As Barack Obama continues his noble struggle to reform the wreck of America's health care system by forcing millions of people to pay billions of dollars to the very insurance companies who wrecked America's health care system – continuing his winning policy of reforming the wreck of America's financial system by giving trillions of dollars to the scamsters who wrecked America's financial system -- his soldiers in the good and necessary war of good necessity in Afghanistan have been implenting their own reforms to health care practices in their "host" country.
Dahr Jamail reports on the underreported story of an American assault on an Afghan hospital earlier this month, during which armed soldiers "stormed" through the wards, looking for Taliban fighters – and then insisted on vetting all incoming patients to decide if they are worthy of treatment or not.
On September 7, American troops invaded a hospital run by a Swedish aid agency:
Soldiers demanded that hospital administrators inform the military of any incoming patients who might be insurgents, after which the military would then decide if said patients would be admitted or not. [Agency director Anders] Fange called the incident "not only a clear violation of globally recognized humanitarian principles about the sanctity of health facilities and staff in areas of conflict, but also a clear breach of the civil-military agreement" between nongovernmental organizations and international forces.
Fange said that US troops broke down doors and tied up visitors and hospital staff.
As Jamail notes, the blatantly illegal raid is all of a piece of American health care approaches in lands occupied in the Terror War. He details once more the American attacks on medical centers during the destruction of Fallujah in late 2004, which I noted in the Moscow Times while the attack – a vast blood sacrifice to celebrate the re-election of George W. Bush – was still going on:
One of the first moves in this magnificent feat was the destruction and capture of medical centers. Twenty doctors – and their patients, including women and children – were killed in an airstrike on one major clinic, the UN Information Service reports, while the city's main hospital was seized in the early hours of the ground assault. Why? Because these places of healing could be used as "propaganda centers," the Pentagon's "information warfare" specialists told the NY Times. Unlike the first attack on Fallujah last spring, there was to be no unseemly footage of gutted children bleeding to death on hospital beds. This time – except for NBC's brief, heavily-edited, quickly-buried clip of the usual lone "bad apple" shooting a wounded Iraqi prisoner – the visuals were rigorously scrubbed.
So while Americans saw stories of rugged "Marlboro Men" winning the day against Satan, they were spared shots of engineers cutting off water and electricity to the city – a flagrant war crime under the Geneva Conventions, as CounterPunch notes, but standard practice throughout the occupation. Nor did pictures of attack helicopters gunning down civilians trying to escape across the Euphrates River – including a family of five – make the TV news, despite the eyewitness account of an AP journalist. Nor were tender American sensibilities subjected to the sight of phosphorous shells bathing enemy fighters – and nearby civilians – with unquenchable chemical fire, literally melting their skin, as the Washington Post reports. Nor did they see the fetus being blown out of the body of Artica Salim when her home was bombed during the "softening-up attacks" that raged relentlessly – and unnoticed – in the closing days of George W. Bush's presidential campaign, the Scotland Sunday Herald reports.
This is what has happened, is happening, and will go on happening on the ground in the Terror War. It is endemic. It is unavoidable. It is inherent in the premise and practice of military aggression. It doesn't matter how many clinics or schools you build (or promise to build), or many soccer balls and candy bars you give out to the kids -- these atrocities by the invader are the only things that register, the only things that matter. Ten thousand, 40,000 or a million more troops (and mercenaries) will not bring "victory" in these situations; they will only engender more death, ruin, hatred and resistance.
So what to do in Afghanistan? Simple -- the same thing I advocated years ago, in another Moscow Times piece written during the 2004 election campaign, after the first, failed attack on Fallujah, but before the city's final destruction a few months later:
As the red wheel of [the Terror War] continues to roll, spewing hundreds of corpses in its wake, it becomes clearer by the hour that there is only one way for America to end this stomach-churning nightmare it has created: get out.
That's it. The occupying armies – including [the] corporate mercenaries – should leave now.
...[Our leaders'] chest-beating pronouncements about "staying the course" and "seeing it through" are just so much rag-chewing nonsense. The way to rectify a crime is not to keep doing it – or in John Kerry's ludicrous formulations, to keep doing it in some different, "better" way – but simply to stop doing it. The illegal invasion was a crime, the occupation is a crime, and if you would not be a criminal, you must stop committing crimes.
John Kerry then has morphed into Barack Obama now: a "progressive," "liberal," "anti-war" Democrat who nonetheless throws himself wholeheartedly behind the retrograde, reactionary, bloodthirsty wars of the militarist oligarchy. Obama is now agonizing over this burning question: when he sends more American forces to Afghanistan shortly, should he call them "combat troops" or "advisers and trainers"? That is the range of acceptable choices available.
For the only "exit strategy" that Obama is offering is the patenly false hope that a Western-trained Afghan army and police force will eventually provide all the necessary security for a stable, legitimate democratic government. But Ann Jones at TomDispatch gives the detailed lie to this fantasy.
Jones did a remarkable thing in this day and age: rather than simply regurgitating the latest missive from self-interested parties in the Pentagon and White House about the great strides being made in training Afghanistan's security forces, she actually went there and saw what was happening. The result was grimly illuminating. You should read the whole piece to get the full picture, but here are some telling excerpts:
Afghans are Afghans. They have their own history, their own culture, their own habitual ways of thinking and behaving, all complicated by a modern experience of decades of war, displacement, abject poverty, and incessant meddling by foreign governments near and far -- of which the United States has been the most powerful and persistent. Afghans do not think or act like Americans. Yet Americans in power refuse to grasp that inconvenient point. ...
In the current policy debate about the Afghan War in Washington, Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin wants the Afghans to defend their country. Senator John McCain, the top Republican on the committee, agrees but says they need even more help from even more Americans. The common ground -- the sacred territory President Obama gropes for -- is that, whatever else happens, the U.S. must speed up the training of "the Afghan security forces."
...What is there to show for all this remarkably expensive training? Although in Washington they may talk about the 90,000 soldiers in the Afghan National Army, no one has reported actually seeing such an army anywhere in Afghanistan. When 4,000 U.S. Marines were sent into Helmand Province in July to take on the Taliban in what is considered one of its strongholds, accompanying them were only about 600 Afghan security forces, some of whom were police. Why, you might ask, didn't the ANA, 90,000 strong after eight years of training and mentoring, handle Helmand on its own? No explanation has been offered. American and NATO officers often complain that Afghan army units are simply not ready to "operate independently," but no one ever speaks to the simple question: Where are they?
My educated guess is that such an army simply does not exist. It may well be true that Afghan men have gone through some version of "Basic Warrior Training" 90,000 times or more. When I was teaching in Afghanistan from 2002 to 2006, I knew men who repeatedly went through ANA training to get the promised Kalashnikov and the pay. Then they went home for a while and often returned some weeks later to enlist again under a different name.
In a country where 40% of men are unemployed, joining the ANA for 10 weeks is the best game in town. It relieves the poverty of many families every time the man of the family goes back to basic training, but it's a needlessly complicated way to unintentionally deliver such minimal humanitarian aid. Some of these circulating soldiers are aging former mujahidin -- the Islamist fundamentalists the U.S. once paid to fight the Soviets -- and many are undoubtedly Taliban.
As Jones notes, the brilliant minds of General David Petraeus' big brass brain trust have been surprised to see how Taliban fighters are continually increasing their combat sophistication and effectiveness, "as if the insurgents had attended something akin to the U.S. Army's Ranger school, which teaches soldiers how to fight in small groups in austere environments," as the Washington Post reports. Jones draws the obvious conclusion: they have been attending training sessions -- provided, along with money, weapons and equipment, by the Americans themselves.
While training and arming your enemies might not be "best practice" for protecting your own troops, or, indeed, winning a war, it does tie in nicely with what, in the end, is the ultimate goal of the war in Afghanistan -- indeed, the goal of the great, never-ending Terror War itself: profits. Jones:
Earlier this year, the U.S. training program became slightly more compelling with the introduction of a U.S.-made weapon, the M-16 rifle, which was phased in over four months as a replacement for the venerable Kalashnikov. Even U.S. trainers admit that, in Afghanistan, the Kalashnikov is actually the superior weapon. Light and accurate, it requires no cleaning even in the dust of the high desert, and every man and boy already knows it well. The strange and sensitive M-16, on the other hand, may be more accurate at slightly greater distances, but only if a soldier can keep it clean, while managing to adjust and readjust its notoriously sensitive sights. The struggling soldiers of the ANA may not ace that test, but now that the U.S. military has generously passed on its old M-16s to Afghans, it can buy new ones at taxpayer expense, a prospect certain to gladden the heart of any arms manufacturer. (Incidentally, thanks must go to the Illinois National Guard [who were sent to Afghanistan to train the local army] for risking their lives to make possible such handsome corporate profits.)
"Our" Afghans are never going to fight for an American cause, with or without American troops, the way we imagine they should. They're never going to fight with the energy of the Taliban for a national government that we installed against Afghan wishes, then more recently set up to steal another election, and now seem about to ratify in office, despite incontrovertible evidence of flagrant fraud. Why should they? Even if the U.S. could win their minds, their hearts are not in it.
Jones goes on to make the point that this is not an argument for sending more American troops; this would only exacerbate the existing problems, engendering more of the inherent atrocities noted above, which in turn give rise to fiercer and broader resistance. Again, the only answer is to end the war. I mean, that is the only answer if the question is what course would be in the best interests -- morally, politically, financially -- of the American people, and human civilization as a whole.
But of course, that question does not concern our profiteering militarist oligarchy in the slightest. And so the bad medicine of the Terror War -- the ultimate "public option," with the government picking up the tab -- will keep being dispensed all over the world.
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This story was published in the Baltimore Chronicle on September 18, 2009.