Posts Tagged ‘US forces’

Iraqis speak of random killings committed by private Blackwater guards

August 7, 2009

Times Online, Aug 7, 2008

Suhad Abul-Ameer, mother of Ali Husamaldeen, who was killed by members of Blackwater, carries his picture as she prays at her house in Baghdad

Suhad Abul-Ameer, mother of Ali Husamaldeen, who was killed by members of Blackwater, carries his picture as she prays at her house in Baghdad

Oliver August in Baghdad

Guards employed by Blackwater, the US security company, shot Iraqis and killed victims in allegedly unprovoked and random attacks, it was claimed yesterday.

A Virginia court also received sworn statements from former Blackwater employees yesterday alleging that Erik Prince, the company’s founder, “views himself as a Christian crusader tasked with eliminating Muslims and the Islamic faith from the globe”.

They also accused the company of following a policy of deliberate killings and arms dealing and of employing people unfit or improperly trained to handle lethal weaponry.

In Baghdad yesterday, some Iraqis said they believed that the case was a last chance for justice and an opportunity for America to divorce the behaviour of its military from the private guards.

Farid Walid, who was shot in Nisour Square two years ago during a massacre that killed 17 Iraqis, said: “Everybody here knows of cases where Blackwater guards shot innocent people without a second thought. They are a symbol of the occupation. Nobody will forget. But Iraqis might think at least a little differently of America if the killers are put in prison.”

Mr Walid is among several Iraqis behind an attempt to take Blackwater to court in the US, helped by an American lawyer, Susan Burke, and her local legal team.

Umm Sajjad, whose husband was allegedly shot by Blackwater guards, said: “The US forces have come to our neighbourhood many times and they never harmed anybody. It was Blackwater that wanted to harm people.”

Her husband was working as a security guard at the Iraqi Media Network, a state broadcaster, when a Blackwater convoy passed them one day in 2007. She says that without warning, the Iraqis were fired upon and three of them were killed. The Blackwater convoy never stopped or sent anyone to check what happened.

Umm Sajjad said: “I was told that there was no exchange of fire or any other reason to provoke them to shoot at my husband and his colleagues. They were on a high building but they didn’t have weapons in their hands.”

Other families have tales of shootings allegedly committed by Blackwater, which has since changed its name.

Abu Suhad lost his daughter in 2007 when she was driving her car near the Iraqi Foreign Ministry in central Baghdad. He said: “Eyewitnesses told me that four white Blackwater cars went by her. Three were already past when the last one shot her in the head at close range and killed her. The eyewitnesses said they were very bewildered why they shot her. The bullet came from the driver’s window, which means that he got next to her when he shot her. The bullet entered from under the ear and left from the upper side of her skull. There were bits of her hair and skin on the car roof.”

Mr Walid remembers the Nisour Square shooting on September 16, 2007 — for Iraqis one of the blacker days of the US occupation. Claiming to have come under fire, Blackwater guards stopped in the middle of a large roundabout and began shooting in all directions.

“I left my car and ran away to hide in a petrol station, which was made of concrete. The shooting was so heavy it was like rain,” he said. “I saw lots of people getting shot. The driver who had been in front of me died and his wife fell out of the car. Her child was killed as well. The shooting went on for about ten minutes.”

Iraqis still find it hard to believe that companies such as Blackwater were given such free rein. Until the start of this year its employees were immune from prosecution in the country.

In another alleged incident involving the company, Ali Husamaldeen was walking in Wathba Square, central Baghdad, on September 9, 2007, when he was felled by a single gunshot. Passers-by reported a Blackwater helicopter overhead, from which they say the fatal shot was fired. According to his mother, Umm Ali, her son was unarmed and in no way a threat.

Leqaa al-Yaseen, an MP, said: “I believe the US authorities have the main responsibility for what happened because Blackwater came to Iraq with their permission. Regarding Blackwater smuggling weapons into Iraq, that suggests the US forces didn’t know about it at the time. But I think they did know.

“The tragedies that happened to our Iraqi people at Nisour Square and other places are not separate from the US forces in Iraq. The US Government is trying to avoid responsibility by blaming private companies.”

Officials in Baghdad have told The Times that they are continuing to investigate allegations similar to those made in the US against Blackwater.

Major-General Fathel al-Barwari, commander of the Iraqi Special Operations Forces, said he was gathering evidence of illegal weapons trading by the company. As a result, Blackwater could also face criminal prosecution in Iraq, where it is now banned, but other companies connected to Mr Prince still operate.

Tahseen Al-Shekhli, for the defence ministry in Baghdad, said: “If the allegations of illegally smuggling weapons into Iraq are proven, the Iraqi authorities will definitely take legal measures against this company.”

The Iraqi Government has tightened up rules for private security companies in recent years.

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Galloway: Delivering a message to Obama

July 19, 2009
Morning Star Online, Friday 17 July 2009

George Galloway

I have just returned from Gaza with the Viva Palestina US Lifeline 2 convoy. Our aim was partly about delivering aid, but it was also partly about delivering a message. Having raised the funds for the convoy and gathered the volunteers, we set off on US Independence Day, July 4, from John F Kennedy airport in New York to Cairo, where we purchased desperately needed vehicles and medical supplies to drive down to the Egypt-Palestine border.

We then ran into a series of bureaucratic obstacles from the Egyptian authorities, but the convoy members showed incredible resilience and patience. After a considerable amount of delicate negotiation, we finally received the go-ahead.

The convoy was supported by Vietnam war veteran Ron Kovic, whose life story formed the basis for Oliver Stone’s Born On The Fourth Of July, along with many others.

And accompanying me through the Rafah crossing on Wednesday were presidential candidate and former congresswoman Cynthia McKinney and New York council member Charles Barron, alongside over 200 other US citizens.

Continued >>

Phosphorus claim after fatal U.S. air strikes in Afghanistan

May 11, 2009

Afghanistan‘s leading human rights ­organisation is investigating claims that white phosphorus was used during a deadly battle between US forces and the Taliban last week in which scores of civilians may have died.

Nader Nadery, a senior officer at the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission, said the organisation was concerned that the chemical, which can cause severe burns, might have been used in the firefight in Bala Baluk, a district in the western province of Farah.

Dr Mohammad Aref Jalali, the head of an internationally funded burns hospital in Herat, said villagers taken to hospital after the incident had “highly unusual burns” on their hands and feet that he had not seen before. “We cannot be 100% sure what type of chemical it was and we do not have the equipment here to find out. One of the women who came here told us that 22 members of her family were totally burned. She said a bomb distributed white power that caught fire and then set people’s clothes alight.”

US forces in Afghanistan denied they had used the chemical, and have also said claims that up to 147 civilians were killed were grossly exaggerated.

As with previous such tragedies, both sides have made wildly different claims, with the Taliban seeking to exploit ­popular fury and US officials attempting to limit the damage and blame the Taliban for allegedly using civilians as human shields.But members of the human rights department at the UN mission in Afghanistan have been appalled by witness testimony from people in the village, according to one official in Kabul who talked anonymously to the Guardian.

He said bombs were dropped after militants had quit the battlefield, which appeared to be backed up by the US air force’s own daily report, which is published online. “The stories that are emerging are quite frankly horrifying,” the official said. “It is quite apparent that the large bulk of casualties were called in after the initial fighting had subsided and both the troops and the Taliban had withdrawn.

“Local villagers went to the mosque to pray for peace. Shortly after evening prayers the air strikes were called in, and they continued for a couple of hours whilst the villagers were frantically calling the local governor to get him to call off the air strikes.”

He said that women and children hid inside their homes while their men went on to the roofs with guns. US forces say these men were militants, but the UN official said they were simply villagers and “it is totally normal for them to have guns”. Also contested is an incident immediately after the battle when people from the village took piles of corpses to the governor’s compound in the provincial capital.

The UN official said their willingness to ignore the Islamic custom of organising burial within 24 hours of death showed the level of anger. A statement by US forces said insurgents forced tribal elders to parade the corpses through neighbouring villages to “incite outrage”.

It said that a joint US-Afghan investigation team confirmed that “a number of civilians were killed in the course of the fighting but is unable to determine with certainty which of those causalities were Taliban fighters and which were non-combatants”. Last week Afghanistan’s president, Hamid Karzai, called for all air strikes in villages to be stopped, a view privately backed by many in the UN. Yesterday Barack Obama’s national security adviser, Gen James Jones, ruled out such a change in policy, saying “we can’t fight with one hand tied behind our back”.

Growing Anger at US Killings in Afghanistan

April 11, 2009
by Jason Ditz | Antiwar.com, April 10, 2009|

The Khost Province killings yesterday have sparked a growing level of outrage at the behavior of US forces across Afghanistan, and have led Afghan President Hamid Karzai to demand once again that foreign forces adhere to their previous agreement to coordinate planned raids with the national government, and base them on accurate information.

When the killings were reported yesterday morning, US forces claimed that they had killed “four militants” and wounded another one. It was only later that they were forced to acknowledge that the house they attacked belonged to a Afghan Army officer, and that the people killed were his wife, a brother, and two of his children. Afghan health officials revealed today that the wounded woman reported in the initial report was actually nine-months pregnant, and the attacking US forces shot the unborn baby in her womb. The troops now say they don’t believe the people they killed were involved in militant activities.

The Afghan officer, Awal Khan, was flown home after the killing and said he wants “the coalition leaders to expose those behind this and punish them.” US military spokesman Col. Julian says it was “an unfortunate set of circumstances” and that there will be financial assistance to the surviving relatives of those killed.

On the other had Afghan Ambassador to the United States Said Jawad, remarkably, defended the killings, saying it was “a price that we have to pay if we want security and stability in Afghanistan, the region and the world.” Despite the envoy’s support, the killing of an unborn baby seems to have netted Afghanistan little in the way of security.

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Ex-Bush Admin Official: Many at Gitmo Are Innocent

March 20, 2009

by Andrew O. Selsky

SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico – Many detainees locked up at Guantanamo were innocent men swept up by U.S. forces unable to distinguish enemies from noncombatants, a former Bush administration official said Thursday. “There are still innocent people there,” Lawrence B. Wilkerson, a Republican who was chief of staff to then-Secretary of State Colin Powell, told The Associated Press. “Some have been there six or seven years.”

[In this photo, reviewed by the U.S. Military, a guard stands near the shadow of a detainee at Guantanamo's Camp 5 detention center, at the U.S. Naval Base, in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, January 21, 2009. (REUTERS/Brennan Linsley/Pool/Files)]In this photo, reviewed by the U.S. Military, a guard stands near the shadow of a detainee at Guantanamo’s Camp 5 detention center, at the U.S. Naval Base, in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, January 21, 2009. (REUTERS/Brennan Linsley/Pool/Files)

Wilkerson, who first made the assertions in an Internet posting on Tuesday, told the AP he learned from briefings and by communicating with military commanders that the U.S. soon realized many Guantanamo detainees were innocent but nevertheless held them in hopes they could provide information for a “mosaic” of intelligence.”It did not matter if a detainee were innocent. Indeed, because he lived in Afghanistan and was captured on or near the battle area, he must know something of importance,” Wilkerson wrote in the blog. He said intelligence analysts hoped to gather “sufficient information about a village, a region, or a group of individuals, that dots could be connected and terrorists or their plots could be identified.”

Wilkerson, a retired Army colonel, said vetting on the battlefield during the early stages of U.S. military operations in Afghanistan was incompetent with no meaningful attempt to discriminate “who we were transporting to Cuba for detention and interrogation.”

Navy Cmdr. Jeffrey Gordon, a Pentagon spokesman, declined to comment on Wilkerson’s specific allegations but noted that the military has consistently said that dealing with foreign fighters from a wide variety of countries in a wartime setting was a complex process. The military has insisted that those held at Guantanamo were enemy combatants and posed a threat to the United States.

In his posting for The Washington Note blog, Wilkerson wrote that “U.S. leadership became aware of this lack of proper vetting very early on and, thus, of the reality that many of the detainees were innocent of any substantial wrongdoing, had little intelligence value, and should be immediately released.”

Former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and Vice President Dick Cheney fought efforts to address the situation, Wilkerson said, because “to have admitted this reality would have been a black mark on their leadership.”

Wilkerson told the AP in a telephone interview that many detainees “clearly had no connection to al-Qaida and the Taliban and were in the wrong place at the wrong time. Pakistanis turned many over for $5,000 a head.”

Some 800 men have been held at Guantanamo since the prison opened in January 2002, and 240 remain. Wilkerson said two dozen are terrorists, including confessed Sept. 11 plotter Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, who was transferred to Guantanamo from CIA custody in September 2006.

“We need to put those people in a high-security prison like the one in Colorado, forget them and throw away the key,” Wilkerson said. “We can’t try them because we tortured them and didn’t keep an evidence trail.”

But the rest of the detainees need to be released, he said.

Wilkerson, who flew combat missions as a helicopter pilot in Vietnam and left the government in January 2005, said he did not speak out while in government because some of the information was classified. He said he feels compelled to do so now because Cheney has claimed in recent press interviews that President Barack Obama is making the U.S. less safe by reversing Bush administration policies toward terror suspects, including ordering Guantanamo closed.

The administration is now evaluating what to do with the prisoners who remain at the U.S. military base in Cuba.

“I’m very concerned about the kinds of things Cheney is saying to make it seem Obama is a danger to this republic,” Wilkerson said. “To have a former vice president fearmongering like this is really, really dangerous.”

Britain leaves Iraq in shame. The US won’t go so quietly

December 12, 2008

Obama was elected on the back of revulsion at Bush’s war, but greater pressure will be needed to force a full withdrawal

If British troops are indeed withdrawn from Iraq by next June, it will signal the end of the most shameful and disastrous episode in modern British history. Branded only last month by Lord Bingham, until recently Britain’s most senior law lord, as a “serious violation of international law”, the aggression against Iraq has not only devastated an entire country and left hundreds of thousands dead – it has also been a political and military humiliation for the invading powers.

In the case of Britain, which marched into a sovereign state at the bidding of an extreme and reckless US administration, the war has been a national disgrace which has damaged the country’s international standing. Britain’s armed forces will withdraw from Iraq with dishonour. Not only were they driven from Basra city last summer under cover of darkness by determined resistance, just as British colonial troops were forced out of Aden 40 years ago – and Iraq and Afghanistan, among other places, before that. But they leave behind them an accumulation of evidence of prisoner beatings, torture and killings, for which only one low-ranking soldier, Corporal Payne, has so far been singled out for punishment.

It’s necessary to spell out this brutal reality as a corrective to the official tendency to minimise or normalise the horror of what has evidently been a criminal enterprise – enthusiastically supported by David Cameron and William Hague, it should be remembered, as well as Tony Blair and his government – and a reminder of the dangers of escalating the war that can’t be won in Afghanistan. It was probably just as well that the timetable for British withdrawal from Iraq was given in a background military briefing, after Gordon Brown’s earlier schedule for troop reductions was vetoed by George Bush.

But in any case, in the wake of Barack Obama’s election on a partial withdrawal ticket, the latest plans look a good deal more credible. They are also welcome, of course, even if several hundred troops are to stay behind to train Iraqis. It would be far better both for Britain and Iraq if there were a clean break and a full withdrawal of all British forces in preparation for a comprehensive public inquiry into the Iraq catastrophe. Instead, and in a pointer to the shape of things to come, British troops at Basra airport are being replaced by US forces.

Meanwhile, the real meaning of last month’s security agreement between the US and Iraqi governments is becoming clearer, as Obama’s administration-in-waiting briefs the press and officials highlight the small print. This “status of forces agreement”, which replaces the UN’s shotgun mandate for the occupation forces at the end of this month, had been hailed by some as an unequivocal deal to end the occupation within three years.

There’s no doubt that Iraq’s Green Zone government, under heavy pressure from its own people and neighbours such as Iran, extracted significant concessions from US negotiators to the blanket occupation licence in the original text. The final agreement does indeed stipulate that US forces will withdraw by the end of 2011, that combat troops will leave urban areas by July next year, contractors and off-duty US soldiers will be subject to Iraqi law and that Iraqi territory cannot be used to attack other countries.

The fact that the US was forced to make such commitments reflects the intensity of both Iraqi and American public opposition to the occupation, the continuing Iraqi resistance war of attrition against US forces, and Obama’s tumultuous election on a commitment to pull out all combat troops in 16 months. Even so, the deal was denounced as treason – for legitimising foreign occupation and bases – by the supporters of the popular Shia leader Muqtada al-Sadr, resistance groups and the influential Association of Muslim Scholars.

And since his November triumph, Obama has gone out of his way to emphasise his commitment to maintaining a “residual force” for fighting “terrorism”, training and protection of US civilians – which his security adviser Richard Danzig estimated could amount to between 30,000 and 55,000 troops.

Briefings by Pentagon officials have also made clear this residual force could remain long after 2011. It turns out that the new security agreement can be ditched by either side, while the Iraqi government is fully entitled to invite US troops to remain, as explained in the accompanying “strategic framework agreement”, so long as its bases or presence are not defined as “permanent”. And given that the current Iraqi government would be unlikely to survive a week without US protection, such a request is a fair bet. Combat troops can also be “re-missioned” as “support units”, it transpires, and even the last-minute concession of a referendum on the agreement next year will not, the Iraqi government now says, be binding.

None of this means there won’t be a substantial withdrawal of troops from Iraq after Obama takes over the White House next month. But how far that withdrawal goes will depend on the kind of pressure he faces both at home and in Iraq. The US establishment clearly remains committed to a long-term stewardship of Iraq. The Iraqi government is at this moment negotiating secret 20-year contracts with US and British oil majors to manage 90% of the country’s oil production. The struggle to end US occupation and control of the country is far from won.

The same goes for the wider shadow of the war on terror, of which Iraq has been the grisly centrepiece. Its legacy has been strategic overreach and failure for the US: from the rise of Iran as a regional power, the deepening imbroglio of the Afghan war, the advance of Hamas and Hizbullah and threat of implosion in Pakistan – quite apart from the advance of the nationalist left in Latin America and the growing challenge from Russia and China. But at its heart has been the demonstration of American weakness in Iraq, the three trillion-dollar war that helped drive the US economy into crisis.

No wonder the US elite has wanted a complete change of direction and Bush was last week reduced to mumbling his regrets about the “intelligence failure in Iraq”. For Obama, the immediate foreign policy tests are clear: if he delivers on Iraq, negotiates in Afghanistan and engages with Iran, he will start to justify the global hopes that have been invested in him. If not, he will lay the ground for a new phase of conflict with the rest of the world.

s.milne@guardian.co.uk

Massacre by Drone in Afghanistan

October 23, 2008

Kid Killers are Barbarians

By BRIAN CLOUGHLEY | Counterpunch, Oct 22, 2008

There is yet more news from Afghanistan about the killing of civilians by foreign forces’ air attacks. The BBC reported that “Angry villagers took 18 bodies – including badly mangled bodies of women and children – to the governor’s house in the provincial capital of Lashkar Gah, Haji Adnan Khan, a tribal leader in the city who had seen the bodies, was reported as saying. He said there might be more bodies trapped under the rubble. A BBC reporter in Lashkar Gah said he saw the bodies – three women and the rest children ranging in age from six months to 15. The families brought the bodies from their village in the Nad Ali district.” Ho hum; just another day in the war for freedom.

And then there was the killing of kids next door, as it were, for it was reported from Pakistan only a few days before the Lashkar Gah atrocity that “Eleven people were killed in Upper Dir district . . . when a roadside bomb exploded near a police van [and] four schoolchildren in a passing bus were among the dead.”

The criminal fanatics who planned and directed the Dir atrocity would claim, just like American official mouthpieces after the blitzing of tribal wedding parties or memorial services, that innocent people are simply unfortunate to be in the way when they tried to hit the main target. These barbarians attempt to convince us that in some way women and children are themselves at fault when they are killed by lunatic bombers or almost equally deranged controllers of aerial slaughter-machines. Another line is that it is the responsibility of those whom they target because they permit civilians to be close by. These claims are not persuasive enough to let us ignore the innocent children and their weeping families. In fact they are evidence of hand-washing arrogance.

People who kill kids, for whatever reason and no matter in what manner, are disgusting, murderous, cowardly barbarians.

Suicide bombing is not the way to achieve paradise, but alas there appears to be nobody influential enough to make this clear to the world at large. The problem is that rabble-rousing, brutal, religious bigots use their position to persuade poorly-educated (and some not-so-poorly-educated), easily-influenced people that those who die for their Faith, even if that involves murdering children, are assured of heaven.

It is tragic that the real meaning of the Koran, as well as civilised common sense, decency, and respect for human lives, are thrust aside by such as the rabidly fanatical Egyptian cleric Dr Yusuf Al-Qaradawi, who claims that Islam justifies suicide bombings.

In a BBC interview Al-Qaradawi said that “I consider this type of martyrdom operation [by suicide bombing] as an indication of the justice of Allah Almighty. Allah is just – through his infinite wisdom he has given the weak what the strong do not possess and that is the ability to turn their bodies into bombs like the Palestinians do. Islamic theologians and jurisprudents have debated this issue, referring to it as a form of Jihad under the title of ‘jeopardising the life of the mujaheed.’ It is allowed to jeopardise your soul and cross the path of the enemy and be killed if this act of jeopardy affects the enemy, even if it only generates fear in their hearts, shaking their morale, making them fear Muslims.”

A tortuous argument, to put it mildly ; and just as poorly constructed and badly delivered as the justification for the US slaughter of innocent men, women and children attending a night-time memorial service in the Afghan village of Azizabad on August 22. In that case it was at first (and as usual) flatly denied that there had been any civilian deaths. As the New York Times recorded : “The US hotly disputed the toll [of 90], claiming initially that no civilians were killed, then later revising the number up to 5-7 civilians. They also accused Afghan civilians who claimed a higher toll of spreading “outrageous Taliba n propaganda.” They were forced to re-examine their findings, however, when video evidence of the toll went public.”

United Nations officials conducted an inquiry immediately and found that 90 civilians had been killed, of whom 60 were children, but the US ignored the report, and when the Afghan government confirmed that there were scores of dead a US spokesman called the statement “outrageous.”

It was unfortunate – at least for the liars who deliberated concocted falsehoods about the massacre – that “Cellphone images that a villager said he took, and seen by this reporter [Carlotta Gall, a marvellous and courageous journalist], showed two lines of about 20 bodies each laid out in the mosque, with the sounds of loud sobbing and villagers’ cries in the background. An Afghan doctor who runs a clinic in a nearby village said he counted 50 to 60 bodies of civilians, most of them women and children and some of them his own patients, laid out in the village mosque on the day of the strike . . . In a series of statements about the operation, the US military has said that extremists who entered the village after the bombardment encouraged villagers to change their story and inflate the number of dead.”

If there had been no independent reporting of the atrocity it would, like so many others, have been forgotten about. (Nobody would have known about the atrocities at Abu Ghraib if photographs hadn’t appeared.) But Washington was forced to order an inquiry. Not that there is any intention to take disciplinary action against those responsible for any aspect of the horrible affair, even when it was eventually admitted there were “more than 30” civilians killed, because, with indifferent callousness, the spin-masters pronounced that the strike was against “a legitimate target.”

The pattern is clear : first lie your head off after a war crime has been committed; then try to play down the gravity of the slaughter and while you’re at it, vilify anyone courageous enough to have held an independent inquiry that discovered the truth. After it is obvious that a major atrocity did actually take place, all must wring hands and announce that an inquiry is to be held. (If anxious to appear serious it is better to state that it will be a “full” inquiry. But on no account must there be representation at the inquiry by officials, or, indeed, attendance by any citizens of the country in which the attack has taken.) Last, when irrefutable evidence has to be grudgingly admitted, say that there has been a mistake but that the people who identified the target, fired the missiles or lied in their teeth about the squalid affair are not going to receive even a wrist-slap in punishment. Then the whole affair will be forgotten except by the few hundred more Afghans, Iraqis or Pakistanis who have been persuaded that US “freedom” is meaningless and queue up to join the ranks of anti-western fanatics and suicide bombers.

There is a chilling parallel between the types of child killers. On the one hand, a formal military organisation is adamant that “legitimate targets” must be blasted even if the deaths of children are inevitable. On the other, the psychotic savages who plan and carry out suicide bombings that slaughter innocent youngsters are convinced their atrocities are justified by a warped interpretation of their Faith.

The potential victims of attacks – the ordinary innocent citizens of Pakistan and Afghanistan – should be protected; but this is impossible, given the zeal of both types of attackers. There can be no excuses for killing children, but violence feeds violence, courtesy of trigger-happy moronic foreigners and home-grown fiendish monsters. The terrible thing is that they have so much in common : mainly barbarity.

Brian Cloughley’s new book, War, Coups and Terror, about the Pakistan army, has just been published by Pen & Sword Books (UK) and will be published in the US by Skyhorse Publishing (New York). He lives in France.

US Raid Kills 11 Members of Mosul Family

October 6, 2008

Antiwar,  October 5, 2008

US forces conducted a dawn raid on a house in the northern Iraqi city of Mosul in which they believed a “suspected insurgent” was hiding. When the clash was over, 11 members of a single Iraqi family were dead.

The US wasn’t specific about the nature of the deaths, citing only someone with a suicide vest. However, an Iraqi security source said the US troops killed all 11. An Iraqi medic said the dead were five men, three women, and three children. The US report said five “terrorists,” three women, and three children. Surviving the raid were a three year old child and a three month old infant. The child is in Iraqi army custody, while Iraqi police are tending to the infant.

The Multi-National Forces press release claimed the troops found a “hidden weapons cache” of small arms. Rear Admiral Patrick Driscoli cited the incident as “just another tragic example of how al-Qaeda in Iraq hides behind innocent Iraqis.”

Given the raid only sought a “suspected insurgent” it is unclear how the admiral was able to connect the incident to al-Qaeda. Likewise, it is unclear how the coalition forces determined that every single adult man killed in the building was a “terrorist” when the raid was completed.

Iraqis Protest US Raid That Kills Displaced Family of Eight

September 20, 2008

Antiwar.com, September 19, 2008

Early this morning US forces surrounded a home in a small village near the Iraqi town of Tikrit and destroyed it with an air strike, killing eight people. According to Iraqi police and neighbors, all those killed were civilians. One of the neighbors reported his home was also raided during the operation and that American forces “ordered people not to leave their homes” during the attack.

Large crowds of angry Iraqis reportedly marched through the streets after morning prayers, condemning the attacks and chanting “America is the enemy of God”. The new civilian deaths are likely to further complicate the already stalled Status of Forces Agreement with Iraq. The Iraqis have insisted on jurisdiction over US contractors and military personnel largely because of the number of civilians being killed by the forces.

The US forces issued a statement after the incident, and as is so often the case their story contradicts the reports from the scene. According to the US the raid targeted a “suspected al-Qaeda operative,” and he and three other militants were killed, along with three women. They also claimed to have rescued a child from the rubble.

The US said the deaths of the women they killed in the air strike were further proof of al-Qaeda’s willingness to “repeatedly risk the lives of innocent women and children to further their evil work”.

compiled by Jason Ditz [email the author]

AFGHANISTAN: US-NATO Airstrikes Bring Higher Civilian Toll

September 9, 2008

Ali Gharib | Inter-Press Service, Sep 8, 2008


WASHINGTON, – Ramped-up U.S. and NATO airstrikes in Afghanistan are causing an increased civilian death toll, raising concerns about the fallout from civilian deaths on the war effort against the Taliban insurgency, according to a major new report by Human Rights Watch (HRW) released here Monday.

The 43-page report, “Troops in Contact: Airstrikes and Civilian Deaths in Afghanistan”, warned that the cost in civilian casualties caused by the increase in bombings goes well beyond the loss of human life and could put the nearly seven-year U.S.-NATO war effort at risk.

“The harm caused by airstrikes is not limited to the immediate civilian casualties,” said the report, which also cited the destruction of homes and property and the displacement of their civilian occupants caused by the bombing.

“Civilian deaths from airstrikes act as a recruiting tool for the Taliban and risk fatally undermining the international effort to provide basic security to the people of Afghanistan,” said Brad Adams, HRW’s Asia director of HRW.

Citing HRW statistics, an editorial in Saturday’s New York Times went further, asserting that civilian deaths caused by the stepped up bombing played into the hands of the Taliban and other insurgents: “America is fast losing the battle for hearts and minds, and unless the Pentagon comes up with a better strategy, the United States and its allies may well lose the war.”

Fuelling a growing controversy here, both the Times and the report said that the increase in air attacks — and the “collateral damage” they caused — was due in part to the relative lack of NATO and U.S. troops on the ground whose fire tends to be considerably more discriminating in their impact than aerial attacks.

Both the Pentagon and leading Democrats have been arguing for months for deploying at least 10,000 more U.S. troops to Afghanistan but have been unable to overcome resistance by military commanders in Iraq who, backed by President George W. Bush, are reluctant to draw down troop levels there below the current 144,000. U.S. ground forces are so stretched globally that deploying additional forces to Afghanistan must await further withdrawals from Iraq.

The increased level of bombing has come as a result of a stepped-up insurgency led by anti-government Taliban fighters and associated groups. Fighting in Afghanistan has intensified dramatically over the past year. At least 540 civilians have been killed in the conflict so far this year, a sharp increase over last year’s total. Casualties among the more than 60,000 U.S. and NATO troops in Afghanistan have also risen sharply this year.

U.S. and NATO forces, according to the report, dropped 362 tonnes of munitions in Afghanistan during the first seven months of this year, including a flurry of bombings in June and July that, by itself, nearly equaled the total amount of bombs, by weight, dropped by the coalition forces on suspected enemy positions in all of 2006.

“[…] While attacks by the Taliban and other insurgent groups continue to account for the majority of civilian casualties,” said the report, “civilian deaths from U.S. and NATO airstrikes nearly tripled from 2006 to 2007 (from 116 to 321).”

That increase prompted Afghan President Hamid Karzai to demand changes in targeting tactics, including using smaller munitions, delaying attacks where civilians might be harmed, and turning over house-to-house searches to the Afghan National Army.

Those changes were adopted by the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) with the result that, despite increased bombing during the first seven months of this year, fewer civilians (119) were killed compared to the same period in 2007.

But that figure does not include a controversial air strike Aug 22 on the village of Azizabad in western Afghanistan which, according to the Afghan government and a U.N. investigating team, killed 90 people, the vast majority of whom were women and children. The U.S. military, which carried out the attack, has insisted that 42 people were killed, 35 of them insurgents.

In some incidents, according to the report, U.S.-NATO air strikes may have violated the laws of war, particularly adherence to the principles of proportionality and the requirement that parties take all feasible precautions to prevent non-combatant casualties.

The report suggested that blame for civilian deaths can be focused fairly narrowly. While most foreign troops in Afghanistan operate under the banner of the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF), a disproportionate number of civilian casualties resulted from air strikes called in by the nearly 20,000 U.S. troops who operate exclusively under U.S. command as part of Operation Enduring Freedom. Their rules of engagement, including when they can call for air support, are less strict than NATO’s.

The most problematic engagements have come when insurgents take U.S. Special Operations Forces (SOF) by surprise, and the SOF call in air support. The military term, “troops in contact” (TIC), gave the HRW report its name.

In TIC situations, U.S. forces have often engaged insurgents who then retreat to nearby villages, taking up positions in homes and preventing their civilian residents from leaving.

Faced with a standoff, U.S. troops have called in rapid-response air support to bomb the homes from which they were taking hostile fire. That appears to have been what took place in Azizabad.

While condemning of Taliban “shielding” — using civilian human shields or putting civilians at unnecessary risk so that when hurt, the story can be used as propaganda — the report noted that this does not excuse U.S. forces from the laws of war and considerations of civilian populations.

The report outlined several incidents where questionable rapid-response bombings caused civilian deaths. In one of them, two anti-government fighters were seen entering a compound that was then hit with an airstrike that caused nine casualties.

The U.S. claimed to have killed the two insurgents, but a local Afghan authority denied the claim, and journalists at the scene found no evidence supporting it. Moreover, U.S. troops and local villagers said that U.S. forces had visited the home the day before and should have known that civilians were present.

“The available information about the attack — in particular evidence suggesting that U.S. forces knew the house was inhabited by civilians and that only two lightly armed fighters may have been present — raises serious concerns that the airstrikes violated the international humanitarian law prohibition against disproportionate attacks,” said the report.


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