Sunday, May 10, 2009

As Kabul University students grow increasingly anti-US, I say "Call off the drones."

Afghan refugees, the largest refugee population in the world.

From Reuters:

Students at the university issued a statement calling for troops responsible for civilian casualties to be prosecuted.

"From one side our people are fed up with the beheadings and suicide attacks by the Taliban. From other side, the massacre of people by U.S. forces is a crime they can never forget," it said.

At the demonstration, attended mainly by male students, marchers held aloft banners that read in English: "USA is biggest terrorist around the world!"

"We gathered here to share our sadness with the innocent people who were martyred. We call on the international community, Afghan government to stop the killing of innocents, stop the killing of an Afghan generation," said student Ahmad Fahim.

U.S. commanders expect heavy fighting in the coming months as the main contingent of their reinforcements deploy in the Taliban's southern heartland of Helmand and Kandahar provinces.

The additional 17,000 troops are part of a dramatic increase that will boost the U.S. presence rise from 32,000 at the beginning of this year to a projected 68,000 by year's end. Other Western countries have about 30,000 troops in Afghanistan.

U.S. and Western troops, spread thinly across a vast country where it can be difficult to bring in backup forces on the ground, rely on swift air strikes to rescue forces in danger in situations like last week's battle in Farah.

But Karzai, who visited Washington last week as reports of the incident were emerging, said they should be stopped.

"The air strikes are not acceptable," he told CNN on Friday. "Terrorism is not in Afghan villages, not in Afghan homes. And you cannot defeat terrorists by air strikes."

What Washington needs to understand here is that under the Pashtun culture, it is very important to not allow deaths to go unavenged. If our air strikes are regularly killing scores of civilians, they are creating hundreds of additional insurgent fighters. As former Bush-appointed military advisor David Kilcullen -- no great pacifist -- has noted, we need to "call off the drones" and end our overreliance on air power to solve what are mostly political problems with only a small police-military component involved in them.

We also should respect international law, and not continue offensive bombings in a country if that country's sovereign government is opposed to them. How would we like it if, say, Argentina was running bombing raids in the United States in order to kill anti-Argentine terrorists we are harboring (many Cold War-era war criminals take refuge in the US) and was regularly killing civilians? It certainly wouldn't make us as a people more pro-Argentine, and our policy of air strikes not only is showing reckless disregard for Afghan life, but it ultimately makes us less safe.

Unfortunately, the response by the White House to the request of Karzai's and those of Kabul University students -- who, as mostly educated college students, are probably the most anti-Taliban people in the country to ally ourselves with -- has been a flat out rejection. Interestingly, both Obama's security advisor James Jones and former Vice-President Dick Cheney agreed on this point.

I'm sure if there's one constant in life, it's that you never want to agree with Dick Cheney.