Two Hits

by Joshua Foust on 3/29/2011 · 4 comments

The Taliban have “retaken” Waigal District of Nuristan, whose capital is Want, which saw a large scale assault on a small, isolated U.S. base 18 months ago. This not the big deal it might appear to be: control of the districts in Nuristan routinely switch back and forth between the ANSF and the insurgency. The troubled eastern Nuristan district of Bargimatal faces a similar problem—and again, nearby is the troubled area of Kamdesh, which also saw a large scale assault on a small U.S. base. This is definitely a place we want the Afghans taking care of, because it will tell us how sustainable any of our security frameworks will be in other troubled areas (even if, for now, it means the border is wide open and, as some friends in the area have told me, there is a growing LeT presence).

Laura King wants us to know that this Spring is going to be a major turning point in the war. You can read the article yourself, but let’s just call that piece what it really is: a paint-by-the-numbers article containing predictable stock quotes from the usual assortment of meaning-free sources. It literally says nothing new about the conflict.

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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 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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Tintin March 29, 2011 at 10:15 am

I really don’t think there’s been much in the way of ANSF in Want for a year or more — certainly not ANA.

David March 29, 2011 at 10:58 am

Taking Want is no a big deal. The Taliban can claim that they knocked off a district center but they’ve had total freedom to move around the district since the Coalition withdrew from Ranch House and Bella before their ill-fated effort to establish a COP at Want in July 2008. That they’ve done this now says nothing about any new military capability. It was timed for public relations purposes.

The Taliban also effectively control Kamdesh district. They could knock off Nuristan’s Mandol, Doab and Mandol districts at any time but I’d wager they’re deriving too much benefit from the resources being pushed into these districts by the government.

It wouldn’t be surprising to see them try to take the provincial center located in Parun in order to claim that they have ‘liberated’ an entire province. Sustaining a government presence in Parun in the face of determined pressure would be a costly use of scarce resources.

Nurgram district could be tricky for them with the Kalagush Coalition base nearby.

And let’s do our bit to bring rigor in referring to the provincial and district centers as ‘centers’ not capitals. Afghans never refer to provincial or district centers as ‘capitals.’ Afghanistan has one capital, or ‘pai-takht,’ Kabul. ‘Markaz’ is the term used for provincial center. Typically they’ll refer to the district administrative location as the ‘woluswali’ and the administrator as the ‘woluswal’. (If woluswali is too exotic of a word, then the appropriate English term would be ‘district center.’)

It is as inappropriate to refer to a district or provincial administrative location as a ‘capital’ as it is to refer to a county seat in the U.S. as a capital of a country. ‘Capital’ is only used to refer to the seat of a government of a sovereign or semi-sovereign entity, like a state in the U.S.

Is this being nit-picky? It would be, but it’s essential to remind everybody that Afghanistan has a unitary system. Referring to provincial and district capitals conveys a sense that there’s something at the sub-national level which resembles a government with some sovereignty or executive control. Instead, in Afghanistan these simply are administrative units. Were we to understand this then we may be less inclined to try to devolve responsibilities and control down to levels which simply are not constituted to assume them.

We should try to call a spade a spade and not perpetuate the careless and sloppy characterization of things in Afghanistan. And being a bit strident in correcting people in the field isn’t a bad thing if it makes them think twice before promoting inappropriate schemes that are bound to fail and to piss off the locals.

Don Anderson March 30, 2011 at 4:16 am

Actually-the capital debate is not useless and some locations are important both strategically and nationally. Kabul is obviously the key final destination for any revolt.

Jalalabad where I am at today is one of those. Kandahar is another. Gardez is another. Herat definite. There are some cities which both from an insurgent perspective and Afghan national psyche are valued as symbolic. From a Pashtun viewpoint, Peshawar is part of their historical references as a beautiful winter capital in days gone bye.

Some cities and towns have been both Tribal and Historical symbols in Afghan wars and conquests for centuries.

You just need to sit around with some older Afghans and ask them a place, and they will tell you if it is important to the country or not. I just did this with about ten of them-three are W Jirga members.

They thought it was a good discussion item, so good post Mr. Foust.

Parun got a nay, Parwan a yea. etc etc. Baghlan got a discussion. Farah got a nay..Kunduz a yea…etc.

I agree Parun would not be a worth much but as a message- the key is taking a Provincial Capital. Remember, the ANSF is getting backed up by 150K foreigners. Taking any major town is saying something very significant to the entire Afghan Nation. Also, it is very key to the Jihadi community, the ISI and as another recruiting and funding tool. The Afghan elders told me to point this out to everyone.

For those of us that were here during the Soviet War the story was the same. I think we “the anti-Soviet Mujahadeen” took Ghazni City first and anounced it to the World. Of course, we were chased out rather unkindly shortly after our announcement. The Soviets launched a major operation and everyone had to run.

The key is to wait for the One Eyed One’s Spring Offensive message. That is the general direction they want to move in. One objective clearly this year is to start cutting the JBAD road to Kabul. That was a last year’s objective that did not come true yet. More heavy weaponry was another.

They have a plan. They try to follow it the best they can. It is our job to stop them.

Johnny Matrix March 30, 2011 at 6:32 pm

You’re drinking Koolaid if you think this isn’t a big deal…first chapa dara then a week later want…blessing will fall next if it hasn’t already according my friends

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