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Just like the old days: Kabul attacks – a parting shot

April 25, 2012

By Tim Foxley

...just like old times, eh?

Yes, of course it did raise a smile and there are many humorous angles you can bring to this.  Youtube footage of Afghan parliamentarian Naeem Lalay Hameedzai trading machine-gun fire with the Taliban (analytical disclaimer: or Haqqani, or HIG) during the insurgent attack on Parliament during the 15th April complex attacks.  And drinking his tea during the lull in fighting.  And I’m sure there is an element of newly discovered Afghan popular pride at MPs actively and directly defending democracy.  And I wonder how many MPs prefer this kind of solution – or at least understand it better than negotiation and compromise?

My angle, however nit-picking it might be, is this – its pretty crazy to have unauthorised random armed people involving themselves in street battles against a complex insurgent attack.  I’m sure there are already enough friendly-fire incidents as it is.  It reflects badly upon the Afghan security services and the ISAF forces mentoring them.  At best it is a humorous distraction, at worst it can get people killed.

There is precedent to this “getting people killed” idea – Bismillah Khan, the Minister of Interior, no less, who really, really, really, should know better, intervened very personally and very unhelpfully in the 13th September 2011 attacks:

The Guardian: “John Allen, the US commander of Nato forces in Afghanistan, is reportedly furious with the country’s interior minister, Bismillah Khan Muhammadi. No wonder if he is.

In the view of western and Afghan sources, the old mujahideen commander single-handedly took the shine off what otherwise would have been the finest hour for the country’s fledgling special forces when he intervened directly during last week’s battle with insurgents in Kabul. The minister took command of a team trying to fight its way up a building, ordering them to rush the final assault.”

Old habits die hard

Another Western official nailed the problem:

“This is a problem with their military culture where they think the senior commander should be at the front,” a military official said.

And from the same report, the other story I was going to mention – the Kabul Chief of Police abandoning co-ordination duties to go and hurl grenades at insurgents during the attack on the British Council in August last year:

“In August, efforts to save two British hostages trapped when the British Council was overrun by insurgents was delayed by four hours when Kabul’s police chief attempted to personally lead his unspecialised policemen into the compound.”

Clearly old habits die hard.  Ahmed Rashid wrote about the Taliban’s regime in the 1990s, where no one was really able to get anything done at the Ministry anytime the Minister decided to take himself off to the front line for weeks or months…

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. April 25, 2012 6:31 am

    I couldn’t help but think about “Iskander” (Alexander) when I saw this quote: ‘This is a problem with their military culture where they think the senior commander should be at the front’. Alexander conquered Bactria (Afghanistan and beyond to the northeast) by directly leading his troops, but he paid a dear price for it. He finally declared victory and left for India, and everything eventually returned to what it was. Read “Into the Land of Bones: Alexander the Great in Afghanistan”, by Frank L. Holt. It’s a great and instructive read.

    • April 25, 2012 7:45 am

      Thanks for the Alexander tip Ron. In those days – and upto somewhere well into the late-19th century I guess – an army commander had to be up at the front to some extent. In the absence of radios there was no other way of working out what was going on, imposing discipline and inspiring your forces (Ghengis Khan, Napoleon…). At the lower levels of command: battalion down to platoon, its still very much a key part of the requirement for combat, even amongst our administratively obsesssed Western forces. But the Bismillah example highlights nicely the difficulties of imposing a NATO “stamp” upon a very different fighting culture. There is no culture of delegation. Maybe most Afghans didn’t understand why General Allen was so annoyed. As I understood it, Bismillah had a brand new shiny command and control centre which he should have been using. We (ie the international community) have given the Afghan army a complete cultural makeover in a relatively short space of time – and a modern army that demands a massive amount of organisation, administration and technical and logistical skills to support it. I’m sure this in part explains the frictions and inter-ally shootings that occur?.

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