The loss of innocent lives is an unfortunate but persistent reality in any war zone, which is why all options need to be pondered before war is declared. The massacre of 16 civilians — nine of whom were children — in Kandahar goes far beyond the regrettable but expected deaths that accompany war. News reports differ on whether it was one US soldier or a group that went on this killing spree, but there can be no doubt that this was a premeditated slaughter of civilians that qualifies as a war crime. So far, US President Barack Obama has only offered his condolences to his counterpart Hamid Karzai and promised further investigation.
This massacre which, according to Afghan witnesses, was carried out by drunk soldiers, who were reportedly laughing throughout, is reminiscent of the behaviour of US troops as they became embroiled in a quagmire in Vietnam. Soldiers who are fighting a war they know cannot be won and for a cause that now eludes them, are bound to snap. Add to this toxic brew, the inherent superiority felt by troops that are armed to the teeth, consequently setting the stage for many such incidents. Then there is the ‘collateral damage’ that is an inevitable by-product of drone strikes and raids, which only serves to further inflame Afghans and it seems that US withdrawal from the country can’t come soon enough.
Unfortuantely, Hamid Karzai cannot afford to complain too loudly about the brutal murder of his citizens. As it is, he is already viewed as an American collaborator and his reputation will take a further nose-dive if the US soldiers responsible for the massacre, are not put on trial. However, his silence further strengthens the hand of the Taliban, who can now legitimately portray themselves as resisters to an overbearing imperialist force. Such is the tragedy of all military invasions. They may start off with high-sounding rhetoric and good intentions but soon descend into senseless violence. There have now been too many innocent lives lost for the US to ever claim the moral high ground in the country again.
Published in The Express Tribune, March 13th, 2012.