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.
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