Scores of civilian deaths over the past months from heavy American and allied reliance on airstrikes to battle Taliban insurgents are threatening popular support for the Afghan government and creating severe strains within the NATO alliance.Not that it matters -- at least not to the Americans. What seems to matter most to them is the patience of their European accomplices.
Afghan, American and other foreign officials say they worry about the political toll the civilian deaths are exacting on President Hamid Karzai, who last week issued another harsh condemnation of the American and NATO tactics, and even of the entire international effort here.
What angers Afghans are not just the bombings, but also the raids of homes, the shootings of civilians in the streets and at checkpoints, and the failure to address those issues over the five years of war. Afghan patience is wearing dangerously thin, officials warn.
The civilian deaths are also exposing tensions between American commanders and commanders from other NATO countries, who have never fully agreed on the strategy to fight the war here, in a country where there are no clear battle lines between civilians and Taliban insurgents.A successful spring indeed! Bring on more NATO offensives! Rape! Pillage! Burn!
At NATO headquarters in Brussels, military commanders and diplomats alike fear that divisions within the coalition and the loss of support among Afghans could undermine what until now was considered a successful spring, one in which NATO launched a broad offensive but the Taliban did not.
Ironically we are told that civilian casualties endanger "the mission". But -- five and a half years after American planes first started bombing Afghanistan -- we still have no idea what the mission is.
“There is absolutely no question that the will and support of the Afghan people is vitally important to what we do here,” Gen. Dan K. McNeill, the American commander of the International Security Assistance Force, said in an interview. “We are their guests, they are the hosts. We have to be mindful of their culture, we have to operate in the context of their culture, and we have to take every possible precaution to not cause undue risk to those around us, and to their property.”The gap between rhetoric and reality has never been wider -- or more despicable. We are their guests? They are the hosts? Since when??
The anger is visible here in this farming village in the largely peaceful western province of Herat, where American airstrikes left 57 villagers dead, nearly half of them women and children, on April 27 and 29. Even the accounts of villagers bore little resemblance to those of NATO and American officials -- and suggested just how badly things could go astray in an unfamiliar land where cultural misunderstandings quickly turn violent.Lest we forget, all this carnage -- the wanton, cold-blooded murder of the "hosts" by the "guests" -- is supposedly revenge for 9/11, or something...
The United States military says it came under heavy fire from insurgents as it searched for a local tribal commander and weapons caches and called in airstrikes, killing 136 Taliban fighters.
But the villagers denied that any Taliban were in the area. Instead, they said, they rose up and fought the Americans themselves, after the soldiers raided several houses, arrested two men and shot dead two old men on a village road.
Lest we forget, American and allied forces in Afghanistan are now killing and orphaning children who were not even born on 9/11. Does that matter? Does any of it matter?
On Tuesday, barely 24 hours after American officials apologized publicly to President Karzai for a previous incident in which 19 civilians were shot by marines in eastern Afghanistan, reports surfaced of at least 21 civilians killed in an airstrike in Helmand Province, though residents reached by phone said the toll could be as high as 80.Your cold correspondent has been following this story with a deep and growing sense of revulsion -- because it is happening at all, and because aside from a few journalists and a few bloggers, it really doesn't look as if anyone cares. (For links to previous articles about these atrocities, see this post.)
While NATO is now in overall command of the military operations in the country, many of the most serious episodes of civilian deaths have involved United States counterterrorism and Special Operations forces that operate separately from the NATO command.In other words, the USA cannot muster the political will to send hundreds of thousands of soldiers into a country which has never attacked us, so instead Americans bomb civilians from the air to "compensate".
NATO, which now has 35,000 soldiers in the country, has emphasized its concern about keeping civilian casualties to a minimum. Yet NATO, too, has been responsible for civilian casualties over the past year, as it has relied on air power to compensate for a shortage of troops, an American military official who has served in Afghanistan said in a recent interview.
And what sort of response do we see? Spin. Hypocrisy. Damage control. That's all.
The subject of civilian casualties was the source of intense discussion on Wednesday in Brussels when the NATO secretary general, Jaap de Hoop Scheffer, met with the North Atlantic Council, the top representatives of the coalition. But the conversation was less about how to reduce casualties, according to participants, than about how to explain them to European governments, who say their troops are there for reconstruction, not hunting the Taliban or terrorists.Take a deep breath and let that one sink in, will you? "The conversation was less about how to reduce casualties ... than about how to explain them."
“The Europeans are worried about a lack of clarity about who is responsible for the counterterror mission,” said one participant in the debate. “They are worried that if NATO appears responsible for these casualties, it will result in a loss of support” for keeping forces in Afghanistan.Loss of support? What support? Counterterror? What counterterror?
If bombing the homes of unarmed civilians doesn't qualify as terror, what does?
It is not only the Americans whose practices are being questioned. NATO soldiers have frequently fired on civilians on the roads...No, it's not just the Americans who have been killing civilians; but it is America's war.
The public mood hardened against foreign forces in the southern city of Kandahar after British troops fired on civilians while driving through the streets after a suicide bombing last year, and Canadian soldiers have repeatedly killed and wounded civilians while on patrol in civilian areas.
“This is a big mistake the Americans are making,” said Nasrullah Khan [...] “If the Americans are here for peace, this is not the way.”But there's the rub. The Americans are not in Afghanistan for peace, and this is their way.
It's not a mistake. It's a deliberate policy of murder and theft. And it will go on until we -- we the people -- put an end to it.
So ... Do we have the strength? Do we have the resources? Do we have any means at all of controlling our government?
At this time, from this cold blogger's perspective, the objective answer to all these questions would seem to be an unqualified "No".
But I am willing to be proven wrong.