March 29, 2011

Kill Team

I have a very busy few days of work ahead of me in which blogging will be light, but in addition to my analysis of the president's speech last night, do read this Rolling Stone article on the murders of civilians in Afghanistan by U.S. troops. Josh Foust has criticized the article as "war porn," and maybe what he writes about how Rolling Stone sensationalizes the horrors of war has some merit.* (Lord knows, I have been critical of the articles Rolling Stone has run on Afghanistan in the past.) But the readership of this blog is hardly representative of the U.S. public as a whole and has a lot of combat journalists and military readers, both retired and active-duty, who have a practiced ear for what rings true and what seems incomplete in accounts of combat, so I trust your ability to separate the wheat from the chaff here.

In my opinion, this article should be required reading for officers and non-commissioned officers because of the questions it raises with respect to discipline, command climate, and the professionalism of our armed forces. I was in real, physical discomfort reading this article. I mean, it was really, really difficult to read. And at the end of rugby practice last night, another Afghanistan veteran came up to me unprompted and asked me if I had read the article -- because he too had been sickened reading it. I hope as many soldiers and officers as possible read this article and discuss it with their peers and subordinates, because there are no easy explanations for what went wrong in this Stryker platoon but lots of tough questions units deploying to or currently serving in Afghanistan should be asking themselves based on what happened.

*Unlike Josh, I actually think writer Mark Boal did a pretty solid job here. Nothing in his narrative jumped out at me as egregiously unfair -- unlike this. So I have a tough time lumping this story in with earlier Rolling Stone hit pieces, and even if the magazine has an anti-war agenda in the stories it selects and promotes, I credit Boal for writing a compelling account that may titilate Americans who have no experience in Afghanistan but provides an important conversation piece for those of us who have.

UPDATE: Let me just add two things. First, if you are a general reader with no experience in Iraq or Afghanistan, rest assured that the platoon featured in this article is not, in fact, representative of U.S. combat units. Second, I googled the author of the article and discovered he wrote The Hurt Locker. That movie is often criticized by veterans of Iraq as being ridiculously unrealistic at times, but I certainly do not think it was unsympathetic to the stress under which soldiers often find themselves in combat. Again, I think this article should provoke some good and necessary conversations among soldiers and officers serving in or about to serve in Afghanistan.