Tuesday, April 6, 2010

New York Times sees 'occupation' in Afghanistan

Back in February, the Open Society Institute released a report on the war in Afghanistan entitled 'Strangers at the Door' which noted improvements in some areas of forces conduct following the introduction of General McChrystal's new guidelines. In particular, there has been progress in "reducing civilian deaths due to airstrikes," according to the report. It continues:

One practice, however, that has changed little is the search and seizure operations known as night raids. (link)
We saw back in January that there is reason to believe that ground force attacks, often at night, are replacing the airstrike as the most common terror tactic in use by American-led forces in Afghanistan. Now reporter Richard Oppel of the New York Times has news of a similar kind:
Tighter Rules Fail to Stem Deaths of Innocent Afghans at Checkpoints
Richard Oppel, Jr.

KABUL, March 26 (NYT) - American and NATO troops firing from passing convoys and military checkpoints have killed 30 Afghans and wounded 80 others since last summer, but in no instance did the victims prove to be a danger to troops, according to military officials in Kabul.

“We have shot an amazing number of people, but to my knowledge, none has ever proven to be a threat,” said Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal, who became the senior American and NATO commander in Afghanistan last year. His comments came during a recent videoconference to answer questions from troops in the field about civilian casualties.

Though fewer in number than deaths from airstrikes and Special Forces operations, such shootings have not dropped off, despite new rules from General McChrystal seeking to reduce the killing of innocents. The persistence of deadly convoy and checkpoint shootings has led to growing resentment among Afghans fearful of Western troops and angry at what they see as the impunity with which the troops operate — a friction that has turned villages firmly against the occupation. ...

Many of the detainees at the military prison at Bagram Air Base joined the insurgency after the shootings of people they knew, said the senior NATO enlisted man in Afghanistan, Command Sgt. Maj. Michael Hall.

“There are stories after stories about how these people are turned into insurgents,” Sergeant Major Hall told troops during the videoconference. ... (link)
Oppel should be commended for his use of the word "occupation" to describe the task of foreign troops in Afghanistan. It may be a first for the New York Times.

In another New York Times milestone, a former member of the Reagan administration became the first commentator I've seen to advocate in its pages for an old solution to a new problem. Bing West, former Marine and former assistant secretary of defence, wants to see the US get tight with an expanded and empowered military and pull out:
The Philippines — and South Korea as well — evolved into thriving democracies at their own pace, well after American aid helped to beat back the military threats facing them. It was enough to prevent the Communist takeovers and leave behind governments controlled in the background by a strong military. We didn’t spend tens of billions of dollars on material projects to inculcate democratic principles.

Similarly, a diminished Hamid Karzai can be left to run a sloppy government, with a powerful, American-financed Afghan military insuring that the Taliban do not take over. ... (link)
And lest we forget that even a supposedly improved situation is still a horrific one for those on the population of the country:
KABUL, April 6 (Reuters) - NATO launched an investigation on Tuesday into whether its forces had killed four civilians -- two women, a child and an elderly man -- in an air strike overnight on a compound in southern Afghanistan.

In a separate incident, the NATO-led force said it was also investigating how one child had been killed and three wounded during a clash with fighters in the east of the country... (link)

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