Cultural Friction is a Much More Frightening Problem than Taliban Infiltration.

CSM uses the findings of a Pentagon investigation into the recent Qur’an burning incident to springboard  into the escalating trend of “green on blue” violence in Afghanistan:

The top US commander in Afghanistan, Gen. John Allen, told reporters in a video press conference last week that as many as a quarter of the incidents are the work of Taliban or Taliban sympathizers infiltrating the Afghan forces.

[General Allen] acknowledged – and most outside experts concur – that most of the “insider attacks” appear to be the result of growing resentments and frictions that build up as more recruits from a very conservative society are in close contact with the often young military personnel of a different culture. Some Afghans become heated to the point of lashing out over actions that US soldiers may consider inconsequential. Examples that Afghans give include profanity-laced banter and casual references to women and sex. The US military is trying to address the deteriorating relations by stepping up predeployment cultural-sensitivity training and issuing guidelines for dos and don’ts in the field.

To my mind, the increase in attacks based on cultural friction is far more troubling than that based on Taliban infiltration.  Infiltration is a tactical problem with tactical solutions.  In contrast, the idea that, 11 years in, we are “trying to address the deteriorating relations by stepping up predeployment cultural-sensitivity training” much more fundamentally exposes the bankruptcy of both the ISAF narrative to help the Afghans build a strong nation-state and its supporting hero myth narrative through which the US understands its military servicemembers.  Even with the stakes as high as they are, and with all that could have been learned over the past 11 years (to say nothing of what could have been taken from past conflicts), US servicemembers simply will not exercise the restraint to avoid cultural offense, nor will US society exercise the maturity to admit that the military cannot bring us the heads of unicorns merely because we insist that they “need” to.

On the other side of the coin is the humanitarian’s dilemma: That Afghans view murder as an acceptable response to “casual references to women and sex” makes it difficult for this white 29-year old New Yorker to want to help them. It’s increasingly difficult for me to see how we stay true to our values while empowering Afghanistan to be what its values would have it be.  I would love to hear arguments on how we can successfully navigate this issue.

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