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Why Haven't We Learned Anything After 10 Years of Fighting in Afghanistan?

Almost 10 years after the Bush administration invaded Afghanistan, we find ourselves in a state that might otherwise be achieved only if you mated déjà vu with a Mobius strip.

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Not out of your mind with boredom yet?  Then I’ll keep at it.

* “ Accusations of Corruption Rampant in Afghanistan”: Here’s the thing: you don’t even need to know the details of the story that lies behind that NPR headline.  Yes, Vermont representative Peter Welsh has called on Congress to investigate Afghan corruption, given the billions the U.S. is squandering there; yes, the Afghan deputy attorney general admitted that he had arrest warrants for various high officials on corruption charges but feared trying to bring them in; yes, headlines like “ Afghan war progress at risk from corruption, training lags” are commonplace these days, as are stories about “reconstruction” corruption, protection payoffs to unsavory local warlords or the Taliban, and staggering levels of corruption in and around the government of Afghan President Hamid Karzai.  But here’s the thing: it’s been that way for years.  Corruption stories -- and stories about fighting corruption or the need to force the government of Hamid Karzai to do the same -- have been the essential bread and butter of Afghan war reporting for almost a decade.

* ”For Second Time in 3 Days, NATO Raid Kills Afghan Child”:  The New York Times piece under this headline reports on how “NATO” night raiders (usually U.S. special operations forces) killed a 15-year-old boy, the son of an Afghan National Army soldier, sleeping in his family fields with a shotgun beside him.  In the incident two days earlier the headline alludes to, another crew of night raiders killed a 12-year-old girl sleeping in her backyard, as well as her uncle, an Afghan police officer.  And who’s even mentioning the eight private security guards killed in an air strike as May began?

As it happens, however, from the moment that a B-52 and two B-1B bombers, using precision-guided weapons, destroyed a village wedding party in December 2001, killing 110 out of 112 revelers (only the first of numerous wedding parties to be blown away during these years), such civilian casualties have been the drumbeat behind the war.  The Afghan dead -- slaughtered by Taliban suicide bombers and IEDs as well -- have risen in a charnel heap high above those of September 11, 2001. 

Accompanying such stories over the years have been passages like this one from the Times piece: “When morning came, an angry crowd gathered in Narra, the boy’s village, and more than 200 people marched with his body to the district center. Some of the men were armed and confronted the police, shouting anti-American slogans and throwing rocks at police vehicles and the... government center, according to the district governor and the [local school] headmaster. ” 

This is the never-ending story of the war, the one whose only variations involve whether, faced with such deaths, U.S. military spokespeople will stonewall and deny, launch an “investigation” that goes nowhere, or offer a pro forma apology.  When it came to the death of that girl recently, an apology was indeed issued, but her father made the essential point: “They killed my 12-year-old daughter and my brother-in-law and then told me, ‘We are sorry.’  What does it mean?  What pain can be cured by this word ‘sorry’?”

Rogue War

When it comes to the Afghan War, there are other news stories of the present moment that were also the Afghan news of 2006, 2008, and 2010.  There’s even the newest hot set of rumors about U.S. attempts to open negotiations with the Taliban, whose last iteration ended when American officials discovered that the Taliban “senior commander” they had flown to Kabul was actually a clever impostor (who made off with a pile of money).  But let’s consider just one more story, the seventh headline of this moment, versions of which have headlined many other moments in these years, and ask whether there isn’t something -- anything at all -- new to be learned from it.

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