2 Marines Killed, Base Attacked in Afghanistan;
Civilian Surge in Doubt

A prisoner trying to escape a US detention center in southern Afghanistan grabbed a gun and killed two US Marines before being cut down. The two US deaths brought the NATO total of fatalities for the weekend through Monday to 8, with the others having been killed by roadside bombs.

In Paktika Province in the southeast, the Taliban boldly mounted an attack on 3 US base camps, but were repulsed and 7 killed. In this case, however, the loss of 7 fighters surely meant less to the Taliban than their demonstration that they could mount an assault on US bases in this province.

A United Nations report finds that in the first 6 months of 2010, the number of civilians killed or wounded in the ongoing conflict in Afghanistan between the Kabul government and its challengers rose by nearly a third over the same period in 2009. Some 75% of the civilian casualties were caused by the Taliban or similar guerrilla groups. A caution, though, that in such conflict situations the public often blames both sides for casualties, because they see the fighting between the two as what generates them; and, faced with a choice of putting the major blame on their cousins or on foreigners, they often excoriate the latter. This report will be seen as a propaganda point by US hawks, but on the ground it may well not work out that way.

Meanwhile, President Hamid Karzai slammed the 30,000- 40,000 private security guards in Afghanistan, saying that the Afghanistan security forces are perfectly capable of keeping order and that the foreign security men should leave the country. (Karzai is unlikely actually to try to expels these security guards any time soon, so his complaint is a piece of political theater for the moment. He may get rid of them after 2013 when NATO troops are largely planning to have withdrawn).

The 8 NATO troop deaths this weekend came in the wake of the revelation that a couple of weeks ago a team of medical aid workers, including 6 Americans, were killed in rural Badakhshan province. Reports differ as to whether the killers were common thieves or Taliban suspicious that the foreigners were missionaries. Time Magazine correctly asks whether President Obama’s notion of a ‘civlian surge’ is plausible in the face of such brutal violence against civilians even in a relatively calm province.

ITN has video:

4 Responses

  1. .
    I have a strong bias in this matter, and sometimes you have to simply ignore me. Perhaps this is one of those times.

    I think the Reuters report misstates what President Karzai probably said about quasi-military armed forces, because I think he is worried about two separate problems that the wire service conflated into one.

    First, there is the problem with Western Private Military Companies, who employ Western Expatriates to supervise Third World Mercenaries. He isn’t so concerned about sexual hazing. Karzai is concerned about para-military organizations whose SOP for convoy ops includes “anticipatory enfilading fire,” sometimes imitating Sherman’s march to the Sea. The Westerners in this category are down to about 15,000, I think, including PSD’s and Diplomatic Security. The Fijians, Gurkhas and Salvadorans, among others, are down to less than 20,000 by now, I should think.

    But “President” Karzai is also deeply concerned about the number of Afghanis that the US Army has under arms as ASG’s. That number was around 30,000 to 40,000 some months back, but the Army is adding 5 – 10,000 every single month. Almost all of the Commanders of US FOB’s and COP’s in Afghanistan now have their own little private army, manned by locals, for perimeter security and other combat-related missions. Their numbers are available from public sources, but the aggregate numbers may be classified, so I won’t estimate. But figure enough people to man all guard towers on all US posts, camps and stations. These forces are also equipped, trained and commanded by cadres of Western Expats. They are not accountable in any way to any Minister of the Afghan “government.” They could become local militias or worse, Karzai fears. From reading the professional journals of our warriors, I get the distinct impression that our battlefield commanders are not 100% on board with leaving everything related to local security up to bureaucrats back in Kabul.

    I think this arming of local Afghanis and organizing them into quasi-military forces is of more concern to Karzai than a bunch of former US soldiers acting out homoerotic taboo on tape. He would rather that all indigenous fighting forces came under a Ministry of the Kabul GoIRA. Who knows where local, autonomous control can lead.
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  2. .
    Jason Motlagh wrote in the TIME article you linked to:
    “Once allowed to operate with a degree of immunity, aid workers now face a dramatically increased threat of kidnapping and assassination.”

    Taliban and ordinary locals used to regard unarmed Westerners in civilian clothing and civilian vehicles as benign, or even as a benefit to their communities.
    For 9 years, the US Army, the brutal and hated occupation force, has employed “civilians” or civilian-looking personnel as an adjunct to kinetic military operations. Genuine civilian aid efforts were compromised by Louis Berger, RTI, DAI, Chemonics, abt and the rest of the USAID ‘development-industrial complex’ camouflaging themselves in the guise of civilian aid in order to covertly serve as a force multiplier for the warfighter. Whether mapping human terrain or appointing local government officials, these “civilians” in the service of the military mission were bound to be found out. And now they’ve spoiled it for the authentic civilians, security-wise.

    I disagree with the Obama implication that sending in unlawful combatants and calling them civilians somehow changes that character of the unwanted Occupation. Taking folks out of ACU’s and putting a bush jacket and boonie hat on them doesn’t make them “civilian.”
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  3. Brian, it must frustrate you to no end, all these people talking in Big Terms about what is going on “on the ground.” People who don’t get, don’t even WANT to get, the complex-enterprise nature of what they glorify and reify as War. Too smart, too elevated, maybe too successful in youth playing the board game called RISK! and now World of Warcraft. Too disconnected from any desire, even, to see the huge disconnect between the chimerical imagos that they play their tough-sounding, war-wimp, eagle-eyed mental games with and the actual stuff that is being done in their names and with their wealth, and to the actual detriment of their “security.”

    You’d think that they might learn what a real threat to one’s life and culture looks like, but so many of us stand there like half-asleep sentries, loaded and locked but completely unaware of the staff sergeant sneaking up behind to cut our throats, take our weapons and sell them to the people we just HAVE to identify as The Enemy. Too stupid to recognize that if our Wise Leaders put armed guys in the face of people who are also armed, live in the terrain, have real tribal patriotism and a tradition of declining to be ruled or even occupied by furriners, they are going to successfully and at retail and eventually at wholesale kill a whole bunch of Our Boys In Uniform, because they are smart and adaptable and have appropriate “technology” and much more appropriate tactics and motivations.

    Yet our Smart Geopoliticians, working with their mythical and fraudulent intellectual tool kits, keep the Game going, because they or someone they favor gets rich off it. And they don’t give a shit because of the game they are ACTUALLY playing, or are too stupid to see, that they are “sowing dragon’s teeth.” For me, there’s enough learning in just four books to inform them, but hey, they got million-dollar PowerPoints and Really Deep White Papers By Really Smart War College Generals And Colonels and Intelligence Estimates that Make It All Seem So Necessary and Right. “Catch-22,” by Joseph Heller. “First In,” by CIA braggart Gary Schroen and I have to wonder how that ever got published. And “Where Men Win Glory,” by Jon Krakauer, that kind of lays out in futile detail the whole sorry scenario that makes it possible for old men of bad faith to suck testosterone-driven young men with dreams of Valor Under Arms and yearning for Community in the Band of Brothers into one foolish, wasteful but oh-so-profitable fray after another. And “War of the World,” by Niall Ferguson. The latter is really the kind of portrait that ought to make all of us nauseous at ourselves. But won’t, of course.

    I don’t know what your take on the Grand Strategies might be. Maybe you think there are Great Manichaean Conflicts that “we” ought to engage in and this is just one little stupid sidelight, or maybe you go along with Maj. Gen. Smedley Butler’s indictment of Great Power wars of the 20th and now 21st century as nothing but “a racket.” It’s pretty obvious that the disconnect between the Popular Image of the War on Terror, and what’s really shaking, is huge and growing and presaged by guys like George Orwell. “We have ALWAYS been at war with EastAsia…”

    Any thoughts on “fixing the situation,” even if the situation is limited to what is going on in Afghanistan as we do our little blog thing?

  4. .
    JT, as a simple man I think in simple terms.
    Afghanistan will never be worth the effort needed to do Occupation right, and actually woo hearts and minds, because there is so little possible Return on Investment. Unless we are willing to stay 100 years, and spend whatever it takes, we need a more sustainable approach.
    Even if we spent money on Afghanistan at the level we give money to Israel, for example, which I’ve heard approaches $7,000 per capita per year, when you add it all up, I still doubt that we could persuade them to like us and adopt our values.

    Smarter analysts than me have concluded that there is a possibility of coalescing a functional government in Kabul, given enough time and money. Me, I’m skeptical.
    But we all know that we can incubate a small number of self-governing, self-protecting small communities that can not only provide for their own security and stability, but can also do a much better job of economic development at a local scale than foreign Expats.
    The authentic indigenous local leaders ought to be empowered to protect and develop their own small communities.
    There’s got to be a way to deliver basic health care with locals as the face of the health delivery system. I’m thinking about a system where the foreigners back in Kabul, or Brussels, coach local Midwives and Nurses over the Internet, in the local language.
    Locals should get to decide whether to fix a road or build a school.
    Locals should decide who gets micro-loans.

    There’s going to be graft and skimming, no matter who is handling the money. Wouldn’t it be better if folks in the small villages were getting the graft, rather than the big wheels in the national “government ?

    .

    If our vision of what we can accomplish is too expansive, pie in the sky, and we burn through all that money trying to develop a national governance structure that won’t ever work, that poor dirt farmer 25 miles from the nearest road won’t have any reason to be grateful to us.
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