Foreign Policy Blogs

9 Afghan Boys Killed by NATO Helicopter Fire

The news of nine boys killed by NATO helicopters has not travelled far or  fast.  The top story about that horrific turn in Afghanistan has been that General Petraeus has apologized to the Afghan people for the gruesome deaths.  It seems the death of nine boys is hardly newsworthy enough to carry in the evening news.

Well, here it is then.  Nine boys, all between 9 to 15 years old, were mistaken for rowdy insurgents and were killed by strafing helicopter fire.  The boys, poor and powerless, were on the scene to gather firewood on a cold morning. Among the dead were two brothers; they were all babies, really.

General Petraeus, offered the following apology in a statement:

We are deeply sorry for this tragedy and apologize to the members of the Afghan government, the people of Afghanistan and, most importantly, the surviving family members of those killed by our actions…These deaths should have never happened.”

And here, according to the New York Times, is the one account of the events according to the one boy, Hemand, who survived the attack, the near 10th victim:

“We were almost done collecting the wood when suddenly we saw the helicopters come,” said Hemad, who, like many Afghans, has only one name. “There were two of them. The helicopters hovered over us, scanned us and we saw a green flash from the helicopters. Then they flew back high up, and in a second round they hovered over us and started shooting. They fired a rocket which landed on a tree. The tree branches fell over me and shrapnel hit my right hand and my side.”

The tree, Hemad said, saved his life by covering him so that he could not be seen by the helicopters, which, he said, “shot the boys one after another.

The attack on the boys happened in the Pech Valley, the same area from which the U.S military is drawing down troops.  The helicopter attack was a misidentified response to rocket fire from the vicinity of where the children were going about their business, foraging for the firewood to heat their homes.  There is little doubt that this story has caused more people to question American motives in the War in Afghanistan.  There can be little doubt that there are far too many Afghans who cannot wait until the U.S and NATO troops leave Afghan soil-no matter whatever appreciable good they might have actually done in some other time, some other day.

According to a NATO statement on the horrific event at issue, “regrettably there appears to have been an error in the handoff between identifying the location of the insurgents and the attack helicopters that carried out subsequent operations.”

Regrettably, yes there was an error.  However, the accounts of the manner in which the boys were found–a gruesome, heart-rending description is sure to incite more passion than the rigid and formulaic explanation that hardly takes account of even one mother’s wailing shrieks.

Khalid, a 14 year old victim of the attack was eulogized by his uncle, in the Times piece:

“Khalid..was the only male in the family, Ashabuddin said. “He was studying in sixth grade of the orphanage school and working because his father died four years ago due to a long-term sickness. His father was a day laborer. He has 13 sisters and two mothers. He was the sole breadwinner of the family. I don’t know what would happen to his family to his sisters and mothers. They are all female and poor.”

President Karzai, on an official visit to London, called the attack “ruthless.”  He is right. Accidents can be ruthless too. Especially accidents that many seem to think play at peoples’ lives without cause, cost or content.



Faheem Haider

Faheem Haider is a political analyst, writer and artist. He holds advanced research degrees in political economy, political theory and the political economy of development from the London School of Economics and Political Science and New York University. He also studied political psychology at Columbia University. During long stints away from his beloved Washington Square Park, he studied peace and conflict resolution and French history and European politics at the American University in Washington DC and the University of Paris, respectively.

Faheem has research expertise in democratic theory and the political economy of democracy in South Asia. In whatever time he has to spare, Faheem paints, writes, and edits his own blog on the photographic image and its relationship to the political narrative of fascist, liberal and progressivist art.

That work and associated writing can be found at the following link:

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