Revolution#143, September 22, 2008

From A World to Win News Service

Death from above: the U.S.-led murder machine in Afghanistan

The following is from A World to Win News Service.

September 8, 2008. A World to Win News Service. On August 22 the U.S.-led coalition forces announced that in an operation the night before they had killed 30-35 Taleban fighters in the villages of Azizabad-Nawabad, Shindand district, in the north-western province of Herat, close to the Iran border. According to their statement, the clash started when coalition troops were ambushed as they were heading to arrest a Taleban commander called Mullah Saddiq. The American military authorities said their troops responded with light weapons and RPG fire and then called in "close air support" in self-defence. They called it a "successful operation," and even 24 hours later claimed they "remained confident" that there were no civilian casualties. (BBC, August 27)

But it didn't take long before this story proved to be a lie, as the next day relatives pulled the bodies of the dead and injured from the rubble. Among them were many children. The infuriated villagers expressed outrage, shouting "Death to America" and other slogans and threw stones at the U.S. and Nato-led Afghan army soldiers stationed in the area. Afghan Army troops shot and killed at least one demonstrator. Later, villagers showed journalists the demolished buildings and the belongings of the victims, mostly toys, teddy bears, children's clothing and others such items. As the news of the many dead and injured spread, the anger of the people grew and anti-occupier sentiment started to boil all over the country.

On other occasions in the past, Hamid Karzai, the Western-installed president of the puppet government, has criticized coalition forces and then set up a commission to investigate the matter, generally without a result. For instance, on July 6 Americans bombed a wedding party in Nangarhar province in the east, killing 47 people. Two months have passed, and the commission has still not issued a public report or even said when it will. With this new massacre dominating media coverage, he could not simply repeat this ploy. Pretending to be more serious, he dismissed two top commanders of the so-called Afghanistan National Army who had taken part in the operation with the coalition forces. Also he appointed a commission to investigate the matter and report quickly – and this time it did.

This Kabul commission said that the U.S. air attack had caused the deaths of as many as 96 people, among them "60 children aged from 3 months to 16 years olds, killed while they slept." (International Herald Tribune, August 27)

Still the U.S. authorities refused to admit the facts and shamelessly made indirect use of the discredit they themselves have helped bring on Karzai – as their flunky – to impugn this report, while Karzai, for his part, tried to use the report to distance himself from this operation and the occupiers.

The strongest challenge to the U.S.'s attempts to deny the whole thing, at least as far as the Western media and public opinion are concerned, came from the United Nations. On August 26, the UN Special Envoy to Afghanistan Kai Eide issued a statement based on a UN Mission on-the-scene investigation. Citing physical evidence, meticulous eyewitness interviews and video footage from mobile phones, the envoy, an internationally well-known Norwegian career diplomat, concluded that at least 60 children, 15 women and 15 men had been killed by an air strike during an operation in which coalition and Afghan army soldiers entered in the village. (Reuters, August 26)

Still the U.S. refused to accept this report. American military authorities eventually said that they had conducted an investigation and admitted that "five-seven" civilians had died. For the next two weeks they continued to insist that the villagers were "spreading Taleban propaganda": that they had "fabricated evidence" and "duped" the UN investigators. (The New York Times, September 8)

Finally, amid serious political turmoil in Afghanistan and rising discredit, in at least a few Western eyes, due to the circulation of the videos and the work of reporters who came to the scene in the wake of the UN report, the U.S. took a step in response. On September 7, the senior U.S. commander in Afghanistan, David McKiernan, asked that the American investigation be reopened.

What Afghan Sources Say

In fact masses and revolutionary forces inside Afghanistan believe that the number of people killed is far greater than reported by the Afghan government or the UN. A statement issued by the Revolutionary Youth Movement of Afghanistan August 28 describes what happened in the Shindand area, where the village is located:

"The bombardment started at 2 am on Friday morning August 22 and continued until 7 am. The result was enormous damage. As of 10 am that day, 120 bodies were taken out from under the ruined houses and this work continued until 3 pm that day. The extent of the destruction was so immense that people could not carry out these rescue efforts without the help of bulldozers and other mechanical equipment belonging to a construction company from the regional airport. Soldiers from the puppet regime's National Army and the imperialist occupiers completely surrounded the whole region. The army closed all entrances to the region. Nato and U.S. Special Forces troops blocked the roads to Shindand airport.

“In an interview, local people who had tirelessly helped their neighbors said that they were completely astounded by the number of villagers killed. According to the figures collected from the site, the known dead include 168 people, mainly children and women, and 240 were wounded…. However the puppet regime shamelessly announced the number of dead as 96."    

Contradicting the claims by the U.S.-led coalition forces that the incident occurred while they were trying to capture a Taleban leader, this leaflet describes the circumstances as the following: "It was the first anniversary of the death of a local influential commander named Taimoor. Since the night before, his brother had been preparing that Friday as a day for his memorial. As the cooks and other aids and servants were preparing the commemoration, U.S. aircraft arrived and demolished the nearby houses."

The account later given by New York Times reporter Carlotta Gall, who visited the village, says substantially the same thing about the circumstances of the killings. (September 8). A villager told her that an Afghan civilian accompanying the American soldiers sought out and killed the brother. A man claiming to be Mullah Sadiq, the alleged target of the U.S.-led raid, called a radio station after the attack and said he had not been in the village. Since many relatives of the brother, "the most prominent family in the village," work for a private U.S. security firm and the Afghan police, an implied possible explanation is that the U.S. had taken sides against the family in a struggle between warlords. Her article concurs that almost all of the dead were asleep on rooftops or under mosquito netting in yards when they were hit by not just one but several airstrikes.

Karzai's Role

So many people have been killed in so many American air raids few people in Afghanistan believe U.S. and Nato claims that these are simply "mistakes" – as a Human Rights Watch report unfortunately put it – committed in the pursuit of Taleban fighters. Karzai himself knows that growing numbers of people have lost patience with the brutality of the occupiers, not only in the Pashtun areas of the south and east where the Taleban emerged, but also in other ethnic regions where the U.S. and its allies were counting on some popular support or at least tolerance for the occupation.

That is why Karzai and other Afghan government officials have been making critical gestures against American air raids and promising various sorts of measures to reduce the killing. For example, the Afghan government announced that it would hold talks to renegotiate the terms of the international presence in the country.

"'The presence of the international community in Afghanistan should be re-regulated based on bilateral agreements,' a statement said, adding that limits should be placed on military forces and 'air strikes on civilian targets, unilateral searches of homes and illegal detentions must be stopped immediately.'" (BBC, August 27)

But since Karzai's position depends on the guns of the U.S. and its allies, not much is likely to come of this. His government has little real authority: "The government commission met with the commander of the United States forces in Herat province but he declined to answer their questions, saying the United States military was conducting its own investigation." (International Herald Tribune, August 27).

There are over 70,000 foreign soldiers in Afghanistan from 40 countries. But if a soldier or officer does anything wrong even according to the occupiers' standards, let alone in violation of international law (such as the Geneva conventions), they will be tried according to the law of their own country. The overwhelming majority of cases have never reached the stage of any kind of trial. This is the real law of the occupation: the occupiers are the law. So Karzai is just barking.

Some Reasons for These Mounting Massacres

The U.S. and its allies in Afghanistan are killing civilians in horrendous numbers and at an accelerating  rate. Civilian deaths from U.S. and Nato airstrikes nearly tripled in 2007 over the previous year, according to a September 8 report by Human Rights Watch, with 321 Afghan civilians killed in 22 bombings, "while hundreds more were injured." At least 119 civilians were killed in 12 airstrikes during the first seven months of this year, the group said, with another 54 civilians killed by U.S. and Nato ground troops. (

In July 2007, after similar though smaller-scale mass murders by bombing, the Karzai government also filed a complaint and the U.S. promised to change its "rules of engagement" governing combat operations to avoid such incidents. Instead, the killing is increasing. The Human Rights Watch report links the increased civilian deaths to the military strategy the U.S. is pursuing, called "economy of forces," in which relatively small ground units maraud around the countryside calling in air strikes, which are the main way the occupiers get their killing done, both of suspected Taleban and civilians. In fact, the use of this approach makes large numbers of civilian deaths inevitable. Since the U.S and its allies have announced plans to step up their war, many more such civilian deaths can be expected, even if the occupiers might prefer to limit civilian casualties so as to avoid rousing the people against them.

There are several factors pulling in that direction. Faced with a critical situation in Afghanistan, where the occupiers are losing control over many different regions to the Taleban who were hated by the people until recent years, the U.S. and its allies are in no position to step back. Further, some instability in Afghanistan would give the occupiers an excuse to stay there for years to come, but they want to have this instability under control and not allow it to spread into Pakistan, for example. None of the imperialist countries or governing factions are talking about reducing their forces there; in fact, most of the talk is about how much to increase them. In the U.S, the two presidential candidates accuse each other of not wanting enough war in Afghanistan, and the heads of the European governments are generally emphasizing the need for more war as well. This tendency can only gain momentum as tension between the West and Russia increases. This region has historically been an important battleground between the Western colonialists (notably the British Empire) their modern imperialist successors, and old and now new Russia.

So overall this is the kind of peace and prosperity the imperialist forces have brought for Afghanistan's people: More war, more killing, more poverty, and more misery and so on. And the only way people of Afghanistan can undo this is to drive out all these imperialist occupiers.

A World to Win News Service is put out by A World to Win magazine (, a political and theoretical review inspired by the formation of the Revolutionary Internationalist Movement, the embryonic center of the world’s Marxist-Leninist-Maoist parties and organizations.

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