Wednesday, 28 July 2010
Friendly ISAF Troops Make Yet Another Fuck-up in Afghanistan
The Afghan war logs reveal the difficulties encountered by US troops when they tried to talk to villagers. Simon Tisdall guardian.co.uk, Monday 26 July 2010 14.58 BST
Winning hearts and minds in Afghanistan can be uphill work, as US soldiers attached to Task Force Catamount discovered when they visited the remote village of Mamadi in Paktika province, near the Pakistan border.
"It seems to always be this way when we go there. No one wants anything to do with us," the mission report's author complained sadly. Nor does the Mamadi patrol's experience appear to be untypical.
The report, circulated by US military intelligence in April 2007, is one of numerous accounts of attempted bridge-building contained in the classified war logs and examined by the Guardian. The material offers an unprecedented insight into the gaping cultural and societal gulfs encountered by US troops trying to win grassroots support for the west's vision of a peaceful, developing, united Afghanistan.
The purpose of the Mamadi visit, reassuringly termed a "non-combat event", was to meet local leaders and distribute food and other assistance. But things started badly when a Humvee broke down, the road turned muddy and the weather deteriorated. To be safe, half the patrol of 29 US servicemen plus Afghan army personnel stayed with the Humvee. The rest went on to Mamadi.
Their reception there is distinctly unenthusiastic. The children mostly stay indoors. The village elder is described as "a very disgruntled man" who does not want American handouts. "He personally blamed George Bush for his AK-47 being taken from him. He doesn't want us to give stuff to his village because of fear from the enemy punishing him. He did say he would take the money, though," the report said.
A talk with a 30-year-old male villager with black hair and "skinny" build is similarly uninspiring. "Not very outgoing, [he] sits on the edge of the conversation and just listens to what is going on." It transpires that the man's silence may be connected to his prior detention for "involvement with IEDs". He was sacked by the Afghan army for the same offence.
After a curtailed stay, the patrol hands out 30 sweaters, 30 backpacks, 10 bags of beans and 10 bags of rice then departs. Back at base, the anonymous author reaches a surprising conclusion: "The mission in Mamadi was success." But this seems to be largely because they fixed the Humvee. "The village of Mamadi is definitely anti-coalition. They want nothing to do with US or ANA [Afghan national army] forces. Nothing further to report."
Soldiers from Task Force Diablo were dispatched a month earlier to "provide relief to citizens [of Kharwar district in eastern Logar province] affected by winter weather and build trust between the ANP [Afghan national police] and government and the local populace". They also came away discouraged, according to a war logs report. "As we walked through the bazaar, there were no shop doors open and few people peeked out from behind windows or curtains … The impression was of walking into a trap/ambush … There were several dead dogs inside the ANP compound and throughout the town. Also, there was human faeces everywhere without regard for foot traffic or modesty. Several of the bunkers and trenches had obviously been used as latrines," the report said.
Attempts to collect "humint" (human intelligence) were "virtually fruitless". A "leader engagement" tea party goes awry when two senior Afghan police officers get into an argument. One of them, the district chief of police, admits he has recently met the local Taliban leadership but refuses to identify them or reveal any information. Amid a "heated discussion" involving a crowd of policemen, the Americans hastily withdraw by helicopter.
The report concludes with a wryly approving note about an Afghan gunner "who apparently spends his nights on the megaphone, talking to the Taliban, taunting them and telling them what a good shot he is. At least one person in Kharwar understands psy-ops [psychological operations]".
A report from the Sharana military-led provincial reconstruction team (PRT) in July 2007 also points to problems with the benchmark coalition policy of reinforcing tribal structures fractured by decades of internecine fighting, warlordism and foreign intervention. The idea of a national government running the country from Kabul also seems to lack popular appeal.
Asked why tribal elders expect the US to pay them for their attendance at shuras [consultations], Mirajudin Miraj, director of tribal affairs in Paktika province, tells PRT members there are three reasons. "First, the people have no education, so they are not able to reason when someone tells them to kill someone or plant an IED for money … Second, they have no patriotism for Afghanistan. Third, after 30 years of war, they have a culture of expecting things to be provided to them … Currently, people will do anything for money, even if it means killing CF [coalition forces] or ANSF [Afghan national security forces]."
Just to drive home his point, Miraj tells his interlocutors that many people in his province think the Americans are working with the Taliban. "When asked how people could think this, he said there was no way the CF could not find the Taliban and defeat them if the CF were really trying, as the CF has superior technology."
Some of the intelligence reports seem to border on wishful thinking. One American dismounted patrol visits Nengaresh village in Nuristan province, witnessing the first day back at school.
Teachers talk to them about security – they want a wall built around the school – and about the curriculum. "They were very interested in getting a map of the United States. They have maps of most of Europe, Asia and Africa, but none of the Americas. They were all very friendly and seemed to be interested to talk with us." Yet all is not sweetness and light. "Some of the children were throwing rocks at the soldiers outside the school. This all appeared to be in good fun, not in a hateful manner."
On another occasion, when an apparent suicide bomber is intercepted at Shiva bus station in the Kuz Kunar district of Nangarhar province, it is Afghan rather than American innocence that seems most striking. The bomber turns out to be an elderly woman named Hasan Tari. Improbably, she is wearing a suicide vest under her burqa. But the batteries for detonation are not connected and there are none of the usual ball bearings and shrapnel.
When questioned, the woman denies any evil intent. She explains "she was only transporting the vest to its intended user in Jalalabad whose name she did not give". Afghans are friendly people. And she personally would never dream of blowing anybody up.