War is Still Not the Answer -- Even with Better Rules

By Duane Shank 02-19-2010

The U.S. offensive against Fallujah, Iraq, in 2004 involved heavy use of airstrikes and artillery bombardments which destroyed some 60 mosques, as many as 10,000 buildings, and up to 6,000 civilian deaths. After the first week of a U.S.-led offensive against the Taliban in Marja, Afghanistan, news stories continue to report sustained fighting against heavy resistance. But in the combat reporting, two particular stories were illustrative of the nature of counter-insurgency war.

First, unlike Fallujah, the U.S. military is operating under strict rules of engagement that sharply reduce the use of airstrikes and say that "dropping a bomb on or near a house is forbidden unless troops are in imminent danger of being overrun, or they can prove that no civilians are inside." While this increases the risk to NATO troops, it increases the safety of civilians. As one battalion commander on the ground put it, "A professional fighting force needs to assume the preponderance of risk. That's the way it should be in a counterinsurgency."

I continue to believe, as Walter Wink wrote, that "Perhaps both just-war theorists and advocates of non-violence can find common ground for attempting to restrain bellicosity in the phrase violence-reduction criteria." One of those criteria is certainly the protection of civilians, and in that light, the change from Fallujah to Marja is a welcome one.

The other side of counter-insurgency is providing aid to civilians when an area is secure. In Afghanistan, this is increasingly part of the military mission, and it is increasingly controversial. United Nations officials in Afghanistan this week criticized the NATO forces for the "militarization of humanitarian aid," as U.S. general Stanley McChrystal has "made the rapid delivery of governmental services, including education, health care and job programs, a central part of his strategy in Marja."

I continue to believe, as the letter sent by Sojourners to President Obama last fall said,

[I]t is vitally important that humanitarian and development assistance should be provided, as much as possible, by independent civilian and non-governmental organizations, both international and local

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