Take a moment to let that sink in.
These were men living the Helmand and Kandahar provinces, areas which consistently hosted intense fighting between U.S. and Taliban forces. By that point, their country had been occupied by America for nearly a decade. Some were living in refugee camps in an attempt to escape the conflict.
And they had no idea why America invaded or what happened in the event which occasioned war. A Wall Street Journal reporter asked one 16-year-old refugee who left his village when it became too violent if he knew about the 2001 attack.
“Never heard of it,” the boy replied. “I have no idea why the Americans are in my country.”
Needless to say, this knowledge gap massively encouraged local hostility toward the U.S. “The lack of awareness of why we are there contributes to the high levels of negativity toward the NATO military operations and made the job of the Taliban easier,” said ICOS president Norine MacDonald.
“Nobody explained to them the 9/11 story—and it’s hard to win the hearts and minds of the fighting-age males in Helmand if they don’t even know why the foreigners are here,” she added. “There is a vacuum—and it’s being filled by al Qaeda and Taliban propaganda claiming that we are here to destroy Islam.”
Teaching Afghans about 9/11—as MacDonald suggested—would be difficult, as almost half the country is younger than 18 and nearly 3 in 4 adults are illiterate. Add to that rough terrain, remote villages, and years of displacement and chaos and it is all but certain that the average Afghan will never find out why the Americans are in their country.
With all that in mind, consider this week’s announcement of new rules of engagement for the ongoing war in Afghanistan:
The Obama administration has loosened the rules of engagement for U.S. forces striking the Islamic State and affiliated groups in Afghanistan, allowing them to target militants just for being associated with the terror network, a senior defense official confirmed to Fox News.
The new authorization now puts ISIS in the same category as Al Qaeda in Afghanistan.
Previously, the militants could only be targeted if they showed what’s known as hostile intent.
“Now,” a U.S. official told Fox News, “we can kill ISIS in Afghanistan just for wearing the T-shirt or waving their flag.”
We have a country full of people who don’t understand why the opposing powers in their region are fighting each other.
Most of them are illiterate, which means they can’t read, for example, what an ISIS flag or t-shirt says.
Even if they do know what it says and that it is used by ISIS, the exact same flag is also used by multiple other groups—because it’s not a flag of ISIS’ own creation. In fact, the design uses common Islamic imagery which could easily be distinguished by a literate person but might confuse someone who, again, can’t read.
The Obama administration’s rules of engagement have long been too vague, allowing the White House to claim that any adult male killed in a drone strike is a terrorist, even when there’s no actual evidence to support that claim. This “guilty until proven innocent” rule gives the president free rein—all while pretending that every kill is a success.
Many of these men are simply poor farmers in the wrong place at the wrong time.
These new rules of engagement will only make that bad situation worse—while engendering even more hatred among people who still don’t know why they’re being bombed.