Posted by: Christian | April 20, 2008

Insulting Foreigner’s (Lack of) Honor

The Aussie-Afghan media entrepreneur Saad Mohseni, of Tolo TV fame, gives a harsh reply to an unfortunate Italian Colonel during an interview:

“The tragedy is that your rules of engagement were established in the calm period which followed the 2001 conflict. Today they are obsolete, the situation on the ground has changed radically. It is necessary to react. The whole ISAF mission is failing. Unless you want more victims, you must actively hunt down the terrorists. Act like soldiers, you can’t weep and threaten to withdraw every time one of your men dies!”

Pic: Saad Mohseni with ….Rush Limbaugh? Quite appropriate after that quote.

What did poor the poor Colonel say to deserve this?

Colonel Alfredo di Fonzo maintained that when his troops come under attack, they are supposed to return fire and back away. He justified this odd tactic by arguing that any other approach would risk civilian casualties and thus play into the hands of the Taliban.

The source for this exchange is an academic journal article by Michael Mihalka: “Pashtunistan, NATO and the Global War on Terror,” China and Eurasia Forum Quarterly, February 2008 (click here for PDF).

I’m not going to get into a discussion about “useless European allies” or anything like that. That discussion can be found in thousands of places elsewhere, with perspectives from all across the political spectrum to satisfy the bias of almost any reader.

What is important to note is what an extreme insult this is by most Afghan standards. In the eyes of many Afghan viewers/readers, Saad Mohseni has leveled at this ISAF officer an insult that is right near the top of the charts in many parts of Afghan society (somewhere just below “your wife sleeps with other men in the neighborhood”). In effect, he has basically called the Colonel and his men cowards. And he did so directly to his face, not at some distance. He has strongly hinted that they are not actually “men” at all.

In truth, a few of them aren’t. Ciao raggazze! (pic by seersightin)

OK, funny joke. Back to serious business.

If this was some village khan berating some landless tenant, the poor guy would have to take it. But Mohseni, himself a wealthy and influential man in Afghanistan, has insulted a near-equal; a high ranking foreign military officer. I assume the Colonel responded calmly and with reason and logic etc… Of course to many people watching he basically underwent a lesser form of public rape and shrugged it off. And the people who saw this exchange think what of the officer and his men? I suppose the Colonel’s response was meant for consumption primarily in Italy, but it will be consumed elsewhere, like it or not.

There are many forms of emotions directed towards foreign troops, including hatred. You don’t want to be hated, but you also do not want to be viewed as a coward worthy of only contempt.


  1. Great post, GOA.

    Mohseni words were harsh, but, in some ways, maybe a wake up slap to their honor might make them do their job. You know, “be soldiers.”

  2. But I don’t really think it’s that Italian soldiers are cowards.
    They just wouldn’t want to get court-martialled acting in breach of their mandate, given to them by politicians back home, with its “correct” interpretation made clear to the soldiers down the chain of command all the time.
    In the end it’s the Italian public that should read this post.

  3. Yes I know they are not cowards and I know that they are restrained by their orders from back home. But I think that many Afghans think that they are cowards.

  4. I think I was vague – I reacted to Jeff’s comment mostly. The Italian public should read this post to be aware that Afghans will think the way you say they will.

  5. Understood. I guess I should stop reading the comments in reverse order.

  6. Maybe the good mr. Mohseni should walk a few patrols under such constraining military parameters himself before he opens his mouth. Fighting under passive doctrine isnt always easier than fighting with all options available…

  7. I don’t think the Italians are cowards. But, as GOA points out, many Afghans probably think they are. This perception, correct or not, affects the Italian armies effectiveness.

  8. I don’t think that caring for the lives of the civilians means acting like cowards.


%d bloggers like this: