On Tuesday in the Garmsir district of Helmand province "seven people were killed during a demonstration sparked by rumors that foreign soldiers had desecrated a Koran," and on Wednesday in the same district saw U.S. and Afghan troops fired on a crowd and wounded five Afghan civilians, AFP reported, based on NATO statements.[1]  --  Reuters said the incidents "suggest[ed] mounting civil unrest in a part of the country where U.S. Marines under NATO command made major advances last year."[2]  --  According to a U.S. spokesman, the incidents were due to "a massive Taliban-initiated hoax . . . unfortunately things like this happen."  --  On Thursday, "20 civilians were killed by a suicide bomber in a busy market in southern province of Uruzgan," and there were also ten civilians killed in various incidents on Friday, Deutsche Presse-Agentur reported.[3]  --  Media Lens, an organization devoted to counteracting the distortions of the Western corporate media system, analyzed on Monday how little interest the media have displayed in a mysterious incident that took place in Afghanistan on Dec. 27, 2009, and was reported by the Jerome Starkey of the Times of London on Dec. 31.[4]  --  Despite credible allegations that a U.S. led team (possibly Special Forces) attacked a school in the village of Ghazi Kang in eastern Kunar province and killed ten children aged 11 to 17, some of them handcuffed, there has been no corporate media follow-up.  --  Only Democracy Now! has displayed some interest, interviewing Jerome Starkey, Media Lens said....



Agence France-Presse
January 15, 2010


KABUL -- Five Afghan civilians were shot and wounded by U.S. and Afghan troops outside a military base in a restive area of the war-torn country, NATO said Friday, also reporting the death of an American soldier.

The incident involving the civilians took place in the Garmsir district of Helmand province on Wednesday, NATO's International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) said in a statement -- where a violent demonstration took place a day earlier.

An ISAF spokesman said warning shots were fired as a crowd of up to 400 people gathered outside the gate of a military base, Combat Outpost Sher.

On Tuesday seven people were killed during a demonstration sparked by rumors that foreign soldiers had desecrated a Koran in an operation the previous day, officials said earlier this week.

Referring to the Wednesday incident, Lieutenant Todd Breasseale told AFP:  "The five Afghan civilians were wounded by bullets."

"A combined ISAF and ANA (Afghan National Army) force was outside the outpost.  In the crowd, five or six individuals were threatening ISAF and ANA soldiers," he said.

"There were warning shots and the five or six individuals that were an imminent threat were targeted," he added.

In its statement, ISAF said a crowd of between 200 and 400 people were told to keep their distance from the gate of the base.

"However, a number of civilians in the crowd disregarded instructions, resulting in forces firing warning shots.

"Deliberative escalation of force procedures were followed, but one individual continued to ignore instructions, striking members of the combined force with a stick.

"ISAF forces medically evacuated five wounded civilians to the nearby Forward Operating Base Dwyer treatment facility," it said.

A government investigation team looking into the rumors that foreign soldiers had desecrated a Koran found they had been spread by Taliban operatives and were unfounded.

But during the demonstration Tuesday shooting broke out and seven people -- six civilians and an Afghan intelligence official -- were killed.

There was nothing in the ISAF statement Friday to indicate what had sparked the demonstration that led to the shootings on Wednesday.

The Taliban, who have a heavy presence in Helmand province, often whip up resentment against foreign forces deployed to fight them.

There are 113,000 international troops fighting the insurgents, with another 40,000 being deployed this year.

Civilian casualties are a sensitive issue among Afghans, and are often seized on by President Hamid Karzai to bolster support for his government.

A U.N. report released this week said civilian casualties rose 14 percent last year over 2008 but the overwhelming majority, 67 percent, were in Taliban attacks.

NATO also reported Friday that a US soldier had been killed by the type of crude bomb used by Taliban militants in their war against the Kabul government.

"An ISAF service member from the United States was killed today (Thursday) in southern Afghanistan as the result of an IED strike," said a statement from ISAF, referring to an improvised explosive device.

The death brings to 23 the number of foreign soldiers to have been killed in Afghanistan so far this year, according to an AFP count based on a tally kept by independent website icasualties.org.

Elsewhere, a roadside bomb that exploded beneath a car on Friday killed four children aged two to 14 years old and a woman in the Spin Boldak district of Kandahar, the commander of the border police General Abdul Razik, told AFP.

ISAF also reported a separate incident in neighboring Kandahar province in which two people were killed by soldiers who had been targeted by a remote-control bomb while on patrol.

A rocket exploded in central Kabul Friday evening, the head of the capital's criminal investigation bureau told AFP, but he said there were no casualties.




January 15, 2009


At least five Afghan civilians were wounded when a combined force of Afghan troops and U.S. Marines opened fire on a crowd at the gate to a military base in Helmand, Afghanistan's most volatile province, NATO said on Friday.

The incident, which took place on Wednesday but was not reported until Friday, was the second demonstration to turn violent in two days in Helmand's Garmsir district, suggesting mounting civil unrest in a part of the country where U.S. Marines under NATO command made major advances last year.

"ANA and ISAF forces warned a crowd of between 200 and 400 assembled civilians to keep its distance from the outpost," a NATO statement said, referring to the Afghan National Army and NATO-led International Security Assistance Force.

ISAF is manned in the area by U.S. Marines.

"A number of civilians in the crowd disregarded instructions, resulting in forces firing warning shots.  Deliberative escalation of force procedures were followed, but one individual continued to ignore instructions, striking members of the combined force with a stick," the statement said.

Lieutenant-Colonel Todd Breasseale said both Afghan troops and the U.S. Marines subsequently fired at the crowd.  An investigation was under way to determine which force's bullets had struck each the five people who were wounded.

Civilian casualties caused by NATO troops are one of the most emotive issues in Afghanistan's eight-year-old conflict.

The incident came a day after another violent demonstration in Garmsir.  During that earlier demonstration, U.S. Marines say they fired only at a sniper, who had shot into their base.  Afghan officials say Afghan troops killed eight protesters and wounded 13 who were trying to storm a government building.

Afghan and U.S. officials say the initial unrest was prompted by rumors that U.S. troops had defaced a holy book during a raid. U.S. and Afghan officials met with locals in the area to restore calm and deny the rumors in strong terms.

"A lot of this came from a massive Taliban-initiated hoax," Breasseale said.  "People started behaving dangerously and unfortunately things like this happen."

Dawood Ahmadi, spokesman for Helmand governor Gulab Mangal, said Wednesday's demonstration had taken place outside a base where U.S. and Afghan officials were discussing the unrest from the day before.

He said Taliban infiltrators in Wednesday's crowd fired at the U.S. and Afghan troops, prompting the Afghans to return fire.  The NATO statement made no mention of shots fired from the crowd.

Garmsir is located in the lower Helmand River Valley, most of which was seized by U.S. Marines in July in the biggest offensive of the eight-year-old war.

The Garmsir district center is one of the calmer parts of the valley, but Taliban influence remains strong in outlying villages along the river, part of Afghanistan's main opium-growing region.

(Additional reporting by Hamid Shalizi; Editing by Sanjeev Miglani)



Deutsche Presse-Agentur
January 15, 2010


KABUL -- Five members of a family were killed in a roadside bomb blast in southern Afghanistan Friday, while five other civilians were killed by a rocket attack and NATO forces elsewhere in the country, officials said.

The family -- a mother, her three sons, and a daughter -- were killed when their vehicle was hit by a roadside bomb en route to a shrine in the Spin Boldak district of the southern province of Kandahar, Abdul Razaq, a border police commander said.

The bomb, which also wounded two other civilians in the car, was planted on the road to target Afghan or international forces, but hit the local villagers' vehicle by accident, Razaq surmised.  He blamed the Taliban for endangering civilian lives.

Elsewhere, a man and two women were killed when a rocket hit their home in the Chardara district of the northern province of Kunduz on Friday, district chief Abdul Wahid Omarkhel, said.

There was fighting underway in the area between Taliban militants and government forces.  It was not known which side fired the rocket, Omerkhel said.

But Gholam Sakhi, a local resident in the district, told the German Press Agency DPA that the rocket was fired by Afghan army forces stationed on a nearby mountain.  'Taliban are in control here, so why they should target their own area?'

In southern Kandahar province, two men were killed by NATO forces after those had been struck by a roadside bomb, the alliance military said in a statement.

'Immediately following the strike, three motorcycles approached the patrol at a high rate of speed,' it said, adding, 'As escalation of force procedures were followed, the patrol perceived an imminent threat and shot and killed two individuals and detained four others.'

The statement did not say if the men were insurgents.  Nor did it say if there were any casualties among the NATO forces in the blast.

A police official in the province, who declined to be named, said the men on motorcycles were civilians.

The latest civilian deaths came a day after 20 civilians were killed by a suicide bomber in a busy market in southern province of Uruzgan.

More than 2,400 civilians were killed in attacks by insurgents or NATO troops in 2009, according to a recent UN report. Nearly 70 per cent of the casualties were inflicted by Taliban insurgents.



Media Lens
January 11, 2010


Ignoring or downplaying Western crimes is a standard feature of the corporate Western media.  On rare occasions when a broadcaster or newspaper breaks ranks and reports 'our' crimes honestly, it is instructive to observe the response from the rest of the media.  Do they follow suit, perhaps digging deeper for details, devoting space to profiles of the victims and interviews with grieving relatives, humanizing all concerned?  Do they put the crimes in perspective as the inevitable consequence of rapacious Western power?  Or do they look away?

One such case is a report that American-led troops dragged Afghan children from their beds and shot them during a night raid on December 27 last year, leaving ten people dead.  Afghan government investigators said that eight of the dead were schoolchildren, and that some of them had been handcuffed before being killed.  Kabul-based Times correspondent Jerome Starkey reported the shocking accusations about the joint U.S.-Afghan operation.  But the rest of the U.K. news media have buried the report.

After details of the massacre first emerged, Afghan President Karzai sent a team of investigators to the alleged scene of the atrocity in the village of Ghazi Kang in eastern Kunar province.  Assadullah Wafa, a former governor of Helmand province, led the investigation.  He told the Times that U.S. soldiers flew to Kunar from Kabul, implying that they were part of a special forces unit:  "At around 1:00 a.m., three nights ago, some American troops with helicopters left Kabul and landed around 2 kilometers away from the village.  The troops walked from the helicopters to the houses and, according to my investigation, they gathered all the students from two rooms, into one room, and opened fire" (Jerome Starkey, "Western troops accused of executing 10 Afghan civilians, including children," Times, December 31, 2009).

Wafa continued:  "I spoke to the local headmaster.  It's impossible they were al-Qaeda.  They were children, they were civilians, they were innocent.  I condemn this attack."

The Times reporter interviewed the headmaster who told him that the victims were asleep in three rooms when the troops arrived:

"Seven students were in one room.  A student and one guest were in another room, a guest room, and a farmer was asleep with his wife in a third building.

"First the foreign troops entered the guest room and shot two of them.  Then they entered another room and handcuffed the seven students.  Then they killed them.  Abdul Khaliq [the farmer] heard shooting and came outside.  When they saw him they shot him as well.  He was outside.  That's why his wife wasn't killed."

A local elder told the Times reporter:  "I saw their school books covered in blood."

The dead children were aged from 11 to 17.

In Kabul, the massacre sparked demonstrations with protesters holding up banners showing photographs of dead children alongside placards demanding "Foreign troops leave Afghanistan" and "Stop killing us."

NATO's International Security Assistance Force told the Times that there was "no direct evidence to substantiate" Wafa's claims that unarmed civilians were harmed in what it described as a "joint coalition and Afghan security force" operation.  The spokesperson claimed:  "As the joint assault force entered the village they came under fire from several buildings and in returning fire killed nine individuals."

The slippery military response did not even get the number of victims right:  it was ten, not nine.

Jerome Starkey published a follow-up report, recounting President Karzai's vain plea for the gunmen to face justice.  ('Karzai demands that U.S. hands over raiders accused of village atrocity', Times, January 1, 2010).

But the rest of the British media appear to have shown virtually zero interest in either refuting or confirming the report of schoolchildren being executed.  As far as our media searches can determine, there were only three press reports in major U.K. newspapers that mentioned it; and even then, only in passing.

In a brief weekly news digest, the Sunday Telegraph devoted 45 words to accusations of the atrocity, repeating the propaganda version of it as "a raid in which U.S. forces shot dead 10 people at a suspected bomb factory."  (Walter Hemmens and Alex Singleton, "The Week; that was," Sunday Telegraph, January 3, 2010).

A 136-word item in the *Mirror* led, not with accusations of the execution of schoolchildren, but with the deaths of American civilians killed elsewhere in a suicide attack at a military base in Afghanistan (Stephen White, "Base blast kills Eight U.S. civilians," Mirror, January 2, 2010).

The Guardian spared 28 words at the end of a report on the death of a British bomb disposal expert to note that:  "The Afghan government says that 10 people were killed, including eight schoolchildren, in a village in eastern Kunar province in a night raid by international forces last weekend."  (Adam Gabbatt, "British bomb disposal expert dies after Afghan blast: 'His sacrifice and courage will not be forgotten': Death brings the total toll to 245 since war began" Guardian, January 2, 2009).  As ever, the headline summed up the priorities precisely:  British lives count; Afghan lives are of lesser importance.

To the corporate media's shame, it was left to the U.S.-based journalist Amy Goodman to interview Times correspondent Jerome Starkey on her excellent independent news program, Democracy Now!  The program reported that a preliminary investigation by the United Nations reinforced Afghan claims that most of the dead were schoolboys (Jerome Starkey interviewed by Amy Goodman, "U.S.-Led Forces Accused of Executing Schoolchildren in Afghanistan," Democracy Now!, January 6, 2010).

Goodman asked Starkey what had been the response of NATO forces to the allegations.  He said:  "Well, initially, U.S. and NATO forces here were very slow to say anything at all, and that possibly reflects the most secret nature of this raid.  The fact that, according to Afghan investigators, these troops appear to have flown to the scene from Kabul appears to confirm speculation that this was an operation carried out by some sort of Special Forces unit, possibly even by some sort of paramilitary unit attached to one of the intelligence agencies, the foreign intelligence agencies, which operate occasionally out of the capital."

Starkey emphasized again that he had spoken to the headmaster who had given him the names and school registration numbers of all of the dead pupils.  An additional tragic detail was that the headmaster was an uncle of the eight children.

The Times correspondent was candid that it had not proven possible to verify all of the details of the reported massacre:  "Given the nature of the environment, we haven't been able to travel there ourselves, and we've been relying on telephone interviews with people who are there and people who've visited the scene."

But he also made it clear that the U.S.-led occupation authorities were giving out very little information, and had refused Afghan requests to provide details of the gunmen or to hand the men over.

The reported events are sickening.  But we have been unable to find a single mention of the alleged atrocity on the BBC website.  We emailed news editors at the BBC, ITN, and Channel 4 News, asking why they had not reported these serious allegations of schoolchildren being executed in a U.S.-led operation.  None of them have replied.  The lack of interest shown by the British news media in pursuing this story is damning indeed.

The famous maxim of the three wise monkeys who 'See no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil' is an apt description of the corporate media's response to evidence for Western atrocities.


The goal of Media Lens is to promote rationality, compassion and respect for others.  If you do write to journalists, we strongly urge you to maintain a polite, non-aggressive and non-abusive tone.

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