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Special Ops Killing of Civilians in Afghanistan: A Pattern of Brutality, Denials and Outrage

U.S. and allied forces storm an Afghan family’s home. They kill civilians. They lie about it. The public affairs officer denies it. Outraged community members are outraged. Violence spikes. More people die.

This is an all-too-familiar pattern in Afghanistan, and it’s got to stop.

U.S. and allied special forces are under fire in Afghanistan for killing civilians in Gardez, a town in Paktiya Province, and for attempting to hide their crime and smear journalists who caught them. This incident is striking for the brutality of the cover-up (troops reportedly dug the bullets from the bodies to try to hide their crime) and because pregnant women died. But a simple look at the most recent record shows that it’s hardly unique:

ALI DAYA, Afghanistan (AFP) — An Afghan army colonel whose wife and children died in a US-led raid demanded action against the troops responsible Friday as President Hamid Karzai condemned the killings.

The operation in the eastern province of Khost around midnight Wednesday killed the wife of Afghan National Army artillery commander Awal Khan, two of his children and a brother.

The troops, who had been hunting a militant linked to radical Islamist groups, also shot a pregnant woman and killed her unborn baby, which had almost come to term, Khan and a provincial health official said. The woman survived the shooting.

Coalition troops killed almost 100 civilians killed last year in the Afghanistan during night raids. Open Society Institute’s Erica Gaston (featured in the Rethink Afghanistan documentary) wrote in a Foreign Policy piece in January that describes the danger this sort of behavior poses not just to Afghans, but also to Americans:

Reports of abuse — punching, slapping, or other mistreatment — during these raids are frequent. According to the UN, at least 98 civilians were killed in these incidents in 2009.

…I was recently speaking to a group of Afghan National Army commanders who had just been trained in new counterinsurgency strategy about the importance of protecting and respecting civilians. He told me I should save my lessons for international forces. “Just last week they raided my house and three members of my family were taken away,” he shouted, obviously enraged. “If they continue like this, soon I will become an insurgent rather than a counterinsurgent!”

Indeed, some of the family members who survived the Gardez attack threatened suicide attacks unless their loved ones’ killers were brought to justice. The larger statistical picture in Afghanistan urges us to take this reaction seriously. McClatchy Newspapers:

Night raids have been criticized because of a recent admission by the coalition that its forces had killed five civilians, including three women, in a botched night raid two months ago. Afghan investigators have alleged that U.S. forces tried to cover up the killings, and NATO was forced to backtrack on initial reports that implied that insurgents had killed the women.

“You may have killed five insurgents, but created 10 more,” Gross said. “Or 20. You have an entire village that has moved over to the side of the insurgency.”

The U.S. military is pointing to a new academic study that bolsters that argument.

In briefings based on military data, academic researchers who were advising McChrystal recently presented officials in Kabul with groundbreaking analysis documenting a dramatic spike in violence after Afghan civilians were killed in coalition attacks.

In a PowerPoint presentation that McClatchy Newspapers obtained, the researchers concluded that violence jumped by 25 to 65 percent for five months after Afghan civilians died in such attacks.

Counterinsurgency that relies on night raids is a recipe for more outrage and violence in Afghanistan. This pattern of brutality, denial, outrage and revenge has to stop.

If you want to help us stop it, join us on Rethink Afghanistan’s Facebook page.