Not long before Election Day, but thousands of miles away in the Afghan village of Bouz Kandahari, 30 to 36 civilians died (including a significant number of children and infants). Those deaths took place in a war Americans had largely filed in the library of forgotten events, though the conflict there is still fiercely underway. In a firefight with the Taliban near the northern provincial city of Kunduz, two U.S. Special Forces advisers died and American air power was called in, evidently killing those innocent Afghans. Within days, there were protests by angry villagers burying their dead. As Mawlawi Haji Allahdad told a Reuters reporter, “My brother and three of his children were killed. My brother had no connection to any group. He was a laborer. Did you see which of those infants and children who were killed by the Americans were terrorists?”
Behind this incident lies a 15-year-old pattern evident at least since the U.S. wiped out much of a wedding party, killing more than 100 villagers in Eastern Afghanistan in late December 2001. It was certainly well documented in those 50 shock-and-awe “decapitation” strikes the Bush administration launched to take out Saddam Hussein and his Baathist Party leadership in March 2003 as the invasion of Iraq began. Those strikes killed not a single targeted leader, but — according to Human Rights Watch — did kill “dozens of civilians.” (In the following two months, almost 3,000 Iraqi civilians would die under American bombs and missiles.)
In these years, this American version of “precision bombing” has never ended in the Greater Middle East, which means that it was an ongoing reality of Election 2016, not that you would have known it. For instance, since September 2014 when the Obama administration sent U.S. air power against the Islamic State in Syria and Iraq, just as the American primaries were first gearing up, Amnesty International reports that at least 300 Syrian civilians have died (including, of course, children). Other groups monitoring the situation have put the toll significantly higher — at up to 1,000. (The Pentagon has acknowledged only “a few dozens” of civilian deaths in both countries in this period.)
More recently, there were the 15 civilians killed in a late September drone strike aimed at ISIS supporters in Nangarhar Province, Afghanistan, but which evidently struck a celebration of a tribal elder’s return from his pilgrimage to Mecca. Some weeks later, there were civilians killed or wounded (again including children) in an air attack on what was believed to be the home of a Taliban commander in the same province. There were also the 15 to 20 civilians killed when a funeral procession on the outskirts of the Iraqi city of Kirkuk was hit, evidently by planes from the U.S. coalition.
If none of this crossed your radar screen, don’t beat yourself up for it. Such stories aren’t significant news in America. The eight wedding parties reportedly wiped out by U.S. air power between 2001 and 2013 in Iraq, Yemen, and Afghanistan, to offer but one example, passed almost unnoticed here. (Just imagine the 24/7 media attention that would be given to a terrorist attack on a single American wedding, no matter the casualties.) Despite the impressive efforts of groups like the Bureau of Investigative Journalism, there is essentially no way of knowing how many civilians in and out of official war zones U.S. air operations have killed across the Greater Middle East and Africa in the last decade and a half. Not that it matters, since it’s a reality about which Americans could care less — and yet, as with those angry villagers in Bouz Kandahari, the air war on terror has proven to be a powerful recruitment tool for extremist groups spreading across that disintegrating region.
It’s not that we never pay attention to such deaths. The Russian air attacks in Aleppo and elsewhere in Syria, for example, have gotten real attention here. They were even part of the election discussion, as well they should have been. The Russians entered the Syrian conflict in the American fashion by letting “precision” air power loose against schools, hospitals, and civilian targets of all sorts (with a significant number of children dying). In the American media, these are often termed “war crimes,” but similar acts by Americans naturally fall into a different category, so no point in dwelling on them. You can count on one thing, though: this isn’t going to end in the “new” Trump era soon to be upon us. So it seems appropriate amid the post-election rancor and uproar to offer some space for TomDispatch regular Mattea Kramer to think about what it really means to be an American in such circumstances.