December 13, 2010

Additional Afghan reading: Rosen

Not entirely about Afghanistan, but this Nir Rosen interview is choice, if you just skip the Glenn Greenwald bits: the observations about the humiliation of occupation and the belief that the enemy must be mercenaries because otherwise we'd feel like the British in Braveheart is spot-on; also reporters never talking to locals. The following basically sums up the fundamental tactical problem of Western soldiers throughout Afghanistan:

Likewise today the Americans may control the population centers, the Taliban control the countryside, and once you leave the cities, the few capitals of the provinces, you are in Taliban territory, and you have thousands and thousands of villages with no roads, impossible to even physically control these areas. The Americans ended up living with the people in Iraq, able to base themselves in communities. You cannot in Afghanistan do that.

So even from an American counter-insurgency point of view, it's just much too challenging. They are living in bases remote from the population, they go out, they rumble along a road slowly for a couple of hours, shake hands with an elder in a village, drink tea with him, they feel like they're Lawrence of Arabia or something, and then they rumble back to their military bases a couple of hours away in time for the chow hole to be opened to get a burger before going to play video games in their rooms.

Meanwhile, that night, the Taliban can knock on the door of the elder whose hand we shook, and remind him who his neighbor is, and who is watching him, and undermine any deal you're going to strike with that guy.

Another difference: Iraq, the conflict was fundamentally about controlling the state, because the main resource in Iraq is oil. Whoever controls the state controls the oil, and is rich. Afghanistan has not resources to speak of. In theory they have lithium, but they're never going to it. The main resource in Afghanistan is American dollars. We, our presence, is fueling a conflict economy. It's this corrosive presence, and everybody wants a piece of our money. The warlords in Afghanistan, even the Taliban, are getting our money.

In Iraq, our convoys were protected by private security companies like Blackwater. In Afghanistan, these convoys are protected by Afghan warlords. So it's our money which is fueling warlordism and corruption in Afghanistan. And the warlords pay off the Taliban, it's the Taliban that's more effective and will allow them to operate in Taliban areas. So Taliban is getting American money as well. It's a perfect storm of this conflict economy driven by American money which is flooding into a place that has no capacity to actually absorb it.

It is this last bit that is key. The big difference between Vietnam and Afghanistan is this. In Vietnam the Soviets and Chinese were funding and arming the north, and the U.S. was funding the south. In Afghanistan, the west is effectively funding both sides, by flooding the country with so much money in support of our own troops that it just sloshes about, raising all boats.

Around Kandahar, same as in the American desert (which I also know well), you have these flash floods on the dozen or so days of rain a year, because a microburst cloud dumps more water on a small area than the ground can ever absorb. That is the best analogy I can find for the Western military effort in Afghanistan. It wasn't intentional, but corrupting a village in order to save it isn't any more successful than the Vietnam alternative. We've created a country where a plurality if not a majority of the population is dependent on the war continuing and the Western military and development money flowing for their livelihoods, directly or indirectly. Our footprint, particularly in the south and east, is way, way too big. We're the microburst. It's not sustainable in our own economies and it's not helping them.

Posted by BruceR at 11:42 PM

Sentences I never thought would appear in print, #673

"The worst [thing about the Spiderman musical] is the bizarre, out-of-place chorus tune where Arachne and her spider-girls sing about shoes. They put on shoes and show off their shoes and talk about how they all have shoes." --Topless Robot. Wow. It really is the "Springtime for Hitler" of our time.

Posted by BruceR at 10:41 PM

Today's essential Afghan reading

There's so much at the moment, but I suspect the latest update about the Pir Mohammed school in Senjaray gives a truer picture of the reality than most accounts.

Canadian OMLT personnel were the first to occupy the "hilltop outpost" in Senjaray referred to, in early 2009, kicking out the ineffectual and completely compromised "police" detachment there. At the time six Canadians had been killed within shouting distance of the post in the space of two weeks, so we were less concerned about compromising local nation effectiveness. There's been an American company there for a year now, but nothing much else seems to have changed since in Senjaray.

Note the dogged US Captain, Nick Stout, has replaced the previous dogged Captain, Jeremiah Ellis, who started the drive to restore the Senjaray school a year ago this month. Note also the seasonality of the fighting. Ellis faced "just the occasional boom" in the winter; Stout faced "firefights almost daily" in the summer. I remember our operation there in January 2009 also meeting no direct resistance of any kind (other than a suicide bomber blowing up the next ANP post down the road and a well-planned enemy operation overrunning another in the next district while we were busy conducting the clear op). All the fighters, minus a few layback elements, winter up elsewhere this time of year. It is undoubtedly quiet there again now. As I said some time ago, the only way to know if all the kinetic effort around Kandahar this year has had any effect will be what Senjaray and places like it are like next summer.

Posted by BruceR at 10:08 PM