Sunday, March 8, 2009

The Dilemmas of US Forces on the Ground in Afghanistan

The WaPo's superb Pamela Constable has an excellent piece in Sunday's edition, reporting on US Army forces patrolling in an Afghan town and searching local homesteads in the company of local police. The conditions are difficult, and the local police are untrustworthy, at least from the perspective of the Americans as well as those locals who were interviewed. Some of the locals claim to be happy that US forces are there, and concerned that their departure would bring chaos and civil war.

Such comments sound so much like those from many Iraqis over the last several years. But some other comments from local people also make it clear that the Americans are facing something just as familiar from the Iraq experience: by and large, people resent immensely the presence of armed foreign soldiers on their streets, or in the very personal space (especially in a traditional, Muslim culture) of their own homes. Constable indicates that the Americans have been instructed to be polite and culturally sensitive, yet also reports how one "sensitized" GI screamed obscenities at a local truck driver who failed to pull off to the side of the road as the American convoy approached. He was probably worried about an attack or a suicide bomber. That's understandable. But neither of those was in the offing, and instead the sergeant's yelling probably resulted in one more local angered and offended by the unwanted foreign soldier's insulting behavior. That truck driver surely will tell many others of how the American abused him - and it's likely that other locals witnessed the whole scene go down.

This is truly an impossible situation, and there's not much reason to believe that the "surge" in troop numbers that Mr. Obama has authorized is going to be enough to change the situation on the ground.

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