Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Throwing Away Hearts, Minds and Other Organs

We have such great friends as General Musharraf and the Saudi royals, as Diane and I have both reflected on recently. Maybe we're just such a friend.

In Afghanistan, where we were indeed welcomed as liberators after the Taliban, the death toll from our actions has exceeded that from the Taliban sympathizers of the insurgency.

Last year was the worst year for civilian casualties since the fall of the country's cruel Taliban regime, and 2007 is shaping up to be even worse.

The most alarming point: As of July, more civilians had died as a result of NATO, U.S. and Afghan government firepower than had died due to the Taliban.

According to U.N. figures, 314 civilians were killed by international and Afghan government forces in the first six months of this year, while 279 civilians were killed by the insurgents.

So why on Earth are the NATO and U.S. forces and their Afghan allies killing more civilians than the Taliban? One explanation can be found in the relatively low number of Western boots on the ground. Afghanistan, which is 1 1/2 times the size of Iraq and has a somewhat larger population, has only about 50,000 U.S. and NATO soldiers stationed on its soil. By contrast, more than 170,000 U.S. troops are now in Iraq. So the West has to rely far more heavily on airstrikes in Afghanistan, which inevitably exact a higher toll in civilian casualties.

Indeed, the Associated Press found that U.S. and NATO forces launched more than 1,000 airstrikes in Afghanistan in the first six months of 2007 alone -- four times as many airstrikes as U.S. forces carried out in Iraq during that period.

The collateral damage here goes beyond even the tragic loss of life. A September report by the United Nations concluded that Western airstrikes are among the principal motivations for suicide attackers in Afghanistan. Sure enough, suicide attacks in the country rose sevenfold from 2005 to 2006, to an alarming 123 attacks, and are already up by around 70 percent this year -- at the same time that pro-government forces are killing more Afghan civilians than are their Taliban foes.

While a lot of speculation on the U.S.'s low esteem throughout much of the civilized world centers around the war we have brought against Iraq, maybe we should be looking at the justified, sympathized with, (sorry about the grammar there) war we're waging in Afghanistan, where we were welcome. Now we've shown our inability to act intelligently there, and are losing the hearts and minds of people who'd much rather be on our side.

Our disasters are mounting. With another year to go until the next elections, it's discouraging to think how far back we will be and how far we will have to come to regain just a portion of what's been squandered by the occupied White House.

At least this regime has been a history book lesson in how not to conduct affairs of state. Chapter One in the lesson book should be; "Keep A Lid On It: Staying out of other countries unless you know what you're doing."

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