Warring ethics

The war in Afghanstan between Taliban and the Northern Alliance bears an eerie resemblance to the war between Trojans and Athenians in the Iliad: courage, steadfastness, deceit, and revenge. Does the warrior ethic of the Afghans harken back to the ancient code embedded in Homer’s account, or is it the natural ethic of a culture dominated by warlords? A Pashtun saying sums it up: "Me against my brother, my brother and me against our cousins, we and our cousins against the enemy." Clearly the Afghans battle one another by an ethic different than that of the United States and its allies, the military of sovereign states subject to international law and their own rules of engagement.

News stories from the fronts in Mazar-e-Sharif, Kunduz, and Kandahar have reported chaos on the ground, men rushing from one front to another and then milling about waiting to fight. At the same time, there appears to be a set of rules intended to stave off battle, and perhaps save lives. The "victories" of the Alliance, in north and south, follow rounds of skirmishing and negotiating rather than pitched battles. Surrendering Taliban warriors have been greeted with open arms; some are amnestied, while others, especially foreign Taliban, are imprisoned. Some Taliban surrender their weapons, others apparently do not. Booty is taken-Toyota trucks and plunder from the bodies of the dead. At the same time, it is likely that Taliban military...

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