Guess who British forces in southern Afghanistan see as creating an intolerably high number of civilian casualties? If you guessed the Taliban, you're wrong. If you guessed the Americans, you've been paying attention for the last four years. Are we really making things worse, not better, in both halves of our Middle Eastern misadventure?
From the New York Times:
A senior British commander in southern Afghanistan said in recent weeks that he had asked that American Special Forces leave his area of operations because the high level of civilian casualties they had caused was making it difficult to win over local people.
The Times tells the story of an Afghani man whose village lost 20 people in an American airstrike launched after Taliban fighters passed through. Six of the dead were family members; the living did not fare much better.
His son, Bashir Ahmed, 2, listless and stick thin, seemed close to death. The boy and his sister Muzlifa, 7, bore terrible shrapnel scars. NATO doctors had removed shrapnel from the boy's abdomen at the time of the raid and had warned his father that he might not survive, but two months later he was still hanging on.... His wife lost an arm, and the children's grandmother was killed, he said.
...He said that he opposed the Taliban, but that after the bombing raid the villagers were so angered that most of the men who survived went off to join the insurgents.
So American airstrikes are driving civilians into the arms of the Taliban. And what can the British forces on the ground use to make survivors forget their grief and not turn against the westerners? A few measly bucks.
Maj. Dominic Biddick, commander of a company of British soldiers in Sangin, is making a big effort to ease the anger and pain as his men patrol the villages. He has a $5,000 good-will fund and hands out cash to victims he comes across, like the farmer whose two sons were shot in the fields during a recent operation.
The magnitude of that insult is unimaginable. The dishonor and the disgust a father must feel when offered cash (in some amount under $5,000, no less) to compensate for the loss of two sons — that's truly brutal.
The total number of civilians dead in the region of Helmand this year has been estimated at 300, "the vast majority of them caused by foreign and Afghan forces, rather than the Taliban," according to the Times.