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Call Me Ehsaan
April 3, 2012 9:30 PM   Subscribe

A look at the war in Afghanistan through the eyes of Lt. Col. John Darin Loftis, one of the U.S. Air Force’s prized experts in Afghan language and culture, who was killed in Kabul on Feb. 25, 2012. (SL NYTimes Video)
posted by beisny (27 comments total) 9 users marked this as a favorite

 
Enlightening and inspiring. But saddening.
posted by KokuRyu at 9:59 PM on April 3, 2012


Sad. His obit says he and his wife started in the Peace Corps, which surprised me. But, reflecting on his goals in the video, perhaps it makes his work make more sense.

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posted by Chaussette and the Pussy Cats at 10:12 PM on April 3, 2012


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posted by Brak at 10:28 PM on April 3, 2012


Lt. Col. Loftis, thank you for your service and the spirit in which you carried it out. My apologies to your family for your sacrifice.
posted by ooga_booga at 11:20 PM on April 3, 2012 [1 favorite]


If you're running a counterinsurgency, it makes sense to me that you'd have a Pashto speaker in every, oh, company maybe. I'm baffled that we have something like one per division. This is like the difference between one guy per McDonald's and one guy per McDonald's Corp., Western US.

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posted by dhartung at 11:51 PM on April 3, 2012 [2 favorites]


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posted by flapjax at midnite at 3:44 AM on April 4, 2012


Ditto dhartung.

I would suggest that if the military had funded a few hundred people through university level 'Afghan Studies with Pashto' starting in 2002 there might have been a chance that the occupation of Afghanistan would have been a net benefit to the country. Probably a lot cheaper than hiring translators and building schools that nobody is going to use because the locals don't want to offend the Taliban.
posted by asok at 3:53 AM on April 4, 2012 [1 favorite]


And
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posted by asok at 3:53 AM on April 4, 2012


From what I can see in the video, we need more people like him in the world, let alone the military.

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posted by The Michael The at 4:00 AM on April 4, 2012 [3 favorites]


Did I miss something? As of 2010 there were only three Air Force officers who spoke Pashto? Jeebus!

Also, I have to comment on something else: At 1:20 he says he was the first military Pashto speaker to join a PRT. The British had a great many of them several years earlier in Lashkar Gah in 2007. I know this, for I was there.
posted by dougrayrankin at 4:07 AM on April 4, 2012 [2 favorites]


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posted by deanklear at 4:59 AM on April 4, 2012


What a loss for Afghanistan and the US.
posted by RandlePatrickMcMurphy at 6:28 AM on April 4, 2012


The Defense language Institute
As of 2009, over 40 languages are taught at the DLIFLC including Afrikaans in Washington, DC and the following in Monterey: Modern Standard Arabic, Iraqi Arabic, Chinese (Mandarin), Dari, French, German, Greek, Hebrew, Hindi, Italian, Japanese, Korean, Kurmanji, Pashto, Persian, Portuguese, Russian, Sorani Kurdish, Serbo-Croatian, Spanish, Indonesian, Tagalog, Thai, Turkish, Urdu, and Uzbek.
The US military has the resources. If there aren't enough (or any) people to do translation, someone along the chain of command has decided not to use the resources.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 6:44 AM on April 4, 2012 [1 favorite]


The US military has the resources. If there aren't enough (or any) people to do translation, someone along the chain of command has decided not to use the resources.

That's proof that they have the resources and haven't been using them? How many unfilled class slots did they have Kirth Gerson?
posted by Jahaza at 6:48 AM on April 4, 2012


Do you know how those slots are filled?
posted by Kirth Gerson at 8:18 AM on April 4, 2012


C'mon, people. How many speakers of the language do we need, when all they're ever going to hear is "Thank Allah America is here! We love you! Our apologies for stopping some of your bullets!"
posted by IAmBroom at 9:16 AM on April 4, 2012 [1 favorite]


It's sad his life was wasted in a fundamentally unworkable military occupation of a foreign country that does not desire our presence.
posted by zipadee at 9:18 AM on April 4, 2012


Well, pre-repeal of DADT, I know the military lost a number of trained Arab linguists because they had teh gay. Don't know what the Pashto situation was in that respect, but my experience is that the Pentagon is utterly unafraid to cut off its nose just to spite its face.
posted by the sobsister at 11:03 AM on April 4, 2012 [1 favorite]


Do you know how those slots are filled?

Yes. I don't understand the point of the question.
posted by Jahaza at 11:08 AM on April 4, 2012


Some background is necessary to keep ethical balance about why it is the way it is today.
posted by hortense at 11:12 AM on April 4, 2012


"The enemy is the target". There's your problem right there. Perhaps if every soldier sent to Afghanistan were capable of even speaking to the people, the identification of an enemy might be less glib. Or redundant.
posted by stonepharisee at 11:38 AM on April 4, 2012


Yes. I don't understand the point of the question.

Then I guess we're even.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 12:08 PM on April 4, 2012


Kirth Gerson, you wrote that "The US military has the resources. If there aren't enough (or any) people to do translation, someone along the chain of command has decided not to use the resources."

You cite as evidence of this the fact that the Defense language Institute offers a training program in Pashto.

But that's not actually evidence that they've decided not to use the resources. For all the evidence you've presented, they could be using the resource to its fullest. Unless you think the government has trained Pashto instructors sitting around all day doing nothing? Or teaching to half-full classrooms... My unfilled class slots question above.

It takes nearly a year of full time study to reach "general proficiency" in Pashto.

Potential bottlenecks/problems for forward deployment of Pashto speakers that don't involve "the chain of command has decided not to use the resources":

Lack of qualified teachers
Lack of qualified students (the government needs linguists in other languages too, not everyone has the talent focus to learn a difficult 2nd language, not everyone who has the mental ability has the physical ability or desire to be a soldier in our volunteer military)
Existing speakers getting killed or injured (see above article)
Competing private sector opportunities
Other demands on Pashto speaking ability (linguists aren't just needed forward)
Deployment limits due to operational tempo (the American Pashto speakers would like to see their families occasionally)
posted by Jahaza at 1:37 PM on April 4, 2012 [1 favorite]


Pashto is indeed difficult. Listening to it, I hear some similarities to Japanese. But a language where the grammar and the alphabet are significantly different from our native tongue is going to be a language that it will take time to pick up. You also have to consider: the Air Force is not the only branch of the military, officers != enlisted, and there is some benefit to using local translators. So, while being able to understand the people native to the country we're intruding upon is important, it's also important to realize that that understanding does not come from Air Force officers alone.
posted by Night_owl at 8:20 PM on April 4, 2012


Afghan war whistleblower Daniel Davis: 'I had to speak out – lives are at stake'. Soldier wrote detailed report claiming US generals 'have so distorted the truth … the truth has become unrecognisable'
posted by homunculus at 9:43 AM on April 15, 2012


Taliban strike across Afghanistan in 'spring offensive': Militants have been carrying out what they say are co-ordinated attacks on the Afghan capital Kabul and other targets in Afghanistan.
posted by homunculus at 9:45 AM on April 15, 2012


Why Afghan Women Risk Death to Write Poetry
posted by homunculus at 9:26 AM on April 28, 2012


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