Monday, January 24, 2011

The Futility of the US Military Effort in Afghanistan

This post at The Atlantic website from Joshua Foust (a well-informed observer/analyst who posts regularly at spotlights much of what is oh-so-wrong with the US "surge" in Afghanistan, and the futility of fighting (as Foust terms it) a "tactical war" when the overall goals are so nebulous and the time-frame so problematic.  Especially distressing is Petraeus' insistence that commanders show "progress" and build "momentum" - both of which come too often at the expense of local villagers and their villages, which US forces level, leaving the villagers homeless - and angry.  The US forces provide them funds for rebuilding - but how are they supposed to do that in a war zone?  Again, it's the old Vietnam tactic reborn - destroying a village in order to save it.  Didn't work there; won't work now.  Meanwhile, as Foust notes, some US commanders are working hand-in-hand with local governors who are themselves corrupt and hated by the local people - or those commanders are providing weapons to young men to set themselves up as local militia, except they then use those guns to abuse their power. 

I must take some exception with Foust's statement that the demolition of villages is done "without malice."  Having watched the acclaimed TV presentation Restrepo, which details the lives of US soldiers at a forward operating base in Afghanistan, and having read (over the weekend) David Finkel's excellent The Good Soldiers, which details the experiences of one US Army outfit patrolling east Baghdad during the Petraeus Surge; and having heard all too often (and seen in Facebook posts and elsewhere) the exhortation to US troops to "get some," it's painfully obvious to me that all too many US soldiers, especially as they get well into their deployments and see buddies get killed, come to despise the locals.  I can't imagine that demolishing an Afghan village in the manner that Foust describes didn't come with thoughts and exclamations of "Get some!" or "Fuck 'em" from the grunts.

Petraeus needs to hearken back to his rhetorical request of several years ago: "Tell me how this ends."  It's not going well; and it's not going to end well, especially for all those villagers made homeless so that US soldiers can continue to "protect our freedoms." (That, by the way, is a phrase I'm sick and tired of having our propagandists try to pound into me.  Our freedoms were NEVER in jeopardy, either on 9-11, or from al-Qaeda,or  from Saddam, or from the Taliban.  Bush's domestic policies to "secure the Homeland" endangered them more than any of the aforementioned.)  Nor will this end well for all those soldiers who've lost their lives, limbs, eyesight, marriages, and futures in a cause that by now has lost any semblance of nobility.

Update: From Wired comes a report that according to one of the reporters Foust quotes in his post (and who is also writing a biography of Petraeus himself), the locals are happy that the US forces blew up their village.  (A before-and-after photo is pasted below.)   Wired's take:

Perhaps rebuilding a village can offset its residents’ anger at its destruction. But it’s worth remembering that Insurgency 101 is about provoking violent overreactions from counterinsurgents. Petraeus’ spokesman, Col. Erik Gunhus, told Danger Room last week that U.S. troops waging a difficult fight in southern Afghanistan were encountering compounds and even whole villages “saturated” with homemade explosives, ready to kill American forces.

That suggests the Taliban may be trying to force the U.S. into knocking down the buildings, spreading the message that the U.S. don’t actually care about Afghan lives or property. “Given that the strategy — that EVERYONE here knows — is to win the hearts and minds of villagers, razing villages is not high on the priority list,” Broadwell emails Afghanistan analyst Josh Foust, who’s been sharply critical of the Tarok Kolache operation. “It is not common.”

Perhaps. But in November, the New York Times reported that during a two-month period in Kandahar, NATO tallied 174 “deliberate demolitions… including homes and other structures.”

To say the least, U.S. reconstruction efforts in Afghanistan don’t have a good track record. Hopefully Broadwell’s right and Tarok Kolache will prove to be an exception. But the more the U.S. relies on demolitions like that, the smaller its margin of error for keeping the Afghan people on its side will become.In July, a military official wrote that the Taliban “want” U.S. troops to “kill civilians or damage their property in the course of our operations,” thereby creating “more enemies than our operations eliminate.” His name is Gen. David Petraeus. Years ago, he learned some hard lessons about how heavy-handed tactics can inadvertently set back an entire U.S. war effort.

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