Afghanistan: civilian deaths from airstrikes on the rise

Civilian deaths in Afghanistan from US and NATO airstrikes nearly tripled from 2006 to 2007, with recent deadly airstrikes exacerbating the problem and fuelling a public backlash, Human Rights Watch said in a new report released today. The report also condemns the Taliban’s use of “human shields” in violation of the laws of war.

Though operational changes advocated by Human Rights Watch have reduced the rate of civilian casualties since they spiked in July 2007, continuing tragedies, such as the July 6, 2008 strike on a wedding party and the August 22, 2008 bombing in Azizabad, have greatly undermined local support for the efforts of international forces providing security in Afghanistan.

The 43-page report, “‘Troops in Contact’: Airstrikes and Civilian Deaths in Afghanistan,” analyzes the use of airstrikes by US and NATO forces and resulting civilian casualties, particularly when used to make up for the lack of ground troops and during emergency situations. Human Rights Watch found few civilian deaths resulted from planned airstrikes, while almost all deaths occurred in unplanned airstrikes.

Evidence points to civilian toll in Afghan raid

To the villagers here, there is no doubt what happened in an American airstrike on Aug. 22: more than 90 civilians, the majority of them women and children, were killed.

The Afghan government, human rights and intelligence officials, independent witnesses and a United Nations investigation back up their account, pointing to dozens of freshly dug graves, lists of the dead, and cellphone videos and other images showing bodies of women and children laid out in the village mosque.

Cellphone images seen by this reporter show at least 11 dead children, some apparently with blast and concussion injuries, among some 30 to 40 bodies laid out in the village mosque. Ten days after the airstrikes, villagers dug up the last victim from the rubble, a baby just a few months old. Their shock and grief is still palpable.

For two weeks, the United States military has insisted that only 5 to 7 civilians, and 30 to 35 militants, were killed in what it says was a successful operation against the Taliban: a Special Operations ground mission backed up by American air support. But on Sunday, Gen. David D. McKiernan, the senior American commander in Afghanistan, requested that a general be sent from Central Command to review the American military investigation in light of “emerging evidence.”

Is the Maliki government jumping off the American ship of state?

…with significantly lower levels of violence in Iraq extending into a second year, Washington insiders have begun crediting themselves with — finally — a winning strategy (a claim neatly punctured by Juan Cole, among other Middle East experts). In this context, actual Bush policy aims have, once again, emerged more clearly, but so has the administration’s striking and continual failure to implement them — thanks to the Iraqis.

In the past few weeks, the Iraqi government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki has made it all too clear that, in the long run, it has little inclination to remain “aligned with U.S. interests” in the region. In fact, we may be witnessing a classic “tipping point,” a moment when Washington’s efforts to dominate the Middle East are definitively deep-sixed.

The client state that the Bush administration has spent so many years and hundreds of billions of dollars creating, nurturing, and defending has shown increasing disloyalty and lack of gratitude, as well as an ever stronger urge to go its own way. Under the pressure of Iraqi politics, Maliki has moved strongly in the direction of a nationalist position on two key issues: the continuing American occupation of the country and the future of Iraqi oil. In the process, he has sought to distance his government from the Bush administration and to establish congenial relationships, if not an outright alliance, with Washington’s international adversaries, including the Bush administration’s mortal enemy, Iran.

U.S. teams weaken insurgency in Iraq

By the time he was captured last month, the man known among Iraqi insurgents as “the Tiger” had lost much of his bite. Abu Uthman, whose fierce attacks against U.S. troops and Iraqi civilians in Fallujah had earned him a top spot on Iraq’s most-wanted list, had been reduced to shuttling between hideouts in a Baghdad slum, hiding by day for fear neighbors might recognize him.

In the end, a former associate-turned-informant showed local authorities the house where Uthman was sleeping. On Aug. 11, U.S. troops kicked in the door and handcuffed him. They quietly ended the career of a man Pentagon officials describe as the kidnapper of American journalist Jill Carroll and also as one of a dwindling number of veteran commanders of the Sunni insurgent group known as al-Qaeda in Iraq (AQI).

Uthman, whose given name is Salim Abdallah Ashur al-Shujayri, was one of the bigger fish to be landed recently in a novel anti-insurgent operation that plays out nightly in Baghdad and throughout much of Iraq. U.S. intelligence and defense officials credit the operation and its unusual tactics — involving small, hybrid teams of special forces and intelligence officers — with the capture of hundreds of suspected terrorists and their supporters in recent months.

White House set to put aside U.S.-Russia nuclear agreement

The White House plans to formally pull from congressional consideration an agreement with Russia for civilian nuclear cooperation, perhaps as soon as today, Bush administration sources said over the weekend.

The move would be the latest effort by the administration to convey its displeasure with Russia over its military actions in Georgia in the past month. Last week, the White House proposed a $1 billion package of humanitarian and economic assistance to help Georgia recover from its war with Russia over the breakaway region of South Ossetia.

Days later, Vice President Cheney traveled to Tbilisi, Georgia’s capital, to pledge U.S. support and, at a conference in Italy on Saturday, blasted Moscow over its invasion of Georgian territory, saying, “Russia’s actions are an affront to civilized standards and are completely unacceptable.”

India given go-ahead on nuclear trade despite proliferation fears

India celebrated its admission to the world’s nuclear club yesterday after a decision by the 45 nations that legally supply atomic fuel and technology to lift a decades-old ban on nuclear trade with the country.

The Nuclear Suppliers’ Group (NSG) agreed on Saturday to waive its restrictions on India, even though it has not signed the Nuclear NonProliferation Treaty or the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, and tested nuclear weapons as recently as 1998.

The NSG was set up after India shocked the world by testing its first atomic device in 1974 and has prevented Delhi ever since from importing the nuclear material it needs to help to meet rocketing domestic energy demand.

India and the United States had lobbied hard for the waiver, which they need to activate a bilateral nuclear deal, struck in 2005, that allows India to import American nuclear supplies and is the cornerstone of a new strategic relationship between them.

McCain’s convenient untruth

When it comes to fighting wars, John McCain stands up and calls for sacrifice. “We never hide from history; we make history,” he declared in his convention speech. But when it comes to taxes, McCain is unwilling to demand even a teensy bit of sacrifice. In a McCain administration, Americans would not have to surrender a dime more of their money to a cause larger than themselves.

Why this bipolar attitude toward sacrifice? Start with the answer that McCain himself provides. “My tax cuts will create jobs. His tax increases will eliminate them,” he said at the convention, offering one of the speech’s few policy contrasts between Obama’s platform and his own. In other words, McCain is not calling for tax sacrifice because he believes it would be counterproductive. On taxes, he is saying, you can selfishly avoid sacrifice — and serve the public good.

This, unfortunately, is a convenient untruth. Tax hikes taken to an extreme can indeed backfire, harming growth and job creation. But it’s a stretch to assert that Barack Obama’s tax plan would do that. And it’s downright scandalous to pretend that the economy can be strengthened in anything other than the short run by unaffordable tax cuts.

Can you say ‘sexist’?

I never thought I would live long enough to see the day when the Republican presidential candidate would cite membership in the PTA as evidence of executive experience, when the far right would laud the full-time working mothers of newborns, when social conservatives would stare down teenage pregnancy and replace their pursed-lip accusations of promiscuity with hosannas about choosing life.

The Republican Party has undergone a surprising metamorphosis since Sarah Palin was chosen as its vice presidential candidate. In Palin I recognize a fellow traveler, a woman whose life would have been impossible just a few decades ago. If she had been born 30 years earlier, the PTA would likely have been her last stop, not her first. Her political ascendancy is a direct result of the women’s movement, which has changed the world utterly for women of all persuasions. It is therefore notable that Palin has found her home in a party, and in a wing of that party, that for many years has reviled, repelled and sought to roll back the very changes that led her to the Alaska Statehouse.

Sarah Palin: George Bush in lipstick?

A core Democratic talking point against Sarah Palin is beginning to take shape: she is, critics say, the female counterpart of the current President of the United States, not only in terms of policy and social conservatism, but even personality.

“She’s not a pitbull in lipstick,” said one female Democratic operative, referencing a line from Palin’s convention speech. “She’s George Bush in lipstick.”

From her hard-right stances on abortion and contraception and the deep affection she engenders from conservative evangelical leaders, to her involvement in a possible “abuse of power” scandal in Alaska and even her charming demeanor, some see in Palin the second coming of the 43rd president.

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One thought on “NEWS & VIEWS ROUNDUP: September 8

  1. Carol Elkins

    Much to my chagrin, I am being forced back to my unpopular opinion when Barack was running against Hillary. That was that he would lose because he thinks the American people are smart. He didn’t lose then, of course, but now he is banking on the same myth. However, he is wrong. American people are not smart, but hugely ignorant.

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