A military investigation has concluded that American personnel made significant errors in carrying out some of the airstrikes in western Afghanistan on May 4 that killed dozens of Afghan civilians, according to a senior American military official.
Final “story” from Afghan government and U.S. officials:
The Afghan government concluded that about 140 civilians had been killed in the attacks. An earlier American military inquiry said last month that 20 to 30 civilians had been killed. That inquiry also concluded that 60 to 65 Taliban militants had been killed in the fight.
Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission‘s final report differs somewhat, and given the tone and their independent stance, their report is probably the most credible:
AIHRC believes that as many as 97 persons may have been killed in the air strikes, the vast majority civilians. Available records suggest that 21 were women and 65 were children (31 of whom were girls and 34 boys.) This raises the presumption that as many as 86 civilians were killed. Witnesses and other sources reported that the 11 other adult males reported killed in these three compounds were also civilians.
Additionally, witnesses and government officials reported to AIHRC that anywhere between 25 and 30 insurgents were killed.
Some things to consider:
Even if the U.S.’s more conservative civilian casualty estimates are true, the U.S.’s own analysis now clearly shows that the incident violates the more permissive “Christian” violence-related ethic, just war theory:
But in “several cases,” the official said, General Thomas determined either that the airstrikes had not been the appropriate response to the threat because of the potential risk to civilians, or that American forces had failed to follow their own tactical rules in conducting the bombing runs.
Jus en bello requires discrimination between combatants and civilians and proportionality in responding to actions that justify your side’s use of violence. That means that even in a more permissive “Christian” analysis than I would use, this incident is a mass murder.
As I pointed out in an earlier post, these kinds of incidents should put the brakes on Christian endorsements of war as “just.” Back in 2002, a whole bunch of Christian ethicists gave the U.S. cover by claiming the action in Afghanistan would fit just war theory. Here’s what they said:
U.S. methods fit the just war principle of discrimination, said John Kelsay, professor of ethics at Florida State University in Tallahassee. Some have estimated that more than 4,000 Afghan civilians have been killed, but Kelsay said the U.S. has used smart bombs and avoided targeting civilians.
This incident and the larger trends show that these ethicists just bought hype and spin and used it to do give the U.S. cover for an action which they supported. As the New York Times reported in March:
…Afghan government forces and those of the American-led coalition killed 828 people last year, up sharply from the previous year. Most of those were killed in airstrikes and raids on villages, which are often conducted at night.
Bottom line: it’s laughable to call Afghanistan a “just” war and mean it in any way in which Christian thought has ever meant that phrase. Just because you feel justified doesn’t mean you satisfy just war requirements. Even a Christian doesn’t interpret Christ’s words as imposing a nonviolent ethic on Christians (which I firmly believe), continued experience in Afghanistan leaves such a Christian without a “Christian” doctrine to cling to in justifying continued military violence in Afghanistan.
Below the bottom line: Just war theory always seems to get us into war and abandon us once we’re there. It’s a farce to try to do the math to keep a violent exercise in line with the nonviolent teachings and life of Jesus Christ. It doesn’t work. Violence has its own spirituality and its own logic, and it does not fit with anything found in the Gospels.
But Sidenstricker, the military spokesperson, takes a very different view. “There is nothing — in the story, or that we’ve seen or heard elsewhere — that says our actions led to additional collateral damage or civilian casualties,” she says.