In Friday’s New York Times, there was an article about the big US-NATO offensive now in progress in Marja, Afghanistan. This operation was touted as an example of Gen. Stanley McChrystal’s innovative new Afghan strategy, which focuses on putting people first by minimizing civilian casualties and immediately plunking down a ready-made government in all the liberated areas. “We’ve got a government in a box, ready to roll in, ” McChrystal boasted. Apparently this is a new strategy.
I’d argue that the only government they’ve got in a box is ours, and that box is sealed up so tightly that no air or light ever gets in. Nevertheless, the central feature of this big push was going to be its emphasis on limiting civilian casualties. Here’s what one general said about it:
“The population is not the enemy,” Brig. Gen. Larry Nicholson, the commander of the Marines in southern Afghanistan, told a group of troops this week. “The population is the prize — they are why we are going in.”
But you can’t keep men away from their toys. Despite the promise of a newer, more civilian friendly assault, an offensive with a happy face, the US and NATO just couldn’t resist testing out a new, super-neat missile system called HIMARS, or High Mobility Artillery Rocket System, which is guided by GPS technology and can hit within a yard of its intended target. What a perfect way to show the Afghan people how much we care.
So HIMARS was tried out. Lo and behold, on Sunday, we learned that an “errant missile strike” killed twelve civilians. The missile had strayed 300 meters off course. “The compound that was hit was not the one we were targeting,” said Capt. Joshua Biggers, the commander of Company K, Third Battalion, Sixth Marines …” Whoops.
Gen. McChrystal, in what is now standard practice for US military officials, expressed regret for the loss of life. He also promised that we’d stop using HIMARS “until a thorough review of this incident has been conducted.”
The ‘thorough’ review took two days, and its conclusions may surprise you. The initial story was wrong! HIMARS worked just fine. There was no error, no rogue missile, no 300 meter foul-up. The “procedures that were applied to that first missile firing were found to be as they should be.” It turns out that there were insurgents in the area, in the “compound,” and that’s who we were targeting. Everything worked just fine except for the civilians who got in the way. But whose fault is that? We all know that terrorist types hide among the population and use civilians as human shields. Their perfidy knows no limits. As Condi Rice once observed of Hamas, they use “buildings that are not designated as military buildings. So it’s hard.”
To make a long story short, we didn’t screw up and neither did our missiles. HIMARS is also being used again. Forget all about this opening non-glitch glitch. Population is the prize.