Responding to Lt. Col. Flynn

by Joshua Foust on 1/21/2011 · 6 comments

Tom Ricks—who helpfully titled this exchange “The battalion commander debates the blogger”—has posted my response to LTC Flynn.

As to the meat of LTC Flynn’s response, he does not address my original point about the ALP, which was that expediency inspired him to what Paula described as avoiding the MOI vetting process in building out a local militia. From interviews I’ve since conducted with soldiers active in Kandahar, it is my understanding that this is a common practice-detail he could have provided, were his real concern contextualizing what happened, as his opening paragraph suggested — but that doesn’t address the fundamental problem: at the end of the day, you are side-stepping the government of Afghanistan. And, much more importantly, the reason the MOI wants to be involved is so that local shuras don’t use ALP cells as their personal militias — a problem based in the vetting process LTC Flynn still has not addressed (such as how one, as a foreigner, performs a background check in an area that doesn’t have paper records of its inhabitants).

Holy copy editor, batman! I should really think about my runons. Oh well. As an orator-blogger, I don’t need to care too much about my grammar, I suppose. Anyway, there’s a lot more to it, but I get the feeling this exchange is coming to a close. We’re approaching the point at which we’re talking past each other, and I don’t see how our differences of opinion can be addressed.

I’m fascinated by how Tom frames it: “saving lives” by “knocking down walls.” I don’t think that captures what has happened, or what I’m bringing up in protest. But you all be the judge of that.

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This post was written by...

– author of 1848 posts on 17_PersonNotFound.

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

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Blake January 22, 2011 at 11:28 am

I think your over the top reaction (by that I mean instantly assuming the worst of the US forces in that area) sparked a pretty strong reaction. Why not just admit it? You jumped to conclusions to soon, and you made the egregious mistake of blaming the US for something that the Taliban were clearly responsible for, which is why many in the military already have such a negative opinion of people in the media (and mind you, I am a DIEHARD liberal who can clearly understand why they have such feelings–people like Rachel Maddow infuriate me with their outsider criticisms that doubt the integrity of our soldiers from the start). You can say that this is a clear example of whats wrong with fighting a counterinsurgency (being suckered into lose-lose decisions like destroying the village), but Id bet you that our military would counter you by saying that this is exactly whats wrong with the media (always ready to tuck their tail between their legs and give up). I believe you were in the wrong, Josh.

You would prove yourself a decent guy and could squash this whole thing by simply apologizing to the LTC, at least for assuming the worst in him. You showed no sympathy for coalition forces in your writing. Its okay to say that you were upset by what happened, and unfortunately you had the ability to jump on your computer and respond without having adequate time to think it over, or to consult with the LTC.

Im a supporter of human rights as much as the next guy, which is exactly why I support sending our soldiers to defeat groups like the Taliban, Al Qaeda, etc. I can be critical of our soldiers at times, but never would I blame them for the mess that we have put them in. If there are brave souls who will stand up to fight extremism, then we should give them all of our support, and at least the benefit of the doubt when it comes to the decisions they make whilst in harms way.

Joshua Foust January 22, 2011 at 1:31 pm


I make no apologies for expressing horror at what happened. Frankly, more people should. That does not invalidate any of the objections to what is going on — from the shakey decision to go there in the first place, to the decision to level it, to the decision to hand over land titling power to the DSG, to the decision to arm a militia outside Afghan government control.

This started when a propagandist wrote a “rah rah” story berating Afghans for being mad at their property being destroyed, and tried to say it’s good COIN to chide them for not being thankful that we threw money at the problem afterward. As the reaction against this activity has progressed, more and more of the story has come out, which does indeed make it sound less horrific.

But that does not excuse what happened, nor does it excuse how the military handled it, and it especially does not excuse a battalion commander declaring himself above reproach or questioning. I don’t blame LTC Flynn for what happened, but I do blame him for how he tried to propagandize what happened, and especially for how he reacted to the uproar over Paula Broadwell’s clumsy propagandizing.

Last note: “sympathy” is a loaded term. I’ve worked for the U.S. military for a substantial portion of my adult life, including in Afghanistan, outside the wire, in tactical situations. Please don’t go questioning my motives or experiences without understanding what they actually are—that is a mistake you do not and should not want to make.

F January 22, 2011 at 12:37 pm

I don’t see how the Taliban are responsible for the destruction of the houses. Claiming them as such is the same line of argument as used by terrorists when they claim something along the lines of ‘by not meeting our demands you forced us to kill the hostage. You are the responsible party.’ In this instance, ultimately, it was US bombs that destroyed the houses, and most critically, the local population will see the US as responsible.
Also, don’t forget that when engaged in a ‘war on terror,’ maintaining the moral high ground is critical to differentiate the West from the terrorists. Actions like these (as well as short circuiting the Ministry of Interior, using Border Police way outside their jurisdiction etc, all in the name of maintaining momentum) are self defeating.

jj January 22, 2011 at 1:15 pm

“maintaining the moral high ground”

it’s a war dude. get real….people get killed and shit gets broken. No one, and I mean no one has EVER won a war by “maintaining the moral high ground”. That is nothing but a fallacy of COIN idealogues.

F January 23, 2011 at 12:39 pm

Of course people get killed and things get broken, but whether fighting a war of attrition, maneuver or COIN, there needs to be some discrimination. Besides, the US has chosen to pursue this war through the lens of COIN, so there ought to be a little consistency in its application. Ironically, I think that’s the wrong path, as the whole rational of the war was to deny AQ a training ground. That’s now irrelevant as AQ has dispersed through Pakistan, Oman, East Africa, Asia and Europe, leaving us to fight the Taliban, who pose no strategic threat to the US. But that’s a separate strategic discussion.

Fahim January 22, 2011 at 5:31 pm

Razzaq Mamoon, an Afghan journalist who now lives with a scar on his face:

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