No one wins when 10 civilians are killed. America and the Taliban will point fingers at each other in their efforts to paint a victory, but only war itself is victorious. Too bad President Obama can’t settle for a tie because a guerrilla will take one any day, any year.
No sooner had reports surfaced that US forces killed at least eight children in a raid did US officials begin providing political cover.
One anonymous official told CNN, “The operation was against a network of folks, who had been tracked for a while, involved in producing IEDs as well as some criminal activity. As a result of the action, the best info that we have is that nine of those militants in that network were killed. That's based on weapons and IED components at the scene.”
But all local reports disputed this claim. Said Fazelayallah, governor of Kunar province, told CNN on Monday that 10 civilians were killed. US military officials pledged to cooperate fully during the investigation ordered by Fazelayallah, in conjunction with Kabul, to assess the situation.
Asadullah Wafa, a senior adviser to President Hamid Karzai, reported his findings: eight schoolchildren between the ages of 12 and 14, and two young males were killed by US forces.
"I have talked to the principal of the school in the village and he gave us details about the killed children," Wafa said. "The schoolchildren cannot be al-Qaida. I confirm they are innocent people killed by mistake. I talked to Karzai about the findings."
Luckily for America, this crime isn’t so heinous as it could be. The Taliban employed a ruse, a spy to provide false information; a lesser possibility remains of clan warfare. The Taliban deliberately provoked an attack on children to exploit in the media and on the ground. This doesn't make much sense if the world becomes aware of its trickery.
Col. Wayne Shanks, spokesman for NATO's International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan, said at a news conference Wednesday, “In fact, you can see that our enemy, the insurgents, have very little regard for the Afghan people. We have noticed a very dramatic increase in civilian casualties caused by roadside bombs by attacks that insurgents have on the Afghan people."
Wafa said the villagers demanded from the 10-member delegation of government officials and lawmakers that the informants, "who gave the wrong target to the Americans must be found and punished by a court." US and Afghan officials should place that request at the top of its stack, before the Taliban “capture” said informants and hold them to “justice.”
The Taliban’s strategy is clear: generate singular events to multiply in various dimensions. Civilian casualties are a strike against General McChrystal and by extension President Obama’s military strategy. The Taliban also seek to provoke local resentment and friction between Kabul and Washington.
Even orchestrate street protests and burning effigies of Obama. Marching through the main street of Jalalabad - Haqqani land - students chanted "death to Obama" and "death to foreign forces.”
"The demonstration is to show our hatred, anger and sorrow about the current situation," said Sayed Khalid Rashid.
Yet the Taliban is likely to feel some pain despite its array of diversions; the locals know they fell victim to a trap so the Taliban won’t be able to fully exploit their carnage. But America is unable to counter effectively because of its own malfunctions.
If US officials realized the Taliban lured them into a trap, why did they maintain insurgents were killed? Why not own up immediately and reverse the blame? Why didn’t the US military verify its information and why did US forces lead a raid into a house filled with children? Will civilian casualties ever end, or are they inevitable while warring against the Taliban?
President Obama’s strategy is still working out the bugs. The Taliban is responsible for most civilian deaths in 2009, but frankly, they’re supposed to kill civilians to achieve a political aim - disrupting the national election for instance. America should never kill civilians for any reason.
General McChrystal seems to understand this truth, telling CNN's Christiane Amanpour earlier this month, "It is better to miss a target than to cause civilian casualties. We can always target enemy leaders later. We can't make up for the fact that we killed civilians."
The Taliban will happily take their tie and go home. America has to stay in Afghanistan.