Offshoring Afghanistan: Kill Baby Kill!
As the debate on Afghanistan policy continues, there have been quite a few suggestions on how we can "down-size" the war effort instead of ending it, moving toward an "offshore" strategy of air-strikes, cruise missiles, and special forces. Of course, most of us remember that as President Clinton’s favored strategy for dealing with Al-Qa’eda, a strategy that failed, mind you. But let’s give it just a quick look, and see if it really is an alternative worth discussing.
A few days ago, the New York Times reported this:
Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal, the top American commander in Afghanistan, has brought most American Special Operations forces under his direct control for the first time, out of concern over continued civilian casualties and disorganization among units in the field.
Why’d he do that?
“In most of the cases of civilian casualties, special forces are involved,” said Mohammed Iqbal Safi, head of the defense committee in the Afghan Parliament, who participated in joint United States-Afghan investigations of civilian casualties last year. “We’re always finding out they are not obeying the rules that other forces have to in Afghanistan.”
“These forces often operate with little or no accountability and exacerbate the anger and resentment felt by communities,” the Human Rights Office of the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan wrote in its report on protection of civilians for 2009.
So, right off the bat, relying on special forces is not going to drop the civilian casualties, since it’s not even the regular occupation troops doing the most killing.
And just what is meant by killing civilians? Is it some poor Afghan in the wrong place, at the wrong time, accidentally getting between our special forces and a mean old Taliban? Nope, all you have to do is sit at home and wait for death:
A few weeks ago, this journalist (who happens to be a friend) contacted me, asking if I had seen an ISAF press release,which stated that during the course of a night raid in Gardez, a Special Forces team made a ‘gruesome discovery’ when they came across three women who were bound and gagged and already dead. My friend asked if I knew anything about this, or whether I had more information (as I had been based in Gardez for the past year and a half, he felt I was an appropriate person to ask). He soon decided to head down there himself to investigate the incident further. It very soon transpired that this press release was a lie, as the women were in fact shot by the forces entering the house and left to die from their wounds. [emphasis added]
Not only can armed men burst into your home and shred you with machine-guns, they’ll lie about it afterward! That’s what we’re talking about when we say "offshoring" with special forces, only on a much bigger scale.
Maybe that’s unfair though, perhaps we could rely more on drone attacks instead of special forces. According to CIA Director Panetta, the airstrikes seem to be working:
So profound is Al Qaeda’s disarray that one of its lieutenants, in a recently intercepted message, pleaded with bin Laden to come to the group’s rescue and provide some leadership, Panetta said. He credited improved coordination with Pakistan’s government and what he called "the most aggressive operation that CIA has been involved in in our history," offering a near-acknowledgment of what is officially a secret war.
"Those operations are seriously disrupting Al Qaeda," Panetta said. "It’s pretty clear from all the intelligence we are getting that they are having a very difficult time putting together any kind of command and control, that they are scrambling. And that we really do have them on the run."
The drones work great supposedly, even for Taliban targets:
During the course of 14 months, the CIA used unmanned and heavily armed small aircraft known as drones to stage 15 strikes against the presumed locations of the leader of the Pakistani Taliban. On Aug. 5, 2009, on the 16th try, the drones finally managed to kill Baitullah Mehsud.
But the hunt for Mehsud cost the lives of far more than 11 people. According to estimates, between 207 and 321 people died in the course of the 16 attempts to eliminate Mehsud — and it is certain that not all of them were Taliban fighters.
We only have to massacre a couple hundred people in order to "successfully" take out one target. That’s even worse than the special forces who only managed to kill 3 unarmed women in the anecdote above.
So, there’s your Offshore strategy for Afghanistan and Pakistan. We massacre human beings, literally by the houseful, and eventually we manage to kill one or two important guys who disagree with us. Oh, but you would succeed in drastically reducing the "footprint" of American forces in Afghanistan. Congratulations, you’re Donald Rumsfeld.
Let’s keep this in mind as we continue to talk about alternative solutions to Afghanistan. Simply "offshoring" the problem with special forces and drones is not a serious solution, and in some ways is even worse than our current escalation policy. When we talk about new ways to move forward, we have to avoid completely any options which rely on violence and military aggression of any kind.
If we want Afghanistan to be stable, uncorrupted, and free of violent extremism, we’re going to have to rely on non-violent methods that don’t involve slaughtering Afghan and Pakistani citizens. Anything else is just Diet War.