April 5, 2010

COIN 101: Gardēz Doomed to Repeat

Russian cannon overlooking Gardēz
Maybe it’s not fair to transfer judgments from one incident to another, but the deaths of innocent Afghan civilians aren’t fair either. And ISAF is asking for trouble by posting the two stories right next to each other, an unflattering pairing.

Still working out the propaganda kinks we see.

Four days ago NATO launched its Defence Cultural Specialist Unit, comprised of 42 UK specialists in Afghan culture and language, to advise commanders in Helmand province. Part of President Obama’s frequently cited “civilian surge,” “the specialists will help identify and understand issues relating to the local cultural, political, economic, social and historical environment to help commanders make better and more informed decisions.”

The report states, “British troops, as part of ISAF, follow General McChrystal’s classic counter insurgency tactics - putting the people of Afghanistan at the centre of their work.”

Here’s hoping they do a better job than in Gardēz.

Yesterday a NATO investigation concluded, “that international forces were responsible for the deaths of three women who were in the same compound where two men were killed by the joint Afghan-international patrol searching for a Taliban.”

"We deeply regret the outcome of this operation, accept responsibility for our actions that night, and know that this loss will be felt forever by the families," said Brig Gen. Eric Tremblay, ISAF Spokesperson. "The force went to the compound based on reliable information in search of a Taliban insurgent and believed that the two men posed a threat to their personal safety. We now understand that the men killed were only trying to protect their families."

Initially it’s hard to gauge the sincerity of this backtracking. Until now NATO had maintained a position of denial, and notice that they didn’t conclusively determine what happened. Add the publicized harassment of British journalist Jerome Starkey, who exposed the truth of Gardez, and a forced confession could be the result.

This event has no bottom.

On the initial level lies a military cover-up; underneath are tactical errors on the battlefield. A rocket misses its target, US Special-Ops soldiers guns down innocent women in darkness. Accidents of war, we’re told.

"We are continuing our dialogue with our Afghan security partners to improve coordination for future operations and help prevent such mistakes from happening again," said Tremblay.

Yet it’s not like this happened a year ago. The event in question took place February 12th, 2010, when the war was supposed to turning around according to General McCrystal and the White House. Every time it’s the same “we take every precaution speech," along with assurances that knowledge of Afghan culture is a priority.

How much longer will these problems be “fixed” and yet continue to occur?

Deeper lurks the roots of chaos. A cover-up might be preferable in the long run because the reality could be worse. Cultural ignorance will be hard to stamp out in Afghanistan.

“The investigation found the releases issued shortly after the operation were based on a lack of cultural understanding by the joint force and the chain of command. The statement noted the women had been bound and gagged, but this information was taken from an initial report by the international members of the joint force who were not familiar with Islamic burial customs.”

"We regret any confusion caused by the initial statements and are committed to improving our coordination and understanding of Afghan culture and customs," said Tremblay.

Which means, until further notice, that US and NATO troops in towns and villages like Gardēz will continuing confusing men protecting their families for “insurgents” and Islamic burial customs as “bound and gagged.”

Back in Helmand province, Assistant Chief of the Defence Staff (Operations) Air Vice-Marshal Andy Pulford said of his unit, “Cultural awareness is at the heart of General McChrystal’s Counter Insurgency Strategy. This unit will help improve the military understanding and appreciation of the region, its people and how to do business there.”

America will have a hard time winning this war without one of these units in Gardez and every other town like it.


  1. This makes me sick. If we don't leave now we'll be there forever.

  2. The Pentagon is also trying to score points by highlighting a second McChrystal investigation into the murders. We are told this proves America is committed to "moving forward." Rather than focus on the fact that a nighttime raid executed 5 innocent Afghans, the US government is applauding itself for investigating the incident after a two month cover-up.

    Sick is the right word.