Thursday, May 28, 2009

Non vi virtute vici

It's hard to go more than a few weeks without seeing a headline about civilian casualties in Afghanistan. Sadly, we seem to keep making the same mistakes. Whatever the reality is as far as exact totals and Taliban using them as human shields, the perception is that we keep killing innocent people.

I hadn't been in this country two weeks before I had go to the local village alone but for a handful of Afghan soldiers and explain to an angry group of 50 Afghan males why a unit in the area had shot a missile from the sky that ended up killing two adolescents. Having little information on the incident itself at the time, I stated that the incident was unfortunate, but that innocents always die in war, and that the local people should get on our side so that we can put an end to the conflict. A heated but controlled argument ensued where I heard the villagers say things like "Your technology is so good, we know you can tell if it's a child or not that your shooting" and "How can we support people that kill our children?". Thankfully, my Afghan platoon commander stepped in and calmed them down as I learned it's a losing proposition to argue with an angry mob, especially when you don't speak their language.

Whether we're killing Taliban with air strikes or not, much like the drone attacks in Pakistan, aerial strikes carry a big price tag not only because of their propensity for error either on the part of the pilot or the guy on the ground clearing them, but also because of the way killing in that manner is viewed by the people here. Pashtun people simply see no honor in an unseen killing from afar. While our enemies' planting an IED might be considered devious and respectable on some level as a way to overcome our technological advantages, our shooting missiles and dropping bombs on unsuspecting people is considered cowardly. If the bombs came during a firefight it might be different, but the targeting of the kind done by the drones in Pakistan and what was done that night leading up to my meeting with the local people loses us support. Two steps forward, five steps back.

It's not just what you do but how you do it.

The video is a bomb drop that occurred during my first patrol in Afghanistan.

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