Why Fight In Korangal Valley?
Today's NYT has an embed piece on a platoon firefight in the Korangal valley in Afghanistan. The platoon had earlier ambushed some 'Taliban' (the Korangalis say locals) and expected to be attacked while going to 'meet local elders' in some village. The attack happens, one soldier dies and the rest have to retreat.
The purpose of the whole action is not really explained but the writer gives us two important pieces of information.
First, who the U.S. soldiers are fighting:
Relatively few Arabs or foreigners come here, the company’s officers say. But the Korangalis, a hardened and isolated people with their own language, have managed to lock the American Army into a bloody standoff for a small space for more than three years.
The Korangalis have fought, the officers say, in part because they support the Taliban and in part because they are loggers and the Afghan government banned almost all timber cutting, putting local men out of work.
Korangal Outpost itself symbolizes the dispute. It occupies a former sawmill, and the mill’s displaced owner is a main organizer of the insurgency. The Taliban pay the best wages in the valley now, the officers said.
The expression 'Taliban' seems somewhat abused here. The local mill owner, Haji Matin, and the people who made a living working there have good reason to hate and oppose the occupiers:
As the Afghans tell the story, from the moment the Americans arrived in 2001, the Pech Valley timber lords and warlords had their ear. Early on, they led the Americans to drop bombs on the mansion of their biggest rival — Haji Matin. The air strikes killed several members of his family, according to local residents, and the Americans arrested others and sent them to the prison at Bagram Air Base. The Pech Valley fighters working alongside the Americans then pillaged the mansion.
The whole thing started because the U.S. was used by one tribe to eliminate some competition from another tribe. They shut down the only real business the valley has and thereby increased unemployment. Since then the Korangalis oppose the occupiers. These people have nothing to do with 'Taliban'. They are not even Pashtuns but speak Pashai and have a totally different social system.
Why is it a task for the U.S. military to fight these locals? Why not just leave them and their valley alone?
And how is the U.S. doing its fight? Is it careful to not further incite the locals against it? What is the planed endgame? Winning hearts and minds?
The second revealing snip from today's piece. Pinned down by small arms fire the platoon calls in some help:
In American firebases on ridges along the valley, soldiers with heavier machine guns and automatic grenade launchers focused on Afghan buildings in three villages — Donga, Laneyal and Darbart — from where the trapped platoon was taking fire.
Farther back, at Company B’s outpost, a pair of Air Force noncommissioned officers was directing aircraft into position, while two 120-millimeter mortars were firing high-explosive and white phosphorus rounds at targets the platoon had identified.
Then the satellite-guided bomb whooshed in and exploded.
Two more airstrikes blew apart two buildings on the opposite side from where the Taliban had been firing.
All this to 'meet with local elders'? Any doubt what their opinion will be? What they will tell their young folks to do?
Posted by b on April 20, 2009 at 08:25 AM | Permalink
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