The election of Barack Obama brought hope for change in our war policy, but this was an illusion. Early in his presidency he negotiated the withdrawal of all U.S. combat troops from Iraq over a 19-month period. However, this has now been extended to possibly 10 years; although this is slightly better than the 100 years suggested by John McCain.
Then came the comprehensive new strategy for Afghanistan and Pakistan in which he stated, “We have a clear and focused goal: to disrupt, dismantle and defeat al-Qaida in Pakistan and Afghanistan and to prevent their return to either country in the future …”
This column looks at the human costs of escalating the “war of terror” better known as the “war on terror” and offer suggestions for ways to get the voices of peace and sanity heard.
The BBC reported that in the first six months of 2009, the conflict in Afghanistan had resulted in 1,013 civilian casualties compared to only 818 in 2008 and only 684 in 2007. There has been a parallel rise in suicide bombing and roadside explosives, which usually result in many civilian deaths. There were no suicide bombings in Afghanistan before this “war of terror” began. The report says that from 2007 through 2009, insurgents were responsible for more deaths than the government-allied forces were, but two-thirds of the deaths caused by government-allied forces were from airstrikes. Recently, U.S. warplanes dropped bombs in a village in the western province of Farah that resulted in about 100 women, children and men turned into corpses and bits of human flesh by iron fragments. The Afghan survivors carted dozens of corpses in trucks from their village to the provincial capital to publicly denounce the carnage, shouting “Death to America!” U.S. forces have actually killed more civilian Afghans during 2009 than the Taliban has. Our military approach has backfired and has become a great recruiting tool for the Taliban.
Those who are fighting this war also suffer. We usually hear about the number of U.S. soldiers killed in combat, but not so much about the less visible injuries to the psyche. Author and activist Arundhati Roy says that you can’t expect soldiers to wage war and not bring it home. In January, the suicide rate for active-duty sol-diers was higher than the total number of soldiers killed in Iraq and Afghanistan during the same month. An army unit based in Fort Carson in Colorado Springs has a murder rate 114 times the rate for Colorado Springs at large.
Why are record number of soldiers killing themselves and others at home? While the military has implemented a number of new policies and programs to help returning soldiers adjust to civilian life, the killing has continued. Clearly symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder are not being recognized and treated adequately and this affects their lives, their families and the communities they return home to. They have become direct and indirect casualties of this “war of terror.”
Our military approach in Iraq has not made Iraq peaceful or improved the infrastructure in Iraq. It has continued to drain money from essential services here at home — veterans’ health care, health care in general, education, housing, etc. Why are we repeating the same pattern in Afghanistan, including a surge in soldiers which will result in a surge of civilian casualties and later a surge in soldier suicides and murders?
This is not the change we hoped for. How do we pressure President Obama into changing this strategy? It begins with educating ourselves and our communities about Afghanistan and exposing the human impact of war on Afghanis and Americans. The video “Rethink Afghanistan” will be shown Aug. 26 in Waterville, Aug. 27 in Belfast and Sept. 20 in Bangor. Go see it and bring a friend. There will be rally against the escalation of the occupation of Afghanistan in Boston on Oct. 17 to coincide with date of the invasion of Afghanistan in 2001.
The grace period for President Obama is over. We cannot afford to remain silent. It‘s time for peace which lays the foundation for real security.
Katrina Bisheimer of Bucksport is a psychiatric nurse.