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Comments by YACCS
Monday, July 10, 2006

The blowback problem

Posted by James Wolcott

It's as if the American military and media thought that the deaths of Iraqi civilians from US action somehow wouldn't count as long as we didn't actually count them. Digby the indispensable analyzes and amplifies an important piece by Andrew Bacevich in the Washington Post about the callow attitude towards civilian casualties that has helped make enemies of those we boast about having liberated.


"This disdain for counting bodies, especially those of Iraqi civilians killed in the course of U.S. operations, is among the reasons why U.S. forces find themselves in another quagmire. It's not that the United States has an aversion to all body counts. We tally every U.S. service member who falls in Iraq, and rightly so. But only in recent months have military leaders finally begun to count -- for internal use only -- some of the very large number of Iraqi noncombatants whom American bullets and bombs have killed.

"Through the war's first three years, any Iraqi venturing too close to an American convoy or checkpoint was likely to come under fire. Thousands of these 'escalation of force' episodes occurred. Now, Lt. Gen. Peter Chiarelli, the commander of U.S. ground forces in Iraq, has begun to recognize the hidden cost of such an approach. 'People who were on the fence or supported us' in the past 'have in fact decided to strike out against us,' he recently acknowledged."

To which Digby remarks, "An occupying army has been shooting civilians indiscriminately (or at least it seems that way) engendering resentment among the population and they are just now recognizing that this might not have been the best idea in the world? Jesus."

Well, at least American policy is consistent, because we've been making the same mortal mistakes in Afghanistan, perhaps with even more roaring disregard. Christina Lamb, who's been doing stalwart reporting from Afghanistan for the Times of London, has a long reflection today about the comeback of the Taliban, the isolated state of the Kabul government, and the tragic repeat of the Russian folly. Its title, "Death Trap", pretty much sets the tone. History has never favored the invader or occupier in Afghanistan, and, according to Lamb, what's made the British mission even more vexingly quixotic has been the roadkill and bomb craters left by the US military in its high-powered, high-altitude hot rodding, which tends to rile the locals and swell the ranks of militias.

"...[T]he continuing air raids across Afghanistan, sometimes on wedding parties or innocent villagers, ...have led to the loss of thousands of civilian lives. In May this year there were an astonishing 750 bombing raids*, according to American Central Command."

"Karzai has repeatedly complained to the Americans about the bombers and the lack of cultural sensitivity of raids on the ground — doors kicked down in the middle of the night, male soldiers entering women’s quarters or taking in dogs which are considered unclean.

"Another bitter complaint is of American convoys driving too fast and not stopping when they run someone down. It was such an incident in Kabul that provoked a six-hour riot last month — yet two weeks later a US truck ran over a child in exactly the same place.

"'How can we go in offering school sets and candy to people when the Americans have just bombed someone’s family or run over their daughter?' asked an exasperated senior ISAF [International Security Assistance Force, under Nato control] officer."


"Against such a backdrop, it seems hopelessly naive for the British to hope that locals in Helmand will differentiate between them and the Americans. At every meeting I attended, para commanders started off by telling local elders, 'we’re British, not Americans,' an odd comment for such close allies.

"At a shura or traditional meeting in Gereshk, elders complained about soldiers bursting into their women’s quarters.

"'It’s not us, we’ve had endless cultural training about this,' said Major Paul Blair, the local British commander. 'But of course they don’t see the difference.'

"'You don’t even differentiate between Pashtuns and Tajiks, let alone different Pashtun tribes,' replied a local teacher. 'Why should we?'

"Back at the camp after this discussion we found that a convoy of Americans had arrived. They were laughing about running over some goats on the way in. 'Now I’m going to have to make another phone call to the district chief to sort it out,' grumbled Blair."

Goatkill, something fun to tell the folks back home about.

Surveying the Mission: Intractable in Afghanistan, Lamb concludes: "It did not have to be this way. Just as the Taliban and Al-Qaeda would never have taken hold if the West had not abandoned Afghanistan after the Russians withdrew in 1989, so we would not be in the mess we are today if London and Washington had focused on Afghan nation-building after 2001 instead of pursuing other foreign adventures."

For Bush-Blair, "nation-building" has become a phrase intended to justify open-ended occupation...given the corporate corruption of the bidding process, I'm not sure nation building would have been attempted in good faith even if the neocons and Cheney-Rumsfeld hadn't been in a mad rush to get to Baghdad, and from there to Tehran. In any event, as Digby observes, the US is the victim of its own original sin.

"...the fundamental flaw remains the invasion itself, a bad decision from which everything else flows. The lesson is that an illegal, dishonest war of choice is doomed on its own terms. In the modern world outright conquest is impossible and anything else cannot be finessed with spin and wishful thinking.

"That we compounded that error with a comic book understanding of the people we were 'liberating' and a lack of postwar planning that was criminal in its negligence is just more evidence of the perfidy of this administration and its congressional enablers. But the central problem remains that it is not how we waged the war, it's that we waged it at all."

*William S. Lind, commenting on the bombing extravaganza in a column titled "Air Strikes in Afghanistan: Aargh!," marvels at the Pentagon's tactical genius for getting it exactly wrong: In guerrilla war, "Air power works against you, not for you. It kills lots of people who weren't your enemy, recruiting their relatives, friends, and fellow tribesmen to become your enemies. In this kind of war, bombers are as useful as 42 cm. siege mortars."

posted by Steve @ 12:51:00 AM

12:51:00 AM

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