Six children were attacked in Afghanistan and Pakistan this past week. Three of them, teenaged girls on a school bus in Peshawar, in the tribal region of western Pakistan, were shot and gravely wounded by two Taliban gunmen who were after Malala Yousufzai, a 14-year-old girl who has been bravely demanding the right of girls to an education. After taking a bullet to the head, and facing further death threats, she has been moved to a specialty hospital in Britain. Her two wounded classmates are being treated in Pakistan.
The other three children were not so lucky. They were killed Sunday in an aerial attack by a US aircraft in the the Nawa district of Helmand Province in Afghanistan, not so far from Pakistan. The attack, described by the military as a “precision strike,” was reportedly aimed at several Taliban fighters who were allegedly planting an IED in the road, but the strike also killed three children, Borjan, 12; Sardar Wali, 10; and Khan Bibi, 8, all from one family, who were right nearby collecting dung for fuel.
Initially, as is its standard MO, the US denied that any children had been killed and insisted that the aircraft had targeted three “Taliban” fighters, and had successfully killed them. Only later, as evidence grew indesputable that the three children had also been killed, the US switched to its standard fallback position for atrocities in the Afghanistan War and its other wars: it announced that it was “investigating” the incident and said that it “regretted” any civilian deaths.
There are several questions that arise immediately from this second story. First of all, if the three kids were close enough to be killed by this “precision” attack, they were surely also close enough to have been visible to whatever surveillance craft was monitoring the activities of the Taliban fighters, and if they were seen, there should have been no air strike called in. Second, the US, allegedly trying to reduce civilian casualties, is supposedly now operating its air attacks under rules of engagement that only allow strikes where there is “imminent danger” to US or allied forces. How is planting an IED an “imminent” danger? If the location is known, troops in the area can be alerted, and the IED removed or detonated. An identified IED is not an imminent threat.
The American media have been awash in coverage of the attack on the three Pakistani girls, and on the fate of the courageous girl’s education advocate, young Malala.
Not so the deaths of the three Afghan kids. They didn’t even merit their own article in the nation’s leading newspaper, The New York Times, which simply inserted a couple of paragraphs concerning their deaths near the end of an article about so-called “green-on-blue killings” of US troops by their supposed Afghan Army allies (two Americans were killed in one such attack on Saturday).
The contrast between the two attacks on children is even greater when it comes to the response in the two countries, Pakistan and the US. In Pakistan, after the attack on Malala and her two classmates, tens of thousands of Pakistanis turned out in demonstrations to protest the actions of the Taliban fanatics and to demand that they be caught and punished (there have been arrests of two alleged perpetrators). The Pakistani government vowed to prosecute the would-be killers, and has paid to have Malala transferred to a safer and better hospital in the UK. It is also providing armed guards to protect the other two girls.
Meanwhile, in the US, most people don’t even know that their own military just blew away three young Afghan children. The sad truth is, even if they did know, they wouldn’t really care. There’d be no outpouring onto the streets of people demanding a halt to the air attacks and the drone killings. Only 28% of Americans say they object to America’s drone warfare, though it is clear that drone attacks are leading to the deaths of hundreds — perhaps thousands — of innocent civilians. According to a recent poll by the Pew Research Center, a survey of 20 countries about reactions to drone warfare found that in the US only 28 % of Americans said they disapproved of America’s drone warfare campaign. In countries that are normally America’s allies, like Britain, Germany and Japan, disapproval rates were 47%, 59% and 75% respectively. In the US, the survey found 62 % of Americans actively support drone warfare, giving America the distinction of being the only country surveyed in which a majority of the public supports killing by drone.
The attackers of the three schoolgirls in Pakistan, who have been arrested already, will almost certainly be imprisoned for their heinous crimes. Not so the pilot and the targeting personnel who called in his deadly strike that led to the deaths of three Afghan children. They will come home from the war hailed as “heroes” by any Americans they meet. People will pass them and say, “Thank you for your service” — even though that “service” includes killing little children.
UPDATE: The US is going to extraordinary lengths to pretend it did not target innocent children in this strike, which it now says was done not by a plane dropping a bomb, but by a guided missile (presumably fired by a plane or a drone, since it had to be steered real time to its dimunitive targets). In a report in the New York Times, which publication itself went to great lengths to offer its own imagined ideas as to why the military could not be blamed for targeting these children, the Pentagon offered up that the children “appeared” to have been “used” by the Taliban to “emplace” the IED. There is no proof offered for this conjecture.
In any event, the point remains that the children should have been readily identifiable in any surveillance video, given the shorter length of their shadows in an October sun. And more importantly, the US is not supposed to do air strikes unless there is an “imminent danger” to allied or Afghan troops, and the placing of an IED, witnessed and filmed so its location would be known, cannot be considered an imminent threat.
The US and the Times cannot seem to get their story straight either. In the lead to the article, NATO command is said to have reported that the children were killed by an “artillery strike” that was called in. Later, a NATO official is quoted as saying a guided missile was used.
So much lying inevitably leads to confusion and contradiction.
The truth: three little kids were killed by US forces who target them in violation of their own operating rules on use of force as agreed to with the Afghan government. Although the Times headline reads “Questions Raised in Deaths of Afghan Children in Coalition (sic) Strike,” that question is not mentioned. Nor does the Times honestly report that it was a US strike, not a euphemistic “Coalition” strike.
Dave Lindorff is a founder of This Can’t Be Happening and a contributor to Hopeless: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion, published by AK Press. Hopeless is also available in a Kindle edition. He lives in Philadelphia.