Permissible Arms

Monday Errata

Posted in afghanistan, kyrgyzstan, united states, us defense, us military by Karaka on 14 June 2010

If you haven’t yet read it, zen’s interview with Steven Pressfield is a worthy read. It’s also nice to see Mark talk a little about himself, which we don’t see much in his blog! For good reason, of course, but it’s also nice to know the person behind the mind.

Thunder Run has an interview up with Tim Hetherington and Sebastian Junger on Restrepo.

The film is very balanced and doesn’t lead you, but rather just shows you how it is. Could you describe whether you had any guiding principles about how/what you shot as well as how you edited, how you shaped the film ultimately?

Sebastian: We were not interested in the political dimensions of the war, only the experience of the soldiers, so we limited ourselves to the things soldiers had access to. We did not ask any generals why they were in the Korengal, for example, because soldiers don’t have that opportunity, either. Our guiding principle was that we would only have people in the movie who were fighting in the Korengal. It was that principle that excluded Tim and me from the movie as well… and prevented us from using an outside narrator.

Tim: It was a conscious choice. We are journalists, and as such, we are not supposed to “lead” people to a certain opinion. That is called “advocacy,” and it certainly has its special place in the media world, but as journalists, it’s not something we wanted to engage in.

Also, here’s a counter review on War that speaks very negatively of the book–I called it “delightfully scathing” in the comments to my review at SWJ (hey, give them money, won’t you?), which I still think is true on the re-read. I mean, I think the author of the review, Lewis Manalo, is generally barking up the wrong tree, but he makes some strong points. Points I disagree with, but strong nonetheless.

I’m following Registan’s thorough coverage of the situation in Kyrgyzstan; it remains one of the best english-language sites for updated information. If only I read Cyrillic. The Post this morning picks up the story, noting:

Kyrgyzstan’s own security forces have failed to contain a rising tide of ethnic violence in the south, where more than 100 people have been killed since fighting began Thursday night, according to the country’s health ministry. The officials say the death toll could be considerably higher, as the current count includes only the dead at hospitals and morgues.

Around 75,000 people have now fled fighting into neighboring Uzbekistan, Russia’s official news agency said, citing the Uzbek government.

Kyrgyzstan has contacted Russia, asking for military assistance, but so far Russia has only provided minimal aid. As Christian and Michael at Registan note, what we know is what we don’t know, and conspiracy theories are worming their way outward at a rapid pace.

More pictures of FETs in action (h/t Akinoluna as per usual).

Must read article I haven’t had time to read yet: Dexter Filkin’s portrait of a wavering Karzai.

And–this one is just for you, Chris Albon–the New York Times suddenly discovers there are lucrative minerals in Afghanistan! Which have been a known property for at least thirty years! Shocking. Film at eight.

Finding a Way

Posted in afghanistan, us military by Karaka on 8 June 2010

You know I dig the Female Engangement Teams. I think it’s a long overdue program that connects with half a population otherwise hidden away. Elisabeth Bumiller, who has covered FETs before, profiles two Marines emplacing the program currently in Afghanistan:

Two young female Marines trudged along with an infantry patrol in the 102-degree heat, soaked through their camouflage uniforms under 60 pounds of gear. But only when they reached this speck of a village in the Taliban heartland on a recent afternoon did their hard work begin.

For two hours inside a mud-walled compound, the Marines, Cpl. Diana Amaya, 23, and Cpl. Lisa Gardner, 28, set aside their rifles and body armor and tried to connect with four nervous Afghan women wearing veils. Over multiple cups of tea, the Americans made small talk through a military interpreter or in their own beginner’s Pashtu. Then they encouraged the Afghans, who by now had shyly uncovered their faces, to sew handicrafts that could be sold at a local bazaar.

“We just need a couple of strong women,” Corporal Amaya said, in hopes of enlisting them to bring a measure of local commerce to the perilous world outside their door.

The first link describes the goal of FETs as one to “build a rapport,” and it sounds like that’s exactly what Amaya and Gardner are doing. From further on:

Since then, Sergeant Latimer said, Afghans have been more receptive when his patrols included the female Marines, who hand out stuffed animals to village children. When male Marines try that, he said, “It’s just a bunch of guys with rockets and machine guns trying to hand out a bear to a kid, and he starts to cry.”

But what do all the visits and talk add up to? Master Sgt. Julia Watson, who helped create an earlier version of the female engagement teams in Iraq and has been working in Helmand, said that the women had to move beyond handing out teddy bears and medicine and use what they learn from Afghan women to develop plans for income-generating projects, schools and clinics. “You have to have an end state,” she said.

And that end-state must be one of economics. Women in third-world nation-states are the untapped resource.

Research has shown that women are more likely to reinvest profits back into human capital than are men. When women have economic power – defined as control of income and capital (land, livestock, etc.)-they gain more equality and control over their own lives, while contributing directly to their children’s development (nutrition, health and education) and thereby indirectly to their nation’s income growth.

Pulled from here. By blocking access to economic systems, to retain power or to continue cultural traditions or to adhere to religious doctrine, a nation effectively retards its own economic growth.

In a fit of disheartening irony, Bumiller reports as well on the (male) marine’s reluctance to take FETs out into the field.

The women, who carry the same weapons and receive the same combat training as the men, cannot leave the bases unless the men escort them. Lt. Natalie Kronschnabel, one of the team leaders, said she had to push a Marine captain to let her team go on a five-hour patrol.

“It wasn’t that hard, it was only four or five clicks,” said Lieutenant Kronschnabel, 26, using slang for kilometers. “And they kept asking, ‘Are you doing O.K.? Are you breathing hard?’ ”

Like the other women, Lieutenant Kronschnabel, a high school athlete in soccer, softball and gymnastics, had to meet rigorous physical requirements in the Marines. When she got back that day, she said the captain told her, “ ‘O.K., we’ll start getting your girls scheduled for more patrols.’ ”

Despite those hurdles, soldiers are still going through the FET program–including soldiers from NATO allies. Via Helmand Blog:

Two British female soldiers in Helmand have completed the United States Marine Corps’ Female Engagement Team Course in Camp Leatherneck in Helmand Province.

Army administrator, Lance Corporal Jennifer Garraway (22), from Peasedown St John in Somerset and Army medic, Lance Corporal Nicola Murray (27), from Stretford, Manchester, both serving with the 1st Battalion, The Royal Regiment of Scotland in Helmand Province, have become the first British soldiers to have attended the 9-day Female Engagement Team (FET) Course which was held at the United States Marine Corps (USMC) base, Camp Leatherneck near Camp Bastion.

…Both soldiers will now form a FET within a newly formed infantry rifle company from the 1st Battalion, The Royal Regiment of Scotland, in a ground holding role in Combined Force Nad-e Ali in Helmand over the next four months.

Here’s to another month of growth for the program, and continued outreach to women in Afghanistan.

Impossible to be sure

Posted in afghanistan, kyrgyzstan, united kingdom by Karaka on 21 April 2010

Getting to this a bit late. Work ate me whole today, and has only just spit me out the other side.

First off, two bits on Kyrgyzstan and Bakiyev. Seems Bakiyev still considers himself President despite, you know, resigning; and the interim government has decided to extradite him to answer charges.

Kyrgyzstan’s interim government has said it will demand the extradition of the country’s ousted president from Belarus once the investigation into the bloody massacre of April 7 is completed.

“The Kyrgyz people will never know rest until the bloody dictator is brought to justice,” the chief of staff of Kyrgyzstan’s new government Edil Baisalov said.

I have to wonder if the Kyrgyz people are actually that into watching the guy sit in a witness box, or if it’s a little more “hey, let’s vote for a new government now!” But I could most certainly be wrong on that call.

This report on Kabul’s restaurant raids just makes me heartsick. What a terrible, terrible thing.

I’ll admit, I’m not following the British elections nearly as closely as I would be if I were still living in Northern England, but the Guardian’s posting of excerpts of each of the major party candidate’s positions on UK national security and defence, particularly with regard to Afghanistan is worth reading, even if they’re canned. You can download a full text of the remarks in PDF here.

Via Akinoluna, these photos of a FET in action are pretty awesome. I’ve been wondering how effective the FET deployment has been since I was first reading up on them several months ago. If you have any helpful links they’d be well appreciated.

I found this post from al-Sahwa on COIN and culture to be fascinating; I’m still trying to figure out what to say in response but I found it provocative. And in mind-boggling counter information, this FP post titled, misleadingly, Lady GaGa vs. the Occupation set my eyes rolling so hard I think they’ve hit the Sisters by now.

On a far different note, the State Department is apparently looking for freelance writers (via Diplopundit). There’s a second job for you.

Rights, civil and federal

Posted in afghanistan, kuwait, us military by Karaka on 21 October 2009

In all the fuss about Senator Kerry’s work to get Karzai to accept a runoff, it’s been interesting to note that Special Rep. Holbrooke hasn’t really been present:

Mr. Holbrooke’s absence on the world stage in recent weeks has raised questions about his role going forward.

His staff offers a simple answer: The famed 68-year-old diplomat who helped broker the Dayton accords that ended the Bosnian conflict in 1995 has been in Washington helping to preside over the president’s monthlong Afghanistan strategy review.

He has provided the White House with much of the information reviewed at a series of war council meetings, according to those involved.

“His job is [in Washington] right now,” said Ashley Bommer, Mr. Holbrooke’s spokeswoman at the State Department.

The article is a little hyperbolic, but it’s one of the few I’ve seen mentioning Holbrooke on this issue at all. With all five of President Obama’s internal war-room reviews concluded (enough to send Secdef Gates off in search of other assurances), one wonders if Holbrooke is going to make in back in time for the 7 November runoff, and when the White House will announce the results of this policy confab.

Elsewhere, Paula Broadwell’s op-ed in the NYT yesterday (crossposted to KOW, h/t akinoluna for the link, who also has a practical, clear-eyed assessment of Broadwell’s suggestions) is predictably making…no waves, as far as I can tell. Which is a shame, because I think she makes some well-thought points:

However, the persistent threat of counterinsurgencies combined with evidence of women’s proven effectiveness in such situations serve as powerful reasons for updating the law.

The U.S. military’s Central Command recently published a “Memorandum of Law Concerning Women in Combat Support Operations.” It explicitly condones the use of the F.E.T.’s. The Defense Department’s general counsel is scheduled to consider the matter in the near future.

For now, these F.E.T. initiatives are confined to the Marines and there are relatively few women available for these jobs — only 6 percent of Marine Corps personnel are women. Moreover, given the ad hoc nature of the teams — F.E.T. members have “day jobs,” serving as logisticians or intelligence officers or in other vital positions — their commanders are often understandably reticent to give up an individual for an additional duty.

To quote akinoluna:

She never actually says it, but all the talk about how female Marines in FETs have “day jobs” and have to “find time” for the extra training and how their commanders are reluctant to release them to join a FET, it seems like she could be implying that it’s time to train female Marines specifically for FET-like jobs.

It makes sense. It’s not good to pull Marines from one important job to work at another important job: you might be causing them to work abnormally long hours and you’re definitely forcing someone else to pick up the slack at their original job when they aren’t around.

There’s also no reason why the Marine Corps can’t do it.

Indeed.

In Afghanistan, thirty-one certified midwives graduated from an 18-month programme [Pajhwok]:

One midwife named Fahima said she would use her knowledge in serving mothers and children in rural areas. “I have a huge responsibility on my shoulders, because most of the treatment in rural areas is traditional and unhygienic.”

There is no way to understate the difference modern medical knowledge can make to rural ob/gyn needs. Even rudimentary knowledge can be the difference between a successful pregnancy/birth and an unsuccessful one.

And in Kuwait, women were granted the right to pursue a passport of their own volition [BBC]:

The country’s first female MPs were elected in May 2009.

The article abolished by the court dated back to Kuwait’s 1962 passport law which required a husband’s signature on a woman’s passport application.

Aseel al-Awadhi, one of the new MPs, welcomed the passport law ruling as a “victory for constitutional principles that puts an end to this injustice against Kuwaiti women”.

Meanwhile, it looks like the pope might have a place for me if I ever give up my lapsed Anglican ways and wish to return to the fold. Unlikely, but it’s nice to have options.

Wednesday Et Cetera

Posted in afghanistan, american media, us military by Karaka on 14 October 2009

Between hosting dinner last night and a full day o’ meetings today, I haven’t had the chance to watch the Frontline documentary yet; but I’m rushing home to watch it tonight. In the meantime, though, a couple things to check out:

Stanley McChrystal’s Long War by Dexter Filkins.

The accompanying presentation by photographer Peter van Agtmael, which is intense and an experience:

vanA

[H/t Danger Room.]

Corporal Nicole Zook’s account of FETs in Helmand:

After finishing my tour of duty doing security missions in Iraq, I volunteered to train any willing Marines from my unit to prepare for the FET missions here in Afghanistan. There were ten. I put them through the wringer and held them all to an exceptionally high standard in their training. I ensured that they were well trained for the physical demands of combat missions, including crew-served weapons training, fighting, and self-defense; the mental demands of being a female attached to an all-male unit (there are plenty) and maintaining decorum among the sometimes unruly and rude men; and intensive cultural, language, psychology, and communication training to prepare them for interacting with the Afghan women. The Marines loved every minute of their training, even when I ran them into the ground, and asked for more. They are better trained than some of their male counterparts and they are participating in the program for all the right reasons.

I would like to buy her a beer.

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