No More Mistaken Fire

It sounds like a little boys' toy gun fight, a scuffle that, when the dust cleared, left six Afghan police and one civilian killed yesterday at the hands of shamed U.S. troops.

U.S. Special Forces opened fire Wednesday on the police near a Afghan police checkpoint, according to a U.S. military statement today, right after the police fired at them following an operation to kill an armed militant there. The troops thought the police were Taliban, and reacted -- shooting -- without checking. The troops had not warned the Afghan police that they'd be there.

Col. Jerry O'Hara, a U.S. military spokesman, stated he deeply regrets the "mistaken fire," which also collapsed the police checkpoint roof and damaged a nearby home.

But this "mistaken fire," a tragic result of sloppy planning and disproportionate response, will keep on raging. When more U.S. troops arrive in Afghanistan, they're bound to create more violence, more suffering and more recruits for the Taliban and Al Qaeda, and, of course, civilian "accidents." This accident will be just the beginning.

At the height of the U.S. invasion in 2001, hundreds of innocent Afghan civilians were killed and maimed by U.S. "smart bombs." Seven years later, they continue to be killed and maimed, U.S. soldiers are dying in greater numbers -- about 153 so far this year -- and the Taliban has a presence in 72 percent of the country according to a recent International Council on Security and Development report. It will be impossible to conquer tribal forces in a vast, rugged, thinly populated country like Afghanistan and the tribal areas of Pakistan.

But a much greater military presence is on its way, and even deeper into the heart of the country. Officials for the Marines plan to send anywhere between 3,000 to 5,000 troops to Afghanistan in 2009, according to a recent ABC News report, and about 3,700 Army troops will be sent south of Kabul -- allowing the potential for unrest and civilian deaths at the hands of the U.S. to officially spread from the Pakistan border closer to the formerly unoccupied areas further within the country.

It'll be a logistical nightmare, too. U.S. military officials are wracking their brains to determine how to create the best supply routes to the country. Not only is the terrain challenging, but the U.S. must work through or around Pakistan, and it has far less secure access to roads and skies there. In comparison, Iraq was a breeze.

That's a part of the plan for Afghani war lords, who hope to keep up the fight and "bleed U.S. troops," according to an interview in Time magazine with military expert Stephen Biddle of the Council on Foreign Relations. And, according to another interview in Time with one former NATO official, the Afghan warlords are like shrapnel lodged in an artery -- pulling it out may be worse than risking infection. "There are so many other things we have to worry about, so why go and open this can of worms?"

The world cannot afford many -- any -- more "mistaken fires." President-elect Obama must instead pursue a negotiated settlement with the more moderate elements of the Taliban and Afghan women. He must keep this can closed.