Ever since U.S Marines killed three children in an airstrike in Helmand province in October, a debate has raged online: Is the U.S. deliberately killing kids in Afghanistan?
It’s a frustrating conversation, fed in part recently by an inflammatory piece published by Robert Dreyfuss for The Nation this month. Taking an article I wrote with assistance from Army Times colleague Joe Gould out of context, Dreyfuss said a U.S. officer acknowledged “the military isn’t just out to bomb ‘military age males,’ anymore, but kids, too.”
There’s a major problem, though: the officer quoted, Army Lt. Col. Marion “Ced” Carrington, never said anything of the sort.
What Carrington did say is that the Taliban’s use of children “kind of opens our aperture” on what U.S. forces on the ground must observe.
“In addition to looking for military-age males, it’s looking for children with potential hostile intent,” Carrington told Gould in an interview, published at even greater length in another story published in Army Times this summer.
Yes, Carrington used a weapons reference — “open the aperture” — in the process. Those are commonplace in the military, though, and in no way should be construed to mean that military officers want children dead — even children working for the Taliban. In the Army Times story, Carrington added that he believed the kids his unit had seen emplacing improvised explosive devices were likely “doing favors by coercion or threats.”
There are many U.S. strategies and actions that are easy to question about the war in Afghanistan. The U.S. detainment of children is one. The frequency of airstrikes is another, although it’s important to note that some of them save the lives of Americans who are pinned down under gunfire.
Here’s what I’ve seen in Afghanistan, though:
Snipers holding fire on insurgents until children were out of sight.
Children likely spotting for the Taliban, then disappearing from sight moments before insurgents ambushed a Marine unit with machine guns.
And that’s to say nothing of U.S. forces holding fire this spring in an incident in Sangin district in which a Marine was wounded in the face by a slingshot badly enough by a 12-year-old boy that he needed stitches.
There’s no denying that three kids getting killed by a U.S. rocket is a horribly regrettable incident, whether the children were involved in insurgent activities, or merely just in the neighborhood. It’s something those involved are going to have to live with, and it’s the kind of mistake that turns Afghan civilians into insurgents.
Let’s hold fire on demonizing the entire military infrastructure and everyone in it, however. To imply that the U.S. is deliberately killing children as a matter of policy based on the reporting we’ve done is, quite simply, irresponsible and over the top.