There’s been a lot of bad news coming from Afghanistan in recent weeks—deep anti-American sentiment finally overflowed into violence when it was revealed American soldiers burned copies of the Koran at Bagram airbase on February 20. More than thirty people have been killed in revenge attacks, and 11,000 Afghans took to the streets in protest this weekend.
Two American troops were killed inside the Afghan Interior Ministry last week, also in response to the Koran burning, leading to the unprecedented removal of all military personnel from the government ministries. Given that this is the government the United States is trying to build up, it’s a troubling development to say the least, as is the fact that ten of the last fifty-eight coalition deaths have come at the hands of America’s Afghan partners.
Much to its credit, the White House press corps put press secretary Jay Carney through the wringer on the war yesterday—he was peppered through most of his daily briefing with smart, tough questions about the recent violence and the overall viability of the US strategy in Afghanistan. The very first question cut right to the chase:
Q: We’ve heard a lot over the last day or so about how the United States is taking the long view in the war in Afghanistan and the need to stay focused on defeating Al Qaeda. But I’m wondering how you explain to the average American who has seen this war go on for ten years and is ready for troops to come home—how do explain it when the people that we’re training turn their guns on us, or US officers in a secure Afghan Interior building are shot dead? How do you explain why it’s working?
Carney responded that the United States will stick to its current strategy, which is to “to disrupt, dismantle and ultimately defeat al Qaeda.” He repeated some variation of that line over ten times, as reporters refused to get off the topic. Finally, Jake Tapper of ABC News got around to asking Carney the obvious question—one that the press secretary couldn’t actually answer:
Q: When is the last time US troops in Afghanistan killed anybody associated with Al Qaeda?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I would refer you to ISAF and the Defense Department for that. I don’t have that information. It is certainly clear that, because of our efforts in the Af-Pak region, if you will—which is the region covered by the overall strategy that the President put into place—that we have aggressively pursued, with significant success, Al Qaeda’s leadership. And I think that everyone knows, of course, of the Osama bin Laden mission. But there have been, as you know because you cover this closely, numerous other instances of successful implementation of this policy, which has resulted in significantly depleting the numbers of Al Qaeda’s leadership. And it is because of the president’s policy, which includes allowing for space for the Afghan government as this transition takes place to the security lead—that gives us the capacity to implement the policy, which, again, is focused on Al Qaeda.