Bill Totten's Weblog

Friday, September 12, 2008

No tears in west for sixty Afghan children

by Ameen Izzadeen

Daily Mirror (August 29 2008)

The people of Afghanistan are caught between the devil and the dreaded Taleban. Obviously, they believe their devil is the US-led force which operates in Afghanistan under a UN mandate. The International Security Assistance Force (ISAF), as this force is properly known, is responsible for thousands of civilian deaths in Afghanistan. Last Friday, August 22, the US troops in ISAF killed 95 civilians, including sixty children and nineteen women, adding to the ever increasing number of civilian deaths.

According to UN figures, in the first six months of this year alone, some 1,000 civilians had been killed in the Afghan war. This is much higher than the number of Taleban militants killed during the same period: 473. Other estimates say that more than 25,000 Afghans have died since the US aggression in October 2001.

The August 22 massacre of civilians is the worst single incident in the past seven years. At the rate civilians are killed in Afghanistan, with little or no condemnations from Nato countries which form the core of the ISAF, one wonders whether the Afghans are lesser mortals. Imagine what would happen if a terrorist kills 95 US citizens or citizens of any of the Nato countries. Such a massacre would have dominated the headlines for weeks, if not months. Giving a melodramatic touch, the western media would also carry photographs of the dead children, interviews with their neighbours, friends and teachers and statements of grieving parents and political leaders. But sixty Afghan children who died in the US attack had none of it. No speaker addressing the ongoing Democratic Party convention, where anti-Iraq-war-and-pro-Afghan-war Barack Obama is being officially anointed as the candidate of the party, dared to mention the Afghan civilian massacre, though they talked about US troops serving in Afghanistan and Iraq.

The deaths of Afghan children were largely a news-in-brief item on major western television channels.

It is not only the US troops who kill civilians in Afghanistan. The British, the Canadians and others in the ISAF also kill civilians with impunity and later say "sorry" and promise compensation after investigations. Very little happen after these empty words.

On March 12, the British government acknowledged that its troops were responsible for an air strike that killed two women and two children near Helmand. On July 26, British troops opened fire on a vehicle that failed to stop at a checkpoint in the Sangin district of the same province, killing four civilians and injuring three.

The Canadians killed a two-year-old girl and her four-year-old brother in a July 27 shooting incident in which the father of the two children was seriously wounded.

The number of incidents where civilians have been killed by US troops, is obviously high as the Americans account for more than half of the 60,000-strong ISAF.

Besides the August 22 incident, the Americans are responsible for a series of other incidents in which civilians were killed. The major incidents involving US troops this year are:

June 10: At least thirty were killed in the village of Ebrahim Kariz, Mata Khan district of Paktika Province when US forces launched an air and ground attack on the village allegedly targeting a "militant hideout". Residents said that among the dead were dozens of civilians.

July 4: Twenty-three civilians were killed in US air strikes in the district of Waygal in the province of Nouristan.

July 6: Forty-seven civilians attending a wedding (including the bride) were killed in US air strikes in Nangarhar province.

July 14: Officials in Nuristan province said almost thirty defenseless civilians were killed during an ISAF air strike in Want-Waigal district.

July 15: US Forces admit to killing eight civilians in the Bakwa district of Farah province.

July 20: Nine civilians were killed in a US air strike in the Ana Darreh district of Farah province.

August 7: US troops say they "inadvertently" killed four women and a child in an exchange of fire in an area of central Ghazni province. (Source Wikipedia)

Coming back to the August 22 incident, it is still a mystery how the civilians came to be targeted. The people had gathered in the village of Azizabad in Herat province to attend the traditional fortieth day almsgiving after the death of a village leader. The villagers say there was no Taleban activity in the area.

But the US military had a different version, which contained several contradictions. Firstly, the US admission of thirty killed goes against the UN figure of more than ninety and the initial figure of 76 released by the Afghan government. Secondly, government officials in Herat say there was no Afghan troop involvement in the killing. But the Americans say the US air support was called in by Afghan troops who were ambushed by a group of Taleban militants led by a man named Mullah Siddiq.

Afghansitan's Islamic Affairs Minister Nematullah Shahrani told AFP that the US military had claimed the Taleban were there. "They must prove it. So far, it is not clear for us why the coalition conducted the air strikes", he said.

Naturally, the people were angry. They held days of protests shouting slogans against the United States and their puppet president Hamid Karzai, whose writ does not extend beyond Kabul. Even those writs he issues require the US rubber stamp.

Karzai issued what has now become a customary condemnation. He blamed the ISAF and said those killed had been "martyred".

The word "martyring" has a powerful meaning in Islam. A shaheed or martyred person never dies and his soul departs in a state of purity. Karzai used the word shaheed to mitigate the people's anger and bring the situation under control. He also sacked two Afghan generals. They had played no part in the massacre. But someone's head had to roll. So Karzai picked on two Afghan generals, because he could not act against the haughty and mighty American troops. But little does Karzai realize that he is also responsible for the wanton killing of innocent civilians, for he and the Americans are one and the same.

The massacre also points to desperation on the part of the ISAF, which has faced serious setbacks in recent months. It was only early this month that ten French soldiers were killed in a day-long clash with Taleban, prompting French President Nicolas Sarkozy to make an emergency visit to Afghanistan. Sarkozy addressing French troops said they should fight on. The war will go on.

In their desperation, the foreign troops apparently do not mind killing even 100 civilians if it yields one Taleban militant. But such a policy only drives the people towards the Taleban, who still enjoy the support of the Afghan people, especially among the Pashtoons who make up nearly fifty percent of the Afghan population and who are poorly represented in the government of Karzai, who is himself a Pashtoon. It seems the Afghan war is far from being won. The Taleban's power is expanding, not only in Afghanistan, but also in neighbouring Pakistan.

Bill Totten


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