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Another Hard Day of Trying to Stay Alive
January 26, 2013 4:04 PM   Subscribe

Almost as soon as we got back to Dash-e Towp, I overheard some U.S. officers loudly complaining about the inability of Afghan soldiers to make appointments on time. Afghan soldiers do have difficulty making appointments on time, it’s true. They also don’t like to stand in straight lines or dress according to regulation or march in step or do so many of the things intrinsic to a Western notion of professional soldiering. When a lieutenant calls a formation of Afghan privates to attention, they will inevitably resemble, as my drill sergeant used to say, “a soup sandwich.” But they will also accept a much higher level of risk than any coalition force ever has. Their ranks are filled with tough and brave men who run toward the fight without body armor or helmets or armored vehicles and sleep on the frozen ground without sleeping bags and dig up I.E.D.’s with a pickax and often go hungry and seldom complain. - A week in the life of an Afghan National Army battalion, on its own in the wilderness. (NYTimes)
posted by beisny (13 comments total) 24 users marked this as a favorite

 
Here you have the reason no one can conquer Afghanistan.
posted by Katjusa Roquette at 4:16 PM on January 26, 2013 [4 favorites]


That was a great read; thanks for posting it. Don't know if Jonathan Steele's latest LRB piece, "Another War Lost," is available to non-subscribers, but if so, it makes a good companion piece.
posted by languagehat at 4:43 PM on January 26, 2013 [1 favorite]


Sadly the piece you mention is for subscribers only, too bad as it did look worthwhile.
posted by Katjusa Roquette at 4:47 PM on January 26, 2013


I read this and was so saddened. Afghanistan looks to be on course to suffer more of the same for decades to come.
posted by arcticseal at 5:07 PM on January 26, 2013


I don't know if the NYTimes writer got the name correct, or misheard it, but "Dasht-e Towp" in Dari is "Desert of Ball"... or perhaps "Desert of (adjective for sphere)".
posted by thewalrus at 5:43 PM on January 26, 2013


all your paywall are belong to us. I'm doing that only because I think it's an important article for people to read.
posted by thewalrus at 5:48 PM on January 26, 2013 [2 favorites]


I've been reading a lot about T E Lawrence lately (a somewhat annual thing for me), and I'm immediately reminded of his 27 Articles, written to try and help the British Army regulars work with the tribal soldiers he led during WWI.

The more things change.....
posted by anastasiav at 6:08 PM on January 26, 2013


This capacity for switching sides, betraying sides, playing sides, often simultaneously, always baffled the foreign forces in Afghanistan. The complex logic of Afghanistan’s ever-shifting allegiances is simply inscrutable to most outsiders; we have never really understood whom we’re fighting or why they’re fighting us.
posted by Smedleyman at 6:28 PM on January 26, 2013


This capacity for switching sides, betraying sides, playing sides, often simultaneously, always baffled the foreign forces in Afghanistan. The complex logic of Afghanistan’s ever-shifting allegiances is simply inscrutable to most outsiders; we have never really understood whom we’re fighting or why they’re fighting us.

I think that's because the foreign forces get to go home to a peaceful country after a year or two. When you're a professional warrior you're going to fight.. whoever, forever. Or at least until there's a feasible financially attractive alternative. The senior Afghan officer he describes is obviously an incredibly competent, bold and intelligent natural leader who has been recognized and rewarded for his skills from a young age. He's not going to go become a peasant farmer or a factory worker. People have to be able to conceive of a change to make it on their own I think.
posted by fshgrl at 7:31 PM on January 26, 2013 [6 favorites]


These guys are the anti-ARVN, right down to their reluctance to give up check posts and concede ground to the Taliban.
posted by Ice Cream Socialist at 7:31 PM on January 26, 2013


Love the smell of war-pr0n in the morning.
posted by signal at 5:01 AM on January 27, 2013


The term "theater of war" has never been more appropriate. Good thing we still have journalism like this to dismantle the illusion that these aren't real people with complicated lives that are constantly, permanently affected by decisions made on a whim by disconnected people in a faraway land. The contrast of the two "eye-scanning" procedures is almost a perfect analogy for this.

"...we have never really understood whom we’re fighting or why they’re fighting us."
That kind of says it all, doesn't it? We don't go to war to understand each other. It's awfully telling that Afghan nationals and insurgents as well as American soldiers and civilians all blame corruption and greed as the source of their problems, even if that's not who they end up fighting at the end of the day.
posted by Johann Georg Faust at 8:19 AM on January 27, 2013 [1 favorite]


> Sadly the piece you mention is for subscribers only

Damn. Well, here's a particularly powerful passage:
I met a Helmandi called Sayed Jawed, who worked on archaeological restoration in his province throughout the Taliban period and has managed to continue despite the present war. He took the risk, rare for an Afghan, of voluntarily visiting the British base in Lashkar Gah to advise them on how to behave, only to be insulted when they took him off to be photographed from the front and in profile; he also had his fingerprints taken and other biometric data collected in what seems to be a project to record every single Afghan’s personal information. He spoke gloomily of British and American failures in Helmand. ‘After 2002 people were waiting eagerly for development. Even between 2004 and 2006 Lashkar Gah and central Helmand were safe and there were no Taliban. But the British and Americans came with a military face, using helicopters and tanks that reminded people of the Russians. Instead of spending money on education and women’s rights in central Helmand they were flying to remote areas to combat the Taliban. They lost hearts and minds and now you cannot buy them. When the British and Americans leave, the Taliban will establish themselves in the weakest areas and the Afghan National Army won’t have the ability to stop them.’ He thought the army would struggle even to protect Lashkar Gah and Gereshk, Helmand’s largest towns.

As security declines in the Afghan countryside, aid agencies predict a further steep rise in the number of people flooding into Kabul: its population is now more than five million compared to two million in 2001. According to the official figures from the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, almost half a million Afghans have had to leave their home areas since the US invasion and the total population displaced by conflict increased by 45 per cent between 2010 and 2011 and another third this year. Nato governments meanwhile are unwilling to accept that their efforts to help rural Afghans have ended up by making hundreds of thousands homeless. Last summer a working paper for Britain’s Overseas Development Institute described the ‘reluctance among many donors to engage strategically with the issue of forced displacement, largely because the main drivers of displacement are the direct and indirect effects of the ongoing conflict to which many of them are a party’.

I went with volunteers from the Norwegian Refugee Council to Charahi Qambar, a wilderness of white tarpaulin roofing and rickety mud-brick shacks on the western edge of Kabul. It was a warm bright day in early November but workers were about to start their winter needs assessment in the hope of preventing a repetition of last year’s horror when eight children died here from the cold. Some nine hundred families, mainly from Helmand and Kandahar, live in the settlement but the Afghan government refuses to accept that it is permanent: they fear more people will arrive if they do. There are 53 camps like this around Kabul. The government describes internally displaced people as illegal squatters and economic migrants, and wants them to go home. But a study commissioned by the Norwegians found that three-quarters hoped to remain in their new locations even if it became safe for them to go home.
posted by languagehat at 11:40 AM on January 27, 2013


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