Killing Our Way To Defeat

Obama's Private Killing Machine

They're known as "JSOC" -- Joint Special Operations Command. They report directly to the president and, as National Journal reporter Marc Ambinder put it "operate worldwide based on the legal (or extra-legal) premises of classified presidential directive." John Nagl, a former counterinsurgency adviser to Gen. Petraeus, described JSOC's kill/capture campaign to FRONTLINE as "an almost industrial-scale counterterrorism killing machine." http://to.pbs.org/mpzodl

Posted May 23, 2011

 

Watch the full episode. See more FRONTLINE.

U.S. seems to be getting good at killing "Taliban", but why?

By Georgie Anne Geyer

While the United States keeps trying to forget about Afghanistan, a new secret program in Afghanistan is quietly boasting of bringing about an end to the decade-long war.

The program is “kill/capture,” and it has been waged by the Joint Special Operations Command, or JSOC, for the past year, with, according to PBS’s excellent Frontline, 3,000 operations in only the past 90 days. Essentially, it sends special forces out in the dark of night into slumbering Afghan villages to force Taliban leaders out of their hiding places and then shoot them or capture them.

There is only one major problem: It appears rather too often that the American intelligence planners are not certain that the men they are killing or capturing are really Taliban. There is, of course, a larger question: Why are we killing and capturing Taliban when this war was supposed to be about al-Qaida?

Under Gen. David Petraeus, now named to be head of the CIA, the American forces have killed or captured more than 12,000 militants in the past year, according to Frontline. Lt. Col. John Nagl, one of the officers involved in the campaign, is quoted as saying that these American troops are “getting very good at this . . . almost industrial-scale counterterrorism killing machine.”

The pictures of the Americans on patrol that accompany the TV show are terrifying, as they break into mud houses in the middle of the night, dragging out men who may match the pictures they carry with them to identify the Taliban — or may not. I surely couldn’t tell.

Indeed, the examples of kill/capture are not reassuring. The first one shows the Americans in the 101st Airborne arriving in a village in Khost, the heartland of the vicious anti-American Haqqani network, which has its headquarters in Pakistan. But when the American troops arrive there, with a picture of the sought-after Afghan Taliban, they find instead a village elder and his family asleep.

After some back-and-forth conversing in the darkness about the situation, the Americans decide to take the village elder anyway, because they have found a small cache of weapons there. He gets noticeably peeved about it, saying repeatedly through the Afghan translators: “This is very bad. This is why the people are against you. It’s disrespecting us.” After some hours, the elder is let go, saying angrily, “This will have consequences.” Bad sport.

In the other major example offered by the show, which was many months in the making and did not appear to be ideologically motivated or to be anti-military, it turns out that a bus bombed to smithereens because it was filled with Taliban men was actually full of enthusiastic election workers.

“They killed ordinary people,” a local teacher says.

The U.S. military commanders insist they have “very precise intelligence” that leads to these raids, which have helped make the past year the most violent of the war. The Americans “acknowledge that the raids may radicalize Afghans, but this is part of the larger campaign of rolling back the Taliban.”

Most important of all, as then- New York Times reporter Dexter Filkins says in the documentary, “What the Americans have not demonstrated is, ‘Can we hand it over to the Afghans?’ It is far from clear what the results of that will be.”

Forgive me for asking, but why we are doing this at all?

We went into Afghanistan 10 years ago because al-Qaida was there. We detoured to Iraq for matters of personal egos. Today, by our own military’s count, there are merely 50 to 100 members of al-Qaida in Afghanistan — their headquarters are in Pakistan. And by our kill/capture campaign in Afghanistan, we are surely turning more and more of the locals against us.

In Vietnam, we also got sidetracked. After going there to fight the North Vietnamese, we ended up fighting the Vietcong — and then the Laotians, and then the Cambodians — and God only knows who else would have entered the equation had it gone on any longer. And now we are fighting madly in Afghanistan against the Taliban, instead of al-Qaida, and killing all kinds of people. As it goes on and on, the one question that nobody can really answer is: Why?

Georgie Anne Geyer writes for Universal Press Syndicate.