America’s Lost War
The killing of 24 Pakistan army soldiers in Mohmand Tribal Agency on November 26 by US air strikes is unforgivable. I was in Mohmand three weeks ago, visiting 77 Brigade, whose officers and soldiers were slaughtered by US aircraft, and I know exactly where Pakistan’s border posts are located. And so do American forces, because they have been informed of the precise coordinates of all them.
There can be no refutation of the statement to me that “No plans of any patrols or operations being conducted [at the time of the Mohmand airstrikes] were shared [with Pakistan, by US forces].” And nobody can deny that the posts are well inside Pakistan.
Those killed in the US attack on Pakistan included Captain Usman, whose six-month-old daughter will never see him again, and Major Mujahid who was to be married shortly. Well done, you gallant warriors of the skies. May you never sleep contented.
Here is a description of what went on, from a retired army officer who visited the casualties in the Military Hospital in Peshawar:
There were 14 wounded in the surgical ward suffering a variety of wounds . . . The crux of the account of the soldiers and officers was that at about 11pm . . . a light aircraft came from across the border, flew over the post and fired flares and returned. About half an hour later armed helicopters and [other] aircraft came. They again fired flares and began firing at the men. They remained in the area for about 5-6 hours. During this time, the helicopters [were] firing at individual personnel at will . . . [and fire was returned by their single 12.7 machine gun]. Every one of the men on the post was killed or wounded. They seemed to be in no hurry and going after each individual separately. Having finished the entire post, they peaceably went back without any casualty on their part.
The US assault is unpardonable. It was one of the only too frequent Cowboy Yippee Shoots, as we used to call them in Vietnam when I served there in the Australian army. Some things don’t change.
And on the subject of flying — it is ironical that my flight from Islamabad to Paris in early November was delayed because there was so much conflicting air traffic through Afghan airspace. The West’s war in Afghanistan, which is hideously costly in lives of foreign soldiers and Afghans (not that Afghan lives matter much to the so-called ‘coalition’ forces), and fantastically lucrative for corrupt Afghan politicians and officials – and lots of western commercial enterprises – involves staggering amounts of air movement. Much of it is by combat jet and helo jockeys, as well as countless drones, maneuvered by amoral, intellectually depraved video-game players in dinky little hi-tech parlors, blasting away with rockets, bombs and bullets at little figures on their screens.
The news keeps coming of errant air strikes, like the one in Kandahar on November 24 that killed six Afghan children, who were yet more victims of the West’s precision technology. And “NATO helicopters on Monday [November 28] fired four rockets into houses in Zhari district of Kandahar, killing three women and injuring two men, said Zalmai Ayoubi, the provincial governor’s spokesman.” Concurrently the websiteicasualties.org showed the names of three more young foreign soldiers killed in this cruel shambles. The British army’s Rifleman Sheldon Steel was 20, as was US Private Jackie Diener, whose countryman Corporal Zacharie Reiff was 22 when the three of them they gave their lives for — what? There were 25 foreign soldiers killed in Afghanistan in November, but there is little in the war-supporting mainstream western media about this death toll. And there is nothing about the concurrent maiming, physically and mentally, of countless young men who will never again know normality in their entire lifetimes — unlike the slavering ghouls in politics who piously intone their mantra that “we must support our troops,” in order to justify their war. What rancid humbugs. Have any of them had a son or husband die in hideous agony or suffer appalling mutilation in any of the wars they so noisily support?
The website about casualties does not of course record the names of any of the Pakistan army soldiers who were killed in Mohmand by the US air strikes in the small hours of last Saturday. The US commander of foreign forces in Afghanistan, General John R Allen, said he had offered his condolences to the family of “any” Pakistani soldiers who “may have been killed or injured,” which expression of halfhearted disquiet will undoubtedly go a long way to infuriate even more citizens of Pakistan. (Where do they get people like Allen? Are they programmed to say moronic things like this?)
It is not too much to say that the author of Cables from Kabul, Sherard Cowper-Coles, the brilliant British diplomat who was ambassador in that besieged capital for three action-packed years, feels that the Afghan War is fruitless. He writes that “it is unarguable that the West got into Afghanistan in October 2001 without a clear idea either of what it was getting into or of how it was going to get out.” Cowper-Coles (we’ll call him C-C) brought extensive experience and skill to Afghanistan, and it isn’t too much to suggest that if his notions and prescriptions had been accepted the place wouldn’t be in the terminal shambles that now exists. He obviously empathized with the Afghan people, and one can imagine him, translated to a century ago, being a benign interlocutor with Emir Nasrullah Khan and arguing persuasively about the Treaty of Gandamak.
But C-C’s modern arguments were of a different sort. His intercession concerning the slaughter of ninety Afghan villagers by a US Specter gunship – a truly hellish death-machine – was instrumental in extracting the final admission by the then US commander of foreign forces in Afghanistan, General McKiernan, that his troops – his army – his country – had lied. McKiernan acknowledged, after “the Americans were at first in denial”, that a US strike had killed the civilians — a “big gesture by a big man” writes C-C. And perhaps it was. But of course big gestures don’t bring back dead children to their mothers, be that in Afghanistan or the US or Pakistan or Britain or anywhere else. And the lies continue, with the Washington Post and the New York Times doing their best to spread the word, from un-named “Afghan security officials” that the slaughter of the Pakistan army soldiers on November 26 was their own fault. Here’s the Post:
After the coalition unit came under fire from the Pakistani side of the border, the troops responded by calling in an airstrike, which resulted in the Pakistani casualties, the officials said. “They did come under fire from across the border first, before reacting,” said a senior Afghan official, who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss the sensitive issue . . .
One senior Afghan police official said that after an initial gunbattle, the insurgents retreated into a Pakistani post and began firing from there. “They started firing at the commandos, and they continued firing so the air support had to come to their defense,” the official said.
One wonders how C-C would have reacted to this, in his official position (probably with civilized disdain), but in 2009 he had to pay attention to the bigger picture, and when he was offered the opportunity to become his foreign minister’s Special Representative to Afghanistan, standing down from being ambassador, he accepted the poison chalice because he thought “it was a real chance to help the Obama Administration deliver the political strategy capable of bringing sustainable success.” In this he was vastly over-optimistic, even being warned by the late Richard Holbrooke that “not everyone” in the US administration saw things as did the British. C-C “pointed to the need for a process of national reconciliation to complement the military campaign” but although there may have been lip-service to that estimable objective, there was no evidence of serious application. Nor is there now, two years later.
In early November Major General Peter Fuller, the US deputy commander of Nato’s training mission in Afghanistan, was sacked for saying publicly that President Karzai was “isolated from reality” and that Afghans “don’t understand the sacrifices that America is making to provide for their security.” He had to be fired, of course, for making a fool of himself (where do they get them from?), but it is apparent that his sentiments are widely supported by the Pentagon’s decision-makers who blame everyone but themselves for the fact that their war is going catastrophically in what they insultingly call “AfPak.”
The “sacrifices that America is making” in Afghanistan, in what is ludicrously called ‘Operation Enduring Freedom’, are entirely self-inflicted. But Pakistan’s sacrifices are inflicted by America, which is losing yet another war and again blames another country for its failure. Just like it did in the disasters in Vietnam and Somalia and Iraq.
In the past fifty years, what nation has trusted America and come out of the deal with dignity, honor and prosperity? Pakistan is far from a perfect country. Its government is corrupt and appallingly inefficient. But it could do without Washington’s imperial insolence. At the moment Islamabad is desperate to find some means of registering the country’s contempt and loathing for the United States, and there are very few options available to it. But it could reflect on what Washington’s retaliation would have been if Pakistani aircraft had gone on a yippee shoot and killed 24 American soldiers inside Afghanistan.
Brian Cloughley is a South Asia defence analyst.
This is a cross post from COUNTER PUNCH.