Why are we bombing clinics?

The wrong way to win hearts and minds in Afghanistan

This magazine has called for the government to set a date for withdrawal of British troops from Helmand, and has questioned whether the Afghan conflict is "winnable".

But supporters of the war point to polls which suggest that most ordinary Afghans still welcome our military presence even though, eight years into the fighting, "the danger and insecurity facing millions of Afghans continues and in fact is higher now than ever".

Counter-insurgency experts also wax lyrical about the need to win hearts and minds, but I wonder how we'll pull that off while coalition forces continue to bomb civilian targets and destroy Afghanistan's already crumbling infrastructure. Here is a report from yesterday's Toronto Globe and Mail of how US and Afghan forces, backed by a US Apache helicopter, targeted a medical clinic in Paktika Province for attack:

US and Afghan forces attacked a clinic in eastern Afghanistan after a wounded Taliban commander sought treatment, and a US helicopter gunship fired on the medical centre after militants put up resistance, officials said Thursday.

Reports of the militant death toll from Wednesday's firefight varied widely. The spokesman for the governor of Paktika Province said 12 militants died, while police said two were killed. The US military did not report any deaths. It wasn't clear why the tolls differed.

A US military statement claimed that the medical centre "was cleared of civilians" but, whether or not that statement turns out to be true (and countless other such statements have later turned out not to be worth the paper they were written on), this misses the point. To bomb a clinic or hospital is a de facto war crime, even if wounded militants have sought shelter there: in such a scenario, the clinic or hospital does not lose "its protected status", to quote the absurd formulation of words employed by a Nato spokesperson.

Amnesty International's Asia-Pacific director, Sam Zarifi, agrees with me:

"If the Taliban used the clinic as a shelter to fire from, they've committed a serious violation," said Zarifi.

But if they were using the clinic for health care, Nato forces had no business firing on the clinic, even if they had cleared out civilians from the facility.

The bottom line in this incident is that another clinic in Afghanistan is now not working -- a tragedy for a country that already suffers from horrifically low rates of access to health care.

Whether the Taliban or Nato or both have violated the laws of war, it is Afghan civilians who pay the price.

It is a rather obvious point that seems lost on our political and military leaders, not to mention the armchair generals of the British commentariat.

 

 

Mehdi Hasan is a contributing writer for the New Statesman and the co-author of Ed: The Milibands and the Making of a Labour Leader. He was the New Statesman's senior editor (politics) from 2009-12.

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Tony Blair won't endorse the Labour leader - Jeremy Corbyn's fans are celebrating

The thrice-elected Prime Minister is no fan of the new Labour leader. 

Labour heavyweights usually support each other - at least in public. But the former Prime Minister Tony Blair couldn't bring himself to do so when asked on Sky News.

He dodged the question of whether the current Labour leader was the best person to lead the country, instead urging voters not to give Theresa May a "blank cheque". 

If this seems shocking, it's worth remembering that Corbyn refused to say whether he would pick "Trotskyism or Blairism" during the Labour leadership campaign. Corbyn was after all behind the Stop the War Coalition, which opposed Blair's decision to join the invasion of Iraq. 

For some Corbyn supporters, it seems that there couldn't be a greater boon than the thrice-elected PM witholding his endorsement in a critical general election. 

Julia Rampen is the digital news editor of the New Statesman (previously editor of The Staggers, The New Statesman's online rolling politics blog). She has also been deputy editor at Mirror Money Online and has worked as a financial journalist for several trade magazines. 

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