The US's indiscriminate bombing campaigns in Iraq and Afghanistan has resulted in perpetuationg the spiral of terrorism and new recruits to the anti-western forces trying to win the so-called "war on terror",the calamitous plicy of the Bush/Cheney regime.The latest issue of Frontline has a cover feature on the "Matrix of Death",by Marc W.Herold,with an in-depth study of what has gone wrong in prosecuting the war on terror through this aerial bombing campaign.It is a must-see feature.
This article goes into the heart of the US/NATO's surreal,cretinous campaign,that has alllowed theTaliban,once hated by Afghans for its extremist Islamic laws,to be seen as liberators from the hated US/west,who are killing more innocents in that country than actual Taliban fighters.We now understand why the Taliban is winning and the "defeatist" statements emanating from British and other western commanders on the ground.Another important point,not noted by the author but is being suppressed by western media ,is the massive aid that India is giving the Afghan govt.,which concentrates upon development and reconstruction projects,making a difference to the lives of ordinary Afghan civilains.From the author's figures,the US is spending a fraction of the amount that it uses in the military campaign for development work.http://www.frontlineonnet.com/stories/2 ... 100400.htm
A new dossier on the (im)precision of U.S. bombing and the (under)valuation of Afghan lives.
Close air support (CAS) air strikes now account for about 80 per cent of all Afghan civilians who perish at the hands of the U.S. and NATO.
Senator Barack Obama has staked out a political position by claiming that he will increase United States’ troop strength in Afghanistan by at least one-third, will permit U.S./NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organisation) forces to engage in hot pursuit into Pakistan’s tribal areas and increase U.S. bombing and Special Operations Forces raids into Pakistan. Caesar-like, he proclaims that Afghanistan is a “war on terror” we must and can win. He appears to be completely ignorant that Pashtun nationalism (Taliban) and Al Qaeda jehad are two very different things.1
In effect, Obama proposes to continue and escalate the military policies of the Bush administration if he can draw down the U.S. occupation forces in Iraq. I have argued that these actions are doomed to fail on their own terms, will cement a deadly alliance between the Taliban and radical Islamists, and will further destabilise a nuclear Pakistan.2 And whom did Obama visit on his very first day in Afghanistan in July 2008? He met none other than Gul Agha Sherzai, favourite of George Bush’s General Dan ‘Bomber’ McNeill and the ex-governor/warlord of Kandahar infamous for his cruelty, trafficking in drugs, corruption, and pederasty with young boys.3 On the following day, he spent time with the U.S. occupation forces and the “Mayor of Kabul” who was in his Kabul fortress (and not off mourning somewhere or on an international junket raising monies). Obama fails to admit that recent U.S./NATO aerial bombing has been extremely deadly to Afghan civilians, which when combined with the negligible value attached to Afghan lives reveals that U.S. politicians and military hold little interest in Afghanistan proper other than in a geopolitical sense.4
While the U.S. military is currently spending $100 million a day in Afghanistan, aid spent by all donors since 2001 is on average less than a tenth of that – just $7 million a day.5
In other words, what actually takes place in the realms of the economic and the social on-the-ground in Afghanistan is at best of marginal concern; furthermore, many point to the ineffectiveness of aid.6 I shall argue herein such marginal stress upon improving the everyday life of common Afghans is paralleled by a callous disregard for Afghan civilians in the carrying out of military operations (especially close air support strikes) and in the paltry compensation (when offered at all) for innocent Afghans killed by U.S. or NATO actions.
The subterfuges employed by the U.S./NATO to excuse killing innocent Afghan civilians
When we assemble the different pieces of the media jigsaw puzzle, clear patterns emerge. Western victims are presented as real, important people with names, families, hopes and dreams. Iraqi and Afghan victims of British and American violence are anonymous, nameless. They are depicted as distant shadowy figures without personalities, feelings or families. The result is that Westerners are consistently humanised, while non-Westerners are portrayed as lesser versions of humanity (from “Militants and Mistakes,” Media Lens (July 22, 2008)). While Afghans killed by U.S./NATO forces are completely invisible as human beings in the U.S. mainstream media, contrast the efforts undertaken by the same media to give humanity to U.S. troops killed in Afghanistan, as for example in The Washington Post at http://projects.washingtonpost.com/fallen
A major aim of this report is to provide real figures on Afghan civilians killed by U.S./NATO actions since 2006, thereby undermining the common claim that such numbers cannot be obtained. We often hear glib statements about the “fog of war” or “war is hell” or “we don’t do body counts”. My numbers are admittedly underestimates for reasons discussed herein (an incomplete universe of recorded deaths, a propensity of the Pentagon and its Afghan client to label as militants what were civilians, the injured who later die from wounds, censorship by omission, etc). Not counting or estimating means playing into the hands of those who market the U.S. war in Afghanistan as a “clean” war, a “precision” war and the like. The latter is routinely trotted out by the apologists of aerial bombing; “It’s sort of the immaculate conception to warfare,” was how Professor of Strategy, Col. (retired U.S. Marine) Mackubin Owens at the U.S. Naval War College (Newport, R.I.) described the U.S. military campaign in Afghanistan in November 2001.
The liberal British scholar of peace studies, Paul Rogers, wrote in a recent article about Afghanistan
…the impulses of sympathy with these radical forces (Taliban militias, Al Qaeda forces) are fuelled by the detailed reporting by Al Jazeera and other media outlets of the many civilian victims of western air strikes and other calamities in Afghanistan. This ensures that Muslims across the rest of the world are becoming as aware of what is happening in Afghanistan as they have been regarding Iraq since 2003.10
A reader in the post-9/11 world might conclude that since reporting of “the many civilian victims of Western air strikes” fuels the Muslim resistance, the next step is to ignore, disparage or silence such detailed reporting (which is, of course, precisely what the U.S. government has been doing). Sadly, we have come to live in a post-9/11 culture where silencing the messenger is acceptable. One recalls the U.S. bombing of the Al Jazeera office in Kabul on November 12, 2001. For the Pentagon and its many media boosters, there are good bodies (civilians killed by “our enemy”) and bad bodies (civilians killed by “our” militaries), respectively in the Western mainstream labelled accidental collateral damage and (Afghan civilians transformed by the click on a keyboard into) “militants” or “insurgents”.
Two main subterfuges have been used by the U.S. and NATO militaries, the compliant corporate media and organisations like HRW to excuse the killing and wounding of innocent Afghan civilians. The first is to express self-righteous anger over “them” killing civilians intentionally whereas “we” never intentionally target civilians. The second is to assert that the dastardly Taliban and their Muslim or Arab associates employ civilians as human shields.
A third means examined elsewhere 13 has been simply to suppress whenever possible written reports and especially photos of the victims of U.S./NATO military actions (“bad” bodies) in Afghanistan, all the while amply publishing stories and photos of Afghan civilians killed by improvised explosive devices (IEDs) or suicide bombers (“good” bodies). Photos of civilians whose death was caused by U.S. or NATO bombs are virtually non-existent.14 One might call this censorship by omission.15 News magazine photo coverage of the “war on terrorism” in Afghanistan most often supports U.S. government narrative and versions of events.16 The policy of embedding reporters with U.S. or NATO occupation forces is an obvious attempt at removing independent reporting, which, sadly, most often succeeds.
U.S. human rights lawyers charged on July 20, 2008, that U.S. military prisons were “legal black holes” and that force was employed to “shut people up” about activities in Iraq and Afghanistan. “Many people in Afghanistan and in Iraq who have been targeted for detention are local journalists covering the conflict in their own country,” said another prominent U.S. human rights lawyer, Barbara J. Olshansky.
“When the United States detains reporters, photographers, camera operators and holds them for long periods without charge for any offence and without trials and without any evidence, we know that part of the goal is to just shut people up,” she said.17
The mainstream U.S. corporate media led by Fox News largely has sought to present the Afghan invasion as a simple war of good versus evil.18 Texts or images that might have raised questions have been censored. Fox News has gone far beyond the call of duty in parroting U.S. military interpretations.19 Others in the U.S. corporate media have followed suit; for example, Laura King of A.P. has been a notorious under-counter of Afghan civilian deaths.20
A new twist in Pentagon/NATO news management has been introduced recently. As of August 2008, the U.S. Air Force no longer releases daily reports about missions over Afghanistan. On the British side, Britain is funding a surge in spin doctors in Afghanistan to construct and present pro-NATO/U.S. media reports.21
The intentionality argument is often couched in the language of justifiable collateral damage, regrettable but necessary. Since the killing was collateral, it cannot be intentional, goes the story. The overarching problem is the criminal nature of the offensive war first waged by the U.S. and Britain upon an entire sovereign country after 9/11. The collective group of “Afghans” has de facto been targeted for seven years as lives and countryside have been laid to waste; anyone who opposes the U.S./NATO occupation is by definition an “enemy” and can be justifiably killed collaterally. As pointed out by others, “[we] can’t possibly judge the morality of collateral damage while leaving out the question of the war itself… it is the immorality and illegality of a war that makes collateral damage a crime.”22
As I wrote in late 2001:
The absolute need to avoid U.S. military casualties means flying high up in the sky, increasing the probability of killing civilians:
“…better stand clear and fire away. Given this implicit decision, the slaughter of innocent people as a statistical eventuality is not an accident but a priority – in which Afghan civilian casualties are substituted for American military casualties.”24
Today, the aerial bombing in Afghanistan is more related to close air support (CAS) called in by ground forces as a means to defeat the enemy without having to fight him on the ground and possibly suffer casualties. Both high-level bombing and midnight ground attacks served to shift the burden of casualties upon Afghan civilians. The doctrine that ‘war is hell’ seeks to transfer any responsibility for the cruelty of war to the enemy.27 The U.S./NATO war managers and their handmaidens in the defence and corporate media establishments dredge out the tired old “intent” argument. As Edward Herman noted:
…it is claimed by the war managers that these deaths and injuries are not deliberate, but are only “collateral” to another end, they are treated by the mainstream media, NGOs [non-governmental organisations], new humanitarians, and others as a lesser evil than cases where civilians are openly targeted. But this differential treatment is a fraud, even if we accept the sometimes disputable claim of inadvertence (occasionally even acknowledged by officials to be false, as described below). Even if not the explicit target, if collateral civilian deaths are highly probable and statistically predictable they are clearly acceptable and intentional. If in 500 raids on Afghan villages alleged to harbour Al Qaeda cadres it is likely that civilians will die in 450 of them, those deaths are an integral component of the plan and the clear responsibility of the planners and executioners. As law professor Michael Tonry has said, “In the criminal law, purpose and knowledge are equally culpable states of mind.” 28
What also needs to be made very clear is that Afghan civilian casualties are not accidents or mistakes. They result from careful calculation by U.S. commanders and military attorneys who decide upon the benefits of an air strike versus the costs in innocent civilian lives lost. These are calculated predicted deaths.29
Aerial bombing in the name of liberating Afghans will continue with little regard for Afghan civilians who for Western politico-military elites remain simply invisible in the empty space which is an “increasingly aerially occupied Afghanistan”.30 The compliant mainstream media perpetuate the myth by serving as the stenographer of the Pentagon’s virtual reality. Patrick Coburn of The Independent got it dead-on:
The reaction of the Pentagon to the killing of large numbers of civilians in Afghanistan, Iraq and now Pakistan has traditionally been first to deny that it ever happened. The denial is based on the old public relations principle that “first you say something is no news and didn’t happen. When it is proved some time later that it did happen, you yawn and say it is old news.”31
When details of Afghan civilian deaths finally leak through the U.S./NATO news management efforts, a Lt. Col. at the Bagram Air Base offers “sincere regrets” or the promise of an investigation and by the next day all is forgotten. They are, after all, just Afghans “we” killed. Theirs are bad bodies, not good bodies like those on “our” side that were killed.
A myth has circulated since the beginning of the U.S. bombing campaign in Afghanistan in October 2001. It is endlessly repeated by the U.S. occupation forces, corporate media, the Pentagon, defence intellectual pundits, HRW, the Cruise Missile Left, the humanitarian interventionists, and even some in the United Nations: Afghan insurgents hide amongst civilians whom they use as human shields.32
To begin with, the assertion is never empirically documented but just merely stated as a self-evident truth. Secondly, the implication is that an insurgent or Taliban fighter, resisting the U.S./NATO invasion, should stand alone on a mountain ridge, his AK-47 raised to the sky, and engage in a “fair” act of war with an Apache attack helicopter or an A-10 Warthog and see who prevails. Should resistance fighters stand out in an open field or on a mountain ridge? Thirdly, what is conveniently omitted is that the insurgents often live in the area and have friends and families in the communities, and that such a local support base is precisely what gives a guerilla insurgency (along with knowledge of the local terrain) its classic advantage.33 Such local connection means that the insurgents will (unlike the U.S./NATO occupation forces) go to great lengths not to put local people in danger. Purveyors of the line about the “Taliban’s execrable tactic of using civilians as human shields”34 are either themselves unaware of classic guerilla strategy or, more likely, seek to manipulate the general public’s ignorance about the same. Using the language of guerilla warfare, can a “fish” swim outside of the “sea”? One recalls the U.S. military’s campaign in Vietnam to drain the sea by creating strategic hamlets (translate, concentration camps), seeking to deny the Vietnamese resistance access to sympathetic villagers.
Simon Jenkins pointed out that massacres committed by infantry men are subject to courts marital. He wrote, “If soldiers enter a house by the front door and kill civilians inside, then they are hauled before world opinion and condemned. If a dropped bomb enters the same house through the roof and has the same effect, it is dismissed as collateral damage.”80 Lastly, presumably after some months at Harvard, Arkin concluded: “We do not have enough reliable data even to gauge the level of civilian deaths (at U.S. hands, moreover), let alone the “responsible party within the U.S. military”. In other words, the Harvard Fellow dismisses outright numbers and accounts compiled by the United Nations in Kabul, the A.P. and myself.
A conservative estimate would be that during 2006, half the deaths were caused by aerial attacks and in 2007 and 2008, two-thirds.
... in direct proportion to a nation’s level of average material development. Afghanistan figures at the bottom along with the victims of Bhopal. When presented in PPP $’s a clear hierarchy is revealed: Euro-Americans are worth most followed by East Asians whereas Central/South Asians figure last. Were an Afghan compensated for according to the traditional practice of the diyat, the amount would approach that paid out (in PPP $’s) by the U.S. to the family of a victim of the Iranian Airbus shooting down. Instead, the U.S. military distributes a condolence payment one-fifteenth the amount offered to the family of an Iranian victim. Approximately $80,000 was spent on the rehabilitation of every sea otter affected by the Exxon Valdez oil spill,124 that is, 10 times the condolence amount offered by the U.S. military to the family of an Afghan killed.
Bombs away! U.S./NATO bombs kill about 10 times more Afghan civilians with a tonne of “precision” bombs than they killed Serbs in 1999.125 They (Afghans) are only worth one-tenth of an Alaskan sea otter rather than 40 camels.
The U.S. spends $10 on the military in Afghanistan to pursue its geostrategic aims and $1 on reconstructing the everyday lives of Afghans destroyed by 30 years of war.126 For (most) Americans, Afghans truly are lesser versions of humanity. Lest we forget, what did “America” do for Afghans when its geostrategic goal of defeating the Soviets was achieved in 1989? America cut and ran.
Conclusion: Obama’s Afghanistan as a surreal hunting estate
“The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.”
– Albert Einstein