Michael's Dispatches


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.

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