Tarok Kalache is a small Afghan village. Last October, it was flattened by United States military forces who believed it to be a “Taliban tactical base”. Since then, the Unites States has spent its time in the area rebuilding the village.
That’s the long and short of what has become a minor blogosphere storm. An observer in the area, Paula Broadwell, a US veteran, has made a few guest blog posts for Thomas Ricks at Best Defence (the first, the second, the third). Some of the responses to her posts have been very negative and have referred to their subject as “an unforgivable horror”. Bernard Finel dubbed the cold-hearted reporting of the action “the banality of evil“, a perhaps unmerited Eichmann association.
This sort of snowballed into the local CO, Lt Colonel David Flynn, getting involved and writing pieces in defence of their operations. It’s been an interesting debate on the merits and demerits of Counter-Insurgency and how air power can effect such operations.
At the very heart of it, is the accusation that attacking and destroying the village will destroy any pro-American sentiment in the area, thus ruining COIN tactics. The counter-argument is that the bombing was necessary to safeguard lives, and that the rebuilding operation will not only improve Afghan-American relations, but give the local Afghans a better quality of life in the long run.
See, my problem is this. It’s not the air strikes, or the destruction. It’s the attitude. And Broadwell has an awful one. This is a quote from her when people started questioning the use of force and whether local villagers would be upset.
““Sure they are pissed about the loss of their mud huts…”
That’s actually a truly concerning statement. Mud huts? Nice. You made sure to tell all the male villagers that their wives and kids were ugly right? She also referred to the anger of a villager, upset about the destruction of his home, as “theatrics”. Charming. It’s bad wording, and a bad attitude.
The author of Wings Over Iraq had the best reaction to this quote: ”In the words of the great master “Slimy? Mud Hole? My home this is!””
The United States can’t rest on the assertion that locals will be just fine with their homes being destroyed because new ones will be built. Maybe they liked their “mud huts”.
And from there Broadwell has just gone full defensive mode, to the point of obnoxiousness. She’s starting attacking the criticisms because they’re from “the bloggers” and has been a hairs breath away from invoking the ridiculously stupid “No service, no opinion” argument, which On Violence torpedoed excellently in this blog post. She’s wheeled out some quotes from village members, which read like the same nonsense “We are pleased to be liberated” statements we’ve been getting for years from Iraq and Afghanistan, the kind of thing that might be a real sentiment, but is lost in the stilted, unbelievable translation. And, in her last post, she mentions “giggly children”, the sort of eye-rolling stuff that makes it all a bit too utopian-sounding.
She says there is no resentment in the villagers. I don’t believe her. That’s based not on first hand-Mark One Eyeball experience, but simply common sense. You destroyed their village. Some of them can’t be happy with you.
Yeah, I don’t have boots on the ground, and yeah, I’ll defer to her experience. But don’t expect me not to question it, to not criticise, to not ask hard questions. Don’t get pissy when people do. Your forces destroyed a village in the middle of a COIN operation: That’s not standard procedure and you have questions to answer.
I’m fine with Broadwell defending what happened at the village, and I accept her reasoning behind the destruction. But her attitude, both in her writing and her rebuttals needs immediate improvement. She’s not a soldier anymore, she can afford to view Afghani’s as more than pieces on a chess board.