July 24, 2008
A lengthy front-page article in Wednesday’s New York
Times cites US military officials to make the case for wider
latitude in conducting bombing raids against targets in Afghanistan.
The article by reporter Thom Shanker carries a headline reflecting
the complaints of the Pentagon: "Civilian Risks Curbing Strikes
in Afghan War."
According to this sympathetic account, "American and allied
commanders said that even as orders for air attacks in Afghanistan
had increased significantly this year, their ability to strike
top insurgent leaders from the air was severely restricted by
rules intended to minimize civilian casualties."
Shanker was given unprecedented access to the secret US base
that controls the air war in Afghanistan and the adjacent tribal
areas of Pakistan. He describes it only as "the air operations
headquarters in Southwest Asia," adding that he was permitted
to conduct interviews at the Combined Air and Space Operations
Center "under a written agreement that neither the name of
the base nor its location be published, in deference to the host
It is widely known that US Air Force operations in the region
are headquartered at a base in the Persian Gulf nation of Qatar,
whose rulers wish to avoid publicity about their role in helping
the US military carry out mass murder against the people of Iraq
and Afghanistan and prepare further atrocities against Iran.
The International Herald Tribune, the European newspaper
owned by the Times, published the same article with a different
headline, one which more clearly reveals that Shanker was acting
as a Pentagon mouthpiece: "Rules Protecting Civilians Hamper
Airstrikes in Afghanistan, Military Says."
In its content and tone, the article resembles nothing so much
as the official disinformation published by the Times in
the run-up to the US invasion of Iraq, particularly the notorious
articles by Judith Miller, the former Times journalist
and conduit for top Bush administration officials like Lewis Libby,
former chief of staff to Vice President Cheney and convicted perjurer.
These articles validated the case for war being made by the
Bush administration by parroting its claims—since revealed
as false and wholly fabricated—that Iraq had an active program
to produce biological, chemical and nuclear weapons, as well as
close ties to terrorist groups like Al Qaeda.
In the latest piece of propaganda, Shanker describes an American
military machine obsessed to the point of dysfunction with avoiding
civilian casualties. The officers he interviews are "frustrated"
by "obstacles" that have led to "missed opportunities"
in targeting Taliban leaders. They claim that the Afghan insurgents
"have learned to exploit the restrictions" on bombing.
These "restrictions," however, did not prevent the
US and NATO air forces from killing hundreds of civilians during
the first six months of 2008, according to figures reported by
the United Nations. Shanker notes that more than twice as many
bombs have been dropped on Afghanistan so far this year as in
Iraq. In June alone, US and NATO forces used 646 bombs and missiles,
an amount nearly equal to the total for Iraq so far this year.
Shanker cites complaints by Pentagon officials that the rules
of engagement for Afghanistan are more stringent than in Iraq
and require "a significantly lower risk of civilian casualties
than was acceptable in Iraq." Approval by the regional commander,
General David McKiernan, or even by Defense Secretary Robert Gates,
is required for some particularly risky bombing raids.
The article describes supposedly elaborate efforts to avoid
the slightest "collateral damage" either to life or
property. Shanker writes approvingly, "At the air operations
center, targeting specialists spend hours before each mission
measuring distances from the potential strike zone to the nearest
house, building, mosque, school or hospital.
Vast numbers of public, religious and historic sites make up
a computer database of no-strike zones. Special goggles are worn
while reviewing digital images compiled from surveillance aircraft
and satellites to give a detailed, three-dimensional view of the
In a passage that deserves to be noted as a monument to official
lying, Shanker quotes the top military lawyer at the base, Col.
Gary Brown, declaring, "We explicitly guarantee extra benefits
to civilians." Brown claims to check the conformity of each
bombing raid with the Geneva Conventions, and various judicial
and legislative standards.
Brown is also the source for the claim that reports of massive
civilian casualties are regularly fabricated by Taliban and Al
Qaeda in order to discredit the US intervention in Afghanistan.
The reality is that US bombs have slaughtered dozens of innocent
Afghan citizens on a regular basis. Some of the most recent incidents
* The death of somewhere between 17 and 22 people—reports
differ—on July 4 in Nuristan province, on the eastern border.
The victims were trying to flee from the scene of an announced
US military operation. While the US-NATO forces claimed they had
targeted "militants," the dead reportedly included two
doctors, a nurse, three shopkeepers, three drivers, a landowner,
his wife, son, and his 8-month-old grandchild.
* The massacre of 47 people July 6, when US bombs struck a
wedding party in Nangarhar province. In keeping with Afghan traditions,
the bride and groom approached the wedding site from different
directions, attended by male and female friends and relations
respectively. The air strike hit the bride’s column, all
women and children, and she was among the victims.
* The killing of as many as 12 people July 15 in Farah province,
in the southwest. The dead included nine women, two men and a
boy. The US military command issued its usual disavowal: "Coalition
forces never intentionally target non-combatants, and deeply regret
any occurrence such as this where civilians are killed and injured
as a result of insurgent activity and actions."
To its disgrace, the organization Human Rights Watch contributed
to this charade, with its senior military analyst, Marc Garlasco,
telling the Times reporter, "In their deliberate targeting,
the Air Force has all but eliminated civilian casualties in Afghanistan.
They have very effective collateral damage mitigation procedures."
Civilian casualties are limited to cases of unplanned or quick-response
targeting when US and NATO troops come under attack and call in
air strikes, Garlasco added, as they did July 14 when Taliban
forces nearly overran a US outpost near of the village of Wanat
on the Afghanistan border with Pakistan.
Garlasco’s professional background is significant, though
not reported by Shanker. He was a senior analyst at the Pentagon
for seven years and served in 2003 as the chief of high value
targeting during the US attack on Iraq. In other words, he coordinated
efforts to use cruise missiles and other smart weapons to assassinate
Saddam Hussein and other Iraqi leaders, before leaving the military
and enlisting with the human rights watchdog group financed by
billionaire George Soros.
The political purpose of the Times article is as obvious
as it is despicable. By portraying the American air war against
the Afghan people as an exercise in humanitarianism, the leading
liberal newspaper in the United States seeks to condition public
opinion to accept the escalation of the US war in Afghanistan
most fervently advocated by the presumptive Democratic presidential
nominee, Senator Barack Obama.
The article follows a drumbeat of demands for more troops,
weapons and warplanes in the Afghan theater that accompanied Obama’s
much-publicized visit to Kabul. Obama, his Republican rival John
McCain, and the Bush administration all agree on dispatching at
least two or three more brigades, about 10,000 soldiers, to build
up the US-NATO occupation force that already numbers some 60,000.
In a statement Tuesday, a leading congressional Democratic
spokesman on military affairs, House Armed Service Committee Chairman
Ike Skelton of Missouri, called for more troops. "I can’t
put a number on it," he said, "but there are going to
be more. We’re short of NATO troops. We’re short of
American troops. We’re short 3,000 trainers of the Afghan
army. If we’re going to come out of there successful, we’ve
got to have more troops."
Besides the troops, the Associated Press reports that the Pentagon
wants to send an additional 800 bomb-resistant military vehicles
to Afghanistan, to counteract a rise in Iraq-style roadside bomb
The US-NATO occupation and its stooge, Afghan President Hamid
Karzai, are facing increasing guerrilla resistance throughout
the country, not limited to forces loyal to the ousted Taliban
regime. Insurgent attacks were up 40 percent in June 2008 compared
to the same month last year.
According to press reports, the Afghan guerrillas who nearly
overran the US base at Wanat in Nuristan last week included fighters
from several different organizations. The US abandoned the base
July 16, two days after its garrison of 45 US and 25 Afghan soldiers
was nearly wiped out. The US forces suffered nine dead and 15
wounded, a casualty rate of more than 50 percent.
The Afghan interior ministry confirmed July 21 that Taliban
forces had overrun the Ajiristan district in central Ghazni province,
125 miles southwest of Kabul, after Afghan security forces abandoned
the district center under attack. The district was captured by
the Taliban last October but later retaken by pro-government forces.
Meanwhile, the Democratic-controlled US Congress has approved
legislation that would authorize construction of ammunition storage
and power generation facilities at the Bagram Air Base outside
Kabul, a sign that the Pentagon is planning a long-term presence
there. Bagram was described by the Pentagon’s Central Command
(CENTCOM) as "the centerpiece for the CENTCOM Master Plan
for future access to and operations in Central Asia."