Here’s another article that suggests we’re in trouble in Afghanistan due to cultural insensitivity:
In Afghanistan, cultural cluelessness can be deadly
The range of culturally insensitive actions seems pretty broad in this account: speaking rudely, ridiculing Afghan soldiers, home invasion, disrespect toward women, dropping bombs on civilians from the air, shooting people. Not surprisingly, Afghans have come to resent these insensitive actions during the ten years we have tried to wrap up our war against the Taliban. They say they don’t want us there anymore. Even Karzai says it. He indicates he’d rather deal with China or India, even Russia, though he knows that once we leave he’ll probably have to depart, too.
So that’s what we’ve come to after ten years. The soldiers we’re supposed to train keep shooting us. Honestly. The instructor says, “Here, take this rifle and point it at the target. Take aim and squeeze off the round.” A few hours later, the Afghan recruit takes aim at the instructor’s buddy, who is relaxing with friends, and blows him up at close range. That’s some training program. We give you the gun. We give you the ammunition. You load up the weapon and shoot us.
So many articles repeat facilely that these green-on-blue killings occur because of misunderstandings, arguments, grudges, personal vendettas, and the like. That doesn’t sound right to me. First of all, the reporters who write these reasons don’t seem to know any more about individual cases of murder than I do. They seem to be writing down what other people have written down.
More importantly, the reason for shooting an American or any NATO soldier has to be more consequential than some personal dispute or other. The hatred must run so deep. The shooter knows that just a few seconds after he fires, he’ll be dead on the ground, too. Most green-on-blue attacks are suicide attacks. The killer takes multiple bullets to his body almost before his victim hits the ground.
No Afghan soldier will say to himself, “I don’t like that guy. He dissed me this morning. I have a new gun here and I’m gonna finish him off.” It can’t be that simple. The Afghan soldier doesn’t know American culture any more than Americans know his. He expects some difficulties when he works with foreign soldiers. Moreover, the Afghan soldier is homesick, just like the American soldiers. He wants to return to his family, too. When an Afghan soldier makes a decision to pull the trigger, when he decides when and where he’ll shoot an American, he knows he’s going to die. He knows he won’t ever go home again.
Would you make a decision like that over some dispute in the mess hall? Would you give up your life because some American soldier jerked you around and made you angry? Give the Afghan soldiers some credit. They are not that impulsive. When they decide to trade their own life for an American life, they make that decision in their heart. No one can force them to it. They draw pay from the Americans, not the Taliban. If an Afghan soldier pulls the trigger – knowing that a coffin is his next stop – antipathy, anger, enmity and hatred for Americans run to his core.
Here’s a story of how palpable this hatred is. One American soldier had guard duty with an Afghan soldier. All night, at their post, the Afghan soldier shouted at the American, “Get out of here! We don’t want you here! Go home!” He shouted the words over and over and over, in his ear, all night. The American tried to ignore him, but it’s hard to remove your mind from abuse like that. You certainly can’t do your job as a guard when all you can hear is invective from the soldier on duty with youo. At last, toward morning, the American told his Afghan counterpart to shut up. A dispute followed. How predictable is that? Somebody probably noted the incident as cultural insensitivity.
This incident left the American soldier so shaken he wrote to his father about it. That’s how we know it happened. He said he could feel the Afghan soldier’s hate as his counterpart harangued him. He could feel it radiate, hear it in the Afghan soldier’s voice, until it entered his heart and made him afraid. He wrote that he was afraid he would not come home, that one of the Afghan soldiers he was serving with would shoot him. Shortly after he wrote the letter, an Afghan soldier murdered him. Think how this soldier’s father felt, holding the letter and a photograph of his son.
One can hardly say this American soldier, who sensed how he would die, was blameworthy. He just wanted to stand guard duty and go back to his bunk. He tried to get the soldier on duty with him to stop shouting in his ear, but he couldn’t. I imagine he could hear the Afghan’s rage building. The American had become a focal point for the Afghan’s deep anger for – who knows what? For all the bad things Americans have done during this war.
You see references to Americans’ cultural cluelessness so often, you’d almost think that if we got clued in, the murders would stop. If we got clued in, we would stop killing Afghans. If we stopped killing Afghans, the green-on-blue murders would eventually stop. What’s significant is that right now, nearly everyone in the country hates us. Even the corrupt political operators in Kabul, who skim American dollars like cream, dislike us. It doesn’t matter whether you’re Pashtun or otherwise, you want the Americans gone. It may be the only thing the tribes in this riven country agree about: get rid of the Americans. Leave us alone, let us settle things ourselves – just get out of here.
The treachery of these murders remains. The Afghans have a deep tradition of hospitality – they take good care of their guests. For Afghans to murder soldiers who came over to help them tells you something. The shooters don’t regard us as helpers, let alone guests. They regard us as enemies. The shooters believe their families and friends will honor them for their sacrifice. They do not regard their act as treachery at all. They regard it as a small victory in a fight to rid their country of occupiers.
Two thousand lost servicemen is a lot of deaths. Twenty-seven months until we leave in December 2014 is a long time. I saw an article by Frederick and Kimberly Kagan in the Wall Street Journal that argued, “Don’t leave Afghanistan after we have made so much progress. We can still win the war, finish the work we started there.” As I scanned the article, I wanted to know what that work was, where we would be at the end of 2014 that is different from where we are now. The best the Kagans could offer was, we have to run down the Taliban. We have to clear them out! We have to disarm them, defeat them, destroy them. The argument didn’t say why we should do that. It didn’t say why that goal was worth the trouble, why it was worth the blood of one soldier whose father waits back home.
We want to ask why a goal that seemed such a good idea ten years ago remains a goal we want to accomplish now. Yes, the standard line is that we have to get rid of the Taliban to deny al Qaeda a safe haven in Afghanistan. Given what we’ve learned since 9/11, given what has changed, this argument is absurd. Our soldiers in Afghanistan know it, yet they continue their work the best they can. When will the soldiers’ military and civilian leaders acknowledge the game is up?
Read Steven Greffenius’s recent book, Revolution on the Ground, second in a pair that began with Revolution in the Air. Download to your Kindle or Kindle app at Amazon.com.