Friday, May 15, 2009

Collateral Damage

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.


At May 15, 2009 at 2:53 PM, Blogger The Minstrel Boy said...

there have been too many times in my life when the sight of snake and nape coming down was a gorgeous and welcome thing.

wp (called snake because of the squiggly trails it leaves on the way down) can absolutely put the damdam on all manner of life forms.

most of the time though, it ends up being used on civilians.

when you think of the air wing as an extension of cavalry it makes sense.

the main purpose of cavalry was to run down folks, usually folks from either side, trying to leave a battlefield. that, and "raiding" for supplies.

since cavalry has always been fucked up by a cohesive unit of infantry they tended to concentrate instead on attacked those who were unarmed.

even during the storied times of ww1, dogfights, airplane to airplane, were actually pretty rare, and because of the huge cost when a plane would go down, pilots were directed to concentrate instead on strafing troops that could only shoot back with small arms, or civilians.

the airdales are only following their long traditions.

At May 15, 2009 at 3:27 PM, Blogger Rez Dog said...

Anyone who thought that CheneyBush was an evil aberation has little real understanding. For all his talk of hope and change, Obama is simply the latest head of the American Empire.

The fucking beat goes on and on and on....

At May 15, 2009 at 3:43 PM, Blogger jurassicpork said...

Rez Dog: While it may perhaps be premature to make such pronouncements about our new President, the proof is in the pudding.

Remember, it's the Taliban that we know for fact are the ones using the Willie Pete (or white phosphorus). Our own usage of it is only alleged. Yet even if we're not using it, we (starting with President Obama) should be screaming bloody murder that the Taliban is using it. Instead, we're letting win the propaganda war and turning Afghani hearts and minds against us.

At May 15, 2009 at 5:53 PM, Blogger The Minstrel Boy said...

any wp that the taliban would be able to scrounge would most likely be russian ordinance.

the are design and structural differences between the american and the russian wp rounds.

the american stuff is at the same time more stable, being a gel base, but more volatile, having a higher concentration of phosphorus with an added jumpup from powdered magnesium (which when it burns releases oxygen, it can burn under water, and can accelerate any other burning compound)

the idea that weapons can be restricted in either their design, development and their use is an old old old one.

pharoh ptolemy III tried to organize a regional ban on the use of sythed chariots.

cyrus and the spartans tried to negotiate a ban on greek fire being used in sea battles.

those things would always look great on paper, like when pope innocent 12 banned the crossbow.

or when julius tried to ban the harquebus.

the bans last until the moment when one side or the other realizes "oh fuck me tender, i'm losing this shit."

then out they all come.

regardless of the deals, treaties or customs.

like sun tzu said:

men always fight the hardest for an indefensible position.

At May 15, 2009 at 6:16 PM, Blogger jurassicpork said...


I never knew the differences between US and Russian ordinance re WP. Thanks for the delineation.

When I was still living at home, I spent my last several months upstairs in the bedroom watching Discovery and Nat Geo documentaries about ancient battle tactics, techniques and ordinance and I never they had WMD that were almost as deadly as a lot of the shit we use nowadays. The Greeks, as you pointed out, used a gel-based flame thrower that was absolutely devastating and indefensible against a wooden ship (they knew very well the combustible gel would stick to rough-hewn wood.).

Antiquity informs us that ancient empires also made barges that were almost as huge as today's aircraft carriers, even though one of them, if it was built at all, had no offensive capability at all except as a flagship and to be used for show.

The Chinese used pottery for land mines, a lot of them as deadly as any of our Bouncing Betties (which I've seen used. Nasty fuckers, they) or Claymores. The ancient Greeks made armor-plated tanks that were dozens of stories high even if they lacked mobility.

It was amazing what technology they had. It wasn't restricted to crossbows and Trebuchets (sic?), lemme tell you.

And, as I said, it's extremely naive to believe that you could give the Army or any military outfit something like Willie Pete or napalm, and to not use them as antipersonnel weapons. Nape, as you yourself know from experience, very quickly was diversified so that it wasn't merely an defoliating agent.

The Vietnamese punji stick was originally a farming implement but used as a weapon and even a chemical weapon to devastating long-term effect (As you, I'm sure know, they smeared the points with pig shit to increase the likelihood of a deadly infection). Can you ban punji sticks? Playing cards? As Jacques Futrelle once wrote in a Professor S.F.X. Van Dusen (aka The Thinking Machine) short story, "Anything is dangerous in the hands of a man who knows how to use it."

At May 15, 2009 at 7:44 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Mr. Porky, I believe that willie pete is supposed to be used for obscuration, not illumination. Most countries will not allow training with wp due to the dangers. Other chemicals have been tried, but supposedly they do not obscure vision as well as the wp.

At May 15, 2009 at 7:53 PM, Blogger jurassicpork said...

Not true, dude. I know what I'm talking about. I cover my ground well. It's used by bus to mark targets as well as confounding targeting systems.

At May 15, 2009 at 8:31 PM, Anonymous Comrade Rutherford said...

Remember that Clinton 'documentary' that the GOP ran a few years ago, the one where the CIA had Osama in their gun-sights but the Administration refused to give the orders to kill because there might have been civilians around?

Well Bush turned that into the opposite and Obama hasn't made any changes to that.

Commander: "See that guy on the surveillance screen? The one with a long beard and a turban, he must be a Taliban! Just to be on the safe side, order one of our un-manned planes to bomb the whole town full of women and children on the off chance we might kill him too."

[bombs explode]

Pentagon: "At no time did we intentionally attack a village full of women and children, and any case we didn't kill even 2/3 of what they say we did!"

GOP: "Some of the women and children survived! Proof that Obama is soft on Taliban!"


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