Afghan Vignette 3: Protecting Civilians, Winning Hearts and Minds

Speaking of cowards and animals, not to mention “terrorists,” NATO has just delivered a mighty blow to its much vaunted claims to be “protecting civilians” and winning “hearts and minds,” by burning alive as many as 90 of these hearts and minds in an air strike that took place within the past 12 hours. Faced with the immediate, glaring failures of its offensive against the Taliban, which has seen a record death rate for U.S. and NATO troops over the past two months, and the Taliban’s widening control across the south, north, and its apparent ease in mounting significant attacks in the capital, NATO’s “International Security Assistance Force” is reverting to more familiar tactics.

KUNDUZ, Afghanistan (Reuters) – Scores of people were feared killed on Friday in a big fuel-tanker blast in northern Afghanistan that followed a NATO air strike in the area, Afghan officials said.

NATO forces confirmed that they had carried out an air strike, and said their target was insurgents. They had no immediate information about the report of the explosion and casualties.

Kunduz province Governor Mohammad Omar said as many as 90 people were feared killed, burned alive in the giant blast, which took place as villagers gathered to collect fuel from tanker trucks captured by Taliban militants….

Asked about reports the blast may have been caused by NATO forces firing on fuel tankers, Captain Jon Stock, press officer for NATO’s International Security Assistance Force (ISAF), said: “I can confirm that there was an air strike last night or early this morning.” (link)

Now, in the coming hours and days, we will see NATO and its allied media undertake the other major war effort that should be familiar to all by now: spin. The death count will be lowered, or the number of claimed Taliban killed will be increased; “mistakes” in targeting will be cited, pilot error, faulty information from the ground, or some claim of responding to ground fire. The virtual troops, the milbloggers, will of course either justify this or go silent, because burning actual civilians alive should not merit as much gushing sentiment as when it happens to one single American occupier. If this is the “service” performed by “our heroes,” it begs the question of just how cruel and sadistic we have really become (a question answered by Henry Giroux here).

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20 thoughts on “Afghan Vignette 3: Protecting Civilians, Winning Hearts and Minds

  1. Something tells me that there will be no “good american” willing to justify the murder of the pilot or the officer who commanded the air-strike.
    Strangely, despite the fact that women certainly died in the attack, I feel there will be no one willing to say “light a woman on fire, you get shot in the head, it is justified”.

    But then, some assholes will say : you can’t compare the two cases, because what happened yesterday was an “accident”. Those guys only accidentally burned to death near a hundred people. Yeah, some officer just accidentally commanded an airstrike, and the bomb was only accidentally dropped from the plane. Sure.

    Or maybe the whole US/NATO military is a gigantic and bloody accident.

  2. There is no accident, they knowingly sacrificed civilians in the hope of striking a Taliban target.

    In debates as we saw here, the military will claim “we are just an instrument, we don’t set policy”…but it was no politician who called in the air strike, and I am certain they did not call any NATO head of government to give the order. This is not to relieve the politicians of their ultimate responsibility, it’s just not to forget the day-to-day responsibility of military officers.

    As for the hypocrisy you note, it is almost screaming. For many more months I will continue to get hate mail for that one Paula Loyd, as if none of these women who were burned alive count. “It’s all about the little girls and their smiles.”

  3. These bloody flash points in the physical and cultural cleansing project of the United States and its criminal partners in Afghanistan become permanent open wounds in the memory fields of the people of Afghanistan. Every instance of a massacre opens up a fresh bottomless well of hatred, contempt, and disrespect for everything that is Western, especially American. Anyone familiar with the cultural make-up of Muslim Afghanistan will know that the Afghans will offer badal (revenge) at the first available opportunity.

    The minute the Afghan army and national police are given grenades, they will toss them at Americans—soldiers and civilians. A fully equipped Afghan army will first unload on American targets. That is why the Afghan police and army, now being “trained” by NATO, will be never trusted with anything more than a Kalashnikov. The imperial, dark-minded American killing machine is doomed to always watch its back in Afghanistan. Always! Americans will never trust Afghans. Afghans will never trust Americans. For the sake of helpless, defenseless, and poor sub-industrial Afghanistan, we hope the imperial beast is able to process this stark prospect which is the direct political and cultural outcome of its reckless interference in the affairs of South Asia and the Middle East over the past sixty years.

  4. Thanks for posting this. Was getting increasingly aggravated by your diversion into dealing with the dolts who stole the name of your project. 90 dead villagers! I told a liberal Obama supporter last fall, before the prez. was selected, that under a reasonable reading of the Nuremberg codes Obama even as a senator was culpable for war crimes. Wonder how they’ll spin this one at the 2045 Washington War Crimes Tribunals: “Sometimes, Asians have been known to self-immolate, and anyway remember how dashing Obama was?”

  5. So I just checked out Fox News (everyone’s favorite channel) to see what’s up.

    One newscaster just said, “So it’s Friday night, not a lot of news. New anchors have to stretch…” Then they had a clip about outdoor grilling. Apparently they’ve concluded not much is going on in the world today. Then they talked about a football coach pushing a player so hard it killed him.

    Now they’re talking about nuclear weapons. They had a segment on nuclear weapons in North Korea, to drum up fear that North Korea is making more nuclear weapons. Then they went to Iran, and began talking about fears of a nuclear showdown. You can see where this is going. More news about some murderer…..

    Oh! Finally: “Tanker explosion… killing dozens, including insurgents…. may cause retaliation from the Taliban… 70+ killed, some insurgents, but also some civilians, reportedly siphoning fuel.” The newscaster mentions here that they have tried to minimize civilian deaths….”the tanker was going to be used as a weapon in an attack on a nearby military base.”

    They justify the quick decision with the threat of a nearby attack on a base. I’m not sure how they’d be certain of that, but that’s the claim.

  6. BUTCHERS

    If you scan the extracts and news headlines on this page,

    http://www.diigo.com/user/openanthropology/airstrike?tab=250

    you will see how the story has been “evolving,” the high numbers, the low numbers, etc.

    What I noted was that the reason for the differences in numbers has to do, at least in part, with the source. The local governor, the local police chief, a German officer, a NATO spokeswoman, a NATO spokesman…all have varying statements. The only thing they have in common is that none of them were at the scene.

    Only one actual villager is quoted, by the Associated Press. He said that 500 people had gathered around the fuel trucks. That suggests the possibility that the number of dead could be much higher.

    Also, villagers immediately dug a mass grave. The few who went to hospital, were the survivors (if one can call them that).

    AP tried to get to the village, and was blocked by German forces who claimed it was too dangerous. Nonetheless, as you will see, there are news photos from Reuters that I captured.

    THE AMERICAN ADVENTURE IN AFGHANISTAN: WARLORDS, WHORE LORDS, AND GAY LORDS

    This happens at the same time as the revelations of the drunken, carnal, homoerotic festivals of the U.S. mercenaries at the Embassy in Kabul, mixed in with intimidation and threats against non-participants, forcing alcohol on Afghan employees, and bringing in prostitutes.

    Added to that, more stories I found today concerning American private contractors, their multi-million dollar scams, even unknowingly hiring Taliban as security in some cases, living in marble palaces and with truckloads of cash passing in and out.

    For more, see all the available photos of the drunken cretins here, as they drink vodka from each other’s ass cracks, fondle each other, and urinate on themselves:

    https://www.box.net/shared/072hpn5emk
    and
    http://www.motherjones.com/mojo/2009/09/animal-house-afghanistan
    and
    http://www.motherjones.com/mojo/2009/09/embassy-guards-gone-wild-pictures-nsfw

    Also on contractor “aid” and “reconstruction” scams, see:

    http://www.motherjones.com/politics/2009/07/afghanistan-oversight-awol

    http://www.motherjones.com/print/25645

    This so-called “war of necessity” (and the scholar Obama quoted on that contradicted him publicly, calling it a war of choice, Obama’s choice), is a grotesque monstrosity that appears to sustain itself as a form of organized looting and debauchery, at the expense of Afghan lives and dignity, and at the expense of the reputation and finances of the American taxpayer. Ditto for us Canadians, and ditto for all Europeans who live in NATO states.

  7. I agree with what has been said so far but just wanted to pose a couple questions. Given that the idea that “Americans will never trust Afghans” and “Afghans will never trust Americans,” that many Americans, in this culture of cruelty Giroux speaks of, would probably like to throw grenades at Afghans just as much as the opposite (although this doesn’t speak for all, on either side), what are the viable alternatives? Leave each other alone? And if so, how can we do that in the immediate future if we can’t even get out of this democrat/republican two-party dominance? (not to mention all the other factors Giroux lays out). Should there be economic relations at all? Political relations? And how does one keep idiots out of embassies? I once considered applying to work for the state department but didn’t like the idea that people are always being moved around to different countries. It didn’t seem, to an anthropologist, like a good way to develop solid relations of mutual understanding and respect.

  8. I would think that the viable alternatives are many between these two extremes of total, mutual isolation and military occupation. If the U.S. were to leave Afghanistan (and other places where it is too heavily involved) completely alone, it would be a major improvement, not to mention an advance for human rights and the survival of many more people.

  9. I can’t resist Max. Given your statement: “Now, in the coming hours and days, we will see NATO and its allied media undertake the other major war effort that should be familiar to all by now: spin. The death count will be lowered, or the number of claimed Taliban killed will be increased; “mistakes” in targeting will be cited, pilot error, faulty information from the ground, or some claim of responding to ground fire. The virtual troops, the milbloggers, will of course either justify this or go silent” – how do you feel now that none of your prophecy has actually come to pass? Instead we have McChrystal going to the site, admitting there was a grievous error in judgment (not in targeting), and attempting to work with the Afghans for some kind of recompense. The milbloggers are not justifying anything, in fact most of them are lambasting the German commanders who authorized the strike, just like you. No allegations of ground fire, no attempt to cover up the events.

  10. Really Angstboy, do some of the background work like I have; I even provided a link to the news summaries:

    http://www.diigo.com/user/openanthropology/airstrike?tab=250

    So let’s start with how wrong I was:

    (1) Gov. Mohammad Omar of Kunduz province said at least 45 were killed
    (2) The police chief said the airstrike killed 40 people
    (3) Germany said about 50 fighters were killed and no civilians were believed in the area at the time
    (4) The rest were probably fighters or their relatives
    (5) NATO chief Anders Fogh Rasmussen, however, acknowledged some civilians may have died, and the U.S.-led coalition and the Afghan government announced a joint investigation
    (6) Local government spokesman Mohammad Yawar said police found pieces of dozens of weapons scattered around the site. He estimated that more than 70 people were killed, at least 45 of them militants
    (7) NATO had no casualty figures but said the strike was carried out after “it was determined that there were only insurgents in the area,” said Christine Sidenstricher of NATO’s International Security Assistance Force, or ISAF.
    (8) large number of insurgents were reported killed or injured
    (9) “From what I have seen today and going to the hospital, it’s clear to me that there were some civilians that were harmed at the site,” McChrystal told reporters — He did not say if any civilians were killed.

    The usual spin as predicted:
    1. Not that many died
    2. Plus they were all or mostly “insurgents or fighters” (whatever that distinction is supposed to mean)
    3. We acknowledge some civilians “wounded”
    4. Mistakes made, our precision technology is not so good, we were blind.

    What was that, about NONE of what I predicted coming to pass?

    So what if McChrystal went to the site, did you read what he said when he was there?

    As for the error in judgment, versus an error in targeting, the two are clearly one and the same. I can’t see how you separate those issues.

    You say the milbloggers are attacking the Germans. Good. Except the plane was American, as was the pilot. So they are deflecting and placing blame elsewhere. It was not a unilateral and solitary German act.

    The only thing that has not been said are allegations of ground fire — that’s for bombing wedding parties. No, instead the grand claim here is that the Taliban, driving away from the area of the German base, were going to use the tankers to attack the base.

    As I said, do some of the background research before you come in here snickering without basis.

  11. I don’t think we will see the conclusions of this self-investigation by NATO for some time. In any event, I am not that interested in investigations conducted by the guilty party, one that has proclaimed itself intent on winning hearts and minds, controlling the direction of propaganda, and boasting that it protects civilians.

    A few days later, in violation of the Geneva conventions, U.S. troops stormed a hospital. Another “accident”?

  12. So, nations who signed on to the Geneva conventions should hold them responsible. And they don’t because… ?

  13. Exactly Jen, it’s because we only apply sanctions and embargoes on the weak, and in the end that is how the U.N. is run: an elite group of 5 can impose binding resolutions via the Security Council, while the vast majority of members (you know, all those “brown” and “black” people) can only pass non-binding resolutions in the General Assembly. If someone can look at that, and sit back without their jaw dropping open at the obvious colonial divide in international relations, then they have gotten too accustomed to the BS that “informs” the dominant thinking.

  14. Germany admits to “errors” now — mostly “procedural” — but says the air strike was “militarily appropriate”. Also, for the first time, they acknowledge civilian deaths, and that this is a war.

    This is from the country where holocaust denial is a crime…but hypocrisy is apparently legal and encouraged at the highest levels.

    http://www.nytimes.com/reuters/2009/11/06/world/international-uk-germany-afghanistan.html

    (So much for my inaccurate predictions about this case.)

  15. Just like those of France, those officials are really a bunch of hypocritical jackasses. They admit ” procedural errors”, though the strike is deemed “militarily approriate”.

    Translation in a clearer language :

    “Our error was not to drop that bomb, and burn to death dozens of civilians. No, this was… appropriate.
    Our errors were rather about how the decision to drop that bomb was taken. We should have decided according to other procedures. You know, maybe we should have done a 51% majority vote, or something. But anyway, we did quite well in the end.”

    This is not only absolutely shameful, but also nonsensical.

    They “admit” errors. So, let me “admit” that it was a very dark crime.

    They are quite lucky anti-war activists don’t share their frivolous views about what is appropriate, what is a procedural error, and what is a crime.

  16. […] Too many restrictions on the soldiers, they need more support and understanding. What restrictions? Here The New York Times‘ C. J. Chivers is quick to help, with yesterday’s article, “General Faces Unease Among His Own Troops, Too.” Apparently, McChrystal is blamed by the troops–that is, the regular ones used in his daytime war, the ones with whom media are embedded–that he has “made it much more difficult for troops to use airstrikes and artillery in the fight against the Taliban.” The troops complain, as summarized by Chivers: “Firefights often drag on, sometimes lasting hours, and costing lives. The United States’ material advantages are not robustly applied; troops are engaged in rifle-on-rifle fights on their enemy’s turf.” It’s really bad: “One Marine infantry lieutenant, during fighting in Marja this year, said he had all but stopped seeking air support while engaged in firefights.” More: “Young officers and enlisted soldiers and Marines, typically speaking on the condition of anonymity to protect their jobs, speak of ‘being handcuffed,’ of not being trusted by their bosses and of being asked to battle a canny and vicious insurgency ‘in a fair fight‘.” A fair fight–not being able to totally blow shit up–rifle versus rifle, when we were told the Taliban are “cowards” and rely exclusively on IEDs, here is a different admission. Check what I wrote here: “Those Cowardly Taliban” and “Protecting Civilians, Winning Hearts and Minds.” […]

  17. […] Too many restrictions on the soldiers, they need more support and understanding. What restrictions? Here The New York Times‘ C. J. Chivers is quick to help, with yesterday’s article, “General Faces Unease Among His Own Troops, Too.” Apparently, McChrystal is blamed by the troops–that is, the regular ones used in his daytime war, the ones with whom media are embedded–that he has “made it much more difficult for troops to use airstrikes and artillery in the fight against the Taliban.” The troops complain, as summarized by Chivers: “Firefights often drag on, sometimes lasting hours, and costing lives. The United States’ material advantages are not robustly applied; troops are engaged in rifle-on-rifle fights on their enemy’s turf.” It’s really bad: “One Marine infantry lieutenant, during fighting in Marja this year, said he had all but stopped seeking air support while engaged in firefights.” More: “Young officers and enlisted soldiers and Marines, typically speaking on the condition of anonymity to protect their jobs, speak of ‘being handcuffed,’ of not being trusted by their bosses and of being asked to battle a canny and vicious insurgency ‘in a fair fight‘.” A fair fight–not being able to totally blow shit up–rifle versus rifle, when we were told the Taliban are “cowards” and rely exclusively on IEDs, here is a different admission. Check what I wrote here: “Those Cowardly Taliban” and “Protecting Civilians, Winning Hearts and Minds.” […]

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