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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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* “ Afghan officer fires on NATO troops, kills 9”: This was breaking news when it happened.  On April 25th, a veteran Afghan air force pilot, armed with two weapons and in a specially guarded and secure area of Kabul airport, suddenly opened fire on a group of Americans evidently involved in a training program for Afghan pilots.  He gunned down eight U.S. Air Force personnel, including a lieutenant colonel, four majors, two captains, and a master sergeant, as well as a private contractor (himself a retired U.S. military officer) before being killed.  It was “the deadliest episode to date of an Afghan turning against his own coalition partners.”  But hardly the only one.  In a sense, this was no news at all.  It was already at least the fourth time in 2011 that someone dressed in an Afghan army or police uniform had turned a weapon on U.S. or NATO personnel.   Among such incidents was one just three weeks earlier in which a man wearing a border police uniform, reportedly “upset over the recent burning of the Quran at a Florida church,” killed two Americans, and another in February in which an Afghan soldier, reportedly “offended by his German partners,” killed three of them, wounding yet more. 

By military count, since March 2009, 17 such incidents have been reported.  Since the mass killing at Kabul airport, there has already been an 18th in which, according to sketchy reports, a man in an Afghan police uniform opened fire on two NATO personnel at a “luncheon” in Helmand Province in the country’s embattled south.  In such incidents, at least 34 Americans have died. (Not counted in this total, evidently, is an incident in January 2010 in which a Taliban double or triple agent blew himself up amid a group of CIA employees on a forward operating base in Eastern Afghanistan, killing seven of them, including the station chief.)

Such incidents pile up repetitively, without adding up to anything of significance here.  Yes, the literal math has been done and it should be striking, even shocking, to Americans, and yet these news stories seldom get much attention and have already fallen into a he said/he said pattern in which the only crucial question becomes: Was the killer a Taliban plant or a “rogue” member of the Afghan security forces?   As soon as such an attack occurs, the Taliban -- which has made striking strides in entering the modern age of media spin -- promptly takes credit for it, claiming that whoever blew away a coalition soldier was one of its own and the incident a carefully planned operation. 

It’s easy to understand why the Taliban would want to associate itself with such events.  Harder to grasp -- though no reporter seems to give it a second thought -- is the U.S./NATO response.  Their spokespeople regularly hustle out statements insisting that whoever attacked U.S. or coalition personnel was not connected to the Taliban, but simply having a truly bad day/life (experiencing, say, financial or psychological stress) and that, as a result, the incident was an “isolated” one, “not part of any organized pattern,” or as an American general summed it up to reporters, “rare.”  And yet the phenomenon turns out to be common enough that the military has a label for it: “green-on-blue” violence.

Consider this, though: Is the thought that the enemy is capable of repeatedly infiltrating American or NATO ranks really more devastating than the thought that, on a really bad day, “our” Afghans, the ones we are training or regularly working side-by-side with, have a deep-seated, repetitive urge to blow the foreigners away?  That seems to me the devastating message U.S. military officials are rushing to reinforce.

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