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A Contagion of Killing in Afghanistan
Posted on Aug 29, 2012
By Tom Engelhardt, TomDispatch
No less striking is the reported general puzzlement over what lies behind these Afghan actions. In most cases, the motivation for them, writes King, “remains opaque.” There are, it seems, many theories within the U.S. military about why Afghans are turning their guns on Americans, including personal pique, individual grudges, cultural touchiness, “heat-of-the moment disputes in a society where arguments are often settled with a Kalashnikov,” and in a minority of cases—about a tenth of them, according to a recent military study, though one top commander suggested the number could range up to a quarter—actual infiltration or “coercion” by the Taliban. General Allen even suggested recently that some insider attacks might be traced to religious fasting for the Islamic holy month of Ramadan, combined with unseasonable summer heat, leaving Afghans hungry, tetchy, and prone to impulsive acts, guns in hand. According to the Washington Post, however, “Allen acknowledged that U.S. and Afghan officials have struggled to determine what’s behind the rise in attacks.”
“American officials are still struggling,” wrote the New York Times in an editorial on the subject, “to understand the forces at work.” And in that the editorial writers like the general reflected the basic way these acts are registering here—as a remarkable Afghan mystery. In other words, in Washington’s version of the blame game, the quirky, unpredictable Afghans from Hamid Karzai on down are in the crosshairs. What is the matter with them?
In the midst of all this, few say the obvious. Undoubtedly, a chasm of potential misunderstanding lies between Afghan trainees and their American trainers; Afghans may indeed feel insulted by any number of culturally inapt, inept, or hostile acts by their mentors. They may have been on edge from fasting for Ramadan. They may be holding grudges. None of the various explanations being offered, that is, may in themselves be wrong. The problem is that none of them allow an observer to grasp what’s actually going on. On that, there really should be few “misunderstandings” and, though you won’t hear it in Washington, right now Americans are actually the ones in the crosshairs, and not just in the literal sense either.
While the motives of any individual Afghan turning his gun on an American may be beyond our knowing—just what made him plan it, just what made him snap—history should tell us something about the more general motives of Afghans (and perhaps the rest of us as well). After all, the United States was founded after colonial settlers grew tired of an occupying army and power in their midst. Whatever the individual insults Afghans feel, the deeper insult almost 11 years after the U.S. military, crony corporations, hire-a-gun outfits, contractors, advisers, and aid types arrived on the scene en masse with all their money, equipment, and promises is that things are going truly badly; that the westerners are still around; that the Americans are still trying to stand up those Afghan forces (when the Taliban has no problem standing its forces up and fighting effectively without foreign trainers); that the defeated Taliban, one of the less popular movements of modern history, is again on the rise; that the country is a sea of corruption; that more than 30 years after the first Afghan War against the Soviets began, the country is still a morass of violence, suffering, and death.
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And keep in mind as well what history does tell us: that the Afghans have quite a record of getting disgusted with occupying armies and blowing them away. After all, they managed to eject the militaries of two of the most powerful empires of their moments, the British in the 1840s and the Russians in the 1980s. Why not a third great empire as well?
A Contagion of Killing
The message is certainly clear enough, however unprepared those in Washington and in the field are to hear it: forget our enemies; a rising number of those Afghans closest to us want us out in the worst way possible and their message on the subject has been horrifically blunt. As NBC correspondent Jim Miklaszewski put it recently, among Americans in Afghanistan there is now “a growing fear the armed Afghan soldier standing next to them may really be the enemy.”
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