A Few Comments on Jeremy Scahill’s Article on the Attack Near Gardez

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W.J. Astore

In a notorious night raid near Gardez in Afghanistan in February 2010, a US Special Ops team apparently hit the wrong suspect’s house, resulting in the deaths of innocents to include pregnant women.  It was further alleged that US troops dug bullets out of the bodies of these women.  Jeremy Scahill’s recent article at The Intercept reviews the US military’s investigation into these allegations, an investigation that cleared the troops involved of any wrongdoing.  Scahill’s article is here and warrants careful reading.

I want to focus on a piece of evidence that Scahill obtained: the U.S. military’s evaluation of the Afghan province and its after-action report about the failure of its IO (information operations) “battle.”  Here is the document in question:

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First, I want to focus on the BLUF at the bottom right.  In the Army, it stands for bottom line up front.  Most senior commanders will read this first; in some cases, the BLUF will be all they read (and remember).  What does the BLUF conclude?

It says the US military “lost the IO battle in our silence,” and that it’s only getting worse as the military remains silent.  It sounds vaguely reassuring: at least the military realizes it bungled the “information operations” job.  But it’s a bureaucratic message in bureaucratic language.  It reduces the objective to winning the “information” war, which the military says it’s not winning because of poor coordination with Afghan and other forces, lack of responsiveness, and so on.

How about some honesty?  Here’s my BLUF:  The US military is losing because it often misidentifies the enemy and misunderstands the culture, leading to the deaths of innocents and the estrangement of even those Afghans who are initially open to American influence.  And no matter how hard you try to spin those facts, you can’t hide that cold truth from the Afghan people.  (You can hide it from the American people, but that’s another story.)

As General Stanley McChrystal himself said about Afghanistan in 2010:  “We have shot an amazing number of [Afghan] people [often at checkpoints], but to my knowledge, none has ever proven to be a threat.”

Tell me again how you win “information operations” by shooting “an amazing number” of innocent people?

I want to focus on a second aspect of the US military’s document from Scahill’s article: the illusion of data substituting for real knowledge.  Here’s the document again:

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Look at the left column.  It has “atmospherics” for the province, to include percentages for literacy, support for the Taliban and Al Qaeda (as if those are fixed in place), access to radio and telephone, and so on.  Is this knowledge?  Or a masquerade for it?

Interestingly, a quarter of the people are viewed as hostile to the USA.  One assumes this percentage went up significantly after the raid in question.

My point is these maps and charts and slides give an illusion of data-driven competence, but when you read Scahill’s article, you realize American forces were totally ignorant of basic Afghan customs, such as rituals to prepare bodies for burial.  That ignorance seems to have driven the initial confused and inaccurate account of honor killings of females, an account that was repeated widely (and wrongly) in the Western media.

Another minor yet telling point: An unnamed Ph.D. describes some of the Afghan peoples of the region as “great robbers” and “utter savages.”  Think about how that description would color the attitudes of US troops assigned to the region.  “Here we go, men.  Time to kill us some robbers and savages.”

Scahill’s article and the document he provides is a microcosm of the wider failure of US operations in Afghanistan.  The war, already in its 15th year, promises to be never-ending unless and until the US finally withdraws.  In a profile not of courage but of pusillanimity, Obama has punted the decision to the next president, which doubtless means another 2-4 years of war, mistakes and misunderstandings and more deaths of innocents included.

When will the madness end?

 

 

6 thoughts on “A Few Comments on Jeremy Scahill’s Article on the Attack Near Gardez

  1. I used to fill these things out in both Afghanistan and Iraq, as well as collect, review and assemble them for dissemination in Washington, DC. I could go on for hours about the subjectivity of these reports, the worthlessness of the data, their stellar ability to achieve confirmation of biases, the complete lack of any standard or professional methodology, the sequencing of positive developments to ensure commanders looked good by the time their deployment was over (units when entering a battle space would reset conditions and atmospherics on the reports to poor levels and then steadily increase them throughout the deployment to more positive levels to demonstrate success, ensure end of tour awards, and have bullet points for fitness reports and officer evaluations…), the complete and total divorce from facts on the ground, e.g.. # of enemy attacks are up, etc., but the BLUF William, with regards to these reports, which were the primary method of briefing all levels of commanders- by a single powerpoint slide with simple red-yellow-green metrics for all functions (operations, logistics, intelligence, civil affairs, pol-mil, etc)-was that they demonstrate the level of malfeasance and confusion that allowed deployment after deployment of otherwise honest, smart and capable military officers to continue the bright shining lie of the success and worthiness of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.

    That is the importance of the revealing of this type of information to the American public. Lies may have gotten the US into the war, particularly in Iraq, but it was the great participation in the lying, of all levels of military officers, that allowed for the wars to continue.

    Again, I could go on for hours about this, but the consequences of not being in line and not reporting the war the way it was supposed to be going was consistently recognized. One of my earliest recollections was seeing the reporting by two separate brigade commanders in Iraq in 04-05, one had command in Kirkuk, the other in Diyala. Kirkuk was relatively quiet during that time, particularly when compared with the rest of the Sunni provinces, Diyala was a mess, particularly Baquba and in the Diyala River Valley. The colonel in Kirkuk reported honestly and expressed his concerns without hesitations, his slides were mostly yellow and red in color. The colonel in Diyala was thumbs ups and smiles, his reports were mostly green, even though you couldn’t drive more than a kilometer or two in Diyala without getting into a gunfight or getting hit by an IED. Guess who got promoted after their tours? The honest guy had a presumably very nice retirement ceremony while the guy who was saying all was well in Diyala in the spring of 2005 eventually got two stars…until he was recalled from an overseas post on accusations of corruption….

    Go along and get along William, otherwise you risk becoming a terminal 0-4 or never getting command…

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  2. Thank you for helping us see the REAL crimes that are being committed in our name… and with our money… and yet somehow we, the citizenry, are anesthetized into fully appreciating what monsters we are.

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  3. As Nick Turse wrote in his book Kill Anything that Moves: the real American War in Vietnam: “It was an operation, not an aberration.” U.S. General William Westmorand explained the policy of deliberate death and destruction this way:

    “Until now the war has been characterized by a substantial majority of the population remaining neutral. In the past year we have seen an escalation to a higher intensity in the war. This will bring about a moment of decision for the peasant farmer. He will have to choose if he stays alive.

    Until now the peasant farmer has had three alternatives. He could stay put and follow his natural instinct to say close to the land, living beside the graves of his ancestors. He could move into an area under government control, or he could join the VC. Now if he stays put there are additional dangers… Our operations have been designed to make the first choice impossible.”

    … “Another general was even more explicit, telling the reporter R. W. Apple ‘You’ve got to dry up the sea the guerrillas swim in — that’s the peasants — and the best way to do that is to blast the hell out of their villages so they’ll come into our refugee camps.”

    U.S. military “thinking” (if one can even use that word) has not changed one iota since the ultimately failed U.S. miltiary debacle in Southeast Asia that consumed several years of my young life four decades ago. America has not had a “military” — i.e., armed forces properly scaled and designed to defend the United States — since the end of World War II in 1945. Instead, it has had unrestrained, metastasizing militarism which Chalmers Johnson defined as “the phenomenon by which a nation’s armed services come to put their institutional preservation ahead of achieving national security or even the integrity of the government structure of which they are a part.” — The Sorrows of Empire: Militarism, Secrecy, and the End of the Republic (New York: Metropolitan Books, 2004)

    The people of the United States must confront and systematically dismantle the institution of militarism that has bankrupted our nation economically and morally. The time may already have passed for the people to do this, but nothing else can possibly restore our deeply dysfunctional democratic Republic. Someone once wisely said that “war is too serious a business to be left to generals,” and that remains as true today as in Southeast Asia almost a half century ago. Way past time to summarily fire America’s fuck-up-and-move-up generals — the lot of them. As I like to say, “If they knew what to do, they’d have done it already. If they could have, they would have; but they didn’t, so they can’t. Time’s up.”

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    1. I agree, Mike. But there’s also a legacy of violence in the U.S. that is expressing itself here (in all the gun deaths) and overseas. They used to say the Germans were giving vent to a century’s old rage, but two lost world wars cured them of it. We seem to be taking their place and exporting our rage. Put differently, when our designs are frustrated, we react with rage, and that rage is typically expressed via the military.

      Also, Trump is the candidate of rage. And look at the traction he’s gained.

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      1. William.

        Seems like most of the Trump rage is outside his appearances, Mexican flags and Bernie posters in hand. And then there are the Hillary rages raining havoc with their liberated Libyan weapons. “Under-fire-in-Bosnia” Hillary needs to take a bow for that bit of strategic brilliance.

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