Time for some arithmetic, folks.
Behold the pie chart, which comes from the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA). It shows all sources of Afghan civilian casualties to date this year. Such casualties are widely, if not exclusively, portrayed by US civilian and military leadership as The Stumbling Block to our winning "hearts and minds," or "trust," in Afghanistan. Such trust is widely, if not exclusively, depicted at the key to victory. As a starry-eyed Brig. Gen. Steven Kwast, commander of 5,000 airmen at Bagram Field, Afghanistan, put it to the Air Force Times yesterday: "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."
When the Afghan people trust us...How long, oh Lord, does this line of hooey subsitute for war strategy?
Back to the issue of Afghan civilian casualties, a leading "priority" in formulating US policy in Afghanistan. As our Afghanistan commander Gen Stanley McChrystal recently put it to the BBC, he "would love to say we'd get to zero."
He said he was trying to build this into the culture of his forces, but admitted it was very hard to balance this with their own protection.
Think about what this means. Here is McChrystal in his own words:
"It's very hard because it's a balance for the young soldier on the ground, who is in combat. One of the assets that he has that might save his life might be air power or indirect fire from artillery or mortars and we don't want to take away that protection for him," he said.
We the People certainly don't, but the culture the General is openly trying to build into his own troops certainly does. He goes on:
But that "must be balanced against the possibility of hurting anyone".
Not exactly reminiscent of this.
He said he wanted his forces to be seen both to work actively to prevent civilian deaths, and to investigate civilian deaths openly when they did occur.
As in, see is believing ... what chumps we are, I am afraid. And much worse. The General actually seems to be saying that our troops are to some hedged degree expendable in pursuit of "zero" Afghan civilian casualties. Take a look at the pie chart numbers: The civilian casualties that can be put down to the US -- "air strikes" (20 percent) and perhaps "force escalation" (1 percent) -- come to 21 percent. Civilian casualties caused by the enemy -- assassinations (11 percent) and "suicide attacks and roadside bombs" (39 percent) -- come to 50 percent. The last figure -- anti-government/Int'l forces (29 percent) doesn't distinguish between sides.
But note: It is this 20 percent of casualties caused by air strikes that make the headlines, the international furor, the inspirational centerpiece of US strategy. It is also this 20 percent of the casualties that supposedly prevents the Afghans from throwing in their lot with us against the Taliban. Funny how the other 50 to 80 percent of civilian casualties don't seem to drive Afghans away from the Taliban -- not even to the point where the Afghans can raise their own security forces against them.
Gen. McChrystal doesn't seem to notice. He's too busy trying to bring that 20 percent down to zero (when the Afghan people trust us ... ), even if it means pressuring the soldier in combat to consider all too seriously risking his life rather than "hurting anyone."