Afghanistan: The bloodletting continues

September 6, 2008

On September 2, nine Australian soldiers were wounded — one left in a critical condition — in an ambush in southern Afghanistan. The Australian Defence Force (ADF) claims the Australian soldiers killed several of the alleged Taliban fighters responsible for the attack.

The incident has been used by the Rudd Labor government and Coalition opposition to promote the ongoing US-led occupation of Afghanistan as a noble cause helping liberating the country from terrorists.

Prisoner abuse

Thousands of Afghans have been killed by the occupation, the exact number remains uncounted. Six Australian troops have been killed in Afghanistan so far, with a 1000-strong ADF contingent participating in the US-led occupation.

The attack came amid revelations that Australian soldiers had kept captured suspected Taliban fighters in dog cages.

According to a September 2 ABC Online report, "Australian soldiers are being accused of ... breaching the Geneva Conventions in their treatment of prisoners of war in Afghanistan ... [using] dog pens to detain suspected Taliban militants in an operation after the death of SAS Corporal Jason Marks four months ago."

Defence minister Joel Fitzgibbon initially denied the accusation, then admitted it (describing it as a "cultural misunderstanding"), then denied it again.

Even the Australian Greens, who have oppose the occupation of Iraq, failed to use the revelation to call for an end to Australian participation in the occupation, with Greens Senator Bob Brown calling for "better back-up" to Australian troops, who "are doing a lot to maintain good relations with the people in Afghanistan".

Evoking the revelations of gross abuses by US soldiers of imprisoned Iraqis at Abu Graib prison, the revelation of prisoner abuse by Australian soldiers is one more piece of evidence that the "liberation" of Afghanistan is of the same nature as the "liberation" of Iraq — a brutal neo-colonial occupation maintained through repression and bloodshed.

In recent weeks, the US-led occupation force have killed hundreds of civilians in Afghanistan in a string of massacres, as well as launched an unprovoked assault on a village across the border in Pakistan.

Even the US-installed President Hamid Karzai alleges that 500 civilians have been killed directly by occupation troops so far this year. While US military spokespeople have claimed that this figure is exaggerated, the real toll is likely to be considerably higher.

Civilian massacres

On August 22, an air strike against the town of Azizabad in Herat province killed more than 90 people. The August 24 New York Times quoted Colonel Rauf Ahmadi of the regional police as saying that the dead included 50 children.

Initially, the US military denied that any civilians were killed. However, after a United Nations investigation confirmed the toll of more than 90 (giving the death toll of children as 60), Washington changed its story — claiming that up to 7 civilians were killed, along with up to 35 Taliban fighters.

"There were no Taliban", Ahmadi told the NYT. "There is no evidence to show there were Taliban there that night."

On September 1, another air strike by occupation forces killed more than 70 civilians in Helmand province, Agenzia Giornalistica Italia reported. The same day that four people, including two children, were killed by occupation troops in Kabul while sleeping.

The Los Angeles Times reported that same day the US military admitted killing three children with a stray artillery shell during an attack against Taliban forces in Paktika province. However, local politician Dad Mohammad Khan was quoted by Al Jazeera as saying that 300 civilians (and no Taliban) were killed in the attack.

Reuters reported that on September 5, seven people, including two children, were killed in another coalition air strike, this one in Farah province.

Twenty occupation soldiers have been killed in the past fortnight. The reliance on air strikes and artillery, with their heavy civilian toll, reflects the inability to defeat armed anti-occupation resistance.

This has led to the expandsion of the war into Pakistan's Federally Administered Tribal Areas, a remote region where Afghan opposition forces are believed to take refuge.


While coalition air-strikes in FATA have occurred frequently, the US-led forces escalated attacks on September 3 when ground forces crossed into the South Waziristan Agency in FATA and massacred 20 civilians in Musa Neek village, including several children.

In the following three days, around a dozen people were killed in two separate airstrikes in FATA involving unpiloted "predator drones", according to a September 5 Pakistani The News report.

While Pakistan has been the US's closest regional ally in the 'war on terror", mass outrage at the Musa Neek massacre has led to politicians warning that future ground attacks would be resisted.

However, with Pakistan's political establishment preoccupied with the venal struggle to fill the vacant presidency following dictator Pervez Musharraf's resignation, the government is unlikely to resist the West's violation of Pakistan's sovereignty with more than posturing.

According to UN reports, the 2001 invasion and ongoing occupation has brought the accelerating impoverisation of Afghans, with the country on the verge of famine. The only economic success of the occupation is the phenomenal growth of the illegal narcotics industry, with Afghanistan cornering 90% of the global heroin market.

It is an open secret that Karzai's brother is a leading drug king.

Following the September 2 ambush, PM Kevin Rudd described Australian troop participation in the occupation as "the vital mission they're undertaking on behalf of us all".

On September 4, he told parliament that Australia's troop deployment would be open-ended. Opposition leader Brendan Nelson also expressed his determination to "see that we are able to liberate the people of Afghanistan".

The bloodletting shows no sign of abating.

[Sydney Stop the War Coalition is organising a protest on the seventh anniversary of the invasion of Afghanistan on October 7, Town Hall Square, 5.30pm. It is also organising a public meeting with Martin Reusch, who worked in 2004-2005 in Afghanistan for the International Red Cross, and Taliban Country film-maker Carmela Baranowska, on October 20, UTS, 6.30pm. Visit]

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