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Several years ago, I warned that as the Bush/Cheney administration sought to reduce politically problematic casualty rates in Iraq and Afghanistan, it would resort to increased use of air attacks to combat the growing insurgency in Iraq and the resurgent Taliban in Afghanistan.
I also predicted that the result of this switch in tactics would lead to higher civilian casualties in those two countries.
We’re now seeing those results.
In the latest reports from Iraq, we had 15 women and children slain, mostly in their homes by rockets and bullets fired from helicopter and fixed-wing gunships which were allegedly in pursuit of some supposed "al Qaeda" fighters, and as many as 17 civilians killed in Baghdad’s Sadr City neighborhood when US forces called in air strikes after seeing a group of men they deemed to be hostile. Again those airstrikes ended up killing more civilians than alleged enemy fighters.
The casual use of the term "air strikes" belies the horror of what is happening. It’s one thing to call in airstrikes during a battle out in the desert or the mountains, where the enemy is isolated and readily identified. It’s another to call in the bombers and gunships in the heart of a densly-populated city. Such tactics are guaranteed to kill innocent people in large numbers.
In Afghanistan, meanwhile, where there is even less media coverage than in Iraq, the casual slaughter of innocents by American forces has become routine–so much so that even British officials are complaining. The US command simply "regrets" the "loss of innocent life," making it sound like the after-effects of a natural disaster, when it fact the killings are the predictable result of the cold calculus of mass murder by a technologically advanced military inflicted on an impoverished Third World country. It is unacceptable to argue, as the Pentagon does all the time, that the enemy "uses civilians as shields." Maybe they do, but that’s the reality, and the military has to accept it, not ignore it. If a gunman is holding a baby, you can’t just shoot the baby and blame the gunman.
In both countries, Iraq and Afghanistan, the slaughter of civilians by US forces has been so outrageous that even their puppet leaders have been compelled to speak up, demanding that the US stop being so aggressive and indiscriminate.
The problem is, if the US stops using its gunships and its fighter-bombers to do its fighting, it will have to either quit and go home, or put more troops out on patrol, where they are vulnerable to attack. In fact, the Pentagon may not even have that option. Already, it has been reported that troops in Iraq have coined the term "search and avoid" for missions where they go out under orders, but then spend their time avoiding danger.
What would one expect? The rank-and-file troops know that the war is lost in both countries, and that the American public doesn’t support what they are doing anyhow, so who’s going to want to die for that? You’d have to be a real chump to let yourself be killed just to provide political cover for a politically challenged president and vice president–especially a president and vice-president who famously ducked their own duty during the Vietnam War.
DAVE LINDORFF is the author of Killing Time: an Investigation into the Death Row Case of Mumia Abu-Jamal. His n book of CounterPunch columns titled "This Can’t be Happening!" is published by Common Courage Press. Lindorff’s newest book is "The Case for Impeachment",
co-authored by Barbara Olshansky.
He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org