Dancing the Afghan Jig

“Ninety-five Afghan children are among the 140 people said to have died in a recent U.S.-Taliban battle in western Afghanistan, a lawmaker involved in the investigation into the deaths said Wednesday. The U.S. military disputed the claim saying the graves they saw looked too small to contain so many victims.” (May 13, Associated Press)

Afghan villagers claimed U.S. air strikes killed kids and destroyed two villages in Farah province. U.S. military spokesman Col. Greg Julian blamed the Taliban who kept villagers hostage during the fight and then offered payments to the dead kids’ parents as incentive to exaggerate the death toll. Oh, those wily Taliban!

An Afghan government commission interviewed villagers claiming dead relatives and compiled a list of the victims. The bodies got buried before the investigation. After the US bombing, the International Committee of the Red Cross certified that among the dozens of bodies were corpses of women and children.

Col. Julian disagreed: “There is no physical proof that can substantiate” the Afghan list of victims. The U.S. has refused to release a number of people it thinks died in the May 4-5 clash in the targeted villages.

Julian ridiculed “the locals.” They didn’t know “whether it was 19 or 69 in that mass grave,” he said. He also suggested insurgents and militants were among those buried. (Rahim Faiez, Associated Press May 13, 2009)

President Hamid Karzai reiterated his statement on US air strikes: “not acceptable.” Karzai has begged the US military to minimize civilian deaths during its operations because such killings undermine support for the fight against the Taliban. Duh!

Like Lincoln in the Civil War, President Obama hopes changing generals will yield victory – or at least “success.” On May 11, the President axed his top man in Afghanistan, General David McKiernan, and replaced him with General Stanley McChrystal. One Iraqi veteran remarked: “General McScrewup replaced General McFoulup.” McKiernan used high tech weapons and well-educated officers in his quest to destroy the technologically inferior and uneducated Taliban. He killed lots of Afghan civilians in his failing effort.

McChrystal bears the ignominy of having supervised the scandalous cover up of the 2004 death of former NFL defensive back Pat Tillman, by signing off on a report that Tillman died heroically in a firefight. In fact, Tillman’s panicky comrades shot him. In 2007, a Pentagon investigation into the “accidental” shooting death of Cpl. Tillman by his comrade Army Rangers held McChrystal accountable for inaccurate information, which erroneously suggested that enemy fire killed Tillman.

Defense Secretary Robert “Swinging” Gates, Obama’s hit man, didn’t mention McChrystal’s unsavory role in the Tillman case; nor did he use the façade of holding hearings before defenestrating the outgoing McScrewup. Gates simply told his top commander in Afghanistan: “get  your sorry failure of an ass (army talk) back home. McSAcrewup served 11 months (less than half of his two year tour) in the Taliban’s theater.

Gates previously punished officers only after reports appeared in the news of neglect of wounded troops in hospitals or playing games with nuclear weapons. In 1951, President Harry Truman fired a top general during the Korean War. “Whew,” said the relieved public. Douglas MacArthur wanted to invade China – or run for President of the United States. Obama should recall: the United States didn’t win that war or any other since 1945 – when the other side fought back.

Obama has placed Afghanistan in the spotlight of his “war on terror.” After the Taliban confounded General McKiernan, Obama chose “new thinking,” “new leadership” and “fresh eyes.” Top military toadies, Joint Chiefs of Staff chair Admiral Mike Mullen, and the fabled General David Petraeus, chief of U.S. Central Command, endorsed the unceremonious firing.

By December 2009, 70,000 US troops will have occupied Afghanistan — 21,000 of whom Obama put there. The PR on McChrystal emphasizes his command of U.S. Special Forces in Iraq and credits his use of superior technology, bribing informants and getting lucky, allowing his unit to kill the infamous Al-Qaeda leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi. You all remember him? That sure made a difference in winning the Iraq War!

McKiernan ordered lots of air strikes that killed lots of Afghans and some Pakistanis as well, but he kept a low profile. The victims died for the greater good: stopping terrorist attacks against the United States.
McChrystal will continue to rely on bombing, but add to that his special, super duper SWAT seals and very special operations forces. He understands you can’t fight guerrillas by massing troops. So, his heroes will hunt them down in small groups with black makeup under their eyes. He also intimated to the press that he won’t take any shit from that wog, Afghan President Karzai. Didn’t Bush Karzai him in office?
Since his appointment – I mean election – in 2002 as interim President and his election in 2004 with strong Washington backing, Karzai and his government officials have given corruption a bad name. But Washington sees no handy replacements. Almost eight years ago, in the fall of 2001, US forces ousted the Taliban government. These mysterious villains emerged (in the US media) during the 1990s  after successfully attacking US-backed warlords who had seized pieces of Afghanistan after driving the Soviets out – with CIA backing. The reward for participating in that CIA war meant: collect the spoils of victory, grab areas of the country and loot at will.

The Agency’s warlords had not read the Geneva Conventions, much less the Bill of Rights. Ahmed Rashid (see his book, Taliban) described the atmosphere before an interview he had with one of these fabled warlords, General Rashid Dostum. “Noticing bloodstains and scraps of flesh in the muddy courtyard he asked the guards if they had slaughtered a goat. They explained that an hour earlier had punished a soldier for theft. “The man had been tied to the tracks of a Russian-made tank,” records Rashid, “which then drove around the courtyard crushing his body into mincemeat, while the garrison and Dostum watched.” (Patrick Cockburn, The Independent, May 6, 2009)

The Taliban, trained in Pakistani madrasas (religious schools) backed by Saudi money and arms, drove Dostum and his ilk into exile or retreat. Then came 9/11. The Taliban took the blame and Bush sought allies. Anyone who would help oust the Taliban became a US friend. US forces invaded, drove the Taliban back to Pakistan and our “allies” resumed their previous practices: looting and growing and running drugs (poppies grow there and get made into heroin). Green Beret McChrystal, no flower child, hates drugs and plans to stop the narco-trafficking that funds the Taliban – and many Afghan farmers and their families as well.

His heroes might even convert the Afghan population to Christianity while simultaneously bombing them to smithereens. An Al Jazeera report claims some US military officials in Afghanistan encouraged US soldiers to hand out Christian Bibles to local Muslims.

A 2008 video shows military chaplains stationed at the Bagram US air base “discussing how to distribute copies of the Bible printed in the country’s main Pashto and Dari languages.” Lieutenant-Colonel Gary Hensley, chief US military chaplain in Afghanistan, told soldiers that, “as followers of Jesus Christ, they all have a responsibility ‘to be witnesses for him.’” This doesn’t imply that Christ-lovers should “love thine enemy” or any of that wussy crap.

“The special forces guys – they hunt men basically. We do the same things as Christians, we hunt people for Jesus. We do, we hunt them down,” he says. “Get the hound of heaven after them, so we get them into the kingdom. That’s what we do, that’s our business.”

Col. Julian told Al Jazeera not to believe Hensley or the jopurnalists’ own eyes: “Most of this is taken out of context … this is irresponsible and inappropriate journalism. There is no effort to go out and proselytize to Afghans.” When the US bombs it kills only enemies, not innocent women and children (smart bombs have eyes). (Al Jazeera, James Bays, May 4, 2009, )

Does President Obama think about what victory means in Afghanistan? Converting Afghanistan to the US order? Or, stopping terrorist attacks against the United States? Either way the military –with its long no-win record – seems unlikely to accomplish the job.  Did Obama think of Lincoln as General Sherman burned — only military targets? — Georgia? Afghanistan didn’t secede from the Union. Obama understands police agencies not military regiments can infiltrate violent cells to prevent future 9/11s. Obama might focus more productively on Saudi Arabia, the source of most of the 9/11 attackers and the funders of the Taliban, as a place to apply some pressure. I feel oily even saying something like that.

SAUL LANDAU is an Institute for Policy Studies fellow, whose films are available on dvd from roundworldproductions@gmail.com. His book, A BUSH AND BOTOX WORLD, was published by CounterPunch.

SAUL LANDAU’s A BUSH AND BOTOX WORLD was published by CounterPunch / AK Press.