War in Afghanistan

The ‘war on terror’ began with the bombing of Afghanistan. As the war enters its 10th year with few details of the damage being documented, DAYS JAPAN looks into what is really happening in this war.

Text by Brian COVERT

Shedding Light on Realities of the War

The late veteran American journalist I.F. Stone once said: “All governments are run by liars and nothing they say should be believed.” Nowhere is that more true than in a time of war — especially the first two wars to be waged in the 21st century by the United States: the Afghanistan war and Iraq war.

But if it is true that all governments take actions of lying, it is also true that there is an “equal and opposite reaction” somewhere in the world by citizens and journalists — as well as others inside the circles of authority — who take great risks to make the truth known to the public. It is due to truth-seekers like these that we now see more clearly the patterns of disinformation, manipulation of the news media, and covering up of facts on the part of government and military officials in the Afghanistan and Iraq wars.

We begin this report with a look at how citizens and journalists have been documenting the war in Afghanistan.


U.S. government lies and eyewitness accounts

As bombs began raining down on Afghanistan on October 7, 2001, citizens around the world sprang into action to try to get at the truth.

One of them was Rita Lasar, 70, of New York City. Her younger brother was in one of the Twin Towers on September 11. He had stayed behind to help a physically disabled colleague get out of the burning building, and died there when the building collapsed. The American mainstream news media, and even President George W. Bush, labeled her brother a national hero. But Lasar was uncomfortable with the death of her brother being used as a reason for the U.S. to kill more people elsewhere in the world. So in January 2002, Lasar joined three other Americans who had lost loved ones in the 911 attacks on a trip to Afghanistan. They went there to meet the Afghan people face to face and to find out the truth about the war.

The U.S. government had been officially denying that innocent Afghan citizens were being killed in the bombings. But Lasar and the others witnessed Afghan residential neighborhoods that had been destroyed by the U.S. bombings, a number of dead and injured civilians, families turned into refugees, and orphaned and traumatized Afghan children.

One of those traumatized children was Fardin, a six-year-old boy living near Kabul. He was now so mentally traumatized after the U.S. bombings that he had stopped walking and talking. His mind had reverted to that of an infant, and he now had to be cared for almost like a baby.

“Oh my God, he’s six years old?” Lasar said to the boy’s family, as her tears fell. “How could this happen?”

The group of American eyewitnesses, deeply shocked by what they had seen in Afghanistan, came back to the U.S. and spoke out publicly, revealing the truth behind the official lies of the war. They shared their stories at demonstrations and public gatherings. They showed photos and videos of the victims they had met and the destruction they had seen. The group’s activities were ignored by the U.S. mainstream media. But they were carried on “Democracy Now!”, a daily radio and TV program that reports on war from a critical standpoint. “Democracy Now!” has maintained its editorial independence without relying on corporate sponsors and is today the largest public media collaboration in North America.

“Democracy Now!” had also broadcasted live phone interviews in late December 2001/early January 2002 with Masuda Sultan, a 23-year-old Afghan-American woman who traveled from New York City back to her rural village near Kandahar. Nineteen of her own relatives had been killed in U.S. aerial attacks. This was at a time when the Pentagon was denying any civilian casualties due to its “precision bombings” of Taliban and al-Qaeda hideouts.

WikiLeaks — ‘Afghan War Diary’

An Afghan man, four women and a baby at a wedding party are killed during an attack on a rural Afghan village, while several other women (one of whom is pregnant) are injured. Drivers of cars or their passengers, both young and old, are shot and wounded or killed when their vehicles fail to properly stop at military checkpoints. Innocent bystanders are hit by stray gunfire.

These are but a few of the violent fates that thousands of innocent Afghan civilians have met at the hands of U.S. and allied troops in the Afghanistan war. Such stories of victims of the war might have remained unknown or gone unreported by the news media. But that all changed in July 2010. It was then that the nonprofit whistleblower website WikiLeaks began releasing to mainstream European and American news companies about 90,000 internal U.S. military reports filed by soldiers on the ground in Afghanistan, which WikiLeaks had received from sources within the U.S. military. It was considered at that time to be the largest leak of military documents in U.S. history.

The “Afghan War Diary” documents released by WikiLeaks included cases that had been reported before but not known about in detail, as well as cases that were being reported for the first time — such as the deaths of hundreds of Afghan people that had gone unreported up until then. The documents also confirmed unreported cases of “friendly fire” incidents among U.S. troops and allied forces, as well as the existence of a U.S.-led secret assassination team operating in Afghanistan. Al-Qaeda had also been successfully stepping up its suicide attacks against allied forces, the documents revealed. The documents also indicated media manipulation, with evidence that the U.S. military had been paying local Afghan news media to carry favorable stories.

The documents are written in abbreviations, acronyms and special military terms that most people would not normally understand: “GSW” (gunshot wound), “WIA” (wounded in action), “KIA” (killed in action) and “CIVCAS” (civilian casualties), for example.

“There appears to be evidence of war crimes,” WikiLeaks chief editor Julian Assange announced at the time of the documents’ release.

Among the many cases brought to light by WikiLeaks are these:

• The existence of a secret U.S. army-led special forces unit called “Task Force 373.” In June 2007 several Afghan civilians — including seven children — were mistakenly shot and killed, and Task Force 373 now appeared to be responsible for the killings. The secret commando team’s job was to target Taliban leaders, and either take them prisoner or kill them on the spot. In some cases, though, Afghan civilians were mistakenly killed in the process.

• In December 2008, a U.S. soldier raking with machine-gun fire a bus that had not properly stopped on Afghanistan’s main highway. Four passengers were killed and 11 wounded.

• The killing or wounding of Afghan civilians, women and children among them, by British troops in more than 20 separate incidents between 2006 and 2009. Some of those civilians appeared to have been accidentally killed in air strikes — such as one laser-guided bomb in Helmand Province in 2009 that killed eight Afghan civilians. Other incidents involve British troops shooting unarmed motorcyclists or vehicle drivers who happened to come near their convoy.

The war in Afghanistan, now commonly called “Obama’s Vietnam,” is today the longest war in U.S. history. More than 130,000 U.S. and allied troops remain in the country. President Barack Obama, a Nobel Peace Prize laureate, has called the war in Afghanistan a “necessary war.”

The number of innocent lives lost in the 9/11 attacks (about 3,000) is well known and often touted. But nobody may ever know how many Afghan people have died in this war since the systematized collection of data on civilian deaths in Afghanistan reportedly only began in 2007, six years after the war was started. Very rough estimates by the United Nations, Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission and other parties place the number of Afghan civilians who have died as a result of the war at somewhere between 15,000 to 35,000.

Brian COVERT
Journalist. Born in Los Angeles, California, USA in 1959. Reported for UPI news service, the Mainichi Newspapers and other news companies in Japan before becoming independent. Currently serving as contributing writer and English-language editor for DAYS JAPAN. Lecturer in the journalism department of Doshisha University in Kyoto. He resides in Hyogo Prefecture, Japan.

[Japanese version of this article]