Washington Post on August 28, 2008 carried an article titled: “ Only a Two-Page ‘Note’ Governs U.S. Military in Afghanistan.”
The title alone points to the complications that can arise when you carry out military operations anywhere without a clear cut rule of conduct, pronounced objectives and means and methods of achieving them inflicting no or very low collateral damage.
In war, extraordinary situations lead to the fact that the news from the front, often by those who win the battles, exaggerates successes, minimizes failures and always blames the enemy for intrigue, deception and complications. In Afghanistan from the view point of the American military on the ground or in the air, all those killed in battles are Taleban fighters who are killed in scores while actually they might have been only a couple here, a couple there. Civilian casualties are not even mentioned and in case when they are too obvious to hide, they are minimized to almost none. But in the military they must provide reasons and the reasons provided for the collateral casualties is Taleban intrigue and deception as they use civilians as shield or hide among civilian population or use villages and townships as the commencement of their attacks so that the American or International forces with their devastating military prowess destroy the whole village or township in retaliation. By this time usually the Taleban have already fled the field.
While this may very well be true, it is apparent that familiarity with these tactics should reduce civilian casualties letting the all-knowing civilized International Forces to adopt tactics to avoid accidental killing of the innocent. The military should act only on the most reliable information.
But killing of the innocent and also getting killed in foreign lands could be avoided or reduced if there were clear-cut rules of conduct mutually agreed upon by the government of Afghanistan and the International forces operating on its soil to fight a global war on terror. This would ensure cooperation of the local population, as they would then see the foreign troops as friends and not enemies. As it is, foreign forces in Afghanistan behave as forces of occupation and the Afghan government seems to serve as a willing subservient, a silent observer expected to applaud even the loss of civilian lives and the so-called conquests of the foreign military on its soil. This situation serves neither side. It gives the idea that the Afghan government is a puppet in the hands of the powerful occupiers and gives credence to the Taleban claim that Afghanistan is not an independent country. While in reality the US government would want its and other international forces in Afghanistan to be known as forces of liberation and not of occupation.
In today’s world matters such as fighting wars in distant lands, especially those wars that are sanctioned by the United Nations and where the United Nations is involved must have legitimate documentation specifying joint planning, conduct, obligations, responsibilities, methods of coordination and cooperation by and with the local governments.
This column has consistently referred to the need for coordination between the Afghan government and the foreign forces operating in Afghanistan and is still of the opinion that this should be given priority especially in the wake of recent massive killing of civilians-90 civilian casualties in Western Afghanistan last week, new civilian deaths as a result of attacks in Eastern Afghanistan and the killing of three civilians near the capital Kabul the other day that instigated a demonstration against such killings.
Such incidents erode the trust between the public and the government on the one hand and respect for the foreign forces engaged in the war on terror in Afghanistan on the other. Afghans are famous throughout their history for valuing their personal dignity above all. Their right to freedom must be honored and respected if their trust and cooperation were requited.
In the face of all of this, the Afghan president has had a few outbursts of anger in language mentioning that civilian casualties may not be tolerated. This attitude has even spread to his cabinet that recently realized the need for regulating the activities of foreign forces in Afghanistan. But have foreign military strategists listened to him? Has not all of this helped in the drastic erosion of his popularity in his own country? And how could a weak, very weak president in Afghanistan be helpful to our cause of uprooting terror?
In the global war on terror where we have sent our youth to fight and even get killed we want countries of the world to help us and not to oppose us because of our rash or unregulated action. That is why the US must take this issue seriously and expand the two page diplomatic note into a clear document explaining in detail objectives, means and ways of conduct, methods of cooperation and collaboration with local government and appeasing the general population to help in our joint and long war on terror. The war on terror must be won. It can be won if our action in distant lands are regulated and have the support of local populations and governments. 9/1/08