04 March 2011

Trauma mounts in advance of uncertain spring

Aerostats, unmanned airships designed for intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance, are common in the skies over Kabul.

KABUL, Afghanistan—There is a seasonal ebb and surge to warfare fought on the ground in places like Afghanistan. The winters, especially in the frozen mountains, limit the movement of men with guns and explosives, but when spring thaws, the troops and weapons move more easily, the attacks escalate, and the blood flows more readily.

The generals in the field and behind the desks are predicting this spring will be particularly violent as the resurgent Taliban factions attempt to wrest more control of the countryside from a paralyzed and corrupt state.

Unlike recent years, there was little lull this winter. Insurgent strikes have occurred with alarming regularity in banks, supermarket, government offices, along roadsides, at homes, even at dog fights and fields for buzkashi, the national sport in which men on horseback vie for possession of a goat carcass. Their relatively low-tech weapons are small arms, grenades, shoulder-fired missiles, and endlessly improvised explosive devices. The most effective attacks as of late have involve the self-detonation of human bodies, which are almost too commonplace to shock.

The western powers support ground operations from the air with sophisticated helicopter gunships, fighter planes or missiles fired from unmanned vehicles, which are less affected by cold and snow. On Tuesday, two NATO attack helicopters, responding to a rocket strike in Kunar province that wounded a U.S. civilian, opened fire on what proved to ten boys collecting firewood, killing nine of them. Pres. Barack Obama expressed “deep regret” for what U.S. Lt. General David Rodriguez called “a terrible mistake.” And last month, in the same province, 64 civilians, including 20 women and 15 children, were killed a joint operation by NATO's International Security Assistance Force and Afghan troops, reports CNN.

Meanwhile, mounting casualties in a traumatized civilian population are public relations victories for an insurgency eager to portray itself as nationalist resistance to an occupying foreign army.

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