Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Al Qaeda Leader Targeted

The target of the bombing that killed seven children in Afghanistan was a prominent Al Qaeda leader known as Abu Laith al Libi:

U.S. special operations forces were targeting the leader of al-Qaida in Afghanistan — one of the organization's top commanders — when they launched an attack against a compound that killed seven children Sunday in Paktika province of eastern Afghanistan, U.S. officials tell NBC News.

Those same officials tell NBC News the target of Sunday's attack was Abu Laith al Libi, the al-Qaida commander in Afghanistan and a top lieutenant of Osama bin Laden. The sources report that although six sets of remains besides those of the seven children were recovered, it's not clear whether Abu Laith is among those killed.

Or to translate, he wasn't killed in the strike. And about those kids:

A coalition statement following the attack said "nefarious activity was occurring at the site" without describing either the activity or the level of al-Qaida present. Army Maj. Chris Belcher, a coalition spokesman, accused al-Qaida of using "the protective status of a mosque, as well as innocent civilians, to shield themselves."

"We are saddened by the innocent lives that were lost as a result of militants' cowardice," Belcher said Monday. But Belcher also contended coalition troops had "surveillance on the compound all day and saw no indications there were children inside the building."

He accused the militants of not letting the children leave the compound.

"If we knew that there were children inside the building, there was no way that that airstrike would have occurred," said Sgt. 1st Class Dean Welch, another coalition spokesman.

Those statements leave you with the impression that the Coalition had no idea there were kids anywhere near or around that building or in the compound, which is not exactly true:

According to several officials, and contrary to previous statements, the U.S. military knew there were children at the compound but considered the target of such high value it was worth the risk of potential collateral damage.

...other U.S. officials confirmed that U.S. forces were indeed aware of the children's presence. Military officials told NBC News the al-Qaida leader was considered such a high-value target it was worth the risk that some children might become casualties of the attack.

Not the risk, but the near certainty. They knew children were in the compound, and were possibly in that particular building, and they bombed it anyway. For what? Nothing, apparently. I am no experienced military strategist, but even I'm aware of the fact that had soldiers attacked that compound there is a much greater likelihood that they would have captured or killed al Libi. The problem of course is that such operations are much more difficult to plan and carry out than a single bombing, and some of the attackers would probably have been killed in the process. Avoiding such casualties is one of the primary reasons we engage in targeted bombings, but it must be understood that the trade-off is greater uncertainty about the success of the bombing, and a much, much greater possibility of civilian casualties. Why is the latter important?

Goodwill toward foreign forces is eroding across Afghanistan because airstrikes and botched raids by U.S. and NATO troops have killed at least 230 civilians this year, an umbrella group for aid agencies said Tuesday.

U.S. and NATO commanders say their forces do all they can to avoid civilian casualties.

Well, that's not exactly true either:

The [Agency Coordinating Body for Afghan Relief] said international and Afghan forces were responsible for the deaths of at least 230 civilians this year, including 60 women and children. Among them, it said, were nine people killed in a "botched house raid," dozens in airstrikes and 14 "for simply driving or walking too close to international military personnel or vehicles."

That includes multiple incidents where U.S. soldiers have opened fire on civilians immediately following suicide attacks on their convoys.

I appreciate the considerable amount of stress our troops in Afghanistan are under, especially as the Taliban are increasing the frequency and lethality of their attacks. And honestly, I'm least concerned about incidents where stressed soldiers fire on civilians; as damaging to goodwill as those attacks are, they're at least understandable in a sense (though that does not mean they are permitted even by military rules of engagement.) But the routine killings of civilians in botched raids and misplaced bomb attacks are entirely preventable, and there's no excuse for them. In case anyone hasn't noticed, we are fighting an insurgency in Afghanistan against an enemy that still isn't that popular among the Afghans (who have not forgotten the Taliban's draconian rule.) They best way to keep the Taliban weak is to let them commit the atrocities and bombings, thus alienating the populace, and then kill them for their trouble.

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