May 28, 2010

Gorbachev's history lesson for McChrystal

As several McClatchy readers inside and outside the U.S. government have pointed out, there may be a particular reason that U.S. Army Gen. Stanley McChrystal and his team were especially perturbed by the "bleeding ulcer" headline of McClatchy's recent story about the general's battlefield assessment in Helmand Province.

The "bleeding ulcer" phrase, as Andrew Sullivan noted at The Daily Dish, hearkens back to the Soviet era when USSR leader Mikhail Gorbachev referred to Afghanistan as a "bleeding wound" (about six years into the occupation). Two years later, Gorbachev announced plans to pull all Soviet forces out of Afghanistan.

April 4, 2010

Taliban bickering 'Behind Taliban lines'

In case you missed it (as Checkpoint Kabul did), check out Frontline's "Behind Taliban Lines," a recent hour-long documentary filmed by Afghan journalist Najibullah Quraishi during his remarkable 10-day "embed" with Afghan insurgents.

Quaraishi was able to follow and film Hezb-e-Islami fighters as they prepared for battle, planted roadside bombs and staged attacks on convoys.

One of the more surreal things in the documentary is the view it provides of the insurgent bickering when the attacks go wrong.

NARRATOR: They just had a phone call saying an American tank has just left Baghlan. They want to blow up the tank with the mine they planted.

FIGHTER: [subtitles] Back out. Back out.

NARRATOR: But they're too late.

FEDAYEE: The tank's already gone. What kind of spotters are they?

MAN ON PHONE: How could it have gone?

FEDAYEE: As soon as you phoned, we left, but it was gone.

MAN ON PHONE: Oh, no.

FEDAYEE: We were running through the back of the fields.

MAN ON PHONE: Oh, no. Oh, God.

ARIF: Hey, you idiot, you should've said they were already here. You said they were by the factory. You told us they'd just left.

MAN ON PHONE: The guy told me they'd just left.

ARIF: This is how you do everything. You should have said, "Come out on the road. The American tank is here." If you'd done that, we'd have got them. We took the long route to check for their security.

Later, the fighters quarrel over another botched attack.

NARRATOR: The plan is to attack the convoy after the bombing, but he senses something's wrong.

COMMANDER KALAQUB: Oh, my God. My idea was to come earlier. If we had come five minutes earlier, we would have done the job.

YOUNG TALIB: My feet are completely tired.

NARRATOR: Then an angry phone call from base.

MAN ON PHONE: For God's sake, you're caring about your lives too much!

ARIF: We don't care about our lives.

FEDAYEE: We're not snakes that can go in holes. It's cold, as well.

NAJIBULLAH QURAISHI: What did he say?

ARIF: Our leaders say not to move from here. Even if there's bright sun, we must stay here and do our job.

FIGHTER: Where did he say to stay?

ARIF: He said to carry on with blocking the road and not to go back unless the job's done.

NARRATOR: Around a hundred yards away, close to the main road, the bomb team is hiding in the cotton fields.

ARIF: [on the phone] What happened? You're killing us with cold, and there are no vehicles coming. You rang too late. By the time we came out, the tank was already gone. You said it was close. We were so excited.

MAN ON PHONE: I didn't know. The boy who phoned me said they'd just left. You should have been more awake.

ARIF: Of course we were awake. We were on our feet. It was foggy, and when you said they were by the factory, we thought we could get there in time.

MAN ON PHONE: It's OK. It is past. We must be alert now. The informer's good, and when he gives the information, you shouldn't delay in getting yourself to the road when I call.

ARIF: You're sitting there on cotton cushions and we're in open fields. People can see us. What should we do?

You can see Part One here:

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Checkpoint Kabul is written by McClatchy journalists covering Afghanistan and south Asia.

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