Monday, January 4, 2010

Why Are We There? (Part 3,798)

From Juan Cole, who does all the heavy lifting when it comes to Afghan policy, comes two related stories. The first:
KABUL, Afghanistan — Deepening a rift between allies, Afghan investigators on Wednesday sharply contradicted accounts by NATOofficials about the deaths of 10 civilians in eastern Afghanistan, saying a visit to the remote site showed that nearly all those killed were school-age boys and one was an elderly man. They blamed international forces for the deaths....
“The delegation concluded that a unit of international forces descended from a plane Sunday night into Ghazi Khan village, in Narang District of the eastern province of Kunar, and took 10 people from 3 homes, 8 of them school students in grades 6, 9 and 10, one of them a guest, the rest from the same family, and shot them dead,” said the statement from the president’s office.
The second:
KABUL, Afghanistan — The second episode of civilian deaths within a week was under investigation Thursday by the Afghan government and NATO officials after reports that up to seven civilians had been killed in Helmand Province in a NATO missile strike.

The latest episode, in Helmand, took place Wednesday afternoon on the outskirts of the provincial capital, Lashkar Gah, when NATO forces responded to a Taliban provocation and ended up killing a number of civilians. Neither NATO forces nor the Helmand governor’s office gave a definitive number of dead, but reports from local people said that five to seven civilians had been killed, including three children.

We do not know if these allegations are true. But it doesn't matter (unless you're one of the dead.) The United States has a history of these kinds of atrocities; they are unavoidable in counterinsurgency combat. It does not require a stretch of the imagination to believe that they happened. 

These are precisely the kinds of things that inspire Islamic terrorism, further empower the Afghan insurgency, and generally make the United States a less secure nation. And given the fact that these kinds of events are unavoidable, counterinsurgency operations need to have a clear and obtainable objective, and the need to be absolutely vital to the security of the US. So vital, in fact, that the benefit from the operations will clearly outweigh the very real security costs of bombing and shooting schoolchildren.

Given that we have no clear objective, nor any real national security interest, nor any hope of reaching whatever objective we decide on this week, can anyone say with a straight face that the benefits are worth these costs?

I'll let Juan Cole sum it up.
So, the US is killing schoolchildren far too often, enraging the Afghan public. It has provoked a student protest movement against it in Jalalabad and Kabul. Its informants are double agents. Its supposed partner, the Afghan army, mostly doesn't actually exist and couldn't be depended on to show up to anything important; and that is when they aren't taking potshots at US troops; and there is no Afghan government as we go into 2010.
Other than that, we're in great shape.

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