Demonstrate March 20 in DC
Condemn Civilian Slaughter in Afghanistan! All U.S. Troops Home Now!
Voice of Revolution denounces the U.S. organized surge in Afghanistan, responsible recently for yet another slaughter of 27 civilians, including women and children. From the beginning, “Operation Moshtarak” (“together” in the Dari language) in Helmand province has been marked by attacks on civilians, with 12 killed by rockets landing on their homes the second day of the offensive and many dozens more since. General Stanley McChrystal, the head of U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan regularly comes forward with utmost cynicism, calling the loss of life “regrettable” while saying efforts would be made to “avoid future incidents.” Further indicating the false character of the apologies from McChrystal are the fact that they are becoming as common as the criminal drone and other bombing attacks slaughtering civilians.
McChrystal was head of the Joint Special Forces Command (JSOC) before taking command of the war in Afghanistan. He is notorious for his covert and illegal “black operations” in Afghanistan and Pakistan, including assassinations, kidnappings and numerous drone attacks against civilians. He is also known for being responsible for the torture and other crimes at the Bagram prison in Afghanistan. That President Barack Obama has chosen McChrystal as the General to win the “hearts and minds” of the people of Afghanistan indicates that this is not at all the goal of the U.S.-NATO operation.
It would certainly appear that once again, the U.S. expected a quick victory, in the hopes of dampening anti-war sentiment in the U.S. and worldwide while also diverting from the deepening economic crisis at home. The war in Afghanistan is already one of the longest wars waged by the U.S., with more than 1000 U.S. soldiers now killed. The brutal killing and attacks on the people of Afghanistan are mounting and yet more is being prepared. An even larger surge is anticipated for attacks on Kandahar.
Far from winning the hearts and minds of Afghanistanis or Americans, the slaughter of civilians and destruction of the country has strengthened resistance, in Afghanistan and the U.S. The people of Afghanistan have never submitted to foreign occupation and clearly are not doing so now. The peoples of the world also reject the foreign occupation of Afghanistan and are demanding the immediate withdrawal of foreign troops. Americans are demanding All U.S. Troops Home Now! and an end to all U.S. wars of aggression and occupations.
We say let the Pentagon budget be used for reparations for U.S. crimes, in Afghanistan, Iraq and worldwide! While the U.S. and other governments claim they wish to ultimately withdraw the troops from Afghanistan, they will not give up their aim of maintaining control of this strategic part of the world. Let no one be fooled be claims of apology for civilian deaths or of withdrawal. The U.S. will insist on control, through its own troops or those of others. It is the resistance of the peoples that is the only sure path to peace!
Amid growing European discontent over the war in Afghanistan, the head of U.S. and NATO forces apologized Monday, February 22 for an air strike that killed at least 27 civilians in the central part of the country Sunday.
“We are extremely saddened by the tragic loss of innocent lives. I have made it clear to our forces that we are here to protect the Afghan people, and inadvertently killing or injuring civilians undermines their trust and confidence in our mission,” General Stanley McChrystal, commander of the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF), said in a statement. “We will re-double our efforts to regain that trust,” McChrystal continued.
Sunday’s attack consisted of a U.S. helicopter firing on several vehicles as they traveled towards Kandahar, the largest city in southern Afghanistan.
But the political implications of the attack, which, according to the Wall Street Journal, was carried out by helicopter-borne U.S. Special Operations Forces (SOF), could be serious, not just in Afghanistan itself, but also among electorates in Europe and Canada that have become increasingly opposed to their militaries’ involvement in the war.
This is likely to be especially true in the Netherlands, whose government collapsed Saturday amid negotiations on whether or not to keep troops in Afghanistan. The air strike took place in a district controlled by the Dutch army, and if Dutch forces assisted in the attack it could have serious political consequences in the Netherlands.
The attack was carried out on the apparently mistaken belief that a convoy of vehicles was transporting Taliban fighters toward eastern Helmand province, where U.S. and allied forces have launched a major offensive. That it took place in an area where Dutch forces are concentrated is likely to strengthen those factions in the Netherlands opposing any extension in the Hague’s participation in the war beyond August.
The Dutch troops have been central in the war effort, despite their low numbers. The New York Times reported last week that the Netherlands — whose troop contribution to the Afghanistan mission is one of the highest per capita — have been subject to a higher casualty rate then other coalition forces, including the U.S., because of their postings in the dangerous southern province of Oruzgan.
The lethal strike came despite the implementation of stricter rules of engagement regarding strikes ordered by Gen. McChrystal last summer when he took command of NATO/ISAF. This is the most lethal incident in which civilians were killed by U.S.-led forces since last September when a German-ordered air strike on fuel tankers hijacked by the Taliban killed 140 people, the majority of whom were civilians. ISAF officials insisted Monday that the attack is being investigated to determine whether it violated those rules of engagement.
In a statement released Monday, ISAF officials said “Yesterday, a group of suspected insurgents, believed to be en route to attack a joint Afghan-ISAF unit, was engaged by an airborne weapons team resulting in a number of individuals killed and wounded. After the joint ground force arrived at the scene and found women and children, they transported the wounded to medical treatment facilities.”
Afghan President Hamid Karzai has frequently condemned the killings of civilians by U.S. and NATO forces but has found himself largely powerless in terms of effecting change. “The repeated killing of civilians by NATO forces is unjustifiable, we strongly condemn it,” Karzai’s cabinet said in a statement issued in Kabul. It said 27 civilians, “including four women and one child,” were killed in the attack.
In another effort to improve the perception of ISAF forces, McChrystal revised the rules of engagement last summer to counter the rising numbers of civilian deaths attributed to coalition troops, and the increasing resentment toward his occupying army and the corrupt Afghan government that accompanies it. The shift in policy restricted the use of air strikes to situations where coalition forces were in imminent danger. […]
NATO forces in southern Afghanistan bombed a civilian convoy, killing 27 people including women and children and injuring many more, Afghan officials said. The airstrike in a remote part of Oruzgan province February 22 capped a bloody week for Afghan civilians that has seen some 60 innocent people killed by NATO weapons.
Afghanistan’s cabinet called the attack “unjustifiable” and condemned the raid “in the strongest terms possible.” Officials said three vehicles were bombed, killing at least 27 people, including four women and one child, while at least 12 others were injured. The cars were traveling between Kandahar and Daikundi, in Afghanistan’s central highlands, when NATO and Afghan forces mistook them for insurgents.
NATO’s International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) said troops on the ground thought the civilians were militants “en route to attack a joint Afghan-ISAF unit” but they later confirmed that there were women and children at the scene and launched an investigation. The local governor and the interior minister said all of the victims were civilians. U.S. General Stanley McChrystal, the commander of NATO forces in Afghanistan said he was “extremely saddened.”
“I have made it clear to our forces that we are here to protect the Afghan people, and inadvertently killing or injuring civilians undermines their trust and confidence in our mission,” he said in a statement yesterday. “We will re-double our efforts to regain that trust.”
But the last seven days have been anything but peaceful. Last Sunday at least nine civilians were killed when troops involved in Helmand hit a compound with a volley of rockets, during Operation Moshtarak.
On Monday NATO and Afghan forces mistakenly killed five men and injured two others in Kandahar province after deciding that they had been planting a roadside bomb. “The joint patrol called for an airstrike,” ISAF said in a statement. “Following the strike, the Afghan-ISAF patrol approached the scene and determined the individuals had not been emplacing an IED.”
On Thursday, an airstrike in northern Kunduz province missed insurgents and killed seven policemen while on Friday a man carrying a box was shot and killed in Nad-e Ali. “The man dropped the box, turned and ran away from the patrol, and then for an unknown reason turned and ran toward the patrol at which time they shot and killed him,” NATO said in a statement. “After a search of the individual it was determined the box, which appeared to be filled with IED-making materials, was not an IED.”
In December NATO was accused of killing 10 civilians, including eight schoolchildren, in Narang district in Kunar. NATO claimed they were part of a bomb-making cell.
Yesterday’s civilian deaths come as a further blow to the Western effort in Afghanistan after the Dutch Prime Minister conceded that he could not prevent his forces being pulled out this year due to the collapse of his Government.
Jan Peter Balkenende lost the argument over extending the deployment at a 16-hour Cabinet session, in the first big reversal for the recently appointed NATO leader, Anders Fogh Rasmussen, who had publicly requested a continued Dutch commitment.
“Our task as the lead nation [in Uruzgan province] ends in August,” Mr. Balkenende said. After a three-month draw-down, the Dutch will be completely out of Afghanistan by the end of the year.
Another concern is the continued presence of 1,000 Australian troops. The Canberra Government has repeatedly refused to take over the lead role in Uruzgan if Holland leaves, demanding that a big NATO power provide the main share of troop numbers.
Just as important is the impression that European countries are struggling to find their share of the 10,000 extra troops requested by General McChrystal to join 30,000 extra US troops in Afghanistan, with France ruling out more forces and a fierce debate in Germany.
The Times understands that the Dutch forces in Uruzgan will be replaced by US troops, diverting them from the surge operation against the Taliban.
With more than a month of lead time, the U.S.-NATO invasion of the Marjah region was supposed to be a “test” operation for a new strategy of overwhelming force. The alliance was brimming with confidence that its 15,000-strong invasion force would make short work of a relatively small Taliban presence in a matter of days if not hours. When the overnight invasion began, commanders promised the residents would “wake up to a new tomorrow.”
But that quick and decisive victory has been anything but. Numerous civilians have been killed in the invasion, the Taliban is still there, and officials are now talking about a “long-term” operation in the area, as Marjah’s civilian populace faces ruin.
Yet the U.S. and NATO sees no reason to abandon a strategy simply because it is not working, and officials say that they will use virtually the exact same strategy in the neighboring Kandahar Province, a much more populous region likely to be much more contentious than rural Marjah.
Canadian Commander Brigadier-General Daniel Ménard insisted that they will even use the same tactics to minimize the number of civilians killed in Kandahar, insisting that the number of Marjah residents killed was “not bad.” The Kandahar operation will begin this spring.
Civilian Surge Failing to Meet Goals
According to the U.S. State Department, the “civilian surge,” a parallel escalation of non-military aid and personnel into Afghanistan, is struggling mightily to meet any of its goals.
The U.S. has been pumping government agricultural experts, lawyers, engineers and others into the nation in an attempt to shore up the war-torn nation’s infrastructure. The State Department’s report says this effort will likely not succeed in time to have any impact on the ongoing war.
In fact, the report suggested that the surge effort could last a decade before achieving any meaningful results. Officials have insisted the timetable for the civilian effort is not the same as the military effort, but the two have been clearly linked to one another.
And the failures in the civilian build-up could seriously harm the war effort in the near term. Officials had been hoping to make significant improvements in the next 12-18 months, primarily as a result of the emphasis on civilian infrastructure. Failing that, the short term strategy appears to be in ruins, and hopes for a pullout will likely be seriously damaged.
When Charlie Company's Lieutenant William Calley ordered and encouraged his men to rape, maim and slaughter over 400 men, women and children in My Lai in Vietnam back in 1968, there were at least four heroes who tried to stop him or bring him and higher officers to justice. One was helicopter pilot Hugh Thompson Jr., who evacuated some of the wounded victims, and who set his chopper down between a group of Vietnamese and Calley's men, ordering his door gunner to open fire on the U.S. soldiers if they shot any more people. One was Ron Ridenhour, a soldier who learned of the massacre and began a private investigation, ultimately reporting the crime to the Pentagon and Congress. One was Michael Bernhardt, a soldier in Charlie Company, who witnessed the whole thing and reported it all to Ridenhour. And one was journalist Seymour Hersh, who broke the story in the U.S. media.
Today's war in Afghanistan also has its My Lai massacres. It has them almost weekly, as U.S. warplanes bomb wedding parties or homes "suspected" of housing terrorists that turn out to house nothing but civilians. But these My Lais are all conveniently labeled accidents. They get filed away and forgotten as the inevitable "collateral damage" of war. There was, however, a massacre recently that was not a mistake — a massacre, which, while it only involved fewer than a dozen innocent people, bears the same stench as My Lai. It was the execution-style slaying of eight handcuffed students, aged 11-18, and a 12-year-old neighboring shepherd boy who had been visiting the others in Kunar Province on December 26.
Sadly, no principled soldier with a conscience like pilot Thompson tried to save these children. No observer had the guts of a Bernhardt to report what he had seen. No Ridenhour among the other serving US troops in Afghanistan has investigated this atrocity or reported it to Congress. And no American reporter has investigated this war crime the way Hersh investigated My Lai.
There is a Hersh for the Kunar massacre, but he's a Brit. American reporters, like the anonymous journalistic drones who wrote "CNN's" December 29 report on the incident took the Pentagon's initial cover story — that the dead were part of a secret bomb squad — at face value. Jerome Starkey, a dogged reporter in Afghanistan working for the Times of London and the Scotsman, talked to other sources — the dead boys' headmaster, other townspeople and Afghan government officials — and found out the real truth about a gruesome war crime, the execution of handcuffed children. And while a few news outlets in the U.S. like The New York Times did mention that there were some claims that the dead were children, not bomb makers, none, including CNN, which had bought and run the Pentagon's lies unquestioningly, bothered to print the news update when, on February 24, the U.S. military admitted that in fact the dead were innocent students. Nor has any U.S. corporate news organization mentioned that the dead had been handcuffed when they were shot. Starkey reported the U.S. government's damning admission. Yet still the U.S. media remain silent as the grave.
Under the Geneva Conventions, it is a war crime to execute a captive. Yet, in Kunar on December 26, U.S.-led forces, or perhaps U.S. soldiers or contract mercenaries, cold-bloodedly executed eight handcuffed prisoners. It is a war crime to kill children under the age of 15, yet in this incident a boy of 11 and a boy of 12 were handcuffed as captured combatants and executed. Two others of the dead were 12 and a third was 15.
I called the secretary of defense's office to ask if any investigation was underway into this crime or if one was planned, was told I had to send a written request, which I did. To date, I have heard nothing. What the Pentagon has done — no surprise — is to pass the buck by leaving any investigation to the International Security Assistance Force, a fancy name for the U.S.-led NATO force fighting the Taliban in Afghanistan. It is a clever ruse, since Congress has no authority to compel testimony from NATO or the ISAF as it would the Pentagon. A source at the Senate Armed Services Committee says the ISAF is investigating, and that the committee has asked for a "briefing" — that means nothing would be under oath — once that investigation is complete, but do not hold your breath or expect anything dramatic.
I also contacted the press office of the House Armed Services Committee to see if any hearings into this crime have been planned. The answer is no, though the press officer asked me to send her details of the incident. (Not a good sign that House members and staff are paying much attention — the killings led to countrywide student demonstrations in Afghanistan, to a formal protest by the office of President Hamid Karzai and to an investigation by the Afghan government, which concluded that innocent students had been handcuffed and executed and, no doubt, contributed to a call by the Afghan government for prosecution and execution of American soldiers who kill Afghan civilians.)
There is still time for real heroes to stand up in the midst of this imperial adventure that may now appropriately be called Obama's War in Afghanistan. Plenty of men and women in uniform in Afghanistan know that nine innocent Afghan children were captured and murdered at America's hands last December in Kunar. There are also probably people who were involved in the planning or carrying out of this criminal operation who are sickened by what happened. But these people are, so far, holding their tongues, whether out of fear or out of simply not knowing where to turn. (Note: If you have information you may contact me.)
There are also plenty of reporters in Afghanistan and in Washington who could be investigating this story. They are not. Do not ask me why. They certainly should not be able to call themselves journalists — at least with a straight face.