'Intelligent discontent is the mainspring of civilization.' -- Eugene V. Debs

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Support the Troops (Part 3) 

UPDATE: Sergeant Keith is going to miss his six month old son while killing people in Afghanistan. The propaganda effort in support of this conflict must be going poorly if the Pentagon has to resort to using infants to generate sympathy for the combatants. Apparently, Sergeant Keith wasn't fortunate enough to land an assignment directing drone attacks, which would have enabled him to remain in the US.

INITIAL POST: Next time someone says that you should support the troops, remember this:

Crouched in a field of opium poppies, a young Marine lieutenant pleaded over the radio for an airstrike on a compound where he believed a sniper was firing at his troops. Request denied. Civilians might be inside and the Marines couldn't see a muzzle flash to be absolutely sure the gunman was there.

The lieutenant's frustration, witnessed by an Associated Press journalist in February in Marjah in southern Afghanistan, points to a Catch-22 dilemma facing the NATO force: how to protect troops against an enemy that lives — and fights — among the population without killing civilians and turning the people against the U.S.-led mission.

Those complaints from the ranks are among the issues facing Gen. David Petraeus — along with relations with a weak Afghan government and jittery allies; slow and uncertain progress on the battlefield; and frayed ties to the civilian side of the mission.

But among the most sensitive and important to the troops he commands and to supporters of the military at home will be whether to continue the rules laid down by his predecessor, Gen. Stanley McChrystal, that stress saving civilian lives but sometimes leave U.S. forces at greater risk.

Those rules, issued a year ago, helped make McChrystal a hero among many Afghans because they brought down the number of civilian casualties blamed on the NATO-led force. The rules were issued at a time of a rising tide of public anger over Afghan civilians killed by mistake in airstrikes and by heavy weapons such as cannons and mortars.

Down in the ranks, however, the rules are widely perceived as too restrictive, playing into the hands of the Taliban who appear keenly aware of the regulations. Some troops believe the rules cost American lives and force them to give up the advantage of overwhelming firepower to a foe who shoots and melts back into the civilian population.

Of course, despite rank and file troop anger, the rules had limited utility in reducing casualties among the Afghan populace. Drone strikes and night raids continue to kill large number of non-combatants. But the groundswell for liberalizing rules of engagement even further in the wake of McChrystal's departure give us an insight into the blood lust that defines the US mission in Afghanistan. Consistent with historic US practice, US troops have no problem indiscriminately killing the civilian populace in order to attain their objective.

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