On Friday in the New York Times we had another depressing reminder that for all the US military's efforts to "protect civilians" in Afghanistan we are still killing too many of them:
and NATO troops firing from passing convoys
and military checkpoints have killed 30 Afghans and wounded 80 others since
last summer, but in no instance did the victims prove to be a danger to troops,
according to military officials in Kabul.
“We have shot an amazing number of people, but to my
knowledge, none has ever proven to be a threat,” said Gen. Stanley McChrystal.
fewer in number than deaths from airstrikes and special forces operations, the
pace of such shootings has not declined despite new rules from General McChrystal aimed at reducing the
killing of innocents. The persistence of deadly convoy and checkpoint shootings
has led to growing resentment among Afghans fearful of Western troops and angry
at what they see as impunity with which the troops operate — a friction that
has turned villages firmly against the occupation.
I hate to sound like a broken record on this point, but none of this should even be slightly surprising. Indeed, the incessant mantra we've heard about population centric counter-insurgency and making "protecting civilians" the top priority of US efforts in Afghanistan is just incredibly deceptive.
It's not that we shouldn't try to protect civilians - or even that the American military shouldn't take the issue incredibly seriously. We should and we do. But by placing 100,000 troops in Afghanistan we are actually increasing the likelihood that ordinary Afghans will be killed - no matter how much effort is expended to spare their lives. Our soldiers are trained to protect themselves and use overwhelming force when they are threatened; the notion that a directive from the commanding general in Afghanistan will change this overnight and turn American soldiers into "armed social workers" is pure fantasy: a fact that is being seen on the ground.
For all of the lovely sentiments about protecting civilians in Afghanistan the simple reality is that we have chosen to place furthering our national interests above protecting the lives of ordinary Afghans; the loss of civilian life while regrettable is a direct result of that decision. I suppose this is defensible - certainly countries that go to war do it all the time. But let's at least be honest about why we're there and the resulting effect on innocent civilians.