April 16, 2010

Senjaray update

Canadian soldiers have spent a lot of time in and around the town of Senjaray. Anyway, anyone who spent time in Zhari district might be interested in this story about what has changed there, and what hasn't. See also Paul Wells in Maclean's.

Posted by BruceR at 06:01 PM

Yon apology update

Michael Yon, whose inflammatory calls for generals to be fired have been written about here before, has been "disembedded."

This came the same day he wrote, "Is there an Afghan Patriot? A Leader who cares more about Afghanistan than himself? Karzai's Afghanistan is not worthy of western support. If Afghanistan wants our support, they need to get rid of this guy. Karzai is an obstacle to progress."

Yon apparently can't see why enabling that sort of unique perspective of his would be a problem for American commanders right now.

Instead, he blames COMISAF personally, and goes on a bit of a tear. Apparently the American 4-star should be fired, too. Or executed. I'm not clear which:

The disembed from McChrytal's top staff (meaning from McChrystal himself) is a very bad sign. Sends chills that McChrystal himself thinks we are losing the war. McChrystal has a history of covering up. This causes concern that McChrystal might be misleading SecDef and President. Are they getting the facts?...

I am American. Today, I do not trust McChrystal anymore than some people trust the New York Times, Obama or Bush. If McChrystal could be trusted, I would go back to my better life. McChrystal is a great killer but this war is above his head. He must be watched.

I mean really, I know it's a Facebook wall, but the guy reads like Rorschach's Journal now.

Posted by BruceR at 05:39 PM

On the latest allegations

No point in ignoring it.

The current story does highlight the importance to our operations of those few Afghan-Canadians who work as LCAs (language and cultural advisors). Because you had to be a Canadian citizen to get a security clearance, and you had to have a security clearance to be allowed into Canadian military facilities overseas, our commanders and the like couldn't do what my group did and hire local interpreters, and often had to rely on that relatively small group of Afghan expatriates with sufficient freedom from other employment or obligations here in Canada to do a six-month stint with us. All the LCAs I worked with were nice guys, don't get me wrong. I wish we could have used them more to help with our desperate need for written translation. But among the ANA, where I worked, the local guys had their advantages, too.

Afghan soldiers were often skeptical of the LCAs, who unlike local terps wore Canadian uniforms on duty at the time. Rightly or wrongly, professional soldiers in any army can sometimes tend to look down on people wearing uniforms they feel haven't been "earned." The Afghans thought they were poorer interpreters than the locals, generally speaking (although the Canadians often thought the opposite) and tended to look down on them as expatriates, who to be fair to the Afghans are frequently objects of criticism by those who have stayed behind in years of trouble, in any country. It was a bias, not entirely a rational one on their part, but it was there. Sometimes the feeling was mutual on the LCAs' part (again, rightly or wrongly). LCAs tending to be older gentlemen, coming from civilian businesses and the like, sometimes had difficulty relating to the younger, harder Afghan men, the kind who tend to hold soldier jobs in any country: they did better with elders and people of import. LCAs obviously often had a better understanding of what was said than we did, but sometimes military customs and vernacular would elude them, too. It didn't at all surprise me when I found they had misheard or misunderstood some soldier's story. But that was also true of local terps.

That said, anything any LCA says about his own experience would likely be unimpeachable by me and most other Canadians on tour. If he worked as the task force commander's "terp," an LCA would have been literally by his side whenever he left KAF. LCAs, having the run of KAF, heard as much gossip as any soldier did. And he would have understood more about a passing encounter with an Afghan civilian or an NDS member than he ever could have explained to his Canadian colleagues.

It would likely take some form of proceeding involving real cross-examination, not just the work of the intrepid Laurie Hawn, MP, an ex-pilot, to sift through this witness' statements to find whatever kernels of truth are there, no offence to Mr. Hawn. It's notable to me how the witness' prepared statement ("The military used the NDS as subcontractors for abuse and torture") and his extemporaneous remarks ("I donít call nobody a liar") differ in tone, indicating some extensive preparation, possibly with his interlocutor, Prof. Attaran, who himself has a long history of making allegations later found to be unsupported about the Canadian Forces.

MP Paul Dewar's latest leak (and there will undoubtedly be others like it; we're now at the stage where people can tend to start looking around for buses to throw others under) also sounds problematic at first glance: "It is [believed] that all the detainees were deceptive and they have a better knowledge on TB [Taliban] activity in their area. Based on the above, it is recommended that [the prisoners] be transferred to the NDS for further questioning" does sound like the outsourcing of interrogation.

Not knowing the specifics other than what's in the press, it is probably worth noting once again, though, that Canadian black-letter policy only allowed for one of two outcomes of any Canadian detention: NDS-transfer and release. I suspect the quoted statement could be read in that context, as an argument by field soldiers for a continuing detention of some suspicious characters by *somebody* -- advising against releasing the individuals outright in other words, rather than a plan to garner further intelligence.

I would advise remaining highly skeptical that the NDS were requested by or provided Canadians with any substantive reports derived from questioning these or any other individuals, either those few Canadian detainees (on which I had no visibility at all), but also the much larger number of "Afghan" detainees -- meaning those taken with ANA or ANP present at the point of capture (by late 2008, that was pretty much all of them) -- that I would have been involved with. I certainly never saw any such reports. Ever.

The NDS officers I encountered during my tour were astonishingly and famously reticent, and entirely uninterested in our queries or counsel regarding "their" detainees, and they didn't often share anything they knew of value with their own army, let alone ISAF forces. As far as we and the other Afghan security forces were concerned, the transfer of a detainee from the ANA or ANP to the NDS ended all possibility of further information from them, or influence on their disposition (positive or negative) for that matter. It certainly didn't stimulate it. And to be fair neither the Afghan soldiers nor we ourselves tended to push that issue, as I often complained about at the time. But "outsourcing" or "subcontracting" anything to those men with the expectation of getting any kind of a straight answer back would simply have seemed ludicrous to us at the time. There were brick walls out there that offered more in the way of info than some NDS officers.

Posted by BruceR at 08:21 AM