Afghani People in the Crosshairs

Under the U.S. Air War

Revolutionary Worker #1141, January March 3, 2002, posted at

Fardin was six years old. One bright Sunday morning last October, a U.S. F-18 circled over his north Kabul neighborhood. At quarter to eight, the bombs started dropping, and one came through the roof of his house.

The little girl next door lost both her eyes. Sardar Muhammad, 22, leapt out of bed and ran outside, where a piece of shrapnel killed him instantly. A neighbor, Muhammad Sarwar, 50, lost his wife Aziza and seven other family members. "Maybe he wasn't a very good pilot," Muhammed muttered.

Some walls were still standing of this house where three families once lived -- but inside there is nothing but rubble surrounding a crater.

Fardin was not physically hurt that day--but lost in shock, he has not spoken or walked since.

That same day, the British Guardian reported, nine children died far to the south, as the truck they were driving in was bombed in Uruzgan province. And to the west, a half-ton cluster bomb split into 200 deadly bomblets, scattering across a mosque and hospital complex, killing dozens.
The U.S. government has worked hard to cover up the suffering their bombs have caused. Their war is portrayed as precisely executed and bloodless. But in reality, on the ground, it's not like that.

In rare moments, when civilian deaths get mentioned in press conferences, Pentagon spokesmen grow tight-lipped. They deny, they justify, and they never apologize. They claim that reliable intelligence guides their attacks. In the same breath, they swear they don't have reliable intelligence to know how many they've killed.

Now, despite all that machinery of cover-up and denial, the real history of this war is tumbling into view--often one, small, painful fragment at a time.

There are mind-numbing numbers: 18,000 bombs, missiles and other ordnance have pounded into these mountains and valleys since October 7.

There are careful estimates made by relief workers, researchers and a few courageous journalists documenting that thousands have died on the hard ground.

And there are, above all, the stories of the people--herders, traders, refugees, dirt farmers, medical workers, and truckers who have stepped forward to share their anger and grief.

Double-Speak vs. Evidence

"The people there are dead because we wanted them dead."

Pentagon spokesman discussing 93 dead villagers in Chowkar-Karez, October 2001

"There is no question but from time to time, innocent people, noncombatants, undoubtedly are killed and that is always unfortunate."

Donald Rumsfeld U.S. Secretary of Defense

"Despite scores of credible reports about possibly misdirected airstrikes and sizable civilian losses--accounts from the United Nations, aid agencies and journalists--the military has made detailed inquiries into but a few cases, like the bombing of Red Cross warehouses in Kabul twice within 10 days in October."

New York Times, Feb. 10

The Pentagon claims its "special assessment team" in Riyadh has only found a handful of bomb malfunctions that led to "unintended casualties."

The top commander of the Afghan war, General Tommy Franks, repeatedly says: "I can't imagine there's been a conflict in history where there has been less collateral damage, less unintended consequences." His mantra is a way to avoid discussing the killing of Aghani people. Even on its own terms it is simply not true.

William Arkin, an adjunct professor at the U.S. Air Force's School of Advanced Airpower Studies, estimates that at least 100 incidents in this war may involve significant civilian casualties.

Many air raids deliberately hit civilian targets including: the Kajakai dam power station which people rely on in the southern Afghan desert, the attacks on Kabul's telephone exchange and the al-Jazeera TV station office.

The U.S. has dropped anti-personnel cluster bombs throughout the country. Each sprays a huge area with more than 200 soda can-size bomblets. Some fail to detonate on contact. "The duds in effect become land mines that explode when touched,'' said Joost Hiltermann, executive director of the Human Rights Watch arms division. Some observers estimate that 36,000 unexploded canisters are strewn across Afghanistan. U.S. spokesman Admiral Quigley rejects this number as too high, but refuses to offer his own estimate.

A survey conducted by the Boston Globe, which surveyed 14 sites and "reviewed" scores of others, said that the number of civilian dead almost certainly was over 1,000. Their report said (Feb. 17), "Along with faulty intelligence and the imprecision of aerial warfare, a large number of deaths can be attributed to the selection of targets in civilian areas."

A senior worker with Doctors Without Borders in Afghanistan estimated the number of civilian dead at between 2,000 and 3,000, based on reports from hospitals and field workers around the country.

A European de-mining expert in Kabul who works closely with the Pentagon told the British Guardian that up to 8,000 civilians have been killed.

In a new study, Carl Conetta of the Commonwealth Institute estimates that at least 3,000 other Afghans are dead because the American campaign worsened the humanitarian crisis.

Marc Herold, an antiwar professor at the University of New Hampshire, has carefully tabulated reports from Afghanistan and says civilian casualties are at least 4,000. Prof. Herold's estimates do not include battlefield deaths (estimated at over 10,000, largely from U.S. carpet bombing) or the prisoners massacred in Mazar-I-Sharif and elsewhere.

In vast rural areas of Afghanistan the births and deaths of the peasants are rarely recorded. The TV cameras of the world media have rarely gone into these villages, to record the faces of people sifting through their ruined homes for the fragments of their children, their parents, cousins, neighbors and the animals that sustained their lives. It has been a fight to get these stories out.


"People here were saying that the Americans are trying to kill 4,000 to 5,000, to equal the number killed in their country.''

Abdul Hakeem, manager of a Kandahar trucking company.

Few have heard about the systematic U.S. attacks on Afghanistan's highways. Members of the Afghan truck drivers union helped UN workers gather details to expose what happened.

All through a wide arc of southern Afghanistan, U.S. bombers systematically attacked anything that moved on the roads --including the cars packed with refugees. UN officials said 160 Afghan fuel tankers and trucks were destroyed during intense November raids--along with 210 cars. The UN observers say that the vehicles were overwhelmingly civilian.

In the beginning days, these attacks were done from the air. Then U.S. helicopters started dropping off commando teams. The U.S. ground troops destroyed passing vehicles with missiles. Sometimes they had the passengers get out first, sometimes not. Those not killed in these attacks found themselves on foot without supplies in a desert war zone.

"From a human rights point of view, what happened was outrageous,'' said Leslie Oqvist, the UN coordinator in southern Afghanistan. She added that American officials in the area "have justified everything on the 3,000-plus killed in New York.''

The destruction of highway traffic quickly stopped the movement of food, water and other supplies to people in the area.

Abdul Hakeem, speaking in a room packed with truckers, described how a car carrying seven members of a family in Urozgan province was hit, killing all seven.

Adbul Salam said he was driving a small bus carrying four passengers near the village of Shahwali Kot on December 4 when a bomb landed 15 feet from his vehicle. They all jumped out of the bus-- and watched a second bomb destroy it.

Abdul Kareem, 25, a fuel tanker driver, said he was in a three-vehicle convoy headed toward Qalat on December 17, ten days after the Taliban had disappeared. The first tanker exploded when a bomb hit it. The second vehicle caught fire. Kareem crashed through the windshield, as a second bomb hit his truck. Then an AC-130 gunship strafed the area three times. Kareem said, "They saw us. They knew we had nothing to do with Al Qaeda. They even saw the people and shot at them and didn't allow them to run away. They knew we were civilians.'' Kareem was interviewed in Kandahar's Mirwais Hospital, where he is recovering from severe burns.

The first Pentagon response to these UN reports was to say they only attacked Taliban military fuel tankers. As more details emerged about the systematic bombing of civilians, a Pentagon spokesman defended the operations. "I don't think there has been anything from our standpoint to re-look at,'' Sergeant Major Richard Czizik, of the U.S. Central Command, said February 18. "Every effort is made to protect the lives of noncombatants, but in every military operation there is always the possibility of civilians getting killed.''

Scandal Leaks Out

Over the last weeks, the U.S. was accused of massacres by its own allies-- and as a result it has been harder to keep such reports out of the mass media.

On December 20, U.S. planes attacked a convoy of cars passing through Paktia province, not far from Kabul. The Pentagon announced it was a convoy of Taliban leaders that had fired first with antiaircraft missiles. These lies fell apart.

In fact, the convey was local tribal elders heading for the capital, Kabul, to participate in the inauguration of the U.S. appointed "interim prime minister" Hamid Karzai. Ten minutes after the convoy was destroyed, U.S. warplanes attacked the surrounding hillsides. In the hilltop home of the Khan family twelve people were killed--four brothers and three sisters, plus two cousins and three aunts. Then the warplanes repeatedly targeted the village of Bekhere, a half-hour drive away, killing 63 people.

A Pentagon spokesman later claimed the whole area was "an active staging and coordinating base for Al Qaeda activities and preparations for escape from Afghanistan.'' People there believe the Americans first attacked the convoy, simply because they saw its headlights, and then decided to kill everyone for miles in all directions.

Bound and Shot

Then, in a January 24 raid, U.S. commandos attacked two small compounds in Hazar Qadam--killing over twenty Afghans and capturing 27. It later turned out that these forces had ties to the new puppet government--and the captives had to be released. As a result the world got to hear about the brutality of the U.S. forces. The survivors described how they were severely beaten over two weeks by U.S. captors--with fists and riflestocks. The U.S. soldiers tied them up and then stomped on them. "I can never forgive them," said Abdul Rauf, 60, the police chief with the local pro-U.S. government, "I was down on my knees, bent over, and they kicked me in the chest. I heard my ribs crack. Then I was lying on my side and they kicked me in the back, in the kidneys, and I fainted."

Villagers in Hazar Qadam found the bodies of at least two men killed by the U.S. troops--with their hands bound using white plastic restraints marked "Made in USA." A survivor of the raid told the Los Angeles Times that he had seen his cousin lying face down in the dirt being handcuffed by American soldiers. He later found his cousin's corpse with gunshots in the neck, chest, and stomach.

The Pentagon agreed to "investigate" after Afghanistan's prime minister Hamid Karzai personally complained. Secretary Rumsfeld said that the attack on allies was "unfortunate." He added, however, that the U.S. soldiers did not do anything wrong, saying they were fired on first. This is hard to imagine since this was a surprise raid initiated by the U.S. forces. The CIA has given money to the families of those killed--about $1,000 each.

The U.S. military meanwhile denies that its troops executed its captives in cold blood. Secretary Rumsfeld claims his troops routinely handcuff wounded captives--and that the dead-men-with-handcuffs must have died of earlier wounds.

Asked if there would be disciplinary action for any U.S. troops involved in the massacre and brutality, Rumsfeld said: "Why would there be? I can't imagine why there would be any. I don't think it is an error." He added, "My impression is that they did their jobs and they used good judgment throughout the process."

Using brilliant double-think, Gen. Richard Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said, "The fact that [some of these men] were detained and not killed, I think, is an indication of just how professional and disciplined and dedicated our folks are."

The Killing of Tall Man Khan

"Why did you do this? Why did you Americans kill Daraz? We have nothing, nothing, and you have taken from us our Daraz."

16-year-old niece of Daraz Khan

On February 4, at 3 p.m., three men were standing high on a bluff above the Zhawara caves, south of Khost, in the ruins of a former military camp. Out of the blue, an unmanned U.S. Predator drone literally blew them to bits with a Hellfire anti-tank missile.

Their families and friends were furious, loudly screaming at U.S. teams who arrived to study the remains, and presenting the names and stories of these men to any reporters who would listen. The three men were Daraz Khan, Jehangir Khan and Mir Ahmed. They had walked ten miles into the snowy mountains from the village of Lalazha, to salvage missile shrapnel to feed their families. A camel-load of twisted steel brings 50 cents across the border in Pakistan.

U.S. government spokespeople have refused to admit that the CIA operatives running the Predator killed non-combatants. Victoria Clarke, spokesperson for the Pentagon, said, "We're convinced that it was an appropriate target," although "we do not know yet exactly who it was."

Rear Admiral John Stufflebeem said his follow-up teams found weapons and documents at the scene that "would seem to say that these are not peasant people up there farming." Villagers pointed out that the old weapons and papers were left over from the days before the last U.S. bombings in the fall.

The truth is that the U.S. has been conducting deliberate attempts to asassinate-by-missile--attacking wherever they suspect various Al-Qaida and Taliban fugitives may be gathering. When the U.S. drone transmitted pictures of a group of men gathered together in this area, one of them was taller than the others. Osama bin Laden is 6'4" tall--and so the U.S. decided to kill them all.

The Boston Globe wrote about these aerial death-squad methods (Feb. 17): "In at least three such targeted attempts, U.S. bombs killed scores of villagers--many children among them--who had no connection to the top terrorists or their associates."

In Lalazha, villagers said that the tallest of their three men, nicknamed "Tall Man Khan," was still only 5'11". Apparently that is now tall enough to get you killed by a U.S. Predator in Central Asia.

This article is posted in English and Spanish on Revolutionary Worker Online
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