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August 09, 2007

Our Air Strikes

This is rather remarkable:

A senior British commander in southern Afghanistan said in recent weeks that he had asked that American Special Forces leave his area of operations because the high level of civilian casualties they had caused was making it difficult to win over local people.

Other British officers here in Helmand Province, speaking on condition of anonymity, criticized American Special Forces for causing most of the civilian deaths and injuries in their area. They also expressed concerns that the Americans’ extensive use of air power was turning the people against the foreign presence as British forces were trying to solidify recent gains against the Taliban.

Think that one through for another moment: The British are asking us to leave areas in Afghanistan because the brutality of our counter-terrorism tactics is rendering it impossible to pacify the populace. Because we, in other words, are creating anti-Americanism among the very people we've promised to help.

This was all foreseen, incidentally, in an op-ed Matt wrote for The Guardian a couple months ago:

A headline like Seven afghan children killed in US-led airstrike, which I read in Monday's New York Times, can't help but make you angry. Angry about the dead children, of course, but also angry about the knowledge that there are bound to be others out there angrier over their deaths than I am. They'll have brothers and sisters, friends and neighbors, uncles and fathers, mothers, and cousins.

Many of them, naturally enough, will become America's enemies.

And with enough such enemies, we'll lose in Afghanistan. We'll lose because, at the end of the day, even wars that aren't fundamentally unjustified and infeasible can still be lost if they're prosecuted in a sufficiently inept manner. And that's just what seems to be happening in Afghanistan today.

Read the rest. It's important. And, as the British seem to have realized, true.

August 9, 2007 | Permalink

Comments

Cool. Well, it's good to know that most of the blogosphere, present company included, is keen on bringing this effort to Northwest Pakistan.

Ought to really help.

Posted by: david mizner | Aug 9, 2007 10:23:49 AM

afghanistan, used to be known as nuristan...which translates to "land of light".

through those crossroads and countless conquests, are the sar e sang mines, the oldest mines in the world, out of which came lapis lazuli that was used by the most ancient civilizations to create objects of beauty, seven thousand years ago.
...in the caves where fighters hide and air strikes occur, are treasure troves of panjshir emeralds, jagdalek rubies, spinel,zircon.
...this land is one of the geological natural wonders on earth.
a land that is greatly inhospitable humans, and the place of so much human suffering.
it continues.

Posted by: jacqueline | Aug 9, 2007 10:58:16 AM

It is important, and it's a lesson we've learned before. I was a forward air controller in Vietnam, and a large part of my job was to be judicious in application of airpower--it is kind of a blunt instrument. Army loves it, though, for obvious survival reasons. And I doubt there are any forward air controllers over Afghanistan or Baghdad.

Posted by: terry in AZ | Aug 9, 2007 11:10:10 AM

Thanks for linking this. The news didn't make my morning Washington Post. As Matt Yglesias regularly points out, it's hard to believe we take casualties that seriously so long as we refuse to track them.

Posted by: Greg Sanders | Aug 9, 2007 11:26:40 AM

They also expressed concerns that the Americans’ extensive use of air power was turning the people against the foreign presence as British forces were trying to solidify recent gains against the Taliban.

Might want to check out "A Bright Shining Lie."

Posted by: SomeCallMeTim | Aug 9, 2007 11:34:51 AM

It should be pointed out that this anonymous British commander is contradicted by the US, which says there has been no request to leave, and that the British publicly back the Americans. It may be that the source asked someone in his own chain of command that the Americans leave and was overruled, but it appears there has been no request to the Americans.

As I mentioned when Matt's piece came out, you can't merely assume that the US tactics are the wrong ones because civilians are getting killed. Obviously that's wrong and counterproductive, and calls for extreme care, but what leads to it must be weighed against the alternatives. Are there sufficient troops available to secure the area by other means? Are the tactics working? The evidence is mixed, with the British spokesman claiming that the US tactics have turned the tide in the area, while there is also much evidence that it has been very costly to civilians and is turning some against the foreign forces.

One question is, what would happen if the tactics were changed or the Americans left? Might even more civilians be killed in the long run?

Posted by: Sanpete | Aug 9, 2007 12:13:32 PM

It may be that the source asked someone in his own chain of command that the Americans leave and was overruled, but it appears there has been no request to the Americans.

It could just as easily be that the request was made in private and nobody wants the United States Armed Forces to be defined as a bunch of incompetent jackasses in public debate.

Posted by: mgk | Aug 9, 2007 1:38:39 PM

Could be, but the US denies it.

Posted by: Sanpete | Aug 9, 2007 1:51:27 PM

Its worth clicking through to the William Lind (the most consistently perceptive military writer) column Matt cites. http://www.d-n-i.net/lind/lind_6_12_07.htm

To spell out the reference to Fourth Generation Warfare, wiki has a good article on it. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fourth_generation_warfare

Posted by: beowulf | Aug 9, 2007 3:09:25 PM

Will more innocent Iraqis die if we stay or leave? The question cannot be answered but it should at least be asked. What we do know is that the bunch that got us into this mess has never really cared about innocent Iraqi lives. This administration lied to start this war and the incompetence with which the occupation has been handled gives me little hope that the situation will materially improve. The question I would pose is do we want more blood on our hands or do we want to wash our hands of this and let the Iraqis sort it out themselves? At this point there are no good options, but I do not want my government occupying another country any longer and I do not want any more of my tax dollars being spent on this continuing mayhem. We have too much blood on our hands already, too many innocent Iraqis are already dead. Debating theoretical questions of how many more might die is not going to solve anything, we need to get out of there as soon as possible, for our own sake.

Posted by: no relation to paris hilton | Aug 10, 2007 1:27:21 AM

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