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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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"Further inquiries into the Coalition and ANSF operation in Khost earlier today suggest that the people killed and wounded were not enemy combatants as previously reported... Coalition and Afghan forces do not believe that this family was involved with militant activities and that they were defending their home against an unknown threat... 'We deeply regret the tragic loss of life in this precious family. Words alone cannot begin to express our regret and sympathy and we will ensure the surviving family members are properly cared for,' said Brig. Gen. Michael A. Ryan, U.S. Forces-Afghanistan."

A U.S. military spokesman added, "There will undoubtedly be some financial assistance and other types of assistance [to the survivors]."

The grieving husband, father, and brother said, "I want the coalition leaders to expose those behind this and punish them." He added that "the Afghan government should resign if it could not protect its people." (Don't hold your breath on either count.) And Afghan President Hamid Karzai, as he has done many times during past incidents, repeatedly demanded an explanation for the deaths and asked that such raids and air strikes be drastically curtailed.

What Your Safety Is Worth

All of this was little more than a shadow play against which the ongoing war continues to be relentlessly prosecuted. In Afghanistan (and increasingly in Pakistan), civilian deaths are inseparable from this war. Though they may be referred to as "collateral damage," increasingly in all wars, and certainly in counterinsurgency campaigns involving air power, the killing of civilians lies at the heart of the matter, while the killing of soldiers might be thought of as the collateral activity.

Pretending that these "mistakes" will cease or be ameliorated as long as the war is being prosecuted is little short of folly. After all, "mistake" after "mistake" continues to be made. That first Afghan wedding party was obliterated in late December 2001 when an American air strike killed up to 110 Afghan revelers with only two survivors. The fifth one on record was blown away last year. And count on it, there will be a sixth.

By now, we've filled up endless "towers" with dead Afghan civilians. And that's clearly not going to change, apologies or not, especially when U.S. forces are planning to "surge" into the southern and eastern parts of the country later this year, while the CIA's drone war on the Pakistani border expands.

And how exactly do we explain this ever rising pile of civilian dead to ourselves? It's being done, so we've been told, for our safety and security here in the U.S. The previous president regularly claimed that we were fighting over there, whether in Iraq or Afghanistan, to keep Americans safe here; the former vice president has made clear that among the great achievements of the Bush administration was the prevention of a second 9/11; and when, on March 27th, President Obama announced his latest Afghan bailout plan, he, too, played the 9/11 card heavily. As he was reported to have put it recently, "he is not 'naive about how dangerous this world is' and [he] said he wakes up every day and goes to bed every night thinking and worrying 'about how to keep the American people safe.'"

Personally, I always thought that we could have locked our plane doors and gone home long ago. We were never in mortal danger from al-Qaeda in the backlands of Afghanistan, despite the perfervid imagination of the previous administration and the riotous fears of so many Americans. The rag-tag group that attacked us in September 2001 was then capable of committing acts of terror on a spectacular scale (two U.S. embassy buildings in Africa, a destroyer in a Yemeni harbor, and of course those two towers in New York and the Pentagon), but only every couple of years. In other words, al-Qaeda was capable of stunning this country and of killing Americans, but was never a threat to the nation itself.

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