Last Saturday a suicide bomber attacked a joint NATO/Afghan convoy in Qalat, the capital of Zabul Province, killing five Americans and wounding an unknown number. It is not clear if the target was Governor Mohammed Ashraf Naseri or NATO’s Provincial Reconstruction Team (PRT). The convoy was en route with school books for a new Afghan school. Ever since, there has been silence from NATO over the fate of the books. This might seem to be a trivial matter in comparison to the tragic loss of life, but this question reveals an important flaw in Western tactics, which is helping NATO to lose the war.
The U.S. and NATO war efforts run on press releases and photo opportunities. There is a never-ending stream of both; 99% of which are ignored because they have no news value. Sometimes it seems as if the goal is to appear to be winning the war, rather than actually winning. The amount of military resources devoted to protecting these media events appears to be considerable and has to detract from the counterinsurgency effort. In the Qalat incident, there was little apparent value in concentrating so many important people for a simple school book distribution. The cost of this military operation seemed to far outweigh the potential benefits (if any) from this planned photo opportunity. For years, the very expensive PRT program has been under scrutiny by auditors who question whether it is being effectively managed.
Regardless of the larger accountability issues, there is the question of these Qalat school books. One problem for NATO is that it seems to never miss an opportunity to miss an opportunity. If the Taliban were seeking to prevent NATO from delivering these school books, they apparently succeeded. U.S. and NATO officials are so used to churning out meaningless press stories that they failed to recognize an important press story when it appears. When a bombing occurs, the first priority is to treat and evacuate the wounded and then to respectfully transport the dead back to their families. The third priority is to accomplish the mission. The best way to honor the dead is to ensure that their last mission is not aborted. NATO should have reported that the convoy continued to the school and delivered the books, even if only one damaged book remained. That would have been a press release of value. It would have conveyed a sense of honor, courage and commitment. It would have demonstrated to the Afghan people and the world that the Taliban cannot succeed. Alas, U.S. and NATO officials instead apparently scurried back to the safety of their base forts and the Taliban won the day.
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry then made matters worse with a ridiculous press statement. He said that the suicide bomber was “determined to bring darkness and death to total strangers.” Apparently Secretary Kerry believes that combatants should only kill people they know. In addition, to state that the Taliban are bringing “darkness” to Americans in Afghanistan implies that the Taliban campaign is taking its toll on U.S. forces. Score another victory for the Taliban.
The sad loss of these American military and civilian officials was then offset by another NATO blunder. Newspapers from Australia to Great Britain were filled with the developing story of a NATO air strike that killed eleven Afghan children in the Shigal district of Kunar Province. The initial AP/CBS News headline was “10 Kids Dead in NATO Airstrike.” Score yet another propaganda victory for the Taliban.
In summary, what started out as a NATO photo opportunity in Qalat, resulted in five dead and a string of Taliban propaganda victories. The Taliban are not winning the war as much as U.S. and NATO blunders are losing it. As there is no accountability within the U.S./NATO war effort, the inept will remain at their posts as the casualties mount and victory slips away.
This author would still like to know what happened to the school books.