If you’ve been reading along with us on Sunday nights, you’ll remember that over and over we’ve reported on Afghan civilians being killed by US forces – in air strikes and in night raids. Each report follows a very similar pattern – US forces report some number of militants killed, then a report from local authorities appears saying something like, "No, actually that was just a family in our village (or a wedding party, or a…), and we want answers." Eventually, there’s a report that a US officer has visited the village, handed out a check… and expressed our deepest apologies – and then a commander in Kabul issues a very serious statement about how troubling the civilian casualties are, and how we are now going to change our approach and take all sorts of steps to protect civilians. The most recent of such statements included a promise to coordinate all raids with local Afghan forces.
During a recent visit to Afghanistan by Pierre Krähenbühl, Director of Operations for the International Committee of the Red Cross, who had worked in Kabul during the 1990s, called for more protection of Afghan civilians. In his report, he notes:
I cannot sufficiently stress the unbearable levels of individual and collective suffering that Afghan men, women and children have had to endure over three decades, and that they continue to endure at levels that defy belief.
This brings me to the critical issue of civilians at risk in the current conflict. For the past three years the ICRC has repeatedly drawn attention to the increasingly severe impact of the conflict on the civilian population.
Never, however, has our concern been as acute as it is now. The conflict is intensifying and affecting wider parts of Afghanistan. Civilian casualties are significantly higher than a year ago…
This was a central issue during my visit. I raised the ICRC’s acute concerns about the protection of civilians with Generals McKiernan and Schloesser of the US armed forces and ISAF respectively. I emphasized in particular the constant obligation to make a distinction between those participating in hostilities and those who do not or, in the case of injured or captured fighters, who no longer directly participate in hostilities.
Mr. Krähenbühl also received assurances that the commanders shared his concern – but again, their assurances have not led to action.
Of course, most of these civilians killed by US forces go unnamed and unnoticed in our media – but if you follow the reports from RAWA, the Afghan women’s organization, you’ll see report after report like this:
LASHKARGAH: Residents of Lashkargah, capital city of southern Helmand province, on Wednesday staged a protest demonstration against the US-led coalition forces and Afghan government.
They alleged that a civilian was killed and another wounded when a shell hit them in Spini Kotta area of the city during an operation by the foreign forces last night.
He said the man who killed in the raid was a farmer and his brother sustained serious injuries.Haji Zakoom, an elder of the area told this agency the victim brothers were at work in their fields when a mortar shell fired by foreign troops hit them, killing one and injuring another.
He said the attack landed the family in deep trouble as there is no one else to feed them.
PUL-I-ALAM: Angry with reported innocent killing of five persons of a family by theUS forces in a raid in central Logar province last night, protestors besieged the building of Charkh district headquarters on Saturday.More than three hundreds protesting people, chanting anti-American slogans, called for an immediate trial of the killers.
Provincial culture and information director and the uncle of Abdul Rashid, Zahir Sidiqi told this news agency that the American Special Forces killed his kin, saying they were innocent and poor people.
He alleged that the said forces severely beaten up and tortured the family members of Abdul Rashid including his wife and brother.
Sidiqi further said that the injured family members have been taken to Sarkh hospital and their condition is stated to be in danger.
The four sons of Rashid, who were killed by the foreign forces, left behind their children in despair and poverty, relatives said. ..
Two days back, the coalition forces raided a house in Bati Kot district of eastern Nangarhar province, arresting five people including a school headmaster.
From the Sydney Morning Herald, we learn more about the Logar raid:
Despite that step [US agreement to include Afghan forces on all raids], the Ministry of Defence spokesman said he knew nothing about the raid. Darwesh said Logar’s governor contacted US officials in the province to ask for an explanation, but they responded that they did not know about it because it was conducted from the US base at Bagram – a reference to US Special Operations Forces.
The US forces involved were apparently newly arrived, part of the 17,000 approved by President Obama.
As we look at whatever plans emerge from President Obama’s review, let’s keep in mind that any increase in US troops is likely to lead to an increase in civilian casualties – and a resulting surge in Afghans opposed to the US war in their country.
RAWA added that "The surge in level of troops will also result in a surge in protests against the US/NATO in Afghanistan and it will also push more people towards the Taliban and other terrorist groups as a reaction against occupation forces and their mistreatment against people."
Video from Rethink Afghanistan from Brave New Foundation. Robert Greenwald of BNF is heading to Afghanistan soon and invites everyone to suggest questions he should ask while he’s there. Go here to learn more and make suggestions and to join BNF’s campaign to get hearings and a new approach to Afghanistan.