by Zia Sarhadi (Main Stories, Crescent International Vol. 41, No. 2, Jumada' al-Ula', 1433)
After the latest American rampage through three Afghan villages in the Pajway district of Qandahar on March 11, US President Barack Obama issued the following statement: “This incident is tragic and shocking, and does not represent the exceptional character of our military and the respect that the United States has for the people of Afghanistan.”
After the latest American rampage through three Afghan villages in the Pajway district of Qandahar on March 11, US President Barack Obama issued the following statement: “This incident is tragic and shocking, and does not represent the exceptional character of our military and the respect that the United States has for the people of Afghanistan.” What “exceptional character” is Obama referring to: power-drunk soldiers breaking down doors killing 16 civilians, nine of them children under the age of six, in the middle of the night? Why do soldiers with “exceptional character” burn copies of the Qur’an (2-20-2012) and their commander, General John Allen then issues a directive for “sensitivity training” for troops that have spent more than 10 years in Afghanistan? And what kind of soldiers with “exceptional character” would urinate on three dead Afghans (January 2012)? And Obama still insists these do not reflect the “exceptional character” of the US military.
Let us assume he is right. Why are these barbaric practices so common then? We need to recount some of them to shed light on the US military’s true nature but will return to this aspect a little later.
As news of the killings in Panjwey emerged, Obama and his Defense Secretary Leon Panetta promised that there will be a “thorough investigation,” like the ones carried out earlier when Americans bombed wedding parties, killed civilians gathered for prayers or boys gathering wood in the mountains. The same mantra has been repeated after each night raid into people’s homes where women are humiliated — only intensifying the Afghans’ hatred of the Americans. Even ten years after the occupation of Afghanistan, if the Americans have still not developed sensitivity to Afghan cultural norms, then there is something seriously amiss. The fact is the Americans do not care; Afghan lives and honour do not matter.
The latest killings in Panjwey have added to the outrage caused by the burning of copies of the Qur’an. Not only were innocent people, the majority of them children (the youngest a two-year-old girl), killed but 11 of the bodies, among them four girls, were gathered and set on fire. Even Afghan President Hamid Karzai was forced to condemn the attacks, calling them “inhuman and intentional act” of murder and demanded justice.
Stryker Brigade is notorious for having created “kill teams” and collecting body parts of their victims as trophies.
For nearly a week, the Americans refused to divulge the name of the soldier they claimed was the “sole” perpetrator of the crime. On March 17, his name finally came to light: Staff Sergeant Robert Bales of Stryker Brigade, the military unit tasked with “winning hearts and minds” in Afghanistan. Revelation of Bales’ name was accompanied by the usual sob stories about his troubled life, financial difficulties and how he had “snapped” after his fourth tour of combat duty as if these absolve his crime. Karzai and Afghan lawmakers meanwhile insisted there were many soldiers involved in the two-hour rampage. Hamidzai Lali, an Afghan probe delegation lawmaker, told Pajhwok Afghan News that their investigation showed there were 15 to 20 American soldiers who executed the brutal killings. Stryker Brigade is notorious for having created “kill teams” and collecting body parts of their victims as trophies.
In a meeting on March 15 with families of the victims and village elders that were invited to the presidential palace in Kabul, Karzai denounced the “two devils” (referring to the Americans and the Taliban) afflicting Afghanistan. He also demanded that Americans hand over rural patrolling duties to Afghan security personnel and bring forward their withdrawal date by one year, completing it by 2013. The Americans dismissed Karzai’s request, as they had the earlier Afghan lawmakers’ demand that the perpetrator(s) be tried according to Afghan law. Bales was flown out to Kuwait within a day and then to the US. Americans are clearly above the law.
Instead of respecting the Afghans’ wishes, the Americans accused Karzai of playing to the public gallery and being “unstable.” When he complies with their demands, the Americans project him as a “responsible” leader; when he says something contrary to their wishes, he becomes “unstable,” “emotional” and “unpredictable.” Following his two-day visit to Afghanistan (March 14–15), narrowly escaping attack by an irate Afghan at the airport, US Defense Secretary Panetta again said he was hopeful US troops would stay in Afghanistan beyond the 2014 deadline. This flies in the face of Karzai’s public demand.
The litany of US crimes in Afghanistan is immeasurable. For instance, it was reported that 2,412 Afghan civilians were killed in 2009. The actual figure is much higher but even this was a 14% increase over 2008. On becoming president in 2009, Obama adopted the Afghan war as his own instead of ending it. He compounded his problem in a speech to cadets at the US Military Academy at West Point in New York on 12-1-2009 when he outlined his plan for Afghanistan. This emerged after extensive review of the Afghan situation. Obama laid down three policy proposals: a troop surge of 30,000 to stabilize the situation in Afghanistan (as demanded by US commanders but falling short of their numbers); increase the governing capacity of the Afghan government, and strengthen relations with Pakistan. The troop surge was to last until July 2011 when their drawdown would begin.
While the drawdown has started, the military is dragging its feet about speeding it up. The two other policy proposals lie in shambles. America’s relations with Afghanistan have nose-dived. Obama abandoned the regular video conferencing with Karzai that was routine during the Bush presidency, delegating this responsibility to lower level officials. Additionally, while accusing Karzai of failing to prevent corruption, the Americans continue to finance the same corrupt warlords. Further, the bloody-minded attitude of American troops and their utter disregard for Afghan lives have brought US-Afghan relations to a crisis point.
As far as US relations with Pakistan are concerned, they have also reached a low point. The downward slide did not begin with the 5-2-2011 killing of Osama bin Laden in Abbotabad. This had started much earlier. The Raymond Davis affair can be considered the real break between Pakistan and the US. Davis was a CIA operative who shot and killed two Pakistanis on a busy Lahore street on 1-27-2011. When arrested, a treasure trove of information was retrieved from his cell (mobile) phone as well as a huge amount of other paraphernalia from his vehicle. He had been in regular contact with people that were on the US “list of terrorists.” It emerged that these terrorists were on the US payroll and responsible for most of the car bombings and other terrorist acts in Pakistan.
But we need to return to US crimes in Afghanistan. In attempting to downplay the March 11 killings of civilians, the Americans have tried to portray them as not so significant since the Afghan reaction has not been as severe as the one that followed the Qur’an burning episode. True, Muslims are far more sensitive about desecration of the Qur’an but it would be wrong to assume that they do not care for human life, especially when these involve women and children brutally murdered in their homes and their bodies set on fire. Each crime simply reinforces the Afghans’ hatred of the Americans and their determination to expel them permanently. Not surprisingly, the Taliban announced on March 15 they were suspending talks with the Americans about the return of prisoners from Guantanamo Bay.
Let us list some of the major crimes perpetrated by the Americans since launching the war on Afghanistan in October 2001. Professor Michael Haas, a distinguished authority on international law and human rights, and author or editor of 33 books on government and world politics who has taught political science at Northwestern, Purdue, and the University of London, has catalogued America’s crimes. These include but are not limited to:
These crimes perpetrated when George Bush was president have continued under Obama.
On May 3, 2009, in Granai village of Farah province, US missile strikes slaughtered 130 civilians, most of them women and children. Initially, US officials claimed they had killed armed militants. When a local doctor released pictures taken on his cell phone of charred bodies of children and women, only then did the Americans admit that “some civilians” may have been killed.
Jessica Barry, a spokeswoman for the Geneva-based International Committee of the Red Cross, said the organization’s team members sent to the scene saw houses destroyed and dozens of dead bodies. The dead included women and children. “It’s not the first time,” Ms. Barry said, but “really this is one of the very serious and biggest incidents for a very long time.” In a statement on its website, the International Committee blamed the deaths squarely on US airstrikes. The Americans said they would “investigate.”
While nothing came of that investigation, in September 2009, a US F-15 jet bombed a crowd that was taking fuel from tankers in Kunduz. At least 70 civilians were killed. On February 16, 2010, a US missile strike on a house in Marjah killed 12 civilians, five of them children. A few weeks later (April 2010), a US Special Forces helicopter killed more than 20 civilians and injured scores of others. Among the injured was a four-year-old boy who lost both his legs. The same month, American soldiers strafed a passenger bus that approached their convoy outside Kandahar City, killing at least four Afghans, including a woman, and wounding 18 others. Similar attacks continued in 2011 with one particularly gruesome episode on March 1 in Kunar province where a missile strike killed nine boys aged 9 to 15. The American response was that this was a case of mistaken identity but that they will investigate!
This year has been no less deadly. On February 8 a missile strike in Kapisa province killed several Afghan boys. Within days came the Qur’an burning episode (February 20) followed by more killings of Afghans (30 at least) protesting these sacrilegious acts. Protests over the Qur’an burning had barely subsided when the March 11 slaughter occurred.
Together with burning copies of the Qur’an and the far too frequent attacks on civilians in their homes or in the mountains resulting in mass killings, an explosive situation has been created. Not surprisingly, Afghan soldiers and policemen are turning their guns on American trainers ensconced in various ministries. “Death to America” chants have become common in Afghanistan. The sooner they leave the country the better for everyone — the Americans and their NATO allies, but especially the poor brutalized Afghans.