Saturday, March 18, 2006
As If There Aren't Enough Checkpoints Already
With fifteen thousand troops in the mission, the peacekeeping presence here is actually quite significant; the largest in the UN. But their deployment is quite concentrated, usually in company strength or larger, and only along the major roads. So although this may violate the first rule of counterinsurgency warfare, i.e. that the counterinsurgent should live in direct contact with the population; it does mean that there are plenty of troops to man the checkpoints. Along the main highway, more than a half dozen checkpoints stretch across the road in the three hour drive from Monrovia to here, with another half dozen past our complex on the way to Guinea. All these look the same, with two men at each end in sandbagged posts, and a serpentine limiting the road to one lane. These are a severe annoyance to the Liberians, but tend to provide enjoyment to the members of the UN, as they see how fast they can do the giant slalom in the giant white SUVs as you get waived straight through.
Well two weeks ago, a couple locals decided to engage in a age old money-making scheme, and set up shop on one of the primary side roads about a half hour drive from here. Stopping passing cars, they demanded a couple dollars toll to let them pass. Needless to say, word of this quickly reached the UN security forces, and they launched a raid at 0400 in the morning a day following and swept up the entrepreneurs.
So then earlier this week, two others decided to set up a similar scheme, but with a twist. They picked the main highway, about 5 km from here. Now, to overcome the problem of getting cars to stop, on the high speed paved road, they just let the peacekeepers do it for them, setting up shop directly in the middle of a UN checkpoint, mere feet from armed peacekeepers. Now, you would think that this situation would be easy to solve. But the head of security shows up, after nearly an hour of operation, to find that the troops hadnt even moved the bandits. A crowd, consisting of the entire adjacent village, had gathered, and were arguing about who owed who just how much money, as the peacekeepers looked on, somewhat bewildered. It only took security about two minutes to grab two drunk guys and throw them into the back of a UN Civilian Police (CIVPOL) vehicle, but it makes you wonder why the guys with guns couldnt have done that a little bit sooner.