On Monday, the U.S. military released information regarding the disciplinary action of troops stemming from two separate incidents overseas. First, the U.S. military handed down the investigative report regarding an incident that took place in Afghanistan back in February, where U.S. troops attempted to burn 500 copies of the Koran. Although the U.S. military was urged to press charges against the troops for their behavior, no criminal charges are being filed.
Irrespective of warnings from Afghan soldiers, up to 100 Korans and other religious texts were burned. Allegedly the soldiers believed they were burning radical literature, but due in large part to the miscommunication of a translator and the local language barrier the books were incinerated. This particular occurrence is thought to have played a role in recent attacks against NATO forces by Afghan soldiers and police, as well as other local violent riots. It is evident that in addition to not being fully informed or prepared for the cultural differences the troops are encountering abroad, the distrust between U.S. troops and the Afghan people is growing due to the political blunders of the past year.
Unfortunately the book-burning occurrence at Bagram air base was not the first misunderstanding between U.S. troops and Afghan forces. The second incident, which made international news last year following a video clip, involves three Marines who relieved themselves on the dead bodies of Taliban fighters. Those three Marines are also not facing criminal charges for their actions overseas, as they pled guilty to the charges and now face a lesser punishment. Although charges are still pending regarding other officer involvement in this case, the report calls into question whether “administrative punishment” is adequate in light of the consequences these incidents have caused.
Is an “administrative punishment” equivalent to a slap on the wrist? Additionally, putting aside personal views on what punishment each of these incidents deserve from our legal system, will these disciplinary actions satisfy the Afghan demand for justice? The grave consequences of these incidents have already been felt, but how do we prevent future blunders?
Sources: Chicago Tribune and The Washington Post. See also:
Upon the occurrence of a severe military blunder, disciplinary measures are necessary, for as Kristen mentioned, these blunders potentially have brutally violent ramifications. At the same time, I think it is important to differentiate between the two blunders that Kristen has mentioned in her post. As for the tragic burnings, U.S. military investigations determined that there was a lack of communication and that the American troops had no malicious intent to burn the Koran. As for the second incident, I find it difficult to refer to U.S. Marines urinating on dead Taliban soldiers as simply a blunder. While I write this comment humbly as a civilian who has never experienced the rigor of the armed forces, it appears evident that this incident involved punishable, malicious intent. Afghans have every right to be upset about the Koran burnings, but the bottom line is that investigating officer, Brigadier General Bryan Watson, rejected any intent of defamation. While this lapse of communication ultimately led to turmoil, as did the case with the Taliban corpses, it does not seem fair to compare these two incidents as blunders. Nonetheless, the principal message to be drawn from these two incidents is that in order to avoid unnecessary conflict, and to successfully build trust with the Afghan people, American troops must work diligently to avoid any such misconduct.