Timothy Bancroft-Hinchey: US murders 65 in Afghanistan

The Pentagon has admitted that a bombing attack on “Al-Qaeda and Taleban leaders” has taken place in Khost, Eastern Afghanistan but local eye-witnesses claim that they were tribal leaders and senior citizens on their way to Kabul to attend the swearing-in ceremony of the new government of Afghanistan.

The convoy was attacked as it was making its way to Kabul. 14 vehicles were totally destroyed. The Pentagon is adamant that the target was legitimate. Lt. Col. David Lapan declared: “There is no doubt, they hit the bad guys”, while US Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld was more practical: “It was a large convoy. There were a lot of people killed and a lot of vehicles destroyed”.

Information from the ground is different. Local people have told British and Portuguese journalists that those killed were tribal chiefs and elders on their way to Kabul to attend the taking of office of Hamid Karzai, the new interim Prime Minister of Afghanistan.

Pakistani sources claim that informers told the US intelligence operating locally that these forces were Taleban, while knowing that they were supporters of Hamid Karzai. It appears that the officer responsible for this attack, the US General Peter Pace, was acting on intelligence gathered by CIA agents working in Eastern Afghanistan.

However, Sayed Yaqeen, an official of the tribal council in the province of Paktia, where the attack took place, said: “Several Afghan elders, tribal chiefs and commanders were among the victims of the killings”.

The AIP News Agency declared that one of the dead was Commander Mohammed Ibrahim, brother of the Mujaheddin Commander Jalaluddin Haqqani, who fought against the Soviet Army in Afghanistan.

The evidence is confused and the Pentagon’s declaration that its intelligence is right is at least open to question and poses the question as to whether yet another monumental error has been committed, yet again costing the lives of innocent civilians. After weeks of carpet-bombing, hour after hour after hour, it appears at least suspicious that a large number of Taleban and Al-Qaeda leaders, “bad guys” were travelling in a convoy headed for Kabul.

The fact is that target number one, Osama Bin Laden, continues to be elusive. So sure was the USA that they would walk into Afghanistan and take the man they used to fight the Soviets, only now he has vanished into this air, or who knows, the Big Apple? George Bush seemed singularly unconvincing: “I haven’t heard much from him recently, which means he could be in a cave that doesn’t have an opening to it any more or could be in a cave where he can get out or may have tried to slither out into neighbouring Pakistan. We don’t know. But I will tell you this: we are going to find him”. So he has been saying.

Whatever the case, it would appear clear that the USA has lost track of Osama Bin Laden and is desperate to kill him. Whether or not these 65 people killed are Al-Qaeda or Taleban or Tribal Elders, there is temptation to be rash and impetuous over common sense. Basing such attacks on local intelligence means that if this intelligence is unreliable or manipulative, the path is open for monumental mistakes. This being the case, the result, yet again, is war crimes and crimes against humanity. Killing civilians in this way is paramount to wanton mismanagement, criminal recklessness and state terrorism. This being the scenario, the USA in this way would lose any sympathy it could have gained by being the victim of the September 11th attacks, because the mechanisms engendered are no better, or worse.