The President went to Dover Air Force Base to visit with families of the returning US forces killed in a helicopter shoot-down in Afghanistan. 30 Americans died in the crash, including 22 Navy SEALs from the same team as the one that participated in the raid on Osama bin Laden. There was no media coverage of the return of the troop remains.

McClatchy has been reporting, however, on the area where the Chinook helicopter was shot down, and how sympathies there among the local population have turned toward the Taliban:

The 30 U.S. soldiers, many of them Navy SEALs, who died Saturday in the U.S. military’s single biggest loss of the Afghan war, were operating in a Taliban-controlled valley where frequent U.S.-led night raids have won the insurgents popular support, area residents said Sunday.

The raids occur “every night. We are very much miserable,” said Roshanak Wardak, a doctor and a former member of the national Parliament. “They are coming to our houses at night.”

Night raids have become a significant part of the U.S. strategy aimed at weakening the insurgents and compelling their leaders to accept U.S. and Afghan government offers to hold talks on a political settlement of the decade-old war.

There has been no apparent progress toward convening peace talks, but U.S. commanders defend the raids as effective in eliminating and capturing insurgents, and gaining intelligence that leads to other militants and arms caches.

“Eight-five percent are shots not fired, when you’re talking about night raids and disruption,” said the Western intelligence official. “Over 50 percent of the time they hit the target that they’re after, which shows the intelligence has been accurate.”

How does a statistic like that, showing that the commando teams hit the proper target “over 50% of the time,” show the accuracy of the intelligence? Doesn’t that mean that the forces either miss the target or hit the wrong one almost 50% of the time?

It seems pretty clear that the frequent night raids in Wardak province have turned the local population against the war effort. And that has led to increased Taliban influence in the region, which goes directly to the shooting down of the Chinook helicopter. The Taliban forced the US out of a base in the region 2-3 months ago because of daily attacks. So this hostility was well-known. Yet the Chinook was in the area to support a night raid. Why a burly plane like the Chinook is being used in hostile areas is another question worth asking.

But the biggest question is why the military thinks it’s a positive strategy to terrorize the local population. Maybe that helps with metrics on number of insurgents killed, but it furthers no goals in the region. Of course, why we’re there at all would be the next question to arise, and how these daily raids makes us safer in terms of national security, or safeguards the men and women carrying out and supporting these actions.

David Dayen

David Dayen