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by Maurice Ulrich

The New Doctrine

Translated Saturday 12 September 2009, by Isabelle Métral and reviewed by Edward Lamb

A real slaughter. The NATO German force in Afghanistan that called in the air strike against two fuel tankers that had been hijacked by the Taliban, first attempted to deny it. Last Thursday night, the German Defense Ministry spokesman, in Berlin, firmly stated that “inasmuch as we know, for the moment, no one was actually killed who had not been actively implicated.” But, according to considerably more recent knowledge, the facts seem to be that over 90 people got killed, among whom women and children, who were literally torn to pieces. The trucks had got stuck in the sand, and the village folk had come to help themselves to free petrol when the bombs blew up the trucks.

Only last week General Stanley Mc Chrystal, the international forces’ new commander in chief, was announcing the implementation of a new doctrine: “Our mission is to protect the Afghan population.” His predecessor was sacked last May after 97 civilians were killed in air strikes in northern Farah province. It took only one week for the new doctrine (supposing it were ever a true intention...) to come up against the logic inherent to an armed intervention. The number of Afghan civilian victims killed by NATO forces this year is estimated at one thousand. More often than not, collateral damages are all but passed over in silence. One year ago, a few days after the deaths of ten French soldiers had notoriously plunged France into turmoil, nearly one hundred civilians - many of them women and children – perished in the bombing of the village of Azizabad, in the west of the country. NATO then promised to carry out an inquiry as it has promised to do, in this case.

The UN also wants an inquiry. President Hamid Karzai declared yesterday that “to take aim at civilians in any way whatsoever is unacceptable.” In London the foreign secretary virtuously declared “it was vital that NATO and the Afghan population stand side by side.” No doubt. The French president condemned “the blind violence”.

“We must win the hearts of the Afghans.” Such Bernard Kouchner (the French foreign secretary) declared was France’s ambition as seven hundred additional soldiers were deployed there, a few months ago. To win the hearts of the Afghans with bombs? But irony is out of place. To win their trust (if not their hearts), perhaps..., but this requires an altogether different policy. The official aim of the war after 9/11, it will be remembered, was to wipe out al-Qaeda bases. The real aim was to ensure the superpower’s domination over a hyper-sensitive area. And that precisely is why part of the Afghan population judges the war to be aimed at occupying their country. The armed forces of the Taliban chief Mullah Mohammad Omar are estimated to have jumped from hardly 4,000 men to over 20,000 as of today.

An alternative policy would naturally consist in providing effective aid, the country being one of the poorest in the world. Roads, bridges, hospitals, economic investment to free the country from the drug economy and corruption. Nicolas Sarkozy declared yesterday that France would “continue to contribute to the development of Afghanistan”. So be it: where then are the schools, roads, and building sites for the future?

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