Following up on the background to my Beginning of the End post, I came across a report from Michael Yon - a journalist embedded with our PARA Regiment in Afghanistan.
On 02 September, the enemy sniper was at it again, and so five British snipers were searching for probable firing positions. At one point, there was credible information that the Taliban told the sniper that they could provide him an American scope. The sniper said he was happy with his iron sights. He was a terrible shot, but sooner or later he might get lucky.
The Brits know exactly who the sniper is. About half a dozen fruit trees occluded fields of fire, so the soldiers cut them down. The Brits offered to pay for the trees, but were bound by regulations on how much they could pay. Major Adam Dawson told me the amount was something like $20 per tree, which of course is tantamount to zero. Achmed, an Afghan neighbour, came to collect the money, but the owner of the fruit tress had told Achmed not to accept payment. The owner was livid, saying: “I can’t believe Achmed let them cut down my trees! I’m going to go @#%& his wife!” I don’t know if anything happened to Achmed’s wife, but I do know that the Brits said the owner of the fruit trees bought himself a sniper rifle. He’s been shooting at Gibraltar ever since.
The British go by a chart that details how much they are allowed to pay for certain items they destroy. A tree, a car, a house, even a life—everything has its price. In Iraq, the payments truly could assuage anger at times. Few transgressions inflame the passions more than a sincere feeling of being manhandled and treated unjustly. The perception of injustice—especially coming from Americans or British, who many people see as monetarily omnipotent—can earn a bomb in the road, or a bullet in the head.
During 2005, the 278th Tennessee National Guard spent considerable time one day in the boonies of Iraq’s Diyala Province trying to find a shepherd to pay after they accidentally ran over a sheep with a Humvee. I also saw shepherds in that same area, on numerous occasions, waving down the 278th to show them mines or ammo they found. Time and again the shepherds collected large amounts of ammo, and sorted it by type for easy accounting and destruction. The 278th paid the shepherds and blew up the caches out near the Iranian border. Everyone was happy. The Iraqis made money. We didn’t get blown up.
But at another American unit, I recall officers grumbling and haggling over how much they would pay Iraqis for ammo they were turning in. These weren’t the rich Iraqis who sent their kids to Sandhurst or Paris for school, but the poor, uneducated ones who worked in dirty places where they sometimes found explosives, or perhaps earned some money planting them. And I thought what a shame—those Iraqis might, after all, sell the same explosives to terrorists, or get paid more to just bury bombs in the roads. Such bombs killed or wounded literally tens of thousands of Americans and Iraqis. But there is a natural tendency among people the world over: few among us seem to like to pay poor people a fair price for anything. We think poor people should work for next to nothing and be happy for it. I have seen this kind of contempt for the poor throughout the world. Rich Iraqis do it to poor Iraqis. Rich Americans to poor Americans.
In Afghanistan, it’s probably only a matter of time before the man who lost the trees shoots a British soldier, or a British soldier shoots the man’s head off, all for a pittance. The British soldiers are extremely competent, professional, and treat the Afghans well. They are soldiers that the British public should be proud of, and Americans are always proud to call them friends and allies who can be relied upon when bullets start flying. But the accounting department at home is putting these British soldiers into a rough situation and creating lethal enemies.
C-Company, 2 Para, has fired 17 Javelins in combat during this tour. The soldiers are very fond of the missile system, and are reticent to talk bad about Javelins for fear they will not get any more. But out of those 17 Javelins, one went errant, and another failed to launch. The other 15 struck their targets.
That is Yon's report. Every likelyhood we will expend $130,000 because some penny-scraping bureaucrat valued olive trees at $20. There is the chance that getting the "We Made Him A Sniper' into the target picture will expose a British soldier to counter-sniping. If Mr. Sniper gets lucky, we may call in air support forces to deal with him. Vastly more expensive than $130,000 and every chance of civilian deaths from collateral damage. And so it goes on.