'Bomber McNeill' reveals the 'Cheapness' of Afghan lives: the massacre in Haydarabad, Helmand

by Marc W. Herold
Departments of Economics
Whittemore School of Business & Economics
University of New Hampshire

POSTED AUGUST 7, 2007 --

On the evening of June 29, 2007, besieged U.S. and Afghan troops called-in close air support (CAS). The results were devastating, tantamount to a massacre.1 Between 50 130 innocent Afghan civilians reportedly perished and countless others were injured in the night-time aerial assault upon the little village of Haydarabad located next to the Helmand River, about 15 kilometers northeast of the town of Gereshk.

Taliban resistance fighters attacked a joint U.S-Afghan military convoy. Two U.S. military vehicles were blown up by mines after which resistance fighters opened up with gunfire and rockets. The U.S. occupation forces then called in close air support (CAS) which bombed the village of Haydarabad for at least two full hours (10 12 PM, or 17:30 19:30 GMT), killing many people including women, men, children, Taliban fighters, etc. Five to six houses were completely obliterated. The U.S. corporate mainstream press refuses to publish photos of U.S. "precision" bombs' civilian victims. The following photos, however, put a "face" to the collateral damage which gets glibly excused away by U.S. military spokespersons uttering the usual platitude of "sincere regrets."


Mohammad Khan, a resident of Haydarabad, lost seven family members. Scores were injured. The above photos show injured civilians at a hospital in Lashkar Gah. The photo below, taken by Reuters' photographer, Abdul Qodos, shows an Afghan girl (injured by U.S. "precision" bombs) in the Bost hospital in Lashkar Gah.

The increasingly used excuse by the U.S and NATO militaries and their all too numerous civilian acolytes, is that the Taliban are responsible for these civilian deaths because they hide in villages. Anyone vaguely familiar with the techniques of guerrilla warfare knows that resistance fighters mingle amongst the population. That population needs to be respected and served, as described in Mao's famous pamphlet Serve the People. The Algerian national liberation fighters fought the French in urban areas (as depicted in the movie The Battle of Algiers). And, the Brazilian guerrilla leader, Carlos Marighela, argued for similar tactics in his famous Mini-manual of Urban Guerrilla Warfare.2

Can anyone take seriously these claims by the U.S/NATO militaries? What are we to expect? That the Taliban will congregate out in the open of the Helmand desert and fire RPGs at Apache attack helicopters or A-10 Warthogs or Canadian tanks? Rather than fight it out on the ground, U.S./NATO forces call-in close air support thereby saving their lives at the expense of putting innocent Afghans in the village at much greater risk. Who is endangering whom?

Initial on-the-ground reports underestimated the carnage. A resident and farmer, Nur Ali, told Agence France-Presse (AFP) that over 30 villagers including women and children were killed while trying to flee the village after the first strike, adding, "more high-flying planes came and they started bombing those escaping the village, bombing houses." Another man from the area, Feda Mohammad, told AFP more than 100 civilians were killed and wounded: "Six house have been bombed, three of them have been reduced to rubble. People are still busy bringing out the dead from under the rubble, there are funerals at various places." "Our initial investigations show that 30 civilians, including women, children and men, have been killed," said Dur Alisha, the mayor of Girishk district in the southern province of Helmand. "I cannot say anything about Taliban casualties. The number of civilians killed is 30, plus or minus one," the mayor told AFP by telephone.

A day later, the civilian death toll caused by the intense CAS bombing was officially put at 45-65, or 50-80 dead villagers. On July 1st, Griff Witte (known for his independent reporting) cited in The Washington Post different local reports:

"More than 100 people have been killed. But they weren't Taliban. The Taliban were far away from there," said Wali Khan, a member of parliament who represents the area. "The people are already unhappy with the government. But these kinds of killings of civilians will cause people to revolt against the government." Another parliament member from Helmand, Mahmood Anwar, said that the death toll was close to 100 and that the dead included women and children. "Very few Taliban were killed," he said.3

The independent Pajhwok Afghan News (06/30/07) put the civilian death toll at 130, citing residents and local officials.4

The Canadian journalist Graeme Smith wrote,

Villagers say they heard the fighting and fled toward a makeshift camp in a barren area. They had hoped to get away from the trees and vineyards where Taliban might hide, they said, because they didn't want to get caught in the crossfire. "This is what usually happens during the fighting: The people run to the desert," said Khudai Dad, 50, a wealthy landowner from Hyderabad (sic). Two tractors were pulling carts loaded with families trying to escape when they were hit with bombs, villagers said. Some accounts said a sedan was also caught in the blasts. "I saw many women and children with their heads, legs, arms, separated from their bodies," Mr. Dad said. "I saw tractors burned, and women and children were burned in their seats ... some of them, we couldn't tell if they were men or women."5

Accounts by two members of parliament from Helmand painted a grisly picture, putting the civilian toll at 100 or more. "People tried to escape from the area with their cars, trucks and tractors, and the coalition airplanes bombed them because they thought they were the enemy fleeing," said Hajji Zahir, a tribal elder. "They told me that they had buried 170 bodies so far." Hajji Assadullah, another elder, told of 35 villagers, fleeing in a tractor-trailer, who were hit by an air strike. "There were only two survivors, an old man and his son, and the son was seriously injured, and I saw them with my own eyes," he said. Dr. Ainaytullah Ghafari, head of Gereshk Hospital, said he treated three children from one family. "They had lost seven relatives," Ghafari said. "The bombs hit houses and people ran in order to survive. Most of the victims were women and children. About 60 to 65 civilians have been killed in Kakaran village."

Haji Dur Alishah, mayor of the Gereshk district, said to the Deutsche Press Agentur (DPA) that "local villagers were so angry that they did not let our investigating team really find out the number of civilian casualties." The U.S. propaganda office initially said that more than two dozen Taliban were killed in two separate engagements in the area Friday, hoping the whole story would go away. NATO announced the dead civilians amounted to a dozen at most.

The Associated Press (as expected) came to the rescue of the U.S. military on July 1st, proclaiming that "62 Taliban, 45 civilians" were killed. Is the U.S. military more credible than locals, the AFP, Reuters, Pajhwok News, and the DPA?

On the night of June 20th, a similar U.S/NATO bombing attack which killed 25-36 civilians was carried out upon the village of De Adam Khan, some 14 kms north of Lashkar Gah.6

Three days later, the puppet mayor of Kabul, Hamid Karzai, had whined to the world press about civilians killed by "careless" U.S./NATO actions as in De Adam Khan,

"Afghan life is not cheap and it should not be treated as such."

Less than a week later in Haydarabad, U.S./NATO actions proved him wrong (and underlined Karzai's complete irrelevance): possibly 100 civilians were killed in the aerial assault of Haydarabad, Helmand Province. Afghan lives were once again revealed as being expendable and cheap, a fact I have documented elsewhere.7 No amount of "sincere regrets" can change that reality. The American general commanding NATO in Afghanistan, Dan McNeill, is increasingly being dubbed "Bomber McNeill."

But as Simon Jenkins (02/07/2007) famously wrote, "a relative killed or a village destroyed only fertilizes the desire for revenge. 'One dead Pashtun recruits 10 Taliban,' is not an idle threat."8 "All the people in this area will start jihad against the foreign troops," said Haji Nazar Mohammed, 50, a small-time farmer in Haydarabad who claimed to have lost dozens of relatives. By declaring jihad, or holy war, against the foreign soldiers, the villagers would commit themselves to helping the Taliban.9

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1. I have borrowed the term "Bomber McNeill" which refers to the American General Dan McNeill, current leader of NATO occupation forces in Afghanistan, from The Economist (see here). The designation alludes to the (in)famous British commander of the Royal Air Force Bomber Command during World War II, Sir Arthur 'Bomber' Harris (1892-1984).

2. See the website devoted to Carlos Marighela who "died for Brazil," here.

3. Griff Witte and Javed Hamdard, "Civilians Die in U.S.-NATO Air Assault in Afghanistan," Washington Post Foreign Service (July 1, 2007): A16.

4. In "More Than 130 Afghan Civilians Dead in Coalition Airstrike," Pajhwok Afghan News (June 30, 2007).

5. Graeme Smith, "How Taliban Exploit Civilian Casualties," The Globe & Mail (July 2, 2007).

6. Details on incidents in which Afghan civilians have died at the hands of U.S./NATO actions may be found at my Afghan Victim Memorial Project.

7. In my "The Value of a Dead Afghan. Revealed and Relative," Cursor.org (July 21, 2002).

8. Simon Jenkins, "'This Aerial Onslaught is War at Its Most Stupid'," The Guardian (February 7, 2007).

9. Graeme Smith, op. cit.


Professor Marc Herold's Afghan Canon