How 25 Tons of Bombs Made an Afghan Town Disappear

This is Tarok Kolache, a small village in Afghanistan's Arghandab River Valley. Or at least, it used to be, until the Taliban and the U.S. military got to it.

What happened to Tarok Kolache, and why? In a post on pundit Tom Rick's Foreign Policy blog, military writer and West Point graduate Pamela Broadwell writes that the Taliban "had conducted an intimidation campaign to chase the villagers out." The Taliban fighters and their "dense pattern[s]" of IEDs "terrified" the Combined Joint Task Force 1-320th, which sustained heavy losses in two attempts to clear the village, and eventually Lt. Col. David Flynn decided the only way to maintain momentum was to blow it to bits:

The plan was for one team to clear a 600-meter path with MICLICs from one of his combat outposts to Tarok Kalache. "It was the only way I could give the men confidence to go back out."

On October 6, Flynn's unit approved use of HIMARS, B-1, and A-10s to drop 49,200 lbs. of ordnance on the Taliban tactical base of Tarok Kalache, resulting in NO CIVCAS. Their clearance of Babur, Khosrow Sofla, Charqolba Sofla, and other villages commenced October 7, aided by USSF, ABP, and an additional infantry company from B/1-22 IN.

"NO CIVCAS" means "no civilian casualties." But, as Wired's Spencer Ackerman—who flagged Broadwell's post in an excellent post of his own—wonders:

It seems difficult to understand how Broadwell or the 1-320th can be so confident they didn't accidentally kill civilians after subjecting Tarok Kolache to nearly 25 tons worth of bombs and rockets. The rockets alone have a blast radius of about 50 meters [164 feet], so the potential for hitting bystanders is high with every strike.

As she clarified in a debate on her Facebook wall, "In the commander's assessment, the deserted village was not worth clearing. If you lost several KIA and you might feel the same." But without entering Tarok Kolache to clear it, how could U.S. or Afghan forces know it was completely devoid of civilians?

Indeed! Even if there were truly no civilian casualties, at least one Afghan villager wasn't particularly pleased—he accused Flynn of "ruining his life after the demolition." He likely wasn't the only one, and there isn't a lot of room to spare when it comes to Afghan impressions of NATO forces in Arghandab, where locals trust the Taliban over Karzai.

Luckily, Gen. Petraeus has apparently authorized up to $1 million for reconstruction, and Flynn and his men are rushing to rebuild the village—so as to get out in front of the Taliban's "information operations gun." But you have to wonder how diverting so many resources to rebuilding a village you just blew up aids the "momentum" originally sought.

And they might be too late anyway. An independent analyst interviewed by Ackerman expresses similar concerns, telling him that the destruction of Tarok Kolache likely toppled whatever goodwill U.S. troops had built up—as Ackerman drily puts it, "it's not standard procedure for U.S.-led troops to destroy whole villages." Looking at those photos, it's not hard to see why.

[Wired; Foreign Policy]