Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Rising civilian death toll in Afghanistan

Another grim week for children and civilians in Afghanistan. Another botched US air strike in southern Afghanistan has killed 27 civilians, including children. General McChrystal says he is sorry, that it was a a terrible mistake and it will be investigated fully to ensure it never happens again.

Twenty seven civilians died when helicopter-borne US Special forces attacked a convoy of Afghani vehicles carrying civilians (US forces thought they were Taliban insurgents). The massacre of 27 civilians comes on top of similar incidents over the last week, all as a consequence of Obama's surge and NATO's Operation Mushtarak in the Marjah district of Helmand Province.

Last week airstrikes killed 5 civilians and a number of Afghan policeman. A rocket strike in Helmand Province killed 12 bystanders, including more children. In other incidents US troops have shot civilians they thought were suicide bombers. The killing of 27 civilians is the most lethal incident since late 2009 when air strikes killed 140 civilians. 2009 was the deadliest year for civilians since the invasion of Afghanistan. 2010 is looking like it might be even worse. (For detailed analysis of the situation in Afghanistan read Paul Rogers, Professor in Peace Studies who writes a weekly column on security issues in Open Democracy.)

We now know that these children and civilians died to serve Obama's political strategy. Writing in the Washington Post Greg Jaffe and Craig Whitlock report that the offensive in Marjah was launched as a public relations and political strategy. The primary goal of the offensive, they write, is to "convince Americans that a new era has arrived in the eight-year long war…." U.S. military officials in Afghanistan "hope a large and loud victory in Marjah will convince the American public that they deserve more time to demonstrate that extra troops and new tactics can yield better results on the battlefield".

The rising civilian death toll (and that of US and NATO forces) is driving anti-war sentiment abroad, particularly in NATO countries. In the Netherlands the Dutch coalition government has collapsed over the issue. The Dutch Prime Minister announced that Dutch soldiers will be completely out of Afghanstian by the end of next year.

Medea Benjamin in Common Dreams writes that:
Public opinion against the war is forcing other governments to consider withdrawal, despite strong pressure from the Obama administration. Canada has announced it will withdraw its 2,800 troops by the end of the year. European countries are struggling to find their share of the 10,000 extra troops requested by General McChrystal to join the 30,000 extra U.S. troops. France has declined to send more forces and the German government is facing fierce opposition at home.

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