The erroneous U.S. airstrike in Uruzgan province in Afghanistan may have been the result of "intelligence" provided by an Afghan who decided to use the Americans to "settle a score or to win some advantage in a local power struggle," according to a report in Monday's New York Times. If the report is confirmed by officials of the Bush administration, it means that the U.S. will have to reassess its entire operation in Afghanistan.
Indeed, given the long history of tribal enmity in that region of the world, and the fact that Afghan chieftains still hold sway with large segments of the population, using locals to provide intelligence for military excursions is foolhardy at best. The Bush administration's goal of rooting out members of the former Taliban regime and terrorists aligned with Osama bin Laden and his Al-Qaida network remains a worthy one. However, it will not be achieved with incidents such as last week's airstrikes that killed scores of innocent people, including 25 members of a family celebrating an impending marriage in the village of Kakarak.
"If Americans don't stop killing civilians, there will be jihad [holy war] against them in my province," said Jan Mohammed Khan, governor of Uruzgan. In all, 44 Afghans were killed and 120 injured in raids on Kakarak and four other villages. U.S. officials say an anti-aircraft gun had fired on U.S. planes from the compound where the partygoers died. But Afghans in the area strongly deny that account.
"We condemn this bombardment," Khan said. "It was an intentional attack on civilians. It is unfair to target a wedding party." The governor's language was obviously designed to enflame the passions of the villagers who believe that the United States views them and other Afghans as expendable in the war on global terrorism.
Of course, that couldn't be further from the truth, but every mistake by American troops simply feeds the "them against us" perception.
While the new government of Afghanistan, led by President Hamid Karzai, remains a staunch ally of the United States' and has talked about the need for an even greater presence of American troops in the country, the fact remains that the war-torn nation is still threatened by tribal conflicts, power struggles among the ethnic chieftains, and even challenges to the central government's authority.
In other words, Afghanistan remains a powder keg -- despite the success of the American-led coalition campaign that resulted in the pro-Al-Qaida Taliban government being ousted.
The Bush administration can no longer depend on the locals to perform such important tasks as intelligence gathering and the selection of targets for attack.