I’ve been avoiding writing about the eight boys killed by NATO forces in Kapisa province of eastern Afghanistan on Feb. 8., but as it so often happens, we end up writing…what we can’t avoid writing. The admonition from the diary title came from Chris Floyd at Empire Burlesque, and has haunted me since I read it. But first, some background.
From the NYT:
“Afghan relatives of those who died and Mohammed Tahir Safi, an adviser to President Hamid Karzai and the leader of the Afghan investigation team, said that those killed were young boys who had taken their sheep and goats to graze outside the village. They were cold and gathered under a rock and lighted a small fire to warm themselves. That was the place where they were struck by bombs. Photographs of the dead shown by Mr. Safi at a news conference this week included some of badly bloodied young boys and a couple of young men who might have been older. The father of one of the boys who was killed said that his son was 12 and that two nephews who were killed were younger.
Brig. Gen. Lewis Boone, the NATO spokesman here, said that the site of the bombing was a boulder, but that NATO troops “observed with binoculars and other optical equipment” several groups of “adult sized” men leaving the village.
They “appeared to be carrying weapons and heading for nearby mountains,” General Boone said. “They were moving in open terrain in a tactical fashion and clearly keeping a distance from each other.” (my bold)
No weapons were ever found. But NATO has offered an apology, and says they will help the village; maybe build them their first road. How kind.
And yet, Times coverage from two days earlier covers the deaths from an Afghan government perspective, and quotes Mohammed Tahir Safi, an adviser to Hamid Karzai:
“I call on human rights community and the world community: Who will speak up for the rights of these children?” he said. “Will you take the rights of these children?”
Mr. Safi held up photographs of what he said were the victims. Most looked like boys between the ages of 11 and 15. Their faces were bloodied and in at least one case the eye and side of the face was partially gone from the blast. The boys all appeared to be lying on white sheets. He said that one of the victims was between 18 and 20 years old, but that the rest were much younger.
One of the villagers, who works as a police chief in a nearby district, lost his 12-year-old son, Ajmal, and two nephews, ages 9 and 11. The police officer, Abdul Zahid, described the area as deeply poor with almost no services of any kind.
“We don’t have paved roads, school or a clinic in Gayawa,” he said. “There’s almost one meter snow here in our village and we send our children to take care of the goats and sheep and feed them and collect firewood from the trees nearby and bring it home so we can heat our homes.”
On Feb. 8 when the bombing happened, the children had gone as usual to the grazing area outside the village. They had just finished letting the animals graze and had made a small fire to keep warm when they were bombed, he said.
“Suddenly some airplanes came and dropped bombs on the children and killed my son, my two nephews and some other children from our village,” said Mr. Zahid. “When we went there we saw the children in pieces, some missing legs, some missing arms, only the heads and face could be recognized, nothing else.”
Imagine these youngsters, helping their families by tending the flocks in the snowy mountains…maybe feeling proud of the trust placed in them by their fathers, and enjoying the camaraderie of their group effort tending these animals so crucial to mama, papa and their brothers or sisters. Perhaps they carried staffs to help them move the goats and sheep along to greens they might forage, and as it grew colder out in the icy wind, they stopped in the lee of a big rock to light a small fire to warm their hands…and began to hear the drones of airplanes, coming closer…and closer; perhaps the sound shifted a bit with the winds. Would they have looked up in terror over the boulder as the planes came overhead, or would they have just been the recipients of the sudden love-notes from the US, and died instantaneously in the bombs’ explosions?
Can they hear our prayers for them, and our sincerest apologies that we haven’t yet stopped these monstrous acts performed in our names? Can their families hear them, and would they matter to them if they could?
All this prompted Chris Floyd to pen in his: “Life Lessons from Afghanistan”, a warning to all of us:
“ …in this increasingly drone-covered world:
Do not, under any circumstances, “move in a tactical fashion.”
In related news, Jeremy Scahill was on DemocracyNow this week speaking about his new piece at The Nation, and maintains that during his recent visit to Yemen, he saw clearly how US counter-terrorism is reaping increased Muslim radicalization, where earlier AQAP had limited membership, limited influence, missile strikes, drone killings, especially of civilians, are causing détente among various Islamist groups in order to ally against US Imperialism.
Scahill points out that in a country where 35% unemployment is the norm, the infrastructure is crumbling, UNICEF says that over half the children are chronically malnourished, a high percentage of the $ hundreds of millions given Yemen by the US goes to counterterrorism efforts instead of humanitarian aid. He says most of the money has gone to arm forces who have fought against Saleh’s opposition, and that even after the coming election, where there is only one name on the ballot…Saleh will still be in power. He shares those thoughts in the full interview here, and says that the Obama administration is, and should be, afraid of who might come next in line to rule Yemen. His hint: it won’t be a ruler who acts as a contractor for the US.
As with the power and government services vacuum in Afghanistan that the Taliban filled, so it’s going in Yemen. The people seem to be loyal to those who build the roads, take care of the garbage, find them food or medical care. Fancy that. Scahill says that the US Counterterrorism Paranoia Machine is…again, having the reverse effect of its stated goals.
Shorter Scahill: “It’s the Drones, Ya Idjits!”