NATO officials in Kabul have to-date refused to explain why one of its helicopter gunships killed two young shepherd boys on February 28, 2013. The killings took place in the Shadid-e Hasas district of Uruzgan province. The children were collecting firewood and walking behind their donkeys in a local field. According to The New York Times, the deceased were Toor Jan and his brother Andul Wodood.
The commander of NATO forces, Marine General Joseph Dunford announced on March 8, 2013 that the coalition accepted full responsibility for the deaths. General Dunford, in a prepared statement, refused to identify the victims. Instead, he argued that NATO troops thought that the children were insurgents and that it was all an accident. NATO claims that Australian troops flying in a helicopter had been fired upon earlier in the day, and one or more gunships were then sent out to find those involved in the shooting. According to Australian sources, it was an American military helicopter that fired on the children. NATO’s statement raises more questions than it answered.
General Dunford need to provide the world with facts, not conclusions. Whether the shootings were a mere mistake or criminal negligence depends on the facts and the public has yet to hear any of the facts.
Question No. 1: What did the Americans actually see that convinced them that the two children were armed terrorists? Where is the video and why has it not be released?
Question No. 2: Why was no attempt made to arrest these alleged terrorists?
Question No. 3: Are NATO forces authorized to kill anyone they think might be a terrorist, even if they are not armed?
Question No. 4: Is all of Afghanistan a free-fire zone (as this author suspects)? Does this allow NATO forces to kill anyone who might be a terrorist supporter or sympathizer? How do they decide who is a sympathizer? How low is the threshold for killing another human being?
Question No. 5: Are NATO forces authorized to kill children, and is there an age below which they cannot kill a child?
Question No. 6: Who authorized these killings and who carried them out? The world deserves to know. Those involved need to publicly explain their conduct. Why is there no criminal investigation underway?
A broad mandate that permits NATO to kill anyone it suspects is a terrorist supporter, even if that consists of two unarmed children in a field tending cattle, pulls NATO down to the level of the Taliban and al-Qaeda. An honorable military would be transparent. If it was a genuine accident, then NATO would not be afraid of the facts. If these two children do not matter to NATO (which appears to be the case) then fate should not be kind to the Alliance as it has lost its legitimacy.
There are shades here of the Vietnam War. In 1969 reporters interviewed members of the 23rd Infantry (Americal) Division. This unit was accused of causing excessive civilian casualties in Quang Ngai province. The troops said that they were allowed to kill a farmer who flees when Americans approach because an innocent person would not flee; therefore the farmer must be Viet Cong. Under questioning, the soldiers admitted that they were also allowed to kill a farmer who did not flee. The theory was that this is a clever Viet Cong.
The reality is that excessive violence by NATO is fueling the insurgency in Afghanistan. It creates sympathy for the Taliban and provides the Taliban with recruits. While NATO officials publicly admit that they cannot shoot their way out of this war, on the ground they seem desperate to stem the increasing Taliban successes and the growing insecurity in the countryside. The solution chosen is to ratchet up the violence.
If the NATO killings do not cease, the West might well discovery that it will have to fight its way out of Afghanistan, just like it fought its way into Afghanistan. Perhaps now would be a good time for General Dunford to read up on a comparable Western blunder, Napoleon’s invasion of Russia. His retreat from Moscow in the winter of 1812 did not go so well.