January 27, 2010

Today's essential Afghan reading

The senior American int guy in Afghanistan is... not sounding optimistic. (Not that an army int guy ever should.)

No dice on more troops from NATO, reports the Washington Post. The 4,000 they've found this year barely keep pace with the Dutch soldiers they're losing.

Uzbek warlord Rashid Dostum's back in as the Afghan army chief of staff, less than two years after having been fired for obstructing justice.

Finally, reports of an unimpressive turnout from the Turkish contingent guarding Kabul during the Jan. 18 attack there:

Worrisome as well was the apparent failure of foreign soldiers to come to the front-line aid of Afghans under siege. NATO officials said they had played an "advisory" role to Afghan security forces that finally managed, after six hours, to repel the attack and restore a semblance of order.

Turkey has the lead role with the International Security Assistance Force in protection of Kabul. But an interpreter who works for the Turks in their HQ said commanders had refused to involve their soldiers.

"The commander said, 'These are internal issues and you people have to deal with it yourself,'" the translator, who asked that his name not be used, told the Star. "He said, 'We don't want to be involved in the war.'

Posted by BruceR at 10:36 PM

On fertilizer

I was ragging on the Kandahar press pool a couple days ago, but Sonia Verma has penned a perfectly good piece in the Globe on reaction to the ban on high-nitrate fertilizer in Kandahar Province.

While obviously you've got to do something if Verma's correct that 95% of the fertilizer is being used for IEDs, the blowback pattern here is undoubtedly going to be similar to cracking down on opium... punishing all farmers for the actions of a few bad apples, doubling one of their key fixed costs overnight, making the Afghan government look both cruel AND weak... it's not good.

Towards the end of my tour, I recall a delivery from one of our teams in the field. All very well packaged up, I was kind of hoping for captured documents, but no: it was three empty 1-litre plastic water bottles each filled with a different kind of nitrate fertilizer taken from somewhere in the Arghandab, along with matching pictures of the bags etc., and a very thorough RFI (request for information) politely requesting that I find out for them which was the kind that you made bombs from. Apparently they'd been patrolling a bazaar or some such and were attempting to do a little detective work on the occupants. Smart, I thought at the time.

The answer I got, though, which I'm ashamed to say for morale reasons I never fully shared with the guys in the field, was that ALL of their three fertilizer samples were perfectly good for bomb-making purposes. Every day it seems, they had been surrounded with mounds of bags all carrying a key element in their own potential destruction. No, I thought, I can't do that to them: they were just trying too hard to do the right thing here, to pick the right bad guy out of the crowd, to hit them with that, at that point only a few days before they all headed home. I left the RFI response and the fertilizer samples for my successor, and theirs, to deal with.

Posted by BruceR at 09:41 PM