US Kills Afghan Civilians

The AP reports that a false positive led to a US attack on innocent civilians in Afghanistan:

An American bombing that killed up to 90 Afghan civilians last month was based on false information provided by a rival tribe and did not kill a single Taliban fighter, the president’s spokesman said Sunday.

The claim contradicted a U.S. contention that the Aug. 22 raid on the western village of Azizabad killed up to 35 Taliban fighters.

Although the new more sophisticated campaigns are a big improvement over prior years of conventional warfare they are not without serious risk. It should be obvious that to make progress, intelligence gathering has to be able to factor in social issues such as rivalries and politics in order to determine military targets and potential for “blow back”.

I am reminded of this again today, when looking at first-person photographs of the US bombing campaign in Somalia:

People walk through rubble after U.S. war planes killed an Islamist rebel said to be al Qaeda’s leader in Somalia and as many as 30 other people in Dusamareb, May 1, 2008. REUTERS/Abdi Guled

Information integrity is a cornerstone of intelligence-based warfare. A related problem, I have noticed recently, is pressure in American politics by those who say they are defiant and suspicious of “highly-educated” people and anyone who presents a data or fact-based approach to problems. I think some Americans approach food in a way that is an apt metaphor for their military and political strategy:

We fry things nobody ever considered friable – things like cupcakes, banana sandwiches and batter dipped artificial cheeseā€¦even pickles.

Fire, ready, aim. Did I lose the good with the bad? Civilians? Facts? Unfortunate. Fry again.

Republican Sen. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska said that Palin and other critics were not helping the GOP by tossing out false claims. Portions of the Democratic health care bills “are bad enough that we don’t need to be making things up,” Murkowski said, invoking a phrase that Palin used in her resignation speech, when she asked the news media to “quit making things up.”

This is not to condemn firing or frying, but to say that both need to be handled with care and a focus on outcomes or they may makes things worse than what existed before. At this point I feel like taking this story into a historical reference to the Maginot-line but perhaps that will be a post for another day.

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