Revolution #166, May 31, 2009


Air Strikes, Civilian Deaths and the U.S. War OF Terror

Obama is sending 21,000 additional troops to Afghanistan to join the already existing U.S. force of 38,000. What does this growing U.S. occupation mean for the masses of people in Afghanistan?

May 4, 2009 provided a stark example when a U.S. air strike killed over 140 people in the western province of Farah.

According to the New York Times: “The bombs were so powerful that people were ripped to shreds. Survivors said they collected only pieces of bodies. Several villagers said that they could not distinguish all of the dead and that they never found some of their relatives.” (“Afghan Villagers Describe Chaos of U.S. Strikes,” New York Times, May 14, 2009)

U.S. officials claim the air strike was targeting Taliban fighters. But villagers said fighting between the U.S. and the Taliban had already stopped and that the Taliban had left before the air attack began. Families were sitting down to dinner when the bombs fell.

Villagers later told Afghani officials they had tried to get people to safety after the fighting started. The children, women and elderly men gathered in walled compounds in the village of Gerani, three miles from the fighting. When U.S. planes bombed these buildings most of the people inside were killed.

There have been mass protests in Afghanistan against the bombing. And even Hamid Karzai, the U.S. puppet president of Afghanistan, was forced to call for a halt to such U.S. air strikes. In response, Obama’s National Security Adviser, General James Jones, made it clear that the U.S. would not hamper its forces in Afghanistan by banning air strikes, saying, “We can’t fight with one hand tied behind our back.”

This is the largest single massacre of civilians since the U.S. invaded and occupied the country in 2001. But this is not the first time U.S. air strikes in Afghanistan have committed mass murder of innocent civilians from above.

In fact these kinds of air strikes against civilians have been a major feature of the U.S. war in Afghanistan.

Just last August, the village of Azizabad in Herat province was hit by a U.S. air strike. And the U.S. immediately tried to cover up and justify this war crime.

In October, the U.S. Department of Defense (DOD) published “The Callan Report”—a summary of a report of an official investigation into the bombing of Azizabad.

The United Nations, the government of Afghanistan, and the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission had all investigated the incident and concluded that 78 to 92 civilians had been killed at Azizabad and that the majority of them had been women and children. But the U.S. rejected all three investigations, claiming that no more than five to seven civilians had been killed, along with 30-35 Taliban fighters. The Callan Report reported that only 33 civilians had been killed in the bombing.

Human Rights Watch (HRW) conducted additional research into the bombing and harshly criticized the Callan Report. HRW said the report exonerated the U.S. forces who carried out the attack of any wrongdoing, even though it did not provide any basis for this conclusion. And HRW was also critical of the fact that the report suggested, again without any evidence, that Taliban forces had deliberately used civilians as “shields.” (see “US Investigation of Airstrike Deaths ‘Deeply Flawed,’” Human Rights Watch, January 15, 2009)

In January 2009, Brad Adams, Asia director at HRW, said, “Unless the new Obama administration urgently addresses the US military’s airstrike practices in Afghanistan, more unnecessary civilian deaths and injuries will result.”

Now, one week after Obama’s “first 100 days” as commander in chief of U.S. imperialism, we have the biggest U.S. massacre of civilians in Afghanistan.

“Proportional” Mass Murder

The Callan Report argued that the U.S. attack in Azizabad was “necessary” and “proportional”—in other words, that such “collateral damage” of civilian deaths is unavoidable in the pursuit of the Taliban.

Look at an example of what the U.S. argues is a necessary and acceptable proportion of civilian deaths:

In July 2008, a bridal party was on its way to the groom’s village in an area in the eastern province of Nangarhar. Suddenly a U.S. plane flew down low over the ravine. The British mainstream newspaper, the Guardian, described what happened next:

“The first bomb hit a large group of children who had run on ahead of the main procession. It killed most of them instantly. A few minutes later, the plane returned and dropped another bomb, right in the centre of the group. This time the victims were almost all women. Somehow the bride and two girls survived but as they scrambled down the hillside, desperately trying to get away from the plane, a third bomb caught them. Hajj Khan was one of four elderly men escorting the bride’s party that day. ‘We were walking, I was holding my grandson’s hand, then there was a loud noise and everything went white. When I opened my eyes, everybody was screaming. I was lying metres from where I had been, I was still holding my grandson’s hand but the rest of him was gone. I looked around and saw pieces of bodies everywhere. I couldn’t make out which part was which.’” (see “Afghanistan: impact of civilians killed by US/UK,” The Guardian, December 17, 2008)

Like with the May 4, 2009 massacre, relatives said it was impossible to identify the remains of their loved ones because their bodies had been blown to pieces. Forty-seven victims were buried in 28 graves.

This was the third wedding party in Afghanistan to be hit by a U.S. air strike in 2008. Only a month before, 27 people were killed when a wedding party was bombed near Kandahar.

An article by A World to Win News Service (AWTWNS) about the July 2008 U.S. massacre pointed out that in fact, American aerial attacks on wedding parties have been a hallmark of the U.S. occupation, since the U.S. imperialists consider any large gathering of Afghans inherently hostile. AWTWNS also speaks to how the Taliban and its allies, who are completely reactionary, “have also killed many civilians, not hesitating to use murder themselves from early on and lately killing large numbers of civilians as they have increasingly adopted suicide-bombing tactics, their own version of America’s terrorist and indiscriminate ‘death from above.’” (see “Afghanistan: Protests against U.S. airstrikes and home evictions,” AWTWNS, July 14, 2008)

Mass Murder Logic of “Proportionality”

So what is the “necessary proportionality” of civilian deaths for U.S. imperialism?

The Afghan Victims Memorial Project reported in May that since President Barack Obama took office on January 21, about 160 civilians have been killed by the U.S.-led occupation forces in Afghanistan. Of these civilian deaths, 56 were children and 15 were women, over 40 were men and another 40 or so victims, ages and genders unknown.

Human Rights Watch issued a 2008 report titled, “Troops in Contact” – Airstrikes and Civilian Deaths in Afghanistan which said: “Individuals who commit serious violations of international humanitarian law with criminal intent can be prosecuted for war crimes before national or international courts.”

The report then goes on to say that attacks that violate the principle of proportionality are also prohibited “because they are expected to cause incidental loss of civilian life, injury to civilians, or damage to civilian objects that would be excessive compared to the concrete and direct military advantage anticipated from the attack.” (Protocol Additional to the Geneva Conventions of 12 August 1949, and Relating to the Protection of Victims of International Armed Conflicts ((Protocol 1)) of June 1977, 1125, U.N.T.S. 3, entered into force December 7, 1978)

In other words, international law has established that in attacking a military target, it is a war crime to cause excessive death and injury to civilians.

The British newspaper, the Independent (“‘120 die’ as US bombs village,” May 7, 2009), reported that:

•  552 civilians in Afghanistan were killed in air strikes in 2008.

•  701 people were killed in drone (unmanned plane) attacks in three years.

•  Only 14 of those killed were al-Qaeda leaders.

This kind of murderous “proportionality” of civilian deaths is also evident across the border in Pakistan, which the Obama regime is treating as part of a broader regional theater of war.

There have been 60 missile attacks by Predator (pilotless) drones since 2006. Authorities in Pakistan report that in the course of these, 701 people have been killed, 687 of them civilians. At least 152 people have died in such attacks in the first 99 days of 2009 and only two of these deaths are linked to al-Qaeda.

According to David Kilcullen, who was a counterinsurgency adviser to U.S. General David Petraeus from 2006 to 2009, “Press reports suggest that over the last three years drone strikes have killed about 14 terrorist leaders. But, according to Pakistani sources, they have also killed some 700 civilians. This is 50 civilians for every militant killed, a hit rate of 2 percent—hardly ‘precision.’”


What does all this say about the nature of the U.S. invasion and occupation of Afghanistan? What will this mean for the masses of people in Afghanistan when even more U.S. troops are deployed to Afghanistan?

The U.S. invasion and occupation of Afghanistan has NEVER been about “liberating Afghanistan.” And it has never been about simply capturing Osama bin Laden in response to the attacks of September 11, 2001. Its focus was replacing the Taliban regime with one more suitable to U.S. interests, which included defeating Islamic fundamentalism and gaining strategic control in this highly important geo-strategic country and region. The U.S. troops in Afghanistan are a brutal occupying army that relies on terror in order to defend and expand the interests of U.S. imperialism. And the mass murders from the sky repeatedly being carried out by the U.S. in Afghanistan are horrific crimes against humanity. 

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