This article, by Tony Iltis, originally appeared on Green Left Weekly and will be republished in the April Spark.
For the US military and the pro-war Western corporate media, the March 11 slaughter of 16 civilians, nine of them children, as they slept in their homes in the villages of Alkozai and Najeeban in Panjwai district, Kandahar province, was an aberration.
For Afghans, it was just the latest massacre.
There are differing accounts of what happened. The US maintains the killings were the work of a single “rogue” soldier. Eyewitnesses, however, insist there was more than one attacker.
CNN reported on March 13 that the villagers had previously fled the area due to fighting between US-led occupation forces and the Taliban. But they returned after assurances from commanders at the nearby US base that the district was safe.
Villagers agreed that there had been no Taliban in the district for months.
One of the villagers told CNN: “This base told us to come back to our villages … we will not bother you. This is your land, and this is your own village. But these dogs came and grabbed us.”
She said: “Four girls and four boys [killed]. They are 2-year-olds. Are these Talibs?”
Another eyewitness described the attack’s sadism.
“One guy came in and pulled a boy from his sleep and he shot him in this doorway,” she said. “Then they came back inside the room and put a gun in the mouth of one child and stomped on another child.”
Pajhwok Afghan News reported on March 15 that an Afghan parliamentary investigation found that between 15 and 20 US soldiers were involved in the attack.
The massacre has galvanised Afghan opposition to the occupation. About 2000 university students in Jalalabad on March 13 protested, chanting “Death to America!”, Reuters said the next day.
On March 15, about 2000 protesters took to the streets in Zabul province in the country’s south, the BBC said on March 16.
While the armed opposition of the Taliban and other Islamist militias receives attention in the Western press, unarmed anti-occupation protests have been steadily increasing in recent years.
A focus has been US plans to officially withdraw the US-led forces in 2014 but leave behind a network of US bases.
These protests have been fuelled this year by the appearance of video footage in January of US troops urinating on the corpses of Afghans and the burning of copies of the Koran taken from prisoners at the US-run jail at Bagram Airbase, where detainees are routinely tortured.
In the wake of these incidents, US leaders and their Afghan puppets are in damage control. US President Barack Obama claimed on March 13: “The United States takes this as seriously as if it was our own citizens and our own children who were murdered. We’re heartbroken over the loss of innocent life.
“The killing of innocent civilians is outrageous and it’s unacceptable.”
However, he added that the US would not be speeding up its withdrawal of troops.
Afghan politicians have echoed public anger at the US for taking Richard Bales, the soldier charged with the massacre, out of Afghanistan, rather than making him face an Afghan court.
The March 12 British Daily Telegraph reported that a statement by Afghnistan’s parliament said: “We seriously demand and expect that the government of the United States punish the culprits and try them in a public trial before the people of Afghanistan.”
Since the massacre, Afghan politicians have stridently condemned US violence. President Hamid Karzai called for “international security forces … to be taken out of Afghan village outposts and return to [larger] bases”, Reuters reported on March 15.
However, as Afghanistan’s politicians from Karzai down are beholden to the US-led occupiers who installed them in power, Afghans are sceptical of this rhetoric.
“Our government told us to come back to the village, and then they let the Americans kill us,” Abdul Samad, who lost 11 relatives in the massacre ― the youngest aged just two ― told the March 12 New York Times.
On March 11, at the scene of the atrocity, an elderly woman told AFP: “May God kill the only son of Karzai, so he feels what we feel.”
Afghans have more reasons than their association with the occupiers to hate their US-installed politicians.
When the US invaded in 2001, despite rhetoric about a new era of democracy and human rights, the warlords it allies with shared the Taliban’s misogynist and violent religious fundamentalist ideology. These warlords differed from the Taliban only in being more corrupt and less united.
For example, in a statement protesting against the March 16-17 visit to Italy of Afghan politician Mohammed Mohaqiq, Italian feminist Afghan solidarity group CISDA pointed out: “The men of Mohaqiq are known and feared especially for the abduction of girls, attacking female students on their way to school, who are raped and then their families are forced to pay a ransom.”
Mohaqiq’s work in the Afghan parliament includes sponsoring a law “legally authorising the rape and violence within marriage” the CISDA statement says.
For its part, the Taliban has broken off talks with the US. Intensely unpopular before the US invasion, the Taliban has regained some support on the basis of killing occupation soldiers.
The US has been trying to draw them into the puppet regime. But as the Taliban’s new credibility is tied to its armed opposition to Western forces, its involvement in a US-imposed settlement is dependent on being able to claim credit for forcing the occupation forces to leave.
The March 11 Panjwai massacre was not exceptional. The previous day, at least four civilians were killed in an occupation force air strike in the Kapisa province in north eastern Afghanistan, Press TV said.
Along with air strikes and night-raids by the occupation forces, Afghan civilians are also at risk of being killed by Taliban attacks or fighting between warlords.
The biggest threats, however, are malnutrition, disease and freezing to death ― making a mockery of the occupiers’ claims to be bringing development and raising questions as to where the billions of dollars sent for that purpose have gone.
In the midst of this, unarmed protests by Afghans continue against the occupiers and the warlords.