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School success story in Afghanistan based on a distortion of facts

Leaked intelligence reports published for the first time in Dagbladet Information show that sending millions af Afghan children to school comes at a very high price. Countless threats against children and teachers appear in leaked intelligence reports that paint a detailed picture of the methods behind Taleban’s systematic campaign against the schools
5. april 2011

Sheltered by darkness members of the Taleban spend the night of September 30, 2009, handing out letters to the inhabitants of the village Ishkashim in north-eastern Afghanistan. The message is simple: Locals are »not to send the girls to school if they are over the age of nine.« 

The episode is one of the most recent files in a bulk of around 15,000 U.S. intelligence documents to which Dagbladet Information has achieved exclusive access via the controversial leak organization Wikileaks. The documents, which are so-called threat reports, were kept out of Wikileaks’ Afghanistan leak last year because of the sensitive nature but Information will be publishing some of them relevant to articles we publish in the coming weeks.

All in all, these documents tell quite a story about the situation in Afghanistan different from the one usually presented to the Western public.

To the American-led coalition, the Afghan education system is a political prestige project. Millions of dollars are devoted to establishing schools, in particular symbolically important girl schools, which were banned before 2001, in the Taliban-controlled part of the country.

When asked about the war, American and European politicians routinely praise the schools in Afghanistan as perhaps the clearest evidence of success.

»Under the Taliban, fewer than 900,000 boys – and no girls – were enrolled in Afghanistan’s schools. Today, more than 6.2 million students are enrolled in Afghan schools, 35 percent of whom are girls. Although educational indicators remain poor in Afghanistan (...) USG initiatives are removing barriers and opening doors,« US secretary of state Hilary Clinton said, when she outlined the prestigious US Womens Action Plan for Afghanistan on January 28, 2010.

According to State Department figures, the U.S. government has helped to build or renovate 680 Afghan schools in the past seven years, and the U.S. Agency for International Development, USAID, is spending 94 million dollars to train and support teachers.

Similar statements are made by many European governments and also by NATOs general Secretary Anders Fogh Rasmussen.

»Seven million children are going to school, three million of these are girls, 3.500 new schools have been build, 13.000 kilometers of road constructed, 80 percent of the Afghans have access to basic health services, five million refugees have returned. This would propably not have happened, if sthe situation was as dire as some people prefer to present it,« Fogh Rasmussen said during an August visit to Copenhagen University.

But what Western politicians forget to tell is that as the number of children who go to school in Afghanistan increases, thanks to Western assistance, more and more Afghan children also get exposed to threats and violence.

The Afghan scools may have become the foremost symbol of the emancipation of an oppressed population but the leaked U.S. intelligence reports now illustrate in detail that the reality in present day Afghanistan is considerably bleaker: Students and teachers are constantly singled out for assassinations and threat campaigns. As a consequence, some parents refrain from sending their children to school while other live in permanent fear that their children may be attacked or killed.

Poisoned juice

The most recent UN figures show a steady increase in attacks on schools from 98 in 2005 to 610 in 2009. Thanks to American intelligence, the public is now able to catch a first insight in how these attacks are being ordered, arranged for and carried out.

When perousing the leaked material, a pattern emerges of a systematic campaign against schools led by Afghan Islamist militants.

Schools are hit by remote-controlled bombs, suicide bombers, rocket attacks and arson. Acid is thrown on the faces of children or children are kidnapped on their way to school. Explosives are being smuggled into schools in typewriters.

The methods vary and the examples are countless.

An intelligence report dated July 13 states that terrorists have imported a large number of juice packs and injected the cartons with poison. An unidentified Afghan source is quoted for saying that terrorists are planning to ’poison school children with poisoned juice’. Apparently, it has not been possibile to evaluate the credibility of this particular piece of information, but the report is one of the few documents in the material which has a credibility rating of the source. On a scale from A to E, where A is the most credible assessment, this source is ranged as C.

Another document dated 20 May 2008 contains a detailed description of how the Taliban alligned militia Hezb-e Islami, headed by Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, has trained women in a Pakistani refugee camp who were set to go Kabul to apply for teaching jobs: ’... Due to the lack of teachers in Kabul, the women will most likely be hired,’ the intelligence report states. It subsequently concludes: ’Once hired, the women will await for an opportune time to either conduct an IED attack, or poision the water supply in the school.’

In general the intelligence material shows how school attacks have become an objective on an equal footing with other high priority military targets in war.

An intelligence entry dated 2 September 2007 shows that a Taliban commander has issued the following order to members of his militia: ’a.) To perform SVBIED [suicide bomber in a car] or BBIED [bomb worn on the body] attacks primarily against foreigners and GIRoA. [The Government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan]). b.) To set fire to schools of region, primarily the Girl School. c.) If it is possible, to conduct assassination attacks against the chief personel of GIRoA.’

A profitable business

A confidential CIA-report from march 2010, previously published by Wikileaks, recommends a number of arguments to be used ny all NATO-allied government in order to promote public support for the war.

One of the recommendations is to use education of Afghan girls as an argument. It »can give voters a reason to support a good and necessary cause despite casualties,« reads the report entitled »Afghanistan: Sustaning West European Support for the NATO-led Mission – Why Counting on Apathy might not be Enough.«

European governments have clearly listened to the advice and taking the PR a step further it has become a standard procedure for Western politicians to let themselves be photographed at school openings in Afghanistan – without acknowledging that the special attention very likely contributes in making these schools a highly coveted symbolic target for the militias.

The contents of a report from April 4, 2005 suggests that Afghan schoolchildren are held as hostages in the battle between insurgents and the Western occupiers. An entry in the log reads that the Pakistani militant leader Mullah Shafiq who was ’tall, thick, with long black hair and a medium long dark beard’, is urging local residents in a village in Eastern Afghanistan to support the fight against the Americans and the Afghan government: ’Mullah Shafiq also warned [residents] the village that no body should go to school, since the coalition aims to make AF [Afghanistan] a Christian country.’

However, the U.S. intelligence logs are not primarily a testimony of an unequivocal story of fundamentalist obscurantists driven by ideological hatred of Western values. Rather, the documents show that a highly advanced strategic thinking underlies the campaign against Afghan schools orchestrated by Taleban and other Islamist militia.

In a document dated July 5 2006 U.S. military intelligence states that ’Attacks on schools are exponentially increasing as part of an overall increase in activity by insurgents against the Government of Afghanistan (GoA), Coalition Forces (CF), Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF), and the United Nations/Non-Governmental Organizations (UN/NGOs). The American assesment of this trend reads: »Insurgent groups will continue to target schools in an effort to gain key Information Operations (IO) victories by highlighting the inability of the GoA to provide adequate security for its children«

Nor are the terrorists who are responsible for performing the attacks necessarily driven by ideological motives.

According to an unidentified source, in April 2005 an Afghan man is ordered by Gulbuddin Hekmatyar's Hezb-e Islami to attack a girls' school and some high voltage lines in northeastern Afghanistan. The rewards for destroying the high-voltage masts and attacking the school are respectively 10,000 AFA (Afghani, rougly corresponding to 1,000 d.kr. or 185 US dollars) and 45,000 AFA (4500 d.kr. or 825 US Dollars). It is not clear from the intelligence reports whether any of these missions were carried out or if they succeeded.

According to an entry from June 2006, the same Gulbuddin Hekmatyar and Taliban leader Mullah Omar have declared that who ever kills a headmaster or a teacher, will be rewarded with 10 to 20,000 AFA, while an entry from August of the same year states that the Taliban has hired a man to set fire to a school and that he will get as much as 10,000 US Dollars, if and when action will be reported in the media – but in that case he shall have to pay for the gasoline himself.

A report from the following year reports about five rebels who are said to have arrived in the Kabul region with two roadside bombs and 400,000 AFA states: »Firstly, they are planning to conduct RCIED attacks against foreigners in that region. Also they will distribute some money to LN IOT start fires in girl schools in that region.«

However, the intelligence entries do not provide documentations of all occuring attacks and it is therefore not possible to read out of the material whether the terror plots were foiled.

Beheaded like dogs

According to the leaked intelligence reports, the reccurent attacks prompt many Afghan parents to abort their children’s schooling and direct threats have an even greater effect.

Many documents report about parents who are accosted by Taliban and other militia members who threaten them with murder or beatings if they continue to let their children go to school.

Parents as well as teachers receive threats in so-called nightly letters which are distributed under the cloak of darkness, and on the school premisses, militia members hand out leaflets. This happened for example on August 15 2007 at a school in eastern Afghanistan.

»Especially the female head master of School will be seriously threatened. If from tomorrow any of your teachers will attend the English course, you will be beheaded like dogs as this action could be a lesson for the others,« reads a letter signed by Taliban.

The response from school authorities has the nature of symptomatic therapy. Typically, they plead for more guards at schools.

An entry from April 30 2009 describe how, during af meeting with representatives of NATO, the Kandahar provincial minister of education during asks for five guards at the ministry and five more at each of the three most vulnerable schools in the province. Moreover, he demands for several police patrols in areas around schools and road blockades to be erected by the beginning and end of the school day as well as for barbed wire on top of the walls that surround the schools.

But nothing suggests that the minister got the protection he asked for.

»At this stage, he has only been allotted four ANP [officers from the National Police] to the Education Ministry,« it says in the entry, which ends with the following remark: »He realizes that schools should not become fortresses.«

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