The Spark

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

War in Afghanistan:
The body counts begin again

Mar 18, 2002

On March 12, U.S. troops finally occupied the valley of Shah-i-Kot, eleven days after the start of the largest ground battle in the Afghan war. The U.S. had dropped more than 2,500 bombs and completely leveled – by accident! – the villages of Sirkankel and Marzak. This battle, of course, puts the lie to Bush’s declaration of victory in early December.

This battle was fought under close military censorship. The Pentagon has long explained that one of the reasons for its defeat in Viet Nam was all the TV coverage showing burnt down villages and the horror of war, which turned the American public against the war.

The Pentagon says it also decided it would no longer give body counts. As Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld said, “I don’t do body counts. This country tried that in Vietnam and it didn’t work.” During that war, the Pentagon vastly inflated body counts, adding up to more people than there were in the country, and still the U.S. lost the war.

Despite what Rumsfeld said, various U.S. commanders are giving body counts. Reporters on different days heard that 100, 500, 200, 800, or 300 Taliban and al Qaeda soldiers were killed. “These numbers are extremely fuzzy” a so-called “senior” military officer told the New York Times. When reporters finally got to tour the valley, they found only three bodies, less than the eight Americans and three Afghan allied soldiers who died in the fighting. (Where were the others? One Pentagon official declared that other al Qaeda might have buried them!)

In fact, what seems obvious is that U.S. troops were drawn into a trap, from which the al Qaeda (or whatever these forces were) were able then to melt away into the countryside. As General Abdul Wahab Joyenda, who commanded Afghan forces allied to the U.S., said, “There are always ways to escape. It is a mountainous place, full of snow. You can’t seal everywhere.”

A couple of the U.S. soldiers did manage to speak to reporters before the brass shut them up. They described the battle, where they were shocked to come under attack and to see they were outnumbered. The troops understood the battle in a different way from the generals, which isn’t a surprise. The same thing happened in Viet Nam, where many of the troops realized that they were invaders and that the people of the country certainly didn’t want them there.

U.S. troops can hardly expect a different welcome in Afghanistan when U.S. planes wipe out whole villages.