Afghanistan: It's Not What You Know, It's Who You Know


Gareth Porter argues at Antiwar.com that admitted ignorance of the ins and outs of Afghan life lead us to hit the wrong targets. Some details:

A Special Operations Forces raid on Feb. 12 on what was supposed to be the compound of a Taliban leader but that killed three women and two Afghan government officials demonstrated a fatal weakness of the U.S. military engagement in Afghanistan: after eight years of operating there, the U.S. military still has no understanding of the personal, tribal, and other local sociopolitical conflicts.

In targeting the suspected Taliban in such raids, therefore, the U.S. military command has been forced to rely on informants of unknown reliability – and motives.

Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal and his chief of intelligence, Gen. Michael Flynn, have admitted the profound ignorance of the U.S. military about Afghan society…

In an interview with National Public Radio Aug. 13, Flynn admitted, "What we really have not done to the degree that we need to is really truly understand the population: the tribal dynamics, the tribal networks, the ethnicity…."

Such dynamics are different "from valley to valley," Flynn observed.

And in an unusual paper published by the Center for a New American Security last October, Flynn was even more frank, saying, "I don't want to say we're clueless, but we are. We're no more than fingernail deep in our understanding the environment."

The article goes on to discuss instances when our ignorance allows U.S. troops to be used essentially as pawns in internal tribal fighting in Afghanistan. An example:

In the most widely known instance of mass civilian casualties from a U.S. attack, an air strike on the village of Azizabad in Heart province in August 2008, Afghan officials expressed certainty that U.S. commanders had been misled by a rival of clan leader Timor Shah, who had died some months before.

An investigation of the incident by the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission (AIHRC) revealed that a former business partner of Timor's who still had personal enmity toward the family – and who had been involved in various criminal activities – had passed false information to Coalition Forces that there would be a big gathering of Taliban fighters in Azizabad.

The U.S. command carried out a devastating bombing of what turned out to have been a memorial ceremony for Timor Shah.

As many as 90 civilians, including 60 children, were killed by the bombing.

I wrote on Obama's eternal Afghan war last month.