Afghan Vignettes 4 & 5: How to Build Trust


This particular vignette came to me already made, thanks to THUS, who had the benefit of viewing a 19 August 2009 BBC Newsnight report with Kirsty Wark, that featured a film of U.S. Marines as they patrolled in Helmand province. While counterinsurgency and winning “hearts and minds” may be the nationally televised official Sunday prayer in the U.S. military, the parishioners as always are incurable sinners. (For a brief genealogy of the “hearts and minds” phrase, see Foreign Policy‘s article, “A Bright Shining Slogan.”) Back to THUS’ vignette:

The marines found and searched an almost-deserted village, the natives having sensibly fled in advance of the hearts and minds brigade. Only a young boy remained, with four old men, including a ’sinister man in black’ (Johnny Cash?). “Why is he shaking? What’s he afraid of?” a 19-year-old military genius asks, as camouflaged, helmeted goons, bristling with weaponry, jostle the kid at gunpoint after ransacking his house, finding a rifle – which turned out to be a BB gun (air rifle) and ‘urging’ him to reveal the whereabouts of his friends and family. “Last time we searched this house they wanted nothing to do with us. Ask them why?” Lance-Corporal Bunch demanded of the interpreter. You didn’t need a PhD to answer that question, but the marines decided that the old men standing nearby were intimidating the boy (possibly they were, but telling him ‘you’re fucked, kid’ and threatening to ‘wax this guy’s ass,’ might have had some bearing on his situation). I bet that village can hardly wait for the next patrol to pass by.

Unless these phrases are scripted by the Senate Armed Services Committee, and distributed for memorization and repetition by the troops, the soldiers in this case can hardly plead, innocently: “We’re just an instrument of policy!” Tools, they are not, as this one observed in the same report: “(The) Iraq war was different from this. Here…this is like some Vietnam shit. No one even mentions 9/11 here.”

Winning hearts and minds, one may recall, was also “some Vietnam shit.”


Just an isolated incident? Perhaps, but the number of “isolated incidents” keeps mounting (the way they did in, say, Stalingrad), after an air strike that massacred civilians, and then this, the storming of a hospital:

On Monday, the Swedish Committee for Afghanistan said the U.S. Army’s 10th Mountain Division forced their way into the charity’s hospital without permission to look for insurgents in Wardak province, southwest of Kabul.

“This is a clear violation of internationally recognized rules and principles,” said Anders Fange, the charity’s country director. He said it also went against an agreement between NATO forces and charities working in the area.

The U.S. troops came to the hospital looking for Taliban insurgents late at night last Wednesday. Fange said they kicked in doors, tied up four hospital guards and two people visiting hospitalized relatives, and forced patients out of beds during their search.

They also barged into women’s wards, he said, adding that strange men entering rooms where women are in beds is a serious insult to the local Pashtun culture and word of it could turn the community against international troops.

When they left two hours later, the soldiers ordered hospital staff to inform coalition forces if any wounded insurgents were admitted, and the military would decide if they could be treated, he said.

The staff refused. Fange said informing on patients would put the staff at risk and make the hospital a target and he demanded guarantees the military would not enter hospitals without permission in future.

“If the international military forces are not respecting the sanctity of health facilities, then there is no reason for the Taliban to do it either,” he said. “Then these clinics and hospitals would become military targets.”

Of course, they are meant to become miltary targets, just as schools for girls. Everything in Afghanistan is to become an American socially engineered fault line. It’s called “nation-building,” and as any “former” colony knows best, nation-building is usually a coercive and violent process of destroying any shadow of the Other, destroying any alternative, legitimate source of authority that was not sanctioned in the transfer of nationhood from colonizer to colonized.

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