'Intelligent discontent is the mainspring of civilization.' -- Eugene V. Debs

Sunday, March 04, 2007

Free Fire Zone in Afghanistan? 

UPDATE 2: More bad news, as reported by the BBC:

Nine Afghan civilians have been killed in a bombing raid in Kapisa province, Afghan officials say.

US forces have confirmed carrying out an air strike in the area but say they have no accurate casualty information.

The news comes shortly after US forces were accused of killing 10 civilians during a shoot out on Sunday in Nangarhar province.

Apparently, the death toll from Sunday's incident has been reduced from 16 to 10, with the wounded increased from 23 to 35. The details of this subsequent air strike sound eerily like those used by the US military to describe the air war in Iraq:

News of the air strike in Kapisa came first from the province's deputy governor, Sayed Daud Hashimi.

He said the nine dead civilians included five women and three children and that the raid was carried out by Nato forces. Nato have denied any involvement.

But later a US military statement said US-led forces had "dropped two 2,000-pound (900-kilogram) bombs" during an air strike in Kapisa after a Nato base had come under attack.

A US spokesman, Lt Col David Accetta, said the Nato base had come under rocket attack and that "two men with AK-47s" were seen leaving the scene of the rocket attack and entering a compound," the Associated Press news agency reports.

"These men knowingly endangered civilians by retreating into a populated area while conducting attacks against coalition forces."

Local people say that the coalition forces then bombed a mud-brick home, killing nine members of the same extended family.

It is now becoming apparent that the purpose of these air strikes in Afghanistan is the same as they have been in Iraq, to collectively punish the civilian population for the ongoing vitality of the resistance to the occupation. As Michael Schwartz explained in relation to the Iraq air war nearby:

As one American officer explained to New York Times reporter Dexter Filkins, the willingness to sacrifice local civilians is part of a larger strategy in which U.S. military power is used to "punish not only the guerrillas, but also make clear to ordinary Iraqis the cost of not cooperating." A Marine calling-in to a radio talk show recently stated the argument more precisely: "You know why those people get killed? It's because they're letting insurgents hide in their house."

This is, by the way, the textbook definition of terrorism -- attacking a civilian population to get it to withdraw support from the enemy. What this strategic orientation, applied wherever American troops fight the Iraqi resistance, represents is an embrace of terrorism as a principle tactic for subduing Iraq's insurgency.

There are now just two options left to us. Leave, or wait for the resistance in both countries to force us to leave.

UPDATE 1: Word is spreading about the killings in the Shinwar district of Afghanistan:

Thousands of angry demonstrators took to the streets in Afghanistan yesterday after US forces were involved in a panicked shooting which left 16 civilians dead and 23 injured.

Local people as well as a number of Afghan officials accused the American marines of opening fire indiscriminately following a suicide bomb attack on their convoy in Nangarhar province.

With protests continuing to grow, and the police coming under attack from stone- throwing crowds, the US military maintained that the casualties were the victims of a "complex ambush" in which gunmen had carried out a synchronised attack following the blast in which a marine was injured.

But Mohammad Khan Katawazi, the district chief of Shinwar district, where the deaths took place, insisted that they "treated every car and person along the highway as a potential attacker" as they attempted to speed away from the scene of the explosion.

INITIAL POST: From today's New York Times:

American troops opened fire on a highway filled with civilian cars and bystanders today, American and Afghan officials said, in an incident that the Americans said left 16 civilians dead and 24 wounded as they fled the scene of a suicide car bombing in eastern Afghanistan. One American was also wounded.

Predictably, the US military describes the incident differently than the victims on the ground:

And there were differences in some of the accounts of the incident, with the Americans saying that the civilians were caught in crossfire between the troops and militants, and Afghan witnesses and some authorities blaming the Americans for indiscriminately shooting at civilian vehicles in anger after the explosion.

The United States military said the unit came under fire after a suicide bomber detonated his explosive-laden car near their convoy “as part of a complex ambush involving enemy small-arms fire from several directions.”

Eyewitness accounts are disturbing, as we have come to expect:

Yet some of the wounded interviewed in the hospital by news agencies said the only shooting came from the American troops. A hospital official, who asked not to be named, said all the wounded were suffering from bullet wounds and not shrapnel from the bomb explosion. . . . Among the dead this morning were a woman and two children in their early teens, said Dr. Ajmal Pardez, the provincial director of health, speaking by telephone from the Jalalabad city hospital. He said the hospital received 10 dead and 25 wounded people from the incident, with four people in critical condition, he said.

After the suicide attack, the American soldiers treated every car and person along the highway as a potential attacker, though none of the people showed hostile intent, Muhammad Khan Katawazi, the district chief of Shinwar, told The Associated Press.

They were firing everywhere, and they even opened fire on 14 to 15 vehicles passing on the highway,” said Tur Gul, 38, who was standing on the roadside by a gas station and was shot twice in his right hand. “They opened fire on everybody, the ones inside the vehicles and the ones on foot.”

Some of the wounded interviewed by The Associated Press said the soldiers opened fire indiscriminately on passing cars and pedestrians on the busy main road.

When we parked our vehicle, when they passed us, they opened fire on our vehicle,” said 15-year-old Mohammad Ishaq, who was hit by two bullets, in his left arm and his right ear. “It was a convoy of three American Humvees. All three Humvees were firing around.”

And, more, from the Associated Press, the news service that broke the story:

Mohammad Karim, an 18-year-old employee at a hotel near the blast site, said he ran outside after the explosion and saw American forces fire a stream of bullets at a four-wheel drive vehicle.

"I ran to the vehicle to see how many people were inside. We found three dead bodies, and one wounded, but he was also in a very critical condition," he said. "All four people were from one family. The one who was wounded was about 20 years old."

An AP reporter at the scene said the vehicle was riddled by dozens of bullets.

U.S. forces later deleted photos of the vehicle taken by a freelance photographer working for The Associated Press and video taken by a freelancer working for AP Television News. Neither the photographer nor the cameraman witnessed the suicide attack or the subsequent gunfire.

The freelance photographer, Rahmat Gul, said an American soldier took his camera and deleted the photos, saying he didn't have permission to take them. Gul said a soldier later said it was OK to take photos, but that the first soldier came back and angrily told him to delete the photos again. Gul said the soldier then raised his fist as if he was going to strike Gul.

No pictures, indeed. Visual evidence that there is no humanitarian purpose to the US presence in Afghanistan must be suppressed.

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