Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Poor Geography Still Remains in Afghanistan and Kills Americans

I remember a day in early January 2011 when I was reviewing maps of Highway 1 as I prepared to join a mission in eastern Afghanistan.  The most detailed map available to our unit had a village marked as "Moscowkhel" ("Moscowvillage" in English).  I remarked how the digital map had a village labelled after the Russian capital.  I was told by the highest ranking enlisted man on the mission that all our "detailed" maps of Afghanistan were from the 1980s.  It also turned out that the detailed maps were not so detailed.  Another mission had us go to Musakhel  (Mosesvillage).  However, the village turned out to be three villages and one of them was a Taliban outpost.  Lucky for us the Taliban were not in a fighting mood and decided to lie low.

Elsewhere local surveys are poorly done and rarely, if ever, updated or fact checked.  Despite being in the country for ten years there are gaps in information sharing and cartographic knowledge.

Diplomat Anne Smedinghoff, three army soldiers, and a contractor were planning on donating supplies to a school outside of their base.  They walked 200 yards (182 meters) to the building their map said was a school only to find out it was an agricultural office.  On their walk back to base they were killed by a bomb.

People die in war.  That is why war is so horrible.  However, sometimes the deaths are avoidable.  Failure to update maps and fact check put peoples' lives are risks and sometimes people die because of these mistakes.  They die because planners do not consider how investing in geographical knowledge beyond imagery can save lives.

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