Checkpoint Kabul

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"Checkpoint Kabul"

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General Stanley McChrystal’s commitment to the idea that the military needs to put more emphasis on avoiding civilian casualties in Afghanistan is laudable, but of course you get judged by the results:

American and NATO troops firing from passing convoys and military checkpoints have killed 30 Afghans and wounded 80 others since last summer, but in no instance did the victims prove to be a danger to troops, according to military officials in Kabul.

“We have shot an amazing number of people, but to my knowledge, none has ever proven to be a threat,” said Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal, who became the senior American and NATO commander in Afghanistan last year. His comments came during a recent videoconference to answer questions from troops in the field about civilian casualties.

Though fewer in number than deaths from airstrikes and Special Forces operations, such shootings have not dropped off, despite new rules from General McChrystal seeking to reduce the killing of innocents.

The headline given to Richard Opel’s piece was “Tighter Rules Fail to Stem Deaths of Innocent Afghans at Checkpoints.” And if you want to understand why doing this is so difficult, I think you have to realize that a headline like “Tighter Rules Lead to Increased Deaths of US Troops at Checkpoints” would be much more damaging to pretty much everyone up and down the line. Obviously the soldiers themselves would rather not die, and though the commanders (and the commander-in-chief) are committed to the view that reducing civilian casualties is crucial, in practice all the lines of authority and accountability in the American political system point toward the interests of Americans rather than Afghans.

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