Afghanistan: Australian troops kill children, again

February 21, 2009

Five children were shot dead by Australian troops on February 12, near the village of Sarmorghab in Oruzgan province.

A February 13 defence department statement admitted the children, and an undisclosed number of other civilians, were killed, along with a "suspected insurgent".

The department promised an investigation while asserting that the Australian troops, part of the US-led force that invaded Afghanistan in 2001, were acting in "accordance with their rules of engagement".

The US-backed Afghan authorities condemned the killings. Provincial governor Assadullah Hamdam noted, "this kind of killing actually brings negative effects on the thoughts of residents in Oruzgan".

On January 4, Australian troops in the Chora district of Oruzgan also killed 12 civilians — eight women, two men and two children.

These slayings have come as Australian Defence Minister Joel Fitzgibbon has refused to rule out increasing the 1100-strong Australian contingent in the US-led occupation force.

More troops

"We will of course always consider any request from our closest allies", Fitzgibbon told Sky News on February 18, responding to US President Barack Obama's announcement that the US will be adding another 17,000 troops to the 38,000 it already has in Afghanistan.

However, Fitzgibbon, on his way to a NATO defence ministers' conference in Krakow, Poland, said that Australia would not increase its contingent unless NATO countries, other than the US, do.

At the Krakow conference, despite the urging of US and British representatives, there was a distinct lack of enthusiasm for doing this. Canada has foreshadowed the withdrawal of its 2500 troops by 2011.

The reluctance of US allies to commit more troops reflects both the unpopularity of the war, and its manifest failure.

The US-installed president, Hamid Karzai, is barely in control of the capital, Kabul. Throughout the rest of the country, power is contested by pro and anti-government Islamist militias, warlords and drug gangs.

In 2008, the monthly toll of US military casualties in Afghanistan surpassed that of Iraq for the first time.

The "war on drugs" was also cited at Krakow as a reason other NATO countries should commit more troops. This is hardly credible given the 40-fold increase in Afghanistan's heroin production since 2001, reported in the January 28 Pakistani News.

Afghanistan's heroin export industry was first created by CIA covert operations in the 1980s and is currently responsible for 90% of the world's illicit opiates.

Civilian casualties

Obama's announcement of his troop "surge" coincided with the February 17 release of a UN report indicating civilian casualties had increased by 40% in 2008.

According to the report, the US-led occupation forces were responsible for 39% of civilian casualties while the Islamist anti-occupation forces, the Taliban and the Afghanistan Islamic Party (HIA) of Gulbudin Hekmatyer, were responsible for 55%.

While the US has accused the UN report of exaggerating the figures, Afghan media reports suggest that the real civilian death toll is several times higher than the 2118 deaths cited.

In January at least 30 civilians were killed in occupation force raids in Laghman province, 17 in Helmand province and 25 in Kapisa province, for example. In the city of Khost on February 6, school principal Qabol Khan was killed and his wife and child injured when their car was riddled with bullets by US soldiers.

Civilian death figures are considered top secret by the occupying military forces. The February 4 London Sun reported the recent arrest of a British officer. His "crime": leaking casualty figures to a human rights organisation.

Unsurprisingly, killing civilians is not helping the occupation forces win Afghan hearts and minds. "If we talk about the Americans, they are my enemies. And if I can, I will hurt them", Ghazi Gul told the February 18 Chicago Tribune.

Gul is not a member of the Taliban or HIA. In fact, he is an officer in the intelligence service of the US-installed government.

Gul's father, mother, two brothers, a cousin, a nephew and two nieces were killed by US forces in a January 24 raid in the village of Galoch.

An analysis of civilian casualties in January, published on the website of the Revolutionary Association of Women of Afghanistan (RAWA), said that the rate of civilian killings by occupation troops has increased since the inauguration of Obama.

The civilian deaths and suffering directly caused by the war are dwarfed by the combined effects of famine, lack of healthcare and epidemics.

Only 23% of the Afghan population have access to safe water. Twelve percent have adequate sanitation.

Maternal mortality is the second highest in the world. One in four children die before their fifth birthday and 54% of children under five are stunted due to malnutrition.

These problems existed before the 2001 invasion, but the occupation has made them worse.

While the Taliban regime's notorious violence against women was used to justify the invasion, the occupation has not ended the Taliban and HIA's misogynist brutality.

What the occupation has achieved is enabling warlords and criminal gangs to out-do the Taliban and HIA in anti-women violence, as well as exposing Afghans to occupation force airstrikes and raids.


Furthermore, the devastation of Afghanistan before 2001 was itself the result of outside intervention.

Afghanistan has long been poor and underdeveloped. However, a 1978 revolution brought to power a modernising government allied to the neighbouring Soviet Union.

Zbigniew Brzezinski, national security adviser of then-US president Jimmy Carter, devised a covert operation whereby the US armed an Islamist insurgency to lure the Soviet Union into an unwinable war.

The plan worked. In December 1979, the Soviet Union invaded. The US, Britain and other Western powers funnelled billions of dollars to the Afghan insurgency and an international Islamist force created by the CIA that has become known as al-Qaeda.

The Afghan Islamists were hailed as freedom fighters in the West. Soviet forces finally left Afghanistan in 1989, but the effect of the war was a significant factor in the 1991 collapse of the Soviet Union.

Following the Soviet Union's collapse, the West had no further use for al-Qaeda.

Scorned, the latter turned against their former sponsors and began terrorist attacks against Western targets.

Brzezinski remained proud of the role of his Afghan covert operation in winning the Cold War, declaring that "a few stirred up Muslims" was a price worth paying.

A few months after this comment "a few stirred up Muslims" flew hijacked aircraft into the World Trade Centre in New York and the Pentagon in Washington. The US response was the current, brutal war.

The covert war of the 1980s was coordinated by the military and intelligence services of Pakistan, the main US client state in the region. As well as arming the Afghan insurgents and al-Qaeda, the CIA and Pakistani military also encouaraged Pakistani Islamist groups who terrorised Pakistani democrats and leftists.

In the 1990s, when the victorious Afghan Islamists turned on each other in a devastating civil war, Pakistan installed the Taliban, a more puritanical Islamist force, in an attempt to stabilise the situation.

Since 2001, the war in Afghanistan has increasingly spilled over into Pakistan. Islamist suicide bombings and US attacks by pilotless "predator drones" have killed hundreds of Pakistani civilians. The Pakistani military, however, retains close links with both the Islamists and the US.

At a February 12 US Senate hearing on national security, Californian Senator Diane Feinstein revealed that the drones were launched from a base inside Pakistan.

Investigations by the London Times has since confirmed this.

On February 15, Pakistan signed a ceasefire with Taliban-linked insurgents that would allow the latter to enforce their brutal version of Islamic law over parts of the North West Frontier Province.

Meanwhile, Australian foreign minister Stephen Smith announced that Australia would quadruple its training of Pakistani military personnel during a visit to Pakistan on February 18.

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