The Telegraph reports today that US soldiers attending an event with Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta were prohibited from carrying weapons. They were instead asked to turn in their rifles and pistols. “Somebody got itchy, that’s all I’ve got to say,” explained one sergeant who helped carry out the order. “Somebody got itchy – we just adjust.”
The source of the order, Major General Mark Gurganus, said that US soldiers were stripped of their weapons because Afghan soldiers had been stripped of theirs, and he wanted the policy to be consistent. “You’ve got one of the most important people in the world in the room. This is not a big deal,” he said.
Except that it is a big deal. It is a very big deal. Coming on the heels of a rogue, mentally-damaged soldier’s attack on Afghan civilians, this looks to the rest of the world as though our Secretary of Defense is afraid of his own troops. It looks as though American troops are as much of a danger as Afghan ones, even though the Afghan military has been infiltrated time and again by Taliban agents, while the US military has not.
This action feeds the global perception that US soldiers are killers who cannot be trusted not to engage in acts of violence even against their own leaders. If this is winning hearts and minds, it’s hard to imagine what losing hearts and minds would look like.