Roads Will Make Us Safe Forevs!

by Joshua Foust on 4/30/2008 · 5 comments

Yet another article about how roads make the IEDs go away. Although this time Ron Synovitz does his readers the courtesy of reminding them that this is Kabul and the U.S. military’s idea. Roads facilitate faster reaction times, absolutely—and this is key when the international community deliberately shorts the number of troops necessary to have a real impact. But reducing the security forces to small bands of highly mobile shock troops is hardly a sustainable security strategy.

Meanwhile, militants launched a suicide attack in Khogyani, which is a village just to the southwest of Jalalabad in Nangarhar province. In addition to the suicide bomber, assailants fired machine guns and rockets, killing at least 18 people and an unknown number of policemen. Officials say the attack was aimed at agents involved in poppy eradication, indicating it was probably not the Taliban who carried it out.

Khogyani is a major center of poppy cultivation in Nangarhar, one of the districts that make it among the most productive in the country. The District Center… lies along a paved road. So much for the security benefits of paving.

But it must be repeated that the economic, and even political benefits of building paved roads are immense. Roads are a good idea, and their construction should absolutely continue, because that is a sustainable economic and political strategy. The idea of selling road construction as a security measure, however, is just dumb. I wonder what PAO decided this was going to be the new talking point in RC-East. S/he should have picked something a bit more plausible.

This Topic Continues:
The Strange Benefits of Paving Afghanistan
Learning from PRTs
A Practical Look at the Value of Roads

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This post was written by...

– author of 1848 posts on 17_PersonNotFound.

Joshua Foust is a Fellow at the American Security Project and the author of Afghanistan Journal: Selections from His research focuses primarily on Central and South Asia. Joshua is a correspondent for The Atlantic and a columnist for PBS Need to Know. Joshua appears regularly on the BBC World News, Aljazeera, and international public radio. Joshua's writing has appeared in the Columbia Journalism Review, Foreign Policy’s AfPak Channel, the New York Times, Reuters, and the Christian Science Monitor. Follow him on twitter: @joshuafoust

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Jim April 30, 2008 at 11:29 pm

It amuses me that the description provided by Kilcullen in the previous post on this subject of how smaller tribal groups each take care of building sections of roads probably has libertarians drooling. See! Everyone should build the section of highway in their own neighborhood!

I am enjoying the series though, thanks.

Péter May 1, 2008 at 2:40 am

I read one of the most notable objections to the argument of roads making IEDs disappear in a comment elsewhere: roads may make the concealment of IEDs more difficult, but they also canalise traffic. Which will increase the likelihood of a successful IED attack quite a lot.

Caroline Jaine May 1, 2008 at 3:10 am

Something in the air about roads at the moment…….have a look at Zenpundits blog and my response…I am really enjoying the notion of “connectivity being a weapon against disconnecting” in terms of road building.

Joshua Foust May 1, 2008 at 4:48 am

Jim, the libertarians are all about a lot of things. Last year, when I wrote a few stories on a libertarian site about how aid being directed outside the government was a bad thing because it reduced Kabul’s legitimacy, I was accosted as “yet another big government liberal” out to ruin personal freedom and install government tyranny or something. I’m generally sympathetic to the idea of libertarianism, but its practitioners seem to revel in trying to make their cause as unlovable as possible.

Péter, that could be the case, although the video you posted (as an example) shows just how few options there are in a lot of cases, especially if they’re only being built along valley floors (which are narrow). Elsewhere, most roads are just being built over old trails. I would rather see the presence of a big construction crew to be a big juicy target to insurgents, and if Iraq is any experience, IEDs can still be placed under the tarmac by the determined. While roads facilitate the movement of friendly troops, they also make it a lot easier for the bad guys to move around.

In other words, roads are dual use in a military sense — for any security benefit the coalition gets, there is also a benefit the insurgents get. That is why I see a security-centric argument for road construction so puzzling. And you will never see stories of roads being built, or at least finished, in areas of severe instability, but rather only after a security sweep or a major victory over a pocket of resistance. That’s because security must be at some lower level than, say, the Korengal Valley for construction to be effective.

Caroline, that’s why I wonder about a public affairs office or officer feeding these stories to the press. The stories are just too coordinated in too short a period of time to be spontaneous.

I saw that Zenpundit thread — which was amusing for the vitriol Dave Dilegge was throwing about. I’ve never read him that angry, though apparently I don’t read the Small Wars Journal forums enough. Your blog looks really cool, by the way. I look forward to reading it.

Caroline Jaine May 12, 2008 at 3:49 pm

Why thank you Joshua Frost, I am just starting out. Not sure which blog of mine you looked at (my travel blog or my nomadic-wisdom site?) Trying to unearth some of the webs better and more relevant blogs for me to place my arrogant opinion upon is proving to be harder than I thought. A lot of junk to wade through and not many like minds.

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