New Yorker

A May 16 New Yorker article called “Force and Futility” goes into extensive detail about current military operations in Khowst province.  I am not mentioned in the article, but almost all of the people, places, events, and issues are very familiar to me.  Central to the article is the relief of the ANA brigade commander in Khowst, General Ezrar (called General Asrar in the article), on charges of corruption–not trifling stuff such as pilfering fuel, but serious accusations of aiding or abetting insurgents killing Americans. 

I wrote a response to the article that I toyed with sending to the New Yorker, but I got busy and putzed around and now it is too late.  Here is the letter I didn’t send:

“I read Jon Lee Anderson’s “Force and Futility” with a great deal of interest, because from December 2008 through June 2009, I was stationed in Khowst Province as the primary US advisor to General Mohammed Asrar Adqas, who is prominently featured in Anderson’s article.  I found General Asrar’s motives and actions as inscrutable as did Lieutenant Colonel Stephen Lutsky.  In my case, I decided that friendship and trust worked better than suspicion and reserve in terms of enticing General Asrar and his ANA soldiers to fight aggressively and behave responsibly.  Fortunately–I think–I was never presented with the kind of information and events that caused Lieutenant Colonel Lutsky to finally lose faith in a man who, to me, was never less than solicitous of my ideas and my safety.

Duty in Afghanistan reminds me a lot of Herman Melville’s story “Benito Cereno.”  In that story, a naïve American ship captain boards a slave ship on which a mutiny has taken place but which the mutineers attempt to hide from the American.  The captain, Amasa Delano, sees a lot of strange things, including a row of slaves furiously polishing hatchets.  The hatchet-polishers look like a work party, but in actuality stand guard over the white crew members who are now their prisoners.  Afghanistan is not Melville’s San Dominick, the ship the slaves have taken control of, but trying to discern true from false and right from wrong can make one can feel a lot like Amasa Delano.”

The last paragraph is a direct quotation from a previous blog entry titled Red Beard—perhaps a sign that I’m running out of fresh things to say.  But then again, Red Beard is by far the most read and commented on post in this blog, so maybe it’s not so bad to repeat a bit of it.

I also write of General Ezrar in a post titled Leadership, Afghan Style.

I treat the General Ezrar corruption issue in an entry titled 500 Mattresses.

Here is the link to the New Yorker article.  I believe it will only take you to a preview, but it is the best I can do now.

http://www.newyorker.com/reporting/2011/05/16/110516fa_fact_anderson

Below are pictures of General Ezrar:

General Ezrar to my left with ANA soldiers in the KG Pass.

 
General Ezrar to the right of one of his fellow brigade commanders.
 
UPDATE:  The Washington Post, in a move it says mirrors US military strategy, has identified Khowst as a particularly interesting and intransigent site of insurgency.  The last couple of weeks has seen a series of Post articles and photo essays that describe the military and cultural complexities of the region.  The article at this link describes in some detail the operations of the Haqqani clan, a group who align themselves with Al Qaeda or the Taliban only provisionally and when it’s to their benefit.
 
 
 
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2 Responses to “New Yorker”

  1. Mike Says:

    Great post, Pete. Here at NMAA, we’ve had some folks cycle through — usually short-timers who’ve recently come from combat in Iraq — who said they could not trust any of the Afghans around us and could not be comfortable working at NMAA among so many Afghans. One cautioned us to shoot first if we ever felt threatened and invoked the ugly cliche that it’s “better to be tried by twelve than carried by six.” I know there’s mistrust and hostility and corruption at NMAA, and I’m not so foolish as to think that I’m safe here, but you capture perfectly what I feel is the ambivalence necessary to try to perform the mission here in your remark that

    I found General Asrar’s motives and actions as inscrutable as did Lieutenant Colonel Stephen Lutsky. In my case, I decided that friendship and trust worked better than suspicion and reserve in terms of enticing General Asrar and his ANA soldiers to fight aggressively and behave responsibly. Fortunately–I think–I was never presented with the kind of information and events that caused Lieutenant Colonel Lutsky to finally lose faith in a man who, to me, was never less than solicitous of my ideas and my safety.

    My slight experience in no way approaches what you did, but I think you’ve hit the mark there.

  2. petermolin Says:

    Thanks, Mike, and agree with all. It was so easy to tell which Americans were going to be able to work with the Afghans, and the Afghans’ “Spidey sense” in these matters is even more acute. An Atlantic magazine article by Jeffrey Goldberg states that US policy makers dealing with Islamic states need “analytical humility, doctrinal plasticity, and a tolerance for contradiction.” So true, at every level.

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