Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Hidden Narratives in Afghanistan

Critics of the US/NATO mission in Afghanistan point to unintended consequences of military actions.  Their objections have merit if substantiating evidence exists.

One commonly heard allegation is that many attacks on US forces are the result of ordinary Afghans' frustrations with humiliating raids and cultural offenses.  Afghan President Hamid Karzai has made much of these claims and insisted that the US-Afghan security pact include severe restrictions on such raids.  The fact that the US agreed to this restriction shows that its basis has merit.  International news media reports of US troops raiding hospitals do not help America's image.  The rationale for Afghan forces' attacks on their international allies is difficult to pin down.  Analysis reveals a mix of cultural misunderstandings that escalate into perceived offenses, triggering many attacks.  If the most likely attackers are ethnic Pashtuns recruited into Afghan forces from border regions with Pakistan, US forces should focus fratricide prevention efforts on that specific population.

Drone strikes have been a continual point of contention between the US and its Af-Pak partners.  A drone is only as accurate as the intelligence feeding its controller.  Local sources who report faulty information on an HVT's whereabouts may be using US firepower to settle personal scores.  The pending force drawdown will severely limit the number of reliable sources US forces can successfully cultivate.

Human Rights Watch noted in 2001 that combatants employed landmines in Afghanistan long before US forces arrived.  Much of rural Afghanistan still contains mines that kill and main civilians.  The international community does its part to remove landmine hazards through the Halo Trust's de-mining efforts and other organizations.  The US should include funding for de-mining programs as part of its continued US support to Afghan rural development.

The predominant media narrative for the US intervention in Afghanistan is one of misunderstanding, miscalculation, and missed opportunities.  The US's enduring presence in Afghanistan must begin to tell a new narrative in 2014.  The story should lead with something other than interjections into tribal conflict.