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Archive for June, 2011

How to Make More Taleban

They don’t mention this in FM 3-24, but it’s actually pretty easy to create an insurgent. Here’s how:

An American patrol gets lost near the Pakistani border and finds itself conducting a KLE, or “key leader engagement” in the wrong village. The usual bunch shows up: snot-nosed kids, giggling teenagers and local layabouts, but definitely no “key leaders”. Tea is poured and the platoon leader, an industrious young lieutenant with a Ranger tab on his sleeve, tries to strike up a conversation through his interpreter.

Just as the lieutenant is starting to get fidgety, one of the sullen young men squatting in front of him speaks up — in fluent, Pakistani-accented English. An exchange ensues. The man wants to know why the patrol is in the village; the lieutenant wants to know where the man has learned English.

“In Peshawar. I’m a medical student.”

“A med student? So why are you here?”

“My family lives in that house over there.”

“What does your father do?”

“He is a cardiologist.”

The conversation turns to politics. The lieutenant wants to know what the man thinks of the Taleban; the man wants to know why the foreign troops are in Afghanistan.

“You tear up our holy Quran and urinate on it.”

“That is not true.”

“Also, you secretly photograph our women. I have read about it.”

The platoon returns to the COP. The lieutenant reports the bad news — wrong village — and the good — an encounter with a suspected Taleban sympathiser. “There was definitely something fishy about that dude”, he tells the company commander. “Yeah”, the commander says, “judging by what you’ve told me I’d say he’s definitely Taleban.”

News of 1st Platoon’s stroke of luck travels fast. Everyone agrees there’s no fucking way you’d quote anti-ISAF propaganda unless you’re a bad guy. The fishiness of the English-speaking dude is pondered on endlessly, and by chowtime the son of a local doctor has become “a Taleban medic”.

[In case the Americans portrayed in my last two blog posts come across as bungling idiots, let me clarify: they were anything but. The soldiers and officers of the unit I embedded with were courteous and disciplined, with superb tactical skills and excellent knowledge of their battlespace. Commanded by a bespectacled young captain, himself a veteran of two tours in Iraq, the company had suffered more casualties during its deployment than any other unit in RC-East; yet the men treated the locals with respect. Alas, this was Afghanistan, and their task — expanding the "security bubble" around the COP — was proving near impossible. The mission has since ended, and I don't know what happened to them. But I'm pretty sure they learned, like everyone else, that in Afghanistan, meaning well does not equate with doing well.]

       © Jari Lindholm

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Has counterinsurgency failed in Afghanistan? Two stories from an embed:

An American ISAF patrol discovers an IED on a treeless hillock near the Pakistani border. EOD is called in. Their Black Hawk lands on a local farmer’s wheat field, ruining his harvest.

Dismayed villagers gather around to look at the destruction. The Americans, fearing ambush, do nothing, until a young sergeant decides to take matters into his own hands and approaches the farmer.

“I just lost 700 kilos of wheat”, the man says, barely able to hide his rage. “What are you going to do about it?”

“Well”, says the sergeant, “we will give money to the district sub-governor, and he will compensate you for your loss.”

The farmer stares at the soldier. “You don’t understand. If the Taleban see me entering the sub-governor’s house, they will come at night and kill me. In any case, the sub-governor is a thief. He will just keep the money for himself. It is much better if I come to your base tomorrow and you give me cash.”

“Well, sir”, says the sergeant, ever polite, “I will certainly take the matter up with my commanding officer.”

The meeting ends. The farmer never gets his money.

An American rifle company manning a small COP near the Pakistani border gets fed up with the constant rocket and mortar fire. In a show of force, the Americans, supported by 17 armoured trucks and 80 soldiers from a nearby FOB, with air cover by F-15s, Tornados and Kiowas, cordon off a troublesome bazaar. All adult males, numbering at least 1,000, are marched out of the village and made to wait in the searing heat. Their irises are then scanned with portable biometric devices called HIIDEs, and the photos, along with their personal details, are uploaded into a database.

When the procedure is over, the Afghans are free to leave, but not until the Americans have stamped the backs of their hands with the battle cry of the Oklahoma Sooners: “Boomer Sooner!”  The Afghans don’t seem to appreciate the joke, but the Americans savour their payback. “The Taleban sure are gonna be pissed off!”

And so they are: an hour after the operation ends, recoilless rounds once again hit the COP. Later, a lieutenant checks the day’s iris scans against the HIIDE database for bad guys. Number of hits: zero.

       © Jari Lindholm

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