Military censorship only goes so far. Now we know, contrary to official reports, at least two US Marines were hit by the bomb driven into the Kajaki Sofla bazaar by a suicide bomber on a motorcycle on January 18, 2012. Corporal Phillip McGeath, 25, was killed; Corporal Christopher Bordoni, 21, was critically wounded.
Why the official silence? And why the frustration, almost palpable in the public affairs office emails last week, over reports that break the silence?
Maybe it’s because Kajaki is supposed to be, has been reported as a shining COIN success story. On January 12, 2012, for example, six days before the suicide bomb in the bazaar, the US government spelled it all out in a story headlined: “Soccer field, symbol of hope to Kajaki Sofla children”:
Operation Eastern Storm began in October, when the men of 1st Battalion, 6th Marine Regiment conducted a large-scale, helicopter-borne insertion aimed at routing insurgents from the valley.
The Marine casualties in the bazaar attack were from the 1st Battalion, 6th Regiment.
The happy talk continues:
Now, 3 months after the outset of the operation, the children of this small oasis, tucked between the mountains, can be seen playing soccer on a sparse patch of dirt, within Patrol Base Pennsylvania, the headquarters, for Company B., 1/6. … Marines and members of the Afghan National Civil Order Police stand by to coach and referee, while village elders rest on the rocks or piles of sand constituting sidelines
COIN heaven, in other words. Never mind an Afghan National Army member shot and killed a US Army private playing volleyball elsewhere in Afghanistan on January 8. Kajaki Sofla was the real COIN deal.
The story continues:
Felber Field, where the daily soccer games are held, was named after Lance Cpl. Brian Felber, who was critically wounded in an IED strike shortly after the company arrived in Kajaki, explained Capt. Paul Tremblay, company commander, Company B.
The piece goes on to detail the COIN thinking that went into what the Marines saw as an effort “to build rapport and keep the positive momentum they had gained” — setting up “Felber Field.”
“We sat down and thought about what we did as kids. What were some of the most memorable things we did as children that we can do to continue the momentum for the children and hopefully, inspire the parents, said Tremblay.
Hmm. Let’s see. Did you memorize the Koran? Become a child bride of an old married man?
“What’s most important to the average [person here] is perception. The kids, they’ve seen soccer on the TV in Pakistan; it’s a national past time. So for them to get excited about coming to play soccer, by default it makes their fathers and elders in the villages take ownership of their own security.”
It makes them take ownership? Captain, you can’t make someone “take ownership of their own security,” whatever that means, and particularly not through what sounds like the syrupy plot of a feel-good summer movie. They either want “their own security,” or they don’t.
As the influence of the insurgency steadily waned; soccer balls, books, coloring pencils and a host of other recreational items began to appear in the bazaar. Every afternoon, children could be seen in their family’s fields playing catch, while Marines patrolled past
Kajaki Sofla became COIN Nirvana — or Mecca, as the case may be.
“It’s a very regimented life for the kids,” explained 1st Lt. Dennis Graziosi, 2nd Platoon commander from Altoona, Pa. “When the Taliban came in here, they stopped the school, sports activities, all of that. It’s just amazing to go from Taliban kicking all that out, regimenting their life, to seeing it crop back up. Their patrolling effort has allowed the kids future to get a lot better, to establish a brighter future for the children here.”
Beyond generating goodwill among the local citizenry, the ability to host an event like this within their company position, with approximately 50 children in attendance serves as a marker for how security has increased in the unit’s area of operations. …
It’s pure COIN, by the book.
Then, disaster struck — a suicide bomber attacks a crowd including Marines.
Now what does Felber Field, named for a Marine who died in an IED blast way back when things were bad, signify if Marines are still dying in the bazaar of “hearts and minds”?
To me, of course, it signifies the COIN strategy to win (buy) hearts and minds is still fundamentally flawed. The bazaar, the soccer field, even after successful combat operations, remains a dangerous battleground.
So don’t mention American casualties in the bazaar. Maybe no one will notice the cracks in COIN: Is that the military’s thinking?
Meanwhile, The Tompkins County Trust Company has set up a fund to collect donations to support Christopher Bordoni and his wife Jessica.
Donations can be mailed to:
Tompkins Trust Company
c/o USMC CPL. Christopher D. Bordoni Fund
Attention: Scott Albanese
P.O. Box 460
Ithaca, NY 14851