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.