In that other war that we so rarely hear about things aren’t going so well. The YouTube above was recently discovered by reporters at the Guardian who describe it as:
A nine-minute clip on YouTube offers a terrifying glimpse of the way the war is being won and lost in southern Afghanistan. The video, filmed from the belly of a Spectre AC-130 gunship, shows an attack on an alleged insurgent camp, rendered through a quivering black and white screen and the pilot’s mechanical monotone.
The crosshairs wander across a cluster of buildings, seeking out targets and shredding them to pieces. The bombs blitz mud dwellings, turn vehicles into fireballs, and mow down dozens of small white figures – people – as they sprint hopeless for their lives. “You are clear to level the building,” says the voice. The only sop to local sensitivities is that the Americans avoid hitting a mosque.
Today we learned of a new report of civilians killed by another US bombing like the one in the video:
At least six wounded were brought to a hospital in Lashkar Gah, the provincial capital of Helmand.
They belonged to the family of villager Ghulam Mohammad and included three men, two women and a child, said Rahmatullah Hanafi, the head of Emergency Hospital where they were treated. All had shrapnel wounds. One woman was in a critical condition.
Mohammad said eight members of his family, including children, were also killed in the attack, which he said went on for several hours.
“So far between 60 killed and wounded people have been recovered and there are people who are trapped under collapsed houses,” Mohammad told Reuters outside the hospital.
“It was a quiet evening and the bombardment began all of a sudden. Cattle have also been killed,” said another family member, Haji Saeed Mohammad.
“We can’t do anything, can’t stay in our villages and can’t go anywhere … it is best for us to be killed all at once than being killed every day,” he added.
According to Afghan government figures, some 700 civilians were killed in 2006 as a result of the fighting. Up to 380 civilians were killed in the first four months of 2007, the UN estimates.
At the end of July, Nato’s secretary-general, Jaap de Hoop Scheffer reported a change in tactics to better protect civilians from air strikes:
“We realise that if we cannot neutralise our enemy today without harming civilians, our enemy will give us the opportunity tomorrow,” he told the FT. “If that means going after a Taliban not on Wednesday but on Thursday, we will get him then.”
But US special forces – who operate outside the NATO command – seem to have less restraint:
British officers say they want to use fewer bombs to avoid alienating villagers, particularly as the Taliban splinter. But some American special forces, who operate under a separate chain of command, have other ideas.
Last month a British officer in Helmand asked an American unit to vacate his area, the New York Times reported, because blistering bomb strikes were destroying efforts to win “hearts and minds”.
One can normally at least rely on the military to understand the importance of unity of command. But in Afghanistan, even this is absent. The US military are not exclusively under the command of Nato’s mission in Afghanistan, and frequently conduct operations that run counter to the Nato force’s basic doctrine of minimising civilian deaths
Both Amnesty International and the International Committee of the Red Cross have recently questioned the growing civilian casualties – as has the Afghan government.
And we now hear that Washington is “worried about weakening Italian and German commitments in Afghanistan.” Both countries are questioning their continued involvement given the results of the US reliance on air strikes:
Italian Foreign Minister Massimo D’Alema recently blamed a lack of coordination between US and ISAF forces for hundreds of Afghan civilian deaths, which he called “morally unacceptable.”
“The Italians can be proud of what they are doing but at the end of the day it’s not so much a referendum on ‘are we making a difference?’ but really a referendum about how closely do you want to be associated with the US administration,” the US official said.
“As the issue of civilian casualties becomes more and more an issue in German politics, that is another one that is of real concern,” said the US official.
When will we learn the lesson that Ashdown described so well in his July editorial in The Guardian “We are Failing in Afghanistan”:
I recently had a rather heated conversation with a government minister who assured me that we were winning in Afghanistan because “we were killing more Taliban”. But success is not measured in dead Taliban. It’s measured in how many more water supplies are being reconnected; how many more people now have the benefit of the rule of law and good governance; how many have the prospect of a job; and, above all, whether we are winning or losing the battle for public opinion, which is central to successful reconstruction.
Sadly, we are very slow learners.
h/t Jane and Jerid!