Sucked into a Quagmire

America's two "great victories" since 11 September 2001 are unravelling. In Afghanistan, the regime of Hamid Karzai has virtually no authority and no money, and would collapse without American guns. Al-Qaeda has not been defeated, and the Taliban are re-emerging. Regardless of showcase improvements, the situation of women and children remains desperate. The token woman in Karzai's cabinet, the courageous physician Sima Samar, has been forced out of government and is now in constant fear of her life, with an armed guard outside her office door and another at her gate. Murder, rape and child abuse are committed with impunity by the private armies of America's "friends", the warlords whom Washington has bribed with millions of dollars, cash in hand, to give the pretence of stability.

"We are in a combat zone the moment we leave this base," an American colonel told me at Bagram airbase, near Kabul. "We are shot at every day, several times a day." When I said that surely he had come to liberate and protect the people, he belly-laughed.

American troops are rarely seen in Afghanistan's towns. They escort US officials at high speed in armoured vans with blackened windows and military vehicles, mounted with machine-guns, in front and behind. Even the vast Bagram base was considered too insecure for the defence secretary, Donald Rumsfeld, during his recent, fleeting visit. So nervous are the Americans that a few weeks ago they "accidentally" shot dead four government soldiers in the centre of Kabul, igniting the second major street protest against their presence in a week.

On the day I left Kabul, a car bomb exploded on the road to the airport, killing four German soldiers, members of the international security force Isaf. The Germans' bus was lifted into the air; human flesh lay on the roadside. When British soldiers arrived to "seal off" the area, they were watched by a silent crowd, squinting into the heat and dust, across a divide as wide as that which separated British troops from Afghans in the 19th century, and the French from Algerians and Americans from Vietnamese.

In Iraq, scene of the second "great victory", there are two open secrets. The first is that the "terrorists" now besieging the American occupation force represent an armed resistance that is almost certainly supported by the majority of Iraqis who, contrary to pre-war propaganda, opposed their enforced "liberation" (see Jonathan Steele's investigation, 19 March 2003, The second secret is that there is emerging evidence of the true scale of the Anglo-American killing, pointing to the bloodbath Bush and Blair have always denied.

Comparisons with Vietnam have been made so often over the years that I hesitate to draw another. However, the similarities are striking: for example, the return of expressions such as "sucked into a quagmire". This suggests, once again, that the Americans are victims, not invaders: the approved Hollywood version when a rapacious adventure goes wrong. Since Saddam Hussein's statue was toppled almost three months ago, more Americans have been killed than during the war. Ten have been killed and 25 wounded in classic guerrilla attacks on roadblocks and checkpoints which may number as many as a dozen a day.

The Americans call the guerrillas "Saddam loyalists" and "Ba'athist fighters", in the same way they used to dismiss the Vietnamese as "communists". Recently, in Falluja, in the Sunni heartland of Iraq, it was clearly not the presence of Ba'athists or Saddamists, but the brutal behaviour of the occupiers, who fired point-blank at a crowd, that inspired the resistance. The American tanks gunning down a family of shepherds is reminiscent of the gunning down of a shepherd, his family and sheep by "coalition" aircraft in a "no-fly zone" four years ago, whose aftermath I filmed and which evoked, for me, the murderous games American aircraft used to play in Vietnam, gunning down farmers in their fields, children on their buffaloes.

On 12 June, a large American force attacked a "terrorist base" north of Baghdad and left more than 100 dead, according to a US spokesman. The term "terrorist" is important, because it implies that the likes of al-Qaeda are attacking the liberators, and so the connection between Iraq and 11 September is made, which in pre-war propaganda was never made.

More than 400 prisoners were taken in this operation. The majority have reportedly joined thousands of Iraqis in a "holding facility" at Baghdad airport: a concentration camp along the lines of Bagram, from where people are shipped to Guantanamo Bay. In Afghanistan, the Americans pick up taxi drivers and send them into oblivion, via Bagram. Like Pinochet's boys in Chile, they are making their perceived enemies "disappear".

"Search and destroy", the scorched-earth tactic from Vietnam, is back. In the arid south-eastern plains of Afghanistan, the village of Niazi Qala no longer stands. American airborne troops swept down before dawn on 30 December 2001 and slaughtered, among others, a wedding party. Villagers said that women and children ran towards a dried pond, seeking protection from the gunfire, and were shot as they ran. After two hours, the aircraft and the attackers left. According to a United Nations investigation, 52 people were killed, including 25 children. "We identified it as a military target," says the Pentagon, echoing its initial response to the My Lai massacre 35 years ago.

The targeting of civilians has long been a journalistic taboo in the west. Accredited monsters did that, never "us". The civilian death toll of the 1991 Gulf war was wildly underestimated. Almost a year later, a comprehensive study by the Medical Education Trust in London estimated that more than 200,000 Iraqis had died during and immediately after the war, as a direct or indirect consequence of attacks on civilian infrastructure. The report was all but ignored. This month, Iraq Body Count, a group of American and British academics and researchers, estimated that up to 10,000 civilians may have been killed in Iraq, including 2,356 civilians in the attack on Baghdad alone. And this is likely to be an extremely conservative figure.

In Afghanistan, there has been similar carnage. In May last year, Jonathan Steele extrapolated all the available field evidence of the human cost of the US bombing and concluded that as many as 20,000 Afghans may have lost their lives as an indirect consequence of the bombing, many of them drought victims denied relief.

This "hidden" effect is hardly new. A recent study at Columbia University in New York has found that the spraying of Agent Orange and other herbicides on Vietnam was up to four times as great as previously estimated. Agent Orange contained dioxin, one of the deadliest poisons known. In what they first called Operation Hades, then changed to the friendlier Operation Ranch Hand, the Americans in Vietnam destroyed, in some 10,000 "missions" to spray Agent Orange, almost half the forests of southern Vietnam, and countless human lives. It was the most insidious and perhaps the most devastating use of a chemical weapon of mass destruction ever. Today, Vietnamese children continue to be born with a range of deformities, or they are stillborn, or the foetuses are aborted.

The use of uranium-tipped munitions evokes the catastrophe of Agent Orange. In the first Gulf war in 1991, the Americans and British used 350 tonnes of depleted uranium. According to the United Kingdom Atomic Energy Authority, quoting an international study, 50 tonnes of DU, if inhaled or ingested, would cause 500,000 deaths. Most of the victims are civilians in southern Iraq. It is estimated that 2,000 tonnes were used during the latest attack.

In a remarkable series of reports for the Christian Science Monitor, the investigative reporter Scott Peterson has described radiated bullets in the streets of Baghdad and radiation-contaminated tanks, where children play without warning. Belatedly, a few signs in Arabic have appeared: "Danger - Get away from this area". At the same time, in Afghanistan, the Uranium Medical Research Centre, based in Canada, has made two field studies, with the results described as "shocking". "Without exception," it reported, "at every bomb site investigated, people are ill. A significant portion of the civilian population presents symptoms consistent with internal contamination by uranium."

An official map distributed to non-government agencies in Iraq shows that the American and British military have plastered urban areas with cluster bombs, many of which will have failed to detonate on impact. These usually lie unnoticed until children pick them up, then they explode.

In the centre of Kabul, I found two ragged notices warning people that the rubble of their homes, and streets, contained unexploded cluster bombs "made in USA". Who reads them? Small children? The day I watched children skipping through what might have been an urban minefield, I saw Tony Blair on CNN in the lobby of my hotel. He was in Iraq, in Basra, lifting a child into his arms, in a school that had been painted for his visit, and where lunch had been prepared in his honour, in a city where basic services such as education, food and water remain a shambles under the British occupation.

It was in Basra three years ago that I filmed hundreds of children ill and dying because they had been denied cancer treatment equipment and drugs under an embargo enforced with enthusiasm by Tony Blair. Now here he was - shirt open, with that fixed grin, a man of the troops if not of the people - lifting a toddler into his arms for the cameras.

When I returned to London, I read "After Lunch", by Harold Pinter, from a new collection of his called War (Faber & Faber).

And after noon the well-dressed creatures come

To sniff among the dead

And have their lunch

And all the many well-dressed creatures pluck

The swollen avocados from the dust

And stir the minestrone with stray bones

And after lunch

They loll and lounge about

Decanting claret in convenient skulls


  Category: Middle East, World Affairs
  Topics: Afghanistan, Conflicts And War, Hamid Karzai, Vietnam
Views: 4848

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Older Comments:
Thomas Smith ... The Americans and their thugs are after eliminating the enemies of peace according to you...! Maybe they should and shoot themselves in the head! Please go somewhere else with your nonsensical garbage you are not convincing anyone here ... like George Bush stands before the world and proclaims "We are a peace loving nation" and massacres thousands in Afghanistan and then claims victory over terrorists..! The American Nation is driven by greed and ambition! They are the cancer of the world ... they are people with no sense of morality that have no reference point for behaviour unless it involves money...! No wonder they voted George Bush as President.... they also would vote for an "ASS" if it had campaign money to throw about..!

Sorry I think they just did that!

Very surprised to see that a white man can see things from a non white position. Johns article is excellent, very truthful and to the point. If we want peace in this world then the USA must stop forcing it's way of life upon others. Most Muslims feel this war on terror is a war on the Muslim civilisation and it will cause long term conflict. The USA will get itself into more problems if it continues like this, wait and see.

People could solve their own problems if the US would keep away. So you see we didn't need a war in Iraq. Where are the weapons of mass destruction? I think we used it on the Iraqis. Saddam was brought in power by the US, against their oposition at the time, Kuwait. Taliban was created by the US to fend off the Russians. Some of you commenters base your judgement on a fraction of the story. Maybe you get filtered or sensored stories. Or maybe you can't read. Or maybe you believe what you want to believe, just to make the other look bad. Some people can't see the truth, even if it were under their nose. Pathetic!

Does Depleted Uranium cause any cancer? It depends on where it is used.

If it was used in US/UK, you better believe it, we will have the best medical scientists, nuclear scientists and lawyers who will prove within minutes that DU causes cancer.

But DU was used outside US and we don't care if it does any harm to others; hence, we deny that it causes any harm.

Remember, Agent Orange. As long as it was used in Vietnam, we denied it caused any harm. When, it was found to be used in US waters, everybody remembers how extensive its coverage was in the press and how extensive were the studies and how extensive were the law suits.

Is Iraqi life worth anything? In US eyes, it is worth nothing. However, the in US eyes, the life of a mentally deranged american is worth more than the life of an intellectual in Iraq.

You got the point.

Asslmkm, dearest brothers and sisters, i wouldn't worry about what Thomas Smith and Alain Jean-Mariet want to say. I know that their lives must be miserable. Their hearts are filled with hate and anger and will never find peacefulness, hope, satisfaction and love (unless they repent). Allah has made their lives restless and full of fear and worry.

You people like Thomas Smith and of course Alain who I know through previous encounters posts Zionist links on this website, are in such a deep state of denial its unbelievable that through all the lies and fabrications that the US and UK Governments spread in the media, hello WMD, Hello the 8 billion dollars wasted on Missile Defense Systems, hello you're illegally occupying other people's land, based on FALSE pretenses, AND the list goes on and on!! The Western governments have not been able to justify with PROOF AS TO WHY THEY ARE IN AFGHAN AND IRAQ!!!! How do you sit there with that arrogant look on your faces, and say that coalition forces are not killing Iraqi's and Afghani's deliberately? As a matter of FACT, this has been reported NUMEROUS times, in both countries. And it is QUITE EMBARRASING for the Tony Blair government that the BBC is now SUING them...oh will you say i'm spreading propaganda, try your best. You foolish American-Zionist think MIGHT IS RIGHT? The bigger they are, the harder they fall.

It shudders me to think what the Americans are doing to to the powerless and the meek. They are picking only on the weak. They make sure the ground is to their advantage, there is no refree, they remove every possible thing that can hurt them in any way, they ask the whole world to close their eyes, those who dont close, they bribe,coerce,threat and then they invite the "the coalition of the willing" and then they began the slaughter. Mostly only the innocents are murdered and for the innocents they term it as collateral damage which every body must accept ot otherwise.I am so saddened at what is happening around the world and for all the faults the poor moslems are blamed, blamed for every thing. only the moslems are painted as bad. they use every available media to depict that the moslem are terrorists. they never want to accept that the people who are doing the so called wrong things are only fighting for their homelands just like the jews did before the Europeans set up their country. The bias here is when the Jews or Americans do they create their own legal justification which at the end of the day the whole world come to know it is a farce, evidence concocted, planted. but when it comes to others the Americans go through a microscope and coin all kinds of words to prove that others are wrong only they are right. and on top of that they never out of sheer arrogance,allow the World Court (which they help to create) to JUDGE them why? because they know in their bones that they are the greatest lawbreakers.I dont know when these nasty Humans are going to be punished by the Creator who created all of us and created the varios religions for the Humans to follow and He has indicated in no uncertain terms which RELIGION He favours. He has created everything for the Humans to test who among his Human creatures are more obedient to His Commands. He has given us brain to think. O Humans please use the Brain for the betterment of all and not to destroy unjustly.

with full regard to mr thomas smith i just want to say after reading ur comments that "Oh Yeah Really!".. It sounds like Bush speaking after taking bribe from oil companies and israel defending his ill deeds.. Everybody knows whats truth in the other part of the world other than US, UK and ISrael..

The idea that Coalition forces are stationed in Iraq and Afghanistan with the deliberate intention of killing innocent civilians is ludicrous. In any life or death situation there are two primary elements at work, both of which are primary to human nature: fear, and the desire to stay alive. These two forces are at constant battle with each other during war. Too little regard or too much disregard for either results in tragedy. It is misguided to paint a picture of the average Western or Middle Eastern citizen as a cold blooded killer because average citizens of any nation the world across care primarily for peace, not death. Sometimes, however, in order to achieve peace and security, you must eliminate the ones who choose to oppose it. If you're Islamic and you think the U.S. is in the Middle East as some sort of holy war, you are wrong. They are not there to kill your children, they are not there to brainwash you. They are there trying to stay alive in the process of protecting you so they can go back home and see the ones they love; the ones they left behind. They are off in a strange foreign land risking their lives to do their job, surrounded oftentimes by unbridled hatred and chaos. If the forces were not there, merciless despots would resume power and the whole cycle would start anew. For those of you pointing fingers, point it at the ones who were the impetus for all of this action. Point at the ones who for hundreds, if not thousands of years now have been unable to resolve their own conflicts and as a result they and their citizenry live in a world where confusion and killing is the norm. If some people in this world would learn to solve their own problems maybe they wouldn't live in constant fear that other people from across the world are going to kill the ones they love under the pretense of whatever their "compelling reason" or "cause" of the day might be. Perhaps everyone involved is guilty of the latter.

I understand alain jean-mariet points.. he/she just tries first to explore if what is written here is true or not.. its a very good approach and very much necessary.. even if a highly talented person writes something it cant be taken as truth for granted. we must always explore and investigate further.. the problem with world is that ppl dont think, they just either blind foldedly support whatever their leaders say as in case of america or they only agree with whoever agrees with their views like in case of again america..

america is cancer of this world following israel and followed by uk..really when i look back at history then i see its only europeans who have made this world a hell.. i dont want to sound racist but its true and problem is that they still dont remorse it and keep doing it. this is one of the worst race after jews in history of world.. and by the way for alaine, a food of thought is that UN have proved that depleted uranium does enhance cancers from the cases of Bosina war where also depleted uranium was used.. its not UN but america who then said their scientists dont have proof so they wont stop using it in iraq occupation.. funny and frustrating.. aint it?

may this world be safe place..amen
shadab hussain

The majority of the americans do not get a clear picture of how aggressive the wars are conducted and do not see the failure of american foreign policy. This is seen especially in the Palestian/Israelli conflict. The Western media is manipulative by failing to show all including the civilian casualties and displaying the rosy side of things on the TV screen especially CNN "HEAD LIES".

So tell me Alain Jean-Whatever! Do you justify what the Americans and their fellow cohorts have done. Are you telling me they don't cherry pick their lies . I will tell you one thing if the Iraq war was because of WMD then what is Israel doing with them.

Have you heard of Vanunu or you are the type that has New York Times for breakfast!

It is a shame that the British cry "unprovoked murder" the killing of six occupation troops while both UK and the US troops have massacred thousands of innocent Iraqis in an illegal war by all standards over the rush to "black gold". They have killed many more Iraqis through the two wars and the punishing sanctions than they accuse Saddam of. Ironically, while Saddam was killing they were supporting him or keeping silent. According to UN sources, 1.5 million iraqis died as a result of sanctions which was termed "worth it" by Madeline Albright. They have also used cluster bombs and Depleted Uranium weapons which continue to kill and maim all Iraqis mostly children. They seem to be getting away with all these crimes against humanity but their time will come sooner or later ...

First part:
John Pilger is an artist; you have to give him that. From the first lines of text, we are in Vietnam, shortly before the debacle. Pilger writes always at the very limit of the controllable and acceptable. He is a specialist, with, what, 40 years, of experience. And he is doing a good job, raising awareness in the west about the not-so-glorious and not-glorious-at-all sides of affairs which agitate the world, mostly wars. But for doing so, he has to do something a "normal" journalist should not do: he is constantly led by a pre-conceived opinion and cherry-picks all facts supporting it while ignoring all the rest and systematically presents his views in a carefully shaded light that reinforces his writings. He doesn't write, he is making written movies, packing events stretching over several years (dozens of years if you count Vietnam, in the background here, which I won't comment here) in a short emotion-loaded and brilliant clip.
But do Americans really "pick up [Afghani] taxi drivers and send them into oblivion", "like Pinochet"? What strategy would that be?
But did Americans really cold-bloodedly attack a wedding party in Afghanistan? What for? It is tragic indeed, but to say it now is not information. What is it?
I failed to find the "comprehensive study by the Medical Education Trust". Is it "War Crime and Medicine"? Where can I get this study, how is it titled, in which form was it published?
According to Pilger, would be "up to 10,000" dead civilians. On the net, later in time, I read between 5570 min. and 7243 max. Pilger adds that this is "likely to be an extremely conservative figure". Well, that must be why he corrected his version beforehand.

Sucked into Quagmire! Come on. US/UK governments knew exactly what they were getting into; it is only the general public who was kept in the dark and will be kept in the dark as long as possible.

It was All About Oil; and it is still about Oil.
So US/UK are going to stay in Iraq till Iraq runs out of Oil. Looks like it is a going to be war for next 25 years or so.

As Pilger himself only writes "may have lost their live", Ill renounce to check the next claim. If there were any good element of evidence, he wouldn't have used this kind of prudent wording.
Idem, to some extent, for depleted uranium. As he doesn't find any good figures (no cancer could be demonstrated yet to be due to uranium, natural or depleted [= less radioactive than natural uranium]), Pilger says that a certain quantity of it "if inhaled or ingested, would cause 500,000 deaths". Uranium is indeed poisonous as a heavy metal and sure is a real concern as such, but the WHO states that "No study has established a link between exposure to DU and the onset of cancers or congenital abnormalities" (this paper and other ones at, which is what is supposed to have happened in Iraq. I don't have the final word on that issue, but I doubt that Pilger does.
Have some "unexploded cluster bomb made in USA" already made victims in the "homes and streets" of Iraqis, as you get the impression reading this article? Well, Pilger only says he found "ragged notices warning people about it". You have to work with what you find indeed.
For the rest, we have to admit that the embargo was nastily "enforced with enthusiasm" by Tony Blair, as though Mr. Blair would fixedly grin thinking of the suffering of sick Iraqi children. Who is sick here?
Obviously, for John Pilger, the results justify the means. And he might very well be right in this specific realm. It is a dirty job to argue against him, because he is talented and he is right to condemn wars and, in the last analysis, all war-supporters. But what about those who just copy and publish away his stuff as if it was the whole truth and nothing but the truth?