This is one Afghanistan newspaper’s reaction today to the story of the massacre by a US staff sergeant of 16 villagers, including 9 children, near Qandahar. It is a medley of photographs of US troops in the country. Note that the source, Afghanpaper.com, in Dari Persian, is considered an “independent” news source by the US government; it is not a Taliban operation, and has usually been balanced. The headline is, “Let us be at least a little bit ashamed.”
The BBC is reporting that villagers are complaining that one of the victims was 2 years old. A woman wept, “They say they are Taliban. Are there any 2-year-old Taliban?” She said, “They are always setting dogs on us and helicopters circle at night.” The Taliban press in Afghanistan is giving the number of civilians killed as 45, and this sort of incident makes Taliban propaganda more credible to Afghans.
An Afghanistan expert asked me, “How was an armed soldier able to leave a well-defended US military base at 3 in the morning without being challenged?” “There is more,” he said darkly, “to this than meets the eye.” Another troubling question is whether it was wise to send this man on 3 Iraq rotations and one Afghan one. Wouldn’t that warp a person, that intensity of years-long combat?
The fairness or unfairness of the contextless collage below is irrelevant to its emotional impact on Afghans whose sense of national sovereignty is being injured by the more-than-a-decade US occupation of their country. Going into homes where there are unveiled women, and exposing them to the gaze of 18 year old strange American men, is always going to anger Afghans. I’ve had US government people almost shout at me that such considerations cannot be allowed to come into play when you are doing counter-terrorism, that the chief thing is to find the weapons caches. But this kind of thing is why the Iraqi parliament voted the US troops right out of their country as soon as they could, and if the Afghan parliament had any real power, it would, too (some parliamentarians have already called for a jihad against the US over the Qur’an burning fiasco).
The Qur’an-burning scandal and this soldier going berserk are in many ways tangential to the Afghanistan War, but this does not mean they are unimportant. In the history of anti-colonial struggles (which is how the anti-US forces in Afghanistan and Pakistan see the war), almost accidental minor incidents frequently became rallying cry. The Dinshaway incident in Egypt in 1906 is a famous example. Some 13 years later there were hundreds of thousands of Egyptians in the streets demanding a British departure, which was achieved in 1922.
The US is hoping to be mostly out of Afghanistan by the end of 2013. But there is a plan for special forces to remain in the long term. The Peshawar-based Frontier Post calls this plan a “wild goose chase” for the US, and says it almost certainly doomed to failure.
Here is a mirror of the Afghanpaper.com newspaper page: