Firefighting in Farah

May 7, 2009

On Monday, over 100 people died in what looked like an airstrike at Ganjabad, in Farah province, Afghanistan. Locals suggest 127 died. The Red Cross initially committed only to “dozens” but has now agreed with initial reports from the ground.

Knowing that they would hardly be believed, local people opted to take over 20 bodies on trucks to the provincial capital almost immediately after they died. They told the authorities there that many more remained at the scene, while they showed films made on their mobile phones of rows of corpses.

The lengths you have to go to to report an atrocity in today’s Afghanistan.

So what happened to the 127 dead villagers in Ganjabad? Well, if you believe the U.S. military, they were herded into buildings by Taleban insurgents, before the jihadists threw a series of hand grenades inside.

Then, military sources have told the New York Times, “the militants…drove the bodies around the village claiming the dead were victims of an American airstrike.”

The impeccably loyal Washington Post adds another voice from the Pentagon who intones that “the Taliban went to a concerted effort to make it look like the U.S. airstrikes caused this.”

That’s quite some atrocity if, as I say, we are to believe the U.S. military which I suspect few of us are willing to do these days.

Local people have been telling a different story. Ganjabad resident Muhammed Jan, for example, relates that the destruction was in fact caused by the arrival of U.S. planes saying that “Six houses were bombed and destroyed completely, and people in the houses still remain under the rubble” while “villagers, crazed with grief, were collecting mangled bodies in blankets and shawls and piling them on three tractors.”

According to the AP, “Villagers said they gathered children, women and elderly men in several compounds near the village of Gerani to keep them away from the fighting, but the compounds were later hit by airstrikes” – a far cry from hand grenading packed homes.

Afghan police spokesman Rohul Amin also told Al Jazeera that “Taliban fighters were…using civilian homes to shelter from US-led forces during an operation targeting fighters.”

The U.S. then flattened those homes, regardless of how many innocent civilians were inside.

So it looks suspiciously like the U.S. government is spinning a tale about how responsible it really was for the Ganjabad massacre. Plus ca change, eh?

Fortunately, the people of the area aren’t easily fooled by military spokesmen. In fact, they are quite clear about who they blame. Hundreds of them gathered today outside the governor’s offices in the provincial capital, demanding the withdrawal of NATO troops, where they were promptly fired upon and forced to disperse.

Too many more incidents like this one and the U.S. will be finding it more and more difficult to enforce its imperial writ in western Afghanistan, which is hardly strategically unimportant.

Farah province borders on Iran’s north-eastern region and is a drug shipment route, as well as an opium producing area. It will be one of the focal points of Barack Obama’s “surge” strategy in Afghanistan, which will see 21,000 more American soldiers enter the country.

Hence the need to brush incidents like the Ganjabad massacre aside. Scrambling to limit the damage, the Pentagon is sending an “investigation team” to the site of the airstrikes to produce a version of events that will quell growing discontent. Meanwhile, its spokespeople seek to confuse the media narrative through outright lies, reducing the damage to American public opinion.


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