Just when you think the war in Afghanistan can’t become any more obscene, it suddenly does.

Here’s a grab-bag of new developments: In today’s Age, Tom Hyland reports that Australian SAS soldiers seem to have accidentally opened fire on a car full of civilians, killing one person and injuring others, before driving away without offering assistance. Hyland’s information flatly contradicts earlier assurances by Defence Force head Angus Houston — but that shouldn’t be too surprising.

Last week, we learned that the SAS was engaged in what the Australian called “targeted assassinations”, in an “Afghan variation on the Vietnam-era Phoenix Program”. Phoenix was a notoriously depraved series of atrocities. It’s hardly remarkable that soldiers involved in an assassination program derived from it would have no scruples about something as mundane as a lie.

Meanwhile, the fallout continues from the air strikes in Farah, with a thousand students marching through Kabul holding banners demanding that “the murderers of more than 180 martyrs of Farah” go on trial. Naturally, that’s not going to happen. Hamid Karzai might have publicly demanded an end to air strikes — but Barack Obama’s national security adviser, Retired Gen. James Jones, has said flatly that bombings would continue since, if the US were to rule anything out, it would be fighting “with one hand tied behind our back”.

The unwillingness to rule anything out perhaps explains a new twist to the Farah story, with Afghan doctors suggesting that some of the victims may have been killed by white phosphorus, a napalm-like substance, the use of which as a weapon constitutes a war crime. In response, the US said the Taliban was probably responsible. It also explained that militants were to blame for the deaths at Farah, arguing that they employed “villagers as human shields in the hopes they would be killed“.

Well, it’s not impossible, one supposes.

Elsewhere, Tom Lasseter from McClatchy newspapers describes an interview with Hamid Karzai’s brother, the head of Kandahar’s provincial council. Lasseter asked Ahmed Wali Karzai about allegations he was involved in drug trafficking; Karzai responded by threatening to have him beaten.

As for President Karzai himself, he announced his intention to run for re-election alongside a certain Mohammad Qasim Fahim, a man described by Human Rights Watch as “one of the most notorious warlords in the country, with the blood of many Afghans on his hands”. Mind you, in that respect, Fahim’s no different from many of the other officials in Karzai’s regime: a recent report suggested that less than twenty per cent of Afghan officials actually knew that torturing suspects was, like, illegal. To top things off, Karzai also plans to share power with Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, another notorious torturer and a man currently (and rather inconveniently) on America’s “most wanted” terrorist list.

If Karzai, despite his perfect English and his natty outfits in photo ops, seems an increasingly dubious figure, well, get used to him. With no credible opposition, Karzai seems set for re-election, and thus in all probability will, alongside his warlord friends, head the regime for which NATO is fighting into the foreseeable future.

Nice war into which we’ve got ourselves.

Peter Fray

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