The Canadian Election and the War in Afghanistan
by Michael Skinner
Socialist Project Bullet No. 145
American, British and Canadian leaders and NATO officials often express regret for the high levels of Afghani civilian casualties, but routinely blame insurgents for hiding among civilians as the excuse for the deaths, injuries, and property destruction caused by the American Operation Enduring Freedom and NATO forces.
“We are in a different moral category” than the insurgents, said NATO Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer, because, he claims, the majority of the Afghani people support the NATO forces (Washington Post, 22 May 2007).
However, the Geneva Conventions of War, amended in 1977 in response to counterinsurgency tactics used by American forces in Vietnam, explicitly forbid the tactics currently used in Afghanistan.
The Geneva Conventions of War state:
“... the Parties to the conflict shall at all times distinguish between the civilian population and combatants and between civilian objects and military objectives” (Article 48); and “The presence within the civilian population of individuals who do not come within the definition of civilians does not deprive the population of its civilian character” (Article 50-3).
The Conventions do not provide any exemptions for military forces claiming to be in “a different moral category.”
Canadian Forces in Afghanistan use a hundred tanks and an unknown number of even more destructive heavy artillery cannons. When forward operating forces take fire from insurgents, observers report the suspected position of the source of fire to the artillery that is many kilometres behind the forward positions. One shot from a tank or cannon can destroy a home or building and kill or injure anyone nearby. If Canadian artillery forces are not within range, American or British airplanes are called in to do the job. Observers try to determine at a distance whether civilians are in the kill-zone, but 'collateral damage' to civilians and their property is inevitable.
If a Canadian police force could bomb a Canadian neighbourhood with impunity, whenever the police suspect an alleged criminal is hiding there, I doubt many Canadians would accept this tactic. Why do we accept it when aimed at Afghanis? Why do we accept it when most of the world condemns such a tactic and explicitly forbids it in international law?
When visiting Afghanistan in 2007 as part of a team of independent researchers (read my dispatches), independent observers told us the Canadian Forces do use a “humanitarian” option that sets Canadians apart from the Americans. During large scale search-and-destroy missions, Canadian Forces reportedly will give an evacuation order to inhabitants of a village or specific area. Once the time limit of the evacuation period (often twenty-four hours) has expired, the forces move into the area to search for weapons and insurgents. In order to prevent unnecessary losses soldiers do not search inside suspected buildings, water-wells, food storage structures, etc. Any structure that might house a weapons cache or insurgents is destroyed.
One witness, who works throughout Kandahar with a humanitarian agency, told us that Canadian officers seem truly “mystified” when people “choose” to become refugees after their homes, farms, and businesses are destroyed by the forces that are supposedly liberating Afghanis.