So I’ve been meaning to do a post on the Qur’an burnings since they happened, but both professionally and personally (which I’ll get to in a bit), the situation keeps getting worse and I keep not getting around to blogging about it. I’m not going to claim to be objectively correct about all the factors in play here, but as a career military member, and as someone’s who’s not only been to Afghanistan but lived on an Afghan base with 400 Afghans and spent a lot of time talking with them, I think I have some decent insights into the issues.
First, the Qur’an burnings themselves. Yes, they had extremist writing and possibly plans in them, but anyone who’s been stationed in Afghanistan and has half a brain knows you don’t mess with that book without consulting with a Muslim first. Should we turn the people who ordered and did the burning over to the locals for trial as the Afghans are demanding? Hell no, but they should be investigated and reprimanded under US and UCMJ rules, because I’m pretty damn sure there’s a failure of leadership in there somewhere demanding a Letter of Admonishment or Reprimand. Someone just plain didn’t think, and that person shouldn’t be in charge or operating over there, because they just don’t understand the culture, and no matter if you’re fighting in Afghanistan or peacefully serving on a base in Japan or Korea, knowing the culture is a key to success.
Unfortunately, the fallout from the Qur’an burnings has escalated, with either Afghan security forces who are supposed to be our allies, or infiltrators dressed in Afghan security force uniforms, killing our people in retribution. A couple of weeks ago, an assassin got into the Afghan Ministry of Interior and executed two American advisors there. The assassin was either a traitor who worked in the building, or was assisted by someone in the building because he had the codes to get into a secure vault where the two men worked. He entered and shot them both in the back of the head as they sat at their desks. One of those men, Lt Col Darin Loftis, was a friend of mine (who you can read about here), who I had attended Officer Training School with and had served with at two duty stations. I attended his funeral service at Hurlburt Field AFS last week, and spoke with his wife Holly. The biggest irony is, by executing Lt Col Loftis, Afghanistan lost one of its best friends and advocates. Darin was, like me, a “born tourist” personality, fascinated and excited by other cultures. He loved the Afghans, and loved being over there, knowing he was working to help them. Many Afghans liked him as well, as they gave him a Muslim name and brought him into their lives. Most Afghans – not the ones who make the news – are like that; they’re very much like us, just wanting to get on with their lives, and they don’t care if you’re Christian or Muslim or Jewish. I know this because I’ve sat with them, spoken with them and was told and treated as such. The 99% of Afghans who didn’t participate in the protests and attacks were offended by the burnings, but they understood and just want to move on, as reflected in articles like this one in Stars and Stripes.
Finally, I woke up today to see things had really gone over the edge. Allegedly, an American troop walked off a base in southern Afghanistan and started mowing down civilians, killing (as of the reporting this morning) up to 15. I’ve been to this base, and it sits right on the edge of a small town – you walk out the front gate and you’re within sight of shops and homes. Unlike the Qur’an burning incident, if these allegations are true, I believe the military member in question SHOULD be turned over to the Afghans for trial. This is not without precedent – in 1995 three Marines raped a Japanese girl in Okinawa and were subsequently turned over to the Japanese authorities for trial. This, I believe, is justice. Killing civilians isn’t the act of a trained and disciplined military; it’s the behavior of mercenaries. I’m sure the individual who committed the act was stressed over the recent acts there in retribution for the Qur’an burnings, those assassins/traitors were attacking military forces, not civilians, and even if he/she just “snapped,” it’s still not justified.
While turning this person over to the Afghans may also help diffuse the situation in Afghanistan, that’s not a factor in my argument; in this case, I just think it’s the right think to do. And what happens here will also determine if and how much farther things will either escalate or subside, and whether one of my near-future posts will be about whether we’ve crossed the tipping point, whether any future forward movement is impossible, and if we should just leave now.