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Innocent victims of Washington's other occupation

May 11, 2007 | Page 3

NICOLE COLSON reports on the deepening crisis of the U.S. occupation

A SERIES of high-profile civilian killings by U.S. forces in Afghanistan have caused new outrage at the continuing occupation of the country.

On May 1, a botched bombing raid by U.S. forces against the Taliban reportedly killed at least 13 civilians--raising to at least 70 the number of civilian deaths reported in a one-week period, according to Afghan officials.

The victims were reportedly traveling in three cars in the Maroof district of southern Kandahar province--along the same stretch of road as coalition troops. When the troops came under Taliban fire, they called for a bombing raid.

Days before, a U.S. bombing raid on the Zerkoh Valley in western Afghanistan killed at least 42 civilians, and wounded 50 more. Some estimates put the death toll of the three-day bombing raid on the valley at more than 130.

A government delegation sent to investigate the bombings in Zerkoh reported that three villages were hit by the U.S. strikes, destroying 100 houses and leaving 1,600 people homeless. Several women, children and infants were among those killed, and a week after the bombings, villagers were reportedly still pulling bodies from the rubble.

"So far, the people have buried 45 bodies, and they are still taking out more," Ghalum Nabi Hakak, of the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission, told the Washington Post. "Yesterday, they buried 12 children. The exact number of dead is not clear, but the people are very angry."

Farzana Ahmadi, a spokeswoman for the governor of Herat, told the New York Times that a government report found "some women and children were drowned in the river, and it was maybe in the heat of the moment that the children and people wanted to escape and jumped into the water."

As the New York Times reported, "There have been several episodes recently in which civilians have been killed, and foreign forces have been accused of indiscriminate or excessive force. That has prompted Afghan officials to warn that the good will of the Afghan people toward the government and the foreign military presence is wearing thin."

Even Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai--a U.S.-installed puppet--was forced to warn that the Afghan people could no longer tolerate such casualties. "[C]ooperation and coordination, as we tried it, has not given us the results that we want, so we are not happy about that and we can no longer accept the civilian casualties the way they are occurring," Karzai said. "We are very sorry when the international coalition force and NATO soldiers lose their lives or are injured. It pains us. But Afghans are human beings, too."

Coalition spokesman Army Major Chris Belcher, meanwhile, bragged about the Zerkoh attack to reporters--and vowed more to come. "Taliban fighters are no match for [Afghan National Armey] and coalition forces," Belcher said. "We will intensify our operations to rid Afghanistan of all Taliban and foreign fighters who harm innocent Afghan civilians and threaten the government of Afghanistan."

But Afghan officials said that none of those killed in the Zerkoh Valley were identified as insurgents--and U.S. promises to protect civilian life ring increasingly hollow for ordinary Afghans, who have seen a spike in violence under the occupation.

In response to the bombing, hundreds of villagers gathered in the nearby town of Shindland to protest, setting fire to government offices and denouncing the bombing as a "cold-blooded massacre."

The day prior, hundreds of protesters blocked the Jalalabad-Torkham road, a main highway in eastern Nangarhar province, upset at the killing of six people--including a woman and a teenage girl. U.S. forces say they came under fire, but protesters said that the six were shot dead in cold blood in a dawn raid.

More than 1,000 people--many university students--used rocks and trees, as well as the coffins of the dead, to block the road, while chanting "Death to Karzai" and "Death to Bush."

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MORE THAN five years after the U.S. invasion and occupation of Afghanistan, civilians have clearly borne the brunt of the conflict. According to a recent report by Human Rights Watch (HRW), last year was the deadliest year for Afghan civilians since 2001.

"Suicide bombings and other insurgent attacks have risen dramatically since 2005, with almost 700 civilians dying last year at the hands of the Taliban and other such groups," said Joanne Mariner, terrorism and counterterrorism director at HRW.

In addition, according to HRW, "at least 230 civilians were killed during coalition or NATO operations in 2006, some of which appear to have violated the laws of war...[I]n a number of cases international forces have conducted indiscriminate attacks or failed to take adequate precautions to prevent harm to civilians."

Hundreds of thousands of Afghans remain displaced because of fighting--and according to reports, as much as half of reconstruction aid has been stolen by police and corrupt officials. Opium production has surged to an all-time high.

But the attacks on innocent civilians by U.S. and coalition forces--not to mention continued U.S. meddling in Afghanistan's political affairs--are especially galling, given Washington's promises to "liberate" civilians. As a recent editorial in the Afghanistan Times commented: "Each time [U.S. troops] kill or shoot at civilians, they provide grist to the Taliban's propaganda mill."

"We are not the enemy, we are not al-Qaeda," a local resident, Akhtar Mohammad, told the Washington Post after the killing of civilians in Nangarhar province. "Why are they attacking us?"

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