If you control the countryside, you control the towns

We got it wrong. We always get it wrong.
Image source: The Times

Good episode from Angry Planet on the Soviet experience in Afghanistan.

Conquerors and nations have been trying to rebuild Afghanistan in their own image for thousands of years. The U.S. is just the latest to fail. The Soviet Union also failed, with a little push from the United States. But they learned their lesson in only 10 years, from 1979-1989.

Angry Planet – When the Soviets Fled Afghanistan

I loved the quote that titles this post from Mark Galeotti:

“If you control the countryside, you will control the towns.”

Basically, we did things backwards. Control the towns, control the provincial capital, and then the province turns blue, right?

Wrong. The province is red with a blue dot where the city limits end. We got that wrong. We always get this wrong.

There really needs to be a post-mortem on this whole endeavour. There was a way to do it better.

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Taliban Selfie: Taliban Commanders have to send up storyboards, too

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I recently finished reading No Good Men Among the Living, which is a good read for anyone trying to get a better understanding of what the war in Afghanistan looks like through Afghan eyes.

I have no intention of doing a full on review/reaction. Incidentally, there is a review of the book by Rory Stewart in the latest New York Review of Books. Most of it is behind a paywall, so I didn’t get to it all, but you can see where it is going.

I did pull a couple of quotes though, towards the end of the book, that I thought were interesting.

One Talib explaining to another the motivations behind the American invasion:

The Americans, he explained, invaded because they hated the Afghan way of life.

Sound familiar?

A Talib’s description of American soldiers on patrol:

The soldiers were swaddled in gear – helmets, vests, wires poking out of various pockets. They walked uncomfortably, as if in great pain.

This is my favorite, about a low-level Taliban commander snapping photos of himself after a successful mission with captured gear to send to his superiors in Pakistan. Photos of his exploits will result in being given more money and resources for future operations. This transaction will be instantly recognizable to modern American commanders who routinely send “storyboards” to their higher headquarters of their missions and training. As the modern saying goes, pics or it didn’t happen:

Using his cell phone, Akbar Gul snapped a photo of himself standing triumphantly amid the weapons and sent it Mufti Latif. This was how Taliban commanders now proved their worth; the movement that had once shunned moving images and photography could no longer operate without them. The photographs wound up in the possession of Taliban leaders in Pakistan, and Akbar Gul was soon rewarded with a few thousand dollars.

Somewhat related, there’s a really great article making the rounds by Jen Percy on “Commander Pigeon,” the only known female warlord in Afghanistan.

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Trench Friend

I’ve been thumbing through Poetry of the Taliban and of all the poems I’ve read this one stuck with me the most. If you like it, go buy the book.

Trench Friend

May my head and property be sacrificed for you, friend,
O my trench friend.
May my heart’s flesh be sacrificed for you, friend,
O my trench friend.

May I be sacrificed for you – may I be sacrificed for your faith,
You are close in the trench, my faith in you grew stronger,
O my trench friend.

You take on tanks – you go with pride,
You don’t fear the artillery or tanks of the enemy,
O my trench friend.

On the storms of the time – on the floods of the time,
You don’t care about them, may you be as strong as mountains
against them,
O my trench friend.

In the bosom of red flames – in the bosom of storms,
You like them, you have the morals of the butterfly and the sea,
O my trench friend.

In the roar of earthquakes – in the roars of storms,
The echoes of your honor are spread all over,
O my trench friend.

O my brave friend – my dawn’s friend
May your turban not fall, my turban-owning friend,
O my trench friend.

-Bismillah Sahar
May 2000

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Poetry of the Taliban: a book for your rucksack

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Poetry of the Taliban is a new book by fellow SOAS alum Alex Strick van Linschoten and Felix Kuehn. It is a compilation of poems written by members of the Taliban and posted to their website. I’ve never been to Afghanistan, but if I do go, this will be going with me.

The fact that this book exists says more about the Taliban than you will probably learn from all the intelligence briefs your brain can handle.

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