January 17, 2011

Today's essential Afghan reading: "Travels with Paula"

Tom Ricks had a fascinating piece by the bubbly Paula Broadwell, a US army major and Petraeus biographer who's pretending to be a freelance journalist at the moment. The juxtaposition between the cutesy headline, "Travels With Paula (I): A Time To Build" and the aerial photo of the destroyed Arghandab village of Tarok Kalacha, once home to 14 extended Afghan families (amazingly, itself juxtaposed with a photo of the village before the bombs hit) provides one of the most jarring top-ends to a war article I've ever seen.

I don't think Broadwell realizes she has blithely written one of the most devastating critiques of the American war effort ever penned. No one without her access would have obtained aerial photos like that. And, even if you support the Afghan war 100%, you can't look those photos without entertaining at least a small question about the American war effort at this point. I hope she doesn't find out... I was so looking forward to "Travels With Paula (II)".

The text makes it worse. It's basically about how the local US battalion commander dropped "49,200 lbs. of ordnance on the Taliban tactical base of Tarok Kalache", flattening it, and is now offering to pay to rebuild the village.

Foust, Foust again, Finel, and Yglesias have chimed in already on the big problems with this. I make a couple other observations below the fold.

"...even the commander, LTC David Flynn, was concerned about the potential loss of [American] life [to IED strikes], but they could not afford to lose momentum."

The village was destroyed to keep up the military momentum. Check.

"Not long after, Flynn shared one insight into the burden of command: "I literally cringed when we dropped bombs on these places -- not because I cared about the enemy we were killing or the HME destroyed, but I knew the reconstruction would consume the remainder of my deployed life.'"

Oh. Well, so much for the momentum...

"The artillery unit, acting as a provisional infantry battalion..."

No offense to any redlegs who are reading, but sometimes when all you have is a 155mm hammer...

"The plan was for one team to clear a 600-meter path with MICLICs from one of his combat outposts to Tarok Kalache..."

The village was only 600m away from the COP? Well, at least that must have made the danger-close templating interesting: artillery guys like that kind of stuff.

"Their clearance of Babur, Khosrow Sofla, Charqolba Sofla, and other villages commenced October 7, aided by USSF, ABP, and an additional infantry company from B/1-22 IN."

Okay, STOP. Note that ABP (Afghan Border Police) is the only Afghan unit in that list. By ABP Paula is undoubtedly referring to Raziq's chaps from Spin Boldak, who we've talked about before here and here. No Afghan regular army, for instance, or local police, just ABP. Now, Raziq, it's fair to say if you follow the links, is not loved by all Kandaharis, and has been accused before of unintentionally increasing the Taliban's support through selective atrocities against other Pashtun tribes, the Noorzai in particular. His forces have no jurisdiction in Arghandab, which is deep inside the country, no where near where they are mandated to operate, or even deep local knowledge to offer... Wow. But he was the Afghan partner who provided the only host nation input around the table about whether this village and those around it needed to be destroyed in order to be saved? Just... wow.

"Flynn had received immediate guidance from his chain of command in November that there was a full-scale push to rebuild the villages."

I bet.

"We've had all the people vetted by the District Governor to verify that they are the true landowners."

Oh, god. Anyway, it just goes on from there... you can imagine the rest. I can't wait for the lady's Petraeus biography... it should be a wonderfully Panglossian account. Apparently she is in Afghanistan all month. Carry on, Candide!

PS: I really think calling an inhabited cluster of 14 compounds a "Taliban base," as if this was a dedicated military facility, is stretching it, too. But fortunately, unlike all the other stories about Afghanistan recently, the photos Paula acquired impeach her every word far better than anyone else could.

Posted by BruceR at 08:07 PM