Via ISAF: Valentine's Day at the Battle of Marjah.
The news from Marjah is increasingly surreal as "counterinsurgency" theory goes into battle -- "counterinsurgency" being a fancy word for hearts-and-minds nation-building.
Example: A rocket hits the wrong compound, killing 10 "civilians." Since COIN means always having to say you're sorry, the commanding general not only "apologizes" in the middle of the battle, he suspends the further use of the rocket in the middle of the battle. This is in line with the guiding fantasy of COIN warfare -- that it is possible to "win" the confidence, trust, "hearts and minds," whatever of the "people," as though war were a popularity contest, and after eight-plus-years the Muslims of Afghanistan still can't make up their minds who, between us and the Taliban, should win their coveted Miss Congeniality prize.
Of course, this rocket ban is just one more sicko rule of engagement to add to the passel of sicko rules of engagement Gen. Stanley McChrystal has imposed on his own troops to, as he has said, to protect the Afghan people from everything that can hurt them.
Other such ROEs include:
No night searches. Villagers must be warned prior to searches. Afghan National Army or Afghan Police must accompany U.S. units on searches. Searches must account, according to International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) headquarters, "for the unique cultural sensitivities toward local women." ("Islamic repressiveness" is more accurate, but that's another story.) U.S. soldiers may not fire on the enemy unless the enemy is preparing to fire first. U.S. forces may not engage the enemy if civilians are present. U.S. forces may fire at an enemy caught in the act of placing an IED, but not walking away from an IED area. And on it goes. As McChrystal says in a video briefing shown to Marines, "It's not how many you kill, it's how many you convince."
Now that the COIN battle in joined at Marjah, Fox News today reports:
Marines said their ability to fight back has been tightly constrained by strict new rules of engagement that make their job more difficult and dangerous. Under the rules, troops cannot fire at people unless they commit a hostile act or show hostile intent.
"I understand the reason behind it, but it's so hard to fight a war like this," said Lance Corp. Travis Anderson, 20, from Altoona, Iowa. "They're using our rules of engagement against us," he said, stating that his platoon had repeatedly seen men dropping their guns into ditches before walking away to melt among civilians.
But, in fact, is this a "war"? That is, it is a war, all right, to our brave forces under fire, but is it really a war to their superiors? Or, is this in fact the old "Great Society" redux, now advanced as what the Pentagon has conceived of as "armed social work"? That's literally how one often-interviewed officer, LTC Christian Cabaniss, likes to describe this war -- approvingly -- recently adding: "Shooting is getting in the way of winning."
And so Operation Moshtarak, the battle of Marjah, continues, with not just shooting seen as getting in the way of winning by military brass, but now also rocket support.
"Moshtarak," by the way, means "together" in Dari -- pretty cute, no? -- probably since ISAF/ Afghan Army togetherness is also part of hearts and minds strategy. Of course, according to McChrystal, the Afghan Army isn't just "together" with ISAF forces. Afghan Army is, he says, actually leading the operation. (See McChrystal's video statement here.) Hate to say it, it sounds as if the general sound has lost his own heart and also his mind.
CNN reports today:
About 15,000 Afghan and NATO forces are taking part in Operation Moshtarak.
U.S. troops are leading the mission. "The majority of the fighting, the majority of the headway being made, is by the U.S. forces," Abawi reported.
She added that she had seen many Afghan soldiers "and to be quite honest with you, they're not ready to fight."
But maybe that's perfect for armed social work.