BBC News reports that NATO forces are accused of killing dozens of civilians in recent days in ground and air strikes in eastern Afghanistan. Various Afghan authorities put the deaths at 50 to 64-civilians. All NATO owns up to is killing 30-insurgents.
Governor of Kunar Province, Fazlullah Wahidi, said on Sunday that 20 women and a number of children were among the 64 civilians killed in the district of Ghaziabad over the last few days.
Shortly afterwards, President Hamid Karzai said that, based on information from Afghanistan's spy agency and local officials, troops had killed more than 50 civilians during days of operations.
Mr Karzai said " about 50 civilians have been martyred during international military forces operations in Ghaziabad district in Kunar province," according to AFP, adding that he " strongly condemns" the killings.
This is an ongoing problem that bedevils NATO commanders - you simply cannot wage modern military warfare against a guerrilla force that has already infiltrated populated areas without wiping out a lot of civilians. Some times you'll get lucky. Some times the bad guys will come out in the open to attack you. But when you go after them in populated areas their odds of coming out ahead in the battle for hearts and minds go through the roof. Every civilian you take out is an enormous victory for them.
It's gotten to the point where you can't even expect support from the very government you're fighting to support. Karzai and the provincial governors won't lay this sort of thing at the feet of the insurgents. No, they'll come right out and condemn us. They'll even describe the killings with the highly loaded word "martyr." These civilians didn't just get wiped out, they were martyred, they died for something. The women and children were martyred. We martyred them. That puts us in the position of those folks who lashed Joan of Arc to that stake and set the fire at her feet.
As a verb, martyr means "to put to death for adhering to some belief; to persecute, to torment, to torture." Of course that's our Western take on it. Martyrdom has a much different meaning to Muslims. Let's put it this way. In the context of infidels killing Muslims, it's really not a good thing. It's sort of like a religious execution that is intertwined with another concept, Jihad.
As far as the Afghan population goes, I'm not really sure it matters all that much whether we actually killed these civilians. The word is out that we did, that we martyred their countrymen. They've heard that from their president, from their provincial governor and, undoubtedly, from the Talibs to boot.
Oh please, can we go now?