Saturday, January 15, 2011

Blown out of existence in Afghanistan

If this story is the widespread reality, the war is not going anywhere good.

According to journalist Paula Broadwell writing on Thomas Rick's Foreign Policy blog, last October a U.S. army unit in southern Afghanistan was in trouble. It had lost several soldiers killed and wounded and confronted a village where through some combination of recruitment and intimidation, the Taliban had implanted a maze of deadly mines. So they called in artillery and air power and this was the result:

The soldiers promised to rebuild the village if the locals would work on the project, but encountered organizational obstacles. Unaccountably to Broadwell, their efforts were not entirely popular. One vocal villager accused the soldiers of "ruining his life." If I read Broadwell correctly, the troops are still there, still trying get some rebuilding on track.

I'll leave commentary on this minor incident of the war to Joshua Foust, who writes about international security issues at Registan and in numerous print media, including the New York Times, Reuters, The Christian Science Monitor, The Columbia Journalism Review, and World Politics Review.

Look, war is hell. I have no illusions about that. But what is happening right now in Southern Afghanistan is inexcusable. ... I’m really struggling to see how such behavior does not violate Article 33 of the Fourth Geneva Convention -- that is, how this behavior is not a war crime, especially given the explicit admission that such behavior is merely for the convenience of the soldier and not any grander strategy or purpose. ...

What baffles me is, why the hell is Broadwell so pleased with this? Will she ever write a follow up post about where these villagers will be able to live while they wait for the magnanimous soldiers to rebuild the town they erased? The callousness of this account is, literally, breathtaking: if soldiers are razing entire villages to avoid a few IEDs and to preserve their momentum, that should be triggering even token expressions of regret or even concern. Instead, it prompts her to mock the Afghans for complaining about it… as well they should. Those soldiers will be damned lucky if they escape their deployment without any suicide bombs or nasty IED incidents. Because they have certainly earned the fatal, burning wrath of every single Afghan living nearby.

I cannot comprehend why the deliberate destruction of villages seems to be an official, sanctioned ISAF policy in the South. Is is abhorrent, an atrocity, and there is no excuse for it (nor are there words for the anger it’s stirred in me, reading about it from afar; I suspect Broadwell would sniff at me to stop whining as well, were we to discuss it in person). This should outrage and infuriate everyone who reads about it. But, and this is where I move from rage to despair: how could we ever possibly hope to stop it?

I imagine that, during the Russian invasion of Afghanistan from 1979 through 1989, most Russian citizens didn't have much idea what their troops were doing either. Nor did they understand that Afghans are people with normal human reactions to having their villages -- their lives, their possessions, their memories -- erased by foreigners. The United States has now been mucking about in Afghan lives longer than the Soviets.

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