Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal and his chief of intelligence, Gen. Michael Flynn, have admitted the profound ignorance of the U.S. military about Afghan society, while avoiding the implications of that ignorance for the issue of false intelligence on the Taliban.
McChrystal acknowledged in his “initial assessment” last August that his command had to “acquire a far better understanding of Afghanistan and its people.”
In an interview with National Public Radio Aug. 13, Flynn admitted, “What we really have not done to the degree that we need to is really truly understand the population: the tribal dynamics, the tribal networks, the ethnicity. … ”
Such dynamics are different “from valley to valley,” Flynn observed.
And in an unusual paper published by the Centre for a New American Security last October, Flynn was even more frank, saying, “I don’t want to say we’re clueless, but we are. We’re no more than fingernail deep in our understanding the environment.”
It’s taken us eight and a half years to reach the conclusion that we’re basically clueless. If that’s not enough to compel us to leave Afghanistan, what is? Certainly not this:
KABUL, Afghanistan — American troops raked a large passenger bus with gunfire near Kandahar on Monday morning, killing and wounding civilians, and igniting angry anti-American demonstrations in a city where winning over Afghan support is pivotal to the war effort.
General McChrystal has sought to emphasize to troops how such cases undermine Afghan support. But he has also stressed his sympathy for troops who have to make critical decisions in an instant.
“We really ask a lot of our young service people out on checkpoints because there’s danger, they’re asked to make very rapid decisions in often very unclear situations,” he told troops in a video conference last month.
“However, to my knowledge, in the nine-plus months I’ve been here, not a single case where we have engaged in an escalation of force incident and hurt someone has it turned out that the vehicle had a suicide bomb or weapons in it and, in many cases, had families in it.”
Our generals are openly confessing that we don’t really know what we’re doing and that we routinely commit murder, and yet this is regarded as less of a scandal than when a 33 year old billionaire golfer sleeps around or —heaven forfend!— shouts “Jesus Christ!” after muffing a tee shot at the Masters. In fact, it’s not really regarded as a scandal at all, as far as I can tell. No matter how badly the military screws up and no matter how egregiously they lie about it afterwards, they remain beyond criticism. It’s the only institution in this country more sacred than Wall Street.
Public opinion might be turning against the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, but this is still the sentiment that dominates all discussion about military policies: