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Nick Turse, A Forever Wall for Our Forever Wars

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In the wake of the American withdrawal from Afghanistan, among the many things barely mentioned or already long forgotten (if ever even noticed), were the wedding parties U.S. air power took out there. Since the World Trade Center and the Pentagon were attacked by al-Qaeda’s four-plane air force in September 2001, the U.S. military has returned the favor in the distant lands where it’s fought its “war on terror.” In those years, that military proved to be, all too literally, a wedding crasher of the first order. Yes, American air power repeatedly wiped out weddings in Afghanistan and at least one each in Iraq and Yemen (where Rupert Murdoch’s New York Post headlined the story, ever-so-charmingly, “Bride and Boom!”).

From 2008 on, I tried to cover the slaughter of such wedding parties at TomDispatch. By 2013, I had counted eight such massacres in which brides, grooms, celebrants, even wedding musicians had been killed, sometimes en masse. In one of those Afghan slaughters, among 102 guests, only two women reportedly survived. In 2018, I noted a ninth wedding that had been devastated, also in Afghanistan, and suggested that when the U.S. finally departed from such wars we would leave behind “the equivalent of unending ‘towers’ of dead women and children in the Greater Middle East.” And there can be little question that I missed more such disasters.

As far as I could tell, however, few in this country gave a damn about such massacres. (Imagine the coverage and outrage if even one such event had ever happened here!) Nor, by the way, did our military high command bother to apologize for almost all of them and those slaughters were often barely noted in the news here. I don’t believe that any other media outlet even tried to keep track of them, though each was a kind of grim 9/11 for those involved.

So many passing mistakes, so many thousands of miles away, and here’s the sad truth of it: when Joe Biden finally withdrew those last American troops from Afghanistan (against the recommendations of his closest military advisers), even I had more or less forgotten about this country’s wedding slaughters and the record I had tried to keep of them. Fortunately, TomDispatch managing editor Nick Turse, in his latest one-of-a-kind piece, brought them all-too-sadly to my mind again.

You’ll see just why — and if what he’s written doesn’t take your breath away, well, join the crew in Washington. Despite CENTCOM commander General Kenneth F. McKenzie, Jr.’s recent pathetic and rare apology for our final drone assassination of seven Afghan children in Kabul, few in Washington have ever displayed the slightest sense of sorrow or remorse when it came to the staggering death toll this country caused in so many distant lands in response to one horror that befell us. That wedding record alone should have (but hasn’t) given “payback” new meaning. Tom

The Names You’ll Never Know

A Blue Kia and a Wall of Carnage on the Washington Mall

As a parting shot, on its way out of Afghanistan, the United States military launched a drone attack that the Pentagon called a “righteous strike.” The final missile fired during 20 years of occupation, that August 29th airstrike averted an Islamic State car-bomb attack on the last American troops at Kabul’s airport. At least, that’s what the Pentagon told the world.

Within two weeks, a New York Times investigation would dismantle that official narrative. Seven days later, even the Pentagon admitted it. Instead of killing an ISIS suicide bomber, the United States had slaughtered 10 civilians: Zemari Ahmadi, a longtime worker for a U.S. aid group; three of his children, Zamir, 20, Faisal, 16, and Farzad, 10; Ahmadi’s cousin Naser, 30; three children of Ahmadi’s brother Romal, Arwin, 7, Benyamin, 6, and Hayat, 2; and two 3-year-old girls, Malika and Somaya.

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Kelly Denton-Borhaug, War’s End?

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Everyone wants you to do it. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The World Health Organization. Your mother. Even Popeye. It’s good for preventing everything from the common cold to Covid-19. And it only takes about 20 seconds.

Americans are washing their hands more than ever. It’s one of the few positive results of a pandemic that has now killed 1 in every 500 people in this country.

Washing with soap and water will remove germs and prevent their spread. It’s incredibly effective. But soap and water have their limitations. There are some things they just won’t wash away.

Recently, Matthieu Aikins and his colleagues at the New York Times reported on a U.S. drone strike aimed at an ISIS-K suicide bomber that instead killed Zemari Ahmadi, a longtime worker for a U.S. aid group, and nine other people, six of them under 11 years old. “Neighbors and an Afghan health official confirmed that bodies of children were removed from the site,” wrote Aikins. “They said the blast had shredded most of the victims; fragments of human remains were seen inside and around the compound the next day by a reporter, including blood and flesh splattered on interior walls and ceilings.”

You can try to wash away “blood and flesh splattered on interior walls and ceilings” with soap and water. You can try using bleach. Cleaning gore off walls and ceilings is tough enough, but getting blood off your hands is infinitely more difficult.

As an American whose tax dollars went into buying that MQ-9 Reaper drone and the missile it fired, I can attest that no amount of scrubbing has removed Zemari Ahmadi’s blood from my hands. It’s going to be there forever. Nor has my hand-washing routine wiped clean the blood of his three children, Zamir, 20, Faisal, 16, and Farzad, 10; Ahmadi’s cousin Naser, 30; the children of Ahmadi’s brother Romal: Arwin, 7, Benyamin, 6, and Hayat, 2; and two 3-year-old girls, Malika and Somaya.

Today, TomDispatch regular Kelly Denton-Borhaug, an expert on violence and religion, delves deep into the complex questions that surround morality, accountability, and America’s last 20 years of war. What happens to a people when violence is done in their name? What does it do to the soul of a nation and the souls of its citizens?  And ultimately, who is to blame?

Washing your hands might save you from Covid-19, but it can’t wipe away violence done in your name. Conflicts may end, but complicity remains.

President Biden formally announced the end of the Afghan War, while at the same time threatening future violence. “We will maintain the fight against terrorism in Afghanistan,” he said. “We have what’s called over-the-horizon capabilities… We’ve shown that capacity just in the last week. We struck ISIS-K remotely, days after they murdered 13 of our service members and dozens of innocent Afghans.”

ISIS-K had, indeed, slain “innocent Afghans” in a prior bombing. But Biden had killed innocent Afghans, too. The strike he referenced is the one that killed Zemari Ahmadi and all those children. Soap and water won’t change that. It’s a stain on America’s soul that neither Joe Biden nor I can wash away. Nick Turse

A Parable of (All-American) Violence

Accountability and the War of Terror

As a religious studies professor, I know a parable when I see one. Consider the 20th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks and the final events in this country's war in Afghanistan as just such a parable taken directly from the history of our moment.

The heart-wrenching last days of that war amounted to a cautionary tale about the nature of violence and the difficulty Americans have honestly facing their own version of it. As chaos descended on Kabul, and as the Biden administration's efforts to evacuate as many Afghans and Americans as possible were stretched to the limit, one more paroxysm of senseless violence took center stage.

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William Hartung, How Corporations Won the War on Terror

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[Note for TomDispatch Readers: Yes, I know you’re already aware of what I’m about to ask here, since I’ve done it many times before. But remember, it’s how I keep this website going. It’s how I’ve made it possible for Pentagon expert William Hartung and so many other writers to follow this country’s disastrous wars (among other crucial subjects) all these disastrous years in a fashion you’re unlikely to see in the mainstream media. And since this site has no paywall, I regularly find myself asking you, the readers of TomDispatch, to go to our donation page and think about keeping us alive in a world that only seems to grow more perilous by the second. So read Bill Hartung’s latest piece and then, if you feel the urge, do just that. I’ll be eternally grateful! Tom]

Was the Afghan War a disaster?

Well, don’t ask Afghans, including the seven children who died in the final U.S. drone strike of that war, how they’re doing, or those about to go hungry as that land suffers a devastating drought while food prices soar, or the possible one million of them who might even starve to death before 2021 ends amid the chaos of the Taliban takeover, poverty, and joblessness. And don’t ask the many American veterans of that war, who returned home with “moral injuries” or far worse, how they’re doing either. You know the answer to that one, too.

But the generals who oversaw America’s disastrous 20 years of war there (and regularly lied about how it was going)? Well, that’s another story. As Isaac Stanley-Becker of the Washington Post reported recently, “The eight generals who commanded American forces in Afghanistan between 2008 and 2018 have gone on to serve on more than 20 corporate boards.”

Hey, since retiring, General Stanley McChrystal, who oversaw the Obama-era troop surge there, has served as a board member or adviser for at least 10 companies, making millions of dollars off them. Last year, typically enough, General Joseph F. Dunford, Jr., the Afghan commander in 2013 and 2014, joined the board of Lockheed Martin, the biggest Pentagon contractor. Oh, and let’s not forget Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin who, at one point in his military career, was the head of U.S. Central Command, which oversaw both the Afghan and Iraq wars. He later joined the board of weapons giant, Raytheon, making up to $1.7 million in the process.

And yet, as Pentagon specialist and TomDispatch regular William Hartung notes today, none of that adds up to a hill of beans compared to how the industrial part of the military-congressional-industrial complex profited off this country’s disastrous forever wars. Today, based on a report he did on the subject for the Center for International Policy and Brown University’s Costs of War Project, he offers a vision of wartime “success” that may be unparalleled amid the catastrophe of this country’s endlessly losing wars. Who woulda thunk it? Tom

The Profits of War

How Corporate America Cashed in on the Post-9/11 Pentagon Spending Surge

The costs and consequences of America’s twenty-first-century wars have by now been well-documented -- a staggering $8 trillion in expenditures and more than 380,000 civilian deaths, as calculated by Brown University’s Costs of War project. The question of who has benefited most from such an orgy of military spending has, unfortunately, received far less attention.

Corporations large and small have left the financial feast of that post-9/11 surge in military spending with genuinely staggering sums in hand. After all, Pentagon spending has totaled an almost unimaginable $14 trillion-plus since the start of the Afghan War in 2001, up to one-half of which (catch a breath here) went directly to defense contractors.

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