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Carnage From the Air

Posted on Jul 9, 2007

By Tom Engelhardt

(Page 2)

A Blur of Civilian Deaths

But first things first.  Let’s start with a partial list of recently reported air power “incidents” (dates approximate), all of which resulted in significant civilian casualties: 

June 18:  An “airstrike against a suspected al-Qaeda hideout” in the southeastern Afghan province of Paktika is ordered after “nefarious activities” have been observed at the site, which includes a mosque and a madrassa (religious school).  Almost immediately, news arrives that seven children have been killed in the attack.  The initial response:  “Maj. Chris Belcher, spokesman for the coalition, said there had been no sign of children at the facility in the hours before the strike, and blamed al-Qaeda for trying to use a civilian facility as a shield.” (According to another spokesman, Sgt. 1st Class Dean Welch, “If we knew that there were children inside the building, there was no way that that air strike would have occurred.”) 

Later, up to 100 civilians are reported to have been killed in related fighting, though the figures vary with the news story.  Subsequently, U.S. military officials admit that the air strike “likely missed its primary target,” an al-Qaeda commander, and that “contrary to previous statements, the U.S. military knew there were children at the compound.”  Thinking they had a key al-Qaeda figure in their sights, they launched the attack anyway.

June 21:  A U.S. air strike aimed at a “booby-trapped house” in the Iraqi city of Baquba misses its target and “accidentally” hits another house, wounding 11 civilians, according to the U.S. military.  The incident is declared “under investigation.” 

In the larger Baquba incursion, Operation Arrowhead Ripper, part of the President’s “surge plan” for the country, civilian casualties from the air (and ground) are evidently significantly more widespread than generally reported in the American media.  A BBC report notes at least 12 civilian casualties, including three women, on the operation’s first day and quotes the head of the city’s emergency service as saying that there were “certainly more ... but ambulances were being prevented by U.S. troops from going in to evacuate them.”  (A Sunni political party in Prime Minister Maliki’s government claims 350 dead civilians in Baquba, mainly due to helicopter attacks.) 

Joshua Partlow of the Washington Post, reporting on the Baquba operation, quotes Iraqi refugee Amer Hussein Jasm, a refugee from a nearby town, saying:  “The airplanes have been shooting all the houses and people are getting scared, so they ran away.”  Partlow also quotes an American lieutenant threatening Iraqis his unit has picked up:  “Our planes can blow up this whole city. They have that capability.  If we didn’t care about you guys, we wouldn’t place ourselves in danger walking around trying to separate the bad guys from the good guys. When you guys tell us where the bad guys are, you keep innocent people from being hurt.”

June 21:  “At least 25 civilians, including nine women, three infants and an elderly village mullah,” are killed in “crossfire” in Helmand province in southern Afghanistan when U.S. air strikes are called in.  (” ‘In choosing to conduct such attacks in this location at this time, the risk to civilians was probably deliberate,’ [NATO spokesman Lt. Col. Mike] Smith said [of the Taliban]. ‘It is this irresponsible action that may have led to casualties.’ ”)

June 22:  The U.S. military announces that it has killed “17 al-Qaeda gunmen” infiltrating an Iraqi village north of Baquba.  (“Iraqi police were conducting security operations in and around the village when Coalition attack helicopters from the 25th Combat Aviation Brigade and ground forces from 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 1st Cavalry Division, observed more than 15 armed men attempting to circumvent the IPs and infiltrate the village…. The attack helicopters, armed with missiles, engaged and killed 17 al-Qaeda gunmen and destroyed the vehicle they were using.”)

A BBC report later reveals that the dead are 11 village guards (“some of their bodies cut into small pieces by the munitions used against them”).  They were assisting the Iraqi police in trying to protect their village from possible al-Qaeda attacks when rocketed and strafed by American helicopters. 

June 22:  “NATO and U.S.-led coalition forces killed 60 insurgents [in Afghanistan] near the border with Pakistan, in what was described as the largest insurgent formation crossing the region in six months, the military said Saturday.”  That was how the story was first presented, before news of civilian casualties started to trickle out.  Later, more defensively, [the] U.S. commander Col. Martin P. Schweitzer would insist that his forces had only targeted “bad guys”: “These individuals clearly had weapons and used them against our aircraft as well as shooting rockets against our positions,” he said.  “This required their removal from the battle-space.” 

The first accounting of noncombatant dead, reportedly from a U.S. rocket, includes at least five men, three women, and one child, according to a Pakistani Army spokesman.  These deaths occurred on the Pakistani side of the border.  (According to the Pakistanis, civilians also died on the Afghan side of the border.)  This figure is later raised to 12; the place hit identified as a “small hotel”; and the airpower identified as possibly B-52s and Apache helicopters.  A report in the Egyptian paper al-Ahram adds:  “Sources in Pakistan’s tribal areas ... say 31 of the supposed slain ‘insurgents’ were in fact Pakistan tribesmen and their families, including women and children.”

June 30:  In air strikes, again in Helmand province, munitions “slammed into civilian homes.” At least 30 insurgents and civilians are initially reported to have been killed, “including women and children.”  These figures later rise precipitously.  (” ‘More than 100 people have been killed. But they weren’t Taliban. The Taliban were far away from there,’ said Wali Khan, a member of parliament who represents the area.”)  Other reports have 45 civilians and 62 insurgents dying.  NATO spokesman later claim civilian deaths were “an order of magnitude less” and that Taliban fighters were firing from well-dug trenches and “continuing their tactic of using women and children as human shields in close combat.”

Given the ongoing uproar over civilian casualties in Afghanistan, an investigation is launched.  According to Haji Zahir, “a tribal elder who said he had been in touch with residents of bombed villages”: “People tried to escape from the area with their cars, trucks and tractors, and the coalition airplanes bombed them because they thought they were the enemy fleeing. They told me that they had buried 170 bodies so far.”  Thirty-five villagers “fleeing in a tractor-trailer” were reportedly hit from the air—with only two survivors, an old man and his severely wounded son.  NATO (American) spokesmen beg to disagree:  “The allies returned fire and called in air support, aimed at ‘clearly identified firing positions.’ ”

July 2:  An intense mortar barrage aimed at a U.S. base near the largely Shiite city of Diwaniya leads to air strikes by two F-16s that reportedly kill 10 civilians along with Shia militiamen.  Among them, it is said, are six children under the age of 12.  (” ‘Coalition forces are reviewing the incident to ensure that appropriate and proportionate force was used in responding to the intense attack,’ a U.S. statement said, without referring to any Iraqi casualties.”)

New reports of deaths from air strikes in Afghanistan continue to arrive—108 noncombatants “including women and children” killed in Farah Province on July 6th and 33 killed in Kunar Province, “11 of them on Thursday [July 5th] during a bombardment, and 25 more on Friday as they attended a funeral for the deceased.” American denials are issued and Taliban propaganda blamed.  (”[A] US official said Taliban fighters are forcing villagers to say civilians died in fighting—whether or not it is true.”)   



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By ctbrandon, July 11, 2007 at 8:28 am Link to this comment

Dear George Bush,

Please quit murdering people. Just because they arent Americans doesnt mean they arent humans. Because of you, there are 73,497 people no longer alive in this world. Many of them were women and children, ALL of them were innocent civilians. Let me state that again, you have killed over seventy three thousand people. Stop it.



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By cyrena, July 11, 2007 at 5:00 am Link to this comment

Comment#85376 by guntotin ganglion on 7/09 at 12:56

guntotin ganglion, I ditto everything you’ve said in this post. It’s all the very sad truth.

And, I’ve read all of the articles that Tom Englehart references in the piece, and it’s just all so true. In this BBC Interview with Patreus, everything that Patreus says about the “success and new goals” of the continued military involvement, are all framed on what is best for the military and the “nation”. US of course. And, if that means wiping out a lot more civilians from the air, (because we have so far not been able to curb their resistance on the ground) then so be it.

The goals for U.S. ownership of Iraq will be met in any manner it takes. The Cabal never expected this resistence, and in stark honesty, I’m sure that the only thing that has prevented an all out ariel blast of the entire nation, has been a few sounder minds.

Because well, there’s absolutely no way that the international community could sit still with that. That doesn’t change the fact however, that Cheney would have been perfectly willing to do that, long ago. Wanted to in fact.

And, they’re all becoming more and more anxious now, as Iraq continues to reject and resist the goals of this occpation. That’s why the pressure with the air strikes is so much higher now, even though they’ve been going on since the beginning.

At this point, the Cabal is determined to get exactly what they went there for to begin with, and the more the remaining Iraqis resist, the harder the Cabal will hit them.

It’s such a horrible reality. The worst is that it really COULD be STOPPED. We don’t HAVE to bomb anybody from the air.

The article makes that clear….we actually DO have personnel that are trained to do operations on the bad guys, without harming civilians. So, we have to see all of these civilian deaths as quite intentional. Just like the over 2 million Iraqi civilians that have already died, in much the same manner.

I mean, it’s hard to see it any other way. This isn’t even a war, it’s just a continuous (and escalating)act of brutal agression, and crimes against humanity.

It beats anything that’s come before it, in terms of moral depravity. They’ve beat Hitler and all of the rest. That’s hard to do.

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By cann4ing, July 10, 2007 at 7:19 pm Link to this comment

The article calls to mind the words of the ancient Roman historian Tacitus:  “They created desolation and call it peace.”

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By Chip R., July 10, 2007 at 8:54 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

And Americans honestly don’t know why so many people outside our country hate us?  They hate us for our “freedoms”?!  What a bunch of propagandized B.S.

I totally agree with the article.  Its high time the American public started seeing exactly what the rest of the world sees when we “occupy” or “help” another country that we invade.  Collateral damage indeed.  Of course, since the MSM is so in bed with our government, it will never happen…but, awareness is the first step to solving this problem…

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By David Livingstone Smith, July 10, 2007 at 8:26 am Link to this comment

Wars usually kill more civilians than combatants, both through direct hits, like those described in this article, and through famine and disease,which accompany the massive displacement of populations and the breakdown of social infrastructure.

Of course, these facts are normally discretely concealed from the public, who are given a ridiculous, comic-book picture of combat.  See my book “The Most Dangerous Animal: Human Nature and the Origins of War”, which will be published by St. Martins Press next month.

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By Enemy of State, July 9, 2007 at 8:06 pm Link to this comment

Such an unpleasant subject. To be fair to the military, it is the responsibility of the ground commander ordering the strike, not the air crews to determine the legitacy of the target. The vast majority of these sorts of incidents have involved foreign ground troops. Now I have nothing against these foreigners, but their degree of training, and equipment makes them far more vulnerable to enemy fire than US troops. If all you care about is casualties among your men, you order the airstrike. If you elevate the lives of the civilians you are supposed to be there to protect above the lives of your own men, then you use other methods.

  I hope our countrymen will take to heart the sadness that fighting such a conflict engenders. As a people we are far too militant. Far too likely to choose the path of war. These are the sorts of issues that we need to be discussing before we give authorization to use mlitary force -not afterwards!

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By great_satan, July 9, 2007 at 6:11 pm Link to this comment

God its all so friggin’ wrong!!! Needless to say the false dichotomy of collateral damage and attacking civilians is erroneous, or certainly after a point it is.
  But America is a country that is willing to go to war for whatever reasons, willing to send more than a hundred thousand troops, but afraid to have them get hurt or killed. This sentimentalism is largely the reason behind this phenomenon of carnage.
  The press doesn’t report the carnage, and the US public doesn’t really care or there would be a lot more inquiry into just what happened when we did such and such and defeated so many somebodies. The US does care about their poor soldier boys.
    I see it again and again in the media and in conversation on the street. The attitude toward civilian casualties is calloused, “Hey, its a war, people are gonna die.People just have to accept that.” But then there is outrage and grave concern when some crazy towel head takes out a few of our boys. Its always been the case of nationalism and war psychology in the west, but is now utterly amplified beyond the ridiculous. 
  So, beyond the usual care the generals might have for those troops in their command, they are under that much more pressure to keep them from harms way. So we airstrike, shoot from 30 kilometers away.
    Do you know how many men the Afghanis lost fighting back the soviets? Two Million! There aren’t so many Afghanis to begin with. The Muslim mentality is still a death fighting infidels and the workers of injustice (which is how they understandably see our troops, from their perspective,) is a trip to heaven. 
  So, its a case when naive sentiment creates massive destruction. If we thought, “well kids you signed up for the military, you knew the risks, we’re at war, a death in combat is an honorable death,” then we would engage in more conventional ground warfare, soldiers fighting other soldiers, and not rely on airstrikes of areas populated with civilians.
  This country is nuts. Its this kind of mentality that will lead to friggin’ nuclear strikes.

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By felicity, July 9, 2007 at 4:19 pm Link to this comment

It’s the American way of war, fool.  Nice and clean, sanitary and sanitized, detached from the carnage, detached from the smell of dying flesh, out of ear-shot from the agonizing screams of mothers and fathers holding the mangled bodies of their dead children. 

And the movers and shakers, the people responsible for all this?  The only tank they’ve ever sat in is a think tank on K Street.  And George?  Well, he has walked across the deck of an aircraft carrier - anchored two miles off of San Diego.  And then there’s 5-deferment Dick - spare me.

It all fits.  It’s the American way.  Afterall, don’t want to put a damper on my shopping trip.

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By Scott, July 9, 2007 at 3:20 pm Link to this comment

Notwithstanding my sense they should both be considered crimes against humanity - if aerial bombardment of civilian areas is considered legal in a guerrilla war then I fail to see why terrorism should be treated any differently.

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By guntotin ganglion, July 9, 2007 at 1:56 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Modern warfare embraces the murder of innocents. They are the logs used to stoke the fires of war. The justification is always, the enemy was using them as human shields, so we killed em all. Not our faults, it was the “enemy” that did it. The devil made me do it…not my fault.

Since the onset of modern warfare, the percentages of innocent victims continues to rise. There was a time apparently, early on, when it was not considered acceptable to blindly bomb cities from the air. Apparently there was a time when morality played a part, and when there were people who didn’t just blindly accept that the vast majority of deaths in war were innocent victims.

3500 plus US deaths…nothing compared to the innocents dead in Iraq. Even if you go by the “official” numbers, you have a 20 to 1 ratio, which puts civilian deaths at about 70,000 so far. Of course, and as usual, the reality is, the civilian deaths in Iraq are more like ten times that. So, 200 to 1. And this is considered acceptable collateral losses. Murdering babies and children and innocent adults, not a problem, they were being used as human shields, so they deserved to die. Regrettable, but necessary!

The reality is this, the excuse that “they” were using hostages as human shields is bull-shit. It has now become the standard excuse for wholesale murder of civilians. Modern warfare has turned into the most truly evil of human enterprises, for it no longer values those it claims to be fighting for…the innocent. All who fight modern warfare, and slaughter innocents, are criminals. Unfortunately, in a country that glorifies death and destruction (note the joy of virtual warfare on July 4th) as a way of life and business, very few care anymore, and simply accept the lame excuses parroted time after time by the sycophantic followers of the profit-from-death merchants. I hope in my heart that there is a hell for them to burn in for eternity, but somehow, the more of this I see, the less I believe that this is anything more than natural selection in a godless universe. Top predators and their prey…that’s what it’s all about…not god, the devil, or heaven and hell. Heaven and hell are here on Earth…and we’re doing an excellent job of expanding the latter’s territory.

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