No More Open Season on Afghan Civilians? Maybe.
I am still smiling – and at times teary – at the thought that we have elected Barack Obama. The joy of Grant Park – and it was a night of astonishing joy – is an important sign to all of us that change is possible. Walking up Michigan Avenue afterwards with Marnix Peeters of Het Laatse Nieuws in Belgium, we paused to remember ’68 and think on the distance we have come – and how this night might change America’s role in the world.
People near Kandahar in Afghanistan were also celebrating last week, celebrating a wedding – and once again, US air strikes brought death and despair rather than joy to these innocents. 37 died, 35 more were wounded. Nine “insurgents” were also killed. This time, the Pentagon and the Afghan government seem to agree on what happened – "insurgents" used the civilians as human shields during a battle with US forces:
The U.S. military said Thursday that civilians attempted to leave during the battle in Shah Wali Kott, "but the insurgents forced them to remain as they continued to fire on the ANSF (Afghan National Security Forces) and Coalition forces along the highway."
The Kandahar attack was followed on Thursday by another:
The latest incident happened Thursday morning in northwestern Afghanistan and left up to 30 civilians dead, according to officials in Badghis province.
There is one hopeful sign however:
"I’ve given direct guidance, and so has my boss to me, that if there’s any doubt at all that the enemy is firing from a house or building where there might be women and children, that we’ll just back off," Maj. Gen. Jeffrey Schloesser, the commanding general of the 101st Airborne Division, told CNN’s Barbara Starr.
"That potentially is something that we did not do before, but now because of this increased emphasis, we are doing," he said …
"We’ve gotten new guidance that we had before the president talked, or expressed his greetings to President-elect Obama," he said. "So it’s not that that’s new, it’s just that we’re trying with renewed emphasis to avoid any kind of thing like that."
Let’s remember that "any kind of thing like that" is specifically prohibited by international law which is very clear on the responsibilities of armed forces:
The Geneva Conventions and Additional Protocols stipulate that civilians may never be targeted for attack; attacks may only be directed against specific military objectives. In directing attacks against military objectives, the law requires precautions to be taken to ensure that civilians are protected against the effects of the attacks. If an attack against a military target is expected to result in civilian harm despite precautionary measures, the attack must be cancelled if the incidental harm caused to civilians or civilian objects would be disproportional (excessive) to the direct military advantage anticipated.
While Major General Schloesser seems uncomfortable suggesting that these new orders have been influenced by the coming change of commander in chief, we can demand that there’s a lot more “renewed emphasis” on following international law in both Iraq and Afghanistan.
After all, we’re the “bottom up” force President Elect Obama thanked Tuesday night – let’s make sure he hears from us.