Treating Afghan men like boys

We all know the theory behind counter-insurgency – cultural sensitivity, force as a last resort, the patient exertion of influence etc – but the reality is often very different as this first-person account from Afghanistan shows.

Canadian columnist, Rosie Dimanno found herself stuck behind an American convoy that was blocking a road into Kabul. She was asked to help an ambulance that desperately needed to pass:

Hands in the air, dangling my media credentials from my fingers, I forced one foot in front of the other. Clearly the troops should be able to see I was Western, wearing jeans and a T-shirt, not hiding a weapon or a suicide vest.

Fifty metres away, the air gunner in the rear vehicle lowered his machine gun at me threateningly.

“Don’t shoot!” I croaked. “Just let the ambulance pass!”

The doors opened and two soldiers got out, clearly angry.

“You!” he hollered, pointing at me. “Get back where you were.”

Then, stomping up to my Afghan colleague, the senior soldier got right in his face. “We’ve got a problem here,” he spat out. “And you are creating an even bigger problem. Now go back to your car or we will have one REALLY REALLY BIG PROBLEM.”

I felt the Afghan’s humiliation and saw red.

“Don’t you f—-g talk to him like that. And don’t you f—-g talk to me like that. This is his country. Not yours, not mine.”

The second soldier, a younger fellow who looked intensely embarrassed, whispered to me: “I’m sorry ma’am. It’s just been a long day.”

Back in the car, her driver – a NATO fan – is bitter:

This is why Afghans have come to hate Americans. Afghanistan is not our country any more. They are our bosses. They treat us sometimes as if we are trespassing on our own land.

As Dimanno reflects:

I suspect some more enemies were made on this afternoon, adding incrementally to the hostility that is rapidly replacing the warm welcome that most Afghans had originally given their “liberators.”

The Americans did not have to be so aggressive. They did not have to treat Afghan men like boys.