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Civilians, Warfare, and The Taliban

From the New York Times (via IHT) is an article that gets to the heart of the dispute regarding the victimization of civilians in warfare, especially as the concept is applied to Afghanistan (through the Taliban) and Lebanon (through Hizballah). Thanks to an Afghan referred to only as 'Neamatullah,' one finds unusual clarity in only four paragraphs of After Taliban battle, allies seek advantage.

NATO forces scored one of their biggest victories here this month, flushing out an area that had been swarming with Taliban insurgents in ferocious fighting. But almost immediately, a new and more difficult battle began - for support of the local people.

bq. Villagers trickling back to their homes broke into an argument over who was to blame for the heavy destruction, NATO or the Taliban.

bq. "My house was bombarded and my grape store destroyed," said Haji Bilal Jan, 48, a farmer from the upper part of Pashmul. "The coalition forces are cruel, without reason. There were no Taliban in our house, why did they bombard the house?"

bq. Another man, 45, who used the sole name Neamatullah, stopped to listen, and then countered: "Why did you let the Taliban come to your village? You brought them to your village."

The conscious decision not to act when confronted with a fundamental choice, as Neamatullah suggests, often only delays destruction rather than avoids it.

The consequences of warfare - fair or unfair - can always be traced to choices made by individuals on both sides before the onset of hostilities. It has always been and will always be that warfare will exact a toll of death and destruction from those least deserving. Only a mind reader can distinguish the dutiful supporters from the consequential. To expect such perfection during the heat of battle is to expect the impossible.

1 Comment

The villagers are not "civilians" in the sense we would understand it. All males from big enough to carry messages to too old to walk are involved in some way in the khel or clan lashkar, or militia. All females are basically auxilliaries. When the Taliban moves into a village, it is because they have either been invited by the villagers OR the local warlord or clan chief has made a deal with the Taliban, otherwise the villagers would be reinforced and would run the Taliban off.

An American could spend decades trying to understand the Pashtuns. Snake-eatin', Airborne/Ranger/Special Forces ethnologist/Pashtun linguists are in short supply. Sorting out the good guys from the bad guys from the good guys who used to be bad guys from the good guys who have kin on the other side is a task the global hegemon can't quite rise to yet.