March 07, 2010

Today's essential Afghan reading

I agree with the Torch. This is a great piece of writing. And this is an awesome quote:

Capt. O'Neill says he doesn't spend too much time worrying about endgames. “It is what it is. Taliban have been around here for, you know, decades, you know what I mean? They're not going anywhere. If we pulled out of Afghanistan today, it'd probably take a couple days before the Taliban took this place back over again,” he says. “That's just the reality of it.”

Bingo! Also this:

“For me, I have a hard time understanding. It's their [the ANA's] country. If they want it to get better, then you'd think they'd want to be out all the time doing whatever they can.”

As the article mentions, the ANA sergeant has been in the ANA for seven years, and has certainly spent at least the last 4 of them in Kandahar Province, and will probably spend another 4 there. Capt. O'Neill has a few months left out of his six months in situ. You just need to factor that in when putting the sergeant's priority of volleyball over patrolling into perspective. So long as the Canadians are here, let them do the risky stuff, he's likely thinking. O'Neill's assumption is that Afghan soldiers should be hoping for a better future for themselves out of this. My experience was that they don't, and so behaved accordingly. Hope doesn't come in a seacan.

On the upside, what the Canadian platoon is doing here is exactly what every counterinsurgent theorist has always said we should be doing given this kind of situation. Finally.

UPDATE: One terminology quibble: the article says the army calls the current Canadian embrace of "pop-centric" COIN the "Key Village Approach." This is a mangling of the actual term BGen Vance's planners invented, the "Key Villages on the Approaches strategy" (ie, the approaches to Kandahar City).

Posted by BruceR at 03:17 PM

Wrong-tree barking watch

This is an interesting story. Not sure why they're going with the CSIS involvement angle, though. The allegations about commanders putting orderly transfer to the Afghans ahead of intelligence-gathering would be more worth pursuing, I would have thought. Shows what I know.

And from the article, I'm not exactly clear what is is they're accusing CSIS of: all the witness appears to be saying is military police don't interrogate (they don't), and that Afghan government's procedural time limits would have prevented anything more than tactical questioning to establish identity in any case.

A couple points of clarification on the article. 1) In one quote of the transcript, it should say "trade" instead of "parade," meaning a military profession other than MP. 2) There is no such thing as a "military police intelligence officer;" you're one or the other. 3) It's not "tactical field questioning,"just "tactical questioning (TQ)", which has long been a recognized military career qualification, but is not the same as interrogation. (The TQer is documenting identity and circumstances of capture, basically, and determining intelligence value of a detainee; the "first interview" description would not be entirely wrong, if we were talking about police-type interviews.) 4) Also, the 96-hour rule's actually an improvement: when I was there it was 72.

Prof. Wark's concern that Canadians were "outsourcing interrogation to the Afghans" is not consistent with my experience. In order to "outsource" we would actually have had to get something in the way of return or output, presumably. And if there was ever an item of intelligence that came from an Afghan NDS interrogation of a detainee taken on one of our ops, neither I nor my ANA counterpart ever saw it. The NDS weren't big on the whole info-sharing thing to start with, with ISAF or the rest of the ANSF, and in my conversations with their officers at the time were generally bitter that the dysfunctional court system was springing most of their detainees free before THEY could do any effective questioning, either. (I wouldn't necessarily take that at face value, though.)

(UPDATE: I have no experience with the handling of any Canadian detainees governed by the terms of the Canadian-Afghan agreement, other than noting they appeared to be very few in number. However, during my tour, I was present in the 1/205 Brigade ANA intelligence cell for the photographing, documenting the possessions and statements of, and/or transfer of somewhere over two dozen Afghan army or police detainees taken in the field on either Afghan or joint ANSF-ISAF operations, all of whom were delivered to the NDS. While that had the side effect of giving me more face time with the "typical" Afghan detainee than most other Canadian soldiers might have gotten, I can only speak of what I know here.)

Posted by BruceR at 02:57 PM

An XKCD reverie

I quite enjoy the webcomic XKCD. This one reminded me of one moment in my life I've often gone back to in my mind.

So I'm standing on parade at the end of a long exercise, and they're giving out the awards. It hadn't been a good ex by any measure, and I was in a less-than-my-usually happy mood at that moment. And as the speeches wore on, I reflected on how amazing military discipline and other forms of social control are, for I had the ability, standing where it was, to in at least 47 ways I dedicatedly catalogued in my head, completely disrupt the proceedings I was detesting (and as the comic said, entirely change my life in the process). And every soldier in serried ranks around me had the same power, and was choosing not to use it, either. That's remarkable if you think about it. Obedience to what is socially acceptable, even in a regimented subsociety like the military, is and always will be still at least something of a choice, at least somewhat freely entered into: out of fear for the consequences, perhaps, but still a choice that one can revoke at any time. And yet we never do.

So what did I do in the end, to register my unhappiness? Nothing of course. I was on parade.

Posted by BruceR at 02:07 PM