In Afghanistan: Is that a gun in your pocket, or are you just pleased to see me?

Come On, Show Me that Smile!

One has to wonder if NATO military planners and officers in the field are just slightly insane with frustration, or simply have a perverse sense of humour. In this BBC story, British troops armed to the teeth enter a compound in darkness en masse, scaring the little children, and ask: “Are you happy to see ISAF forces?

Apparently, members of NATO’s euphemistically labelled “International Security Assistance Force” decided that direct coercion alienated local civilians, so…

Instead of kicking in doors and forcing their way in, an Afghan interpreter working with the British troops calls out to the owner to ask if they can enter.

With enough heavily-armed men to sustain a small battle on his doorstep the man can hardly refuse; very few have.

The BBC reporter seems at least conscious of the basic power dynamics at play in such a forced “encounter.” Presumably the real reason NATO occupiers even bother to ask the question, “are you happy to see us,” is to see if the locals are willing to bend enough to say “yes” (and likewise, to see who dares to say “no”). Again, these troops themselves seem conscious of the veneer they painted on to cover the real power differentials:

Privately the soldiers concede that they are routinely lied to and decorum dictates that a guest, invited or not, is unlikely to be told he is not welcome.

ISAF also creates these displays for media consumption back home–images of a kinder, gentler, friendlier form of colonialism–an expression of solidarity that might have made even the most cynical and manipulative of former Soviet occupiers blush.

ISAF wants you to believe its reports and statistics: “ISAF insists that the majority of people in Helmand do not like the Taliban.” But the BBC’s Ian Pannell does not seem to be playing along: “but if you ask villagers whether they would rather be under the control of the insurgents or the ANP [Afghan National Police] and NDS [state security], they will usually pick the insurgents.”

Based on such forced encounters backed up by displays of firepower, retinal scans, finger printing, and mouth swabs, Lt Col Frazer Lawrence is not in the least bit ashamed to trot out this clap trap: “Ninety-five percent [of Afghan nationals] are pleased to see us, 5% are more wary.” In that phrasing, the Taleban are fighting to the death because they are “more wary.”

Then the British intruders sit down and have a “shura.” Except it’s not a shura–as much as the occupiers try to appropriate bits and pieces of the local lingo to give their intrusion some varnish of local authenticity and a flavour of legitimacy. It’s a forced assembly, led by a foreign invader, not a shura by any stretch of the imagination.

They’re Worried about Security, Now that We Brought Them War

In another bit of absurdity, some overpaid “researchers” with Glevum Associates found that in Kandahar in 2010, with war ravaging all around, that most locals were concerned with “security.” Really? What an incredible find! This kind of research is worth every bit of the $200,000+ dollars paid to members of the U.S. Army’s Human Terrain System that work with Glevum, a private “contractor.”

Breaking the Momentum of NATO Propaganda

In an article in the UK’s The Independent, brought to my attention by Jamil Hanifi and getting wide circulation on the Web, James Fergusson travels with Taleban fighters, one of less than a handful of foreign journalists to have done so. What he finds is quite telling. For the lack of sobriety among NATO colonial planners in Lisbon this week, one thing seems clear that has been lost in much of the discussion: the NATO presence not only provokes resistance, it fuels it. If the Taleban momentum is being “reversed,” it certainly does not show.

As for those night raids that the U.S., and Gen. Petraeus in particular like to boast about as killing or capturing hundreds if not thousands of Taleban “commanders” (it was never credible) it appears that many of those “commanders” are innocent civilians–as Fergusson found:

The effect of these night raids on Abdullah’s command structure has been negligible, but the same cannot be said for the effect on public opinion. Dozens of blameless locals have allegedly been killed by “the Americans”. Abdullah reels off a list of fatal incidents in the last two months alone – a taxi-driver here, a farmer asleep in his orchard there, three students trying to get home to their families over there – and it is clear that these attacks have done nothing but bolster support for the insurgents. “Thousands of people turn out at the funerals of our martyrs and chant ‘Death to America’,” one Talib tells me. This may be an exaggeration, but there is no arguing with what has happened at the bomb-shattered farmer’s house that I am later taken to see. The apple tree outside is freshly festooned with strips of green cloth – the mark of a spontaneous local shrine.

Tanks on Egg Shells

Just as preposterous: the U.S. is now, Soviet-style, sending tanks to do the fighting in southern Afghanistan. I have never heard of the burst of a tank shell being compared to the precision of a round fired by a sniper rifle, but that is just what U.S. military spokespersons are doing. As related to us by a Marine spokesman here, “the heavy tanks will help Marines mount precise assaults on insurgents hiding in dug-in positions or within compounds, reducing the risk of collateral damage.” Why not just drop a bomb on them then? By this same logic, the bigger the explosion, the fewer the civilians killed. In fact, they should drop the biggest bombs imaginable, so that absolutely no civilians will be killed. Then again, these are the types to storm a compound, round up the men, and ask, “Hey there, happy to see us?” We’re not supposed to take them seriously–and they have clearly reached the end of the rope when it comes to credibility.

The next step, as predicted here before, will be the razing of entire villages and towns, desperate about failing to win hearts and minds, and then blaming the Taleban for NATO using its firepower.

Evans-Pritchard in Afghanistan

Again thanks to Jamil, this article by Amitai Etzioni (not a fan of his work) makes some strong points about the logic of militarism, by way of reference to anthropologist E.E. Evans-Pritchard’s analysis of rainmakers:

The shamans, he found, had well-honed explanations that kept them in business. Our generals are using the same rationales to keep going. When no raindrops followed the rainmakers’ dance, they would claim that the dance was not properly performed. Our generals argue that we did not fight right in the first six years of our engagement in Afghanistan — but now they have found a better way: it is called counterinsurgency. So far, though, it has not produced any better results.

And now that they are going to conduct counterinsurgency via more civilian-killing night raids and home smashing tanks, they will claim better results are coming soon…to a theatre of the absurd near you. Etzioni is right: the generals and the NATO planners have effectively come up with plans for the permanent occupation of Afghanistan. It’s what keeps them in business, not to mention the small herd of opportunistic national security bloggers tagging along with the imperial state for the ride, eager for attention, recognition, and rewards, while playing at “independent” analysis.

6 thoughts on “In Afghanistan: Is that a gun in your pocket, or are you just pleased to see me?

  1. CM

    Those Abrams tanks should win hearts and minds, I’m sure. According to the Danger Room blog, they bring “awe, shock and firepower” into the mix. That should work. Better than “shock and awe”?

    They are propelled by jet engines and can “take out” a house from a mile away. Whoa! Precision destruction. Right.

    Apparently when the “glad to see us?” troops want to clear the way for their tanks or whatever, they simply level whatever is in the way – houses, huts, orchards, fields – everything must go, like a closing out sale.

    The aerial bombardment has increased massively in the last month with over 1,000 strikes in October alone. Civilian casualties have followed the upward trend of this murder from the air.

    And now they’ve decided to stay three more years and various holier-than-thou NATO governments are telling Karzai that he has to do something about the corruption in his government. Have any of these people even looked at their own governments recently? It’s so bad that I can’t even laugh at this hypocrisy any more.

    1. Maximilian Forte

      It’s so bad that I can’t even laugh at this hypocrisy any more.

      The justifications for continued/permanent war have reached an extreme–I laugh, but out of sheer disbelief. I cannot believe I am listening to serious adults when I hear propagandists for war, such as Max Boot (who just finished speaking on Fareed Zakaria GPS), cite Afghan opinion polls, as if one could take seriously any poll conducted in a war zone (and look at how ISAF does its polling, and the numbers they fabricate as a result), and who emphatically say “We should not end the war. It should be transitioned to Afghan troops.” That is a near verbatim quote. We should not end the war. Thanks for some long overdue candor at least–because the war is an end in itself, it’s the last serious industry the U.S. has left within its borders, and even there it is not 100% American in terms of all the components (whether it’s microchips for weapons systems, or mercenaries hired from all over the world as manpower for U.S. mercenary firms, or the Chinese loans that fund the government contracts). The U.S. and NATO provoke this continued war, will make it last as long as they remain, and they directly and indirectly sustain all sides in the war, from warlord-in-making Karzai, to established warlords, to the Taleban themselves. War is a business strategy–they don’t give a shit about butchering people to earn a buck. After Max Boot had his say, CNN went to commercials–and what was the first commercial? Lockheed Martin advertising an armed naval vessel, and claiming their work is for the defense of freedom. That propagandists should then demand reverence for all sorts of opportunists who sign up to pull public resources into the business of destruction and scavenge off Afghan bones is the height of insult. FTA.

  2. Jérémy

    Hi Max,

    Excuse me if I judge a bit hastily, but I sense that you are a little bit wary of this whole “enduring freedom” massacre. May I say that you are even a little bit cross ?

    Thanks as always for this kind of necessary (but unfortunately rare) analysis.

    BTW, great to know that Eliza Jane Darling is now part of the team.

    Oh, and yes, of course, fuck the army.

  3. CM

    For some reason, this made me laugh, although it really shouldn’t have.

    Taliban Leader in Secret Talks Was an Impostor

    “For months, the secret talks unfolding between Taliban and Afghan leaders to end the war appeared to be showing promise…But now, it turns out, Mr. Mansour was apparently not Mr. Mansour at all. …[A]fghan officials now say the Afghan man was an impostor, and high-level discussions conducted with the assistance of NATO appear to have achieved little.

    “It’s not him,” said a Western diplomat in Kabul intimately involved in the discussions. “And we gave him a lot of money.”

    It was the last sentence that got me. I think I may be going mad.

    But wait! There’s more!

    “The fake Taliban leader even met with President Hamid Karzai, having been flown to Kabul on a NATO aircraft and ushered into the presidential palace, officials said.

    I’m speechless.

    1. Maximilian Forte

      This is very important CM, many thanks for sharing this. It lends substantial credibility to what the Taleban claimed all along, that is, that they were not negotiating, that no one was authorized to negotiate on their behalf, and that NATO claims to the contrary were “lies and propaganda.” Why so many are prepared to assume, at face value, that the Pentagon and NATO are sources of credible information is quite absurd, given that those institutions have no track record as established “truth tellers,” as their fulminations about Wikileaks proves.

      This impostor though must have been very clever. He also shows how, if they tried, the Taleban could “reach out and touch” Karzai when he least expects it.

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