Friday, October 07, 2011
Remembering the waste of 10 years' war
Peace campaigners will rally in London's Trafalgar Square at noon tomorrow to mark 10 years to the day since Britain joined the US in its disastrous invasion of Afghanistan.
The decade-long war has cost at least £18 trillion and killed at least 40,000 people.
Speakers at the rally are expected to include Labour ex-MP Tony Benn, international relations expert Noam Chomsky and WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, whose 2010 "war logs" brought the issue of Afghan casualties into the limelight.
The dump of 90,000 classified reports filed between January 2004 and December 2009 counted 4,024 civilian deaths in the course of "international assistance force" (ISAF) operations.
The UN's Afghanistan mission recorded around 8,000 civilian deaths since 2008, attributing around 80 per cent of that figure to insurgent attacks, while Human Rights Watch recorded 2,500 deaths in 2006 and 2007.
Stop the War Coalition has calculated that 9,300 civilian deaths can be attributed to ISAF troops while another 40,000 have succumbed to poverty, disease and famine as a result of the war.
But a spokesman told the Morning Star today that the true total might never be known, saying it was a failure on the West's part that there had been no systematic investigation into the deaths of civilians.
"Whatever the figure, the point is that it's needless deaths," he said. "Any number of civilian deaths is still too many."
Comparing "pro-government" killings with "insurgent" killings was pointless, he said.
"It doesn't really hold water when the reason the roadside bombs are there is specifically to target occupying forces.
"The reason for the roadside bombs, if you like, is the occupation."
British defence officials confirmed this week that military police had investigated at least 30 civilian deaths in encounters with British troops since 2005.
Britain's 9,000 troops in the country make up around 6 per cent of the occupying armies.
The papers, released under the Freedom of Information Act, detailed investigations into 99 "incidents" where British forces had allegedly killed or wounded Afghan civilians - but the Ministry of Defence withheld case notes for 49 of them while the Service Prosecuting Authority refused to say how many soldiers had been prosecuted as a result.
Several incidents are described as "traffic accidents" by the army but some allege deliberate attacks on civilians.
One serviceman with a detachment of Royal Commandos said he saw his unit rain mortar fire on a group of unarmed farmhands, killing one and wounding several others.
And in another a soldier from the Coldstream Guards was said to have deliberately shot his interpreter in the face with a small flare gun.
Sixteen other cases involved alleged assaults on Afghan detainees, including kicking, punching and strangulation.
"We didn't know enough and we still don't know enough," he said. "Most of us — me included — had a very superficial understanding of the situation and history, and we had a frighteningly simplistic view of recent history, the last 50 years."
General Stanley McChristal
with blood on his hands