Lots of stuff to cover in Afghanistan lately.
David Axe from War is Boring and Wired.com has a three part series on efforts to recruit Afghan police in a heavily Taliban sympathetic town in Paktika Province. If you just want to cut to the chase you can skip right to part 3 which summarizes the first two quite well. In short, there isn’t much to be optimistic about.
The Taliban, reminiscent of Al-Qaida in Iraq circa 2006, pushed local villagers a bit too far in their execution of the son of a village elder by erroneously declaring him an American spy. They had bullied villagers for some time, stealing food and impressing young men into military service but this seemed to be the last straw.
So, enter the U.S. Army. Taking advantage of the opening offered by the Taliban overreach, the Army came in, set up a small base and offered to help train a local force to defend the village. The articles follow the trials and tribulations involved in setting up that force.
What it really does is highlight how little progress we’ve made in the past decade. How do we convince the tribal elders that they should join forces with the coalition and provide men for the new Afghan police force?
Herring tries the proverbial carrots, first. He mentions the monthly, $225 paychecks the ALP earn, and the weapons, ammo and supplies they get from the Afghan Ministry of Interior. He promises investment from Kabul if the police unit gets enough volunteers.
Now, I get it, you gotta use what you got. But this is the hiring of mercenaries. It doesn’t matter if you’re purchasing the services of the Gothic horde or some mountain tribesmen. This downside of this sort of thing was captured quite well by our favorite Florentine.
Mercenaries and auxiliaries are useless and dangerous; and if one holds his state based on these arms, he will stand neither firm nor safe; for they are disunited, ambitious and without discipline, unfaithful, valiant before friends, cowardly before enemies; they have neither the fear of God nor fidelity to men, and destruction is deferred only so long as the attack is; for in peace one is robbed by them, and in war by the enemy. The fact is, they have no other attraction or reason for keeping the field than a trifle of stipend, which is not sufficient to make them willing to die for you. They are ready enough to be your soldiers whilst you do not make war, but if war comes they take themselves off or run from the foe…
In other words, we should not be pinning our hopes on these guys when the coalition pulls out.
But the cash doesn’t pull in enough recruits. Then things get ugly…
But the sergeant’s soft sales pitch just isn’t working, and the Afghan soldiers grow impatient with the impasse. Acting on their own initiative, they issue an ultimatum to the assembled elders. Cough up 25 men, or report to the patrol base themselves to become ALP, they say.
Yes…the way to avoid the forced conscription by the Taliban is to accept it from the Afghan army. Look, appeals to national loyalty and building a better future…’for our children, and our children’s children’ ain’t gonna cut it here but geez this isn’t a lot of payoff for ten years.
Shorter NYTimes ‘I like this guy but if he goes off to war it’d really suck and I’d have to stop being an emotional child-girl and be a grown up. Besides, if he dies, seeing all those ‘R.I.P.s’ on FaceBook would, like totally, depress me and stuff so I’ll just break up with him when he deploys.’ Absolutely…freaking…incredible.
On to lighter news…
The Kiwis have a confectionery called ‘Afghans‘. I have no idea what their origin is or any link to Afghanistan but there’s an opportunity for some great urban legends.
LTC Daniel Davis has written an article about how bad things are going in Afghanistan and it’s getting some attention within the blogosphere. While I agree that things look bad I have to admit I’m not seeing much of substance in his article that merits the attention it’s gotten. In fact, the anecdotes Davis uses to try to make his case really make a different one: War sucks.
In August, I went on a dismounted patrol with troops in the Panjwai district of Kandahar province. Several troops from the unit had recently been killed in action, one of whom was a very popular and experienced soldier. One of the unit’s senior officers rhetorically asked me, “How do I look these men in the eye and ask them to go out day after day on these missions? What’s harder: How do I look wife in the eye when I get back and tell her that her husband died for something meaningful? How do I do that?”
Couldn’t you have that very same vignette in every war? I imagine that even when liberating Europe the death of a beloved comrade raised similar feelings of ‘Is it worth it?’ and ‘What do we say to the families?’
How many more men must die in support of a mission that is not succeeding and behind an array of more than seven years of optimistic statements by U.S. senior leaders in Afghanistan? No one expects our leaders to always have a successful plan. But we do expect — and the men who do the living, fighting and dying deserve — to have our leaders tell us the truth about what’s going on.
Really? We do? I’d point to the years 2002 to 2008 as evidence that not only do people not want the truth about how things are really going in wartime but there’s outright hostility to such truth telling. Remember the whole nonsensical debate about who ‘supports the troops’ or is ‘undermining the war effort’.
I don’t think that’s a reason not to tell the truth but let’s not kid ourselves that there’s much of an appetite for it.