Political Theatrics
May 10, 2010

On Feb. 12, a family in Khataba, Afghanistan, held a party to celebrate the birth of a baby boy. Just hours after they went to sleep, U.S. Army Special Forces assaulted the house. They kicked down the door, rushed to the roof and began shooting at everybody below.

The site that had so recently been a scene of dancing and celebration was now a pile of bodies and a river of blood.

Two of the dead were women who were both seven-months pregnant, and already mothers with several children. Another was a teenage girl. Two of the men who were killed were highly respected members of the community. Two young grandchildren also lay critically wounded in the slaughter.

Two of the casualties survived for over two hours. Their families begged the Special Forces soldiers to give them medical attention, but were refused. As if the initial bloodbath was not enough, the besieged family had to watch two of their relatives slowly bleed to death, denied medical care, as U.S. troops stood guard. (Huffington Post, April 29)

One of the family members in the house, Sayid Mohammad Mal, an assistant dean at the local university, corroborated all other eyewitness accounts, which assert that there was no fighting or insurgents in or around the area, and that the troops fired indiscriminately at the fleeing women and children. U.S. Special Forces raided the home expecting to find an insurgent hideout from a tip they received, but instead found a family. That did not stop the soldiers from shooting most of them.

The Special Forces raid was conducted with no regard for human life. Not surprisingly, their behavior was the same after the raid. The attack did not culminate with dead insurgents with AK-47s, but dead women, their stomachs extended with pregnancy. They knew that this all-too-familiar aftermath would be another headline exposing the brutal nature of the occupation as the war enters the bloodiest year yet for Afghan civilians, while Washington is struggling to hold on to dwindling public support. Because their brutality was on full display, they stayed true to their colonial logic, and decided to try to solve the problem with more brutality.

They knew the two men could be labeled “insurgents”—just as every military-age male in Afghanistan is “fair game”—but the three women posed a problem. So they pulled out their knives, plunged them into the women’s bodies and dug out the bullets. Mohammed Tahir was forced to watch as a Special Forces soldier repeatedly drove a knife into the lifeless body of his 18-year-old daughter.

Cover-up attempted

The soldiers also removed the bullets from the walls, then plastered and repainted the bullet holes. They then tied the hands of the carcasses behind their backs, tied gags in their mouths, and claimed that the women had been bound, gagged and stabbed to death before they arrived. Their plan was to count on the shroud of racism and xenophobia that is so vital in maintaining the occupation, trying to blame the killings on “backward” and “savage” Afghan men. This became the official Pentagon story and was used to further dehumanize the Afghan people and drum up a racist fervor in support of the endless occupation.

A coalition spokesman, Brigadier General Eric Tremblay, declared in a press release that those responsible for the incident were “criminals and terrorists who do not care about the life of civilians.” A true statement, when referring to the actual killers in the attack. http://www.niemanwatchdog.org/index.cfm?fuseaction=background.view&backgroundid=00440

The truth about the incident only came to light when journalist Jerome Starkey broke the story in the Times of London, after interviewing the family and witnesses. The Pentagon immediately began a cover-up operation condemning the new version of the story, going so far as slandering and discrediting the reporter by name in two separate public responses. An official statement said: “We strongly deny having dug any bullets out of bodies. There simply is no evidence.” (New York Times, April 6)

General Stanley McChrystal was instrumental in the cover-up. But the facts were too overwhelming. The U.S./NATO occupiers have since admitted the actual story, and even sent the soldiers back to the house to apologize. The idea that the family would be consoled by the same soldiers who murdered their family members in front of their eyes, kept them from medical attention and forced them to bleed to death before ravaging their dead bodies, is a fantasy characteristic of McChrystal’s entire counter-insurgency operation.

The cover-up of the slaughter—from the soldiers who committed the crime up to the full backing of McChrystal and the Pentagon brass—makes it clear that this war has nothing to do with the lives of the Afghan people. It also proves that not a single word can be believed of Washington’s “official” accounts of incidents that kill civilians.

The family, which went to sleep after a night of joy and celebration, awoke to the carnage of five dead family members. Their pain and suffering—sweeping the pools of blood from their homes and burying their loved ones—is the new standard of living in Afghanistan. Civilian casualties have been steadily rising in the more than eight-year war. 2009 was the deadliest year for Afghan civilians, and 2010 is projected to far surpass it. Afghanistan’s Interior Ministry recently revealed civilian casualties jumped by 33 percent from March 21 to April 21. Despite the Pentagon’s extremely restrictive control on information and reporting, civilian massacres are steadily coming to light and making headlines, from the recent attack on a civilian bus that killed five, to the bombing of civilians getting fuel in September that killed over 90. (Democracy Now, May 3) http://www.democracynow.org/2010/5/3/headlines )

The fact that it was Special Forces soldiers and not rank-and-file GIs responsible for the most recent scandal is not out of the ordinary. Afghan officials, human rights organizations, and even U.S. military commanders all admit that U.S. Special Operations (which includes Army Special Forces and Delta Force, Marine Corps Recon, Navy SEALs, and others) are largely responsible for civilian casualties in Afghanistan. (New York Times, March 16)http://www.nytimes.com/2010/03/16/world/asia/16afghan.html

It is not surprising, then, that civilian casualties are skyrocketing. As part of the troop surge, President Obama is more than doubling the number of Army Special Forces in Afghanistan. (Los Angeles Times, April 15)( HYPERLINK http://articles.latimes.com/2010/apr/15/world/la-fg-secret-surge15-2010apr15 )

New strategy: increased violence and secrecy

Also as part of the new strategy, McChrystal has put nearly all Special Operations forces in Afghanistan under his direct control. Publicly, this move was to quell the growing outrage at civilian casualties, and to show that McChrystal has so much concern for civilians in Afghanistan that he is reining in those responsible. But in reality, McChrystal and the Pentagon only care about civilian casualties because it damages support for the war. Putting Special Operations under McChrystal’s direct control (as opposed to being under the control of other generals whom he oversees), has nothing to do with the lives of civilians. It is just another component of the new strategy in Afghanistan under Obama. Increasing the use of Special Operations serves two key purposes: upping the level of violence against the resistance, and shifting more of the war into the shadows and off the front pages.

McChrystal was selected to take control of all operations in Afghanistan precisely because of his experience as a Special Operations commander. He once served as head of the Joint Special Operations Command, overseeing all U.S. shadow wars and secret missions around the world. He rose to prominence by orchestrating Delta Force assassination missions, which hunted down and killed “targets” on a hit list. Between 2004 and 2007, 64 Special Operations soldiers under his command were disciplined for torture and detainee abuse. His experience as head of one of the most lethal and secret organizations on the planet made him an ideal pick to take control in Afghanistan, where the United States is being defeated. His experience and leadership are reflected in the soaring civilian casualties. (Wall Street Journal, May 1, 2008)

Obama and McChrystal have doubled the number of Special Forces soldiers in Afghanistan—and no-doubt the other arms of the Special Operations community as well (including CIA and Blackwater units; see http://www.pslweb.org/site/News2?page=NewsArticle&id=13457&news_iv_ctrl=1241)—as part of the new offensive aimed at reversing the momentum of the resistance forces. With a major offensive on the horizon in Kandahar, the Army Special Forces soldiers have already spearheaded the assault, flooding into the province and conducting operations such as the slaughter in Khataba.

They did not dig the bullets out of pregnant women’s bodies because these killers were “bad apples” who were acting out of line. These are some of the mostly highly trained soldiers in the world, whose specialty is conducting top-secret shadow operations. Mowing down women and children, watching them slowly die for over two hours, then mutilating their bodies and staging a cover-up is the behavior to be expected from every Special Operations operative in the U.S. military. This particular tragedy became known to the public only because of a brave reporter who, putting his career at risk, navigated barriers, restrictions and censorship to report the truth. The vast majority of these Special Operations massacres in Afghanistan will forever remain unknown to the world.

The people of Afghanistan will now have to live under the boot of twice as many Army Special Forces and an untold number of other Special Operations troops. As the “official” crux of the new strategy in Afghanistan is to “protect the civilian population,” unleashing the #1 military force responsible for civilian deaths makes that lie quite clear.

The real crux of the new strategy is to hammer the resistance into a defensive position, and weaken the Taliban and other fighters until they are forced to make a deal with Washington and its Wall Street lackeys. This will require more violence on behalf of the United States, as the Taliban and other resistance groups are rapidly gaining momentum, popular support and military victories.

The U.S. government would sacrifice as many Afghan civilians and U.S. troops as necessary to win in Afghanistan without batting an eye, but there is another force capable of contributing to the defeat of U.S. imperialism in Afghanistan: the anti-war movement. Exposing the savage reality of the daily crimes taking place in Afghanistan and the gruesome toll it has taken on an entire civilian population is a major factor in turning public sentiment against the war. This is why unprecedented restrictions have been placed on journalists in Afghanistan and Iraq, and why the United States has shifted as many operations into the shadows as possible.

For the United States to turn the tide in its favor against the Afghan resistance—as with the troop surge in Iraq—it will have to rely on killing massive numbers of Afghans, which is already being reflected in the sharp jump in civilian casualties. But the Pentagon must also weigh in public opinion and keep bad press at a minimum to curb resistance on the domestic front. Army Special Forces do just that: more killing with more secrecy. This has put them at the forefront of the new strategy in Afghanistan.

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