Tuesday, November 01, 2011

Collateral damage of empire

We forget that other nations have troops in Afghanistan alongside the large U.S. fighting force. On Saturday, the few of us who are paying attention saw the news that a suicide bomber in supposedly secure Kabul had blasted a bus, killing 13 U.S. personnel, along with Afghans and others.

Left to right: Captain Bryce Duffy, Lance Corporal Luke Gavin and Corporal Ashley Brit. AAP (composite image)

Australians are paying attention this week because they just lost the three soldiers pictured here, raising that tough nation's toll in Afghanistan to 32. They have sent the largest non-NATO contingent, about 1500 troops. The numbers doesn't seem like many next to the U.S. troops killed -- as of Oct. 29 that's 1754. But these Australian deaths were of the sort bring the whole enterprise into question for home populations. The attack:

Three Australian soldiers and an Afghan interpreter were killed and seven other soldiers were wounded when a man wearing an Afghan army uniform opened fire during a parade at a patrol base in Afghanistan, officials said Sunday.

The gunman in Saturday's attack was shot dead by Australian soldiers at the base in southern Kandahar province …

Afghan soldiers at the base were disarmed and confined to their barracks as a precaution as officials investigated the shooting.


Yes, this was another one of those attacks which showed the foreign troops, again, that they cannot tell friend from foe in this ever-so-foreign land.

Australian commentators are wondering, as we do here so frequently, just what good it does to send their men to die in Afghanistan. Published under the headline "Expert Reactions" here's a little of their conversation:

With every death and casualty suffered by our troops, public opinion turns slightly away from the commitment to Afghanistan. President Barack Obama has experienced this, and the Australian government is experiencing it now. The pressure is on to expedite our exit strategy.

… It is easy to say, lets wash our hands off Afghanistan and let them sort out their own mess. The problem is that, ‘their own mess’ is partly due to our involvement and is more than likely to get worse – posing serious risk factors for our interests.
Shahram Akbarzadeh, Professor of Asian Politics (Middle East & Central Asia), University of Melbourne


We are told that the perpetrator of this multiple killing was a rogue or renegade assailant, but that is what we are always told when unpredicted murderous attacks occur. We were told that the men who assassinated the Kennedys in the 1960s, Yitzhak Rabin in 1995, and the thirteen US soldiers at Fort Hood, Texas in November 2009 were all rogue elements. But there is invariably more to the story than the actions of a ‘lone crazed gunman.’

In this case, there are precedents and parallels. The Soviet Union when they invaded Afghanistan in December 1979 faced the same experience facing the IFAF. Their mistake, as is the case now, was to broaden their clear and limited objective in the pursuit of unattainable goals.

The Soviet Union sought to ‘Sovietise’ Afghan society, and now the US-led International Force, having invaded Afghanistan to remove Osama Bin Laden and the Taliban, is attempting to ‘democratise’ the country. The Soviet Union did not intend to stay long, but left, defeated, after nine years. US coalition forces have been in Afghanistan eleven years, and although Bin Laden has been killed, the Taliban remain. The way things are going, it is difficult to see how ISAF can claim victory in Afghanistan and depart leaving what they regard as a satisfactory political situation in what is essentially an unwinnable war.
Ian J. Bickerton, Honourary Associate Professor, School of History and Philosophy, University of New South Wales

It's extremely difficult for big powerful empires to cut their losses. Human beings and human societies find themselves chewed up in their wake.

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