Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Afghanistan atrocities ahead?

In the next few days, it is very likely that atrocities will be committed by the forces of the United States in Afghanistan. I know that's a strong statement, but think about this sequence of events ...

Last week the NATO command in that country (that's U.S. mainly, as you probably know) held a press conference as reported in the New York Times:

KABUL, Afghanistan-- NATO and the Afghan military are about to launch their biggest joint offensive of the war, and they appear to be making sure the Taliban know they are coming.

On Wednesday, spokesmen for the Afghan Defense Ministry and for the NATO forces announced at a news conference that an offensive involving thousands of troops would begin "in the near future," and while they did not confirm the place, they also did not dispute widespread speculation that the target was the Taliban-held town of Marja.

... If Taliban were to withdraw in advance of the offensive and civilians had ample warning, there could be fewer military and civilian casualties.

"In some cases it may make sense, with a population-centered strategy, to give an awareness where U.S. and Afghan forces are going, and give an opportunity for Taliban and insurgent forces to clear out," said Seth Jones, a RAND Corporation senior political scientist who specializes in Afghanistan. Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal, the American military commander in Afghanistan, has emphasized a counterinsurgency strategy that focuses on reducing civilian casualties and convincing the local population that the Americans and NATO can protect them.

That makes some sense, assuming the people ever heard the announcements and could find somewhere to go. Though unless things presently are unbearable in Marja, they'd probably actually prefer not to be on the receiving end of a massive military attack.

Apparently a good-sized part of the Afghan population of Marja has been getting out. And the commander of the Western troops opines that's a good thing.

Operation Moshtarak will see NATO troops - backed by special forces, war planes, attack helicopters, tanks and drones - attack suspected guerilla bases. ... US Second Marine Expeditionary Force commander Larry Nicholson said that the evacuation of most civilians would give commanders leeway to use air-to-ground missiles, declaring that he was "not looking for a fair fight."

Can't blame him. He doesn't want to be shot at any more than the Marja residents do.

On the other hand, someone in NATO headquarters decided they should start telling residents of the southern Helmand area not to leave. According to Reuters today:

NATO forces have decided to advise civilians in Marjah not to leave their homes, although they say they do not know whether the assault will lead to heavy fighting. "The message to the people of the area is of course, keep your heads down, stay inside when the operation is going ahead," [NATO civilian representative Mark] Sedwill said.

...Under international law, NATO forces are obliged to provide humanitarian assistance to anyone who chooses to flee the assault, said Brad Adams of Human Rights Watch. Having advised civilians to stay instead -- helping ensure the area remains heavily populated during the offensive -- they bear an extra responsibility to control their fire and avoid tactics that endanger civilians.

"I suspect that they believe they have the ability to generally distinguish between combatants and civilians. I would call that into question, given their long history of mistakes, particularly when using air power," Adams said.

Yeah, if I lived in Marja I'd be frightened, confused and very worried.
And to a very considerable degree, I would know what was coming. You see, as Joshua Foust explains, this will be the fourth time since 2007 that Western forces have fought their way through the area. For what?

Public estimates indicate the town of Marjeh holds, at the most, 1,000 or so Taliban operatives—men who have vowed to blend into the civilian population when the troops arrive. It also contains some of -- but by no means the majority-- of Helmand’s vast opium industry. ...

To long term observers of Afghanistan, these operations happen with a depressing regularity-- and all too often the coverage resembles cheerleading more than it does journalism. ... please do not act surprised when we have to have another "surge" next year when more troops arrive, and please do not act outraged when all the farmers prevented from planting opium this year freak out because they're defaulting on their narco-debts and their economies are crashing.

So okay, all the U.S. posturing and journalistic noise from Afghanistan may be so much smoke; this is war, after all. But I claimed immanent atrocities -- what's that about?

The atrocity is that no one has given any plausible reason why thousands of Afghans should be displaced and some number killed, their livelihoods destroyed, and nothing really changed except those still alive left more vulnerable and miserable. The military doesn't intend atrocities, but atrocities are an unavoidable by-product of a war without purpose or end.

Al-Qaeda isn't in Marja -- bin Laden decamped to Pakistan years ago. The NATO troops will leave the burned out town -- maybe next year, maybe next month. Western troops won't hang around anywhere in Afghanistan forever; their countries will stop paying for this war in lives and treasure. Afghan soldiers or police from other parts of the country may hang around for awhile -- or not. The Taliban may fight -- or melt away -- and certainly come back, because some of them live there. This has been going on for 9 years since the U.S. arrived and 30 years since the Soviet Union took a turn at tearing up Afghanistan. Fighting over these places builds nothing; it only destroys. Time to just stop it.

Here's a clip from a displaced persons' camp outside Kabul so we can at least look at the people we are driving from their homes for no defensible plan or reason.

1 comment:

Darlene said...

One of the most hateful euphemisms that I know is 'collateral damage.' These are human beings and they bleed and suffer just as you and I do.

I hate war in all of its manifestations, but this senseless unwinnable war is the worst.

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