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From My Lai to Bala Baluk

Barack Obama is aggressively stepping up the war in Afghanistan. He’s intensified the cross-border bombing of Pakistan and he is doubling the number of U.S. troops to 68,000 by 2010. He’s also a strong proponent of pilotless drones even though hundreds of civilians have been killed in bombing raid blunders.

On May 4, 2009, 143 civilians were killed in a bombing raid in Bala Baluk, a remote area south of Herat. Obama brushed off the incident with terse apology never intimating that the US policy for aerial bombardment would be reviewed to avoid future mishaps. Patrick Cockburn gave a summary of the incident:

I did not meet survivors but I did talk to a reliable witness, a radio reporter called Farooq Faizy, who had gone to Bala Baluk soon after the attack happened. He (had) some 70 or 80 photographs and they bore out the villagers’ story: there were craters everywhere; the villages had been plastered with bombs; bodies had been torn to shreds by the blasts; there were mass graves; there were no signs of damage from bullets, rockets or grenades.

US military spokesmen denied the news reports and concocted a wacky story about Taliban militants rampaging through the village hurling grenades into buildings. It was a ridiculous narrative that no one believed. The facts have since been verified by senior government officials, high-ranking members of the Afghan military and representatives of the Red Cross. The United States military killed 143 unarmed villagers and then they tried to cover it up with a lie. None of the victims were fighters. After the bombing, the villagers loaded body parts onto carts and took them to the office of the regional governor who confirmed the deaths. The photos of grief-stricken Afghans burying their dead have been widely circulated on the Internet.

From Reuters:

Ninety-three children and 25 adult women are among a list of 140 names of Afghans who villagers say were killed in a battle and U.S. air strikes last week, causing a crisis between Washington and its Afghan allies.

The list, obtained by Reuters, bears the endorsement of seven senior provincial and central government officials, including an Afghan two-star general who headed a task force dispatched by the government to investigate the incident.

Titled “list of the martyrs of the bombardment of Bala Boluk district of Farah Province”, it includes the name, age and father’s name of each alleged victim.

The youngest was listed as 8-day-old baby Sayed Musa, son of Sayed Adam. Fifty-three victims were girls under the age of 18, and 40 were boys. Only 22 were men 18 or older. (“List of 140 Afghan Killed In US Attack Includes 93 Children”, Reuters)

Neither Obama nor anyone in his administration has acknowledged that 93 children were killed by American bombs.

Military operations in Afghanistan have increased under Obama especially in the south where the Taliban are most heavily concentrated. The fighting has spread into Pakistan where President Asif Ali Zardari has been pressured into deploying his troops the Swat Valley to fight militants despite growing public disapproval. Nearly 850,000 people have been forced from their homes in the last few weeks to seek shelter in the south. For the most part, the humanitarian crisis has gone unreported in the western media, but Obama knows what is going on and is sticking with the same policy. Hundreds of thousands of people are now living in tent cities without food or clean water because of the escalation in the violence. It’s a disaster.

OBAMA PICKS A GENERAL: Enter the assassination squads

This week, General David McKiernan was replaced by Lt. Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal as Commander of US Forces in Afghanistan. Here’s how the Washington Post summarized McChrystal’s qualifications for the job:

“McChrystal kills people. Has he ever worked in the counterinsurgency environment? Not really,” said Roger Carstens, a senior nonresident fellow at the Center for a New American Security and a former Special Forces officer….

Lt. Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal, the former Special Operations chief who is President Obama’s new choice to lead the war in Afghanistan, rose to military prominence because of his single-minded success in a narrow but critical mission: manhunting. As commander of the military’s secretive Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC) for nearly five years starting in 2003, McChrystal masterminded a campaign to perfect the art of tracking down enemies, and then capturing or killing them. He built a sophisticated network of soldiers and intelligence operatives who proceeded to decapitate the Sunni insurgent group al-Qaeda in Iraq and kill its most notorious leader, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi.(“High-value-target hunter takes on Afghan war” Washington Post)

Obama chose McChrystal because of his “black ops” pedigree, which suggests that the conflict in Afghanistan is about to take a very ugly turn. According to Pulitzer Prize–winning investigative journalist Seymour Hersh, McChrystal ran the “executive assassination wing” of the military’s joint special-operations command. (JSOC) The experts believe that he will breeze through congressional confirmation hearings because many Senators believe that his counterinsurgency theories helped the surge in Iraq to succeed. There’s some truth to this, too. But it would be more accurate to say that the ethnic cleansing of Baghdad helped to reduce the violence. That is the truth about the surge; it’s a public relations moniker for ethnic cleansing.

McChrystal’s appointment suggests that Obama supports the idea that hunter-killer units and targeted assassinations are an acceptable means of achieving US foreign policy objectives. Obama supporters should pay close attention; this is a continuation of the Rumsfeld policy with one slight difference, a more persuasive and charismatic pitchman promoting the policy. Other than that, there’s no difference.

Obama knows of McChrystal’s involvement in the prisoner abuse scandal at Baghdad’s Camp Nama, just as he knows of his role in the cover-up in the friendly-fire death of ex-NFL star and Army Ranger Pat Tillman. None of this matters to Obama. What matters is winning; not principle, ideals, human rights or civilian casualties. Just winning.

FROM MY LAI TO BALA BALUK

On March 16, 1968, the US military was involved in a similar incident which soured the public on Vietnam and eventually helped bring the war to a close. Barack Obama was only seven years old when Charlie Company–led by platoon leader second Lieutenant William Calley–entered the small hamlet of My Lai and proceeded to slaughter 347 unarmed civilians. This is Sam Harris’s account of what took place on that day 40 years ago:

“Early in the morning the soldiers were landed in the village by helicopter. Many were firing as they spread out, killing both people and animals. There was no sign of the Vietcong battalion and no shot was fired on Charlie Company all day, but they carried on. They burnt down every house. They raped woman and girls and then killed them. They stabbed some women in the vagina and disemboweled others, or cut off their hands or scalps. Pregnant woman had there stomachs slashed open and were left to die. There were gang rapes and killings by shooting or with bayonets. There were mass executions. Dozens of people at a time, including old men, women and children, were machined-gunned in a ditch. In four hours nearly 500 villagers were killed.” (Sam Harris from his book “The End of Faith: Religion, Terror and the Future of Reason“)

The only difference between My Lai and Bala Baluk is the degree of savagery. In both cases the guilt can be traced directly back to the White House.

Obama believes that civilian casualties are an unavoidable part of achieving one’s policy goals. The end justifies the means. He has strengthened the Bush policy, not repudiated it. So much for “change”.

MIKE WHITNEY lives in Washington state. He can be reached at fergiewhitney@msn.com

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MIKE WHITNEY lives in Washington state. He is a contributor to Hopeless: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion (AK Press). Hopeless is also available in a Kindle edition. He can be reached at fergiewhitney@msn.com.

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