Brits' name for Afghanistan mission draws chuckles from America

Saturday, May 4, 2002

KABUL, Afghanistan -- The latest mission to pursue al-Qaida and Taliban fighters is drawing chuckles from American forces -- not for its objective, nor for its methods, but for its name.

In a tiny case of cultures clashing, "Operation Snipe," a name chosen by Britain, fails to take into account the existence of a more jocular American tradition: the snipe hunt.

What exactly is a snipe hunt? It depends on where you come from -- or which dictionary you're reading.

Webster's defines the snipe as "any of various usually slender-billed birds" -- the accepted British meaning. But The Dictionary of American Slang calls it "a nonexistent animal," and says a snipe hunt is sending out someone on a wild-goose chase.

The quest to clear up the confusion led a reporter on what at times appeared to be a snipe hunt of his own Friday.

It began with the British peacekeepers in Kabul, who were oblivious to the linguistic gaffe involved in the new operation's moniker.

"It's a game bird, a bit like pheasant," said Lt. Col. Neil Peckham of Wiltshire, England.

And in the United States? Capt. Bill Peoples of the U.S. Army, a native of Nashville, Tenn., stood silent for a few moments, then exploded.

"You have got to be kidding!" he bellowed, angrily waving his arm. "I'm not going to answer that."

He said a few other things -- less polite things -- but asked that they not be published.

Then he kicked the reporter off his base.

Britain, Peoples said once he calmed down, "is a coalition partner of ours, and I don't think it's right for us to make fun of what they name their operations."

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