How Many Weddings Does the U.S. Have to Bomb Before We Realize Our Destructive Ways?
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And yet, over the years, amid all the praise for the “precision” of American air power, for the ability of the Air Force to bring a bomb or a missile to its target in a fashion that we like to call “surgical,” it is no small thing -- explain it as you will -- to wipe out parts or all of seven weddings. You might almost think that our wars on the Eurasian continent had been launched as an assault on “family values.” At the very least, the Afghan War has given a different meaning to the ceremonial phrase “till death do us part.”
The Country Crasher
For years, Afghan President Hamid Karzai has bitterly complained about similar air strikes that kill and wound civilians in or near their homes and repeatedly demanded that they be stopped. In this particular case, he cut short a trip to China and returned to Afghanistan to denounce the attack as “unacceptable.” Ordinarily, this has meant remarkably little.
In this case, however, the Afghan president, who lacks much real power (hence his old nickname, “the mayor of Kabul”), seems to have the wind at his back. Perhaps because the Obama administration is on edge about its disintegratingrelations with Pakistan (thanks, in part, to its unwillingness to offer an apology for cross-border U.S. air strikes that killed 24 Pakistani soldiers last November); perhaps because the list of recent U.S. blunders and disasters in Afghanistan has grown long and painful -- the urinatingon bodies of dead enemies, the killing of civilians “ for sport,” the burning of Korans, the slaughter of 16 innocent villagers by one American soldier, the rise of green-on-blue violence (that is, Afghan army and police attacks on their American allies); perhaps because of its need to maintain a façade of -- if not success, then at least -- non-failure in Afghanistan as drawdowns begin there in an election year at home; or perhaps thanks to a combination of all of the above, Karzai’s angry initial response to the Logar wedding killings did not go unnoticed in Washington.
In fact, the initial denials that any civilian deaths had occurred were quickly dropped, the head of U.S. forces in Afghanistan, General John Allen, promptly apologized to the president, and then, in what might have been a unique act in the Afghan War record, went to Logar Province to meet with the provincial governor and apologize directly to grieving relatives. ("The faces of the people were very sad,” said Mohammad Akbar Stanekzai, a parliamentarian member of a delegation Karzai appointed to investigate the incident. “They told [General Allen], 'These incidents don't just happen once, but two, three, four times and they keep happening.'")
At the same time, it was announced that there would be a change in the American policy of calling in air strikes on homes and villages in support of U.S. operations. The Afghans promptly claimed that the Americans had agreed to stop calling in air power at all in their country. The Americans offered a far vaguer version of the policy change. Anonymous U.S. military officials in Kabul quickly suggested that it represented only “a subtle shift in the ground realities of the war against the Taliban.” In fact, it did contain loopholes big enough to slip a B-52 through. As General Allen put it, “What we have agreed is that we would not use aviation ordnance on civilian dwellings. Now that doesn’t obviate our inherent right to self-defense. We will always... do whatever we have to do to protect the force.”