Monday, January 21, 2008

Boy accuses Canadian troops of killing his family

Canadian soldiers killing Afghan civilians is sadly not a new or unique event. Neither is a round of media silence about such killings.

Just over a year ago, when Canadian troops at a checkpoint shot and killed a well-known Pashtun elder, the Toronto Star ignored the event completely, while the Globe and Mail's lefty columnist Rick Salutin was the only one who mentioned the man in those pages (see Markland, Media blind to Afghan civilians' deaths).

Now, we have the spectacle of a repeat performance. First I append the (edited) story from the Toronto Star (via Canadian Press), then comment on the ever-so-narrow coverage:

Canadian military probes Afghan civilian death; villagers angry at mistake

KANDAHAR - Canadian and coalition forces trying to win the hearts and minds of the Afghan people face the prospect of a new kind of insurgency as a result of mounting civilian casualties from military operations.

Frightened residents in one village say tension is brewing after Canadian gunfire hit civilians during a battle with insurgents about five days before Christmas.

A 12-year-old boy said he was there when soldiers - whom he insisted were Canadian because he recognized their vehicles - shot and killed his father and seven-year-old brother while they tended crops north of Kandahar city.

"I said 'Let's go. Let's run.' But my father said 'What are you talking about? We have shovels in our hands, no one's going to shoot us'," said the boy ...

The villagers believe the troops had returned to recover a vehicle disabled earlier in the day when they were attacked.

"Foreigners don't have eyes. That's my problem with them," said the boy's guardian, a mild-mannered Afghan who works with foreigners and generally supports the presence of coalition troops. ...

A colleague who witnessed another civilian shooting involving British troops in the Dand district of Kandahar said such incidents are inspiring people to take up "jihad," or holy war, against coalition forces as a form of blood debt. ...

Civilian-Military Co-operation teams - CIMIC teams - are usually the first point of contact with civilians who have a complaint.

"In many cases we don't hear about injuries or damage until an individual presents himself to the camp, at which time we take a full report from the individual," she said. "The Military Police do a complete investigation and there's an investigation by the NIS (National Investigation Service) in the most serious of cases."

"If it is confirmed that Canadians are involved in the incident, then we again immediately contact the family members and begin discussions for compensation." ...

Just this week, NATO's International Security Assistance Force stepped up efforts to minimize civilian deaths, unveiling new signs that will be mounted on military vehicles to warn people to stay back or risk getting shot.

While all vehicles are currently equipped with warning signs, ISAF acting chief of theatre force protection Lt.-Col. Bernd Allert said some people have complained the writing isn't clear and that the signs are difficult to see at night.

"When ISAF convoys are on the road it is important that other vehicles around them behave in such a way that they cannot be mistaken for a threat," he said. ...

Jan Mohammed said his 17-year-old son Izatullah and two nephews Asadullah, 18, and Ismatullah, 15, were shot by Canadian troops about six months ago in their village of Kolk, in the volatile Zhari district of Kandahar.

He told the soldiers the young men were innocent and urged them to investigate and provide compensation.

The Canadians, he said, returned during the burial and tested him for explosives before conceding that they had made a mistake.

He met with CIMIC officials at the forward operating base in Zhari and recounted his story to lawyers from Camp Nathan Smith and military brass from Kandahar Airfield before giving up.

"I became confused and wanted to forget about the compensation amount and wanted to get rid of the case. I even signed a piece of paper at KAF (Kandahar Airfield)," he said.

"Shooting innocent people makes one compelled to stand against Canadians." (link)
Just how widely were these revelations carried? Not far at all. The Star of course have it on their web site (though it doesn't appear on their Afghanistan special section page). It was in the print edition of the Star on page 17 (Jan 18). It was also printed in the Prince George Citizen (Jan 18, p. 14) and very briefly in the Hamilton Spectator though apparently nowhere else in print in Canada.

As for web presence, we have the Ottawa Sun's page, the Halifax Chronicle Herald, the Brandon Sun, and a blog or two. Perhaps stopwarblog needs a new slogan: 'Near-exclusive coverage of the Afghan war'.

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