News in brief

Deadly peace process

The US military, Afghan government forces and the Taliban have all escalated their deadly attacks during peace negotiations.

In early September, the Taliban insurgency and the US government reached an agreement in principle on the staged withdrawal of 14,000 US troops from Afghanistan by the end of November 2020.

The next US presidential elections are on 3 November 2020.

Borhan Osman, an analyst with the International Crisis Group, reported from Taliban strongholds in June: ‘Nobody seemed to care about the peace talks that have occurred between the Taliban and the U.S. over the last year. Their more immediate concern was the dramatic worsening of violence, and their personal stories of trauma caused by a stepped-up campaign of airstrikes and night raids by U.S. and Afghan government forces.’

The number of civilians injured or killed in US air strikes almost tripled in the first six months of this year compared to the same period last year, according to UN figures. In January–June 2019, 430 civilians were recorded as being injured or killed.

Osman notes: ‘The rain of bombs shattered the relative peace that had existed for years in some Taliban-held territories. The insurgents have ruled parts of the countryside as their exclusive fiefdom, creating a sense of security and stability for the local populations. This year, government forces are chasing Taliban fighters deep into these villages in hunting operations often supported by U.S. aircraft.’

US military officials told Osman the increased attacks were designed to pressure the Taliban in the peace talks.

As for the Afghan government, there has been a growing scandal at the civilian death toll in night raids carried out by the national directorate of security (NDS), the Afghan spy agency.

On 5 September, the head of the NDS was forced to resign after four brothers were killed in an NDS raid in Jalalabad. Local officials and residents rejected claims that the brothers were ‘facilitators’ for Islamic State militants.

Western Sahara

In September, activists from Environmental Justice Ōtepoti blockaded a New Zealand fertiliser plant on the outskirts of the city of Dunedin.

They were protesting against the use of ‘blood phosphate’ from Western Sahara by Ravensdown, a farmers’ fertiliser co-operative.

Western Sahara has been illegally occupied by Morocco since 1975. As the phosphate is extracted by a Moroccan state company, OCP, without the consent of the Sahrawi people, it cannot be legally traded.

Protesters from ‘Ravensdown Take Em Down Otautahi’ had greeted the arrival of the Sahrawi phosphate (50,000 tonnes of it) on
1 September on the Amoy Dream at the Port of Lyttelton in Christchurch.

On 5 September, about 20 activists from Environmental Justice Ōtepoti blocked the road out of the Ravensdown fertiliser plant for around an hour, holding a banner saying ‘Free Western Sahara’ across the road.

No European country is currently importing Sahrawi phosphate, but European companies are involved in its transportation (details of UK shipping companies taking part are in PN 2630–2631).

The European Union signed a fisheries agreement with Morocco in March that allows EU boats to fish in the rich Sahrawi waters. This was despite a ruling by the EU court of justice in February 2018 that no fisheries agreement with Morocco could legally include Sahrawi waters.

On 27 July, the Western Sahara Campaign (which brought the fisheries agreement case) published a human rights briefing.

This included the case of Nazha Al Khalidi, a Sahrawi journalist who was arrested last December for live-streaming a demonstration in the Sahrawi capital, Laayoune. Her video showed police beating peaceful protesters.

The demonstration was in support of new talks in Geneva between the Sahrawi liberation movement, the Polisario Front, and Morocco.

Nazha was chased, beaten and arrested and her mobile phone was confiscated.

She was then put on trial for practising journalism without a journalism degree, and she faced up to two years in prison.

Five Spanish lawyers and two Norwegian observers were prevented from attending her trial.

On 8 July, the court drew back from imposing a prison sentence and instead fined Nazha 4,000 dirhams (about £340).

Western Sahara Campaign commented: ‘Nazha’s case is illustrative of Morocco’s systematic repression of press and refusal of entry to international observers and journalists in order to quell coverage of their occupation.’

Julian & Chelsea

There are strict rules, but you can write letters (not cards) to these two political prisoners.

Please write (using white paper only!) to the US whistleblower:

Chelsea Elizabeth Manning, A0181426, William G. Truesdale Adult Detention Center, 2001 Mill Road Alexandria, VA 22314, USA.
(No cards, postcards, photocopies, books, magazines or cash, and no decorations on the – white – envelope!) More info:

Please also write to:

Mr Julian Assange, DOB: 3/07/ 1971, HMP Belmarsh, Western Way, London SE28 0EB.
(No cards or postcards. Put your full name and address on the back of the envelope. If you would like him to write back, please include a blank piece of paper with a self-addressed and stamped envelope. No loose stamps!) Info:

Israeli refuseniks

Maya Brand-Feigenbaum, 18, was released from prison on 27 August after serving two sentences, 25 days in all, for refusing military service in the Israeli Defence Force (IDF).

The IDF’s service exemption committee subsequently granted her a release from military service.

Maya said on leaving prison: ‘The decision to refuse military service is one I will never regret because I was true to myself…. I faced comments like “all Arabs should die, and if you are on their side you should die too.” I wish the girls who spoke in this way understood that… we are all on the same side.’

The same day that Maya was released, Yasmin Ricci-Yahav, also 18, was sentenced to 10 days for refusing enlistment.

Yasmin was reported as saying: ‘The Israeli army nowadays does not function only as a defence force, but as a central tool in the systematic oppression of the Palestinian people.... I believe there is another way.’

More info: search for ‘Mesarvot’, the network of Israeli conscientious objectors. Their Facebook page is more up-to-date than their website (both are in Hebrew).


On 27 August, the US air force announced that B-2 Spirit stealth bombers, airmen and support aircraft had been deployed to RAF Fairford, Gloucestershire.

The statement said the ‘task force’ would conduct ‘theatre integration and flying training, including joint and allied training in Europe, to improve bomber interoperability.’

This follows a month-long deployment this spring of six B-52 Stratofortress bombers and more than 450 US personnel to Fairford ‘in support of US Strategic Command’s Bomber Task Force in Europe’.

It was reported as: ‘the largest deployment of a single bomber platform since the beginning of the Iraq War in 2003.’

Military mosquito

In July, the MoD issued development contracts for what may be a new killer drone, carrying out air-to-air or air-to-ground strikes.

According to Drone Wars UK, the new escort drone will fly alongside or slightly ahead of an RAF plane, sharing information via the main aircraft.

Possible roles for the ‘Mosquito’ include: surveillance, electronic warfare (jamming radars) and laser guiding weapons onto targets.

In a separate programme, the MoD is developing ‘swarming’ drones: 10–20 small drones controlled by a single operator. Roles may include tracking individuals or vehicles.