"We have shot an amazing number of people, but to my knowledge, none has ever proven to be a threat," says top American commander.
President Obama's sneak visit to Afghanistan this weekend, although shrouded in secrecy, still received lots of prime press coverage.
At the same time, an astonishing open admission of possible US war crimes by Obama's man on the ground in Kabul, senior American and NATO commander in Afghanistan General Stanley A. McChrystal, was reported by Richard A. Oppel Jr. in the New York Times... and then promptly ignored by the rest of the mainstream media.
"We have shot an amazing number of people, but to my knowledge, none has ever proven to be a threat," McChrystal said during a recent video-conference to answer questions from troops in the field about civilian casualties.
According to the military's own figures, American and NATO troops firing from passing convoys and military checkpoints have killed 30 Afghans and wounded 80 others since last summer, but as McChrystal noted, none of the victims proved to be a danger to the troops.
Despite new rules put in place by McChrystal, aimed at reducing the killing of innocents, such shootings have not dropped off. Although fewer in number than deaths from air strikes or Special Forces operations, their continuance, as the Times noted, "has led to growing resentment among Afghans fearful of Western troops and angry at what they see as the impunity with which the troops operate -- a friction that has turned villages firmly against the occupation."
These persistent "escalation of force" episodes have "emerged as a major frustration for military commanders who believe that civilian casualties deeply undermine the American and NATO campaign in Afghanistan."
A case in point: the murder of Mohammed Yonus, a 36-year-old imam killed two months ago while commuting to a madrasa where he taught 150 students. As Oppel noted, "a military convoy raked his car with bullets, ripping open his chest as his two sons sat in the car. The shooting inflamed residents and turned his neighborhood against the occupation, elders there say."
Although General McChrystal has reduced the number of civilians killed overall -- deaths from aerial attacks, for example, fell by more than a third last year -- shootings from convoys and checkpoints involving American, NATO and Afghan forces continue to plague the coalition. Shooting deaths caused by convoys guarded by private security contractors - not part of the calculation -- make the total number of "escalation of force deaths" far higher than just those decried by McChrystal.
As noted by blogger Allison Kilkenny - one media observer who wrote about McChystal's statement -- what the general admitted to may be a war crime:
"Military brass and the warmongering elite usually skirt war crimes accusations by saying the Iraq and Afghanistan occupations aren't conventional warfare. That is to say, the US is not at war with an official army, so anyone picked up on the battlefield (which is the entire world in the War on Terror) isn't a POW. They're an enemy combatant who does not have access to the protections afforded to enemy soldiers under the Geneva Convention.
This is a tricky way to circumvent accountability, but even this clever interpretation of international law can't cover the stink of McChrystal's admission. The US is occupying Afghanistan, and while there, they are killing innocent civilians, says the highest ranking military official in the country."
So, to recap: the President of the United States visits Afghanistan to deliver personally "pointed criticism to President Hamid Karzai in a face-to-face meeting," after flying in "for an unannounced visit that reflected growing vexation with Mr. Karzai as America's military commitment to defeat the Taliban insurgency has deepened."
The president's visit comes only days after his highest ranking military official confirms in the "Paper of Record" that his military forces have killed dozens of people, none of whom posed a threat - and other media doesn't see fit even to mention that fact?