Sunday, August 10, 2008

War in Afghanistan: a tour of hell

For all the money, technology and military might America can throw at the Taliban, conditions at the US Army's most attacked outpost in Afghanistan are reminiscent of the First World War trenches. Report by Stuart Webb

Just after dawn at Forward Operating Base Salerno, the Chinooks, Apaches and Black Hawks are starting their engines. Amid the building roar of the helicopters, the camp comes alive. In this part of eastern Afghanistan, Salerno provides the gateway to a string of isolated American military outposts along the frontier with Pakistan. No one is in a hurry to board the helicopter destined for Combat Outpost Margha. As the ground slips away, the tail-gunner takes up position on the Chinook's open ramp and the banter between the men evaporates. The soldiers, 18 of them, have a grim resignation about them now.

Combat Outpost Margha
Soldiers from the 173rd Airborne Brigade arrive at Combat Outpost Margha, pockets stuffed with ammunition

Among US forces in Afghanistan, Margha has a formidable reputation, and is the most attacked combat outpost in Paktika province. Located at the top of a mountain on the lawless, porous border between Pakistan and Afghanistan, it is one of the farthest flung and most vulnerable outposts in America's global war against terrorism.

Once these troops from the 173rd Airborne Brigade are dropped here they are effectively cut off from the outside world. Most are young, in their late teens and early twenties. With every pocket and pouch stuffed with ammunition, and chests crossed with grenade belts, they already look battle-hardened. Some were only 12 years old when the Twin Towers came down in 2001 - a stark reminder of how long the war has been going on.

The mountains seem to go on for ever. Under their gaze have passed some of the greatest warriors and empires in history: from Alexander the Great and Genghis Khan to the British and Soviet armies. These men are just the latest to pass through.

As we skim the ground, the gunners - fingers on triggers - scan the trees and boulders that flash past. The view is beautiful, yet across this frontier the Taliban come and go freely, mounting attacks, resupplying and regenerating. Looking down at the endless landscape, it seems impossible that all the gaps in this border could ever be plugged. Many commanders in both Britain and America accept that the war cannot be won by military means alone. From up here, you can see why. The most powerful military capabilities in the world count for nothing in Paktika. For all the technology, money and might, the young men in this helicopter are at the sharp end of an old-fashioned war.

A puff of white smoke from a signal flare on the ground guides us in. A pyramid-shaped mountain looms into view - nothing but steep sides and sharp ridges. Army engineers have somehow managed to carve a tiny shoulder for a landing spot and the Chinook hovers for some time to line up. We sit uncomfortably, suspended and exposed, while a Black Hawk swirls around to provide cover. Finally, the ramp lowers and the men pile off, the speed of their exit matched by the speed of the 18 men getting on. Hours before our arrival, Margha had been hit by six Taliban-fired rockets. On this occasion, no one had been hurt.

The soldiers head immediately for cover. Margha is looked down on by a series of towering ridges. The main ridge forms the border with Pakistan and it is from here that most of the frequent rocket and mortar attacks come: the soldiers call it Rocket Ridge. The troops at Margha - always men - come under a serious rocket and mortar attack from the Taliban at least once a week. But this is a significant improvement. The base at the top of the hill is the 'new' Margha, only a couple of months old - it used to be located down the hill, next to the village from which it takes its name, and was attacked constantly.

Grenade belt
Soldier with a grenade belt across his chest

Specialist Max Dorsa from California is on his first tour and had a miraculous escape at the old camp when a rocket-propelled grenade tore through the back of the guard tower he was in, but failed to explode: 'I never thought it would be as bad as this,' he says. Pte Jason Stewart has equally bad memories: 'We were taking rocket fire every day; they just looked down and shot at us from the hill above. It was insane.' The position became untenable and Combat Outpost Margha was relocated. It is still perilously exposed but the ridges, while within range, are now just over half a mile away.

It is a situation the Americans have to live with: in Afghanistan, they are trying to put into practice the hard lessons learnt in Iraq. General David Petraeus, the commander in Iraq, has rewritten the American military's manual on counter-insurgency. Before, the US Army trained to fight wars using overwhelming fire power, but in this unconventional conflict against suicide bombers, hit-and-run attacks and roadside bombs, the old philosophy simply wasn't working.

Under Petraeus, the emphasis now is less on engaging with guns and more on engaging with diplomacy - of having increased contact with the locals in order to win over hearts and minds. The strategy has been to move out of huge 'super bases' and instead install the troops in smaller camps closer to the Afghan people. By showing a highly visible presence and aiding the communities the Americans hope to offer an alternative to supporting the Taliban. But the practice is leaving the Americans more vulnerable than ever.

The platoon commander, 24-year-old Lieut Joe Corsi, tries to build up trust and confidence with the local population by inviting village elders to Margha once a week for a meeting. The local leaders ask for help ranging from drilling wells to power generation, pleas that Corsi will pass on to his commanders at Camp Salerno. In return, Corsi asks if they have seen anything suspicious or any outsiders in their villages.

But Corsi is hampered in what he can do - with only 18 soldiers, he cannot allow his men to patrol the vicinity. There are several reconstruction projects ongoing, but the Americans are largely unable to protect them. All Corsi can do is radio headquarters and ask for air support if he hears of an attack. But in such mountainous terrain reports of incidents can take hours to filter through, by which time the Taliban are long gone.

And with military helicopters and jets stretched to the limit on other operations, support is not guaranteed. Margha is resupplied by private contractors using civilian aircraft. Supplies are parachuted into the base by light aircraft or dropped off by a Ukrainian crew using an old Russian helicopter, flying at high altitude to avoid enemy fire.

The ease of the Taliban's movement leads many of the soldiers at Margha to believe the Pakistani military are at best turning a blind eye, and at worst actively assisting the insurgents. The Pakistan government's remit has never extended much into its tribal belt along the border with Afghanistan and there is a reluctance to get involved. Pakistan also played a key role in supporting the rise of the Taliban in the 1990s and it is believed that sections of the Pakistani military and intelligence services remain sympathetic.

The relationship between the Pakistani and American military along the border is limited and strained. For Sgt Daniel Cowden it is a frustrating situation. 'The worst thing is that they can seek refuge in Pakistan; the Pakistan military really don't do anything so they can come and go real easy. They can fire at us from the ridge and just go straight back into Pakistan.'

A tail-gunner
A tail-gunner on the lookout for insurgents from the ramp of the Chinook

Often, the Taliban shoot from within Pakistan itself. The US soldiers have to get permission from Camp Salerno to return fire across the border - and permission is not guaranteed, in part out of concern that Pakistani civilians could be hit.

The stress of facing repeated bombardment and not being able to fight back makes the soldiers at Margha feel like sitting ducks. Pte Greg Gardiner is in charge of the heavy mortar with which, in theory, they can return fire. 'We take all these rockets and mortars, then we get our big gun ready and then we just have to stand around,' he says.

American troops came to Afghanistan after 9/11 with the intention of defeating al-Qa'eda and ousting the Taliban under Operation Enduring Freedom. After initial success, their attention was diverted by Iraq, and the problems of Afghanistan have returned. Warlords and drug barons hold sway over large parts of the country, corruption in government is endemic, and the Taliban have become a resurgent force. The number of insurgent attacks has increased 300 per cent since September 2006.

Western intelligence agencies believe a future terrorist attack on Britain or America is still likely to have its origins in these borderlands. Barack Obama, the Democratic presidential candidate, says he would refocus America's attention on Afghanistan and take a much tougher line with Pakistan. He has promised extra troops and funding. But more force and more money could merely provide more cannon fodder for the Taliban unless resources are used in a much more targeted and sophisticated way.

Ask the men at Margha about this and they will usually say, 'Sir, that's way above my pay grade.' Some, like 21-year-old sniper Danny Miller, joined up to be part of the 'war on terror'. 'A big motivational factor for joining the army was September 11,' he says, although he does sometimes wonder how much can be achieved at Margha. 'I'm sure everybody thinks it. Hey, it sucks but you just put it behind you and get the job done.'

Up on the hill, it is a lonely and isolating experience. The outpost is tiny: about half the size of a football pitch. To help protect them from incoming fire, the men live in shipping containers surrounded by earthen blast walls and sandbags. The containers are connected by tunnels of wooden beams and walkways. The scene is reminiscent of the First World War trenches, the claustrophobic feel intensified by the sense of impending attack. Because of the constant threat, the men spend most of their day inside the containers. With summer temperatures topping 50C, conditions can be grim.

The men's routine is one of constantly revolving guard duty in the camp's three watchtowers. There are four to a tower, and they sleep in a shipping container underneath. At night they guard in pairs to keep each other awake. The senior NCOs and Corsi work the same 24-hour shift pattern in the radio room. There are no showers or laundry, just wet wipes for washing and ration packs to eat. The time crawls by. The men pass the long hours playing cards and video games, watching DVDs and listening to their iPods, and waiting for the next rocket attack.

Rocket Ridge
One of three guard towers at the Margha outpost. In the background is Rocket Ridge, where most of the rocket and mortar attacks come from

Last month a massed attack by several hundred insurgents on a similar base in Kunar province to the north killed nine US soldiers and injured 15 in one day. The base had to be abandoned. Since the Taliban have regrouped, more of these isolated American camps are at risk of being picked off, though in general the situation remains a bloody, expensive stalemate.

The soldiers will stay at Margha for about a month, when the next Chinook will arrive to take them back to a forward operating base for two days' break - just enough time to rest, take a shower and do their laundry, before they are sent out to one of the other remote combat outposts for another month of relentless guard duty. The men do 15-month tours in Afghanistan.

Many of the soldiers wear black wristbands bearing the names of friends who have been killed. At Margha it seems that everyone has lost someone close. Corsi wears two wristbands. One is for his good friend Cpl Jacob Lowell, who was travelling in a Humvee when the Taliban fired down from the hills; a bullet went through the roof. Corsi has had extra metal plates welded to the tops of all his Humvees.

The other wristband is for his commanding officer, Major Thomas Bostick. 'I knew his wife and two daughters,' Corsi says. 'He was my mentor. It's a way to celebrate his life, and it helps me just remember.' The bands also help Corsi keep perspective. 'When you start to think selfish thoughts, like how close you are to going home, you just look down at your arm and remember that some people aren't able to go home.'

The Americans have lost more than 550 military personnel in Afghanistan since 2001. The British and American sectors are among the most dangerous areas to patrol in the country. US forces have the difficult mountain terrain and cross-border insurgents to deal with. The British in Helmand face threats both from an area that is a Taliban heartland and from warlords and drug barons whose fiefdoms thrive in the chaos of war. British military deaths in Afghanistan now stand at more than 100. The great majority of these have come since 2006 when the British moved into Helmand.

Margha's platoon medic, 22-year-old Specialist Trevor Ramey from Florida, hopes more than anything that his skills won't be needed again. It is only his first tour, but he is already a veteran. On his very first day in Afghanistan, at an outpost just north of Margha, he had a shocking reality check. He had just disembarked from the helicopter and put down his bags when he was called to treat an Afghan commander. 'The round traced the top of his skull and exposed his brain. They brought him in and it just blew my mind. I wasn't prepared for that in any way.'

Ramey's best friend Juan Restrepo, a fellow medic, was killed during a fire fight in Kunar. They had trained together, shared a room and deployed together. 'He was going to try and pull back another dead soldier. He took two AK-47 rounds to the neck. He was the only medic on the patrol, he couldn't tell anyone how to treat him. He died on the Medivac bird. I'm not going to deny it, I cried.' Ramey has lost five close friends during the tour. 'That sticks with you. Being here, it changes you.'

Wood-lined corridors at Margha
Wood-lined corridors at Margha connect the shipping containers in which the soldiers live

In the middle of my eight-day visit, I prepare to visit the Afghan border police at the old Margha fort to see how conditions compare down in the valley. Even though it is little over a mile away Corsi's men cannot leave the base and so cannot provide an escort. While I wait for the police to come and collect me the platoon sniper Danny Miller, 21, is instructed by Corsi to plot the exact range of points along my route so he can provide covering fire if I get into trouble. Miller has already had the Taliban in his sights - and pulled the trigger. 'It's unfortunate that it needs to be done,' he says. 'To me, when I look through the scope they are an enemy of the United States.' He explains that the police base is at the limit of his range. 'I can still hit someone at that range but it won't be accurate. But in the bazaar [half a mile away], I'll be able to drop the guy standing next to you.'

Within an hour of my return to the American base a policeman is kidnapped in the bazaar by three armed men and thrown into the boot of a car. In the radio room, Sgt Cowden does not rate his chances. 'Being a policeman I think they'll kill him, leave his body by the side of the road as an example not to work with the Americans.'

With the American military fighting simultaneous conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq, it is not uncommon for soldiers to be on their third or fourth tour of duty. Such long deployments and the stress of combat are taking a serious toll. The rates for suicide and post-traumatic stress disorder among American soldiers are at record highs. An influential study estimated that one in five American soldiers returning from Iraq and Afghanistan suffers from post-traumatic stress.

Dr Ira Katz, the head of mental health services for Veterans Affairs - a government department that looks after the welfare of US war veterans - estimated recently that there were about 1,000 suicide attempts a month among war veterans, the highest number since records began.

The situation has got so bad that about 20,000 troops serving in Afghanistan and Iraq have been prescribed antidepressants - 17 per cent of those currently serving in Afghanistan, and 12 per cent of those in Iraq. The drugs help the soldiers cope with the unimaginable stress - for an overstretched military, it helps keep them in the field.

Issuing drugs to armies is nothing new. Amphetamines were issued to various German, British, US and Japanese units during the Second World War to keep the men alert; prescribing amphetamines to American forces during Vietnam was widespread. But the wholesale issuing of antidepressants, sleeping pills and anxiety medicine to a military on active operations is a new and pot­entially shocking development. No one at Margha will talk about taking pills. Some feel they can't in the macho atmosphere of the army; others are worried that by admitting to it they could hurt their chances of promotion.

During their 15-month tour the soldiers get two weeks' leave. Ramey knows he has been affected by what he has seen - on his last return home his friends and family noticed changes in him, too. He came to Afghanistan in the hope of saving lives, but in the process he may have damaged his own. 'I guess this place has messed with me, subconsciously,' he says. 'My friend slept over at my hotel with his girlfriend one night. I'd been drinking and passed out drunk and they said I was screaming in my sleep. I had a dream I was still here.'

Source: The Telegraph UK

Post by way of: Strike the Root

1 comment:

  1. An Escalation of the War in Afghanistan and Pakistan is a Very Bad Policy.

    Conservatives and liberals can argue the merits of the surge in Iraq, or the need to deal with terrorism now rather than later. I want to focus on something else: the impact of the perspective of 1.5 billion Muslims around the world. I’m not implying that it is somehow homogeneous, just relevant; more relevant than my opinion at least.

    Taking the war on terror back to Afghanistan (and most likely Pakistan) is bad for a number of reason: the perspective of the international Muslim community; the fact that a military solution has not worked thus far, so why keep kicking a dead horse (especially when it has the potential to trample you); the delicate balance of power in the immediate region and in the broader scope; the likely negative reaction of other states; and last but not least, its potential impact on the price of oil.

    Pakistan’s reaction to the Bush Doctrine has been somewhat mixed. Musharraf is caught in the middle between pleasing the US to ensure continued military and economic support, and the preferences of his constituents who resent the US presence there. The region is already very unstable because of this tension between the US applying pressure from the outside and the internal desire of the populace to rid themselves of the unwanted American presence.

    We can say the exact same thing about Afghanistan, Karzai is in a very similar position as Musharraf. In 2006, Karzai had to start rearming the warlords to maintain order. Similarly, Pakistan was forced to recognize the Islamic Emirate of Waziristan in September of 2006. The Islamic Emirate of Waziristan is a loose group of Waziristani chieftains, closely associated with the Taliban, who now serve as the de facto security force in charge of North and South Waziristan.

    If Senator Obama becomes president, and refocuses the war on terror in Afghanistan and Pakistan, the best we can hope for is another five to six years of what we’ve seen in Iraq. But this best-case scenario is very unlikely.

    In addition to a multiple-front war, we would not be dealing with a fallen state as with Iraq, but with two established states. This could possibly work in our favor as long as they continue to remain on our side. But as already mentioned, the tension is high, and there is a very delicate balance keeping Karzai and Musharraf in power. What happens if we lose the support of Karzai and/or Musharraf to the popular demands of the people? Or they lose control of power? Or are assassinated? We could find ourselves at war with the sovereign states of Afghanistan and/or Pakistan, not just insurgent forces there. If we consider the history of this region, we realize that this is not as far-fetched as it might sound on the face of it.

    As we all know, the Taliban was comprised of Sunni Islamists and Pashtun nationalists (mostly from southern Afghanistan and western Pakistan). The Taliban initially enjoyed support from the US, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates in the early 1980s to fight the Soviets. By 1996, the Taliban had gained control of most of Afghanistan, but its relationship with the US and most of the rest of the world became strained. Most of the international community supported the Taliban’s rival, the Afghan Northern Alliance.

    Still, even after the US began to distance itself from the Taliban in late 1997, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates continued to officially recognize the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan. Even after 9/11 when Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates officially stopped recognizing the Taliban, Pakistan continued to support it. The Taliban in turn, had tremendous influence in Pakistani politics, especially among lobby groups- as it virtually controlled areas such as the Pashtun Belt (Southeast Afghanistan, and Northwest Pakistan) and Pakistan-administered Kashmir.

    Going back to the perception of the international Muslim community … When the US demanded that the Taliban turn Bin Laden over, it initially offered to turn Bin Laden over to Pakistan to be tried by an international tribunal operating according to Sharia law. But Pakistan was urged by the US to refuse. Again, prior to the beginning of US airstrikes against Afghanistan, the Taliban offered to try Bin Laden according to Islamic law, but the US refused. After the US began air strikes, the Taliban offered to hand Bin Laden over to a neutral state to be tried under Islamic law, but the US again refused. This is important because in the eyes of the greater international community, the war in Afghanistan was justified (at least initially). But in the eyes of the international Muslim community, especially given the Taliban’s offer to turn over Bin Laden, it was an unnecessary war. This, combined with the preemptive war in Iraq, has led many Muslims to equate the war on terror with a war on Islam. Obama’s plan to escalate the war in Afghanistan and Pakistan will only serve to reinforce that impression.

    Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal, an Islamic political party in Pakistan, won elections in two out of four provinces in 2003, and became the third largest political party in the Pakistani parliament – with substantial support from urban areas (not just border regions). This speaks to the tremendous influence Islamic groups enjoy in Pakistan.

    This strong influence is fueled by the fact that the Pashtun tribal group is over 40 million strong. The Taliban continues to receive many of its members from this group today. In fact, the Pakistani army suffered humiliating defeat at the hand of these so-called “insurgents.” Finally, in September of 2006, Pakistan was forced to officially recognize the Islamic Emirate of Waziristan. Many see the Pakistani government’s acknowledgment of the Islamic Emirate of Waziristan as not only a military necessity, but also a political one as well – a concession in response to the growing internal pressure on the Musharraf administration from the people of Pakistan who resent the US presence and involvement in the region.

    Just consider the many, many public protests against the Pakistani government’s compliance with the United States. For instance, on January 13, 2006, the United States launched a missile strike on the village of Damadola, Pakistan. Rather than kill the targeted Ayman al-Zawahiri, al-Qaeda’s deputy leader, the strike instead slaughtered 17 locals. This only served to further weaken the Musharraf government and further destabilize the entire area.

    On October 30, 2006, the Pakistani military, under pressure from the US, attacked a madrasah in the Northwest Frontier province in Pakistan. Immediately following the attack, local residents, convinced the US military was behind the attack, burned American flags and effigies of President Bush, and shouted “Death to America!” Outraged over an attack on school children, the local residents viewed the attack as an assault against Islam. On November 7, 2006, a suicide bomber retaliated. Further outrage ensued when President Bush extended his condolences to the families of the victims of the suicide attack, and President Musharraf did the same, adding that terrorism will be eliminated “with an iron hand.”

    More recent troubles have escalated surrounding the Pakistani government’s siege of the Red Mosque where more than 100 people were killed. “Even before his soldiers had overrun the Lal Masjid ... the retaliations began.” Suicide attacks originating from both Afghan Taliban and Pakistani tribal militants targeted military convoys and a police recruiting center.

    There are countless more examples; too many to mention in detail. Likewise in Afghanistan; April 30, 2007 for example, when hundreds of Afghans protested US soldiers killing Afghan civilians. Why can’t the powers that be recognize that we’ve been in Afghanistan for nearly seven years, and in Iraq for over five; a military approach is not working. If we must focus the war on terror in Afghanistan and Pakistan, let’s focus on winning the hearts and minds of the beautiful people of these countries, rather than filling their hearts with bitterness and hatred toward us. With their support, we can offer them the financial and technical assistance that they need to rebuild their infrastructure, their agriculture and their economy. With their support, we can offer them the needed resources to rebuild their human capital and start attracting foreign direct investment. But without their support, we cannot possibly have any positive influence in this region at all; our only influence will be that of brute force, bribery of corrupt officials, and outright coercion. It will be a long, hard, costly and bloody endeavor, and the people of these countries will continue to suffer.

    Let’s not forget that Pakistan has nuclear weapons. Let’s not also forget that this is a highly Muslim-concentrated area, the Islamic concept of duty to come to the aid of fellow Muslims would no doubt ensure a huge influx of jihadists in this type of a scenario. Why on earth would we want to intentionally provoke a situation that would not only radicalize existing moderates in the region, but could also potentially cause the influx of a concentration of radical jihadists from elsewhere into an already unstable region (that has nuclear weapons no less)? We would be begging for a nuclear proliferation problem.

    We like to assume that we would have the upper hand in such a scenario. But we have been in Afghanistan since October of 2001. And we have yet to assume the upper hand. The fight in Afghanistan has the potential to become much more difficult than it already is.
    Nor would it be unheard of to expect other major powers to back these radical jihadists with economic and military assistance in much the same way that the US backed the Taliban and al Qaeda in Afghanistan against the Soviet Union. Beyond the fact that roughly 1/5 of the world’s population is Muslim (approximately 1.5 billion people- 85% Sunni, 15% Shia, Ibadiyyas, Ahmadis and Druze), we have to remember that Muslims are the majority in 57 states (out of 195). Most have Sunni majorities, which gives them added political power.

    China has traditionally backed Pakistan. What would China do if the US were to find itself at war with Pakistan?

    India has tremendous economic and security interests in the region. Let’s not forget that while India has been in nearly continual conflict with Pakistan, primarily over the Kashmir issue, it has the second largest Muslim population in the world next to Indonesia. What happens if India sides with the US? It will have a very difficult task justifying that position with its very large Muslim population. A US/Indian alliance could also spark more terrorist attacks in the Kashmir region. Or, if radicals gained control of Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal, a nuclear attack against India could spark a nuclear altercation between the two nuclear powers. What if radicals then gained control of India’s nuclear arsenal?

    On the other hand, what happens if India for some reason (either via a coup or due to internal pressure) were to side with Pakistan? It seems unlikely now, but not completely unrealistic considering the on-again, off-again relationship between the US and every country in that region. We constantly flip-flop in our foreign policy. An attack on Pakistani soil would be a perfect example of this type of wishy-washy foreign policy, as the Bush administration guaranteed Musharraf that the US would never do such a thing.

    Also consider the US position on Kashmir (which has a predominantly Muslim population); Pakistan wants a plebiscite, as called for in a 1949 UN resolution. India refuses a plebiscite, claiming Kashmir and Jammu as an integral part of India. The US is arming both sides through billions in aid to Pakistan and selective proliferation to India, but insists Musharraf stem terrorist activities flowing from Pakistan, and discourages India from attacking Pakistan. Yet an escalation of war in the area could backfire badly.

    Beyond all that we still have to consider a slew of other states such as Saudi Arabia, Iran, Russia … etc. All of which have economic and/or political and security interests in the region. How will they react to an escalation of the war in Afghanistan/Pakistan?

    Finally, what would such a scenario do to oil prices? The oil embargo of 1974 (in support of Egypt and Syria in the Yom Kippur war against Israel) in retaliation against the US for its support of Israel had devastating economic and political consequences on the US and much of Europe. Also, the more recent boycott of Danish products across the Muslim world, in retaliation for the 2005 cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad, demonstrates the ability of the international Muslim community to act collectively.

    Escalating the war in Afghanistan/Pakistan will also demonstrate the fickle and hypocritical nature of America’s foreign policy. We supported the Taliban when it served our interests (to oppose the Soviets in Afghanistan) in spite of clear human rights abuses, but still we condemn the Taliban (and much of the Muslim world) over the very same human rights abuses (against women …etc.), while we also continue to ignore similar or same human rights abuses in China, Saudi Arabia, Israel … etc., when it’s convenient to do so.

    We did the same thing with Saddam Hussein; arming him in spite of clear and egregious human rights abuses when he was our ally, and condemning the same actions when he wasn’t.

    The US practices selective proliferation with India, and selective sovereignty with those it chooses (today Pakistan, tomorrow someone other than Pakistan), while violating the sovereignty of other states depending on its whim at the time.

    We insisted that the Taliban turn over Bin Laden, but the United States has refused on several occasions to return foreign nationals (being held on death row in America) to their state of domicile because the US wanted them to face execution, and the home state did not uphold the death penalty. We also continue to refuse to acknowledge the ICC because we don’t want American military personnel tried in an international court. How is that so different from the Taliban wanting Bin Laden tried in an Islamic court?

    Rather than blindly accepting that America holds some God-given moral superiority over the rest of the planet, we need to realize that everywhere, humanity has a God-given right to live, love and prosper. Our children have the right to grow up in an environment free of air strikes and constant assault from an external enemy. They have the right to attend schools without fear of being maimed and killed inside of them. And they have the right to be children, instead of orphans. No state has the right to take that away from your children, or from mine.