June 1, 2006

That Bill Roggio... He's a Riot!

Hatched by Sachi

Bill Roggio, who used to run the Fourth Rail, is now in Afghanistan writing for Counterterrorism Blog. He reports on the aftermath of the Great Kabul Riot:

Kabul, Afghanistan: The city of Kabul has settled down after Monday's violent outbreak that followed a traffic accident involving a runaway U.S. military vehicle and Afghan civilians. The riots were suppressed in eight hours, and the Karzai government instituted an overnight curfew, which has been extended for Wednesday night. While many businesses were closed on Tuesday (I ventured out to pick up a cell phone on Tuesday but the business was closed), there was plenty of traffic and Afghan police and army on the streets. Several long-time residents of Kabul stated today it was business as usual, and the level of security on the streets was not out of the ordinary. Today I saw the streets filled with taxis, civilian cars and bicycles, businesses and markets were open, and the entrepreneurial street vendors selling phone cards, newspapers and other items were everywhere.

According to Roggio, the riot was not instigated by the Taliban, but rather by an ethnic minority called the Hazaris, who fought against the Taliban as part of the Northern Alliance:

The violence was not Taliban-inspired, but composed mainly of Hazaris. The Haziris are an ethnic group that fought the Taliban under the banner of the Northern Alliance and followers of Ahmad Shah Masood , who was killed by al-Qaeda two days prior to 9-11. Masood's image is prevalent in Kabul. The Hazaris have recently been marginalized by the Karzai administration after they lost their last cabinet post. The rioters were largely young, unemployed males, and there was a significant criminal element involved.

In addition, there is a general resentment by Afghans toward the aggressive driving habit of some foreign workers, especially those who work for private security companies. Even though the American forces are not particularly aggressive in their driving, when the truck slammed into a row of cars (the brakes failed), that resentment boiled over.

But overall, Roggio thinks the police performance was not too bad.

There have been questions about the performance of the police during the riots. Jawed Ludin, President Hamid Karzai's Chief of Staff, described the police's performance as "shameful" and stated "we have to strengthen our police." There have been reports that some police joined in the violence. But their performance was not a complete failure. Subduing a violent riot within eight hours is no small feat (see the past and current riots in France), particularly for a relatively new police and military. There has been no follow-on violence two days after the accident.

I think the police response was remarkably swift, considering the fact they are only few years old and have limited resources. Here in Los Angeles, for a counter-example, when we had our own riots in 1992, the violence and mob action continued for six days, before our pathetic police finally got a handle on it (the LAPD non-response to the riots ended the career of Police Chief Daryl Gates, who performed shamefully, despite a previously well-regarded and very long career). And nobody in the LA riots was using a Kalashnikov!

[An] American woman who escaped the riots in her neighborhood grudgingly gave credit to the police, which she is critical of for being heavy handed at times.

When her Afghan friend took her out of the home, he put her in the back of a truck and covered her so she would not be seen by the angry crowds. Afghan police nearby noticed this, stopped her friend, questioned them both, and even called over a policeman who spoke English (even though she spoke Farsi) to ensure she was not in danger. The police then provided them an escort out of the danger area. That certainly demonstrates a level of awareness of the situation, organization and an ability to act. Riots by definition are chaotic by nature, and the best of police forces have difficulty containing them.

Aside from the story of the riot, Roggio describes the area as thriving with a lot of business and heavy traffic. Considering what the surrounding rural areas of Afghanistan are like, I can only say that if your problem is that you're having automobile accidents, things may not be so bad.

Hatched by Sachi on this day, June 1, 2006, at the time of 3:33 PM

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