How not to win hearts & minds
When you wonder how the Taliban survives and thrives in Afghanistan when they murder and kill in large and disproportionate numbers think of this:
On a hillside high in the mountains of eastern Afghanistan there are three charred clearings where the American bombs struck.
Scattered around are chunks of twisted metal, blood stains and small fragments of sequinned and brightly decorated clothes – the material Afghan brides wear on their wedding day.
After hours of driving to the village deep in the bandit country of Nangarhar’s mountains we heard time and again the terrible account of that awful day.
What began as celebration ended with maybe 52 people dead, most of them women and children, and others badly injured.
The US forces said they targeted insurgents in a strike. But from what I saw with my own eyes and heard from the many mourners, no militants were among the dead.
A big double wedding was taking place between two families, with each exchanging a bride and a groom.
So Lal Zareen’s son and daughter were both getting married on the same day.
He gave the account with his son, a 13-year-old groom, sitting at his feet.
"This is all the family I now have left," he said in a disturbingly matter of fact sort of way.
From his story and from those of other survivors, it appears the wedding group was crossing a narrow pass in the mountains which divides the valleys where the two families live.
From nowhere a fast jet flew low and dropped a bomb right on top of the pass near a group of children who had impatiently rushed ahead and were resting, waiting for the women to catch up.
Lal Zareen was waiting expectantly for the guests to arrive when he heard the explosion and began to climb up the steep mountain track to the pass.
Shah Zareen was part of the group up on the path – he had narrowly escaped being caught in the first bomb and told the women to stay where they were as he rushed to help the children.
Shah Zareen picked up one of the injured, ran down to the village and on his way was calling his local member of parliament on a mobile phone to say they had been attacked.
But then he heard the second blast – the bomb had been dropped on top of the women and almost all of them had been killed.
Three girls escaped, among them the bride, but as they ran down the hillside a third bomb landed on top of them.
Shah Zareen explained to me how one of the many new graves contained just body parts of two or three people and the graves that had been dug and not filled were for those still missing – once their remains had been found.
The BBC team I was with were the first outsiders to see where the bombs hit – even the Afghan investigators did not climb up the steep mountainside – and there was much evidence to support the story.
This is not the first such incident. When one peruses the mass death tolls of Iraq and Afghanistan it always seems to involve from either ourselves or some group opposed to our involvement in that country common characteristics: Weddings, Funerals, Marketplaces, or as today in Iraq, the ever targeted recruitment office.
But for a mission so entrenched with winning over the population the occupying force cannot ever afford the error of killing women and children and we have done so repeatedly.
Occupiers are historically unpopular in virtually any circumstance, especially when they stay for a prolonged period. And little is less popular than the anti-septic method of mass murder produced by a bomb from the air, and because of the spartan nature of "allied" forces in Afghanistan this is too often the mode of attack. We cannot find bin Laden, let alone bomb him, but we have dropped far too many bombs and made far too many PR mistakes like this.
Don’t think for a minute that that Taliban aren’t delighted with our methods.
(pic from BBC)