Leon Panetta, the over-his-head US secretary of defense, is in Afghanistan today after a day on which the greatest number of civilians were killed so far in 2012. But Hamid Karzai, the Afghan president, isn’t there. He’s in Beijing, meeting with the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, an all-Asian bloc led by China and Russia. The SCO, not surprisingly, is expressing a greater interest in building ties with Afghanistan as the United States begins its long, drawn-out drawdown to 2014. And Panetta, it seems, is trying to interest India, a rival to China, which is taking a greater interest in Afghanistan too. It’s the Afghan endgame.
First, the civilian dead.
Karzai is charging that a NATO airstrike killed eighteen Afghan civilians, including woman and children, as part of a US-led ground operation in Logar province. Reported the AP: “Villagers displayed 18 bodies at the provincial capital on Wednesday, including five women, seven children and six men.…
“This is unacceptable. It cannot be tolerated,” President Hamid Karzai said in a statement condemning the strike in Logar. He criticized NATO for not being able to provide an explanation for the vans piled with bodies of women and children that villagers displayed to reporters.
What’s especially sad about the slaughter in Logar is that it occurred immediately following a suicide bomb attack blamed on the Taliban in which three suicide bombers killed twenty-two innocent civilians at a marketplace in Kandahar. Taken together, the two incidents represent the worst day of violence in Afghanistan so far this year, providing further evidence—if any was needed—that that idea that the United States is making things better in that war-battered nation is a sick joke.
The Times reports:
President Hamid Karzai condemned the strike in the strongest terms and decided the episode was serious enough to cut short his trip to China where he was participating in the Shanghai Cooperation Organization summit meeting. “NATO cannot justify any airstrike which causes harms to the lives and property of civilians,” Mr. Karzai said in a statement released by his office.
Like many such airstrikes that result in civilian casualties, the Logar attack involved units of US Special Operations Forces on the ground.
Panetta, whose trip to Afghanistan wasn’t previously announced, is busily complaining about nearby Pakistan’s role in providing support to the Taliban and its allies. But China, Pakistan’s ally, appears ready to step up its involvement in Afghanistan, and the SCO meeting in Beijing invited Karzai to attend as an official observer. The members of the SCO, which has also asked Iran to participate as an observer, include China, Russia, and four Central Asian states, all of which have an intense interest in Afghanistan. As the AP reports: