U.S. military members in Afghanistan did not know that the Koran was a holy book. That was the preposterous excuse put forward last week by Brigadier General Bryan G. Watson, who investigated the burning earlier this year at the Parwan Detention Facility of approximately 100 Korans. He recommended against any prosecution of the officers and soldiers involved. General Watson stated that U.S. officers and troops were only given a one-hour briefing on Islam and he determined that the briefing did not convey to them that the Koran was a holy book. They therefore did not know that it was an insult to Islam to burn the Koran!
This sham investigation was solely designed to shield the Pentagon from criticism. A seemingly hapless Watson was unable to identify anyone to blame. No one was responsible for the book burnings or for the feeble training or for fielding military units that were dismally unprepared to undertake their missions. How could detention facility officials ever hope to obtain information from Islamic extremist prisoners if they were unaware what Islam was?
The key point that General Watson repeatedly made in his report was that he “absolutely rejected any suggestion” that there was any intent to disrespect the Koran or defame Islam. Watson somehow concluded that it was impossible that anyone could even suggest an anti-Islamic motive. The Pentagon determined that U.S. troops are so uncultured and uninformed that they are incapable of any sophisticated criminal motives. The report raises more questions than it tries to answer. If Watson is correct, how could the Pentagon ever hope to defeat the Taliban with such an uneducated and seemingly witless expeditionary force? Watson’s report insults the reputation of U.S. forces and tries to insult the intelligence of its readers.
At one point, Watson vaguely blames the problem on “a lack of cross-talk between leaders and commands.” He blames the incident on mistakes, however the facts reveal that U.S. officials were warned by their Afghan counterparts not to burn the Korans and they went ahead anyway. Watson also revealed that the plan was to burn 474 Korans but only 100 were burned before Afghan employees intervened and halted the practice.
No one expected an honest investigation and they were not disappointed. Truth does not have to be the first casualty in warfare, it is only a casualty when dishonorable officials are appointed to wage the war. We also learned this week from a SEAL Team 6 expose’ entitled, “No Easy Day” that the May 2011 raid that killed Osama bin Laden was a kill mission. Contrary to President Obama’s May 2011 press conference, bin Laden did not make any move toward a weapon and was not an apparent threat to anyone. The new book revealed that bin Laden poked his head out a door into the hallway and was promptly shot in the head by the SEALs. The SEALs did not know at the time that they had shot bin Laden. They had been ordered to kill everyone. When the SEALs discovered it was bin Laden, he was lying on the floor still alive. They then proceeded to finish their prisoner off with several additional shots. Apparently executing wounded prisoners is now acceptable under the rules of war.
It has taken more than a year to learn the truth. The motives of the White House in concocting a false cover story for the kill mission are not clear. The President was apparently embarrassed about aspects of the raid.
The Watson report and “No Easy Day” are just the latest in a long line of examples of a just war being dishonestly presented. Whether it is the squandering of USAID and commander’s emergency response program (CERP) funds, or the rising number of Taliban attacks, or the growing insecurity in the countryside (especially in formally safe provinces such as Bamyan), or the increasing danger of “green on blue” fragging attacks on U.S. troops; the lack of honesty from Pentagon officials has reached record levels. Like Diogenes searching for an honest man, this reporter is still searching for an honest Afghan war assessment from anyone in the Pentagon.
Within the U.S. military, generals like to quote from the fortune-cookie sayings of Chinese military philosopher Sun Tzu, including his famous saying that one must understand the enemy in order to defeat him. If U.S. officers and soldiers have no knowledge of Islam, and do not even know what the holy Koran is, how far does their ignorance stretch? General Watson’s plan was to protect the Pentagon, but his report reveals a shockingly uninformed and poorly trained military. It details that the U.S. military is deploying bodies to Afghanistan, not troops competently trained in counterinsurgency. The pre-deployment training is cursory and superficial. It is warfare waged on the cheap. A poorly manufactured product tends to produce poor results, which is why the Afghan war is the Taliban’s to lose, not America’s to win. Eleven years of warfare in an Islamic country and the Pentagon claims that U.S. troops still lack even a rudimentary understanding of Islam. Wars have been lost due to less.