Monday, March 02, 2009

Whoopse, we did it again. Another Afghan raid goes wrong. Again!

The more things change, the more they seem to stay the same.

AP reports:

"Civilian casualties in Afghanistan are 'significantly higher' today than a year ago, and an intensification of the conflict this year could mean that consequences for many more Afghans will be 'dire in the extreme,' said Pierre Krahenbuhl, the director of operations for the International Committee of the Red Cross . . .

Krahenbuhl said he emphasized to the American commanders the 'constant obligation' to distinguish between 'those participating in hostilities and those who do not.'

'Unless more is done in different ways by the different parties to the conflict ... to respect their obligations under international humanitarian law, the ICRC fears that the Afghan population will bear the brunt of the announced escalation and that consequences for many will be dire in the extreme,' Krahenbuhl said."

Of course, no one would expect the Talibs to respect the lives of noncombatants, but that is sort of why we're supposedly there. We're the good guys. But if you're the average Afghani, it must be really tough to distinguish between the white hats and the black hats.

USA Today reported:

"More Afghan civilians are dying in U.S. and allied operations than at the hands of the Taliban, according to a count by The Associated Press. In the first two months of the year, U.S., NATO or Afghan forces have killed 100 civilians, while militants have killed 60."

And even worse:

"U.S. deaths in Afghanistan increased threefold during the first two months of 2009 compared with the same period last year."

That will lead to even more Afghani deaths followed by more American deaths. And the beat goes on. I think we saw this same sort of thing in Iraq, didn't we? A case in point: Another tactical "success" in the GWOT, and another black eye for the US military's effort to win hearts and minds:

The WaPo reports today on another messed up midnight raid by US soldiers in the Afghan village of Bagh-i-Soltan, Logar province, on Feb 20. US forces forced their way into a house of suspected bomb makers, killing one man and arresting four others.

Mission accomplished. Things didn't go so well after that, though.

Pamela Constable reports from FORWARD OPERATING BASE ALTIMUR:

"By midmorning, hundreds of angry people were blocking the nearby highway, burning tires and shouting 'Death to America!' By mid-evening, millions of Afghan TV news viewers were convinced that foreign troops had killed an unarmed man trying to answer his door . . .

Tactically, the U.S.-led night raid in the village of Bagh-i-Soltan was a success . . .

Strategically, however, the incident was a disaster. Its most incriminating version -- colored by villagers' grief and anger, possibly twisted by Taliban propaganda and magnified by the growing influence of independent Afghan TV -- spread far faster than U.S. authorities could even attempt to counter . . .

A week after the raid, even though U.S. officials had by then met with village elders and released all but one detainee, emotions in Bagh-i-Soltan were still running high, and the raided compound was full of condolence callers

What's wrong with this picture and why haven't we learned anything from Iraq?

More loose thinking on the military's part that seems to indicate they haven't quite learned the lessons of Iraq, yet. This despite 6 years of still dealing with the consequences of getting it so wrong at the beginning of the occupation.

Army Maj. Todd Polk speaking of the suspect shot and killed in the raid explains: "If he were innocent, he would have sat there."

Yeah, that always works in those situations. Someone kicks down your door in the middle of the night and you naturally just sit there while your wife and kids are screaming? Is that what any American male would do? (Isn't that why every American needs to be armed to the teeth to protect their homes?)

To say nothing of the fact that in Afghanistan -- a country constantly at war -- they know a little something about what's happened in the past to many of their countrymen taken in the middle of the night by US soldiers.

If they're lucky they wind up in Gitmo. If they're not, they wind up in Syria or some other human rights poster child locale. Or they just get beaten to death by sadistic MPs, like the Afghani taxi driver, Dilawar, who died a horrible death at Baghram.

Maj. Polk, the piece reports, is frustrated by the lack of communication between his troops and the local police. The policeman he spoke to told him, through an interpreter: "You didn't need to take all those vehicles and people to raid that house. You just needed to make one call." Polk remains skeptical, though.

Why not take him at his word and see what happens? I'd say the lack of communication seems to go both ways. If someone in charge of making nice with the local population is just going to instantly reject the advice of a local constable, the very person we need on our side to have any success with this project of winning hearts and minds, then what's the point?

Maj. Polk's solution, though, is to ignore all that and conclude: "Next time, we just have to be faster putting out the truth."

So, it's just a PR problem then? If Gitmo and Abu Ghraib are any indication of the kind of bad PR we're attempting to surmount, it's probably fair to say, we'd better have a plan B.

It's like the military has to relearn all it's apparently forgotten from doing things right in Iraq. If this is the case, we might as well just pull up stakes and get the hell out of there. This time, much more so than in Iraq, we can't afford another couple years of screwing up in order to get it right.

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