The Spark

“The emancipation of the working class will only be achieved by the working class itself.” — Karl Marx

Widespread killings of civilians by the U.S. military in Afghanistan

Feb 18, 2002

In the last few weeks, we have begun to hear about the deaths of numerous civilians in Afghanistan, victims of U.S. bombing from the air or commandos on the ground. These deaths occurred after the U.S. declared a victory over the Taliban on December 16.

Right after the declaration of victory, on December 20, U.S. bombing killed at least 60 people from two villages in Paktia province. On December 27, bombing killed at least 25 in another village in the same province. On December 29, there was an air raid on the village of Niazi Qala, in Paktia province. Survivors said at least 100 civilians were killed, including many women and children who had congregated for a wedding. On January 3, there were 32 killed in the Zhawar Kili region.

On January 11 and 12 the U.S. bombed the town of Zhawar and its surrounding area, killing 15 and forcing survivors to flee to Pakistan. In the days between January 13 and 18, continuous cluster bomb attacks led to dozens of deaths.

On January 24, a U.S. raid in village of Hazar Qadam in Oruzgan province killed at least 15 people. Survivors found charred bodies of people whose hands were bound with strips of tough white plastic before they were killed.

On February 6, three peasants in the Zhawar Kili region near the Pakistan border looking for scrap metal were killed by an anti-tank missile fired by a U.S. Predator drone, an unmanned plane that sent back TV images, while ground controllers pushed the trigger.

These reports came out because Afghan allies of the U.S. released the information. The civilians were from their villages.

And, given the disruption of communications, we can be sure that this is only a small proportion of all the civilian deaths that have occurred.

If this is what is happening after the U.S. “victory” on December 16, what about before then, when wholesale bombing was going on? At that time, the media blitz in the U.S. was at its strongest, and we were told repeatedly how “smart” the bombs were, and that only Al Qaeda and Taliban forces were being hit.

Of course, even then major attacks on civilians came to the world’s attention – although the U.S. media carried little information. Twice in October the U.S. bombed Red Cross warehouses in Kabul. On October 11, it bombed the village of Karam in Nagahar province. The mud huts in the hamlet were destroyed, with survivors saying 50 to 100 people were killed. On December 1, the U.S. bombed several villages near Tora Bora. Anti-Taliban forces demanded that the U.S. military stop the bombing when it was underway, and said that at least 115 civilians were killed.

New York Times reporters who did an in-depth study of civilian killing estimate that, “certainly hundreds and perhaps thousands of innocent Afghans have lost their lives during American attacks.” Professor Marc Herold of the Department of Economics at the University of New Hampshire documented a minimum of 2,998 civilian deaths through February 7. In addition to the civilian deaths that have already occurred, the seeds have been sown for many more deaths. U.S. planes often dropped cluster bombs, which scatter more than 200 canisters, containing hundreds of pellets each that can shred human flesh. There are thousands of these canisters that didn’t explode, but that could explode, if disturbed, at any time in the future.

The killing of innocent civilians is exactly what warfare is all about, despite all the talk about smart bombs and precision bombing. Behind Bush’s pretense that the U.S. bombed Afghanistan to save the population from oppressive Taliban rule, the population is the one that pays the price – even while the Taliban militias have melted into the armies of the local warlords.