Utne Blogs > Politics

Seven Years of Trading Afghan Deaths for American Security

Afghan Operation Engelhardt

"Almost like clockwork," writes Tom Engelhardt, "the reports float up to us from thousands of miles away, as if from another universe. Every couple of days they seem to arrive from Afghan villages that few Americans will ever see without weapon in hand ... Unfortunately, those news stories are so unimportant in our world that they seldom make it onto, no less off of, the inside pages of our papers. They're so repetitive that, once you've started reading them, you could write them in your sleep from thousands of miles away."

In his latest TomDispatch post, Engelhardt counts the dead in Afghanistan and wonders why he is so utterly alone in doing so.

"We forget these killings easily—often we don't notice them in the first place—since they don't seem to impinge on our lives," he writes. "Perhaps that's one of the benefits of fighting a war on the periphery of empire, halfway across the planet in the backlands of some impoverished country. One problem, though: the forgetting doesn't work so well in those backlands. When your child, wife or husband, mother or father is killed, you don't forget."

It's numbing to think how many children, wives, husbands, mothers, or fathers Afghanistan has lost. I remember, way back in 2003, one of those reports “you could write in your sleep.” American forces fired on a building near the city of Gardez. They believed that a renegade Afghan commander, Mullah Jalani, was storing weapons in the compound. Jalani himself may even have been sleeping there. So the compound was shot up. There were explosions. And the next day when troops showed up to assess the damage, six children were found crushed under a collapsed wall. And there were two dead adults. Neither of them were Mullah Jalani.

Lt. Col. Bryan Hilferty was the man tapped to explain this one to the press. "We do make mistakes," he said. "War is an inexact art."

To the people who loved each of those six children, of course, war is not an "inexact art," it is murderous folly.

"And how exactly do we explain this ever rising pile of civilian dead to ourselves?," Engelhardt asks, five years and countless tragic blunders later. "It's being done, so we've been told, for our safety and security ... What a bad bargain it's been—and all in the name of our safety, and ours alone."

Source: TomDispatch