Doomed from the Skies, Damned on the Ground
Every U.S. airstrike resulting in civilian casualties nullifies the eighteen-year long endeavors of reconstruction and nation building aimed at winning the hearts and minds of Afghans in the perpetual War on Terror. The airstrikes have alarmingly augmented the xenophobia of Afghans towards the foreign troops and especially those of the United States. The continuation of civilian casualties will further provoke the victims to join the ranks and file of armed militants and ultimately, produce more “terrorists” rather than eliminating them.
From the U.S. airstrikes on the Omar kheil village of Kunduz in 2009, resulting in the killing of 70 civilians and Nangalam Village, of Kunar, in 2011, which perished nine teenage boys who were collecting firewood in the mountains to the aerial bombing of alleged methamphetamine drug labs in Bakwa and Delaram districts—resulting in the killing of 60 civilians—and the massacre of 30 ill-fated pine nut farmers in Khogyani district, Nangarhar, on September 29, 2019, who were relentlessly bombed by drone strikes—which Col. Sonny Leggett, the spokesman for American-led coalition in Afghanistan, claimed “was a precision strike on ISIS terrorists.” These are only a few stories that depict the excruciating lives of Afghan civilians under the War on Terror. Having survived the liquidation of the Taliban, the dismal socioeconomic conditions and the inhumane brutality of ISIS, they are butchered and maimed by the airstrikes of foreign troops—who are supposed to be protecting them.
The notorious airstrikes on Afghan civilians have continued unabatedly in congruence with a distressing pattern of ensuing actions: the airstrike inflicts unacceptable damages; the authorities promise conducting investigations and ensuring dispensation of justice along with proclamation of trivial apologies to the victims; they promise to avoid recurrence of further mishaps in future; condemnations from human rights organizations, UNAMA—United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan— and Amnesty International pour in, urging the forces to take into account highest measures of caution and restraint in face of possible harm to noncombatants and collateral damage. But, another day in another place, they strike again. The never-ending catastrophic cycle of bloodshed and tragedy continues. The Afghan civilians suffer due to the shocking disregard of foreign troops towards human dignity and life.
The global surge in drone strikes is in concordance with the formulated strategy of Trump administration in general and with the promise of CIA director Mike Pompeo to “make the agency more vicious” in particular. In pursuit of these plans, the Trump administration has authorized CIA to conduct drone strikes—a move that has freed CIA from the limitations that Obama had sanctioned. Afghanistan has been the primary receiver of Trump’s drone blitz which, despite its strategic efficacy on the battlefield, has been the major type of incident causing civilian deaths. According to the Pentagon sources, September alone witnessed 1,113 strikes in Afghanistan with an average of 40 airstrikes per day. Moreover, according to UNAMA, the airstrikes have caused 884 civilian casualties with 579 deaths, from 1 January to 30 September 2019. The UNAMA attributes 74% of these casualties to the aerial strikes conducted by International forces in Afghanistan, spearheaded by the United States.
To put it briefly, The United States must undertake constructive measures, with extreme sincerity, to redress the briskly waning trust levels between the U.S. military and Afghan populace and more importantly, assure abstaining the recurring blunders of the past: avoid “blind aerial bombardments”. The pretense of technological error, human mishap or the right to self-defense of the engagement rules cannot justify the use of blatant force against noncombatants. Otherwise, the winning of hearts and minds will remain only a wishful desire of the successive U.S. governments. Moreover, the U.S. counterterrorism operations will result in producing more “terrorists” rather than eliminating them.