Tracking Progress in the Alasay Valley

by Joshua Foust on 5/15/2009 · 5 comments

The Kapisa PRT has built a tent for school children. Remarkably enough, that is major news, considering building construction near the mouth of the Alasay Valley—where it connects with the violent Tagab Valey—is almost non-existent. Indeed, things in Alasay have improved to the point where the coalition has begun rebuilding schools and other buildings in earnest.

The progress is not cost-free however. A friend relayed that in Afghaniya and Tagab—both neighboring valleys—elders are becoming increasingly frustrated at all the attention being lavished on Alasay. In Tagab itself, some elders have complained that while the Coalition is busy operating in Alasay, the insurgents move into the Tagab bazaar and threaten and harass elders since they think nearby FOB Kutschbach is “empty” of soldiers and thus not a threat.

Similarly, some of the people the Coalition interviewed in Shah Kut, in Tagab District, have complained that the nearby (and newly established) medical clinic in Alasay does not provide high quality medical care, so many travel a much farther route to the Tagab District center. Shah Kut is also near the opening of the Alasay Valley, which makes the steady stream of people at the medical center—men, women, and children throughout the entire day—quite remarkable.

Indeed, it is almost as if Alasay is becoming a victim of its own success. If villagers are complaining about the difference in the quality of medical care at multiple clinics, then at least the immediate problem of a major safe haven for the Taliban and HiG might be abated somewhat. Similarly, if the elders of Tagab are actually reporting harassment by insurgent fighters, that too means that they are comfortable enough with the Coalition to actually come forward with information.

Obviously, things are not perfect in Kapisa province—there remains a lot of work to be done—but the progress there is undeniable. Why is it, I wonder, that people focus so much on the failing COIN policies of other areas, and ignore a growing success right in Kabul’s backyard?

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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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Fabius Maximus May 16, 2009 at 12:34 pm

Perhaps. On the other hand, it does not seem like “major news” to me. Will any history of the war mention the building of this tent?

It might be major news in the sense that Helmand Province was nicknamed “little America” in the 1960’s. That is, trivia soon forgotten.

Joshua Foust May 16, 2009 at 9:13 pm

Fabius, this is the latest installment, in which I’m trying to record in real-time the attempt to retake a major safe haven area in an area close to Kabul. In 2007, Alasay was ceded entirely to the Taliban, and they used it to launch several attacks on Kabul. Now, they’re trying to edge out the militants from the valley. A tent is a miniscule event in that context, though it is one of many projects going forward.

What’s more important is, the Alasay Valley is turning into a success that is remaining under the radar because almost no American troops are at risk there — they’re all French and Afghan. I don’t like that sort of ethno-centricity in how we choose to view the war, on multiple levels.

Fabius Maximus May 17, 2009 at 1:13 am

All well and good. But perhaps some historical perspective would be helpful. Real time data can easily provide a misleading context, hence my comment about Helmand Province seen as “little America” in the 1960’s.

The tent might be “promising news” or “positive news”. But the Afghanistan is a graveyard of such hopes, and to ignore this is folly IMO. That does not mean we should not try, but it should be done with a realistic understanding of the situation.

The history of such projects is not promising. Consider the massive efforts by Christian churches in pre-revolutionary China and central Africa. The countless wonderful stories of progress in Central America and 1960’s Vietnam.

Social regeneration is most often internally-driven, such Southeast Asia during the past 50 years, and Brazil over the last decade or so.

David M May 18, 2009 at 12:54 pm

The Thunder Run has linked to this post in the blog post From the Front: 05/18/2009 News and Personal dispatches from the front and the home front.

Old Blue May 21, 2009 at 4:54 am

I was in Ala Say in September and October of 2007. I did a District Assessment there in October. The road to Ala Say was the site of many ambushes. The ANP there were poorly led and largely un-advised. I do think that the work that we started, along with DTSB, 82nd Airborne, 7th, 8th and 3rd SF Groups, and others, has had follow-up… and that there has been slow but apparently consistent pressure and progress there.

Fabius’ point may be well-taken, but another thing to keep in mind is the experience of Malaya (now Malaysia.) My Dell laptop was assembled in Malaysia, and not Vietnam, Cambodia or Laos… there is a reason for that.

BTW… I’ve been in the little room at the top right of that photo. It’s right next to the new District Center, across the “square” from the khalat that the ANP were using as a district station in Tab Ab. Good times.

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