National Politics War

“Battle Company Is Out There”


Likely the strongest piece of journalism
in our nation’s papers this past weekend is a long, disturbing and beautifully written article in the New York Times Magazine called “Battle Company Is Out There.” by Elizabeth Rubin, who is embedded with the 173rd Airborne Brigade Combat Team in Afghanistan’s notorious Korengal valley.

Interestingly, while political bloggers were mostly busy linking to Frank Rich’s and Maureen Dowd’s columns yesterday, scores of military and veterans blogs (like these here and here and here) are linking favorably to Rubin’s story, although it assuredly does not tell an upbeat tale.

Rubin says she came to Afghanistan with a pressing question:

Why, with all our technology, were we killing so many civilians in air strikes?
As of September of last year, according to Human Rights Watch, NATO was causing alarmingly high numbers of civilian deaths — 350 by the coalition, compared with 438 by the insurgents. The sheer tonnage of metal raining down on Afghanistan was mind-boggling: a million pounds between January and September of 2007, compared with half a million in all of 2006.

After a few days,
the first question sparked more: Was there a deeper problem in the counterinsurgency campaign? More than 100 American soldiers were killed last year, the highest rate since the invasion. Why were so many more American troops being killed? To find out, I spent much of the fall in the Korengal Valley and elsewhere in Kunar province alongside soldiers who were making life-and-death decisions almost every day — decisions that led to the deaths of soldiers and of civilians.

The answers she found-
–such as they were—are what this article is about, and it makes very compelling and important reading.

NOTE: Among the military and vet bloggers I only saw one criticism,
but it was leveled at the Times’ editors, not at Rubin. A blogger for IAVA (Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America) felt that the phrases the Times editors chose to put on the cover of the magazine, were overly sensational and likely to turn-off soldiers who might otherwise read what IAVA’s Ray Kimball calls “a fantastic piece.”

Photo: Lynsey Addario for The New York Times


  • Elizabeth Rubin writes a great story, and has to be, a “helluva” brave woman and a very tough broad.

    In the wake of the recent shoot-out, LAPD vs. Avenues gang, I find it interesting that Capt. Dan Kearney used the analogy below…..

    “the Korengal had no Afghan police or district leaders for the Americans to work with. The Afghan government, and Afghans down the valley, seemed to have washed their hands of the Korengalis. As Kearney put it to me one day at the KOP, the Korengal is like a tough Los Angeles neighborhood, “and we’re the L.A.P.D. kicking in the door, arresting guys, demanding information about the gangs, and slowly the people say, ‘No, we don’t know anything, because that guy in the gang, he’s with my sister, and that other guy, he’s my uncle’s cousin.’ Now we’ve angered them for so many years that they’ve decided: ‘I’m gonna stick with the A.C.M.’ ” — anticoalition militants — “ ‘who are my brothers and I’m not gonna rat them out.’ ”

    I guess in Military Wars and LAPD gang wars you can’t kill you way out, or arrest your way out, of either type of war.

  • Article brought back memories as I spent six months with the 173rd at LZ English in Binh Dinh Province in 1970. I was attached to the 404th RR Co. so I got to wear their blue wing patch when I arrived back in the “world” and reported to NSA at Ft. Meade.

  • Thanks, LA Res. I don’t think that I would invite Sgt. Freedom over to dinner with the family, but I found this post of his interesting, as I missed that last night.

    During the Oscars tonight, John Stewart introduced some Soldiers currently deployed to Iraq to present the Oscar for Best Documentary: Short Subject. Normally, after a presenter is introduced there is an uproarous applause. When the Soldiers were introduced, hardly anyone clapped! Hollywood, KISS MY A$$!! Jon Stewart, YOU DA MAN!!

  • I’m not surprised to find you’ve highlighted this piece, any more than I was disappointed, but not surprised, others hadn’t. Good on ya, Celeste. It was well worth the read.

  • hi elizabeth rubin this is hamid from Afghanistan actually in 17 august 2009 i study a book in the name of (karzai dar dam khodash) it was so intrest for me so cause of this i sent you a comment thaks alote and i wish you all the best in your work. bye

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