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How Many Innocent People Will Die for the Illusion of American Safety?

Every year we kill thousands of innocent people. Does that seem reasonable? Does that seem right? Is your supposed safety worth that?

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This new tactic is a response to rising Afghan outrage over the repeated killing of civilians in U.S. raids and air strikes. But like the denials and the investigations, this, too, is intended to make everything go away, while our war itself -- those missiles loosed, those doors kicked down in the middle of the night -- just goes on.

Once again, evidently, everyone is supposed to forget (or perhaps simply forgive). It's war, after all. People die. Mistakes are made. As for those dead civilians, New York Times reporter Jane Perlez recently quoted a former Pakistani general on the hundreds of tribespeople killed in the Pakistani borderlands in air strikes by CIA-run drones: they are, he said, "likely hosting Qaeda militants and cannot be deemed entirely innocent."

Exactly. Who in our world is "entirely innocent" anyway?

Apologies Not Accepted

A UN survey tallied up 2,118 civilians killed in Afghanistan in 2008, a significant rise over the previous year's figure, of which 828 were ascribed to American, NATO, and Afghan Army actions rather than to suicide bombers or Taliban guerrillas. (Given the difficulty of counting the dead in wartime, any figures like these are likely to be undercounts.) There are, in other words, constant "incidents" to choose from.

Recently, for instance, there was an attack by a CIA drone in the Pakistani borderlands that Pakistani sources claim may have killed up to eight civilians; or there were the six civilians, including a three-year-old girl and a ten-year-old boy, killed by an American air strike that leveled three houses in Afghanistan's Kunar Province. Sixteen more Afghans, including children as young as one, were wounded in that air attack, based on "multiple intelligence sources" in which, the U.S. military initially claimed, only "enemy fighters" died. (As a recent study of the death-dealing weapons of the Iraq War, published in the New England Journal of Medicine , indicates, air strikes are notoriously good at taking out civilians. Eighty-five percent of the deaths from air strikes in Iraq were, the study estimated, women and children and, of all methods, including suicide and car bombs, air power "killed the most civilians per event.")

But let's consider here just one recent incident that went almost uncovered in the U.S. media. According to an Agence France Presse account, in a raid in the eastern Afghan province of Khost, the U.S. military first reported a small success: four "armed militants" killed.

It took next to no time, however, for those four militants to morph into the family of an Afghan National Army artillery commander named Awal Khan. As it happened, Khan himself was on duty in another province at the time. According to the report, the tally of the slain, some of whom may have gone to the roof of their house to defend themselves against armed men they evidently believed to be robbers or bandits, included: Awal Khan's "schoolteacher wife, a 17-year-old daughter named Nadia, a 15-year-old son, Aimal, and his brother, who worked for a government department. Another daughter was wounded. After the shooting, the pregnant wife of Khan's cousin, who lived next door, went outside her home and was shot five times in the abdomen..."

She survived, but her fetus, "hit by bullets," didn't. Khan's wife worked at a school supported by the international aid organization CARE, which issued a statement strongly condemning the raid and demanding "that international military forces operating in Afghanistan [be] held accountable for their actions and avoid all attacks on innocent civilians in the country."

In accordance with its new policy, the U.S. issued an apology:

 
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