Lifting the veil on conflict, culture and politics
The Daily Telegraph reports that the status of forces agreement that the United States and Afghanistan are negotiating may allow a U.S. military presence in the country until 2024 . That’s a full 10 years beyond the deadline for withdrawal of U.S. combat troops and handing over security responsibilities to Afghan forces.
The negotiations are being conducted under a veil of security, and we have no way of knowing, at this point at least, if the two sides are really talking about U.S. troops in the country for that long. ( The very fact that a decade after U.S. troops entered the country there is no formal agreement spelling out the terms of their deployment is in itself remarkable)
But it does seem more likely than not that there there will be a U.S. military presence, however small, in Afghanistan beyond 2014, and that is going to force the players involved in the conflict and those watching from the sidelines with more than a spectator’s interest to rethink their calculations.
Indeed, the talk of an extended force deployment may be an attempt to reverse the perception that America was in full retreat following President Barack Obama’s announcement of a drawdown that many in the military believe has only hardened the resolve of the Taliban insurgents and their backers in Pakistan to wait out the departure.
Reuters correspondent Golnar Motevalli was emebedded with U.S. Marines as they launched one of the biggest offensives of the eight-year-war in Afghanistan last month. Here’s her moving account of how soldiers and civilians are both scarred by deaths around them in the southern district of Marjah where the operation was carried out.
Corporal Jacob Turbett gave out a single groan of pain before the Taliban bullet, which had pierced his heart, ended his life.
Back in 2002, onlookers would often gather outside the U.S. military headquarters in Bagram in Afghanistan, watching women soldiers in full battle gear sitting on top of vehicles on guard duty at the entrance to the base.
For a deeply conservative society such as Afghanistan, it was a novel sight to watch women in such a role, more so coming soon after the harsh regime of the Taliban. From time to time, the women would get annoyed and holler to the men hanging around and staring at them: “Back off. Haven’t you seen a woman ever?”
By Golnar Motevalli
All militaries are notorious for their use of jargon, acronyms and code names to describe people, places and operations. The village of Koru Chareh in the centre of Marjah and a key area in the U.S. Marines’ objective to seize the town in Operation Moshtarak was also given a moniker.
One of the reasons the big U.S.-led offensive in Afghanistan’s Marjah area has slowed down is because the Marines are trying to avoid civilian casualties at all costs, according to military commanders. So use of air power, the key to U.S. battle strategy, has been cut back because of the risk of collateral damage from strikes.
Lara M. Dadkhah, an intelligence analyst, in a New York Times op-ed says troops under heavy attack in Marjah have had to wait for an hour or more for air support so that insurgents were properly identified. “We didn’t come to Marjah to destroy it, or to hurt civilians,” Dadkhah quotes a Marine officer as saying after he waited 90 minutes before the Cobra helicopters he had requested showed up with their Hellfire missiles.