BY NORM DIXON
"I don't know whether they are going to eliminate the terrorists or create them. We are not terrorists, they [are] forcing us to become terrorists", said Kabul resident Mohammed Nabi, referring to Washington's nightly bombing of his country. "After one week of attacks, the Taliban have not become weaker... It's only the civilians that suffer", commented Jawadullah, a refugee from Jalalabad.
In his October 7 address announcing the commencement of the US and British bombardment of Afghanistan, US President George Bush said "terrorists" were the "killers of innocents". By Bush's accurate definition, his government is committing gross acts of terrorism.
According to eye-witness accounts, US bombs and missiles are slaughtering Afghan civilians in increasing numbers.
It is Afghanistan's most vulnerable — children, elderly people and the very poor — who are bearing the brunt of Bush's bogus crusade against "terrorism". Apart from the mounting civilian war deaths, the refugee crisis triggered by Washington's attacks is threatening the lives of millions of Afghans, who face starvation, cold and disease when winter snows arrive in mid-November.
Taliban spokespeople estimated that in the first week of US-British attacks more than 300 civilians had been killed.
The immediate response of US and British leaders — reinforced by the sceptical tone of the Western capitalist mass media — was to dismiss the claims as "propaganda" and "exaggerations". That was until Western journalists were allowed to enter Afghanistan to speak with survivors. Refugees who had witnessed the carnage also began to reach Pakistan with similarly harrowing accounts.
The most deadly US outrage reported so far was cold-blooded destruction of Khorum village, 29 kilometres west of Jalalabad, on October 11. At least 100 people were killed when US warplanes systematically bombed the villagers' mud huts.
Survivors' accounts were consistent. Just after early morning prayers, two US warplanes circled, then attacked the village. Haji Awal Khan Nasr told the October 14 British Independent: "My nephew told me the planes came in the first time and only a few people were injured. Many of the men outside were able to run away, but the planes came back two more times. All the women and children were still in the houses. They had no chance. I believe maybe more than 100 have died."
Nasr said his nephew, Lal Jand, lost his wife and two of his sons in the attack. He added that the oldest man in the village, 60-year-old Haji Ghami, was killed, along with all but his youngest son, Surgal. The village had been swollen with refugees from Jalalabad — they thought it was safe because there was no Taliban military presence in the vicinity of the town.
Speaking on the US ABC TV network's Nightline on October 15, US defence secretary Donald Rumsfeld rejected the Taliban's claims that 200 civilians had been killed by US bombs in the town of Khorum as "ridiculous" and that the Taliban were "skilled liars".
Rumsfeld said he had "certain knowledge" that there was a military installation at Khorum and, resorting to the same twisted logic that Osama bin Laden has used to justify terrorist violence against American civilians, the people in the village "probably" had something to do with it.
Rumsfeld's callous dishonesty was immediately exposed when Nightline crossed to a reporter in Khorum, who spoke to survivors and showed extensive footage of the destruction.
The reporter confirmed that the village had been "completely obliterated" and estimated that at least 100 people had been killed. Giant craters were where houses once stood. Dead animal carcasses littered the area. Survivors angrily denied that there were military installations or al Qaeda "training camps" anywhere near Khorum.
There have been other, no less murderous, attacks on civilians. Having run out of targets within days of the start of the bombing campaign, Washington has authorised pilots to seek "emerging targets", meaning that they can blast just about anything they like.
Four workers employed by a United Nations mine-clearing operation died while they slept when a US cruise missile demolished their Kabul building in early hours of October 9.
On October 12, a 900-kilogram satellite-guided US "smart" bomb slammed into houses almost two kilometres from the Kabul airport, destroying four house and killing at least four people. On October 13, a bomb landed in a busy market in the northern city of Mazar-i-Sharif killing five people.
A refugee told the October 16 British Independent that 160 people were taken to hospital when US bombs hit Khushkam Bhat, near Jalalabad airport, on October 13. An unknown number may have died. More than 100 houses were "either damaged or flattened".
On October 16, at least two US bombs hit Red Cross warehouses near Kabul, wounding an employee and setting them in fire. Wheat, medicines and other supplies were destroyed. The rooves of the buildings were emblazoned with huge Red Cross insignia. The Pentagon confirmed the strike. A day earlier, a US missile exploded 150 metres from a World Food Program warehouse in Kabul as trucks were being loaded. A worker was injured.
The sickening hypocrisy of the US government's war on the Afghan people was starkly highlighted by an uncanny coincidence. Later on the same day that US warplanes had bombed the Red Cross warehouses, President Bush was visiting the headquarters of the American Red Cross in Washington to promote his appeal for US kids to give a dollar each for the children of Afghanistan.
"Winter arrives early in Afghanistan. It's cold, really cold. And the children need warm clothing. And they need food. And they need medicines. And thanks to the American children, fewer children in Afghanistan will suffer this winter", Bush told an assembled group of children. He didn't mention the bombs.
Al Jazeera television also reported on October 16 that five people were killed when US bombs struck a Kabul hospital.
The extent to which the US is prepared to conceal civilian deaths was revealed by the October 17 British Guardian. According to the report, the Pentagon has spent millions of dollars to buy the exclusive rights to images captured by the commercial Ikonos satellite. The clear intention was to deny the media access to the potentially damning images.
The satellite can record images at a resolution of 1 metre, accurate enough to depict bodies on the ground or damage to villages. Washington bought the rights, backdated to the start of the bombing raids, soon after the Khorum massacre.
The mounting civilian death toll has sent US officials scurrying to invent new euphemisms to dehumanise their very human victims. Joining "collateral damage" in Washington's heartless lexicon for civilian deaths is "targeting process error" and "significant emotional event".
As serious as the reported civilian war casualties are, they do not compare with the toll that the refugee crisis, triggered and worsened by the US war, is likely take on the Afghan people.
Before the US air strikes, the UN was warning that five million Afghans were at risk of starvation. Aid agencies now warn that 7.5 million — one-third of the Afghan population — will be at risk once the winter snows start falling in mid-November.
The October 15 Sydney Morning Herald reported that the UN cannot find enough truck drivers willing to risk the drive into Afghanistan to deliver the 57,000 tonnes of food required to stave off famine. Even fewer will be available after news of the October 15-16 warehouse bombings gets around Kabul.
The UN High Commissioner for Refugees, Oxfam-Community Aid Abroad (OCAA) and other international aid agencies have called for Washington to "pause" its bombing campaign to allow the deliveries.
On October 17, OCAA estimated that 400,000 people are already having to survive on wild vegetation and essential livestock; 2 million people do not have enough food to last the winter, and of those, 500,000 will be cut off by snow by mid-November; millions more are on the move and the scale of their needs are unknown.
"We just don't know how many people may die if the bombing is not suspended and the aid effort assured. But if nothing changes, we fear there will be huge loss of life and unspeakable suffering this winter", said OCAA's Andrew Hewett.
Even the pitifully token amounts of food being dropped as part of Washington's propaganda war are not reaching the people who need it. The bulk of the food is landing in areas controlled by the Northern Alliance (NA).
According to an October 14 Agence France-Presse report: "As [NA] soldiers and locals competed for the provisions, the troops were quick to fire their Kalashnikovs into the air to scare away the women and children. Embarrassed by the actions, [an NA] officer said the soldiers would share the food, which was loaded onto two large trucks, with villagers... But most onlookers predicted that many of the yellow sacks would appear in the nearby market the next morning."
The rising civilian death toll will fuel the anger of the people of Middle Eastern and Muslim countries, especially Pakistan. A recent poll taken in Pakistan — Washington's prodigal regional ally — revealed that 83% of the population is opposed to the war.
The US-led war against Afghanistan is extremely unpopular, even in countries ruled by pro-imperialist regimes like Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Jordan. Despite this, all the region's rulers — with the exception of Iraq — have quietly signed on to Washington's "coalition" against terrorism.
The region's pro-US dictatorships and authoritarian regimes are becoming increasingly nervous at the course of the war. Their peoples are already incensed at the US government's long support for Israel's oppression of the Palestinian people, and Washington and London's enforcement of the crippling sanctions against Iraq that have caused the deaths of more than a million poor Iraqis.
The pro-Western regimes fear that news of massacres of ordinary Afghans by the US military or the deaths of hundreds of thousands from famine could provoke an uncontrollable popular reaction that could topple them. For the same reason, the region's pro-US dictators also fear US moves to extend the "war on terrorism" to Iraq.
That nervousness extends to a key section of the US ruling class, as well as the British government. This is the issue that underlies the very public debate between the US government faction — led by assistant defence secretary Paul Wolfowitz — pushing for Washington to seize the opportunity presented by the September 11 mass murders in the US to rapidly deal a death blow to Saddam Hussein's regime in Iraq and the wing — identified with Secretary of State Colin Powell — that is urging the more cautious tactic of concentrating on Afghanistan for the time being.
Reflecting these pressures, Pakistan's military dictator General Pervez Musharraf has called on the US to keep its war as short as possible. He has also insisted that any post-Taliban regime be "broad-based", the code-word for a government that includes a significant number of Taliban warlords and is not controlled by the Northern Alliance factions.
Visiting Pakistan on October 15, Powell reassured Musharraf that there will be a place in a post-Taliban regime for, in the words of Musharraf, "moderate Taliban leaders". Any future government, Powell said, must be "one that represents all the people of Afghanistan and would be a regime that would obviously be friendly to all its neighbours, including Pakistan".
The US and Pakistani governments are continuing their efforts to bring a substantial part of the Taliban — minus its top leaders — into a proposed "power-sharing" government that includes the NA warlords, to be nutted out in a traditional gathering, or Loya Jirga convened by exiled former King Zahir Shah.
The ABC TV's reporter in Pakistan told the October 17 Foreign Correspondent program that, according to his Pakistan government sources, the CIA has already dispensed more than US$35 million to "dissident" Taliban commanders and ethnic Pashtun leaders, with much more promised.
At Washington's "request", the NA has refrained from launching its much anticipated offensive on Kabul until the outlines of a US-Pakistan-British designed "interim government" have been agreed to.
The NA had little choice but to "agree" because the US military continues to spare the Taliban's frontline troops and heavy weapons near Kabul, as part of its scheme to convince Taliban warlords to join a new pro-Western government acceptable to Pakistan, Russia, Iran and India. What the Afghan people might want does not figure in the equation.