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Afghanistan: Casualties of War - Is it worth it?


Every military commander has echoed the words of US defense secretary Gates, the current wars "can not be won militarily." The solution, they say, is political and will take a massive civilian and diplomatic effort. Yet, the US keeps raising the military stakes and strikes, particularly in Afghanistan.

In April alone the US military reportedly dropped 438 bombs in Afghanistan. Munitions dropped in Afghanistan have risen 1,100 percent. US Air Force data shows that from 2004 to 2007 tonnage figures jumped from 163 tons to 1,956 tons.

According to the United Nations, bombs have killed over 2000 Afghan civilians in 2008, up 40% from 2007. Overall the number of direct civilian casualties from this war is somewhere between four and eight thousand. Iraqis have lost over 100,000 of their own in that war.

The most recent US bombardment of targets in eastern Afghanistan killed approximately 150 civilians huddled in homes trying to escape the torrent. "The Taliban were using civilians as human shields," was the military's excuse and the news media supported this by questioning how many women and children were slain in the tragedy.

The number has yet to be confirmed, they said. "It's really hard to tell how many there were," said one correspondent. No kidding, after a few multi-ton bombs, the parts are definitely going to be greater than the whole. Talk about loosing hearts and minds.

Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates said, "We regret any -- even one -- innocent [Afghan] civilian casualty." The new Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, apologized to Afghan President Hamid Karzai during the Afghanistan-Pakistan Summit that was taking place in Washington the day after the airstrikes. Despite the "mea culpas," bombs continue to drop and innocent family members continue to be maimed or annihilated.

As the war moves toward Pakistan, Drones or unmanned planes bombarded 50 "supporters" of Al Qaeda there. The problem is that over 700 civilians were killed in the crossfire. They too were in the middle of targeted Al Qaeda assassinations.

At this rate the military has an 8% chance of killing the right people. Definitely better than playing the lottery, but the lotto does not produce more enemies nor does it create a people who are traumatized, bereaved, angry, or seeking revenge.

Leads one to question if the military does a cost-benefit-analysis on civilian deaths verses wiping out Al Qaeda, Taliban or other 'bad guys' in the field. How many dead residents are worth it?

The whole thing brings back memories of that Ford Pinto case where Lee Iacocca figured that it would be cheaper to let people burn to death than pay extra to fix a faulty gas tank. In his estimate, he would have had to spend $87.5 billion more to save people from going up, literally, in an excruciating cloud of smoke. Ford calculated that it would have to pay $200,000 per death and there would only be about 180 of them. (Makes one wonder how some people can look in the mirror let alone sleep at night).

In war, the stakes are much higher, but apparently the value of life seems to be worth much less. In 1970, an innocent victim of bad engineering was worth $200,000. In 2009, a victim in Afghanistan is worth $1,000 to $2,000. No one even bothered to recognize the number of civilian casualties in Iraq.

No matter how you slice it, this type of valueless ethic system seems ambiguous, insensitive and overwhelmingly surreal. In all cases, it is extremely doubtful that anyone is truly comforted by the fact that they will get financially compensated for the loss of a family member -- husband, wife, sibling or child -- especially when it can be avoided.

For the past year the President of Afghanistan has consistently urged troops, as Gen. James Jones, US national security adviser, says, "to make sure that civilians aren't unnecessarily killed or wounded." Gen. David Petraeus echoed this by saying that U.S. commanders need to "do the right thing."

That right thing should be to stop the escalation of this war and start putting a peace process with civilian leadership in place. Until that happens the battle will always remain in the forefront while the millions displaced and killed will continued to be devalued and labeled nothing more than "casualties of war." Many of which could and should be prevented.