You be the judge. Following his appointment as commander of NATO’s forces in Afghanistan earlier this year, U.S. General Dan McNeill devised a daring strategy to defeat the Taliban. He would beat them at their own game. That’s why this week marks an important milestone for General McNeill–“Bomber” to his troops–because his goal has been achieved. Although mocked by British officers for overuse of air power, McNeill proved its effectiveness within days of taking up his post. His air strikes hit homes in the Kapisa province north of Kabul, killing nine people from four generations of a local family, including a 6-month-old child. The usual complaints erupted from human rights fanatics and the lily livered Dutch, but McNeil held his ground.
It was the fault of civilians for living in populated areas, explained Lt. Col. David Accetta at the time, areas that can provide a shelter for Taliban on the run. So homes were “targeted and hit.” This was the first clue to the McNeil plan. Among the corpses found in the mud brick rubble at Kapissa in March, were four women, four children under 5 years old, and an 80-year-old man. The Bomber’s tactic was on track. The gloves were off. Over the next three months, NATO would set out to prove that its air force could kill more civilians than the number achieved by the Taliban.
But it wasn’t easy. The British and Dutch were reluctant to accept the mission, fretting about civilian blood. (General McNeil is a veteran of Vietnam). Some experts spread rumours that the flurry of attacks by US aircraft was “indiscriminate“, but that was the point. Others argued the strategy violated the Geneva provision that parties to conflict shall at all times distinguish between the civilian population and combatants and between civilian objects and military objectives and accordingly shall direct their operations only against military objectives (Article 48, 1977 addition to, Part IV). However, as the US Attorney General Gonzales had dismissed the Geneva Conventions as quaint, who cared?
PHOTOS STOLEN AT GUNPOINT
McNeil welcomed input from other services. After the aerial slaughter in Kapisa, a convoy of Marines fleeing an ambush east of Kabul, started shooting wildly at the highway traffic. Their score was 19 civilians dead and 50 wounded. Afterwards, US soldiers confiscated photos of the incident at gun point.
In the past few months civilian injuries and deaths have been reported every few days, although Western sources report the numbers are often exaggerated – Chicago Tribune. A bizarre kill was achieved on June 12, when US troops destroyed a police checkpoint east of Kabul and called in attack aircraft. Seven Afghani police were killed and four wounded. Shredded and bloodstained police gear littered the crash scene. “We are here to protect and serve the Afghan government, but the Americans have come to kill us,” said Khan Mohammad, a policemen who felt he was under attack by the Taliban.
Six days later, McNeil’s jets bombed a compound suspected of housing al-Qaida militants in eastern Afghanistan, netting seven children. President Hamid Karzai condemned foreign forces for careless ‘use of extreme force’ and for viewing Afghan lives as ‘cheap’, but this didn’t deter the mission. The following day NATO forces fired a rocket into a building in Pakistan and notched up another tally of civilians – a child, a woman and seven men. Pakistan military spokesman Major General Waheed Arshad said his country demanded an explanation, but no-one was listening. In the body bag stakes, NATO and the Taliban were now neck and neck. A puzzled Ban Ki-Moon, the United Nations Secretary-General, came to Kabul to slow Mc Neill’s hand, but it was too late for that.
SWORD AND SHIELD THAT GUARDS AMERICA
NATO planes struck again at the end of June in Hyderabad, in the remote Girishk district, killing numerous villagers, including women children. “Six houses have been bombed, three of them have been reduced to rubble,” a local named Feda Mohammad said, claiming about 100 had been killed or wounded. “People are still busy bringing out the dead from under the rubble, there are funerals at various places. A local member of parliament, Wali Khan, said “the Taliban were far away from there”. He warned that continued slaughter of civilians will spark revolt against the Afghan government.
Local Police said 25 civilians were killed in air strikes in the same area the week before, including nine women and three young children.
Hamid Karzai said “indiscriminate and unprecise” operations by foreign forces could no longer be tolerated, but his voice was drowned out by this year’s Independence Day address delivered by the Secretary of the Air Force Michael W. Wynne and Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. T. Michael Moseley, which urged American Airman to be proud of their calling:”Wherever you are on our nation’s 231st birthday, have a safe and enjoyable holiday, and take pride in knowing that you are a member of the finest Air Force the world has ever known! Your service provides the sword and shield that guard our nation, its interests, and ideals throughout the world. On this Independence Day be proud to be an American Airman — a warrior who has answered our nation’s call to fly, fight and win.
And win they did. This weekend it was confirmed that US troops and their NATO allies have out killed more civilians than the insurgents. UN and local rights groups tallied 314 civilians killed by McNeil’s forces and 279 killed by the Taliban and associates. Congratulations, Bomber, enjoy your victory.
AUSTRALIAN AIR CREWS ASSISTED
Except of course, it isn’t a victory. Every dead civilian recruits 5 more locals for the Taliban. This will provide an excuse for continued US presence in the region and plenty more Afghanis to use as targets.
Even if Bomber McNeill is arrested for war crimes, such insane attacks will continue. It is what the air force does. That its enemy lacks warplanes only intensifies its savagery. In bloodless bureaucratic prose, the official site of the US air force reports around 40 sorties each day in Afghanistan (90 in Iraq), which involve the extermination of [suspected] insurgents in tree lines and family compounds. Example: “July 507: F-15Es hit an enemy mortar position with GBU-38s near Kajaki Dam. The JTAC reported the weapons hit their intended target. The pilots also conducted a show of force to try and flush out any insurgents still in the area aircrews also strafed enemies in a tree line”, etc. C-130 crews from Australia assisted in such attacks, despite Canberra’s assurance that its mission is one of “restoring infrastructure”.
Western commanders say any comparison of casualties caused by Western forces and by the Taliban is unfair because there is a clear moral distinction between accidental deaths from combat operations and deliberate killings of innocents by militants. This is claptrap. When invading an impoverished land peopled by extended families with interlocking tribal loyalties, the world’s mightiest air power has an obligation to proceed with respect and restraint. Alas, this it failed to do, as it has failed to do in previous wars.
The killings of civilians cannot be excused as regrettable “accidents”. They may not have been intentional, but they arise from a military culture that makes such casualties inevitable. In their hearts, the officers know this. It is why they don’t do body counts. It is why in the daily reports of hundreds of bombing raids, you’ll never see any mention of death.
RICHARD NEVILLE has been around a while. He lives in Australia, the land that formed him. In the Sixties he raised hell in London and published Oz. He can be reached through his very bracing website, http://www.richardneville.com.au/