Afghan Price Tags

100 Afghanis banknote
100 Afghanis banknote, courtesy of Wikipedia

Nearly one year after the devastating Kunduz airstrike the German military has decided to pay $5,000 to each of the families of the 100 civilian victims. This is the latest move in an affair that forced the German public to face the reality of the country’s military involvement in Afghanistan.

Overall the Bundeswehr transferred $430,000, stressing that the payment is only a voluntary, humanitarian measure. This was preceded by demands by the families’ attorneys, who demanded up to 28,000 euro per family. Compared to the amount actually paid, the attorneys did not get very far.

The price tag of $5,000 appears even lower if one considers earlier reports that Germany had paid $20,000 to the family of an Afghan woman who was shot at a checkpoint, and $33,000 for a dead Afghan boy.

The German compensation policy appears ‘generous’ compared to other nations militarily engaged in Afghanistan. One report mentions a sum of $40,000 for 15 people killed, breaking down to roughly $2,700 per person, paid by US commanders. Other sources state that US military commanders are authorized to pay between $1,500 and $2,500 to a family that has lost a child or an adult. The loss of a limb or other injury is ‘worth’ between $600 and $1,500; a damaged or destroyed vehicle, $500 to $2,500; damage to a farmer’s fields is valued between $50 and $250.

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The Power of Imagery in War

Soldier in Afghanistan
The 'Humanitarian Warrior' in action? photo: isafmedia/flickr

I stumbled upon a very interesting article by Noora Kotilainen, research assistant at the Finnish Institute of International Affairs (FIIA) in the latest issue of the Finnish Journal of Foreign Affairs. Since her excellent piece¬† has not been translated into English to my knowledge, I thought I would give you a brief summary of her argument on the importance and changing nature of imagery and photography in today’s conflicts.

She starts with the premise that war photography, or the visualization of suffering in conflict has always been a powerful means of mobilizing public opinion and action against violence. It is most successfully used in humanitarian crises or conflicts, where images of suffering people prompt us to take action, either in the form of donations or political pressure to intervene.

Despite the ubiquity of violence in entertainment and through other fictitious channels, however, war photography and the visual representation of western-led wars in particular has changed dramatically. She notes that in Afghanistan, Iraq and the ‘war on terror’ the imagery has become remarkably sterile, particularly when representing the suffering of US soldiers.

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The Power of Photography: A Journey through Southeast Asia, Afghanistan and Yemen

Screenshot of Foreign Policy photo essay
Screenshot of Foreign Policy photo essay

Not only do pictures say a thousand words, they provide insights to worlds, lives and people behind the headlines, news stories and carefully researched in-depth articles. Words can never quite convey the reality of life in conflict zones or after natural disasters.

I found the following photo essays to provide just such insight. They are beautiful as photographs, but also as pictorial narratives that we as visually wired creatures can appreciate, analyze and use in the formation of a more comprehensive picture of world events and places.

The first one is a harrowing and touching photo essay on the aftermath of the 2004 Tsunami in Southeast Asia, put together by Alan Taylor of the Boston Globe.

The second and third collection provide insights into two of the most talked about conflict zones in the world, Afghanistan and Yemen. These photo essays by Foreign Policy show life behind the headlines, often normal and ordinary; historically rich and sometimes stunningly beautiful.

Justice and Hope for Afghanistan?

Lone girl in Afghanistan, photo: Papyrrari/flickr
Lone girl in Afghanistan, photo: Papyrrari/flickr

As the world¬†anticipates Obama’s long-awaited strategy review for Afghanistan, the debate around the war intensifies with politicians, experts and laymen weighing in on the desired course of Afghan policy.

A war that has lasted eight years, and that costs the US $3.6 billion a month, has become a source of intense historical and strategic debates about the nature of conflict in South Asia, the region’s geopolitical significance, and the role of US power in the modern era. With America’s Vietnam legacy in mind the pressure to deliver something positive is immense.

But in these debates about strategy- how to quell the Taliban insurgency; how to address the region as a whole, particularly with Pakistan’s shortcomings in mind, and how to strengthen the Afghan government without giving Karzai carte blanche, etc – the humanitarian focus is exactly what seems to be missing.

Caution To the Wind: Engaging Terrorists Online

Photo: Jiva/flickr
Photo: Jiva/flickr

There has been a bit of a buzz in the counter-terrorism (CT) blogshere during the past month due to two notable exchanges between bloggers and prominent members of violent non-state groups that utilize terrorism and other means of political violence.

In one example, John Robb, author of the Brave New War and the Global Guerillas blog was recently contacted by Henry Okah, an arms dealer who has supplied arms to militants in the Niger Delta and assumed various leadership roles in the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND), a group based in the Niger Delta that has, since 2006, launched sustained attacks aimed at the energy sector.

Robb, who has written about Okah on numerous occasions and identifies him as a guerrilla entrepreneur, did not go into detail about the exchange with Okah except to say that he asked to meet with Robb in person. One can assume that more info will follow as the exchange develops.

In another instance, Australian Leah Farrall, currently an academic and author of the All Things Counter Terrorism blog, was also contacted by a well-known figure – Abu Walid al Masri, a senior Arab Afghan adviser to al-Qaida and the Taliban and author of numerous books in Arabic relating to Afghanistan and al-Qaida.