The Atrocity Exhibition’s New Cases: Afghanistan Unmasked

July 26, 2010

The Wikileaks/Guardian etc.. released information about atrocities in Afghanistan makes for compelling reading. I hope you’ve all had a chance to glance at the story, before listening to U.S. military spokesmen rattling on about “irresponsibility” and threats to national security.

For those who haven’t had the time to read the Guardian’s coverage, a huge amount of hitherto covert data has been released to the public via the website Wikileaks, which shows “how coalition forces have killed hundreds of civilians in unreported incidents, Taliban attacks have soared and Nato commanders fear neighbouring Pakistan and Iran are fuelling the insurgency.” Hundreds of “incidents” that were previously hidden have now come to light, including 144 “blue on white” ones.

“Blue on white” is military slang for atrocities committed by NATO forces against civilians.

Now we can all know more about how brutal the war on Afghanistan has been, and continues to be. In a sense, this is not hugely significant. We already know, or if we had a functioning media and informed citizenry, we would know, about the Kunduz Massacre of late-August 2009. And we should know about the Uruzgan Massacre of February 2010, the Gerani Massacre of May 2009, the Nawa Massacre also of May 2009 and the Massacre of the Jalalabad Highway, March 2007.

But this mass of information puts into greater clarity the scale of violence committed by NATO forces (and the response to that violence by local Taliban forces).

It lays bare the gross hypocrisy of (particularly) the American and British governments, who have claimed in the past to be exercising “restraint” while issuing new “terms of engagement” to their forces, in order to prevent future mishaps from occurring.

In 2008, just to mention one particular episode, NATO forces were coming under increasing pressure over the consequences of air strikes (massive civilian suffering and death). A massacre in Shindand province in August which killed 90 people, including 60 children, was initially spun as a successful attack on “jihadis” but a UN investigation soon found otherwise.

Stung into contrition, the US military promised to change. As the list of massacres outlined above suggests, it didn’t. But even as the military propaganda machine was talking of fresh starts, civilians were being turned to dust to satisfy American bloodlust.

As the newly released document (key: 080e0000011c453fb302160d7e5e96a0) entitled “Smart” bomb hits village: up to 26 civilian casualties” demonstrates, at exactly the same time as US officials were promising to “sharpen tactical directives, to give more clarity to commanders on the ground” innocent people were dying under a hail of “smart bombs.”

Somewhere east of Gardez, the Guided Bomb Unit of some such bomb malfunctioned, falling into a Qualat, or village, some 3km from the intended target. At least 2 people died, with many more injured.

Who knows, if this incident had been made public, with another UN investigation, the US-led occupation might have been met with far greater public opposition. But nobody said a word.

But don’t be fooled by the Wikileaks Affair. As I said above, this information should not come as a revelation. We already know, or have the capacity to know about numerous egregious massacres committed by NATO forces against Afghan (and Pakistani) civilians. The bulk of the details allegedly released this week have in fact been reported on (and “leaked” by the CIA, Pentagon etc..) such as assassination squads, drone attacks and so on, as Chris Floyd recounts in his take on the affair:

These are not the Pentagon Papers or the Downing Street Memos; they do almost nothing to alter the public image of the war, and tell almost nothing that we don’t already know…In fact, the overall effect of the multi-part coverage of the documents is to paint a portrait of plucky, put-upon Americans trying their darnedest to get the job done despite the dastardly dealings and gooberish bumblings of the ungrateful little brown wretches we are trying to save from themselves.

One aspect of the leaks that Floyd focuses on is the constant mention of “threats from Iran” to NATO forces in Afghanistan, and this is something that the Guardian has been delighted to foreground in its self-serving coverage of the investigation.

As Simon Tisdall opened last night, “Iran is engaged in an extensive covert campaign to arm, finance, train and equip Taliban insurgents, Afghan warlords allied to al-Qaida and suicide bombers fighting to eject British and western forces from Afghanistan,” before almost grudgingly conceding that this was “according to classified US military intelligence reports contained in the war logs.”

There is an insidious lesson to be drawn fron the ostensibly heroic leaks. As Tisdall reports, “If the war logs are to be believed, Iranian involvement in Afghanistan has steadily widened from 2004 to today, amid record levels of military and civilian casualties and spreading violence.” One report allegedly compiled by ISAF headquarters in 2005 even located the Taliban leadership in Iran, with the group receiving a handsome bounty from Tehran for any Afghan troops or officials killed.

Other reports suggest that Iranian intelligence officials have been masterminding attacks on coalition troops, although as Tisdall relates, there is no corroborating evidence offered to back this up and no evidence of Iranian government complicity.

Another report from the Guardian offers further meat for propagandists to play with: Tisdall suggests, with the usual studious caveats that Iranian provocateurs have been meeting with….al Qaeda forces in Afghanistan. Good lord, where on earth is Curveball when you need him?

This shows clearly that the Wikileaks material is indeed a threat to national security, Iranian national security, if handled in the wrong way. We can use it to expose how deeply hypocritical and brutal the waging of the Afghan war has been  on the part of our leaders, but it can also be used to bolster cases for war against other foes.


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