Aimless Air Strikes in Afghanistan

Today media sources revealed that US investigators are looking into a deadly raid conducted by US forces in the Afghan city of Herat. Afghans allege that over 90 civilians were killed in this raid, sixty of them children. US military investigators claim they found seven dead militants. The military’s refusal to acknowledge the civilian deaths flagrantly ignores the impact of the incident on the population they are supposed to be protecting.

In the past year US air strikes hit two wedding parties and a private home outside of Kabul killing dozens of people. The last incident was highlighted in a 60 Minutes segment that re-aired last week. A young boy watched as thirty of his family members where blown to bits by two 2,000 ton bombs.

Daily more and more civilians are dying. Some from insurgents who are trying to scare people into denouncing the government. However, most are attributed to air strikes carried out by the US military.

I spent most of this year in Afghanistan. During my time there, I traveled to Balkh, Bamyan, Herat and the Panjsheer Valley speaking to Afghans and their governors. I conducted a research project that focused on the Parliament, and most recently, I spent three months in the Office of the President.

Throughout my time the outrage at how internationals were handling the war and development effort increased and not one Afghan hesitated to tell me how angry they were. At one point, during an interview with a parliamentarian, I was asked to take a message back to the American people. The message was, “if Americans did not stop operating like the Russians, they would end up like them.” Being compared to the Russian military is a hard pill to swallow.

In my recent article, Delving Deeper into Foreign Policy in Afghanistan ( written last month, I quote the ICRC (International Committee of the Red Cross) who estimates that from July 2 to 8, 2008, paramilitary violence and coalition military action together killed at least 250 Afghan civilians. By my calculation, this means “approximately 19,000 Afghans will die this year alone, enough to cause the people of any country to become more violent.”

Afghan life is not better and in fact, the violence against everyone there is getting worse. The hostility is coming from all levels. There is domestic abuse, petty crime, kidnapping, revenge and just pure mafia style executions like the latest one against a narcotics judge in Kabul and, of course, the insurgence and Taliban fighters. Then, on top of all that Afghans are afraid of us.

So yes, our own actions are supporting those people who think that the only answer to anything is violence. These people have been at war (and still are I might add) for centuries. Air strikes and more soldiers are only perpetuating the cycle.

Most military officers agree. Even General Petraeus admits that the military can only do so much.

We have to stop thinking that violence is the only answer and start thinking beyond war. To date our army has become increasingly responsible for duties beyond war – ones that should go to civilians. This Administration has made the military so top heavy that we have all forgotten there are other parts to the foreign policy apparatus. Thus, the predicament in Afghanistan worsens.

It is time to regroup and realign.

Does this mean no more military in Afghanistan? Probably not, there is still plenty to do. However, it does mean getting our civilians, not our soldiers, out of the compounds and out into the field to work with the communities they are there to help.
Without the Afghans on board there can be no progress and right now, the lines between foreigner and national are so thick it is no wonder there is so much miscommunication and mismanagement.

Balkh, Bamyan and several other northern provinces are very safe so why not start work there? It will no doubt take time, but any Afghan will tell you that once Afghans see improvement for themselves – electricity, water, and some semblance of law – you can bet they will deliver the Taliban to that new and very big prison in Bagram much more quickly than any 2,000 ton bomb, while their families and our soldiers stay in one piece.

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