There were gruesome scenes in Afghanistan last week as US forces bombed a village in the southern Afghan province of Farah, killing at least 147 mostly women and children. It may be the single largest massacre of civilians in the past seven years of Western occupation of Afghanistan.
As bodies were being heaped onto trucks for quick Muslim burials in mass graves, protesters hurled abuse and stones at local government offices.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton expressed "personal regret" for the loss of lives as she looked in the direction of President Hamid Karzai who, along with Pakistan’s President Asif Ali Zardari, addressed the media in the White House last Wednesday.
US officials were quick to blame the Taliban for deliberately sheltering among civilians and thereby maximising casualties. Afghan National Army troops have been criticised too — for, it is claimed, calling in air support during a skirmish with the Taliban near the village of Bala Boluk.
They also claimed that the bombing was different to the one at Azizabad last August that claimed 90 civilian lives. The US had earlier said only a handful of Taliban fighters had been killed during that bombing, only to later acknowledge that civilians had died — although they claimed it was less than 90, a figure agreed upon by both the Afghan Government and an independent UN investigation.
This latest bloody attack is a reminder that for ordinary Afghans, death in this war can come from both the Taliban and from the Western-led forces.
Ordinary Afghans are too easily forgotten in the rhetoric about destroying terrorist havens.
According to US Air Force figures, during April 438 bombs were dropped over Afghanistan by American planes alone, the largest amount ever dropped during Operation Enduring Freedom. Last year was the worst for civilians caught up in the war — according to the Afghanistan Rights Monitor, 3917 civilians were killed, over 6800 wounded and 120,000 were forced to leave their homes.
The day after the attack on Farah, Presidents Karzai and Zardari met with Barack Obama to discuss the Taliban insurgency that is gaining strength in both countries.
President Karzai condemned the attack as "unacceptable" and demanded a full investigation. But there was little else he could do. President Obama spoke stridently of the need to "take out" the Taliban while pushing for economic development in areas most affected by the Taliban in both countries. His staffers have quietly if none-too-secretly told journalists that his Administration is not happy with either Karzai or Zardari.
Like Karzai, the war with the Taliban has left President Zardari an unpopular man.