NYT photo: In what way is our constitutional republic better protected by deploying US forces (in Afghanistan at a baseline cost of $350 million per day) to search for munitions in the hovels of Charbaran along the Af-Pak border?
The NYT this week carried yet another report on yet another US mission to "disrupt" yet another A-stan network with yet another first lieutenant sitting down with yet another tribal elder (only this one was named Mohammad --) while troops searched yet another village, where Afghan troops had yet again probably tipped off local fighters.
The reporter, too, recognized this re-run of a re-run as he describes the meeting between the US officer and the Afghan "elder":
There was a ritual familiarity to their exchange, a product of a war entering its second decade.
That ritual is also a product of the Afghans having learned what pushes Uncle Sucker's buttons so that more backsheesh comes their way:
“When you come here, that’s a big problem for us,” the elder said. “Because after you leave the Taliban comes and asks us about you, and they take our food and are not paying for it.”
Whether this was true could not be determined from this conversation alone; many villagers, the Afghan and American soldiers said, support Taliban and Haqqani fighters. ...
A welcome note of cynicism.
“We understand your concerns and, hopefully, we can push some security in here,” Lieutenant Nicosia said politely.
Ghul Mohammad nodded. “I cannot do anything about it,” he said. “I want my God to bring security here.”
The Americans shouldered their equipment and began the walk to the next buildings, on the opposite side of the valley.
And what a valley. The story continues:
The Charbaran Valley has become one of the main routes for Haqqani fighters to enter Afghanistan [from Pakistan]. They generally come in on foot, American officers say, and then, after staying overnight in safe houses and tent camps, they work their way toward Kabul or other areas where they have been sent to fight.
Mid-level Haqqani leaders also meet in the valley’s villages, American officers said, including near an abandoned school and the ruins of a government center that the United States built earlier in the war but that local fighters had destroyed by 2008.
Aha. Not only is Uncle Sucker reading from an old script, he's been here before. The Charbaran Valley, it turns out, is old COIN territory, a veritable laboratory of failed COIN nationa-building tactics of building roads and schools while "clearing" insurgents. "Task Force Eagle" did all that back in 2007.
From happier COIN days via Armed Forces Journal:
As Task Force Eagle developed its plan to clear Charbaran and set the conditions for re-establishment of the local government, they integrated construction engineers directly. The overall mission of clearing insurgents and integrating the population into the Afghan government required many assets.
What if "the population" doesn't wish to be so "integrated"?
The operation, named Righteous Fury, would focus on the entire district and involve clearing insurgent held areas, providing local police training and distributing humanitarian aid. It would also be planned and led by the Afghan National Army. Despite the many goals of the operation, it was clear that reasserting longer-lasting control in the area required multiple, high speed routes into the village. Without better access, any changes in the village would only be temporary.
Behind the COINdinista mind: Good roads will make all COIN-ordered transformations of culture, religion, tribalism, genetic code, etc. permanent.
To address these requirements, Task Force Pacemaker organized a construction engineering team to improve the routes into Charbaran and coordinated explosives support to blast open choke points and allow two-way traffic. The improvement team, consisting of armored bull dozers and road graders, would move immediately behind the clearing force, widening the trails and rerouting them to allow all-weather traffic. Once in Charbaran, carpenters and building engineers began the process of fortifying the district center at the same time as the infantry cleared the ridges surrounding the village. The construction team installed blast walls around the district center and excavated an anti-vehicle trench around the perimeter to prevent suicide attacks. Additionally, constructing observation positions on the high ground improved the station’s defensive posture.
It took 2,000 gallons of fuel per day.
In fact, over the duration of the two-week mission the engineer team improved 100 kilometers of mountain trail into and out of Charbaran and constructed a fortified district center used both by Afghan and coalition forces as an outpost over the next year.
Too bad the forces now using those US-built roads in and out of Charbaran are jihadis. The US, not incidentally, arrived by helicopter to "clear" this previously cleared territory. As for that fortified district center (if it's one and same) -- it's gone bust, too.
From the Times:
Later, at the now-abandoned school, which the Haqqani and Taliban fighters had forced to close, the soldiers were greeted by a taunting note written in white chalk above the main entrance.
“Taliban is good,” it read, in English.
The school, the soldiers said, was evidence of an earlier setback. According to those who advanced the counterinsurgency doctrine that swept through the American military several years ago, building schools was supposed to help turn valleys like this one around.
The reporter makes COIN sound like an outbreak of swine flu that's come and gone. Would that were so.
Instead, it was shut down by the same fighters who overran the government center and chased the police away. It stands empty — a marker of good intentions gone awry, and of time and resources lost before this latest battalion inherited duties in the province.
When good intentions go "awry" too long -- say, ten years -- continuing to pursue them becomes an act of denial. Come home, America. The COIN mission is all in their heads.