Obviously, the posts this tour have been few and far between. There are a number of reasons for that, including the massive amount of information and knowledge that I’m exposed to. It’s hard to take it all and present it in a way that makes sense short of writing big papers about it. There are lots of complexities, interactions and initiatives. It’s difficult to gel them into concise pieces. There is also the factor of priorities. My ability to contribute and to influence events, meager though that ability may be, is more important than writing about what I see. The trust of my leadership in my discernment is more important than demonstrating or sharing what I have been exposed to, which is considerable.
I have been back in Afghanistan for about ten months now, and my perceptions have run the gamut during that time. There have been times that I have been so frustrated that I could spit. I have seen things from time to time that have just flat disgusted me. That being said, the overall trend is very positive.
I know that there are those who decry the changes in the Rules of Engagement that are nearly a year old now. Michael Yon has recently begun spreading what I can only describe as a meme about Soldiers patrolling around some corner of Afghanistan and being prevented by their command from chambering a round in their weapons. This is not and has never been the intent of COMISAF. If this is indeed true, which I have never seen or heard any evidence of, concealing the identity of the commander who has generated this type of directive is in itself a dangerous and irresponsible act. Personally, you would have to prove to me that anyone is actually doing that.
What I do see is more and more Soldiers and Marines doing their level best to apply creative solutions to complex tactical situations, both kinetic and non-kinetic. I see Soldiers and Marines, who could easily kill, sparing lives and leveraging local relationships by allowing communities to take a positive role in correcting their local citizens. A favorite example of GEN McChrystal, which I have personally heard him use, is the example of observing an individual emplacing an IED. In GEN McChrystal’s example, there is a choice; you can kill the individual, or since you already know where the IED is, you can arrest the man, neutralize the IED, and take the man to the village elders and offer them the opportunity to sort him out. It’s all about empowering the local authorities to make decisions and encouraging them to control their own populace. It’s also about the second and third order effects of the perceptions of that populace about their security when gunshots and explosions ring out in their neighborhoods.
Like you, gunshots and explosions in the neighborhood doesn’t make them feel safe.
Now, some may say that the live capture scenario would never work. The fact is that it’s been used and it has worked. Or, you can do like one Marine unit in Helmand did recently and send a simple, one-line report.
Observed one individual emplacing IED. Engaged with Hellfire.
The Hellfire option does work to resolve the initial issue. It kills reliably. It is also the knuckledragger’s first answer to the question. (This is not about Marines. The Marines are doing some really fine work in Helmand. Some units get it more than others, as is the case with the Army. It is about the action and the thought process, not the flavor of American servicemen involved in the incident.) Every action has second and third order effects. The knuckledragger will opt for the easy, pyrotechnic answer (“Ooooooh, sparkly!”). It takes much more thought and effort to use the other method. Now, granted, there is not always the opportunity to sort the man out while he still has all his pieces rather than just sorting the pieces of the man out later. But more and more often, units on the ground are making the harder call. That’s just the beginning.
Last year, I wrote that there are many things in Afghanistan that are not best addressed by the Army or Marines. Stability Operations, and their subset, COIN Operations, require actions that are not typically military. As I pointed out before, Afghanistan has governance and economic development issues that the Army is not best suited to addressing. Other organizations, such as the State Department and USAID, had not been leveraged in Afghanistan. Just as we needed a military “surge,” we needed a “civilian surge” as well.
The “civilian surge” has had some successes. A lot of bright, talented people have come into the country. Many came in with stars in their eyes and hearts full of noble purpose. Afghanistan quickly beats starry eyes out of a person. They either come to see reality or they quit. There are some self-evident examples of those who do not have the resilience, intelligence and courage to continually push against the seemingly Sisyphean rock, witness Matthew Hoh. Many of these bright, energetic people have come into the country with purpose and have integrated their spirit with the reality with very positive results. We need more of them, but the ones who have showed up are having some very positive effects. Using the District Stability Framework, they are doing systematic, logical program design instead of just going for the default answers typical of our earlier efforts; build a school, build a road, build a clinic.
These civilians brought capabilities that have expanded the capacity-building efforts necessary to heal Afghan society, the economy and establish governmental ability to provide basic services. Efforts at providing conflict resolution mechanisms that leverage traditional Afghan methods and structures are slowly chipping away at the primary service that Taliban shadow government has offered successfully in many areas; courts.
Are there still problems and misfires? Of course. But there are more instances of getting a 75% solution than there were several years ago. Is a 75% solution workable? Yes. You don’t have to be a perfect counterinsurgent. You don’t have to be faster than the bear. You just have to be faster than the next slowest guy. The insurgent in Afghanistan is not faster than the bear. The bear, in this case, is the populace. The populace, on the whole, doesn’t like the insurgent, therefore the insurgent is inherently slow. You just have to be faster than a guy who has hobbled himself and continues to hobble himself. So, this bear prefers to eat the other guy, but will eat you if you insist on being slower.
There is still considerable corruption in the Afghan government. This is a big problem which must be addressed. Is it being effectively addressed? Time will tell. It slows efforts to fix what is wrong, and fixing these wrongs, addressing those grievances, removes any traction other than intimidation that the insurgency has. There are numerous stories of successes and failures at the grassroots level. While they resent high-level corruption, which seriously dilutes redevelopment efforts, the Afghan people are most affected by failures at the grassroots level. The corrupt sub-governor is more of a threat, because of his direct influence on the perceptions of people at the district level, than the ministry level official who is skimming from contracting efforts at a national level. Both need to be addressed, but the most direct impact is made on the people by sorting out the district level actors. That doesn’t mean that both cannot be addressed simultaneously. There are signs of effort. Again, time will tell.
While there are examples of commanders who absolutely don’t get it, (such as a brigade-sized element who used old counter-guerrilla doctrine as their basis for training and were subsequently kicked out of their assigned operational area due to their overly kinetic focus and the resultant backlash from the local populace and insurgents) there are more units who are making an honest effort at conducting effective COIN operations. This is a very positive sign. The multinational operational environment makes for some serious challenges, the British and French in particular are making progress with using doctrine consistent with COMISAF’s intent. These are very positive indicators. I have had personal experiences with both and have worked directly with officers of the British and French armies both at the theater level schoolhouse and on the ground. I have generally positive experiences with them.
The best indicator of effort at the institutional level, as far as I’m concerned, is education and training. This is where many of the changes that are under way are first evidenced. Our own forces are the weather vane, but other nations are key as well. Institutional changes are very slow in coming. The Marines, with their smaller structure, find their ship easier to turn. The Army, on the other hand, is like turning a train where the tracks run straight. Very recent events are hugely encouraging. The Secretary of Defense just published a memo that puts in place a change mechanism to change the training model for units deploying to Afghanistan. I look for this to have a huge impact on the readiness of units deploying to the theater to conduct effective COIN operations by pushing the education to a point earlier in the deployment train-up cycle.
The effect of pushing the education piece earlier in the cycle is to inform training. Training is less effective without context. Putting the subsequent training into a context, a mindset if you will, educated in the principles that are to drive the behaviors will make the conduct more consistent. That’s not the extent of it. The actual tasks are about to change, including the methods. Folks, we are seeing the development of task, conditions, standards-based training for COIN. This is the way that military forces know how to train.
In reality, it’s the way that industry trains effectively as well. Industrial training methods are based on lessons learned from military training. Anyone who thinks otherwise is fooling themselves. The military had to figure out long ago how to quickly and effectively train groups of people to do tasks consistently.
I’ve had a number of opportunities to see units in action on the ground from the organizational level to the dusty boots level. I’ve been in a position to hear directly the experiences of others just like me who have been elsewhere simultaneously. I have seen and heard the amazing successes and the abject failures. I am encouraged. I am disheartened to hear some reporters whose depictions are clouded by an apparent lack of counterinsurgent understanding and, in some casees what appears to be petulant anger. I am disheartened because the American people are searching for answers. Many thirst for understanding of what is happening on the ground. More than just individual stories of sacrifice, endurance and courage, the American people want to know; is this working? Are we making progress? What they have gotten is often not a coherent answer, and it is at odds with my perceptions.
I am encouraged. As an NCO, I have no right whatsoever to evaluate such an officer, but someone who knows has to say something out loud; there is no doubt in my mind that I am being led by the the right man for the job. There is no doubt in my mind that the General “gets it.” There is no doubt in my mind that I can trust him. (I’m sure he will feel so much better to get my lowly endorsement.) There are many challenges to functioning effectively in such a joint, multinational environment, but there is progress. We are having positive effects on a much more consistent basis. Our training is about to take a quantum leap. There is improvement in the Afghan contribution to all three lines of operation; military/security, governance and development. It’s not just an “Afghan face,” it’s increasingly Afghan solutions implemented with assistance… and sometimes without. It is hard. This summer will look, at times, desperate. That’s because our enemy is feeling the pressure. Don’t let the activity fool you. Look beyond it, and look beyond the desperate reporting as well.
We’re not “there” yet, but we’re making progress, and there is reason for optimism.
…When they’ve killed 13 people and wounded 42 more in a botched rocket attack?
“We didn’t do it.”
We were cordially invited to stay at FOB Kutschbach for a few extra days by the rotary wing folks, who bumped our return flight to a day earlier than scheduled. So, as we had some extra time on the ground, we did a foot patrol with the French, the PMT and the ANP through the Tagab bazaar a couple of days after the attack. Being that there were two of us, and we each had an interpreter, we were able to talk with the people we ran into at the bazaar. That is, when we weren’t being hurried along.
While asking people what village they were from, if their village and/or family had suffered any casualties, and how they felt about the attack, the story the Taliban was telling came out. First, they insisted that only one rocket was fired… so the other round must have come from either the Americans or the French on the FOB. Right there they shucked off half of the responsibility. Secondly, they insisted that the rocket was not fired by a Talib. They had, they insisted, “arrested” the man who had fired the “single” rocket, and they were investigating to discover who had paid him to fire the rocket into the crowded bazaar.
“Really?” I asked the man who conveyed this. “They are really saying this?”
“Yes. This is what they say,” he asserted.
“They really think that you are so stupid that you would believe something so ridiculous?”
Blank stare. The man searched for something… something that wasn’t coming.
“I’ve been talking with you for several minutes. You are going to go to college in Jalalabad to be a lawyer. I know that you are too smart to believe such a ridiculous lie.” Clearly, he wasn’t; but it was beginning to work on his brain.
He stammered a bit… the corners of his mouth began to curl upwards a little. He was stuck.
“If a man kills someone and you ask him if he’s done it, he comes up with a stupid story about how it wasn’t him, right?” I asked.
“Yes,” he replied, hesitantly.
“So that you won’t want to kill him,” I continued.
“Well…” he shifted uncomfortably.
“So then he thinks that if you believe him, then you are a fool. You would be foolish then, right?” I pressed.
“Yes, that would be foolish,” he agreed.
“But you are too smart to believe a foolish lie, aren’t you? You are smarter than that, aren’t you?”
“Yes, I am smarter than that,” he agreed.
“The Taliban think you are very stupid people, but you are not so stupid, right?” I offered him a way out.
“Right. We are smarter than that.” The men gathered around began nodding their heads.
It’s not like I could undo the damage done after the Taliban IO (Information Operation) had time, unfettered, to respond to the catastrophe that they had caused among their neighbors. Their gaff was like a kid who throws rocks at a house and breaks a window and then runs away. If confronted by the homeowner later, he comes up with a creative story about someone else breaking the window. Except this rock-throwing nimrod was throwing rockets, and he had killed innocent people.
The French had found rocket fragments from two rockets. One was Chinese and the other of Russian manufacture. They did not get the word out immediately. In fact, the reaction of the French leadership was to cancel a mission that they had planned and “wait it out.” They did not hit the streets immediately, telling the story and showing the rocket fragments to everyone they could find. This gave the Taliban time to concoct a ludicrous lie that, in the absence of any information to the contrary, some people were believing.
The fact is that on the morning of the attack, we were informed that there was some intelligence to indicate that the Taliban were going to attack the District Center that day. The reason was that there was a French General who would be participating in a Shura with local elders and the Sub-governor of Tagab District. COL Z, the local ANP Chief who is much-hated by the Taliban, and the ANA commander would also be there. As with all intelligence, there are a lot of red herrings. The PMT joked about the odds of actually being attacked. But, at roughly 12:30, twin booms rang out from the nearby bazaar. The French quickly identified the site of the launch, a site that the Taliban frequently use to launch rockets at FOB Kutschbach… often missing. This time they missed their mark by a scant 200 meters… just enough to land them in the bazaar, crowded by shoppers stocking up for the Eid celebration on a market day.
The 107mm (4.2 inch) rocket is not a precision weapon system. When tube launched, it is an area weapon. You can get it into a general area, but you cannot ensure a precision hit. When launched Afghan-style… propped up on rocks… it is an order of magnitude less certain. To launch these weapons from four kilometers away at a site which is so close to the bazaar on a bazaar day is criminally negligent at best.
These weapons were fired with a total disregard for civilian lives. It was akin to firing high explosives into a mall during the Christmas shopping season.
The 107mm warhead packs a wallop, but it is notorious for its horrible fragmentation pattern. The warhead casing fragments unevenly, often throwing out very large fragments in a haphazard manner. This undoubtedly spared some while mutilating others. Civilians were torn asunder, some left in bloody heaps while others lost limbs instantly. Still others were injured by flying chunks of rock. One rocket impacted near the place where people shopped for livestock for their Eid feast, not unlike our Thanksgiving Dinner. Livestock and citizens alike were shredded by razor-sharp, white-hot fragments. The carnage was horrendous.
As the shocked survivors gathered themselves and the bazaar emptied in a frenzy, severely wounded shoppers dragged themselves away from the center of the disaster. Colonel Z sprinted out the gate of the District Center, four ANP running to keep pace as their Chief ran into the dust and smoke left on the wake of the high explosive warheads. The Colonel lifted injured people into vehicles and dispatched them to either the FOB or the District Center. Within minutes, casualties began to arrive for French and American medics to triage and treat. The Colonel helped retrieve six dead from the litter of blood and body parts. The families took their dead directly home. More would die later from their wounds. Few villages were left unscathed by the toll. Everyone I spoke with a couple of days later knew someone who had perished or been wounded.
“You notice,” Colonel Z mentioned later, “that no one took their casualties to the Taliban for medical treatment. They brought them to the FOB, or to the District Center. They depended on the government or its allies for help when they needed it.”
This is true. That’s what the people did.
There is a “Radio-in-a-box” setup at FOB Kutschbach, broadcasting to the people of the Tagab Valley. The local commander offered the elders an opportunity to come and denounce the attack on the radio. Only one man, Colonel Z, came and denounced the Taliban for their cowardly act. All the other elders declined. So, as they sat watching, the enemy began their damage-control campaign.
“We didn’t do it. We caught the man who did, but he only fired one rocket. The Americans or the French fired the other one. We didn’t do it…”
There are lots of people who are tired of war. The young men and women on their third and fourth deployments are tired of war. Some say that the Afghans are tired of war, while others point out that if they were truly tired of war, they would perhaps cease fighting. Matthew Hoh is tired of war.
When you tire of war, the reason for fighting gets lost in the shuffle. The immediate emotion of it all fades and the real work begins. The young often picture war as an adventure. Some picture it as a righteous cause, with the “Battle Hymn of the Republic” wafting through the whole scene.
War is hard work.
War is not glamorous. War is dirty, it is occasionally exceedingly violent; but mostly it is tedious and boring. Especially this type of war. There are some areas of Afghanistan that see activity on a daily basis. Most do not. Helmand, Khost, Kunar and some other places in Afghanistan have relatively constant conflict, with active insurgencies that threaten the peace on a daily basis. Other places are relatively calm, with spates of violent outbursts that shatter the day-to-day routine of Afghan life with smoky, dusty, noisy destruction.
There is no truly national solution for all of Afghanistan. Each area has its own particular situation and broad generalizations simply do not work in this country. Afghanistan is largely rural, and all politics is local. Each place requires specific knowledge of the area, the drivers, the personalities and the issues of particular concern. Foreign knowledge wins nothing here. Experience elsewhere is no guarantee of success here. The lessons of Iraq are often counter-productive here, especially the hard-won TTP’s that assisted in survival in the urban violence. Here, they are often an over-reaction that only alienates those whose trust we are working so hard to gain.
When the zest for war has long-since drained, it takes a special kind of motivation to keep going day-by-day and still putting effort into it. I have seen those who have stacked arms after a few months, thereafter taking the easy way. I have seen those who once had a fire in their belly who have run out of wind, their endurance spent, they are no longer mentally capable of making their way through productively. They become, at times, worse than dead weight. There are those who just flat lose their minds. They lose their grasp of the why, and their disillusionment becomes worse than an anchor dragging their souls against the sandy bottom of the sea of time. It becomes a sail that catches the headwind and drives them backwards.
Perhaps that is what happened to Matt Hoh. I don’t live in his head, so I don’t really know. There has been much discussion in the past day or so about his letter of resignation. One of the young Captains expressed a type of admiration for his having the “courage of his convictions.” I’m not inclined to be so charitable. I think he’s a loser. I think he’s perhaps an example of how some of the young “whiz kids” are not what they seem to be; that a 36 year old may not have what it takes to be the senior civilian officer in charge of our government’s efforts in one of Afghanistan’s provinces. A Marine officer, one of the many Captains to have left the services without rising to Field Grade rank during this war… perhaps out of fatigue… he then joined the civilian ranks and worked in Iraq as a contractor. Visit his LinkedIn page and see that the longest period of time he’s listed as staying in one place is a year and half. Not exactly a stellar resume, in terms of what civilian employers would look for in a hiring decision. Look at the types of contacts he’s open to… new opportunities, consulting jobs, that type of thing.
He’s a job-hopper.
Matthew Hoh is not a shining example of American intellectual might carefully applied to the problem of Afghanistan. He was only in this country since April. Hell, he scarcely had time to learn anything other than, “This shit is really hard.”
It made his head hurt.
Why are we hiring people like Matt Hoh to do important work in troubled provinces in Afghanistan? That’s the question that we should be asking. One of the officers here met him while working in Zabul Province earlier this year. I asked him what he thought of Hoh.
“He was a dick.”
Short, succinct, to the point. This officer was an embedded combat advisor who knows more than the average bear about insurgency and counterinsurgency. He’s been an officer longer than Hoh has held any one position in his life… going by his own LinkedIn page, that is. The officer worked with real Afghans in real situations on the ground in Zabul Province for months. In my opinion, the officer’s opinion holds water.
As for the “courage of his convictions,” Matthew Hoh has now positioned himself, career-wise, better than he ever was as a contracted officer with the State Department with a one-year contract. He is, for today, the hero of the Huffington Post. However, he has thrown himself into the dustbin of history. He’s a quitter, and while some may say that he quit on principle, the most telling line of his own resignation is this one:
“…I have lost understanding of… ”
Yes, young Matthew, you have lost understanding. Judging from the other information, I’m not sure that you ever had any, really. I am not feeling very understanding towards Hoh, either. Hoh admitted that there was a timing issue in his resignation. He has now been doing interviews, playing the instant celebrity, and he’s been getting his share of pats on the back from the “my head hurts” crowd. In one for the Washington Post, he says,
I am happy for the attention to my issues and to the points I am raising, because I believe they have been absent in the public debate of the war.
Ah, so it’s a statement. This is not one man heeding his conscience. It is one man using his position, and his resignation from it, to influence policy through public opinion. That’s what he tells us. He believes… what he wants for us to see. He admits in his interview with the Post that he had doubts, and that he had studied Afghanistan, and then that his experience here confirmed what he thought… so he resigned. Because to him, that’s service.
In other words, he is so damned principled, and so damned intelligent, that he knows better than all the other people who have spent years and years on these issues, as well as the elected officers of our government. He knows so much, and so well, that his resignation… made public by himself and now on an interview tour… is so damned important that this minor ex-functionary with a PRT should influence public opinion?
He spent only a few short months on the ground here and then quits… to much publicity, which he undoubtedly generated by releasing the resignation letter. I sense purpose. Hmmm.
This week, Hoh is scheduled to meet with Vice President Biden’s foreign policy adviser, Antony Blinken, at Blinken’s invitation.
Yep… that makes sense. Joining Team Biden may be in the works then, eh? I wouldn’t be a bit surprised. Pretty consistent… he’ll fit right in.
Now, let’s take a look at the real importance of such a man, the most senior of three State Department officials in Zabul Province. That is a man who has risen in the ranks to oversee the efforts of two other civilian officials in the PRT in Zabul. Wow. Really important guy. Very effective. He admitted to achieving pretty much of nothing while he was there but felt that he had “represented” well.
I don’t think so. It’s easy to be impressive for short periods of time. It’s harder to actually do real things in this country that do make a difference over a long period of time. I find that Mr. Hoh is singularly unimpressive. He claims great expertise with only a few months experience in this country, and now demands that his words have great sway in a very important debate. He will have his fifteen minutes of fame, and then he will fade. In the larger picture, he’s nobody. Instead of doing what he can to make a real difference in a tough situation, he has cashed in his chips and run away from any responsibility. He was offered a seat at the table where he could perhaps fight the good fight and influence policy, but he chose not to. I’m sure somebody, somewhere, will take pleasure in his current behavior and hire him in. Hoh will not starve from lack of work. He may very well wind up working with the rest of the foreign policy rocket scientists on Team Biden. But, as in this case, he will disappoint and wind up with another sub-two-year job on his resume.
In the meantime, I think that the State Department needs to look at its hiring practices and determine why it is attracting such people and missing the indicators (a year and a half max in the past eight years or so) that may indicate an inability to make the long term contribution that is needed. They also need to take a look at the commitment level of those it is considering hiring. Hoh was not deeply committed when he arrived, and he conveys that clearly in his interview. How did the hiring authorities at State miss that? How did his supervisor not recognize the growing problem and do what supervisors are supposed to do? How did the PRT commander not recognize that Hoh needed counseling, that he had, in his own words, “lost his understanding?”
War is tiring. It’s really, really hard on those who have difficulty in keeping the same job for awhile. Perhaps now he sees himself as finally saving the drowning men. When Hoh’s fifteen minutes are up, I will not miss him. While Ambassador Eikenberry was overly civil to him, I am not. Hoh’s reppenhagen in my book. He has joined the ranks of the infamous.
Earlier this year came the shocking revelation of an Air Force Chaplain at Bagram Air Field (BAF) who received a shipment of Bibles translated into Dari, and who gave a sermon that appeared to exhort troops to proselytize. This is a crime under Afghan law that is punishable by death. That Chaplain directly fed into the propaganda operation by the Taliban, who claim that we are here to destroy Islam. The aftereffects still ripple through Afghan society. His actions, both in receiving the Dari Bibles and in his speech, may actually have tipped the scales in the minds of some to begin supporting or actually participating in operations against the Taliban and the GIRoA. His actions could actually be lethal; but not to the enemy.
Today an article was published in The Times (UK) quoting two U.S. Army Chaplains as saying that American troops in their two battalions are losing heart. It is difficult to explain the power of the urge to find these men of the cloth and grasp them firmly by the neck while calling upon the very stones of the earth to turn against them.
When Soldiers struggle with their purpose, it is clear that they are untrained in what that purpose is. They are kinetically trained warriors put into a political/military struggle where a great percentage of activity is not directly targeting the enemy, all while functioning in an environment where the enemy may target you anonymously with weapons that permit him to hide while he tries to kill you. They have been failed by their training. Many senior leaders cannot adequately train or supervise Soldiers in a COIN environment because they have not studied it themselves. I have met precisely one Chaplain who has actually read FM 3-24. Our Army is still struggling with COIN doctrine, and many of our Chaplains are wandering around lost while they could be of great benefit. These men should keep one thing in mind: First, do no harm. What they did by speaking on the record to this reporter was harmful. Calling the overall morale of our troops into question in front of a foreign media outlet boggles the mind.
In a strongly religious society such as Afghanistan, where Islam is woven tightly into the fabric of life and into the nature of conflict, what can a Christian Chaplain do? Again; first, he/she should do no harm. Secondly, he/she should read the book about this type of conflict and understand what it is that the Soldiers are involved in. He (going forward meaning either gender) should be able to assist a Soldier in understanding the nature of risk and loss in this type of environment, where a peaceful moment can be shattered beyond all recognition and with it the bodies of friends and colleagues. He, above all, needs to find his place in this from the perspective of our Soldiers and their purpose, that he can be the crutch for the spiritually and emotionally wounded. There is no place on the battlefield for the weak, and in this battle the mentally and spiritually weak are a particular liability. We cannot bear broken crutches with us. The damage done by these two men, while not on the par of the Dari Bible Fiasco, is actually only moderately less severe.
Understanding the nature of this conflict and the society, especially the religious nature of the operating environment, is difficult for anyone. As the primary religious and spiritual advisor to the commander and Soldiers, is the Chaplain making contributions that increase the realistic cultural understanding of the commander and his Soldiers? Is he making it his business to be the go-to guy on issues of realistic understanding of cultural norms? Is he finding his counterpart in the ANA or other ANSF and empowering both understanding and the tremendous effects that can be brought to bear by the RCA (ANSF equivalent of a Chaplain)? Can the Chaplain explain that Afghans aren’t offended by the inadvertent showing of the sole of the foot, as long as it’s not purposely done to insult? Can the Chaplain explain that waving with the left hand, when the right hand is full, is not insulting? Can the Chaplain help a Specialist learn simple greetings in Dari and Pashto, so that Soldier can get along better with his counterparts or civilians he may meet? Can the Chaplain explain the basics of Muslim prayer to a Baptist kid from southern Georgia, so that he can understand what and why his Afghan counterpart is doing?
The positive potential of ANA RCA’s is, in many places, untapped. RCA’s are usually educated, literate, moderate mullahs who can fight the Taliban message that the ANA and ANP are apostatic puppets of the Coalition. They can bring moderate education to village mullahs who are often illiterate themselves. Given the power of mullahs in Afghanistan to spread messages and themes, this is powerful. It has been done, and it works amazingly well. Are our Chaplains assisting and empowering the ANA and ANP RCA’s to do this?
The answer to the questions above, with extremely rare exceptions, is, “No.”
There is being helpful, and there is being harmful. Every person here in a uniform is by definition a counterinsurgent. Each and every action either supports the work of counterinsurgency or it harms it. Even a wasted action is harmful. You are either providing thrust or you are adding drag. There is no middle ground. Today, The Times may as well have carried the words of insurgents themselves, for just about as much harm was done. When a man, by virtue of his particular office, is largely unsupervised, he must find a way to make a positive contribution to the mission.
But first, he must do no harm.
I’ve got a number of things I’d like to write about, and I would ignore this tripe as being inane; but it is filled with the type of self-righteous drivel that is heard in America from time to time. It passes for “academic” thought, I suppose, but it shouldn’t. It is at least presented as if it were academic thought, because the author couches his blog with a term that refers to a social science, anthropology. The author claims academic credit. He teaches at a university, although that doesn’t speak well for the school. In fact, it speaks rather poorly for it. I’ve come to view the author with a very jaded eye. I lump him in with such charlatans as Robert Young Pelton. It’s amazing how charlatans tend to clump together into clots. Pelton is quoted in the posting to which I am referring today.
Maximillian Forte, the author of “Open Anthropology,” and an outspoken critic of the Human Terrain System, posted began his post today by framing further discussion on terms of rape, shoplifting and gangsterism. Having thus childishly explained his reasoning process he examines the Marine efforts in Helmand Province in the same light. While it is a bumbling literary trick, it does cast illumination on the thinking of the “anti-war” crowd. While Mr. Forte is a Canadian and teaches in Canada, a fact for which I do not blame the Canadians as a whole, he has managed to congeal in one gelatinous clot the arguments of many of the “anti-war” crowd. He has also captured the essence of a festering affinity for extremist propaganda that exists in North America, notably in some small but significant numbers in the United States. That is the only reason that I’m even giving his self-righteous polemic the dignity of a response; because it gives me the opportunity to address some truly egregious lies that exist in the open in America. Those who read this blog regularly don’t buy into such lies. This is for those who may stray across these words, that they may be offered a the choice to listen to one who has been on the ground over one who hasn’t.
Yes, it means that much to have walked the actual dust and stones of Afghanistan rather than sitting in an office at Concordia University in Montreal, Canada.
Forte asks a question that begs an answer about the Marines in Helmand.
It begins with this article posted prominently on Yahoo! by the Associated Press for this date, titled “Marine mission to protect Afghans slows progress.” It was to me, and hopefully to anyone with a memory capacity larger than a gnat’s, possibly the most outlandish headline to be seen in a long time. The Marines are protecting Afghans? The Marines? Protecting?
Yes, protecting. The Marines are there to clear the Taliban from the area, a group that is supported the a greater proportion of the population of Helmand than in most areas of the country, but still much less than the 51% that would be required in a developed, well-governed country like Canada, or the United States for that matter, for a particular group to hold sway. They hold sway there because they have weapons and they are not afraid to use them. They hold sway in part because they have, during their bloody reign, mostly destroyed the beneficial tribal and village leadership structures which used to provide a social framework that held together communities, filling the void with their own twisted brand of political leadership. As an anthropologist, Mr. Forte would do well to actually do some research on the destruction of these traditional structures, structures which the Taliban have found to be obstacles in the path of their dominance.
Mr. Forte then goes on to paint the Marines as bloodthirsty and wanton destroyers of villages.
The Marines, in not being allowed to raze a village and mow everyone in their path, are “protecting” civilians, clearly from the Marines themselves:
The British jet called in by the U.S. Marines had the Taliban position in sight, but the pilot refused to fire, a decision that frustrated Marines on the ground….
Forte clearly has no grip on the reality of Afghanistan. Marines don’t, nor have they ever, razed any villages in Afghanistan. They suffer from no compunction to “mow everything in their path.” The Marines are actually much better versed in counterinsurgency warfare than the Army is, on the whole. My Army cohorts may not like to hear that, but the ones in the know realize this and say it readily themselves. The Marines tend to “get it” more than the Army does. They are not there to “raze a village.”
No matter how much you “get it,” it is frustrating to get shot at and not be able to shoot back, or to have decisive firepower refused when you know where the enemy hides is frustrating. That frustration does not equate to a desire to raze a village. Now Forte becomes a Hague lawyer:
Since the Marines are frustrated that they cannot fire, they are “protecting” civilians, as if they should be praised for doing what is legally required of US/NATO occupation forces under the international legal conventions that they signed on to, and that acquired force as part of their domestic laws. Not being excessively aggressive, and committing war crimes, is reconstructed as benevolence, rather than a basic minimum. Not being an outright brute, is represented as moderation. It’s a very short and smooth road to sainthood for warriors forced to respect the mandates of the Fourth Geneva Convention relative to the Protection of Civilian Persons in Time of War (1949) (see also here). This is humanitarianism, as a default starting point.
Forte shows an amazing lack of knowledge of the laws of war to which he presumes to lecture. Belligerents are not required to refrain from applying firepower to their enemy. Not at all. They are merely required to avoid collateral (meaning unintended) damage to the greatest extent possible while in the course of defending themselves. They are also permitted to continue offensive operations, and any dwelling, church, mosque, hospital or other structure which the enemy is using as a firing or observation position is not afforded any special protection under the laws of war, having forfeited any such protection upon being used as a fighting position. No, Forte has no concept. I’ve got news for him; thousands of civilians have been killed since the overthrow of the Taliban regime in late 2001 and early 2002. Most of them have been killed by those selfsame Taliban that Mr. Forte so fawningly worships as “freedom fighters” and “Mujaheddin.”
While the casualties that have been caused by the coalition have been unintentional, those of the Taliban have not been. The deaths of innocents, and particularly of government supporters, are carefully orchestrated for effect. We have not left bombs in crowded civilian areas. We have not hung men for having currency in their pockets that we found disagreeable. We have not shot women in the head after dragging them from a car for working on a Taliban installation. We have at times been gullible. Each of those bombed wedding parties was bombed due to poor intelligence, usually provided by a person who had a grudge against the family, and sometimes because the Taliban wanted a family harmed and planted “intelligence” which gave them the double whammy of harming their opponent while giving them a visible sign of American or Coalition “disregard” for Afghan lives.
Forte also quotes a section of the Geneva Conventions that applies to occupying powers, which the United States and its NATO partners are not. Regardless of the rantings of Forte, the coalition members are here to assist the Government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan. That is not an occupation. The United Nations passed a resolution and is here in force. The NATO forces in Afghanistan are engaged in assisting a lawfully elected and constituted government in establishing control over its territory and in the construction/reconstruction of a war-torn country besieged from within and without by an extremist insurgency which the people of Afghanistan overwhelmingly do not support.
Now, there are various and sundry other dynamics at work, the complexities of which Forte shows no grasp of whatsoever, which is interesting for an anthropologist. This demonstrates why, after many years in the field, he is an Associate professor of Anthropology, instead of a full professor. It be can surmised from his unwillingness and inability to plumb the depths of the troubles and challenges of Afghan society as being due to his propensity for grasping at low-hanging fruit and his propensity for emotional outbursts such as the one we are delving into now. This, tainted with the brush of his political ineptitude, demonstrated by his insistence on attempting to portray a band of criminals as being on the same par as the Mujaheddin who were part of a very popular resistance to the Soviet Union’s expedition into Afghanistan in the 1980’s. Afghans themselves would tell Forte that he’s way off base on that point. I’ve had countless Afghans explain to me precisely why the Taliban don’t rate the name, “Mujaheddin.” Their logic is impeccable. It is Muslim, and it is local. Forte wouldn’t have any idea what to do with indigenous opinions, being that he is the caliber of anthropologist that he is.
Just today in Twitter, I spotted this statement: “Rough time 4 soldiers fighting terrorists and building communities in Afghanistan.” Building communities — after massive aerial bombings over a period of eight years. Building communities — as if Afghanistan had no communities before Americans slammed into the country. “Fighting terrorists” as if those who fight soldiers, foreign invaders, can now be re-branded as “terrorists” in spite of common definitions premised on the idea that terrorism involves the deliberate, indiscriminate killing of non-combatants, a category that automatically excludes soldiers.
Mass bombings is a powerful term. It brings visions of Arclight B-52 bombings to mind. Now, granted there were B-52 sorties against entrenched Taliban positions in the early days of the rout of the Taliban from power by the US-assisted Northern Alliance, but ladies gents, I’m here to tell you that the bombings in Afghanistan that I have had personal knowledge of involved one or two weapons per event and they were precision weapons. Precision weapons don’t mean “no mistakes.” They mean that nobody was dropping ordnance willy-nilly with absolutely no regard for civilian deaths. So, Forte waxes theatrical again. So do any who parrot his dissemblings.
It does bring one to wonder what Forte and his ilk think of the always deliberate, sometimes indiscriminate and sometimes targeted killing of non-combatants by the Taliban, HiG and other anti-government elements in Afghanistan. It makes one wonder what Forte thinks of hanging a man and leaving his body in public for days under threat of death to anyone who would give the corpse the decency of a burial in accordance with Islamic rules. It also demonstrates the absolute ignorance of the fact that the Taliban have killed more Afghan civilians, by far, than they have NATO Soldiers. Yet Forte lauds these types of mean as “freedom fighters.” What a strange, sad little man to be so led by his hatred of Soldiers and Marines into praising men who would perform such acts; acts of barbarism which are not performed by NATO forces or the Afghan National Security Forces. Forte misguidedly quotes Reagan, a man whom he despises and attempts to use as some sort of boomerang against his foes, as being somehow supportive, in death, of the Taliban.
Let us not forget that many of these gallant, freedom loving, heroic mujahideen became what we know today as the Taliban.
While it is true that some Taliban fought as part of a couple of factions as Mujaheddin, the great majority of Mujaheddin are not Taliban. I’ve met many Mujaheddin who are now members of the Afghan National Army and Afghan National Police. One day in early August, 2007, I sat in the home of one of the key Mujaheddin leaders in Kapisa Province, who explained to me why he saw no reason to take up arms against the United States. He did not see the US as an occupation force. He saw that our intentions were good. He also reserved the right to decide at any point that his opinion had changed and that he would again pick up arms. He supported the Afghan Government, and while he saw huge challenges and was dismayed with the ineptitude and corruption, he preferred an elected government to a dictatorial theocracy.
Had Forte, or any who share his twisted concepts, ever bothered to get the dust of Afghanistan upon their loafers, they would know such things as naturally as they draw breath. Forte would be deeply disillusioned by what he would find in Afghanistan. He would find that he was totally, completely and irretrievably clueless. If he were half the scientist he claims to be on his CV, he would realize that speaking so with absolutely no real knowledge of his subject is, well, unscientific.
He would also know better than to quote Robert Young Pelton about Afghanistan. A scientist should have the knowledge to recognize a lying charlatan when he meets one. Instead this “scientist” quotes him, as if lies would carry buffoonery forward into becoming fact.
Finally, Forte reflexively cannot resist another reference to the Human Terrain System; the perpetual bug up his bum. He retells the tragic story of a female researcher, Paula Loyd, who was murdered by an angry Afghan man. No one knows for sure why Abdul Salam set her on fire. Don Ayala, a colleague, fatally shot Salam immediately after the murderous attack. Now Forte paints Ayala as a mercenary and Loyd as very much deserving of her fate. Forte displays a picture of Ayala and Loyd, claiming that, “few would be willing to bet their wages that there is a woman in that photo.” Why? Because she is wearing a helmet? She is very obviously a woman. This criticism is very strange coming from a man who apparently purposely created an avatar of himself on his website bearing a remarkable resemblance to Vladimir Lenin. Forte muses that because she didn’t look like a woman, and did resemble a soldier, she was a legitimate target of an Afghan civilian. He leaves us with this bizarre bit of nonsense:
Salam was a liberator. He liberated Loyd from a prolonged career of selling her services to militarism, and thus to terrorism. Never again would she be used as a human shield by the American terrorists. However, Salam did not kill everyone on her patrol: that’s because he was protecting them.
That is some of the most heinous and hateful speech I’ve ever seen directed against what should have been a colleague in Forte’s mind. His malevolent misogyny belies his portrayal of himself as the fair-minded arbiter of Taliban legitmacy as “freedom fighters” or Mujaheddin.
Some day, I would like to have a chat with the board of regents of Concordia University and ask them what in the bloody hell they were thinking about when they hired this so-called “scientist.” I’m even more amazed that they have tolerated his bizarre ramblings over the course of the time that I have been aware of Forte’s gymnastic buffoonery.
As I said when I started this deconstruction of the self-proclaimed “scientist,” it should have been left in the dustbin of obscurity; but there are others who mimic his line of dislogic. This is more to demonstrate the absolute buffoonery of those who even raise the term, “occupation,” those who would deign to call Taliban and HiG insurgents “freedom fighters” or “Mujaheddin.” They have no idea what they are talking about.
Afghanistan has deep challenges on many levels. Many are self-inflicted, and many are the result of a society literally eviscerated by 30 years of conflict, both externally and internally motivated. These problems will not be solved overnight. Forte and his ilk are politically motivated, but thank God that they are not as motivated as the men and women that I work with, who are willing to risk their lives in order to make our nations safer by securing this society, one of the poorest nations in the world. Afghans are a mix of many ethnic groups, and they struggle to find an “Afghan” identity, even in the middle of a siege brought upon them by those who would seize power and again govern by fear of physical abuse, torture, deprivation and death. An officer recently stood and spoke about how we should all be here just for Afghanistan. I told him, “No, I’m here to protect my children. It just so happens that in order for my children to be secure, the children of Afghanistan must be secure. That’s why I am willing to do this.”
The great thing is that Max Forte and his ilk are only willing to run their mouths. Words have great power, but words have considerably less power when there is no willingness to put one’s life on the line for them. Forte will not risk his life for his words.
I am for mine.
It is up to the reader to decide who to believe; the “scientist,” or the Soldier.
Tadd Sholtis at Quatto Zone raises an interesting COIN question. (Don’t worry, At Park Place, I haven’t forgotten that I owe you something.) He muses over what the Taliban are doing with their message about air strikes and CIVCAS (Civilian Casualties.) Everyone knows that GEN McChrystal has stated that our metrics will be centered around protecting civilians… including from us… and that he has moved a few things around the house. What the Taliban want is an intriguing question, though. Let’s take a peek into what that clever manjammie-wearing Mao-trained thug may be thinking.
Sholtis poses this question about the demands from the Taliban that the coalition end air strikes in certain areas in return for permitting PFC Bergdahl to continue to draw breath and make propaganda tapes for them:
Why do this unless air power represents a significant threat to the organization? And while it’s clear that the Taliban try to provoke strikes that will cause civilian casualties, it’s unclear whether this tactic is designed to whip up popular rage or encourage restrictive rules of engagement that will grant insurgents more breathing room. The answer is probably both.
Money. Right on the money. It is both. Remember a few things when looking at an insurgency;
You have to listen to the insurgent IO first. Not just truly listen, but listen from the viewpoint of the population. The population is what gives the insurgent his strength. The population is the water in which the fish (insurgent) swims. The population provides sustenance, information, shelter, concealment and recruits, as well as other aids. Without the population, the insurgent is irrelevant. What matters is not necessarily what is true, but what the population believes to be true. The insurgent IO (what is also called propaganda) is the conversation, the love call, of the insurgent. It is his attempt to either woo and seduce or to intimidate. The insurgent is a date-rapist. If the population buys his pickup lines and gives up the support willingly, so much the better; but if force is required, he’s prepared and willing for that, too.
The message about the air strikes is two things at once. First, it is in support of the message that the United States and her allies are forces of occupation attempting to dominate Afghanistan and all Afghans. His message is that we simply do not care about Afghan lives, especially Muslim Afghan lives. That would be just about… all of them. The implication is that the Taliban does care about Afghan lives; that they are the defenders of Islam, Afghan sovereignty and Afghan lives.
Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain… the Afghan civilians killed by insurgents. That’s the other side of the coin (pardon the pun.) That supports a whole ‘nother message.
Secondly, it is an attempt to force us to quiver our most feared arrows. Air power is a decisive edge in any engagement. Their objective is to get us to shoot ourselves in the foot either way. If they can goad us into the indiscriminate use of air power, then they can portray us as completely unmindful of Afghan lives in the pursuit of our goal of world domination. This supports their messages locally, nationally and even internationally. Is it believable?
Do you ever read the bizarre-far lefty blogs? Hell, some of our own citizens willingly further this Taliban IO. Yep, it’s believable to enough people to keep repeating it.
Failing that, if they can reduce their own casualties and preserve their strength, they bring themselves closer to having the strength to enter the Strategic Counterattack Phase of insurgency. This is a Maoist insurgency doctrinal term that we have heard the enemy actually use in communications from commanders to subordinates in the field in Afghanistan.
Folks, while we are struggling to learn Counterinsurgency Doctrine, the enemy is well-versed in Insurgency Doctrine. These guys may not always be accurate as can be with their weapons, but they are plenty smart as insurgents.
Just because the Taliban portray themselves as the defenders of Afghan lives and property doesn’t mean it’s so; but that doesn’t matter. What matters is how the population sees it. If they see the Coalition as willing to bomb civilians in a heartbeat, slow to admit the truth and having been caught in several untruths (another word for, oh… I don’t know… maybe… “lies?”) then the insurgent wins. We can see that the Taliban are perfectly willing to shoot at us from occupied houses or villages. We can see that the Taliban will slip us information about a massing of forces and get us to bomb a wedding. We can see them endanger civilian lives with reckless abandon. It matters not what we can see.
It matters what the man on the street sees… through the lens of the insurgent message.
All too often we have obliged him. We are so eager to kill the enemy that we can usually be counted on to reflexively lash out with as much firepower as we can get on that target. If we made tactical nukes available and didn’t make it too complicated to use them, I guarantee that someone would have employed one in some valley in Afghanistan. We like to swat flies with bricks.
There is another side to this coin (ooops, did it again…) and that is that the insurgent tells you how to kick his ass. He tells you what is important. If it’s not a deception, which is possible, he may be telling you where he is planning something or where you have hurt him badly. Why did he specify districts? We really need to take a look at that. What can we determine about him from his message?
When we listen to the enemy, he tells us how he plans to beat us. He tells us what is wrong with the government that, if we fix that problem, will alleviate some conditions that cause people to support him… like the courts in Wardak and Khost. In this case, if we listen to his message and watch the popular response, we can see that killing civilians hurts us and helps him. If we become very careful about civilian lives, even at a bit greater risk to ourselves, we take this away from him. He will always attempt to use it if we make an error, but we can take that high ground from him. That doesn’t mean that we can never use air power, but it does mean that we must be exceedingly careful so as not to feed the fish. Then we can put a few things in the water that the fish will find irritating; such as the Coalition and Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF) being the ones who are concerned about Afghan lives while the Taliban kills innocent civilians in their terror operations or in offensive operations against the Coalition and ANSF. We can coopt his message.
We can salt the water of our fresh water fish. Go pour some salt in your goldfish bowl and see what happens.
Overall, any anti-Coalition message or attack is to hasten the departure of the Coalition members and leave the Afghan Government naked like Janet Leigh in the shower. Any attack on the ANSF is to discredit or weaken the Afghan Government and lessen its legitimacy in the eyes of the people. Any attack on the people is meant to show them that the government and Coalition cannot protect those who side with them. Any economic action is meant to make the people more dependent on the Taliban for support (poppy is a good example) or more willing to believe that the government will not or can not help improve their lot in life.
There are lots of ways that the enemy tells us how to beat him. He pretty much tells us exactly how to beat him. All we have to do is listen.
First, we have to stop feeding the fish.
The response to my posting about the venerable Lizette Alvarez and her attempts to start a meme concerning combat veterans of the Global War On Terror has been tremendous. A quick look at the subjects that Alvarez has written about in the past few years shows a definite trend. Below I have listed the titles and a brief description (taken from the NYT,) of her articles.
These articles regard the Army, occasionally the Marine Corps, and trend towards a focus on combat veterans and their misadventures following the their combat experiences. There is also a tendency to focus on violence committed by combat veterans. This is combined with articles which point the finger at the Armed Forces and their apparent mishandling of such issues as PTSD and TBI (Traumatic Brain Injury.) Among these are articles depicting alcoholism, drug abuse, and felony waivers granted by the Army and Marine Corps. It is my assertion that this is a pattern of depiction that is designed to send a consistent message to the readers: “Combat veterans are potentially dangerous. They are trained in violence and are subjected to mind-warping combat that turns their violent training into potentially anti-social behavior. Many of the recruits are defective to begin with, and all are victims of a monstrous system that doesn’t care for them, dooming them to eventually give in to their own violent tendencies. Returning Soldiers will be subject to a myriad of problems and while pitiable, one must safeguard themselves against these animal-victims.”
Using vignettes designed to inspire shock and pity, Alvarez uses her considerable writing skill to guide the perceptions of the reader gently and not-so-gently towards the conclusions. She also has a tendency to leave the article on a dramatic note, perhaps an open question to be answered by the reader’s now-informed opinion. I think that it’s effective. If I didn’t think so, it wouldn’t bother me. Alvarez is no amateur, excelling at her work. That’s why her editor keeps her on this path. She devastates Soldiers with a mixture of kindness and horror while simultaneously indicting an entire system that struggles to keep pace in the midst of war.
Message received, Lizette. The question is what is driving this message? While it could be argued, probably by the NYT and Lizette Alvarez, that the message is a compassionate Soldier-oriented concern, it does not appear that way to this Soldier. To this Soldier and combat veteran, it seems to be a consistent pressure towards isolating combat veterans and creating a stigma similar to the Viet Nam Era isolation of veterans. Folks, there is a reason why there is a checkbox on every job application asking, “Are you a Viet Nam Era veteran?” under the EO column. Viet Nam Era veterans have their own demographic group. That didn’t happen because American employers were showing a preference for Viet Nam vets, hiring them like they were going out of style.
That’s because it wasn’t in style; not at all. Viet Nam vets lived in the shadow of a stigma. It’s only in the past few years that men who are not veterans are claiming to be veterans; because it is now in style to have served.
This whole line of articles appears to be cleverly designed to gently manipulate public opinion regarding combat veterans. I am not a believer in conspiracy theories or overarching cabals, but I do believe that there are those who hearken to the days when the press was “raising awareness” about Viet Nam. Alvarez even references Viet Nam several times in her writing, showing her hand as far as the influence it has on her “awareness.” Awareness is in the eye of the beholder, and some beholders have the ability to influence, through media, the perceptions of larger numbers of people.
I use this blog, since I’ve been home, to show the perception of Afghanistan, my Army and its methods, counterinsurgency vs conventional methods and other primarily war-related issues as seen through these eyes; forever changed by my experience on the ground in Afghanistan in the Global War On Terror. I work to influence, too. I have an agenda, too… and part of that must be to stand in the face of such portrayals and say, “No.”
The argument that these portrayals are not part of an agenda is belied by the clever use of fuzzy numbers, such as the murder statistics claimed in last year’s article about murders by combat veterans to make them appear to be an alarming trend. These numbers were later apologized for (after a fashion) by the NYT. Too late, I’m afraid. They had already painted the picture that they wanted to paint, and a mild refutation in the Opinion section doesn’t erase the effort. The point is that one without an agenda, who seeks only truth, does not manipulate information to make it appear to be more or less dire than it actually is.
There are inconsistencies also in Alvarez’ stance on PTSD, for instance. Notice that when it suits her purpose, PTSD is a “mental disorder,” but when it suits another purpose, it is a “wound.” A quick glance at the titles of the articles below will bear this out. Her latest column cries out about the Purple Heart, but an earlier article warns of untreated “mental disorders,” PTSD being chief among them. Who would advocate for the award of a medal for a mental disorder? Who would even generate an article announcing that the DoD had denied a medal for a mental disorder? Nobody. For a wound? Yes.
The point is that this appears, to this Soldier, to be an agenda-driven relentless line of march that Alvarez and the NYT are on. I find this to be less than acceptable, to put it mildly. I could rant like a field Soldier about this, but I choose not to. Instead, I’m trying to show, through the eyes of a combat veteran, how this continuing behavior by Alvarez and the NYT appear to be less than helpful in any regards.
I am “on about” this subject, obviously. Hey, it’s upsetting to actually witness the attempted stigmatization of my kind, who have only the best for our nation in our hearts. To be thus treated by a reporter and a large publication is just as frustrating as can be.
I think I need a little help again (no, not from a professional… heh heh.) I emailed the Public Editor at the NYT, but have not received a response. It appears that he is a busy man, and that only a volume of contacts will bring to his attention that I am not the only one who sees this pattern and objects to it. So, if you can spare a moment to copy and paste his email address into your email, I would appreciate a moment of moral outrage on your part to be sent in his direction. This has worked before, and while I hope not to make a staple out of this type of activity, I feel compelled to stand up to certain behaviors and object. If you’re with me and Gumby on this, please send a note to Clark Hoyt at:
Your help would be greatly appreciated. If they know that we’re aware and that we’re keeping an eye on them, it may dissuade them from continuing to portray combat veterans as dangerous or at best pitiable “victims” of the Global War On Terror. This is the beginning to the path of having to spend public money on “Don’t Forget; Hire The Vet” advertising as a result of a persistent meme. It’s time to stop this portrayal of combat veterans as somehow “less than” because of their combat service.
What follows below is a list of Lizette Alvarez’ articles for the past year. This goes to show the pattern of her portrayal of combat veterans as victims or as dangerous potentially violent criminals.
Purple Heart Is Ruled Out for Traumatic Stress
By LIZETTE ALVAREZ and ERIK ECKHOLM
The decision ends hope of recent war veterans who have the condition that the medal could honor their sacrifice.
January 8, 2009
A Focus on Violence by Returning G.I.’s
By LIZETTE ALVAREZ and DAN FROSCH
The Army is reviewing whether combat trauma played a role in killings by soldiers in Colorado.
January 2, 2009
Despite Army’s Assurances, Violence at Home
By LIZETTE ALVAREZ
Abuse allegations against a soldier illustrate the gaps in the way the Army handles domestic violence cases.
November 23, 2008
Mental State of Soldier Questioned
By DAN FROSCH and LIZETTE ALVAREZ
An internal Army document raises questions about the mental state of Specialist Robert H. Marko during his time at Fort Carson in Colorado and his time in Iraq.
November 21, 2008
New Veterans Hit Hard by Economic Crisis
By LIZETTE ALVAREZ
A combination of factors including unemployment and injury has forced many veterans into foreclosure.
Noveber 18, 2008
Mental State of Soldier Questioned
By DAN FROSCH and LIZETTE ALVAREZ
An internal Army document raises questions about the mental state of Specialist Robert H. Marko during his time at Fort Carson in Colorado and his time in Iraq.
November 21, 2008
By LIZETTE ALVAREZ
They know where the exit is and how many windows there are. Crowded classrooms can send them into a panic. They have trouble focusing. They can’t remember facts. And no one around them understands what they’ve seen. The new G.I. Bill is expected to swell the number of post-9/11 veterans at the nation’s colleges and universities. These new students will need help. Are campuses ready?
November 2, 2008
Combat to College
By LIZETTE ALVAREZ
A new G.I. bill is expected to swell the number of veterans in the nation’s colleges and universities. But the transition is especially difficult for returning soldiers. Are campuses ready for them?
November 2, 2008
Army and Agency Will Study Rising Suicide Rate Among Soldiers
By LIZETTE ALVAREZ
The Army will collaborate with the National Institute of Mental Health in an ambitious five-year project to identify the causes and risk factors of suicide.
October 30, 2008
Action Is Sought to Ensure Timely Financing for V.A.
By LIZETTE ALVAREZ
As the veterans’ health system strains to handle a growing caseload, a move is under way in Congress to avoid yearly delays in financing that can hamper the medical care of the nation’s veterans.
September 19, 2008
War Veterans’ Concussions Are Often Overlooked
By LIZETTE ALVAREZ
The complications from concussions, a signature injury of the Iraq war, often are not recognized in singular ways.
August 26, 2008
After the Battle, Fighting the Bottle at Home
By LIZETTE ALVAREZ
A body of evidence suggests that alcohol abuse is rising among veterans of combat in Afghanistan and Iraq.
July 8, 2008
Army and Marine Corps Grant More Felony Waivers
By LIZETTE ALVAREZ
The trend raises questions about the military’s ability to attract quality recruits at a time when it is trying to increase enlistment.
April 22, 2008
Nearly a Fifth of War Veterans Report Mental Disorders, a Private Study Finds
By LIZETTE ALVAREZ
Little more than half of the returned soldiers who reported symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder or major depression have sought mental health treatment.
April 18, 2008
Six of the Fallen, in Words They Sent Home
By LIZETTE ALVAREZ and ANDREW W. LEHREN
Unlike soldiers of previous wars, who were only occasionally able to write letters, many who served and died in Iraq left behind an extraordinary electronic testimony.
March 25, 2008
When Strains on Military Families Turn Deadly
By LIZETTE ALVAREZ and DEBORAH SONTAG; ALAIN DELAQUéRIèRE and MARGOT WILLIAMS CONTRIBUTED RESEARCH.
An examination of cases of fatal domestic violence and child abuse indicate wartime pressures have complicated the Pentagon’s efforts to change the current system.
February 15, 2008
In More Cases, Combat Trauma Is Taking the Stand
By DEBORAH SONTAG and LIZETTE ALVAREZ
Prosecutors, judges and juries are increasingly prodded to assess the role of combat trauma in crimes by veterans.
January 27, 2008
Across America, Deadly Echoes of Foreign Battles
By DEBORAH SONTAG and LIZETTE ALVAREZ
The Times found 121 cases in which veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan committed a killing in this country, or were charged with one, after their return from war.
January 13, 2008
Nir Rosen’s newest tome in Rolling Stone is all the rage. The first reference to it was from a good friend of this blog, and then a reference on Abu Muqawama. Of course, the title gives away a bit of the theme of the article; but Muqawama described it as a “must read,” so I did.
I did not share his enthusiasm.
While Dave Dilegge panned Rosen’s article due to an objection to journalists embedding with insurgents, my disappointment was with the content. In reading it, I wondered what Abu Muqawama would have found attractive about it, and further wondered about the esteem in which AM seemed to hold Rosen himself.
Being unfamiliar with Rosen, I decided to look into his writings. I found that this article was consistent with his previous work.
I must say that Rosen has nerve. He also showed courage in not screaming like a little girl as he nearly suffered the result of extremely poor judgment. It appears that Rosen’s “watch me embed with these insurgents” trick has become his signature move. Abu Muqawama is excited by this as a social scientist, which is the reason for his approval.
My sense of Rosen’s article is that he endangered his life for very little, other than a sensational stunt. Yes, he got to meet real live Taliban. So have I. In as far as developing a real sense for what is going on in Afghanistan, or even in Ghazni Province, I feel that his mission was a failure. As an IO tool for the Taliban, his article was a success. This, I believe, was not the result of his being duped, but suited his purposes as well. I’ll get to that.
In the meantime, Rosen’s presentation of Afghanistan leaves a lot to be desired. Not having been to the “Green Zone” myself, I contend that Kabul is not some immense Green Zone in itself. I also contend with a number of his other assertions.
Rosen’s misrepresentation of the number of civilians killed by NATO action has been well documented elsewhere. While it is not something on which I will focus, because I don’t have to, it does indicate either sloppy journalism or an intentional slanting of facts in order to make a point.
Nir Rosen’s experience of Afghanistan and of the Taliban during this “embed” was extremely limited. He does not demonstrate a greater knowledge of either Afghanistan or its issues beyond the few meters that he could see through the dust-covered windows of the Corolla in which rode. His depiction of the Kabul-Kandahar road as the only major route of its type in the country was patently untrue, for instance.
When first presenting in an Afghan village which was unfamiliar, we would meet the “village leadership.” After more visits, we would find ourselves sitting down with the real village leadership. Afghans often present lower level leaders to outsiders. Leaders? Yes. Senior leaders? Not so much. Not yet. I think the same thing happened to Nir Rosen; based on the way that his handlers were treated by real senior Taliban leadership.
There have been other inconsistencies pointed out; like how Rosen was free to text away madly while his hosts dickered amongst each other regarding his fate. It has been pointed out that he never really embedded with the Taliban, most of his adventure being spent in wondering if he was to be tried by a Taliban judge instead of doing or observing anything operational at all.
His descriptions about the ascendancy of the Taliban were entirely based upon his hosts’ claims. While they were not confronted by any ANSF or coalition forces, I think that it would be a surprise to TF Currahee to know that they were irrelevant to their Area of Operations. I am not surprised by the ability of the Taliban to drive on the roads, to move about Kabul, to walk about their own villages. I would point, once again, to the video shot in the Tag Ab Vally by Al Jazeera showing Taliban walking freely in a village in the Tag Ab being greeted by townspeople. When the ANP and I walked those same paths, we were greeted similarly.
The unarmed often greet the armed with deference.
The Al Jazeera footage was clearly propaganda. The Taliban there claimed control, and I’m here to tell you that they had control of that village for exactly as long as they were there. We often walked about uncontested in the village they were in that day. Their bold statements notwithstanding, those days they were not so bold. They frequently chose not to exert their “control” over the area when we were present.
One thing that Rosen was correct in repeating from the Taliban is that very often the ANP are not viewed very highly by the people. I saw this firsthand. The Police often shake down citizens. While I was there, their excuse often had to do with their pay. Raising their pay to be on par with the ANA’s pay was supposed to help address this problem.
The only value in Rosen’s article was the behavior that he documented. The “changes in attitude” by the Taliban, designed to make them seem more palatable to westerners, are not likely due to some kind of eye-opening change of beliefs; but an attitude of expedience and a demonstration of the dilution of the movement’s moral base. As for his parroting of Taliban memes, there is no great surprise there. Mir Rosen disclosed plenty to me in this statement;
So Afghanistan now is the good war. He (Obama) needs to prove, as a Democrat, that he too can kill brown people. I think that’s what it comes down to, that we’re not weak; we can kill foreigners, too.
Brown people? Killing brown people. Uhhhh… okay, Nir; sure. Bent much? I mean, that’s making your agenda pretty clear. In Nir Rosen’s eyes, we can’t do anything right. We are only there to “kill brown people.”
How arrogantly insulting to those of us who have been there.
While Abu Muqawama finds all of this to be exciting, I find it to be unacceptable. Becoming part of the Taliban IO in a widely-read magazine like Rolling Stone is just beyond uncool. Andrew Exum (Abu Muqawama) may be a social scientist who is unimpeded by Rosen’s slanted journalism, but most Rolling Stone readers are not. What Exum finds to be a heady jaunt into the minds of a few Taliban, others will find to be a first-person account of Taliban primacy in Afghanistan. Rosen simply does not have the experience upon which to base such conclusions. Half-baked investigative journalism filled with misrepresented numbers about civilian casualties and piped-in Taliban IO doesn’t make for an exercise in responsible journalism.
Personally, I don’t think that it was intended to be.