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Get Out, or Else

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of
The Karzai Ultimatum story is entering national consciousness in three parts. (1) U.S.-led airstrike on May 28 kills Afghan women and children in Helmand Province. (2) Afghan President Hamid Karzai delivers ultimatum on U.S. airstrikes -- stop, or else Afghans will revolt against U.S. “occupation.” (3) US-led forces (ISAF) apologize.

A crucial part is missing. I refer to the shooting, also on May 28, that killed a U.S. Marine on patrol in Helmand, triggering the fighting which led to the airstrike that Karzai would take to the microphone on the world stage. Neither Karzai, nor, come to think of it, ISAF has made much noise about this fallen Marine. In ultimatum news stories, he remains anonymous. In the rush to apologize, his sacrifice is overlooked.

But I think I’ve found him. The only American killed in Helmand Province on May 28 was Lance Cpl. Peter Clore. He was 23 years old.

Only six weeks in Afghanistan, Clore and his war dog Duke were leading a patrol to find and clear IEDs somewhere in Zad District. That’s only hundreds of miles from Kabul, but it’s nearly 7,000 miles from Clore’s hometown of New Philadelphia, Ohio (pop. 17,000). Shots rang out and Clore was hit. He died. His fellow Marines pursued the attackers who took refuge in a compound where they continued to fire at Marines. At some point -- details aren't just sketchy, they're unavailable -- the Marines called for an airstrike on the building the militants were in.

This takes us to where the consensus narrative begins with its familiar prompts and conditioned reflexes: women and children killed in a U.S. airstrike; Afghan outrage; American apology. Lost in the diplomatic furor -- along with the life of this young Marine -- is the fact that in calling on Americans not to strike at Taliban-filled houses, Karzai is demanding a free-fire zone for insurgents.

That's fine -- for Karzai and the Afghan forces he ostensibly commands. Let him send Afghans, not Americans, to patrol the IED-laced byways of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan. Let's see what that Potemkin Police Force and Ghost Army, which a delusional Pentagon and a snoring Congress think they have created with your money, can really do.

Why does the image of Bernie Madoff in uniform come to mind? Because this whole nation-building misadventure in Afghanistan is a mirage, a dream that young Americans in our armed forces are paying to perpetuate with their limbs, their lives -- and that includes their own “hearts and minds” -- in a nightmare many never wake from. Meanwhile, any of our gold still left in Fort Knox spills out onto the Afghan rubble and disappears.

This is the part of the Afghan story that escapes mainstream notice. Even the latest figures on civilian casualties, as reported by the U.N. Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA), fail to interrupt the continuous loop of Afghan grievance and American guilt. But here they are: In 2010, out of 2,777 civilian deaths in Afghanistan, the United Nations links "anti-government elements” to 2,080. Pro-government forces -- that’s us -- were linked 440 civilian deaths. To crunch the numbers further, 75 percent of all civilian deaths in 2010 came at the hands of jihadist forces (up 28 percent from 2009), while only 16 percent were linked to pro-government forces (down 26 percent from 2009).

You don’t have to be a believer in counter-insurgency (COIN) theory to realize that something very wrong happened when Karzai’s ultimatum regarding civilian casualties went unrebuffed. To say that it was a slap at the all-out efforts of our armed forces is to say what their leaders should have said -- rather than apologized.

But here’s the thing. If, rather than apologizing at every Karzai outrage, military leaders were to trumpet their own success, in this case, at reducing civilian casualties in Afghanistan, these COINdinistas would be blowing taps for their own strategy. The fact that NATO forces are still despised from Helmand to Kunduz to Kabul despite reaching such a benchmark further reveals the extent to which nation-building by winning “hearts and minds” by, in large part, reducing civilian casualties is a travesty.

Far better, they seem to think, to bow and scrape and let inertia takes its endless course. Otherwise, we, the people, just might conclude that an entirely different ultimatum is in order, one directed at our generals and their political sponsors: Get out, or else.

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