March 17, 2008

Old Maps

Abu Muqawama has been away for the past several days at a COIN conference held at Wilton Park. Although all of the presentations were delivered under Chatham House rules and thus not for attribution, quite a few of the presentations were simply fantastic. Juan Carlos Pinzón, Colombia's Vice-Minister of Defense, gave a presentation on the fight against the FARC that was both timely and fascinating. General Sir David Richards and Ashraf Ghani gave dueling presentations on Afghanistan from the military and political perspectives, respectively. Lieutenant General Sir John Kiszely and Lieutenant Colonel John Nagl both gave good presentations on the difficulty of learning COIN as an institution, and finally, Emma Sky (Gen. Odierno's chief civilian adviser in Iraq) gave perhaps the best presentation on the war in Iraq Abu Muqawama has ever seen. All of this leaves out many other great presentations, including those from the aid and development side of the house on issues about which Abu Muqawama confesses to know very little.

One person who wasn't there, though, was Dave Kilcullen. Dave was in eastern Afghanistan, fighting the good fight. That fact did not prevent John Nagl from sending out harassing emails to Dave while sitting comfortably in the estate's bar. That also did not prevent several of the Australians present from telling a story from 1999 in which an Australian Army unit walked into a village named Motaain in East Timor. The problem with this particular village was that while it was within the boundaries of East Timor on the Australian maps, it was, on the Indonesian maps, a part of Indonesia. Chaos ensued.

Enter a certain Australian Army major by the name of David Kilcullen:

He decided that we were still 100 metres on our side of the border, and he acknowledged that his troops had fired first. We said - we showed him our map and indicated that according to our map we are still 500 metres on our side of the border.

He looked at our map and agreed that it was different from his and said that we were 100 metres from the border. He admitted however that we were still on our side of the border when his troops opened fire. [Transcript here]

The outcome of the battle involved one dead Indonesian policeman and, we hear, an extension for Kilcullen on turning in his PhD dissertation. (Abu Muqawama can think of someone else who would like an extension on handing in their PhD dissertation right now. Abu Muqawama has given Charlie a six-year head start on her dissertation, and right now, it's even odds as to who finishes first. But, uh, Go Jayhawks, young scholar!)

Incredibly, thanks to the miracle of YouTube, you can watch a video of the firefight in Motaain bellow. Hey, who's that guy?