There is a myth here in America that terrorists attacked the World Trade Center because “we’re the freest nation on Earth.” If that were true, you and I would be free to read the details about the Afghanistan bombing campaign in the US press. But we’re not allowed that particular freedom.
In Britain, however, the press has been following the course of the war in some detail and reporting on the civilian casualties, the worsening humanitarian condition, and the dropping of cluster bombs on villages. Not a word of this can be found in the US press.
Because of their freedom to read the truth, the British public is beginning to change its mind about the progress of the war. According to a Guardian/ICM poll, 54% are in favor of halting the bombing campaign, at least temporarily, to allow aid agencies to feed hungry refugees, treat wounded civilians, dispose of unexploded cluster bombs, and help restore electricity and water to Kabul, Herat, and Kandahar.
In spite of the selective reporting here in the US, a huge majority of Americans–a whopping 75%–think that the US hasn’t got a chance in hell of capturing or killing bin Laden, according to an Oct. 30 CBS-New York Times poll. Only 30% think that the “international alliance” will hold. This shows how really slim American support for the war is; it’s a very small step from believing that the war is unwinnable to thinking that the war should be stopped.
We don’t know how many Americans would change their minds if they could possess the freedom that the British public takes for granted. In that spirit, here’s a toll of civilian casualties–a continuation of the list that ran in the last issue of ETS!:
On Oct. 18, intense bombing over Kabul killed 10 people in Kalae Zaman Khan, 3 people near the Kabul airport, and 2 civilians in Kabul’s Khair Khana district. An 8-year-old girl perished in the Macroyan housing project. A US bomb damaged the offices used by CNN contract workers in Kandahar (the bomb was meant for a vehicle parked nearby). Reuters reported that all water supplies in Kabul have been bombed out and electricity is only being supplied to select parts of the city for 15 minutes per day–not long enough for doctors to perform operations in hospitals.
A 10-year-old Afghan boy in a Pakistani hospital describes cluster bomblets that exploded while he and his friends played near their homes in Kandahar. Shrapnel cut a hole in his head. He doesn’t know what happened to his friends.
On Oct. 19, a US bomb struck the Sarai Shamali marketplace in Kabul and killed more than a dozen civilians.
On Oct. 20, refugees reported a mass exodus of people from Kandahar and Herat, leaving the two cities 70-80% empty. The UN reported that many people who had fled to rural areas are beginning to head for the borders with Pakistan and Iran in search of food. Refugees also reported that US bombs are driving Taliban fighters into the cities to take up residence in mosques and abandoned homes, further endangering civilians.
On Oct. 21, a US bomb demolished two homes in the Khair Khana district in northern Kabul. An AP reporter saw 7 dead: 3 women and 4 boys, ages 8 to 13. A doctor at the nearby hospital reported a total of 13 dead from the incident, all members of the same extended family.
At 7:20 PM, the tiny village of Doori near Kandahar was completely destroyed by two US bombs. At least 25 people were killed and a 12-month-old baby was taken to a hospital in Pakistan. His tiny, burned, cut face is broadcast on media all over the Middle East and Europe–but not here in the US.
A US bomb fell on a tractor/trailer carrying dozens of civilians fleeing bombing in the town of Tirin Kot. At least 20 people were killed, including 9 children.
On Oct. 22, Taliban officials claimed that the US is using chemical weapons in Afghanistan. They said doctors in Herat and Kandahar described “a state of poisonousness” in patients injured by shrapnel. They could be referring to sickness caused by depleted uranium munitions, which produced sickness in injured soldiers and civilians in the Gulf War, Serbia, and Kosovo.
Also that day, Chowkar-Karez, a farming village about 60 km north of Kandahar, was destroyed just before midnight by US bombs. The Taliban claimed 90-100 civilian dead, almost the entire population of the village; Human Rights Watch estimates 25-35. Six survivors interviewed by Human Rights Watch were all adamant that there was nothing in their remote village that ought to have attracted the interest of the U.S. military. Other witnesses talked to by the Western reporters claimed there were no Taliban troops in the village and that U.S. planes opened fire on people as they attempted to flee the bombs. After Rumsfeld professed ignorance repeatedly, unidentified Pentagon officials, claiming that Chowkar-Karez was “a fully legitimate target” because it was a nest of Taliban and al-Qaeda sympathizers, eventually told CNN that “the people there are dead because we wanted them dead.”
On Oct. 23, the UN said a US bomb demolished a military hospital in Herat. UN personnel confirm that civilians were often treated at that hospital. The Taliban claimed 100 killed, but no other source verified casualties.
On the same day, a cluster bomb exploded and released its bomblets in the village of Shaker Qala, near Herat. The bomblets didn’t explode; instead, they spread out over an area the size of a football field, trapping villagers inside their homes. 8 people died from the initial explosion and 1 man died when he tried to pick up one of the bright, yellow bomblets, which looked like a soft-drink can. UN personnel laid sandbags around the visible bomblets, but after realizing that some of them were half-buried in the ground and difficult to see, they were forced to evacuate the entire village.
Qatar’s Al-Jazeera television (much maligned here in the US for showing footage of bin Laden’s speeches, but widely hailed as the freest and most comprehensive press outlet in the Middle East) reported that 93 civilians were killed by US bombs in the village of Chakor Kariz, 37 miles northeast of Kandahar, including 18 members of a single family that had fled to Chakor to escape the bombing in Kandahar. 40 people were wounded in the attack. Jazeera broadcast video footage of the dead bodies, taken by their correspondent in Kandahar. A few days later, BBC reporters visited the village and described “a scene of total destruction…A detailed examination of the scene revealed no evidence that the village might have been used by Taleban fighters or any other reason for it to have been targeted.”[BBC, 11/1/01.]
On Oct. 24, the foreign minister of the Northern Alliance warned the US government to work harder to avoid civilian casualties, particularly in and around Kandahar and Jalalabad.
On Oct. 25, a US bomb exploded near a mosque in the Ishaq Suleiman district of Herat during evening prayers; at least 20 civilians were killed.
A doctor at the Sandeman Provincial Hospital in Quetta, Pakistan, reported that between 60 and 70 wounded Afghan civilians were arriving every day for treatment and “there are many other hospitals in this community facing the same problem.” A doctor at Al Hajeri Al Khidmat Hospital reported that most of the wounded were women and children.
Three houses in the village of Wazir Abad, 3 miles west of the Kabul airport, were flattened by a US bomb, killing 2 girls, ages 6 and 11.
US planes again mistakenly bombed the Red Cross compound in Kabul, dropping eight bombs in two separate bombing runs, and destroying four warehouses. All the buildings had large, red crosses painted on the roofs and the Red Cross had given their coordinates to the US military twice–once at the beginning of the war and again after two of the buildings were bombed on Oct. 16. Food and supplies that could have fed 55,000 people this winter were destroyed.
On Oct 26, the UN and several NGOs condemned the use of cluster bombs in Afghanistan. “The unexploded bomblets effectively turn into landmines, ready to detonate on contact … In Kosovo, NATO cluster bombs were estimated to have killed or injured 200 people in the first 12 months after the bombing,” said Richard Lloyd of Landmine Action.
On Oct. 27, US bombs fell on two civilian hamlets in Northern Alliance territory (Ghanikheil and Raqi) and one village in Taliban territory (Nikhahil), killing 12 people and injuring at least 10 others. (Ghanikheil is far behind the front lines, according to the Times of London.) This was the fifth time US planes had bombed Northern Alliance territory by mistake.
On Oct 28, a bomb flattened a house in the Qali Hotair neighborhood of Kabul, killing seven children as they were eating breakfast with their father. The blast also killed another two children in a neighboring house, one of them a 2-year-old. 3 more people died near the Macroyan housing complex. A bomb fell on a bus and killed 2 civilians attempting to flee Kabul with their family.
On Oct. 30, the US began broadcasting radio messages to the Afghan people warning them not to mistake the cluster bomblets for the food packets being dropped from US planes. (Both are the same color and size.) Unfortunately, almost no one in Afghanistan was hearing the broadcasts, according to BBC reporters.
On Oct. 31, a US bomb damaged a Red Crescent hospital in Kandahar, killing 15 people and severely injuring 25, including hospital staff and patients. Two ambulances were destroyed in the attack. Red Crescent flags were flying outside the hospital and stretchers were stacked against one outside wall.
Cluster bombs exploded in Jabraheel, littering unexploded bomblets over this suburb of Herat. At least one person died after picking up a bomblet. The Los Angeles Times reported that US planes have begun carpet bombing all over the countryside, although the Pentagon had dubbed it “area bombing,” to avoid negative connotations.
On Nov. 1, the Taliban claimed that US planes bombed the Kajaki hydro-electric power station 55 miles northwest of Kandahar, eliminating electricity supplies for the cities of Kandahar and Lashkargah; no independent confirmation was available. If true, tens of thousands of people who live downstream from the power station could be killed in the event of a rupture at the dam, which contains 2.7 billion cubic meters of water.
In the past month of bombing, the largest aid agencies in the world–including the UN’s World Food Program, Oxfam, the Red Cross, the Red Crescent Society, and Care USA–have begged the US to halt or scale back the bombing so that they can deliver food to warehouses inside Afghanistan. As many as seven million people will need food aid this winter. With only another 2-3 weeks before the snows set in, there’s currently enough food in Afghan warehouses to feed less than half a million people.
–Maria Tomchick, with additional material from Geov Parrish