Afghan weddings and American "sensitivity": Imperialist double standards exposed

The US and coalition forces have been chasing their own shadows for the last few months in Afghanistan without achieving any tangible results. Increasingly frustrated, the US forces are lashing out in all directions, in the vain hope of killing "the enemy". So far the only people killed have been civilians and US allies.

At 1am on Monday, July 1, US aircraft, equipped with all the most modern and deadly instruments of destruction, targeted a house full of wedding guests, killing at least 44 of them. The bombing happened in a village in the rugged and mountainous central region of Oruzgan, 105 miles north of the southern city of Kandahar. An AC-130 plane and B-52 bomber blasted the scene, leaving scores of people dead - among them women and children - and at least 40 injured.

Pentagon officials at first tried to deny that any such incident had occurred, then conceded that at least one bomb dropped on the village of Kakarak was "errant". But they were unable to explain why the pilots had failed to establish whom they were attacking in a region clearly abandoned by Taliban and al Qaeda fighters several months ago.

Survivors of the attack said several guests had just fired their Kalashnikovs into the air, as is traditional in Pashtun wedding ceremonies. A US air patrol overhead wrongly concluded it was coming under fire and responded with devastating force. The Guardian (July 2, 2002) reported the scene of carnage: "'There was no one to help last night,' one resident, Abdul Saboor, said. 'We managed to transfer some of the wounded to Kandahar in the morning. Some of the foreigners' choppers also came to help. There are no Taliban or al Qaeda or Arabs here. These people were all civilians, women and children.'"

The Guardian report continues: "Hospital officials said a number of wounded were being brought to Kandahar, a day's journey away by road. Most of the dead and injured were women and children, they said. A six-year-old girl named Paliko was brought to the hospital still wearing her party dress. She was injured, but villagers said all members of her family were killed. 'Their families are gone. The villagers brought these children and they have no parents. Everyone says that their parents are dead,' Mohammed Nadir, a nurse, said."

This version was immediately confirmed by an Afghan defence ministry official who said: "It was a wedding ceremony and some of the participants were firing in the sky as part of the celebration. Americans have confessed that they made a mistake," he said.

However, the Americans themselves have continuously repeated that they use "smart bombs" that unfailingly hit the intended target and are always careful to distinguish between military and civilian targets. How are we to explain such "mistakes" - there have been more than one or two - and how do we explain the fact that this attack on a peaceful village was continued remorselessly for the space of two hours?

The reason is blatantly obvious. The Pentagon's idea of a "humanitarian" war is one that minimises the possibility of casualties - among the American forces. They therefore prefer the tactic of bombing from a great height, from where it is often difficult to distinguish one target from another - "smart bombs" notwithstanding.

Yes, the American pilots made a mistake, but not the one claimed by Washington's official propaganda machine. They mistook villagers at a wedding feast firing their Kalashnikovs in the air for al Qaeda anti-aircraft fire. This is proven by the fact that several survivors recovering in Kandahar's Mir Wais hospital the day after the bombing said US troops had arrived at the scene shortly afterwards demanding to know "who fired on the helicopters".

The incident has caused serious embarrassment in Washington, as revealed by the confused nature of the initial reports. In Washington, the Pentagon eventually admitted that at least one bomb dropped by western warplanes had missed its target, but it tried to ignore or deny claims that members of a wedding party had been killed.

Lieutenant Commander Jeff Davis, a Pentagon spokesman, said anti-aircraft fire was directed at an air patrol of "coalition warplanes" and they had responded with close air support north of Kandahar. "At least one bomb was errant. We don't know where it fell," he said. "We are aware of reports of civilian casualties but don't know if casualties were caused [by] the bomb."

The fact is that the American military and their British allies have completely failed to fulfil a single one of their declared initial war aims. They have failed to capture Osama bin Laden or destroy the fighting forces of al Qaeda and the Taliban. Just as we predicted, the triumphal chorus of a few months ago did not correspond in the slightest to the real situation on the ground. Now western intelligence sources say that most senior Taliban figures together with remnants of al Qaeda retreated to the safety of Pakistan's tribal regions late last year.

The fact is that the coalition forces have been chasing their own shadows for the last few months without achieving any tangible results. Increasingly frustrated, the US forces are inclined to use excessive force, to lash out in any direction, in the vain hope of killing "the enemy". In the process the risk of killing and wounding innocent civilians becomes ever greater.

This is not the first time that American warplanes have bombed civilians in Afghanistan - though they have probably never killed so many civilians at a single stroke. According to Afghan witnesses, 11 members of a wedding party were killed in a similar incident in May in the village of Balkhiel, 30 miles north of the town of Khost. The same bloody chain of events unfolded then. Afghan wedding guests were bombed after celebrating by firing into the air. US officials later insisted their planes had come under "enemy attack".

In January the village of Hazar Qadam (also in Oruzgan) was also bombed. Some 16 innocent people were killed and 27 captured. The 27 were later released after US officials admitted their mistake and allowed them to return home. Last December planes bombed a convoy from the eastern town of Khost, killing a group of tribal elders travelling to Kabul for Hamid Karzai's inauguration as interim leader. Nor are Afghans the only victims of trigger-happy American forces. In April four Canadian soldiers died when a US fighter bombed them by mistake during a training exercise (this is called "friendly fire" in the trade).

As the conflict drags on, the truth is slowly beginning to dawn on at least some members of the coalition of western imperialists. Gone is the boastfully arrogant tone of a few months ago. No more do we hear the triumphant announcements of imminent victory. Instead, splits are opening up inside the coalition. Even the most loyal servants of Washington - the government of Tony Blair - are beginning to get the message.

The Sunday Telegraph reported that "senior ministers in the prime minister's office" had told the paper that "troops carrying out house-to-house searches in the remote tribal areas of Pakistan along the Afghanistan border were 'blundering' with a 'march in shooting' approach. The US action was 'backfiring', increasing support for terrorism and making it harder for bin Laden and his henchmen to be caught.

"'The Americans think they and the Pakistanis can just march in shooting,' said an official closely involved in the direction of the war. 'They don't understand the sensitivities. We have years of experience in the tribal areas and we know using force will just backfire and increase sympathies for al Qaeda.'"

The friendly advice from London falls on deaf years. The US imperialists are not interested in diplomatic finesse. They have little understanding of the gentle art of winning friends and influencing people. They prefer the genteel language of bombs and rockets to make a point. Then they wonder why they are hated everywhere!

In point of fact, their trigger-happy conduct points to weakness rather than strength. They are aware that they have failed, that the situation in Afghanistan is getting out of control, and they react by blazing away at anything that moves. But such irresponsible tactics will have the opposite effect to that intended.

The divisions between the British and the Europeans generally and their US "allies" are no coincidence. They come at a time of increasing tensions between Europe and the USA over the Middle East, the introduction of steel tariffs and other areas that highlight the underlying conflicts of interest between Europe and America. All the attempts of Tony Blair to secure a "special relationship" between London and Washington by acting as Bush's pet poodle have failed to secure anything. A few months ago he got a pat on the head. Now he gets a kick in the teeth. Alas! There is no gratitude in politics!

"You have to remember that this is a rather unpleasant administration," the British minister told the Sunday Telegraph. "The fact there has been a full-blooded attempt to forge a relationship with it hasn't changed its fundamental nature - protectionist and self-interested."

These pathetic complaints from the ladies and gentlemen in London met with a stern rebuff from Washington. Colonel Rick Thomas, spokesman for the US Central Command said: "Our entire approach to removing the Taliban from power and eliminating the al Qaeda threat has been sensitive to regional issues. We have liaison teams co-ordinating with the Pakistani military but have not been directly involved in any operations in that area." (Sunday Times, June 30, 2002)

Yes, the US aggressors have been very sensitive indeed. They showed their sensitivity only a few hours after that article was published by the bombing of the village of Kakarak. There will be many more such incidents. The result is perfectly predictable. They are storing up a deadly backlash among the Afghans and especially the Pashtun population in the south. They are in the process of preparing a bloody conflict that can last for many years, will the most terrible consequences.

One of the most repulsive aspects of the present situation is the hypocrisy of the imperialists, especially the US, their double standards and dishonesty. At the same time American military officials were trying to explain away one of their worst incidents of the killing of civilians during the nine-month war in Afghanistan, the USA's representative at the UN was blocking an attempt to make their "peacekeepers" immune from prosecution for war crimes and genocide.

US imperialism loudly applauded the trial of Milosevic for war crimes in the Balkans, but now arrogantly demands that its own forces be given complete immunity from prosecution for any atrocities committed by them. This is a perfect example of the arrogance of US imperialism, which has taken advantage of the events of September 11 to throw its weight around all over the world. They want a completely free hand to bomb, kill and maim with no restraint.

Under the flag of the so-called war on terror, they have become the biggest terrorist force on earth. Under the flag of freedom they subordinate small nations to their will, bullying and threatening all who dare to stand in their way. Under the flag of civilisation they create the conditions for barbarism. Under the flag of "peacekeeping" they are destabilising whole countries and regions, sowing the seeds of new wars, terrorist acts and mayhem on a global scale. These actions bring to mind the words of the Roman historian Tacitus:

"And when they have created a wilderness, they call it Peace."