Casualty-Minimization in Theory and in Practice

Kandahar is located in Afghanistan

I committed myself mentally on Thursday morning to try to re-engage with the situation in Afghanistan where I have a strong sense that our policy is off on the wrong track but I no longer have any kind of detailed knowledge of the situation. Today comes this:

American troops raked a large passenger bus with gunfire near the southern city of Kandahar on Monday morning, killing as many as five civilians and wounding 18, Afghan authorities and survivors said. […] Hundreds of demonstrators gathered around a bus station on the western outskirts of Kandahar, shouting anti-American chants and blocking the road for an hour, according to people in the area.

As it happens, I had to bike past a lot of American soldiers during my morning commute this morning thanks to the Nuclear Security Summit which is happening right between my apartment and my office. It was a bit annoying, but fortunately nobody shot at me or any of my fellow commuters. But if they had, you might have heard me utter an anti-American chant or two.

As Spencer Ackerman notes, apart from the loss of life what’s so frustrating about this is that everyone in the Obama/Petraeus/McChrystal chain of command already says all the right things about this sort of incident from a doctrinal perspective “yet the effect, the output, the result — that’s what matters. Dead civilians in a bus that posed, ultimately, no threat.” And is it at all realistic to think that a military organization can operate in hostile territory for a prolonged period of time without these kind of incidents? It seems doubtful to me. I feel we have an obligation to help those Afghans who actually want our help to defend themselves against the Taliban and other groups, but I’m not at all sure what more offensive-oriented operations in the south are going to achieve.