(MintPress) – The U.S. military has denied recent allegations that coalition troops tortured and killed Afghan civilians in the war-ravaged Wardak province. If proven true, the alleged torture would further undermine a tenuous trust the United States seeks to build with the Karzai government and civilian populations. Based upon conservative U.N. estimates, more than 9,000 Afghan civilians have been killed since the 2001 NATO invasion, with civilian deaths increasing each year of the conflict.
With a tentative 2014 pullout date and overwhelming public opposition to the war that has cost $618 billion and 2,178 U.S. troop deaths, the latest torture allegations could spur greater urgency to end the 12-year occupation of Afghanistan.
Allegations of torture
“In recent months, a thorough review has confirmed that no coalition forces have been involved in the alleged misconduct in Wardak province,” Lt. Col. Les Carroll, a spokesman for the U.S.-led coalition in Afghanistan, said in a recent statement.
This followed complaints issued by Afghan President Hamid Karzai one day earlier. Karzai claims that U.S. special forces troops and allied Afghans tortured civilians in Wardak, a province southwest of the capital, Kabul.
Wardak remains a Taliban stronghold, an area of strategic importance for both NATO forces and their adversaries. Karzai has asked U.S. special forces to leave the area within two weeks.
This demand is based on conversations the Afghan president had with tribal leaders and villagers in the area who say that a university student detained during a U.S. operation last year was later found with his head and fingers cut off. Nine civilians from the area also remain missing with their whereabouts unknown.
The Western-backed Karzai administration stopped short of placing all the blame on foreign troops, admitting Afghan troop complicity in an address Wednesday before Parliament. “It’s not forgivable … Our Afghan people are not safe in their houses because of Afghan troops’ treatment. “Why should I blame foreigners?” Karzai said.
If proven true, this continues a long history of U.S. troop misconduct in Afghanistan, dating back to the beginning of the 2001 invasion.
WikiLeaks, the online government watchdog and free speech advocacy project, released close to 92,000 internal military documents July 2010 — one of the largest leaks in U.S. military history. The leak, later titled “The Afghan War Diaries,” revealed widespread troop misconduct that could be evidence of war crimes.
The documents show that in a March 2007 shooting, CIA paramilitaries fired on a civilian, killing a man as he was running away from troops. The man, later identified as Shum Khan, was deaf and mute and did not hear their warnings.
Other 2007 documents also released through the leak detail how U.S. special forces dropped six 2,000-pound bombs on a compound where they believed a “high-value individual” enemy combatant was hiding, after “ensuring there were no innocent Afghans in the surrounding area.” A senior U.S. commander reported that 150 Taliban fighters had been killed. Local residents denied these reports claiming that 300 civilians had died.
More recently, a video surfaced January 2012 showing American soldiers urinating on the corpses of dead Taliban fighters. The video was viewed with disgust by Afghan President Hamid Karzai who claimed that the video could undermine peace efforts by helping the Taliban recruit fighters among angered civilians.
The NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) in Afghanistan described the acts as “highly reprehensible and disgusting.”
This point was echoed by ISAF spokesman Lieutenant Colonel Jimmie Cummings saying, “The behaviour depicted in this video is reprehensible and is not in keeping with the values of U.S. Armed Forces.”
The soldiers involved remain unidentified and no disciplinary action has taken place. The only information known is the title of the online video, “Scout sniper team 4 with 3rd battalion 2nd marines out of camp lejeune peeing on dead talibans [sic].”
Winding down the occupation
The most recent allegations of torture and misconduct will likely undermine future peacekeeping efforts in the crucial years leading up to the expected 2014 troop pullout discussed recently by President Barack Obama.
In his State of the Union address earlier this month, Obama announced that 34,000 U.S. troops will return from active duty by the end of next year. This move will likely be applauded by an American public that has expressed increasing opposition to the costly war, especially when troop deaths remain elevated and average citizens are feeling the blow of the recently announced sequester spending cuts — $1.5 trillion over the next 10 years.
A March 2012 opinion poll conducted by the New York Times and CBS News found that 69 percent of Americans, regardless of party affiliation, oppose the war in Afghanistan.
With regular bouts of violence throughout the Central Asian country, security after the troop pullout remains a top concern for Afghan leaders. The international community has taken an aid-based approach to future security and state building in Afghanistan.
At a July 2012 aid conference held in Tokyo, Japan, 70 countries gathered to discuss aid packages and assistance to the Afghan government after the expected 2014 troop pullout.
The Japanese foreign minister and then-U.S. Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, said donors authorized $16 billion available by 2015, meeting predicted aid pledges.