Nato and Afghan government forces have recently launched the largest military operation against the Taliban since the beginning of the conflict in Afghanistan in 2001.
Like the IDF during Operation Cast Lead, US and British troops face an enemy that cares little for the well being of its people.
Like the IDF, US and British forces operate under a military doctrine that aims to prevent civilian casualties.
Like the IDF, US and British forces have found that in a conflict situation, mistakes inevitably occur and civilians are the tragic victims.
According to a BBC report: “A Nato air strike against suspected insurgents in Kandahar has instead killed five civilians, officials say. The group was seen digging on a roadside and was thought to be planting bombs, Nato said. A senior Isaf official said he regretted the loss of life, adding that an investigation was underway.”
This followed an incident only a day earlier when 12 Afghan civilians were reported to have been killed by an errant missile:
Gen Carter confirmed on Tuesday a missile that struck a house outside Marjah on Sunday killing 12 people, including six children, had hit its intended target.
Gen Carter said the rocket had not malfunctioned and the US system responsible for firing it was back in use. Officials say three Taliban, as well as civilians, were in the house but the Nato soldiers did not know the civilians were there.
Initial Nato reports said the missile had landed about 300m (984ft) off its intended target. Gen Carter blamed these “conflicting” reports on “the fog of war”.
The media have also reported that the Taliban have used civilians as “human shields”, including taking hostages:
Before the operation began, the ISAF had picked up some intelligence that the Taliban planned to detain civilians at gunpoint, ISAF officials said. Now, anecdotal evidence suggests that the Taliban in Marjah are trying to force their way into civilian homes. Taliban who’ve been taken prisoner will be interrogated to see whether they can provide information on possible hostages….
“We believe the objective there is to create those as human shields or in the worst-case scenarios maybe even as false civilian casualties. If we don’t create them (civilian casualties), they might create them,” the official added.
We sympathize with the forces currently taking on the Taliban and recognize the difficult dilemmas and decisions that have to made in the course of a military operation.
However, we have to ask why, when the IDF also makes every effort to avoid civilian casualties, is Israel accused of “war crimes” and pilloried in the media when Palestinian civilians are accidentally killed, while the very same media shows a remarkable understanding when similar mistakes occur in Afghanistan.
Can we expect international condemnation in the media or from so-called human rights NGOs when civilian deaths occur in Afghanistan and calls for an immediate end to the military operation? Will there be a Goldstone-style commission of inquiry with the potential for legal action against the US, UK or individual commanders and soldiers?
When Hamas hides behind civilians, the Goldstone Report “finds no evidence” of this. Palestinian casualty figures are quoted by the media despite the exhaustive investigations of the IDF, which dispute the number of civilian deaths during Operation Cast Lead.
Even when Israel presents hard evidence, it is either ignored or outright rejected. Alan Dershowitz refers to Irish Colonel Desmond Travers, a member of the Goldstone Committee:
Travers came to the job having already made up his mind not to believe anything Israel said and to accept everything Hamas put forward. For example, Israel produced hard photographic evidence that Gaza mosques were used to store rockets and other weapons. Other photographs taken by journalists, also proved what everybody now acknowledges to be true: namely that Hamas, as its leaders frequently boasted, routinely use mosques as military munitions depots. When confronted with this photographic evidence, Travers said “I don’t believe the photographs.”
Yet, the above media report, for example, talks of “anecdotal evidence” supporting the claims that the Taliban is using human shields and acknowledges that the enemy may be responsible for creating false civilian casualties.
If the media are prepared to report and acknowledge the possibilities that the Taliban will use such underhand methods in the propaganda war, why can they not acknowledge that Hamas is perfectly capable of using the same techniques and has actually done so in order to tarnish Israel and the IDF?
Why is the IDF treated by different standards to other Western militaries and why is it accused of deliberately targeting civilians?
Isn’t a double standard at work here?