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American drone strikes in Afghanistan continue to wreak havoc

  • Emran Feroz
  • 25 Sep 2019

A US drone strike that left more than 30 farmers dead is another untold tragedy that rarely gets covered.

Afghans transport the body of a woman who was killed during a raid conducted by Afghan special forces, in the southern Helmand province ( AP )

The last week in Afghanistan can only be described as carnage. 

On Wednesday last week, a Taliban attack in Zabul province killed at least 39 people and wounded more than 90. According to the Afghan Defense Ministry in Kabul, the insurgents wanted to target a training base of the Afghan intelligence agency, the NDS. But once again, most of the victims were civilians since the vehicle packed with explosives was parked near a hospital gate. 

Although some observers question why important centres of foreign military forces, the Afghan National Army or the NDS continue to remain in the middle of civilian infrastructure, there is no doubt that targeting a hospital is a war crime that needs to be prosecuted. The Taliban attack was roundly condemned.

Nevertheless, it was not the only massacre that took place on that day. In Khogyani district, in the eastern province of Nangarhar, American drones targeted local farmers and killed at least 30 of them while dozens were wounded by Hellfire missiles. According to both the Pentagon and the Kabul government, the civilians were “mistakenly” thought to be Daesh fighters.

Twelve days before the drone strikes, Nangarhar's governor received a letter from village elders in Khogyani's Wazir Tangi area where the attack took place. In the letter, locals described their plans to recruit 200 labourers, including children, to pluck pine nuts, which are, like many other dry fruits, the primary income for many rural Afghans.

Reuters reported this detail and that that the letter was sent in an effort to help protect local labourers from getting caught in clashes between pro-government forces and insurgent groups. 

This move by the villagers was anything but a surprise. In fact, they knew that civilians, like working men and women or playing children, have been targeted by American drone strikes in the past.

Unfortunately, this pine nut harvest season was also interrupted by massacre, and on the next day, the people of Wazir Tangi had to bury their loved ones.

What happened in Wazir Tangi was not an exception. It is a daily and largely ignored reality of the Afghan war.

For years, large parts of Nangarhar — which is one of the most bombed Afghan provinces and was the target of the notorious so-called Mother of all Bombs (MOAB) — became one of the main battlegrounds of the brutal US-led "War on Terror," a war which kills very few insurgents and mostly civilians. 

When I visited Khogyani district myself in May 2017, several locals, both civilians and Taliban insurgents, described how their homeland was bombed mercilessly and that only increased since Donald Trump took over the White House.

Nangarhar and Afghanistan, in general, is used as a sort of experimental staging ground for US military weapons and counter-insurgency operations. The very first operation of an armed Predator drone also took place in Afghanistan in October 2001. Back then, the Americans wanted to kill Taliban supreme leader Mullah Mohammad Omar in Kandahar. 

Today, we know that he died many years later, of natural causes. But who was killed instead of him, not just in late 2001 but also in every subsequent year? Nobody knows, and nobody cares. 

Omar and many, many other Taliban leaders, including leading Al Qaeda figures like Ayman al Zawahiri have been declared dead a couple of times by US, Afghan or Pakistani authorities after they reappeared very much alive.

This did not just happen simply because of flawed intelligence, but also because of flawed technology. Whatever the military, weapons manufacturers or politicians tell you, drones are not precise, and those identifying the targets are still prone to human error. The frequent civilian deaths are a testament to their inefficacy.

The recent drone massacre made some headlines, maybe because of the large number of victims. Often, and as far as I have researched myself, drone strikes kill a handful of people. The Predators and Reapers hunt a car or a small group of people. They kill them, adding three or five lives to a list of thousands.

It happens somewhere remote, in “no-man's land” or a “terrorist safe haven.” Journalists, human rights observers and others often do not dare visit such places, or before doing so, the next attacks take place, and new people become headlines.

It's common for people to become anesthetised to Afghan civilian deaths to the point where even I take for granted that people are dying or that the real numbers may never be known.

For Afghans, deaths have become part of their daily life. They also often say that nobody cares and in many cases, they appear surprised when a journalist visits them solely because he or she shows interest in their lives and the loss of their loved ones.

Nevertheless, the public interest in the fate of these people is more than just low. Often, their stories do not count. One can just imagine how much worldwide headlines would differ if a country like Iran, for example, would remotely hunt and kill a group of innocent farmers in the middle of Europe or the United States.

But for many people in Western societies, it is still hard to believe the loss and suffering of these victims. 

Politicians in the West talk about human rights, democracy and justice in their home countries, while abroad they support extrajudicial killings, the use of brutal death squads and many other brutal and inhuman practices. 

The blood of the killed farmers from Khogyani is on their hands, and there is simply nothing that could justify it. It's terrorism, our Western-style terrorism. Period.

Disclaimer: The viewpoints expressed by the authors do not necessarily reflect the opinions, viewpoints and editorial policies of TRT World.

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