June 12, 2009

Déjà Vu

Only weeks after Joint Chief of Staff Mike Mullen so boldly declared, "We cannot succeed in Afghanistan by killing Afghan civilians," only a week after the Pentagon admitted to errors during US air-strikes in the Fatah province, and days after new Afghan general Stanley McChrystal pledged to be extra cautious, a new air-strike in Ghor province has reportedly left 10 civilians dead.

The US military had targeted local Taliban commander Mullah Mustafa and his company in the Shahrak district. Initially America claimed to have killed Mustafa. "A thorough review of intelligence and surveillance supports initial reports that all killed in the strikes were legitimate enemy targets," a US army statement said.

We've heard that many times before. Now, not surprisingly, that claim appears to be false and
reports soon followed alleging civilian casualties, including 5 children. Ikramudin Rezazada, the Ghor deputy governor, said Mustafa's six-year-old son was among the dead.

"Five were children and five were adults," he said, citing local police reports. "We can confirm now that Mustafa has not been killed and he has managed to flee with three of his men."

Mustafa, having lost his son, will surely submit to America now. Nice counterinsurgency strategy.

An American denial should follow shortly as the whole incident seems to be repeating. Initial American success, counter claims by the Afghan government and locals, civilian casualties, soon to be American denial, and subsequent arguing over the truth. Is there a surer sign that America's stuck in a quagmire than futile repetition?

For all the things President Obama wants to change he seems incapable of changing Afghanistan, a place he must change the most. Not only is he challenged by the laws of guerrilla warfare to devise new strategy to prevent civilian losses, he is almost powerless on the actual battlefield; he's not involved in any of the decisions to air-strike or raid villages at night. His only real option to completely prevent civilian deaths is to leave Afghanistan.

Of course he won't be doing that for years, meaning events like these will keep happening again, and again, and again.

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