Today, March 16, marks the 44th anniversary of the My Lai Massacre in Vietnam. When the story broke — first in Europe, while American media and politicians ignored and doubted the merits of the account, and then in the U.S. after Seymour Hersh’s investigative reporting — the American political machine under President Nixon went into high gear to contain whatever domestic or international blowback there might be. It took more than a year for the American public to know a massacre had even happened and much longer to understand the full details of the so-called “isolated incident.”
Outrage over another massacre, this one decades later and in Afghanistan, is much more prescient, but the American political establishment remains stubbornly predictable. The Obama administration has had to apologize again to the Afghan people for another tragic “isolated incident.” This time, a lone American soldier — it’s always one bad apple — stationed in Kandahar left Camp Belambay in the middle of the night on Monday, March 12, walked more than a mile to the village of Najibian, broke into multiple homes and indiscriminately shot and stabbed men, women and children. Sixteen Afghan civilians — mostly poor farmers and their families — were murdered by an Army sergeant for no reason other than being Afghan.
The Afghan Youth Peace Volunteers, a growing group of young peacemakers in Afghanistan, released the following statement after the attack:
A grieving mother in Kandahar, holding a dead baby in her arms, said, “They killed a child. Was this child the Taliban? Believe me, I haven’t seen a 2-year-old member of the Taliban yet.”
This Afghan mother is questioning the global war against terrorism, asking us who the Talib/terrorist is, her 2 year old sleeping child or the U.S. military whose soldier killed her child along with 15 others.
We, the Afghan Youth Peace Volunteers, join her in grieving and questioning. We call for all to stop killing, to be calm, non-violent, brave and kind to one another, as we discuss how to end the Afghan war. We prefer the decisions of our Egyptian and Iraqi friends, that is, we wish for non-military, diplomatic strategies, not military strategies that have destroyed our land over the past 4 decades. We believe that nonviolent international relations are what all of humanity yearns for, and we look for a world in which violent acts like the Kandahar killing spree are resolved in peaceful ways.
Meanwhile, President Obama, along with British Prime Minister David Cameron, were sticking to their guns as they spoke at a joint press conferenceon Wednesday. “If we maintain a steady, responsible transition process, which is what we’ve designed,” said Obama, “then I am confident that we can put Afghans in a position where they can deal with their own security.”
“We will not give up on this mission, because Afghanistan must never again be a safe haven for al-Qaeda to launch attacks against us,” echoed Cameron.
Their comments come in the midst of criticisms and questions regarding the U.S.-NATO strategy in Afghanistan. The long-term plan, known as the U.S.-Afghan Strategic Partnership Agreement, creates an alliance of semi-permanent U.S. military bases, was stalled in negotiations in early March. U.S. geopolitical interests rest on its ability to maintain a military and political presence in the region. These interests lie in what Pepe Escobar calls “Pipelineistan,” the “the immense energy battlefield that extends from Iran to the Pacific Ocean.” Considering what is at stake for U.S.-NATO powers and interests, it makes the shoddy apologies and short-term memory repulsive.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, calling the incident “inexplicable,” said:
[It] will certainly cause many questions to be asked. But I hope that everyone understands in Afghanistan and around the world that the United States is committed to seeing Afghanistan continue its move toward a stable, secure, prosperous, democratic state.
That goodwill Clinton is hoping for seems dubious. It was only about a year ago that the Afghanistan “kill team” story was reported by Der Speigel and Rolling Stone. The Kandahar killing spree incident comes out of that same unit, reports the BBC, which suggests this is anything but isolated. That seems to be a good place to start asking questions about continued U.S. involvement in Afghanistan.
While American analysis, including a recent New York Times op-ed, has been quite critical of the U.S. military’s continued deployment and treatment of soldiers with mental health issues and PTSD, the tragic incident in Kandahar compromises the military’s own counter-insurgency strategy of winning over the populace.
Prince Abdul Ali Seraj, in an Al Jazeera interview, remarked on the reported nervous breakdown the alleged soldier was suffering:
[C]razy or not crazy, it is very difficult for the Afghan person to distinguish between a crazy person or a non-crazy person. All they can see is one American soldier coming to their homes and killing their loved ones. This is going to have an adverse reaction in Afghanistan.
The political consequences from Monday’s massacre are already rippling through Afghanistan. The New York Times reported on Friday morning that the Taliban have canceled negotiations and President Karzai has demanded that U.S.-NATO troops begin leaving Afghan villages immediately. The announcements make the Obama administration look rather foolhardy in its attempt to convince the American and Afghan publics that the 2014 withdrawal strategy is working just fine. U.S. Representative Raul Gijalva with Michael Shank co-wrote an editorial for The Huffington Post calling for an expedited withdrawal to begin before the Chicago NATO summit in May. Their call is finding increased support in the U.S. Congress and among the American public. President Obama would do well to heed that call, particularly if he wants to avoid another infamous 1968 event this spring.
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