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Demolishing Afghanistan To Save It
Posted by on December 18th, 2010

From our partners at

By Steve Hynd

Our friend Gareth Porter has an important new piece in which he describes how General Petraeus, supposed COIN guru, has thrown out "population centric" anything in an attempt to show some short-term success for the occupation in Afghanistan.

The military offensive in Kandahar, which had been opposed clearly and vocally by the local leadership in the province, was accompanied by an array of military tactics marked by increased brutality. The most prominent of those tactics was a large-scale demolition of homes that has left widespread bitterness among the civilians who had remained in their villages when the U.S.-NATO offensive was launched, as well as those who had fled before the offensive.

The unprecedented home demolition policy and other harsh tactics used in the offensive suggest that Gen. Petraeus has abandoned the pretense that he will ever win over the population in those Taliban strongholds.

The New York Times first reported the large-scale demolition of houses in a Nov. 16 story that said U.S. troops in Arghandab, Zhari and Panjwaii districts had been using armoured bulldozers, high explosives, missiles and airstrikes in "routinely destroying almost every unoccupied home or unused farm building in areas where they are operating".

Neither U.S. nor Afghan officials have offered any estimate of the actual number of homes destroyed, but a spokesman for the provincial governor told the Times that the number of houses demolished was "huge".

Most controversially, it is being claimed that at least one village was destroyed because the villagers weren't forthcoming with information about the locations of Taliban booby-trap bombs, which Gareth notes constitutes a "collective penalty" against the civilian population, "which is strictly forbidden by the 1949 Geneva Convention Relative to the Protection of Civilian Persons in Time of War."


Journalist Anand Gopal, a Dari-speaking specialist on Afghanistan, discovered another form of collective punishment practiced during the offensive. Gopal told IPS that people in Zhari district reported two cases in which U.S. and Afghan forces rounded up and detained virtually everyone in a village after receiving small arms fire from it.

One senior officer, Brig. Gen. Nick Carter, glibly explained away these brutal, possibly illegal, new tactics by saying that the demolition of houses "allows the district governor to connect with the population" because they must go to him to complain, and thus extends the connection between government and the populace. Yet what is sure is that such methods will resonate strongly with Afghans who haven't forgotten similiar Russian outrages and will hardly fail to notice that the Afghan central government's feelings about such harsh tactics matter as much as they did in Soviet days too.

The certainty is that the Pashtuns of Afghanistan's South will see all this as "just kicking dirt in our eyes," as one tribal elder put it, and be more motivated to join the insurgency rather than less. Which answers COINdinista and pro-occupation advocate Andrew Exum's weak-tea justification for another Friedman Unit of six months to see if the surge is working.

For the war in Afghanistan is cyclical in nature. As one Afghan employee of a nongovernmental organization told a member of General Petraeus’s staff recently, “In Afghanistan, God is very fair. He gives both sides a chance. In the summer, he is on the Taliban’s side. In the winter, he switches sides and is on yours.”

The United States and its NATO allies are busily attempting to consolidate the gains of 2010 by establishing reliable local security forces and connecting the Afghan government to traditional authority structures in southern Afghanistan. But we will not know for sure how well the strategy is going in Afghanistan until late summer, after the Taliban has attempted to return to control in the south and God has again changed sides.

The Taliban have always returned in the Summer – having been sheltered, enabled and psyched-up by Pakistan's I.S.I. intelligence agency all Winter – and with such brutality as a motivator for new recruits they always will. As inevitably as one season follows another.

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