Barack Obama, Democratic party presidential nominee, calls it the “good war”; his Republican rival, John McCain, insists that he will “chase Osama to the gates of hell.” Americans are being told that Afghanistan is the “right war” and that it is “winnable”, in contrast to Iraq. Even president George Bush agrees with this assessment, although his stubbornness prevents him from admitting that Iraq is a lost cause. That is what Afghanistan is, too, but the delusion that America can achieve victory must be maintained, without defining what victory means.
On September 9, Bush announced a “quiet surge” by sending 1,000 troops to Afghanistan, with a promise to increase this number to 4,500 by January. These troops are being transferred from Iraq and will increase foreign troop-strength in Afghanisan to nearly 80,000. The idea of the “quiet surge” dovetails with the alleged success of the “surge” in Iraq. True, violence in Iraq is down but it would be stretching the limits of credulity to claim that this was the result of the “surge” alone. Several other factors have contributed to the reduction in violence, but it would be simplistic to hope that it will last. General Dan McNeill, a former US commander, said last February that NATO would need at least 400,000 additional troops to control the situation in Afghanistan. One-hundredth of that is hardly likely to do the job.
Even after seven years of warfare, the security situation in Afghanistan continues to deteriorate. The Taliban have regrouped and their operations have not only escalated but also become more sophisticated. Entire tribes have now joined the resistance, creating a new dynamic in the struggle. American reprisals against resistance operations have been brutal and have mostly targeted civilians. This has turned large segments of the population against the foreign occupiers.
There are two separate missions in Afghanistan: one, Operation Enduring Freedom, is run entirely by the Americans from Bagram Airbase, which has gained notoriety as a torture chamber. The other is carried out under NATO command and based in Kabul. American Special Forces, backed by hired contractors (mercenaries who answer to no one and are in effect above every law) are responsible for most of the civilian deaths. Philip Alston of the UN Human Rights Council has alleged that secret “international intelligence services” are conducting raids to kill Afghan civilians by using hired mercenaries and then hiding the perpetrators behind an “impenetrable” wall of bureaucracy, according to Conn Hallinan in CounterPunch magazine (September 11). The mercenaries and American Special Forces act ruthlessly, barging into people’s homes; if they encounter resistance (as they do in this deeply traditional society), they immediately call for airstrikes. Such attacks have caused most of the civilian deaths.
In the last few months, the number of civilian deaths has escalated alarmingly. The aerial attack on the village of Azizabad in western Herat province on the night of August 21/22, which resulted in the murder of 95 civilians, 60 of them children and the rest women, was the most brutal so far. After every such operation, the Americans typically insist that they killed only Taliban fighters. In Azizabad too, the Americans initially insisted that 30 to 35 Taliban fighters were killed and that there were “only seven civilian” casualties because the Taliban were allegedly hiding among civilians. A joint UN and Afghan government inquiry confirmed the high civilian death toll, but the Americans continued to insist on their version until a grainy video, filmed a day after the attack by a local doctor with his cell phone, surfaced on September 8 and exposed the US lie. Dozens of dead children with bloodied faces, battered bodies and smashed limbs were shown lined up in a mosque with grieving relatives standing over them. One young boy lay dead curled in a fetal position; another child had half its head blown off.
Unable to refute such evidence the Americans then announced an inquiry. They ritually go through this futile exercise, but the Afghans have no faith in such gestures. When the truth about civilian casualties is ultimately confirmed, the Americans simply shrug it off as old news. The pliant western press and broadcast media go along with these deceptions, which have irked even the puppet Afghan government. “Not a single Talib was killed [in the Azizabad attack],” said Humayun Hamidzada, a spokesman for President Hamid Karzai, on September 15. “So it was a total disaster, and it made it even worse when there were [US] denials, total denials.” It transpired that one Nader Tawakil, a tribesman, had fed false information to the trigger-happy Americans to the effect that some Taliban had gathered in a house when in fact it was a mourning ceremony for Timor Shah, who had been murdered by Tawakil eight months earlier.
On September 8, the US-based Human Rights Watch expressed alarm over the tripling of civilian deaths caused by US and NATO airstrikes in Afghanistan between 2006 and 2007. The report said that an estimated 321 civilians died in American and NATO airstrikes in 2007, compared with 116 in 2006. In the first seven months of 2008, the latest period for which data is available, Human Rights Watch reports that the number of Afghans killed in airstrikes is 119. If civilian deaths for August and early September are added, this total climbs to 221. Given that more than 6,500 civilians were killed in Afghanistan in 2007, the casualty rate among Afghan civilians is exceedingly high. This year’s total casualty figures have already surpassed the 4,000 mark according to the Associated Press, and the Afghan death toll since the US attack in October 2001 is believed to be more than 100,000. America and its NATO allies are living up to their murderous reputation.
Amid the killings of Afghan civilians, Karzai is reduced to issuing meaningless statements and appeals that have had no effect on his American masters. Telling the Americans to be “more careful” is like a shepherd requesting a wolf not to devour his sheep. The Americans take not the slightest notice of such appeals. The US and its NATO allies continue to show complete disdain for other people’s lives.
Karzai also indulged in another of his now-routine rituals. He visited Azizabad to offer condolences to families of the victims, as he did when a bridal procession was bombed in broad daylight, killing 52 people in the remote mountain village of Oghaza, Nangarhar province, on July 7. The dead included 45 women and children, among them the bride and the groom’s two brothers and sister.
The groom, Attiqullah, told NBC on September 3: “There was a loud explosion on the top of the mountain.” Amid sobs, he explained what happened: “I saw balls of fire explode in the sky, the mountain seemed to be burning. I ran from the house and started climbing. I ran faster and faster. I could hear the cries of children and women. And then the second explosion.” As he climbed up the mountain, his uncle running with him, there was a third explosion. “O my God!” Attiqullah was now sobbing uncontrollably. “I saw my bride and my family members; I saw the pieces of their bodies scattered all over the place.”
The US insists that American forces do not deliberately target civilians. No compensation has been paid by the US to the victims’ families, according to Attiqullah. He admitted that the Karzai government had paid $2,000 for each death and $1,000 to each injured person. This shows the little value that is placed on Afghan lives.
As for the Americans, exposure of their crimes and atrocities has not deterred them from continuing with their killing spree. On September 1, for instance, hundreds of protesters blocked a road in Kabul, accusing US-led troops of killing two children and their father in a raid in the city. Three other children were killed in Paktika the same day. Local people said that US-led troops carried out a pre-dawn raid in the Hud Kheil area of Kabul, killing Noorullah and two of his sons, one of whom was eight months old. Noorullah’s wife was injured.
As the bodies of the children were taken for burial, one angry resident asked: “Are these two children al-Qa’ida?” Another, admitting the current reality in Afghanistan, opined: “We don’t expect anything from the government because we don’t have a government.” This feeling is spreading, as is shown by angry demonstrators burning tyres on the Kabul-Jalalabad highway, according to an Agence France Presse report of September 1.
The situation in Afghanistan is spinning out of control largely because of the callous attitudes of the Americans and their allies. Obama’s “good war” is likely to burn the US eventually if the situation goes on deteriorating.