Sunday, July 27, 2003

US military difficulties in Afghanistan: unwinnable war?: "He talks about the landscape itself, with its countless outcroppings and caves and desiccated gulches, so hard to navigate, so easy to hide in... And without the help of the people, Langton adds, the beaming from all the satellites and unmanned planes in the sky can be futile. The jagged terrain creates blind spots, and what the high-tech systems can photograph they can't interpret... Afghanistan, he says, has a level of complexity that is almost unfathomable...

"Across Afghanistan, the work of humint, as the Army calls human intelligence, has been badly frustrated. Christopher Langton, a retired British colonel and military attache in Central Asia, now with the International Institute for Strategic Studies, speaks of the attempts to befriend and the attempts to pay. The paying hasn't bought much in the way of trustworthy information, and a psychological operations officer on Vigilant Guardian tells me that the Army has mostly abandoned it. The befriending hasn't worked well either, because, Langton says, the Americans have failed to capture the virtual territory, the territory of the mind of the population. The troops on missions like Parker's, operations that set out from American bases every two weeks or so, should pick up the kinds of details that form the foundation of military intelligence. But the troops are handicapped, Langton explains, because the people sense a shortsighted American involvement, a powerful wish to be gone. The Afghans feel that the Taliban, with Al Qaeda behind it, could take hold again in the country as soon as the Americans go home. For the villagers, survival when that happens could depend on keeping their mouths shut now. "

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