Forgotten war

Abdel-Moneim Said
Wednesday 12 Dec 2018

Some US politicians are rounding on Saudi Arabia, pointing to Yemen, while ignoring the toll of wars the US pursued

Politics is at its worst when the issues are blurred and confused, and ends and interests are obscured behind moral guises that everyone knows have nothing to do with the heart of the matter but that, instead, are means to avoid it.

The short-sighted handling of the question of the war in Yemen in the US Congress — in the Senate, in particular — stems largely from the tendency to ignore the basics.

Evidently, no one is interested in referring back to the historic roots of the Yemeni question, namely the Houthi coup against the legitimate government.

No one cares to consider the relevant UN resolutions and the records of international mediation in the conflict. Nor is there a serious treatment of Iran, its regional ambitions and the aggressive actions it has taken in order to dominate and control Yemen, as it has done in Iraq, Syria and Lebanon.

Congressmen confiscating the strategic and the criminal. They have totally blinkered themselves to cautions and counsel by the president, the secretary of state and other executive officials in order to detract the American public from their country’s historic relations with Saudi Arabia.

Amazingly, the way the war in Yemen is being discussed amidst all this confusion makes it seems as though it were the only war happening in the world today, or as though suffering was not a property of other wars.

The US war in Afghanistan is the longest American war in history. The casualties it has claimed and the destruction it has caused since it was launched in October 2001 are a subject that no one in the Senate cares to talk about.

Innumerable records and studies document the forgotten war in Afghanistan. According to the database created by Marc Herold, “The Dossier on Civilian Victims of United States’ Aerial Bombing”, in the course of “Operation Enduring Freedom” at least 3,100 to 3,600 civilians were directly killed by US-led forces between 7 October 2001 and 3 June 2003.

These figures do not take into account fatalities due to lethal injuries or as a result of the collateral damage caused by bombardment. Other studies give higher figures.

Carl Conetta of the Project on Defense Alternatives estimated that 4,200-4,500 civilians were killed by mid-January 2002 as a result of the US war and airstrikes, whether directly as the result of airstrikes or indirectly as a consequence of the famines, epidemics and other humanitarian crises that the war helped generate.

In another study, “Strange Victory: A Critical Appraisal of Operation Enduring Freedom and the Afghanistan War,” Conetta mentions that, as a consequence of the US war, at least 3,200 more Afghans died by mid-January 2002, due to “starvation, exposure, associated illnesses or injury sustained while in flight from war zones.”

Similarly, a Los Angeles Times review of the US, British and Pakistani press found that the total number of civilian deaths reported by these countries’ newspapers and press agencies came to between 1,067-1,201 in the period between 5 October 2001 and 28 February 2002.

The review excluded more than 1,000 deaths that were not clearly identified as civilian or military. According to Jonathan Steele of The Guardian, up to 20,000 Afghans may have died as a consequence of the first four months of US airstrikes on Afghanistan.

The foregoing figures only tell us of the casualties from the initial shock of that forgotten war. The coming years would bring even more brutal facts.

According to an Associated Press report, around 1,700 people were killed in 2005, including some 600 policemen who were killed from December 2004 to mid-May 2005.

A Human Rights Watch report states that out of 4,400 Afghanis killed in 2006, more than 1,000 were civilians. In 2007, 1,980 civilians and 1,019 policemen were killed.

University of New Hampshire professor Marc Herold estimated that, by September 2007, between 5,700 and 6,500 civilians had been killed in Afghanistan.

Moreover, he said that this figure was very conservative because it excluded, among other things, tens of thousands of displaced persons who ended up in refugee camps without sufficient supplies for long periods.

In 2008, 2,119 civilians were killed as a result of the conflict in Afghanistan, according to a UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) report.

This was a 40 per cent increase over the death toll cited by UNAMA for the previous year, which was 1,533. The Afghanistan Rights Monitor (ARM) gave a higher estimate for that year: 3,917 plus over 6,800 wounded and 120,000 displaced persons.

The following year was just as harsh for Afghanis. UNAMA reports that 2,412 civilians were killed by the war in 2009, a jump of 14 per cent over the previous year. A similar rise would occur the next year.

According to UNAMA, 2,777 Afghan civilians were killed in 2010, an increase of 15 per cent over the civilian toll in 2009.

The following year, UNAMA used the first six months as the benchmark. During that period, it reports, 1,462 civilians were killed, another 15 per cent rise over the same period in 2010.

UNAMA continued to report the counts of civilian casualties over the following years. It reported 2,769 civilian deaths and 4,821 injuries in 2012; 2,969 civilian deaths and 5,669 injuries in 2013; 3,710 civilians killed and 6,825 wounded in 2014; 3,545 civilians killed and 7,457 injured in 2015; and 3,498 civilians killed and 7,920 wounded in 2016. UNAMA estimates that 1,662 civilians were killed from January through June 2017.

Wars are not a picnic. They are the most extreme form of the clash between right and wrong. The Saudi-led Arab coalition only embarked on the war in Yemen in order to help its Arab Yemeni brothers and to restore the legitimate government to the people.

The coalition did not intervene in some remote country. It intervened in the south west corner of the Arabian Peninsula where there loomed a threat to Saudi national security.

When the coalition forces took action in Yemen, they took with them caravans of relief aid for the peoples of the liberated territories while the political leadership continually strove to reach political solutions.

Perhaps concerned members of the US Congress should study their country’s war in Afghanistan, in which the numbers of dead, wounded and displaced persons are higher than the toll in the US Civil War.

* The writer is chairman of the board, CEO and director of the Regional Centre for Strategic Studies.

*A version of this article appears in print in the 13 December, 2018 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly under the headline: Forgotten war  

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