I post this from our friends at World Socialists to show how the choices of just a few key words (my bold) can completely change the perceived tenor of a military operation for the otherwise uninformed reader. Such propaganda is a critical part of the insurgent and counterinsurgent doctrine. The use of noncombatant casualties for political purposes demonstrates how difficult, if not intractable, this war is.
Another Massacre In Afghanistan
By Bill Van Auken
23 February, 2010
A US air strike killed dozens of civilians in Afghanistanâs central Uruzgan Province Sunday, while to the south a US ground offensive in the Helmand Province town of Marjah ground through its second week, producing growing casualties and the threat of a humanitarian disaster.
The massacre took place near the border between Uruzgan and Daykundi provinces. According to the Wall Street Journal, special operations troops called in an air strike on three minibuses, which they reportedly believed were carrying armed insurgents.
Initial reports cited 33 people dead and at least 12 others wounded. Later, Afghan officials revised the death toll to 27. Among the dead were four women and a child. It appears to be the worst attack on Afghanistanâs civilian population since September 4, when a German commander ordered an airstrike on a fuel tanker truck surrounded by local people, killing 142 of them.
The Afghanistan council of ministers criticized the air strike: âThe repeated killings of civilians by NATO forces is unjustifiable,â the council said in a muted statement.
Those whose family members were slaughtered in the attack had a different reaction. They demanded that the foreign troops get out of their country. âThey came here to bring security but they kill our children, they kill our brothers and they kill our people,â said Haji Ghullam Rasoul, whose cousins died in the attack. âWeâve had enough.â
The US commander in Afghanistan, General Stanley McChrystal, has stressed that civilian casualties undermine American efforts to pacify the country by inflaming popular opposition. He reportedly has changed the rules of engagement in Afghanistan to reduce such casualties, yet they continue.
A large share of these killings is the work of the Special Operation Forces, which McChrystal formerly commanded. These units are being used in an ongoing assassination program aimed at wiping out leading elements of the Taliban and other forces resisting the occupation. Last December, they were blamed [not yet proven however--if proven then prosecutions should follow] for the execution-style killing of eight students, some as young as 11, in Kunar province.
US Defense Secretary Robert Gates delivered a tacit defense of Sundayâs mass killing, stressing that such atrocities had to be accepted as part of war.
âThe thing to remember is that weâre at war,â Gates said at a Pentagon press conference. âGeneral McChrystal is doing everything humanly possible to avoid civilian casualties.â
He continued, âIâm not defending it at all. Iâm just saying that these kinds of things, in many respects, are inherent in a war. Itâs what makes war so ugly.â
Appearing with Gates, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Admiral Mike Mullen, sounded the same note. âWar is bloody and uneven,â Mullen said âItâs messy and ugly and incredibly wasteful, but that doesnât mean it isnât worth the cost.â
Gates also fell back on the increasingly widespread justification that those resisting the US-led occupation were using âcivilians for cover.â Such claims have been employed in every colonial-style warâin which foreign troops fight against members of an indigenous populationâto justify the killing of unarmed men, women and children.
Significantly, both the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal published articles Monday on the same basic theme, with the Times headline referring to âAfghans in the Crossfireâ and the Journal to âCivilians in the Crosshairs.â
The deadly air strike in Uruzgan largely overshadowed the Pentagonâs continuous claims of progress and success in âOperation Moshtarak,â the largest offensive launched by US-led occupation troops since the country was invaded more than eight years ago.
Afghan officials have reported 19 civilians killed in the operation, 12 of them slain in a rocket attack on a home that wiped out all of its occupants except one eight-year-old girl. Residents, however, have put the death toll significantly higher.
Aziz Ahmad Tassal and Mohammad Elyas Dayee, writing for International War and Peace Reporting, interviewed relatives of some of those killed in the wake of the rocket attack earlier this month.
One of them, Harun, was at a hospital in the provincial capital, where he had brought his two wounded brothers. One brotherâs wife had been killed by fire from a tank.
âMy wounded brother Fazel Omar got married six months ago. When he was wounded, his wife came out of the house and ran towards her husband, but [they] shot at her from their tank and [killed] her,â he said.
He continued, âThat moment was very difficult for me because I could not go out of the house. I could not take my wounded brothers to the hospital and could not bring my dead sister-in-lawâs body home.â
Also interviewed was Gula Jan, who had brought the bodies of his two young sisters to the Bost Hospital in Lashkar Gah. Their house had also been fired upon by the US-led forces. âMy two little sisters were martyred by the foreignersâ rocket,â he said, âand I will not reconcile with the infidels until I can avenge my sisters.â
Ahmadâs father was shot dead by occupation troops when he left his home to get food. âThe body of my father was left inside our home for two days because the foreigners did not let us out to bury the body in the cemetery,â he said. âWe were scared of being killed. They are cruel and the infidels have no sympathy for us.â
Meanwhile, the Wall Street Journal reported growing anger among the population of Marjah over troops kicking in the doors of their homes, damaging the local market and killing their livestock.
There are growing concerns of a humanitarian disaster resulting from the operation, which US commanders say could continue for a month. Many residents who stayed behind have become imprisoned in their own homes by the fighting, running out of food and water and unable to seek medical care.
Many thousands more who fled are now homeless, with little assistance from either the occupation forces or the government of Hamid Karzai.
Reports from Marjah describe a hellish environment of constant firefights as the US and other foreign forces continue to meet resistance. Overhead, helicopter gunships, pilotless drones and fighter planes continuously circle the area, waiting for orders to attack.
At least 13 US and other foreign troops have been killed. Military officials claim that 120 âinsurgentsâ have died in the fighting, but the count appears to be only an estimate and may well include civilians.
While the US military and the media have touted the operationâthe first offensive since the âsurgeâ ordered by President Barack Obamaâas some kind of a turning point in the long war, it is increasingly obvious that it is nothing of the kind.
Some 11,000 troops backed by airpower have been poured into Marjah, a remote and largely rural district with barely 75,000 people. While the ability of the US-led forces to prevail over a few hundred Taliban fighters was largely taken for granted, their control over the area is far from secure as they continue to face frequent attacks.
The offensive was largely a demonstration of US power, with little strategic significance. But the strengths that it was supposed to showcase have proven illusory at best.
The claim that US forces will be able to be drawn down as the Afghan National Army takes over the fighting has been refuted by the conduct of the Afghan troops, only one of whom has been reported killed. US Marines have been compelled to take the lead in every operation, with the Afghan forces showing little or no ability to act on their own.
Moreover, most of these troops are Tajiks, an ethnic group that formed the base of the Northern Alliance, with which the Taliban, with its base among the local Pashtuns, fought a protracted civil war. They are widely seen, like the American troops, as a hostile occupying force.
The US-led operation is also supposed to install a new district regime loyal to the US puppet government of Karzai and subservient to the foreign occupation. Chosen to carry out this job is one Haji Zahir, an Afghan Ã©migrÃ© who returned to the country only recently after 15 years in Germany. He reportedly has few ties to the area.
Zahir was flown into Marjah for the first time Monday âaboard a Marine MV-22B Osprey helicopter with a contingent of Marine officers,â the Washington Post reported, adding, âHe was on the ground for about two hours, not venturing more than 100 yards from where his aircraft landed.â
Also vying for leadership is the districtâs former police chief, Abdul Rahman Jan. According to the Post, the police he led âwere so corrupt and ruthlessâtheir trademark was summary executionsâthat many residents welcomed the Taliban as a more humane alternative.â
The Post reported that Janâwho was sacked in 2005 at the demand of British officialsâenjoys the backing of Karzai despite, or perhaps because of, his close ties to narcotics traffickers.
McChrystal said that the operation in Marjah was a âmodel for the future.â He suggested that the more important target would be Kandahar, Afghanistanâs second-largest city, with a population of nearly one million. Fighting for control there will prove far more costly in terms of casualties, both among civilians and US troops.
In an interview Sunday on the television news program âMeet the Press,â Gen. David Petraeus, head of the US Central Command, warned that casualties in coming months would be heavy and prove âtoughâ to bear.
Petraeus stressed that the offensive in Marjah was just âthe initial operation of what will be a 12 to 18-month campaign.â
The generalâs comment gives the lie to Obamaâs claim that his escalation, with the deployment of 30,000 more US troops, would be reversed by July 2011, with the drawdown of US forces. His administration is waging a protracted, expanding and bloody war, with no end in sight.