Best Defense

Thomas E. Ricks' daily take on national security.

Quote of the day: Know your allies

From Octavian Manea’s interview of Maj. Fernando Lujan in Small Wars Journal: An eager 23-year old all-American lieutenant, full of energy, would be trying to talk to a local villager through an interpreter. And inevitably, the conversation starts sounding like a tactical interrogation: "Hello I am Lieutenant Jones and I am from America. Can you tell ...

BAY ISMOYO/AFP/Getty Images
BAY ISMOYO/AFP/Getty Images

From Octavian Manea's interview of Maj. Fernando Lujan in Small Wars Journal:

An eager 23-year old all-American lieutenant, full of energy, would be trying to talk to a local villager through an interpreter. And inevitably, the conversation starts sounding like a tactical interrogation: "Hello I am Lieutenant Jones and I am from America. Can you tell me where the Taliban is? Have you seen any IEDs? Have you seen any suspicious people?" We don't do small talk. And of course the patrol doesn't get any useful information. Everyone is terrified to talk to them. But to the American soldiers, the silence makes it seem like the whole village supports the Taliban. They feel like every patrol is Groundhog Day, and like they're just out there walking around.

Yet during embeds we started to notice that while the young lieutenant was struggling through his conversation, there would almost always be an Afghan Army soldier -- born and raised in the Pashtun areas of the country -- standing a few meters away. And he'd usually be relegated to pulling security and staring out over his rifle instead of engaging with the locals. After the patrol, we'd ask the young lieutenant, "Do you know how many native Pashto speakers (vice Dari) you have in your Afghan platoon? Had you ever considered training them to talk to the locals and get information?" I can literally count on one hand the number of times the lieutenant knew... and this was out of maybe a hundred platoons over 14 months.

From Octavian Manea’s interview of Maj. Fernando Lujan in Small Wars Journal:

An eager 23-year old all-American lieutenant, full of energy, would be trying to talk to a local villager through an interpreter. And inevitably, the conversation starts sounding like a tactical interrogation: "Hello I am Lieutenant Jones and I am from America. Can you tell me where the Taliban is? Have you seen any IEDs? Have you seen any suspicious people?" We don’t do small talk. And of course the patrol doesn’t get any useful information. Everyone is terrified to talk to them. But to the American soldiers, the silence makes it seem like the whole village supports the Taliban. They feel like every patrol is Groundhog Day, and like they’re just out there walking around.

Yet during embeds we started to notice that while the young lieutenant was struggling through his conversation, there would almost always be an Afghan Army soldier — born and raised in the Pashtun areas of the country — standing a few meters away. And he’d usually be relegated to pulling security and staring out over his rifle instead of engaging with the locals. After the patrol, we’d ask the young lieutenant, "Do you know how many native Pashto speakers (vice Dari) you have in your Afghan platoon? Had you ever considered training them to talk to the locals and get information?" I can literally count on one hand the number of times the lieutenant knew… and this was out of maybe a hundred platoons over 14 months.

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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