By Marc W. Herold
“Omission is the most powerful form of lie” - George Orwell
“During a war, news should be given out for instruction rather than information” - Joseph Goebbels
On March 31, 2009, Jon Stewart in his “Daily Show” announced Commander-in-Chief Obama’s mission of “Redefinition Accomplished” was in full swing. (1)A new Orwellian vocabulary more soothing and politically correct has been invented and marketed to the American citizenry by Obama. But as Peter Baker of the New York Times noted, “for all the shifting words, Mr. Obama has left the bulk of Bush’s national security infrastructure intact so far.” (2) In the real world, average Afghans and Pashtuns in the Pakistani border areas experience this continuing brutality daily as I shall now document, but Americans are largely oblivious remaining enthralled in the puffery of “Yes, We Can” and “Change We Can Believe In.” The phrase “civilian casualties” is non-existent in Obama’s vocabulary as a search of Google reveals. Dead Afghan and Pashtun civilians have simply been redefined as non-existent.
As Obama’s Afghan “surge” takes hold, more fighting and more civilian deaths are certain (as well as renewed efforts by the United States to redefine, omit and suppress reporting upon such). The U.S. mainstream media will mostly be a cooperative partner in the Pentagon’s news management. Many in Afghan see no realistic prospect for peace as long as foreign soldiers remain in Afghanistan and the Taliban have no incentive to compromise when they are in a winning position. (3) An additional 17-21,000 U.S troops – the Obama surge – means nothing in a country where military experts estimate that 4-500,000 foreign soldiers would be necessary to quell the resistance. (4)
While much continuity with Bush policies exists, some opportunistic changes in the execution of the Afghan war have been made. Most are inspired by the aim to better market “the good war” to the American public. For example, under Obama U.S/NATO forces are relying less upon deadly air strikes which are 4-10 times more deadly for Afghan civilians than are ground attacks. As a consequence, the monthly total of Afghan civilians (5) killed by US/NATO action has declined moderately at the same time as the monthly death toll of occupation forces has risen (Table 1).
Whereas the Associated Press reported that during the first two months of 2009, “militants’ had killed 60 people and US-led forces killed 100, my data indicates US/NATO attacks led to the death of 137-141 Afghan civilians (Table 1). (6)
Table 1. Monthly Fatalities of Afghan Civilians (killed by US/NATO) Action and of Foreign Occupation Troops, October 2008 – March 2009
|(1)Afghan Civilian Deaths||(2) US/NATO troops deaths||Ratio of (1)/(2)|
Sources: Afghan civilians from my Afghan Victim Memorial Project data base and foreign occupation troop fatalities from ICasualties.org at http://www.icasualties.org/oef/
As a result, the ratio of Afghan civilians killed per occupation soldier death – a measure of the lethality of America’s Afghan war for Afghan civilians relative to that for US/NATO occupation troops - has been falling from above 5 during late 2008 to about 1.4 during March 2009. In 2008, this ratio was 2.9-3.5, 4.4-5.6 in 2007 and 3.4-4.0 in 2006. (7) Combating the Afghan resistance with ground operations is simply much more dangerous for foreign forces than relying upon air strikes. By reducing air strikes, foreign forces kill fewer Afghan civilians per attack but suffer greater fatalities and injuries which, in turn, fuels home country opposition to the war. A case in point was in August 2008 when 12 French troops were killed and another 21 injured, which resulted in an outpouring of public questioning of France’s role in Afghanistan. Two-thirds of French citizenry already opposed any French involvement in the Afghan conflict. (8)
The United States astutely manipulated some NATO countries in 2004 into doing the heavy lifting of fighting (and taking casualties) in parts of Afghanistan, e.g., the British in Helmand, the Canadians in Kandahar, the Dutch and Australians in Uruzgan. Quickly, non-US foreign troops’ casualties rose dramatically in both absolute and relative terms (Table 2).
Table 2. Distribution of Foreign Occupation Troops Deaths in Afghanistan, 2004-8
|Year||US deaths||Other foreign troop deaths||Total foreign troop deaths||Other as % of total|
Source: ICasualties.org at http://www.icasualties.org/oef/
* through April 8, 2009
Indeed, as I have reported, the relative lethality for non-U.S foreign troops is higher than for U.S. soldiers. (9) The lethality ratio (The lethality ratio is defined as soldiers killed per 1,000 in-theater troops) for NATO occupation forces in 2006 was 2-3 times that for U.S. troops. The French seemed to have understood the dynamic and announced that by the end of the year 2006, they would withdraw their ~200 Special Forces combat troops from southern and eastern Afghanistan (where they had been deployed since July 2003).
Table 3. The Relative Lethality for Troops Fighting in Afghanistan, 2006
The level of lethality for U.S. occupation forces is actually much higher than the figures above suggest. The reason is because of the "long tail phenomenon" as applied to the U.S. military (the number of support personnel (the tail) required to support combat troops (the tooth)). The tail has also been greatly lengthened as the U.S. military has contracted out to private military contractors (e.g., Halliburton-KBR, DynCorp, Triple Canopy, Blackwater, Executive Outcomes, etc.) for support services (with all kinds of problems regarding lack of oversight, corruption, over-billing, etc.). Such outsourcing has been driven less by cost considerations than by a desire to reduce military casualties which are politically costly in the United States.
As regards, Afghan civilian casualties a deadly trade-off is at work. Whereas fewer very deadly air strikes are taking place, more less deadly ground raids by US/NATO forces are occurring. The numbers of US/NATO incidents in which Afghan civilians perished during 2009 are: January, 11; February, 28; and March, 31. The total number of Afghan civilians killed in US/NATO actions during January 1 – April 8, 2009 is 194-202. This number will rise markedly as winter passes and the fighting season begins in earnest, the all propelled forward by a doubling of US occupation troops in Afghanistan under Obama’s “surge.” The numbers of civilians killed reported here is an underestimate for two major reasons: air strikes in remote areas like in Kunar and Nuristan go unreported; and Waheed Muzhda, a political analyst also blamed the international forces for giving unfair reports about civilian deaths in Afghanistan. Muzhda said that there were several such incidents in which civilians were killed and the foreign troops said that they killed militants. (10) Even Afghan officials have differed on many occasions with foreign troops’ reporting about civilians’ deaths, he added. (11) The pattern has continued under Obama,
Each report follows a very similar pattern – US forces report some number of militants killed, then a report from local authorities appears saying something like, "No, actually that was just a family in our village (or a wedding party, or a…), and we want answers." Eventually, there’s a report that a US officer has visited the village, handed out a check… and expressed our deepest apologies – and then a commander in Kabul issues a very serious statement about how troubling the civilian casualties are, and how we are now going to change our approach and take all sorts of steps to protect civilians. The most recent of such statements included a promise to coordinate all raids with local Afghan forces. (12)
At a more general level, a thorough review of past counterinsurgency operations carried out by the Rand Corp noted that history tells us that increasing troop levels to fight an insurgency is not a winning formula. The Soviets learned this after ten years in Afghanistan; the French learned it in Algeria, and the United States had its lesson in Vietnam. The larger the foreign troop presence in wars of counterinsurgency, "the worse the outcome tends to be." That was the sweeping conclusion drawn in a 2008 study by Rand Corp. (13) Others have asserted that the presence of more foreign troops in Afghanistan today will raise the numbers of civilians killed. The huge footprint left by foreign forces in Afghanistan – whether by killing civilians, breaking and entering compounds, beating and/or abducting persons, hooding prisoners, acts of outrage such as photographing a captured Afghan man naked, (14) etc. – has fuelled the Afghan resistance to the foreign occupier. Graeme Smith of The Globe & Mail reported on the night-time raids by foreign forces which cause almost as much resentment as the more lethal air strikes. (15)
For example, in the January 24, 2009 raid in Laghman in which 22 civilians (18 children, 2 women and 2 males) were killed, Ghazi Gul, an intelligence officer in the Karzai military, lost his father, mother, 2 brothers, a cousin, a nephew and 2 nieces who were killed by U.S forces in the raid on the village of Garoch in Laghman province. On February 18th, Gul told the Chicago Tribune, “If we talk about the Americans, they are my enemies. And if I can, I will hurt them.”
In an important recent essay on the Afghan war, the French scholar, Gilles Dorronsoro, was explicit,
The mere presence of foreign soldiers fighting a war in Afghanistan is probably the single most important factor in the resurgence of the Taliban. (16)
Frederico Manfredi, adviser to the Belgian government, wrote recently about his trip to southern Afghanistan where he was introduced to a traditional community leader in a mud-brick village about an hour outside of Kandahar. Manfredi writes,
A gracious elder entered the room. He was tall and slender…he introduced his lineage, and said nonchalantly” “You know, half my family is Taliban.”…I listened carefully: “Here in the south, whenever people see foreign armies taking over, they want to fight them. I don’t blame those who join the Taliban. At least the ‘Taliban’ are Afghans, they’re Pashtuns, they’re kin….I’m not a Talib. But I want the occupation to end.” (17)
The case of Logar province is very instructive here. The foreign troop presence in Logar before 2009 was minimal. Consequently, the Taliban held sway. Relatively little fighting took place and few civilians were killed or injured. Then, the Americans – Task Force Spartan with 10th Mountain Division troops as part of Obama’s surge - arrived in early February 2009. Fighting picked-up and civilians began dying: 5 killed in February 6 killed in March and 7 killed in the first week of April. For example, on March 13th, Abdul Rashid and his four sons were killed by U.S. soldiers, leading to public protests. (18) Angry with reported innocent killing of five persons of a family by the US forces in a raid in central Logar province last night, protestors besieged the building of Charkh district headquarters on Saturday. More than three hundreds protesting people, chanting anti-American slogans, called for an immediate trial of the killers.
During January 1 – April 9, 2009, the regions with the highest numbers of civilians killed by foreign troops were Laghman, the border areas of Pakistan, Helmand, Logar, Kapisa and Herat (Table 4). In other words, America’s Afghan war rages in provinces close to the capital of Kabul, in the Pakistani border regions where CIA drones do all the killing, and in the cluster of southern provinces (Uruzgan, Helmand, Herat, and Kandahar). Deadly CIA drone attacks within Pakistan have continued since Obama took command. Of the sixty cross-border U.S drone attacks upon Pakistan between January 14, 2006 and April 8, 2009,
Only 10 were able to hit their actual targets, killing 14 wanted al-Qaeda leaders, besides perishing 687 innocent Pakistani civilians. The success percentage of the US predator strikes thus comes to not more than six per cent. Figures compiled by the Pakistani authorities show that a total of 701 people, including 14 al-Qaeda leaders, have been killed since January 2006 in 60 American predator attacks targeting the tribal areas of Pakistan. Two strikes carried out in 2006 had killed 98 civilians while three attacks conducted in 2007 had slain 66 Pakistanis, yet none of the wanted al-Qaeda or Taliban leaders could be hit by the Americans right on target. However, of the 50 drone attacks carried out between January 29, 2008 and April 8, 2009, 10 hit their targets and killed 14 wanted al-Qaeda operatives. Most of these attacks were carried out on the basis of intelligence believed to have been provided by the Pakistani and Afghan tribesmen who had been spying for the US-led allied forces stationed in Afghanistan. The remaining 50 drone attacks went wrong due to faulty intelligence information, killing hundreds of innocent civilians, including women and children. The number of the Pakistani civilians killed in those 50 attacks stood at 537, in which 385 people lost their lives in 2008 and 152 people were slain in the first 99 days of 2009 (between January 1 and April 8)… Of the 14 attacks targeting Pakistan in 2009, three were carried out in January, killing 30 people, two in February killing 55 people, five in March killing 36 people and four were conducted in the first nine days of April, killing 31 people…Of the 14 strikes carried out in the first 99 days of April 2009, only one proved successful, killing two most wanted senior al-Qaeda leaders - Osama al Kini and Sheikh Ahmed Salim Swedan. Both had lost their lives in a New Year’s Day drone strike carried out in the South Waziristan region on January 1, 2009. (19)
In other words, in some eighty days in office, Obama has managed to raise the monthly average kill rate achieved by Bush from 32 during 2008 to 45 per month (for February-March 2009).
Most of this has been omitted or misreported in the United States. Totals are never published. Even if totals are published as the UNAMA did for 2007 and 2008 or the Associated Press, the figures are not credible as no disaggregated data is provided, thereby violating a basic premise of social science, namely that all results should be reproducible. George Orwell would label all this a lie.
Table 4. Geographic Distribution of Afghan Civilians Killed by US/NATO actions in 2009 (through April 8, 2009)
|Region||Total civilian fatalities||Number of incidents|
|Pakistan border areas||23-27-152||5-14|
An analysis of the demographics of Afghan civilians who perished at the hands of the U.S. and NATO since Obama assumed the presidency reveals the following (Table 5). Women and children killed by US/NATO forces amounted to 63% of the identifiable deaths (and men 37%). This compares to figures respectively of 72% and 28% during January – August 2008. (20) The difference is accounted by the much greater reliance upon bombing strikes during 2008. In other words, first Bush then Obama and their NATO allies have been killing twice as many civilian women and children than civilian men in America’s Afghan war. Very little change in the relative proportion has occurred since Obama became Commander-in-Chief. My argument here includes men as civilians, thereby not falling into the essentialist trap of equating women & children with innocent civilians. (21) The high proportion of women and children killed reflects the fact that US/NATO forces are assaulting domestic or home spaces.
Table 5. The Demographics of Afghan Civilians Killed by US/NATO Actions during Obama’s Presidency (Jan. 21 – April 9, 2009)
|Men||41-43||27.6% of total|
Source: derived from the Afghan Victim Memorial Project data base
What does Obama imagery emphasize? Talking about the Obama surge we are instructed that, "These troops are going to help us counter Taliban territorial advances, deny safe havens and create security for Afghan civilians," said a senior Obama administration official, speaking on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak publicly. (22)
The following photo shows one of the 56 Afghan children killed by US/NATO forces since Obama became Commander-in-Chief.
What was originally (2001-4) an American war (with poodle Blair tagging along) became a U.S/NATO war during 2005-8, but that is now changing. As has become apparent, Europe – especially Old Europe – is bailing out on America. They see Afghanistan as America’s war. Obama’s effort at the recent NATO meeting in Strasbourg to cajole and beg Europeans to do more fighting and provide more monies, failed miserably. (23) Patrick Buchanan lays out the European thinking clearly,
Because Europe sees no threat from Afghanistan and no vital interest in a faraway country where NATO Europeans have not fought since the British Empire folded its tent long ago. Al-Qaeda did not attack Europe out of Afghanistan. America was attacked. Because, said Osama bin Laden in his "declaration of war," America was occupying the sacred soil of Saudi Arabia, choking Muslim Iraq to death and providing Israel with the weapons to repress the Palestinians. As Europe has no troops in Saudi Arabia, is exiting Iraq and backs a Palestinian state, Europeans figure, they are less likely to be attacked than if they are fighting and killing Muslims in Afghanistan. (24)
The continuity by Obama of Bush policies is striking, the soothing rhetoric notwithstanding. Obama continues the troop buildup begun under Bush during 2008. Drone attacks in Pakistan multiply. Foreign forces’ midnight raids upon Afghan homes continue. The hopeless effort to build up an Afghan Police force persists, or “Afghanize” the war in a way the U.S. attempted in Vietnam and failed. Most importantly, Obama’s primary justification for the continuation and escalation of America’s war upon Afghanistan has reverted back to precisely the one President Bush uttered after 9/11: the bombing and invasion is intended to deny a haven to Al Qaeda in Afghanistan where it might plan further attacks. Never mind that the 9/11 attacks were planned in Hamburg. The Al Qaeda training camps in Afghanistan were very low-tech, primitive operations where the primary emphasis was upon physical training and discussion/education. Such activities can easily be carried out just about anywhere in the world; certainly Yemen, Pakistan, and the Sahara are prime locations. The effects of U.S. bombing and invading Afghanistan have been to stir up hatred of the west and to decentralize radical Islamic groups, thereby creating a much more dangerous and hidden “enemy.” Obama is pursuing precisely a military tactical policy guided by the three dangerous or misleading propositions Gilles Dorronsoro warned against: “playing local,” ”searching for “moderate Taliban,” and pressuring Pakistan. (25)
Osama’s military policies continue killing Afghan civilians. In the wee hours on the morning of March 19, 2009, a U.S ground attack killed two civilians. A Reuters reporter, Rafeeq Shirzad, described what happened,
The early morning raid was aimed at disabling an al Qaeda cell of bomb-makers and planners in Bati Kot district in Nangarhar province… the U.S. military said in a statement. "Two armed militants engaged the force and were killed, a total of four suspected militants were detained," it said. But district governor Khaibar Momand condemned the killings, saying the victims were civilians and that the operation had not been coordinated with Afghan troops. About 100 residents gathered to protest against the killings, saying they would not bury the bodies until they received an explanation. Four houses were also destroyed in the raid, residents told Reuters. "It is better to join the Taliban than be neutral and be victimized," one resident named Rahmatullah said. "Foreign forces are not here for our security; they capture civilians in the middle of the night and kill them. The government is useless and we won't ask anything from it. We can take our own revenge ourselves," he said. (26)
But Afghanistan’s ambassador to the United States, Said Jawad, would not understand. He recently proclaimed that all Americans needed to do after killing Afghan civilians was to apologize and all would be well. (27) An “I’m sorry” will make revenge so central to Pushtunwali evaporate. From the safety and comfort in Washington, Jawad instructed his suffering compatriots back in Afghanistan, “"This is a price that we have to pay if we want security and stability in Afghanistan, the region and the world.”
The Guardian’s one-time correspondent in Moscow during the anti-Soviet struggle in Afghanistan, Simon Jenkins, summed up the future admirably,
As with the Russians so with the West: this poor, intensely private country will one day see off another invader who sought to reorganize its history with guns, bombs and money. It was never going to work. Painfully, we are now beginning to realize this. (28)
1- see and listen to at http://www.thedailyshow.com/video/index.jhtml?videoId=222759&title=redefinition-accomplished
2- Peter Baker, “The Words Have Changed, but Have the Policies?” New York Times (April 2, 2009) as well as Michael Barone, “Obama’s Foreign Policy is Very Much a Continuation of the Bush Policies,” U.S News & World Report (April 8, 2009) at http://www.cbsnews.com/stories/2009/04/09/usnews/whispers/main4932324.shtml
3- For example, expressed in Chris Sands, “War-Weary People Fear Little Hope for Peace,” The National (March 9, 2009) at http://www.thenational.ae/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20090309/FOREIGN/614496422/1002 , Kathy Gannon, “Afghans Fed up with Government, U.S.,” Associated Press (September 5, 2008) at http://www.commondreams.org/headline/2008/09/07-3 and Abdus Sattar Ghazali, “Obama Embraces Bush’s ‘War on Terror’ Policy Without Naming It So,” OpEdNews (February 25, 2009) at http://www.amperspective.com/html/obama_embraces_.html
4- Paul Daley, “Taliban Thwart Bid to Rebuild,” Sydney Morning Herald (February 1, 2009) at http://www.smh.com.au/text/articles/2009/01/31/1232818793464.html
5- I include in this number, Pashtun tribes people in the Afghan-Pakistan border regions.
6- “Toll: More US Troops More Casualties,” Press TV (March 1, 2009) at http://www.presstv.com/detail.aspx?id=87200§ionid=351020403
7- Details in my “Matrix of Death. A New Dossier on the (Im)Precision of U.S. Bombing and the (Undervaluation) of Afghan Lives,” Frontline. India’s National Magazine 25, 21 (October 11-24, 2008): cover and pp. 4-23. Also published in Canada’s Global Research at http://www.globalresearch.ca/index.php?context=va&aid=10506
8- ”Afghan Ambush Kills French Troops,” BBC News (August 19, 2008) at http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/south_asia/7569942.stm
9- See analysis and data in my “Relative Lethality. Survival Odds for Civilians and Occupiers in Afghanistan and Iraq,” Cursor.org (January 6, 2006) at http://cursor.org/stories/relativelethality.html
10- hundreds of such cases are documented in my data base, The Afghan Victim Memorial Project, at http://pubpages.unh.edu/~mwherold
11- For one, Karzai has been critical of U.S. killing Afghan civilians. See also Javed Hamim Kakar, “Taliban Dispute UN Report on Civilian Deaths,” Pajhwok Afghan News (February 19, 2009) at http://www.pajhwok.com/new/viewstory.asp?id=70028
12- from “An Afghan Surge…in Civilian Casualties” (March 15, 2009) at http://firedoglake.com/2009/03/15/an-afghan-surge-in-civilian-casualties/
13- David C. Gompert and John Gordon IV, War by Other Means. Building Complete and Balanced Capabilities for Counterinsurgency (Santa Monica: RAND National Defense Research Institute, RAND Corp., 2008)
14- for the photo by the German reporter, Perry Kretz, see http://www.stern.de/politik/ausland/:Afghanistan-Osama-Laden--/526526.html?cp=5
15- Graeme Smith, “Report Slams Tactic of Night Raids on Afghan Homes,” The Globe & Mail (December 23, 2008)
16- Gilles Dorronsoro, “Focus and Exit: An Alternative Strategy for the Afghan War,” Carnegie Endowment for International Peace report (January 2009) at http://carnegieendowment.org/files/afghan_war-strategy.pdf
17- Frederico Manfredi, “Rethinking U.S. Policy in Afghanistan,” World Policy Journal 25, 4 (Winter 2008/9): 23
18- Details in Shahpur Arab, “US Forces Kill Five Civilians in Logar: Officials,” Pajhwok Afghan News (March 14, 2009) at http://www.rawa.org/temp/runews/2009/03/14/us-forces-kill-five-civilians-in-logar-officials.phtml
19- ”60 Drone Hits Kill 14 Al-Qaeda Men, 687 Civilians,” The News (April 10, 2009) at http://www.thenews.com.pk/print3.asp?id=21440
20- Derived from my “Matrix of Death,” Frontline. India’s National Magazine 25, 21 (October 11-24, 2008): 21
21- A theme explored in R. Charli Carpenter, ‘Innocent Women and Children’: Gender, Norms and the Protection of Civilians (Farnham, U.K.: Ashgate Publishing, 2006), 217 pp.
22- Julian Barnes and Greg Miller, “Obama Orders More troops to Afghanistan,” Los Angeles Times (February 18, 2009) at http://www.latimes.com/news/nationworld/world/la-fg-afghan-troops18-2009feb18,0,7002157,print.story
23- Superbly articulated o in Hans Vogel, “The Emperor’s New Clothes: Mr. Change’s Recent Europe Trip,” Pravda.RU (April 10, 2009) at http://english.pravda.ru/opinion/columnists/10-04-2009/107385-Change_Emperor-0
24- Patrick J. Buchanan, “Why Europe Won’t Fight,” Antiwar.org (April 9, 2009) at http://original.antiwar.com/buchanan/2009/04/09/why-europe-wont-fight/
25- Dorronsoro (2009), op. cit.: 4-7
26- Emphasis added by M.H. - Rafeeq Shirzad, “Afghans Protest anti-Qaeda Raid Which Kills two,” Reuters (March 19, 2009)at http://www.reuters.com/article/latestCrisis/idUSISL435097
27- “Afghan Envoy Defends US Raids,” Al Jazeera.net (April 11, 2009) at http://english.aljazeera.net/news/asia/2009/04/2009410225414127835.html
28- Simon Jenkins, “Parallels with Nam,” The Guardian (March 31, 2009) at http://www.mg.co.za/article/2009-03-31-parallels-with-nam