And so it begins: the great Obama "surge" in Afghanistan. Before withdrawing a single soldier from Iraq, Barack Obama is throwing 17,500 more troops into the boiling Afghan cauldron. The deployment is the first installment of what Obama aides affirm could be a much larger escalation down the road: as soon as the vaunted "strategic review" of Afghan policy – led by hawks like Joe Biden, Richard Holbrook and General David "Pre-President" Petraeus – is completed.
Most of the new troops are apparently going to be sent on a fool's errand to eradicate the only means of support of poor Afghans: the opium crop. Previous such efforts by American forces and their allies have produced nothing but more poverty, anger, extremism and support for the insurgency. And whatever the mission, increased troop levels and military action have led invariably to steep rises in civilian casualties – which, in turn, produce more poverty, anger, extremism and support for the insurgency.
In fact, on the very day that Obama was announcing his own personal Terror War surge, the UN released a report that confirmed the already obvious fact that the American-led occupiers of Afghanistan have been lying about the number of civilians they have been killing. The UN report documents the killing of 2,118 Afghan civilians in 2008 – 828 of them killed by the American-led forces. As Jason Ditz notes at Antiwar.com:
While getting exact numbers of deaths in Afghanistan is virtually impossible given the chaotic situation on the ground, particularly in the restive south, the report once again points to the absurdity of last month’s NATO report, which claimed only 973 civilians overall killed and only 97 by international forces.
There will of course be much more of this as the troop levels rise, especially more "close air support" for the increased number of ground forces undertaking more and more attacks. Even the witless, plagarizing, credit-card bagman that Obama put one heartbeat away from the presidency, Joe Biden, admits there will be what he calls – in the hideous argot of our bipartisan Beltway bloodletters – an "uptick" in the number of deaths. Naturally, he was referring only to an increase in American casualties; the Afghans who will also die in increasing numbers in the surge don't count, and aren't counted: 97, 150, 300, 828 – who gives a damn?
But while there is an understandable focus on the deployment and operations of regular U.S. forces in Afghanistan, the activities of America's secret armies working in the killing fields there remain virtually unnoticed. One of the few recent mentions is a curious interlude in the New York Times story about the UN report. Buried in the middle of the story is a report of a shocking war crime carried out by what the Times blithely calls U.S. "military units operating outside the normal chain of command." These irregular units, which include the Special Forces, are singled out as key killers of civilians in the UN report, which notes that they "frequently could not be held accountable for their actions."
Rogue forces operating outside any established chain of command, killing civilians and bowing to no outside authority: these are what the U.S. government would ordinarily define as "terrorists." Unless of course, these rogue forces are working for the United States government, either directly or indirectly: a common practice of American foreign policy for many decades.
In Afghanistan, these "Good War" rogues of Uncle Sam are apparently murdering infants, as the NYT somewhat shyly reports. Six paragraphs into the story, with no previous mention in the lede, no buildup, we are suddenly given this harrowing tale:
One day this month, an old man who called himself Syed Mohammed sat on the floor of his mud-brick hut in the eastern Kabul neighborhood of Hotkheil and recounted how most of his son’s family was wiped out in an American-led raid last September.
Mr. Mohammed said he was awakened in the early morning to the sound of gunfire and explosions. Such sounds were not uncommon; Hotkheil is a Pashtun-dominated area, where sympathies for the Taliban run strong.
In a flash, Mr. Mohammed said, several American and Afghan soldiers kicked open the door of his home. The Americans, he said, had beards, an almost certain sign that they belonged to a unit of the Special Forces, which permits uniformed soldiers to grow facial hair.
“Who are you?” Mr. Mohammed recalled asking the intruders.
“Shut up,” came the reply from one of the Afghan soldiers. “We are the government.”
Mr. Mohammed said he was taken to a nearby base, interrogated for several hours and let go as sunrise neared.
When he returned home, Mr. Mohammed said, he went next door to his son’s house, only to find that most of his family had been killed: the son, Nurallah, and his pregnant wife and two of his sons, Abdul Basit, age 1, and Mohammed, 2. Only Mr. Mohammed’s 4-year-old grandson, Zarqawi, survived.
“The soldiers had a right to search our house,” Mr. Mohammed said. “But they didn’t have a right to do this.”
Bullet holes still pockmarked Nurallah’s home more than four months after the attack, and the infant’s cradle still hung from the ceiling.
The day after the attack, a senior Afghan official came to the door and handed Mr. Mohammed $800.
“If you spent some time here, you would see that we are not the kind of people who would get involved with the Taliban,” Mr. Mohammed said. “Anyway, what was the fault of the babies?”
The fault of the babies, Mr. Mohammed, was to be born to people who do not matter, who do not count, who are just so much roadkill beneath the wheels of the great Terror War engine, as it grinds through one country after another: mindless, heedless, omnivorous. The machine has a new driver now, but it is still headed in the same direction.
UPDATE: Jason Ditz, on the case again, brings word that 13 more Afghan civilians -- including six women and two children -- were killed in a U.S. missile strike in Herat. The American brass said they were targeting an insurgent commander, and that they killed "15 militants." (Obviously, the U.S. is using super-sophisticated militant-seeking missiles that can sniff out political leanings from 30 miles away). Afghan authorities did find one guy with a rifle among the corpses, limbs and viscera. So I guess that's OK then. From AFP:
"The information we have states that 13 civilians have been killed in that air strike -- six women, two children and five men," said provincial government spokesman Naqibullah Arwin.
The identities of three other men killed in the same attack were unclear, the spokesman said.
"Initial information indicates that two of the three bodies could also be civilians. Apparently they were two car mechanics taken there to fix a broken car which belonged to the armed opposition," Arwin said.
Ikramuddin Yawar, police chief for western Afghanistan, earlier confirmed the deaths of six women and two children whom he said were from a nomad tribe, and were killed close to their tents. Three men killed in the strike were militants but the identities of five others was unclear, he said. One among the group of three had a rifle, police said.
Locals said the two others, whose remains were recovered near two gutted vehicles, were car mechanics from Herat city who were taken to the outlying Gozara district to fix a broken jeep.
At an emotional funeral in the city, Khair Mohammad said they were his brother and his assistant, and vowed revenge on the US soldiers. "He was a mechanic and was taken there by a person to fix his car. As he arrived, US planes hit the car and killed my brother and his assistant," he said.
Another day, another killing, another enemy created. And much, much more of this to come.