A headline like Seven afghan children killed in US-led airstrike, which I read in Monday's New York Times, can't help but make you angry. Angry about the dead children, of course, but also angry about the knowledge that there are bound to be others out there angrier over their deaths than I am. They'll have brothers and sisters, friends and neighbors, uncles and fathers, mothers, and cousins.That is from Matthew Yglesias' commentary in the Guardian,
Many of them, naturally enough, will become America's enemies.
How to lose Afghanistan
And with enough such enemies, we'll lose in Afghanistan. We'll lose because, at the end of the day, even wars that aren't fundamentally unjustified and infeasible can still be lost if they're prosecuted in a sufficiently inept manner. And that's just what seems to be happening in Afghanistan today. As the New York Times reported, the dead children "may well add to the growing anger many Afghans feel about civilian casualties from American and Nato military operations," anger stoked by the deaths of more than 130 civilians at American hands over the past six months.Of course the same applies to Iraq where over 50% of the population think it's alright to kill members of the US occupation force. Yglesias quotes from the Counterinsurgency Manuel written by none other than General David Petraeus.
Bombing, even air strikes, should be weighed against the risks, the primary danger being collateral damage that turns the population against the government and provides the insurgents with a major propaganda victory. Even when justified under the law of war, bombing a target that results in civilian casualties will bring media coverage that works to the benefit of the insurgents. A standard insurgent and terrorist tactic for decades against Israel has been to fire rockets or artillery from the vicinity of a school or village in the hope that the Israelis would carry out a retaliatory air strike that kills or wounds civilians - who are then displayed to the world media as victims of aggression. Insurgents and terrorists elsewhere have shown few qualms in provoking attacks that ensure civilian casualties if such attacks fuel anti-government and anti-US propaganda. Indeed, insurgents today can be expected to use the civilian population as a cover for their activities.But of course in the first few months of the surge air strikes have increased. And as William Lind points out air strikes are a sign of desperation.
As William S. Lind observed on June 11, the rise in strikes is indicative of the ongoing failure of the "surge" on the ground. After all, "calling in air is the last, desperate and usually futile action of an army that is losing" its ground-based counterinsurgency efforts. "Worse," he writes, "the growing number of air strikes shows that, despite what the Marines have accomplished in Anbar province and General Petraeus's best efforts, our high command remains as incapable as ever of grasping 'fourth generation' war."Of course "winning" is not the objective of the Bush administration. Their only desire at this point is to postpone the inevitable withdrawal, "loss" to the next administration.