Monday, February 15, 2010

Firefight in Afghanistan

Salon has a remarkable eyewitness account (from an AP reporter embedded with a US Marine outfit) of an ambush and firefight near Marja - part of the ongoing Operation Moshtarak.  Scary stuff; US and Afghan troops are facing a difficult situation:
the intense gunfight showed the difficulty of fighting an enemy who knows the terrain, watches, waits and strikes when it chooses -- frequently appearing to capitalize on Western rules designed to prevent civilian casualties.
Shades of the American experience in Vietnam?

Don't get me wrong. I'm no fan of those Taliban whose intent is to impose a draconian rule that would debase women.  And I want to see all those American kids get home safe and sound.

But I can't ignore the fact that a large proportion of the "Taliban" likely are not ideologues, but men who resent the presence of foreigners and a proven-corrupt, illegitimately elected central government (which the US authorities describe now as a "government in a box," ready to be rolled in and installed once the "insurgents" have been cleared out).  They're confronted by a military force supported by overwhelming air superiority and the best of 21st-century weaponry.  They resist with whatever resources they can muster - via ambushes and IEDs.  From the "Western" standpoint, they're illegally bending the rules:
Close to the road and relative safety, soldiers saw a man in black walking. He was unarmed. They watched him in their scopes but did not shoot. Western forces in Afghanistan are operating under rules of engagement, or ROE, that restrict them from acting against people unless they commit a hostile act or show hostile intent. American troops say the Taliban can fire on them, then set aside their weapon and walk freely out of a compound, possibly toward a weapons cache in another location.
Again, not meaning to impugn our "founding fathers," but isn't this the kind of thing that American colonial rebels resorted to against the British in the 1770s?   The British were screaming foul, cursing the "uncivilized" tactics.  Some of the colonials did get caught, and became martyrs for the cause. We see them today as heroes.

Many of the "insurgents" will be killed, or else detained and perhaps abused at the hands of American or Afghan "interrogators."  When the US forces leave Afghanistan, and many of those who are now "Taliban insurgents" become part of whatever new political system is set up (and let's not kid ourselves; they will), can't we expect those who were killed or abused to be lionized as heroes and martyrs who gave their lives to drive out the invaders?

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