Penguins of Afghanistan
&
A few Words on Charlie Company

Published: 13 May 2010

There are no birth certificates in these villages.  No death certificates.  No driver’s licenses or addresses or phonebooks, and if there were, few people would be able to read them.  In this mostly illiterate country, there are no paperwork hassles.  Corruption is a problem but bureaucracy and identity theft surely aren’t.  Most Afghans have never been entered into any system.  Like penguins on the ice, they are born, they live and they die, and that’s all.

Typical graveyard in Kandahar Province.

Grave in Kandahar Province.

Whereas most Westerners have been thorougly inventoried by their governments (readers probably have many sorts of IDs ranging from birth certificates to fishing licenses), Afghans are still in the Penguin stage.  They’re just out there doing laps around the sun.  Most don’t know how many laps because they don’t know how old they are, and it’s not because they are orphans but because it doesn’t matter one iota.  A kid can drive when he can drive and shoot when he can shoot.

HIIDE sytem.

To take inventory, the military is using systems that soldiers often call “bats and hides,” or, more accurately, BAT and HIIDE, which are two different systems for collecting biometrics.   BAT= Biometrics Automated Toolset, while HIIDE = Handheld Interagency Identity Detection Equipment.  This dispatch is about field usage of the HIIDE system made by www.securimetrics.com.

The HIIDE takes a photo, and software analyzes the face.

Photo, retina scan, fingerprints and text data make a record.

Comments   

 
# Adam 2010-05-13 06:27
"Unfortunately, this is another fragmented dispatch with no clear trajectory other than to mention HIIDE and Charlie company."

Michael - nothing to apologize for! Another amazingly informative post and I thank you for all your hard work. We know the goons sold you down the river, man.
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# Thomas 2010-05-13 07:09
>"[T]he snipers 'confiscated' two sex dolls from a Belgian soldier

The two-front war!
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# Alan Johnson 2010-05-13 14:10
Michael,
Keep going, it is your kind of reporting that is putting a real face on this war, unfortunately not enough people seem to be paying attention and you got derailed trying to do it... God bless and God Speed
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# ironmike 2010-05-13 16:49
In a world where the government is up your ass every minute, where the IRS tracks your every deposit and withdrawal, the Federal and State governments track your movements (via passport and EZ pass in NY), the town monitors your water usage, the school and social services inspect your home life, et, as they say, cetera, I greatly envy the Afghanis sense of autonomy.
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# Jim G 2010-05-13 16:57
Michael,
There's no way I (or many, many others) would ever know about the Good Work being done by the courageous men and women of our armed forces without the dispatches that you have provided for so many years. I applaud your integrity, your perserverance and your willingness to put yourself in harms way to bring truth to light. You have brought an intelligent perspective to un-intelligibly violent situations, put a human face on the experiences of our soildiers and the civilians they interact with, and shared rich experiences that are often reduced to mere sound bytes by politicians and news networks with self-serving agendas. You, and our military, have my deep respect and profound gratitude.
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# Jamfish 2010-05-13 17:15
Thank you, Michael. Just hit the donate button for the next one. McCrystal will lose this battle in the long run.
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# mach88Chris 2010-05-13 18:50
I miss it so
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# David Pizzo 2010-05-13 20:52
Michael,
Don't lose heart. There is interest here. Our guys deserve a voice! It is also good for us to learn more about the people and conditions of Afganistan. Hang in there, be safe!
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# Steve Sage 2010-05-13 22:07
Michael:
You are doing a great job and I appreciate the hardships you and the troops go through. I think there's little coverage of the Afghan war in the States now because there aren't big casualty counts on our side. So it gets "boring" to the press unless Americans get killed. I don't get it, but I think it's because most of the press is anti-war, maybe some anti-American, and unless they can print stories making our own side look bad, they're not interested. Wait until Karzai or the like make their next almost always false claim about Americans killing innocent civilians and you'll see plenty of publicity on that.

My wife and I discuss almost every day that we can't believe the easy life we live here while our amazing military is over there risking their lives for all of us.

It looks like I'm out of touch with what's going on as the censorship is news to me. If you haven't already, could you maybe do a dispatch about what's going on with that? (Or maybe have someone "write it" for you so you don't get retaliated against for it) Maybe some of us can contact some sympathetic legislators to get some action for you and the press to get that lifted. Also, could you spell out why you think the war is being lost and what could be done to turn it around? That would be very helpful.

Keep up the excellent work and please be safe.
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# David St Lawrence 2010-05-13 23:24
Michael, keep telling it like it is. You are one of the few real sources of information about our troops in action.

I will hit the tip jar again. You deserve our support.
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# AmericanJarhead 2010-05-14 00:43
Great work again and I hope that General McC does not head this war too long... Thanks to Staff Sergeant Hughes and all who are like him for his service and professionalism.

AmericanJarhead (aka: Cris Yarboroough
www.americanjarhead.com
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# Charlie Walsh 2010-05-14 02:42
Michael.

Please keep up the tremendous effort. You are, no doubt, a voice crying in the Wilderness! My only wonder is why Fox News and some of the other conservative news outlets have not picked up on your important work?

Keep the Faith!

Semper Fi!

Charlie Walsh
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# Ted Thomas 2010-05-14 03:05
Your frustration is understandable. Detailed info about the biometric systems we use is very helpful, because it clarifies a basic principle of war-- knowledge is power. We will not win this war with Islamic supremacists until we know them better than they know themselves. In that vein, please help us with something-- write a dispatch (or update one already written) on the role Afgan women play in war. They may not carry weapons, but they are a tremendous source of intelligence-- if we can get it. Can we? If not, why not?

May the Lord God (Who has a name, and it isn't Allah) protect you.
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# Pat Patterson 2010-05-14 03:52
Michael,

Another great article as usual. Since GEN McChrystal is the one who covered up the Pat Tillman boondoggle, it stands to reason why he doesn't like embeds. I wish my friends in Afghanistan could read your dispatches.
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# Victoria 2010-05-14 05:26
You seem frustrated Michael. Your dispatch is informative and amazing as always, and greatly appreciated. It seems the war is forgotten by the media, which is probably this administration' s plan, but it is not forgotten by everyone. No doubt its quite easy for the press to write negative stories about soldiers, but they aren't walking in these soldiers shoes are they? Keep up the good work.
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# Gary Morris 2010-05-14 05:50
AMEN to Steve Sage above.
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# Jbad04 2010-05-14 06:06
You always call like it is and what it is is unsettling. There is always that air of desparation when you try to censor information. McC iapparently likes to treat the press like mushrooms, keep them in the dark and feed them s**t . Things seem to be bubbling around Jbad and Nangahar province. From my friends in the north, word comes that activity is increasing in the Mazar and Konduz areas. The south speaks for itself. Not good. My son is now deployed in the north and to say I'm concerned is an understatement. Please do what you can, it is appreciated.
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# monsewage 2010-05-14 07:14
Another great dispatch.

Just FYI retina scan is different than iris scan. You cant retina scan a dead body.
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# Jose Sorzano 2010-05-14 07:53
Michael:
Great post and most useful about the biometrics. Question: You indicate that the eye biometric is a "retina" scan. Could it be an easier to obtain "iris" scan?
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# Valerie Knowles 2010-05-14 09:08
My son joined the French Foreign Legion. He will be deploying to Afganistan in 10 days to help his brothers, the American troops. I am worried. . PLEASE KEEP TAKING PICTURES... IT HELPS ME . I am a Gulf War Veteran.....
keep up the good work, i KNOW it is thank less job.... I pray forrour troops and ALL troops trying to help save people from the taliban etc.
Shalom,
Valerie
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# staghounds 2010-05-14 10:33
Interesting that the first institutional, practical use of fingerprints for identification happened in Bengal. By global standards, right next door to these Afghans.
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# C 2010-05-14 10:43
Thank you for your contribution so far, it is always interesting to read one of your dispatches. It is really unfortunate that your embed got cut short, if anything I think that the good men, and women that you would have been writing about would lose out on this the most. I hope the war is not all but lost yet, it would be a major waste of resources and lives. Thank you again and keep bringing the truth to the international public.
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# mike wilson 2010-05-14 15:17
I am watching the Military Channel-- we had leaders then who said if we fight we win-- no pussy footing around-- We are not fighting to win-- Our President and most of Congress does not believe we are at war-- only thing they know is spend spend spend on things we as a nation do not need--- Mike if they boot you out come back for a rest then go Arizona bring your vest-- got a war here-- and report on it-- then our President will chide you as he did the Governor who signed into law to take control of her borders!!!!
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# mike wilson 2010-05-14 15:25
Again Mike-- thanks for what you do-- God Bless Our Troops-- Thank the good Lord our 3 Seals were found free of charges---- The Job they do , we who sit in our A/C houses and watch TV at night will never know-- Thanks for your service as well
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+1 # John McCarthy 2010-05-14 17:30
Michael, You truly are the Ernie Pyle of our generation. I know how hard it must be for an embedded combat journalist to advocate such a plan, but you must start advocating a full scale pull out. There is nothing left to be won and nothing left to prove in Afghanistan.
Where Bush was foolhardy and incompetent, Obama is indifferent and equally incompetent.
Meanwhile, my little brothers & sisters get blown to pieces for no apparent reason pursuing no clear objective.
Insanity is pursuing a false objective using faulty tactics. Madness is blaming someone else for your failures while using the same faulty logic and suffering the same crushing failures.
This is beyond madness.
The war in Afghanistan is criminally insane. Madness beyond comprehension. Sorrow beyond tears.
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# KP 2010-05-14 21:08
I suppose it shows a bit of honest realism, rather than pushing some false "we re winning" propaganda.

Stay safe Mr Y. !

""The top U.S. and NATO commander in Afghanistan says the war is a draw.

Gen. Stanley McChrystal says the momentum of the resurgent Taliban militants has been stopped. But for now, the general says, nobody is winning.""
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# Jerry Few 2010-05-14 23:02
Suck it up, quit wining and go to Kabul and report on where and how long MaChy's staff takes lunch, in a hashmark PFC word's, make a pain in the ass of yourself. There is no one way to do anything, haven't you ever read the Chairman's little Red book?
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# Dorothy Roush 2010-05-15 17:42
Your truely amazing every picture speaks so loud.Your one heckova man, so determined to go the distance to speak your mind, loud by pictures and words.I always had a minds eye about this places Our Troops are in, worrying, praying, theyre safe sending supplies, letters anything with no insight to wheres it end up......seeing these calms the soul. There beautiful. Being outta theyre period! is my hope bring them home!
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# Art 2010-05-15 21:57
I have been reading your articles for years now and have also read your book and have developed great respect for your skills in observation and interpretation as well as photography. I have read your respect for the boots on the ground and some of the higher up officers who should have boots put up their respective a...s. Most of your analysis I agree with but disagree on occasion with your ultimate conclusions. I cannot think of any print or electronic media writer that I believe or trust, and I do not consider you in that category. My first problem is that any writer who has not walked in our peoples boots should keep their mouths shut, and indeed admired your background but also your crossover to the survival side in Iraq when you actually picked up a weapon to protect a comrade as well as yourself. I recently watched (unfortunately) a PBS broadcast interview with General MyChrystal and have decidedly changed my mind about senior leadership in this whole arena. Any respect I had for Gates and McChrystal is gone. I can say for certain I would not follow that man anywhere and we are indeed fortunate he was not in charge of Desert Storm. Gates has just turned into another politician suck up to Obama, and then this weekend we were all nauseated with Obama and Karzai sucking up to each other. As soon as we leave, and I am now believing the faster the better for our people, Afghanistan can return fully to the stone age is seems to like and Karzai will soon be assassinated by the Taliban. That leaves us with Obama.
With such poor command leadership, it cannot bode well for the boots on the ground, not to mention the different countries different command mentality. It is time for you to come home and get out of harms way which they are turning into 'fools way'. You are a good writer with all of the skills and your work will be appreciated in many venues, not just combat. Bring our people with you, just leave our command leaders in Afghanistan with Karzai.
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# Lorenz Gude 2010-05-16 02:16
I don't think this post was fragmented or lacked a clear trajectory. The HIDE aspect was fine, but what really made it important was the way you brought home the 'penguin' aspect of life in Afghanistan. That is just the sort of thing conventional journalism fails to do because it is over institutionaliz ed. You let your wonder show at that timeless side of Afghan life - and there was no one to blue pencil it away because it didn't fit an editorially approved meme. Usually, the news isn't really new because journalists spend too much time and energy fitting the events of the day into known perspectives - that is - memes. That's a lot of what j-school is about - how to service the institutional needs of the news business. SO I don't know how you should respond to McCrystal trying to freeze you out, but I suspect there are plenty of things you can write about that would not otherwise be reported which will engage your audience. To what extent they are worth risking your life for only you can judge. Good to hear that you are taking a break and reporting that the situation in Thailand is coming to a head. I hope you work out what you will do next and that it has acceptable risk parameters.
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# Ken Bradley 2010-05-16 06:13
Seems with my understanding that Gen. McChrystal doesn't appreciate your interaction with the troops. Or writing unblushing versions of your observations. I was under the impression that our Spec Ops Commanders would have a larger understanding of the situation and maybe be able to engage all their assets in a manner that would "kick the doodoo" out of the bad guys. Seems like maybe our commanders have "bought" into the CIC and Karzai's version which many seem to interpret as an unwinnable situation. Unfortunate. With many of the bad types around the world, the only thing they understand is death. They only negogiate in bad faith to allow them time to reorganize and rebuild and keep snipping at us with bombs and IED's while they do that and find a new way to counter strategies we have developed.
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# deogi 2010-05-17 00:11
Nice caricature shots of the older Afghan men. I am impressed by the quality of your photography. Keep up the good work.
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# Dr. Michael S. Brown 2010-05-17 07:15
I greatly enjoyed this dispatch Michael. Thanks for putting my contributions to good use!

One minor correction on the HIDE system. It actually scans the iris, not the retina. I'm an eye doctor so I'm supposed to notice these things. You can check this out by going to the Securimetrics site and downloading the data sheet for the HIDE device.

Hang in there!
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+1 # Chuck Farias 2010-05-20 23:00
Michael, I sense you have a heavy heart. It must be very frustrating to see first hand the mistakes that are being made over there. I wish the big wigs would listen to the folks such as yourself who have been in the trenches long enough to know what needs done. Michael you are our only reliable conduit to this war. What ever happens, should you stay or leave, we love you and appreciate what you have done. I will gladly make a contribution.
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# Jason Lloyd 2010-05-20 23:29
Always admire your photography, perspective and turn of phrase. The penguin reference is fascinating, it almost alludes to a simpler way of life which we have lost. If the Afghans are happy to live like this, who are we to tell them that is wrong?
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# Leon Miller 2010-05-22 05:45
"Research got cut short after General McChrystal’s gang suddenly broke a written agreement and ended this embed."
and "....no clear trajectory"
Wake up sir. I follow you every day, have been waiting for you to post something. This was good work, until the last paragraph with more whining about McChrystal. You need to chill, get some rest, and go back later. This war will be on for a long time, and you can make it yours again, if that's what you really want. You need to look at yourself real hard in a large mirror and grip back up. "Lache pa la patat", and I mean all this with concern and goodwill, sir. Bon chance.
Larry Leon, Louisiana
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# Ron Ryan 2010-05-24 17:08
Thank you for your work and may God keep you safe, Ron
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# Sev 2011-07-29 18:37
SSG Hughes is the best teacher I have ever had in the Army. Great guy.
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