Editioral: Sick and Tired

The ongoing war in Afghanistan, already the longest in United States history has gone from the unthinkable to even worse after the shooting rampage by a U.S. Army Sergeant Sunday, in which he allegedly opened fire on Afghan villagers as they slept, killing 16 people, mostly women and children. The attack has reignited the fury over the unintentional burning of copies of Qurans by Americans.

President Barack Obama properly noted that the attack “is not representative of the respect that the United States has for the people of Afghanistan.” The president’s statement comes just weeks after he offered a written official apology to Afghan President Hamid Karzai for the accidental burning of the Qurans by American soldiers. Karzai’s reaction was considerably less statesmanlike: “This is an assassination, an intentional killing of innocent civilians and cannot be forgiven.” No doubt Karzai felt compelled to issue a harsh response, but there was not a similar rebuke by Obama when Afghan soldiers and security forces deliberately killed six U.S. troops in recent weeks (and no report of an apology from Karzai).

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Finger-pointing and tit-for-tat blaming of course will only make the situation worse, especially since it follows by just weeks the horrific images of U.S. soldiers gleefully urinating on the corpses of dead Taliban fighters.  Like the My Lai Massacre during the Vietnam War, the shooting rampage in the Afghan village is a reminder of just how dehumanized exhausted combat troops can become, losing the capacity for “normal” regard for human life. Indeed, Lt. William Calley, who was later convicted for his role in the My Lai Massacre, initially said it “was no big deal.” 

The soldier, who reportedly started his first tour in Afghanistan in December after three tours in Iraq, had been trained as a sniper and suffered a head injury in a noncombat-related vehicle accident during a recent tour of duty in Iraq, according to the Associated Press.

Obviously a prompt and full investigation of the shootings must take place, and it is especially important that the rule of law prevail as a standard to which we hold both ourselves and others. Moreover, the investigation should also stretch to a broader inquiry into the psychological effects of multiple missions and whether the U.S. forces are being asked to serve in untenable conditions. A finding in the affirmative would serve as a factor in assessing the current U.S. timetable to draw down by the end of 2014, though to date, the White House has no plan to change that schedule.

We understand why the U.S. went into Afghanistan, and we have no qualms with the initial effort to destabilize the Taliban, dissociate them from al-Qaeda and restore civility and hope to the country. But 10 years of a NATO commitment of coalition troops has not brought calm to a nation that has been called “the graveyard of empires,” suggesting it’s necessary to reevaluate our current exit strategy. After all, President Obama did accelerate U.S. withdrawal from Iraq ahead of the original timetable, and Iraq did not implode as a result.

The ongoing violence in places like Iraq and Afghanistan does not lend itself to conventional military responses, and a war-weary nation and its allies are not about to consider another “surge” of troops, which could only prolong our involvement in a war that goes from bad to worse, from the unthinkable to even worse. Moreover, we have no idea how and whether there will be inflammation over the Iran situation that requires American or international forces. At this point, our military leaders would strain credulity by arguing that our volunteer forces are in top shape and able to engage in a new front with full vigor.

Let us get to the bottom of this latest tragedy as soon as feasible, make sure that the suspect is accorded his full Bill of Rights protections (which have been under siege since the onset of the “War on Terrorism”), and if and as appropriate under a finding of fact, try him in a military tribunal to the full extent of the law. 

Then let us have a constructive and comprehensive reevaluation and debate as to what our strategy and tactics should be going forward. The option of a prompt and expeditious removal of all remaining U.S. and allied troops from that war-torn and tragic nation should take place with all deliberate speed.

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