Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Afghanistan and the quicksand of occupation

Afghanistan erupted in violence yesterday. If that surprizes you, it probably shouldn't. Afghanistan is a harsh place and the people have been hardened by years of foreign intervention and internal upheaval. To go back to the 1979 Soviet invasion would be to ignore the centuries of violent internal struggle and the regular conquest of the region by the likes of Ghengis Khan, Timur Lenk and Mahmur of Ghazni.

But that was then. This is now.

A deadly traffic accident Monday involving U.S. troops sparked the worst rioting in the Afghan capital since the fall of the Taliban regime, with hundreds of protesters looting shops and shouting "Death to America!" At least eight people were killed and 107 injured, an official said.

Hundreds of Afghan army troops and NATO peacekeepers in tanks were deployed around the city, as chanting protesters marched on the presidential palace and rioters smashed police guard boxes, set fire to police cars and ransacked buildings, including the compound of aid group CARE International. Computers were set on fire and smoke billowed from the buildings, according to an Associated Press reporter.

Witnesses said that Afghan and U.S. troops opened fire to quell protesters. A U.S. spokesman said American troops shot into the air, and AP Television News video showed a machine gun on a Humvee firing over the crowd as the vehicle sped away. But a Kabul police chief said U.S. troops had fired into the crowd.
Fired over the heads of the crowd. And the projectiles ended up where?

Riots break out because somebody starts them. In a place like Afghanistan it doesn't take much. Oppression replaced by oppression means the people have little to lose by demonstrating their frustration and anger at the constant unrest and disorder which has been the story of Afghanistan for so long.

The Afghanis are not guilt-free in this episode. To attack the offices and compound of CARE is self-defeating. If the Afghanis don't recognize that international aid groups have no agenda other than providing the basics for human life then perhaps it's not worth pursuing the more noble goals of those aid organizations.

And if the Taliban was responsible for leading the deadly riot then conceivably it is much stronger and commands much more popular support than anyone expected. That tells a story of a job poorly done and an enemy underestimated.

The unrest started after three U.S. Humvee vehicles coming into the city from the outskirts rammed into a rush-hour traffic jam, hitting several civilian cars, witnesses said.


Afghans often complain about what they call the aggressive driving tactics of the U.S. military. Convoys often pass through crowded areas at high speed and sometimes disregard road rules. The U.S. military says such tactics are necessary to protect the troops from attack.

A rule of peacekeeping: Any one incident can cause the population to take a specific side. Never provide the incident.

The reason the troops are at risk from attack is that the job was not done properly to secure Afghanistan in the first place. Having occupied Afghanistan, it was contingent on the occupying powers, in this case U.S. commanders and the U.S. political leadership, to provide sufficient troops to neutralize any opposition and provide complete security for the population.

Oh yeah... those troops were needed elsewhere.

It looks like purple fingers have taken on the same meaning in any country they show up. A large segment of the population which refuses to be governed.

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