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Carnage From the Air

Posted on Jul 9, 2007

By Tom Engelhardt

(Page 3)

Air War:  Afghanistan

Even from such a partial list—undoubtedly lacking information from Iraq, where the air war has been notoriously overlooked by American reporters—a pattern can be seen.  But beyond the loss of innocent lives (always, when finally admitted, officially “regretted” by the U.S. military), why should any of this matter? 

Let’s start this way:  Barring an unexpected change of policy, some version of this list of “errant” incidents, multiplied many times over, is likely to represent the future for both Afghanistan and Iraq. The obvious math of the military manpower situation in both countries tells us this is so—as does history. 

In Afghanistan this year, Taliban suicide attacks alone have increased by 230%, while Iraq-style roadside IEDs are also a growing threat.  In eastern Afghanistan, where the U.S. leads NATO operations, “militant attacks” rose 250% compared to May 2006, according to the U.S. military.  NATO and American troop levels, now somewhere in the range of 46,000-50,000—approximately 20,000 of whom are from European countries and Canada—remain woefully inadequate for securing the country (if such a thing were even possible) and NATO casualties are on the rise. 


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Afghanistan, after all, is far larger than Iraq and is being garrisoned by a combined force less than a third the size of the occupying force in that country, which itself is universally considered inadequate to the task.  It’s a fair bet that the various European powers (and the Canadians) are wondering how they ended up in this distant war in a land that has historically been a graveyard for conquerors and occupiers.  In Canada and various European countries, as casualties rise and success of any sort seems beyond reach, the Afghan deployments are becoming increasingly unpopular. 

Don’t expect reinforcements from NATO countries any time soon; while the U.S. Army and Marines, already stretched beyond capacity by the recent “surge” in Iraq, are probably incapable of reinforcing their Afghan contingent in any significant way.  By elimination, this leaves one weapon in the American/NATO arsenal, air power, which is, in fact, ever more in use in response to a surge in Taliban ambushes and limited takeovers of villages (and even entire districts) in the Afghan south. 

As the Europeans are well aware, air power—given the civilian casualties that invariably follow in its wake—is intensely counterproductive in a guerrilla war.  “Every civilian dead means five new Taliban,” was the way a British officer just returned from Helmand Province put it recently.

However, an air-power strategy fits American predilections to a tee.  As a Reuters piece aptly headlined the matter, the Americans in Afghanistan are “hooked on air power.”  Americans have long been so.  After all, with the singular exception of various Central American proxy wars during the Reagan years, air war has essentially been the American way of war since World War II.  The Bush administration fought its Afghan War of 2001 largely from the air in support of the well-paid-off ground forces of the Northern Alliance, aided by Special Forces troops and lots of CIA money in suitcases.  (In Iraq, of course, the invasion of March 2003 started with a massive air attack meant to “decapitate” Saddam Hussein’s regime—it did no such thing—while having the side benefit of shocking-and-awing hostile states in the region.) 

Even after American ground forces moved in, Afghanistan has never ceased to be an Air Force war.  B-1 bombers have been called in relatively regularly there (unlike in Iraq) and air strikes in the Afghan countryside have become a commonplace.  By November 2006, David Cloud of the New York Times—who flew on a B-1 mission over the country (and noted that a similar flight the week he went up had “dropped its entire payload of eight 2,000-pound bombs and six 500-pound bombs after ground units called for help”)—reported that the use of air power had risen sharply there.  More than 2,000 air strikes had been called in during the previous six months, with a concomitant rise in civilian casualties.  In addition, the Air Force’s full contingent of B-1s had been “shifted over the summer from the British air base at Diego Garcia in the Indian Ocean to a Middle Eastern airfield closer to Afghanistan,” cutting mission flight time by a critical two hours.

Though no post-November 2006 figures are available, the recent spate of reported “incidents” confirms that missions have risen again this year, along with noncombatant deaths.  According to Laura King of the Los Angeles Times, in a piece typically headlined, “Errant Afghan Civilian Deaths Surge”:  “More than 500 Afghan civilians have been reported killed this year, and the rate has dramatically increased in the last month.”  Local dissatisfaction and bitterness are also noticeably on the rise.

The Karzai government remains weak, ineffective, and corrupt, while Taliban strength grows in southern Afghanistan and across the border in the Pakistani tribal areas.  There, for instance, Jane Perlez and Ismail Khan of the New York Times reported that, according to a secret document from the Pakistani Interior Ministry, “the Taliban have recently begun bombing oil tank trucks that pass through the Khyber area near the border on their way to Afghanistan for United States and NATO forces. A convoy of 12 of the trucks was hit with grenades and gutted on Thursday night in the third such incident in a month.” 

To all of this, air power is the “NATO” answer for the present and the future, the only answer in sight, however counterproductive it may prove to be. 

According to a report in the British press, American General Dan McNeill, commander of NATO forces in Afghanistan, has already been dubbed “Bomber McNeill” (and it’s not meant to be a compliment).  Despite periodic “reviews of procedures,” nor is his strategy—call in the planes—likely to change any time soon.  The U.S. military (and NATO officials) have essentially confirmed this.  Despite a growing chorus of criticism in Afghanistan (and among NATO allies), Army Brig. Gen. Joseph Votel has praised the “extensive procedures” in place “to avoid civilian casualties.”  “We think the procedures that we have in place are good—they work,” he told reporters.  U.S. spokespeople have recently indicated that NATO is not about to “change its use of air power against the Taliban.” 

So, in Afghanistan, the future is already clear enough.  More Taliban attacks mean more air strikes mean more dead noncombatants (“including women and children”) mean more alienated, angry Afghanis in a spiral of devolution to which no end can yet be foreseen. 

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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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