March 12, 2012
Update: It was (or wasn't) Belanday, dammit
Updating the entry below, I've had it semi-confirmed that that mass killing of Afghan civilians over the weekend occurred at the Belanday village on the Panjwaii-Dand district border that Canadians spent a lot of time making one of our "model villages" not so long ago. That's a lot of our national effort in that country down the drain, I'm afraid. Basically the killer worked out of the combat outpost we built and handed over to the U.S. on our departure, then. So sad. See also Fisher. His assessment here also seems, sadly, sound.
Update, 5 pm: Okay, looking like my semi-informed source was insufficiently semi-informed, and both he and Matt Fisher were actually wrong on the location here. Best evidence I have now is that the primary location of the killings was the town I originally thought it was back in the Sunday post, below, which I now recall we actually called Belambay. With an "M", not "N". NOT the model village better known from later rotos with a similar name, more south of Kandahar City than southwest, with that Canadian-built outpost Fisher and I were thinking about. Should have stuck to my first instincts on this one, I guess.
A correspondent points to this story, which points to Americans working out of a COP Belambay, which it also places close to the Zangabad area, which means we'd be talking much closer to the Arghandab River.
We had a couple different outposts in that area over the years, including COP Zangabad and COP "Old School", and that whole area was (theoretically) well dominated by the hilltop fortresses of Mas'um Ghar to the north and Sperwan Ghar overlooking it. This also makes more sense given the name of the second village, Alkozai, which is also in that same locale. So hopefully that places it better for any vets reading than the post above did.
Makes no real difference, I suppose, but for them, at least, I'd like to get it right. (I suppose I got the correction out ahead of Fisher, at least.) It's always important to remember in a place like Afghanistan that the (transliterated) English nomenclature we and Google have for a given area, including village names, feature names, and district boundaries, even when we have good maps, often turns out to be either out of date or wildly variant from local usage. The locals' system, which makes perfect sense to them, ends up on our maps as looking like three adjacent villages all called Zangabad, for instance. It's a real anthropological exercise just to get clear on the basic geography and document it for followon rotations, a step we often jump over to launch into semi-informed analyses of clans and local social networks before we can even really understand what we're being told.
Update, 8 pm: A quick map. Still can't pin Belambay precisely, but in this map it would be closer to FOB Sperwan Ghar on the extreme West. The western border of Panjwaii district is the Arghandab River (blue). The Dand Belanday is also indicated, with the Panjwaii eastern district border with Dand District somewhere in the space between that Belanday and Salavat. (Positions for Alkozai and Zangabad are approximate, and after today's lesson I'm not even going to try to give a fix for Belambay or COP Belambay again until I see something more definitive. But hopefully at least it allows you to place some of the places I've been throwing around.)
Click for Panjwaii-Dand map.
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