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Road to Perdition: Yet Another Atrocity in Afghanistan, More to Come

by Chris Floyd
Friday, 16 October 2008
Obama's position is the most relevant now, as it seems increasingly likely that he will be the next interim manager of the empire. And as we noted, his position on fighting in Afghanistan will continue this war crime.
On Wednesday night, the BBC reported that a British soldier had been killed in Helmland province in Afghanistan. On Thursday night, the BBC reported that an airstrike by as-yet unidentified "foreign forces" has killed at least 18 civilians -- in Helmland province. From the BBC:

A BBC reporter in the provincial capital Lashkar Gah saw the bodies - three women and the rest children - ranging in age from six months to 15.

The families brought the bodies from their village in the Nad Ali district, where they say the air strike occurred. A further nine bodies are said to be trapped under destroyed buildings.

Nato-led forces say they are investigating the incident in an area where the British military are known to operate.

Afghani woman cries for her dead loved ones.

This attack comes on top of an even more horrific mass slaughter a few weeks ago, when an American airstrike killed more than 90 civilians in Azizabad. Then, the Pentagon, with the connivance of FOX "journalist" Oliver North -- who made his bones running guns from the mullhas of Iran to the terrorist Contra army in Nicargua -- at first denied that any civilians were killed in the village, then tried to insinuate that the Taliban had planted the dead bodies. Only after video evidence and on-the-ground probes by the Afghan government and the UN did the Pentagon re-open its investigation, and finally admit that, well, maybe a few civilians did get knicked, er, fatally, in what was otherwise a magnificent feat of arms against a bristling enemy position. The reality, of course, as we reported here, was that a local busybody looking to dip into some of the contract gravy for servicing a nearby U.S. base falsely fingered a business rival, who was then killed in the heavy airstrike on a defenseless residential area.

No doubt the "NATO-led" investigation of the Helmland "incident" will find that yet another magnificent feat of arms has produced an unfortunate by-product: i.e, the corpses of at least 15 innocent children, including a six-month old baby. But as Seamus Milne points out in the Guardian, the mounting death toll of Afghan civilians is the result of deliberate policy, not "regrettable" accident or the mischance of war:

In this year alone, for every occupation soldier killed, at least three Afghan civilians have died at the hands of occupation forces. They include the 95 people, 60 of them children, killed by a US air assault in Azizabad in August; the 47 wedding guests dismembered by US bombardment in Nangarhar in July - US forces have a particular habit of attacking weddings; and the four women and children killed in a British rocket barrage six weeks ago in Sangin.

By far the most comprehensive research into Afghan casualties over the past seven years has been carried out by Marc Herold, a US professor at the University of New Hampshire. In his latest findings, Herold estimates that the number of civilians directly killed by the US and other Nato forces since 2006, up to 3,273, is already higher than the toll exacted by the devastating three-month bombardment that ousted the Taliban regime in 2001. And over the past year civilian deaths at the hands of Nato forces have tripled, despite changes in rules of engagement.

"Close air support" bomb attacks called in by ground forces - which rose from 176 in 2005 to 2,926 in 2007 and are now the US tactic of choice - are between four and 10 times as deadly for Afghan civilians as ground attacks.

But most telling is the political and military calculation that underlies the Afghan civilian bloodletting. "Close air support" bomb attacks called in by ground forces - which rose from 176 in 2005 to 2,926 in 2007 and are now the US tactic of choice - are between four and 10 times as deadly for Afghan civilians as ground attacks, the figures show, and air strikes now account for 80% of those killed by the occupation forces.

But while 242 US and Nato ground troops have died in the war with the Taliban this year, not a single pilot has been killed in action. The trade-off could not be clearer. With troops thin on the ground and the US military up to their necks in Iraq and elsewhere, US and Nato reliance on air attacks minimises their own casualties while guaranteeing that Afghan civilians will die in far larger numbers.

It is that equation that makes a nonsense of US and British claims that their civilian victims are accidental "collateral damage", while the Taliban's use of roadside bombs, suicide attacks and classic guerrilla operations from civilian areas are a sign of their moral depravity. In real life, the escalating civilian death toll is not a mistake, but the result of a clear decision to put the lives of occupation troops before civilians; westerners before Afghans.

Stephen Kinzer, writing in the Boston Globe, adds:

As long as the campaign continues, recruits will pour into Taliban ranks. It is no accident that the Taliban has mushroomed since the current bombing campaign began. It allows the Taliban to claim the mantle of resistance to a foreign occupier. In Afghanistan, there is none more sacred.

Milne notes the growing blowback elsewhere:

Gordon Brown recently told British troops in Helmand: "What you are doing here prevents terrorism coming to the streets of Britain." The opposite is the case. The occupations of Afghanistan and Iraq - and the atrocities carried out against their people - are a crucial motivation for those planning terror attacks in Britain, as case after case has shown. Now the US is launching attacks inside Pakistan, the risks of further terror and destabilisation can only grow.

Almost everyone -- except George W. Bush, John McCain and Barack Obama -- recognizes, as Milne puts it:

The US and its allies cannot pacify Afghanistan nor seal the border with the Taliban's Pakistani sanctuary. Eventually there is bound to be some sort of negotiated withdrawal as part of a wider regional and domestic settlement. But many thousands of Afghans - as well as occupying troops - look certain to be sacrificed in the meantime.

We wrote on this same theme here recently:

Don't tell Obama and McCain, but the war they are both counting on to make their bones as commander-in-chief -- the "good war" in Afghanistan, which both men have pledged to expand -- is already lost. Their joint strategy of pouring more troops, tanks, missiles and planes into the roaring fire -- not to mention their intention to spread the war into Pakistan -- will only lead to disaster.

Who says so? America's biggest ally in the Afghan adventure: Great Britain. This week, two top figures in the British effort in Afghanistan -- Sir Sherard Cowper-Coles, UK ambassador to Kabul, and Brigadier Mark Carleton-Smith, the senior British military commander in Afghanistan -- both said that the war was "unwinnable," and that continuing the current level of military operations there, much less expanding it, was a strategy "doomed to fail."

...The American-installed president of Afghanistan, former oil company factotum Hamid Karzai, echoed the British assessment. In fact, he went so far as to invite Taliban supremo Mullah Omar -- ranked just a notch below Osama bin Laden in official American demonology -- to return to the country for peace talks, with full guarantees for his personal safety and liberty. Omar quickly rejected the overture, but there is clearly a growing consensus for a negotiated settlement.

A consensus everywhere but Washington, that is. There, in the marbled courts of the Potomac Empire, fierce factional opponents such as Barack Obama and John McCain are marching lock-step with George W. Bush on escalating the war in Afghanistan: more troops, more airstrikes, more "collateral damage."

Obama's position is the most relevant now, as it seems increasingly likely that he will be the next interim manager of the empire. And as we noted here, his position is a vast war crime in the making:

The Democratic candidate's stated polices on the conflict dovetail exactly with those of Rove, Bush and McCain: Thousands of more troops. More military hardware. More drone missile strikes, not only in Afghanistan but in Pakistan as well. Obama has also pledged to pressure the Europeans to send more troops and hardware of their own to Afghanistan, with "fewer restrictions" on their combat operations.

In other words, the American political establishment is committed to plunging headlong into what almost all outside experts -- including America's closest allies, not to mention the Afghans themselves -- say will be a bloodsoaked, botched catastrophe....

The United States has lost its pointless war against the people of Afghanistan. Yet both the "progressive" standard-bearer and the "conservative" stalwart have sworn to expand the conflict. Both have internalized the rhetoric and beliefs of a violent imperial project. Both men have shown themselves too weak in truth to escape the fear of appearing weak in the false light of militarism.

But hey, at least Obama will look unflappable and cool as he orders another 10,000 men or more into the cauldron, where they will have to be protected from the people they have come to "liberate" by more and more "close air support" against sleeping villagers, wedding parties and infants. And you really can't ask for more than that in a president, can you?

Apparently not.

Chris Floyd at his deskChris Floyd has been a writer and editor for more than 25 years, working in the United States, Great Britain and Russia for various newspapers, magazines, the U.S. government and Oxford University. Floyd co-founded the blog Empire Burlesque, and is also chief editor of Atlantic Free Press. He can be reached at

This column is republished here with the permission of the author.

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This story was published on October 17, 2008.