Sunday, August 02, 2009

The Taliban: Damned if they do, damned if they don't.

Over at the CBC, we learn of two more Canadian military deaths in Afghanistan, whereupon the readers have their say:

Say again?

The Taliban do not confront the NATO troops for their own sake as when they do, they always lose. It is mostly hit and run and when NATO troops launch search and destroy missions.

It is much easier for them to draw attention by throwing acid into the faces of women and children and to walk into a crowd, dressed as women, with explosives under the clothing. Real brave men if you ask me.

What a curious reaction. On the one hand, we have countless armchair legal experts, yammering on about how the Taliban are not "legal" or "lawful" combatants; how they're not entitled to any military protections whatsoever; how the Geneva Conventions don't apply even remotely to them; how they have no civil rights in any way; how they aren't entitled to due process or fair legal proceedings; and how they can be detained, arbitrarily, in perpetuity, and tortured endlessly with no recourse to the same legal protections we expect everywhere in the world.

On the other hand, it really pisses us off when they don't play by the rules.

It's a puzzler, isn't it?


Anonymous said...

If they were to play by the rules, the rules would indeed apply to them.

Uniforms, identifiable chain of command, observe the Laws of Armed Conflict. Should the Taliban terrorists ever choose to follow the rules, it would force the US to apply the Geneva Conventions to them. However, because the Taliban choose not to play by the rules, the rules do not apply to them... This is all spelt out in the Conventions.

Frankly, the Taliban terrorists are a cancer on humanity, and they need to be removed, just the same as al'Qaeda. Their shared ideology is horrific in the extreme and makes the worst of Christianity look like a bunch of friendly fairies in comparison.

Ti-Guy said...

If they were to play by the rules...

Well, they're never going to, so what else you got?

Oh right, more slaughter.

Purple library guy said...

Of course, ideal would be if they lined up nicely on open ground so they could be bombed properly. It's just not fair when they go around ambushing people--American forces would *never* do that. Well, except from the air, ideally using unmanned drones; actually exposing real people to a fight is *way* too risky. And roadside bombs--how despicable. Don't these people have the money to lay a proper minefield and kill random children instead of specific targets? Where are their cluster munitions? Really, poor people should just realize that fighting is for those higher on the economic scale.

The other meme I don't get is the notion of suicide bombers being cowardly. Now, when they target civilians they may be *evil*, but cowardly? How can someone who goes into battle *knowing* his death will come from it possibly be cowardly? And when they *don't* target civilians, well, it's just a tactic--an incredibly brave and desperate one. Take the guy who drove a truck full of explosives into the US compound in Lebanon back in the eighties, killing lots of marines and successfully driving the Americans out of Lebanon. That guy was a war hero.

Anonymous said...

Of course, actually reading the Conventions, and understanding the Laws of Armed Conflict as they govern armies would be helpful towards a USEFUL discussion.

I understand that it is more fun to just wallow in ignorance and throw about supposition and innuendo.

The cowardice involved in suicide bombing is not the bombers themselves (often they are stoned)... The cowardice is the sack of shit who will not do it himself, but goes and convinces another to do it... More often these victims (suicide bombers are victims) are young, uneducated and poor... Sometimes, the Taliban have turned to using children. THere is nothing honourable at all in that.

Now Purple, if you want to play... I suggest you study more, leave the hyperbole at home, and come out and play. Right now you are coming off as an ignorant pothead.

Lindsay Stewart said...

Sorry Alpha but you're full of crap. There's no honour in Afghanistan on any side of the current conflict. After arming and funding the mujahadeen, sowing the seeds from which the taliban and al qaeda were grown, and after training and supporting them in a guerilla resistance against the soviets can you really pretend we're the good guys? We invaded their country. We sat in our high tech command and control centres and bombed them from miles in the air. We remote piloted armed drones and slaughtered families at weddings, we destroyed what passed for infrastructure and installed a puppet government.

Put on a uniform, in your own country, and fight the invaders who out gun you, have infinite funding for weapons and delivery systems and show no real interest in abiding by the rules of war. The American forces have committed atrocities in Iraq, why would a foe expect otherwise anywhere else. Put a different flag on the pole and the folks you condemn would be heroes, freedom fighters waging a desperate resistance in a guerilla campaign against almost insurmountable odds.

They'd be the sort of good folk that such a noble creature as Ronald Reagan could get behind. Hell, he'd go so far as to make covert, back channel deals to sell huge amounts of weapons to a sworn enemy just to keep supporting the same kind of heroes that we're fighting today. And as long as the west is running gulags, torturing and renditioning, waging illegal wars of choice and lying to justify it there's really no reason to insist the other guys fight by the rules. That is unless you don't mind the stench of your own rank hypocrisy.

Anonymous said...

Lindsay, it is clear you do not know the Taliban.

So many people, so many uninformed opinions.

I would never call anyone who convinces anyone to commit a suicide bombing a hero. Never. Regardless of flag.

As for the rest of your emotive diatribe, it must play well in the local co-op. Unfortunately, once one steps into the real world, well, things are less black and white as you describe them.

Illegal wars? Iraq yes. Afghanistan? Swing and a miss.

Ti-Guy said...

Alpha, yer blood's all angried up.

Lindsay Stewart said...

I see. So they're black and white as you describe them. I'm not calling the murderous bastards heroes, not for a second. But it is disingenuous to suggest that there is only one black and white perspective on this conflict. The thing is a mess and it was made a mess by the west. The mission wasn't clear and the path toward that unclear mission was a muddled fubar from the top down. And the fact remains that the perception of status regarding combatants changes depending on one's perspective.

The free French resistance were heroes, were they not? Well not from the point of view of the occupying forces. That's one of the problems with these discussions, they are not black and white. The weapons shipped into Afghanistan to fight proxy battles with the soviets were placed in the hands of the same brutal folks shooting back at us today. Back then, they were visiting the oval office, revered as brave warriors defending their homes. Today they're doing the same thing except we're who they're fighting. So they aren't heroes anymore, they're horrible cowardly terrorists, all it took was a shift of perspective. Plus ca change...

Here's the thing. Our guys are in uniform. They're political bosses are signatories to the Geneva Conventions but the west isn't being so steadfast when it comes to obeying rules. Our honour depends on how we act regardless of rules or exceptions to rules. We don't get the luxury of becoming barbarians because we face a barbarous foe. Once we opt for barbarism, we become what we do. That can't be rolled back.

We are approaching a decade in theatre with no sign of victory or even a metric to judge what would represent a victory. The enemy is fighting the best way they can, the only way they can. Afghanistan had little or no organized military. You're being ridiculous expecting to face a uniformed force arrayed by western standards. They are a formidable guerilla force organized on tribal lines and they'll ultimately defeat us.

They won't defeat us by force of arms. They'll defeat us by existing in the mess we helped make after we eventually tire of spilling our blood and money into the dust. To imagine this conflict could have played out differently is silly.

Anonymous said...

Speaking as a soldier, who has been there twice, if you have evidence of abuses, and less then honourable conduct, you need to provide, because frankly, I did not see it.

Anonymous said...

Second, Taliban ideology is NOT indigenous to Afghanistan. The Taliban are wanted back in Afghanistan as much as we would want the KKK to be in office in Canada. The suggestion that they are freedom fighters is insulting...

The Taliban took Afghanistan by the barrel of a gun. The murdered and committed genocide (Hazara) on their way to the seat of power, and they held power by murdering everyone that opposed them... Even if it was just a rumour of opposition.

They would murder women, because the woman got raped.

They would beat men for not shaving.

They would beat people for flying kites.

All it took was a rumour that one was considering leaving Islam for that person to be killed.

And they are no different now... In point of fact, based on what is coming out of NWFP and FATA, they are arguably much much worse now.

Some freedom fighters.

Your analogy would work much better by comparing them to Nazis resisting the Allies in occupied Germany.

Jonathon Narvey said...

Alpha Male, I couldn't have said it better.

The Taliban are hated by Afghans in their own country and those who have managed to immigrate here.

I invite all of the readers of this blog to drop by the Canada-Afghanistan Solidarity Committee website to learn more about why Canada and the international community should remain involved in Afghanistan.

Lindsay Stewart said...

Okay Alpha, I'll defer to your greater knowledge. I haven't witnessed the place and the people on the ground or their reactions to the situation around them. As a soldier facing an intractable enemy in a harsh environment, what is our victory? When can we point to the map and say, if you'll forgive the associations, mission accomplished? Because as far as I can tell, there is no victory to be had. We've installed a corrupt puppet regime backed by the same feudal warlords that fought over power before we came along.

It is certainly not my intent to cast the taliban as heroes or good guys. We all know that they're tyrannical, intolerant monsters. Thing is that they are indigenous monsters and as you note they can't be differentiated from the populace. They won't be eradicated by conventional forces or conventional strategies. And we can't abandon our conventions, honour intact. They won't hold a confab and decide to hire a designer to whip up some sweet uniforms with gold braid. They will continue to practice asymmetrical warfare and they will continue to press their advantages over us.

They do not have to defeat us nor could they defeat us in martial terms. They're like dogs fighting a bear, they'll never join the fight on the bear's terms. They're fighting for a draw and how does one defeat that? The hearts and minds of the locals may never be won by either side but they are the devil that is known.

Since we, as a nation, are asking you to leave those you love behind and risk life and limb for the mission, where does that mission end? How do we hope to install an entirely new system of governance, supplant ancient feudal ways and secure ourselves from fanatics in the region? Are we, in our ignorance, asking you to spill your blood and sweat on a fool's errand? Yes, we all want to better the plight of women and bring that society into the light of peace and opportunity but is that a goal we can achieve by force of arms?

How great a monster do you need to become, in our name and bearing our flag, to meet this end...

"the Taliban terrorists are a cancer on humanity, and they need to be removed"

Do we need to initiate a pogrom, because I can't see any other way and would that not show us becoming that which we despise? We hear wildly different reports from the region in the media and we often hear nothing as the glamour has gone out of reporting the stalemate. My analogies were pretty weak but i scrambling to wrap my head around what looks to be an enormous clusterfuck. Where I am misguided or flat out wrong, I'm willing to learn.

From the outset I supported the mission in Afghanistan. The goals are still noble. I just can't see them being achieved as our political leaders botch this thing and as the will to continue erodes among the public.

Handyman said...

Authoritarian governments can simply tell their soldiers "go", and the soldiers go. Democracies need a reason to fight. We had a reason - the Afghan government was sheltering the men who caused 9/11. We overthrew that government. (We didn't get the 9/11 guys, but that's a different issue.) Now, however, our reasons are starting to sound forced and shopworn. We are there for 'democracy', to 'save women', for 'humanitarian purposes'.

If we were that committed to humanitarian purposes, we would be in Zimbabwe. If we were that committed to women's rights, we would be in Saudi Arabia. If we were that committed to democracy, we would be in China.

Well, we're not in China because we aren't totally insane. We're not in Saudi Arabia because they're our allies. We're not in Zimbabwe because we just don't care that much.

We have seen a steady decline in support amongst Canadians for the mission in Afghanistan. The government has been unable to articulate to the country just why we should be there. And this isn't a dig against the Conservatives - there may not *be* a reason that can be articulated. And no, 'stay the course' is not a reason either.

The discussion so far has concentrated on the 'Taliban', without looking at who the Taliban are. The Taliban are almost without exception ethnic Pashtun. There are about 30 million Pashtun in Afghanistan and they make up about 40% of the population. For centuries they dominated Afghanistan. However, in order to overthrow the Taliban, the Americans allied with the Northern Alliance, who were (are) the non-Pashtun people of Afghanistan: the Tajik, Hazara and Uzbek. The current Afghan government is almost entirely non-Pashtun. (Hamid Karzai is the most visibile Pashtun in government, and the only one in a serious position - dare we say the 'token' Pashtun.)

The point is that this is more of a tribal issue than a religious one, and tribal issues in Afghanistan go back to the Bronze Age. The Pashtun want the power that they had and that they feel they deserve both historically and in terms of numbers. The Pashtun are not wholly united behind the Taliban - the Taliban's excesses have made them unpopular even with a large section of the Pashtun - but neither are NATO troops, who, with all the best will in the world, will always be outsiders and interlopers.

If it comes down to a choice for the Pashtun, well, you know the old saying, "They may be bastards, but they are *our* bastards". Sure, the Taliban are evil bastards - no argument there. But concentrating on that misses the real issues going on in Afghanistan. Until we address those issues (and one way to address them may be by just going home), nothing is going to change there.

CC said...

Well said, Handyman. And let us not ignore the inconsistency of Canada's super-patriots who love to squeal about how we're over there to defend women, while treating women like crap over here.

Or how we're over there to build schools, when those same folks have no interest in building schools for Canadians.

And on, and on, and nut-crushingly on.

theo said...

“Authoritarian governments can simply tell their soldiers "go", and the soldiers go. Democracies need a reason to fight. We had a reason - the Afghan government was sheltering the men who caused 9/11. We overthrew that government. (We didn't get the 9/11 guys, but that's a different issue.)

Actually, it isn’t a different issue. That is the telling reason why Afghanistan should never have been invaded. Diplomacy would have eventually yielded either the 9/11 bad guys or it wouldn’t have (where we are now - except without the carnage and waste of lives and wealth and creation of bad feeling). The countries currently in Afghanistan were stupid enough to follow the Cheney-Bush mal-administration into that clusterfuck and Cheney-Bush were hoping we’d be stupid enough to follow them into Iraq as well. Afghanistan was never about 9/11.

Short comment to Alpha Male - when you invade a country you can expect at least some of the inhabitants to resist and they will resist in any manner possible. It is irrelevant whether the resisters are religiously insane fuckwads or not. They will resist until the invader is gone. You’re a soldier - you know that.

Ti-Guy said...

Diplomacy would have eventually yielded either the 9/11 bad guys

I don't know. Osama Bin Laden is still not wanted by the FBI for 9/11; the Taliban would have had to hand over the "9/11 bad guys" without much evidence to support it.

Frank Frink said...

Yep. Bin Laden is on the FBI's Top Ten most wanted list but in only relation to the 1998 African Embassy bombings, not for anything to do with 9/11.

If the Top Ten Most Wanted Fugitives page isn't good enough for you, here's Bin Laden's page among the Most Wanted Terrorists. Same charges. 1998 embassy bombings, no 9/11.