The Unforgivable Horror of Village Razing

by Joshua Foust on 1/13/2011 · 148 comments

Tom Ricks ran a guest-post today by Paula Broadwell, a former adviser to General Petraeus and current PhD candidate at King’s College London, who is touring the war on a research trip. It is, in a word, abhorrent.

Start with the title: “Travels with Paula (I): A time to build.” It’s so… hopeful. So upbeat. The soldiers and Marines are building a glorious new future! The photos and story, however, tell a different story.

After suffering the tragic losses and the horrific daily amputees throughout week, the men were terrified to go back into the pomegranate orchards to continue clearing their AO; it seemed like certain death. The Taliban had planted IEDs in a dense pattern throughout their AO, and even the commander, LTC David Flynn, was concerned about the potential loss of life, but they could not afford to lose momentum.

Keep that bolded bit in the back of your head as you read on: these soldiers are scared, and they’re worried about momentum (which is, yes, that thing no one can describe or measure but is nevertheless somehow very important). Best I could tell, that is their only excuse for destroying these non-combattants’ homes.

The artillery unit, acting as a provisional infantry battalion, went on the offensive to clear a village, Tarok Kalache, where the Taliban had conducted an intimidation campaign to chase the villagers out, then create a staging base to attack 1-320th’s outposts. The village of Tarok Kalache was laden with IEDs and homemade explosives (HME) comprised of 50-gal drums of deadly munitions. Special Operations forces conducted a successful clearing raid on the village. Then Flynn introduced the Mine Clearing Line Charge (MICLIC), a rocket-projected explosive line charge which provides a “close-in” breaching capability for maneuver forces. The plan was for one team to clear a 600-meter path with MICLICs from one of his combat outposts to Tarok Kalache. “It was the only way I could give the men confidence to go back out.”

On October 6, Flynn’s unit approved use of HIMARS, B-1, and A-10s to drop 49,200 lbs. of ordnance on the Taliban tactical base of Tarok Kalache, resulting in NO CIVCAS. Their clearance of Babur, Khosrow Sofla, Charqolba Sofla, and other villages commenced October 7, aided by USSF, ABP, and an additional infantry company from B/1-22 IN.

Translated from obnoxious mil-speak, she is describing the village being intimidated by the Taliban, who are chased away by soldiers, then “cleared” by special forces, and leveled by massive aerial bombardment, apparently with no casualties. Nowhere in this account is there a sense that the villagers felt any ill-will toward the Americans beforehand—rather, Broadwell explicitly describes the village as being victimized by the Taliban first, then being completely obliterated by the Americans. In other words, rather than actually clearing the village—not just chasing away the Taliban but cleaning up the bombs and munitions left over—the soldiers got lazy and decided to destroy the entire settlement… “to give the men confidence.” This sounds bad enough—like a nightmare from before there was a Fourth Geneva Convention that prohibited the collective punishment and expulsion of civilians from conflict zones—but it gets worse.

Immediately after, the soldiers are told to rebuild the villages. The American commander had a neat idea, I guess, in that he’d like the villagers to participate in some way in the rebuilding of their village. But look at what he does:

Flynn also wanted a true GIRoA solution, demanding that all the Afghans from the village work this issue together, led by their malik. His concern was that the Afghans would run away with CERP funding and no homes would be rebuilt with the funds they had handed over. The build and compensation initiatives required careful oversight.

They wound up vetting all supplicants through the district governor, which basically means whoever paid him off got whatever land they wanted and any poor people in the village lost their homes forever. Broadwell then profiles a “doubter” (as she calls him) from the village, “Mohammed,” who complains that the destruction of this village ruined his life. Rather than expressing regret at the destruction of his home, Broadwell writes him off as engaging in theatrics, because reacting negatively to losing your entire home and all your possessions is for pussies (obviously).

An Afghan government commission led by Mohammad Sadiq Aziz, an adviser to Hamid Karzai, has determined this and other, similar “clearing” operations has cost the Kandahar area more than $100 million in damages—from lost crops, destroyed orchards, obliterated property. Naturally, the U.S. disagrees, and accuses all those greedy Afghans of bitching about nothing to squeeze some more money from the International Community. It cannot be disputed that the damage to homes, livelihoods, and whatever else have you is horrendous, though. It is a subject worthy of at least the motions of regret and solemnity. Broadwell, though, has other ideas.

Indeed, clearing operations are a necessary evil to weed out the Taliban, and they often leave devastating destruction in the wake. But what Aziz failed to note is the tremendous effort some units, like 1-320th, have made to rebuild his country. As of today, reconstruction efforts are well on track for Tarok Kalache and others in his AO. Mosque construction is underway, the irrigation canals and culverts are being restored, and the local government has been an active participant in the process of assisting the people of the village in rebuilding their homes.

Basically, she thinks they should stop their bitching and appreciate the earnest efforts the U.S. is making to repair some of the damage they did by burning everything to the ground to begin with. Not only that, she is basically arching her eyebrows and wondering why those whiny Afghans don’t thank the Americans for their largess in rebuilding a village they destroyed for the sake of their own safety and—don’t forget—”momentum.”

Look, war is hell. I have no illusions about that. But what is happening right now in Southern Afghanistan is inexcusable. There were rumors of this policy of collective punishment in the Arghandab before (see this overwrought Daily Mail story that stops right before the village actually was destroyed for an idea of what is going on), and I’m really struggling to see how such behavior does not violate Article 33 of the Fourth Geneva Convention—that is, how this behavior is not a war crime, especially given the explicit admission that such behavior is merely for the convenience of the soldier and not any grander strategy or purpose.

This sort of abhorrent behavior is not limited to the Arghandab, either. Broadwell explicitly states that it has the Petraeus stamp of approval, and Pahjwok has reported U.S. Marines in Helmand province explicitly warning local villagers of collective punishment if insurgents hide out in their settlements. It is probably a safe assumption to say that this is a widespread phenomenon.

What baffles me is, why the hell is Broadwell so pleased with this? Will she ever write a follow up post about where these villagers will be able to live while they wait for the magnanimous soldiers to rebuild the town they erased? The callousness of this account is, literally, breathtaking: if soldiers are razing entire villages to avoid a few IEDs and to preserve their momentum, that should be triggering even token expressions of regret or even concern. Instead, it prompts her to mock the Afghans for complaining about it… as well they should. Those soldiers will be damned lucky if they escape their deployment without any suicide bombs or nasty IED incidents. Because they have certainly earned the fatal, burning wrath of every single Afghan living nearby.

I cannot comprehend why the deliberate destruction of villages seems to be an official, sanctioned ISAF policy in the South. Is is abhorrent, an atrocity, and there is no excuse for it (nor are there words for the anger it’s stirred in me, reading about it from afar; I suspect Broadwell would sniff at me to stop whining as well, were we to discuss it in person). This should outrage and infuriate everyone who reads about it. But, and this is where I move from rage to despair: how could we ever possibly hope to stop it?


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This post was written by...

– author of 1849 posts on Registan.net.

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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{ 148 comments }

George D January 13, 2011 at 10:50 pm

Deliberate razing of villages has been a large part of the visual arsenal of Darfur campaigners. It has also been a potent ally in bringing on board widespread support from within the US political establishment. Critics of this post will ask how destroying a village, without killing people, is an atrocity. Destroying everything of value someone has, deliberately, in these circumstances – extreme poverty and a harsh natural environment – is tantamount to destroying the lives of those effected. When you ain’t got nothing, life is pretty much bare. They will take many years to regain a semblance of their former lives.

The US military is still, 50 years after invading Vietnam, incapable of running a controlled counter-insurgency program. They deserve to fail.

David January 14, 2011 at 12:16 am

The point of these razings is not to hurt the people or even influence them – the purpose is to make safe the area for the civilians in the most effective and efficient manner possible.

They didn’t raze a harmless village. The village was turned into a massive bomb by the Taliban. The US forces destroyed a Taliban stronghold that just happened to have been a civilian town beofre. The Taliban are the enemy of the people here, not the US Soldiers. If the Taliban hadn’t filled the place with bombs, after kicking out the civilians, it wouldn’t have had to have been destoyed.

Tim January 14, 2011 at 12:44 am

You are an idiot

Krister Axel January 14, 2011 at 2:47 am

seconded

David January 14, 2011 at 3:34 am

Your argument is also unconvincing.

David January 14, 2011 at 3:35 am

What is the substantive argument for your position?

David January 14, 2011 at 3:34 am

Your argument is unconvincing.

Susan January 14, 2011 at 9:13 pm

third

Joshua Foust January 14, 2011 at 7:47 am

David,

Re-read the piece. They describe clearing orchards. From the photos, this is clearly a cluster of housing compounds surrounded by fields and trees. There was no need to drop 49,000 pounds of explosives on it.

harebell January 14, 2011 at 1:01 pm

Joshua
The IEDs were set up in and around the village too,
“The village of Tarok Kalache was laden with IEDs and homemade explosives (HME) comprised of 50-gal drums of deadly munitions.”
So in effect the village was a massive bomb. That said the phrase, “Destroy the village to save the village,” has some really unpleasant history that I would have thought the US military would have learned from.
A unit of gunners who were re-roled into infantrymen is less than ideal too, especially given the sensitivity of the job they were tasked with.
I can sympathise with the decision to destroy the village based on an effort to reduce casualties and NOT because momentum was faltering, which is complete crap. Where the process was antagonistic to the efforts of the US military was in the manner in which they went about communicating decisions and rebuilding. The manner in which both were carried out guarantees raising local hostility as well as ensuring that the compensation is pocketed by others than those that should get it.
Petraeus is clearly under pressure from “armchair warriors” and is ignoring the advice of his own counter intelligence advisers. Counter intelligence is a slow gradual process, momentum is never a defining factor, the situation on the ground is. They must despair at this one step forward, two steps back process that will lead to more US and Afghan deaths in the long run.

harebell January 14, 2011 at 1:01 pm

sorry messed up the shut block quotes

Hereward Pooley January 14, 2011 at 7:35 pm

At last, a voice of reason

David January 14, 2011 at 10:19 pm

I don’t believe that in this case, when the event was happening, that the villagers were anywhere nearby. In this part of Afghanistan, the Taliban set up shop awhile back and tossed the civilians out. Their village hasn’t been their village for some time. The US could not just leave a big bomb sitting out until they found someone from the village to ask about it.

I absolutely agree that the people of Afghanistan should be allowed a vote in the fate of their villages and future when it doesnt have the potential to take more life.

Malcolm January 15, 2011 at 3:43 am

David, to quote you: I don’t believe that in this case, when the event was happening, that the villagers were anywhere nearby.

Your belief system is the same failed quandry that was the destroyer of another world we did not belong in invading, Vietnam. Facts are something you believe dont apply, like the peoples way to make a living, the orchards and homes. It makes enemies of the people you are trying to save in your belief system. The results are the same which you don’t accept. Case closed.

David January 15, 2011 at 4:30 am

The case isn’t closed because you think villagers were there. The village was cleared by the SOF of personnel. The village was not destroyed for the sake of destroying a village, but rather because it was the safest way to clear the area of numerous explosive booby traps laid by the enemy.

In Vietnam, the US carpet bombed large swaths of countryside – do you see that here? No, this is a precision strike on a very limited area.

Shielding C January 14, 2011 at 1:23 pm

Yes, the explosives imbedded in the village would have made it difficult for the soldiers to “clear it” safely – without assistance from the villagers, that is. You have to wonder, if the village was turned into a “massive bomb,” how were the villagers able to live in it? Surely a little effort at diplomacy would have yielded the neccessary information, building friendships instead of hostility.

Renee January 14, 2011 at 7:41 pm

Pshaw. Liberal. Everybody knows that “friendship” is for communists.

David January 14, 2011 at 10:22 pm

I don’t believe the villagers WERE living in it. The Taliban had taken it over and turned it into a bomb manufacturing facility. Even if you look at the “before” picture – where are all of the villagers? Long gone because you can’t live as villagers in a Taliban base.

Evan January 17, 2011 at 5:47 pm

Then how were the Taliban living in it?

sayke January 17, 2011 at 10:58 pm

very gingerly… =D

Charles S January 17, 2011 at 5:11 am

We shouldn’t be in Afghanistan, shouldn’t be waging war against the Taliban in the South, and the practice of blowing up villages is obviously a complete disaster that ensures that our campaign in the South will be a complete and utter failure.

That said, the article claims that the Taliban ran off the villagers, so there is no reason to believe that the villagers were living safely in a completely booby-trapped village. Indeed, had they been, it is very hard to imagine how the US army would have reduced their village to smoking rubble while inflicting 0 civilian casualties, and I don’t see any reason to believe that the original article is a complete lie (not because I don’t think the US Army puts out lies, but because I think they generally do so by omission. If the article hadn’t mentioned civilian casualties, I would assume there were some, since it mentions specifically that there weren’t any, I’ll assume that is true unless someone has a source that says otherwise.)

mike January 17, 2011 at 2:27 pm

He’s much, much more than an idiot. He is mentally ill, a psychopath, a sociopath. Basically a serial killer. These are very, very dangerous, disturbed people and need to be dealt with as such.

DJ January 21, 2011 at 4:14 pm

David,
Even if your take on the true motivation was correct (which it isn’t), how does razing the village and then rebuilding it change anything other than wasting a lot of money, lives and resources. Obviously, whoever did to the village whatever it was the US troops were unhappy with, can just do it again. The US military cannot occupy an entire country at the level of controlling each and every village. Regardless of the US motivation (I believe it is about controlling resources, nothing at all to do with terrorism or demcracy), the unending pouring of our taxdollars into a hole in the ground in Afghanistan and Iraq is contributing to our downfall as a nation. While China is building and producing, we are squandering our resources, whilst producing nothing. The razing of villages is immoral and unproductive for anything other than funneling our tax dollars into the hands of military corporations.

BruceR January 17, 2011 at 4:00 pm

The point which Joshua makes quite clearly, and which David elides over completely, is that there is no land title in Arghandab, and whatever usable land has survived this unfortunate event is not going to be assigned to anyone who can’t afford a generous surpayment to his local government. That is the way the Arghandab (and Afghanistan) works.

Most of the residents of this village will never “get their homes back;” their land has already gone to others. Whether there was an IED in their house or not, they have lost all they could not carry off, without reasonable prospect of compensation.

sayke January 17, 2011 at 11:02 pm

even worse, and to be more precise, because there’s no system of land titling in place, it’s impossible to prove that they ever had it… what almost certainly happened, though, was that the civilians fled as refugees when the fighting got too intense, and after that point the taliban turned the village into a massive bomb. at that point, any EOD in there is likely to result in massive secondaries.

the civilians probably weren’t coming back. the village seems to have essentially been rendered uninhabitable by taliban IEDs.

rewinn January 14, 2011 at 12:03 am

We, the American people, don’t know what our troops are being ordered to do.
It didn’t work for the Soviets; it won’t work for us. But it’ll earn a lot of promotions for officers and a lot of money for contractors, and the politicians will be able to put off the day our ambassador is helicoptered off the embassy roof.

David January 14, 2011 at 12:13 am

In this case, the orders being given the American Soldiers sound like absolutely the right thing to do. Explanation is in my comment to the writer.

Krister Axel January 14, 2011 at 2:48 am

see above comment

David January 14, 2011 at 3:36 am

See above reply

Susan January 14, 2011 at 9:14 pm

here’s hoping someone does it to your home! I am sure it would be the ABSOLUTELY right thing to do.

David January 15, 2011 at 4:38 am

Susan,

If my home is ever used as a base of operations for a terrorist cell and is full of explosives, I will gladly give the government permission to destroy it. Then me and my family will help to rebuild it.

Kzblog January 15, 2011 at 9:55 pm

And I assume you won’t mind if the Saudi Arabian army, forcexamole, in such a case doesn’t wait around for your permission. Just asks a few guys, “hey do you see in any people in this town on Google Earth? No? Ok let’s just blow it up.”

sayke January 17, 2011 at 11:03 pm

if you think that’s the way it works, you clearly have never been anywhere near the massive pile of lawyers and paperwork needed to get the OK for this stuff =P

Ozrik January 19, 2011 at 5:26 pm

http://video.foxnews.com/v/4454024/police-burn-down-bomb-house

ESCONDIDO, Calif. (Dec. 9) — A San Diego-area house that authorities say doubled as the nation’s largest bomb factory was burned to the ground today…

Sometimes it’s the safest way. I’m with David on this. Most of you are not grasping what is being said in the article (and I’m not rightwing nut, I’m in Vermont).

David January 15, 2011 at 4:41 am

However, I think its pretty crappy of you to hope something bad on someone you don’t even know. I hope it doesn’t happen to you, or your neighbors or anyone you know – and I hope it also doesn’t happen to any more Afghans. But, hope is an ephemeral thing, and reality often steps in the way. Hope is something we have control over, and your “hoping” evil on another person is just appalling. If you are an American, I am disgraced to have you as a countryman.

mike January 17, 2011 at 2:30 pm

David, believe me, every since solitary real American is utterly ashamed and disgusted at having a violent, disturbed terrorist like you as a countrymen. It’s not the Taliban that are the terrorists here. It’s the criminals in the US and UK militaries that are terrorists. You are a very sick person.

SB January 21, 2011 at 4:25 pm

Hi,
Here’s to hoping the best for even those with whom we disagree.

The fact is that it is quite difficult to do anything but a hatchet job with the facts here. The important fact is that this sort of thing goes hand in hand with an occupation/resistance situation. It happened to the British at the end of WW1, the Russians in the 80s, and it’s happening with our military. The only way to “succeed” is to have a huge amount of troops covering every square foot of land there, imposing a police state, and staying for years. Even then, the occupying country is hardly coming out ahead (not to mention the occupied country). Regardless, we don’t have that kind of manpower, thus these things are inevitable, and there is no legitimate reason for our troops to be there putting themselves and others in terrible danger, leading to the destruction of villages, deaths, amputations, cascading terror, suicides, etc.

David makes a plausible argument that, at least w/r to the leveling of the village, the soldiers had reasons. At some point, however, all the local justifications build up into a pattern of injustice. I think we’re well past that point. Generally speaking, I don’t blame the troops–I blame the sickness of the system that puts them there in an unwinnable situation trying to accomplish a mission that doesn’t exist anywhere but in the minds of politicians and generals.

Anonymous January 14, 2011 at 12:04 am

Most impressive efficiency of US military munitions. Bet it took a fraction of the time it took the Soviet Union to inflict comparable damage, but at probably 20x the price tag.

We’d be out of there by now, too, if our leadership weren’t comprised of political weaklings or China stopped lending us oodles of money.

David January 14, 2011 at 12:11 am

I try to maintain an objective view of how this “war” is being prosecuted and while I do feel sorry for the civilian Afghans in this story, I am not sure exactly HOW this is the fault of the US Soldiers.

It was NOT the US who forced the civlians from their homes and converted them into Taliban strongholds – it was the Taliban. And when THEY fled, they left behind boobytrapped minefield and houses filled with explosives rigged to blow up and kill whoever was nearby. If the civilians had returned, they would have been killed by the Taliban in their homes, which also still would have been destroyed.

The US Soldiers made the area safe for the civilians in the most efficient and effective manner possible – absolute destruction. This eliminated the explosives in the homes without loss of life to either the US Soldiers or civilians. Now, they want the Afghans to help rebuild their homes – I see no problem with that.

Given the options of A) Use US Soldiers to individually defuse countless bombs and booby traps; B) Use Afghan Soldiers, Police and civilians to defuse the bombs; C) Walk away from the problem; or D) Raze it all and start over. The choice from all reasonable standards is D. No loss of Afghan or US life at the cost of destroyed homes. Does it suck? Yes. Does it make sense? Absolutely.

Joshua Foust January 14, 2011 at 7:48 am

But that’s not what happened. Re-read the piece. They did this because the soldiers were scared. The LTC wanted to not “lost momentum,” and the wanted to give his men their confidence back. Rather than clearing a path through the orchard, or a field of crops—which would be understandable—they dropped 49,000 pounds of explosives on the village to turn it into dust.

That is just so far beyond any comprehension of proportionality or reason I’m shocked you’re defending it. And they did this for convenience—not for the fight, not for anything grander than some momentum and confidence. That is what is appalling.

David January 14, 2011 at 8:27 am

Joshua,

Ok, I reread the article – the only “scared” reference is your interpretation that the LTC was concerned about “potential loss of life.” Is that what you are calling “scared”? It more of a “common-sense” answer.

Does it make more sense to go into a known explosive heavy area on foot looking for explosives, or to use a MICLIC to detonate the explosives so that your Soldiers can safely move into the area?

The Soldiers were understandably wary and not confident of walking willy-nilly into a minefield. Who would be? Why not use a tool designed to clear a minefield in order to clear a minefield? That’s the purpose of the MICLIC. And after the MICLIC clears the mines, the Soldiers go in. That’s how it works.

As for the village, what would you propose to clear out the “IEDs and homemade explosives (HME) comprised of 50-gal drums of deadly munitions”? Would you recommend that any unit go into that area and try to defuse countless triggers, booby traps, and timed bombs? I don’t think so. Destroying the village, by any and all means absolutely makes the most sense. The threat is eliminated and the people can come back to their land – which was stolen by the Taliban in the first place. Did they lose their homes? Yes. Sorry. Is the US offered to help them rebuild? Yes. Is the Taliban offering to help them rebuild? No. The Taliban stole their homes, stole their land and stole their possessions – converted them to military uses – booby trapped them – and then ran away when confronted, leaving the US to fix the problem. Somehow I doubt the Taliban found the civilians new homes somewhere else or compensated them for the loss.

Also, looking at the pictures, do you see how much scorched earth there is around the village? Not much. The munitions strikes, while very heavy in poundage, were also very accurate and precise, achieving the objective of eliminating the explosive threat in the village while minimizing collateral damage. How many civilians were killed? Zero. Where is the disproportion here? The end result was always going to be the destruction of the village in order to eliminate the explosive threat. Does it matter that they used 49,000 pounds of explosives instead of 20,000 pounds? No, it doesn’t. The only people who should really care about those numbers are the US taxpayers who paid for it. But, when the threat is a village full of explosives, they erred on the side of caution and ensured absolute destruction in order to preserve life. To that end, it was absolutely proportionate.

They didn’t do it for convience – they did it to save lives – civilian and military.

Joshua Foust January 14, 2011 at 8:41 am

“Does it make more sense to go into a known explosive heavy area on foot looking for explosives, or to use a MICLIC to detonate the explosives so that your Soldiers can safely move into the area? ”

If your objective is to leave a functioning government the people are not in active revolt against, then you go into an area on foot looking for explosives. If you don’t care, then you throw the MICLIC.

“As for the village, what would you propose to clear out the “IEDs and homemade explosives (HME) comprised of 50-gal drums of deadly munitions”? Would you recommend that any unit go into that area and try to defuse countless triggers, booby traps, and timed bombs?”

Yes. Your argument is still one from convenience. It is easier to blow everything up and rebuild it, and demand the villagers thank you for your largess. It’s much harder to defuse things and minimize the destructive aspect of your presence. They took the easy way out.

“Somehow I doubt the Taliban found the civilians new homes somewhere else or compensated them for the loss.”

That’s our fault. The Taliban would not have taken shelter in that village had we not pushed them there during our campaign. That is what happens, it’s true. But we need to man up and admit that this is a consequence of the surge. We’re still trying to blame the Taliban for all evils in the war, when they’re only one party to the conflict.

“The munitions strikes, while very heavy in poundage, were also very accurate and precise, achieving the objective of eliminating the explosive threat in the village while minimizing collateral damage.”

Umm, an entire village is a LOT of collateral damage. You cannot replace the social and economic connections of an entire village just by rebuilding it with CERP funds, nor can you replace people’s homes. This is catastrophic loss for the people who live there. And recall: much of my complaint is over their anguish being written off as “theatrics,” and the government being told to shut up and thank us for building a new village.

“How many civilians were killed? Zero.”

Honestly, we have no idea. We know the military claims there were no civilians killed. And there probably weren’t. But we also know the military underestimates civilian casualties all the time, and in almost all circumstances. So considering how calloused they’ve been in this town, I have no confidence that they know no one died.

“They didn’t do it for convience – they did it to save lives – civilian and military.”

Then why all the references to confidence, fear, and momentum? Your assertions do not match the text.

David January 14, 2011 at 10:45 am

I guess this is where we agree to disagree:

I refuse to condone the sacrifice of Soldiers or civilians in a search for hundreds of bombs to defuse. I will always sacrifice property over life. Yes, it was the easy way out – it also happened to be the most effective, efficient, and least likely to cause human loss of life. I don’t see any Afghan EOD volunteering their services in this story.

“The Taliban would not have taken shelter in that village had we not pushed them there during our campaign. ”

Actually, based on all accounts I can find, this area of Afghanistan – the Kandahar area and specifically the area to the west of Kandahar – has been a known Taliban stronghold since well before the surge. And I don’t know how we could say with a straight face, “Well, if we didn’t push the Taliban from their strongholds, they wouldn’t be pushing civilians out of their homes,” and mean it. That’s like saying it was the US’s fault that the Germans took over French homes during the Normandy invasion because the US pushed them from their pill-boxes. The Taliban didn’t “take shelter.” They converted the homes of the civilian Afghans into military barracks and bomb-making facilities. That is not “taking shelter.”

“An entire village is a lot of collateral damage.” Collateral damage is unintended damage. The destruction of the entire village was the OBJECTIVE. The only collateral damage would be the vegetation nearby that may be a bit crispy. I think its a bit of a stretch to say that the “socio-economic” anything of the village in the picture amounted to very much – 20 families? Maybe? Aside from the actual number of houses, you seem to be forgetting that it wasn’t the US that destroyed the socio-economics of the village – it was the Taliban when they forced ALL of the civilians out of the village. At that point, there was NO socio-economic impact of destroying it. The people were gone, and hadn’t been there for quite awhile – long enough for the Taliban to transport numerous 50-gallons drums of explosives and set up acres of IEDs and other bombs. Again, it is the Taliban who dislocated the villagers, not the US.

“much of my complaint is over their anguish being written off as “theatrics,” and the government being told to shut up and thank us for building a new village.”

In what part of the article is the US saying this? I can’t find the attribution of any sentiment like this to any US Servicemember.

Zero civilians killed. How do we know this? Because there were no civilians living here – they had already been dislocated by the Taliban who kicked them out and used their homes as a base of operations. How many civilians do you know are going to willingly stay and keep their families in a known minefield and sleep next to 50-gallon drumfulls of explosives? None. Who DOES willingly sleep in a minefield and next to explosives? Soldiers – both US and Taliban.

Confidence – Yes, when Soldiers are faced with the option of walking through a minefield or blowing it up, it takes a lot more confidence to walk, but its a whole lot smarter to blow it up.

Fear? The only fear is the fear you project onto the LTC who said that his concern for the safety of his Soldiers outweighed the potential value of the intact village.

Momentum? Yes, you do need to keep momentum up in a war. You have to keep the enemy on the run and moving – or else he does exactly what happened here. He “takes shelter” in someone elses house, kicks them out, and turns it into a new base. It is only by keeping momentum and dealing with these things expeditiously that gives the enemy no opportunity to rest and recover.

Cindy January 14, 2011 at 11:29 pm

David,
Kudos to you! I don’t want MY son or any of his unit running around a minefield defusing a bajillion bombs. Loss of one American soldier is not acceptable to save a Taliban stronghold.

David January 15, 2011 at 4:43 am

Loss of life to “clear” any building is unacceptable. And today I was saddened to hear of yet another Soldier nearby was killed defusing a bomb – just drives home the point.

Ozrik January 19, 2011 at 5:34 pm

Joshua, why don’t you head right over there and show them how toget it done ‘right’. I’m sure we’ll all see it your way if you show us and not speculate from your comfy chair. You clearly lack a grasp of what being in a war is like. Do I think we should even be there? Hell no. But we are, and I think you (and others) are twisting the inturpretation of the above article. You have no context, and your assumptions and resultant emotions make you look and sound like an idiot.

Sean January 21, 2011 at 7:08 pm

“If your objective is to leave a functioning government the people are not in active revolt against, then you go into an area on foot looking for explosives.”

You don’t go into an area on foot looking for explosives in a town that has been SATURATED with IEDs, if you can help it. Here’s a thought, next time we come across a village like this we’ll send you in there with a metal detector, Joshua, and you can sweep the place.

Mark January 14, 2011 at 9:07 am

If you walk into your boss’ office and he is shredding subpoenaed documents and he orders you to help, you have a choice whether or not to become an accomplice. The U.S. is involved in criminal activity in both Afghanistan and Iraq (and Pakistan and Yemen…) Soldiers are not required to follow illegal orders of superiors. In fact, following such orders opens the door to prosecution of the soldier. “I was just following orders” is not a sufficient excuse. The wars end when the soldiers refuse to become accomplices.

David January 14, 2011 at 11:14 am

Would you be so kind as to clarify which orders US Servicemembers are following that are illegal?

John a combat veteran January 15, 2011 at 12:53 pm
sayke January 17, 2011 at 11:09 pm

josh, please be specific. the geneva conventions don’t prohibit this – if they do, show me where.

this was not collective punishment – this was EOD. the taliban pushed the villagers out, turned their village into a minefield, and are not interested in helping them rebuild after the US clears said minefield. the responsibility pretty clearly lies with them.

Amber Joy January 14, 2011 at 10:24 am

I can’t help but wonder how much of this trouble is based on years of our supporting corrupt peeps in the middle east so WE can get cheap oil. Now, it seems, we are in an impossible position.

David January 14, 2011 at 11:14 am

Amber,

If we went to war for cheap oil, where is it?

sayke January 17, 2011 at 11:11 pm

the situation in afghanistan really should lay to rest the “war for cheap oil” canard. there is jack for petroleum resources there.

Dan L. January 21, 2011 at 2:23 pm

David:

Oil is cheaper than milk or orange juice in the US. It’s at any gas station you care to go to. Compare oil prices here to any other western democracy.

sayke:

Perhaps there’s little petroleum IN Afghanistan. But it’s directly between a cluster of oil exporting countries on one side and China, Russia, and India on the other. I don’t suppose it ever occurred to you that to get oil from exporters to importers you need a delivery infrastructure with decent security in between.

Do you remember how we got into fighting the Taliban in the first place? Remember when Al Qaeda was the enemy? Do you really think Bush, Cheny, or Obama give two flips of a rat’s tail about the civil rights of Afghans (hint: we kidnap Afghans on flimsy evidence and hold them in cages for years without any pretense of due process)? Do you really think those folks would spend hundreds of billions of dollars on a war if there was no expectation that some amount would be recoupable?

I love how the hawks are just as naive about human nature as the doves.

Shielding C January 14, 2011 at 1:39 pm

After re-reading the article, I think you are right. It was the least bad thing that could have happened. It’s difficult to say how the need was conveyed to the villagers, though – I agree with the author of this article that Broadwell seems to have taken an entirely inappropriately casual attitude to the whole situation. Anger and resentment are bound to follow the decision regardless of attitude, but with express regret at the inescapable tragedy of the situation, the blow can be a little softened, and diplomacy preserved in some measure, at least.

David January 14, 2011 at 10:24 pm

If there were villagers nearby who could have been consulter, I would agree that that would have been the best thing to do. But, even if they said – “Yes, we would like to go back to our village, despite the bombs.” Would it be best to let them do so? How long until the US is accused of being callous and just letting villagers wander around known minefields?

Cindy January 14, 2011 at 11:29 pm

I wonder how they can tell which are villagers and which are Taliban?

Mike January 14, 2011 at 12:57 am

Please, Mr. Faust, offer a reasoned response to David’s comments on this story. I am appalled at what has happened to Afghan citizens but I also wonder if David’s point of view has any merit. Are we doing the right thing in some cases? This is a complex and frustrating situation.

At the same time, I would say to David that our “War on Terrorism” mentality has been a failure from the beginning. This is a self-sustaining conflict of our choosing. We create more enemies with every bomb we drop and there is little hope for a resolution. I am not proud of troops who bring in vastly overwhelming force, destroying villages and killing civilians, and yet are unable to bring this conflict to an end. It is no wonder that so many soldiers are committing suicide. We all should be ashamed and saddened that cooler, smarter and more honest heads did not prevail after the 9/11 attacks.

Lastly, our hypocritical flip-flopping of support for various dictatorial regimes and opposing organizations in the Middle East has made us unworthy of the trust of most people living there. Even if we are doing the right thing in some cases, our overall record is dismal and unworthy of gratitude.

David January 14, 2011 at 7:42 am

Mike,

I’ve responded a few times to you and have lost the comments, but the bottom lines are these:

1. I agree that the “War on Terrorism” was ill-designed and executed. The US has sacrificed liberty in the name of security and I find that appalling. The civilian population is more scared now than they have ever been. When you have to go through the “nude” scanner to get on an airplane, I think that perhaps the terrorists are closer to “winning” than we are.

2. I believe that the US would be ill-advised to try and clear and defuse every bomb-laden village where the Taliban kicked the civilians out of their homes and filled it with explosives. This would only result in countless unnecessary civilian, US, and Afghan Police and military casualties. It is much more effective and efficient to completely destroy the village – including the HME, explosives, mines, and IEDs – and to rebuild it than to try and “clear” it. I am truly sorry for the loss of property, but I think the loss of life would be a greater tragedy.

3. I firmly believe that 99.99% of US Soldiers on the ground mean no harm to the Afghans in any way – physically, emotionally, spiritually or militarily. They are there, trying to push the Taliban from their hideouts and bases in order to return it to the people. It is the Taliban who are forcing these people from their homes in the first place – not the US.
4. Success in Afghanistan will only come when the Afghan Police and Military are in firm control of the population centers. Once this occurs, the US can go home. Until then, the Government of Afghanistan will be unable to defend itself against the Taliban and all of NATO’s efforts will have been in vain.

Joshua Foust January 14, 2011 at 7:53 am

David,

I’m sorry for the comments issue. I don’t know what happened, but do keep in mind that you and I live in different time zones, and I sleep at night. Now, I have a couple of concerns with two of your points:

On what basis can you say that a village that was already cleared of civilians cannot be cleared without civilian loss of life? If Broadwell reported what happened accurately, and they threw 49,000 pounds of air munitions at the village with NO CIVCAS, why would a deliberate campaign to defuse and remove munitions somehow result in unacceptable civilian casualties? My suspicion is it gets back to the question of momentum: it would take too long, and they got lazy.

I do not believe the soldiers mean to harm Afghans either. In fact, I don’t think I’ve ever said they do, and I routinely defend the military from charges that it does. But that doesn’t mean the soldiers are always smart, or that they make the right decision, or that their superiors give appropriate orders, or that their behavior is constructive, or that actions they take don’t harm the overall war effort. That is what is happening here. The Taliban did not burn that village to the ground. We did.

David January 14, 2011 at 8:42 am

Joshua,

I understand, more or less, the comments issue – I just found it awfully convienient that only my dissenting comments were removed. I don’t know what time zone you are in, so I can’t speculate as to any of that. I know that I’m in whatever time zone Kandahar is in – and that these strikes are taking place maybe 20 miles to the west of me.

To answer your question about the deliberate campaing to defuse:
1. Efficiency and effectiveness – The Taliban booby trap and hide bombs, IEDs and explosives all over these villages when they take them over. Going into a village to defuse it would be a costly, time-consuming, and much more dangerous mission that blowing it up. I suppose they could send the Afghan EOD in to do it, but would the Afghans even think thats a good idea? No? Why not? Because the high potential for loss of life does not outweigh the materialistic gains of possibly defusing it. Even so, lets say they DID defuse the village – but missed even a medium size brick of explosives made to look like a piece of wall and in fact WAS a piece of wall? When THAT detonates and kills a civilian family, who is going to take the blame? The Taliban? No, the US will because we said it was clear.

EODs around the world often choose to destroy even a POTENTIAL explosive with greater explosives rather than risk themselves or even their robots. How much more so does it make sense to destroy a village with a known stockpile of explosives?

Also, to address you Geneva Conventions issue – it is absolutely authorized to destroy a non-combatant structure that has been turned to a militarized purpose by the enemy – which is exactly what the Taliban did.

In your post, you even say that the Soldiers were told to rebuild immediately after destroying it. Does that really sound like a “collective punishment” agenda? The village was destroyed because it was the most effective and efficient method of ensuring the absolute destruction of the Taliban’s explosive boob-trap presents.

Regarding your statemnet – “The Taliban did not burn that village to the ground. We did.” Yes, the US destroyed the village. The US did it ONLY because the Taliban wired it with explosives – not for any other devious or twisted purpose like “collective punishment.”

Nathan January 14, 2011 at 9:16 am

David, the tone of your first paragraph and your assumption of bad faith is almost enough for me to put you on the blacklist.

sayke January 17, 2011 at 11:15 pm

nathan – we would probably both be defensive if our comments seemed to be disappearing =) if someone assumes bad faith, let us not prove them right!

Joshua Foust January 14, 2011 at 10:25 am

David,

You are still describing an argument from convenience. Flip this around, and try to consider it from an Afghan’s perspective: would you welcome an outside agency summarily demolishing your home if it were booby-trapped? Without even trying to clear it out? That’s the question here, and it gets back to this whole counterinsurgency thing: are we there for the Afghans, or are we there for ourselves? The answer to that question will determine, I think, how you feel about razing entire villages for a couple of booby traps.

I can give ground on the Geneva thing. I know that intent matters a lot, as does the exact definition of proportionality. That is why I described my view on the matter as a struggle and not as a wild accusation.

However, your argument here remains one of convenience – it was easier to destroy the village than to save it. I do not buy that as a valid reason to destroy an entire community.

David January 14, 2011 at 10:12 pm

If an expert determined that my home was unable to be saved without unreasonable chance for loss of life, I would absolutely say let them demolish it. And they are going to build me a new one too? Great! I believe we are there for the Afghans, or else we wouldn’t be doing 90% of the things we are doing – building schools, building stores, building Mosques, teaching skills, providing jobs, and on and on. We as a nation are getting almost nothing out of this. You say a couple of booby traps like this is a firecracker with a string. These are 50gallon drums of volatile, unstable explosives! If ONE of these drums was in your neighbor’s garage, all of the homes in a three block radius would be evacuated! These houses are packed with explosives – dropping bigger bombs on them only makes sense. I am sorry the Afghans lost their homes – but they lost them to the Taliban. These were no longer their homes, they were the barracks, armories and laboratories of the enemy. The homes were long gone already.

The community was destroyed when the Taliban threw everyone out – not when the bombs fell. Ensuring that no one would be hurt or killed by the Taliban booby traps is absolutely a reason enough to destroy the buildings.

Joshua Foust January 14, 2011 at 10:23 pm

Cool. So where do we have evidence that an expert determined these houses—each one—could not be saved?

Your analogy is telling. In the U.S., if those homes were evacuated for a 50-gallon drum filled with explosives (we have no idea how stable they were, since no one has said what they are), they would not be demolished. The local bomb disposal team would expend money, and time, and patience, to defuse the bomb so that the homes wouldn’t be destroyed.

And if criminals took over a house and planted it with so many explosives the only possible response was demolition, the cops would not demolish the entire neighborhood, or the entire town, just to be safe. And they sure as hell wouldn’t do it by dropping 49,000 pounds of explosives from a B-1.

And if it were your home, no matter what compensation you got in the process, you would not say, “great.” You would be sobbing with grief.

So please, keep making these analogies. They really don’t help your case.

David January 14, 2011 at 10:31 pm

I’ll take the trained and “expert” opinion of the SF operators who entered the village, cleared it of people and determined that there were a sufficient number of bombs that it would be impractical to defuse.

Actually, the article does say what the 50-gallon drums were – HME (Home Made Explosives) which in Afghanistan is one of two different nitrate conconctions which are both known to be unstable. In the US, the bomb squad frequently destroys suspected bombs in place, rather than trying to defuse them. Also, in the US, by the time a bomb is discovered in someone’s home, that person usually isn’t around trying to kill them.

You know, I would absolutely be unhappy that someone planted a bomb in my house. But would I consider taking my pain out on the people who are trying to help me fix my problem? No. I would reserve that anger for those who kicked me out and made my house into a bomb in the first place – I believe in laying blame at the feet of those who cause the problem. In this case, whoever planted bombs in my house.

Joshua Foust January 14, 2011 at 10:33 pm

I’ll take the trained and “expert” opinion of the SF operators who entered the village, cleared it of people and determined that there were a sufficient number of bombs that it would be impractical to defuse.

That’s good to hear. Because they’re renown for being such experts in identifying structural soundness of rigged explosive devices. Christ almighty man, this is ridiculous and you know it.

David January 15, 2011 at 4:48 am

Really? You would bring some “explosive engineers” in to figure this one out first? Maybe they could bring in an explosive research council to analyze and test the explosives before they figure out what to do.

I will absolutely trust in the ability and combat experience of a SOF operator to say, “Holy S***, that’s a lot of f**ing explosives.”

sayke January 17, 2011 at 11:18 pm

david’s core point is that is that the taliban are at fault for turning the village into a minefield. once that happens, the best approach to EOD is often destruction in place.

Fnord January 16, 2011 at 10:28 am

David: Your argument is exactly that used by the nazis under the occupation of my country, Norway. If there was resistance, then they unfortunately had to kill a number of civilians and/or wipe out their property. The blame was on the resistance. It is quite possible that you would be cursing those damn freedomfighters who caused the russians to level your house in a “Red Dawn” scenario, but we would have names for you if you expressed them in public. If you try to see this from a Afghan pov, its just so wrong in all manner of ways, just as stupid and lazy and costly in the end as Fallujah, although this time in micro.

sayke January 17, 2011 at 11:21 pm

fnord – there’s a huge difference between destroying property that has been turned into a minefield, and destroying human lives. when necessary, property can and should be sacrificed to save human lives.

the core point is that the taliban are at fault for turning the village into a minefield.

Charles S January 17, 2011 at 5:26 am

David,

It’s nice that you are comfortable with this course of action, and that you would be if it were being done to your home as well, but I don’t think you present any convincing argument that the villagers in this village will likewise be comfortable with this course of action. Since this is counter-insurgency, that is what matters most. “Momentum” against the Taliban doesn’t matter if you alienate the local populace, and despite the tone of the original article, I find it hard to credit that having your home destroyed in the late Fall in Afghanistan, with the promise of a new home some time after the winter would leave even you with warm feelings about the foreign occupying army that just blew up your home.

As long as we are failing to leave the local populace with warm feelings towards our occupation, everything we are doing is a waste. While it is understandable to say that no soldier should lose their life to prevent property damage, it makes no sense to say that soldiers should be over there losing their lives and their limbs, but when it comes to risking life and limbs for the critical step of creating positive feeling for the occupation among the local populace, skip that part. If you aren’t willing to see people die to maintain good will, then you are willing to see people die for no purpose whatsoever, which is far far worse.

Dan L. January 21, 2011 at 3:51 pm

Your analogies to your own house aren’t really applicable. Do you not have the scrap of imagination it would take to imagine a truly analogical situation in which the US military is played by an occupying foreign military (think Red Dawn) and the Taliban insurgents are played by defeated and scattered US military remnants that are ideologically devoted to defending the homeland?

FWIW, I agree with you that from an American perspective, bombing the village was the way to go. But that’s from the American perspective. If you take off your blinders and think about the Afghan perspective for a few seconds I think you’ll be able to see why the ideal short-term solutions for the US military in Afghanistan are counterproductive in the long run.

If that doesn’t convince you, think about the Taliban’s motives in booby-trapping villages like the one here. You think they were disappointed that the US decided to completely raze the village? I’d bet that’s the outcome they were hoping for from the outset. Because it makes clear that the interests of the US military in Afghanistan are out of sync with those of the Afghani people — many of whom have memories of the Taliban fighting off occupying USSR forces. The best tactics aren’t going to win this war for the US. They might even make it harder.

nu January 14, 2011 at 1:10 am

when it comes to doing some thing, rezing has always been the choice for the “one that makes sense”

sounds like someone who has no idea what he is talking about, nor has he any idea about who or what an Afghan is.

i am sure the british can tell you something about that. and the russians… as will the U.S… in a few more years.

if i rez YOUR home, nothing i say, nothing i do will befriend you to me. US military thinks this rezing has gained them “momentum”? we shall wait and see about this momentous rezing and just how much it makes sence, also, in a few more years…

David January 14, 2011 at 7:50 am

Nu,
Would you prefer the US to evict the Taliban from the homes of the civilians and then just say, “There you go. One house full of booby-traps and explosives. Have a nice day.”? Because that is really the only other option.

If my home is so contaminated that it cannot be fixed or cleaned, I would absolutely prefer some outside agency come and demolish it – especially when they are offering to help rebuild it. The US has spent more $$ on Afghanistan’s infrastructure in the last 10 years than Afghanistan has in its history (yes, that it a speculation, but I don’t think it is too far off).

Joshua Foust January 14, 2011 at 7:56 am

David,

That is most certainly not the other option. We have no idea what sort of screening went into this decision. Was each house checked, individually, to see if it could be saved? Did the SOF identify the location of each explosive in the vicinity? There’s no indication they did that; from the language Broadwell used, they found a few 50-gallon drums of explosives and decided to level the entire settlement. For momentum, remember.

Imagine the U.S. government doing this after a hostage crisis. It would not happen this quickly, nor would it involve the gleeful cackling as 49,000 pounds of bombs were lobbed at a cluster of houses. That’s what we’re complaining about here—it was hasty, and the Americans seem excited to do it, and when Afghans complain they’re written off as whining and engaging in theatrics. That should give you pause.

David January 14, 2011 at 8:49 am

Joshua,

No, I do not think the SOF identified each explosive – that would be a monumental task not worth the cost of doing it. I suspect the SOF noticed ENOUGH explosive material to say, “Yup, there’s a lot of explosives here, let’s get the f* out.” For me, that’s enough to level the village. A village that size with the mentioned 50-gallon drums would not be livable once even ONE of them went off.

I do not believe it was hasty. You don’t hastily get approval to drop 49,000 pounds of bombs on anything. Heck, you don’t hastily get approval to order a box of Skillcraft pens in the US military. This was a deliberate, specific, and very precise strike on a very limited area to achieve a very specific purpose – all of which was planned, coordinate and executed to a “T.”

Also, it should be noted that the only group accusing the Afghans of whining is some reporter – not the American Soldiers.

Joshua Foust January 14, 2011 at 10:49 am

You’re assuming. My argument is, we don’t know, and there’s no indication that happened. Even so: do we know every house was booby trapped? Every single wall? On what basis can we possibly say that every house in that settlement was rigged with explosives, thus necessitating a huge aerial bombardment to remove the danger?

We don’t. Even you, giving them the biggest benefit of the doubt, say they probably saw a few explosives and said “frack this, let’s blow it.”

And it precisely the deliberate and calculated nature of this destruction that I find so appalling. They knew what they were doing. And the LTC even dreaded it, knowing full well he’d have to “fix” what he broke. I cannot imagine that there would be that much thought into how best to destroy the village and so little thought into what the actual villagers would think of it afterward.

David January 14, 2011 at 10:14 pm

I don’t think every wall was booby trapped. Its irrelevant. Enough of the village has explosives in it to warrant destruction. One 50-gallon drum exploding in the middle of the village would definitely be enough to make most of the village uninhabitable. How many buildings are worth how many lives lost trying to defuse them? We have tons of $$ and prefer to expend a lot of it rather than risk unnecessary casualties. Blood is much more costly than cash.

A “few” 50-gallon drums is MORE than enough for me.

The LTC didn’t dread destroying the village, I don’t think. He dreaded having to send Soldiers into a village to trip a booby trap and die for something that could be avoided. The villagers were not there and hadn’t been there for awhile. Their village was gone already. Were the villagers happy? No. Were they alive? Yes. Did anyone else have to die so they could live in the same walls their mom and dad made? No. I’m still erring on the side of the value of life over possessions and buildings.

Joshua Foust January 14, 2011 at 10:26 pm

No, it’s not irrelevant. Your comments now are revealing an interesting attitude. You don’t seem to care at what point a booby trapped village is condemned for wholesale destruction. That is hugely important! Is a single drum of C-4 enough? Two? At what point are there too many bombs to defuse?

Your certitude at this process speaks only to your unwillingness to consider things from the Afghan side. Which kind of gets at what we’re even doing there. There was no need for this. There’s no guarantee it won’t happen again. There’s no evidence that destroying this saved anything or anyway. Everything is based on the assumption that it is easier than the alternative—when the alternative has clearly not even been considered.

That is just ridiculous. And calloused.

David January 14, 2011 at 10:34 pm

I absolutely consider the Afghan side, and yes, there is a point where defusing is more costly than blowing up. A few 50-gallon drums in a village smaller than a city block definitely passes that test. Now, if it were a bigger village, it would take more houses.

The only guarantee is that it WILL happen again – why? Because as long as the Taliban keep turning homes into bomb factories, they will have to keep being destroyed. It is really the only reasonable option.

What do you consider the alternative? Individual bomb defusal? Ok, I’ll take that option. Send in the Afghan EOD to handle it and the US forces can get back to chasing down the Taliban.

Joshua Foust January 14, 2011 at 10:40 pm

There is no polite way to say this. WHO THE HELL ARE YOU to determine that a village is not worth saving? You’ve never lived in it, you’ve never dealt with the people nearby, had to face their choices or the suffer the consequences of a homeless winter because your home vanished in a cloud of smoke.

You have no right to make that test, or to execute it under those terms. None.

David January 15, 2011 at 4:52 am

The village was destroyed by the Taliban who kicked the people out. They decided the villagers didn’t need to live there. You make it sound like the Taliban walked in and planted these explosives while the villagers were sleeping safe and sound or were out working in the orchards. The Taliban took over the village, threw the people out, and turned it into a bomb factory, barracks, and base of operations. All of the Afghans THEY threw out already had to find somewhere else to live.

And, even according to YOUR article, the people are being given the resources and assistance to rebuild. I don’t know the date of this village destruction, but somehow I doubt it would take much more than a month to rebuild it to at least the quality it was before.

Fnord January 16, 2011 at 10:30 am

Not to mention that this gives the enemy some nifty parameters to work with. “Hey, lets leave some explosives lying around and the yankees will blow up the village! Thats a nice recruiting tool!”

Charles S January 17, 2011 at 5:32 am

The real guarantee that it will happen again is this:

The Taliban realize that the US army blowing up entire villages is PR gold, so they will keep booby trapping the villages and we will keep blowing them up.

Yes, there probably isn’t another good option for our troops. Leaving the villages booby trapped would be a disaster, trying to remove the booby-traps would probably kill our soldiers and leave the village badly damaged (and potentially riddled with unexploded ordinance that would later kill and maim Afghani civilians) as well as slowing our troops down hugely. But none of that matters. What matters is that we are blowing up entire Afghani villages in order to save them, and that doesn’t end well.

sayke January 17, 2011 at 11:32 pm

the point at which a minefield (that used to be a village) is deemed by EOD to warrant destruction in place is a matter of professional discretion.

the larger issue, and one that i think is getting lost in this debate, is that the taliban are at fault for turning the village into a minefield. villagers know and understand stuff like that. they’re pretty damn smart sometimes =D

Ozrik January 19, 2011 at 5:58 pm

A “drum of C-4″ would do more than level that village. it would leave a huge hole.

no name January 15, 2011 at 3:35 am

David,realy SOF?Maybe militia Col.Razziq
http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2010/10/25/AR2010102505658.html?sid=ST2010102606575

The most unexpected, and potentially risky, aspect of NATO’s resurgence is Abdul Razziq, the 32-year-old police colonel best known for allegations of pocketing millions of dollars in illegal customs dues, who has left the border to lead hundreds of his militiamen into Taliban-held villages that have bedeviled NATO troops for years.

Behind Razziq’s hardened fighters – who possess a local knowledge that police officers and soldiers from Afghanistan’s national security forces cannot match – American soldiers have taken back territory previously out of reach. He’s led clearing operations in all of the areas central to the American campaign here – Panjwayi, Zhari, Argandab and Kandahar city – and has captured hundreds of Taliban fighters

Shielding C January 14, 2011 at 2:06 pm

Perhaps that decision should have been left to the Afghanis. I agree with you that they likely would have made the same decision as the U.S. military, and if they had been made a part of the decision process, their understandable rage at the loss of their homes would have been directed at the Taliban, where it belongs, rather than at U.S. forces. The blow itself might have also been somewhat softened if they felt they had any measure of control as to what was happening to them.

d January 14, 2011 at 9:17 am

Agree with David. It is tragic that these villagers lost their homes, but it is not the responsibility of the U.S. to ensure tragedy never befalls anyone. The villagers lost their homes when the Taliban took them over.

The military is trying to ensure that no further tragedy happens through the death of the villagers. That this fact is not appreciated is a failure of U.S. public diplomacy.

Mark January 14, 2011 at 9:19 am

Unbelievable! You guys are arguing over whether it is preferable to focus on efficiency or humanity while committing war crimes.

Fred Johnson January 14, 2011 at 12:51 pm

Agree with Mark. David’s protests that it would be too “inefficient” to clear the village of explosives rather than just bomb it into oblivion betray the flawed logic of someone completely lacking in compassion and empathy. David wouldn’t mind someone leveling his house to get rid of some booby-traps? Great, that’s his personal opinion, but not everyone in the world feels like he does, and he are not such a great and admirable human being that everyone should feel like he does, even though he seems to be convinced of this himself.. If all you had in the world was a tea set and some tapestries handed down from your great-grandparents, and a few other basic life necessities, and someone callously destroyed these things for the sake of “efficiency” and some vague concept of “momentum”, I think even you would be hopping mad and righteously angry, David. Your position of relative wealth in the world seems to have clouded your vision here.

Efficiency be damned. We’d go a lot farther towards winning the hearts and minds of people if we DID take the time to restore them to their homes intact, regardless of the risk, time, and money it required. Anyone who cannot see that (as it seems our commanders in Afghanistan cannot) is dangerously shortsighted and disastrously ignorant. David seems to think it’s a foregone conclusion that the entire village was far too booby-trapped to ever mount an effective clearing operation, but I see no evidence whatsoever to support this assertion. All we have is this commander’s word that it was too scary for the troops and too “inefficient”. It isn’t just about clearing a village so troops can move through, it’s also about not giving the Afghans more reason to distrust and despise our presence and less reason to support our efforts in the south.

Shielding C January 14, 2011 at 1:57 pm

David isn’t arguing “momentum” is equal to “efficiency” – he is arguing that human life is more imporant than physical objects, even if the objects are your only possessions. To risk U.S. or Afghan lives cleaning out the village, or to risk leaving behind booby traps that could later kill the Afghan civilians, is immoral, callous, a lack of judgement – pretty much everything you accused David of being.

David January 14, 2011 at 10:37 pm

SC is exactly right. Life trumps property every time.

Cindy January 14, 2011 at 11:39 pm

YES!!!

David January 14, 2011 at 10:15 pm

My point wasn’t that it is simply more efficient. That was a beneficial side effect. COULD someone go in and clear all of the explosives? Maybe. Would there be a significant chance for additional loss of life? Without question. I will never sacrifice life for property.
How is it that no one realizes that the villagers were not in the village? The were already kicked out by the Taliban! Probably months or years ago. Grandpa’s Tea Set? Probably being used to mix HME. Grandmas tapestry? Packaging for the severed hands of the kidnapped son of the local politician to use as a bargaining chip. The people who callously destroyed these things are the Taliban, not the US Soldiers. My position values life over property. I am fairly certain most Afghans feel the same way.

The odds are very very good that they could NEVER go back to their homes intact. When the Taliban set booby traps with hundreds or thousands of pounds of explosives, they don’t make it so it can be undone with any great chance of success. And even if the bombs WERE removed, what about the latent chemicals in the air and in the floor, in the walls? Worse than living in a meth-house. The next story will be how US Soldiers forced Afghan civilians to go back to their contaminated houses and get sick instead of helping them build new ones. Damned if you do, damned if you don’t.
And yes, I’m afraid we don’t have a lot of options on whether or not to trust the Commander on the ground. He was there, I wasn’t – you weren’t. I imagine he has pictures to support his decision as well (but they are probably Classified for now)– it costs a lot of money to drop big bombs and someone is going to want to know why. Maybe Wikileaks will someday print the pictures of the houses filled with HME – and maybe then you’ll stop second guessing the guy on the ground.

Joshua Foust January 14, 2011 at 10:29 pm

If you’ll never sacrifice life for property, you’ve obviously never met a fireman. Or a soldier, frankly, defending his homeland.

Your gauge of the odds of the villagers’ returning is based on nothing more than assumption. This is the crux of my argument: we have no evidence, no data, to believe that such an assertion is true! Your entire justification for this is based in your head, on what you imagine it was like. But you have no idea. I don’t either. Neither of us were there. But these soldiers owe us no explanation—they owe the villagers they’ve displaced a really detailed one. And given the demands and the accusations of theatrics… I don’t see why I should believe they were ever given one.

But please do us a favor, and use evidence to support what you’re arguing here, not appeals to phantom classified things no one knows exists.

David January 14, 2011 at 10:44 pm

Soldiers sacrifice for their country, for their families – not for property.

I’ve talked to the Soldiers who go to these places, these are not ideas I just made up.

You keep going back to how the Soldiers displaced the villagers – they didn’t. It was the Taliban who displaced them. Let’s lay the blame where it belongs – on the people who made this village into a bomb factory in the first place.

David January 14, 2011 at 10:46 pm

Who do you want to be the approving authority for the destruction of something like this? How many levels of red-tape should the on ground Commander go through? Brigade? Division? Contact the President each time and send photographic evidence? At some point, someone near the area must have that authority.

sayke January 17, 2011 at 11:36 pm

the ultimate responsibility lies with the taliban.

didn’t they turn the village into a minefield? aren’t they the ones that owe the villages they displaced a really detailed explanation?

chris call January 21, 2011 at 10:04 am

David, you make a compelling utilitarian argument, but if you re read the article you will know that it wasn’t only the land, it was the orchards that were obliterated and are never coming back. Im sure it was easy for the Romans to salt all the fields of Carthage to ensure they never posed a threat to the Romans again, but it sure looks like a deliberate action to starve an entire people. While I wouldn’t seek to impugn the US military in such a way, we will never ever ever win a counterinsurgency in this way. If the public cannot commit the troops necessary to pull off a counterinsurgency then we either abandon the policy or tell the public to get bent, but neither of these choices changes the calculus involved in the success of counterinsurgency.

Calling in an airstrike is easy enough and I’m sure the people ordering are not going to question the people calling it in. I think you’re view of military oversight is a bit removed from reality. The funds are appropriated by Congress and spent according to the military’s discretion. To assume that every airstrike is so carefully considered is extremely naive. I know in US-military-is-always-benevolent-land it is easy to claim that soldiers really had a good idea of the cost and decided to raze it to minimize that cost, but it is not supported by the rest of the story and the indications that this is a standing policy supported by Petraeus. This is not WWII and razing communities to rebuild them was rightfully condemned by the 4th convention (Again, since this was not deliberately designed for collective punishment, I don’t see any warrant for a war crimes charge) and, even if it isn’t looked down upon, cannot help our efforts to enlist Afghani support.

carl January 18, 2011 at 8:11 pm

We are going to restore them to their homes intact, or at least try to. Maybe not the exact same home but it will be a home, intact and without a 500 pound bomb made of unstable explosives buried under the kitchen.

People should make more of Joshua’s comment about the right people not getting their things back because of corrupt local authorities. I think that is potentially the greatest cause for future unrest.

David January 14, 2011 at 10:15 pm

No, I don’t think that is the argument. The obvious answer here is that it preferable to focus on humanity – which in this case also happens to be the most efficient method.

Susan Hall January 14, 2011 at 10:19 am

The US military suggested that the citizens should appreciate the fact that their shelters, orchards or means of living and food, and the soil they thrive on has been destroyed and they should be glad. They have brains & why don’t the soldiers take a vote. You know no one in the US would vote for such a thing, why would these people who have now become the US’s slaves; doing what they are told at any cost.

Let’s go back to the foundation of why the US is in Afghanistan. Is it to find bin Laden? These people probably wouldn’t know him if they say him. The statistics said over 90% of the population has never heard of the event of 9-11. The oil and resources of the middle east are about to be taken over by the US who have saved the country from a man most don’t know. What a FARSE, an atrocity, horror of the worst magnitude.

There have probably been far more than 3,000 innocent people killed in AFghanistan & yet they have not come to the US looking for an individual and bombing whole towns so that it is easier to find him.

The US is wasting money on destroying, when they should be using their resources and money creating, healing and learning to learn and care, especially in the US.

Josh not Foust January 14, 2011 at 12:45 pm

Josh,

I have to say that historically I generally have agreed with your postings. I rarely make any comments on this blog.

I would also have to say that I feel their was no ideal solution to this situation. There were large potential costs in funds and lives by clearing the village and surrounding areas using EOD teams. There were also large potential costs in relationship status and appearance of ISAF in the eyes of the inhabitants in the solution selected.

In the end I think that David has made some excellent points and in a quite polite manner, minus his one allusion to censorship. I think on the other hand that in this particular case you are failing to view the issue from both sides and are relying greatly on the reporter’s point of view rather than what your own experiences might indicate went into this decision.

I read this article three times. And yes I would say mistakes were made by the soldiers but I can’t honestly say I wouldn’t have reached the same decision. I agree with you and many of the other commenters that the US military and ISAF often use unnecessary overwhelming force. I as a tax payer may not like it, but also I as an American don’t like dead soldiers. These are NOT war crimes and for them to be put foward as such is a misrepresentation of the facts or a gross missunderstanding of the convention.

Your friend,
JZ

TJM January 14, 2011 at 1:41 pm

Why did Broadwell write this? If accurate, it is a horrible example of how to conduct operations and makes light of the plight of the Afghans victimized by this operation. If slightly inaccurate, it is misleading and a poor example from which practitioners might take away the wrong lessons. If wholly inaccurate, it is a potential PR disaster.

Glans January 14, 2011 at 2:52 pm

Thank you for reading a comment made so long after the article was published.

Anyway. No one here knows what they’re talking about.

The village was not inhabited by the usual residents. It was full of munitions placed by the Taliban. Seriously, are you suggesting these soldiers risk their lives to painstakingly clear dozens of 50 gal drums just to save a bunch of mud houses? That’s naive. Blow the whole thing up along with the IEDs and rebuild after the next rainy season.

Joshua Foust January 14, 2011 at 3:12 pm

“just to save a bunch of mud houses? That’s naive. Blow the whole thing up along with the IEDs and rebuild after the next rainy season.”

That is precisely the lazy, inhuman attitude I am condemning here. Thank you, though, for making it so explicit.

Just so we’re clear, it is not just a bunch of mud houses – those are homes, that contain the life possessions of people we claim to be helping. We are not providing for the refugees who are made homeless by this destruction – the ICRC has reported as much, and condemned the US’s inability to do so. We have no right to throw people into the wilderness for the “crime” of being victimized by the Taliban, for the sake of our own efficiency. No right whatsoever.

Renee January 14, 2011 at 7:55 pm

This is so offensive I don’t know where to start.

“A bunch of mud houses” indeed. “Rebuild after the next rainy season.” Right.

And until then? What? Families displaced? Living in tents? Unable to farm or be economically productive? What should they eat? Once the rebuilding is done those who can’t bribe their local magistrate will have nothing. Can you imagine having nothing? I mean, the clothes on your back and several hungry kids?

Oh, I know! They’ll just dig into their savings accounts and shell out for a motel until they can submit the receipts to their home insurance company. I mean, as soon as the next postman arrives.

Are you suggesting these soldiers risk their lives to painstakingly clear dozens of 50 gal drums…

YES. What are they there for again? To fire an automatic weapon into the air? To press buttons from miles away? I know! They’ll get into their Iron Man suits and fly to the caves where the bad guys are hiding and blow them up! Yes.

If we’re actually there to help the Afghani citizens, then yes. We’ll help them make sure their houses are safe and their villages unmolested. Gosh. That almost sort of sounds like a heroic sort of a mission. Imagine that.

John a combat veteran January 14, 2011 at 5:23 pm

It is quite telling that people refer to the taliban as if they are not Afghan . If you have killed my cousin, my sister-in-law and her children and you have blown up my house and all my neighbors homes, and killed ten or twenty people in my village I am going to come to get even wether I agree with the political outlook of the Taliban or not. The foreign soldiers who do not speak my language, who live behind fortifications ,who bring so much destruction do not stand a chance against people who have lost everything. I saw villages leveled in Vietnam, I saw people who were on our side turn against the massive killing machine set loose in their country. Get it straight you cannot defeat an indigenous force with firepower. They are outnumbered out gunned and still they grind us down because we are in their country not ours. It is their land, their customs, their homes that are under attack. We will not change that place with weapons.

David January 15, 2011 at 8:50 am

John,
The Taliban are not all Afghans. They come from Iran, Pakistan and even the UK to fight their Jihad. The US is not trying to use firepower to defeat an insurgency. The strategies being used are much deeper than that going down to the level of finding and neutralizing the key suppliers, financiers, and leadership. The firepower used here was simply used in order to eliminate the explosive threats in the village.

John a combat veteran January 15, 2011 at 12:49 pm

The Taliban are in fact a Pashtun political organization that is comprised of Pakistani and Afghan nationals. I don’t know where you get the idea that they are not , the Taliban fought the Soviet when they occupied their country, they fight the US because they occupy the country. Try reading http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-south-asia-11451718
Firepower is firepower and it is the primary weapon of any war

Carmine January 14, 2011 at 5:54 pm

it seems to me that you perhaps allowed your very own bias into this article. where do you come off criticizing the soldiers and Marines who risk their lives in what THEY believe is defending our freedom and our country. There are certain things that we do not understand. i do not understand your entire point of view, what you know and many other things. but neither do you know exactly what this Lieutenant Colonel is thinking and what his plans are. I agree that we should pull out of A’stan, i hate hearing about our men dying over there, and if these farmers dont care for us much i think we should just leave, but dont put these brave men and women in a bad light. believe it or not, whether its right or wrong, they’re just following orders. orders that if are disobeyed, the men face jail time with the scum of this country. i think these are points we should all consider

Cindy January 14, 2011 at 11:50 pm

Exactly Carmine! We’re still there because our LEADERS don’t have the balls to admit they’ve poured more and more money and lives into a mistake, and get our soldiers OUT.

Dan L. January 21, 2011 at 4:14 pm

Any military at any point in history is devoted to teaching the people who make it up to commit violent acts without thinking about it. Someone has to think about it and speak up or things go to far.

Your perspective — that to question the motives and actions of one’s nation’s military is itself a moral wrong — is exactly what went wrong with Spain, Germany, Japan, and Italy at the beginning of the 20th century. And the US at the beginning of the 21st. Nothing makes this clearer than the following quote from you:

“whether its right or wrong, they’re just following orders. ”

There was a point in the 20th century where the western world collectively decided that “just following orders” is not an acceptable excuse when one commits atrocities. It’s really disappointing that every American seems to know the word “fascism” without knowing what it means.

Ghost of Habibullah Jan January 14, 2011 at 7:03 pm

Here’s the broader truth: the destruction of this village touches a nerve among those who watched Afghanistan fall apart in recent years, because it serves as such a stark metaphor for the war. We are delivering tough medicine. The patient is dying. Why? Nobody knows, exactly, so we keep jacking up the dosage in hopes of success. The fate of this village represents the logical outcome of Afghan policy. No terrorists or insurgents can hide in a place that’s bombed flat, and flattened terrain offers a fresh foundation for a new, better, democratic, gender-sensitive Afghanistan. It’s utopianism gone mad.

J.R. January 15, 2011 at 5:03 am

There’s another story on the same task force and a diffrent village in the Daily Mail: Dicing with death in the devil’s playground.

I think this section shows where the priorities are, and demining for the population isn’t one of them:

The villagers have been given until this Thursday to reveal to the Americans the exact location of the multiple Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs) that are known to ring what was, until very recently, a Taliban HQ.

If they don’t, they will be allowed to retrieve what possessions are still left in the ruins. Then, using airstrikes and bulldozers, the coalition forces will wipe Khosrow Sofla from the map.

The ultimatum has been issued by Colonel David Flynn, a battalion commander in the 101st Airborne Division – the Screaming Eagles. ‘I have informed the villagers I am unprepared to tell any more mums and dads that their sons died trying to clear Khosrow Sofla, ‘ he explained to me.

‘I have told the villagers to consult the Taliban. But they know full well already where the IEDs are hidden. Now they have a few days to decide what to do about it.’

While the motivation of Colonel Flynn is understandable, the question remains wether getting rid of the homes and population so they don’t hinder the fighting wins anything.

The gamble appears to be that a coarse clear quells most of the resistance while there are enough troops around, and “somebody else” then works on keeping the “peace” and getting to a political solution. Right now, I don’t see how that is supposed to work out, or who would be capable of winning that post-demolition uphill battle.

J.R. January 15, 2011 at 5:06 am

Looks like I messed up the citation.
The quote is from
“The villagers have been given until this Thursday”
to
“Now they have a few days to decide what to do about it.’”
Sorry.

David January 15, 2011 at 11:38 am

Wait a minute. Isn’t this almost exactly what the nay-sayers are saying the US should have done in the first place? Now it looks like they have. Ok, definitely probably could have been accomplished with some more tact, but the sentiment is one everyone should agree with: “Help us get the bombs out of your houses, or we’ll blow them up for you. I will not sacrifice MY Soldiers for YOUR possessions.”

He isn’t trying to eliminate the homes to teach the villagers a lesson, he just wants it to be made safe.

Fnord January 16, 2011 at 10:37 am

No, David: They are saying “Risk the revenge of the Taleban at night and collaborate with us, or we will bomb your houses”. Its basically a threat, leaving the villagers to choose wether to get killed by the Taleban or loose all property to the US. I expect the Wehrmacht used a lot of this approach in Ukraine.

M Shannon January 15, 2011 at 9:59 am

This may be obvious but blowing up a village with air strikes doesn’t get rid of all the IEDs and could add UXO to the mix. It still needs to be cleared before reconstruction starts. Of course reconstruction won’t start soon enough if ever not to hand the insurgents a great propaganda victory.

WRT the troops attitudes to Afghans my observation is that their view of the locals is usually the same as that of American cops recruited in the suburbs to patrol big city gang neighborhoods: Mistrust, amazement, sometimes fear, and insulting humor. “Caring” is a condition that I’ve only seen in a few CA types and then only in a detached shallow manner.

The Afghans know we don’t really give a rats behind about them and are trying to figure a way to escape. Destroying villages can only help the Taliban in the long run and the unintended consequences of the destruction probably won’t even give the army the short term tactical advantage it was looking for. See Monte Casino 1944 for the advantages rubbling has to a defensive force.

BruceR January 17, 2011 at 3:55 pm

Exactly. EOD is going to take just about as long if you’re rubbling and then rebuilding on the same spot. The primary objective here was to make the location uninhabitable for the insurgents.

carl January 18, 2011 at 8:22 pm

Just a small point M Shannon but as far as additional UXO caused by munitions used to destroy the village, would you not be able to tell that each one dropped went off properly just by dropping them one at a time and seeing whether there was a big bang?

Joshua Foust January 18, 2011 at 10:25 pm

Carl, We know the unit did not evaluate and screen every building for explosives (they said so, they just found a lot and chose to blow it up). So they have no way of knowing if they actually exploded everything. None. It doesn’t make the town that much safer.

carl January 18, 2011 at 10:59 pm

Joshua:

We really need an EOD guy in on this discussion.

I am guessing here but maybe the weapons laid on the village were intended to detonate unstable explosives. So I imagine you drop one bomb, look that it detonates and look for any additional detonations. You do that until there are no additional detonations. Then do it some more. Count the number of weapons you put down and bangs that result and you should be pretty sure that all your stuff went off. If no more secondaries then maybe you will be pretty sure that all of theirs were detonated. You hope. There would still be a need to check the place but I would think it would be rather safer than it was at the start.

That is my guess. Our EOD guys know what they are doing and if they judge that plot of ground safer then I would defer to them. These are technical judgments that I am not qualified to make. I don’t know what your experience in these matters are.

We need an EOD guy to chime in.

Pol-Mil FSO January 15, 2011 at 12:47 pm

I sat in on a shura in the Arghandab District Center in October 2007 and listened to local elders plead with U.S. Army Civil Affairs and Special Forces officers to not conduct patrols around their villages, arguing that coalition forces attracted ambushes and IEDs. At the time, Arghandab district was very peaceful, being under the control of the Alikozai even though Alikozai leader Mullah Naquib had just died of a heart attack. Alikozai control of the district eroded greatly over the next year due to Mullah Naquib’s absence and Taliban incursions into the Arghandab in November 2007 and June 2008. And when U.S. battalions began to deploy into the Arghandab in the summer of 2009 to chase out the Taliban, the Arghandab turned into one of the bloodiest districts in Afghanistan. We can justifiably claim that it was the Taliban’s fault that many of the inhabitants of the Arghandab have lost their homes and their livelihoods but the villagers will not see it that way – they are much less forgiving of the foreign infidel soldiers who have little understanding of the Afghan perspective and way of life than they are of the Taliban who in many cases are their brothers and cousins. At this point I think that most of the villagers in the Arghandab just wish that the foreigners would go away, even if it means living under Taliban rule.

BruceR January 17, 2011 at 3:50 pm

Exactly. The war for the average resident of Arghandab started AFTER the Western soldiers came, in mid-late 2009. They would be better people than us if they could just ignore that impression of causality and only blame the local rebels, who hadn’t really done anything to them prior.

Rucio January 15, 2011 at 4:42 pm

If indeed the village had been transformed into a civilian-free Taliban battle station or giant bomb, one is still left with the question of why, 10 years after achieving victory and bringing peace and stability (if more religiously repressive than many people would have liked) to Afghanistan after decades of war.

So why? Because “Nato” invaded and installed a more West-friendly government against them. So the fate of this village must indeed be laid at the feet of the “Nato” liberators.

Steve Maghribi January 15, 2011 at 6:57 pm

We are all just reinventing the wheel here.

This really an old old debate that comes up anytime there is an insurgency, resisting in a fairly unified effective way.

Having been down there last year and earlier this year, I can assure all of you that was a fairly common action during the Surge. This was not the only village leveled. Kandahar is really full of such Arghandeb, Khakrez, Panjway etc refugees…

For David “We have to destroy the village to save it” This is just the same line we used in Vietnam. The goal of such scorched earth tactics is to deny terrain and or vegetation to the resisting insurgent force.

The local commander had to make the decision. That is what he decided to do in this case.

In Vietnam we also used Agent Orange to provide clearance to our operations.

The stated force protection goal was used here. We can agree or not. But each case must be analyzed. We cannot fully analyze anything from this article alone. We just do not know the situation on the ground, and the reporter arrives and leaves just as quickly as he can. Everyone else needs to stay.

As I said there were many other cases. Same thing different location.

The questions everyone needs to ask are simple.

Is this an effective way to fight an insurgent force?
Will it provide more or less support for the insurgents?
Was it really tactically necessary as a force protection method?

The Soviets did the same sort of things in the same areas. The Afghans have seen this all before-I might add.

For those of us who have fought in these kinds of wars, we cannot get too emotional or too distant from these situations. The answers to the above questions will really aid us all in determining how this last year’s counter insurgent operations went.

However, we will see next year if the insurgent activities have disapeared, lessened or increased. That will make a lot of this clear in the future.

carl January 18, 2011 at 8:51 pm

Joshua:

In the photos provided the village appears to be about 120 metres x 120 metres. I wouldn’t take many 55 gallon drums of unstable explosive going off to completely wreck the place. A wild guess on my part but maybe not more than 1 or 2. These are unstable explosives, they are not safe just sitting there and are even more unsafe it disturbed. They would have to have been disturbed if the decision had been made to try and render them safe in place and then remove them. Another wild guess again but let us say no matter how hard you try, if you would try to render them safe in place 40% are going to go off anyway. So if 5 of those things were suspected to be in the village, no matter what you did 2 would go off wrecking the village plus you lose men. Given that the situation in the article seem broadly to be like that, the decision made seems the best that could be done with a really bad situation.

As far as the line charge being used to clear a path, “momentum” may have been a very poor choice of words. I think it more likely that the LTC was very worried about the morale of his unit breaking down.

In the United States, there have been whole communities abandoned because the danger in them could not be handled or removed safely. Various superfund sites and towns located over underground coal fires fall into that category. We just haven’t had the problem of somebody collecting thousands of pounds of unstable explosives in a small area.

David: My compliments. You argue your case well.

Joshua Foust January 18, 2011 at 10:20 pm

Carl,

Sorry, you’re still making the argument from expediency… and then assuming proper motives on the part of the commander when we have no evidence to support it.

If you’re going to challenge me on the comparison to Marjeh, then you don’t get to analogize this to, say, Love Canal—which also happened to undergo rigorous testing and evaluation, and its residents received substantial compensation for losing their homes… and oh yeah THEY STILL WERE NOT HAPPY ABOUT IT.

Really, this should not be a difficult concept to get.

carl January 18, 2011 at 10:48 pm

Joshua:

Nor do we have evidence of improper motives on the part of the commander. We really don’t have much evidence at all given the brevity of the account. In the story the LTC expresses unhappiness that the rest of his deployed time is going to be mostly taken up by getting this village back into shape. That doesn’t speak to haste being an overriding motive on his part.

As far as rigorous testing goes, Ms. Broadwell spoke in her facebook page I think of technical means she can’t talk about indicating there were a lot of explosives in the village. We will have to take her at her word on that. There are technical means to determine these things. I don’t know exactly what they are but a lot of people have been working on that kind of thing for a long time and explosives have certain characteristics so I tend to believe her. Was the place as thoroughly gone over as Love Canal? Probably not but Love Canal probably wasn’t going to go off if somebody tripped and fell hard.

The big thing here is there were large amounts of UNSTABLE EXPLOSIVES in a fairly small area. They were probably going to go off and destroy the village no matter what you did. This appears to have been mostly a technical decision based upon the material and its dangers. There was no good way out of this once the Taliban planted the stuff.

Should the residents get new homes back and receive generous compensation? YES. Should we be aware and take more care that corrupt local authorities don’t mess things up more than they already are as you imply we should? YES. Are the people whose lives have been thoroughly disrupted and in some cases been completely ruined going to be happy about it? HELL NO. Was there any good way out of this mess? NO

There was no good way out.

Jack January 20, 2011 at 6:54 am

Interesting reading all of the comments from those removed from the situation with a minimal window into the facts on the ground. As someone directly involved with this reconstruction effort I can assure you that much of the speculation in the above comments is humorous when viewed in light of the facts.

I will offer two small points to the discussion of this for those commenting to chew on….

1.) The houses in the village were owned by a dozen wealthy landowners. They were rented by tenant farmers who worked the land around the village. Most of the landowners live in Kandahar City and have multiple houses in multiple villages as well as the city. 13 houses in this village were owned by one man. These were not poor Afghan farmers who lost everything they owned in the destruction of the village. They were men who make more than most Americans annually because they own extensive pomegranate orchards which earn them significant sums of money.

2.) The taliban paid off the mailk last year to vacate the village. The few tenant farmers living in the houses moved to other villages either with family or renting elsewhere. They took most of their belongings with them. The malik got a fat payment to empty out the village and then moved a quarter of a mile down the road to another village and watched while the Taliban wired it with IEDs and used it to stage attacks from.

This was a situation in which there were no good answers unfortunately and speculation is cheap, especially when not informed with all of the facts. Steve Maghribi’s comments are solid and reflect an understanding of how to approach complex situations. These operations shattered the Talibans ability to fight in the Arghandab and as a result we are seeing unprecedented positive engagement with the people. Would love to stay more active with these discussions but most of my time is consumed trying to address the challenges that we are faced with over here in a manner which facilitates stability and the earliest possible transition of full control to the Afghan people and their government.

carl January 20, 2011 at 9:51 am

Thanks Jack. That was the best comment of all because it was the most informed. Now I will try to sit back, listen and not talk so much.

Madhu January 20, 2011 at 10:56 am

Thanks Jack. I’m glad someone with concrete knowledge of the situation chimed in. Our virtual vantage point is not god-like. There is so much we can’t know. Thanks again.

Dan L. January 21, 2011 at 4:27 pm

I think it’s interesting that carl and Madhu take this post at face value. Maybe they know who Jack is from previous encounters, but there’s nothing in this post that says how Jack knows what he knows or what it is he’s actually doing in Afghanistan.

It reads like US military PR whitewash, BTW.

Madhu January 23, 2011 at 12:13 pm

Yeah, you’ve got a point Dan L. I did do that and deserve to be called out on it.

However, I stand by this: “Our virtual vantage point is not god-like. There is so much we can’t know.”

Pretty much anyone that jumped on any bandwagon now looks to have rushed things.

carl January 23, 2011 at 1:21 pm

Dan L.:

Jack’s comment passes the common sense test as do the comments of all the others who purport to have been on the spot, especially the gentleman who commented about the village being boobytraps within boobytraps within traps. I made the judgment, as someone who has never been there, given all I’ve read and here and other places over the years. I made my judgment, you made yours and Mr. Foust made his. Mr. Foust has the advantage of having been there in the past. In this case, he made his judgment based upon what he read.

jimmyjim January 20, 2011 at 12:44 pm

I came to your site from SWJ and I am commenting here since I could not comment there.

I didn’t get any further in Flynn’s comment than his first sentence: “It has been with great pleasure that I’ve had the opportunity to read the orator Joshua Faust report from his desk in the U.S. via Registan.net. It seems, unfortunately, Mr. Faust lacks the context to editorialize in a way that enables his readers to ascertain an objective view.”

Let’s see, we’ve got 1) sarcasm, 2) ignorance (writers “write” not orate), and 3) general pompous word salad.

Joshua Foust January 20, 2011 at 3:32 pm

Oi. Thanks for the heads up.

Blake January 21, 2011 at 3:11 am

jimmyjim, Im guessing LTC Flynn has much more important shit on his mind than getting all his words right when addressing some blogger back in the states. Things like saving the lives of his soldiers and protecting Afghan civilians who are being terrorized by extremists.

But good catch, keep doin gods work. Are you pickin up on my sarcasm?

Norman Rogers January 20, 2011 at 4:35 pm

We’re supposed to be outraged?

If there’s no safe way to remove an intricately-wired series of explosive devices, you have to detonate it where it lies.

Ask any bomb disposal expert. If what you’re faced with could explode in transit to a safer area, you have to blow it up in place. Now, granted, there are mitigating circumstances, but it’s pretty clear that in this example, the neighborhood (not the “village”) had to go.

Next week’s misplaced outrage will center around not removing explosives from a booby-trapped neighborhood. Are we supposed to be trying to help the Afghan people or not?

Tharms January 22, 2011 at 1:36 pm

What an interesting mix of comments, half from skittish people with real moral conscience, half from chicken hawks on parade (even one from Vermont who thinks he’s a liberal).

pulpfiction January 22, 2011 at 9:26 pm

Joshua,

I just have two questions and a comment. First, what military unit did you serve in during the wars in Afghanistan or Iraq? And two, how many life or death decisions have you ever had to make in your entire life?

You are in way over your head here. And you don’t even know it.

Signed, over five years of combat experience and a college degree.

Matt January 24, 2011 at 6:19 pm

This is not so complicated.

1. There would be no reason to blow up the village if NATO was not in Afghanistan.

2. .. oh. there is no 2.

Blake January 18, 2011 at 12:56 pm

Chloe bags are shit. Take my word for it. Absolute trash.

That said, I’ve been reading all the comments and would just like to add my two cents. There is a lot of heated rhetoric about US soldiers being similar to Nazis, etc. Can we stop with this? US soldiers defeated the Nazis. Period. There is NO moral equivalence there. Anyone comparing US soldiers to Nazis is a Nazi sympathizer in my view.

I completely agree with all of David’s points, though I am not so sure of our righteousness in this situation. First, The Taliban is the enemy of the Afghan people, and they were LONG before the US came into the country. Would anyone here want their daughters being raised in a place like Afghanistan? Where butchers will cut her face off for running away from an abusive husband? I thought not.

Afghanistan is a primitive place that could use a little modernization, if only to give women equal opportunities (which will subsequently demilitarize the country so that it can join the rest of the free world). Radical religion in any form is worth fighting. Savages who seek to control others through violence and intimidation (i.e. the Taliban, Al Qaeda) need to be wiped off the face of the Earth. Period. And please, spare me the comparisons between US soldiers and Al Qaeda.

If you are for this war, you must ask yourself: how would I feel about being essentially colonized by a foreign army? Certainly we would all have an adverse reaction to armed foreigners patrolling our streets, but what if those armed foreigners were there to help your children live a decent life (granted, by western standards), in a country where they can be educated and enjoy freedoms.

However, if you are against this war, you must ask yourself: how would you feel if gangs of violent thugs (whether they were your neighbors or not) came into your town and forced you to live according to there barbaric rules? And if you refused to do so, you and your family wouldbe killed (not just killed, beheaded).

So its a tough call. The US is an empire. We go around the world and conduct business in order to stay on top. Like it or not, this is simply human nature. But not all empires are evil. Many countries colonized by the Brits and the US have come to benefit from these occupations, and I do hope/believe that the Afghans will benefit from this war in the long run.

When you think of the bombs being dropped by US soldiers over there, dont forget about the medics who go around treating poor Afghans for free, giving them first-world aid where they would otherwise never get such quality treatment.

This war is not all bad. Some wars are necessary. Was this war? Im not sure. But I feel okay about sending troops to a country to free citizens from gangs of violent extremists who seek to oppress women and crush democracy.

The choices are never perfect. I didnt love Gore, but shit, I hated Bush. It is a choice of which one bothers you least. These are the realities of life. The truth is that most US soldiers join to help others and represent the highest ideals of humanity, though they are simply the blunt object that enforces these ideals.

I agree that Ms. Broadwell should’ve shown more sympathy in her piece. But the US military perspective is, ‘hey, we’re here to help. Why are they fighting us?’ Maybe its naive, but thats the truth.

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