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PORTSIDE  March 2012, Week 2

PORTSIDE March 2012, Week 2

Subject:

Massacres are the Inevitable Result of Foreign Occupation

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Wed, 14 Mar 2012 21:59:01 -0400

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Massacres are the inevitable result of foreign occupation

The latest slaughter in Afghanistan is part of a decade of
savage civilian killing: until Nato leaves, it is certain
to continue

Seumas Milne
guardian.co.uk, Tuesday 13 March 2012 18.20 EDT

http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2012/mar/13/massacres-result-of-foreign-occupation

Afghan villagers during a prayer ceremony for victims of
Sunday's killing of civilians, apparently by a lone US
soldier, in Panjwai. Photograph: Allauddin Khan/AP
It was an "isolated incident", US officials insisted. The
murder of 16 Afghan civilians as they slept, Hillary
Clinton declared, was the "inexplicable act" of one
soldier. And as Barack Obama and David Cameron prepared to
put a public gloss on an earlier end to Nato's "lead
combat" mission in Afghanistan, the US secretary of state
pledged to continue "protecting the Afghan people".

After a decade of ever more degraded Nato occupation, who
could conceivably wish for such protection? The slaughter
of innocents in Panjwai, nine of them children, follows
the eruption of killings and protests after US troops
burned copies of the Qur'an last month. That came soon
after the exposure of video of US marines urinating on
dead Afghans.

The evidence surrounding the Panjwai massacre is so far
contradictory. If it was the work of a single gunman, he
was likely to have been unhinged or motivated by perverted
religious or racist hatred. But however extreme, it was
certainly not an isolated incident.

As in Iraq, the killing and abuse of civilians by
occupation forces has been an integral part of this dirty
war from its earliest days. As it drags on, ever more
outrages emerge. Last year, members of a US unit were
convicted of killing Afghan civilians for entertainment,
cutting off body parts as trophies and leaving weapons
with the corpses to make it seem as if they were killed in
combat.

Nor is such depravity just a US habit, of course. Last
year a hungover British guardsman stabbed a 10-year-old
boy in the kidneys for no reason. British soldiers are
currently on trial for filming their abuse of Afghan
children, while US WikiLeaks files record 21 separate
incidents of British troops shooting dead or bombing
Afghan civilians.

The line between deliberate and accidental killings is in
any case a blurred one. As the US General Stanley
McChrystal, former commander of Nato troops in
Afghanistan, commented: "We have shot an amazing number of
people, but to my knowledge, none has ever proven to be a
threat."

When six British soldiers were killed in Helmand last
week, taking Britain's 10-year military toll over 400,
their deaths were treated by politicians and media alike
as a national tragedy. Meanwhile tens of thousands of
Afghans have been killed in the war launched by the US and
Britain in Afghanistan, but even the names of the 16
Panjwai victims are largely unreported.

Last year was a record for civilian deaths in the Afghan
war: 3,021 were reported killed by the UN, which blamed
Nato and its Afghan allies for 410 of them - though Afghan
human rights organisations insist that such tallies
heavily understate the numbers killed by foreign troops,
whose casualties are said routinely to be blamed on the
Taliban or not reported at all.

Many civilians are killed in night raids or air attacks,
such as the one that incinerated eight shepherd boys aged
6 to 18 in northern Afghanistan last month. Across the
border in Pakistan, CIA "targeted" drone attacks have
killed 2,300, including hundreds of civilians and 175
children - a massacre of another kind -- with the collusion
of Britain's GCHQ electronic spying centre.

Of course, the Afghanistan occupation is far from unique
in its record of civilian suffering. The Iraq war was
punctuated by occupation massacres from the start:
Haditha, where 24 men, women and children were murdered in
cold blood by US marines in 2005, the killing of 17 by
Blackwater military contractors in 2007, and another dozen
by a US Apache crew in Baghdad the same year are among the
more notorious. The only soldier convicted in the Haditha
case walked free last month with a "general discharge
under honourable conditions".

And in Vietnam, hundreds of villagers were notoriously
murdered by US soldiers in My Lai in 1968, among other
bloodbaths. The same was true of Britain's colonial war
against Malaya's communist guerrillas, where 24 villagers
were slaughtered by British soldiers in Batang Kali in
1948 - their relatives are still seeking some justice 64
years later.

Massacres are common in wars, but they flow from the very
nature of foreign occupations. Brutalised soldiers, pumped
up with racial and cultural superiority, sent on imperial
missions to subdue people they don't understand, take
revenge for resistance, real or imagined, with terror and
savagery.

That has been the story of the Afghan campaign: a
decade-long intervention supposedly launched to crush
terrorism that has itself spawned and fuelled terror
across the region and beyond. This is a war that has
failed in every one of its ever-shifting kaleidoscope of
aims: from destroying the Taliban and al-Qaida, to
bringing democracy and women's rights, to eradicating
opium production.

The warnings of its opponents from the start have been
gruesomely borne out. The Taliban control swaths of the
country, Afghanistan is the opium capital of the world,
women's rights are heading backwards, and the robber-baron
Karzai government is reviled by its people.

Where is the "good war" now? Foreign troops are a central
cause of the conflict, not its solution - as is well
understood in both the Nato countries and Afghanistan
itself. In Britain, 55%  want troops withdrawn
immediately; in the US 60% believe the war hasn't been
worth fighting; in Afghanistan 87% of men in the south say
Nato operations are bad for Afghans, 76% in the north.

Yet Cameron insists this "very good work" must go on.
Despite the growing pressure to bring an end to a
disastrous occupation, US demands on the Afghan government
for a long-term "enduring presence" to save Nato's face
are intensifying. But it's not going to be saved. There is
no serious prospect of a change in the balance of forces
before the end of 2014, when Nato forces are scheduled to
end combat operations. With the US and Nato now committed
to negotiation with the Taliban, the case for speeding up
withdrawal has become overwhelming.

The best chance of preventing a return to civil war is an
inclusive, negotiated settlement backed by the main
neighbouring states. Spinning out the occupation to 2014
or beyond will only mean years more of massacres, dead
soldiers and civilians and destabilisation of the region.

Like Iraq, the Afghanistan war has been a disastrous
miscalculation for the western powers, which are having to
learn the lessons of empire again and again. In the 21st
century, more than ever, foreign military occupation will
be resisted, paid for in blood - and rebound on those who
try to impose it.

___________________________________________

Portside aims to provide material of interest to people
on the left that will help them to interpret the world
and to change it.

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