What is state failure? See my conceptualisation of state failure on the right flank below.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

The Uruzgan Series cont'd: With photo + commentary + video

"Lt. Col. Asad Khan with an Afghan leader." (Pic source)
What? - you might think. That inscription is all messed up. Has to be. Surely it's Lt. Col. Joe Something in that marine uniform, with an Afghan leader named Asad Khan. Or is it not?
You'll be even more confused if I tell you that the gentleman on the left is in fact called Khan. But he is Jan Mohammed Khan, not Asad Khan. While the officer on the right is Asad Khan.
Jan Mohammed Khan used to be governor of Uruzgan province when Lt. Col. Asad Khan led his Marine warriors of the BLT of the 22nd Marine Expeditionary Unit into Uruzgan province, which happened to be a corner of Afghanistan that was largely ignored by coalition forces until 2004 (but not entirely ignored). No, JMK and AK are not brothers, although they very much seem to have become brothers-in-arms based on the photo.
Asad Khan, before he became a marine commander, used to be a Pakistani refugee from Afghanistan, believe it or not. (But in fact you should believe that it is a fascinating world we live in, in which there do arrive, from time to time, Pakistani refugees in Afghanistan.)
This is what you have to know about Asad Khan's family if you wish to be well-informed (quoting from the Seattle Times):
" Khan's great-grandfather, grandfather and father were all military men who served in Kashmir during the British colonial era.
After siding with the successful 1947 Pakistani independence movement, the Khan family settled in the town of Abbottabad, where it founded the country's first commercial poultry farm and lived comfortably, allying politically with a succession of military rulers.
But when Gen. Yahya Khan was forced to step down in 1971, the family lost its political connections. Their home in Abbottabad was attacked by armed supporters of Pakistan's new civilian ruler, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto.
Khan, then 11, remembers being awakened by his pistol-packing father and told they were leaving for Afghanistan. Using a forged passport, his father was able to sneak the family, including all six children, through the Khyber Pass to Kabul.
A year of travel as political refugees took the family from Afghanistan to Spain, Britain and finally the United States. They settled in West Hartford, Conn., near the poultry company that had helped the family establish its farm in Pakistan. "
And this is what you need to know of Asad Khan's importance post-9/11 (still with the Seattle Times here):
" Khan was assigned to classified duties with the U.S. Embassy in Islamabad from early October until March.
Fluent in Urdu, Pashto and Arabic, Khan quickly became one of the most important figures in the anti-terrorism campaign, alternating between delicate diplomatic duty here in the Pakistani capital and dangerous special-forces field missions in Afghanistan. "
You must feel as impressed by this as I am, but in fact I'm twice as impressed as you are. No, don't argue.
After all those no less exciting years of commuting between Pakistan and Afghanistan in the service of the U.S. military, Lt. Col. Asad Khan got to lead the combat element of the 22nd Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU), BLT 1/6. BLT stands for Battalion Landing Team (I just looked it up myself), and not a "bacon, lettuce and tomato sandwhich" or "better luck tomorrow," as you might come to think if you consult Wikipedia's relevant disambiguation page.
One of the MEU's main objectives, beside venturing into potential guerrilla safe-havens in the province, was to create permissive conditions for the upcoming presidential election (and the preceding voter registration) to take place in Uruzgan, too. The combat operations part started in April of 2004. You can read a two-page summary of what happened here: page 1, page 2.
If you have now read that piece, you may feel that it's a bit weird that Lt. Col. Asad Khan isn't mentioned there. That apparently has a reason. And this is where this post turns from funny into serious.
A scandal erupted in the wake of the 22nd MEU's operations, as a result of a video report prepared by a certain Carmela Baranowska, an Australian journalist. It alleged that the Marines were involved in prisoner abuse and other incidents.
The story is a little controversial, as another journalist there with the 22nd MEU at the time, David Tate, who was embedded with the BLT itself, claimed that Carmela Baranowska came to Afghanistan with much of an anti-war agenda in the first place. One of course can't say from this if the worst allegations about the Marines' actions were well-founded or not. Confusingly, only Lt. Col. Asad Khan was removed from his position in the wake of the affair, even though, as David Tate writes: "The unit accused of prisoner abuse was Marine Recon, not BLT 1/6(Lt. Col. Kahn) and the incident where the Marine was pushed by Captain Maz happened within the artillery unit, also not part of Kahn's responsibility. In fact, these two incidents, which led to Khan's removal, happened when Khan was more than 100km away fighting Taliban in the mountains." Lt. Col. Asad Khan has decided to leave the Marine Corps and retire after this.
David Tate has a blog by the way, which you might want to check out.
For a finish, I'll embed here Carmela Baranowska's video report, "Taliban Country." In it you can see Marines doing some things that don't look good from a counterinsurgency perspective. And then they are said to have done much worse, judging from any kind of human perspective, by people interviewed in some villages. Anyway, whether or not the worst allegations happen to be true, everything surely wasn't done in the best possible way. Villagers won't necessarily see much benevolence in being gifted radios and corn seeds if the previous day the door to their house was kicked down by a foreign soldier incomprehensively shouting at them, and later rounding them up for interrogation, acting on intel provided by someone from the governor's tribe who doesn't very much like the tribe the villagers belong to. And whatever agenda Baranowska went to Afghanistan with, it mush have taken guts to taxi back from Kandahar to villages in Uruzgan that she happened to visit with the Marines and the governor's militia the last time around. Anyway, here's the whole thing for you to judge.


Anonymous said...

It was actually the 26th MEU not the 22nd, and LtCol Khan was relieved of command of BLT 1/6 by the 26th MEU commander for severely disrespecting his junior officer and senior staff NCOs.

Péter Marton said...

To my best knowledge it was the 22nd MEU, not the 26th.

Anonymous said...

I was in that Battalion at the time and we were under 22 MEU.. LtCol Khan was by far the best BN CO I've ever had.

Anonymous said...

Asad was a very demanding leader of Marines who crossed the line a few too many times for the likes of the 22nd MEU commander who is a great leader in his own right.

I was there, we were the 22nd MEU.