Slick and deadly: Most of the victims in at least 22 unmanned "drone" missile attacks in Pakistan have been civilians. (US Air Force)
"Operation Enduring Freedom is ostensibly being fought to uphold the American Way of Life. It'll probably end up undermining it completely," the Indian writer Arundhati Roy wrote in 2001, in "The Algebra of Infinite Justice." Roy took a lot of grief for that piece from American public opinion, hijacked at the time by a blind desire for violent revenge (and the silencing of dissenters) that would prove to be far worse than 9/11's mass murders. Far worse, because we're living its consequences still, though far less in the West than in the Middle East: Iraq, Iran (yes, even Iran), Afghanistan and Pakistan as Roy's words have been unfortunately and terribly vindicated many times over, with no end in sight.
Yesterday there was this headline in The Times: "U.S. Tightens Airstrike Policy in Afghanistan," over a Dexter Filkins story quoting the new U.S. commander in Afghanistan, Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal, saying that “Air power contains the seeds of our own destruction if we do not use it responsibly,” and pledging, "Even in the cases of active firefights with Taliban forces," in Filkins' paraphrase, that "airstrikes will be limited if the combat is taking place in populated areas — the very circumstances in which most Afghan civilian deaths have occurred. The restrictions will be especially tight in attacking houses and compounds where insurgents are believed to have taken cover."
Details of the attack, which occurred in Makeen, remained unclear, but the reported death toll was exceptionally high. If the reports are indeed accurate and if the attack was carried out by a drone, the strike could be the deadliest since the United States began using the aircraft to fire remotely guided missiles at members of the Taliban and Al Qaeda in the tribal areas of Pakistan. The United States carried out 22 previous drone strikes this year, as the Obama administration has intensified a policy inherited from the Bush administration.It begs the question. What's Stanley A. McChrystal doing differently? What's the Obama administration doing differently? McChrystal's words sounded strangely similar to those of Mike Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs, who told a congressional committee in September 2008, "We can’t kill our way to victory." Only to let the killing continue.
Sometime this summer, the United States will register its 5,000th American soldier killed as a result of wars in either Iraq or Afghanistan. The media, if there's still any interest in casualties of any sort Stateside, will write the mournful editorial or two, missing, as always, the larger problem: the day-in-and-day-out devastation visited on local populations by the very forces ostensibly dispatched to protect them, at a price far, far heavier than the one sustained by Americans.
That one strike today killed more people in Pakistan than the death toll of American soldiers in Iraq since March. That many, maybe most, of the victims may turn out to be "militants" won;t diminish the ripples of the attack in Pakistan, precisely the kind of ripples McChrystal was claiming to want to control from here on.
It's no longer the American Way of Life American deployments are fighting to preserve. The wind went out of that shameless bit of flag-waving years ago. But it hasn't been clear for years, either, what the deployments are fighting for. Or against. Except for the one recurrent target that never fails to take a hit, even when all else fails: civilians.
- About Those US Missile Strikes in Pakistan
- How to Lose the Wars in Afghanistan and Pakistan
- Pakistan Fumes: Predators Among Them
- Civilian Casualties in Afghanistan: The Facts
- 60 Children Among 90 Civilians Killed in US Attack in Afghanistan
- Why Pakistan Is Barack Obama's Biggest Middle East Challenge
- Troop Deployments and Casualties in Afghanistan
- Afghanistan, Seven Years On