Afghans Growing Irate Over Casualties

Afghans Growing Irate Over Casualties
May 12th, 2007  
Team Infidel

Topic: Afghans Growing Irate Over Casualties

Afghans Growing Irate Over Casualties
Washington Post
May 12, 2007
Pg. 10

U.S.-Led Raids Help Insurgents, Observers Warn
By Pamela Constable, Washington Post Foreign Service
GHANIKHEL, Afghanistan -- The mud-walled village compound was silent except for a chorus of tiny frogs in the surrounding fields. Inside, ghosts lurked. A pile of stones had been carefully mounded over the bloodstains where Janat Gul, 40, died. A trampled patch of opium poppy plants indicated where Mir Warid, 13, fell.
The living were almost as silent. A girl of 3 held up her bandaged arm, staring mutely at a group of visitors last week. A leathery woman squatted and frowned, surrounded by motherless children now in her care. Suddenly, she began speaking in an angry torrent.
"The soldiers killed my mother-in-law, then my father-in-law. I begged to touch him, but they shouted at me not to come close. Then they left me alone with the children, crying for help," said Khanum Agha, 25. "The foreigners are supposed to be protecting us, but instead they come and kill us in our beds."
Early May 2, U.S. Special Operations units surrounded and attacked the compound here in the eastern province of Nangahar, believing it was being used by insurgents as a bomb factory, according to Afghan news reports. They arrested one man and displayed 120 kilograms (about 265 pounds) of captured explosive materials on local television broadcasts. In the raid, they killed six civilians, including two women and a girl of 13, according to witnesses.
The raid was one of a series of recent U.S.-led military attacks that have resulted in civilian casualties, provoking angry public protests. In the latest incident, a U.S. airstrike Wednesday on a Taliban stronghold in Sangin, in the southern province of Helmand, killed 21 civilians, Afghan officials said. That attack brought to at least 90 the number of civilian deaths attributed to friendly foreign troops in the past month.
Almost every day, warplanes drop bombs, shoot rockets and fire cannon rounds into suspected enemy locations in southern and eastern Afghanistan. Generally, there tend to be more airstrikes in Afghanistan than in the war in Iraq. Since the beginning of this month, according to data released by Central Command, the U.S. military headquarters for Afghanistan, Iraq and the rest of the Middle East, B-1 heavy bombers have struck Afghanistan four times, F-15 fighters have done so twice, and A-10 ground-attack jets have fired their cannons three times. Also, a British Royal Air Force Harrier jet carried out bombing.
The airstrikes and casualties are a direct result of the stepped-up Taliban insurgency, which employs suicide bombs and often uses civilian areas as hiding places. Yet according to diplomats and human rights groups, the tough military response is weakening Afghan support for foreign troops and playing into the insurgents' hands. President Hamid Karzai, sharply rebuking his foreign allies, declared recently that such civilian deaths were "no longer acceptable."
The problem has also created private tension and public confusion between the U.S. military mission of some 20,000 troops that patrols eastern Afghanistan, hunting for Taliban and al-Qaeda forces, and the separately commanded NATO mission of about the same size that conducts counterinsurgency and humanitarian operations in the rest of the country.
On Tuesday, a senior U.S. military commander issued a formal apology to the families of 19 civilians who died in a March 4 incident in Batikot, in Nangahar province. A squad of Marines, ambushed by a suicide bomber, sprayed indiscriminate gunfire at cars and pedestrians.
"We are deeply ashamed and terribly sorry," said Col. John Nicholson, reading his apology during a videoconference with reporters in Washington. He called the shootings "a stain on our honor" and said, "This was a terrible, terrible mistake. . . . We humbly and respectfully ask for your forgiveness."
Nicholson said the incident in Ghanikhel was under investigation, and U.S. military spokesmen in Afghanistan said they could not comment on it. Yet another incident, a clash April 28-29 between U.S. and Taliban forces at Shindand, in the western province of Herat, that left up to 50 civilians dead, is also under investigation by a variety of Afghan and U.S. delegations.
It is not clear whether the Ghanikhel raid was a case of mistaken identity or a successful anti-terrorist operation that also became a human tragedy. In interviews, survivors, nearby residents, legislators and other sources offered a murky, complicated picture of almost every aspect of the raid, including who the victims were, what led the Americans to suspect them, whether local authorities were informed of the operation, and how public outrage was stirred up afterward.
"There are at least three different versions of what happened, and all of them seem to have elements of untruth," said Babrak Shinwari, a member of parliament from the Shinwar District, where both the Marine shootings and the village raid occurred. "It is very difficult to learn the reality, so people believe the worst."
The Ghanikhel story includes tribal disputes and the poisonous influence of opium poppy cultivation. It also reflects the consequences of a cultural blunder by foreign troops relating to Afghan sensitivity about women's honor, and the unseen hand of Taliban forces swiftly capitalizing on public emotion.
One puzzle is who the occupants of the mud compound were. They described themselves to a journalist as simple field hands and said they were doing nothing more harmful than harvesting opium poppies when the attack came. They said they were refugees from Kapisa province, north of Kabul.
"Does this look like a bomb factory to you?" demanded Sana Gul, 30, one of the survivors, showing a reporter through the farm compound that was strung with laundry and strewn with dirty sleeping cushions. "They said they found 120 kilos of explosives, but we can't even afford 120 kilos of wheat."
Government officials, however, said that the group might be linked to a Taliban commander in Kapisa and that the insurgents were becoming increasingly active in poppy-growing areas of Nangahar. This is partly because insurgents have come under intense military pressure in their home-base areas of southern Afghanistan.
As recently as a year ago, Nangahar had no major signs of insurgency and a record for eradicating poppy crops while production soared in other provinces. Now, the road through the district is lined with emerald poppy fields, and U.S. military forces have been increasingly encountering insurgent activities.

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