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Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Hearts and minds 

Dave at Galloping Beaver flags this New York Times story about how the increasing number of civilian deaths in Afghanistan is damaging public support for the Afghan government and the war.
He notes this paragraph in particular:
The public mood hardened against foreign forces in the southern city of Kandahar after British troops fired on civilians while driving through the streets after a suicide bombing last year, and Canadian soldiers have repeatedly killed and wounded civilians while on patrol in civilian areas.
Really? Our troops have developed a reputation for repeatedly killing civilians? Now, I don't comb the papers for Afghan news every day, but I don't remember getting the impression that Canadian solders are "repeatedly' firing on civilians.
So I googled, and found this December article from Seven Oaks magazine, which explains why I hadn't heard about it -- because our Canadian media hasn't been giving this issue systematic coverage:
. . . our most respected media went to considerable lengths to avoid negative portrayals of our military role and that of our NATO allies, even to the point of completely ignoring certain shocking and disastrous events which are of vital importance in understanding the role of our military in Afghanistan and its effects on the people of that country.
Here's some of the stories you didn't hear about:
At around 2am on October 18, NATO helicopters firing on houses in the village of Ashogo in Kandahar killed between nine and thirteen civilians, including women and children. Almost simultaneously, in neighboring Helmand province, another NATO air strike killed a reported thirteen civilians. Additionally, NATO revealed that just one purported Taliban insurgent was killed in the attacks. In fact, during the attack on Ashogo, there were no Taliban whatsoever in the village, according to local officials. NATO blamed the botched attacks on intelligence failures.
And here's another one:
. . . an Afghan father's accusations that during the Kandahar attack NATO troops had executed his wounded son when the soldiers had entered their house . . . NATO later announced that they had exonerated themselves on the matter
And a week later:
Before dawn on October 24 -- and on the cusp of Eid celebrations -- NATO air strikes in the Panjwaii district of Kandahar, ostensibly aimed at Taliban insurgents, claimed the lives of numerous innocent civilians. Estimates at the time ranged from 30 to 90 dead villagers; NATO initially conceded only 11 civilian deaths while claiming 48 dead insurgents. Survivors told of their homes being bombed and of fleeing across fields with their families, while NATO planes strafed them. Reportedly, over 50 homes were destroyed.
We are also creating refugees:
. . . at the end of November, Amnesty noted that NATO operations in Afghanistan had contributed to the displacement of up to 90,000 people . . .
Here's another incident:
On December 12, a Canadian soldier on guard duty shot and killed an Afghan senior citizen in Kandahar City. The man, 90 year-old Haji Abdul Rahman, had approached the provincial governor's palace on his motorcycle. A frequent visitor to the palace, the elderly former teacher had come to pay a visit to his old pupil: Afghanistan's President Hamid Karzai. Afghan soldiers in charge of an outer checkpoint, evidently familiar with the locally famous man, had let him pass without questioning him. Upon seeing this, the Canadian soldier became suspicious or alarmed and commenced verbal warnings aimed at the elderly motorcyclist. When these signals did not have the desired effect (a common occurrence, it must be noted, in this conflict as well as the one in Iraq), the soldier fired a warning shot which ricocheted and killed the man, according to a Canadian Forces spokesperson.
And there were three more incidents in February:
Maj. Dale MacEachern, a spokesman for the Canadian Forces, said the group of Canadians signalled for the approaching vehicle to stop, but troops opened fire when the civilian driver proceeded . . . The Afghan driver was killed and a passenger was wounded . . . On Feb. 18, Canadian soldiers killed an Afghan civilian and a member of the Afghan national police following an attack on a Canadian convoy. The military said the civilian approached Canadian Forces soldiers while they were engaged in a gun battle with insurgents and did not heed repeated warnings to move away.
A day earlier, Canadian troops also shot and killed an Afghan civilian.
While reporting on other civilian deaths in Afghanistan in early May, due to US bombing, the BBC provides this statistic:
About 4,000 people were killed in Afghanistan last year, about a quarter of them civilians.
This Wikipedia article provides more detail about all of the civilian deaths in Afghanistan, including the ones attributed to US soldiers.

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