Matrix of Death

A new dossier on the (im)precision of U.S. bombing and the (under)valuation of Afghan lives.

Published : Oct 24, 2008 00:00 IST


Senator Barack Obama has staked out a political position by claiming that he will increase United States troop strength in Afghanistan by at least one-third, will permit U.S./NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organisation) forces to engage in hot pursuit into Pakistans tribal areas and increase U.S. bombing and Special Operations Forces raids into Pakistan. Caesar-like, he proclaims that Afghanistan is a war on terror we must and can win. He appears to be completely ignorant that Pashtun nationalism (Taliban) and Al Qaeda jehad are two very different things.1

In effect, Obama proposes to continue and escalate the military policies of the Bush administration if he can draw down the U.S. occupation forces in Iraq. I have argued that these actions are doomed to fail on their own terms, will cement a deadly alliance between the Taliban and radical Islamists, and will further destabilise a nuclear Pakistan.2 And whom did Obama visit on his very first day in Afghanistan in July 2008? He met none other than Gul Agha Sherzai, favourite of George Bushs General Dan Bomber McNeill and the ex-governor/warlord of Kandahar infamous for his cruelty, trafficking in drugs, corruption, and pederasty with young boys.3 On the following day, he spent time with the U.S. occupation forces and the Mayor of Kabul who was in his Kabul fortress (and not off mourning somewhere or on an international junket raising monies). Obama fails to admit that recent U.S./NATO aerial bombing has been extremely deadly to Afghan civilians, which when combined with the negligible value attached to Afghan lives reveals that U.S. politicians and military hold little interest in Afghanistan proper other than in a geopolitical sense.4

U.S. priorities are further revealed by the more than ten-to-one ratio of military-to-reconstruction aid since 2002. The Senlis Council in its report contrasted military spending with development spending in Afghanistan during 2002-06 (Figure 1). Another source, a report released by the Agency Coordinating Body for Afghan Relief (ACBAR), an alliance of international aid agencies working in Afghanistan, echoes,

While the U.S. military is currently spending $100 million a day in Afghanistan, aid spent by all donors since 2001 is on average less than a tenth of that just $7 million a day.5

In other words, what actually takes place in the realms of the economic and the social on-the-ground in Afghanistan is at best of marginal concern; furthermore, many point to the ineffectiveness of aid.6 I shall argue herein such marginal stress upon improving the everyday life of common Afghans is paralleled by a callous disregard for Afghan civilians in the carrying out of military operations (especially close air support strikes) and in the paltry compensation (when offered at all) for innocent Afghans killed by U.S. or NATO actions.

The subterfuges employed by the U.S./NATO to excuse killing innocent Afghan civilians

When we assemble the different pieces of the media jigsaw puzzle, clear patterns emerge. Western victims are presented as real, important people with names, families, hopes and dreams. Iraqi and Afghan victims of British and American violence are anonymous, nameless. They are depicted as distant shadowy figures without personalities, feelings or families. The result is that Westerners are consistently humanised, while non-Westerners are portrayed as lesser versions of humanity (from Militants and Mistakes, Media Lens (July 22, 2008)). While Afghans killed by U.S./NATO forces are completely invisible as human beings in the U.S. mainstream media, contrast the efforts undertaken by the same media to give humanity to U.S. troops killed in Afghanistan, as for example in The Washington Post at

A major aim of this report is to provide real figures on Afghan civilians killed by U.S./NATO actions since 2006, thereby undermining the common claim that such numbers cannot be obtained. We often hear glib statements about the fog of war or war is hell or we dont do body counts. My numbers are admittedly underestimates for reasons discussed herein (an incomplete universe of recorded deaths, a propensity of the Pentagon and its Afghan client to label as militants what were civilians, the injured who later die from wounds, censorship by omission, etc). Not counting or estimating means playing into the hands of those who market the U.S. war in Afghanistan as a clean war, a precision war and the like. The latter is routinely trotted out by the apologists of aerial bombing; Its sort of the immaculate conception to warfare, was how Professor of Strategy, Col. (retired U.S. Marine) Mackubin Owens at the U.S. Naval War College (Newport, R.I.) described the U.S. military campaign in Afghanistan in November 2001.

The acknowledging and counting of civilian deaths in modern wars has long been a highly politicised matter. One need only recall that it took close to 60 years for the civilian carnage caused in Germany by Allied bombing (1940-1945) to be openly written about.7 It took over 50 years for the slaughter of innocent Korean civilians in the Korean War by U.S. warplanes to make the pages of mainstream American media.8 More recently, an acrimonious debate has raged over the scale of Iraqi civilian deaths since the U.S. invasion of March 2003, for example pitting Iraq Body Count against the believers of estimates reported in the Lancet studies (as at the Media Lens website).9

The liberal British scholar of peace studies, Paul Rogers, wrote in a recent article about Afghanistan

the impulses of sympathy with these radical forces (Taliban militias, Al Qaeda forces) are fuelled by the detailed reporting by Al Jazeera and other media outlets of the many civilian victims of western air strikes and other calamities in Afghanistan. This ensures that Muslims across the rest of the world are becoming as aware of what is happening in Afghanistan as they have been regarding Iraq since 2003.10

A reader in the post-9/11 world might conclude that since reporting of the many civilian victims of Western air strikes fuels the Muslim resistance, the next step is to ignore, disparage or silence such detailed reporting (which is, of course, precisely what the U.S. government has been doing). Sadly, we have come to live in a post-9/11 culture where silencing the messenger is acceptable. One recalls the U.S. bombing of the Al Jazeera office in Kabul on November 12, 2001. For the Pentagon and its many media boosters, there are good bodies (civilians killed by our enemy) and bad bodies (civilians killed by our militaries), respectively in the Western mainstream labelled accidental collateral damage and (Afghan civilians transformed by the click on a keyboard into) militants or insurgents.

During the Yugoslav conflict, Human Rights Watch (HRW) highlighted civilians killed by Serbs while neglecting civilians killed by non-Serbs.11 Today in Afghanistan, the U.S. mainstream media led by the A.P. describes in detail the civilian victims of Taliban suicide attacks, often even providing photographs, while remaining far more circumspect about the victims of U.S./NATO air strikes and never printing photographs.12 Counting dead civilians remains a highly politicised exercise.

Two main subterfuges have been used by the U.S. and NATO militaries, the compliant corporate media and organisations like HRW to excuse the killing and wounding of innocent Afghan civilians. The first is to express self-righteous anger over them killing civilians intentionally whereas we never intentionally target civilians. The second is to assert that the dastardly Taliban and their Muslim or Arab associates employ civilians as human shields.

A third means examined elsewhere 13 has been simply to suppress whenever possible written reports and especially photos of the victims of U.S./NATO military actions (bad bodies) in Afghanistan, all the while amply publishing stories and photos of Afghan civilians killed by improvised explosive devices (IEDs) or suicide bombers (good bodies). Photos of civilians whose death was caused by U.S. or NATO bombs are virtually non-existent.14 One might call this censorship by omission.15 News magazine photo coverage of the war on terrorism in Afghanistan most often supports U.S. government narrative and versions of events.16 The policy of embedding reporters with U.S. or NATO occupation forces is an obvious attempt at removing independent reporting, which, sadly, most often succeeds.

U.S. human rights lawyers charged on July 20, 2008, that U.S. military prisons were legal black holes and that force was employed to shut people up about activities in Iraq and Afghanistan. Many people in Afghanistan and in Iraq who have been targeted for detention are local journalists covering the conflict in their own country, said another prominent U.S. human rights lawyer, Barbara J. Olshansky.

When the United States detains reporters, photographers, camera operators and holds them for long periods without charge for any offence and without trials and without any evidence, we know that part of the goal is to just shut people up, she said.17

The mainstream U.S. corporate media led by Fox News largely has sought to present the Afghan invasion as a simple war of good versus evil.18 Texts or images that might have raised questions have been censored. Fox News has gone far beyond the call of duty in parroting U.S. military interpretations.19 Others in the U.S. corporate media have followed suit; for example, Laura King of A.P. has been a notorious under-counter of Afghan civilian deaths.20

A new twist in Pentagon/NATO news management has been introduced recently. As of August 2008, the U.S. Air Force no longer releases daily reports about missions over Afghanistan. On the British side, Britain is funding a surge in spin doctors in Afghanistan to construct and present pro-NATO/U.S. media reports.21

The intentionality argument is often couched in the language of justifiable collateral damage, regrettable but necessary. Since the killing was collateral, it cannot be intentional, goes the story. The overarching problem is the criminal nature of the offensive war first waged by the U.S. and Britain upon an entire sovereign country after 9/11. The collective group of Afghans has de facto been targeted for seven years as lives and countryside have been laid to waste; anyone who opposes the U.S./NATO occupation is by definition an enemy and can be justifiably killed collaterally. As pointed out by others, [we] cant possibly judge the morality of collateral damage while leaving out the question of the war itself it is the immorality and illegality of a war that makes collateral damage a crime.22

Least-cost considerations (in terms of U.S. military deaths and U.S. dollars) by the U.S. and NATO militaries have directly translated into thousands of Afghan civilian casualties. How? During the initial phases of the U.S. bombing campaign, U.S. warplanes dropped powerful bombs in civilian-rich areas with little concern for Afghan civilians. In effect, I am turning Michael Walzers notion of due care23 upside down: that is, far from acknowledging a positive responsibility to protect innocent Afghans from the misery of war, U.S. military strategists chose to impose levels of harm upon innocent Afghan civilians in order to reduce present and possible future dangers faced by U.S. forces.

As I wrote in late 2001:

The absolute need to avoid U.S. military casualties means flying high up in the sky, increasing the probability of killing civilians:

better stand clear and fire away. Given this implicit decision, the slaughter of innocent people as a statistical eventuality is not an accident but a priority in which Afghan civilian casualties are substituted for American military casualties.24

But, I believe the argument goes deeper and that race enters the calculation. The sacrificed Afghan civilians are not white whereas the overwhelming number of U.S. pilots and elite ground troops are white. This reality serves to amplify the positive benefit-cost ratio of certainly sacrificing darker Afghans today [and Indochinese, Panamanians and Iraqis] for the benefit of probably saving American soldier-citizens tomorrow. What I am saying is that when the other is non-white, the scale of violence used by the U.S. government to achieve its stated objectives at minimum cost knows no limits. A contrary case might be raised with Serbia, which was also subjected to mass bombing in 1999. But, the Serbs were, in the view of U.S. policymakers and the corporate media, tainted [darkened] by their prior Communist experience. No instance exists [except during World War II] where a foreign Caucasian state became the war target of the U.S. government.25 The closest example might be that of the war waged by Britain upon Northern Ireland and, there, the British troops applied focussed violence upon its Caucasian enemy. When the other is a non-white foreigner, the state violence employed becomes amplified.26

Today, the aerial bombing in Afghanistan is more related to close air support (CAS) called in by ground forces as a means to defeat the enemy without having to fight him on the ground and possibly suffer casualties. Both high-level bombing and midnight ground attacks served to shift the burden of casualties upon Afghan civilians. The doctrine that war is hell seeks to transfer any responsibility for the cruelty of war to the enemy.27 The U.S./NATO war managers and their handmaidens in the defence and corporate media establishments dredge out the tired old intent argument. As Edward Herman noted:

it is claimed by the war managers that these deaths and injuries are not deliberate, but are only collateral to another end, they are treated by the mainstream media, NGOs [non-governmental organisations], new humanitarians, and others as a lesser evil than cases where civilians are openly targeted. But this differential treatment is a fraud, even if we accept the sometimes disputable claim of inadvertence (occasionally even acknowledged by officials to be false, as described below). Even if not the explicit target, if collateral civilian deaths are highly probable and statistically predictable they are clearly acceptable and intentional. If in 500 raids on Afghan villages alleged to harbour Al Qaeda cadres it is likely that civilians will die in 450 of them, those deaths are an integral component of the plan and the clear responsibility of the planners and executioners. As law professor Michael Tonry has said, In the criminal law, purpose and knowledge are equally culpable states of mind. 28

What also needs to be made very clear is that Afghan civilian casualties are not accidents or mistakes. They result from careful calculation by U.S. commanders and military attorneys who decide upon the benefits of an air strike versus the costs in innocent civilian lives lost. These are calculated predicted deaths.29

Aerial bombing in the name of liberating Afghans will continue with little regard for Afghan civilians who for Western politico-military elites remain simply invisible in the empty space which is an increasingly aerially occupied Afghanistan.30 The compliant mainstream media perpetuate the myth by serving as the stenographer of the Pentagons virtual reality. Patrick Coburn of The Independent got it dead-on:

The reaction of the Pentagon to the killing of large numbers of civilians in Afghanistan, Iraq and now Pakistan has traditionally been first to deny that it ever happened. The denial is based on the old public relations principle that first you say something is no news and didnt happen. When it is proved some time later that it did happen, you yawn and say it is old news.31

When details of Afghan civilian deaths finally leak through the U.S./NATO news management efforts, a Lt. Col. at the Bagram Air Base offers sincere regrets or the promise of an investigation and by the next day all is forgotten. They are, after all, just Afghans we killed. Theirs are bad bodies, not good bodies like those on our side that were killed.

A myth has circulated since the beginning of the U.S. bombing campaign in Afghanistan in October 2001. It is endlessly repeated by the U.S. occupation forces, corporate media, the Pentagon, defence intellectual pundits, HRW, the Cruise Missile Left, the humanitarian interventionists, and even some in the United Nations: Afghan insurgents hide amongst civilians whom they use as human shields.32

To begin with, the assertion is never empirically documented but just merely stated as a self-evident truth. Secondly, the implication is that an insurgent or Taliban fighter, resisting the U.S./NATO invasion, should stand alone on a mountain ridge, his AK-47 raised to the sky, and engage in a fair act of war with an Apache attack helicopter or an A-10 Warthog and see who prevails. Should resistance fighters stand out in an open field or on a mountain ridge? Thirdly, what is conveniently omitted is that the insurgents often live in the area and have friends and families in the communities, and that such a local support base is precisely what gives a guerilla insurgency (along with knowledge of the local terrain) its classic advantage.33 Such local connection means that the insurgents will (unlike the U.S./NATO occupation forces) go to great lengths not to put local people in danger. Purveyors of the line about the Talibans execrable tactic of using civilians as human shields34 are either themselves unaware of classic guerilla strategy or, more likely, seek to manipulate the general publics ignorance about the same. Using the language of guerilla warfare, can a fish swim outside of the sea? One recalls the U.S. militarys campaign in Vietnam to drain the sea by creating strategic hamlets (translate, concentration camps), seeking to deny the Vietnamese resistance access to sympathetic villagers.

Rather than the hiding among civilians story, what is happening is that civilians figure prominently in the vast numbers of militants or insurgents reported killed in U.S./NATO bombing, as I have documented countless times in the Afghan Victim Memorial Project. The latest egregious example involves the slaughter of over 90 Afghan civilians in Azizabad where for weeks the U.S. military asserted that 30 Taliban had been killed and no civilians. In other words, civilians killed by U.S./NATO action are being falsely labelled by the U.S./NATO as eliminated militants, which suggests that my overall count of civilians killed is a gross underestimate. In addition, no doubt many cases where civilians have been killed by U.S./NATO action simply are not reported (censorship by omission). But no matter, for as Robert Higgs underscores, is:

the complete insouciance with which the American public greets reports of deaths by drones. I do not exaggerate if I say that the general reaction is ho-hum. Well, the average American says, that disposes nicely of another bad guy. The gratuitous murder of the bad guys family members, neighbours, and other innocent persons in the vicinity appears to create no blip on the average Americans moral radar screen. Perhaps Americans do not consider Yemenis, Afghanis, and Pakistanis to be real human beings whose right to life we are obliged to respect?35

The magnitude of civilian casualties in Afghanistan

Those who cannot learn from history are doomed to repeat it.

- George Santayana (1905)

The corporate media of the U.S. and the United Kingdom have been particularly guilty of censorship by omission simply not reporting upon the bad bodies of those killed by U.S./NATO actions.36 A little-reported fact is that the number of Afghan civilians 37 killed by U.S. and NATO forces since 2005 exceeds the total recorded during the three months of intensive U.S. bombing, October 7- December 10, 2001. The numbers presented in the accompanying table underestimate the true human toll because they exclude the thousands who die later from injuries incurred in a U.S./NATO attack, those killed in incidents that went unreported, those who die from lack of vital resources in refugee camps,38 and so on.

The nature of the air war in Afghanistan has changed substantially between 2001 and 2006-08. During the last three months of 2001, the U.S. bombing was part of a traditional military campaign pitting two armies against each other. As such, the bombing involved large tonnages being dropped; whereas during 2006-08, the U.S. and NATO bombing involved CAS against a decentralised, highly fluid guerilla resistance. During the former campaign some 14,000 tonnes of bombs were dropped, or almost 12 times the tonnage dropped during the two and a half years (2006-mid-2008).

Of course, the killing of innocent civilians by U.S. bombing has a long history spanning the 20th century. For example, after 58 years, recently released classified documents tell the story of how 93 napalm canisters were dropped on the little island of Wolmi, South Korea, in September 1950, incinerating over a hundred residents.39

Estimates or counts of civilian deaths caused by the U.S. bombing during 2001-mid-2002 reveal similar numbers. The count by Herold (2002) relies upon media and non-governmenal organisation (NGO) reports as well as other written materials, and the universe estimation by Aldo A. Benini and Lawrence H. Moulton employing statistical analysis reports 3,600-3,900 Afghan civilian deaths. The Benini-Moulton study calculates civilian deaths from bombing, landmine blasts, and unexploded ordnance strikes, and from non-Western ground forces, and should hence significantly exceed a count focussed upon deaths directly caused by U.S. aerial bombing or ground attacks.40 The Benini-Moulton study based upon canvassing 600 communities covers September 12, 2001-June 20, 2002, whereas Herold covers October 7, 2001-July 31, 2002. Field staff visited all 600 communities directly affected by the fighting (both air strikes and ground combat). Benini and Moulton calculate that 3,994 civilians died from air and artillery bombardments, shooting, and other violence.41 In other words, the Herold count of 3,620 civilians killed by U.S. air and ground attacks is close to the population-based estimate of Benini and Moulton.

Whereas the number of civilian casualties resulting from the intense bombing of 2001 has been determined, it remains a far more difficult exercise to estimate the number of civilians who perished from the CAS bombing of recent years. Two major problems exist: unlike in the earlier period, civilians have died in U.S. and NATO ground fire and aircraft strafing raids (especially by AC-130 gunships, Apache attack helicopters, Predator drones and A-10 CAS jet fighters); and secondly, data provided by U.S. and NATO do not exist, making impossible an incident-by-incident reconstruction of bombing versus strafing. What can, however, be derived are figures that represent orders of magnitudes under different assumptions (Table 4). Today, the U.S. operates over 90 per cent of all strike aircraft in Afghanistan.

Such reconstruction reveals that CAS bombing by the U.S. has been far more deadly for innocent Afghan civilians than the more intense, traditional bombing campaign of 2001. Table 1 presents a unique summary of the aerial bombing (not strafing) in Afghanistan during 2006-mid-2008, employing data in the Afghan Victim Memorial Project database.42 We know that aerial CAS bombing during 2007 and 2008 took on increasing importance, implying that the relative share of all civilians killed by bombing attacks has probably been rising. Already, during 2005, the U.S. military began increasing air strikes, to 157 from 86 during 2004.43The number of CAS strikes in Afghanistan in which munitions were dropped soared from 176 in 2005 to 1,770 in 2006, and 2,926 in 2007.44 Elizabeth Rubin noted that the sheer tonnage of metal raining down on Afghanistan was mind-boggling: a million pounds between January and September of 2007, compared with half a million in all of 2006.45 U.S. Air Force B1-Bs renewed the bombing of Afghanistan on May 6, 2006.46 U.S. General Dan Bomber McNeill performed up to expectations.47 The bombs dropped for 2005 tottaled a mere 60,000 pounds (or 27.2 tonnes). During the first half of 2008, more tonnage was dropped than in all of 2007.48

The rise in CAS strikes paralleled almost perfectly the number of roadside bombings, which numbered 1,931 in 2006 and 2,615 in 2007.49 Tit for tat.

In effect, the U.S./NATO forces are relying upon air power in lieu of ground forces and in doing so causing high levels of civilian casualties, which, in turn, push the local people towards the resistance.50 This is particularly important in Afghanistan, where the culture of revenge has long stalked Americans there.51 U.S./NATO aerial attacks turn friends into enemies.52 This aspect was emphasised at a 2007 meeting of the United States Institute of Peace.53 It is simply part of the age-old wisdom that aerial bombing does not induce surrender, quite to the contrary. Nothing has changed since the U.S. bombing of Takeo, Cambodia, in 1972, as described by a villager:

based on my experiences during the bombing in Takeo around 1972. The bombings were [spreading] further into towns and villages. My parents house was hit by the bombs, and we had to move to the opposite side of the country. We had known [that] almost the entire village that survived from the bombings had joined forces with the Khmer Rouge.54

The U.S. Armys counterinsurgency manual FM 3-24 admits that aerial bombing can cause collateral damage that turns people against the host-nation government and provides insurgents with a major propaganda victory. Wing Commander Andrew Brookes of the International Institute for Strategic Studies in London noted

Even a 400-pound bomb has a wide area of blast and you are quite likely to kill some civilians. Kill a wife, children, mother, or uncle and people become so angry the terrorist cycle starts all over again.55

In addition, bombing destroys homes, orchards, livestock, etc., which fuels the ire of the bombed.

After the very high level of civilians killed by U.S. and NATO forces during 2007 1,010-1,297 as I report in Table 1 the rules of engagement were allegedly tightened in recognition that civilian casualties undermine support for the U.S./NATO occupation.56 On the other hand, the advent of indisputably greater bombing precision by, for example, the use of ROVER57 technology has encouraged dropping more bombs in other words, the overall killing of civilians depends upon the trade-off between greater precision of a bomb and the extent to which more bombs are being dropped, in other words it depends upon the risk elasticity of bombing tolerance.

Dead civilians are not mistakes. In my original dossier, I argued that the primary cause of high levels of Afghan civilian casualties was U.S. bombing of civilian-rich areas.58 A further complicating element is that precision strike weapons create a myth of infallibility, when the weapons are at best only as good as the targeting data and absence of adverse disruptive influences.59 This myth served allegedly to remove the publics general sense of barbarity associated with aerial bombing. Naturally, a whole new language of war was crafted by the military-industrial-media complex to oil this transition: surgical, collateral, precision, etc.60 Some enthusiasts even spoke of a new kind of war61 with smaller bombs62 though at least for civilians the deadliness of old wars continued.

The lethality of war can be assessed using different criteria. For example, during 2008 to-date some 628-729 Afghan civilians were killed by U.S./NATO action. During the same period, 120 U.S. troops and 104 NATO soldiers died. For every occupation soldier killed, about three Afghan civilians are killed by the occupation forces (for 2006, the figure was 3-4).63

A way to measure the lethality of aerial bombing is to compare the number of bombs dropped to the number of civilians killed. Table 2 indicates that in terms of lethality to civilians, the Gulf War was the lowest, followed by Kosovo, with the initial Afghan bombing campaigns being by far the deadliest, notwithstanding the much greater use of precision weapon systems.64 Indeed, in 2001 it took only four to five bombs dropped to kill one Afghan civilian; during the first half of 2008, the figure was nine to ten bombs, though by July 2008, an Afghan civilian was killed by every five or six bombs dropped (Table 3).

When we focus just upon Afghanistan during the years 2006 until the present (Table 3), we find that for about every five bombs dropped one civilian died (though the number was much higher during 2007 when the resistance engaged the U.S./NATO in open battles in which the U.S./NATO war planes dropped over 3,500 bombs).

What is striking is that these past two-and-a-half years of CAS bombing have been more deadly for Afghan civilians than was the traditional bombing campaign of October 7, 2001 December 10, 2001, when 14,000 tonnes of bombs (and 12,000 bombs and missiles) were dropped by U.S. war planes, which caused an estimated 2,569-2,949 civilian deaths. The figure, then, for civilians killed per 10,000 tonnes of bombs dropped was 1,835 2,106. The figures for 2006-mid-2008 are 13,265-16,454 civilians killed per 10,000 tonnes of bombs dropped (derived from Table 1). Lesser tonnage was dropped in recent years but that which fell from the skies was terribly deadly to Afghan civilians. Predictably, we find that CAS strikes account for the following shares of actual total Afghan civilian deaths during 2008:

January - June 2008: 61 per centJuly 2008: 82 per centAugust 2008: 89 per centSeptember 1-19: 89 per cent65

As I have pointed out, the 2001 ratio (of civilians killed per 10,000 tonnes of bombs dropped) made the bombing of Afghanistan about as deadly for innocent civilians as the bombing of Laos and Cambodia, being the most lethal of all post-Second World War bombing campaigns notwithstanding the fact that the precision of aerial bombing has increased greatly.66

A typical incident amongst the hundreds where U.S./NATO military bombing action resulted in the deaths of Afghan civilians chronicled in my Afghan Victim Memorial Project took place in the village of Jabar, Kapisa Province, on March 6, 2007. U.S. war planes dropped two 2,000-pound bombs killing nine civilians, including three children aged between six months and five years. Here is how Col. Tom Collins, NATO spokesman, described these nine deaths

We didnt know who was in that building, but we saw fighters move into that area who were legitimate targets. The building was struck and, as we all know, unfortunately, civilians were killed.

Yes, unfortunately all nine members from four generations of a single Afghan family.

A couple of months later, as Ramzy Baroud wrote in His Firepower Doesnt Always Win Wars:

The BBCs Alastair Leithead reported on May 31, Afghans Anger over U.S. Bombing merely details one of many such incidents in which scores of innocent civilians are killed; such reports are ever more rare since they are simply not newsworthy the worth of a news story from Afghanistan is measured by whether Coalition forces incurred causalities or not. The recent killings in the village of Shindand in the Zerkoh Valley, Western Afghanistan, was harrowing by any standards. 57 were reportedly killed by American bombardment; half of the dead were women and children, according to Leithead; the bombardment also destroyed 100 homes, humble dwellings that are unlikely to be rebuilt soon.

The bombardments were going on day and night. Those who tried to get out somewhere safe were being bombed. They didnt care if it was women, children or old men, said one of the survivors. But who would believe Mohammad Zarif Achakzai, who fled his mud house with his family under the relentless bombardment? Brig Gen Joseph Votel has simply dismissed the reports of civilian causalities. We have no reports that confirm to us that non-combatants were injured or killed out in Shindand, he said. And that is that.67

The luckier ones are only wounded by the CAS bombing.

Anthony Lloyd of The Times reported from Kandahar on May 24, 2007, about the near obliteration of Gurmaw on the night of May 8, 2007,

Mr. [Agah] Lalais village, a settlement in the Sarwan Qala valley north of Sangin, which is patrolled by British troops, was bombed by aircraft on the night of May 8 after fighting between the Taliban and foreign soldiers. Crawling wounded from the wreckage of his home, Mr. Lalai discovered that his grandfather, grandmother, wife, father, three brothers and four sisters had died in the bombing. The youngest victim was 8, the oldest 80. Only Mr Lalais mother and two sons, aged 5 and 3, survived. Both boys were wounded. Yet the forces that wiped out his family were not British, nor those of any other NATO unit. The airstrikes were called in by American Special Forces operating with their own rules of engagement on a mission totally devolved from NATO command in Afghanistan. At least 21 Afghan civilians died in the bombing of Gurmaw. 68

Carlotta Gall reported that the toll according to local residents was much higher involving 56-80 civilians in three houses.69

When Lal Zareen, the grooms father, reached the scene of the U.S. terror bombing of a wedding procession (the traditional Afghan wara made up of mostly women and children) near the village of Khetai on July 6, 2008, he recounted: I saw pieces of bodies scattered around. I couldnt even make out which part was which. It was just flesh everywhere.70

Fifty-two members of the double wedding party were dead, including the two brides, both aged 18.71

What has been the reaction by the U.S. military to such Afghan civilian casualties? The United Nations? By the A.P? By HRW? By so-called defence intellectuals such as William M. Arkin?

When the U.N. announced in late June 2008 that the number of civilians killed in fighting during the first half of 2008 amounted to 698 255 killed by foreign or Afghan troops and 422 by militants (with the cause of death of 21 undetermined) the U.S. militarys spokesperson in Kabul stated that those numbers were far, far higher than we would recognise.72 The U.S./NATO responses involve first denial and then shifting the blame by using the human-shield argument.

More recently, the U.S. military has begun to complain about the Talibans mastery in manipulating the media.73 The Afghan resistance is alleged to fabricate stories about U.S./NATO bombing attacks which it feeds to either sympathetic or naive journalists. These stories then are stated to drive a wedge between foreign forces and the Afghan regime, leading to more investigations and crippling operational restraints. As I have written about elsewhere, it is the U.S. military which has developed a programme to manipulate gullible Western media and public.74 The issue is much less that of the sophistication of the Taliban with regard to the media, but rather the blatant lying by the Pentagon and NATO spokespersons. Moreover, to presume that independent Afghan media and/or wire service stringers will automatically publish Taliban accounts is insulting. The reporting of the independent Pajhwok Afghan News is widely praised. Zubair Babakarkhail of Pajhwok Afghan News has said that he does not feel that the information provided by the military is any more credible, The Taliban makes claims, and the other side also makes claims. We dont believe either of them.75

In 2007, a pro-military website, Strategy Page, proclaimed that the ~1,700 bombs dropped by the U.S. Air Force during 2006 had killed some 3,000 Taliban fighters and because of smart missiles and bombs fewer than a hundred Afghan civilians had perished.76 In truth, 303-306 Afghan civilians had perished in 2006 at the hands of the U.S. and NATO (Table1).

Neither the U.N. nor A.P. ever presents disaggregated data. We are asked to believe summary figures based upon faith. Such analysis violates a basic tenet of serious research, namely, being able to reproduce the research results. The U.N. and A.P. numbers cannot and should not be treated seriously. My research available at the Afghan Victim Memorial Project website indicates that during the first eight months of 2008, as many as 573-674 Afghan civilians were killed just by U.S. and NATO actions.

The response of defence intellectual and consultant to the U.S. Air Force, William M. Arkin, is even less satisfactory.77 Arkin and his cohorts had the gall to assert that civilian casualties during the first three months of the U.S. bombing of Afghanistan totalled 100-350.78 On October 21, 2001, William M. Arkin, a frequent contributor on military affairs to major U.S. daily newspapers and faculty member at a U.S. military university, reassured the American public that the U.S. bombing campaign of Afghanistan would generate few civilian casualties because of it being as targeted as anyone can reasonably expect.79 Arkin went on,

...U.S. analysts evaluate location and the blast radius of the intended weapon before the target can be approved. In other words, avoidance of civilian casualties has become institutionalised even to the point of rejecting important targets if there is a high probability of civilian harm. And this is not the Clinton administration.

The scene in the towns and fields of Afghanistan belied the good professor pundit. Between 35 and 55 innocent Afghans succumbed to U.S. bombs and missiles on that Sunday. The victims spanned five provinces in five U.S. bombing attacks:

Between nine and 18 died in the bombing of the Parod Gajaded neighbourhood of Khair Khana in Kabul;

a seven-year-old girl died in the Macroyan housing project in Kabul;

21-32 civilians died in the bombing of a neighbourhood in Tarin Kot and as they tried to flee on a farm tractor in a widely reported attack;

Three died in Kandahar city when a U.S. jet targeted six Taliban tanks hidden under a tree and missed, upending trees and killing three persons on the nearby road;

Arkin informs us that he spent time in early 2007 as a National Security and Human Rights Fellow at the Carr Institute for Human Rights at Harvard University studying whether there [is] a shred of evidence that air power is either responsible for civilian deaths or is deadlier than ground operation. And what did he discover while researching at Harvard? First, that civilian deaths are collateral to a legitimate military mission insofar as the said military unit takes all necessary precautions to avoid civilian harm and has no intention in killing civilians, the deaths are an unfortunate part of war especially this war, because the enemy hides behind and preys upon the civilian element. He falls back upon the same old intentionality and human-shields arguments.

Secondly, Arkin adds that the alleged visibility of air power with its bombs dropped can be counted and hence results in distinct reporting about civilian deaths, leading many to falsely conclude that air power is more deadly for civilians than ground combat. In fact, Arkin gets it exactly backwards as I will later demonstrate.

Simon Jenkins pointed out that massacres committed by infantry men are subject to courts marital. He wrote, If soldiers enter a house by the front door and kill civilians inside, then they are hauled before world opinion and condemned. If a dropped bomb enters the same house through the roof and has the same effect, it is dismissed as collateral damage.80 Lastly, presumably after some months at Harvard, Arkin concluded: We do not have enough reliable data even to gauge the level of civilian deaths (at U.S. hands, moreover), let alone the responsible party within the U.S. military. In other words, the Harvard Fellow dismisses outright numbers and accounts compiled by the United Nations in Kabul, the A.P. and myself.

For its part, HRW occasionally issues summary figures on Afghan civilian deaths. For example, in a report devoted primarily to the human costs of insurgent attacks, Mark Garlasco of HRW asserted in passing that 929 Afghan civilians had died during 2006 116 in air bombardments, 114 from foreign and Afghan ground forces and 699 at the hands of the Taliban.81 In a later communication, it reiterated that during 2006, insurgents had killed 699 civilians and foreign forces 300.82 In other words, it admits U.S. and Afghan forces killed 230-300 civilians. The entries in my Afghan Victim Memorial Project database for 2006 list 653-769 civilians who perished at the hands of the U.S. and NATO alone. HRW has an established record of complicity in Americas Afghan war.83

As regards 2007, Garlasco stated that 434 Afghan civilians had died at the hands of NATO or the U.S.84, while my data indicate the number is 1,008-1,295. HRW is continuing its long-standing tradition of presenting one-third of the truth as the whole truth, going back to the Kosovo bombing campaign where Arkin, in the employ then of HRW, proclaimed some 500 civilians had been killed by the NATO bombing whereas other independent sources cited figures of 1,200-1,500.85 HRW apparently believes that air strikes had killed 119 civilians (another 54 died from fighting on the ground) during 2008 until July 1, again precisely one-third of the truth.86 Garlasco asserts (no disaggregated data provided) that 837 innocent Afghans were killed since 2006 by NATO/U.S.-led operations (of whom 556 were killed by U.S. air strikes) when in my data (Table 3) document the figure as 1,934-2,399. Moreover, HRW is at pains to regurgitate the old intentionality canard, underscoring that there is no evidence suggesting that coalition or NATO forces have intentionally directed attacks against civilians. At the very time when U.S. CAS strikes in Afghanistan during July 1- 18, 2008, had killed an estimated 111-131 civilians, Marc Garlasco had the temerity to announce that in their deliberate targeting, the Air Force has all but eliminated civilian casualties in Afghanistan, though admitting that in immediate targeting precautionary rules are less adhered to.87

The A.P. has published fairly regularly summary data on Afghan civilian casualties, though it never revealed disaggregated figures which might allow fact-checking. We are simply asked to believe. As I have argued time and again, for the A.P. truth about civilian casualties comes only through an American lens.88 The A.P. uses figures provided primarily by U.S., NATO and Afghan sources, thereby displaying a bias as severe as one were to rely upon only Taliban data. The A.P. published figures for the first 10 months of 2007: U.S./NATO and Afghan militaries killed 337 Afghan civilians whereas the militants killed 346. These numbers are about one-third of the true count for 2007.89

Curiously, once again a pattern is here at play: in 2002, the A.P.s Laura King announced that the U.S. bombing campaign during 2001 had led to the death of some 600-700 innocent Afghan civilians; my report indicated the figure was closer to 3,10090 (revised downwards now to 2,569-2,949).91 In 2006, A.P. reporter Jason Straziuso, a good friend and faithful stenographer of the U.S. military version of events, updated the A.P. count saying that since February 2002 until May 2006, the A.P. count based upon figures from Afghan officials, the coalition and witnesses shows at least 180 civilians have died during coalition military action. Yes, at least 180! Accounts in my databases indicate that during December 11, 2001 December 31, 2005, Afghan civilian deaths at the hands of U.S./NATO forces were 1,349-1,589. On August 8, 2008, Straziuso proclaimed that during January through July, according to A.P. figures compiled from coalition and Afghan officials, 128 Afghan civilians had been killed by U.S. or NATO forces.92 He claims half the figure put out by the U.N. Karen DeYoung of The Washington Post, who uncritically cites HRW figures, put the figure killed by air strikes alone at more than 200 for the first eight months of 2008.93 My data for the same period show 444-475.

The U.N. released aggregate figures for the first six months of 2007 and 2008 (Table 4), as well as for eight months of 2008. The latter numbers are very close to my own for the first eight months of 2008. The U.N. figures of civilian deaths are:

Killed by international and Afghan forces: 577 (2007: 477)

Killed just by air strikes: ~400 (2007: n.a.)

Killed by the Taliban and associates: ~ 800 (2007: 462)


My totals reconstructed from disaggregated data on the Afghan Victim Memorial Project website shows that for the first eight months the numbers are: killed by U.S./NATO action @ 573-674 (midpoint at 624) and by air strikes alone @ 444-475 (midpoint at 460) (Table 5). The U.N. did not say how its human rights monitors collected statistics on civilian deaths, or discuss its sources of information or their reliability.

Table 4 summarises available aggregate statistics on Afghan civilian deaths for the period 2006-mid-2008.95

Of the various counts of Afghan civilian casualties mentioned in Table 4, three counts are comparable (see graphical image): those of HRW, A.P. and Herold. The U.N. data are only for the first half year of 2007 and for 2008. Karen DeYoung only lists civilians killed in U.S./NATO air strikes as mentioned by HRW. What clearly emerges is that HRW and A.P. put out gross underestimates, presumably a result of censorship by omission.

On September 8, 2008, HRW released a report on air strikes and civilian deaths in Afghanistan.96 It presented data, decried the costs of civilian casualties in terms of undermining the international efforts to provide basic security to the people of Afghanistan and warned ominously that such deadly air strikes act as a recruiting tool for the Taliban. In addition, HRW correctly pointed out that a disproportionate number of the civilian deaths were from air strikes called in by the nearly 20,000 U.S. occupation troops who operate independently of NATO and who have far less stringent rules of engagement. Throughout the report, HRW either directly states or indirectly implies that the Taliban uses civilians as human shields with deadly consequences. HRW says its figures are based upon military records, hospital admissions and on-the-ground testimonies. Indeed, The Economist states that American military figures show that civilian deaths in air strikes rose from 116 in 2006 to 321 in 2007, precisely the figures cited by HRW.97Military records, we know, whether U.S. or Afghan, are notoriously unreliable. Secondly, hospital entry data are largely irrelevant as Afghans bury their dead soon after death. It behoves HRW to tell us about the scope of its on-the-ground testimonies; it might take the Benini-Moulton (2003) study as a model.

The HRW summary figures for 2006-08 (first seven months) are presented in Table 5. What is immediately striking is the relatively low ratio of total reported civilian deaths caused by air strike: 50 per cent in 2006, 47 per cent in 2007 and 69 per cent in 2008. By way of contrast, data from Herolds Afghan Victim Memorial Project as well as commentary from most sources during this period of time point to a higher proportion of civilians killed by U.S./NATO air strikes, for example, 60-85 per cent. But more importantly, the figures put forth by HRW without the slightest bit of supporting evidence (in the form of data incident by incident) are very low absolute numbers of civilians killed by U.S./NATO occupation forces. For example, HRW figures for Afghans killed by U.S./NATO air strikes are only 70 per cent in 2006, 42 per cent in 2007 and 27 per cent in 2008 (first seven months) of those reported by Herold. In other words, HRW carries on its long-established tradition of reporting a fraction of the truth as the whole truth when dealing with bad bodies (those killed by U.S./NATO forces).

In his report, Garlasco inveighs that during the past year the number of civilians killed in air strikes has nearly tripled. This figure is in the ballpark (for the years 2006-07) and was widely cited even by some critical of the Bush wars. But, the figure obscures the fact that HRW numbers are only a fraction of the overall Afghan human toll. The HRW counts only about 50 per cent of all Afghans killed as indicated in Table 6.

Measuring the lethality of aerial bombing to the population is a complex endeavour. Clearly, the bombing intensity needs to be related to the civilian toll as absolute numbers in themselves mean very little. The measure I have chosen to employ is civilians killed per 10 tonnes (or 10,000 tonnes) of bombs dropped. Obviously, bombing across countries with radically different levels of urbanisation makes crude comparisons difficult. The tonnage figures include bombs dropped on purely military targets. Were one able to tally only bombs dropped where civilians perished, the ratio of civilians killed per tonnage would be significantly higher. In 1999, Fred Kaplan noted that the lethality of bombing for civilians was about equal in Vietnam and Yugoslavia, namely one civilian died for every 10 tonnes of bombs dropped. 98 The figures for Laos, Cambodia and Afghanistan (2001) were appreciably higher (more than double, Table 7).

The civilian figures for Afghanistan in Table 7 are for total civilian deaths caused by U.S./NATO actions. In order to achieve comparability, the deaths caused by aerial attacks need to be derived. A conservative estimate would be that during 2006, half the deaths were caused by aerial attacks and in 2007 and 2008, two-thirds.

Close air support strikes often involve a mix of civilian and military victims. Table 7 presents derived numbers in the last column for the number of Afghan civilians killed per 100 tonnes of bombs dropped. For the U.S. CAS bombing of 2006-08, I have employed the figures in Table 1, conservatively assuming that one-half of the recorded civilian deaths were from air strikes. The figures probably need to be adjusted downward slightly to take into account the fact that some Afghan civilians died from strafing runs and not bombs. Recognising that the U.S. reliance upon CAS strikes increased significantly during 2007-08, I shall assume that in 2006 half of all civilian deaths were caused by aerial bombing, but that during 2007 and 2008 the figure is 67 per cent. When one makes these adjustments, the lethality of CAS air strikes to Afghan civilians as measured by the ratio of civilians killed per 100 tonnes of bombs dropped is:

2006: 125-1482007: 119-153

In all three years, the lethality of U.S. bombing in Afghanistan exceeded by far that recorded in Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, Yugoslavia, Iraq (2003) and Afghanistan (2001). The lethality of CAS strikes to Afghan civilians fell significantly during the first six months of 2008, though, no doubt, rose greatly during July and August.99 Yet, the figure for 2008 is still in the order of magnitude of those recorded for what are admitted to have been the terribly deadly U.S. carpet bombing of Cambodia and the Allied bombing of Germany during the Second World War.100

Disaggregated data for 2006 reveals that 653-769 Afghan civilians died as a result of U.S./NATO actions. The number of attacks was 80, meaning that eight to ten persons perished per attack. But this average obscures a bipolar distribution: 49 attacks resulted in one to five civilian deaths and 20 attacks killed at least 11 Afghan civilians.

The matrix of death for 2008 constructed in Table 8 indicates that of the total number of Afghan civilians killed (272-334), air attacks killed 178-192, ground attacks another 50-80, and combined air and ground attacks 44-62. Aerial attacks were three to four times as deadly for Afghan civilians as were ground attacks. Many more children and women are killed by U.S./NATO attacks than men. Two-thirds of the 55 identifiable children killed died in air or combined air and ground attacks. Some 57-65 per cent of Afghans killed died from air attacks as compared with only 18-24 per cent from ground attacks. On the other hand, not a single U.S./NATO pilot was killed, but 123 foreign occupation ground soldiers died during January through June 2008. The recent increasing reliance upon unmanned drones to dispense death and destruction in the border regions is in a sense the penultimate disconnect between killing them and saving ours.

The trade-off is very clear: by relying upon aerial CAS and drone attacks, U.S./NATO forces spare their pilots and ground troops but kill lots of innocent Afghan civilians. Air strikes are four to ten times as deadly for Afghan civilians as are ground attacks. The matrixes of death (Tables 8 and 9) for January-August 2008 could not be clearer about this trend.

What is a dead Afghan worth to the U.S.?

In the very rare instances when the U.S. military acknowledges that Afghan civilians wrongfully died or were wounded because of military action, what monetary compensation (the U.S. military refrains from using the word compensation, preferring instead condolence) is paid?101 Rather than estimating ex ante what might be the monetary value of an Afghan life, I focus instead upon how much compensation has been paid ex post for a death caused.102 Afghans have been seeking compensation from the U.S. since early 2002.103 A particularly egregious case occurred at 3 a.m. on January 24, 2002, described meticulously in The Afghan Victim Memorial Project:

In the village of Hazar Qadam, Uruzgan Province. Amanullah, 25, was sleeping when a rocket hit the Islamic school, the Sharzam high school, and U.S. troops burst into the school spraying it with bullets. He saw his cousin struggle with U.S. occupation soldiers. But Amanullah, fearing for his life, fled to hide in the village mosque. When he returned he found his cousin dead with bullets in his neck, stomach and shoulder. Bari Gul also described how Haji Sana, his brother died. Bari Gul was heading up a group of 18 Afghans who were negotiating disarmament locally. The U.S. occupation forces beat them, abducted all of them and nine other civilians, keeping them in wooden-barred cages and beating them for two weeks at the Kandahar base. Allah Noor, 40, a farmer, suffered two broken ribs from the beatings. The masked U.S. Special Forces troops killed 14 men in one compound, two in a second compound serving as the district office. Villagers later found two local men dead with their hands tied behind their backs with plastic bands stenciled with the words, Made in U.S.A., killed execution-style. The school courtyard was a graveyard of twisted, shrapnel-shredded vehicles. Its faade was pocked with hundreds of bullet holes. The floor of one classroom was marked with bloodstains. Made in U.S.A.? Bari Gul added, None of our friends fired on the Americans because they were asleep. An Uruzgan elder told Time (February 2002), The U.S. must be punished for what they did in this room, what they did in this place. In June 2003, a participating member in this deadly U.S. attack upon the schoolhouse, Sgt. Anthony Pryor of the 5th Special Forces Group, was awarded the Silver Star medal and was given a ring made of Afghan lapis lazuli.

Less than 10 days after the attack, Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) agents visited the village to pay condolence. Bari Gul, whose brother was a member of a local disarmament commission and was slaughtered by the U.S. Special Forces, was given ten $100 bills.104

Five and a half years later, the U.S. military stated it intended to pay $90,000 in compensation to the families of at least 16 victims killed in an air strike in Tulokhan, west of Kandahar, on May 21/22, 2006. The U.S. military said 16 civilians had died, but rights groups like the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission (AIHRC) insisted the number was 37. However, U.S. Col. Tom Collins added the caveat that compensation would be paid only when security improved in the area.105 On the night of April 17/18, 2006, U.S. soldiers shot and wounded three women and a newborn in Khost province when the women were on their way home in a vehicle after one of them had given birth to a baby in a nearby clinic. The family of Gardez Khan was given a compensation amount of 80,000 Afghanis (or $1,600).106

On March 4, 2007, U.S. Marines were hit with gunfire and went on a shooting spree killing and injuring scores of Afghans in Nangarhar province. The U.S. Army later apologised to the affected people and offered a condolence sum of $2,000 to each affected family.107 In July 2007, families of 25 victims of a NATO air strike during June on Alam Khan village in Gereshk district of Helmand province, were awarded a compensation amount of 2.2 million Afghanis (or $50,000), or $2,000 per dead relative.108 The villages demanded that the NATO troops be punished for killing ordinary citizens. On September 27, 2007, a U.S. bombing raid killed 49 persons in Uruzgan. The families received 100,000 Afghanis ($2,000) for a dead relative and 50,000 Afghanis ($1,000) for those injured.109

On the other hand, the family of a 13-year-old boy who was killed by U.S. troops gunfire in Kabul in March 2006 received $4,000. In March 2007, the U.S. military offered $2,000 in compensation to the family of Alexander Ivanov, a truck driver who was killed by U.S. troops gunfire at the entrance of the U.S. Manas Air Base in Kyrgyzstan.110

Condolence payments to Iraqis slain by U.S. occupation forces vary from $500 to $5,000, with the variation accounted for by the degree to which the death of a high-profile victim might have an impact on U.S.-Iraqi relations.111 A typical case is that of Ali Kadem Hashem who in 2003 watched his wife burn to death and his three children die after an American missile hit his home. Almost a year later, Hashem received $5,000 in a stack of crisp $100 bills (or $1,250 a victim) and an Im sorry from a young captain.112

Or, take the case of Said Abbas Ahmed who was given $6,000 after a U.S. missile killed his brother, his sister, his wife and his children. He received $1,000 for each dead family member; Abbas commented, Are we not worth more than a few thousand?113 A U.S. official in 2007 is quoted in a U.S. congressional hearing making the astounding claim that compensation should be modest lest this could cause incidents with people trying to get killed by our guys to financially guarantee their familys future.114

The U.S. military gives at the most $2,500 in condolence payment for a death and half that for an injury. Canadian per-person condolence payments to Afghans since 2006 range from $1,100 to $9,000.115

British compensation, aside from being totally sporadic and arbitrary, is paltry: of the 1,289 claims filed by Afghan civilians, just 397 were settled and less than 150,000 has been paid in compensation to civilians injured or killed in the intense fighting in Helmand.116

Mirwais Ahmadzai, who leads the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission (AIHRC), says these compensation figures are far too low. He pointed out that the blood price for a killing under Afghan customary law is more than 10 times the U.S. offer.117 According to Afghanistans current Islamic penal code, a person who mistakenly kills an individual should pay an Islamic compensation (diyat) equivalent to the price of 40 camels to the affected family or roughly $25,000.118

The London-based Global Commons Institute reported (1995) that the cash value of a statistical life in the E.C. or the U.S. was ~ $1,500,000 per head:

Centre for the Social and Economic Research of the Global Environment (C-SERGE) based in the U.K. has already published a valuation of the lives to be lost. In a recent research paper it stated that the cash value of a statistical life in the E.C. or the USA is $1,500,000 per head, but in poor countries such as China, it is only $150,000. (The disparate figures are derived from peoples ability to pay for damage insurance.) In global cost/benefit analysis, this means therefore these economists discard a real Chinese life 10 times more easily than a real life in the E.C. or the USA.119

I propose to compare the compensation paid by the U.S. military to Afghan civilians to other instances of compensation. Table 10 describes a dozen such cases:

The incidents listed illustrate recklessness admitted to by the U.S. These include the terrible Union Carbide chemical leak in Bhopal, India, in 1984; the downing in 1988 of an Iran Air A300 Airbus by a U.S. warship causing 290 civilian deaths120; the low-flying U.S. Marine EA-6B jet severing two cables of an Italian ski-lift on February 3, 1998, killing 20 skiers from six nations (within a year and threatened with an international lawsuit, the U.S. settled paying for 3/4 of the $40 mn compensation)121; and in November 2002, the U.S. government paid out $13 mn to the families of those killed when a U.S. Navy submarine struck a Japanese fishing vessel in February 2001. At 11.45 p.m. on May 7, 1999, a U.S. B-2 bomber deliberately dropped three JDAM smart bombs upon the Chinese embassy in New Belgrade.122 Three young Chinese journalists were killed and 23 other persons in the embassy were wounded. Four months later, the U.S. agreed to pay $4.5 million in damages to the families of the deceased and to the injured. This amounts to about a nominal $150,000 per victim. On July 22, 2002, a little over a month after a U.S. armoured vehicle in South Korea struck and killed two South Korean teenagers, the U.S. military offered $162,500 in compensation to each family.123

The data in Table 10 reveal that the West values life in direct proportion to a nations level of average material development. Afghanistan figures at the bottom along with the victims of Bhopal. When presented in PPP $s a clear hierarchy is revealed: Euro-Americans are worth most followed by East Asians whereas Central/South Asians figure last. Were an Afghan compensated for according to the traditional practice of the diyat, the amount would approach that paid out (in PPP $s) by the U.S. to the family of a victim of the Iranian Airbus shooting down. Instead, the U.S. military distributes a condolence payment one-fifteenth the amount offered to the family of an Iranian victim. Approximately $80,000 was spent on the rehabilitation of every sea otter affected by the Exxon Valdez oil spill,124 that is, 10 times the condolence amount offered by the U.S. military to the family of an Afghan killed.

Bombs away! U.S./NATO bombs kill about 10 times more Afghan civilians with a tonne of precision bombs than they killed Serbs in 1999.125 They (Afghans) are only worth one-tenth of an Alaskan sea otter rather than 40 camels.

The U.S. spends $10 on the military in Afghanistan to pursue its geostrategic aims and $1 on reconstructing the everyday lives of Afghans destroyed by 30 years of war.126 For (most) Americans, Afghans truly are lesser versions of humanity. Lest we forget, what did America do for Afghans when its geostrategic goal of defeating the Soviets was achieved in 1989? America cut and ran.

Conclusion: Obamas Afghanistan as a surreal hunting estate

The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.

Albert Einstein

Candidate Obama, his Clinton-era advisers, and sadly all too many others fail to recognise a web of inter-connected, persistent constraints, or given realties. One might label them as the five cannots: U.S./NATO cannot send 400,000 combat troops to garrison Afghanistans towns, hamlets and countryside127 (which is a pre-condition for reconstruction to win hearts and minds128); the U.S./NATO cannot impose a powerful central government upon Afghanistan129; the U.S./NATO cannot neutralise the very effective least-cost weapons of choice of the Afghan resistance (IEDs and suicide bombers); the U.S./NATO cannot seal the Afghan-Pakistan border and hence will not eliminate the vital sanctuary so necessary to a guerilla movement); and lastly, the Pakistan government has never been able to dominate its vast tribal borderlands and there is no reason to believe such will change. Those who choose not to understand these five cannots advocate change in a vacuum. The present military impasse begets a political solution and the abandonment of any nation-building fantasy.130

The perceived poison of foreign occupation, the rampant corruption, the all-too-frequent desecration of Islam by the occupiers, the sheer folly of the U.S./NATO seeking to extend the writ of a central government into the Pashtun tribal regions131, and the spiralling count of civilian deaths have shifted the Afghan struggle towards being a war of national liberation. The presence of foreign forces is furthermore, according to the U.N.s senior expert on Al Qaeda, providing the glue with which Osama bin Ladens network is bonding support in the region.132 Anatol Lieven of Kings College (London) puts things aptly. Afghanistan is becoming a sort of surreal hunting estate, in which the U.S. and NATO breed the very terrorists they then track down.133

No matter that in Kabul even foreigners speak about being inside a living hell.134 No matter that veteran reporter Kathy Gannon notes that Afghans are fed up with the U.S. and Karzai.135 No matter that Karzai and U.S. bombs have transformed what was once a backward-looking Taliban, primarily espousing Sharia, into a thriving modern movement of resistance and national liberation.136 No matter that anti-Americanism is spiralling in Pakistan as U.S. raids take place.137 Obama and John McCain propose dusty death with no end in Afghanistan.138

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