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Contrary to popular misconceptions, the War in Iraq and Afghanistan was never a quagmire. Both wars were concluded with comparatively lightning speed and relatively few casualties. It is not the wars that became a quagmire, but the reconstructions and the occupations, the various euphemisms for the long process in which US troops and civilian contractors spend years trying to rebuild and stabilize the country they just invaded.
And this has unfortunately become the American way of war. While to many people the bomber or the fighter jet may embody American fighting power, the practical reality is that America at war is more aptly reflected by the diplomat trying to keep a shaky and corrupt government in power, or the infantrymen killing long days waiting for an insurgent attack. But it was not always this way, because what we now think of as the American way of war, would more accurately be considered the diplomatic way of war.
The Times compiled an informal list of the new rules from interviews with U.S. forces. Among them:
• No night or surprise searches.
• Villagers have to be warned prior to searches.
• ANA or ANP must accompany U.S. units on searches.
• U.S. soldiers may not fire at the enemy unless the enemy is preparing to fire first.
• U.S. forces cannot engage the enemy if civilians are present.
• Only women can search women.
• Troops can fire at an insurgent if they catch him placing an IED but not if insurgents are walking away from an area where explosives have been laid
Kept afloat by billions of dollars in American and other foreign aid, the government of Afghanistan is shot through with corruption and graft. From the lowliest traffic policeman to the family of President Hamid Karzai himself, the state built on the ruins of the Taliban government seven years ago now often seems to exist for little more than the enrichment of those who run it.
Signs of just how important a weapon aid money is for the military are cropping up left and right, most prominently in the last tenet of the counterinsurgency mantra -- "shape, clear, hold, and build." An April 2009 U.S. Army handbook, Commander's Guide to Money as a Weapons System, provides operational guidance to military officers in war zones like Afghanistan to use money "to win the hearts and minds of the indigenous population to facilitate defeating the insurgents." The idea is to undermine insurgent support by providing a better life for local populations than militants ever could.
Afghans can tell the difference between being assisted and being bribed. "Foreigners think money is the only issue," one tribal elder said. "Money can't win hearts and minds. If you give an Afghan a great meal but insult him he will never come again. But if you treat him with respect but only give him a piece of bread he will be your friend forever."
Civilian deaths in Afghanistan rose more than 10 percent in the first 10 months of 2009, UN figures showed Tuesday, amid anger over the alleged killing of children in a Western military operation.
Figures released to AFP by the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) put civilian deaths in the Afghan war at 2,038 for the first 10 months of 2009, up from 1,838 for the same period of 2008 -- an increase of 10.8 percent.
The figures were released a day after President Hamid Karzai launched an investigation into reports that 10 people, most of them school children, were killed in a raid by foreign troops near the Pakistan border.
The same Taliban that once banned television now boasts a sophisticated public relations machine that is shaping perceptions in Afghanistan and abroad. Although polls show the movement remains unpopular, the insurgents have readily exploited a sense of growing alienation fostered by years of broken government promises, official corruption, and the rising death toll among civilians from airstrikes and other military actions.
Then there's the question of priorities. Should energy and money be spent on supporting a media commission to monitor bias, or on recovering territory under Taliban control? Jason Campbell, an Afghanistan expert at the Brookings Institution, lauds the lofty goals of nation-building, but says, "when you drill down, our resources are finite, and we have to start making priorities." Rather than be "overly concerned with quality-of-life issues," the Administration should right now focus on "reducing the violence and helping establish legitimacy of the [Afghan] government."
I would say these policies are more about looking good to the public rather than winning the war efficiently, hence were likely concieved far from the battlefield.
It is quite a dilemma, also compounded by the mixed messages being sent by our elected "leaders" and media/celebrities. How can we expect others to look favorably upon our troops, while there appears to be a lack of support from back home?
Frustrated with the difficulties facing us in Iraq after being denied both adequate troop strength and the authority to impose the rule of law in the initial days of our occupation, U.S. military commanders responded with a variety of improvisations, from skillful “kinetic ops” to patient dialogue. Nothing achieved enduring results — because we never had the resources or the fortitude to follow any effort through to the end, and our enemies had no incentive to quit, surrender or cooperate. We pacified cities with force but lacked the forces to keep them pacified. We rebuilt schools, but our enemies taught us how easy it was to kill teachers. Accepting that it was politically impossible on the home front, we never conducted the essential first step in fighting terrorists and insurgents: We failed to forge a long-term plan based on a long-term commitment. Instead, we sought to dissuade fanatics and undo ancient rivalries with stopgap measures, intermittent drizzles of money and rules of engagement tailored to suit the media, not military necessity.
It’s not all school, houses and clinics though. You see, the Taliban sees what we are doing, understand the positive impact we have, and are unable to match it. So rather than also trying to win the hearts and minds of the people, they try to instill fear into them. Sometimes, after we build a school, they will burn it down. After we give food and clothes to the people, the Taliban will harass and abuse anyone who accepted our help, and confiscate what we gave them. The Taliban will often tell the Afghan people that we are the enemies of Islam, and that if they accept our help they are supporting us. They want the people to believe that supporting us means they are also anti-Islam. That’s not even a logical statement.
Meanwhile the Taliban who were knocked on their rear and kicked to the street by the US and the Northern alliance have made a come back.