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The General is an Idiot

by BRIAN CLOUGHLEY

Three U.S. soldiers have been shot dead by an Afghan worker on a military base in southern Afghanistan in a deadly 24 hours for NATO-led forces in the country during which six soldiers died in rogue attacks.

“Let me clearly say that those two incidents clearly do not reflect the overall situation here in Afghanistan,” the chief NATO force spokesman, Brigadier-General Gunter Katz, told reporters. (Reuters. August 11)

It is important within the context here to recognize that missions . . . are being conducted every day, every hour involving US forces and the 330,000 Afghan forces . . . our military believes that the operational impact [of the killing of U.S. Marines by Afghan soldiers] has been negligible.

— White House Spokesman Jay Carney, same day.

Let me clearly say that German Air Force Brigadier-General Gunter Katz is clearly an idiot.  He declares that “the incidents were relatively isolated” and are “not hurting morale or cooperation between foreign forces and the 350,000-strong Afghan Security Forces.”   If he believes for one instant that cooperation (such as it was) between foreign and Afghan troops has not been affected by the 27 ‘Green on Blue’ “relatively isolated” Afghan soldiers’ attacks that have killed 37 foreign soldiers so far this year, then he’s nesting up trees with the cuckoos.  (Last year there were 35 deaths in 21 such attacks.)  If B-G Katz would care or dare to spend a day escorted only by Afghan soldiers in a village or town anywhere in the country, or attend a few tense instructional sessions with a squad of foreign troops tasked with training armed members of the Afghan army in some God-forsaken hellhole in the boonies,  or even venture through the gate of an Afghan military camp without a bodyguard of armed foreign soldiers, then we might hear a different story.  If he lived.  Has fighter pilot Katz ever held a rifle?  Has he ever known what it is to be aware that he could have a bullet fired at him?

White House spokesman Jay Carney fluttered into similar never-never land and quacked that “our military believes that the operational impact has been negligible.”  How can anyone possibly imagine that this can be so?  Who told him this nonsense? Has he the slightest, the remotest idea what being in a combat zone is all about?  I wouldn’t mind his dismissal of all the killings quite so much if he had been a war correspondent who had at some time been up with troops in battle.  But his main achievement seems to have been award of the Gerald Ford Prize for ‘Distinguished Reporting on the Presidency’.  When you think about it, that’s not surprising.  I would venture, however, as the old Time magazine phrase might have had it,  that  “No Theodore he.”  The poor man’s Theodore White; a sad and soggy successor to generations of real reporters.

But of course the operational impact in Afghanistan must be enormous. How can any foreign soldier patrolling with Afghan troops be sure he’s not going to get a bullet in the back?  How can any foreign soldier in a Combat Outpost with an Afghan army unit relax and believe that none of the genial Afghans around him can change in a flash into his murderer?  Why has “Nato . . . directed its forces to increase measures against rogue attacks, including placing armed ‘guardian angel’ soldiers on duty in areas where troops gather, such as gyms and meal halls. Soldiers are also required to travel in pairs in Afghan base areas and carry weapons at all times”?

Anyone who imagines that suspicion and wariness of ‘partners’ does not adversely influence trust, cooperation and efficiency is out of his tiny brain.  If Carney and Katz were placed in any such situation they would be nervous wrecks in a New York heartbeat, and the effect on their efficiency (such as that might be) would be far from negligible.

Naturally, the US Defense Secretary, Leon Panetta, had to jump in, too.  Never at a loss for a statement of the obvious  “He argued that the Afghan insider attacks, in which numerous Afghan troops have turned their guns on coalition forces, are in some cases a reflection of efforts by the Taliban to use unconventional tactics against a coalition force that it cannot defeat on the battlefield.”  Of course the Taliban use “unconventional tactics”, you fool.  It is probable that most of them, like Panetta, are not familiar with Mao Tse-tung’s ‘On Guerrilla Warfare”, but given the amazing sophistication of hi-tech equipment and the staggering firepower of US forces it is obvious that fighting on the battlefield would be the quick way to defeat for the Taliban. They aren’t going to stick around and wait to be blitzed by waves of gunships — so they choose to use unconventional tactics, which is exactly how the Vietcong and North Vietnamese won the war against the corrupt South Vietnamese government in Saigon.

But sharper minds than Panetta’s have been at work. The problem is that he and his tame generals have ignored their analyses.  In January this year there was clear warning of looming disaster in the already shaky cooperation between US and Afghan soldiers when an independent study was reported by Jon Boone of the UK Guardian as finding that ‘Green on Blue’ killings  “were triggered by cultural misunderstandings and insults. Interviews with hundreds of US and Afghan troops revealed a deep-seated contempt on both sides.”  The 70 page report — tellingly titled  ‘A Crisis of Trust and Cultural Incompatibility’ —  was instantly classified and suppressed by ISAF which announced that it  “suffered from irrelevant generalizations, narrow sample sets, unprofessional rhetoric and sensationalism.”   Yeah, sure.

Research for that study drew on first-hand interviews with more US and Afghan soldiers than any US senior officer has ever spoken with at length during his entire tour of duty in Afghanistan.   613 Afghan soldiers and police, 215 US soldiers and 30 Afghan interpreters for US forces were interviewed.  But according to ISAF this is a “narrow sample set”.

The researchers told the truth, and the truth is awkward and can adversely affect military promotion to higher rank, so the study had to vanish. Boone reports it as stating that the incidents of Afghan soldiers killing foreign soldiers  “reflect a rapidly growing systemic homicide threat (a magnitude of which may be unprecedented between ‘allies’ in modern military history)”.  It warned that the problem is now so serious that it is “provoking a crisis of confidence and trust among westerners training and working with Afghan National Security Forces”.   Presumably this was considered “unprofessional rhetoric and sensationalism” by ISAF’s experts.

Matthew Rosenberg of the New York Times reported similarly, and added the comments of an Afghan army Colonel that “The sense of hatred is growing rapidly,” with him describing his own soldiers as “thieves, liars and drug addicts.”  He also said that US troops were “rude, arrogant bullies who use foul language . . .  I am afraid it will turn into a major problem in the near future in the lower ranks of both armies.”   No prizes for being correct, Colonel.  Go to the bottom of the class, where you will remain.

During the Vietnam War we had a saying about incompetent commanders :  “F***k Up and Move Up” — because all those who made a complete shambles of operations but submitted upbeat and “We’re Winning” style reports to MACV Saigon were promoted. (‘MACV’ meant ‘Military Assistance Command Vietnam’.  The Vietnamese had nothing to do with it, of course, just as Afghans aren’t represented at the decision-making level in ISAF, the International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan.  The word ‘Assistance’ continues to be mandatory but meaningless.)

Does anybody remember the Davis Report of January this year?  Probably very few people do, because it vanished down the sinkhole of history where all embarrassingly accurate and truthful reports are destined to be flushed by the authorities of every inefficient organization in every country in the world.  Lieutenant Colonel Daniel L Davis saw active service on Operation Desert Storm, in Afghanistan in 2005-06, then Iraq in 2008-09, and Afghanistan again in 2010-11.  He records in his Report that  “I have personally observed or physically participated in programs for at least the last 15 years in which the Army’s senior leaders have either ‘stretched the truth’ or knowingly deceived the US Congress and American public. What I witnessed in my most recently concluded 12 month deployment to Afghanistan has seen that deception reach an intolerable low.”  Davis, of course, is no longer in uniform.

I’m not saying he was the only honest officer in the entire US army.  There may well be some others;   although, if so, they are keeping very quiet.  But he’s certainly one of the very few who has managed — and dared — to shine at least a bit of light into what are some dismally dark caverns of deception.  He wrote that

over the past two years [2010-11], despite the surge of 30,000 American soldiers, the insurgent force has gained strength, the number of attacks has increased considerably, and the number of American casualties has skyrocketed. The Afghan people demonstrate an alarming lack of faith in their government and security forces and according to multiple sources, despite ISAF claims to the contrary, Taliban morale is so strong that most are reported to be utterly convinced they have already won.

But the upbeat drumbeat continues, and there’s not a senior US officer who dares reveal the truth — especially not so close to Presidential election time.  And as I send this off to Counterpunch the news has just come in of yet another ‘Green on Blue.’  I wonder how they’ll explain this one away.

Brian Cloughley’s website is www.beecluff.com

Brian Cloughley writes about foreign policy and military affairs. He lives in Voutenay sur Cure, France.

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