Nothing is sadder than dying at the hands of those you’re sworn to protect.
In an article for the Los Angeles Times, David Zucchino writes about the incident at Kabul International Airport in April 2011 when an Afghan Air Force colonel killed nine Americans.
The nine killings remain the single deadliest incident among insider attacks that have targeted U.S. and coalition forces in Afghanistan. … Although insider attacks in Afghanistan are persistent — at least 80 attacks and 122 coalition deaths since 2007 — no single incident seems to have registered on the public consciousness in the United States. Few family members of those killed have spoken out.
Widows of two of the dead officers [and] retired Air Force Lt. Col. Sally Stenton, a former civilian police investigator who was a legal officer assigned to the airport the day of the attack … have pored over a redacted Air Force report, the Central Command report and a separate Air Force chronology.
They contend that the shooter, Afghan Air Force Col. Ahmed Gul … had help from fellow Afghan officers. … They point out that 14 Afghans were in the control room when Gul opened fire. None were killed or seriously wounded.
The U.S. Air Force investigation quoted Afghans as saying they fled or took cover when Gul opened fire. The reports, the three women said, indicated the Afghans did not attempt to rescue or treat the wounded advisors.
The three women contend that the [U.S.] Air Force failed to uncover Gul’s radicalization in Pakistan and Kabul — and the vows he made to kill Americans.
Such killings make a senseless war such as Afghanistan that much more so. Questioning the U.S. Air Force may help to make sense out of it, at least it attaches a semblance of honor to the deaths.
Meanwhile, those who lost soldiers in Afghanistan and Iraq seek to make sense of their deaths by clinging to the belief that their loved ones died while defending the United States. But many of them know that the Iraq War was unjust and, even if they believe Afghanistan War was warranted, that it has passed its sell-by date. Nothing is more painful than acknowledging the truth of John Kerry’s refrain, “How do you ask a man to be the last man to die” in a war.
Should loved ones also eventually acknowledge the fruitlessness and injustice of those wars, some solace still remains. First, soldiers in any war fight, in large part, to protect (and avenge) their squad mates. Second, those who die are, in effect, occupational casualties. However quotidian it may seem, just like work itself, dying on the job has its own inherent dignity.
Cross-posted from the Foreign Policy in Focus blog Focal Points.