Some good reads

by Joshua Foust on 10/9/2010 · 18 comments

  • The Atlantic has a harrowing piece examining the contradictions of the war in Afghanistan. An Army sniper shot a man who appeared to be carrying an AK-47. When he was brought to the base for treatment, the man’s brother was berated for not standing up to the Taliban more. When he said he can’t do anything more, a soldier accused him of being a liar. The gunshot victim was eventually released.
  • We have some new data for the Shindand Bombing: apparently one of the security contractors involved had ties to the Taliban. Unfortunately, so do most security contractors in Afghanistan. Paul McCleary has been posting the most explosive elements of this story. Unfortunately, it’s not terribly surprising, though it’s interesting that everyone still focuses on the Taliban ties of the contractor at Shindand, but not the 30 civilians we killed trying to get at him.
  • Speaking of: can we please finally admit that Hamid Karzai is right to be disbanding these contractors? He’s implementing the very DIAG/DDR process the U.S. is trying desperately to unravel.
  • Steve Clemons endorses Robert Pape’s new book analyzing suicide terrorism. Pape’s thesis is that garrisoning foreign troops induces suicide terrorism (it’s unclear how he defines “foreign” or develops causation). His solution is the “offshore balancing” idea, which relies on sea power and air strikes to enforce a more limited idea of containment-based security.
  • Marjah is failing. There remains fierce fighting in Marjah, the district of Helmand ISAF claimed would become the centerpiece of their new counterinsurgency strategy. Things are so bad the Taliban are jailing and threatening with death Afghan aid workers.
  • I have a feature essay up at Current Intelligence, discussing the classification issues in Anthony Shaffer’s Operation Dark Heart.
  • Steve LeVine pwns Dan Drezner and argues that Central Asia is a strategically important region.
  • Some geographers try to understand water issues in Central Asia.

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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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Joe Dixon October 9, 2010 at 11:31 am

That first piece has left me very confused, not to mention quite angry.

Am I supposed to sympathize with the American sniper? In my mind his actions (not to mention his attitude when the man he shot arrives at his FOB) are indefensible and reprehensible. But Mockenhaupt’s (great name, if nothing else) penultimate paragraph seems to be trying to make the reader feel sorry for Farnsworth’s unit:

Rosa walked away, frustrated, but unsurprised after months of similar conversations. Maybe the wounded man was Taliban. Maybe not. Determining the truth seemed nearly impossible.

I’ve no doubt that Farnworth’s experiences were “harrowing,” and I am in no position to comment on the psychological pressures of soldiering, but surely shooting farmers isn’t going to help the American cause.

Sure, it’s difficult to tell the difference between combatants and non-combatants in an insurgency, but, surely individual engagement is more important than taking ‘pot-shots’?

To me, as a Brit, it smacks of American paranoia, suspicion and fear. Is it possible that this is culturally ingrained from the Cold War?

Bobby October 9, 2010 at 12:09 pm

This is something that has been bothering me for some time now…

If the Afghan civilians carry an AK-47, our snipers are going to shoot them or the ANSF is going to arrest them, etc. etc. … But, despite them being disarmed, we want the Afghan civilians to stand up to the Taliban (who, presumably, still have AK-47s and other weapons) … Of course, the civilians can “stand up” to the Taliban in more passive ways (calling in tips on Taliban movements, locations, and activities to the ANSF/NDS/GIROA), but I don’t think it’s realistic to think the Afghan civilians can do much on their own since they’ve been disarmed in the face of armed militants.

Am I out in left field here?


Don Anderson October 9, 2010 at 12:42 pm

As much as the thought of “Establishment” Clemmons gives me ringing headaches, the Pape book tangentially discusses some obvious issues.

50 years of occupation in Japan, Germany, Korea, before Panama and Philippines etc is not a good thing -we cannot leave these places and simply no longer have the money to maintain them.

For arguments sake: take Germany- that could be argued worked well maybe for the cultural reasonance and/or German understanding and development.

Japan and Korea: There have been long term resentments some self inflicted, but with North Korea and a rising China threat both Governments are far from wanting to expel us. The population of Okinawa is without doubt in majority opposed and tired of the US Bases.

It is not good to occupy, just a general comment. But Clemmons has his own agenda now, and is a Japan/now China expert but has never learned one of the languages nor has any appreciable time in Asia or Afghanistan other than visits. But hodgepodge is acceptable….if the “Establishment” is with you, thus my constant headache.

What does this have to with Suicide Bombers…???

Obviously it is easier for the Shaheed to target occupation forces if they are there, but given the opportunity the Shaheed will do his mission anywhere. The goal of martyrdoom does not change and could be used anywhere.

Does the presence of Foreign forces increase the likelihood of those contemplating becoming a Shaheed?

Yes and No..The occupation of Afghanistan would be a good rationale in wanting to free all Muslim lands. But many of the bombers are also Pakistani which is not occupied, but could be construed in solidarity.

However Suicide missions are determined by a lot of factors and the Shaheed usually is informed of the target a short while before launch for security purposes. Suicide operations against GIRoA targets are also contemplated primarily in Kabul, but the majority recently have been solo Suicide belt or VBIED against ISAF convoys or bases.

So there is an argument to be made, that occupation increases the likelihood of these operations.

However in some total both Pape and “Establishment” are wrong and this is not really surprising at all from a “determined ignorance” angle.

They forget the greatest ever total of Shaheed operations was the Pasdaran-The Revolutionary Guard in Iran versus the Iraqi invaders in the 1980s. This had nothing to do with US intervention or bases.

The Pasdaran Shaheed operations will remain the leader in Suicide missions basically for history. Thousands of young men hurled themselves en masse against the Iraqi forces in an effort which will never be forgotten by the Iranian population as the foremost example of both national and religious sacrifice.

Nice try, close but not exact enough. It is anything to keep ASG floating for “Establishment” and Hoh now. It is not working and they know it, so anything anything short of total Isolationism is good enough for them now.

“It’s not what you know, its who you know-and do not forget it” is the only lesson to be learned at the Washington Note- period. The depth of thinking is as thin a piece of paper, or origami work if you prefer. Banzai!!

Adnan Kakar October 9, 2010 at 1:04 pm

I agree the Washington Note creates headaches.

There is nothing but fluff and the constant miming like a parrot of anyone’s ideas that “Establishment”(I like that one-hits the essence of the ideas presented) is trying to sell.

The ideas are never original. The Big thoughts ring somewhere where between empty and a sense of total isolation from reality.

The sincere effort to push policy is lost in a constant lack of knowledge and detailed study. The dartboard is so big that you do not know what target is to be hit next without pattern nor common sense.

I am getting a headache too now

I need to check out the bombing in Kunduz next since there are no Pashtuns in the North of Afghanistan according to the Civil War concept of the illustrious “Afghan Study Group” ISI is US….yes, and no Uzbeks operating anywhere in this local civil war.

Abdul Usman Ganem October 9, 2010 at 1:28 pm

Ak 47s….in Afghanistan.

Most Afghan compounds have a weapon. In most areas, ISAF generally “officially” allows one weapon per home. So no one is trying to “disarm” individual compounds without reason.

The past targets were “illegal non government militias”(many fused into the ANSF) and Anti Government forces(whichever acronym you want to use)

The current targets are the Security Companies for this year. They may have given up with the Insurgents already(just joking of course)

The key to getting killed is how and when you use your weapon. Shoot at the wrong time and place and you might get killed by the Americans or you might get killed by the Insurgents.

No one is going to try to disarm Afghans in one go anymore than anyone is going to try to disarm Americans. This we do have in common.

Shah Mojadedi October 9, 2010 at 1:43 pm

Joshua …Great piece on the Schaffer Book. Everyone knows that he got the dirty end of the stick on this. He was marked for a number of things most of which have nothing to do with this book.
I would love to hear his end of the story, he deserves to be heard. Let’s get him on Registan?

It is bad work that I so wished this Administration would have resisted.

Thanks for writing on this. You once again take the non obvious but correct line on this issue.

Frank Azizi October 9, 2010 at 2:00 pm

If this had been a Marine base, that Afghan would’ve been treated with empathy and respect. Why don’t our soldiers get this war? This, killing civilians, ill treatment of Afghans, the list goes on.

Marines (in general) get it. Aside from fighting, they are there to win friends and influence people, no Better friend/no Worst enemy. This is counter-insurgency basics.

Capt. Monkey October 12, 2010 at 5:44 am

You have a hard sell to convince me that marines “get it” better than soldiers. I don’t think the American military “gets it,” quite frankly.


Devil Dawg October 12, 2010 at 1:16 pm

Yeah… Marines just “get it” more.

Caleb Kavon October 9, 2010 at 3:34 pm

On the Arganhdeb video…

I love to study these videos, usually there is some great lessons learned in them. This one is very hard to call…

A. Either the casualty had or did not have an AK a previous harassment location . Farnsworth is either right or wrong on this.

B. If he is right, then we get a COIN neutral, he shot a local Taliban fighter, everyone in the nearby village knows it and they would not automatically fault the 82nd for the action. Actually if he was Taliban and got shot, the local farmers would say it served him right for being outside at that location armed in the day-and would note that the 82nd was on the ball.


C. The guy was not armed and had a wheel barrel with him. If this was the case, the reaction might be a lot more animated and the villagers would definitely be on more hostile side of the equation.

The reaction is interesting. No one seems too interested in vociferously protesting the wounding. I see a bit of a shrug and acceptance that perhaps the Casualty was armed and everyone knows it.

I did not take the 82nd treatment as way out of the ordinary or disrespectful or anything. They did not make new friends, but it looks like they have just been in the area for a month or two thus there is no way to get real chummy with anyone in such a short time. They treated the casualty in a professional manner with a natural degree of frustration that anyone would have in that particular situation.

The “what are you doing about the Taliban questions” were neither negative nor that wrong. It was a normal benign question that you would ask too in the same situation. The Terp Solomon did a good job on the basic translation and the situation was handled in an overall neutral fashion.

The Villagers know the situation, if the casualty was armed they know it, if he was not they know it. If Farnsworth made the right call no one is going to fault him ….This is Arganhdeb after all and has been occupied in force by the Taliban units since 2007 and the death of Mullah Naqib, who was anti Taliban.

We would need more background on the exact village tribal etc to make any determination of the overall context of the combat post…and the local strength of the insurgents at that place.

They are still in the “current” clearing phase here, per DragonStrike and no one knows if this is going to fail like Marjah or not, yet. Marjah was a Marine heavy operation and not a big success either. These are just tough areas to operate in, this incident will not provide a tipping point either.

The Soldiers are just doing their jobs, the strategy is the question. I did not find them that out of hand at all, only frustrated. I would be frustrated also in the same situation.

ps….where was the Officer and ANSF in this vignette?

Not the worst incident ever filmed at all….

Joshua Novak October 10, 2010 at 12:25 pm

Just one short sad note…

I hope all you give a thought and prayer for Linda Norwood who was working in Nangarhar with DAI. She passed away on Friday in Kunar as the result of failed rescue attempt after she was kidnapped in Kunar about 10 days ago.

I met her last year in Jalalabad, and she was a great person, and knew a lot about Afghanistan, and she really cared.

When I saw her last, she was giving me a hard time about not going to the Hospital after I had received a concussion in a road incident. I did not listen to her. She then said, “Who knows your brain might function better with a concussion, knowing you.” I laughed and promised to go the hospital next time I was close to death. Then I left the office, and never saw her again.

I am very sad about this loss, as I am about all the losses of so many people every day of this war. It does really hit home always when it is someone that you knew if only briefly.

May God Bless her and All the other innocents who suffer there.

Penelope October 10, 2010 at 6:32 pm

It’s Linda Norgrove.

Boris Sizemore October 10, 2010 at 12:47 pm

ps…the Governor of Kunar was incredibly pissed about the raid…he had organized a group of Elders to negotiate, but ISAF was worried about the group moving her to Pakistan and made the call to do the rescue. Not a good ending to what was a risky operation right from the start. I hope this gets analyzed by the British Foreign Secretary ISAF et al….The Kunar people told me that the kidnappers were expecting some kind of response, but not that quickly. Sad for all involved.

M Shannon October 11, 2010 at 11:55 am

If ISAF wants to have local militias fight the Taliban then two things have to happen (which won’t). First the idea of gun licensing has to go. How are you supposed to arm yourself to protect your village if the weapons you need are illegal? How is the legitimacy of the government to be increased by instituting laws which have to be ignored? Of course without gun licensing then the security companies are harder to control. Catch 22.

Secondly ROE have to be tightened. “Afghan with gun” or “Afghan out at night” can’t be enough to open fire. Snipers, FACs and FSTs have to be on weapons tight.

WRT security companies the current plan to replace PSCs with the police is impractical. Renting policemen may be a possibility but what happens (I’ve seen this already) when your rental cops are suddenly pulled away to do another task? Do you want a convoy security force you don’t actually command? Karzai’s plan may reduce the number of PSCs but it will also lead to a reduction in western organizations as the risks become to high without in house or contracted private security.

Caleb Kavon October 11, 2010 at 12:24 pm

On the weapons…there is no weapons registration, the only form was in the registered security personnel who had to register to legally carry. The rest of the arms have been floating around for decades now, and no one accounts for anything.

Sometimes if I am going out, an Afghan will offer me a weapon just to take with me, with a “take this, you might need it, I have more, and here are some clips with bullets” Weapons are everywhere, and considered just part of life.

There are millions of weapons in the country, some are cached, but most homes have at least an ak. I have even been told there are hidden tanks and helicopters in some places. Who knows?

You are totally right about the ROE, in this case at least. He got permission to fire, and did so. The assumption being is that the position he shot at was a well known Taliban harassment site or location.

This we could not know unless someone from the 82nd can describe the exact situation in that location and why.

From what I have heard, it really logically depends on the place and situation. Most Afghans do not just walk around with their weapons, they are home for the family protection against intruders or used during feuds etc. They know better than to walk near an ISAF position armed. So the weapons are there, I would like to know what the situation was exactly in this video.

The PSC situation who knows what is going to happen? They are talking about forming a special road security brigade responsible for organizing and delivering convoys from martialling areas to remote sites. This needs to fixed soon. Road security is always
going to be important, maybe now is the time to start working on it seriously for once.

I am sure there are tons of folks doing power points this minute on this problem. If this happens there will probably be heavily armed and escorted convoys at regular times and lots of ambushes on the roads.

The old system for its bad points(ie paying the Taliban)did have the virtue that the supplies mostly arrived intact to their destination. Now who knows what is going to happen? This is going to be another problem and soon.

The law or edict did say that NGO security forces were allowed as well as normal Embassy/UN security teams so it is not all embracing. Of course none of that matters when they launch a VBIED or IED on the road.

I do not think VIP security location security at banks, hotels and restaurants and private homes is going to the ANP. One ANP at every house? Not going to work. There might be a lot of problems if they just really shut down everything. Who knows? The place is crazy, it can get worse for sure.

Every Afghan I have spoken to is for this move. Every one. Afghans see these security companies as lawless and threatening. When I try to explain the problems they always
just go back to how glad they are that these thugs are going
to be removed. Call it blind or what, that is how they think. This was a very very popular move, right or wrong.

If they pull this off without the backfire that I expect, it will be one of the greatest successes for President Karzai in the eyes of Afghans. I wish them luck.

Don Anderson October 11, 2010 at 12:28 pm

Here is another The Nation Report talking about giving up an FOB?
Did anyone here about this?

Don Anderson October 11, 2010 at 12:31 pm
Don Anderson October 12, 2010 at 10:33 am

My guess now is that after the friendly(??) fire incident with the Pakistani Frontier Corps, ISAF has ordered the closest CPs to be
eliminated, thus reducing the chances for further Blue o Blue(???) in these areas bordering Bajaur.

Or option II they are just giving up on Kunar completely and hunkering down around the Provincial Capital, and count it as lost from here until our withdrawal with honor (??).

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