Sorry's Not Good Enough in Afghanistan. Here's Why.
As violence continues following the burning of Korans by ISAF in Afghanistan, insiders in Washington, D.C. and in the media are wasting quite a bit of breath asking the rhetorical question, "Why aren't the apologies working?" Military commanders in Afghanistan apologized profusely, President Obama exposed himself to the demagoguery of Republican primary opponents with his own apology. Why does the violence continue?
For the professionally clueless (and by this I mean the people in the insider press and the consensus peddlers in D.C.), let's make this simple:
- The specific offense is a deeply serious affront to highly conservative Afghan sensibilities. Can you imagine what would happen at Pastor John Hagee's church the day after an Islamic military force stationed in San Antonio set a stack of Christian Bibles on fire?
- More importantly, the Koran burnings ignited a highly volatile mix of hostility created over years of constant offenses inherent in a long-term occupation and the specifics of U.S. military policies in Afghanistan. As anyone who's ever been in any kind of relationship will tell you, saying sorry when you do wrong is necessary, but when your partner knows the bad behaviors will continue, sorry doesn't cut it.
The military forces in Afghanistan is well aware of the factors generating such intense anti-American hostility. Here's an excerpt from a declassified U.S. Army report from 2011 (.pdf) focusing just on the anti-Americanism rampant in the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF) we're paying to train:
ANSF members identified numerous social, cultural and operational grievances they have with US. Soldiers. Factors that created animosity were reviewed through a content analysis that measured frequency and intensity of the perceived grievances. Factors that fueled the most animosity included US. convoys not allowing traffic to pass, reportedly indiscriminant [sic] return U.S. fire that causes civilian casualties, naively using flawed intelligence sources, US. Forces conducting night raids/home searches, violating female privacy during searches, US. road blocks, publicly searching/disarming ANSF members as an SOP when they enter bases, and past massacres of civilians by U.S. Forces (i.e., the Wedding Party Massacre, the Shinwar Massacre, etc.). Other issues that led to altercations or near~altercations (including many self-reported near¬ fratricide incidents) included urinating in public, their cursing at, insulting and being rude and vulgar to ANSF members, and unnecessarily shooting animals. They found many U.S. Soldiers to be extremely arrogant, bullying, unwilling to listen to their advice, and were often seen as lacking concern for civilian and ANSF safety during combat. CAT 1 interpreters' (n=30)views were similar to the ANSF's.
For the record, the feeling is mutual:
U.S. Soldiers' (n=215) views of ANSF, particularly of the ANA, were also collected; they were extremely negative. They reported pervasive illicit drug use, massive thievery, personal instability, dishonesty, no integrity, incompetence, unsafe weapons handling, corrupt officers, no real NCO corps, covert alliances/informal treaties with insurgents, high AWOL rates, bad morale, laziness, repulsive hygiene and the torture of dogs. Perceptions of civilians were also negative stemming from their insurgent sympathies and cruelty towards women and children.
So here we have a war that's lasted longer than a decade, peddled to the public and the politicians as primarily a war for "hearts and minds" in which our "local partners" would be built up and handed a country as we declare victory. Only, it turns out that after all this time, all these lives, and all this money, not only have we not won over the Afghan street, we've not even won over the hearts and minds of the people we're giving guns and paychecks. Sorry--"not won over" is an amazing understatement. Not only have we not won over the ANSF, but a great many of them are killing U.S. military officers. In many cases, they're killing the officers training them. The Army's report goes on to disclose, emphasis ours:
Of note, during the last six month period (November, 2010 through April, 2011) Westerners stationed within Afghanistan's N2KL region (Nangarhar, Nuristan, Kunar and Laghman provinces) who regularly interact and/or train with ANSFs have been over 150 times more likely to be murdered by an ANSF member than a U.S. police officer is to be murdered in the line of duty by all perpetrators (see Appendix B, pg. 59 for calculation); this excludes the additional risks associated with regular combat for these coalition personnel. Further, such ANSF fratricide-murders represent 30% of all U.S. field grade officer hostile deaths in Afghanistan (7 of 23), 25% of all hostile U.S. female military deaths (4 of 16) and over 50% of all hostile U.S.A.F. officer deaths (7 of 13).
...However, the common refrain from many ISAF political and military officials has been that such murder incidents between ANSF and ISAF are ''isolated'' and "extremely rare." Such proclamations seem disingenuous, if not profoundly intellectually dishonest.
As we at Brave New Foundation have been saying for years through our Rethink Afghanistan project, the Afghanistan War isn't making us safer and it's not worth the cost. In fact, the military-first policy in Afghanistan is so extraordinarily broken that it leads to U.S. military officers sitting in the middle of heavily guarded Afghan ministries being killed execution style before their killers apparently just walk out the door unmolested by their colleagues working in largely U.S.-funded government jobs.
Any politician standing in the way of a highly accelerated withdrawal--the blindingly obvious right move--deserves a taxpayer funded paycheck about as much as Hamid Karzai or a security guard at the Afghan interior ministry. For God's sake, get out and bring our troops, our money and our attention home.
Join Brave New Foundation's War Costs campaign to help get our troops and our dollars home.