August 17, 2012

More "Isolated Incidents" In Afghanistan

When any member of the U.S. Special Forces is killed in action, those above them do everything possible to swipe them into public oblivion. The same goes for the helicopters that transport them into battle, one of many reasons why militants desire to throw their burning wreckage back into the public's face. This tug of war plays out simultaneously on the asymmetry of Afghanistan's military and information battlefields. Each crash is claimed and exaggerated by the Taliban, to which NATO universally replies, "The cause of the crash is under investigation, but the coalition said there were no reports of enemy activity in the area at the time."

Although malfunctions enjoy a statistical advantage over Taliban RPGs, some crashes cannot be covered up no matter how hard Western officials scrub.

On Thursday a UH-60 Blackhawk went down in the Chinarto area of Shah Wali Kut district in Kandahar province - established Taliban territory. Spokesman Qari Yousuf Ahmadi quickly took credit for the attack, if nothing else demonstrating how rapidly the Taliban fills the information vacuum, and several Afghan sources have confirmed the presence of enemy fire. Conversely, NATO spokeswoman Martyn Crighton said she doesn't "have any report that indicates any enemy activity in the area, but it is too earlier to say what caused the crash." Her phrasing attempts to say that the Taliban weren't involved.

Whatever happened in Shah Wali Kut, this incident (like many others) is more significant than the Obama administration is willing to concede. White House spokesman Jay Carney argued as much, saying that helicopter crashes are rarely due to enemy fire and must be "put into perspective." However the valid perspective afforded by thousands of patrols and missions removes them from the perspective of guerrilla warfare's disproportionate effects, specifically its psychological and propaganda damage. Helicopters are the Taliban's primary target for legitimate reasons: Special Forces symbolize unpopular night raids to Afghans, downing a helicopter invigorates their own ranks, and the visceral crash plays beautifully in the American media. These factors cannot be denied on the ground by any NATO statement.

Five crashes have been reported in 2012 alone, while NATO has admitted to hostilities in two. If the latest resulted from insurgent fire, a 60% rate would be less "isolated" than U.S. officials claim.

Nor is the scheme any different for either side of Afghanistan's "Green On Blue" divide. Each act of infiltration is amplified and minimized in an endless cycle of propaganda, and here too the Taliban enjoy momentum as they widen their efforts. NATO, of course, argues otherwise. Brig. Gen. Gunter Katz, a spokesman for the coalition, admits (in the past tense) that "there was infiltration; that is correct, we can acknowledge that." However he refuses to attribute the bulk of attacks to the Taliban: "The main reasons for those green on blue incidents are personal grievances, stress situations and what we call battle fatigue."

Advancing the Pentagon's argument to the strategic level, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta told reporters in Washington, “The reality is, the Taliban has not been able to regain any territory lost, so they’re resorting to these kinds of attacks to create havoc."

The reality is that the Taliban don't need to retake lost territory in the immediate future. Panetta is simply trying bait the insurgency into a disadvantageous battle with superior armed forces, one conducted in the open and under NATO air support. While guerrillas have a harder time swimming in low water, Taliban continue to operate in many parts of the country as the group awaits Washington's withdrawal from the southern provinces. In order to drive down American and European support during NATO's surge, the Taliban's leadership then launched a "spectacular" strategy that has successfully contributed to the war's downward trend in Western polls.

Thus U.S. officials unanimously ignore the fact that Americans and Europeans represent the Taliban's main targets.

Taliban infiltration and the hunt for coalition helicopters are real trends producing real reactions, and they will continue to rise as the Taliban increases its operations in accordance with its successes. Two more attacks on Friday increased the last two week's total to seven shootings, once again undermining the Obama administration's "isolated" theory. Before Mullah Omar boasted about the Taliban's ability to "easily carry out decisive and coordinated attacks on Thursday," General John Allen had already ordered U.S. personnel at NATO headquarters and other bases to carry loaded weapons at all times.

He then launched his own propaganda assault directly at Omar: "The pride of the Afghan people has been smeared by killers who pose as soldiers and police, yet they represent the worst of humanity. He professes love for his fighters, yet he sends them to their deaths by the hundreds. Where is the vision that Omar speaks of? Where is the love he professes for the Afghan people?"

Allen has a point but fails to articulate it effectively - the same questions can be directed back onto Washington. If Obama was as confident of his administration's "vision" as his officials claim, he would be using Afghanistan's war to sell his foreign policy credentials instead of hiding it behind "nation-building" at home.



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