There is no perfect option

by Joshua Foust on 3/22/2008

While I cringe at the idea of missile strikes in Pakistan—no matter the attention or care paid, there will be innocent people killed in the process (especially when a target is missed and vows increased attacks)—it is also useful to point out the risks of house raids. I tend to prefer raids, because, at least ideally, they can be more targeted: soldiers on the ground have much greater real-time decision-making, and an M-16 is a much more precise and limited weapon than a Hellfire missile or Howitzer round.

House raids, however, not a perfect solution either:

At least six people have been killed after US forces raided an Afghan home near the border with Pakistan, officials say.

Khyber Pashtun, a spokesman for the governor of Khost province, said one woman and two children were among the dead.

The raid began early on Wednesday in the village of Hom, and lasted for about an hour.

According to Mirza Gul, a villager from Hom, three men were also killed, including one who worked as a border policeman patrolling the region between Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Gul also said that angry villagers gathered at daybreak, chanting anti-US slogans.

Al Jazeera’s Waliullah Shahin, reporting from Kabul, the capital, said that local residents refused to bury the dead until the Afghan government provided a “sufficient reason” for the operation.

Now come on, “Khyber Pashtun” is simply a ridiculous name. But the problem here is manifold as well: in a gun fight, people get hurt and killed. It sucks, but a lot of the time it is a sadly necessary evil. And at least raids make it easier to create the impression Western governments are trying to be limited in how they go after the bad guys (precision artillery and bombs still can lend a rather indiscriminate impression). But the gunfight itself is not really what worries me: if a major Taliban leader had been captured or killed, it could be justified as a successful operation. Unfortunately, the raid only resulted in “two suspected fighters” being detained… at the cost of between three and six civilians’ lives.

This kind of thing, sadly, reinforces the growing belief that, to the US and NATO, life—that is, non-Western life—is cheap (in a real sense it is, as we obsessively count the number of our own dead in operations, but just as often write off civilian dead as either uncounted “collateral” or outright Taliban propaganda).

But imagine for a moment if the LAPD displayed such metrics in conducting house raids: two minor thugs arrested while women and children are shot up in their homes. There would be riots in the streets. In Afghanistan, we call that victory.

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This post was written by...

– author of 1848 posts on 17_PersonNotFound.

Joshua Foust is a Fellow at the American Security Project and the author of Afghanistan Journal: Selections from His research focuses primarily on Central and South Asia. Joshua is a correspondent for The Atlantic and a columnist for PBS Need to Know. Joshua appears regularly on the BBC World News, Aljazeera, and international public radio. Joshua's writing has appeared in the Columbia Journalism Review, Foreign Policy’s AfPak Channel, the New York Times, Reuters, and the Christian Science Monitor. Follow him on twitter: @joshuafoust

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