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Mad Pilgrimage of the Flesh


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Mission Failure: Afghanistan

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Posted on Aug 2, 2012
ssoosay (CC BY 2.0)

By Tom Engelhardt, TomDispatch

(Page 2)

In 2007-2008, there were only four green-on-blue attacks, resulting in four deaths.  When they started multiplying in 2010, the initial impulse of coalition spokespeople was to blame them on Taliban infiltrators (and the Taliban did take credit for most of them).  Now, U.S. or NATO spokespeople tend to dismiss such violence as individual pique or the result of some personal grievance against coalition forces rather than Taliban affiliation.  While reaffirming the coalition mission of training a vast security force for the country, they prefer to present each case as if it were a local oddity with little relation to any of the others—“an isolated incident [that] has its own underlying circumstances and motives.”  (Privately, the U.S. military is undoubtedly far more worried.)

In fact, there is a striking pattern at work that should be front-page news here.  Green-on-blue attacks have been countrywide, in areas of militant insurgency and not; they continue to escalate, and (as far as we can tell) are almost always committed by actual members of the Afghan military or police who have experienced the American project in their country in a particularly up-close and personal way.

In addition, these attacks are, again as far as anyone can tell, in no way coordinated.  They are individual or small group acts, in some cases clearly after significant thought and calculation, in others just as clearly impulsive.  Nonetheless, they do seem to represent a kind of collective vote, not by ballot obviously, nor—as in Lenin’s phrase about Russia’s deserting peasant soldiers in World War I—with their feet, but with guns. 

The number of these events is, after all, startling, given that an Afghan who turns his weapon on well-armed American or European allies is likely to die.  A small number of shooters have escaped and a few have been captured alive (including one recently sentenced to death in an Afghan court), but most are shot down.  In a situation where foreign advisors and troops are now distinctly on guard and on edge—and in some cases are shadowed by armed compatriots (“guardian angels”) whose job it is to protect them from such events—these are essentially suicidal acts.

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So it’s reasonable to assume that, for every Afghan who acts on such a violent impulse, there must be a far larger pool of fellow members of the security forces the coalition is building who have similar feelings, but don’t act on them (or simply vote with their feet, like the 24,590 soldiers who deserted in the first six months of 2011 alone).  Unlike James Holmes’s rampage in Aurora, such acts, extreme as they may be, are not in the usual sense mad ones.  And scattered and disparate as they may be, they have a distinctly unitary feel to them.  They seem, that is, like a single repetitive act being committed, as if by plan and program, across the length and breadth of the country—or perhaps a primal Afghan scream of rejection of the American and NATO presence from an armed people who have known little but fighting, bloodshed, and destruction for more than three decades.

If the significance of green-on-blue violence hasn’t quite sunk in yet here, consider this: such acts in such numbers are historically unprecedented.  No example comes to mind of a colonial power, neocolonial power, or modern superpower fighting a war with “native” allies whose forces repeatedly find the weapons they have supplied turned on them.  There is nothing in our historical record faintly comparable—not in the eighteenth and nineteenth century Indian wars, the Philippine Insurrection at the turn of the last century, Korea in the early 1950s, Vietnam in the 1960s and early 1970s, or Iraq in this century.  (In Vietnam, the only somewhat analogous set of events involved U.S. soldiers, not their South Vietnamese counterparts, repeatedly turning their weapons on their own officers in acts that, like “green-on-blue” violence, got a label all their own: “fragging.”

Perhaps the sole historical example that comes close might be the Indian Rebellion of 1857.  That, however, was a full-scale revolt, not a series of unconnected, ever escalating individual acts. 


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