Friday, January 25, 2008

US Soldiers Kill Afghan Police

Speaking of things we're doing wrong in Afghanistan:

More than a hundred people protested on Thursday over the deaths in the Ghazni province of central Afghanistan, Dr Ismail Ibrahimzai, the head of the local public health department, said.

Villagers marched toward Ghazni after the attack, chanting against US troops and the Western-baked government of President Hamid Karzi.

"Nine police, including an officer, two civilians, one of them a woman, were killed in the raid," he said.

A provincial official, Habeb-ul Rahman, also said the Afghans had died in an attack by US ground forces and aircraft.

Reports about what actually happened are sketchy, but this article offers more detail about the attack than any others I've read about the incident:

The American forces were searching houses in a village on the outskirts of Ghazni town and blew open the gates of a house, according to local Afghan officials. District police officers heard the explosion and rushed to the scene, suspecting that the Taliban were in the area, but were themselves mistaken for Taliban and shot by the American soldiers, the officials said. Aircraft supporting the operation fired on one of the police cars.

Hajji Zaher, an elder in Ghazni town, gave this account: "At 3 a.m., when the Americans were searching the houses and when they blew up the gates, the police rushed to the area thinking that they were Taliban. And at the same time the Americans thought that the police were Taliban and there was a firefight."

Habib-u Rahman, deputy chief of the Ghazni provincial council, said that nine police officers, including a district police chief, and a civilian had been killed and that four other police officers and a woman had been wounded.

"After the police came under fire, the police officers got out of their vehicle, and their vehicle was shot by a rocket from the plane," Rahman said.


The Afghan government has repeatedly requested that United States forces coordinate with local authorities and take along Afghan security forces during operations because there have been many instances in which Americans have inadvertently killed civilians or local police officers.

But Hussaini, the Parliament member, said the American forces involved had not coordinated with any government authority before or during the raid.

There is a justification for not cooperating with local security, at least where it's plausible that they've been infiltrated or are sympathetic to the Taliban. But I'm not sure if dropping bombs on what sounds like a relatively small band of "fighters" in a relatively small confrontation is the way to go. The problem of course with this approach is that the soldier on the ground, looking down the scope of his rifle at his target, can decide at the last second not to pull the trigger when he realizes the target is a friendly. A bomb dropped from a fighter, or a rocket launched from a helicopter, cannot.

As both articles I linked to explain, there have been protests by the Afghan government and by Afghan civilians against the somewhat-less-than-discriminate aerial attacks our forces have carried out. But we are heavily reliant upon airpower to make up for a deficit of forces on the ground, a situation that won't be remedied so long as we are tied down in Iraq. For some, airpower is the cheap and easy way to win even an insurgency. But from my perspective, it's simply permitting us to pretend that we have sufficient forces to win while further angering Afghan civilians about our presence, which sounds like a recipe for failure to me.

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