We want to talk to the Afghans about corruption. They want to talk to us about killing civilians.
Up to 100 civilians, including women and children, are reported to have been killed in Afghanistan in potentially the single deadliest US airstrike since 2001. The news overshadowed a crucial first summit between the Afghan President and Barack Obama in Washington yesterday.
President Obama, after White House meetings with President Karzai of Afghanistan and Asif Ali Zardari, the Pakistani President, pledged “every effort to avoid civilian casualties” in the war against the extremists.
His comments followed the expression of deep regret by Hillary Clinton, the US Secretary of State, during an earlier appearance with Mr Karzai in Washington.
News of the airstrikes came as Mr Obama met Mr Karzai and Mr Zardari for a trilateral summit aimed at pressing both leaders to join forces in confronting al-Qaeda and the Taleban. Mr Karzai had travelled to Washington to meet an Obama Administration that has little faith in his ability to take on the Taleban, the massive opium trade funding it, or rampant corruption.
Despite the Afghan leader’s pre-summit vow to make the airstrikes a focus of his meeting with Mr Obama, a top aide to the US President said that Mr Karzai was given a clear message in the Oval Office that he had to do more to clamp down on the bribes and influence-peddling that is poisoning Afghan governance.
That Afghans have got a point. (So do we, but that’s a whole ‘nother issue.) Mistakes are inevitable in war. But killing civilians is a potent recruiting tool for the other side. Alas, apologies voiced by Washington don’t offer much solace to the individuals, families, and communities suffering the casualties.
Yet bombing continues upward. Reports the Navy Times:
Air Force, Navy and other coalition warplanes dropped a record number of bombs in Afghanistan during April, Air Forces Central figures show.
In the past month, warplanes released 438 bombs, the most ever.
April also marked the fourth consecutive month that the number of bombs dropped rose, after a decline starting last July.
The munitions were released during 2,110 close-air support sorties.
The actual number of airstrikes was higher because the AFCent numbers don’t include attacks by helicopters and special operations gunships. The numbers also don’t include strafing runs or launches of small missiles.
Unfortunately, this increases the likelihood of more civilian casualties.
Squaring the circle won’t be easy. But the conundrum highlights the need to look for political accommodations which would safeguard our basic security interests even if they meant abandoning any illusions about creating a liberal Western-oriented Afghanistan.