Isaac Mangena
Isaac Mangena

Licensed to kill: US soldiers in Afghanistan

My colleague Sokhu Sibiya recently said to me that American children are always taught from a young age in their living rooms that they are superior to any other nation in the world. She was responding to the discussion we were having about the recent killing of 16 civilians in Kandahar, Afghanistan.

“They watch movies, which are made in the US. Every movie shows them that they kill one American and we kill twenty terrorists, mostly un-American and Muslim-like,” she added.

This caught me off-guard, but I believe she is right.

The actions of the US soldiers in Afghanistan, Iraq, or even in Libya, suggest they are a law unto themselves. The recent madness, for those who don’t know, involved a 38-year-old US soldier who was formerly deployed to Iraq. Last Sunday night, he walked out of his base to the nearby village of Panjwai where he gunned down 16 people, mostly women and children, in their sleep. As if that was not enough, he set some of them alight. The soldier is in custody, not of the Afghans on whose land the crimes were committed, but in US military custody. US investigators are trying to “learn more about what happened – and what may have precipitated the incident”. And, as expected, some don’t think a sane US soldier could go out of his way to kill. A U.S. official is already pleading mental instability (on the soldier’s behalf), saying “the accused soldier had suffered a traumatic brain injury while on a previous deployment in Iraq”. Not surprising at all.

If that’s the case, why had they not picked up that something was wrong with this soldier before making him the shephard of Afghan citizens? Were the US authorities not putting these citizens in the firing line? How many of these “mentally unstable” US soldiers are still in Afghanistan, with guns, and could possibly carry out similar attacks?

And why do we rule out hatred, which I suspect was the case here? If the unnamed soldier was mentally unstable and felt like dropping a few people with his gun, why didn’t he shoot his own colleagues at the base instead of killing defenseless Afghan civilians?

Even US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton claimed after the incident, “This is not who we are…” Really, Mrs Clinton?

How many times have your soldiers gone out on a rampage, either shooting point-blank at civilians, or sending pilot-less drones to drop bombs on villagers? The UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (Unama), puts the number of civilians killed in the conflict in 2011 alone at more than 3000, and it says most of these civilians were killed and injured in airstrikes and night raids by your men, Madame Clinton. Who can forget the “Kill Team” of 2010? (They were a group of five soldiers who were members of the platoon based at Maiwand in the southern Kandahar province. They were charged with the murder of three Afghan civilians whose body parts they collected as trophies.)

And how many of these soldiers are actually doing time for such atrocities? How many “faked” combat missions, Madame Clinton, that were used to kill Afghan civilians, as revealed by US army medico Jeremy Morlock in his plea last year, were undertaken?

I think this is barbaric. I think by allowing those who killed before to literally get away with murder, the US has effectively given its soldiers the licence to kill. I wouldn’t be surprised if this lunatic walks – it’s happened before. As the war heightened, most of these soldiers were made to, as one analyst put it, simply see all of Afghanistan as “enemy territory” and every Afghan as a “potential terrorist”.

It’s a pity that laws were designed (with this kind of situation in mind) to allow foreign soldiers (Nato) in Afghanistan, Iraq, and other places, not to be put on trial in those countries where the crimes are committed, but in their countries of residence. As Sam Zarifi, Asia-Pacific director at Amnesty International points out, “The current lack of accountability fuels and fosters a perception in the country that international forces do not care enough about the well-being of Afghans and are above the law and unaccountable for their actions.” This will in turn make it difficult for the locals to trust the forces; it makes the Taliban heroes and it will complicate US efforts to reach an agreement with the Afghan government on post-2014 security arrangements.

It would seem that for the US, life is cheap when it’s not American.

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