Rumsfeld’s roving band of executioners

Afghan villagers sift through the rubble of destroyed houses after the coalition air strikes in the Bala Baluk district of Farah province, Afghanistan
Afghan villagers sift through the rubble of destroyed houses after the coalition air strikes in the Bala Baluk district of Farah province, Afghanistan

The Independent reports that US Marines Corps’ Special Operations Command, or MarSOC, which was created three years ago on the express orders of Donald Rumsfeld, was behind at least three of Afghanistan’s worst civilian casualty incidents, including the recent bombing in Bala Baluk, in Farah  which killed up to 147 people including more than 90 women and children. This news comes just days after the Special Forces Lieutenant-General Stanley McChrystal, who was himself involved in the coverup of the death of Pat Tillman, was named to take over as the top commander of US and Nato troops in Afghanistan. His has prompted speculation that commando counterinsurgency missions will increase in the battle against the Afghan resistance.

According to the paper MarSOC faces opposition from within the Marine Corps and the wider Special Forces community with an article in the Marine Corps Times accusing the unit of bringing shame on the corps. The US Army commander in Nangahar likewise said he was “deeply ashamed” of the units behavior which is “a stain on our honour”. Apparently at the first sign of danger, these ‘special forces’ pansies panick and call in the airforce to bomb everything within sight. These are apparently the same skills that they are now imparting to the Pakistani military with, as we have noted, very similar consequences.

Patrick Cockburn opines:

It is astonishing to discover that the same small American unit, the US Marine Corps’ Special Operations or MarSOC, has been responsible for all three of the worst incidents in Afghanistan in which civilians have been killed. Its members refer to themselves as “Taskforce Violence” and the Marines’ own newspaper scathingly refers to the unit as “cowboys”.

The US military commanders in Afghanistan must have known about MarSOC’s reputation for disregarding the loss of life among Afghan civilians, yet for 10 days, they have flatly denied claims by villagers in the western Afghan province of Farah that more than 100 of their neighbours had been slaughtered by US air strikes.

Everything the US military has said about the air strikes on the three villages in Bala Boluk district on the evening of 4 May should be treated with suspicion – most probably hastily-concocted lies aimed at providing a cover story to conceal what really happened. Official mendacity of these proportions is comparable to anything that happened in Vietnam.

The US military now seem to have dropped their previous suggestion that Taliban gunmen had run through the village streets lobbing grenades into houses because villagers had failed to give them a cut of the profits from the opium crop. No evidence was produced for this unlikely tale. Witnesses saw no signs of grenade blasts or machine gun fire. A US official source in Washington eventually admitted that the claim was “thinly sourced”.

Survivors from Gerani, Gangabad and Khoujaha villages say that there had been fighting nearby but the Taliban had long withdrawn when US aircraft attacked. This was not a few errant sticks of bombs but a prolonged bombardment. It had a devastating effect on the mud-brick houses and photographs of the dead show that their bodies were quite literally torn apart by the blasts. This makes it difficult to be precise about the exact number killed, but the Afghan Rights Monitor, after extensive interviewing, says that at least 117 civilians were killed, including 26 women and 61 children.

The US military has now fallen back on the tired old justification that the enemy was using civilians as human shields. This certainly is not satisfying infuriated Afghans from demonstrating students at Kabul university all the way to President Hamid Karzai. Whatever MarSOC troops thought they were doing in Bala Boluk, the killing of so many civilians will do nothing but strengthen the Taliban.

Author: Idrees Ahmad

I am a Lecturer in Digital Journalism at the University of Stirling and a former research fellow at the University of Denver’s Center for Middle East Studies. I am the author of The Road to Iraq: The Making of a Neoconservative War (Edinburgh University Press, 2014). I write for The Observer, The Nation, The Daily Beast, Los Angeles Review of Books, The Atlantic, The New Republic, Al Jazeera, Dissent, The National, VICE News, Huffington Post, In These Times, Le Monde Diplomatique, Die Tageszeitung (TAZ), Adbusters, Guernica, London Review of Books (Blog), The New Arab, Bella Caledonia, Asia Times, IPS News, Medium, Political Insight, The Drouth, Canadian Dimension, Tanqeed, Variant, etc. I have appeared as an on-air analyst on Al Jazeera, the BBC, TRT World, RAI TV, Radio Open Source with Christopher Lydon, Alternative Radio with David Barsamian and several Pacifica Radio channels.

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