Wondering About Civilians

by Joshua Foust on 7/18/2009 · 2 comments

I’m reading this excellent Pamela Constable story about what’s happening in Helmand, and nodding my head in agreement.

But while U.S. and British officials in Helmand told U.S. Ambassador Karl Eikenberry during a day-long visit that the Khan Neshin operation could be a “model” for Washington’s new counterinsurgency strategy in Afghanistan, they also cautioned that an equally important element — the effective establishment of Afghan authority and services in former insurgent strongholds — is still badly lacking.

The officials said several factors, including a lack of qualified and educated workers in the remote province, a shortage of housing and office facilities for professionals from larger cities like Kandahar or Kabul, and a series of tensions and rivalries among various Afghan agencies, were impeding the kind of follow-up needed to convince residents that the Afghan government is credible, committed and a better alternative than the Taliban.

With a start, I realized that I’ve seen this in other areas, as well—we are very very very good at “sweeping” areas of Afghanistan. We are not good, eight years on, at leaving an Afghan presence in our wake. It’s what I’ve been saying all along: they really didn’t seem to understand at first just how enormous their challenge even was. But this has been the story of the Marines in Afghanistan so far: caught out, and given terrible preparation for their mission.

But then look at Eikenberry:

Eikenberry, a retired Army general who often mingled with the public when he was senior military commander of U.S. troops in Afghanistan from 2005 to 2007, decided to take a short stroll in the Lashkar Gah bazaar, wearing a sport shirt and no flak jacket but surrounded by armed guards. He astonished shopkeepers as he bought tea and asked their children whether they were going to school. After 10 minutes he was whisked away in a convoy of bulletproof vehicles.

I’m curious how long it’s been since a U.S. official did that… umm, anywhere, but especially in Lashkar Gah… and especially considering how much Seth Jones blames Eikenberry for things going to hell in his new book. Interesting.

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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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J. Apolinario July 19, 2009 at 9:27 am

I was there at the bazaar when Eikenberry went for his stroll. Nice to see an ambassador with a set on him. Closer to 15 minutes, by the way. Terrible taste in clothes though. A pink shirt, really.
Inside the city things aren’t nearly as bad as the media makes it out to be. Hasn’t been a suicide bombing in town in weeks.

David M July 20, 2009 at 9:45 am

The Thunder Run has linked to this post in the blog post From the Front: 07/20/2009 News and Personal dispatches from the front and the home front.

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