“What we figured out is that people in the Pech (Afghanistan) really aren’t anti-U.S. or anti-anything; they just want to be left alone. Our presence is what’s destabilizing this area.”
The above quote is attributed in today's New York Times to US military sources explaining their decision to withdraw from a valley in Afghanistan's Kunar province.
This decision follows the killing of 65 civilians, including 50 women and children, in a recent NATO air strike in the Kumar province, as reported by the BBC. As is normal in such increasingly frequent incidents, the US and NATO disagree with the Afghan government and deny civilian deaths. But Afghans are convinced that NATO routinely bombs and shoots innocent people - and that belief is one of the things that keeps the insurgency alive.
I think the conflicting Afghan and American narratives of such incidents can easily be extended to what is happening in US predator strikes in Pakistan's FATA region. Such strikes from the sky are creating a much more dangerous situation by killing many innocent civilians and fueling the revenge attacks that are destabilizing nuclear-armed Pakistan.
Research by New America Foundation found that civilians made up 32 percent of deaths from drone strikes in Pakistan. This count appears to be low, as its data is taken from major U.S. and English-language Pakistani news outlet reports and accepts their characterizations of "civilians" and "militants."
The Campaign for Innocent Victims in Conflict (CIVIC) conducted an on-the ground investigation of American drone strikes (from 2009 and early 2010), and concluded that the nine attacks they surveyed produced a total of 30 civilian deaths (10/10). The CIVIC report points out that Pakistani media outlets, based on government figures, put the civilian death rate from drones at about 90 percent.
The increasing deaths of innocent civilians from American CIA drones are not helping enhance the security of the Americans or Pakistanis. On the contrary, such illegal and immoral tactics are fueling more revenge attacks by suicide bombers in Pakistan. It's become a macabre war of the drones pitting American Predators and Reapers on one side against the suicide bombing human drones on the other side, with devastating carnage of mostly innocent civilian Pakistanis. There has been at least one case of Times Square bomber Faisal Shahzad who cited drone deaths in Pakistan as his reason for wanting to harm innocent American civilians.
It is time for the US to recognize that its continued military presence and CIA's covert war "is what’s destabilizing” not just a small valley in Kunar province but the entire region. The people in the region are not inherently "anti-U.S. or anti-anything; they just want to be left alone". And the sooner America recognizes this reality, the better it will be for the peace and security of the Americans and the people of the entire "Af-Pak" region.
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