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Saturday, April 17, 2010

How did we lose the war in Afghanistan?

We shot innocent civilians   In the first three months of this year, we killed 72 of them. .

The last incident was Monday when U. S. troops shot up a bus, killed five riders, and wounded 18.

Our commanders and government have apologized and promised extensive investigations.  We have become obsessed with apologies, which do nothing to assuage the anger at the forces who are killing innocent Afghan people, particularly when those forces claim to be protecting those people by combating Taliban forces from which we are trying to free the people.  The Afghan people have to decide who is the real enemy.  The Taliban or NATO?  Or both? 

It's quite simple.  The enemy is whoever kills you,  

The Taliban is responsible for more civilian deaths in Afghanistan.  They like to kill with bombs--car bombs, suicide bombs, anything that works.  The NATO forces kill with drones sometimes, which can't tell a wedding party from some dude jigging into a suicide bomb harness.  Sometimes innocent civilians are in the way when our forces are opening fire on what they think is Taliban fighters.  Other times, like on Monday, they open fire on what they think might be some kind of bomb coming at them,  this time in a bus.

U.S. troops are being asked to win the hearts and minds of the Afghan people.  That is a lot of responsibility to  heap on a bunch of grunts.  It might be in the command's mind to cast the soldiers as saviors, but it is hard to fill that role convincingly while killing those who are supposed to be saved.  But in Afghanistan it is impossible at times to discern the enemy from the innocent civilians.  That is because what appear to be "civilians" may not be so innocent.

The problem is defined by the country's President Kharzai.  At this point, who knows what side he is on?  He has threatened recently that in the face of the NATO-led occupation and assaults on his people, he may join forces with the Taliban.

Kharzai represents the status of Afghanistan.  He is making America very nervous.  President Obama made his surprise trip to Afghanistan largely to try to get Kharzai to affirm his support of the U.S. in Afghanistan.  A few weeks ago, Kharzai hosted a visit by Iran's  Mahmoud Ahmadinejad who is a dipshit, but he is the president of the country.  At that visit Ahmadinejad unleashed his usual vitriol against America, but he asked what may be one of the few coherent things he has ever said.  He asked, in words translated for the blogosphere, WTF are American troops doing in Afghanistan?  What is their purpose for being there?

Within days President Obama made his sudden flight to Afghanistan to meet with Kharzai.  He extracted some commitments to cooperation from Kharzai, but within days of his leaving Kharzai made his threat to join up with the Taliban.  Now President Obama may himself ask WTF are American troops doing Afghanistan with full comprehension of the situation.

Benjamin R. Barber breaks the question down into the fifteen salient points that suggest the answer:

1. There is no " Afghanistan," only an inchoate collection of warring tribes, factions and clans.

2. To the extent there is an "Afghanistan," its government is deeply corrupt and unable to control its own divided country.

3. President Kharzai, our "ally" and the official representative of the "state" on whose behalf we fight, would prefer that we leave -- at least when it comes to what he says for internal consumption.

4. Not that it matters what he thinks since the President of Afghanistan is for all practical purposes little more than the Mayor of Kabul -- and that's on good days.

5. The only thing that unites this otherwise disintegral non-state is that the fractious tribes that despise one another hate foreigners even more.

6. Foreign forces, whatever their intentions, will always be seen as occupiers and hence, the enemy.

7. Ghengis Khan, the British and the Russians all tried to "win" in Afghanistan, and they all failed; it would be an exaggeration to say their futile attempts brought down three empires.... or would it?

8. You can't win wars when you're killing civilians, yet in Afghanistan where the boundary between combatants and civilians is blurred you necessarily are killing a great many civilians a lot of the time.

9. Occupying places where Muslims live (and where they die at your hand) will always been seen as a war against Islam rather than a war against terrorism.

10. You can't make people free at the barrel of a gun.

11. There is no better way to create terrorists than to make war on Muslims in the name of fighting wars against terrorism.

12. America can't save the world, and risks losing what is best in America when it tries.

13. Military force and overwhelming firepower applied from the outside are more likely to undermine than sustain the development of democracy inside a developing country.

14. Al Qaeda is not Afghanistan and it is not the Taliban either; it is a malevolent NGO, and winning Afghanistan or defeating the Taliban cannot vanquish al Qaeda.

15. We can't pay for questionable wars abroad and afford justice and economic recovery at home, and trying to do so is likely to lead to losing the war and undermining justice.


larry kurtz said...

Great piece.

Add how the heroin traders with clients in the former Soviet bloc broker fissile materials with impunity through Pakistan's border region, shake vigorously with a little hatred and poof!

Makes North Korea look a mere finger puzzle.

Thad Wasson said...

How can you defeat your enemy when you broadcast your battle plans six months before you invade? See Marjah.

The fault is looking at this war through an American perspective, not an Afghan one. We will continue to bleed and destroy those who cause us no harm until we set our egos aside and say 'we can do no more.'

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