Permissible Arms

A Tin-Plated Anniversary

Posted in afghanistan, isaf, united states by Karaka on 21 October 2010

Another unpleasant, unplanned absence. Sigh. To everyone that I owe email: apologies for being out of contact. I’m trying to wade through everything now. Shoot me another one if you don’t hear from me by this weekend. Mea maxima culpa.

Say what you will about the ANA–and there’s a lot to be said–but there’s something compelling about this collection of photos of an ANA graduation. (From thruafghaneyes.)

Newly trained female officers of the Afghan National Army (ANA) attended their graduation ceremony at the National Army training center in Kabul on Thursday, 23 September 2010.

There are real problems with a transition from ISAF to ANSF in 2011. In the US, the President has a real political problem if he doesn’t stay the course of at least semi-withdrawal by that date. In Afghanistan, there are competency issues, numbers issues, readiness issues, and that whole pesky desertion/retention problem. Not that this is news to anyone who’s been paying attention for the last (gulp) ten years.

Petraeus, speaking from London, is trying his best to make hay from hash by citing progress in literacy and health programs. But who really thinks the ANSF will grow big enough in such little time–at the very least, not without cutting some corners in training, recruiting, and over all quality.

We’re coming close to the exact two choices that have been present since this plan for Afghanistan came out last year: either find a way to keep this 2011 deadline soft enough that ISAF can keep trying to make the ANSF work; or accept that after ten years ISAF only started the real work a year and a half ago, and the political time on this war has run out. Sucks to be in the Afghan Army or Police Force, here’s the keys to the car, try not to wreck it too badly.

Not to be too pessimistic or anything. I think I’m just going to go look at those pictures some more and think about the counter-factual world that might have been if real ANSF training had started in 2003.

Only Quick Patches

Posted in afghanistan, american media, united kingdom, united states, us defense, us military by Karaka on 2 August 2010

So, while Attackerman’s in Afghanistan, I’ll be chipping in as a guestblogger over at his pseudonymous blog. If I can defeat the evil Comcast internet-giving box tomorrow, I should be back to form; but I’ll be posting both there and here as the DSL gods allow. First post is up, on David Sanger’s piece in the NYT.

Amitai Etzioni has an article up at TNR, “Unshackle the Troops“, that I would really like to read if TNR wasn’t behind a bloody paywall.

H-War and Edge of the American West are ramping up for another Military History Carnival. Maybe I will actually have the time to finish the post I was working on for the last one. (ha.)

Aaron Ellis’ takedown of Melanie Phillips was a tour de force. Of the many things one could say about David Cameron, his lack of foreign policy credentials are not particularly salty.

The Guardian’s portrait gallery of ANA soldiers managed to edge out The Big Picture in remarkable photojournalism this week. (H/t Current Intelligence.)

Ghulam Hidar, an ethnic Turkmen from Jowzjan, near the Turkmenistan border. Photograph: Kevin Frayer/AP

Blake Hall and Jim Gourley’s guest posts (dispatches? I don’t completely understand the classification at TBD) at Ricks’ blog are heartwrenching. Must read, if you can.

I’m out with a buddy a while back. We’re talking about brands of beer. He hears a car backfire, and suddenly he’s scanning ridgelines. He’s not here anymore. He’s all the way in Afghanistan, and he takes me halfway back to Iraq with him. I think about saying something, telling him that he’s here, not there. That I’m with him. That everything is okay. But that would be the wrong thing to say. A couple of minutes pass as we walk. He keeps scanning, I just stay by him. After that, we go back to talking about beer. We don’t mention anything about the event.

A couple of days later we’re walking along and he says “you know, I really freaked out the other day.” I tell him that I know, and I was right there with him. That’s all that needs to be said. He knows my story. We don’t need any elaborate cathartic rituals or long discussions about it. It’s no different than strapping on armor and walking outside the wire. I trusted him to be able to take care of himself, and he trusted me to catch him the moment he couldn’t. We’re Ranger buddies, not baby-sitters. Giving him dignity and letting him fight the battle on his own is just as important as helping him get up when he gets knocked down.

And what can’t be done?

Posted in afghanistan, united kingdom, united nations by Karaka on 22 April 2010

I haven’t done a post on pieces I’ve liked that talk about women lately, so I figured its timely.

Rex at Afghanistan: My Last Tour conducted an interview with female ANA soldiers, which I thought was generally awesome, but also deeply informative.

My next stop was the ANA Family Support Center. Inside I was greeted by two women dressed in traditional Afghan clothing, complete with the hajib hair covering. But these two women are not civilians; instead, they are both Captains in the ANA army. Using my interpreter, I asked permission to conduct an interview so I could learn more about them. They agreed and I used my tape recorder to record our conversation.

Both of the women are married, have 4 children and similar educational backgrounds with completing high school and 3 years of medical studies at a local college. The younger Captain has served in the Army for 20 years and the other 33 years respectively. They are responsible for assisting ANA widows and wounded soldiers’ family members. The younger captain revealed even as a child, she has always wanted to join the Army. Her father was an Army officer and supported her dream and now her sister is in the process of becoming an ANA officer too.

I inquired why they didn’t wear the ANA military uniform. They explained that due to culture perceptions and criticisms, it is better to wear civilian clothes.

I read pretty comprehensively on this subject, so it’s of note to me that stories/accounts like this don’t float up terribly frequently. I appreciate Rex noting both the challenges that female ANA soldiers face, and also the problems of negotiating correct cultural manners when there’s no clear rule to follow–especially when the female soldiers themselves are considered by their fellow soldiers to be breaking taboos.

Last month the NYT had a feature on female-staffed UN peacekeeping units that I thought was generally positive, though a couple stray comments (“the thin pink line”) were desultory and detracted from the strength of their subjects. Sgt. Monia Gusain commands a peacekeeping unit for the UN out of India, based in Liberia.

Liberia — a West African country created in 1847 to settle freed American slaves — is something of a modern laboratory for the rise of women making peace. Women are marching in foot patrols; the head of the U.N. mission, Ellen Margrethe Loj of Denmark, is a woman; and the Liberian president, Mrs. Sirleaf, is the first woman elected as an African head of state, in 2005.

Mrs. Sirleaf — whose nickname is “Iron Lady” — is particularly blunt about the role of women in the recovery of her fragile country, which was battered by 14 years of civil war that left about 200,000 people dead and survivors haunted by torture, systematic rapes and the exploitation of drug-addicted boy soldiers.

“What a woman brings to the task is extra sensitivity, more caring,” Mrs. Sirleaf said in an interview. “I think that these are the characteristics that come from being a mother, taking care of a family, being concerned about children, managing the home.”

There’s more gender reductionist verbiage in there, and similar ideology propagated by several people interviewed, but it’s generally positive and endlessly fascinating.

Finally, the Guardian’s Elizabeth Rubin wrote a remarkable account of her experience as an embedded reporter in Afghanistan, in the first few months of her pregnancy. Western culture has a strange relationship with pregnancy: revered, unwanted, and political all at once. I think I’d like to meet this woman who took her pregnancy into a war zone.

On a muggy August afternoon, I dragged myself and my flu to an infectious-disease doctor. I asked him if he could give me some antibiotics for Afghanistan that were safe to take when you’re pregnant. His eyes leapt up from his notes.

“How far along are you?”

“Three months and a bit.”

I stared at a James Nachtwey photograph on his wall as he regaled me with stories about his war-photographer patients, all of whom were men. Clearly, I posed a different equation.

“Are you sure you will be able to run?” he said. “Because you’re going to need to run, and I have to advise you not to go in your condition.” Suddenly he was rigging up a heart-monitoring machine on my chest and pointing out my supposedly irregular heartbeat arrowing up and down the page. “I just came for a prescription,” I said. “If I wanted someone to tell me not to go to Afghanistan, I could have called my mother.”

I’m trying to tweet more–you’re welcome to add me there if you like–but I’ll be the first to admit I’m kind of bad at it. Not so great at 140-character expressions of stream of conscious; I think I’m just too long winded.

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