Moon of Alabama Brecht quote
February 06, 2011

Again And Again - Destroying The Town To Save It

The British Army fought a bloody campaign to get some control over Sangin, a town in Helmand, Afghanistan. I have yet to find someone able to explain the particular importance of that town.

Against a lot of resistance they build a couple of bases there to control a few hundred meters of their surroundings. From a pure low-level tactical military standpoint, that was the right thing to do.

Responsibility for Helmand change in late 2010 when the U.S. Marines took over that province. They gave up on many of those bases the British had fought for at a high price of Afghan and British blood. Wrote the Telegraph:

British military sources criticised the Americans, saying they were abandoning parts of Sangin where the locals had been won over. The move would also allow the Taliban to lay more explosive devices along Route 611, the main trade artery in Sangin.
“They are trying a new approach but it was one tried by us in the past and led to troops being tied to just the outskirts of town and gave the Taliban the chance to plant IEDs virtually wherever they wanted.”

Well, guess what happened. The Marines took three month to recognize their arrogant mistake and took another month of bloody and very destructive fighting to reoccupy some of the former British bases.

Please try to watch this BBC Panorama report on that brutal campaign through the eye of the Afghan people living and dying there.

Posted by b on February 6, 2011 at 19:15 UTC | Permalink


I can't explain the blunder on the part of the Marines, but Sangin is important because of the TAPI Pipeline that is going to be constructed. This is a point along that route, and Sangin must be a particularly strategic point for safeguarding the project. Also, this is a crucial area in regards to Afghan Opium Cultivation and production into heroin.

What White omits is that the region is extremely important as it lies across the route where the TAPI pipeline is scheduled to be built as and when the security situation is good enough for the project to commence. This is why Helmand has been a conflict hot spot. But this is not news.

The withdrawal of British troops in this part of Helmand was decided back in July in the light of the constant rise in British casualty rates inflicted by the Taliban and the fact that before this the US had to pour extra troops into the area to support the British.

It did not have the resources to hold on to this area without help and it is still unclear to the British public why this blood sacrifice was made:unless it is reported that the TAPI pipeline is set to run through Helmand and is a central part of US and NATO geostrategy.

The majority of shareholders in the Asian Development Bank that agreed to finance the TAPI pipeline project in 2008 are from the USA, Canada, Australia. Plus assorted European nations all doing their bit to advance their interests in energy diversification and promoting "Western" hegemony in Central Asia.

The centrality of the TAPI pipeline accounts for France's return to NATO in 2009 and the transformation of it into an organisation explicitly committed to energy security. There is little doubt that the war in Afghanistan has the completion of this project as a key objective.

Naturally, "public diplomacy" never stresses the TAPI pipeline as no Western nation wants to admit that the casualties, both of NATO troops and Afghans are all in the cause of a pipeline. But any look at the planned map of the TAPI pipeline shows it will go from Turmenistan through Helmand into Pakistan.

Posted by: Morocco Bama | Feb 6 2011 19:51 utc | 1

It is great to see this blog come back to life. Been lurking for a while and love the posts and comments. Here something I found on which some here might enjoy.

"The female translators are increasingly prized by the FETs as the only way to communicate with Afghan women, who are forbidden to even look at unrelated men. “Charades and our little bit of Pashto only get you so far,” said Sgt. Brandy Perez, team leader of another Helmand FET.
Which is why one FET team leader, who declined to be identified, went so far as to dress a male Afghan translator in women’s clothes and a head scarf.
Anyway, so this is the only news-ish story to come out of Marjah in several months. I suppose if their biggest concern is turning their terps into drag queens, then we’ve already won, right?"

Posted by: Hoss | Feb 6 2011 20:44 utc | 2


I have a request if you can ever find the time for it. I was wondering if you can tell us something about how demonstrators can confront riot police. Such practical matters as close up confrontation with police in full riot gear, how to deal with tear gas, etc.

You never know when it will come in handy.


Posted by: Lysander | Feb 7 2011 5:58 utc | 3

look for boos of "Dr. Michael Randle" abour Civil Resistance.

Posted by: timidcurious | Feb 7 2011 18:55 utc | 4

@Lysander - I was wondering if you can tell us something about how demonstrators can confront riot police.

I have some papers in German on the issue, but no time to translate for now. Here are some hints though: Controlling Riot Control

Plus from personal experience, ropes, long and strong, are a very good tool on a march to prevent Riot Control to split a marching column or to pull single people off from it (German police in civil cloth likes to do that).

The front of the march should be strong people hooking themselves arm to arm or hold onto one rope to make a closed front. These will get some beating, so probably should carry helmets or turbans to protect their heads. People with longer sticks (sticks that hold up placards until needed) should be in the second row. When confronted with a police line these seconds line sticks become helpful by aiming them at the lower parts of the riot control folks in the front - feet, legs, balls. Behind the stick rows, people with stuff to throw.
The people on the left side of the column should all have their left hand on another rope, on the right side of the column the right hand an another rope, preventing a break up.

Some fast skirmishers in front of them to harass police lines can be helpful (but it is a dangerous job) when approaching the police line. They faint attacks, throw stones when approaching, break barricades in offensive moves or create temporary ones in defensive moves while the stronger more permanent barricades ones get build behind them etc.

One breaks a police line essentially by pushing with the mass of the whole column. The people in the front will get pressed (some may faint) but the police too until it retreats. The police can not fight when directly pressed upon by a mass of people. If the police have a barricade it will need to be broken up (skirmisher task under concentrated protection of stone throwers from further back) and then immediately when broken ALL have to push and rush through the broken point.

The War Nerd had some spot-on remarks on tactics in the recent fight against riot police in Cairo: War Nerd: Spartacus Live on Al Jazeera!

I'd also recommend to review the Aljazeera coverage of the riots - there were some quite successful tactics shown - just rinse/repeat them.


How to Deal with Tear Gas

I always had a keffiyeh with me when expecting teargas. Made dripping wet with pure lemon juice and some water and carried in a closed plastic bag until needed. It covers mouth and nose. I also used swim glasses, (even with eye correction so I could continue to make photos.) Protected like that one can sustain quite a barrage of teargas.

If you are a fast runner, wear running shoes, consider skirmisher tactics. I am no runner so I used heavier and higher (metal shop) protection shoes that cover the ankles and have a metal toe cap - a good secondary weapon to hit someones legs. I still have a ball protector from my karate times that I used to put on for riots (unless it was really hot). Thin leather gloves allow to touch something hot or burning long enough to throw it. Comfortable cloth that do not hinder movement but is thick enough to cover a bit against baton hits - watch the weather report before marching and prepare accordingly (temperature, rain).

Always have plenty of water with you. Demonstrations always take longer then expected, especially when rioting occurs. Dehydration is often a problem. Washing out eyes after teargas also needs water. At least half a gallon in the backpack that you should carry. Have a phone too, fully loaded, camera with extra batteries, money, identification. Have the phone number of a good lawyer, the organizers team and the media contacts written on your forearm. (Here we typically announce those numbers to everyone taking part before a march begins.) If you need medication have enough for at least 24 hours with you.

People with medical experience should carry some of the tools they need for the job. We usually had special medic teams, marked as such, to help out.

Help the media folks, always defend them. Active media coverage is the best defense against police brutality - even if may not help short term.

Posted by: b | Feb 7 2011 19:19 utc | 5

A great help! Thanks a lot b. If you have good info in German, feel free to link to it. My German is rusty but with a dictionary I can manage. If not, we can always run it through google translate.

Thanks again.

Posted by: Lysander | Feb 7 2011 20:14 utc | 6

If you have good info in German, feel free to link to it

What I have needs to be scanned. It is of Hafenstrasse vintage, not digital but still very much proven and valid.

We had two (not one as Wikimedia says) FM radio stations communicating to the people from Hafenstrasse. I wonder why Tahrir has not yet managed to get one up. It is very important to steadily communicate your point of view - Tahrir is missing that totally so far.

Posted by: b | Feb 7 2011 21:03 utc | 7

We are on the Internet era. The people in Tahrir are more used to mobile phones, SMS, mail, blogs, Twitter, Facebook and similar stuff. Of course when the Internet was closed that become an issue (though I doubt it stopped working completely, the journalist still had contact likely through satellite mobile phones). And they have been communicating their point of view relatively well through those medium and AJ Arabic and English. We are coming at an age where young people may not be used to pirate FM radio stations or even FM radio (replaced by streaming radios).

And at the end if they can close Internet they can also jam FM radio or destroy the station.

Posted by: ThePaper | Feb 7 2011 21:11 utc | 8


if you need translations I am very happy to volunteer my services.


Posted by: sabine | Feb 8 2011 10:02 utc | 9

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