July 26, 2010

On the road

Out of comms for a couple weeks. Much as I might love to provide context to the Wikileaks stuff, that'll have to wait.

Given that the Secret-classified account of what really happened for nearly every single Coalition fatality and serious injury is available to be reviewed, information that in many cases might not have been available to the families before now, I expect this will percolate for some time, though. It's certainly going to be a treasure trove for future historians.

But people should be mindful this is still just largely a summary of first-reports, based on relayed messages from headquarters at least two levels lower in many cases, however, and is often going to be inaccurate. For instance, these three reports (1 - 2 - 3) are all of the same incident on Dec. 26, 2008. (I was sort of in the vicinity at the time.) So the Wikileaks count of 4 Afghan KIA and 5 Afghan MIA for the three incidents together that day is exaggerating by a factor of three. Wikileaks has added its own sometimes erroneous interpretations, too: just looking through the incidents I was involved in, I've also noted a couple undoubtedly insurgent fatalities in the Canadian AO during my roto classed as civilian deaths, a civilian encounter with an old Soviet minefield classified as an IED strike, and so on.

A lot of this is pretty unavoidable fog of war, first-reports-are-always-wrong stuff. Just as one for instance, here's one report in the database based on information I was personally involved in passing on.

ANA (2/1/205 [Kandak]) with CAN OMLT [that's us] conducting a clearance patrol ISO [in support of] OP[eration] ATAL 47 found a cache consisting of: medical supplies, DIShK [12.7mm] AMMO (approx 1000Rnds), AUP/ANA uniforms, various IED making materials and yellow smoke grenades. EOD [Explosive Ordnance Disposal] is on site and is exploiting. FF [friendly forces: ie, the Afghans] believe this to be a INS C2 center [Command and Control, ie, a headquarters].

Here's what I actually wrote later in my (unclassified) event summary after I'd straightened out the facts.

15. (U) 29 Dec 08: At 1405, elms [elements] of 2 Kdk [Kandak] found a weapons cache in a grapehut at QQ 3946 9986. The grapehut was later rubbled by CF eng[inee]rs in the process of destroying the cache. Nearby in a field at QQ 3971 0007, two 18L jugs of HME [home-made explosive] were also found in separate holes, with a roll of white wire nearby, in a way that suggested the items had been hidden hastily. Found at the first location (the grapehut) were:
a. 4 kg HME (ammonium nitrate with aluminum powder);
b. 7x 82mm recoilless rifle rounds, not all still functional;
c. estimated 1500 x small arms rds (mostly 12.7mm, loose);
d. 1x case, yellow smoke grenades (US; half full; kept by ANA);
e. 2x improvised pressure plates;
f. A pair of AUP-issue pants, an ANA tunic and a load bearing vest;
g. A pair of black boots;
h. A small quantity of medical supplies, including bandages and syringes;
i. A small quantity of potential IED components, comprising wire, batteries
and ball bearings;
j. Small quantities of marijuana and opium;
k. Documents, later ascertained to not be of intelligence significance;
l. Some pieces of casings for mortar and RPG rounds.
G2 Mentor Comment: It was at this point in the op that the G2 mentor [yours truly] learned that the ANSF uses the same word for “cache,” “depot” and “headquarters”. Misunderstandings due to this initially led to some confusion in reporting.

So in short: in Wikileaks it's reported the ANA found an insurgent headquarters that day, largely because when we passed on the information my colleagues and I either weren't catching or effectively relaying the nuances of what my Afghan colleagues were telling us. In reality 2 Kandak found a kishmishkhana (a drying hut used for preparing raisins, a common feature of south Afghan farmfields) with a couple ready-to-use IEDs and a lot of other leftover crap inside; the Afghans took what little they could use, and then the Canadians blew the rest up. Still a good day's COIN work regardless (in that it may have saved lives and didn't cost any), but hopefully it shows (if it needed showing) to never trust first reports from a battlefield. Wellington's comment about battles and balls comes to mind here, too.

PS: Brace yourself for another round of detainee reporting, btw: this remark in the NYTimes version of this story should pique a few Canadian reporters' interests from the perspective of what it means for the detainee issue: "From 2001 to 2008, the C.I.A. paid the budget of Afghanistan’s spy agency (the NDS) and ran it as a virtual subsidiary." Hmm.

Posted by BruceR at 01:59 AM