By Patrick O’Connor
23 February 2011
In the worst of several US air strikes in Afghanistan and Pakistan in recent days, up to 51 civilians were killed last Thursday in Afghanistan’s north-eastern Kunar province. General David Petraeus, the commander of the US forces in Afghanistan, expressed the colonial-style hostility of the occupation force’s senior command toward the Afghan population, reportedly accusing local residents of burning their children to fake evidence of civilian casualties.
In a five-hour operation on the night of February 17, US Apache helicopters strafed a group of alleged Afghan insurgents with gunfire, rockets and Hellfire missiles. Surveillance drones guided the helicopter assault in the mountainous district of Ghaziabad, near the Pakistan border, and according to the Washington Post, bombs were dropped by at least one of the unmanned Predator aircraft. The attack was one of a number of recent US operations in the district, ordered as part of President Barack Obama’s broader escalation of the Af-Pak war.
Rear Admiral Gregory Smith, senior military spokesman in Kabul, stated that three dozen people were killed in the incident. He maintained they were all “suspected insurgents who had gathered to attack US and Afghan troops”. However, the remarks of one unnamed military official, cited by the Washington Post on Monday, made clear that American authorities had no knowledge of the identities of those killed.
Kunar Governor Said Fazlullah Wahidi contradicted Smith’s claims. He said: “According to our information 64 people were killed: 13 armed opposition, 22 women, 26 boys and 3 old men.” The governor sent a three-man “fact-finding team” to the area on Saturday, which returned with seven injured people suffering burns and shrapnel wounds, including a young man and woman and five boys and girls.
Dr. Asadullah Fazli, chief doctor at the provincial hospital in Asadabad, the capital of Kunar, told the New York Times that the hospital had treated at least nine wounded from the area, including three women, four children and two men. O ne two-year-old girl had to have her leg amputated because of shrapnel injuries. The Times noted: “There were several other military operations in the area over the last few days, so it was not clear which one caused those injuries.”
In an attempt to defuse outrage among the Afghan population over the latest atrocity carried out by the occupation forces, President Hamid Karzai issued what has become a pro forma denunciation of American military operations. He stated that “about 50 civilians have been martyred” and pledged to send investigators to the scene of the killings.
Karzai met with his national security council and General Petraeus at the presidential palace in Kabul on Sunday. According to an account of the meeting published in the Washington Post, “Petraeus, the top US commander in Afghanistan, dismissed allegations by Karzai’s office and the provincial governor that civilians were killed and said residents had invented stories, or even injured their children, to pin the blame on US forces and force an end to the operation.”
One unnamed participant in the meeting said: “He claimed that in the midst of the [operation] some pro-Taliban parents in contact with a government official decided to create a civilian casualty claim to pressure international forces to cease the [operation]. They burned hands and legs of some of their children and sent them to the hospital.”
The discussion demonstrates the contempt with which the American military command regards Karzai, the figurehead first installed as Washington’s stooge shortly after the 2001 invasion.
The Washington Post reported that Karzai and his colleagues found Petraeus’s baseless allegations “deeply offensive” and “shocking”. One official declared: “Killing 60 people, and then blaming the killing on those same people, rather than apologising for any deaths? This is inhuman. This is a really terrible situation.”