Monday, February 8, 2010

Salted pamphlets from the sky

In cars stuffed with clothes and mattresses, Afghan civilians are fleeing the southern Afghanistan town of Marjah in droves to avoid a coming NATO offensive intended to drive out the Taliban there.

The town's 80,000 civilians learned of the offensive this weekend after NATO troops dropped leaflets over the area warning them that it was coming. It is expected to be the largest offensive since the war's start in 2001.

This warning, on the surface, seems thoughtful. But it's too little too late, just more salt in the wounds. After all, in the past nine years of their occupation, foreign troops have done far too little to ensure civilian safety. Under the banner of rooting out terror, U.S. troops have killed thousands of civilians with aerial drones and other weaponry, more than 2,400 last year. They have knocked into Afghan homes in violent midnight raids, have inflamed more Taliban and spent way too little effort investing in infrastructure, schools, job training, and food and water aid for Afghans. No wonder civilians feel angry, weary, distrustful and anxious for new solutions.

"Ending operations in Afghan villages is what the Afghan people are seeking as a priority," President Hamid Karzai said yesterday in Munich. "...That means Afghanistan really gaining judicial independence completely and rather very very soon."

Many of the fleeing civilians will stay with family, according to humanitarian groups, though the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) have prepared resources to set up refugee camps in case a refugee crisis develops. Let's hope NATO and U.S. officials do the same -- after all, if or when that happens, civilians will need far more than pamphlets.

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