A NATO air strike in the northern province of Kunduz (where Alexander the Great passed in 329 BCE when it was the Bactrian city of Drapsaca; Kandahar was founded by Alexander the Great; its name derives from 'Iskanderiya,' the Pashtun form of its original name, Alexandria) "mistakenly killed seven Afghan police and wounded two others on Thursday, hospital and government officials said, adding to strains on the alliance," AFP reported. -- Those killed were participating in a joint patrol with NATO forces when they came under Taliban attack and called in an air strike; "the Afghan forces were bombed by mistake," an Afgthan interior ministry spokesman said. -- "'Afghan national security forces are critical to the security of this nation and the loss of a single Afghan life affects all of us,' said Lieutenant General David Rodriguez." -- But this newfound tender-mindedness in the U.S. military was criticized on the Op-Ed pages of the New York Times on Thursday in an article that complaining that "an overemphasis on civilian protection is now putting American troops on the defensive" and sneering at "'hearts and minds' enthusiasts" because of whom U.S. forces "have largely relinquished the strategic advantage of American air dominance." -- Lara Dadkah concluded by piously invoking "morality": "[T]he pendulum has swung too far in favor of avoiding the death of innocents at all cost. General McChrystal’s directive was well intentioned, but the lofty ideal at its heart is a lie, and an immoral one at that, because it pretends that war can be fair or humane. -- Wars are always ugly, and always monstrous, and best avoided. Once begun, however, the goal of even a 'long war' should be victory in as short a time as possible, using every advantage you have." -- COMMENT: Lara Dadkah, the New York Times tells us, is an "intelligence analyst" who works for an unidentified "defense consulting company." -- Why is this company unidentified? -- Don't readers have the right to know whom they are reading? -- For our part, we can't help suspecting that "Lara Dadkah" is merely a pseudonym, and that this article is itself a CIA plant. -- If there is a Lara Dadkah, her salary is paid by the U.S. national security state. -- She says that there has never been "compelling proof" that "dead civilians are harmful to the conduct of war." -- That is as absurd is it is certin that air strikes are profitable to her employer. -- Great minds think alike, and we're not the only ones wondering who "Lara Dadkah" is. -- Glenn Greenwald of Slate said the piece by a "mystery Op-Ed writer" was "monstrous," and added that it is "so ugly that it merits little refutation, as it really negates itself." ...
NATO AIR STRIKE KILLS SEVEN AFGHAN POLICE: MINISTRY
February 18, 2010
KUNDUZ, Afghanistan -- A NATO air strike mistakenly killed seven Afghan police and wounded two others on Thursday, hospital and government officials said, adding to strains on the alliance.
The NATO-run International Security Assistance Force ordered an immediate investigation into the incident in the northern province of Kunduz, where Taliban violence has recently increased, and hailed the role played by Afghan forces.
The incident occurred when a joint patrol by the Afghan army and police and NATO forces came under Taliban attack in the Imam Sahib district, Afghan interior ministry spokesman Zemarai Bashary told AFP.
NATO called in an air strike and "the Afghan forces were bombed by mistake," the spokesman said. "Seven policemen were killed, including two officers, and two policemen were wounded."
Civilian casualties are a sensitive issue in Afghanistan, as President Hamid Karzai's government and his Western backers attempt to win a war of perceptions while battling an eight-year insurgency.
The director of the main hospital in Kunduz, Noor Ull-Haq Hakimi, confirmed that the bodies of seven policemen were brought in as well as two wounded policemen. The local government confirmed the incident without giving details on casualties.
"ISAF and Afghan authorities will conduct an immediate, thorough joint investigation," the NATO-run force said in a statement.
It confirmed that an air strike was called in in response to an attack in Imam Sahib but said an initial assessment had revealed no casualties.
"Subsequently, ISAF was advised by the Afghan national police command center that they received a report that several Afghan police were killed and wounded in this operation," ISAF said.
"Afghan national security forces are critical to the security of this nation and the loss of a single Afghan life affects all of us," said Lieutenant General David Rodriguez in the statement.
"We have committed to our Afghan partners every resource available to investigate this incident."
In southern Afghanistan 15,000 US, NATO and Afghan forces are pressing on with a major offensive against a Taliban bastion. Commanders say progress has been slowed by hidden bombs and militants hiding behind human shields.
The United States and NATO have more than 120,000 troops fighting the insurgency, with the number set to rise to 150,000 by August under President Barack Obama's surge, most of them being deployed to the troubled south.
Despite measures to avoid harming civilians -- such as an order by U.S. General Stanley McChrystal, commander of foreign troops, to limit air strikes -- at least nine civilians were killed by a NATO rocket strike on Monday.
EMPTY SKIES OVER AFGHANISTAN
By Lara M. Dadkah
New York Times
February 18, 2010
The Taliban have found a way to beat American airpower. And they have managed this remarkable feat with American help.
The consequences of this development are front and center in the current offensive in Marja, Afghanistan, where air support to American and Afghan forces has been all but grounded by concerns about civilian casualties.
American and NATO military leaders -- worried by Taliban propaganda claiming that air strikes have killed an inordinate number of civilians, and persuaded by “hearts and minds” enthusiasts that the key to winning the war is the Afghan population’s goodwill -- have largely relinquished the strategic advantage of American air dominance. Last July, the commander of Western forces, Gen. Stanley McChrystal, issued a directive that air strikes (and long-range artillery fire) be authorized only under “very limited and prescribed conditions.”
So in a modern refashioning of the obvious -- that war is harmful to civilian populations -- the United States military has begun basing doctrine on the premise that dead civilians are harmful to the conduct of war. The trouble is, no past war has ever supplied compelling proof of that claim.
In Marja, American and Afghan troops have shown great skill in routing the Taliban occupiers. But news reports indicate that our troops under heavy attack have had to wait an hour or more for air support, so that insurgents could be positively identified. “We didn’t come to Marja to destroy it, or to hurt civilians,” a Marine officer told reporters after waiting 90 minutes before the Cobra helicopters he had requested showed up with their Hellfire missiles. He’s right that the goal is not to kill bystanders or destroy towns, but an overemphasis on civilian protection is now putting American troops on the defensive in what is intended to be a major offensive.
And Marja is not exceptional.
While the number of American forces in Afghanistan has more than doubled since 2008, to nearly 70,000 today, the critical air support they get has not kept pace. According to my analysis of data compiled by the United States military, close air support sorties, which in Afghanistan are almost always unplanned and in aid of troops on the ground who are under intense fire, increased by just 27 percent during that same period. (While I am employed by a defense consulting company, my research and opinions on air support are my own.)
Anecdotal evidence and simple logic dictate that there are two reasons for this relative decrease of air support: Troops in contact with the enemy are calling for air support less often than before the tactical directive was issued, and when they do call for air strikes their requests are more frequently being denied.
Pentagon data show that the percentage of sorties sent out that resulted in air strikes has also declined, albeit modestly, to 5.6 percent from 6 percent. According to the military’s own air-power summaries, often when the planes or helicopters arrive, they simply perform shows of force, or drop flares rather than munitions. It is only a matter of time before the Taliban see flares and flyovers for what they are: empty threats.
One of the most egregious episodes of failed support occurred last September in Kunar Province, when a detachment of Marines and Afghan troops tried to search the village of Ganjgal for a weapons cache. When they were fired on by insurgents in the nearby hills, they radioed for artillery support, a request that was rejected on the ground that civilians might be injured. They then pleaded for helicopters, which didn’t arrive for more than an hour after the shooting started.
“We are pinned down,” a Marine major explained to his Afghan counterpart as they waited helplessly, according to a report from McClatchy Newspapers. “We are running low on ammo. We have no air. We’ve lost today.” In the end, four Marines, eight Afghan troops, and an Afghan interpreter were dead, and 22 others wounded.
Some would argue that more combat troops will always mean more combat troop deaths. That holds true, however, only if you believe that our soldiers should fight fair. Logic dictates that no well-ordered army would give up its advantages and expect to win, and the United States military, which does not have the manpower in Afghanistan to fight the insurgents one-on-one, is no exception.
Perhaps the directive against civilian casualties could be justified if one could show that Afghan lives were truly being saved, but that’s not the case. According to the latest report by the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan, the number of civilian deaths caused by Western and Afghan government forces decreased to 596 in 2009, from 828 the year before. But the overall number of civilian deaths in the country increased by 14 percent, to 2,412, and the number killed by Taliban troops and other insurgents rose by 41 percent. For Afghan civilians who are dying in greater numbers, the fact that fewer deaths are caused by pro-government forces is cold comfort.
There is also little to indicate that the “hearts and minds” campaign has resulted in the population’s cooperation, especially in the all-important area of human intelligence. Afghans can be expected to cooperate with American forces only if they feel safe to do so -- when we take permanent control of an area. Obviously, this involves defeating the enemy. With NATO intelligence services recently noting that the Taliban still have a “shadow government” in 33 of Afghanistan’s 34 provinces, it’s hard to say we’re close to accomplishing that feat. Just last month, the Taliban set off a series of bombs in the heart of Kabul; the insurgents, it appears, no longer need to winter in Pakistan.
Of course, all this is not to say that we should be oblivious to civilian deaths, or wage “total” war in Afghanistan. Clearly, however, the pendulum has swung too far in favor of avoiding the death of innocents at all cost. General McChrystal’s directive was well intentioned, but the lofty ideal at its heart is a lie, and an immoral one at that, because it pretends that war can be fair or humane.
Wars are always ugly, and always monstrous, and best avoided. Once begun, however, the goal of even a “long war” should be victory in as short a time as possible, using every advantage you have.
--Lara M. Dadkhah is an intelligence analyst.
THE NYT'S MYSTERY OP-ED WRITER
By Glenn Greenwald
February 18, 2010
The New York Times today published a monstrous Op-Ed complaining that the U.S. is being too careful to avoid civilian deaths in Afghanistan (which would probably come as a surprise to these people and these people if they hadn't been Liberated by the U.S. . . . from life). The Op-Ed is by someone identified as "Lara M. Dadkhah," and it's so ugly that it merits little refutation, as it really negates itself (h/t reader Josh Golin): "So in a modern refashioning of the obvious -- that war is harmful to civilian populations -- the United States military has begun basing doctrine on the premise that dead civilians are harmful to the conduct of war. The trouble is, no past war has ever supplied compelling proof of that claim. . . . [A]n overemphasis on civilian protection is now putting American troops on the defensive in what is intended to be a major offensive. . . .
"Of course, all this is not to say that the United States and NATO should be oblivious to civilian deaths, or wage "total" war in Afghanistan. Clearly, however, the pendulum has swung too far in favor of avoiding the death of innocents at all cost. General McChrystal’s directive was well intentioned, but the lofty ideal at its heart is a lie, and an immoral one at that, because it pretends that war can be fair or humane. . . .
"Wars are always ugly, and always monstrous, and best avoided. Once begun, however, the goal of even a 'long war' should be victory in as short a time as possible, using every advantage you have."
Note how her cursory, oh-so-humane caveat at the beginning ("Of course, all this is not to say that the United States and NATO should be oblivious to civilian deaths, or wage 'total' war in Afghanistan") is casually dispensed with by the end, when she demands "victory in as short a time as possible, using every advantage you have." Does anyone need it explained to them why causing large civilian deaths through air attacks in Afghanistan is not only morally grotesque but also completely counter-productive to our stated goals? For those who do, here's one good response to this Op-Ed. Here's another from Stephen Walt at Foreign Policy. If one can locate her, one might also ask her how well the strategy she craves worked for the Soviets in Afghanistan, or does she think the Soviet Army was also too soft, restrained and worried about civilian life?
But for the moment, I'm more interested in knowing who "Lara Dadkhah" is and, more important, what she does. She's identified only by this conspicuously vague and uninformative line at the end of the Op-Ed: "Lara M. Dadkhah is an intelligence analyst." In the Op-Ed itself, she writes: "While I am employed by a defense consulting company, my research and opinions on air support are my own." What defense consulting company employs her? Do they have any ties to the war effort? Do they benefit from the grotesque policies she's advocating? What type of "analyst" is she? Who knows? In the Op-Ed, she cites her so-called "analysis of data compiled by the United States military." Where is the data behind that analysis, and for whom was the analysis done? The NYT doesn't bother to tell us any of this, and doesn't require her even to specify her "defense consultant" employer.
More strangely still, it's virtually impossible to find any information about "Lara Dadkhah" using standard Internet tools. Google produces almost nothing about her prior to references to her Op-Ed today. Nexis produces zero returns for her name -- zero. And when I asked about her on Twitter, the only answer anyone could provide was that she authored this December 2008 paper (.pdf) at Small Wars Journal, where she made exactly the same rancid argument: "even as mounting civilian casualties are alienating the Afghan populace, excessive restraint in the use of airstrikes may be handicapping [COIN] efforts" (h/t Majlisblog). At the end of that article, she was identified this way (click to enlarge image).
That, too, vaguely refers to the work she has done -- "as an open source analyst covering biodefense issues" and "as a data analyst for current coalition information operations in Afghanistan" -- while conspicuously omitting for whom that work is done.
What bizarre behavior from the NYT: it publishes an extremist, repellent Op-Ed calling, in essence, for the deaths of more innocent Afghans and accusing the Obama administration of sacrificing the lives of American troops due to excessive concern about civilians, all while providing basically no information about the author and allowing her vaguely to refer to a "defense consulting company" for whom she works while concealing its identity. There's no way to assess her credentials, her expertise, her employment, her motives, her possible conflicts -- nothing. In short, the NYT allows her to spout extremely ugly and inflammatory claims on its Op-Ed page under the cover of alleged expertise, while concealing even the most basic information about her credentials, employment and professional background. What kind of journalistic standards are those?