Again, with the Context

by Joshua Foust on 8/11/2009 · 1 comment

Oh, Andrew.

My friend Erica Gaston — the pride of St. Tammany Parish, Louisiana — is a lawyer and human rights researcher based in Kabul who has done some excellent work on civilian casualties. Here, in the Huffington Post, she gives me a nice shout-out before asking the kind of question that keeps me up at night.

Who isn’t his friend these days? Anyway, she lists a bunch of stuff that happens, then, “A brave researcher, Paula Loyd, was doused in cooking oil and set on fire when she ventured out of her compound last year.” Look, we don’t have to belabor the point: Paula was the social scientist on a Human Terrain Team, she was a former Army Civil Affairs Officer and USAID and UNAMA employee with years of experience in southern Afghanistan. She was on a first-name basis with the governor of Zabul, for crying out loud! Plus, she was embedded with an Army battalion. She didn’t “venture out of her compound,” she was out doing research, fully aware of the danger. Do not make her weak when she was nothing of the sort.

Sorry. I briefly knew Paula, and I was fond of her. Her death this past spring was painful. But the context of what Gaston—and Exum—are saying is more than just a few atmospherics that cropped up in the last year. Kandahar has been encircled by militants for years, and those militants have been systematically murdering community leaders to make that point precisely. Starting with the occupation of the Arghandab after Mullah Naqib’s death in 2007, there’s been little doubt that Kandahar is “falling.”

In this debate on Kandahar’s future, for example, Alex Strick van Linschoten makes the very salient point:

When we think about whether the Taliban are “winning” or not and “how bad things are,” it’s especially useful to take a perspective from the past 30 years. True, the conflict down in Kandahar has passed through some quite different stages, but nowhere have I really heard it suggested that what we have now is “worse” than what we had during the 1980s in Kandahar — extremely heavy fighting, the extent of which has not been properly documented thus far — or during the early 1990s.

It is not so much the actual incidents these days that people object to, but it is the huge, probably impassable, gap between what we say we want to do and what we actually do.

Bingo. He’s obviously talking about a broader context, but that matters just as much when we’re talking about Kandahar’s level of fallen-ness.

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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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{ 1 comment }

BruceR August 11, 2009 at 10:32 pm

Paula (who I’ve mentioned previously I was also fond of) was killed in Maiwand District, far from the city proper: an area that had not seen any significant Western or ANSF presence at any time for the 8 years prior to her death, which came just as the first significant numbers of Western troops and ANSF were finally being deployed there.

To lose something, you must first be said to have possessed it, surely.

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