Friday, September 12, 2008

American terror -- U.S. denial

Volume 25 - Issue 19 :: Sep. 13-26, 2008
from the publishers of THE HINDU


American terror


The U.N. has confirmed that at least 90 civilians were killed in the U.S. air attack in Herat province in the third week of August.


An attack by the U.S. Air Force in Azizabad village in Afghanistan’s Herat province on August 22 killed family members of this woman as also of many others. It was one of the worst air strikes since the U.S. occupation of the country in 2001.

YET another attack by the United States Air Force on suspected Taliban hideouts has resulted in the death of innocent civilians. In one of the worst atrocities witnessed so far after the U.S. occupation of Afghanistan in 2001, at least 90 civilians were killed in an air strike on Azizabad village in Herat province on August 22. The victims had gathered there to commemorate the death of a local leader, and according to the government of Afghanistan, 50 of those killed were under the age of 15. Reports said the attack was carried out by an AC-130 gunship.

President Hamid Karzai was quick to condemn the killings. He accused the U.S. forces of “martyring at least 70 people, most of them women and children”. On many occasions earlier, when U.S./North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) forces had killed civilians from the air, an anguished Karzai had asked the U.S. to exercise caution. A spokesman for the Afghan Army said officials had counted 60 children and 10 women among the dead. Karzai tried belatedly to douse public anger by sacking two top Afghan military officials who had initially claimed that all those killed in the air attack were Taliban fighters.

The Afghan President announced that his government would review “the responsibilities” of the U.S./NATO forces in the country. He angrily demanded an end to U.S./NATO air strikes on civilian areas and called upon the foreign forces to end the illegal detention of civilians and unilateral house searches. His most important demand was that the presence of the international community in Afghanistan “must be reviewed through a mutual agreement”.

The United Nations confirmed that a minimum of 90 civilians were killed in the air attack on August 22. Kai Eide, the U.N.’s special representative for Afghanistan, emphasised that “civilian casualties are unacceptable as they undermine the trust and confidence of the Afghan people”. The U.N. envoy said every effort must be made to ensure the safety and welfare of the civilian population. “Any civilian killed is one civilian casualty too many,” said Kai Eide.

U.S. denial

The Pentagon, however, denied the scale of the killings. A statement released at the end of August said a U.S. military review had come to the conclusion that 25 militants, including a Taliban commander, and five civilians were killed in the aerial attack.

As many as 1,000 Afghan civilians have been killed this year alone. Of them, 400 were killed by U.S. and NATO forces and the rest by Taliban fighters and suicide bombers. The bombing of civilians from the air by U.S. and NATO planes and helicopters has shown a marked increase in recent months as the Taliban makes dramatic military advances. Many commentators have said that an important reason for the growing resistance to the occupation among ordinary Afghans is the anger over the killing of their family members and neighbours.

Taliban gain


At the Guder camp where Pakistanis fleeing the fighting in the tribal areas near Bajur, believed to be hideouts of the Taliban, take refuge. More than 300,000 people have been displaced from their homes and have ended up in camps such as this in Peshawar and other places in Pakistan.

Taliban fighters are now operating virtually at the gates of Kabul. Despite the presence of more than 70,000 Western troops, the Taliban has managed to gain territory in Maydan Shar, the capital of Wardak province, which is less than 40 km from the capital. Since July, the Taliban has also stepped up attacks on the Kabul-Jalalabad road, the main supply route for NATO forces.

The Western media have reported regular attacks in recent weeks on truck convoys carrying materials for NATO forces heading for Kabul. The road from Kabul to Kandahar is also very unsafe. Vehicles can only move if they are protected by units of the Afghan Army. In the third week of August, the Taliban killed 10 French soldiers in Sarobi, 50 km from Kabul, on the Kabul-Jalalabad road. French President Nicholas Sarkozy had, under pressure from Washington, agreed to dispatch 700 more soldiers to Afghanistan this year, sparking a controversy in France. The war in Afghanistan is unpopular in France and the other European countries that have troops on the ground in Afghanistan.

Around the same time as the attack on the French forces, the Taliban launched an audacious attack on the biggest U.S. military base in eastern Afghanistan. Ten suicide bombers, in a coordinated move, blew themselves up outside the base. According to many experts, the Taliban is trying to replicate what the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA)-backed Mujahideen did against the Soviet-backed government in Kabul just before it fell in the 1980s – cutting off the main roads to Kabul and targeting the supplies of the occupation forces.

A spokesman for the Taliban said recently that its men “will surround Kabul politically and militarily to make it hard for NATO forces to receive logistics convoys”. In mid-August, there was a rocket attack on the Kabul airport. The casualty rate of U.S. troops this year in Afghanistan is higher than that in Iraq. As many as 194 U.S. and NATO soldiers have been killed so far this year, as against 232 last year.

U.S.-Pakistan meeting

As the Taliban advances stealthily, Washington is ratcheting up the pressure on Islamabad to crack down with full military force on its tribal areas. The Pakistani Army chief, Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, was summoned by the Pentagon for yet another top-level strategy meeting in the last week of August. Kayani had earlier met senior NATO and Afghan military officials in Kabul. The meeting, held on board the U.S. aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln, was attended by Admiral Mike Mullen, Chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, General David H. Petraeus, the top U.S. commander in Iraq, and other senior American officers playing key roles in the anti-insurgency operations in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Details of the meeting were first leaked to The New York Times. According to a report in the daily, the U.S. officials conveyed to the Pakistanis that they were not doing enough to prevent the Taliban from launching attacks inside Afghanistan against Western military targets. According to reports, the U.S. demanded greater access to Pakistan’s tribal areas for its Special Forces. The U.S. administration claimed that a growing number of foreign fighters were streaming into Afghanistan from secure havens in the tribal areas inside Pakistan.

The war in Afghanistan has also become an important issue in American domestic politics. There seems to be a consensus in the American political establishment that it is a “just war”. The Democratic nominee for the U.S. presidency, Barack Obama, like many other leading Democrats and Republicans, has been critical of Pakistan’s role in the so-called war against terror. Obama stated that the U.S. should be prepared to view Pakistani territory as a combat zone if the Pakistani Army did not move decisively against the Taliban.

Obama described Afghanistan as the “central front” in the war against terror and said that if elected President he would transfer troops from Iraq to Afghanistan. The Republican candidate for President, John McCain, also expressed similar hawkish views on Afghanistan.

Their views and those of the Bush administration seem to be at odds with the recent stance taken by the government in Kabul. Karzai’s recent call for a review of “the status of foreign forces” agreement in Afghanistan is an illustration of the differing perspectives.


Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev meet in Dushanbe, Tajikistan, on August 28.

The U.S. forces operating in Afghanistan are governed only by a two-page “diplomatic note” exchanged between the U.S. and a non-elected Afghan government a few months after September 11, 2001, and the invasion of Afghanistan. The “agreement” gives U.S. forces diplomatic immunity, exempting them from the jurisdiction of the Afghan government.

Of the 33,000 U.S. troops in Afghanistan, 19,000 operate directly under U.S. Central Command. The rest are part of the 40-nation force led by NATO, which operates under a U.N. resolution. With the occupation force unable to stem the Taliban tide, the Pakistani government, under pressure from Washington, ordered its Air Force to target relentlessly the tribal areas where Taliban and Al Qaeda fighters are supposedly holed up. Admiral Mullen told the media that the U.S. and Pakistani militaries must intensify efforts to crack down on insurgents. According to reports in the Pakistani media, the NATO command will identify the areas of resistance and the Pakistani Army will target those places on its behalf.

The increased air strikes, coupled by a push into the tribal areas by the Pakistani Army, have resulted in the displacement of more than 300,000 people. They have fled their homes to refugee camps in Peshawar and other Pakistani cities.

The Pakistani chapter of the Red Cross has described the refugee situation as critical. The anti-Taliban drive has been very unpopular in Pakistan. A recent poll conducted by the U.S.-based International Republican Institute showed that 71 per cent of the population in Pakistan opposed the country cooperating with the U.S. in Afghanistan.

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