As featured on p. 218 of "Bloggers on the Bus," under the name "a MyDD blogger."

Saturday, June 20, 2009

The Tragedy Of Airstrikes And Civilian Casualties

After a brief struggle over the cash for clunkers provision in the Senate, the chamber passed the supplemental war funding bill and passed it on to the President. The wars in Iraq and particularly Afghanistan have been transfered to this President. On Iraq, the Administration has not wavered from honoring the SOFA agreement, and despite continued violence there, I believe the US position is on the right path, toward a withdrawal that can hopefully force a political reconciliation through a diplomatic surge.

Afghanistan is obviously in a different place right now. The ruling regime controls little of the country, the insurgents and the Taliban can self-fund through the drug trade, and the symbiotic relationship across the Afghan-Pakistan border threatens the ability for foreign occupiers to do much about it. The population doesn't much like the Taliban but also doesn't like being murdered from above either, a practice completely antithetical to the idea of winning hearts and minds in a counter-insurgency. The airstrikes, which have intensified since the election of Barack Obama, are simply too deadly to be pinpointed and effective only against enemies and not friends.

But experiences such as the fateful May 4 airstrike show that halting civilian deaths will not be easy. Fighter pilots and air controllers at the main U.S. air base here, near Kabul, the Afghan capital, say that even the most comprehensive safeguards can fail under the stress and confusion of combat against an enemy that they say often uses civilians as human shields.

The mounting death toll of Afghan civilians from U.S. airstrikes has unleashed a tide of resentment and fury that threatens to undermine the American counterinsurgency effort. From President Obama to the new U.S. commander in Afghanistan, Army Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal, American officials have made the reduction of civilian deaths a top priority as they revamp their strategy [...]

To gauge each mission's risk to civilians, a collateral damage estimate, or CDE, is prepared.

Yet civilian deaths continue to mount. U.S. commanders have not specified how they intend to reduce them, except to continue rigorously reviewing and enforcing existing restrictions. But the nature of the war almost guarantees more accidental deaths.

When people make split-second life-or-death decisions, and face what they consider a choice between protecting their compatriots or civilians, the decisions have proved imperfect.

This powerful film shows the aftermath of civilian casualties in Afghanistan. We are undermining our credibility and the legitimacy of the mission.

One more positive note is that a New York Times reporter today escaped from the Taliban and made his way to safety. A rare bit of good news in this region.

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