Public Comment

Terrorizing Civilians in Afghanistan

By Kenneth J. Theisen
Thursday September 10, 2009 - 11:58:00 AM

In May of this year, the Obama administration fired General David McKiernan as the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan. In announcing the decision, Defense Secretary Robert Gates stated he was seeking “fresh thinking” and “fresh eyes” on Afghanistan. McKiernan was replaced by General Stanley McChrystal. His selection marked the continued ascendancy of officers who have advocated the use of counterinsurgency tactics in Iraq and Afghanistan. General David Petraeus, the head of Central Command, was another such officer. He implemented COIN strategy in Iraq. Petraeus is McChrystal’s commander. Gates praised McChrystal for his “unique skill set in counterinsurgency.  

When McChrystal took command of U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan, he claimed his implementation of counter-insurgency (COIN) warfare there would protect the Afghan population. His version of war would help win the “hearts and minds of the people” just as it did in Vietnam. This new emphasis on COIN strategy was supposed to turn around the downward spiral of the Afghan war. In theory, it was also suppose to limit Afghan civilian casualties.  

But we have recently seen the newest U.S. strategy in practice in that war ravaged country. On Monday, September 7th the Swedish Committee for Afghanistan claimed that troops of the U.S. Army’s 10th Mountain Division invaded the charity’s hospital in Wardak province on the night of September 2nd.  

Anders Fange, the charity’s country director, asserted that American troops stormed through the hospital, broke down doors, and tied up four security guards and two hospital visitors. He also said the U.S. military forcibly removed patients from their beds during their search and barged into the women’s wards. Fange claimed that such actions as entering rooms where women are in bed is a serious insult under Muslim culture.  

Fange further stated that the raid was a violation of an agreement between NATO forces and aid organizations that worked in Wardak province. He said, “This is a clear violation of internationally recognized rules and principles. If the international military forces are not respecting the sanctity of health facilities, then there is no reason for the Taliban to do it either. Then these clinics and hospitals would become military targets.”  

Lt. Commander Christine Sidenstricker, a U.S. military spokeswoman, confirmed that the hospital was searched. She also said, “We are investigating, and we take allegations like this seriously. Complaints like this are rare.” But abuses and even deaths of the Afghan population at the hands of the U.S. and its allies are far from rare. On Friday September 4th, a NATO air strike by U.S. jets killed many Afghan civilians.  

The independent human rights group, Afghan Rights Monitor reported that its visit of the attack site indicated the strike killed as many as 70 local villagers along the Kunduz River. In the past, other such U.S. air attacks have killed large numbers of civilians at wedding parties and a funeral. Almost any large gathering in Afghanistan can suddenly be attacked. This is how the U.S. really implements its COIN strategy.  

The “heart and minds strategy” will continue to kill innocent Afghans as the U.S., under Commander-in-Chief Obama, continues to escalate the war. In a short time we can expect thousands of so-called U.S. support troops in Afghanistan to be replaced by more combat troops, or “trigger pullers” as one U.S. officer referred to them in his support of the move. McChyrstal is also very likely to request additional troops from his commander-in-chief within a few weeks as well. He laid the political groundwork for this further escalation with his recent review of Afghan operations. That review was given to Obama last week. When Obama receives the request for additional troops, it is very likely he will grant it. He has already sent thousands of additional troops to Afghanistan.  

One reason that Obama is likely to approve an additional troop request is that the “successful” implementation of COIN strategy requires the introduction of many more U.S. troops into Afghanistan. COIN strategy is troop intensive as is indicated by the Army’s new COIN manual, written in large part by General David Petraeus. To quote the manual: “No predetermined, fixed ratio of friendly troops to enemy combatants ensures success in COIN. The conditions of the operational environment and the approaches insurgents use vary too widely. A better force requirement gauge is troop density, the ratio of security forces (including the host nation’s military and police forces as well as foreign counterinsurgents) to inhabitants. Most density recommendations fall within a range of 20 to 25 counterinsurgents for every 1000 residents in an AO. Twenty counterinsurgents per 1000 residents is often considered the minimum troop density required for effective COIN operations; however as with any fixed ratio, such calculations remain very dependent upon the situation.”  

In 2003 the U.N estimated the Afghan population at nearly 24 million. At 20 troops per 1000 Afghan residents that would require 480,000 allied troops to meet the minimum density recommendation of the COIN manual. At 25 troops it would take 600,000 troops. Obviously to reach these numbers would require a massive troop escalation.  

Just like in Vietnam the rhetoric may claim the U.S. is “winning hearts and minds, but the reality is that the U.S. war of terror is killing and terrorizing people from Iraq, to Afghanistan, to Pakistan. In Vietnam 2-3 million Vietnamese died. Already there have been a million Iraqi deaths as a result of the 2003 U.S. invasion. Thousands more have died in Afghanistan since the October 2001 invasion. When do we say enough? What will you do to stop the U.S. wars? To see what you can do, please go to  


Kenneth J. Theisen is an Oakland resident and a steering committee member of World Can’t Wait which is trying to mobilize people to end the wars in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan.