Afghans chant anti-U.S. slogans during a demonstration Friday in Mazar-e-Sharif, where a mob overran a UN compound and killed seven international staffers. The northern city was to host one of the first formal handovers of security to the Afghans in July. Photograph by: Reuters, Ottawa Citizen
The protest began in response to the burning of a Qur'an by a publicity-seeking Florida religious extremist. Muslims cherish their holy book as the present word of God. Una Moore, an international development professional, responded to news of this mob action.
The security guards were under orders not to fire on demonstrators but were killed just the same.
The U.S. Commander in Afghanistan, General David Petraeus, has rushed to condemn the Florida Qur'an burning as "hateful," "intolerant," and "extremely disrespectful." But it is hard not to see the assault on the UN compound and subsequent demonstrations across the country during which more people have died over the weekend, as indicative of what Moore flagged: this may be the moment when ordinary Afghans who are simply sick of having foreigners overrunning their country, with or without guns, are saying "enough." Sure -- the Florida outrage was the particular trigger, but this kind of comprehensive rejection even of non-governmental foreigners doesn't happen and can't be incited unless rejection of their presence is deep and very widespread.
The United States counter-insurgency project dies if it has to be entirely enforced by U.S. troops and dwindling contingents from NATO allies. There are 30 million Afghans; 150,000 or so troops and some number of hired contractors can't control that population without some cooperation from the locals. But, if after 10 years of killing of "insurgents" and many civilians, the invaders have completely worn out their welcome with most Afghans, the mission has failed. International non-governmental organizations can't send their development staff into such a situation; building up Afghan police and the army becomes impossible. (The Wall Street Journal reports that in Mazar last Friday, Afghan "police guards" were "confused" and "dropped their weapons.") Maybe "insurgents" and/or the Taliban helped inflame the crowds, but nobody can inflame people who are not very ready to catch fire.
Time to get out of this tinder box. The U.S. occupation is not working.