September 12, 2009

The human side of anti-COIN in Afghanistan

If you still don't get why population-centric COIN is a good idea, let the Guardian's Ghaith Abdul-Ahad's report from Kunduz enlighten you.

If you live in a country with troops in Afghanistan, you'll have seen the faces of your war dead. You'll probably read about their heroic deeds, and you might shed a tear when you hear their parents talk about their tragic loss. These images will have an effect on you. If you're British, there's a 41 percent chance you want Our Boys (to borrow the Sun's grammar) bought home.

The dead whose faces you won't have seen are the Afghan ones. But that doesn't mean they are any less mourned.

Abdul-Ahad met with relatives of those killed in the fuel tanker incident. This is the human side of the impersonal summation we normally hear when it comes to Afghan dead.

"He dropped his head on his palm that was resting on the table, and started banging his head against his white mottled hand. When he raised his head his eyes were red and tears were rolling down his cheek: "I couldn't find my son, so I took a piece of flesh with me home and I called it my son. I told my wife we had him, but I didn't let his children or anyone see. We buried the flesh as it if was my son."

If you feel that winning in Afghanistan means being more vicious than the bad guys, Abdul-Ahad's reporting might help you understand why Gen. McChystal is trying to limit civilian casualties... even to the point where it puts NATO soldiers at greater risk.

In a relatively stable part of the country, the last thing you need is to give the local population a really good reason to hate you.