Afghanistan: What has the occupation brought but death?
7 September 2009. A World to Win News Service. The German commanders located on a base in the northern Afghanistan province of Kunduz were watching live images taken from a U.S. aircraft. Projected on the wall, the pictures showed two hijacked petrol tankers stuck in the sand of a shallow river. Milling around the lorries, they could see about 120 dots, each indicating a person detected in the darkness by heat-sensing equipment. Earlier they had watched similar footage taken by an overflight of a U.S. B-1B bomber that had happened to be nearby and was sent to film the site. This time, they were seeing a live feed from an American fighter they had called in. The German commanders asked that the trucks be bombed. Two minutes later, each truck was hit by a 500-pound bomb and twin fireballs lit up the night. The black dotes vanished as the people died. Only a few dots indicating survivors were left to move away.
The German colonel in charge complained that the images were too grainy to see if the victims were carrying weapons or not, but that a telephone informant had assured them that everyone on the scene was a Taliban fighter. The Afghan Rights Monitor organisation, which interviewed 15 villagers, said that 60-70 of those killed were children and other civilians who had come to fill jerrycans with fuel from the stuck tankers. A Pajhwok Afghan News service reporter who interviewed survivors on 5 September wrote that all of the fighters had left the scene before the raid. But the media debate about the percentages of fighters versus civilians among the dead is irrelevant and immoral. The occupiers deliberately set out to commit a massacre. This wasn't even a combat situation.
This incident has made the occupiers look very, very bad, not only in Afghanistan but among the Western public which is being asked to accept a further surge in the number of occupation troops even as support for the war in the West begins to evaporate. But the controversy itself is criminal and also shows just how criminal this war is.
The U.S. commander of the more than 100,000 American and European occupation troops has studied the lessons of other occupations and reactionary wars. General Stanley McChrystal recently announced new rules of engagement that he said would reduce the number of civilian deaths. But even if he would like to win Afghan "hearts and minds" to isolate the Taliban, this is impeded by two factors.
One is the reactionary goal of the war: to reassert U.S. supremacy in the region and beat back anti-U.S. Islamic fundamentalism, not to free the people but to enslave them to Western imperialist capital. To that end, the occupation preserves major features of the country's oppressive economic and social system and subjugation, and ideological backwardness. The other factor is the way the imperialist armies fight and indeed must fight.
U.S. authorities blamed their allies, as though the Germans had dropped the bombs, as though the U.S. hadn't already bombed countless villages and wedding parties in Afghanistan, and as though the U.S. had not insisted on the presence of German troops in the first place. But the sharpest criticism aimed at the German commanders was their failure to send troops to the scene to "prevent the Taliban from coming out with their own version of events" (BBC, 7 September). In other words, they should have done more to cover up the civilian deaths.
German military authorities rebutted that the attack was necessary because the hijacked tankers could have been used for an attack on a nearby German base. As for their lack of timely action afterward, even General McChrystal, with all his supporting firepower, didn't dare go to the site itself. But there was a major political factor in why the German military was so worried about protecting its soldiers. Several commentators have pointed out that any further German casualties might endanger the government of Chancellor Angela Merkel, facing elections in late September. Although Germany's major parties support the war, including the supposedly anti-war Greens, most Germans do not. When soldiers are killed, this raises a question about what they are doing there.
The government has repeatedly declared that this isn’t a war at all but a "stabilization effort". The Bundeswehr is portrayed as if it were an NGO carrying out humanitarian missions, not an army. "In Afghanistan, it is like a war, but for us it is not a war," explained a German Social Democratic parliamentarian. "It is an important distinction." Following this incident, other members of Parliament reacted angrily as if the Defence Minister had been concealing the fact that this is a war from them. (Washington Post, 8 September)
In response to the American criticism, German military authorities claimed that the U.S. was endangering German lives by publicly admitting that civilians might have been killed, which the German authorities denied as long as they could. Again, there was a subtext – that if the U.S. wants Germany to wage a war in Afghanistan, it has to help the German authorities hide what is going on from the German people. And there is probably genuine resentment among German ruling circles. They had sent troops to Kunduz on the understanding that it was not a combat zone, specifically because they were afraid of public opinion. Now the north has become hotly contested. By extending the war to Pakistan, the U.S. has found its supply routes in the south under pressure, and is now resorting to bringing in the huge amount of supplies on which its war depends through Central Asia. That’s why the fuel tankers were on the Kanduz-Tajikistan road in the first place.
The fact is that "death from above" is the preferred warfighting method of all the occupiers because it allows them to bring to bear their greatest strengths – the airpower and other technology they have produced thanks to riches amassed through the exploitation of people all over the world. They also prefer it because they do want to limit the number of casualties on their side, not because they value any human life but of how they are able to get the people at home to go along. In the case of Germany, it is to pretend that this isn’t really a war at all. In the case of the U.S. and the UK, the first and second biggest suppliers of cannon fodder, it is by arguing that this is a war to save American and British lives ("the war on terror") and that Western lives are worth everything and those of oppressed peoples nothing.
As if anything more were needed to expose the nature of this war, three days after the bombing U.S. soldiers provided another example of why occupiers have trouble winning the hearts and minds of their victims. Soldiers from the U.S. 10th Mountain Division in Wardak province southwest of Kabul stormed into a Swiss charity-run hospital late at night. They kicked in doors, tied up four hospital employees and two family members of patients, and forced people out of their beds as they ransacked the facility for two hours, allegedly looking for "insurgents". (How were they going to identify them? Were they just planning to grab and torture everyone with an apparent bullet wound or any young men they could find?)
The troops warned the medical staff not to treat "insurgents" and to ask the permission of American officers before admitting patients. The hospital staff said they would refuse to comply, because this would violate their ethics, the rules of war and the agreements with the U.S.-led occupation forces under which they were operating – and turn the hospital and its staff into a target for the Taleban as well.
This follows an August attack on a hospital in the eastern province of Paktika by U.S. helicopter gunships.
A UN report issued in July said that civilian deaths had jumped by 24 percent this year, to 1,013 dead in the first half of 2009. Even if many of these deaths are the result of indiscriminate Taleban bombings, how does this justify the fact that the U.S., Germany and other countries are committing much larger scale atrocities – or that they are killing anyone in Afghanistan at all?
The background to this massacre is the widely ridiculed presidential election and the U.S.'s dishonest attempts to distance themselves from it. If the U.S. has suddenly discovered that the government of Hamid Karzai, whom they installed, is allied with the same warlords and drug traffickers the U.S. itself embraced to invade Afghanistan, and that elections held under occupation can't be very convincing – isn't this because their whole reactionary arrangement just isn’t working out like it was supposed to?
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