Fallout from the massacre
[Ed. note: This was actually put together two weeks ago, as the date implies - it just didn't post until 3/31 because once again I was trying to align/fix messed-up fonts...to no avail, as you can see. Sorry.]
Karzai asks NATO to leave Afghan villages
...the headlines scream. Various press accounts state that according to President Karzai, "international security forces have to be taken out of Afghan village outposts and return to (larger) bases" since "all efforts have to be done to avoid such incidents in the future."
Protesters in Jalalabad (AFP/Getty Images)
This is of course due to the biggest shit sandwich yet, one I haven't yet written about: the bloody rampage of an apparently unhinged American soldier, who slaughtered 16 civilians in their Kandahar homes on Sunday. The news of the rampage sickened everyone who heard about it, and it outraged much of Afghanistan's population...it didn't take much awareness to realize immediately, even half a world away, how strategically significant a setback this could be. Of course at the same time, Karzai's response angers me, reminding anyone paying attention that his words and actions are always -- ALWAYS -- those of an opportunistic politician: "The massacre hurt the trust Afghans had in foreign forces."
So his solution is to vacate the towns and villages.
True enough about trust taking a hit, but reverting to the unsuccessful feudal-colonial system of imposing security from only behind massive fortresses will rebuild that trust? That is ridiculous. One of the great failings of this entire counterinsurgency strategy was the amount to which that very approach dictated troop employment and operations for years, thereby sequestering the (menacing, sci-fi-looking, giant) Americans and their allies from the people who needed to get to know us and trust us...thereby surrendering the true battlefield -- the population centers -- to the enemy.
July 2010: Women in a village outside Kabul
Karzai is doing what he always does in these situations: he's biding his time while gauging the lasting impact of the calamity of the moment, and then acting to personally capitalize on it. ISAF is doing what it actually does a better job of lately: immediately and profusely apologizing, though to little avail since anger over the Quran burnings remains at a high level. And the rest of us are trying to comprehend how one soldier can walk solo off an outpost and without an official mission, and how he can snuff out the lives of women and children whose only crime was to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.
Jalalabad again: more protests (AP Photo)
It's an irresponsible practice to speculate as to what went on in the head of Staff Sgt. Bales. Just as it's irresponsible of columnists in the United States and elsewhere, sitting safely and comfortably in their homes and offices, to deduce that it's the deployment cycle that did this. Correct me if I'm wrong here, but at last count over 100,000 of our uniformed military have deployed three or more times without incident in this Long War. So let's not chalk up the seemingly psychotic actions of a soldier who may or may not have just "snapped" to the fact that he was on deployment #4, or that he was exacting an irrational revenge because a buddy lost a leg previously. The experts exhibit a collective shrug on the issue...which is worrisome.
“I think it’s definitely disappointing that we don’t know. I wish we did,” says retired Navy captain William Nash, a psychiatrist studying resiliency in Marine battalions.
Multiple deployments’ effects unknown on troops
I'm worried, as many are, about the effect this will have on trust (there's that word again). Not just the larger trust referenced above -- that which the people must place in forces deployed far from home to protect them -- but more specifically, the mutual trust between Afghan security forces and their ISAF advisors. Whether it's the team of colonels and civilians advising the Minister of Defense or the fire team of Marine NCO's imparting driving lessons to a platoon of green Afghan National Army soldiers, there must be a bond stronger than mere understanding. There must be a belief that the other party is also risking something, and for the right reasons...and a conviction that you're on the same side.