I’ve got a number of things I’d like to write about, and I would ignore this tripe as being inane; but it is filled with the type of self-righteous drivel that is heard in America from time to time. It passes for “academic” thought, I suppose, but it shouldn’t. It is at least presented as if it were academic thought, because the author couches his blog with a term that refers to a social science, anthropology. The author claims academic credit. He teaches at a university, although that doesn’t speak well for the school. In fact, it speaks rather poorly for it. I’ve come to view the author with a very jaded eye. I lump him in with such charlatans as Robert Young Pelton. It’s amazing how charlatans tend to clump together into clots. Pelton is quoted in the posting to which I am referring today.
Maximillian Forte, the author of “Open Anthropology,” and an outspoken critic of the Human Terrain System, posted began his post today by framing further discussion on terms of rape, shoplifting and gangsterism. Having thus childishly explained his reasoning process he examines the Marine efforts in Helmand Province in the same light. While it is a bumbling literary trick, it does cast illumination on the thinking of the “anti-war” crowd. While Mr. Forte is a Canadian and teaches in Canada, a fact for which I do not blame the Canadians as a whole, he has managed to congeal in one gelatinous clot the arguments of many of the “anti-war” crowd. He has also captured the essence of a festering affinity for extremist propaganda that exists in North America, notably in some small but significant numbers in the United States. That is the only reason that I’m even giving his self-righteous polemic the dignity of a response; because it gives me the opportunity to address some truly egregious lies that exist in the open in America. Those who read this blog regularly don’t buy into such lies. This is for those who may stray across these words, that they may be offered a the choice to listen to one who has been on the ground over one who hasn’t.
Yes, it means that much to have walked the actual dust and stones of Afghanistan rather than sitting in an office at Concordia University in Montreal, Canada.
Forte asks a question that begs an answer about the Marines in Helmand.
It begins with this article posted prominently on Yahoo! by the Associated Press for this date, titled “Marine mission to protect Afghans slows progress.” It was to me, and hopefully to anyone with a memory capacity larger than a gnat’s, possibly the most outlandish headline to be seen in a long time. The Marines are protecting Afghans? The Marines? Protecting?
Yes, protecting. The Marines are there to clear the Taliban from the area, a group that is supported the a greater proportion of the population of Helmand than in most areas of the country, but still much less than the 51% that would be required in a developed, well-governed country like Canada, or the United States for that matter, for a particular group to hold sway. They hold sway there because they have weapons and they are not afraid to use them. They hold sway in part because they have, during their bloody reign, mostly destroyed the beneficial tribal and village leadership structures which used to provide a social framework that held together communities, filling the void with their own twisted brand of political leadership. As an anthropologist, Mr. Forte would do well to actually do some research on the destruction of these traditional structures, structures which the Taliban have found to be obstacles in the path of their dominance.
Mr. Forte then goes on to paint the Marines as bloodthirsty and wanton destroyers of villages.
The Marines, in not being allowed to raze a village and mow everyone in their path, are “protecting” civilians, clearly from the Marines themselves:
The British jet called in by the U.S. Marines had the Taliban position in sight, but the pilot refused to fire, a decision that frustrated Marines on the ground….
Forte clearly has no grip on the reality of Afghanistan. Marines don’t, nor have they ever, razed any villages in Afghanistan. They suffer from no compunction to “mow everything in their path.” The Marines are actually much better versed in counterinsurgency warfare than the Army is, on the whole. My Army cohorts may not like to hear that, but the ones in the know realize this and say it readily themselves. The Marines tend to “get it” more than the Army does. They are not there to “raze a village.”
No matter how much you “get it,” it is frustrating to get shot at and not be able to shoot back, or to have decisive firepower refused when you know where the enemy hides is frustrating. That frustration does not equate to a desire to raze a village. Now Forte becomes a Hague lawyer:
Since the Marines are frustrated that they cannot fire, they are “protecting” civilians, as if they should be praised for doing what is legally required of US/NATO occupation forces under the international legal conventions that they signed on to, and that acquired force as part of their domestic laws. Not being excessively aggressive, and committing war crimes, is reconstructed as benevolence, rather than a basic minimum. Not being an outright brute, is represented as moderation. It’s a very short and smooth road to sainthood for warriors forced to respect the mandates of the Fourth Geneva Convention relative to the Protection of Civilian Persons in Time of War (1949) (see also here). This is humanitarianism, as a default starting point.
Forte shows an amazing lack of knowledge of the laws of war to which he presumes to lecture. Belligerents are not required to refrain from applying firepower to their enemy. Not at all. They are merely required to avoid collateral (meaning unintended) damage to the greatest extent possible while in the course of defending themselves. They are also permitted to continue offensive operations, and any dwelling, church, mosque, hospital or other structure which the enemy is using as a firing or observation position is not afforded any special protection under the laws of war, having forfeited any such protection upon being used as a fighting position. No, Forte has no concept. I’ve got news for him; thousands of civilians have been killed since the overthrow of the Taliban regime in late 2001 and early 2002. Most of them have been killed by those selfsame Taliban that Mr. Forte so fawningly worships as “freedom fighters” and “Mujaheddin.”
While the casualties that have been caused by the coalition have been unintentional, those of the Taliban have not been. The deaths of innocents, and particularly of government supporters, are carefully orchestrated for effect. We have not left bombs in crowded civilian areas. We have not hung men for having currency in their pockets that we found disagreeable. We have not shot women in the head after dragging them from a car for working on a Taliban installation. We have at times been gullible. Each of those bombed wedding parties was bombed due to poor intelligence, usually provided by a person who had a grudge against the family, and sometimes because the Taliban wanted a family harmed and planted “intelligence” which gave them the double whammy of harming their opponent while giving them a visible sign of American or Coalition “disregard” for Afghan lives.
Forte also quotes a section of the Geneva Conventions that applies to occupying powers, which the United States and its NATO partners are not. Regardless of the rantings of Forte, the coalition members are here to assist the Government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan. That is not an occupation. The United Nations passed a resolution and is here in force. The NATO forces in Afghanistan are engaged in assisting a lawfully elected and constituted government in establishing control over its territory and in the construction/reconstruction of a war-torn country besieged from within and without by an extremist insurgency which the people of Afghanistan overwhelmingly do not support.
Now, there are various and sundry other dynamics at work, the complexities of which Forte shows no grasp of whatsoever, which is interesting for an anthropologist. This demonstrates why, after many years in the field, he is an Associate professor of Anthropology, instead of a full professor. It be can surmised from his unwillingness and inability to plumb the depths of the troubles and challenges of Afghan society as being due to his propensity for grasping at low-hanging fruit and his propensity for emotional outbursts such as the one we are delving into now. This, tainted with the brush of his political ineptitude, demonstrated by his insistence on attempting to portray a band of criminals as being on the same par as the Mujaheddin who were part of a very popular resistance to the Soviet Union’s expedition into Afghanistan in the 1980′s. Afghans themselves would tell Forte that he’s way off base on that point. I’ve had countless Afghans explain to me precisely why the Taliban don’t rate the name, “Mujaheddin.” Their logic is impeccable. It is Muslim, and it is local. Forte wouldn’t have any idea what to do with indigenous opinions, being that he is the caliber of anthropologist that he is.
Just today in Twitter, I spotted this statement: “Rough time 4 soldiers fighting terrorists and building communities in Afghanistan.” Building communities — after massive aerial bombings over a period of eight years. Building communities — as if Afghanistan had no communities before Americans slammed into the country. “Fighting terrorists” as if those who fight soldiers, foreign invaders, can now be re-branded as “terrorists” in spite of common definitions premised on the idea that terrorism involves the deliberate, indiscriminate killing of non-combatants, a category that automatically excludes soldiers.
Mass bombings is a powerful term. It brings visions of Arclight B-52 bombings to mind. Now, granted there were B-52 sorties against entrenched Taliban positions in the early days of the rout of the Taliban from power by the US-assisted Northern Alliance, but ladies gents, I’m here to tell you that the bombings in Afghanistan that I have had personal knowledge of involved one or two weapons per event and they were precision weapons. Precision weapons don’t mean “no mistakes.” They mean that nobody was dropping ordnance willy-nilly with absolutely no regard for civilian deaths. So, Forte waxes theatrical again. So do any who parrot his dissemblings.
It does bring one to wonder what Forte and his ilk think of the always deliberate, sometimes indiscriminate and sometimes targeted killing of non-combatants by the Taliban, HiG and other anti-government elements in Afghanistan. It makes one wonder what Forte thinks of hanging a man and leaving his body in public for days under threat of death to anyone who would give the corpse the decency of a burial in accordance with Islamic rules. It also demonstrates the absolute ignorance of the fact that the Taliban have killed more Afghan civilians, by far, than they have NATO Soldiers. Yet Forte lauds these types of mean as “freedom fighters.” What a strange, sad little man to be so led by his hatred of Soldiers and Marines into praising men who would perform such acts; acts of barbarism which are not performed by NATO forces or the Afghan National Security Forces. Forte misguidedly quotes Reagan, a man whom he despises and attempts to use as some sort of boomerang against his foes, as being somehow supportive, in death, of the Taliban.
Let us not forget that many of these gallant, freedom loving, heroic mujahideen became what we know today as the Taliban.
While it is true that some Taliban fought as part of a couple of factions as Mujaheddin, the great majority of Mujaheddin are not Taliban. I’ve met many Mujaheddin who are now members of the Afghan National Army and Afghan National Police. One day in early August, 2007, I sat in the home of one of the key Mujaheddin leaders in Kapisa Province, who explained to me why he saw no reason to take up arms against the United States. He did not see the US as an occupation force. He saw that our intentions were good. He also reserved the right to decide at any point that his opinion had changed and that he would again pick up arms. He supported the Afghan Government, and while he saw huge challenges and was dismayed with the ineptitude and corruption, he preferred an elected government to a dictatorial theocracy.
Had Forte, or any who share his twisted concepts, ever bothered to get the dust of Afghanistan upon their loafers, they would know such things as naturally as they draw breath. Forte would be deeply disillusioned by what he would find in Afghanistan. He would find that he was totally, completely and irretrievably clueless. If he were half the scientist he claims to be on his CV, he would realize that speaking so with absolutely no real knowledge of his subject is, well, unscientific.
He would also know better than to quote Robert Young Pelton about Afghanistan. A scientist should have the knowledge to recognize a lying charlatan when he meets one. Instead this “scientist” quotes him, as if lies would carry buffoonery forward into becoming fact.
Finally, Forte reflexively cannot resist another reference to the Human Terrain System; the perpetual bug up his bum. He retells the tragic story of a female researcher, Paula Loyd, who was murdered by an angry Afghan man. No one knows for sure why Abdul Salam set her on fire. Don Ayala, a colleague, fatally shot Salam immediately after the murderous attack. Now Forte paints Ayala as a mercenary and Loyd as very much deserving of her fate. Forte displays a picture of Ayala and Loyd, claiming that, “few would be willing to bet their wages that there is a woman in that photo.” Why? Because she is wearing a helmet? She is very obviously a woman. This criticism is very strange coming from a man who apparently purposely created an avatar of himself on his website bearing a remarkable resemblance to Vladimir Lenin. Forte muses that because she didn’t look like a woman, and did resemble a soldier, she was a legitimate target of an Afghan civilian. He leaves us with this bizarre bit of nonsense:
Salam was a liberator. He liberated Loyd from a prolonged career of selling her services to militarism, and thus to terrorism. Never again would she be used as a human shield by the American terrorists. However, Salam did not kill everyone on her patrol: that’s because he was protecting them.
That is some of the most heinous and hateful speech I’ve ever seen directed against what should have been a colleague in Forte’s mind. His malevolent misogyny belies his portrayal of himself as the fair-minded arbiter of Taliban legitmacy as “freedom fighters” or Mujaheddin.
Some day, I would like to have a chat with the board of regents of Concordia University and ask them what in the bloody hell they were thinking about when they hired this so-called “scientist.” I’m even more amazed that they have tolerated his bizarre ramblings over the course of the time that I have been aware of Forte’s gymnastic buffoonery.
As I said when I started this deconstruction of the self-proclaimed “scientist,” it should have been left in the dustbin of obscurity; but there are others who mimic his line of dislogic. This is more to demonstrate the absolute buffoonery of those who even raise the term, “occupation,” those who would deign to call Taliban and HiG insurgents “freedom fighters” or “Mujaheddin.” They have no idea what they are talking about.
Afghanistan has deep challenges on many levels. Many are self-inflicted, and many are the result of a society literally eviscerated by 30 years of conflict, both externally and internally motivated. These problems will not be solved overnight. Forte and his ilk are politically motivated, but thank God that they are not as motivated as the men and women that I work with, who are willing to risk their lives in order to make our nations safer by securing this society, one of the poorest nations in the world. Afghans are a mix of many ethnic groups, and they struggle to find an “Afghan” identity, even in the middle of a siege brought upon them by those who would seize power and again govern by fear of physical abuse, torture, deprivation and death. An officer recently stood and spoke about how we should all be here just for Afghanistan. I told him, “No, I’m here to protect my children. It just so happens that in order for my children to be secure, the children of Afghanistan must be secure. That’s why I am willing to do this.”
The great thing is that Max Forte and his ilk are only willing to run their mouths. Words have great power, but words have considerably less power when there is no willingness to put one’s life on the line for them. Forte will not risk his life for his words.
I am for mine.
It is up to the reader to decide who to believe; the “scientist,” or the Soldier.