Wednesday, August 20, 2008

An unpopular occupation

Reuters correspondent Jon Hemmings rides along with a US military unit in Kandahar city while the troops get a cold reception from the locals:

WITNESS: Kandahar by Humvee

[...] "That kid just gave me the finger," says the TC (top cover gunner). "A--hole. I swear I'm gonna slot one of these kids one day." Silence, then: "I got a bad feeling about today."

Something hits the windscreen. "Was that a piece of s--- someone threw?" asks the major.

"Don't know sir," says the driver, in a dead-pan tone. "There's still some stuck to the hood though if you'd care to take a closer look." ...

"Hey did you see that?" the major says, obviously encouraged. "That little girl was pumping the well with one hand and giving us the thumbs up with the other."

"I don't see thumbs up anymore, sir," says the top cover. "Only thumbs down." ...

[The troops reach their objective: under a bridge, where several locals are bathing, tending animals, etc.]

The major and terp' (interpreter) climb out. I don't think we're about to be ambushed given all the people happily hanging out, but I stay in the Humvee just in case and listen to the intercom chatter.

One man lies asleep on the ground, oblivious as the major -- looking like a science-fiction figure in camouflage, flak jacket, wraparound sunglasses and helmet -- steps over him to inspect the bridge.

"Do you think that guy's dead?" asks the driver.

"If I put a bullet in him and he moves, then we'll find out," answers the top cover...

There was nothing doing under the bridge so we turned round and headed back into town.

More children stood at the roadside. Some gave us the thumbs up, some the thumbs down, another one gave us the finger, then one threw something and hit TC full on. He must have a great aim to hit a guy whose head only just pokes above the armor, and a moving target too...

"I've had three fingers, I don't know how many thumbs down, two rocks and a potato today," says the TC as we arrive back at base as if to sum up our score-card...

Two months later, I know that at least one of the men in our convoy is now dead, killed by a massive roadside bomb.

The success of Western governments' policies in Afghanistan ultimately rests on the shoulders of some very young men. They are very brave, and mostly very professional, but expected to be killers one minute and diplomats the next. That is a lot to ask. (link)
New York Times reporter Carlotta Gall has similar observations of US troops operating in Wardak province:
An Afghan lifeline, plagued by insurgents
SAYDABAD, Afghanistan

[...] Soldiers of Afghanistan's 201st Corps are now posted in old hilltop positions [in Wardak province] that the Soviet Army used in the 1980s, surveying the road and the side valleys that provide cover for the insurgents.

Since their arrival three weeks ago, the Afghan soldiers say they have been engaged in repeated firefights with insurgents...

Haji Muhammad Musa Hotak, a member of Parliament from Wardak Province, said public confidence in the government has virtually collapsed along with the security situation.

Insurgents and other armed groups in the province have swelled from barely 100 last year to an estimated 500, as villagers have joined the insurgents, either for money or their own protection, he said.

''Dissatisfaction of the people is growing, anger is growing, people are joining the opposition groups,'' he said in an interview in his Kabul office...

Two days later villagers came to complain that U.S. troops had also fired on two children in the street, he said.

Down the road, at the town of Saydabad, shopkeepers said U.S. troops had also opened fire when passing through the town two days earlier and shot a doctor through the wrist. They fired on a minibus a month before as well, shooting as many as five, said a 20-year old mechanic, Homayun, who works in the bazaar and uses one name.

''The Americans are not looking at us like human beings, but we are also human beings,'' he said.

''We don't like either of them,'' he said of the Taliban and United States forces. ''If they are fighting each other, innocent people get hurt.'' ... (link)

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