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Briefings & Documents Menu / Anti-war Briefings Menu / Briefing 11

18 February 2002

Afghan Casualties
Excerpts from the Marc Herold Dossier

Professor Marc Herold of the Whittemore School of Business & Economics at the University of New Hampshire has compiled a careful dossier of reported casualties inflicted by US military action during the war in Afghanistan. This is a compressed version of the dossier. the complete and fully referenced version is available on the Web.

What causes the documented high level of civilian casualties - 3,742 civilian deaths in eight and a half weeks - in the U.S air war upon Afghanistan? The explanation is the apparent willingness of U.S military strategists to fire missiles into and drop bombs upon, heavily populated areas of Afghanistan.

A legacy of the ten years of civil war during the 80s is that many military garrisons and facilities are located in urban areas where the Soviet-backed government had placed them since they could be better protected there from attacks by the rural mujahideen. Successor Afghan governments inherited these emplacements. To suggest that the Taliban used ‘human shields’ is more revealing of the historical amnesia and racism of those making such claims, than of Taliban deeds. Anti-aircraft emplacements will naturally be placed close by ministries, garrisons, communications facilities, etc.

A heavy bombing onslaught must necessarily result in substantial numbers of civilian casualties simply by virtue of proximity to ‘military targets’, a reality exacerbated by the admitted occasional poor targeting, human error, equipment malfunction, and the irresponsible use of out-dated Soviet maps.

But, the critical element remains the very low value put upon Afghan civilian lives by U.S military planners and the political elite, as clearly revealed by U.S willingness to bomb heavily populated regions. Current Afghan civilian lives must and will be sacrificed in order to [possibly] protect future American lives. Actions speak, and words can obscure: the hollowness of pious pronouncements by Rumsfeld, Rice and the servile corporate media about the great care taken to minimize collateral damage is clear for all to see.

Other U.S bombing targets hit are impossible to ‘explain’ in terms other than the U.S seeking to inflict maximum pain upon Afghan society and perceived ‘enemies’: the targeted bombing of the Kajakai dam power station, the Kabul telephone exchange, the Al Jazeera Kabul office, trucks and buses filled with fleeing refugees, and the numerous attacks upon civilian trucks carrying fuel oil. Indeed, the bombing of Afghan civilian infrastructure parallels that of the Afghan civilian.

Opening Shots
The air attack on Kabul, Afghanistan began at 8:57 p.m. local time Oct. 7th. The following day, Reuters carried an interview with a 16-year-old ice-cream vendor from Jalalabad who said he had lost his leg and two fingers in a Cruise missile strike on an airfield near his home: "There was just a roaring sound, and then I opened my eyes and I was in a hospital," said the boy, called Assadullah, speaking in Peshawar after being taken across the border for medical help. "I lost my leg and two fingers. There were other people hurt. People were running all over the place". Mohammed Raza, an odd-job man, was not so lucky. At 8 p.m. as he was walking back home, near to the Jalalabad airport. A cruise missile targeted at a Taliban facility "a few hundred yards away", strayed and landed next to him. Shrapnel pierced his neck, grazing his spine, paralyzing him.

Three days later, a researcher at the Institute for Health & Social Justice, Partners in Health of Harvard University, H.J. Chien, confirmed that civilians had been killed in Jalalabad and elsewhere. On Oct. 9, the Pakistan Observer [Islamabad] daily newspaper reported on the first night, "37 Killed, 81 Injured in Sunday’s Strikes." The casualties spanned four provinces : Kabul [20], Herat [9], Kandahar [4] and Jalalabad [4]. By Oct. 10, The Guardian reported 76 dead civilians. And by Oct. 15, the leading Indian daily, The Times of India was mentioning over 300 civilian casualties and that the US-UK bombing action was in violation of Article 51 of the United Nations Charter allowing the use of force in self-defense. On the following day [Oct. 16], the alternative U.S media noted that during the first week of bombing, 400 Afghan civilians had been slaughtered.

Yet, the mainstream western press only took note of civilian casualties on Oct. 9 when a cruise missile destroyed the building of the United Nations land mine removing contracting firm, the Afghan Technical Center, in the upper class Macroyan residential district of eastern Kabul, killing four night watchmen. Tellingly, the day before, Oct. 8, twenty other Afghans living near the Kabul airport [in the Qasabah Khana neighborhood] and near the Kabul radio station were also killed. On Oct. 10, the Sultanpur Mosque in Jalalabad was hit by a bomb during prayers, killing 17 people. As neighbors rushed into the rubble to pull out one injured, a second bomb was dropped reportedly killing at least another 120 people [this figure is not included in my tally].

Fleeing the intense bombing in Kandahar, Mehmood, a Kandahar merchant, brought his family to his ancestral village of Chowkar-Karez, a village 25 miles north of Kandahar. His extended family, crowded into six cars, arrived at a village just about when it was attacked by U.S warplanes in the night of Oct. 22/23. Ironically, the cars arriving in the night may have prompted the raid - as the Pentagon labels "a target of opportunity." Said Mehmood, "I brought my family here for safety, and now there are 19 dead, including my wife, my brother, sister, sister-in-law, nieces, nephews, my uncle. What am I supposed to do now?"

At 4:30 p.m. on Saturday, Oct. 27, a U.S bomb and missile fired from a F-18 hit the village of Khan Agaha at the entrance of the Kapisa Valley, some 80 kms northeast of Kabul. The U.S planes dropped 35 bombs in the area. Ten civilians were reportedly instantly killed said an ambulance driver who had gone to the village. A nearby hospital to which victims were rushed, run by the Italian relief agency, Emergency, said up to 16 people had been killed in Saturday’s attack on Khan Agaha. Television photos taken by Britain’s Sky News showed footage of the F-18 dropping bombs, hitting a mud and timber family home. The TV report said ten members of a family were missing under the rubble and another twenty were injured. A five year-old girl lay in a wheelbarrow with a bloodied face.

Compiling The Dossier
This report sets the record straight: we shall document how Afghanistan has been subjected to a barbarous air bombardment which has killed an average of 65 civilians per day since that fateful evening of Sunday, Oct. 7. When the sun set on December 3, at least 3,742 Afghan civilians had died in U.S bombing attacks [roughly equivalent to about 37’000 U.S civilian or the equivalent of ten World Trade Center attacks]. I have relied upon official news agencies, major newspapers, reported first-hand accounts. Whenever possible, I have sought cross-corroboration [the idea being that if a couple of major news agencies report the event, then it is more likely accurate]. I have avoided granting greater reliability to U.S or British sources---the ethnocentric bias. When greater detail was given about the specifics of a bombing attack, I lent it greater credibility.

Military Targets?
When faced with the indisputable ‘fact’ of having hit a civilian area, the Bush-Blair team responds that a military facility close-by was the target. In every case we can document, this turns out to be a long abandoned military facility. For example, in the incident where four night watchmen died when the offices of a United Nations de-mining agency in Kabul was bombed, the Pentagon said it was near a military radio tower. U.N. officials said the tower was a defunct, abandoned medium and short wave radio station that hadn’t been in operation for over a decade and was situated 900 feet away from the bombed U.N. building.

On Oct. 19, U.S planes had circled over Tarin Kot in Uruzgan early in the evening, then returned after everyone went to bed and dropped their bombs on the residential area , instead of on the Taliban base two miles away. Mud houses were flattened and families destroyed. An initial bombing killed twenty and as some of the villagers were pulling their neighbors out of the rubble, more bombs fell and ten more people died. A villager involved explained: "We pulled the baby out, the others were buried in the rubble. Children were decapitated. There were bodies with no legs. We could do nothing. We just fled."

Civilian Targets
The U.S bombing campaign has also directly targeted certain civilian facilities deemed hostile to its war success. On Oct. 15, U.S bombs destroyed Kabul’s main telephone exchange, killing 12. In late Oct., U.S warplanes bombed the electrical grid in Kandahar knocking out all power, but the Talian were able to divert some electricity to the city from a generating plant in another province, Helmand, but that generation plant [at Kajakai dam] was then bombed. On Oct. 31, it launched seven air strikes against Afghanistan’s largest hydro-electric power station adjacent to the huge Kajakai dam, 90 kilometers northwest of Kandahar, raising fears about the dam breaking. On Nov. 12, a guided bomb scored a direct hit on the Kabul office of the Al Jazeera news agency, which had been reporting from Afghanistan in a manner deemed hostile by Washington. On Nov. 18, U.S warplanes bombed religious schools [Madrasas] in the Khost and Shamshad areas. Electricity, telephones, news, and spirituality are ‘fair’ targets.

12 Feb. 2002 Updated Estimates

No month available low count 74 deaths high count 74 deaths

Oct. 2001 low count 1,181 deaths high count 1,398 deaths

Nov. 2001 low count 1,090 deaths high count 1,203 deaths

Dec. - 7 Feb. 2002 low count 690 deaths high count 937 deaths

Total low count 3,035 deaths high count 3,612 deaths

This dossier has presented detailed and reliable information about the large number of civilians killed in U.S bombing and missile attacks on Afghanistan since Oct. 7th. Naturally, some might seek to dismiss parts or all of the report by attacking the sources employed. But, to do so would mean having to accuse news agencies from many countries, reporters from many countries, and newspapers from many countries of lying. We have sought to cite whenever possible multiple sources. The specific, detailed stories provided by victims, on-lookers, and refugees lend credibility.

Natasha Walter has eloquently stated our responsibility: "They are far away from us, it’s true, but their grief still rises from television screens and news reports. And this time around, we are implicated. These people are suffering from terror visited on them from the West. Yes, I know they have also suffered over the years from the evils of their fundamentalist rulers but we now share the blame for their plight. If it were not for the missiles the West has sent into Kandahar and Kunduz, these children whose faces we now see in our newspapers would not have had to take to the roads, desperately trudging the hills and deserts and sitting in tents on a bare plain.

‘And don’t think that just because they have suffered so much during the last generation that their grief is any the less now. Or because they don’t get obituaries in The New York Times that each of the civilian lives lost in Afghanistan isn’t as precious to their loved ones as the people who died in the Twin Towers."

by Stephen Glover, The Spectator, 26 Jan. 2002, p. 9

My pointing out that the official death tool for the attack on the World Trade Center on 11 September now stands at fewer than 3,000, under half the highest estimate used by many politicians. I also remarked that Professor Marc Herold of the University of New Hampshire had worked up some figures which suggest that as many as 4000 Afghan civilians may have been killed by American bombs.

‘So far as I can see, the only person in the world who has produced a comprehensive toll of civilian dead is Marc Herold of the University of New Hampshire... His report strikes me as being surprisingly lucid for an American academic, and measured and balanced in its tone.

‘As I have pointed out before, American and British politicians have consistently suggested that more people died in the World Trade Centre than they should have known was the case. Now, on the other side of the gruesome equation, the American government and its more uncritical supporters in the media are straining every muscle to minimise the number of civilian casualties. There is a brutal calculus here... if, in a month of two or three, neutral parties should suggest that as many Afghan civilians have been killed by US bombs (let alone those who died from mass starvation made worse by the war) as Americans were murdered on 11 September, there will be some explaining to do.’

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