US Formally Ends Longest Combat Operation in American History despite Spike in Civilian Casualties

By Kathryn Maureen Ryan
Impunity Watch, Managing Editor

KABUL, Afghanistan – Coalition Fores formally ended their combat mission in Afghanistan Sunday, marking the end of the longest combat operation in American history. The North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) combat mission in Afghanistan, which began in the weeks after the September 11th 2001 attacks on the United States and has lasted 13 years, formally ended with the ceremonial retirement of the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) mission’s green flag in a gymnasium in Kabul. Top officials within NATO have pledged to remain reliable partners in Afghanistan war against the Taliban and other militants in the region. The ceremony represented the shift from NATO’s combat mission to a much smaller support mission which will involve smaller scale assistance to Afghan forces as well as training.

Commander of the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF), General John Campbell opens the “Resolute Support” flag during a ceremony at the ISAF headquarters in Kabul on Sunday. (Photo courtesy of National Public Radio)

“Our commitment to Afghanistan endures. . . . We are not walking away,” promised General John F. Campbell, the United States’ commander of the outgoing International Security Assistance Force mission. General Campbell will lead the new NATO support mission, which technically begins at midnight on New Year’s Eve. NATO’s support mission will leave 13,500 soldiers in the country, most of them American. “Resolute Support will serve as the bedrock of an enduring partnership” between NATO and Afghanistan, Campbell said. He paid tribute to the international and Afghan troops who have died fighting over the past 13 years, saying: “The road before us remains challenging but we will triumph.”

The President of The United States, Barack Obama, said in a written statement, “On this day we give thanks to our troops and intelligence personnel who have been relentless against the terrorists responsible for 9/11 — devastating the core al Qaeda leadership, delivering justice to Osama bin Laden, disrupting terrorist plots and saving countless American lives.” He added, “We are safer, and our nation is more secure, because of their service. “A total of 3,485 allied troops died in Afghanistan over the past 13 years in a war that is estimated to have cost more than $1 trillion dollars.

Taliban insurgents in Afghanistan on Monday declared the “defeat” of the United States and its NATO allies, a day after the coalition officially marked the end of its combat mission. “ISAF rolled up its flag in an atmosphere of failure and disappointment without having achieved anything substantial or tangible,” Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said in a statement emailed on Monday. Despite suffering major losses during the 13 year war the Taliban continues to stage attacks on Afghan and NATO troops and is largely reasonable for growing civilian casualties in the country.

“There is a lot of concern for the rise in civilian casualties,” said Hadi Marifat, a Kabul-based analyst with the Centre for Civilians in Conflict. “The more territory the Taliban tries to occupy in the coming years, the more civilian casualties there will be because of military confrontations.”

The NATO mission in Afghanistan is drawing to a close despite the recent spike in violence and civilian casualties in the country which has left the future of Afghan security uncertain.  2014 has become the bloodiest year in the war’s 13 year history, with more than 10,000 civilians killed since the start of the year. Compared to 2013, this year also saw a 33% rise in casualties among children and a 12% increase among women, according to a UN report.

For more information please see:

Reuters – Taliban Declare ‘Defeat’ Of U.S., Allies in Afghanistan – 29 December 2014

CBS News – U.S. Formally Ends the War in Afghanistan – 28 December 2014

The Guardian – NATO Ends Combat Operations in Afghanistan – 28 December 2014

National Public Radio – Ceremony in Afghanistan Officially Ends America’s Longest War – 28 December 2014

The Washington Post – NATO Flag Lowered In Afghanistan As Combat Mission Ends – 28 December 2014

Al Jazeera – Afghan Civilian Casualties ‘Hit Record High’ – 20 December 2014

Protesters Oppose Nicaraguan Canal

By Mridula Tirumalasetti

Impunity Watch Reporter

MANAGUA, Nicaragua—Protests have ensued opposing the construction of a $50 billion interoceanic shipping canal in Nicaragua, which has been backed by a Hong Kong-based company, HNKD. Road blocks were set up by protesters along the Pan-American Highway right after the official ceremony that marked the beginning of the construction of the canal, and along the Managua-San Carlos Highway.

Injuries associated with the violence pictured above (photo courtesy of Al Jazeera)

Protesters are concerned that their homes will be displaced and threatened by the implementation of the canal. The canal will run through the rain forest and at least 40 villages, which include those of El Tule and Nueva Guinea. The canal is expected to displace at least 30,000 Nicaraguans, many of whom are farmers and natives.

However, the canal could also be a financial boost for the economy of Nicaragua. “Nicaragua, with this great canal, aims to move five percent of international trade conducted on the seas today,” said Nicaraguan Vice President, Moises Omar Halleslevens. The canal is expected to be more than three times longer than the Panama Canal, and is projected to increase Nicaragua’s GDP between four and five percent to 10.8 percent in 2015, and then 15 percent in 2016.

Chinese businessman Wang Jing, the president of HKND Group, promised to compensate “according to market principles in a fair, open and transparent way,” but many people are left feeling uncertain because of a lack of information. Further, critics of the canal have pointed out that there has been little debate in the Nicaraguan parliament about possible environmental consequences to Lake Nicaragua, which the canal is expected to pass through and to lands of the Creole communities and Rama indigenous community.

Nicaragua’s Police Chief, Aminta Granera, reported 15 police officers and six civilians to have been injured, but organizers of the protest estimated at least 40 demonstrators to have been injured. Police used rubber-coated steel bullets and tear gas to disperse the hundreds of demonstrators protesting at the roadblock in El Tule on the Pan-American Highway. Granera stated, the police were “Faced with the use of firearms, machetes, stones, and sticks by the protestors” and also said that 33 protestors in the Managua-San Carlos Highway roadblock were detained by police, who acted with ‘tolerance and peace.” Granera added that the protesters were affecting commerce and tourism by not allowing people to move through the country freely.

Organizers of the protest stated that the demonstration was a peaceful one, but according to The Guardian, one farmer said during an interview in November, “We’ll use machetes, stones, anything to protect our land. My grandparents were born here. They say they are going to pay me, but I never put the land up for sale.”

For more information, please see: 

Al Jazeera–Protest against Nicaragua canal turns violent–24 December 2014

The Guardian–Protests erupt in Nicaragua over interoceanic canal–24 December 2014

Latin American Herald Tribune–Nicaragua Starts Construction of Canal Despite Protests–23 December 2014

Reuters–At least 21 injured in protect against Nicaragua canal: police–24 December 2014

Freedom Of Speech Rights Tested By Anti-Police Protests And Threats

By Lyndsey Kelly
Impunity Watch Reporter, North America

WASHINGTON, D.C, – United States of America – In the wake of racially charged protests, instances of violence have erupted and police tactics in dealing with such protests have been scrutinized. The protests have reignited a longstanding debate about how police forces treat non-white citizens. New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio has asked protestors to suspend demonstrations after two New York City police officers were ambushed while sitting in their patrol car in Brooklyn last week.


Protestors at 116th St. in New York (Photo Courtesy of Huffington Post)

However, some organizers of the protests, including Answer Coalition, the organization which led the march on 5th Avenue in Manhattan, stated that they would continue with their protests despite the mayor’s plea for a quell in demonstrations. The organization released a statement, which said, “[t]he mayor’s call for a suspension of democracy and the exercise of free speech rights in the face of ongoing injustice is outrageous.”

Marvin Knight, a 71-year-old African American from Brooklyn, expressed his disapproval of the Mayor’s request to suppress protests, stating, “[t]his is America,” “[w]hy should we stop doing what we know is right?” Knight argued that the call for a halt to demonstrations infringed on the protestor’s first amendment rights.

Compared with other countries the United States has a strong guarantee of speech rights, even if that speech displays racism or hatred. However, state laws make it a crime to communicate specific threats. Generally, a threat must have some degree of specificity regarding who or what is going to be attacked, or some other details of the threat. Context is important in threat cases, so much so that in 2003, the Supreme Court ruled that the burning of a cross was protected speech so long as it was done in an open field and not intended to intimidate a specific individual. The USSC on December 1, 2014 has decided to revisit the law of threats. The court intends to address the question of whether prosecutors must show that a person intended to threaten, or whether it is enough to show that a reasonable person would have felt threatened.


For more information, please see the following:

FOX NEWS – ‘To Protest is a First Amendment Right’: New Yorkers Defy Mayor’s Request to Pause Demonstrations– 23 Dec. 2014.

HUFFINGTON POST – Protestors Flood New York City Streets Despite Mayor’s Call For Moratorium – 24 Dec. 2014

REUTERS – NY Protesters Reject Plea For Hiatus Despite Police Slayings – 23 Dec. 2014.

REUTERS – Talk of ‘Wings on Pigs’ Threats on Police Tests U.S. Speech Rights – 23 Dec. 2014.

Threats Directed Toward Police Officers Are Met With Arrests

By Lyndsey Kelly
Impunity Watch Reporter, North America

WASHINGTON, D.C., United States of America – Following the murders of two New York City police officers last week, New York as well as the rest of the nation have erupted in both anti-police and pro-police protests. There has also been a drastic rise in threats against police officers, resulting in at least six arrests. The New York City police department has received more than 40 threats since the death of officers Ramos and Liu.

A NYPD logo was placed on a memorial at the site were officers Ramos and Liu were murdered last week (Photo Courtesy of Reuters).

On Wednesday, Tyrone Melville, a 41-year-old Manhattan native, called the switchboard of Brooklyn’s 84th Precinct, requesting to speak to Ramos, one of the slain officers, asking if the bullets had been removed from the dead officer’s head so he “could kill more cops,” according to Sergeant Carlos Nieves. Melville has since been charged with making terroristic threats and aggravated harassment. Another incident occurred through Facebook where, Jose Maldonado, 26, posted pictures of weapons and made threatening statements regarding the killing of police officers.While the United States has a strong guarantee of free speech, state laws generally make it a crime to communicate a specific threat against a police officer or anyone else.

The Sergeants Benevolent Association tweeted late Tuesday night that a threat was communicated to the organization by a confidential informant regarding a Baltimore street gang called the Black Guerilla Family who planned to storm New York City precincts for a shootout with police. New York Mayor Bill de Blasio has denounced the various threats stating that the city “will protect the men and women who protect us,” and that security measures “will be assessed and police resources will be deployed accordingly.”

Other political figures are speaking out against the threats, including former New York governor George Pataki. Pataki has blamed the outspoken Al Sharpton for using rhetoric that has created incitement and fostered an anti-police environment. Additionally, former New York City police commissioner, Bernard Kerik, said that Sharpton and others had “blood on their hands.” However, Sharpton has presented himself as a peacemaker, and has publicly condemned the killings, while still defending the rights of the protestors to decry perceived racist police tactics.


For more information, please see the following:

CBS NEWS – At Least 4 Arrested For Threatening Police After NYPD Officers Killed – 24 Dec. 2014.

CNN – NYC Mayor Meets With Families Of Slain Police Officers – 22 Dec. 2014.

REUTERS- Two More NY Men Arrested For Threatening Police After Officers Killed – 25 Dec. 2014.

WASHINGTON POST- Sharpton Faces Criticism After NYC Officers’ Deaths – 23 Dec. 2014.

Weeks after Oil Spill Bangladeshi Government Response Draws Criticism

By Kathryn Maureen Ryan
Impunity Watch, Managing Editor

DHAKA, Bangladesh – Bangladeshi civilians continue to attempt to clean massive amounts of oil from the waters of the Sundarbans where an oil tanker rammed a cargo ship during the early morning hours of December on the Sela River causing 66,000 and 92,000 barrels to spill into the pristine waters of the Sundarbans, which means “beautiful forest.” So far the government and the oil industry itself has largely failed to manage the cleanup operation in the region where civilians, even children, have been pulling toxic oil from the water by hand without any protective equipment.  The Bangladeshi government’s chief forestry official for the region, Amir Hossain, said on December 16 that “the catastrophe is unprecedented in the Sundarbans, and we don’t know how to tackle this.”

Villagers carry oil in a barrel after removing it from the river surface, after an oil tanker sank in one of the world’s largest mangrove forests. (Photo courtesy of Think Progress)

Even as fisherman and children from the local fishing villages have taken to the waters and mangrove forests of the region to clean the oil by hand Bangladeshi Officials said the damage had already been done. Rubayat Mansur, Bangladesh head of the New York-based Wildlife Conservation Society, said most of the oil appeared to have already leaked out of the tinkered and surrounding area by December 12 and spread to adjoining rivers and canals where it spread to surrounding mangrove forests. “I visited the sunken trawler this morning. Only few hundred liters of oil remain inside, so almost all the oil has spilled into the Sundarbans,” he said.

“This catastrophe is unprecedented in the Sundarbans, and we don’t know how to tackle this,” Amir Hossain, chief forest official of the Sundarbans in Bangladesh, told the press. The Bangladeshi government has come under fire for its response to the disaster. Critics have said that the government, which has allowed oil shipping and exportation in the region for more than a decade, should have had a plan in place to deal with such a disaster and protect the environment and fishing communities from the threat posed by spilled oil.

Oil from the tankers has created an environmental catastrophe in the waters of Bangladesh’s Sundarbans, the largest contiguous tidal mangrove forest in the world, which are home to several rare species of animals including the rare Irrawaddy and Gangetic dolphins and the highly endangered Bengal tiger. The Sundarbans are also home to fishing communities who depend on the rich waters of the region for economic survival. The Sundarbans delta is a UNESCO World Heritage site that encompasses some 3,850 square miles 1,000 square kilometers. The mangrove forests of the delta are a critical ecosystems, not only supporting thousands of unique species but also performing several important ecosystems functions including acting as one of the world’s largest carbon sinks, absorbing atmospheric carbon-dioxide which helps combat global climate change.

The Bangladeshi and Indian governments have come under fire for ongoing plans to expand fossil fuel exportation in the region, despite the threat to the mangrove ecosystem. Last year, Bangladeshi and Indian lawmakers initiated a plan to build a 1,320-megawatt coal plant 5.5 miles downstream from the Sundarbans. The plant would require a massive quantities of water to be desalinated, threating the region with an estimated half a million metric tons of “sludge and liquid waste” each year.

For more information please see:

Bangladesh News 24 Hours – BNP Probe Faults Government ‘Apathy’ For Sundarbans Oil Spill – 26 December 2014

Think Progress – Experts Arrive To Help Barehanded Children Clean Up Massive Bangladeshi Oil Spill – 24 December 2014

National Geographic – After Oil Spill in Bangladesh’s Unique Mangrove Forest, Fears About Rare Animals – 16 December 2014

Al Jazeera America – Bangladesh Oil Clean-Up Begins Amid Fears of Ecological ‘Catastrophe’ – 12 December 2014