Revisiting the Village Razing Policies of ISAF in Kandahar

by Joshua Foust on 1/16/2011 · 32 comments

Paula Broadwell, the author of that abhorrent celebration of burning down villages to save them, has been furiously backpedaling on her Facebook page. She offered this “clarification.”

The Taliban had paid the village Malik around June-July to move out of the village. Their objective was to establish their own strong point in that key terrain area. Flynn knew the town had been deserted by the villagers and inhabited by the Taliban b/c he had established a relationship with the Malik who had taken the Taliban cash and moved to Jelawar (along with the rest of the villagers who had been displaced there and elsewhere). With that background, I definitely have sympathy for the villagers who had been displaced, even though they made the judgment call to “sell” the village to the Taliban, but I’m not sure it’s entirely fair to say that ISAF displaced them…

They were able to utilize some high speed intell that I can’t write about here for HME discovery and verification. The Taliban had laden the roads, compounds, everywhere with booby traps. In the commander’s assessment, the deserted village was not worth clearing. If you lost several KIA and you might feel the same… SOF had tried to clear the village and had several EKIA but also lost two guys. Afghan commandos had attempted to take the village and got hammered by the IEDs and HEMsas well…

[T]he villagers told all of these visitors {Petraeus, an ABC news crew] that Flynn was their hero and they wanted him to move into the village with them. They express great gratitude for helping them claim security in their river valley and push the Taliban out. Sure they are pissed about the loss of their mud huts (look at the picture again) but that is why the BUILD story is important here. The villagers are volunteering information to CTF 320th on enemy threat information. My basic analysis of all this would be that they have gained more confidence in ISAF forces than Taliban. I’m still not saying that razing a village is the best approach to clear/hold strategy, and to answer Paul’s question, I don’t know that this is a trend but I don’t think you should limit the option for commanders. Truth be told, ISAF expects heavy fighting again this spring and summer, so I suspect there will be more of this razing to come in other key terrain areas.

Today, Arghandab River Valley is one of the most stable areas regions in AFG and has been recognized by TIME, CNN, and this week ABC as a model for success. II can post those articles, written by other reporters so you can see that my analysis is similar. There are plenty of challenges and failures out there, and this unit is by no means perfect, but I think I have told the story objectively (though missing some context, indeed).

That’s a lot of text to power through, and there’s a lot more on her page, but it brings to mind an important phenomenon that it worth exploring here. Namely, the assumption that our good intentions are apparent, and always welcomed, coupled with a gullibility of villagers saying nice things to the rich guys with guns. Also, everything I bolded in the text above is grade-A crap. Let me explain.

The assumption of good intentions remains of the most critical failures of American imagination in both wars. I am at a loss for why this is the case—just about everyone who understands these things continues to beg the military to stop assuming Afghans know we have good intentions for the area, but it just hasn’t sunk in yet. Actions speak louder than words, etc. It’s not a hard concept to understand, but AMERICA GOOD is just not a given amongst locals. It’s years past time people stop assuming this is the case. If you no longer think people just intuitively get the inherent goodness of America, then it becomes easier to see why they’re pissed off at the destruction of their homes—not just “mud huts” but homes and a lifetime of memories and possessions (her continued inability to get that poor people care about their “mud huts” is worse than cringe-inducing). And, just as importantly, why it’s not necessarily a good thing when they cooperate with you afterward.

The gullibility of Americans is also something I thought we would have moved beyond in 2011, but it still remains. In civil wars, locals—that is, non-combattants—are always friendly to the guys with guns. In the passage above Paula expresses dismay, and toys with feeling little sympathy for, villagers who accepted money rather than violence to leave their village. That is worse than calloused, and it’s the kind of glib attitude that comes, depressingly commonly enough, from the zombies living in the military’s COIN bubble. I’ve seen elders in Afghanistan smile warmly at me, talk about how much they hate the Taliban, and so on… only to, mere days later, be caught passing information along to a local insurgent commander because they were scared witless by a night letter tacked to their door. Christian Bleuer explored this years ago—in Kapisa, of all places—and it really is a universal phenomenon. Displaced villagers will warmly greet armed groups… especially if those groups are handing out money as well. It means nothing beyond that, however. We should not be this gullible still. But we are, and that’s really sad to see.

There is a lot of grade-A crap in Paula’s passage. For example, I still have a hard time believing that the Taliban would go to the expense and trouble of lining every vertical and horizontal surface with explosives in a town they had already spent a lot of money to occupy without violence. It’s just so… wasteful, and while the Taliban are many kinds of evil they are not profligate. I don’t understand where they would see the utility in doing this, at least to the extent she says. Furthermore, there is the appeal to sympathy—Flynn, the U.S. commander, was gun-shy because he lost some men under him. Without minimizing that—and I know how this sounds—but war sucks. It sucks hard. Losing men in war sucks even worse, and I am not in any way ignoring or writing off the grief and pain that causes. But that does not give you an excuse to burn a village to the ground. Part of what makes war suck, especially for Americans, is that we do not scorch the earth when we suffer losses, however tempting it may be.

Now, I bring this up because there are other areas—higher profile areas—that have been laced with IEDs that were not burned to the ground after a few KIAs. One of them is Marjah. As the Financial Times reported in February:

In a place where homemade bombs are buried under seemingly every road, this trip was supposed to be safe and easy: A team of Marine engineers and ordnance-disposal experts had swept the route 48 hours earlier, unearthing and blowing up seven mines. But on Wednesday, Col Worth’s convoy had travelled less than a mile before the engineers discovered a mine on the rutted road. They would later find three more – all planted in the same intersection as the seven mines they found Monday…

That may mean many more weeks of arduous house-to-house clearing operations for the Marines and Afghan forces in this 155-square-mile area, making this a far more complex and dangerous mission than initially envisaged, and it could delay some efforts to deliver government services and reconstruction projects to the 80,000 people who live here.

I’m not immediately certain why this town in the Arghandab warranted total destruction, while Marjah warranted dead Marines to remain in place. Maybe it was the number of journalists watching it unfold in real time. I have no idea, but other units were willing to suffer horrendous losses to avoid unnecessary destruction. I still don’t understand why this smaller town was any different. Despite Paula’s insistence to the contrary, the build story is not an important corrective—it speaks to the failure of imagination we’re demonstrating there, daily. We think we can destroy whatever is expedient and make things better by throwing money at the problem. Only someone without a shred of empathy inside them would think that is okay. Apparently, they are in charge in the Arghandab.

Lastly, there is that claim that the Arghandab is one of the most stable areas in all of Afghanistan. Considering none of the journalists or soldiers Paula was with walked around without body armor, armed guards, MRAPs, and air support… I’m just going to say that is a dubious claim. If you need all that to feel safe, then an area is not secure—I don’t care what the shining minds at Time Magazine say. Anyway, on Saturday a car carrying seven civilians hit an IED in the Arghandab, killing everyone inside. Stability!

I think there is a lot more to this story of what’s going on with the razing of villages to the ground. As the story evolves—as people like Broadwell realize they should actually describe what happened instead of fronting for the COIN cheerleaders—it doesn’t improve the story. I still don’t get how they square “this village is key terrain we must secure and protect” with “we must burn this to the ground and rebuild it elsewhere.” I still don’t see how it is a good idea to hand the DSG the power of titling and property deeds in an area that never had them before, or why they think that isn’t an incredibly corrupt process that is victimizing marginal and poor people in the area. Most puzzlingly of all, dropping 49,000 pounds of bombs on the village won’t necessarily destroy all the IEDs and HMEs that are in the area… and will mostly likely leave additional UXO (unexploded ordinance) behind—which is even more of a headache, since it’s often buried under rubble and difficult to remove and defuse. This only makes sense if your primary concern is the safety of your men—not the mission, not the Afghans, not the long-term consequences of wiping out villages when the Taliban occupy them. I just don’t understand it.

And lastly, I still don’t understand why, if Paula feels so torn about it, as she now says on her Facebook page, she was so goddamned smug and celebratory when writing for Tom Ricks. At least she’s sharpening her “objective writing skills,” so we can put one check mark in the “positive” column. I guess.

From top to bottom, this whole story stinks to high heaven. And I don’t think we’re ever going to get the full story.


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– 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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{ 32 comments }

jon nelms January 16, 2011 at 9:06 pm

“without a shred of empathy” explains the assumption that to kill pashtun resistance fighters-aka taliban-is to win hearts and minds of the vast majority of patriotic pashtuns. Call it hubris. Combine it with the denial of ethnic conflict as the primary cause of pashtun disenchantment. The solution will be a fair partition, modeled on the Dayton accords. Unfortunately the U.S. first needs to show how big and bad it can be, and it’s pundits need to show how supportive they will be, regardless of either truth or justice.

Grant January 17, 2011 at 12:09 am

Personally I agree that this was more of a loss for the U.S than what they claim but I think you dismiss concerns about the lives of soldiers too quickly. It is a large part of the job of the commanding officer to keep those soldiers alive and given the public’s dislike for casualties they are probably under a huge amount of pressure to avoid any.

J. Michael Neal January 17, 2011 at 4:58 pm

If that’s the case, then we need to get out of Afghanistan. If protecting the men under their command is the paramount interest of the officer corps, from the guy on the ground up through all of the levels that are pressuring him to avoid casualties, then they aren’t putting much emphasis on actually carrying out the nominal mission and reason for being there. If fulfilling the strategic goals isn’t the top priority, then we shouldn’t be fighting a war.

Only go to war when worrying about casualties is subordinated strategic success. Otherwise, it’s just a waste of lives and treasure.

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SM January 17, 2011 at 10:20 am

Doesn’t she realize that everyone sees themself as basically good? Running someone over with a car is a crime whether you did it deliberately or while racing on some noble errand. And the idea that destroying someone else’s property then rebuilding it is morally neutral is bizarre, though sadly familiar from earlier American wars.

Calling your enemy’s homes by some other word than “home” can be documented back through King Philip’s War, and probably back to some Old Kingdom Egyptians chasing nomads in the desert.

Matt January 17, 2011 at 9:15 pm

I think in a way you answered your own question, it was about the commanders deciding that the safety of their men was more important than the homes of the villagers. That unit has had a tough deployment, even going back to the Brian Mouthenhaupt article in the Atlantic a few months back, they were taking KIAs and having guys lose legs on their first patrols. The officers may have decided that given the morale of the unit and the time and resource commitment it would take to clear every house, it wasn’t worth it. I can’t fault the commanders for that though. If it’s going to come down to saving their own men, or further alienating the locals, there are plenty of commanders who will protect their guys. That’s especially true if they think the locals are not on their side in the first place, which was alluded to in the Moutenhampt (I have no idea how to spell that name) article, where the members of the outgoing unit were encouraging a lieutenant with the incoming 101st to call in air or artillery because “everyone hates us here anyway.” It might sound snide, but it is easy for us to dismiss the COs thinking from back home, we aren’t the ones who have to call the dead soldier’s parents. While bombing the village certainly won’t achieve strategic goals, neither will losing additional men to IEDs clearing the place.

steve January 17, 2011 at 10:32 pm

If the only way we can prosecute this war is to raze villages, we have already lost. Time to go.

Steve

Tintin January 18, 2011 at 12:34 am

Not a question that anyone will ever be able to answer, except maybe by a lot of interviews with 1-320 and SOF in years to come, but I wonder whether the fact that this was an understrength FA battalion with some mechanized infantry attachments has anything to do with this. The last unit in the Arghandab, light infantry, 2-508 PIR, managed to get by without razing any villages like this, to the best of my knowledge (and lost 12 killed, I believe, in the process). But now Arghandab District is “owned” by more companies with, as I understand it, fewer infantrymen…two artillery batteries (acting as “provisional infantry” as Paula says), three mechanized infantry companies, and two tank companies, all acting as infantry in a place where actual light infantry units do not find it easy to operate. I would be curious what Gian Gentile and those who decry the use of FA, armor, and mechanized forces in light infantry roles think of this.

Also, Paula mentioned that SOF “lost” two guys in the village. I’m curious about this. I’m aware of the Ranger Regiment losing two guys in nearby Zhari in one incident in August, but I was not aware that SOF had lost anyone in Arghandab in recent months. Could be wrong though, and maybe the two Rangers were killed going into this town. The press release at the time quoted the regimental commander, Col. Eric Kurilla, as saying that the two Rangers “were involved in fighting in one of the most heavily defended areas in Afghanistan. . . Their actions resulted in the destruction of a complex bunker system that included heavy machine guns, mortar systems and the death(s) of seven Taliban.” When I was in the next battalion AO to the west in Zhari in August, it seemed like those guys had been killed in that AO, not Arghandab…but perhaps the village was in a “seam” that has since become 1-320′s AO.

Tintin January 18, 2011 at 12:52 am

Also: I don’t want to come off as suggesting that Paula’s account is either or inaccurate, or that the battalion’s and SOF’s actions were either justified or unjustified, since I have never visited Arghandab District let alone the specific village in question. But I think it is worth noting that there are many villages just a few miles downriver along the Arghandab, along the north bank of the river in eastern Zhari, that are literally devoid of inhabitants and have been for years, since the Taliban made financial arrangements with the residents or convinced them to move elsewhere by intimidation. During a brief visit to Zhari I did see villages that looked from just like the one in Paula’s overhead photo in size and construction, but literally did not have any human activity in them. Some of these villages also were treated as “no-go areas” by the battalion I was visiting, because certain villages did have houses that had been turned into very complex giant IEDs that would be triggered by walking into them. The unit had lost at least one ANA soldier that way.

Someone raised the question of, if this was really necessary, how have the Marines managed to get by without it in Marja (or, I would add, how have various forces managed to get by without it in Sangin…there were parts of Sangin that, to my untrained eye, seemed just as heavily IED-laced as Marja or parts of Zhari). Another question that I don’t know the answer to: Did this, or equivalent actions, happen during the surge in Iraq? I can imagine abandoned (or believed-to-be-abandoned) city blocks being leveled in Baquba, East Rashid, or Tarmiya in 2007, based on how heavily laced some blocks in some neigborhoods were with IEDs (sometimes IEDs that actually did take over the entire house and have triggers at multiple entrances). Certainly houses or groups of houses were destroyed, either with Abrams rounds or with JDAMs — but I have no idea whether blocks or villages of the size of this one in Arghandab were.

JoeChristmas January 18, 2011 at 3:37 am

By the way, if you check out Paula’s Facebook page, you’ll see that she is “friends” with Stephen Petraeus, son of General Petraeus. Surprise, surprise. So I don’t think we’ll be seeing any objective evaluation from her regarding US war crimes in Afghanistan……

–JC

Linda Williams January 19, 2011 at 11:12 pm

She is writing Prateu’s bio.

Blake January 18, 2011 at 1:13 pm

I’ll be the first to point out the flaws of the US (the invasion of Iraq), and the first to blame our troops when they act unjustly (My Lai). This is because I understand the importance of what they do and want them to do it well. An effective US military presence in a foreign country can bring security when there is none otherwise. We in America think of freedom of speech as paramount, that is because we take our security for granted. Without security, there is no free speech. Only the rule of law, enforced by a gun, can give you or I the right of free speech. We as Americans should feel very lucky for that gift of relative security.

Now, are we causing an escalation in violence by being there to fight the Taliban/Al Qaeda, etc? Yes. But the violence is necessary if you believe that these extremists need to be defeated.

If you take the view that all war is bad, than fine. I can accept that POV, and I would also prefer to live in a world where we didnt need police, militaries, etc., because the world was safe and peaceful. But it is not. Do I wish these things (bombing of villages, etc) could be handled another way? Yes. But such is the nature of war. People want to live. No one here would like the idea of walking into a mine-infested area when you just saw your buddy step on one yesterday. Unless you have experienced that for yourself (which I have not), you should reserve your ridiculous judgments about the soldiers being ‘lazy’, etc. If you want to hold the US military to higher standards, then join the ranks and make an impact yourself. Stop bitching from your keyboard.

mark mckenna January 18, 2011 at 2:43 pm

I patrolled this village in 2009. It is very small and isolated and in now way comparable to Marjah. Marjah is quite a large city that was still occupied by civilians. This village is only a few hundred meters across and is several clicks into the dense forest of the Arghandab rivers “green belt”. This “green belt” presents a very unique challenge to ISAF forces in the region. You cannot use the access roads or footpaths to travel to the village because there are so few that they present choke points that are very easy for the Taliban to mine. This forces you to take the dense and heavily irrigated pomegranite orchards. Each orchard, usually about 100m across, has a mud wall sometimes up to 15 ft high separating them. This makes travel EXTREMELY slow, strenuous and downright dangerous. Razing villages is not a good policy but this was an isolated incident and a unique/rare opportunity for ISAF forces to cause some heavy damage to Taliban forces in the region by taking out a command and control center. Isn’t that much more valuable that those deteriorating mud huts that are now being rebuilt?

Joshua Foust January 18, 2011 at 2:51 pm

What, now the village is a major Taliban command and control center, 600 meters from an LTC’s COP? Color me skeptical on that one. The importance of this place keeps growing as the excuses for burning it to the ground fade.

Marjah is not “quite a large city,” it is a 400-square mile patch of farming compounds with 50,000 people spread across it. That is neither large nor a city.

Sorry, ease of movement is no reason to destroy poor people’s homes (not the derisive “mud huts” — those are homes]. We also have many indications this was NOT an isolated incident, but a growing trend (there are at least two other communities which have been razed this way, which I’ve been tracking here).

Andy January 18, 2011 at 7:28 pm

Joshua,

Compared to the village in the picture, Marjeh is New York City. Marjeh also wasn’t abandoned at the behest of the Taliban. I think your comparison there is inapt even though I generally agree with the rest of your post.

The important question is, though, how common is this? If this is one instance by one unit on one deployment then how does that rate in the big picture? Probably not very big. It’s kind of like extrapolating to all of Afghanistan based on the Korengal.

Grant January 19, 2011 at 5:32 am

Of course we should remember that the ease with which others speak of it could be a serious problem.
So the issue seems to be largely A. how much emphasis an officer should place on the lives of soldiers B. the ease others have with this (and is it widely shared) and C. how widespread this razing is.

Mark McKenna January 19, 2011 at 11:13 am

Still could easily be a command and control center. It could take over an hour to travel those 600 m to that village, of which the Taliban would mine every possible entry route. So I’ll color you as “don’t know what the fuck you’re talking about.”
Listen my unit acquired COP Nolen (then Brick 1) from a local Afghan leader (yes we paid for it). The COP took fire everyday at dusk from the same cluster of uninhabited buildings. I know they were uninhabited because I visited them repeatedly and spoke to the locals regarding them. Yet still we couldn’t clearance from higher to use ordnance to take them down even though it would have taken away every vantage point they had to fire on us. I’m just glad to see that this unit is has a LTC who actually gives a fuck.
To put it in even more perspective for you COP Nolen is roughly 1000 m from an ANA outpost dubbed “Terra Nova”. There is a road connecting the two with a few mud walls, bends and trees etc. blocking your view of it from either compound but the majority of it is visible. We used to road to travel to and resupply COP Nolen for a few months believing the Taliban were incapable of getting to it. In October my Stryker ran over an IED believed to contain over 500 lbs of home made explosive (HME) killing my friend and tearing open this several ton vehicle like a fucking christmas present.
Once again its a very unique and difficult situation. The Taliban are using a landscape that renders a lot of our technology and numbers useless. Unless you understand that you wont understand how insignificant most likely eventually beneficial this was to the local population. Its hard enough to keep civilians out of the crossfire, those mud huts will be rebuilt.

Linda Williams January 19, 2011 at 11:14 pm

Thank you Joshua. I was stunned to see this person refer to “homes” as “their mud huts”. Regardless of justification or lack of it this is arrogance.

Pol-Mil FSO January 19, 2011 at 1:12 am

If we want to make comparisons with how the Marines deal with IED-dense areas in Helmand Province, I would suggest that Now Zad District would be a better location for comparison than Marjeh. Maybe Tintin or someone else that has been there could offer an opinion.

Tintin January 20, 2011 at 10:42 pm

Cannot say I have ever been to Now Zad, only Sangin and Nad Ali with British troops.

carl January 19, 2011 at 1:27 am

Joshua:

On the very narrow topic of the Financial Times article you cited: that article mentioned bombs placed in roads. It did not specifically mention buildings rigged as IEDs. It did mention house to house clearing but that phrase is the reporter’s and could mean just about anything. I don’t think you can use the article as a comparison.

Linda Williams January 19, 2011 at 11:09 pm

I’ve read a bit on Broadwell. Regardless of justification or even acceptance on the part of the townspeople, to refer to another’s home as simply a MUD HUT is deplorable. “their mud huts” I had to read this several times to believe it. I’ve sent her a message through Facebook and have sent a message to the White House. This is right up there with Limbaugh’s mocking the language of Chinese President Hu. Write to Prateus. Write to the President of the USA. Bombard with email and letters and phone calls. It is no wonder the rest of the world despises the USA.

Blake January 20, 2011 at 12:56 am

Linda, give up the ‘mud hut’ thing, its not a big deal. Youre being overly sensitive about that. Civilian deaths are unacceptable, but anything outside of that is pretty much fair game in war. It would help if your viewpoint showed a little sympathy to the men and women who put their asses on the line. Have you ever been in a situation where your life was in danger? If so, did you like that experience? Do you think you would be able to face that same danger, day after day after day? I doubt it.

Does Ms. Broadwell have a bias? Probably. I wouldnt be surprised if she has close friends who have died in the war, and it is deeply personal for her. How is it that personal for you?

I think it would be better if people who havent served (like myself) would at least try to be more understanding of those who have. Again, Im fine with anyone arguing this war. But we should all really think about how much we know from our outsiders perspective. Im sure youve all read a whole lot on the matter. But if you havent been there and done that, then you just havent.

If you want the military to listen to your criticisms, maybe try not to paint them as the bad guys, and rather, try to understand their plight. It would be nice if we at least showed them as much sympathy as we show the Afghans.

Madhu January 20, 2011 at 10:55 pm

Oh for heaven’s sake.

You are showing your own Western sensibilities here. Do you really think the colorful and idiomatic way a young American soldier describes local housing is the most important aspect of the presented anecdote?

My mother grew up desperately poor in India and let me tell you something: She never gave a damn about progressive western sensibilities. She loved her home, her family, her country, had no ill will towards others, and wanted a better life for herself. The USA didn’t figure into any of it. The USA isn’t the be all and end all of everything.

The rest of the world doesn’t despise the USA en mass. Some do, some don’t. The “rest” of the world is not a homogeneous brown mass awaiting the gentle sensibilites of Western progressives to deliver them unto the promised land. They are a myriad with as many points of view as there are human beings.

Mr. Foust, I’ve lost a little bit of respect for you during the past few posts. You never did address the specific way we should go about negotiations a la Ahmed Rashid in the New York Times Magazine. You said you signed onto the negotiations thing and then abandoned a more specific post.

You write about village razing but don’t adress the specific points made by commenters who were there and know something about the specific situation.

Is this all I can look forward to? Your bleating on about how you know everything and everyone else is a moron?

Madhu January 20, 2011 at 10:59 pm

Okay, sorry about the “lost respect for you” stuff. That’s not nice on my part and I apologize.

I expect more from you, that’s all. You’re smart. You are capable of more than “gotcha.”

What should they have done instead? I mean, exactly in the situation described by commenter Jack in the other post. What, given those additional data points, would you have done differently? Specifically and not just in general? Point by point?

Joshua Foust January 20, 2011 at 11:14 pm

Madhu, in the comments to the first post on this topic I went into alternatives, including cordoning and ignoring the village until it can be dealt with without the time pressures of the surge campaign. We’re not shy about diverting major highways for the sake of a marginally expanded American base—an expensive and incredibly disruptive process. Yet when an Afghan village presents a difficult process, we destroy it and throw money at the problem in hope it won’t hurt us later.

I don’t see why expressing skepticism at such a decision is so outrageous. I really don’t.

As for the new information, that is… new information. I explain this in an upcoming post on Tom Ricks’ blog. We react to the information on hand, and try to fill in the gaps from knowledge and experience. People sticking up for the razing seem perfectly okay with this, but when a propagandist (that is what Broadwell is, and as I explore this topic—including how actual reporters covered it at the time—I realize how incredibly incompetently she described what happened) doesn’t provide all the facts, we’re left with what we have in front of us. Cut me the same slack you’re so eager to cut the military.

As for the stuff about negotiation, I’ve already posted more on the topic. I’m under no obligation to address what that old blowhard Rashid says, in part because I no longer pay attention to his endless broken record on the topic. Nor do I have any obligation to write things on this blog in my spare time on your schedule.

So get the hell over yourself, and if you find I don’t meet your expectations, then I’m sure Tom Ricks would appreciate the new reader.

Blake January 21, 2011 at 2:36 am

“in the comments to the first post on this topic I went into alternatives, including cordoning and ignoring the village until it can be dealt with without the time pressures of the surge campaign.”

Mr. Foust, how many deaths would you be willing to accept in the process of clearing that village in order for you to feel okay about the leveling of it? One death? Two? Three?

“Cut me the same slack you’re so eager to cut the military.”

But why should we? Are you out there risking your life to make others more safe? From what I understand, blog writing is a relatively safe line of work.

Madhu January 20, 2011 at 11:24 pm

Oh whatever. Right back at you.

Joshua Foust January 20, 2011 at 11:30 pm

Glad we see eye to eye. If you want to fill in some gaps, or respond to what I write, please — do not be shy and send either me or Nathan a guest post. We will post it here, and ask for our commenters to dig into it like anything else we write. Just remember that we all write here for free, when we can—so don’t get all snippy that we don’t publish on your schedule.

Otherwise, I’ll do the work for you: Tom Ricks http://ricks.foreignpolicy.com/

Madhu January 20, 2011 at 11:34 pm

Now see. I hate that.

I want to be mad and you and you make it completely impossible for me to be mad at you (eeeeew, that’s, like, When Harry Met Sally, isn’t it?)

Okay. Sorry. Mea culpa. I’m a jerk. I deserved that.

But, seriously, this is confusing for some of us okay? We don’t have the knowledge you folks do so that’s why we come here.

Joshua Foust January 20, 2011 at 11:45 pm

Look, I’m confused, too. If you notice, I’m raising a lot of questions precisely because so much of this story doesn’t make any sense. I’ve done a lot of digging here, and gotten in touch with a lot of current and former soldiers who’ve served in the area, and I think I’m right to question the decision-making process.

Where I’m figuring out I am probably wrong is in focusing that questioning on LTC Flynn. Yeah, he cut some corners, but what I think really matters is that Petraeus is looking over his shoulder and sagely nodding, urging continued progress before the summer. I have a piece coming out on this soon that explores this a bit more: battalion commanders are under intense pressure to perform and achieve “progress” or “momentum” or whatever indefinable term is describing tactical success this week, on a very short time frame. So they make decisions to accomplish that as best they can. The blame for those decisions ultimately rests, I think, with LTC Flynn’s superiors who are demanding he do the impossible.

Anyway, that’s a snapshot for how my views on this are evolving. Like everyone else, I’m trying to figure it out, and updating my analysis as more information comes in.

But be honest. Go back and read Broadwell’s original post, and tell me the actual text, the words she wrote, don’t outrage you.

Blake January 21, 2011 at 2:42 am

“But be honest. Go back and read Broadwell’s original post, and tell me the actual text, the words she wrote, don’t outrage you.”

Can only speak for myself, but her words didnt OUTRAGE me, because Ive made an attempt at understanding the culture of our military, what with their strange way of using acronyms for everything (like NO CIVCAS). Also, Im not actively searching for reasons to blame the US military for all the evil shit the Taliban does. I believe that is problem number one here. Sometimes the bad guys are just the bad guys and it is as simple as that.

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