Lord help us: Body counts return with a vengeance.

Have you noticed how as the news from Iraq and Afghanistan keeps getting worse, the reports of large numbers of bad guys getting offed keep growing?  Here’s a recent installment:

(AP) Kabul Blasts Kill 1; 35 Militants Killed

(Note how perfectly the bad news is offset by “good news”)

July 05,2006 | KABUL, Afghanistan — Three bombs targeting government workers and security forces exploded Wednesday in the Afghan capital, killing one bystander and wounding at least 47 other people, police and witnesses said.

The blasts — the second spate of bombings in as many days in Kabul — raised fears that violence roiling the south and east of the country could be spreading to the capital amid a spike in attacks by resurgent Taliban militants.

(Yikes, sounds pretty bad, huh?  Well, fear not — just read on later in the article)

U.S.-led coalition forces continued their hunt for Taliban fighters in the south, killing 35 suspected militants during a raid late Tuesday in the village of Gujdar in Helmand province, the military said in a statement.

*   *   *

Among the militants killed in the U.S.-led coalition operation in southern Afghanistan were “area Taliban leaders who planned and conducted multiple attacks against local Afghans, government officials and coalition forces,” the military statement said Wednesday.

So you see there’s nothing to worry about here.  We’re wiping the bastards off the face of the planet so fast this thing should be in the bag in time for Christmas.  Right?

Of course, there is that one thing: You know, the way these reports seem so often to be followed by other reports a few days or weeks later establishing that a lot of the bodies included in the original count were actually civilians.

And then, of course, there’s also that business of the Vietnam War precedent, when the Pentagon so chronically exaggerated enemy losses that one would have thought the whole nation of North Vietnam had been mowed down.  And that certainly worked out well.

But there’s a bigger problem with using body counts as an indicator of progress in Iraq and Afghanistan: Even if we assume these casualty reports are dead on right, a hell of an assumption I’ll give you, but even if we do, there’s still little reason to think it will make any difference. 

Think about it: What long term good is done by creating a huge pile of enemy dead in a culture where every killing generates additional combatants in the form of family members and friends who feel duty bound to carry out revenge killings?

When you’re trying to bail water with a bucket with no bottom, it doesn’t matter how long and how furiously you keep it up, in the end your ship is bound to sink.

And pretending otherwise won’t make the water stop rising.

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