Click amount to donate direct to CounterPunch
  • $25
  • $50
  • $100
  • $500
  • $other
  • use PayPal
Keep CounterPunch ad free. Support our annual fund drive today!

Killing Civilians, Ducking Blame


In accepting General McChrystal’s resignation, President Obama said that McChrystal’s departure represented a change in personnel, not a change in policy. “Americans don’t flinch in the face of difficult truths or difficult tasks.” he stated, “We persist and we persevere.” Yet, President Obama and the U.S. people don’t face up to the ugly truth that, in Afghanistan, the U.S. has routinely committed atrocities against innocent civilians. By ducking that truth, the U.S. reinforces a sense of exceptionalism, which, in other parts of the world, causes resentment and antagonism.

While on the campaign trail and since taking office, President Obama has persistently emphasized his view that attacks against civilians are always criminal, unless the U.S. is the attacker, in which case they are justified. We heard this again, on June 23rd, as the President assured the U.S. people that we will persevere in Afghanistan. “We will not tolerate a safe haven for terrorists who want to destroy Afghan security from within, and launch attacks against innocent men, women, and children in our country and around the world.”

When considering the security of Afghan civilians, it’s crucial to ask why, on May 12, 2009, General McChrystal was selected to replace General McKiernan as the top general in Afghanistan. News reports said it was because he had experience in coordinating special operations in Iraq. That experience involved developing death squads, planning night raids, and coordinating undercover assassinations. McChrystal proved, since his appointment, that he could organize atrocities against Afghan civilians and simultaneously present himself as a protector of Afghan civilians. In doing so, he relied on collaboration and cooperation from Defense Secretary Gates, General Petraeus and President Obama. They are united in their culpability. We, ourselves, bear responsibility to examine disturbing patterns of misinformation regarding U.S./NATO attacks against Afghan civilians.

In each of eleven incidents since April 9th, 2009, U.S. forces killed innocent civilians, then engaged in a cover-up, insisting that they had killed insurgents, and eventually acknowledged having killed civilians. Generally, U.S./NATO officials issued an apology. Wikileaks is expected to release a video that establishes U.S. responsibility for a May 4th, 2009 air attack which killed an estimated 86 – 140 civilians, mostly women and children. In the days and weeks after the attack, U.S. and NATO military officials made a concerted effort to avoid blame for this attack. Voices for Creative Nonviolence has maintained a list, assuredly only a partial list, of U.S./NATO attacks, since April 2009, which caused civilian deaths. Below is the entry describing the May 4, 2009 attack.

Date: May 4, 2009
Place: Farah Province near the town of Granai

Circumstances: Mainstream media reports estimate that between 86 and 140 people, mostly children, died in a US air attack. According to Reuters, only 22 of the victims were adult males.

Initial U.S./NATO response: The following chronology indicates multiple attempts on the part of US officials to avoid blame.

May 6, 2009—U.S. officials plea ignorance and state that an investigation is under way.

May 6, 2009—According to The Guardian, a spokesperson for US forces in Afghanistan, Captain Elizabeth Mathias says, “This was not coalition forces. This was Afghan national security forces who called in close air support, a decision that was vetted by the Afghan leadership.”

May 7, 2009—An Armed Service Press Service report announces that a team is “investigating differing accounts of the events leading up to the casualties. Those accounts include allegations that the Taliban tossed grenades into homes to ‘frame’ Afghan and coalition forces.” U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates states that “the United States and coalition partners do everything we can to avoid civilian casualties.” He goes on to say that “While there have been civilian casualties caused by American and NATO troops, they have been accidental. When the Taliban cause casualties, they are on purpose.”

May 8, 2009—Pentagon spokesperson Col. Greg Julian insists that earlier estimates of the death toll were “grossly exaggerated.”      May 10, 2009—In an interview with Mike Wallace, General David Petraeus suggests that the Taliban forced people “to remain in houses from which the Taliban was engaging U.S. forces.”

May 15, 2009—Marine Corps Commandant Gen. James Conway again blames the Taliban for civilian casualties. “We believe that there were families who were killed by the Taliban with grenades and rifle fire,” he said, “that were then paraded about and shown as casualties from the airstrike.”

U.S. /NATO acknowledgement that the people killed were unarmed civilians:

May 13, 2009—Referring to the May 4th raids in an Afghan press interview, Ambassador Karl W. Eikenberry admits that “there were a number of civilians killed, a number of civilians wounded. We don’t know the exact amount. You are aware that our President of the United States and our Secretary of State and our Secretary of Defense have all very explicitly expressed their condolences for what happened.”

June 2, 2009— According to The New York Times “A military investigation has concluded that American personnel made significant errors in carrying out some of the airstrikes in western Afghanistan on May 4 that killed dozens of Afghan civilians, according to a senior American military official.”

With all due respect for Ambassador Eikenberry’s sincerity, and recognizing that condolences may have been relayed to Afghanistan, we nevertheless want to say that we couldn’t find any record of U.S. officials publicly expressing sorrow, explicitly, for the U.S. attack against Afghan civilians on May 4, 2009.

However, we do note that U.S. officials, one week later, nominated General McChrystal to replace General McKiernan.  It seems that this appointment signaled U.S. intent to shift assaults against Afghan civilians into the realm of undercover operations, making it much easier to duck the blame.

Kathy Kelly, (, and Dan Pearson, (, are co-coordinators of Voices for Creative Nonviolence  (




KATHY KELLY co-coordinates Voices for Creative Nonviolence and has worked closely with the Afghan Youth Peace Volunteers. She is the author of Other Lands Have Dreams published by CounterPunch / AK Press. She can be reached at:  This article was first published on Telesur English.

More articles by:

2016 Fund Drive
Smart. Fierce. Uncompromised. Support CounterPunch Now!

  • cp-store
  • donate paypal

CounterPunch Magazine


October 24, 2016
John Steppling
The Unwoke: Sleepwalking into the Nightmare
Oscar Ortega
Clinton’s Troubling Silence on the Dakota Access Pipeline
Patrick Cockburn
Aleppo vs. Mosul: Media Biases
John Grant
Humanizing Our Militarized Border
Franklin Lamb
US-led Sanctions Targeting Syria Risk Adjudication as War Crimes
Paul Bentley
There Must Be Some Way Out of Here: the Silence of Dylan
Norman Pollack
Militarism: The Elephant in the Room
Patrick Bosold
Dakota Access Oil Pipeline: Invite CEO to Lunch, Go to Jail
Paul Craig Roberts
Was Russia’s Hesitation in Syria a Strategic Mistake?
Lara Gardner
Why I’m Not Voting
David Swanson
Of All the Opinions I’ve Heard on Syria
Weekend Edition
October 21, 2016
Friday - Sunday
John Wight
Hillary Clinton and the Brutal Murder of Gaddafi
Diana Johnstone
Hillary Clinton’s Strategic Ambition in a Nutshell
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Trump’s Naked and Hillary’s Dead
John W. Whitehead
American Psycho: Sex, Lies and Politics Add Up to a Terrifying Election Season
Stephen Cooper
Hell on Earth in Alabama: Inside Holman Prison
Patrick Cockburn
13 Years of War: Mosul’s Frightening and Uncertain Future
Rob Urie
Name the Dangerous Candidate
Pepe Escobar
The Aleppo / Mosul Riddle
David Rosen
The War on Drugs is a Racket
Sami Siegelbaum
Once More, the Value of the Humanities
Cathy Breen
“Today Is One of the Heaviest Days of My Life”
Neve Gordon
Israel’s Boycott Hypocrisy
Mark Hand
Of Pipelines and Protest Pens: When the Press Loses Its Shield
Victor Wallis
On the Stealing of U.S. Elections
Michael Hudson
The Return of the Repressed Critique of Rentiers: Veblen in the 21st century Rentier Capitalism
Brian Cloughley
Drumbeats of Anti-Russia Confrontation From Washington to London
Howard Lisnoff
Still Licking Our Wounds and Hoping for Change
Brian Gruber
Iraq: There Is No State
Peter Lee
Trump: We Wish the Problem Was Fascism
Stanley L. Cohen
Equality and Justice for All, It Seems, But Palestinians
Steve Early
In Bay Area Refinery Town: Berniecrats & Clintonites Clash Over Rent Control
Kristine Mattis
All Solutions are Inadequate: Why It Doesn’t Matter If Politicians Mention Climate Change
Peter Linebaugh
Ron Suny and the Marxist Commune: a Note
Andre Vltchek
Sudan, Africa and the Mosaic of Horrors
Keith Binkly
The Russians Have Been Hacking Us For Years, Why Is It a Crisis Now?
Jonathan Cook
Adam Curtis: Another Manager of Perceptions
Ted Dace
The Fall
Sheldon Richman
Come and See the Anarchy Inherent in the System
Susana Hurlich
Hurricane Matthew: an Overview of the Damages in Cuba
Dave Lindorff
Screwing With and Screwing the Elderly and Disabled
Chandra Muzaffar
Cuba: Rejecting Sanctions, Sending a Message
Dennis Kucinich
War or Peace?
Joseph Natoli
Seething Anger in the Post-2016 Election Season
Jack Rasmus
Behind The 3rd US Presidential Debate—What’s Coming in 2017