Murphy's Law: Herr Oberst Was Correct


November 3, 2009: A NATO investigation of a recent bombing incident, concluded that the German officer who called in an air strike, that killed some civilians, made the correct decision. This involved a case, two months ago, where German troops called in a U.S. air strike on two fuel tankers hijacked by the Taliban. The German colonel (or "Oberst" in German) who authorized the strike was promptly criticized for not making sure there were no civilians around the tankers, which were stuck in the sand. The Taliban had invited local civilians to come and steal the fuel, apparently to lighten the trucks so they could move on. The German commander wanted to make sure the vehicles did not get away, and later be used for truck bomb attacks against Afghan or NATO forces. But the new ROE (Rules Of Engagement) insists that civilian casualties be avoided at all costs. There is still some debate over the exact "costs" to be used in these calculations.

The Taliban sought to turn bombing this into another media victory. They need this, because the Taliban continue to have more success on the Information War front, than in actual combat. The incident, where German troops called in a U.S. air strike on two fuel tankers hijacked by the Taliban, become a Taliban victory, at least in the local and international media. That's because, even though civilian losses, from NATO action, are lower than any war in history, much lower than Iraq, and most of them are actually caused by the Taliban, the U.S. has decided that any civilian losses will be turned into a media victory by Taliban publicists. The Taliban have capitalized on Afghan cultural quirks (we are masters of our domain, while we are also perpetual victims of imperialist violence), and how the drug gangs have many Afghan leaders and media on the payroll, to make every civilian killed by foreign troops to be an avoidable war crime. Afghan civilians took advantage of violent encounters with foreign troops to claim dead (creating graves, with a dead animal in it to fool sensors) so they could receive compensation payments from NATO or U.S. forces. Afghanistan is a very corrupt country, where scamming your neighbor is a very popular sport. This is considered perfectly legit when committed against "foreigners" (who can be anyone not from your tribe, family, or neighborhood).

The new ROE are often implemented so energetically that American troop morale is plummeting in some units, where U.S. and Afghan combat casualties are going up. American commanders are trying to keep a lid on this, but the growing number of incidents will eventually become another hot media story and scandal that must be fixed. Good luck with that one.





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