ISAF caption: Dr. Rangin Dadfar Spanta, Afghanistan's National Security Advisor, and General Petraeus discuss the importance of reducing civilian casualties during a conference held at Headquarters ISAF. The conference provided an open forum for Afghans and ISAF officials to express their opinions and recommendations to help reduce civilian casualties.
I went to the ISAF website this a.m. to see if there was any further information on yet another NATO soldier's murder at the hands of yet another Afghan army member, this one not to be confused with last Saturday's attack, which killed two Americans. Not much there.
The top story, however. is about civilian casualties. Titled "Senior Afghans and ISAF Gather to Address the Issue of Civilian Casualties," it's a report about an actual conference on the issue attended by "the senior leadership of Afghanistan, United Nations Assistance Mission to Afghanistan, nongovernmental organizations and the International Security Assistance Force to promote open dialogue on the important topic."
FYI: The latest UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) figures tell us 75 percent of all civilian deaths in 2010 came at the hands of jihadist forces (up 28 percent from 2009). Only 16 percent were linked to pro-government forces (down 26 percent from 2009). Is "open dialogue" really necessary on this topic? Or should Afghan leadership take the topic up with their Taliban brethren, not ISAF? Looks as if this just a yak-and-pony show for hearts and minds.
“Today’s conference will play an important role by providing an opportunity for a candid exchange of views and ideas as we work through the tragic consequences of armed conflict....ISAF has sought to take every action possible to minimize the loss of innocent life. Yet we must always strive to do more. We must explore every possibility to protect innocent life and employ every good idea to provide safety and security for the Afghan people.”
ISAF hosted the conference to hear Afghans’ views on civilian causalities ...
Correction: on the 16 percent of such casualties linked to pro-government forces....
and to share ISAF initiatives with attendees.
Afghan leaders who participated in the conference included members of The Government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan, parliament, UNAMA, Kabul University intellectuals and many agencies that have an interest in protecting Afghan civilians – a goal shared by ISAF.
“Civilian casualties aren’t simply a military issue; it is also an Afghan issue,” said British Army Colonel Paul Harkness, ISAF Chief of Operations and organizer of the conference. “We need to consciously see the issue through Afghan eyes. We need ensure our dialogue is continuous. We know a great deal about the issue, but we can always learn more.”
Developing a greater level of trust and assuring Afghans that ISAF genuinely cares about their losses were other goals of the conference. ...
How long have we been talking about developing a greater level of Afghan trust? For years. I think my alltime favorite iteration of this mantra comes from BG Steven Kwast who in August 2009 said: "Victory in this conflict is about winning the hearts and minds of the Afghan people and engendering their trust. When the Afghan people trust us and believe us when we tell them what we’re going to do, we will win this overnight."
Meanwhile, have a conference. Ignore, downplay the Afghan murders of innocent NATO (usually US) service members, and justify the permanent war for trust or whatever as a point of pity for the Afghans. Which brings me to this week's syndicated column ....
In one of the many exit interviews Gen. David Petraeus has given as his command in Afghanistan comes to an end, he made the following statement: "No country has suffered more from Osama bin Laden and al-Qaida than Afghanistan."
This comment stopped me. Partly, it was the pat sweep of the superlative. But there was also a gratuitousness in his flipside demotion of the American experience since Osama bin Laden (OBL) and his gang first struck here nearly 10 years ago. The catastrophic terror attacks of 9/11 on our political and economic centers caused, and still cause, an extremely deep and aching degree of suffering.
The attacks also marked the beginning of a decade-long American crack-up, a self-ignited meltdown of reason and judgment that blinded us to the markers of global jihad across the Western world. As a result of this meltdown, our see-no-Islam leadership has sent armies to fight endless, foundationally flawed wars of impossible conquest -- Muslim hearts and minds -- through gross expenditures of lives and materiel. More than any one person's, this policy is Petraeus' policy. But even at this retrospective moment in his career, he doesn't have to answer for it because neither he nor it is ever even questioned.
Not even when Petraeus slips in a new U.S. objective, as he did in another recent interview. Our objective, he explained, "is Afghans able to secure and govern themselves with some continued level of support." With some continued level of support? Forever? Not so long ago, the U.S. objective was Afghans securing and governing themselves, period. That ain't gonna happen. Plan B seems to bump up Afghanistan to a permanent multi-trillion-dollar giveaway program, a new lockbox of untouchable entitlement.
Paul Avallone, an Afghan war veteran who later returned to Afghanistan as a photojournalist, emailed me that what bothered him most about Petraeus' salute to Afghan suffering was that Afghanistan, more than anyone else, had actually gained from 9/11.
"I came to that conclusion during my first stay in Afghanistan (combat in '02-'03)," Paul writes. He realized that everything the U.S.-led coalition was doing, from freeing people from the Taliban to feeding them, was an Afghan benefit. Nothing has changed. "Start anywhere you want," he continues. "Roads. Electricity. Food. Medicine. Whatever it is that billions of dollars per year are buying."
Make that billions of dollars per month. That buys the white elephants of Western hubris -- the 200-plus-ton turbine British troops dragged, fighting, for days through Taliban territory to Kajaki; the 75-kilometer railroad from Mazar-i-sharif to nowhere (and which Afghans aren't skilled enough to run); the Shariah-supreme Afghan constitution midwifed by Western "experts." It also covers the massive amounts of graft that our forces bribe Afghans with to make them like us better than the Taliban. (Some popularity contest not to have won by this late date.) Western largesse includes the countless mosques that infidel-troops have rebuilt with their own hands; innumerable public works projects; and the rushing, endless streams of cash dumped on villages and bazaars, men on the make, Taliban-linked "security," and on the Bank of Kabul. It's true. Thanks to OBL, Afghanistan has profited more than any nation, with what Petraeus this week called "our Pakistani partners" probably coming in a strong second.
In light of this, why would either Afghanistan or Pakistan want to see this COIN ??? war end? Ditto for Russia and China, who aren't about to complain about our slow bleed into the rubble. What's more than passing strange, though, is to find our pre-eminent commander acquiescing to the eternity timeline. As quoted in Bob Woodward's book "Obama's Wars" (Simon & Schuster, 2010), Petraeus put it this way:
"I don't think you win this war. I think you keep fighting. ... This is the kind of fight we're in for the rest of our lives and probably our kids' lives."
Doesn't anyone want to question Petraeus' wisdom -- before he becomes head of the Central Intelligence Agency?