January 18, 2011

Picture 1, Thousand words 0

The destruction of Tarok Kalacha, Arghandab District, October, 2010

Counterinsurgency, as practiced at the tactical level, is the best I have ever seen it practiced. Again, I was tremendously impressed with some of the battalions I spent time with. Yesterday, Ranger Jeff Martindale took me up and down the Arghandab River Valley and allowed me to spend some time with one of his companies... Really, really sophisticated, and in high spirits as they're going about their work... Anyone who thinks U.S. soldiers sit around passing out Snickers bars all day as part of counterinsurgency operations needs to visit the Arghandab.
--Andrew Exum, Arghandab District, December, 2010

Posted by BruceR at 12:43 AM

January 17, 2011

Today's essential Afghan reading: "Travels with Paula"

Tom Ricks had a fascinating piece by the bubbly Paula Broadwell, a US army major and Petraeus biographer who's pretending to be a freelance journalist at the moment. The juxtaposition between the cutesy headline, "Travels With Paula (I): A Time To Build" and the aerial photo of the destroyed Arghandab village of Tarok Kalacha, once home to 14 extended Afghan families (amazingly, itself juxtaposed with a photo of the village before the bombs hit) provides one of the most jarring top-ends to a war article I've ever seen.

I don't think Broadwell realizes she has blithely written one of the most devastating critiques of the American war effort ever penned. No one without her access would have obtained aerial photos like that. And, even if you support the Afghan war 100%, you can't look those photos without entertaining at least a small question about the American war effort at this point. I hope she doesn't find out... I was so looking forward to "Travels With Paula (II)".

The text makes it worse. It's basically about how the local US battalion commander dropped "49,200 lbs. of ordnance on the Taliban tactical base of Tarok Kalache", flattening it, and is now offering to pay to rebuild the village.

Foust, Foust again, Finel, and Yglesias have chimed in already on the big problems with this. I make a couple other observations below the fold.

"...even the commander, LTC David Flynn, was concerned about the potential loss of [American] life [to IED strikes], but they could not afford to lose momentum."

The village was destroyed to keep up the military momentum. Check.

"Not long after, Flynn shared one insight into the burden of command: "I literally cringed when we dropped bombs on these places -- not because I cared about the enemy we were killing or the HME destroyed, but I knew the reconstruction would consume the remainder of my deployed life.'"

Oh. Well, so much for the momentum...

"The artillery unit, acting as a provisional infantry battalion..."

No offense to any redlegs who are reading, but sometimes when all you have is a 155mm hammer...

"The plan was for one team to clear a 600-meter path with MICLICs from one of his combat outposts to Tarok Kalache..."

The village was only 600m away from the COP? Well, at least that must have made the danger-close templating interesting: artillery guys like that kind of stuff.

"Their clearance of Babur, Khosrow Sofla, Charqolba Sofla, and other villages commenced October 7, aided by USSF, ABP, and an additional infantry company from B/1-22 IN."

Okay, STOP. Note that ABP (Afghan Border Police) is the only Afghan unit in that list. By ABP Paula is undoubtedly referring to Raziq's chaps from Spin Boldak, who we've talked about before here and here. No Afghan regular army, for instance, or local police, just ABP. Now, Raziq, it's fair to say if you follow the links, is not loved by all Kandaharis, and has been accused before of unintentionally increasing the Taliban's support through selective atrocities against other Pashtun tribes, the Noorzai in particular. His forces have no jurisdiction in Arghandab, which is deep inside the country, no where near where they are mandated to operate, or even deep local knowledge to offer... Wow. But he was the Afghan partner who provided the only host nation input around the table about whether this village and those around it needed to be destroyed in order to be saved? Just... wow.

"Flynn had received immediate guidance from his chain of command in November that there was a full-scale push to rebuild the villages."

I bet.

"We've had all the people vetted by the District Governor to verify that they are the true landowners."

Oh, god. Anyway, it just goes on from there... you can imagine the rest. I can't wait for the lady's Petraeus biography... it should be a wonderfully Panglossian account. Apparently she is in Afghanistan all month. Carry on, Candide!

PS: I really think calling an inhabited cluster of 14 compounds a "Taliban base," as if this was a dedicated military facility, is stretching it, too. But fortunately, unlike all the other stories about Afghanistan recently, the photos Paula acquired impeach her every word far better than anyone else could.

Posted by BruceR at 08:07 PM

January 13, 2011


For what it's worth, from a distance both geographical and cultural, I for one am proud to live in a time where this man is the leader of our free world. It reflects well on us, and our time.

UPDATE: By the way, anyone who doesn't think using the phrase "blood libel" in this situation wasn't just about the dumbest thing you could ever do just needs to ask the question: how would people have reacted if someone had implicated Sarah Palin in the shooting of a black congressman and she responded by saying she was the victim of a "high-tech lynching"?

Look, Ms. Palin is nothing more or less than a pretty airhead who through her own intellectual insecurity has surrounded herself with a coterie of morons, none of whom know much about the English language or history or public relations. ("Surveyors marks?" Come on...) Which means, lacking any grownup advice, she has to fall back on her own instincts in situations like this, and her own instincts are horribly provincial and narrow. I don't debate the lady's right to say anything she likes, ever, but her reaction to this whole affair has been, anyone surely has to admit, way way far past the other side of stupid. I honestly can't see how Americans elect her to anything in two years after this sorry display of what passes for her personal judgment. Thankfully.

Matt Taibbi seems almost prophetic on this now in his highly amusing column from over a year ago.

UPDATE #2: And I know this might seem entirely antithetical to the entire Obama message yesterday to bring up, in spirit if not in fact, but one really saw the "crazy loner" theory assembling itself in the media even before all the facts were in, this time (largely, it should be noted, by those defending violent imagery and Palin). I have no reason to believe there's any link in Loughner's papers now in police hands to Palin or even politics as most Americans understand them, but the fact remains the alleged shooter's links to the rejectionist sovereign citizen movement are yet to be fully defined, too. One shouldn't be too surprised if there's another shoe yet to drop there, and that the shooter turns out to have been legally sane, acting on an extremist but not sui generis political motivation. Certainly there's going to be a whole prosecutorial team trying to prove it, with the capital punishment options available.

All loner assassins are to some degree deranged, it would seem, but that doesn't mean they are necessarily apolitical in their motivations. One suspects in this case that history will come to see the accused killer as more like a Leon Czolgosz than a John Hinckley.

Posted by BruceR at 05:18 PM