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Kandahar Bursts Gen. McChrystal’s Counterinsurgency Bubble

Posted by Derrick Crowe on April 13th, 2010

In case you hadn’t heard, the next stop in General McChrystal’s counterinsurgency plan is Kandahar, the ideological heart of the Taliban. Using the spadework done in advance of the Marjah operation as a template, McChrystal says the plan is to:

“…do the political groundwork, so that when it’s time to do the military operation, the significant part of the population is pulling us in and supporting us, so that we’re not only doing what they want, but we’re operating in a way that they’re comfortable with.”

Remember that:

  1. “what they want,” and
  2. “operating in a way that they’re comfortable with.”

“What They Want”

That was March, and it sure sounded nice. But this is April, and the people who live in Kandahar are telling the Kabul government and McChrystal’s International Security Assistance Force (ISAF), “Not so much.”

Earlier this month, McChrystal travelled with Karzai to a shura in Kandahar, presumably to get the kind of rubber-stamp for the upcoming operation that the Marjah elders gave them prior to Operation Moshtarak. It didn’t go as planned.

Visiting last week to rally support for the offensive, the president was instead overwhelmed by a barrage of complaints about corruption and misrule. As he was heckled at a shura of 1,500 tribal leaders and elders, he appeared to offer them a veto over military action. “Are you happy or unhappy for the operation to be carried out?” he asked.

The elders shouted back: “We are not happy.”

“Then until the time you say you are happy, the operation will not happen,” Karzai replied.

General Stanley McChrystal, the Nato commander, who was sitting behind him, looked distinctly apprehensive. The remarks have compounded US anger and bewilderment with Karzai, who has already accused the United States of rigging last year’s presidential elections and even threatened to switch sides to join the Taliban.

Presumably, ISAF and the Karzai government will keep working the shuras until they get what they need in the way of a signed and sealed invite to flood the region with international and Afghan National Security Forces military and police personnel. But as it stands, it’s clear that a military offensive in Kandahar is not “what they want.”

“Operating In A Way That They’re Comfortable With”

If the shura harangue were not enough, yesterday a U.S. troop fired on a civilian passenger bus in Kandahar, killing at least 4 people and injuring 18.

Here’s how ISAF described the incident (take with grain of salt, given their recent propensity for spin):

Before dawn this morning, an unknown, large vehicle approached a slow-moving ISAF route-clearance patrol from the rear at a high rate of speed. The convoy could not move to the side of the road to allow the vehicle to pass due to the steep embankment.

The ISAF patrol warned off the approaching vehicle once with a flashlight and three times with flares, which were not heeded.

Perceiving a threat when the vehicle approached once more at an increased rate of speed, the patrol attempted to warn off the vehicle with hand signals prior to firing upon it. Once engaged, the vehicle then stopped.

However, at least one eyewitness who credibly claimed to be the bus driver had a different story:

Abdul Ghani, an Afghan man who told The Washington Post in a telephone interview that he was the driver of the bus, said the soldiers “didn’t give me any kind of signal. . . . They just opened fire. No signal at all.”

Ghani’s account could not be independently confirmed, and other news organizations quoted a different person who said he was the driver. But Ghani, 35, related to The Post specific details about the bus and the incident that suggest he knew what had occurred.

He said the green and white 1984 German vehicle left a Kandahar city bus depot at 4:30 a.m., bound for Nimruz province, seven hours away. Half an hour into the trip, the bus drove up behind the U.S. convoy. The gunfire erupted when the bus was 80 to 100 meters behind the convoy, he said.

The bullets tore into the passenger side of the windshield and struck several rows. The American soldiers walked around the bus after the shooting stopped, Ghani said, then climbed on board without speaking to him. “They saw the people who were killed and left them there. And then they took the injured ones and started doing first aid immediately.”

Ghani said he was eventually was able to drive the bus back to the city. “Why we are being killed by these people?” he said. “They are here to protect us, not to kill us.”

The locals were understandably enraged, and hundreds of them gathered around the bus shouting, “Death to America!” and related anti-Western phrases. The local NATO commander, Maj. General Nick Carter (no, not that Nick Carter) tried to apologize, but just couldn’t seem to help himself and got a dig in at the local hicks in the course of the apology (Skip to 1:56 in the video below). Apparently, when you shoot up a civilian bus at a checkpoint, “it’s a two-way street” when it comes to responsibility.

Right.

“We have shot an amazing number of people [at military checkpoints], but to my knowledge, none has ever proven to be a threat,” said McChrystal during a recent video-conference with troops…

But hey, at least he could rattle off “salaam alaikum” at the beginning of the “apology.”

Here’s what one local had to say about this incident:

“Zhari [district in Kandahar Province] is where they were planning to do an operation,” Haji Wali Jan said. “Now the people there are furious with the Americans, and everyone knows that without local support from the people, it’s very hard to do an operation.” Haji Jan Mohammed, another elder who lives in Kandahar city, said: “These incidents have a bad effect. Already, most people didn’t trust the foreign troops. With this incident, foreign troops lost all their trust.

“All the elders, everyone knows, if the operation starts, there will be lots of civilian casualties.”

Somehow I doubt that this qualifies as “operating in a way that they’re comfortable with.”

Sending more troops to Kandahar will not make us safer. The president should decrease, not increase, the number of U.S. troops in Afghanistan.

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  1. [...] Kandahar Bursts Gen. McChrystal’s Counterinsurgency Bubble Filed Under: Uncategorized by dcrowe — Leave a comment April 14, 2010 Cross-posted from Rethink Afghanistan. [...]

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