The slow transformation of the conflict in Pakistan

In defense of its program of targeted killings in Pakistan, Afghanistan, and other parts of the world using drones and other bombing methods, the Obama administration has repeatedly claimed that its targets have been carefully vetted to make sure that they are high-value al Qaeda operatives and that their program is so precise that few civilians are affected.

The latter claim has been repeatedly debunked, with the latest charge coming just days ago that a NATO strike using American warplanes killed 11 Afghan children.

But now secret documents obtained by Jonathan Landay of McClatchy newspapers say that the program is not as precise as claimed and that the US has been targeting and killing people who are not affiliated with al Qaeda but instead are Afghan and Pakistani militants who are opponents of those governments. In fact, the US apparently made a deal with the Pakistani government that it would kill its opponents in return for being allowed to operate freely in its airspace. In other words, the US agreed to be Pakistan’s hired gun.

But when you make such deals, you become a de facto ally of the governments you are making a deal with. What seems to have happened is that the invasion of Afghanistan, which was originally aimed at eliminating al Qaeda, has slowly become transformed into a war on the side of the Afghan and Pakistani governments against their enemies. This is becoming uncomfortably reminiscent of the early days of the Vietnam war, when the US goal became transformed from supposedly containing Communist advances in south-east Asia to propping up the South Vietnamese government and eliminating its enemies, whoever they were. This does not necessarily mean that we are poised for another Vietnam but it does mean that we are likely making a whole slew of new enemies among those at the receiving end of the bombings, beyond just al Qaeda sympathizers.


  1. AsqJames says

    “This is becoming uncomfortably reminiscent of the early days of the Vietnam war”

    That’s one comparison, actually before I got to that line I was thinking more about the US support for repressive regimes in Central and South America over several decades. Vietnam may be a more apposite analogy though -- I can’t be sure the availability heuristic and the recent death of some old baggage who was fond of taking tea with Pinochet hasn’t skewed my mental processes.

  2. atheist says

    The Vietnam analogy that occurs to me is more how the conflict metastasized, spreading once it became clear that victory was out the the question. Refusing to accept that the US could not achieve its objectives, Nixon instead expanded the war into Cambodia, dropping millions of tons of explosives on that country in a futile effort to destroy the Viet Minh’s bases of resupply. In a similar way, we have been expanding the war into Pakistan, using drones and special ops attacks, since it has become clearer that there is no way will achieve victory in Afghanistan.

    What is frightening is that the spread of the war into Cambodia resulted in the collapse of the regime and the rise of the Khmer Rouge. Will our expansion out of Afghanistan in order to attack “Taliban” destabilize Pakistan in a similar way? That’s what worries me.

  3. left0ver1under says

    And let’s not forget the fact that the US armed the Khmer Rouge (even after knowing about the atrocities) because, as with Saddam Hussein in the 1980s, the Khmer Rouge served as a useful proxy for revenge against another country (Vietnam and Iran). Funny thing, it was Iran which gave the US info on Al Qaeda, and it was the Vietnamese communists who ended the Khmer Rouge’s brutal rule, freeing Cambodia and leaving it to self rule (rather than enforce communism). Cambodia eventually became a democracy.

    There’s also the No Geun Ri massacre in 1960. The US military deliberately fired on and killed hundreds of Korean civilians fleeing the advancing North Korean army At the time, the US military claimed it was done to “prevent infiltrators into the south”, but in 2001 the Pentagon claimed is was nothing more than a “mistake” or “accident”. In actuality, it was done to terrorize the population and make them stay put, to avoid having to feed and house refugees in shrinking US zone, and to ensure there were people occupying the land and continuing to farm.

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