June 25, 2009

Blurring the Lines

Individual drone strikes in Pakistan normally have no meaning, but the latest attack on a Taliban commander's funeral slices to the mangled bones of war.

“After the prayers ended people were asking each other to leave the area as drones were hovering,” one of the wounded, Mohammad Saeed Khan, told the AFP from Miramshah hospital in North Waziristan. “First two drones fired two missiles, it created a havoc, there was smoke and dust everywhere. Injured people were crying and asking for help. They fired the third missile after a minute, and I fell on the ground.”

Bombing a funeral, spraying girls with acid - America and the Taliban more than disdain each other, Afghanistan is full of genuine hatred. There’s no code of honor, no mutual respect, no heart. But does America want to gamble down the Taliban’s path? More than a war could be lost.

Though America is reluctant to admit, the Taliban’s cause is more legitimate than Al Qaeda’s and this difference has created skepticism for the war in Afghanistan. The Taliban’s resistance to foreign occupation is considered valid compared to Al Qaeda’s pursuit of a strict Islamic world, but the Taliban is selling its soul by bombing children, women, and clerics.

War is the realm of paradoxes and America’s cause in Afghanistan began as valid as the Taliban’s. America was attacked and nature demands a counterattack from any species. While invading a country whose government wasn’t directly involved was a precarious decision, leaving the real perpetrators free to continue plotting wasn’t a viable alternative.

America took a legitimate cause to Afghanistan and the Taliban countered with an equal cause. Their objectives could both be impossible too. So how far does America want to mirror the Taliban? Lessons from Vietnam have thankfully been applied to Afghanistan, at least in part. Gone are massive carpet-bombing and napalming, massacres of villages, and the philosophy that guns trump all.

Correcting errors loses meaning though if other errors are committed. American officials still admit to lax air-strike rules of engagement; new rules have been established but Afghans remain skeptical. The underpaid Afghan police force is swamped in corruption. Poppy eradication has backfired by provoking Afghan villagers. And even with 21,000 fresh Marines, America will still be undermanned in Afghanistan.

This is only a partial list of mistakes that have placed America on the brink of morality, and balance is difficult to maintain. Just ask the Pakistani Taliban, who were in the same position a year ago.

The Taliban managed to keep its popularity afloat in Pakistan for seven years after 9/11. The Pakistani people, media, army, and government downplayed the threat and evil of the Taliban, bu it overplayed its advantage by invading Swat, bombing Pakistan’s largest cities into terror, and assassinating several high-level clerics.

The last drops of Taliban sympathy dried up. Now the Taliban must be eliminated.

Perched on the same edge between popularity and hatred, America decided to unleash Hellfire missiles into a funeral. Culture shock and awe. Is the Afghan War completely devoid of honor? Are funerals fair targets? Are Taliban soldiers less than animals? What would America think if the Taliban attacked the funeral of an American commander? Brutal, despicable, cowardly, evil.

Herein lie more paradoxes. Baitullah Mehsud, leader of the Pakistani Taliban, reportedly attended the funeral before the missiles hit. Though he escaped, the strike could be America’s nearest miss. Pakistani condemnation, already hollow, made no sense; Mehsud is the target of Pakistan’s new operation in Waziristan. America and Pakistan collaborated on the strike and they almost got him.

Strictly from a military perspective, the strike was a justifiably correct decision. The Pakistani Taliban’s head could have been cut off, leaping the war towards its conclusion. But counterinsurgency isn’t all military. The drones missed and Mehsud escaped, leaving up to 80 dead bodies in his place. While many militants, including several commanders, were reportedly killed, civilian casualties are above 40.

The Taliban might have lost their Islamic credibility, but bombing a funeral is perfect propaganda that America is at war with Islam. The vision of American drones, hovering like buzzards over a funeral, will never be forgotten. Rumors already abound that the Pakistani Taliban was breaking apart under stress; it would be tragically ironic if America’s actions became glue.

And what is the point of winning a war if America loses its soul? The ghosts of Vietnam still haunt us, Afghanistan will cause nightmares for the next century. Let’s not become our enemy.

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