Sunday, August 24, 2008

Afghanistan: US Air War & Killing of Civilians Intensifies

Afghanistan: the air war intensifies
from Richard Seymour, Lenin's Tomb blog

Remember that this is how it's done:

"Yes, it is a civilian village, mud hut, like everything else in this country. But don’t say that. Say it’s a military compound. It’s a built-up area, barracks, command and control. Just like with the convoys: If it really was a convoy with civilian vehicles they were using for transport, we would just say hey, military convoy, troop transport."

As Tom Engelhardt has pointed out, this is an American tradition:

"On its front page, the New York Times labeled the operation in and around a village called My Lai 4 (or "Pinkville," as it was known to U.S. forces in the area) a significant success. "American troops caught a North Vietnamese force in a pincer movement on the central coastal plain yesterday, killing 128 enemy soldiers in day-long fighting." United Press International termed what happened there an "impressive victory," and added a bit of patriotic color: "The Vietcong broke and ran for their hide-out tunnels. Six-and-a-half hours later, ‘Pink Village' had become ‘Red, White and Blue Village."

All these dispatches from the "front" were, of course, military fairy tales. (There were no reporters in the vicinity.) It took over a year for a former GI named Ronald Ridenhour, who had heard about the bloody massacre from participants, and a young former AP reporter named Seymour Hersh working in Washington for a news service no one had ever heard of, to break the story, revealing that "red, white, and blue village" had just been red village -- the red of Vietnamese peasant blood. Over 400 elderly men, women, children, and babies had been slaughtered there by Charlie Company of Task Force Barker in a nearly day-long rampage."

The one thing the United States military can always be counted on to do, in other words, is to kill large numbers of civilians and then brazenly lie about it. This is why a US bombing raid that kills 76 civilians, following an attack the previous day that killed at least twenty, is described as a successful strike against 30 'insurgents'. The truth is that the entire military strategy of the US-led occupation is implicated in these massacres. As the quote from Chief Warrant Officer Dave Diaz above indicates, the American military is fully aware that a) it is fighting an unconventional guerilla force that doesn't have formal military outposts, bases and convoys, and b) it is a movement with roots in the civilian population itself. And since the US is increasingly reliant on aerial bombardment (more so in Afghanistan than in Iraq), it is inevitably going to slaughter large numbers of civilians. And then lie about it. Marc Garlasco, who used to work as an adviser to the Pentagon on high-value targeting, told Salon last year that the "magic number" was thirty: if the anticipated number of civilians who would die in an air strike was to be lower than thirty, it could go ahead without executive approval. Otherwise Bush or the Secretary of Defense would have to give approval. Well, of course, such expectations are entirely framed by the military's own requirements. They're not obliged to 'expect' large numbers of civilian casualties in a particular area, even where there are large numbers of civilians. If they want to hit the target, they can simply determine an area to be exclusively populated by insurgents, get JTAC to confirm a 'successful strike' and then move on to the next target.

Recall the data published by the CSIS last year, confirming a massive spike in US bombing raids in the summer of 2007, with 368 major strikes in July and 670 in August. This July, it was reported that air strikes had almost doubled since the previous year according to official figures (and, incidentally, the official figures seem to suggest an even higher daily strike rate than last year's CSIS figures did). This means that on average there are 68 major air strikes across Afghanistan each day, using 500 - 2,000lb bombs to pummel the area and then cannon fire to finish off the target. That's well over 2000 air strikes a month. I should say that increases the odds of blitzing someone's house, or a wedding ceremony, somewhat. This is a very rough extrapolation from last year's chart

With Thanks and Acknowledgements to Richard Seymour, Lenin's Tomb blog

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