The Nation, March 4, 2013

Another “One-Tenth of a Newtown” in Afghanistan

The US military’s own research shows that the majority of civilian casualties in Afghanistan are caused by the Special Forces

By Robert Dreyfuss

Two more children dead in Afghanistan, thanks to an American airstrike. The war is winding down, but try telling that to the families of the children blown to pieces by mistake. Unless you’ve been reading news accounts closely, you probably missed the story:

Two boys out collecting firewood with their donkeys were killed by weapons fired from a NATO helicopter, Afghan and American military officials announced Saturday. … The victims, Toor Jan, 11, and Andul Wodood, 12, were brothers and had been walking behind their donkeys in the Shahed-e-Hasas district of Oruzgan Province when the helicopter fired on them, according to Afghan officials in the district. The two donkeys were killed as well.

Said a local official: “There wasn’t any engagement with the Taliban, it was just a mistake that they have killed the two boys at an area where they thought they detected a Taliban radio signal.”

A boy, injured during a NATO air strike
A boy, injured during a NATO air strike, lies on a hospital bed in Afghanistan's eastern Kunar province February 20, 2011. Joint operations by Afghan forces and NATO-led foreign troops killed 64 civilians in Kunar, including many women and children, over the past four days, the governor of Kunar said on Sunday. (Photo: Reuters)

According to the latest report from the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan’s unit for the protection of civilians, published in February, more than 2,700 civilians were killed in the war in Afghanistan in 2012, a slight reduction from the record 3,131 killed in 2011. What UNAMA calls “pro-government forces”—i.e., the US-led coalition and Afghanistan’s own security forces – killed 316 of those, compared to the UN’s count of 517 dead in 2011. However, there is plenty of reason to suspect that the United Nations is undercounting civilian casualties, despite often valiant efforts to keep track of the dead.

The two children, of course, will go into the 2013 file. That file will be a lot thicker than it ought to be, because President Obama listened to the generals and decided not to withdraw troops at a faster pace. Most of 66,000 American troops in Afghanistan will stay for the so-called “fighting season” this year, and 32,000 will remain in 2014.

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The US military’s own research shows that the majority of civilian casualties in Afghanistan are caused by the Special Forces, who do a lot of the combat and who carry out the dreaded night raids into villages in search of insurgents.

That’s why President Karzai is trying, against great resistance from the United States, to force a halt to night raids, actions by Special Forces, and airstrikes. As the Times reported last week:

The Afghan government barred elite American forces from operating in a strategic province adjoining Kabul on Sunday, citing complaints that Afghans working for American Special Operations forces had tortured and killed villagers in the area.

But, under Afghanistan government pressure, and thanks to a blanket order by the American command to restrict airstrikes, the sort of attack that killed the children just wasn’t supposed to happen.

But it still counts as one-tenth of the Newtown, Connecticut, toll.

Even as the United States slowly ramps down in Afghanistan, it’s ramping up in the Middle East.

Robert Dreyfuss writes about the new admission that the CIA is training Syrian fighters in Jordan.

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