Commentary by Lt. Colonel John Lewis Cook, USA (ret.)
The war in Afghanistan reached a new, and historic, milestone on Monday, the 24th of December, 2012. It is ironic that this event happened on Christmas Eve, the holiest night in the Christian faith. We may never know what possessed Sergeant Nargis, a female veteran of the Afghan National Police, to pick the day before Christmas to launch herself into the history of this tragic war, but there is no denying this is the day she became a historic figure.
It was on this day that Sergeant Nargis pulled out her 9mm standard issue pistol and murdered an American advisor to the National Police in a police station in downtown Kabul at point blank range. At that point, the mother of four became the first female member of the Afghan Security Forces to kill a coalition member in an insider attack, an all too common occurrence in Afghanistan today. So far this year, sixty-one Americans have been killed in such attacks. In 2011, the total killed was thirty-five. This trend is clearly going in the wrong direction.
Sergeant Nargis is not just an average female policeman; she belongs to the elite Gender Affairs Department within the National Police Headquarters, the single most important department fighting for the rights of women across Afghanistan. This is the department the coalition likes to point to when discussing the progress we’re making there concerning women’s rights. And this is the department that is at the forefront of recruiting more women into the National Police and breaking down the barriers that a male dominated society has put in place for centuries in an attempt to keep women in Afghanistan is a second class status.
Since the growing alarm over insider attacks can no longer be ignored, the U.S. Army is developing a new handbook for the troops addressing this issue. Being careful not to offend the Afghan government and President Karzai, this handbook will attempt to lay the blame for most insider attacks at the feet of the troops for not being sufficiently sensitive to the Afghan culture. It will list a number of topics that the troops cannot discuss with their Afghan counterparts. The list includes the treatment of women, homosexuality, bestiality, and pedophilia. Any discussion that could be considered offensive to Islam is to be avoided.
This was the approach the coalition planned on pursuing, taking a politically correct stance and wrapping it in cultural sensitivity. Of course, it required throwing Western cultures and values under the bus but the coalition was willing to pay that price. It also required the coalition to admit that practices not tolerated in the West were okay in Afghanistan as long as the “culture and tradition” blanket could be stretched to cover them.
All of that changed on Christmas Eve and Sergeant Nargis has forced the coalition to develop a new paradigm to excuse what is happening there. No doubt, the coalition spin machine in Kabul is busy right now trying to mitigate this serious body blow to one of the key objectives we claim we are trying to achieve there, which is improving the deplorable state of the treatment of women. However, the usual excuses of insider attacks will not wash in this case. This attack did not occur in some remote outpost down range where a clash of cultures is often used to excuse such attacks. This happened in the heart of Kabul, with no connection between the killer and the victim. The only requirement was the victim had to be from the West. Any Westerner would do in this circumstance. This incident will, no doubt, be investigated and a report will be written. The National Police, the organization Sergeant Nargis belongs to, is changed with doing this. However, a report is not necessary to know what happened. It’s fairly obvious that she was recruited by the Taliban who reminded her of her duty to conduct a jihad, or Holy War, against the West. When one of the women we went there to help build a better life for her self and other women murders one of our advisors with a weapon we issued to her, and trained her to use, it’s over. At this point, it’s time to finally realize we have failed. No more excuses, simply turn the lights out and come home. We need no more milestones to understand this and, God knows, we have an abundance of tombstones.
About the Author
Lieutenant Colonel John Lewis Cook, United States Army (Retired), “served as the Senior Advisor to the Ministry of Interior in Kabul, Afghanistan, with responsibility for developing the force structure for the entire Afghan National Police. As of 2012, this force totals 157,000. From March 2008 until August 2012, his access and intimate associations with all levels of the Afghan government and coalition forces have provided him with an unprecedented insight into the policies which will determine the outcome of the war. It is this insight, coupled with his contacts and associations throughout Afghanistan that form the basis of Afghanistan: The Perfect Failure.
Click to read more about Lt. Colonel John Lewis Cook