Why We Should Assist the Innocent Civilian Victims of US Bombing in Afghanistan

When thousands of innocent people were killed in the tragic events of
September 11, the American people, the United States government, and
humanitarian organizations around the world responded with incredible
compassion to assist the families of the victims. But what about the innocent
victims in Afghanistan who lost their lives during the US-led military campaign?
Shouldn't our hearts and helping hands go out to those people who were every bit
as innocent as the victims of the September 11 attack?

We have a moral responsibility to assist those people who played no role in the
Sept. 11 attacks but who are now in pain because of our actions. By helping the
Afghan civilian victims of the recent military campaign, we will provide badly needed
assistance to people living in desperate conditions, improve our image
internationally, and move closer toward reconciliation and lasting security.

The Afghan People are in Desperate Need

Many of the families of those who died during US air strikes are living in dire straits.
Families whose homes were destroyed sleep in makeshift tents. Orphans are
crowded in with overburdened relatives. New widows, desperate to feed their
children, are reduced to begging. The hospitals are overcrowded, understaffed and
have few medicines.

Some people have lost their entire family. According to the Associated Press, an 8-
year-old girl named Amina lost her five brothers, two sisters, mother, grandmother,
and her entire uncle’s family to an errant bomb.

People throughout Afghanistan are suffering from the effects of two decades of
war, and they all deserve our help. But as US citizens we have a special
responsibility to assist those whose lives were directly impacted by the actions of
our military.

This Gesture of Goodwill Will Reduce Resentment Toward the US

Assisting the Afghan people who were mistakenly hurt by US bombs is not just
morally right—it is also strategically wise. While many Afghans are happy to have
the Taliban removed from power, civilians who suffered from the US air strikes are
outraged about what happened to their families. At the same time, television
images broadcast around the world show civilians struggling with the loss of loved
ones even as they endure the hardships of living in one of the poorest countries on
earth. The United States’ seeming disregard for those innocent people sends the
signal that the US is not a compassionate nation. This fuels global resentment
toward us.

We can let the Afghans—and the rest of the world—know that we care by
acknowledging our mistakes and taking responsibility for them. This can disarm
some of the resentment toward the US, and bolster our security. The foundations
for a more secure world will be built through compassion.

Precedents Exist for Assisting Accidental Civilian Casualties

Precedents exist for assisting victims of US military actions. The US provided
money to the victims of the Belgrade Chinese Embassy bombing in 1999.
President Reagan ordered help for the victims of the downing of Iran Air Flight 655
in 1988. And recently military officials gave $1,000 to each of 17 Afghan families
whose loved ones were fighting on the side of the US and who were killed during a
“friendly fire” incident.

    If the US government has in the past assisted those people who were
accidentally killed by the US military, certainly we can do so again.

An Accounting of Civilian Casualties Is Needed

   It’s unclear exactly how many civilians were killed during the US air strikes. This
is itself a problem and reason for concern. Preliminary studies put the number of
civilian casualties at 600, 1,000 or 4,000 people, according the Associated Press,
the Project on Defense Alternatives, and University of New Hampshire Economics
Professor Marc Herold, respectively. The US government should investigate how
many civilians were killed and injured; the circumstances that led to these
casualties; and how similar casualties can be avoided in the future.

Knowing how many people have been impacted by the US military is of course an
essential first step toward providing humanitarian assistance. And recognizing the
victims as human beings—as opposed to “collateral damage”—is just plain
decent.

Civilians are often the tragic victims of armed conflict. Only by accounting for all of
the civilian dead can we have an honest assessment of the human costs of war.
Such an assessment is crucial if the US is to have a real debate about the most
effective responses to terrorism.

Humanitarian Assistance Will Cost Less Than War

Afghan relief organizations suggest an average grant of $10,000 per family to
rebuild homes, secure medical care, and compensate for the loss of
breadwinners. Assuming 2,000 families seek compensation, this would amount to
$20 million, or less than the $30 million we spent during each day of the bombing
campaign.

The US currently spends $378 billion a year on its military. Certainly we can spend
tens of millions for healing the wounds of war. In the long run, the dividends of
peace and reconciliation will be greater.

Creating a Victims Fund Would Be an Historic Step for Humanity

For thousands of years of human warfare, it was considered acceptable to attack
civilian populations as a way of destabilizing the enemy. But within the last
generation, a consensus has begun to emerge that attacking non-combatants is
simply wrong. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld insists that tremendous
care was taken to protect Afghan civilians because he knows that Americans don’t
want to see civilians killed.

The intolerance toward targeting civilians marks a major achievement in the march
of human progress. A natural step in the evolution toward a less violent world is a
global consensus that whenever civilians are killed or injured during wartime, they
or their relatives must be assisted to help rebuild their lives.
 
Calls For a Victims Fund Are Gaining New Support Daily

Calls for creating a US government fund to assist civilian victims of the military
campaign in Afghanistan are gaining momentum on Capitol Hill, among some
Sept. 11 victims’ families, and with political leaders in Afghanistan.

Thirty-eight members of Congress recently signed a letter sponsored by
Representatives Jim Leach (R-IA) and Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) asking
Congressional leaders to set aside $20 million in the upcoming budget for a
victims fund. On a trip to Kabul, California Republican Congressman Dana
Rohrabacher told reporters: “In every warlike situation, mistakes are made” and
“decent and honest people admit mistakes were made and make reparation.”
Peaceful Tomorrows, a group of Sept. 11 families dedicated to breaking the “cycle
of violence and retaliation engendered by war,” is actively campaigning to create an
Afghan victims fund. And Hamid Karzai, the interim leader of Afghanistan, also
supports the plan. Karzai told a recent Global Exchange delegation to Kabul:
“People have suffered, let us help them out of compassion.”

Please call your Congressional Representatives today and tell them you want a
US government victims fund for Afghan civilians. The Capitol switchboard is 202-
224-3121.

    For more information on how you can help with GX’s “Compassion for All”
campaign, contact Kristi Laughlin at 415-255-7296 x 250 or
kristi@globalexchange.org.