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Move Along, Folks. Just An Isolated Atrocity.

Posted by The Agonist on March 12th, 2012

From our partners at The Agonist

As of today, the Obama administration and it’s NATO allies are clear that, despite tons of speculation in Western media, this weekend’s atrocity in Afghanistan will not affect long-standing plans for a drawdown of troops to finish in 2014 with an expected 15-20,000 US soldiers staying in Afghanistan on five or six large permamnet bases for the forseeable future. It’s a plan to paper over the cracks and head for the exits that was set in stone at the London Summit in 2010 and nothing has or will be allowed to derail it – not even the domestic political (not military) necessity of a Surge(TM) or the paper peeling of those cracks in the walls wholesale.

The only way this plan won’t come to pass is if Karzai “does a Maliki” and decides he has more long-term chance of keeping his power and his head if he chucks the occupiers out and cuts some local deals than if he invites them to prop his government up for a decade. He’s recently inked a deal to take back control on paper of Bagram and other US-run prisons – although the US keeps a veto on releases. The final stumbling blocks are continued US night raids and the US’s insistence on local immunity for its servicemen. That last was what finally proved a deal-breaker for Iraq’s Maliki. This massacre in Kandahar will point up the worst of Afghan worries about both those sticking points in ways that Karzai may find it politically impossible to sidestep this time.

I say “this time” because it’s not as if Afghanistan has a shortage of atrocities committed by the occupiers to point at, most not even with a viable excuse of “a lone brain-damaged gunman”. And even so, public condemnation by the Karzai government hasn’t led to anything concrete in the way of denying abject co-operation with the US and its allies. If the murder of pregnant women and attempted cover-up by special forces in Gardez in 2010 wasn’t sufficient, if the killings of a dozen civilians by a convoy of trigger-happy Marines in Jalalabad in 2007 couldn’t give Karzai the cojones to stand up and say “non serviam“, then it may well be that the current spate of incidents culminating in the Kandahar murders will turn out to be ignorable in the longer term too.

The story of the Kandahar killer as it is shaping up lends itself well to a push to ignore it as an isolated incident too. We’re told he was a veteran of multiple tours in Iraq, with minor brain trauma and probably PTSD as well as troubles in his family life but was found fit for duty anyway in a manpower-strapped Army. It’s probable that he just snapped, that he flipped over into psychopathy, and that he therefore shouldn’t be seen as emblemmatic of the US military or US policy in Afghanistan. It’s a valid argument until you realize that about a third of the entire US Army and Marine Corps would fit the description of a multi-tour, PTSD suffering veteran with domestic troubles who really should be on rest instead of toting a gun in hostile territory. McChrystal’s vaunted Surge of 2010 was agreed to despite warnings that it would usher in a tipping point for the troops’ mental health. Moreover, there are questions remaining about the “lone-ness” of the gunman. Allowing a single soldier to walk off a secure base in hostile country at 3am carrying a weapon and night-vision goggles is certainly not standard operating procedure and suggests either complicity or incompetence from those in charge. It’s only when we don’t mention these problems that the narrative of a deniable mad killer hangs together.

The next move is Karzai’s, really. he’ll be under increased domestic pressure now not to sign a permanent status of forces agreement with the US and under foreign pressure to do exactly that.

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