Afghanistan — NATO commanders are weighing a new way to reduce civilian casualties in Afghanistan: recognizing soldiers for "courageous restraint" if they avoid using force that could endanger innocent lives. The concept comes as the coalition continues to struggle with the problem of civilian casualties despite repeated warnings from the top NATO commander, Gen. Stanley McChrystal, that the war effort hinges on the ability to protect the population and win support away from the Taliban. Those who back the idea hope it will provide soldiers with another incentive to think twice before calling in an airstrike or firing at an approaching vehicle if civilians could be at risk. Most military awards in the past have been given for things like soldiers taking out a machine gun nest or saving their buddies in a firefight, said Command Sgt. Maj. Michael Hall, the senior NATO enlisted man in Afghanistan. "We are now considering how we look at awards differently," he said. British Maj. Gen. Nick Carter, the NATO commander of troops in southern Afghanistan, proposed the idea of awarding soldiers for "courageous restraint" during a visit by Hall to Kandahar Airfield in mid April. McChrystal is now reviewing the proposal to determine how it could be implemented, Hall said. – AP
Dominant Social Theme: The violence against civilians must end.
Free-Market Analysis: We have our doubts. It is indisputably true that a lot of Afghan civilians are being killed by NATO troops and American Marines. And what is also true is that every time an Afghan civilian is killed (even by the Taliban), Americans in particular are blamed – which makes pacification harder. Finally, as the Bell among other publications has pointed out, the Taliban are actually made up of Pashtuns – and this 40 million strong tribe constitutes the populace that the war is being fought over. They are not as a general rule enthusiastic about the continued violence – nor about Western forces, which many of them may see as occupiers.
How exactly is the creation of a new medal really going to make a difference? In the rest of this article, we shall survey once again the reality of the war that is being waged and consider briefly what the creation of this medal indicates about the conflict itself and the American military mentality.
Begin at the beginning. This is a classic war of conquest, but it is not being reported as such. The Taliban is mentioned constantly in the Western press; the Pashtuns (from whence the Taliban is birthed) are mentioned very rarely. The idea apparently, is to intimidate 40 million Pashtuns until they give up their tribal lifestyles and accept a kind of hybrid Western-style democracy led by Pashtun Clown Prince Hamid Karzai.
Does this make sense? From a tactical standpoint (as we have pointed out before), it is as if the North had invaded the South during the Civil War and urged the populace to support the Union even while moving to eradicate Southern armies. Why would Southern populations have cooperated – when the armies made up of their menfolk were actively engaged in struggle against these same forces?
It gets worse. The NATO and US forces are also actively engaged in eradicating the Afghans livelihood. We remember reading one statistic that claimed a good deal of Afghan livestock has been wiped out in the past few years of fighting, effectively spelling the end of a certain kind of agricultural lifestyle throughout the country. At the same time as so many Afghans were being dispossessed of their livelihoods, US and NATO forces have actively campaigned against poppy growing – another way that Afghans survive.
Let's put this all together now. The Taliban is a Pashtun fighting force, and the Pashtuns occupy the interior of both Afghanistan and Pakistan. The US and NATO troops are urging the Pashtuns not to support the Taliban (their brothers, fathers and husbands) but at the same time, these troops are eradicating Pashtun/Afghanistan agricultural lifestyles, empowering other ethnicities in Afghan and regularly committing violence against Pashtun civilians. This is essentially cultural genocide. And a medal will help … how?
Even if the medal were a good idea, consider on whom it is being bestowed. The young men and women in Afghanistan serving NATO and the marines are practically adolescents. The military regime they undergo (with various levels of willingness) first brutalizes them and then tears apart their very moral fabric in order to inculcate a willingness to take human life. This same regime then provides these virtual children with weaponry of tremendous firepower, enmeshes them in a chain of command that savagely punishes them if they don't perform with the requisite brutality and turns them loose in a foreign land with orders to kill. Here's a little more from the article:
Some U.S. Army soldiers here at Forward Operating Base Ramrod in Kandahar province are skeptical that the chance of winning an award is going to change the way troops make decisions on the battlefield. "Not a single one of these guys does it for the medals," said Capt. Edward Graham, referring to the soldiers in his company.
Graham, whose company is part of the 4th Battalion, 23rd Infantry Regiment, said soldiers are constantly forced to weigh the duty they have to protect their colleagues against the goal of avoiding civilian casualties. "The bottom line is I have to find a way to go to sleep at night," said Graham. "If I hurt women and children, I'm not going to sleep. If I lose my men, I'm not going to sleep. I have to find a balance."
Truer words were never spoken. The great Prussian leader Otto von Bismarck knew the same thing when he invented public grade-schools so that children of the same age would grow up with each other and be better suited for the military – as they would die for one-another but not for abstract causes such as country or ideology. Soldiers, having bonded, fight for the love and approval of the immediate clan – the troop itself. Again, a medal is simply an abstract acknowledgement that looks good on a uniform. But when one is in a firefight – a life or death struggle – the idea is to survive, not win a commendation.
Does the US military chain of command not understand the combatant mentality? We wonder if somehow these military men have lost touch with the rank and file. And we detect the same lack of real-life comprehension when it comes to the larger war itself. As we have just pointed out, above, the war in Afghanistan is at this point a fairly total one, aimed at subjugating the Pashtun, eradicating their tribal lifestyle and substituting a kind of hybrid Western democracy for the cultural practices that the Pashtun have employed for thousands of years. But as near as we can figure the West only will have, at peak, about 150,000 troops in Afghanistan to do the job. That's probably not enough.
For this reason, the American/NATO braintrust has decided to train Afghan troops to continue the work of Pashtun pacification. The trouble is that Pashtuns have a history of conflict with other Afghan and Pakistan ethnicities. The Pashtuns, as the dominant tribe, see their role in Afghanistan, especially, as one of leadership. The more that the West tries to build up a democracy that does not include the Pashtuns in a leadership and policing role, the more the West is institutionalizing a cultural conflict that will doubtless continue for decades.
This is the reason that it is often acknowledged even by Western generals that any Afghan government must include the Taliban in some fairly dominant form – and therefore the Pashtun by proxy. But of course if the Taliban is brought back into power then the West will be placed in the position of recognizing a kind of defeat after a decade-long battle. The other option is to defeat the Taliban on the field of battle and then so empower other Afghan ethnicities that they will build the quasi-Western democracy that the West hopes will permanently subdue the Pashtuns. But, again, this seems more like a recipe for civil war than for pacification.
Additionally once the pressure comes off leaders in Pakistan, the leadership may begin to empower the Pashtun again in order to provide an Afghan/Muslim anchor against perceived Indian incursions. The Taliban itself, of course, will not actually be defeated. Its forces will melt away, back into Pashtun communities to re-emerge once American and NATO troops begin to withdraw.
We've always maintained that the reason for continued warfare in the Middle East is to bring about a kind of Westernization of hitherto uncontrollable Muslim cultures. Afghanistan was about as intractable a case as you could get. No hope of installing a Western-style financial system there, much less a Western legal or regulatory structure. Only a war might hold promise in that regard. And a war is what the Afghans got. But in our estimation it hasn't gone as planned. The power elite in their arrogance have miscalculated in this "graveyard of empires."
These days, the strategy as we see it, is a patchwork of contingencies based on declaring victory and then clearing out. The hope is, apparently, that by occupying bases in both Afghanistan and Iraq, Western forces can rule by proxy using the threat of further force if necessary. This may – somehow – work in Iraq, but we can't see it taking hold in Afghanistan.
If the West really wants to pacify Afghanistan and turn it into a functioning Western democracy, then the Pashtuns will have to be confronted forcefully in a kind of total war. "Winning" in Afghanistan, given the current strategy and troop level, seems to us as feasible as trying to change the behavior of youngsters in a firefight by promising them a different kind of medal.