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.