February 27, 2012

The Koran-burning incident: only a matter of time

I wasn't surprised to hear about the Afghan riots around alleged burning of Korans at Bagram. This incident, and the reaction to it, was inevitable, given the politics of Westerners handling that particular book.

We had a similar issue in Kandahar in late 2008. There had been an attempt to reach out to the Afghan people through the distribution by the military of Pashto-Arabic Korans. Very ornate, beautiful books. But Westerners couldn't be seen to handle the books, our Afghan advisors felt, so direct gifting was impossible. So we attempted to give them through the Afghan military, where I was an advisor. This was also problematic: the military didn't like getting Korans from westerners' hands, either, and they couldn't really give them out themselves, because they knew their defiling origin. So that was a non-starter. We also started to see returns of holy books previously given, as word spread that the words might somehow have been adulterated or bowdlerized by Westerners. It being, of course, impossible to disprove that particular negative, the whole Koran-gifting thing basically shut down.

This, though, created another problem: what to do with the books now? Neither holy nor unholy, they could not be disposed of in any rational manner. The Afghans would not take possession under any circumstances, nor would they give them back to our control (because they were, at least somewhat, still the word of God). This proved a very difficult issue to negotiate, and as I recall ended with basically everyone just agreeing to pretend they weren't there.

I have no doubt that the supply of burnable copies of the Koran at Bagram airbase ended up there in some similar fashion. This is not a goodwill gesture, it seems, that can ever, ever work. Furthermore, as the Western presence winds down and seacans are emptied and their contents disposed of rather than shipped home, one should expect similar such incidents in future.

UPDATE: Richard Minniter calls the discrimination of Korans both "novel and sincere." It's certainly not the former, and experience suggests the impossibility of convincing Afghans of the latter. The most likely result of any such initiative now would be another sea container full of potentially burnable Korans in Bagram.

Posted by BruceR at 09:16 AM

February 14, 2012

Zhari fighting season 2010

Courtesy of Tom Ricks, a new monograph on U.S. small unit actions in Afghanistan in the 2010. Three successful platoon-level fights from the old Canadian hunting grounds in Zhari District are described in detail, south of Senjaray, FOB Wilson, and Howz-e Madad respectively. That was the first "fighting season" that the US had full control over Zhari: survivors of Canadian efforts on the same ground in the four summers previous, 2006-2009 (which notably, are not referred to at all) may be interested to see what changed... and what didn't.

Points I enjoyed: the unsuccessful attempt of the Senjaray-area Afghan police to spring some detained insurgent "farmers" (lived that one), and the successful use of a M1128, otherwise known as a Stryker MGS, to suppress an enemy position. The wheeled 105mm gun-armed M1128 was at one time considered the future of the Canadian heavy armoured vehicle, until Afghan experience convinced the army to go back to actual tanks again. Guess it wouldn't have been totally useless in the grape fields after all.

Posted by BruceR at 08:31 PM

February 02, 2012

Old Blue heads back

Old Blue's headed back to Afghanistan again, and sums up his thoughts on the current situation in a concise and depressing post. He only stops to mention the recent "green-on-blue" attacks on French mentors in his old stomping grounds. I thought he summed up why those incidents are on the increase in another post a few months back pretty well, too.

Safe travels, and godspeed.

Posted by BruceR at 07:58 PM