Tarok Kolache Heats Up

by Joshua Foust on 1/20/2011 · 9 comments

Tom Ricks posted a partial response to my criticisms by LTC David Flynn, the U.S. commander at Tarok Kolache during its razing. I’ve sent a response to Tom, and he promised to post it tomorrow. Stay tuned.

Meanwhile, Spencer Ackerman has been cataloging how Team Petraeus is responding to the growing criticism of the village razing policies. In short, it’s all the Taliban’s fault. Put less charitably, Petraeus is admitting the Taliban is setting the pace of operations, setting the terms of engagement, and forcing the U.S. to engage in property destruction. Classic insurgent tactics, in other words. It is not encouraging.

Finally, as a counterpoint to Paula Broadwell’s bubbly account of the destruction, in December Stars and Stripes reporter Megan McClosky covered Tarok Kolache. Far from accusing locals of engaging in theatrics, she reported their anger honestly and transparently, which is nice to see. She also described a slow process of winning over local acquiescence to what happened, which is also an important angle to the story. I do hope their acceptance is genuine and not just avoidance (which often results in anger being expressed long after the fact).

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– author of 1848 posts on 17_PersonNotFound.

Joshua Foust is a Fellow at the American Security Project and the author of Afghanistan Journal: Selections from Registan.net. His research focuses primarily on Central and South Asia. Joshua is a correspondent for The Atlantic and a columnist for PBS Need to Know. Joshua appears regularly on the BBC World News, Aljazeera, and international public radio. Joshua's writing has appeared in the Columbia Journalism Review, Foreign Policy’s AfPak Channel, the New York Times, Reuters, and the Christian Science Monitor. Follow him on twitter: @joshuafoust

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james January 20, 2011 at 5:25 pm

If they do not move fast to compensate and calm the locals that razing will be Afghanistan’s “Dresden” even with out civilian casualties.

Wade Campbell January 21, 2011 at 1:53 am

Dresden? Really? This is a village of 30 earthen huts. And unbelieveably, the US is already talking of spending a Million Dollars to reconstruct this (though it ever be so humble) hole.

mawendt January 21, 2011 at 4:20 am

Most of the comments by individuals with little clue on the specifics.

The town was wired hard, with traps trapping traps that were trapped. The alternative was to bypass and leave it for later, which would have been dangerous in a variety of ways, not the least being the locals wanting to get back to their houses to get their stuff as quickly as possible. Or by leaving it there, it could have been occupied again and again by persistant bad guys.

It was spend months having the US clear it, hand it over to the Afghans as-is and let them clear it (yeah, right), or turni it to dust, buldoze, and rebuild (which would be less expensive and better quality homes).

You’ll note I didn’t list the fourth option as viable: making the Taliban, who did the booby trapping, responsible to clear it. Oh, wait – the anti-war position of ignorance has no influence on what the bad guys to. It’s much, much more satisifying slapping around the US military for making the best decision in the circumstances.

Tell you what: volunteer your sorry butts to come clear Taliban mined areas, or at least learn something and post (or write an article) from a position of knowledge. Better yet, spend some of that ink (or time) criticizing the bad guys in this conflict, for the reasons they are bad, rather than the guys that are trying to stop the bad guys.

Joshua – I wrote better articles drunk in college. Less biased, too, drunk. Just thought you’d want to know.

– soldier in Afghanistan

Joshua Foust January 21, 2011 at 8:05 am

Luckily, I sobered up this morning, so lemme see if I can make sense of this.

The common reporting was that the villagers were given money and time to leave. Now they wanted to get back in to get their possessions? Paula said they took all their possessions and were living elsewhere. Which is it?

“By leaving it there, it could have been retaken by the bad guys.” Indeed, that is a serious risk. Almost as serious as demolishing everything and trying to rebuild an entire political-economic system from scratch by the summer. Oh, and there’s now a brand new, shiny, America-funded village waiting for future Taliban occupation. Again.

I don’t need to criticize the Taliban in this conflict. As bad guys, I expect them to behave like bad guys. And they do! What bothers me is when Americans proclaiming their own genius make stupid decisions.

Look, I can accept that maybe a village has to be leveled to clear it of explosives. That doesn’t excuse all the other stupid decisions that accompanied this, which I’ve explained at length: the land reform the DSG titles, waiting until after the fact to figure out who lived where and owned what, and so on. These decisions are being made because of higher pressure to perform on a very short time frame, and that is ruining anyone’s ability to make good decisions.

That is what I’m reacting against. We are making really bad decisions (if we are to consider what happens after you RIP out of there) to satisfy very temporal concerns. And that is the worst thing you can possibly do.

Boris Sizemore January 21, 2011 at 10:21 pm

Joshua, you have drawn out a great response on this specific village situation.

Net Result: It looks like it was somewhat well thought out. Particularly the absentee landlord angle. Thanks to Jack for the information, this is the kind of data we need to analyze this.

But this is just one case and there have been others. The amount of refugees in Kandahar city speaks to a much larger problem. By focusing on one village perhaps we miss the broader implications of the whole campaign.

But what we are missing again is seeing the trees and not the forest. The key question remains. Is this FOB ridden policy going to substantially change the dynamic of the war?

Petreaus has tied our soldiers to spreading out and sitting in small bases all over certain areas. They daily face the risk of stepping on mines or getting IEDd. The enemy can maintain this sort of pressure without using large forces employing simple mine teams to actively surround and inhibit our operations. It is happening everywhere. Sangin -120 dead in three months is just one example. ARK (another friggin Aconym) is another.

The Taliban have maximized their available forces and actually put us into a position of, in some cases, having to destroy via scorched earth certain villages in the name of force protection.

The net effect of this is very debatable. Are the local villagers now “on the team” with the foreigners and the ANA? The whole campaign seems a bit non Afghan directed to say the least no matter the protestations that “they were in this with us all the way.”

Does this tying down of so many units to village positions leave the enemy a free hand to expand to other areas of the country?

Is the daily attrition on our forces even necessary as they sit and pray each day that another injury does not occur as they look down on the dirt for each and every step?

What are the Afghan villagers really thinking? Does anyone want to try to guess?

This has become the face of the war. One Mine for one ISAF soldier, and the resulting incoming flight of a Medevac.

Are our tactics getting the job done?

Instead of doing “sit in the villages” should we be doing operations against the Taliban where they regroup and resupply?

Do the Village forces represent in any way how Afghans would organize to fight this enemy? Given the paralysis of leadership in Kabul and a lack of general direction in the country as a whole, what is next for this struggle? Clearly something needs to change.

All of these are things to think about every day. But 2011 is now starting and we will see what the next moves of the Taliban will be. Who has the upper hand now? This is the biggest question of all.

Dishonesty? January 21, 2011 at 12:56 pm

Quote of the Day

“You bulldozed some of my trees, they’re blocking the canal, now we can�t get water to the orchard,” Haji Jilal, a frail, weathered Afghan farmer with a white beard said to one of the U.S. military�s Afghan interpreters on a recent patrol here.

Military officials said the majority of the buildings blown up, and fields and walls plowed through, have been either booby-trapped or used by the Taliban as hideouts and shooting positions.

They also argue the destruction is actually a positive development – it forces Zhari residents to go to their local government center for compensation. U.S. Army commanders see this as a way to kick-start progress toward the final goal of the Kandahar campaign: connect the people of Zhari district to the Afghan government.


Mike January 22, 2011 at 4:54 pm

“We had to destroy that village in order to save it.”

Air Force Major Chester L. Brown
Bến Tre, South Vietnam
February 7, 1968

The war in Afghanistan has reached the final stage of mimicry of the Vietnam War.

Grant January 24, 2011 at 12:45 pm

Why is America all the time insisting to do one better atrocity than the Germans in the Second World War? The outrageous acts at Lidice May 1942 or Oradour-sur-Glane, Franc 1944 was in response to the Talibans of that time but Tarok Kolache seem to be an act of spite in covering up American rank and file cowardice. The assassination of Reinhard Heydrich by commandos with relatives at Lidice and at the instigation of the British or the incident at Oradour carried out by Waffen-SS by Elsass-Lothringen natives in German uniform was reprisal for murders of their comrades. The end result is only that USA have to remove stories of these kind from text books and other propaganda writings.

Dishonesty? January 24, 2011 at 3:42 pm

Interesting succession
October 6-destruction Tarok Kolache
October 7-clearance of Babur, Khosrow Sofla, Charqolba Sofla
October 9-ARGHANDAB, Afghanistan – President Hamid Karzai visited volatile southern Afghanistan on Saturday to meet with scores of tribal elders.
Gen. David Petraeus, top commander of U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan, and U.S. Ambassador Karl Eikenberry accompanied Karzai, who is expected to rally support among residents for international forces and the Afghan government.

More than 200 tribal leaders from around the troubled province of Kandahar assembled to see the president.

Afghan Defense Minister Gen. Abdul Rahim Wardak and Turyalai Wesa, governor of Kandahar, were among the group visiting restive Arghandab district. Karzai’s half brother Ahmad Wali Karzai – a key provincial power-broker – was among the entourage.


Momentum?More likely visitation from Kabul

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