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Keeping Count

Celeste Zappala, the Gold Star mother of an early casualty in America’s invasion of Iraq who lost her son when he was doing guard duty during a fraudulent “search” for alleged WMDs in Iraq, was speaking from the heart when she told a group of antiwar demonstrators at Philadelphia’s Independence Mall Saturday that she was grateful no American troops had been killed during the past week in Iraq.

Her concern for the troops’ well-being is understandable.

But left unsaid is that the lower US casualty figures in Iraq are coming at the expense of much higher civilian casualties. This is even more true in Afghanistan, where the war is heating up.

The reason for this ugly calculus is that in order to keep politically damaging US casualties as low as possible, the US military and the Bush/Cheney administration that gives the generals their marching orders, are resorting increasingly to the use of air power–bombs and rockets and remote controlled, missile-equipped Predator drone aircraft–to attack suspected militant targets.

Case in point–the 22 people the <a href=”http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/middle_east/7492195.stm”>BBC reports</a> were killed in eastern Afghanistan’s Nangarhar Province yesterday in a US missile strike on what turns out to have been a wedding procession. According to reports from local Afghan police and other officials quoted in the BBC story, 19 of the victims of this horrific attack were women and children.

This slaughter–which US military authorities, following their standard MO, are denying, claiming that those killed were “militants”– follows an earlier one Friday in Afghanistan, in which a missile fired from a US helicopter killed 15 people, all civilians.

It has reached a point that in Afghanistan, the US and its NATO allies (though primarily the US, since most NATO forces are not in front-line combat roles, and are not conducting most of the air strikes) are killing far more Afghan civilians than are the Taliban and their allies in the country.

The same thing is true in Iraq, where the on-the-ground combat role of US forces is being scaled back, while the use of air power is being ramped up.

The very idea of conducting an “occupation” via airpower is fundamentally criminal in nature, since there is simply no way that people operating at command centers and computer terminals–sometimes in the case of Predator drones, terminals that are actually situated in the US!–can make accurate determinations about who the target is, and, equally importantly, how many innocent civilians may be in the immediate vicinity of a strike.

We cannot celebrate the reduction in US casualties if they are coming at the expense of innocent civilians (and I know that this was not Ms. Zappala’s intent, either).

The same strategy of killing from the air was adopted in the later years of the Vietnam War. It wasn’t as successful at reducing US casualties, because in Vietnam, US forces were confronting a large, well organized military force, and had to confront them on the ground, but it was successful at killing innocent Vietnamese, as well as people in Cambodia and Laos, who were dying at a more prodigious rate towards the end of that conflict than in its earlier years, thanks to indiscriminate US bombardment.

The same thing is happening now in America’s current imperialist wars.

At the Independence Mall demonstration, organized by the venerable Brandywine Peace Community, there was a somber memorial made to America’s dead in Iraq: a black cloth on which was painted the number 4000 in large white numerals. Several blood-red long-stemmed roses were laid upon the cloth. But there should have been a second black cloth also strewn with roses, on which should have been painted the number 1.2 million—the estimated number of innocent Iraqis killed in America’s invasion and occupation of their country. (I don’t mean to criticize either Celeste or Brandywine here, and certainly the Iraqi and Afghani deaths were mentioned by speakers at the event.)

We in the anti-war movement need to make certain that we do not allow the issue to be narrowly focused on protecting American troops. We need to continually make the point that it is criminal for America’s military forces to be slaughtering innocent Iraqis and Afghanis.

DAVE LINDORFF is a Philadelphia-based journalist. His latest book is “The Case for Impeachment” (St. Martin’s Press, 2006 and now available in paperback). His work is available at www.thiscantbehappening.net

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Dave Lindorff is a founding member of ThisCantBeHappening!, an online newspaper collective, and is a contributor to Hopeless: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion (AK Press).

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