Best Defense

Thomas E. Ricks' daily take on national security.

Why COIN is hard (part CXVIII)

Here is a great exchange between an American officer and an Afghan elder recorded by the estimable David Wood: . . . Instead of answering directly, the old man burst into a tirade. "We are in the middle!" he cried. "We can’t say anything to you, and we can’t say anything to them." What he meant: ...

Ed Jones/AFP/Getty Images
Ed Jones/AFP/Getty Images
Ed Jones/AFP/Getty Images

Here is a great exchange between an American officer and an Afghan elder recorded by the estimable David Wood:

. . . Instead of answering directly, the old man burst into a tirade. "We are in the middle!" he cried. "We can't say anything to you, and we can't say anything to them." What he meant: Americans push education for girls. The Taliban forbid it.

Biggs handed him a stack of cards, each bearing the location and phone numbers for the local police. "If you have trouble, call these numbers," he said.

Here is a great exchange between an American officer and an Afghan elder recorded by the estimable David Wood:

. . . Instead of answering directly, the old man burst into a tirade. "We are in the middle!" he cried. "We can’t say anything to you, and we can’t say anything to them." What he meant: Americans push education for girls. The Taliban forbid it.

Biggs handed him a stack of cards, each bearing the location and phone numbers for the local police. "If you have trouble, call these numbers," he said.

Nabib reacted with alarm. "But what if they ask about these?"

"Hide them," said Biggs.

"But they search everyplace — more than you," said Nabib.

Aha, said Biggs. "So there are Taliban in the village!"

"Being really honest, yes, definitely they come sometimes. But we can’t tell you where they are," the old man said. "After sunset they come. We don’t come out of our compounds. We are living in fear."

"We have no power to face them or you," he complained. "We are just like a soccer ball being kicked by both sides."

"We are not here to kill insurgents or anyone," said Biggs. "We are not here for you to join our team, but just to deliver government and security to your village."

The old man snorted. "They are also telling us this same speech, that they are here to protect us," he muttered.

No one-trick pony, Friend Wood also recently did a good piece on the relationship between the U.S. military and the society it protects. He began, "The U.S. Army now begins its 10th continuous year in combat, the first time in its history the United States has excused the vast majority of its citizens from service and engaged in a major, decade-long conflict instead with an Army manned entirely by professional warriors."

He concludes with this quote from a soldier in Afghanistan: "The Army has become home for a lot of restless souls who can never really go back."

Thomas E. Ricks covered the U.S. military from 1991 to 2008 for the Wall Street Journal and then the Washington Post. He can be reached at ricksblogcomment@gmail.com. Twitter: @tomricks1

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