Afghanistan: NATO bombs civilians indiscriminately


Richard Moore

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World Socialist Web Site

WSWS : News & Analysis : Asia : Afghanistan

More civilians killed by US/NATO forces as fighting intensifies in Afghanistan

By James Cogan
30 May 2007

American and NATO coalition forces in Afghanistan are killing and maiming dozens
of civilians as they attempt to suppress a growing anti-occupation insurgency by
loyalists of the former Taliban fundamentalist regime. In case after case, the 
deaths are the result of indiscriminate bombing by US/NATO aircraft in 
retaliation for attacks on coalition troops.

In the latest incident, residents of a village in the Garmser district of the 
southern province of Helmand say they were attacked by an air strike on Sunday. 
A villager, Abdul Qudus, told Associated Press: ³They came and bombarded the 
houses of innocent people. Three houses were completely destroyed. Seven 
people‹including women and children‹were killed, and 10 to 15 wounded. We are 
still searching for five missing people.²

The air strike was called in by coalition troops escorting a convoy of 24 supply
trucks that had been ambushed by the Taliban. While NATO¹s International 
Security Assistance Force (ISAF) in Afghanistan has not released details, 
British forces have primary responsible for the occupation of Helmand province. 
The day before, a British soldier had been killed and four others wounded in a 
series of clashes with the Taliban in Garmser. On Monday, another British 
soldier was killed in Helmand province.

According to Associated Press accounts, Sunday¹s fighting began after a roadside
bomb killed one truck driver and wounded three coalition troops. Over the 
following 10 hours, Taliban fighters exchanged small arms fire and 
rocket-propelled grenades with the convoy escort. Air strikes were eventually 
called in to destroy an alleged concentration of Taliban preparing to launch an 
assault. ISAF reported that at least 24 insurgents were killed.

Rejecting the claim that all those killed were combatants, Abdul Wahid, another 
resident from the bombed village, told Associated Press that the fighting along 
the highway was at least 16 kilometres away. The news agency noted that there 
³was no way to verify the claims of the coalition or the villagers at the remote
battle site².

The deaths in Helmand coincided with confirmation by Afghan officials in the 
western province of Herat that at least 51 of the 136 ³Taliban² that the US 
military claimed to have killed during operations in late April were civilians, 
including women and children. Of the others gunned down, some were local 
villagers with no ties to the Taliban. They had attacked US forces in revenge 
for the killing of two elderly men during a house raid. According to the Red 
Cross, US bombing in Herat destroyed or damaged 170 houses and made 2,000 people

The provincial governor of Helmand has also reported that 21 alleged ³militants²
who were killed by a US air strike on May 8 in the Sangin district were in fact 

US/NATO forces routinely deny such accusations. US Air Force commander 
Lieutenant General Gary North declared on Sunday that he had ³not seen anything²
that contradicted the coalition claims to have slaughtered Taliban fighters. The
other standard defence is to blame the Taliban for ³hiding² among civilians and 
declare casualties to be unavoidable ³collateral damage². A US military 
spokesman declared on May 24: ³We take every precaution to avoid civilian 
casualties, but understand this is a complex environment, facing an enemy with 
no regard for civilian life. Unfortunately, civilian losses are sustained.²

The UN human rights officer in Afghanistan, Richard Bennett, joined in the 
apologetics for the occupation forces on Monday, telling the press that whether 
the people killed were Taliban or not was ³difficult to disentangle². ³In some 
cases, people are said to be Taliban by one side and claimed to be civilians by 
the other. Many Afghans have weapons in their homes and they may protect their 
homes. On the other hand, they might be Taliban or other insurgents,² he said.

Among some of Washington¹s NATO allies, however, who have deployed troops to 
Afghanistan despite widespread popular opposition, the indiscriminate manner in 
which civilians are being killed is raising concern. It undermines their ability
to present the conflict as a humanitarian war to help the Afghan people. 
Anti-occupation hostility is also rising in Afghanistan, causing the insurgency 
to spread to previously relatively stable areas.

German Defence Minister Franz Josef Jung, who this month had to justify the 
deaths of three German soldiers in a suicide bombing in Kabul, told German 
television: ³We have to do everything to avoid affecting civilians. We are in 
talks with our American friends about this.² The senior NATO civilian official 
in Afghanistan, Daan Everts, told Associated Press: ³The collateral damage and 
particularly the civilian casualties are seen as unduly high, certainly by the 
Afghan people. This is of concern to us.²

According to Human Rights Watch, at least 230 Afghan civilians were killed in 
US/NATO operations during 2006. Since March 2007, another 135 or more have been 
slaughtered. This does not include dozens of adult males killed during major 
NATO operations in southern Afghanistan. All of these were simply passed off as 
³Taliban². As many as 1,600 alleged ³militants² have been killed since the 
beginning of the year.

Civilian killings as well as the catastrophic living conditions facing the 
majority of the population are significant factors fuelling the anti-occupation 
insurgency, especially in southern Afghanistan where US/NATO military operations
have been the most intense since the October 2001 invasion.

According to a survey of 17,000 men in southern Afghanistan by the Senlis 
Council think tank, 80 percent live in extreme poverty and are not able to 
adequately feed their families. There has been no adequate food aid in the 
province of Kandahar‹a former Taliban stronghold‹since March 2006. Entire 
villages have been left to starve. The desperation of population has reached the
point where 50 percent of those surveyed believe the poorly armed insurgents 
will defeat the foreign troops and return to power.

On Sunday, a Taliban spokesman, Qari Yousef Ahmadi, announced a new 
counter-offensive to drive out the US/NATO occupation. ³In this operation,² 
Ahmadi declared, ³we will target our enemies and use our tactics‹suicide bombs, 
remote-controlled roadside bombs and ambushes‹against occupying forces and the 
government. We start this operation today in all of Afghanistan.² Despite all 
the killings, the Taliban claims to be able to deploy thousands of fighters.

In US political circles, where there is already considerable alarm over the 
quagmire in Iraq, concerns about the state of affairs in Afghanistan are 
increasingly being expressed. Karl Inderfurth, the former Clinton administration
assistant secretary of state for South Asian affairs, warned yesterday in an 
opinion piece for the International Herald Tribune: ³As the death toll of 
civilians mounts, Afghan hearts and minds are being lost and, with that, the 
spectre of losing the war looms.²

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