“America’s Longest War” Is Not Over!

by Brian Terrell, September 8, 2021

On August 31, President Joseph Robinette Biden Jr. stepped up to the White House podium, squared his shoulders, looked the American public straight in the eye — and told them the biggest lie of his Presidency (so far).

What he said was:

“Last night in Kabul, the United States ended 20 years of war in Afghanistan—the longest war in American history.”

But the U.S. war on Afghanistan did not end on August 31. It has only adapted to technological advances and morphed into a war that may be less visible—and therefore more politically sustainable.

It will also continue to destabilize the Middle East, immiserate and enrage its 246 million inhabitants, and fuel a massive new influx of violent jihadists recruits—formidably armed with our own abandoned weaponry and bent on revenge against America for the deaths of their families and friends. This will, of course, require the U.S. to launch even more drone bombing missions, which will kill even more Afghan people.

That is the perfect recipe for perpetuating the “forever wars” that Biden promised to end. But it is also a perfect reassurance to the military-industrial-intelligence complex, to which Biden promised, at a June 2019 campaign fundraiser, that nothing would fundamentally change.”

In his speech on August 31, Biden himself admitted,

“We will maintain the fight against terrorism in Afghanistan and other countries. We just don’t need to fight a ground war to do it. We have what’s called over-the-horizon capabilities, which means we can strike terrorists and targets without American boots on the ground—or very few, if needed.”

Five days before, on the evening of Thursday, August 26, hours after a suicide bomb was detonated at the gate of Kabul’s Hamid Karzai International Airport killing and wounding scores of Afghans trying to flee their country and killing 13 U.S. soldiers, President Biden spoke to the world, “outraged as well as heartbroken,” he said.

Many of us listening to the president’s speech, made before the victims could be counted and the rubble cleared, did not find comfort or hope in his words. Instead, our heartbreak and outrage were only amplified as Joe Biden seized the tragedy to call for more war.

“To those who carried out this attack, as well as anyone who wishes America harm, know this: We will not forgive. We will not forget. We will hunt you down and make you pay,”

he threatened.

“I’ve also ordered my commanders to develop operational plans to strike ISIS-K assets, leadership and facilities. We will respond with force and precision at our time, at the place we choose and the moment of our choosing.”

The president’s threatened “moment of our choosing” came one day later, on Friday, August 27, when the U.S. military carried out a drone strike against what it said was an ISIS-K “planner” in Afghanistan’s eastern Nangarhar province.

The U.S. military’s claim that it knows of “no civilian casualties” in the attack is contradicted by reports from the ground. “We saw that rickshaws were burning,” one Afghan witness said. “Children and women were wounded and one man, one boy and one woman had been killed on the spot.”

 

A relative throws himself and weeps over the casket of Farzad, 12, who was killed by U.S. drone airstrikes, according to the family, in Kabul, Afghanistan, on Aug. 30, 2021. [Source: latimes.com]

Fear of an ISIS-K counterattack further hampered evacuation efforts as the U.S. Embassy warned U.S. citizens to leave the airport. “This strike was not the last,” said President Biden. On August 29, another U.S. drone strike killed a family of ten in Kabul.

 

The first lethal drone strike in history occurred in Afghanistan on October 7, 2001, when the CIA identified Taliban leader Mullah Omar, “or 98-percent probable it was he,” but the Hellfire missile launched by a Predator drone killed two unidentified men while Mullah Omar escaped.

These two recent instances of “force and precision” ordered by Biden twenty years later marked the presumed end to the war there just as it had begun. The intervening record has not been much better and, in fact, documents exposed by whistleblower Daniel Hale prove that the U.S. government is aware that 90% of its drone strike victims are not the intended targets.

Zemari Ahmadi, who was killed in the August 29 drone strike in Kabul along with nine members of his family, seven of them young children, had been employed by a California based humanitarian organization and had applied for a visa to come to the U.S., as had Ahmadi’s nephew Nasser, also killed in the same attack.

Nasser had worked with U.S. Special Forces in the Afghan city of Herat and had also served as a guard for the U.S. Consulate there. Whatever affinity the surviving members of Ahmadi’s family and friends might have had with the U.S. went up in smoke, that day. “America is the killer of Muslims in every place and every time,” said one relative who attended the funeral, “I hope that all Islamic countries unite in their view that America is a criminal.” Another mourner, a colleague of Ahmadi, said “We’re now much more afraid of drones than we are of the Taliban.”

 

Friends, relatives and colleagues of Mr. Ahmadi insist he could not possibly have had links to ISIS-Khorasan. [Source: nytimes.com]

The fact that targeted killings like those carried out in Afghanistan and other places from 2001 to the present are counterproductive to the stated objectives of defeating terrorism, regional stability or of winning hearts and minds has been known by the architects of the “war on terror,” at least since 2009.

 

Thanks to Wikileaks, we have access to a CIA document from that year, Making High-Value Targeting Operations an Effective Counterinsurgency Tool. Among the “key findings” in the CIA report, analysts warn of the negative consequences of assassinating so-called High Level Targets (HLT).

“The potential negative effect of HLT operations, include increasing the level of insurgent support …, strengthening an armed group’s bonds with the population, radicalizing an insurgent group’s remaining leaders, creating a vacuum into which more radical groups can enter, and escalating or de-escalating a conflict in ways that favor the insurgents.”

The obvious truths that the CIA kept buried in a secret report have been admitted many times by high-ranking officers implementing those policies. In 2013, General James E. Cartwright, the former vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff told the Chicago Council on Global Affairs, reported in The New York Times,

“We’re seeing that blowback. If you’re trying to kill your way to a solution, no matter how precise you are, you’re going to upset people even if they’re not targeted.”

In a 2010 interview in Rollingstone, General Stanley McChrystal, then commander of U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan, figured that “for every innocent person you kill, you create 10 new enemies.” By the general’s equation, the U.S. created a minimum of 130 new enemies for itself in the strikes ordered by President Biden on August 27 and 29 alone.

When the catastrophic consequences of a nation’s policies are so clearly predictable and evidently inevitable, they are intentional. What has happened to Afghanistan is not a series of mistakes or good intentions gone awry, they are crimes.

In his novel, 1984, George Orwell foresaw a dystopian future where wars would be fought perpetually, not intended to be won or resolved in any way and President Eisenhower’s parting words as he left office in 1961 were a warning of the “grave implications” of the “military-industrial complex.”

Wikileaks founder Julian Assange noted that these dire predictions had come to pass, speaking in 2011:

“The goal is to use Afghanistan to wash money out of the tax bases of the U.S. and Europe through Afghanistan and back into the hands of a transnational security elite. The goal is an endless war, not a successful war.”

No, the war is not over. From a nation that should be promising reparations and begging the forgiveness of the people of Afghanistan comes the infantile raging, “We will not forgive. We will not forget. We will hunt you down and make you pay” and while pledging to perpetuate the conditions that provoke terrorism, the parting taunt “and to ISIS-K: We are not done with you yet.”

That the U.S. is not done with Afghanistan is seen further in the scramble to recruit new intelligence assets such as Ahmad Massoud, 32, commander of the Tajik-dominated National Resistance Front (NRF), which continues to fight a low-level insurgency in the Panjshir Valley against the Pashtun-led Taliban, who are viewed as a proxy of the Pakistan Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI).

Massoud is the son of the legendary anti-Soviet fighter, Ahmad Shah Massoud, whom the CIA financed and equipped in the late 1990s before acquiescing to his assassination two days before the 9/11 attacks because he was against a full-fledged U.S. military invasion of Afghanistan.

The CIA’s nefarious activities in Afghanistan and perpetuation of the drone war are little debated in the simplistic dualism of U.S. partisan politics where the issue seems to be only whether the current president should be blamed or should be given a pass and the blame put on his predecessor. This is a discussion that is not only irrelevant but a dangerous evasion of responsibility. Twenty years of war crimes makes many complicit.

In 1972, Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel wrote:

“Morally speaking, there is no limit to the concern one must feel for the suffering of human beings. Indifference to evil is worse than evil itself, [and] in a free society, some are guilty, but all are responsible.”

All of us in the U.S., the politicians, voters, tax payers, the investors and even those who protested and resisted it, are responsible for 20 years of war in Afghanistan. We are also all responsible for ending it–definitively.

*Featured Image: A man grieves during a mass funeral for members of a family was killed in a U.S. drone airstrike, in Kabul, Afghanistan, Monday, Aug. 30, 2021.  ~ Marcus Yam/Los Angeles Times


Brian Terrell is a longtime Activist and lives on a Catholic Worker Farm in Maloy, Iowa.   Brian is a founding member of the Ban Killer Drones Network.  He has traveled to Afghanistan several times and been arrested numerous times in civil resistance actions opposing drone warfare.




U.S. Drone Strike in Kabul Killed a Family — and Began a New Chapter of the War

by Murtaza Hussain, published on The Intercept, August 30, 2021

A Sunday drone strike in Kabul initially claimed by U.S. officials to have destroyed a car packed with “multiple suicide bombers” reportedly killed 10 civilians from one family, including several children.

The drone strike that hit Khwaja Burgha, a working-class residential neighborhood in Kabul, was said to have killed numerous members of the Ahmadi family, with the youngest alleged victim being a 2-year-old girl. Morgue footage shared on social media showed the burned bodies of several children, as well as photos of the victims before their deaths. One of the dead, according to members of the Ahmadi family who spoke to reporters, was a former Afghan military officer who had served as a contractor for U.S. forces, as well as a worker at a charity organization.

The Americans said the airstrike killed Daesh members,” a neighbor of the family angrily told reporters after the strike, referring to the Islamic State. “Where is Daesh here? Were these children Daesh?

The Defense Department and other arms of the Biden administration continued to describe the drone attack as a “successful” strike against the militant group Islamic State-Khorasan, or ISIS-K, which had taken responsibility for a suicide bombing at the Kabul airport. As reports confirmed that an innocent family had been killed, Pentagon spokesperson John Kirby said that the Department of Defense is “not in a position to dispute” reports that civilians were killed, stating that the incident would be investigated.

The Kabul drone strike is just one in a long string of attacks in Afghanistan by U.S. forces and their proxies reported to have killed large numbers of civilians. Past attacks have hit families traveling in cars and buses, wedding parties, hospitals filled with patients, and groups of farmers working in fields. While the withdrawal of American troops can be described as the end to the war in Afghanistan, the Kabul strike shows how the war may simply enter a new chapter, with the U.S. striking targets with aircraft launched from faraway drone bases.

Critics of civilian casualties in the U.S. war have pointed to the lack of serious investigations on the ground into the deaths — accountability that will be even harder to come by in a remote war.

“In my experience, the bar for thorough military investigation has been so high as to discount a majority of credible incidents. What investigations do take place are neither consistent nor rigorous,”

said Nick McDonell, author of “The Bodies in Person: An Account of Civilian Casualties in American Wars,” an analysis of the impact of the U.S. air wars in the Middle East.

“At the same time, the military has repeatedly suppressed information on civilian casualties. The drone program is opaque, with extremely limited accountability for anyone involved.”

What separated the recent Kabul drone strike from the long pattern of reported civilian deaths was the level of immediate attention and outrage it has generated. The U.S. war in Afghanistan has mostly been waged in rural areas, away from the attention of international media. Kabul, on the other hand, is the highly populated capital and the country’s center for expatriates, nongovernmental organizations, and both Afghan as well as international journalists.

When the strike was reported, immediate video footage of the civilians who were killed in the attack began to circulate, and even international journalists were able to quickly access the attack site.

In contrast, many past strikes have gone under the radar — and continue to do so. A retaliatory strike that came immediately after the recent terrorist attack at Hamid Karzai International Airport hit rural eastern Afghanistan, allegedly killing two people: an ISIS “planner” and a “facilitator,” according to the Defense Department.

At the press briefing Monday, Kirby declined to share further information about the identities of the two people allegedly killed in that prior attack. Other than dedicated Afghanistan observers, few took notice. Journalists and rights advocates have so far not reported any details of on-the-ground investigations or if such investigations are even possible.

The opaque nature of the war in Afghanistan has made calculating accurate death tolls from U.S. operations difficult — a challenge that has been compounded by the military’s own long-standing refusal to compile statistics and verify information about who is killed in its strikes. The secretive nature of the war on terror in general, across all its various theaters of operation, coupled with military practices that devote little attention to strike investigations, makes assessing civilian impact nearly impossible.

The Pentagon initially released a statement celebrating Sunday’s strike in Kabul’s Khwaja Burgha neighborhood for having stopped what it claimed was another imminent terrorist threat against the airport. After local journalists and activists began surfacing harrowing footage of civilians killed, however, the Pentagon put out a press release stating that “it is unclear what may have happened” in the strike, claiming that there were secondary explosions from the bombing that suggested the presence of explosives on the ground. (The White House cited this explanation in its own statements on the allegations of civilian casualties.)

The Pentagon often releases footage of its airstrikes, with the intention of advertising successful attacks against alleged terrorists. In the past, some videos have been released describing successful strikes that were later revealed to have hit civilian targets. The Pentagon declined to comment to The Intercept as to whether it would release footage of the Khwaja Burgha strike in order to verify the claimed presence of secondary explosions.

The military’s own promises to investigate civilian casualty incidents have resulted in little meaningful accountability in the past.

According to its standard practices, the military does not conduct site visits to learn who was killed in its airstrikes, leaving the grueling work of finding out who died and why to independent monitoring organizations and investigative journalists who operate with far fewer resources than the Pentagon. The Washington Post reported last year that as airstrikes ramped up in the final years of the Afghanistan War, the number of strikes investigated by the military for civilian casualties plummeted. Few outside the areas impacted would have taken notice of many of the strikes at all, let alone the absence of investigations.

In those cases in which the military did launch its own inquiries, the findings were viewed with skepticism. “These investigations are nothing but advertisements to the media,” a local council official from Helmand Province in Afghanistan told the Post. “They have no mercy. They only see targets to kill.”

The Kabul airstrike, though, generated an outpouring of grief and anger among many Afghans, already reeling from the Taliban takeover of their country following the collapse of the U.S.-backed central government. Though the Pentagon has promised to hold itself accountable for such incidents, experts on the drone war say that there is little reason based on past practice to expect meaningful justice for the victims.

“The failure to properly acknowledge, investigate, or compensate civilian deaths and injuries is one constant of U.S. airstrikes, whether in recognized wars like Afghanistan, or outside of them, like in Somalia,”

said Hina Shamsi, director of the American Civil Liberties Union’s National Security Project.

“The specific reasons and the agencies involved in those failures may differ in each context — and over 20 years we’ve repeatedly seen legal and policy debates and promises by the U.S. government to do better. But that’s of little comfort to the civilians on the receiving end of American lethal force who suffer terrible harm with little or no transparency and accountability.”

*Featured Image:  Photo: Marcus Yam/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images


Murtaza Hussain is a reporter at The Intercept who focuses on national security and foreign policy. @mazmhussain




The Names You Will Never Know

by Nick Turse, published on Counterpunch, September 26, 2021

…and the ones you will know because you will see them below.  I have decided to make this piece a memorial to the members of the Ahmadi family murdered by a U.S. Drone strike as U.S. troops left Afghanistan in disgrace.  You will find their pictures throughout this post.  [jb]

Ahmadi Family from NY Times Video

As a parting shot, on its way out of Afghanistan, the United States military launched a drone attack that the Pentagon called a “righteous strike.” The final missile fired during 20 years of occupation, that August 29th airstrike averted an Islamic State car-bomb attack on the last American troops at Kabul’s airport. At least, that’s what the Pentagon told the world.

Within two weeks, a New York Times investigation would dismantle that official narrative. Seven days later, even the Pentagon admitted it. Instead of killing an ISIS suicide bomber, the United States had slaughtered 10 civilians: Zemari Ahmadi, a longtime worker for a U.S. aid group; three of his children, Zamir, 20, Faisal, 16, and Farzad, 10; Ahmadi’s cousin Naser, 30; three children of Ahmadi’s brother Romal, Arwin, 7, Benyamin, 6, and Hayat, 2; and two 3-year-old girls, Malika and Somaya.

Zemari Ahmadi, U.S. employed aid worker in Kabul who was murdered with many family members by a U.S. drone strike as the U.S,. exited the country.

The names of the dead from the Kabul strike are as important as they are rare. So many civilians have been obliterated, incinerated, or — as in the August 29th attack — “shredded” in America’s forever wars. Who in the United States remembers them? Who here ever knew of them in the first place? Twenty years after 9/11, with the Afghan War declared over, combat in Iraq set to conclude, and President Joe Biden announcing the end of “an era of major military operations to remake other countries,” who will give their deaths another thought?

Americans have been killing civilians since before there was a United States. At home and abroad, civilians — Pequots, African Americans, Cheyenne and Arapaho, Filipinos, Haitians, Japanese, Germans, Koreans, Vietnamese, Cambodians, Laotians, Afghans, Iraqis, Syrians, Yemenis, and Somalis, among others — have been shot, burned, and bombed to death. The slaughter at Sand Creek, the Bud Dajomassacre, the firebombing of Dresden, the atomic bombing of Hiroshima, the My Lai massacre — the United States has done what it can to sweep it all under the rugthrough denial, cover-ups, and the most effective means of all: forgetting.

There’s little hope of Americans ever truly coming to terms with the Pequot or Haitian or Vietnamese blood on their hands. But before the forever wars slip from the news and the dead slide into the memory hole that holds several centuries worth of corpses, it’s worth spending a few minutes thinking about Zemari Ahmadi, Benyamin, Hayat, Malika, Somaya, and all the civilians who were going about their lives until the U.S. military ended them.

Names Remembered and Names Forgotten

Over the last 20 years, the United States has conducted more than 93,300 air strikes — in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Pakistan, Somalia, Syria, and Yemen — that killed between 22,679 and 48,308 civilians, according to figures recently released by Airwars, a U.K.-based airstrike monitoring group. The total number of civilians who have died from direct violence in America’s wars since 9/11 tops out at 364,000 to 387,000, according to Brown University’s Costs of War Project.

Who were those nearly 400,000 people?

There’s Malana. In 2019, at age 25, she had just given birth to a son, when her health began to deteriorate. Her relatives were driving her to a clinic in Afghanistan’s Khost Province when their vehicle was attacked by a U.S. drone, killing Malana and four others.

And Gul Mudin. He was wounded by a grenade and shot with a rifle, one of at least three civilians murdered by a U.S. Army “kill team in Kandahar Province in 2010.

Then there was Gulalai, one of seven people, including three women — two of them pregnant — who were shot and killed in a February 12, 2010, raid by Special Operations forces in Afghanistan’s Paktia Province.

And the four members of the Razzo family — Mayada, Tuqa, Mohannad, and Najib— killed in a September 20, 2015, airstrike in Mosul, Iraq.

And there were the eight men, three women, and four children — Abdul Rashid as well as Abdul Rahman, Asadullah, Hayatullah, Mohamadullah, Osman, Tahira, Nadia, Khatima, Jundullah, Soheil, Amir, and two men, ages 25 and 36 respectively, named Abdul Waheed — who were killed in a September 7, 2013, drone strike on Rashid’s red Toyota pickup in Afghanistan.

Then there were 22-year-old Lul Dahir Mohamed and her four-year-old daughter, Mariam Shilo Muse, who were killed in an April 1, 2018, airstrike in Somalia.

And between 2013 and 2020, in seven separate U.S. attacks in Yemen — six drone strikes and one raid — 36 members of the al Ameri and al Taisy families were slaughtered.

Zamir Ahmadi, age 20, Zemari’s eldest son.

Those names we know. Or knew, if only barely and fleetingly. Then there are the countless anonymous victims like the three civilians in a blue Kia van killed by Marines in Iraq in 2003. “Two bodies were slumped over in the front seats; they were men in street clothes and had no weapons that I could see. In the back seat, a woman in a black chador had fallen to the floor; she was dead, too,” wrote Peter Maass in the New York Times Magazine in 2003. Years later, at the Intercept, he painted an even more vivid picture of the “blue van, with its tires shot out and its windows shattered by bullets, its interior stained with blood and smelling of death, with flies feasting on already-rotting flesh.”

Those three civilians in Iraq were all too typical of the many anonymous dead of this country’s forever wars — the man shot for carrying a flashlight in an “offensive” manner; the children killed by an “errant” rocket; the man slain by “warning shots”; the three women and one man “machine-gunned” to death; and the men, women and children reduced to “charred meat” in an American bombing.

Who were the 11 Afghans — four of them children — who died in a 2004 helicopter attack, or the “dozen or more” civilians killed in 2010 during a nighttime raid by U.S. troops in that same country? And what about those 30 pine-nut farm workers slaughtered a year later by a drone strike there? And what were the names of Mohanned Tadfi’s mother, brother, sister-in-law, and seven nieces and nephews killed in the U.S. bombing that flattened the city of Raqqa, Syria, in 2017?

Faisal Ahmadi, age 16

Often, the U.S. military had no idea whom they were killing. This country frequently carried out “signature strikes” that executed unknown people due to suspicious behavior. So often, Americans killed such individuals for little or no reason — like holding a weapon in places where, as in this country, firearms were ubiquitous — and then counted them as enemy dead. An investigation by Connecting Vets found that during a 2019 air campaign in Afghanistan’s Helmand province, for example, the threshold for an attack “could be met by as little as a person using or even touching a radio” or if an Afghan carrying “commercially bought two-way radios stepped into a home, the entire building would sometimes be leveled by a drone strike.

Targeted assassinations were equally imprecise. Secret documents obtained by the Intercept revealed that, during a five-month stretch of Operation Haymaker — a drone campaign in 2011 and 2013 aimed at al-Qaeda and Taliban leaders along the Afghan-Pakistan border — 200 people were killed in airstrikes conducted to assassinate 35 high-value targets. In other words, nearly nine out of 10 people slain in those “targeted” killings were not the intended targets. So, who were they?

Farzad Ahmadi, age 10

Even if targeting was ordinarily more accurate than during Operation Haymaker, U.S. policy has consistently adhered to the dictum that “military-age males” killed in airstrikes should automatically be classified as combatants unless proven innocent. In addition to killing people for spurious reasons, the U.S. also opted for allies who would prove at least as bad as, if not worse than, those they were fighting. For two decades, such American-taxpayer-funded warlords and militiamen murdered, raped, or shook-down the very people this country was supposedly protecting. And, of course, no one knows the names of all those killed by such allies who were being advised, trained, armed, and funded by the United States.

Who, for instance, were the two men tied to the rear fender of a Toyota pickup truck in southeastern Afghanistan in 2012 by members of an Afghan militia backed by U.S. Special Operations forces? They were, wrote reporter Anand Gopal, dragged “along six miles of rock-studded road” until they were dead. Then their “bodies were left decomposing for days, a warning to anyone who thought of disobeying Azizullah,” the U.S.-allied local commander.

Or what about the 12 boys gunned down by CIA-backed militiamen at a madrassa in the Afghan village of Omar Khail? Or the six boys similarly slain at a school in nearby Dadow Khail? Or any of the dead from 10 raids in 2018 and 2019 by that same militia, which summarily executed at least 51 civilians, including boys as young as eight years old, few of whom, wrote reporter Andrew Quilty, appeared “to have had any formal relationship with the Taliban”?

How many reporters’ notebooks are filled with the unpublished names of just such victims? Or counts of those killed? Or the stories of their deaths? And how many of those who were murdered never received even a mention in an article anywhere?

Last year, I wrote 4,500 words for the New York Times Magazine about the deteriorating situation in Burkina Faso. As I noted then, that nation was one of the largest recipients of American security aid in West Africa, even though the State Department admitted that U.S.-backed forces were implicated in a litany of human-rights abuses, including extrajudicial killings.

Benyamin, age 6 and Arwin., age 7

What never made it into the piece was any mention of three men who were executed in two separate attacks. On May 22, 2019, uniformed Burkinabe troops arrived in the village of Konga and took two brothers, aged 38 and 25, away in the middle of the night. The next day, a relative found them on the side of the road, bound and executed. Most of the family fled the area. “The Army came back a week later,” a relative told me. “My uncle was the only one in our family who stayed. He was shot in broad daylight.” Such deaths are ubiquitous but aren’t even factored into the 360,000-plus civilian deaths counted by the Costs of War project, which offers no estimate for those killed in America’s “smaller war zones.”

Build the Wall!

We live in a world filled with monuments celebrating lives and deaths, trailblazers and memorable events, heroes and villains. They run the gamut from civil rights leader Martin Luther King, Jr., and Women’s Rights Pioneers to the chieftains of the American Confederacy and Belgium’s King Leopold.

In the United States, there’s no shortage of memorials and monuments commemorating America’s wars and fallen soldiers. One of the most poignant lists the names of the American military dead of the Vietnam War. Initially derided by hawkish veterans and conservatives as a “black gash of shame” and a “nihilistic slab,” it’s now one of the most celebrated monuments in Washington, D.C. More than 58,000 men and women are represented on the visually arresting black granite walls of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial.

Vietnam itself has no shortage of monuments of its own. Many are Soviet-style memorials to those who died defeating the United States and reuniting their country. Others are seldom-seen, tiny memorials to massacres perpetrated by the Americans and their allies. No one knows how many similar cenotaphs exist in Iraq, Syria, Yemen, and other forever-war countries, but in 2017, journalist Emran Feroz found just such a memorial in Afghanistan’s Wardak Province — a remembrance of five civilians slain in drone strikes during 2013 and 2014.

Hayat, age 2, Somaya, age 3, Malika, age 3

There have been other attempts to memorialize the civilian dead of the forever wars from art installations to innovative visual protests to virtual commemorations. In 2018, after then-President Trump signed a bill approving the construction of a Global War on Terrorism Memorial, Peter Maass proposed, even if only half-seriously, that the bullet-riddled blue Kia van he saw in Iraq should be placed on a pedestal on the National Mall. “If we start building monuments that focus our attention on the pitiless killing of civilians in our wars,he wrote, “maybe we would have fewer wars to fight and less reason to build these monuments.”

A blue Kia on the National Mall would be a good starting point. But if we’re ever to grasp the meaning of the post-9/11 wars and all the conflicts that set the stage for them, however, we may need a wall as well — one that starts at the Kia and heads west. It would, of course, be immense. The Vietnam Veterans Memorial spans a total of 400 feet. The celebrated Vietnam War photographer Philip Jones Griffiths observed that a wall for the Vietnamese dead, counting combatants, of the American War would be nine miles long.

The Vietnam Veterans Memorial is arrayed in a unique chronological format, but the Civilian Deaths Memorial could begin with anyone. The last civilians killed by the United States as part of its 2001 to 2021 Afghan War – Zemari Ahmadi, Zamir, Faisal, Farzad, Naser, Arwin, Benyamin, Hayat, Malika, and Somaya – could lead it off. Then maybe Abdul Rashid and the 14 passengers from his red pick-up truck. Then Malana, Gul Mudin, Gul Rahim, Gulalai, Mayada, Tuqa, Mohannad, Najib, Lul Dahir Mohamed, and Mariam Shilo Muse. Then maybe Ngo Thi Sau, Cao Muoi, Cao Thi Thong, Tran Cong Chau Em, Nguyen Thi Nhi, Cao Thi Tu, Le Thi Chuyen, Dang Thi Doi, Ngo Thi Chiec, Tran Thi Song, Nguyen Thi Mot, Nguyen Thi Hai, Nguyen Thi Ba, Nguyen Thi Bon, Ho Thi Tho, Vo Thi Hoan, Pham Thi Sau, Dinh Van Xuan, Dinh Van Ba, Tran Cong Viet, Nguyen Thi Nham, Ngo Quang Duong, Duong Thi Hien, Pham Thi Kha, Huynh Van Binh, Huynh Thi Bay, Huynh Thi Ty, Le Van Van, Le Thi Trinh, Le Thi Duong, and Le Vo Danh and her unborn child, all slaughtered in the tiny South Vietnamese village of Phi Phu by U.S. troops (without any of the attention accorded to the My Lai massacre). They could be followed by the names of, or placeholders for, the remaining two million Vietnamese civilian dead and by countless Cambodians, Laotians, Afghans, Iraqis, Somalis, and Yemenis.

Naser Ahmadi, aged 30, cousin of Zemari Ahmadi had hoped to be resettled as a refugee in the U.S.

The Civilian Wall could be built in a zig-zag fashion across the country with the land in its way — homes and businesses, parks and roadways — seized by eminent domain, making Americans care about civilian deaths in ways that news articles never could. When you lose your home to a slab of granite that reads “Pequot adult, Pequot adult, Pequot child…” 500 times, you may actually take notice. When you hear about renewed attacks in Iraq or drone strikes in Somalia or a Navy SEAL raid gone awry in Yemen and worry that the path of the wall might soon turn toward your town, you’re likely to pay far more attention to America’s conflicts abroad.

Obviously, a westward-traveling wall memorializing civilian carnage is a non-starter in this country, but the next time you hear some fleeting murmur about a family wiped out by a drone strike or read a passing news story about killings by a U.S.-backed militia, think about that imaginary wall and how, in a just world, it might be headed in your direction. In the meantime, perhaps the best we can hope for is Maass’s proposal for that blue Kia on the Mall. Perhaps it could be accompanied by the inscription found on a granite slab at the Heidefriedhof, a cemetery in Dresden, Germany, the site of a mass grave for civilians killed in a 1945 U.S. and British fire-bombing. It begins: “How many died? Who knows the number?

*Featured Image: Americans join Pakistani people to protest drone warfare in the streets of Islamabad, 2012


Nick Turse is the associate editor of TomDispatch.com and the winner of a 2009 Ridenhour Prize for Reportorial Distinction as well as a James Aronson Award for Social Justice Journalism. His work has appeared in the Los Angeles Times, the Nation, In These Times, and regularly at TomDispatch. Turse is currently a fellow at New York University’s Center for the United States and the Cold War. A paperback edition of his book The Complex: How the Military Invades Our Everyday Lives (Metropolitan Books) was published earlier this year. His website is NickTurse.com.

This column was distributed by TomDispatch.




Demand for ‘Moratorium on Drone Warfare’ Follows Latest US Killing of Afghan Civilians

by Jake Johnson, published on Common Dreams, August 30, 2021

The largest Muslim civil rights organization in the United States demanded Monday that the Biden administration immediately put in place a “moratorium on drone warfare” after the U.S. killed at least 10 Afghan civilians—including half a dozen children—with an airstrike in Kabul over the weekend.

Enough is enough,” Edward Ahmed Mitchell, national deputy director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), said in a statement.

“For more than ten years, our government’s drone strikes have killed thousands of innocent people in Pakistan, Afghanistan, Yemen, and elsewhere in the Muslim world—destroying family homes, wedding parties, and even funeral processions. The civilian casualties in Kabul are simply the latest victims of this misused technology.”

Mitchell said the Biden administration should impose a temporary moratorium on the U.S. drone program—which is largely shrouded in secrecy—”until the government establishes strict oversight rules that would prevent these tragedies by severely limiting and transparently accounting for our military’s use of drone warfare.”

According to press reports and accounts from relatives and witnesses, the 10 people reportedly killed by the U.S. airstrike in Kabul on Sunday were all members of a single extended family—and at least three of the child victims were girls just two years old or younger.

“This is the latest in 20 years of innocent lives taken and children orphaned in Afghanistan and covert drone warfare around the world,”

 

Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) said Monday.

 

“Impunity for these attacks continues to create a never-ending cycle of violence and retribution. Where should these victims go to seek justice?”

The Biden administration has yet to take responsibility for killing the civilians with its drone strike, which purportedly targeted an explosive-laden vehicle that the U.S. military claims ISIS-K was planning to use in another attack on Kabul’s international airport.

“The U.S. went into Afghanistan seeking revenge and bombing civilians,”

Medea Benjamin, co-founder of the anti-war group CodePink, tweeted Monday.

“Twenty years later, the U.S. is leaving Afghanistan seeking revenge and bombing civilians.”

Maj. Gen. Hank Taylor, deputy director of the U.S. Joint Staff for Regional Operations, said during a press briefing on Monday that the Pentagon is “aware” of reports of civilian deaths in Kabul and that an investigation is underway.

In a statement, Amnesty International USA executive director Paul O’Brien said that the Biden administration “has a responsibility to the families of those killed to name the dead, acknowledge its actions, investigate, and provide reparations.”

The Pentagon is notorious for dramatically undercounting the number of civilians killed in U.S. military operations overseas. And when the U.S. government does admit to killing civilians, it often refuses to provide any compensation to the victims’ families.

“The United States has been killing civilians in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Syria, and Somalia for years, under the guise of the so-called ‘war on terror,’ with impunity,”

said O’Brien.

“For two decades, the United States has carried out strikes with no accountability to the public for how many civilians were killed.”

The latest airstrike in Kabul, O’Brien argued, could be

“a glimpse into the future U.S. involvement in Afghanistan if the Biden administration pushes ahead with an ‘over the horizon’ counter-terrorism program that does not prioritize civilian protection.”

Earlier this year, the Biden administration quietly implemented temporary restrictions on drone strikes outside of “conventional battlefield zones” such as Afghanistan. But such limits did not stop U.S. military’s Africa Command (AFRICOM) from launching a lethal drone strike in Somalia in July, the first attack on that country of Joe Biden’s presidency.

As the withdrawal of U.S. troops continues apace ahead of the August 31 exit deadline, it appears that Biden is prepared to keep carrying out drone strikes in Afghanistan in the future. In a statement Friday after the U.S. launched a drone strike targeting two “planners and facilitators” of the deadly attack on Kabul’s airport, Biden declared, “This strike was not the last.”

*Featured Image: Relatives and neighbors of the Ahmadi family gathered around the incinerated husk of a vehicle hit by a U.S. drone strike in Kabul, Afghanistan on August 30, 2021. (Photo: Marcus Yam/Los Angeles Times)


Jake Johnson is a staff writer for Common Dreams website.