to sell out Afghan women to its misogynist fundamentalist allies on the ground. The U.S. armed the Mujahadeen leaders in the 1980s against the Soviet occupation, opening the door to successive fundamentalist governments including the Taliban…”
Peter Galbraith in the Guardian, 3rd Nov 2009: “…..For now, however, Karzai is not a legitimate partner to the west and there is no immediate prospect of necessary change. Under these circumstances, sending more troops to Afghanistan to implement a counter-insurgency strategy is a waste of precious military resources. Hamid Karzai was determined to win Afghanistan’s presidential elections without regard to the cost to his country and to the international military mission. He succeeded, and Afghanistan and its foreign friends will now pay the very steep price.”
Chris Hedges in, 2nd Nov 2009: “The warlords we champion in Afghanistan are as venal, as opposed to the rights of women and basic democratic freedoms, and as heavily involved in opium trafficking as the Taliban. The moral lines we draw between us and our adversaries are fictional. The uplifting narratives used to justify the war in Afghanistan are pathetic attempts to redeem acts of senseless brutality. War cannot be waged to instill any virtue, including democracy or the liberation of women. War always empowers those who have a penchant for violence and access to weapons. War turns the moral order upside down and abolishes all discussions of human rights. War banishes the just and the decent to the margins of society. And the weapons of war do not separate the innocent and the damned. An aerial drone is our version of an improvised explosive device. An iron fragmentation bomb is our answer to a suicide bomb. A burst from a belt-fed machine gun causes the same terror and bloodshed among civilians no matter who pulls the trigger. ”
Johann Hari in the Independent, 21st October 2009: “…Every military counter-insurgency strategy hits up against the probability that it will, in time, create more enemies than it kills. So you blow up a suspected Taliban site and kill two of their commanders ñ but you also kill 98 women and children, whose families are from that day determined to kill your men and drive them out of their country. Those aren’t hypothetical numbers. They come from Lt. Col. David Kilcullen, who was General Petraeus’ counter-insurgency advisor in Iraq. He says that US aerial attacks on the Afghan-Pakistan border have killed 14 al-Qa’ida leaders, at the expense of more than 700 civilian lives. He says: ‘That’s a hit rate of 2 per cent on 98 per cent collateral. It’s not moral’.”
Julian Borger in The Guardian, 29th October, 2009: “Ahmed Wali Karzai, the younger brother of the Afghan president, Hamid Karzai, has been on the CIA’s payroll for almost eight years, it was reported today….

The New York Times, quoting unnamed current and former US officials, reported that the CIA was paying the president’s brother, long alleged to be a powerful druglord, for ‘a variety of services’.

The report said these included the recruitment of a paramilitary group to do US bidding in and around Kandahar, where he is the head of the provincial council.

….the president’s brother was also reported to act as a middle man between the CIA and Taliban loyalists as part of attempts to persuade them to change sides. He has long been alleged to be involved in the opium trade in southern Afghanistan, and the CIA links are a cause of deep divisions in Barack Obama’s administration, the New York Times said.”
Robert Watts in The Sunday Times, 18th October 2009: “The war in Afghanistan is ‘madcap’and ‘futile’ and serves ‘no conceivable national interest’, says Sir Christopher Meyer, who as Britain’s ambassador to Washington had a ringside seat on the dispatch of troops there.

The fighting is ‘a waste of blood and treasure’ because there is no coherent purpose behind it….’A punitive expedition against Al-Qaeda is one thing; but to seek, against the grain of history, to rebuild Afghanistan from the ground up, in the name of a western concept of democracy and human rights, is futile’.

‘If this madcap venture is to take 40 years, as General Sir David Richards, chief of the general staff, averred this year, no conceivable national interest can be served by such an eccentric concentration of resources on a country of marginal importance’.”
Rebecca Camber in the Mail on Sunday, 18th Oct 2009: “A British special forces soldier is facing war crimes charges over claims he threatened to shoot a Taliban prisoner during interrogation…
Officers from the Royal Military Police’s special investigation branch are now investigating whether the alleged incident was part of a wider covert policy of using mental torture techniques to extract information from Taliban detainees. ”
Andrew Gavin Marshall in, 16th October 2009: “NATO undertook its first ground invasion of any nation in its entire history, with the October 2001 invasion and occupation of Afghanistan. The Afghan war was in fact, planned prior to the events of 9/11, with the breakdown of major pipeline deals between major western oil companies and the Taliban. The war itself was planned over the summer of 2001 with the operational plan to go to war by mid-October.”
Seamus Milne in The Guardian, 15th October, “Whoever is in charge, it seems, the war on terror has truly become a war without end. Eight years after George Bush and Tony Blair launched it, with an attack on Afghanistan under the preposterous title of “operation enduring freedom” and without any explicit UN mandate, Gordon Brown has agreed to send yet more British troops to die for a cause neither they nor the public any longer believe in….

There has been a 7% increase since last month in support for immediate withdrawal, according to a Populus poll for the Times, with 68% wanting troops out within the year and strongest backing for a pullout among Labour voters.

That is feeding the growing disaffection among serving soldiers towards what many see as a futile sacrifice, supposedly on behalf of a hostile population in Helmand province….

Yet one after another, the official aims and justifications of the war in Afghanistan have failed or been discredited. It was a war fought to kill or capture Bin Laden and Taliban leader Mullah Omar, but both are still at large. It was a war fought to destroy al-Qaida, whose leadership simply decamped and set up new bases from Pakistan to Iraq. It was a war for democracy, women’s rights, development and opium eradication ñ all successively demonstrated to be a hollow joke.

Now we are told it is a war to prevent al-Qaida-inspired terrorism on the streets of London, which shamelessly turns reality on its head. There were no such attacks before 2001, and both bombers and intelligence agencies have repeatedly identified the occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan as a central motivation for those who try to launch them. Last week, General Richards, new chief of the general staff, conjured up an even more lurid justification: if Nato pulled out of Afghanistan, the Taliban and al-Qaida would seize Pakistan and its nuclear weapons.

The opposite is the case. It is the Afghan war that is destabilising Pakistan and driving the Pashtun rebellion there.”

Yet one after another, the official aims and justifications of the war in Afghanistan have failed or been discredited. It was a war fought to kill or capture Bin Laden and Taliban leader Mullah Omar, but both are still at large. It was a war fought to destroy al-Qaida, whose leadership simply decamped and set up new bases from Pakistan to Iraq. It was a war for democracy, women’s rights, development and opium eradication ñ all successively demonstrated to be a hollow joke.

Now we are told it is a war to prevent al-Qaida-inspired terrorism on the streets of London, which shamelessly turns reality on its head. There were no such attacks before 2001, and both bombers and intelligence agencies have repeatedly identified the occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan as a central motivation for those who try to launch them. Last week, General Richards, new chief of the general staff, conjured up an even more lurid justification: if Nato pulled out of Afghanistan, the Taliban and al-Qaida would seize Pakistan and its nuclear weapons.

The opposite is the case. It is the Afghan war that is destabilising Pakistan and driving the Pashtun rebellion there.”
Simon Jenkins in The Guardian, 14th October 2009, “…much of Obama’s cabinet and, it would seem, the president himself, cannot see the point in pouring good men and money after bad when all intelligence from the front points to strategic failure. …

For the last three years in Afghanistan, every British politician has mouthed the same nonsense. The war is ‘winnable but only if Ö’ some unrealisable policy nostrum is adopted. … As for the poor bloody infantry, they are ‘dying for freedom’ while politicians play for time.

Some glimmers of sanity are showing in Washington, if not in London. Suddenly it is ‘time to negotiate with the Taliban’, as if this were unthinkable before. There is talk of an ‘Iraqi-style surge’, of somehow separating Taliban from al-Qaida, of good Taliban and bad Taliban, of decapitating the Taliban’s extremist leadership with drone bombers.

There is even talk of the Taliban not being the real enemy of the west after all, as indeed they keep asserting….he sooner the Afghan war ends, the better. It has no real bearing on western security and is merely cover for politicians to avoid confronting their past mistakes”.
Brian Brady, Jonathan Owen and Nina Lakhan in the Independent on Sunday, 11th Oct 2009: “The full scale of the lethal challenge facing UK forces in Afghanistan was laid bare last night after the Government reported that British soldiers fought directly with Taliban insurgents seven times every day….

New details of the number of ‘contact events’ undergone by British forces in Helmand province emerged as a new study, compiled from official Ministry of Defence figures, revealed that British forces are suffering death rates as bad as those endured by the Soviets, who lost a war of attrition against Afghan insurgents in the country during the 1980s.”
Peter Baker & Eric Schmitt in the New York Times, 7th October 2009: “President Obamaís national security team is moving to reframe its war strategy by emphasizing the campaign against Al Qaeda in Pakistan while arguing that the Taliban in Afghanistan do not pose a direct threat to the United States…Now the discussions in the White House Situation Room, according to several administration officials and outsiders who have spoken with them, are focusing on related but separate strategies for fighting Al Qaeda and the Taliban….The official contrasted that with the Afghan Taliban, which the administration has begun to define as an indigenous group that aspires to reclaim territory and rule the country but does not express ambitions of attacking the United States.”
Miles Amoor in the Sunday Times, 4th October 2009: “The [US] soldiers believed they could secure Barji Matal within a week, allowing 500 farmers to return to their work in the flour mill and cornfields. But the date for their withdrawal came and went with soldiers bogged down in close-quarter combat. One was killed instantly when a Taliban fighter popped up 10 yards ahead of his position and loosed off a burst of machine gun fire…The battle, in which dozens of soldiers were wounded, proved so severe that soldiers from C Company joked that they should receive the Purple Heart before boarding helicopters to the village. The fighting dragged on for two months. US soldiers have now withdrawn from Barji Matal, leaving behind a poorly trained, ill-equipped militia to fend off the Taliban’s inevitable attempts to retake it.

….As dawn broke over the platoons and their Afghan army counterparts, a Taliban sniper fired two rounds before ducking back into cover to change his position. US soldiers said the sniper’s self-discipline- never firing off more than two rounds from any position – and his ability to avoid detection suggested he had received training abroad, perhaps in Chechnya.

The fighting intensified, with more cross-border militants joining from Pakistan and driving locals into the mountains. The two sides traded small arms fire, mortar rounds and rocket-propelled grenades. …

Other parts of this dossier