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

Friday, November 7, 2008

Lessons from Wech Baghtu

Alex Strick van Linschoten reports of witness accounts of an apparently reckless case of bombing that killed people at a wedding party in Kandahar province. Regarding the concerns about civilian casualties caused by the inevitably awkward use of air power in Afghanistan, the incident is telling as any other similar incident of this kind is from the past. I'd note here something else, that shouldn't be overlooked, either - quote from Alex coming up:
"Rahmatullah, another man present in Wech Baghtu (the village that was bombed), claimed that the translators had robbed them after tying them up. "They took 200 Afghani [about $4] and my mobile phone and all the papers from my pockets," he said."
This is important for the attention of soldiers operating on patrols in Afghanistan. Are you making sure this kind of thing doesn't happen? Are you sure the Afghans at your side, taking indirect and direct fire in engagements together with you, bearing pain together with you, are necessarily "good guys" overall?
These may be actually empty, baseless questions. The truth is that some soldiers (definitely not all of them, not even a majority, but still many) working as trainers or just experiencing operating together with Afghan troops, tend to have a rather stereotypical, prejudiced and low opinion of them, in some cases backed up by actually seeing Afghan soldiers do ridiculous, immoral, awkward, unprofessional, corrupt things. (This can be said even with the far worse reputation of the Afghan police in mind.) Of course I do not know if the "translators" in this case belonged to the ANA or not.*
Sure, otherwise even foreign soldiers are capable of doing similar things, and it's partly the chain of command that should maintain order within an organisation - including the ANA's organisation. I'm not debating that. I'm just raising the point that in the ANA's case the control in the chain of command doesn't stop with the Afghan officers. The foreign soldiers operating with them are also responsible. In the eyes of the local people they will certainly always be responsible for incidents like this. Those are two good reasons to pay attention.
Meanwhile put prejudices aside, because having prejudices apparently doesn't come with better control exercised - so having prejudices is not good. Not even in a narrow, instrumental sense.
* Of course the ANA should not at all be judged based on single incidents, I'm not trying to create an overall bad image of them. Based on what I know, while ANA soldiers may commit bad things just like anyone else, they are doing quite well considering the pay, the training and the equipment they get (which is still better than that what the police gets). Also, based on sources I had access to, American soldiers and other soldiers who have been to combat with ANA units, tend to appreciate them more than others. But I still have heard complaints from trainers and soldiers and the like from some sources. Anyway, now that brought this subject up, I wonder what you people think of the relationship between Afghan and foreign soldiers, and how it varies from place to place or depending on other factors. Let me know.

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