By now, we've all heard about the American serviceman who went on a shooting rampage in the middle of the night in Afghanistan killing some 16 Afghan civilians as they slept, most of them women and children.
As usual, President Obama expressed "his condolences to the families and loved ones of those who lost their lives, and to the people of Afghanistan, who have endured too much violence and suffering".
General John Allen, the U.S. commander in Afghanistan, who at the time was visiting in the U.S. issued his "profound regret" saying, "This deeply appalling incident in no way represents the values of"coalition troops or the abiding respect we feel for the Afghan people,"(ah, have you checked with the troops lately, General?).
Meanwhile Afghan President Karsai called it "intentional killings" and demanded an explanation by the Americans.
But in contradiction with General Allen's statement, Wali Muhammad, a local Afghan who said 11 of the dead were members of his uncles family, gave the truest account when he said, "Americans have never respected our culture, and we will never be secure while the Americans are here."
Let's face it, most servicemen in our wars of choice (whether in Afghanistan, Iraq and earlier in Viet Nam) don't respect the culture of the country they're fighting in, but most don't go around wantonly killing innocent women and children in their sleep.
It's also true servicemen don't always know who the enemy is when everyday villagers as well as insurgents dress in the same type clothing and speak the same language. So the regular military "grunts" see all the people as the potential enemy and when they lose some of their buddies (which is going to happen in war), they have been known to seek revenge and innocent "locals" may suffer in retaliation. Sometimes these retaliations take the form of massacres, clearly an example of this latest incident.
So who knows the specific reasons that drove this soldier to commit this atrocity? He was obviously deranged at the time of the shooting and in all likelihood, he will be held to account and suffer the consequences of his committing this heinous act. But if it's just seen as some "isolated incident by a deranged soldier, we miss the larger picture of what's really going on in Afghanistan.
Here's my take:
- From the very beginning, we've put these guys in harms way unnecessarily.
- We invaded and occupied a Muslim country for suspect and politically contrived reasons.
- We kept changing and re-inventing the purpose of the mission, (remember it was initially to go after the perpetrators of 9/11, specifically Osama bin Laden and secondarily to unseat the Taliban government that was sheltering him). Although Osama got away at the time, the other mission was completed in weeks. We should have declared victory and left. Instead we focused on Iraq, let the situation in Afghanistan wither with neglect for years then resumed the fight with intensity when Obama was elected. By then the "enemy" had morphed into the reconstituted Taliban replacing the departed bin Laden and his al Qaeda cohorts that mostly departed for the greater opportunities of their sort of mayhem years earlier in Iraq.
- To the servicemen on the ground who knows what they're thinking. Many of them have been "stop lost" and been forced to serve another tour of duty. Meanwhile we've been in the country over 10 years, we're drawing down troops with the intent of leaving by 2014, but in the meantime we're supposed to be training the Afghans to take over when we leave. But some of the Afghans we've trained are now killing some of their American trainers, (how's that for gratitude).
- The bottom line is soldiers are trained to kill the enemy. That's what they're good at. They're not diplomats and ambassadors. You want to train them to hate the enemy to justify killing him. It's understandable if there's confusion with the mission and what it is they're supposed to be doing.
- But our wars are chosen by politicians and contrived for political reasons. They're not necessary and they're not fought to protect and defend the country. That's simply propaganda. We're not in danger of an imminent attack by some imperialist power. Terrorists with box cutters, commandeering commercial airplanes and flying them into two commercial buildings and the Pentagon, doesn't constitute an invasion force that justifies invading and occupying another country or two.
- Of course the politicians authorizing these wars don't have a direct stake in them. Their children are not drafted and put in harms way. They've got an all volunteer army to do their bidding.