Foreign, Afghan Troops Allegedly Kill 6 at Rally against Western Burning of Qur’an

Oh, no. Here we go again. Some 2000 villagers from near Lashkar Gah in Helmand province mounted a demonstration against the alleged desecration of the holy Qur’an by NATO troops.

The rally turned violent, and Afghan and foreign troops opened fire, allegedly killing at least 6 persons. (NATO denied the deaths, saying only a sniper was killed). Helmand is a hotbed of Taliban activity and its Pashtun population is relatively anti-Western.

Aljazeera English has video:

Similar controversies over Qur’an desecration provoked anti-American rallies by the Muqtada al-Sadr group in Iraq some years ago. This cycle, of charges of foreign blasphemy, big rallies to protest it, and then the shooting of protesters, is a deliberate ploy by the Taliban to turn locals against NATO and the Afghan army.

Two US troops and 4 Afghan soldiers were killed by bombs in eastern Afghanistan on Tuesday, and nine Afghan troops were wounded. That region of the country is a stronghold of movements such as the Islamic Party or Hizb-i Islami of Gulbadin Hikmatyar and the Haqqani Network of Siraj Haqqani, both mounting insurgencies against the US- and NATO-backed government of Hamid Karzai.

The Obama administration is dedicating $400 million to improving Afghan agriculture this year in a key change from the old Rumsfeld years when the country’s needs were neglected. Training Afghan farmers to produce valuable crops other than poppies is key to reducing narco-terrorism and strengthening the Kabul government (at least those parts of the Kabul government that are not themselves dirty with drug money).

The UN maintains that the general perception in Afghanistan that US aerial bombardment is responsible for most civilian deaths is incorrect. In fact, of the over 2400 civilians killed in 2009, two thirds were killed by Taliban or other radical fundamentalists.

What is important is that the Pashtun plurality in the country comes to know and believe that statistic. It can’t be taken for granted, and may be obscured by pious fury over alleged Qur’an desecration. I can’t tell you how dangerous the spread of such a belief among Pashtuns would be to US and NATO success.

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6 Responses

  1. Dear Professor Cole,

    You quote statistics about how many deaths are caused by NATO bombings.

    But where do these statistics come from? Do they come from NATO?

    In most previous incidents in which large numbers of civilians were killed, the United States denied the claims of human rights organizations, Afghan officials, and observers on the ground. So, it does matter where the statistics comes from.


  2. How do you come to the conclusion that "the UN maintains that the general perception in Afghanistan is that US aerial bombardment is responsible for most civilian deaths"? The Times article seems to report the opposite, something I note as a positive at UN Dispatch (link to In fact, the full report explicitly states that most deaths were caused by "anti-Government elements" and that "suicide and IED attacks caused more civilian casualties than any other tactic."

  3. 6:43 am – Sorry that was an error. The words 'is incorrect' at the end of that sentence somehow got elided, and I fixed it. Thanks so much for your vigilance.

    cheers Juan

  4. So we smashing Afghanistan to bits we are helping a few farmers and not killing quite so many Afghans as might otherwise be thought by civilized people. I am so pleased.

    War forever is the American answer.

  5. "The UN maintains that the general perception in Afghanistan that US aerial bombardment is responsible for most civilian deaths is incorrect. In fact, of the over 2400 civilians killed in 2009, two thirds were killed by Taliban or other radical fundamentalists."

    This strikes me as a mad justification for America's war on and occupation of Afghanistan.

  6. Behnam, I think what Prof Cole is saying is that the statistic's validity has to be seen and accepted in local perceptions, if it's to have any local effect in legitimizing the US-NATO-Kabul war against a brutal Pashtun-Taliban insurgency. Gen McChrystal's staff is probably pretty limited in getting that message out.

    Prof Cole, I have to second other commentors who question the data integrity. If the UN is intent on enabling the US-NATO-ISAF's military mission to help Karzai win a civil war, their role as an honest broker of conflict mortality data is suspect. UN estimates of overall Afghan mortality have been very low, given the escalating level of US-NATO-ANA casualties.

    As an example of how numbers get misattributed, the 15 murdered citizens of Haditha, Iraq were tallied by the US as victims of the IED bomb that precipitated the subsequent murders, and persistent local calls for justice were discounted for months as a Sunni disinformation program.

    It's a sad fact of war that even 'smart' weapons, like laser-bombs or command IED mines, get used in ways that kill civilians. But most conflict mortality is due to disease, poor nutrition and displacement of impoverished populations, and it will continue long after the shooting war ends.

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