Walter Pincus Discovers FBO, Writes Article

by Joshua Foust on 1/1/2009

I really don’t understand why Walter Pincus—an otherwise distinguished and accomplished defense correspondent—thinks it worthwhile to reprint a FedBizOpps posting and call it an article (the full solicitation is here). Look at how gee-whiz this is:

The Taliban had operated fairly freely in the area until recently, when one of its leaders was captured by an Afghan intelligence unit. There still is danger in Badghis province, though, and it is reflected in the solicitation’s statement of work: The winning contractor, before even beginning to clear the area for the base, must provide protection along the perimeter, including temporary fences and private security guards.

Uhh, the Taliban operated freely in Badghis? Since when? Only in 2008 has there been a noticeable increase in insurgent activity in Badghis, and even then it’s only at around Herat levels. “Operated freely” implies lack of contest, and there most certainly has been contest—compared to, say, the outlying districts of Kandahar, where there is little contact between gangs of insurgents and security forces, in Badghis, there has been a firm contest for control of the area. Granted, the result has been some spectacular ambushes, and the Nowegians have found themselves mired in combat. The capture Pincus mentions is probably Mullah Dastagir, though the only reference to that I could find was Matt DuPée’s insistence it happened (more here). Pincus continues:

The perimeter security should “prevent unauthorized site access” and protect the contractor’s workforce, and the guards should join with government personnel in confronting any “minor enemy attack,” according to the work statement. Local police, the Afghan National Army and coalition forces can be called on for backup, but it is the contractor’s responsibility to inform the U.S. government “immediately or in advance if possible” if the local security situation deteriorates.

Another risk is “encountering UXO” — unexploded ordnance or munitions. “The contractor assumes the risk of any and all personal injury,” the work statement warns.

Well golly. Who knew a military base in Afghanistan might have to deal with landmines and enemy attacks?

But there is a deeper problem: there is nothing about this FBO solicitation that “illustrate[s] [the] Afghanistan effort in [a] microcosm,” as Pincus argues. Instead, it illustrates the basic logistical problems in building a base in a warzone, which is not at all the same thing. The microcosm would involve, say, a look at how and why the insurgency grew in the Northwest, and how and why it has apparently gained much local support in Badghis (something sadly missing from Matt DuPée’s analysis of the area in 2008).

It is the fundamental weakness of almost all reporting and “analysis” of Afghanistan: we get the “what” but almost never the “why.” Before 2008, Badghis was quiet—it has, even in late 2007, maybe 200 or so Taliban fighters, but by 2008 has nearly 2,000 (according to the DuPée study). That simply cannot happen without a major groundswell of support for the insurgency, and consequent lack of confidence in ISAF and the Afghan government. Local reporting doesn’t focus on why someone might choose to support the insurgency instead of the West, but rather what happened as those choices were made.

The question of “why” is really the “microcosm” of Afghanistan: why people choose to support us or the insurgents, how they come to those decisions, and so on. The question of “why” is the missing story in Pincus’ shallow reprint of a freely-available webpage, and even of the army of pundits now descending on Afghanistan like a swarm of ambulance-chasing tort lawyers. It is even the missing component of almost all media coverage of the country, including by seasoned reporters with many years of experience covering the country. The question of “why” is actually why we continue to lose the war.


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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 Registan.net. 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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