U.S. helicopters massacre nine Afghan children

Afghan children watch troops patrol their village.

A statement by March Forward!

In one of the most shocking massacres of the nearly decade-long war in Afghanistan, nine children between the ages of nine and 15 were killed March 2 in a NATO airstrike. The children were collecting wood to heat their homes outside of Nanglam, in Kunar province.

The only surviving member of the group, an 11-year-old boy named Hemad, recounted watching his friends killed in front of him: “The helicopters … hovered over us and started shooting. They fired a rocket which landed on a tree. The tree branches fell over me and shrapnel hit my right hand and my side. [The helicopters] shot the boys one after another.” (The New York Times, March 2)

The uncle of one of the boys, who was part of the search party that discovered what had happened, said, “Some of the dead bodies were really badly chopped up by the rockets. The head of a child was missing. Others were missing limbs.”

This is just the latest in a rising tide of violence against innocent civilians in northeastern Afghanistan. In Ghaziabad, scores of people, including children, were murdered in an airstrike in late February. Over the last month, at least 65 Afghans have been killed by U.S./NATO forces, prompting mass outrage and demonstrations. Hundreds of people protested in Nanglam after the massacre, as have people in other villages and towns after other similar atrocities. The reason there is popular support for those fighting the occupation is quite obvious.

Although General David Petraeus publicly apologized for the incident in Nanglam, he took a very different tone behind closed doors. Petraeus made the preposterous, dehumanizing claim that NATO was not responsible for the recent massacres and that the parents had actually set their own children on fire to frame the occupation forces.

One of the meeting attendees who confirmed that Petraeus had made this ridiculous claim said: “I was dizzy. My head was spinning. This was shocking. Would any father do this to his children? This is really absurd.” (Washington Post, Feb. 21)

Petraeus’ statement typifies the imperialist arrogance of the officer corps. This outrageous assertion, coupled with the massive civilian casualties throughout the entirety of the war, reveals one of the fundamental assumptions of the Pentagon brass: All Afghans are to be mistrusted and are all potential enemies. Every Afghan is “fair game,” every Afghan is “suspected.” As a result, using heavy weapons to obliterate any “suspected” individual, even 9-year-old children alone on a mountain, has become an acceptable and widely used military tool.

This brutality has become an increasingly attractive option for NATO generals as the war drags on. Two years after the Obama administration’s “surge” that massively increased the number of occupying troops, no progress has been made towards pacifying the country—in fact, it is the resistance forces who have made gains. U.S./NATO casualties are higher than ever before. The people of Afghanistan have refused and will never accept foreign rule.

Constant civilian massacres only increase the resolve of the resistance, and win more to their side. But the war in Afghanistan itself cannot be waged without high civilian deaths—because the war is against the Afghan people. Like the war in Iraq, the Afghan war is for control of the region’s resources. The White House says there must be “stability” in Afghanistan, meaning safe for Western business and military plans. “Stability” means that the people accept the foreign military bases on their soil that have been killing their family and neighbors.

Which side should we be on?

The massacre of nine children in Nanglam contains another important lesson, especially for GIs manipulated into fighting this war of aggression. The uncle of 14-year-old Khalid, one of the victims, said that, “The children were all from poor families; otherwise no one would send their sons up to the mountains despite the known threats.”

He went on to say about his nephew: “He was studying in sixth grade of the orphanage school and working because his father died four years ago due to a long-term sickness. His father was a day laborer. He has 13 sisters and two mothers. He was the sole breadwinner of the family.”

Khalid was not a member of al-Qaeda or the Taliban; he was a student from a poor family trying to support himself and 15 relatives. As working-class service members, we have more in common with him than the politicians and generals who send us to kill and die while their billionaire supporters lay off and evict our friends and neighbors back home.

The war in Afghanistan is not aimed at keeping the United States safe, but at terrorizing poor and working people like Khalid and his family so that they accept Western rule. We have the right to not be a party to atrocities like this one, or the countless more that will be committed. We have the right and the duty to refuse to fight this imperialist war. 


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