Judy Mandelbaum

Judy Mandelbaum
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FEBRUARY 22, 2010 6:09PM

Civilians pay the price of latest Afghan offensive

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  Marjeh
NATO troops operating in Helmand Province

NATO and Afghan army forces launched “Operation Moshtarak” (“together”) in the opium-rich Marjeh region of southern Afghanistan on February 13, 2010. The 8,000 ground forces and 7,000 supporting troops are ostensibly engaged in a campaign to clear the town and surrounding areas of Taliban fighters. The British commander in Helmand Province, Brigadier James Cowan, called the offensive, which integrates NATO and Afghan forces more closely than ever before, “the beginning of the end of the insurgency.” That may or may not turn out to be true. For now, it most definitely marks the end of security and a normal life for tens of thousands of local residents caught in the crossfire.

Zohreh Soleimani
Photo by Zohreh Soleimani

NATO commanders announced their assault months in advance in the hope that Taliban fighters would slip away and never come back. But local families have also abandoned the town and now have no place to go. By the time the offensive started, some 1,573 families (about 10,000 people) had left the town of Marjeh and nearby communities for the Helmand capital of Lashkar Gah. This time the Afghan government has decided not to set up a special refugee camp for displaced persons from the area. “We don’t want to make this a protracted emergency where people would remain in a camp indefinitely,” Dawood Ahmadi, a spokesman for the governor of Helmand, told IRIN News last week. According to the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) last Tuesday, some 300 families from Marjeh and Nad Ali had so far arrived in the Khashrod district of Nimroz Province and at least 110 families in Nawa district fled to to Bolan district.

In the meantime, refugee numbers have swollen. 22,000 displaced persons are now choking the streets of Lashkar Gah, most of them finding refuge with family members. Those with nowhere to go have sought shelter in abandoned buildings. Marjeh’s population has been halved from around 80,000 to just 40,000. Escape is difficult, both because of the lack of options and the fact that the Taliban has mined much of the area outside of town.

Conditions in Marjeh are appalling. As one local man told IRIN News, “All shops and markets are closed and there is no food for people to buy locally.” At least twenty-one civilians have been killed in recent days, including an attack in Marjeh where twelve civilians died when a rocket hit a house. More civilians died in an unrelated incident on February 22. According to a statement by the Afghan cabinet, “Initial reports indicate that NATO fired Sunday on a convoy of three vehicles ... killing at least twenty-seven civilians, including four women and one child, and injuring twelve others.” There is no word yet on how long the current offensive will last and what good it will do anyone. When the refugees from Marjeh can return home – and what will greet them on their arrival – is anybody’s guess.

The American and British armies call this sort of warfare “courageous restraint,” since it is specifically designed to avoid civilian casualties, although this really begs the question who is really being courageous here – the heavily armed and supplied soldiers or the defenseless civilians, most of them women and children, who are struggling for their very survival and who still believe their lives are more than mere statistics. It’s really all a question of perspective. “I think we will succeed,” General Stanley McChrystal said in a recent interview with The Times of London, “and over the long period of the campaign, I am very confident that the Afghans will succeed.” But which Afghans is he talking about, and just whose “success” is he so confident of? For the people of Marjah these days, success is based on whether you manage to find something to eat for your family, or whether you can escape the latest drone attack with your children’s limbs intact.

  Afghan children

In related news, on February 18 a New York Times op-ed contributor called Lara M. Dadkhah complained that “an overemphasis on civilian protection is now putting American troops [in Afghanistan] on the defensive in what is intended to be a major offensive [and] the pendulum has swung too far in favor of avoiding the death of innocents at all cost.” I’m not sure what planet this person is from, but she’s not from mine. Is she from yours?

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She's an idiot. McChyrstal was on Afghan news apologizing for the deaths. I don't think they were impressed, do you?
I continued to be sickened by what is deemed acceptable in our name. This is a tragedy - one that continues to get worse and worse. Thanks Judy for you spot on reporting...xx a
Hi Judy,

Many "questions" are hidden in this awful atrocity.

Where do the seemingly limitless supply of "Taliban" weapons come from?

Who is profiting from the supple of millions of land-mines?

From my perspective the dynamics of this "war" need further extrapolation.

Before we start pounding away at women and children - regardless of how we "spin" it this really is the case.

Could "we" not spend more resources on finding out who is funding the Taliban?

Who is supplying weapons?

Who is buying the massive drug crops and who is benefiting monetarily?

Are these drugs landing on the streets of the "allies" fighting this war - and destroying their children?

This war cannot continue if there is no money, drugs and weapons.
Choke these off and stop "choking" defenceless civilians.

Your last two posts have been excellent, please do not be discouraged by comments from the "Brain Dead". (Even if you include mine amongst them :-) You are far, far above that.
Great post!

"For the people of Marjah these days, success is based on whether you manage to find something to eat for your family, or whether you can escape the latest drone attack with your children’s limbs intact." So sad, but true. Not exactly the way to win hearts and minds.

As for the NYT Op Ed columnist who wrote "the pendulum has swung too far in favor of avoiding the death of innocents at all cost." This is absolutely sickening. What is the NYT doing allowing this. Oh wait, they pretty much always support war. So much for the liberal press.
Civilians are paying the price for the presence of Taliban. In the last Big One, a much larger number of civilians paid that price for the existence of Nazis.
They don't want to kill civilians, or, they would take 54 B-52 H Bombers and flatten a two by eight kilometer area, as was demonstrated, in effect, in Cobra I, or in Linebacker II, although that is always easy to say from a safe distance.
In the end, whether it is worth it or not depends on whether Afghanistan can get a functioning government, in which millions of people die if that doesn't happen.
As a Reservist who's deployed to three different combat zones, I do want to point out that just because we are 'heavily armed and supplied' does not mean we are in no danger. Bullets hurt. And the Taliban, while doing all sorts of oppressive things to locals, especially women, are specifically trying to *kill* coalition soldiers. I'm not really sure who's better off, comparatively speaking.

I think the point I'm trying to make is that soldiers don't have it great, neither do the civilians, and it probably doesn't do any good to compare the two. In reality, if the Taliban would lay down their arms and join the political process via peaceful means, life would be easier for all parties involved.

The better discussion to have is whether it is 'worth it.' I don't think it's about Afghans suffering at the hands of a US offensive. It's about Afghans suffering temporarily now in return for a *possibly* more peaceful life in the future, and what the alternative is if the US had not started this offensive.

Having said all this, I do appreciate your attention to the suffering of civilians. I get annoyed that the coverage in the US emphasizes one US soldier death over the deaths of hundreds of Iraqis or Afghans, and I acknowledge your feelings for the suffering that's happening in the region. My only suggestion is that you also direct some of your anger towards the Taliban as well.
@Caracalla
"take your complaint to 100 million other regular people who are just concerned with the difficulties of everyday American life (like paying goddamned taxes) and see how much Afghan civilian atrocities turn anybody's crank."
Sorry, I don't catch your drift at all.

@agore
"Civilians are paying the price for the presence of Taliban. In the last Big One, a much larger number of civilians paid that price for the existence of Nazis."
I'm not sure I understand this one either. It sounds like you're saying "you can't make an omelette without breaking some eggs." Has anyone seen this omelette? Who gets to eat it, and when, and at what price?


@Mal Noble
Thanks, you raise excellent questions.

@Jimmy Ho
"I do appreciate your attention to the suffering of civilians. I get annoyed that the coverage in the US emphasizes one US soldier death over the deaths of hundreds of Iraqis or Afghans, and I acknowledge your feelings for the suffering that's happening in the region."
Thank you, that was the entire intention behind my article.
"My only suggestion is that you also direct some of your anger towards the Taliban as well."
I certainly intend to do so. Check out my articles on "Women in Islam" for a discussion of related issues.

@everyone else
Thanks for your kind comments!
Hi Judy, I quote this post in my latest cartoon:
http://open.salon.com/blog/gianfalco/2010/02/23/nato_a_new_strategy_after_27_civilian_afghan_casualties
Provocatative post. As oe who reluctantly thinks we have to try this in Afghn, I'm moved by what you write.
May we cross-post one another's blog addresses on our blog pages? Mine, as I think you know, is www.open.salon.com/blog/jlw1.
"Clear a town" now that is a heckuva euphemism. Kind of like a "carpet bagger" of a war crime. Spread the word, your town could be clear. But it sure beats carpet bombing, not to mention Dadkhah: http://whoisioz.blogspot.com/2010/02/flunkin-social-studies.html Commented on as Roger... Out!
A very sensitive and informative post that begs "courageous restraint" in looking at each link for hope.(well 3 of the 4) And kudos to MalNoble and Jimmy Ho. And just let Caracalla drift.
Judy Mandelbaum.
I look into your avatar's image.
I've met few who carry sad compassion.
I thank you. You are of a 'higher order'.
Please.
Take care.
I ask me/you to find appropriate`Word.
Then, sometimes I say to me`It's all in vain.
But, it's not in vain. You peer`deep and hurt.
I/we and others do too. I raise my hand upward.
I am happy we/me/others share this Earth together.
okay?
Now, since I woke up today, I've bantered, and grieved,
and gotta get beds og flat-seed Planted. Congrats @ EP.
If I raise my two-hands-upward, pause, please know, ay.
So, arms upward, outstretched, and I'm so appreciative.
I mentioned my son and I were at the pre-Earth-Summit.
I always remember that New York wonderful experience.
My son too were token, small-family-farm representatives.
Michael is modest. He attended Art College & then Cornell.
Plant Science and art school, then from secure Gig in DC.?
Michael came Home to improve an organic market-garden.
There is so much to speak of - Then, there's quiet work too.
I'm rambling,
a bantering,
appreciative.
simply said,
Thank You.
Please remind me, why are we fighting in Afghanistan?
I am amazed by some of the comments on this. Why are we in Afghanistan? Remember 9/11. You talk about the civilians. Were they given months to leave? No where to go? Anywhere is better than being in a war zone. Why don't you condemn the taliban for planting thousands of bombs and mines. Do they care how many children they kill? The taliban kill more in one day than the troops will kill in the whole war. Did Bin Laden warn the people in the twin towers. They were just as innocent as the civilians in Afghanistan. You are a citizen of the world. Why pick the U.S. to live in?
@Gianfalco
Wonderful!

@Jonathan
Sure, let me think about where to place it.

@fitness: "Why pick the U.S. to live in?"
So if I mention the actual impact of our actions on civilians halfway around the world it's "America, love it or leave it" again?
@Art
You're very welcome...
I hate to point this out to y'all, but it's not just the civilians - it's our own troops. February is not even over and yet is a short month anyway, and yet US casualties were 30 in January and are already 30 today. They were 15 each for 2009. Feb 2010 will have 37 US deaths at the current rate, probably more. Way to go Obama. The McCHRYSTAL METH-od of war works SO well. Double our soldiers, double our deaths in 2009, increase by another 30,000 and watch 2010 be horrendous as well. Obama, you're SO smar. (geez, even Bush was smarter than that, why do you think Petraeus had to re-hire the Iraqi army?).
Civilian casualties should not be tolerated.
Just imagine if such a situation was here in
the USA.
I always want to ask these folks...so if someone made themselves vulnerable to you, would you just go ahead and victimize them? (e.g. steal money out of their purse if they left it in the room with you alone). and also: "Are you saying that all men will rape a woman who makes herself vulnerable?" Because of course, they'll say No, and then you can point out, so only some men rape women, and who are those men? They're rapists, that's who. Sheesh.
Wow Superb site and exciting comments even more than content:)
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Today the Marines are under extreme heavy fire from the Taliban Regime. I thought the groups name was Black Horse, but I can't be for certain. The have already lost a few good men. They are now waiting for re-enforcements. This basically turned into a disaster recovery mission, and we hope the rest of our men come back alive. My thoughts and prayers are with them.
Americans are just wasting there time there.
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