Counter-Terrorism: April 11, 2005


In Afghanistan, when you fight terrorists, you often do it by local rules. Case in point is how you get local villagers to identify who has been firing rockets at Bagram air base. This huge base is the main support facility for NATO forces in Afghanistan. Every few months, a local Afghan, or group of them, decide, for a variety of reasons, to fire rockets (usually the 42 pound 107mm Russian BM-12) at the base. These rockets are not very accurate when fired from an improvised launcher. While they often land within the base, they rarely hit anything of value. The local Afghans ignore it, as there are so many other natural, and man made things around that can kill them. A couple of Afghans on jihad, or just angry at the foreigners, firing rockets at Bagram can be ignored. Besides, identifying the rocket boys to the foreigners can start a family feud. That can get dangerous. 

American commanders have learned that there are ways to get the locals to talk, and identify the people firing the rocket. The most useful method is to halt reconstruction projects, or shut down the weekly bazaar (where local Afghans can sell goods to the thousands of troops and civilians on the base). Either of these moves costs the local Afghan economy thousands of dollars a week. In a country where $20 a month is a good salary, that kind of loss is felt. It may take weeks, or even months, before the local elders get together and decide that its better for all concerned that the guilty guy be turned in. Afghans often settle disputes in terms of money. Thats an ancient tradition that survives in the West in the form of fines levied by judges. For the Afghans, the identity of a guilty Afghan is worth only so much in economic losses. So far, several rocket firing incidents have been cleared up this way. Not just in Bagram, but in other parts of Afghanistan as well. Sometimes, Civil Affairs or Special Forces officers, who have established good relations with the locals, can just go to the elders, or local strongman, and ask for the rocket firing, or sniping, or planting of mines, to stop. Usually, the perpetrator is known to many of the locals. Such a request often gets the attacks to stop, even though the guy responsible does not get turned in. If local attacks have killed or injured American troops, the negotiations are a bit more intense. The Afghans recognize the concept of blood feud and can understand that angry American soldiers, eager to get revenge, might be something to avoid. Sometimes the guilty party is identified, and it is left to the American troops to do the rest. Other times, it turns out that one of the local men has suddenly left the area. And the locals dont expect to see him return until the local American troops finish their tour of duty.

American Special Forces have long trained to handle counter-terrorism events using these methods. Regular American troops have learned to work closely with any Special Forces operating in the area. Most Special Forces A teams have one or more members who speak the local language, and can get needed negotiations going. Since late 2001, the U.S. Army has prepared more training materials for incoming American troops, explaining how the local politics, and law enforcement works. All this has gone a long way towards keeping the American casualties down in Afghanistan. 


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