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What the 'Military Solution' Looks Like

An injured child from the Bala Baluk district of Afghanistan yesterday. (AP/Abdul Malek)

There's a tremendous sense of urgency surrounding President Obama's meetings today with the leaders of Afghanistan and Pakistan. And a sense of urgency often leads people to focus primarily on military solutions.

So it's worth stopping to consider what the "military solution" has been looking like recently in that region of the world.

Rahim Faiez writes for the Associated Press: "The international Red Cross confirmed Wednesday that civilians were found in graves and rubble where Afghan officials alleged U.S. bombs killed had dozens....

"Women and children were among dozens of bodies in two villages targeted by airstrikes, the International Committee of the Red Cross reported Wednesday, after sending a team to the district. The U.S. military sent a brigadier general to the region to investigate.

"A former Afghan government official said up to 120 people died in the bombing Monday evening...

"The first images from the bombings in Farah province emerged Wednesday. Photos from the site obtained by The Associated Press showed villagers burying the dead in about a dozen fresh graves, while others dug through the rubble of demolished mud-brick homes."

Matthew Lee writes for the Associated Press that Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton this morning said "the Obama administration 'deeply, deeply' regrets the loss of innocent life apparently as the result of a U.S. bombing in Afghanistan and will undertake a full review of the incident."

But the damage is done, both to the victims and to our goals. Consider what Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, wrote in a Washington Post op-ed in February: "We have learned, after seven years of war, that trust is the coin of the realm -- that building it takes time, losing it takes mere seconds, and maintaining it may be our most important and most difficult objective.

"That's why images of prisoner maltreatment at Abu Ghraib still serve as recruiting tools for al-Qaeda. And it's why each civilian casualty for which we are even remotely responsible sets back our efforts to gain the confidence of the Afghan people months, if not years."

And now let's take a look at what's going on in Pakistan, where, as Warren P. Strobel and Margaret Talev write for McClatchy Newspapers, "Obama and his team are urging [Pakistani President Asif Ali] Zardari to mount a sustained offensive against the Taliban and its allies, who're imposing a brutal form of Islamic rule across the country's northwest."

The problem: "Religious militants, who aspire to fundamentalist religious rule like the Taliban maintained in Afghanistan for five years until 2001, took advantage of a cease-fire with the government to win control over the scenic Swat valley and have since moved into neighboring districts, some of which are 60 miles from the capital of Islamabad."

But here is what Zardari's solution looks like. As Saeed Shah wrote for McClatchy Newspapers on Monday: "The Pakistani army's assault against Islamic militants in Buner, in northwest Pakistan, is flattening villages, killing civilians and sending thousands of farmers and villagers fleeing from their homes, residents escaping the fighting said Monday...

"[R]esidents' accounts of the fighting contradict those from the Pakistani military and suggest that the government of President Asif Ali Zardari is rapidly losing the support of those it had set out to protect."

Strobel and Talev write that the "heavy-handed military force...could further undermine support for the government.

"'All they're doing is displacing civilians and hurting people,' said a U.S. defense official who asked not to be further identified because he isn't authorized to speak to the media. 'It's not going to work.'"

So what will work? Who knows? As Paul Richter and Christi Parsons write in the Los Angeles Times, Obama seems to have no choice but to "overhaul a painstakingly developed security strategy that was unveiled only five weeks ago but already has become badly outdated."

And the greatest urgency, in fact, is now seen on the Pakistan side of the border. As Richter and Parsons write: "In what is emerging as Obama's first major foreign policy crisis, U.S. officials fear the militants could fracture Pakistan, the far more populous nation, further destabilizing the region and even posing a grave risk to the security of Islamabad's nuclear arsenal...

"Though the situation in Afghanistan may not have improved, it does suddenly seem more manageable. 'By comparison, it looks like Canada,' one U.S. official said in an interview."

Canada? With 60,000 American troops soon to be in harm's way? I don't think so. But you get the point.

Meanwhile, Obama is dealing with two reluctant allies.

As Rajiv Chandrasekaran writes in The Washington Post, "senior members of Obama's national security team say [Afghan President Hamid] Karzai has not done enough to address the grave challenges facing his nation. They deem him to be a mercurial and vacillating chieftain who has tolerated corruption and failed to project his authority beyond the gates of Kabul....

"Vexed by the challenge of stabilizing Afghanistan with a partner they regard as less than reliable, Obama's advisers have crafted a two-pronged strategy that amounts to a fundamental break from the avuncular way President George W. Bush dealt with the Afghan leader.

"Obama intends to maintain an arm's-length relationship with Karzai in the hope that it will lead him to address issues of concern to the United States, according to senior U.S. government officials. The administration will also seek to bypass Karzai by working more closely with other members of his cabinet and by funneling more money to local governors."

And Karen DeYoung writes in The Washington Post: "The Obama administration 'unambiguously' supports Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari, even as it puts 'the most heavy possible pressure' on his government to fight extremists in the country, Richard C. Holbrooke, Obama's special envoy to Pakistan and Afghanistan, told Congress yesterday....

"When the three sit down today, Obama will tell Zardari and Karzai that they 'have to work together, despite their issues and their history. That's just what has to be done,' said one of two senior administration officials who briefed reporters at the White House about the visits on the condition of anonymity."

As the New York Times editorial board writes: "American officials don’t have much confidence in either leader — a fact they haven’t tried to conceal. Most Afghans and Pakistanis share their doubts. But if there is any hope of defeating the Taliban, Mr. Obama will have to find a way to work with both men — and find the right mixture of support and blunt pressure to get them to do what is necessary to save their countries."

By Dan Froomkin  |  May 6, 2009; 1:00 PM ET
Categories:  Afghanistan  
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Secretary of State Clinton expresses her "regrets" for the murder of innocent Afghani civilians. I'll bet money she shed not a tear. The Pentagon will come out with the usual denial of the numbers killed and will launch an investigation that will drag on for months. The Taliban will, of course, be blamed for the American bombing of innocent villagers' homes.

How many more years will this atrocity continue? I believed that our nation had every right to oust the Taliban after 9/11 and to round up the al Quaeda ruffians. But we have been murdering innocent Afghani civilians for over seven years now.

Obama: change we can believe in? Ha!!

Posted by: frazeysburger | May 6, 2009 1:38 PM | Report abuse

We have to make a difficult choice .... follow the Soviet example, stay and have to kill insurgents but at the cost of the support of the rest of the innocent civilian peaceful population, who are being bombed an dkilled in their mud-friggin-homes ..... or pull out, and hope to monitor the nutcases in the Taliban and Al Quada more effectively because we're not stomping around with our deathly military footprint.

We're losing the battle of hearts and minds with what we're doing now, no?

Posted by: Mill_in_Mn | May 6, 2009 2:00 PM | Report abuse

I guess it's better to kill women and children than admit defeat. USA! USA! USA!

Posted by: davidbn27 | May 6, 2009 2:11 PM | Report abuse

The 900 lb. gorilla in the room, ignored by
our pundits and diplomats alike, is Kashmir. That is the key issue that fuels both the Paks military and radical Islamists alike. And why the military helps
the latter, and keeps them around. Until a
fair election is held in Kashmir, and the resulting victory of the Muslim madjority
recognized and rewarded, there will be no
real peace anywhere in the region. As Fareed Zakaria has said, "if the Pakistan
problem cannot be solved, the Afghanistan
war cannot be won."

Posted by: jgoodwin004 | May 6, 2009 2:36 PM | Report abuse

I feel sorry for the innocents that are getting killed in this war and it's really on the leaders of both Pakistain and afganstain to eliminate the Taliban. It should not be up to the US to do that. That being said the US would not be killing innocent civilians if the cowards that are the taliban were not Hiding and living among them. Bottom Line - If I'm harboring a wanted fugitive I shouldnt be Suprised when the cops kick my door in to get to him.................

Posted by: LordVngr | May 6, 2009 4:07 PM | Report abuse

The Pakistani army has focused all of its attention on winning a major war with India. Now we want them to divert their attention to fighting an insurgancy. It took the US 3 1/2 years to begin to implement an effective anti-insurgency policy in Iraq. If the Pakistani army has now truly realized that the existential threat to Pakistan is the Taliban/al Qaeda, then we can expect that they will be implementing an effective policy to that end in 3-5 years.

Posted by: dickdata | May 6, 2009 4:33 PM | Report abuse

This is just like that time in Vietnam when we pursued the North Vietnamese in Cambodia and destabilized a slow-moving, not very volatile country, resulting in the Killing Fields and acres of human skulls.

Then, a couple of years after we declared victory and escaped Vietnam, the clueless American people could scratch their heads and wonder how horrors such as the Killing Fields could ever happen!

Just think if the Khmer Rouge and Pol Pot had had nuclear weapons. Naturally, we rose up on our moral high horse and denounced their inexcusable violation of human rights. Thank God we would never do anything like that! (My Lai).

Posted by: motorfriend | May 6, 2009 4:44 PM | Report abuse

It's time for President Obama to initiate a "Camp David Moment" and drag the leaders of India and Pakistan into a one-on-one consultation to address the issues of Kashmir and the underlying cultural and religious tensions that fuel the military standoff on the India-Pakistan border.

Both nations need to understand that the real threat to instability in their region is that of fundamentalist/radical islamic factions that threaten to destabilize Pakistan, and which could ultimately exacerbate the strained relations between those two countries.

Ironically, Pakistan was the Doctor Frankenstein who originally created the now out-of-control monster (the Taliban).

Posted by: MillPond2 | May 6, 2009 6:10 PM | Report abuse

The Indian government is far too committed to give up Kashmir.
The First 3 primeministers came from Kashmir, and, it is far too much a part of the Indian Psyche.

Pakistan has been funding the Islamists with American money for decades.

Posted by: patb | May 6, 2009 7:45 PM | Report abuse


3 different links all go to:

Posted by: milwaukee1 | May 6, 2009 11:36 PM | Report abuse

cant find todays QA from froomkin where is it????

Posted by: waawaazaire | May 7, 2009 3:59 AM | Report abuse

everyday hundreds of Tamils killed by srilankan government. and srilankan government had baned all international media ,NGO's and rejecting visa for journalists and diplomats. and the world is fooled by srilanka and America aiding this war by giving WMD to kill off a tamil nation.
Srilankan government had used Chemical wepons and evidence was in all tamil media and if anyone or any diplomats talked about it srilanka lable them as terrorists.
today 100,000 people in the socalled safe zone are staved to death,
there are no medications. and those people escaped the warzone are locked up in camp. this is how the srilanka commiting the war,

srilanka said there were only 60,000 people in the region and send allowed ICRC to take very little food some months ago then recent UN report says 190,000 people had come out of warzone.
isnt that clearly show srilanka aim was to kill over 500,000 people and save just 60,000. today 165,000 traped in the so called safezone without food,medicines and childrens are doing of stavations.
today Srilankan government Ban all International media,NGO's,diplomats , humanright activists but invited Ban ki moon to srilanka , what does this shows.
UN have not released the death and injured figures but the recent leaked report suggested in the last 6 weeks there was 20,000 casualty.

Posted by: UKlankan | May 7, 2009 7:19 AM | Report abuse

Is Pakistan being soft on Muslim radicals?

I certainly hope so.

Pakistan had no problems with them before the US invasion of Afghanistan. The growth of the Taliban in Pakistan is purely a reaction to the American invasion of Afghanistan.

Pakistan has every reason to resist US attempts to push it into a confrontation which has the potential to turn absolutely horrible. Muslim militants have the capacity to make hell for Pakistan. It is fortunate that, in spite of tremendous American pressure, so far the Pakistan army has been able to avoid this outcome.

Meanwhile, the Americans wring their hands in desperation at any news from Pakistan that seems to point in the direction of peace, as invoked by the suffering people of the region, and thunderously applaud every sign of conflagration and bloodshed, while never forgetting to bring up the apocalyptic nuclear-weapons specter.

Does this remind anybody of the "mushroom clouds" used not so long ago to sell the Iraq war to a gullible and belligerent populace?

Posted by: cristca9 | May 7, 2009 8:09 AM | Report abuse

The Spinmeisters are at it again.

Nazi leader Hermann Goering on unleashing wars:

(The questioner is Gustav Gilbert, a German-speaking intelligence officer and psychologist who had access to the Nuremberg prisoners).

We got around to the subject of war again and I said that, contrary to his attitude, I did not think that the common people are very thankful for leaders who bring them war and destruction.

"Why, of course, the people don't want war," Goering shrugged. "Why would some poor slob on a farm want to risk his life in a war when the best that he can get out of it is to come back to his farm in one piece. Naturally, the common people don't want war; neither in Russia nor in England nor in America, nor for that matter in Germany. That is understood. But, after all, it is the leaders of the country who determine the policy and it is always a simple matter to drag the people along, whether it is a democracy or a fascist dictatorship or a Parliament or a Communist dictatorship."

"There is one difference," I pointed out. "In a democracy the people have some say in the matter through their elected representatives, and in the United States only Congress can declare wars."

"Oh, that is all well and good, but, voice or no voice, the people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. That is easy. All you have to do is tell them they are being attacked and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger. It works the same way in any country."

Posted by: cristca9 | May 7, 2009 8:39 AM | Report abuse

Cristaca9: That's just chilling! it also points out how, when we fail to learn the true lessons of history, we end up repeating and amplifying the mistakes made before.

Look, the reason tha Pakistan and India (and even Afghanistan) are wroking so hard to ignore the Taliban and Islamist Radical threat is the same reason the Saudi's did for so many years - by allowing these groups to operate unchecked, they give the people an outlet for pent-up frustration at the regime's policies. It's no coincidence that the 9/11 terrorists were nearly all Saudi nationals - the Saudis tried to export political opposition in the 1980's to Afghanistan to fight the Soviets. Same story playing out again, but in a different part of the world.

So, do we as a nation really want to go through this all again?

Posted by: kcsphil | May 7, 2009 8:53 AM | Report abuse

a us official says afghanistan looks like canada what is he smoking.our brave soldiers are trying to help and dying.were tired of clueless american officials like nepalotano statements that 9 11 terrorists came from closer attention to your soutern border and dont worry about canada we got your some far as afghanistan as long as the pashtuns are unwilling to accept law and order there will be no peace

Posted by: williamPantia | May 9, 2009 3:01 PM | Report abuse

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