Thursday, July 16, 2009

"If the people are happy, we won't need cannons. If they don't like us, then we'll call in artillery."

Those words from Afghan army Lt. Col. Abdul Haq, who maybe isn't so much hip with what the kids are calling "counterinsurgency." There's an outstanding article in today's Wall Street Journal about Lt. Col. Haq, a 51-year old ANA mullah, and his American mentor, a 27-year old Baptist Army captain named James Hill.

Some really good stuff in here, highlighting the ways that even a middle-aged Afghan who's been fighting his whole life can benefit from the advice and example of a professional military officer. It's also interesting to see Hill's (and the Army's) understanding of the fact that Afghans are much more likely to support an ANA that is representative of their values and culture:

Capt. Hill's faith-based mission is to counter the propaganda of Taliban fighters, who ride motorcycles through isolated villages spreading the word that the Afghan army is led by godless communists working to purge the country of Islam. Show the people that the army is a Muslim one, and they'll be more likely to support it against the insurgents, his theory goes.

To that end, the captain supplies the army with prayer rugs to give out in villages. He requisitioned loudspeakers for 30 bases and checkpoints so locals can hear soldiers being called to prayer. And he spends long hours encouraging Afghan soldiers, particularly Lt. Col. Haq, to make a greater display of their faith.

Sometimes the American officer's advice pertains to basic soldiering skills, like in this hilarious exchange with Lt. Col. Haq:

"Body armor does no good -- it's in God's hands," the colonel, in bulletproof vest and helmet, told Capt. Hill before a patrol.

"God helped us make the body armor," the captain responded, "so I think he wants me to wear it."

Aside from we we can gain from the substantive content, there's just a whole bunch of general hilarity sewn throughout this piece. More follows...

Funny:
Along the way, Capt. Hill picked up some Dari, the language spoken by most Afghan soldiers. But for a while, his Oklahoma drawl turned "How are you?" into "Are you a camel?"
Funnier:
He keeps his beard long enough to fulfill the Quranic mandate that it fill a fist. He combs it to a pelt-like smoothness that finishes in a slight curl away from his chest. "I love my beard," he admits.

Funniest:
"It's very good that an artillery officer and a religious officer work together," said Lt. Col. Haq. "If the people are happy, we won't need cannons. If they don't like us, then we'll call in artillery."

But seriously, there's a lot of good love-n'-hugs COIN going on here, with the building of mosques and whatnot, and a lot of genuinely good mentorship and work toward the professionalization of the ANA.

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