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A WEEK |

August 11, 2009

A WEEK
Name: Old Blue
Posting date: 8/11/09
Stationed in: Afghanistan
Milblog: Afghan Quest

What a week it’s been. In order to become a full-fledged, card-carrying member of the Academy of Bellicose Numismatists you have to study hard, know the curriculum and class materials, and you have to complete the five-day course as a student. It’s a rite of passage. Well, it’s a little more than that, but I’m simplifying it.

So that was fun.

After a day to change gears and get prepped, a couple of other instructors and I trundled off early each morning to teach a more focused, shorter course at a branch school for Afghan officers. This was an advanced course. These officers had already completed their basic course. They also had combat experience and knew a fair amount about enemy behavior. We have been teaching the Afghans classic Air Land Battle doctrine for nearly seven years now. Here we come all of a sudden with a new plan for them; COIN. One of them did ask the obvious question; “Why did you wait until now to come up with this?”

I didn’t want to tell them that the book was published two and a half years ago and we just got around to reading it. Uh… that would be some of us. We still get field grade officers in the course here who have not read the book. A significant portion of company grade officers have not read it.

Most of the Afghan officers are taking to it like a duck takes to water. There are a couple of die-hards, but most of them see the truth in what we have told them. The strange thing is that in the Afghan National Army you have a mixture of Mujaheddin and leftovers from the Najibullah regime; the Communists who the Soviets invaded to “assist.” Many of these officers were insurgents. But that was a different insurgency. Question that all you will, but I can tell you, and so can they, that it was another matter altogether.

Part of the training is, “Be the insurgent,” a take on the Caddyshack golfing philosophy of “Be the ball.” One ANA officer briefed a plan that had an ANA Colonel wondering if he needed to run a background check on the officer. It was that good. When you can think like an insurgent, you can get inside his loop and get in between him and the cookie that he strives to possess -- the acquiescence, if not active participation, of the populace.

If you don’t like the term “cookie” then insert your word of choice for something that someone wants to possess and strives for by hook or by crook. I think of the kid and the cookie jar, or in some cases the schoolkid who gets a cookie if he/she behaves. But suit yourself, by all means.

Most of the ANA officers nod their heads knowingly at the way that information is now interrelated. It makes sense to them. They understand the challenges of appealing to the people intrinsically: They are the people. They know who in the village they looked up to as children. It was usually not the Provincial Governor. No, it was an elder, a mullah, a big brother, a father, an uncle. These are the men who shape the minds and opinions in Afghanistan. The Afghans understand that some men are fighting for money, some for other grievances, and some to take over their own corner of the world.

They know that they will likely have to kill the would-be warlords. They can live without killing the part-time insurgent, the aggrieved, the threatened or the misled. They can live without killing “The Accidental Guerrilla” of Kilcullen’s writings.

There are many problems to be solved. There are more ethnic tensions in Afghanistan than when Cleavon Little wore a hood in Blazing Saddles. These guys need a Cleavon Kabuli to break the tension a little. The problem is that the direct material correlation would be a burqa, and a comic actor in a burqa just isn’t going to cut it here. No way. The ethnic tension isn’t impossible to break, but it’s like racism in the States -- it’s going to take a generation of intolerance of it before it really begins to melt. Many feel that it can never be broken, but I don’t believe that. The world is getting smaller, and Afghans will eventually be forced to bond with the folks in the other valley to deal with the pressures of the outside world.

There are other problems, like illiteracy. This is more of a problem than on the surface, because while ignorance is the devil’s playground, it has to be realized that there is an element of religious manipulation involved that is not possible among the literate. Religiosity is built into daily lives to a much greater extent here than is generally realized. It is part of greetings. It is part of institutions. Every briefing starts with, “In the name of Almighty Allah…” Islam is woven so tightly into the normal events of daily life that the religious authority has as much, if not more, sway than the local political apparatus.

So, with an illiterate,
religious mass it’s possible for an unscrupulous mullah (naaaaaaah, there aren’t any of those…) to mislead people into directions that aren’t in line with the real meaning of spiritual Islam. It’s as if some evangelist in the United States were to tell an illiterate audience that the Bible says it’s okay to abuse a group of people because God doesn’t like them. Not that such a thing would ever happen, of course. We’re much too advanced for anyone to, say, picket funerals of fallen Soldiers because of some misbegotten religious zealotry.

Lawyers are supposed to be able to read, aren’t they?

Anyway, I’m trying to draw a parallel here. The funny thing is that when I draw such parallels, I see that the Afghans really aren’t much different from us. In fact, when I look at them, I see what our great-grandparents were going through in the 1800s and early 1900s. Just add some technologies like wireless and there you have it. This country is a mix of Biblical times and the Wild West, with a hint of Mad Max.

Comments

Excellent points, Old Blue. FYI... during the days of slavery, it was against the law to teach slaves to read and write. The thought was if one could express themselves and take in knowledge, slavery would forever be altered. Both have roots in one group wanting a the dominating power.

And indeed, the threats to their power has been in part undone by building schools for girls. However, according to Greg Mortenson's latest update: "In Swat about 240 (mostly girls' schools) have been destroyed."

Once, the had literacy and women were allowed to go to school. I think it can happen again, though the struggle will be a long one.

Literacy is huge. Thank you for this post. Very helpful.

I am almost ready to re-read The Confessions of Nat Turner -- a literate slave preacher who learned battle strategy from the old testament in 1831(therefore no more teaching slaves to read). Time was almost up anyway- thirty years to civil war in our country.

Love COIN -- be safe.

We got yer back.

"It’s as if some evangelist in the United States were to tell an illiterate audience that the Bible says it’s okay to abuse a group of people because God doesn’t like them. Not that such a thing would ever happen, of course. We’re much too advanced for anyone to, say, picket funerals of fallen Soldiers because of some misbegotten religious zealotry"

Richard (Blinker) PGR

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