Afghanistan: a futile conflict

Wednesday, 18 April 2012 20:19
As the US soldier accused of shooting dead 16 Afghan civilians is spirited out of the country to the safety of Kuwait, new evidence has emerged that more soldiers may have been involved in what could have been a premeditated attack. Mike Phipps reports.

According to some reports, tribal leaders in the southern province of Kandahar said the killing spree had been pre-planned and was not carried out by a single “rogue” soldier. A local parliamentary investigation that spent two days interviewing survivors concluded that up to 20 US soldiers may have been involved in what was a retaliation against a deadly bomb attack on NATO troops in the area. Following the blast, the US forces summoned local Afghans and tribal leaders of the region and vowed revenge, tribal leaders claimed.

Local witnesses also claim the number of fatalities was higher than reported and US troops burned a dozen of the victims’ bodies after the slaughter. Nine of the victims were young children.

The killing of defenceless civilians in Afghanistan is not unusual. Three were killed in Kapisa Province in early March, when five residents sitting in a garden were attacked by helicopters. In the same region, two bombs were dropped on a group of boys collecting firewood in February. Eight were killed. No weapons were recovered from the scene.

Britain too has been accused of covering up its use of remote-controlled weapons, which is one of the biggest causes of civilian casualties. Nearly 150 attacks by RAF pilotless aerial vehicles against the Taliban fighters are “secret and unreported”, according to a recent press report.

Civilian fatalities are not some unfortunate excess in an otherwise noble conflict. They are intrinsic to the war itself. In a piece headlined “Massacres are the inevitable result of foreign occupation,” Seumas Milne argued in The Guardian: “Nor is such depravity just a US habit, of course. Last year a hungover British guardsman stabbed a 10-year-old boy in the kidneys for no reason. British soldiers are currently on trial for filming their abuse of Afghan children, while US WikiLeaks files record 21 separate incidents of British troops shooting dead or bombing Afghan civilians.”

He concluded; “Massacres are common in wars, but they flow from the very nature of foreign occupations. Brutalised soldiers, pumped up with racial and cultural superiority, sent on imperial missions to subdue people they don’t understand, take revenge for resistance, real or imagined, with terror and savagery.”

His assessment that the war in Afghanistan has been a failure on every front is confirmed by a damning report published in February by a senior US officer in the field. Lt. Colonel Daniel Davis’s opening sentence says: “Senior ranking US military leaders have so distorted the truth when communicating with the US Congress and

American people in regards to conditions on the ground in Afghanistan that the truth has become unrecognizable.”

Much the same could be said here. We’ve come a long way since Labour Defence Secretary John Reid told the House of Commons that the extra troops he was sending to Helmand would be back by Christmas without “firing a single shot in anger”. While the Coalition may be content to send British soldiers to fight and die in a futile conflict, isn’t it about time the Labour leadership broke the chummy bipartisan consensus and started speaking up for the 55% of British people who want troops out immediately?

Meanwhile, life just grows worse for Afghans. A new report by Amnesty International, Fleeing war, finding misery: The plight of the internally displaced in Afghanistan, says half a million displaced Afghans are struggling to survive in makeshift shelters in one of the harshest winters in living memory. Around 400 more join their ranks every day, forced from their homes and land by the war. Like Iraq before it, this mission is a catastrophe – primarily for the very people it was pretending to help.

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