Sunday, July 18, 2010

Haji Matin rhymes with Red Cloud?

Korengal Valley, Afthanistan

Powder River Country

I have often quoted Mark Twain who said. “The past may not repeat itself, but it sure does rhyme.” In the case of the title of this blog, I am referring to Haji Martin, who was said to be leading the insurgency in the Korengal Valley in Northeast Afghanistan on the border with Pakistan and Red Cloud the Lakota tribal leader who led the only successful indian war against the United States. In both men they were able to get the United States to abandon forts and outposts after fighting an insurgency that flared into heavy combat on many occasions. Let's look at the similarities. First, the possible causes. In Red Cloud's case it was the army building a series of forts along the Bozeman Trail which ran from Fort Laramie into the Montana Territory. This trail encroached onto Lakota lands and disrupted their abiity to hunt and sustain their families.

In the Korengal Valley in Afghanistan, the prime method of making a living was the logging of the Deodar Cedar tree. The Afghan national government banned the harvesting of this tree in 2006 which left the 5000 residences of the valley without a source of income. The United States Army comes along in 2006, and inserts itself into the valley in an attempt to secure the valley and stop the flow of insurgency and supplies from across the border in Pakistan. What results, is the subject of Sebastian Jungers book WAR and the movie Restrepo. And as if the images and ink don't convey the futility of going into a valley where stripped of their livelihood and manly pride, the men take up arms in a struggle that perhaps from their side, would look very similar to the fatalistic approach to war the men of outpost Restrepo exhibited.

Fetterman Fight 1866

The clashes along the Bozeman Trail in 1866 began in earnest with the building of forts along the Bozeman Trail. Within a few months, the Fetterman Massacre became the greatest loss of life for the United States forces in indian conflicts up to that time. For the next two years, Red Cloud's War  raged until in 1868 the United State agreed to abandon and burn the forts and retreat back to Fort Laramie.

Capt. Mark Moretti and Shamshir Khan

The Korengal Valley conflict began with a similar rhyme. In 2005 a Navy Seal team was dropped onto Abas Ghar the mountain the dominates the valley. When they were discovered, a team of 16 commandos were sent to rescue them. The helicopter was shot down and all 16 killed, only one Seal survived. The Army responded by building a series of bases into the six mile long valley. After five years and over forty dead Americans, the valley was abandoned this past April and left to the unbending tribes.  In a related article that has a familar ring, the principal catalyst for the bitter insergency can be laid to money or the lack of it. The Afghan government also finally admitted that their ban on timber sales was not working and was counterproductive in an announcement on April 10, five days before the U.S. Forces abandoned the Korengal Valley. In this turn of events, instead of burning the outposts as in 1868, we used then as bargining chips to keep the enemy off our backs as we withdrew.
In the pre-dawn hours of Wednesday, the U.S. presence here came to an abrupt end.
A day earlier, Capt. Mark Moretti, the 28-year-old commander of American forces in the valley, walked two dozen Korengali elders around his base and told them that the United States was withdrawing. He showed the elders the battle-scarred barracks, a bullet-ridden crane, wheezing generators and a rubber bladder brimming with 6,000 gallons of fuel.
Moretti, the son of a West Point physics professor, and Shamshir Khan, a valley elder whose son had been jailed for killing two U.S. troops, sat together on a small wall near the base's helicopter pad. In keeping with local custom among friends, they held hands.
Moretti gently reminded Khan of the deal they had reached a few days earlier: If U.S. troops were allowed to leave peacefully, the Americans wouldn't destroy the base, the crane and the fuel. Khan assured him that the valley's fighters would honor the deal.

Deodar Cedar

Afghan cedar logs

It seems to me that in hindsight, it would have been a lot more cost effective and less grief on both sides to have approached the people of the Korengal Valley with a timber deal, that would pay them double the price of timber which according to the Wall Street Journal article above; a two yard log sells for $10 in Kunar and fetches as much as $150 in the Pakistani port city of Karachi, and $300 in Dubai or Qatar. When the tab for the material expended, millions of rounds ranging from $.24 for a 5.56 round, to $80,000 for a Javelin, or using B-1 bombers to fly over and drop laser guided munitions to take out a squad of Taliban is tallied, we could have paid triple the going cost, transport and sell the lumber, and still make a hefty profit.


Anonymous said...

Hindsight 20-20. You spend any time in the K-Valley?

Matt said...

Good info/comparisons, however, seems to be some missing. I remember an older article referencing that Matin guy Where in 2002/3 US backed, Afghan militia groups directed special forces to call in an airstrike on compounds owned by Matin- many of which allegedly killed members of his family/wives...Of course at the time, he was not part of the insurgency and old enemies simply wanted rid of him in exchange for their "30 pieces of silver",

Anonymous said...

I was there in 04 and 05, and again in 06. The fighting was present before the logging ban. It was heavy even before the permanent fire bases were set up. We patrolled that valley front to back several times and you had 30 minutes on average before you were attacked. It was the clans themselves who were completely against any form of government at all, which is why the fighting went on in the first place.

Anonymous said...

I enjoyed your comparisons, but I can't help but feel you have overlooked a lot of the political, tribal, and cultural aspects.

Like someone had previously stated, there was fighting and lawlessness before American forces even thought about patroling the Korengal.

I think, unfortunatley, its a perspective like yours of "throw some money at it" is dangerous, and wrong. There was a lot more at stake, and a lot more at play.

I will say this, however, I do believe lifting the ban might have helped, maybe there isn't so much hatred and anger, or maybe instead of fighting they go to work. But make no mistake, the Korengal is NOT your typical middle class working citizens. These are people whose tribes have battled since the beginning of time, and whose beliefs rule the day.

I wish the forces hadn't left, I understand, but it leaves a bitter taste that there wasn't more of a positive impact.

Anonymous said...

Great article. I cant believe we put so much time in those parts of Afghanistan just to pull out. I cant help but think we lost the war in that sense. Obama shouldn't be blamed hes cleaning Bush's mess up and its a slow process just like our government