Hard to believe that’s a 12 year-old child, isn’t it? Those eyes bespeak witnessing one or two full lifetimes of horrors, more horror than ought to be visited on any child of any country. Her name is Tillah and she is one of three sisters, who were in themselves just three of many victims of recent fighting in Afghanistan’s Farah Province.
It’s a curious and troubling reversal of the new Obama administration that the two nations justifiably taking up its interest would be the two largely ignored by George W. Bush: Afghanistan and Pakistan. Now it’s Iraq that will be given relatively short shrift, as the Pentagon’s budget request would give $65 billion to Afghanistan for the next year and $61 billion to Iraq. While we’re preparing to withdraw most of our combat troops out of Iraq, the new president is sending in his own surge of 21,000 additional troops, an alteration in emphasis that will almost surely involve redeployments straight from Iraq. A more trivial mind would say this is like a geopolitical version of Wack-A-Mole.
The New York Time’s Carlotta Gall, who’s been faithfully reporting on the war in Afghanistan for years, writes,
“We were very nervous and afraid and my mother said, ‘Come quickly, we will go somewhere and we will be safe,’ ” said Tillah, 12, recounting from a hospital bed how women and children fled the bombing by taking refuge in a large compound, which was then hit.
The bombs were so powerful that people were ripped to shreds. Survivors said they collected only pieces of bodies. Several villagers said that they could not distinguish all of the dead and that they never found some of their relatives…
Colonel Julian, the American military spokesman, said that the airstrikes hit houses from which the Taliban were firing. The enormous explosions left such devastation that villagers struggled to describe it. “There was someone’s legs, someone’s shoulders, someone’s hands,” said Said Jamal, an old white-bearded man with rheumy eyes, who lost two sons and a daughter. “The dead were so many.”
It’s impossible to imagine the kind of force required to leave only someone’s shoulders behind in the wake of an air strike.
In fact, under Obama, the death toll among civilians has risen since 2007 and, as under all administrations, the US military is basically calling the Afghani death toll estimates grossly exaggerated, as if the survivors on the ground who’d witnessed the slaughter should be immediately discounted. While it’s true that the cowardly Taliban have been using the indigenous civilian population as human shields, the US military is too quick to dismiss its own culpability.
We’ve been accused by human rights organizations and the Afghani people for using excessive force and the administration officially regrets the collateral damage while the military essentially calls the Afghani people liars and pointing the finger of blame at the Taliban. Which is essentially what we’d heard from Israel as they continued their ritual slaughter of Lebanese and Palestinians.
Adding to the horror is the use of white phosphorous by at least the Taliban if not both sides. White phosphorous is a nightmare in a canister, something that is allowed to be used on battlefields because it is not classified as a chemical weapon. White phosphorous’ use is restricted to illumination purposes and to confound the tracking systems of enemy tanks.
Yet, Afghani hospitals are rapidly filling up with children whose fingers are too burned to use the crayons they’re given to pass the time. It melts flesh as it ignites in the air and drifts down. Even water cannot put it out. Years ago, our own Army admitted using white phosphorous in the battle of Fallujah back in 2004.
All things considered, no matter who our President is now, I think it would be the height of naivete to assume that somehow we’ve regained our moral compass since Fallujah and have restrained ourselves from irresponsibly and criminally using such a horrible, insidious weapon.