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Commentary Last Updated: Aug 27th, 2008 - 02:12:31

End the Afghan war
By Linda S. Heard
Online Journal Contributing Writer

Aug 27, 2008, 00:19

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Last Saturday, a US air strike was responsible for the deaths of more than 90 Afghans, including women and children. These weren�t terrorists or insurgents.

They were not even Taliban. According to Afghan President Hamid Karzai, they were merely civilians going about their daily business when the bombs cut their lives short.

Tragic incidents like this have been repeated over and over again. Almost every time, the military perpetrators attempt to cover up their mistakes and this occasion was no exception. As usual, the US has disputed the numbers of dead and their civilian status. It says only five civilians were killed along with 25 militants. Either the Afghans or the Americans can�t count.

The Pentagon has very rarely issued anything that could be construed as an apology and has repeatedly failed to heed the often emotional pleas of Karzai, who seeks greater precision and restraint. He characterised this attack as �imprecise� and �irresponsible� before dismissing two of his own top military commanders for attempting to conceal the truth.

In the first three months of the 2001 US-led invasion, as many as 3,800 civilians were killed when heavily-populated areas were bombed without any thought as to the value of human life. Village homes, market places, farms, a Red Crescent Clinic and wedding venues were all turned into graveyards. Since then, there have been untold numbers of mostly unreported casualties.

Sadly, news of Afghan deaths fails to make an impact on Western audiences. Indeed, such tragedies rarely make the front pages of newspapers nowadays. This situation has not gone unnoticed by the BBC�s veteran correspondent Lyse Doucet, who recently said: �What�s lacking in the coverage of the Afghans is the sense of humanity of the Afghans. In the Prince Harry coverage, for example, there were all these people out there but you never really saw them. You knew that the bombs were dropping in that direction and the guns pointing in that direction but you never got the sense of how Afghans are as a people.�

She�s right. The media not only fail to convey how much misery has been wrought on these proud and hardy people in the supposed search for a chronically ill, bearded cave dweller, who by all accounts has long relocated to Pakistan, they also neglect to explain what Western troops are still doing there.

It�s debatable whether or not Western armies know what their missions are. Afghanistan is no longer the heartland of Al Qaida, which has become a worldwide franchise, and fighting Taliban is a bit like keeping the tide at bay. It�s true that the Taliban were purposefully vilified post September 11, 2001, but, in reality, there is hardly a chink of light between their conservative ideology and that of ordinary Afghans, especially those living outside the capital, Kabul.

In fact, a Belgian-based think tank -- the International Crisis Group (ICG) -- last month released a report stating that the Taliban �using the full range of media is successfully tapping into strains of Afghan nationalism and exploiting policy failures by the Kabul government and its international backers.�

The report further states that the insurgency is gaining support among ordinary Afghans. Frankly, this is hardly surprising given the unceasing civilian death toll for which the US and NATO are responsible. The ICG advises that winning hearts and minds is the route to beating the insurgents; it�s a call that�s falling on deaf ears.

Last week, British Prime Minister Gordon Brown made a �surprise� visit to Afghanistan to urge the government to combat internal corruption (Afghanistan is one of the 10 most corrupt countries in the world) and eradicate poppy fields, said to be the main source of Taliban funding.

Emotive speech

British soldiers in southern Helmand province were also treated to an emotive speech, which according to reporters travelling with Brown failed to elicit applause. Who can blame them? Theirs is a thankless task and one they have little hope of winning given Afghanistan�s allergy to foreign armies, which history tells us are always eventually booted out.

To date, 565 American military personnel have lost their lives in Afghanistan. In addition, there have been over 100 British casualties and almost 100 Canadian.

Earlier this month, 10 French soldiers were ambushed and killed, triggering a heated debate in France over President Nicolas Sarkozy�s plan to send 700 soldiers into theatre as a response to a call by the White House. In France, there is a growing realisation that this is a futile war without end.

This year has been the deadliest since 2001 for international forces in the country, prompting many of their compatriots at home to question why they are there, struggling to win a conflict that is probably not winnable.

Let�s be realistic. The Taliban do not present a physical threat to the US, Britain or the European mainland. In light of stringent measures taken by Western governments post-9/11 to stave off similar threats, they wouldn�t be able to infiltrate Western capitals even if they were so disposed.

Only a few days ago, British Minister of Defence Des Browne declared that the Taliban do not even pose a strategic threat to the Kabul government. In that case, isn�t it about time this misguided neoconservative misadventure was terminated?

Let the Afghans have their country back and do with it what they will. Let the foreign troops come home on their own two feet rather than in body bags. With just another few months until the White House gets a new incumbent it�s time to turn the page and seal this ridiculous chapter once and for all.

Linda S. Heard is a British specialist writer on Middle East affairs. She welcomes feedback and can be contacted by email at

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