Rethink Afghanistan: What does it mean to be less safe?

I am the Afghanistan Blogging Fellow for The Seminal and Brave New Foundation. You can read my work on The Seminal or at Rethink Afghanistan. The views expressed below are my own.

In our latest video from Rethink Afghanistan, we hear a tale of the deadly consequences of war directly from those most affected by it, the Afghans themselves. Zaitullah Ghiasi Wardak describes a special forces night raid which resulted in the death of his 92 year-old father, allegedly shot 25 times as he lay in his bed. It’s a disturbing and gripping story that exposes what Nick Turse calls “real war.”

Few Americans born after the Civil War know much about war. Real war. War that seeks you out. War that arrives on your doorstep—not once in a blue moon, but once a month or a week or a day. The ever-present fear that just when you’re at the furthest point in your fields, just when you’re most exposed, most alone, most vulnerable, it will come roaring into your world.

Here was a man who had lived 92 years, surviving kings and communists and criminal despots just to eke out a small living for his family in eastern Afghanistan, and we ended it at all with one botched night raid, one piece of bad intelligence, one misstep in our “population-centric” counterinsurgency campaign and targeted counter-terrorism operations.

Now we could waste our time endlessly debating the finer points of COIN doctrine, the motivations of the special forces, whether it was deliberate or accidental, a war crime or a tragic error, but that doesn’t really get us anywhere. The sundry fallacies of COIN have already been thoroughly exposed, here and elsewhere, and the really pressing questions about this specific event in Wardak province can only be answered with a thorough investigation of government and military officials.

Instead we should see this as an example of what those who oppose the war are talking about when they say it isn’t making us any safer. Both presidents Bush and Obama framed the war in terms of national security, keeping America safe, and so it only follows that as the facts of our occupation come to light, we reach the conclusion that the war isn’t making us safer. In fact, it is making us less safe.

But what exactly does that mean, to be less safe? This video is the perfect answer.

First, this night raid has an immediate impact on our counterinsurgency operations.

Do we think that Mr. Wardak, or his young sons who were beaten and abused by the special forces, really care about how many irrigation ditches ISAF is digging in Helmand province, or whether the local US-backed governor is more or less corrupt than the Taliban shadow governor, after what happened in the US night raid? What do we think will happen the next time the Taliban comes knocking on Zaitullah’s door looking for patronage, recruits (remember those sons), or even just a shelter to smuggle their Al-Qa’eda foreign fighters?

Will Mr. Wardak turn them down, explaining that on page such-and-such of FM 3-24 it says that targeted night raids are an effective COIN tool and will one day to lead to a peaceful democratic state for Wardak and his sons? Or is he more likely to see the US and Kabul as his enemies, and choose to join the Taliban?

The Taliban is strengthened and empowered by this night raid because the “local population” (Mr. Wardak and his family) are so horrifically affected by “collateral damage” (murdering Mr. Wardak’s father).  A legitimized Taliban is not good by itself, certainly for the Afghans’ sake, but it also makes our troops less safe.

We have something around 100,000 American soldiers in Afghanistan. We’ve given them an impossible task (Here’s some cash and a machine gun – now go make a state) and every time we have a night raid like the one in our video, their job gets even harder.

They take the objective seriously, they are really trying to accomplish something in the way of nation building. But every time our special forces decide to gun down an old man in his bed, our soldiers get another 5 or 6 IEDs planted on their roads, another handful of militants joining the assault on their FOB, and another suicide attack on the markets they fought and bled to open.

100,000 is a lot, but we can’t get lost in the statistics. These are American volunteer soldiers. That girl you know from work who joined to pay for school, or that buddy you have on Facebook who’s always griping about the bandwidth in Kandahar – that’s who we’re talking about here. It doesn’t matter if they’re Army, Navy, Air Force, they’re all there, and they’re all less safe thanks to this night raid on Mr. Wardak’s home.

But lest we get caught up in such nonsense as “fighting them over there so we don’t have to fight them over here” or “Americans don’t have to sacrifice for this war” (Tell that to your local – unemployed – teacher, cop, or firefighter. I dare ya), it’s important to note that we here at home are also made less safe by the events in this video. When we say this war is making us less safe, we’re also talking about you.

It’s common knowledge that terrorist groups take much of their inspiration from US aggression like the incident in Mr. Wardak’s home. Every time we commit these acts, another young Muslim man logs onto the jihadi forums, or walks into the Lashkar-e-Taiba recruiting offices looking for a job, a purpose, martyrdom.

If we’re really, super lucky, if all of our wishes are granted and all of our prayers are answered, then that young Muslim man will be another Faisal Shahzad, just another hapless, lost individual who doesn’t ever manage to hurt anyone. If we’re not lucky, that man is the next Mohamed Atta. It’s all just a roll of the dice, betting everything on a decade-long, trillion dollar occupation. You pay the price for losing.

We get a stronger Taliban, more of our soldiers dying, and a greatly enhanced terrorist threat, all from night raids like the one in our video. And this is just one isolated incident from March, months ago. The damage from it is already done, regardless of any investigations or discussions we have, and as the video notes, use of special forces is increasing.

That is what it means when you hear that this war isn’t making us safer. It is not an abstract political concept or a throwaway slogan, it means you are literally made less safe by the US war in Afghanistan.

And we’re only talking about the night raids here, that still leaves everything else like the collapse of our national economy and infrastructure because of war spending, or our pouring of money and soldiers into one of the most corrupt governments on Earth, or the illegal and outrageous drone strikes in Pakistan. Really it’s true, the war makes you less safe. All of it.

The war in Afghanistan must be ended. Funds must be cut, and a withdrawal timetable, which 65% of Americans support, must be accelerated. The war puts our soldiers at risk, ourselves at risk, and it isn’t even in our own selfish interests. To repair the damage, we must end the war now, while we still can.

Call Congress at (202) 224-3121 and tell them that this has to happen, that this war has to stop. Vote for timetables, block the funding, do everything they can to make you safer by ending the war in Afghanistan. Remember, pressure works.

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