Here's U.S. Admiral Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, speaking to scholars and security experts at the Brookings Institution on May 17: "We cannot succeed in Afghanistan or anywhere else, but let’s talk specifically about Afghanistan, by killing Afghan civilians. ... we can’t keep going through incidents like this and expect the strategy to work.”
By this, he meant incidents like the bombing of a village in Farah province earlier that month that killed between 117 and 147 villagers, or the massacre of 90 civilians, 60 of them children, in August 2008, and many other such bombings.
One month later, an American air strike in Pakistan killed more than 60 people.
By June, Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal was telling The New York Times that the rules would change. The use of airstrikes would be sharply restricted. “Air power contains the seeds of our own destruction if we do not use it responsibly,” he had told his senior officers in a video conference. “We can lose this fight. When we shoot into a compound, that should only be for the protection of our forces. I want everyone to understand that.”
So much for the U.S. military's comprehension skills.
Last night in the far-north Afghan province of Kunduz, near the border with Tajikistan, a U.S. F-16 jet called in by German NATO troops bombed what appeared to them to be a fuel convoy the Taliban had hijacked. They were right about the hijacking. The convoy was expected by NATO forces. Taliban fighters took it over. They were wrong about the victims.
One of the convoy's trucks got mired in a muddy road. To lighten the load, Taliban drivers opened the tankers' spigots and invited villagers to take what fuel they could. Nato's pilots didn't distinguish between Afghans. They fired. Some 90 people were killed, about half of them civilians. Now the U.S. military is trying to spin the story, to focus attention on the Taliban fighters who were killed, as if their death justifies the overall massacre. From the London Times:
A US spokeswoman for the Nato-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) said the tankers were spotted by the pilots on a river bank and the people surrounding them were taken for Taliban fighters.
"After observing that only insurgents were in the area, the local ISAF commander ordered air strikes which destroyed the fuel trucks and killed a large number of insurgents," said Lieutenant-Commander Christine Sidenstricker.
"The strike was against insurgents. That's who we believe was killed. But we are absolutely investigating reports of civilian deaths."
It's always against insurgents. The war in Afghanistan is supposed to be against insurgents. Why then is it losing support so rapidly, in Afghanistan and in the countries sending their soldiers to die there? Nato's spin is diverting attention from the equally grave casualty: American and Nato legitimacy in Afghanistan, which hasn't stopped eroding for the past two years. No wonder even conservatives are calling for withdrawal.
As for Mullen's realization and McChrystal's pledge: their credibility is no healthier than the charred bodies around the firebombed fuel convoy in Kunduz.
Ironically, it's the same province that, two days ago, hosted a chess tournament for the area's 14 best players " to raise public awareness about International Day of Peace on 21 September," in the United Nations' words.
Guess who the pawns have been all along.
- U.S.-NATO Air Raids and Civilian Casualties in Afghanistan: The Facts.
- Who Are the Taliban? A Brief History
- Afghanistan: The Deadliest Month
- "Good War" No More in Afghanistan
- George Will: Leave Afghanistan