Though the Pentagon finally took responsibility for the Afghan civilian deaths in last month's Farah province airstrikes, we're only seeing minor adjustments toward a deeply flawed military strategy in need of a complete overhaul.
Late last week, Adm. Michael Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs, said US troops were responsible for civilian casualties in the May 4 airstrike, during which B-1 bombers unleashed three 2000 lb bombs and five 500 lb bombs on a village compound, killing up to 140 Afghan civilians. Following Mullen's admission, Gen. Stanley McChrystal announced plans to limit the use of these deadly airstrikes in populated areas. Meanwhile, McChrystal will also issue orders in the coming days to disengage from combat whenever possible in order to reduce the number of civilian casualties. According to McChrystal's spokesman, Rear Admiral Greg Smith, "Even if you are receiving fire from a structure, the first question you have to ask is: 'Can I de-escalate the situation by removing my force or relocating it'?"
Shouldn't commanders on the ground have been asking themselves this question all along? And why has it taken military leaders this long to restrict airstrikes to more uninhabited areas? Either McChrystal's plans signal a genuine shift in military strategy, or we're just seeing a PR maneuver on McChrystal's end -- an attempt to save face because the soaring civilian death toll could quickly become inversely proportionate to the war's popularity. I'm betting on the latter, considering McChrystal's predecessor, Gen. McKiernan, tried a similar tactical shift last year when US airstrikes resulted in an inordinate number of civilian deaths. As I noted last week, this could easily be part of the Pentagon's plan to take greater control of the media narrative regarding the war.
Either way, it's time for action, and just in time for Afghanistan Exit Action Day. As Congress prepares to authorize $550 billion in military spending along with an additional $130 billion to fight the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan -- more federal dollars than Bush ever requested -- Rep. Jim McGovern is proposing a bill that requires Defense Secretary Gates to establish an exit strategy. In addition to the stand-alone bill, McGovern intends to propose this as an amendment to the House Armed Services Committee wartime spending bill making its way to the House floor today.
At HuffPo, Tom Andrews emphasized the vital importance of setting an exit strategy:
I realize how hard it may seem for Congressional Democrats to require the Obama administration to develop an exit strategy as a condition for continued funding. After all, this is our guy, right? The last thing our guy needs is a Democratic Congress second guessing, making demands, and putting conditions on the war.
But this is exactly what we and the administration need precisely because he is our guy.
Unlike Mr. Limbaugh, we want and need President Obama to succeed. The very real prospect of the United States embedded in an endless war in Afghanistan would undermine everything this administration is trying to do while imperiling the very Congressional Democrats President Obama needs to move his agenda.
Though McGovern currently has 91 co-sponsors, we can get that number to over 100 and give this bill real visibility by the time the House votes on it later today or tomorrow. Call your Representative at (202) 224-3121 and:
1. urge her/him to co-sponsor Rep. Jim McGovern's Afghanistan Exit Strategy bill -- H.R. 2404
2. vote for Rep. McGovern's amendment to the Defense Authorization bill (H.R. 2647)
Over at After Downing Street, David Swanson has the full list of co-sponsors as well as the latest updates on this story. And for more ways to take action, become a Peacemaker and you will be alerted whenever there are civilian casualties to call our government and protest the current US foreign policy.