In one sense, the U.S.-led coalition has itself to blame for the riots and killings that have raged across Afghanistan in the wake of last week’s accidental burning of the Koran by American forces. Too many U.S. troops habitually disrespect their Afghan trainees, according to some of the elite forces who head up those training sessions. And those small, tactical acts of cultural stupidity can lead to a strategic moment, like the one we’re having now.
The ongoing disrespect can fuel smoldering resentment among Afghans that is compounded by the Afghans’ underlying discomfort with the decade-long foreign occupation of their country. The mishandling of the Koran was like a match on that explosive tinder.
According to members of a U.S. Special Forces “A Team” based in Laghman province, American trainers there inadvertently mistreat the Afghans with rough touching, mock insults and and a dearth of positive reinforcement. During my recent visit to Langhman, one Special Forces officer hurried to intervene when some Army National Guard soldiers wandered into an Afghan cemetery — another big no-no. “I’ve seen too many guys disrespecting their Afghans,” one Special Forces weapons sergeant says.
The accidental burning of the Koran represents was even more thoughtless … and reflects an almost willful ignorance of Afghan sensitivities. “How after 11 years here is there no system in place for properly disposing of religious [documents]?” asks one sergeant attached to a Special Forces unit based in Kabul. “It’s just fucking stupid.”