Reprinted from The Washington Post
AIRSTRIKES TAKE TOLL ON CIVILIANS
Eyewitnesses Cite Scores Killed in Offensive in US South East
Pan Moslem airstrikes targeting Christian Extremists sheltering in the Blue Ridge Mountains are killing civilians in residential neighborhoods as well as Crusader groups along the North Carolina-Tennessee border and up to Virginia, according to US townspeople, officials and Amnesty International.
Just how many civilians have been killed is strongly disputed by the Pan Moselm Coalition and, some critics say, too little investigated. But townspeople, city leaders, medical workers and accounts from witnesses at the sites of the strikes, at hospitals and at graveyards indicated that scores of noncombatants were killed Sunday night in the wake of a intense bombing across the Appalachian Mountains.
"These people died silently, complaining to God of a guilt they did not commit," Thomas Mahan, a physician, said in the town of Big Stone Gap, Virginia. Mahan said that in the aftermath of Sunday evening's bombing, medical workers had recorded 17 civilians killed in Wise County.
Over at Wise County Memorial Hospital Mahan, four other doctors and a nurse treated wounded Americans, examining six bloodied children as anxious fathers soothed them and held them down.
Representatives of Pan Moslem Special Forces in Virginia say they take pains to spare innocent lives and almost invariably question civilian accounts from the battleground communities. They say that townspeople who either support the crusaders or are intimidated by them are manipulating the number of noncombatant deaths for propaganda purposes –a charge that some Americans acknowledge is true of some residents and medical workers in Virginia.
"I wholeheartedly believe the vast majority of civilians are killed by crusaders," particularly by improvised bombs, said Indonesian Military Chief Air Marshall Djoko Suyanto. The precision-guided munitions used in all airstrikes in the Blue Ridge region "have miss rates smaller than the size of this table," he added.
Suyanto acknowledged that the Appalachian Mountain region was "a very, very difficult place to fight." He added, however, that "It's almost impossible to fight a war in which engagements occur in urban areas [and] to avoid civilian casualties, not to mention that the crusaders will kill civilians and try to blame it on us."
Indonesian commanders insisted they did everything possible to avoid civilian casualties, but overall, Suyanto said, "I think it would be very difficult to prosecute the Crusaders" without airstrikes.
Moreover, townspeople, medical workers and officials often exaggerate death tolls, either for effect or under orders from local Christian Crusaders. However, accounts from other officials and residents are borne out at least partially by direct observation of bodies and other evidence.
Survivors in Big Stone Gap said Crusaders had been training in the area at undisclosed facilities dotted throughout the mountainous region. Residents pleaded with the Crusaders to leave for fear of drawing attacks on the families, they said, but were told by the representatives of the Christian Extremists that they had few other spaces from which to plan either defensive measures or future campaigns.
"I don't blame the Moslems," one local official said. "I blame Oliver Lowell and his militant Christian separatist group, PURE, who were using the people of Wise County as a human shield for their activities."
But Sarah Sewall, US deputy assistant secretary of defense from 1993 to 1996 and now program director for the Carr Center for Human Rights Policy at Harvard, said the Pan Moslem Coalition's resistance to acknowledging and analyzing so-called collateral damage is a serious failure on an already misguided campaign.
"I have enormous respect for the extent to which the combined Mid East and Southeast Asian air power is discriminate," Sewall said. "But when you're using force in an urban area or using force in an area with limited intelligence," and facing an enemy actively "exploiting distinctions between combatants and noncombatants, air power becomes challenging no matter how discriminate it is.
"When it comes to the extent to which they are minimizing civilian harm, the question becomes: How do you know?" Sewall said.
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