Protests in Afghanistan Turn Deadly for Coalition Forces and UN Personnel
Previously published on Apr 13, 2011
With the wave of political upheavals spreading through the Middle East and North Africa hitting even fairly responsive governments like those of Saudi Arabia and Jordan, mass protests in Afghanistan were only waiting for a catalyst. Thanks largely to the ineffective Afghan national government, US led Coalition forces play a key role as a stabilizing authority. Given the fact we are not a legitimate governmental body, yet appear to "rule" the countryside, this makes foreigner troops a target for revolutionaries. The problem is that the Afghan national government cannot possibly meet the expectations of their citizens while we can only respond to their demands for sovereignty through withdrawal.
On April 2, 2011, protests incited by a Florida pastor fulfilling his threat to hold a Qur'an burning turned deadly when mobs overran a UN compound. Having demonstrated the universally known truth that Muslims view any attack on their religion as a grievous crime and often respond through violent outbursts, those protestors involved in the violence caused these murders, but Terry Jones bares much responsibility for intentionally provoking this violence. Of course, so do people like Hamid Karzai. Although the Afghan President desperately needs US and international support, he has been playing a dangerous political game where he vilifies foreigners for his political gain.
Quite frankly, Coalition forces have made deadly mistakes, even under policies designed to minimize civilian causalities. Revealing pictures showing US soldiers desecrating the bodies of slain Afghan civilians is just one recent incident that racketed up tensions over the collateral damage of the War, including the abhorrent crimes committed by military contractors like Black Water. That said, Karzai chose to openly criticize foreign forces in an accusing manner to show his authority over foreign bodies and strengthen his standing as a domestic leader instead of defusing anger resulting from accidental deaths and combat murders. Taking on a more anti-Western, anti-American stance, he has seriously hurt the image of Coalition forces and helped drive protestors to target them.
If the protests continue, greater violence will either engulf these displays of outrage or soon follow. Like the uprisings found throughout the Muslim world, unchecked revolt will translate into demands for more and more concessions. As foreign operations are commanding the focus of unrest, their top commanders must display the wisdom needed to act ahead of calls for their removal. The US and the rest of the Coalition forces can only operate at the leisure of the Afghan People. As such, we must be willing to expedite our withdrawal strategy long before we might be forced to undertake a precipitous, chaotic withdrawal of forces in the shadow of populous violence against our troops.
Over the past few years, the debate on whether or not the US should remain committed to nation building and peacekeeping in Afghanistan has been the focus of the War. The Obama Administration ultimately decided to push forward with a surge to crush the Taliban and solidify gains for the Afghan national government. Many critics have called the struggle against the insurgents a civil war that the US has no business fighting. There is truth to this claim, but the weak, anti-Western state offered by the Taliban threatened US vital national interests. Cause for withdrawal, therefore, hinges on our ability to nation build. This is a condition that would no longer exist should a critical mass of the Afghan People revolt against our presence.
Truth be told, the Afghan national government may fail with a premature withdrawal by Coalition forces while the individual Afghan tribes might not be able to resist the Taliban or any other insurgent group. Continuing major ground operations in Afghanistan; however, would only create greater instability and lead to an open war that we should not engage. In the coming weeks to months, the leaders of Coalition forces must pay close attention to the political climate. It is better to prematurely withdraw from a somewhat stable Afghanistan in an orderly, responsible fashion than to retreat under fire. Should a critical mass of Afghans signal a revolt against foreign intervention, commanders must clearly and immediately demonstrate they are executing a withdrawal strategy.